Archive for May, 2013

Eurozone Unemployment hits a record 12.2 percent in April

Countries using the Euro de jure Countries and...

The unemployment rate across the 17 European countries that use the euro hit a record 12.2 percent in April, and the number of unemployed is on track to reach 20 million by year’s end.

The worsening jobs crisis points to the recession that has gripped the euro alliance. Many countries are struggling to stimulate growth while grappling with a debt crisis that’s led governments to slash spending and raise taxes.

Unemployment in the eurozone rose in April from the previous record of 12.1 percent set in March, Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics office, said Friday. In 2008, before the worst of the financial crisis, the rate was far less — around 7.5 percent.

The number of unemployed rose 95,000 to 19.38 million. The currency bloc’s population is about 330 million.

Private companies in the eurozone haven’t managed to fill the vacuum created by drastically reduced government spending. In the United States, by contrast, governments have imposed far milder spending cuts and tax increases. Unemployment, at 7.5 percent, is far lower. And consumers and private companies have kept spending, steadily if modestly.

The unemployment rate for the overall eurozone masks sharp disparities among individual countries. Unemployment in Greece and Spain top 25 percent. In Germany, the rate is a low 5.4 percent.

The differences are particularly stark for youth unemployment. More than half of people ages 16 to 25 in Greece and Spain are unemployed. In Italy, the rate for this group tops 40 percent. For Germany, it’s just 7.5 percent.

“Youth joblessness at these levels risks permanently entrenched unemployment, lowering the rate of sustainable growth in the future,” said Tom Rogers, senior economic adviser at Ernst & Young.

The disparities reflect the varying performances of the euro economies. Greece is in its sixth year of a savage recession. Germany’s economy has until recently been growing at a healthy pace.

As a whole, the eurozone is stuck in its longest recession since the euro was launched in 1999. The six quarters of economic decline represent a longer recession than the one that followed the 2008 financial crisis, though it’s not as deep.

The U.S. economy, the world’s largest, has demonstrated far more resilience. It’s grown steadily since the end of its recession in June 2009. And the U.S. job market has steadily improved: The unemployment rate has fallen sharply from a peak of 10 percent.

The eurozone marks the epicenter of Europe’s debt crisis. But other countries in the region are also struggling to recover. Some, like Britain, are focused on shrinking their deficits even while demand in their main export market — the eurozone — is falling.

As a result, unemployment in the wider 27-nation EU, which includes the non-euro countries such as Britain and Poland, has risen in recent months. In April, the rate remained 11 percent.

A key factor behind Europe’s economic decline has been a broad focus on paring debt by raising taxes and slashing spending. As long as many governments continue to cut spending and the confidence of consumers and businesses remains low, economists don’t expect any meaningful recovery in coming months.

Friday’s data showed that the sharpest change in unemployment rates among the 17 euro countries was in Cyprus. Its unemployment rate jumped to 15.6 percent from 14.5 percent.

The small Mediterranean island nation became the fifth euro country to seek financial help in March. Unlike with other bailouts, Cyprus was asked to raise much of its rescue money from bank depositors. That decision led to a nearly two-week shutdown of its banks and battered economic confidence.

The European Central Bank has sought to ease the pressure on Europe’s businesses and consumers by cutting its main interest rate to a record low 0.5 percent this month. Another cut is possible. But most economists say it’s unlikely, even though the inflation rate remains under the ECB’s target of just below 2 percent.

Eurostat said inflation in the eurozone rose to 1.4 percent for the year that ended in May, from the 38-month low of 1.2 percent in April. It attributed the increase to rising food, alcohol and tobacco prices.

Analysts said the ECB is more likely to act to shore up lending to small and medium-sized businesses, which are key job creators in Europe. Such companies are taking out few loans out of fear that the economy might worsen and because banks are charging high rates.

“So far, the ECB’s actions have not translated into lower lending rates for businesses and households, failing to boost activity,” said Anna Zabrodzka, economist at Moody’s Analytics.

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US media boycott of off-the-record Eric Holder meeting

English: Official portrait of United States At...

 

Several U.S. news organisations rejected an offer by Attorney General Eric Holder to meet and discuss how the Justice Department handles investigations that involve reporters, saying it would be inappropriate to talk in secret.

However, representatives of five other media outlets went ahead with a meeting on Thursday, arriving at the Justice Department’s headquarters to see Holder after recent disclosures that federal prosecutors had seized journalists’ records without warning.

