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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1072996 times)
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« Reply #7350 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:49 AM »

Saudi activists face jail for taking food to woman who said she was imprisoned

Court finds women's rights campaigners guilty of inciting wife to defy husband's authority

Alexandra Topping, Friday 5 July 2013 17.13 BST   

Two female human rights activists are facing prison sentences in Saudi Arabia for delivering a food parcel to a woman who told them she was imprisoned in her house with her children and unable to get food.

Wajeha al-Huwaider, who has repeatedly defied Saudi laws by posting footage of herself driving on the internet, and Fawzia al-Oyouni, a women's rights activist, face 10 months in prison and a two-year travel ban after being found guilty on a sharia law charge of takhbib – incitement of a wife to defy the authority of her husband.

But campaigners argue the women have been targeted because of their human rights work, and fear that the sentences send out a chilling message to other activists who dare to criticise the repressive regime, under which women cannot drive and can only cycle in recreational areas when accompanied by a male guardian.

"These women are extremely brave and active in fighting for women's rights in Saudi Arabia, and this is a way for the Saudi authorities to silence them," said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, the Middle East and north Africa consultant for Equality Now, which is fighting for the women's release. "If they are sent to jail it sends a very clear message to defenders of human rights that they should be silent and stop their activities – not just in Saudi Arabia, but across Arab countries. These women are innocent – they should be praised for trying to help a woman in need, not imprisoned."

The women were arrested in June 2011 after going to the aid of the Canadian national Nathalie Morin, who contacted Huwaider and said her husband was away from their home in the eastern city of Dammam for a week and her supplies of food and water were running out. When they arrived they were immediately arrested and released a day later.

More than a year later, in July 2012, they were called in for further questioning. Huwaider previously said she was repeatedly asked about her involvement in the Women2Drive campaign, which lobbies for women to be allowed to drive in the kingdom. In May 2011 Huwaider and Manal al-Sharif defied Saudi law and gained international media attention by driving a car, posting widely viewed footage on YouTube. She was also asked about a women's rights protest she organised in 2006 on the King Fahd causeway and her 2009 attempt to cross to Bahrain without the approval of a male guardian.

In a statement Huwaider said: "These harsh sentences that have been imposed on us will not prevent us from pursuing [the cause that is] dictated by our Muslim faith and our humanitarian and moral duty – to help the oppressed, the deprived and the needy, and to protect the rights of women in our country, in all domains, including their right to social, political and employment empowerment, and her right to drive."

Following a trial which concluded last month the judge deemed the pair were guilty of "supporting a wife without her husband's knowledge, thereby undermining the marriage". Their appeal is to be heard on 12 July and they are asking the Saudi king, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, for a pardon.

Huwaider had been in contact with Morin – a Canadian who married a Saudi and has been trapped in Saudi Arabia since 2005, according to her blog – since Morin's mother, Johanne Durocher, contacted her in 2009. Durocher told them Morin's husband, a former police officer, Sa'eed al-Shahrani, was abusing her and denying her adequate food and water. Speaking from Quebec, Durocher said Huwaider was the only person who helped get money to her daughter so she could feed her children. "These women have shown enormous courage in trying to help my daughter. Why are they trying to put these women in jail, just for giving another woman food? I am a Canadian, and for me this is simply unbelievable," she said. "The authorities think that if you put these women in prison, other women will not speak up – they will be even more scared than they were before."

Writing on her blog Morin, who was not called to give evidence in the trial of Huwaider and Oyouni, said she could not leave Saudi Arabia as she did not have permission to take her children and called on the Canadian government for help. She wrote: "The charges against Wajeha al-Huwaider must be cleared, she has not asked to be involved in my story and she should not suffer the consequences. She never knew me and knew nothing about me. She only wanted to help me as a woman, a wife, a mother and human being herself from what she heard by others. She never tried to make any kind of interference in my relationship with my husband and she never had a discussion directly with me."

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« Reply #7351 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:53 AM »

Fixing China's image in Africa, one student at a time

Beijing's remarkable scholarship programme pays for 12,000 Africans to study in Chinese universities

Simon Allison for Daily Maverick, part of the Guardian Africa Network, Friday 5 July 2013 16.29 BST   

In Africa, China has an image problem. You've read the headlines: China is flooding our markets with cheap fakes; it is callously poaching our rhinos; it is building stadiums and roads that don't last a decade; it is undercutting our labour; it is stealing our diamonds; it is coming to colonise us all over again.

Some of this is sometimes true. Much of it is not, or not completely, the product of nervous imaginations and a well-founded fear of foreign nations who take from Africa more than they give. But image is not about substance, it is about perception; and, after decades of doing things its own way – consequences be damned – China is wising up to the importance of fixing its controversial image in Africa.

A few initiatives are worth noting. The expansion of Chinese media into Africa can't be ignored. State news agency Xinhua has become the largest wire service operating in Africa, while the Chinese public broadcaster's new Africa channel (CCTV Africa) is based in Nairobi with a full complement of African staff. Likewise, there has been a significant cultural investment in the form of Confucius Institutes (cultural and language centres designed to rival the British Council or Alliance Française) sprouting all over the continent.

In the long term, however, perhaps the most influential and certainly least examined initiative is the Chinese government's mammoth scholarship programme, which has grown exponentially over the last decade. There are an estimated 12,000 African students studying in China with the support of the Chinese government. This is an astonishingly high figure, dwarfing scholarship programmes offered to African students by any other country.

So, questions need to be asked: What are African students doing there? How are they being treated in China? And who really benefits? To figure this out, I askes a few African students who are actually there.

Sydwell Mabasa welcomes me into his room at the Communication University of China. He's clearly happy to see a fellow South African, and over a hot cup of Rooibos – "The taste of home," says Mabasa – we chat about politics and Oscar Pistorius and why exactly those textbooks aren't being delivered in Limpopo, his home province. I'm just happy to be inside. Beijing in winter is cold and blustery, the air so thick with smog that you can scrape trails of grime off your face with a fingernail. This is about as far from the warm, blue skies of Africa as it is possible to get.

Mabasa, who works in provincial government at home, is one of 21 African students on a new master's programme in international communication (almost all the scholarships are awarded at post-graduate level; the idea is to get people who are already well-educated and established in their home countries). He hasn't contributed a cent to his postgraduate studies, because China is footing the bill. The course is paid for, as are flights, accommodation, food and even a monthly stipend of $250. Not too shabby.

Neither is his room, a spacious studio with two single beds, a desk, a couple of chairs and an en-suite bathroom (on some mornings, students are even woken up with tea delivered to their door). It's housed in the 10-storey International Students Centre, a former hotel on campus where all the foreigners stay. "To prevent them infecting the citizenry with their foreign liberal ideas," jokes a colleague.

It's a flippant remark, but a serious issue: what kind of education can Africans really get in China, a country where censorship is rife and Facebook and Twitter are still banned? "The education system is good," Mabasa says. "Most professors who are part of this programme studied in the US and Canada and other areas. We get to explore both sides of the world."

His sentiments were supported by other students, all of whom say that the course presented both western and Chinese theories, allowing them to choose what they think works best. "There is a kind of framing sometimes, trying to push you into viewing the world in a certain light," said Saleh Yussuf Mnemo, from Tanzania. He's a journalist with experience at the state-owned Zanzibar Broadcasting Corporation, and also a lecturer at the Zanzibar Journalism and Mass Media College. Saleh says this "framing" is not unique to the Chinese: "Our education in east Africa was mostly influenced by the British, the French, the Germans. Now we are here we get a real insight into what the Chinese perspective is."

For many of the students, understanding China is just as important as the education itself. There seems to be a recognition among young Africans that China is going to be around for a while, and that there are relatively few Africans who can relate to China at all. Europe and America are known entities, with deep cultural or historical ties to African societies, but China is still a mystery. To understand China – to be a China expert – is therefore a marketable skill which is valuable regardless of the content or quality of the degree.

This is encouraged by the university, which includes Chinese language, culture and history courses as part of the core programme. "It's kind of a life-changing experience for them," comments Professor Zhang Yanqiu, director of the African Communications Research Centre at CUC. She's also the resident coordinator for the African students in the communications programme, and helps organise trips and cultural experiences – excursions to Shanghai or the Great Wall, for example, or tours of Chinese broadcasters. "They know more about China. They know China personally."

Yanqiu admits that there's an element of self-interest in this. "Between China and Africa ... there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinterpretation of each other. But this programme offers a new channel for Africans to know what's happening in the real China… The students work like a bridge between the two countries."

The real China

But the real China is flawed and it can, at times, get in the way of the education. I went with the students to a lecture on new media, a fascinating topic in today's digital world. The lecture, in English, was sharp, and the discussion freewheeled between analysing the influence on public opinion of US political dramas such as the West Wing to the skills needed in crafting 140-character tweets. Except they weren't tweets, of course, because Twitter is banned; they were entries on China's heavily censored home-grown equivalent, Sina Weibo. Homework for the students, along with an impressive amount of reading, was to set up a Weibo account and start micro-blogging.

Easier said than done. "Whatever I say, they delete most of it," said one student, referring to the army of censors working in real-time to monitor the social network. Mabasa refers to the restrictions as "social networking with Chinese characteristics", a clever riff on the "socialism with Chinese characteristics" that forms the basis of the Chinese state's ideology.

Not that Twitter and Facebook are completely off-limits. Getting round the censors by using a proxy server is slow, but not difficult. I was able to access my Twitter via a simple Google search for "free proxy server", and students have even more sophisticated ways to evade the Great Firewall. Even some lecturers, who are employed by the state, have no qualms about telling foreign journalists like me to connect with them on Facebook.

Still, teaching a course on new media when the most influential new media sites – including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and WordPress – are technically off-limits necessarily compromises the course. As does teaching classes in international journalism when media in China is similarly controlled and driven by the central government, and international news heavily restricted (the New York Times, for example, is unavailable in China).

When put to her, Professor Zhang accepts this criticism, but is quick to point out that the west has its own, different problems when it comes to the media. "We can see that western media reports on China and developing countries are not very balanced. For both the teacher and the student we need to balance the coverage. I think the developing countries are in one camp, they are not in the camp for western countries, so we should understand each other, pay attention to each other, produce coverage on each other and keep the information flow very balanced. Although it's hard to achieve, we have to help each other."

This is a refrain I hear again and again from Chinese academics and government officials: China and African countries are in the third world together, they are all countries discriminated against by the west; they are brothers or partners or whatever other word describes a friendly, mutually beneficial partnership between two regions of equal stature and development.

Walking around Beijing, it's hard to buy this narrative. The city is modern, clean and efficient, with world-class public transport. The sheer number of glistening skyscrapers here is overwhelming, more than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa combined, and they've all got electricity and running water. There is a conspicuous absence of the kind of obvious poverty that blights most African cities. Even the smog points to an industrial capacity that Africa can only dream of. Sure, this is just one city, but China's got plenty of other developed, industrialised metropolises: Shanghai, Shenzen, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, to name but a few. Africa, as continent, has a lot of catching up to do.

"When I came here, actually it's quite different from home," says Saleh. "China has gone very far ahead. My expectation is that Chinese themselves can feel like maybe they are in heaven." Heaven might be stretching it, but the point remains: China and Africa are, quite conspicuously, not at the same level of development, no matter how often African and Chinese leaders express their fraternal solidarity.

This cognitive dissonance between the image projected by China in Africa and the reality experienced by students can generate feelings of wariness and caution. Gloria Magambo, who is a manager in the performing arts section of the National University of Rwanda (which is state-run, naturally. There is a theme here), found that her perceptions of China changed dramatically when she arrived in Beijing. "Before I came here, I didn't know much about China and didn't even fear China at all and didn't even care. But now when I know China and actually get to discover who they are and what they are doing that is when my fear is rising instead. Now I know more about China. I have discovered the strength of the Chinese, they are very determined people, and by studying their history I know that whatever Chinese want they can get it… People with such determination, if their inner motive is colonisation, we're in trouble, we cannot beat them."

The geopolitics of brand-building

To find out more about China's motivations as far as its African scholarship programme is concerned, I went to speak to Professor Liu Haifang at Peking University (it's always Peking University, not Beijing University, a mistake which got me hopelessly lost in the city's northern suburbs).

Peking University is China's oldest, and it shows; while there are plenty of the big utilitarian concrete buildings which dot other campuses, here there are also grand old halls, pretty frozen-over lakes and elegant footbridges which lend it an academic gravitas shared by some of the world's very best universities, like Oxford or Princeton. It also hosts its fair share of African students, some of whom are taught by Professor Liu, who also happens to be one of the leading Chinese experts on the educational links between China and Africa.

There are a couple of things she is eager to set straight. First of all, she says, it's important to understand that Africans have been coming to study in China for decades – and that there are plenty of African students who are here on their own initiative, without any government support. The figures she quotes take me by surprise: 18,000 self-supporting African students in China compared to the 12,000 on scholarships. And the more scholarships China gives out to Africans, the more Africans come on their own, thanks to word-of-mouth networks. (I met one of these self-supporting students. He is Kenyan, and was most bemused when his family sent him to study in China. His brother had been sent to the United States, but, he said, his mother didn't know which way the world was going and wanted to hedge her bets.)

Professor Liu said the central government is not the only driver of the scholarship programme. Increasingly, local governments and companies are seeing the benefits of expanding their ties with Africa and sponsoring a few scholarships is seen as a relatively easy way to do this.

But, overwhelmingly, the scholarship programme is still a central government effort, and Professor Liu is crystal clear about what's in it for China: "The benefit is image, image-building up among Africans. If there is a better image about Chinese government and its support of education among youth, then young people can come to work for Chinese companies and spread good messages to their community."

This makes sense. Joseph Nye famously coined the expression "soft power" to talk about the more intangible influences of culture and media in international relations. It's something America, with global icons like Hollywood, McDonald's and Michael Jackson has in spades, while many people would struggle to name five famous Chinese people. As China's military and economic might has increased dramatically over the past two decades, its soft power has not kept pace.

