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Daily Archives: 06/28/2010

Australia's new PM makes few cabinet changes

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June 28, 2010

Australia’s new Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday unveiled her new cabinet, making minimum changes to the front-bench of her predecessor Kevin Rudd.

Prime Minister Gillard promoted no fresh ministers to her cabinet and even dropped Rudd from the list. But she said she would offer him a senior cabinet post if Labour Party is re-elected at the looming election.

“It is best to have as limited a reshuffle as possible to keep maximum stability among the team and to keep our focus on the work that Australians need the government to be doing,” 49-year-old Gillard said.

Gillard, who spearheaded the rebellion against 51-year-old Rudd opposing his policies on health, education and climate change, was last week sworn-in as Australia’s first woman Prime Minister.

Former Trade Minister Simon Crean takes over Gillard’s portfolios of employment, industrial relations and social inclusion. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith adds trade to his portfolio.

Gillard said the new government will be focused on delivering “hard-working Australians”, a strengthening economy and a renewed focus on services.

“I am not making any assumptions about what will happen on election day. This will be a close hard-fought contest,” she said.

In a statement issued after cabinet reshuffle, Rudd, who was forced to resign following revolt within ruling Labour party last week, said he respects Gillard’s decision.

“Ultimately, decisions on Cabinet appointments are a matter for the Prime Minister,” Rudd said, adding “for the immediate future, my family and I have decided to take a break. I will be working in my own electorate of Griffith and in any other way deemed appropriate to support the re-election of the Government.”

Meanwhile, Gillard said she had spoken to Rudd about his future and he had confirmed he would run for his seat at the next election.

“Consequently, what I have said to Kevin Rudd is I would be absolutely delighted to see him serve as a senior cabinet minister in the team if the government is re-elected,” she said.

Gillard said she completely understood Rudd’s immediate desire to spend time with family.

“What I’ve said to Kevin is, that I think that this is the best course and it would enable him, if he chose to do so at this time, to spend more time with his family which I know is one of his key priorities in life,” she added.

Rudd, elected in 2007, had been one of the most popular Australian prime ministers of modern times until he made a series of policy backflips.

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Sen. Robert Byrd dead at 92; West Virginia lawmaker was the longest serving member of Congress in history

washingtonpost.com

June 28, 2010

Robert C. Byrd, 92, a conservative West Virginia Democrat who became the longest-serving member of Congress in history and used his masterful knowledge of the institution to shape the federal budget, protect the procedural rules of the Senate and, above all else, tend to the interests of his state, died at 3 a.m. Monday at Inova Fairfax Hospital, his office said.

Mr. Byrd had been hospitalized last week with what was thought to be heat exhaustion, but more serious issues were discovered, aides said Sunday. No formal cause of death was given.

Starting in 1958, Mr. Byrd was elected to the Senate an unprecedented nine times. He wrote a four-volume history of the body, was majority leader twice and chaired the powerful Appropriations Committee, controlling the nation’s purse strings, and yet the positions of influence he held did not convey the astonishing arc of his life.

A child of the West Virginia coal fields, Mr. Byrd rose from the grinding poverty that has plagued his state since before the Great Depression, overcame an early and ugly association with the Ku Klux Klan, worked his way through night school and by force of will, determination and iron discipline made himself a person of authority and influence in Washington.

Although he mined extraordinary amounts of federal largesse for his perennially impoverished state, his reach extended beyond the bounds of the Mountain State.

As chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District from 1961 to 1969, he reveled in his role as scourge, grilling city officials at marathon hearings and railing against unemployed black men and unwed mothers on welfare.

He was known for his stentorian orations seasoned with biblical and classical allusions and took pride in being the Senate’s resident constitutional scholar, keeping a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket. He saw himself both as institutional memory and as guardian of the Senate’s prerogatives.

Most West Virginians had more immediate concerns, and Mr. Byrd strove to address them. On the Appropriations Committee, he pumped billions of dollars worth of jobs, programs and projects into a state that ranked near the bottom of nearly every economic indicator when he began his political career as a state legislator in the late 1940s. Countless congressional earmarks later, West Virginia is home to prisons, technology center, laboratories and Navy and Coast Guard offices (despite being a landlocked state).

