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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1007658 times)
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« Reply #8085 on: Aug 12, 2013, 06:28 AM »

Zimbabwe’s re-elected president Robert Mugabe tells critics to ‘go hang’

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 12, 2013 6:49 EDT

Zimbabwe’s recently re-elected president Robert Mugabe on Monday said those upset by his disputed landslide election victory could “go hang”.

The 89-year-old vowed never to let go of his victory as his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai lodged a petition in court challenging the election outcome.

“Those who were hurt by defeat can go hang if they so wish,” Mugabe told thousands at a rally to honour heroes of the country’s liberation wars.

“Never will we go back on our victory.”

Mugabe was declared winner of the July 31 election with 61 percent of the vote against Tsvangirai’s 34 percent.

Tsvangirai’s lawyers on Friday filed a petition at the constitutional court challenging the vote, which extended Mugabe’s 33-year rule by another five years.

“We are delivering democracy on a platter. We say take it or leave it, but the people have delivered democracy,” Mugabe said.

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« Reply #8086 on: Aug 12, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Democratic Republic of the Congo's women hold key to lasting peace

Women have suffered most as a result of conflict in DRC and the Great Lakes region – their voices must be heard

Monday 12 August 2013 07.00 BST

Not a week goes by without reports of fresh fighting in the eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Violence and destruction have ravaged the Great Lakes region of Africa for two decades, claiming more than 5 million lives. Yet the situation rarely makes the headlines.

What strikes me is the lack of outrage and horror, particularly given the disproportionate impact the conflict is having on women and children. As I asked the UN security council last month, how can we accept a situation where rape and sexual violence – which, let us be clear, are war crimes – have become the norm?

When Ban Ki-moon asked me to become his special envoy for the Great Lakes in March, I felt a particular responsibility to the mothers, daughters and grandmothers who – since my first visit to the region, as president of Ireland in 1994 – have shared with me what they have suffered in Bujumbura, Bukavu, Goma, Kigali or Kinshasa.

In 20 years of killings, rape, destruction and displacement, these women have suffered most. Yet I believe they are the region's best hope for building lasting peace. My job now, and the job of the international community, is to support them in every way we can.

Women's voices should not only be heard because they are the victims of the war. Their active participation in peace efforts is essential, because they are the most effective peace builders. As men take up arms, women hold communities together in times of war. This makes them stronger and better equipped to play a key role in securing real peace, as we have seen in Northern Ireland, Liberia and elsewhere.

My approach to peace-building involves not just political leaders, but all of civil society, including women. Without their full support and participation, no peace agreement can succeed. How many secret deals have been negotiated in the Great Lakes region, only to be ignored or forgotten by the signatories for lack of transparency and accountability?

I believe the peace, security and co-operation framework for the DRC and the region, signed in Addis Ababa in February 2013 by 11 African countries, provides an opportunity to do things differently. That is why I have called it a framework of hope. I have started to work on its implementation top-down, with the 11 heads of state who signed the agreement, and bottom-up, with the people of the region who will be its real beneficiaries.

As the first woman to be appointed UN special envoy, I have promised to ensure that women's voices are heard at the negotiating table. Last month, with Femmes Africa Solidarité and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, we brought together more than 100 women from across the region – including the gender ministers of the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi – in Bujumbura. One upshot of the meeting has been to ensure the consequences of sexual violence are included in the benchmarks we are developing to measure progress in the implementation of the peace agreement.

I feel energised by the leadership shown by the women I met in Bujumbura. They are taking full responsibility for peace, security and development in the region. Reaching across national borders, they are innovative, collegial and practical. I rely on them to hold their leaders to account for the full implementation of the framework of hope.

As special envoy, I will continue to support female-led initiatives. I am pleased the World Bank has allocated $150m (£98m) to finance gender-based projects, in addition to the $1bn already pledged for the region. I encourage the donor community to be even more strategic in its support of the framework of hope. It is crucial to demonstrate the economic benefits of a lasting peace based on development – what I call the peace dividend.

Almost six months after the signing of the peace agreement, armed groups are still roaming in eastern Congo, sowing terror and destruction. This is not acceptable. I have heard the region's people voice their frustration and anger at the slow pace of change. However, I am confident that, with the support of civil society – including women – we can succeed in bringing peace to the region.

I have often heard my friend Desmond Tutu, a fellow member of the Elders, say: "I am not an optimist, I am a prisoner of hope." The women of the Great Lakes are keeping my hope alive.

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« Reply #8087 on: Aug 12, 2013, 06:40 AM »

Extinction of large animals could destroy soil fertility: study

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 11, 2013 14:43 EDT

The mass extinction of large animals in the Pleistocene era caused today’s dearth of soil nutrients, scientists said Sunday, and warned of further damage if modern giants like the elephant disappear.

The Pleistocene epoch, which dated from about 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, saw large animals dubbed megafauna take over domination of the planet from extinct dinosaurs, only to die out en masse themselves.

During their peak, much of the world resembled a modern-day African savannah.

South America, for example, was teeming with five-tonne ground sloths, armadillo-like glyptodonts the size of a small car, and herds of elephant-like cuvieronius and stegomastodonts.

These megafauna, animals weighing more than 44 kilograms (97 pounds), played a key role in fertilising soil far away from the areas near rivers where they fed — ploughing the nutrients they consumed back into circulation through their dung or their decomposing bodies when they died.

Large animals ate much more and travelled further than small ones, and were mainly responsible for long-distance fertilisation, said a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“Big animals are like the nutrient arteries of the planet and if they go extinct it is like severing these arteries,” co-author Chris Doughty of the University of Oxford’s Environment Change Institute told AFP.

“Because most of these animals went extinct the world has many more nutrient poor regions than it would have had.”

Using mathematical models, researchers estimated the megafauna extinction reduced the dispersal of key plant nutrient phosphorus in the Amazon basin by 98 percent, “with similar, though less extreme, decreases in all continents outside of Africa”, the only continent where modern humans co-evolved with megafauna.

Instead, the nutrients became concentrated near floodplains and other fertile areas.

The model used in the study will allow scientists to predict the effect of further extinctions, a fate the team said was “fast approaching many of the large animals that remain” today, mainly in Africa and Asia.

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« Reply #8088 on: Aug 12, 2013, 06:55 AM »

In the USA...

August 12, 2013

Justice Dept. Seeks to Curtail Stiff Drug Sentences


WASHINGTON — In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration will move on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, is expected to announce the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the justice system, according to his prepared remarks.

Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder is planning to justify his policy push in both moral and economic terms.

“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech says. “It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

Mr. Holder will also introduce a related set of Justice Department policies that would leave more crimes to state courts to handle, increase the use of drug-treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration, and expand a program of “compassionate release” for “elderly inmates who did not commit violent crimes and have served significant portions of their sentences.”

The policy changes appear to be part of Mr. Holder’s effort, before he eventually steps down, to bolster his image and legacy. Turmoil over the Congressional investigation into the botched Operation Fast and Furious gun trafficking case ensnared him in the Obama administration’s first term, and more recently, controversy has flared over the department’s aggressive tactics in leak investigations.

In recent weeks, he has also tightened rules on obtaining reporters’ data in leak cases and started an effort to strengthen protections for minority voters after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The move continued an assertive approach to voting rights and other civil rights enforcement throughout his tenure.

Mr. Holder’s speech on Monday deplores the moral impact of the United States’ high incarceration rate: although it has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners, he notes. But he also attempts to pre-empt political controversy by painting his effort as following the lead of prison reform efforts in primarily conservative-led Southern states.

Under a policy memorandum being sent to all United States attorney offices on Monday, according to an administration official, prosecutors will be told that they may not write the specific quantity of drugs when drafting indictments for drug defendants who meet the following four criteria: their conduct did not involve violence, the use of a weapon or sales to minors; they are not leaders of a criminal organization; they have no significant ties to large-scale gangs or cartels; and they have no significant criminal history.

For example, in the case of a defendant accused of conspiring to sell five kilograms of cocaine — an amount that would set off a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence — the prosecutor would write that “the defendant conspired to distribute cocaine” without saying how much. The quantity would still factor in when prosecutors and judges consult sentencing guidelines, but depending on the circumstances, the result could be a sentence of less than the 10 years called for by the mandatory minimum law, the official said.

It is not clear whether current cases that have not yet been adjudicated would be recharged because of the new policy.

Amid a rise in crime rates a generation ago, state and federal lawmakers began passing a series of “tough on crime” laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession. But as crime rates have plummeted to 40-year lows and reduced the political potency of the fear of crime, fiscal pressures from the exploding cost of building and maintaining prisons have prompted states to find alternatives to incarceration.

Driven in part by a need to save money, several conservative-leaning states like Texas and Arkansas have experimented with finding ways to incarcerate fewer low-level drug offenders. The answers have included reducing prison terms for them or diverting them into treatment programs, releasing elderly or well-behaved inmates early, and expanding job training and re-entry programs.

The policy is seen as successful across the ideological divide. For example, in Texas, which was an early innovator, taxpayers have saved hundreds of millions of dollars on what had been projected as a need to build prison space. With crime rates remaining at generational lows, the space is no longer necessary.

Several years ago, a group called Right on Crime formed to push what it calls the “conservative case for reform.” Its Republican affiliates include Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor; Edwin R. Meese III, an attorney general during the Reagan administration; and Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker.

“While the federal prison system has continued to slowly expand, significant state-level reductions have led to three consecutive years of decline in America’s overall prison population — including, in 2012, the largest drop ever experienced in a single year,” Mr. Holder’s speech says. “Clearly, these strategies can work. They’ve attracted overwhelming, bipartisan support in ‘red states’ as well as ‘blue states.’ And it’s past time for others to take notice.”

Still, in states that have undertaken prison and parole overhauls, the changes were approved by state lawmakers. Mr. Holder’s reform is different: instead of going through Congress for legislation to modify mandatory minimum sentencing laws, he is invoking his power of prosecutorial discretion to sidestep them.

Earlier in Mr. Obama’s presidency, the administration went through Congress to achieve policy goals like reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder forms of cocaine. But it has increasingly pursued a strategy of invoking unilateral executive powers without Congress, which the White House sees as bogged down by Republican obstructionism.

Previous examples, like Mr. Obama’s decision last year to issue an executive order allowing immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children to remain without fear of deportation and to work, have drawn fire from Republicans as “power grabs” that usurp the role of Congress.

Mr. Holder’s speech marches through a litany of statistics about incarceration in the United States. The American population has grown by about a third since 1980, he said, but its prison rate has increased nearly 800 percent. At the federal level, more than 219,000 inmates are currently behind bars — nearly half for drug-related crimes — and the prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above their official capacity.


A Texan tragedy: Plenty of oil, but no water

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Sunday, August 11, 2013 13:35 EDT

Beverly McGuire saw the warning signs before the town well went dry: sand in the toilet bowl, the sputter of air in the tap, a pump working overtime to no effect. But it still did not prepare her for the night last month when she turned on the tap and discovered the tiny town where she had made her home for 35 years was out of water.

