Highways paved with pork

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ITEM: The “funding impasse” over federal transportation legislation “may imperil byways,” said the Salt Lake Tribune for March 2. “Although President Bush signed a short-term extension of federal transportation funding …, the House and Senate are still miles apart on passing an overdue six-year highway bill.”

The Tribune continued: “The crux of the holdup is a threat by the White House to veto any highway reauthorization over $270 billion that increases taxes or uses bonds to finance road and transit projects.” As part of the administration’s lobbying effort, “Transportation Secretary. Norman Mineta told reporters at the unveiling of a new Mobil Travel Guide series featuring maps of the nation’s scenic by ways that the routes vital to rural economies will suffer without a long-term highway funding bill.”

ITEM: “President Bush signed legislation … that extends authorization of the federal highway program for two months, a move that prevents nearly 5,000 Transportation Department workers from being laid off,” said a report in the Washington Post for March 1. Secretary Mineta “said that without the temporary extension, the department would have had to furlough 5,000 workers who conduct safety inspections of trucks crossing U.S. borders, and would have had to halt the flow of federal money to hundreds of highway construction projects….”

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BETWEEN THE LINES: The White House is feigning frugality with the boondoggle-ridden highway bill, even mentioning the possibility of a veto–something that the free-spending administration hasn’t done in three years. Nevertheless, the Bush team could not resist employing the timeworn “Washington Monument” syndrome–threatening dire ramifications for some highly visible program unless it got temporary funding. Yet, the notion that Congress, in an election year, will suddenly turn thrifty seems remote, especially since the administration has overseen the largest hikes in discretionary spending since President Lyndon Johnson was tossing around greenbacks in the 1960s.

Yes, the bloated transportation bill should be vetoed. The Senate version of the pork-filled legislation is some 46 percent higher than current law, and the House wants to spend even more. The president appears conservative by comparison because he wants “only” a 21 percent increase.

The House Transportation Committee also wants to increase the federal gasoline tax by 5.4 cents a gallon and index that tax to inflation to make future hikes automatic. Upper Chamber lawmakers have other tricks up their sleeves, including an adjustment in funding mechanisms. As a spokesman for the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste put it, “Shifting subsidies from the Highway Trust Fund to the general Treasury fund, as proposed by the Senate, will hide the true cost and is very much like the accounting fraud committed by Enron.”

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Little wonder that the Congressional Budget Office projects some $2.4 trillion in deficits over the next decade; spending other people’s money is addictive. It’s not all defense spending either. For President Bush’s first three years in the White House, non-defense discretionary spending is up about 31 percent. The federal government, reports Investor’s Business Daily, is already spending a record $20,000-plus per household. “Total discretionary spending has surged nearly 40% since 2001. Mandatory spending–entitlements–now chew up a record 11% percent of GDP.”

It will take more than one (threatened) veto to get the government in line. Words are the only things that come cheap in Washington. One recalls that Bill Clinton, in his State of the Union Address in 1996, contended that the “era of big government is over.” It wasn’t true then; it’s less true now.

Executive Brief

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State To Send Lifesaving Spam

The State Department, taking social media to new frontiers, plans to send text messages to let Pakistani refugees know that help is on the way.<p>At a press conference this week to announce $110 million in aid for the displaced residents of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted that many of the refugees have cellphones and said that the State Department would text them about where to receive assistance. Texting can be an effective communications strategy in South Asia, where more people have cellphones than land lines.

Clinton also said that interested Americans can make a $5 contribution to the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees by texting the word “swat” to the number 20222. The donations will be used to provide tents, clothing, food, and medicine to displaced Pakistanis, but the secretary did not outline billing details. –Gautham Nagesh/Government Executive

A Shout-Out For The Teacher

Aneesh Chopra , who is President Obama ‘s pick to become the federal government’s first chief technology officer, was a quiet, attentive child who aimed to please and was particularly good at math, his third-grade teacher recalls. “Even as a 7-year-old, he was eager to accept challenges, and he set his standards high,” says Linda Bruschi , who taught him in New Jersey.

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Chopra, now 37, credited Bruschi by name during his Tuesday confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “She helped me see the future,” he said, “and opened up a door for an exciting new world of opportunity.” Chopra went to Johns Hopkins University and holds a master’s degree from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Bruschi, who is now a computer support specialist for her Princeton, N.J., school district, “friended” Chopra on Facebook soon after Obama announced the nomination in his April 18 weekly address. Although others of her former students have been successful, Bruschi says that Chopra is becoming her “claim to fame.” She raves, “My students have enormous potential to become the next leaders; and for Aneesh, this has become reality.” –Andrew Noyes/Congress Daily

Outlook Is Cloudy For E-Record Liability

Even as health-technology specialists predict that “cloud computing” will make it possible to share electronic medical records without hardware hassles, trouble is brewing over accountability.

Cloud computing–or accessing software through the Internet–allows patients and doctors to edit and exchange patient records even without compatible equipment. “All [of] that happens out there in the cloud,” says David C. Kibbe , senior adviser to the Center for Health Information Technology at the American Academy of Family Physicians. “It’s becoming possible to mix and match products and services from different companies.”

