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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1079430 times)
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« Reply #10620 on: Dec 12, 2013, 08:42 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Meet the secret ‘stealth drone’ the Air Force isn’t talking about

By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 20:31 EST

The U.S. is developing a new unmanned military drone that can fly for up to 24 hours at a time while possessing stealth capabilities, CNN reported on Wednesday.

“This aircraft will likely be able to take pictures using radar,” Aviation Week reporter Amy Butler told CNN. “Radar pictures are great because they don’t get muddied up by cloud or dust cover.

Butler reported on Dec. 6 that publicly-available overhead imagery shows new hangar space designed to accomodate aircraft with a wing span in excess of 130 feet at both the Nevada government facility referred to as “Area 51,” and defense contractor Northrop Grumman’s plant in Palmdale, California.

The RQ-180, as it is called, is made to carry out surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance missions while having the ability to fly 11 miles above the Earth.

However, both the U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grunman refused to comment to both CNN and Aviation Week when asked about the aircraft’s development program. Butler reported that the aircraft is likely to be run by the Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Watch CNN’s report on the RQ-180, aired on Wednesday, below.


December 11, 2013

U.S. Cites Rise in Health Plan Signups as Sebelius Testifies


WASHINGTON — The number of people selecting health insurance plans in the federal and state marketplaces increased last month at a brisk pace, bringing the overall figure to nearly 365,000, the Obama administration said on Wednesday. The November number was more than double the one for October, but still well below the administration’s goal.

The new enrollment data became available as Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, clashed again with Republicans at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Ms. Sebelius acknowledged that flaws in the federal website had “dampened enthusiasm” for the health care law and had deterred many people from enrolling. But she said that “evidence of the technical improvements to can be seen in the enrollment numbers,” which she described as “very positive.”

More than a quarter-million people picked health plans last month, and more than half of them were in state-run exchanges, the administration said in a report issued Wednesday. In the federal exchange, 110,400 people chose health plans last month, four times as many as in October, when many consumers were unable to see details of health plans because of problems with the federal website.

Ms. Sebelius also announced that she had ordered an internal investigation of the botched rollout of the site.

“I have asked our inspector general, Dan Levinson, to review the development of,” Ms. Sebelius said. “We need a thorough review of the contractor performance and program management structure that resulted in the flawed launch of the website.”

It is unclear whether the inspector general will investigate the role of Ms. Sebelius or White House officials who supervised the development of the website over the last two years.

In addition, Ms. Sebelius said that the Obama administration was creating a position of chief risk officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that runs the health care website. The first job for the new official is to assess risks in information technology contracts, on which the agency spends more than $5 billion a year.

At the hearing, Ms. Sebelius said the federal government had made contractual commitments to spend $677 million on information technology for and had paid out $319 million through October.

However, she said that the financial management system for the federal marketplace — needed to pay insurance companies — was “in the process of being put together.” It will be ready by mid-January, she said.

The enrollment report showed that 137,200 people chose health plans through the federal exchange in October and November, the first two months of a six-month open enrollment period. The federal exchange is still lagging behind marketplaces run by 14 states, which had signed up 227,500 people through November.

Technical problems thwarted people trying to use the federal exchange in October, when 26,800 people chose a plan there. The pace picked up in November as federal officials and contractors raced to repair the website.

About 148,000 people chose health plans in the state-run exchanges last month, up from 79,400 in October, the administration said. Officials did not provide data on the ages or other characteristics of people signing up.

The new numbers do not reflect reports of a surge in sign-ups since the end of November, when the administration said the website was working well for most users. In the first week of this month, about 112,000 people selected plans through the federal marketplace, according to people familiar with the project. That means that enrollments for this month may already exceed those in November.

If sign-ups continue at the current rate, more than a million people may have selected health plans by Jan. 1, when major provisions of the new law take effect. The Obama administration was counting on having seven million by the end of the initial enrollment period on March 31.

The numbers are running behind enrollment targets developed by the administration for its own use. Federal officials were projecting that 1.2 million people would have enrolled by now through the federal and state exchanges, according to a memo prepared by the Health and Human Services Department in early September.

Even as the law provides new hope to many Americans, it is disrupting coverage for others. In recent weeks, many people have received notices saying that their private health insurance will be canceled or discontinued because it does not comply with coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

“Come Jan. 1, 2014, millions more people will have lost coverage than signed up because of the health care law,” said Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Many people who are eligible to participate in the federal and state exchanges have not selected health plans. Of those found eligible, 41 percent also qualified for financial assistance to help pay their premiums. That is about half of the proportion predicted by the Congressional Budget Office. The reasons for the gap are not clear.

In states using the federal exchange, the largest numbers of people signing up and selecting health plans through November were in Florida (17,900), Texas (14,000) and Pennsylvania (11,800).

Among states running their own exchanges, those with the largest numbers were California (107,100) and New York (45,500), followed by Washington (17,800), Kentucky (13,100) and Connecticut (11,600).

In addition to people who have signed up for private plans through the exchanges, Ms. Sebelius said, 803,000 people have been found eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.


December 12, 2013

House Set to Vote on Budget, With the Right Still in Dissent


WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday prepared to vote on a bipartisan budget accord that should calm the spending battles that have paralyzed Congress for nearly three years. A deal could also marginalize the Republicans’ most conservative members, who remain implacably opposed to it.

The spending-and-tax legislation, with the backing of its conservative architect, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, Republican leaders and Republican defense hawks, is expected to pass Thursday evening with bipartisan support. But conservative activists and some liberal groups are mustering opposition, raising the level of drama.

House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio pointedly accused some conservative groups of rallying grass-roots opposition to raise money and bolster their own stature.

“They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals,” he said, speaking openly about what some lawmakers have long talked about privately. “This is ridiculous.”

The deal would reverse many of the across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, that went into effect in March and were set to deepen next month. Spending on defense and domestic programs would rise from the $967 billion level expected this fiscal year to $1.012 trillion, then inch up to $1.014 trillion in the fiscal year that begins in October.

But over 10 years, deficits would go down slightly, thanks to higher airline ticket fees, larger worker contributions to federal retirement plans, slower growth in military pensions, and a two-year extension next decade of a 2 percent cut to Medicare health care provider payments.

The legislation, worked out by Mr. Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Senator Patty Murray of Washington, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, has the backing of many Republican and Democratic leaders, as well as most members of the House Armed Services Committee, the House Appropriations Committee and Mr. Ryan’s budget panel.

That should be enough to assure passage over the strident opposition of Tea Party conservatives and outside conservative groups that have vowed to kill the deal.

“We feel very good about where we are with our members,” Mr. Ryan said.

But top Republicans are divided on it. Mr. Boehner supports it. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, does not.

Two potential rivals for the 2016 presidential nomination, Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, are also opposed.

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, declared his opposition Wednesday night.

“Much of the spending increase in this deal has been justified by increased fees and new revenue,” Mr. Sessions said. “In other words: it’s a fee increase to fuel a spending increase — rather than reducing deficits.”

Some conservatives feel betrayed, as they often have since Republicans took control of the House in 2011. Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, said the entire House Republican conference agreed in the spring that spending levels exacted by the sequestration cuts would not be alleviated unless Congress and the White House could strike an accord to control long-term drivers of the federal debt, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, said that most of the deficit reduction in the Ryan-Murray legislation “could be in Hillary’s second term,” a nod to Hillary Clinton’s expected presidential bid and a measure of conservative demoralization.

The deal would not address the government’s statutory debt limit, which Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew has said will have to be lifted by March to avoid a devastating default. But Representative Raúl Labrador, Republican of Idaho, said that Republicans “should just cave” on that too, “because that’s what Republicans do.”


December 11, 2013

Bipartisan Budget Deal Puts Ryan Under Fire From Fellow Conservatives


Representative Paul D. Ryan’s eight terms in Congress have produced much political celebrity and Republican respect but just two laws bearing the Ryan name — a renamed post office and a modified excise tax on arrows like the ones he uses for bow hunting.

Then on Tuesday he struck a budget deal with Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, that affixed a new label to the polished veneer of Mr. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican: deal maker and, to some, traitor.

With a modest, bipartisan blueprint on taxes and spending, Mr. Ryan is taking a risk he has previously shied away from, putting what party leaders see as a crucial need — ending the debilitating budget wars in Washington that have crippled the Republican brand — over his own self-interests with the conservative activists that dominate the early Republican presidential primaries.

For the first time, the conservative wunderkind and former vice-presidential nominee is taking withering fire from movement conservatives who see the deal as a betrayal by a former ally. Potential rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 immediately went on the attack, blasting the deal and challenging Mr. Ryan’s status as the thinking man’s conservative.

“It’s not just this budget; it’s this lack of long-term thinking around here,” Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican considered a 2016 contender, told Mike Huckabee on his conservative radio show on Wednesday. “There are no long-term solutions apparently possible in Washington, and we are running out of time.”

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, another potential candidate for the Republican nomination, said, “I cannot support a budget that raises taxes and never balances, nor can I support a deal that does nothing to reduce our nation’s $17.3 trillion debt.”

At the same time, Mr. Ryan may have enhanced his stature as the conservative in Washington who can actually get things done.

“He’s one of smartest people I know, trying to wrestle with our real problems,” Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, said of Mr. Ryan. “Republicans made the calculation that they want to get to the election with no more fuss, focus on Obamacare and retake the Senate, so he produced a budget that raises spending and raises taxes. It’s as simple as that.”

The budget plan, which raises spending over the next two years, with the promise of $23 billion in deficit reduction over a decade, is likely to pass the House on Thursday and clear the Senate before the Christmas recess. But it will do so with significant Republican defections. “I’m undecided,” declared Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho. “I haven’t decided whether I’m a really strong no or just a no.”

Mr. Ryan shrugged off such sentiments and spent Wednesday selling the deal as a pragmatic step toward governance in a divided Washington that reduces the deficit slightly without compromising the party’s core principles.

“We know that this budget agreement doesn’t come close to achieving what we want to achieve on our ultimate fiscal goals,” Mr. Ryan said Wednesday. “But again, if we can get a step in the right direction, we’re going to take that step, and that’s why we’re doing this.”

With Ms. Murray by his side to announce the deal on Tuesday, Mr. Ryan explained his thinking: “As a conservative, I deal with the situation as it exists. I deal with the way things are, not necessarily the way I want them to be. I’ve passed three budgets in a row that reflect my priorities and my principles and everything I wanted to accomplish. We’re in divided government. I realize I’m not going to get that.”

That new pragmatism is not sitting well with professional activists who have mounted a full-throated effort to kill the deal. Heritage Action, Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and others have all lined up against the budget compromise, if not against Mr. Ryan personally.

“The conservative base of the Republican Party was already walking away from the establishment G.O.P.,” fumed L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica. “That will now turn into a stampede away from a party that has lost its principles and bearings.”

But it is a testament to Mr. Ryan’s stature with conservatives that even the most vocal opponents of the deal are reluctant to criticize the man who negotiated it.

“Mr. Ryan has done the best job he could,” given the insistent liberalism of the Senate, said Representative Andy Harris, Republican of Maryland, even as he chastised the agreement for reversing spending cuts set to go in force next month in exchange for savings that will not appear until 2021 and 2022. “We have to realize the environment in which Mr. Ryan functions.”

Representative Cynthia M. Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, took the agreement to task for making permanent a temporary provision that diminished Western states’ royalties from mineral exploration on federal land. But, she hastened to add: “The only reason I am undecided is my respect and regard for Paul Ryan. This will not diminish his standing in any way. He has been a marvelous soldier.”

In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Murray said her negotiating partner understood from the beginning that he would be taking a hit. He never brought up presidential politics or his own future, she said. But he talked at length about the delicate politics of the Balkanized House and what he would need to get the deal passed.

“We talked from the very beginning about the fact that we would have to find a place where we wouldn’t get 100 percent of the votes in the House or Senate,” she said. “But in order to get common ground, we’d have to both take our lumps.”

The political impact of the budget deal may be mitigated by its complexity, said John H. Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor and White House chief of staff, and a kingmaker in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. In truth, he said, no one will ever know whether the accord lowers the deficit or raises it. The consequences for Mr. Ryan will rest on the sales job — for and against.

