Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Paris mayor to sue Fox News over ‘no-go zones’ slur

2015-01-20

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told CNN on Tuesday that her city intends to sue Fox News after it broadcasted interviews asserting that there are “no-go zones” in the French capital where police and non-Muslims fear to tread.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Hidalgo said Fox had “insulted” the city.
"When we're insulted, then I think we'll have to sue, I think we'll have to go to court, in order to have these words removed," Paris’s Socialist mayor said. "The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honour of Paris has been prejudiced."
Hidalgo’s comments come despite an apology from Fox news following its incendiary interview with “National Security expert” Nolan Peterson in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, in which he claimed that certain districts of Paris were comparable with Baghdad.
His comments were echoed by Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s eurosceptic UKIP party, who told Fox that the so-called no-go zones matched a rise of “big ghettos” across Europe.
Fox was widely ridiculed for its comments on the French capital, with TV channels airing ironically sinister interviews with bemused residents of these districts who insisted that Fox’s negative portrayal of the city was laughably off the mark.

Analysts Predict a Russian Descent Into Madness

By Ivan Nechepurenko


President Vladimir Putin cannot afford at this point to reform the political system he has built up, as doing so would undermine his grip on power, a panel of political analysts said at the Gaidar Forum on Friday.
They went on to warn that without fundamental change, Russia risks an eventual descent into "revolutionary chaos." The panel, which consisted of several analysts known for their vocal criticism of Russian government policy, spoke before a packed audience.
Such heated political rhetoric may seem out of place at a high-level economic policy conference co-organized by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) and the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy. But the final day of this year's forum was marked by departures from mainstream economics, with forays into everything from politics to education.
The political panel was moderated by Leonid Gozman, who has stood at the helm of some of Russia's most prominent liberal parties over the course of the past decade.
At one point Gozman asked the panel, which included seven Russian analysts and one American, to say something nice about the ruling elite. "We have to say something good about the government, or we won't be allowed to hold this session again next year," he said facetiously.

Rapid Deterioration

Jokes aside, the speakers had a tough time finding any silver linings in what they saw as the many challenges Russia is presently facing due to the decisions Putin has made during his 15 years as Russia's central political figure.
Most of the analysts agreed that Russia's political system will likely remain inert over the course of 2015, with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expected to remain in his post. At the same time, the majority agreed that the system is fragile, and susceptible to rapid deterioration.
"We have entered a stage of fantastic instability," said Georgy Satarov, former aide to Russia's first President, Boris Yeltsin, and now an expert on political corruption in Russia.
According to Satarov, the current economic crisis may leave the government with only two options: launch dramatic political reforms or tighten the screws.
"The fact that everyday life in Russia is still stable prevents common people from understanding how fragile the political situation is," he said.
The second option — cracking down — could provoke widespread dissent, which could in turn propel Russia into "revolutionary chaos," Saratov said. "This is an absolutely realistic scenario," he urged.
Experts were divided on the question of where such revolutionary chaos could originate. Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Moscow-based Mercator political research group, suggested that momentum would likely start in Moscow, as the capital continues to grow increasingly gentrified and politically conscious in contrast to other Russian regions.
Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst with the Higher School of Economics, argued that such fervor could emerge in Chechnya, as its leader Ramzan Kadyrov grows increasingly independent and power-hungry.
"Kadyrov has 20,000 people that swore allegiance to him and Putin. In case there is a difficulty in Moscow, they would defend them," Petrov said. "Russia is hostage to the regime; the regime is hostage to Putin; while Putin is hostage to his decisions, which have left him without an exit strategy."

Perestroika Impossible

Tatiana Vorozheikina, a political scientist specializing in Latin American affairs, argued that fundamental political change remains an unlikely scenario for the foreseeable future in Russia, as such change would threaten the standing of the present-day political elite.
At the same time, she opined, the current structure is rooted in Putin. "I don't believe the regime can be preserved without Putin," said Vorozheikina. "The process of a negative selection among the elites did not leave anybody prominent and authoritative in the establishment, who would be able to assume power during the transition period."
Regardless of the likelihood of impending change, Vorozheikina argued that Russia's political power players are not primarily to blame for bringing about the country's current economic crisis.

