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« Reply #5520 on: Apr 04, 2013, 06:56 AM »

April 3, 2013

Attacks on Elderly Armenian Women in Turkey Awaken Fears


ISTANBUL — The man in the ski mask struck in the twilight of late afternoon, strangling the elderly woman from behind, beating her senseless and leaving her for dead. He ran off with 50 Turkish lira, about $30, and her engagement ring, a last memory of her long-dead husband.

“He just beat me, over and over again,” said the woman, Turfanda Asik, 88, who spent two weeks in an intensive care unit. “He hit my back, my skinny back. What have I done to him? What did he want?”

Ms. Asik was left bruised and blinded in one eye. Her beating is thought to be the first of a string of attacks in the last few months on elderly Armenian women in Samatya, Istanbul’s historic Armenian quarter. Until recently in Samatya, a neighborhood of wooden houses built long ago and centuries-old churches, residents left their doors unlocked.

As brutally as she was beaten, Ms. Asik was lucky. One victim of the attacks died from her wounds.

Along the crooked streets of Samatya, where a conquering sultan resettled Armenian Christians after capturing Constantinople in 1453, and in its teahouses, churches and social clubs, the attacks have awakened fears — rooted in past episodes of repression that residents say had waned in recent years as Turkey became more accommodating toward its minorities.

“The community is always living with fear because the Armenian community has always been under pressure,” said Rober Koptas, the editor of Agos, an Armenian newspaper here that has devoted several issues to coverage of the attacks. “We were always regarded as foreigners, as second-class citizens.”

Armenians and other minorities were once widely discriminated against in modern Turkey, subject to violent attacks by nationalists and shut out from prestige professions like the army officer corps. In Samatya, Armenians were typically artisans and merchants, many toiling in the maze of stalls at the nearby Grand Bazaar.

But in recent times their lot has improved, thanks to reforms brought on by Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union, a process that has lately stalled. Mr. Koptas, the newspaper editor, said younger Armenians like him — he is 35 — are speaking and writing “side-by-side with our Turkish compatriots.”

“The fear has decreased,” he said. “But for the older generation, it is always there.”

When the authorities recently arrested a suspect in the attacks who they said was mentally disturbed and of Armenian origin — not a fanatical Turk motivated by hatred, as many assumed — it only raised more suspicions among some residents of Samatya, who said they thought the police had merely found a convenient scapegoat.

Regardless of the perpetrator, the violence has recalled a tortured past and, perhaps, hinted at future tensions as Turkey prepares to face the 100th anniversary of the genocide of its Armenian population in the last years of the Ottoman Empire.

Even though that milestone is two years away, in 2015, the country is already questioning how the anniversary will be treated: as a chance for reconciliation and full recognition of the massacres by the Ottoman Army or an occasion for more tension and hate speech of the sort that appeared on social networks after the recent attacks.

“Turkey has to face this,” Mr. Koptas said. “Only with this will Turkey become a democracy.”

On a chilly afternoon in January, a few hundred protesters marched down a narrow street that connects with Samatya’s main square, which is bordered by cafes and open-air fish shops. “The Armenian people are not alone!” was one chant. “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism,” was another.

“This is normal,” said Ayse Demir, a student who participated in the protest, reflecting the sentiment that Armenians are constantly under threat. “Armenians can be killed.”

Another student, standing beside Ms. Demir, said, “There are lots of racist people in Turkey.”

Sedat Caliskan, 35, a taxi driver who is Muslim, stood watching the marchers. “For years, nothing like this has happened,” he said of the attacks. “I want to believe that these are isolated incidents.”

In simple terms, he spoke of a sense of harmony between Christians and Muslims in the neighborhood. “On Sundays they go to church, and on Fridays we go to the mosque,” he said.

Mr. Caliskan lives three doors down from the murdered woman’s home, which is adorned with red carnations and signs that read: “Don’t touch our Armenian neighbor” and “Don’t remain silent. Don’t be intimidated.”

As he sipped tea and watched the protesters, one longtime resident, a Greek man named Yorgi Eskargemis, a retired textile merchant, said that the neighborhood is still as beautiful as the days it was called “Little Paris.” But the attacks, he said, are a “stain” on the community.

Overhearing the conversation, a man standing at the cafe door piped up. “We are all brothers here,” he said.

Ms. Asik, whose first name means “fresh fruit” in Turkish, has outlived a husband and two children. Years ago, she gave up her day job in a butcher shop but kept her tiny apartment in Samatya. Recently, she lay on a daybed and wept.

“It really hits me hard in the heart,” she said, recalling what went through her mind as she was attacked in her building’s vestibule. “How could you keep hitting me so hard? Don’t you fear God?”

Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting.


Memo From Istanbul: Nearly a Million Genocide Victims, Covered in a Cloak of Amnesia


ISTANBUL — For Turkey, the number should have been a bombshell.

According to a long-hidden document that belonged to the interior minister of the Ottoman Empire, 972,000 Ottoman Armenians disappeared from official population records from 1915 through 1916.

In Turkey, any discussion of what happened to the Ottoman Armenians can bring a storm of public outrage. But since its publication in a book in January, the number — and its Ottoman source — has gone virtually unmentioned. Newspapers hardly wrote about it. Television shows have not discussed it.

“Nothing,” said Murat Bardakci, the Turkish author and columnist who compiled the book.

The silence can mean only one thing, he said: “My numbers are too high for ordinary people. Maybe people aren’t ready to talk about it yet.”

For generations, most Turks knew nothing of the details of the Armenian genocide of 1915 to 1918, when more than a million Armenians were killed as the Ottoman Turk government purged the population. Turkey locked the ugliest parts of its past out of sight, Soviet-style, keeping any mention of the events out of schoolbooks and official narratives in an aggressive campaign of forgetting.

But in the past 10 years, as civil society has flourished here, some parts of Turkish society are now openly questioning the state’s version of events. In December, a group of intellectuals circulated a petition that apologized for the denial of the massacres. Some 29,000 people have signed it.

With his book, “The Remaining Documents of Talat Pasha,” Mr. Bardakci (pronounced bard-AK-chuh) has become, rather unwillingly, part of this ferment. The book is a collection of documents and records that once belonged to Mehmed Talat, known as Talat Pasha, the primary architect of the Armenian deportations.

The documents, given to Mr. Bardakci by Mr. Talat’s widow, Hayriye, before she died in 1983, include lists of population figures. Before 1915, 1,256,000 Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire, according to the documents. The number plunged to 284,157 two years later, Mr. Bardakci said.

To the untrained ear, it is simply a sad statistic. But anyone familiar with the issue knows the numbers are in fierce dispute. Turkey has never acknowledged a specific number of deportees or deaths. On Sunday, Turkey’s foreign minister warned that President Obama might set back relations if he recognized the massacre of Armenians as genocide before his visit to Turkey next month.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire was bloody, the Turkish argument goes, and those who died were victims of that chaos.

Mr. Bardakci subscribes to that view. The figures, he said, do not indicate the number of dead, only a result of the decline in the Armenian population after deportation. He strongly disagrees that the massacres amounted to a genocide, and he says Turkey was obliged to take action against Armenians because they were openly supporting Russia in its war against the Ottoman Empire.

“It was not a Nazi policy or a Holocaust,” he said. “These were very dark times. It was a very difficult decision. But deportation was the outcome of some very bloody events. It was necessary for the government to deport the Armenian population.”

This argument is rejected by most scholars, who believe that the small number of Armenian rebels were not a serious threat to the Ottoman Empire, and that the policy was more the product of the perception that the Armenians, non-Muslims and therefore considered untrustworthy, were a problem population.

Hilmar Kaiser, a historian and expert on the Armenian genocide, said the records published in the book were conclusive proof from the Ottoman authority itself that it had pursued a calculated policy to eliminate the Armenians. “You have suddenly on one page confirmation of the numbers,” he said. “It was like someone hit you over the head with a club.”

Mr. Kaiser said the before and after figures amounted to “a death record.”

“There is no other way of viewing this document,” he said. “You can’t just hide a million people.”

Other scholars said that the number was a useful addition to the historical record, but that it did not introduce a new version of events.

“This corroborates what we already knew,” said Donald Bloxham, the author of “The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians.”

Mr. Bardakci is a history buff who learned to read and write Ottoman script from his grandmother, allowing him to navigate Turkey’s written past, something that most Turks are unable to do. He plays the tanbur, a traditional string instrument. His grandfather was a member of the same political party of Mr. Talat, and his family knew many of the important political figures in Turkey’s founding.

“We had a huge library at home,” he said. “They were always talking about history and the past.”

Though he clearly wanted the numbers to be known, he stubbornly refuses to interpret them. He offers no analysis in the book, and aside from an interview with Mr. Talat’s widow, there is virtually no text beside the original documents.

“I didn’t want to interpret,” he said. “I want the reader to decide.”

The best way to do that, he argues, is by using cold, hard facts, which can cut through the layers of emotional rhetoric that have clouded the issue for years.

“I believe we need documents in Turkey,” he said. “This is the most important.”

But some of the keenest observers of Turkish society said the silence was a sign of just how taboo the topic still was. “The importance of the book is obvious from the fact that no paper except Milliyet has written a single line about it,” wrote Murat Belge, a Turkish academic, in a January column in the liberal daily newspaper Taraf.

Still, it is a measure of Turkey’s democratic maturity that the book was published here at all. Mr. Bardakci said he had held the documents for so long — 27 years — because he was waiting for Turkey to reach the point when their publication would not cause a frenzy.

Even the state now feels the need to defend itself. Last summer, a propaganda film about the Armenians made by Turkey’s military was distributed to primary schools. After a public outcry, it was stopped.

“I could never have published this book 10 years ago,” Mr. Bardakci said. “I would have been called a traitor.”

He added, “The mentality has changed.”


News Analysis

Inside the Turkish Psyche: Traumatic Issues Trouble a Nation’s Sense of Its Identity


BAGHDAD — To an outsider, the Turkish position on the issue of the Armenian genocide might seem confusing. If most of the rest of world argues that the Ottoman government tried to exterminate its Armenian population, why does Turkey disagree?

The answer is hidden deep inside the Turkish psyche, and to a large extent, printed on the pages of Turkish history books.

But with the changes to promote democracy in Turkey in recent years, opinions are slowly changing.

Turkey began as a nation just 84 years ago, assembled from the remains of the Ottoman Empire. Western powers were poised to divide it. The Treaty of Sèvres spelled that out in 1920. It was never ratified, but the intent remains deeply embedded on the minds of Turks, many of whom fear a repeat of that trauma.

To protect against encroaching powers, and to accomplish the Herculean task of forging a new state, Turkey’s founders, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, set ethnic and religious textures aside to create a new identity — the Turkish citizen.

The identity was needed to become something new but eclipsed the region’s cultural richness.

“In many ways, Turkey today is comprised of the remnants of the Ottomans,” said Ali Bayramoglu, a writer in Istanbul. “It hasn’t become a real society yet. It is not at peace with the diversity it has inherited from the Ottoman era.”

“The identity of a Turk was very much an engineered one in order to form a unified nation,” he added.

That identity was built on a painful foundation. Beyond the Armenian genocide, in which 1.5 million Armenians in eastern Turkey were killed, there were mass deportations of Greeks and executions of Islamic leaders and Kurdish nationalists.

“The Turkish state and society both have traumatic pasts, and it’s not easy to face them,” said Ferhat Kentel, a sociologist at Bilgi University in Istanbul.

Mr. Kentel compared Turkey’s beginnings to a tenant who realizes that the house he has just rented is not new, but instead “has all kinds of rubbish and dirt underneath.”

“Would you shout it out loud at the risk of being shamed by your neighbors,” he asked “or try to hide it and deal with it as you keep living in your only home?”