On that end, both sides are hard at work. While Mr. Ryan was trying to keep House Republicans in line, Mr. Rubio was working the talk show circuit, first with Sean Hannity, then with Mr. Huckabee, challenging Mr. Ryan on his core selling point as a conservative thinker. Their allies, such as Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, fanned out to take shots at the deal as well.

Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, who is friends with Mr. Ryan but a consistent policy foe, wasted no tears on the chairman of his committee.

“This is what you get paid the big bucks for,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “It’s important for members of Congress to show they can work with one another. I hope it becomes habit-forming.”


December 11, 2013

No Farm Bill in Sight as Recess Looms for Congress


WASHINGTON — Prospects for passage of a new farm bill before the end of the year appear dim, with just a week left before Congress adjourns for the holidays, although lawmakers insisted they were close to a deal.

The current measure expires at the end of the month. Members of the House and Senate have been meeting to reconcile their different versions of a new bill, and they agree on many things, including expanding crop insurance for farmers. But they remain far apart on issues like cuts to the food stamp program. A House proposal would cut about $40 billion from the program, while a Senate version would trim roughly $4.5 billion, mainly by making administrative changes.

Despite the differences, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Representative Frank D. Lucas, Republican of Oklahoma, who heads the House Agriculture Committee, say they have made significant gains in trying to work out a deal that would pass both houses.

“Chairman Lucas and I are working in good faith to produce a conference report that’s good for farmers, ranchers and families,” Ms. Stabenow said.

The two lawmakers differ on what to do if they cannot get a deal in place before Congress leaves. Mr. Lucas has proposed extending the current farm bill, first passed in 2008 and extended last year, through January. He said in a statement that it would be the “responsible thing to do given our tight deadline.”

The House leadership has signaled that it is open to an extension, but Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, and Ms. Stabenow said they are opposed.

Ms. Stabenow said an extension could allow direct payments, which are made to farmers and farmland owners who may or may not grow crops, to continue for another year. The much-criticized program costs about $5 billion a year, and both the House and the Senate farm bills would eliminate it.

Ms. Stabenow said she would like the House to remain in session for another week until a deal on the farm bill can be reached.

The most immediate impact of the expiration of the current farm bill would be on milk prices. Without congressional action, the government would have to follow a 1949 farm law that would force the federal government to buy milk at wildly inflated prices, which would mean higher prices for consumers. The Agriculture Department said a jump in milk prices could be avoided if a new farm bill is in place sometime in January.

Farm groups said that despite the lack of a new farm bill this year they were encouraged by the progress.

“We would have loved to have it done by the end of the year, but if they can get something done in early January, we would be appreciative,” said Dale Moore, executive director for public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, the country’s largest farm organization.


Virginia Republican Leader Tries to Incite Assassination Attempt On President Obama

By: Rmuse
Wednesday, December, 11th, 2013, 8:21 pm   

Most states in America have a tourism board that uses appealing slogans to attract visitors that represent their pleasing climate, a physical characteristic, or the mindset of its population that vacationers find too tempting to pass up. Virginia’s tourism board appeals to romantic inclinations in all human beings and claim the state is for lovers. However, over the past couple of years it is becoming abundantly clear that the state is rampant with haters; especially in the Republican Party. Whether it is the outgoing governor’s hatred of disclosure laws, or the soon-to-be former attorney general’s hatred of gays and women, Virginia’s Republican leaders belie the state’s slogan and it starts with the leadership of the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV). It is no secret that Virginia Republicans hate Americans for twice electing an African American man as President, but their hatred for the democratic process pales in comparison to their hatred for the President.

Last year, a Virginia county Republican Committee issued a warning that if President Obama won re-election in November there would be an armed rebellion that revealed their hatred of voters and the electoral process. The letter from the Republican county party chairman calling for armed rebellion is replete with a Christian bible verse on its logo that reads, “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36), and it said Republicans need candidates who were “intelligent and courageous and cut from the same cloth as (revolutionary hero) Patrick Henry and our attorney general and soon to be governor Ken Cuccinelli.” Fortunately for Virginians, the “soon to be governor Ken Cuccinelli” lost his bid to be governor, and when about 450 members of the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) met to lick their collective wounds at a former Confederate War hospital, the party chairman took the warning of “armed rebellion” a step farther.

The annual Virginia Republican retreat, “Advance,” was supposed to be a time for introspection to assess why Democrats swept three statewide elections and won the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general’s offices, but instead the state party chairman accused the media for the losses. He also took aim at governor-elect Terry McCauliffe and President Obama and said, “Obama’s so close to death that Terry McAuliffe is about to buy a life insurance on him, I’m looking forward to taking the gloves off!”  The head Republican in Virginia, RPV Chairman Pat Mullins, is yet another in a long string of extremist conservatives to incite an assassination attempt against the President of the United States. However, Mullins is not just another rabid teabagger inciting or threatening violence against the President; he is, like the letter calling for armed rebellion against the government, a high-ranking representative of the Republican Party.

Prior to “predicting” President Obama’s imminent death, Mullins made excuses for the first big Republican electoral defeat in 24 years blaming the media for focusing on Cuccinelli’s anti-women, anti-gay, anti-sexual freedom positions than the Affordable Care Act. He claimed there was too much attention on Cuccinelli’s “war on women” and said “our message couldn’t break through and we paid a price. This is false narrative by false prophets… Republicans do not win when we are mini-Democrats or Democrat Lite.” Clearly, Mullins assessment of Cuccinelli’s war on women as “mini-Democrats or Democrat lite” is a signal that he is not in the same political universe as the rest of the nation, and portends a lurch farther to the extreme right many conservatives assert is the key to a sweeping victory in the next election. Two Virginia state democratic senators, Mamie Locke and Donald McEachin, called for RPV chairman Mullins to step down; not because he said Republicans had become mini-Democrats, but over his comments predicting President Obama is close to death by assassination.

In a conference call, state Senator McEachin said “Sadly, this isn’t the first time Virginia Republicans have used offensive, violent rhetoric against President Obama. Saying that President Obama is close to death is unacceptable in our political discourse, and the chairman really should be ashamed of himself. He’s decried this type of rhetoric before… and yet somehow it keeps appearing in his speeches, in his public comments.” McEachin continued that, “To my mind, this is yet another example of just how unwilling to change and how unbridled in their opposition to President Obama the Republicans are. Instead of making insulting, incendiary comments about the President, intended to fire up the same Tea Party base that drove Virginia Republicans to statewide losses in 2013, Chairman Mullins would be better suited to look in the mirror and examine how out of touch Virginia Republicans have become with people across the Commonwealth.” Senator Locke agreed with McEachin and said instead of learning from their mistakes and taking a more moderate approach to governance and politicking, Republicans are bound and determined that “going forward will be to continue kowtowing to the tea party.”

Locke’s assessment certainly has a grain of truth to it, but she makes the same errant conclusion as Democrats and pundits across the nation. Republicans are not kowtowing to the teabaggers; they are the teabaggers. As McEachin noted, it “isn’t the first time Virginia Republicans have used violent rhetoric against President Obama” and it will not be the last. The calls for revolution, rebellion, and violent rhetoric against the government with an African American man as President began during teabagger protests against healthcare insurance reform when they carried signs warning that “we came unarmed this time,” and continued with Republicans threatening “2nd amendment remedies” and calling for supporters to be “armed and dangerous” as a strategy against legally elected members of Congress who fail to support teabagger anti-American agendas.

What is telling is that no Virginia Republicans, including governor McDonnell, attorney general Cuccinelli, or congressional Republicans such as Eric Cantor (who attended and spoke at Advance) have condemned the violent rhetoric from Virginia’s state Republican Party or any other anti-American teabagger extremist for that matter. However, they are very vocal in decrying the President as un-American, a socialist, and dangerous for America, and coupled with their silence makes them as guilty as extremists calling for armed rebellion, revolution, and assassination. That the chairman of the Virginia Republican party said the President is “close to death” should lead the FBI, Secret Service, and Justice Department to pay Mullins a visit and ask exactly why, what, and how he knows about an assassination plot.

The threats against this President have become so frequent that statements such as Mullins must be taken seriously and investigated with extreme prejudice. His remarks are more than Republican losers bemoaning an electoral defeat and inform a desperate political party sending a literal call to arms against the President of the United States. Coupled with his claim Republicans have to lurch farther to the extreme fringes of the right wing because they are unhappy with healthcare insurance reform, it is a just a matter of time before violent rhetoric is embraced by national Republicans. Frankly, national or state Republicans’ unwillingness to condemn the preponderance of hate speech and violent rhetoric against this President is tantamount to their unconditional endorsement.


John Boehner Finds a Shred of Courage and Gets Smacked Down By the Kochs and Heritage

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, December, 11th, 2013, 2:18 pm   

A rare moment has occurred in which Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) found some courage in the land of OZ. The cowardly lion did deploy said courage in an effort to keep his troops rallied behind the “Mini Budget” crafted by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

Boehner must have had high hopes that his House could deliver one thing. Just one thing in a several year losing streak.

Boehner is fighting the Big Money behind “conservatism”, including the Koch Brothers Freedom Works, Heritage Action and Americans For Prosperity, and Club For Growth — all of whom are against the Budget Deal (some of them were against it before they read it, giving GOP leadership a taste of their own medicine).

Boehner was profoundly irritated. So in a presser today, he called them out for doing exactly what they are doing:

    “They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous,” Boehner said loudly. “Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.”

Conservative groups already fired back at the Speaker, with Americans For Prosperity, Heritage Action, and Club For Growth releasing scalding statements condemning the Speaker for failing conservative principles. Freedom Works statement exemplified the mess:

    “Speaker Boehner’s real problem here isn’t with conservative groups like FreedomWorks, it’s with millions of individual Americans who vote Republican because they were told the GOP was the party of small government and fiscal responsibility,” Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, said in a statement.

    Kibbe went on: “Once again Republicans, led by John Boehner, are working with Democrats to increase spending yet again on the taxpayers’ tab while promising ‘savings’ down the road. We know how this movie ends. How can leadership credibly promise spending cuts later, after agreeing to a plan that rolls back the sequester savings promised two debt increases ago? There’s a predictable pattern here.”

Yes, there’s a pattern alright. Speaker Boehner stuck his cowardly head out from the rock he’s been hiding under, and tried to do the thing that would allow his House to do one paltry thing among its many failures. The historical failure of Boehner’s House must eat away at the Speaker, lodged as he is between a single celled jingoistic base and the endless money of big corporations. But his caucus is now being trolled by the big money, and Boehner simply can’t compete.

Can Boehner keep his caucus together under this kind of calculated, organized duress? The man can’t keep his caucus together ever, so unless Nancy Pelosi is going to step up to help Boehner pass a semi budget since he won’t permit a sit down for a real budget, Boehner might be out of luck again.


Man must repay $183,000 to Kochs after joining ‘Anonymous’ protest for one minute

By Travis Gettys
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 12:35 EST

A Wisconsin man who joined an Anonymous online protest for one minute has been sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to repay $183,000 to Koch Industries.

Eric Rosol admitted to federal prosecutors that he took part in a distributed denial-of-service attack Feb. 28, 2011, coordinated by the hacker activist group that shut down the company’s website for about 15 minutes.

Company owners Charles and David Koch were targeted due to their campaign to limit the bargaining power of trade unions.

The 38-year-old Rosol pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of accessing a protected computer using the Low Orbit Ion Cannon Code software investigators found on his computer.

The DDoS attack lasted for only one minute, but Rosol was prosecuted under a 1980s law – the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – that many online activists say encourages sentences that rarely fit the crime.

Rosol’s attorney and prosecutors agreed that the company lost less than $5,000 as a result of the DDoS attack, but Koch Industries complained that it had hired a consulting firm to improve security for its websites at a cost of $183,000.

Another member of Anonymous, 28-year-old Jeremy Hammond, was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison for hacking into the analysis firm Strategic Forecasting’s computers to access consumers’ credit card information and email addresses.

