Friday, August 31, 2012
President Zardari also reportedly invited Dr Singh to Pakistan. Dr Singh told President Zardari that he would visit Pakistan at "a suitable time."
The meeting took place on the sidelines of the 16th NAM summit and is the second meeting between the two leaders this year.
The meeting comes a day after the Indian Supreme Court upheld Ajmal Kasab's death sentence in the Mumbai terror attack case, strengthening India's case for action against others involved in the 26/11 strike.
Dr Singh had last met Mr Zardari in New Delhi in April this year when the Pakistani President made a private visit to India to pray at the Sufi shrine in Ajmer.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Stubbornly high unemployment? Mr Obama's fault. Dispirited Americans? Mr Obama's fault. Even the closed General Motors plant in his beloved hometown of Janesville, Wis. You can guess whose fault that is, too, even though the plant ceased production before Mr Obama took office.
"Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?" Mr Ryan said.
The Wisconsin congressman stepped onto the national stage on Wednesday night with a Midwesterner's polite but pointed outrage for a nation whose economy has not recovered quickly enough from the Great Recession. Citing statistics, Mr Ryan comfortably slid into the traditional role of the No. 2 on a presidential ticket.
From the outset of the speech - his highest stakes appearance yet in his political career - he took Mr Obama to task. He gave the Republican faithful and Mr Obama skeptics plenty of reminders that some of Mr Obama's promises of 2008 have come up short.
"It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new," Mr Ryan said. "Now all that's left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday's wind."
He offered praise of Romney and a brief introduction to his story growing up in Wisconsin. But the thrust of Mr Ryan's pitch is that Mr Obama has misled the country and it is time to replace him with Mr Romney.
"President Obama is the kind of politician who puts promises on the record, and then calls that the record," Mr Ryan said. "But we are four years into this presidency. The issue is not the economy as Barack Obama inherited it - not the economy as he envisions it - but this economy as we are living it."
Mr Ryan worked with his speechwriting team - some longtime aides, others new additions from Romney's Boston headquarter - to find a balance that appealed to voters from in-play states such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. Economic hardships have hit close to home there and Ryan's roots in Janesville were an effort to connect with working- and middle-class voters who remain skeptical of the vastly wealthy Mr Romney.
He told the story of his hometown, Janesville, where he still lives on the block where he grew up. He worships at the Catholic parish where he was baptized, and the shuttered GM plant is a reminder of the past.
"A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Mr Obama said: 'I believe that if our government is there to support you this plant will be here for another hundred years.' That's what he said in 2008," Mr Ryan said. "Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that's how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."
During his 2008 campaign, Mr Obama did visit the plant. But Ryan leaves out the fact that the plant stopped production on Dec. 23, 2008, a month before Mr Obama took office.
Mr Ryan pressed forward with other scathing criticisms painting Obama as a spend-crazy leader.
"With all their attack ads, the president is just throwing away money - and he's pretty experienced at that," he said.
He also doubled down on criticism of the Democrats' health care plan, which shifted money from Medicare to pay for an expansion of health care coverage. Democrats say the change doesn't negatively affect seniors' benefits and note that in the past Mr Ryan has proposed a voucher-like system for future retirees.
"Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it," Mr Ryan said, pointing to his 78-year-old mother, Betty, sitting in the audience. "A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my mom's generation, for my generation and for my kids and yours. So our opponents can consider themselves on notice."
Mr Ryan, the top budget writer for House Republicans, stayed away from the policy details that he prefers. Instead, he spoke warmly of his new political partner, Mr Romney.
"The man who will accept your nomination tomorrow is prayerful and faithful and honorable," Ryan said. "Not only a defender of marriage, he offers an example of marriage at its best. Not only a fine businessman, he's a fine man, worthy of leading this optimistic and good-hearted country."
Mr Ryan also used his 37-minute speech to share a bit of his biography and growing up in the Midwest.
"My dad, a small-town lawyer, was also named Paul. Until we lost him when I was 16, he was a gentle presence in my life. I like to think he'd be proud of me and my sister and brothers," he said. "You know what? I'm sure proud of him and of where I come from, Janesville, Wis."
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke at the Summit. Below is his complete speech.
I congratulate His Excellency Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on assuming the Chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement. Mr. Chairman, India will extend its full cooperation to Iran as it leads the Movement over the next three years.
I also express my appreciation to Egypt for its stewardship of the Movement since the last Summit, even though Egypt has been in the midst of profound domestic change.
Mr. Chairman, the Non-Aligned Movement, representing the large majority of humankind, has been a powerful force for the promotion of global peace, security and development. Our shared objectives of working together to preserve our strategic space, ensure our social and economic development and strive for a more just and equitable world order remain as true and relevant today as they were in the past.
Mr. Chairman, your chosen theme for our Summit - Lasting Peace through Joint Global Governance - is timely. Today's structures for global governance remain driven by the power equations of the past. It is not surprising that they have proved inadequate in dealing with the economic and political crises of our present.
The deficit in global governance is perhaps most stark in the sphere of international peace and security and in restoring just and fair economic and financial mechanisms.
The West Asian and North African region is undergoing profound change. As the world's largest democracy, India supports popular aspirations for a democratic and pluralistic order. Nevertheless, such transformations cannot be prompted by external intervention, which exacerbate the suffering of ordinary citizens. The deteriorating situation in Syria is a matter of particular concern. Our Movement should take a stand on the issue in keeping with universally accepted principles. We should urge all parties to recommit themselves to resolving the crisis peacefully through a Syrian-led inclusive political process that can meet the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens.
The Non-Aligned Movement has always championed the cause of the Palestinian people. Today, we should renew our pledge to support an early resolution of the Palestinian question, so that the long suffering people of Palestine can live in peace and dignity in a state of their own.
Mr. Chairman, in the past, individually we may have had little economic and military clout but the collective voice and reasoned interventions of our Movement commanded respect and credibility. That voice should again find true expression on a variety of issues.
We need new instruments of global governance to confront cross-cutting and trans-national challenges through coordinated global action. These include international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the menace of maritime piracy, the growing threat to cyber security and the growing challenge of pursuing ecologically sustainable development while ensuring energy, water and food security.
Our Movement should take the lead in building global governance structures that are representative, credible and effective. It is my sincere hope that the Movement can agree on action to reform institutions such as the United Nations Security Council, the World Bank and the IMF. Existing problems cannot be solved effectively without a greater voice for developing countries on issues such as global trade, finance and investment.
Developing countries can be drivers of global growth. International financial institutions should therefore be encouraged to fund infrastructure development in the developing world in innovative ways. We should also urge that the current economic crisis should not lead to a dilution of development assistance flows from the developed world.
While we come together on the international stage, it is equally important for us to collaborate among ourselves in tackling problems and developing solutions that are best suited to our own circumstances.
For example, the developing world is rich in renewable sources of energy like solar power We should use our financial and intellectual resources to develop renewable energy technologies that get less attention in the industrialised world where the resource base is different. Adoption of these technologies will also enable us to contribute to preservation of the environment. We can learn from each other in this effort.
Similarly, food security is a basic problem for many of our countries. Excessive speculation, structural bottlenecks and lack of coordination are fuelling food inflation at the global level. Our Movement should push for effective food policy coordination and cooperation at the global level in areas such as agricultural productivity, weather forecasting and research and development.
Perhaps most relevant for us is to focus on investing in the knowledge economy and building our human resources. When faced with our unique developmental challenges, our youth have the creativity and energy to find solutions that are innovative, frugal and affordable. However, we need to provide them skills and equip them to find productive employment in a rapidly changing and inter-connected global economy. India would be happy to contribute to a NAM initiative on skill development, particularly focused on the knowledge economy.
Mr. Chairman, the African continent provided the intellectual wellspring for many of the leaders of the Non Aligned Movement. The growth of NAM and decolonization in Africa progressed almost hand in hand. Africa therefore has a special place in NAM. India's own strategic partnership with Africa is premised on making the people of Africa its primary beneficiaries. The India-Africa Forum Summit thus provides for an ambitious programme of pan-African institution-building to enhance our multi-faceted cooperation. I invite interested NAM members to work with us in areas of priority to Africa.