Justice Department officials said the meetings were “part of the review of existing Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters.”

Reuters, CNN, The New York Times and the Associated Press declined to meet with Holder, President Barack Obama’s top law enforcement official, because the meetings were due to be “off the record,” meaning they could not be recorded or reported.

The journalists who did attend the initial meeting were James Warren of the New York Daily News, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, John Harris of Politico, Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal and Martin Baron of The Washington Post. They entered the Justice Department through the main entrance.

It was unclear how many media companies were invited or would attend other meetings planned for Friday.

The talks followed the Obama administration’s decision to search the email and phone records of Fox News, and the phone records of the Associated Press, as part of investigations into leaks of secret government information.

The seizure of records, and an FBI agent’s description of Fox News reporter James Rosen as a potential criminal co-conspirator, led to an outcry from journalists and advocates of free speech and prompted new calls for a federal law protecting reporters’ work.

That led to a debate in Washington over how the Obama administration is balancing the need for national security with privacy rights. Along with a separate furore over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative political groups for extra scrutiny, it also stoked fears of excessive government intrusion under Obama.

Holder personally authorized the searches of Fox News records as the Justice Department investigated a leak regarding North Korea, a department official said on Tuesday.

James Cole, the deputy attorney general, authorized the search of the Associated Press records as part of an investigation into a leak about U.S. counterterrorism operations in Yemen.

Holder has echoed Obama in saying that leaks of classified information pose security risks and must stop.

Harris, Politico’s editor in chief, said he routinely has off-the-record conversations to discuss news coverage and news gathering practices, and would attend the meeting with Holder.

“I feel anyone – whether an official or ordinary reader – should be able to have an unguarded conversation with someone in a position of accountability for a news organisation when there is good reason,” he said in an email quoted on Politico’s website.

Bloomberg News told Reuters it would also attend.

Baron, The Washington Post’s executive editor, said he would prefer to meet on the record, but that “journalists routinely participate in off-the-record sessions, whether they prefer those conditions or not, and then continue to report on events.”

A spokesman for ABC News said it would attend but would “press for that conversation to be put on the record.”

Some other media outlets declined.

“We would welcome the opportunity to hear the attorney general’s explanation for the Department of Justice’s handling of subpoenas to journalists, and his thoughts about improving the protections afforded to media organisations in responding to government investigations, but believe firmly that his comments should be for publication,” said Reuters spokesperson Barb Burg.

New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson said in a statement on Wednesday that an off-the-record meeting with the attorney general “isn’t appropriate.” She said the newspaper’s lawyer would likely meet later with other Justice Department officials “on how the law should be applied in leak cases.”

The Associated Press also said the meetings should be open to coverage. If they were not, the AP would “offer our views on how the regulations should be updated in an open letter” and follow up with its lawyers, AP spokeswoman Erin Madigan White said in a statement.

Television networks Fox News, CBS and CNN as well as online news group The Huffington Post also said they would not attend. NBC said it had not decided.

Holder wanted a “constructive policy discussion with professional journalists,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “We are hopeful that media organisations will take advantage of the opportunity to constructively contribute to the process,” he told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Prompted by the Rosen search and the seizure of the Associated Press’ phone records, Obama announced last week that Holder would begin a review of Justice Department procedures related to media records.

Obama and Holder both said they favoured a federal “shield law” for the media that would protect journalists from being compelled to disclose their records in most cases.

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A.G. Holder may have to go with perjury charge probe now likely

English: Eric Holder at Obama-Biden National S...

The House Committee on the Judiciary is said to be targeting US Attorney General Eric Holder over fears he may have lied to Congress during a May hearing regarding private phone records of AP staff, according to a source close to the congressional probe.

London’s, Daily Mail, which is attributing the new information to a Republican aide familiar with the ongoing investigation, alleges that “perjury is on the table” regarding the probe, which hinges on whether Holder was intentionally misleading in claims on the stand that he had no involvement in the Department of Justice’s spying on some 20 journalists with the Associated Press.

“With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material,” Holder testified on May 16, “that is not something that I’ve ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be a wise policy. In fact, my view is quite the opposite.”

Though the scandal stemming from the Department of Justice’s alleged surveillance is still developing, early calls for Holder’s resignation were be skirted by the Attorney General through his denial of direct involvement with the subpoenas used in against the AP.

However, only days later an NBC News report confirmed that another target of a DOJ subpoena for phone records targeting Fox News Channel’s James Rosen and Holder’s personal signature on that order undermined Holder’s testimony.