However, Hammond’s supporters say he was acting as a whistleblower against government surveillance and data collection.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


ALEC Members Refuse to Sign a Pledge Supporting Democracy

By: Rmuse
Wednesday, December, 11th, 2013, 10:11 am   

It is fair to assume that America is host to an incredibly ignorant population who know very little about their government and how it affects their daily lives. That sad fact was exposed in a brilliant 2008 book revealing that only 20% of the population can name the three branches of government and 49% think a president has the authority to suspend the Constitution. However, the population’s ignorance of their government aside, it is highly probable that every American supports democracy; unless they are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). To Americans aware of ALEC and its intent to create a corporate oligarchy and privatized government, it is not surprising that if ALEC members were asked to sign a pledge to support democracy, they would refuse, and that is precisely what happened in a little-reported story last week.

Last Thursday while ALEC was holding its annual meeting in Washington D.C., a group of working family activists, AFSCME, the Postal Workers union (APWU), AFT, and Jobs with Justice appeared at the meeting and asked ALEC members to sign a pledge “upholding the will of the people and support democracy, or leave their states.” The people at ALEC’s meeting did not sign the pledge and corporate-controlled media did not report the event because a revelation that an organization dedicated to serving corporate interests represented by the Republican Party refusing to support democracy would not play well with the public. In fact, for about 30 years ALEC has quietly been dismantling America’s democracy while hiding in the shadows, and it is just recently that a very tiny minority of the population even know ALEC exists.

Those Americans who know about ALEC and the Koch’s assault on democracy are rightly incensed that a small number of very rich Americans are responsible for authoring legislation robbing Americans of their rights and freedoms with a view towards government by corporate oligarchy. The anger at the people behind ALEC such as the Koch brothers, Wall Street, and the largest corporations in America, is truly justified, but the truth is that ALEC’s real power is not the Koch brothers, corporations, or the richest people in America. It is true their funding allows them to write template legislation responsible for destroying democracy, create a nation of peasants, and attempt to privatize and hijack the government using public dollars, but without loyal Republican legislators in the states and Congress, neither ALEC, the Koch brothers, nor wealthy corporations would have the power to dismantle America’s democracy.

There is so much focus on template legislation written by ALEC and paid for by the Koch brothers, that Americans furious their democracy is being stolen, their tax dollars handed to the rich, and their government transferred to corporate rule forget that without loyal Republicans introducing and voting for ALEC’s laws in state legislatures and Congress, America’s democracy would not be in jeopardy. The irony is that the Kochs, ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, and the State Policy Network are using the democratic process to dismantle America’s democracy, but it is through the democratic process that Americans can neuter those groups, take back their democracy, and force government to follow the will of the people and not the interests of the rich.

It is fortunate that ALEC, the Koch brothers, and corporate influence on government is finally being exposed, and it partially explains why ALEC was furiously writing legislation Republicans introduced and voted for to restrict the right to vote; particularly in Republican-controlled states. In some areas of the country, the exposure was too little too late, and laws such as stand your ground, right to work for less, and privatized public education are likely going to stay in place for a decade or more even if voters begin voting Republicans out of office in the next election. It does not mean that all is lost, but it does mean that it will take a long time to turn America around; especially in parts of the country where people are resistant to, and suspicious, of change and it is why ALEC targeted those areas first. It is also why the Koch brothers and their surrogates are spending millions upon millions of dollars in those areas to restrict voting rights and undermine education by portraying real democracy as an evil usurpation of their religious freedom, gun ownership, and responsible for government intrusion in their daily lives. It is an evil ploy, but it is successful because the population is inherently stupid and ignorant of how government works to benefit their well-being, and increasingly, their very survival.

It is no coincidence that Republicans have been successful in portraying President Obama as a dictator who suspended the Constitution and imposed tyrannical rule. Let’s face it, when nearly half the population actually believes a president has the authority to suspend the Constitution, it is little wonder they believe conservative propaganda from Fox News,  Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh that their only recourse to restore the Constitution and preserve their way of life is electing Republicans.

The good news is that America is still a representative democracy; at least for a while, and there are still enough Americans who understand their freedoms, well-being, and diminishing economic fortunes are being stolen by Republicans serving ALEC and its wealthy backers who deserve every bit of rage those who  know they exist can muster. However, focusing on ALEC and the likes of the Koch brothers and ignoring their true source of power, Republican legislators, is about as stupid as ignorant Americans with no clue how government works. It is time to acknowledge that the reason ALEC and the Koch brothers will not pledge to support democracy is because their source of power, Republicans do not support democracy. If the American people cannot comprehend that simple fact, then maybe they do not deserve democracy after all and should get out of America now because they are ruining it for everyone else.


NBC/WSJ Poll Shows Majority of People Reject the Republican Party and Their Views

By: Justin Baragona
Wednesday, December, 11th, 2013, 12:17 pm

A new poll was released today by NBC/Wall Street Journal. While the media will focus on the President’s disapproval ratings showing as an all-time high in this poll (54%), the real story here is that, for the most part, this poll shows that the American people are still rejecting the Republican Party and its ideals, while showing more confidence in Democrats to lead on a number of issues.

When it comes to approval ratings, President Obama’s rating ticked up to 43%, up one point from NBC’s previous poll over a month ago and on par with where he had been over the summer. It is also roughly the same as it was two years ago at this time. Meanwhile, when asked to rate the performance of this year’s Congress, 51% said that this was one of the worst in history. Another 28% said it was below average. Combined, 79% of people polled said this Congress did a bad job this year. This is unprecedented for this poll, as the combined number has never been that high. Also, this is the first time a majority of people said it was one of the worst.

As for favorable ratings, the President had a net negative of 4%, as 42% view him favorably and 46% view him negatively. Meanwhile, the Republican Party came away with a net negative of 25%, with a majority of the people polled (51%) viewing the GOP negatively compared to only 26% seeing them in a positive light.  The Tea Party didn’t fare much better as they had a net negative of 21% with only 24% having a favorable view of them. Democrats were also in the net negative (8%), but still viewed far more favorably than the GOP or Tea Party.

Another thing that will inevitably spun as a negative for this President but should actually show improvement overall is the direction people think the country is heading in. While a large majority of people still think the country is heading in the wrong direction (64%), this is a noticeable improvement from the past two polls. When asked this question during the shutdown, only 14% felt it was headed in the right direction. The next month, it was up to 22%. Now it is at 29%. It shows that there is a bit of hope building up among people.

To that degree, the poll showed that the public feels that the economy is getting better and that it should continue to improve. 29% feel that the economy will get better over the next twelve months compared to 24% saying it will get worse. 46% feel it will stay the same. The prior two polls showed a large net negative on this question. Also, 63% of people responded that they were at least somewhat satisfied with their personal financial situation, up 8% from the most recent poll and the highest it had been since December 2007.

Another thing the media will point to when looking at this poll is how people viewed the ACA. In regards to that, only 34% viewed it favorably compared to 50% negatively. However, on another question, 44% of people said they were very satisfied with their health care coverage, which was an improvement of 13% when that was asked in September, right before the rollout. Overall, 80% of people said they were somewhat satisfied with their coverage. This should tell us that while the public may be influenced by the media’s coverage of the ‘botched’ rollout and the cancellation of junk policies, when not asked to think about the politics of it, they are seeing improvement in their coverage and overall medical care.

Yet another item that doesn’t forecast very well for the GOP is the public’s view of the federal minimum wage. When asked if it should be bumped up to $10.10 an hour, a vast majority (63%) were in favor of it. Republican lawmakers have been trying to make the case that the minimum wage should not be raised as it will hurt businesses and the overall economy. Obviously, the message is not resonating with the majority of Americans.

An interesting section of the poll was where people were asked which party they trusted more to handle certain issues. The Democrats held the advantage on nearly every question asked. They had a huge advantage (28%) when asked who has more compassion and concern for people. They also held an advantage on immigration (5%), health care (6%) and having new ideas (8%). For some reason, Republicans had the edge in the economy (10%), which is a head-scratcher due to their obstructionist ways and shutting down of the government. However, it could be somewhat understandable due to their opposition to Obamacare being based, at least rhetorically, on the economy and jobs.

In the end, we know that the mainstream media will hammer home the high disapproval rating of the President and the ACA when discussing this poll, while almost entirely ignoring the huge negatives for the GOP. And, that is probably why, while this poll shows tons of negatives for the Republicans, they actually have a small lead in a generic Congressional vote, 44-42. Obviously, when asked specifically about their thoughts on a number of subjects, people will point out how pathetic the Republican Party is and how they view them. However, due to consistent negative coverage of the President and the health care law, many still instinctively state they’ll vote Republican. Thank you, MSM. You are doing your job!

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« Reply #10621 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:02 AM »

12/12/2013 04:13 PM

'Only in the Chimney': Anti-Semitic Carol Causes Uproar in Romania

Advocacy groups are incensed after a Romanian government-owned channel broadcast a Christmas song glorifying the Holocaust and calling for Jews to be burned. The channel is blaming a local group for the performance.

Outrage has erupted among advocacy groups in Romania after the state channel TVR broadcast an anti-Semitic Christmas song calling for Jews to be burned in a chimney. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), the song ran on a Dec. 5 broadcast by the rural-targeted TVR3 channel.

In the broadcast, a choir was shown singing a Christmas song that indirectly glorifies the Holocaust. The song, which rhymes and uses the word "jidovi," a pejorative word for a Jew, includes the lyrics, "only in the chimney as smoke, this is what the 'jidov' is good for."

On Wednesday, Romania's Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean harshly condemned the event and called on the public prosecutor's office and parliament to bring those responsible to justice. Israel's embassy said it was "concerned" about the broadcast.

Channel Shifts Responsibility

The channel said in a statement on Thursday that it was not responsible for selecting the Christmas songs, but merely broadcasting carols selected by a cultural center dedicated to preserving the traditional culture of the northwestern Cluj region. The YouTube video of the performance shows the host thanking both the singers and the director of the cultural center and asking him about local Cluj folklore values.

MCA Romania, a non-governmental organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, said it was unacceptable for the channel to evade responsibility by blaming the local organization. According to the JTA, MCA sent a complaint to Romanian President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta that said: "It is outrageous that members of the public weren't scandalized by an anti-Semitic song calling for people to burn Jews."

TVR's leadership is already in the process of being replaced as a result of an unrelated matter, after the parliament concluded on Tuesday that the station had been mismanaged. TVR head Claudiu Saftoiu and the rest of the management were relieved of their positions and replacements have yet to be found.


Corruption: ‘State banditry in the Romanian Parliament’

11 December 2013

MPs endorsed a modification to the Criminal Code on December 10 that amounts to an ”almost absolute immunity” for parliamentarians and the President of the Republic regarding conflict of interest investigations, reports Adevărul.

The new Criminal Code means only civil servants are open to prosecution under its revised definition.

The daily points out that MPs are also preparing “to adopt an amnesty law for corruption offences.”

On the same day, the Senate rejected a bill on mining operations, which will come as a serious blow to the companies planning to extract gold at Roşia Montana.

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« Last Edit: Dec 13, 2013, 07:37 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #10622 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:08 AM »

Ukraine diplomatic battle heats up over Yanukovych EU agreement claim

EU's Catherine Ashton says president has pledged to sign agreement, while Russia ups pressure for alternative alliance

Shaun Walker and Oksana Grytsenko in Kiev, Thursday 12 December 2013 18.53 GMT      

The diplomatic tug of war for Ukraine intensified on Thursday as the EU's top foreign policy official said Kiev will still sign an association agreement with the bloc, while Russia made another attempt to woo its neighbour with its alternative alliance, a Kremlin-led customs union.

"Viktor Yanukovych made it clear to me that he intends to sign the association agreement," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels, after returning from a two-day trip in which she met the president twice and spent time on Independence Square. Crowds have gathered there in protest against Yanukovych's decision not to sign the association agreement and instead turn towards Russia for financial help.

The prime minister, Mykola Azarov, said on Wednesday he had asked the EU for €20bn (£17bn) to help the Ukrainian economy recover from the short-term losses of the integration process, a figure many times higher than what is likely to be on offer.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, said in Moscow on Thursday that the customs union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan "is based on equal rights and real economic interests" between participating states. "I'm sure achieving Eurasian integration will only increase interest [in it] from our other neighbours, including from our Ukrainian partners."

