|From: Sam Citron||3/28/2009 10:57:23 AM|
|Grieving Parents Gain Clout In China|
Party Steps Lightly In Wake of Disasters
By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 28, 2009; A01
BEIJING -- When Zhao Lianhai created a Web site for parents of children hurt or killed by contaminated milk, he did not set out to challenge the Communist Party. He did it because his son was sick. The 3-year-old had been diagnosed with kidney stones and Zhao was scared. He needed advice.
Within days, more than 4,000 families signed up, and soon the discussion evolved from technical questions and answers about medical care to demands for punishment and compensation. It wasn't long before the 37-year-old former advertising salesman became the de facto spokesman, organizer and lobbyist for thousands of parents across the country whose children had suffered after drinking infant formula or milk that had been illegally doctored with the industrial chemical melamine.
In a country where every leader must be appointed, approved or otherwise sanctioned by the party, the fact that Zhao has been allowed to operate relatively freely is a testament to the government's careful approach to those he represents. It is perhaps out of respect for their concerns -- or fear of them.
Parents groups such as Zhao's -- whose members' children were hurt or killed in various tragedies such as the milk scandal, the Sichuan earthquake and the Tiananmen Square massacre -- have become an emerging political force. They pose a special challenge to the Chinese government, which has not been able to deal with the grieving parents in the same manner it has dealt with others who challenge its authority.
The parents, hugging pictures of their sick or deceased children, have captured the public's empathy. Attempts to bully, bribe, harass or detain them have been met with harsh reprimands from ordinary citizens on Internet bulletin boards.
So the government has chosen, for the most part, to let the parents be -- a significant concession for a government that has always been deeply suspicious of any group that it does not directly control.
While several parents said local officials regularly stop them from mounting public protests, holding large meetings and traveling to the capital to voice concerns, authorities have not jailed the parents on unrelated charges, a common tactic with other protesters. Parents also say government officials have been careful to show more deference and respect, both in public and in private, than they might with others.
Even so, there have been some pressures on them. Since he began coordinating with other parents in late September, Zhao said, he has been "interviewed" by police more than 20 times. His cellphone has been tapped, he said, and he is followed whenever he tries to meet with other parents.
After government officials told at least three corporations that were hosting the group's Web site to shut it down, the parents found a company that would give it a home overseas for free and out of the reach of censors. Parents disseminate the address, which they change regularly, via e-mail or word of mouth. Zhao and other organizers coordinate through disposable phone cards that can't be traced. When holding meetings or news conferences, they gather at safe houses rather than their homes.
Liu Xiaoying, 34, lost her 12-year-old daughter, Bi Yuexing, when a school she was in collapsed during last May's earthquake. A local official fell to his knees, apologized and promised a full investigation into shoddy construction when a group of angry parents confronted him several weeks after the earthquake. Liu now wants the central government to do the same.
In January, she joined nine other sets of parents in traveling for two days and two nights on trains, buses and taxis to evade local police from Sichuan province as the group made its way to Beijing to meet with officials from the Ministries of Education and Construction. The government representatives in Beijing made a show of listening to their concerns, she said. "We have lost our child, and there's nothing left we'd be afraid of now," she said.
That is the same sort of pain that Xu Jue, one of the organizers of Tiananmen Mothers, said motivates her. Xu's group seeks to make Chinese authorities recognize "6/4" -- or June 4, as the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 is known in China -- as a day of tragedy. Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators clashed with security forces in the square that summer day, and the standoff ended only when the government rolled in tanks and began shooting at the protesters.
"The bloodstains of that time have long been washed away and the bullet marks rubbed out and the site of the massacre is now decorated with exotic plants and flowers and has become a scene of peace and prosperity. But can all this conceal the sins of that time?" Xu and other mothers wrote in a letter in February to the country's legislature.
In the initial days of the milk powder scandal, the government seemed to be in denial about the scope of the tragedy. Subsequent investigations revealed that the contamination had spread well beyond one brand of infant formula to nearly every brand of milk produced in China.
When Zhao set up his Web site six months ago, the government moved quickly, shutting down the site repeatedly. The more authorities began to crack down on his group, however, the more the group fought back. It called itself the Melamine Victims' Parents Alliance.
Zhao, the son of a government prison official, said he had become disillusioned with how the problem was being handled.
He blames China's culture rather than a specific government entity, company or individual for the scandal. "In today's Chinese society, too much attention has shifted to material pursuits while social fairness and justice are scarce," he said. "If this situation continues, tragedies like the [milk powder scandal] will happen over and over again."
At every key turn in the investigation into the scandal -- the sentencing of corporate executives, the Ministry of Health's discussions about compensation, the bankruptcy auction of the assets of one of the companies responsible -- Zhao and other parents have been present. They have held posters with slogans such as "Killers should pay with their own lives" and "We want to participate in the prosecution."
Zhao has pushed for a better count of victims. Official figures show that six babies died and 300,000 became ill, but Zhao's group has been in contact with others who say their children died but were not counted.
He and his group are credited with helping push the central government, which had minimized the problem and had been reluctant to do much in the initial days of the scandal, to roll out a national compensation plan that allocated cash to victims based on age and severity of illness. Many have received less than $300, which does not even cover their basic doctors' bills, much less the surgery and long-term care many of the children will need.
Zhou Jin, a 26-year-old migrant worker from Hunan province, met Zhao online after his daughter became seriously ill -- urinating blood and having a high fever -- after months of drinking formula from a company called Sanlu. A subsequent check found a 0.6-by-0.4-inch stone in her kidney.
He said Zhao sheltered him at his home for four nights when he came to see doctors in Beijing and gave him advice about how to seek better medical care. Zhao said people often ask him why he has given up so much of his personal time, given that his son recovered from the kidney stones relatively quickly. He said what motivates him is a hope that he can help promote individual rights in China. "We reached and encouraged some families to act more actively rather than give up easily," Zhao said. "In the long run, these will be beneficial to perfecting China's justice system."
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|From: Sam Citron||3/29/2009 11:12:27 AM|
|EU: Czech PM Mirek Topolanek's "Way to Hell" Speech|
Transcript of the speech by Mirek Topolánek in the European Parliament
Good morning, let me welcome you to the regular report of the European Council President after the European Spring Council.
Mirek TopolánekFirst of all, I would like to apologise for not being able to stay throughout the entire plenary meeting as is the custom – in the second part after the speeches of the representatives of the political groups, Deputy Prime Minister Vondra will stay here on my behalf. The reason why I have to return to Prague is, as Hans-Gert Pöttering already mentioned, an unprecedented obstructive attitude of the Socialist party, which, after all, we have been faced with since the very beginning of the Czech Presidency and I have never made a secret of it. The fact that our Government will have to resign will certainly not jeopardise the Presidency; the fact that the Socialists do not take into consideration the Czech Presidency of the European Council and refuse to cooperate, be it only on the basic level, is most detrimental to the Social Democratic Party itself. There should be no harm done to the Presidency, because I am fully confident that we have undoubtedly managed to deliver on what I said in my opening speech in the European Parliament – I said that we will make an effort to be good moderators of the discussion and to reach compromises - and the Spring European Council is a clear example of this. In my country, it is customary not to interrupt the speaker but here the customs may be a bit different. So much for the introduction, then.