Nearly two decades ago, India embarked on a "Look East" policy in an endeavour to learn and benefit from and contribute to the evolution of a new Asian economic community to our East. However, the progress, prosperity, well being, political stability and plurality of the Asia to our West has always been of equal historical and civilisational significance for us. A West Asian region that can realize its full potential, live in peace and harmony and join the comity of democratic and plural societies will contribute greatly to human progress and peace in the 21st Century.
Mr. Chairman, let me conclude by thanking you for this opportunity to renew our Movement's collective endeavour for peace and prosperity which is needed in our troubled planet today. Even as our members have differing views on different issues, our sense of common destiny and solidarity unites us and gives us common purpose. I am certain that our deliberations will be helpful in restoring this historic Movement to its rightful place on the international stage.
Women and children holding up images of the sons, husbands and fathers they lost in front of 30 world leaders at the summit are a part of the massive public relations exercise Iran has launched by hosting the summit.
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opened the summit by launching a frontal attack on the United States and its 'Zionist' supporters. Calling for the 120-member Non Aligned Movement (NAM) to play a new role on the world stage in a post-Cold War world, he said NAM should ensure it stops what he called the "domination of hegemonic western powers led by the US government."
The Iranian government alleges its scientists were killed by Israeli agents. In fact, the proxy war between Iran and Israel is being fought elsewhere in the world, including India, where an Israeli diplomat was attacked in an Iranian plot in the heart of central Delhi a few months ago.
While Indian government sources have indicated clearly there is no question of Iran getting away with using the NAM forum to send a message to the West, or to help Iran prove its own global prominence or legitimacy, Mr Khamenei's speech clearly indicates the Iranians have every intention to do so.
Calling the UN Security Council an "illogical, unjust, antiquated relic of the past that enables the US and its allies to impose their will", Mr Ayatollah said the pursuit of nuclear energy and fuel for peaceful use is everyone's right, and that those who have stockpiles of "anti-human bombs have no right to call themselves standard bearers of international security."
Iran takes over the presidency of NAM from Egypt for the next three years. If this opening ceremony is any indication of just how Iran intends to use its term, the diplomatic challenge for the remaining 119 members of the group that sees itself as empowered to take independent decisions based on their own national interests and foreign policies, is only just beginning.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
The Summit of the 120-nations grouping will open with Iran assuming the Chair from Egypt for the next three years.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is leading the Indian delegation to the two-day Summit which is being attended by over 30 Heads of State/Governments.
While the US has asked countries not to attend the NAM Summit due to its venue, Iran is projecting the presence of world's leaders as a big diplomatic win.
Asked about crucial issues, including Syria on which the members have differing views, government sources said: "We don't expect any fireworks on Syria... the attempt is to have a successful outcome of the Summit."
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon also arrived in Tehran as an invited observer to the summit. The United States and Israel have criticised his presence in Iran.
Leaders already reported to have arrived in Tehran include Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi, Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Iran is under four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions for turning down West's calls to give up its right of uranium enrichment.
Also, the US and its allies have imposed severe sanctions on Tehran hoping to force it to a negotiating table.
It was called Dozdab before being rechristened. Dozd for bandit, Ab for water. So in Persian it literally meant -a town of bandits by the water. When the Shah visited, he found Sikh gentlemen in white robes, and flowing beards and asked what they were doing among the thieves. And that's how Zahedan got its name.
Zahedan was also the place where Narender Kaur Sahni was born, 74 years ago. Her parents had arrived from the Punjab in their youth, beckoned by the promise of a better life in the transport business. For the Sikhs, Iran is sacred ground, in their "Taqdeer" as the priest in the local Gurudwara says, while addressing the sangat and its special guest, Mrs Gursharan Kaur. They believe that Guru Nanak crossed through Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq on his way to Mecca, and that's why Sikh populations, dwindling as they may be, go back centuries.
Things were good in her youth, Narender Kaur tells us. "Shah agar khaata tha, khilaata bhi tha" If the Shah ate himself, he made sure we got food on our table as well. When her parents arranged her marriage to Santok Singh Saini, 55 years ago, she could never have imagined considering any place other than Iran home. With runaway inflation, a devaluation of the Iranian Riyal and an Islamic code of conduct in place they've had to adapt to extremely trying circumstances.
Although their religious freedom wasn't curbed by the Islamic Republic, things changed after the revolution. Restrictions on women- their clothes and movement, the difficulty in owning property or getting business licenses meant that several of Tehran's nearly 3500 strong Sikh community began to leave. Today their numbers have fallen to about 50 or 60 families, and they still make up the bulk of the Indian diaspora in Iran.
Narender Kaur's is one of them.
Her husband has a small business, but her three children have long left the country for greener pastures. One is in England, the others in America. They are unlikely to come back. As much as it breaks her heart to leave the only home she has ever known, she and her husband are considering moving to one of them. For women like her the empty nest syndrome takes on an added heaviness in the current social and economic environment.
For younger families, who still have strong business ties here, many have made their peace with the changing situation. Their children go to the school Jugal Kishore runs. He tells us, the Sikh community approached the Indian government after the Islamic revolution in 1979 to help run the school, as the community that had started and paid for its upkeep and resources was beginning to leave. He came here 6 years ago from Punjab, on a posting from Kendriya Vidyalaya, and says he's had no trouble adapting to a country that's looked upon with apprehension at best by the rest of the world.
During this visit to Tehran, as the Prime minister met with representatives of the Indian community, his wife, Mrs Gursharan Kaur gave grants of 2 crore rupees for the upkeep of the school and 20 lakh rupees to the Gurudwara for its running. Beaming children and their parents, weathered old faces like those of Narender Kaur and her husband Santok who've seen it all, were out in all their glory to receive the first Indian leader to visit Iran. The small community, many of whom continue to be Indian citizens continues to looks towards Delhi to safeguard its interests in a country where their own stories are but a reflection of a greater crisis for everyone who calls Iran home.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Meetings are also planned with Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as also with the leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Egypt.
The visit takes place amid mounting pressure from the West on Iran over its nuclear programme.
The world will be closely watching when Manmohan Singh meets Ahmadinejad Wednesday.
The two sides will discuss a range of issues, including different ideas on pushing the Chabahar port project that has several components, including a rail link to Afghanistan.
Ahead of the meeting, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai has said that India would seek to scale up trade with Iran. He said that economic relations with Iran have been improving for the last two years.
"Our relations have been strong. As for trade, the balance is in favour of Iran and we would concentrate on increasing trade," said Mathai, who Sunday attended an India-Afghanistan-Iran meeting in Tehran prior to the NAM summit.
India's imports from Iran in 2011-12 were at $12 billion and exports totalled $3 billion.
On the strategic plane, the two sides will explore possibilities of working closely on Afghanistan in view of the expected withdrawal of the international combat troops by 2014.
Pressed whether India would convey the US concerns on Iran, Mathai replied: "Peace and security are our (India's) primary concerns. This is our concern and we don't have to take anyone else's concern as a priority."
At the Aug 30-31 NAM summit, Manmohan Singh is expected to pitch for injecting oxygen into the 120-member NAM, the largest gathering outside the UN, in the context of the shifting world order.
Asked about India's expectations from the summit, Mathai said: "NAM remains as relevant today as when it was created (in 1961). We need to re-invigorate the movement for a greater focus on the issues of global governance, reform of international institutions, food security and energy.
"The time has come to give grater emphasis to global issues," he added.
This will be Manmohan Singh's third NAM summit after Havana (2006) and Sharm el Sheikh (2009). Manmohan Singh returns home on Friday.
Singh will also be holding bilateral meetings with leaders from other countries, including Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the sidelines of the 16th Summit of the 120-nation grouping.
Ahead of the meeting between India and Iran, New Delhi has made it very clear that discussion on peace and security will be of the paramount concern which will be raised with Tehran.
"Peace and security is, indeed, our primary concern given just how important the entire West Asia region, Gulf region, in particular, is for India's security and for Indian economy, both in terms of oil imports and our exports. So, this is our own concern and we don't have to take anybody else's concern as priority," Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai had said in New Delhi.
