Enter your email address

TFI Daily News

World News for World Changers

Sep 1

Scientists say Southwestern U.S. now faces 50 percent chance of decades-long ‘megadrought’

Sarah Eberspacher, The Week, Aug. 29, 2014

Scientists warn in a new study that there is a 50 percent chance of a 30-year “megadrought” suffocating the Southwest, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The study from Cornell University, the University of Arizona and the U.S. Geological Survey will be published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate next month. Scientists used climate model projections to determine which areas the conditions would most affect (New Mexico, Arizona, and California appear to be the states most likely to suffer from extreme drought; Australia, southern Africa and parts of the Amazon could also face such harsh conditions). The resulting megadrought would produce conditions not seen since the 1930s Dust Bowl era, scientists say, and they cautioned governments to heed the findings and begin creating contingency plans in the event of shrinking water resources.

The study’s lead author noted that the projections are not certain, but that if climate change continues at its current rate, the drought affecting the Southwest could become much worse.

“I am not trying to say this is imminent,” Toby Ault, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell, said. “But the risk is high.”


Increasingly, Retirees Dump Their Possessions and Hit the Road

By David Wallis, NY Times, Aug. 29, 2014

SOME call themselves “senior gypsies.” Others prefer “international nomad.” David Law, 74, a retired executive recruiter who has primarily slept in tents in several countries in the last two years, likes the ring of “American Bedouin.”

They are American retirees who have downsized to the extreme, choosing a life of travel over a life of tending to possessions. And their numbers are rising.

Mr. Law and his wife, Bonnie Carleton, 69, who are selling their house in Santa Fe, N.M., spoke recently by phone from a campground in Stoupa, Greece, a village on the southern coast of the Peloponnese. He explained that they roam the world to “get the broadest and most radical experience that we can get.”

They recently decided to fold their tent. “Hey, we’re getting to be too old for this,” said Mr. Law about camping out. But they intend to continue what he termed their “endless holiday” in a more comfortable and spacious recreational vehicle.

Between 1993 and 2012, the percentage of all retirees traveling abroad rose to 13 percent from 9.7 percent, according to the Commerce Department.

About 360,000 Americans received Social Security benefits at foreign addresses in 2013, about 48 percent more than 10 years earlier. An informal survey of insurance brokers found greater demand by older clients for travel medical policies. (Medicare, with a few exceptions, does not cover expenses outside the United States). While many retirees ultimately return home or become expatriates, some live like vagabonds.

Lynne Martin, 73, a retired publicist and the author of “Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World,” is one. Three years ago, she and her husband, Tim, 68, sold their three-bedroom house in Paso Robles, Calif., gave away most of their possessions, found a home for their Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, and now live in short-term vacation rentals they usually find through HomeAway.com.

The Martins have not tapped their savings during their travels, alternating visits to expensive cities like London with more reasonable destinations like Lisbon. “We simply traded the money we were spending for overhead on a house and garden in California for a life in much smaller but comfortable HomeAway rentals in more interesting places,” Ms. Martin said by email from Paris.

On her blog, Barefoot Lovey, Stacy Monday, 50, a former paralegal and mediator who lived in Knoxville, Tenn., wrote: “I used to dream about all the places I would go as soon as I was old enough to get away. But then … life happened.” On May 1, 2010—like many itinerant baby boomers Ms. Monday can quickly recall the date her journey started—she embarked on her dream trip. She “crisscrossed the U.S. three times” and visited Mexico, Ireland, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain and many other countries.

“I sold everything I had,” Ms. Monday recalled earlier this summer from San Francisco before she headed to Las Vegas, Dallas, Memphis and Knoxville. “I paid off all of my debt. I have no bills and no money.” She estimates that she now spends $150 a month—sometimes less if she is saving up for a flight—and earns a modest income through “odds-and-ends jobs,” as well as the tip jar on her blog.

To stick to her tight budget, Ms. Monday volunteers for nonprofits and organic farms in exchange for room and board or finds free places to stay through Couchsurfing.org. The company puts its membership of people 50 and older at about 250,000.

Ms. Monday monitors ride-share boards at Couchsurfing and Craigslist for free or inexpensive transportation, and she travels light. “I get away with a couple pairs of jeans, a pair of shorts, a skirt and four or five shirts and a pair of pajamas,” she said.

When she answers the ubiquitous question, What do you do? Ms. Monday notices that most women respond with encouragement, while many men are less supportive. “They say: ‘You should be home. That’s not safe. You are old.’ I get that from a lot of the men,” she said.

Hal E. Hershfield, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of California, Los Angeles who studies the influence of time on consumer behavior, observes that many “pre-retirees” still assume retirement is a “decrepit, sitting on a porch, maybe playing golf, ice-tea type of life.”

But current retirees are “changing the way they think,” he said, “because they are still healthy and sort of young at heart.” In the last 50 years, retirement “wasn’t this period that we spent years and years in,” Mr. Hershfield continues. “It really, truly was the end of life.”

Galit Nimrod, a research fellow at the Center for Multidisciplinary Research in Aging at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, says an extended postretirement trip can assuage a sense of loss from ending a career. Travel can “act as a neutral, transitional zone between voluntary or imposed endings and new beginnings” and “serve as a healthy coping mechanism,” Dr. Nimrod said by email.

Gary D. Norton, 69, acknowledges that he felt “afraid of retirement” when he left his job of 34 years as a science professor at a South Dakota community college.

In 2002, he and his wife, Avis M. Norton, 67, a retired farmer, sold their house, bought an R.V. and started volunteering full time for two nonprofits: Nomads on a Mission Active in Divine Service, or Nomads, and RV Care-A-Vanners, an initiative of Habitat for Humanity.

The couple typically rebuilds houses damaged by natural disasters, projects that usually last several weeks. Mr. Norton, who now specializes in drywall finishing, and his wife, who studied carpentry, say they cherish the chance to give back to society while seeing the country. “Now what we’re doing is so satisfying and fulfilling, even though we have some health issues, we say we don’t want to quit,” said Mr. Norton, who estimated that he and his wife had repaired damaged homes in 28 states.

The chance to volunteer on international conservation projects and the opportunity to live like a local inspired Danila Mansfield, 58, and her husband, Chris Gill, 64, to sell their house in San Jose, Calif., last year. They got rid of nearly everything they owned—the exceptions being two suitcases, clothing and a pair of guitars (Mr. Gill’s prized Gibson ES-335 electric guitar is stowed at a friend’s house, but he totes around a travel guitar)—and do not even rent a storage space.

The purge of possessions was “a little nerve-racking” at first, but ultimately “hugely liberating,” said Ms. Mansfield, who is currently in South Africa. She and her husband plan to volunteer on game reserves to protect endangered species and then study great white sharks.

