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Monthly Archives: June 2010

Republicans bring up Kagan’s record on military

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AP

June 29, 2010

WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans and Solicitor General Elena Kagan are facing off over whether her objection to the military’s ban on openly gay soldiers and her decision to restrict recruiters at Harvard Law School disqualify her from serving on the Supreme Court.

Just minutes into Kagan’s confirmation hearing Monday, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions charged she had “kicked the military out of the recruiting office” at Harvard, “in violation of federal law.”

“Her actions punished the military and demeaned our soldiers as they were courageously fighting two wars overseas,” Sessions said. “I can’t take this issue lightly.”

The recruitment matter is one of the few points on her resume that Republicans have been able to use against her. Her policies and writings on the issue call up broader themes of patriotism and equal rights, both emotional topics at a time when the nation is at war and both parties are gearing up for the midterm elections. In some measure, the November balloting will be a referendum on her patron, President Barack Obama.

At the very heart of Kagan’s decision at Harvard is an even more sensitive topic — her opposition to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on openly gay soldiers.

Republicans contend that Harvard was the wrong venue for Kagan’s “personal political grievance” and that briefly restricting the recruiters on campus broke the law. They conclude with questions about whether Kagan is anti-military and unfit to make impartial decisions on the high court.

Republicans have a tough case to make.

Judging by her own words, Kagan held the military in high regard and stories abound of her praising and thanking veterans on campus. She did call the policy toward gays “repugnant,” but when court rulings went back and forth on the matter, she complied.

In a widely circulated 2003 memo, Kagan blasted “don’t ask, don’t tell” as “a moral injustice of the first order.” She was explaining to students and faculty that under a federal law known as the Solomon Amendment, the university risked jeopardizing hundreds of millions of federal dollars unless the school allowed military recruiters on campus.

The following year, a federal appeals court struck down the Solomon Amendment as unconstitutional and Kagan re-imposed a restriction on recruiters.

But she wasn’t the first at Harvard to take a stand against a military policy. The Solomon Amendment was passed by Congress two decades after Harvard first banned military recruiters over the issue of discrimination against gays. Afterward, military recruiters were still allowed to recruit students on campus through the Harvard Law School Veterans Association, a student group.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Republicans in Congress said military recruiters should not be hampered in wartime. The Bush administration threatened to cut off funding, and in 2002 Harvard Law School relented and allowed military recruiters to use a campus office.

Kagan continued that policy when she became dean in 2003. Meanwhile, three dozen law schools challenged the Solomon Amendment in federal court. Harvard declined to join the lawsuit but filed a brief siding with the schools.

In 2004, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the Solomon Amendment unconstitutional, and Kagan banned military recruiters from using the campus career office, allowing them to work instead through the veterans group.

When Republicans in Congress renewed the threat of a funding cutoff, she relented and allowed the recruiters to use the career placement office. In 2006, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower court’s ruling and found it constitutional to deny funding to schools that restrict military recruiting.

Republicans note that the 3rd Circuit, seated in Philadelphia, had no jurisdiction over Harvard’s policies and contend Kagan was bound by the Solomon Amendment throughout her time at Harvard.

“Her tenure … was marred, in my view, by her decision to punish the military and would-be recruits for a policy — ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and the Solomon Amendment — that was enacted by members of Congress and signed into law by President Clinton,” said Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Sessions noted that Kagan apparently never brought up her problems with “don’t ask, don’t tell” while she worked in the Clinton administration.

“Instead, she went to Harvard and stood in the way of devoted, hardworking military recruiters, punishing them to air her personal political grievance in which they had no part,” Sessions’ office said in a statement.

Britain Coalition Cabinet’s first meeting

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(File) : LONDON – JUNE 21: (left to right) Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg attend a meeting at 10 Downing Street ahead of the coalition government’s first budget tomorrow, on June 21, 2010 in Westminster, London.

June 29, 2010

(TELEGRAPH & ARGUS) The Cabinet is in Bradford today for the first meeting of the new coalition outside of London.

Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet will later tour the region which was chosen because of its industrial heartlands.

