Thick-skulled dino discovery leads researchers to believe that pre-historic Earth was more diverse
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 16:39 EDT
The discovery of a new thick-skulled dinosaur the size of a large dog may challenge our image of a pre-historic Earth dominated by supersized lizards, a study said Tuesday.
The planet may, in fact, have been inhabited by many more types of small dinosaur than widely thought, a group of researchers wrote in the journal Nature Communications.
“It would have been a world filled with a diversity of dinosaur life, both large and small,” study co-author David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum’s natural history department said of the results.
Today, Earth is dominated by small-bodied animals, including mammals and reptiles.
But dinosaur fossil finds have painted a picture of a very different world during the Mesozoic era, from about 250 to 65 million years ago, in which monster-sized creatures prevailed.
Scientists disagree on whether this meant the bigger animals were simply more numerous, or that their remains have been better preserved.
Now, evidence for the latter theory has been found in fossilised skull fragments discovered in the Milk River Formation of southern Alberta, Canada.
The remains are from a small, plant-eating dinosaur that strode the Earth hunched on two muscled hind legs some 85 million years ago.
About six feet (1.8 metres) from nose to tail and weighing in at 40 kilogrammes (88 pounds), the animal had a ridge of solid bone more than 10 centimetres (four inches) thick on the top of the skull — possibly used in head-butting contests.
The feature gave rise to its name: Acrotholus audeti after the Greek for “high dome”.
Acrotholus is the oldest species from a group of thick-skulled dinosaurs known as pachycephalosaurs in North America, and possibly the world, the researchers wrote.
From studying the new species’ place in the pachycephalosaur family tree, the team concluded there was a lot yet to be discovered about diversity in this and other groups of small dinosaur — classified as animals weighing less than 100 kilogrammes (220 pounds) each.
“When we look back at the Age of Dinosaurs, it’s easy to focus on the big animals like T. rex,” said Evans.
“But there is a growing body of evidence that the landscape would have been filled with small dinosaurs as well.”
More is known about pachycephalosaurs than many other small dinosaur groups, mainly because their thick skulls were better able to resist the ravages of the elements and time.
The rest of their skeletons, like those of most small dinosaurs, were much more easily weathered or chewed up by predators before they could be turned into fossils.
“We can predict that many new small dinosaurs species like Acrotholus are waiting to be discovered by researchers willing to sort through the many small bones that they pick up in the field,” said Michael Ryan of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
In the USA...
May 7, 2013
U.S. Is Weighing Wide Overhaul of Wiretap Laws
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, resolving years of internal debate, is on the verge of backing a Federal Bureau of Investigation plan for a sweeping overhaul of surveillance laws that would make it easier to wiretap people who communicate using the Internet rather than by traditional phone services, according to officials familiar with the deliberations.
The F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, has argued that the bureau’s ability to carry out court-approved eavesdropping on suspects is “going dark” as communications technology evolves, and since 2010 has pushed for a legal mandate requiring companies like Facebook and Google to build into their instant-messaging and other such systems a capacity to comply with wiretap orders. That proposal, however, bogged down amid concerns by other agencies, like the Commerce Department, about quashing Silicon Valley innovation.
While the F.B.I.’s original proposal would have required Internet communications services to each build in a wiretapping capacity, the revised one, which must now be reviewed by the White House, focuses on fining companies that do not comply with wiretap orders. The difference, officials say, means that start-ups with a small number of users would have fewer worries about wiretapping issues unless the companies became popular enough to come to the Justice Department’s attention.
Still, the plan is likely to set off a debate over the future of the Internet if the White House submits it to Congress, according to lawyers for technology companies and advocates of Internet privacy and freedom.
“I think the F.B.I.’s proposal would render Internet communications less secure and more vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves,” said Gregory T. Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It would also mean that innovators who want to avoid new and expensive mandates will take their innovations abroad and develop them there, where there aren’t the same mandates.”
Andrew Weissmann, the general counsel of the F.B.I., said in a statement that the proposal was aimed only at preserving law enforcement officials’ longstanding ability to investigate suspected criminals, spies and terrorists subject to a court’s permission.
“This doesn’t create any new legal surveillance authority,” he said. “This always requires a court order. None of the ‘going dark’ solutions would do anything except update the law given means of modern communications.”
A central element of the F.B.I.’s 2010 proposal was to expand the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act — a 1994 law that already requires phone and network carriers to build interception capabilities into their systems — so that it would also cover Internet-based services that allow people to converse. But the bureau has now largely moved away from that one-size-fits-all mandate.
Instead, the new proposal focuses on strengthening wiretap orders issued by judges. Currently, such orders instruct recipients to provide technical assistance to law enforcement agencies, leaving wiggle room for companies to say they tried but could not make the technology work. Under the new proposal, providers could be ordered to comply, and judges could impose fines if they did not. The shift in thinking toward the judicial fines was first reported by The Washington Post, and additional details were described to The New York Times by several officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Under the proposal, officials said, for a company to be eligible for the strictest deadlines and fines — starting at $25,000 a day — it must first have been put on notice that it needed surveillance capabilities, triggering a 30-day period to consult with the government on any technical problems.
Such notice could be the receipt of its first wiretap order or a warning from the attorney general that it might receive a surveillance request in the future, officials said, arguing that most small start-ups would never receive either.
Michael Sussmann, a former Justice Department lawyer who advises communications providers, said that aspect of the plan appeared to be modeled on a British law, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000.
Foreign-based communications services that do business in the United States would be subject to the same procedures, and would be required to have a point of contact on domestic soil who could be served with a wiretap order, officials said.
Albert Gidari Jr., who represents technology companies on law enforcement matters, criticized that proposed procedure. He argued that if the United States started imposing fines on foreign Internet firms, it would encourage other countries, some of which may be looking for political dissidents, to penalize American companies if they refused to turn over users’ information.
“We’ll look a lot more like China than America after this,” Mr. Gidari said.
The expanded fines would also apply to phone and network carriers, like Verizon and AT&T, which are separately subject to the 1994 wiretapping capacity law. The FBI has argued that such companies sometimes roll out system upgrades without making sure that their wiretap capabilities will keep working.
The 1994 law would be expanded to cover peer-to-peer voice-over-Internet protocol, or VoIP — calls between computers that do not connect to the regular phone network. Such services typically do not route data packets through any central hub, making them difficult to intercept.
The F.B.I. has abandoned a component of its original proposal that would have required companies that facilitate the encryption of users’ messages to always have a key to unscramble them if presented with a court order. Critics had charged that such a law would create back doors for hackers. The current proposal would allow services that fully encrypt messages between users to keep operating, officials said.
In November 2010, Mr. Mueller toured Silicon Valley and briefed executives on the proposal as it then existed, urging them not to lobby against it, but the firms have adopted a cautious stance. In February 2011, the F.B.I.’s top lawyer at the time testified about the “going dark” problem at a House hearing, emphasizing that there was no administration proposal yet. Still, several top lawmakers at the hearing expressed skepticism, raising fears about innovation and security.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 8, 2013
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of a former Justice Department lawyer who advises communications providers and commented on one aspect of the F.B.I.’s plan to overhaul surveillance laws. He is Michael Sussmann, not Sussman.
May 7, 2013
Foreign Food Inspections on Decline as Illnesses From Imported Goods Rise
By RON NIXON
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — Inside a warehouse near the Canadian border, boneless hams bound for Philadelphia are coming off a tractor-trailer from Toronto under the gaze of a federal food inspector. Each week, about 20 of the 150 food trucks from Canada are rejected because of paperwork problems or contaminated meat.
While Congress spared meat and poultry inspections by the Agriculture Department from the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester, inspections at foreign food factories have been in decline because of years of budget cuts, and border inspections like this one in New York may be eliminated.
The Food and Drug Administration, which inspects everything but meat and poultry, is struggling to find the money to inspect foreign foods under a new food safety law that Congress did not support with enough funds. The Obama administration’s 2014 budget calls for an increase in agency financing, but the most money would come from fees that the food industry and Congress oppose. Lawmakers in March did approve an additional $40 million in one-time financing for the agency to put the new law into effect, but food safety experts say more money will be needed.
The upheavals in government food inspections are occurring as Americans are biting into more and more foreign food and the rate of illness from imported food is rising. Just last month, a salmonella outbreak was traced to Mexican cucumbers that sickened at least 73 people in 19 states. In just the past two years, major food poisoning outbreaks from salmonella bacteria have been linked to imported foods, including Turkish pine nuts, Mexican papayas and cantaloupes from Guatemala. Last year, 2.5 million pounds of contaminated beef from Canada made it into American supermarkets before additional shipments were caught at the border.
Dr. Richard Raymond, a former under secretary for food safety at the Agriculture Department in President George W. Bush’s administration, said the decline in inspections was risky.
“We tried to do inspections every year, because if you don’t, people cut corners,” Dr. Raymond said. “The decline in in-country inspections appears to be a casualty of tough budgetary times.”
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found an average of six and a half outbreaks a year from foreign foods between 2005 and 2010, more than double the annual rate of infection between 1998 and 2004. And the number of outbreaks caused by imported food could be far higher because the origins of many foods are not always known, said Hannah Gould, an epidemiologist at the agency.
Food safety experts like Marion Nestle, a New York University professor and the author of “Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety,” said the rise in illness linked to imported foods could be attributed directly to the lack of vigilance by government regulators.
“The agencies responsible for food safety simply don’t have the resources to inspect all the food that is entering the United States each year,” Ms. Nestle said.
The Agriculture Department, whose foreign inspection budget has declined 18 percent since 2010, inspected food plants and the safety programs in just 10 countries last year, down from 32 four years ago, according to agency documents. The department said it would not inspect every exporting country each year but planned to focus on those with a history of food safety problems.
Under a pilot project, certain Canadian plants would be allowed to ship meat directly to food processors in the United States, bypassing border inspections, the result of a recent trade agreement. Government inspections would occur at the processing plants in the United States, officials said.
In an e-mail, Richard McIntyre, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department Food Safety Inspection Service, denied that any of the changes were related to budget cuts or trade pressures. He said the agency was taking a more “risked-based approach” by concentrating on problem-prone countries. Nations like Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which have had relatively good food safety regulations, will be inspected every two or three years.
But food safety advocates and some lawmakers are skeptical.
“This policy change puts the health of customers at risk,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, who wrote a letter to the White House and the Agriculture Department seeking information about the decline in inspections overseas and the trade agreement with Canada.
Neither has responded, she said.
It is the plan to eliminate meat inspections at the border that most worries Wally Piatkowski, the operator of the border facility here in Niagara Falls. As he watches inspectors open boxes and select slices of meat to test, he shares photos he has taken over the past year of meat shipments next to toxic chemicals, beef with fecal contamination and unpackaged meat spilling off the back of a truck.
Last year, government inspectors in Montana stopped a shipment of beef tainted with E. coli from a Canadian processing company, leading to one of the largest food recalls in Canadian history.
“That should have served as a wake-up call for these plans to eliminate border inspections,” Mr. Piatkowski said. “At the border, it is guaranteed 100 percent that that meat is going to be destroyed or sent back to Canada and has zero chances of entering the food supply.”
Two years ago, after one of the worst salmonella outbreaks sickened dozens of people, President Obama signed a food safety law that gave the F.D.A. greater powers and required more inspections of imported foods and foreign food-processing plants.
But the law provided no additional funds for inspectors. The new law makes foreign companies responsible for producing food by the same sanitation and hygiene standards as the United States. The F.D.A. would certify private inspectors paid by the companies to conduct food safety checks and turn over their reports to the agency.
“We are obviously never going to be able to inspect all the food that comes into the country on our own; we just don’t have the resources,” said Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the F.D.A. “The new law gives us the means to leverage our resources by working with industry and foreign governments and suppliers to ensure the safety of globally traded food.”
Currently, the F.D.A. inspects just 2.3 percent of the 10.4 million annual shipments of imported food because of a lack of resources. Almost every year, the agency’s inspectors have visited 1,000 of the more than 250,000 foreign food plants that ship to the United States.
David Acheson, a former F.D.A. associate commissioner for foods, said the agency had tried, without success, to get approval for additional staff but that Congress had balked at a price tag of $3 billion a year. So the agency was forced to rely on private inspectors.
“It was this or do nothing,” said Mr. Acheson, now a partner specializing in food safety at the Leavitt Partners law firm in Salt Lake City.
Mr. Acheson said he believed that the approach could work. “But the key is if F.D.A. is going to have the necessary funding to provide the oversight it needs,” he said. “In this era of tight budgets and efforts to cut spending, that’s an open question.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 7, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the law firm where David Acheson is a partner. It is Leavitt Partners, not Levitt Partners.