So far, their travels have surpassed expectations. They drove from San Jose to Florida over five months, before cruising to Europe. High points included meeting a judge at a bar in Amarillo, Tex., who invited them to visit his drug court, catching crawfish with locals in Louisiana’s bayou country and making new friends in Austin, Tex., who invited the couple to stay with them in South Africa.

But Ms. Mansfield has also hit bumps in the road. In Galveston, Tex., and New Orleans, an acute respiratory illness required three visits to urgent care centers. “It was really dragging me down,” she recalled. At one point she cried for home, but then managed to brighten her mood. “I kept telling myself, ‘This is home,’” Ms. Mansfield said. “Where I am is home.”


Obama refuses to reveal no-fly list criteria

Bonnie Kristian, The Week, Aug. 29, 2014

A federal judge in Virginia has ordered the federal government to reveal its logic for placing Americans who haven’t been convicted of any violent crimes on the no-fly list. The Obama administration is fighting the order, though a leaked document already indicates that it is not necessary to be suspected of terrorism to end up on the list.

In response to the lawsuit that produced this order, Attorney General Eric Holder has invoked the state secrets privilege to avoid complying with the judge’s request. Holder previously asserted the same privilege in regards to the placement of a Muslim student from Stanford University on the no-fly list last year. After seven years in court and nearly $4 million in legal fees, the student cleared her name when it was revealed that the “state secret” Holder was protecting was a clerical error on behalf of the FBI.


Tax forms could pose challenge for HealthCare.gov

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, AP, Aug 30, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP)—If you got health coverage through President Barack Obama’s law this year, you’ll need a new form from your insurance exchange before you can file your tax return next spring.

Some tax professionals are worried that federal and state insurance marketplaces won’t be able to get those forms out in time, creating the risk of delayed tax refunds for millions of consumers.

The same federal agency that had trouble launching HealthCare.gov last fall is facing the heaviest lift.

The Health and Human Services Department must send out millions of the forms, which are like W-2s for people getting tax credits to help pay health insurance premiums.

The form is called a 1095-A, and it lists who in each household has health coverage and how much the government paid each month to subsidize their premiums. Nearly 5 million people have gotten subsidies through HealthCare.gov.

If the forms are delayed past their Jan. 31 deadline, some people may have to wait to file tax returns—and collect their refunds.

A delay of a week or two may not sound like much, but many people depend on their tax refunds to plug holes in family finances.

The uncertainty is unnerving to some tax preparation companies, which try to run their filing season operations like a military drill. The Obama administration says it’s on task, but it won’t provide much detail.

States operating their own health insurance marketplaces will also have to send out the forms, but the federal exchange serving 36 states has the biggest job. HHS will have to manage that while in the midst of running the 2015 health insurance sign-up season, when millions more are expected to try to get coverage.

“It’s very unrealistic to expect that they would be able to implement a process that distributed these forms in the middle of open enrollment, and on time,” said George Brandes, vice president for health care programs at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service.

The average tax refund is about $2,690, and people who count on getting money back often file early.

Liberty Tax Service vice president Chuck Lovelace said his company is giving the feds the benefit of the doubt but the possibility of delays “is not something we can turn a blind eye to.”

“It could have a dramatic impact on our customers,” Lovelace said. “The tax refund is the largest check many consumers get.”

Administration spokesman Aaron Albright said officials are “working to develop the technical processes to ensure the forms are generated accurately and timely.” Part of the plan will include “robust outreach” to educate consumers about the importance of the forms, so 1095-As don’t accidentally wind up in the recycling bin.

The new health care law offers tax credits to help people without workplace coverage buy private health insurance. Next year is when the connections between the law’s coverage expansion and the tax system will start to surface for consumers.

The nearly 7 million people who got insurance tax credits through federal and state exchanges will have to tally up accounts with the Internal Revenue Service to ensure that they got the amount they were legally entitled to.

Funneling subsidies through the income-tax system was once seen as a political plus for Obama and the law’s supporters. It allowed the White House to claim that the Affordable Care Act is “the largest tax cut for health care in American history.” But it also promises to make an already complicated tax system more difficult for many consumers.

Supporters of the law are also concerned about a related issue: People who got too big a subsidy for health care in 2014 will have to pay it back next year. And docking refunds will be the first way the IRS seeks repayment.

That can happen if someone’s income for 2014 ends up being higher than estimated when he or she first applied for health insurance. Unless such people promptly reported the change to their health insurance marketplace, they will owe money.

“If someone wound up having more overtime than they projected, or they received a bonus for good work, these are the kind of changes that have an impact on subsidies,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of the advocacy group Families USA.

Since the whole system is brand-new, experts are predicting that millions will end up having to repay money.


Silva surges ahead in Brazil’s presidential vote

By Brad Brooks, AP, Aug 30, 2014

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP)—Brazil’s once humdrum presidential race now resembles one of the country’s famed soap operas, with a newcomer thrust into the spotlight by a plane crash and the longtime favorite reeling from a one-two punch of bad news.

With just over a month to go before the Oct. 5 vote, President Dilma Rousseff awoke to newspaper headlines Saturday announcing that Brazil’s long-sputtering economy had officially entered recession for the first time in more than five years.

Worse for her, perhaps, were the other banner headlines splashed on front pages: A poll showing Rousseff trailing her new rival Marina Silva by 10 percentage points if the election goes, as expected, to a second round.

“Yesterday must have been President Dilma’s most difficult day in a long time—she only had awful news,” wrote Merval Pereira, a political columnist for the O Globo newspaper.

Silva was a peripheral figure in the election until Aug. 13, when a campaign plane crash killed Socialist Party candidate Eduardo Campos, who was running third, far behind Rousseff.

Silva, who had been his vice presidential candidate, waited a week before officially filling Campos’ spot on the ticket, and her star has rocketed upward since, fed by widespread voter discontent over what many consider an inefficient and corrupt political system.

Her life story is cinematic itself.

Maria Osmarina Marina Silva Vaz de Lima, 56, grew up as one of eight children of an impoverished rubber tapper on a plantation deep in Brazil’s Amazon region. Her mother died when Silva was just 15.

After a childhood during which she was infected with malaria five times, at age 16 Silva was hit with hepatitis and her father sent her to the Acre state capital of Rio Branco for better health care. She decided to enter a convent to fulfill her dream of becoming a nun—and to finally learn to read and write.

There, Silva had a political awakening when she came into contact with priests adhering to liberation theology, a Latin American-inspired movement that promoted rights for the poor. She helped found the local branch of a union representing impoverished Amazon agricultural workers and advocated side-by-side with famed rain forest defender Chico Mendes.

Silva, who became a devout evangelical Christian, joined the now-ruling Workers Party in the mid-1980s and was elected as a Rio Branco city councilwoman in 1989. Two years later, she moved into the state legislature before becoming a federal senator in 1995. Newly elected President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva—no relation—made her his environment minister when he took power on Jan. 1, 2003.