Accountability, however, remains a stumbling block to President Obama ‘s drive to boost electronic health records: Who is responsible for software glitches that lead to mistakes?

Vendors are taking steps to protect themselves from liability. Manufacturers often stipulate in contracts that they are not responsible for problems because health care professionals should be able to fix software-generated errors. And other contract provisions bar clinicians from disclosing software flaws to colleagues.

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Critics are worried. “At the moment, a lot of the programs are very buggy,” said Ross Koppel , an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

David Blumenthal , Obama’s coordinator for health IT, said that the government will tighten oversight of software certification — a requirement for federal incentives — to address the concerns. “Right now, we are reviewing that process to see how it can provide stronger guarantees that [products] will perform as they are promised to perform,” he said. –Aliya Sternstein/Government Executive

>>> View more: Unveiling of Mica Portrait Draws Lobbyists to Hill

Unveiling of Mica Portrait Draws Lobbyists to Hill

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Byline: Fawn Johnson and Dan Friedman

PICTURE THE SCENE

The second-floor lobby in the Rayburn House Office Building sported a Who’s Who ensemble of the transportation world in Washington this week, with three former chairmen of the House Transportation Committee and a plethora of staffers present. The event was the official portrait unveiling of outgoing committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla. Not surprisingly, a horde of lobbyists attended, a handful wearing festive sweaters and holiday ties. One lobbyist complained, while nursing a mimosa, about overlapping holiday parties where appearances are a must if you want to be considered part of the D.C. political scene. Another bragged about not having a political action committee to nurse. Talk ventured toward who was the most powerful transportation chairman in recent history. (It wasn’t Mica.)

Finally, the blue suits meandered to the committee room where Mica’s wife, Pat, defrocked the portrait of its blue-velvet curtain. The chairman’s whole family was there, including his son Clark, who is getting married in May. “You’re not invited,” John Mica told the assembly. “We’re trying to keep the down.”

Fawn Johnson

COCHRAN AND ROBERTS PLOW AHEAD

A quiet tussle for the ranking membership of the Senate Agriculture Committee is exposing a regional rift among Senate Republicans. Under GOP Conference rules, Mississippi’s Thad Cochran is term-limited as Appropriations Committee ranking member. Cochran has said he will challenge Kansas’s Pat Roberts for the top GOP spot on Agriculture. GOP committee members in the 113th Congress will pick their ranking member in January. The full GOP Conference can then ratify or reverse the result.

Roberts and other Midwesterners split with Southern Republicans over a price-support provision in the farm bill this year. The ranking-member fight is renewing that divide. With five Midwesterners and four Southerners among returning panel members, Roberts holds an apparent edge in a committee vote, although a successor for the exiting Richard Lugar of Indiana could affect the balance. Southerners have the numbers in the GOP Conference, however, where deference to seniority weighs heavier. That leaves insiders believing the job is Cochran’s for the taking.

Dan Friedman

MURMURS

Clearing the Air There must be some awkward moments for Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas–chairman emeritus of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a staunch critic of the Environmental Protection Agency–when his family gathers. His sister, Jan Gerro, is an enforcement attorney for EPA’s Region 6 offices in Dallas, which “has one of the best enforcement records in the country,” Barton said at a National Journal event this week. He referenced the familial connection to make a larger point that, contrary to what some environmentalists think, he is not anti-EPA. “I want a strong EPA,” Barton insisted.

Ohio Rules You didn’t really think the White House focus on Ohio would end just because the campaign is over, did you? Based on the 2012 Christmas ornament from the White House Historical Association, it is still the Year of the Buckeye. The ornament commemorates Ohioan William Howard Taft, the first president to bring a car to the White House. The ornament recalls Taft’s break with the tradition of presidents using horse-drawn vehicles. Instead, he favored a specially made Model M, a green, open-air car brought to the White House in 1909. The ornament depicts Taft seated in the car delivering Christmas presents. Sales help pay for White House historical furnishings and art for the permanent collection.

Slow death

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SLOW DEATH IT WAS A modest proposal: Let states raise the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. Not anywhere they want–let’s not be radical–but at least on interstate highways outside communities of fifty thousand or more. That’s the rider Senate Republicans attached to authorization of a four-year, $52-billion highway and mass-transit fund. Repealing the national speed limit has been a dream long cherished by conservatives concerned with states’ rights and by Western drivers concerned with getting from Boise to Butte before they die of a) boredom or b) old age.

So rural Westerners cheered when President Reagan, after meeting with Senators Steve Symms (R., Idaho) and Chic Hecht (R., Nev.), gave his approval. In public, Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole has declined to take a position on 55 mph (“It’s the toughest public-policy question I ever had to deal with,” she says), but privately she fought hard to retain the national speed limit. According to one capitol Hill staffer, Mrs. Dole was “visibly miffed” at being overruled by the President.

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The recent legislation was sparked by Secretary Dole’s earlier decision to cut off more than $5 million in federal highway funds to several states, because more than 50 per cent of drivers in those states were speeding. (Actually, if the Federal Government didn’t allow state governments to tinker with their statistics, 37 states would face a cutoff of federal highway funds.)