Critics mocked him as the “prince of pork,” but West Virginians expressed their gratitude by naming countless roads and buildings after him. He also was the only West Virginian to be elected to both houses of the state legislature and both houses of Congress.

As a young man, Mr. Byrd was an “exalted cyclops” of the Ku Klux Klan. Although he apologized numerous times for what he considered a youthful indiscretion, his early votes in Congress — notably a filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act — reflected racially separatist views. As those views moderated, Mr. Byrd rose in the party hierarchy.

A lifelong autodidact and a firm believer in continuing education — vocational schools, community colleges, adult education — Mr. Byrd practiced what he preached. While in the U.S. House from 1953 to 1959, he took night classes at law schools. He received a law degree from American University in 1963 and is the only member of Congress to put himself through law school while in office.

“Senator Byrd came from humble beginnings in the southern coalfields, was raised by hard-working West Virginians, and triumphantly rose to the heights of power in America,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said in a statement. “But he never forgot where he came from nor who he represented, and he never abused that power for his own gain.”

In addition to his multivolume history of the Senate, Mr. Byrd was author of a 770-page memoir as well as “Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency” (2004), a well-received and stinging critique of what he considered President George W. Bush‘s rush to war with Iraq.

Part of the book’s power, reviewers noted, was that he was one of the few senators in office during the Vietnam War, of which he had been a staunch supporter.

“He played a unique role as a prime defender of the Senate during decades of increasing power of the presidency,” said Thomas E. Mann, a congressional scholar and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In his book and on the Senate floor, he was scathing in his contempt for the Bush administration’s doctrine of “preemptive war” and “regime change.” He castigated his fellow lawmakers for swiftly delegating to the president the decision to go to war.

On March 19, 2003, Mr. Byrd delivered the first of what became regular attacks on the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq. “Today I weep for my country,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor. “I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), minority leader of the Senate, said Mr. Byrd will be remembered for “his fighter’s spirit, his abiding faith, and for the many times he recalled the Senate to its purposes. Generations of Americans will read the masterful history of the Senate he leaves behind.”

Dour and aloof, a socially awkward outsider in the clubby confines of the Senate, Mr. Byrd relied not on personality but on dogged attention to detail to succeed on Capitol Hill.

“The more people in Washington questioned his skills, the harder he worked,” Lawrence J. Haas wrote in National Journal magazine in 1991. “The more they laughed behind his back — because of the pompadour he sported, or because of his halting speaking style — the more he dug in, determined to succeed.”

Mr. Byrd chaired the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District from 1961 to 1969 and took it upon himself to rid the majority-black city of ineligible welfare recipients.

Protesters picketed his McLean home and held anti-Byrd rallies in city parks. The Washington Afro-American newspaper proposed a “Negro boycott” of products manufactured in West Virginia. The Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, who in 1971 became the District’s first congressional representative, described Mr. Byrd as “a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde personality — his tongue was smoother than butter, but war was in his heart.”

“Some senators, in the course of their careers, make their reputations as authorities on the armed service, on taxation, on foreign relations, on housing, on science and technology, on medical care,” journalist and author Milton Viorst wrote in 1967 in Washingtonian magazine. “Sen. Robert C. Byrd has made his reputation as an authority on the mating habits of Washington’s underprivileged.”

Mr. Byrd drastically cut the welfare rolls, even as he supported a higher federal contribution to the city and championed public schools, playgrounds, swimming pools and libraries. He doubled the number of social workers and increased payments to foster parents.

In his 2005 memoir, “Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields,” he said his efforts directed at Washington were meant “toward supporting programs aimed at stabilizing community life in the city.”

In April 1968, when riots erupted on the streets of downtown Washington after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — a man who should be barred from the city, Mr. Byrd once insisted — the senator recommended calling up federal troops.

“If it requires the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, we should put the troublemakers in their places,” he said. Looters should be shot, “swiftly and mercilessly.”

Although he initially opposed District home rule, he eventually changed his mind. “In the years when I was looking at the District so closely, I realized that there was a lack of responsibility at the local government level,” he told The Washington Post in 1971.

Self-government, he came to believe, would “place the responsibility right where it ought to be, and there would be no further passing of the buck to Congress.”

Robert Carlyle Byrd was in fact born Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr. on Nov. 20, 1917, in North Wilkesboro, N.C. When his mother died in the influenza epidemic of 1918-19, his father sent the 10-month-old youngster to live with an aunt and uncle, Vlurma and Titus Dalton Byrd, in Stotesbury, a coal-mining community in the hills of West Virginia.