Silva left the post five years later after disagreements with other ministers on how to develop the Amazon region. She was particularly at loggerheads with Rousseff, who was then the nation’s energy minister and who pushed an aggressive agenda of building hydroelectric dams and other projects in the Amazon to spur economic development.

After joining the Green Party, Silva ran in the 2010 presidential election and won a surprising 20 percent of the vote despite having little campaign ad airtime.

The Datafolha poll released late Friday showed Rousseff and Silva now even heading into the first round, each capturing 34 percent of voter intentions.

But when asked about a second-round runoff, Silva was favored by 50 percent to the incumbent’s 40 percent.

The survey showed that Rousseff remains most popular among Brazil’s poorest, who have benefited from Workers Party policies that have lifted millions out of poverty in the past decade. But many Brazilians are frustrated by the state’s heavy hand in the slumping economy, and for the first time in years, consumer confidence has been steadily dropping.

The country technically entering recession only compounds the anxiety.


As Scots Weigh Independence, Wales Takes Note

By Katrin Bennhold, NY Times, Aug. 30, 2014

CAERNARFON, Wales—Twm Morys was boiling carrots for his children when he momentarily stopped to recite a 15th-century battle chant in Welsh. Beating out the guttural consonants with a stave on his kitchen floor until they rang in every last corner of his farmhouse, Mr. Morys, a well-known poet, said it was time to put “fire in the belly” of his people.

He is not the only one. In the ancient mountains towering above this coastal town in northern Wales, where eight in 10 people speak the native Celtic tongue, and many carry names their fellow Britons would not dare pronounce, Welsh nationalists have their eyes firmly set on independence—Scottish independence.

Less than a month before Scotland holds a referendum on whether to leave Britain, Wales is watching with a mix of envy, excitement and trepidation.

“If Scotland votes yes, the genie is out of the bottle,” said Leanne Wood, leader of Wales’s nationalist party Plaid Cymru. Only one in 10 Welsh voters supports independence, compared with about four in 10 in Scotland, but Ms. Wood thinks that could change. “The tectonic plates of the United Kingdom are shifting,” she said.

Tremors from the Scottish debate can already be felt across Britain. Whatever happens on Sept. 18, growing demands for more regional autonomy will reshape the country. In Northern Ireland, nationalists spy an opportunity to revive dreams of a united Ireland. Cornwall recently won minority status for its Celtic inhabitants. Even the long-neglected north of England has turned up the volume, questioning an ever greater concentration of wealth in London and the southeast.

But in Wales, perhaps more than anywhere else, nationalists have made the Scottish independence bid their own in the hope that it will stir passions at home—if not for full independence, at least for more self-government.

Ms. Wood, who was once expelled from a legislative debate for referring to Queen Elizabeth II as “Mrs. Windsor,” has been to Scotland twice in support of the Yes campaign and plans to go again. The Welsh Hollywood actor Rhys Ifans has joined the #goforitScotland campaign. And Adam Price, an entrepreneur and prominent pro-independence thinker, has been campaigning in Scotland from a caravan, Welsh-style. “Caravaning for independence,” he calls it.

Others, like Mr. Morys, will gather in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, the week before the referendum for a series of performances to “whip up some Welsh enthusiasm,” stave in hand.

Wales and Scotland have much in common—not least an unfailing loyalty to any sporting side that plays against England, their once mighty and still dominant neighbor.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher, the conservative prime minister, shut their heavy industries, Scottish and Welsh voters have cast their ballot to the left of the English. There is, said Peter Florence, director of Wales’s Hay literary festival, a shared sense of not being represented in Westminster.

But Wales is smaller and poorer than Scotland. It has no oil to make up for the subsidies from London currently sustaining its public services. “We’re a hundred years too late,” Mr. Florence lamented, referring to the Welsh coal riches that once fired Britain’s industrial revolution. If he were Scottish, he would vote for independence, he said. “But we simply cannot afford it.”

Gerald Holtham, one of Wales’s most prominent economists, has done the math: Total government spending for Wales is 30 billion pounds a year, or about $50 billion, and tax receipts come to 17 billion pounds. “We’re talking about a gap a quarter the size of the economy,” he said.

Nationalists retort that Wales can escape poverty only if it takes charge of its own destiny. “No nation has ever ruled another well,” said Mr. Price, a former lawmaker who set up a technology company in Wales. “We are poor because we are not independent, rather than the other way round.”

But even he conceded that the time for Welsh independence has not come. First, he said, “We have to learn to be a nation again.”

Unlike Scotland, whose Parliament voted to join England three centuries ago, Wales was conquered in 1282. The Scots kept their own legal system, schools, universities, church and, with it all, a strong civic identity distinct from England’s. Welsh institutions were swallowed whole; the Welsh dragon, which flutters proudly and ubiquitously on the high street in Caernarfon, is nowhere to be seen in the Union Jack.

“We were England’s first colony,” said Eirian James, owner of Palas Print, a local bookstore with mainly Welsh-language fare. Every time she visits relatives in southern Wales, she has to take a train through England. To this day, most transport links run from west to east, toward England, rather than along Wales’s north-south axis.

The Welsh tourism board proudly promotes the fact that there are more castles per square mile in Wales than anywhere else. For locals, those castles are another reminder of early occupation.

Caernarfon Castle, up the street from Palas Print, was built by Edward I of England who killed Llewellyn, the last native prince of Wales, and declared his own firstborn son the Prince of Wales. That tradition still grates with some Welsh people. When Prince Charles was invested in Caernarfon Castle in 1969, militants tried to blow up his train. The local poet Gerallt Lloyd Owen recorded both events in popular poems. He died this summer, and donations made in his memory are going to Scotland’s Yes campaign.

Poetry may not be the political weapon of choice elsewhere, but in Wales, home to the Eisteddfod, a sort of cultural Olympiad whose history can be traced to 1176, national grievances often find their way into verse.

As Jerry Hunter, a professor at Bangor University, said, “Where else have you got thousands of people crowding into a pavilion watching the results of a poetry contest?”

When the Welsh-speaking village Capel Celyn was flooded in 1965 to create a water reservoir for Liverpool, England, despite unanimous opposition from Welsh lawmakers, it spawned songs and graffiti art and gave Plaid Cymru its first significant boost.

Stemming the decline in the Welsh language—just under one in five Welsh people speaks Cymraeg—is the greatest triumph of Welsh nationalism, but it is also a handicap: It has divided a country of three million between those, mainly in the rural north and west, who speak it, and those in the more urban south and east who don’t, reducing Plaid Cymru in the eyes of many to a mere language-lobbying group.

In a 1979 referendum, eight in 10 Welsh voters opposed any kind of autonomy from London.

But in 1997, after Scotland voted to have its own Parliament, the tiniest majority of Welsh voters followed suit and approved the creation of a more modest Welsh assembly. By 2011, two in three of those voters wanted to extend the assembly’s lawmaking powers.

