New figures put deficit sinner Paris on crash course with Berlin, Brussels
It’s a showdown that has been coming for a while.
The French government Wednesday set out new budget plans for the next three years, baldly stating that its deficit will be a lot wider over the period than it promised its Eurozone partners.
At a news conference in Paris, Finance Minister Michel Sapin said the gap between public revenue and spending would widen to 4.4% of gross domestic product this year from 4.3% last year due to an unexpected slowdown in growth. It will fall back to 4.3% of GDP next year, but only fall under the E.U.’s cap of 3% in 2017–two years later than currently planned.
The figures set the scene for heated discussions in Brussels with the rest of the Eurozone, as the currency bloc’s second-largest economy once again relies on its political clout to defy rules on borrowing that are supposed to be binding on all. (Incoming Eurocrat-in-chief Jean-Claude Juncker is already trying to limit the ability of the Pierre Moscovici, the new economic and financial affairs commissioner, to police those rules, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.)
But specifically, it sets up a fresh clash with Germany, whose insistence on sustainable public finances has stamped Eurozone policy since the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis exploded in Greece in 2010. France has already had to negotiate two extensions to an original agreement to bring the deficit down to 3% of GDP by 2014. Under the new plans, it will have a larger budget shortfall next year than either Greece or Portugal.
“We are committed to being serious about the budget, but we refuse austerity,” Sapin told a news conference in Paris Wednesday.
Sapin has attempted to mollify Berlin and Brussels by committing to €21 billion ($26.5 billion) of government spending cuts next year, and a total of €50 billion over the next three years. Government spending accounts for over 56% of GDP, the highest in the E.U., while its public debt, at over €2 trillion, is now expected to peak at over 96% of GDP. That’s up from only 64% in 2007.
But Sapin said it would be wrong to cut spending by more because it would weaken the economy further. Any further cuts would also be hugely unpopular with the disaffected left wing of President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party, risking a revolt by backbench lawmakers. The Socialists already lost control of the upper house, or Senate, to the center-right opposition at elections last weekend, and Hollande’s current approval ratings, at 13%, are the lowest for any serving French president since World War II.
The French economy hasn’t grown since the end of last year, and survey data suggest it contracted in the third quarter as the fall-out from the Ukraine crisis hit business and consumer confidence across Europe.
The research firm Markit said elsewhere Wednesday thatthe Eurozone economy pretty much stagnated in September, revising down its purchasing managers’ index to 50.3 from an initial reading of 50.5.
However, the economy may get some support in the last three months of the year from one corner that has been a major bugbear for Paris in recent years–the foreign exchange markets. French officials have railed all year that the euro was too strong for the health of the Eurozone, but it has slid sharply against the dollar in the last month and hit another new two-year low of $1.26 Wednesday in response to the Markit survey.
“Now the Americans know Ebola can go there, maybe they will send more doctors to Liberia”
The news that a man who recently traveled from Liberia to Dallas has been diagnosed with Ebola, the first diagnosis on American soil, was met with mixed reaction Wednesday in one of the West African countries struggling to contain the deadly disease.
Government officials in the capital Monrovia said they have no knowledge of the man’s identity, and have privately expressed frustration that the United States, citing patient confidentiality laws, has not revealed his name or even his nationality. Liberians, ever sensitive to the stigma of Ebola, repeatedly point out that just because the man departed from the capital’s international airport on Sept. 19, it does not necessarily mean he is, in fact, Liberian.
That frustration is reflected on the country’s lively call-in radio talk show. Callers want to be able to identify the man, and pinpoint his nationality, because they say they want to “clear Liberia’s name.” Liberians feel they have been unfairly identified with the Ebola outbreak, which, many point out, started in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone, even if Liberia now has the majority of cases. Other call-in guests are taking a longer view, expressing hopes that the case, which is already getting around the clock U.S. media attention, may elicit further American support for the Ebola effort in Liberia.
