14 November 2012 - 12H42
Bank of England cuts 2013 growth forecast to 1.0%
AFP - The Bank of England on Wednesday cut its forecast for British economic growth next year to about 1.0 percent owing to the sovereign debt crisis in the neighbouring eurozone.
Britain's gross domestic product (GDP) would average about 1.0 percent in 2013, down from the central bank's previous forecast of around 2.0 percent, according to a fan chart in the central bank's latest quarterly report.
"The future path of GDP will depend critically on developments in the global environment, with strains in the euro area posing the greatest risk to a sustained recovery," the Bank of England said in its report.
"The outlook for UK growth remains uncertain. A major threat to a sustained recovery is if the adjustments in indebtedness and competitiveness required within the euro area occur in a disorderly manner," the BoE added.
Recent data showed that Britain's economy rebounded by 1.0 percent in the third quarter of 2012, or three months to September, bouncing back from a double-dip recession.
Growth turned positive on one-off factors, including the London 2012 Olympic Games and rebounding activity after an extra public holiday for Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee in the second quarter.
"GDP is estimated to have increased by 1.0 percent in Q3, although that strength was exaggerated by temporary factors," the BoE said in Wednesday's report.
"Headline growth is consequently likely to fall back sharply in Q4," it warned.
The BoE also forecast that consumer prices index (CPI) annual inflation would fall back towards the government's 2.0-percent target in the second half of 2013, later than previously thought.
Official data on Tuesday showed that inflation surged to a higher-than-expected rate of 2.7 percent in October largely owing to massive hikes in British university tuition fees.
November 13, 2012
French President Defends Record as Economy Struggles
By STEVEN ERLANGER
PARIS — President François Hollande defended his government and his own performance in a lengthy and wide-ranging news conference on Tuesday, the first of his tenure, saying that he and his colleagues were moving decisively and transparently in the face of a bad economic situation.
“The situation is serious,” he said. The French elections brought “a change of power,” he said, “not a change of reality.” And he insisted that his prime goals for his five-year term were to reduce unemployment and promote economic growth.
Speaking for nearly two and a half hours, including a 45-minute opening statement, Mr. Hollande used the news conference to announce that his government recognized the main umbrella group for the Syrian opposition, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as the sole legal representative of the Syrian people.
And Mr. Hollande defended his relationship with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, even after his finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, complained of “French bashing” in the German news media. Mr. Hollande said that he and Ms. Merkel had respectful relations with the “common goal of advancing Europe,” and that they discussed their disagreements openly. He also said, with a slight smile, that he understood that Ms. Merkel was preparing for an election campaign of her own.
One topic they disagree on is Greece, and the call by the International Monetary Fund for Greece to be given more time to reach its debt-reduction targets and for fellow European nations to reduce Greece’s public debt burden.
Mr. Hollande spoke sympathetically of the Greeks and their long economic recession, saying they had done all that was asked of them. As for the question of more time, he said, that remained to be discussed by European leaders. About restructuring Greek public debt, he chose to say nothing.
“The Greek Parliament has just adopted a very tough plan,” he said. “Greece expects in return the support of Europe and of the International Monetary Fund. It was promised this support, and I believe that beyond finalizing any technical modalities, it is entitled to this support, to put an end to what may have been a doubt about the integrity of the euro zone.”
On the subject of Mali, Mr. Hollande said that the capture of the northern half of the country by Islamic radicals posed a clear and present terrorist danger to France and to Europe. He said that France would not intervene militarily in Mali, though it would offer training, supplies and support to Malian and other African troops who intend to mount an offensive to drive the radicals out of the north, presumably before the rainy season begins in March and makes movement there very difficult.
“We want the Africans to prepare it themselves,” he said. While France and Europe would help, “in no case” would France itself use military means in Mali.
On domestic issues, Mr. Hollande said he read the polls, as other people do, but that it was his job to run the country. He is working to reduce public debt, reduce the tax burden on companies and promote employment, while keeping his promise to cut France’s budget deficit to 3 percent of economic output in 2013.
“Decline is not our destiny,” he said, appealing to the French to come together and pay increased taxes to get the country out of its current hole. He called on trade unions and companies to negotiate “a historic bargain” to ease confrontational labor relations and reduce barriers to hiring. If they do not, he said, the government will act on its own.
As for himself, “I can understand the doubts that have been expressed,” Mr. Hollande said. “The only valid question in my eyes is not the state of public opinion today, but the state of France in five years’ time.”
He portrayed himself as a man speaking honestly to the French, a man who values “simplicity,” respects institutions and wants to let his prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, get on with the day-to-day work of governing. Mr. Hollande has been mocked for calling himself a “normal president,” but when asked by a journalist if France was “detoxifying itself from fossil fuels,” he said: “I don’t want to detoxify myself of anything; I have no addiction. You may have noticed: normal president, responsible president, no addiction to any substance.”
November 13, 2012
Frosty Relations With Russia Begin to Thaw After Obama’s Re-election
By ELLEN BARRY
MOSCOW — A bizarre sight appeared on Russia’s state-controlled Channel One last week, shortly after it became clear that President Obama would go on to a second term. It was the United States ambassador to Moscow, Michael A. McFaul, sitting in a comfortable chair beside a late-night talk show host, being treated like an honored guest.
In a political culture that runs on signals, this one was not hard to read. When Mr. McFaul arrived in Moscow in mid-January, he was met by a Bronx cheer from Russian television — most notably a segment that ran on Channel One’s prime time newscast, titled “Specialist in Revolution,” that accused Mr. McFaul of having been sent to Moscow to topple the government of Vladimir V. Putin. The cozy days of the “reset” were evidently over.
But an abrupt change in tone was set last week, muting the anti-American talk that began 11 months ago, when Mr. Putin first accused the State Department of stirring up protests against his rule. The shift has been acutely felt in the United States Embassy, which, as relations foundered over the past year, found that senior Russian businesspeople regularly refused invitations.
By contrast, a Tuesday luncheon at Mr. McFaul’s residence was attended by a half-dozen major entrepreneurs and industrialists.
There is no doubt about it: a channel of communication has opened between Moscow and Washington, at least for a while. It suggests, first, that the Russian authorities were deeply relieved that Mitt Romney did not win, and, second, that in Russia, story lines can be changed and harsh language switched off when there are deals to be made.
“It’s the same pattern, both here and in the U.S. — the election campaign is a period when any rational discussion is absolutely out of the question,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs. “Both sides know that the election campaign is something special. So you don’t need to pay special attention to what has been said.”
Mr. Putin takes a pragmatic approach in his dealings with the United States, a fact underlined by the record of the last year. He cast domestic political opposition as largely the work of the State Department and its hirelings. Then he took steps to institutionalize the distrust of foreigners, like a law requiring nonprofit groups receiving overseas financing to identify themselves as “foreign agents,” and expanding the legal definition of treason to include assisting international organizations.
But around the same period, at the risk of irritating voters during a tense presidential campaign, he agreed to let NATO use a Russian airfield as a logistics hub for moving troops and cargo into Afghanistan. Mr. Obama has done his own balancing act with the reset policy, which “delinked” American protests over Russia’s human rights record from bilateral efforts on Afghanistan, Iran and nuclear nonproliferation.
This worked well in 2009, when Dmitri A. Medvedev, then Russia’s president, was introducing cautious reforms. But a new round of cooperation will occur against a more contentious background, as Russia enforces restrictive new laws and begins criminal prosecutions of political activists.
“This continued delinkage is going to be put to the test,” said Samuel Charap, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It’s not going to be as politically possible.”
Though the list of bilateral projects is thinner than it was four years ago, Russia is in the position to provide Mr. Obama with something fundamental to his desired legacy: a deep second round of nuclear cuts. United States negotiators argue that Russia has an interest in trimming its aging stockpile, in part because it is investing trillions of rubles in modernizing its nuclear forces.
So far, the Russian side has said it will discuss cuts only if it has a guarantee that a planned European missile defense system would not be so extensive as to eliminate Moscow’s nuclear deterrent. But Mr. Charap, who recently left the State Department, said Russian language had been softening.
“I think they are waiting for us to put something on the table,” he said. “And waiting for the boss to opine.”
Mr. Putin has asked for a personal meeting with Mr. Obama, and in a telephone conversation on Tuesday, Mr. Obama accepted his invitation to visit Russia, the Kremlin announced. It will be the third meeting between the two, and — at least for Mr. Putin — a pivotal one. Their relationship got off to a sour start in 2009, when Mr. Obama publicly praised Mr. Medvedev at Mr. Putin’s expense, saying Mr. Putin “has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new.” In May, Mr. Putin stayed home from the Group of 8 summit meeting, which Mr. Obama had promoted as an opportunity “to spend time” with the Russian leader.
Mr. Putin was said to be disappointed by the Western reaction to his decision to return to the presidency last year, and by Washington’s criticism of Russia’s handling of antigovernment protests, which was seen, an official said, “not to be very loyal.” But analysts say he has a healthy respect for Mr. Obama, in part because of what happened at their first meeting: Mr. Obama listened quietly to his litany of complaints about United States policy and went on to overhaul missile defense plans in Europe, said Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
“I do not think that Obama’s rather reserved nature is an obstacle to forming a solid — but not buddy-type — relationship,” he said. “For Putin, the key to a lasting relationship is: you promise something, you deliver.”
For now, Moscow will simply have to adjust to the new friendliness. Mr. McFaul has been busy this week saying thank you — to the Ministry of Emergencies, which has pledged to deliver 27 tons of blankets for victims of Hurricane Sandy, and to television viewers who wrote to compliment him on his late-night talk-show appearance.
It would be a good idea to enjoy the honeymoon, said Mr. Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs. He noted that in the post-Soviet era, Russian and American leaders have made it something of a postelection ritual to turn over a new leaf. But it never lasts, he said.
“If we look at the relationship since 1991, it’s the same cycle all the time, between kind words and inspiration and deep crisis,” Mr. Lukyanov said. “Yeltsin, Clinton, Bush, Putin, Obama, it’s the same pattern.”
11/14/2012 01:56 PM
Uncomfortable Truths: Only Dialogue Can Ease Moscow-Berlin Tensions
A Commentary By Matthias Schepp in Moscow
Relations between Moscow and Berlin are particularly chilly ahead of the Petersburg Dialogue, a biannual meeting of politicians, businessmen, and civil-society representatives from Russia and Germany. Both sides will have no choice but to talk, listen and swallow some uncomfortable truths.
The 12th Petersburg Dialogue begins this evening in Moscow. Over the course of the next four days, representatives of German political organizations will meet with Russian parliamentarians, who can hardly shake their hands without being suspected of committing treason. That's because Russian President Vladimir Putin and his entourage are quick to accuse foreign organizations of fomenting anti-Kremlin protest.
The two sides find themselves in an absurd situation that highlights the unhealthy state of Russo-German affairs. Relations between the two are chillier than they have been at any time since October 1986, when then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl compared President Mikhail Gorbachev to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief.
Since his return to the Kremlin, President Putin has steamrolled a host of authoritarian laws through parliament. Last Friday, the German Bundestag responded to this by passing a resolution that demands a tougher approach to Russia, a move that the Kremlin elite consider an insult deliberately aimed at undermining relations between the two nations. Such behavior doesn't precede visits by the chancellor to China or dictatorships in developing countries, the Russians complain.
But it is precisely because of this dispute that it will be far better for the two countries to talk rather than turn their backs on one another. Or, to turn a saying known to both sides upside down: Silence is silver, but speech is gold.
Relations between Moscow and Berlin have been icy for months. Because Merkel's commissioner for German-Russian cooperation, Andreas Schockenhoff, criticized the Kremlin, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs now refuses to speak to him. Meanwhile, calls are growing louder in Germany for the civil society section of the Petersburg Dialogue to be held at a different time than the government consultations, when ministers from both countries gather for a joint session. When Merkel flies to Moscow on Friday, she'll be accompanied by eight members of her cabinet, including Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. The Russians plan to send 14 ministers.
But separating the Dialogue and the intergovernmental consultations would send the wrong message.
Putin and his power elite would probably favor this idea, because he would no longer be forced to listen to reports of the Dialogue working groups, which frequently critique his policies. But a Petersburg Dialogue without an opportunity to call the president and the chancellor to account would quickly become meaningless. It would disintegrate into a mere niche discussion involving only those who are already talking to one another: Russian opposition groups and Germany's environmentalist Greens on the one hand, and the managers of Russian and German corporations on the other. The prime purpose of the Petersburg Dialogue would be lost.
Admittedly, with more than 200 representatives from the politics, business, research, religious and non-governmental organization sectors, the Dialogue has its weaknesses, including the advanced age of most of its participants and the large number of officials involved. It needs reform and new blood. Nevertheless, part of format's charm lies in the fact that it brings together diametrically opposed opinions: Ecologists and Gazprom managers, Putin critics and the managers of DAX-listed companies.
