Turkey approves Israel Reconciliation

August 23rd, 2016 12:15pm Posted In: Natural Gas News, Israel, Turkey, East Med, Political, Ministries, Intergovernmental agreements

Israel-Turkey relations suffered a new blow when the Turkish foreign ministry condemned August 22 Israel’s heavy bombardment of Gaza Strip, saying it was “disproportionate.”

Israeli fighter jets and tanks attacked over 50 targets, according to local media reports in Israel, responding to one rocket that was fired from Gaza and landed in one of the settlements close to the border. The Israeli response was unusually harsh and commentators have said it is a new reaction policy initiated by the extreme right-wing politician Avigdor Lieberman, now the minister for defence.

Turkey’s condemnation came just two days after its parliament approved the reconciliation agreement with Israel, ending a six-year crisis in their relations. The approval was delayed by almost a month following the failed coup attempt in Turkey.

One of Israel’s main objectives in signing the agreement is to open gas negotiations with Turkish energy companies and the Turkish government. But Lieberman voted against the agreement in the Israeli cabinet. He has been a vocal critic of the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and of Turkey and was against making any apology for the killings of nine Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara boat in May 2010. Israel did apologise for the killings three years ago. However, the reconciliation is still not done with. Following its approval by the Turkish parliament Israel has to transfer $25mn within 25 days to a compensation fund for the victims’ families.

The Israeli foreign ministry spokesman responded to the Turkish allegations saying that “Turkey would do well to think twice before criticising the military operations of other countries.”

Yesterday Ha’aretz, a Israeli daily, reported that Erdogan might visit Israel in September. This would demonstrate that relations between the two countries are returning to normal. By then the latest diplomatic and verbal flare ups between the two countries will be forgotten.



Ya’acov Zalel

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Bulgarian EU presidency ?to cost 150M leva?

Bulgarian and EU flags

The Bulgarian presidency of the European Union, scheduled for the first half of 2018, will cost the country about 150 million leva (about 75 million euro), according to Lyubomir Ivanov, head of the national centre for preparation for the presidency.

Bulgaria?s EU presidency was brought forward by six months as a result of the UK?s Brexit vote. After the vote to quit the EU, the UK government said that it would not take up its scheduled rotating presidency of the bloc.

Ivanov said that at this stage, the Bulgarian government had approved 50 million leva. The budgets for 2017 and the first half of 2018 had not yet been approved, but tentatively the whole sum would come to about 150 million leva.

Intensive training of the team to be involved in managing the presidency would begin in September and be completed in mid-2017.

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(Photo: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



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The Heinous Olympification of Seoul

Rio?s manic preparations for this year?s Summer Olympics have now become a familiar subplot to the sports themselves. More than 77,000 people have been displaced from their homes between 2009 and 2015 in Olympics-related redevelopment. Many found themselves not just out of a home, but pushed to remote peripheries of the city without access to social networks, public transportation, or employment opportunities. Entire communities, like the fishing village of Vila Autodromo, have been cleared, a faithful execution of the renderings presented in Brazil?s original bid to the International Olympic Committee, in which the settlement was conveniently airbrushed out. In favelas that are not cleared but subject to intense patrols, hundreds of residents have fallen victim to Brazil?s military police?or what Amnesty International called a ?trigger-happy? force that seems to be conducting a ?shoot first, ask questions later? strategy in its pacification campaign.

Some reporters have left the Olympic venues long enough to show us glimpses of the still-simmering unrest, from the Olympic torch relay, during which protesters lobbed stones and the riot cops retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets, to the viral photos of children watching the Opening Ceremony?s glittering spectacle from their distant perch in the mountainside favelas. The popular anger against Olympic excess, which comes on top of the outrage displayed just two years ago during the World Cup, is compounded by a rolling national political crisis in which the presidency and the country?s future hang in the balance.

The IOC has stated that one of its criteria for site selection is to give the opportunity to countries that have never hosted before. In turn, nations selected as first-time Olympic hosts become consumed in the grand project of demonstrating their modernity and progress to visitors, whatever the cost. For many recent hosts, like Beijing, Sochi, and now, Rio, that cost has stirred serious domestic controversy.

