11/29/2013 05:30 PM
From Apple to Amazon: The New Monuments to Digital Domination
By Thomas Schulz in San Francisco
Technology giants in the United States are building bombastic new headquarters to immortalize their grandiose ambitions, while inside they plan to turn traditional office culture on its head.
A few weeks before his death, Steve Jobs commissioned one last marvel of ingenuity. He knew that it would be his legacy, a symbol of his work and an expression of creative global supremacy: a new headquarters for Apple, designed by British star architect Sir Norman Foster. "The best office building in the world," Jobs called it when he first revealed the plans, "a little like a spaceship."
It will also probably be the most expensive company headquarters in the world, a gigantic, circular monolith with an estimated price tag of $5 billion (€3.7 billion), eclipsing even the cost of rebuilding the World Trade Center in New York, which has been under construction for the past 10 years.
But nothing that Apple does these days goes unchallenged for long, especially when it comes to symbols.
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, whose vision is to network all of mankind online, has commissioned the equally famous architect Frank Gehry to create a new headquarters for his company. Of course this is not just any building. It's "the largest open office space in the world," as Zuckerberg says, an enormous room for 3,400 Facebook employees. The building itself will be covered with trees and meadows, allowing it to merge with the landscape. "From the outside it will appear as if you're looking at a hill in nature," Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook timeline.
Meanwhile, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos -- who is also not adverse to plans of economic global domination -- is building the world's first biosphere headquarters: three domes made of glass and steel, each with an artificial ecosystem, including its own microclimate and corresponding botanical zone. The biosphere offices, created by award-winning architectural firm NBBJ, are to be built in the shadow of an attendant skyscraper in Seattle, which will dominate the city's skyline.
Google is also working with NBBJ to create "Bay View," the project for the Internet giant's new, larger corporate headquarters. The next-generation "Googleplex" features a less ostentatious design than the competition, yet it is pretentiously presented by glamour magazine Vanity Fair: nine buildings linked by bridges, a number of the roofs with park landscapes, the entire complex extending over numerous acres of restored wetlands.
And right next door, one of the world's leading chip manufacturers, Nvidia, is building an enormous corporate headquarters -- half football stadium, half airport terminal: two triangles made of glass and steel, inspired by the computer chip.
These plans -- which are accessible to the public thanks to administrative urban planning procedures -- include detailed computer simulations, cost estimates and blueprints that leave no doubt that these are supposed to be more than mere corporate headquarters. No, they are to be monuments, architectural techno-visions that reflect the now inexorable digital domination. They are an expression of the worldwide economic and cultural supremacy that Silicon Valley and its leaders overtly claim for themselves.
Idealized Nature and High Tech
Even if every company is making a visible effort to build its own architectural wonder, the overriding commonalities are unmistakable: All designs promise a mixture of idealized nature and high tech. Apple, for instance, intends to power its new campus entirely with on-site solar panels and wind turbines.
What's more, the architecture is consistently spreading outwards instead of reaching for the sky. This is the only way to create the perfect ideas factory: the ideal spatial environment for optimally productive digital workers who continuously churn out world-changing innovations.
"The idea is to make the perfect engineering space," says Zuckerberg. The simple logic: Individuals who collaborate are creative. Consequently, all boundaries must disappear, including floors and walls. Private offices no longer exist, not even for top management. The open creative playground is the prevailing fundamental design of the digital economy. Those who don't already have it, have to create it. Stragglers like Microsoft, Yahoo and SAP are gutting their buildings and eliminating many offices.
"It's all based on behavioral science," and is proven by numerous studies, says Hao Ko, design director at the Gensler architectural firm, and the man responsible for the new Nvidia headquarters. He says it has to do with "creating a setting in which people constantly meet and spontaneous conversations occur" -- and managers can't hide behind closed doors. Coworkers on the same floor see each other practically every day, but almost never if they work on different floors, Ko argues.
The traditional working world is being turned on its head: Instead of having to organize a wide range of meetings, private space now needs to be carved out of the existing open-plan office. Continuous interaction is the norm. Anyone who wants to remain unobserved has to make a special effort. "Everyone sits out in the open at desks that can be quickly rearranged depending on which teams happen to be forming around a project," says Everett Katigbak, a former environmental design manager at Facebook.
Open, Marketable and Transparent
It's not difficult to see this close proximity -- the lack of barriers and the loss of individual private space -- as an expression of the double-edged digital culture. While the Internet creates newfound freedom, people have no right to a private life in the digital age. Everything is open, marketable and transparent.
Today high-tech company headquarters already cater to their employees' every need, ensuring that nothing keeps them from being creative until late at night, and even on weekends. They offer a daunting range of services, including daycare facilities, dog training schools, swimming pools, climbing walls, pizzerias and open-air movie theaters. A mobile dental clinic ensures healthy teeth, while oil changes on the staff parking lot keep the vehicles running smoothly. And anyone who needs a break can have a lie-down in the "power nap corner."
The new buildings provide all of these services, but everything is snazzier, bigger and more sophisticated: restaurants galore, parks, supermarkets and state-of-the-art gyms. Come whenever you want, work whenever you want, and there is free food, smart phones and childcare. But please work until you drop so we can demolish the competition and all get rich.
Indeed, the all-inclusive facilities of Google, Apple, Facebook and their planned expansions are a precise reflection of the spirit of Silicon Valley -- a spirit that is an intriguing paradox: It combines a disciplined domination of the market with the freedom of the creative hippie artist.
In the 1990s, media theorists Richard Barbook and Andy Cameron coined the term "California ideology" to describe this phenomenon. "This new faith has emerged from a bizarre fusion of the cultural bohemianism of San Francisco with the hi-tech industries of Silicon Valley," they wrote. This has created a peculiar ideological mixture of right-wing and left-wing, ultra-individualistic and ultra-capitalistic beliefs, ranging from liberalism to anti-statism.
This was spiced with a good pinch of techno-determinism, preached by young company founders and Internet billionaires alike: In our fantasy world everyone can become rich and hip, and the world will be a better place, if you just let us do our thing.
Larry Page, cofounder and CEO of Google, said last spring that he would like to see "a part of the world" set aside for technological, social and other experiments to more quickly create the digital utopia. "There are many exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation," Page said. Regulation is a good thing, he admitted, but he wondered whether it would be possible to create "safe places" where everything would be possible.
An Impenetrable, Protected World
But as long as no one gives Page and his fellow technology gurus their own Google-land, they will have no other recourse but to create a conventional habitat that they can at least call their own. This includes company bus lines that plow through congested freeways to bring employees to work every day. Promoting public transport is apparently not an option. It should also come as no surprise that Google has an independent sewage system. Likewise, these companies are not aiming to develop the public urban landscape with their projects worth billions. This explains perhaps why an architecture critic in the New Yorker wrote that the new Apple campus is reminiscent of the Pentagon: an impenetrable, protected world.
In the Bay Area -- the region surrounding San Francisco and Silicon Valley -- people have been living for decades with strange ambivalence towards an industry that provides incredible prosperity and jobs, yet cares little about the public good. In answer to the question of how the city of Cupertino could benefit from the new Apple headquarters, Steve Jobs pointed out, "Well, as you know we're the largest taxpayer in Cupertino and we'd like to continue to stay here and pay taxes. If we can't then we have to go somewhere else like Mountain View and we'll take our current people with us and the city's largest tax base would go away."
This occasionally astounding autism can also be increasingly seen in the industry's business practices: Data privacy protection? Only as we see fit.
While sumptuous new corporate headquarters are going up, the region is left to deal with the excesses on its own: with the overburdened infrastructure and skyrocketing rents that make it nearly impossible for people earning a normal income to live in San Francisco, because the tech companies rent entire city blocks for their employees -- and are prepared to pay any price.
This has sparked perceptibly increasing, smoldering anger throughout the region. People rant about the techno-hipsters and their private bus lines, about the outrageously expensive apartments and rapidly rising cost of living. And they poke fun at the gigantomania of the Apple spaceship. No one is seeking an open confrontation with this all-dominating industry, though.
Last week, the Cupertino city council gave the green light to the Apple headquarters, voting unanimously in favor of the plans, just as they were proposed by the company. The project is slated to be completed in 2016. As he was presenting the designs, the mayor said: "The mother ship has landed."
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
The Christian Science Monitor -Zombie comet: Is Comet ISON really dead? Maybe not. (+video)
By Mark Sappenfield, Staff writer / November 29, 2013 at 11:41 am EST
As the minutes ticked by, the palpable sense of disappointment grew in Karl Battams's tweets.
Dr. Battams, a scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory, had for all intents and purposes become the emcee of a highly anticipated celestial event. The alluringly bright Comet ISON, discovered last year, would be swooping within a hair's breadth of the sun, cosmically speaking, on Thanksgiving Day, and if it made it out the other side, we earthlings would all be in for a treat as it swung by Earth a few days later.
Some were saying it could be the comet of the century – a can't-miss event that would make the entire Northern Hemisphere a community of sky-watchers.
But first it had to survive the searing heat of the sun's atmosphere, or corona, unscathed, and much of the sky-watching community was hanging on Battams's @SungrazerComets Twitter feed for updates.
On Thanksgiving Day, as ISON neared the sun, it flared so brilliantly that the Twitterverse essentially responded with a chorus of "oooohs."
And then nothing.
The comet disappeared behind the sun and nothing came out the other side. Like a Viking funeral, Comet ISON had seemingly given onlookers one last spectacular conflagration before heroically plummeting to its demise.
"Sorry we had to break such bad news ...," Battams said in one tweet.
Images were searched and searched by Battams and others for any trace of survival. And there were traces, but nothing that looked organized – that had a clear nucleus.
It is very possible (probable) that we're just seeing debris from comet #ISON falling apart. I just don't see anything like a nucleus.
— Sungrazer Comets (@SungrazerComets) November 28, 2013
And then, responding to romantic followers who were holding on to faint hopes: "We do think #ISON is dead but would love to be wrong!"
But that is the thing about comets. That is why stargazers were fixed on ISON since it was discovered last September by astronomers in Russia. Comets are delightfully unpredictable things.
On a Comet ISON Google+ Hangout online chat on Thanksgiving, scientist David Levy had the foresight to quip a traditional line about comets: "Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want."
Scientists were already abuzz over the opportunity to study Comet ISON as it swept through the sun's corona. How it interacted with the sun's atmosphere could help astronomers better understand both comet and corona.
Now, they have a new challenge: figuring out what the heck happened behind the sun.
Matthew Knight and I have looked at literally a couple of thousand sungrazing comets. We've NEVER seen one behave like #ISON. Astounding!
— Sungrazer Comets (@SungrazerComets) November 29, 2013
That faint trace, after all, did not dissipate as expected but began to strengthen again, suggesting that, perhaps there was still a nucleus – suggesting that Comet ISON is still a comet. With undisguised glee, Battams tweeted Friday morning:
Based on a few more hours of data, comet #ISON appears to be... well, behaving like a comet!
— Sungrazer Comets (@SungrazerComets) November 29, 2013
Will Comet ISON survive to give Earth a show, which would begin at its brightest near the eastern horizon near dawn on Dec. 2 and 3 and then tail off as the month passed? No one is foolish enough to guess. Two years ago, Comet Lovejoy made a similar pass by the sun and came out the other side, smaller but still intact. Within days, however, it had broken apart.
Still, the past 24 hours have assured the astronomical community's affection for the comet that wouldn't die.
Famous examples of back from the dead: vampires, zombies, walkers, Bret Favre, and now Comet #ISON
— Dr. Bruce Betts (@RandomSpaceFact) November 29, 2013
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFCw4uLVOiQ
In the USA...United Surveillance AmericaAll is not lost: Three reasons not to count President Obama out
By Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian
Saturday, November 30, 2013 10:31 EST
The roll-out of the Affordable Care Act has hatched a spasm of obituaries for Obama’s second term, and more than a few for Liberalism as We Know It. That’s right, Error 404: Ideology Not Found. At best, pundits have surmised that Obama’s popularity will never recover. Comparisons between the implementation of insurance exchanges and the Iraq War or Katrina, as infuriating as they are (how many times do we have to say it: Bush lied, people died; website crashed, people complained on Twitter) do suggest that a mid-term catastrophic failure can derail an entire presidential agenda. Charlie Cook, writing in The National Journal, had the most concise rebuttal of this theory: it’s way too early to tell. Or, put as a critique of the logic behind the death notices: pundits tend to think that any given political situation is static, but the truth is that a variety of circumstances can change either voters’ perspective or the real impact of presidential actions. Here’s a few things that could lift Obama out of his slump.
1. Wait until you see the other guy
Obama benefits when he can function in full campaign mode and present an “apples to apples” comparison to voters. When the GOP primary ramps up, he’ll get a chance to do this again. His last sustained high in approval came in November 2012; that 56% high-water mark was in the week after the Newtown shootings and many attributed it to a “rally around the flag” surge in patriotism, but the week previous – in the direct aftermath of the elections – it had been at 54%. In fact, Obama sporadic surges throughout 2012 all came after voters were given a chance to think about another specific politician doing the same specific job, most notably after the Democratic and Republican conventions in late summer.
The White House’s attempts to push non-ACA stories is clearly an attempt to take advantage of this strength. Whereas the ACA has made it possible for the GOP to simply point at the mess and not necessarily offer solutions, when it comes to immigration reform or foreign policy, Obama has a chance to define himself against an existing set of competing ideas. Think of that situation as judging two applicants for a position: Obama interviews better. Contrast this to what happens when, say, you have two teams on a field playing a penalty-ridden scoreless game (such as during the budget negotiations): spectators are disgusted by both sides. (Some strategists in the GOP seem to believe that such chaos has at least short-term benefits for their side, hence their glee in perpetuating it.)
2. The Republican Party is fighting itself
The GOP’s fraught internal battles have fractured it severely, perhaps irreparably (considering that many are asserting the demise of liberalism, I should probably make clear here that I’m sureconservatism will do just fine). While most commentators, including myself, have adopted the shorthand of “The Tea Party versus the establishment”, the schisms range across ideological, attitudinal, generational and even regional lines. There is no reason to believe that that the debates will stay civil; indeed, they’ve already gotten pretty ugly. Some fist fights have broken through at the national level (Rand Paul versus Chris Christie, Ted Cruz versus John McCain, Boehner versus his caucus). Those simmering at the state level threaten party unity just as much, especially the split in Iowa GOP between a libertarian faction that gained control in 2012 and a legacy cohort that wants to regain the advantage and steer the First-in-the-Nation Caucus to anyone not named Rand Paul. Imagine a primary battle that starts with a drawn-out slugfest among Cruz, Rand and Christie.
In Ohio, Governor John Kaisch, once lauded as a lauded 2016 GOP presidential contender, now faces a barrage of criticism for his embrace of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. As long as the ACA stays symbol of all that’s wrong with “big government”, the message is damaging. But it could backfire if Kaisch gains re-election (as it looks like he will) using a defense of the Medicaid changes that, with the exception of a single word, could just as easily come from Elizabeth Warren as a Republican: “I think its critical that we’re able to help people to help themselves to get them to work. … Conservatism means that you help people so they can help themselves and so they can enter in the economic strength of our country.”
3. The success stories from the ACA will come out
The dysfunctional exchange websites have meant that ACA “success stories” – struggling families gaining health insurance they once could not afford – are all but buried, while conservatives push into that void the “horror stories” of relatively affluent self-insured households (on Fox at least, many of the featured case-studies seem to have existing ideological objections to the ACA). As the roll-out has continued, however, the trickle of stories about working-class families breathing easier (and thus contributing to a more robust economy) thanks to the ACA exchanges has gained strength. The numbers will eventual outweigh the anecdotes: Republicans have counted about about one million Californians as among those to whom Obama broke his “if you like it, you can keep it” promise. But it’s estimated that about two million residents, including almost all of the holders of those cancelled policies, will receive subsidies to purchase insurance plans that pass the ACA minimum requirements (aka, better plans) that are also ultimately cheaper – even if the premiums are higher, their out-of-pocket expenses will go down thanks to fully covered preventive care, lower deductibles and no penalties for previously existing conditions.
The California numbers reflect analysis that takes into consideration not just cancelled policies but all those who might benefit from subsidies, but even if one sticks to the outcomes for those with cancelled plans, the picture is far from bleak – in North Carolina, 60% of those with cancelled policies will qualify for subsidies; in Florida, 66 percent; in Utah, 84% do. Between five and six million people who do not qualify for the Medicaid expansion and are currently uninsured – arguably the precise demographic for whom the ACA was created – will get subsidies that cancel out entirely the cost of the cheapest policies available, at least one million more Americans than have had their existing policies cancelled. The individual stories of these policy holders exist with or without a functioning federal website, and some reporters have found them, so they will just take longer to get out. But they will get out.
******************Walmart and Downton Abbey: rampant inequality and detachment from reality
By Sadhbh Walshe, The Guardian
Friday, November 29, 2013 12:58 EST
I’m not exactly sure what it is about the hit British TV series, Downton Abbey, that has enthralled so many of us. The scenery is great, Lady Mary’s wardrobe is just fabulous, but there are plot holes so huge one could drive Lady Edith’s car through them. I suspect the fascination it provokes has something to do with nostalgia – a hankering for a simpler time, when everyone knew their place and where the classes, though separate and unequal, were at least able to be polite to one other. Whatever it is that we find so charming about the series, however, we should try to keep in mind that the rampant inequality it celebrates is not something we should be hankering after.