Despite living relatively close by, Mr. Byrd’s true father, who spent much of his time trying to build a perpetual motion machine, never made an effort to see his son, who was 16 before he learned his real name. He didn’t learn his real birth date until 1971, when an older brother told him. Mr. Byrd discovered he was nearly two months older than he thought.

As his foster father drifted from job to job, Mr. Byrd grew up in a succession of hardscrabble company towns. His first job was collecting garbage scraps for 10 or 12 hogs his “Pap” kept on coal company property between the railroad tracks and a creek.

He was the valedictorian of the 1934 graduating class of Stotesbury’s Mark Twain High School, but the Depression kept him out of college. He worked as a gas station attendant briefly and then in the produce department of a grocery store. In 1937, he married Erma Ora James. Both were 19 and had known each other since grade school.

She died after 68 years of marriage, while her husband was campaigning for reelection in 2006. Their two daughters, Mona Carol Fatemi of McLean and Marjorie Ellen Moore of Leesburg survive him, as do five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

As a young married man with two daughters, Mr. Byrd was eager to get ahead. He studied a meat cutter’s manual in his spare time and by the end of the 1930s was earning $85 a month as head butcher at a grocery store in Crab Orchard, W.Va. He kept the job for 12 years.

After working as a shipyard welder in Baltimore during World War II, he returned to West Virginia and opened a grocery store in Sophia. A born-again Christian, he taught an adult Bible class at Crab Orchard Baptist Church that grew from six people to 636 in a year. When the radio station in nearby Beckley began to broadcast his fiery fundamentalist lessons, he became a local celebrity.

In 1946, he ran for the West Virginia House of Delegates. He met nearly every voter in the district while campaigning alone throughout the little coal-mining towns and backwoods hollows. When he made public appearances, he laid out his positions on the issues and then took out his fiddle.

He read music and could play classical pieces, but on the campaign trail he played the mountain tunes his neighbors knew and loved, the same songs he had played for years at coal camp square dances and Saturday night frolics.

Because he didn’t know how to drive at the time, he’d have a miner ferry him around the district, and he’d invite the men to come out and sit in the car with him while he sawed away at “Ida Red,” “Old Joe Clark,” “Bile Them Cabbage Down” and other Appalachian tunes.

“The back seat of an automobile is a rather odd place to play a violin, considering the bowing room that is needed, but apparently Byrd could pull it off,” Sherrill wrote in the 1971 New York Times article.

Voters elected the 28-year-old grocer to the state House with an overwhelming majority. In 1950, he won a state Senate seat by a similar margin.

“I worked hard,” he wrote in his memoir. “I never spent time at after-hours joints around Charleston, as was the habit of some members of the legislature.”

In 1952, Mr. Byrd announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives from West Virginia’s 6th Congressional District. During the Democratic primary, his principal opponent revealed that Mr. Byrd had been a Klan member in 1942-43.

Mr. Byrd bought radio and television time to acknowledge his Klan affiliation, characterizing it as a “mistake of youth.” He apologized repeatedly over the years, describing it as “the greatest mistake of my life.”

However, at the time of his membership, he was apparently an enthusiastic participant. He once persuaded 150 of his neighbors to join — membership fee, $10; robe and hood, $3 — prompting the grand dragon of mid-Atlantic states, Joel L. Baskin of Arlington County, to drive to Crab Orchard to help Mr. Byrd organize a local chapter.

The fledgling congressional candidate won the 1952 primary, but shortly before the general election, his Republican opponent released a letter that Mr. Byrd had written to the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in 1946, three years after he had allegedly left the Klan.

In the letter, Mr. Byrd wrote, “The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia” and “in every state in the Union.”

The governor demanded that Mr. Byrd withdraw from the Democratic ticket, as did most of the state’s newspapers, but friends and neighbors donated 50 cents here and a dollar there so he could keep his campaign going. He won with 57.4 percent of the vote and was reelected by larger margins in 1954 and 1956.

With both of West Virginia’s Senate seats up for election in 1958, the 40-year-old congressman decided to make his move. Mr. Byrd lambasted President Dwight D. Eisenhower for his “lack of strong leadership” on foreign policy, his weak response to the Soviet scientific threat symbolized by the Sputnik satellite launch and his inability to stem the tide of recession.