Singh's bilateral meet with Khomenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumes significance as it will take place at a time when the US is pushing India to reduce engagement with Iran and implement sanctions imposed by some countries over its controversial nuclear programme.
While the West has been trying to underplay Iran hosting the NAM Summit, Tehran sees the event as a major diplomatic achievement.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in his opening remarks at the experts meeting of the Summit yesterday said the grouping should seriously deal with the unilateral economic sanctions imposed by certain countries against its members.
Iran has been slapped with a number of sanctions by the US and the other Western nations which accuse Iran of pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons programme. However, Iran denies the charge and says its nuclear programme is for peaceful use.
The Prime Minister's interactions with Iranian leadership assumes more importance since it was New Delhi that had sought a meeting with Khomenei.
Besides focusing on regional security situation, trade and economic cooperation are likely to be high on the agenda with special focus on oil imports.
Iran is one of the crucial suppliers for oil for energy-starved India. While India recognises only UN imposed sanctions, those levied by US and other countries have become a major stumbling block in making payments to Iran for oil imports.
Singh is also likely to hold meetings with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who would also be attending the Summit.
He would be the first Egyptian leader to visit Iran since the 1979 revolution.
Another important attendee would be UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who ignored US requests of giving the Summit a miss.
Controversial Iranian nuclear programme, Syria crisis and regional issues are likely to dominate the summit.
Over 30 heads of state are expected in Tehran between the 29th and 31st of August. Driving from the Imam Khomeini airport to the city, it is clear the Ahmadinejad government has spared no effort to welcome the leaders, nor in the message it is sending out to the West by hosting this summit. Massive hoardings along the highway welcome NAM leaders to the homeland of culture, as one puts it. Others talk about the need to avoid being enslaved, sending out messages of lasting peace through joint global governance. But one screams out at America: "nuclear energy is an undeniable right for Iran."
At the entrance to the convention hall where the summit will take place, it is hard to miss the wreckage of three cars, driven by Iranian nuclear scientists who were either killed or hurt in Bomb attacks. Tehran has insisted they were attacked by Israeli intelligence agents.
Both Israel and the United States have expressed their displeasure over the willingness of NAM leaders to attend the summit in Tehran and hand over the presidency of NAM for the next three years to it.
Sanctions against Iran and their impact
As the West is increasingly convinced Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons rather than nuclear energy, the country's foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi opened the meeting of foreign ministers on Sunday with a plea to Non Aligned nations to oppose US-backed sanctions against Iran for its nuclear programme. With currency devaluation and runaway inflation, the exchange rate on the black market today is about 21,00,000 riyal to a 100 US dollars. With food prices going up by the day, and growing youth unemployment, the sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy, hitting the ordinary middle classes the worst. As recently as July, the European Union's ban on Iranian oil imports came into full effect, denying the country a market that was buying 18 per cent of its oil annually.
Given the squeeze from the West, Tehran is hoping to counter the damage of sanctions by wooing energy hungry countries like India and China. While India's oil imports from Iran have fallen since the EU sanctions in July, they are still high enough to give the Iranian government a revenue cushion as the crisis plays out.
Iran is also hoping India will commit to investing nearly 100 million dollars in the Chahbahar port, that could help Delhi bypass Pakistan completely as a transit route for trade with key markets in Afghanistan. For India, trying to get Iran to move on this project going for nearly a decade, Ahmedinajad's sudden willingness to push it forward means a diplomatic tightrope walk and the need to balance its own energy requirements and national interests in the face of concerns from America. As it courts Washington's ire over the NAM summit, Delhi is hoping to bring Afghan president Hamid Karzai on board for a trilateral agreement, in order to take the agreement forward.
Iran's public relations exercise
With the opportunity to host a summit as large as this one, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will use the event to prove Iran's legitimacy as a global power as America tries to isolate it on the world stage.
The event is so big, it has warranted a call for a three day government and school holiday. But if the sheer presence of these leaders is a PR victory for the Iranian president, he'll have to tread carefully on several other fronts - most notably the concerns over the denial of higher education to women who have been banned from pursuing 77 courses at the graduate level in the country in the coming year. These include engineering, accounting, and chemistry among others.
Freedom of the press is another obstacle that Ahmadinejad will have to cross, especially as international media gathers in Tehran to cover the proceedings of the summit and the state of the country freely. Social networking sites are banned, as they have been since the beginning. A large media presence is being restricted from filming in public areas, even personal photography is restricted, although to a lesser extent.
The summit officially kicks off on August 30th, with several bilateral meetings scheduled for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the Iranian leadership, Pakistan President Asif Zardari, and possibly Egypt's new President Mohammed Morsi, whose presence will be perhaps the most closely watched as an estranged Egypt reaches out to Iran to use its influence with Syria's Alwaite president Bash'ar Assad to find a way to end the conflict. While India sees an opportunity in Iran's proximity to Assad's regime to do so, there is likely to be some tension over whether to include specifics of a resolution on Syria in the final declaration of the NAM document.
Everyone's eye is on Iran, this time perhaps, for the right reasons. It is now up to the Iranian leadership to grasp the opportunity, and prove that it not only has the legitimacy of being of one of the grandest cultures of the world but that it also has a willingness to move forward on resolving conflicts that have plagued its relationship with the international community, for decades.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
"America's middle class has endured its worst decade in modern history," the Pew Research Center said in its report. "It has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some -- but by no means all -- of its characteristic faith in the future."
Of the 2,500 people Pew surveyed, 85% of those who identify themselves as middle class say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago to maintain their standard of living. The report also found that the middle class is a much smaller part of the population than it used to be, while the poor and rich extremes of society are expanding.
The biggest issue facing the middle class is that their wealth is deteriorating, said economist Richard Fry, who co-authored the report. The housing crisis eroded much of the middle class' net worth, creating a "lost decade" in terms of economic well-being for this group.
"For middle-income households, a lot of wealth was in their home, so the housing bust really impacted their nest eggs," he said. "Middle-income families are the only ones whose nest eggs have plummeted."
The mean net worth (assets, such as a home or retirement account, minus debt) of middle-class families plunged 28% to $93,150 in 2010 from $129,582 in 2001. Meanwhile, the mean net worth of the upper class edged 1% higher over the course of the decade to $574,788. Fry said the upper class was better able to cushion themselves against housing losses because they are more diversified and have much of their wealth in stocks, bonds and other investments.
The middle class also took a bigger hit on the pay front. While incomes across all class levels declined for the first time since World War II, the middle class saw the biggest decline, with a median income for a four person household declining to roughly $70,000 in 2010 from about $73,000 in 2001, the report said. The median income for the lower class is $23,000 and about $113,000 for the upper class. The middle class is also giving up more income to the rich. In 2010, the upper income group took in 46% of all income, up from 29% in 1970. The middle income group took in 45% of income, down significantly from 62% in 1970.
Shrinking but more diverse class: Just more than half - 51% - of the population was middle class in 2011 compared to 61% in 1971, according to the Pew Research Report. At the same time, the segments of the population who consider themselves lower or upper class have grown.
Even though the middle class has shrunk, it has grown more diverse over the past 40 years. Whites are less dominant, comprising 70% of the middle class in 2011, compared to 80% in 1971. Hispanics have made significant gains in joining the middle class in that time, climbing to 13% of the group, up from 8%. Blacks, too, have made gains, albeit smaller. They now comprise 11% of the middle class, compared to 9% in 1971. Asians and Pacific Islanders made up 5% of the middle class in 2011, compared to 3% in 1971. The "other" category rose from 1% to 2%.
As for the sexes, 53% of women now put themselves in the middle class category compared to 46% of men. This has changed since 2008, when there wasn't much difference in the percentage of men (51%) and women (54%) who considered themselves middle class.
Who is to blame? The middle class blames Congress as the lead culprit for its demise, but blames itself least of all. While 62% of middle class respondents to the Pew survey blamed Congress for their worsening state, 54% blamed banks and financial institutions, 47% blamed corporations, 44% blamed the Bush administration, 39% blamed foreign competition and 34% blamed the Obama administration. Just 8% of all respondents blamed the man (or the woman) in the mirror.