America has its own real-life upstairs/downstairs thing going on at the moment, best embodied by the Walton clan, who own the lion’s share of Walmart Stores, Inc. Walmart is the single largest private employer in America with a work force of some 1.3 million. Each of the four Walton’s who have an interest in the stores increased their net worth by $7bn last year alone. Meanwhile, the company’s sales associates, who make up the bulk of the work-force, earn an average of $8.81 per hour – less than the federal poverty level for a family of four.
So it’s a bit like Downton Abbey on a bigger budget, most of which is allocated to the above the line players. While the Walton’s, with their occasional charitable doings and their apparent detachment from reality, seem to feel very comfortable in their role as modern day Lord and Lady Granthams, their poverty-wage workers seem less inclined to imitate the subservient behavior of their below-stairs counterparts. And that’s a good thing.
Today, Black Friday as it’s known among shopaholics, a slew of protests are being planned outside some 1500 Walmart stores across the country to demand better pay and work conditions. I can only imagine what Downton’s dowager countess (she, of “What is a weekend?” fame) would have to say if the workers at Downton Abbey dropped their pitchforks (or raised them perhaps) on one of the estate’s busiest days of the year. I’m sure she would be shocked at the ingratitude of the Walmart employees, particularly since at least one Walmart store was recently kind enough to organize a food drive for its impoverished workers so they could enjoy a decent Thanksgiving meal. It’s unlikely that the dowager would ever have come around to thinking that it might be better for everyone if the serving classes were given a chance to rise up the social ladder. But the Walmart bosses may someday learn that their disinclination to share the wealth may not be entirely in their best interests.
Although the Walton family made out like bandits last year and the outgoing CEO of Walmart Stores, Inc, Michael T Duke, took home nearly $20m in compensation, the company is not actually doing very well. The US stores have reported shrinking sales for three straight quarters. In a rare moment of clarity, the president and CEO of Walmart US, William Simon, attributed the drop in sales to the over stretched incomes of the low wage consumer the store typically attracts. He explained:
Their income is going down while food costs are not. Gas and energy prices, while they’re abating, I think they’re still eating up a big piece of the customer’s budget.
The irony, of course, is that by paying so many of its 1.3 million employees poverty wages, and setting a low bar for wages across the board, the company is eating into its customer base and thus may be contributing to its own decline.
Writing about this issue recently, former secretary of labor, Robert Reich, made the comparison with Henry Ford’s approach to wages. In an effort to boost sales of his Model T’s, Ford decided to pay his own workers triple the average factory wage of the time. Ford would be called a socialist if he were alive today, and no doubt was called worse at the time. His cunning plan did work, though. By raising the wages of his own employees, wages for factory workers increased across the board. More workers were then in a position to buy the product Ford was trying to sell them and he made a killing.
With so many workers in America today being paid so little that they can’t even afford to buy food, it’s no wonder that even low price stores like Walmart are suffering a decline in sales. For now, however, the company seems content with the Downton Abbey model of doing business, where the top 1% get to monopolize the wealth and the long suffering workers are expected to keep a stiff upper lip about it.
The problem with this economic model is that it tends to crash under its own weight. As Nobel prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, wrote last year in Vanity Fair, if people like the Waltons (aka the 1%) are to survive and thrive, they should have the sense to know that “there would be no top of the pyramid without a solid base.” The best thing the top brass at Walmart could do to preserve their own privileged status would be to raise wages for their workers. A recent study by the progressive thinktank Demos illustrated that the company could afford to pay its workers an additional $5.83 an hour (pdf), enough to bring their wages just above the poverty level, simply by ending the company’s share-buyback program. This way prices could stay as they are but sales would increase as more workers would have more money to spend.
Even the dowager countess could get down with that scenario. So far, however, the Walton’s and their ilk have resisted such a move at every turn, preferring instead to loll around in smoking jackets a la Lord Grantham does while his estate collapses around him. Hopefully the workers, who have more to fight for, will not be so foolish or complacent.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
****************Florida man’s $10 billion plan to build ‘floating city’ for the wealthy is ‘a live project again’
By Scott Kaufman
Friday, November 29, 2013 15:54 EST
Roger Gooch, the director and vice-president of Freedom Ship International, announced today that its titular project, the Freedom Ship, will resume now that the economic crisis has passed.
It “now looks as if it is a live project again,” Gooch told The Telegraph‘s Hannah Strange. “The Freedom Ship will “be the largest vessel ever built, and the first ever floating city.” The city will cost approximately $10 billion to construct, but Gooch believes that with the economy recovering, he can secure the funding.
The ship will be 25 stories high, over one mile long, and will feature an airport to ferry passengers and residents on and off the boat. Because of its size, it will not be able to enter ports, and will have to be moored off the coastlines of the cities it travels to. According to Sarasota, Florida engineer who designed it, Norman Nixon, the Freedom Ship would circumnavigate the globe once every two years.
When Nixon first proposed the project in 1999, many accused him of attempting to create a mobile tax shelter for the wealthy. “We are not trying to create an independent country. We are not building a tax haven,” he said at the time. “The real reason we are building Freedom Ship is to have fun, make some money and see the world.”
Condominiums on the ship will be sold once the initial funding for its construction has been secured. One bedroom units will start at $150,000, with luxury units selling for anywhere between $7 million and $10 million.
Watch a short video about the re-designed Freedom Ship below.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4cxcdbWzv8
November 30, 2013Where Factory Apprenticeship Is Latest Model From Germany
By NELSON D. SCHWARTZ
GREER, S.C. — For Joerg Klisch, hiring the first 60 workers to build heavy engines at his company’s new factory in South Carolina was easy. Finding the next 60 was not so simple.
“It seemed like we had sucked up everybody who knew about diesel engines,” said Mr. Klisch, vice president for North American operations of Tognum America. “It wasn’t working as we had planned.”
So Mr. Klisch did what he would have done back home in Germany: He set out to train them himself. Working with five local high schools and a career center in Aiken County, S.C. — and a curriculum nearly identical to the one at the company’s headquarters in Friedrichshafen — Tognum now has nine juniors and seniors enrolled in its apprenticeship program.
Inspired by a partnership between schools and industry that is seen as a key to Germany’s advanced industrial capability and relatively low unemployment rate, projects like the one at Tognum are practically unheard-of in the United States.
But experts in government and academia, along with those inside companies like BMW, which has its only American factory in South Carolina, say apprenticeships are a desperately needed option for younger workers who want decent-paying jobs, or increasingly, any job at all. And without more programs like the one at Tognum, they maintain, the nascent recovery in American manufacturing will run out of steam for lack of qualified workers.
“South Carolina offers a fantastic model for what we can do nationally,” said Ben Olinsky, co-author of a forthcoming report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington research organization, recommending a vast expansion in apprenticeships.
Despite South Carolina’s progress and the public support for apprenticeships from President Obama, who cited the German model in his last State of the Union address, these positions are becoming harder to find in other states. Since 2008, the number of apprentices has fallen by nearly 40 percent, according to the Center for American Progress study.
“As a nation, over the course of the last couple of decades, we have regrettably and mistakenly devalued apprenticeships and training,” said Thomas E. Perez, the secretary of labor. “We need to change that, and you will hear the president talk a lot about it in the weeks and months ahead.”
In November, the White House announced a new $100 million grant program aimed at advancing technical training in high schools. But veteran apprenticeship advocates say the Obama administration has been slow to act.
“The results have not matched the rhetoric in terms of direct funding for apprenticeships so far,” said Robert Lerman, a professor of economics at American University in Washington. “I’m hoping for a new push.”
In Germany, apprentices divide their time between classroom training in a public vocational school and practical training at a company or small firm. Some 330 types of apprenticeships are accredited by the government in Berlin, including such jobs as hairdresser, roofer and automobile electronics specialist. About 60 percent of German high school students go through some kind of apprenticeship program, which leads to a formal certificate in the chosen skill and often a permanent job at the company where the young person trained.
If there is a downside to the German system, it is that it can be inflexible, because a person trained in a specific skill may find it difficult to switch vocations if demand shifts.
In South Carolina, apprenticeships are mainly funded by employers, but the state introduced a four-year, annual tax credit of $1,000 per position in 2007 that proved to be a boon for small- to medium-size companies. The Center for American Progress report recommends a similar credit nationwide that would rise to $2,000 for apprentices under age 25.
The emphasis on job training has also been a major calling card overseas for South Carolina officials, who lured BMW here two decades ago and more recently persuaded France’s Michelin and Germany’s Continental Tire to expand in the state.
“The European influence is huge,” said Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina, which links the state’s technical college system with private companies to help create specialized programs. “They are our strongest partners.”
European companies are major employers in the state, with more than 28,000 workers for German companies alone. The influx has helped stanch much of the bleeding caused by the decades-long erosion of jobs in the textile industry, once the economic bulwark of the Palmetto state.
Of course, there are other reasons foreign companies have moved here. For starters, wages are lower than the national average. Even more important for many manufacturers, unions have made few inroads in South Carolina.
Still, the close cooperation between employers and the state educational system is unusual, and despite initial skepticism on both sides, apprenticeship opportunities are rapidly expanding both for high-school age students and for older workers.
Apprenticeship Carolina started in 2007 with 777 students at 90 companies. It now has 4,500 students at more than 600 companies in the state, with the typical apprentice in his or her late 20s. Mr. Neese’s goal is to have 2,000 companies by 2020.
To help develop his program, Mr. Neese has traveled to Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where apprenticeships are thriving, youth unemployment is relatively low and blue-collar jobs are still prized. That contrasts with the United States, where the economic fortunes of younger people with just a high school diploma have plummeted, and the unemployment rate among workers age 16 to 19 stands at more than 20 percent.
“This generation has taken a huge hit from the economic crisis,” said Alexander Gelber, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley and a former senior Treasury official. “Apprenticeships offer people the possibility of building skills when they often don’t have many other options.”
So why have they not caught on in the United States like in Germany, which has 1.8 million apprentices with less than one-third the population?
Besides a longstanding stigma attached to vocational education, opposition from entrenched interests on both the left and the right has hobbled past efforts to promote apprenticeships, including under President Clinton in the 1990s.
Joerg Klisch discovered this firsthand when he started seeking support for the program in 2011.
School officials were wary of allowing a private company to dictate the curriculum. Meanwhile, among employers, “there seems to be a perception that apprenticeship means unions,” Mr. Klisch said. “It doesn’t, but we have to overcome this hurdle.”
Here in Greer, where more than 7,000 employees produce over 300,000 S.U.V.’s and other luxury cars a year in a sprawling, ultramodern BMW factory, Richard Morris, vice president for assembly and logistics, identifies one of the company’s biggest problems: a serious shortage of medium-skilled workers who specialize in mechatronics, or repairing robots and metal presses when they break down and operating the computers that dot the paint shop, body shop and assembly shop. Not only do these jobs pay better than typical assembly-line positions, they also open up avenues for advancement.
Werner Eikenbusch, manager of work force development for BMW in the Americas, is himself the product of an apprenticeship program in Germany who later went back to school and earned a master’s degree in engineering. He helped create the BMW Scholars program in 2011, he said, “to build the skills from the ground up.”
The BMW Scholars are older than Tognum’s apprentices — mostly in their 20s and 30s — and they study full-time at local technical colleges for two years while also working in the BMW factory for 20 hours a week.
“It is a struggle, but if you know how to manage the time, it is not hard,” said Benjamin Peoples, a 27-year-old BMW Scholar who dropped out of Clemson University a few years ago because he could no longer afford it. “I wanted to work with my hands and with machines, but I didn’t have experience with robots.”
Mr. Eikenbusch has been pitching the program to European parts suppliers in the area, as well as to executives at Boeing, which began building sections of the new 787 Dreamliner in Charleston in 2011. He hopes they will follow BMW’s lead.
“We need to find a way to establish two-year training programs on a broader scale,” he said. “Everybody who I hire is someone who is not available for our suppliers to hire.”
Jack Ewing contributed reporting from Frankfurt.
What now for the surveillance state?
Even GCHQ and the NSA know their work may not be sustainable without a proper debate about their power
The Guardian, Monday 2 December 2013
To most visitors, Cheltenham is a charming spa town on the edge of the Cotswolds. They admire its handsome regency terraces, visit its racecourse and throng to a thriving festival scene. Less visibly, Cheltenham is also a company town built around one industry: spying.
The Government Communications Headquarters seems to be very good at what it does. Its 6,400 employees include many bright computer engineers who work tirelessly to invent ever more imaginative ways to collect vast amounts of data on hundreds of millions of people.
Some find what they do reassuring, others menacing. As for the people who work at GCHQ, they have found themselves, for the first time, under intense scrutiny. This is, to put it mildly, unwelcome to them. They would like it to stop – and they have friends in politics, the law and even the press who agree.
According to those who study such things for a living, we live in a golden age of surveillance. The mobile phones we carry around betray us – our movements, our search terms, our health, our intentions, our friends, our emails, our texts. A bland name for it is "metadata". But, as one former lawyer with the US National Security Agency told me: "Metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody's life."
GCHQ is, along with the NSA, a world leader. Over the past five years GCHQ's access to what they call "light" (a sweeter name for metadata) has increased by 7,000%, according to documents leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The amount of material being analysed or processed is up by 3,000%. That's a lot of light.
Some accuse GCHQ of being little more than the Cheltenham branch office of the NSA. This may be unfair, but Whitehall officials concede that there is a high degree of co-operation and sharing between the two agencies. One of Cheltenham's senior legal advisers put the possible attraction for their American counterparts this way: "We have a light oversight regime compared with the US."
GCHQ, which receives tens of millions of pounds from the NSA every year, used, in some minds, to be the Cinderella of the intelligence world. The public imagination was more easily captured by James Bond, George Smiley and the cold war pitting of agent against agent.
It's now clear that GCHQ and the NSA have risen without trace to the top of the intelligence pecking order. Increasingly an asymmetry has developed: they potentially know virtually everything about us, but we know virtually nothing about them.
This raises three questions. First, is it right that they are able to master all civil and commercial forms of communication in order to collect, store and analyse information about entire populations? Who knew?
Secondly, is it right that we should know so little about who they are or what they do – that this dramatic loss of individual privacy, unprecedented in history, could be done without any kind of public knowledge or consent? Who agreed?
Finally, is this new infrastructure sustainable?
Everyone agrees we need intelligence agencies and that their work will, to a significant degree, be secret. But technology today is so potentially intrusive it raises sharp questions about what sort of democratic controls or accountability can be exercised over the talented engineers at Cheltenham or their counterparts in Fort Meade, Maryland.
The traditional answer has been secret courts and secret committees. But all come with further questions. Are the trusted few invariably told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but? Do they know what questions to ask? Do they truly understand cutting-edge technologies? How much auditing can they really do on secret bureaucracies and processes? Do they have privacy advocates or digital advisers at hand? How much do they themselves share with fellow lawmakers who might reasonably need to have some insight into the state's capabilities before approving still more powers?
The secrecy regulators themselves thus come under scrutiny – and it is clear that the Snowden documents raise issues of concern. It is certain, for instance, that Congress was not always told the truth about what the NSA was up to. The independence of the foreign intelligence surveillance court – the one-sided secret mechanism for signing off state surveillance requests – has also been questioned. The Westminster parliamentarians asked to approve vastly expanded powers of data collection are furious they were denied information which has only now come to light.
The one striking point of agreement now is that virtually everyone concedes the need for a public debate about these issues. "Everyone" includes the US president, lawmakers, ambassadors, academics, tech companies, cryptologists, journalists, lawyers, the oversight committees – and even the spies themselves.
The congressman who was responsible for the post-9/11 Patriot Act was horrified to discover (from the press) what it was being used for and is moving another bill to stop what he considers to be unwarranted snooping. He says he wants to "put the [NSA's] metadata program out of business".
The intelligence agencies must be asking themselves how such programmes are sustainable without that debate – and without meaningful consent from the people whose data is being harvested. After Chelsea Manning and Snowden it is surely apparent the agencies cannot securely keep their precious secrets if their own employees are troubled enough to leak them. Their engineers and analysts must believe that the law is in tune with the technologies they create and employ.
Finally, there is the role of the media in all this. This debate would not have been possible without journalists – and, indeed, without Snowden himself. The issues which, it's now acknowledged, have to be discussed were not revealed through secret oversight processes but by newspapers.
A former NSA general counsel, Stewart Baker, stated what he understood to be the constitutional settlement in the US regarding the position of the press in such matters: "Snowden violated the law, but once he's given it to the reporters, the reporters are protected."
In America there is no prior restraint. No journalist is prosecuted under the Espionage Act. There is virtually no criticism of the New York Times or Washington Post for pursuing a story which is so clearly of public importance.
In Britain the picture is far less clear. Here, the state can threaten to close down debate, impound documents, call in the police, misuse terror laws and even get parliament to investigate a newspaper which shines a light on institutions more comfortable with darkness.