Let me now move on to the reason why I am here today – and I will now be following the conclusions of the European Council very closely – let me explain some of the steps taken at the European Council, but before that, let me first comment on the events that took place before. Now I am speaking about the “tripartite summit” – the summit with the social partners. The meeting brought together a number of high-level leaders – in addition to me and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, it was attended also by the Prime Ministers of the next two Presidencies, both Prime Minister Reinfeldt from the Kingdom of Sweden and Prime Minister Zapatero from the Kingdom of Spain. The meeting impressed me in a very positive way and I was much surprised by the consensus reached by the social partners, not only as far as the agenda of the Presidency is concerned, but in general as regards responses to the situation which is or may be faced by employees or possibly the unemployed due to the global financial crisis and economic recession. If some of you are interested, I will speak about the tripartite summit at greater length, but – to sum up – we have agreed on three fundamental principles. i.e. to ensure a much greater flexibility of the labour market and mobility of the labour force and to work much harder in order to increase the level of education and skills of workers so that they can assert themselves on the labour market.
Although the Spring European Council was already the second meeting of Heads of State led by the Czech Presidency, it was the first formal, regular summit.
The first key issue, which perhaps attracted most attention, was the current economic crisis and ways of tackling it.
First and foremost, I must strongly reject all the allegations saying that we are not doing enough and that we are staying on the surface of things. I will give only one figure - 400 billion euros. The 400 billion accounts for 3.3 % of the EU’s GDP. It is an unprecedented step and the sum will complement the automatic stabilisers which the EU has, unlike for instance the USA. I think that the example given by José Manuel Barroso is a very instructive one – when jobs are cut at Saab in Sweden and at General Motors in Chicago, the workers’ social standards are completely different; the approaches of their respective governments are completely different, too, and it is the automatic stabilisers that multiply the sum of 400 billion euro and increase it significantly, giving us in this way an undeniable advantage over the USA. The mainstay of the agreement of the EU-27 is the reiterated validity of the Lisbon Strategy, which is one of the four pillars on which the entire consensus is built. I am sure that yesterday, Gordon Brown had the opportunity to speak to you about the approach of the EU-27 and the mandate for the G20 summit. We have agreed that all the short-term measures must be of temporary nature and have also been conceived as such. The medium-term and long-term priorities and tendencies of the Lisbon Strategy have been confirmed and the short-term ones must be in keeping with them.
In all frankness, I must say that when Timothy Geithner, the US Secretary of the Treasury, spoke about “permanent action”, it was much to the European Council’s dismay.
Not only is America repeating its mistakes from the 1930s – the large-scale stimuli, the protectionist tendencies and appeals, the “Buy American” campaign… - all these steps, their combination and, worse, the initiative to establish them as permanent, are a road to hell. We have to return to our history books, which so far have only been gathering dust. I consider the resounding “no” to this policy and to this short-sighted approach as the greatest success of the Spring Council meeting.
I have to strongly oppose the words of the Chairman of the European Socialists, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who said that the European Council had done little to combat the crisis and that we were waiting for the USA to save us. Not only because the path chosen by the United States has been disproved by history, but also, as I have already said, the quality of social security and the functioning of the social networks in general are very different, and on a much lower level in the USA than in the EU. This is why the US approach is dangerous - in order to finance its social stimuli, the US will need liquidity – and will have no problems in obtaining it since there will always be a buyer for US bonds. However, this will jeopardise the liquidity of the markets; it will withdraw liquidity from the global financial market and other treasuries, perhaps European bonds, and certainly Polish and Czech ones, will face difficulties finding a buyer and then there will be no ready money in the system. This approach gives reason for some unease and in my opinion will also be discussed at the G20 summit. The G20 summit will be one of the opportunities to talk about this issue and the debate may continue at the subsequent informal summit of the EU-27 with the US Administration and Barack Obama in Prague. I am confident that together with the USA we will find a common solution because in no way do I want to set the USA and Europe against each other. Today – as the crisis has shown yet again – there is no such thing as an isolated economy; the rate of inter-relatedness is very high, which, at a time of crisis, means that we are all facing a problem, but also that we can only solve it together.
The preparation for the G20 summit is the second pillar of our agreement as regards the ways to tackle the current crisis. The material prepared by Gordon Brown and his Cabinet is excellent and you had an opportunity to learn more about this text yesterday. The three-pillar approach, i.e. the responses concerning the financial sector and the fiscal stimuli, regulation and rectifying mistakes within the system and the restoration and liberalisation of world trade, which means pressing for the resumption of talks under the Doha Round in the context of the WTO, as contained in the third pillar – all this is precisely what, in my opinion, constitutes a set of solutions proposed and unanimously agreed upon by the European Council. I also want to highlight the fact that we have agreed finally on a specific sum for the increase of the available financial capacity of the International Monetary Fund - we have decided to pledge 75 billion euros. Ahead of the G20, the EU-27 has a single position, one voice and a common goal. I consider this to be the greatest success because the entire European Council meeting was a test of European unity, European solidarity, European values and the internal European market. If any of these fundamental qualities were undermined, we would in fact be weakened by the crisis, but if we stick to them, as I think we will, we will be strengthened.
There is therefore no reason to be pessimistic ahead of the G20, as Poul Nyrup Rasmussen fears. I think that we all understand that we need to express our solidarity and work together, as Graham Watson from the Liberal Democrats Group put it.
As we all have said, the current crisis is a crisis of trust. The third precondition that is essential if we are to overcome the crisis is to restore trust. It is not enough just to pour money into the system – we have tried this and the banks still refuse to lend money. It is necessary that they start lending money and they won’t unless they trust their customers. The liquidity they have at their disposal has not solved the problem. Trust cannot be ordered nor bought. In order to restore trust we have taken another step to reinforce it – we have doubled the guarantee framework to cover the needs of the countries outside the eurozone to 50 billion euros. We have agreed that it is necessary to treat each bank and each country individually. At the moment, we consider the one-size-fits-all approach dangerous, since the markets are nervous and react immediately, negatively and with undue intensity to every gesture. That’s why we need better regulation, and I stress the word “better”. And we need to introduce regulation in those countries which have lacked it so far. This is where you, the MEPs, come into play. We would like to reach agreement, and there are signals that we might be successful, on legislative acts corresponding to our vision of better regulation which concern rating agencies, the solvency of insurance companies, capital requirements for banks, cross-border payments, e-money etc. I would very much welcome it, if you adopt these acts during your parliamentary term, so that they may be implemented immediately. I and the others also welcome the de Larosière report, which is brilliant in its analytical part and contains clear instructions concerning the implementation of measures; in this respect the European Council has drawn clear conclusions.