Going forward, less than one-fourth (23%) of the middle-class respondents said they were "very confident" that they would have enough money to get through retirement. Some 43% said their children's standard of living would be better than their own, compared to 51% in a 2008 survey. Some 26% of respondents said their children's standard of living would be worse than their own, compared to 19% in a 2008 survey.
"Middle-class Americans look to the economic future - their own, their children's, and the nation's - with a mix of apprehension and muted optimism," the report said.
As the Midwest experiences its worst drought in 50 years, the Mississippi River is hitting water levels not seen since 1988, a year viewed by those in the industry as a benchmark of hard times. Back then, hundreds of barges sat idle near the same location that they’re sitting today: Greenville.
Until now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had successfully kept river traffic moving by dredging the river, keeping it at a depth of at least nine feet along its 2,300-mile length all summer, only closing ports here and there temporarily.
But barges and towboats have now piled up near Greenville, forcing the Coast Guard to close an 11-mile stretch to shipping this week. That closure will really start to pinch shipping operators who use the country’s inland waterways to deliver a host of commodities, goods and products across the U.S.
It’s difficult to determine exactly how much is being lost due to stopped river traffic. For one, many of the companies along the river are not publicly traded and don’t release financial information.
“Everybody is making guesstimates,” says Dr. Donald Sweeney of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “But it all depends on how long the drought lasts.”
The point of reference is often 1988 when the shipping industry lost an estimated $1 billion. Currently, 100 tows sitting idle at $10,000 a piece is costing operators $1 million daily. And that’s not factoring in the lighter loads that cargo companies have been forced to carry to stay afloat, as well as the smaller number of barges being towed because the river has become narrower. And while the Coast Guard has reported 97 tows backed up along the river, that number’s growing.
“More tows are joining the queue by the hour or have just decided to hold where they are now,” says Lynn Muench of the American Waterways Operators via e-mail Tuesday afternoon. “Most tows will wait further upstream or downstream for the sake of safety, so there are a lot more waiting that we are unable to count.”
Muench says the best-case scenario for opening up the 11-mile stretch for safe passage could take at least several more days as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues dredging the area. Bloomberg News reported that the Coast Guard expected to open up northbound traffic Tuesday, but it will likely take days to get all of the stalled barges moving again.
CEO of the Port of New Orleans Gary LaGrange has estimated that closing the river to shipping altogether would cost the industry $300 million a day. Even with the low water levels, it doesn’t appear that the situation will get as bad as it did in 1988. But for the $180 billion industry, which transports 20% of the country’s coal and 60% of U.S. grain exports (much of it along the Mississippi), the costs are beginning to mount.
Fortunately, U.S. consumers aren’t likely to see much change in prices for farm products like corn, which is widely transported along the river. That’s because most crops shipped on the inland waterways are export-bound, says Sweeney. But shipping operators are initially going to be squeezed, and depending on what products they ship – which can be anything from petroleum to heating oil to chemicals – those costs could eventually be felt by consumers later in the year.
“There won’t be hardly any impact to U.S. consumers for products like corn or soybeans,” says Sweeney. “Who it’s really bad for right now are the barge companies. They are without a doubt incurring greater costs.” And those costs will get worse every day there’s a stoppage.
“The daily costs increase as more and more vessels are delayed and it takes longer and longer to ultimately return to normal operating conditions,” says Sweeney. We’re unlikely to know how much until the drought has ended and barge operators return to business as usual, which at this point doesn’t seem likely for months.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Below, in black ink, someone has scrawled in tiny letters: "Everything."
The poster, one of several displayed across this sprawling campus, is part of the company's risk-taking start-up culture, as is the fact that management has not pulled down the defaced copy. But as the company loses its luster on Wall Street, this exchange on the wall points to the improbable turn that Facebook's fairy tale has taken.
Once hailed as the most valuable technology company to hit Wall Street, Facebook is now worth just over half what it was three months ago, with shares closing at $20.01 Monday. Wall Street analysts are openly wondering whether its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has the business skills to deliver on his promises.
Facebook's troubles began in earnest with an exceptionally ambitious initial public offering. Even the grown-ups that Mr. Zuckerberg, 28, chose to run the business side of the company - Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operations officer, and David Ebersman, the chief financial officer - seem not to have been skilled enough to stave off that disaster. Nor were the bankers who handled the deal, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
"The company is suffering from a classic disease - it went public at too high a value," said Dan Alpert, a partner with Westwood Capital, an investment bank that did not participate in the Facebook offering.
The challenge for Facebook executives, Mr. Alpert said, is to persuade the market that it is not a fad and that its managers have a blueprint for making money.
In what passes for good news for Facebook these days, Morningstar, the investment research firm, said shares were almost cheap enough to consider buying, but warned that the price had not yet hit bottom.
That twist of fate, in many ways, reflects the tension between two moneymaking cultures in America: Silicon Valley and Wall Street. They are as symbiotic as they are dismissive of each other. They are equally focused on making money, but their approaches are different.
Wall Street wants to see swift growth in revenue, given Facebook's still high valuation of around $50 billion. Facebook executives counsel patience. They say they are building tools that will forever change the world - but have yet to reveal any details about how they plan to quickly increase profits.
The important thing for Facebook is "to stay focused on the fact that we're the same company now as we were before," Mr. Ebersman said in its maiden earnings call in late July. Immediately after, the stock plummeted.
Since then, Mr. Ebersman has met with bankers on both coasts and reiterated that message.
"They think everything is going to be fine, and that everyone needs to understand Facebook better," said one analyst who heard him speak.
The company is trying to show investors that it is aggressively expanding the business, investing in expensive engineers and data centers. Certainly the public offering has stuffed the coffers with plenty of cash.
Facebook also wants it to be known that not everyone is running away from the stock. Reed Hastings, a Facebook director and the chief executive of Netflix, recently bought $1 million in shares. But that was a drop in the bucket compared with the $9 billion in shares sold by insiders at the peak public offering price. Since then, another director and an original investor, Peter Thiel, sold more than 20 million shares, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Facebook executives are taking pains to show that they continue to dream big.
Doug Purdy, the director of developer products, painted Facebook's future with great enthusiasm on Friday, when shares nearly touched the half-price milestone. One day soon, he said, the Facebook newsfeed on your mobile phone would deliver to you everything you want to know: what news to digest, what movies to watch, where to eat and honeymoon, what kind of crib to buy for your first born. It would all be based on what you and your Facebook friends liked.
Facebook's algorithms would be refined so that it would all be sent to you - "pushed," in Mr. Purdy's words. You wouldn't have to search for it.
What he didn't have to say was that in this future world, you wouldn't need Google. How would Facebook profit exactly?
"There is a tremendous amount of value in here because we're providing the user experience value," he said. "That means users come back to Facebook. They come back again and again and again. That allows us to show advertising."
Mr. Purdy, tall and effusive, drew his dreams on a white board. It featured rectangles, representing mobile phones, which is exactly where Facebook faces its most urgent challenge.
"We are focused on building the right products," he said. "At the end of the day, user experience, user desire, user engagement is the highest priority for us. Without that there is no money."
There's another poster on campus: "Our mobile future," it reads. The company says it has oriented everything it does to make Facebook more attractive - and lucrative - on mobile devices. It promises to roll out new features in the coming weeks.
Analysts have pointed out that Facebook has been slow to figure out ways to make money from mobile devices; half of its users log in on phones and tablets. Given its exceptionally high valuation in its initial offering, the company is under intense pressure to show that its advertising model can deliver the lucre that Wall Street expects.
Some of the scrutiny has been on Mr. Zuckerberg's leadership. The very qualities that created the fairy tale aura around him, including his youth and ambition, are what even his admirers are questioning.
"I don't think he's doing a bad job of running the company, if that means setting the company's direction or driving product strategy," said one person who invested in the company when it was still private and who declined to be named to avoid hurting his relationship with Mr. Zuckerberg. "He's doing a very bad job of managing Wall Street."