Local Government Minister Eric Pickles, a former Bradford Council leader, said too much wealth and prosperity has been focused on the south and other parts of the country have been neglected and left behind.

For every private sector job created in the North and Midlands, ten were created in the South, he said.

Speaking to the Telegraph & Argus, Mr Pickles said: “Today I am attending the Coalition Cabinet’s first meeting outside London to discuss how we can reopen Britain for business. “As a home town lad and former councillor in Bradford I know its local jobs that matter most. Every corner of Britain is just as important as London and the South East.”

The cabinet will discuss ways of using local knowledge to develop local enterprise, support local business and promote prosperity.

Mr Pickles said: “That’s a far more effective and sustainable way of promoting national economic growth than by Government prescription.”

He added: “This focus on private enterprise will particularly help places that have been dependent on the public sector for too long. Bradford needs that new approach now. The numbers claiming job seekers allowance in the area has gone up by almost two per cent since 2008 and it employs a higher percentage of public sector workers than Yorkshire or England.

“That is why things like super-fast broadband for Low Moor are so important for Bradford jobs and Bradford’s economy.”

Abolishing Yorkshire Forward will also spell an end to quangos ‘second-guessing’ the needs of local businesses, instead allowing a new partnership of leaders and business to work together to create a more flexible economic development that works for Bradford, Mr Pickles said.

The Cabinet will also unveil a regional growth fund to finance projects as part of a move intended to rebalance the economy and support regions like Bradford.

PM Netanyahu : My heart is with Shalit, family.

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PM Netanyahu’s Remarks at the Start of the Weekly Cabinet Meeting

June 27, 2010

“Friday marked the fourth anniversary of the abduction of Gilad Shalit.  The Government and the security services are continuing to make constant and varied – open and secret – efforts to bring Gilad Shalit back home safe and sound.

This morning, I phoned Gilad’s father Noam.  I invited him to meet with me, along with the rest of his family, immediately after the march reaches Jerusalem.  I told him, “I know Noam that you are on a long journey, which will end in Jerusalem.  I want to see you. I would be glad to meet with you.”  This will not be the first meeting.  Of course, I have spoken with him many times.  Recently, I also spoke with Gilad’s very impressive grandfather, Tzvi Shalit.

Our heart is with Gilad and with his family.  Four years after his abduction, I call on the international community to line up alongside the State of Israel and our unequivocal and just demand that our abducted soldier be returned immediately.”

PM Netanyahu : My heart is with Shalit, family.

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PM Netanyahu’s Remarks at the Start of the Weekly Cabinet Meeting

June 27, 2010

“Friday marked the fourth anniversary of the abduction of Gilad Shalit.  The Government and the security services are continuing to make constant and varied – open and secret – efforts to bring Gilad Shalit back home safe and sound.

This morning, I phoned Gilad’s father Noam.  I invited him to meet with me, along with the rest of his family, immediately after the march reaches Jerusalem.  I told him, “I know Noam that you are on a long journey, which will end in Jerusalem.  I want to see you. I would be glad to meet with you.”  This will not be the first meeting.  Of course, I have spoken with him many times.  Recently, I also spoke with Gilad’s very impressive grandfather, Tzvi Shalit.

Our heart is with Gilad and with his family.  Four years after his abduction, I call on the international community to line up alongside the State of Israel and our unequivocal and just demand that our abducted soldier be returned immediately.”

Photostream : Britain’s PM Cameron meets India’s Trade Minister Anand Sharma

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (R) speaks to India’s Trade Minister Anand Sharma during their meeting at number 10 Downing Street in London June 28, 2010.  (Photo : Getty)

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (R) speaks to India’s Trade Minister Anand Sharma during their meeting at number 10 Downing Street in London June 28, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

Reports: Kim’s youngest son is NKorea legislator

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An undated picture is believed to show North Korean leader’s son Kim Jong-Un in Berne.

AP

June 29, 2010

SEOUL, South Korea – The youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il clandestinely became a parliament member last year, another sign he is being groomed to succeed his father, South Korean news reports said Tuesday.

South Korea’s main spy agency, however, quickly cast doubt on the reports.