By training a new generation of Africa's best students, China hopes to change this and exponentially increase the number of people who feel that they understand China and would orientate themselves in China's direction – a necessary complement to China's ambitious economic engagement in Africa.

But, being China, it's doing it its own way – and it's something that Professor Liu worries could one day undermine the whole effort. Her concern lies in how scholarship students are chosen; more specifically, that attempts to introduce a unified, merit-based system to award scholarships have foundered. In fact, responsibility for selecting students is often delegated to individual African countries, meaning there can be large disparities in selection criteria – and creating a system that is ripe for abuse.

Although she was careful not to say it directly, Professor Liu implied on several occasions that in some countries, the process was not as transparent as it should be – and she was not the only one.

One researcher, speaking off the record, said that some Chinese diplomats use the scholarship programme as a carrot with which to reward cooperation from African governments. "The traditional mindset among some Chinese officials is that they still think the most important thing is to leave enough quota, enough scholarships, to give to special persons, the elites. They go to officials' children or special connections."

The researcher added that this attitude is not always supported by the central government, who are taking a long-term view of the scholarship programme and what its benefits should be. "If you only give scholarships to so-called special relations, then you cannot keep the benefit at all. He will go, he will leave the relationship, and then you have to give to another person, and another person, and it can actually be a very bad cycle."

A rare publicised example of how this occurs was revealed by Namibian tabloid Informante in 2009. "High-ranking government officials are grabbing educational scholarships offered by China for their children and close relatives," wrote the paper. "Investigations show that high-profile figures ranging from former president and founding father, Sam Nujoma; current President Hifikepunye Pohamba; government ministers overseeing procurement of multi-million dollar deals with the Chinese government; senior military and several government officials are snatching the scholarships which are supposed to benefit mainly students from less privileged families for their children and relatives."

Four years later this scandal continues to dog the Namibian government. The country's main independent newspaper The Namibian recently published a strongly-worded editorial demanding some kind of inquiry into the abuse of scholarships, and The Namibian's editor, Gwen Lister, said she'd seen nothing to persuade her that the situation had changed.

Playing the long game

The big question, really, is will it work? China's scholarship programme to Africa is remarkable in its scale and intent. At its worst, it's a brazen attempt to hijack the loyalty of Africa's ruling classes by going after its youth; at its best, it is a genuine effort to give thousands of Africa's brightest students the extended education they can't afford to get anywhere else, and prepare them for a world in which Africa's orientation will inevitably shift eastward.

Either way, it's a long game. The programme started in earnest in 2009, and most graduates are still in their 30s. China's selection criteria (favouring both previous work experience and, at times, political connections) means that, within the next couple of decades, many of these graduates are going to be in positions of power and influence. Their experience in China will leave them well-equipped to deal with Chinese businesses and officials, and perhaps favourably disposed to do so. They will also be in a position to tone down some of the hyperbole that dominates the China-Africa political discourse.

But China shouldn't expect to have it all its own way. "We'll be influenced by our time here, but that does not mean we'll be totally in favour of them," said Saleh, the Tanzanian student. "It's not like a father and child. We are the future leaders of our countries and we'll have to look for the future benefit of our countries. We know what we are doing."

This article was researched with a grant from the China-Africa Reporting Project managed by the Journalism Department of the University of Witwatersrand

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« Reply #7352 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:55 AM »

July 5, 2013

In Okinawa, Talk of Break From Japan Turns Serious


NAHA, Japan — In a windowless room in a corner of a bustling market where stalls displayed severed pigs’ heads and bolts of kimono silk, Okinawans gathered to learn about a political idea that until recently few had dared to take seriously: declaring their island chain’s political independence from Japan.

About two dozen people of all ages listened as speakers challenged the official view of Okinawa as inherently part of homogeneous Japan, arguing instead that Okinawans are a different ethnic group whose once-independent tropical islands were forcibly seized by Japan in 1879. Then, to lighten the mood, the organizers showed “Sayonara, Japan!”, a comedy about a fictional Okinawan island that becomes its own little republic.

“Until now, you were mocked if you spoke of independence,” said one speaker, Kobun Higa, 71, a retired journalist whose book on the history of the tiny independence movement has become a hot seller online. “But independence may be the only real way to free ourselves from the American bases.”

Mr. Higa and other advocates admit that few islanders would actually seek independence for Okinawa, the southernmost Japanese island chain, which is home to 1.4 million residents and more than half of the 50,000 American troops and sailors based in Japan. But discontent with the heavy American presence and a growing perception that the central government is ignoring Okinawans’ pleas to reduce it have made an increasing number of islanders willing to at least flirt publicly with the idea of breaking apart in a way that local politicians and scholars say they have not seen in decades.

In May, a newly formed group led by Okinawan university professors held a symposium on independence that drew 250 people. A tiny political party that advocates separation from Japan through peaceful means has been revived after decades of dormancy, though its candidates have fared poorly in recent elections. And on his blog, a member of Parliament from Okinawa recently went so far as to post an entry titled “Okinawa, It’s Finally Time for Independence From Yamato,” using the Okinawan word for the rest of Japan.

“Before, independence was just something we philosophized about over drinks,” said Masahide Ota, a former governor of Okinawa, who is not a member of the movement.

“Now, it is being taken much more seriously.”

The independence movement remains nascent, with a few hundred active adherents at most. But Mr. Ota and others say it still has the potential to complicate Japan’s unfolding contest with China for influence in the region.

That struggle expanded recently to include what appears to be a semiofficial campaign in China to question Japanese rule of Okinawa. Some analysts see the campaign as a ploy to strengthen China’s hand in a dispute over a smaller group of islands that has captured international headlines in recent months. Some Chinese scholars have called for exploiting the independence movement to say there are splits even in Japan over the legitimate ownership of islands annexed during Japan’s imperial expansion in the late 19th century, as Okinawa and the smaller island group were.

Okinawa has long looked and felt different from the rest of Japan, with the islands’ tropical climate, vibrant musical culture and lower average incomes setting it apart. Strategically situated in the center of East Asia, the islands, once known as the Kingdom of the Ryukyus, have had a tortured history with Japan since the takeover, including the forced suicides of Okinawan civilians by Japanese troops during World War II and the imposition of American bases after the war.

For years, Okinawans directed much of their ire over the bases at the United States. But that changed four years ago when the Japanese prime minister at the time, Yukio Hatoyama, reneged on campaign pledges to move the bustling Marine air base at Futenma off Okinawa, rather than to a less populated site on the island as previous governments had approved. After that, many Okinawans shifted much of their anger toward the rest of Japan, which wants the United States military presence to offset China’s growing power, but is unwilling to shoulder more of the burden of bases for fear of crime, noise and accidents.

Local leaders and scholars say the last time Okinawans spoke so openly of independence was during a period of sometimes violent unrest against American control before the United States ended its postwar occupation of the islands in 1972.

“There is a growing feeling that Okinawans just exchanged one colonial master in Washington for another one in Tokyo,” said Shinako Oyakawa, 32, a doctoral student at the University of the Ryukyus and a co-founder of Okinawan Studies 107, a group promoting research into Ryukyuan ethnic identity.

Such discontent has helped nurture groups like hers, which seek to promote the idea that the islanders form a distinct ethnic group. It has also led to the creation of places like Ryukyu Hall, a privately run school that opened last year and offers classes on Okinawan language and culture.

On a recent weekend, about 30 people gathered at the school, a small, sparsely furnished two-story building, to hear accounts in the Ryukyuan language by survivors of the American invasion of Okinawa in 1945.

“Regaining our identity is the first step toward regaining independence,” said Midori Teruya, 41, a co-founder of the school in Ginowan, the site of the Futenma air base.

The talk of independence has grown enough that it is being heard in Tokyo, where some conservative newspapers have begun calling the Okinawan independence activists “pawns” of China.

Whether or not the activists are pawns, there is certainly some discussion in China about using the independence movement. Recently, an editorial in The Global Times, a state-run Chinese newspaper, said China could pressure Japan by “fostering forces in Okinawa that seek the restoration of the independence of the Ryukyu chain.”

Few believe China is about to pursue ownership of Okinawa. But Japanese analysts see the informal campaign as the latest gambit in China’s attempts to take over the smaller group of islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, by essentially warning that China could expand its claims beyond those islands if Japan ignores its arguments.

“It will create problems for us if the Chinese government tries to use this issue,” said Masaki Tomochi, a professor at Okinawa International University who helped organize the symposium on independence in May.

Mr. Tomochi and other activists said that in the remote event that Okinawa became independent, they felt little fear of a Chinese takeover because the Ryukyus had held friendly ties with China for centuries before the Japanese takeover.

Mr. Tomochi’s group is planning a second symposium to present research on how Pacific island nations like Palau could serve as a model for a future Ryukyu republic. The idea is to try to overcome what he sees as the main challenge his movement faces: winning over Okinawans who seem content with their Japanese-style living standards.

“People are talking independence now, but how realistic is it?” asked Yoshinao Hiyane, 22, an economics major at Okinawa International University. “My generation has grown up Japanese.”

At the movie screening in the market, independence supporters tried to bolster the notion that their idea is more than a fantasy by handing out color-copied “currency” of a Ryukyu republic. They stood before a blue banner with three stars that the organizer, Chosuke Yara, called its flag.

“Recently, the interests of the Japanese people and the Ryukyu people have clearly diverged,” said Mr. Yara, 61, the head of the tiny Ryukyu Independence Party. “Independence is an idea whose time has come.”

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« Reply #7353 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:59 AM »

Ousted Australian PM Julia Gillard opens up on sexism

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 6, 2013 7:45 EDT

Australia’s first female premier Julia Gillard has opened up for the first time on the sexism that plagued her leadership and her famous misogyny speech in her final interview before being ousted.

Gillard, an unmarried, atheist lawyer, was dumped as Australia’s prime minister by her ruling Labor party last month, almost three years to the day since she toppled Kevin Rudd — now reinstated as PM — in a shock coup.

Her time in office was marred by slights on her gender and sometimes violently sexist commentary, including from members of the conservative opposition, prompting a fiery speech about misogyny last year that went viral and earned her global accolades.

The galvanising speech on the floor of parliament saw her become a torch-bearer for women around the world.

Welsh-born Gillard opened up for the first time at length about the sexism she faced in what would ultimately be her final interview as prime minister, telling author Anne Summers you “wouldn’t be human if you had no reaction to it”.

Australia’s first female leader said conservative leader Tony Abbott had tipped her over the edge, portraying himself as “some convert, or someone with a real understanding about what it’s like to face the world as a woman and to feel the weight of that?”

“I just wasn’t prepared to suffer through that in anything that looked like silence,” Gillard said in the June 10 interview published late on Friday, adding that she had been energised by the response to the speech.

“The reaction to the misogyny speech did give me that sense that there are moments when I can talk about it that will have that resonance in other women,” she said.

“However they vote or whatever they think of me, they will actually say, ‘Yep, I know exactly what she’s talking about’.”

Gillard revealed that she had spoken to former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the travails of female leadership.

“She said to me that she never really felt that issue about gender when she was a senator. It’s when she put herself forward for executive office that she felt it very acutely, and so she talked about the crack she put in the glass ceiling,” she said.

They had also discussed the loss of privacy that came with public office and an “obsessive” media poring over every detail of their past lives, Gillard said, recalling how Clinton advised her “to stand up to it”.

She also described her affinity with US President Barack Obama, forged in part over their place as “The First” — she Australia’s first female premier; he the first African-American president.

“I think there is a little bit of a spark there about the sense of being ‘The First’ and consequently having to deal with things that someone else who’s in your position has never had to,” she said.

In remarks foreshadowing her fate just two weeks after the interview, Gillard said the constant leadership speculation which ultimately brought her undone had been the worst aspect of her time in office.

“When you want to be getting along with something, something important, but for whatever reason — often associated with the media, sometimes associated with internal Labor dynamics — you feel like you’re being hemmed in by distractions,” she said.

“There are many days when I feel like I could really shout out loud ‘We don’t have time for this. Let’s just get on with the things that really matter’.”

When future generations are asked who Australia’s first female leader was Gillard said that if she lived a normal lifespan she’d “see people get it wrong at quiz nights”, predicting that it will “have passed into being so absolutely normal”.

Gillard will not be standing for re-election when Australia goes to the polls later this year after promising to retire from politics if she lost the Labor leadership ballot. Rudd beat her 57 votes to 45.


July 5, 2013

In Australia, Misogyny Lives On



THE fastest way to lance a country’s anxieties about women and power is to appoint a female leader. For the three years and three days that Julia Gillard was prime minister of Australia, we debated the fit of her jackets, the size of her bottom, the exposure of her cleavage, the cut of her hair, the tone of her voice, the legitimacy of her rule and whether she had chosen, as one member of Parliament from the opposition Liberal Party put it, to be “deliberately barren.”

The sexism was visceral and often grotesque.

There were placards crying “Ditch the Witch,” toys designed for dogs that encouraged them to chew on the fleshier parts of her anatomy, and, most recently, a menu offering “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail — small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box.” By the end of her term, on June 27, the prime minister struggled to be heard above the sexist ridicule. When she addressed this, she was accused of igniting “gender wars.”

To point this out is not to imply that Ms. Gillard was flawless: far from it.

Her biggest problem may have been the way she became Australia’s first female prime minister. Under the Westminster system, voters elect parties, who are able to change leaders at will. In June 2010, Ms. Gillard, then deputy prime minister, deposed Kevin Rudd, with support from other members of their governing Labor Party, ostensibly because of poor polling. “The government,” she said, “had lost its way.” It was the first time that a sitting prime minister in Australia had been overthrown by his own party during his first term. Meanwhile, Mr. Rudd never left the picture. He stayed in government, and last month — almost exactly three years after Ms. Gillard had pushed him out — he returned the favor, after polls suggested that the party would be annihilated at the coming election.

Uneasiness over the way Ms. Gillard came to power fed deep currents of misogyny throughout her time in power. (She remains a member of Parliament but will retire at the election.)

