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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1082619 times)
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« Reply #9780 on: Nov 05, 2013, 07:28 AM »

Guatemalan lawyer travels to US to press Rios Montt genocide conviction

Prosecutor representing Ixil minority group hopes pan-American court can reinstate 80-year sentence that was quashed in May

Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent, Monday 4 November 2013 17.16 GMT   

The disrupted prosecution for genocide of the former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Rios Montt will move onto the international stage this week when victims' relatives and their lawyers converge on Washington.

The 86-year-old former military ruler of the central American state was found guilty by a domestic court in May of ordering the massacre of 1,771 members of the Mayan Ixil people during Guatemala's civil war in the early 1980s. But 11 days later the country's constitutional court overturned the conviction and 80-year prison sentence imposed on him, throwing the complex legal process into disarray.

Montt, who remains under house arrest, was the first former head of state to have been found guilty of genocide in his country's own courts. That judgment is now effectively suspended after the constitutional court ruled the trial should restart from a late stage in the evidence.

Edgar Pérez, the lead Guatemalan prosecutor, will join members of the Ixil people to present a petition at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington seeking to enforce the conviction through international courts.

"We hope to get a decision handed down [from the Inter-American Commission] that will put pressure on the national courts so that we can get back to the [80-year] sentence," Pérez explained. "The original trial is in a state of indecision."

As many as 200,000 people died in Guatemala's 30-year long civil war, which ended in 1996. There have been successful prosecutions of junior officers and members of the country's special forces.

Five former soldiers were each sentenced to 6,060 years in prison two years ago for the 1982 Dos Erres massacre in which villagers were buried alive during a military operation to clear leftwing guerrillas. The punishment equated to 30 years for each murder and 30 years for crimes against humanity.

The most repressive military operations against the Mayan Ixils were carried out during the 18-month presidency of Ríos Montt between March 1982 and August 1983.

"We uncovered officials documents from this period which shows there was a plan to exterminate the Ixil people," said Pérez, who was in London last week to raise support for his cause. "The documents said that the military objective was to annihilate the enemy and that the Ixil people supported the guerrilla groups." The Ixils, it was argued, should therefore be targeted.

At least 1,771 people died in the attacks and most of survivors were driven off their land into the mountains, according to Pérez. "Probably another 1,000 people died in bombardments and from disease when their food supplies were cut off."

When the Ixils returned they found much of the land occupied by villagers brought in by the army from elsewhere. "Before, they were a poor population, now they are living in extreme poverty," Pérez added.

Montt has always denied ordering any massacres. At his trial earlier this year he declared: ""I declare myself innocent … It was never my intention or my goal to destroy a whole ethnic group. I never ordered attacks on a specific race. I never did it, and of everything they have said, there was no clear participation.''

The prosecution of the former president has caused political resentment in Guatemala. "The present president was a serving officer in the area where there were massacres," Pérez said. "There's a recurring pattern here. Human rights investigators are being accused of being terrorists and of increasing social conflict."

Members of the civil rights group Peace Brigades International accompany Pérez to court hearings and meetings with government officials. "I know I'm being followed and that my phone is being intercepted but if I'm accompanied there's a permanent reminder that the international community is watching. My work is not illegal, I'm helping the vulnerable and the excluded."

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« Reply #9781 on: Nov 05, 2013, 07:30 AM »

Venezuela slams new spying accusations by U.S.

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 4, 2013 22:20 EST

Venezuela Monday denounced a new report that the United States made Caracas a spying priority, and warned that bilateral ties would remain frozen.

“It is unacceptable that they’re spying on us,” Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told a news conference in Mexico City after talks with Mexican counterpart Jose Antonio Meade.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Venezuela was one of six “enduring targets” in the National Security Agency’s official mission list from 2007, along with China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Russia.

Citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the newspaper said the agency monitored the government and personal emails of the top 10 Venezuelan economic officials.

“The revelations show once more the reasons why we regrettably cannot have good relations with the United States,” Jaua said.

The United States and Venezuela have been without mutual ambassadors since 2010, and Caracas kicked out the US charge d’affaires in October, leading Washington to reciprocate.

Last June, the two countries agreed to begin discussions aimed at returning their ambassadors following a meeting between Jaua and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

But Venezuela broke off the near rapprochement in July after the now US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, lumped Caracas’ elected government with “repressive regimes.”

In July, a Brazilian newspaper, citing Snowden leaks, reported that the NSA had monitored military purchases in Venezuela.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9782 on: Nov 05, 2013, 07:31 AM »

Cuba cracks down on private movie theaters and arcades

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 4, 2013 20:17 EST

Private movie theaters and video arcades, which have sprung up across Cuba in recent months, are not among occupations sanctioned by recent government reforms and must shut down, state media said.

Dozens of home movie theaters and video parlors have popped up since communist Cuba began allowing some measure of private employment, as part of a gradual reform of its Soviet-style economy.

President Raul Castro in 2010 introduced the reforms in an effort to rescue the foundering Cuban economy, including deep projected cuts in the number of workers employed by the state.

But the Juventud Rebelde and Granma official newspapers wrote over the weekend that home-run movie theaters and video game parlors “were never authorized by the government.”

Enterprising Cubans who had opened up such establishments had done so, the newspapers said, “under the cover of other licenses, such as licenses to open up a restaurant,” since food and snack items often are sold along with the entertainment.

Among the types of theaters which have proven popular here are those showing 3D movies with projectors imported from overseas.

Makeshift video arcades, meanwhile, have been popular with Cuban young people who until recently had never experienced the thrill of computer games.

Last month, Havana cracked down on another illegal business — that of selling imported clothing.

In that case, clothing merchants had been misusing a license that allows Cubans to sell their clothing made by their own hand, the government said.

“These measure are needed to ensure the continued viability of independent workers” inside of Cuba, the government statement said.

Havana said store owners have until the end of this year to clear the offending imported merchandise from their stores, or risk being shut down.

Around the time that the labor reforms were enacted, in 2010, there were just 157,000 independently employed Cubans.

Official data now show that there are some 442,000 Cubans are privately employed in one of about 200 sanctioned professions, mostly as owners of small restaurants, beauty parlors, taxi drivers and other trades.

In September, Cuba added 19 more approved professions to the list, including real estate agents, and telecommunications sales people.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9783 on: Nov 05, 2013, 07:33 AM »

One in five Sun-like stars may have Earth-like planets around it

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 4, 2013 18:25 EST

As many as one in five Sun-like stars may have a planet the size of Earth, and the nearest could be in systems visible to the naked eye, US astronomers said Monday.

The research is based on a new analysis of findings from NASA’s Kepler space observatory, and appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ten newly discovered planets are close to Earth-sized and in the habitable zone of their stars, meaning they orbit at a distance that is not too hot or too cold to support life, Kepler scientists told reporters.

There are about two dozen planets in total that may be a suitable distance from their suns so that their oceans would neither boil nor freeze, said Bill Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator.

If they have oceans, that is.

The Kepler mission stops short of delivering on key details in the hunt for life on other planets, such as the whether these planets have an atmosphere, oxygen or liquid water to support life.

Still, astronomers say the latest Kepler findings are a key milestone in the search for extraterrestrial life, and that more advanced technology in the future may answer more questions.

“We have lots of missions to consider in the future. I think some of those, which are already pushing technology, are likely to be done by our children or grandchildren,” said Borucki.

The Kepler mission launched in 2009 on a search for planets outside the solar system that may orbit at a distance from their host stars that could allow life to exist.

A total of 3,538 planet candidates have been found so far, with astronomers observing them as distant spots of light called transits, or passages in front of their stars that cause dimming.

Astronomers have found 833 new planet candidates using the first three years of a total of four years of Kepler data.

After analyzing the first two years of data, the team had found a total of 351 Earth-sized planets. Now, they have found 647.

Just 104 are in the habitable zone, however, and of those, about 10 are believed to be potentially rocky like Earth, scientists told reporters.

Astronomers also made some calculations to project how many of the 100 billion stars in our galaxy have potentially habitable planets.

“You can think of it like we are taking a census of extra-solar planets but not everyone is answering the door,” said Erik Petigura, a University of California, Berkeley graduate student.

Some transits might not be visible, or they may be lost in the brightness of the universe.

Based on this statistical analysis, astronomers estimate that 22 percent of stars like the Sun have planets about the size of Earth with a surface temperature conducive to life, Petigura.

That means the nearest Sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone could be “12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye,” he said.

The Kepler science consortium brings together about 500 scientists from around the world.

The space observatory itself is now hobbled by the loss of two of its orienting wheels, and is no longer operating at full capacity, NASA announced in August.

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« Reply #9784 on: Nov 05, 2013, 07:52 AM »

In the USA..United Surveillance America

November 4, 2013

As U.S. Weighs Spying Changes, Officials Say Data Sweeps Must Continue


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has told allies and lawmakers it is considering reining in a variety of National Security Agency practices overseas, including holding White House reviews of the world leaders the agency is monitoring, forging a new accord with Germany for a closer intelligence relationship and minimizing collection on some foreigners.

But for now, President Obama and his top advisers have concluded that there is no workable alternative to the bulk collection of huge quantities of “metadata,” including records of all telephone calls made inside the United States.

Instead, the administration has hinted it may hold that information for only three years instead of five while it seeks new technologies that would permit it to search the records of telephone and Internet companies, rather than collect the data in bulk in government computers. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., has told industry officials that developing the new technology would take at least three years.

Mr. Obama has said nothing publicly about specific steps he is weighing in response to the disclosures of the N.S.A. practices by Edward J. Snowden, the former contractor who downloaded and turned over to journalists tens of thousands of documents concerning the agency.

But protests from business executives, who told Mr. Obama last week at a White House meeting that they feared the N.S.A. revelations would lead to billions of dollars in lost business in Europe and Asia — and angry responses to the revelations that the United States was monitoring the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany — have forced a rethinking inside the White House.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Caitlin M. Hayden, said Monday that the reviews now underway are intended to assure “that we are more effectively weighing the risks and rewards of our activities.” That includes, she said, “ensuring that we are focused above all on threats to the American people.”

In public testimony, General Alexander and the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., have shown little willingness to make major changes, apart from agreeing to more oversight and public disclosure of some decisions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The White House has pressed for more. Nonetheless, the actions contemplated inside the administration seem unlikely to quell the protests in Europe or assuage critics at home.

The details of an intelligence accord with Germany — which German officials seem more enthusiastic to negotiate than their American counterparts — are unlikely to be revealed publicly, or to end the suspicion that the American monitoring of scores or hundreds of German leaders has been discontinued.

Similarly, the government has so far said little about whether it could treat some foreigners, presumably from a short list of allies, more as if they were American citizens, or in the legal language of the intelligence agencies, “U.S. persons.”

“On the issue of U.S. person versus non-U.S. person, that’s an issue we’re giving a lot of thought to now,” Robert Litt, the general counsel to the director of national intelligence, told an American Bar Association conference last week. “That doesn’t mean that we have no protection for non-U.S. persons,” he said, noting that the main protection was that data had to be collected for “a valid foreign intelligence purpose.” But that is a standard the intelligence agencies can define for themselves in the case of foreigners.

Mr. Litt said that the government is now “giving some thought to whether there are ways that we can both introduce a little more rigor into that requirement.” But another American official said there were concerns about whether a decision to effectively extend the constitutional protections of the Fourth Amendment to some foreigners would create a precedent the government might later regret.

So far, the sharpest public criticism of the N.S.A. from within the administration has come from one of the chief clients for its intelligence reports: Secretary of State John Kerry. “The president and I have learned of some things that have been happening in many ways on an automatic pilot, because the technology is there and the ability is there,” Mr. Kerry said last week, adding that “some of these actions have reached too far.”

A senior administration official said that Mr. Kerry’s “automatic pilot” reference “went beyond our talking points,” but added that the president agreed and “has already made some decisions,” which have not been announced.

The administration’s reviews are being conducted in secrecy in part because of the secret nature of the N.S.A.’s operations. Initially, the reviews focused on domestic “bulk collection” programs begun after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which eventually led to the N.S.A. program to collect the billing records of all calls, and, for a while, to collect a large volume of emails as well. (The email program ended, the N.S.A. says, in 2011.) In an interview last month, General Alexander said he was “open” to any alternative to having the government maintain that database of calls.

But General Alexander’s deputy, John C. Inglis, who has spent nearly three decades at the N.S.A. focused on the technology of intercepting and decoding foreign communications, told Congress last week that so far there was no satisfying alternative to a government library of calls and, seemingly by extension, text messages and many Internet searches.

“It needs to be the whole haystack,” Mr. Inglis said. If the United States was looking for the communications of a terrorism suspect, he said, “it needs to be such that when you make a query you come away confident that you have the whole answer.”

White House officials say that changes to the foreign collection programs are easier.

German officials came to the White House last week, and have returned to Washington this week, in hopes of negotiating a deal similar to the kind that Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have with the United States. German officials emerged from last week’s meetings at the White House talking about striking a deal within two months that included a “no spying” accord and greater intelligence sharing.

Discussions are continuing this week, also in Washington, between senior German and American intelligence officials. But a senior administration official said, “We are not talking about an across-the-board ‘no spy’ agreement.” Instead, he said, “we need to work towards updated understandings between our two countries.”

Ms. Hayden and Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, both said that a major element of the current review is to reassess the “National Intelligence Priorities Framework,” which is how the White House instructs the intelligence agencies about what subjects it most needs to understand. Terrorism and nuclear proliferation are the highest priorities, and are examined in detail.

The tapping of Ms. Merkel was a low-priority item for the United States, and subject to far less oversight, until it became public, and Mr. Obama declared the United States was not now monitoring her, and would not in the future. He has made no such commitment for other national leaders.


Google chairman: NSA spying on our data centres 'outrageous'

Eric Schmidt says company has lodged complaints with NSA, White House and Congress as criticism hardens in Silicon Valley

Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, Monday 4 November 2013 20.40 GMT   
Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, has attacked the US government for apparently breaking into the connections that link the company's data centres around the world as "outrageous" and described other surveillance practices as "possibly illegal".

Speaking at an event in Hong Kong, Schmidt stepped up the company's response to revelations in the Washington Post that the National Security Agency, working with its British counterpart, GCHQ, had broken into fibre optic cables that carry the transfer of data around the world for Google and Yahoo.

"It's really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that's true," Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal.

"The steps that the organization was willing to do without good judgment to pursue its mission and potentially violate people's privacy, it's not OK."

The comments reflected Silicon Valley's hardening criticism of government snooping amid continued revelations based on documents leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Just two months ago, Schmidt declined to "pass judgment" on the surveillance programmes.