Mr. Byrd won handily, even though the United Mine Workers initially opposed him and the coal companies worked to beat him.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Tex.), became Mr. Byrd’s mentor, rewarding the freshman with a seat on the Appropriations Committee. In the House, Mr. Byrd had voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first significant effort to guarantee voting rights since Reconstruction. He also voted, at Johnson’s behest, for the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which established federal inspection of local voter registration rolls. Eisenhower signed the bill into law.

But in 1961, when Johnson became vice president, Mr. Byrd allied himself with Richard B. Russell, the powerful Democratic senator from Georgia and architect of the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He joined Southern Democrats in opposition to the landmark legislation, which outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places and employment. Relying on licorice pellets and sips of milk for energy, Mr. Byrd filibustered for more than 14 hours in an effort to bury the legislation.

“Men are not created equal today, and they were not created equal in 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was written,” Mr. Byrd proclaimed during the filibuster. “Men and races of men differ in appearance, ways, physical power, mental capacity, creativity and vision.”

He opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and most of Johnson’s “war on poverty” programs. “We can take the people out of the slums, but we cannot take the slums out of the people,” he said. “Wherever some people go the slums will follow. People first have to clean up inside themselves.”

His detractors labeled him a racist hillbilly, but quietly over the years he worked to shed that image. When he arrived in the Senate in 1959, he had hired one of the Capitol’s first black congressional aides. When a vote on making King’s birthday a federal holiday came up on the floor of the Senate in 1983, Mr. Byrd told an aide, “I’m the only one who must vote for this bill.” In 2008, Mr. Byrd endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for president.

Known for his detailed knowledge of bills under consideration and his familiarity with the arcane rules of parliamentary procedure, Mr. Byrd was elected secretary of the Senate Democratic Conference in 1967.

Taking on tedious and seemingly insignificant tasks, paying close attention to minor legislative and scheduling details and making himself available virtually around the clock, he became what The Washington Post called “the indispensable man.”

In 1971, he ran for the position of Democratic whip and defeated the incumbent, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, at a time when the Massachusetts senator was distracted by a personal scandal. In 1969, Kennedy had driven a car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Mass., and a young female passenger drowned. Mr. Byrd relied on votes from Southern and border-state senators, including a deathbed proxy from his old mentor Russell.

When he became majority whip, Mr. Byrd was the third most conservative senator outside the South, but within weeks of assuming whip duties, his voting record began to moderate. Although he never relinquished his conservative, moralistic demeanor, he began to support most civil rights legislation, including the Equal Rights Amendment. He also continued to vote with Senate liberals on housing, unemployment benefits, Social Security and public works projects.

“A leadership role is different,” he said, “and one does represent a broader constituency.”

He was elected majority leader by acclamation in 1977, at a time of new legislative and investigative opportunities for the Democrats, thanks to the Watergate political scandal that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. Mr. Byrd had the legislative, leadership and management skills to take advantage.

Although he supported the legislative program of the new Democrat in the White House, Jimmy Carter, Mr. Byrd and Carter occasionally clashed. He chastised the president for failing to consult with Senate leadership on key appointments and legislative policies and refused to waste time on bills that, as far as he was concerned, had little chance of passing.

He used his legislative skills to save Carter’s foreign policy initiatives from certain defeat. He broadened support for the administration’s proposal to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea by introducing a compromise amendment that ensured congressional participation in the final plan. He also smoothed passage of the controversial Panama Canal treaties.

He continued as minority leader from 1981 to 1987 and served a second term as majority leader in 1987-88. “Once the Democrats lost their majority, they were looking for something else, someone who could put together an agenda and speak effectively for what they wanted to do,” said Mann of the Brookings Institution. “They didn’t want him [Byrd] being their public representative.”

In 1989, Mr. Byrd became chairman of the Appropriations Committee and soon proclaimed, “I want to be West Virginia’s billion-dollar industry.” He succeeded.

The economically distressed state became home to an FBI fingerprint center in Clarksburg, Treasury and IRS offices in Parkersburg, a Fish and Wildlife Service training center in Harpers Ferry, a federal prison in Beckley, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office in Martinsburg and a NASA research center in Wheeling. He made an unsuccessful effort to move the CIA to West Virginia.