Putin's Rating

Despite the panelists' conclusions on the Kremlin's hurdle-laden road ahead, it does not appear that Russia's economic downturn will necessarily force Putin's hand with regard to reforms. Recent statistics reveal that his approval ratings are no longer tied to the country's overall prosperity.
Poll results published last week by the independent Levada Center revealed that 55 percent of Russians would like to see Putin remain Russia's president after the next election in 2018. Tellingly, 54 percent of respondents said they see no alternative to Putin. The poll was conducted among 1,600 respondents with the margin of error not exceeding 3.4 percent.
According to Alexei Levinson, senior researcher at the Levada Center, approval of Putin and approval of the Russian leadership overall are two very different issues.
"Over the past 15 months, Putin has come to be seen as a symbolic and sacred figure who is not responsible for the economic situation in the country, but is responsible for the country's greatness," Levinson told the Gaidar Forum audience.
"The more Russians feel that they are threatened by the outside world, the more they will consolidate around Putin," he said.

Predictions and Advice

As the session drew to a close, Gozman asked the participants to offer words of advice to Putin, and to hypothesize about the coming year.
Most experts recommended that Putin introduce fair competition into the political system, in particular by allowing possible "successors" to emerge.
"Russia must find a mechanism that would introduce rotation into government … No regime can survive without rotation at the very top," said Timothy Colton, professor of government and Russian studies at Harvard and chairman of the university's department of government.
As for the coming year, most experts were grim, predicting that the crisis in Ukraine will likely escalate over the course of 2015, and that protest activity in Russia will likely remain small-scale and localized, even if it intensifies.
Gozman said that most of the last year's predictions failed to materialize, and that the prize — a bottle of booze — would therefore not be awarded to any of the panelists. However, next year's winner will get two bottles to distract from the dismal realities he or she correctly predicted this year — that is, if the Presidential Academy allows the same experts to hold such a panel again, he added.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Alaska lawmakers will scrutinize budget, pot and Medicaid

JUNEAU, Alaska There’s big question as the Legislature convenes Tuesday: How low will oil prices go?
Plunging prices have contributed to massive budget deficits that cuts alone can’t erase. Alaska has billions of dollars in its constitutional budget reserve, but oil prices and spending will dictate how long that cushion lasts.
Here are five things to watch for over the next 90 days:
It’s the top priority of leaders who have spent the past month or so warning of rough times ahead. Many lawmakers aren’t expecting much in the capital budget beyond the federal-match projects generally found in the placeholder budget put out by Gov. Bill Walker two weeks after he was sworn in. Walker is scheduled to address the budget situation in a special speech Thursday night.
The size of the budget hole is unprecedented, according to Legislative Finance Director David Teal. The current year deficit is estimated at $3.5 billion, up $2.1 billion from May, when the 2015 budget was signed. Next year’s deficit is forecast to be comparable.
A number of lawmakers want to focus this session on cuts, prioritizing spending and looking at ways to deliver services more efficiently or differently. Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Berta Gardner said she will consider it a win if education, a major driver of the state’s operating budget, isn’t cut. But she said the way education is funded is open to change, including taking a look at the current per-pupil funding formula.
Alaska doesn’t have a state sales or personal income tax, and Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said he’d like to keep it that way.
“In order to do that, we have two choices, and that is to cut services or ask Alaskans how they want to pay for those services that are outside of our core constitutional responsibility as a state,” he said.
MEDICAID EXPANSION: This is likely to come up as part of the budget debate. As a candidate, Walker pledged to expand Medicaid coverage in Alaska if elected. Medicaid is a program that helps cover health care cost for lower-income people and, like education, is a major budget driver. Walker’s health commissioner, Valerie Davidson, sees expanded coverage as an important investment in the health care of Alaskans and a catalyst for reforming the system to ensure it’s sustainable.
The feds are expected to cover the full cost of expansion through 2016 and the bulk of costs indefinitely, with the state contributing.
This will be Walker’s first session in office and his relationship with the GOP-led Legislature will be watched.
He defeated Republican incumbent Sean Parnell in November. Walker changed his party affiliation from Republican to undeclared in joining forces with Democrat Byron Mallott as part of an “Alaska first” unity ticket. The state Democratic Party has lauded Walker, and Democrats see in him a partner. Walker’s shakeup of the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. riled some Republican lawmakers. But GOP legislative leaders say they’re willing to work with Walker’s administration.
Lawmakers will have to sign off on Walker’s new appointments, including new members of the Cabinet and those he picks to fill the three empty gas line board seats.