But last week it was reported that the NSA intercepted communications links used by Google and Yahoo to move vast amounts of data between overseas data centres.

On Monday, the Washington Post published further Snowden documents and additional context for its story. Among the details published in the latest report is the claim the interception took place on "British territory".

It also claimed that none of the statements issued by the NSA since the story was published contained substantive denials. It said the source documents showed the NSA, rather than break directly into Google or Yahoo data centres, intercepted communication between them that ran on private fibre optic cable circuits. The former is known as "data at rest", the latter as "data on the fly".

It was clear spies broke into both companies' private "clouds", or internal networks, said the report, because some of the extracted data existed nowhere else.

It remained unclear how the NSA did this, and whether it had help from inside the technology giants.

Asked if it had launched an internal security review, Google on Monday reissued a statement given last week from chief legal officer David Drummond, saying the company did not give access to its systems to any government and that it was expanding encryption across more Google services and links.

In his interview, Schmidt said Google had lodged complaints with the NSA, the White House and members of Congress. He also attacked the separate NSA program that sweeps up the telephone metadata relating millions of Americans. "The NSA allegedly collected the phone records of 320 million people in order to identify roughly 300 people who might be a risk. It's just bad public policy … and perhaps illegal," he said.

Google itself has faced repeated accusations of privacy violations, including illicitly tracking web browsing.

Schmidt has made no secret that the company tests boundaries of what is acceptable. "Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it," he said in 2010.

Outcries in Europe and growing momentum in Washington to rein in surveillance has put the NSA on the defensive.

Asked to respond to Schmidt's criticism, an NSA spokesperson said the agency was "focused on valid foreign intelligence targets" and referred to a previous statement that press articles had misstated facts and mischaracterised NSA activities.

"NSA conducts all of its activities in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies – and assertions to the contrary do a grave disservice to the nation, its allies and partners, and the men and women who make up the National Security Agency."

Last week the agency's director, General Keith Alexander, said the agency had not used a presidential order to circumvent domestic legal restrictions: "I can tell you factually we do not have access to Google servers, Yahoo servers. We go through a court order."


The TSA shootings at LAX highlight America’s real terror threat

By Michael Cohen, The Guardian
Monday, November 4, 2013 14:11 EST

In 2012, 15 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks.

The previous year, more than 32,000 Americans died from gun violence (including homicides, suicides and accidents). That total represents an almost 2,600 person increase in gun deaths since 2001.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the first Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent to be killed in the line of duty was not slain by an al-Qaida terrorist, but rather by an American with a gun.

Gerardo Hernandez, who was shot and killed at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Friday, was tasked with protecting Americans from a threat that barely exists. Instead, he died from a threat that we as a nation tacitly accept as a “price of freedom”: practically unfettered access to firearms.

Twelve years ago this month, when Congress created the TSA, the threat from terrorism seemed real. Just two months earlier, 3,000 Americans had been killed by the worst terrorist attack in American history. Congress, acting with a level of responsiveness that in today’s current political context would seem unimaginable, established a vast new federal bureaucracy to take responsibility for protecting airplanes and passengers from the supposed scourge of international terrorism.

Today, with a budget of nearly $8bn, the TSA employs almost 50,000 transportation security officers who screen the nation’s air travelers. Yet, as incidents of terrorism directed at the United States have declined and al-Qaida’s global reach has been constrained, the TSA’s mandates remain in place. They’ve even been expanded, often in response to terrorist attacks or alleged plots.

When Richard Reid, aka “the Shoe Bomber”, attempted to light explosives hidden in his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight – and reports surfaced of other potential “shoe bombers” – it led to new rules “encouraging” passengers to take off their shoes at TSA checkpoints. In 2006, when a plot to bomb multiple trans-Atlantic flights with liquid explosives was foiled by British police, it brought new restrictions on bringing liquids on planes – and a shift to mandatory shoe screening. Even large printer cartridges were banned on planes after a foiled terror plot in which they were used to hide explosives.

No other form of domestic travel, like trains or buses, has the same level of security as is seen on airplanes. Considering that cockpit doors are now locked (one of several post 9/11 reforms that is, in fact, keeping Americans safer), and given that passengers are conditioned by the events of 9/11 to not respond in a docile fashion to a potential terrorist attack, the threat of in-air terrorism seems even more limited.

Then again, perhaps an abundance of caution is in order. TSA restrictions are frustrating and time-consuming, but they are hardly onerous. While there have been occasional complaints about the infringement on personal freedom and the inconvenience that TSA screening represents, Americans have, by and large, accepted their presence as the price that must be paid to protect the nation against terrorism.

This begs the question, however: why do Americans accept such restrictions – to combat a threat that barely exists – and recoil at the notion of placing similar restrictions on guns, which kill 2,000 times more Americans every year than terrorism?

America has the laxest gun laws in the developed world, more guns per person and the highest rate of death by firearms of any developed nation. The US also leads the world in mass shootings. As Mother Jones points out, of the 62 mass shootings that have taken place in the United States since 1982, three-quarters of the killers used legally obtained weapons.

While, mercifully, the gun ownership rate is in decline, millions of Americans continue to buy handguns for protection. This is the case, even though having a gun in one’s home puts all those who live there at dramatically greater risk of dying as a result of gun violence – and provides negligible deterrent benefit.

Of course, there is little talk of banning all guns in the United States; rather, restricting the ability of people to purchase them. However, even that is too high a mountain to climb.

For example, the gun used in the LAX shooting was a .223-caliber assault rifle, a weapon that exists for only one reason – to kill multiple numbers of people (a similarity it shares with virtually all guns). There really is no justifiable reason for such weapons to be in the hands of ordinary citizens. And yet, as Senator Dianne Feinstein noted Sunday on “Meet The Press”, it would be a virtual impossibility to pass a bill in Congress banning them.

It was seven months ago, after all, that the Senate blocked a measure to expand background checks on gun purchasers. That occurred the same week that a major American city was shut down because there was a wounded, unarmed, single terrorist on the loose.

In the wake of the Newtown school shooting that took the lives of 28 people, including 20 children, no major federal gun control regulation has been enacted. Meanwhile, two researchers who are compiling’s extraordinary and sobering gun death database estimate that more than 29,000 Americans have died from gun violence since that terrible day – a number dramatically higher than the more than 10,000 deaths officially reported (which, in itself, is a heartbreaking and appalling total).

There’s been new research indicating that 500 US children are killed, and 7,500 are hospitalized, every year from gunshot wounds. None of this brings real policy change. In fact, in state senate recall elections in Colorado, two Democratic legislators were defeated because of their support for an earlier state bill that had placed restrictions on gun ownership.

Quite simply, the unceasing death toll from gun violence continues unabated.

In a sense, we’re all complicit in the deep narcissism of gun-owners who demand that their absolutist definition of freedom (largely unencumbered access to firearms of all shapes and sizes) takes precedent over the carnage it causes every day in communities across America.

The irony of our divergent responses to terrorism and gun violence is that the shooting in LAX was, by any meaningful measure, an act of terrorism. According to a note found in the possession of the shooter, he made “a conscious decision to kill multiple TSA employees”. The note reportedly stated that he wanted to “instill fear into their traitorous minds”, and he allegedly “claimed the TSA treats Americans like terrorists even though all people aren’t equally dangerous”.

Now, of course, if the shooter had screamed “Allah Akbar” as he needlessly took the life of TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez, or if he had had links to an al-Qaida terror cell, there’d be no question about how to describe this incident. Moreover, there would almost certainly be a major policy response.

In fact, if this latest act of gun violence were described accurately as terrorism, it would perhaps lead to the same quick response that led to the creation of the TSA. How else to shake Americans and their elected leaders from their collective slumber over the menace of gun violence?

But don’t bet on it happening. This shooting, like the approximately 85 other acts of gun violence that take an American life every single day, will almost certainly lead to the same policy result to which we’ve become far too accustomed – even inured to – in this country.


But at least we’ll be safe from the terrorists. © Guardian News and Media 2013


Freedom Doesn’t Require Letting Insurance Companies Rip People Off

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, November 4, 2013 8:50 EST

When the whole “people’s plans are getting cancelled and they’re getting charged a lot more for the same plan!” lie started to fall apart, conservatives intent on creating a lot of noise about the ACA shifted gears and trotted out a new line: “We’re not free unless corporations can rip you off!” Of course, they don’t state it like that, but instead—while hypocritically accusing the President of lying—lie their heads off about what’s going on with the ACA’s requirements that insurance plans actually insure people. Here’s Jonah Goldberg trotting out a version of this lie:

    A better deal according to whom? Say I like my current car. The government says under some new policy I will be able to keep it and maybe even lower my car payments. But once the policy is imposed, I’m told my car now isn’t street-legal. Worse, I will have to buy a much more expensive car or be fined by the IRS. But, hey, it’ll be a much better car! Why, even though you live in Death Valley, your new car will have great snow tires and heated seats.

This is a lie by bad analogy. A better analogy is this: Imagine a system where, in order for cars to be street-legal, they are required to pass an inspection. They have to have four working tires, headlights and brake lights have to work, seat belts have to be functional, and the exhaust system has to be up to code. If your car doesn’t meet these requirements, you either have to spend a lot of money getting repairs or buy a new car, both of which are expensive options. Or, if you prefer not, you can take your chances getting fined by the police for driving a non-street-legal vehicle or elect to use public transportation, either of which means paying the government directly. No matter how you slice it, you need to get around and so you’re going to pay. You can either pay for a better car or you can give your money to the government.

Oh wait. That’s just the fucking system we have.

“But wah,” say conservatives, “One of the minimum requirements is that health plans cover maternity care, and I’m not going to have a baby! Also, I’m too stupid to understand what ‘risk pools’ are or how insurance works!”

The maternity care argument is trotted out for two reasons: 1) It taps into the misogynistic urge to blame women for everything and 2) It allows them to ignore the OTHER essential health benefits that plans are required to cover, because looking at those would be tantamount to admitting that people whose insurance plans are getting cancelled were getting seriously ripped off. Here is a sample of the things conservatives think your insurance company shouldn’t have to cover:

    2. Prescription Drugs

    Many plans offer drug coverage only as an option at extra cost. But under the law, all individual and small-group plans will cover at least one drug in every category and class in the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the official publication of approved medications in this country. Drug costs will also be counted toward out-of-pocket caps on medical expenses.
    3. Emergency Care

    You go to a hospital emergency room with a sudden and serious condition, such as the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke. The emergency visit is already covered under most plans. But under the reform law, emergency room visits do not require preauthorization, and you cannot be charged extra for an out-of-network visit.

Nice to know if you have an accident more than five miles away from home, you won’t be getting a $15,000 bill, right?

    5. Hospitalization

    Under the law, your insurer must cover your hospitalization, though you may have to pay 20 percent of the bill or more if you haven’t reached your out-of-pocket limit. Some hospitals charge $2,000 a day for room and board alone, and $20,000 with medical services, so those bills can soar. This year, medical costs will help bankrupt 650,000 American households — including many who thought they had decent insurance until diagnosed with a serious illness.

This is a big one. Three-quarters of people who have medical bankruptcies had insurance when they got sick. That’s the game the insurance company was playing. They were charging people nice, low premiums for insurance, knowing full well that if those people actually ever used their insurance, they’d find that they might as well not be insured at all. The story isn’t “Millions of people lost their insurance!” The story is “Millions of people just got protected from predatory insurance companies who told them they were safe but were setting them up for bankruptcy!”

If you don’t believe me, believe Consumer Reports, who analyzed one of the Obamacare scare stories about “rate shock”:

    Sounds terrible—except that Barrette’s expiring policy is a textbook example of a junk plan that isn’t real health insurance at all. If she had ever tried to use it for anything more than an occasional doctor visit or inexpensive prescription, she would have ended up with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical debt.

    Here are some of the gory details. (You can see the rest for yourself on this complete plan summary from the insurance company.)

        The plan pays only the first $50 of doctor visits, leaving Ms. Barrette to pay the rest. Specialist visits can cost several hundred dollars.
        Only the first $15 of a prescription is covered. Some prescriptions can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month
        The plan only pays for hospitalization for “complications of pregnancy,” which are unlikely given Ms. Barrette’s age and in any event only the first $50 is covered.
        It pays $50 for a mammogram that can cost several hundred dollars, and only pays $50 apiece for advanced imaging tests such as MRIs and CT scans and then only when used for osteoporosis screening.

    “She’s paying $650 a year to be uninsured,” Karen Pollitz, an insurance expert at the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, said. “I have to assume that she never really had to make much of a claim under this policy. She would have lost the house she’s sitting in if something serious had happened. I don’t know if she knows that.”

To stick with the car analogy, this is like forbidding Honda from selling you a piece of cardboard labeled “car” for $50. In order for your car to be a car, it has to have the wheels and the engine and whatnot. Yes, that’s more expensive, but if we just let people run around on the street in cardboard cars, the traffic fatality rate would be through the roof.

Here’s what Obamacare is actually doing: It’s setting up a situation where both people on the individual market and employees of bargain-seeking bosses are accessing the same level of insurance that people who have good benefits through good employers get. Jonathan Chait explains:

    The employer-based health-insurance system is much more popular than the individual market. It’s also much more redistributive. The 25-year-old male in the loading dock has to pay the same premiums as the diabetic 60-year-old in accounting. Is this injustice an important part of the political discourse? How often do you hear people complain about it?

That’s exactly it. The notion that it’s terrible for insurance plans to cover maternity costs because some people don’t have uteruses is never, ever trotted out to lambast employers who routinely purchase, with their bulk bargaining power, insurance that has benefits like that. That’s how insurance works: collectively. Conservative notably don’t complain about that unless they fear that the working poor are going to start getting insurance and then sitting next to you in the doctor’s office. It’s a completely bad faith whine. It’s like complaining about mandatory headlights on cars by saying, “But I only drive during the day!” It’s not an argument, but a tantrum from a child.

For what it’s worth, I’d like to remind everyone that one reason employers can often afford to offer high levels of insurance to employees is because they’re buying in bulk and can get a discount. The health care exchanges are set up to create similar levels of group buying power for the individual market. The main function of the right wing noise machine now is to try to derail efforts to start improving Obamacare by throwing as many wrenches into the system as  possible. They’re trying to keep your rates high by occupying the experts with this bullshit instead of allowing a discussion about ways to tighten up the exchanges so they drive rates even lower.