A Ukrainian delegation is due in Moscow next week for talks on trade.

Protests have gripped Kiev for the past three weeks after Yanukovych pulled out of signing the EU deal at the 11th hour, citing the impossible financial burden for the Ukrainian economy and pressure from Moscow. In addition to the tent camp on Independence Square, the city hall has been occupied and a statue of Vladimir Lenin toppled.

Early on Wednesday morning thousands of riot police moved in on Independence Square to remove barricades erected by protesters. Though there were fierce struggles, violence was only isolated and the Ukrainian government said its main goal was to remove roadblocks rather than attack protesters.

The US government has been surprisingly outspoken on the crackdown, even voicing the threat of sanctions against the Yanukovych regime.

"All policy options, including sanctions, are on the table, in our view, but obviously that still is being evaluated," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told journalists, without giving any further details.

Assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland, in Kiev for talks with Yanukovych earlier this week, handed out biscuits on the square the morning after the crackdown, and secretary of state John Kerry has spoken of US "disgust" over the government manoeuvres.

After securing the square early on Wednesday morning, the police then retreated from the streets, and aborted an attempt to regain control of city hall, occupied by protesters. The barricades were promptly rebuilt, twice as high, and up to 20,000 people spent Wednesday night at the square with not a policeman in sight.

There are rumours in Kiev that the government plans to convene a huge pro-Yanukovych rally on the weekend, bussing in supporters from the government's heartland in the east and south of the country.

Already, a small pro-Yanukovych rally exists near the Ukrainian parliament, where a few thousand supporters half-heartedly wave flags and listen to Russian pop songs each day. Some admit they are paid to be there.

Oleg Kalashnikov, one of the organisers, told the Guardian that decisions were still being taken on how big the weekend's counter-protest would be: "Many regional representatives who are coming to us are proposing to hold a big rally. But this is now only being negotiated. The decision will be made at a higher level."

The influential Zerkalo Nedeli weekly quoted a government source claiming that 200,000 people will be mobilised and sent to Kiev for the rally, prompting fears that the two groups of protesters could clash.


December 12, 2013

In Ukraine’s East, a Message for Protesters: Stop


DONETSK, Ukraine — As workers streamed into the Donetsk Metallurgical Plant, a sprawling, Soviet-era factory complex here, they had a message for protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square: Get back to work.

“The answer is simple: Get some tanks and drive them off the square,” said Viktor Ruzyenko, a 30-year veteran of the factory who was coming off the night shift into the early morning frost. “Even under the Communists I never saw anything so disgraceful.”

Top Western diplomats and opposition leaders have called on Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, to respect public sentiment and sign an association agreement with the European Union, and the protesters want him to resign. But in a country deeply divided between the pro-European West and the pro-Russian East, that is only half the story. Here in eastern Ukraine, the base of Mr. Yanukovich’s support, people envision a different future: a quick end to the protests and a deal to join the customs union of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, which would bind Ukraine more closely with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The tug of war between Europe and Russia over Ukraine’s future has roused strong passions here, along with fears that the country could splinter into open conflict.

“This is the way it works in Ukraine: The East makes the money, and the West eats it,” said Sergey Yermolenko, 35, a programmer who earlier worked for the state-run railroad company. He “fully supported the president” for clearing Independence Square on Wednesday, he said, and called the protesters’ demolition of a statue of Lenin “crude hooliganism.”

“Our industry is heavy, it’s the railroads, the factories,” Mr. Yermolenko said. “We need Russia more than Europe.”

In Kiev on Thursday, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, told reporters that Mr. Yanukovich “intends to sign the association agreement” with the European Union, which would signal his latest about-face. But analysts tended to dismiss his assurances, noting that he has made such promises before, and warned that the standoff could continue for some time.

Ever since Mr. Yanukovich backed away from the accords with Europe last month, and broke off talks with the International Monetary Fund on a loan package to stave off bankruptcy, Ukraine has been negotiating with Russia about potential economic assistance. Mr. Yanukovich is due to meet with Mr. Putin next week.

But rumors that Ukraine might join the customs union have further inflamed the protesters in Kiev, and officials have denied such talks are in the works. Western diplomats who met with Mr. Yanukovich said he continues to insist that he will eventually sign the accords with Europe, something he has said since his abrupt decision not to sign them.

In Brussels, the European Parliament issued a statement calling for the European Union to start a mediation mission aimed at “round-table talks between the government and the democratic opposition and civil society, to secure a peaceful outcome to the current crisis.”

Antigovernment demonstrators continued their occupation of Kiev’s Independence Square, as more protesters were arriving from around the country by bus, particularly from western Ukraine. In a fenced-in section of nearby Mariinsky Park, several thousand pro-government protesters rallied under heavy police protection.

There are few signs that the political turmoil that has gripped Kiev in recent weeks is spreading here in the Donbass region, where Mr. Yanukovich was born and served five years as governor and one term in a penal colony for assault in the 1970s while Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.

There are no barricades in the city center. A statue of Lenin stands unmolested in a central square.

Aleksandr A. Lukyanchenko, the mayor of Donetsk and a member of Mr. Yanukovich’s Party of Regions, has weathered both the 2004 Orange Revolution and Mr. Yanukovich’s return to power in his 11 years in office. He laughed off statements by protest leaders and sympathizers, like the mayor of Lviv, who said local police officers would fight the federal government if it tried to occupy the city, an action that sends tens of thousands of demonstrators to Independence Square on the weekends to protest.

“They will achieve nothing with their methods,” Mr. Lukyanchenko said in an interview, addressing the protesters’ calls for Mr. Yanukovich to resign. “There will only be irreparable consequences” for Ukraine.

Small protests in support of the uprising on the Maidan, as Kiev’s Independence Square is commonly called, brought in about 100 supporters, a demonstration Mr. Lukyanchenko derisively called “our little Maidan.”

Opposition supporters say that the government has used threats, administrative resources and a propaganda campaign to extinguish any embers of dissent in this region of about 4.5 million people, which survives on mining and largely outdated heavy industry that is some of the most energy-intensive in the world.

There are some scattered voices of dissent. Nikolay N. Volynko, a leader of Ukraine’s Independent Mining Union, a maverick, 10,000-member collective active in the Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk regions, said the organization had sent about 100 miners to join the crowds in Kiev, and was considering a general strike to demand that Mr. Yanukovich step down.

Yet his group is outnumbered by a ratio of 100 to one by pro-government unions, he said, and in an anecdote, he explained the reluctance among his members to protest in a region that is so convincingly controlled by Mr. Yanukovich.

“Two men are going to be executed,” said Mr. Volynko, who was injured in a mining accident in the 1980s. “One said to the other: ‘Shouldn’t we run?’ The other responds: ‘Won’t that make it worse?’ ”

With the country’s economy stalling, opposition to the protests here has not necessarily fomented new support for Mr. Yanukovich, who has seen his numbers slipping as the country teeters on the edge of bankruptcy.

Many viewed the clashes in Kiev as jostling between Mr. Yanukovich’s clan of politicians and ambitious opposition members trying to vault into power by co-opting student movements.

Tatyana Kolomychenko, 55, said that she felt sympathy for student protesters, whom she called “puppets” of the opposition, but that she did not support Mr. Yanukovich either, and had not voted in the last elections.

“I don’t believe in politics,” Ms. Kolomychenko said, as she took a break from shoveling snow outside her vacuum cleaner shop in the city center. “And I have taught my children not to believe in it either.”

At the Donetsk National Technical University, where Mr. Yanukovich’s portrait hangs along with pictures of other distinguished graduates under a plaque in English reading “Honoured Doctors,” many students said they had never considered joining their contemporaries at the barricades in Independence Square.

“If they manage to get Yanukovich out, there will be a new Yanukovich after him,” said Tigran Naltakyan, a mechanical engineering student. “There are no folk heroes in Ukrainian politics anymore.”

Mr. Yanukovich’s real support was among the business leaders and politicians of his native Donetsk region, Mr. Naltakyan said. “Without Donetsk, he is nobody.”

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting from Kiev, Ukraine, and Steven Lee Myers from Moscow.

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« Reply #10623 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:11 AM »

Ireland to become first country to exit eurozone bailout

As Fine Gael-Labour government says austerity has successfully restored confidence, Sinn Féin says troika mindset remains

Henry McDonald in Dublin, Friday 13 December 2013 09.46 GMT   

Ireland will become the first eurozone country to exit a stringent bailout programme this weekend, as the €85bn (£72bn) loan facility orchestrated by the International Monetary Fund, the European commission and the European Central Bank formally expires.

As Irish government ministers prepared to mark the bailout exit on Friday morning, the vice-president of the European Union said it was a mistake that the state gave a blanket guarantee to the country's debt-ridden banks – precipitating a rescue call to the troika that rescued Ireland from collapse.

Olli Rehn told Irish television that he had been shocked by the level of banking debt that almost dragged the country over the financial precipice before its bailout was secured in November 2010.

Although the guarantee to shore up the banks that lent billions to property speculators was "water under the bridge", Rehn said it had been wrong to give them so much money.

The Fine Gael-Labour government will talk up the departure from the bailout programme as evidence that its austerity programme has been successful in restoring international confidence in Ireland.

But Sinn Féin's finance spokesman, Pearse Doherty, said that while the troika of IMF, EU and ECB officials were leaving Dublin, "the troika mindset remains firm in Government Buildings".

Doherty predicted that there would be further austerity cuts long after the bailout programme was over and the troika had gone.

"They bailed out the banks and unfortunately over the three years it was the Irish people that suffered," he said.

The general mood in Dublin remains one of resignation after three years of cuts in social welfare and state programmes with no visible euphoria on the streets.

Michael McMorrow, a self-employed Dubliner, said: "It does appear that there are small signs of improvement – unemployment going down a little, property market starting to move a little, dormant shop units waking up a little, the tide of new charity shops in Dún Laoghaire slowing down a little.

"But, scratch the surface and we're petrified that at any moment it'll all come crashing down again with the next instalment of financial or banking chaos. It still feels that we've no control and that we're just biding our time until the forces that have savaged our savings, our salaries and our security fly out of control again."

He added: "I'd love to believe that leaving the bailout is genuinely a step into the light, and maybe it is, but I'm too scarred to raise my hopes just yet."

Enda Kenny, the country's prime minister, will make a live televised address to the public on Sunday night after a weekend of frenetic government activity as the coalition tries to highlight the importance of the bailout exit.
Exporting a way out of the crisis

Richard Bruton, the Irish employment minister, is emphasizing Ireland's strength in the hi-tech and food sector as evidence of the Republic exporting its way out of the crisis.

In an address inside Government Buildings, Bruton said the government has created €2.5bn in loans for new businesses to fill the void created by Irish banks reluctant to lend to SMEs and entrepreneurs.

Bruton described enterprises and workers as the "true heroes" who battled their way through the economic crisis.

He said that the fact Intel's new chip was manufactured in Ireland was a "mark of the journey" Ireland had been on over the past three years.

The minister said that over the past 12 months there had been a 4% increase in private sector employment but acknowledged that unemployment was still high at 12.5% of the overall workforce.

On the taxpayer-rescued Irish banks, Bruton accepted that the banking sector was "not lending to the levels that we would like".

He said bank refusal rates on loans to businesses were still high compared with other parts of Europe. Bruton, however, stressed that refusal rates over the last two and a half years had fallen from 30% to 20%.

The banks are some of the biggest hate figures among the general population after tens of billions of euros were pumped into a sector that got into lethal debt levels because they were lending vast sums to builders and property speculators.

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« Reply #10624 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Gazprom's over-reaction to Arctic oil protest is a sign their fortune is at stake

Action on climate change would wipe billions off oil company balance sheets and they are determined to silence their critics

Kumi Naidoo, Friday 13 December 2013 11.53 GMT        

I've heard it said by Greenpeace old hands that when they first arrived in the Russian Arctic back in the 1980s, Russian fishermen would shower them with gifts. They found it acutely embarrassing. When I went to the Arctic Ocean last year to take action against Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya drilling rig, I got a decidedly less friendly reaction, but there were no arrests and certainly no talk of years in prison.