She was pragmatic and effective, presided over solid economic growth, reduced Australia’s carbon emissions and enacted historic reforms in the areas of education and disability. History will be kind to her.

But she made many mistakes: abandoning a promise not to introduce a carbon tax, being slow to condemn corruption in her party, and negotiating a limp tax that failed to reap significant revenue from Australia’s mining boom.

She lacked canny political instincts and was unable to project her natural warmth, humor and empathy or convince the public of her sincerity.

Women across Australia had clinked glasses at her ascension: at last, the mold was smashed. She was an unmarried red-haired atheist with no children, living with a hairdresser boyfriend who often rose early to tend to her tresses. Yet Ms. Gillard was determined not to let her sex be a distraction. She fought the 2010 election hard, playing politics like the boys, with wit, pragmatism and tough debating skills. She ignored the sneers, the contempt and the catcalls.

Then, last year, her father died. While she was still grieving, a radio shock jock named Alan Jones declared that Ms. Gillard’s father must have died of shame. Shortly afterward, in Parliament, the leader of the Liberal opposition, Tony Abbott, said that Ms. Gillard’s government should “die of shame.” Ms. Gillard delivered a blistering response. She would not be lectured to, she said, by a man who had stood next to placards calling her “bitch,” and who had suggested that men had a better temperament for leadership. “My father did not die of shame,” she said coolly. “What the leader of the opposition should be ashamed of is his performance in this Parliament and the sexism he brings with it.”

“If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives. He needs a mirror.”

As her popularity dropped — especially among men — Ms. Gillard’s failings were unfairly pegged to the fact that she had dared to talk about the perils of female leadership. With gender dominating front pages for months, the media described her daily as a failed experiment. Even her fiercest critics conceded, in the final weeks, that no other prime minister was ever treated with such vitriol.

At her last news conference, Ms. Gillard said being the first woman “does not explain everything about my time in the prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing.” Her voice quavered when she said, “What I am absolutely confident of is that it will be easier for the next woman and for the woman after that and the woman after that, and I’m proud of that.”

The woman who had been known for playing politics like a man had suffered the most extraordinary, foul attacks on a woman we have seen in this country. Both her success and her failure acted like pipe songs, luring the snakes of contempt and woman-hating from their baskets. School students threw sandwiches at her.

Now the demons have settled, if wakefully. Mr. Rudd has revived his party’s chances at the next election, and commentators have turned from misogyny to taxes, carbon, refugees and investment; there is a discomfiting sense of relief that the woman has gone.

But we have all changed for having a female prime minister. Ms. Gillard was unable to control her party or her political narrative; unlike Margaret Thatcher, who silenced critics by staring them down, she seemed to only spur them on. But her steel and stoicism were remarkable.

And the robust discussion we had about archaic attitudes about women has mattered.

A 4-year-old girl from Canberra, when told that Australia had a new prime minister, said: “Really? What’s her name?” This, too, matters.

Julia Baird, the author of “Media Tarts: How the Australian Press Frames Female Politicians,” is writing a biography of Queen Victoria.

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« Reply #7354 on: Jul 06, 2013, 07:04 AM »

07/05/2013 04:36 PM

Made in Bangladesh: Greed, Globalization and the Dhaka Tragedy

By Hauke Goos and Ralf Hoppe

On April 24, a textile factory collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing over 1,100. A government investigator has presented his results to SPIEGEL. They tell a harrowing story of a disaster caused by greed and the pressures of globalization.

On the morning of April 24, 2013, at about 8:45 a.m., the Rana Plaza, a nine-story building housing factories and offices, collapsed in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. More than 3,500 people were in the building at the time, and 1,129 died in the wreckage. Mainuddin Khandaker, a senior official at the Ministry of Home Affairs, began his investigation that evening.

Six weeks later, Khandaker is sitting in a carved wooden armchair in his living room. A soft-spoken man in his early 60s who wears gold-rimmed glasses, he lives in Dhaka's government district. It's been dark outside for a while, and a single fluorescent tube, surrounded by fluttering moths, is the only light in the room. Khandaker is balancing a bowl of dark berries on his knees.

In the last few years, he has investigated more than 40 cases of factories that either collapsed or burnt down. But none of those accidents approached the scale of Rana Plaza, the biggest industrial accident in the country's history. The 493-page report Khandaker wrote contains witness statements, photos and structural engineering calculations. It will probably remain under lock and key. An investigative report on the textile industry has never been published in Bangladesh, he says.

Khandaker goes into the next room and returns with a stack of paper, the summary. He eats a berry from the bowl and carefully spits the seed onto the saucer. "Time pressure, lots of money, a lack of scruples and greed -- everything came together on that day," he says.

Dhaka, Basti Madjipur, April 24, 5:30 a.m.

The day began early in Basti Madjipur, a neighborhood in Dhaka's northwestern district of Savar.

A "basti" is a sprawling collection of simple concrete houses with sheet and corrugated metal roofs, separated by labyrinthine paths, where half-naked children play between puddles and ponds. There are chicken sheds everywhere, and the neighborhood is also home to a drove of small pigs. About 100,000 people live there. Everyone works in the nearby textile factories, and at the time, many were employed at the Rana Plaza building.

Mohammed Badul and his wife Shali got up at 5:30 a.m. that morning. Badul worked in the packaging department of a company called Phantom Apparels Ltd., in the Rana Plaza. His wife was a seamstress in another factory.

They live in a 12-square-meter (130-square-foot) room with a concrete floor, together with their nine-year-old son Sabbir. They own a bed, a dresser and dishes, some clothing and a TV set. A faucet and a shower are outside.

Like most mornings, Shali cooked rice with a little oil and a small amount of vegetables to bring to work as lunch for her and her husband. They didn't eat breakfast. At about 7 a.m., they left on foot for their respective factories. Shali had given her husband his lunch in a tin can. The one-hour lunch break began at 1 p.m.

The normal shift usually lasted until 8 p.m., but workers were often kept later for overtime, until 10 p.m. Shali went shopping on the way home, arriving at the house by around 11 p.m. Her son was already sleeping.

In 11 years, the couple has saved 20,000 taka, or €200 ($260). Mohammed Badul dreams of opening a barber shop one day.

Another couple, Fahima and her husband Abu Said also live in Basti Madjipur. Both are from the village of Bodergond in northern Bangladesh. They came to Dhaka six years ago, forced to leave their village and look for work so that they could repay their debts. Abu Said had borrowed 50,000 taka because he wanted to start his own company.

Together, they earn about 12,000 taka a month, of which they are able to save about 500 taka, or €5. They don't have a bed, or even a mattress. Abu Said indulges in only one luxury item: He occasionally buys a tin of chewing tobacco, which he always carries in his back pocket.

Fahima and Abu Said also have a son, five-year-old Shahin. A neighbor takes care of the boy when Fahima and her husband are at the factory. Their plan is to persevere. After a few years, they hope to return to their village with a little money in their pockets. Their goal in life is to create a future for Shahin.

Two sisters, Shefali and Shirin Akter, 20 and 18, live in a house on the same street. They came to Dhaka as children, left to their own devices, with nothing but two pairs of trousers and two shirts. Their little brother Nawshad joined them later. He is their hope, and they are working and saving money to pay for his education. They own four cups, a double bed, a TV set and two pieces of soap. They also own a basket with some clothing, three pairs of flip-flops, a pot, cutlery and some dishes.

Like most of the people who have come to this neighborhood, Shefali, Shirin and Nawshad live in one room, for which they pay a monthly rent of 2,000 taka. Many of these houses were built by the same man who responsible for the construction of Rana Plaza: Sohel Rana, the godfather of Madjipur.

Rana is a short, puffy man in his mid-30s. He lives on Bazar Road, in a five-story house at the end of a path, with a metal gate to keep out intruders. Rana takes bodyguards with him when he leaves the house. He is a member of the youth organization of the ruling Awami Party, and recently had posters of himself hung up on walls in his basti. Some in the neighborhood already see Rana as a member of parliament.

But he had a problem on that morning. Cracks had appeared in the walls and load-bearing columns of the Rana Plaza building. The tenants, especially those pesky factory owners, were concerned.

Dhaka, Madjipur Bazar Road, Rana Plaza, 7:30 a.m.

A few hundred people had gathered in front of Rana Plaza. Mohammed Badul, the man who was saving for a barber shop, was there, and so were Fahima and Abu Said, the couple that doesn't even own a mattress. They were afraid. Their shift was to begin in half an hour -- that is, if it began at all.

Rana Plaza was taller than the surrounding buildings, with lower floors that were sided with a reflective blue glass material. Eight floors were already occupied, and construction had recently begun on a ninth. The words "Rana Plaza" were written in decorative letters above the entrance.

A branch of Brac Bank was on the second floor, and a sign indicating that the bank was closed had been hanging on the door since the day before. Not a good sign, Fahima thought to herself.

There were 10 million taka in the bank vault. The bank employees were in such a hurry to get to a safe place that they had left the money behind.

Sohel Rana was standing at the entrance, talking insistently to the factory owners. He told them that a few cracks were nothing to fear, and that someone would take care of the problem. On the previous day, managers had shut down all five textile factories and sent home some 3,500 people -- including Fahima, Mohammed Badul and the two sisters, Shefali and Shirin -- in the middle of the day. Then experts came and inspected the cracks.

Could the shift begin? Or was the building beyond repair? Many people were sent to their deaths because Rana was the person who ended up making that decision.

Born in Dhaka after his father moved there in the early 1980s, Rana grew up in the city, where he attended the Adhar Chandra High School. "Making money was the most important thing to him," says Khandaker, the investigator. To achieve his goal, Rana bought some land.

When he was mapping out his career, Dhaka was already a sprawling city. Hundreds of thousands migrated there from the countryside each year, and new factories were constantly being built. These workers needed housing, and the manufacturers needed production facilities.

Rana's father had property early on, and his son bought more. It was swampy land, which meant that it was cheap. Rana had the swamp filled with sand and garbage, and in 2007, he began the construction of a multistory building there. Rana Plaza was to be the beginning of a great career.

Normally, the approval of six government agencies is required to build a factory in Bangladesh: the Ministry of Industries, the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the office of fire safety and civil protection, the office of the environment, the Board of Investment, and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). Rana circumvented these requirements by declaring the plaza as an office and retail building. He used his father's contacts and donated money to the campaign of a member of parliament to get it approved. That's how the Bangladeshi system works. A country growing as quickly as Bangladesh can't spend too much time on regulations. Once a building has been erected and is filled with machines and people working to bring money into the country, no one asks about permits.

Rana opened the building in 2008. It had been built hastily with thin subfloors, and the bricklayers had apparently never built such a tall building before. Too much sand was added to the concrete, and the ground was too soft -- all problems that investigator Khandaker would later discover.

Dhaka, Rana Plaza, 7:55 a.m.
The factory managers were still arguing with Rana. On the one hand, they feared for their safety. On the other hand, they had their delivery deadlines to consider. Garment makers who do not complete an order properly risk losing business in the future. In the Bangladeshi system, delays are not an option.

Rana had almost prevailed. He called in two experts from the district administration with whom he had consulted with on the previous day. One of them was a structural engineer, and together they concluded that the building was good for at least another 100 years. According to Khandaker's report, Rana bribed the officials.

In the years after opening the building, Rana added two more stories, but this time he didn't even bother to obtain building permits. He leased the upper floors, each with about 3,500 square meters (37,700 square feet) of floor space, to garment manufacturers. The Rana Plaza also had a basement floor, which contained an underground parking garage and Rana's office. The first and second floors were rented to the bank and small shops. Five textile factories were housed in the floors above that: New Wave Bottoms Ltd., Ether Tex Ltd., Phantom Apparels Ltd., Phantom Tac Ltd. and New Wave Style Ltd. The factories, which supplied discount clothing to stores and department store chains in Europe, the United States and Canada, employed about 3,500 workers. There were hundreds of electric sewing machines, arranged in long rows, on each floor.

Rana was probably able to amortize the building in only a few years. After that, it generated an estimated €1.5 million in annual rent revenues. Rana built new housing for workers in his basti, entered the drug business and allegedly ordered four contract killings. Investigator Khandaker says that Rana himself was a drug addict. He was also reportedly a drinker and, most of all, consumed phensedyl, a popular cough syrup known as "purple drank."

"Don't make my life miserable," Rana told the factory owners who were worried about safety in the building. Then he demonstratively disappeared into his basement office, which may have convinced others that it was safe to enter the building.

Dhaka, Rana Plaza, 8:00 a.m.

The shift began on time. Fahima and her husband Abu Said had stamped their punch cards and were now on the third floor, which was occupied by New Wave Bottoms, and where cracks were clearly visible in the walls and columns. Fahima was sewing belt loops, while Abu Said worked in the packaging department.

A men's shirt goes through the following production steps: After cutting, the front and back side are sewn, followed by the collar, button facing, breast pocket, buttonholes and buttons, and finally the sleeves. Then the shirt is sewn together and goes into final production, where it is ironed, labeled, wrapped around a piece of cardboard and then packaged.

At Phantom Apparels on the fourth floor, Mohammed Badul, who wanted to become a barber, was stacking jeans into cardboard boxes.

Dhaka, with a population of 16 million, is a city of immigrants, a hated and yet coveted place. Some, like Fahima and Abu Said, go there with the aim of saving money and eventually returning to their villages. Others, like Badul, want to stay and build a new life in Dhaka. For them, the garment factory is merely a station, something that has to be endured, a place that offers at least some hope and keeps them from starving.

Rana was different, at least judging by the stories that were told about him. While others endured their fate, he was all business, a man who gambled with the lives of 3,500 people.

Thousands of industrial sewing machines were used in the Rana Plaza. But because the power supply in Dhaka is notoriously unreliable, with days on which the grid shuts down up to 50 times, there were four diesel generators on the upper factory floors, each weighing several metric tons. Generators of that size trigger strong vibrations when they start running.

On this morning, three floors about Badul, on the seventh floor, the sisters Shefali and Shirin were working at New Wave Style, sewing men's shirts.