The utterly corrupt corporate media

November 04, 2013 01:00 PM

Media Machine-Guns Obamacare, Marvels At Blood Flowing Everywhere

By karoli

Jon Karl's childlike wonder at the mayhem media has wrought on Obamacare is precious, isn't it? At the beginning of Sunday's This Fantasy Week with George Stephanopoulis Roundtable segment, Maureen Dowd and Karl indulged themselves in a round of self-congratulation, ending with this from Karl, who should go stand in the corner for it:

    And the turnaround has been astounding. Think of where we were just a few weeks ago, the Republicans were blamed for a government shutdown that went on and on. And it was all this, you know, are the Republicans doomed to, you know, extinction? Poll numbers as low as you've ever seen. And now it's all -- that's over. The focus is on the president.

Why didn't he just make his glee plain, and ask Republicans for a raise at the same time? This wondrous bout of self-adulation is like a kid stealing candy from the corner store and when his parents question him about the candy in his pocket, raising his arms in wonder and saying "How did that get there?"

Seriously? Let's just review. We have every single media channel reporting and/or echoing false stories about how people are losing their plans and/or paying three times the price with zero fact-checking to drop a few cluster bombs into the debate, and Jon Karl marvels at the miraculous change in the narrative as if he and his pals and the editorial staffs and their bookers haven't had one damned thing to do with it? It was just...magic.

On this site alone, there are well over 100 posts on Obamacare published in the past month. I'm sick of writing about it. Every time I think maybe I can write about something else, the whacked mole pops up in a different place. We push back on the new lies, and more pop up until we have well over 100 posts in the past month pushing back on the lies being told in the media about the ACA. And Jon Karl says "Yay! Obamacare is bleeding all over Republican idiocy in the government shutdown! Isn't it amaaaaaazing?"

Is it any wonder the turnaround has been astounding? Do they have Frank Luntz on ABC's editorial staff now?

It's beyond shameful to see anyone calling themselves a journalist congratulating themselves for changing the narrative from Republicans' shameful and cynical government shutdown to the ACA. It's enough to make baby Jesus weep.

Where are the stories about what happens to people with pre-existing conditions without Obamacare?

Where are the stories about people getting access to affordable health insurance because of Obamacare?

Where are the stories about the people who died before they could get affordable health insurance?

Where are those stories, ABC? Who really gives a damn about Jonathan Karl bragging that he's as much of a right-wing shill as Rush Limbaugh and the rest of them? Not me. I want to know about the stories they're not telling.

If media told those stories, the turnaround would be astounding, and opinions would more closely resemble reality. Until they start telling them, I'm going to shame every damn one of them for behaving like little candy thieves instead of grownup journalists.


November 04, 2013 03:00 PM

How Cable News Mainstreams Outright Con Men Like Ralph Reed

By John Amato

Ralph Reed came through the ranks of conservatism through the College Republicans, which was headed by Jack Abramoff and Grover Norquist back in the 80's. He suddenly turned into a religious-right zealot during that time and then capitalized on the poll results he collected from Pat Robertson's failed presidential run in 1988 and then ran the faith-based caucus called the Christian Coalition.

His loyalty to Jack Abramoff never wavered and when he was caught lying to his coalition so he could reap in millions of dollars from the gaming industry as well as the Choctaws Indian tribe, disgrace followed.

    In 1999, Abramoff subcontracted Reed’s firm to generate opposition to attempts to legalize a state-sponsored lottery and video poker in Alabama, an effort that was bankrolled by the Choctaw Tribe in order to eliminate competition to its own casino in neighboring Mississippi. Reed promised that Century Strategies was “opening the bomb bays and holding nothing back” and his firm ultimately received $1.3 million from the Choctaws for this effort, which included engaging the Alabama chapter of the Christian Coalition, as well as influential right-wing figures such as James Dobson, to work to defeat the proposals.

    The strategy had one small problem: the Alabama Christian Coalition had an explicit policy that it “will not be the recipient of any funds direct or in-direct or any in-kind direct or indirect from gambling interests.” (Emphasis in original.) Knowing this, Reed and Abramoff worked to hide the source of the $850,000 paid to the Christian Coalition for its anti-gambling efforts by funneling money from the Choctaws through Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington, DC anti-tax organization headed by their old College Republican friend Grover Norquist. When asked why the tribe’s money had to be funneled through conduits such as ATR, a Choctaw representative stated it was because Reed did not want it known that casino money was funding his operation: “It was our understanding that the structure was recommended by Jack Abramoff to accommodate Mr. Reed’s political concerns. ”Nonetheless, Reed repeatedly assured the Christian Coalition that the funding for its work was not coming from gambling interests.

So why was he on Morning Joe and giving political advice? He's obviously a con man, who pilfered huge amounts of money while lying to the very people who made him politically.

Charles Pierce responds appropriately:

    Don't know if any of you saw it, but Morning Squint, the wake-up show on liberal network MSNBC, had an episode today that can reasonably called epic. There was a long segment on the new bag of gossip produced by the Double Haitch Boys. (Listening to Mika Brzezinski talk to Mark Halperin about politics was like watching a seal and a goat recite Shakespeare.)

    It appears that sources say Barack Obama may have had some moments of doubt during the campaign. There was some usual Obamacare goofery. And then, because the opinions of Jack Abramoff's sanctified bagman matter to somebody in the booking office, we had Ralph Reed giving sage political advice to the Republicans about how to get out of the ditch, as though he and his decades of Jesus-grifting hadn't helped driven it there in the first place.

    Let us be plain. Ralph Reed is a con-man who would sell his gray-haired granny to the Somali pirates for fifty cents worth of consulting fees. He has nothing worth contributing to the national dialogue. This should be plain by now to all but the deliberately dim. The people who put this mess together every morning are not as embarrassing as the allegedly important people who appear on it, and nowhere near as embarrassing as the people who take it seriously, some of whom rule us.

This type behavior by the media for many years now is helping to send this once great democracy down the tubes. Why do they do this? Why put on tainted people with absolutely no reputation to stand on? Kevin Baker was also thoroughly disgusted when he saw Reed making a comeback and wrote a great article about it:

The disgraced evangelical pretty boy is up to his old tricks. I can understand how the rubes get taken in by grifters like Ralph Reed, but what excuse does MSNBC have?

Remember when Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy were caught off air denigrating the choice of Sarah Palin for VP, only to then go live on air with opposite opinions?

Roger Ailes hired Oliver North as a political analyst, even though he illegally sold weapons to Iran in what was a huge case known as Iran-Contra. There are many, many more hucksters running around on television these days and unfortunately, they make great cash out of it while the nation suffers from the dissemination of their lies.

This has got to stop!


Food stamp cuts are ideological, not fiscal: Republicans make the poor pay to balance the budget

By Gary Younge, The Guardian
Monday, November 4, 2013 13:58 EST

During a discussion at the University of Michigan in 2010, the billionaire vice-chairman of Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway firm, Charles Munger, was asked whether the government should have bailed out homeowners rather than banks. “You’ve got it exactly wrong,” he said. “There’s danger in just shovelling out money to people who say, ‘My life is a little harder than it used to be.’ At a certain place you’ve got to say to the people, ‘Suck it in and cope, buddy. Suck it in and cope.’”

But banks, he insisted, need our help. It turns out that moral hazard – the notion that those who know the costs of their failure will be borne by others will become increasingly reckless – only really applies to the working poor.

“You should thank God” for bank bailouts, Munger told his audience. “Now, if you talk about bailouts for everybody else, there comes a place where if you just start bailing out all the individuals instead of telling them to adapt, the culture dies.”

In the five years since the financial crisis took hold, people have been sucking it in by the lungful and discovering how pitiful a coping strategy that is. In Michigan, the state where Munger spoke, black male life expectancy is lower than male life expectancy in Uzbekistan; in Detroit, the closest big city, black infant mortality is on a par with Syria (before the war).

As such, the crisis accelerated an already heinous trend of growing inequalities. Over a period of 18 years, America’s white working class – particularly women – have started dying younger. “Absent a war, genocide, pandemic, or massive governmental collapse, drops in life expectancy are rare,” wrote Monica Potts in the American Prospect last month. But this was a war on the poor. “Lack of access to education, medical care, good wages and healthy food isn’t just leaving the worst-off Americans behind. It’s killing them.”

This particular crisis, however, has also accentuated the contradictions between the claims long made for neoliberalism and the system’s ability to deliver on them. The “culture” of capitalism, to which Munger referred, did not die but thrived precisely because it was not forced to adapt, while working people – who kept it afloat through their taxes and now through cuts in public spending – struggle to survive. Given the broad framing of economic struggles in the west exacerbated by the crisis, this reality is neither new nor specific to the US. “Over the past 30 years the workers’ take from the pie has shrunk across the globe,” explains an editorial in the latest Economist. “The scale and breadth of this squeeze are striking … When growth is sluggish … workers are getting a smaller morsel of a smaller slice of a slow-growing pie.”

A few days before the bailout was passed, I quoted Lenin in these pages. He once argued: “The capitalists can always buy themselves out of any crises, as long as they make the workers pay.” What has been striking, particularly recently, has been the brazen and callous nature in which these payments have been extorted.

Last Friday, 47 million Americans had their food stamp benefits cut. These provide assistance to those who lack sufficient money to feed themselves and their families. Individuals lose $11 (£7) a month while a family of four will lose $36. That will save the public purse precious little – bombing Syria would have been far more costly – but will mean a great deal to those affected. “Before the cut, it was kind of an assumption you were going to the food bank anyway,” Lance Worth, of Washington state, told the Bellingham Herald. “I guess I’m just going to go $20 hungrier – aren’t I?”

The cut marks the lapse in stimulus package ushered in four years ago. But while the recession is officially over, the poverty it engendered remains. Government figures show one in seven Americans is food insecure. According to Gallup, in August, one in five said they have, at times during the last year, lacked money to buy food that they or their families needed. Both figures are roughly the same as when Obama was elected. This negligence will now be compounded by mendacity. Republicans propose further swingeing cuts to the food-stamp programme; Democrats suggest smaller cuts. The question is not whether the vulnerable will be hammered, but by how much.

The impetus behind these cuts are not fiscal but ideological. Republicans, in particular, claim the poor have it too easy. “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency,” claimed former Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. “That drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”

The notion that food “drains the will” while hunger motivates the ambitious would have more currency – not much, but more – if the right wasn’t simultaneously doing its utmost to drive down wages to a level where work provides no guarantee against hunger. In last week’s paper for the Economic Policy Institute, Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon, revealed the degree to which conservatives have been driving down wages, benefits and protections at a local level after their victory at the 2010 midterms.

He writes: “Four states passed laws restricting the minimum wage, four lifted restrictions on child labour, and 16 imposed new limits on benefits for the unemployed. With the support of the corporate lobbies, states also passed laws stripping workers of overtime rights, repealing or restricting rights to sick leave, and making it harder to sue one’s employer for race or sex discrimination.”

That’s why 40% of households on food stamps have at least one person working. And the states most aggressive in pursuing these policies, Lafer points out, had some of the smallest budget deficits in the country.

Immediately after Obama’s election in 2008, his chief of staff to be, Rahm Emmanuel, said: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” The crisis didn’t go to waste. But it is the right that has seized the opportunity. Not content with balancing the budget on the bellies of the hungry, it is also fattening the coffers of the wealthy on the backs of the poor.

Twitter: @garyyounge © Guardian News and Media 2013


Dick Dynasty II: The Elizabethan Era

By TBogg
Monday, November 4, 2013 18:28 EST

When we last checked in on la famiglia Cheney, family patriarch and Undead Thing Dick Cheney was hitting the gasbag shows and flogging his heart surgery book The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter Who Shoots You In the Face. Grande dame and soft-core lesbian fan-fic author Lynn Cheney was going Full Metal Carrie on  Alan Simpson at some Wyoming society event and, yes Wyoming does too have society events so stop laughing right this minute mister or be forever persona non grata at the annual Greater Laramie Sheepherder’s Embraceable Ewe Cotillion and Tractor Pull.

But what of daughter Liz’s  campaign to return, Odysseus-like, to her ancestral home in McLean, VA. as well as join the Senate as the distaff version  of Ted Cruz … but without the charm?

It seems that her campaign is bundling right along, although local Wyomitonians seem to be sitting on their wallets and letting them fancy pants out-of-state city-slickers waste their fool elitist dollars on the choice between either Daddy’s Little Deferment or her opponent, incumbent Mike Enzi (R-RINO But Not Really):

    Two different fundraising strategies are emerging in the increasingly bitter Republican primary battle for a Wyoming U.S. Senate seat between three-term incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi and his challenger Liz Cheney, but both are relying heavily on support from outside of the state.

    Washington insiders, including corporate political action committees, Senate colleagues and lobbyists, populate Enzi’s fundraising reports. Meanwhile, Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is counting on a contradictory mix of establishment Republican donors linked to the administration of President George W. Bush and her father, and tea party donors seeking to upend that very establishment.

    “What an interesting choice for voters back in Wyoming to make,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finance. “While they may want to represent Wyoming, the funding base for neither of them is representative of Wyoming.”

Let’s check out those donors:

    Through September, Enzi pulled in $1.6 million, with $1.2 million coming from PACs and just $343,877 coming from 352 individual donors giving at least $200 each, according to Federal Election Commission records. Thirty-two of Enzi’s colleagues in the Senate, including tea party favorite Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), contributed $280,053 from their leadership PACs to help him win reelection. He has also raised $60,942 from 64 registered lobbyists.

    Cheney, on the other hand, has declined to accept PAC money and raised a little more than $1 million through September, with $914,018 coming from 396 individual donors giving more than $200 each, according to FEC records. Overall, donors with connections to the Bush administration or with long links to the Cheney family provided at least $273,850 to the Cheney campaign.

    These donors include major Bush administration figures such as Dick Cheney himself, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney chief of staff David Addington and former Commerce Secretary Don Evans. Major Bush bundlers giving to the Cheney bid include Richard DeVos, former Ambassador Sam Fox, Lewis Eisenberg, August Busch III, T. Boone Pickens and Wayne Berman.

When you think about it, purchasing a candidate in Wyoming is the best way to get the most game-changing bang  for your political buck because a media dollar goes pretty far in an otherwise negligible state with a population slightly smaller than Las Vegas.  But the payoff is pretty sweet,  as we recently saw, since  one junior senator has the ability to shut the government down by riling up the rubes,  to say nothing of the ability to  block every appointment made by the President.

And, with a six year term, it’s not hard to imagine the damage that one person, accountable only to a small group of corporate donors, can do when they set their mind to it…

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11/05/2013 01:22 PM

Et Tu, UK?: Anger Grows over British Spying in Berlin

First it was the US -- and now it turns out the UK might have been spying from its embassy in Berlin, too. Officials at Germany's Foreign Ministry responded Tuesday by inviting Britain's ambassador for a lecture.