Perhaps the most important task of the Spring European Council was to assess the implementation of the Recovery Plan so far, as set by the December Council. The Recovery Plan has aroused much criticism and many comments, which I consider unjust. It has been labelled as insufficient, slow, lacking ambition... I would like to use this occasion to set things right. EU fiscal measures have reached 400 billion euros, which is approximately 3.3% of GDP. This amount doesn’t include the funds for recapitalisation of banks and guarantees, representing more than 10% of GDP. This is something the European Union can afford at the moment, nevertheless it will have a substantial impact on the Growth and Stability Pact, on public debt, on the rectification of the situation during the period of the so-called day after, i.e. after the crisis has ended, if I may put it this way. I believe that even the 5 billion euros is just a small amount out of the huge sum of 400 billion euros. It was finally approved after difficult negotiations, having to face criticism by many countries. They claimed that these funds cannot be considered a crisis measure if they are not drawn in 2009 and 2010 (it is true that the project evaluation system is not transparent), that the list of the projects is not well drawn up with some projects missing or being excessive. In the end we have managed to reach agreement on the 5 billion euros, after complicated negotiations and thanks to the dominant role of the Czech Presidency, sending the proposal to the European Parliament to deal with it.
I need to mention that the Recovery Plan has its Community level, with approx. 30 billion euros available at the moment, and a national level, with each Member State implementing its own fiscal incentives. I consider as essential that the European Council has agreed upon the validity of the Stability and Growth Pact. If the Union is to get through the crisis unhurt and even stronger, we have to respect our own rules. Introducing new packages without having implemented all national and Community actions, understanding their impact and knowing whether or not further fiscal incentives are necessary would be the biggest mistake. The European Council has also agreed upon that. If necessary, the European Council may adopt other measures, but at the moment we are not sure whether to proceed this way. No one knows the bottom of this crisis, its end. So without knowing the impact of the 400 billions worth of fiscal incentives it makes absolutely no sense to adopt further measures. The Plan is ambitious, diversified and complex and deals with both growth and employment in individual countries, as well as problems related to the economic situation.
The climate discussion. The negotiations and preparations of the Copenhagen conference have already begun. Denmark, which will host the conference, but also Sweden, during whose Presidency it will take place, and the Czech Presidency are already working intensely. We are not only trying to reach a common European position, but are also beginning to negotiate with the biggest players whose participation is required if the Copenhagen conference is to be a success. They are the USA and, of course, Japan, China, India and other big countries and major polluters. The most important discussion, which I would like to say at least a few words about, was whether we should already now establish not only mechanisms but also the contributions of the individual EU Member States to the funds that we intend to give the developing countries and other third countries to help them fulfil their obligations in the fight to protect the climate. The decision we have made is the right one. In a situation where we negotiate with all the big players, who so far have talked more than they have acted, it would be a tactical blunder and a very bad idea if we established our own barriers and limits which the others wouldn’t respect. Our negotiating position is much better if we have free hands. That is what was decided by the countries that tabled the latest proposal, i.e. Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, UK and Poland. Referring to the attitude adopted by Poland, both the interests of the countries that are a little reluctant about the mechanisms and the interests of the leaders in terms of climate protection are respected. What is left for us to do, is to find a concrete mechanism, the key and the right wording. This should be done sufficiently in advance of the Copenhagen conference by an agreement between all the countries, also those that have made it their absolute priority.
Thirdly, there is the issue of external relations. The European Council formally adopted the Eastern Partnership initiative as a supplement to our foreign policy or the neighbourhood policy. If there are icebergs to the North and we have the Atlantic to the West, our neighbours live to the South and East. They are countries which could potentially threaten not only our economy but also our social situation and our security. The Eastern Partnership has been one of the goals of the Czech Presidency and I am very glad that it has been adopted and that a clearly defined sum - 600 million euros - has been made available. I anticipate your question about whether Belarus should take part. We are considering this - Belarus is part of the project. Belarus has made certain progress and the suspension of the ban on issuing visas to representatives of the regime has been prolonged. The doors are opening for Belarus, but no decision has been made. If the Member States do not reach agreement, and the decision should be made by all 27 countries, then we will not invite Mr Lukashenko, even though both the opposition and the neighbouring countries recommend us to do so. I think it is a question that I cannot answer if you ask it right now, and therefore I anticipate it.
I have also informed the European Council that on 5 April there will be an informal summit meeting with President Obama in order to fulfil another priority - our transatlantic ties. The organisational arrangements are still not in place. You will all be kept informed in detail. The issues to be addressed at the summit will be concentrated around three main themes – an initial discussion of the results of the G20 summit, cooperation on energy and climate change, an area where both the EU and the US want to be key actors. And the third item of debate will be external relations, i.e. the geostrategic area from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the situation in Iran and the Middle East. The summit with the US is important, nevertheless it seems that we shouldn’t have too high expectations. No Messiah has come. The USA has a number of domestic problems to solve and that is why it is a good thing that Barack Obama will make one of his decidedly fundamental speeches of the year in Prague in which he will naturally want to send a message to the citizens of Europe about the general attitudes and objectives of the new American Administration. I think that there were a number of other details at the European Council that I am willing to answer questions about. If I left something out, we will cover it during the discussion after the contributions of the chairmen of the political groups. We will probably not meet again in this composition because you will soon go and start your election campaigns. I would be glad if you did not start campaigning right here today. I hope that the struggle for the seats in the European Parliament will be fair and that you will meet again after the elections to continue your work. Thank you for your attention.
Last update: 26.3.2009 17:28
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|From: Sam Citron||3/30/2009 3:15:12 PM|
|Spain becomes 1st in euro-zone to post deflation|
Associated Press, 03.30.09, 11:01 AM EDT
Spanish consumer prices fell 0.1 percent in March from a year earlier, making it the first euro-zone economy to post an annual rate of deflation - as opposed to inflation - since the international financial crisis began.
The year-on-year decline is the first of its sort in Spain since records began in 1961, the National Statistics Institute said Monday.
It was Spain's eighth consecutive monthly decline in the consumer price index. Year-on-year, prices were up by just 0.7 percent in February.
Economy Ministry secretary David Vegara said Spain was likely to see negative price growth for several more months, owing to oil price drops. However, he rejected suggestions the country was entering a deflationary spriral - where expectations of lower prices cause consumers to hold off spending, in turn causing retailers to lower prices further.
Other euro-zone countries are also expected to see prices shrink in the coming months and the European Central bank says the entire zone may experience deflation briefly this year.
Spain's once-booming economy has shrunk over the past year mainly because of stagnation in the key construction sector and the international crisis.