“The day that we ran out of water I turned on my faucet and nothing was there and at that moment I knew the whole of Barnhart was down the tubes,” she said, blinking back tears. “I went: ‘dear God help us. That was the first thought that came to mind.”

Across the south-west, residents of small communities like Barnhart are confronting the reality that something as basic as running water, as unthinking as turning on a tap, can no longer be taken for granted.

Three years of drought, decades of overuse and now the oil industry’s outsize demands on water for fracking are running down reservoirs and underground aquifers. And climate change is making things worse.

In Texas alone, about 30 communities could run out of water by the end of the year, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Nearly 15 million people are living under some form of water rationing, barred from freely sprinkling their lawns or refilling their swimming pools. In Barnhart’s case, the well appears to have run dry because the water was being extracted for shale gas fracking.

The town — a gas station, a community hall and a taco truck – sits in the midst of the great Texan oil rush, on the eastern edge of the Permian basin.

A few years ago, it seemed like a place on the way out. Now McGuire said she can see nine oil wells from her back porch, and there are dozens of RVs parked outside town, full of oil workers.

But soon after the first frack trucks pulled up two years ago, the well on McGuire’s property ran dry.

No-one in Barnhart paid much attention at the time, and McGuire hooked up to the town’s central water supply. “Everyone just said: ‘too bad’. Well now it’s all going dry,” McGuire said.

Ranchers dumped most of their herds. Cotton farmers lost up to half their crops. The extra draw down, coupled with drought, made it impossible for local ranchers to feed and water their herds, said Buck Owens. In a good year, Owens used to run 500 cattle and up to 8,000 goats on his 7,689 leased hectares (19,000 acres). Now he’s down to a few hundred goats.

The drought undoubtedly took its toll but Owens reserved his anger for the contractors who drilled 104 water wells on his leased land, to supply the oil companies.

Water levels were dropping in his wells because of the vast amounts of water being pumped out of the Edwards-Trinity-Plateau Aquifer, a 34,000 sq mile water bearing formation.

“They are sucking all of the water out of the ground, and there are just hundreds and hundreds of water trucks here every day bringing fresh water out of the wells,” Owens said.

Meanwhile, residents in town complained, they were forced to live under water rationing. “I’ve got dead trees in my yard because I haven’t been able to water them,” said Glenda Kuykendall. “The state is mandating our water system to conserve water but why?… Getting one oil well fracked takes more water than the entire town can drink or use in a day.”

Even as the drought bore down, even as the water levels declined, the oil industry continued to demand water and those with water on their land were willing to sell it. The road west of town was lined with signs advertising “fresh water”, where tankers can take on a box-car-sized load of water laced with industrial chemicals.

“If you’re going to develop the oil, you’ve got to have the water,” said Larry Baxter, a contractor from the nearby town of Mertzon, who installed two frack tanks on his land earlier this year, hoping to make a business out of his well selling water to oil industry.

By his own estimate, his well could produce enough to fill up 20 or 30 water trucks for the oil industry each day. At $60 (£39.58) a truck, that was $36,000 a month, easily. “I could sell 100 truckloads a day if I was open to it,” Baxter said.

He rejected the idea there should be any curbs on selling water during the drought. “People use their water for food and fibre. I choose to use my water to sell to the oil field,” he said. “Who’s taking advantage? I don’t see any difference.”

Barnhart remained dry for five days last month before local work crew revived an abandoned railway well and started pumping again. But residents fear it is just a temporary fix and that next time it happens they won’t have their own wells to fall back on. “My well is very very close to going dry,” said Kuykendall.

So what is a town like Barnhart to do? Fracking is a powerful drain on water supplies. In adjacent Crockett county, fracking accounts for up to 25% of water use, according to the groundwater conservation district. But Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, argues fracking is not the only reason Texas is going dry – and nor is the drought. The latest shocks to the water system come after decades of overuse by ranchers, cotton farmers, and fast-growing thirsty cities.

“We have large urban centres sucking water out of west Texas to put on their lands. We have a huge agricultural community, and now we have fracking which is also using water,” she said. And then there is climate change.

West Texas has a long history of recurring drought, but under climate change, the south-west has been experiencing record-breaking heatwaves, further drying out the soil and speeding the evaporation of water in lakes and reservoirs. Underground aquifers failed to regenerate. “What happens is that climate change comes on top and in many cases it can be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back, but the camel is already overloaded,” said Hayhoe.

Other communities across a bone-dry south-west are resorting to extraordinary measures to keep the water flowing. Robert Lee, also in the oil patch, has been hauling in water by tanker. So has Spicewood Beach, a resort town 40 miles from Austin, which has been trucking in water since early 2012.

San Angelo, a city of 100,000, dug a pipeline to an underground water source more than 60 miles away, and sunk half a dozen new wells.

Las Cruces, just across the border from the Texas panhandle in New Mexico, is drilling down 1,000ft in search of water.

But those fixes are way out of reach for small, rural communities. Outside the RV parks for the oil field workers who are just passing through, Barnhart has a population of about 200.

“We barely make enough money to pay our light bill and we’re supposed to find $300,000 to drill a water well?” said John Nanny, an official with the town’s water supply company.

Last week brought some relief, with rain across the entire state of Texas. Rain gauges in some parts of west Texas registered two inches or more. Some ranchers dared to hope it was the beginning of the end of the drought.

But not Owens, not yet anyway. The underground aquifers needed far more rain to recharge, he said, and it just wasn’t raining as hard as it did when he was growing up.

“We’ve got to get floods. We’ve got to get a hurricane to move up in our country and just saturate everything to replenish the aquifer,” he said. “Because when the water is gone. That’s it. We’re gone.” © Guardian News and Media 2013


August 10, 2013

On Fate of Wild Horses, Stars and Indians Spar


It seemed at first like a logical alliance for boldface names in the interconnected worlds of Hollywood and politics. Bill Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico, and the actor Robert Redford, a staunch conservationist, joined animal rights groups in a federal lawsuit to block the revival of horse slaughter in the United States, proclaiming that they were “standing with Native American leaders,” to whom horse slaughter “constitutes a violation of tribal cultural values.”

Soon, though, the two men, who recently started a foundation to protect New Mexico’s wildlife, found themselves on a collision course with the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest federally recognized tribe, whose president released a letter to Congress on Aug. 2 asserting his support for horse slaughtering.

Free-roaming horses cost the Navajos $200,000 a year in damage to property and range, said Ben Shelly, the Navajo president. There is a gap between reality and romance when, he said, “outsiders” like Mr. Redford — who counts gunslinger, sheriff’s deputy and horse whisperer among his movie roles — interpret the struggles of American Indians.

“Maybe Robert Redford can come and see what he can do to help us out,” Mr. Shelly said in an interview. “I’m ready to go in the direction to keep the horses alive and give them to somebody else, but right now the best alternative is having some sort of slaughter facility to come and do it.”

The horses, tens of thousands of them, are at the center of a passionate, politicized dispute playing out in court, in Congress and even within tribes across the West about whether federal authorities should sanction their slaughtering to thin the herds. The practice has never been banned, but stopped when money for inspections was cut from the federal budget.

In Navajo territory, parched by years of unrelenting drought and beset by poverty, one feral horse consumes 5 gallons of water and 18 pounds of forage a day — sometimes the water and food a family had bought for itself and its cattle.

According to the latest estimates, there are 75,000 feral and wild horses in the nation, and the numbers are growing, Mr. Shelly said. They have no owners, and many of them are believed to be native to the West. The tribes say they must find an efficient way of reducing the population. Although it is common to shoot old and frail horses — and more merciful than a ride to the slaughterhouse — there are too many of them to be dealt with, and there is some money in rounding them up and selling them at auction.

There is also the question of sovereignty, one of the points raised in a resolution endorsing horse slaughter that was issued by the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments. Citing hillsides and valleys denuded by overgrazing by feral and wild horses, which on reservations throughout the West “are nearly everywhere you look,” the resolution accuses the federal government of failing to consult the tribes before proposing language in the Agriculture Department’s appropriations bill to again withhold money for slaughterhouse inspections.

In a letter to the House Appropriations Committee, Jefferson Keel, the national congress’s president and the lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, said slaughter plants “represent a viable and humane method of assisting tribes and other entities in this country to stop the detrimental impact of tens of thousands of feral horses on our land.” Because of the horses’ numbers, the only practical solution is slaughtering, some in the tribes say.

Mr. Richardson, in an interview, acknowledged the conflict, which has sown divisions even among members of the same tribe. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include tribesmen like Paul Crane Tohlakai, a Navajo, and David Bald Eagle, the chief of the Minikoju Band of the Cheyenne River Tribe of Lakota Indians. In impassioned tones, they spoke of American Indians’ special relationship with horses, “the magnificent four-legged” animal “who has a part in our creation stories,” as Mr. Tohlakai put it.

“Institutionally,” Mr. Richardson said, responding to the claims by the Navajos’ president, “there have to be some issues that have to be dealt with, and that’s why the ultimate solution is to find a natural habitat, or a series of natural habitats, and adoption for the horses.” (Mr. Redford, a part-time resident of New Mexico, is on a hiatus, according to a representative, and unavailable for comment.)

The United States has never fostered a market for horse meat, a dietary staple in places like Belgium, China and Kazakhstan. It does have a history of horse slaughtering, though; at one point, there were more than 10 such slaughterhouses in the country. The last three, one in Illinois and two in Texas, closed in 2007, after Congress banned the use of federal money for salaries for personnel whose job was to inspect the horses and the facilities where they would be slaughtered. (One thing inspectors look for is evidence of drug use on the horses, not uncommon among those once used for racing.)

In their last year, the three plants slaughtered a total of 30,000 horses for human consumption and shipped an additional 78,000 for slaughter in Canada and Mexico, according to statistics by United States and Canadian authorities. Congress’s subsequent unwillingness to finance inspections made slaughtered horse meat ineligible for the seal of inspection it needs to be commercially sold, effectively ending the practice.

Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States, a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and one of the groups lobbying Congress to end horse slaughter, said its efforts were focused on preventing the killing of horses for human consumption “to avoid creating an industry that would turn horses into a global food commodity.”

The language that would have continued the lack of funding for inspections did not make it into the Agriculture Department’s appropriations bill approved for the 2012 fiscal year, which did not change for the current fiscal year.

Valley Meat, based in Roswell, N.M., sued in October, accusing the department of thwarting its efforts to open a horse slaughter plant even after the facility had met all the necessary requirements. The department acquiesced, eventually granting the company its permits.

The plant was to open last Monday. On Aug. 2, however, Mr. Redford, Mr. Richardson and the animal rights groups scored a legal victory when a judge in Albuquerque issued a restraining order halting inspections of horse slaughter plants for 30 days.