The highly centralized Turkish state has chosen the latter. To do anything else would be to invite divisions and embolden independence-minded minorities, the thinking went. Textbooks talk little about the events that began in 1915, and they emphasize defensive action taken against Armenian rebels sympathetic to Russia, Turkey’s enemy at that time.

“The word ‘genocide,’ as cold as it is, causes a deep reaction in the Turkish society,” Mr. Kentel said. “Having been taught about its glorious and spotless past by the state rhetoric for decades, people feel that they could not have possibly done such a terrible thing.”

Fethiye Cetin, a lawyer and the author of a book about her family’s history, said it was not until she was 25 that she learned that her grandmother was an Armenian adopted by a Muslim family after being separated from her parents in 1915.

“We grew up, knowing nothing about our past,” said Ms. Cetin, who now helps represent the family of Hrant Dink, a Turkish newspaper editor of Armenian descent who was shot dead in January, at the trial of the teenager and suspected accomplices accused of the killing.

“It was not talked about in the family environment,” Ms. Cetin said. “It was not taught at schools and one day came when we suddenly faced facts telling that there has been an Armenian genocide on this land.”

But while the Turkish state has kept this history closed, a growing number of intellectuals and writers are working hard to open it. Changes carried out by the Turkish government to enter the European Union have also helped open debate in society.

A further step was taken by the current government this year when it called for a joint international commission to review the events, including opening up long-closed state archives.

Mr. Kentel participated in a conference this year on the subject that caused much tension and debate but brought the topic into the public realm. The event drew a few noisy protesters but the broader reaction was muted.

In a sign of just how far the Turkish state still has to go, in Istanbul on Thursday, a court convicted Mr. Dink’s son, now the editor of the newspaper Agos, and the paper’s publisher on charges of insulting Turkish identity for reprinting Hrant Dink’s comments about the genocide. Their sentences were suspended.

Measures like the genocide bill in the United States Congress serve only to complicate the work of those trying to open society, Ms. Cetin and Mr. Kentel said. It was not an honest attempt to heal, as lawmakers who supported it argued, they said, but a political statement issued to prove a point, which creates a highly charged, unfriendly atmosphere.

Bills on the Armenian genocide in foreign countries “make it even more difficult for people to simply talk,” Mr. Kentel said.

Ms. Cetin’s book, “My Grandmother,” was widely read, she said, because it appealed as an intimate human story, not a political statement. “Every change comes with its pain, and that’s what we’re going through right now,” she said.

Sabrina Tavernise reported from Baghdad, and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul.

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« Last Edit: Apr 04, 2013, 07:01 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #5521 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:06 AM »

April 3, 2013

Moscow Tries to Reinvent Itself as Financial Hub


MOSCOW — Having tried and failed to become a major financial center, Moscow is trying yet again — only this time it finds itself competing for business with Warsaw, not London, Tokyo and New York.

Moscow wants companies to list on the Moscow stock exchange. It wants money center banks to expand here, as well as insurance companies and law firms that deal with securities, to make Moscow the hub for the former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe.

To do all that, city leaders are inviting business to glittering new skyscrapers, including the Mercury City Tower, which at 75 stories is the tallest building in Europe.

“The idea is to upgrade the position of Moscow in ratings, to become closer to the leaders of innovation and to the big boys of international financial centers,” Andrei V. Sharonov, the deputy mayor for economic affairs, who led a roadshow tour promoting the city in Asia, said in an interview.

This spring, the city government sent deputy mayors to Tokyo, Singapore, Frankfurt, London, Boston and New York to tell banks and other financial companies they should take a closer look at Moscow. The trip was the first concerted effort by the city government to woo investors as tenants for the new high-rise financial district called Moscow City.

Certainly Moscow has a lot of wooing to do. A city of traffic-clogged highways and sprawling concrete apartment blocks, Moscow is widely known as a singularly difficult place to do business. It did attract the big banking houses from New York and London after the fall of Communism. But cronyism, the lack of transparency and shady accounting gave companies pause. Weak courts and selective enforcement encouraged companies to conduct business outside Russia.

Political change in Russia further sapped enthusiasm. Vladimir V. Putin, a skeptic regarding greater integration with the West, succeeded Dmitri A. Medvedev, who was seen as a modernizing figure, as president in a switch known as “the castling” for its resemblance to the chess move.

Mr. Medvedev had named senior Western bank executives to an advisory council for transforming Moscow’s financial sector. They included Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase; Vikram S. Pandit, the former chief executive of Citigroup; and Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs.

But the Global Financial Center Index, published in March by Z/Yen, a consulting agency, placed Moscow 65th out of 79 cities studied. London was first, followed by New York and Hong Kong. The ranking placed Moscow between Bahrain and Mumbai. A survey by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation even ranked Moscow No. 30 out of 30 Russian cities for ease of doing business.

“Moscow was never going to be an international financial center,” a Western banker working here, who was not authorized to speak for his employer on the matter, said of the effort. “That was a joke.”

So Moscow is setting its sights a little lower. Its biggest problem is to be taken seriously even as a regional center.

The midsize companies in neighboring Ukraine or other former Soviet republics are choosing to go public in Warsaw. They are hardly bothering to look at the carefully laid out welcome mat in Russia. Kernel, a Ukrainian corporate farming enterprise, and Coal Energy, a Ukrainian producer of steam coal, listed in Poland, where a policy of investing pensions in the stock market helps the local exchange.

The Warsaw stock exchange, in fact, has so many Ukrainian company listings it has a Ukraine index. Micex, the Russian stock exchange, has no such index because it has so few listings.

Moscow must compete, said Mr. Sharonov, the deputy mayor, because “there are a lot of other opportunities and competitors all over the world.”

Moscow’s roadshow was intended to illustrate the city’s efforts to become more livable for foreign executives and residents, Mr. Sharonov said. A new interchange links the financial district to nearby roads, for example, easing congestion.

Also, under the federal program to promote banking here, Russian financial regulators tied up loose ends in ways that pleased stock traders and other financial professionals, but have not been widely noticed.

Russia created a central securities depository, introduced standard accounting rules for publicly listed companies and is well on the way to consolidating nearly all financial regulatory authority in the central bank by 2015. And, without much fanfare, the government now insists that all listed Russian companies report financial results in accordance with international accounting standards.

“It’s a substantive change,” said Bruce Bower, the managing director of Verno Capital, a hedge fund that focuses on Russia. “The government realized that by doing a little work, for the first time, it could make a difference.”


Russia eyes Africa to boost arms sales

Moscow's two main exports are natural resources and weapons. Africa has plenty of former and plenty of demand for latter

Kester Kenn Klomegah for Think Africa Press, part of the Guardian Africa Network, Thursday 4 April 2013 14.25 BST   

At the start of April, the UN general assembly overwhelmingly approved a new arms trade treaty. The treaty had been nearly 20 years in the making and seeks to regulate the $70bn international trade in conventional arms. Despite the recalcitrance of North Korea, Iran and Syria – the only three countries who voted against it – the treaty was widely supported, garnering the approval of 154 of the 193 nations in attendance. Twenty three abstained.

Notably, many African countries were the most strongly supportive of an arms trade treaty while among the abstentions was Russia, the world's second biggest arms exporter after the US and a highly significant arms partner with much of Africa. What the new treaty will mean for Russia-Africa relations and their arms deals remains to be seen, but Russia's military deals with Africa have shifted in recent years and the time may be right to recast this relationship.
Arms deals with Africa

As part of its foreign policy, Russian authorities have been strengthening military-technical cooperation with a number of African countries. These often include officer training and the sale of military equipment, though the details are rarely publicly available.

In 2012, Russia's overseas arms sales reportedly exceeded $14bn, and around 80% of these sales were accounted for by state intermediary agency Rosoboronexport. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported in December 2011 that Russia accounted for 11% of the volume of major arms supplied to sub-Saharan Africa.

Rosoboronexport's cooperation with traditional importers of Russian weapons from Africa include Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Libya, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Sudan, South Africa and Uganda. It could also extend links with Zimbabwe in the not-too-distant future.
Strictly business?

Russian military deals with Africa are going strong, but since the end of the Cold War, these arms exports have changed in emphasis and in the role they play. "The current Russian arms transfers to Africa should not be interpreted the same way as they occurred under the Soviet Union," said David Shinn, former US ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. "The Soviet Union provided huge quantities of arms to client states such as Ethiopia and Angola during the Cold War. It also provided a significant amount of military training to select African countries. The focus was to counter western interests in Africa."

By contrast today, Shinn said, "Military transfers and training by Russia are commercial deals as a way to make money. Ideology is not a significant factor."

Similarly, Dmitri Bondarenko, deputy director of the African Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, said: "With African countries, the primary aim now for Russian business is to regain a competitive edge in the global arms trade, and what's interesting today is that the approach is not ideological but very pragmatic – you pay, we ship. It's simply business and nothing more."

In this business, Russia has long been a major global player, and its reputation, products and value-for-money make it a popular source for arms.

"Military equipment is one of Russia's competitive advantages", said Charles Robertson, senior economist at Renaissance Capital. "It is unfortunately for Russia less valuable than it used to be, [but] military equipment are some of the few industrial products where Russian brands are well-known."

Furthermore, said Tom Wheeler, a research associate at the South African Institute of International Affairs, Russia's two main export products are natural resources and military hardware, and of these Africa has its own supplies of the former and plenty of demand for the latter.
A broader strategy

As well as being an important area of business, some analysts also see Russia's arms trade with African countries as part of a broader strategy to gain economic links and influence in the region. The arms trade itself is significant, but it can also feed into other arrangements beyond just military deals.

"Russia has revived contacts with its African comrades that used to be traditional buyers of Soviet weaponry", said Scott Firsing, a lecturer in International Studies at Monash University in Johannesburg. But although much has changed, "it is a similar policy in the sense that they are using military diplomacy once again in order to gain stature and influence in certain countries".

According to Firsing, these military relations go on to affect Russian-African relations and economic partnerships in other industries. "[Russia] thinks strategically", he said, "and they are taking the right approach by using their expertise in everything from arms to nuclear power to satellite technology in order to ensure mutually advantageous cooperation with strategic African partners.

"They are late into the game, but have a historical advantage over others, helping many African countries win independence. And there are signs it is working. [Russian diamond company] Alrosa has prospecting mining operations in Botswana and Zimbabwe. [Russian oil company] Lukoil is now drilling three wells in the Ivory Coast, one in Ghana and one in Sierra Leone. Better late than never as they say."

Some analysts say Russia should also more explicitly target priority development projects in Africa. "There are so many investment areas", said Shaabani Nzori, a Moscow-based oil and gas specialist and foreign policy expert. "What is important these days is that Russia has to go beyond just selling arms to Africa. Still, Russia has the chance to transfer its technology to agriculture and industries in Africa."

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« Last Edit: Apr 04, 2013, 07:49 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #5522 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:08 AM »

Swedish lawmakers: Sterilize transgender Swedes or risk new ‘third sex’

By David Edwards
Wednesday, April 3, 2013 12:59 EDT

Two Swedish members of Parliament are warning that the government must continue to sterilize transgender people or risk the advent of a “third gender” or “third sex” of humans.

The Local reported on Tuesday that two Christian Democrat MPs had offered a counter proposal to a government plan to remove requirements that transgender people must be sterilized before undergoing gender reassignment procedures.

“The [government] proposal would have far-reaching consequences,” conservative MPs Tuve Skånberg and Annelie Enochson wrote in an op-ed for the Christian newspaper Dagen. “The key consequence being that Sweden would introduce the possibility of creating a third gender, called ‘person’ in the law books – men who give birth.”

The Local noted that the current sterilization law was effectively unenforceable after a Stockholm administrative court ruled in December that the practice violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

And “patients who move on from the psychological evaluation and hormone therapy to undergoing gender reassignment surgery have faced de facto sterilization as their ovaries or testicles were removed in addition to the outer genitalia being taken away and, as far as possible, re-sculpted,” the report said.