My protest was hardly the stuff of legend, it's true. I had managed, somehow, to climb up the side of the platform, and was hanging about eight metres above the freezing Arctic Ocean. Fifteen hours later, when my hard hat was finally broken by the water cannon the rig workers were blasting at us, I decided it was probably time to climb down.

This August, the same Greenpeace ship went back to the same waters, to repeat the same protest at the same rig. Gazprom knew exactly what to expect and so, we thought, did we.

And then the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) turned up. The guns and knives came out. A cannon was fired, but this time it was not water but bursts of ammunition across the bow of our ship. FSB commandos abseiled onto the deck and seized the vessel, and all 30 on board were held at gunpoint and taken to Murmansk. Since then they spent two months in prison, some of them in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, before being released on bail. They have been charged with hooliganism, which carries a potential sentence of seven years.

The story of my broken hard hat doesn't impress people quite so much as it used to.

So what happened in the 12 months that passed between these identical protests? What prompted such a different response?

The profit margins on offshore oil extraction in the Arctic have always been slim, and it's certainly arguable that recent developments onshore, most notably the discovery of the Bazhenov shale deposits, have made Gazprom and Shell's expensive joint venture even less economically viable than it already was. If that's the case, then Greenpeace drawing attention to its weaknesses (like the lack of any plan to clean up an oil spill) stops being a mere annoyance and becomes a serious threat.

Yet by over-reacting and demanding the FSB take action, Gazprom attracted a lot more publicity than the hanging of a banner could ever have achieved.

I think the Prirazlomnaya and Gazprom's machinations to keep it afloat need to be understood in a global context, where an unlikely and somewhat uncomfortable coalition is forming between investors, environmentalists, scientists, intelligence agencies and an increasingly radicalised public all calling for governments to intervene on climate change. If we – and they – succeed, then Gazprom and its partner Shell will see billions wiped from their balance sheets.

Here's the problem. Recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we can emit a further half a trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide and still stay below 2C of global warming by the turn of this century. Two degrees may sound trifling, but the global impacts are enormous. It means we lose all of the Arctic sea ice and several low-lying nations, and recent extreme weather will look mild by comparison.

So we have a carbon budget of around 500 gigatonnes (GT), yet burning the fossil fuel that corporations now have in their reserves would produce 2,795GT of carbon dioxide — five times the so-called safe amount. So four-fifths of known fossil fuel reserves and all of the undiscovered resources, including everything in the Arctic, need to remain where they are, underground, unburnt. Worthless. Oil companies' market valuations are based on "assets" whose value has been wiped out by a cruel twist of atmospheric physics. The inevitable market correction won't be pretty, which explains how the oil companies persuaded their vassal governments to ignore the end of the oil age and keep setting fire to our future.

For a stark reminder of what we'll have to get used to if these companies get their way, you need only look to the Philippines. More than 5,000 people lost their lives because of typhoon Haiyan, and hundreds of thousands were left displaced, without food, water or shelter. We know climate change will bring even more extreme weather events. Three years earlier, Russia lost 50,000 people to a heatwave similar to the one that killed 50,000 in Europe in 2003. Extreme weather will become more and more common if irresponsible governments and fossil fuel companies cannot put their self-interest aside and call time on our addiction to fossil fuels.

This concern isn't confined to idealistic hippies. The International Monetary Fund is asking for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. The World Bank is saying that our aspirations to put an end to global poverty in the context of runaway climate change will become futile. Intelligence agencies are warning governments that the biggest threat to global peace and security is climate change, and PricewaterhouseCoopers is warning of stranded fossil fuel investments.

Not only are fossil fuel companies holding a busted flush, but alternative energy sources are encroaching on their territory. Photovoltaic panels have dropped in price by over 99% since the 70s, and by around 80% in the last five years. In India, solar is cheaper than diesel. Wind power is following a similar, if slightly less dramatic, decline in cost. The gas industry in Brazil has asked the government to institute protectionist measures to limit their exposure to competition from wind – a competition they have begun to lose. In Australia, the world's biggest coal exporter, all forms of renewable electricity are cheaper than fossil fuels, even coal. But the current prices are less important than the direction of travel. Renewables are dropping in price, while fossil fuels are rising.

All of which explains why companies like Gazprom are so determined to silence their critics. Their only solution is to obfuscate, to muddy the waters and delay the inevitable, all with the connivance of their pocket politicians. Our governments have become the man in the joke who, when confronted by a highwayman with the usual demand of "your money or your life", asks for time to think about it.

Which brings us back to peaceful protests on oil rigs in the freezing Arctic Ocean - the only rational response to years of deliberate inaction. In the days after typhoon Haiyan, the Filipino climate commissioner told the assembled delegates at the latest round of UN climate talks in Warsaw:

"I feel that I should rally behind the climate advocates who peacefully confront those historically responsible for the current state of our climate. These selfless people who fight coal, expose themselves to freezing temperatures, or block oil pipelines. In fact, we are seeing increasing frustration and, thus, more increased civil disobedience. The next two weeks, these people, and many around the world who serve as our conscience will again remind us of our enormous responsibility."

And we will keep doing exactly that. We will battle to make our voices heard over the oil industry and their pliant politicians as efforts are made to drown us out, to shut us up, perhaps with a court order, perhaps in a jail cell. Not because they're evil, but because their fortune is at stake. And it's hard to lose a trillion dollars gracefully.


Arctic 30 told they cannot leave Russia

Greenpeace repeats call to allow activists and journalist to go home after it emerged Russia's Investigative Committee wrote to one of the 30 saying they are not allowed to leave the country

Press Association, Friday 13 December 2013 10.26 GMT   

The Russian authorities have told a group of Greenpeace activists and freelance journalists arrested after a protest against oil drilling in the Arctic that they cannot leave the country.

The environmental group said the decision was in defiance of a ruling of an international court, and repeated its demand that the 28 activists and two journalists, including six Britons, should be allowed home.

The so-called Arctic 30 were arrested in September after the Russian authorities boarded their vessel during their protest.

They have all been granted bail by courts in St Petersburg but have remained in Russia while efforts are made to give them permission to leave.

Greenpeace revealed on Friday that Russia's Investigative Committee has written to one of the 30 – Anne Mie Jensen from Denmark – indicating that they are not free to leave the country.

Lawyers for Greenpeace said they expect all of the non-Russian defendants will be treated in the same way by the authorities, meaning they would now be forced to stay in St Petersburg for Christmas and possibly well beyond.

Lawyers have also been seeking an assurance that the investigative committee would give at least one month's notice when it wanted to interview the 30; otherwise they could break their bail conditions if they returned home.

In its letter to Anne Mie, the committee said it would not provide the requested notice.

Peter Willcox, the American-born captain of the Greenpeace vessel, the Arctic Sunrise, said: "I am ready to go home to my family. We were seized in international waters and brought to Russia against our will, then charged with a crime we didn't commit and kept in jail for two months.

"A respected international court says we should be allowed to go home, so do numerous presidents and prime ministers, but we can't get visas to leave the country, and, even if we could, there's no guarantee the investigative committee won't schedule an interview for the day I get home, forcing me to break my bail conditions.

This is either a mistake and we're caught in a vicious bureaucratic circle, or it's a deliberate snub against international law. Either way this is a farce."

A ruling in November by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, made up of 21 eminent judges, ordered Russia to allow the Arctic 30 to leave the country immediately and to release the Arctic Sunrise, as soon as a bond of 3.6 million euros (£3 million) in the form of a bank guarantee was paid.

The bond was posted by the Government of the Netherlands, where the Arctic Sunrise is registered, on 29 November, so Greenpeace said Russia was now in defiance of that order.

Greenpeace International legal counsel Daniel Simons said: "The Russian Federation is now in clear breach of a binding order of an international tribunal. As president Vladimir Putin stated in his famous open letter to the American people on Syria, 'The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.'

"In his state of the nation speech in Moscow yesterday, he added 'We try not to lecture anyone but promote international law'. It's time for the authorities to act in that spirit and allow the Arctic 30 to go home to their families immediately."

Greenpeace added that an amnesty decree likely to be voted on by the Duma - the Russian parliament - this month could still see legal proceedings against the Arctic 30 dropped.

A draft of the decree submitted by President Putin does not include the Arctic 30, but the group said a small amendment by the Duma would see them covered by the amnesty.

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« Reply #10625 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:19 AM »

EU migrants face 100 new questions to make it harder to obtain benefits

The new habitual residence test is being rushed out before transitional controls on Romanians and Bulgarians are lifted

Patrick Wintour   
The Guardian, Friday 13 December 2013   

Income-related benefits such as housing benefit, income support and council tax benefit are to be harder for EU migrants to obtain from Friday as they face a string of 100 questions, including the reasons they were unable to find a job in their home country. They will also be asked about their ability to speak English.

The new 100 questions in the fresh habitual residence test is being rushed out ahead of the transitional controls on Romanians and Bulgarians being lifted on 1 January.

The European Union insists on the free movement of workers within the EU, but the government believes it is legally entitled to ask tougher questions of migrants before they are entitled to make benefit claims.

EU workers are already asked to prove they have been genuinely seeking work in the UK.

The DWP said that in "order to pass the improved habitual residence test migrants will have to answer more individually tailored questions, provide more detailed answers, and submit more evidence before they will be allowed to make a claim."

For the first time migrants will be quizzed about what efforts they have made to find work before coming to the UK and whether their English language skills will be a barrier to them finding employment.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: "It is vitally important that we have strict rules in place to protect the integrity of our benefits system. The British public are rightly concerned that migrants should contribute to this country, and not be drawn here by the attractiveness of our benefits system."

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« Reply #10626 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:21 AM »

12/13/2013 12:06 PM

Reeling In the Trawlers: EU Takes On Overfishing

By Philip Bethge

Fish stocks have made surprising comebacks in the North and Baltic seas. But much remains to be done. Beginning in January, new EU laws will impose more sustainable practices with stricter quotas and by-catch rules.

When the men open the net on the ship's deck, fat codfish slap into plastic fish baskets. Slippery plaice and flounder, rough as sandpaper, gasp for air. Turbot the size of two strong fisherman's hands slither between silvery herring and flat dabs.

A particularly large cod with its mouth wide open lies on top of the pile. "It has to weigh more than six kilos (13 lbs.)," estimates Martina Bleil as she looks down at the fish. "It's in great shape." The female is about 8 years old, says Bleil, a fish biologist. "It would have been spawning again soon."

Bleil works for the Thünen Institute for Baltic Sea Fisheries (Thünen OF) in the northern German port city of Rostock, an agency that is part of Germany's Federal Ministry of Agriculture. The scientist and her colleagues have made a big haul on this clear November day in the Bay of Mecklenburg. "We are headed in a very good direction with fish stocks in the Baltic Sea," says Bleil. "Anyone who eats plaice or herring doesn't have to feel guilty about it anymore."

Something amazing is happening in the seas off Germany's coasts, where most species were long considered overfished. But now some stocks are recovering at an astonishing rate. Experts are seeing a significant upward trend in the North Sea, and even more so in the Baltic Sea.

"We assume that the Baltic Sea will be the first European body of water that can be sustainably fished once again," says Christopher Zimmermann, director of the Thünen OF. "That would be a huge success."

Ending 'Horse-Trading" with Reform

This year, the European Union has also launched a reform of its Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) that Zimmermann believes "will accelerate the positive trend even further." In fact, the new rules could ring in a historic turning point.

"In the past, the group of ministers was setting fishing quotas in cloak-and-dagger meetings," says Ulrike Rodust, a member of Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and a lawmaker in the European Parliament from the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. Rodust played a key role in pushing through the reforms in Brussels. But now, she says, the system of "horse-trading" among members that inadequately protects fish stocks has come to an end.

Rodust expects that stricter maximum catch restrictions will lead to a trend reversal throughout Europe. The regulation, which comes into effect in January, stipulates that:

In the future, fishing quotas will be established exclusively on the basis of scientific criteria. The goal is to ensure that all stocks are fished only to the "maximum sustainable yield" by 2020.

Unwanted by-catch is to be brought to shore and included in the total subject to quotas. The more by-catch fisherman have in their nets, the less marketable fish they can catch. The rule creates an incentive to use more selective fishing methods.