Reacting to allegations that yet another close ally might be spying on its leaders from an embassy in Berlin, Germany's Foreign Ministry invited Britain's ambassador to a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the allegations. The invitation had been requested by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

During the meeting, the head of the ministry's European affairs department informed the ambassador that "eavesdropping on communications inside the offices of a diplomatic mission would violate international law," a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. The ministry did not provide addition details about the meeting.

The revelations about further alleged spying have rocked the political establishment in Berlin this week. The London-based Independent newspaper revealed Monday that British intelligence had established a "secret listening post" in the British Embassy like the one recently revealed by SPIEGEL to be in the US Embassy on the same large block. The British post, like the American one, is located near the German parliament, the Reichstag, and was disclosed in the trove of data leaked by American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Annoyance in Berlin

Tuesday's developments come one week after the Foreign Ministry ordered the US ambassador to discuss revelations in the NSA scandal that the American intelligence agency had been monitoring Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone communications for years. Since then, the ministry has been particularly sensitive to new developments in the affair. The latest report is unlikely to have the same impact as those of spying on Merkel and, indeed, an invitation for a meeting at the Foreign Ministry does not have the kind of strong diplomatic associations that being ordered to appear does. It will nevertheless send the message to officials in London that politicians in Berlin are annoyed.

According to the Independent, the British eavesdropping equipment is likely housed on embassy grounds in a white cylindrical, tent-like structure that has been there since the embassy opened in 2000. The equipment is reportedly able to intercept mobile phone and Wi-Fi signals as well as "long-distance communications across the German capital," presumably including in the Reichstag and Merkel's nearby Chancellery.

The so-called "concealed collection system," the paper continues, is operated by a small staff whose "true mission is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility." Likewise, given the location of the equipment, the paper posits that it is unlikely that the operation did not intercept information from Chancellor Merkel.

'Completely Unacceptable'

The revelation has the potential to cause another deep rift between Germany and a close ally. The news that the United States was spying on Merkel's cellphone prompted angry reactions from German leaders, including a furious phone call from Merkel to US President Barack Obama, and discussions about sanctions and new anti-spying rules directed against the Americans. When contacted by the British newspaper, representatives from both the GCHQ, the British spying agency, and the government of Prime Minister David Cameron declined to comment.

German politicians across the political spectrum have responded to these fresh allegations with fresh anger and demands that Berlin increase its counterespionage activities.

Wolfgang Bosbach, a parliamentarian with the Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), told Berlin daily Tagesspiegel that "the latest developments show that we need to sign a 'no-spy' agreement with the United Kingdom, as well," adding, "such full-blown spying is completely inacceptable and must be dealt with."

Hans-Peter Uhl, a parliamentarian with the Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU's Bavarian sister party, was more restrained, emphasizing to Tagesspiegel that Germany "should have the goal of developing techniques to protect our data."

Meanwhile, Thomas Oppermann, the Social Democratic chairman of the Bundestag's parliamentary control committee, which has monitoring oversight for intelligence activities in the Germany, said, "As sad as this may be, in the future we will have to assume that we are being spied on by our own friends. Trust is good, but checks are better."

Jan Albrecht, a member of the European Parliament with the environmentalist Green Party who specializes in civil rights and data protection, told the Independent: "This is hardly in the spirit of European cooperation. We are not enemies."


11/05/2013 01:48 PM

Free Press?: Editor Laments 'Retrogressive' Government Action

Interview By Christoph Scheuermann

The Guardian has played a key role in exposing the intelligence agency excesses revealed in documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden. Editor Alan Rusbridger discusses his work and the mounting pressure by the British government to silence the leaks.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Rusbridger, are you a danger to the United Kingdom?

Rusbridger: Am I a danger? No. I think the United Kingdom ought to be rather relieved to have the Guardian because this is obviously a very worrying loss for spy agencies in Great Britain and the United States. I think they are worried that they seem to keep these large bits and pieces secure. So they've lost control of a large amount of material. Luckily for them, for the last four and a half months, the Guardian has been filtering these documents in an incredibly responsible way. This is what they ought to be thankful for.

SPIEGEL: The British government said last week that the Guardian damages national security.

Rusbridger: Yes, it's an easy punch to throw at a newspaper because they don't know how to say what the damage is. So many members of parliament say we behaved unwisely or irresponsibly, but none of these members of parliament has ever come here to find out what we have done. And they never say which stories they are worried about or which they would rather parliament or the public didn't know about. So it would be an easier discussion to have if they said it's this story or this paragraph here. I think if members of parliament want to say you shouldn't have published this story or that paragraph in that story, then you can have a proper debate. But I think it's not very grown-up just to say 'You're irresponsible.'

SPIEGEL: Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron even threatened "tougher measures." What could these measures be?

Rusbridger: The DA-notice (Defense Advisory Notice) system (in Great Britain) is a voluntary system in which the press and the government have a kind of safe zone in which they can talk about stories. But it's not a system the prime minister can use to stop a story. I think he maybe doesn't understand what the system is. Other measures could be the police, a range of criminal laws or civil injunctions. It is kind of an 18th-century idea of how you deal with the press.

SPIEGEL: What is the worst-case scenario that you are preparing for?

Rusbridger: Any form of court action which tries to prevent us from running stories would be the worst. But there are other copies (of the Snowden material). We have been working with the New York Times, and if they want to come and march in here or stop us, or arrest me, it won't stop anything.

SPIEGEL: At the end of July, some of your colleagues destroyed hard drives in the presence of the intelligence service. Did you feel uncomfortable sending journalists downstairs with angle grinders and drills?

Rusbridger: I felt very uncomfortable, but the alternative was to let them have it. I felt that a line had been crossed in which the state first of all was the arbiter of how much discussion was allowable. I don't think it's for the state to physically and under threat of law smash up your source material in order to stop you writing. I thought it was a very retrogressive thing for the government to be doing. It didn't make much difference to our reporting, which made it all the more pointless.

SPIEGEL: There was no other possibility than to destroy computers?

Rusbridger: They had anxieties about the security of this building. I mean, we did have 24-hours security outside the room and no electronics inside it. But they said it wasn't good enough. I'm slightly mystified by that argument. I would have thought, if that was their concern they would say, "Well, can we come and have a look in New York, can we go to Rio to Glenn Greenwald, can we go to Berlin to filmmaker Laura Poitras?"

SPIEGEL: Why did David Miranda, Greenwald's partner, fly from Berlin to Rio via London and not directly from Frankfurt? He could have spared himself all the trouble he had at the airport in London.

Rusbridger: I don't know. I wouldn't have advised that, but I didn't know his travel plans.

SPIEGEL: How do you decide in general what to print and what not to?

Rusbridger: We were not going to go on a big fishing expedition. We decided on the stories we were not going to look at. We were not going to look at anything that is about operational details. I am sure there were lots of lovely stories about Afghanistan and Iraq; we just didn't look at them because this wouldn't have been why Snowden gave us these documents. In the end, there were stories which leaped out because of the public interest, and because these were new systems of mass surveillance that were previously unknown.

SPIEGEL: How would you describe the Guardian's working relationship with the intelligence agencies?

Rusbridger: The Americans tend to be more approachable, more open; they would say more on the record. They are more used to having these kinds of conversations and negotiations over material. You can ring the individual agencies (in the US). Sometimes they don't want to say anything, but sometimes they do say, "We'd rather you didn't use this particular story; we'd like to give you some extra context." With Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), it's more difficult. All British journalists find them the most secretive and the least willing to help. So it's much easier to have a helpful conversation in America than it is here. There is a story that we put to GCHQ last night where they just said, "Don't use it." And we said, "Thank you, do you want to say anything else?"

SPIEGEL: It's a strange world for spies, isn't it? The technology that so excites them is also virtually impossible to contain.

Rusbridger: It happened twice in the last three years that a very junior person has been able to read and escape with huge amounts of data. And I think GCHQ were shocked at the thought that a 29-year-old living in Hawaii could look straight into the GCHQ wiki. I think they should worry about their own security before worrying about the Guardian's.

SPIEGEL: Have the agencies become greedier in terms of information?

Rusbridger: I think it's just what (software) engineers do. We work with engineers here, and if they are good, they constantly come up with new ways of doing things. We can put a micro chip in this mobile phone, we can put a micro chip in that voice recorder and we can put a micro chip in this pen. Thus, law gets more and more stretched. The question is: How do you meaningfully oversee what they are going do? This is about oversight.

SPIEGEL: Your critics like to point out that spying is what spies are supposed to do.

Rusbridger: I think that debate is changing. In the US, Senator Dianne Feinstein came out saying we didn't know about this stuff. Secretary of State John Kerry says they seem to have gone too far. I think people and politicians are now thinking, "Well, that does look like an agency that is going beyond what everybody imagined it was doing."

SPIEGEL: Do you see the story getting more attention in the UK?

Rusbridger: A couple of days ago, the boss of the MI5 (Britain's domestic intelligence agency) came out and complained about the way we were reporting the story. He didn't actually name the Guardian in his speech, but he pre-briefed the name of the paper. I assume the government wanted to try and make the discussion around the Guardian, so they don't have to talk about the issue. I am not sure if it was such a wise tactic in the long run. People are now discussing the debate itself, and I think it's impossible for Britain to be insulated from the enormous wave in America and the enormous wave in Germany and France and Spain and Scandinavia.

SPIEGEL: Why did Snowden approach the Guardian in the first place?

Rusbridger: The Guardian is an outsider newspaper. It started in Manchester and didn't come to London until the 1960s. The other thing is that, five years ago, we decided to go digital first and we decided we want to be open to the multitude of people who are publishing digitally. So we hired someone like Glenn Greenwald, whom I think other papers simply wouldn't have hired. Snowden was thinking, "I want to take material to journalists who I can trust and who are well-known." So he approached Greenwald, Laura Poitras and the Guardian as an enormous news organization with international reach.

SPIEGEL: Are you selling more papers now?

Rusbridger: I've been doing this for long enough that I can be a bit cynical about these figures. With WikiLeaks, we went up and then down again. I do think it sort of gives an impression of a paper and its values, which has a long-term benefit.

SPIEGEL: Has your use of technology changed?

Rusbridger: We do still use Gmail here for most things, but not the most sensitive stuff. For anything to do with this story that is really sensitive, we use a couple of methods that Snowden has taught us.

SPIEGEL: Do you find it difficult not to get paranoid?

Rusbridger: My Facebook profile was altered. I don't know by whom. But we came across a GCHQ department in which one of the things they do is exactly these kinds of things. On my profile it suddenly said that my favorite film was "Die Hard." I normally work with the blinds down because these (GCHQ) people who came into my office jokingly said, "Our guys will be in those flats" (opposite the office). It was one of those English jokes. The guys who came in here told us enough about these techniques, and I thought, "If they are monitoring me, I probably ought to work with the curtains down." So I don't use email for sensitive stuff; I don't sit in rooms with phones if I want to say something sensitive. Life has changed a bit. But it is very difficult to lead a life that is not digital.


David Miranda lawyers to argue that Heathrow detention was unlawful

Partner of former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald had his rights violated by detention, lawyers will say at high court

Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent, Wednesday 6 November 2013 10.13 GMT   

Lawyers for David Miranda, partner of the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, are at the high court on Wednesday to argue that his nine-hour detention by police at Heathrow airport in the summer was unlawful.

The claim challenges controversial powers used under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, maintains that Miranda was not involved in terrorism and says that his right to freedom of expression was curtailed.

The Brazilian national was stopped as he passed through Heathrow airport on 18 August. He was in transit between Berlin, where he had met the film-maker, Laura Poitras who has been involved in breaking revelations based on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and Rio de Janeiro.

Miranda's lawyers claim that the Metropolitan police misused schedule 7 and that his detention was a violation of his human rights. They have sought information about why Miranda was stopped and why his laptop, phone and electronic equipment were seized.

The legal action is against both the home secretary and the commissioner of the Metropolitan police. Lawyers for both the police and Home Office argue the Brazilian was stopped because of concerns about national security and terrorism.

A final draft of the police's internal port circulation sheet (PCS), which formally set out the reasons for Miranda's detention, said that "intelligence indicates that Miranda is likely to be involved" in espionage activity that had the potential to "act against the interests of UK national security". Disclosure of the material he was carrying, it said, fell within the definition of terrorism.

The PCS document, drawn up in consultation with the intelligence services, also said: "We assess that Miranda is knowingly carrying material, the release of which would endanger people's lives.

"Additionally the disclosure, or threat of disclosure, is designed to influence a government, and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism and as such we request that the subject is examined under schedule 7."

At the start of the hearing lawyers for the Home Office said they accepted that among items examined by police there was journalistic material.

Stephen Kovats QC, for the Home Office, told the court: "We now do not deny that amongst material that Mr Miranda was carrying is journalistic material … material that has been worked upon by a journalist with a view to publication."

He added: "We do not understand that raw Snowden data is journalistic material."

The hearing is expected to last two days.

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« Reply #9786 on: Nov 06, 2013, 06:45 AM »

11/05/2013 04:39 PM

Coalition Talks: Parties Take On Rent Hikes and Dual Citizenship

Coalition negotiations between German Chancellor Merkel's conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats are beginning to yield results. The parties agreed Monday night to plan for capping rent hikes, with dual citizenship and a tougher prostitution law on the agenda for this week.

As official coalition negotiations continue in Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) seem to be approaching agreement on several key issues, including a long-debated federal law that would prevent excessive rent hikes.

Late Monday night, party negotiators agreed on a "package for affordable housing," which includes tax incentives for residential developers and legislation that allows states to cap rents in areas with big increases. Landlords would be prevented from raising the rent on a newly let apartment to higher than 10 percent above the local price level. The proposed legislation is intended to protect low- and middle-income tenants from exploitation by profit-hungry investors. But critics argue it will do nothing to slow down gentrification, as wealthy newcomers will still be chosen over low-income residents for housing in desirable neighborhoods.

There was plenty of incentive for the parties to come together against excessive rent increases, given that about half of German voters rent their houses or apartments. But some other issues remain split across party lines. The conservatives still have not agreed to consider a law enabling dual citizenship, which the Social Democrats have named as one of their "non-negotiable demands."

'Dormant Citizenship'

But the topic will take center stage this week when Merkel's integration minister, Maria Böhmer, presents a proposal that would introduce the concept of "dormant citizenship." Under the proposed model, a resident who wants to become a German citizen would not automatically have to give up their prior nationality. Instead, one's country of residency would determine which of the two citizenships is active.

There remains a sizeable proportion of conservatives opposed to the plan, including Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), who objects to any change in Germany's citizenship laws. But they may ultimately have no choice but to compromise on the subject or risk derailing negotiations toward creating a so-called grand coalition government.

In a speech on Saturday, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel made it clear the party could still reject the alliance if its core conditions are not met.