The country now has an EU-high unemployment rate of 13.9 percent, and the government forecasts it will rise to 16 percent by the end of the year.
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|From: Sam Citron||3/31/2009 6:50:34 AM|
|Haiti’s Woes Are Top Test for Aid Effort [NYT]|
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Paul Collier, a leading poverty guru, spent a recent morning here waxing positive about how the world’s economic freefall might prove the perfect moment for Haiti to sell more exports like T-shirts and mangoes to Americans.
His improbable enthusiasm coincided with appearances by a bevy of luminaries descending on Haiti this month, including Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, and the entire Security Council. All of them came to stress that this destitute nation stands at a crossroads between salvation and “the darkness,” as Mr. Ban put it.
The spotlight was calculated. A landscape of deepening woe is emerging among the world’s most destitute. About 46 million more people are expected to tumble into poverty this year amid the largest decline in global trade in 80 years, according to the World Bank. The results ripple through every index. An additional 200,000 to 400,000 infants, for example, may die every year for the next six years because of the crisis, the bank said.
Amid the turmoil, the United Nations is reminding the world’s wealthy nations, however embattled their finances, not to forget the poorest. A panel commissioned by the United Nations General Assembly suggested on Thursday that one percent of any nation’s stimulus package be set aside for poor countries, while Mr. Ban has vowed that when he joins the leaders of the Group of 20 at their economic summit meeting in London on Thursday, he will voice the concerns of the uninvited.
“There are many countries who cannot even dream of formulating their own fiscal stimulus packages,” Mr. Ban said. Last week, he sent a letter to the Group of 20 members arguing that, domestic problems aside, they should give $1 trillion over the next two years to the world’s most vulnerable nations.
Mr. Ban is trying to turn Haiti into something of an Exhibit A on the need to keep foreign aid flowing despite tighter budgets. Haiti’s upheavals last year proved particularly intense, with the nation staggering beneath the double whammy of food riots that toppled the government and a series of hurricanes that killed hundreds and battered the economy.
Now the United Nations worries that while the groundwork has been laid to get past those threats, the moment will fade because of the global crisis. The organization has spent some $5 billion on peacekeeping operations here since 2004, when the government of the still popular President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was toppled — many say with a shove from the Bush administration.
The peacekeeping force declared war against the gangs that plague Haiti, with some success. Kidnappings dropped to 258 victims last year from 722 in 2006, according to United Nations figures.
With the issue of security improved, Mr. Ban commissioned Mr. Collier — an Oxford University don whose book on fixing failed states, “The Bottom Billion,” turned him into a darling at United Nations headquarters — to whip up some solutions for rejuvenating Haiti.
Haiti needs jobs, a particular challenge in the current economic climate. Haitians often seek work in the United States, but that safety valve has been squeezed given the recession. With some 900,000 youths expected to come into the job market in the next five years, dismal prospects are the main threat to stability.
“There is nothing that is going to turn Haiti around until people have jobs,” said the rap artist and native son Wyclef Jean, who came to the island with Mr. Ban and former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Jean’s charity, Yéle Haiti, underwrites education for thousands of young Haitians.
In a downtown park, Idelson François, 24, said he finished high school four years ago and had failed to find a job or money to continue his education. “When you have no self-esteem, sometimes you can’t resist the desire to do something violent,” he said.
It required five months to seat a new government after the April 2008 food riots, and United Nations officials say development is stymied by a corrupt judicial system, weak land tenure laws and wildly inefficient ports. The roads are such moonscapes that some 40 percent of the mango crop gets too bruised to be sold abroad, said Jean M. Buteau, a leading exporter.
Some diplomats worry that the government does not have the capacity to carry out even Mr. Collier’s limited prescriptions for improving manufacturing, infrastructure, agriculture and the environment.
“What is lacking is the determination to put these good ideas into a coherent policy,” said Yukio Takasu, the Japanese ambassador to the United Nations, on the Security Council tour here. “I don’t think there is a focus.”
Constant upheaval has long scared off investors. To counter that, last year the United States Congress granted Haitian textiles duty-free access to the American market for a decade, giving rise to Mr. Collier’s optimism. The policy has added just 12,000 jobs thus far, but it is viewed as a possible boon in an era of rising protectionism.
Senior United Nations officials and other diplomats worry, however, that the tempo of new factory jobs is too slow, so they think money should be pumped into emergency programs like creating jobs to fix the environmental disaster by planting the denuded hills with forests.
There is also some criticism that Mr. Collier’s basic recommendation involves turning Haiti into a sweatshop for American consumers, with workers paid $5 per day or less. He and others defend the approach, with Mr. Clinton noting after a visit to a Hanes T-shirt factory here that its workers earned some two or three times Haiti’s minimum wage of $1.75 a day.
Haiti is so close to the United States that its problems tend to reverberate as illegal immigration, and the Marines have stormed ashore repeatedly since the first American occupation started in 1915.
Not every problem can be addressed with the military, and ignoring development has proved deadly, said Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations. “Where we have neglected it, it comes back to bite us.” Haiti could receive more than $245 million in American development aid this year.
Haitian officials hope the world gives generously, though there is a certain recognition of donor fatigue, especially in the economic storm.
But young Haitians grumble that their government has yet to paint a vision of the country’s future — complaints echoed by United Nations officials who say it is difficult to get President Réne Préval or his ministers to commit to an action plan.
“Just providing rice and beans is not a long-term solution,” said John Miller Beauvoir, 26, who founded a charity right out of college and wrote a book calling on other young Haitians to get involved in development. “If the captain does not know where you are going, no boat will take you in the right direction.”
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|From: Sam Citron||3/31/2009 2:23:17 PM|
|Despite Downturn, Japan Tries to Increase Exports [NYT]|
By HIROKO TABUCHI
TOKYO — Japanese companies are caught in a double bind, facing markets at home that are shrinking with the population as well as the global downturn. Nevertheless, companies must expand foreign sales aggressively — or face longer-term decline.
Exports from the world’s No. 2 economy fell an unprecedented 49 percent in February. But even as Japanese policy makers call for a renewed focus on domestic markets, companies are tying themselves more tightly to overseas markets and innovation.
“Japanese companies themselves just don’t see a future in the domestic market,” said Yasuo Yamamoto, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute. “They’re looking for opportunities overseas instead of investing at home. That makes it almost impossible for Japan to reduce its export dependence.”
Prime Minister Taro Aso announced Tuesday that Japan would put together yet another economic package to stimulate demand, with steps to create jobs and further reduce taxes. Japan has already announced stimulus plans worth 12 trillion yen, or $122 billion, including 2 trillion yen in cash handouts.
A recovery led by domestic demand will be difficult. Even as the government pumps money into the economy, household spending has continued to decline, falling 3.5 percent in February as unemployment jumped to 4.4 percent, the highest level in two years.