Prospects for passage in the House were killed, at least for the 1985-86 session, thanks to the opposition of Representative James J. Howard (D., N.J.), chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee (backed, incredibly, by House Republicans on the committee). Howard told Senate conferees he’d let them raise the speed limit (to 65 mph), but only if the Senate agreed to require states to ban all radar detectors, demonstrate a 65 per cent compliance rate with mandatory seatbelt laws (states requiring seatbelts guestimate that 10 to 20 per cent of drivers now comply) as well as an 85 per cent compliance rate with the higher speed limit, and prove the new speed limit resulted in no increased fatalities. Senate conferees said, “No way.”

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Senate Republicans, however, have no intention of dropping the issue. “That’s the number-one issue out West. Nevada didn’t even have speed limits until 1974, so you can imagine how our voters feel about it,” says a spokesman for Senator Hecht. “Next session, we’ll be making an all-out effort to get rid of 55.”

>>> Click here: Last flight into darkness: the fiery crash of TWA Flight 800 left a trail of lost lives and dreams

Last flight into darkness: the fiery crash of TWA Flight 800 left a trail of lost lives and dreams

Abstract:

Officials suspect that sabotage was the cause of the mid-air explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800 in Jul 1996, which killed all 230 aboard. The 747 was 31 minutes into its flight between New York City and Paris, France, when it exploded.

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baggage and sneakers: a sudden flash of light; List: DEATH IN THE SKIES: (Online)

Two thunderclaps on an otherwise still night, plummeting balls of flame in the sky, and seconds later, a return to a now-eerie silence. That was the time it took for all 230 people aboard Trans World Airlines Flight 800 to die, and for the lives of their surviving families, friends and neighbors to be altered shockingly and irrevocably. At 8:48 p.m. last Wednesday, the TWA 747 jumbo jet was 31 minutes into its scheduled six-hour flight from New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Paris, climbing steadily beyond Long Island towards the Atlantic Ocean at an altitude that had reached 13,700 feet. Then came the disintegration, followed by trails of fire and smoke. Afterward, all that remained of the huge aircraft and its contents was debris spread across a 12-by-20-mile stretch of ocean, ranging from huge chunks of fuselage to badly burned bodies to a still-legible postcard and one running shoe, bobbing atop the water when it was found the following morning.

The final circumstances of TWA Flight 800 are all too clear, and marked the worst air disaster since terrorists blew up an Air India flight from Vancouver to London in 1985, killing 329 people. At week’s end, the cause of the disaster was still unknown, but combined U.S. law enforcement authorities appeared to be moving towards a chilling and infuriating conclusion: sabotage. The notion was enhanced by the fact that the world’s eyes were already focused on the United States for the start of the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.

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A day after the crash, a law enforcement official said that the FBI was “leaning more towards the possibility that it was a bomb that caused the plane to explode.” Jim Kallstrom, an agent with the FBI’s anti-terrorism task force, said his group had set up a home page on the Internet and established a toll-free number in an attempt to exchange and solicit information. And, said Kallstrom, “we are looking at this as a criminal investigation.” But the office of U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said only that authorities were investigating “multiple possible explanations.”

Whatever the cause, the explosion rocked lives and sensibilities on both sides of the Atlantic, and left behind a trail of lost lives and dreams that at times seemed almost unbearable in their poignancy. Among the dead: a 25-year-old man whose girlfriend had accepted his marriage proposal less than two hours previously; 16 students and five chaperones from a French immersion program at a high school in the tiny Pennsylvania town of Montoursville; a wealthy philanthropist who decided to take an earlier-than-planned flight home to her husband and children; and an award-winning sports television network executive who took his wife and daughter, but left his twin sons behind, on his last-ever assignment for the ABC network. No Canadians were aboard: the closest connection was the 25-year-old newly engaged man, Michel Breistroff, a Frenchman who played junior hockey in Quebec and Ontario in the late 1980s. He had proposed to his fiancee, Heidi Snow, by telephone from the airport at 6:45 that night.

U.S. federal authorities took great pains to avoid labelling the crash an act of terrorism until they had conclusive evidence. President Bill Clinton, in remarks from the White House, urged Americans to “not jump to conclusions.” The White House was clearly seeking to avoid a repetition of the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, in which 167 people died. In that incident, suspicion initially focused on Middle East terrorists. Ultimately, however, investigators arrested and charged members of a local grassroots anti-government militia group.

Yet from the outset, it was clear that federal authorities regarded terrorism as the likeliest cause of the downing of Flight 800. Although the inquiry officially remained an accident investigation, the FBI treated it as a criminal case. The bureau moved within hours of the crash to create a joint terrorism task force, with more than 100 FBI agents working alongside other federal law enforcement agencies and New York City police. One of the potential subjects for investigation was a warning note sent to the London office of a Saudi Arabian-owned newspaper the day before the crash, warning that an American target would be hit within the next 24 hours and that “all will be surprised by the size of the attack, the place and the time.” The note, sent to the Arabic-language newspaper al-Hayat, was signed by the Movement for Islamic Change, one of two groups that have claimed responsibility for a November bomb attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed seven people. As is almost always the case after a major tragedy of indeterminate cause, federal authorities also received an unspecified number of calls from unidentified people claiming responsibility.