That helps each side get a more realistic picture of their partner country. Both are forced to gain insight that draws them out of the comfort zone of their cherished prejudices. The Russians have the opportunity to discover that not every German critic of Putin wants to harm their country -- and that it's worth solving their domestic problems rather than shrouding them with claims of alleged foreign intervention.
But the Germans need to face some uncomfortable truths too. For instance, that truly fair elections in Russia wouldn't necessarily be won by pro-Western politicians, but more likely by nationalistic chauvinists. Or that a majority of Russians think the two-year prison sentence handed down to the members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot was too lenient. Or that most Russians would rather reintroduce the death penalty sooner than later. In other words, that most Russians probably want a very different Russia than the one we dream of in the West.
Honesty and intellectual integrity would benefit both sides. A realistic picture of one's partner is the best basis for true partnership, whereas illusions can only lead to disappointment and harmful policies.
Ecologists and Kremlin Officials
The Germans therefore shouldn't waste time complaining that too many members of the Russian delegation have close links to the Kremlin. Rather, they should take advantage of the opportunity to speak openly and at length with them. At the same time, Putin's numerous fans within the Russian delegation should sit down with German Kremlin critics.
Interestingly, divisions within the respective national camps will also be on display. Ilya Ponomaryov, a parliamentarian from the opposition party A Just Russia, will meet with members of the Kremlin's party United Russia, which recently handed him a one-month gag order in Russia's parliament, the Duma. Meanwhile, the German delegation will include politicians who are both idealists and pragmatists. Here too, more dialogue is needed rather than less.
One of the round-table talks scheduled for Thursday is entitled "The Art of Listening to One Another." This discussion will be chaired jointly by Vyacheslav Nikonov, a parliamentarian for Putin's party, and Ralf Fücks, the head of Germany's Heinrich Böll Foundation, a think-tank associated with the environmentalist Green Party. Nikonov, the grandson of former Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, is capable of using his brilliant sarcasm to accuse Germany of double standards until it's painful. Fücks is the eloquent husband of Marieluise Beck, the Green Party's spokesperson for Eastern European policies and a woman despised by the Kremlin.
If Nikonov and Fücks can talk to each other, then all is not lost for Germany and Russia. I wish them luck!
Translated from the German by Jan Liebelt
November 13, 2012
Dynasty of Different Order Is Reshaping China
By IAN JOHNSON
BEIJING — When Maoists were trying to keep control of China in the 1970s, a powerful general from the south came to the aid of moderates, helping to arrest the radicals and throw them in jail. The bold actions of the general, Ye Jianying, paved the way for the country’s move to a more market-oriented economy, and created a political dynasty that still plays kingmaker, able to influence national policy and protect its sprawling business empire in southern China long after his death.
Over the past year, according to party insiders familiar with the situation, members of Mr. Ye’s family have helped organize meetings to criticize the country’s current course and have influenced top military appointments while helping block a vocal economic reformer from joining the Politburo Standing Committee, the small, powerful group at the top of the party hierarchy, because they felt that he was not attentive to their interests.
The rise of so-called princelings like the Ye family will reach a capstone this week, when Xi Jinping, himself the son of a Communist Party pioneer, is to be unveiled as China’s top leader at the conclusion of the 18th Party Congress. Mr. Xi is likely to be joined by at least two other relatives of senior leaders on the seven-member Standing Committee.
Despite rising controversy over their prominent role in government and business — highlighted by recent corruption cases, as well as the fall of Bo Xilai, whose wife was found guilty of murder — China’s princelings, who number in the hundreds, are emerging as an aristocratic class with an increasingly important say in ruling the country.
While they feud and fight among themselves, many have already made their mark in the established order, playing important roles in businesses, especially state-owned enterprises. Others are heavily involved in finance or lobbying, where personal connections are important.
“Many countries have powerful families, but in China, they are becoming the dominant force in politics and business,” said Lü Xiaobo, a political science professor at Columbia University. “In this system, they have good bloodlines.”
Many of the oldest among them — those now set to take power — share something else: an upbringing during some of China’s most difficult years. Many were children during the Great Leap Forward, when upward of 30 million people died of famine from 1958 to 1962, and teenagers during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, a period many spent as outcasts or in exile after their parents were attacked by Maoist radicals.
“This is a volatile generation, one that didn’t have a systematic education and often saw the worst side of the Communist revolution,” said a senior party journalist who grew up with some of China’s princelings and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of pressure from China’s security apparatus. “They’ve learned one thing, and that’s all you can count on is your family.”
The princelings are distinct from the current top rulers of China, most of whom owe their allegiance to institutions in the Communist Party. The departing party general secretary, Hu Jintao, rose up through the Communist Youth League, one of the party’s central bodies. Likewise, the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, who leaves office next year, is an organization man with few outside sources of power.
Mr. Hu’s legitimacy derives from being appointed by Deng Xiaoping, the last leader to have played a central role in the Chinese Revolution and a dominant figure until his death in 1997. Mr. Deng had a series of general secretaries and prime ministers whom he dismissed before settling on Jiang Zemin after the 1989 Tiananmen uprising. Later, he gave Mr. Hu the nod as Mr. Jiang’s successor.
“Without a Deng to settle questions, you have competition for the top spots,” said an independent Chinese political commentator who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is under police observation during the congress. “We don’t have elections, and we don’t have a system, so they go for the person with the most connections.”
That was evident five years ago when Mr. Xi was picked to be Mr. Hu’s successor. Initially, the front-runner had been one of Mr. Hu’s protégés, Li Keqiang. But Mr. Xi won a higher-ranking slot, with the help of another princeling, Zeng Qinghong, then vice president and son of a security minister.
Mr. Xi’s career reflects his status. His father had been a senior party leader for half a century: military commissar, governor, vice prime minister and pioneer of market reforms, a background that helped create a network of support for Mr. Xi.
The elder Mr. Xi’s status helped his son enter university during the Cultural Revolution when few were allowed to study, then secured him a job as personal secretary to one of the country’s top military leaders. Later, when the younger Mr. Xi was working in local government and ran afoul of a provincial leader, his family got him transferred to a province run by a friend of his father’s.
Mr. Li chiefly had his formal party affiliations and the backing of Mr. Hu, but no deeply rooted network of family power. That proved decisive when he had to compete with Mr. Xi for the top slot. (Mr. Li is set to replace Mr. Wen as prime minister.)
Princelings are far from a uniform bloc. Many grew up in Beijing’s “big yards,” the sprawling housing compounds of the ministries and Communist Party organizations that defined the capital in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Children of senior leaders studied and played together and, during the Cultural Revolution, fought each other.
Many of those tensions spill over today. Last year, the Ye family helped organize a meeting of princelings whose parents participated in the 1976 arrest of the Gang of Four, the group of Maoists who had dominated politics in the last years of Mao Zedong’s life and threatened to keep control after the dictator’s death. With Mr. Xi’s half sister taking notes, the Ye family and others met to criticize China’s current direction.
But the meeting was divided over how far to push political changes. Those close to Hu Deping, the son of Hu Yaobang, the general secretary deposed by Mr. Deng in the 1980s, have been clamoring for a relaxation of the party’s dominance over government and business. Others, including those in the Ye family, reflect their patriarch’s belief in party control.
Those ties are extensive, especially in Guangdong Province, near Hong Kong, where some members of the Ye family ran into conflict with the province’s party secretary, Wang Yang, who has preached against corruption and nepotism. The general’s various family members have served as provincial governor, mayor of a special economic zone, head of an influential securities firm, founder of a real estate firm and chief executive of an industrial and media group. While Mr. Wang, the son of a laborer, has not investigated the Ye family or challenged its status, party insiders say he did not concern himself enough with its interests to satisfy the family. Starting last year, some family members began whispering that Mr. Wang was not politically reliable, according to party officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the information. Partly as a result of this campaign, Mr. Wang is not expected to be on the Standing Committee when it is unveiled Thursday.
China’s ruling body, however, will be heavily stacked with relatives of senior leaders.
Yu Zhengsheng, currently the Shanghai party secretary, has a glittering family résumé that includes ancestors who served the Qing emperors, the Kuomintang government and as senior leaders in the People’s Republic. Another expected member, Wang Qishan, is married to the daughter of a powerful leader, Yao Yilin.
Mr. Xi’s widespread contacts in the military and bureaucracy may allow him to act more vigorously than Mr. Hu. But some analysts caution that his connections could make bold action difficult.
“There are a certain number of princelings who are benefiting from the system,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian in Beijing and the son of a minister of food under Mao. “So there are a number of them who don’t want any change.”
Advocates of broad political reform like Mr. Zhang look askance at the rise of the princelings. In imperial days, nepotism was prevalent. When the Communist Party took over, idealists hoped it would guard against that. “But for some reason, we’re now back to nepotism,” he said. “And the country is ruled by a few families.”
Edward Wong contributed reporting. Mia Li contributed research.
November 13, 2012
Chinese Authorities Putting Pressure on Businesses to Help Censor the Web
By JONATHAN ANSFIELD
BEIJING — As the Chinese cyberpolice stiffened controls on information before the Communist Party leadership transition taking place this week, some companies in Beijing and nearby cities received orders to aid the cause.
Starting earlier this year, Web police units directed the companies, which included joint ventures involving American corporations, to buy and install hardware to log the traffic of hundreds or thousands of computers, block selected Web sites, and connect with local police servers, according to industry executives and official directives obtained by The New York Times. Companies faced the threat of fines and suspended Internet service if they did not comply by prescribed deadlines.
The initiative was one in a range of shadowy tactics authorities deployed in the months leading up to the 18th Party Congress, which is scheduled to end on Wednesday, in an escalating campaign against information deemed threatening to party rule. The effort, while spottily executed, was alarming enough to spur one foreign industry association to lodge a complaint with the government. Several foreign companies quietly resisted the orders, which posed risks to communications and trade secrets that they take pains to secure.
The events surrounding the party congress magnify the constant challenge facing China’s Internet security apparatus, which is to maintain the party’s lock on political power without choking off a wired China from the global economy.
The more intrusive recent measures appear aimed at plugging some of the gaps in China’s nexus of surveillance and censorship, sometimes termed the “great firewall.”
“It goes this way pretty much every time there’s some big political event in Beijing: the DVDs are gone, the prostitutes are gone, and the Internet’s slower,” said David van Meerendonk, an American who operates an information technology company here. “They’re struggling to find a balancing point.”
Over the past couple of weeks, partial blocking has crippled access to Google and other sites, at times completely. It has also disrupted programs that many people here use to circumvent surveillance and reach blocked overseas sites by other means. Some Internet providers have cut service for hours, citing “maintenance.” Democracy activists and foreign journalists have reported increased attacks on their e-mail accounts.
On domestic social networks, already vigorously policed, censors have fine-tuned their craft. Sina Weibo, the nation’s most popular microblogging site, has experimented with “semi-censorship,”as one blog termed it, filtering search results for once-unsearchable terms. One semi-censored term was the Chinese shorthand for the party congress itself: shiba da. Blocking it had prompted some of China’s more playful microbloggers to resort to a similar-sounding English substitute: “Sparta.”
Hu Jintao, China’s departing leader, in his report on the opening day of the congress last Thursday, gave no sign of any relaxation in controls. “We should strengthen social management of the Internet and promote standardized and orderly network operation,” he said.
The police and other agencies rely on legions of local censors, automated filtering and strict regulation of Internet service providers.
GreatFire.org, a Chinese-based blog that tracks government filtering, found in tests this month that Google e-mail was being partly blocked, and that blocking intensified after the congress began. One possible explanation for the strategy was that “authorities are nervous of fully blocking Gmail,” it said. “The government may be scared of a backlash from the urban, educated and young people who tend to use Gmail, not to mention the businesses that rely on it.”
In late summer, the police stepped up jamming on circumvention software, according to two party insiders with Chinese security ties. Students who use Freegate, free software backed by the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, said that as early as August they experienced unusually frequent disruptions.
China says its online security policies are needed to fight pervasive fraud, cyberattacks, pornography and rumormongering.
But many of the controls seem aimed more at checking antigovernment activity. And the latest effort to enlist business represents a new front for the systems, already installed at many hotels, schools and coffee chains. Many corporations, especially foreign companies, use encryption and circumvention technologies to safeguard communications, allowing local employees to use blocked Web sites and skirt police surveillance.
This past summer, the Internet police in the provinces of Hebei and Shandong ordered three American companies to install the monitoring systems at local joint ventures, according to a spokesman for the Quality Brands Protection Committee, a foreign industry group representing more than 200 major corporations operating in China.
Elsewhere, American, Japanese and Korean companies received similar orders, executives said. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for their companies and feared compromising local business relationships.
The orders, first reported by CNN, cited existing regulations and designated vendors. The police in the Hebei city of Qinhuangdao notified one company that it would face a fine of 15,000 renminbi, or about $2,400, and lose Internet service for half a year if it did not install the system by mid-August.
Technology specialists warned that foreign companies installing the devices could be directly exposed to intellectual property theft and cyberattacks.