“Now the Americans know Ebola can go there, maybe they will send more doctors to Liberia,” one caller said. Another brought up the case of American-Liberian Patrick Sawyer, who caught Ebola while working in Liberia, and took it to Lagos, Nigeria, on July 20. He died five days later, unleashing a chain of transmission that ultimately infected 20 and killed eight. Nigerian officials are now saying that the outbreak has been contained. Like the Sawyer case, the caller said, this just further “proves to the world that Ebola is real, and a global threat.” The host agreed. “It is good,” he said, that the patient was getting good treatment in Dallas. It was also good, he added, that Americans can now see the reality of Ebola for themselves: “This will raise international attention, this will let Americans know that Ebola is real.”
Headquarters unit from the storied division to coordinate U.S. efforts to tackle the disease
While the U.S. military has dispatched some 1,600 troops to Iraq in recent weeks to deal with the threats posed by Islamic militants there, it apparently was saving its big guns for a more insidious threat: the Ebola virus.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced it will soon have about 1,600 troops in western Africa dealing with the spreading scourge—and that nearly half of them will come from the Army’s storied 101st Airborne Division.
“It’s not an armed threat,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said of the Ebola virus Tuesday. But “just like any other threat, we take it very, very seriously.” While U.S. troops will not be tending to those infected with the disease, he said, they will be “trained on personal protective equipment and on the disease itself…we’ll make sure that they’ve got the protection that they need.”
Like the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the battle against Ebola is open-ended, Kirby said. He announced that a 700-strong headquarters unit from the 101st would head to Liberia by the month’s end to help coordinate the response to the epidemic. The virus has so far killed over 1,800 in Liberia, the country worst affected by the outbreak.
A second group of 700 engineering troops are headed there to build treatment units to treat the infected, he said. Nearly 200 U.S. troops are already in West Africa dealing with the threat.
“These deployments are part of a whole-of-government response to the Ebola outbreak,” Kirby said. “The U.S. military is not in the lead, but we are fully prepared to contribute our unique capabilities.”
Last week, 15 Navy Seabees—the service’s construction arm—arrived in the Liberian capital of Monrovia to begin help building treatment and training centers. “We’re establishing command and control nodes, logistics hubs, training for health care workers, and providing engineering support,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. “The protection of our men and women is my priority as we seek to help those in Africa and work together to stem the tide of this crisis.”
The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the number of Ebola patients in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had topped 6,500, with nearly half of them dying from the disease.
It was only two weeks ago that President Obama declared the U.S. would dispatch 3,000 troops to battle Ebola. “If the outbreak is not stopped now,” he warned, “we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us.”
On Tuesday, in another echo of the fight against ISIS, Kirby said that might not prove sufficient. “They’ll come in waves,” he said of U.S. troops deployments. “It could go higher than 3,000 troops eventually.”
FireChat connects directly to other protesters' phones, building a massive network
If you’ve ever been crammed into a stadium alongside thousands of screaming football or music fans, you already know what the tens of thousands of demonstrators pouring into Hong Kong’s this week are learning: When you pack that many people into a tiny area, your phone’s Internet grinds to a halt.
Smartphones should make it easier to organize protests, but they’re as good as bricks when cell towers get overloaded with traffic or when governments decide to flip the switch. Hong Kong has seen both of these happen: Thousands of people on the street means mobile Internet is useless in packed areas, while Chinese authorities are blocking Instagram on the mainland, favored by Chinese dissidents because it was one of the few social networks not blocked in the country.
In the face of these hangups, Hong Kong’s demonstrators have turned to FireChat, a smartphone app that allows users to communicate even when they can’t get online or send texts. Unlike chat programs that work over the Internet, FireChat connects directly to other nearby users within up to about 250 feet. More people in range can then join the chat, extending the network even further. Pretty soon you can get up to a few thousand people chatting away, all without anybody connected to the Internet.