“That’s a bigger swing in public opinion over 30 years than in Scotland,” said Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University.

Some bank on a Scottish yes vote to accelerate that process. Others say a narrow no vote would be a better result for the Welsh: Once mocked in Whitehall circles as Scotland’s “smaller, uglier sister,” Wales may have more leverage with a Scottish ally inside the union.

But Mr. Jones says Wales will end up more autonomous irrespective of what happens in Scotland.

“Independence may look unlikely right now,” he said. “But who in 1979 would have dared imagine a devolved Wales looking on as Scotland prepares an independence referendum?”


How China sparked an Asian frenzy for killer submarines

By Kyle Mizokami, War is Boring, August 29, 2014

In early January, the heavylift ship Rolldock Sea entered the Vietnamese port of Cam Ranh Bay towing a submarine. The sub, HQ-182, is a Russian-made Improved Kilo-class boat, one of six ordered by the Vietnamese navy in 2009.

HQ-182, also known as the Hanoi, is Vietnam’s first submarine.

Displacing 4,000 tons underwater, the diesel-powered Kilos have six tubes for launching guided torpedoes or supersonic SS-N-27 “Klub” anti-ship missiles. So quiet that they’re called “black holes” by the U.S. Navy, the subs can sit silently off Vietnam’s coast, waiting to intercept and sink any attackers. The six Kilos will be Vietnam’s capital ships.

And Hanoi isn’t the only Asian government buying submarines. Malaysia has also purchased two. Thailand just built a new submarine headquarters—now it just needs the actual subs. South Korea is doubling its undersea fleet, while Japan is growing its sub force by more than a third.

Across Asia and the Pacific, defense budgets are going up and the money is going deep … very deep. To keep the peace and win at war, the region’s navies are betting on submarines.

As Asian nations grow economically, it’s natural for them to build up their navies. Many of them are heavily reliant on sea shipping to import natural resources and export finished goods. Japan imports 96 percent of its energy. South Korea imports 90 percent of its food. For many of these countries, losing the sea would mean disaster.

China is no exception. Traditionally a land power, as China’s economy grows its interests are becoming global. Among other things, China is now dependent on Mideast oil, raw materials from Africa and Australia, and the whole world as a market for its goods.

As a result, Beijing’s navy is growing at breakneck speed. China commissioned its first aircraft carrier Liaoning in 2011—and is reportedly building several more flattops along with destroyers, frigates, and amphibious ships.

Undersea, China’s submarine fleet has expanded to include both nuclear- and diesel-powered boats—some manufactured domestically, others purchased from Russia.

At the same time, Beijing has been using its new political and military might to pursue longstanding territorial claims. It has called dibs on virtually all of the South China Sea, putting it in direct conflict with Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Indonesia.

And Beijing’s claim on Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea put it in direct conflict with Japan and Taiwan.

Those countries finding themselves in the way of Beijing’s territorial ambitions understand there’s no point trying to match China ship for ship. China can outbuild any rival except for the United States.

The answer, then, is to add submarines. Undersea boats are low-profile, deadly killers that can lurk in disputed areas and deny them to the enemy. Difficult to detect, they can destroy ships many times their own size.

Submarines also flip the script on China, which has been advancing an “anti-access, area-denial” strategy for keeping the United States out of the Western Pacific. The idea behind A2AD is to make it too dangerous for a hostile power to enter a certain area. Smaller Asian powers can fashion similar strategies to keep the Chinese navy out of their own backyards.

This is what Japan has in mind as increases its sub force from 16 to 22 boats. Japan’s undersea fleet is considered one of the best in Asia, and Japan’s geography means its subs could easily prevent the Chinese navy from using many of its traditional approaches to the open ocean.

Direct confrontation with China doesn’t explain everything, though. South Korea, while concerned by China’s buildup, is not particularly motivated by any sense of crisis. South Korea is more likely interested in maintaining some level of parity with its neighbors China and Japan, without regarding either as a looming threat.

A handful of Asian countries have the know-how to build their own submarines. Russia is slowly rejuvenating its sub fleet after decades of neglect. America’s submarine fleet is the gold standard, with the latest technology, nuclear power in all boats, and the advantage of sheer numbers.

Australia, Japan, and India can build their own subs, with varying degrees of success. The Australian Collins-class diesel submarines have been dogged by technical problems, and India is just beginning to build submarines with Russian assistance. Even high-tech Japan uses certain Swedish technologies to allow its submarines to stay submerged longer underwater.

Those governments that can’t make subs buy them—and they buy from Europe. The largest exporter of submarines to Asia is Russia, which is doing gangbusters selling Kilo-class boats such as Hanoi. Vietnam, India, and China all operate some version of the Kilo submarine, an irony considering that both Vietnam and India have gone to war with China in just the last 50 years.

The Kilo is Russia’s most successful submarine export. A Cold War design dating back to the late 1970s, it’s been updated to keep it relevant in 21st-century waters.

India has nine older Kilos purchased in the 1980s. It had 10 until 2012, when INS Sindhurakshak was destroyed in an explosion. China operates 10 Improved Kilos, and last year placed a further order for four Russian Lada-class submarines. This suggests that China is not entirely happy with the performance of its latest locally-built boats, the Yuan class.

Germany is the next largest exporter. South Korea, which already has nine German-designed Type 209 diesel subs made in both Germany and South Korea, is expected to license-build nine newer Type 214s, effectively doubling its submarine force. South Korea will also build three modified Type 209s for Indonesia.

France also exports diesel submarines to Asia. Paris’ export submarine, the Scorpene class, has six tubes for firing Black Shark torpedoes and Exocet anti-ship missiles and can stay at sea for 50 days. Malaysia received two Scorpenes. India has an on-again, off-again order for six Scorpenes that has been snarled by budgetary issues and bureaucracy.

Do all these new submarines make war in Asia more likely or less? Will an increasingly aggressive China be discouraged by a proliferation of subs along its coastline, or will that spur China to build up its own navy even further?

Even with the hindsight of a century of submarine warfare, it’s hard to tell. Subs typically do very well in war until the other side becomes proficient in anti-submarine warfare. China has no tradition of anti-submarine warfare, which is a bonus for its smaller rivals.

If Asia’s burgeoning submarine fleets prove to be a credible deterrent, they could go a long way toward maintaining peace in the region.


It’s not just Hello Kitty: Japan’s character craze

By Mari Yamaguchi, AP, Aug 31, 2014

TOKYO (AP)—Hello Kitty, whom many learned last week is a girl and not a cat, may be the queen of Japan’s cute characters, but she’s hardly the only one.

There are thousands, and they are ubiquitous: Long-time favorite Doraemon (who really is a cat) has a daily quiz in a national newspaper. Little monster Pikachu hosted a theme cafe in Tokyo this summer. Stress-relieving Rilakkuma (“relaxed bear”) dangles from teenage girls’ school bags.