“This box, in addition to being able to monitor any queries about Tiananmen Square or Tibet or the Dalai Lama, also would be able to intercept all network communications from the China operations back to headquarters,” said Thomas Parenty, an information security consultant for foreign companies in China.
The Quality Brands committee spokesman said he believed the initiative amounted to overzealous local enforcement rather than national policy. The group has raised its concerns with the police and commerce ministries.
The ministries did not respond to questions.
Sometimes, enforcement seemed superficial. “I said, ‘We don’t have a network, so I could not use the piece of equipment,’ ” said the manager of one Western company, recalling the day the Beijing police tried to carry out the directive.
“He said, ‘Just sign.’ So I did,” the manager added. “I did not buy any equipment. I think the idea was to create fear that they can and will check.”
Adam Century contributed reporting.
14 November 2012 - 13H23
Ivory Coast president dissolves government
AFP - Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara on Wednesday dissolved the government formed in March after the deadly military-political crisis of 2010-2011, the presidency said.
"The president announced the dissolution of the government this morning in a cabinet meeting ," the presidency said Wednesday, without providing further details.
U.S. and Australia ready to bolster military ties
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 7:10 EST
US and Australian ministers sought to bolster security ties at annual talks Wednesday, as the American military seeks greater access to the country’s bases in a strategic tilt to the Pacific.
Anxious over China’s growing military might and territorial tensions with its neighbours, US officials are pushing for a more visible military role across the region.
This includes expanding exercises and deploying more advanced ships and hardware to Southeast Asia.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith welcomed the deployment of US Marines this year in Australia’s north and said he and counterpart Leon Panetta were looking at opening up access to more bases and ports for US aircraft and warships.
“We look forward today to discussions about the potential for enhanced aviation and aerial access to our Northern Territory RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) bases and also in due course advanced naval access to HMAS Stirling,” Smith told reporters, referring to the base south of Perth.
Smith said holding the annual strategic discussions between the two nations in the western coastal city underlined the growing importance of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, home to vital shipping lanes and growing economies.
“Here you see the world moving to the Asia-Pacific, the world moving to the Indo-Pacific not just with security implications but with enormous economic investment and prosperity,” he said.
Before Wednesday’s meeting, which gathers foreign and defence ministers from each country, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed that the US was fully committed to its pivot to Asia over the long term, despite crises in the Middle East and fiscal pressures at home.
Speaking Tuesday evening at the University of Western Australia, Clinton underlined America’s “expanding engagement” in the region.
“It’s important that we make absolutely clear we are here to stay,” she said, adding that it was important to see India become more involved in the region and that the US would welcome Australia-India joint naval exercises.
Although US and Australian officials privately worry about Beijing’s assertive behaviour in the South China Sea and elsewhere, Clinton insisted the US supported the peaceful rise of China.
“(We) hope to see gradual but consistent opening up of a Chinese society and political system that will more closely give the Chinese people the opportunities that we in the United States and Australia are lucky to take for granted,” she said.
The US-Australia talks are taking place as China’s Communist Party undergoes a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.
Clinton said Wednesday the two governments also planned to confer on more detailed plans for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, with most combat forces due to depart by the end of 2014.
The annual talks follow the arrival of about 250 US Marines in northern Australia as part of an American “rebalance” towards the Pacific after a decade of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US military currently has only a limited footprint in longstanding ally Australia, including the Pine Gap Joint Defence Facility spy station near Alice Springs.
The move to station Marines — some 2,500 by 2016-17 — represents a significant strategic shift by Washington and has irked Beijing.
A senior US defence official said the Pentagon would like to “keep the ball moving” on the deployment of Marines as well as air force crews, hoping to slightly increase the number of boots on the ground.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Nigerian lawmakers move ahead on anti-gay bill
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 17:26 EST
ABUJA — Nigerian lawmakers moved a step closer Tuesday to approving a bill that would harshly crack down on gay rights, including banning same-sex marriage and public displays of affection between homosexual couples.
The bill which has already been approved by the Senate passed a second reading in the House of Representatives with an unanimous vote and will now see a clause-by-clause review in the chamber at an undetermined date.
“It is alien to our society and culture and it must not be imported,” House majority leader Mulikat Adeola-Akande said during debate, referring to same-sex marriage. “Religion abhors it and our culture has no place for it,” she added.
House minority leader Femi Gbajabiamila said the bill represents “convergence of both law and morality.” He said that same-sex marriage “is both illegal and immoral.”
Nigeria’s senate in November 2011 approved the bill that would make same-sex marriages punishable by up to 14 years for the couple and 10 for anyone abetting such unions.
It also set out a 10-year sentence for “any person who … directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationships”.
Gay organisations would also be made illegal, leading some to raise concerns over whether funding channeled through non-governmental organisations in Nigeria for AIDS treatment would be put in jeopardy.
A final House vote would come after the clause-by-clause review. President Goodluck Jonathan must sign off on the bill to give it final approval in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has already warned that his country will consider withholding aid from countries that do not recognise gay rights. The United States has expressed concerns over the Nigerian legislation.
Last year, US President Barack Obama ordered all government agencies that play an active foreign policy role to take steps to encourage foreign nations to put a premium on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.
It is unclear why lawmakers have made such a ban a priority other than to gain popular support since gay marriage is not known to be prevalent in Nigeria and homosexuals are already harshly discriminated against.
Nigeria is a highly religious society, with its 160 million people roughly divided in half between Christians and Muslims, though a significant number are also believed to follow traditional religions.
November 14, 2012
France Grants Its Recognition to Syria Rebels as U.S. Waits
By STEVEN ERLANGER, RICK GLADSTONE and ALAN COWELL
PARIS — Syrian authorities ordered airstrikes for a third straight day close to the Turkish border on Wednesday, and said a French decision to recognize and consider arming a newly formed Syrian rebel coalition was an “immoral” act “encouraging the destruction of Syria.”
The French move represented an attempt to inject momentum into a broad Western and Arab effort to build a viable and effective opposition to hasten the end of a stalemated civil war which has destabilized the Middle East. For its part, the United States on Wednesday signaled a reluctance to go beyond its characterization of the rebel alliance as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people, rather than as their sole representative.
Speaking in Perth, Australia, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington first wanted to see the coalition influencing events on the ground.
“As the Syrian opposition takes these steps and demonstrates its effectiveness in advancing the cause of a unified, democratic, pluralistic Syria, we will be prepared to work with them to deliver assistance to the Syrian people,” news reports quoted her saying.
At the same time, she announced $30 million in American humanitarian aid to feed people affected by the civil war, bringing the total American assistance to almost $200 million.
The airstrikes on Wednesday underscored the urgency of the diplomatic maneuvers. Journalists along the 550-mile border between Turkey and Syria near the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar said they witnessed a Syrian airstrike in the adjacent Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, where rebels say they have ousted troops loyal to Mr. Assad. It was the third such strike there in as many days.
In response, Reuters reported, Turkey scrambled fighter jets to its southeastern border with Syria, recalling Turkey’s insistence that it will not refrain from a tougher reaction against Syria.
The official SANA news agency in Syria made no direct reference to the Western moves. But the deputy foreign minister, Faisal Muqdad, told the Agence France-Presse news agency that the establishment of the opposition coalition in Doha, Qatar, was a “ declaration of war.” "We read the Doha document and they reject any dialogue with the government."
Referring to the French recognition of the alliance, he said: “Allow me to use the word, this is an immoral position. They are supporting killers, terrorists and they are encouraging the destruction of Syria.”The announcement by President François Hollande on Tuesday made France the first Western country to fully embrace the new coalition, which came together this past weekend under Western pressure after days of difficult negotiations in Doha, Qatar.
The goal was to make an opposition leadership — both inside and outside the country — representative of the array of Syrian groups pressing for the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad. Although Mr. Assad is increasingly isolated as his country descends further into mayhem and despair after 20 months of conflict, he has survived partly because of the disagreements and lack of unity among his opponents. Throughout the conflict, the West has taken half measures and been reluctant to back an aggressive effort to oust Mr. Assad. This appears to be the first time that Western nations, with Arab allies, are determined to build a viable opposition leadership that can ultimately function as a government. Whether it can succeed remains unclear.
Mr. Hollande went beyond other Western pledges of support for the new Syrian umbrella rebel group, which calls itself the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. But Mr. Hollande’s announcement clearly signaled expectations that if the group can establish political legitimacy and an operational structure inside Syria, creating an alternative to the Assad family’s four decades in power, it will be rewarded with further recognition, money and possibly weapons.
“I announce that France recognizes the Syrian National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people and thus as the future provisional government of a democratic Syria and to bring an end to Bashar al-Assad’s regime,” said Mr. Hollande, who has been one of the Syrian president’s harshest critics.
As for weapons, Mr. Hollande said, France had not supported arming the rebels up to now, but “with the coalition, as soon as it is a legitimate government of Syria, this question will be looked at by France, but also by all countries that recognize this government.”
The six Arab countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including key opposition supporters Qatar and Saudi Arabia, recognized the rebel coalition on Monday as the legitimate Syrian government. Political analysts called Mr. Hollande’s announcement an important moment in the Syrian conflict, which began as a peaceful Arab Spring uprising in March 2011. It was harshly suppressed by Mr. Assad, turned into a civil war and has left nearly 40,000 Syrians dead, displaced about 2.5 million and forced more than 400,000 to flee to neighboring countries, according to international relief agencies.
“It’s certainly another page of the story,” Augustus Richard Norton, a professor of international relations at Boston University and an expert on Middle East political history, said of the French announcement. “I think it’s important. But it will be much more important if other countries follow suit. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.”
Some drew an analogy to France’s leading role in the early days of the Libyan uprising when it helped funnel aid, and later military support, to the rebels who had firmly established themselves in eastern Libya and would later topple Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But in Syria, rebels have not been as organized and have no hold on significant amounts of territory — at least not enough to create a provisional government that could resist Mr. Assad’s military assaults. The West has also refused, so far, to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, which was critical to the success of the Libyan uprising.
Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the new coalition would have to create a secure zone in Syria to be successful, and that such a step would require support from the United States, which was instrumental in the negotiations that led to the group’s creation but has not yet committed to giving it full recognition.
What the French have done, Mr. Tabler said, is significant because they have started the process of broader recognition, putting pressure on the group to succeed. “They’ve decided to back this umbrella organization and hope that it has some kind of political legitimacy and keep it from going to extremists,” he said. “It’s a gamble. The gamble is that it will stiffen the backs of the opposition.”
France’s statement also was a clear reflection of frustration with the growing death toll and military stalemate in Syria. It came a week after the re-election of President Obama, who had clearly been unwilling to consider any military policy that could hurt his prospects.
Mr. Hollande’s announcement came as the rebel coalition’s newly chosen leader, Sheik Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, a former imam of the historic Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and a respected figure in Syria, made a broad appeal to Western and Arab countries for recognition and military aid. Foreign ministers of the Arab League, while approving the new group as the “legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition,” have not agreed on recognizing it as a provisional government to replace Mr. Assad.
France, the former colonial power in Syria, has been pressing for a more committed international effort to help the anti-Assad movement. It has pushed the United Nations Security Council and the United States to act more decisively and has promoted economic and oil sanctions against Syria, both in the United Nations and more successfully in the European Union, which had been a top consumer of Syrian oil.
Under the previous center-right presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, France played the leading role in organizing an armed intervention in Libya to save the opposition from Colonel Qaddafi’s forces. Working with the British, Mr. Sarkozy brought Washington along and helped secure a Security Council mandate that was interpreted as covering military intervention in Libya.
Russia and China have said they felt deceived, however, and both have opposed a similar Council resolution on Syria. In addition, the Obama administration has been firmly against any military intervention in Syria on behalf of a more chaotic opposition with a larger, more visible presence of radical Islamic fighters from other countries.
Still, Secretary of State Clinton has been important in pressing for a newly constituted, broader Syrian transitional council of the kind established in Qatar on Sunday.
The French have also been helping with civilian projects in areas of Syria held by opposition forces, working with locals to repair food and milk factories and to provide medical supplies and assistance. The idea, French officials have said, is to help the opposition govern and build credibility in so-called liberated areas.
International relief agencies warned that the humanitarian crisis in Syria had worsened in the past few weeks.
“People are really on the run, hiding,” said Melissa Fleming, the spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency in Geneva. “They are difficult to count and difficult to access.”
As Syrian aircraft were bombing for the town along the border with Turkey in the past several days, tensions remained high on the armistice line between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights area controlled by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israeli tank gunners blasted a Syrian mobile artillery vehicle there on Monday in response to repeated instances of errant mortar shells landing on the Israeli side.
There were also new indications that the Syrian rebels were obtaining more sophisticated weapons without Western help. The Brown Moses blog, considered an authoritative source on arms used in the conflict, reported new images showing insurgents armed with SA-16 and SA-24 shoulder-fired heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles, apparently captured from the Syrian military. Both systems are newer generations of weapons than rebels have been seen carrying before, and pose a new threat to Syrian military aircraft.