FireChat is based on mesh networking, in which every device on a network works as a node for expanding that network. The idea’s been around for decades, now popular as a way to communicate during disasters like hurricanes. But Hong Kong shows it’s useful during civil disobedience, too. Some 200,000 people there downloaded the app between Sunday and Tuesday, said Micha Benoliel, CEO of Open Garden, the company behind FireChat, sending it skyrocketing to the top of the region’s app store charts.
Speaking from Hong Kong, Benoliel told TIME FireChat’s sudden popularity there isn’t a “complete surprise” because it was also popular with Taiwanese protesters last March. It’s also the latest in a long line of technologies that helped fuel wide-scale protests. Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution was dubbed the “Twitter Revolution” thanks to protesters’ penchant for organizing via Twitter, likewise 2011’s Occupy Wall Street was a hashtag before it was a street protest. Facebook and YouTube, meanwhile, have brought us to the front lines of the Arab Spring and Syria’s long-fought civil war, even being used as recruiting tools by anti-government rebels and jihadi groups. Where Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all fall short, however, lies in their need for an Internet connection to work — not the case for FireChat.
Still, FireChat isn’t perfect for protesters. The chat rooms are open, making it easy for a first-timer to join — but that first-timer could also be a local authority poking around at the goings-on. However, Benoliel said the company is working on protester-minded updates like private messaging and encryption, as Open Garden advocates for “freedom of speech and access to information.”
“If this application can help in this way, it’s very aligned with the mission of the company,” Benoliel said. “[FireChat] hasn’t been built for that purpose, but if it can help people in that situation, we are very supportive of what’s happening here in Hong Kong.”
TIME's Africa bureau chief talks about the situation in West Africa+ READ ARTICLE
Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, is the epicenter of an Ebola outbreak that has killed nearly 3,000 people in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
TIME’s Africa bureau chief, Aryn Baker, is on the ground in the West African city. She has reported on musicians who educate crowds on the infectious disease, the stigma dead body management teams face, the United States’ responsibility to assist Liberia, among other stories.
In the video above, Baker discusses everyday life in the densely packed seaside city of Monrovia, where the stench of chlorine and the sight of thermometers and rubber boots have become commonplace as locals attempt to stem the Ebola outbreak.
New plan intended to reduce the number of unaccompanied Central American children attempting to cross U.S.-Mexico border
Several thousand young Central American children will now be able to apply for refugee status in the United States, White House officials said Tuesday, after President Obama approved a plan that provides a legal path for some to join their parents north of the border.
The new program is aimed at tackling a surge of immigrant children fleeing gang violence and rape in Central America which rose to crisis levels over the summer, by giving them a way to qualify for refugee status before they begin traveling north, the New York Times reports.
More than 3,000 children crossed the Mexico-U.S. border in August, down from 10,000 in July. Officials said the new plan will further help stem the flow of immigrants by providing a legal avenue to a visa.
Critics say that many more people will apply for refugee status if they can simply do it from their home countries. But the White House emphasized it is not encouraging more immigration, and that the number of total visas granted to refugees would remain constant.
“We are establishing in-country refugee processing to provide a safe, legal and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that children are currently undertaking to join relatives in the United States,” said Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the White House.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet for the first time since a rash of civilian casualties during Israel’s summer war with Hamas heightened tensions between two leaders who have long had a prickly relationship.
Much of Wednesday’s Oval Office discussion is expected to focus on another delicate issue: U.S.-led nuclear talks with Iran. With a deadline for reaching a final agreement less than two months away, all sides say significant gaps remain.
Netanyahu has long cautioned the U.S. and the international community that Iran is barreling toward a bomb and using diplomatic openings as a stalling tactic. The Islamic republic contends its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The Israeli leader arrives in Washington following meetings at the United Nations, where he delivered a blistering speech accusing Hamas of committing war crimes by using Palestinian civilians as human shields during the 50-day Gaza war that ended Aug. 26. His speech was a response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ assertion that Israel had carried out a “war of genocide” during the Gaza fighting.