Sen. Leahy pushes for LGBT equality in comprehensive immigration bill
By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 18:31 EDT
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced Tuesday that he planned to file an amendments to the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill that would expand the rights of LGBT individuals.
“For immigration reform to be truly comprehensive, it must include protections for all families,” he said in a statement. “We must end the discrimination that gay and lesbian families face in our immigration law.”
Leahy’s amendments would allow gay or lesbian couples to sponsor their foreign partners for green cards in the United States and provide lawfully married binational same-sex couples — in which one partner is a U.S. citizen and one is not — with equal protection under existing immigration law.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin considering the amendments on Thursday.
Currently, binational same-sex couples are not entitled to the same immigration rights as opposite sex couples because the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The 1996 law defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
A Williams Institute study from 2011 found there was 28,500 binational same-sex couples in the United States, who were raising an estimated 7,700 children.
The Washington Blade noted that Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) have spoken out against such legislation, warning it could completely kill the effort to reform the nation’s immigration system.
Delaware becomes eleventh state to legalize same-sex marriage
By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 17:45 EDT
Delaware on Tuesday became the eleventh state to embrace marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.
The state Senate passed the freedom to marry legislation by a 12-9 vote Tuesday morning. Democratic Gov. Jack Markell later signed the bill into law, tweeting “marriage equality is a reality in” the state. The Delaware House approved the bill two weeks ago.
“This is a historic day in Delaware,” Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman said. “Delawareans of all backgrounds recognize that treating everyone fairly under the law is the right thing to do. Today our State Senate has joined our House of Representatives in voting to pass marriage equality. This law strengthens our families, strengthens our communities and makes Delaware an even better place to live and work. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Delawarean than I am right now.”
Same-sex couples in Delaware will be able to officially tie the knot starting on July 1.
The victory for gay and lesbian couples came less than a week after Rhode Island became the tenth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
“As happy couples and their loved ones celebrate and prepare for the first weddings in Delaware – following the win in Rhode Island just a few days ago – this milestone sends yet another message to the Supreme Court that it’s time for marriage for all Americans. Freedom to Marry is proud of its work with Equality Delaware to secure this victory, and we look forward to surging forward and continuing the momentum in Illinois and Minnesota later this month,” said Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry.
U.S. Appeals Court strikes down labor board’s ‘poster rule’
By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 19:30 EDT
A three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. on Tuesday struck down National Labor Relations Board regulations that required workplaces to display a poster about worker’s federal rights.
The NRLB issued new regulations in 2011 that required companies to inform employees about their rights to unionize under federal law. The posting included telling employees they have the right to act together to improve wages and working conditions, to form, join and assist a union, to bargain collectively with their employer, and to refrain from any of these activities.
Judge A. Raymond Randolph, who wrote the decision (PDF), said the First Amendment prohibited the government from compelling businesses to speak. He said the NRLB exceeded its authority by treating failure to post a notice as evidence of unfair labor practices.
The court previously invalidated the President’s three recess appointments to the NLRB by claiming that Congress was taking “a recess,” not “the Recess.”
Not surprisingly, unions denounced the latest ruling while conservatives championed it.
“The Republican judges of the D.C. Circuit continue to wreak havoc on workers’ rights,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. “After attempting to render the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) inoperable (in the Noel Canning decision), the D.C. Circuit has once again undermined workers’ rights – this time by striking down a common-sense rule requiring employers to inform workers of their rights under federal labor law.”
The National Association of Manufacturers, which initiated the lawsuit against the regulation, declared victory.
“The poster rule is a prime example of a government agency that seeks to fundamentally change the way employers and employees communicate. The ultimate result of the NLRB’s intrusion would be to create hostile work environments where none exist. The U.S. Court of Appeals has rightfully ruled that the NLRB has no authority to enforce notice posting,” President and CEO Jay Timmons said.
May 8, 2013
Former Aide to Putin Is Out at Kremlin
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
MOSCOW — The Kremlin on Wednesday announced the resignation of Vladislav Y. Surkov, in recent years a close aide to Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev and one of the architects of Russia’s highly centralized political system, now under strain from protests and a slowing economy.
Mr. Surkov, a former advertising executive, coined the phrase “sovereign democracy” to describe the political system under President Vladimir V. Putin, a system that preserved popular elections but stripped them of meaning by closely manipulating the process, ostensibly to protect Russia from outside meddling.
It backfired in 2011, when waves of protests began by middle-class Muscovites angry about vote rigging. Others in the Kremlin elbowed Mr. Surkov aside, something he took with a shrug then. “Stabilization devours its own children,” he said. He was reassigned to the cabinet after the protests began, a few months before Mr. Putin, then the prime minister, and Mr. Medvedev, then the president, swapped places.
The Kremlin published a statement saying Mr. Putin had signed a decree removing Mr. Surkov from his position “by his own volition” effective immediately. However, analysts said he was almost certainly forced to leave.
The departure highlighted Mr. Medvedev’s tenuous position, despite his having shown loyalty to Mr. Putin by declining to run for a second term as president last year and endorsing Mr. Putin instead. Today, Mr. Putin has taken to openly casting aspersions on the work of cabinet ministers, who are Mr. Medvedev’s subordinates.
Stanislav Belkovsky, a political commentator, attributed Mr. Surkov’s resignation to conflicts with his successor as the Kremlin’s chief domestic political adviser, Vyachislav Volodin, and with Mr. Putin’s chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov. These and other powerful lieutenants want to sideline Mr. Medvedev and “do not want to see Medvedev as a successor to Putin,” Mr. Belkovsky said.
During Mr. Putin’s first two terms as president, Mr. Surkov created an array of political tools — Nashi, a youth movement; the United Russia political party; and total control of state television — that helped Mr. Putin consolidate power and orchestrate the Medvedev interlude to comply with a constitutional ban on serving as president for more than two consecutive terms.
On the side, he styled himself as a literary figure. Mr. Surkov wrote lyrics for a Russian rock group, Agata Kristi, and is widely believed to have written a novel called “Almost Zero” under a pseudonym while working as Mr. Putin’s chief political adviser.
Mr. Surkov’s low profile and many tentacles of influence in the Moscow business and artistic elite earned him a reputation as a puppet master of Russian politics. Even nominal opposition figures, like the billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the owner of the Brooklyn Nets, consulted with Mr. Surkov.
Still, with a few exceptions, including the imprisonment of Mr. Surkov’s former boss from the private sector, the oil tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, outright repression was rare during Mr. Putin’s first two terms as president. But prosecution of dissidents and the passage of laws tightly circumscribing their actitivies has characterized his third term so far.
A dispute earlier this week with a powerful law enforcement organization was telling of this shift. The disagreement concerned a centerpiece project of Mr. Medvedev’s presidency, the building of the so-called innovation city of Skolkovo, on the edge of Moscow, which was supposed to attract computer programmers and scientists to work in Russia. As a deputy prime minister for innovation, Mr. Surkov had overseen the effort at times.
Then, in April, a branch of the prosecutor’s office, the Investigative Committee, said it had found evidence that the Skolkovo Foundation, set up to finance the construction, had paid $750,000 to an opposition member of Parliament who became a street protest leader, Ilya Ponamarov. In an interview, Mr. Ponamarov confirmed that he had received the money as an honorarium for speeches and for preparing a study, but said the contract ended in November 2011, a month before the Moscow street protests began. He denied using the money from Skolkovo to finance the protests.
At a speech at the London School of Economics on May 1 during what was described as a private visit to Britain, Mr. Surkov criticized the Investigative Committee for the crackdown in Skolkovo. “The energy with which the Investigative Committee publishes their suppositions evokes the feeling among normal people that a crime took place,” Mr. Surkov said. “But it is just the Investigative Committee’s style. It is their energy. Let them prove it.”
In response, the spokesman for the Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, wrote an article published in Izvestia, a Russian newspaper, asking whether Mr. Surkov would “hold on to his armchair” much longer. On Wednesday, Mr. Surkov posted a statement on his Facebook page, saying, “I will answer everybody right away, yes it is true.”
The emerging Dutch social enterprise sector
The social enterprise movement is finally gathering some momentum in the Netherlands
9 May 2013 07.15 BST
Fellow European policy makers have been referring to the Dutch social enterprise support system as a 'black hole'. With limited attention for the topic, the Dutch are indeed been far behind other European countries in the attention, awareness and support available for social entrepreneurs. To date the Dutch government has done nothing to support social enterprises, and do not yet officially recognise the term.
Yet something has begun to change in this past year. It seems the social enterprise sector is finally gathering some momentum.
Repeatedly named as one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the EU, the Dutch seem to possess the right 'DNA' for social entrepreneurship; they are innovative, business savvy and socially engaged. So why is social entrepreneurship not a thriving sector in the Netherlands?
The report 'Opportunities for the Dutch Social Enterprise Sector', highlighted several barriers for growth. First of all, like in most countries, social enterprise models are relatively unknown and ill understood by the general public. Social impact has traditionally been a non-profit or governmental affair, so there is an inherent distrust of any entrepreneur who tackles a social mission with a business model. Then there is the problem of access to capital. Patient growth capital has been scarcely available thus far. And finally, most importantly, the Dutch government has done very little to support the sector. Forcing social impact entrepreneurs to construct complicated entities to capture their social mission.
Yet change is underway and the glimpses of an emerging movement have become apparent in the last year. The visibility of the sector is slowly increasing. With no legal structure or mark to differentiate social enterprises from its commercial competition, recognition has to come from common branding. The newly established platform organisation Social Enterprise NL is bringing together social enterprises to provide support and lobby on their behalf. Since its inception last summer over 100 social enterprises have joined the platform and the number is growing steadily.
The government has finally caught on to the topic and has started to realise that social entrepreneurship could just bring the type of social innovation that can strengthen social fabric and bring in new tax revenue at the same time. The Netherlands has recently joined talks at the Social Business Initiative in Brussels while Social Enterprise NL and the ministry of economic affairs are now exploring which policy measures are most suited to stimulate social entrepreneurship. All signs of the government's willingness to engage more actively with the sector.
Big steps have also been made to increase the availability of patient growth capital for social enterprises. A new investment organisation will be established in the next few months, which will attract capital from different impact funds and investors while supporting entrepreneurs in managing capital injections. Meanwhile ABN AMRO, one of the biggest mainstream banks similarly allocated €10m (£8.5m) to its own impact-investing fund.
Social entrepreneurship has thus far been mostly absent from University course catalogues. Yet two major universities have recently announced that they are now incorporating the subject in their course curriculum as part of their graduate programmes.
So how can we capitalise on these small, early successes and move from here? Most is to be achieved at the government level. They should move from the awareness that the sector is important, to adopting concrete policy measures that can boost the ecosystem for social enterprises. This could require looking into fiscal benefits for innovative social start-ups, adopting social procurement regulations and possibly even a special judicial structure. But they should start by taking on a definition of social entrepreneurship.
Existing social enterprises should continue to come together. Building a sector starts from identifying the common ground and moving forward from there.
Building relationships, sharing experiences, best practises and identifying common opportunities will ultimately help the sector as a whole.
We need more success stories. Triodos bank has been a well-known social enterprise in the financial sector and there are some other promising younger enterprises like Taxi-E, Peerby and Waka Waka light, which are scalable and are growing fast. These pioneers need support from government, investors, clients and consumers to build resilient organisations, which have the potential to become national examples. Only by growing a stronger support structure across different institutions can we continue to boost the emerging sector in the Netherlands
05/09/2013 12:04 PM
Tax Fraud: Court Upholds Guilty Verdict against Berlusconi
A second court has upheld a tax fraud conviction against Silvio Berlusconi. The former Italian prime minister now only has one appeal left. If convicted, he could be barred from public office, but he is unlikely to face actual jail time.
Silvio Berlusconi's legal woes worsened significantly on Wednesday after a Milan appeals court upheld a conviction and four-year prison sentence against the former Italian prime minister on tax fraud charges. The ruling would also ban Berlusconi from holding public office for five years.
A lower court had convicted Berlusconi and his media empire Mediaset of the charges in October, a ruling Berlusconi appealed. In Italy, court decisions do not become valid until all appeal options are exhausted, and the former leader still has one more instance to go before he is threatened with any penalties. Under Italian law, however, it is unlikely he will spend any time in jail. A furlough law would likely be applied to commute three years, and people with one-year sentences aren't normally sent to prison in Italy.
During his time as prime minister, Berlusconi created several laws in an attempt to shield himself and his company Mediaset from several legal proceedings.
Did Berlusconi Lead 'Chain of Command'?