Another proposed horse slaughterhouse, in Missouri, also had a legal setback on Monday. A county judge ordered a delay in issuing its wastewater permit until a lawsuit, asserting that runoff from the plant could contaminate the soil, was heard in court.

Mr. Pacelle said there were alternatives to slaughter, like using contraceptives to control the horse population, a method already employed by federal agencies elsewhere.

For Mr. Shelly, his question has been whether it is best to slaughter free-roaming horses or let them die slowly of thirst and disease, as many have done on the Navajo reservation.

Click to watch:

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« Reply #8089 on: Aug 13, 2013, 06:26 AM »


08/13/2013 12:12 PM

Russia Today: Pig Putin's Weapon in the War of Images

By Benjamin Bidder

Russian President Pig Putin has created an anti-CNN for Western audiences with the international satellite news network Russia Today. With its recipe of smart propaganda, sex appeal and unlimited cash, it is outperforming its peers worldwide.

The political evening program often kicks off with a mixture of chaos and tabloid news. Abby Martin, the American host working for the Kremlin, has her lips slightly parted and is applying red lipstick, which goes well with her black top, high heels and ankle tattoo. Then she swings a sledgehammer and destroys a TV set tuned to CNN, the American role model and nemesis of her employer, the Russian international satellite TV network Russia Today.

This show opening is apparently meant to illustrate one thing over all else: that Russia is aggressive and enlightened -- and looks good in the process.

A photo of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower the United States wants to bring home to face charges, is projected onto the studio wall. Then there is a report on the detention camp at Guantanamo, which has hurt America's reputation. Russia Today uses the source material America supplies to its rivals untiringly and with relish. Even Washington's relatively minor peccadilloes don't escape notice. For instance, the show also includes a story about Gabonese dictator Ali Bongo Ondimba, whom US President Barack Obama supports.

Many in the West are also interested in seeing critical coverage of the self-proclaimed top world power. Russia Today is already more successful than all other foreign broadcast stations available in major US cities, such as San Francisco, Chicago and New York. In Washington, 13 times as many people watch the Russian program as those that tune into Deutsche Welle, Germany's public international broadcaster. Two million Britons watch the Kremlin channel regularly. Its online presence is also more successful than those of all its competitors. What's more, in June, Russia Today broke a YouTube record by being the first TV station to get a billion views of its videos.

The station was even more triumphant when it signed Larry King, a legend of American radio and TV journalism who began working for Russia Today this summer. Before that, King was the face of CNN for 25 years. His suspenders are even more striking than Abby Martin's lipstick antics. "America's best known TV interviewer is defecting to the Russians," wrote the London-based Times in May.

King and his new colleagues have a simple assignment: They are to "break the monopoly of the Anglo-Saxon mass media," President Pig Putin said during a studio visit a few weeks ago. The Russians' recipe for success has three ingredients: sex appeal, which has been atypical for most news channel; a rigidly anti-American stance; and a never-ending flow of money from the Kremlin.

The Ministry of Media Defense

Since 2005, the Russian government has increased the channel's annual budget more than tenfold, from $30 million (€22.6 million) to over $300 million. Russia Today's budget covers the salaries of 2,500 employees and contractors worldwide, 100 in Washington alone. And the channel has no budget cuts to fear now that Putin has issued a decree forbidding his finance minister from taking any such steps.

The Moscow leadership views the funds going to the channel as money "well invested," says Natalya Timakova, the press attaché to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. "In addition, Russia Today is -- and I hope the Germans will forgive me for this remark -- significantly more modern than Deutsche Welle, for example, and it also has more money."

The government has also spent a lot of money on the new broadcasting center in northeast Moscow, which Russia Today moved into in May. The station, citing confidentiality requirements, isn't willing to quote an exact price tag. On the grounds of a former Soviet tea factory, the broadcaster is now creating programming in Arabic, English and Spanish. In 2009, it rebranded its English- and Spanish speaking divisions as simply "RT." The evening news is currently focused on the euro crisis, social protests in Portugal and the NSA surveillance scandal.

Russia Today sees itself as a champion of a global audience critical of the West. But it is also meant to amplify the self-doubts of Europeans and Americans who have been forced by recent events to wonder if their own countries -- like Russia and China -- are corrupt and in the grip of a pervasive intelligence apparatus.

In any case, the station has a rare knack for propaganda. The average age of the Russian editors is under 30, and almost everyone speaks fluent English. To spice up the news, directors sometimes use Hollywood-like special effects, such as a computer-animated tank that looks like it is rolling over the newscaster's feet or Israeli fighter jets that fly a virtual loop through the studio before dropping their bombs over a map of Syria. There is also a logic behind such visual effects, especially since the station sees itself as a sort of ministry of media defense for the Kremlin.

An Arms Race on the Airwaves

Margarita Simonyan is the woman who shaped Russia Today into Russia's most effective weapon in the battle for influencing the opinions of the global public. In her office on the eighth floor of its headquarters in Moscow, the editor-in-chief has Orthodox icons on her desk and a dozen flickering screens around it. Pig Putin made Simonyan the head of the new station in 2005. At the time, she was only 25 and derided as an unknown reporter from the crowd of journalists that accompany the president at meetings.

Simonyan's mission is to prevent Russia from ever losing a war of images like the one it did in August 2008. At the time, Russian tanks were advancing into the southern Caucasus, stopping just short of Tbilisi, the capital of the small country of Georgia. The young Georgian president at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili -- eloquent and educated in the United States -- appeared on all channels to condemn Russia as an aggressor, even though he had provoked the war and was the first to order an invasion of the separatist republic of South Ossetia, which has close ties with Russia.

CNN showed images of destroyed buildings, allegedly taken after a Russian bomb strike on the Georgian provincial city of Gori. According to Russia Today, however, they were actually shots of the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali after a Georgian attack. "There is no objectivity," Simonyan says today, "only approximations of the truth by as many different voices as possible."

Mistrust of the domestic media is also greater than ever in the United States. CNN, for example, is struggling to cope with a massive loss of viewers. And sometimes US politicians make it particularly easy for the Russians to launch their attacks. When the plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced to land in Vienna because US intelligence agencies believed that Snowden was on board, Abby Martin expressed what many were thinking: "Who the hell does Obama think he is?"

At the same time, Russia Today also uses a chaotic mixture of conspiracy theories and crude propaganda. On the program "The Truthseeker," the attack on the Boston Marathon, in which two ethnic Chechens killed three people with bombs in April, mutated into a US government conspiracy.

Peter Oliver, Russia Today's Berlin correspondent, has absurdly accused ZDF, one of two public German broadcasters, of engaging in bribery. Oliver claims that the network paid intellectuals to say positive things about the anti-Pig Putin group Pussy Riot. As his star witness, he interviewed the editor-in-chief of Zuerst!, a monthly magazine published by German right-wing extremists.

Props and Propaganda

This is the company that legendary talk show host Larry King has joined. In 2000, King conducted the first major interview with Pig Putin on Western television. Since then, the talk show legend has raved about the Russian politician's charisma. Pig Putin, he says, has qualities that "change a room" and "a certain magnetism."

King's new show, "Politicking," has been on Russia Today since June. His guests have included former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Senator Joe Lieberman, two men who would normally never set foot in a Russian studio.

Abby Martin, the woman with the sledgehammer, recently had her new colleague King as a guest on her own show. At a certain point in the interview, he became critical of "pundits who are not journalists" who use guests as "a prop for their opinion." Perhaps the great Larry King still hasn't figured out that this is precisely what he is on Pig Putin's new station: a prop and a trophy.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny faces illegal funding inquiry

Navalny claims allegations are attempt to discredit him as he challenges Pig Putin ally in Moscow mayoral election

Reuters in Moscow, Monday 12 August 2013 18.48 BST   

Alexei Navalny on the cmapaign trail in Moscow last month
Alexei Navalny on the cmapaign trail in Moscow last month. Photograph: ITAR-TASS/Barcroft Media

Russian prosecutors accused opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Monday of illegally receiving foreign funding for his campaign to oust an ally of Pig Putin as Moscow mayor in an election next month.

Navalny, 37, said the allegations were an attempt to discredit him, and showed the Kremlin was worried that his door-to-door campaigning style was cutting the opinion poll lead of the acting Moscow mayor, Sergei Sobyanin.

"Our campaign is the most transparent in terms of financing," Navalny, who could face criminal charges if the allegations were confirmed, said on his website, dismissing the state prosecutors as "dullards".

The election pits the man who emerged as the opposition's informal leader in protests last year against an experienced politician who was appointed by the Kremlin as Moscow mayor in October 2010 and has been touted as a potential prime minister.

Navalny, who has a five-year jail sentence hanging over him after being found guilty of what he said were trumped-up theft charges, has often been accused by Kremlin allies of being a western stooge - a charge he denies.

He has been able to run for mayor on 8 September only because he was unexpectedly freed on bail the day after his sentencing last month on charges of stealing from a state timber firm while he was advising in the remote city of Kirov in 2009.

The unusual decision to free him on bail was widely seen as being backed by the Kremlin so that he could contest – and lose – the election to Sobyanin, discrediting the opposition and reducing his appeal before he starts his jail term.

With opinion polls giving Navalny up to 15% support, compared with Sobyanin's 75%, the white-haired Kremlin ally is strong favourite to win.

But Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner who has caught the mood of the urban youth, believes he might have a chance of victory if Sobyanin fails to secure a simple majority in the first round.

The funding allegations were made by the nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic party, which often backs Pig Putin's policies.

"Checks have confirmed information about foreign funding of A Navalny's election campaign," the prosecutor general's office said in a statement, adding that more than 300 foreign individuals or legal entities had contributed to his funding.

Navalny said in response that all the donations accepted for his campaign had come from Russian citizens, although some could be living abroad or on holiday outside Russia. Foreign funding is banned under Russia's election law.


August 12, 2013

Russia Steps Up Raids Against Migrants


MOSCOW — It all began with the arrest of a rape suspect in an open-air market two weeks ago. A brawl erupted. A police officer was injured.

It was a minor, if ugly, episode that might quickly have been forgotten except that it snowballed into a sweeping government campaign — not against crime in the city’s markets, but against illegal immigrants, though the suspect was not an immigrant at all.

In the days that followed, the police and migration officials mounted raids at markets across Moscow, in factories that operated in the shadows of the law, in the city’s subway system and on the streets. At last count nearly 1,500 foreigners had been detained, according to the Federal Migration Service. That number included 586 people, most of them Vietnamese, who were being held in a temporary tent camp more appropriate for a war zone or the scene of a natural disaster than the center of a capital city.

“This is absolutely normal,” Moscow’s mayor, Sergei S. Sobyanin, told the newspaper Vedomosti last week, defending the government’s actions. “In any society, in any country, if an emergency situation happens, then the government and society begin to act more harshly.”