However familiar the story of Olympics-related displacement may be, what often goes unremarked is the displacement yet to come. For many, the Olympics serve as a pretext for accelerated real estate speculation in areas settled by the poorest and most vulnerable. The speed and scale of the required construction often sets in motion a number of mechanisms that enable wholesale gentrification: massive land purchases, the state?s use of eminent domain to seize the private land of mostly poor residents, the relinquishment of public land to private entities, and the creation of non-elected private bodies to manage the process. The special procedures, bypassed laws, and closed-door decision-making all give the overwhelming impression that the Olympics is where the democratic process goes to die.

In Rio, for example, 75 percent of the Olympic Park will be turned over to private developers after the Games are done. The committee in charge of redevelopment was led by real estate scions, and unsurprisingly, the most apparent beneficiaries of the Games so far are the same industry players.

All these elements?and worse?were evident in the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, which helped set the template for the modern ?Olympification? of cities in the developing world. As we start to look toward the next Olympics?the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea?it?s worth looking back at the 1988 Summer Games to see what?s in store for other cities tempted to use the Olympics as a fast track to development.

In the lead-up to the 1988 Games, the residents of Sanggyedong, a poor Seoul neighborhood, fought against the riot police and the thugs hired to kick them off the land for Olympic redevelopment. A documentary about their protracted struggle, Sanggye-dong Olympics, was shot by a young filmmaker who had intended to document a single day but instead spent three years living in the neighborhood, fully absorbed within its daily routines and skirmishes. The footage is unforgettable and harrowing?women lying prone beneath the construction cranes to stop them, and grandmothers staying up all night with bats to guard against night evictions.

Inevitably the confrontations turned violent, as hired muscle beat anyone who resisted with steel pipes and sledgehammered through houses still filled with residents? possessions, while the police hauled off screaming residents. But even after being evicted, the residents refused to leave the land, living in makeshift shelters, cooking together outdoors, and covering their children with layers of blankets through the freezing winter. ?Protect the human rights of poor people? was one of the slogans strung on banners around the area.

Sanggeydong residents discover their new homes are along the Olympic torch route and protest their eviction.Kim Dong-won

Eventually the residents were resettled to another area on the outskirts of Seoul, but faced eviction for the second time when it turned out their shantytown was located along the Olympic torch route. The film ended with an epigraph: ?Olympic guests will rest assured they will not suffer the discomfort of seeing a single poor person in Seoul.?

Only recently did I learn that some of my relatives had lived in Sanggyedong in those days. My aunt on my father?s side offered this fact as an off-hand comment, but she never talked about the evictions. I could hardly imagine her criticizing the government. She had lived through several military dictatorships, and didn?t trust that criticism wasn?t punishable with jail or worse.

The 1988 Olympics did not just spur a construction boom of stadiums and apartment towers. They also catalyzed a larger turning point in Korea?s national culture and politics. Korea in 1988 was a fledgling democracy, emerging only the year before from four decades of U.S.-backed military dictatorships. Nearly a decade earlier, in 1979, dictator Park Chung-hee (the father of the current South Korean president, Park Geun-hye) had decided to bid for the Olympics. But he was assassinated only a few months later. After a brief period of hope for civilian rule, military general Chun Doo-hwan staged a coup in 1979 to gain the presidential seat. He decided to proceed with the Olympic bid, which was approved in 1981 despite his subsequent declaration of martial rule, a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, and his dissolution of the national parliament in 1980. For Chun, bidding for the Olympics was part of a larger strategy to distract citizens from the political and economic struggles taking place, otherwise called the 3S policy of promoting ?sports, sex, and screen.?

Chun?s rule mirrored Park?s, even as he vowed to build a different kind of regime. He continued the torture and imprisonment of dissidents and blocked all avenues to independent and fair elections. This led to unprecedented mass protests in 1987, in which tens of thousands of people marched in the streets. These protests, along with the specter of the whole world observing South Korea on the eve of its Olympic debut, led to Chun?s hand-picked successor agreeing in 1987 to the first free elections in the country?s modern history.