Questions about the state’s handling of sexual assault and other allegations of misconduct within the Alaska National Guard overshadowed last year’s gubernatorial race. The Walker administration plans to hire a special investigator to look into the issue. Legislative hearings are also expected.
Voters in November approved legalizing recreational use of marijuana by those 21 and older. Pot consumption becomes legal Feb. 24, but the state has another nine months after that to come up with regulations for the sale of marijuana. Proposals dealing with who oversees the regulation of the industry and the location of shops should get scrutiny this session.

Richest 1% to own more than rest of the world by 2016: Oxfam

PARIS: Wealth accumulated by the richest one percent will exceed that of the other 99 percent in 2016, the Oxfam charity said on Monday, ahead of the annual meeting of the world's most powerful at Davos, Switzerland.

"The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast," Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima said.

The richest one percent's share of global wealth increased from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014, the British charity said in a report, adding that it will be more that 50 percent in 2016.

The average wealth per adult in this group is $2.7 million (2.3 million euros), Oxfam said.

Of the remaining 52 percent, almost all - 46 percent - is owned by the rest of the richest fifth of the world's population, leaving the other 80 percent to share just 5.5 percent with an average wealth of $3,851 (3,330 euros) per adult, the report says.

Byanyima, who is to co-chair at the Davos World Economic Forum taking place Wednesday through Friday, urged leaders to take on "vested interests that stand in the way of a fairer and more prosperous world."

Oxfam called upon states to tackle tax evasion, improve public services, tax capital rather than labour, and introduce living minimum wages, among other measures, in a bid to ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth.

The 45th World Economic Forum that runs from Wednesday to Saturday will draw a record number of participants this year with more than 300 heads of state and government attending.

Rising inequality will be competing with other global crises including terrorist threats in Europe, the worst post-Cold War stand-off between Russia and the West and renewed fears of financial turmoil.

France's Francois Hollande, Germany's Angela Merkel and China's Li Keqiang will be among world leaders seeking to chart a path away from fundamentalism towards solidarity.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and US Secretary of State John Kerry are also expected.

Beyond geopolitical crises, hot-button issues like the Ebola epidemic, the challenges posed by plunging oil prices and the future of technology will also be addressed at the posh Swiss ski resort.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fewer Struggle With Medical Costs as Obamacare Expands Coverage

WASHINGTON (AP)Not only do more Americans have health insurance, but the number struggling with medical costs has dropped since President Barack Obama’s health care law expanded coverage, according to a study released Thursday.

 The Commonwealth Fund’s biennial health insurance survey found that the share of U.S. adults who did not get needed care because of cost dropped from 43 percent in 2012 to 36 percent last year, as the health care law’s main coverage expansion went into full swing.
The proportion of people who got treatment but had problems paying their bills also dropped, from 41 percent in 2012 to 35 percent last year.
It was the first time that either measure of financial distress declined since the survey began asking the questions, in 2003 and 2005, respectively.

“Expanded insurance coverage is helping people get the care they need by reducing financial barriers to care,” the study said.
The health care law offers subsidized private insurance to people who don’t have coverage on the job, combined with expanded Medicaid in states that agree to broaden eligibility for that safety-net program.
Soon after the coverage expansion launched last year, a large ongoing survey by Gallup started documenting a sustained drop in the number of uninsured people. The Commonwealth Fund survey fills out that picture by adding details about the affordability of care.
The New York-based Commonwealth Fund is a private foundation dedicated to expanding coverage and improving the quality and cost-effectiveness of the health care system. While those goals generally align with Obama’s health care law, the group is nonpartisan.
The findings come at a crucial juncture for Obama’s law, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear another challenge from opponents committed to rolling it back. Republicans newly in charge of Congress are also planning more repeal votes.
Plaintiffs in the court case argue that the law as written only allows the federal government to subsidize coverage in states that have set up their own insurance markets. Supporters of the law say that while its wording may be confusing, Congress intended for subsidies to be available across the country, regardless of state actions.
 