But there are also a small number of Swedes who have chosen to keep their ability to reproduce after gender reassignment.

Earlier this year, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL) pledged to file a complaint on behalf of transgender Swedes who are demanding the government pay damages for the forced sterilizations.

“Sterilization was an unnecessary price to pay but if you indicated that you weren’t willing to do it, that could have put an end to the [sex change] procedure, which was a matter of survival,” 31-year-old Nova Colliander, who was sterilized during her 2010 transformation into a woman, told The Local.

[Photo: Eugenio Marongiu /]

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« Reply #5523 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:13 AM »

04/04/2013 01:48 PM

Offshore Leaks: Vast Web of Tax Evasion Exposed

By Marc Pitzke in New York

An international network of journalists has obtained some 2.5 million records from tax havens detailing shell companies, offshore accounts and dubious financial deals. The unprecedented leaks include the names of 130,000 people who at one time or other moved their money offshore.

Oligarchs and dictators' daughters apparently have a penchant for bunkering their assets on the British Virgin Islands. Barons and composers, on the other hand, seem to prefer the Cook Islands. To cheat on taxes, they create bogus firms with imaginative names like Tantris, Moon Crystal or Sequoia.

Those are just a few details published this week on a major global system of tax evasion, which sheds new light on the methods used to deceive fiscal authorities and hide money. In what is believed to be the largest data leak in history, anonymous informants have provided an international consortium of journalists with around 2.5 million documents detailing activities in tax havens around the world.

The virtual Everest of data exposes some 120,000 letterbox entities, offshore accounts and other dubious deals in more than 170 countries, in addition to the names of 140,000 individuals alleged to have placed their money in known tax havens. The list includes politicians, celebrities, weapons dealers, oligarchs, financiers and a very diverse cast of characters. It also includes hundreds of Germans. Reporters at the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper noted that the most famous German featured on the list is society playboy Gunter Sachs, best known abroad as Brigitte Bardot's husband for a brief period in the 1960s, who committed suicide in 2011 at the age of 78.

A 15-Month Reporting Project

"The investigation lifts the curtain on the offshore system and provides a transparent look into the secret world of tax havens and the individuals and companies that use and benefit from them," said Gerard Ryle, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the organization that managed the global research. "We already knew how secret and inaccessible the offshore industry is, but we were surprised by how vast and far-reaching it is."

IJIC managed the mammoth 15-month research project together with 86 journalists from 46 counties. Participating media included the BBC, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Le Monde, Switzerland's Sonntagszeitung, and German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and public broadcaster NDR.

Investigators and governments have been probing massive offshore money flows -- both legal and illegal -- for years. In Germany, an intensive debate broke out in recent years over the purchase of CDs containing data on tax evaders. With its banking secrecy laws, Switzerland is also routinely placed under pressure for creating a friendly environment for tax cheats. And during discussions over providing euro-zone member Cyprus with a bailout package, slush accounts and tax evasion there were a major subject of debate. This week, the admission by former French Finance Minister Jérôme Cahuzac -- who stepped down in a tax evasion scandal two weeks ago -- that he held an offshore bank account has deeply shaken the government of President François Hollande. Politicians, investigators and activists have been fighting in vain against these secret and often illegal networks. One 2012 study estimated a total of between $21 trillion and $32 trillion had been hidden in tax havens. Now, reporting by the ICIJ consortium could help eliminate the system.

"A well-paid industry of accountants, middlemen and other operatives has helped offshore patrons shroud their identities and business interests, providing shelter in many cases to money laundering or other misconduct," ICIJ writes. This involves "many of the world's top banks -- including UBS, Clariden and Deutsche Bank," which it accuses of having "aggressively worked to provide their customers with secrecy-cloaked companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore hideaways." A spokesperson for UBS told the journalists investigating the accounts that the bank applies "the highest international standards" to fighting money laundering.

'I've Never Seen Anything Like This'

The documents investigated cover a period of close to 30 years. They expose numbers and facts, money transfers, the dates letterbox companies were founded and connections between companies and individuals. The total mass of data is reported to be 160 times larger than the trove of State Department cables published by WikiLeaks in 2010. "I've never seen anything like this. This secret world has finally been revealed," said Arthur Cockfield, a law professor at Queen's University in Canada interviewed by Canadian public broadcaster CBC.

The list of alleged tax evaders is as long as it is diverse. ICIJ claims it includes government officials and their families in places like Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Thailand and Canada. It also includes, "American doctors and dentists and middle-class Greek villagers as well as families and associates of long-time despots, Wall Street swindlers, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Russian corporate executives, international arms dealers and a sham-director-fronted company that the European Union has labelled as a cog in Iran's nuclear-development program."

The following are but a few examples cited in ICIJ's reporting.

    ICIJ partner Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany reported allegations on Thursday that Gunter Sachs, who committed suicide in May 2011, had not declared the entirety of his alleged assets with tax officers before his death. At issue are two companies and five trusts based on the Cook Islands. Sachs reportedly had similar "constructs" in Panama, the British Virgin Islands and Luxembourg. The executor of his estate has denied the allegations, claiming the companies had already been disclosed "during his lifetime."
    German public broadcaster NDR has reported that another prominent offshore client on the British Virgin Islands was top Russian oligarch and multibillionaire Mikhail Fridman. It claimed the most important man behind his construct of firms was Franz Wolf, the 60-year-old son of former East German spy chief Markus Wolf. NDR reported the Wolf refused to answer any questions from journalists with the broadcaster about the allegations.
    ICIJ also explored Greek tax evaders and found that just four out of 107 offshore companies present on the British Virgin Islands it investigated are registered with tax authorities. "The companies' owners are a surprising cross-section of Greek society, from the richest districts in Athens to remote northern villages," it noted.
    The list also includes Imee Marcos, the governor of the Philippines' Ilocos Norte province and the eldest daughter of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. She is believed to hold secret trusts on the British Virgin Islands. ICIJ reports that Filipino authorities now want to investigate whether some of the billions in assets Marcos is believed to have taken out of the country are parked in the tax haven.
    The wife of Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, as well as two top executives of Gazprom, are also included on the list of alleged tax evaders, according to the ICIJ reporting. They, too, are alleged to hold stakes in companies based in the British Virgin Islands. All declined to comment to the consortium.
    Meanwhile, Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva, the daughters of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, appear several times in the records. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has reported that they have three holdings on the British Virgin Islands.
    ICIJ also questioned the deputy speaker of Mongolia's parliament, Bayartsogt Sangajav, about records showing he has an offshore company and a secret Swiss bank account in which he had deposited over $1 million for a time. "I shouldn't have opened that account," he told ICIJ reporters. "I probably should consider resigning from my position."
    The list of names from Spain includes baroness and art collector Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, who is identified in the documents as using a company based in the Cook Islands to buy artwork through auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's. According to ICIJ, her attorneys acknowledged that she gains tax benefits by holding ownership of her art offshore, "but stressed that she uses tax havens primarily because they give her 'maximum flexibility' when she moves art from country to country."
    Also featured in the list, which includes some 4,000 people born in the United States, is composer Denise Rich, who has written hits for stars like Celine Dion. According to the records obtained by ICIJ, she had $144 million in April 2006 in a trust in the Cook Islands at the time. The trust's holdings included a yacht called the Lady Joy. Rich's ex husband, hedge fund manager Marc Rich, was prosecuted in the United States in 1983 for tax evasion. In a highly controversial move, former President Bill Clinton pardoned Rich during his last day in office. Denise Rich gave up her US citizenship at the end of 2011 and lives in Austria today.


PM of Georgia among owners of secret firms in British Virgin Islands

As fresh names emerge, senior Lib Dem politician says British Virgin Islands offshore haven 'stains the face of Britain'

David Leigh, Thursday 4 April 2013 13.36 BST   

The prime minister of Georgia heads a list of fresh names that emerged on Thursday as owners of secret offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands.

A senior Lib Dem politician said the secret haven of the BVI "stains the face of Britain", while anti-corruption campaigners called for action from the British prime minister, David Cameron.

The latest cluster of names to emerge from the huge leak of BVI financial data include Bidzina Ivanishvili, the prime minister of the Caucasus nation since last year, and prominent figures in Pakistan, India, Thailand and Indonesia. They also include a Briton, Neil Gaitely, nominally a director of a company reported to be a front for the Iranian regime.

Lord Oakeshott, the Lib Dem peer and a former Treasury spokesman, said: "How can David Cameron keep a straight face calling for the G8 to make big business pay tax when we let the BVI use British law and British protection to suck in billions in dirty money?"

The names of thousands of owners of secret offshore companies are currently being revealed by the washington-based ICIJ, a journalists' group, in collaboration with the Guardian and other international media. This follows the leak to ICIJ of a hard drive containing 200GB of internal files of offshore incorporation agencies in the BVI, Singapore and the Cook Islands.

Robert Palmer of the campaign group Global Witness repeated the call for Cameron to take action. He said: "The time to deal with this issue is now. Given that he has pledged to tackle these secretive shell companies at this year's G8 summit in Northern Ireland, he and his fellow leaders must commit to publishing information on the people who ultimately control and own companies."

Today's release of names includes:


Name: Bidzina Ivanishvili

Offshore company: Bosherston Overseas Corp

Details: Ivanishvili, a billionaire businessman, became prime minister of Georgia in 2012. Listed from 2006-9 as director of the BVI company, administered via an agent in Panama, incorporated in 2006 and still active.

Comment: Spokesman says he has done everything according to law: "For the reporting period of 2011-12, Prime Minister Ivanishvili had no interest in the company … and therefore there was no obligation to report it in his [financial] declaration"


Name: Gaddam Vivekanand

Offshore company: Belrose Universal Ltd

Details: A ruling Congress party MP, Vivekanand is also vice-chairman of Visaka Industries, which produces about one quarter of India's asbestos supplies. He and his wife Saroja are listed as directors and shareholders of Belrose, which was incorporated in the BVI September 2008.

Comment: Vivekanand said: "I do not remember being involved with such a company and have no connection with it.''


Name: Stephen Riady

Offshore Companies: J&S Company, Eastlink Industrial Investments and others

Details: The Riady family, one of many wealthy Indonesian families and owners of the conglomerate Lippo Group, had at least 11 offshore entities. The agents, TrustNet refer to them as "Client A", noting "client does not want to be seen dealing offshore". Their agent, Gary Phair, instructed TrustNet staff to "delete any reference to 'C/- [care of] Lippo Group'"

Comment: A spokeswoman for Stephen Riady said there was "nothing illegal or improper in protecting the privacy of one's own information".


Name: Iran's shipping fleet

Offshore Company: Tamalaris Consolidated Ltd

Details: The company was set up in 2006 in the BVI via a Russian incorporation agency. An anonymous Panama entity, Palmarris Group SA, is listed as shareholder, while a Briton, 39-year-old "general builder" Neil Gaitely, from Abbey Wood, south London, whose name appears as a nominee on a variety of offshore and UK companies, is listed as a director. In 2011 it was publicly blacklisted by the US and UK governments as a front for the state-controlled Iranian shipping line, designed to dodge anti-nuclear proliferation sanctions.


Name: Nalinee "Joy" Taveesin

Offshore Company: Hall Kingston International

Details: Taveesin is currently Thailand's international trade representative, and previously a government minister and adviser to Thailand's commerce minister. The offshore company naming her and her brother Anuraj Mishra was set up 2008, according to TrustNet records. In the same year, the US treasury department blacklisted her and her assets as a "crony" of the Zimbabwean leader, Robert Mugabe, accusing her of "secretly supporting the kleptocratic practices of one of Africa's most corrupt regimes" through gem trafficking and other deals.

Comment: Taveesin's secretary said: "She [Taveesin] strongly affirmed that she had neither known nor heard about this so-called Hall Kingston. The information about her being [a company] shareholder is incorrect."