"When a government calls journalists traitors the questions should begin, not end," wrote the New Yorker's Amy Davidson recently. She's right.
Alan Rusbridger is the editor of the Guardian
From Turing to Snowden: how US-UK pact forged modern surveillance
Revelations show transatlantic intelligence pact started in second world war is expanding beyond states' ability to control it
The Guardian, Monday 2 December 2013
There haven't been too many moments of levity over the past four months for those intimately involved in the story of Edward Snowden. It hasn't been a laughing matter for the man himself, who is now stuck in Russia, the intelligence agencies whose secrets he has disclosed, or the governments that have had to deal with the consequences.
But the impasse between the opposing forces in this unprecedented and complex saga has been broken on occasion. One of these moments came at the Guardian's London headquarters, near King's Cross station, on Wednesday 17 July.
The scene was a second-floor office overlooking Regent's Canal, the time 11am. On one side of a large, round wooden table sat two senior officials from the Cabinet Office, nursing cups of coffee and unconcealed irritation. Facing them were two journalists from the Guardian.
After hollow pleasantries and firm handshakes, the conversation turned to the right to freedom of speech on issues that might affect national security. And, though no voices were raised, the message – which had come directly from the prime minister – was loud, clear and intended to unnerve.
The Guardian had become a target for every intelligence service in the world, intoned the grey-suited official. His colleague nodded. She took notes. Hostile foreign agencies would be using all manner of low tricks and high technology to get hold of the classified files gifted to us by Snowden.
The tactics might include anything from pointing long-range lasers at plastic cups used by our reporters (very good for eavesdropping apparently), to bribing members of our staff. Had we recruited anyone in the past few weeks, they inquired? Any Chinese, perhaps?
The Guardian had to be alert to such dangers because the threat could come from anyone, anywhere, at any time.
"Some of the best assets of the best intelligence services in the world will be interested in you," said the bespectacled official. At precisely that moment, and with implausibly good timing, two window cleaners slowly dropped into view on the outside of the building. In a cradle hanging from the roof, they soaped, swiped and polished, moving slowly up and down just a few feet away.
"Are they yours or the Chinese?" said one of the editors. Even the mandarins managed a smile.
For a few moments the absurdity of the situation overwhelmed the seriousness; and if it wasn't quite football between the trenches at Christmas, the meeting ended cordially, with both sides recognising the difficulties of the other.
Since then, the debate has become rather more polarised, entrenching views at a time when a more rounded and less doctrinal discussion might be better for the people who really matter in all this.
Those people do not include Snowden or the reporters working on the stories; or the directors of intelligence who have been so affronted by the disclosures; or even the presidents and prime ministers on whose watches surveillance has entered a new, remarkable, era. The principal characters in this drama are not the giant computers used for storage, analysis and codebreaking, or the technicians who built them.
The people who really count are the millions who send emails or search on Google or use mobile phones – and expect privacy. Those who use Skype, send direct messages on Twitter, post on Facebook or rely on the internet to buy groceries also make up the cast. Because all this information, whatever safeguards you have taken, can be swept up, decoded and analysed by British and American intelligence agencies.
Arguments over Snowden's motives, whether he is a whistleblower or a traitor, whether his disclosures have damaged the agencies or just embarrassed them, may never be reconciled. But on one matter there is no doubt. The highly classified files have shown that espionage has changed.
The world immortalised by John le Carré drew a distinction between those who were in "the business" and those who were not. This withered with satellite communications and died when everyone began to research and speak to each other online. We are all part of "the business" now.
Without offering details to anyone outside their inner circles, western intelligence agencies embarked on a new strategy – data trawling.
When the first of the Snowden revelations was published in the Guardian in June – revealing that the NSA was secretly storing and analysing details of millions of phone calls made in the US – the transformation was recognised immediately.
"The administration is saying that without any individual suspicion of wrongdoing, the government is allowed to know whom Americans are calling every time they make a phone call, for how long they talk and where," the New York Times said in an editorial.
"Through a series of legal contortions Obama has argued that Congress, since 9/11, intended to implicitly authorise mass surveillance. But this strategy mostly consists of wordplay, fearmongering and a highly selective reading of the law."
As the focus of the stories turned to the UK over the following weeks, it would soon become clear that all those criticisms could be levelled at Britain too. The UK hasn't just been a partner in this technological adventure, it has been a pioneer, with the two countries working more closely in the field of intelligence-gathering than in perhaps any other since the second world war.
Nick Hopkins gifs: moving conveyer belt
The bombe and the Purple machine
The gardens at Woking crematorium in Surrey are neat and peaceful, and full of well-tended rows of red, pink and yellow autumn flowers. Under the blooms sit further rows of small, clean white postcards, on which mourners have written their thoughts and prayers for the deceased.
The crematorium was founded in 1878 (to the indignation of residents who didn't want the town to become the first in the country to have such a godless facility) and sits directly opposite the Winston Churchill sports centre.
A few of the dead have memorials here; many more have their names recorded in the books of remembrance that are stored in the vaults. Alan Mathison Turing is not one of them.
Turing was cremated here on Saturday 12 June 1954, five days after he died. His ashes were spread by his elder brother John, in Tennyson Lake Garden North, a secluded 1.6-hectare (four-acre) garden next to a pond where their father's remains had also been scattered.
Archives at the crematorium only record that Turing was 41 and that his occupation was "university reader". There is nothing else to mark his death.
The Times obituary, which appeared on the same day, noted Turing was a mathematician and logician who had branched into "the design and use of automatic computing machines".
The piece bemoaned how the second world war had "interrupted Turing's mathematical career for six critical years between the age of 27 and 33" – and his death had deprived the world of a man who could have "made much greater discoveries". Few people knew the truth: Turing was a master codebreaker, and during those "lost" war years, he had made one of the most important discoveries in British military history.
He had enabled the codes used by the Nazis to send messages to and from their commanders to be cracked.
The story of Turing and the team at Bletchley Park was not one GCHQ wanted to boast about in the 1950s or in the decades thereafter; his work was top secret, his private life complex and, for the time, scandalous.
Turing was gay. He killed himself by eating an apple laced with cyanide two years after he had been convicted of having a sexual relationship with a young man from Manchester.
Just about everything Turing did in his professional and personal life, and the environment in which he did it, has changed since his death.
But if you are tracing the roots of the relationship between GCHQ and the NSA, to understand why the agencies work so closely together, and why they seem so genuinely perplexed (and angry) by the furore now surrounding them, then it is to Turing and his contemporaries that you have to turn.
Looking back is also the only way to appreciate how the intelligence agencies have ended up on the path to mass surveillance, and managed to travel a long way down it, without facing the kind of public scrutiny they are confronted with now. The fathers of the institutions that have become security behemoths were men such as Turing and Wolf Friedman, an American cryptologist who was as brilliant as his British counterpart although somewhat less eccentric.
There had been codebreakers before these two, but their work was on the verge of a technological revolution that is still going on today.
Working in Hut 8 at Bletchley Park, then the home of GCHQ's forerunner, the Government Code and Cypher School, Turing found a way of reading messages sent by the Germans, using a codebreaking machine called the bombe. Across the Atlantic, Friedman developed a way of cracking the Purple machine, the device used by Japan to code wartime messages.
British and American spies had worked closely during the first world war, but the bonds were pulled tighter in the spring of 1941, when four US officials travelled to Bletchley Park to deliver a model of the Purple machine.
They received intelligence gifts in return and the exchange of information has been going on ever since.
During the second world war, codebreaking was the endeavour of small teams of gifted individuals, working with crude machines that hummed and whirred as cogs and wheels of varying sizes turned at different speeds.
The enemy was known and the purpose of the interceptions clear – to seize the initiative in a global war between countries who threatened each other's existence.
But in the years that followed, the enemies changed, intelligence capabilities developed, and the newly renamed GCHQ and newly formed NSA, created in October 1952, began an inexorable rise, intertwining interests and capabilities that insiders say would now be almost impossible to untangle. Professor Anthony Glees, who has written about this relationship, says it is one of Britain's last claims to global power status.
"In large part this position stems from three facts of British life, each directly connected in purpose to the other: our nuclear deterrent capability, our armed forces and our secret intelligence community," he said.
"Yet what gives us our critical mass as a power is one single, overarchingly important reality: our intense and intimate security relationship with the USA. Intelligence co-operation is its throbbing heart."
One senior member of Britain's intelligence community told the Guardian: "The relationship between the NSA and GCHQ is unique. Most intelligence agencies compete with each other. The CIA, for instance, sees MI6 as a competitor. They work with each other, but there is always some tension. The NSA and GCHQ are not like that.
"When you get a GCHQ pass it gives you access to the NSA too. You can walk into the NSA and find GCHQ staff holding senior management positions, and vice versa. When the NSA has a piece of intelligence, it will very often ask GCHQ for a second opinion. There have been ups and downs over the years, of course. But in general, the NSA and GCHQ are extremely close allies. They rely on each other."
This symbiosis developed during the attritional years of the cold war. It continued to evolve as signals intelligence – Sigint, as the agencies call it – became as important as human intelligence (Humint) – recruiting "moles" and informers.
And with the onset of the internet and cyberwarfare, GCHQ and the NSA, always in lockstep, achieved pre-eminence among their agency peers.
The Snowden files revealed intelligence-gathering is now being conducted on a grand scale, with the NSA and GCHQ exploiting advances in technology to tap into, store and analyse more and more information.
Without Snowden, we would not have known that the amount of personal data available to GCHQ from internet and mobile traffic increased by 7,000% between 2008 and 2012.
That is just what the UK collects; the files also revealed that 60% of all Britain's refined intelligence comes from the NSA.
From humble beginnings in rickety wooden huts, GCHQ has become the keystone of Britain's spy agencies, and its "doughnut" headquarters in Cheltenham is probably the most remarkable building ever constructed in the UK.
Covering more than 92,000 sq metres (1m sq ft), it is packed with supercomputers operated by codebreakers and data miners who work behind concrete and limestone walls that are up to 2.5 metres (8ft) thick.
With a staff of 6,400, it is the biggest of Britain's intelligence agencies. It is rather smaller, however, than the NSA.
At its headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the NSA has more than 1,000 buildings on a 2,000-hectare (5,000 acre) site and employs an estimated 40,000 people. That figure does not include the analysts at different bases across the world, or the army of subcontractors needed to keep the agency running smoothly. Edward Joseph Snowden was one of them.
For a man who has been at the centre of worldwide attention for five months, surprisingly little is known about Snowden.
After "outing" himself in June, insisting he didn't want to hide behind a cloak of anonymity, he has spoken on just a few occasions, and only when circumstances seemed to demand it.
He avoided everyone he didn't want to see when he was in Hong Kong, the first place he escaped to, and for several weeks he remained beyond the reach of the world's media, and doubtless a small army of spies, while holed up in a hotel room in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.
In the absence of regular pronouncements, there has been much animated speculation about why he did what he did, who has the material he took, and what kind of damage he has done.
And most of it remains just that – speculation, albeit of a kind that has fuelled character assassinations from those circling the wagons around the intelligence agencies.
Traitor was a barb he must have expected; he has also been branded a self-serving twerp (by the former head of MI5 Stella Rimington), a naive narcissist, and perhaps strangest of all, a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood (in the Washington Post).
What we do know about Snowden suggests he doesn't easily fit into any of those categories, or indeed, any stereotype. He does not look like a computer boffin, nor does he speak in the manner of a tortured ideologue.
There is no Julian Assange-like messiah complex for cod-psychologists to dissect, and money doesn't appear to matter much to him. He hasn't asked for, or received, any payment from the Guardian.
He remains something of an enigma, happy to stay out of the limelight.
Born on 21 June 1983, Snowden spent his early years in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. His parents, Lonnie and Elizabeth Snowden, were teenage sweethearts who met at Northeastern high school and married in a "back garden" wedding in 1979, when they were 18. They had a daughter, Jessica, and then Edward. They split up in 2001 and Lonnie, who retired from the US coastguard, has since remarried and moved to Pennsylvania.
In 1993, when Snowden was 10, the family moved to Crofton, Maryland, near the NSA's HQ. Neighbours who spoke to US newspapers said he was polite, quiet and seemed to spend too much time looking at computers. Dawn Whitmore, a former classmate, remembered him as a shy and serious boy, who sported a pudding-bowl haircut and thick glasses. "He was very well thought-out with what he was trying to say. He was always very, very nice with me, but I was also a very nerdy, shy girl."
Snowden went on to Anne Arundel community school, but dropped out in his second year. He dropped out again in 2004 but must have studied at home to earn a GED (General Educational Development) – the equivalent of a high-school certificate.
Snowden might have ended up in the army – he had four months in the reserves in mid-2004. "I enlisted shortly after the invasion of Iraq and I believed in the goodness of what we were doing," Snowden said. But he broke both legs in an accident and never completed his training.
Though he may not have had a string of formal qualifications, sitting in front of a screen honed something inside him, because in 2005, after a spell as a security guard, he was taken on by the CIA as an IT analyst. He was obviously good at it, because within two years he was one of the agency's operatives working in Geneva, Switzerland. It was not an experience he enjoyed.
"Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world," he said. "I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good."
Snowden had a variety of jobs with confusing titles. Essentially the posts gave him privileged access to internal networks: ironing out problems, making systems work more efficiently and, ironically, making sure they were secure.
He was a troubleshooter, which is the principle reason why he managed to see so many documents – and spirit them away without leaving an electronic fingerprint.
"When you're in positions of privileged access, you're exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee," he said. "And because of that you see things that may be disturbing. You recognise that some of these things are actually abuses. And when you talk to people about them in a place like this … people tend not to take them [the abuses] very seriously.
"Over time that awareness of wrongdoing builds up. And the more you talk about it the more you're ignored, the more you're told it's not a problem, until eventually you realise these things need to be determined by the public and not by somebody who was simply hired by the government."
In 2009 Snowden left the CIA to work in the private sector and four years later he got a job with Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting company that supplies computer specialists to the NSA. Initially he was posted to Japan, then Hawaii. Snowden has admitted he only took the $122,000-a-year (£75,000) post to get access to certain material. By 20 May 2013, he had gathered what he wanted.
He boarded a flight to Hong Kong, leaving behind him a bewildered girlfriend, a boss who thought he needed time off to treat epilepsy (his cover story), and any chance he could ever again lead a normal life.
In interviews over the past four months, he has attempted to answer the questions that have been thrown at him, particularly by those who have made the most damaging claim – that he must have given his secrets to foreign governments.
He insists this is completely untrue. "This is a predictable smear that I anticipated before going public, as the US media has a kneejerk 'Red China!' reaction to anything involving Hong Kong or China, and is intended to distract from the issue of US government misconduct.
"Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now. No. I have had no contact with the Chinese government. I only work with journalists."
In his most recent interview in the New York Times, Snowden said he hadn't taken any secret files with him to Russia, where he has been given asylum for a year. "What would be the unique value of personally carrying another copy of materials onward? There's a 0% chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents."
The four computers Snowden has been carrying with him since he left Hawaii were not jam-packed with secret files after all; they were a decoy. US officials who have been to Moscow have since said this is correct.
The other accusation made against Snowden is that he revealed secrets that would put people's lives in danger. He denies this emphatically. "I did not reveal any US operations against legitimate military targets. I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals and private businesses because it is dangerous. These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target. The public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the 'consent of the governed' is meaningless."
But the revelations must have affected national security? Think again, he asks.
"US officials say this every time there's a public discussion that could limit their authority. US officials also provide misleading or directly false assertions about the value of these programmes.
"Journalists should ask a specific question: since these programmes began operation shortly after September 11, how many terrorist attacks were prevented solely by information derived from this suspicion-less surveillance that could not be gained via any other source? Then ask how many individual communications were ingested to achieve that, and ask yourself if it was worth it.
"Bathtub falls and police officers kill more Americans than terrorism, yet we've been asked to sacrifice our most sacred rights for fear of falling victim to it."
Nick Hopkins gifs: 5 tablet man looking up
Mastering the internet
Snowden was still a teenager when 2,996 people were killed on 9/11. The failure to detect the plot sent the intelligence services into panic; they recruited as many Islamic specialists and linguists as they could, redirected operations towards Osama bin Laden – and began the deliberate, elaborate process of building an intelligence machine that could feed information to sustain the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was the first glimpses of this evolving apparatus that so worried Snowden and led him – seven years later – to undertake the biggest ever theft of material stamped with the highest classification levels, called Strap 1 and Strap 2.
The wars against the terrorists coincided with a period of huge technological innovation, making it more difficult for the agencies to detect the important "noise" they were listening for amid all the chatter from the rest of us.
In Britain, the challenge thrown down by the explosion in use of the web, mobile phones and social media was met by a GCHQ programme that showed remarkable ambition. It was called Mastering the Internet (MTI).
In America, similar projects were just as audacious. The files released by Snowden show the agencies have been, and remain, determined to eavesdrop on every possible method of communication, regardless of how much extraneous material they gather in the process; they have put taps on the cables that carry raw internet traffic across the world; they have gone further "upstream" and devised ways of getting material from the computers which run the big internet service providers; they have refined their relationships with mobile phone companies so they can get details of every call made and received; and they found ways of defeating encryption software too, setting supercomputers to crack codes, or by inserting secret "back doors" into the software itself.
