Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Americans are quickly losing their faith in capitalism" poll

Buffeted by bank bailouts and months of dire economic news, a growing number of Americans are quickly losing their faith in capitalism, a new poll found.

A Rasmussen Reports poll out yesterday found only 53 percent of Americans believe capitalism is better than socialism.

That's in sharp contrast with a Rasmussen poll three months ago, which showed 70 percent of voters were telling the incoming Obama administration that a free market was better than one managed by the government.

The latest poll found 20 percent prefer socialism -- the government ownership of industry. The remaining 27 percent aren't sure.

Young Americans and Democrats, the poll found, are more likely than the rest of the country to believe Karl Marx had a point.

Bit of crude definition of socialism, but good to see the financial crisis is making people rethink whether capitalism is the best/only way to run a society.

Texas State Representative Betty Brown

Asians should simplify their names, GOP lawmaker says

by John Byrne

As originally posted on: The Raw Story
April 9, 2009

In a puzzling move which she insisted isn't about race, a Republican state lawmaker in Texas said in House testimony Wednesday that Asian Americans should change their names to ones that are “easier for Americans to deal with.”

Democrats jumped on the comments by state Rep. Betty Brown. Her remarks came during a Texas House Elections Committee hearing, who'd invited a Chinese American representative to testify about ballot accessibility.

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown remarked.

“Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?” she added.

A spokesman for the Texas Republican legislator told the Houston Chronicle her comments weren't about race - she was only attempting to "overcome problems" with identifying Asian names "for voting purposes." Brown made the comment after the Chinese American representative, Ramey Ko, said people of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent had trouble voting because their legal name may differ from the English name they use on their driver's licenses.

Democrats demanded an apology. Local Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie said that the Republicans were trying to suppress votes with a voter ID bill and that Brown is “adding insult to injury with her disrespectful comments.”

"State Representative Betty Brown's racially insensitive remarks have no place in America, and she should immediately and unconditionally apologize for her remarks," wrote Asian-American Democrats of Texas President AJ Durrani, according to a post on the Burnt Orange Report. "Please contact State Representative Betty Brown about her unacceptable remarks and ask her to apologize immediately in a public forum."

Report: Jobs still in control at Apple

Steve Jobs may be down, but he is by no means out, according to a report Saturday in The Wall Street Journal.

Apple's CEO has been on medical leave since January, but sources tell the Journal that Jobs is still running key parts of the company from his home.

He was, for example, specifically involved in the user interface for the latest version of the iPhone operating system, continues to review products, and is working on future projects, sources told the newspaper. He has made no public appearances this year.

Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook is running day-to-day operations until Jobs' planned return at the end of June.

Jobs went on medical leave around the same time that people started speculating about why the already-slim Jobs had noticeably lost more weight. Jobs was treated five years ago for pancreatic cancer. The reasons for his current leave are still a mystery.

At first, Jobs pinned his weight loss on a hormone imbalance. But soon after, he said that the condition was more complicated than he'd thought and that he would be taking a six-month leave of absence.

Apple won't comment on how Jobs' absence affects the company on a daily basis. "We're just trying to do what we do every day," Apple Senior Vice President of Marketing Phil Schiller told the Journal.

Jobs didn't respond to the Journal's requests for comment.

Tornado survivor: 'Sounded like 7 freight trains'

The worst sound Eric Funkhouser said he has ever heard was a 10-second "voom" followed by a man's screams.

A tornado hit Funkhouser's home in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, on Friday, part of severe storms that spawned tornadoes across the Southeast blamed for three deaths and dozens of injuries.

"It sounded like seven freight trains and 22 vacuum cleaners all going at the same time," Funkhouser said Saturday as he returned to what is left of his home and neighborhood.

Funkhouser ran outside and found his neighbor John Bryant laying in Funkhouser's front yard, covered with blood and screaming.

"He kept saying that his wife and baby were out there with him and he had to find them," Funkhouser said.

Twenty minutes later, Funkhouser and other survivors found Bryant's wife, Kori, dead in the gravel driveway under debris and 9-week-old Olivia Bryant was found dead buckled into her car seat, beneath carpet and a tree.