West Virginia is dotted with more than 30 federal projects named after Mr. Byrd, including two Robert C. Byrd U.S. courthouses, four Robert C. Byrd stretches of roadway, a Robert C. Byrd Bridge, two Robert C. Byrd interchanges, a Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam project and the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.

Mr. Byrd was reelected in 2000 with 78 percent of the vote, compared with 20 percent for his closest rival, the largest margin in his long career.

“West Virginia has always had four friends,” he said that election night, “God Almighty, Sears Roebuck, Carter’s Liver Pills and Robert C. Byrd.”

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Photostream : G-20 Summit

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World leaders attend the opening Plenary Session at the G20 Summit in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, June 27, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, talks with President Barack Obama during a plenary session at the G20 Summit in Toronto, Ont. , on Sunday, June 27, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

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Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at the chair’s press conference at the end of the G-20 Summit on June 27, 2010 in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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US President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Toronto on June 27, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

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Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron answers a reporter’s question, during a news conference at the end of the G20 nations summit in Toronto, Canada, Sunday June 27, 2010. Wary of slamming on the stimulus brakes too quickly but shaken by the European debt crisis, world leaders pledged Sunday to slash government deficits in the most industrialized nations in half by 2013, with wiggle room to meet the goal. (Photo : Getty)

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Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron answers a reporter’s question, during a news conference at the end of the G20 nations summit in Toronto, Canada, Sunday June 27, 2010. Wary of slamming on the stimulus brakes too quickly but shaken by the European debt crisis, world leaders pledged Sunday to slash government deficits in the most industrialized nations in half by 2013, with wiggle room to meet the goal. (Photo : Getty)

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy gives a press conference at the end of the G20 summit on June 27, 2010 in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks during his final press conference at the conclusion of the G20 Summit Sunday, June 27, 2010, in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks during his closing press conference of the G20 Summit in Toronto Sunday, June 27, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

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Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan, center, attend a leaders opening session at the G20 Summit in Toronto, Canada, Sunday, June 27, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, center, addresses the opening plenary session of the G20 Summit in Toronto, Sunday June 27, 2010. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak sits at left and President Barack Obama of the United States listens at right. (Photo : Getty)

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White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, left, listens as U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, during the opening plenary session of the G20 Summit in Toronto Sunday, June 27, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

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U.S. President Barack Obama, secon from left, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, second from right, talk with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, right, and Michael Froman, left, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs, during the opening plenary session of the G20 Summit in Toronto Sunday, June 27, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as they attend the opening Plenary Session at the G20 Summit in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, June 27, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

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British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) and Australian Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan are seen at the opening plenary session of the G20 Summit in Toronto, Ontario, June 27, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

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G-20 leaders gather for the meeting’s official Family Photo during the G20 Summit Sunday, June 27, 2010, in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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TORONTO, ON – JUNE 27: Leaders from around the world pose for the G20 Summit ‘family photograph’ on June 27, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. The leaders in attendance include U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, South African President Jacob Zuma, Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Australian Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, International Labour Organization Director General Juan Somavia, World Bank President Robert Zoellick, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary General Angel Gurria, World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy and Financial Stability Board Chairperson Mario Draghi. (Photo : Getty)

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World leaders belonging to the G-20 as they pose for their ‘Family Photo’ June 27, 2010 in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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TORONTO, ON – JUNE 27: Leaders from around the world pose for the G20 Summit ‘family photograph’ on June 27, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. The leaders in attendance include U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, South African President Jacob Zuma, Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Australian Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, International Labour Organization Director General Juan Somavia, World Bank President Robert Zoellick, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary General Angel Gurria, World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy and Financial Stability Board Chairperson Mario Draghi. (Photo : Getty)

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TORONTO, ON – JUNE 27: (L-R) Chinese President Hu Jintao, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama join other world leaders for the G20 Summit ‘family photograph’ on June 27, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The leaders included the political heads of 20 nations and officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Council, the European Commission and other organizations. (Photo : Getty)

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) gestures as heads of states and governments and other dignitaries arrive for a family picture during the G20 summit on June 27, 2010 in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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TORONTO, ON – JUNE 27: U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wave as they pose with other world leaders for a group photo during the G8 summit June 27, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario Canada. (Photo : Getty)