The scale of this technological achievement is admirable, the logic behind it clear; but all this impressive architecture has been built without any political discussion about whether this is the right thing to do, or any endorsement from millions of members of the public, whose personal lives are now being recycled through giant databases.
A sense of the anxiety that was driving GCHQ to do this was revealed in an internal memo, dated Tuesday 19 May 2009, which was written jointly by the director in charge of the MTI project and a member of the agency's cyber-defence team. The memo was a "prioritisation and tasking initiative" to another senior member of staff, who was being urged to come up with new ideas, fast.
"It is becoming increasingly difficult for GCHQ to acquire the rich sources of traffic needed to enable our support to partners within HMG [Her Majesty's government], the armed forces and overseas," they wrote.
"The rapid development of different technologies, types of traffic, service providers and networks, and the growth in sheer volumes that accompany particularly the expansion and use of the internet, present an unprecedented challenge to the success of GCHQ's mission." The memo continued: "We would like you to lead a small team to fully define this shortfall in tasking capability [and] identify all the necessary changes needed to rectify it."
The two chiefs said they wanted "potential quick-win solutions not currently within existing programme plans".
Those existing programmes might have been a reference to the NSA's Prism project, and Tempora, GCHQ's crown jewel, which was in development. The former was started in 2007 as a way for the NSA to get access to the computer systems which run Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple and other giants of the web world.
A 41-slide PowerPoint presentation dated April 2010 was among the Snowden documents, and it revealed the NSA was very pleased with the information it was receiving, which included search histories, the content of emails, videos, photos and live chats.
The NSA hailed Prism as "one of the most valuable, unique and productive accesses", and said it had generated 24,005 reports in 2012 (from a total of 77,000 over the previous five years).
Some of this information was being shared with GCHQ, though it is still unclear how much of this material was sought – requiring a warrant signed by a minister – rather than offered by the Americans, which would not.
Using secret court orders, the US was already bulk-collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers. With Prism, the NSA had another way of accessing vast amounts of information about people who were not under any suspicion at all.
But this was nothing compared with Tempora.
The British programme was far more ingenious, a real breakthrough in capability, albeit one which critics say meant an even bigger potential intrusion into the private lives of ordinary people.
GCHQ had been tapping the undersea cables that carry the internet in and out of the UK for years, but Tempora provided the ability to analyse the information in almost real time, rather than dumping the data into vast but simple electronic storage bins that take time to sift through.
The buffering that Tempora allows acts like Sky+ television, slowing down or briefly halting the stream of information to make it easier for other filters to search for keywords, names, or patterns of behaviour.
GCHQ keeps the content of messages for three working days, and the simple "metadata" – which includes details of who sent and received them – for up to 30 days. The programme was trialled at GCHQ's station in Bude, Cornwall (which is partly funded by the NSA) and was an instant success.
British delight at having scooped the Americans was matched by the NSA's desire to get its hands on the project; an internal US guide to using the system, which became fully functional in 2011, described it as "an exciting opportunity to get direct access to enormous amounts of GCHQ's special source data". When the NSA was offered access to Tempora for a trial period, the agency told its analysts to be on best behaviour.
"[We] need to be successful!," a memo urged. "We're depending on you to provide the business case required to justify expanded access."
"We need to prove that NSA's access is necessary to prosecute our mission and will greatly enhance the production of the intelligence. The success of this three-month trial will determine expanded NSA access to internet buffers in the future."
The strategy seems to have worked. By May last year, an internal GCHQ memo said it had 300 analysts working on intelligence from Tempora, and the NSA had 250.
The documents show Tempora gave the UK "the biggest internet access" of any member of the Five Eyes electronic eavesdropping alliance, comprising the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
They also show that by 2012 GCHQ was handling 600m "telephone events" each day. It had tapped more than 200 fibreoptic cables and was able to process data from at least 46 of them at a time.
With each cable carrying data at a rate of 10 gigabits a second, the tapped cables could, in theory, deliver more than 21 petabytes a day – equivalent to sending all the information in all the books in the British Library 192 times every 24 hours. "This is a massive amount of data!" one of the documents said. "You are in an enviable position – have fun and make the most of it."
All this activity was approved in the UK by a subsection of a law which was introduced in 2000 – the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) – a time when the agencies could not have envisaged being able to conduct surveillance on such a massive scale, when buffering was not even possible. Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, said these "blinding transformations" had rendered Ripa and other intelligence legislation "anti-modern".
"The spooks, who once sat in cubicles steaming open the glued-down flaps of a few dozen suspect envelopes, now have more fertile plains to furrow and the marvellous means to do it. Now they can steam open everything."
Mr Justice Michael Burton seems an amiable fellow: ruddy-faced and quick-witted, he is a specialist in commercial law and well known around the Inns of Court for his interest in amateur dramatics.
He is also the newly appointed president of the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT), which assesses complaints against Britain's intelligence agencies.
A speech he gave to lawyers over lunch on Monday 14 October was a first; no other head of the tribunal has ever spoken in public before, though Burton assured his audience in the City of London that he had no intention of marking this historic occasion by telling them anything of great interest. However, he did give a glimpse into the problems faced by the IPT, without offering any particular solutions.
"We do receive a large number of applications from individuals about their belief, or often their paranoia, that they are being targeted," the judge explained after finishing a roast beef sandwich.
"I am afraid we get quite a lot of complaints from members of the public who say, for example, 'When I was 14, I had my tonsils removed and I believe that MI5 implanted electronic equipment in me.' "Very often the sign is whether they are resident in a mental institution. It ranges from that to very serious complaints."
The tribunal is one of the cornerstones of the regime designed to scrutinise the agencies, a regime described by William Hague, the foreign secretary, as one of the best in the world. But Burton's court has taken a fair degree of flak over the years, for reasons he described himself.
"The media describes the IPT using terms such as 'a secret closed court', 'a little-known complaints body', 'one of the most secretive judicial bodies in the country', 'the UK's most secret court most of whose cases are held in closed session'," Burton said. "Almost all of that is untrue."
Really? The IPT is certainly unlike any other court; it does not publicise a list of when it is holding cases or where; almost all of its hearings are in private – there will be no public sessions for the rest of this year. And it almost always – in more than 99% of cases – fails to uphold complaints against the secret services or local authorities.
Snowden's documents show GCHQ declaring the tribunal has never ruled against a British agency since the court was established 13 years ago. The IPT will not say whether this is true or not. It is a secret.
The tribunal will also not even say where it is based. Its website refers to a PO box in central London. The Guardian tracked this down to a post office delivery office in the centre of an enormous building site near MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall, south London.
Apparently the IPT doesn't have a permanent home. In his speech, Burton acknowledged the court, which has eight part-time members, moves around various buildings in Whitehall. This is not done to bamboozle reporters or members of the public, he said, but because the tribunal is shunted around to where-ever there is free space.
The Snowden files suggest GCHQ is not unduly worried about the IPT; it is easy to see why. Over the past 13 years, it has heard 1,469 cases. It has upheld complaints against councils and police forces on 10 occasions – that's 0.68% of the total.
The figure is actually even lower because two of the successful complaints referred to the same matter in 2010.
The case in question illustrates another criticism often levelled at the IPT. It involved Poole council and its unlawful surveillance operation on Jenny Paton and her three children. It took the IPT more than two years to rule the council had no business using anti-terrorist laws to establish whether the Patons lived outside a school's catchment area.
But while there is some transparency in the way local authorities can use and abuse their power, there is nothing similar for the agencies.
This is the essential conundrum of the tribunal. How can people bring credible cases to the tribunal, if nobody knows what the agencies are doing – even in the broadest sense? With too little in the public domain, it is not surprising that many cases fall at the first hurdle for being "frivolous or vexatious".
When the IPT does decide to take on a complaint, it can ask for "all such documents and information as the tribunal may require". But this exchange relies on trust. The court has no way of checking whether it is getting what it needs. The panel will then make an assessment – in secret – before making a ruling, whose details will almost certainly never be published.
In eight years up until 2010, the IPT had only disclosed findings from five cases, a situation that even the police have been embarrassed by.
Giving evidence to parliament, the police lead on surveillance, Chief Constable Nick Gargan, admitted the IPT was largely anonymous and needed to be more transparent.
"[It] ought to be encouraged to be more publicly visible both in terms of encouraging people to use it and, where meaningful claims have been made, to actually publicise those findings," he said.
Burton said he was open to ideas about how the IPT could make itself more accessible, but only to a point. He said he wouldn't approve anything that meant "all-important secrecy was lost".
The parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) is the other essential plank of oversight cited by the government, but it has also been bedevilled by criticism since it was established in 1994.
Too weak, too close to government, too reluctant to criticise the agencies are some of the recurring jibes. Earlier this year, it won new powers to force the agencies to hand over material, and a small increase in the staff to review it. But while doubling of its budget to £1.3m will give it more clout, it is starting from a low base.
With a team of part-time staff, the committee's nine MPs have a huge job to provide credible oversight of the three spy agencies, which have a combined staff of more than 10,000 and a combined annual budget of £2bn.
The ISC is now also responsible for reviewing the work of the military's "defence intelligence" unit, which will add to the mountain of documents available for review.
The committee's announcement on Thursday 17 October of a broad inquiry into surveillance, which will include some public hearings, is a watershed moment for the ISC, and its chair, Sir Malcolm Rifkind. He has insisted his team is capable of doing the job, but even former heads of the committee have acknowledged what a formidable task this is.
"The ISC is underfunded. It needs more people working for it," said Kim Howells, a former Foreign Office minister who chaired the committee for two years until 2010. "It needs more investigators and it needs to be able to call on expertise whenever it is required. It might be a no-brainer, but you try to persuade the Cabinet Office to part with the cash."
Howells also revealed how Gordon Brown tried to influence the ISC when he was prime minister, even though it is supposed to be entirely beyond this kind of executive interference.
"I had the most terrible battles with him and the head of the civil service. They didn't really understand the committee must be absolutely scrupulously independent of government and the agencies."
The former MP, who retired at the last election, called for parliament to determine whether the laws governing the agencies are "too swingeing and give too much leeway to executive action". "That is where the debate should be. And if parliament thinks there is too much power then parliament should change the law."
He conceded the job of the ISC becomes extremely difficult if it is "not trusted by either parliament or the media, and if people don't accept what it says. Then the suspicion of collusion starts to grow." But he defended the MPs who have served on the committee, saying they could be trusted to do a good job, if they had more support.
"Generally they are people who are either at the end of their political life or near the end, they have quit climbing the greasy pole, or been dragged off it."
Paul Murphy, an ISC chairman during Labour's years in power, remembered his committee had nobody to help them make sense of vast numbers of technical documents. He was in charge between 2005 and 2008 – when many of the current surveillance programmes were likely signed off by ministers. Yet Murphy and his team were often flying blind.
"We didn't have an investigator. You'd effectively have to rely on the word of the agencies and if there was any dispute you'd have to go through the documents yourself, which we did. Reams of it.
"The documentation is so vast now that the ISC may need more than investigator. It's not an easy position to fill and the person has to have carte blanche. Even then you have to be selective because it is such a huge task."
'The golden age'
Alan Turing remains the one true superstar of Britain's intelligence community. His feats during the second world war are now being celebrated in a way that was unimaginable when he died.
There are statues in honour of him in Guildford and Manchester, where he lived and worked, and he was the subject of a rare speech on 4 October last year by Sir Iain Lobban, the current director of GCHQ, to mark the 100th anniversary of the codebreaker's birth.
He rattled through the stories of Turing's peculiarities – burying his silver bullion and then forgetting where; chaining his mug to his radiator; cycling in his gas mask to ward off hay fever. Lobban credited Turing with starting the "irrevocable change" that led to the formation of GCHQ and its evolution into "the highly technological intelligence organisation that it is today".
He said that if Turing were alive he would be working on threats from cyberspace, a clever way of co-opting the codebreaker and his achievements into surveillance programmes that would have been inconceivable to him. "Our challenges come from the explosion in the volume of communications as well as the relentless increase in new ways of accessing and processing that volume," said Lobban. "Then, code related simply to the encryption of communications; today, code refers to the way in which we program IT systems. Then, the challenge was to identify German and Japanese communications; today, the challenge can simply be to cope with the number of different communications options. Today the internet provides the virtual global landscape for an analogous struggle."
But the struggle is different, and surveillance strategy has been turned on its head to deal with it.
Snowden's files revealed the mouth of the intelligence funnel has been stretched wide open over the last decade. Using technologies that are becoming more powerful and sophisticated, GCHQ and the NSA have been undertaking government-authorised data trawling; the secret services have quietly ushered in the age of the digital dragnet.
The agencies say they cannot do their work without these capabilities and they want to expand them; critics say they should not have been able to acquire them without a proper debate, and without more muscular accountability.
Perhaps it was this tension that led James Clapper, the director of US national intelligence, to concede that a fork in the road had been reached with the Guardian revelations, and not before time. "As loth as I am to give any credit to what's happened here, which is egregious, it's clear that some of the conversations this has generated, some of the debate, probably needed to happen," he said.
The arguments are delicately poised, the issues could not be more important: how to balance privacy and security in the 21st century. The Snowden files make it clear that GCHQ and the NSA have turned Turing's niche pursuit into intelligence-gathering on an industrial scale. An internal memo to analysts at GCHQ dated late 2010 summed up the mood about the powers now available to them: "We are in the golden age."
Revealed: Australian spy agency offered to share data about ordinary citizens
• Secret 5-Eyes document shows surveillance partners discussing what information they can pool about their citizens
• DSD indicated it could provide material without some privacy restraints imposed by other countries such as Canada
• Medical, legal or religious information 'not automatically limited'
• Concern that intelligence agency could be 'operating outside its legal mandate'
Ewen MacAskill, James Ball and Katharine Murphy
theguardian.com, Monday 2 December 2013 00.20 GMT
Man typing on a computer keyboard The secret document shows the partners discussing whether or not to share citizens' "medical, legal or religious information". Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters
Australia's surveillance agency offered to share information collected about ordinary Australian citizens with its major intelligence partners, according to a secret 2008 document leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The document shows the partners discussing whether or not to share "medical, legal or religious information", and increases concern that the agency could be operating outside its legal mandate, according to the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC.
The Australian intelligence agency, then known as the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), indicated it could share bulk material without some of the privacy restraints imposed by other countries, such as Canada.
"DSD can share bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata as long as there is no intent to target an Australian national," notes from an intelligence conference say. "Unintentional collection is not viewed as a significant issue."
The agency acknowledged that more substantial interrogation of the material would, however, require a warrant.
Metadata is the information we all generate whenever we use technology, from the date and time of a phone call to the location from which an email is sent.
"Bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata" means that this data is in its raw state, and nothing has been deleted or redacted in order to protect the privacy of ordinary citizens who might have been caught in the dragnet. Metadata can present a very complete picture of someone's life.
The working document, marked secret, sheds new light on the extent to which intelligence agencies at that time were considering sharing information with foreign surveillance partners, and it provides further confirmation that, to some extent at least, there is warrantless surveillance of Australians' personal metadata.
The DSD joined its four intelligence-sharing partners – the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, collectively known as 5-Eyes – to discuss what could and what could not be shared under the different jurisdictions at a meeting hosted by Britain’s GCHQ at its headquarters in Cheltenham on 22-23 April, 2008.
The notes, published today by Guardian Australia, suggest that Australia was open to pooling bulk data that almost certainly includes information about Australian citizens.
Clearly indicating the different attitudes between the intelligence partners, the Canadians insisted that bulk collection could only be shared if information about its citizens was first "minimised”, meaning deleted or removed. The various techniques used in "minimisation" help protect citizens' privacy.
The GCHQ memo taker, reporting on this, said that “bulk, unselected metadata presents too high a risk to share with second parties at this time because of the requirement to ensure that the identities of Canadians or persons in Canada are minimised, but re-evaluation of this stance is ongoing”.
By contrast, DSD, now renamed the Australian Signals Directorate, offered a broader sweep of material to its partners.
DSD offered to share bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata – although there were specific caveats. The note taker at the meeting writes: “However, if a ‘pattern of life’ search detects an Australian then there would be a need to contact DSD and ask them to obtain a ministerial warrant to continue.”
A "pattern of life" search is more detailed one – joining the dots to build up a portrait of an individual’s daily activities.
It is technically possible to strip out the metadata of Australian nationals from bulk collection methods used by the 5-Eyes countries, such as cable taps – ensuring the information is not stored, and so could not be pulled in to searches and investigations by agents.
The Snowden documents reveal Australia’s intelligence services instead offered to leave the data in its raw state.
Australian politicians have insisted that all surveillance undertaken is in accordance with the law.
But Geoffrey Robertson, writing in the Guardian today, says if what was described in the memo took place, this would be a breach of sections eight and 12 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001. The act sets a strict requirement that ministerial authorisation is required if the data of an Australian citizen is involved, and indicates that the citizen must be a "person of interest", such as someone involved in terrorism or organised crime.
