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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1071839 times)
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« Reply #9915 on: Nov 11, 2013, 07:09 AM »

Chunk of ‘Nazi art trove’ may be returned to Munich man

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 11, 2013 3:00 EST

German authorities think a good number of the paintings found in an art trove largely looted by the Nazis may ultimately be returned to the Munich man in whose apartment they were discovered, a media report said Sunday.

The story of the more than 1,400 artworks found in the garbage-strewn apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, the octogenarian son of a Nazi-era art dealer, has drawn worldwide interest and a rush by potential rightful owners to stake claims to the confiscated masterpieces.

But a German customs audit has found that 315 of the works were seized from public museums by Adolf Hitler’s regime as part of its crackdown on so-called “degenerate” avant-garde art, said Focus news magazine, which broke the story of the art trove a week ago.

Those works were public property at the time, and neither the museums nor the original owners or their heirs will be able to recover them, Focus said.

But for 194 other works, documents seized in the apartment may establish that they were sold by Jewish collectors under duress — meaning the owners or their heirs stand a good chance of recovering them, it added.

The customs report also says “doubts exist” as to whether Gurlitt will ever face trial, even though German authorities are investigating him for tax fraud and receiving stolen goods, Focus reported.

Gurlitt, who was present when authorities raided his home in February 2012, was interrogated by police and released without charge.

A recluse, he generated income by occasionally selling off paintings handed down to him by his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, a powerful collector tasked by the Nazis with selling seized works for hard cash.

Gurlitt’s father appears to have held on to many of the works, even after an investigation by US occupying forces after the war.

The stash included paintings by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri Matisse and previously unknown works by Marc Chagall and Otto Dix.

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« Reply #9916 on: Nov 11, 2013, 07:26 AM »

Iran nuclear programme deal in danger of unravelling

US negotiator leaves talks to reassure Israeli prime minister after France sinks bid to seal temporary agreement

Julian Borger in Geneva and Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Monday 11 November 2013       

The diplomatic progress that brought six foreign ministers tantalisingly close to a historic agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme is in danger of unravelling before negotiators meet again this month, officials and analysts warned on Sunday.

In a bid to contain the danger, the lead US negotiator, Wendy Sherman, flew straight from the talks in Geneva to Israel to reassure Binyamin Netanyahu's government that the intended deal would not harm his country's national interests.

The hastily arranged trip represented an acknowledgement of Netanyahu's power to block a deal through his influence in the US Congress and in Europe. Egged on by the Israelis, the US Senate is poised to pass new sanctions that threaten to derail the talks before they get to their planned next round in 10 days' time.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said on Sunday that America was sufficiently sceptical of Iran's willingness to dismantle its nuclear programme and would keep sanctions in place as talks continue.

"We are not blind and I don't think we're stupid. We have a pretty strong sense of how to measure whether or not we are acting in the interests of our country and of the globe," Kerry said on NBC's Meet the Press.

More immediately, Netanyahu demonstrated over the weekend that he could sway the Geneva talks from the inside through his relationship with Paris. It has emerged that after a call from Barack Obama on Friday evening asking him not to oppose the planned Geneva deal, Netanyahu did the opposite. He called British prime minister, David Cameron, Russian president Vladimir Putin, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande, asking them to block it.

Hollande, whose government shared some of Israel's concerns, agreed. It was French opposition that finally sank the bid to seal a temporary nuclear accord, after three days of intense bargaining, in the early hours of Sunday morning, but Netanyahu was quick to claim credit.

Netanyahu told cabinet colleagues: "I told them that according to the information Israel has, the impending deal is bad and dangerous – not just for us but for them too. I asked them what was the rush and I suggested that they wait and consider the matter seriously.

"The deal at once lifts the pressure of sanctions which have taken years to put in place, and leaves Iran with its nuclear and enrichment capabilities intact. Not one centrifuge is to be dismantled. These are historic decisions. I asked that they wait and I'm pleased they have decided [to do] so."

The French roadblock took Washington by surprise. There had been an initial day of discussions in Geneva on Thursday involving the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, and senior diplomats from the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, the six-nation group known as the P5+1 that has led the nuclear negotiations since 2006.

There had been an understanding that if the talks looked close to agreement, Kerry, who was in the Middle East last week, would come to Geneva to push them over the finishing line. But on Thursday night the Iranians forced his hand. Zarif announced that work on drafting an agreement would start the next morning and officials told the press Kerry would fly in the same day – putting the US secretary of state in a bind. If he stayed away and the talks failed, he would be blamed. He was weighing the possibility of personal intervention anyway, officials in Geneva said, but would have preferred to have chosen the timing and made the announcement himself.

Kerry had an uncomfortable meeting with Netanyahu at Ben Gurion airport on Friday morning in which the Israeli prime minister lectured him on the dangers of deal with Iran which loosened sanctions without halting the nuclear project. The atmosphere was so sour, the Americans opted out of a joint press appearance.

Kerry took off for Geneva, but before he landed the draft agreement was under public attack from another, more unexpected quarter. The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, told a French radio station that Paris would not accept a jeu des dupes – a fools' game, casting doubt on when a deal could be concluded.

He broke an agreement not to discuss the content of the negotiations in public, outlining what France saw as the sticking points: Iran's heavy-water reactor in Arak and its stock of medium-enriched uranium, which are alternative pathways to making a bomb. The 20% uranium could be easily turned into weapons-grade material if Tehran should decide to make a warhead, but Iran was refusing to ship it out of the country. The negotiators had been looking at compromises such as diluting it or turning it into oxide reactor fuel, which would make it more difficult to enrich further. But Paris was concerned that such options did not give the same level of assurance that the stockpile would not one day used for a bomb.

France's unease about Arak was even greater. Once operational, the heavy water reactor would produce plutonium with its spent fuel. It was due to be completed next year, and Iran refused to halt production, saying it was essential for producing isotopes used in medicine, agriculture and other scientific research.

A compromise was being hatched by US and Iranian officials that would allow the Iranians to carry on building the reactor over the six-month period of the interim agreement, but only to test it with dummy fuel rods and ordinary water.

The French and the Israelis believed that was too high-risk a solution that would allow the Iranians to get so close to completion that they would be able to insert enriched uranium into the reactor with very little notice and present the world with a fait accompli. Once that was done, bombing the reactor would not be an option because it would send a radioactive plume across the region.

Kerry had been hoping to address the French reservations within P5+1, but Fabius refused to back down during a session of the foreign ministers that went late into Saturday morning. Zarif observed wryly that the P5+1 seemed to need more time to negotiate with each other than with Iran.

Other western officials were furious with what they saw as a French breach of the P5+1's jealously guarded unity.

"This is about France's interests in the Gulf and the fact that Hollande is going to Israel later this month and he doesn't want the trip to turn into a nightmare," one official said. French officials said the text drafted principally by the US and Iran was significantly different from the one discussed by the P5+1. "There are two parallel processes going on here, a multilateral one that has been going on for seven years, and a bilateral one, and the two have not come together properly. The cogs have got jammed," said an European official in Geneva.

France has long suspected the Obama administration of being too ready to make a deal with Iran for short-term diplomatic gains, but as recently as a year ago a senior French official told the Guardian that ultimately an agreement would have to be made between Washington and Tehran. Paris, whatever its reservations, would not stand in its way.

That calculation clearly no longer applies. Following the two countries' falling-out over Syria, in which the French believed the Obama administration was dithering, France now feels strong enough to oppose Washington on America's most pressing foreign policy issue – a measure perhaps of America's waning influence in the world.


Iranians angry and bewildered after French torpedo Geneva nuclear entente

France should replace US as le grand satan, joke some inside Iran after Paris defies Washington and blocks stopgap deal

Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Geneva, Sunday 10 November 2013 14.12 GMT   

France's role in Geneva talks that ended with no agreement over Tehran's nuclear programme has prompted bewilderment and anger inside Iran.

Iranians, who stayed awake all night to find out whether their negotiators have reached a breakthrough with the west, were disappointed that France was prepared to defy the Americans and block a stopgap deal, and that western sanction would not end any time soon.

The Irna state news agency reported that Iranian businessmen were considering reducing their trade ties with France, saying they no longer considered it as a good partner because of its "adventurist and immature behaviour" at Geneva.

"A group of Tehran-based industrialists held a meeting here on Sunday focusing on reduction of Tehran-Paris trade ties," reported Irna. "They believe that the imbalanced policies of Paris on Tehran have stripped Paris of its status as a good economic partner of Iran."

Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, reacting to news from Geneva, said Tehran would not bow to "sanctions, threats, contempt and discrimination", the state-run Press TV reported. Rouhani was speaking to the members of Iran's parliament, Majlis, where he was defending his nominee for the sports ministry, Nasrollah Sajjadi.

"For us, red lines are not to be crossed. The rights of the Iranian nation and [our] national interests are our red lines," he said. Without directly referring to France, Rouhani added: "The Islamic Republic of Iran has not bowed and will not bow to threats by any power."

In reaction to the Geneva talks, the Twitter account believed to be run by the office of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posted old remarks Iran's supreme leader made about France in a speech in March.

"French officials have been openly hostile towards the Iranian nation over the past few years; this is an imprudent and inept move," the tweet says. "A wise man, particularly a wise politician, should never have the motivation to turn a neutral entity into an enemy." That speech in the eastern city of Mashhad, east Iran, was the first time Khamenei referred to France as Iran's enemy along with the US and Britain.

As France's hardline stance in Geneva became public on Saturday, Iranian web users posted their disgust on the official Facebook page of the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius. "Shame of you," read one comment. Another one said: "Mr. Fabius ...Why?"

Some in Iran also joked that the recent developments will make France Iran's top enemy, perhaps replacing the US as le grand satan.

Iran's ultra-conservative newspaper Keyhan, whose director is appointed by Khamenei, published an article on Sunday describing Fabius as "the servant of the zionist regime".

It continued: "The disgraceful behaviour of the French foreign minister in the Geneva talks and his remarks on behalf of the zionist regime once again shows the national interests of French people are taken hostage [by Israel]."

"Exhausted but hopeful", read the headline of the reformist newspaper Shargh next to the image of the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, talking at a press conference alongside his EU counterpart, Catherine Ashton.

The Geneva talks dominated the front pages of almost all Iranian publications on Sunday, with many printing second or third editions. "Agreement in suspension", read the headline of the reformist Etemaad.


Senate Republicans praise unlikely party in Iran talks: ‘Thank God for France!’

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 10, 2013 15:39 EST

Conservative US leaders, fond of finger-pointing at France in recent years, lavished praise on Paris Sunday for blocking an agreement between Western powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program.

“Vive la France!” senator John McCain, an outspoken voice on national security issues, wrote on his Twitter account.

“France had the courage to prevent a bad nuclear agreement with Iran,” he said, after the weekend announcement that no agreement had been reached between the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, known as the P5+1.

During three days of intense negotiations in Geneva, France repeatedly voiced concerns over various points in a possible deal and its lack of guarantees, a position that had Iran calling it a negotiations spoiled sport.

“Thank God for France and thank God for push back,” said hawkish Senator Lindsey Graham on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

“The French are becoming very good leaders in the Mid East,” Graham said, also suggesting he would be in favor of more sanctions against Iran.

“My fear is that we’re going to wind up creating a North Korea-type situation in the Mideast, where we negotiate with Iran and one day you wake up… and you’re going to have a nuclear Iran,” Graham said.

The turnabout could not be more stark.

It was just one decade ago Franco-US ties hit a low over differences on Iraq and then president Jacques Chirac’s opposition to the Anglo-US offensive against Saddam Hussein’s regime.

So deep was the animosity — led by conservatives for the most part — that French fries were renamed “freedom fries” in some American restaurants — including those serving the US House of Representatives office buildings.

Anti-French hate messages — no longer very much in evidence in the United States — also were brandished at the time in public, including on T-shirts and billboards.

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« Reply #9917 on: Nov 11, 2013, 07:39 AM »

Indian prime minister boycotts Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka

Manmohan Singh joins Canadian PM in staying away as David Cameron defends UK stance over alleged Sri Lankan war crimes

Jason Burke in Delhi and Andrew Sparrow, senior political correspondent
The Guardian, Sunday 10 November 2013 19.09 GMT   

The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is to boycott the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka this week, dealing a blow to the credibility of the gathering amid controversy over alleged human rights abuses by its host.

Officials said Singh would write to Sri Lanka's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to explain his decision, which is thought to be related to domestic political pressure to take a stronger stance against alleged war crimes committed during the 26-year civil war.

The absence of the leader of the Commonwealth's biggest member will also embarrass David Cameron, who said his presence in Sri Lanka was the "right decision" for the Commonwealth and would allow a "tough message" about its human rights record to be delivered personally.

The Sri Lankan government has been accused of instigating a wave of repression to muzzle critics and of failing to investigate war crimes committed by its armed forces during the bloody end of the war against violent Tamil separatists in the north of the country.

A British parliamentary committee has noted "continuing human rights abuses" in Sri Lanka and the UN has also been criticalalso been particularly over a lack of effort towards over reconciliation between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority.

Sri Lankan officials deny the charges, which they say are exaggerated, unfounded and biased, and point to Rajapaksa's successive electoral victories.

So far, Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, is the only other head of government to boycott the meeting, a biennial summit known as the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (Chogm), which will be chaired by Prince Charles. Singh will send his foreign minister in his place.

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said yesterday that Cameron would be able to do more to promote human rights in the country by attending the gathering.

Hague said he could "understand" why Cameron's prime ministerial counterparts in Canada and India had decided to stay away because of Sri Lanka's human rights record, but that he and Cameron would not be following their example.

"We have decided that if we were to stay away, it would damage the Commonwealth without changing these positively in Sri Lanka," Hague told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"We are going to say, 'Well, Sri Lanka is in the spotlight so let's make full use of it being in the spotlight.' Rather than sit in London and talk about it, we will be there in Sri Lanka."

He said that while in Sri Lanka, Cameron would be visiting the Tamil-dominated north of the country. He would be the first head of government to visit the north since the island achieved independence in 1948, Hague said.

The foreign secretary spoke as Labour renewed its call for Cameron to stay away. Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "For months Labour has urged the government to do more to raise Britain's concern over human rights in Sri Lanka in the runup to the summit."

The meeting posed a dilemma for the Indian government, which has complex and often tense relations with Sri Lanka. Chinese influence in the island nation has grown significantly in recent years and there are fears in Delhi that further deterioration would allow Beijing to make more inroads.

The Commonwealth summit is also a useful chance for Indian leaders to meet those of other developing nations, especially in Africa, former diplomats said.

But the Indian election next spring is likely to lead to frantic coalition-building and alienating local voters or potential allies for Singh's beleaguered Congress party now would be costly.