Family friend Laura Lawrence said Bryant, a self-employed construction worker, had just gotten home on his lunch break. He, his wife and daughter were seeking shelter when the tornado rolled through.

National Weather Service officials say a preliminary report shows the EF3 tornado tore a 15-mile path through the university town of about 100,000 with winds as high as 165 mph.

Deputy City Manager Rob Lyons said 42 homes were destroyed, 140 were damaged and 71 were affected but habitable. Several thousand customers were still without power Saturday.

More than 40 people were injured. Seven people were in critical condition Saturday afternoon, said Rutherford County Emergency Medical Services director Randy White.

John Bryant is in critical condition with a broken back, Lawrence said Saturday, as she gathered the family's clothes and pictures from their neighbors' yards.

During a tour of the damaged areas on Saturday, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen walked past a pile of pink baby clothes topped with the Bryants' wedding album, paused before yellow and gray tarps marking where the mother and daughter were found and bowed his head.

"My thoughts and prayers are with them. It's very sad," Bredesen said.

He then walked through the neighborhood that was hardest hit, listening to survivors share stories of how they hid in bathrooms and pantries.

Bredesen said he may request a presidential declaration of emergency after Tennessee Emergency Management Agency officials completely survey the area.

Church members and neighbors joined survivors in cleaning up debris, patching up roofs with blue tarps and sawing tree branches from cars and houses.

Community response has been overwhelming, Lyons said, with volunteers offering to remove debris and give donations.

"One of the things that makes Murfreesboro a great city is that we come together and help each other," he said.

But he said others should try and stay out of the area so they don't obstruct rescue and cleanup workers trying to do their jobs.

City officials have set up a hot line for people who want to volunteer and victims seeking help.

Murfreesboro Mayor Tommy Bragg said water is running on generator power but power and gas remain off in the areas worst hit. Code inspectors were going door to door to assess damage to homes.

They condemned the Funkhousers' home with a sticker that read "Unsafe. Do not enter or occupy."

The Bryants' home, the only wood house on the block, was destroyed and most of the siding was in Funkhouser's yard.

Churches and utility companies passed out hot dogs, hamburgers, ham sandwiches, chips and water to families and volunteers.

"This is something we have to do because you can't just look over this damage," church volunteer Lacie Young said. "We were so blessed and have to share these blessings."

Reports of destruction were widespread across the region Friday, with funnel clouds spotted in Kentucky and Alabama and devastating winds, huge hail and heavy rain reported in several states.

In South Carolina, a driver trying to avoid storm debris in the eastern part of the state was killed Friday, state Emergency Management Division spokesman Derrec Becker said.

On Thursday night, a black funnel cloud packing winds of at least 136 mph descended on the western Arkansas hamlet of Mena, killing at least three, injuring 30 and destroying or damaging 600 homes.

NKorea's Kim brings close relative to center stage

North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il is officially back on center stage following a reported stroke, but has promoted a trusted in-law to the spotlight in the clearest sign yet he is making preparations for an eventual successor, analysts said Friday.

Though looking thinner and grayer, and limping slightly, Kim's appearance at the closely watched first session of the North's new parliament Thursday was more than enough to lay to rest any lingering doubts about his health, and prove he is in charge.

Kim appointed his brother-in-law Jang Song Thaek to the all-powerful National Defense Commission, providing analysts with clues about what the future may hold for North Korea after Kim either dies or becomes incapacitated.

The appointment shows Kim is trying to prepare for his eventual departure and pave the way to hand power to one of his sons, analysts said Friday, just as he himself inherited the mantle from his late father, North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung.

"In a system like North Korea, there is nobody else to trust but one's own flesh and blood," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University. "Jang is expected to play a decisive role in strengthening Kim's rule and as a guardian of Kim's successor."

Jang, 63, is married to Kim's younger sister. He has been considered the person most likely to lead a collective leadership that would probably emerge if Kim leaves the scene, as no single person is yet believed poised to take over.

Kim has three known sons with two different mothers, and Jang is believed to back Kim's youngest son, 26-year-old Jong Un, as successor.

A technocrat trained in the former Soviet Union, Jang was a rising star in North Korean politics until he was summarily demoted in early 2004 in what analysts believe was a warning from Kim against gathering too much influence. But Kim rehabilitated Jang in 2006 and he has since held posts in the ruling Workers' Party.