The Cheltenham gathering, which appears to have been convened to consider the issues around the burgeoning collection of metadata and to reach common positions, resolved to avoid pre-emptive efforts to categorise various materials and "simply focus on what is shareable in bulk".
The memo flags privacy concerns around the collection of various types of data, but the meeting, according to the record, resolved not to set "automatic limitations" – leaving judgment calls to each country's own agencies.
"Consideration was given as to whether any types of data were prohibited, for example medical, legal, religious or restricted business information, which may be regarded as an intrusion of privacy," the memo says.
"Given the nascent state of many of these data types then no, or limited, precedents have been set with respect to proportionality or propriety, or whether different legal considerations applies to the 'ownership' of this data compared with the communications data that we were more accustomed to handle."
"It was agreed that the conference should not seek to set any automatic limitations, but any such difficult cases would have to be considered by 'owning' agency on a case-by-case basis."
The document also shows the agencies considering disclosure to "non-intelligence agencies". It says: "Asio and the Australian federal police are currently reviewing how Sigint [signals intelligence] information can be used by non-intelligence agencies."
The record of the Cheltenham meeting does not indicate whether the activities under discussion in April 2008 progressed to final decisions or specific actions. It appears to be a working draft.
Since Snowden leaked the NSA documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post in May, controversy has raged around the world over revelations that surveillance agencies are collecting information in bulk about ordinary citizens' day-to-day activities, without first getting a warrant.
In Australia, the Greens party and the South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon have been pursuing questions about the extent to which Australian citizens have been caught up in the dragnet, and the extent of Australian intelligence agencies' involvement.
So far, those questions have largely met with stonewalling, both under the previous Labor government and the new Abbott administration.
Kiev anti-government protesters remain in control in parts of the city
Police keep their distance as President Viktor Yanukovych's government ponders next move
Shaun Walker in Kiev
theguardian.com, Monday 2 December 2013 10.16 GMT
Throngs of anti-government protesters remained in control of parts of central Kiev on Monday morning, as police kept their distance and the government of President Viktor Yanukovych pondered its next move.
After huge protests on Sunday, during which several hundred thousand people took to the streets of Kiev to call for Yanukovych's removal, protesters erected makeshift barricades around Independence Square – the hub of the 2004 Orange Revolution. Nearby, the main City Hall building was taken over by protesters without police resistance on Sunday evening.
Many of the windows were smashed and "Revolution HQ" was daubed in black paint on its stone Stalinist facade. Inside, hundreds of people milled around receiving refreshments; many who had travelled from the regions to Kiev were sleeping on the floor.
"We've just had enough, we're sick of this," said Alexander Yabchenko, a 33-year-old oncologist from Lviv in western Ukraine, who had travelled to Kiev to take part in the protests and was now offering medical help to those injured in the clashes at a makeshift medical centre inside the town hall. "I'm not part of any political party but I understand that only by trying to be more European can we end our troubles. Even from my own experience, I see so many problems with the medical system, and we just need to modernise."
The protests began after Yanukovych walked away from an integration pact with the European Union that was supposed to be signed at a summit in Vilnius last Friday in favour of closer relations with Russia. The mood intensified when police cleared Independence Square with considerable force early on Saturday and banned further protest. The residents of Kiev ignored them, pouring into the square in vast numbers on Sunday, in a largely peaceful protest that turned violent at the fringes.
On Monday morning, as Kiev began its working week, tension was high as both ordinary people and opposition leaders were left guessing how events might unfold. Hundreds of protesters took up positions blocking entrances to government buildings to stop officials from getting to work, while others blocked off whole streets. Many of the people who spent the night in the two government buildings that were seized by protesters insisted they would not leave until the government falls.
In the western city of Lviv, stronghold of pro-European forces, the regional authorities announced a general strike on Monday.
The key political opposition to Yanukovych, such as the jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko, have called on their supporters to refrain from violence but not to go home.
"This government is clearly over," said Vladimir Luchishin, 60, from Donetsk, who was sleeping at city hall, having arrived on Sunday. "If they try to fight back with force, it will only make things worse for them."
Police have retreated from most of the centre of Kiev but cordons of riot police remained in position, guarding the Presidential Administration – the scene of violent clashes on Sunday in which more than 100 police were injured. On Monday morning, the interior ministry said a total of 150 riot police and other officials had been injured, while 165 protesters had been injured, 109 of which required some kind of hospital treatment.
Yanukovych is due to travel to China on Tuesday, calling in to Moscow on the way back to discuss economic help from Russia but in the current climate, it is unclear whether he can make the trip. Except for brief remarks posted on his website on Saturday, condemning violence against protesters and promising that Ukraine would not give up on EU integration, he has not commented publicly on the situation.
Ukrainians call for Yanukovych to resign in protests sparked by EU u-turn
Hundreds of thousands take to streets in the largest protests the country has seen since since 2004 Orange Revolution
Oksana Grytsenko in Kiev and Shaun Walker in Moscow
The Guardian, Monday 2 December 2013
Ukraine saw its largest popular protests since the 2004 Orange Revolution on Sunday when at least 300,000 people took to the streets calling for the resignation of the president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Furious at Ukraine's 11th-hour decision to back away from an EU integration pact in favour of closer relations with Russia, Ukrainians defied a court ban on protests. On the fringes, the mood turned violent as small groups of protesters stormed government buildings and clashed with riot police outside the presidential offices. About 200 masked protesters commandeered a mechanical digger and attempted to break through lines of armour-clad riot police.
The anger was galvanised by the violent break-up of a sit-in protest in Independence Square early on Saturday, when several hundred riot police dispersed the 1,000-strong crowd of mainly students, causing a number of casualties. City authorities claimed they needed to empty the square so a giant Christmas tree could be erected.
Early on Sunday, a Kiev court banned all rallies at Independence Square, but people flocked there in their thousands nonetheless. The Christmas tree was hung with Ukrainian flags and protesters waved yellow and blue Ukrainian and EU flags, with which many adorned their cars, honking horns in support of the protest rally. Chants went up of "Glory to the nation, death to its enemies" and "Out with the criminal", referring to Yanukovych's Soviet past as a petty criminal, as well as allegations of corruption in his inner circle.
Pavlo Tumanov, 38, a doctor from Kiev, had stripes in the colours of the Ukrainian and EU flags tied to his hands. "I came to support the students who were brutally beaten yesterday. I'm sure Yanukovych ordered that, and was advised by Putin," he said, adding that it would be hard to oust the regime peacefully.
Opposition leaders spoke to the crowd from a small, hastily constructed stage, on which was written "Ukraine is Europe".
"This is not a meeting. This is not a rally. This is revolution," Yury Lutsenko, the opposition leader and former interior minister, told the crowd. People shouted back: "Revolution!"
The Polish politician Jacek Protasiewicz, vice-president of the European parliament, told the crowd: "You are part of Europe." The crowd roared back approvingly.
"Yanukovych is a political corpse," said Oleg Stavytsky, a 49-year-old engineer from Kiev, brandishing the EU flag. "After he spat in the face of Ukraine and Europe, he should realise that the only solution for him is to resign." Tatiana Troshkova, a 55-year-old economist from a town on the outskirts of Kiev, held a placard that read "Ukraine, rise!" "The west of Ukraine is already at this square. We want people from the Donbas [Yanukovych's stronghold in the east] to join us," she said, adding that she would be coming back to the streets every day for as long as she had the strength.
The protests demonstrated once again how divided Ukraine is, with the southern and eastern regions largely supporting closer relations with Russia, while the west and most of the centre focus on European integration.
The EU pact, which was to have been signed at a summit in Vilnius last Friday, would have given Ukraine freer trade with Europe, but Yanukovych said it took no account of the ailing state of the country's economy, and that Europe did not offer the financial help required for modernisation. Russia had been staunchly against the deal, and it is believed Moscow offered financial incentives for Ukraine not to sign, with threats of punitive measures if it did.
Yanukovych's imprisoned rival Yulia Tymoshenko released a statement from hospital railing against the president until his regime was toppled. "I appeal to all Ukrainian people to resist and rise up against Yanukovych and his dictatorship," she wrote.
Tymoshenko led the Orange Revolution which stopped Yanukovych coming to power, but after years of disappointment and infighting, he won presidential elections in 2010. Shortly afterwards, Tymoshenko was jailed on charges widely believed to be politically motivated, and she is in a prison hospital in the eastern city of Kharkiv. She announced a hunger strike after Yanukovych said he would not sign the EU deal.
Other opposition leaders declared a national strike and called on people to block government buildings, demanding the resignation of the government and president.
However, the protest turned violent. Some protesters used gas, knives and smoke bombs against police lines. About 100 police had been injured in the clashes near the building by Sunday afternoon, according to the interior ministry, and 12 soldiers were also injured.
With Tymoshenko marginalised, Vitaly Klitschko, the heavyweight boxing champion who is one of Ukraine's main opposition leaders, is seen as the main threat to Yanukovych at the next presidential elections in 2015. On Sunday evening, he called on his supporters to remain calm and denounced the attempts to seize buildings by force.
"They stole the dream," he told the crowds on Independence Square. "If this government does not want to fulfil the will of the people, then there will be no such government, there will be no such president. There will be a new government and a new president."
Far-right nationalist leader Oleh Tyahnybok, meanwhile, called for workers' support. "From this day, we are starting a strike," he declared. If the idea of a national strike gains support, it will be a sure sign that the protests are more than just a flash in the pan.
All the opposition leaders denied any involvement with the violence, and accused the authorities of using hired thugs to create provocations. Order appeared to have been restored by Sunday night, with rows of riot police standing guard behind metal fences.
Arseniy Yatseniuk, leader of the Baktyvshchina party, told journalists he believed the clashes had been provoked as an excuse for Yanukovych to declare a state of emergency on Monday.
Inna Bohoslovska, a former ally of Yanukovych who left the president's party in protest against the bloody crackdown on protests in recent days, accused the Russian president, Pig Putin, and his Ukrainian ally Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the Ukrainsky Vybor group, of masterminding provocations in Kiev.
Yanukovych's next move will be crucial. Over the weekend he criticised the violence, and insisted the country was still on the path to European integration. He was believed to be meeting his advisers at his country residence outside Kiev. Aides to Yanukovych said he still planned to travel to China on a long-planned trip on Wednesday, after which he is due in Moscow.
12/02/2013 12:13 PM
Ukraine Demos: Protestors Erect Tent City in Kiev
Around 5,000 opposition protestors gathered in the center of Kiev overnight. The pro-European demonstrators erected tents and barricades on Independence Square. The opposition, centered around boxer Vitali Klitschko, now wants to blockade important administrative buildings.
Pressure on Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is mounting. Following Sunday's mass rally in Kiev at which violent clashes broke out, thousands of anti-government protestors spent the night in tents on Independence Square in the middle of the capital. With light rain falling and the temperature not rising above 4 degrees Celsius, many lit small fires to keep warm.
Opposition leader and world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko appealed to the demonstrators not to give up control of the city center during the night. "We have to mobilize the country and must not lose the initiative," he said. Klitschko is at the head of the UDAR Party (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms; the abbreviation also translates to "strike" or "punch"). He is considered one of the strongest challengers facing Yanukovych in the presidential election scheduled for March 2015. A spokesman for the Klitschko opposition bloc announced a blockade of state administrative buildings from early on Monday.
The head of the far-right Svoboda Party ("Party for Freedom"), Oleh Tyahnybok, said: "A revolution is starting in Ukraine. We are launching a national strike."
His remarks were broadcast live by Ukrainian and Russian television stations. Klitschko and Tyahnybok, together with the Fatherland Party of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, have formed a tripartite opposition alliance called the Action Group of National Resistance. Their aim is to bring down Yanukovych and set Ukraine back on a Europe-friendly course. The alliance wants to use the general strike to force new elections.
International Support for the Protests
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called on all parties to refrain from violence. He appealed to the Ukrainian government to respect freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly. He referred to a study published in Brussels suggesting that many Ukrainians want closer relations with the European Union. Above all, he said, "it is the right of people everywhere to express their views in a democratic way." Violence and force, he added, "are not the way to resolve political differences in a democratic society."
The foreign ministers of Poland and Sweden, Radek Sikorski and Carl Bildt, key figures in the EU's eastern policy, issued a joint statement expressing solidarity with the protestors, while Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the US State Department, said: "Violence and intimidation should have no place in today's Ukraine."
On Sunday, around 100,000 opposition supporters gathered on Independence Square in defiance of a ban on rallies until Jan. 7. Around double that amount were believed to be in the city center in total. There were violent clashes on the fringes of the demonstration with police reporting roughly 100 officers injured. According to the city authorities, nearly 50 protestors also needed treatment for injuries. Several dozen members of Svoboda occupied a vacant public building and hung a Ukrainian flag from the window.
There were also protests in other parts of the country. In Lviv in western Ukraine, about 50,000 anti-government demonstrators took part in a rally. In Donetsk, in the Russian-speaking region in the east of the country where the president comes from, 250 people defied a ban on demonstrations. For days, supporters of closer ties with the EU have been protesting against Yanukovych.
Ukraine is locked into its deepest political crisis since the Orange Revolution of 2004. It was spurred on by Yanukovych's decision to cancel an association treaty with the EU, originally due to be signed last Friday, after Russia threatened trade sanctions.
Pro-EU protesters chase police from central Kiev
Chants of 'revolution' resound across Independence Square in reaction to President Yanukovych's refusal to sign EU free trade deal
Associated Press in Kiev
theguardian.com, Sunday 1 December 2013 12.28 GMT
As many as 100,000 demonstrators chased away police to make way for a rally in the centre of Ukraine's capital on Sunday, defying a government ban on protests on Independence Square, in the biggest show of anger about the president's refusal to sign an agreement with the EU.
Chants of "revolution" resounded across a sea of EU and Ukrainian flags on the square. The crowd was by far the largest since the protests began more than a week ago.
Many of the demonstrators had travelled to Kiev from western Ukraine, where pro-EU sentiment is particularly strong.
"We are furious," said Mykola Sapronov, a 62-year-old retired businessman. "The leaders must resign. We want Europe and freedom."
Protests have been held daily in Kiev for more than a week after the president, Viktor Yanukovych, backed away from an agreement that would have established free trade and deepened political co-operation between Ukraine and the EU. He justified the decision by saying that Ukraine could not afford to break trade ties with Russia.
The EU agreement would have been signed on Friday; since then the protests have gained strength.
Sunday's demonstration was further fuelled by anger about the violent dispersal of several hundred protesters at Independence Square early on Saturday. Some of the protesters were bleeding from their heads and arms after riot police beat them with truncheons.
All police left the square as demonstrators approached on Sunday and removed metal barriers blocking it off.
Ukraine aligns with Moscow as EU summit fails
Angela Merkel tells President Viktor Yanukovych 'we expected more' after he refuses to sign pact at summit in Lithuania
Ian Traynor in Brussels and Oksana Grytsenko in Kiev
The Guardian, Friday 29 November 2013 04.36 GMT
A six-year campaign to lure Ukraine into integration with the EU and out of the Kremlin's orbit failed on Friday when President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign a pact at a summit in Lithuania.
Ten days of high-stakes brinkmanship that brought a clash between Russian and other European countries ended with the Kremlin on top, for now, although all sides were careful to leave options on the table.
Yanukovych attended the Vilnius summit under pressure to reverse last week's sudden decision to shelve a political association agreement and a free-trade pact with the EU, accords that have been negotiated for six years and were to have been the centrepiece of a meeting attended by European heads of government.
"We expected more," Angela Merkel told Yanukovych in a private conversation that was filmed and released by the Lithuanian hosts.
Yanukovych remained poker-faced while pleading his case. He was under irresistible pressure from Vladimir Putin, with whom he held secret talks a fortnight ago, to forego the EU pact.
"We have big difficulties with Moscow," he said. "I have been alone for three-and-a-half years in very unequal conditions with Russia."
The U-turn last week "surprised and disappointed" top EU officials. In September Armenia also suddenly ditched years of talks aimed at integrating with the EU in favour of offers from Moscow.
The Ukrainian failure came as a dismal climax to a decade of efforts at semi-integration with neighbours to the east and around the Mediterranean, offering trade and financial benefits in return for democratic reforms while falling short of the magnetic attraction of EU membership.
Pro-European demonstrators who have been protesting in Kiev since last weekend were met on Friday by thousands of Yanukovych supporters, many of them bussed in.
A group attacked two journalists from a Ukrainian TV station who were filming in a city centre park. "Some 10 to 15 hands clung to my hood. They were beating me everywhere on the body. I was trying to defend myself," said Dmytro Gnap, one of the victims.
Over Friday night police in Kiev broke up the remnants of the anti-government demonstration, swinging truncheons and injuring many, news agencies and witnesses said. Riot police used teargas when they dispersed the crowd of about 400 protesters.
While senior officials agree Moscow has been blackmailing Yanukovych into rejecting the Brussels offer, the Ukrainian president was also given short shrift.
"If you blink in front of Russia, you always end up in trouble," Štefan Füle, the EU enlargement commissioner, told the Carnegie Europe thinktank. "Yanukoych blinked too soon."