Berlusconi was one of a total of 11 defendants in the Mediaset trial, which began six years ago. He was found guilty of being personally involved in a scheme to artificially inflate the cost of television rights using offshore companies under his control. The money thus generated was used to establish illegal slush funds, the court ruled. Berlusconi, Milan public prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale says, led the "chain of command."
De Pasquale argued that Mediaset was able to boost television rights it was selling by hundreds of millions of euros, and asked that all 11 defendants be sent to jail.
Throughout, Berlusconi has denied all charges against him, instead portraying himself as the victim of a political witch hunt by prosecutors in Milan. The former Italian leader said he never had anything to do with the balance sheets at Mediaset. Those close to Berlusconi claim he has been hunted for 20 years by judges and prosecutors who want to silence him.
The politician even sought to move his trials to Brescia, claiming that the Milan judges were biased against him and that the city had grown "hostile" to its native son. However, a high court in Rome rejected the request on Monday.
Trouble for New Government?
Berlusconi is an important partner in the new governing coalition in Italy that is backing Prime Minister Enrico Letta, and his prosecution in the appeals process could create problems for the new government. Letta's government is weak, and public opinion polls show that Berlusconi could win if a new election were held. However, it is uncertain what kind of impact Wednesday's or future rulings might have on the powerful but scandal-riddled politician's future career.
The former Italian leader is also facing legal troubles on another front, with the so-called "Ruby Trial" continuing. In those proceedings, Berlusconi is accused of abuse of office and of having sex with an underage prostitute. The case has dragged along, with numerous delays because of minor medical problems with Berlusconi, his appointment calendar and the petition to move the trial at the high court.
The trial is scheduled to resume on Monday, with prosecutors wrapping up closing arguments, and a ruling is believed to be near, with a possible sentence of up to 12 years if Berlusconi is convicted. Berlusconi has denied all allegations against him.
Will the Brics bank deliver a more just world order?
A development bank financed by the giants of the developing world has the potential to change how development is done, but the devil is in the detail
Guardian Professional, Wednesday 8 May 2013 17.59 BST
At the first Bric summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia in 2009, then member states Brazil, Russia, India and China expressed mounting dissatisfaction with the inertia in the Bretton Woods institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) and agreed to "advance the reform of international financial institutions, so as to reflect changes in the global economy." Russia's president, Dmitri Medvedev, said the main point of the meeting was to show that "the Bric should create conditions for a more just world order." This sentiment, to reform the global economy has been a primary point of convergence for the group ever since and a common position around which to establish a new institution.
Nearly four years later, Bric has gained an 's' with the addition of South Africa and that new, highly anticipated, institution spoken of in Russia was finally announced at the 2013 Durban Summit — but not quite as the international community expected it. The statement was based on a report by their finance ministers suggesting that a Brics development bank was feasible and viable, inspiring the heads of state of the member nations to conclude: "The initial contribution to the bank should be substantial and sufficient for the bank to be effective in financing infrastructure." Anticlimactic to say the least.
The Brics members have been able to quickly establish a common purpose to diversify the current international financial institutions to be more inclusive and representative of today's economic realities. However, the details on how to do this seem to have been hard to agree on. Very little concrete information has been released on the proposed development bank. The leaders have positioned it as an institution to finance long-term infrastructure projects within the Brics countries, expanding to other low-income countries only after taking domestic actions. The location, leadership, start-up capital or indeed how the head of the bank will be chosen and other pivotal decisions made, have yet to be determined and no timeline on progress has been released.
This lack of information makes it difficult to gauge what the bank will and will not do, and therefore difficult to judge the kind of impact it is likely to have on global development. In its most successful form, it is hoped that the bank will achieve three things. First, it will respond to developing countries needs as opposed to the priorities of the lending institution. Second, it will fill any current gaps in financing, including access to finance for small and medium enterprises. Finally, it will finance infrastructure projects in places normally neglected by the private sector, and infrastructure projects to support an increased standard of living for all.
On the other hand the bank could fail. The conflicting interests between the Brics members may be too great to reach agreement for implementation. It has been suggested that the start-up capital need would be $50bn (£32bn) and should be divided equally among the members, a $10bn contribution from each. However, tensions may arise as China has the capacity to contribute $50bn on its own while $10bn from South Africa is substantial. The breakdown of start-up contributions may affect decision-making and leadership.
The bank could also be considered a failure if it simply replicates the characteristics of the major development finance institutions, with rigid lending conditions and donor directed decision-making instead of being based on the needs of recipient governments. If the bank merely tries to trump the existing institutional architecture, it will prove to be redundant and fail to provide progressive services, to move the current development paradigm forward. When the bank is formally established, its functioning will indicate that the group has managed to find a way to balance the power and the relative capabilities of each country, based on their varying financial reserves and immediate development needs.
To ensure success of the bank, the Durban eThekwini declaration outlined an action plan of ministerial and high-level officials meetings to facilitate ongoing dialogue on country positions and priorities. In theory these meetings should clarify the details necessary to get the bank up and running. As individual nations, the Brics have had varied success in developing fair societies. Ideally, as a collective and through this new bank, they will take the lead in championing sustainable development, and a participatory, collaborative approach that results in equitable growth. For now though, the world watches and waits
Athens mayor makes complaint over Golden Dawn MP's 'attempted assault'
Giorgos Kaminis claims far-right MP Giorgos Germenis tried to punch him but missed and hit a 12-year-old girl instead
Associated Press in Athens
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 8 May 2013 17.39 BST
The mayor of Athens has made a criminal complaint against an extreme rightwing party MP who allegedly tried to punch him after municipal authorities banned a Greeks-only soup kitchen in the city centre.
Giorgos Kaminis claims Giorgos Germenis accidentally hit a 12-year-old girl instead before bodyguards grabbed him.
The alleged attack last week came after police prevented Golden Dawn members from distributing free food only to Greeks in a main Athens square.
Once-marginal Golden Dawn, which rejects the neo-Nazi label, holds 18 of the Greek parliament's 300 seats. The party has been repeatedly linked with attacks on immigrants.
Germenis enjoys parliamentary immunity from prosecution, and if charges are brought lawmakers would have to vote on whether to lift it.
Golden Dawn said on Wednesday it would also take legal action against Kaminis.
05/08/2013 03:45 PM
World from Berlin: 'All Will Profit from New Wave of Immigrants'
This week, Germany announced it received more immigrants in 2012 than it has in almost two decades. Yet rather than sounding the alarm, newspaper commentators are welcoming the trend. Most of the newcomers are well-educated and come from other countries in Europe.
The trend has been building for some time. As the economic downturn in Southern Europe tightens its grip, increasing numbers of people are heading north -- many to Germany -- looking for work. On Tuesday, Germany announced that almost a million foreigners came to Germany in 2012, more than have arrived in any year since 1995. Furthermore, the preliminary figures indicate that last year saw a 15 percent jump in immigration over 2011.
The last time the country saw waves of immigration this large was during the Balkan wars in the late 1990s and at the peak of the guest worker movement during the 1970s, which saw hundreds of thousands of Turks, Greeks, Spaniards and Italians move to Germany.
The majority of the newcomers are leaving behind countries in impoverished southeastern Europe or debt-crisis plagued euro-zone countries in Southern Europe, where joblessness is rampant, particularly among youth.
Some two-thirds of the immigrants arriving in 2012 arrived from other European Union member states, including Poland (68,100), Romania (45,700), Hungary (26,200) and Bulgaria (25,000).
Of the countries plagued by the euro crisis, Germany saw an increase of 12,000 from Italy, a 40 percent rise; almost 10,000 from Greece, a 43 percent increase; 9,000 from Spain, a 45 percent rise; and 4,000 from Portugal, a 43 percent increase.
The influx means that Germany had a net population gain of 370,000, potentially important given recent complaints by German companies of a lack of skilled laborers. A large percentage of the new immigrants to the country are educated and skilled, and many politicians are hoping that this "brain gain" can help alleviate the problem.
'A Magnet for Well-Qualified Immigrants'
"All sides will profit hugely from the influx because the new wave of immigrants is younger and better educated than the average population," German Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. She said there are tens of thousands of jobs available for nurses and healthcare workers, electricians and a number of other areas of skilled labor.
Meanwhile, Christine Langenfeld, the chair of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR), told the business website Manager Magazin, "Germany is developing into a magnet for well-qualified, young immigrants from the EU." Given the shortage of skilled workers, they are a blessing for Germany, she argued. "A true European labor market is taking shape."
Langenfeld also says immigrants will profit. "They can find work in Germany and, in doing so, also obtain qualifications. She said it would help to alleviate the burdens on social systems in the countries the migrants are leaving. "This means that for more and more people, Europe will be experienced in everyday life as an opportunity," she added.
The issue dominates the editorial pages of Germany on Wednesday.
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"The character of immigration to Germany has changed. For a long time, Germany attracted primarily migrants with lower qualifications, those at the greatest risk of ultimately losing their jobs and becoming a burden to the state. The opposite is now true. On average, the immigrants coming in are better educated than locals and they are also culturally closer to Germans. The majority of them come from Europe; Turkey is the first non-European country on the list and it is in eighth place."
"Germany should not, however, rest on its laurels in the belief that it has found the miracle solution to its demographic problems. The (well-qualified immigrants) could disappear just as quickly if their lives are made difficult with excess regulation, high taxes or xenophobia. Only if we are able to give them the feeling that they are welcome and needed will we be successful in maintaining the important incoming stream of brilliant minds."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"It's been a few years since a German politician has stated in absolute seriousness that Germany was not a nation of immigration. Such statements were always a helpless attempt to hide reality in order to save the bourgeois republic of the post-war period amid the age of globalization. Nowadays Germany may not be comparable with the United States or Australia when it comes to immigration. But one other thing holds true: Almost one in five residents has foreign roots. We're much less German than we think."
"People are searching here for what they lack in their home countries: jobs, prosperity, opportunities. The European labor market makes (immigration) possible. This is a positive development for Germany. Many well-educated people are coming, full of motivation and ideas. Not all immigrants will stay long-term. Yet whoever stays and works here for a few years will carry with him or her a lifelong connection. It's time to look at not just the risks of immigration, but the opportunities as well. They are many times greater."
The leftist Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The increase in immigration from the European crisis countries also has a hint of compensatory justice: When countries under the diktat of the troika and under the apparent pressure of the German government are forced to consolidate to the point of ruin, then the least we can do here in Germany is to offer the people in those countries the ability to seek a new future here."
"Looking at it in the short-term perspective, the migration will create some minimal relief for labor markets and social systems that are wasting away in Southern European countries. But in the longer term, Spain, Greece, Portugal or Italy will lose the most valuable thing they have for their future: their well-educated youth. This is because it is primarily young and qualified people who are leaving their home countries. It's what researchers ominously call 'brain drain'. At the moment this disappearing talent isn't dramatic, but it will increase because other policies and sustainable economic growth aren't yet in sight for many of these countries."
"And the German government? Yet again it is on the winning side. It not only enforces its rigorous view of austerity policies in the EU, but also harvests the 'fruit' -- young skilled workers hungry for employment that companies here in Germany are desperately searching for. They also give companies here a real advantage because they can cherry pick the very best skilled workers from the growing pool of jobseekers without having to undertake costly qualification programs. The situation could hardly be any more grotesque."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The crisis, which has primarily taken place in Southern Europe, has strengthened the German economy. The capital flows have been diverted, investments are being made in Germany and companies need workers and, especially, skilled workers. Many parts of southern German are now enjoying full employment. Little wonder, then, that Spaniards, Portuguese and Greeks who see no prospects at home are increasingly trying their luck on the German labor market. Often these people are well educated. The probability is also great that they will return home as soon as the economic situation in their home countries has improved. Of course, that could still take a number of years."
"But there's a flip side to this coin. The fact that people from the poor house of southeastern Europe prefer living in undignified mass accommodations in major Germany cities than at home speaks volumes. If they manage to stay for five years, then they have the right to claim full social benefits in their 'host country'. But lasting and massive influxes to secure human subsistence cannot be financed through the German welfare state. Cities and municipalities have already sounded the alarm. That's why researchers like IFO President Hans-Werner Sinn are calling for a shift in principles from that of the host country to the home country. Workers should be provided with freedom of movement, but migration into the welfare state should be limited. A push on this front from Berlin is long overdue."
-- Daryl Lindsey
05/08/2013 06:43 PM
Dumping Allegations: EU To Impose Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels
By Joel Stonington
The European Commission has approved tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels in response to complaints of price-dumping. However, analysts say the move will do little more than give European companies a short-lived boost, and that the levy will mainly just increase prices and decrease use of solar power.