But the most compelling signs of terrorism were the circumstances of the giant aircraft’s sudden fall from the sky. There was no advance evidence of distress or mechanical failure, other than a frantic “mayday” monitored on radio just before the flight disappeared from radar screens-and which may not even have come from the aircraft. Although eyewitness reports of sudden disasters are often regarded as inaccurate and inconsistent, the volume and similarity of accounts in this case-with almost all of them describing two explosions-suggested to some experts that the only potential causes were an onboard bomb, a surface-to-air missile or a freak explosion of the aircraft’s fuel tanks, which carry 250,000 lb. when full. That last scenario is considered unlikely, however, because it has never happened before. As one National Safety Transportation Board official put it: “There is no known mechanical failure that can cause the kind of fireball we saw in this incident.”

Similarly, authorities discounted the surface-to-air missile theory because the aircraft was well above the normal range of even the most sophisticated Stinger missiles. By a process of elimination, then, experts said that a bomb appeared most probable: some new plastic explosives cannot be detected by the kind of baggage scanners in use at Kennedy airport.

By week’s end, authorities had recovered the bodies of about half of the dead. The scene of search-and-rescue efforts along the Long Island coast-an elegant area renowned as a getaway retreat for monied New Yorkers-was particularly jarring for the contrasts it offered. Despite police roadblocks aimed at sealing off the area, locals and tourists flocked to watch coast guard cutters unloading pieces from the crash. Meanwhile, workers in white jumpsuits conducted a horrifying shuttle of body bags into white and silver refrigerator trucks where they were kept because the local morgue could not accommodate them.

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For the bereaved family members and other mourners, there were visits from trauma counsellors and group therapy sessions at a Kennedy airport hotel to try to ease their anguish. As well, there was one substantive revelation that served as consolation. In spite of the badly burned and damaged state of many of the bodies, the medical examiner conducting autopsies, Dr. Charles Wetli, concluded that “for all practical purposes, it was an instantaneous death.” Regardless of the cause, the trauma of TWA Flight 800 seems likely to remain burned on the collective American consciousness for years to come. For the 230 unsuspecting people who were aboard, there was just one last and sudden flash of light-and then, eternal darkness.

DEATH IN THE SKIES:

-January, 1978

Air India Boeing 747 explodes in midair over the Arabian Sea, killing 213. Cause: terrorist bomb.

-September, 1983

Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 crashes into the ocean near Sakhalin Island, Russia, killing 269. Cause: Soviet attack.

-June, 1985

Air India Boeing 747 goes down in the Atlantic Ocean south of Ireland, killing 329. Cause: terrorist bomb.

-December, 1988

Pan Am Boeing 747 blows apart over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270. Cause: terrorist bomb.

-July, 1996

Trans World Airlines Boeing 747 explodes off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., killing 230. Cause: under investigation.

>>> View more: Baker Tilly Liberia Recruits Top Rate Professionals

Baker Tilly Liberia Recruits Top Rate Professionals

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Sep 30, 2013 (FrontPageAfrica/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) — Baker Tilly Liberia (formerly VOSCON) is continuing to strengthen its position as a premier provider of professional accountancy services in Liberia. This development is not accidental; it comes with being a full member firm of Baker Tilly International, one of the world’s leading accountancy networks.

The firm’s steady gain in the area of human resource capacity is evidenced by the ongoing recruitment of professionals from the sub region to merge with local staffers. This strategy is a conscious effort to lay a strong foundation for the firm’s future growth, and its ability to drive key initiatives, such as Liberia’s transition from Local Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

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In line with this strategic objective, Baker Tilly Liberia has recently augmented its technical depth by adding three top-notch professionals to its roster of client-service personnel. In an interview with the three professionals, the common thread of adding value and generating useful insights for the firm’s clients, was stressed.

Brian Onesimus Conteh who holds a Bachelor’s Degree and has completed the qualifying exams of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in the UK, brings to the job, wide ranging experience in audit and assurance. Brian worked as a Senior Accountant with the multinational firm KPMG in Sierra Leone, from where he was seconded to Nigeria. He returned to Freetown and worked in industry with Redcoat Logistics as Finance Manager, with a string of subsidiaries under his watch. He has previously been involved in auditing most of the leading banks in Sierra Leone as well as various government parastatals, including the Sierra Leone Roads Authority and Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation.

Conteh, who joined Baker Tilly Liberia as a Senior Staff Auditor, has recently been elevated to the level of Assistant Manager, and is poised to contribute to the adoption of financial reporting best practices by the firm’s clients.