The campaign — cheered, for the most part, by the news media and the public here — has exposed the complexity and corruption of Russia’s labor market and tapped into the country’s ever-simmering ethnic animosity. And that has raised concerns among foreign embassies and provoked outrage from national and international human rights groups.

Svetlana A. Gannushkina, the director of the refugee-rights group Civil Assistance, denounced the camp as “an illegal place of detention” that had ensnared innocent people, even those with permission to live and work in Moscow.

The Vietnamese Embassy sent its diplomats to the camp on Friday — a week after it first opened — to try to resolve the matter and begin to identify those being held. Many did not have their passports when the police raided a shadowy textile factory near where the tent camp appeared, and speak little Russian.

Human Rights Watch on Friday called conditions in the camp inhuman and demanded that the authorities close it and end a campaign it said was aimed at people based on the color of their skin, not their nationality. Those being held include people from former Soviet republics with close ties to Russia, like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as Syria, Afghanistan and Egypt.

“Everything about this massive sweep violates Russia’s obligations under international law,” Human Rights Watch’s director in Russia, Tanya Lokshina, said in a statement. “Prolonged detention without counsel, ethnic profiling, inhuman conditions — it should stop now.”

There is little evidence that it will end soon. The first 31 of the Vietnamese workers were deported over the weekend. The head of the Vietnamese Embassy’s consular division, Lee Hong Chung, said in a written response to questions about the detentions that the embassy was working closely with the Russian authorities to resolve the fate of the others.

The raids, which some critics have called “zachistki,” a word for cleansing operations that gained currency during Russia’s war in Chechnya, continue almost daily, supported by a large majority of Russians, nearly two-thirds of whom think immigrants increase crime and corruption, according to the results of a recent poll.

Not surprisingly perhaps, the scourge of illegal immigration has been taken up not only by Mr. Sobyanin, but also by his challengers across the political spectrum in the mayoral election to be held on Sept. 8.

The most prominent challenger is Aleksei A. Navalny, the anticorruption activist and champion of a more democratic political system, whose remarks have unnerved more liberal members of the political opposition. He has frequently stated that half of all violent crimes are committed by immigrants, a figure that is disputed. “For me this isn’t just a number,” Mr. Navalny said in a recent stump speech. “For me it means one simple thing: that the women in my building are afraid to go out on the street at night.”

Campaigns against migrant or immigrant workers happen so routinely here they seem seasonal. The issue, not unlike the debate over immigration in Europe or the United States, is further inflamed here by widespread racism toward Muslims from the provinces of the Northern Caucasus, which are part of Russia, and from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which are not.

The arrest of a Russian in Tajikistan in 2011 led to a similar sweep against Tajik workers across Russia.

Often the raids coincide with politics inside Russia, and any subtleties about the issue — like the fact the suspect in the rape was a lawfully registered worker from Dagestan in southern Russia — are lost in the public outcry.

“They are basically exploiting the xenophobia that is so prevalent in Moscow,” Ms. Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said in an interview, blaming the election campaign for the fervor of the latest crackdown. “I believe it’s quite cynical.”

Mr. Sobyanin, appointed mayor in 2010 when the president selected regional leaders, has made cleaning up Moscow’s bazaar-like markets a signature policy ahead of his first electoral test as mayor. In the days after the attack he appeared at a televised meeting with President Pig Putin and said the city had closed 30 markets in the past two years in an effort to impose order on the retail industry.

The brawl that precipitated the crackdown, he told the newspaper Vedomosti, “was the last drop, which overfilled the cup of patience of the security services, and they are beginning to react more harshly.”

Pig Putin said that neither race nor religion had any relevance in the campaign, but added that the government had to do more to combat the sort of lawlessness in which “a police officer has his head fractured.”

The markets, which emerged in the gray shadows of capitalism after the collapse of the Soviet Union, have long been associated with the underground economy, controlled by gangs and officials who exploit the vulnerability of illegal workers by withholding pay or having them arrested. “These people are a part of the system of illegal slave labor that has appeared in Russia,” Ms. Gannushkina said at a briefing on Wednesday. “They are the victims of this system, the first victims.”

At the same time the workers are a source of cheap labor in the retail trade and construction industries, and thus a vital part of the country’s economy. Human Rights Watch has chronicled abuses at companies building the facilities for the Olympic Games to be held in Sochi in February.

The hundreds of Vietnamese were detained during a raid at an underground textile factory not far from Cherkizovsky Market, which the authorities shut down in 2009 after citing health and safety violations. “Counterfeit products were being produced on three underground floors,” Mr. Sobyanin said during his televised meeting with Mr. Putin. “In other words, this business was flourishing. Today, all this was removed from there.”

The workers have proved more difficult to remove. So many have been detained in the past two weeks that they have overwhelmed the city’s existing detention centers. The Emergency Services Ministries erected the tent camp to accommodate the spillover. The detainees can be held there as long as three months under the law, though officials said this weekend that they hoped to close the camp as soon as possible.

At least some detainees have appeared in court, though many lack documents, complicating the effort to establish whether their status is illegal or not.

One detainee, Abdul Khamid al-Badri, who is from Egypt, said he was in Russia legally on a student visa when the police detained him near a subway station. He had no phone and no passport with him at the time. His immediate fate remains uncertain nearly two weeks after his detention.

“The judge told me I would have to go home,” he said, speaking English as he described a Kafkaesque detention. “I just want my freedom. Where is it here? I can’t even go home.”

Noah Sneider contributed reporting.


Official confirms Russia will enforce anti-gay law during the Olympics

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, August 12, 2013 19:59 EDT

Russia’s Interior Ministry has confirmed that the country will apply its new anti-LGBT law to guests and athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The new law makes spreading “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors a criminal offense. Due its vague wording, a same-sex couple holding hands in public could be considered “propaganda” under the law.

“The law enforcement agencies can have no qualms with people who harbor a nontraditional sexual orientation and do not commit such acts [to promote homosexuality to minors], do not conduct any kind of provocation and take part in the Olympics peacefully,” said an Interior Ministry statement issued on Monday, according to RIA Novosti.

The law also allows for foreigners to be detained for up to 15 days and deported. But Russia’s Interior Ministry denied openly gay and lesbian guests and athletes faced a serious threat of arrest.

“Any discussion on violating the rights of representatives of nontraditional sexual orientations, stopping them from taking part in the Olympic Games or discrimination of athletes and guests of the Olympics according to their sexual orientation is totally unfounded and contrived,” the statement added.

Similar laws were first enacted in St. Petersburg and other cities before the nationwide law was approved. Vitaly Milanov, author of the St. Petersburg propaganda law, has said only “normal” athletes should they be allowed to participate in the Olympic games.


London theatre to stage protest play against Russia's anti-gay legislation

King's Head to develop verbatim work, titled Sochi 2014, in response to Putin's new law and subsequent public outcry

Matt Trueman, Tuesday 13 August 2013 13.10 BST   

A London pub theatre is to stage a protest piece in response to the anti-gay legislation that was imposed in Russia two months ago.

The King's Head theatre in Islington has commissioned verbatim playwright Tess Berry-Hart to create a play examining the law – which has made it illegal to give under-18s information about homosexuality in Russia – as well as its implications and consequences.

Russia's attitude to homosexuality has triggered calls to boycott the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Comedian and actor Stephen Fry wrote to the prime minister, David Cameron, urging him to support a motion calling for Great Britain to withdraw.

Berry-Hart's play, titled Sochi 2014, will fuse verbatim testimony from Russians in both Russia and London with media coverage and debate concerning solutions. It will also include extracts from the Olympic charter in a bid to highlight the flagrant breaches of the Olympic spirit by Vladimir Putin's regime.

Profits from the event, which will receive two performances on 1 and 2 September, will be donated to Spectrum, a Russian organisation devoted to countering discrimination and abuse stemming from sexual orientation or gender identity. Artistic director Adam Spreadbury-Maher will direct.

Berry-Hart trained on the Royal Court Young Writers' Programme, and her last play, Someone to Blame, played at the King's Head in 2012.

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« Reply #8090 on: Aug 13, 2013, 06:47 AM »

08/12/2013 05:28 PM

Campaign Pain: Anti-Nazi Groups Vow to Thwart NPD

By Friederike Heine

The far-right NPD party launched a controversial election tour of Germany on Monday. But the events in some 130 towns in the coming weeks look set to be disrupted, with anti-Nazi groups vowing to drown out the party's racist rhetoric.

Frank Franz, spokesman for the National Democratic Party (NPD), seems exhausted before its "Deutschlandtour" election campaign has even begun.

The far-right party, described as "anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic" by Germany's domestic intelligence agency, is about to embark on an extensive tour of Germany, visiting up to three locations a day during the run-up to the September 22 general election.

Despite intense efforts on the part of Franz and his colleagues to keep the tour dates and venues secret until the last minute, anti-Nazi organizations managed to get hold of the list almost immediately. Left-wing groups now plan to organize counter-demonstrations. "These demos will be a serious logistical problem for us," says Franz, sounding dejected.

Indeed, anti-fascist groups are liaising with all the mainstream parties to ensure that the NPD's campaign bus gets a hostile reception everywhere it goes. Local communities and the church are getting involved, too. Left-wing website Indymedia even created a blog detailing some of the NPD's likely destinations, and encouraging people to get in touch through its forums.

In response to these efforts, the party has scrapped its tour schedule dates and will now decide spontaneously which towns to target. "It's almost impossible to run a normal campaign under these conditions," laments Franz. "Obviously we have to coordinate with the local authorities, so total spontaneity isn't possible."

The party learned its lesson earlier this month, when its campaign efforts were nipped in the bud in the eastern state of Brandenburg. NPD members had attempted to demonstrate outside refugee accommodation centers, but were met with hundreds of anti-fascist protestors. Police were forced to cancel the rally before it had even begun -- NPD supporters had reportedly used pepper spray on their opponents, as well as physically attacking them.

Germany's 16 regional states are currently preparing a legal bid to outlaw the NPD, but the outcome is uncertain. A previous attempt to abolish the NPD failed in 2003 because of the presence of informants in the party's ranks. The Federal Constitutional Court, the body which has to rule on a ban, threw out the case on the grounds that NPD policies were being shaped in part by government agents.

Desperate for Coverage

The high turnout at recent anti-fascist rallies does not bode well for NPD leader Holger Apfel, who is trying to increase the NPD's exposure in the regional and national media. Many German news outlets are reluctant to give the NPD coverage beyond exposing their far-right, xenophobic stance. Some have even adopted a strict 'no platform' policy.

The NPD views regional press coverage as particularly valuable. Apfel hopes the party's red campaign truck will attract local attention with the slogans plastered on its sides: "Preserve Our Homeland. Stop Immigration!" and "We don't want to be Europe's paymaster!"

According to Julian Barlen, a member of the anti-fascist organisation "Endstation Rechts", bad press is more attractive to the NPD than no coverage at all. "They operate according to the "provocation principle", whereby causing a stir -- even if it results in violence -- is always considered useful," he says. "Media outlets have to perform a balancing act when deciding how much coverage to give what is essentially an anti-democratic cause."