Israel launched thousands of airstrikes against what it said were Hamas-linked targets in the dense Gaza Strip, resulting in more than 2,100 Palestinian deaths, the vast majority civilians, according to the United Nations. More than 70 Israelis were also killed.
The civilian death toll in Gaza deeply frustrated U.S. officials and resulted in more biting public condemnations of Israel’s actions than are typical from the Obama administration.
In his speech to the U.N., Netanyahu sought to equate Hamas with the violent Islamic State militants the U.S. is seeking to degrade in Iraq and Syria.
“ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree,” he said, referring to the Islamic State group by one of its acronyms. He added, “When it comes to its ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS, and ISIS is Hamas.”
Obama and Netanyahu last met in March while the Israelis and Palestinians were still engaged in a U.S.-mediated peace process. The discussions collapsed without a peace accord.
Both Netanyahu and Abbas appear to have abandoned any hope of reviving peace talks, though each is pressing separate diplomatic initiatives. Netanyahu has called for bringing an alliance of moderate Arab states into the peace process, while Abbas has said he’ll appeal to the U.N. Security Council to back Palestinian independence.
Wednesday's attacks involved two suicide bombers targeting buses carrying Afghan troops in the country's capital
(KABUL, AFGHANISTAN) — Taliban suicide bombers struck two buses carrying Afghan soldiers in Kabul early Wednesday, killing seven people and wounding 21, just a day after the signing of a key U.S.-Afghan security pact.
The long-awaited deal allows U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of 2014, ending the uncertainty over the fate of foreign troops supporting Afghans as they take over the fight against the Taliban insurgency.
Wednesday’s attacks involved two suicide bombers targeting buses carrying Afghan troops in the country’s capital.
The first attacker hit a bus with Afghan National Army officers in west Kabul, killing seven and wounding 15, said the city’s criminal investigation police chief Mohammad Farid Afzali.
The second attacker, who was also on foot, blew himself up in front of a bus in northeastern Kabul, wounding at least six army personnel, Afzali said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying the security pact with America has only motivated the group and given the Taliban “more morale” to fight the enemy.
“They need to give more sacrifices to make their homeland free,” Mujahid said, referring to Taliban fighters.
In a separate statement to media, the Taliban denounced the Bilateral Security Agreement as an “American plot” and said that “such fake documents will never hold back the lawful jihad,” or holy war.
In Kabul, dozens of Afghan security forces sealed off the attack sites, littered with broken glass, as military ambulances took the victims to hospital. Worried Afghans passed by, on their way to work.
Under the security pact, along with a separate deal signed with NATO, about 10,000 American troops and several thousand more from other NATO countries will stay to train and advise Afghan forces after the international combat mission ends on Dec. 31.
More than a decade after U.S. forces helped topple the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Afghanistan is still at war with the Islamic militant group, which regularly carries out attacks, mainly targeting security forces.
There are also serious questions about the ability of the Afghan security forces to take on the militants, even with a residual U.S. force remaining in the country.
In other violence, two police officers were killed when a suicide bomber targeted a police vehicle late Tuesday in Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province. Five policemen were also wounded in the attack, Omar Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor said Wednesday.
The U.S.-Afghan pact was long in the making. U.S. officials had first warned their Afghan counterparts that if the security accord was not signed by the end of 2013, the Pentagon would have to start planning for a full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
But when the year ended, the White House moved back the deadline, saying then-President Hamid Karzai needed to sign off within weeks. Karzai surprised U.S. officials by ultimately saying he would not sign the accord and would instead leave that task for his successor.
But the results of the race to replace Karzai took months resolve, finally coming to a conclusion on Monday with the swearing in of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as Afghanistan’s second elected president.
Ghani Ahmadzai signed the security agreement Tuesday, nearly one year after the White House’s initial deadline.