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World leaders belonging to the G-20 as they pose for their ‘Family Photo’ June 27, 2010 in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, left, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev shake hands during the official family photo at the G20 Summit Sunday, June 27, 2010, in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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World leaders wave during a group photo at the G20 Summit in Toronto, Sunday, June 27, 2010. From left to right: bottom row, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President Hu Jintao of China, President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, President Barack Obama of the United States and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia; middle row, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero of Spain, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India; top row, Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy of the European Union, Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan of Australia, Prime Minister Naoto Kan of Japan, Minister of Finance Guido Mantega of Brazil, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso of the European Union,and World Bank President Robert Zoellick. (Photo : Getty)

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Leaders wave during a group photo at the G20 summit in Toronto June 27, 2010. Pictured bottom row, left to right: Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada; President Barack Obama of the United States; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia; President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. Middle row, left to right: President Jacob Zuma of South Africa; President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia; Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan of Australia; Prime Minister Naoto Kan of Japan; Minister of Finance Guido Mantega of Brazil; Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso of the European Union; World Bank President Robert Zoellick. (Photo : Getty)

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King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, left, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wave during the official family photo of the G20 Summit Sunday, June 27, 2010, in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, is joined by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, top right, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, left, and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during the official family photo at the G20 Summit Sunday, June 27, 2010, in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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Chinese President Hu Jintao,waves while posing with other world leaders during the official family photo at the G20 Summit Sunday, June 27, 2010, in Toronto. At left, is Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. From top left are Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero. (Photo : Getty)

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TORONTO, ON – JUNE 27: (L-R) Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende find their places with other leaders from around the world for the G20 Summit ‘family photograph’ on June 27, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. The leaders included the political heads of 20 nations and officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Council, the European Commission and other organizations. (Photo : Getty)

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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, center, joins Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika, left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, lower left, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon during the official family photo at the G20 Summit Sunday, June 27, 2010, in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy (C), Britain’s Prime minister David Cameron (R), Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L), Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Japanese Prime minister Naoto Kan (top R) leave after posing for a family picture during the G20 summit on June 27, 2010 in Toronto. (Photo : Getty)

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TORONTO, ON – JUNE 27: (L-R) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev find their places with other leaders from around the world for the G20 Summit ‘family photograph’ on June 27, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. The leaders included the political heads of 20 nations and officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Council, the European Commission and other organizations. (Photo : Getty)

US Army Chief Admiral Mullen : "I see the challenges from an Israeli perspective

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JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – JUNE 27: In this handout image provided by the U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv, U.S. Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen (L) meets with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Bark June 27, 2010 in Jerusalem, Israel.

June 28, 2010

(JERUSALEM POST) IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, met with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Military, Admiral Michael G. Mullen in Jerusalem on Sunday. The two of them held a private meeting, as well as a larger discussion with senior commanders of the General Staff.

The meetings focused on the cooperation between the two militaries and on mutual security challenges, according to IDF spokesperson.

At the end of the meetings, Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi commented that the two of them completed a professional conversation on a number of topics, mutual challenges and issues on the agenda.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak  greeted Mullen earlier on Sunday and expressed Israel’s gratitude for the US’ contribution to Middle Eastern and Israeli security.

“We are happy to welcome chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mullen to Israel for a brief work visit,” said Barak.

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US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen (L) & Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (R)  in Tel Aviv on June 27, 2010 (Photo IDF)

Photostream : IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi meets US Military Chief Admiral Mike Mullen

Barak continued, “We very much value his contribution to the security and stability of the region and his contribution to the close working relationship between the IDF and the defense establishment and US armed forces and the Pentagon. We are pleased to see him here as one who contributes much to the security of the entire region and to the security of the State of Israel.”

Admiral Mullen emphasized that he always extends his knowledge when visiting Israel. “I always try to see the threats and the challenges from an Israeli perspective,” he said, and added that while the interests at hand are specifically Israeli, they are also important for the United States in the area.

Sunday’s trip is Mullen’s fourth visit to Israel. Before his first visit in 2007, a chairman of the joint chiefs had not visited Israel in a decade.