Growing Public Awareness

In the past, counter-demonstrations have largely been organized by left-wing anti-fascist groups. But they are starting to get broader public support. Some commentators have suggested this may be linked to the ongoing trial of Beate Zschäpe, accused of complicity in racially motivated murders allegedly committed by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU) group.

"The coverage of the NSU trials has definitely contributed to a growing sense of awareness among Germans," comments Barlen. "But what people need to realise is that these murders are only the tip of a neo-Nazi iceberg. There is racially motivated violence occurring on a daily basis in many parts of Germany."

It remains to be seen whether the NSU trial will prompt otherwise inactive members of the public to take to the streets in the coming weeks. One thing is certain, though: there will be substantial opposition against the NPD's first two campaign events on Monday.

Despite efforts at secrecy, local authority sources confirmed last week that Monday's events would be taking place in the northern German town of Rostock and nearby Schwerin. Demonstrators plan to play loud rock music near the campaign locations to drown out the NPD speakers. "There's no way they'll be taken seriously," concludes Barlen.

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« Reply #8091 on: Aug 13, 2013, 06:50 AM »

08/13/2013 01:34 PM

Historical Dishonor: Towns Stuggle with Citizen Hitler

Several towns in Germany still have Adolf Hitler on the rolls as an honorary citizen. Most remove his name once the oversight is discovered. But should they? Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel isn't so sure.

They tend to be names that few have ever heard of, places like Bassum, Helsa, Nittendorf-Etterzhausen or Nortorf. But periodically such small towns in Germany find their way into the headlines due to a peculiar characteristic they share: They are, or were until recently, on the list of communities that never withdrew honorary citizenship from Adolf Hitler once the Third Reich came crashing down in 1945.

Now, a new town has recently become the focus of unwanted attention as a result of its antiquated honorary citizenship rolls. Goslar, the hometown of Social Democratic Party head Sigmar Gabriel, is currently planning to finally revoke the honor it bestowed on the Führer back in the 1930s.

But should it? Gabriel, surprisingly, thinks the answer to that question should be no. In comments made recently, the center-left political leader said: "It is an attempt to whitewash something that can't be whitewashed," he said. He added that he used to be in favor of removing Hitler from the honorary rolls, but that his views have changed. "Today, I think it is almost wrong to do that."

Gabriel's comments reflect a surprising lack of consensus among German towns when it comes to dealing with the discovery that Honorary Citizen Adolf Hitler is still on the books. A total of around 4,000 German cities, towns and communities honored Hitler during the 12 years of Nazi rule. Most, however, removed his name immediately after Nazi Germany collapsed.

'Reflects the Times'

But not all. In March, for example, a historian in the town of Helsa, not far from Frankfurt, learned that the honor for Hitler had never been revoked. The municipal government acted quickly, and by April, his name had been removed.

Other towns, though, have elected to keep the Führer on the books. Lanskroun, for example, a once-German town that is now located in the Czech Republic chose not to revoke honorary citizenship for Hitler in 2007 with the mayor saying at the time: "It simply reflects the times back then." In 2008, the Bavarian town of Nittendorf-Etterzhausen likewise declined to remove the Nazi leader, though the justification smacked more of denial than nuance. The mayor at the time, Max Knott, said simply he couldn't send Hitler a letter informing him of the revocation, implying that without such a step, the Führer would have to remain on the honorary citizen list.

This week, yet another town has begun wrestling with its Hitler-hailing past. Bassum, located just south of Bremen, made Hitler and Reich President Paul von Hindenburg honorary citizens in 1933. According to the certificate, which was quoted in the local newspaper Kreis Zeitung on Tuesday, the news was delivered to the leaders by courier.

"The completed honorary citizenship certificate was brought to the Reich capital and handed personally to Reich President von Hindenburg and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler by National Socialist and SS member Alfred Meyer-Apitz from Bassum, a proficient sportsman, in a five-day and three-hour foot march." The document notes that Meyer-Apitz trudged 85 kilometers per day in his zeal.

How Bassum will choose to address the issue remains to be seen. Goslar, for its part, plans to take up the question in September. It is considered likely that Hitler's name will be stricken from the rolls.

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« Reply #8092 on: Aug 13, 2013, 06:54 AM »

Germany denies phone data sent to NSA used in drone attacks

German intelligence agency criticised for sending large quantities of mobile phone metadata to the NSA and GCHQ

Louise Osborne in Berlin, Monday 12 August 2013 19.37 BST   

Germany's intelligence agency, the BND, has denied that mobile phone data it sends to the NSA could be used in drone attacks carried out in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Chancellery minister Ronald Pofalla told a closed parliamentary committee that GSM data, which the BND has admitted sending to other foreign secret services, was not specific enough to pinpoint exact locations, according to Left Party politician and committee member, Steffen Bockhahn.

Following the meeting on Monday, Pofalla, who is responsible for the BND, told reporters the NSA and the British intelligence services, GCHQ, had sent written assurances they were abiding by German law.

The BND has faced widespread criticism in Germany since it was revealed it had collaborated with the NSA and GCHQ by sending hundreds of millions of pieces of metadata every month.

Over the weekend, it was reported that mobile phone information sent to the NSA could have been used in the targeting of a terrorist group, which also resulted in the death of a German citizen as part of a drone attack in Waziristan on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan in October 2010.

Germany's federal state prosecutor ruled in July that the death of 20-year-old Bünyamin E. was legal under international law because he was "not a civilian protected by international human rights law, but a member of an organised armed group".

The BND has denied it sent Bünyamin E.'s phone data to the NSA, but said any information sent to foreign intelligence agencies was done so with the condition that the data must not be used as a "basis or reason for unreasonable measures", such as torture or for the "passing of a death sentence".

However, Bockhahn, said it is impossible to know what foreign agencies are doing with data passed on by the BND.

"You can't control [other intelligence agencies] if they take the information and use it with their own intelligence…and then use drones," he said.

"Intelligence agencies are impossible to control and it is impossible to know if they accept foreign law and my feeling is they don't. Indirectly, Germany is responsible for the drones."

Human rights lawyer Eberhard Schultz said if Germany's intelligence agency was responsible for sending information used in drone attacks resulting in deaths, it would violate Germany's international criminal law and the German criminal code.

"That is an aid to war crimes and to murder and the murder is not justified because there was no trial and there is no chance to defend oneself," he said.

Experts disputed that the information could not be used in the targeting of terrorism suspects by intelligence agencies, at least in some cases.

"They are right that in a lot of cases that data is not enough to localise and target someone, but in some cases it is enough to locate a person within the cell of the mobile network and that's the problem," said Hannes Federrath, a professor of information technology and security at Hamburg University.

"Even if in 90% of the cases it's not possible, and in 10% of the cases it is possible someone can be targeted, then it is an illegal situation, if data is transmitted to another secret service."

Meanwhile, anti-drone campaigners said if data collected by German authorities was used to target people using drones, it could "not be accepted".

"If data from Germans, no matter from who, the foreign state secret services or any other services from Germany, was used for such an aim, this is something that has to be brought to court and cleared up," said Michael Ebeling, a coordinator at the German Drone Campaign, an umbrella organisation for groups fighting against the use of drones.


08/12/2013 03:41 PM

NSA Blame: Merkel's Risky Campaign Strategy Could Backfire

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to share the culpability for the NSA surveillance scandal with the opposition Social Democrats. It is a risky strategy, particularly now that German intelligence is suspected of having helped the US determine targets for drone attacks in Afghanistan. By SPIEGEL Staff

There is a key term experienced crisis managers always return to in their narratives: controllability. It applies, for example, when a government is suddenly confronted with an unpleasant development and has to keep the process under control.

In this context, the government has an important advantage: It knows more than everyone else. It is completely familiar with events, and it can compare them with that which has already become public. It can assess the risk of how much more will be revealed and prevent further damage through the targeted release of information. With a little dexterity, it will ultimately manage to keep the truly important issues under wraps.

The NSA scandal doesn't fit into the pattern. Since the whistle-blowing American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked the first details about Washington's unprecedented data mining activities to the public nine weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration has lacked the most important tool in a crisis: controllability.

The Chancellery doesn't know what the Americans know. It doesn't know what Snowden knows, and it cannot assess what other information will still be leaked. It doesn't know exactly what its own people know and whether they know the same thing as the Americans. The difference between knowledge and ignorance has shifted dangerously for the government. What politician is going to commit himself publicly when he himself has so little understanding of the situation?

For seven weeks, Merkel and her advisors stumbled somewhat blindly through the NSA scandal, but on the Friday of the week before last, they created the impression that they had suddenly found a path in the fog. That was when the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, responded to questions from SPIEGEL and said that it could very well be behind the bulk of the NSA data coming from Germany. And most of that data came primarily from Afghanistan.

CDU on the Attack

The government went on the offensive a few weeks late. According to government spokesman Georg Streiter, it was former Chancellery head Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who provided the Americans with access to the German data in April 2002.

So is Steinmeier to blame? And is Merkel's SPD challenger in the September national election, Peer Steinbrück, a hypocrite for accusing the chancellor of violating her oath of office? Steinmeier countered by calling the government's attempt to evade responsibility "despicable." At the time, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, surveillance was used to clear up "a horrific crime," but today its goal is the "complete and comprehensive surveillance of the data of our citizenry."

Still, Merkel's aides were pleased. Finally an attack. Steinmeier's behavior was "pure hypocrisy," thundered Hermann Gröhe, general secretary of Merkel's Christian Democrats. This Monday, current Chancellery Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla will present the treaty of April 28, 2002, which serves as the basis for intelligence cooperation with the United States, to a parliamentary control committee verbatim.

The CDU is also thinking about expanding its attacks. Its goal is to unmask the SPD in its role as a clean prosecutor. The government of former Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder offset its refusal to participate in the Iraq War with a high degree of compliance in cooperation with the intelligence agencies. "The pledge of unconditional solidarity could take on a whole new meaning," says CDU parliamentary floor leader Volker Kauder, referring to Schröder's pledge to Washington following the 9/11 attacks.

But the NSA scandal has shown that the fronts can shift at a dangerously fast pace. Ever since SPIEGEL reported last week that the massive transfer of metadata to the NSA likely passes through BND surveillance installations in the Bavarian town of Bad Aibling and a base in Afghanistan, the German government has felt safe. The official interpretation is that the BND itself is providing the data, German citizens are not affected and everything is in keeping with the law.

In fact, however, this new statement is also not without problems. A substantial portion of the vast amounts of metadata transferred to the NSA comes, according to information obtained by SPIEGEL, from the analysis of mobile phone transmissions. The signals are generated continuously whenever a phone logs into a cell site through a mast.