Subsidies for building new trawlers are being eliminated. Instead, more money will be available to monitor fishermen and conduct scientific studies of fish stocks.

The new rules will also apply to EU fishermen operating outside Europe. This means that European trawlers will no longer have the option of simply shifting to fishing grounds off the coasts of Africa.

The details of the fishing regulations are being negotiated regionally. Soon the same rules could apply in both the Irish Sea and off the Spanish coast.

Stocks in 'Excellent Shape'

In the Baltic Sea, fishing reform has almost reached the goals that lawmakers hope to achieve in other European maritime regions in the future. This success story was made possible by the agreement among countries bordering the Baltic Sea to exclusively employ sustainable fishing practices, says Zimmermann.

This hasn't always been the case. Until 2007, for example, Polish fishermen were pulling about twice as much cod out of the water as EU rules permitted. It was only the new government under Prime Minister Donald Tusk that began "reining in the trawlers," says Zimmermann. "But now the Poles are also abiding by the rules."

Baltic Sea fishing policy has been an immense success. Cod in the eastern Baltic, for example, which was still heavily overfished in 2005, is now doing "very well," Zimmermann reports, while plaice stocks are in "excellent shape." And herring in the eastern Baltic are now producing young at a healthy rate once again.

Some fish species are also doing better in the North Sea. Researchers at the Thünen Institute for Sea Fisheries in Hamburg recently studied 43 fish stocks and concluded that 27 of them are in "good ecological condition." According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, "more than half of the fish stocks in the North Sea and northeast Atlantic" are already "being managed sustainably" today.

Herring and plaice, in particular, are developing well in the North Sea, says Zimmermann. Even North Sea cod, long a subject of concern for biologists, is finally showing initial signs of recovery, he adds.

The Benefits of Stricter Quotas

Zimmermann is one of the architects of this fishing miracle. He represents Germany on the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which develops recommendations for EU catch quotas. The data used to analyze fish stocks in the Baltic Sea are obtained with research ships like the Clupea.

Fish biologist Martina Bleil makes regular trips out to sea, where she and her assistants use a standardized TV3/520 research net. In the water, the net opens to a width of 20 meters (66 feet) and a height of two meters. With a mesh size of only 22 millimeters, hardly any swimming marine animal can escape the research net.

On this November day, Clupea Captain Rolf Singer heads for two catch sites. Once the catch is on board, Bleil grabs one cod after another and hoists them onto a nearby table, where she measures them. "84 centimeters long," she calls out to her assistants. With a practiced hand, she uses a pair of scissors to slice open the animals' bellies. Bleil's plastic gloves are stained red. Fish blood drips onto the green working deck. "Female," she calls out. "Stomach: 65 grams; liver: 170 grams."

Data collection is the basis of the ICES recommendations. Experts have reduced the maximum allowable catches for many fish stocks in recent years. While stocks have often been radically overfished, the strict sustainability principle will apply as of January.

The objective is to regulate fishing in such a way that fish stocks can stabilize or even grow in the long term, as well as to enable fishermen to continually harvest "the maximum yield with minimum effort," as Zimmermann puts it.

If stocks are doing well, there are more fish to catch, which enables fishermen to benefit from the reform. The overfished cod stock in the North Sea, for example, has provided an annual yield of no more than 40,000 metric tons for the last decade. If the stock were in good shape, Zimmermann explains, fishermen could easily catch more than three times as many fish.

This explains why there are good reasons to reform EU fishing policy, especially as catches in many places have well exceeded scientific recommendations in the past. In addition, about a quarter of the fish caught by EU fleets are by-catch and directly returned to the water. But extremely few of these fish survive.

"Overfishing must come to an end," says Rodust, and she is confident that his goal can be achieved. All EU fish stocks are to be fished using the new, more sustainable methods by 2015, if possible, and by no later than 2020. The EU could serve as a role model worldwide, says Rodust, adding: "We have received a great deal of praise internationally for our reforms."

Fears of Fishing Lobby Manipulation

But not all fishing experts see this in quite as positive a light. "The reform is supposed to be implemented by precisely the same people who were responsible for massive overfishing in the last few decades," says Rainer Froese of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in the northern German port city of Kiel.

Since scientific recommendations are to become binding in the future, Froese fears that the fishing lobby could try to put pressure on scientists. This, in turn, could lead to the ICES quota recommendations being too high.

According to Froese, sustainable management should only be considered once stocks have recovered. He points out that the situation is not improving for all fish stocks.

"Eel and pollock are still being heavily overfished in the Baltic Sea," says the biologist. While cod is in better shape in the eastern Baltic, the species remains under strong pressure west of the Danish island of Bornholm. In the North Sea, says Froese, stocks of cod and pollock are still a long way from recovering, while eel and spiny dogfish are even "acutely threatened."

Froese is also opposed to the subsidies. "Although they have been restructured, they haven't been reduced," he says. Subsidies for ship fuel, for example, continue to allow for the use of massive, heavy ground tackle that tears up the ocean floor, destroying important habitats for young fish.

"We are currently still in hell and are marching toward the gates of paradise," Froese concludes. "The question is whether we will halt at the threshold or walk through."

Zimmermann, on the other hand, prefers to convey a sense of optimism. "As a rule, the only thing grumbling achieves," the Thünen OF director explains, "is that people say: 'Oh God, the best thing is stop eating fish altogether,' and to eat turkey from factory farms instead." Many types of saltwater fish can be "enjoyed with a good conscience" once again, he adds.

The biologist even believes that some stocks in the Baltic Sea are being "under-utilized." Cod stocks in the eastern Baltic, for example, have grown to such an extent that the animals are "starting to eat each other and compete for food," he says.

According to Zimmermann, one in five cod in the Bornholm Basin is so thin that it can no longer be cut into fillets. Fishermen refer to these fish as "triangular rasps" because they are so bony. The animals can no longer be sold, says Zimmermann, "so they end up in fishmeal production."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #10627 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:23 AM »

12/12/2013 05:09 PM

European Parliament: Snowden Will Make Video Appearance

By Gregor Peter Schmitz

Leaders in the European Parliament have agreed to allow NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to answer questions by video, despite efforts by some conservative parliamentarians to block the testimony out of fear it could further harm trans-Atlantic relations.

Parliamentary leaders of the European Parliament voted Thursday to allow the planned video appearance of the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to take place despite an attempt by conservative members of the European People's Party (EPP) to block it.

The American former intelligence contractor will answer questions that had been submitted by members of the parliament in a pre-recorded video message that will be shown at a sitting of the interior and justice committees.

"We now have a clear mandate to send written questions to Snowden, and I hope that he can answer this with a video message by mid-January," said Jan Philipp Albrecht, who, as a representative of the German Green Party in the European Parliament, is coordinating the body's NSA investigation. Snowden's video message was originally planned for Dec. 18, but the dispute over his questioning necessitated a postponement.

Snowden is expected to answer the questions on pre-recorded video because he would risk arrest by US authorities if he were to leave Russia, where he is living under temporary asylum. A live video feed could also enable the Americans to pinpoint his whereabouts.

Different Take

Axel Voss, a European Parliament representative from Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who has maintained that such a questioning could damage trans-Atlantic relations, sees the decision differently.

"The parliamentary group leaders and the president decided that an appearance by Edward Snowden should be live or interactive," he said. "The responsible representatives from the parliamentary groups will decide on the details in January."

The parliamentary groups have been tasked with checking to see if direct or interactive testimony would be possible. But Albrecht, the Green Party representative, says: "Both options have long been rejected for being impractical. Therefore, this will be quickly resolved and we can move on."

Representatives from different groups in the European Parliament have already compiled more than 20 questions for Snowden. These range from "How are you?" and "Can we help you?" to a detailed exploration of whether and how European intelligence agencies also collect private data.

Snowden already addressed the European Parliament once in September, but only in writing, and his statement was read aloud by a confidante. "These are not decisions that should be made for the people, but only by the people after full informed and fearless debate," the statement read, referring to discussions over civil rights within a democracy.

Washington, too, has been closely following the ongoing debate. Influential US Senator Dianne Feinstein of California wrote a letter to European Parliament representatives Elmar Brok and Claude Moraes, assuring them that the US is taking Europe's data-protection concerns seriously. It has been announced that a delegation of members of the US Congress will go to Brussels on Dec. 17 to discuss how to restore trust after the revelations of NSA surveillance of EU citizens.

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« Reply #10628 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:25 AM »

Slovenia banking debts raise fears of EU bailout

The country's ailing banking sector needs to raise reserves by €4.8bn (£4bn) to meet capital targets

Phillip Inman and agencies
The Guardian, Thursday 12 December 2013 21.21 GMT   

Slovenia put the EU on red alert on Thursday following a warning that its ailing banking sector needs to raise reserves by €4.8bn (£4bn) to meet capital targets.

In the wake of an audit of the country's major lenders, central bank governor Bostjan Jazbec said the capital was needed to cover bad loans built up since the financial crisis.

He said the shortfall could be covered without a bailout by Brussels, but some analysts said the country's limited cash pile and the difficulties of tapping private sector sources in the midst of a severe recession meant an EU rescue was still likely.

Slovenian banks are saddled with an estimated €8bn in bad loans –more than a fifth of national output – after the financial crisis crippled exporters and exposed the lack of reforms since the ex-Communist country joined the EU.

Jazbec said the three biggest Slovenian banks, all wholly or partially state-owned, would need around €3bn in extra capital from the government.

The central bank plans to impose 100% losses on junior bondholders to reap some €440m.

The rest may come from gains as the banks transfer assets to a bad bank. He said five smaller banks would be given until June 2014 to raise around €1.1bn from private capital.

"There is no concern or need to doubt these results," Jazbec told a news conference. A government statement said the recapitalisation would ensure "a way out of the crisis".

The European Union accepted Jazbec's assurances that Slovenia would deal with the problem independently.

EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner Olli Rehn said: "Today it is clear that Slovenia can proceed with the repair of its financial sector without turning to her European partners for financial assistance."

Yet Igor Masten, associate professor of economics at the University of Ljubljana told Reuters: "It is hard to see what the total cost is. There is much more they will have to clarify."

Prime minister Alenka Bratušek said earlier this month that the nation has built up a €5bn cash cushion to cover the costs following the sale of €1.5bn of bonds in a private placement in November.

At the time the left of centre government played down the need for even a €4.6bn rescue of the banking sector, saying it was exaggerated.

Her government is under pressure to stabilise the economy, which is mired in recession and coping with an unemployment rate in excess of 12%.

The crisis represents a dramatic fall from grace for Slovenia, an ex-Yugoslav republic of 2 million people that for years was viewed as a haven of stability and economic health.

While the rest of Yugoslavia imploded in war in the 1990s, Slovenia took a fast-track to membership of the EU in 2004 and the eurozone in 2007.

A fire sale of national assets once considered sacrosanct is set to ensue. They include No. 2 lender Nova KBM, Telekom Slovenia, flag carrier Adria Airways and Ljubljana international airport.

Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank, backed the stress test results, saying they arrived at a credible number. He said: "The market will be relieved that it is on the table now, and realistic."

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« Reply #10629 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:27 AM »

Four Kaupthing bankers sentenced to prison for market abuses in 2008

Ex-chief executive given five and a half years in case involving loan to Qatari sheikh to boost shares before bank's collapse

Reuters, Thursday 12 December 2013 19.51 GMT   

An Icelandic court has sentenced four former Kaupthing bankers to jail for market abuses related to a large stake taken in the bank by a Qatari sheikh just before it went under in late 2008.

Weeks before the country's top three banks collapsed under huge debts as the global credit crunch struck, Kaupthing announced that Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani had bought 5 of its shares in a confidence-boosting move.

A parliamentary commission later said the shares had been bought with a loan from Kaupthing itself.

On Thursday, a Reykjavik district court sentenced Hreidar Mar Sigurdsson, Kaupthing's former chief executive, to five and a half years in prison while former chairman Sigurdur Einarsson received a five-year sentence.

Magnus Gudmundsson, former chief executive of Kaupthing Luxembourg, was given a three-year sentence and Olafur Olafsson – the bank's second largest shareholder at the time – received three and a half years.