Name: Moonis Elahi

Offshore company: Olive Grove Assets Ltd

Details: Elahi is a politician from a prominent Punjab dynasty. He is the son of Pakistan's former deputy prime minister Chaudry Pervez Elahi, and runs a family textile business. The company was incorporated in the BVI 2006, and the address listed in BVI records is the Chaudry family residence in Lahore. Elahi was acquitted in a Pakistan court in 2011 of receiving payments in a corruption scandal.

Comment: Elahi said "I do not own" nor control the BVI company. He did not state whether he had previously owned the firm.

• This article was amended on 4 April 2013 to correct Robert Palmer's name, which was originally wrongly given as David Palmer.

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« Last Edit: Apr 04, 2013, 07:46 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #5524 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:18 AM »

04/04/2013 11:35 AM

Culture Instead of Cannabis: Amsterdam's Art Mecca Ambitions

By Ulrike Knöfel

Half a billion euros is being spent in Amsterdam to renovate its major art museums. Will the city of canals and Van Goghs shed its grittier side and become the Florence of the 21st century?

Only true celebrities would dare to withdraw from the public eye for 10 years. They are missed but never forgotten. Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, the most important museum in the Netherlands and one of the world's top museums, has been closed since 2003. It has been rebuilt and renovated, and its displays have been redesigned. With its many delays and cost increases, the project has occasionally seemed to have become a national drama. The final cost of the renovation project was €375 million ($480 million).

Organizers hope that all will be forgotten on April 13, when Beatrix, the Dutch queen, will be the first guest at the newly reopened museum shortly before abdicating her throne to her eldest son. The architecture will help smooth over public dissatisfaction with the project. The modern atrium alone makes any criticism seem petty and, behind it, visitors will discover a magnificent collection, including works such Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" and paintings by Vermeer and Frans Hals. Of the 8,000 objects on display, 5,000 have been restored. The museum's management anticipates large crowds in the first few months, with visitors waiting in line for hours to enter the museum.

The renovated Rijksmuseum is more than just a museum. It's a symbol of a new era in Amsterdam.

Another new era began exactly 400 years ago. The canal belt was built at the time, an investment in the infrastructure that was also an expression of a collective ambition. In fact, it marked the beginning of the so-called Golden Age, when Amsterdam became the economically richest and artistically most inventive city in the world at the time. Rembrandt was the painter of prosperity. The city fell into decline after that, only to experience another boom in the late 19th century, a time when many of today's cultural facilities were created. Wim Pijbes, director of the Rijksmuseum, says that he expects to see a third golden era for Amsterdam to dawn this year.

In the last few years, half a billion euros were spent to renovate three palaces of art on Museumplein (Museum Square): the Rijksmuseum, the equally world-famous Van Gogh Museum, both government-run institutions, and the city-owned Stedelijk Museum. This last museum, which specializes in contemporary art, was reopened in 2012 after a nine-year renovation that included the addition of a spectacular new wing. There will also be celebrations to mark the 125th anniversary of the nearby Concertgebouw concert hall, which turns 125 this year.

Culture Instead of Cannabis

Amsterdam seems to be turning into another Florence, one big museum -- or at least the major cultural institutions are trying to make it that way. The city isn't entirely at the mercy of tourists yet. It is still a place of ordinary people and lives, and yet downtown Amsterdam is increasingly becoming a monument in itself. "You can see 'The Night Watch' in our museum," says Pijbes, "and then walk over to the house where Rembrandt painted it. If you imagine the cars aren't there, Amsterdam looks like it did in the 17th century."

Pijbes is convinced that people don't always want more hectic lives, but are actually searching for a sense of comfort and security. He cites New York as a good example: a city that has reinvented itself, that has become luxurious but not elitist, that exudes safety today, a city in which taxi drivers can be trusted and the restaurants have improved.

For Pijbes, Amsterdam is still "a city of commerce, where everything has to happen right away." If he had his way, downtown Amsterdam would exude a more harmless image, shed its residual griminess and emphasize culture instead of cannabis. Cultural tourists, he says, stay longer, do more and spend more than backpackers, and they are welcomed all over the world. They seek the idyllic in a city. And, for them, a museum is a place of leisure.

Mixing Old and New Urban Elements

Seven million tourists visited Amsterdam in 2012. But Pijbes is enthusiastic about a different number: the 51 million passengers who used Schiphol Airport last year.

Kai Vöckler, a professor of urban development at the Offenbach University of Art and Design, in western Germany, says that people have a fairly precise image of what a European city should look like, and that a great deal of effort goes into preserving this image. It does not exclude contemporary architecture, although such architecture should not disrupt an unmistakable and typically European environment. Picturesque Europe, he adds, is currently the most coveted thing Europe has to offer.

Vöckler says that many cities are taking great pains to cover up the fact, at least in their downtown areas, that they are also metropolitan areas and often international transportation hubs. Much is shifting to outlying areas, such as supplier companies, shopping centers and housing for immigrants.

These cities compete for tourists, as well as for companies seeking new locations. The competition has spread beyond Paris and London to include places like Bilbao, Barcelona and Basel. To remain competitive, cities must offer more than just office space. They should exude an atmosphere of success. Skyscrapers, on the other hand, have become the trademarks of Asia's rise to economic prosperity, and they are also fundamentally symbols of a bygone era.

Doing More with Less

This is where art comes in. Cities that possess it in abundance and know how to present it, like Amsterdam, become more appealing to residents, commuters and tourists alike. The museum directors in Amsterdam know their audience well. They know where visitors come from, how long they stay and what they expect from art: to be entertained or challenged, for example.

In addition to seeing the past, people want to re-experience it. They want atmosphere, even inside a museum, which is why the Rijksmuseum will celebrate art history in the future, with dark walls and shimmering light. The new approach means placing massive antique armoires between old paintings, or even a canon in front of a Baroque painting of a group of armed citizens. It is a blending of genres designed to invite visitors to step into an era instead of merely observing it.

Quite a few employees of the Rijksmuseum began working there when the museum was already closed. Pijbes, for example, was only appointed its director in 2008. In the past, the Rijksmuseum saw about 1.5 million visitors a year. But that figure could soon reach 2 million, "or perhaps even more," says Pijbes.

Times have become harder. In the Netherlands, government subsidies for the arts were slashed from €900 million last year to €700 million today. The Rijksmuseum has also lost 15 percent of its subsidies, but its director says that it is possible to make up for the shortfall by attracting art sponsors. "Holland is still a rich country," he says. Immediately after assuming his position, he started nurturing close ties with patrons of the arts. More than 30 wealthy individuals have already donated more than €250,000 each, he says, while one private donor provided €2 million for the museum's gardens.

Broadening the Scope of Exhibits

It's a two-minute walk from the Rijksmuseum to the Van Gogh Museum. The main building, currently under renovation, was built in 1973, and now, 40 years later, it is getting a major facelift. Some 85 percent of its 1.5 million visitors are from abroad. There are now fewer North Americans than before the financial crisis, but more Europeans, as well as South Americans and Asians. Few Chinese visit the museum, however. Wealthy Chinese find diamond merchants more appealing than Van Gogh, while average Chinese tourists would rather see the windmills in the surrounding countryside. Nevertheless, they represent an enormous potential audience for Amsterdam's cultural institutions.

Axel Rüger, the German-born director of the Van Gogh Museum, says: "We are facing a unique opportunity." The major opening show, which begins in May, will allow visitors to rediscover Van Gogh, perhaps the most legend-enshrouded painter, as a methodical, disciplined and perfectionistic artist rather than a madman. The exhibition was preceded by a lengthy research project, part of an effort to appeal to aficionados and the broader public alike. According to the announcement for the show, visitors will experience what it was like "to look over Van Gogh's shoulder." The curators are also exhibiting tubes of paint and Van Gogh's palette.

Rüger has headed the museum for seven years. For a long time, he says, the museum tried to de-emphasize the Van Gogh myth and focus on the purely artistic and art-historical aspects. But visitors are also fascinated by the man behind the paintings. "Van Gogh is one of the city's main attractions," Rüger says. "He awakens emotions like no other artist. It's a fact of life, and we have to pay more attention to it in our museum work."

Ubiquitous Expansion

Amsterdam is only one example of how important museums and a museum-like environment have become for the prestige of cities and entire nations. Paris has enlarged the Louvre with a new €100 million wing, Oslo has opened a new contemporary art museum with its own beach, Hamburg is getting the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall, and Berlin a new city palace. Renovation already seems to be the status quo on the German capital's Museum Island.

Sometimes government subsidies are merely spent to uphold an illusion, while spending on everyday operations is reduced. The Prado, in Madrid, was expanded a few years ago, but now the larger facilities must make do with less government funding.

The ongoing financial crisis is impeding but not halting a sweeping development. London, for example, has wanted to expand its Tate Modern with a massive, pyramid-shaped addition for years. Despite its monumental proportions, the contemporary art museum has become too small for the more than 5 million visitors it attracts every year. Although the expansion is only slated to begin in 2016, the project is at least in the works. London's Victoria and Albert Museum, which has been undergoing a room-by-room renovation project since 2001, is currently one of the world's most talked-about museums thanks to a David Bowie show that is drawing large audiences. Indeed, the British are clearly experts on the importance of culture.

Meanwhile, the perfecting of Amsterdam's museum landscape continues. At the Rijksmuseum, the next renovation will follow on the heels of the upcoming dedication. A new ensemble of rooms for special exhibits is being built inside the old architecture, in a side wing that used to be inaccessible to the public. Museum directors once had time to write books, says Rijksmuseum Director Pijbes, "but you can't do it anymore today." The Van Gogh Museum will also continue to renovate after reopening, building a new entry area for €15 million to better accommodate the growing crowds of visitors.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #5525 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:20 AM »

04/03/2013 06:02 PM

'Abject Error': How the Cyprus Deal Hurts EU Strategic Interests

A Commentary by Jeffrey Stacey

The euro-zone bailout of Cyprus exposed deep divides within Europe and also brought back the specter of the euro crisis. In addition to harming the island nation's economy, errors made in negotiating the deal will ultimately be a setback to strategic EU interests as well.

Investors keep getting burned in betting on members exiting the euro zone, let alone the break-up of the European Union's common currency. And economics experts keep getting their predictions wrong. The simple reason: The EU, on the economic front as well in other policy areas, is at its heart a political project. Events continue to show that despite the painful strains of major economic duress, this commitment remains intact.

Despite the messy manner in which its member state governments deal with crises -- chaos largely explained by institutional reasons rather than by incompetence -- the EU and the euro are here to stay. The EU certainly has some major restructuring to do in terms of establishing the necessary banking and fiscal unions, and it rarely looks good in a crisis. But it will carry on muddling through and, in a wider historical perspective, continue to provide its citizens with a considerable range of benefits -- just as it has for decades, particularly since the advent of the single market nearly 30 years ago.

Nonetheless, the EU made major mistakes in the bailout of Cyprus, to the point that it almost failed completely. Even worse, the whole affair demonstrates a distinct inability to act strategically when the stakes are high. Repercussions from this episode that haven't been captured in the headlines will continue to reverberate for years. And, it should be noted, it was politics that accounted for bringing back the specter of crisis, not economics.

The Cypriots are certainly responsible for a range of significant mistakes on their own. For years the government artificially propped up its economy with illicit capital inflows primarily from Russian businessmen. It also allowed its banks to grow too large and didn't develop other elements of a standard Western economy. Furthermore, recently elected President Nicos Anastasiades engaged in unhelpful brinkmanship in a failed attempt to keep the country's business model intact.

Newly Ruthless Approach

But did these actions justify the harshness of the final deal and the risks that lay ahead for the EU? It would appear not.

Conventional wisdom suggests the newly ruthless approach of EU finance ministers toward Cyprus -- relative to past euro-crisis bailouts -- was due to citizens in Germany and elsewhere being fed up with having to stomach a lifeline being thrown to yet another profligate Southern European member state.