With the decline in domestic spending, Japanese companies have their eyes fixed overseas despite the fall in exports. A cutback in spending among consumers in the United States, Japan’s biggest export market, is simply turning attention toward new foreign markets. The trend is clear in companies across the spectrum.
Hurt by a global slowdown in sales, Panasonic is set to book a net loss of 380 billion yen, or $3.9 billion, just in the year through March. The electronics company will lay off 15,000 workers. But as part of a new strategy called “Double-Digit Overseas Growth,” the company is making products specifically for emerging markets like China and Vietnam. And last month, Panasonic introduced a line of household appliances in Europe.
It is a similar story for Japan’s carmakers. While most auto markets could recover from the global slump as early as next year, vehicle sales in Japan are in decline, hurt by a marked lack of interest in cars among younger Japanese.
Sales of new cars have slumped by more than half from their peak in 1990. An industry organization expects sales to fall to their lowest since 1977 in the coming fiscal year.
Even Toyota Motor, which has doubled its overseas sales since 1998, experienced a drop of almost 10 percent in Japanese sales in that period.
At a recent news conference held by Honda Motor’s incoming president, discussions about a recovery in sales inadvertently turned to the United States market.
“America will always require cars,” said Takanobu Ito, who takes the helm at the automaker in June. “In Japan, consumers aren’t finding anything they want to buy.”
Even companies that previously concentrated on the home market are turning overseas.
Kirin Holdings, one of Japan’s largest breweries, grew rapidly as bubble-era Japanese drank more beer. But consumption peaked in the mid-1990s, hurt by a long economic malaise, an aging population and a shift in consumer tastes toward wine.
To woo recession-weary consumers, Kirin introduced a cheap, low-malt beer in 1998, and an even cheaper beer-flavored beverage seven years later that did away with malt altogether. Kirin also bought a domestic winemaker. Yet the company still struggled to grow.
Now Kirin has begun an aggressive buying spree overseas to bolster its foreign sales. It recently announced it would spend $1.26 billion to raise its stake in the beer unit of a Philippine conglomerate, the San Miguel Corporation. That came after Kirin bought National Foods, an Australian company, for $1 billion in 2007.
“Australia is an attractive market compared to Japan, because population and income are actually growing there,” a Kirin spokesman, Makoto Ando, said. (Australians also drink twice as much beer per capita as Japanese.)
Underlying the rush overseas is the acuteness of Japan’s demographic challenges. Japan’s population has been falling since 2005, and its working-age population could fall by a third by midcentury.
The Japanese are also becoming poorer, relatively speaking: Japan’s income per capita, once among the top five in the world, slipped to 19th in 2007, far behind the United States and many European countries.
A mismanaged pension system, cumbersome regulation in sectors like services and health, and a stark frugality adopted by many Japanese during years of economic stagnation are also weighing on spending and darkening the prospects of many companies.
Prime Minister Aso has tried to lift domestic demand with a series of stimulus measures, but gridlock in the country’s Parliament is slowing progress. Moreover, economists say Mr. Aso’s plans will be little more than stopgap measures.
“Any government spending could support domestic spending, but the effects will be temporary,” said Hiroshi Shiraishi, a Tokyo-based economist at BNP Paribas. “Japan faces deeper structural problems.”
Marketers at a baby goods maker, Unicharm, say they have done everything to keep sales growing despite the falling birthrate and sluggish economy.
A leading maker of disposable diapers, the company seized on a striking fact: even as the number of babies was falling, the Japanese were keeping more pets. So Unicharm used its diaper technology to develop paper litter sheets for cats and dogs. The company also developed a line of adult diapers for Japan’s swelling ranks of the elderly.
But that will not be enough to stem a downward trend in sales, said a Unicharm spokesman, Yasushi Shiraishi.
To make up for the shortfall, Unicharm is increasing its sales network in neighboring China. This year, the company plans to increase its sales network to 500 cities across China, from about 300 now. The company has also started selling diapers in Southeast Asia.
“Thanks to our efforts, we’re not seeing sales fall off precipitously in Japan — yet. But a decline is inevitable in the long run, so it’s important to look overseas,” Mr. Shiraishi said.
“There are 18 million babies born in China every year,” he said. “That’s 16 times more babies than Japan.”
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|From: MattMarriott||3/31/2009 7:15:19 PM|
|German school massacre repackaged to push disarm citizens agenda to utter limits|
Illustrates illuminati repackaging; exposes worldwide first the package, uncovering it as Virginia Tech II. Compares the core hoax with the 9/11 core hoax (both media hoaxes). Explains how the satanic celebration of Virginia Tech was upscaled.
Difference between Hitler 1933-1934 and US now
Manual used by Hitler in 1933-1934, with the first edict TOTALLY denying citizens access to weapons, with monopoly reserved to the nazi forces responsible for enforcing the terror state (Gestapo and SS), is the same as now.(1)
The difference in the implementation: what the party of Hitler did alone in Germany is done now together by the two "parties" in the U.S.: one of the objectives of the role of Bush was to cause as much dissociation as required for the acceptance of the most important edict of his "democratic" successor in script: total disarmament of the citizens. (2)
Germany, once again reaches utter limits first
Massacre in German school by teenager (3), was the perfect (4) first act (5) to be repackaged and sold to push to the utter limits the "Disarm citizens" agenda, i.e. abolishing the absolute last right to self protection, to keep a weapon at home.
- "explaining" that the cause for the massacre is the possibility to buy guns legally. The same record continues to be played long after after the right of defense (prohibition on carrying weapons) was legally abolished ("coincidentally" following the first school rampage in Germany, 2002).
- using the massacre to "prove" that the right to keep a weapon at home must be completely abolished, i.e. "concluding" that it should not even be allowed to sport shooters. Repackaging this point included having the largest (both in size and audience) german newspaper, Bild, use all of the first page, the day after the rampage, a fake photo of a 10 year old, supposedly Tim Kretschmer, practicing at a shooting stand.
- censoring any question about how was is possible that nobody was able to respond to a single attacker, and that for hours.
- censoring the real reason for the massacre: Tim Kretschmer was under "psychiatric treatment", i.e. his mind had been completely destroyed by BIG PHARMA (6). While "serious" media keeps this information out from any headlines, the media playing the boulevard role report it ONCE in Sub-Headlines, repackaged ("interrupted psychotherapy" - "Psychotherapie hat er unterbrochen") to pass the opposite message (Tim K. stopped taking drugs, the cause of the massacre). And what better location for placing this than below the photo that "Bild" would confess after to not show Tim (one day later, in small font, and of course not in the front page) and the headlines "The sick world of the killer - Here he was only 10 years old" (Die Kranke Welt des Killer - Hier war er erst 10) ?