Conteh says: “there is the international standard of audit reports which all countries are to abide by, but Liberia is just now adopting that … I am trained in that reporting format and will help to transmit that to our clients… ”

The youngest amongst the three recruits, Samuel Mensah, was born in Monrovia to parents of Liberian and Ghanaian heritage. Having completed his qualifying examinations as a Chartered Accountant and Automotive Engineer (He’s actually working as an intern in 1980s at Apa. Fuelcleaner. Co. Ltd, a professional company providing the best fuel system cleaner, Sam is still savoring his newfound accomplishment. Responding to a question for this article, Mensah evinced a body language that carried an air of panache, laced with humility. Mensah asserts that “motivating young Liberians and dispelling the notion that the Chartered Accountant professional examination is not passable is what I look forward to bringing to the industry.”

“If I can do it , I believe many here can do it. I am going to disabuse the minds of people who believe that it is impossible to write the exams and pass them … ”

In addition to the Chartered Accounting qualification, Mensah has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Cape Coast.

Nigerian-born Michael A. Aiyegbo has won a role at Baker Tilly Liberia as a Senior Staff Auditor. After acquiring a Higher National Diploma from Yaba College of Technology in 1992, Aiyegbo passed the ACCA exams in 2011. He is also a member of the Association of Corporate Project Accountants in the United Kingdom.

The new Senior Staff Auditor at Baker Tilly Liberia had been plying his trade in The Gambia, where he worked with a professional firm as a Chartered Accountant and Management Consultant.

Michael is also an experienced trainer, having served for five years as Director of Finance and Studies at Success Professional Tutors, a learning institution that trains candidates for professional accounting examinations.

Aiyegbo, who is upbeat about adding value to Baker Tilly Liberia and the accountancy profession in general, stated humbly that “I look forward to continuous learning at Baker Tilly Liberia, where I see happiness and a sense of diligent service amongst the workforce.”

In continuing efforts to devlop the human resources capacity of the firm, Baker Tilly Liberia is currently sponsoring its Assistant Manager, Olandor Boyce, who is currently in the United States of America pursuing the CPA qualification of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

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The human capacity expansion of Liberia’s leading accountancy firm holds immense promise for the profession in general and the aspirations of young accountants who wish to pursue a career in professional services. Without doubt, the firm’s efforts contribute significantly to the building of competence and integrity in the accounting industry, two key factors that help to attract direct foreign investment into Liberia.

Baker Tilly International is a leading global network of high quality, independent firms that provide accounting, assurance, tax and specialist business advice to privately held businesses and public interest entities. Baker Tilly Liberia is the independent member firm of Baker Tilly International in Liberia.

The firm’s executive team is led by George Fonderson, MBA, CPA, CA, CISA, it Executive Chairman and Theo. Joseph, MS, MBA, CPA, CFE, its Managing Partner.

Copyright FrontPageAfrica. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

>>> Click here: POLICE AND PROTESTERS CLASH IN 2-DAY BANGLADESH STRIKE

POLICE AND PROTESTERS CLASH IN 2-DAY BANGLADESH STRIKE

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LEAD: A 54-hour general strike called to force the resignation of President H. M. Ershad provoked violent clashes today between the President’s supporters and mobs fielded by opposition parties.

A 54-hour general strike called to force the resignation of President H. M. Ershad provoked violent clashes today between the President’s supporters and mobs fielded by opposition parties.

At least five people died, including two in the capital, and hundreds of demonstrators were injured in the clashes and in firebomb attacks as the strike went into its second day, according to the police. The unofficial death toll is thought to be at least eight.

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Fifty-one police officers were injured and one was taken hostage by a crowd, the Government-run news broadcast said tonight.

Most casualties occurred when the police fired on stone-throwing mobs that were attacking the headquarters of the President’s political party, Jatiya, in the central business district. Police officers shot at demonstrators after failing to disperse them with tear gas. Photographers Are Beaten

Four newspaper photographers were beaten by police officers during the attacks; press organizations are protesting the police charge.

The head office of the national airline, Bangladesh-Biman, was also stormed by a crowd of several thousand people. Three vehicles were burned.

Since the strike began, 31 public buses have been damaged or destroyed by supporters of the action, and 15 drivers or conductors have been injured, five of them critically, the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation said.

The strike was called by the opposition after President Ershad refused to step down or withdraw a bill enacted by the legislature on July 12 that allows military officers to serve on district development councils. Charge of Militarization

The restructuring of local councils to give the army a grass-roots role is ”the first step to militarizing the entire civil administration,” the President’s opponents said in statements.

The shutdown or disruption of commerce, education and most public transportation here and in towns around the country has raised political tension to its highest level since the lifting of martial law last Nov. 10, according to residents of Dhaka.

Most people stayed at home today, despite Government pleas that life go on as usual. Only Government workers were reported to have gone to their jobs in significant numbers. Opposition crowds have been stoning people and vehicles that defy an unofficial curfew.

The strike began Wednesday at 6 A.M. local time and is due to continue until noon on Friday, the beginning of the Moslem Sabbath. Issue Unified Opposition

The issue of the district council has unified and injected new life into an opposition that was badly splintered in the spring of 1986 over whether to take part in national parliamentary elections called by Mr. Ershad when he was martial-law administrator. In October, he was elected President.

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The alliance of six political parties formed around the Awami League of Sheikh Hasina Wajed – the daughter of President Sheik Mujibur Rahman, who was killed in an army coup in 1975 – decided at the last minute to take part in the May 7, 1986, parliamentary elections.