A protest for democracy in Seoul, 1980s.Getty/Patrick Robert/Sygma

Thus 1988 represented an opening in more ways than one. In a country that still had strict limitations on international travel, where sports and leisure activities were relatively new cultural phenomena, and books and movies still heavily censored, the Olympics signified a break from an authoritarian past, instead of lending legitimacy to it.

But before Chun stepped down, he had already used strong-arm tactics to ready the country for its global debut. In the five years leading up to the Games, an estimated 48,000 buildings were destroyed, displacing 720,000 people. The U.N. fact-finding delegation that came to document what happened said the Olympics had set Korea?s ?neurotic development? on warp speed. Visitors streamed in from around the globe, astonished that Korea looked so, well, modern. But the gleaming capital unveiled for the Summer Games was, in fact, the product of two back-to-back military dictatorships and their unchecked power to transform the urban landscape.

More recently, it has come to light that during the years leading up to the Olympics, beginning under Park?s presidency, policemen and local officials had waged a ?purification? campaign, sweeping the streets of more than 16,000 unattended children, disabled people, panhandlers, homeless people, and dissidents, and locked them up in dozens of institutions without giving notice to their families. Thousands were raped, beaten, and killed during their imprisonment, while those who survived the violence toiled in factories or on construction sites all day for no pay. At the most notorious of these institutions, Brothers Home, four to five inmates died every day from violence committed by the guards.

All of this happened with the full knowledge and approval of the country?s leadership, while the owners of these institutions were rewarded with medals for social welfare. To this day, they have not been punished. Even when the owners were pursued on legal charges in 1988, presidential officials continually blocked the investigation on the grounds that the resulting scandal would only embarrass the country on the eve of its Olympic debut. When asked by the AP about the deaths, a former official from Brothers only offered, ?These were people who would have died in the streets anyway.?

This past New Year?s Eve, I was in Gangneung, a city on the east coast of South Korea, to celebrate the holiday with my relatives. I asked my uncle, as I always do, to take me to my mother?s childhood home, located on a rural road where I would not trust GPS to guide me. This was where my mother spent her childhood after surviving the Korean War, living with her grandparents in a traditional house with a thatched roof and papered sliding doors, a house where the family had lived for generations. Nowadays, only one of my relatives still makes a living as a farmer in the area. Whenever I visit, his elderly neighbors, wizened and bent over from their farm work, peer into my face and exclaim my mother?s name.

As we drove to the house, I noticed a series of monumental concrete arches dotting the landscape. They were the tallest structures around, five to six stories high, in an otherwise flat vista of rice fields and one-story homes. Curiously, they didn?t follow the road. Instead they seemed to exhibit their own logic, often landing squarely within meadows and fields.

My uncle parked the car on a narrow road and announced, ?Here we are!? I was shocked to see the arches continue straight through the field that held my mother?s old house. Several loomed just ten yards from us.

?But what?s all that?? I asked, pointing upward.

My uncle peered up. ?That?s for the high-speed rail. They?re building it for the Pyeongchang Olympics.?

?They?re also building ice rinks along the coast,? my aunt added. ?The Olympics are coming here too! We?re thinking of volunteering. But we?ll see.?

There was a quiet pride in her voice. I could understand it?there was obviously some prestige in Korea being selected to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. For her, there was the added pride that Gangwon province, an agricultural region known mostly for its potatoes and beaches and its proximity to North Korea, would be hosting the most iconic sporting event in the world. There was a general excitement in the air about the prospect of hosting the Games?another chance to prove South Korea?s status as a global contender.

Participants rehearsing in a new ski venue for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.Getty/AFP/Ed Jones

Looking up at the arches, I envisioned the train whooshing past, filled with dignitaries and tourists oblivious to the ancient, crumbling house below. The high-speed rail was one of the cornerstones of South Korea?s winning bid to the IOC. Korea had promised that visitors would be able to travel directly from the international airport to Pyeongchang in 68 minutes?a projection that was later pushed back to 93 minutes. The city of Gangneung, only thirty minutes from Pyeongchang, will boast a total of four ice stadiums and host all the indoor sporting events.