Steven Erlanger reported from Paris, Rick Gladstone from New York, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Neil MacFarquhar and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon; Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva; and Alan Cowell from Paris.
11/14/2012 01:11 PM
Attempt to Preempt Ban: Far-Right NPD Asks Court to Confirm Its Legality
Germany's far-right NPD party has taken the unusual step of asking the country's highest court to confirm its constitutionality in an effort to avert a possible future attempt by the government to outlaw it. Mainstream politicians have dismissed the move as a populist stunt and say it is high time authorities move ahead with their bid to ban the party.
The far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) faces a possible bid to outlaw it on the grounds that it has an extremist manifesto that challenges Germany's democratic constitution. The country's domestic intelligence agency has described it as a "racist, anti-Semitic, revisionist" party bent on removing democracy and forming a Fourth Reich.
Last year's revelation that a neo-Nazi terror group murdered nine immigrants shopkeepers and a policewoman in a killing spree that had baffled police for over a decade triggered demands for a general crackdown on right-wing extremism, as part of which the government is reviewing the possibility of a new attempt to outlaw the NPD after a first bid failed in 2003.
Pressure for a ban also grew after it emerged that the former spokesman for the NPD in Thuringia, Ralf Wohlleben, allegedly helped the terrorists.
Now the NPD has made an attempt to pre-empt a ban by taking the unprecedented step of requesting that the country's top court, the Federal Constitutional Court, review its constitutionality and confirm that it poses no danger to democracy.
In a statement, the party said its chairman, Holger Apfel, had filed a motion with the court "to ascertain that the National Democratic Party of Germany is not unconstitutional under Article 21, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law."
The motion also asked the court to ascertain that the NPD's own rights were being undermined by repeated claims that it was unconstitutional.
A spokesman for the court confirmed that it had received the motion and said no party had ever made such a request before. He said it was an open question when the judges might decide on the motion.
Politicians from mainstream parties said the motion was likely to be rejected. Ralf Jäger, the interior minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said it was "a transparent and brazen attempt to mislead the public."
Uwe Schünemann, the interior minister of the northern state of Lower Saxony, called the move "pure populism."
Thomas Oppermann, a lawmaker for the opposition Social Democratic Party, said it was high time the government launched its case to outlaw the NPD.
"We should demonstrate great determination against the NPD. The chances of success for ban proceedings are better than ever," Oppermann said in a statement. "One-thousand pages of usable evidence prove the NPD is anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and in parts ready to commit violence."
A previous attempt to outlaw the party failed in 2003 because the presence of government informants in the party's ranks led the Constitutional Court, the body which has to decide on a ban, to throw out the case on the grounds that NPD policies were being shaped in part by government agents.
Doubts Whether Ban Can Succeed
To prepare the ground for a new ban attempt, authorities have severed ties with informants. But some politicians including Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, remain skeptical about the prospects for a new case and warn that another failure would strengthen the NPD, just as it did in 2003.
Volker Beck, a lawmaker for the Greens, said the NPD was rightly deemed to be hostile to the constitution. But he added: "In the end the question will have to be clarified whether the NPD is in a position to endanger our democracy now. And that's a question that's not so easy to answer in the affirmative."
The party is represented in two state assemblies, in Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Its nationwide ratings are negligible, however, and it has never cleared the 5 percent hurdle to enter into the federal parliament in Berlin.
Friedrich and the interior ministers of Germany's 16 regional states are expected to decide in early December whether to go ahead with a ban attempt.
November 13, 2012
Swedish School’s Big Lesson Begins With Dropping Personal Pronouns
By JOHN TAGLIABUE
STOCKHOLM — At an ocher-color preschool along a lane in Stockholm’s Old Town, the teachers avoid the pronouns “him” and “her,” instead calling their 115 toddlers simply “friends.” Masculine and feminine references are taboo, often replaced by the pronoun “hen,” an artificial and genderless word that most Swedes avoid but is popular in some gay and feminist circles.
In the little library, with its throw pillows where children sit to be read to, there are few classic fairy tales, like “Cinderella” or “Snow White,” with their heavy male and female stereotypes, but there are many stories that deal with single parents, adopted children or same-sex couples.
Girls are not urged to play with toy kitchens, and wooden or Lego blocks are not considered toys for boys. And when boys hurt themselves, teachers are taught to give them every bit as much comforting as they would girls. Everyone gets to play with dolls, and while most are anatomically correct, some are also black.
Sweden is perhaps as renowned for an egalitarian mind-set as it is for meatballs or Ikea furnishings. But this taxpayer-financed preschool, known as the Nicolaigarden for a saint whose chapel was once in the 300-year-old building that houses it, is perhaps one of the more compelling examples of the country’s efforts to blur gender lines and, theoretically, cement opportunities for both women and men.
What the children are taught, said Malin Engleson, an art gallery employee, as she fetched her 15-month-old daughter Hanna from the school, “shows that girls can cry, but boys too.”
“That’s why we chose it,” she said. “It’s so important to start at an early age.”
The model has been so successful that two years ago three of its teachers opened an offshoot, which now has almost 40 children. That school, named Egalia to suggest equality, is in a 1960s housing project in the Sodermalm neighborhood.
What has become a passionate undertaking for its teachers actually began with a nudge from Swedish legislators, who in 1998 passed a bill requiring that schools, including day care centers, assure equal opportunities for girls and boys.
Spurred by the law, the teachers at Nicolaigarden took the unusual step of filming one another, capturing their behavior while playing with, eating with or just being with the center’s infants to 6-year-olds.
“We could see lots of differences, for example, in the handling of boys and girls,” said Lotta Rajalin, who directs the center and three others, which she visits by bicycle. “If a boy was crying because he hurt himself, he was consoled, but for a shorter time, while girls were held and soothed much longer,” she said. “With a boy it was, ‘Go on, it’s not so bad!’ ”
The filming, she said, also showed that staff members tended to talk more with girls than with boys, perhaps explaining girls’ later superior language skills. If boys were boisterous, that was accepted, Ms. Rajalin said; a girl trying to climb a tree on an outing in the country was stopped.
The result, after much discussion, was a seven-point program to alter such behavior. “We avoid using words like boy or girl, not because it’s bad, but because they represent stereotypes,” said Ms. Rajalin, 53. “We just use the name — Peter, Sally — or ‘Come on, friends!’ ” Men were added to the all-female staff. With Egalia, Nicolaigarden sought and obtained certification from an organization for gay and bisexual people that its staff is sensitive to their problems.
Criticism was not long in arriving. “There are a lot of letters, mail, blogs,” Ms. Rajalin said. “But it’s not so much arguments; it’s anger, basically.”
A persistent critic has been Tanja Bergkvist, a mathematician at Uppsala University whose blog consistently attacks Sweden’s “gender madness.” In an article for the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, she questioned whether children were not being “brainwashed by our parents already at the age of 3 months.” On outings, she mocked, “what do they do when a girl is picking flowers, while a boy collects rocks?”
Such criticism, said Carl-Johan Norrman, 36, who has worked at Nicolaigarden for 18 months, “starts from misconceptions: we want to turn little boys into little girls. It’s a whispering game that snowballs.”
Despite such gibes, others see the efforts as somehow peculiarly Nordic, and admirable. “I think it’s quite Swedish, it’s good,” said Camilla Flodin, 29, a native of London who has lived in Stockholm for two and a half years. Her boyfriend’s sister gets annoyed, she said, if you give her daughter a gift that is overly feminine.
Peter Rudberg, 36, an anesthesiologist whose 3-year-old son, Hjalmar, attends the kindergarten, called its gender-neutral approach “a boon,” though, like many Swedes, he believes the country has moved beyond the problem. “In modern Sweden, gender equality is a nonissue,” he said. Yet he cautioned against extremes, like “boys prohibited from playing boys’ games.”
At Stockholm’s immense brick town hall, the moderate-conservative coalition government fully supports the gender policy. “The important thing is that children, regardless of their sex, have the same opportunities,” said Lotta Edholm, the deputy mayor responsible for schools. “It’s a question of freedom.”
On the other hand, she said, parents will always play a larger role in children’s development than day care or school. “Preschool is a couple of hours a day,” said Ms. Edholm, who has a 16-year-old son. “Most of the time, children are with their parents, and the values parents impart to their children tend to be the values they adopt.”
As the Christmas season approaches, Swedes are preparing for the Feast of Lucia, on Dec. 13, when children march in processions accompanying St. Lucia, traditionally portrayed by a teenage girl in white robes and crowned with a wreath of lighted candles.
Could a boy now portray Lucia?
In fact, Ms. Edholm said, in recent years in a town outside Stockholm a teenage boy did seek the role, but was refused. Evidently, she said, women in modern Sweden can more readily slip into male roles than vice versa.
“The interesting thing is that it’s not a problem for a girl to be Santa Claus,” she said. “But it is a problem for a boy to be Lucia.”
Orphan world spotted in deep space
AFP - Astronomers on Wednesday reported they had detected a planet that had strayed from its star system and was wandering alone in deep space.
Object CFBDSIR2149 is believed to be a cold, young world that for unknown reasons has pulled free of the gravitational pull of its mother star, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) said.
It is not the first time that a "free-floating" planet has been found, but this one is the closest that has ever been spotted, at over 100 light years from Earth.
Initial observations sketched the object as either a homeless planet or a tiny failed star called a brown dwarf, which lacks the bulk to trigger the nuclear fusion that makes stars shine.
But the probabilities narrowed when the astronomers noted it was roaming near a stream of young, restless stars called the AB Doradus Moving Group.
"This group is unique, in that it is made up of around 30 stars that all have the same age, have the same composition and that move together through space," said astrophysicist Lison Malo at the University of Montreal.
"It's the link between the planet and AB Doradus that enabled us to deduce its age and classify it as a planet."
The astronomers used an infrared camera at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and ESO's 8.2-metre (28.7-feet) Very Large Telescope in Chile, ranked the sixth biggest optical telescope in the world, to get a closer look.
CFBDSIR2149, they estimate, is between 50 and 120 million years old, with a temperature of around 400 degrees Celsius (750 degrees Fahrenheit) and a mass of four to seven times that of Jupiter, the biggest planet of our solar system.
"These objects are important, as they can either help us understand more about how planets may be ejected from planetary systems, or how very light objects can arise from the star formation process," said Philippe Delorme of France's Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics.
"If this little object is a planet that has been ejected from its native system, it conjures up the striking image of orphaned worlds, drifting in the emptiness of space."
In the USA...
November 13, 2012
Congress Resumes With a G.O.P. Leadership Fight
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — The battle to shape the Republican Party’s direction after its electoral losses will see its first skirmish in the Capitol on Wednesday in a House leadership fight in which the profile might be low but the symbolism is high.
The House’s Republican leaders would dearly like to elevate Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington to lead the House Republican Conference, putting a female face into the pantheon of the white male Republican leaders. But standing in their way is Representative Tom Price of Georgia, one of the most conservative members of the House, who has lined up some big guns in his quest for the fourth-ranking post in the House Republican conference.
The most important of those guns, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the defeated Republican vice-presidential nominee, showed no sign of retreat Tuesday in a letter sent to colleagues endorsing Mr. Price.
“In the House of Representatives, we have an obligation and a real opportunity to produce and promote a positive and principled agenda for the American people,” Mr. Ryan wrote. “Over the past two years, we have offered bold solutions to our fiscal and economic challenges. We must not let up.”
The McMorris Rodgers-Price clash could set the tone for the coming Congress. Lawmakers arrived Tuesday for the lame-duck session amid an atmosphere unsettled by Democratic victories. Democrats were giddy as children on the first day of school. Republicans vacillated between notes of contrition and defiance. And the shape of the 113th Congress is only starting to come into focus.
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said she would announce on Wednesday morning whether she would seek another term in that post or step aside. And Senator-elect Angus King of Maine, an independent, said he was likely to say Wednesday which party he would caucus with.
Newly elected lawmakers alternated between being brash and press-shy. Patrick Murphy, the 29-year-old Floridian who apparently defeated Allen West, the Tea Party hero, was the only incoming House Democrat handed the microphone at an event introducing the large new Democratic class, and he hailed his still-disputed victory as a call for bipartisan cooperation. Meantime, Mr. West has refused to concede.
Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, perhaps the biggest star of the incoming class of Democrats, blew past a throng of reporters on her way to a lunch for new senators, using Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin as a shield.
“Pretend you’re talking to me,” Ms. Warren told her new colleague.
But for a party still grappling with the meaning of its losses, the vote by incoming House Republicans on who will lead their conference is gaining outsize importance. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, trying to clear the path for Ms. McMorris Rodgers and head off a divisive fight, offered Mr. Price the post of chairman of the House Republican leadership. It is not a marquee position, but it has been held by figures like Rob Portman, now an Ohio senator. But Mr. Price declined.
