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Monday, September 10, 2012

Euro’s Fate Still in the Balance

The fate of Europe still hangs in the balance as Germany awaits a ruling on the legality of a permanent bailout mechanism and infighting continues in Greece’s coalition government over budget cuts. A Federal Constitutional Court will rule on Wednesday on whether it is legal for Germany to contribute to a €500 billion rescue fund created to help European nations out of their debt woes. Because Germany would be the largest contributor to the fund, this would deal a serious blow to the bond-purchasing plan the European Central Bank announced last week, as the central bank’s program depends on the existence of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), as the permanent rescue fund is known. Meanwhile in Greece, the government hasn’t been able to resolve internal disagreements on an extra €11.5 billion in spending cuts recommended by the “troika,” the group of observers from the European Union, the ECB, and the International Monetary Fund. Greece’s inability to comply could jeopardize the payment of the next tranche of its bailout package. This could result in Greece’s departure from the Eurozone, which would increase instability in the region. German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel reported today that German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to avoid a Greek exit from the euro, or “Grexit,” as she fears that it would cause a domino effect, with other nations leaving the monetary union.

Somalia Elects Opposition Leader in Presidential Election

Somali lawmakers today elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the former leader of the opposition, as the nation’s new president in the first secret ballot election held in Mogadishu since 1986. This poll is the latest step to end decades of war in the country. The newly elected president is an academic with a history of civic activism and a focus on peace and development. In 2011, he created the Peace and Development Party, which he still chairs. He won in the second round of the election with 190 votes, against 79 for the incumbent, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Since 1991, the country has been torn by civil war and sectarian strife as clan warlords and Islamic groups vied for control of the territory. The group Al Shabab, which has recently formed an alliance with Al Qaeda, is still active in certain parts of the nation, although it was driven out of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu last year.

Chicago’s First Teachers Strike in 25 Years Closes City Schools

Chicago’s first teachers strike in 25 years started today, after negotiations between public schools and teachers’ unions fell through late Sunday night. The picket lines closed schools across the city, forcing the parents of 350,000 students to find other activities for them, or scramble for childcare. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is also President Obama’s former chief of staff, is a proponent of education reforms that would reward teachers on how well their students do at standardized tests. Such reforms would include firing the worst teachers, closing schools that fail, and weakening the unions. Critics worry that these measures will turn schools into test bootcamps, and that the effort will redirect much-needed public funds into the the hands of privately run schools (so-called “chartered schools”). Teachers in Chicago are asking for better work conditions, smaller classes, better food for the students, but also higher wages, improved benefits, and higher job security.

Syria: U.N. Envoy Brahimi Begins Peace Mission

United Nations Peace Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said today he is facing a “very difficult mission” in the war-torn country. He spoke in Egypt’s capital Cairo, where he met with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi. Brahimi announced he will go to Syria in a few days and talk to representatives of the civil society as well as officials, both in the capital Damascus and outside. ”I am at the service of the Syrian people alone,” Brahimi said. Meanwhile, violence continued in Syria, where the government forces launched an attack on Damascus over the weekend, causing tens of thousands of people to flee. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a visit to Russia, failed to convince President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to support a sanction-backed resolution at the U.N. Security Council. “We haven’t seen eye-to-eye with Russia on Syria,” Clinton said. “That may continue. And if it does continue, then we will work with likeminded states to support the Syrian opposition to hasten the day when Assad falls, and to help prepare Syria for a democratic future and help it get back on its feet again.”

Romney Says He Would Keep Parts of ‘Obamacare’

U.S. Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney softened his stance on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” Romney, who said for months he will repeal it if elected, explained yesterday in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that he would keep certain elements of the health care reform, suggesting a willingness to enter bipartisan deals. “There are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place,” Romney said. “One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage.” Romney also said he would keep the provision whereby young adults are allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance plan for longer. He praised U.S. President Barack Obama for ordering to kill Osama bin Laden, although he also criticized Obama’s handling of the economy.

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