Photostream : IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi meets US Army Chief Admiral Mullen

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Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (L) & US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen (R) in Tel Aviv on June 27, 2010 (Photo IDF)

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US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, left, shakes hand with Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, after their meeting in Tel Aviv, Sunday, June 27, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

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Israel Chief of Staff Genenral Gaby Ashkenazi (R) shakes hands with his US counterpart Admiral Mike Mullen during their meeting in Tel Aviv on June 27, 2010, which according to an Israeli military spokesman focused on ‘cooperation between the two armies and the challenges they have to face.’ (Photo : Getty)

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US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen (L) & Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (R)  in Tel Aviv on June 27, 2010 (Photo IDF)

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US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen (L) & Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (R)  in Tel Aviv on June 27, 2010 (Photo IDF)

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US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen (L) & Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (R)  in Tel Aviv on June 27, 2010 (Photo IDF)

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US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen (L) & Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (R)  in Tel Aviv on June 27, 2010 (Photo IDF)

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G20 to adopt debt targets proposed by Canada

Heads of state attend the first plenary session of the G20 summit on June 27, 2010 at the convention center in Toronto, Ontario. ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

June 27, 2010

TORONTO (THEWINDSORSTAR)  – Leaders of the G20 have agreed to a proposal Sunday from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to accept concrete targets on cutting their deficits and paying down debt, according to a summit communique obtained by Canwest News Service.

While police once again locked horns with protesters on the streets of Toronto, the prime minister was actively lobbying his fellow leaders to forge a consensus among nations with different economic outlooks on the best way to sustain the global recovery.

Canada has been pushing for G20 countries to cut their deficits in half by 2013, and at least stabilize their debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016. On Sunday afternoon, just hours before the summit was to end, a communique described as “99 per cent” complete suggested that Harper won the day.

According to the draft document obtained by Canwest News Service, countries agreed to implement “growth friendly fiscal consolidation plans.”

“Advanced economies have committed to fiscal plans that will at least halve deficits by 2013 and stabilize or reduce government debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016,” it said.

Beyond making that commitment to a benchmark, the nations are free to decide through their own policies about how to get there through a mixture of spending cuts or tax hikes.

“Recognizing the unique circumstances of Japan, we welcome the Japanese government’s fiscal consolidation plan announced recently with their growth strategy. Those with serious fiscal challenges need to accelerate the pace of consolidation. Fiscal consolidation plans will be credible, clearly communicated, differentiated to national circumstances and focused on measures to foster economic growth.”

The prime minister repeated his call for the G20 to adopt his proposed targets in his opening remarks as the summit’s plenary session on Sunday. Harper said the group needed to “act with the same unity of purpose, the same of urgency and the same commitment to the enlightened exercise of our national sovereignty, as we did in the depths of the crisis.”

“The recent skittishness of markets is telling us that they are awaiting our actions, actions that must be decisive, but also co-ordinated and balanced,” Harper said. “Here is the tightrope that we must walk to sustain recovery. It is imperative we follow through on existing stimulus plans, those to which we committed ourselves last year, but at the same time, advanced countries must send a clear message that as our stimulus plans expire, we will focus on getting our fiscal houses in order.”

But U.S. President Barack Obama, as well as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have warned that the global economic recovery could be imperiled if governments move too quickly to wind down the massive public spending programs they launched during the financial crisis.

Earlier Sunday, Harper’s chief spokesman admitted the negotiations on spending targets wouldn’t be easy.

“Nobody said that the task of G20 leaders agreeing to specific targets . . . is going to be easy. Nobody said that it also was going to be achieved,” Dimitri Soudas, Harper’s director of communications, told reporters in a briefing Sunday morning.

He noted it would be the first time that G20 leaders agree on quantifiable debt benchmarks with specific time frames since they met in Washington in fall 2008, at the peak of the financial crisis.

Harper estimated that co-ordinated action by the group could boost global output by a cumulative 6.5 per cent over the next five years, create 52 million new jobs and lift 90 million people out of poverty.

“But if we fail to take decisive, co-ordinated and balanced actions, a bleak scenario might emerge where millions of people could lose their jobs,” the prime minister said. “This is the responsibility we have, not only toward our constituents, but also toward all the citizens of the world. We must go on to lay the foundation for strong, sustainable and harmonious growth.

The leaders will also discuss the issue of how to “rebalance” the world economy so that countries with big trade surpluses, such as China, take steps to stimulate demand in their own countries. The United States, in particular, is expected to further press China to adopt a more flexible exchange rate.