The British ambassador to Ukraine, Simon Smith, called Yanukovych's decision "an egregious piece of cynicism".
Kiev is seen to be trying to play the EU off against Russia. Leaders dismissed Yanukovych's proposals that Moscow be involved in the negotiations.
Calling it the "most ambitious" agreement ever offered to a non-member state, José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, said that Moscow could not be handed a veto over sovereign Ukraine's relations with Europe.
"The Ukrainian people should be disappointed," said the summit host, President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania. "Today's Ukrainian leadership has chosen a way which is going nowhere."
Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European council, said: "The offer is still on the table."
Croatians vote to ban gay marriage
Constitution will be amended after 65% of voters back statement that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman
Associated Press in Zagreb
theguardian.com, Sunday 1 December 2013 20.05 GMT
A majority of Croatians have voted in a referendum to ban gay marriages in what is a major victory for the Catholic Church-backed conservatives in the European Union's newest nation.
The state electoral commission, citing initial results, said 65% of those who voted answered "yes" to the referendum question: "Do you agree that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman?" About 34% voted against.
The result meant that Croatia's constitution will be amended to ban same-sex marriage.
The vote has deeply divided Croatia. Liberal groups have said the referendum's question infringes on basic human rights. The church-backed groups have gathered 750,000 signatures in its support.
The country of 4.4 million, which became EU's 28th member in July, has taken steps to improve gay rights, but issues such as same-sex marriage remain highly sensitive.
The referendum was called by conservative group In the Name of the Family after Croatia's centre-left government drafted a law to let gay couples register as "life partners".
The Catholic church's leaders have urged their followers to vote "yes" in the referendum. Nearly 90% of Croatians are Roman Catholics.
"Marriage is the only union enabling procreation," Croatian cardinal Josip Bozanic said in his message to followers. "This is the key difference between a marriage and other unions."
Several hundred gay rights supporters marched in the capital, Zagreb, on Saturday urging a "no" vote.
"I will vote against because I think that the referendum is not a festival of democracy, but a festival of oppression against a minority, which fights for its rights and which does not have its rights," Jura Matulic, a university student, said.
Croatia's liberal president Ivo Josipovic said he would vote against amending the constitution.
"We don't need this kind of a referendum," Josipovic said. "Defining marriage between a man and a woman doesn't belong to the constitution. A nation is judged by its attitude toward minorities."
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said that "this is the last referendum that gives a chance to the majority to strip a minority of its rights".
The EU hasn't officially commented on the referendum, but has clashed with Croatia over some of its other laws, including an extradition law that has prevented its citizens from being handed over to the bloc's other member states, which Croatia had to amend under pressure from Brussels.
Spanish government approves draft law cracking down on demonstrations
Campaigners criticise legislation as attempt to muzzle protests against government's handling of economic crisis
Associated Press in Madrid
theguardian.com, Sunday 1 December 2013 13.48 GMT
Spain has approved draft legislation for fines of up to €30,000 (£25,000) for offences such as burning the national flag, insulting the state or causing serious disturbances outside parliament.
Opposition parties, judicial and social groups have heavily criticised the bill as an attempt by the conservative government to muzzle protests against its handling of the severe economic crisis.
The measures, presented by the interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz to update a 1992 law, also include fines of up to €1,000 for insulting or threatening police officers during demonstrations. Similar fines are planned for disseminating photographs of police officers that endanger them or police operations.
Spanish cities have experienced weekly protests, the vast majority of them peaceful, since the start of the crisis in 2008.
The conservative Popular party took office with Mariano Rajoy as prime minister in 2011 and issued a series of austerity measures and cutbacks in health and education and labour and financial reforms in an effort to refloat the economy and stave off a bailout.
The measures triggered an increase in street protests, including several attempts to encircle parliament, some of which ended in clashes with police and rubbish containers being set on fire.
"When more than 20% of people are unemployed, I don't think this legislation is what we require," said Alejandro Touriño, partner and information specialist at the law firm Ecija.
The draft legislation for the most part does not define new infractions or offences, but lays down guidelines for fines that judges will be able to impose. Until now, it was up to a judge to decide the level of a fine.
It does, however, include four new offences, which are classified as very serious and could carry fines of up to €600,000. They are: demonstrations that interfere in electoral processes; unauthorised or prohibited protests at strategic installations such as airports or nuclear plants; and aiming blinding lights – such as laser beams – at public transportation. Any person who commits three lesser offences within two years will also be in line for a maximum fine.
The bill must be approved by parliament, but its passage is virtually guaranteed as the ruling party has an absolute majority in both chambers.
Too many funfairs, not enough toys: Germany's Christmas markets backlash
Cities try to return to traditional stalls as critics say artisan gifts and wooden toys are being edged out by food and mulled wine
Philip Oltermann in Berlin
theguardian.com, Sunday 1 December 2013 15.35 GMT
With their artisanal stalls selling wooden toys, vendors offering mulled wine from wooden huts and pine tree shelters, Christmas markets offer respite from the hectic festive schedules, a nostalgic throwback to simpler times. And they're booming; not just in German-speaking countries, where there are now more than 3,700 markets a year, but also in Britain, where they have become annual institutions in Edinburgh, Birmingham and London.
But a number of purists are complaining that German Christmas markets are no longer what they used to be. Supposedly handmade gifts such as wooden stars, nutcrackers and incense-smoking Räuchermännchen are increasingly mass-produced, wholesome produce is being edged out by fatty foods and tacky fairground rides are becoming more prevalent.
Even the vice-president of the Bundestag, CSU politician Johannes Singhammer, has joined the critics. Christmas markets are turning into "an extension of Oktoberfest", he said: "Yes to markets, but no to funfairs!"
Hamburg bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke told tabloid Bild last week that Christmas markets "made people feel something special. Only Christmas and advent can do that. That's why big fairground rides don't belong on these markets".
Traditionally, Christmas markets in Germany don't open until after Totensonntag, a Lutheran religious holiday to commemorate the dead, which this year fell on 24 November. But for the last few years bishops have been complaining that markets have been starting earlier and earlier.
Gelsenkirchen in the industrial Ruhr area demonstrates this trend. Last year, the city was bombarded with complaints about fairground rides and mulled-wine stalls playing loud techno and Schlager folk songs. "In Germany, Christmas markets are a bit like football", Gelsenkirchen's public relations manager Markus Schwadtmann told the Guardian. "Everybody has a bloody opinion about it."
Christmas market in Munich Wooden toys on sale at a Munich Christmas market. Photograph: Joerg Koch/Getty Images
This year, the city has kicked out some of the food stalls – also known as Fressbuden or "stuff-your-face booths" – and increased the percentage of stalls selling handmade candles, wooden toys and Christmas tree decorations from 15 to 40%. The mulled-wine stalls have to sign a contract stating that they will only play music "with a Christmas ambience".
Schwadtmann doesn't try to hide his exasperation with the critics. "It's easy enough to complain about the food stalls, but they make the money. I know the public likes looking at those wooden toys, but I ask them: have you ever actually bought one of them?"
Finding skilled craftspeople willing to spend night after night in the cold with little chance of turning a profit is increasingly hard, he says. In Gelsenkirchen, they offer discounts or donations as incentives. Smaller Christmas markets usually have to pay them.
A study published by the association of funfair workers this week revealed that the village fetes and small seasonal festivals where funfair workers usually earn their living have shrunk in number by almost a third over the last 10 years. At the same time, visitors to Christmas markets have shot up from 50m to 85m, meaning funfair organisers are increasingly trying to make up for their losses in December – and crowding out smaller artisanal stalls. The average spend per head at German Christmas markets is now €21 (£17.50), of which half is on food.
It's enough to turn some Germans off their Christmas markets altogether. Comedian Oliver Maria Schmitt is organising the country's first "anti-Christmas market" this year. "Every Christmas we dress up our beautiful cities with uniform wooden huts to create this absurd favela vibe and give wine-haters an excuse to get pissed on sugary plonk," he said. "My intention is therefore to make Frankfurt a Christmas market-free zone". At a series of cabaret nights this weekend, he intends to serve cold mulled wine only.
• This article was amended on 1 December 2013. The original version wrongly referred to Oliver Maria Schmitt as "she".
I escaped Hitler's Germany and built a new life
As one of the Kindertransport refugees, I arrived in London knowing no one: 75 years later I'm blessed with my own family
theguardian.com, Sunday 1 December 2013 14.20 GMT
I grew up in Meissen, a small town neighbouring Dresden, in eastern Germany. My father ran a small factory producing household goods, and my sister and I lived in a peaceful and happy home. Growing up, I loved school and was proud to be among the best students in the class.
When Hitler came to power, everything changed. By 1938 the Hitler Youth were very visible in my school. Suddenly no one spoke to me – if they did, they got into trouble. I was moved to the back of the class and my desk was painted yellow and said "here sits a dirty Jewish girl". My work was no longer corrected, and despite being top of my class, I was not allowed to win the first place award – a copy of Mein Kampf.
Judy Benton on arrival in England Judy Benton on arrival in England
Things got steadily worse. My teacher brought in a poster to show the class how to recognise a Jew, pointing out dark hair, a big hook nose and thumbs yellow from counting money. My father's factory was taken away from him and many rules were imposed banning Jews from public areas. It wasn't just Jews who were afraid, but also those who were punished if caught speaking to us.
One day I came home from school to find the door of my home forced open and my parents gone. It didn't sink in that I was all on my own, I just acted. A neighbour told me that the Gestapo had taken them and would be back for me. I was so frightened, but somehow had the presence of mind to act quickly. When you are in an emergency you can make life or death decisions, even at the age of 17.
I packed a small case, grabbed my passport and some emergency money that I knew my mother kept hidden. I went straight to the synagogue in neighbouring Dresden and explained my desperate situation. They told me about the Central British Fund for German Jewry's Kindertransports – an operation to take unaccompanied, mostly Jewish, children to the safety of Britain – and explained that there was a train leaving that very day for England.
I knew I didn't have a guarantor to collect me at the other end, but I headed to the station. When I arrived I was surrounded by weeping parents and small children. Mothers started to come up asking me to look after their children on the train. I realised that at 17 I looked more like a helper than one of the children so I went into town and bought a nurse's costume from a fancy dress store. No one asked any questions when I was in my uniform, and I was able to sneak passage.
The journey was nerve-racking. At the Dutch border, the Gestapo boarded the train. I knew that it was illegal for a Jew to wear jewellery, so I ran to the toilet, throwing some of my most valuable possessions out of the window. As the train pulled away, I remember sticking my tongue out the window at the Gestapo. We were all just children, we didn't realise the severity of it all.
When we arrived at Liverpool Street station in London, it was busy and felt a world away from my town in Germany. After an hour of chaos, all the other children were claimed by guarantors and I watched as each family began to leave the station, some people taking two or three children as they didn't have the heart to separate siblings. I was left by myself, without knowledge of the language and without a plan. I felt very lonely and scared.
I am thankful to a kind gentleman from the Central British Fund (still in operation today as World Jewish Relief) who approached me and asked about my situation. He then took me to Woburn House, the head office of a number of agencies set up to provide sanctuary for evacuees. There, the CBF arranged everything for me. They made me feel safe and looked after.
They set me up at a hostel and gave me the opportunity to study, sending me to an agricultural college in 1939. I met my future husband at college and we set up a life for ourselves in England. By the time the last Kindertransport train made it to England, almost 10,000 children had been rescued.
Judy Benton's family today Judy Benton's family today
My husband and I did everything we could to help the cause – we were so afraid of Hitler coming to England. We worked any jobs that we could, such as at a sewage plant and taking on various war jobs. It was very hard setting up life here as a German Jew. People assumed that because we were German we were the enemy. When I told people my parents were in a concentration camp they didn't believe me and said it was just war propaganda. I never saw my parents again, I found out after the war that they were murdered in Auschwitz.
Today I am blessed with my own family, with children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. I am still involved with World Jewish Relief, knitting blankets, which go to helping vulnerable communities in eastern Europe.
I have been invited back to Meissen three times by the mayor to tell my story. On my last visit, he asked if I hated them for what they put me and my family through. "No," I said. "Hatred is an illness, it is not worth holding on to. All I ask is that it never happens again."
• The 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport is to be commemorated today (Sunday 1 December) by World Jewish Relief at the Kindertransport Memorial at London's Liverpool Street station
Golden Dawn supporters rally for imprisoned leader's release
Neo-fascist party supporters demand release of Nikos Michaloliakos, held since a party member killed a leftwing rapper
Helena Smith in Athens
theguardian.com, Sunday 1 December 2013 17.54 GMT
Thousands of supporters of Greece's neo-fascist Golden Dawn gathered in front of the country's parliament this weekend to demand the release of their imprisoned leader Nikos Michaloliakos, in the party's first high-profile rally in months.
Holding burning torches and blue and white Greek flags, black-clad sympathisers converged on Syntagma Square in Athens on Saturday night almost two months after revelations emerged of the extremists' criminal activities.
"Our day will come," demonstrators chanted in an atmosphere thick with smoke, anger and revenge. "Leader, you have ridiculed the system once again."
Michaloliakos has been in pre-trial custody since the September murder of leftwing rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a self-confessed party member. The killing prompted a government crackdown that unmasked the group as a violent paramilitary organisation.
Thirteen Golden Dawn MPs are either in detention, face charges, or have had their parliamentary immunity lifted as prosecutors build a case that its leadership was involved in attacks against opponents and immigrants.
From his cell in Athens' high security Koyrdallos prison, Michaloliakos has vehemently denied the charges and argued he is a political prisoner.
Police estimated that Saturday's demonstration drew around 5,000 far-rightists although the extremists put the number at 50,000, saying it was a wake-up call to the "so-called democratic establishment".
Successive surveys have shown that while the group took a drubbing in the aftermath of the assassination it has rebounded sharply and remains crisis-hit Greece's third biggest political force.
The drive-by shootings of two Golden Dawn members outside the offices of a local Athens branch reanimated support with one polling firm, Metron Analysis, recently finding that 10.5% of voters would back the party. "The nightmare of Golden Dawn is returning," wrote the Sunday Ethnos, which commissioned the report last week. "It is regaining its strength before the blood of Pavlos Fyssas even dries." A poll conducted for this weekend's Sunday Vima showed 7.9% of Greeks would vote for Golden Dawn if elections were held next week.
"Their operational base may have been hit by the revelations," said Dimitris Psarras, the country's leading authority on the far-rightists. "The attacks by hit squads may have stopped but all the reasons why people voted for Golden Dawn still exist," he said. "The party has clearly not lost support among those badly hit by the country's economic crisis."
Officials in the two-party coalition led by prime minister Antonis Samaras privately admit that secret polls conducted on behalf of the governing New Democrats and Pasok Socialists reveal even higher approval ratings. "One poll showed them getting 17%," said a well-placed insider. "They may have become socially less acceptable but it would be naive to think that Golden Dawn is over."
Why is Sweden closing its prisons?
Sweden's prison population has dropped so dramatically that the country plans to close four of its prisons. What lessons can the UK learn?
The Guardian, Sunday 1 December 2013 19.00 GMT
Swedish prisons have long had a reputation around the world as being liberal and progressive. So much so that in 2005 even Saddam Hussein requested to be transferred to a Swedish prison to await his trial – a request that was rejected by the Swedish authorities. But are the country's prisons a soft option?
The head of Sweden's prison and probation service, Nils Oberg, announced in November that four Swedish prisons are to be closed due to an "out of the ordinary" decline in prisoner numbers.
Although there has been no fall in crime rates, between 2011 and 2012 there was a 6% drop in Sweden's prisoner population, now a little over 4,500. A similar decrease is expected this year and the next. Oberg admitted to being puzzled by the unexpected dip, but expressed optimism that the reason was to do with how his prisons are run. "We certainly hope that the efforts we invest in rehabilitation and preventing relapse of crime has had an impact," he said.
"The modern prison service in Sweden is very different from when I joined as a young prison officer in 1978," says Kenneth Gustafsson, governor of Kumla prison, Sweden's most secure jail, situated 130 miles west of Stockholm. However, he doesn't think the system has gone soft."When I joined, the focus was very much on humanity in prisons. Prisoners were treated well, maybe too well, some might say. But after a number of high-profile escapes in 2004 we had to rebalance and place more emphasis on security." One of those escapes was made by a man called Tony Olsen, serving life imprisonment for shooting dead two police officers, from a maximum security prison in collusion with a prison guard. The then director general of the prison service was forced to step down.
Despite the hardening of attitudes toward prison security following the escape scandals, the Swedes still managed to maintain a broadly humane approach to sentencing, even of the most serious offenders: jail terms rarely exceed 10 years; those who receive life imprisonment can still apply to the courts after a decade to have the sentence commuted to a fixed term, usually in the region of 18 to 25 years. Sweden was the first country in Europe to introduce the electronic tagging of convicted criminals and continues to strive to minimise short-term prison sentences wherever possible by using community-based measures – proven to be more effective at reducing reoffending.