In what is by far the largest case brought by Iceland's special prosecutor against former employees of Iceland's failed banks, it was argued that the market had been deceived by information indicating that financing was coming directly from Al Thani's own funds.

Olafur Thor Hauksson, the special prosecutor who called about 50 witnesses in the case, said the loans granted by the bank had the sole purpose of boosting Kaupthing shares.

None of the bankers, now based in London and Luxembourg, were present on Thursday.

The estate of Kaupthing said earlier this year it had settled a dispute with Al Thani but provided no details, saying only that it had discontinued legal proceedings.

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« Reply #10630 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:31 AM »

Catalonia sets date for independence referendum, but Madrid vows to block it

Catalan parties agree wording of proposed November 2014 referendum but Spanish government says it will not allow vote

Reuters, Thursday 12 December 2013 15.22 GMT   

Separatist parties in Spain's north-eastern Catalonia region on Thursday agreed the wording of an independence referendum proposed for November 2014 but the Spanish government immediately said the vote was illegal and would not happen.

The Catalan regional government head, Artur Mas, said the vote would ask two questions: "Do you want Catalonia to be a state?" and: "Do you want that state to be independent?"

Spain's justice minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, immediately said the vote could not take place because the constitution would not allow it.

The ruling People's party and the main opposition Socialists have both decried Catalan breakaway rhetoric. Both have lost substantial voter support in the region as tensions between Catalonia and Madrid have risen.

Catalonia has strong historic and cultural roots and its own language, aside from Spanish. It wants more say over taxes and public spending, demands that have come to a head as Spain has implemented tough austerity measures to cut its budget deficit.

Polls show that around a half of Catalonia's residents would choose independence in a yes-or-no breakaway referendum.

The region, whose capital is Barcelona, makes up a fifth of the Spanish economy and around 15% of its electorate.

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« Reply #10631 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:35 AM »

2014 European Elections: There will be no anti-EU wave

12 December 2013
Le Monde Paris
Mauro Biani

Notwithstanding predictions announced by many commentators, expert opinion has it that anti-European parties are unlikely to achieve a major breakthrough in in European elections next May. However, this will do little to mitigate Europeans" disaffection with a parliament that they perceive as remote from their concerns.

“By dint of writing of horrible things, horrible things eventually come to pass.” In these troubled times, we might readily apply to Europe the words of actor Michel Simon, playing an author of detective novels who, in the comedy Drôle de drame, fears being murdered. By dint of predicting horrible things about Europe, they eventually come to pass. “If we have a Europe that is ashamed of itself, it will be the extremists who will prevail”, European Commissioner Michel Barnier has warned. “There is nothing worse for Europe than staying silent, and hugging the walls.”

With six months to go before the elections, let us not be intimidated by Marine Le Pen, who is trumpeting loud and clear that her party will win them. In France, perhaps. In Europe, certainly not, if we are to believe the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, who has already done and checked his calculations.

Right-wing extremists may vote in up to 90 deputies. And yet they remain split: the English europhobes of UKIP, allied with the Polish agrarians of the Polish People’s Party (30 seats), do not want to associate with the friends of Marine Le Pen (40 seats), who want nothing to do with the Greek neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn or the Hungarian neo-Nazis of the Jobbik party (20 seats). Everyone has his untouchables. On the left, the extremists would consist of independents (15 to 20 members) and friends of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Die Linke (50 members). In total, the anti-Europeans would rise in number from 100 to a maximum of 160 members.

Germans, Spaniards and Portuguese do not vote for the extremes

This relative European resistance, in an assembly of 764 members, is explained in part by the discipline of the former fascist dictatorships: Germans, Spaniards and Portuguese do not vote for the extremes. The right is occasionally muscular, like the Bavarian CSU; nationalist and regional, like the Spaniards, but it always remains beyond the pale of acceptable parties. But let us stop this unhealthy relish in announcing the worst to Strasbourg: the pro-Europeans – the Social Democrats (PES), the Greens, the Liberals, and the Christian Democrats (EPP) – would have at least 530 seats, down from the current 610.
Nothing can be taken for granted

These simulations, based on polls and recent elections, also show that nothing can be taken for granted about the polarisation of the Strasbourg Assembly: the PES would bounce back and, with 220 seats, be on an equal footing with the EPP. The losers will be the Greens (down to 40 from 58) and the Liberal Democrats (down to between 60 and 70 seats, from 85). Here's the rub: Strasbourg may find itself, as happened in Germany, putting together a grand coalition. This alliance of necessity, though, risks reinforcing the notion that everything has already been decided on in Europe, which will feed massive abstention. The decline seems inexorable. Participation, which was 62 per cent for the first election of MEPs by universal suffrage in 1979, fell to below 50 per cent in 1999 and to 42.5 per cent in 2009.

It’s puzzling behaviour indeed by voters, who are voting less and less while MEPs are constantly acquiring more power. Once upon a time they had only the right to approve the non-agricultural budget of Europe – i.e. almost nothing – and to vote on resolutions on the Grenadine Islands, to recall a joke by Jacques Delors. Today they co-decide on all European legislation.

There are three explanations for this indifference. Firstly, the European Parliament contents itself merely with endorsing or modifying from the sidelines the compromises reached between the member states and the European Commission. Secondly, the real debates are at the national level. And lastly, the Strasbourg Parliament will never be a genuine Parliament because it does not represent the peoples of Europe.

This is what is alleged by the Constitutional Court of Karlsruhe, which explains that the Maltese are overrepresented compared to the Germans. A little modesty would be in order here, since we know that the Chamber is dominated by the large German-speaking contingents of the EPP and the PES.
No European demos

The fundamental problem is that there is no “European demos” or European people, at least not yet; the citizens of the old Continent do not recognise the legitimacy of an assembly that works based on complex divisions (left-right, North-South, founders-new members, etc). The votes of MEPs most often cluster around a moderate European balance – but that prevents a traditional democratic confrontation, which disorients the populations. Add to this the schizophrenia of the parties, which are European in Brussels but are tempted to head up their lists with candidates that avoid talking too much about Europe during the campaigns on home ground.

[Former French President] Valéry Giscard d'Estaing felt he had made a mistake by insisting that MEPs be elected by universal suffrage starting in 1979. He was not entirely wrong: the European Parliament has no roots in any populations, it is disconnected from the national representation, and it will not save itself through its works. It must be re-anchored in European soil. In Europe, however, no one knows how to dismantle institutions. Instead, one piles on another to get things back on track. To manage the economic and monetary policy of the euro area, it might be advisable to establish a congress that brings together MEPs and national MPs. This would be an assembly in which citizens might recognise themselves.

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« Reply #10632 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:42 AM »

Iran halts nuclear talks after U.S. blacklist move

By Travis Gettys
Friday, December 13, 2013 7:15 EST

Iranian negotiators halted nuclear talks with major powers to return to Tehran for consultations after Washington blacklisted a dozen companies and individuals for evading U.S. sanctions, state media reported.

“The Iranian negotiators interrupted the talks with the P5+1 for consultations in Tehran,” a negotiator told Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

The negotiators had been discussing the implementation of a landmark interim accord agreed last month with the P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany.

The decision to halt the talks in Vienna came hours after Washington blacklisted a dozen overseas companies and individuals for evading US sanctions on Iran.

The move prompted two top senators to bow to White House pleas not to introduce new sanctions in Congress.

But it risked angering Tehran after repeated warnings from Iranian officials in recent days that any additional punitive measures would be a violation of last month’s agreement.

Under the interim deal reached in Geneva, Iran agreed to freeze parts of its suspect nuclear program for six months in return for some $7 billion in relief from Western sanctions as it negotiates a final, comprehensive accord to allay suspicions it is seeking a weapons capability.

The United States also agreed to refrain from slapping new sanctions on Iran, but senior administration officials argued that Thursday’s measures were taken as part of the existing sanctions regime which had forced Tehran to the negotiating table.


Iranian city picks Islamic republic’s first female minority ethnic mayor

By Saeed Kamali Dehghan, The Guardian
Thursday, December 12, 2013 13:50 EST

A woman belonging to Iran’s Baluch ethnic group has been chosen as the mayor of a provincial city, in a rare example of a minority politician being promoted in the Islamic republic.

Samieh Baluchzehi, 26, has become the mayor of Kalat in the southern province of Sistan and Baluchistan, where women often face gender descrimination in their social and private lives.

Although women have previously been mayors in the Islamic republic, it is unprecedented for an Iranian minority woman to lead a city such as Kalat, situated in one of the country’s most impoverished provinces. Her appointment is even more notable as she is a Sunni Muslim in a Shia-dominated country.

Baluchzehi, who is unmarried, comes from a family of eight in the nearby Sarbaz area but moved to the capital, Tehran, to continue her studies. After finishing a master’s degree in natural resources, she made the rare decision for a young woman enjoying Tehran’s freer society to return to her home town and campaign to become mayor.

On Thursday Shargh, a prominent reformist newspaper, featured the mayor in hijab and wearing makeup on its front page. “I’m a Baluchi woman who has broken the spell over women in management positions,” she said in an interview with Shargh, which described her as someone “who has broken the red lines”.

The five members of the city council in Kalat, which has a population of 1,200, unanimously voted for their first ever female mayor and the country’s first ever female minority mayor.

“I decided to become mayor … because I didn’t want the next generations to face the sort of shortcomings that I dealt with myself,” she said. “Our city has nothing. I don’t want my nephews and nieces or the children of our city to be brought up in a city without parks … I want men and women to be able to walk freely in our city.”

After returning to Kalat from Tehran, she said, she faced many restrictions. “From the beginning, I had no decision to stay in Tehran, I always wanted to go back and serve my people … The restrictions in my city are annoying and I am trying to lift them.”

She said men and women in her city had strongly supported her appointment. “I hope my mayorship becomes a new chapter in the self-confidence among Baluchi women and a revision in [our] male-dominated system and an improvement in women’s rights and their role in the society,” she said. “My hope is for a green city with blue skies.”

Sistan and Baluchistan, Iran’s largest province on the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, is home to a big population of Iranian Baluchis and Sunni Muslims. It is also a hub for drug smugglers as well as insurgent groups fighting against the Islamic republic, including Jundallah, which Iran considers a terrorist organisation.

In October, 14 Iranian border guards were killed in an ambush by armed militamen in Saravan, near the Pakistan border. Iran retaliated by hanging at least 16 people it branded as members of an armed rebel group, although it was not clear if they were linked to the group involved in the ambush.

During his campaign for the presidency, Hassan Rouhani promised to improve the rights of ethnic and religious minorities.

After taking office, he appointed Ali Younesi, a former intelligence minister, to serve as his special assistant in minorities’ affairs.

“They [our minorities] should also become directors, governors, ministers and they should be considered for these jobs based on merit and without any descrimination,” Younesi has told the reformist Arman daily, adding: “No Baluch for being Baluch, or Arab for being Arab or Christian or Jew for being Christian or Jew should be deprived of holding jobs.”

Iran is home to diverse ethnic minorities including Arabs, Azeris, Kurds, Baluchis, Turkmens and Armenians, as well as religious minorities such as Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians (who are officially tolerated) and Bahais, who are banned and face much persecution in the country.

In recent years, Iranian ethnic and religious minorities have spoken out against discrimination and inequality in spheres such as access to education, welfare and funds.

As promised during his election campaign, Rouhani has recently released a citizens’ rights charter aimed at protecting the rights of Iranians including minorities, but because the rights rely on the Iranian constitution and Islamic law, it excludes certain minorities such as gay people and Bahais.

Nazila Ghanea, a professor of international human rights law at Oxford University, who has written a critique of Rouhani’s rights charter has warned that it needs major revisions in order to uphold the rights of all Iranians, or else it “will only serve to camouflage continuing and serious human rights concerns”. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #10633 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:44 AM »

More than 20 Iraqi suspects escape detention

Prisoners, some linked to al-Qaida, break out of cell after killing guard in latest of several jailbreaks

Reuters, Friday 13 December 2013 12.21 GMT

More than 20 Iraqi suspects have escaped from a Baghdad detention centre after murdering a guard, in the latest of a series of jailbreaks. There were differing versions of how many were still on the loose.