Reforms to the global financial system will also be on the agenda. The European Union has been lobbying for the G20 to embrace a bank tax that would be used to fund any future bailouts, but Canada and other countries have argued that the way to prevent any further financial crises is to impose tougher capital and liquidity standards on banks.

Taking over as G20 summit host after the conclusion of the G8 summit on Saturday, Harper said a “sensible consensus” appeared to be emerging on both economic strategy and financial reforms.

Nonetheless, Harper acknowledged that there remain “tensions” within the group over how long governments should continue spending public funds to stimulate their economies.

“We all, I think, know what the critical issues are going forward,” said the prime minister.

“At the same time, we also know that there are tensions there that are real in terms of stimulus, in terms of effects on economic growth.”

At the height of the global financial crisis, the G20 demonstrated unprecedented co-operation on the need to lower interest rates and pump fiscal stimulus into the economy.

In turn, it supplanted the G8 as the premier political forum for dealing with economic matters. But as the crisis fades into the rear-view mirror, and as individual countries bounce back from the recession at different speeds, the group’s unity has begun to unravel.

Indeed, Canada’s belt-tightening message could yet be undermined by the United States, which is considering another round of stimulus spending to ensure it doesn’t fall back into recession.

Photostream : PM Cameron congratulates German Chancellor Angela Merkel

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Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (R) congratulates German Chancellor Angela Merkel after they watched the 2010 World Cup second round soccer match between Germany and England on television during a break in the G20 Summit in Toronto, Ontario, June 27, 2010.  (Photo : Getty)

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (R) watch the 2010 World Cup second round soccer match between Germany and England on television during a break in the G20 Summit in Toronto, Ontario, June 27, 2010.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (R) watch the 2010 World Cup second round soccer match between Germany and England on television during a break in the G20 Summit in Toronto, Ontario, June 27, 2010.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (R) watch the 2010 World Cup second round soccer match between Germany and England on television during a break in the G20 Summit in Toronto, Ontario, June 27, 2010.

Pope condemns Belgian police raids on Catholic church

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict called the Belgian police raids ‘surprising and deplorable’. Photograph: Alessandro Di Meo/EPA

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June 27, 2010

The Pope today criticised raids on the Catholic church by Belgian police investigating sex abuse claims.

Pope Benedict described the raids as “surprising and deplorable” and demanded that the church be allowed a role in investigating abusers in its ranks.

Last week, police raided the home of a retired bishop, opened the grave of at least one archbishop and detained Belgium‘s nine current serving bishops as they met, seizing their mobile phones and only releasing them after nine hours.

In a message to the head of the Belgian bishops’ conference, Monsignor Andre-Joseph Leonard, Benedict condemned the raids and offered his support to the bishops “in this sad moment”.

The Vatican has also protested to Belgium’s ambassador to the Holy See.Yesterday, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, said: “There are no precedents for this, not even under communist regimes.”

As cases of abuse by priests have emerged throughout Europe this year, the Belgian church has apologised for failing to root out abusers in the past and promised to crack down.

On Friday, Benedict appointed Monsignor Jozef De Kesel as the new bishop of Bruges to replace 73-year-old Roger Vangheluwe, 73, who admitted abusing a boy and resigned in April. He was the first European bishop to step down after confessing to abuse.

As part of their investigation into recent claims of abuse, police last week drilled into the tombs of two archbishops at the Cathedral of Mechelen, north of Brussels, using cameras to look for hidden documents, a church official said. Investigators said only one tomb had been opened.

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard condemned the raid as being inspired by “crime novels and the Da Vinci Code”.

Police also took documents and a computer from the home of former archbishop Godfried Danneels, Leonard’s predecessor, and seized documents from an independent panel investigating around 500 cases of suspected abuse by priests.

After initially treating the abuse revelations emerging in Europe as a plot to discredit the church, Vatican officials have increasingly admitted the need for it to cooperate more closely with the civil authorities.

But in his reaction to the Belgian raids, Benedict stressed that abuse within the church needed to be handled by both civil and canon law, “respecting their reciprocal specificity and autonomy”.

Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, went further, claiming the police investigation went “beyond the legitimate requirements of justice” and was the sign of a secular government’s “desire to attack the church in its entirety” by a secular government.