About 800 people, 80 percent of them women, were crowded together on this floor. They worked in five rows, with 70 industrial sewing machines per row. There were no fans and there was no air-conditioning. Workers were discouraged from leaving their stations. Nevertheless, Shefali went to the bathroom occasionally to spray a little water into her face. Shirin was sewing collars.

"Helpers," or people who pass material to the workers and switch back and forth between departments, are at the bottom of the hierarchy on a sewing floor. Next up the ladder are the "sewing operators," women like Shefali and Shirin. Each group of sewing operators has a supervisor, who makes sure that they keep up the pace.

Above the supervisor is a "line chief," who is in charge of one of the five rows. All five line chiefs at New Wave Style were men. The person responsible for the entire floor was called the "floor in charge."

There were 10 levels in the hierarchy. Shefali and Shirin were at the second level. Shefali hoped to be promoted to line chief one day, which would mean a pay increase to 14,000 taka. It would also help secure the future of her brother Nawshad.

Dhaka, Rana Plaza, about 8:30 a.m.

On the third floor, Fahima was having trouble concentrating. She kept looking over at the cracks, which had now spread to the fourth floor, where Badul was packaging jeans.

On this morning, about 3,500 people had gone to work in the Rana Plaza, despite the obvious risk of collapse. Why?

Part of the answer can't be found in Bangladesh, but in our cities, at clothing retailers like H&M, Zara, Next and Primark, stores where T-shirts are sold at rock-bottom prices of €4.99 or €3.99, almost nothing for Westerners. These kinds of prices require that buyers and producers know as little about each other as possible. Customers in London or Munich don't really want to hear about the conditions under which a T-shirt was made. They just want the T-shirt.

Fahima and her fellow workers, for their part, have no idea that the work on which their survival depends has almost no value in Western countries, and that a T-shirt is practically a disposable item.

In stores like H&M and Zara, the story of a product disappears behind loud music and flashy branding, screens behind which agents, intermediaries and middlemen ensure that the global barter system works. These agents also exist in Dhaka. They receive orders from the large chains, which they then pass on to local manufacturers.

This is how it works: The client, such as H&M, sends a design sample to Dhaka. The middleman, or agent, is familiar with manufacturers and factories and selects the right one for the job.

In years gone by, most factory owners in Bangladesh have accepted more orders than they could process. They were under pressure to pay wages, pay off loans and pay rent to people like Rana. To avoid the risk of losing an order, they accepted the fact that they would probably have to send some of the work to a subcontractor. This led to constant time pressure.

This also puts employees under pressure, who have almost no room to object. Their monthly income is so marginal that, on that morning, Fahima and her fellow garment workers didn't dare contradict the factory owner when he ordered them to get to work. If they had refused, Fahima, Shirin, Shefali and Badul risked losing one or two months' wages, which would have depleted their savings.

At about 8:30 a.m., the power went out in the Rana Plaza, and the heavy generators began running automatically.

Dhaka, Rana Plaza, about 8:45 a.m.

It took between 6 to 10 minutes for the first column to collapse in the southwest corner of the building. Everything happened very quickly after that. Shefali felt the floor giving way beneath her feet. She looked over at the collar department to see if she could find her sister, but Shirin wasn't there. Suddenly the floor was gone and Shefali began falling.

Four floors down, on the third floor, Fahima, who was sewing belt loops, felt a powerful blow. Everything descended into dust and darkness. She ran toward the packaging department to join her husband, Abu Said. She heard the supervisor shouting: Everyone out! Then they were near the stairwell. There were people everywhere, screaming, crying and whimpering, pushing their way to the exit in a panic. Wait, Fahima's husband shouted, or we'll be trampled. Then they were separated.

When the building collapsed, Mohammed Badul was in the middle of the fourth floor. The stairwell was too far away, but he managed to save himself by taking shelter under a heavy wooden table.

Rana was in his office when the building collapsed. The former underground garage proved to be relatively safe, almost like an air raid shelter. He was covered in rubble, but uninjured.

The collapse lasted hardly more than 90 seconds. "The building was pressed together like a sandwich," says Khandaker, the investigator.

The Rana Plaza was a building that should never have existed. It was built on swampy ground, with poor materials, a lack of know-how and inadequate inspections, and yet it is not an isolated case. Experts estimate that about a third of the 240,000 buildings used for industrial purposes in and around Dhaka are in a similarly dangerous state.

These factories ought to be shut down immediately, but that won't happen. The Bangladeshi system cannot survive without this extremely dangerous way of building, or without people who break the rules, like Rana. In fact, the system produces people like Rana.

The Bangladeshi economy has only one trump card: the world's lowest wages. It also has 160 million people who patiently allow themselves to be exploited, because doing backbreaking work in Dhaka for 12 hours a day is still better than being landless and hungry in a half-flooded village. The garment industry accounts for about 80 percent of export revenues. A country in Bangladesh's position, constantly in danger of losing orders to Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia instead, cannot use the excess demand generated by the West's insatiable consumption habits to its advantage.

That's why production remains cheaper than anywhere else in the world. It's also why Bangladesh is safeguarding its role as the world's sewing machine, a garment factory in the form of a country, a giant sewing room with its own national anthem and a seat at the United Nations. Bangladesh's economy, controlled by garment makers, is in a permanently overheated state, achieving a growth rate of 7 percent, one of the highest in the world.

While the Western consumer may feel a sense of outrage and pity upon seeing images of the collapse, he is also quick to forget, and before long he is reaching for the cheapest products once again at stores like H&M and Walmart.

Dhaka, Rana Plaza, Late Afternoon

Khandaker learned of the collapse on the afternoon of April 24. He had been in meetings since early morning, and was only able to drive to the site of the disaster that evening. But first he put together a team.

Shefali, the older of the two sisters, was already in a hospital bed at Enam Medical College. She had been pulled from the wreckage at about 10 a.m. She could no longer feel her legs, and her hip was fractured. There was no news of her sister. It was 14 days after the accident before she finally learned that Shirin had not survived.

Mohammed Badul, the man who wanted to become a barber, was trapped under the heavy wooden table that he had hoped would protect him. A fellow worker who was crouching nearby would later find Badul's wife Shali and tell her about her husband. "If I don't get out of here, tell my wife and my son that I was thinking of them," he'd said.

Badul couldn't see his coworker, because they were separated by a broken column, but they were able to speak with each other. The woman had a bottle of water, but Badul had no water. Perhaps it was that small ration of water that kept the woman alive until rescue workers found her. At some point in between, Badul died in his refuge, probably of thirst.

Fahima, the woman who was working so that her son could go to school, survived by crouching in a hollow space between two floors, a space only half a meter wide. She was rescued on the evening of the disaster with severe head injuries. Her husband Abu Said died in the wreckage. Fahima would identify him 16 days later, using the number on his punch card and the tin of chewing tobacco in the pocket of his trousers.

Sohel Rana quickly fled the scene of the accident. He was one of the first to be saved, when his bodyguards located him by calling his mobile phone and pulled him out of the wreckage.

He was arrested at the Indian border four days after the accident and taken to the central prison in Dhaka by helicopter.

Khandaker questioned Rana several times, and the broken, weeping man he encountered was a far cry from the image he had projected in the past.

"Don't make my life miserable." Those were the words with which Rana had convinced the factory owners to drive their workers into the building. Perhaps those words are a reflection of modern-day Bangladesh, with its recklessness, impatience and knowledge that there is no alternative.

Khandaker, the investigator, has eaten the berries he picked, and the summary of his investigative report is sitting on his knees.

Officially, Khandaker says that the Rana Plaza disaster was an isolated incident, not a system failure. This verdict allows Bangladesh to continue as everything as it was before. The system has been saved, and that was Khandaker's job.

Unofficially, at the end of a long conversation, he says: "That day, that April 24, was the inevitable result of the global market."

Shefali, Fahima and Shali still live in Basti Madjipur. Shefali spends the entire day lying in the bed she once shared with her sister. She can only sit upright for a few minutes a day. She hopes that the pain in her hip will eventually go away, and that she will be able to work again. Shefali, Fahima and many other survivors told their stories to SPIEGEL.

There are still rolls of thread, shoes, zippers and quality reports lying in the wreckage where the Rana Plaza once stood. It's even possible to make out some of the entries in the reports, like "broken stitch" or "top stitch uneven."

There are also hundreds of labels for brands like Joe Fresh, Mascot, Benetton, Walmart, Primark, Bonmarché, The Children's Place and German discounter KiK.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #7355 on: Jul 06, 2013, 07:05 AM »

July 6, 2013

Tibetans in India Celebrate as Dalai Lama Turns 78


BYLAKUPPE, India — Thousands of Tibetans waved banners and danced and schoolchildren sang prayers Saturday at a Tibetan university in southern India in celebration of the Dalai Lama's 78th birthday.

Speaking after an interfaith meeting, the Tibetans' spiritual leader called for love and compassion to promote world peace.

Turning to a Muslim priest, the Dalai Lama said the real meaning of jihad, or holy war, was "to combat our negative emotions."

"Jihad is not beating or killing (others)," he said.

He said 150,000 Tibetans living abroad represent "6 million Tibetans (in China) who have no freedom or opportunity to express what they feel."

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since 1959. Beijing accuses him of seeking to separate Tibet from China, but he says he wants only wide autonomy under Chinese rule.
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« Reply #7356 on: Jul 06, 2013, 07:08 AM »

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
July 5, 2013, 2:14 am

Financing Indian Elections Turns Costlier and Murkier


On June 27, Gopinath Munde, deputy leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament, was caught complaining on camera in Mumbai that his campaign expenses for his parliamentary election in 2009 had skyrocketed to 80 million rupees ($1.3 million at current rates). This was more than 30 times the permissible limit of 2.5 million rupees at the time.

The amount also exceeded his total declared assets of 62.25 million and was in stark contrast to his sworn declaration before the Election Commission that his election expenses came to only 1.94 million. While on camera, he somewhat recklessly added that he did not care what the Election Commission thought of his remarks as he had barely a few months to go before his current parliamentary term expired.

Within no time, the Election Commission of India demanded that Mr. Munde explain why he should not be disqualified under the Representation of Peoples Act for a false declaration of campaign expenditure. If he does not provide a satisfactory explanation within 20 days, he stands to be disqualified from contesting elections for three years.

The prohibitive cost of entering the electoral fray is one of the biggest drawbacks of Indian democracy today. Despite a statutorily defined limit to campaign expenditure, almost all elected members of the state and national legislatures exceed this limit, now at 4 million rupees, and routinely undervalue expenses in the audited accounts that they have to submit to the Election Commission of India. Even with the underreporting, government data clearly shows a steep rise in the amount spent on Lok Sabha elections.

The political class has responded fairly nonchalantly to Mr. Munde’s indiscreet admission, with some suggesting that their campaign costs were even higher. In the Karnataka legislative assembly elections held in May, Chandan Mitra, a Bharatiya Janata Party member of the upper house of Parliament, claimed on television that each voter wanted a “red note” – the color of a 1,000-rupee bill. One journalist friend in Bangalore confirmed that indeed his maid had received 1,000 rupees from a local candidate and so had the attendant in his sister’s dental clinic.

He also recounted the story of voters he met in a keenly contested constituency in the assembly elections. An independent candidate had begun by giving 500 rupees each to those who had come to “show” support – a euphemism for demanding money for their vote. Unfortunately, as the number of his “supporters” increased, the handout had to be scaled down until it was reduced to a paltry 20 rupees each. One of the latecomers was indignant even while pocketing his 20-rupee note, saying, “Does he think we are beggars, giving us only 20 rupees? We will teach him a lesson.”

The expenses also have to provide for largesse to campaigners and contractors, caste and community leaders and incentives to minor political rivals to gut their own campaigns. Campaign costs shoot up if the constituency is large or if the candidate is an “outsider” imposed by the party.

Two factors have pushed election expenses upwards in India in recent times: the organizational weakness of centrist parties and a shift in the perception from politics as public service to politics as business.

With no self-renewing institutional structure, political parties have hardly any permanent local cadre. Except for those based explicitly on furthering caste- or religion-based agendas, no centrist party mobilizes around a program of social transformation that might attract large constituencies and generate a committed membership. At the time of elections, there is no party structure that can be activated. The election machinery has to be almost put together anew for each election and services paid for.

The other major trend is an increasing perception that politics can bring lucrative returns on investment. The access to government or even legislative authority means that a politician can control the allotment of government purchases — from defense deals to aircraft for state-run airways, as well as in government distribution of food, health services and other subsidies to the poor. In recent years, the allotment of scarce natural resources like minerals, water and public land, or getting such projects environmental clearances, has made politics an investment that pays for itself many times over.

Much of the unaccounted money for elections comes from India’s corporate houses. Corporate families have traditionally financed candidates and parties across the political spectrum with no overt quid pro quo. They see it as part of building a “relationship” with the political class and any favors they may get later as collateral benefit of that relationship.

However, in the past couple of decades a new synergy has developed between politics and business. Many businessmen have themselves successfully contested elections to the legislatures, while many politicians have branched out into business. In Andhra Pradesh, the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy converted most of his party’s legislators into contractors by allotting them government contracts to build canals and roads. His own family’s business fortune grew exponentially – his son, Jaganmohan Reddy, a member of Parliament, is currently in jail, charged with accumulating assets disproportionate to his declared income.

Legislators in recent times have included steel manufacturers, government contractors, hoteliers, realtors, manufacturers of pharmaceutical products, media owners, beedi-kings and mine lords like the Reddy brothers of Bellary in Karnataka. Business entrepreneurs who enter politics can spend enormous amounts of money on their campaigns. Some get fielded by political parties to the upper house of Parliament, where ostensibly no election expenses are involved and the electoral college consists of only members of the state legislative assemblies.

At a rough estimate, nearly 120 out of the 788 members of Parliament are primarily businessmen. This is in stark contrast to the earlier days when businessmen did not enter Parliament at all. The Congress, although it was financed by business houses like the Birlas and Bajaj during the independence movement, did not bring a businessman into the Parliament until 1984 when it nominated K.K. Birla as its candidate from Rajasthan. He stayed in Parliament for 18 years.