Instead, he set out to line up the House’s most ardent conservatives behind him. In a letter also released Tuesday, the outgoing Republican conference chairman, Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and the governor-elect of Indiana, Representative Mike Pence, also threw their support behind Mr. Price.
“These times demand strong, principled leadership in order to put our nation back on the path toward greater success and opportunity,” they wrote in their letter. “Republicans have made a commitment to the American people to put forth solutions that speak to these challenges — solving them, not simply managing them.”
Ms. McMorris Rodgers has her own slate of heavy hitters, largely from the party’s establishment. Allies say she has the support of 15 committee chairmen, including Representatives Fred Upton of Michigan of the Energy and Commerce Committee; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida of the Foreign Affairs Committee; Peter King of New York of the Homeland Security Committee; and Darrell Issa of California of Oversight and Government Reform.
Representatives Pat Tiberi of Ohio and Tom Cole of Oklahoma — both close allies of the speaker — are heading Ms. McMorris Rodgers’s vote-counting operation. And she has the support of Representative Tim Scott of South Carolina, now the House Republicans’ most prominent African-American.
In her pitch to colleagues, Ms. McMorris Rodgers has spoken of her “bold vision” for conservative reform, but she has also emphasized more basic details, down to the money she has raised for Republican election efforts, her work on behalf of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and her authorship of legislation to rescind a $100 billion line of credit for the International Monetary Fund that has been “used to bail out Greece and the European Union.”
November 14, 2012
Enrollment in Charter Schools Is Increasing
By MOTOKO RICH
Although charter schools engender fierce debate — most recently over ballot measures in Georgia and Washington State — their ranks are growing rapidly, according to a new report. Between 2010-11 and 2011-12, the number of students in charter schools increased close to 13 percent, to just over two million.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a nonprofit advocacy group, released the report on Wednesday. It showed that in some cities, charter schools — which are publicly financed but privately operated — enroll a significant proportion of public school students.
New Orleans, where the city’s schools were essentially destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, leads the nation in the proportion of students in charter schools, at 70 percent. But in six other districts, including Detroit, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, more than 30 percent of public school students attend a charter school.
According to the report, in 110 school districts, at least 10 percent of students now attend public charter schools, up from 96 a year earlier.
“To the extent families are in need of other options, growth does indicate there is something missing in the public school system,” said Nina Rees, chief executive of the National Alliance.
Opponents argue that charters drain public resources from traditional schools, and tend to attract motivated students, leaving behind those harder to educate.
The performance of charter schools has been mixed, with some helping students achieve higher test results than traditional neighborhood schools, but many others delivering similar, or worse, results.
The fate of a ballot measure in Washington allowing charter schools in the state for the first time has not been determined. In Georgia, a measure creating a new state commission to approve charter schools passed.
In New York City, just over 48,000 — or about 5 percent — of public school students attended charter schools in 2011-12, up 24 percent from the previous year.
November 13, 2012
Friends in Congress Have Helped Drug Compounders Avoid Tighter Rules
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and SABRINA TAVERNISE
WASHINGTON — Despite two decades of dire health warnings and threats of federal intervention, the specialty drugmakers at the center of the nation’s deadly meningitis outbreak have repeatedly staved off tougher federal oversight with the help of powerful allies in Congress.
Over the years, industry friends like Tom DeLay, the former House Republican leader from Texas, have come to its defense. Even Senator Edward M. Kennedy, regarded as the strongest health care advocate in Congress in recent times, dropped efforts to impose new safeguards.
But the pharmacists known as compounders are now facing their biggest regulatory threat as they confront questions on Wednesday and Thursday at Congressional hearings on the deadly outbreak. The question is whether Congress will move to oversee the niche industry more aggressively.
“A lot of the blame for the meningitis situation lies at Congress’s door,” said Larry D. Sasich, a research pharmacist who has written about compounders’ safety record. For specially mixed drugs that fall into a gray area of federal law, he said, “the protections for your cat or dog are stronger than for your wife and children.”
By Washington standards, the industry’s financial clout is not terribly large. The main trade group, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, has spent $1.1 million on lobbying in the past decade, while major players in the business have given at least $300,000 to candidates since 2008, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group in Washington.
But by positioning itself as a more affordable, community-based alternative to huge drug manufacturers, compounders have attracted broad support from politicians. They have become popular among proponents of hormone therapy to slow aging and advocates for the autistic, who often distrust the traditional pharmaceutical industry, and rely on compounders’ tailor-made blends.
If history is a guide, it often takes a disaster to get real change in the law.
In 1938, Congress passed the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act after a drug company mixed an antibiotic with a toxic solvent and more than 100 people were killed, many of them children. In 1962, it amended that act to effectively create the modern drug approval system after thalidomide, a German drug intended to treat morning sickness in pregnant women, caused severe birth defects in Europe, said Kevin Outterson, an associate professor of law at Boston University.
Experts say the magnitude of the current crisis, in which more than 400 people have been sickened with meningitis and 32 have died, may finally spur action. This week’s hearings are expected to include testimony from the head of the Food and Drug Administration and the head of the Massachusetts pharmacy that produced the tainted drug.
Much of the scrutiny has focused on lax oversight by state boards and the Food and Drug Administration. But public health and drug industry experts say Congress is partly to blame for failing to clearly define the F.D.A.’s authority to police the practice.
A familiar cycle has played out in Washington since the 1990s: Publicity over illnesses or deaths from compounding drugs prompts outrage. Expert witnesses warn of the dangers of an unregulated industry. Proposals to fix the system follow. Then nothing happens.
“The public is at risk, an alarming great risk,” one pharmacist warned in 2003 Senate testimony after one person died and five more fell ill from contaminated medicine in 2002 produced by a South Carolina pharmacy.
Compounding, the practice of mixing medicines for individual patients, has grown in recent decades, helping fill gaps during drug shortages and offering cheaper versions of commercial drugs. But it has also become prone to abuse, with some pharmacies becoming, in effect, mini-drug manufacturers.
While the F.D.A. has clear authority to regulate drug manufacturers, state authorities have the main jurisdiction over pharmacies. Determining which category a company falls into is difficult because compounders are not required to give the F.D.A. access to their books.
Ultimately, stronger regulation has been stymied by sharp opposition from the industry and its defenders in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, many of whom have compounders in their districts.
In 2008, the F.D.A. challenged what it said were misleading claims by compounders that their hormone therapy for older women was safer and more natural than that of big drug makers; it was met with staunch opposition, including objections from Suzanne Somers, the celebrity anti-aging advocate. The agency eventually prevailed.
Hundreds of members of Congress have attended conferences or taken part in charitable events and letter-writing campaigns organized by the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists. The trade group said recently that its Congressional supporters had surged in recent years and that compounding had “gone from being a little-known practice to having a strong and steady presence in Washington.”
Texas, home to many compounding pharmacies and their main trade lobbying group, has been an important base of support, producing industry allies like Mr. DeLay and Representative Joe L. Barton, a Texas Republican.
In 2003, Mr. DeLay helped ensure that a Senate proposal to re-establish an F.D.A. advisory oversight committee on compounding did not make it into a Medicare bill in the House. His office said at the time that regulating compounders was best left to the states. His opposition to a more active federal role, his office said, was not influenced by about $15,000 in donations from compounders in Texas.
Four years later, Mr. Kennedy floated but then dropped a proposal to toughen compounding rules. In recent interviews, officials blamed intense industry lobbying for the plan’s collapse. According to the trade association, hundreds of representatives from 30 compounding companies visited more than 285 Congressional offices in an all-out lobbying effort that year.
“It was just ‘Oppose this bill — period,’ ” said a Congressional aide involved in the discussions, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to involve his current employer.
In a small number of cases where the F.D.A. has succeeded in getting stronger rules, the industry has fought back. In 2006, the industry secured signatures from 66 lawmakers on a letter urging the F.D.A. to withdraw a rule on veterinary drugs that prohibits compounders from using bulk ingredients and chemicals.
No such prohibition exists for drugs to treat humans, making the restrictions on animal compounding actually tougher than those for people. Compounders complain that they are unable to mix important drugs for veterinarians and have been fighting for eight years to have the F.D.A. rescind the rule.
Beyond the political battles, a tangled mass of litigation has prevented tougher regulations. A major attempt by Congress in 1997 to define compounding and the F.D.A.’s role in overseeing it was thrown out by the Supreme Court in 2002 on the grounds that its curbs on advertising violated the First Amendment. Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat whose district was home to the compounding pharmacy that produced the contaminated steroids linked to the meningitis outbreak, proposed a law this month to give the F.D.A. clearer powers over abusive compounders.
Thrust into the political spotlight, compounding leaders have struck a conciliatory tone. “We have people who are dead because of a breakdown in our system, and that has to be addressed,” said David G. Miller, chief executive at the compounding academy.
Publicly at least, the compounders’ usual allies have been noticeably silent. Mr. Barton is a top recipient of political donations from the industry. Described by Mr. Miller’s group as a “dedicated” industry advocate, he has appeared at its policy and fund-raising events and been outspoken in praising compounding.
When Mr. Barton’s office was asked recently about his current position on regulation of the industry, the calls seeking comment were not returned.
November 13, 2012
The Problem Is Clear: The Water Is Filthy
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN
SEVILLE, Calif. — Like most children, the students at Stone Corral Elementary School here rejoice when the bell rings for recess and delight in christening a classroom pet.
But while growing up in this impoverished agricultural community of numbered roads and lush citrus orchards, young people have learned a harsh life lesson: “No tomes el agua!” — “Don’t drink the water!”
Seville, with a population of about 300, is one of dozens of predominantly Latino unincorporated communities in the Central Valley plagued for decades by contaminated drinking water. It is the grim result of more than half a century in which chemical fertilizers, animal wastes, pesticides and other substances have infiltrated aquifers, seeping into the groundwater and eventually into the tap. An estimated 20 percent of small public water systems in Tulare County are unable to meet safe nitrate levels, according to a United Nations representative.
In farmworker communities like Seville, a place of rusty rural mailboxes and backyard roosters where the average yearly income is $14,000, residents like Rebecca Quintana pay double for water: for the tap water they use to shower and wash clothes, and for the five-gallon bottles they must buy weekly for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth.
It is a life teeming with worry: about children accidentally sipping contaminated water while cooling off with a garden hose, about not having enough clean water for an elderly parent’s medications, about finding a rock while cleaning the feeding tube of a severely disabled daughter, as Lorie Nieto did. She vowed never to use tap water again.
Chris Kemper, the school’s principal, budgets $100 to $500 a month for bottled water. He recalled his astonishment, upon his arrival four years ago, at encountering the “ghost” drinking fountains, shut off to protect students from “weird foggyish water,” as one sixth grader, Jacob Cabrera, put it. Mr. Kemper said he associated such conditions with third world countries. “I always picture it as a laptop a month for the school,” he said of the added cost of water.
Here in Tulare County, one of the country’s leading dairy producers, where animal waste lagoons penetrate the air and soil, most residents rely on groundwater as the source for drinking water. A study by the University of California, Davis, this year estimated that 254,000 people in the Tulare Basin and Salinas Valley, prime agricultural regions with about 2.6 million residents, were at risk for nitrate contamination of their drinking water. Nitrates have been linked to thyroid disease and make infants susceptible to “blue baby syndrome,” a potentially fatal condition that interferes with the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen.
Communities like Seville, where corroded piping runs through a murky irrigation ditch and into a solitary well, are particularly vulnerable to nitrate contamination, lacking financial resources for backup systems. Fertilizer and other chemicals applied to cropland decades ago will continue to affect groundwater for years, according to the Davis study.
“You can’t smell it,” Mrs. Quintana said of the dangers of the tap. “You can’t see it. It looks like plain beautiful water.”
Situated off the state’s psychic map, lacking political clout and even mayors, places like Seville and Tooleville to the south have long been excluded from regional land use and investment decisions, said Phoebe S. Seaton, the director of a community initiative for California Rural Legal Assistance. Residents rely on county governments and tiny resident-run public utility districts. The result of this jurisdictional patchwork is a fragmented water delivery system and frequently deteriorating infrastructure.
Many such communities started as farm labor camps without infrastructure, said John A. Capitman, a professor at California State University, Fresno, and the executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute. Today, one in five residents in the Central Valley live below the federal poverty line. Many spend up to 10 percent of their income on water. “The laborers and residents of this region have borne a lot of the social costs of food production,” Professor Capitman said.
Bertha Diaz, a farmworker and single mother of four in East Orosi, rises at 4 in the morning to pick grapefruit and other crops. Her chief concern, she said, was how she would afford bottled water.
She comes home to an additional chore — filling five-gallon jugs at the Watermill Express, a self-serve drinking water station in nearby Orosi with a windmill roof. When she began receiving cautionary notices from the local water district, she formed a neighborhood committee and also joined AGUA, the Spanish-language acronym for the Association of People United for Water, a network of residents working with the nonprofit Community Water Center.
Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Human Right to Water bill, which directs state agencies to make clean water a financing priority. In the past, communities like Seville trying to make improvements got caught in a noose of bureaucratic technicalities that resulted in years of delays.
“Clean water ought to be a right,” said Bill Chiat, a program manager with the California State Association of Counties who educates government officials on water issues. “The question is, how are you going to pay for it?”
The answer is sometimes a twisted tale: In Lanare, in Fresno County, the local community services district received $1.3 million in federal money to construct a treatment plant for arsenic-tainted water. But when the system began operating, the cost of water skyrocketed — a result of lowball estimates by construction engineers, as well as the siphoning of treated water to nearby farms. “Before, it was dirty water,” said Isabel Solorio, a part-time housecleaner. “But at least it wasn’t expensive dirty water.” The plant now sits unused.
But there is a growing recognition by state and local officials that rural communities need regional solutions. One option is consolidation, in which small systems band together to create a larger system with a bigger customer base. Another might be partnering with Alta Irrigation District, which has delivered surface water for agriculture from the Kings River for 130 years. Conserved water in upstream reservoirs could also be a source for Seville and elsewhere. “It would require a new governance structure,” said Chris Kapheim, the irrigation district’s general manager. “But it would give these areas a long-term fix.”
The state is allocating $4 million for interim solutions like filters under sinks that can remove arsenic and nitrates.
Even temporary solutions cannot come quickly enough for residents like Eunice Martinez, 47, who lives in Tooleville, where water has been contaminated with arsenic and bacteria.
Mobile homes rented by farmworkers sit temptingly near the Friant-Kern Canal, a 152-mile aqueduct that supplies water for one million acres of farmland.
Long before they knew there was a health problem, Ms. Martinez and her 72-year-old mother, Margaret, had stopped drinking the water. “Honestly, it was the taste,” she said. “It just wasn’t right.”
Ms. Martinez sometimes visits family in a nearby town where the water is clean and clear, just to freshen up. “I turn on the tap and it’s, ‘Wow, I’m amazed,’ ” she said. “It’s something so simple in life. And it’s gone.”
Speculation swirls over Obama’s new cabinet
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 17:24 EST
WASHINGTON — A week after winning reelection President Barack Obama has yet to reveal his new White House dream team amid fierce jostling for coveted posts key to shaping America’s foreign and defense policy.
Speculation is heating up in Washington corridors about who will be crowned the new secretaries of state and defense, with veteran US Senator John Kerry, the US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, and national security advisor Tom Donilon the odds-on favorites to be among the new cabinet faces.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday “the president has not made a decision on personnel matters,” refusing to discuss any of the rumors.
But Obama’s closely-guarded calculations may have been thrown askew by Friday’s shock resignation of CIA director David Petraeus, opening up another job.
Kerry, the long-time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee with foreign policy stamped into his DNA, is a well-known, respected figure in international circles and has long dreamed of becoming secretary of state.
But the outspoken, feisty Rice is part of Obama’s inner circle and has been a loyal champion of US foreign policy at the UN. US dailies reported Tuesday her nomination to replace Hillary Clinton may be almost in the bag.
Kerry might instead be tapped for the Pentagon to take over from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, both the New York Times and the Washington Post said, quoting White House officials. They described him as a “war hero” and cited his service in the US Navy in Vietnam as qualifications for the job.
Both nominations could be problematic though.
Rice has come under fire from Republicans who have alleged there was a bid to cover-up the circumstances surrounding September’s attack on the US mission in Benghazi.
Too many questions remained unanswered and “Susan Rice would have an incredibly difficult time getting through the Senate,” veteran Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Sunday.
Carney refused to be drawn on whether Rice could survive a contentious confirmation hearing, saying only that Obama believes she “has done an excellent job and is grateful for her service.”
“It depends whether the president wants her bad enough in that position to go… fight” for her, Barry Pavel, director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council, told AFP.
“It depends on how much capital the president wants to spend on this.”
Kerry’s appointment to a cabinet post would also force an election for his Massachusetts seat in the US Senate, which could see popular Republican Scott Brown defeated on November 6 take another tilt at Congress.
However, analysts felt the Democrats had done better than expected in last week’s election winning a 55-seat majority in the Senate, including two independents expected to vote with them, giving them a cushion.
While Kerry’s war record was the subject of some controversy during his 2004 presidential campaign, he is widely seen as a safe pair of hands to be entrusted with America’s wide-ranging and powerful foreign policy.
“There’s a combination of prudence, and knowledge,” said Christopher Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.
The veteran senator would bring sober reflection on US intervention in world crises to the table born from the “lessons taken away from the war in Iraq in particular, but also Afghanistan,” Preble told AFP.
Rice on the other hand was an enthusiastic proponent of intervention in Libya, which he felt was out of step with “the mood of the country.”
Pavel, however, who has sat in the Situation Room with Rice, said he appreciated her directness which at times has raised eyebrows at the UN.
“It’s sometimes a pleasure to have someone who can be diplomatic when they need to be and blunt and direct when they don’t need to be,” he said.
Donilon, who has been Obama’s trusted national security advisor since 2010, is said to want the State Department post, but some say he lacks the political stature of either Rice or Kerry.
Obama may also have a surprise in store as in 2008 when he picked Clinton, his fierce foe in the Democratic primary race, and kept Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his post. He could again choose a moderate Republican.
Names circulating include former secretary of state Colin Powell, Chinese speaker Jon Huntsman who was appointed US envoy to Beijing by Obama, and former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel.
“It’s the kind of thing a pragmatic President Obama might do,” Pavel said.
Preble, however, argued that “ultimately I don’t know how much goodwill you buy for yourself” by picking a Republican in this partisan climate.
Showing a willingness “to cooperate with the Democrats and particularly the Democratic president” effectively undermines “your credibility among your party,” he said.
At the CIA, Obama could opt for a quick fix by naming acting CIA director Michael Morell as Petraeus’ permanent replacement.
November 13, 2012
Tampa Is Seen as Social Link for Unfolding Scandal
By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
TAMPA, Fla. — Jill and Scott Kelley moved here about a decade ago, taking up residence in a huge redbrick home with a spectacular view of the water on Bayshore Boulevard, the city’s most fashionable street. They quickly established themselves as social hosts to the powerful four-star officers who run two of the nation’s most important military commands.
The Kelleys were known for their lavish parties, with extravagant buffets, flowing Champagne, valet parking and cigars for guests from nearby MacDill Air Force Base, including David H. Petraeus and Gen. John R. Allen, who now commands troops in Afghanistan. “Tampa is the kind of community where, if you’re new to the community, you can carve out your own niche,” said Pam Iorio, the city’s former mayor, who recalls mingling with Mr. Petraeus and his wife, Holly, at the Kelleys’ home. “They decided to carve out a niche with the military.”
Now the social link between Tampa’s military and civilian elite is at the center of an unfolding Washington scandal that has already cost Mr. Petraeus his job as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and has ensnared General Allen, who was Mr. Petraeus’s deputy when he was here from 2008 to 2010.
At the heart of the investigation is the Tampa woman who prompted it: Ms. Kelley, 37, who received threatening anonymous e-mails that set off an F.B.I. investigation revealing that Mr. Petraeus had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. On Tuesday, General Allen was caught up in the scandal, when the Pentagon said that it was investigating whether he had engaged in “inappropriate communication” with Ms. Kelley; associates of the general say the messages were innocent, and President Obama voiced support for him.
Records show that Ms. Kelley and her husband, a doctor, have been subject to a string of lawsuits over debts, according to a report in The Tampa Bay Times, which said the Kelleys owed a bank nearly $2.2 million, including attorney fees, on a building they own. They also ran a cancer charity, which appears to be defunct. A 2007 tax filing, the latest available, shows the charity raised $157,284 that year, but spent just $58,417 on program services, described as conducting research to improve the lives of terminally ill adult cancer patients.
Their parties, though, were the talk of the town. In February 2010, a gossip column in The Tampa Bay Times reported that Mr. Petraeus and his wife arrived escorted by 28 police officers on motorcycles to a pirate-themed party at the Kelleys’ home, to mark Tampa’s Gasparilla Pirate Fest, an annual event. Guests dined on lamb chops and crab cakes, beside hot dog and funnel cake carts, the paper said.
The couple appeared to be well regarded at MacDill, home to Central Command, which runs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and hosts officers from more than 50 foreign countries, and Special Operations Command, which trains commandos for missions like the one that killed Osama bin Laden. The two sit side by side on the base, where generals, admirals and other high-ranking officers live in elegant homes on a spit of land that juts into Tampa Bay. Often, they invite community leaders to social receptions of their own.
Indeed, Mr. Petraeus and his wife grew so close to the Kelleys that they hosted the couple and Ms. Kelley’s twin sister, Natalie Khawam, for Christmas dinner last year. Both General Allen and Mr. Petraeus also wrote letters to a District of Columbia court vouching for Ms. Khawam in a child custody dispute.
That kind of closeness — and the Kelleys’ fancy parties — strike some military people as odd.
“I have never known there to be groupies around generals,” said Jacey Eckhart, the military spouse editor of the Web site military.com. “But just like in every other field of endeavor, there is a certain excitement around people that have great power. And generals, like captains of industry and certain kinds of celebrities, wield a certain kind of power.”
MacDill Air Force Base is a driving force behind the Tampa economy. The local Chamber of Commerce estimates $6.7 billion a year flows into the Tampa Bay area from the base. Military contractors and other defense-related companies dot the city. Business deals are often made in the plentiful strip clubs and steakhouses.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the base only grew in importance, as Central Command and Special Operations Command took on leading roles in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is unusual to have two high-level commands on the same base; that puts MacDill at the center of American military activity. The CentCom commander is typically a local star.
“He was looked at like the C.E.O. of Chrysler is in Detroit,” said Roger Maddox, a retired military officer who lives here. “Bigger than the mayor. His existence is what brings so much money to the community.”
The community, meanwhile, welcomes commanders who are outsiders when they arrive.
“Generally when they get down here they have no connection to Tampa but immediately they become part of the fabric of the community,” said John Lauro, a former federal prosecutor in New York who has lived in Tampa for the past 20 years. “People reach out to them, want to get close to them.”
Ms. Kelley worked hard to develop that closeness, and functioned as a kind of social liaison between the military commanders and the community. But some here were a bit suspicious of her.
Tampa is, at heart, a conservative Southern city whose most prominent citizens have lived here for decades. Ms. Kelley, a daughter of Lebanese immigrants who grew up in Philadelphia, and her husband, Scott, a cancer surgeon, are still regarded as newcomers.
They were often seen at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club; the late George Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the New York Yankees, was a member. And Ms. Kelley and her sister, Ms. Khawam, raised eyebrows for their 2003 appearance on a Food Network reality show, “Food Fight.”
While other prominent Tampa residents were supporting the military in other ways — raising money for wounded veterans, waving flags as a way of showing respect, helping military children with medical needs — the Kelleys stuck mostly to social events, said Ms. Iorio, the former mayor.
When foreign dignitaries visited Central Command, the command’s generals could count on the Kelleys to host a dinner in the dignitaries’ honor. Even as news of Ms. Kelley’s connection to the emerging Petraeus scandal began spreading Sunday evening, the deputy commander of the Central Command, Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward, was attending a party at her bayside home.
Michael S. Schmidt reported from Tampa, Fla., and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington. Michael Wines contributed reporting from New York, and Matthew Rosenberg and Ron Nixon from Washington.
November 13, 2012
Online Privacy Issue Is Also in Play in Petraeus Scandal
By SCOTT SHANE
The F.B.I. investigation that toppled the director of the C.I.A. and has now entangled the top American commander in Afghanistan underscores a danger that civil libertarians have long warned about: that in policing the Web for crime, espionage and sabotage, government investigators will unavoidably invade the private lives of Americans.
On the Internet, and especially in e-mails, text messages, social network postings and online photos, the work lives and personal lives of Americans are inextricably mixed. Private, personal messages are stored for years on computer servers, available to be discovered by investigators who may be looking into completely unrelated matters.
In the current F.B.I. case, a Tampa, Fla., woman, Jill Kelley, a friend both of David H. Petraeus, the former C.I.A. director, and Gen. John R. Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, was disturbed by a half-dozen anonymous e-mails she had received in June. She took them to an F.B.I. agent whose acquaintance with Ms. Kelley (he had sent her shirtless photos of himself — electronically, of course) eventually prompted his bosses to order him to stay away from the investigation.
But a squad of investigators at the bureau’s Tampa office, in consultation with prosecutors, opened a cyberstalking inquiry. Although that investigation is still open, law enforcement officials have said that criminal charges appear unlikely.
In the meantime, however, there has been a cascade of unintended consequences. What began as a private, and far from momentous, conflict between two women, Ms. Kelley and Paula Broadwell, Mr. Petraeus’s biographer and the reported author of the harassing e-mails, has had incalculable public costs.