It is widely believed that the 68-year-old Kim plans to hand power at some point to third son Kim Jong Un, though little is known about him. Speculation about the North’s succession plans has intensified since the senior Kim reportedly had a stroke in 2008.

He has led North Korea since 1994 upon his father’s death in a hereditary succession that was in the works for years and was the first in the communist world.

Kim Jong Un reportedly ran for a parliamentary seat in elections in March last year that were closely watched for any signs of a power shift in the secretive North. His name, however, was not on the list of Supreme People’s Assembly legislators, sparking speculation he may not have run or used an alias.

On Tuesday, the mass-circulation Dong-a Ilbo newspaper quoted a high-level Western source knowledgeable about the North as saying that Kim Jong Un was elected in the rubber-stamp legislature’s Constituency No. 216. The source, who was not otherwise identified, said he obtained the information from unidentified North Koreans about two months after the vote, according to the newspaper.

Another national daily — the JoongAng Ilbo — carried a similar report, saying the comments would confirm that Kim has formally entered government service after being tapped as the North’s next leader.

A spokesman at South Korea’s main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said his organization believes there is a low probability the younger Kim became a member of parliament. The spokesman declined to elaborate on the agency’s opinion. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing agency policy.

JoongAng Ilbo also said the constituency No. 216 has a special meaning in North Korea as Kim Jong Il’s birthday falls on Feb. 16. It said the Western source spoke during a meeting Monday with journalists in Seoul.

The source said the North appeared to have deliberately hid the son’s election, according to Dong-a Ilbo.

The list of North Korea’s 687 parliamentary members that state media released after the elections included the name of Kim Jong but it was not officially confirmed whether the person is the son using an alias, the paper said.

Not much information is available about Kim Jong Un, including his exact age, though experts say he is in his mid-20s and is reported to have studied in Switzerland. Kim Jong Il’s former sushi chef said in a 2003 memoir the son looks and acts just like his father and is the leader’s favorite.

Other newspapers as well as Yonhap news agency and YTN television carried similar reports. They highlight the intense interest in South Korea in the succession.

North Korean leaders hold absolute power in the impoverished country, which has active nuclear and missile programs and regularly threatens to destroy rival South Korea.

National Intelligence Service chief Won Sei-hoon told legislators last week that North Korea has launched a propaganda campaign aimed at making its 24 million people adore Kim Jong Un, such as releasing songs and poems praising him, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting.

On Saturday, North Korea said it will hold a rare Workers’ Party conference in September to choose new top leaders, a move experts say may be aimed at giving Kim Jong Un a top party job.

Tension has been high on the Korean peninsula over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March that the South blames on Pyongyang. Seoul has asked the U.N. Security Council to punish Pyongyang, which flatly denies it launched any attack and warns any punishment would trigger war.

General McChrystal to retire after Afghanistan firing

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June 29, 2010

General Stanley McChrystal is retiring from the US Army after his removal last week as the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal reported on its website early on Tuesday.

The newspaper cited Army spokesman Colonel Thomas Collins as saying that McChrystal has not yet filed paperwork but had informed personnel officials of his decision after 34 years in uniform.

US President Barack Obama relieved McChrystal of command in Afghanistan over a magazine article that portrayed the general, considered an expert in counterinsurgency operations, as dismissive of senior US officials’ concerns about the ongoing war effort.

McChrystal’s resignation was accepted on Wednesday, after he met at the White House with Obama.

Photostream : Secretary Clinton and her smile …

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In this Thursday, June 24, 2010, photo Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, shakes hands with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.  (Photo : Getty)

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, second from right, hosts a working lunch for her counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, second from left, and members of the visiting Russian delegation, Thursday, June 24, 2010. at Blair House in Washington.  (Photo : Getty)

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi walk to their podiums at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, June 24, 2010.  (Photo : Getty)

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton shares a laugh with Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, June 24, 2010.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak arrive before their meeting at the State Department in Washington June 23, 2010.  (Photo : Getty)

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak face reporters before their meeting at the State Department in Washington June 23, 2010.  (Photo : Getty)

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak before their meeting at the State Department in Washington June 23, 2010. (Photo : Getty)