"If we have good reasons, we can ultimately say no and accept new elections," Gabriel told party members in Berlin. "If, for example, they say no to dual citizenship and re-regulating the labor market, those are good reasons to say at the end, 'No, we won't do it.'"

Road Toll for Foreigners?

A proposed road toll that would effectively be levied only on foreign drivers is also on the agenda this week after Brussels gave its unexpected backing to the idea last Friday. Under the CSU proposal, all cars would face a charge to use Germany's motorways. But German drivers would recoup the costs with a separate tax credit, meaning all revenue raised by the toll would come from foreign drivers. The CSU, the sister party of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), made the road toll a condition for it to join a new coalition government.

The CDU has long been opposed to the levy, which it thought violated European Union equality legislation, and Merkel said during a television debate in September that under her leadership, "there will be no car toll." But after the EU's traffic commissioner signaled the plan might be possible, the issue is now being discussed in coalition negotiations, and Germany's Ministry of Transport is currently evaluating what models would be legally possible.

Cracking Down on Forced Prostitution

The parties have also agreed to come together on a new prostitution law that would crack down on human trafficking and significantly tighten requirements for brothels in Germany.

"The brutal exploitation of prostitutes that takes place on a massive scale in Germany today must be stopped," said SPD deputy chair Manuela Schwesig on Monday. Several conservatives also expressed their support for stricter laws, though both political camps ruled out a full prohibition of prostitution, which was formally legalized in 2002.

The conservatives, consisting of Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Bavarian CSU, emerged victorious in September elections but fell just short of the votes required to govern alone.

The two sides hope to conclude negotiations by Nov. 26, after which the SPD will put the deal to a vote by all 472,000 members of the party. The result of the vote is due on Dec. 15. If it passes, the new government could officially be sworn in by Christmas.


11/05/2013 12:00 PM

Economic Doghouse: Complaints about German Exports Unfounded

By Alexander Jung, Christian Reiermann and Gregor Peter Schmitz

The US government and European Commission are complaining bitterly about Germany's hefty trade surplus and export orientation. But such criticism fails to consider how much the country's partners benefit from its competitive strength.

Marco Buti, the most senior member of EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn's staff, isn't exactly viewed as a friend of Germany in Brussels. The chief economist of the European Commission, a native of Italy, has a tendency to blame many euro-zone ills on the nature and effects of German economic policy.

Sometimes he is troubled by austerity dictates from Berlin meant to clean up the finances of crisis-ridden countries. And sometimes he feels that Germany is too stingy because it's unwilling to spend more to jump-start the economy.

Buti is especially irked by the imbalances within the euro zone. In his view of the world, countries like Germany are partly responsible for the turbulence in southern countries because they flood them with goods.

Buti will have yet another opportunity to call the Germans to order next week when, on Nov. 15, the European Commission releases its early warning report. The report identifies those countries whose deficit or surplus is particularly large in relation to economic output.

Germany will be among those at the top of the list. If the European Commission sees this as a problem, it can subject the country to an "in-depth analysis," which could be followed by a reprimand. The office in charge of the procedure is Buti's Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs.

An old debate is returning with a vengeance. The German government has been pilloried for years because Germany's exports allegedly disrupt global economic peace. The complaint was voiced by Christine Lagarde, then France's finance minister but now head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as a long line of US Treasury secretaries. Current Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew took the same line only last week. According to a report from his department, Germany was identified as a top threat, even ahead of China.

The charge is always the same: The Germans have acquired an unreasonable advantage by one-sidedly focusing on exports, and now they are flooding foreign markets with their products. At the same time, this view holds that the Germans live and consume below their means, which is detrimental to foreign companies because there is less demand for their products in Germany.

At first glance, the numbers seem to prove the critics right. Last year, Germany's export surplus amounted to 7 percent of annual economic output. It is expected to be about the same this year and only slightly lower next year. This forces the European Commission to intervene because the average value over the course of three years cannot exceed 6 percent.

Germany Bridles at Criticism

The only question is: Whose fault is it?

German government representatives turn the argument around, saying that the problems in Southern Europe are not Germany's fault. On the contrary, says Berlin, countries like Greece, Italy and Spain have only themselves to blame for their troubles because they spent years living beyond their means and at the expense of their own competitiveness.

This explains the harsh rejection of worldwide criticism by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). According to a Finance Ministry memo, "The German current account surplus offers no reason for concern for Germany, the euro zone or the world economy." Berlin is pursuing a course of "growth-friendly consolidation," the memo to Schäuble continues, and there are no imbalances "that would require a correction of our economic and fiscal policy."

In their expert opinion, the Finance Ministry officials note that the German current account surplus relative to those of euro-zone partner countries was cut in half between 2007 and 2012, from 4.4 to 2.2 percent. By comparison, trade surpluses with the United States and other world regions grew. The euro zone's foreign trade balance is generally balanced. Indeed, Schäuble's experts believe they deserve praise for this rather than rebuke.

But that is unlikely to happen. When IMF First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton met with German Finance Ministry officials last week, he proposed that Germany make a commitment to reduce its current account surplus. He also wanted the German government to set a fixed target that could not be exceeded in the future.

For Finance Ministry officials, this approaches the sort of hubris one would expect from a planned economy. They also like to point out that there isn't much they can do about the surpluses because they simply lack the necessary leverage. No one in the world is being forced to buy German cars or machines, they note, so should the German government ban exporting? "This is the sort of thing that didn't even work under socialism," says one official.

Suggestions that the Germans stimulate imports are no less unrealistic as the government also lacks important tools to influence them. Germans will buy more foreign goods if they earn more money. But this isn't something the government can dictate since, in Germany, employers and trade unions negotiate wage levels without any government interference.

Besides, the trend has already been going in the right direction for some time. "Germany exhibits robust wage growth," reads the Finance Ministry document. This has led to higher consumption of growth drivers, it continues, which also benefits the economies of partner countries. In addition, companies are investing more, which strengthens the supplier industry in the euro zone.

Moreover, the new grand coalition currently being negotiated by the CDU, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has already agreed to increase both government investment and the minimum wage. Both stimulate domestic demand, which should put critics at least somewhat at ease.

Benefits More Widespread than Believed

Politicians in Berlin and scholars alike wonder whether criticism of the special German business model is justified. Should Germany have to be punished for having such a successful export economy?

"That would be absurd," says economist Holger Görg, a professor at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IFW), in northern Germany. After all, Görg argues, no one can be forbidden from buying German goods. Germany was still a problem child in the 1990s, he explains, but then it regained its strength. "Should that be held against the country today?" Görg asks incredulously. The real issue, he says, is why countries like Spain or Italy haven't managed to become more competitive.

The crisis-ridden countries can also thoroughly benefit when German exports are flourishing. Products from other countries, often from deficit countries, can be found in almost every car, machine and chemical product with the "Made in Germany" label.

According to a study by Munich-based Ifo economic think tank, the share of these inputs in German exports rose from 13.5 percent in 1995 to 20 percent in 2008. Compared with their foreign competitors, German companies even exported a disproportionately high share of these inputs, a new study by the IFW concludes. Relatively many components come from Central and Eastern Europe. Their share of German industry is almost three times as high as in Spain, France or Italy. BMW, for example, sources almost half of the parts for cars built in Germany from abroad.

In addition, German companies create growth and jobs in other countries with their overseas plants. Volkswagen, with its manufacturing facility in Portugal, is the country's largest foreign investor. At the BMW plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, about 7,000 employees produce almost 280,000 vehicles each year, two-thirds of which are sold abroad.

The German economy's export orientation has developed over the generations and wouldn't be as easy to alter as the critics would like. Highly specialized family-owned businesses have matured into global players that generate a large share of their sales and profits abroad. This explains why industry accounts for a relatively large 22 percent of the German economy.

Eurocrats in Brussels contradict the impression that Germany's surpluses are already a case for prejudgment. "We are only at the beginning of the process," says a Commission expert. He notes that surpluses are not generally a reason for concern, and that the Brussels agency is aware that Germany must remain the Continent's engine of growth. Although there has long been a push for more domestic demand, says the expert, there are certainly positive signs emerging in this regard.

This is just what Schäuble and his officials like to hear. "Fortunately," says a senior official, "there are people besides Marco Buti."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #9787 on: Nov 06, 2013, 06:53 AM »

11/06/2013 12:22 PM

Munich Find: Allies Briefly Confiscated Artworks after WWII

New details continue to emerge following the astounding discovery of more than 1,400 valuable paintings in a Munich apartment. Some of the works, including unknown masterpieces by Dix and Chagall, were reportedly confiscated by the Allies after World War II and then returned to the collector in 1950.

Some of the spectacular collection of paintings found by police in a Munich apartment appear to have been confiscated after the Second World War by Allied forces and returned five years later, German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Wednesday. The newspaper based the finding on transcripts of interviews with the art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, whose son Cornelius resides in the apartment where the paintings were discovered.

A list attached to one of these transcripts provides information about more than 100 pieces in Gurlitt's private collection, which was stored at the time at a United States collection point in the southwestern German town of Wiesbaden. The list included some of the paintings that were presented at a press conference in Augsburg on Tuesday, including a previously unknown self-portrait by Otto Dix, the painting "Two Riders on the Beach" by Max Liebermann and a painting by Marc Chagall.

According to the newspaper report, Hildebrand Gurlitt successfully lobbied the Allies to return the artworks. His private collection, minus two pieces, was allegedly returned to him in 1950.

Questions Remain

At the press conference in Augsburg on Thursday, authorities provided new details about the paintings, which were discovered by Munich police in 2012 and first brought to public attention by the German newsmagazine Focus over the weekend. Berlin art historian Meike Hoffmann also confirmed that the collection includes previously unknown masterpieces, such as the Dix and Chagall paintings, as well as other Modernist works that had been seized by the Nazis as part of their purge of "degenerate art" or sold on the cheap by owners desperate to flee Hitler's regime.

Many questions remain regarding the historic find. It's unclear to whom the paintings originally belonged or how they came into the possession of Hildebrand Gurlitt. Germany's Central Council of Jews is now demanding rapid investigation.

German authorities have also yet to explain why they kept last year's find secret. Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that it may be due to diplomatic and legal complications, especially claims for restitution from around the world.


Otto Dix works in Munich hoard speak truth to Hitler

First glimpses of pictures by 'degenerate' modernist artist reflect grotesque carnival of lies and hypocrisies of German New Order

Jonathan Jones   
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 November 2013 17.18 GMT          

The first glimpses of pictures by Otto Dix recovered in the €1bn Munich art hoard discovery show why he upset Adolf Hitler so much.

It is no surprise that Dix was pilloried by the Nazis as a "degenerate" artist or that his works have turned up in a hoard apparently connected with the Exhibition of Degenerate Art staged in Munich in 1937 to demonise modernism.

In some ways, Dix is the very definition of degenerate art – perhaps his paintings even helped to inspire the term. For with his relentless portrayal of characters who seem to inhabit a Germany consisting entirely of brothels, cafes and cabaret clubs, he delights in the seamy side of the nation. Hitler's Germany found no reflection of its banal self-image in his spicy pluralism, nothing heimlich (secret) in the visceral carnival that is his art.

In his newly discovered self-portrait that was hidden from the world for so long, Dix sees himself as one of the sleazy sophisticates who inhabit his art. He looks like the slick city killer Mackie Messer in the song by his contemporaries Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill from their cynical masterpiece The Threepenny Opera.

Dix kills the lies people live by. He is one of the most subversive and satirical of modern artists, a visionary who recorded the chaos of German life on the eve of Nazism. He sees the world through a grotesque lens. His eye for people is precise yet extravagant. This wonderful painter took modernism as his licence to show his time and place the monstrous reflection of its crimes.

Dix fought in the first world war, winning the Iron Cross, but saw things he never forgot. Hideous visions of the killed, the disfigured, the dismembered fill his landscapes of barbed wire and muddy trenches. The same ruined bodies haunt his scenes of civilian life.

In Berlin in 1919, the Dada movement responded to the broken spirit of Germany, fought over by extremists, by cutting up photos to reflect society's crisis in splintered totems of confusion. Dix did this too but he did not need to use found objects or photos to evoke the modern world's violence. His brush cut, knife-like, through society's foibles.

It is superficial to see Dix through 21st-century eyes simply as someone victimised by Hitler because he was "modern". Indeed the story of modernism in Germany is very distinctive. French cubism looks perfectionist beside the more street-level disorder of Dix. While modern styles set him free, he uses this freedom to tell the truth of economic crisis. Money becoming worthless, the rise of the right – his extreme eye sees history with utter lucidity.

He is not modernist in his technique but in his grisly contempt for bourgeois society. His flesh puppets fill scenes of high life infused with the seedy. Cubism gives him the power to monster Germans.

In other words, he truly is degenerate – gloriously so. Together with his fellow Weimar Republic artist Georg Grosz, he shows sins, hypocrisies, lies, illusions, crimes peeping out in the poor skin, jutting noses, monocles and cigars of his victims.

The works by him found in the Munich hoard typify his free, furious style. If this discovery brings Dix into the limelight, Cornelius Gurlitt will do something worthwhile for world culture in spite of himself. For it is evident, just from these pictures, why Dix upset Hitler. He told the truth. He showed the eccentric, messy, unkempt stuff of life. His pictures live in their gross energy. They give delight even when they condemn their subjects.The fury of Dix is perversely joyous. Too joyous, too true, to be tolerated by Hitler's New Order.


11/06/2013 12:22 PM

Munich Find: Allies Briefly Confiscated Artworks after WWII

New details continue to emerge following the astounding discovery of more than 1,400 valuable paintings in a Munich apartment. Some of the works, including unknown masterpieces by Dix and Chagall, were reportedly confiscated by the Allies after World War II and then returned to the collector in 1950.

Some of the spectacular collection of paintings found by police in a Munich apartment appear to have been confiscated after the Second World War by Allied forces and returned five years later, German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Wednesday. The newspaper based the finding on transcripts of interviews with the art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, whose son Cornelius resides in the apartment where the paintings were discovered.

A list attached to one of these transcripts provides information about more than 100 pieces in Gurlitt's private collection, which was stored at the time at a United States collection point in the southwestern German town of Wiesbaden. The list included some of the paintings that were presented at a press conference in Augsburg on Tuesday, including a previously unknown self-portrait by Otto Dix, the painting "Two Riders on the Beach" by Max Liebermann and a painting by Marc Chagall.

According to the newspaper report, Hildebrand Gurlitt successfully lobbied the Allies to return the artworks. His private collection, minus two pieces, was allegedly returned to him in 1950.