A more probable explanation, however, is the bitterness Northern European political elites still nurse from the early 2000s, when Greece blackmailed the EU into bringing Cyprus into the club. Greece threatened to veto Scandinavian aspirants should Cyprus not be allowed in. A healthy dose of anti-Russian sentiment no doubt played a role as well.

These primarily political factors led EU policymakers to a commit a glaring economic mistake -- that of seeking to implement a one-time levy on depositors, including insured accounts holding less than €100,000. The EU seemed not to realize that investors would see this as an EU money-grab by fiat. And it brought back a euro crisis that many had thought was largely over.

It was an abject error, and completely unnecessary. The EU was so bent on putting its boot on the Cypriot neck that it neglected to think through the acute danger of setting off bank runs around the region by violating its own banking deposit guarantee. As an example of group think, it was a thing of beauty.

Despite a final deal that preserved the bank deposit guarantee, the genie has escaped the bottle. And once genies are out, they don't go back in. Installing a banking union has become much more difficult as a result.

A Challenge for Peace

But it gets worse. In strategic terms the EU hurt not only Cyprus and itself, but also the interests of the US and other allies in the West. Europe pushed Cyprus directly into the arms of the Russian government. Not only did this hurt the prospects for its own deal, but it gave leverage to Moscow in the process.

More important still, however, by forcing Anastasiades between the rock of a forced bank levy and the hard place of seeking assistance from Moscow, the EU seriously undermined him domestically precisely when the West was about to reap the benefits at long last of a fairly pro-Western Cypriot president, crucially necessary to overcome sour relations with Turkey that continue to undermine NATO relations, EU relations, NATO-EU relations, and US relations with both.

To top it all off, a peace deal along the lines of the Annan Plan for a final resolution of the 40 year-old Cypriot divide -- the prospects for which had improved with the election of Anastasiades -- has seen its prospects diminished.

It is a myth that Anastasiades alone was responsible for at first wanting to impose a levy on savings accounts below €100,000. The Germans, after all, were complicit and actively in support, despite subsequent denials from Berlin. But it is also a myth that Germany was alone in pressuring the Cypriots. The Dutch, Finns and Austrians were equally adamant, as were the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (meaning the US cannot completely escape blame either). Each bears a degree of responsibility for this debacle.
Dr. Jeffrey Stacey was an EU and NATO specialist at the State Department during President Obama's first term. He is currently writing a book about Europe as a senior visiting fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS Johns Hopkins in Washington DC. He is author of "Integrating Europe" for Oxford University Press.

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« Reply #5526 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:27 AM »

François Hollande campaign treasurer invested in offshore businesses

Jean-Jacques Augier says he did nothing illegal, but revelations may embarrass president who has vowed to tackle tax havens

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and David Leigh, Thursday 4 April 2013 10.38 BST   

François Hollande faces more embarrassment after it emerged that a close friend and treasurer for his presidential election campaign invested in offshore businesses in the Cayman Islands.

Jean-Jacques Augier, a publisher who studied with the Socialist president at the elite ENA management school, featured in records leaked from Britain's offshore financial industry, unearthed in a project by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in collaboration with the Guardian and other international media, including Le Monde.

Augier, 59, who once worked as an inspector of finances in France, confirmed the investments and said nothing was illegal. But the revelation comes at a bad time for Hollande, whose government is in crisis following the shock admission by Jerome Cahuzac, the former budget minister and tax tsar, that he had hidden €600,000 in a secret account and repeatedly lied about it.

Hollande was elected on promises to crack down on those who move their money abroad, toughen rules on tax havens, make the world of finance more transparent and ensure the wealthy contribute a larger share to restoring the crisis-hit French economy.

Augier launched a Caymans-based distributor in China in 2005, with a 25% shareholding granted to a British Virgin Islands company. He said his partner in the offshore firm International Bookstores Ltd was Xi Shu, a Chinese businessman.

Augier told Le Monde he did not have "either a personal bank account in the Caymans or any personal direct investment in that territory". He said he invested in the company through a holding that runs all his Chinese business interests. "The investment in International Bookstores appears in company records. Nothing is illegal."

Augier is an influential book and magazine publisher who recently acquired France's leading gay magazine, Têtu. His business mentor was Andre Rousselet, a close friend of François Mitterrand, who appointed him to run the well-known French taxi firm Taxi G7 where he made his fortune.

Asked about a second offshore Caymans entity, set up in 2008-09 and then moved to Hong Kong during the financial crisis just as the G20 was declaring war on tax havens, Augier did not give details. "Perhaps I lacked prudence," he told Le Monde.

He said his operations were all legal and declared. Le Monde questioned whether, even if the operations were legal, an inspector of finances "who carries the values of the republic" should take part in operations that supported the financial opacity of offshore territories.

Another French daily, Le Figaro, called it "at least an enormous political faux-pas".


Hollande denies covering up for disgraced former tax tsar

French president says Jérôme Cahuzac's actions 'unforgivable' as he announces reforms to lessen impact of scandal

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
The Guardian, Wednesday 3 April 2013 20.04 BST   

The French president, François Hollande, has insisted he did not cover for his disgraced former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, whose shock confession to having hidden €600,000 from the taxman in a secret foreign bank account has plunged the government into crisis.

In an attempt to lessen the impact of a scandal threatening to derail his government, Hollande made a surprise TV address on Wednesday following Cahuzac's spectacular admission that, despite four months of vowing on TV and in parliament that he had no foreign bank account, he had in fact hidden money abroad for around 20 years. Cahuzac, who until last month was Hollande's tax tsar and budget minister in charge of a crackdown on tax evasion, now faces charges for laundering money from tax fraud.

Hollande said Cahuzac did not benefit from any protection from the government. Shaking his fist, he called Cahuzac's actions unforgivable and "an outrage to the republic". He announced a string of reforms, including banning convicted fraudsters from holding public office and requiring all government ministers and members of parliament to publish details of their personal finances.

But opposition politicians demanded a parliamentary inquiry and criticised Hollande for standing by Cahuzac for four months after the investigative website Mediapart broke the story of the bank account in December. Cahuzac only resigned two weeks ago, in order to "defend his honour", when the French justice system stepped up its inquiry into the alleged account.

Jean-Francois Copé, head of the rightwing UMP party, said the president either "knew nothing, and that's extremely serious because it means he showed a certain amount of naivety" or "he knew and that means he lied to the French people". Thierry Mariani, UMP's vice-president, said of the Socialist leadership: "Frankly I find it hard to believe that they only learned the truth 48 hours ago, or else I guess we're being led by a big simpleton."

At parliamentary questions, MPs piled pressure on to the finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, accusing him of using his ministry's administration to try to clear Cahuzac's name before the legal inquiry had run its course. The UMP MP Claude Goasguen said Moscovici should resign, but Moscovici said: "If you're looking to accuse someone, you're knocking on the wrong door." He told Le Monde of Cahuzac: "Every time, and it was more than 50 times, when I interrogated him, he gave me numerous and vigorous denials, looking straight into my eyes." Moscovici said his only mistake had been showing "too much trust".

As opposition politicians wondered how the Élysée could not have established the truth of the account months ago, the interior ministry issued a statement saying there was no "parallel inquiry" or involvement of the secret services. The prime minister insisted that unlike previous administrations, the Socialist government was letting the justice system take its course and not pressuring investigators.

Cahuzac, 60, was a cardiologist who later made a fortune in plastic surgery by setting up a hair-transplant clinic near the Champs-Élysées. He famously spruced up the balding pates of some of France's most high-profile men for substantial fees. "When you can't see the join, it means he did it," one Socialist MP told Le Nouvel Observateur of Cahuzac's trichological expertise. Elected MP in 1997, he headed the parliament's commission on public finances. As Hollande's budget minister, his entourage called him the star of government.

The French media continued to question where the money in the secret foreign accounts had come from. In the late 1980s, Cahuzac worked in the health ministry, in charge of dealing with the powerful French pharmaceutical industry. At the time, he flatly denied any question of payments from pharmaceutical companies. Cahuzac's lawyer, Jean Veil, said the money in the foreign account, which had not been topped up for 12 years, came from "his income as a surgeon" and "his activity as a consultant". After leaving the health ministry, Cahuzac set up a consultancy firm working with pharmaceutical groups.

The intrigue surrounding the account deepened when Le Monde reported that the Swiss bank account set up by Cahuzac in 1992, before being transferred to Singapore, was opened for him by a former lawyer who had been a member of a far-right students' union and who was close to the leader of the far-right Front National, Marine Le Pen.

Swiss prosecutors confirmed that Cahuzac had agreed to allow details of the Swiss account to be transferred to French investigators.

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« Reply #5527 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:29 AM »

Italy: ‘Deal with Berlusconi or go to the polls’

Corriere della Sera,
 4 April 2013

Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, who lost to Pier Luigi Bersani in the Democratic Party (PD) primaries and is considered his main rival, broke the truce he declared with his party leader after the election and accused him of being “stuck”.

Renzi said Bersani has been “humiliated by the arrogance of the Five Star Movement” and called to stop courting it and instead seek a temporary deal with Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party (PDL) – an idea which many in the PD view with horror – or go to the polls if this fails.

Young, centrist and sharing some of the anti-establishment views of Beppe Grillo, Renzi is seen as a strong candidate that could unite the centre-left, but had until now kept silent and bought time in order to strengthen his position.
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« Reply #5528 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:30 AM »

Portugal: ‘Political instability causes panic in Lisbon stock exchange’

Diário económico,
4 April 2013

The Lisbon stock exchange index fell by 3.54 per cent on April 3, triggered by ongoing political instability, despite a vote of no confidence on the government being defeated by 137 votes to 97.

Further turmoil is expected when the constitutional court [gives its ruling on the constitutionality of elements of the 2013 budget and due to the ongoing impact of the Cyprus crisis, says the newspaper.

“The nervousness in the national market is evident, caused by the first bailout proposal to Cyprus, combined with the political stalemate caused by the vote of no confidence, the uncertainty over the decision of the Constitutional Court, the rumours of a possible government resignation and the need for a second bailout,” writes the daily.
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« Reply #5529 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:32 AM »

Institutions: Caught in a democratic tangle

3 April 2013
Trouw Amsterdam

It is often said that the measures taken against the crisis in the EU are opaque and undemocratic. But it is the result of processes accepted by all. It is these processes which must be debated, argues a Dutch academic.

Femke van Esch

Since the euro crisis started in early 2010, a whole package of measures has been implemented at the European level with a view to turning the tide. This raised widespread fear that we may have set out on a one-way track towards the creation of a European superstate in which there is no opportunity for citizens to have their own say.

However, are the measures taken to combat the European crisis really so undemocratic, and are citizens only supporting decisions taken by their own representatives. Recent history suggests we should not assume the answer to these questions is simply “yes”.
Following legislative procedure

Take the Six-pack – this often fiercely contested package of measures makes it more difficult for member states to ignore the European regulations relating to budget deficits and debts with impunity. The decision on this issue was largely reached by means of the ordinary legislative procedure: while the (unelected) European Commission put forward the proposal, the directly elected European Parliament and the Council of Ministers actually took the decision. While the turnout for the European Parliament elections is indeed rather low and the Council sometimes convenes in private, this can hardly be termed entirely undemocratic or a “dictate by Europe”.

Another example: the aid fund ESM (European Stabilisation Mechanism). This was a measure jointly implemented in consultation with the member states. The ESM treaty was signed by the former Dutch Minister of Finance, Jan Kees de Jager. It was subsequently discussed at length in the nation’s lower house, and adopted by a majority of its MPs. They therefore agreed not only to the foundation of the fund, but also to both the level of the loans and the conditions applicable.