Political powerbrokers in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where voters are ethnically and linguistically close to Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, have repeatedly pressed Singh to take a stronger stance against alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

In March, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party (DMK) withdrew from the ruling coalition in protest at Delhi's supposed failure to toughen a UN resolution that asked Sri Lanka to investigate the war crimes charges.

Singh has previously told the DMK president, M Karunanidhi, that his decision on whether to travel to Colombo would be taken in "the best interests of the people of India and of Tamil Nadu".

Karunanidhi said this weekend that he was relieved at the news but concerned that India was still sending its foreign minister, Salman Khurshid, to Colombo.

Tamil Nadu's chief minister, J Jayalalithaa, another potential coalition ally in next year's polls, had written to Singh "to reiterate Tamil Nadu's view that India should not participate in the Chogm hosted by Sri Lanka at any level – titular, ministerial or official.

"Only such an action will convey India's unequivocal stand that it will not tolerate the violation of human rights of the Sri Lankan Tamil minority," she told the prime minister.

Senior Sri Lankan officials told the Guardian that "public lecturing" on human rights was unhelpful and asked that foreign observers should "remember that we are a developing country and need time to get things right, in our own way".

Officials at the Indian foreign ministry have downplayed the decision to boycott the summit, which was reportedly taken by senior Congress party officials last Friday and is seen as a defeat for foreign policy mandarins in Delhi. They said it was not unusual for a prime minister to be unable to attend the meeting.


Homosexuality illegal in 41 out of 53 Commonwealth countries – report

Anti-gay discrimination not on the agenda of this month's heads of government meeting in Sri Lanka

Helen Davidson, Sunday 10 November 2013 13.05 GMT   

Homosexuality is illegal in 41 out of the 53 Commonwealth countries, a report released on Monday reveals.

Despite this, the forthcoming Commonwealth heads of government meeting (Chogm) in Sri Lanka has elected not to discuss the issue of anti-gay discrimination.

Commissioned by the Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation and compiled by LGBT activists throughout the Commonwealth, the report calls for Commonwealth countries to repeal anti-gay legislation, with an immediate moratorium on enforcement.

“If you look at the world as a whole, around about 40% of nations have state-sponsored homophobia,” said Kaleidoscope’s spokesman, Douglas Pretsell.

“Half of those – about 54% – are in the Commonwealth. If you look at the rest of the world not inside the Commonwealth, it’s only 24.5% – so the Commonwealth has a big problem.

“These are laws that make it illegal to be gay.”

Pretsell said the anti-gay laws were hangover from British colonial rule. It exported laws – including those outlawing sodomy – to Commonwealth countries, where they persist backed by the prevalence of strong religious views among the populations.

“It’s worth noting that in the vast majority of these countries, the laws sit there and they’re completely unused, so no one is ever prosecuted. But [the laws’ existence are] used as a way to intimidate and harass.”

Australia did not completely decriminalise homosexuality until 1997 after a legal case was brought to the UN. From 2007-13 all forms of legislated discrimination were removed from Australian law.

“Faith organisations continue to play a big role in the provision of services,” the report says.

“Although anti-discrimination legislation ensures that faith-run aged-care facilities do not discriminate, there are exemptions for faith-run schools, hospitals, clinics, employment agencies and businesses.”

Pretsell expressed concern that the issue will not be on Chogm’s agenda. The meeting takes on 15-17 November.

“It is not to be talked about at all. In fact Sri Lanka has gone out of its way to refuse visas to any lesbian or gay group, to ban their own activists in the country, and the agenda has absolutely nothing focused on this.”

Patron of the foundation, and former high court justice, Michael Kirby is “not convinced” the topic will be off the agenda.

Kirby told Guardian Australia that he believes some heads of government will put it on the table.

“I’m pretty confident there will be discussion about it, both in the general sessions of Chogm and the margins -in private discussions between the leaders,” he said.

“This is a big problem for the Commonwealth and it has to be addressed.”

“Not only are [the laws] contrary to human rights, they are also a serious impediment of a successful strategy against the HIV epidemic.”

The report is littered with stories of violence and discrimination in Commonwealth countries. According to the one testimony, the movement for change in Belize has come at a cost for a man who started it.

“As the only claimant in the current constitutional challenge case, I have lost two teeth, had my family property invaded and car damaged by two masked men in the week of the supreme court hearings in May of this year,” writes Caleb Orozco, executive director of the United Belize Advocacy Movement.

“I have had stones thrown at me, experienced simulated gunshots, insults and physical harm on public transportation, threats that speak to, ‘Caleb, you have no right to breathe!’”

The Commonwealth charter does not specifically enshrine protection of people based on their sexual orientation. “We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds,” it reads.

It does however enforce a commitment to the UN declaration of human rights.

Pretsell would like to see Australia make bilateral agreements with regional neighbours to remove discriminatory laws.

“Before the last election we worked on getting a pledge from each of the political parties that they would support LGBTI rights in their bilateral and multilateral relations in foreign policy. We got the Greens to sign up, we got Labor to sign up and we got individual Liberals to sign up.”

Pretsell said Kaleidoscope had sent the report to the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, and the prime minister, Tony Abbott.

“I received a response from Julie Bishop, but we have quite a cordial relationship, so I was expecting that,” he said.

“Obviously Tony Abbott’s office is busier than Julie Bishop’s, so I’ve not received a reply from that. But we sent a letter specifically to him to ask him to ensure that 2015 Chogm has these matters brought to the table again.”

The offices of the foreign minister and the prime minister have been contacted for comment.

Britain's shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, singled out the host nation's stance on gay rights, the Press Association reported.

"Today's report from the Kaleidoscope Trust highlights the ongoing concern about human rights – and in particular the rights of the LGBT community – within Sri Lanka," Alexander said.

"New allegations in this report of abuses and intimidation of LGBT citizens are a further warning that President Rajapaksa's government has not made the progress ahead of this Commonwealth summit that we all wanted to see.

"As David Cameron departs for this week's Commonwealth summit, the evidence that Sri Lanka is heading in the wrong direction is mounting, which is why Labour has called on the prime minister to use what leverage he has in the run up to the summit to pressure the Sri Lankan government to change their approach on human rights."

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The prime minister and foreign secretary will make clear their concerns about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka when they visit Colombo this week.

"The Commonwealth Charter, agreed by all Commonwealth members, explicitly states that we are opposed to all forms of discrimination and it is important that all members live up these values. That is the message that we will be taking to the summit."


Plight of Sri Lanka's 'ghost' workers raises spectre of inequality and abuse

Unionisation of Sri Lanka's largely invisible domestic workforce may be the only way to end centuries of servitude

Yasmin Gunaratnam, Friday 8 November 2013 10.49 GMT      

With mounting pressure for a boycott of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Colombo this month, there has been media focus on allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses committed by the Sri Lankan government.

But away from the headlines, the country's Domestic Workers Union (DWU) has been highlighting a more mundane, but important, violation. This month, the union will present the labour department with its third draft of the regulation of domestic employees bill. The DWU wants the government to introduce the first comprehensive employment protection to domestic workers, who are predominantly from the Tamil minority.

There is long history of domestic work in Sri Lanka. These men and women are a part of a vulnerable and informal sector of employment, steeped in long-standing inequalities of race, caste and class. The country has no official statistics on the number of domestic workers and they have few legal safeguards or employment rights.

Although a vital part of the economy, domestic work does not contribute to the gross national product. But all of this could change if the union is successful in its lobbying for the bill, which includes a campaign launched in June that has collected more than 7,000 signatures.

This challenge by the DWU is part of an emerging international movement to bring domestic work out of the economic and moral shadows and into a human rights framework.

This week, the inaugural meeting of the International Domestic Workers Federation was held in Montevideo, Uruguay. The congress saw the launch of the Claiming Rights report, which seeks reform of national labour laws and more widespread ratification of the domestic workers convention of 2011. Sri Lanka is one of the countries that has not signed up to the convention.

The DWU is also breaking new ground in its organisational structures. Led by women, all leadership roles are hybridised, shared by an activist and a domestic worker, with the ultimate goal of empowering the workers to run the union themselves.

The activist leader of the DWU, Subramaniyam Anandi is a part of the Red Flag Women's Movement established by the feminist activist Menaha Kandasamy. When the women first met in 2005, Subramaniyam was 19 and unemployed. She was so lacking in confidence that her mother had to do all the talking for her during the interview.

Today Anandi, and her domestic worker counterpart Sarasagopal Sathiyawani, are adept public speakers and passionate in the belief that unionisation is the only way to end centuries of servitude. One of the early victories of the DWU was to shift attitudes by refusing to use the colloquial term velaikaari, or servant.

For Kandasamy, the unionisation of this workforce symbolises a significant cultural advance. Domestic work is based on feudal caste systems, further augmented by the plantation economy in which Tamil workers were brought to the island from South India during British rule in the eighteenth century.

Kandasamy, the daughter of a plantation worker and a trade unionist, is the former president – now general secretary – of the Ceylon Plantation Workers Union, one of the most powerful plantation unions on the island. During her term in office, she set up literacy and leadership training programmes and introduced policies to ensure women comprised 50% of delegates on estate committees.

"The plantations are wombs of inequality and domestic work," says Kandasamy. She points to the high rates of illiteracy and limited economic alternatives available to the largely Tamil workforce, who she estimates comprise more than 90% of domestic workers. A survey of 50 domestic workers by the Red Flag union in 2007 found low levels of education, with an average of five years of primary level schooling.

Through their campaigning work, the DWU has been uncovering the extent of physical, psychological and sexual abuse in the sector, to which live-in workers are the most vulnerable. For many of these employees, standard working conditions are meaningless. There are long working hours, no rest days and little privacy.

The DWU survey found that many live-in workers were confined to certain parts of the home, and most often slept on the kitchen floor. This room was also the primary site of sexual violence.

This everyday segregation and abuse is part of a deeper, symbolic violence in which the domestic worker is a ghostly presence in the household and national psyche. A constitutive element of this type of role is that the employee and her work should remain out of sight. For the DWU it is more important than ever, at this time of escalating repression in Sri Lanka, that the rights of the most vulnerable are made visible and defended.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, and foreign secretary, William Hague, are likely to ignore advice to boycott the Commonwealth summit, despite growing evidence of Sri Lanka's failure to uphold basic human rights. When the pair, other Commonwealth leaders and the world's media partake of the renowned hospitality of their Sri Lankan hosts, they would do well to consider just what this hospitality entails.

Yasmin Gunaratnam is a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London

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« Reply #9918 on: Nov 11, 2013, 07:43 AM »

November 11, 2013

Escalating Protests in Bangkok Raise Fears of Clashes


BANGKOK — The fractious and volatile politics that destabilized Thailand several years ago returned to Bangkok’s streets on Monday, with at least four large, simultaneous protests causing school closures and fears of clashes between rival groups.

The protests, some of them led by the country’s main opposition Democrat Party, were initially set off by the government’s proposed amnesty bill that would have eased the return of Thaksin Shinawatra, the polarizing former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.

But the daily demonstrations, which have escalated since they began more than a week ago, have taken a broader antigovernment tone. The protests have continued despite expectations that the Senate would reject the amnesty bill Monday and the government’s repeated claims that it would no longer support the legislation if it was voted down.

“The opposition to the amnesty bill has been deep and wide,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “It has now escalated into an effort to overthrow the government.”

Some of the antigovernment demonstrators have aligned themselves with nationalists who have vowed to defy any ruling they deem unfavorable by the International Court of Justice over who controls the land surrounding Preah Vihear Temple, which sits on a ridge along the Cambodian-Thai border.

In a circumscribed ruling, the court said Cambodia controlled one part of the area around the temple – the promontory on which it is located – but said it was beyond the scope of the case to rule over the larger disputed area.

Ownership of the temple and its surrounding areas, a dispute that started decades ago, is an emotional issue and has been used by politicians on both sides of the border to stoke nationalist feelings.

The protests have rattled the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Mr. Thaksin’s sister. Ms. Yingluck has repeatedly gone on national television to announce that the amnesty bill would not be considered in Parliament again and to plead with protesters to stop their demonstrations. The lower house of Parliament passed the bill this month, but members of the Senate said on Monday that they were confident the bill would be rejected.

The bill initially angered many of the governing party’s own supporters, known as Red Shirts, because along with Mr. Thaksin it would have pardoned those held responsible for the bloody crackdown on Mr. Thaksin’s followers in 2010, as well as overturning corruption cases. But the majority of Red Shirts now appear to have swung back to the government’s side and staged a demonstration with tens of thousands of supporters on Sunday.

Thai politics, which until recently had enjoyed relative calm during Ms. Yingluck’s more than two years in office, appear to have returned to the highly polarized and unpredictable deadlock between opponents and supporters of Mr. Thaksin.

One of Mr. Thaksin’s rivals, Sondhi Limthongkul, described the political conflict Monday as a battle of good and evil. In a measure of the current frustration with Thailand’s political problems, he repeated the call he made several years ago during the height of political protests that power should be “returned to the king.”

“I think Thailand must suspend the role of politicians for at least two to three years,” he said.

Mr. Thaksin, he said, was exercising power from abroad, including deciding who got major appointments in the government.

Mr. Thaksin, the founder and de facto leader of the governing party, Pheu Thai, has been weakened by the amnesty controversy, said Mr. Thitinan of the Institute of Security and International Studies. But Pheu Thai retains strong support, especially in northeastern Thailand, where a third of the electorate lives, Mr. Thitinan said.

Mr. Thaksin is “farther away than ever from coming home,” Mr. Thitinan said. “But the avenues to his return are not totally closed.”

Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting.


Protests as Thailand senators debate amnesty bill

Thousands rally in Bangkok over bill that could pave way for return of the self-exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra

Associated Press in Bangkok, Monday 11 November 2013 09.36 GMT   

Thailand's Senate convened a highly charged session on Monday to determine the fate of an amnesty bill, which could pave the way for the return of the self-exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thousands of protesters rallied across Bangkok, raising concerns of renewed political violence after three years of relative calm. Nearly 7,000 police officers were deployed around the parliament, near the main protest site.

Critics, led by the opposition Democrat party, say the bill is designed to whitewash the crimes of Thaksin, who fled Thailand in 2008 to escape corruption charges.

Since it was passed by the lower house on 1 November, the bill has set off demonstrations in Bangkok by both pro- and anti-government supporters.

"This could push the country's stability to the brink," the Bangkok Post said in a front-page editorial on Monday, one of many newspapers that called for calm.

The protests have been peaceful, but more than a dozen Bangkok schools located near protest sites closed on Monday or sent students home early, citing safety precautions and the inconvenience of traffic jams caused by the demonstrations.

Thaksin, whose sister Yingluck Shinawatra is prime minister, retains wide support, especially from rural voters who benefited from his populist policies. But seven years after being ousted in a military coup over allegations of corruption and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, he remains a highly polarising figure.