Back in 2008, the German solar manufacturing industry was riding the crest of a wave of growth fuelled by generous subsidies and high demand. That year, the darling of the German solar industry, SolarWorld, logged a 31 percent annual increase in revenue for a total of €900 million ($1.18 billion) and expanded its operations by opening North America's largest solar cell plant.
Four short years later, in 2012, the company announced €492 million in losses, and today SolarWorld is in the midst of a major debt restructuring deal to stave off bankruptcy. It is one of the last major German companies left manufacturing solar panels. Ironically, SolarWorld made it just long enough to see the success of the effort it spearheaded to slap tariffs on Chinese companies it suspected of conducting price dumping in order to wipe out the competition.
On Wednesday, the European Commission in Brussels agreed to impose punitive tariffs of 47 percent on Chinese solar goods. The move triggered a rise in SolarWorld's share price of 9 percent, but at just €0.65, the increase was roughly 100 times lower than the highs of 2008. And analysts say the tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels will likely provide little more than a short-term boost for German and other European solar panel manufacturers. Meanwhile, Chinese companies, which now produce roughly two-thirds of global solar capacity, will suffer.
"We are already in a trade war and this is probably the most important piece so far," said Jenny Chase, a solar market analyst at Bloomberg. "I would expect any effect to be quite short-term -- six months, maybe a year. Chinese companies will move outside of China or other companies will move in on their business. It still won't benefit the European manufacturers."
Last year, China sold €21 billion worth of solar panels and related components in Europe. But all of that is just about to get a lot more expensive with a 47 percent cost increase on panels made in the country. The levies are likely to see a response from China, which has already threatened tariffs seen as reactive in an industry that grew by a power of ten in the last five years as solar panels dropped in price by more than 75 percent. And as with any quickly growing industry, the road has been rocky and strewn with wrecks.
Wave of Bankruptcies in European Solar Industry
Numerous European solar companies have filed for bankruptcy, such as Solon and Q-Cells, as the solar market has matured, with market values in the billions disappearing into the sunlight. And other major European companies, such as Bosch, have ditched the solar side of the business amidst losses.
SolarWorld helped launch the anti-dumping case with a formal complaint filed together with other solar companies with European Commission last July and a similar case in the United States that resulted in tariffs of up to 250 percent on Chinese solar module manufacturers. Though the US market is far less important for China, the result of the US tariffs has not meant a windfall for SolarWorld. Some have accused the company of using the campaign to mask its own strategic shortcomings as business tanked.
"Many companies are selling at below cost at the moment," said Bloomberg's Chase. "The question is why? China tends to get the blame because China has seen the most significant increase in capacity."
A number of factors have helped Asian manufacturers during the last few years. For one, solar companies that built factories more recently used cheaper, better equipment that gives recent plants the ability to manufacture more cheaply. And a number of solar companies in Taiwan and Korea with recent plants are likely to be given the biggest boost from the US and European tariffs. It remains to be seen what the fallout will be in Beijing and whether China will retaliate.
The investigation into Chinese solar pratices had been the biggest launched by the European Commission, whose members on Wednesday backed the levy. European member states must give non-binding opinions on the proposal at a meeting on May 15. The decision is expected to take effect within a few weeks.
05/09/2013 01:37 PM
Wagner Controversy: Opera Cancels Holocaust Staging of 'Tannhäuser'
A staging of Richard Wagner's "Tannhäuser" -- set during the Holocaust and including a gas chamber and a shooting scene -- shocked audience members so badly that some had to be given medical attention. The theater has now cancelled the production out of fear it will damage its artistic reputation.
Düsseldorf's Deutsche Oper am Rhein opera house announced late Wednesday it was cancelling a highly controversial staging of Richard Wagner's "Tannhäuser" after outraging audiences at its premier on Saturday.
Director Burkhard Kosminski set the production in the time of the Nazi regime in an effort to address the controversial but popular composer's anti-Semitism and the later influence he would have on Nazi ideology. The staging depicted the character Tannhäuser as a Nazi war criminal and it even included a gas chamber on stage.
In a statement released on Thursday, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein said its managers had been conscious ahead of the premier that the production would be controversial. "We are reacting with the utmost concern to the fact that a few scenes, particularly one involving a very realistic depiction of a shooting scene, appears to have created such a strong stress for numerous visitors, both psychological and physical, that they had to receive medical attention afterwards."
The theater said that after "intensive discussions," director Kosminski, also a well-known German actor, refused to tone down his staging and that the opera must respect his artistic freedom, also for "legal reasons".
"After considering all the arguments, we have come to the conclusion that we cannot justify such an extreme impact of our artistic work," the statement read. The controversy is the biggest ever faced by the Düsseldorf opera house, which is not traditionally known for productions that have caused outrage.
Kosminski said he was "shocked" by the theater's decision and that he had simply been informed by the opera's management. "I presented my plan 10 months ago and explained what I wanted to do," he told the Westdeutsche Zeitung newspaper. "I also established a great deal of transparency during rehearsals. I am not a scandalous director and I have already staged more than 50 productions."
Gas Chambers and a Brutal Shooting Scene
Among the staging's most shocking scenes is a sequence during the famous "Tannhäuser" overture, in which nude actors are lowered to the floor on a cross made of glass cubes that are slowly filled with fog to represent the gas chambers. The Venusberg, the site of hedonistic love in Wagner's opera, becomes the site of a brutal shooting scene. Venus, who is decked out in a Nazi uniform, and her SS henchmen murder a family and then force Tannhäuser to kill as well.
With that kind of sensitive material, it didn't take long for the booing to begin. The theater reported that some guests also required medical attention. Following the outrage of theater-goers and the public, Rheinoper officials moved four days after the premier to suspend the staging. The opera will continue, but only with the orchestra and the singers and none of the elaborate props.
There had been no public demands to stop the production, but the theater decided to do so anyway. The leader of the Düsseldorf Jewish community, Michael Szentei-Heise described the production as "tasteless," but said he did not see the need to stop it, according to German news agency DPA. Wagner may have been a "fervent anti-Semite," but he didn't have anything to do with the Holocaust, he said.
Meanwhile, the Central Council of Jews in Germany said it had taken note of the controversial production but did not issue any comment.
04/12/2013 07:18 PM
Wagner's Dark Shadow: Can We Separate the Man from His Works?
By Dirk Kurbjuweit
Born 200 years ago, Germany's most controversial composer's music is cherished around the world, though it will always be clouded by his anti-Semitism and posthumous association with Adolf Hitler. Richard Wagner's legacy prompts the question: Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?
Stephan Balkenhol is not deeply moved, overwhelmed or delighted. He doesn't brood over the myth and the evil. It doesn't bother him and he isn't disgusted. He rolls a cigarette, gets up, digs around in his record cabinet and pulls out an old "Tannhäuser" by Richard Wagner, a Hungarian recording he bought at a flee market. He puts on the record, and the somewhat crackling music of the prelude begins to play. Balkenhol sits down again and smokes as slowly as he speaks. He doesn't mention the music, and he still doesn't feel deeply moved, overwhelmed or delighted. For him, it's just music.
That makes Balkenhol, 56, an exception, an absolute one among those who concern themselves with Wagner. Balkenhol remains unruffled. He drops two steaks into a pan, and as they sizzle, "Tannhäuser" fades into the background.
Balkenhol is a sculptor who was commissioned to create a sculpture of Wagner. He has until May 22, the composer's 200th birthday, when the new monument will be unveiled in Wagner's native Leipzig. This is the year of Wagner, but Balkenhol is keeping his cool. He isn't worried about creating a realistic likeness of the composer, with his distinctive face, high forehead, large nose and strong chin. Wagner was somewhat ugly, and Balkenhol won't try to portray him any differently.
The Composer Who Influenced Hitler
He won't need a great deal of bronze. Wagner was 1.66 meters (5'3") tall, and Balkenhol doesn't intend to make the statue much taller. He wants to give the sculpture a human dimension, avoiding exaggeration and pathos: a short man on a pedestal. But that wouldn't have been enough, because it would have belied Wagner's importance, so Balkenhol is placing an enormous shadow behind the sculpture. People can interpret it as they wish, says Balkenhol: as a symbol of a work that is larger than the man who created it, or as the dark shadow Wagner still casts today.
Music and the Holocaust come together in that shadow: one of the most beautiful things created by man, and one of the worst things human beings have ever done. Wagner, the mad genius, was more than a composer. He also influenced Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, even though he was already dead when the 12-year-old Hitler heard his music live for the first time, when he attended a production of "Lohengrin" in the Austrian city of Linz in 1901. Describing the experience, during which he stood in a standing-room only section of the theater, Hitler wrote: "I was captivated immediately."
Many others feel the same way. They listen to Wagner and are captivated, overwhelmed, smitten and delighted. Nike Wagner, the composer's great-granddaughter, puts the question that this raises in these terms: "Should we allow ourselves to listen to his works with pleasure, even though we know that he was an anti-Semite?" There's a bigger issue behind this question: Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?
The Nazi years lie like a bolt over the memory of a good Germany, of the composers, poets and philosophers who gave the world so much beauty and enlightenment in the 18th and 19th centuries: Kant, Hegel, Goethe, Schiller, Beethoven, Wagner and the Romantics. Nevertheless, the Germans elected a man like Hitler and, under his leadership, unleashed an inferno. In only a few years, a nation of culture was turned into one of modern barbarians. Is it not also possible that Germany's illustrious past in fact led it irrevocably towards the rise of the Nazis? Could the philosophical abstraction, artistic elation and yearning for collective salvation that drove the country also have contributed to its ultimate derailing into the kind of mania that defined the years of National Socialism? After all, it wasn't just the dull masses that followed the Führer. Members of the cultural elite were also on their knees.
Some were later shunned as a result, at least temporarily, like writer Ernst Jünger, poet Gottfried Benn and philosopher Martin Heidegger. But the situation is more complicated with Wagner, because he wasn't even alive during the Nazi years. Nevertheless, Hitler was able to learn from him. There was a bit of Wagner in Hitler, which is why the fascist leader also figures prominently in our memory of the composer.
It also explains why the shadow over the composer's legacy is so big. Any discussion of Wagner is also a discussion of denatured history, and of the inability of Germans to fully appreciate themselves and the beautiful, noble sides of their own history. Anyone who studies Wagner can perceive two strong forces, the light force of music and the dark force of the Nazi era. There are many people who cannot and do not wish to ignore this effect. They are at the mercy of Wagner's power. These are the types of people at issue here, people whose lives have fallen under Wagner's spell and who don't know what to make of their fascination.
Hitler as Wagner's Creation
Journalist Joachim Köhler, 60, described the dark side of Wagner in an especially drastic manner in his 1997 book "Wagner's Hitler -- The Prophet and His Disciple." In the 500-page work, published in German, Köhler portrays Hitler as Wagner's creation. When Hitler heard the opera "Rienzi," Köhler writes, quoting the Nazi leader, it occurred to him for the first time that he too could become a tribune of the people or a politician.
Wagner's hateful essay "Judaism in Music" offered Hitler an idea of how far one could go with anti-Semitism. The composer invokes the downfall of the Jews. Köhler detected plenty of anti-Semitism in Wagner's operas. Characters like Mime in "Siegfried" and Kundry in "Parsifal," he argued, are evil caricatures of the supposedly inferior Jews. Köhler felt that "Parsifal" anticipated the racial theories of the Nazis, quoting propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels as saying: "Richard Wagner taught us what the Jew is."
In the 1920s, Wagner's daughter-in-law Winifred invited the young Hitler to attend the Bayreuth Festival on the Green Hill in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth. When he was in prison writing "Mein Kampf," she sent him ink, pencils and erasers. According to Köhler's interpretation in 1997, the Green Hill was a fortress of evil and Wagner the forefather of the Holocaust.
Germany's Most Important Social Event
The scene is that fortress of evil, Green Hill in Bayreuth, on July 25, 2012, the premier of "The Flying Dutchman." German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in the audience, together with a half-dozen top politicians from Berlin. It's hot, the men are wearing tuxedos and the women long dresses, and their hairdos seem to shrink as the hours wear on. The Bayreuth Festival is still the country's most important social event, but it is also a drably German affair. The guests consume bratwurst in large quantities, the famous bratwurst of the Bayreuth Festival. Nowadays there is even a lobster bratwurst, which says a lot. But even the dressed-up version of bratwurst is still just a bratwurst, and German society is still a bratwurst society, no matter how sophisticated its behavior.
When the music is playing, the Festspielhaus (Festival Theater) soon becomes a disaster area. The seats are hard and packed tightly together, and it's warm and muggy inside. The audience becomes restless, the men remove their tuxedo jackets, the women fan themselves with their programs, the air becomes thick with body odor and an old woman in the lower right-hand section of the theater has to be carried out by medical personnel. Soon mobile phones are slipping out of the pockets of the tuxedo jackets, which the men have placed across their knees, crashing to the floor while Christian Thielemann directs the "Dutchman."