Separation between Packaging and Repackaging - Tim Kretschmer v 9/11
To explain how the official story is repackaged to serve the "Disarm Citizens" agenda the relevant question is not "how true is the package?" but "Is the package consistent, i.e. are the basic assumptions valid?".
The package has Tim Kretschmer undergoing "psychiatric treatment" and that is consistent with the profile of a teenager going on rampage. This is why it was worth to previously explain the repackaging process.
Contrast this with the 9/11 package, where despite the fact that only a small part of the basic package was consistent - "suicide bombers" being muslims, like "amok teenager" undergoing psychiatric treatment or "paparazzi persecuting Princess Diana's car" - people accepted the rest of the impossible package (what was deliberately designed to pass a terror message from the beginning, like the Pentagon "crash", not relevant in this context):
- "muslims attacking targets within Illuminatiziland, aka West" violates the fundamental law ruling behavior of muslims: the tactic of the muslims is to NOT execute any attacks in areas where they are a minority, because the demographic bomb is the weapon used to become a majority, the moment where the terror begins.
- "WTC planes evaporating after crash" or "steel melting leading to collapse of skyscrapers": any of these pieces of the package violate the laws of physics. No further evidence is required to expose 9/11 as a total lie.
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|From: Sam Citron||4/6/2009 11:54:15 AM|
|Italy muzzled scientist who predicted quake|
Mon Apr 6, 2009 11:09am EDT
By Gavin Jones
ROME (Reuters) - An Italian scientist predicted a major earthquake around L'Aquila weeks before disaster struck the city on Monday, killing more than 90 people, but was reported to authorities for spreading panic.
The government on Monday insisted the warning, by seismologist Giacchino Giuliani, had no scientific foundation.
The first tremors in the region were felt in mid-January and continued at regular intervals, creating mounting alarm in the medieval city, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Rome.
Vans with loudspeakers drove around the town a month ago telling locals to evacuate their houses after Giuliani, from the National Institute of Astrophysics, predicted a large quake was on the way, prompting the mayor's anger.
Giuliani, who based his forecast on concentrations of radon gas around seismically active areas, was reported to police for "spreading alarm" and was forced to remove his findings from the Internet.
As media asked questions about the whether the government properly safeguarded the population in light of his warning, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appeared on the defensive at a news conference.
He said now was the time to concentrate on relief efforts and "we can discuss afterwards about the predictability of earthquakes."
Italy's Civil Protection agency held a meeting of the Major Risks Committee, grouping scientists charged with assessing such risks, in L'Aquila on March 31 to reassure the townspeople.
"The tremors being felt by the population are part of a typical sequence ... (which is) absolutely normal in a seismic area like the one around L'Aquila," the civil protection agency said in a statement on the eve of that meeting.
It added that the agency saw no reason for alarm but was nonetheless effecting "continuous monitoring and attention."
The head of the agency, Guido Bertolaso, referred back to that meeting at Monday's joint news conference with Berlusconi.
The Major Risks Committee concluded there was no reason to forecast a more powerful earthquake than the previous tremors, he said. "There is no possibility of predicting an earthquake, that is the view of the international scientific community."
Enzo Boschi, the head of the National Geophysics Institute, said the real problem for Italy was a long-standing failure to take proper precautions despite a history of tragic quakes.
"We have earthquakes but then we forget and do nothing. It's not in our culture to take precautions or build in an appropriate way in areas where there could be strong earthquakes," he said.
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|From: Sam Citron||4/9/2009 2:43:14 AM|
|Japanese Machinery Orders Unexpectedly Rebound 1.4% (Update3)|
By Jason Clenfield
April 9 (Bloomberg) -- Japanese machinery orders unexpectedly rose for the first time in five months in February, adding to signs that the recession may be easing.
Bookings, an indicator of capital investment in the next three to six months, climbed 1.4 percent from January, the Cabinet Office said today in Tokyo. The median estimate of 28 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a 6.9 percent drop.
Shares rose, led by Komatsu Ltd., Japan’s biggest maker of earthmovers, on optimism that the economy’s 12.1 percent contraction in the fourth quarter represented the worst of the slump. Prime Minister Taro Aso is poised to unveil a 15.4 trillion yen ($154 billion) stimulus package, the largest for a single year, to counter an unprecedented collapse in exports.
“It’s highly likely that when we look back at this downturn we’ll see that February was when it hit bottom,” said Kyohei Morita, chief economist at Barclays Capital in Tokyo. Still, he added, “bottoming out doesn’t mean Japan will have a solid recovery.”
The benchmark Topix stock index climbed 2.8 percent, extending its rally to 18 percent over the past month. The machinery index surged 4.9 percent. The yen traded at 99.94 per dollar at 2:14 p.m. in Tokyo from 99.74 before the report.
Recent reports show companies plan to increase output after draining inventories, merchant sentiment climbed to an eight-month high in March, and manufacturers expect to be less pessimistic next quarter.
Economies around the world are showing signs of improvement as governments spend record amounts of money to bolster demand. Chinese urban fixed-asset investment climbed 26.5 percent in the first two months of 2009. South Korea left interest rates at 2 percent today after factory production gained and manufacturing confidence rose to a five-month high.
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last month that he sees “green shoots” in some financial markets and the pace of economic decline “will begin to moderate.”
Japan’s Cabinet Office raised its assessment of machinery orders for the first time since May 2007, saying they’re “rising slightly but still on a downward trend.” Previously it said orders were declining “sharply.”
Bookings from service companies rose 3.3 percent from January, a second month of gains. Orders from manufacturers fell 8.1 percent, less than the 27.4 percent drop in the previous month.
Confidence among Japanese merchants surged to the highest since July last month, the Cabinet Office said yesterday, indicating factory production may recover soon, according to Takahide Kiuchi, chief economist at Nomura Securities Co. in Tokyo. Companies cut inventories at a record pace in February.
Even so, there’s no letup in the export slump that prompted Aso to order his third stimulus plan since coming to office in September. Shipments abroad plunged a record 50.4 percent in February from a year earlier, the Finance Ministry said yesterday, and another survey showed bankruptcies rose to a six-year high in March.
The increase in machinery orders “could be a temporary rebound from the rapid worsening in the past six months and it’s difficult to say Japan’s economy is heading for a sustainable recovery,” said Soichi Okuda, chief economist at Sumitomo Research Institute in Tokyo. “The private sector is still reluctant to invest as their cash flow remains severe.”
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party will propose the government spends 15.4 trillion yen in the latest package, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News. The measures would represent 3 percent of gross domestic product, taking Aso’s total stimulus to 25 trillion yen.
Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said in parliament today that the economy is likely to keep worsening and uncertainty remains high.
Plunging demand for Japanese cars and electronics drove manufacturer sentiment to a record low in March, the central bank’s Tankan survey showed last week. Big companies said they plan to cut spending by 6.6 percent this fiscal year, the bleakest projection since the 2002 recession.