Interior ministry spokesman Sa'ad Ma'an said 22 people escaped– some of whom had links to al-Qaida. All except three were later recaptured. One prisoner was killed in clashes outside the centre, he said.

But three police sources told Reuters at least 14 prisoners were on the run from the facility in Kadhimiya, north-west Baghdad. They said 11 people were recaptured but a prisoner and a police officer were killed.

Hakim al-Zamili, a member of a parliamentary committee which oversees the performance of the security services, said the prisoners had pretended that one of them was critically ill and lured a guard into their cell. They then attacked him with sharp weapons, seized his gun and escaped.

"This area is very fortified because many security institutions are based there, which means that the escaped suspects got help from inside to guide them smoothly out," he said.

A co-ordinated attack in July freed hundreds of prisoners from Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail, the boldest insurgent operation in Iraq in more than five years. An al-Qaida affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), claimed responsibility.

Iraq is going through its worst wave of violence in the last five years and ISIL insurgents have increased their attacks on civilians and government targets.

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« Reply #10634 on: Dec 13, 2013, 07:49 AM »

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
December 13, 2013, 6:54 am

Youth Trumps Experience and Wealth in Unlikely Aam Aadmi Party Win


NEW DELHI – Of all the David-and-Goliath battles the Aam Aadmi Party faced in the Delhi assembly elections last week, the one in Mangolpuri, a gritty district in northern part of the capital, was among the least likely to result in a win for the upstart party.

The Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party, also known as A.A.P., put on the ballot Rakhi Birla, its youngest candidate at 26. The former television reporter not only had no political experience, her youth could have been considered a liability in a country where advanced age is associated with experience and wisdom in politics. Presently, 65 percent of Indians are below 35 years of age, but the majority of its ministers are over 65.

Through her publicly funded party, she ran against millionaire politician Raj Kumar Chauhan, 56, who joined politics in 1976 and had won four consecutive elections since 1993 for the Indian National Congress, which also leads the governing coalition of the central government.

Her victory of over 10,000 votes stunned many political observers. Arvind Kejriwal, the Aam Aadmi Party leader who defeated the three-term chief minister Sheila Dikshit of the Congress Party by over 20,000 votes, cited Ms. Birla’s win as a shining example of the spirit of their politics.

“When the common man rises up, the thrones of a lot of powerful people will be rocked, some of those thrones have been broken today,” he said.

Wearing a wide grin under her white Gandhi sidecap, Ms. Birla appeared both astonished and amused at the reactions to her win over Mr. Chauhan, who also served as the minister for the Public Works Department.

“I really don’t know why everyone is so shocked. Nobody really challenged him before,” she said in an interview earlier this week at her party’s sparse office, where Aam Aadmi Party members, also wearing white Gandhi sidecaps, came and went. “All we did was tell the people that their one vote mattered, and if they used it well, it would secure the future of their children.”

Ms. Birla continually dismissed any credit for her big victory. “People didn’t vote for me; they voted for the broom,” she said, referring to her party’s symbol, which signaled a sweeping away of corruption and the old order.

The 1-year-old party exploded into national consciousness by bagging 28 out of 70 seats in the Delhi elections, after only a few months of rigorous campaigning pegged on promise of combating corruption.

Though the Bharatiya Janta Party, or B.J.P., took 32 seats, it was the members of the fledgling party who emerged as heroes for challenging the two political heavyweights of the country. Now with the Aam Aadmi Party refusing an alliance with the B.J.P. for a coalition government, Delhi faces the possibility of another election within the next six months.

“No problem, let’s do it again,” Ms. Birla said. “It’s part of our social movement so we’ll keep taking it forward.”

Like some of those who voted for Mr. Kejriwal, Ms. Birla too had been moved by his decision to give up a cushy job as a government tax inspector to become an anti-corruption activist. “I was television journalist and that gives you glamor and fame, but I also realized that it wasn’t fulfilling,” she said. “I am a legislator today, but the message is that if a girl like me can do it, then anyone who wants to change should stand up.”

Vowing big changes in the near future, Ms. Birla said that her priorities were improving sanitation in the slums of her constituency, and beefing up women’s safety.

“If you ask an auto-wallah to go to Mangolpuri after 8 in the night, he won’t go,” she said. “It’s a matter of shame and sadness for all of us.”

Born and raised in the low-income neighborhood of Mangolpuri, Ms. Birla was at home on its noisy streets crammed with vehicles and vendors jostling in a swirl of smog, and she said she was ready to take on the challenges of governing and the political intrigues that accompany it.

“All youngsters hate politics because they see it as a dirty thing,” she said. “I joined A.A.P. not for politics but because of the ideology of changing that dirty thing. But to clean the muck you have to get into it.”

One of her constituents, Poonam Rai, 19, who lives in a slum about five kilometers, or three miles, from the party’s office, said that she knew little of Ms. Birla, but it was her party’s message of change and battling corruption that appealed to her.

Ms. Rai spoke agitatedly about the infrequent garbage collection, overflowing sewers and the daily problems that women faced because there was no toilet in the slum. “We have to go in a public place, and there are men passing cheap comments,” she said. “It is humiliating and embarrassing.”

Local residents of Mangolpuri who voted for upstart party said that they were counting on its lawmakers to make good on its promise of cutting electricity and water bills of over 2,000 rupees, or $ 32, every month, which were too high for them.

In the slum, loyalties were divided. Supporters of Mr. Chauhan said that he had responded to their demands over the years, especially by making water available in their homes.

“I don’t believe that new party will be able to fulfill their grand promises,” said Bilkis, 30, a Congress supporter who goes by one name. “But let’s see how they behave before a re-election.”

Ms. Birla’s parents said that they never tried to dissuade their daughter, the youngest of their four children, from stepping into politics. Her family had been engaged in social causes for generations, starting with her great-grandfather and then grandfather who joined the struggle for India’s independence.

Ms. Birla’s father, Bhupendra Singh Birla, said he had been a party worker in the Congress Party for 15 years before joining the movement led by social activist Anna Hazare in 2011 that called for the passage of an anticorruption bill, which would set up an independent body to prosecute political, judicial and government figures.

The family also runs a trust to provide free eye treatment, operations and medicines. So, Ms. Birla said, getting involved in social causes “is in her genes.”

In 2011, she reported on the anticorruption movement in which Mr. Kejriwal was a major force as well, and last year she covered the protests that erupted over the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi a year ago.

“She used to come home and cry a lot,” Sheila Birla, her mother, recalled. “She asked, What has happened to us; what we can do to fix this country? I think that experience really hit her.”

She loved her job as a journalist, Ms. Birla said, but these two events made her realize that big changes could be made from the inside the system. And so when Mr. Hazare’s movement fizzled out and gave way to Mr. Kejriwal’s new party, she signed up.

Her mother talked about how father and daughter had campaigned together in the myriad by-lanes and knocked on countless doors of Mangolpuri under the scorching sun and late into the night. “I am so proud of her. It is a miracle,” she said.

While millions of Indian fathers would be thinking about getting their 26-year-old daughters married off by now, Mr. Birla said, “I am happy to give my daughter to the service of the country.”

Laughing, Ms. Birla, chimed in, “Let’s save the country first and then get married.”

Two days after the election results, the young legislator said that the first of the two big changes she had experienced was that her mobile phone would not stop ringing.

And the second: “Till yesterday, I was putting my problems before others,” she said. “And now people are coming with their problems, and I am happy to have the ability to help them.”


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
December 3, 2013, 8:09 am

Homeless in Delhi Get Chance to Exercise Voting Rights


NEW DELHI — On a hazy Tuesday morning at a homeless shelter, Durga Dayal, 27, showed me his voter identity card with great elation. As I sat looking at his voter card, scores of people flitted in and out of the shelter, inquiring about whether their cards had arrived as well.

The excitement was palpable and justified as a new voting bloc has emerged in the national capital before the Delhi state assembly elections on Wednesday. Considered one of the most marginalized communities in the state, around 7,000 of the homeless are expected to make their way to the polling booths for the very first time to cast their votes.

“It is a good step as it will help in improving the voting percentage and also to spread awareness about the right to vote in elections,” said Ravinder Kumar Bajaj, an electoral registration officer in charge of Chandni Chowk, a locality in old Delhi. A large number of the homeless have been registered as voters in this assembly constituency.

The registration of these voters has been made possible by years of advocacy efforts by nongovernmental organizations and development agencies. A survey done by the United Nations Development Program in 2010 found that there are close to 56,000 homeless people in the state. However, activists argue that the original number could be at least four times more.

“It took us a lot of years to get them voter cards,” said Indu Prakash Singh, an activist with Indo-Global Social Service Society, which does extensive work with the homeless and runs the shelter where Mr. Dayal sleeps.

Government agencies have routinely blamed the lack of vacant land in the national capital for the meager options in affordable housing, but Mr. Singh dismissed such claims. The issue is not the lack of land, he said, but a lack of political will.

“There must be a holistic plan for the homeless where they must get dignity and self respect,” said Mr. Singh.

While it remains to be seen whether the homeless who have registered will actually exercise their right to vote, people like Mr. Dayal are more heartened by the fact that the card serves as a proof of identity, which will help them in getting jobs or access to housing and basic health services.

“I came to Delhi in 1996 at the age of 13 and have been working in the city ever since,” said Mr. Dayal, who hails from Jainagar district in Bihar, which is bordered by Nepal.

He worked as a day laborer in a cloth export company for many years, then left to work as a hired help during the winter party and wedding season. The rest of the year, he works odd jobs. The Indo-Global Social Service Society is training Mr. Dayal and a couple of other people at the shelter in electrical work.

Though Mr. Dayal now has a say in Delhi’s elections, he does not know any of the local political leaders, nor does he understand the issues that govern the elections.

“The homeless are very poor people concerned with day-to-day survival, and they do not have such allegiances to a particular party,” said Uma Shankar, one of the caretakers of the shelter.

The shelter, which sits on the banks of the Yamuna River, is one among several small cement buildings with asbestos roofs constructed by the state government across the city. Sprawled along the river are even more homeless people, many of them elderly, huddled in groups along the river and trying to ward off the winter cold with their thin blankets.

“We have to realize that these are working people, and without them, the informal sector will crumble,” said Dhananjay Tingal, senior director of Prayas, a nonprofit that manages several camps for the homeless. “The government fears more migration of people from neighboring states if the homeless in the city are given permanent housing.”

The governing Congress Party and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party have largely dominated Delhi’s electoral politics. The former has held power in the national capital for the last 15 years under the chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, who turned 75 this year. However, experts and political scientists say that a strong anti-incumbency wave is currently sweeping the city, which has seen rising food prices, high inflation and numerous cases of sexual violence against women.

Adding a twist to this year’s elections is the entry of the newly formed Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party, under the leadership of a former tax commissioner, Arvind Kejriwal. He was the former top aide to the anticorruption crusader Anna Hazare, who inspired thousands of people to rally for his cause throughout India two years ago.

Mr. Kejriwal has pledged not only to root out corruption by appointing an independent ombudsman to monitor the government, but he also promised he would cut electricity costs by 50 percent and provide 700 liters of free water every day to every household in the city.

With some of the assembly elections seen as a keenly contested fight among the three parties, every vote is expected to count. It was therefore no surprise that the Congress Party’s manifesto last month declared that it would construct homes for migrant homeless laborers if it remained in power.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., also promised to help the city’s neglected underclass. “Our party has announced in the manifesto that we will increase the number of shelters for the homeless,” Anil Jain, national B.J.P. secretary, said in an interview on Monday.

“In phase 2, after coming to power, we shall think about affordable housing for them,” said Mr. Jain.

In the meantime, some of the newly enfranchised homeless residents of Delhi were looking forward to Wednesday. Mohammed Tabrez, 25, who came to the capital from the hinterlands of Bihar, said he was excited about voting for the first time but declined to divulge his political leanings.

But like Mr. Dayal, Mr. Tabrez was thinking about the voter card’s usefulness after the elections.

“Earlier, I used to spend whatever I earn in a jiffy, but now that I have a voter card, I plan to open a bank account and make some savings,” said Mr. Tabrez.

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