Month: June 2019

Rudd evokes Shakespearean war cry

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has evoked a Shakespearean war cry as he continues to warn Australians about the effects of the global financial crisis.

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Speaking in Hobart, his latest stop on a week-long Australia Day tour, Mr Rudd said the nation must steel itself for more pain.

Several times he implored Australians to step “into the breach” against the crisis, evoking William Shakespeare\’s King Henry V: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our English dead!”.

Mr Rudd stopped a ceremonial Australia Day barbecue with his speech.

\’Most troubled years\’

“We are embarking upon what may be one of the most troubled years of our age,” he said.

“As we look around the world, we see the unfolding events of the global economic crisis. These are grave, these are broad, these are deep forces.”

Meanwhile, Mr Rudd says the federal government has a strategy and a course of action to preserve jobs, in response to union calls for a jobs summit.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow on Thursday said there was a need for an urgent summit on building jobs.

She said employers, unions and governments should sit in a room and see what ideas they can come up with to counter the expected loss of up to 250,000 jobs this year because of the financial crisis.

Spending for \’job creation\’

But, Mr Rudd told reporters in Hobart: “We have a strategy for dealing with the challenge (of job losses).

“It\’s going to be tough, it\’s going to be hard, and it\’s not going to be perfect.

“It\’s a huge world out there, which is washing over Australia, but our strategy and our course of action is clear.”

Mr Rudd the government was spending $36 billion to create tens of thousands of jobs, helping business to retain and invest in employees and doing everything it can, in cooperation with community, to support the jobless.

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UK economy drops as unemployment rises

Britain\’s economy is weakening fast, official data shows, with more figures due this week expected to confirm the country has sunk into recession for the first time since 1991.

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The unemployment rate jumped to a decade-high 6.1 per cent in the three months to November, with nearly two million out of work.

At the same time, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday that Britain\’s public finances worsened last month to show a record deficit of STG44.2 billion ($A94.76 billion) after the state bailout of Royal Bank of Scotland.

“Another dire day for the UK economy with data … showing unemployment soaring, the public finances deteriorating sharply,” IHS Global Insight analyst Howard Archer said on Wednesday.

The fact that Britain is in recession is set to be confirmed on Friday when data is expected to show the economy contracted for a second straight quarter in the final three months of 2008.

The generally used technical definition of a recession is two quarters running of negative economic growth.

In a bid to stave off a deep recession, the Bank of England (BoE) has slashed British interest rates to an all-time low of 1.5 per cent.

Policymakers voted 8-1 to cut borrowing costs earlier this month by half a percentage point to the lowest level since the central bank\’s formation in 1694, minutes of their last meeting showed on Wednesday.

In its minutes, the central bank said “the news on the month had left the balance of risks to output and inflation, relative to the target, to the downside”.

One policymaker, David Blanchflower, voted in favour of cutting rates by 100 basis points, arguing that it was “becoming increasingly probable that there would be a deep and prolonged recession”.

The BoE\’s main task is to keep inflation at the government-set target of 2.0 per cent.

British 12-month inflation dived in December owing to a tax cut on goods and services, falling energy prices and heavy pre-Christmas discounting, official data showed on Tuesday.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) annual inflation rate sank to 3.1 per cent in December, the lowest level since April 2008, from 4.1 per cent in November.

The Bank of England is meanwhile considering increasing money supply to ensure growth at all costs does not slow so much that inflation falls below target.

BoE governor Mervyn King told businessmen late on Tuesday that the bank was considering the “unconventional measures” that the government placed at its disposal as part of a new rescue package for banks unveiled this week.

He also warned economic output was expected to have fallen “sharply” in the last quarter of 2008 and predicted the contraction in the first half of this year would be “marked”.

The British economy contracted by 0.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2008 and the figures due on Friday are expected to show it shrank 1.3 per cent in the fourth quarter, according to analysts.

King stressed the priority was to get banks lending again to help cash-starved businesses and individuals, and said the new measures announced on Monday would help.

The government on Monday unveiled a second multi-billion pound bank rescue package aimed at kick-starting its stalled economy but financial shares plummeted amid growing fears of deepening recession.

Press reports suggest the latest bailout is worth some STG200 billion ($A428.77 billion).

The news came as Royal Bank of Scotland, now majority-owned by the taxpayer as a result of the credit crisis, forecast what would be the worst British corporate loss of up to STG28 billion ($A60 billion), in part owing to its role in the costly and mis-timed takeover of Dutch lender ABN Amro in 2007.

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Obama retakes oath of office… slowly

US President Barack Obama has retaken the oath of office after stumbling when he was originally sworn in at his inauguration ceremony on Tuesday.

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In a highly unusual move caused by Chief Justice John Roberts stumbling over the words the first time around, the new US leader recited the oath a second time.

“Are you ready to take the oath?” Roberts asked him ahead of the replay, which took place in the Map Room of the White House on Wednesday.

“I am, and we\’re going to do it very slowly,” Obama said, reciting the oath flawlessly in 25 seconds.

“We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the President was sworn in appropriately yesterday,” said White House Counsel Greg Craig.

“But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time.”

Oath wording confused

Obama is not alone in retaking the oath – both Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) and Chester Arthur (1881-1885) retook the pledge privately after the official inauguration.

The new US president was first sworn in by Roberts on Tuesday, resting his left hand on Abraham Lincoln\’s Bible and raising his right hand to deliver the words that made him the official successor to George W Bush.

But things didn\’t go exactly as planned for the swearing-in of the country\’s first African-American commander-in-chief.

Under the gaze of more than two million crowded onto Washington\’s National Mall and millions more around the world, Obama said: “I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president of the United States faithfully, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States.