A young man is sitting around the middle of the orchestra section, with his hand on his companion's knee. His body twitches whenever the singers appear, as if he were trying to contribute to the success of the production. When applause erupts at the end, he gets up and pushes his way past people still in their seats and heads for the exit. The singers are applauded, the director is applauded, there is much clapping and stamping of feet and cheering, and a flood of bravos, and then the young man from the orchestra steps onto the stage. The audience's response is even louder than before, but now it consists of boos and whistles, loud and shrill.
Hitler Returns to Green Hill
Eight months later, the young man, Jan Philipp Gloger is sitting in a restaurant in the southwestern city of Mainz. He directed "Dutchman" in 2012. "I was prepared for the boos," he says, and in fact directors in Bayreuth are often met with harsh criticism. Gloger, 32, says he can live with the boos, which he considers normal. But in his case there was also something else, at it was worse than the catcalls. Suddenly Hitler was there again, and Hitler's presence in Bayreuth is a big deal, even today.
Hitler didn't know very much about Wagner when he received the invitation to the Green Hill. In the biographies he read, Wagner was portrayed "as a person with a horrible life." He used women, deceived friends and was constantly groveling for money to pay for his luxurious lifestyle. One case, in particular, is illustrative of what Wagner was like. He was in a relationship with Cosima von Bülow, the wife of a director who often worked for Wagner. She had a child fathered by Wagner, which she foisted on her husband. When rumors surfaced about the affair, Wagner wrote a public apology for Cosima, which he had signed by his patron Ludwig II, King of Bavaria. Wagner later married Cosima.
He was fleeing from creditors when he was caught in a severe storm in the North Sea. According to legend, the experience inspired him to compose "The Flying Dutchman." Gloger wanted to stage the opera without any allusions to Wagner's anti-Semitism or the Nazis. He wanted to avoid the past and the constant references to Hitler and create a more contemporary production. He turned the Dutchman into a "modern traveler" who suffers from "restlessness and emotional emptiness." The singer he chose for the role was Russian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin, who, according to Gloger, demonstrated "immense empathy" during rehearsals and sometimes wept as he sang.
Gloger was watching the rehearsals for "Lohengrin" in Bayreuth when he was told that there was a problem. Runes that had also been used by the SS were tattooed on Nikitin's body. Gloger sat down for a beer with Nikitin, who told him that the images were spiritual symbols of the Vikings. Then it emerged that Nikitin also had a tattoo on his chest that looked like a swastika. The premier was in five days.
Suddenly German's past had come back to haunt Germany's present. Could an opera singer perform in Bayreuth with runes and a swastika on his chest, despite "Judaism in Music," and despite Winifred and Hitler? Nikitin withdrew from the role, Gloger hastily rehearsed with another bass-baritone, and on the day of the premier he tried to explain to journalists at a press conference that it was his production, that he and his team had done a great deal of hard work, and so on. It was very hot in the press room, and it was a very German situation. Someone said that Hitler wasn't everything, and that everyone shouldn't always obssess about him. In the end, though, the conversation inevitably returned to the topic of Hitler.
As Gloger tells his story at the restaurant in Mainz, he comes across as one of the defeated in German history. He says that you only get a chance like that once, and that it was "presumably the biggest production of my life." But what remains of it is the image of a swastika on the chest of a singer who ended up not singing because of it. Gloger looks sad today, a man who reached for the stars at an early age and, like Siegfried, failed tragically. Those who become involved with Wagner can soon come across like one of his characters. There is still a spell, both good and evil alike, hanging over the Green Hill.
A Wagner Enthusiast in Israel
Jonathan Livny, 65, experiences the good spell every time he visits Bayreuth, and he comes here often. During the intermissions, he eavesdrops on the conversations of other audience members, and is pleased when he hears Hebrew, his own language. Livny is Israeli, and he loves the music of Wagner.
His father, a Jew living in Germany, recognized during the 1930s that calamity was brewing and emigrated to Palestine. He was the only member of his family to do so and the rest perished in the Holocaust. His son Jonathan says today: "God died in Auschwitz."
Livny is sitting in the lobby of a Jerusalem hotel, next to a Christmas tree that hasn't been taken down yet. He weeps when he talks about his lost family. He says that his father took along records from Germany, including Wagner's "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg." According to author Köhler, Hitler could hum and whistle the melodies of the opera. "My father loved Wagner," says Livny, who travels halfway around the world to see Wagner's most important work, "The Ring of the Nibelung." He lists all the places where he has already seen it performed: Toronto, San Francisco, Strasbourg, Berlin, Paris, Sydney, London, Milan, Vienna, Los Angeles.
Livny speaks quickly and briskly. He wears colorful glasses and drove to the hotel on a motor scooter. He has tried twice to have Wagner performed publicly in Israel. Although it isn't prohibited, Livny failed both times.
A Hideous Man Who Made 'Heavenly Music'
To some extent the now 86-year-old Israeli journalist Noah Klieger may be to blame for this. Klieger survived Auschwitz by pretending to be a boxer. The larger food rations for the boxing team saved him. Klieger speaks as animatedly as Livny, but not as quickly.
Klieger doesn't oppose concerts in Israel because Wagner was an anti-Semite. If that were the case, he says, he would also have to take a stance against performances of the music of Richard Strauss. "Wagner was more than an anti-Semite. He wanted the extermination of all Jews," he says. He cites as evidence a letter to Cosima, who had told her husband about a fire in a Vienna theater which killed hundreds, half of them Jews, during a performance of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's "Nathan the Wise". Wagner replied: "All Jews should burn to death in a performance of 'Nathan'." People can certainly listen to Wagner at home, says Klieger, but he feels that a public concert would be intolerable. Given his public tensions with Livny, Klieger even refused to take part in a public discussion with him.
Of course, that's not all that surprising given that Livny called Klieger "a professional Holocaust survivor." In Israel, this is considered a vilification of people whose position in public debates is shaped by their experiences during the Nazi era. "Wagner was a hideous man, but he made heavenly music," says Livny. He separates the man from his works, which is the reason he chooses not to pursue his cause this year. If he did, he says, it would look as though he were trying to honor Wagner in the year of Wagner, which he isn't. For Livny, it's all about the music.
Two years ago, he founded the Israeli Wagner Society "to break the last symbol of the hatred of Germans." Volkswagen has become a popular brand of car among Israelis today, says Livny, "even though it was Hitler's invention." That's why he doesn't understand people like Klieger.
Livny says he has been spat at and has received threatening phone calls. "The more they threaten me," he says, "the more I want there to be a concert. The music isn't anti-Semitic."
But is music even possible without context, and without the history of its creation and impact? Let's look at two attempts to talk about the music, and nothing but the music.
Christian Thielemann, 54, a director who specializes in Wagner, knows what it's like to perform his music in Bayreuth. You have to "remain fluid," former Festival Director Wolfgang Wagner once told him, and his wife Gudrun said that it was important to "go the distance." And that's what Thielemann does: He remains fluid and he goes the distance, whatever that means. There is a telephone in the orchestra pit, and when it lit up during rehearsals, he knew that it was festival director Wolfgang Wagner calling to tell him that it was "too loud, too loud, too loud." It's easy to get too loud in Bayreuth, says Thielemann, which is why it is important never to direct "forte." "If the director is enjoying himself too much, it's the beginning of the end," says Thielemann. There is apparently so much power in this music that a director must treat it gently to prevent it from becoming an assault.
A State of Ecstasy and Intoxication
Markus Käbisch, 45, is adept at describing what it's like to listen to this music. He studied music and is now an entrepreneur in the solar industry. He lives in Leipzig, Wagner's birthplace, and at some point he noticed that the composer "is hardly ever mentioned in Leipzig." He established an association with the goal of giving the city a monument of its famous son, but donors were few and far between. "I suspect," he says, "that there is a concern that it might not fit to the image of a liberal, cosmopolitan city." He raised the money elsewhere, and now artist Stephan Balkenhol is working on a sculpture that incorporates a shadow.
Käbisch loves Wagner's music but says he "couldn't handle it every day." He describes it as being, "extremely captivating; when you listen to it the ego and the individual disappear, and you become intoxicated, entering a state of ecstasy." Käbisch calls it "overpowering music." "That's what is so dangerous about it, and it's why this music was so well-suited to politics in the Third Reich." When the conversation turns to Wagner, politics is never far away.
Wagner himself conceived his music as political. He didn't want to be merely an artist, but to build a new society, a society of the emotionally transported, of people who seek love instead of striving for money and power. His music was also a propaganda tool for this idea.
This was convenient for the Nazis, because they too used intoxication, ecstasy and overpowering images in their propaganda, such as at their Nuremberg rallies. In the Germans, they encountered a pronounced susceptibility to emotional turmoil and pathos, which is particularly evident in German Romanticism, in the poetry of Friedrich Schiller or the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. An essentially German longing permeates Wagner's music.
In German politics, this pathos ceased to be possible after Hitler, in contrast to the United States or France. Germans can still relish in the music of Wagner, as long as they take the position that the music is innocent or that they don't care about the political context of art. Then it becomes an innocent pathos. This is one of the aspects of Germans' enjoyment of Wagner.
The Wagners: A German Family Straight Out of Greek Mythology
This is how Nike Wagner, the composer's great-granddaughter, answers her own question: "Yes, the composer of 'Tristan' was an anti-Semite and probably would have liked to burn down Paris. Wagner remains a moral problem. Nevertheless, today no one listens to Wagner from an 'ideological' perspective anymore. That's why we must allow the work to be separated from the character of its 200-year-old creator. Anti-Semitism clearly cannot be proven in his works."
She is saying this in the lobby of the Hotel Adlon in Berlin. One is tempted to search for clues of her great-grandfather in her face, but there are none. Wagner had coarse features, while Nike Wagner is petite with fine features.
Let's now take a look at the family itself. Given that there are so many Wagners, a small, albeit incomplete family tree is necessary in order to understand them better, one that only names the characters in this story. Here it goes: Richard and Cosima Wagner had a son named Siegfried, who married Winifred. They had two sons, Wolfgang and Wieland, who were the joint directors of the Bayreuth Festival from 1951 to 1966. Nike is Wieland's daughter, Eva Wagner-Pasquier is Wolfgang's daughter from his first marriage, and Katharina is his daughter from his second marriage.
For Germany, the Wagners are what the Atreidai are in Greek mythology. One of them, Atreus, committed a grave sin, casting a curse over all subsequent generations, beginning with Agamemnon and Menelaus, followed by Iphigenia, Orestes and Electra. The family is marked by enmity, as is the Wagner family.
The Nazi Stain
Nike Wagner lived in the Villa Wahnfried, which her great-grandfather had built in Bayreuth, and she more or less grew up in the Festspielhaus, the festival theater, where she played as a child and watched rehearsals. "In private, we were more likely to listen to Bach and Beethoven, while the teenagers were wild about Elvis Presley," she recalls. A strange, four-meter wall towered over the garden. Her father had it built to avoid having to look at his mother Winifred, who lived next door and continued to receive her old Nazi friends until her death in 1980. She once complained that the wall blocked out the sun.
Her father never entered his mother's house, says Nike Wagner. He accused her of dragging him into the Nazi affair. Wieland Wagner was Hitler's darling in Bayreuth. Hitler gave him a green Mercedes convertible for his 18th birthday, and he was favored as the heir apparent on the Green Hill. Wagner joined the Nazi Party and made a lot of money when he was granted the privilege of selling photographic portraits of Hitler. Later, as festival director, Wieland managed to portray himself among German intellectuals as the good Wagner by drawing attention to his grandfather's artistic sophistication.
Did Nike Wagner reproach him for his closeness to Hitler? Her father was 28 at the end of the Nazi era, so that his actions could not be attributed entirely to his mother's influence. "My father separated himself from the Nazi past in two ways: by condemning his mother and by esthetically purifying the stage. Of course, that didn't mean that Bayreuth suddenly became 'Nazi-free' or 'morally reeducated'."
She doesn't suffer from historical amnesia, but she is protective of her father. When Germans remember their history, the issue of what to preserve is always a key concern. What should remain, and what aspects of German history should continue to be portrayed in a positive light? Richard Wagner? And if not, at least Wieland Wagner, who made Bayreuth socially acceptable among intellectuals once again?