Pyeongchang?s winning bid was the legacy of former President Lee Myung Bak, who built his career as the CEO of Hyundai Construction and spent much of his presidency bestowing generous federal contracts on the construction industry, earning him the nickname ?Bulldozer.? In his presentation to the IOC, Lee pointed out that 19 of the last 21 Winter Games had been held in Europe or North America. Didn?t Asia deserve a chance?

Standing in the shadow of the giant arches, I felt a sharp sense of loss. I had always assumed that breakneck urban development was a central feature of life in Seoul, the nation?s capital. But in this part of the country, known mostly for its natural vistas, where the elderly tended to stay and the young people disembarked for new lives in Seoul, a high-speed rail seemed excessively optimistic and all too permanent. I tried to imagine a future where, after the world?s top athletes had packed their bags, Seoulites would visit Pyeongchang in droves to luge and curl and bobsled. This had been the IOC?s main draw for selecting Korea?it represented a new market for winter sports. But beyond cheering for Olympic figure skater Kim Yuna, Koreans are not winter sports enthusiasts. It seemed more likely that, after the Games ended, the high-speed rail would become a long, snaking ruin, looming silently over the countryside like a hollow promise.

When the 2018 Winter Olympics kick off in Pyeongchang, 30 years will have passed since the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Traveling back to Seoul after the New Year?s holiday, I noticed that at City Hall and the National Assembly, at the plazas, the subway stations, and even on billboards, tent occupations and rallies and other signs of dissent were on display, flourishing everywhere even in the freezing temperatures. It was a hopeful sign that the political climate in Korea had changed since the ?80s?and yet it was disheartening, too, a reminder that some things haven?t changed. As the Olympics leave Rio, and as we look ahead to Pyeongchang and beyond, the question remains troublingly unresolved: Does Olympification always have to mean mass displacement? What does it mean to host the world if you cannot house your own citizens?

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Plovdiv prosecutors charge man with arson of former tobacco warehouses

Photos: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Plovdiv Regional Prosecutor?s Office said on August 22 it had arrested and pressed charges of arson against a 44-year-old man in connection with the huge fire that gutted four historic former tobacco warehouses in the city.

Prosecutors said that the man had no fixed abode and had many criminal convictions.

The fire on August 20 started in the building at 13 Exarch Yosif Street, owned by Ripa Ltd, and spread to the other former tobacco warehouses, on Ivan Vazov Street, owned by the same company, to one one Kapitan Andreevo Street and on GM Dimitrov Street, owned by Galaxy Investment Group of Plovdiv.

Prosecutors said that the fire had represented a danger to residents nearby, and the property set on fire had historical and artistic value.

Plovdiv?s Tobacco Town precinct?s warehouses date back to the early decades of the 20th century, when the city had a prominent and lucrative place in the Balkan tobacco trade. The ensemble of buildings, no longer used by the tobacco industry, is meant to be protected by Bulgaria?s Cultural Heritage Act.

The Regional Prosecutor?s Office said that its actions in investigating the case included a visual inspection of the scene, the questioning of many witnesses and evidence such as photographs and videos, including video provided by a citizen who had filmed it as the fire started.

Further inspections would be carried out once the Fire Safety and Population Protection Directorate gave permission, possibly on August 23 or 24, the prosecutors? statement said.

Forensic examination was continuing to establish how the fire was started, the means used, the precise place where it started and how it expanded to surrounding buildings, the statement said.

The investigation, described in prosecutor?s officialese as being in an ?active initial phase? would also cover whether the suspect had acted alone or had been assisted by others.

The accused is currently in 72-hour custody on the orders of the supervising prosecutor.

The fire on August 20 has caused widespread public indignation in Plovdiv and elsewhere about failure to ensure the state of culturally-important buildings meant to be protected by law.

Irate citizens have criticised state institutions for failure to enforce cultural heritage laws, and they are even more aggrieved because the state of the ?Tobacco Town? precinct was a matter for national headlines in March at the time of the illegal attempt to demolish one in Odrin Street.

(Photo: (c) copyright Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



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Donald Trump Is a Terrible Politician

Back when Donald Trump was winning primaries, Mark Halperin, the famously well-compensated political journalist at Bloomberg, went on TV and said Trump is a terrific politician.