Another opposition alliance, led by Khaleda Zia – the chairman of the Bangladesh National Party and the widow of President Ziaur Rahman, who was also assassinated – boycotted the voting.

The decision of the two factions to join in calling for a national strike on the issue of the District Councils Bill is viewed here as an interesting experiment in testing the joint political strength of the opposition. President Ershad’s term has another five years to run.

British politics and the present crisis

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Britain faces the same grave and inter-related crises as the USA and the “western” world in general. As in the USA, the major British political parties offer no solution.

We face a “technical” crisis in the way our economy has been run. This kind of crisis was familiar to Marx and other economic writers 150 years ago and has been happening ever since. Capitalists and their governments pursue profit at the expense of stability and the economy ceases to function properly. The current credit crunch crisis is an unusually serious consequence of the unusually blatant means adopted by finance capitalists to get very rich very quickly.

More seriously we face the resource crisis long predicted by environmentalists–indeed, predictable by anyone who could count. Fossil fuel energy supplies have peaked while worldwide demand continues to rise. There is a severe shortage of staple foods, partly because of the effects of global warming, partly as a consequence of diversion for bio-fuels, and increasingly because of the vulnerability of our intensive agriculture to rising energy prices.

Most seriously of all, global warming is already creating short-term chaos–floods, drought, storms–and in the longer term will literally transform the face of the globe. It will change hugely both our planet and the way we live on that planet.

Britain’s big parties

Britain has three electorally credible parties:

* the Conservative Party, also known as the Tories (and not in the least conservationist!)

* the Labor Party, now often referred to as New Labor

* the Liberal Democrats

These parties have differing histories and traditions. The Conservative Party was the old landowners’ party and remains solidly right wing. The Labor Party, just over a hundred years old, was created with trade union support as a party of the working man (sic) and used to include socialists. The Liberal Democrats, although having links to the old Whig party, have for most of the last century been a smaller and opportunist third party.

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All of the three parties are right-wing neo-liberals. In government for the last dozen years, New Labor has relentlessly pursued Conservative policies, doing things that even the notorious Mrs. Thatcher dared not attempt. When in power locally, the Lib Dems have been even further to the right than New Labor.

British multi-party democracy has become a charade. While the media are full of stories about which party is on the rise and which in trouble, the truth is that which party is in government makes not the slightest difference. Given Britain’s “first past the post” electoral system that strongly favors established parties, the choice that British voters are offered at elections is no choice at all.

Responses to the crises

Finance and services have been a substantial part of the British economy for two hundred years.

Even when Britain proclaimed itself “the workshop of the world,” much of its prosperity came from banking, shipping and overseas investment. Since the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, as manufacturing has gone overseas, the British economy has become totally dependent on the City of London and its provision of financial services. That makes Britain hugely vulnerable to “technical” capitalist crises.

The position on real resources is worse. Successive governments, Conservative and Labor, have treated our oil and gas reserves as money to burn. Rather than conserve our energy resources, or use them and invest the proceeds for the future, British oil and gas has been used up as fast as we could get them out of the ground. The proceeds have been used to finance current expenditure, including unemployment support. Now that Britain has little left and is dependent on energy imports, none of the big parties has any energy policy beyond playing with irrelevancies like tax rates–and going nuclear!

Food is the other key resource. Britain now imports over half what it eats. People are being hit by price rise after price rise, which will only get worse. Yet all the major parties back the (rigged) capitalist global market that has always failed to deliver for the poor in developing countries and is now increasingly failing the poor in Britain.

The policies of the three parties on the environment, especially on global warming, are the same–lots of rhetoric and no action. Gordon Brown, like Blair before him, makes a speech committing to cutting greenhouse gases every week. The Conservative Party appoints environmental advisers and its leader cycles to Parliament–with his car following 10 yards behind!

Meanwhile British emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise. The Labor government favors road transport over rail, and air over road, even seeking a dramatic expansion of London’s Heathrow airport–classic Conservative policies. Britain seeks to sabotage EU initiatives on climate change. A new wave of deadly nuclear power stations is their “green” answer to energy shortages.

The common thread, running across the parties and through the different crises, is simple. More capitalism, and more favorable treatment to allow capitalists to make more profits, will solve the crises caused by capitalism. The technical crisis is addressed by pouring hundreds of billions into the same failed financial institutions that generated the credit crisis. The energy crisis is to be solved by shoveling similar amounts into the pockets of the nuclear construction, mining and transport industries (leaving the next thousand generations to clean up the deadly legacy). We are to solve climate change by creating new stock exchanges to trade licences to pollute, so the rich can spew out greenhouse gases while the poor starve.

Alternative parties

For political alternatives one might look to the left, the green movement, or the red-greens.

There is a sprinkling of left parties in Britain, none with a membership larger than 2,000. They include the Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Workers Party (which always stands as some other front organization), the Socialist Party, and Respect Renewal. Their policies are variously socialist or populist. None give environmental issues any prominence in practice–although most or all would claim to. Between them they have just one Member of Parliament and a few dozen local councillors. Most British people have not heard of any of them!