Aggravating the Political Dispute

The blind transmission of this cell data to American Taliban hunters is likely to aggravate the political dispute even further. The transmission is blind because the BND doesn't even check which specific signals it is providing to the Americans. But the BND considers the massive amount of data -- a document from the Snowden archive which SPIEGEL reported on in July, called "Germany - Last 30 Days", notes that it was 500 million connections in December of 2012 alone -- to be "plausible."

What is clear is that XKeyscore, the surveillance program that both the BND and the NSA use, offers extensive possibilities. It is likely one of the biggest treasures in the arsenal of US surveillance experts.

On the first of August, BND President Gerhard Schindler told the Parliamentary Control Panel, the body in German parliament charged with keeping tabs on German intelligence agencies, that in 2012 his agency obtained an average of 3.2 million pieces of content data per month from satellite surveillance. As such, US intelligence agents learned the content of phone calls, emails and text messages. But this only explains a small part of the flow of data the NSA captures. NSA documents speak of 182 million datasets being captured by XKeyscore in Germany last December, a far cry from the 500 million total mentioned elsewhere in the documents from the Snowden archive that SPIEGEL has been able to see.

The BND assumes that the difference could consist of the connection data that is forwarded directly to the Americans in Bad Aibling, as well as data from radio cell analysis. This information provides the Western coalition with valuable information for the war in Afghanistan. Spy programs like XKeyscore use the information to create movement profiles that show, with only a few minutes' delay, where a mobile phone user is located at a given moment, be it a Taliban fighter, an Al-Qaida militant or a German Islamist. But the information also improves security for soldiers.

The BND itself states that it has provided "substantial assistance" since January 2011, and that this prevented four attacks on German soldiers in Afghanistan. In the case of 15 other foiled attacks, the agency's data surveillance "contributed to these successes."

Unpleasant Consequences

According to the BND, it "intercepted 67 warnings pointing to upcoming attacks or an exacerbation of the threat situation in Afghanistan" in the same period. The Americans also highly value the work Germany's foreign intelligence agency is doing in Afghanistan. In secret documents, the NSA repeatedly expressed its praise for the greater "risk" the Germans -- previously derided as being too cautious -- had been taking for some time.

But this openness to risk could also have unpleasant consequences for the government. The awkward question that now arises relates to the legitimization of this close cooperation through data transfer. Is the BND allowed to transfer radio cell data to the NSA if the information could play a role in deadly operations by the US military, such as the targeted killing of al-Qaida combatants by American drones? According to a report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the agency, at the express request of BND head Schindler, also passes on mobile phone numbers to partner agencies. In doing so, is it providing the information they need while analyzing radio cell data?

The BND downplays the issue, saying the data supplied to the Americans is "too imprecise for concrete targeting by drones." But when asked, it also concedes: "It cannot be ruled out that there is assistance in orientation for military operations."

Targeted killings with unmanned aircraft have been criticized worldwide and are legally highly controversial. Two Germans were killed in such attacks in recent years. Bünjamin E., born in Wuppertal, died in Mir Ali on Oct. 4, 2010. In the spring of 2012, a drone struck a pickup in which Samir H., an Islamist from Aachen, was sitting. Experts assume that radio cell data could indeed provide valuable information for such attacks.

It is also questionable whether the massive data mining and transmission to a foreign intelligence agency is compatible with German law. "Although the law permits the BND to monitor international email and telephone communications from Germany," says lawyer Niko Härting, who teaches at the Berlin School of Economics and Law, "it does not provide for the mining of connection data by the millions."

'A Political Process'

Legal expert and civil rights activist Burkhard Hirsch considers it highly problematic that the systemic cooperation between German and American intelligence agencies apparently takes place beyond all parliamentary control. "If the BND is working for another intelligence service to such an extent, it's a political process, which absolutely should have been handled in the relevant Bundestag committee." However, there have been several special sessions of the Parliamentary Control Panel since the beginning of the NSA scandal, and the BND has yet to inform the committee on the extent of the data being passed on.

On Monday, the Control Panel will have its next opportunity to shed light on the open questions. For the last two months, the most important question has been what exactly the activity of friendly foreign agencies in Germany looks like.

Even if the statements made by the BND and the German government within the last week are true, Snowden's main accusation still hasn't been disproven: that American and British intelligence agencies are independently and systematically fishing millions of pieces of communication data worldwide.

'An Occupying Power'

A statement made by the German government in 2011 provides another clue to support Snowden's account. According to the statement, the German government granted exactly 207 foreign companies special rights for "analytical services" on German soil from January 2005 to February 2011. Their activities included "signals intelligence," "human intelligence" and "military intelligence" -- in other words, human and technical espionage.

It is unclear whether the work of these companies undermines the civil rights of German citizens, and what exactly the German government knows about it. In addition, new documents that SPIEGEL was able to view show that US intelligence agencies are explicitly familiar with several espionage operations in Germany.

German-American cooperation is still very important today, says Hirsch. "But it isn't acceptable that the Americans, as the hegemon of our community of values, are stomping on the basic values of our constitution like an occupying power."


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #8093 on: Aug 13, 2013, 06:55 AM »

08/12/2013 03:33 PM

Greece in Need: New Bailout Expected after German Election

Germany's central bank expects Greece to get a new bailout after the German election in September. In a report seen by SPIEGEL, it says the last aid payment was driven by 'political pressures' and calls Greece's progress on reforms 'hardly satisfactory.'

The German central bank, the Bundesbank, predicts that Greece will get a new rescue package shortly after the German general election on September 22. According to an internal report by the Bundesbank obtained by SPIEGEL, Europe will "most likely agree to a new credit program with Greece" by early 2014 at the latest.

In the report, compiled for the German Finance Ministry and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Bundesbank is critical of the latest loan tranche payout and of the analysis conducted prior to the payment by the troika consisting of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF.

The Bundesbank said the tranche was likely to have been paid as a result of "political pressures." The bank denies this is a reference to the German government, which has been at pains to stifle public debate during the election campaign about a possible Greek debt cut.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has been stressing Greece's progress in imposing reforms in return for international financial aid.

But in its report, the Bundesbank sounds very cool about this progress. It says the risks entailed in the rescue program remain "exceptionally high." The performance of the Greek government, it adds, is "hardly satisfactory," and there are "major doubts" about Greece's ability to implement essential reforms.

In July, Greece's international lenders approved the payment of €5.7 billion ($7.6 billion), the latest tranche of its bailout money. In total, Greece has so far received more than €200 billion in financial assistance.

Greeks Worried About Possible Debt Cut

For most ordinary Greeks, the prospect of new bailout loans from Europe is as disconcerting as it is for Merkel's election campaign. Most Greeks are convinced a haircut on government debt is both inevitable and welcome, but they are worried by what it might entail. "New loans or a debt haircut will simply mean new measures, new austerity and new hardships for the people. We have learned that lesson all too well by now," says Ioanna Polyzou, a 23-year-old university graduate who is unemployed -- like more than 60 percent of young Greeks.

SPIEGEL's story featured prominently in Greek newspapers on Monday. "The Bundesbank demolishes Greece's carefully painted picture of success and anticipates a new bailout agreement," center-left daily Efimerida ton Syntakton wrote. Center-right Eleftheros Typos commented on its front page: "The German central bank is ruining the election 'party' of Merkel, who refuses to even talk about the prospect (of new loans to Greece)."

A senior source at the Greek Finance Ministry, however, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that Athens' position remains clear: the top priority is to achieve a primary budget surplus by the end of this year. After that milestone has been achieved, all options concerning the viability of Greece's debt will be back on the table. The official refused to use the term "haircut," which is nevertheless on the lips of every Greek politician in private conversations.

The government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is waiting for important developments on that front after the German election. The Sunday edition of Kathimerini reported that Samaras has instructed ministers to present Greece's "red lines" in upcoming negotiations with the troika, expected to begin in early September.

Athens insists there is no room for further austerity, and people close to Samaras say he has found an important ally in his quest: US President Barack Obama. Following last Thursday's meeting with Samaras at the White House, Obama said: "Austerity cannot be the only answer to the crisis." The Greek government has been presenting this view as a clear sign that Washington will weigh in to push for a more growth-friendly strategy for Greece.

cro/SPIEGEL with reporting by Giorgos Christidis from Athens

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« Reply #8094 on: Aug 13, 2013, 06:56 AM »

08/12/2013 05:40 PM

Ergenekon Conviction: Turkish Journalist Seeks German Protection

By Daniel Steinvorth

Defendants in Turkey's Ergenekon trial stand accused of participating in a massive conspiracy to overthrow the government. The case has drawn the ire of observers -- and now one convicted journalist is seeking safe harbor in Germany.

Adnan Türkkan has been a convicted terrorist for two days now. The young Turk, 30 years old -- and dressed as if he's getting ready to go to the office in a blue shirt and gray suit -- is sitting in a basement apartment located near the central train station in Frankfurt, Germany. He's trying to decide whether to return to his home country -- or to apply for political asylum in Germany. As of Wednesday of last week, he was still uncertain.

On August 5, a special court convicted Türkkan, a student leader and the editor in chief of the television station Ulusal Kanal TV, in absentia of membership in the "armed terror organization Ergenekon." Türkkan first learned of his conviction through newspaper and television reports. He suddenly found himself an enemy of state.

"Ten years long," he says ponderingly. "Because I allegedly committed a so-called terrorist crime, they have sentenced me to 10 and a half years in prison. But I would really like to know what kind of crime they claim I have committed." The ruling stated that Türkkan's sentence cannot be commuted because of his "negative behavior" during the trial. It also described him as a repeat offender and stated that "his freedom of movement would be controlled."

Türkkan had flown from Istanbul to Frankfurt together with two journalists friends who were also charged in the case. The three Turkish journalists maintain that they came to Germany to participate in a conference and not to flee their country. Still, they were likely aware that they faced potential sentences involving years behind bars.

The court also convicted colleagues Mehmet Sabuncu and Mehmet Bozkurt Monday, August 5, on charges of alleged membership in the secret Ergenekon alliance -- with one being sentenced to six years behind bars and the other to nine years in prison. The convictions must still be upheld by Turkey's highest court, and the two journalists say they want to return to Turkey for the time being. However, an arrest order is in place for Türkkan, and he says he wants to remain in Germany.

'Trial of the Century'

The men represent three of 275 people who have been charged in the most spectacular and controversial trial in the recent history of the Turkish judicial system. Some 21 accused have been acquitted, but the rest have been convicted and slapped with largely draconian sentences. The court sentenced the former Turkish military chief of staff, retired General Ilker Basbug, to life imprisonment. And Mustafa Balbay, a columnist for the secularist daily Cumhüriyet, was handed down a sentence of 34 years and eight months in prison.

When the legal proceedings began in the summer of 2008, the Turkish press described them as the "trial of the century." At the time, public prosecutors filed charges against dozens of high-ranking former military officers, business people, demimonde characters, politicians, lawyers and academics whom they alleged had established a network of nationalists called Ergenekon. According to Turkish mythology, Ergenekon is a legendary valley in Central Asia where the original Turkic tribes are thought to have lived in the far distant past.