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak shake hands at a photo opportunity June 23, 201 at the State Department in Washington, DC.  (Photo : Getty)

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WASHINGTON – JUNE 23: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walks into the White House on June 23, 2010 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he is replacing Gen. Stanley McChrystal as top commander of the U.S. Force in Afghanistan with Gen. David Petraeus, after an article quoting Gen. McChrystal disparaging the Obama Administration was published in Rolling Stone magazine.  (Photo : Getty)

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton greets Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee before delivering remarks at a luncheon for the U.S.-India CEO Forum, Tuesday, June 22, 2010. at the State Department in Washington.

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee arrive to deliver opening remarks at a luncheon for the U.S.-India CEO Forum, Tuesday, June 22, 2010. at the State Department in Washington. (Photo : Getty)

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers opening remarks at an event celebrating LGBT Pride Month, Tuesday, June 22, 2010, at the State Department in Washington.

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Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan (2nd R) tries to shake hands with US Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner (L) around Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd L) prior to a family photo with US and Chinese officials at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 24, 2010, during the start of the second round of the US-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue. The US and China opened two days of high-level talks due to cover a wide range of issues including tensions over the sinking of a South Korean warship, blamed on Pyongyang. (Photo : Getty)

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) walks with Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) (C) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) (R) as she arrives to testify at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 17, 2010.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (L) and Chelsea Clinton look on at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) September 25, 2009 in New York City. (Photo : Getty)

Israeli Flotilla Inquiry to Question PM Netanyahu

PM Benjamin Netanyahu

June 28. 2010

(VOA) The Israeli commission investigating last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla plans to summon Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to testify.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, who is leading the inquiry commission, said Monday Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will also be called to appear before the panel.

The group is investigating the events leading up to the deaths of eight Turks and one Turkish-American on a ship trying to break the three-year-old Gaza blockade.

The investigation commission, which began work Monday, includes two other Israelis — an international law expert and a former general.

Under international pressure, the Israeli government also included two foreign observers on the panel — David Trimble, a Nobel peace laureate and Northern Ireland politician, and Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, General Ken Watkin.

Trimble said all the panel members are determined to make the inquiry rigorous and hope it will contribute to peace.

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Gen. Ken Watkin, center, Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, and David Trimble, right, Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland arrive for the opening session of the Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will summon Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to testify, the chief investigator announced as the five-member panel began work Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, left, Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, and David Trimble, Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland and a member of the British House of Lords, attend the opening session of the Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will summon Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to testify, the chief investigator announced as the five-member panel began work Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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Retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel (L) and Major General in reserves Amos Horev attend the opening statement of a commission of inquiry into a deadly raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, in Jerusalem June 28, 2010. Israel’s prime minister and defence chief will be called to testify in an investigation into the raid, Turkel, the leader of the Israeli commission, said in an opening statement on Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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Retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel (2nd R), leader of an Israeli commission of inquiry into a deadly raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, observers Canadian jurist Ken Watkin (L) and Northern Ireland politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble (2nd L), International Law professor Shabtai Rosen (C) and Major General in reserve Amos Horev (R) attend the commission’s opening statement in Jerusalem June 28, 2010. Israel’s prime minister and defence chief will be called to testify in an investigation into the raid, the leader of the commission of inquiry said in the opening statement on Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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Northern Ireland politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble, an observer on an Israeli commission of inquiry into a deadly raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, listens during the commission’s opening statement in Jerusalem June 28, 2010. Israel’s prime minister and defence chief will be called to testify in an investigation into the raid, the leader of the commission of inquiry said in the opening statement on Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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David Trimble, Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland, listens during the opening session of the Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will summon the country’s prime minister to testify, the chief investigator announced as the five-member panel began work Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, left, Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, and David Trimble, Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland, take part at the opening session of the Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will summon the country’s prime minister to testify, the chief investigator announced as the five-member panel began work Monday. (Photo ; Getty)

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From left to right: Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, David Trimble, Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland and a member of the British House of Lords, and Shabtai Rosen, 93-year-old international jurist, arrive for the opening session of the Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will summon Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to testify, the chief investigator announced as the five-member panel began work Monday. (Photo : Getty)

Israeli Flotilla Inquiry to Question PM Netanyahu

PM Benjamin Netanyahu

June 28. 2010

(VOA) The Israeli commission investigating last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla plans to summon Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to testify.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, who is leading the inquiry commission, said Monday Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will also be called to appear before the panel.