Questions Remain

At the press conference in Augsburg on Thursday, authorities provided new details about the paintings, which were discovered by Munich police in 2012 and first brought to public attention by the German newsmagazine Focus over the weekend. Berlin art historian Meike Hoffmann also confirmed that the collection includes previously unknown masterpieces, such as the Dix and Chagall paintings, as well as other Modernist works that had been seized by the Nazis as part of their purge of "degenerate art" or sold on the cheap by owners desperate to flee Hitler's regime.

Many questions remain regarding the historic find. It's unclear to whom the paintings originally belonged or how they came into the possession of Hildebrand Gurlitt. Germany's Central Council of Jews is now demanding rapid investigation.

German authorities have also yet to explain why they kept last year's find secret. Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that it may be due to diplomatic and legal complications, especially claims for restitution from around the world.


11/05/2013 05:07 PM

75 Years Later: How the World Shrugged Off Kristallnacht

By Klaus Wiegrefe

In the days surrounding Nov. 9, 1938, the Nazis committed the worst pogrom Germany had seen since the Middle Ages. To mark the incident's 75th anniversary, an exhibition in Berlin gathers previously unknown reports by foreign diplomats, revealing how the shocking events prompted little more than hollow condemnation.

Consul-General Robert Townsend Smallbones had already seen much of the world. He had been in Angola, Norway and Croatia, and he had spent eight years in Germany with the British diplomatic corps. Despite the Nazi dictatorship, the 54-year-old held Germans in high esteem. They were "habitually kind to animals, to children, to the aged and infirm. They seemed to me to have no cruelty in their makeup," Smallbones wrote in a report to the British Foreign Office.

Given his impression of the Germans, the representative of the British Empire was all the more astonished by what he experienced in early November 1938. In Paris, Herschel Grünspan, a 17-year-old Jewish refugee from the northern German city of Hanover, had shot the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in an act of protest against Hitler's policies regarding the Jews. At first, the Nazis only hunted down Jews in the Hesse region of Germany, surrounding Frankfurt. But, after Rath's death on Nov. 9, the pogroms spread throughout the German Reich, where synagogues were burned, Jewish shop windows were smashed and thousands were taken to concentration camps and mistreated.

Smallbones reported from Frankfurt that Jews had been taken to a large building and forced to kneel and place their heads on the ground. After some of them had vomited, Smallbones writes, the "guards removed the vomit by taking the culprit by the scruff of the neck and wiping it away with his face and hair." According to Smallbones' account, after a few hours, the victims were taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where many were tortured and a few beaten to death. The prisoners were even forced to urinate into each other's mouths. This was one of the details Smallbones learned from a golfing partner, a German Jew, after the latter's release from Buchenwald.

"I flattered myself that I understood the German character," the consul-general wrote, but added that he had not expected this "outbreak of sadistic cruelty."

The pogroms in November 1938 lasted several days, although history books often refer to the event merely as one "Night of the Broken Glass" (Kristallnacht) because Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels announced on the radio on Nov. 10 that the excesses had ended. Experts estimate that up to 1,500 people died in the days surrounding Nov. 9. It was the worst pogrom in Germany since the Middle Ages.

Gathering Contemporary Diplomatic Accounts

This week marks the 75th anniversary of what Leipzig-based historian Dan Diner has called the "catastrophe before the catastrophe." This prompted the German Foreign Ministry to take the unusual step of asking 48 countries that had diplomatic missions in Germany in 1938 to search their archives for reports on the November pogrom.

For months, the Foreign Ministry has been receiving copies of historical documents previously unknown to experts. Beginning next Monday, the Foreign Ministry and the Berlin Centrum Judaicum will display a selection of the documents at the New Synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse, in an exhibition titled "From the Inside to the Outside: The 1938 November Pogroms in Diplomatic Reports from Germany."

Despite the often-truncated form of the reports and the detached language of the diplomats, these are impressive documents with historical value. They attest to the fate of the Jewish orphanage in Esslingen, near Stuttgart, where a mob of Nazi sympathizers drove children out into the streets; of Jews who were forced to march in rows of two through Kehl, in southwestern Germany, and shout "We are traitors to Germany"; and of terrified people hiding in forests near Berlin.

What is also noteworthy about the documents is what they do not contain. In this respect, they point to the failure of the international community and its far-reaching consequences. The diplomats almost unanimously condemned the murders and acts of violence and destructions. The British described the pogrom as "Medieval barbarism," the Brazilians called it a "disgusting spectacle," and French diplomats wrote that the "scope of brutality" was only "exceeded by the massacres of the Armenians," referring to the Turkish genocide of 1915-1916.

Nevertheless, no country broke off diplomatic relations with Berlin or imposed sanctions, and only Washington recalled its ambassador. Most of all, however, the borders of almost all countries remained largely closed for the roughly 400,000 Jewish Germans.

Many diplomatic missions were already in contact with victims because men from the SS and the SA, Nazi Party officials and members of the Hitler Youth were also harassing foreign Jews who lived in Germany. In early November, more than 1,000 Jews fleeing from the Nazis took refuge at the Polish consulate in Leipzig. In an account of the fate of the Sperling family, the local consul wrote that they had been practically beaten to death, and that "many valuable objects" had been stolen from their apartment, "including a radio, a check for 3,600 Reichsmarks, 3,400 Reichsmarks in cash and other valuable things." The thugs had apparently undressed the wife and tried "to rape her."

German Jews also sought protection in foreign consulates, especially those of the Americans. "Jews from all sections of Germany thronged into the office until it was overflowing with humanity, begging for an immediate visa or some kind of letter in regard to immigration, which might influence the police not to arrest or molest them," reported Samuel W. Honaker, the US consul-general in Stuttgart.

Searching for Reasons

Most of the diplomats were well informed about the scope of the atrocities through the accounts they had heard from desperate people describing their experiences. Besides, the smashed windows and ransacked premises of Jewish businesses were clearly visible.

At that point, at least according to a Finnish envoy, Hitler was less interested in murdering Jews in Germany than in driving them out. "The position of the German state toward the Jews is so well known that there is no point in writing much about it," he wrote in a report to his government. "Harsher and harsher steps are being taken against them, with the goal of getting them out of the German Reich in one way or another."

But the diplomats were puzzled over why the Nazis were acting so violently, especially given the resulting damage to their international reputation. France's representatives believed that it had to do with a power struggle within the Nazi leadership. The Swiss envoy assumed that it was Hitler's way of demonstrating his power. British diplomat Smallbones suspected that the outbreak of violence had been triggered by "that sexual perversity … very present in Germany."

But, as historians discovered after World War II, Hitler was merely taking advantage of an opportunity. He was in Munich on the afternoon of Nov. 9, when the news arrived of the death of Rath, the diplomat. It was the same day on which the top party leadership met each year to commemorate Hitler's failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. After consulting with Hitler, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels goaded on the other officials in the meeting until, as he wrote in his diary, they "immediately rushed to the telephones." They gave their instructions to the Nazi foot soldiers, who were already itching to harm Jews. The excesses began that night.

1,406 Destroyed Synagogues

Many synagogues in the Württemberg, Baden and Hohenzollern regions were "set

on fire by well-disciplined and apparently well-equipped young men in civilian clothes," reported US Consul-General Honaker, noting that the process was "practically the same" in all cities. "The doors of the synagogues were forced open. Certain sections of the building and furnishing were drenched with petrol and set on fire. Bibles, prayer books and other sacred things were thrown into the flames," he wrote. A total of 1,406 synagogues were burned down.

Then they began smashing shop windows. The shops were easy to identify, especially in Berlin. A few months earlier, Nazis had forced Jewish shop owners in the capital city to write their names in white paint and large letters on the shop windows.

The second wave came during the course of the next day, as the Hungarian chargé d'affaires reported from the German capital: "In the afternoon, after school, 14- to 18-year-old teenagers, mostly members of the Hitler Youth, were unleashed on the shops. They forced their way into the businesses, where they turned things upside down, destroyed all furniture and everything made of glass, jumbled all the merchandise and then, while cheering for Hitler, left the scene to search for other places to ransack. In the city's eastern districts, the local populace also looted the devastated shops."

As instructed, the perpetrators were not wearing party uniforms. Goebbels wanted the public to believe that the pogrom was a reflection of "the justified and understandable outrage of the German people" over the death of Rath, the diplomat -- and that the police were powerless.

But none of the diplomats believed this version of the events, especially, as a Brazilian embassy counselor scoffed, in a country with the "most powerful, tightly organized, perfectly equipped and most brutal police force in the world, in the best possible position to promptly suppress any turmoil within the population."

The 'Unimaginable' on the Way to Reality

The uniformity of the approach in hundreds of cities and villages was enough to expose this lie. But most of all, the majority of Germans did not behave the way the regime had expected.

Although there was some looting, many diplomats, like Finnish representative Aarne Wuorimaa, reported on "withering criticism" from members of the public. According to Wuorimaa, "As a German, I am ashamed" was a "remark that was heard very frequently." However, the reports generally do not delve into whether the critics fundamentally rejected the disenfranchisement of the Jews in general or just the Nazis' brutal methods.

US Consul-General Honaker estimated that about 20 percent of Germans supported the pogrom. There is a surprising parallel between this number and the result of a poll that American officials took in 1945, after the Holocaust, in their zone of occupation. At the time, one-fifth of all respondents still "agreed with Hitler over the treatment of the Jews." In other words, they admitted to being murderous anti-Semites.

For many of the later perpetrators of the Holocaust, Kristallnacht marked a turning point. Suddenly everything seemed possible, writes historian Raphael Gross, alluding to the emerging mood. The Nazis felt "like pioneers who had just successfully entered new territory," Gross says.

In the ensuing weeks, the regime enacted a large number of measures designed to harass and expropriate the Jews. Jewish children were no longer permitted to attend ordinary schools, and Jewish adults were barred from running craft businesses or entering universities. In a cruel irony, the victims were forced to pay a huge "atonement tax" of one billion Reichsmarks. "I wouldn't want to be a Jew in Germany," said Hermann Göring, one of the leading members of the Nazi party.

Unfortunately for the German Jews, many international observers failed to notice how radically the Nazis now felt about their victims. If they hadn't, perhaps some exile countries, such as the United States or Brazil, might have relaxed their rigid immigration requirements, which became a key obstacle to Jews trying to emigrate.

Even the diplomats from Hitler's closest ally, Italy, were still writing in November 1938 that it was "unimaginable" that the Jews in Germany "will all be lined up against the wall one day or condemned to commit suicide, or that they will be locked up in giant concentration camps."

Nevertheless, this "unimaginable" thing -- the systematic murder of European Jews -- would begin roughly three years later.

The "From the Inside to the Outside: The 1938 November Pogroms in Diplomatic Reports from Germany" exhibition runs from Nov. 12, 2013 to May 11, 2014. For more information, visit its website here.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Last Edit: Nov 06, 2013, 07:34 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9788 on: Nov 06, 2013, 06:55 AM »

Ireland will put marriage equality on the ballot in 2015

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 5, 2013 16:25 EST

Ireland will stage a referendum on same-sex marriage in 2015, officials said Tuesday, in a move already proving divisive in the historically Catholic nation.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter announced that proposals which would amend Ireland’s constitution would be voted on in early 2015.

“I am very pleased that in response to the memo that I brought to Cabinet, the government today agreed to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage during the first half of 2015,” Shatter said.

Earlier this year, the Constitutional Convention, a forum established to consider and make recommendations on possible future amendments to the constitution, voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the constitution be changed to allow for civil marriage for same-sex couples.

In July, the convention submitted its report to the coalition government, made up of centre-right party Fine Gael and their smaller Labour partners on the left.

A government spokesperson said Tuesday it would “actively support” the motion to change the constitution to allow gay marriage.

The previous coalition government introduced civil partnerships in Ireland in 2010.

Unsurprisingly, the motion has already faced criticism from the Catholic Church.

Denis Nulty, the bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, said that the Roman Catholic Church was against the proposed changes.

“Married love is a form of love between a man and woman which has a special benefit for the whole of society,” he said in a statement.

“The Church will therefore participate fully in the democratic debate leading up to the referendum.”

He added: “(The Catholic Church) will seek with others to reaffirm the rational basis for holding that marriage should be reserved for the unique and complimentary relationship between a woman and a man from which the generation and upbringing of children is uniquely possible.”

Jerry Buttimer, a Fine Gael lawmaker and one of the few openly gay politicians in Ireland, said the decision was a momentous step towards a more inclusive and equal society.

“It is further evidence that our society has evolved and is becoming a place where, regardless of sexual orientation, you are treated as an equal citizen.”

A number of other proposed changes are expected to be put to the people on the same date in 2015, including lowering the voting age to 16, in what some commentators are calling “Constitution Day”.

In September, a government motion to abolish the upper house of parliament was defeated in a referendum.

Dublin also came under fire earlier this year for legislating for abortion after the death of an Indian woman in November 2012 heaped attention on the nation’s strict termination laws.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which passed a vote in parliament in July, allows for abortion in circumstances where doctors certify there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, as opposed to just a health risk.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9789 on: Nov 06, 2013, 06:56 AM »

Hungary orders aluminum company to pay victims for 2010 disaster

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 5, 2013 17:45 EST

A Budapest court ordered the operator of an industrial plant Tuesday to pay compensation over Hungary’s worst environmental disaster when a huge flood of toxic sludge killed 10 people in 2010.

The Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company (MAL) has to pay 32 million forints (108,000 euros, $145,000) to a family who lost a child and whose two other children suffered severe burns.

The ruling by the Metropolitan Tribunal in Budapest is the first in 23 compensation cases involving MAL, which was judged responsible in 2011 for the spill.

A holding reservoir at MAL’s Ajka plant in western Hungary burst its walls on October 4, 2010, sending 1.1 million cubic metres (38.8 million cubic feet) of poisonous, stinking mud oozing into surrounding area.

Some 150 people were injured, hundreds more were left homeless and had their livelihoods destroyed. It also wiped out almost all life in rivers and streams in the immediate vicinity and spread to the Danube river.

MAL was already ordered in 2011 to pay 135 billion forints (453 million euros, $611 million) to the regional environmental authorities.

MAL’s managing director Zoltan Bakonyi and 14 employees went on trial in late 2012, accused of negligence, waste management violations and damages to the environment. It was unclear when a verdict was expected in that case.

The company said it would appeal Tuesday’s ruling.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9790 on: Nov 06, 2013, 06:57 AM »

Italian lawmakers to vote on booting Berlusconi after fraud conviction

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 5, 2013 18:05 EST

Italy’s Senate on Tuesday announced it will vote on November 27 on whether to strip former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi of his seat under a law banning convicted criminals from parliament.