“So help me God.”

As specified in the US Constitution, the word “faithfully” precedes the phrase “execute the office,” but the chief justice, in his first presidential inauguration, read that part of the oath incorrectly.

\’No impact\’ on presidency

Obama paused, apparently realizing something was wrong, and after an awkward moment, Roberts repeated himself, but the chief justice stumbled again.

Obama eventually recited the line as Roberts originally said it.

On Tuesday, Jeffrey Rosen, a US constitutional law expert and professor at George Washington University in Washington, said stumbling over the oath had “no impact. News flash: He\’s president.”

Rosen pointed to the 20th amendment of the US Consitution, which provides that the president and vice president\’s term begins at noon on January 20th – regardless of when the oath is taken.

“Lots of people have flubbed the oath, perhaps most memorably Chief Justice (William Howard) Taft, who sort of riffed and then made up his own” upon swearing in then-president Herbert Hoover, said Rosen.

Where the oath calls for the president to pledge to “preserve, protect, and defend” the constitution, Taft said “preserve, maintain and defend” — injecting an entirely new word, while Roberts merely got the order wrong.

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Obama set to order Guantanamo closure

White House sources say the order will force the controversial detention facility – which houses prisoners taken in the course of the \’War on Terror\’ – to close within a year.

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Obama is also poised to officially ban torture, by ordering that all interrogators follow the guidelines in the US Army\’s field manual when questioning suspects.

Guantanamo Bay\’s prison camp became a symbol of the Bush presidency\’s heavily criticised approach to the battle against terrorism.

“The detention facilities at Guantanamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order,” the draft executive order – posted on the website of the American Civil Liberties Union – said.

The draft said “lawful means” should be used to deal with detainees who cannot be transferred to other countries or tried in US courts.

The draft surfaced hours after Obama acted to suspend war crimes trials at Guantanamo for 120 days pending a review of detention policies and procedures at the offshore US prison.

Inmates to be transferred

But it remains unclear what Obama\’s decision will mean for the jail\’s inmates, many of whom have been there for several years without trial.

It is thought some will be charged and sent to other prisons within the US to await trial, and others will be released.

Where those who are freed will end up is also under discussion – both the UK and Australia are known to have had discussions with the US with regard to taking in ex-inmates.

Republican politician Bill Young, a member of the House of Representatives, told CNN he had “quite a bit of anxiety” about transferring detainees to US prisons.

“Number one, they\’re dangerous; secondly, once they become present in the United States, what is their legal status? What is their constitutional status?

“I worry about that, because I don\’t want them to have the same constitutional rights that you and I have. They are our enemy,” he told the news network.

Camp \’a legal black hole\’

Guantanamo, and the special tribunals set up to try some of its inmates, have been condemned as a legal black hole by rights groups and foreign governments.

Obama\’s swift move to force its closure has been welcomed by many of those organisations.

The ACLU called the draft order “the first ray of sunlight in what has been eight long years of darkness.”

And New York-based Human Rights Watch said: “With the stroke of a pen, President Obama will make great progress toward restoring America\’s moral authority.”

“By shutting down a global symbol of abuse, he will deprive terrorists of a powerful recruitment tool,” Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

However, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has defended detainees at Guantanamo, said the closure would not come fast enough.

The group expressed its disappointment that Obama\’s order “gave his administration an entire year to sort out its plans.”

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Tainted milk execs sentenced to death

A Chinese court on Thursday sentenced two men to death for making and selling some of the tainted milk that killed six babies and sickened nearly 300,000 others, state media reported.

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Another man was given a suspended death sentence, while at least four others were given jail terms ranking from five years to life, Xinhua news agency said.

State media had reported earlier that verdicts would be given on Thursday, while for all 21 people who went on trial for their involvement in the scandal that last year killed at least six babies and left 294,000 others ill.

China \’attentive to safety\’

Immediately after the verdicts were announced, the Chinese government sought to show it was making great efforts to improve not only its milk industry, but all its food products, following numerous safety scandals in recent years.

“The Chinese government authorities have been paying great attention to food safety and product quality,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.

“After the case broke out, the Chinese government strengthened rules and regulations and took a lot of other measures to strengthen regulations and monitor food safety.”

The former boss of the dairy firm at the heart of the scandal, Tian Wenhua, and three of her colleagues were among those charged and awaiting verdicts.

Lawyers had previously said Tian, former head of the Sanlu Group, faced only a maximum penalty of life in prison, and not execution.

Several firms involved

Sanlu was the first and biggest dairy producer found to have sold dairy products laced with melamine, a chemical used to make plastics which was mixed into watered-down milk to give the appearance of higher protein levels.

In all, 22 firms were found to have sold tainted milk, and the scandal led to contaminated Chinese dairy products being pulled off shelves around the world.

It was another major blow to the “Made-in-China” reputation that has suffered in recent years amid safety scandals over a wide range of exports, from toys to pet food and dumplings.

The government last month ordered the Chinese dairy firms to pay 160 million dollars in compensation to the families of babies that died or fell ill.

However the families and their lawyers have repeatedly criticised the sum as woefully inadequate, with some parents of sick children not being given any money at all and others receiving just 300 dollars.

Compensation demanded

Over 200 families last week filed a suit with the Supreme Court, seeking more compensation.

The 213 families went to the top of the legal system because the government-ordered payment scheme failed to recognise some of them as victims, said Chang Lin, a farmer whose 18-month-old son died in August.

“They haven\’t given me any compensation. They haven\’t even recognised that my child died because of melamine,” Lin told AFP by telephone from Chongqing city in southwest China.

He said the government had not even recognised his son had died from drinking tainted milk.

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