In both cases, neither Fox News nor the Associated Press were notified by the DOJ that phone records were being examined by using a legal loophole under the Espionage Act, which waives that requirement in the interest of US national security.

And in both cases, the DOJ, and by extension the Obama administration, appears to have been zealously pursuing the source of leaks, fanning the flames in what critics call a relentless persecution of whistleblowers that has had a “chilling effect” on American freedom of the press.

In their application for secret monitoring of the Associated Press the Obama administration, in conjunction with the DOJ, aimed to determine the source of a leak about a CIA operation in Yemen reported by the news agency in 2012.

Responding to NBC’s investigation on the Rosen case, a statement provided by the DOJ acknowledged that the search warrant application was approved “at the highest levels” of the agency, including“discussions” with Holder himself. Even more noteworthy, that affidavit also labeled Rosen as a“possible co-conspirator” in a crime.

Holder’s office would not comment to the Daily Mail regarding any ongoing probe, though the Attorney General could in theory argue that his May 15 testimony is not in conflict with the agency’s access to Rosen’s phone records as the DOJ did not intend to prosecute him, though that, in turn, would undermine the loophole used under the Espionage Act.

According to an investigation by The New Yorker, the DOJ approached three different judges in its bid to gain secret access to Rosen’s communications. Ultimately, the chief judge in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, Royce C. Lamberth, agreed to overturn the opinions of the two other judges, signing off on the DOJ’s request.

In 2009, an article written by Rosen on North Korea sparked an internal investigation on Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a former US State Department employee and the alleged source of leaked classified information.

According to documents examined by The New Yorker, two judges separately declared that the Justice Department was required to notify Rosen of the search warrant over his communications.

“The subscriber therefore will never know, by being provided a copy of the warrant, for example, that the government secured a warrant and searched the contents of her e-mail account,” Judge John M. Facciola wrote in an opinion rejecting the Obama administration’s argument.

Ultimately, the DOJ asked the court to order Google not to notify Rosen that the company had handed over his e-mails to the US government.

According to Rosen, he only learned that his communications had been seized once it was reported by the Washington Post earlier in May.

The DOJ seems to have taken a sizable gamble in exercising the Espionage Act to keep its surveillance of members of the press a secret, and the Daily Mail’s source into an ongoing Congressional probe indicates that the Attorney General may still bear the brunt of the blame.

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Leaders meet to discuss arms supply to Syrian opposition

Syrian opposition members visiting the Syrian ...

 

International efforts to end the conflict in Syria accelerate on Monday with key talks in Brussels and Paris, amid a push for a new peace conference despite growing divisions within the Syrian opposition.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Russian and French counterparts in Paris to advance an initiative for an international conference on ending the more than two-year conflict.

However Syria’s main opposition group ended a fourth day of talks in Istanbul on Sunday with little sign of a joint approach to the attempt to bring all sides to the negotiating table.

The talks have been dubbed “Geneva 2” after a conference last June that produced a peace roadmap which failed to win support, triggering the resignation of Kofi Annan as special Syria envoy.

Ahead of the Paris meeting, the 27 EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels, with the bloc deeply divided over whether to arm the rebels.

After months of bitter argument, the issue will come to a head as the ministers meet ahead of the expiry at midnight on Friday of far-reaching EU sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime including a weapons embargo.

Britain and France are leading the push to have the arms embargo maintained against Assad but relaxed against the Syrian opposition.

But British-based charity Oxfam has warned that allowing more weapons into Syria “could have devastating consequences” and “fan the flames of the conflict”.

The latest peace push comes as Syria’s leading opposition group was in total disarray at fractious talks in Istanbul, with discussions on their participation in the US-Russian peace initiative stalled.

There was squabbling over a vote early on Monday on expanding the opposition umbrella group, although the results formalised the entry into the Syrian National Coalition of veteran dissident and Marxist intellectual Michel Kilo.

Although the secular Kilo would bring in several women and members of Syria’s religious minorities, critics said his entry would curb the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence and force Saudi control on the coalition.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem upped the ante on Sunday, saying his government would attend a new Geneva conference, terming it a “good opportunity for a political solution”.

With the conflict spreading, Muallem said his government had agreed “in principle” to attend the conference.

The opposition’s long-standing position is that, after more than two years of devastation which activists say has killed more than 94,000 people, it will not negotiate until Assad quits.