State financing of elections has often been discussed as a way of opening up the electoral space to parties and candidates with modest resources. In 1998, the Committee on State Funding of Elections, headed by the late Indrajit Gupta, a veteran Communist leader, and included now-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as one of its members, suggested that funds be given to “recognized” national and state-level political parties. The parties that were active for five years and won at least 4 percent of the Lok Sabha constituencies in a state would be recognized as a national party, and those that won at least 3.33 percent of the seats in the State Legislative Assembly would be recognized as a state-level party. The committee also recommended that initially state financing should be in the form of facilities rather than cash.

The Law Commission in 1999 proposed a partial financing of elections to begin with and a regulatory mechanism to ensure a well-defined institutional structure in political parties and observation of internal democracy.

There are, however, problems even with state financing, which seems like an attractive proposition but is difficult to implement. Without preventing parties from raising private funds, the state funds could end up topping up the coffers of already-rich parties. Since most political parties are controlled by entrenched political families, it makes little sense to dip into the state exchequer to subsidize their election expenses. Critics point out that this would be a license to loot the exchequer twice – first during the campaign and then after assuming executive office.

Ensuring that Indian democracy becomes a level-playing field is a tall order. This cannot be done without ensuring that the internal functioning of the political parties is democratic, including the process of candidate selection.

As of now, none of the major parties are willing to subject their internal functioning or their financial accounts to public scrutiny. Most have refused to come under the ambit of the Right to Information Act. They seem to prefer opaque and, therefore discretionary, functioning and do not want to be questioned on their sources of funds or how they are spent.

Bharat Bhushan is an independent journalist based in New Delhi. He was the founding editor of Mail Today and the executive editor of the Hindustan Times.

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« Reply #7357 on: Jul 06, 2013, 07:11 AM »

Iranian swimmer Elham Asghari: 'My 20km record has been held hostage'

In an exclusive interview, Asghari explains why she is battling Iranian authorities who denied her a record over 'un-Islamic attire'

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Friday 5 July 2013 14.43 BST   

On a Tuesday morning in June, Elham Asghari stepped into the tidal waters of the chilly Caspian sea in northern Iran to swim 20km in full Islamic dress. But her record-breaking nine-hour feat has not been recognised by national authorities because she is a woman.

"Although I [stuck to] the full Islamic dress code and had swimming officials present at all times, [the authorities] said no matter how Islamic my swimming gear, it was unacceptable," she told the Guardian. "They said the feminine features of my body were showing as I came out of water."

Swimming in open waters had been Asghari's childhood dream. To achieve her goal, she looked for training programmes on the internet and came up with the idea of designing a special swimsuit – a full hijab, covering her body from head to toe. It adds some 6kg to her weight in water and, she says, it is painful to wear.

Last month, although she broke her previous national swimming record, Iranian authorities refused to recognise her achievement.

In frustration Asghari posted a video of herself online with the help of her manager, Farvartish Rezvaniyeh, who decided to help publicise her plight when he heard about it on Facebook. "I could not believe this injustice was happening to a record-breaking champion. I contacted her … and we made the video," he said.

The footage, which includes the 32-year-old swimming in her Islamic swimsuit and appealing to her fellow Iranians for support, quickly caught the attention of thousands of people who shared the video clip on social networks. Tributes poured in as more people became aware of her cause.

In the video, posted on YouTube and viewed by at least 120,000 people, Asghari promises not to give in to pressure. "No swimmer will ever accept to swim with such swimsuits; swimming with these swimsuits always hurts my body," she says in a voiceover as she is seen swimming in a pool.

"I swam 20km in [the northern city of] Nowshahr, they lowered it to 15km. I protested and they accepted 18km. Yet now, they do not register the record.

"My 20km record has been held hostage in the hands of people who cannot even swim a distance of 20 metres. I have passed tough days and nights. This incident is unbelievable for me. I will not give in to pressure. Swimming is not exclusively for men – we ladies do well too."

Women in Iran can use public swimming pools at gender-segregated times, or women-only sections, but sports officials are reluctant to allow them into open waters. "They fear that if they recognise my record then they would unwittingly approve my swimming gear and that would eventually give women swimmers access to open waters," Asghari said.

She started swimming aged five, she said. "Sometimes I feel I am an amphibian, capable of living both on land and in water. In a 24-hour [period], I spend as much time on land that I spent in water. My father was a veteran wrestler … it was him who encouraged me to register my records."

In a previous open-water race near the southern island of Kish, Asghari said police boats tried to stop her in a dramatic sequence of events that led to her leg and hip being sliced by the vessel's propellers.

After battling various gender-related obstacles during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's eight years in office, Asghari has pinned her hopes for change on the newly elected leader, Hassan Rouhani, who will be sworn in in August. "I hope that in President Rouhani's government, these people [hindering my career] will have no place. I will definitely follow up the case about my swimming record [when he takes office]."

Iran prevents female swimmers from participating in overseas competitions. The Women's Islamic Games in Tehran is one of the few international events where domestic swimmers are permitted to take part

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« Reply #7358 on: Jul 06, 2013, 07:13 AM »

British astronomers set up new network to join the search for extraterrestrial life

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 5, 2013 16:05 EDT

British astronomers have set up an experts’ network to promote the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, the Royal Astronomical Society said on Friday.

The starter group comprises academics from 11 British institutions, who will pore over data from radio telescopes and swap ideas such as how to detect any signals from another civilisation and then interpret them, it said.

Named the UK SETI Research Network — UKSRN — the organisation has the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, previously president of the Royal Society, Britain’s de-facto academy of sciences, as its patron.

UKSRN presented its work at the Royal Astronomical Society’s annual conference in Edinburgh on Friday, a press release said.

Astronomers at the SETI Institute in the United States have been looking for signs of intelligent life beyond our Solar System since 1984.

No signal has been found, but interest in the quest remains strong, bolstered by the detection of planets orbiting distant stars and the falling cost of monitoring background noise from deep space.

Britain has recently commissioned seven radio telescopes for SETI projects, called e-MERLIN, at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester.

Previously, “the equipment required to sift through data was expensive and unusual, but our modern telescopes are potentially capable of conducting these types of observations as a matter of course,” said Tim O’Brien of Jodrell Bank.

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« Reply #7359 on: Jul 06, 2013, 07:27 AM »

In the USA...

July 5, 2013

After Ruling, States Rush to Enact Voting Laws


State officials across the South are aggressively moving ahead with new laws requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls after the Supreme Court decision striking down a portion of the Voting Rights Act.

The Republicans who control state legislatures throughout the region say such laws are needed to prevent voter fraud. But such fraud is extremely rare, and Democrats are concerned that the proposed changes will make it harder for many poor voters and members of minorities — who tend to vote Democratic — to cast their ballots in states that once discriminated against black voters with poll taxes and literacy tests.

The Supreme Court ruling last month freed a number of states with a history of discrimination, mostly in the South, of the requirement to get advance federal permission in order to make changes to their election laws.

Within hours, Texas officials said that they would begin enforcing a strict photo identification requirement for voters, which had been blocked by a federal court on the ground that it would disproportionately affect black and Hispanic voters. In Mississippi and Alabama, which had passed their own voter identification laws but had not received federal approval for them, state officials said that they were moving to begin enforcing the laws.

The next flash point over voting laws will most likely be in North Carolina, where several voting bills had languished there this year as the Republicans who control the Legislature awaited the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which had covered many counties in the state. After the ruling, some Republican lawmakers said that they would move as soon as next week to pass a bill requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls. And some Republicans there are considering cutting back on the number of early voting days in the state, which were especially popular among Democrats and black voters during the 2012 presidential election.

Voting laws emerged as a flash point in the 2012 presidential election after many states — including some that were not subject to special scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act — passed laws requiring voters to show photo identification, reducing early voting and making registration more difficult. Many of those new state laws were blocked, at least for that election, in state or federal courts.

Wendy R. Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which has challenged a number of the new voting laws in court, said the actions that states have taken since the Supreme Court ruling highlighted the need for Congress to determine which states should be covered by the Voting Rights Act in the future.

“The speed with which some of these jurisdictions have rushed forward to implement voting changes that were previously thought to be discriminatory, or at least suspected of being discriminatory, shows the real urgency for Congress acting,” she said.

But states freed from the need to win advance federal approval of new election laws can still have their laws challenged in state or federal court. Several election lawyers and voting law experts said in interviews that they expected one result of the Supreme Court ruling would be an increase in lawsuits in states that were no longer covered under the Voting Rights Act.

There is already evidence that it is happening in Texas.

The Republicans who control the state government in Texas passed what some called the strictest photo identification law in the country in 2011. The law said that voters could present forms of identification that included driver’s licenses, military identification cards, passports and concealed handgun licenses, but not identification cards issued by colleges or employers. But since Texas was covered under the Voting Rights Act, the state was required to win advance approval from either the Justice Department or from a panel of judges in Washington.

A three-judge panel in Washington blocked the Texas law last year on the ground that it “imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.”

Then, last month, the Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act determining which states should get extra scrutiny. The Supreme Court then vacated the earlier decision blocking the photo identification law, and state officials announced they would enforce it.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling eliminates all of the lower court’s rulings and the findings made by the lower court against the State of Texas,” the state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, said in a statement. “The Texas voter ID law can go into effect.”

But a new lawsuit challenging the photo identification law was filed within days in Federal District Court in Corpus Christi on behalf of a group of black and Hispanic Texans, including Representative Marc Veasey, a Democrat; a veteran who lacks valid identification; and a woman whose name on her driver’s license does not match the name on her voter registration certificate.

Chad W. Dunn, a Texas elections lawyer who filed the suit, said, “Not more than two hours after the Supreme Court handed down its decision, the State of Texas went forward with implementing a photo ID law that it knew had been found to be discriminatory.”

Officials in the states that are no longer covered by the law praised the court’s ruling, saying that it had been unfair — and needlessly expensive — to single them out for special scrutiny. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said in a statement that “Texas may now implement the will of the people without being subject to outdated and unnecessary oversight and the overreach of federal power.”

Alabama, which paved the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act nearly a half century ago after the attack on civil rights marchers in Selma, also sparked the Supreme Court decision striking down its core provision after Shelby County, in central Alabama, challenged the law in court. The state attorney general, Luther Strange, praised the Supreme Court for recognizing “that Alabama and other covered jurisdictions could not be treated unequally based on things that happened decades ago.”

But voting rights advocates said that many changes that have been sought over the years, particularly at the local level, were anything but routine — saying that proposals to move to the at-large elections of local officials, or to annex or merge municipalities, or move or eliminate polling locations often threatened to dilute the power of minority voters.

Ms. Weiser, of the Brennan Center, said that the place where the requirements in the Voting Rights Act had prevented the most discriminatory changes had been at the local level — and that without the requirement to seek approval for such changes from Washington, many changes might be enacted now without attracting much outside notice.

“Municipal elections, school board districts — those kinds of changes don’t get the same public attention, but they really impact people where they live,” she said.


July 5, 2013

Obama’s Remarks Offer Hope to Opponents of Oil Pipeline


WASHINGTON — The political ground may be shifting under the Keystone XL pipeline.

Just weeks ago, the smart money in Washington had President Obama approving the cross-border oil pipeline later this year, perhaps balanced with a package of unrelated climate change measures. The seemingly inevitable decision would leave the pipeline’s opponents — a group that includes a large number of Mr. Obama’s most ardent supporters and generous donors — dispirited and disillusioned by what one called the president’s half-a-loaf centrism.

But Mr. Obama threw that calculation into doubt last week when he unexpectedly added a brief passage on the pipeline project to a major address laying out his second-term climate change agenda. Mr. Obama said he would approve the remaining portion of the 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries only if it would not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of carbon pollution. He added that the pipeline’s net effects on the climate would be “absolutely critical” to his decision whether to allow it to proceed.

The president had never before attached such explicit climate-related conditions to the fate of the project.

The project’s opponents were thrilled, saying the president had finally recognized the threat to the global climate posed by the pipeline and the accompanying expansion of Canadian oil sands development. They also crowed that citizen activism and vocal opposition by many of the president’s strongest supporters had altered the political calculus.

They may be celebrating too soon, but for now the president has given them reason for hope.

Bill McKibben, the founder of the environmental advocacy group and the organizer of numerous anti-Keystone protests, said he was surprised and encouraged by the president’s remarks.

“Surprised because he’s been utterly closed-mouthed about it all along. Encouraged because he nailed the central issue,” said Mr. McKibben, a professor at Middlebury College and perhaps the nation’s most effective grass-roots environmental advocate. He has been arrested twice protesting the pipeline outside the White House.

He said the conventional wisdom about Mr. Obama’s decision had been turned on its head by a succession of extreme weather events, including Hurricane Sandy, which made it impossible to ignore the effects of pumping ever-increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He said politics was finally catching up with reality, spelling doom for the pipeline.

“Everybody’s told me over and over and over again it’s a done deal, it’s going to happen, how childish it is for everyone to protest it,” Mr. McKibben said by telephone from his home in the Adirondacks. “But it never seemed like a done deal to me because it’s so illogical. This is the dirtiest oil anyone has ever managed to find on the face of the earth, and it’s always seemed to me that given even a remotely fair hearing people would figure that out.”

White House officials cautioned that the president was still a long way from a decision on the pipeline, currently under review by the State Department, which has jurisdiction over infrastructure projects that cross national borders. Secretary of State John Kerry, a longtime champion of strong domestic and international action on climate change, has been studiously silent on the project.

“The secretary will make the decision based on the facts and after the department has completed the established process,” said a State Department spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki.

White House officials cautioned against overinterpreting the president’s remarks. Mr. Obama had not focused intently on the controversy up to now, but felt compelled to address it in the context of the broad climate change initiative he announced last week, advisers said.

