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IMF warns that world risks sliding into a 1930s-style slump December 16, 2011

The world risks sliding into a 1930s-style slump unless countries settle their differences and work together to tackle Europe‘s deepening debt crisis, the head of the International Monetary Fund has warned.

On a day that saw an escalation in the tit-for-tat trade battle between China and the United States and a deepening of the diplomatic rift between Britain and France, Christine Lagarde issued her strongest warning yet about the health of the global economy and said if the international community failed to co-operate the risk was of “retraction, rising protectionism, isolation”.

She added: “This is exactly the description of what happened in the 1930s, and what followed is not something we are looking forward to.”

The IMF managing director’s call came amid growing concern that 2012 will see Europe slide into a double-dip recession, with knock-on effects for the rest of the global economy. “The world economic outlook at the moment is not particularly rosy. It is quite gloomy,” she said.

Since arriving in Washington in the summer, Lagarde has been forced to cut her organisation’s forecasts for global growth next year and is now putting pressure on countries outside the eurozone – including Britain – to play their part in containing Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

An IMF plan, agreed at the Brussels summit last week, involves obtaining €200bn (£168bn) from European countries and then asking the rest of the world to contribute. Beijing has so far proved reluctant to join in a rescue of the eurozone and has said it is up to Europe to sort out its own problems.

Speaking at the State Department in Washington, Lagarde said: “There is no economy in the world, whether low-income countries, emerging markets, middle-income countries or super-advanced economies, that will be immune to the crisis that we see not only unfolding but escalating.

“It is not a crisis that will be resolved by one group of countries taking action. It is going to be hopefully resolved by all countries, all regions, all categories of countries actually taking some action.”

Lagarde said that the scale of the eurozone crisis, and its implications for other countries, meant that Europe’s governments could not tackle it alone. “It is going to require efforts, it is going to require adjustment; and clearly it is going to have to start from the core of the crisis at the moment, which is obviously the European countries, and in particular the countries of the eurozone,” Lagarde said.

As Lagarde called for unity, there were strong attacks on Britain from both the French finance minister, Francois Baroin, and the governor of the French central bank, Christian Noyer, in what appeared to be a concerted attempt by Paris to escalate a war of words with London in the wake of Britain’s decision to veto a new EU treaty.

Noyer, speaking amid financial market speculation that the Standard Poor’s ratings agency was about to strip France of its coveted AAA rating, said Britain’s credit rating should be downgraded first.

He said a downgrade for France (which would drive up the interest Paris pays to borrow, and make loans in the wider economy more expensive) “doesn’t strike me as justified based on economic fundamentals.

“If it is, they should start by downgrading the UK, which has a bigger deficit, as much debt, more inflation, weaker growth, and where bank lending is collapsing.”

In strikingly similar language, Baroin poked fun at David Cameron in a speech to the French parliament. “Great Britain is in a very difficult economic situation: a deficit close to the level of Greece, debt equivalent to our own, much higher inflation prospects, and growth forecasts well under the eurozone average. It is an audacious choice the UK government has made.”

Downing Street responded with restraint. Cameron’s official spokesman said: “We have put in place a credible plan for dealing with our deficit, and the credibility of that plan can be seen in what has happened to bond yields in this country.” Privately, officials said it was a “strange thing” for Noyer to speak as he did, but there was no desire in London to inflame the situation.

In another sign the financial crisis was deepening last night, Fitch cut its ratings on eight of the world’s biggest banks, including Barclays, Bank of America, and Deutsche Bank. It warned that they all faced “increased challenges”, with potential losses hard to calculate.

John Bryson, the US commerce secretary, signalled that Washington would retaliate against Beijing’s decision to put tariffs on high-performance US cars imported into China. “The United States has reached a point where we cannot quietly accept China ignoring many of the trade rules. China still substantially subsidises its own companies, discriminates against foreign companies, and has poor intellectual property protections,” he said.

Britain has been given observer status on a working group set up by the Economic and Financial Committee of the EU to carry out technical work ahead of the full-blown negotiations on the treaty, boosting Cameron’s claim that Britain has not been marginalised by his move last week.