It doesn't help that Wall Street and Silicon Valley speak in somewhat different languages.
"To Wall Street, 28-year-old C.E.O. hackers are aliens," said Sam Hamadeh, a West Coast transplant to New York who runs PrivCo, a research firm that specializes in private companies. "Sometimes that persona can help. When things go sour, they really look at you extremely skeptically."
In the technology business, few companies can keep the fairy tale alive forever. Facebook's campus was previously occupied by a once-rising technology star, Sun Microsystems. (It has since been absorbed by Oracle.)
Facebook has kept some of the original doors. They are meant to be a reminder to the staff.
After a four-month dip, Apple's stock hit new highs recently because of optimism around what is believed to be the impending launch of the iPhone 5, and possibly a smaller, cheaper iPad. Apple Inc. has been the world's most valuable company since the end of last year, when it surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp.
Apple's stock closed at $665.15 on Monday. That was an all-time high, up $17.04, or 2.6 percent, from
Friday's close. If that seems too pricey for one share of Apple, here are five other ways you can spend $665:
A Steve Jobs themed gift set: A St. Croix black mock turtleneck ($185), a pair of dark stonewash Levi's 501 jeans ($48), a pair of grey New Balance 991 running shoes ($150), a 16 GB iPhone 4S ($199 with wireless service plan) and The Beatles Anthology Box Set ($80 on iTunes). Total: $662.
•Fourteen cases of McIntosh apples (more than 1,040 pieces of fresh fruit) home delivered from Fresh Direct. $650.
•Two premium orchestra seats for Tony-award-winning Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," plus refreshments during intermission. About $650.
•One pair of Jimmy Choo apple-red patent-leather peep-toe pumps. $665.
•Twenty-one shares of Microsoft stock. $645.54, at Monday's closing price.
•Three BlackBerry PlayBook 7-inch tablets, once positioned by Research in Motion Ltd., as alternative to iPad. About $606 through Amazon.com.
One item you won't be able to purchase: the original Apple I computer. Though it carried a sticker price of $666.66 in 1976, it sold for $374,500 at a Sotheby's auction in June.
Monday, August 20, 2012
On Monday, its surging stock propelled the company's value to $623 billion, beating the record for market capitalization set by Microsoft Corp. in the heady days of the Internet boom.
Apple's stock has hit new highs recently because of optimism around what is believed to be the impending launch of the iPhone 5, and possibly a smaller, cheaper iPad.
Apple Inc. has been the world's most valuable company since the end of last year. It's now worth 53 percent more than No. 2 Exxon Mobil Corp.
Apple's stock hit $664.74 in midday trading before retreating slightly to $663. That was $14.98, or 2.3 percent, higher than Friday's close.
Microsoft's 1999 peak was $620.58 billion, according to Standard & Poor's.
The comparison to Microsoft does not take inflation into account. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the software giant was worth about $850 billion on Dec. 30, 1999. Microsoft is now worth $257 billion.
Analysts believe Apple's stock has room to grow. The average price target of 38 analysts polled by FactSet is $745.80.
Apart from the iPhone and "mini iPad," analysts are speculating that Apple plans to make a TV set to complete its suite of consumer electronics products. Apple usually doesn't comment on its future product plans until a few weeks or days before a launch.
China's largest oil company, PetroChina, was briefly worth $1 trillion after it listed on the Shanghai stock exchange in 2007, but only based on its price on that exchange. Its shares also trade in Hong Kong and on the New York Stock Exchange. Based on trading there, its market capitalization never went as high as $500 billion.
The stock dipped 87 cents, or 4 per cent, to briefly hit $19, just minutes before it closed the trading day at $19.05. Facebook's shares ended the week down nearly 13 per cent.
Facebook hit the $19 milestone a day after the expiration of a lock-up period that had previously prevented some early investors and insiders from selling their shares. Stakeholders who owned a combined 271 million Facebook shares before Thursday can now sell their holdings.
A breakdown of just how many major Facebook shareholders sold their stock this week won't be available until next week at the earliest, when sellers must disclose such transactions.
Facebook's stock has struggled since the company's mid-May IPO. It closed its first day of trading barely above its initial offering price of $38. It has been below that level since.
The stock has been down on 38 trading days, up on 25 days and unchanged on one since its initial public offering.
Investors have been concerned about the social network's ability to increase revenue and make money from its growing mobile audience. Many analysts, however, hold positive opinions of the company's long-term prospects.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Instead, as its first residents moved in this month, they found it is remarkably like most other Chinese cities: shrouded in smog and depressingly grey.
But then the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco City, just over an hour from Beijing by train, is not supposed to be a whizzy vision of the future.
It is far more practical - a model for how Chinese cities could develop and solve some of the enormous problems facing them: permanent gridlock, a lack of water and ruinous electricity bills.
If a few of the small changes adopted in Tianjin were rolled out nationwide, the results could dramatically change China's devastating impact on the environment.
"Our eco-city is an experiment, but it is also practical," said Wang Meng, the deputy director of construction. "There are over 100 eco-cities in the world now, and they are all different. If you look at the one in Abu Dhabi, they spent a huge amount of money and bought a lot of technology. It is very grand, but is it useful?"
To date, almost all of the world's eco-cities have been green follies, crippled by a central paradox: the more they enforce bothersome environmental rules, the less people want to live in them.
In Tianjin, the residents will not be expected to make any particular effort to be green. "If they take the bus and sort their rubbish for recycling, they will be making their contribution," said a spokesman for the city.
Their main contribution, in fact, is to be guinea pigs as planners experiment with the city around them. General Motors, for example, is using Tianjin to work out if electric driverless cars can function in a normal traffic system.
"Some eco-cities are too idealistic. In Tianjin they do not want to stop people from driving, but they do want to put into place policies that will help our vehicles to operate successfully," said Chris Borroni-Bird, the head of GM's autonomous driving project in Detroit.
He said Tianjin will allow GM to road-test the next generation of vehicles: small urban cars that drive themselves but are safe in an environment full of unpredictable drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.
Not only does China desperately need to solve its traffic problems, but it is one of the few countries that can throw significant resources at new ideas and indeed build cities from scratch in order to experiment.
Other projects on trial include a low energy lighting system from Philips and rubbish bins that can empty themselves, sucking litter into an underground network, by a Swedish company called Envac.
"We are not sure about that one," said a spokesman. "It requires people not to put the wrong sort of rubbish in the bins, or it could jam the system and prove expensive to maintain."
Just over three years ago, the site of the eco-city was a desolate wasteland of abandoned salt pans. An area half the size of Manhattan, it was tainted by decades of chemical pollution from the factories that border it.
By the time it is finished, in the next decade or so, some 250 billion yuan (£25 billion) will have been spent by the Chinese and Singaporean governments, and a number of private companies, on transforming the site into a comfortable home for 350,000 people - 60 families have already moved in.
Already, one new technology has been patented.
"We had an industrial reservoir that was full of heavy metals," said Mr Wang. "It used to be so bad that people could not go near it because of the smell. Now we have cleaned it with a special process that we can send to other parts of the country."
In a country where 70 per cent of the rivers are too polluted to provide drinking water, the technology is likely to be a money-spinner. Having ruined vast swathes of its countryside as it raced to wealth, China is now likely to spend billions on cleaning up the mess.
Elsewhere, the government-owned buildings in the city collect their own rain water for reuse, are powered by geothermal energy, have window shutters that move with the light, in order to keep buildings cool, and heating systems that use solar energy.
In a sign of how seriously the project is being taken, eight out of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the all-powerful council that rules the country, have visited.
"The idea is to create something that can be adapted to other cities in China," said Mr Wang. "What we want to develop is cheap technology that we can industrialise, produce and sell on elsewhere. We have to change people's ideas that being green is expensive."
"... 9 per cent target (in 12th Plan) is feasible only if we can take some difficult decisions," Singh said in his opening remarks at the meeting of the full Planning Commission in Delhi
The meeting has been called to approve the Approach Paper for the 12th Five-Year Plan.