The C.I.A. is suddenly without a permanent director at a time of urgent intelligence challenges in Syria, Iran, Libya and beyond. The leader of the American-led effort to prevent a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is distracted, at the least, by an inquiry into his e-mail exchanges with Ms. Kelley by the Defense Department’s inspector general.
For privacy advocates, the case sets off alarms.
“There should be an investigation not of the personal behavior of General Petraeus and General Allen, but of what surveillance powers the F.B.I. used to look into their private lives,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview. “This is a textbook example of the blurring of lines between the private and the public.”
Law enforcement officials have said they used only ordinary methods in the case, which might have included grand jury subpoenas and search warrants. As the complainant, Ms. Kelley presumably granted F.B.I. specialists access to her computer, which they would have needed in their hunt for clues to the identity of the sender of the anonymous e-mails. While they were looking, they discovered General Allen’s e-mails, which F.B.I. superiors found “potentially inappropriate” and decided should be shared with the Defense Department.
In a parallel process, the investigators gained access, probably using a search warrant, to Ms. Broadwell’s Gmail account. There they found messages that turned out to be from Mr. Petraeus.
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said the chain of unexpected disclosures was not unusual in computer-centric cases.
“It’s a particular problem with cyberinvestigations — they rapidly become open-ended because there’s such a huge quantity of information available and it’s so easily searchable,” he said, adding, “If the C.I.A. director can get caught, it’s pretty much open season on everyone else.”
For years now, as national security officials and experts have warned of a Pearl Harbor cyberattack that could fray the electrical grid or collapse stock markets, policy makers have jostled over which agencies should be assigned the delicate task of monitoring the Internet for dangerous intrusions.
Advocates of civil liberties have been especially wary of the National Security Agency, whose expertise is unrivaled but whose immense surveillance capabilities they see as frightening. They have successfully urged that the Department of Homeland Security take the leading role in cybersecurity.
That is in part because the D.H.S., if far from entirely open to public scrutiny, is much less secretive than the N.S.A., the eavesdropping and code-breaking agency. To this day, N.S.A. officials have revealed almost nothing about the warrantless wiretapping it conducted inside the United States in the hunt for terrorists in the years after 2001, even after the secret program was disclosed by The New York Times in 2005 and set off a political firestorm.
The hazards of the Web as record keeper, of course, are a familiar topic. New college graduates find that their Facebook postings give would-be employers pause. Husbands discover wives’ infidelity by spotting incriminating e-mails on a shared computer. Teachers lose their jobs over impulsive Twitter comments.
But the events of the last few days have shown how law enforcement investigators who plunge into the private territories of cyberspace looking for one thing can find something else altogether, with astonishingly destructive results.
Some people may applaud those results, at least in part. By having a secret extramarital affair, for instance, Mr. Petraeus was arguably making himself vulnerable to blackmail, which would be a serious concern for a top intelligence officer. What if Russian or Chinese intelligence, rather than the F.B.I., had discovered the e-mails between the C.I.A. director and Ms. Broadwell?
Likewise, military law prohibits adultery — which General Allen’s associates say he denies committing — and some kinds of relationships. So should an officer’s privacy really be total?
But some commentators have renewed an argument that a puritanical American culture overreacts to sexual transgressions that have little relevance to job performance. “Most Americans were dismayed that General Petraeus resigned,” said Mr. Romero of the A.C.L.U.
That old debate now takes place in a new age of electronic information. The public shaming that labeled the adulterer in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter” might now be accomplished by an F.B.I. search warrant or an N.S.A. satellite dish.
11/15/2012 12:36 PM
The Charming Hardliner: Xi Jinping Assumes Reins of Restive China
By Bernhard Zand in Beijing
China's once-a-decade transition of power is complete. The country's new supreme body, the Politiburo Standing Committee, will now be led by Xi Jinping. The charming 59 year old almost seems like a Western politician, but he is firmly committed to preserving the core dogma of the Communist Party.
A door opens in Beijing, and two men with black hair, dark suits and unassuming ties march out. They're China's new leaders. This is just how things happened 25, 20 and 10 years ago. But the country is vastly different than it was at any of those times.
The Communist Party congress was a secretive as a Vatican conclave, and its official minutes make no mention of just how breathtaking the change it has ushered in is for the country outside the Great Hall of the People. Thursday morning, after months of behind-the-scenes jostling for power and the weeklong congress, China's Communist Party presented the seven new men who will make up the Politburo Standing Committee, the party's leading body.
Xi Jinping, 59, has been appointed the general secretary of the Communist Party as well as chairman of the military commission, and he will become China's new president in March. Li Keqiang, has become the No. 2 figure in the party and is expected to become the country's premier or head of the National People's Congress in March.
Standing to the right of Xi and Li is a row of five men who have been viewed as the likeliest appointees to the Standing Committee for weeks. There is Zhang Dejiang, 65, the man who replaced Bo Xilai as the party chief of the massive city of Chongqing six months ago after Bo had his career upended by a murder and corruption scandal. There is Yu Zhengsheng, 65, the party chief of Shanghai, who is seen as sharing political views with Deng Xiaoping, the reformist who led the party between 1982 and 1987. There is Liu Yunshan, 65, who has been serving as propaganda chief. Lastly, there is Wang Qishan, 64, China's chief economist, and Zhang Gaoli, the surprisingly young-looking 65-year-old party chief of Tianjin, China's fourth-largest city.
One doesn't have to be an expert in Chinese politics to quickly discern who the boss is among these seven powerful men. Xi Jinping steps up to the rostrum with a smile and -- to the surprise of the reporters who have been kept waiting for more than an hour -- politely apologizes for the delay before introducing the other men. He speaks without notes, shifts his gaze around the room and never loses his train of thought. Western politicians have described Xi as a man who exudes tranquillity, and this is precisely the impression he makes on his first day as the head of China's Communist Party.
Promising a Better Life for All
This impression of calmness is only heightened when you compare Xi with the five other men standing on the stage. One of them attempts a smile, and Li Keqiang even manages a brief wave. But the only man exuding the same relaxed air as Xi is the one standing all the way to the right, who allows himself to occasionally shift his weight from leg to leg. This is Wang Qishan, who has been the vice premier in charge of the economy and financial affairs. The party apparently has much faith in him: On Wednesday, the Central Committee appointed him to serve as the head of the party's disciplinary committee -- a post guaranteed to keep him busy.
Indeed, the issue of discipline was one of the main subjects of the short speech Xi delivered after making the round of introductions. He noted how some party members had recently made grave mistakes involving corruption and bribe-taking. "We must make every effort to solve these problems," Xi said. "The whole party must stay on full alert." Xi refrained from naming names, such as that of Bo Xilai or Liu Zhijun, the minister or railways who was recently fired and is awaiting trial on corruption charges. But his threat somehow seems more credible than those of his predecessor, Hu Jintao, who touched upon similar issues during the farewell speech he delivered last Thursday.
Xi mentioned "ethnic groups" three times in his address, placing much more emphasis on the issue than Hu did in his speech. It is an extremely pressing and worrisome issue. Since the spring, more than 60 Tibetan monks have immolated themselves, and Xi seems determined to make sure that the regime doesn't ignore the tragedy.
Xi also praised "the people" several times for their patience in building up the country. He said that the focus will now be on social security and providing people with "a better life." This might not be the "happiness" that is enshrined in the United States' Declaration of Independence and that many Chinese long for -- but it is still something.
Still, Xi left no doubt that he believes in the party's collectivist worldview. He noted that the capabilities of each individual are "limited," but that those of the party as a whole are not. He said that the responsibility of China's new leadership is "as heavy as Mount Tai," one of the five sacred mountains of Taoism. As long as it stays true to "socialism with Chinese characteristics," he continued, the party's position of leadership is ensured.
This is unmistakably the core of the dogma that the party is so eager to preserve -- but one that has increasingly little to do with the lives of so many Chinese. This is the core that the party will continue to embrace under the leadership of Xi Jinping and his team. But, as his speech made clear, the tone of China's leaders might soon change.
November 14, 2012
Corruption in Military Poses a Test for China
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — An insider critique of corruption in China’s military, circulating just as new leadership is about to take over the armed forces, warns that graft and wide-scale abuses pose as much of a threat to the nation’s security as the United States.
Col. Liu Mingfu, the author of the book, “Why the Liberation Army Can Win,” is not a lone voice.
Earlier this year, a powerful army official gave an emotional speech describing corruption as a “do-or-die struggle,” and days later, according to widely published accounts, a prominent general, Gu Junshan, a deputy director of the logistics department, was arrested on suspicion of corruption. He now awaits trial. The general is reported to have made huge profits on illicit land deals and given more than 400 houses intended for retired officers to friends.
Those excesses may be mere trifles compared with the depth of the overall corruption, the speech by Gen. Liu Yuan, an associate of the new party leader, Xi Jinping, suggested.
For Mr. Xi, who boasts a military pedigree from his father — a guerrilla leader who helped bring Mao Zedong to power in 1949 — China’s fast modernizing army will be a bulwark of his standing at home and influence abroad.
But the depth of graft and brazen profiteering in the People’s Liberation Army poses a delicate problem for the new leader, one that Colonel Liu and others have warned could undermine the status of the Communist Party.
As part of the nation’s once-a-decade handover of power, Mr. Xi assumed the chairmanship of the 12-member Central Military Commission immediately. Hu Jintao, the departing party leader, broke precedent and did not retain his position atop the body, which oversees the armed forces, for an extended period after his retirement, unlike previous leaders.
Recent territorial disputes with Japan and Southeast Asian neighbors have raised nationalist sentiment in China, and the popular desire for a strong military could make it politically dangerous for Mr. Xi to embark on a campaign that unmasks squandering of public funds.
In his opening speech to the 18th Party Congress, Mr. Hu said China would aim to become “a maritime power.” It was one of the few references in the address about foreign affairs, and one that suggested the government would continue the double-digit increases in expenditures for the military.
But along with the modernization and bigger budgets has come more corruption, a problem that pervades China’s ruling party and its government.
For the first time in the history of the People’s Liberation Army, Chinese analysts say, the land-based army has had to give up its dominance of the military commission.
The former commander of the air force, Xu Qiliang, will be a vice chairman, giving the air force new weight in big decisions, they said. An army general, Fan Changlong, the former commander of the Jinan Military Region, will also be a vice chairman.
These two men will run the day-to-day operations of the military, Chinese analysts said.
In his book, Colonel Liu, a former professor at China’s National Defense University, wrote that the army had not been tested in decades and had grown complacent. “As a military that has not fought a war for 30 years, the People’s Liberation Army has reached a stage in which its biggest danger and No. 1 foe is corruption,” he wrote.
Colonel Liu first became prominent in 2010 with the publication of his book “The China Dream,” an ultranationalist tract arguing that China should build the world’s strongest military and move swiftly to supplant the United States as the global “champion.”
In his new work, the colonel drew a parallel with 1894, when China’s forces were swiftly defeated by a rapidly modernizing Japan, even though the Chinese were equipped with expensive ships from Europe. Historians often attribute the defeat to corruption.
Another retired army officer, and a member of the aristocratic class known as the princelings, said that corruption existed throughout the military but that the new commission would probably refrain from a sustained campaign against it.
“It won’t be a big campaign against corruption,” the retired officer said in an interview. “You can’t do it too much, otherwise the party comes out too black, and the leaders won’t like it.”
Indeed, the arrest of General Gu was probably just another example of sporadic efforts against big names in the army rather than a concerted campaign, argued James Mulvenon, an American analyst of the Chinese military, in a recent article for the China Leadership Monitor.
“Before Gu Junshan’s arrest, there had not been a high-profile P.L.A. corruption case in more than five years, which says more about the political constraints on corruption enforcement than the actual level of corruption in the P.L.A.,” Mr. Mulvenon wrote.
The new lineup of the military commission suggests that being too outspoken about corruption is detrimental to career advancement.
General Liu did not win a seat on the military commission, although supporters had tipped him as a likely new member. Some analysts speculated that General Liu, who is the son of one of China’s former presidents, Liu Shaoqi, may have taken a step too far in his anticorruption speech, and that he had ruffled enough feathers that even his friendship with Mr. Xi was not enough to secure him a berth.
The Chinese military also faced outmoded methods of organization that hamper its ability to fight, said a Western diplomat who specializes in the study of the Chinese Army.
One of the most striking shortcomings of the military, the Western diplomat said, was the failure to develop a system that would give the Chinese a method of joint command to assure overall coordination in war fighting and reduce rivalries among the navy, air force and army similar to that in the United States and other Western countries.
He said Chinese military officials had debated placing four directors on the military commission under a joint commander — something akin to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.
But a joint commander had clearly been rejected as the new commission was formed.
“Why?” the diplomat asked. “Because the individual at the head of a joint command would be more powerful than one person on the Standing Committee,” the innermost decision-making body in China that Mr. Xi will lead as party chairman.
Bree Feng contributed research.