?He is one of the two most talented presidential candidates any of us have covered,? Halperin opined. ?He just is.?

Trump?s skill, he explained, exceeds Barack Obama?s because, unlike Trump, Obama ?had David Axelrod and David Plouffe and a squadron of people around him who knew what they were doing.? Trump flies solo, ergo every supporter he counts, every stadium he packs, is somehow more rightfully his.

Halperin has also defended Trump from accusations of racism on the grounds that ?Mexico isn?t a race,? and posed for this notorious picture, so unspoken affinities may be affecting his analysis. But to this day, as Trump is losing to Hillary Clinton in every poll, it is still commonly suggested that Trump has mysterious political powers. No matter what he says, his supporters love it! If he?s losing, it might be because he?s ?deliberately trying to avoid winning.?

I would like to propose an alternate hypothesis: Donald Trump is bad at politics. He won the Republican primary because he is a bad politician, he is losing today because he is a bad politician, and part of what makes him a bad politician is only doing the kinds of things his supporters love, which can appear to be good politics to incurious journalists, but is actually not.

Case in point: On Wednesday night, Trump returned in characteristically Freudian fashion to Sean Hannity?s show on Fox News and announced he would forcibly remove not just immigrants, but citizens from the U.S. if they?re found to have extremist views. ?Whether it?s racial profiling or politically correct, we better get smart,? he said.

Trump isn?t exactly winging it. Some Americans are scared, authoritarian, and racist. In a big country such as ours, there might even be millions and millions of them. Fear, authoritarianism, and racism are also strong sentiments, so it stands to reason that the people who exhibit them would be loyal Trump supporters, and unusually inclined to attend his rallies, where the themes are frequently fear, authority, and racism.

This appeal was sufficient to win Trump the primary not because he demonstrated raw talent, but because the Republican Party is broken to the point where demagoguery is a more valuable currency than governing experience, donor networks, ?ground game? and other attributes. If Trump exhibited any talent at all, it was recognizing just how vulnerable the GOP was to being overtaken by its own Id.

When the primary was all over, Trump had an extremely loyal core of support. By dint of being the nominee of a major party, millions more reflexive or reluctant or low-information voters accreted around that core, leaving Trump with the support of perhaps 40 percent of likely voters, and nowhere to go but down.

Saying things like we should exile U.S. citizens will help Trump fill arenas, but it also underlines how, contra Halperin, Trump is an almost comically untalented politician.

Kicking citizens out of the United States for having extreme ideological views is unconstitutional. Not unconstitutional in the way that conservatives imagine the only policy regimes allowed under the Constitution are ones they like, but unconstitutional in a clearly delineated way.

This was, in essence, the point Khizr Khan was making at the Democratic convention three weeks ago when he asked Trump, ?Have you even read the United States Constitution??

Trump?s decision to respond by attacking the Khan family was, in itself, open-shut evidence of his near total lack of political talent, but Trump and his surrogates justified his decision to defend himself on the grounds that Khan had attacked him unfairly?i.e. that it?s wrong to suggest Trump has never read the Constitution.

Based on a number of things Trump has said?including that the Constitution has (at least) twelve articles (it has seven)?Khan was on solid ground thinking maybe Trump never read the thing. But from the moment Khan?s speech captured the country?s imagination, and Trump responded as if he?d been slandered, that question?have you even read the Constitution??made the metaphysic transformation from rhetorical to literal. Nearly a month has passed, and Trump has done nothing to address this glaring deficiency. He continues to propose unconstitutional ideas on a weekly basis, and it is a safe bet that when he and Clinton meet for their first debate next month, he will be confronted with some trivial question about the Constitution and have no clue how to answer.

Trump created this liability for himself over the course of a year, so sitting down and reading the Constitution?all 4,453 words of it, or less than a half hour of reading time?would only be the first step toward assuring skeptics and critics that he?s intent on safeguarding the country?s laws and traditions. But whether it?s because he?s irremediably lazy, or that he believes this kind of ignorance allows him to pander to scared, authoritarian racists without a filter, he is unwilling to do it. He would rather keep his crowds big and his polls bad. Even if it means allowing Hillary Clinton to shove him into a buzzsaw in front of a huge TV audience a few weeks from now.