The Senate speaker has vowed to reject the bill to defuse the tension, and Yingluck has assured protesters that the ruling party will drop the legislation if the Senate strikes it down.

As Monday's debate got under way, the 149-seat Senate braced for a long day and night. Ninety senators requested speaking time and each was granted a 10-minute limit, meaning the debate could last 15 hours.

"I cannot accept this bill," said Senator Rosana Tositrakul, one of Thaksin's harshest critics. "Not only because the people have come out to oppose it, but because it is unconstitutional."

The original draft of the bill did not extend amnesty to the leaders of both the pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protests and the anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirt groups, but a house committee vote in mid-October changed the bill to include both. The last-minute change led to criticism that it was planned all along to apply to Thaksin.

The Senate debate coincided with another highly charged ruling on the unrelated matter of a territorial dispute with Cambodia, which has fuelled nationalist passions on both sides for decades. The UN's highest court is set to rule later on Monday on which country owns a patch of land near a 1,000-year-old temple at their shared border.

The two issue are unconnected but the government was concerned that protest leaders would use the temple ruling to stir up anti-government sentiment.

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« Reply #9919 on: Nov 11, 2013, 07:44 AM »

November 10, 2013

Service Sector Gaining Steam in Chinese Economy


HONG KONG — China, long the world’s factory, is becoming more service-oriented.

Sports apparel retailers like Li Ning, Anta Sports Products and 361 Degrees International have thousands of stores around the country. The Alibaba Group, founded in 1999, has swelled into an e-commerce giant, with more than 20,000 employees and sales of $1.7 billion in the second quarter of this year. And Tencent, which runs Web portals and chat services, has a market value of nearly $100 billion.

This is China’s economy growing up, maturing into a state where services play an increasing role as the population grows richer. China’s services sector has been growing steadily, and nonmanufacturing activity now accounts for about as large a percentage of the economy as the manufacturing sector – about 45 percent. (The remainder is agriculture.)

The development is being encouraged by the policy makers who are gathering in Beijing this week for a four-day meeting on how to overhaul China’s economy. Their goal is to reduce the dominance of heavy industry, manufacturing and investment in infrastructure, which for decades were the driving forces of China’s sizzling growth.

They have aimed to diversify the economy and foster more productive growth by raising the share of activity generated by the service sector, which spans areas as diverse as logistics, tourism, engineering, health care and information technology.

“The direction is pretty clear,” said Jian Chang, the China economist at the British bank Barclays. “They want to invigorate the service sector, which they see as a key source of future growth.”

China’s service sector is still small, in percentage terms, compared with those of Britain and the United States, where a vast array of services makes up almost 80 percent of the economy. But the sector has about doubled its share of the Chinese economy since 1980, according to the World Bank.

“The rebalancing of the economy,” Ms. Chang said, “is already underway.”

The swing has been driven largely by three decades of rapid economic growth that have left many of China’s 1.3 billion inhabitants able to spend more money well beyond necessities. Much of this extra spending power has gone into cars and refrigerators. But it has also fanned demand for movies, better health care, meals at fast-food restaurants, education and tutoring.

“Manufacturing will remain a key pillar of the economy, but at the margin, future growth will come from the services industry,” said Wang Tao, the economist for China at UBS. “As people get richer, they want more quality of life.”

More recently, the economic turmoil in the West has accentuated the shift by undermining demand for the toys, shoes, machinery and other goods that are churned out by the country’s export-dependent manufacturing sector. At the same time, the new leadership’s eagerness to rein in the excess capacities that plague parts of the Chinese economy has hit sectors like steel making.

Business surveys produced by the national statistics bureau have highlighted this divergence in recent months. While the index measuring activity in the manufacturing sector has been languishing for the past year, the nonmanufacturing index has held up relatively well.

The October reading, released this month, came in at 56.3. A reading above 50 signals expansion.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of this spending power is the tourism sector, which has exploded as China’s middle class has embraced domestic and foreign travel. Visitor numbers at the Great Wall, the karst mountains around Guilin and the seaside resorts of the island of Hainan have soared in recent years, as have the flights, hotels and bars that cater to travelers.

Air China, one of the country’s largest airlines, now carries more than twice as many passengers per month than it did five years ago.

Other areas have also grown.

International Sunshine Home, a day care center for children, which opened in the southeastern city of Xiamen in 2010, recently opened a second branch and is aiming to add one new branch a year over the next few years.

“The education sector is fairly recession-resistant,” said David Powell, principal of the daycare center. “Our customers think of education as an essential service.”

The flurry of activity is positive, not just from the point of view of rebalancing the economy, but also from the perspective of job creation, economists say.

Already, service sector companies employ more people in China than manufacturers. And the jobs generated by logistics centers, hotels, software companies and airlines tend to be not just numerous but also generally more suited to the millions who graduate from high schools and universities every year and who are reluctant to take jobs on factory assembly lines.

What is unclear, analysts say, is how fast the growth of the services sector will continue to be.

Bolstering the shift, along with rising wealth, is urbanization, which Beijing considers key to raising living standards, consumption and productivity and which will fan demand for services such as transportation, education and waste and traffic management.

What is more, the authorities are likely to try to smooth the path for service-sector companies and entrepreneurs. This could involve tax cuts, allowing more private-sector participation in some areas or cutting back on the paperwork that executives who do business in China often complain about.

Growth on those fronts, however, is going to take time, analysts caution. And while bars, beauty parlors and fast-food outlets have mushroomed, growth in other areas is likely to be constrained by political concerns and by opposition from established — often state-controlled — companies.

Take health care. Rising affluence and an aging population mean that demand for hospitals and health care centers will soar, increasing pressure on the authorities to increase supply by allowing private sector entities to play a bigger role.

But the sector is dominated by state-controlled companies, so any efforts to allow more competition are likely to run into vested interests, said Kevin Lai, an economist in the Hong Kong office of Daiwa Securities.

“They have been trying to reduce the reliance on manufacturing, but that does not mean they are willing to allow the private sector to participate in areas like education or the media,” he said.

Despite the resistance, the forces pushing for change — both from the top leadership and a growing middle class — are expected to increase the service sector’s share of the economy to 57 percent or more by 2030, said Louis Kuijs, the Royal Bank of Scotland’s chief China economist and a former China economist at the World Bank.

“The sector is going to be a big part of the China story going forward,” Mr. Kuijs said. “I think people will pay much more attention to it in the future.”

Lucy Chen contributed research from Beijing.

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« Reply #9920 on: Nov 11, 2013, 07:49 AM »

North Korea publicly executes 80 people, many for watching smuggled South Korean TV shows

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 11, 2013 2:47 EST

North Korea publicly executed around 80 people earlier this month, many for watching smuggled South Korean TV shows, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday.

The conservative JoongAng Ilbo cited a single, unidentified source, but at least one North Korean defector group said it had heard rumours that lent credibility to the front-page report.

The source, said to be “familiar” with the North’s internal affairs and recently returned from the country, said the executions were carried out in seven cities on November 3.

In the eastern port of Wonsan, the authorities gathered 10,000 people in a sports stadium to watch the execution of eight people by firing squad, the source quoted one eyewitness as saying.

Most were charged with watching illicit South Korean TV dramas, and some with prostitution.

Several of the cities, including Wonsan and Pyongsong in the west, have been designated as special economic zones aimed at attracting foreign investment to boost the North’s moribund economy.

The Seoul-based news website, Daily NK, which is run by North Korean defectors and has a wide network of sources, said it had no information on the executions.

But another defector-run website, North Korea Intellectual Solidarity, said its sources had reported several months ago on plans for a wave of public executions.

“The regime is obviously afraid of potential changes in people’s mindsets and is pre-emptively trying to scare people off,” said one website official.

Watching unsanctioned foreign films or TV — especially those from the capitalist South — is a serious offence in North Korea.

However, efforts to control their distribution have been circumvented by technology, with an increasing number being smuggled in on DVDs, flash drives and mp3 players.

As well as South Korean soap operas, US shows like Desperate Housewives are believed to have a small but avid following.

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« Reply #9921 on: Nov 11, 2013, 07:51 AM »

Syrian opposition and government sign up for conditional Geneva peace talks

Western-backed opposition to Assad regime makes strongest commitment yet in painful progress towards peace conference

Associated Press, Monday 11 November 2013 02.21 GMT   

The main Western-backed Syrian opposition group says it intends to join peace talks with the Syrian government, if conditions are met.

After a vote early on Monday in Istanbul, the Syrian National Coalition agreed to attend a proposed peace conference with President Bashar al-Assad's government. The US and Russia are trying to convene the talks in Geneva by the end of this year.

But according to a coalition statement, the group says representatives would attend only if the Syrian government allowed the creation of humanitarian corridors to reach besieged areas and if it released detainees, especially woman and children.

Excerpts of the statement were released by the office of Monzer Azbik, chief of staff to coalition chief Ahmed Jarba. The opposition group's vote to attend the Geneva talks came on the second day of meetings in Istanbul.

The statement made clear that the decision did not remove the coalition's demand that Assad step down in any transitional government.

"Bashar Assad will have no role in the transitional period and the future of Syria," it said.

The coalition is also expected to approve a list of cabinet of ministers presented by its interim prime minister, Ahmad Toumeh, who was elected in September.

The statement on the Geneva talks followed a deal on Sunday to ease a blockade on a rebel-held town near the Syrian capital, allowing food to reach civilians there for the first time in weeks, activists said.

That deal is the latest to be struck in recent months between Assad's government and disparate rebel groups in the conflict, now more than two and half years old.

The Western-backed group had called for goodwill measures from the Assad government, including lifting sieges on rebel-held areas. It wasn't clear whether the deal to ease the blockade on Qudsaya, near the capital, Damascus, was such a gesture, as neither rebels nor Syrian officials comment on such deals.

An activist group, the Qudsaya Media Team, confirmed the truce in a statement but gave few details. In an earlier statement this month, the group said local markets had run out of food, and the area's poorest residents were going hungry. It could not be immediately reached for comment.

Rami Abdurrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deal allowed food and flour to enter the town, under blockade since October. The Observatory monitors the conflict in Syria through a network of activists on the ground.

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« Reply #9922 on: Nov 11, 2013, 07:53 AM »

November 10, 2013

After Clashes With Saudis, Laborers Opt to Go Home


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Thousands of foreign laborers turned themselves over to the authorities in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to be sent to their home countries after a night of protests and clashes in which one foreigner and one Saudi were killed.

The protests were directed against a Saudi campaign to arrest and deport illegal immigrants who were given until last week to get valid work permits or leave the country. In recent days, the security forces have raided the work sites of large employers of foreign laborers and the neighborhoods where they live to round up violators.

Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Persian Gulf nations have long relied on large numbers of foreign laborers from Africa, Asia and elsewhere to keep their economies running by doing jobs like driving taxis and building skyscrapers as well as staffing hospitals, schools and universities.

Human rights organizations have accused the gulf countries of failing to protect the rights of foreigner laborers, many of whom pay large placement fees to get jobs and surrender their passports to those sponsoring them once they arrive.

On Sunday, François Crépeau, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, called on Qatar to abolish the sponsorship system for migrant laborers, saying it often leads to abuses.

Qatar, which is scheduled to host the 2022 World Cup, has increased its reliance on foreign workers to prepare for the event.

Mr. Crépeau told reporters in Qatar’s capital, Doha, that many foreign workers lived in subpar conditions, and he described one worker residence he had visited as a “slum,” Reuters reported.

Officials in gulf countries contend that no workers are forced to move to the region for jobs but that those who do can earn much more than they can at home.

The tensions in Saudi Arabia come amid a push to increase the percentage of Saudis in the country’s work force while reducing the number of foreigners.

The Saudi government announced an amnesty for foreign workers without proper work permits that ended on Nov. 4. On Saturday, clashes broke out between workers and police officers in a poor neighborhood in Riyadh, the capital, where many migrants live.

Saudi authorities said that scores of people were injured and that hundreds were detained; more than 100 cars were damaged. One Saudi and one unidentified person were killed, they said.

On Sunday, thousands of laborers, most of them from countries in East Africa, turned themselves over to the authorities. Some had paid smugglers to get them into the kingdom, while others had arrived legally but had changed jobs or not kept their employment documents up to date.

More than five million of Saudi Arabia’s 27 million inhabitants are foreigners, most of them low-paid laborers.

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« Reply #9923 on: Nov 11, 2013, 07:55 AM »

Venezuelan government 'occupies' store chain in price protest

Managers arrested and troops sent into shops as Nicolas Maduro's government cracks down on 'bourgeois parasites'

Reuters in Caracas, Sunday 10 November 2013 16.06 GMT   

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro's socialist government "occupied" a chain of electronics stores in a high-profile crackdown on what it regards as price-gouging that is crippling the country's economy.

Authorities arrested managers the five-store, 500-employee Daka chain, sent troops into the shops and forced the company to start selling products at cheaper prices.

That brought crowds of bargain-hunters to Daka outlets and sparked looting at one store in the central city of Valencia.

"Inflation's killing us. I'm not sure if this was the right way, but something had to be done," said Carlos Rangel, 37, who was among about 500 people queuing outside a Daka store in Caracas. "I think it's right to make people sell things at fair prices."

Maduro, who accuses rich businessmen and rightwing political foes backed by Washington of waging an economic "war" against him, said the occupation was simply the "tip of the iceberg" in a nationwide drive against speculators.

In a speech to the nation on Saturday, Maduro condemned the looting reported in Valencia but said it was an isolated incident and the real criminals were unscrupulous businessmen exploiting Venezuelans with unjustified price hikes.

"The ones who have looted Venezuela are you, bourgeois parasites," Maduro said, accusing Daka of raising some prices beyond 1,000% of cost.

He showed particular astonishment at a washing machine on sale for 54,000 bolivars (£5,350).

"We're going to comb the whole nation in the next few days. This robbery of the people has to stop," Maduro said. "You've not seen anything."

Illustrating that point, Maduro said government communications experts were blocking a clutch of websites that publish the illegal black-market price of the dollar. "They're going off the air!" he exclaimed, to applause from supporters.

Minutes after his announcement, however, some of the sites could still be seen by a Reuters reporter in Venezuela.

Maduro's move against Daka, after weeks of warnings of a pre-Christmas push against private businesses to keep prices down, recalled the sweeping and often theatrical takeovers during the 14-year government of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

The late president frequently took the nation by surprise announcing expropriations on live TV. He used soldiers to secure oil fields, power stations, supermarkets and other targets while nationalising large swaths of Venezuela's economy.

But Maduro, who took over in April after Chavez's death from cancer, has stopped short of any more of the outright nationalisations that characterised his mentor's rule.