There is nothing untoward about these decisions in terms of parliamentary participation. The aid funds in particular nevertheless remain under debate. This is a clear example of a case in which complete national parliamentary participation does not necessarily imply that there is public support.
ECB independence

A third example: the ECB’s purchase of debt instruments issued by ailing member states in the form of Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT). These financial interventions were thought up by the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB). This body comprises the unelected presidents of the various member states’ central banks and is entirely independent of political and democratic interference. Despite this fact, the interventions have raised relatively little objection in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is, after all, accustomed to having an independent central bank, and therefore appreciates the benefits: complex monetary matters are decided upon by experts and are not subject to the electoral considerations of sitting politicians.

These three examples show that there is no question of Europe dictating terms, but on the contrary that those measures that were taken wholly democratically are the ones which have raised the most objections, while those taken without any parliamentary input whatsoever can count on the greatest public support.

Europe is too slow and divided

We want European leadership and decisive solutions to problems that we cannot resolve ourselves. At the same time, however, we want to voice our opinions and maintain our separate national identities. Europe is too slow and divided in our view. It simply takes time to formulate a decree which enjoys the democratic support of 27 member states, which also implies that consensus needs to be sought, negotiated and expanded upon.

And this is not always a pleasant, simple or efficient task. Those who insist on decisiveness, efficiency and unambiguous solutions, should therefore vote for centralisation, depoliticisation and unequivocal enforceable regulations, or rather a European super-commissioner. However, such an officer would not make exceptions for anyone whatsoever.

Debate on decision making

And this neatly returns us to the crux of politics at every level, local, national and European alike. The matter of achieving that delicate balance of fundamental, though not necessarily compatible values, such as democracy and efficiency, equality and autonomy. The classic problem of public administration: What degree of centralisation of power is required in order to act effectively, and how many checks and balances to vouch for sufficient public support?

A principled debate between supporters and opponents as to whether we should become a United States van Europe or not, would not help at all in this regard. However, presenting a realistic impression of European decision-making processes would. And, much the same way as it occurs in our own country, the balance of opinion is bound to fall differently in each field, which implies that the outcome is more likely to be a shade of grey, rather than black or white.

And if further – broadly supported – progress is to be made in Europe, then this balance needs to become the subject of public debate. If politicians are prepared to make time during this European Year of Citizens to allow this to take place, then they can certainly count on my vote.

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« Reply #5530 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:38 AM »

Spain: ‘Her Highness charged’

El Mundo,
4 April 2013

The daughter of King Juan Carlos, Princess Cristina, was charged on April 3, by the judge investigating the Nóos corruption scandal, in which her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, has already been implicated. “For the first time, a judge is to investigate a member of the royal family for corruption,” remarks the newspaper.

According to the magistrate, emails revealed with the help of Diego Torres, Urdangarin’s former business partner, prove that the princess "cooperated" and “gave her assent” to her husband’s business activities.

Princess Cristina is due to appear before the judge on April 27. The royal household has expressed its "surprise" at the decision, and the anti-corruption prosecutor, who has already said he does not support with the prosecution, has announced he will file an appeal to have it cancelled.

Full Story:

Case Nóos

The Infanta Cristina, imputed

    The judge evaluates evidence of cooperation or complicity in Doña Cristina
    He considers his image was decisive for public contracts
    The judge makes this decision against the advice of the Attorney
    Stresses that it does to show that 'equal justice for all'
    The King's daughter should come to declare April 27

Esteban Urreiztieta | Eduardo Inda | Madrid
Updated on Wednesday 03/04/2013 20:28 pm   

Judge Jose Castro has accused the Infanta Cristina in the case involving her husband Inaki Urdangarin . You should come to declare the 27th of April. The King's daughter was part of the board of the Instituto Noos, the body of whose activities is being investigated, the Duke of Palma and his former partner Diego Torres, among others. The magistrate notice signs of cooperation or complicity in Doña Cristina in the crimes committed by them.

The decision to charge the Infanta the Judge Castro adopted after reviewing the last batch of emails provided by Diego Torres and after considering that his participation in the plot was decisive.

    The judge considered after the last post that his participation in the plot was decisive

Holds the judge in a 18-page auto failed to cite to the Infanta as imputed would have meant "a false closure" of the instruction of the case "to the discredit of the maxim that justice is equal for all and a clear contradiction to the daily practice of the courts in similar cases is very sparsely likely could disregard the proceedings ".

The head of the Court of Instruction No. 3 of Palma, which takes the decision against the criterion of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor has stated that the assignment by Cristina de Borbon of his image to win public contracts was key to the success of the Institute Nóos .

    The King's daughter was part of the board of the Institute Nóos

The judge has taken the decision "utilitarian figuration" of the king's daughter in the promotional brochure Noos Institute, revealed by THE WORLD, which appeared as a member of the Board. The purpose of their presence in the body Nóos Government was, as stated in the order for Castro, "pretend to private companies and public institutions all association operations applied research Institute addressed Nóos were known and enjoyed the support of the house of His Majesty the King. " To this, also contributed the presence of the secretary of the princesses, Carlos García Revenga.

This was enough to "encourage generous treatment" from private companies and government to dispense with the channels and controls the standard "with her ​​husband enjoying the benefits obtained."

    The judge does not understand that the King would not comment on his daughter's request to leave Nóos Urdangarin

Therefore, the judge believes it could be "a case of cooperation necessary" for crimes allegedly committed "by Urdangarin and Torres, or" at least of complicity ".

The prosecution, for its part, considers that it is without being accredited to intervene in the management of Nóos and argues that there are still not sufficient evidence to hold against it an indictment.


Among the emails provided by Torres, had several that the husband of the Infanta Cristian sent his wife to consult various steps that he intended to make at the Instituto Noos.

Specifically, in one of those emails, dated February 20, 2003, refers to the Infanta Urdangarin "a communication that I have thought Nóos send". He continues: "There are two versions. Customers, 'et al' and friends and the other for Octagon (I do not get blisters.) Read it and tell me what you think please ... Ciao".

In the same email, the Duke tells him that "sometimes for not knowing more than you think I missed, but my reaction is not to leave you like this."

By another e-mail of 17 June of the same year, Urdangarin his wife sends him a message from Nissan on the resolution of the contest 'Study of notoriety World Series by Nissan', in which the company indicates that once received and analyzed the budgets requested, the best deal is the one presented by Nóos.

In another email, dated April 5, 2004, the Duke forwards Infanta attached to an article that "last day work in the workshop and a summary thereof. I find interesting."

On February 26 of that year, the Duke send another email to the Princesses personal secretary, Carlos García Revenga, in which he asked to give him "a copy to Cristina for me."

The request of the King

Moreover, in the car, Castro said "not just understand that His Majesty the King not to tell her daughter the criticisms or recommendations made ​​or planned to get her husband" to urge him to disassociate Nóos Institute.

"And even to reach consensus with her reach and commitment, express or implied, that somehow ensure compliance what should have led Cristina to the conclusion that his father's recommendations were not being followed and question about her husband's attitude, "says the judge.

After noting that the legal adviser of the Royal House Jose Manuel Romero asked Urdangarin leave their activities, the judge also notes that "it is easy to assimilate" the personal secretary of the Princesses, Carlos García Revenga, also accused in this case, "claimed ignore the message "allegedly sent the King because" such ignorance could only find sustenance in a complete lack of communication, "structured around" an incomprehensible lack of curiosity to know why at one point prompted his resignation and that of the Infanta, which advises.

He concludes that "was compelled to comment with it more plausible reasons for the actual decision and scope of the present and the future".

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« Reply #5531 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:53 AM »

David Cameron warns Trident needed as deterrent to North Korea

UK should not be left defenceless against 'highly unpredictable and aggressive' regime, says prime minister

Press Association
The Guardian, Thursday 4 April 2013   

David Cameron has issued a stark warning against any move to abandon Britain's Trident deterrent in the face of the growing nuclear threat from North Korea and Iran.

The prime minister said it would "foolish" to leave the country defenceless at a time when the "highly unpredictable and aggressive" regime in North Korea was developing ballistic missiles that could eventually threaten Europe.

His comments came as the United States said that it was moving an advanced missile system to the Pacific island of Guam as Pyongyang continued to ratchet up the rhetoric against South Korea and its American ally.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Cameron said such "evolving threats" underlined the need for the UK to maintain the ultimate deterrent. "We need our nuclear deterrent as much today as we did when a previous British government embarked on it over six decades ago. Of course the world has changed dramatically. The Soviet Union no longer exists. But the nuclear threat has not gone away," he said.

"In terms of uncertainty and potential risk it has, if anything, increased."

Cameron said Iran was continuing to defy the will of the international community over its nuclear programme while North Korea may already be building a nuclear arsenal. "The highly unpredictable and aggressive regime in North Korea recently conducted its third nuclear test and could already have enough fissile material to produce more than a dozen nuclear weapons," he said.

"Last year North Korea unveiled a long-range ballistic missile which it claims can reach the whole of the United States. If this became a reality it would also affect the whole of Europe, including the UK."

He went on: "Does anyone seriously argue that it would be wise for Britain, faced with this evolving threat today, to surrender our deterrent?

"Only the retention of our independent deterrent makes clear to any adversary that the devastating cost of an attack on the UK or its allies will always be far greater than anything it might hope to gain."

His comments underline the Conservatives' commitment to a like-for-like replacement for the ageing Trident submarine fleet. Their Liberal Democrat coalition partners are calling for a cheaper alternative.

The future of Trident is likely to feature in next year's looming Scottish independence referendum campaign, with the SNP insisting that it would not allow nuclear missiles to be based in an independent Scotland.

For Labour, the shadow defence minister Kevan Jones said it was "absolutely right and necessary" for the UK to retain an independent nuclear deterrent but it must take into account the costs involved.

"World events demonstrate that in an unpredictable era our country needs the ultimate security guarantee," he said.

"The precise nature of the deterrent must be judged on meeting military capability requirements and cost."

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« Reply #5532 on: Apr 04, 2013, 07:56 AM »

Britain seeks opt-out of new European social media privacy laws

'Right to be forgotten' laws, giving users – rather than services such as Facebook – control of personal data will save billions of euros and thickets of red tape. So why is Britain resisting?

Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent, Thursday 4 April 2013 12.30 BST   

Britain is attempting to opt out of a European initiative enabling anyone to delete their personal details from online service providers – a power known as the "right to be forgotten".

The clash between Brussels and the Ministry of Justice has erupted in the final stages of negotiations over the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, which aims to rebalance the relationship between the individual and the internet.

The debate reflects growing tensions between freedom of expression and privacy as increasing numbers of people complain that their online reputation is being corroded by outdated, inaccurate or malicious information that cannot be removed. In France, the number of complaints concerning the right to be forgotten rose 42% last year. A Guardian project has unearthed hundreds of cases of people alarmed at the mishandling of their data or personal information.

The UK's chief objection to the EU move is that unrealistic expectations will be created by the right's expansive title because the controls proposed will be relatively modest in their impact on the way data spreads, or is traded, across websites.

The right to be forgotten, article 17 of the Data Protection Regulation, has been developed by the EU justice commissioner's office primarily in response to complaints about the way social media, such as Facebook, retain and handle information. Although the terms of the regulation have not yet been finalised, its current form provides for punitive fines – up to 2% of global turnover – for companies that refuse to comply with requests to erase customers' personal details.

Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner, said: "At present a citizen can request deletion only if [data is] incomplete or incorrect. We want to extend this right to make it stronger in this internet world. The burden of proof shall be on the companies. They will have to show that data is needed.

"This piece of legislation is one of the biggest market-openers of the last few years. It eliminates 27 conflicting rules [one for each EU state] and replaces them with ... a mechanism for the whole continent. This means saving €2.3bn (£1.9bn) a year.