A White House aide, who declined to be identified discussing a matter still under high-level review, said no one had yet defined what the president’s term “significantly exacerbate” meant in the context of the pipeline.

The president was not tipping his hand one way or the other, the aide said. “It was actually fascinating to see folks speculate on the impact of what the president was trying to do,” the aide said. “All we did, really, was raise the bar here.”

The State Department’s most recent environmental assessment of Keystone concluded that the pipeline would not result in a major increase in carbon emissions.

The report said that the oil would be extracted whether the pipeline was built or not, and that it could be transported by other, more carbon-intensive means like trucks or rail cars in the absence of Keystone.

Critics say that is an unrealistic conclusion, citing studies saying Canada does not currently have the rail or highway capacity to move the 830,000 barrels of oil a day that Keystone XL is designed to carry.

The president’s remarks could also foreshadow a demand that the companies mining and transporting the Albertan crude take additional steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a condition of approval of the pipeline. The Canadian government, oil companies and TransCanada, the company proposing to build the pipeline, say they are already taking steps to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of oil sands development and transport.

It is not clear whether additional measures may be required, or if the State Department simply must revise its environmental assessment to explore the climate change impact of the project more deeply to satisfy the president’s conditions.

Several groups opposing the pipeline demanded last week that the State Department redo the environmental report, citing new studies that contend that rejection of the pipeline would slow oil sands development because there are few workable transport alternatives.

The groups also said the State Department had underestimated the overall greenhouse gas emissions of the project.

Analysts said the president’s language was artful, giving his green supporters something to cheer about while not committing him to any conditions not already required to be met by the review process.

And the comments were embedded in a speech that gave environmental advocates most of what they were demanding on climate change, including the first-ever carbon limits on new and existing power plants.

Kevin Book, director of research for ClearView Energy Partners, a research and consulting company, said the president’s words — particularly “significantly” and “net effects” — had been carefully chosen and left open much room for interpretation.

“The administration up to now has been sending very strong signals of a pathway to yes on the pipeline,” Mr. Book said. “But with these comments, the president has maintained his options.”


July 5, 2013

Shifting Stance to Back Immigration Overhaul, Reid Reaps Benefits


WASHINGTON — Senator Harry Reid was as outspoken on the need for new immigration laws 20 years ago as he is today. But his viewpoint was markedly different.

“If you break our laws by entering this country without permission and give birth to a child, we reward that child with U.S. citizenship and guarantee full access to all public and social services this society provides, and that’s a lot of services,” Mr. Reid said in a 1993 Senate speech that would mesh easily with the current opposition to the newly passed Senate immigration overhaul.

Now Mr. Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, is a chief advocate of creating a path to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants. Not only did he embrace the cause of Hispanics to help him win a difficult re-election race in 2010, he has shown national party leaders the advantages of a strong pro-immigration stance.

Behind the scenes, he put intense pressure on the Obama White House to ease deportation rules in 2012, a policy change that stoked Hispanic voter enthusiasm crucial to President Obama’s re-election.

It is a remarkable transformation, one Mr. Reid readily acknowledged recently as he began to press the House for action on immigration.

“I came to the realization that I was way off base,” Mr. Reid said of his prior stance, one he said he reversed after his wife, Landra, reminded him that she was the daughter of a Russian immigrant. “I am so glad she righted the ship.”

Immigration is not the only issue on which Mr. Reid has evolved. He has shifted to the left on gun control and gay rights over the years and now he is threatening to force through a rules change on filibusters, something he has been reluctant to do in the past.

Given his leadership role, Mr. Reid’s about-face on immigration had significant consequences for both the policy and politics surrounding the topic. His ability to build a winning campaign around an issue that Democrats in swing states typically tried to avoid provided a road map for Congressional candidates as well as the Obama campaign.

“He was able to speak to them as someone who had risked his political career on leaning in on a controversial immigration issue and lived to tell about it,” said Frank Sharry, head of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice. “He spoke with authority and this undeniable credibility.”

With a rapidly growing Hispanic population back home, Mr. Reid had ample incentive to try to increase his appeal to that constituency and organize Hispanics politically even when others advised against it or saw it as fruitless.

“People immediately started making fun of me in their own way,” he said. ‘Why are you wasting your time? No. 1, most of them are illegal. And even if you get some to register, they never vote.’ ”

As he made inroads, Mr. Reid said he reminded Hispanics that the only way to gain political power was to vote. Through his efforts to encourage greater political participation, Mr. Reid said he developed deeper personal ties and a new affinity for the community as he regularly attended local festivals and Christmas and Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

“They were kind of fun,” he said of the events. “They had music and food and people were happy.”

When it came to the music, Mr. Reid saw a way to help. Never one to shy away from pushing an earmark through the Appropriations Committee, Mr. Reid in 2004 secured a $25,000 grant for Clark County schools in Las Vegas to begin a mariachi program. The federal spending was ridiculed by Citizens Against Government Waste as “La Pork-a-Racha,” but it was immensely popular with Hispanic students and their parents.

“That is one of the best things I have ever done in my political life,” said Mr. Reid, who still cannot help smiling about the earmark.

For Mr. Reid, the true test of growing Hispanic political might in Nevada came in 2010, when he was deemed to be in jeopardy of losing his seat.

With Nevada among the states with the highest concentration of unauthorized immigrants, Mr. Reid’s opponent, Sharron Angle, a Tea Party favorite, moved aggressively to undercut Mr. Reid on his immigration stance with ads and mailers that described him as “the best friend an illegal alien ever had.”

Mr. Reid, who ended up carrying Latino and other minority votes while losing white voters to Ms. Angle, saw it as a gift. “They thought I was dead,” said Mr. Reid, who likened the ad to a “big piece of red meat that I couldn’t resist like a tiger out there starving.”

“They were so mad,” he said of voters, “not only Hispanics, but it made everybody mad. I got huge support.”

With jubilant shouts of “si se puede” (yes, we can) breaking out at his victory rally, Mr. Reid was suddenly the new example of how to channel Hispanic voting clout, a lesson that was not lost on organizers of Mr. Obama’s campaign.

Still, in 2012, Senate Democratic leaders began to worry about declining enthusiasm among Hispanic voters, with activists arguing the White House was not doing enough to stem the pace of deportations of young unauthorized immigrants. The administration was telling lawmakers it was uncertain of its legal authority and feared an electoral backlash.

Unhappy with the situation, Mr. Reid summoned senior White House aides to his Capitol conference room in April 2012 to bluntly and sternly make the case that the administration needed to be more aggressive in reducing deportations.

Mr. Reid put even more pressure on the White House when he went on a widely viewed Spanish language news show on May 15 and, ignoring the advice of his aides, told his interviewer that Mr. Obama was going to invoke executive authority to slow deportations and “that should happen fairly quickly.”

Subsequently, in mid-June, Mr. Obama announced that the government would allow even more discretion in the deportations, preventing action against thousands of young immigrants who had been brought over the border as children.

The decision helped seal the Hispanic vote and contributed to the current bipartisan push for new immigration policy.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who helped write the Senate-passed immigration proposal and works closely with Mr. Reid in the leadership, concedes Democrats have gained substantially from their immigration stance. But he said that for Mr. Reid, the turnabout has been about more than just politics.

“Harry is a naturally empathetic person,” Mr. Schumer said, “and the more deeply he became immersed in the Hispanic community, the more sympathetic he became to their causes, and it transcended politics.”


Wisconsin Gov. Walker signs mandatory ultrasound bill into law

By Reuters
Friday, July 5, 2013 16:17 EDT

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Friday signed into law new abortion restrictions that opponents said could lead to the closing of two of the state’s four abortion clinics.

Walker’s office said in an emailed statement that he signed the law requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before they get an abortion. It also requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics.

According to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services, which are the state’s two abortion providers, the law will force the closing of abortion clinics in Appleton and Milwaukee because doctors there do not have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The two providers said on Friday they will file a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Wisconsin is the third state this week to move toward more restrictions on abortion after a Texas House committee and the North Carolina Senate both approved measures earlier in the week.

(Reporting By Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Greg McCune, Gary Hill)

Update, 6:22 p.m. EST: The ACLU and Planned Parenthood released a statement confirming they have filed a lawsuit to prevent the law from taking effect.

“This law will drastically limit a woman’s ability to obtain a safe and legal abortion in Wisconsin by imposing burdensome and medically unnecessary requirements on doctors that provide this essential care,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director for the ACLU Wisconsin state chapter. “This law was rammed through the legislature in a matter of days and now, with a stroke of his pen, the governor has put the very health and wellbeing of Wisconsin women and families at immediate risk.”


Republican Senator Shoots Down His Own Party’s IRS Obama Scandal

By: Jason Easley
Jul. 5th, 2013

The mainstream media has finally caught on that the IRS scandal was yet another Republican scam. PoliticusUSA reported this nearly two months ago, but the The New York Times has come to the revelation that many other groups were targeted besides conservatives. The point that the mainstream media is finally realizing is that the IRS targeting wasn’t political. The entire picture painted by the documents related to the investigation reveals that, “progressive organizations, medical marijuana purveyors, organizations formed to carry out President Obama’s health care law, and open source software developers” were also targeted because they were suspected by the IRS of being for profit organizations.

While House Republicans have vowed to ease on down this scandal road to nowhere, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told the Times that, “Presidents have always been very careful about maintaining the appearance of keeping hands off the IRS. I don’t have any reason to believe there wasn’t targeting of conservatives, but it might well have been a lot more than that as well.”

“May have been a lot more to it” is the best admission that the rest of the country is going to get from a Republican that there is nothing to this scandal. There was no conservative targeting for political purposes. President Obama wasn’t masterminding a scheme. There was no scandal at all.

An unintended consequence of the Republican attacks on the IRS has been that they have shined a big spotlight on their own dark money activities. People are now finding out that these conservative groups have been committing perjury by lying to IRS on a regular basis about their partisan political activities in order to avoid paying taxes.

The Republican planned summer of Obama scandals has sputtered and died. House Republicans will continue to chase their own tails on Benghazi and the IRS, but Blunt’s comments illustrate that a large majority of the Senate has no interest in pursuing bogus Obama scandals.

It looks like some parts of the mainstream media might be starting to figure out that the Republican strategy is to lie to them on a daily basis. Even full awareness of the GOP’s strategy won’t stop the press from reporting their lies as facts, but maybe they’ll actually ask a question or two before they pass off cooked up scandals and talking points as facts.

Roy Blunt will never ever be mistaken for a supporter of President Obama. He is the author of the infamous Blunt Amendment that would have given employers the right to decide if women can have access to birth control through their health insurance. This guy is a far right Republican, and even he is trying to get his own party to back away from the IRS conspiracy nonsense.

Sen. Blunt mostly admitted what the rest his own party won’t. The Obama led IRS scandal/conspiracy is dead.


Religious Right Resorts to Schoolyard Tactic of Calling Obama Gay

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Jul. 5th, 2013

We saw at the end of June how Stan Solomon called President Barack Obama a wussy drag queen. There is a growing chorus now of religious extremists directing at our president the schoolyard taunt of “you’re gay!”

Nothing epitomizes the Religious Right’s bullying, juvenile mentality more than calling somebody gay. Even my son, growing up in a tolerant household, has picked up on it from his schoolmates.

Just to make my point, my son is going into third grade. These “gentlemen” are supposed to be adults.

Greg Quinlan, the self-loathing, anti-gay gay activist (he says he is “reformed”), appeared on Sons of Liberty Radio to tell the in-all-likelihood-gay Bradlee Dean and Jake McMillan, that once upon a gay old time, he was a supporter of Human Rights Campaign.

There, he learned the deep-dark Beckian secrets designed to horrify and titillate the religious fanatics who listen to this stuff.

“As I put it, what the Devil turned me to do I can now use for the Lord,” Quinlan said. And what he learned was that Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Elena Kagan are gay. And not in a happy “we’ll have a gay old time” sense.

Both of them are “black-robed Nazis,” he says.

Now what you have to understand here is that where tactics of brutal suppression are concerned, “black-robed” is a term fraught with historical significance in the history of the church:

The monks of the early Christian empire have been called the “shock troops” of Christianization. Some of the more benign activities the monks devoted themselves to in the interest of spreading the faith was the profaning of Pagan holy sites.

The fifth century Life of St. Hypatius is instructive in this regard, telling how during Hypatius’ missionary work in Phrygia and Bithynia (places supposedly already full of Christians four centuries earlier) he heard of a tree or other cult object being “worshipped.” Hypatius dashed to the place at once, bringing along his disciples, the monks, who cut it down and burned it. And it wasn’t always trees they burned.

H.A. Drake observed that Pagans were not the only victims of the black robes:

    Heresy is…the issue that mobilized the monks behind a message of coercion instead of love…pagan critics like Libanius and Eunapius provide vivid accounts of rampaging, black-robed mobs, and even the catholic emperor Theodosius is known to have remarked that ‘the monks commit many crimes’…

And speaking of crimes, according to Quinlan, the two justices are only trying through their ruling to “accommodate their own personal predilections, including their own sexuality.”
Because it’s impossible to simply be open-minded and tolerant?

And of course, we don’t have a First Amendment or anything.

And then comes the jab at Obama, perhaps the most open-minded and tolerant president we have ever had:

“Mr. Kennedy has a predilection on the down low,” Quinlan, as Right Wing Watch put it, channeled Pat Robertson, and President Obama, he said, is also “a down low president.”

Nor was Rachel Maddow safe from these thugs. Bradlee Dean, especially, has it out for Maddow since he sued her for 50 million and lost (he doesn’t like me much either). As Right Wing Watch tells it, McMillan asked on behalf of his buddy Dean if Quinlan thought Maddow “would be considered a butch or a femme.”

Quinlan offered his opinion that Maddow is both: butch because she’s a Nazi (because we all know the Nazis were gay) and a femme because she wears lipstick. I am going to speculate here that more than a few of the Religious Right’s leaders wear, or yearn to wear, lipstick.

I’m not sayin’. Just sayin’.