According to the UK Ministry of Justice, the highest rate of reoffending within a year of release among adults is recorded by those serving 12 months or less. The overall reoffending rate in Sweden stands at between 30 and 40% over three years – around half that in the UK. One likely factor that has kept reoffending down and the rate of incarceration in Sweden below 70 per 100,000 head of population – less than half the figure for England and Wales – is that the age of criminal responsibility is set at 15. In the UK, children aged 10-17 and young people under the age of 21 record the highest reoffending rates: almost three quarters and two thirds respectively – a good proportion of whom go on to populate adult jails. Unlike the UK, where a life sentence can be handed down to a 10-year-old, in Sweden no young person under the age of 21 can be sentenced to life and every effort is made to ensure that as few juvenile offenders as possible end up in prison.
One strong reason for the drop in prison numbers might be the amount of post-prison support available in Sweden. A confident probation service – a government agency – is tasked not only with supervising those on probation but is also guaranteed to provide treatment programmes for offenders with drug/alcohol or violence issues. The service is assisted by around 4,500 lay supervisors – members of the public who volunteer to befriend and support offenders under supervision. There is no equivalent in the UK.
When I tell Gustafsson that Chris Grayling, Britain's justice secretary, recently announced that inmates in England and Wales are to be made to wear prison uniforms and have limited access to television, he laughs. "[Politicians] keep their fingers away from us. We are allowed to get on with our jobs without any interference."
He talks about broader goals and objectives for the Swedish justice department: "This year and next year the priority of our work will be with young offenders and men with convictions of violent behaviour. For many years we have been running programmes to help those addicted to drugs. Now we are also developing programmes to address behaviours such as aggression and violence. These are the important things for our society when these people are released."
I spoke to a former prisoner who now runs a social enterprise called X-Cons Sweden. Peter Soderlund served almost three years of a four-year sentence for drug and weapons offences before he was released in 1998. He was helped by a newly formed organisation run by former prisoners called Kris, (Criminals Return In Society). For some years he worked to help build Kris until 2008 when, following organisational disputes and conflicts, he left.
"The big difference between Kris and us is that we are happy to allow people who are still taking addiction medications to join us," he says. Both organisations work with the same goal: helping prisoners successfully reintegrate into society after they have been released. And what is life like for the prisoner in Sweden? "When I was inside I was lucky. In Osteraker prison where I served my sentence the governor was enlightened. We were treated well. But I knew that not all Swedish prisons were like that. I met so many people in there who needed help – after I received help from Kris I knew I wanted to help others. With X-Cons, we meet them at the gate and support them into accommodation and offer a network of support."
Could it be, though, that the Swedish public is losing its appetite for genuine rehabilitation for prisoners? "In Sweden we believe very much in the concept of rehabilitation, without being naive of course," says Gustafsson. "There are some people who will not or cannot change. But in my experience the majority of prisoners want to change and we must do what we can to help to facilitate that. It is not always possible to achieve this in one prison sentence.
"Also it is not just prison that can rehabilitate – it is often a combined process involving probation and greater society. We can give education and training, but when they leave prison these people need housing and jobs."
Greece: upgrade by Moody's soured by row with lenders
Greece is at loggerheads with the troika of lenders EU, ECB and the IMF over cost-cutting reforms and a looming fiscal gap
The Guardian, Sunday 1 December 2013 20.24 GMT
A growing spat between Greece and its lenders has taken the shine off the first good report card the debt-laden country has received from an international rating agency in years, amid mounting concerns over Athens's deteriorating relations with the bodies keeping its economy afloat.
A two-notch upgrade by Moody's was eclipsed over the weekend by the news that monitors representing the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund had put off a planned visit that was due to begin on Monday.
"We haven't worked things out, we still differ over certain issues," the Greek finance minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters. "There are differences over two or three structural reforms," he said, adding that the fraught negotiations with the organisations would be pushed back another week.
On Friday, Moody's announced it had rare good news for Greece – it was upgrading its credit rating from C to Caa3 because of improved results in the country's economic adjustment programme. Despite heightened tensions, the move was seen as an immediate boost for prime minister Antonis Samaras's fragile coalition government, which has pledged to return to international capital markets next year.
"Moody's expects that the government will achieve (and possibly outperform) its target of a primary balance in 2013, and record a surplus in 2014 in accordance with the adjustment programme," the agency said. "Based on the government's budget execution record up until October, Moody's believes that [its] deficit target is likely to be within reach."
Greece was forced to seek bailout aid from its "troika" of lenders after a series of credit agency downgrades plunged the nation into its worst economic crisis in modern times. Since narrowly surviving bankruptcy in May 2010, Athens has existed on rescue funds drawn down from a 240 bn euro financial assistance package, the largest in global history.
Despite pulling off the biggest fiscal consolidation of any OECD country – relentless austerity has reduced the country's budget deficit from over 15% to 3% – Athens is once again at loggerheads with its troika of lenders over cost-cutting reforms and a looming fiscal gap.
The creditors' decision to postpone their review – upon which Greece's next €1bn (£0.83bn) tranche in aid now hangs – not only heightens tensions with the government, in a week when parliament begins debating next year's budget, but will almost certainly delay discussion over how to plug the budget black hole.
The government is keen to wrap up the talks by the time it assumes the rotating EU presidency in January.
But in an increasingly frenzied political environment – with lawmakers openly threatening to break ranks if called upon to pass yet more belt-tightening measures – officials also admit that relations with lenders have hit rock bottom.
In addition to pressing ahead with mass layoffs in the public sector, the troika organisations are demanding reforms in the real estate market – widely perceived as one of the biggest drains on the banking system and lifeless economy.
"There is a sense that the troika is being far too dogmatic and has simply become unreasonable," said a banker under anonymity. "It is almost as if they are pushing reforms for the sake of reforms when they know they will never be able to pass."
Escalating pressure on the government to lift a ban on home foreclosures and pass a new unified property tax which will see farmers being levied on their land holdings for the first time, has driven a wedge between Samaras and the socialist Pasok party, his junior party.
The socialists are staunchly opposed to the measures with the party's leader and deputy prime minister. Evangelos Venizelos, openly signaling that the government will fall if pushed too far.
"If they want us fall then it is better to fall now," Venizelos was quoted as saying by the Greek media as news outlets traditionally aligned with the troika's views turned against the lenders for being increasingly over-weaning.
With a wafer-thin majority of just four in the 300-seat parliament the spat has once again spawned growing speculation over Greece's political stability.
Italian textile factory fire deaths highlight conditions for migrant workers
Seven workers die in a makeshift dormitory in Prato, noted for garment firms operating on the fringe of legality
Reuters in Rome
theguardian.com, Monday 2 December 2013 00.59 GMT
At least seven people died and three were injured when a clothing factory in an industrial zone in the Italian town of Prato burned down on Sunday, killing workers trapped in an improvised dormitory built on the site.
Local media said 11 workers had been accommodated in a warren of small cardboard sleeping compartments above a warehouse in the Macrolotto industrial district of the town, known for its large number of garment factories.
"This is a disgrace for all of us, because we have to recognise this reality for what it is: the biggest concentration of illegal employment in northern and central Italy," said Enrico Rossi, president of the region of Tuscany.
Footage posted on the website of the local Il Tirreno newspaper showed fire crews battling the flames in a warehouse-like structure while smoke poured out of the building. Ambulances and police vehicles were also on the scene.
The disaster prompted immediate questions about the conditions on the site and in a network of similar workshops operating in the area, which is noted for its large number of Chinese-owned textile manufacturing businesses, many operating on the fringes of legality.
"No one can say they are surprised at this because everyone has known for years that, in the area between Florence and Prato, hundreds if not thousands of people are living and working in conditions of near-slavery," Roberto Pistonina, secretary general of the Florence and Prato section of the CISL trade union, said on his Facebook page.
Prato, a town with one of the highest concentrations of Chinese immigrants in Italy, has at least 15,000 legally registered in a total population of under 200,000, with more than 4,000 Chinese-owned businesses, according to official data.
Thousands more Chinese immigrants are believed to be living in the city illegally, working for a network of wholesalers and workshops turning out cheap clothing for the export market as well as well-known retail chains.
The disaster underlined the unsafe conditions in which the workers are employed in many of the workshops, although there was no immediate word on what may have started the blaze.
"The worst thing was hearing the cries of the people trapped inside," said Leonardo Tuci, an off-duty police official who saw the fire and sounded the alarm. "I did what I could, I dragged two people out, I'm only sorry I couldn't do more."
"I think the flames caught them in their sleep," he said.
A fire official quoted by the Corriere della Sera daily said there were clear violations of safety rules in the factory and evidence of unauthorised building work to put up the dormitories.
The mayor of Prato, Roberto Cenni, said there were "thousands of situations potentially as tragic as this one" in the industrial zone around the city and said he had been in contact with the interior minister, Angelino Alfano, to combat the illegal "parallel district" which had grown up around the workshops.
David Cameron calls for new EU-China free trade agreement
PM says the UK will be China's biggest advocate in the west, hoping to appease leaders angry at Dalai Lama meeting
Nicholas Watt in Beijing and Rowena Mason
The Guardian, Monday 2 December 2013
Britain will act as China's strongest advocate in the west, David Cameron has declared as he flew into Beijing pledging to lead a "dialogue of mutual respect and understanding".
In a sign of Downing Street's determination to appease Beijing, which was furious when Cameron met the Dalai Lama last year, the prime minister said no country was more open to China as he called for a new EU-China free trade agreement.
Writing in the Chinese weekly news magazine Caixin, Cameron said: "Put simply, there is no country in the western world more open to Chinese investment, more able to meet the demands of Chinese consumers, or more willing to make the case for economic openness in the G8, the G20 and the European Union. And there is no country more ready to forge a dialogue of mutual respect and understanding that can address issues of concern and advance our shared interests in the world."
The PM's effusive praise for China came as he landed in Beijing at the head of Britain's largest overseas trade and ministerial mission, designed to restore full relations after his meeting with the Dalai Lama.
The delegation includes the architect Zaha Hadid, ex-England footballer Graeme Le Saux, Arts Council England chair Sir Peter Bazalgette, the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, Ralf Speth, and Karren Brady, vice-chairman of West Ham United.
But Cameron came under fire from Labour for including figures close to him in the delegation. On the trip are his stepfather-in-law, Viscount Astor, representing Silvergate Media; the Tory peer Lord Chadlington, who helped to house the Camerons when the PM first fought the parliamentary seat of Witney; and the Tory donor and peer Lord Leigh of Hurley, of Cavendish Corporate Finance.
Jon Ashworth, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: "Whether it's dinners for donors or jetsetting trips for his friends, David Cameron rarely misses a trick to favour those close to him. Meanwhile, everyone else is offered no respite from the everyday reality of the Tory cost of living crisis."
Cameron will meet the new Chinese president Xi Jinping and the new premier Li Keqiang for separate talks in Beijing on Monday. He will hold talks, followed by lunch, with the premier at the Great Hall of the People. In the early evening Cameron will hold talks with the president followed by dinner at the State Guest House.
The prime minister will then travel to Shanghai on Monday night and will visit Chengdu on Wednesday before returning home ahead of George Osborne's autumn statement on Thursday.
The PM said he was best placed to champion China in the west, months after China and the EU came close to a trade war after Chinese firms were accused of dumping €21bn (£17.4bn) of solar panels at below cost price last year. An EU threat of punitive duties prompted China to threaten sanctions on German cars and French wine.
EU and Chinese leaders launched negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty at the 16th EU-China summit in Beijing last month to increase bilateral trade from about $580bn (£350bn) in 2012 to $1tn by 2020. But there is deep scepticism in Brussels at the idea of an EU-China free trade deal amid fears that China would use it to flood the market with cheap goods. The EU is China's biggest export market, while China is the EU's second-biggest export market.
In his article for Caixin, Cameron swept aside recent EU concerns over Chinese rules that mean Europeans must work with a Chinese joint venture partner and hand over sensitive technology. The European commission highlighted concerns over China in May when it said it was prepared to launch an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into Huawei, the world's second-largest telecoms equipment manufacturer.
The prime minister, who said an EU-China free trade agreement would be worth £1.8bn a year to the UK alone, wrote: "China's transformation is one of the defining facts of our lifetime. Last year China became the world's largest trading nation. Next year China is set to become the world's largest importer of goods and later this century it will become the world's biggest economy.
"We should be clear that there is a genuine choice for every country over how to respond to this growing openness and success. They can choose to see China's rise as a threat or an opportunity. They can protect their markets from China or open their markets to China. They can try and shut China out – or welcome China as a partner at the top table of global affairs."
On the proposed free trade agreement, he wrote: "Britain is uniquely placed to make the case for deepening the European Union's trade and investment relationship with China. Building on the recent launch of EU-China negotiations on investment, and on China's continued commitment to economic reform, I now want to set a new long-term goal of an ambitious and comprehensive EU-China free trade agreement. And as I have on the EU-US deal, so I will put my full political weight behind such a deal, which could be worth tens of billions of dollars every year."
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, is to warn that there is no point in trying to compete with China on low wages. Talking to staff at the VW National Training Centre in Milton Keynes he will say: "David Cameron needs to understand a simple truth: we're not going to win a race with China by winning a race to the bottom, by competing on low pay and low skills. And, if we try, it will be the people of Britain who lose."
He will say the UK should "compete on the basis of high-skill, hi-tech, high-wage economy – encouraging small businesses who want to grow, helping young people like you who want to get on and businesses like these which want to train, backing the real wealth creators in our country".
Maria Miller, the culture secretary, who is accompanying the prime minister, will announce an agreement between the Premier League and the Chinese Super League to build up elite football at community level.
China pushes for greater investment in UK, including HS2 and nuclear power
Premier Li Keqiang responds to David Cameron's overtures by foreshadowing 'indispensable and equal' partnership
Tania Branigan and Nicholas Watt in Beijing
theguardian.com, Monday 2 December 2013 06.44 GMT
China wants involvement in Britain's first high-speed rail line and an increased role in civil nuclear power, the country's premier said in Beijing after talks with David Cameron on the first day of the prime minister's visit.
Li Keqiang said China would also like to invest in power projects.
Speaking in the Great Hall of the People on Monday, Li said: "The two sides have agreed to push for breakthroughs and progress in the co-operation between our enterprises on nuclear power and high speed rail. The Chinese side is willing to not only participate in but also purchase equities and stocks in UK power projects."
Cameron said the scale and pace of China's transformation dwarfed Britain's industrial revolution.
The remarks by Li follow a concerted effort by Britain to mend fences with Beijing after Cameron met the Dalai Lama last year. The prime minister said last week he would welcome Chinese involvement in HS2.
Li said Britain and China were indispensable and equal partners, noting the prime minister's recent approach to Beijing by acknowledging the territorial integrity of China – diplomatic code for accepting Beijing's rule over Tibet.
Li said: "We have become indispensable partners for each other's development. China and the UK must treat each other as equals."
Cameron, who arrived in Beijing pledging to act as China's strongest advocate in the west, started the day by visiting the Chinese headquarters of Jaguar Land Rover. He then met Li at the Great Hall of the People for talks and lunch. Cameron is due to have dinner with President Xi Jinping before heading to Shanghai.
The prime minister opened his remarks at the Great Hall of the People by echoing Xi's call for a Chinese dream. The prime minister said: "China's transformation is one of the defining facts of our lifetime. The pace and scale of economic development and urbanisation dwarfs the British industrial revolution of two centuries ago. I see China's rise as an opportunity not just for the people of this country but for Britain and for the world.
"Britain wants China to realise its dream and I believe we can help each other succeed in the global race.
Some in Europe and elsewhere see the world changing and want to shut China off behind a bamboo curtain of trade barriers. Britain wants to tear those trade barriers down."
China has rolled out a vast high-speed rail link at an astounding pace, though the reputation of the project suffered a blow with a fatal train crash near Wenzhou in 2011.
Cameron said last week that he would welcome Chinese involvement in HS2. The prime minister said during a visit to a Chinese exhibition at the V&A: "I’m very interested in what’s happening in terms of high-speed rail in China. It seems to be an absolute high-speed revolution taking place, and I’m looking forward to travelling on a high-speed train when I’m in China.
"In terms of HS2, I very much welcome Chinese investment into British infrastructure. We see already Chinese investment into Heathrow Airport, into Manchester Airport and, of course, into Hinkley Point nuclear power stations."
No 10 protests as British journalist is barred from Chinese press conference
Political reporter Robert Hutton of Bloomberg, whose website is blocked in China, told not to attend event
Nicholas Watt in Beijing
theguardian.com, Monday 2 December 2013 11.59 GMT
Downing Street has protested to the Chinese authorities about a "completely inappropriate" decision to bar a British journalist from a press conference in Beijing with David Cameron and his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang.
No 10 raised "deep concerns" on two occasions with Chinese officials after the foreign ministry excluded Robert Hutton, a political journalist with the US wire service Bloomberg, from the event at the Great Hall of the People on Monday.
British officials in Beijing informed Hutton, a member of the British parliamentary lobby who is accompanying the prime minister to China, that he would not be admitted to the press conference.
Hutton was informed of the decision by an official on a bus ride from Beijing airport after the prime minister's overnight flight from London. The official said: "We have been told by the Chinese authorities that it would not be appropriate for you to attend."