This isn?t ultimately a question of instinct or strategy, because in a sense it?s both. But in a more important sense it doesn?t matter. Talented candidates will bridle their instincts long enough to ensure they?re making good strategic decisions that help them win elections. Donald Trump isn?t doing that, because he?s a bad politician. Most well-compensated journalists get that.

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Fire at historic tobacco warehouses in Plovdiv


More than 10 firefighting teams were battling a blaze in abandoned warehouses in the ?Tobacco Town? precinct of Bulgaria?s second city Plovdiv on August 20.

The fire, at abandoned tobacco warehouses at 13 Exarch Yosif Street, at the corner of Ivan Vazov Street, was reported soon after mid-afternoon.

By late afternoon, the fire had covered the roofs of two of the warehouses.

Residential buildings nearby were evacuated and the area cordoned off as firefighters struggled not only to contain the blaze but also to prevent it spreading to nearby buildings. Traffic from Ivan Vazov Street was closed.


There were no immediate reports of injuries, and while the fires were still burning, no indication of the cause of the blaze. As the fight to extinguish the flames continued, damage was expected to be extensive.

The buildings are part of an ensemble of structures dating back to the early decades of the 20th century, a time when Plovdiv had an important place in the Balkan tobacco trade. They are meant to be protected by law.

The fire comes some months after the March 6 2016 attempt to demolish a tobacco warehouse in Plovdiv?s Odrin Street, not far from the site of the current fire. The demolition attempt of the protected building was reportedly to make way for a luxury hotel development.

In connection with the Odrin Street case, Plovdiv?s chief architect and the building?s owner now face numerous criminal charges. They deny wrongdoing.

Plovdiv news website podtepeto.com said that a resident of Ivan Vazov Street, commmenting on the August 20 fire, said that the warehouses had been abandoned for years, and grasses, shrubs and small trees had grown on the roofs. Withered in the rays of the sun, it was possible that they had caught fire ? although, she added, she did not think this was the reason for the fire.

The report said that other residents, watching the warehouses burn, said that they suspected arson, but did not want their names on the record.

(Photos: podtepeto.com)



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Socar?s Cash-Flow Problem

Azerbaijan has been negotiating with international financial institutions to borrow $5bn to fund its share of the construction costs of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) gas export route, finance minister Samir Sharifov said on 20 July.

He told UK daily Financial Times that talks are in progress with the World Bank (WB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank.

A WB spokesman told NGW July 20 that it is considering supporting Azerbaijan?s investments in the SGC because of its critical importance to energy security in the region and to Azerbaijan?s development priorities. ?At this moment, we are reviewing ways to support the investment in cooperation with other nancing partners and will fully disclose project documents in the course of project preparation,? the bank said.

Azerbaijan has already sold $1bn Eurobonds and is preparing to sell the same again in further bonds to nance SGC. A source at WB told NGW June 2 that ?Baku has applied to the WB for a loan of $500mn, the talks are under way… the process should be wrapped up by the end of the year.? 

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has con rmed that it started talks to provide direct financing of ?500mn and attract ?1bn from banks for TAP, of which Socar is a 20% owner.

The current cost of SGC including upstream work on Shah Deniz 2 (SD2), is now estimated at around $40bn, including $9.3bn for the Trans Anatolian gas pipeline (Tanap), $6bn for the Trans Adriatic pipeline (TAP) and $23.8bn for developing SD2 as well as the expansion of the South Caucasus line (SCPX)…

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Biden warns Kosovo of the ?cancer? of corruption

Photo: office of the prime minister of Kosovo

US vice president Joe Biden warned the Kosovar government Wednesday of the ?cancer? of corruption, during his first visit to the Balkans since 2009.

?I?m here today to affirm the United States is going to continue to stand with the people of Kosovo on your journey to become a prosperous, peaceful and multi-ethnic democracy,? he told reporters.

He underscored, though, the dangers of corruption ? what he called ?a cancer that eats at the fabric of every society where it exists. In short, it jeopardises everything Kosovo hopes to achieve, hopes to become, hopes for its future.?