On Thursday Hungary and the Czech Republic raised doubts about the proposed agreement, saying they would not sign the new treaty if they had to give up their right to decide tax policy. Downing Street denied that Cameron was attempting to foment opposition to the treaty, and said that the prime minister was talking to all sides. But by Thursday the only eurozone leader he had spoken to was Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister.

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Political Standoff Heats Up Between Rival Papua New Guinea Prime Ministers

Papua New Guinea is in the midst of a political standoff, with two rival politicians claiming to be prime minister. With one backed by the country’s cabinet, the other by the supreme court, analysts say the country is heading into unchartered waters, with a resolution hinged on a dangerous ego battle. 

Michael Somare, Papua’s New Guinea’s longtime on-and-off leader, was sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday morning after the Supreme Court ruled the current government is unconstitutional.

But, his rival Peter O’Neill, who won a parliamentary election in August, maintains he is the country’s legitimate leader.

The crisis started brewing in April when Michael Somare, 76, left PNG to undergo heart surgery in Singapore. The medical treatment took months and, during his absence, Papua New Guinea’s parliament elected popular opposition leader Peter O’Neill to take his place.

Somare returned home in September fighting to be reinstated, thrusting the troubled Pacific nation into a political deadlock.

Jenny Hayward-Jones, an analyst on Papua New Guinea politics from the Lowy Institute in Australia, says the crisis has become a battle of egos with neither leader willing to step down.

“I think the ambitious nature of both politicians is of concern at the moment,” said Hayward-Jones. “Both the competing prime ministers, I don’t think they will see their way through to a fair solution quickly. I think this may take some time to convince both of them that they need to talk or that one of them needs to stand down or stand back and allow the other to stand forward and take power.”

Elections are scheduled for June and Hayward-Jones says the leaders are fighting to stay in power so they have access to the cash and resources that will allow them to fund their campaign and secure votes.

With his heavy-handed leadership style and accusations of corruption, many Papua New Guineans have lost faith in both the parliament and leadership of Michael Somare, who has ruled the country on and off for more than forty years.

And, although Somare has the supreme court on his side, O’Neill boasts the support of the parliament and a disillusioned public.

But, with analysts warning that the deadlock is unlikely to be solved swiftly, Hayward-Jones says there are concerns the police may become embroiled in the current political tensions.

“I don’t see much likelihood of a military intervention,” said Hayward-Jones. “The police, however, are another matter. There are two police commissioners at the moment, one appointed by each prime minister. And, the police themselves are said to be divided into two factions one supporting Somare, the other supporting O’Neill. So if the situation did become violent and there was some public unrest then the police response would become critical.”

The mineral-rich country and former Australian colony has a population of seven million and a rocky political history. But the current power struggle is unprecedented.

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Mitt Romney challenges Rick Perry to $10,000 bet in GOP debate December 13, 2011


December 13, 2011

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Mitt Romney challenges Rick Perry to $10,000 bet in GOP debate 11 Dec 2011 In a moment during Saturday’s GOP debate in Iowa that The Fix’s Chris Cillizza called a “rare but likely costly unforced error,” former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney challenged Texas Gov. Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet on Romney’s position on the individual mandate in the nation’s new health insurance law… After a bit of back-and-forth, a visibly annoyed Romney extended his hand to Perry: “Rick, I’ll tell you what, 10,000 bucks?” Romney said. “$10,000 bet?” Perry, who appeared surprised by the move, declined, saying he is “not in the betting business” but offered to show him the book.

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Millions of drivers won’t hang up, study shows December 9, 2011

Washington (CNN) — Your eyes aren’t deceiving you.

A federal study says one in 20 drivers observed at any given moment is holding a mobile phone to his or her ear, and that almost one in 100 can be observed sending a text message or otherwise manipulating a digital device.

At the typical daylight moment, some 13.5 million drivers are on a hand-held phone nationwide, the study says.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released the study Thursday, saying the use of phones while driving is holding steady, and text messaging is growing, despite laws limiting hand-held devices and a tidal wave of publicity about tragedies cause by distracted drivers.