The Bloomberg website is blocked in China after it ran stories about the wealth of families of senior leaders, including relatives of the president, Xi Jinping. Bloomberg last month denied killing a similar sensitive story after a New York Times report that said editors had been concerned its ability to report from China would be compromised if it ran the piece. Bloomberg said the article was still in preparation.
A No 10 spokesman said: "As soon as this issue became apparent on Sunday, we raised our concerns at senior levels and made clear it would be completely inappropriate to exclude journalists from the press statements. When we heard what had happened today we expressed our deep concern to senior Chinese officials about journalists being blocked."
The two leaders each read out a lengthy statement and declined to answer questions at the press conference, which ended with applause.
The decision by Chinese officials to bar a journalist from a press conference – technically called a press statement because no questions were permitted – highlights the challenge of improving trade ties with China. Cameron, whose relations with Beijing became strained after he met the Dalai Lama last year, arrived in Beijing pledging to lead a "dialogue of mutual respect and understanding" which would see him acting as China's strongest advocate in the west.
The strong reaction by No 10 shows that it is prepared on occasions to draw a line with the Chinese.
12/02/2013 12:16 PM
Tehran Treaty: Winners and Losers in Geneva Nuclear Deal
By SPIEGEL Staff
The Geneva nuclear treaty with Tehran offers the West new opportunities and could change the world. But secret documents suggest it is the hardliners in Iran who stand to profit the most from the new opening. The clear losers are Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Rarely has an international agreement triggered such widely divergent reactions as the Iran deal reached in Geneva, with proponents touting it as a solution to the world's problems while opponents paint doomsday scenarios. Still, it is only a temporary, six-month deal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called it a "breakthrough." United States President Barack Obama said that for the first time in years "we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program. And key parts of the program will be rolled back."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the deal "a turning point."
An enthusiastic crowd all but crushed chief negotiator Mohammad Zarif upon his return to Tehran, after a deal had been reached with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The foreign minister deserved a gold medal for his diplomatic skills, the Iranian newspaper Arman Daily wrote enthusiastically, noting that the world had come a step closer to global peace "without Iran having to abandon its principles."
The deal evoked a completely different reaction in Saudi Arabia and Israel. Abdullah al-Askar, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the influential Shura Council, spoke darkly of what he called Iran's "evil agenda." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fumed that the deal was a "historic mistake," saying: "the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world."
Trade and Industry Minister Naftali Bennett, a hardliner in the Israeli cabinet, even went so far as to paint an apocalyptic scenario, saying: "If in five years, a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the agreement that was signed this morning." Of course, there are also those who draw an analogy to the 1938 Munich Agreement and liken Iran to Hitler's Germany, accusing the West of choosing appeasement once again. So is the Geneva deal a work of God or a deal with the devil? Or is just an agreement complete with human weaknesses that could, ironically enough, end up benefiting the agitators on all sides?
Iran's Return to the World Stage
A week after the surprising compromise, the consequences of the interim agreement are gradually emerging -- consequences for international politics, war and peace in the Middle East, the balance of power between Sunnis and Shiites in the region and for both the ruling class in the Iranian theocracy and its subjects.
The deal amounts to a tectonic shift in the Middle East, the kind of watershed moment in global policy that only happens once every few years. The Geneva agreement marks the return of Iran to the world stage, and its transformation from a pariah to a potential partner of the United States and Europe. At the same time, it also foreshadows the presumed decline in the importance of two powers that have been viewed as difficult but indispensable partners of the West: Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The monarchs of the House of Saud have always seen themselves as the keepers of the holiest sites in Islam, the masters of Mecca and Medina, which has led to their claim of being the leading power in Sunni Islam. The Shia, the other main denomination of Islam, is treated as heretical in Saudi Arabia, where Shiites make up about 10 percent of the population and are oppressed by those in power. The Saudis have been mistrustful of their big neighbor to the east since their country was founded in 1932. But they have always had good relations with their strategic partner, the United States, a distant power to which they supplied the oil critical to its survival and from which they bought billions in armaments in return.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan was a symbolic figure in this political marriage of convenience. For 22 years, he served as the kingdom's ambassador in Washington, where, next to his Israeli counterparts, he was probably the most influential diplomat. The prince was on good terms with former First Lady Nancy Reagan and on a first-name basis with her husband, then President Ronald Reagan. He smoked Cohiba cigars with Bill Clinton. And according to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bob Woodward, former President George W. Bush told him about the impending US invasion of Iraq before informing Secretary of State Colin Powell. The close relationship between the two countries survived the 9/11 terrorist attacks largely intact, even through 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. The Saudi rulers remained a stabilizing factor in the Middle East, working hand-in-hand with the White House.
A Rift Between Saudi Royals and White House
This began to change when the storms of the Arab spring brought turmoil to Middle Eastern autocracies. Riyadh was displeased when the US government did nothing to prevent the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. On the other hand, the Saudis would have no objection to the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a member of the Alawite denomination and close ally of both the Shiite theocracy in Tehran and the Iranian-funded militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon. Riyadh was sharply critical of President Obama's decision not to follow up on the threat of military strikes against Damascus, widening the growing rift between the Saudi royal family and the White House.
For a war-weary United States, there is also another reason why the Middle East is no longer a top priority. Thanks to new technologies like fracking, the country is not as reliant on foreign oil as it once was and could in fact attain true energy independence within a decade. The US's old friend, 64-year-old Prince Bandar, Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief since 2012, also recognized the change when he noted that his country would make a "major shift" away from its alliance with Washington.
However, Riyadh and Washington did agree on one thing until recently: that Iran, with its presumed nuclear weapons program and its aggressive former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, represented the greatest threat to the Middle East. But then moderate politician Hassan Rohani, 65, was elected Iran's new president in June. Rohani appointed the cosmopolitan diplomat Mohammad Zarif, 53, who earned his doctorate at the University of Denver, as his new foreign minister.
Benefits for Both Sides
When an easing of the nuclear dispute was in the offing a few weeks ago, the Saudi rulers did everything they could to obstruct an agreement. But their lobbying was to no avail. The members of the UN Security Council and Germany wanted the deal, and the United States, after 34 years of having no diplomatic relations with Tehran, recognized that the prospect of rapprochement would give it more options in the Middle East. An interim agreement would benefit both sides: Iran, through the lifting of some of the ruinous sanctions against the country, and the West, through the freezing of the Iranian nuclear program. The agreement represents a six-month reprieve for both sides, and it offers the hope that something far more extensive could follow: a permanent agreement that drives away the specter of an Iranian bomb and allows Tehran to become a constructive power with the ability to defuse crises once again.
The Saudis are the losers in this historic shift. It's also possible that the West will become more public in its criticism of their regime. So far, Riyadh's rulers have been largely unopposed in their aggressive efforts to spread their rigid form of Wahhabi Islam. Unlike Iran, for example, Saudi Arabia strictly forbids the public practice of other religions. And while the Saudi rulers have fought al-Qaida domestically, they have never renounced violence beyond their borders. According to documents leaked by WikiLeaks, in 2009 then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Saudi Arabia a "critical financial base" for funding terrorism.
In the Syrian civil war, the royal family is reallocating its funding for the rebels fighting the Assad regime, so that Islamists who want to turn Syria into a fundamentalist country are now receiving more Saudi money than the moderate regime opponents. And women are still not permitted to drive or vote in Saudi Arabia.
Is Saudi Arabia Seeking to Become a Nuclear Power?
The fear of isolation is pushing Riyadh to embark on dangerous adventures. According to intelligence sources, the regime, with Pakistan's help, has recently begun pursuing its own nuclear weapon. In the 1990s, the Saudis spent millions of dollars on a project to develop an "Islamic" nuclear weapon. This may explain why the only person Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear program, invited to tour his laboratories was the then Saudi defense minister. Now Riyadh is reported to have secretly requested nuclear know-how and hardware from Islamabad that would give it the option of becoming a nuclear power itself in a few years.
Surprising New Alliances
The Geneva deal is creating surprising new alliances. The backward-looking, theocratic Saudi monarchy and modern, pluralistic Israel have discovered mutual interests. The two countries allegedly even have coordinated attack plans, in which Israeli fighter jets would not only be allowed to fly through Saudi Arabian airspace in the event of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, but could also depend on logistical support from Riyadh.
The mood in Israel itself is mixed. President Shimon Peres responded to the results of the negotiation with cautious optimism. Many Israelis view Netanyahu's maximum demands that Iran completely abandon its nuclear program as unrealistic, and they also don't believe that Tehran poses a direct threat.
Nevertheless, a majority takes Iran's threatening gestures very seriously. As much as the Israelis acknowledge Rohani's moderate statements, they also pay close attention to the words of Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Tehran. Just a few days ago, Khamenei referred to Jews as "rabid dogs" and essentially denied them the right to their own country in the Middle East.
Critics of the Geneva agreement paint a nightmare scenario in which the release of about $7 billion (€5.15 billion) in previously frozen funds will relieve the pressure on the Iranians, pressure that had created a desperate economic situation in the country and forced Tehran to the negotiating table. It will be psychologically almost impossible to develop a new and possibly even tougher sanctions regime, even if the Iranians are unwilling to make any further concessions or fail to live up to their current promises. American oil companies and French automakers, to which Tehran is holding out the prospect of attractive terms, are already vying for contracts. In Germany, machine-building companies anticipate billions in new orders.
According to Western intelligence sources, the leadership and not the Iranian population would be more likely to benefit from an easing of sanctions. The Revolutionary Guards have managed to successfully circumvent trade restrictions with a network of front companies. The paramilitary organization, which answers directly to religious leader Khamenei and controls large parts of the economy, acts like a state within the state, subject to no rules but its own.
Will Funds Be Diverted to Front Companies?
The seemingly harmless-sounding National Development Fund (NDF) also plays a key role. According to the Iranian budget, some 26 percent of Iran's oil and natural gas revenues -- still several hundred million dollars, despite the Western boycott -- will go to the NDF this year. The fund allegedly uses the money for peaceful purposes, but Western intelligence agencies report that the NDF, since its founding in 2010, has transferred more than $3 billion to two organizations on both European Union and US watch lists. The first one is Energy Novin, a subsidiary of the Iranian nuclear authority, which is also involved in questionable aspects of the nuclear program, and the second is the Quds Force, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards known for its dubious foreign military missions. The Quds Force is currently fighting on the side of Syrian dictator Assad, for example.
The unfreezing of Iran's bank accounts will likely be a bonanza for the NDF, which could divert the funds into hostile channels, or use them to establish other front companies. The Geneva deal deprives the West of the ability to blacklist new organizations or individuals, because the parties to the agreement assured Tehran that they would impose "no new nuclear-related sanctions" for six months. Whether President Rohani is familiar with any such plans to "divert" the billions is questionable. Iran is anything but a monolithic nation. Rather, it is one with many centers of influence, with the threads of power all leading to the supreme religious leader.
Optimists believe that Khamenei will call off the Revolutionary Guards, at least for the next few months. He expressly welcomed the Geneva deal. Hardly any of the more reactionary elements are currently opposing the moderates. On the other hand, Rohani is proceeding very cautiously -- too cautiously for many -- with his reforms. Nevertheless, he has released 11 opponents of the regime from prison, and journalists have been given somewhat more latitude to voice their criticism.
The principle of hope still prevails. The way in which the "scaremongers" are being addressed reveals the extent of the shift to date. British Foreign Secretary William Hague, for example, warned Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz not to "continue to sabotage" the nuclear deal.
REPORTED BY RONEN BERGMAN, ERICH FOLLATH, JULIA AMALIA HEYER AND CHRISTOPH SCHULT
Iran and Russia in talks to build nuclear plant
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, December 1, 2013 10:20 EST
Iran and Russia are in talks to build another nuclear plant at Bushehr, with construction set to begin in 2014, media Sunday reported nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi as saying.
“With the progress made in the Geneva talks, next year we will see the start of construction on another nuclear power plant in Bushehr,” said Salehi of the landmark deal clinched with world powers on Tehran’s disputed nuclear drive.
He did not elaborate on the new plant’s power capacity, but Iran has planned to build 1,000-megawatt plants.
“We are negotiating with the Russians to produce 4,000 megawatts of electricity, and they have expressed their readiness to build,” added Salehi, according to the website of state broadcaster IRIB.
He said that in the next phase, Iran sought to produce 5,000 megawatts in electricity output from nuclear power.
Iran’s sole Bushehr nuclear power plant, which produces 1,000 megawatts, came into service in 2011 after several delays blamed on technical problems.
In September this year, Iranian engineers took complete control of the Bushehr facility.
Iran has said it aims to produce 20,000 megawatts of electricity from nuclear power, which would necessitate building 20 such reactors.
Western powers and Israel suspect that the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme masks a covert weapons drive, a charge Tehran denies, saying it is entirely for peaceful purposes.
Under the interim Geneva agreement, Iran agreed to roll back some parts of its nuclear programme in exchange for partial easing of punitive sanctions choking its economy.
November 30, 2013
Years of Mourning the Losses in Mumbai
By MIRA KAMDAR
IT’S hard to believe that five years have passed since terrorists attacked Mumbai on Nov. 26, 2008, the date everyone in India knows as 26/11. More than 160 people were killed. Two of the victims were my cousin Reshma Parekh and her husband, Sunil. They were gunned down as they waited for a table at Tiffin restaurant in the Oberoi Hotel. They died within hours of the attackers’ arrival in the city, but their deaths were not confirmed until the hotel was finally wrested from the gunmen’s control two days later.
I was living in New York when news of the attack arrived on Thanksgiving morning. I snatched time away from preparing the holiday meal to watch live television coverage as the attack unfolded. Reporters were standing in front of the landmark Taj Mahal hotel, showing the raging fire, the billowing smoke, guests on window ledges using bedsheets to escape.
I was already feeling sick with a sense of 9/11 déjà vu when I got a call from an aunt in Mumbai. Reshma and Sunil were in the Oberoi. There’d been no news.
A family friend’s daughter who was trapped in the Taj Mahal but finally managed to escape said there were no security forces at the back of the hotel. When she and a handful of other hotel guests emerged into the alley after eluding the gunmen inside, they were stunned to find themselves perfectly alone, not a policeman in sight. They walked until they found a taxi, and made their way home. When she told me about her experience a year later, her voice shook with rage.
There has been much analysis of the attack over the course of the past five years. How could such an attack have happened? What needs to be done to make sure it never happens again?
The video of the lone fire truck dwarfed by the raging inferno in the Taj hotel; the video of the Mumbai policemen cowering behind a pillar with their old Lee-Enfield rifles as a couple of young men with machine guns rake bullets into helpless passengers inside the railway terminus; the horrifying audiotapes of the terrorists’ handlers in Pakistan calmly ordering the assassination of this or that hostage — these terrible proofs of unpreparedness in the face of a well-calculated, media-savvy attack on India’s business and entertainment capital have been examined over and over again.
In the complicated maelstrom of Pakistan’s domestic politics and its strained relationship with India, the Pakistan-based masterminds of the 26/11 attack have not been brought to justice. The region remains a dangerous one, where alliances of necessity are fraught with mistrust. There were multiple intelligence alerts that an attack on Mumbai was in the works, and Indian intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Mumbai police were aware of the warnings. Yet the city was unprepared.
Over the past five years, homegrown attacks — some by Muslim extremists but others by Hindu militants — have rocked India. India’s cities remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks. The government of India, the state of Maharashtra and the city of Mumbai all claim to have made great strides in improving security. They’ve invested in the coast guard. The police have better guns, interagency communication has improved, a special commando squad called Force One has been created and closed-circuit TV cameras are planned.
But Mumbai’s roads are even more clogged than they were five years ago; the city’s fire brigades don’t always have enough water to put out building fires; and Mumbai police officers, who sometimes have to pay for fuel out of their own pockets, have been unable to respond to emergencies when they haven’t filled their tanks.
A year ago, Ajmal Kasab, the only survivor among the 10 original attackers, was hanged. His execution brought no closure to me. My Indian family are Jains. The core belief of Jainism is ahimsa, avoiding harm to any living being. What comforts me is the spirit of ordinary Mumbaikars. The selfless actions of the staff at the Taj hotel became an instant legend. For three days, they tended guests hidden in conference rooms and guided others out, shielding them from bullets with their own bodies. The fact that there was no witch hunt against Muslims in a city that is no stranger to genocidal rampages created a foundation for healing.
THE Taj Mahal and the Oberoi hotels have been repaired and reopened. Guests now have to pass through airport-type security to get inside. Tiffin restaurant has a new name. It’s called Fenix, risen anew from the ashes of the attack.
My cousin’s two daughters, orphaned on 26/11, have grown with the support and love of their extended family into vivacious teenagers. They are the best reason for a devastated family to carry on.
When I visit Mumbai, I see them and my aunt, Reshma’s mother, who lost her only child. Photographs of Reshma and Sunil and the girls adorn the homes of the couple’s families, who now bravely stand in for two people whose loss we still cannot comprehend.
Like the love of Mumbaikars for their confounding city, the love shared by our family was made fiercer by the terrorist attack. But no love should have to brave such senseless tragedy.