Characters are not just for kids in Japan, but a part of business and social life. Some see Japan’s cute-craze, known as “kawaii,” as a sign of immaturity, but others say it’s rooted in a harmony-centered way of life that goes back to ancient animist traditions.

Japanese used to worship many gods, and portrayed ghosts as comical characters. In what is seen as the origin of Japanese manga, or comics, a set of 12th-century scroll paintings humorously portray frogs, rabbits and other animals in human activities, from sumo wrestling to temple worshipping.

Hello Kitty and Doraemon now face hordes of newcomers, many launched by municipal governments to promote tourism and local products. Regular “character summits” choose a national favorite. The market reached 2.3 trillion yen ($23 billion) last year, according to think tank Yano Research Institute Ltd.

Here are a few that have risen above the crowd:

THE CAT THAT’S NOT. Created 40 years ago, Hello Kitty is made up of just a few simple strokes: two dots for eyes and a tiny circle for a nose, and no mouth. In contrast to expressive American characters such as Mickey Mouse and Garfield, Hello Kitty doesn’t show emotions, and the simplicity has attracted fans from children to street fashion devotees. An article in the Los Angeles Times last week created an Internet firestorm when it explained that the character is not a cat; many insisted she must be. Despite her cat-like ears and whiskers, she is a “cheerful girl with a gentle heart,” says the official website of her theme park, Sanrio Puroland. Born Kitty White in the suburbs of London, she weighs the same as three apples, enjoys baking cookies and dreams about becoming a poet or pianist.

A LOVABLE BEAR THAT’S FREE. Goofy black bear Kumamon is perhaps the most successful of the mushrooming new characters that seek to promote a locality in Japan. Its name means a native of Kumamoto, a prefecture in southern Japan, and the character was introduced on March 12, 2010, the day Japan’s high-speed bullet train entered full service in the south. The prefecture doesn’t charge a licensing fee to use Kumamon’s simple image, and experts say that has been a key to success. As the bear’s popularity grew, more and more companies wanted to cash in. Today it appears not only on Kumamoto souvenirs, but also on innumerable products including instant cup noodles, snacks and cosmetics.

NOT A BEAR BUT A PEAR. A hyperactive Asian pear from the city of Funabashi, just outside Tokyo, has taken Japan by storm in the past year. Funassyi, a combination of Funabashi and the Japanese word for pear, is an exception to Japan’s more typically laid-back characters. In a bright yellow, stretchy bodysuit, the pear-fairy jumps up and down frantically and talks in a rapid-fire, high-pitched voice, shouting “nashi!” (pear) at the end of each sentence. Funassyi is not an authorized city mascot, but the product of an entertainer from Funabashi. Its popularity exploded after a tea commercial last year. Funassyi appears regularly on TV and is releasing a CD from Universal Music Japan. The character reportedly earned 200 million yen ($2 million) last year.

JAPAN’S ALL-TIME FAVORITE. Doraemon, a blue robotic cat from the 22nd century, started as a manga (comic) character in 1969. It has a four-dimensional pocket in its stomach with a seemingly endless supply of items to help its friends. Among them are a “time machine” and “anywhere door” that allows them to travel wherever and to any time period they wish. Doraemon is popular in many parts of the world, including Asia and Latin America, but the television cartoon series didn’t debut in the U.S. until this year. Adaptations for an American audience included simplifying the names of two boy characters from Nobita Nobi to “Noby,” and Gian to “Big G,” and replacing Japanese yen with U.S. dollars.

A STRESS-RELIEVING BEAR. The “relaxing bear” is usually seen lounging on a yellow bean bag, sometimes nibbling on snacks, demonstrating an ultimate stress-free lifestyle. The roommate of a 25-year-old female office worker, Rilakkuma’s gentle words such as “sleep and reset” and “let’s worry when that happens” have been compiled in a series of popular books, serving as remedies for stressed-out Japan. Created by San-X, a Tokyo-based character-oriented stationary and gift company, Rilakkuma has raked in more than 10 billion yen ($100 million) from stationary, clothing and book sales since its 2003 debut.

VIDEO-GAME MEGASTAR. A chubby yellow mutant rodent, Pikachu is the most popular of more than 400 monsters in the Nintendo video game series Pokemon. The series started in 1996 as a pair of game titles for hand-held player Game Boy, and has evolved into playing cards, animation, video games and movies. Pikachu makes frequent public appearances in Japan, especially during summer school break. Besides the theme cafe in Tokyo’s fashionable Roppongi Hills shopping complex, hundreds of Pikachus swarmed into Yokohama in mid-August in a “Pikachu outbreak” event.

THE NEXT BIG THING? Japan’s latest sensation, Youkai Watch started as a video game, and went big in January with the launch of a cartoon on TV. The story centers on teenage protagonists and their encounters with more than 250 characters, including the popular twin-tail cat Jibanyan and floating spirit Whisper. Children collect special coins to call up their favorite specters on arcade game machines. Many of the coins have sold out, and children and their parents waited for hours in long lines outside stores when new coins and related toys went on sale in early August.


For Myanmar political predictions, locals look to the stars

By Nicholas Kohler, CS Monitor, August 31, 2014

YANGON, MYANMAR—For years, Myanmar watchers attributed the odd decisions made by the country’s military rulers to an influential class of government apparatchik: the astrologer bureaucrat.

Take the way the regime moved the capital from Yangon to Naypyidaw in 2005: on Nov. 11, at 11 a.m., 1,100 military trucks ferried 11 military battalions and 11 ministries to a brand-new city carved from the jungle.

Similar advice in 1987 led the regime to demonetize certain banknotes (causing widespread financial hardship and helping spark the 1988 democracy protests), and to order the mass cultivation of a plant the military believed would sap democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s strength.

Sweeping reforms begun in 2011 have edged Myanmar, formerly Burma, closer to democracy; next year it’s expected to hold the freest general elections since 1960. But that hasn’t diminished the political influence of astrologers—it’s just changed their audience. No longer exclusive to a ruling elite, political astrology has been democratized, and is now a fixture of Myanmar’s vibrant new media industry, with astrologer columnists and commentators appearing in newspapers regularly. Call it the rise of the “astrologer pundit.”

Their predictions began appearing with the end of newspaper censorship in 2012, and are a part of the new era of press freedom. Yet the phenomenon also suggests newspaper readers here are willing to accept a form of fatalism inimical to the spirit of democracy: why bother voting if the stars determine what is so?

By far the most famous of these seers are San-Zarni Bo and Zayar Ko, two men with opposite political views. San-Zarni Bo discovered astrology as a political prisoner. Zayar Ko, attended Myanmar’s version of West Point military academy.

Their forecasts frequently betray their own political sympathies. “People want bad news about the government and good news about the opposition,” says San-Zarni Bo. His office mingles Buddha statuettes with computer equipment that enlarges handprints during palm-reading sessions. He’s developed smart-phone apps that deliver horoscopes to subscribers in Myanmar and Thailand, and has daily broadcast gigs.