Prosecutors allege that the group had planned assassinations and terrorist attacks, and that the army wanted to take advantage of the ensuing chaos in order to intervene. Under the pretext of restoring peace and order, it would then topple the Islamist-conservative government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

At first, many in Turkey believed the disclosures. In a country that has experienced three military coups and numerous interventions by the so-called "pashas" -- a reference to high-ranking Ottoman political elites -- in politics, fears of a putsch still remain very deeply ingrained. And people have known for years about secret connections between the military, politicians and organized crime -- a so-called "deep state" that manipulates Turkish politics from behind the scenes. But just as widespread is a Turkish passion for conspiracy theories. The new wave of arrests simultaneously nourished suspicions that Erdogan was doing more than just trying to put a stop to the "deep state": He also appeared to be trying to put his critics out of commission.

A 'Witch Hunt'

Turkey's opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has described the Ergenekon proceedings as a "witch hunt" against political opponents. Gareth Jenkins, a British expert on Turkey, says that while a few among the defendants were doubtless involved in criminal activity, the "majority of the accused … appear to be guilty of nothing more than holding strong secularist and ultranationalist views." He describes the investigation as being "politically motivated."

That could well be the reason investigators began to pursue Adnan Türkkan in 2008. On July 1 of that year, several armed police officers with the anti-terror TEM unit stood before the 26-year-old's door and led him away, justifying the detainment with the claim he was suspected of "membership in a terrorist organization."

The student was then placed in investigative detention and interrogated. Türkkan says the interrogations included questions largely focused on "protests critical of the government" he had allegedly helped organize. Türkkan is one of the founders of the Kemalist youth organization TGB, and has never sought to hide the fact that he has little regard for Erdogan's governing Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).

He was released four days later because of a lack of evidence, but investigators still kept an eye on him, wiretapping his telephone and confronting him later with the contents of his calls. "They twisted every word and interpreted things in a way that suggested I was a putschist," he claims.

He claims that during the legal proceedings -- which have taken place behind closed doors and out of the public eye -- he only testified one time. He says the justices only asked questions about his personal data. Then Türkkan read a statement. That was it. The statement made by the public prosecutor is a jumble of ominous allegations. It claims, for example, that suspicious business cards and credit cards were found during searches of Türkkan's belongings, that he worked together with radical parties and that he made calls for protests to be conducted against the government. Stringing those patchy details together, they concluded he wanted to establish some kind of Ergenekon youth organization.

Sabuncu and Bozkurt are also still waiting for evidence relating to the allegations against them to be presented. It appears that suspicions against the journalists are based on the fact that they both work for the leftist-nationalist daily Aydinlik. The newspaper had published excerpts of a compromising 2004 telephone call between Erdogan and the former president of North Cyprus in which they discussed the removal of a rival from power. "This conversation was played for all the newspapers in Turkey, but we were the only ones who published it verbatim," Bozkurt says.

Contradictions in the Investigation

Turkey observer Jenkins sees many contradictions in the Ergenekon trial. In a critical report he published in 2009 about the investigation, he writes that "no evidence" has emerged of the existence of a secret organization. There are merely statements from secret witnesses. It also remains unclear who had authored documents cited in the case. And even the transcripts of wiretaps lacked evidence suggesting Ergenekon's existence.

Jenkins finds it particularly odd that virtually every illegal organization known to exist in Turkey is named in the 4,000-page indictment. Going by the charges, one would be led to believe that Ergenekon enjoys ties to the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), the Marxist Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and the Turkish wing of Hezbollah.

Still, Türkkan is convinced the Ergenekon rulings will have a positive effect in the end. He says they reveal the Turkish government's true authoritarian face and that they may spark a new wave of protest actions. He thinks the situation could heat up this autumn.

To play it safe, however, he wants to continue in providing resistance against Erdogan from afar in Germany. "There is great potential for opposition here," he says. "Many young German-Turks have a problem with the Erdogan government."

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« Reply #8095 on: Aug 13, 2013, 06:57 AM »

08/12/2013 07:15 PM

Spat Over Gibraltar: London Escalates Border Conflict With Spain

Britain said on Monday it may take legal action against Spain for imposing tighter controls at Spain's border with Gibraltar, a historic bone of contention between the two nations. Britain has also dispatched warships to the coast of Gibraltar -- for an exercise.

Britain warned Spain on Monday it might take legal action against Madrid's imposition of tighter controls at the border with Gibraltar, the contested British enclave at the southern tip of Spain.

Underlining the tensions, Britain is dispatching warships to Gibraltar. The frigate HMS Westminister is due to set sail on Tuesday and three other vessels left on Monday. The British government played down the move as being part of a long-planned military exercise.

But Spanish media said the plan for HMS Westminster to stop at Gibraltar was an intimidating move by Britain.

Writing in The Sun newspaper on Monday, Britain's Europe Minister David Lidington said, "Britain and Spain matter to each other. We are NATO allies, key trading partners and millions of Brits travel to Spain every year. But our good friendship with Spain does not mean we will turn a blind eye when the people of Gibraltar are threatened or put under pressure."

'Politically Motivated'

A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Spanish border checks, introduced after Gibraltar created an artificial reef that Spain said was blocking its fishing vessels, were "disproportionate" and "politically motivated." Legal action would be "an unprecedented step," he added.

Gibraltar is outraged that Spanish customs officers have started checking every vehicle at the border, causing long queues.

Madrid argues that Gibraltar doesn't belong to Europe's Schengen zone of passport-free travel and that the checks are a legal and proportionate step to prevent money laundering and smuggling of tobacco and other products from Gibraltar.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he aims to reach an agreement with Cameron but would not abandon the tigher border controls.

Madrid is also considering imposing a border crossing fee and banning planes using its airspace to reach Gibraltar. The government on Monday reiterated that it was thinking about what international forum it could use to press its claim to Gibraltar. This could take place at the UN General Assembly or the International Court of Justice, and Spain's El Pais newspaper reported that Madrid is also seeking support from current UN Security Council president Argentina in its dispute with Britain. Both countries have similar complaints about Britain, with government officials in Buenos Aires currently seeking to reclaim the British-controlled Falkland Islands.

The 6.8 square kilometer (2.62 square miles) territory has been a source of tension between Britain and Spain ever since 1713 when Spain ceded it in the Treaty of Utrecht.

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« Reply #8096 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:01 AM »

August 12, 2013

On the Crony Safari, a Tour of a City’s Corruption


PRAGUE — Several dozen people, Czechs and foreigners alike, crammed aboard a bus called the Crony Safari on a recent day for a decidedly unusual tour.

Among the stops: the towering villa of a powerful lobbyist nicknamed Lord Voldemort; an elite school where bags of cash are said to buy a degree; and a single, barely visible address registered by nearly 600 companies.

Justin Svoboda, the jovial longhaired guide, welcomed the assembled tourists for what he called an “ornithological safari tour” in which they would get to observe “birds who steal” perched in their luxury “nests.” He was flanked by actors, dressed like SWAT team members, in bright orange vests labeled “Corruption Proof.”

The pristine Czech capital is celebrated for its medieval palaces and bridges. But Prague’s CorruptTour agency showcases the darker side of the city — the culture of lawlessness and corruption that has undermined the country since the Velvet Revolution overthrew Communism in 1989.

The brainchild of Petr Sourek, 38, a philosopher and performance artist turned entrepreneur, CorruptTour taps into the widespread disillusionment with corruption here. Czechs today still recite a popular saying from the Communist era: “He who doesn’t steal from the state steals from his family.”

The tours have been selling out, Mr. Sourek said, since a scandal involving wiretaps, safes stuffed with cash and a dash of adultery forced the resignation of the prime minister, Petr Necas, in June. Mr. Necas, whose modest home may soon feature prominently on the safari, has admitted a romance with his glamorous chief of staff and confidante, Jana Nagyova, who has been charged with abuse of office for allegedly ordering the secret services to spy on the prime minister’s wife. Ms. Nagyova has said she was looking out for her security.

The country’s largest sting operation led to the arrest of eight high-ranking officials in June.

“Many Czechs were too afraid to even speak out against corruption, but recent scandals have made them more aware,” Mr. Sourek said. “And they are becoming fed up and outspoken.”

The Czech Republic, which joined the European Union in 2004, has struggled to overcome a legacy of corruption after decades of Communist rule. Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index, which ranks countries according to how corrupt their public sectors are perceived to be, concluded that the Czech Republic’s score indicated a “serious corruption problem.” Among the 27 members of the European Union at the time, only Slovakia, Romania, Italy, Bulgaria and Greece fared worse.

These days, there is more than enough nefarious activity afoot in the Czech capital to fill a three-hour excursion. The first stop on the tour was a run-down apartment building in a working-class neighborhood. The guide said Ivo Rittig, a wealthy lobbyist with a private jet and a home in Monaco, had once registered the apartment as his main residence.

“Come out, little birdie, come out!” a lady on the tour hectored loudly as the safari decamped outside, and the corruption enthusiasts aimed their cameras, without spotting their quarry.

Those who find themselves unintentional stars of the tour have been known to angrily shoo away the curious tourists outside their heavily gated homes, Mr. Svoboda said, or hover menacingly behind the wheels of the tinted windows of their luxury sedans.

Mr. Sourek consulted a lawyer before starting the tours in 2012, and the safari restricts itself to public areas to avoid accusations of trespassing. His rule is that people or institutions must be cited in corruption cases in at least two reputable newspapers before they are featured on the safari.

Mr. Rittig and another powerful lobbyist featured on the tour, Roman Janousek, who are together called the “godfathers,” more than qualify, having grabbed headlines lately after their telephones were wiretapped as part of the elaborate anticorruption sting operation that ensnared the prime minister and his senior aide.

Business associates said that Mr. Rittig, who has not been charged with any crime, boasted to them that he offered Ms. Nagyova, the aide, expensive Louis Vuitton purses. His lawyer declined to comment.

The tour, which costs $20 a person, attracts all ages. On a recent tour, there were students, a sushi chef and a woman who had received the safari as a birthday present from her boyfriend.

“You would think that we are in Russia to look at all this corruption, but we are a member of the European Union,” huffed Jan Schroll, 36, a high school history teacher who was accompanied by his pregnant wife. “I came because I am sick and tired of this corruption.”

The corruption safari suddenly stopped outside the walled, concrete villa of Mr. Janousek, the lobbyist the Czech news media calls Lord Voldemort after the wicked and shadowy “Harry Potter” character.