Katharina Wagner, 34, takes a similar approach to her cousin Nike. During a discussion of the Nazi era in a Berlin restaurant, she quickly turns to Winifred. The family has tacitly agreed that Winifred will carry the Nazi burden, so as to draw attention away from the others. But it wasn't that clear at all. In her book "Die Familie Wagner" ("The Wagner Family"), Brigitte Hamann writes that Winifred helped Jews during the Nazi period.
To this day, historians accuse the Wagners of withholding documents from those who study the Hitler years. In response, Nike and Katharina Wagner say that they, unlike others in the family, are willing to cooperate in every respect.
Katharina and Nike are completely different women. There is a sturdy and solid aspect to Katharina's demeanor that would seem more at home in a pub than in the family of a man who personifies German high culture. But her father Wolfgang and her great-grandfather had similar character traits.
Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner were not on good terms, even though they ran the Bayreuth Festival together. According to Nike Wagner, when Wieland died in 1966, his brother measured his apartment and then demanded rent from the brother's widow, Nike's mother, who was apparently unable to pay and forced to vacate the apartment, together with her children.
'Just Because You're a Wagner Doesn't Mean You're an Artist'
Nike Wagner lost her childhood home and later became a sharp critic of her Uncle Wolfgang, who ran the festival until 2008 and died two years later. She wanted to become his successor, together with her cousin Eva Wagner-Pasquier. In yet another twist in the battle between the clan, Eva broke off the alliance once it became clear to her that she would only get the job if she teamed up with Katharina. The two half-sisters have run the Bayreuth Festival since 2008, with Katharina also working at times as a director.
"I'm not passing judgment," says Nike. "The two women should go ahead and prove that they can do it." She does have a few bones to pick, though, such as over "the incompetence in the renovation of Villa Wahnfried." Later in the conversation, she says sharply: "Just because your name is Wagner doesn't necessarily mean you're an artist."
Katharina Wagner shrugs her shoulders. Of course she has nothing against her cousin, she says, brushing off Nike's remarks with the composure of a winner. She is running the world-famous Wagner festival in Bayreuth, while her cousin is in charge of the art festival in Weimar. The somewhat coarser side of the family has prevailed over the more sophisticated side. That's just the way it is. But is there any hostility? No, says Katharina, of course not.
Nike goes to Bayreuth every summer. Sometimes she sees Katharina, but she doesn't speak with her. The two cousins have never spoken a word with each other, and Nike is still waiting for an invitation to reconcile over a glass of champagne. Still, she never approaches her cousin. She takes her seat in the Festspielhaus and listens to the music of her great-grandfather.
Was Wagner a Leftist?
In 1986, political scientist Udo Bermbach, now 75, sat there for the first time and watched the Ring cycle. He became obsessed with Wagner after that, with both the music and the composer's political side. He shifted his academic focus and developed into an expert on the musician. His book, "Mythos Wagner" ("The Wagner Myth"), has just been published.
Bermbach did not see Wagner as the proto-fascist Köhler describes in his book "Wagner's Hitler." For Bermbach, Wagner was also a leftist. The composer had a revolutionary phase in 1848/49, when half of Germany was fighting for democracy and freedom. During the Dresden uprising in May 1849, he wrote flyers, transported hand grenades, was in close contact with the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin and observed the approaching Prussian troops from the tower of the city's Church of the Holy Cross. When the revolutionaries' cause was lost, he fled to Zürich, where he lived in exile until 1858.
His time in Zürich was a wild period of his life. He went to parties, indulged in a romance with a married woman, Mathilde Wesendonck, and wrote to Franz Liszt: "I must be going mad here. It's the only solution!"
When he returned to Germany, he reconciled with the monarchies, especially with Ludwig II, who helped him pay for the Bayreuth Festival. "There was no money to be had from the leftists," says Bermbach.
What remained was the utopia of a better society, one that was not ruled by money. While in Dresden in 1849, Wagner wrote the poetic but somewhat awkward lines: "The torch, it burns brightly, it burns deeply and broadly / burning to ashes everything around it / consecrated to the worship of Mammon!"
His Ring cycle is an anti-capitalism piece, making it highly topical. The drama begins with a real estate speculation by Wotan, the father of the gods, who has the giants Fafner and Fasolt build him a house that he cannot afford.
In his utopias, too, Wagner uniquely recreates the German soul. The notion of a better world is experienced in modern-day Germany in every organic supermarket, and it's reflected in the success of the Green Party, the social welfare state and the public's resentment of power politics, as evidenced for a brief period by the success of the Pirate Party. Anti-capitalism is widespread.
In his portrayal of utopias, Wagner conveyed ideas from both the left and the right.
For Wagner, striking a chord was the key to building a better community, which is something both the Nazis and the Communists also envisioned. The Nazis added racism to their concept, which is why they made Wagner one of their own. The left distanced itself from him for the same reason.
Udo Bermbach believes that this was a "major historical mistake by the left." Because of their disgust with anti-Semitism, they "abandoned him to the right." In fact, he notes, the "democrats on the whole betrayed him." Bermbach believes that if the left had claimed him, he would not have been as useful to the Nazis and would not have been discredited quite as much. But Bermbach also believes that Köhler's book is exaggerated, saying that Hitler was not a creation of Wagner's.
A 'Prophet and a Clown'
Joachim Köhler is a slim man who bears a slight resemblance to Wagner's friend Friedrich Nietzsche. He speaks in a benign way and is surprisingly soft-spoken for the author of such an aggressive book as "Wagner's Hitler." Sitting in an Italian restaurant in Hamburg, he talks about how he hit upon the idea for the work.
In the 1990s, when Köhler was working for the weekly newsmagazine Stern, he became irate when he read the memoirs of Wolfgang Wagner, who he believes "whitewashed his story in a way that was almost shameless and portrayed Hitler as their friendly Uncle Wolf." The book was Köhler's impetus for writing his own work on the subject.
"I approached the subject in the manner of a detective, like a Sherlock Holmes, for example," says Köhler. He pauses for a moment. "What I missed, however, was the genius of the century, 'the last of the Titans'." Köhler, surprisingly enough, seems moved.
Today, commenting on his theory that Wagner was partly to blame for the Holocaust, he says: "Hardly any more so that the anti-Semites Hegel, Marx and Schopenhauer. An intellectual anti-Semitism was almost socially acceptable at the time." He lists the Jewish directors with whom Wagner worked, and says that he "had Jewish friends throughout his life, which would be hard to imagine with a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semite."
But how, then, did the repugnant essay "Judaism in Music" come about? Köhler says: "Wagner was often one thing and its opposite at the same time. He was a passionate vegetarian, but he couldn't do without his daily steak. He had a tendency to stretch a point." Most of all, says Köhler, Wagner was simultaneously a "prophet and a clown."
Köhler launches into a lengthy speech about Wagner's humorous side. There was "a tendency to wear women's clothing; he subscribed to Paris fashion magazines and secretly wore silk negligees that he had designed himself. Wagner was difficult to paint, because he was constantly making faces, kidding around, doing somersaults and headstands. As a theatrical person, he didn't distinguish between theater and reality, and he seemed to be saying to everyone: Don't take me so seriously."
Was it all just fun and games? Was his anti-Semitism somehow a quirk and therefore tolerable? Apparently many things are possible with Wagner. As he sits there, Köhler comes across as a non-believer, a critic who became a disciple, and he clearly rejects the thesis of his book, when he says: "I no longer see Hitler being directly influenced by Wagner. Hitler didn't become Hitler because he listened to 'Rienzi'."
In the end, Köhler too has succumbed to Wagner's power. Even during his lifetime, the man who so greatly despised power was someone who could quickly become overpowering, to his women, his friends and his employees. He had a vehemence that was difficult to escape, a vehemence that was evident in his manner, his works and his longing for a new society. It is this Titanism to which Köhler has succumbed, this yearning for greatness, which was once a typically German trait, at least until Hitler's time. That too can only be savored in part when listening to Wagner today. With Wagner, it's possible to break the seal that has been placed over the years from 1933 to 1945, but it requires turning a blind eye to some things.
Preserving the Memory of Wagner in Venice
Something is still missing in this story: love. With Wagner, of course, there is no alternative but to portray love in its grandest form. He has made love grand through death and tragedy, in characters like Siegfried and Brünnhilde, Tristan and Isolde.
Alessandra Althoff-Pugliese is an attractive, elegant woman of an indeterminate age. It's fair to say that she isn't young, but old isn't a word that fits her, either. She is the chair of the Wagner Society in Venice, a city that was important to the composer. He worked here often, and he died in the city, on Feb. 13, 1883.
It's a sunny day and Althoff-Pugliese, wearing a pretty hat, takes us to the places that were important to Wagner. The palace where he once rented 15 rooms for his family and his entourage is now a casino. There are brightly flashing slot machines, and the casino management has its offices in some of the rooms Wagner once occupied. Althoff-Pugliese has made it her mission to reclaim room after room for her society. She has already succeeded with the room in which he was writing when he was seized with a painful convulsion. She is very lively in her account, even accompanying her stories with a few ballet-like steps.
On the morning of Feb. 13, Wagner had had an argument with Cosima over a visit by another woman. He was writing at his desk when a maid, Betty, heard him moan. A doctor pronounced Wagner dead at about 3 p.m. Before the fountain pen fell from his hand, he wrote: "The process of emancipation of the female only takes place amid ecstatic convulsions. Love - Tragedy." As last words, they were fitting indeed.
At around noon, Althoff-Pugliese takes us to a restaurant that she and her husband liked to frequent. She was an opera singer and was performing at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, where she met Giuseppe Pugliese, a music critic and the founder of the Venice Wagner society. He was much older than she was, but it became a great love story. Pugliese has been dead for three years, and today his widow is continuing his work, preserving the memory of Richard Wagner in Venice.
She recommends fish for lunch, together with a white wine. She apologizes for taking red with hers. She says that whenever she comes to this restaurant, she drinks the red wine her husband used to imbibe, a Merlot from the Veneto region. She also orders dishes her husband used to eat, and talks a great deal about him -- not in a sad way but perhaps with a touch of melancholy. Most of all, however, she sounds fulfilled, almost as if she had found a way to continue her life with Pugliese. When she puts on her hat again after the meal, she says that it was her husband's hat. It's a moment in which one imagines hearing the music of Wagner, disturbingly beautiful music, filled with love and tragedy, one of his quieter passages, not quite as bombastic as the rest.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
05/09/2013 12:10 PM
'Can't Call That Savings': German Central Bank Head Blasts France
German central bank head Jens Weidmann has strongly criticized French efforts to reduce its budget deficit, just days after the European Union granted Paris more time to meet EU requirements. He warns that French delays could damage the credibility of euro-zone rules.
France needs more time to get its budget deficit under control. That much was made clear last Friday when the European Commission announced it was granting Paris until 2015 to bring its budget deficit below the maximum 3 percent of gross domestic product allowed by European Union rules ensuring the stability of the euro.
But on Wednesday evening, Jens Weidmann, the president of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, said he is adamantly opposed to the move. "You can't call that savings, as far as I am concerned," he told the daily Westdeutsche Allegemeine Zeitung in an interview. "To win back trust, we can't just establish rules and then promise to fulfil them at some point in the future. They have to be filled with life," Weidmann said.
France had originally hoped to reduce its budget deficit below the 3 percent limit this year, but with its economy suffering, the deficit is likely to be closer to 4 percent and slightly higher in 2014.
As a euro-zone "heavyweight", Weidmann said, France must strive to set a positive example. "Particularly now, at a time when we have strengthened the rules regarding deficit reduction, we shouldn't damage their credibility by taking advantage of the built-in flexibility. What we need is trust in our ability to clean up state finances."
No Excessive Consolidation
Weidmann was referring to the European Fiscal Compact, the package of strengthened budgetary rules agreed to by euro-zone member states and most EU countries in late 2011. It went into effect at the beginning of this year. The pact includes stricter penalties for countries that do not meet the 3 percent budget deficit rule, but allows for exceptions in instances of economic weakness. The European Commission referred to France's struggling economy on Friday when it announced the two year extension of the budget deficit deadline for Paris.
Immediately following the announcement from Brussels, French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said that Paris planned to scale back its austerity measures. "We don't want excessive consolidation for our country, we don't want austerity beyond what is necessary," he said.
Weidmann's comments come at a time when France and Germany are struggling to convince the rest of Europe and the world that they are in fact on the same page when it comes to managing the euro crisis. French President François Hollande entered office last year promising he would focus more on economic stimulus than on deficit and debt reduction. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the other hand, remains a strict adherent of austerity as the best strategy to get the European debt crisis under control.
Just last week, SPIEGEL reported that Chancellery officials believe that Hollande is waiting until after fall elections in Germany to come to any far-reaching agreements with Merkel in the hopes that the new government in Berlin will be more to his liking. Last Friday, however, Hollande denied that to be the case. "That is wrong," he reportedly told Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn last Friday. "That is not my position."