He is also a staunch supporter of Ms. Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy is expected to do well in next year’s parliamentary elections (he says she politely ignores his advice about lucky dates). Journalists writing for the biggest local newspapers seek him out regularly and quote him with reverence.

Mr. Zayar Ko blames Yangon’s soaring prices, and Myanmar’s new openness to democracy, on solar flares; more flaring will lead to yet more changes this year. He publishes four columns a week in four newspapers—including prominent half-page analyses in the 7 Day Daily newspaper, one of Myanmar’s largest—making him a well-known media figure.

Off-beat prognostications fit right into Myanmar’s boisterous newspaper scene. In the commercial capital of Yangon, street vendors hawk dozens of colorful, tabloid-style weeklies (top-tier weeklies are said to have circulations of a few hundred thousand). Last year, relaxed government regulations permitted 12 privately owned dailies to launch, with circulations reportedly hovering between 30,000 and 50,000 each.

A number of dailies have since folded due to scant ad revenue and the arrival of Internet and mobile connectivity. Against that backdrop, news editors see pundit astrologers as attracting readers: People here can cite their predictions in the same breath as more “authoritative” voices. Ko Ko, a 68-year-old retired geologist, says the astrology columnists provide an appealing semblance of certainty. “Myanmar is in a very eventful, unstable period,” he says. “When they say something in the news is going to happen, we’re happy.”

Astrology is influential here largely because many regard it as a science, and see practitioners as intellectuals. Few snicker when Mr. Liberty, the Venus News Weekly columnist, calls himself an “astro-political scientist.” That prestige is thanks to a long history: Hindu Brahmans originally introduced astrology here, using it to advise royal courts.

Its popular association with Buddhism lends it gravitas, though monks are prohibited from practicing; the Buddha eschewed the concept of predetermination.

Myint Zaw, a Yangon business leader and avid news reader, cautions that political astrology can easily devolve into propaganda, becoming a platform for views cloaked in the movement of the planets. “I believe in astrology,” Myint Zaw says. “I don’t believe in astrologists.”


Lesotho Military Moves on Police

By Adam Nossiter, NY Times, Aug. 30, 2014

DAKAR, Senegal—A military coup in the tiny southern African kingdom of Lesotho has chased out the prime minister and apparently put the army in control of the landlocked nation, witnesses and journalists in the capital said on Saturday.

Residents woke to the sound of gunfire before dawn on Saturday, with soldiers storming the seat of government in the capital, Maseru, apparently looking for Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, said the publisher of The Lesotho Times, Basildon Peta, in an interview from Maseru.

Speaking with Al Jazeera from South Africa, where he had sought refuge, Mr. Thabane said: “They were all over the State House looking for me. What they were hoping to do, I don’t know.”

The army is “doing what it wants to do without any recourse to lawful authority,” he said. “All these things can only manifest one thing, a government that cannot be regarded as normal. When you put it all together, that leads to a coup d’état.”

Lesotho, a mountainous country of 1.9 million, is surrounded by South Africa. Its political life, turbulent since independence from Britain in 1966, has featured at least three coups, Mr. Peta said. Just this year there was an attack on the residence of Mr. Thabane’s girlfriend, he said.

Saturday morning, army units stormed police stations—the police are thought to be loyal to the prime minister—and confiscated weapons, killing at least one police officer, according to Mr. Peta and news reports.

By late Saturday it was not clear who was in charge. The police stations were deserted, and Mr. Thabane was still in South Africa, although he told Al Jazeera that he intended to return to Lesotho. “There is a major security vacuum,” Mr. Peta said. “Basically there is anarchy.”

The soldiers had apparently returned to their barracks by Saturday evening. “In the morning there were so many soldiers patrolling around here,” said a guard at the United States Embassy in Maseru, John Nkhetse. “Now we are free to move. There are no more now here.”

The latest political crisis was precipitated by Mr. Thabane’s dissolution of Parliament in June, according to Mr. Peta and local news reports. Deputies had warned that they would hold a vote of no confidence; the prime minister, under Lesotho’s Constitution, can shut down Parliament for nine months, Mr. Peta said.

Mr. Thabane had threatened to fire the army chief, Lt. Gen. Kennedy Tlali Kamoli. But late Saturday, the general was still in charge, Mr. Peta said.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, the deputy prime minister, Mothetjo Metsing, generally thought to be pro-army, denied that there had been a coup. “This is not a coup, let us get that straight,” Mr. Metsing said. “The prime minister would not still be the prime minister if there was a coup that had taken place.”

But it was unclear what authority, if any, Mr. Thabane retained; nor was it clear when he might return. “He’s claiming he is in charge, but you can’t be in charge when you are not on the ground,” Mr. Peta said.


Palestinian May Push for Deadline to End Occupation

By Rick Gladstone, NY Times, Aug. 30, 2014

UNITED NATIONS—President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority may use the global stage of the annual General Assembly here in a few weeks to publicly demand a date for ending Israel’s occupation, according to his ambassador, while expecting that the Israelis—and almost certainly their American allies—will oppose that demand.

“He wants the international community to agree on a date,” the ambassador, Riyad H. Mansour, said. Mr. Mansour called the demand part of what he described as a new strategy by Mr. Abbas to unilaterally advance the goal of Palestinian independence and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after a litany of frustrations, notably the collapse of American-brokered talks with Israel this year.

Mr. Abbas also is apparently hoping that the Palestinian Authority’s role in helping to halt the 50-day war in Gaza between Israeli forces and Hamas militants, achieved last Tuesday with an Egyptian brokered cease-fire agreement, has infused his position with new vitality and leverage.

If Mr. Abbas is denied an occupation end date, the ambassador said, Mr. Abbas will use the Palestine observer state status at the United Nations, an upgrade won nearly two years ago over Israeli and American objections, to make the occupied territories even more like the independent state he has sought.

The most coercive measure available to him is to make Palestine a member of the International Criminal Court, opening the way for possible prosecutions of Israeli actions as an occupying power.

Mr. Abbas has repeatedly hinted he would use that leverage, a prospect that has worried both Israel and the United States, Israel’s most important ally. Yet it also raises the possibility that Hamas, the dominant militant group in Gaza that Israel and much of the West regard as a terrorist organization, could also be vulnerable to prosecution. Though some Hamas officials have voiced support for joining the court, such a prospect could still create tensions with Mr. Abbas’s faction in the Palestinian leadership.

Mr. Abbas and his aides hinted at his revised strategy in recent days, even before the Gaza war was halted with the cease-fire agreement negotiated in Cairo. Mr. Mansour spoke more at length about it on Thursday in a briefing with a small group of reporters at the United Nations.