Ejection from the Senate following his conviction for tax fraud would mean Berlusconi being out of parliament for the first time since 1994, when the media and construction magnate first burst onto Italy’s political scene.

His centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party immediately announced an appeal in a bid to delay the moment the political guillotine will fall for a man who has dominated Italian affairs of state for the past two decades.

A special cross-party Senate committee dominated by his political opponents recommended last month that he be expelled from parliament.

The full Senate must vote before Berlusconi can be ousted, but the 77-year-old media magnate’s supporters are in the minority.

Berlusconi was given a 12-month sentence after the supreme court on August 1 turned down his final appeal in the tax fraud case, handing him his first ever definitive conviction in a long history of legal woes.

He was also barred from holding public office for two years, which means however the Senate votes, he is likely to lose his seat.

The flamboyant ex-premier has asked to serve his sentence in the form of community service and could find himself working in an old people’s home, stacking shelves in a supermarket or cleaning up graffiti.

The punishment is not likely to be meted out before next year.

On Tuesday, Italian television presenter and author Bruno Vespa released an excerpt of an undated interview with Berlusconi.

In it, the mogul said Italian President Giorgio Napolitano could still grant him an official pardon for his conviction.

In Italy, convicted criminals must begin serving their sentences before a pardon can be granted

“A pardon can be granted… so there is still time,” Berlusconi is quoted as saying in the book, which notes that neither he or his lawyers have formally requested a pardon.

Despite fears the Senate vote on his expulsion has the potential to trigger a new crisis for Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s uneasy ruling coalition, the three-time premier greeted the announcement of the vote date with an apparent promise to support the government.

Berlusconi “has reaffirmed his support” for the left-right coalition government, deputy prime minister and PDL party secretary Angelino Alfano said.

The ageing billionaire has repeatedly threatened to pull the PDL out of the government and send the country back to the polls if Letta’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) votes to oust him.

But on Tuesday he called for his outspoken allies to watch their tongues, saying: “Today more than ever, Italy needs a strong, united and compact moderate movement.”

“I ask you to put an end to every initiative which goes against the mission the millions of Italians who voted for us have given us,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


Miss Italia and misogyny banned as state broadcaster cleans up its act

Italian beauty-contest ban by RAI chief Anna Maria Tarantola heralds end to era of women as showgirls or housewives on TV

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Tuesday 5 November 2013 16.56 GMT      

Beaming into the cameras as two middle-aged male presenters placed a silver crown on her impeccably glossy hair, 19-year-old Giulia Arena looked delighted to have emerged victorious from the 2013 Miss Italia contest. To the emotive strains of Over The Rainbow, and with the massed ranks of failed contestants behind her in skin-tight silver mini-dresses, the Sicilian law student still bore her number tag, 09, as she smiled into the crowd.

According to her contestant's biography, Arena is "1.70m tall, with fair chestnut-brown hair and green eyes". She has a line of Dante tattooed on her chest.

More than 900,000 people tuned in to watch her four-hour-long triumph over 63 other young women at the end of last month.

Anna Maria Tarantola, however, was not among them. As president of the state broadcaster, RAI, she had taken the decision, along with other directors, to scrap Miss Italia from the autumn schedules and ensure that, for the first time in 25 years, the show was no longer considered a part of the public service remit. Arena's victory went out courtesy of the private television network La7 and got an audience share of just 5.5%.

RAI's "boycott" of the show that launched Sophia Loren in 1950 was supported by many but denounced furiously by those regarding the annual contest as a beloved piece of Italian culture.

Tarantola, who until last year was deputy director general of the Bank of Italy, was declared one of a cabal of "fanatical feminists" and compared to Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's ousted president, for her supposedly moralising tendencies.

But she does not have any regrets. "It was not considered – and I was in full agreement on this – a programme that valued female talent," she says, sitting in RAI's headquarters in Rome. "There is absolutely no need to demonise beauty. Beauty is a great thing, a positive thing, but it must not be the sole reason for which a woman has a chance to make a name for herself."

She adds: "A woman must make a name for herself because of her talent, her ability. She must have the opportunity to express her capabilities … Public TV should not, in my opinion, be sending out the message, 'look … you can become someone if you're beautiful'. No, you can become someone if you are committed, know how to value [your] own talent, know how to highlight it, and cultivate it. And then, if you're beautiful, all the better."

Tarantola, 68, says the decision to drop Miss Italia was financially, as well as ethically, motivated. The programme was an old format, she says, which had lost viewers over the years.

But, in a country notorious for the scantily clad showgirls who came to populate television screens during Silvio Berlusconi's era of huge political and media power, the symbolic nature of the move was clear.

Laura Boldrini, speaker of the lower house of parliament, who has hit out at the way in which women are often depicted as "mute, and sometimes undressed" on television, lauded the rejection of the show as "a modern and civil choice". Twenty-eight years after the BBC stopped broadcasting Miss Great Britain for being an anachronism verging on the offensive, RAI too, under Tarantola, wants to send a message that Italian television needs to start cleaning up its act.

A woman of steely gaze but hearty laugh, Tarantola spent 41 years at the Bank of Italy after completing a master's degree at the London School of Economics. During those decades she emerged as an advocate for positive discrimination in order to get more women into decision-making roles and combat Italy's relatively low level of female employment.

When, last summer, she was appointed to RAI by Mario Monti, the technocratic former prime minister who succeeded Berlusconi, she set about trying to make the broadcaster more respectful to women. Berlusconi, meanwhile, owner of Italy's three biggest private television channels, sought solace in the arms of Francesca Pascale, a former television showgirl famed for co-singing a ditty with the memorable catchphrase: "If you show a bit of thigh, the ratings go up."

As a powerful woman who prefers to keep her clothes on, Tarantola has perhaps inevitably been compared in some quarters to Margaret Thatcher and, for good measure, the Queen. She doesn't want to comment on the effect that 77-year-old Berlusconi has had on the Italian television industry. But she says she is totally convinced that, as a public broadcaster, RAI has an ethical responsibility to start showing women in a more realistic light.

"Perhaps here, even if things are changing, which they are, the prevailing image of women [on television] is as housewives, mothers … or as showgirls, that kind of thing," she says.

"From what I have seen when I've been in countries [such as Britain, Germany and Scandinavian nations], the role of women who also work, are  also professionals and people who play an important role in society, has been consolidated."

To formalise this desire for a more equality-focused approach, RAI adopted a set of guidelines on gender last month that aim, among other things, to open up more top jobs to women inside the corporation and to reflect equality through editorial output.

The "company policy on gender matters" calls on RAI journalists and executives to guarantee respect to women "through a dignified, real, non-stereotypical and non-discriminatory portrayal, which reflects the multiplicity of roles which [they] play in the social, cultural and political life of the country".

In practical terms, Tarantola says, the policy means, for instance, boosting the number of female experts who are brought on to shows, and seriously rethinking the language that news journalists use to report on issues such as femicide – the gender-based killing of women – the prevalence of which in Italy has been linked by some to the negative way in which women are portrayed in the media and popular culture.

Fiction, she believes, can also play a crucial role in changing mentality. A drama that tackles domestic violence is in production. "Fiction is a powerful tool because it touches people's emotions," she says. "And so representing female figures who are capable and competent, and who are playing important roles in society at the same time as managing to be mothers and wives – thanks to the support of public services, this is a good message."

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« Last Edit: Nov 06, 2013, 07:36 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9791 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:07 AM »

Dutch king visits Russia after 'year of friendship' that turned frosty

Putin snub, arrests and assault make relations awkward while gay rights issue adds to diplomatic discomfiture

Shaun Walker in Moscow
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 November 2013 19.58 GMT   

It is a strong contender for the least successful diplomatic initiative in recent European history. This year was officially designated as Netherlands-Russia year, planned as 12 months of affirming friendly bilateral ties, cultural exchange and improved business links between the countries.

Instead, the King of the Netherlands arrives in Moscow this week – to wind up the year's "festivities" – with Dutch environmental activists in jail, a Dutch ship seized by the Russians and the deputy head of the Dutch diplomatic mission in Moscow assaulted inside his home in a vindictive, homophobic – and perhaps professional – attack.

The year of diplomatic disasters got off to a bad start when Pig Putin visited Amsterdam in April. The city's mayor snubbed Russia's president, sending a deputy to meet him instead and flying a rainbow flag at city hall to protest against Russia's controversial legislation banning "homosexual propaganda". Thousands of locals took to the streets close to where Putin was holding official meetings.

"I don't think there has been any city in the world where Pig Putin has visited and the mayor deliberately refused to show up," said Derk Sauer, a Dutch businessman and newspaper publisher who has lived in Moscow for more than two decades. "He was insulted to his core, and for a couple of weeks afterwards there was a non-stop campaign on Russian TV showing Holland to be a modern Sodom and Gomorrah, run by paedophiles and hashish dealers."

Even purely cultural events arranged as part of the year of friendship have not been scandal-free. The Dutch culture minister, Jet Bussemaker, attended an opening of a major exhibition of Piet Mondrian works in Moscow in September at the State Tretyakov gallery but used the occasion to condemn Russia's record on human and gay rights, telling the Russians artistic freedom is impossible without human freedoms. Her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Medinsky, was forced to listen, and made little secret of his disgust.

"It was clear that Medinsky was boiling with anger," said a source who was at the event. "He said literally two words, did not properly look at the exhibit, and stormed out."

Things really began to get nasty in October, when Dutch police briefly arrested Dmitry Borodin, No 2 at the Russian embassy in The Hague, after neighbours complained of drunken behaviour. Dutch reports suggested Borodin and his wife were inebriated. The Russians dismissed the claims and said he was assaulted by police with no legitimate reason. Putin demanded a Dutch apology, saying Borodin had diplomatic immunity and the incident had violated the Vienna convention. A foreign ministry spokesman described the detention as "incomprehensible and unacceptable".

Ten days later, Borodin's opposite number in the Dutch embassy in Moscow, Onno Elderenbosch, was attacked in his flat by intruders who daubed LGBT in red lipstick on a mirror. Dutch media reported that Elderenbosch is gay. Russia's foreign ministry promised to search for the attackers, but no progress has been announced in the investigation. A spokesperson at the Dutch embassy refused to comment on the incident or the progress of the investigation.

While no Dutch official has openly accused Russian officials or security services of complicity in the attack, privately there is suspicion that it was not a random occurrence. It had the hallmarks of a planned, professional operation and nothing was stolen from the flat. "You have to be extremely naive to think these were just two random guys going for a beer who decided to break into the diplomat's house," said Sauer. "It appears to have been very carefully organised."

Yet more bad blood between the nations resulted from the arrest of all those on the Arctic Sunrise, the Greenpeace ship sailing under a Dutch flag to protest against Russia's Arctic oil drilling programme. The 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists have been charged with hooliganism as part of an organised group and face seven years in jail. Two of them are Dutch citizens.

The Arctic Sunrise is under armed guard in the Arctic port of Murmansk and the Dutch government is bringing a case against Russia at the international tribunal for the law of the sea, due to be heard this week.

Two parliamentary debates were held in the Netherlands before it was decided the king's visit should go ahead. But his trip could still come unstuck over the gay issue.

The leading Dutch orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw, will play at the Moscow Conservatory on Friday, watched by the king and possibly the Pig. The orchestra voted not to mention gay rights during the concert, but individual instrumentalists may still make personal protests – such as wearing rainbow colours.

King Willem-Alexander is seen as a consummate diplomat who is unlikely to make waves when he meets Pig Putin. Instead, the focus is likely to be economic. The king will be accompanied by Dutch ministers and businessmen – the Netherlands is Russia's biggest trade partner in the EU. Nevertheless, there is extreme unease in the Netherlands about the timing of the visit.

"Unless the Pig releases the Greenpeace guys before Friday, we will have a situation where the King of Holland comes here to strengthen friendship with Russia while at the same time you have Dutch citizens sitting in jail and a Dutch ship seized," said Sauer.

• This article was amended on 6 November 2013. References to Holland, apart from those in quotes, have been changed to the Netherlands to reflect the Guardian's style guide.


Dutch ask sea tribunal to order Russia to release Greenpeace 'Arctic 30'

Netherlands raises case of detained activists and journalists with International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea

Reuters, Wednesday 6 November 2013 12.00 GMT   

The Netherlands asked an international court on Wednesday to order Russia to release 30 people detained during a Greenpeace protest against oil drilling in the Arctic at a tribunal Moscow refused to attend.

Dutch government representative Liesbeth Lijnzaad said Russia had "violated the human rights" of the activists who tried to climb onto Russia's first offshore Arctic oil rig in September, detaining them for seven weeks "without grounds".

Russia has said it does not recognise the case, accusing the activists and their ship, the Dutch-registered Arctic Sunrise, of posing a security threat. Prosecutors charged the 30 with piracy, but lessened the charge to hooliganism, which carries a maximum jail term of seven years.

President Pig Putin has said they are not pirates but has faced growing criticism in the West over what is seen as Russia's heavy-handed treatment of the case.

"The dispute is worsening," Lijnzaad told the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in the German port of Hamburg.

Countries have no right to seize vessels belonging to third countries in their exclusive maritime economic zones, she said.

The Dutch hope the tribunal will rule by mid-November, securing the provisional release of the 30 activists who have been denied bail in a case that has strained relations between Russia and the West, particularly the Netherlands.

A tribunal spokeswoman said no date had yet been set for a decision but that it could come around 21 November.

The court was established by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – of which both the Netherlands and Russia are signatories – to settle maritime disputes. Its decisions are binding but it has no means of enforcing them.

"We are very grateful to the Dutch government for bringing this case and to the tribunal for considering it," Greenpeace international general counsel Jasper Teulings told Reuters. The global environmental group is based in Amsterdam.

"The argument of the Netherlands is that in international waters, ships have the right to freedom of navigation and so this means they may not be boarded, inspected, detained or arrested except with the permission of the flag state. There are exceptions to this, but they are limited," Teulings added.

Prime minister Dmitry Medvedev last week reiterated Moscow's stance that Greenpeace posed a threat to the security of Russian workers and the environment by disturbing work at the platform.

The case adds to strains between the two countries. The Dutch foreign minister has also denounced Russia's law banning homosexual "propaganda" among minors and said the violation of gay rights could be grounds for asylum in his country.

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« Reply #9792 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:09 AM »

Venice to ban giant cruise ships

Cruise ship traffic in front of St Mark's Square to be cut by 20% by January, with largest vessels banned from November 2014

Agencies in Rome, Wednesday 6 November 2013 12.29 GMT   

Italy is to begin limiting large cruise ship traffic in the Venice lagoon, with the biggest vessels – of more than 96,000 tonnes – to be banned from November next year.