Recognised by dozens of states and organisations as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, the opposition Coalition is marred by divisions that some members blame on regional bids for influence.

Forging a united position on Geneva is all the more urgent given rebel military setbacks on the ground, with regime forces reinforced by fighters from Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Two rockets hit Hezbollah’s heartland in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Sunday as its fighters battled alongside Syrian regime forces for control of the strategic town of Qusayr just across the border in central Homs province.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply concerned” by Hezbollah’s growing role in Syria and called for greater efforts to halt the spread of the conflict.

Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday it was in the militant anti-Israeli group’s own interest to defend Assad’s regime.

“I have always promised you a victory and now I pledge to you a new one” in Syria, he said.

Hours later, the two rockets slammed into Beirut, wounding four Syrians, in the first time the Lebanese capital’s mainly Shiite southern suburbs have been targeted during the Syria conflict.

During the past week, 31 people have also been killed in clashes in Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli between Assad supporters and opponents.

Hezbollah’s intervention has given Assad the upper hand in Qusayr, a key town in central Syria for both the regime and the insurgents.

It is an important rebel supply line from Lebanon but also links Damascus to Assad’s Alawite coastal heartland.

Syrian forces mounted an offensive on Qusayr a week ago but are meeting fierce resistance.

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Afghan Taliban Attack United Nations Centre in Kabul

Taliban insurgents turn themselves in to Afgha...

 

Taliban militants launched a large-scale attack involving the United Nations in the centre of the Afghan capital Kabul on Friday, sparking a five-hour battle with security forces.

A plume of smoke hung over Kabul after the attack was launched, with the sound of .50 calibre heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and sniper fire clearly audible throughout the city centre as night fell.

An Afghan police officer was killed and 10 other people were wounded during the attack, which began at 4 p.m. (12.30 p.m. British time) with a suicide car bomb outside a compound used by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Afghan police said.

While the IOM is not part of the United Nations, it is affiliated with it in Afghanistan.

The attack came eight days after six American soldiers and civilians and nine Afghans were killed in a suicide car bombing in Kabul.

The Taliban, fighting to expel Western forces and establish Islamist rule in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, saying a “rest house” used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been attacked.

After the initial bombing, about six Taliban fighters engaged in a firefight with nearby guards, officials said.

Two were killed and the remaining three or four militants entered an unused building across the road from the IOM compound and continued to fight.

There were at least four large blasts during the course of the evening, and witnesses said that at 9 p.m. (1630 GMT) exchanges of fire were still going on between the attackers and Afghan forces supported by Norwegian special forces.

“As a result of the attack, three IOM staff and one International Labour Organisation (ILO) staff were wounded,” U.N. spokesman Eduardo del Buey told reporters in New York.

He said one of the IOM personnel was in serious condition, and that all U.N. staff in Kabul had been accounted for.

The ILO is a subsidiary of the United Nations and operates in Kabul under the banner of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Such attacks reinforce concern about how the 352,000 members of the Afghan security forces will cope with the insurgency after most foreign NATO-led combat troops leave by the end of next year.

Insurgent attacks against civilians, government workers and Afghan security forces have increased since the Taliban announced their so-called spring offensive late last month.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, speaking to Reuters by telephone, said Friday’s attack had targeted a compound used by the CIA.

It is likely that the Taliban, driven from power in Kabul by a U.S-led force in late 2001, are using the high-profile attacks to exert increasing pressure on the Afghan government and their international backers.

Last year, more than a dozen people were killed during a Taliban attack in Kabul that started with coordinated suicide attacks and led to an 18-hour siege in the heart of the city.

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Policy will be reviewed in face of journalist records being seized – President Obama

President Barack Obama talks with FBI executiv...

President Barack Obama said Thursday that the Justice Department will review the policy under which it obtains journalists’ records in investigations of the leak of government secrets.

Obama acknowledged he is ‘‘troubled by the possibility that leaks investigations may chill the investigative journalism’’ that he says holds government accountable and said he has expressed his concerns to Attorney General Eric Holder. But he said his administration would continue to try to find the government employees who are responsible for leaks.

In recent weeks, the administration has acknowledged secretly seizing portions of two months of phone records from The Associated Press and reading the e-mails of Fox News reporter James Rosen in separate investigations about the publication of government secrets.

The president said the government has to strike the right balance between security and an open society. He said Holder will meet with representatives of media organizations and report back to him by July 12.

Obama re-stated his support for a media shield law that he said would ‘‘guard against government overreach.’’ Such a law would require a federal judge to sign off before investigators could have a look at the records of journalists.