The Prime Minister also underlined the need to focus on implementation and governance to improve effectiveness of the flagship programmes aimed at promoting inclusive growth.
"These (flagship) programmes will continue in the 12th Plan, but as the (Approach) paper rightly emphasises, we need to focus on issues of implementation and governance to improve their effectiveness."
The Prime Minister also made a case for stepping up agriculture sector growth rate to 4 per cent during the next Plan saying it is necessary to avoid inflationary pressure and improve rural income.
India was growing by over 9 per cent before the global financial crisis in 2008 pulled down the economic growth to 6.8 per cent in 2008-09.
The economy is likely to grow expand by 8 per cent during 2010-11
The agriculture sector is estimated to grow by 3.3 per cent during the current Plan period (2007-12).
"I am happy to inform members that although the Approach Paper talks of achieving 3 per cent agricultural growth in the Eleventh Plan ... the latest estimates suggest that this will be 3.3 per cent," Singh said.
Agriculture contributes about 14-15 per cent to the country's gross domestic product (GDP).
The Commission had examined the range of 9-9.5 per cent for economic growth during the 12th Plan and it proposed that the government should set the target at 9 per cent.
Singh further said that achieving 9 per cent growth will require large investments in the infrastructure sector.
The global markets are in a tailspin amid concerns over euro zone debt troubles and their impact on banks, weak economic data in the US and other parts of the world.
On the domestic front, while high inflation is the biggest concern for the government, the industry has expressed worries over rising interest rates.
The Approach Paper notes that India was "fairly successful" during the 11th Plan in using a combination of public investment and public private partnerships for infrastructure development.
"We need to bring greater momentum to both these components so that present infrastructure shortages can be addressed in the shortest time available," Singh said.
There Is No California
Palo Alto and Fresno share a state government, but that’s about it.
By Victor Davis Hanson
Driving across California is like going from Mississippi to Massachusetts without ever crossing a state line.
Consider the disconnects: California’s combined income and sales taxes are among the nation’s highest, but the state’s annual deficit is still abou...t $16 billion. It is estimated that more than 2,000 upper-income Californians are leaving per week to flee high taxes and costly regulations, yet the state government wants to raise taxes even higher. California’s business climate already ranks near the bottom in most surveys. Its teachers are among the highest paid, on average, in the nation, but its public-school students consistently test near the bottom of the nation in both math and science.
The state’s public employees enjoy some of the nation’s most generous pensions and benefits, but California’s retirement systems are underfunded by about $300 billion. The state’s gas taxes — at over 49 cents per gallon — are among the highest in the nation, but its once-unmatched freeways, like 101 and 99, for long stretches have degenerated into potholed, clogged nightmares unchanged since the early 1960s.
The state wishes to borrow billions of dollars to develop high-speed rail, beginning with a little-traveled link between Fresno and Corcoran — a corridor already served by money-losing Amtrak. Apparently, coastal residents like the idea of European-style high-speed rail — as long as the noisy and dirty construction does not begin in their backyards.
As gasoline prices soar, California chooses not to develop millions of barrels of untapped oil and even more natural gas off its shore and beneath its interior. Home to bankrupt green companies like Solyndra, California has mandated that a third of all the energy provided by state utilities soon must come from renewable energy sources – largely wind and solar, which currently provide about 11 percent of the state’s electricity and almost none of its transportation fuel.
How to explain the seemingly inexplicable? “California” is a misnomer. There is no such state. Instead there are two radically different cultures and landscapes with little in common, the two equally dysfunctional in quite different ways. Apart they are unworldly; together, a disaster.
A postmodern narrow coastal corridor runs from San Diego to Berkeley; there the weather is ideal, the gentrified affluent make good money, and values are green and left-wing. This Shangri-La is juxtaposed to a vast impoverished interior, from the southern desert to the northern Central Valley, where life is becoming premodern.
On the coast, blue-chip universities like Cal Tech, Berkeley, Stanford, and UCLA in pastoral landscapes train the world’s doctors, lawyers, engineers, and businesspeople. In the hot interior of blue-collar Sacramento, Turlock, Fresno, and Bakersfield, well over half the incoming freshmen in the California State University system must take remedial math and science classes.
In postmodern Palo Alto, a small cottage costs more than $1 million. Two hours away, in premodern and now-bankrupt Stockton, a bungalow the same size goes for less than $100,000.
In the interior, unemployment in many areas is over 15 percent. The theft of copper wire is reaching epidemic proportions. Thousands of the shrinking middle class have fled the interior for the coast or for nearby no-income-tax states. To fathom the nearly unbelievable statistics — as California’s population grew by 10 million from the mid-1980s to 2005, its number of Medicaid recipients increased by 7 million; one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients now reside in California — visit the state’s hinterlands.
But in the Never-Never Land of Apple, Facebook, Google, Hollywood, and the wine country, millions live in an idyllic paradise. Coastal Californians can afford to worry about trivia — and so their legislators seek to outlaw foie gras, shut down irrigation projects in order to save the three-inch-long Delta smelt, and allow children to have legally recognized multiple parents.
But in the less feel-good interior, crippling regulations curb timber, gas and oil, and farm production. For the most part, the rules are mandated by coastal utopians who have little idea where the fuel for their imported cars comes from, or how the redwood is cut for their decks, or who grows the ingredients for their Mediterranean lunches of arugula, olive oil, and pasta.
On the coast, it’s politically incorrect to talk of illegal immigration. In the interior, residents see first-hand the bankrupting effects on schools, courts, and health care when millions arrive illegally without English-language fluency or a high-school diploma — and send back billions of dollars in remittances to Mexico and other Latin American countries.
The drive from Fresno to Palo Alto takes three hours, but you might as well be rocketing from Earth to the moon.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
The mercury is expected to soar near triple digits in Portland, Oregon, with Seattle forecast to reach the lower 90s, the National Weather Service said. The coastal region is roasting under an excessive heat warning.
At least 70 large fires were burning across 13 states west of the Mississippi River, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. California had the most with 13, followed by Nevada with 12 and Idaho with 10, the center said.
The Marines joined the fight on Wednesday, with helicopter units from California joining U.S. Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units from Colorado, Wyoming, North Carolina and California in fighting the fires by air. The Marine units will help fight fires around San Diego.
In California alone, 8,000 firefighters were fighting a dozen fires, the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Wednesday. The state issued a burn ban, saying only some campfires are allowed.
Conditions could worsen in some places over the next few days. The National Weather Service said a weather pattern developing in parts of Oregon could produce conditions favorable to "explosive fire growth."
In central Washington state, the wind-whipped Taylor Bridge Fire had scorched some 22,600 acres and destroyed at least 60 homes, fire officials said.
One of those structures was the home of Elaine Burt, who unsuccessfully tried to get past firefighters to save her dogs and other animals at her home, according to CNN affiliate KING-TV..
After the initial heartbreak of being told all of them were gone, she learned Wednesday that Hannah, one of her dogs, and six of her pigs had survived.
"Oh Mama ... hi mama," Burt said when she saw her sow at the Kittitas County Fairgrounds. "One, two, three, four, five, yup, that's all her little babies."
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared Kittitas and Yakima counties to be in states of emergency, according to a written statement from her office. The Washington National Guard will provide air support to the Department of Natural Resources, which is in charge of statewide firefighting efforts.
Authorities have already evacuated around 900 people near the Taylor Bridge Fire, the governor's office said. No injuries were reported.
More than 900 firefighters were battling the fire near Cle Elum, Washington, said Rex Reed, the incident commander. The Incident Alert System showed the blaze was 25% contained early Thursday
The weather was "cooperating" Wednesday, he said, referring to calmer winds, but firefighters have their work cut out for them the rest of the week. Hot and dry conditions are expected.
"Unless Mother Nature helps us out here, we're going to be fighting this a while," Joe Seemiller, a captain with Kittitas County Fire and Rescue, told CNN affiliate KOMO-TV.
Elsewhere, more evacuations were under consideration near Featherville, Idaho, where more than 800 firefighters were trying to get a hand on the sprawling Trinity Ridge fire.