'I Trust France'
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble likewise seems to be at pains to counter the widespread perception that France and Germany are at odds. "France is faced with a difficult process of consolidation," he said in an interview with the daily Rheinische Post, published on Thursday following his meeting earlier this week with Moscovici. "But they are on the right track. France is a strong country and is aware of its duties and responsibilities." Earlier this week, Schäuble said he found the two-year grace period for France to be "appropriate." "I trust the Commission," he said, "but most of all I trust France."
Still, not everyone in Merkel's party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is pleased. Party economics expert Kurt Lauk said earlier this week that France is in danger of "once again becoming the greatest transgressor of EU stability rules" and said it is "only a question of time before other highly-indebted countries demand concessions."
Pressure likewise came from the EU. Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said that the country must take immediate steps to improve its international competitiveness. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy also said earlier this week that the country must undertake far-reaching economic reforms.
PKK begins to withdraw from Turkey
First group of Kurdish separatist fighters now retreating towards northern Iraq, according to senior Turkish politician
Constanze Letsch in Yesilova
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 8 May 2013 19.58 BST
The Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK) has begun the withdrawal of its fighters from Turkish territory, according to a Kurdish party leader, as part of peace negotiations that could spell the end to one of the world's longest-running ethnic conflicts.
Gultan Kisanak, joint leader of the Peace and Democracy party, said a first group of rebel fighters started to move towards the border with Iraq on Wednesday.
Villagers on the border also reported seeing the fighters on the move.
In a statement on Tuesday the PKK announced it would withdraw despite some "natural obstacles".
Some 2,000 rebels are to retreat from Turkey on foot in a process expected to last five months. The first fighters are expected to arrive in northern Iraq in a week. There has been no official confirmation from the Turkish government that the pull-out is under way.
In Devecik, a town close to the Iraqi border, people are hoping peace will now finally come to an area where clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces have been at their worst for years.
"This next phase is very fragile, but we are optimistic that it will come to a successful end," Abdurrahim Gorsel, a 27-year-old shop owner, said.
He added that the increase of army checkpoints around Devecik made people uneasy: "If they want peace, they should decrease the symbols of war."
According to sources quoting local PKK commanders, withdrawing rebel groups face some difficulties in crossing the Turkish-Iraqi border due to heightened security measures.
"Due to current Turkish laws, the military cannot simply ignore sightings of armed fighters inside Turkish territory," Nihat Ali Ozcan, a counterterrorism expert, said. "This is another reason that the withdrawal process will take months to complete."
Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised that retreating PKK fighters will be left unharmed, but said that the PKK should lay down their weapons as soon as possible in order for the peace process to succeed.
Speaking at a news briefing in April, rebel leader Murat Karayilan warned that the PKK would retaliate in the case of a military attack: "Withdrawal will stop immediately if there is any attack, operation or bombing of our guerrilla forces, and our forces will use their right to reciprocate."
Karayilan also said that fighters would not put down their weapons prior to the withdrawal, and that they would retreat in small groups "under secure circumstances".
In Yesilova village, 3km from the Iraqi border, a delegation of Kurdish journalists and politicians from the pro-Kurdish BDP party is monitoring Turkish security forces to ensure that all goes well.
"We will make sure that the Turkish military does not move against withdrawing PKK fighters," Cabbar Tas, head of the BDP in Semdinli, said. "The people in the border villages will prevent soldiers and tanks from attacking guerrillas through civil disobedience. Any provocations that might endanger the peace process have to be stopped."
The successful retreat of PKK fighters is a significant advance in the peace process that might yet put an end to a 30-year conflict in which over 40,000 were killed and that cost Turkey up to £290bn.
"The withdrawal is an important step," Ozcan said. "It also gives the PKK time to develop a strategy for political mobilisation, to fill the void of an armed struggle. They now need to become much more active in the political sphere in order not to lose the momentum of the movement."
The PKK seeks greater autonomy for the Kurdish region and full democratic rights for Kurds, who are thought to comprise 20% of the Turkish population.
Kurdistan Workers' party: is the war really over?
After 30 years of conflict, the difference this time is that the ground for peace has been assiduously cultivated
The Guardian, Wednesday 8 May 2013 21.09 BST
It is not often one can say without hesitation that conflicts are on their way to being resolved, but on Wednesday in one part of the world that is exactly what happened: as scripted in the peace process, PKK fighters began withdrawing from the mountains in south-eastern Turkey. It is not the first time in the last 30 years of warfare that this has happened. Ceasefires have fallen apart before with bloody consequences.
The difference this time is that the ground for peace has been assiduously cultivated. The jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is no longer demonised as a baby killer and terrorist-in-chief and the Kurds in Semdinli, where the first PKK attack was launched on 15 August 1984, are for the first time in three decades hoping for peace. Many big questions have yet to be answered: will the PKK withdrawal be total; will it be with or without their arms; once the PKK fighters are gone, how will the Turkish military behave towards the Kurdish majority population in the south-east? For the moment, all one can conclude is that each side appears to be sticking to its side of the bargain.
The irony is that glory is far from redounding upon the man who deserves it, the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Both his own party, the AKP, and the Kemalist opposition are deeply split on the issue. There is deadlock in the cross-party parliamentary body whose task is to give birth to a new constitution. While no party will pull out of the commission for reconciliation just yet, it is now widely assumed that it will not deliver a new constitution.
And yet without one, or even with a series of amendments to the existing one, it remains an open question whether Erdogan will be able to deliver his part of the bargain to the Kurds. This includes the official recognition of the Kurdish identity, native language education and the right to campaign in the Kurdish language, a measure of devolution, plus the punitively high electoral threshold for getting into parliament being reduced.
Erdogan is pushing for a US-style presidential system, a role which he of course wants to fashion for himself, but he lacks the votes to push that through. The image of the AKP as the governing party would be harmed if it attempted to push through a constitution on which there is no consensus exclusively on the votes of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party. So, with deadlock in the commission, the ground on which Erdogan stands is brittle. Maybe by December, when the PKK withdrawal is completed, Erdogan will be able to go back to parliament with a stronger hand. It depends on how smooth the peace process is. But as things stand, a great opportunity for Turkey to move forward by reaching a political consensus is being squandered.
Taliban threaten election day suicide attacks in Pakistan
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 9, 2013 5:21 EDT
The Taliban have sent suicide bombers to mount election-day attacks on Pakistan’s historic polls, a militant commander said on Thursday, following a bloody campaign which has claimed more than 100 lives.
Saturday’s vote will be a democratic milestone in a country ruled for half its history by the military but the Pakistani Taliban have condemned it as un-Islamic.
They have directly threatened the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and its main partners in the outgoing government, seriously restricting their ability to campaign, and staged a series of attacks during the campaign.
The insurgents’ leader Hakimullah Mehsud had personally ordered suicide bombings on polling day, said a Taliban commander in the northwest.
“The Taliban has dispatched several of fedayeen (suicide bombers) to carry attacks on election across Pakistan,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
AFP saw a copy of a letter apparently sent from Mehsud to Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, mapping out the plan for bombings.
“You take care of attacks in Punjab and Sindh. I will take care of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan,” it said in reference to Pakistan’s four provinces.
Attacks on politicians and political parties, most of them claimed by the Taliban, have already killed 113 people since mid-April, according to an AFP tally.
Pakistan has said it will deploy more than 600,000 security personnel on polling day.
A separate pamphlet distributed by a previously unknown group in the most notorious Taliban and Al-Qaeda-stronghold of North Waziristan has warned people of punishment if they allow women to vote.
The Taliban threats have cowed the PPP, which has run a leaderless campaign. Its chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari — too young to stand — has not been seen in public.
In his absence former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and cricket legend Imran Khan have stolen the limelight. On Thursday, the last day of campaigning, they were competing to try to draw massive crowds at final rallies.
Sharif is a billionaire steel tycoon seeking a historic third term as prime minister.
The charismatic Khan is a sporting hero who has also sought to capitalise on a sympathy vote after fracturing vertebrae in a fall at a rally on Tuesday, and will address supporters from his hospital bed.
The election will mark the first time a civilian government has served a full term in the country and handed over to another through the ballot box. The outcome is considered wide open.
While Sharif is considered most likely to win, some believe the PPP can still emerge the second largest party thanks to a rural vote bank.
Despite his electrifying campaign, a question mark hangs over how well Khan will do, considering he won only one seat in 2002.
Sharif, head of the centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), will spend a busy day in his political heartland in the southern city of Lahore, said his media chief Tariq Azim.
“He will meet party officials during the day before addressing a rally in the Green Town area at 7:00 pm (1400 GMT), followed by two or three other meetings in different constituencies,” Azim told said.
Sharif will arrive at the 11th century Data Darbar sufi shrine at around 10:00 pm and address the final rally there. Another PML-N official said they were hoping to attract more than 100,000.
Khan will address the final rally for his centre-right Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in the capital Islamabad by live video link from his Lahore hospital bed.
Hospital staff have ordered the 60-year-old to remain immobile after he suffered fractured vertebrae and a broken rib on Tuesday when he fell from a lift raising him onto the stage at a rally in Lahore.
Taj Haider, a PPP leader in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, said party candidates would hold meetings in their respective constituencies but refrained from discussing Bilawal’s whereabouts.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which was a PPP ally in the previous coalition government and controls Karachi, said it was aggresively campaigning on social media because of the threats.
Campaigning ends officially at midnight, before the Muslim holy day Friday.
The election commission has warned that violations are punishable by disqualification and six months in prison.
Ali Haider Gilani, son of Pakistan's former prime minister, abducted
Gunmen shoot dead aide and injure several others including candidate on final day of election campaign, say local reports
Jon Boone in Islamabad
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 May 2013 11.40 BST
A scion of one of Pakistan's most famous political families has been shot and abducted while canvassing on the last official day of the country's election campaign.
Ali Haider Gilani, son of a former prime minister, was kidnapped in his home district of Multan after unidentified gunmen attacked a gathering of the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP).
Local media reported that one of his aides died in a flurry of gunfire and several others were injured, including Haider, who was reportedly bleeding as he was dragged into a car and whisked away.
The attack on the son of Yousaf Raza Gilani, who was disqualified as prime minister last June, has the potential to seriously upset the country's historic election, which is due to take place on Saturday.
The family, who have long enjoyed local influence as shrine custodians, have announced they will boycott the election unless Haider is returned.
Haider was contesting a seat in the Punjab provincial assembly, while three other members of the family, including his two brothers, were contesting seats in the national assembly.
Authorities have long been concerned that an upsurge in violence could suppress turnout.
On Thursday Reuters reported that the Pakistani Taliban's leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, has issued written instructions ordering militants to carry out suicide bombings across the country during polling on Saturday.
"We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy," he said in the letter, dated 1 May.
The Gilani family said they had complained to police that they had received death threats from the Taliban but were not given adequate security.
Observers say the Taliban have, through a campaign of violence directed against the three main secular parties, intimidated all parties and become a political force with national influence for the first time.
Punjab province, however, has been largely spared the violence directed against candidates elsewhere in the country.
Pakistan's once-ridiculed transgender community fight elections for first time
Hijras can vote and run for seats in polls following supreme court decision recognising them as 'third gender'
Jason Burke in Sargodha
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 May 2013 10.57 BST
In a small, dark room above a mechanic's workshop, Naina Lal is planning her campaign. Her supporters stack leaflets and sheets of stickers on a grubby carpet. Phones play a jingle composed for her. Outside, the noon sun sends the temperature past 40C (104F).
Lal, 28, is one of a handful of candidates from Pakistan's "transgender" community standing in national and provincial elections on Saturday. Known as "hijra", a catch-all term for transexuals, hermaphrodites and transvestites but usually indicating someone born male identifying as a woman, they have faced discrimination and ridicule for centuries. Living apart, they have traditionally earned a living as dancers, circus performers, sex workers and beggars.
But after a supreme court ruling last year allowing them to obtain national identity cards that recognise them as neither male or female, this election will be the first in which hijras can vote and stand as a "third gender". Candidates such as Lal say it is a sign of change in the country.
"Once people were very intolerant. They laughed at us, harassed us. But now they are much more accepting," Lal, who is contesting in Sargodha, a small, conservative city in the centre of the eastern Punjab province, said.
Lal grew up in Sargodha, before being forced to leave home aged 13 when her mother died and her father remarried. She found work with a circus. "I did a dance with snakes, magic tricks, many acts," she said. Six years ago she returned to the town and became involved in social work, mobilising and organising the transgender community.