So third grade name-calling completed, this trio of juvenile delinquents said that the gays are coming after our children. I suppose, at the same time the blacks are coming for our guns. Maybe it’s a coordinated effort while the Mexicans smuggle explosives across the border in their anuses.

Oh my God, hide the children! I mean, it’s a Blue Light run on Bible-bearing white folks in Aisle 6!

“We speak to it from protecting the next generation. My gosh, the crimes are horrendous and we know what the end of it is, they are always going for the schools, they want little boys,” said McMillan, and lesbians want little girls.

I sense there is an awful lot of projection going on in this crowd.

Again, I’m not sayin’. I’m just sayin’.

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« Reply #7360 on: Jul 07, 2013, 05:41 AM »

U.S. pressure helps Snowden make his case for asylum: experts

By Jamie Doward, The Observer
Saturday, July 6, 2013 21:00 EDT

As Venezuela and Nicaragua offer lifeline to whistleblower, experts say US actions are strengthening his case for safe haven

Attempts by the US to close down intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden’s asylum options are strengthening his case to seek a safe harbour outside of Russia, legal experts claim.

Snowden, who is believed to be in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, has received provisional offers of asylum from Nicaragua and Venezuela, and last night Bolivia also offered him sanctuary. He has applied to at least six other countries, says the Wikileaks organisation providing legal support.

Michael Bochenek, director of law and policy at Amnesty International, said the American government’s actions were bolstering Snowden’s case. He said claims that the US had sought to reroute the plane of Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, amid reports that the fugitive former analyst for the National Security Agency was on board, and suggestions that vice-president Joe Biden had phoned the Ecuadorean leader, Rafael Correa, to block asylum for Snowden, carried serious implications.

“Interfering with the right to seek asylum is a serious problem in international law,” Bochenek said. “It is further evidence that he [Snowden] has a well-founded fear of persecution. This will be relevant to any state when considering an application. International law says that somebody who fears persecution should not be returned to that country.”

Venezuela’s extradition treaties with the US contain clauses that allow it to reject requests if it believes they are politically motivated. The country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, has praised Snowden for being a “young man who told the truth” and has criticised European countries’ alleged role in the rerouting of Morales’s plane last week .

“The European people have seen the cowardice and the weakness of their governments, which now look like colonies of the US,” he said on Friday.

Spain said it had been warned that Snowden was on the Bolivian presidential plane, the first acknowledgement that the manhunt was linked to the plane’s diversion to Austria. Foreign minister José Manuel Garcia-Margallo said: “They told us that the information was clear, that he was inside.” He did not say who “they” were or whether he had been in contact with the US.

Speaking from Buenos Aires, Bochenek said the US actions were transforming the Snowden affair into a global saga. “In PR terms, opinion here and elsewhere in Latin America has shifted precisely because of the appearance of interference with other governments’ decision-making processes,” he said.

Bochenek said there was no reason why Snowden could not be granted asylum without setting foot in the country that had granted him refuge. The need to be present in the country where asylum is granted is a convention that can be ignored if nations see fit, he said.

“It’s true that a lot of states have that as a rule in their own domestic requirements, but it is not required by international law,” he said.

Neither did placing Snowden on an Interpol “red flag” list mean that states had to hand him over to the US. The procedure is an advisory measure that can be ignored, legal experts said.

A decision to give Snowden refuge has political consequences for Maduro, and provides his critics with ammunition.

Venezuela’s opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, has accused Maduro of using Snowden to distract voters from economic woes at home. “Nicolas, you can’t use asylum to cover up that you stole the election. That doesn’t give you legitimacy, nor make the people forget,” he said on Twitter.

Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, said he was willing to offer asylum, “if circumstances allow it”, although he did not say what the circumstances would be. Venezuela, though, appears a more likely host.

“Asylum for Snowden in Venezuela would be the best solution,” Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the international affairs committee of Russia’s lower house of parliament, said on Twitter. “That country is in a sharp conflict with the US.”

However, there are no direct commercial flights between Moscow and Caracas, and the usual route involves changing planes in Havana.

It is not clear whether the Cuban authorities would grant Snowden transit. However, Cuba has expressed sympathy for Snowden’s situation and accused the US of “trampling” on other states’ sovereignty.

Meanwhile, spotting Snowden is becoming a popular game among people passing through Sheremetyevo airport.

“I offered my kids $200 to get a picture of him,” said Simon Parry, a Briton who expressed sympathy for Snowden after spending a couple of hours in the airport.

“The wireless internet is appalling, the prices are awful, and people never smile,” Parry said. “So I commend him for making it 24 hours, let alone two weeks. I might rather face trial.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013


July 6, 2013

Russian Official Says Venezuela Is the ‘Best Solution’ for Snowden


MOSCOW — A senior member of the Russian Parliament said Saturday that political asylum in Venezuela would be “the best solution” for Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who is on the run from the American authorities.

The comments by the Russian lawmaker, Aleksei Pushkov, the chairman of the international affairs committee of the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, came just a few hours after Venezuela and Nicaragua extended the first firm offers of asylum to Mr. Snowden, who has been holed up at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow for nearly two weeks, and they seemed to reflect the Kremlin’s increasing desire to be rid of him.

“Sanctuary for Snowden in Venezuela would be the best solution,” Mr. Pushkov posted on Twitter. “The country has a sharp conflict with the United States. It will not be worse. And he can’t live in Sheremetyevo.”

In fact, the United States and Venezuela recently began talks toward reconciliation, progress that a senior Obama administration official said Saturday would end if Venezuela sheltered Mr. Snowden, as President Nicolás Maduro said he would, or aided his journey. The official cautioned other nations in Latin America, hinting that relations would worsen if they assisted Mr. Snowden.

Mr. Pushkov’s comments typically echo the Kremlin’s line and, to that extent, they underscore a crucial point: Russia still has no intention of turning Mr. Snowden over to the United States or impeding his travel to any country willing to shelter him.

In fact, far more powerful Russian officials, including President Vladimir V. Putin, have suggested that there is no set limit on the amount of time Mr. Snowden can remain in his traveler’s purgatory in the transit zone of the airport, where technically, they say, he has not crossed onto Russia territory. But Mr. Putin has also said that the sooner Mr. Snowden picks a destination and leaves, the better.

Still, even as the asylum offers from Venezuela and Nicaragua suggested that Mr. Snowden’s sojourn in Russia might be nearing its end, getting to his final destination will not be easy.

Mr. Snowden and his supporters at WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy group, are now contemplating complications for a more than 6,000 mile flight that are of a magnitude unfathomable to even the most experienced frequent fliers.

The easiest route to Latin America from Moscow would take Mr. Snowden first to Havana, where he could then connect to direct flights either to Caracas, Venezuela, or Managua, Nicaragua. But if he purchases a ticket for a regularly scheduled flight on Aeroflot, the Russian carrier, which Mr. Putin has said Mr. Snowden is free to do at any time, would the United States go so far as to force down a commercial jetliner once it crosses into American airspace, which is part of its normal flight path? And even if the Americans are loath to force down a passenger jet, would Cuba, given a mild thaw in relations with the United States, allow Mr. Snowden to pass through Havana?

If Mr. Snowden and his supporters try to arrange for a private jet, could his benefactors afford one big enough to make the nearly 16-hour flight without refueling, to avoid stopping in a country that would be likely to seize him at the request of the United States? And if a private or government plane is sent to pick him up, would it face the same airspace restrictions that forced the plane of President Evo Morales of Bolivia to land in Vienna on his way home from a conference in Moscow last week?

Mr. Morales, still fuming over the diversion of his aircraft, said Saturday that Bolivia would also grant Mr. Snowden asylum “if he asked for it.” Mr. Morales, whose openness to sheltering Mr. Snowden apparently led to the false conclusion that he had smuggled Mr. Snowden onto his airplane, said the decision on asylum was now intended as retaliation.

“As a fair protest” against the United States and Europe, “we are going to give him asylum if he asks us for it, that American pursued by his countrymen,” Mr. Morales said at a public appearance in a Bolivian village, according to local news reports. “We are not afraid.”

Mr. Morales did not say if Bolivia had received a request from Mr. Snowden, who has apparently applied for shelter in more than two dozen countries. Most of those requests have been rejected. Nicaragua’s president said his country had received a request and would grant it “if circumstances permit it.”

State Department officials have been in touch with each of the Latin American nations that have expressed a willingness to harbor Mr. Snowden, the senior administration official said Saturday, and have urged them to expel him if he arrives. But the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about diplomatic matters, conceded that the United States already had poor relations with these countries, and while those ties would worsen should Mr. Snowden receive protection, it remained unclear what the United States would do.

“There is not a country in the hemisphere whose government does not understand our position at this point,” the official said, adding that any aid for Mr. Snowden “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come.” The official added, “If someone thinks things would go away, it won’t be the case.”

The United States said that the diversion of Mr. Morales’s plane was “unfortunate.” But there was a much stronger reaction in Russia, where Mr. Putin often makes a point of demanding respect for state sovereignty. The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the European countries that barred Mr. Morales from traveling through their airspace.

Aeroflot’s regular flight to Havana departed Saturday on schedule at 2:05 p.m., and Mr. Snowden was not on board. And, as has been the case since he arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong 13 days ago, there was not a trace of him at the airport. Russian officials have declined to say whether he is holed up in one of the hotels that serve transit passengers or has been staying in some hidden section of the airport.

Cuba has not said how it might react if Mr. Snowden arrives in Havana for a connecting flight to Caracas or Managua. It could follow Russia’s lead and treat him as a transit passenger who has technically not crossed onto Cuban territory. But American officials have made clear that they view that as a mere technicality and have urged any government with access to seize him and send him back to the United States.

Mr. Pushkov suggested that the United States was paying a price for its arrogance. “The Snowden case argues that the U.S. attempt to bring the world under the electronic and military-political control is doomed,” he wrote on Twitter. “Action gives rise to reaction.”

David M. Herszenhorn reported from Moscow, and Randal C. Archibold from Mexico City.

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« Reply #7361 on: Jul 07, 2013, 05:43 AM »

Lawmakers’ impasse keeping Poland out of Eurozone

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 6, 2013 18:15 EDT

Poland will not be able to join the eurozone for years because of a parliamentary impasse that could last through 2019, Prime Minister Donald Tusk indicated in an interview published Saturday.

“We will not enter the eurozone without changing the constitution. We do not have that kind of majority today and my intuition tells me we will not have it in the next term either,” Tusk told the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

Because opposition conservatives reject the European single currency, the government lacks the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to push through necessary constitutional changes.

With Poland’s next parliamentary election scheduled for 2015 and terms lasting four years, the eurozone entry process may remain on hold until at least 2019, Tusk’s statement indicated.

The latest opinion polls show Tusk’s centre-right Civic Platform party trailing by a few percentage points behind the eurosceptic PiS opposition party.

The nation of 38 million people is obliged to join the eurozone under the terms of its 2004 EU entry agreement, but there is no accession deadline.

Tusk said in 2008 that his government aimed to join in 2011, but Warsaw has since adopted a wait-and-see approach to swapping its zloty for the euro.

“In 2008 I definitely overdid it on the optimism,” Tusk said in the Saturday interview.

“The mitigating circumstance is that two weeks later Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and the crisis erupted.”

Central Europe’s largest economy, Poland has maintained growth each year since it shed communism two decades ago.

It is the only EU member to have done so through the 2007-2009 financial meltdown and the ongoing eurozone crisis, thanks in part to the zloty easing in value against the euro.

Opinion polls show most Poles are opposed to adopting the euro, and Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski said in April that there was “no big rush on eurozone entry”.

In March Tusk floated the idea of a public vote on the unpopular euro as a solution to the parliamentary impasse, but the referendum was not mentioned in the interview with Gazeta Wyborcza.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #7362 on: Jul 07, 2013, 05:44 AM »

Hungary signs new restitution agreement for Holocaust survivors

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 6, 2013 16:45 EDT

The Hungarian government announced a deal Saturday with a US-based Holocaust restitution organisation on reparations for Hungarian survivors living abroad, ending a year-long row over transparency and a freeze of payments to survivors.

“The government has concluded an agreement with the Conference of Material Claims Against Germany,” Janos Lazar, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, said in a statement to the Hungarian news agency MTI.

Hungary signed a five-year agreement with the Claims Conference in 2007 for the distribution of $21 million (16 million euros) to Hungarian Holocaust survivors but broke off talks on an extension of the agreement last year.

It stopped payments and asked for some funds to be repaid after accusing the Claims Conference of improper accounting, a charge the organisation fiercely denied.

“Holocaust survivors of Hungarian origin living abroad will be able to receive as soon as possible the compensation to which they are entitled,” Lazar said Saturday.

“In order to now faster disburse restitution monies, the government will transfer $5.6 million within three days,” he said.

Lazar said the money would be transferred to the Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment (MAZSOK), a Hungary-based committee made up of government officials and Jewish representatives, which liaises with the Claims Conference.

The parties have also agreed to contract an international auditing firm to monitor the transparency of the disbursements, he added.

State pensions for Hungary-based Holocaust survivors were hiked 50 percent by the government earlier this year.

The Holocaust claimed the lives of some 600,000 Hungarian Jews, but the local Jewish community, thought to number up to 100,000 in total, remains one of the biggest in Europe.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #7363 on: Jul 07, 2013, 05:50 AM »

Abu Qatada deported from UK

Radical cleric lands in Jordan after being deported from Britain following decade-long battle to remove him

Press Association, Sunday 7 July 2013 09.45 BST   

The radical cleric Abu Qatada has landed in Jordan after being deported from Britain aboard a private jet after a decade-long battle costing at least £1.7m to remove him from the country.

The prime minister, David Cameron, has welcomed the deportation of Abu Qatada, saying removing the terror suspect from the UK had been a a priority for the government.

Cameron tweeted his pleasure at the news just hours after Abu Qatada left Britain aboard a private flight bound for Jordan from RAF Northolt, in west London.