The fire grew significantly since Tuesday, burning more than 68,000 acres and forcing authorities to call an emergency meeting of residents of Featherville and nearby Pine to discuss possible evacuations.
Near the border between Oregon and California, crews were battling an aggressive southern run by the Barry Point Fire, which has torched some 59,000 acres of land in the two states, according to the incident command team's website.
With temperatures above 90 degrees, low humidity and wind gusts nearing 20 mph, the lightning-sparked fire has a high potential for further growth, the interagency center said, forcing the evacuation of homes in California, 15 miles south of the state border.
Residents evacuate as hundreds of firefighters battle California wildfires
More than 800 firefighters and support personnel were working in Oregon and Nevada to corral the 436,600-acre Holloway Fire, the largest of the Western wildfires. It was ignited by a lightning strike on August 5.
Incident commanders said Wednesday that they hope to have the Nevada portion of the fire out on Wednesday.
In Northern California, the Rush Fire had torched 101,000 acres since Sunday, the National Interagency Coordination Center reported.
Meteorologists predict the dry heat will last into next week, not good news for firefighters. Any thunderstorms that pop up could present more bad news than good, since lightning strikes could spark more flames.
As of Wednesday, wildfires have burned through 6.47 million acres this year, surpassing the 6.36 million acres burned by this date last year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The total acreage burned this year is about 3.4 million acres short of the record set in 2006, when 1,801 fires burned a total of 9.87 million acres, according to center statistics.
"The water's perfectly safe to drink," said Guy Laigast, director of the parish's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, in a telephone interview Wednesday. "It's just got the elevated salt."
With the mighty Mississippi near its all-time low, the salty water has crept in as a wedge, he said. Because salty water is denser than fresh, it tends to collect at lower depths, he said.
But pipes that pull drinking water from the river tend to draw from those same depths, Laigast said.
The logical fix would be simply to raise the pipes, but that would be tough to do. "You're talking about large pipes that have been down there for years and years and years," he said.
The wedge has been moving up the Mississippi since early this month, reaching mile marker 89 -- signifying that many miles from the river mouth -- by Wednesday, Laigast said.
"You can taste a little salt water content," he said. "But it's nothing that's harmful."
Anyone on dialysis and/or low-sodium diets was urged to check with a health care provider about drinking parish water.
Salt, of course, is sodium chloride. Neither sodium nor chloride is considered a known health threat, the parish said, citing EPA data. Chloride, considered a secondary contaminant, could affect drinking water's taste, smell and color.
EPA's secondary maximum contaminant level for chloride is 250 mg/L. The maximum chloride detected in drinking water in the Port Sulphur area was 362 mg/L, it said.
Sodium is classified neither as a primary nor secondary contaminant, but it can adversely affect people on low-sodium diets for health reasons, such as high-blood pressure or kidney disease, the EPA said.
Sodium levels in the parish's drinking water ranged from 60 mg/L to 200 mg/L -- far exceeding the EPA recommendation of no more than 20 mg/L for people on very low sodium diets.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started work Wednesday on an $8 million underwater levee -- positioned at mile marker 64, just below Belle Chasse -- to stop the wedge's progress, as it did with success during a similar drought 24 years ago. "It's a sill," Laigast said. "It (the salt water) runs into that levee just as if it was a dry wall."
He predicted the effects of the sill will become apparent on the salinity of the water within the week.
In addition to creating the sill, officials are planning to take 2.5 million gallons of fresh water from farther north in the river -- past mile marker 100 -- then carry it by barge southward "and suck it into our water treatment facilities," Laigast said.
The salt water in the river has had a benefit for some anglers: "The redfish follow it up, so we're able to fish right in the Mississippi now instead of having to go to the gulf," he said.
The drought's impact has had effects that extend beyond the river. It led the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday to designate four Louisiana parishes and seven contiguous parishes as natural disaster areas.
Morehouse, Richland, Union and West Carroll parishes were declared primary natural disaster areas. The seven parishes named as contiguous disaster areas were: Caldwell, Claiborne, East Carroll, Franklin, Lincoln, Madison and Ouachita, according to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry.
According to the department, 63% of the nation's hay acreage and about 73% of cattle acreage are in drought areas, as are about 87% of U.S. corn and 85% of soybeans.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
The Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO is set to launch a small unmanned satellite to Mars as early as November next year which might join NASA's Curiosity rover in exploring the Red Planet.
"Recently the Cabinet has approved the Mars Orbiter Mission. Under this Mission, our spaceship will go near Mars and collect important scientific information. This spaceship to Mars will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology," Dr Singh said in his speech today.
The Rs. 450-crore mission will be launched from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh using the work horse rocket, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle or PSLV, which has had 21 consecutively successful flights and also sent the moon probe.
The journey from Earth to mars will take up to 11 months after which the Orbiter Spaceship will be placed in a highly elliptical orbit of 500 by 80,000 km around Mars.
The over 1300-kg satellite will have a provision for carrying nearly 25 kg of scientific payloads on board, which will study the Martian atmosphere, possibly look for organic molecules to understand its geology and chemistry.
Top ISRO officials say 'this is a technology demonstration project, a mission that will announce to the world India has the capability to reach as far away as Mars!' So some say this is now the start of an Asian space race to reach Mars since China's first mission failed and India seeks to beat it.
In all, there have been about 40 missions to Mars with just about half of them being successful with attempts made by USA, Russia, France, Europe and China. The most recent of these was the NASA's Curiosity rover which reached Mars on August 6.
From the Red Fort to the Red Planet, this ambitious mission that could well be the start of a new Asian space race. And with India and China racing to Mars, who will get there first?
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
At the dawn of history, India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and grandeur of her success and failures. Through good and ill fortune alike, she has never lost sight of that quest, forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of misfortunes and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?
Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom, we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons us now.
That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfill the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means, the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.
And so we have to labour and to work, and to work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart. Peace is said to be indivisible, so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.
To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.
The appointed day has come -the day appointed by destiny- and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.
It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed!
We rejoice in that freedom, even though clouds surround us, and many of our people are sorrow-stricken and difficult problems encompass us. But freedom brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people.
On this day our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the Father of our Nation, who, embodying the old spirit of India, held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us. We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message, but not only we but succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith and strength and courage and humility. We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest.
Our next thoughts must be of the unknown volunteers and soldiers of freedom who, without praise or reward, have served India even unto death.
We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good [or] ill fortune alike.
The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.
We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.
To the nations and people of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy. And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service.
Jai Hind! Jai Jawan!
It is a great privilege to address, for the first time, my fellow Indians living within our country and in a hundred corners across the globe, on the 65th anniversary of our independence. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude to the people and their representatives for the honour of this high office, even as I am deeply conscious of the fact that the highest honour in our democracy does not lie in any office, but in being a citizen of India, our motherland. We are all equal children before our mother; and India asks each one of us, in whatsoever role we play in the complex drama of nation-building, to do our duty with integrity, commitment and unflinching loyalty to the values enshrined in our Constitution.
2. It is important to remember, on Independence Day, that in the age of empires freedom was never given; it was taken. It was won by a generation of giants, led by a mighty man of destiny, Mahatma Gandhi, who fought with selfless, unflinching conviction against the mightiest power in history, with a moral force that transformed political thought and whose reverberations echo in great events all around us today. If the rise of European colonisation began in 18th century India, then the rallying cry of "Jai Hind!" also signalled its end in 1947. The final call to victory, "Jai Hind!" was given by Subhas Chandra Bose, fondly known to every Indian as "Netaji". Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sarojini Naidu and many others charted the roadmap of independent India. These extraordinary men and women sacrificed their todays for our tomorrows. That tomorrow has come, and there is a question we must ask ourselves: have we honoured the great vision of these stalwarts, as a nation and as a society?
3. I was a toddler when Netaji, as Rashtrapati of the 51st Session of Indian National Congress in Haripura, on the banks of the river Tapti, reminded us that "our chief national problems are eradication of poverty, illiteracy and disease". His speech echoed through my home, as it did through millions of others. My father was a freedom fighter and through those long years when freedom seemed an illusion, we were sustained by faith in ourselves, in our leaders, in the strength of non-violence, in the courage of Indians liberated from fear. But we knew then, as we do now, that freedom must mean both bread and dreams.