“We want a date for the end of occupation—that’s the new idea,” the ambassador said. Mr. Abbas, he said, “also knows that the Americans will not be receptive to this idea—it would be great if they are—but he is not going to give up on this idea and he’s said that ‘if not, then you will be forcing me to seek other options.’”

The ambassador said that Palestine could function like an independent state in many ways, “through joining all these agencies, through joining all these treaties, through joining all these conventions and conferences, and also seeking everything that is available to us on the legal front, including the I.C.C.”

The result, the ambassador said, is that “if you are refusing to acknowledge the fact as is, I am going to let this fact start creeping on you more and more until you wake up one moment and accept the reality.”

Israeli officials have historically opposed any unilateral attempt by Mr. Abbas to achieve Palestinian statehood. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel last week denied official Palestinian news agency reports that he and Mr. Abbas had agreed on the establishment of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.

Speaking about Gaza, Mr. Mansour asserted that Israel had made significant concessions in the negotiations in Cairo that halted the conflict, notably dropping a demand for disarmament of the coastal enclave as a condition for the cease-fire. Precisely how the cease-fire is to be monitored and enforced is one of many issues to be addressed in further talks.

Mr. Mansour said the United Nations Security Council, where discussions over the Gaza conflict have been overshadowed by the crises in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere, should urgently adopt a resolution that strengthens the cease-fire agreement.

“It is in the business of international peace and security, and it has been engaged with this issue for 50 days, and yet it dragged its feet longer than it should have and it should have adopted a resolution a long time ago,” Mr. Mansour said.


Israeli fire on Gaza town raises war crimes claim

By Karin Laub and Ibrahim Barzak, AP, Aug 31, 2014

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP)—The first of August dawned as a day of promise for the Mahmoum clan and thousands of other Palestinians stuck in United Nations shelters in Rafah—thanks to a temporary cease-fire with Israel they could go home for three days.

But the expected respite quickly turned into one of the deadliest and most controversial episodes in the recent war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. After just two hours, amid fear that Hamas had captured an Israeli soldier, the Israeli military sealed off the Rafah area and began shelling. By the end of the next day, 190 Palestinians were dead, according to a list of names compiled by two Gaza human rights groups, including 14 members of the Mahmoum family.

The Rafah operation is almost certain to be a focus of U.N. investigators and rights groups looking into possible war crimes because it highlights a key concern: The treatment of civilians.

A Palestinian rights group argues that the Israeli army violated the rules of war, which include giving adequate warning to civilians, using proportionate force and distinguishing between civilians and combatants. Unlike in many other Gaza battles, civilians were caught by surprise by the sudden fire and sealed exits.

“None of the rules of international humanitarian law was observed,” said Mahmoud Abu Rahma of the Al Mezan rights group.

The Israeli military confirmed that Rafah residents were barred from leaving the area on Aug. 1, but declined comment on the war crime allegations. It denied firing into a densely populated area without regard for civilians, saying precise airstrikes hit targets linked to militants and artillery—though inherently inaccurate—was only aimed at open fields.

Late on Aug. 2, the suspected capture of the soldier turned out to be a false alarm, and the Rafah episode is one of several under internal military review.

The following account is from interviews with Palestinian survivors and the Israeli military, along with events witnessed by The Associated Press.

The cease-fire took effect at 8 a.m. Friday. Mustafa Mahmoum, a municipal bulldozer operator, was at work clearing rubble from previous Israeli strikes. But after weeks in a shelter, his wife Iqzayer, 34, and their seven children returned to the family home in Tannour in east Rafah, about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the Israeli border.

A few houses down Ouroba Street, the main thoroughfare, Azizeh, 47, the wife of one of Mustafa’s cousins, and her nine children also moved back home into their two-room shack with a roof of corrugated metal.

At 9 a.m., the commander of Israel’s Givati Brigade, Col. Ofer Winter, had just dozed off after a sleepless night when he received an alert from the field.

Givati soldiers searching for Hamas’ network of military tunnels had been ambushed by Hamas gunmen, he was told. Over the next half hour, it became apparent that Maj. Benaya Sarel, a recon officer, and Liel Gidoni, his radio operator, had been killed, and 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin was missing.

At 9:36 a.m., Winter announced over the field radio the word nobody wanted to hear: “Hannibal.”

Hannibal is the name for the military protocol to be followed if a soldier falls into enemy hands. The aim is to stop the capture, even if it means loosening open-fire regulations.

Winter ordered all forces to take territory so that the kidnappers couldn’t move, he told Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

The officer in the Southern Command, which oversaw the Gaza fighting, told the AP the brigade tried to seal off an area with a radius of 2-3 kilometers (1.5 miles) around the suspected capture point, a mile from the border. Over the next eight hours, soldiers fired about 500 artillery shells, he said. The military said it also launched about 100 airstrikes against targets in Rafah on Aug. 1 and 2, but did not provide a breakdown for each day.

The priority was to rescue Goldin. “That’s why we used all this force,” Winter told the newspaper. “Those who kidnap need to know they will pay a price. This was not revenge. They simply messed with the wrong brigade.”

The assault began sometime before 10 a.m., sending Azizeh Mahmoum and her children fleeing from their shack to Mustafa’s sturdier brick home. Within minutes relatives gathered. As the fire became more intense, they no longer felt safe. So they ran across Ouroba Street in groups, trying to reach a small, narrow alley for cover. The alley lay next to a supermarket owned by the Bilbesis, a relatively wealthy family, and led toward a hospital.

As they ran, Azizeh’s son Hani, 23, was struck by a projectile.

“I saw his body flying into the air in front of me,” said his brother, Sami, 20.

That was just the start. His mother and three siblings—Wafa, 25, Asma, 16, and Yehiyeh, 13—all died.

A cousin, Anam Mahmoum Hamad, had just entered the alley when the wall of a house collapsed from a drone strike. It killed Mustafa’s wife, she said, and another four children—Bissan, 10, Hiba, 7, Duaa, 3 and Obada, 2.

Others kept running, including Mustafa’s 24-year-old sister, Halima, barefoot over the scorching asphalt. The shells rained all over, in front of her and behind, she said.

By noon, an AP videojournalist saw at least 20 bodies along Ouroba Street.

The Bilbesis administered first aid to the wounded who made it to the basement of their building on Ouroba Street. An ambulance eventually evacuated some of them.

In the meantime, Abu Yousef al-Najar Hospital was filling up with hundreds of people running from the fire or searching for the missing. By the day’s end, 63 bodies were squeezed into the morgue, said Dr. Abdullah Shehadeh, the hospital director. At one point he heard shells falling every 10 seconds, he said.

Hamad, the Mahmoum cousin, had been at the hospital for about two hours when medics brought in the lower body of her 4-year-old son, Anas. She said she recognized his clothes.

That evening, with concerns that the Israeli soldier could be smuggled out, the military warned in automated calls to residents that any vehicle trying to leave Rafah would be shot.