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« Reply #9924 on: Nov 11, 2013, 07:58 AM »

November 10, 2013

A Brazilian Boom Town of ‘Eternal Beauty’ Faces Its Dark Side


SALVADOR, Brazil — Baroque architectural gems grace this city. Musicians enthrall audiences with high-octane performances reflecting Salvador’s status as a bastion of Brazil’s popular culture. Luxury residential towers overlook a stunning harbor. The industrial park on the city’s outskirts contains cutting-edge plants opened by Ford and other multinational corporations.

Salvador, the largest city in northeastern Brazil, a region that is still posting enviable economic growth even as the national economy slows, should have the wind at its back. But the boom here is producing another outcome: Instead of celebrating Salvador as its residents have long done — the writer Jorge Amado once called it a laid-back place of “eternal beauty” — many people here are increasingly revolted by their city.

In what may serve as a cautionary tale for other cities in the developing world, Salvador’s rising prosperity, on display in new shopping malls, sprawling megachurches and well-guarded gated communities, exists alongside a darker reality. A surge in violent crime has transformed Salvador into Brazil’s murder capital, motorists grapple with traffic that ranks among the most chaotic and violent of any South American city and resentment festers over the metamorphosis of once-elegant seaside districts into crime-ridden areas with abandoned buildings best described as ruins.

“Our political leaders are of such mediocrity that it is hard to comprehend,” said Antonio Risério, a writer and historian who has chronicled Salvador’s origins as Brazil’s first capital, from 1549 to 1763, and the cradle of African-Brazilian culture. “We’re not a failed city, but we’re a place where the middle class lives in fear,” added Mr. Risério, among the most acerbic critics of how Salvador has recently changed.

Salvador now has more homicides each year than any other Brazilian metropolis, including the megacity São Paulo, which is four times as large. The security breakdown has grown so acute and surreal this year that murder victims are being found beheaded, as in the case of a body found on a road to the airport, and tortured by mobs, as in the case of a rape suspect ambushed by residents in a slum called Bairro da Paz.

While inequality has persisted, rising incomes and access to credit helped double Salvador’s car fleet over the past decade to more than 750,000. But with highway projects stalled or nonexistent, and parts of Salvador still filled with colonial-era cobblestone streets and alleyways, road rage is intensifying.

This city of 2.9 million (the metropolitan area has almost five million) was stunned in October by a traffic skirmish in Ondina, one of Salvador’s most exclusive residential districts, as video cameras captured a 45-year-old ophthalmologist in an S.U.V. running down two siblings on a motorcycle, crushing them to death against the fence of a hotel.

Complicating Salvador’s mobility challenges are the public transportation debacles symbolized by a lavishly expensive subway system that somehow has never functioned. Brazilian construction companies began building the subway’s huge pillars of reinforced concrete, designed for commuter trains imported from Asia, in 1997.

The Brazilian authorities spent hundreds of millions of dollars of public money on the project and auditors found big cost overruns, but it was not completed. Sixteen years after construction began, officials finally said in October that they would spend $600 million more to get it running, but only after the 2014 World Cup when other Brazilian cities plan to showcase new transit systems.

Faced with such disarray, some in Salvador try to deflect criticism by noting statistics that show other cities in northeast Brazil, including Maceió and João Pessoa, with higher per-capita murder rates. And Salvador’s cultural offerings remain sublime, fitting for a city that propelled some of Brazil’s greatest singer-songwriters, like Caetano Veloso, and filmmakers to fame.

But many here bemoan comparisons with Recife, another city in the region that is the political base of Eduardo Campos, a contender in next year’s presidential elections, and has a lively cultural scene that produced “Neighboring Sounds,” Brazil’s critically acclaimed submission in the Oscar race for the best foreign film.

Salvador’s malaise is tainting its once vibrant tourism industry. In Barra, a waterfront area where surfers still catch waves off sun-kissed beaches, an Italian owner of a small hotel was bludgeoned to death in late 2010. In October, a 15-year-old Brazilian tourist was killed in the old city center by a stray bullet from a gun battle.

Even Pelourinho, the colonial-era district rich in gilded churches and historical monuments, is not immune. The area, revitalized in recent decades, still draws visitors. But while a special police unit seeks to prevent muggings and assaults, it is now commonplace in parts of Pelourinho to see teenagers in ragged clothing smoking crack cocaine in broad daylight.

Shaken by such dystopian scenes, alongside well-guarded pockets of affluence, citizens are grasping for strategies to lift the city from its decline. Antônio Carlos Magalhães Neto, the mayor and scion of a prominent political dynasty, did not even flinch when asked whether Salvador had become a “failed city,” as some residents contend.

“We’re in the process of recovering from that condition,” the 34-year-old mayor said in an interview.

Since taking office this year, Mr. Neto said, he has put in motion measures to raise revenues by increasing property taxes and hired the business consulting firm McKinsey & Company to find ways of improving the efficiency of the municipal bureaucracy. He put much of the blame for Salvador’s woes on his predecessor, João Henrique Carneiro, whose approval ratings had dipped into single digits before he left office after eight years.

The government of Bahia State has also come under criticism, especially over its efforts to fight crime. Robinson Almeida, a spokesman for Gov. Jacques Wagner, said rising prosperity in Salvador, the state capital, had accentuated some problems because more people were now able to afford illegal drugs.

“We’re suffering from a boom in crack cocaine consumption,” said Mr. Almeida, citing the widespread availability of the drug and estimates that more than half of all homicides in Salvador involved drug-related disputes. In some of Salvador’s deadliest slums, he said, new policing programs had begun to lower homicide rates.

Still, a stroll one afternoon last month through a sprawling patchwork of slums, Nordeste de Amaralina, where, Mr. Almeida said, officials had increased the police presence, the tenuous nature of crime-fighting policies was apparent.

Even though Nordeste de Amaralina has a “Security Community Base,” as Salvador’s new police outposts are called, a teenage boy wielding an automatic handgun approached a reporter and a photographer, inquiring why they were interviewing residents and taking pictures of the community.

The journalists’ guide, Paulo César Barreto, 44, calmed the boy down, explaining that the plan was to speak with relatives of homicide victims in Nordeste de Amaralina. Then he showed the visitors the spot where his brother, Gilson Barreto, a 33-year-old doorman, was shot dead in 2008, not by criminals but by the police.

“After they killed him, the police stole his identity documents and his money,” said Mr. Barreto, whose family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the officers involved in the episode. Investigators say the police planted a gun on the victim, fabricating an account that he had fired on them.

In the same neighborhood in 2010, Joel da Conceição Castro, a 10-year-old boy, was shot in the head by the police in what was described as a botched operation against drug traffickers. Before he was killed, Joel had starred in a television commercial promoting tourism in Salvador.

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« Reply #9925 on: Nov 11, 2013, 08:02 AM »

What is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle?

By Alok Jha, The Guardian
Sunday, November 10, 2013 9:02 EST

How the sun shines and why the vacuum of space is not actually empty

The uncertainty principle is one of the most famous (and probably misunderstood) ideas in physics. It tells us that there is a fuzziness in nature, a fundamental limit to what we can know about the behaviour of quantum particles and, therefore, the smallest scales of nature. Of these scales, the most we can hope for is to calculate probabilities for where things are and how they will behave. Unlike Isaac Newton’s clockwork universe, where everything follows clear-cut laws on how to move and prediction is easy if you know the starting conditions, the uncertainty principle enshrines a level of fuzziness into quantum theory.

Werner Heisenberg‘s simple idea tells us why atoms don’t implode, how the sun manages to shine and, strangely, that the vacuum of space is not actually empty.

An early incarnation of the uncertainty principle appeared in a 1927 paper by Heisenberg, a German physicist who was working at Neils Bohr‘s institute in Copenhagen at the time, titled “On the Perceptual Content of Quantum Theoretical Kinematics and Mechanics“. The more familiar form of the equation came a few years later when he had further refined his thoughts in subsequent lectures and papers.

Heisenberg was working through the implications of quantum theory, a strange new way of explaining how atoms behaved that had been developed by physicists, including Neils Bohr, Paul Dirac and Erwin Schrödinger, over the previous decade. Among its many counter-intuitive ideas, quantum theory proposed that energy was not continuous but instead came in discrete packets (quanta) and that light could be described as both a wave and a stream of these

quanta. In fleshing out this radical worldview, Heisenberg discovered a problem in the way that the basic physical properties of a particle in a quantum system could be measured. In one of his regular letters to a colleague, Wolfgang Pauli, he presented the inklings of an idea that has since became a fundamental part of the quantum description of the world.

The uncertainty principle says that we cannot measure the position (x) and the momentum (p) of a particle with absolute precision. The more accurately we know one of these values, the less accurately we know the other. Multiplying together the errors in the measurements of these values (the errors are represented by the triangle symbol in front of each property, the Greek letter “delta”) has to give a number greater than or equal to half of a constant called “h-bar”. This is equal to Planck’s constant (usually written as h) divided by 2π. Planck’s constant is an important number in quantum theory, a way to measure the granularity of the world at its smallest scales and it has the value 6.626 x 10-34 joule seconds.

One way to think about the uncertainty principle is as an extension of how we see and measure things in the everyday world. You can read these words because particles of light, photons, have bounced off the screen or paper and reached your eyes. Each photon on that path carries with it some information about the surface it has bounced from, at the speed of light. Seeing a subatomic particle, such as an electron, is not so simple. You might similarly bounce a photon off it and then hope to detect that photon with an instrument. But chances are that the photon will impart some momentum to the electron as it hits it and change the path of the particle you are trying to measure. Or else, given that quantum particles often move so fast, the electron may no longer be in the place it was when the photon originally bounced off it. Either way, your observation of either position or momentum will be inaccurate and, more important, the act of observation affects the particle being observed.

The uncertainty principle is at the heart of many things that we observe but cannot explain using classical (non-quantum) physics. Take atoms, for example, where negatively-charged electrons orbit a positively-charged nucleus. By classical logic, we might expect the two opposite charges to attract each other, leading everything to collapse into a ball of particles. The uncertainty principle explains why this doesn’t happen: if an electron got too close to the nucleus, then its position in space would be precisely known and, therefore, the error in measuring its position would be minuscule. This means that the error in measuring its momentum (and, by inference, its velocity) would be enormous. In that case, the electron could be moving fast enough to fly out of the atom altogether.

Heisenberg’s idea can also explain a type of nuclear radiation called alpha decay. Alpha particles are two protons and two neutrons emitted by some heavy nuclei, such as uranium-238. Usually these are bound inside the heavy nucleus and would need lots of energy to break the bonds keeping them in place. But, because an alpha particle inside a nucleus has a very well-defined velocity, its position is not so well-defined. That means there is a small, but non-zero, chance that the particle could, at some point, find itself outside the nucleus, even though it technically does not have enough energy to escape. When this happens – a process metaphorically known as “quantum tunneling” because the escaping particle has to somehow dig its way through an energy barrier that it cannot leap over – the alpha particle escapes and we see radioactivity.

A similar quantum tunnelling process happens, in reverse, at the centre of our sun, where protons fuse together and release the energy that allows our star to shine. The temperatures at the core of the sun are not high enough for the protons to have enough energy to overcome their mutual electric repulsion. But, thanks to the uncertainty principle, they can tunnel their way through the energy barrier.

Perhaps the strangest result of the uncertainty principle is what it says about vacuums. Vacuums are often defined as the absence of everything. But not so in quantum theory. There is an inherent uncertainty in the amount of energy involved in quantum processes and in the time it takes for those processes to happen. Instead of position and momentum, Heisenberg’s equation can also be expressed in terms of energy and time. Again, the more constrained one variable is, the less constrained the other is. It is therefore possible that, for very, very short periods of time, a quantum system’s energy can be highly uncertain, so much that particles can appear out of the vacuum. These “virtual particles” appear in pairs – an electron and its antimatter pair, the positron, say – for a short while and then annihilate each other. This is well within the laws of quantum physics, as long as the particles only exist fleetingly and disappear when their time is up. Uncertainty, then, is nothing to worry about in quantum physics and, in fact, we wouldn’t be here if this principle didn’t exist.

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« Reply #9926 on: Nov 11, 2013, 08:14 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Seattle police department has network that can track all Wi-Fi enabled devices

By Scott Kaufman
Sunday, November 10, 2013 14:17 EST

The Seattle Police Department purchased a “mesh network” in February that will be used by emergency responders, but which will also be capable of tracking anyone with Wi-Fi enabled device.

The network is not yet turned on, according to Seattle Police, but once it is, it will be able to determine the IP address, device type, downloaded applications, current location, and historical location of any device that searches for a Wi-Fi signal. The network is capable of storing that information for the previous 1,000 times a particular device attempted to access a Wi-Fi signal.

Jamela Debelak, of the American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU), is worried that police will use the network for more than just coordinating emergency responders. “They now own a piece of equipment that has tracking capabilities so we think that they should be going to City Council and presenting a protocol for the whole network that says they won’t be using it for surveillance purposes,” she told KIRO 7.

“Once these kinds of tools are in place, they don’t go away. Even if we assume that the mesh network was installed by good people for good reasons, there’s no reason to believe that the people controlling the network in the future will use it for the public good.”

Seattle City Councilmen Bruce Harrell assured KIRO 7 that the network would not be used for surveillance purposes. “While I understand that a lot of people have concerns about the government having access to this information,” he said, “when we have large public gatherings like the situation in Boston and something bad happens, the first thing we want to know is how are we using technology to capture that information.”

Moreover, he continued, “the council made it crystal clear that before the ‘on’ button is turned on, before it’s being used they have to go to the public.”

Debelak wonders why, if it’s not yet turned on, access points are already appearing around the city with names like “4th&Pike” and “3rd&Union.” Seattle police could not explain why.

The network was purchased with a $2.6 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security.


November 10, 2013

Health Website Tests a Tycoon and Tinkerer


WASHINGTON — Jeffrey D. Zients, a multimillionaire entrepreneur and management consultant, joined the Obama White House in 2009 with a mandate to streamline the federal bureaucracy. A year later, he issued a prescient warning.

The government “largely has missed out” on the information technology revolution, Mr. Zients said in a 2010 internal memo. “I.T. projects too often cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than they should, take years longer than necessary to deploy and deliver technologies that are obsolete by the time they are completed,” he wrote.

These days, Mr. Zients is witnessing that ineptitude up close as the emergency fix-it man charged with righting, the bungled online marketplace for medical insurance. He is to become President Obama’s top economic adviser in January, but first he is leading the so-called tech surge to haul into the 21st century. Ignoring friends who told him not to get mixed up in the website fiasco, Mr. Zients (pronounced ZYE-ents) promises it will run “smoothly for the vast majority of users” by the end of November — a schedule considered highly optimistic.