Since Washington is currently running the insurance markets in 37 states, a ruling favoring of the plaintiffs would unravel coverage gains in many states.
Among the survey’s other highlights:
  • The improvements in affordability are tempered. Many insured people still have problems paying medical bills, partly due to skimpy coverage that shifts costs to patients. That puts even many low-income workers with health insurance in a predicament. Thirty-three percent of insured adults with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($47,100 for a family of four) said they did not get needed care in the past year because of costs.
  • While nationally the share of Americans without health insurance declined from 20 percent in 2010 to 16 percent by the second half of 2014, a divide has opened between states that agreed to expand Medicaid and states choosing not to. Thirty-five percent of adults below the poverty line remained uninsured in states that did not expand eligibility, compared with 19 percent in states that did.
  • Hispanics continued to lag other ethnic groups in coverage, despite the health care law. In 2014, 34 percent of Latinos were still uninsured, compared to 18 percent of African Americans and 10 percent of whites.

The Commonwealth Fund survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from July 22 to Dec. 14, 2014. The report’s analysis was based on interviews with 4,251 adults age 19-64. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

The Republican Party's war with Pope Francis has finally started

Damon Linker

 It looks like 2015 is shaping up to be the year when Catholic conservatives declare war on Pope Francis.
We heard the first rumblings last fall, when the preliminary draft of a statement produced by the extraordinary Synod on the Family inspired New York Times columnist Ross Douthat to warn ominously about the possibility of a schism in the church if the Vatican loosens doctrinal strictures against divorced (and remarried) lay people receiving the sacrament of Communion.
But most Catholic conservatives have held their tongues, working to put a positive spin on papal pronouncements that many of them find increasingly alarming. (Sure the pope’s denunciations of capitalism are galling, but listen to his passionate attacks on abortion! Yes, Francis is far too nice to gays, but he gave such an inspiring speech on the last day of the Synod!)
So far, the tactic has worked — at least until now.
Interestingly, the decisive provocation appears to be the pope’s forthcoming encyclical on the environment.
On Jan. 3, Robert P. George assured readers at First Things that they could safely ignore whatever the pope might say about climate change because his arguments would be based on contestable empirical claims about which Francis possesses no special expertise. Two days later, author Maureen Mullarkey wrote a blistering blog post, also at FT, in which she went much further — to condemned the pope as “an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist” who views “man as a parasite” and “sullies his office by using demagogic formulations to bully the populace into reflexive climate action with no more substantive guide than theologized propaganda.” (FT editor R.R. Reno disowned the Mullarkey post later in the week.)
Finally, on the same day that Mullarkey’s post appeared, Catholic columnist Steve Moore denounced Francis in Forbes, calling his public policy pronouncements on economics and the environment a “complete disaster” that show that he’s “allied himself with the far left and has embraced an ideology that would make people poorer and less free.”
Looks like the honeymoon is finally over.
The question is why now — and why over the environment of all things?
The answer, I think, is that the environment, in itself, has very little to do with it. The problem is simply that Francis has broken from too many elements in the Republican Party platform. First there were affirming statements about homosexuality. Then harsh words for capitalism and trickle-down economics. And now climate change. That, it seems, is a bridge too far. Francis has put conservative American Catholics in the position of having to choose between the pope and the GOP. It should surprise no one that they’re siding with the Republicans.