Members of the opposition in parliament repeatedly have released tear gas in sessions over the past year to protest controversial deals with Serbia and Montenegro. Berlin-based Transparency International ranked Kosovo 103rd out of 168 countries on its ?Corruption Perceptions Index? of 2015.

After talks with Kosovar president Hashim Thaci in Pristina, Biden traveled south and dedicated a road to his son Beau, who died of brain cancer last year. Beau had worked as a legal adviser in Kosovo in the late 1990s, and his father said he ?grew to love the people.?

Tuesday, Biden traveled to Serbia, where he offered his condolences to the families of those killed in the Balkan wars, including those killed in the NATO airstrikes on Serbia in 1999.

His last visit in 2009 followed Kosovo?s declaration of independence from neighboring Serbia. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo, its former southern province, as sovereign, but it has struck a series of deals brokered by the European Union in an effort to regulate relations between the two.

Source: VOANews.com

(Photo: office of the prime minister of Kosovo)



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Brazil?s New Era of Opportunity

Brazil?s oil and gas sector is on the verge of its biggest transformation in decades, with unprecedented opportunities for new entrants to the market, according to new research by the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

This is in spite of the economic and political problems the country is currently facing, the international relations think tank said in its report Oil & Gas in Brazil: A New Silver Lining?

State-run Petrobras, still reeling from a major corruption scandal, has seen its debt soar, forcing it to cut investment, lower production forecasts and put assets up for sale in the last year. In January, Petrobras cut its 2016-2020 investment plan by 5% to $93bn. The indebted company had already slashed its investment plans to $98.4bn from $130.3bn.

At the same time, Petrobras made a 20% cut to its oil and gas reserves. The company has also undertaken an ?aggressive plan to sell assets and focus its e orts on exploring reserves in the pre- salt layer,? the report said. The company, which for years dominated Brazil?s energy landscape, has never experienced such a ?profound transformation,? it added.

However, the contraction of Petrobras and other traditional players leaves a gap for new companies that are keen to increase their role in Brazilian exploration and production, the Atlantic Council said. Indeed, it presents a ?unique moment? for those companies interested in increasing their presence in Brazil, it added.

?Opportunities are now opening up for new companies that will work with Petrobras in future ? we have never seen this before in Brazil,? commented Decio Oddone, the director of port services rm Prumo Logistica and ex-CEO of Petrobras Energia, the Argentine subsidiary, during a debate held by the think tank in Washington. 

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The Journalist and the Voyeur

There are plenty of good, or at least interesting works, sourced from their creators? misdeeds. There are classic albums about relationships in which the singer was cruel and destructive, and films that owe their intensity to the emotional torture of their stars. In My Life as a Russian Novel, the French writer Emmanuel Carrère breaks his promise to his mother that he would never write about her father, a possible Nazi collaborator. He also reproduces a long, pornographic letter from him to his girlfriend, which she?d found terribly humiliating. More disturbing is Louis Althusser?s memoir The Future Lasts Forever, written after he?d been declared unfit to stand trial for the murder of his wife. It repulsed me when I read it, but I can say, years after the fact, that it did what I want art to do, and placed me in a different consciousness.

THE VOYEUR?S MOTEL by Gay TaleseGrove Press, 240 pp., $25.00

To make good art from bad things, however, requires, at a minimum, some kind of self-examination, which Gay Talese?s new book, The Voyeur?s Motel does very rarely. The book is nominally the story of Gerald Foos, who in the mid-1960s bought a 21-room motel outside Colorado for the purpose of spying on his guests. He installed viewing slats in the ceilings and observed from a carpeted attic, where he masturbated and made notes for a manuscript he called ?The Voyeur?s Journal.? In January of 1980, he sent a letter to Talese, who was about to publish Thy Neighbor?s Wife, his sweeping study of American sexual mores and practices. Foos thought their projects complemented each other, and Talese somewhat agreed. ?I don?t think there is a whole lot of difference between the voyeur and me,? he told the New York Daily News in July. ?Good journalists are really voyeurs.?