‘‘Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law,’’ Obama said.

The seizure of the AP phone records is part of an investigation into who leaked information to AP reporters for a May 7, 2012, story that disclosed details of a foiled plot in Yemen to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner, around the anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.

Rosen’s emails were seized, with a judge’s approval, as part of the prosecution of Stephen Kim, a State Department adviser who is accused of leaking secret information about North Korea.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt has called the Justice Department’s actions in the AP case ‘‘unconstitutional’’ and he has protested what he termed a massive and unprecedented intrusion into how news organizations go about gathering the news.

Pruitt said the seizure already has had a chilling effect on newsgathering.

Following the president’s speech, AP spokeswoman Erin Madigan said, ‘‘We recognize that the guidelines need improvement and support a review under the right conditions.’’

The Justice Department is guided by policy that first was written 40 years ago after the excesses of the Watergate era. Investigators are not supposed to consider a subpoena for journalists’ phone records unless ‘‘all reasonable attempts’’ have been made to get the same information from other sources, the rules say.

News organizations are supposed to get advance warning so that they can fight a subpoena in court, except if the notification could compromise the investigation. AP received no advance warning.

The attorney general also must personally approve the subpoena before it is issued. In the AP case, Holder had been interviewed by the FBI as part of its effort to find out who had improperly disclosed the information, so he stepped aside to avoid a conflict of interest and left the decision to Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

Obama offered no apologies for his administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers. The six prosecutions since he took office in 2009 is more than in all other presidencies combined.

‘‘As commander in chief, I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field. To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information,’’ he said

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President Obama tries to deflect home criticism with terror speech

President Obama makes surprise visit to Bagram...

President Obama on Thursday shifted the United States away from a “boundless global war on terror,” restricting deadly U.S. drone strikes abroad and taking steps toward closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison.

In a major policy speech, Obama defended his administration’s drone war against al Qaeda and its allies but made clear he was narrowing the scope of targeted killings, a campaign that has faced growing condemnation at home and abroad.

“Our nation is still threatened by terrorists,” Obama said at Washington’s National Defense University. “We must recognize however, that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11.”

Faced with criticism about the morality of using unmanned aerial vehicles to wage war in distant lands, Obama said the United States will only use drone strikes when a threat is “continuing and imminent,” a nuanced change from the previous policy of launching strikes against a significant threat.

“To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance,” Obama said.

Under new presidential guidance signed by Obama on Wednesday, the Defense Department will take the lead in launching lethal drones, as opposed to the current practice of the CIA taking charge.

That would subject drone operations to more scrutiny from Congress and might lead to the Pentagon taking over drone operations in Yemen, but not in Pakistan where the CIA is likely to still run the unmanned aerial vehicles program.

Obama appears intent on confronting human rights and civil liberties challenges that threaten to stain his own legacy if left unresolved in his second term.

“Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands,” he said.

Republican opponents accused him of giving in to terrorism.

“The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory. Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit,” Senator Saxby Chambliss from Georgia said.

The use by the United States of armed drone aircraft to attack extremists has increased tensions with countries such as Pakistan and drawn criticism from human rights activists. Obama acted in line with a promise to be more open about the issue.

“Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,” Obama said.

Renewing his longstanding vow to close the Guantanamo prison at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, Obama is to lift a moratorium on transferring detainees to Yemen, and appoint a State Department coordinator and work with Congress to break a deadlock over the detention camp where most prisoners have been held for more than a decade without trial.

He called the prison “a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.” Opened by his predecessor President George W. Bush to hold men rounded up on suspicion of involvement with al Qaeda and the Taliban after the September 11 attacks, Guantanamo has defied efforts by Obama to shut it. His current proposals will likely face resistance from Republican lawmakers.

Faced with congressional opposition, Obama has been frustrated by his inability to carry out a 2008 campaign pledge to close the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A hunger strike by 103 of the 166 detainees has put pressure on him to take action.

“There is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened,” Obama said.

He was interrupted for more than a minute by a heckler from the Code Pink movement, who berated him for not closing the prison.

While he cannot shut Guantanamo on his own, Obama did announce some steps aimed at getting some prisoners out. He lifted a moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen out of respect for that country’s reforming government.

He called on Congress to lift restrictions on the transfer of terrorism suspects from Guantanamo and directed the Defense Department to identify a site to hold military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees.

“Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system,” he said.

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