NHTSA said there’s evidence that 3,092 deaths — one-tenth of all roadway fatalities last year — involved distracted drivers, although they believe the actual number may be far higher. Determining the cause of distracted driving fatalities is difficult, authorities said, because there frequently are not witnesses, and the distracted driver may be dead.

Accordingly, officials Thursday also unveiled a new measurement of fatalities which — to be called “distraction-affected crashes” — that they say will help them follow trends and focus research in the future.

The old method, used to estimate 2009 distracted driving deaths, included a broader range of indicators, including cases of “careless driving,” and cases in which a mobile phone was found in a car, even if there was no evidence it was being used.

But the new methodology focuses more narrowly “on crashes in which a driver was most likely to have been distracted,” NHTSA said.

The number of fatalities dropped from 5,474 people in 2009, to 3,092 people in 2010, but NHTSA said the two numbers should not be compared, because of the changing methodology.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in a statement the new methodology is intended to improve the agency’s understanding of the problem, to lay the groundwork for additional research.

Indeed, there is some evidence the problem is holding steady, if not worsening, officials said.

Under the so-called NOPUS study — National Occupant Protection Use Survey — trained observers at randomly selected sites track the extent to which they see people use cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. Data is collected only during daylight hours, and the observers look only at stopped vehicles.

The study said the percentage of drivers who use hand-held cell phones stood at 5 percent in 2010, while the percentage of drivers who were text-messaging or visibly manipulating hand-held devices increased significantly from 0.6 percent in 2009 to 0.9 percent in 2010.

According to NHTSA, as of May 2011, eight states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington) as well as the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands ban driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone. Thirty-two states, the District of Columbia and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers.

Some states, such as Maine, New Hampshire and Utah, treat cell phone use and texting as part of a larger distracted driving issue. In Utah, for instance, cell phone use is an offense only if a driver is also committing some other moving violation, other than speeding, NHTSA said.


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US marks Pearl Harbor 70 years on December 8, 2011


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Survivors attended the Pearl Harbor ceremony in Hawaii

The Pearl Harbor attacks’ few remaining survivors have led US commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the event that changed World War II’s course.

About 120 veterans joined military leaders at the Hawaii naval base as a moment of silence was observed at the time Japan sprung its offensive.

President Barack Obama called for US flags to be flown at half mast on federal buildings across the country.

Some 2,400 Americans died in the Japanese attacks of 7 December 1941.

President Obama, who was born in Hawaii, hailed veterans of the bombing in a statement marking National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

‘Greatest Generation’

“Their tenacity helped define the Greatest Generation and their valour fortified all who served during World War II,” he said.

Barely 120 survivors of the Pearl Harbor attacks remain

“As a nation, we look to December 7 1941 to draw strength from the example set by these patriots and to honour all who have sacrificed for our freedoms.”

At 7:55 am (17:55 GMT), the moment Japanese bombers swooped on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, a ceremony was held by the wreck of the USS Arizona, one of 12 vessels sunk that day seven decades ago.

Nearly half of those killed in the attack died almost instantly on the Arizona, when a bomb detonated the giant battleship’s munitions.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and military leaders were also among the several thousand people at Wednesday’s event.

A US Navy destroyer rendered honours to the Arizona to begin the moment of silence, before F-22 jets flew overhead in “missing man” formation.

Over in Washington DC, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta laid a wreath at the US Navy Memorial at midday.

Crippled by a bomb that detonated its munitions, the USS Arizona sinks to its watery grave

The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association said it would disband after this year’s landmark commemoration because so few veterans remained.

Thousands of survivors were on hand for the 50th anniversary of the attacks in 1991.

As well as the dozen ships wrecked in the attack on Pearl Harbor, nine other vessels were damaged and the US lost 164 aeroplanes. Sixty-two Japanese died.

Denouncing “a date which will live in infamy”, President Franklin Roosevelt went to Congress for a declaration of war, which was approved within hours.

Three days later, Germany declared war on the US. America’s entry was to change the course of the conflict.

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