During the sting operation that ultimately unseated the prime minister, the police found about $8 million in cash in safe deposit boxes that they suspected belonged to Mr. Janousek and might have been used in a kickback scheme. But so far, no link has been established, and Mr. Janousek has not been charged in the case. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr. Janousek will soon be tried on a charge of attempted murder in connection with a hit-and-run incident in March 2012, which occurred just days after the Mlada fronta DNES, a leading newspaper, published a series of articles based on wiretaps showing him speaking with the mayor of Prague in 2007. During the recorded calls, in which the mayor referred to Mr. Janousek as “hummingbird,” the two men discussed issues such as the lucrative sales of city assets and office appointments.

As the guide explained Mr. Janousek’s role in the alleged influence-peddling scheme, Mr. Sourek offered cookies, labeled “presidential pardon,” for two euros apiece. The cookies, he wryly explained, were a homage to former President Vaclav Klaus, who this year was accused — and later exonerated — of high treason after offering amnesties to dozens of people accused of financial corruption. Tourists can also buy CorruptTour T-shirts and antiwiretapping devices.

The safari ended on the city’s outskirts at the large mausoleum for the family of Martin Roman, the former chief executive of the energy giant CEZ, who officials say is suspected of offering lucrative contracts to cronies, an accusation he has vehemently denied. Mr. Roman is very much alive, but Mr. Sourek said the imposing mausoleum was included on the tour because it was a telling monument to conspicuous consumption in a corrupt age.

Staring bemusedly at the mausoleum, a 30-something Czech man said in English that the tour had irked him since it smacked of a quintessential Czech distaste for others’ success. He declined to give his name, however, saying that such a view could invite ridicule from his friends.

Mr. Sourek said he saw corruption as a growth business that was recession-proof.

“Short-lived corruption scandals do not mean short-term profits,” he said. “Corruption usually stays right where it is, well after the headlines have faded.”

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« Reply #8097 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:07 AM »

Jens Stoltenberg: the Norwegian prime minister and sometime cab driver

The head of state has become famous for a short stint driving an Oslo taxi during which he listened to the views of ordinary people   

Monday 12 August 2013 15.17 BST
The Guardian

Name: Jens Stoltenberg

Age: 54.

Appearance: Where you least expect him ...

On the surface of Mars? All right, not on Mars.

Where? In the driver's seat of a Norwegian taxi.

I didn't expect that, you're right. Nor did his passengers, although they recognised him straight away. You see, Stoltenberg is Norway's prime minister.

Well if their royal family ride bicycles, I suppose their politicians can drive taxis. This isn't something that he does habitually. It was just for one afternoon in June. He dressed in an Oslo taxi uniform, got his identity card and picked up a mixture of random and selected passengers, none of whom knew what was coming.

I understand. Yet at the same time I don't understand at all. It was a campaign stunt. "As prime minister it is important to listen to people's opinions," Stoltenberg explains on the video of his adventure, "and in taxis people say what they really mean."

Or snog. Or vomit everywhere. All right, some also do that. But perhaps Norwegians are brought up better. Basically the general election is coming up next month, and this is a way of showing the public that he's human.

Has that been in doubt? Not biologically. But his governing Labour-led coalition isn't popular. The wheeze was dreamed up "in collaboration with" their advertising agency.

So how did his passengers react? Oh it varied. Some thought it was funny. Some did a lot of weird high-fives and hand-rubbing. In most cases they just had a short mental breakdown. I mean how would you react if you got into a cab and saw that David Cameron was driving?

Hard to say. It might not bring out my best side. Wasn't Stoltenberg nervous that someone might take the opportunity to throttle him? He was nervous, he says, but not for that reason. It was, "because I haven't driven a car for many years, because I've been prime minster".

Yes, you'd expect him to be rather busy. You wouldn't expect it for much longer. Most pundits think he'll lose his job in a few weeks.

At least he's got something to fall back on. I'm sure that will be a great comfort.

Do say: "You'll never guess who I had in the front of my cab the other day."

Don't say: "It's the politicians I blame. They come over here, they take our jobs ..."

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« Reply #8098 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:12 AM »

Pakistanis fleeing conflict resort to desperate measures to survive

Many displaced people borrow food and skip meals to cope with financial strain, raising fears for their long-term welfare

IRIN, part of the Guardian development network, Tuesday 13 August 2013 11.50 BST   

Fleeing home is a negative experience in itself, but for Pakistan's 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), most of them subsistence farmers, the sense of dislocation is compounded when they have to start paying for food and accommodation.

The result is often what humanitarians call "negative coping strategies" – a set of responses to difficulties that may provide a temporary means of survival, but can seriously undermine IDPs' long-term security.

"People keep backups; some have savings, others have valuables and livestock. Once they're gone, and they're barely making enough to eat, it is extremely difficult for them to rebuild those back-ups," said Faiz Mohammed, chief co-ordinator for IDPs in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that most displaced families do not live in camps: about 90% live with relatives or in rented houses.

"Where we need intervention the most is off-camp, and unfortunately that is a very complicated and huge task," Mohammed said. "Some cash grants have been provided by partners, but that is a drop in the ocean.

"For the families that arrive at camps, we are able to intervene to reduce the impact of negative coping strategies. Through registration, food and non-food aid is delivered, and we have a policy to employ only IDPs for any work required on camp. This helps to some extent, but only as far as the day-to-day requirements are concerned."

The latest wave of displacement has seen more than 130,000 people leave their homes in Pakistan's north-western federally administered tribal areas (Fata) since March because of fighting between government soldiers and militants allied to the Taliban in the Khyber and Kurram agencies.

These people have been leaving the homes they own and the farms that feed them to seek refuge in areas around the city of Peshawar, where employment and livelihood opportunities are limited, and yet many need to pay rent and buy food at market prices.

Surviving – negatively

The immediate need in order to cope is cash; taking on debt and selling assets is often the only way to survive.

Every day, Omar Khan wakes up an hour before dawn to push his wheelbarrow into the main fruit and vegetable market of Islamabad, and haul loads from one truck to another until noon.

He then heads to a workshop near the vegetable market, where he works as a cleaner. Ending his day at 8pm, Khan makes, on average, 500 Pakistani rupees ($4.90) a day.

What is left of that money after buying food for his family goes to the owner of a local grocery store, where Khan has notched up a 15,000 rupee ($147) debt that has slowly risen since the family fled fighting in the Khyber tribal region in April last year. They left behind most of their belongings, and had to sell whatever items of value they could bring with them to buy food and pay rent.

Data from the IDP vulnerability assessment and profiling (Ivap) survey shows that a large portion of the IDPs from the five-year conflict in Fata have resorted to negative coping strategies to survive: 30% of families purchased food on credit, and 21.7% borrowed food, or asked friends and relatives for help.

Some families in the Ivap survey resorted to more drastic action, including reducing meal size and quantity (7.1%), or skipping meals altogether (3.4%). These strategies most seriously threaten children, whose vulnerability is increased because of malnutrition.

Another study, funded by the Norwegian government and released in November 2012, found that 57.6% of households reduced the quality of their meals, and 52.5% reduced the quantity.

A displaced schoolteacher's experience

Yar Mohammed, 29, a schoolteacher who fled fighting in Tirah Valley in Fata's Khyber Agency, rented a small mud house in Peshawar when he arrived in January. He was paying 4,000 rupees (£25) a month, a huge sum for him as he did not have a job. The little savings he had were spent on transportation and household items.

"It was really tough when we first arrived. I agreed to rent the house because we needed a roof. I couldn't leave my children under the open sky," Mohammed said. "I managed to pay the rent for a few months from the money I made as a daily wage labourer in the market. Sometimes there was nothing left to buy food. We are wearing the same clothes that we had on the day we left our village."

Mohammed's family was evicted in April afterr the landlord increased the rent to 5,000 rupees. He pleaded with the landlord to delay the increase by a few months, but to no avail. Another IDP family from Tirah had arrived in a fresh displacement because of an escalation in fighting between the Pakistan army and militant groups. The new family was willing to meet the landlord's demand.

"We are not in our homeland, not among friends. People don't care if we are homeless or we are suffering. They just want money," Mohammed said. He now lives in a small mud house in a settlement six miles from Peshawar. He pays 3,000 ($29.40) for this house, but says the village is too far from Peshawar, making it difficult for him to go there every day to look for work.

"Where am I going to find the money for the bus every day? The fighting does not look like it is going to end soon, so we have to stay here. I have nothing to sell, and I barely make enough for a meal a day," said Mohammed, who earns 250 rupees ($2.45) a day at a nearby brick factory. "If things don't get better soon, I will have no choice but to beg on the streets."

Adverse effect on long-term recovery?

The Ivap project started a re-census of IDP families in May, surveying 4,518 families from Tirah in the initial phase. Preliminary re-census data seen by IRIN shows negative coping strategies, similar to the ones highlighted in the earlier surveys, including buying food on credit, reducing meal sizes and selling assets like jewellery.

Aid organisations and the government fear this could make it more difficult for displaced families to recover in the long run.

The government announced in June that it planned the voluntary return of 274,962 IDPs to tribal agencies. As of 18 July, according to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, about 66,000 IDPs have returned to their homes in Kurram, South Waziristan and Bajaur.

But for such returnees, the effects of the negative coping strategies may follow them as some discover their former homes and livelihoods have been destroyed.

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« Reply #8099 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:20 AM »

Doctors warn of health consequences of NSW mine planning changes

Environmental lobby group says state government plan to put economic benefits first could result in unsafe air pollution

Bridie Jabour, Tuesday 13 August 2013 10.12 BST   

New South Wales's proposed changes to mine approvals would loosen air quality standards and could affect people's health, a doctors' environmental lobby group says.

Comments on proposed amendments to environmental planning policy by the NSW government closed on Monday after being made public a fortnight ago.

The changes proposed include emphasis on economic benefits of mines over social and environmental costs and changes to the way air pollution is measured.

Doctors for the Environment Australia, a group of medical doctors who focus on environmental policies, said they were alarmed that the changes could leave some towns with unsafe levels of air pollution.

The changes would allow mines to meet a yearly average of air quality rather than a daily average which a spokesman for the doctors' group, Dr Ben Ewald, said could mean some towns would experience air quality that put people's health at risk and that mining companies would not be penalised.

"It is like driving at 160km/h and being pulled over and saying, 'It's all right, the average speed per year is 20km/h and the car sits in the garage most of the time," Ewald said.

"The mining companies would be able to pollute as much as they like and still comply with the yearly average."

A consent authority would have to approve a mining project if it was "significant" to the state and met basic standards, with the most emphasis being placed on economic benefits.

In their submission, the doctors' group said positive economic benefits were outweighing social and environmental considerations.

"Mining may adversely affect other industries such as agriculture and tourism, and adverse impacts include both social and economic costs," the submission said.

"Therefore concentrating principally on expected economic benefits from mining, distorts decisions affecting communities in a way that is out of line with community expectations and good long-term management of resources."

The submission ends with the doctors strongly recommending the amendments be rejected and with a list of substantial modifications.

These include considering the cost of developing a resource when approving a mine; including damage to people's health and the environment in cost-benefit analysis and having a 24-hour air quality standard.

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