Mr. Obama’s reputation, and the electoral fortunes of Democrats, could hinge on the work of Mr. Zients, a man who has no hands-on technology experience — although he has advised health care companies on business practices. In the universe of experts who might have been called in for rescue work, Democrats close to the administration say, there were others perhaps more qualified than Mr. Zients, but he was the best of those Mr. Obama and an insular White House were comfortable with.

In an interview, Denis R. McDonough, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, called Mr. Zients a “force multiplier” who will deliver what he promises. He said the president had given Mr. Zients the same instructions he had given White House staff: “Get this fixed.”

Mr. Zients, who will turn 47 on Tuesday, made a fortune reported to be close to $200 million building two consultancies and taking them public. His wife, Mary, is from a prominent South African mining family — Nelson Mandela attended their wedding — and they live with their four children in Northwest Washington, where an Aston Martin is in the garage. A onetime high school wrestler at the capital’s elite St. Albans School, he is often described as ultracompetitive.

Now he works without pay “on a full-time, trust me, around-the-clock basis,” he told reporters in a conference call on Friday. Mr. Zients shuttles between a health care command center in suburban Herndon, Va., the White House and an office near the coffee machines on the third floor of the hulking Department of Health and Human Services building here, overseeing an effort that includes dozens of tech experts. They include Todd Park, the White House chief technology officer, who is under subpoena by House Republicans to testify at a hearing this week, and Michael Dickerson, an engineer on leave from Google who lists “herding cats” as a skill on his LinkedIn profile.

Administration officials say Mr. Zients, who declined to be interviewed, has intensified the pace at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency responsible for the website. He began work on Oct. 21, the same day Mr. Obama declared that “nobody is madder than me” about the site’s failures, and quickly set about drafting a “punch list” of problems to fix. It is updated daily.

Among other immediate changes, Mr. Zients recommended that the agency hire a general contractor to coordinate repairs, started daily telephone news briefings and instituted at the command center morning and evening “stand up meetings,” so named because each tech team member, in a military-style exercise in accountability, must stand while delivering a progress report.

Mr. Zients told reporters on Friday that the site was getting “better each week” but “remains very slow and sporadic for many users.” He said response times — how long users wait for a page to load — now average less than one second, down from eight seconds. The error rate — how often system failures prevent users from advancing to the next page — is 2 percent, down from 6 percent, Mr. Zients said.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said, still promising that he would meet his Nov. 30 deadline.

Even his supporters remain skeptical. “To try to come in, in six weeks, and sort something like this out — I just have a lot of sympathy for him,” said Joshua B. Bolten, a friend of Mr. Zients and a chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

Recruiting Mr. Zients was Mr. McDonough’s idea. It was mid-October, the federal government had just reopened after a 16-day shutdown, and inside the White House the president had made clear his anger over the faulty website. Mr. Zients, who had twice served as the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget and had a reputation as a troubleshooter, was “the obvious choice,” Mr. McDonough said. Also, “he was available.”

After his graduation from Duke University in 1988, Mr. Zients joined Bain Consulting in Boston but did not cross paths with Mitt Romney, who had left to found Bain Capital. By the early 1990s, Mr. Zients was back in Washington working for David Bradley, an entrepreneur who had founded the Advisory Board Company, which specialized in research for the health care industry, and later spun off a sister firm, the Corporate Executive Board. During Mr. Zients’s first week on the job, Mr. Bradley put him in charge of new product research. He promptly proposed reorganizing Mr. Bradley’s team.

“I was 37, and he was 24,” Mr. Bradley said. “I was the C.E.O. and our owner. He had not spent five full days with me, yet he had it right.”

Mr. Zients ultimately ran both companies, which went public a decade ago. Mr. Bradley now owns Atlantic Media, which publishes The Atlantic and National Journal; Mr. Zients founded a small private equity firm, Portfolio Logic, which has a stake in PSA Healthcare, a pediatric home health business, and a San Francisco messenger bag company. The position of the White House is that Mr. Zients’s health care investment is not a conflict of interest.

Mr. Zients made Fortune magazine’s list of the 40 richest Americans under 40 in 2002, was part of a group that tried and failed to buy the Washington Nationals baseball team in 2005 and arrived at the White House as the nation’s first chief performance officer in 2009. He was often deployed to clean up bureaucratic messes, like the malfunctioning “Cash for Clunkers” website, which offered rebates when consumers traded in old cars for more fuel-efficient ones.

Another time, Mr. Zients took a team to St. Louis to sort out an embarrassing backlog in G.I. Bill payments and spent the flight back sketching out an action plan with “a daily management report card,” recalled Aneesh Chopra, who was then the White House chief technology officer.

But Mr. Zients still had limited success changing the culture of the government’s lumbering bureaucracy, said Paul C. Light, an expert on public service at New York University. Mr. Zients’s effort to reorganize the Commerce Department in 2011 hit roadblocks on Capitol Hill. Professor Light recalled encouraging him to propose bolder changes in government, only to be told, “We’ve got to start small and prove that we can get something done.”

As work on the website proceeds, some experts, including Jon Kingsdale, who ran the online Massachusetts health exchange, say Mr. Zients or another management expert should stay on permanently. Mr. McDonough said the White House had made no decision about that.

At a minimum, said William M. Daley, a former Obama White House chief of staff, Mr. Zients must meet his own deadline.

“When you’re brought in to be the fireman,” Mr. Daley said, “the fire had better go out.”


November 10, 2013

For 2014, G.O.P.’s Challenges Stem From Within


BEDFORD, Pa. — Art Halvorson makes for an unlikely Republican primary challenger to a six-term incumbent like Representative Bill Shuster. He is a newcomer to this quiet corner of south-central Pennsylvania who retired here after a long Coast Guard career.

But in the throw-out-the-bums anger percolating in the election cycle now underway, Mr. Halvorson, 58, believes he might have a shot to displace a name that has occupied this House seat since Mr. Shuster’s father won it in 1972. After two House elections dominated by the small-government philosophy of the Tea Party, 2014 may be driven by a less ideological but more emotional sentiment: clean house.

“People don’t remember a time before the Shusters,” Mr. Halvorson said. “They created an aristocracy, and people are so accustomed to that’s the way politics is done around here, they don’t see how he can be toppled. I’ve got to show leadership’s what’s important, not seniority, and longevity is not leadership.”

The outcome of this and at least 17 other primaries next year may have a negligible impact on Republican control of the House. Few would suggest that Pennsylvania’s Ninth Congressional District is in danger of slipping into Democratic hands. But in the heated battle over the ideological future of the Republican Party, races like this one could alter the complexion of the Republican caucus in the House — and Washington’s ability to govern in President Obama’s final years in office.

“That’s the narrative everybody wants to know: What’s the Republican Party going to look like after Ted Cruz Tea Party people get done with it?” Mr. Halvorson asked, eschewing the Tea Party label even as he adopts many of its campaign tropes. “Who’s going to have the ascendancy?”

From Tennessee to Michigan to Oregon, House Republicans are facing an onslaught of primary challenges. But unlike the last two election cycles, there is almost no ideological pattern to the contests.

Representatives Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee — all Tea Party lawmakers in good standing — are threatened by potential challengers backed by business groups and their more traditional Republican allies. Those challenges are not so much from the party’s left but more from a new breed of candidates hoping to “professionalize” a House Republican caucus whose image has been battered by the turmoil in Washington.

Even the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, has drawn a credible challenger from the party’s right, Dennis Linthicum, the chairman of the Klamath County Board of Commissioners.

“Somebody has to get serious about looking at spending, the growth of government, the regulatory aspects that discourage business and risk-taking,” said Mr. Linthicum, who called Mr. Walden a “statist” who “would prefer to keep government in the size, shape and fashion in which it currently exists.”

How such contests resolve themselves could leave the House Republican caucus either more uncompromisingly conservative in 2015 or more committed to governance and compromise.

“It’s an offshoot of the decline in competitive districts because of redistricting,” said David Wasserman, a House analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “There are fewer fights to pick with the other party, so there are going to be more fights within your party.”

In some sense, the fight for the heart of the House Republican caucus began last Tuesday in Alabama, when Bradley Byrne, a business-backed former state senator, fought off a Tea Party-supported firebrand to win a special House election in Mobile.

In Tennessee, Mr. DesJarlais has maintained his Tea Party bona fides since the 2010 wave swept him into Congress. But the taint of scandal has followed him since divorce records exposed accusations of violent behavior as well as a telephone transcript indicating that as a practicing doctor he had an affair with a patient and encouraged her to get an abortion. Another former patient emerged last year to say that she, too, had had an affair with Mr. DesJarlais and had smoked marijuana with him.

The hits have kept coming since then, and State Senator Jim Tracy is now considered the favorite in the primary fight in August.

In Michigan, business-backed candidates are challenging Mr. Amash and Mr. Bentivolio, two black sheep of the House Republican conference. Mr. Amash has electrified the libertarian wing of the Republican Party with his crusade against domestic spying, his willingness to challenge his party’s defense hawks and his opposition to even the most austere budget plans of his leadership, which he invariably condemns as timid taps at the Big Government edifice.

But his showy image as the House’s “Dr. No” has angered the button-down business community of Grand Rapids, long used to the quiet conservatism of Vernon J. Ehlers, a physicist who held the seat for 16 years without making much of a ripple. Brian Ellis, a Grand Rapids businessman, has won the support of several high-profile businesspeople.

“He’s not a conservative Republican; he’s a libertarian,” Mr. Ellis said of his opponent, insisting that a district that turned in 2010 to a Ron Paul-inspired provocateur from Mr. Ehlers has not changed as much as its representation has. “I’m putting my campaign on the line to say that’s not the case, and we’re going to find out.”

Mr. Amash’s campaign is ready for the fight.

“Brian Ellis’s pro-earmark, pro-corporate welfare and pro-N.S.A.-surveillance positions are out of touch with most Americans, especially Republican primary voters,” said Will Adams, a spokesman for the congressman.

On the other side of Michigan, Mr. Bentivolio is an accidental congressman, elected last year after the popular Republican incumbent, Thaddeus McCotter, resigned suddenly because most of the signatures his campaign had collected to put him on the ballot were proved fraudulent.

Mr. Bentivolio, who once raised reindeer, starred in a homemade movie that accused George W. Bush of planning the Sept. 11 attacks and once said in court he sometimes could not tell whether he was Kerry Bentivolio or Santa Claus. But as the only Republican left on the ballot, he won.

In his year in office, he has kept a low profile. But the Eastern Michigan establishment is still seeking to oust him, and its members are backing a lawyer and businessman, Dave Trott.

In Bedford, Pa., the division between Tea Party and establishment candidates lay bare as Mr. Halvorson went door to door. As he sipped a drink at the HeBrews Coffee Company, Linda McElroy, 66, and two friends eyed the candidate warily. They were never big fans of Mr. Shuster, but after the recent government shutdown, Ms. McElroy, from New Paris, Pa., said she had a new appreciation for establishment figures like her congressman.

“Before, I would’ve never voted for Shuster,” she said. “I probably will this time. I think the Tea Party is frightening.”

But other voters were receptive to Mr. Halvorson’s pitch for change. Tim Sotirokos, 48, lamented Mr. Shuster’s big-spending ways. Gilbert Davis, 54, seethed about the hint of aristocracy in the Shuster name.

“We need something more conservative, something more like what the Tea Party’s all about, low taxes, less government,” he said.

On Jodi Baraniak’s stately front porch, not far from the Bud Shuster Byway, Mr. Halvorson made his appeal for smaller government. Ms. Baraniak, a 44-year-old lab technician, fretted about a straining middle class.

“I don’t understand why we’re hurting our own people,” she said, worrying that the government was trying to support too many people on the backs of too few taxpayers. “We’re not communists, are we?”

Mr. Halvorson was only mildly encouraging. “Not yet,” he said.


November 10, 2013

Conservative Republicans Recoil at the Notion That Christie Is the Party’s Savior


Time magazine splashed Chris Christie’s profile on its latest cover. High-profile Republicans, including the only female Hispanic governor in the nation, are urging him to run for president. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program seems to be anointing him the savior of the Republican Party.

Everyone, it seems, is celebrating the ascent of Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey. Except people like Scott Hofstra.

“We’re so frustrated with all this Christie talk we can’t see straight,” said Mr. Hofstra, who is active in the Tea Party movement and lives in Vine Grove, Ky. He and his friends were especially furious when the governor, on television last week, described himself as “a conservative,” given his recent expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, among other positions.

“He’s no more conservative than Harry Reid,” Mr. Hofstra said, referring to the Senate majority leader, a Democrat.

Mr. Christie’s landslide victory in New Jersey was just days ago, but the conversation about him is moving swiftly beyond the borders of his state. Three years before the presidential election, a governor who was almost a complete unknown until he became a YouTube sensation in 2010 has become not only a political celebrity but also a deeply polarizing force within his party.

To many in the conservative movement, Mr. Christie represents the kind of candidate the Republican establishment has foisted on the base in recent presidential elections — a media darling whose calling card is that elusive quality of electability and whose adherence to the party’s principles is suspect.

The more the news media and the establishment cheer on Mr. Christie, the more grass-roots activists — especially members of the Tea Party — resent it. Mr. Christie appeared this weekend on four of the Sunday morning talk shows. Chuck Henderson, a Tea Party activist from Manhattan, Kan., nearly shouted into the phone when asked by a reporter about the idea of Mr. Christie as a presidential candidate.

“He won his re-election, bully for him, but for him to make the jump up the next rung of the ladder, well, he’s not going to find any support from the people I mix with,” Mr. Henderson said.

A national poll conducted in September by Quinnipiac University underscored the pattern: While 46 percent of self-described moderates have a positive view of Mr. Christie and only 15 percent have a negative view, among conservatives, 33 percent view him favorably and 25 percent have an unfavorable impression.

Those around Mr. Christie are aware of the unease among conservatives and are beginning to emphasize his positions on issues like abortion — he is opposed to it, except in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother — and state spending to try to blunt those concerns.

The governor’s standing among conservatives is important because Iowa and South Carolina, two of the first three states in the Republican presidential nominating contest, are dominated by ideology-driven activists. In addition, grass-roots activists are providing much of the passion and energy for the Republican party right now.

In an interview last week, Mr. Christie said if conservatives had questions about his principles, they ought to examine his record.

“Watch me govern,” he said. “I’ve cut taxes, cut spending, reformed pensions and benefits. Believe me, if Washington were able to do that, they’d have a parade for them. My record is my record. I’m proud of it. And it is a conservative record, governing as a conservative in a blue state.”