Shortly after Qatada's plane left the airfield at about 2.45am, the home secretary, Theresa May, said: "I am glad that this government's determination to see him on a plane has been vindicated and that we have at last achieved what previous governments, Parliament and the British public have long called for.

"This dangerous man has now been removed from our shores to face the courts in his own country.

"I am also clear that we need to make sense of our human rights laws and remove the many layers of appeals available to foreign nationals we want to deport. We are taking steps – including through the new immigration bill – to put this right."

Following numerous courtroom battles, it was a treaty signed between the UK and Jordan that finally secured Qatada's departure, giving the radical preacher the assurances he needed to leave his taxpayer-funded home behind.

The agreement, announced by the home secretary, earlier this year, aimed to allay fears that evidence extracted through torture will be used against the father of five at a retrial.

In a shock decision, Qatada pledged in May to leave Britain – with his family in tow – if and when the treaty was fully ratified, a process that to the relief of many, concluded earlier this week.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs select committee, said: "Only 446 days after the home secretary said Abu Qatada would be on a plane shortly, he has finally reached the end of the runway.

"In the end, it was the king of Jordan who secured his departure by agreeing to this treaty.

"The home secretary's legal advisers will have questions to answer as to why they didn't conceive of this scheme earlier which would have prevented a cost to the taxpayer of £1.7m."

Once dubbed Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, Qatada spent his final months in the UK in Belmarsh prison, after breaching a bail condition which restricted use of mobile phones and other communication devices.

The government has been trying to deport him to Jordan, where he was convicted of terror charges in his absence in 1999, for about eight years.

But Qatada – who has praised the 11 September 2001 terror attacks – repeatedly used human rights laws to avoid removal.

This argument, originally rejected by British courts, was upheld by judges at the European court of human rights in Strasbourg, forcing May to seek new legal guarantees from Jordan that his rights would not be breached.

A 24-page mutual legal assistance treaty was drawn up between the UK and Jordan, containing a key passage that states where there are "serious and credible allegations that a statement from a person has been obtained by torture" it will not be used in a court.

Qatada's lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald QC, then unexpectedly told the special immigration appeals commission (Siac) that his client was prepared to leave if the treaty was enshrined in law.

"There's never been a time in the last 12 years that Mr Othman [Abu Qatada] and his family could safely return to Jordan," he said. "For a long period of time, he has made it clear that he wishes to leave lawfully."

Despite the reassurances, the immigration judges were not satisfied enough to release the cleric from Belmarsh prison after they heard "jihadist files" were found on digital devices in his home.

A USB stick found in the home, understood to belong to Abu Qatada's oldest son, contained videos made by the "media wing of al-Qaida".

It was recently disclosed that the lengthy deportation fight has cost the taxpayer more than £1.7m since 2005, including £647,658 for Qatada's legal aid costs and more than £1m in Home Office costs for pursuing the case through the courts.

In Jordan, Abu Qatada is expected to be taken to the maximum security Muwaqqar prison in a military zone near the capital Amman.

May said that she had been as "frustrated as the British public" at the length of time it has taken to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan to face terrorism charges.

She told BBC Breakfast the government would now look to make changes through parliament and the upcoming immigration bill to ensure that similar deportations in the future can be carried out much more quickly, and to reduce the number of appeals processes.

The home secretary also said it was vital that the UK re-examined its relationship with the European court of human rights, which proved a regular stumbling block in deporting Abu Qatada.

She said: "We have got to look at that relationship, and as far as I am concerned I think nothing should be off the table in terms of looking at how we work with and how we deal with the European court...

"We as the UK need to look at our relationship with the European court and we need to ensure that in future we are able to deport people more quickly.

"I am pleased that Abu Qatada has been deported, I think the British public will be pleased about that. They have wanted that for some time, this government has now achieved it."

May said she had no concerns about Qatada's treatment once he reached Jordan because of assurances hammered out in the treaty with the Jordanian government. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, welcomed the news.

She said: "This is extremely welcome – it means Abu Qatada can stand fair trial in Jordan for the serious terrorism charges he faces there, so justice can be done.

"There have been continual delays in the legal process both in this country and in Europe that have been deeply frustrating for all governments. We must ensure that delays like this do not last for so long in future and that the system is reformed to make it faster.

"The government has done the right thing by continuing to pursue this until Abu Qatada could finally be deported. The home secretary has been right to get further guarantees from Jordan and we should welcome the series of agreements from the Jordanian government too.

"Abu Qatada should have made this decision to face justice in Jordan before, as this has dragged on far too long, but it is extremely welcome news that this saga is now at an end."

Cameron said: "This is something this Government said it would get done and we have got it done, and it is an issue that like the rest of the country has made my blood boil that this man who has no right to be in our country, who is a threat to our country and that it took so long and was so difficult to deport him, but we have done it, he is back in Jordan, and that is excellent news."

The Prime Minister said that the lengthy deportation process and repeated appeals had been immensely frustrating, and that plans were under way to simplify the process through the Immigration Bill.

Asked about suggestions the UK should withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights, Cameron said: "I think it is important that Britain meets proper international obligations – and we do – but frankly when it comes to these cases I don't rule anything out in terms of getting this better for the future."

He also said that the Conservatives would set out "the right steps to deal with this" in its next manifesto.

Cameron said: "I don't pre-judge what they will be but the one thing I am certain of is that if you have someone in your country, who has come here and threatens your country, who you can deport to a safe country, you should be able to do that and it shouldn't take so long...

"You will read in the next Conservative manifesto the steps that will be necessary to make sure that in future you can deport people who threaten your country more quickly.

"That's the key outcome and I have always said this: that whatever it takes to deliver that outcome, the next Conservative Government will do."

Pictures released by the Ministry of Defence showed Qatada being shown to the door of the plane to Jordan by an official at RAF Northolt in the early hours of this morning.

One showed him in long robes and a headscarf stepping onto the steps of the plane as the official looked on.

Others showed the aircraft taxiing onto the runway and then taking off bound for the Middle East country.

* 07QATADA-thumbStandard.jpg (5.87 KB, 75x75 - viewed 62 times.)
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« Reply #7364 on: Jul 07, 2013, 05:58 AM »

Young Spaniards flock to Germany to escape economic misery back home

With youth jobless rates at 50% back home, graduates are heading for Berlin – but still grumble about the weather

Kate Connolly   
The Observer, Sunday 7 July 2013   

When Dacil Granados turned up in Berlin a year ago and walked into her first German class, she was amazed to find almost all her classmates were fellow Spaniards. "They were all engineers, apart from an architect and myself," says the art historian. "All here, most rather reluctantly, for the same reason – to work."

Granados, 36, has just begun a job as an art history guide at one of Berlin's top tourist sites, the Pergamon Museum, ending a lengthy period of joblessness that started when she was made redundant from her job as a curator at a gallery of Catalan art in Madrid in December 2011. The Gran Canaria native is one of the estimated 80,000 young southern Europeans who are now arriving in Germany every year and who have been turning up in increasing numbers ever since the economic crisis began.

The Greek rate of youth unemployment now stands at more than 60%, Spain's is more than 50% and Italy and Portugal are at 40%. Germany, with its shortage of skilled workers, the highest employment level it has known for almost 25 years, and an ageing population, has become a magnet for this section of European society.

From Lisbon to Madrid, the Goethe Institute, the body representing Germany's cultural interests abroad, has reported a record uptake in its language classes, as growing numbers decide to learn German to set them up for the workplace. It is scrambling to find teachers to meet the demand.

Meanwhile, the job sections of advertisement websites are inundated with Spaniards, Portuguese and Italians offering to do everything from washing up to au pair jobs, often for just a few hundred euros a month.

In the first half of 2012, the number of emigrants from Spain to Germany was up on the same period of the previous year by 53%. Among Greeks the figure was 78% higher.

Germany's International Placement Service (ZAV), which is responsible for recruiting foreign workers to fill the gaps in the country's job market, is feverishly scouring southern Europe for skilled workers such as engineers and scientists, nurses and care workers.

"It's a huge sea-change, when you consider that just seven years ago German workers were being sent to work in Spain's then booming economy," Thomas Liebig, a migration expert with the OECD, told Die Zeit, referring to the time, not all that long ago, when it was Germany which was considered to be the sick man of Europe.

The ZAV and other recruitment agencies habitually deploy what they call lotse, or pilots, on assignments to southern Europe in the hope that they will bring back new labour, as well as those willing to take up a place in Germany's coveted apprenticeship system.

The agencies' recruitment drives often have the air of charm offensives about them, involving a map of Germany that is projected onto the wall, as well as a beginner's guide to life in a country many young southern Europeans have never even considered visiting, let alone working in, including how many breweries it has (1,300) and how many different types of bread (500), as well as reports about the weather, which is probably one of the hardest points about selling Germany to Iberians and Greeks.

"I certainly had never considered working in Germany before the crisis, and I knew very little about it," Juanjo Pujol, 28, told the Observer. "I grew up on Mallorca, surrounded by German holidaymakers, but I never thought that I'd find myself living among them in Germany."

He had always been told by his doctor and nurse parents that if he were to work hard at school and in his studies he would be set up for life. "But the opposite proved to be the case," he says.

After finishing his degree in environmental science, he got a short-term job reorganising a recycling plant after the introduction of a new EU waste directive. But after that he found himself unemployed and unable to find any work. "Rather than have to live on my parents' charity, I decided to come to Berlin."

He is now working as a babysitter and a bartender. "I don't mind the food – I'm vegan and it's easier to be vegan in Germany than Spain, but the weather? The weather – especially the long dark winter – it sucks," he says.

While they can't do much about their weather, it is widely agreed that Germans need to work on their hospitality. Many southern Europeans, used to family-oriented lifestyles, complain about the lack of warmth, the fact that, particularly in smalltown Germany, it is hard to socialise with people after work, and about a general sense of hostility over widespread perceptions that southern Europeans have brought the problems on themselves.

"I've seen the look some people give me when I'm in a group speaking Spanish and I know what they're thinking about us: that we're after their charity, that we got ourselves in this mess," says Granados.

It is one of the reasons why Spaniards in particular often stay for a short time – 70% of Spaniards who emigrate to Germany stay for less than a year, according to official statistics.

Economic experts have warned that Germany will suffer if it doesn't work to improve its sociability skills towards the newcomers.

For years Germany's gastarbeiter or guestworkers were seen as just that – guests, who would go home, even after they had been in Germany for several decades. Only recently has that mentality begun to change.

"Lately the word willkommenskultur [welcome culture] has become very fashionable," says Liebig. "A change in attitude is taking place in which a work migrant is no longer seen first and foremost as a potential problem. This could be a chance for Germany."

In an effort to show it takes the new workers seriously, the German government has put €140m into a fund to help with everything from language classes, to supporting newcomers with bureaucracy, finding accommodation, travel and relocation costs.

Rafael Santamarta could have moved back to Spain at least three time since relocating to Germany when the crisis broke in 2008, but has chosen not to. "I have been approached by three Spanish headhunters," says the 30-year old project manager for a Berlin-based social games company, Wooga. "But I have much more trust for the German system right now, where I'm treated with respect, paid properly, and work the hours I'm contracted to work for. Whereas in Spain none of that was the case."

Juanjo Pujol, 28, from Mallorca, environmental scientist working as a babysitter and barman

I did a degree in environmental science that took me five years, and I sometimes can't believe that I'm now working as a babysitter and barman. But I said to myself when I came here nearly two years ago, following my girlfriend who had arrived three months before, that it's better to be working in a bar in Berlin and learning the language than stuck in Madrid, which is really quite depressing now. When I arrived I put an ad on Craig's List (an advertisement site) saying I was prepared to do anything. There really are worse places than Berlin, even though it's a weird mix of hipster types and very poor people.

The hardest part is the weather. I spent 25 years of my life living in the Mediterranean, with sun 350 days of the year, and here it's the dark and cold that get me down. The bureaucracy is also a pain.

Dacil Granados, 36, art historian, from Gran Canaria, working as a tour guide

After doing a master's and doctorate, I worked in Madrid at the Espacio Canarias, a museum specialising in Canary Island work, before I was made redundant as a result of the crisis around Christmas time 2011. So I thought: OK, why not move to Berlin where even if I had a bad job, I could learn the language? I knew Berlin and my best friend was living here, and I thought it's the place to be if you like art. I persuaded my boyfriend, Joan, who's a DJ and graphic designer, to come with me. We have a small one-room apartment with a garden in the trendy district of Kreuzberg, for which we pay €450 a month – half of what we'd pay in Madrid. I spent some time working as a cook, but as of Thursday, I've got a proper job – showing Spanish-speaking groups around the Pergamon Museum where I take them to see the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate and other spectacular attractions.. I wouldn't say I find the Germans easy. I say I'm from Spain, and they frown: you can see them thinking: "Crisis, crisis. Lazy Spaniards brought it on themselves." I vent my frustrations about the challenges of daily life here – the sternness of the people, the bureaucracy, the weather, sauerkraut, the German rigidity – by blogging about my experiences: chicaplayachica.tumblr

Rafael Santamarta, 30, from Gijon, product manager for games firm

I was very happy in Madrid, but there were so few opportunities after I'd finished my studies that I had little choice but to go abroad. I came to Germany in 2008 when the crisis broke, though the work situation had been bad long before that. I started off in Mainz and after being tracked down there by a headhunter, I moved to Berlin two years ago where I'm now working as a lead product manager for Wooga, one of the leading social games companies which makes games for Facebook and mobile devices. In contrast to my experience in Spain where I had to work much longer hours for much lower wages – conditions that have worsened as the crisis has deepened and people are much more easily exploitable – this is a very civilised place to work. The office culture is really good in my company and the working language is English as the 250 employees are from 42 different nations. Lunch is a bit rushed, but I can live with that. I also have a much more decent, more affordable life here than in Madrid. Berlin is just a cool place to be. I sometimes sense the antagonism Germans feel towards us, an attitude of: "We're maintaining you guys." But I get none of that from my friends. As to following Spanish current affairs, I've given up reading the Spanish press. I got so angry about everything that was going on there that I decided just to focus on my life here.

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