4. Netaji and Nehruji believed that India could seize the future by an application of synthesis, samyavada, of what might seem on surface to be implacable opposites. They believed that free India would become, by example, an alternative model for a post-colonial world through economic equity and a social revolution inspired by harmony between communities that had been misled into hostility. Propelled by freedom of faith, gender equality and economic justice for all, India will become a modern nation. Minor blemishes cannot cloak the fact that India is becoming such a modern nation: no faith is in danger in our country, and the continuing commitment to gender equality is one of the great narratives of our times.
5. I am not a pessimist; for me, the glass is always half full, rather than half empty. I would go to the extent of saying that the glass of modern India is more than half full. Our productive working class; our inspiring farmers, who have lifted a famine-wrecked land to food-surplus status, our imaginative industrialist entrepreneurs, whether in the private or public sector; our intellectuals, our academics and our political class have knit together a modern nation that has leapt, within mere decades, across many centuries in economic growth and progressive social legislation.
6. We cannot appreciate how far we have travelled, until we understand from where we started in 1947. As Jawaharlal Nehru pointed out so often, in his speeches and prose, India was not a poor country when our independence was snatched away. No one, I may add, travels thousands of miles to conquer a poor country. Statistics published by contemporary international scholars are proof for sceptics. In 1750, seven years before the fateful battle of Plassey, India had 24.5% of World Manufacturing Output while United Kingdom had only 1.9%. In other words, one in every four goods on the world market was manufactured in India. By 1900, India had been left with only 1.7% of World Manufacturing Output and Britain had risen to 18.5%. The western industrial revolution was in its incipient stages in the 18th century, but even in this regard India slipped from 7 to 1 in per capita industrialisation in that period, while Britain vaulted from 10 to 100. Between 1900 and 1947 India's economic growth was an annual average of 1%. From such depths we climbed, first, to 3% growth, and then took a quantum leap forward: today, despite two great international crises that rocked the world and some domestic dips, we have posted an average growth rate of more than 8% over the last seven years.
7. If our economy has achieved critical mass, then it must become a launching pad for the next leap. We need a second freedom struggle; this time to ensure that India is free for ever from hunger, disease and poverty. As my pre-eminent predecessor Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, speaking from this platform on the 18th anniversary of freedom, said, "Economic progress is one of the tests of democracy."
8. If progress falls behind rising aspirations, particularly of the young, rage will manifest itself. We are a nation that is becoming younger both in age and spirit; this is an opportunity as well as a challenge. The young thirst for knowledge that will lift their skills; and for opportunity that will put India on the fast track to the first world. They have the character; they need the chance. Education is the seed; and economy is the fruit. Provide good education; disease, hunger and poverty will recede. As I said in my acceptance speech, our motto must be: All for knowledge and knowledge for all. Vision cannot be an open-ended vista; it must be focused on our youth.
9. Notwithstanding the tremendous pressure of an adverse external environment, our economy today is more resilient and confident. Two decades of steady economic reforms have contributed to improvement in average income and consumption levels in both rural and urban areas. There is new found dynamism in some of the most backward areas bringing them into national economic mainstream. Yet there are several gaps that need to be bridged. Green revolution has to be extended to the eastern region of our country. Creation of high quality infrastructure has to be fast tracked. Education and health services have to reach the last man at the earliest. Much has been done, a lot more remains to be done.
10. The monsoon has played truant this year. Large areas of our country are in the grip of drought, some others are devastated by floods. Inflation, particularly food inflation, remains a cause of worry, While our food availability remains healthy, we cannot forget the plight of those who made this possible even in a lean year; our farmers. They have stood by the nation in its need; the nation must stand by them in their distress.
11. I do not believe that there is any inherent contradiction in protecting our environment and economic development. As long as we heed Gandhiji's great lesson: there is sufficient in the world for man's need but not for man's greed, we are safe. We must learn to live in harmony with nature. Nature cannot be consistent; we must be able to conserve her bounty during the many seasons of plenty so that we are not bereft during the occasional bout of scarcity.
12. Anger against the bitter pandemic of corruption is legitimate, as is the protest against this plague that is eroding the capability and potential of our nation. There are times when people lose their patience but it cannot become an excuse for an assault on our democratic institutions.
13. Institutions are the visible pillars of our Constitution, and if they crack then the idealism of our Constitution cannot hold. They are the interface between principles and the people. Our institutions may have suffered from the weariness of time; the answer is not to destroy what has been built, but to re-engineer them so that they become stronger than before. Institutions are the guardians of our liberty.
14. The vigilance on our frontiers has to be matched with vigilance within; we must restore the credibility of those areas of our polity, judiciary, executive and legislature where complacency, exhaustion or malfeasance may have clogged delivery. The people have a right to express their discontent. But we must also understand that legislation cannot be wrenched away from the legislature or justice from the judiciary.
15. When authority becomes authoritarian, democracy suffers; but when protest becomes endemic, we are flirting with chaos. Democracy is a shared process. We all win or lose together. Democratic temper calls for dignity of behaviour and tolerance of contrary views. Parliament will live by its own calendar and rhythm. Sometimes that rhythm sounds a bit atonal; but in a democracy there is always judgement day, an election. Parliament is the soul of the people, the "Atman" of India. We challenge its rights and duties at our peril.
16. I say this not in a spirit of admonition, but as a plea for greater understanding of the existential issues that lurk behind the mask of the mundane. Democracy is blessed with a unique opportunity for redress of grievances through the great institution of accountability - free elections.
17. Old fires that threaten the stability of our nation have not been fully doused; the ash continues to smoulder. It is particularly painful for me to witness the violence in Assam. Our minorities need solace, understanding and protection from aggression. Violence is not an option; violence is an invitation to greater violence. Concrete attempts have been made to heal the wounds of Assam, including the Assam accord conceived by our young and beloved former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. We should revisit them, and adapt them to present conditions in the spirit of justice and national interest. We need peace for a new economic surge that eliminates the competitive causes of violence.
18. It is a fact of our geopolitical environment that some problems transcend borders. SAARC was created 27 years ago to find solutions through dialogue, and by mutual cooperation create the rapid economic growth that is the only long-term answer to problems like migration and uneven development. SAARC must acquire vigour to fulfil its mandate.
19. The SAARC should be a major instrument in the common war against terrorists. Great success is possible by international cooperation. All SAARC nations must cooperate to bring to justice those who believe in mayhem against innocents. There is no other way towards peace on the subcontinent.
20. I am proud of our brave armed forces and our valiant police forces, who have done so much, at such great personal risk, to curb this menace of terrorism. It is their vigilance which has prevented more havoc. If we sleep in peace it is because they are awake and vigilant in the desolation of desert and mountain and forest; and in the vast loneliness of the seas. I salute their commitment and their patriotism. It is heartening that the armed forces not only guarantee our peace, but also produce medal winners at Olympics. I congratulate all who have done their nation proud at the recently concluded Games, by winning as well as by participating. The number of trophies may not be too large but it is a remarkable improvement upon the last count, Four years later, when I hope to address you again, I am sure, we will celebrate a medals spring.
21. If there is one man in history whose name is synonymous with peace, then it is Gandhiji, the architect of our independence. India is a land of plenty inhibited by poverty; India has an enthralling, uplifting civilization that sparkles not only in our magnificent art, but also in the enormous creativity and humanity of our daily life in city and village. When Indira Gandhi reached for the stars, she believed that this would be within the grasp of India in just another generation. But there is neither a present nor a future, except in a climate and culture of national unity and brotherhood.
My fellow citizens:
Let us leave behind the way of hatred, violence and anger;
Let us put aside our petty quarrels and factions.
Let us work together for our nation with the devotion of a child towards a mother.
Let us repose our faith in this invocation from Upanishads:
May God Protect us.
May God Nourish us.
May we Work Together with Vigour and Energy.
May our Studies be Brilliant.
May there be no Hostility amongst us.
May there be Peace Peace Peace.
Peace must be our ideology, progress our horizon.