Venice has seen a string of protests against the rising traffic of cruise ships, amid growing fears over the impact of these giant vessels on the fragile city – and the alleged risk they pose to its infrastructure and inhabitants. Currently, cruise ships pass within 300 metres (1,000 feet) of St Mark's Square, granting a stunning view to those on board the ship but presenting a jarring sight against the backdrop of Venice's Byzantine architecture.

The Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, met transport and culture ministers as well as the governor of the Veneto region and the mayor of Venice on Tuesday, and approved plans to limit or shut down cruise ship traffic in parts of the Venice lagoon and near St Mark's Square.

"Finally the trend towards gigantic ships in the lagoon has been turned around," the mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, said in a statement on Tuesday. "We've had enough of these mega cruise ships just metres away from San Marco; from now on there will be clear limits on the size of ships that can enter Venice."

Concern at the risk posed by the enormous vessels has been heightened by the disaster of the Costa Concordia, the 114,500-tonne liner which sank off the Tuscan island of Giglio in 2012, with the loss of 32 lives.

Large cruise ships will be banned from the canal between the mainland and the Giudecca island in the lagoon while a new access channel is developed with the main shipping terminal. The Venice port, which campaigned successfully to preserve the existing passenger terminal, estimates the project will take two years to complete.

Over the past 15 years, Venice has become one of the world's most important cruise destinations, with up to nine cruise turnarounds a day in high season. The new measures would limit to five the number of cruise ships berthed at one time, and restrict passage to sunrise and sunset.

From January 2014 cruise ship traffic in front of St Mark's, in the heart of the city, will be limited – the number of vessels of more than 40,000 tonnes authorised to cross the Giudecca canal will be cut by 20% from 2012 levels.

From November next year, the largest ships of more than 96,000 tonnes will be banned entirely from crossing the Giudecca canal.

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« Reply #9793 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:14 AM »

Swedish cinemas take aim at gender bias with Bechdel test rating

Movies need to pass test that gauges the active presence of women on screen in bid to promote gender equality

Associated Press in Stockholm, Wednesday 6 November 2013 09.18 GMT      

You expect movie ratings to tell you whether a film contains nudity, sex, profanity or violence. Now cinemas in Sweden are introducing a new rating to highlight gender bias, or rather the absence of it.

To get an A rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

"The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test," said Ellen Tejle, the director of Bio Rio, an art-house cinema in Stockholm's trendy Södermalm district.

Bio Rio is one of four Swedish cinemas that launched the new rating last month to draw attention to how few movies pass the Bechdel test. Most filmgoers have reacted positively to the initiative. "For some people it has been an eye-opener," said Tejle.

Beliefs about women's roles in society are influenced by the fact that movie watchers rarely see "a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them", Tejle said, noting that the rating doesn't say anything about the quality of the film. "The goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens," he added.

The state-funded Swedish Film Institute supports the initiative, which is starting to catch on. Scandinavian cable TV channel Viasat Film says it will start using the ratings in its film reviews and has scheduled an A-rated "Super Sunday" on 17 November, when it will show only films that pass the test, such as The Hunger Games, The Iron Lady and Savages.

The Bechdel test got its name from American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who introduced the concept in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985. It has been discussed among feminists and film critics since then, but Tejle hopes the A rating system will help spread awareness among moviegoers about how women are portrayed in films.

In Bio Rio's wood-panelled lobby, students Nikolaj Gula and Vincent Fremont acknowledged that most of their favourite films probably would not get an A rating.

"I guess it does make sense, but to me it would not influence the way I watch films because I'm not so aware about these questions," said Fremont, 29.

The A rating is the latest Swedish move to promote gender equality by addressing how women are portrayed in the public sphere.

Sweden's advertising ombudsman watches out for sexism in that industry and reprimands companies seen as reinforcing gender stereotypes, for example by including skimpily clad women in their adverts for no apparent reason.

Since 2010, the Equalisters project has been trying to boost the number of women appearing as expert commentators in Swedish media through a Facebook page with 44,000 followers. The project has recently expanded to Finland, Norway and Italy.

For some, though, Sweden's focus on gender equality has gone too far.

"If they want different kind of movies they should produce some themselves and not just point fingers at other people," said Tanja Bergkvist, a physicist who writes a blog about Sweden's "gender madness".

The A rating has also been criticised as a blunt tool that does not reveal whether a movie is gender-balanced.

"There are far too many films that pass the Bechdel test that don't help at all in making society more equal or better, and lots of films that don't pass the test but are fantastic at those things," said Swedish film critic Hynek Pallas.

Pallas also criticised the state-funded Swedish Film Institute – the biggest financier of Swedish film – for vocally supporting the project, saying a state institution should not "send out signals about what one should or shouldn't include in a movie".

Research in the US supports the notion that women are under-represented on the screen and that little has changed in the past 60 years.

Of the top 100 US films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists, according to a study by the San Diego-based Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Another study, by the Annenberg Public Policy Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that the ratio of male to female characters in movies has remained at about two to one for at least six decades. That study, which examined 855 top box-office films from 1950-2006, showed female characters were twice as likely to be seen in explicit sexual scenes as males, while male characters were more likely to be seen as violent.

"Apparently Hollywood thinks that films with male characters will do better at the box office. It is also the case that most of the aspects of movie-making – writing, production, direction, and so on – are dominated by men, and so it is not a surprise that the stories we see are those that tend to revolve around men," Amy Bleakley, the study's lead author, said in an email.

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« Reply #9794 on: Nov 06, 2013, 07:18 AM »

New French centrist alliance aims for foothold in European parliament

Pro-EU centre-right alliance, to be called the Alternative, hopes to capitalise on frustration with François Hollande

Reuters, Tuesday 5 November 2013 15.57 GMT   

A new French centrist alliance has been launched aimed at taking votes from the left and right to build a strong foothold in the European parliament next year, capitalising on frustration with the president, François Hollande.

The alliance, to be called the Alternative, brings together rival veterans of centrist politics François Bayrou and Jean-Louis Borloo, who split in 2012 when the former endorsed Socialist Hollande and the latter conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.

With a limited political footprint – just 72 mayors among thousands in towns of more than 10,000 – the new group may struggle to gain ground in municipal elections in March against locally established mainstream parties, analysts say.

But its chances may be better in the European elections in May, when the centrists' resolutely pro-EU outlook will contrast with their broadly euro-sceptic opponents.

"There is room for a pro-European message, which is at the heart of the centrist brand," said Jérôme Fourquet, an analyst at pollster Ifop. "But the European dream is broken … They will need to have strong proposals, like pushing integration further for core eurozone members."

Polls show Hollande's Socialist party losing ground in both elections as frustration over unemployment above 11%, economic stagnation and immigration drives more voters toward Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front party.

An Ifop poll last month pointed to the National Front winning more seats in the European parliament than any other French party, and more than twice as many votes as the nascent centrist alliance of the Modem and UDI centrist parties.

At Borloo's insistence, the Alternative's founding charter says the movement considers itself in opposition to the ruling Socialists at national and local levels, and calls the "republican right" its natural partner.

It may draw some moderate conservatives dismayed by the main Gaullist UMP opposition party's lurch to the right on immigration and crime issues to try to win back voters from the National Front, but critics say the alliance may struggle to attract support from the left.

Borloo and Bayrou say their alliance could recreate a powerful centrist movement similar to the defunct UDF, created to support then-president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1978. But France's two-round electoral system makes it hard for an independent centrist force to achieve a breakthrough alone.


France planning to reduce troops in Mali despite latest joint mission

Contingent to be scaled down after upcoming general election as focus shifts to political process

Nathalie Guibert   
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 5 November 2013 14.01 GMT   

French forces are still holding the front line in Mali, and a huge operation launched last month is still under way. It is the first to deploy French forces, the Malian army and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali against armed terrorist groups.

It is a large undertaking, with some 1,500 soldiers in the bend formed by the river Niger, but it may be striking at empty space after months of "cleansing" operations by French combatants. With one month before a general election, the military reckon the terrorist threat is only "residual".

According to a French officer on the ground, attacks in the northern towns of Gao and Tessalit last month nevertheless suggest concerted action by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi) and their allies, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao). "Aqmi has appointed a new leader, so he feels obliged to act," said Colonel Mohamed Massaouele Samaké, in command of a Malian battalion taking part in the joint operation.

The various jihadi groups "are no longer capable of mounting large-scale, co-ordinated strikes", the French officer said. The local leaders have "gone to ground or left the country". "Over an area stretching from Mauritania to southern Sudan we shall have to get used to this sort of asymmetric conflict for a long time, it being impossible to eradicate it altogether," a diplomat said.

Meanwhile the French are reducing their numbers, now down to under 3,000, compared with almost 5,000 at the height of the initial intervention. The contingent is scheduled to drop further, to about 2,000, after the election.

The remaining forces will have two missions, carrying on counter-terrorist operations and supporting the African troops. Despite international promises, the Malian army is still short of almost everything: logistics, transmissions and even officers. It must continue training and go into action at the same time. Three battalions are now in the field, with varying degrees of success. Half the soldiers in the Sighi unit, for instance, are young recruits from the verdant south with no previous experience of the arid north.

Even the 5,000-strong Minusma force is below par. Contrary to the provisions of the UN resolutions it will never attain 12,500, more likely a mere 9,000 soldiers. Many are ill-equipped and lacking in motivation. The expected Bangladeshi contingent is not likely to be much better. The Chadian forces, which provided valuable support during the fighting earlier this year in the north, are "knackered", according to a French officer, "and reluctant to go back into action". The Senegalese, currently stationed in Kidal, do not want to move up to Gao, due to the living conditions there.

"We're not going to stay here 15 years," said a French officer, firmly convinced of the contrary. Diplomats say security is no longer the top priority, but rather completing the political process under the president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, elected in August, and developing the country. But in Gao, where there is still no electricity, local people want the French troops to stay as long as possible.

This article appeared in the Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde


Rising homelessness in Paris: does it have the most rough sleepers of the big European capitals?

The French capital may be tolerant of the homeless, but increasing numbers of people are down and out in Paris

Angelique Chrisafis   
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 November 2013 15.19 GMT          

At 9pm, as the street lights glinted off the river Seine beyond Notre Dame cathedral, by the Pont Marie bridge, Yan, 37, was neatly laying out his cardboard boxes for the night in front of a chic sofa-bed shop. A dozen people were already climbing into sleeping bags nearby, an elderly woman was sorting clothes, a man in his 60s was wrapped in a duvet reading a book as the last well-heeled commuters hurried past from the metro. Yan, a Polish butcher, trained in charcuterie, just wanted a job in his trade. "But you can't work with food while you're sleeping rough, it just wouldn't feel hygienic …" he muttered. He had been sleeping rough in Paris for three years, occasionally doing agricultural work outside the city. With the weather not yet plunging to freezing, he felt OK inside two sleeping bags on a bed of cardboard on the concrete. "When it gets colder, we'll go down into underground car parks to sleep. Not the metro, because, with the constant noise and activity, you can't get to sleep before 1am, then you're up again at five. Here, I'll shut my eyes at 10 or 11pm, I'll be gone by seven."

Beside him, Igor, 50, an unemployed Slovakian painter and decorator, remembered sleeping in offices he once worked on. Now he too just wants a job. Do the police bother them? "No, they just patrol at around midnight, have a quick look to check we're all alive."

At the Socialist-run Paris city hall nearby, where election fever is hotting up before next spring, some would argue it's better to be poor in Paris than a lot of other places, saying levels of social aid in the capital are high. But, years after French presidential candidates of both left and right (the Socialist Lionel Jospin, then the rightwing Nicolas Sarkozy) promised that no more people would ever need to sleep rough, the number on cardboard boxes in the street is rising. Campaigners warn that successive French governments have failed to solve not only homelessness but a wider housing crisis. With no clear regular statistics collected, it's impossible to prove what some Parisians believe on their early morning commute past sleeping bags in sandpits in children's parks, mattresses in doorways, sometimes women and children on the pavements: that there are more people sleeping rough in their city than other big European capitals. The French national statistics office warned of a 50% increase in homelessness in France from 2001 to 2012, including a rise in foreigners and women. They calculated 141,500 homeless across France at the start of last year, but charities add hundreds of thousands more at risk and in precarious housing situations.

There's a centuries-long history of people being down and out in Paris, a city with a tradition of transient populations and now more European migrants, said Julien Damon, a sociologist at Sciences Po university. "Paris is seen as an extremely tolerant city and generous in its offer of aid and social protection. It's perhaps the EU city that spends most in terms of public policy on shelter and these issues." He said homelessness was less stigmatised in France. "In London you can't sleep in a tent and stay in the same place all day. In Paris, you can. There's no criminalisation of begging." But if Paris homelessness is perhaps tolerated more than in London and Berlin, that did not mean the problem was being solved by successive governments.

Polls show that French people are sympathetic to the homeless. In European surveys, the French are the nationality most likely to view homelessness as the unfortunate result of financial crisis, unemployment and housing crises and the least likely to blame the individual for personal reasons such as drugs or alcohol. A 2009 poll found that a staggering 56% of French people felt they could one day be homeless themselves, 75% felt "solidarity" with rough sleepers.

The past decade has seen successive protests, such as organised tent cities, in Paris to highlight the plight of the homeless.

Others make their own gestures. Joël Catherin, a young lawyer who began writing quirky cardboard signs for the homeless people in his posh Paris neighbourhood, in turn inspired a short film by Bernard Tanguy. In his flat, Catherin showed me boxes full of hundreds of tattered cardboard signs he had drawn. In Paris, the felt-tipped signs reading "I'm hungry" beside a paper cup for coins are a regular fixture for people sitting on street corners. Catherin had noticed an elderly Romanian woman, Ioana, sleeping rough in his neighbourhood near the Madeleine district with a similar sign. One winter night, angered by the cold and the homelessness problem, he made her a new sign: "I could be your grandmother." It worked, money fell into the pot, people started noticing. He was soon drawing up signs for other homeless people he befriended – comments on politics, football, jokes. From a reference to the FT magazine, "How to Spend it?" to "Sale, end of line", "All we need is love, 1 euro". Locals, social media and the French press began searching out these mysterious, odd and unsettling subtitles of the cityscape.

"Humans don't need subtitles," Catherin said. "It's more that, through the words on the cardboard, passersby looked at these people differently and realised they were human beings. It wasn't about money, it was about changing the way people view others."

"Sometimes it felt as if these homeless people were like human furniture. People passed them while putting their bottles in the bottle-bank for recycling, but didn't think of them as human," he said. The thing about the now infamous sign, 'I could be your grandmother', he felt, was that "it made people go and speak to her, show some sympathy. It became part of our neighbourhood."

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