"[But] the British government have asked us not to do this and [would prefer] two laws: one for Britain and one for other people, meaning there would be separate layers of complication. I have exchanged letters with [the UK justice secretary] Chris Grayling on this, which is rather like Kafka. Britain is meant to oppose red tape; here Britain wants a supplementary layer of red tape. It's crazy. The UK wants 27 rules – one for each country."

In a letter to Grayling dated 8 March, Reding wrote: "You raise the possibility of specific rules for SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] which operate nationally rather than cross-border.

"I am surprised to learn that it would be the intention of the UK to introduce a new layer of complexity, cost and risk of non-compliance by having one set of obligations for domestic operations and one for cross-border operations."

The UK is lobbying for the changes to be part of a directive, which would give the government more flexibility about how it is adopted, rather than being contained in a more prescriptive internal market regulation.

Reding, who is from Luxembourg and also a vice-president of the European commission, stressed the new right to be forgotten would "not be absolute" and would be assessed in relation to other rights, such as freedom of expression, retention of medical records or data for tax purposes. It would, for example, permit students who post embarrassing pictures of themselves on social media sites to remove them at a later date. If those images had spread to a third party, however, the right of removal would be significantly diluted: the site that initially held them would be required to contact other sites to which it is linked informing them that a request had been made to erase information.

"[There will be] no power to remove it from third parties but if a company has given it to another [firm] without asking if they can sell it, then the individuals' rights will be re-enforced."

The right will not apply to journalistic archives, comments on articles or posts by bloggers, who will be exempted on the grounds of freedom of expression. Material posted by other people – friends or antagonists – would also remain unaffected: there is an exemption in data protection regulations for material of a "personal or household" nature.

Reding added: "The European rules [will] apply to every company … which operates in the internal market. The EU is a large market with 500 million citizens. If you want to take advantage of this goldmine, then apply the rules. Facebook and such providers like the one-stop shop. They like the fact that the rules are the same everywhere. There's no opt-out. This is an internal market regulation. It's a decision that will be taken by majority rule."

The case of the Austrian law student Max Schems, who battled Facebook for months to recover his personal data and eventually received 1,222 pages of material in 2011, is emblematic of the problems Reding believes need addressing. Facebook subsequently altered its data-retention policies as a result of the case.

Ireland, where Google and Facebook's European headquarters are based, holds the presidency of the EU. It has said that enacting the data protection regulation is a key priority for its presidency, which ends in June.

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office agrees that the new regulation will shift the balance between consumers and "data controllers". But it cautions: "Our concern is about how difficult (or impossible) this may be to achieve in practice and how it could lead individuals to believe falsely that they can achieve the absolute erasure of information about them.

"We know from the efforts of well-resourced and motivated individuals that it can in fact be impossible to remove information from the internet once it has been posted. We are concerned that this right, as billed, could mislead individuals as to the degree of protection the law can offer them in practice."

The London-based lobby group Privacy International is similarly sceptical. Anna Fielder, one of the organisation's trustees, said: "We think the right to erasure is essential and that's likely to stay; the right to delete your information once you have left a service provider. If you left a bank you wouldn't like them to keep your data for ever.

"But it's no more than a right to delete your data. It's got so many exceptions. It's specifically targeted at Facebook users. For example, photos of drunken teenagers. [Facebook] should try and make all the people who have shared the data remove it as well. [But] it's not a compulsion. It has so many exceptions: freedom of expression, public interest in public health and scientific research."

The MoJ said: "The UK does not support the right to be forgotten as proposed by the European commission. The title raises unrealistic and unfair expectations of the proposals.

"We are also concerned about potentially impossible requirements for data controllers to manage third-party erasure; the 'reasonable steps' required by the draft regulation would promise much, but deliver little."

Stewart Room, a privacy specialist at the law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, said article 17 covers where consent is withdrawn for information being held. "This is intended to address the idea that a kid may stick something on Facebook and later on there should be a way of taking it down.

"In Silicon Valley, there's a lot of venture capital going into tech companies that can achieve erasure of data. There's a lot of demand in the market for cleansing online information."

Richard Allan, Facebook's director of policy for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: "The core concept that you as a data subject should be able to delete your personal data is absolutely reasonable. It's something we implement on our service.

"[But] we have concerns about about the workability and consequences of a mechanism where organisations start sending each other instructions about data that needs to be removed. Our worry is that it will take up resources and won't be effective."

Individuals, he said, should approach data controllers directly to ask for material to be removed. Facebook, which has a billion users, has a social reporting mechanism that allows users to request that material is taken down from other accounts on the site, Allan said. "Our users like the mechanism.

"We think the most responsible service providers will offer the right to erasure. Where people are dealing with irresponsible service providers it may be that the national data protection authorities take action."

A different legal development that could be equally far-reaching emerged in a UK court of appeal judgment this year in the case of Tamiz vs Google, which ruled that, in principle, the internet search engine may also be a publisher and therefore liable to defamation proceedings for material on a blog hosted on one of its platforms.
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« Reply #5533 on: Apr 04, 2013, 08:05 AM »

Amazon tribe threatens to declare war amid row over Brazilian dam project

Munduruku leaders hit out at 'betrayal' after government pushes on with dam construction without community's consent

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro, Wednesday 3 April 2013 19.02 BST   

An Amazonian community has threatened to "go to war" with the Brazilian government after what they say is a military incursion into their land by dam builders.

The Munduruku indigenous group in Para state say they have been betrayed by the authorities, who are pushing ahead with plans to build a cascade of hydropower plants on the Tapajós river without their permission.

Public prosecutors, human rights groups, environmental organisations and Christian missionaries have condemned what they call the government's strong-arm tactics.

According to witnesses in the area, helicopters, soldiers and armed police have been involved in Operation Tapajós, which aims to conduct an environmental impact assessment needed for the proposed construction of the 6,133MW São Luiz do Tapajós dam.
Brazil judge orders construction of Amazon dam 'We don't want Belo Monte' reads a sign at an anti-dam rally in front of the Brazilian parliament building in Brasilia. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The facility, to be built by the Norte Energia consortium, is the biggest of two planned dams on the Tapajós, the fifth-largest river in the Amazon basin. The government's 10-year plan includes the construction of four larger hydroelectric plants on its tributary, the Jamanxim.

Under Brazilian law, major infrastructure projects require prior consultation with indigenous communities. Federal prosecutors say this has not happened and urge the courts to block the scheme which, they fear, could lead to bloodshed.

"The Munduruku have already stated on several occasions that they do not support studies for hydroelectric plants on their land unless there is full prior consultation," the prosecutors noted in a statement.

However, a court ruling last week gave the go-ahead for the survey. Government officials say that neither researchers nor logistical and support teams will enter indigenous villages. The closest they will get is about 30 miles from the nearest village, Sawré Maybu.

The ministry of mines and energy noted on its website that 80 researchers, including biologists and foresters, would undertake a study of flora and fauna. The army escort was made possible by President Dilma Rousseff, who decreed this year that military personnel could be used for survey operations. Officials say the security is for the safety of the scientists and the local population.
Dilma Rousseff Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, has decreed that military personnel can be used for dam survey operations. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

Missionaries said the presence of armed troops near Sawré Maybu village, Itaituba, was intimidating, degrading and an unacceptable violation of the rights of the residents.

"In this operation, the federal government has been threatening the lives of the people," the Indigenous Missionary Council said. "It is unacceptable and illegitimate for the government to impose dialogue at the tip of a bayonet."

The group added that Munduruku leaders ended a phone call with representatives of the president with a declaration of war. They have also issued open letters calling for an end to the military operation. "We are not bandits. We feel betrayed, humiliated and disrespected by all this," a letter states.

One of the community's leaders, Valdenir Munduruku, has warned that locals will take action if the government does not withdraw its taskforce by 10 April, when the two sides are set to talk. He has called for support from other indigenous groups, such as the Xingu, facing similar threats from hydroelectric dams.

Environmental groups have expressed concern. The 1,200-mile waterway is home to more than 300 fish species and provides sustenance to some of the most biodiverse forest habitats on Earth. Ten indigenous groups inhabit the basin, along with several tribes in voluntary isolation.

With similar conflicts over other proposed dams in the Amazon, such as those at Belo Monte, Teles Pires, Santo Antônio and Jirau, some compare the use of force to the last great expansion of hydropower during the military dictatorship.

"The Brazilian government is making political decisions about the dams before the environmental impact assessment is done," said Brent Millikan of the International Rivers environmental group.

"The recent military operations illustrate that the federal government is willing to disregard existing legal instruments intended to foster dialogue between government and civil society."

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« Reply #5534 on: Apr 04, 2013, 08:37 AM »

In the USA...

Obama heads West to keep guns push alive

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 3, 2013 18:26 EDT

President Barack Obama Wednesday said many proud gun owners backed sensible measures to stop an epidemic of firearms deaths, as he fought to keep his reform drive alive.

Obama flew west to Colorado, a state where gun rights and frontier spirit is strong, but which has also seen lawmakers push through new firearms laws following a movie theater shooting last year and the Newtown school massacre.

In excerpts of a speech he was to give at a police academy, the president argued that there was no contradiction between his plans to protect US citizens and a constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms.

“I’ve gotten stacks of letters from proud gun owners … who tell me how deeply they cherish their rights, and don’t want them infringed upon — but they still want us to do something to stop the epidemic of gun violence.”

The president also lamented delays in Congress over passing new gun crime measures following the horror at Sandy Hook elementary school in December.

“It’s now been just over 100 days since the murder of 20 innocent children and six brave educators in Newtown, Connecticut shocked this country into doing something to protect our kids,” Obama said in the excerpts.

“But consider this: over those 100 days or so, more than 100 times as many Americans have fallen victim to gun violence.

“Every day we wait to do something about it, even more are stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”

Obama scheduled his trip, and another visit to Connecticut next Monday amid fears that ambitious plans to reform firearm laws are in deep peril.

Earlier, White House hopes of enacting a new assault weapons ban and curbs on high capacity magazine clips are now fading, so the centerpiece of Obama’s efforts is likely to be a bid to expand background checks for gun owners.

But even that fallback plan appears under threat in Congress, where Republicans as well as Obama’s Democrats face tough re-election races next year in heartland states where gun culture runs strong.

Obama’s visit to Denver Police Academy took him just a few miles from the scene of a mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado last year in which 12 people were slain.

One of the president’s top aides admitted Wednesday that some in Washington were getting “cold feet” on gun reform, despite national polls showing 90 percent of Americans favor stronger background checks.

“Washington tends to be a lagging indicator of public opinion,” Obama senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer said, adding that he remained confident that stronger gun legislation would emerge from the aftermath of Newtown.

“What the president wants to sign is the strongest gun bill he can sign,” Pfeiffer told a breakfast meeting hosted by the Politico news organization.

“We have to make sure that whatever we do is better than current law. We are going to look at any compromise that comes forward.”

Some Republicans, who feel any new laws would infringe on the constitutional right to bear arms, warn they will filibuster legislation expected to be brought up in the Senate after Congress returns from a recess next week.

But it is not just Obama’s Republican foes who are standing in the way of change — some on his own side are also in a tough spot.

Several Democratic senators, like Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, face difficult political choices that could trap them between their president and conservative constituencies.

Lawmakers in Colorado, which Obama won on the way to re-election in November, have passed new gun laws requiring expanded background checks and limits on the size of magazines for assault weapons.

Opponents of expanding federal background checks argue that they would involve a government registry of firearms which may be unconstitutional.

They also fear that such a scheme would make it tough for family members to hand guns down through generations, or would prove prohibitive in rural areas where people may live many miles from gun stores used to process checks.

The top gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association (NRA) argues that guns are not the problem.

An NRA task force released a report Tuesday calling for more armed guards in US schools, following the Newtown killings.


April 3, 2013

Veterans Affairs Officials Offer Reassurance About Troubled Hospital


JACKSON, Miss. — Senior officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs said on Wednesday that they have begun taking steps to fix problems at an embattled veterans medical center here, including hiring new senior leadership, adding primary care doctors and reviewing X-rays and CT scans that might have been misread several years ago.