But Mr. Christie’s record can be read a number of ways. Some conservatives have already raised questions about his actions on gun control: He vetoed several bills last summer, including one that would ban the .50-caliber Barrett rifle, but has approved others, such as a measure that requires the police to provide the state with more information about guns used in crimes. And while he has made known his opposition to same-sex marriage, he abandoned an appeal of a court decision that legalized it in his state. During his re-election campaign, he also suggested he may support providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

With a civil war underway inside the Republican Party, what conservatives fear most is that Mr. Christie’s nomination would effectively mean that the party establishment had won the internal struggle — and that Mr. Christie’s force of personality trumped ideas.

Asked in an interview whether Mr. Christie could unite the party’s factions, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, responded flatly: “No. I don’t think Chris Christie has any interest in bridging that divide because he’ll run as an aggressive, Northeastern moderate who can get something done. I don’t see him using conservative language. He might be able to get nominated, but it will be running as a personality leader, not a movement leader.”

To an influential bloc of the Republican establishment, of course, Mr. Christie is nothing short of a savior — a charismatic governor with not a whiff of Washington on him, with a proven ability to get votes from the constituencies that have proved resistant to the Republican Party in recent elections, like women and Hispanics.

The excitement is especially noticeable among many party operatives, contributors and insiders, who see Mr. Christie as perhaps their only bet to defeat Hillary Clinton if former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida does not run.

“I think he should definitely consider running for president, and I think he will find there’s an enormous, an enormous, amount of pressure from people who want to support him,” said former Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi.

Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, who spent the final days of Mr. Christie’s re-election campaign stumping for him in New Jersey, said, “I love his authenticity, I love who he is,” and added an unprompted endorsement: “I will support Governor Christie in anything he decides to do in life.”

But Mr. Christie’s foes have clout, too. Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk show host, has mockingly suggested that Mr. Christie will run for president as a Democrat, and the conservative website impresario Matt Drudge has made clear he has little regard for him. “McAuliffe, De Blasio and Christie: Triple feature in a Republican’s nightmare,” Mr. Drudge said in a Twitter post after the results of Tuesday’s elections, grouping Mr. Christie with the Democratic governor-elect of Virginia and the Democratic mayor-elect of New York City.

For all the grumbles about Mr. Christie’s positions on issues like same-sex marriage, for example, or even griping about his embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy, the underlying issue with the right wing appears to be trust: Many are skeptical that he is committed to advancing the conservative movement, much as they came to be about President George W. Bush.

They also worry that any campaign by Mr. Christie is destined to be centered entirely on his pugnacious style, rather than a broader Republican agenda.

“Personality campaigns that get the political establishment all hot and bothered tend not to work in the G.O.P. primaries,” said Craig Shirley, a conservative historian who has written about Ronald Reagan’s campaigns. “At least not for very long.”

“Christie needs a signature issue and he needs to resist the temptation to go to war with the conservatives and the Tea Party,” Mr. Shirley said.

To many in the party’s grass roots, though, it may not matter what Mr. Christie does.

“We want somebody special, a real limited-government conservative,” said Eric Stamper, a Tennessee Tea Party activist. “I don’t think that’s him.”


November 10, 2013

Texas and 5 Other States Resist Processing Benefits for Gay Couples


On the morning of Sept. 3, the first day the Pentagon said they could, Alicia Butler and her wife, Judith Chedville, who is a Texas Army National Guard officer, went to Austin’s Camp Mabry so Ms. Butler could get a military spouse identification card and register for the same federal marriage benefits provided to wives and husbands of heterosexual service members.

The two women handed a sheaf of official papers, including their 2008 California marriage license, to a clerk who glanced at the documents and declared, “It’s one of those.” She then called over her boss, who told the couple that they would have to travel to a federal military base like Fort Hood, 70 miles to the north, to get the ID, Ms. Butler recalled.

The reason: Texas is one of six states refusing to comply with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s order that gay spouses of National Guard members be given the same federal marriage benefits as heterosexual spouses. Mr. Hagel’s decree, which applies to all branches of the military, followed the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act that had prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

While a majority of states ban same-sex marriages, most are not fighting the new policy. But Pentagon officials say that in addition to Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia have balked. Each has cited a conflict with state laws that do not recognize same-sex marriages. (A West Virginia official said, however, that the state intended to follow the directive.) While the president has the power to call National Guard units into federal service — and nearly all Guard funding comes from the federal government — the states say the units are state agencies that must abide by state laws.

Requiring same-sex Guard spouses to go to federally owned bases “protects the integrity of our state Constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people,” Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma said last week.

But the six states are violating federal law, Mr. Hagel told an audience recently. “It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice,” he said. Mr. Hagel has demanded full compliance, but Pentagon officials have not said what steps they would take with states that do not fall in line.

Though the government does not keep official figures on same-sex marriages in the military, the American Military Partner Association, which advocates for gay service members, estimates that the number could be 1,000 or more of the nearly half-million National Guard members nationwide, said Chris Rowzee, a spokeswoman for the group.

The military grants a range of significant benefits to the spouses of active-duty guardsmen, including the right to enroll in the military’s health insurance program and to obtain a higher monthly housing allowance. Spouse IDs allow unescorted access to bases with their lower-priced commissaries.

Officials in the six states say they are not preventing same-sex spouses from getting benefits, because those couples can register and receive IDs through federal bases. But those officials conceded that many couples would have to travel hours round trip to the nearest federal installation. Advocates for gay service members, though, fear that some benefits offered on bases, like support services for relatives of deployed service members, could still be blocked.

Moreover, gay spouses say that in an age that saw the scrapping of the military’s ban on openly gay service members, it is discriminatory — and humiliating — to have to jump through extra hoops to receive benefits.

Ms. Butler, a plaintiffs’ lawyer in Austin, has had to navigate other tricky legal rules during her relationship with Ms. Chedville, who is now a first lieutenant in the Texas Army National Guard and works as a civilian nurse in Austin.

After they started dating, Ms. Chedville deployed to Iraq in 2003 to help repair air bases, but the women had to keep quiet about their relationship because the ban, known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” was still law. Five years later, they went to California to get married before a state referendum, Proposition 8, banned same-sex marriages. (Proposition 8 was later overturned.)

Ms. Butler is critical of state officials who say they are causing only a minor inconvenience because all the same-sex spouses have to do is travel to a federal base. The reasoning behind that notion, she said, was similar to that of the Southern states that once required separate — but what state officials then insisted were “equal” — water fountains and bathrooms.

“Sometimes it’s about the indignities you make people go through,” Ms. Butler said. “It’s a petty way to score political points.”

Aides to Gov. Rick Perry, who is not running for re-election but has not ruled out another presidential bid in 2016, told the commander of the Texas Military Forces (the state’s National Guard) that his “is a state agency and as such is obligated to adhere to the Texas Constitution and the laws of this state, which clearly define marriage as being between one man and one woman,” said Josh Havens, a Perry spokesman.

The state Guard commander, Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, “wants to support all his soldiers and treat them all equally and fairly, but he cannot break state law,” said his spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, who serves in the Texas Army National Guard. She said at least 20 federal installations in Texas were processing the benefits, while Camp Mabry and four other Guard bases on state property were not.

General Nichols has asked the state attorney general, Greg Abbott, to issue an opinion on whether there is a way to adhere to Mr. Hagel’s demand. Mr. Abbott, a Republican vying to succeed Mr. Perry next year, may not issue an opinion for some months. According to early polls, Mr. Abbott’s toughest challenge next year is likely to be in the general election against State Senator Wendy Davis, a Democrat who has supported equal treatment of gay people in the workplace.

If Mr. Abbott rules that state officials are allowed to issue IDs to same-sex Guard couples, would Mr. Perry let General Nichols proceed? Mr. Havens, the Perry spokesman, said they would “cross that bridge” later.


November 10, 2013

Supreme Court to Take Up Challenges to Union Practices


Labor leaders and businesses are closely watching a Supreme Court case to be argued this Wednesday that involves a popular strategy used by unions to successfully organize hundreds of thousands of workers.

That strategy — widely deployed by the Service Employees International Union and the Unite Here hotel workers union — involves pressuring an employer into signing a so-called neutrality agreement in which the employer promises not to oppose a unionization drive. By some estimates, more than half of the recent successful unionization campaigns involve such agreements, which sometimes allow union organizers onto company property to talk with workers.

Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor law at Harvard Law School, said the case before the Supreme Court was potentially “the most significant labor case in a generation.”

Professor Sachs said that if the court ruled against labor, it could significantly hobble efforts by private sector unions to organize workers. He added that the other big labor case the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this session could have a significant impact on public sector unions. In that case, a home-care worker has asked the court to rule that the state of Illinois violated her First Amendment rights by requiring her to pay “fair share” fees, much like dues, to a union she did not support.

In the case being argued on Wednesday, Unite Here Local 355 vs. Mulhall, an employee of Mardi Gras Gaming in Florida sued Unite Here, asserting that its neutrality agreement with the company was illegal. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled in his favor, finding that the agreement was a “thing of value” that federal labor law bars employers from giving to any union or union official.

Unite Here appealed, urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Eleventh Circuit and instead embrace rulings of the Third and Fourth Circuits, which have held that such agreements were not illegal things of value.

Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, which filed a supporting brief with the Supreme Court, applauded the Eleventh Circuit and denounced neutrality agreements, asserting that they are the type of improper “thing of value” that employers are prohibited from giving to unions.

“A lot of small employers don’t have the resources to fight back if they’re the subject of a union campaign to get them to sign a neutrality agreement,” she said. “We are concerned that neutrality agreements are nothing more than extortion. The way they’re being used by unions, the unions say, ‘We promise not to trash your reputation or do X, Y, Z, if you sign this agreement.' ”

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which helped the Mardi Gras employee, Martin Mulhall, bring the case, said another prevalent union tactic — in which unions get employers to agree to use “card check” rather than a secret ballot election to determine whether a majority of workers want a union — should also be considered an illegal thing of value. With card check, union organizers ask workers to sign cards saying they support a union and if a majority of workers sign them, the union presents the cards to the employer so the employer will recognize the union.

As part of its neutrality agreement, Mardi Gras Gaming agreed to permit card check. In exchange Unite Here pledged to back a casino gambling ballot initiative, spending more than $100,000 on the effort, and not to picket or strike Mardi Gras during its unionization drive.

Craig Becker, general counsel of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said the Right to Work group’s legal theory to bar such agreements “would criminalize a large swath of ordinary, voluntary labor-management relations.”

“Under their theory,” Mr. Becker said, “parties cannot agree to this, the employer can’t give it unilaterally and the union can’t even ask for it. The implications are really sweeping.”

Mr. Becker argued that when Congress barred employers from giving union officials a “thing of value,” the legislation was intended to prohibit gifts like Cadillacs that could improperly influence officials. He said neutrality agreements should not be considered such corrupt “things of value” that the law addressed, asserting that if a neutrality agreement were to be barred under the law, so should a 3 percent raise that an employer awarded a union.

Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee, said card check agreements were inherently corrupt because they denied workers a secret ballot vote. His group argues that card checks should not be allowed, because workers can be pressured to sign the cards. But card check supporters said that the National Labor Relations Board had allowed card checks for more than 70 years.

Mr. Sachs noted that some conservative legal scholars were uncomfortable with efforts to bar neutrality agreements because that would inhibit employers’ freedom to make contracts — in this case, with a union to in theory assure smooth labor relations.

The other labor case, Harris v. Quinn, involving the home-care worker, stems from a 2003 executive order issued by Rod Blagojevich, the governor of Illinois at the time, stating that thousands of home-care workers who helped disabled individuals at home were public employees — Medicaid funds pay for their salary — who had the right to unionize. Later that year a majority of 20,000 Illinois home-care workers voted to choose the Service Employees as their union. Workers who joined the union had to pay union dues, while the state required those who opted not to join to pay “fair share” fees to help finance union representation.

Pamela Harris, a home-care aide, sued the state, objecting to the fees. The Service Employees International Union receives an estimated $3 million a year in dues and fees from the state’s home-care workers. In petitioning the Supreme Court to hear the case, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee, said the case involved “a new and pernicious form of compelled expressive association” that violated Ms. Harris’s First Amendment rights.

Ms. Harris also challenged the legality of the state’s declaring that it was the home-care aides’ employer.

Unions have pushed Illinois, California and other states to declare that home-care aides are public employees under the theory that the state is a joint employer, along with the family of the person using the aide. The stamp of public-employee status helps unionize these workers, and, unions argue, gives a collective voice to thousands of home-care workers scattered across a state.

Ms. Harned objected to the categorization of the state as employer. “The bottom line is you are seeing another entrepreneurial tactic by unions to advance their agenda,” she said.

If the court rules that Illinois wrongly declared that home-care aides are public employees, unions could lose several hundred thousand members because the ruling could dissolve the union for home-care aides in Illinois and similar unions in other states.

Union lawyers voiced concern that the court would be guided by an earlier decision, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. Writing for the majority in June 2012, he stated that the primary purpose of letting unions collect fees from nonmembers was to prevent so-called free-riding in which workers shared in the benefits of having a union without sharing the costs incurred. Justice Alito wrote, “Such free-rider arguments, however, are generally insufficient to overcome First Amendment objections.”

Mr. Sachs said that for the Supreme Court to rule that the fees home-care aides pay to unions violate the First Amendment, it must overturn Abood, a 1977 Supreme Court decision involving Detroit schoolteachers. Mr. Sachs noted that the court ruled in 1990 that California lawyers could be required, without violating the First Amendment, to pay bar association dues used to regulate the legal profession and improve the quality of legal services — although they cannot be required to contribute to the bar association’s political activities.

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« Reply #9927 on: Nov 12, 2013, 07:08 AM »

11/12/2013 01:25 PM

Germans Rejected: US Unlikely to Offer 'No-Spy' Agreement

By Melanie Amann, Hubert Gude, Jörg Schindler and Fidelius Schmid

Senior German intelligence officials met with their NSA and CIA counterparts in the US last week to start trust-rebuilding efforts between the estranged allies. While a "no-spy" agreement seems unlikely, Merkel might learn what Snowden could still reveal.

Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency, and Gerhard Schindler, director of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the country's foreign intelligence agency, had a great deal they wanted to discuss last Monday when they entered the square, black building in Fort Meade, Maryland, that is headquarters to America's National Security Agency (NSA). The two German emissaries had quite a few questions concerning the American wiretapping that has caused such damage to sensitive German-American relations. Since when was Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone monitored, they wanted to know, and has that surveillance truly ended? Which members of the government were or still are affected by the NSA's spying program? And how can trust be rebuilt?

In a bug-proof, windowless room, NSA Director Keith Alexander gave his two "dear" guests a demonstratively warm reception. He spent around an hour engaging in the straight talk they sought. But, in terms of content, the American general didn't give the two top German officials much. Asked about the accusations of espionage, he apologized and said he couldn't say anything about that. Nor did the visitors learn whether an extension on the roof of the US Embassy in Berlin, right near the Brandenburg Gate, actually houses spying equipment.