In another possible succession-related move, the Supreme People's Assembly approved a motion to amend North Korea's constitution. No details were available, but in the 1990s, a similar amendment paved the way for Kim to assume leadership from his father.

Choi Jin-wook, a North Korea expert at the government-funded Korea Institute for National Unification, said Jang's appointment and the constitutional revision must be "aimed at laying the groundwork for a successor as well as stabilizing his regime."

The Supreme People's Assembly re-elected Kim to his post as chairman of the National Defense Commission, the North's most powerful post.

The session marked the first state event the 67-year-old Kim has attended in months. Concerns about his health emerged after he missed a September ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the North's founding. South Korean and U.S. officials later said a stroke had felled him in August.

The personality cult surrounding Kim appeared as strong as ever. In Pyongyang on Friday, tens of thousands of North Koreans rallied to celebrate Kim's re-election and pledged their loyalty. A red-and-white banner at the center of the city's main Kim Il Sung Square read, "Let's safeguard the revolutionary leadership headed by comrade Kim Jong Il with our lives," APTN footage showed.

Kim's return to the spotlight was buoyed by what North Korea claims was the launch of a satellite into outer space. U.S. and South Korean military officials say nothing made it into orbit and accuse Pyongyang of using the launch to test its long-range missile technology.

The launch has caused an international outcry, with the U.S., Japan and South Korea pushing for U.N. Security Council censure of Pyongyang. They say the launch violates previous U.N. resolutions prohibiting North Korea from using ballistic missile technology. North Korea counters the launch was allowed under a U.N. space treaty.

So far, the council has been unable to come up with a united response as China and Russia, both veto-wielding permanent members, have resisted a strong response. Japan and the U.S. have also disagreed on how to proceed; though both would prefer a full-blown resolution, Washington is concerned it would take too long.

The Kyodo news agency, citing diplomatic sources, reported late Friday night from New York that the Japanese were prepared to back off that demand.

The five permanent members and Japan were expected to meet on Saturday to continue their discussions.

Council diplomats said a presidential statement is a likelier option if they can write one that is strong enough. They spoke on condition of anonymity to speak about negotiations that happen behind closed doors.

Security Council resolutions are considered the strongest response the council can take. A presidential statement is considered a lesser response, though the United States and others believe it carries equal clout.

Separately, Japan moved Friday to extend and strengthen its own economic sanctions against North Korea for another year.

UN Security Council to Condemn North Korea Rocket Launch Monday

The United Nations Security Council is set to adopt a unanimous statement as early as Monday, condemning North Korea's rocket launch last Sunday and ordering it to comply with existing council resolutions or face further sanctions.

In a rare Saturday session of the 15-member Security Council, diplomats were presented a draft statement drawn up by the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Japan that clearly condemns North Korea's April 5 launch of a rocket that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean, and demands that Pyongyang not conduct any further launch.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who presented the draft to the rest of the council on behalf of the P5 and Japan, told reporters after their consultations that she believes the statement is very strong and sends a clear and unified message to North Korea that violations of international law will not be treated with impunity and will carry consequences.

Ambassador Rice stated, "the draft that has been shared clearly and unequivocally condemns the launch of April 5; it makes it plain that this launch contravenes Security Council resolution 1718. It demands that the DPRK not conduct any further launch and it calls upon the DPRK as well as all member states to fully implement their obligations under 1718."

Ambassador Rice said the statement also raises the possibility of additional sanctions against North Korea if it does not comply. "And it [the draft] decides that there will be additional strengthening of the measures contained in 1718 through the designation of entities and additional goods - the entities once designated would be subject to an asset freeze, and the goods would be prohibited to be transferred to or from the DPRK," she continuted.

The draft statement, which council members are now sharing with their governments, also calls for the resumption of Six Party Talks.

Agreement among the P5 and Japan on the format and language of the response came during a two-hour long meeting Saturday morning, that finally ended a week of deadlock on how the council should respond.

Japan has been a driving force behind the Security Council's response to North Korea, and Ambassador Yukio Takasu said that his government is very satisfied with the draft statement, even though Tokyo had pressed very strongly for a resolution.