The group is investigating the events leading up to the deaths of eight Turks and one Turkish-American on a ship trying to break the three-year-old Gaza blockade.

The investigation commission, which began work Monday, includes two other Israelis — an international law expert and a former general.

Under international pressure, the Israeli government also included two foreign observers on the panel — David Trimble, a Nobel peace laureate and Northern Ireland politician, and Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, General Ken Watkin.

Trimble said all the panel members are determined to make the inquiry rigorous and hope it will contribute to peace.

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Gen. Ken Watkin, center, Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, and David Trimble, right, Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland arrive for the opening session of the Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will summon Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to testify, the chief investigator announced as the five-member panel began work Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, left, Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, and David Trimble, Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland and a member of the British House of Lords, attend the opening session of the Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will summon Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to testify, the chief investigator announced as the five-member panel began work Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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Retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel (L) and Major General in reserves Amos Horev attend the opening statement of a commission of inquiry into a deadly raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, in Jerusalem June 28, 2010. Israel’s prime minister and defence chief will be called to testify in an investigation into the raid, Turkel, the leader of the Israeli commission, said in an opening statement on Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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Retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel (2nd R), leader of an Israeli commission of inquiry into a deadly raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, observers Canadian jurist Ken Watkin (L) and Northern Ireland politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble (2nd L), International Law professor Shabtai Rosen (C) and Major General in reserve Amos Horev (R) attend the commission’s opening statement in Jerusalem June 28, 2010. Israel’s prime minister and defence chief will be called to testify in an investigation into the raid, the leader of the commission of inquiry said in the opening statement on Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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Northern Ireland politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble, an observer on an Israeli commission of inquiry into a deadly raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, listens during the commission’s opening statement in Jerusalem June 28, 2010. Israel’s prime minister and defence chief will be called to testify in an investigation into the raid, the leader of the commission of inquiry said in the opening statement on Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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David Trimble, Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland, listens during the opening session of the Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will summon the country’s prime minister to testify, the chief investigator announced as the five-member panel began work Monday. (Photo : Getty)

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Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, left, Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, and David Trimble, Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland, take part at the opening session of the Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will summon the country’s prime minister to testify, the chief investigator announced as the five-member panel began work Monday. (Photo ; Getty)

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From left to right: Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, David Trimble, Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland and a member of the British House of Lords, and Shabtai Rosen, 93-year-old international jurist, arrive for the opening session of the Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will summon Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to testify, the chief investigator announced as the five-member panel began work Monday. (Photo : Getty)

Confirmation Hearings Open for Obama High Court Pick

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June 28, 2010

(VOA)  Senate confirmation hearings have begun for Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

With the bang of a gavel, Democratic Chairman Patrick Leahy opened confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee for Elena Kagan, the president’s pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Senator Leahy says Kagan is a trailblazer for women in the law and will bring unique qualities to the high court if confirmed.

“I believe we are a better country for the path of excellence Elena Kagan has taken in her career, a path now open to both men and women,” says Leahy.

Republicans question Kagan’s lack of experience as a judge.  They also are expected to grill the nominee about her judicial and political philosophy.

Senator Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says “It is not a coronation, as I have said, but a confirmation process.  Serious and substantive questions will be asked and Ms. Kagan will be given ample opportunity to respond.”

In prepared remarks for the committee, Kagan said the Supreme Court must ensure that government never violates the rights of individuals.  But she says the court also must recognize its own limits and respect the choices made by the American people.  Kagan now serves as the U.S. Solicitor General and argues the Obama administration’s views in Supreme Court cases.

Most legal and political experts predict Kagan will be confirmed by the Senate unless there are new, unexpected developments during the hearings.  President Obama wants Kagan confirmed in time to take her seat on the nine-member panel when the next Supreme Court term begins in October.

If confirmed, Kagan would become the third woman on the current court.

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.

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.