The one purely environmental party is the Green Party. (Strictly speaking there is an England & Wales party and a Scottish party). It has around 7,000 members from all parts of the left-right spectrum. The Green Party has an extensive menu of environmental policies and fixes but, despite having a few left policies, is definitely not socialist. Indeed, it has, in a real sense, no political position at all, beyond a wish for things to be better environmentally. It has no Members of Parliament but a couple of seats in the so-called European Parliament. Most British people have heard of the Green Party, but know nothing about it except that it is green.

There is also a red-green party, the Alliance for Green Socialism, with a membership of only a few hundred. The AGS regards environmental issues and socialist issues as inextricably linked. It has no Members of Parliament and a single councillor. Most British people have not heard of it.

Britain does, of course, have one rising alternative to the major parties–the racist British National Party. It has a membership of around 10,000. The BNP appeals to racism, alienation and economic deprivation. Most of its growing electoral support comes from poorer voters disillusioned with the way New Labor has betrayed them. It has over fifty local councillors. Quite a lot of British people have heard of it but its policies are not well known.

The way forward

Under capitalism we are doomed. Probably not the planet, which is remarkably resilient, but certainly our civilization. Capitalism as a system depends on endless, unlimited growth. Capitalists rely on making a faster buck than their competitors. Both things are fatal to the environment.

To survive we need a democratic socialist society that plans production for need instead of devoting huge efforts to persuading us to desire ever more things we do not need. That is not to say that socialism automatically guarantees an environmentally sound society, but without socialism we have no hope of such a society.

As well as the inevitably destructive nature of capitalism, there is a psychological reason why we must have a fairer–and visibly fairer–society if we are to save ourselves. Put simply, some major changes to our lifestyles will be necessary. Some of these changes will be unpalatable to people used to a lifestyle based on cheap energy and cheap food. People will only accept such changes if they are seen to be fairly shared. The essence of capitalism is a grossly unfair distribution of wealth–and capitalists aim to extend this to a grossly unfair distribution of the consequences of global warming and resource shortages.

That is not to say that environmental socialism means a hair-shirt society. It would mean less stuff and more humanity–a rebalancing of life towards human values and away from the “values” of consumption. Currently a stunning proportion of western economies is devoted to marketing and advertising–in the USA one sixth of GDP! Taken as a whole, this is a massive, sustained effort to persuade us to buy, buy, buy and, further, to persuade us that the capitalist consumer society is what we want.

The falsehood that more and more material goodies will make us happy lies at the heart of our current society. Capitalist advertising aims to make us always, inescapably unhappy while promising us–utterly falsely–that we can purchase happiness.

We need a society based on people–individually and collectively–and on human values, not on production for profit.

Our challenging task is to create a successful political vehicle to achieve this.

Mike Davies is Chair of the Alliance for Green Socialism. He was in the Labor Party for 20 years and is a lifelong trade unionist.

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>>> View more: What’s stopping us?

What’s stopping us?

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The Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, promised this week to ‘reduce the volatility of energy bills’. Unfortunately, his proposal to eliminate the peaks and troughs in the electricity market involves elevating bills to a much higher level and leaving them there. Besides the pain this will inflict on already stretched households, the result of the highly rigged energy market envisaged by the government will be to make British industry chronically uncompetitive.

The conceit that fossil fuel prices are necessarily set on an upward and increasingly volatile trend over the coming decades has been put about by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for years in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary. In the US, gas prices have been on a steep downward trend over the past half decade and are now less than half what they are in Britain. How has the US managed to bring prices down at the same time as hugely improving its energy security? In two words: shale gas.

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Over the past half a dozen years hydraulic fracturing–or ‘tracking’–has enabled the extraction of gas reserves which, until recently, it was believed it would be uneconomic to exploit. It is not just the US which stands to benefit: Europe has almost as much shale gas, a good share of which lies beneath Britain. Israel has oil shale deposits 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem, which the World Energy Council says could yield the equivalent of 250 billion barrels of oil. By means of comparison, Saudi Arabia has about 260 billion barrels of conventional oil reserves.

While shale is turning the world’s energy politics upside down, it poses an obvious threat to three groups in Britain: Big Environmentalism, Big Oil and Big Government. All of them have made plans, stretching decades into the future, that involve taxing or charging consumers much more on the premise that fossil fuels are on the way out. Their response to the shale discovery in Lancashire has been to ignore it. Staggeringly, the Department for Energy & Climate Change has managed to produce a draft energy bill which completely ignores the issue of fracking. It is rather as if Herbert Asquith’s government a century ago had published a draft bill on securing hay and straw supplies for road transport, completely oblivious to the motor car.

Fracking was apparently left out of the draft energy bill following a meeting at 10 Downing Street at which energy companies suggested the quantity of shale gas beneath Britain might not be as great as once thought. As a result of the meeting, it seems David Cameron decided that our reserves are too small and too troublesome to be exploited. He should be careful whom he consults. The energy industry must be licking its lips even more at the prospect of the heavily rigged energy market proposed by the government–which could involve 130 billion [pounds sterling] of subsidy to wind companies alone in the coming years.