The next day, Mustafa returned to Ouroba Street to search for the bodies of his wife and four dead children. He found them near the Bilbesi supermarket amid the debris.

“It was hard,” he said, struggling to keep his composure.

The heavy Israeli fire continued Saturday, including airstrikes on homes that killed several dozen people, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

By late that day, it had become clear that Goldin, the 23-year-old soldier, had been not captured but killed in a firefight. After forensic analysis of remains found in the tunnel, he was declared dead.

It was not until Sunday that some bodies on Ouroba Street could be retrieved.

“It was a horrible scene,” said Ghassan Bilbesi, son of the supermarket owner. “People had lost their hands, their arms.”

Mustafa’s wife and children were buried on Monday, Aug. 4, in the sandy soil of a new cemetery on the edge of Rafah, in a row of 14 still unmarked, cinder block-lined graves. Hamad has no idea where her son’s remains lie.

In all, 121 Palestinians were killed in Rafah on Aug. 1 and 69 on Aug. 2, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Al Mezan rights group, which compiled the names. The dead included 55 children, 36 women and five men over the age of 60.

In the Tannour and adjacent Jneineh neighborhoods alone, 37 people were killed on Aug. 1, the rights groups say. The Mahmoum clan lost seven children, six women and a young man.

The losses played into a bigger debate over the uneven death toll in the war. More than 2,140 Palestinians were killed, three-fourths civilians, according to the U.N. On the Israeli side, 72 people were killed, all but six soldiers.

Even if the findings of U.N. investigators are months away, Mustafa Mahmoum is determined to demand justice for his family and trial for Israeli officials who ordered the Rafah attack. Trying to rescue a soldier does not justify killing civilians, he said.

“Even in war,” he said, “children are protected.”


Aug 31

Headlines

Lesotho’s Deputy Premier Takes Reins After PM Flees ‘Coup’
(Reuters) Lesotho’s Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing has taken charge of the government after the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled the country accusing the army of staging a coup, a minister said on Sunday.

Australia to Join Multinational Weapons Drop Into Iraq
(Reuters) Australia will drop military equipment and aid to Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State militants in northern Iraq in response to a request from the United States, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Sunday.

China Slams Door Shut on Full Hong Kong Democracy in 2017 Vote
(Reuters) China’s parliament said on Sunday it will tightly control the nomination of candidates for a landmark election in Hong Kong in 2017, a move likely to trigger mass protests in the city’s Central business district by disappointed democracy activists.

Russia and Ukraine Trade Soldiers at Border
(Reuters) Ukraine has handed over a group of captured Russian paratroops and Russia has returned 63 Ukrainian soldiers who crossed into its territory last week, Russian news agencies quoted a paratroop commander as saying.

U.S. Conducts Air Strikes on Militants Near Besieged Iraqi Town
(Reuters) The United States carried out air strikes on Saturday against Islamic State fighters near the besieged Shi’ite town of Amerli in northern Iraq and dropped humanitarian supplies to civilians in the area, the Pentagon said.

EU Wields Russia Sanctions Threat but Timing Vague
(Reuters) The European Union threatened Russia with new trade sanctions if Moscow fails to start reversing its action in Ukraine, but sharp divisions among leaders at a summit in Brussels left the timing of any measures uncertain.

Heavy Fighting in Libya’s Benghazi City; Airport Hit
(Reuters) Heavy clashes broke out between the forces of a renegade general and Islamist fighters in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi on Saturday, killing at least 10 people and showering the airport with rockets, medical and military sources said.

Philippine troops pull ‘greatest escape’ in Golan
MANILA, Philippines (AP)—Under cover of darkness, 40 Filipino peacekeepers made a daring escape after being surrounded and under fire for seven hours by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights, Philippine officials said Sunday, leaving 44 Fijian troops still in the hands of the al-Qaida-linked group.

Iceland raises volcano aviation alert again
REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP)—Iceland’s authorities have raised the aviation warning code for a region close to the subglacial Bardarbunga volcano after a small fissure eruption in the area.

Tunisia recovers bodies of Syrian boat migrants
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP)—The Tunisian Coast Guard has recovered at least 41 bodies of migrants, mostly Syrians, who drowned trying to sail to Europe, a local official said Saturday.


Thought of the Day

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”—Theodore Roosevelt


Well-to-do

By Evan Morris, The Word Detective

Dear Word Detective: During a conversation with my wife the other day, she mentioned that someone was from a “well-to-do” family. That is a phrase I have heard and used all my life without much thought. But it suddenly struck me that, even though I know the phrase means someone who is upper class or wealthy, the phrase itself is pretty much nonsensical. How did this come to mean what it does? Curiouser and curiouser.—Chip Taylor.

Indeed. What I find interesting is that one hears “well-to-do” less frequently today than when I was a kid, which is odd since the rich are both richer and more numerous now. It’s far more common for people to avoid “rich,” “wealthy,” “well-to-do” and similar quantitative adjectives in favor of job descriptions (“hedge fund manager,” “investment banker,” “venture capitalist,” etc.) that leave no doubt that said person is sitting on a mountain of money.

“Well-to-do” is one of a number of adjectival phrases, some dating to the 16th or 17th centuries meaning “possessing enough wealth to ensure a comfortable life.” “Well-off” is still in frequent use, while others such as “well in cash,” “well in the world,” “well to pass” and “well to live” have faded away. “Well-to-do” is a fairly recent arrival, first appearing in the early 19th century (along with its fuller form “well to do in the world”).

“Well,” all by itself, is an interesting word. As a verb, it means “to spring, rise to the surface, gush, or flow,” as tears might “well” in the eyes of guests at a wedding. As a noun, it generally means a deep hole in the ground from which water, oil, etc., are pumped or flow. Both these forms come from a Germanic root carrying the sense of “bubble up.”

The adjective “well,” however, is unrelated to those “wells.” Meaning generally “sufficient, satisfactory, reasonable, in good condition or health,” this “well” comes from the same old Germanic roots as the verb “to will,” and originally meant “appropriate; in keeping with proper standards” (i.e., “as society would will it”). “Well” has many senses and uses, but all of them involve the general sense of a thing, person or action being suitable, appropriate, completed, prosperous, enlightened, happy, secure and similar qualities. “Well” as an adjective is a very positive word.

One of the senses of “well” in the early 15th century was “in a state of prosperity; affluent,” frequently amplified in phrases with specifics, such “well in cash” or “well in goods.” A more delicate estimation might be “well off,” still very much in use as a euphemism for “loaded,” the “off” being the same sense of the word (roughly meaning “situated”) used in “better off” and “worse off.” A similar sense is filled by “to do” in “well-to-do.” One of the uses of the verb “to do” is to express condition or habitual state (as in “How are you doing?”). In “well-to-do,” the “to-do” indicates that the person’s situation is comfortable and sufficiently secure to continue indefinitely.


Page 1 of 1763