"I have always wanted to go into politics," Lal said. "When I heard about the new laws I was determined to get myself elected," Lal said. I want to change Sargodha, not just for transgender people but for everybody."
The exact number of transgender candidates, all standing for provincial seats, is unclear. Almas Bobby, president of the Pakistan Shemale Foundation, an advocacy group, said she knew of at least five. Others say there are nearer 20.
The legal change has brought a new interest in the community from mainstream politicians. Lahore, Pakistan's second-biggest city and the capital of the province of Punjab, has long had a large transgender community. There, candidates from even the socially conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, in power in the city for many years, are now courting the candidates and their voters.
"Before no one cared about us. There was no benefit for politicians in paying us any attention. But now they are calling me, asking what we want and how they can help," said Neeli Rana, who runs a non-governmental organisation for transgender people in Lahore with 9,000 registered members.
In Pakistan, there are estimated to be 50,000-150,000 transgender people. There are many more in neighbouring India, perhaps half a million, where they are also marginalised and often harassed. In both countries, the "khawaja sara", as they prefer to be known, are traditionally called on to bless newborn children and to dance at weddings. Their prayers are believed to be particularly effective.
Another sign of changing times in Pakistan, Rana said, are new laws allowing transgender people to inherit their parents' property and ensuring fair rights to employment. "These are big things for us. There has been a powerful social stigma for a very long time. A change process has been started but there is still a long way to go," said Kum Kum, a transgender 28-year-old who lives with Rana.
Though transgender candidates say they are campaigning for all voters and will raise issues such as the frequent power cuts and food inflation which affect everybody, their community also has particular needs. One big problem is high levels of HIV infection.
Lal's neighbours said they would vote for her. "She's really energetic, and honest, which is already better than most local politicians," said Shazad Zamir, a mechanic who lives below Lal's temporary campaign office. His customers were less convinced, laughing at the idea that a hijra could be a lawmaker.
Lal is not bothered by such reactions. She said her main motivation was to win respect. "When I was young no one recognised me for what I am," she said. "It's not getting votes that is important, it's the statement I make by asking for them."
Pakistan's female election candidates have bags of confidence
More and more female politicians are standing in the Pakistan general election – and they see it as a chance to challenge the wealthy male elite
The Guardian, Thursday 9 May 2013
When Pakistan's new foreign minister arrived in India for talks in 2011 it triggered a media storm on both sides of the border – not because of policy but a Birkin bag. Hina Rabbani Khar, at 34 Pakistan's youngest and first female foreign minister, was put under international scrutiny for her pearl necklaces, Cavalli sunglasses and expensive handbags. "A guy in my place would never get such attention – nobody would be talking about his suit," she said at the time.
Powerful women the world over are evaluated on their appearance, but in Pakistan there are additional cultural constraints. However, as the country gears up for Saturday's general election – its first ever transition from one elected government to another – female politicians are standing up to change their future at the ballot box.
Figures released by the Election Commission show a 129.8% increase in the number of women contesting general seats since the 2008 election. As well as Khar, Pakistan has had a female prime minister in Benazir Bhutto and currently has Fehmida Mirza as speaker. Reserved seats for women have always been guaranteed in Pakistan's constitution, and over the years the number of quota seats has increased due to the efforts of activists. While reserved seats are improving representation (it stands at 22.5%, the same as in the UK, and better than the US's 17.8%), these women are predominantly from elite backgrounds. Those from poorer families remain excluded from the political system and, at the far end of the spectrum, many women are so disenfranchised that they cannot vote.
South Asia, despite its social conservatism, has a long history of female representation, with political systems often heavily dominated by a few families. Women such as Bhutto and India's Indira Gandhi stood in place of their father or husband, the family name allowing them to step outside traditional female roles: Khar contested elections because her father Noor was disqualified. Despite her swift rise to the cabinet she will not stand this year, because her father has been reinstated.
"It is difficult for women," says Anis Haroon, a caretaker minister for human rights and women. "It's non-traditional ground to tread, and women still bear the responsibility of home and children. Character assassination is easy in a patriarchal, conservative society. Women must work twice as hard to prove their worth." Last month, an election official in Lahore told the husband of prospective candidate Sadia Sohail that if she were elected, "the arrangements at your home will be ruined and no one will be there to attend your children".
Shahnaz Wazir Ali, of the incumbent Pakistan People's party, is a former education minister, and a parliamentarian since 1988, says: "There are social, cultural, and economic restrictions on women. A woman is constrained if she does not have her own strong financial base. You need a large establishment, funds, and a big family to gather resources and provide manpower."
She entered politics during General Zia ul-Haq's dictatorship through the women's rights protest movement. She has twice been elected to the National Assembly on women's reserve seats, but says contesting a direct seat remains an insurmountable challenge for many women. "People ask me why I don't go into general elections. It's just practically not possible for me. I have only one brother, who lives abroad. You've got to have brothers, cousins, uncles – we're a very male-dominated society."
Like Wazir Ali, most women in parliament entered through reserved quota seats. Their presence has had a big impact on legislation. Over the last term, a women's parliamentary caucus was formed, and a raft of pro-women laws introduced, criminalising forced marriage, acid crimes, and sexual harassment in the workplace. "A significant proportion of the business of the House, sometimes a majority, has been moved by women," says Wazir Ali. "Some men are prejudiced, but Pakistan's political context is changing."
While women at the top are increasingly active, election campaigns are directed by and aimed at men. "Political parties still try to reach women through men, either local power brokers like landlords or tribal elders, or the head of the family," explains Farzana Bari, head of gender studies at Quaid-e-Azam University. "Public rallies are mostly attended by men and parties do not address women directly as a constituency."
But the latest draft electoral rolls include 47.77 million men and only 36.59 million women. Gender divisions in Pakistan are roughly equal, meaning that around 10 million women are not registered to vote. Even door-to-door registration drives can be difficult in conservative areas of the country; women may be prohibited from speaking to men outside the family.
Yet quotas are having a trickle-down effect. This year, two women from the Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata) made history by announcing that they will stand in elections. Fata, also known as Waziristan, is an ultra-conservative region bordering Afghanistan, beset by Taliban militancy. Women rarely leave the house without their husbands, and if allowed to vote, are directed by male relatives.
Badam Zari, one of the two, is a 40-year-old housewife with no children. In early April, her face covered by a colourful scarf, she announced on television that she would stand as an independent candidate. "I often wonder why I am left without education," she explains. "I want to educate other women, so they can do more for society." In a deeply patriarchal environment, she sought the permission of her male relatives. "I presented my wish to contest the election before my husband. He had no objection. After my husband's permission, other relatives did not object." Her decision is brave. In the 2008 election, around a third of women registered to vote in Fata were deterred by threats from Taliban militants. Zari says she has not received any threats, and will campaign as best she can. "I am asking people in my own village to vote for me. My husband and other supporters are campaigning. You know about the status and condition of women in our area, but I will visit areas where peace prevails."
Women in nearby provinces face similar difficulties. Gulana Bibi, an illiterate 60-year-old mother of five, is standing in Tank, a conservative, semi-tribal area in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. "Women are deprived of their rights," she says. "The poor are deprived of their rights. Our leaders, limited to Islamabad, have no concern with the poor." Like Zari, she wants to give others the opportunities she has not had. "I am illiterate, but I will educate other women. I am not scared."
While she is dismissive of politicians drawn from the country's elite, the increased presence of women has clearly had a positive effect. "It has neutralised the notion that politics is just a male arena," says Bari.
There is a long way to go. Party structures remain male-dominated. The electoral gender gap is slowly reducing, but more could be done – proposals to discount constituencies with a female electorate of less than 10% were rejected.
But there is cause for optimism. "We have gone from zero to where we are today," says Haroon. The tribal women standing for election may not win, but their candidacy speaks volumes about the shift in women's aspirations and confidence – and it has nothing to do with Birkin bags. "We are all human beings," says Zari. "A male can set foot in parliament, so a female can too."
Fatal fire at Bangladesh clothing factory
Plant burns down in Dhaka as crews continue to pull bodies from collapsed Rana Plaza where hundreds died
Staff and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 May 2013 05.35 BST
At least eight people have been killed in a fire that swept through a Bangladesh knitwear plant in an industrial district of the capital, Dhaka, as the death toll rose to nearly 900 from a clothes factory collapse two weeks ago.
The fire broke out on Wednesday night in the Mirpur area at a factory belonging to Tung Hai Sweater Ltd, a large garment exporter, after most of up to 300 workers had gone home, police said.
By early Thursday firefighters had found eight people dead, said Mohammad Atiqul Islam, a clothing manufacturing industry spokesman.
The fire comes two weeks after the Rana Plaza factory building housing garment factories collapsed in Dhaka. As the retrieval of bodies continued, by Thursday morning the death toll stood at 892 people.
Bhajan Kumar Sarkar, a fire official, said the managing director of the factory that burned on Wednesday night, Mahbubur Rahman, and a police official were among the dead. All the dead had been found in the stairwell, he said.
Sarkar said firefighters took more than three hours to get the blaze under control.
"It is not clear to us how the accident happened but we are trying to find out the cause," said Islam, who is president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Tung Hai's western clients are listed on several websites as including clothing chains in Ireland, the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Canada and Spain.
On Wednesday the Bangladesh government said it had shut down 18 garment factories for safety reasons following the 24 April collapse of Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories making clothes for western brands. The disaster is the country's worst industrial accident. A fire at a garment factory in November 2012 killed 112 people.
India's ruling Congress party boosted by decisive state election win
Congress party appears to have won crushing victory over Bharatiya Janata party in southern state of Karnataka
Jason Burke in Delhi, and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 8 May 2013 15.23 BST
India's beleaguered Congress party, hit by a series of corruption scandals and charges of policy drift, received a much-needed boost on Wednesday with a decisive win in a critical state election.
With almost all votes counted in the southern state of Karnataka, home of much of India's information technology industry, the Congress party, which has led coalition governments at a national level in India since 2004, appeared to have won a crushing victory over the opposition Bharatiya Janata party (BJP).
The Hindu nationalist BJP had governed Karnataka for five years but saw popularity drain away amid allegations of crony capitalism, plunder of resources and corruption.
The win for the centre-left Congress, with 117 seats out of 224 at the most recent count and enough to form a majority government in the state, will invigorate the party as national elections – which must be held by the middle of next year – loom.
The local Indian Express newspaper called the result "a spectacular comeback" for Congress.
It is also a boost for Rahul Gandhi, the political heir of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, and the new face of the party.
"The Karnataka government has created a world record in corruption," Gandhi, a contender for prime minister in 2014 and the son of Sonia Gandhi, the party president, said at a recent Congress rally in Karnataka.
In Karnataka, the BJP's image had been dented by a £2bn illegal iron-ore mining scandal and a vicious internecine political war that has led to three different chief ministers in the past five years. At a national level, no clear official leader has emerged to unify the party's message to voters.
But Congress also has to deal with public anger at a slowing economy with high interest rates and soaring inflation as well as its own stumbling response to pressure from single-issue protests such as those that followed the gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi, the capital, last year. It has suffered disappointments in other elections, such as that in the vast, northern state of Uttar Pradesh last year.
Analysts have pointed out that Karnataka represents just 28 seats out of a maximum of 552 in the Lok Sabha, India's lower house, and warned that any win there does not necessarily mean the party's national fortunes are looking brighter.
Canvassing by Narendra Modi, the BJP's star campaigner and one of the most divisive politicians in India, was limited in Karnataka – possibly because he did not want to be tainted by almost certain defeat.
Modi and Gandhi have emerged as the leading personalities in their parties in the countdown to the forthcoming general election, even though under the parliamentary system there is no guarantee either would become prime minister. Modi is currently the chief minister of Gujarat.
Gandhi, 42, keeps a low profile in contrast to Modi, a firebrand politician praised for his business-friendly approach and Gujarat's economic success but mistrusted by many because of religious riots between Hindus and Muslims on his watch.
Going beyond his usual theme of economic development, Modi has attacked Gandhi as the "politician born with a golden spoon" and claimed that Congress is more corrupt than the BJP.
But the BJP's likely loss in the state will be a setback to any hope that the party had of making inroads into the south of India, where it has traditionally been weak.
"Karnataka was supposed to be the gateway to the south but the gateway door now seems to be closing on them," Sandeep Shastri, a political academic, told Reuters news agency before the polls.
Some have suggested the Congress party may call general elections early following a win in Karnataka. Senior party figures have now said this will not happen.
"I think we should simply … do work. Parliament, MPs, state governments, ministers … all should do hard work. Why talk about elections which are one year away?" Palaniappan Chidambaram, the finance minister, said.