"Japan's strong preference was a resolution, but as I say, equally important is unity. And I think unity of the council should be lost if we insisted on that. That's why we have accepted this very strong presidential statement," commented Ambasador Takasu.

Council President for the month of April, Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller, told reporters that the draft forms the basis for a consensual and clear message of the council and he expects it will be adopted Monday when the council plans to meet again.

North Korea launched the rocket last Sunday, despite international diplomatic efforts to persuade it not to. Several countries, including the United States, believe the test rocket was a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test.

Mass funeral for Italy quake dead

Thousands of people have attended a state funeral for 205 people who died in the Abruzzo earthquake, as Italy held a day of mourning.

Victims' families and top politicians were among mourners at the funeral near the damaged city of L'Aquila.

Correspondents say the funeral was an incredibly sad and moving occasion, for many the first chance to come together as a community since the earthquake.

Pope Benedict XVI urged quake survivors to be courageous and hopeful.

"In these dramatic hours when a fearful tragedy has blighted this land, I feel spiritually present, amongst all of you, and I want to share your anguish," he said in an address read out by his personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein.

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The government has extended the search for people who could still be alive under the rubble until Sunday.

But rescue workers believe the chances of finding anyone alive after Monday's 6.3 magnitude earthquake are remote and so will focus on recovering bodies and assessing the damage.

Aftershocks are continuing to hamper rescue efforts. On Thursday evening a tremor measuring 4.9, the fourth-largest since the earthquake, brought down a badly damaged four-storey building in the centre of L'Aquila.

The death toll was raised to 289 on Friday morning.

Grief and anger

The earthquake victims were honoured in an open-air service at a police training base outside L'Aquila.

The Vatican granted a special dispensation for the service. Good Friday, marking Jesus Christ's crucifixion, is the only day of the year on which Catholics do not celebrate Mass.

Dozens of coffins bedecked with flowers lay in four rows at the funeral site. Small white caskets containing children's bodies lay on top of their parents'.

The BBC's Helen Fawkes, at the funeral, says TV pictures of the event did not show those on the edge of the plaza who were finding it too difficult to take part.

The Mass was celebrated by the Archbishop of L'Aquila, Giuseppe Molinari, and a senior representative of the Pope, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

At the end of the Christian service, an imam read a prayer. Six Muslim victims are among those being buried.

Afterwards, the coffins were carried away in a procession for burial in L'Aquila's cemetery.

President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also attended. At times visibly upset, Mr Berlusconi offered to put up some of the thousands of people made homeless in some of his many homes.

"I will do what I can too, by offering some of my houses," he said.

Piero Faro, who was mourning a family friend and her son, said that grief was mixed with anger. "Their building simply disintegrated," he said. "This should not have happened."

Building standards

The Italian government has moved to ease financial pressures on the survivors.

It has approved a package of emergency financial measures providing money to pay rents, and suspending gas and electricity bills for two months.

Some residents have been allowed back to their houses to retrieve personal items. Four people had been arrested for looting, Mr Berlusconi said.

Meanwhile, the Italian president has blamed poor construction for many of the deaths.

On Thursday, Mr Napolitano visited both L'Aquila and the devastated nearby village of Onna, as well as one of the camps sheltering some of the 28,000 people left homeless by the quake.

Citing "widespread irresponsibility" in the design and construction of modern buildings, he called for an investigation into why essential buildings standards had not been applied.

Modern buildings that suffered partial or total collapse in the quake include a hospital, city buildings, the provincial seat and university buildings, AFP news agency reports.

At least 16 children, including a five-month-old baby, were killed by Monday's powerful earthquake.

Obama getting White House updates on pirates

President Barack Obama has been getting updates on the U.S. citizen still held hostage by Somali pirates.

The White House says the president has received updates on paper and by phone on Saturday. Administration aides met at 8 a.m. and at 2 p.m. to discuss the four-day-old situation off the east coast of Africa.

Somali pirates tried to take the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama on Wednesday. The crew fought back the pirates, but the pirates captured Capt. Richard Phillips, who remains trapped on a lifeboat.

The White House says aides are also in touch with the Department of Defense.