 Under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, a number of neoconservative Catholics (or theocons) went out of their way to make the case for the deep compatibility between Catholicism and the GOP. But not just compatibility: more like symbiosis. For Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, George Weigel, and their allies, the GOP would serve as a vehicle for injecting Catholic moral and social ideas into American political culture — while those Catholics ideas, in turn, would galvanize the Republican Party, lending theological gravity and purpose to its agenda and priorities.
In the hands of the theocons, the Republican platform became more than a parochially American mishmash of positions thrown haphazardly together for contingent historical reasons. Rather, it was a unified statement of High Moral Truth rooted in Thomas Aquinas’ medieval theology of natural law — the most highly developed outgrowth of Christian civilization.
Opposition to abortion was bound up with hostility to euthanasia and same-sex marriage as well as with support for domestic policies that encourage traditional family life — with all of these flowing from an overarching commitment to a “culture of life” and resistance to a “culture of death.” This commitment also justified an assertive American foreign policy that championed freedom, imposed global order, and upheld the highest standards of international justice. And of course, the vision of the free society that guided American foreign policy was one with relatively low taxes and minimal government regulations in which the primary burden of charity and other support for the poor falls primarily on individuals and local communities.
To be a devout Catholic and a conservative Republican in the three decades separating Ronald Reagan’s first term and the start of Pope Francis’s pontificate in March 2013 was to feel virtually no tension between one’s political and theological commitments. Which isn’t to say that conflicts never arose. Occasionally they did — when John Paul or Benedict spoke out against the death penalty, pointed out injustices endemic to capitalism, or expressed concerns about the latest American war. But there was always a theoconservative writer at the ready, willing and eager to accentuate continuities with the GOP and explain away the difficulties.
That has become ever more untenable in the 22 months since Francis became pope, as the points of divergence have multiplied. With the release of an encyclical that looks likely to break forcefully with the climate-change denialism that has become a fixture of the Republican mind, American conservatives appear to have reached a moment of decision: Should they side with the party or the pontiff?
Mullarkey and Moore, at least, have made it very clear where they stand: with the GOP and against the pope. Robert George, meanwhile, remains committed to the old theocon strategy of explaining away the difficulties — of telling Catholic Republicans that there’s no need to choose, because GOP ideology and Catholic social teaching go together just as easily and happily as ever.
Except that, increasingly, they don’t — as more and more Catholic Republicans are coming to understand.
The war is underway, and there may well be nothing the theocons can do to stop it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Study: Sea level rise accelerating more than once thought

WASHINGTON (AP)The world’s oceans are now rising far faster than they did in the past, a new study says.
The study found that for much of the 20th century — until about 1990 — sea level was about 30 percent less than earlier research had figured. But that’s not good news, scientists say, because about 25 years ago the seas started rising faster and the acceleration in 1990 turns out to be more dramatic than previously calculated.
The current sea level rise rate — which started in 1990 — is 2.5 times faster than it was from 1900 to 1990, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. Scientists say that faster pace of sea level rise is from melting ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica and shrinking glaciers, triggered by man-made global warming.
“We’re seeing a significant acceleration in the past few decades,” said study lead author Carling Hay, a geophysical researcher at Harvard University. “It’s concerning for cities along the U.S. East Coast” where water levels are rising even faster than the world average.
“It’s definitely something that can’t be ignored,” Hay said.
Previous research said that between 1900 and 1990, the seas rose about two-thirds of an inch a decade. The new study recalculates the 1900-1990 rate to less than half an inch a decade.
Old and new research both say that since 1990 seas are rising at about 1.2 inches a decade.
While hundreds of tide gauges around the world have been measuring sea levels since 1900, they have mostly been in Europe and North America with few in the polar regions or the middle of the oceans, Hay said. So past estimates of 20th century sea level rise gave an incomplete picture of the global effect, said study co-author Jerry Mitrovica, a geophysics professor at Harvard.
The new method uses statistical analysis and computer models to better simulate the areas in the gap, Mitrovica said......................

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pope says concern for poor is Gospel, not communism



VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis is insisting that his concern for the poor and critique of the global economic system isn't some novel, communist-inspired ideology but rather the original and core "touchstone" of the Christian faith.
Some U.S. conservatives have branded the first Latin American pope a Marxist for his frequent critiques of consumerism and focus on a church "that is poor and for the poor." But in an interview contained in a new book, Francis explains that his message is rooted in the Gospel and has been echoed by church fathers since Christianity's first centuries.
"The Gospel does not condemn the wealthy, but the idolatry of wealth, the idolatry that makes people indifferent to the call of the poor," Francis says in "This Economy Kills," a study of the pope's economic and social teachings, excerpts of which were provided Sunday to The Associated Press.
Specifically, Francis summarized a verse from the Gospel of Matthew which is the essential mission statement of his papacy: "I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was in prison, I was sick, I was naked and you helped me, clothed me, visited me, took care of me."
"Caring for our neighbor, for those who are poor, who suffer in body and soul, for those who are in need: this is the touchstone. Is it pauperism? No. It is the Gospel."
He cites church fathers dating to St. Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom as expressing the same concerns, and noted somewhat wryly that if he had said the same "some would accuse me of giving a Marxist homily."
"As we can see, this concern for the poor is in the Gospel, it is within the tradition of the church, it is not an invention of communism and it must not be turned into some ideology, as has sometimes happened before in the course of history," an apparent reference to the Latin American-inspired liberation theology.
`'This Economy Kills," by two seasoned Vatican reporters, comes out this week in Italian.