Going in, the two German intelligence agency directors knew it would be tough to wrest any information from the Americans, who according to Merkel's chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, have now acknowledged "the political dimension" of reporting done on this subject. Still, the meeting last Monday quickly demonstrated just how bumpy the road to rebuilding trust will be, especially since Maassen and Schindler didn't achieve any movement at all on the other request they approached their American partners with: the German government's desire for an agreement to refrain from spying on each other.

There won't be a "no-spy" agreement was the message the two German emissaries received both at the NSA and subsequently in Langley, Virginia, where they met with CIA Director John O. Brennan. At most, the US is willing to consider a vague agreement between the intelligence services, which currently exists in a draft version. As the lead negotiator on the German side, BND Director Schindler plans to hammer out the exact wording of the agreement via video conferences with the NSA in the coming weeks.

Vague Promises

This paper, provisionally called a "cooperation agreement," is only two passages long. The first spells out areas in which the intelligence services wish to work together closely. These include such global topics as counterterrorism, nuclear proliferation, human trafficking and cybercrime. This is the easy part, since both sides already collaborate closely in these areas.

The paper's second part has proven much harder. This section addresses the sensitive matter of espionage and potential no-spy accords. But the US is offering very little leeway here. The country's concerns are understandable, since explicitly renouncing espionage operations amounts to admitting to past misdoings. Another concern here is that if a binding no-spy agreement were implemented, it would be impossible to keep it secret, and its existence would be sure to whet the appetite of other nations as well.

The German Chancellery is taking a realistic view of the matter. As much as Berlin might wish for a substantive agreement, perhaps even one binding under international law, it's clear that this isn't in the cards. And pushing the wrangling over the issue to extremes isn't an option, according to one senior German intelligence official, owing to "the importance of the trans-Atlantic alliance."

In any case, the plan is to have a document that will reorganize the relationship between the intelligence agencies complete and ready for signing by the end of the year. German intelligence sources say the US is prepared to engage in "a new form of collaboration." As close to the same time as possible, the German government also wants to issue a joint declaration at the government level, meaning either between the German Foreign Ministry and the US State Department or between the Chancellery and the Oval Office. There won't, however, be any kind of agreement that would require approval by the German parliament and US Congress.

Whatever happens, experts in the field are questioning what the actual value of a no-spy agreement would be. "It would serve first and foremost to calm the waters with the general public," says Daniel-Erasmus Khan, a professor of international law at the Bundeswehr University in Munich. From a legal standpoint, Khan says, the situation is already clear: "It goes without saying that NSA employees must abide by German law while on German soil, even if they enjoy diplomatic status." And under German law, he explains, tapping Merkel's mobile phone would be illegal no matter who does it -- Germans, Americans or diplomats of any nationality.

Tipping Off on Potential Surprises

Meanwhile, just how much the NSA knows about internal German government matters remains unknown, even following Maassen and Schindler's visit to the US. There are "no known cases beyond those currently being reported in the media" of the NSA or any other intelligence agency spying on German ministries or other authorities, the German Interior Ministry stated in response to an official inquiry from German parliamentarian Jan Korte of the left-wing Left Party.

The opposition in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, calls this too little knowledge and too much ignorance. "Either the German government doesn't grasp the problem at all, or it considers this system of spying fundamentally proper and thus isn't taking action," Korte says, adding that he finds either state of affairs completely unacceptable. "We demand a comprehensive investigation," he adds.

So far, the NSA has only admitted to those things that are already proven and publically known. In the conversations with Maassen and Schindler, no one tried to deny that surveillance had indeed been conducted on Merkel. Likewise, it seems the American intelligence agents have judged the copy of a databank entry that first launched the phone-tapping scandal to be authentic. In the course of its investigation, SPIEGEL shared that document with the Chancellery, and the Federal Prosecutor's Office has expressed an interest in it as well.

One thing the German intelligence agency directors were offered while in the US was to be supplied with higher-quality information. The NSA has apparently figured out most of the data that Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor turned whistleblower, was able to copy before departing for Hong Kong in May. What's more, NSA Director Alexander has announced plans to put together a "Germany package" containing the material that Snowden is likely to release in the coming weeks.

Were this to happen, it would amount to huge progress for Berlin. Instead of being perpetually caught off guard by fresh revelations, the German government would have all the information at once, delivered directly to the Chancellery.


11/12/2013 01:35 PM

Spy-Proofing: Deutsche Telekom Pushes for All-German Internet

By Frank Dohmen and Gerald Traufetter

Recent revelations about NSA spying have given fresh impetus to the dream of a purely German Internet. Deutsche Telekom believes it could introduce a system safe from prying foreign surveillance, but some criticize the plan as pointless.

Even before it emerged that the National Security Agency had wiretapped her mobile phone, German ChancellorAngela Merkel was calling for the Internet to have something like Airbus -- a joint European initiative able to compete with the dominance of American and Chinese high-tech companies, just as Airbus does with the US aerospace giant Boeing.

Currently, the global market for software and online services is firmly in American hands. What's more, American corporations, such as Google, are subject to the Patriot Act, which requires them to allow American intelligence agencies access to their data centers.

On the other hand, the equipment that directs traffic on the Internet often comes from China -- for example, routers made by Huawei. "No one can be certain that there isn't spying technology built in there as well," warns Norbert Pohlmann, chair of the IT Security Association Germany (TeleTrust).

The new plan would foster more than just German IT start-ups. The simple message politicians and businesses are selling to the general public is that, in the best-case scenario, data shouldn't leave its home country at all, so as not to be susceptible to monitoring or interception by foreign powers.

However, at the moment, only around 40 percent of German Internet traffic is conducted between domestic computers. The infrastructure for this traffic is provided by German telecommunication companies such as 1&1 and Deutsche Telekom. But some Internet service providers also use American providers, such as Level 3 Communications, for data transfer. That means that even if the actual bits never leave Germany's borders, the NSA could still access them, although the company vehemently denies this. "Around 30 percent of domestic German Internet traffic is susceptible to surveillance," Pohlmann estimates.

Deutsche Telekom wants to change this state of affairs by building a purely German Internet, with data packets only sent via German pathways if the sender and recipient are both within the country.

Keeping Data Completely Inside Germany

The company is hard at work on technical solutions for such an "Internetz" -- a hybrid of "Internet" and the German word for "network." Managers at Deutsche Telekom say they are in talks with various network operators, looking to bring them onboard with this idea of a unified German solution and to set prices for shared use of the necessary infrastructure.

The technical investment required for the project appears to be less than initially believed, with the main task being to adapt software to the new system. Deutsche Telekom technicians now believe they may even be able to create a network for the whole of the Schengen zone, allowing the 26 countries in this area without border controls to securely exchange data among themselves. The United Kingdom, however, which works closely with the NSA, would not be part of the network.

Deutsche Telekom hopes the German government will pass the laws needed to provide a sound legal foundation for the project as well as to implement it more quickly. Without that legal framework, the company says, there is a risk that competitors or users might file lawsuits claiming discrimination or the curtailment of data traffic.

Critics, however, accuse the company of concocting nothing more than an advertising stunt. The point of a German-only Internet becomes moot, they say, the moment a customer uses services, such as Google, that transfer their data traffic using foreign infrastructure and thereby renders it subject to the laws of those countries.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein


John Kerry: world leaders have been understanding about NSA leaks

US secretary of state says foreign governments understand that Barack Obama did not order all phone and internet surveillance

Rowena Mason, political correspondent, Tuesday 12 November 2013 09.04 GMT      

World leaders have been understanding about leaked revelations that the US spied on them as they know it was not all done under the orders of Barack Obama, the US secretary of state has said.

In an interview with the BBC, John Kerry said foreign governments understood the president did not personally authorise all the surveillance, which included tapping the mobile phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Asked about the talks held with foreign leaders over the revelations, Kerry said they had been "very respectful, very understanding. We're all trying to find a way forward that respects privacy, rights, that fights terrorism, that doesn't interfere with people."

Earlier, Kerry acknowledged that the leaders had legitimate questions about the extent of National Security Agency (NSA) phone and internet surveillance revealed in stories by the Guardian and other newspapers based on documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

There has been public outrage about the spying in some European countries, leading them to demand information from the US about the extent of its spying on its allies.

Kerry told the BBC: "The president has ordered a full review into what we're doing. People understand that the president didn't order all these things, this happened over a long period of time, it's been an evolutionary process, we now need to define it more effectively and that's what the president is setting out to do."

Kerry also revealed that talks with Iran at the weekend over its nuclear capabilities had come "very, very close to a deal, extremely close".

"I think we were separated by four or five different formulations of particular concepts, but none so terribly that I don't think it's possible to reach agreement.

"The fact is, we had a unity on Saturday in a proposal put forward in front of the Iranians, but because of the changes, they thought we should go back and change it. What's critical is, it has to be absolutely clear to the world that it isn't a nuclear weapons programme. They have to see there is a standard by which they might be able to do something. We just talked more in 38 hours than the best part of 30 years."


Jim Sensenbrenner takes NSA reform case to European parliament

Wisconsin congressman attends meeting of EU civil liberties committee and labels Feinstein reform proposals 'scary'

Dan Roberts in Washington, Monday 11 November 2013 19.30 GMT   
The Washington lawmaker who is leading efforts to reform US surveillance practices has warned European politicians that his legislation faces a difficult ride through Congress and resisted calls to expand the law by adding provisions to protect the privacy of foreigners.

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner told a meeting of the civil liberties and justice committee of the European parliament to focus hopes on diplomatic negotiations instead – pointing to a key Washington meeting next week, between EU commissioner Viviane Reding and US attorney general Eric Holder.

Sensenbrenner's testimony, thought to be the first by a US congressman before a committee of the European parliament, points to the difficulties that reformers in Washington face in assembling a coalition to push reform legislation though Congress.

Although recent revelations that the National Security Agency eavesdropped on foreign leaders have reignited the political debate over surveillance practices, it is not a feature of the key reform bill sponsored by Sensenbrenner and the Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, which largely focuses on limiting the NSA's domestic powers to collect bulk data in the US.

Sensenbrenner, a Republican, has said that the bill, known as the USA Freedom Act, may also have to be attached to broader legislation, such as measures to approve annual funding for the intelligence community, in order to reach a floor vote and overcome procedural opposition.

"There is no question that for Senator Leahy and me to win, we have to fight the administration, the leadership of our respective parties and our respective houses of Congress as well as the intelligence committee members," Sensenbrenner told the committee in Brussels. "We hope to have it included in the money bill and we will try to attach it, particularly in the House where it will have more chance. The default position would be to defeat the money bill."

Sesenbrenner also attacked rival reforms proposed by the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein, which he described as a "scary" attempt to expand the powers of the NSA.

"It codifies what the NSA has been doing under bulk collection – until now what they have been doing is because a court says yes, but the Feinstein bill puts what the NSA has been doing into law and says everything is OK.

"It also makes matters worse [for foreigners]. For 72 hours it sanctions warrantless surveillance of any foreigner who enters the US without getting any approval. Believe me, that is scary."
Dianne Feinstein and Keith Alexander NSA director General Keith Alexander chats with Dianne Feinstein before a Senate intelligence committee hearing. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Sensenbrenner said he remained optimistic of passing real reform, pointing to the narrow defeat of earlier efforts to rein in the NSA.

"I think a very helpful sign was that the Amash amendment only failed by 12 votes and this was a wake-up call to folks in oversight that something is seriously wrong," he said. "That was three-and-half months ago, and since then there has now been more of a debate and a report by the inspector general that the NSA violated their own rules thousands of times.

"The real question is whether we can get a vote on our proposals in the House and Senate. I am very happy to have support from Senator Leahy, who is the Senate president pro-tempore and the fourth in line to the presidency."

Sensenbrenner's testimony was well received by European politicians who have been pressing for action on a host of privacy concerns, but it showed how little influence such figures have on US surveillance activity.

"It is evident that both the legal framework and the US constitutional systems make it extremely difficult to extend legal protection on privacy to EU citizens," said Claude Moraes, a London MEP and rapporteur for the committee on surveillance issues. "Whilst there is cross-political support for the US Freedom Act 2013, could I ask on whether there is support to strengthen safeguards for EU citizens, given the extent of the press reports into how the [Edward] Snowden documents have undermined trust in the transatlantic relations?"

Sensenbrenner was sympathetic but stressed that his focus would continue to be on US domestic reform. "I am not here to say that what I have proposed is a uniform law that can apply all around the world because it simply will not work because of various constitutional limits," the congressman said.

Instead, the committee discussed the threat of withdrawing intelligence co-operation or refusing to take part in trade talks as possible points of leverage over the US administration.

"International co-operation is crucial to stopping terrorism, but trust is also integral," said Sensenbrenner, in his prepared remarks. "I ask my friends here in the European Parliament to work pragmatically with the United States to continue balanced efforts to protect our nations. Together we can rebuild trust while defending civil liberties and national security on both sides of the Atlantic."


John McCain says NSA chief Keith Alexander 'should resign or be fired'

Senator gives interview to Der Spiegel, saying general should 'be held accountable' for Edward Snowden leaks

Karen McVeigh in New York, Sunday 10 November 2013 19.50 GMT      

Senator John McCain has called for Keith Alexander to "resign or be fired" as the head of the National Security Agency, in an interview with the German news weekly Der Spiegel published on Sunday.

The senator for Arizona, a former Republican presidential candidate, said Alexander should be held accountable for the leaks of thousands of documents by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, which revealed NSA surveillance and spying on a massive scale. McCain said Snowden, who worked for the NSA as a contractor, should never have had access to classified information.

"And now we have a contractor employee, not a government employee, who has access to information which is, when revealed, most damaging to the standing prestige of the United States and our relations with some of our best friends," McCain said. "Why did Edward Snowden have that information? And what are we doing as far as screening people who have access to this information? It's outrageous, and someone ought to be held accountable."

President Barack Obama, the NSA and the congressional intelligence committee had responsibility for the sharing of classified information, he said.

Asked if Alexander should resign, McCain said: "Of course, he should resign, or be fired. We no longer hold anybody accountable in Washington."

Asked if the US intelligence services were out of control, McCain said: "There's not been sufficient congressional oversight, and there has been an absolutely disgraceful sharing of information that never should have taken place. For many years, we had an absolute provision that any classified information, which was going to be shared, is based on need-to-know information."

McCain also spoke to the news weekly about reports, prompted by research by the magazine, that the US had been monitoring the cellphones of German chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders. He said it was "conceivable" President Obama had not known about the German chancellor's phone being monitored, but added that he should have.

"Knowing how angry Angela Merkel was, he should have apologized," said McCain. "You know, I've had to do that on numerous occasions in my life. The pain doesn't last very long."