While the Tankan showed large companies expect sentiment to improve in three months, it also indicated that they have too many workers and excess capacity.
Sharp Corp., which yesterday posted its first loss in half a century, is eliminating 1,500 workers and closing two production lines as global flat-panel television sales slump.
Honda Motor Co. last month delayed the opening of a new domestic factory for the second time in four months. The plant, initially scheduled to start production in 2010, will now open in 2012 at the earliest, the automaker said.
“Companies are clearly under pressure, earnings have been squeezed and you’d expect to see that reflected in the investment,” said David Cohen, director of Asian economic forecasting at Action Economics in Singapore. “Capital spending will likely remain a drag on growth for the next few quarters.”
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|From: Sam Citron||4/9/2009 3:11:13 AM|
|Greece Teeters on the Verge of Bankruptcy|
By Manfred Ertel
Greece is on the brink of bankruptcy despite the fact that the global recession has yet to hit the country with full force. Strikes are paralyzing the country and the EU is putting on the pressure. But the government is still trying to put a positive spin on things.
For 33 years now, Dionisis Sargentis, 58, has been selling medical and orthopedic supplies to hospitals, products like screws and clips for damaged vertebrae or broken joints, implants, and surgical instruments. He started out as a one-man business. Today he has 13 employees and annual sales of nearly €7 million ($9.3 million).
One would think that his line of business would be recession-proof, given that there is always a need for medical supplies and his regular customers include major public hospitals in Athens.
And yet Sargentis is currently on the verge of going out of business. "I love my work," he says, "but the business is no longer worth it." For four-and-a-half years now, the public hospitals haven't paid him for the supplies he has delivered. At the moment they owe him somewhere around €4.5 million -- more than half his company's annual sales.
FROM THE MAGAZINE
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Now he's fed up with waiting. Together with a number of other hospital suppliers he drove up in front of the General Hospital of Attica (KAT), which has the largest orthopedic department in Athens. But instead of delivering new supplies, he removed existing stocks from the clinic's storerooms. "We're only repossessing what belongs to us," he said. "They were just on loan." Sargentis and his fellow hospital suppliers are hoping that the Greek government will get the message and finally pay up.
As of Dec. 31 last year, the Greek government owed the 75 member companies of the Greek association of medical equipment suppliers, which Sargentis is president of, almost exactly €800 million. An entire sector of the economy is on the brink of ruin. "Everyone has their backs against the wall," he said.
There is a systemic reason for this. In Greece, hospital suppliers sell their goods to clinics on what is virtually a commission basis. The clinics pay only for what they use and in most cases only after a considerable time lag. Two to two-and-a-half years are considered normal waiting times. The suppliers take that into account in their planning. The orders made by the hospitals serve the companies as security for bank loans they take out to pay salaries and to place new orders with manufacturers. This is the way the business works -- or rather, this is the way it used to work.
But now the banks have stopped cooperating. They are refusing to provide new loans and this has caused the entire system to collapse. "It has cut off our oxygen supply," Sargentis says. "We are being suffocated by debt." But it is not the hospital suppliers' debts the banks are worried about -- it is the highly indebted Greek government they no longer see as being creditworthy. Companies like Sargentis's are the unwitting victims of the change in attitude.
No wonder, then, that there is so much public displeasure being expressed against the Greek government. Over the past few weeks, workers and public employees have been calling strikes across the country. Last Thursday, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Greece's major cities, paralyzing public life. Trains, buses, and ferries stopped running. Hospitals offered only emergency services. Public schools were closed.
Crisis? The situation in Greece is not all that bad, insists Panos Livadas, the government's secretary general of information. The shops and cafés are full of customers, he points out. The Greek economy is "really indestructible. I don't understand these international situation assessments."
Livadas's job is to make people see things through rose-colored glasses. He explains that in 2008 his country's economy expanded by 3.2 percent, "one of the highest growth rates in the euro zone." Over the past four years, he says, economic growth in Greece has been twice as high as the overall average in the currency union countries.
He characterizes Greece's banking sector as being "basically sound" and "in considerably better condition" than those in other EU countries and in the United States. He notes that Greece was the first EU country to provide a government guarantee for personal savings up to a total of €100,000. Nothing seems to be able to shake the official's self-satisfied depictions of Greek reality.
But is this what the situation really looks like?
Short of Cash
One needs luck, especially in difficult times. At the crisis summits of EU member countries in Brussels, Prime Minister Caramanlis was lucky in the sense that the community was under such strong pressure to act in response to the crisis in Eastern Europe that not very much attention was given to the situation in Greece.
But now the European Commission has instigated disciplinary proceedings, because Athens has exceeded the euro zone budget deficit limit of 3 percent for the third time in a row. The results of audits carried out by Brussels look very different from the information in Livadas's glossy brochures.
In EU statistics, Greek government debt is listed as amounting to 94 percent of the country's gross domestic product. Italy is the only other euro zone country which has a higher level of government debt. Greece also has the lowest credit rating of all the euro zone countries. It has to finance its government debt under terms which are worse than for any other euro zone country, with the exception of Malta.
Greece has yet to break its old habits. The level of competitiveness is low, much-needed reforms are overdue, government bureaucracy is bloated and corrupt, and the country continues to live beyond its means. Even though the national pension funds are chronically short of cash, female public employees with school-age children are allowed to retire at the age of 50.
Educated young people from the middle class have little prospect of finding employment, despite being well qualified, and are forced to take casual jobs to make ends meet. As a result, many young Greeks are forced to live with their parents until they are well past the age of 30. The anger of the "€700 generation" -- as the young people are known -- over their situation exploded last December in weeks of rioting throughout the country.
The EU is now no longer willing to accept lethargy on the part of the Greek government. European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Joaquín Almunia called for significantly harsher cost-cutting measures, a "prudent wage policy in the public sector," and greater efforts with regard to structural reforms. Georgios Provopoulos, the governor of the Bank of Greece, the nation's central bank, warned his countrymen against "self-satisfaction" and spoke of a looming danger of national bankruptcy. And Greece has still to feel the full effects of the global recession.
"The negative factors you see here are all leftovers from the past," says one EU diplomat, adding that most of them are homegrown. Economic experts are anxiously waiting to see what's going to happen this summer. They fear there could be a decline in the tourism sector, one of the most important pillars of growth in the Greek economy, accounting for 17 percent of gross domestic product. The volume of tourist bookings from the United States is reported to have dropped by up to 50 percent. The number of British vacationers, some 3 million annually in the past, alongside 2.3 million Germans, is expected to shrink by up to 30 percent.
The situation of banks that invested in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans is uncertain. Greek financial institutions invested billions of euros in bank takeovers or in setting up their own branches in Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia. Given that the value of the national currencies in some of those countries has fallen dramatically, what were originally seen as attractive investments in developing economies could well turn out to be huge losses.