“There’s been some negative publicity,” Joe D. Battle, the medical center director, said during a public meeting called after recent reports of problems at the hospital. “We’re working to change that.”

But his and other officials’ assurances did not go over well with some of the veterans in the packed auditorium near the Capitol here, drawing skeptical questions and a few catcalls.

“You have built yourself up so good,” Charles Robinson, a Marine Corps veteran, scolded the officials during the meeting. “The things you are saying is actually not true. Your clinics, and especially your blue clinic, it’s the pits. It’s the garbage.”

The blue clinic is one of the primary care clinics that treat veterans seeking basic care. Mr. Robinson said patients routinely wait five hours to see doctors, or more likely nurses, at the clinic, even when they have scheduled appointments.

The session was organized after the Office of Special Counsel, an executive agency that handles complaints from federal whistle-blowers, sent a report to the White House last month asserting that it had found credible evidence of a pattern of problems at the medical center that might be affecting patient care.

The problems, some of which date back at least six years, included poor sterilization procedures, chronic understaffing of the primary care unit and potentially missed diagnoses by the radiology department.

As is required by law, the Department of Veterans Affairs is investigating the allegations. The department clearly took the bad publicity seriously, sending its most senior official in charge of its sprawling hospital system, Dr. Robert A. Petzel, the under secretary for health, from Washington to address the meeting.

But Dr. Petzel made clear that he believed the Jackson medical center was in generally good shape, calling the recent reports of problems “kerfuffles” that do not reflect the hospital’s high quality of care.

“When you look at the individual patients that are cared for, and you look at the cumulative data on Jackson, its quality measures, its safety measures, are above the national average,” Dr. Petzel said. “This is a good place, functioning with good staff.”

He added that he was confident that the three major issues raised in the special counsel report — unsterilized equipment, lack of primary care doctors and hasty reading of radiological images — “have been addressed and resolved.”

Yet the complaints by about half a dozen employees to the Office of Special Counsel in recent years, some of which were echoed by members of the audience on Wednesday, raise questions about how satisfied patients or staff members really are.

Among the most serious issues raised in the special counsel report were concerns that a former radiologist at the hospital “regularly marked patients’ radiology images as ‘read’ when, in fact, he failed to properly review the images and at times failed to review them at all,” the special counsel’s letter to the White House said. In some cases, fatal diseases were not diagnosed, the letter said.

Though the hospital has made staffing changes in the radiology department that have apparently improved care, one whistle-blower, a retired ophthalmologist who worked at the hospital for more than two decades, asserts that the medical center was obligated to notify every patient whose X-rays or CT scans might have been improperly reviewed to determine whether diagnoses were missed. That could involve contacting and possibly re-examining hundreds of patients.

The allegation first emerged in an employment complaint by female radiologists who said they were being discriminated against. Evidence introduced in that 2010 trial, in which the jury found in favor of the women, suggested that the former radiologist mishandled more than 50 cases.

After that trial, those 50 cases were reviewed by an outside panel of experts who concluded that the mistakes were mostly inconsequential. As a result, the hospital decided it did not need to notify every patient whose images had been read by that radiologist.

Now, after the special counsel’s new report, the department has sent those suspect cases to another panel of independent experts. But Dr. Petzel said he expected the panel to find nothing new, meaning no broad notification of patients would be required. “I think that is finished,” he said.

During the session, Mr. Battle, the medical center director, said the hospital was recruiting a new medical director and a new nurse executive. Last year, the hospital’s most senior nurse, Dorothy White-Taylor, was arrested on a charge of fraudulently obtaining a painkiller. The charge was dropped in one county, but is pending in another.

“We need to think about it as a new day,” Mr. Battle told the crowd.


Mysterious “Project Catapult” Grows Bigger

by Mark Hachman
April 2, 2013

Who owns the data center in Altoona, Iowa?

Altoona is located outside scenic Des Moines.

There’s something mysterious happening in Iowa—a massive data center is going up, thought to be the home of a next-generation facility from Apple, Google, or another major provider.

The Planning and Zoning Commission of Altoona, a suburb of Des Moines, has approved a 25 percent bump in the proposed size of the three buildings scheduled for construction on the site. The mysterious company has expanded its building plans by nearly 300,000 square feet, for a total of 1.4 million square feet, reported the Des Moines Register.

To put this so-called “Project Catapult” in context, Facebook’s Prineville datacenter (as planned in 2010) totaled just over 300,000 square feet—even after the social network announced plans to double the facility’s size. Apple’s own facility in Prinevillle, which will be powered exclusively by renewable energy sources, will total about 338,000 square feet. And Apple’s Maiden, N.C. facility, one of the largest privately owned data facilities, covers 500,000 square feet and cost about $1 billion. Compare that to the original Altoona site plan, which called for one 350,000 square-foot building and two buildings at 380,000 square feet, and it’s clear something big is going on here.

Although the exact cost of the proposed data center is really not known, an Associated Press report from last November estimated it at $1.5 billion. Altoona was thought to be in competition with Oklahoma to host the facility.

And Catapult isn’t the only major, mysterious data center in the region. In February, state officials met with anonymous company representatives on Project Oasis, which will possibly result in a 150,000-square-foot facility in Altoona. The Des Moines Register reported officials didn’t know whether or not Oasis would be operated by a single company, or jointly owned. The value of the project also wasn’t known.

Oasis is located to the east of the 200-acre Project Catapult site, and north of a $12.5 million, 17,000-square-foot data center that will be built out by Enseva, a colocation firm. According to Enseva, the company decided to build in Iowa because of its cool climate and low power costs, some of the lowest in the nation. Real estate is also cheap. Finally, natural disasters are a much more remote possibility in the region than earthquake-prone California (or even the East Coast, which is pounded by hurricanes on a semi-regular basis). Finally, major fiber hubs cross the state make communications more affordable.

So who owns Catapult? In November, city administrators told the Altoona town council that the Catapult owners are close to revealing themselves publicly. But so far, mum’s the word.


April 3, 2013

Possible Path to Vaccine for AIDS Is Suggested


In what may be an important step toward a long-elusive AIDS vaccine, American researchers have minutely tracked one person’s powerful immune response to the virus to see how a series of mutations led to an antibody that can defeat many H.I.V. strains.

A vaccine still remains far off, but the research lighted up one complex path that may someday be followed to that distant goal.

Thirty-four million people in the world are H.I.V.-positive, and 2.5 million are newly infected each year, 50,000 of them in this country.

“The beauty of this is that it’s a big clue as to the sequential steps the virus and the antibody take as they evolve,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which financed the research.

The study was led by scientists at Duke University and also drew in researchers from Columbia, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere. It was published online Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Scientists have so far failed to produce an AIDS vaccine because H.I.V. mutates so rapidly. Influenza viruses mutate so often that flu shots must be reformulated every year; H.I.V. mutates in one day as much as flu viruses do in a year.

The study analyzed many sequential samples of the blood of one African man from shortly after he was infected until about two years later, when he started to produce “broadly neutralizing antibodies.” Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins that neutralize virus particles by grabbing onto all the surface receptors they use to attach to cells. The antibodies the patient eventually evolved were called “broadly neutralizing” because they were able to jam up about 55 percent of all known H.I.V. strains.

Scientists have been isolating broadly neutralizing antibodies for several years now, and more than a dozen have been found.

About 20 percent of all H.I.V. carriers eventually produce broadly neutralizing antibodies, Dr. Fauci said. But that usually happens only after they have been infected for between two and four years, and by that time the powerful antibodies cannot save them because they are overwhelmed with so much mutating virus.

In theory, if such antibodies could be cloned in bulk, a cocktail of enough variants to match all known H.I.V. strains could be given to newly infected patients. That is the equivalent of an immune globulin shot, which was once the only treatment for some diseases, like hepatitis.

But it would be very expensive, and the treatment would have to be given for life. And antiretroviral drugs, which cost pennies to make, do the same thing: prevent the virus from replicating.

However, if a healthy patient could be given a vaccine that would induce his own white blood cells to produce the same cocktail of antibodies, they might knock out any infection that patient got later.

Because the cells that produce antibodies have to go through up to 100 mutations before they make broadly neutralizing ones, Dr. Fauci said, a vaccine to induce that would require many shots, given month after month, to “push” the cells through those mutations. Whether that is possible, let along financially practical, remains to be seen.

Other H.I.V. vaccine experts reacted cautiously to the research, saying it was first-rate work but hedging on its practical implications.

Dr. Louis J. Picker, an H.I.V. vaccine specialist at Oregon Health & Science University, described the work as “a road map to vaccine development, yes — but it’s like one of those maps of the world from the year 1400. We still don’t know how to turn this into a vaccine.”

Dr. Joseph McCune III, head of experimental medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, called it “clarifying science, with a lot of data I hadn’t seen before.”

But he said it was not clear if one patient’s immune process could be applied to others.

“Eighty percent of all patients don’t create broadly neutralizing antibodies,” he said. “What do we do for them? Do we know how protective this strategy is against new infections? And would we have to tailor-make batches of vaccine for people with different backgrounds?”


Republicans Go Silent After President Obama Gives Back 5% of His Salary

By: Sarah Jones
Apr. 3rd, 2013

Oh, dear. President Obama is going to be writing the government a check every month for 5% of his salary as a show of unity with federal workers impacted by the Republican sequester. That’s $20,000 a year. If Republicans are so concerned about the deficit that they were willing to allow the sequester to kick in, surely they will step up to follow the President’s fiscal example.

CNN reported today:

    Obama, whose $400,000 annual salary is set in law and can’t officially be changed, will write a check made out to the U.S. treasury every month beginning in April. Since the mandatory across-the-board spending cuts went into effect March 1, his payment for last month will be paid retroactively.

    “The president has decided that to share in the sacrifice being made by public servants across the federal government that are affected by the sequester, he will contribute a portion of his salary back to the Treasury,” the official said. 

According to the Constitution, the President’s salary can’t be changed during his/her term: “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

But just in case anyone was wondering (like a few of the super outraged conservative sites), the Budget Control Act of 2011 contained an exemption that elected members of Congress (and the President, but that’s sort of redundant given the Constitution)  won’t have their salary or pension reduced.

A check of John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Rand Paul’s websites reveals not a single statement or mention of the president’s decision to return 5% of his pay. Apparently, these Republicans believe that their talk of budgetary belt tightening applies to you, not them.

In February of this year, Republicans happily proposed reducing the federal workforce through attrition to avoid sequestration this year. They didn’t ask for cuts to federal contractors. They asked for cuts to employees who have already sacrificed  $103 billion in the name of deficit reduction since 2011, according to Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA).  They left for break after approving reduced funding for their committees, but not for themselves.

While Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made pretty PR by authoring an amendment for a fund to which Congress could choose to donate 20% of their pay , USA Today points out that it was part of a non-binding vote to the budget resolution, and thus does not have the force of law.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter already volunteered their salaries before the President did. So far,  two Democratic Senators have also risen to the challenge: Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) stepped up to the plate and will be returning a portion of his salary,  ”We need to be making responsible cuts wherever we can and there is no reason that members of Congress shouldn’t feel the pinch like everyone else.” And Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-O)  has also pledged to return a portion of her salary. Not a peep from a Republican yet.

Meanwhile, as the President shows solidarity with American workers, in the House, Eric Cantor (R-VA) is pushing a bill to gut rules governing overtime pay for the American workers.

It’s ironic that the people claiming to be so concerned about the deficit and so eager to cut pay for some people are unwilling thus far to step up to the plate and cut their own pay even by 1%. Tick tock Republicans. Put your money where your mouth is.

* mitch 'i am not bought out mcconnel.jpg (29.29 KB, 400x300 - viewed 75 times.)

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