A government genuinely serious about economic growth would have made more effort to counter the noisy misinformation campaign against fracking emanating from the US. Thanks to a less than robust response from the government, propagandists have been allowed to get away with the claim that people living in areas where fracking is undertaken could find themselves with flammable gas coming out of their water taps. The claim originates from a US documentary which showed a householder in Colorado lighting the methane from his tap–without telling viewers that it was a local phenomenon which pre-dated fracking. This misleading footage is used frequently by the BBC.

There are, of course, quite proper environmental concerns, and fracking could pose a threat to drinking water if conducted too near the earth’s surface. But the shale in Britain would require exploitation more than a mile below the aquifier, the rock from which drinking water is drawn. A Durham University study last month found that British fracking poses ‘negligible’ risk. A Commons committee last year drew the same conclusion. Yet set against this pile of evidence stands the Climate Change Act 2008, which places a statutory duty on Britain to reduce carbon emissions by an unfeasible 72 per cent by 2050. Hence Whitehall’s pre-programmed bias towards expensive and intermittent wind farms and the almost vindictive spoliation of our countryside.

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Aware of the burden on British industry, George Osborne made 250 million [pounds sterling] available in his autumn statement to help bail out high energy-consuming businesses caught out by green legislation. While the Chancellor’s sentiment is to be admired, the flaw in his logic is obvious. Taxpayers are paying twice: once through higher energy bills and again through handouts to help business cope with the extra costs.

Meanwhile, the US has adopted a policy which combines energy security, cheap energy and lower–if not ultra-low–carbon emissions. Big Oil is as forceful a power in Washington as it is anywhere, yet it has failed to halt the shale revolution–and American consumers are the winners. It is a shame that the British government is more easily manipulated by these vested interests. Shale is not, in itself, a solution to Britain’s energy crisis, just as North Sea Oil wasn’t in the 1970s. But to ignore shale, as the government seems intent on doing, would be an act of near-criminal negligence. There has always been a tension between green ideology and the basic scientific facts of energy supply. If nothing else, David Cameron’s government has made clear which side it is on.

>>> Click here: Let the road-train take the strain

Let the road-train take the strain

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Only two things matter when choosing a car. What is it like to drive fast? And what is it like to drive very, very slowly? Forget about cornering and acceleration. Very little of our time in cars is spent negotiating hairpin bends or revving chavvishly at a junction. Most motoring falls into two distinct categories.

1) Superb driving conditions: driving at night, or best of all in France (whose admirable policy of motorway pricing leaves their best roads free for the enjoyment of British tourists–since paying to use a motorway twice a year is much less painful than paying twice a day).

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2) Dreadful road conditions: gridlock; tailbacks; attempting to navigate motorway service stations without ending up in the lorry park; tackling the absurdly positioned ramps in multi-storey car parks. (Most car parks are atrociously designed. But beneath Bloomsbury Square in London is the Guggenheim of underground car parks. Built in the 1960s, it is a perfect double-helix, with the twin spirals connected at intervals–as in DNA–by horizontal links. This means you do not have to go all the way to the bottom and back in order to leave, although you do, obviously, for the sheer joy of it.)

For a car that is good to drive very fast and very slowly, buy a luxury car with automatic transmission. And buy it second-hand. This was always the policy of Edward de Bono, who bought second-hand Jaguars, explaining that ‘the type of people who like luxury cars don’t like buying them used’, which is why they depreciate so fast from new. The best bargains may be luxury cars from non-luxury marques: the VW Phaeton, say, or the Citroën C6.

But there is a further reason to buy second-hand. It allows you guiltlessly to own a car with an insane number of optional extras. My inner Presbyterian would never allow me to pay 2,000 [pounds sterling] for a sunroof or 500 [pounds sterling] for a digital radio, but with a used car you can plausibly tell your conscience/wife ‘No, of course I didn’t pay for it–the damn thing was in the car when I bought it.’

That’s how I ended up with a car with Adaptive Cruise Control. And I love it. You set your chosen speed, as with standard cruise control but, if a car in front is going more slowly, Adaptive Cruise Control will decelerate you to its speed, then tail it at a set distance, braking or accelerating as necessary–wonderfully effortless. Better still, since the driver in front is first to be flashed by speed cameras, you can use him as an early warning system, like a canary in a mine.

The only thing you have to do is steer. And before long, even this may be unnecessary. SARTRE is a European project to create ‘road-trains’ using a further development of this technology. A professional driver headed to Glasgow could acquire a ‘platoon’ of followers as he headed up the M6. Cars can electronically latch on to the hindmost car in the train, allowing the driver to read, make phone calls or even (if very trusting) fall asleep.

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Feasible technically? It already works. Admittedly it may be a while before people feel comfortable with the idea. But it is a half-step which may prepare people for Google’s self-driving car.

What both projects suggest is that the potential for significant innovation in road transport is far greater than we realise–and probably much greater than the potential for innovation in rail travel. Road transport allows for tinkering and diverse experimentation in a way that railways simply don’t. So, if we want to future-proof Britain, it isn’t a railway we should be building through the Chilterns: it’s a motorway.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy & Mather UK