Talese visited Foos and joined him in the attic, where they observed a couple having oral sex, and the voyeur sent Talese his journal in sections over the years that followed. Foos considers himself a ?pioneering sex researcher,? a king among voyeurs; and a martyr, shouldering the lonely burden of his observations. The two kept a sporadic correspondence until 2013, when Foos announced that he was finally ready to allow his name to be published; Talese, a man of some principles if not others, refuses to write about a subject unless they consent to being named. Foos was compensated for the rights to his manuscript, which makes up a significant chunk of the book. The book has been optioned for film by Steven Spielberg.

Foos not only spied on his guests, but might have gawked at, and enabled, a murder. In November 1977, Foos, by his own account, snuck into a guest room to flush the male occupant?s drug stash down the toilet, having seen him dealing to kids. Later that night, he watched the same man accuse his girlfriend of having stolen the goods, and then strangle her until she collapsed. Foos fled the attic: ?he carefully considered what he had observed,? Foos wrote of himself, using the third person, ?and upon reconsideration he definitely concluded that the female was alright, and, if she wasn?t alright, then he couldn?t do anything anyway, because at this moment in time he was only an observer and not a reporter, and really didn?t exist as far as the male and female subjects were concerned.? The next morning a maid ran from the room to report a dead body.

Or not. Neither Talese nor subsequent investigators could find any record of the incident, although the Washington Post discovered that a similar murder had occurred around the same time in a hotel ten miles away. The Post found other discrepancies in Foos?s account?he had not, for instance, even owned the motel for eight years in the 1980s. In late June a reporter confronted Talese, who disavowed the book, then reversed his position the following day. So far, the fact that the murder may never have happened has done more damage to Talese?s reputation than the fact that when he reached that entry in Foos?s journal, he didn?t do much about it?and he doesn?t make much of it in his book, which further violates the guests it describes.

It shouldn?t need pointing out that Talese?s credibility should be less important than the rights, and lives, of Foos?s motel guests. The issue isn?t only whether he reported accurately, but the nature of the event he was reporting. Journalistic ethics are less important than ethics. You may be allowed, for instance, to manipulate someone?s emotions, exploit their suffering, and appropriate their life story, as long as you observe the codes of your profession, but that doesn?t mean you are right to do it. Janet Malcolm made the point most famously in 1990, in a book about, among other things, sourcing work from bad behavior.

The book might succeed as smut, but amateur porn is better for the soul.

The codes that Talese abides by were established at a time when journalism was practiced by an elite sliver of society?as he demonstrated at a conference earlier this year, when he failed to name a female journalist he?d looked up to at the start of his career. Later he asked a New York Times Magazine staff writer, who is female and black, how she got her job, and whether she was headed to get her nails done. While his moral code is not as deranged as Foos?s, the two have unexamined entitlement in common. Talese comes from an era in which a limited number of people were allowed to control anyone else?s narrative. The Voyeur?s Motel is, among other things, the product of such entitlement, and it is vile.

A better book, one that could begin to justify itself, would have to address the nature of Foos?s violations, and its own; it would have had to take seriously the matter of privacy, and consent. After observing hundreds of people in their solitude, Foos becomes increasingly misanthropic: In dehumanizing his guests, he loses his faith in humanity. The right to privacy is related to the right to self-mediation, and the story of one?s private life is a form of property. It?s an ethical violation, if not a legal one, to take this from someone without their permission. Foos not only witnessed, but recorded moments that were not his own, and he has now profited from those actions. Whether or not you call this a form of sexual assault, it is, like sexual assault, an intimate form of theft.

Talese?rather than take Foos apart, examine his own identifications, or knead his own complicity?swaps the difficult for the lurid. The book might succeed as smut, but amateur porn is better for the soul. At its most thoughtful, the book could be read as one of those meta-textual statements about audience culpability, and it wouldn?t be wrong, but it?s more accurate to say that it yanks the reader down to its level. If it had ventured a muscular, committed excuse for its own existence, it might have been wrong but worthwhile.

Like Foos in his attic, Talese?s book avoids questioning itself or its subject, or taking seriously the matter of harm. A more reflective, more relevant writer?and relevance is a matter of effort, not of age?would have had something to say about the transgression of the book itself. Let?s hope that Foos made it all up.

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