He was asked about whether the US was a real friend of Germany, following revelations that Merkel's phone had been monitored.

McCain said: "Friends spy on friends. We all know that, but there have been certain boundaries. Those boundaries were probably, to some degree, there because we didn't have the capabilities we have now. But when you go to the point where you invade someone's privacy, the leader of certainly Europe, if not one of the most foremost leaders in the world, Angela Merkel, then it was a mistake."
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden Edward Snowden has reportedly found work in Russia. Photograph: AP

The interview moved to recent discussions in Germany over the possibility of granting asylum to Snowdon, who is currently in Russia. McCain said he did not believe it would happen. "We're too good of friends," he said.

He said he believed Snowden would never return to the US, where he would face trial, even after his asylum in Russia expires at the end of the year.

"[Russian president Vladimir] Putin will grant him asylum indefinitely," McCain said. "The Russians know if they send him back that's a lesson to other people who might defect. I'm sure that Mr Snowden has told them everything that he possibly knows."

Snowden has denied that he has passed information to the Russians, and said he did not take any NSA documents with him. But McCain said: "If you believe that Mr Snowden didn't give the Russians information that he has, then you believe pigs fly."Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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« Reply #9928 on: Nov 12, 2013, 07:10 AM »

11/11/2013 03:37 PM

Trans-Atlantic Free Trade: US Pushes for Deal Despite NSA Scandal

By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Brussels

The NSA spying scandal has many in Europe calling for the suspension of negotiations on an EU-US free-trade deal. Officials in Washington are undeterred, and continue to push forward with talks despite growing skepticism this side of the Atlantic.

At the beginning of last week, Michael Froman, the US Trade Representative and Barack Obama's go-to man for difficult deal-making, stood in front of an audience inside the German ambassador's residence in Washington. Speaking to participants from a meeting of the Munich Security Conference, he was so confident of the benefits and prospects of a new trade agreement between the United States and the European Union, that it made the recent headlines of a new trans-Atlantic ice age seem overblown.

The proposed free trade agreement between Europe and the US remains a personal priority of US President Barack Obama, Froman assured the guests, adding that the advantages of closer economic ties between the two continents would be beyond belief.

"Froman's speech sounded like a sales pitch, like a sales presentation," a participant later said. Even when a guest asked if the revelations of NSA spying in Europe must be a topic handled during the negotiations, Froman did not get thrown off course. Data protection is not specifically a trade issue, he countered, adding that such things are best settled separately.

The optimistic remarks by the chief US trade negotiator set the tone for the American position in the free trade agreement negotiations. The motto is that most important thing is to continue moving forward, even if leading European politicians such as the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, are calling for suspending negotiations.

A 'Good Omen'

A high-ranking American expert shared a possible time frame for the free trade negotiations with SPIEGEL ONLINE. In the coming meetings this week in Brussels and in those scheduled in Washington in December, the technical and regulatory details should be settled, and sticking points such as how to handle genetically modified foods and standards for medication are to be worked out.

The US government has made some small moves in these areas. Recently, the US eased restrictions on the import of EU beef, which has been subject to strict conditions since the 1998 BSE scandal. João Vale de Almeida, the EU's ambassador to Washington, considered this a "good omen" for the upcoming negotiations.

A meeting between Froman and European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht is planned for January, and will likely take place in the US. After that, further trade negotiations could take place every month until an agreement is finalized, before the current European Commission leaves office in the fall of 2014 and the Americans elect a new Congress.

This schedule is, of course, very optimistic. When it comes to the discussions over technical trade details, contentious political issues such as the NSA spying scandal will be left out, because the bureaucrats negotiating are not responsible for them. But after a meeting between Froman and De Gucht, at the latest, political brokering will factor in, and the parliaments of the EU member states and the US Congress will have to approve any agreement.

Lack of Support in Germany

Even though experts predict that the proposed trans-Atlantic free trade agreement could create up to 160,000 jobs in Germany alone, public approval for any such agreement has dropped since the NSA revelations were made. According to a survey by the Internet-based research firm YouGov, a majority of Germans support suspending the trade talks. John Kornblum, a former US ambassador to Berlin, has said: "The damage has probably already been done. The negotiations face a very uncertain future."

Daniela Schwarzer, an expert on Europe at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, says there is considerable time pressure for negotiations, before the US election season starts again. After that she fears there would be further delays, should the negotiating mandate for the European Commission be broadened to include data privacy. She said tt would be better if the EU negotiated these questions separately.

But can such a separation even be made politically? Negotiators from Europe and the US will experience how difficult that is on Nov. 11. While they are meeting in Brussels, the influential US Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from the state of Wisconsin, will also be in town. He will speak at a hearing of the European Parliament on the NSA spying scandal, to which representatives of the US Internet giants Google and Facebook have also been invited.

Sensenbrenner once supported the Patriot Act, which leveraged the rights of US citizens in the war against terrorism. But now he says that US intelligence agencies went too far in their obsessive collection of data, and he is campaigning, in collaboration with the Europeans, for stricter controls of the NSA.

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« Reply #9929 on: Nov 12, 2013, 07:17 AM »

German government unveils details of 'Nazi art'

Almost 600 works of art discovered in Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt may have been stolen by Nazis

Associated Press in Berlin, Tuesday 12 November 2013 08.58 GMT   
Bowing to demands from Jewish groups and art experts, the German government has made public the details of paintings in a recovered trove of about 1,400 pieces of art, many of which may have been stolen by the Nazis, and said it would put together a taskforce to speed up identification.

In a written statement, the government said as many as 590 works of art could have been stolen by the Nazis. In a surprise move, it quickly featured some 25 of those works on the website and said it would be regularly updated.

Until now, officials had released few details about the art found in the Munich apartment of 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt, though it was known to include pieces by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. The paintings were found during an ongoing tax investigation, adding to secrecy concerns.

Among the paintings listed on the site were Otto Dix's The Woman in the Theatre Box, Otto Griebel's Child at the Table, and Max Liebermann's Rider on the Beach.

Art was stolen or bought for a pittance from Jewish collectors who were forced to sell under duress during the Third Reich. For the heirs of those collectors, the discovery has raised hopes of recovering works, but the slow release of information has stirred frustration.

A spokesman for the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said on Monday that the government understood the demands of Jewish groups that the pieces be made public quickly.

"We can well understand that especially Jewish organisations are asking many questions. They represent older people who were treated very badly," said the spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

A taskforce of six experts will be put together by the German government and the state government of Bavaria, with the support of a research group on "degenerate art" at the Free University of Berlin. Such art was largely modern or abstract work that Adolf Hitler's regime believed to be a corrupt influence on the German people. Many such works were later sold to enrich the Nazis. There were 380 works of art in this category, the government said.

The taskforce would work in parallel with the continuing legal investigation by prosecutors in Augsburg, the government said.

The prosecutor had only said there was evidence that one item – a Matisse painting of a sitting woman – was stolen by the Nazis from a French bank in 1942.

Also on Monday, the Stuttgart state police spokesman Horst Haug said police last week took 22 pieces of art from a home in Kornwestheim, southern Germany, to a safe location "because parts of these paintings were associated with the Munich art discovery".

German media identified the owner of the paintings as Gurlitt's brother-in-law, who reportedly was worried about the safety of his art due to the recent media frenzy.

The foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, warned that Germany's reputation would suffer if it did not take a more proactive approach to publicly identifying the artworks in the Munich trove.

"We should not underestimate the sensitivity of this issue around the world," Westerwelle told German news agency DPA. "Transparency is at the highest importance now."


Did the Nazis steal the Mona Lisa?

The extraordinary tale of the Nazi art thieves believed to have stashed the world's most famous painting in an alpine salt mine

Noah Charney, Tuesday 12 November 2013 12.15 GMT   
With the recent discovery in Munich of €1bn (£860m) worth of art looted by the Nazis, and the forthcoming release of a feature film, starring George Clooney, based on the exploits of the Monuments Men, it is a fitting time to recall how fortunate we are that so much art survived the second world war. The Nazi art theft division, the ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg), was responsible for the theft of around 5m works: from the Louvre, the Uffizi and countless churches, galleries and homes. From headline-grabbing works like Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna to the most frequently stolen artwork in history, Jan van Eyck's Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, both of which feature in the Clooney film, to lesser-known gems that nevertheless held a place in the hearts of museumgoers or families, the story of art looting during the second world war is a tree with countless roots. Each masterpiece has its own history, a provenance ripe with intrigue. Few of the individual stories have been told, fewer still in depth.

Among the many enduring mysteries of this periodis the fate of the world's most famous painting. It seems that Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa was among the paintings found in the Altaussee salt mine in the Austrian alps, which was converted by the Nazis into their secret stolen-art warehouse.

The painting only "seems" to have been found there because contradictory information has come down through history, and the Mona Lisa is not mentioned in any wartime document, Nazi or allied, as having been in the mine. Whether it may have been at Altaussee was a question only raised when scholars examined the postwar Special Operations Executive report on the activities of Austrian double agents working for the allies to secure the mine. This report states that the team "saved such priceless objects as the Louvre's Mona Lisa". A second document, from an Austrian museum near Altaussee dated 12 December 1945, states that "the Mona Lisa from Paris" was among "80 wagons of art and cultural objects from across Europe" taken into the mine.

The Louvre has remained strangely silent about the whereabouts of its treasures during the war. But after years refusing to comment, it finally admitted that the Mona Lisa had indeed been in the Altaussee mine.

Why, then, was there no record of it? The only wartime documents available about the Mona Lisa say that on 27 August 1939 it was packed in a specially-marked crate, tailor-made in 1938, of double-thick poplar wood. Along with other artworks from French national museums, it was sent for storage, first to Chambord Castle in the Loire Valley. On 5 June 1940, it was transferred to Chauvigny on a cushioned stretcher in the back of an ambulance, which had been sealed to keep the humidity constant (the official who accompanied the painting arrived nearly asphyxiated from the lack of circulation in the sealed vehicle). In September, it moved again, to the Ingres Museum in Montauban, before a final move to Montal in 1942. According to the Louvre, the Mona Lisa was not part of the majority of works from its collection eventually stored at Château de Pau at the foot of the Pyrenees.

The last document the Louvre shared with scholars listed the safe return of the Mona Lisa to Paris on 16 June 1945. That's the same day the first of the Altaussee treasures were carried out of the mine. Unless that particular painting had been secretly removed earlier, it could not have been returned to Paris as early as the 16 June. Whether or not it was in Altaussee, a gap of nearly three years – from 1942 to 45 – remains undocumented.

The Louvre later altered its story, claiming that the version of the Mona Lisa that had been returned from the mine was an excellent copy, not by da Vinci, but painted within a generation of his death. A number of such copies exist. Was one of these found at the mine but reported by no one?

The Louvre now states that the copy of the Mona Lisa found at Altaussee was among several thousand works assembled at the Musées Nationaux Récupération – works whose owner could not be traced. This Mona Lisa copy was marked MNR 265 on the list. After five years passed with no owner coming to light, the copy was presented to the Louvre for indefinite safekeeping. From 1950 until recently, it hung outside the office of the museum's director.

Piecing together the facts, let's try to infer what really happened. The Mona Lisa would certainly have been a key target for Nazi art hunters: the ERR, Hitler himself, and the art fiend and Nazi number two, Hermann Göring. The Nazis would have sought the Mona Lisa without rest, demanding it be handed to them upon their entry to Paris, and hunting it down if it were not. Since near-identical copies of Leonardo's painting exist, it would have been strategically advisable that one be placed in that specially-marked wooden crate labelled "Mona Lisa", and shipped for storage while the original was craftily hidden away. The ERR would then chase what they believed to be the original Mona Lisa, in the crate marked as such, and upon capturing it, send it to Altaussee for storage. All the while, the original was in hiding, probably never having left Paris, officially resurfacing on 16 June 1945.

This is the only way to explain how the "Mona Lisa" – restitution number MNR 265, which now hangs in the Louvre's administrative offices – did return from Altaussee. It also explains why the Mona Lisa was not noted in all of the records related to Altaussee – some officers recognised that the Altaussee painting was a copy, while others thought it the original.

The kidnap of that copy preserved the real Mona Lisa from the Nazi art hunters, who might otherwise have wrought unimaginable damage in their search for the hidden original.

This article was adapted from Charney's book The Thefts of the Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World's Most Famous Painting.


Nazi art hoard mystery deepens as missing recluse 'surfaces' in Munich

More missing art surfaces in Stuttgart as magazines spot Cornelius Gurlitt who reportedly hid £1bn of masterpieces in Munich flat

Philip Oltermann in Berlin
The Guardian, Sunday 10 November 2013 17.10 GMT   

Cornelius Gurlitt, the man who hid a Nazi treasure trove of lost masterpieces in his Munich apartment, is still alive and residing at the same address, according to two separate reports.

Reporters from French magazine Paris Match claim to have confronted Gurlitt in a local shopping centre after seeing him leave the modernist apartment block in Munich's Schwabing district. Gurlitt is said to have brushed aside an interview request with the enigmatic phrase: "Approval that comes from the wrong side is the worst thing that could happen."

The accompanying picture shows an elderly man with neatly combed hair with a shopping trolley. Paris Match, which usually focuses on European royalty, describes Gurlitt as having an "elegant demeanour" and that "his piercing blue eyes [were] filled with fear and anger".

A letter signed by Cornelius Gurlitt published in the new edition of Der Spiegel, meanwhile, seems to support the theory that Gurlitt has simply continued to go about his old routines while the story of his hidden artworks has blown up around him.

Dated 4 November 2013 and sent from the address where the artworks were found, the letter asks the magazine to refrain from citing his name in future.

It appears that the 79-year-old has mixed up Der Spiegel, Germany's biggest-selling magazine, with its rival publication Focus, which broke the story. On Monday, when Gurlitt wrote his letter, Der Spiegel had yet to publish an article on the Munich art haul.

On Tuesday, Bavarian customs authorities had said that they didn't know Gurlitt's whereabouts, fuelling speculation he might be dead. There is currently no police search warrant for Gurlitt, though many will seek answers from him in the coming weeks.

Information released by the authorities so far has raised more questions than it managed to answer. It remains unclear how many of the works were originally looted by the Nazis or confiscated from national galleries as "degenerate art".

Rather than having vanished during the Nazi era, many of the artworks appear have to passed through the hands of allied forces, albeit temporarily. Some of the pictures in the Gurlitt collection were exhibited in New York and San Francisco in 1956, claims Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung . The self-portrait by Otto Dix, meanwhile, which art historian Meike Hoffmann hailed as "unknown" earlier in the week, in fact appears on a property card in the National Archive in Washington.

In another development, police on Saturday confiscated a further 22 artworks from a flat near Stuttgart, owned by Nikolaus Frässle , a brother-in-law of Cornelius Gurlitt.

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