11/14/2012 01:28 PM
Official Minority: Northern German State Votes to Protect Roma and Sinti
Roma and Sinti in northern Germany have reason to celebrate -- after a decades-long campaign, they won recognition in the state of Schleswig-Holstein as a minority deserving special protection. The state says the move should be a model for other German states and the rest of the world.
The northern state of Schleswig-Holstein has become the first state in Germany to add Roma and Sinti to its list of ethnic groups protected under the state constitution, after a unanimous vote in the state parliament on Wednesday.
The move puts Sinti and Roma on the same level in the state as the Danish and Frisian minorities, affording them the right to "protection and advancement." In concrete terms, the state government says it plans to create a panel that would address the concerns of the group, in addition to a project that would seek to better the chances of young Sinti and Roma. The minority has been recognized by Germany's federal government since 1995, but the move in Schleswig-Holstein is a first for any of Germany's 16 federal states.
The chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, Romani Rose, and his state-level counterpart, Matthäus Weiss, watched Wednesday's vote as it took place without debate. At a celebration in the parliamentary building in Kiel on Tuesday evening, Rose hailed the unanimous decision as "historic." He added that it brings Germany closer in line with the European Union, which has pushed all 27 member states to come up with national, regional and local strategies to integrate their Roma populations.
Schleswig-Holstein Minority Commissioner Renate Schnack said the "long refused recognition of the Sinti and Roma was a blemish on our country's clean slate," and that from now on "Schleswig-Holstein can rightly claim to be leading the way in a fair and internationally exemplary minority policy." The state parliament's president, Klaus Schlie, called it a "day of historical significance and powerful symbolism."
CDU Opposition Overcome
Amending the state constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the state parliament, and previous attempts to add Sinti and Roma to the list of protected groups failed on the opposition of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
The party argued that Sinti and Roma, in contrast to the Danish and Frisian minorities, were not a minority specific to the region. However after state elections in May significantly reduced the party's number of seats in parliament, the CDU dropped its opposition and decided to vote with all other parties in favor of the amendment.
The presence of Sinti and Roma in Schleswig-Holstein was first recorded in the 15th century. About 70,000 currently live in Germany, with an estimated 5,000 of them in Schleswig-Holstein -- most reside in the state's two largest cities of Kiel and Lübeck, and on the outskirts of Hamburg. Many are poorly educated and live off state welfare.
Roma and Sinti were one of the primary groups persecuted under Nazi Germany, with around 500,000 believed to have been murdered in the Holocaust. German President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel inaugurated a national memorial to the victims in Berlin in October.
11/13/2012 02:47 PM
Trip to the Promised Land: Balkan Roma Dream of Life in Germany
By Özlem Gezer
Since the European Union began allowing visa-free travel for Serbs and Macedonians, there has been a sharp increase in Roma from the Balkans applying for asylum. Despite the difficulties, Germany remains the promised land for those in the slums of Skopje and Belgrade.
For Orhan, the road to Germany begins in an Internet café on a side street in Shutka, the Roma neighborhood in the northern part of the Macedonian capital, Skopje. Electric cables hang from the ceiling, a white fluorescent tube illuminates dusty computer screens and a plastic tarp serves as a divider. Orhan, 27, is standing nervously behind the tarp as he lights a cigarette. His sister Fatima is sitting in front of one of the monitors, about to have her first date with Germany.
While Fatima waits on a wooden chair in Shutka, her future husband is sitting on a leather couch in Düsseldorf, looking at his webcam. They are seeing each other for the first time today. Fatima's ticket to Germany is 19, he's wearing a hoodie and he's rather fat. Fatima's mother and some women from the neighborhood are chaperoning the meeting. They all want to know whether Fatima will like the young man from Germany. They hope that if she does, her family could get out of Shutka, the unofficial capital of the Roma community in Europe.
When you walk through the streets of Shutka, you hear people cursing, saying things like "Shitty Shutka," "everyone makes fun of us here" and "we don't have any money." They say these things in German.
Some of Shutka's Roma worked as day laborers in German cities in the 1990s. Many were war refugees who had sought asylum in Germany during the war in Yugoslavia, only to be deported after the conflict ended. They still have friends and relatives in Germany, and the country is always on their minds, as a promise of prosperity and a better life.
Orhan says that if the arranged marriage goes well, the stranger will come to Shutka and take Fatima with him to Düsseldorf. The new son-in-law, he explains, will then pay for bus tickets for the rest of the family. And once all seven family members are in Germany, he will file the asylum applications for them. Orhan says that one always needs a helper, someone who is familiar with German law, an asylum guide, so to speak, so that everything works out well for a new beginning in Germany. People who try to do it on their own, he adds, make too many mistakes.
Serbia Closer, and Farther Away
The Roma neighborhoods of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, are 450 kilometers (280 miles) closer to Germany, but for the people there, Germany seems much farther away. In Antena, an illegal settlement at the end of the No. 75 bus line, there is no Internet and no Skype, and none of the residents have relatives in Germany. For that reason, there is no one to show people the best way to get there. There are only people like Asim, 25, who is standing behind a burning pile of garbage, warming his hands. He has no identification documents and no birth certificate, which means no work, no welfare and no child benefits. Car tires support the cardboard roof of his corrugated metal hut. Inside, Asim's wife is nursing their six-month-old daughter, who is wearing diapers made of napkins Asim has collected from the garbage of Belgrade residents. The adults use holes in the ground as their toilets. The air is filled with the smell of moldy food and the acrid stench of burning plastic.
Asim says it's a good day in Antena when the gravediggers at the adjacent cemetery don't turn off the water, so that residents of the shantytown can fill up their plastic bottles. They count themselves lucky when the power is on in the nearby residential neighborhood so they can illegally siphon off electricity. They're happy when they manage to protect their daughter's face from rat bites at night. Asim asks: "When, if not now, should I get out of this miserable place?"
Since the end of 2009, citizens of Macedonia and Serbia no longer need visas to enter Germany. The European Union wants to show its goodwill to the two countries, which are candidates for accession to the bloc. But for the poorest of the poor in Macedonia and Serbia, visa-free travel represents the freedom to get away.
Less than 1 percent of asylum applications from Serbia and Macedonia are accepted. People suspect that they too will be unsuccessful, but they don't understand why. They still go to Germany, and they want to stay. Everyone has their own approach to obtaining the better life he or she expects to find in Germany. Orhan from Macedonia wants to send his sister in advance. Asim from Serbia simply plans to set out into the unknown. Some are poor and without prospects, and they go to Germany because they know what a rich country it is. Others go there because they can no longer stand their current lives.
By October of this year, about 4,000 people from Macedonia had filed an application for asylum in Germany -- about five times as many as last year. Only Serbia has produced more asylum applicants since this summer, a total of about 7,000. Most are Roma.
Dreams of Welfare
The current offers are displayed in the window of a travel agency on the market square in Shutka. A bus ticket from Macedonia to France costs €27 ($34), while the trip to Düsseldorf goes for €120, even though it's a shorter distance. Orhan explains that demand determines the prices here, and that Germany happens to have the better reputation among the 40,000 people in Shutka.
Their mayor is the only mayor in Macedonia who is also Roma. Nevertheless, Shutka doesn't feel like home to many of its residents. The people on the market square dream of a life in Western Europe, with most hoping to go to Germany. Unlike residents of the Belgrade neighborhood, the people in Shutka are well informed about Germany's social welfare system. They talk about "job centers," and some even use German slang terms. They know how generous the child benefits are, and they have heard about the hospitals and schools. They also know that asylum applicants have been receiving more money since August.
Young men like Orhan are mainly responsible for Germany's good reputation in Shutka. They tell nostalgic stories of the paradise between Fürth in Bavaria and Osnabrück in the north, of the country they remember from their childhood. Orhan's parents fled from Albania to Paderborn in northwestern Germany in 1986. The Roma family applied for asylum there, Orhan went to elementary school and learned the language. The family's German dream lasted six years.
It ended in the early 1990s, when the government in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia decided it wanted to get rid of the Roma. But instead of simply deporting them, the Social Democrats came up with a so-called reintegration program. The idea was to help the deportees once they had returned to their native countries. Orhan's father accepted the Germans' repatriation offer, for which he received 300 deutschmarks for travel expenses, as well as 400 deutschmarks a month for six months to help him settle in Shutka.
The family lived in a 60-square-meter (645-square-foot) house in Shutka, paid for by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, in a place with no sewer system, running water or garbage collection. No one there had a real chance at finding work. Most of those who were reintegrated had never been to Shutka before. The aid workers stayed for a few years, and then left. Orhan points to the now-abandoned Red Cross building and to the pile of rubble where the Caritas relief agency had its offices.
An Abandoned Ghetto
For Orhan, Shutka is Europe's biggest ghetto, a place where people live outside, steal and take drugs. A place where the water for an entire block comes from a single green hose. Where a man gets hit by a car and sits in front of his house, his leg shaking, waiting in vain for an ambulance. The district has no hospital or fire department of its own, and the police rarely make an appearance. Shutka owes its survival to the Western Union office on the market square, where residents go to pick up the money their relatives wire them from Germany, or sometimes from Italy or Switzerland.
Orhan also receives money from relatives once in a while, sometimes €50 and sometimes €70. Like most of his friends, Orhan is unemployed. "I work privately," he says, which is his way of describing the ordeal of polishing cars for 12 hours a day at a car wash to make €5, or collecting 300 plastic bottles to get €4 back in deposits.
Orhan has two children. He buys individual Pampers for his youngest child because he usually can't afford an entire package. The power has been shut off for years because Orhan didn't pay his bill.
His best friend Dino was also reintegrated from Germany. The two men get together in the evening at a café on the market square, a meeting place for unemployed young men, and speak German with each other. Germany donated the buses that are driving by outside, and there are still signs on the doors that read (in German): "Please show your ticket." The promised land is omnipresent in Shutka.
When Orhan visited Paderborn a few months ago, he polished cars for €50 per day, in cash. Dino went to Cologne, and since then he has been fantasizing about new clothes from H&M and Zara, and a kindergarten for his three daughters. He doesn't want to sleep with his wife on his grandfather's couch anymore. "Germany helps everyone -- Africans, Arabs -- why not us?"
When Orhan and Dino, the local Germany experts, talk about the country they used to call home, everyone who has never been there listens raptly. Dino has the gift of gab, which he even uses to make a little money. When a woman suffers from depression, he drives out evil spirits. When a child fidgets too much, it's the fault of the neighbors' envy, which Dino then chases away.
"Better Illegal in Germany than Invisible in Serbia"
Orhan and Dino rarely leave Shutka. They say that those who come from Shutka can't find work in downtown Skopje. But things are also getting worse in Shutka, where a third of the vendors at the large bazaar have closed their stands and moved to the West. A few weeks ago, a German friend of Dino's wrote to him on Facebook: "Brother, all your people are here. Why don't you come?"
More than anything else, it is the stories about Germany told by the returnees that convince others to try their own luck. Asim, in the Serbian shantytown, was also encouraged by one of these stories. A few weeks ago, he met someone for the first time who raved about Germany. They sat next to the burning pile of plastic as the man told his stories. He talked about the health insurance card that entitled you to medical treatment, the clean streets in Bonn and his favorite football club, Bayern Munich. The stories gave him hope, says Asim.
A few days ago, he was given the business card of a Serbian member of the Roma community who smuggles people across the border, even those without papers, in a minivan. The trip to Germany would cost Asim €680: €200 for him and his wife, €80 for their six-month-old daughter and €400 to bribe the guards at the Serbian border. Anything is better than crawling around in everyone else's filth here, says Asim. "It's better to be illegal in Germany than invisible in Serbia."
Since 2009, Belgrade has removed seven of more than 100 illegal Roma settlements like Antena from the city center.
Controls have been tightened at Serbia's borders in recent weeks, now that governments in the Balkan countries are worried they could lose their visa exemptions again. The move to eliminate the exemptions is being spearheaded by six EU interior ministers who have complained about the rise in asylum applications from Macedonian and Serbian nationals. One of them is German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), who said last month: "The massive influx of Serbian and Macedonian citizens must be stopped immediately."
Dreams of Deutschland Not Dashed
Friedrich's fears have had no effect in Antena, where the smugglers are still taking orders. Asim wants to leave in December. He says he will be able to pay the smugglers in installments once he has arrived in Germany and starts receiving money from the government.
Although people in Shutka are very familiar with the political debate, it hasn't prompted them to change their travel plans.
Orhan also has reason to believe that he could be leaving soon. The foreigner from Düsseldorf has sent a message saying that he liked Fatima, and that he will come to Macedonia in the next 14 days to propose to her. Fatima is sitting in one of the back rooms. She had deliberately left her hair unkempt and didn't paint her chewed fingernails. "He's so fat," she says over and over again.
But even Fatima says that perhaps it's the best thing for her and her family. Orhan says that they'll charge a €5,000 dowry for Fatima, because she is, after all, still a virgin. And if the new son-in-law decides not to help the family enter Germany, they'll handle everything on their own. Orhan says that it's time to get out of Shutka, the ghetto, and return to their old home.