That's what the crisis looks like in Greece. "Nobody wants to see it, but everybody is afraid of it," says Kalliope Amyg, a young political scientist. "The country is dancing on a volcano."
'We Don't Know What Tomorrow Will Bring'
In Greek, there is no direct translation for the verb "save" in a monetary sense. And that is precisely the way the Greeks live.
Greece continues to have a flourishing informal sector. "It helps to stabilize people's incomes and standard of living," observes one European businessman who works in Greece. "Families try to have as many separate sources of incomes as possible."
For 24 years, Popi Kalogeropoulou, 48, has worked as a graphic artist for publishing companies, most recently for the women's magazine Young. At the end of last year she was laid off. The magazine was forced to cut costs, which meant job cuts.
Fortunately it didn't take her long to find a new job. Since mid-January, she has been doing the layout for a weekly newspaper. The pay she was offered isn't bad, more than €2,000 a month, which is a bit more than what she was getting in her last job.
The only thing is, she wasn't given a contract -- she is being forced to work under the table. "I'm being made to do something I don't want to do," she says. She was paid for the first time eight weeks and one day after she started. But she only received €1,000 -- in cash, naturally. "Companies are simply taking advantage of the crisis," she says.
Nobody believes that Greece will be able to cope with the crisis, if and when its hits the country with full force, using just its old inefficient habits. "We don't know what tomorrow will bring," says the entrepreneur Dionisis Sargentis.
Sargentis only knows what will happen if the Greek government continues to be unable to pay its bills and the companies in his sector are unable to sell their goods. "This will spell the end of the health care system in our country." Among other things.
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|From: Sam Citron||5/13/2009 11:06:28 PM|
|Thriving Norway Provides an Economics Lesson [NYT]|
By LANDON THOMAS Jr.
When capitalism seemed on the verge of collapse last fall, Kristin Halvorsen, Norway’s Socialist finance minister and a longtime free market skeptic, did more than crow.
As investors the world over sold in a panic, she bucked the tide, authorizing Norway’s $300 billion sovereign wealth fund to ramp up its stock buying program by $60 billion — or about 23 percent of Norway ’s economic output.
“The timing was not that bad,” Ms. Halvorsen said, smiling with satisfaction over the broad worldwide market rally that began in early March.
The global financial crisis has brought low the economies of just about every country on earth. But not Norway.
With a quirky contrariness as deeply etched in the national character as the fjords carved into its rugged landscape, Norway has thrived by going its own way. When others splurged, it saved. When others sought to limit the role of government, Norway strengthened its cradle-to-grave welfare state.
And in the midst of the worst global downturn since the Depression, Norway’s economy grew last year by just under 3 percent. The government enjoys a budget surplus of 11 percent and its ledger is entirely free of debt.
By comparison, the United States is expected to chalk up a fiscal deficit this year equal to 12.9 percent of its gross domestic product and push its total debt to $11 trillion, or 65 percent of the size of its economy.
Norway is a relatively small country with a largely homogeneous population of 4.6 million and the advantages of being a major oil exporter. It counted $68 billion in oil revenue last year as prices soared to record levels. Even though prices have sharply declined, the government is not particularly worried. That is because Norway avoided the usual trap that plagues many energy-rich countries.
Instead of spending its riches lavishly, it passed legislation ensuring that oil revenue went straight into its sovereign wealth fund, state money that is used to make investments around the world. Now its sovereign wealth fund is close to being the largest in the world, despite losing 23 percent last year because of investments that declined.
Norway’s relative frugality stands in stark contrast to Britain, which spent most of its North Sea oil revenue — and more — during the boom years. Government spending rose to 47 percent of G.D.P., from 42 percent in 2003. By comparison, public spending in Norway fell to 40 percent from 48 percent of G.D.P.
“The U.S. and the U.K. have no sense of guilt,” said Anders Aslund, an expert on Scandinavia at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “But in Norway, there is instead a sense of virtue. If you are given a lot, you have a responsibility.”
Eirik Wekre, an economist who writes thrillers in his spare time, describes Norwegians’ feelings about debt this way: “We cannot spend this money now; it would be stealing from future generations.”
Mr. Wekre, who paid for his house and car with cash, attributes this broad consensus to as the country’s iconoclasm. “The strongest man is he who stands alone in the world,” he said, quoting Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
Still, even Ibsen might concede that it is easier to stand alone when your nation has benefited from oil reserves that make it the third-largest exporter in the world. The money flowing from that black gold since the early 1970s has prompted even the flintiest of Norwegians to relax and enjoy their good fortune. The country’s G.D.P. per person is $52,000, behind only Luxembourg among industrial democracies.
As in much of the rest of the world home prices have soared here, tripling this decade. But there has been no real estate crash in Norway because there were few mortgage lending excesses. After a 15 percent correction, prices are again on the rise.
Unlike Dublin or Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where work has stopped on half-built skyscrapers and stilled cranes dot the skylines, Oslo retains a feeling of modesty reminiscent of a fishing village rather than a Western capital, with the recently opened $800 million Opera House one of the few signs of opulence.
Norwegian banks, said Arne J. Isachsen, an economist at the Norwegian School of Management, remain largely healthy and prudent in their lending. Banks represent just 2 percent of the economy and tight public oversight over their lending practices have kept Norwegian banks from taking on the risk that brought down their Icelandic counterparts. But they certainly have not closed their doors to borrowers. Mr. Isachsen, like many in Norway, has a second home and an open credit line from his bank, which he recently used to buy a new boat.
Some here worry that while a cabin in the woods and a boat may not approach the excesses seen in New York or London, oil wealth and the state largesse have corrupted Norway’s once-sturdy work ethic.
“This is an oil-for-leisure program,” said Knut Anton Mork, an economist at Handelsbanken in Oslo. A recent study, he pointed out, found that Norwegians work the fewest hours of the citizens of any industrial democracy.
“We have become complacent,” Mr. Mork added. “More and more vacation houses are being built. We have more holidays than most countries and extremely generous benefits and sick leave policies. Some day the dream will end.”
But that day is far off. For now, the air is clear, work is plentiful and the government’s helping hand is omnipresent — even for those on the margins.
Just around the corner from Norway’s central bank, for instance, Paul Bruum takes a needle full of amphetamines and jabs it into his muscular arm. His scabs and sores betray many years as a heroin addict. He says that the $1,500 he gets from the government each month is enough to keep him well-fed and supplied with drugs.
Mr. Bruum, 32, says he has never had a job, and he admits he is no position to find one. “I don’t blame anyone,” he said. “The Norwegian government has provided for me the best they can.”
To Ms. Halvorsen, the finance minister, even the underside of the Norwegian dream looks pretty good compared to the economic nightmares elsewhere.
“As a socialist, I have always said that the market can’t regulate itself,” she said. “But even I was surprised how strong the failure was.”
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