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Sunday, 30 August 2015

Day Into Night


A Syrian couple waits for the train in Gevgelija with other refugees and migrants to continue their way to Europe: image via Aris Messinis @arismessinis, 29 August 2015

Hungarian policemen detain a Syrian migrant family after they entered Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, August 28, 2015.

Refugee arrested after risking Hungarian wire fence border barrier is surrounded by his despairing family: photo by Bernadett Szabo/Reuters, 28 August 2015


#Refugee family's despair as father is arrested after braving wire fence #Hungary border photo @afpattila @AFPphoto: image via Sunday Times Pictures @STPictures, 28 August 2015
 

#Refugee family's despair as father is arrested after braving wire fence #Hungary border photo @afpattila @AFPphoto: image via Sunday Times Pictures @STPictures, 28 August 2015

Hungary says anti-migrant barrier along Serb border complete
: image via Agence France-Presse @AFP, 28 August 2015

Hongrie: 2.700 réfugiés ont passé la frontière serbo-hongroise hier #AFP: image via AFP Photo Department @AFPphoto, 29 August 2015


#migrantcrisis - Syrian refugees and migrants after crossing Greece continue through FYR of Macedonia their way to Europe.: image via AFP Photo Department @AFPphoto, 29 August 2015 


#migrantcrisis - Syrian refugees and migrants after crossing Greece continue through FYR of Macedonia their way to Europe.: image via AFP Photo Department @AFPphoto, 29 August 2015 


#migrantcrisis - Syrian refugees and migrants after crossing Greece continue through FYR of Macedonia their way to Europe.: image via AFP Photo Department @AFPphoto, 29 August 2015 

A young Syrian boy stands inside a train heading from FYR of Macedonia to the border with Serbia: image via Aris Messinis @arismessinis, 29 August 2015

A Syrian boy cries after a missile fired by Syrian government forces hit a residential area of #Aleppo: image via Agence France-Presse @AFP, 22 July 2015

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Refugee wave into hotspot Hungary hits new record high - photo by @iandrej
: image via Agence France-Presse @AFP, 28 August 2015


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71 migrants perish in Austria truck tragedy
: image via Agence France-Presse @AFP, 28 August 2015


Four arrested over discovery of 71 bodies in abandoned truck, another grim migrant tragedy: image via Agence France-Presse @AFP, 28 August 2015

The #migrant crisis death toll rises – and the EU again fails to lead, writes @kwatkinsodi: image via ODI @ODI, 28 August 2015

Migrants: un enfant dans un train entre la #Grece et la #Macedoine en partance pour la Serbie #AFP @RAtanasovski: image via Isabelle Tourné @isatourne, 28 August 2015
 

Migrants on their way to cross the border from Greece to F.Y.R of Macedonia: image via Aris Messinis @arismessinis, 29 August 2015


Migrants on their way to cross the border from Greece to F.Y.R of Macedonia: image via Aris Messinis @arismessinis, 29 August 2015


Migrants on their way to cross the border from Greece to F.Y.R of Macedonia: image via Aris Messinis @arismessinis, 29 August 2015

#migrantcrisis - Migrants walk through a field to cross the border from Greece to Macedonia. By @ArisMessinis #AFP: image via AFP Photo Department @AFPphoto, 29 August 2015 

#migrantcrisis  - Migrants walk after crossing border from Greece to Macedonia near Gevgelija. By @ArisMessinis #AFP
: image via Christophe Delattre @chrisdelattre7, 30 August 2015


Governing a state like a business (I): The Honest Chicken Solution

Now the Czechs Have an Oligarch Problem, Too

Czech Finance Minister and oligarch Andrej Babis: photo by Michal Cizek via Foreign Policy/Democracy Lab, 10 April 2015

Now the Czechs Have an Oligarch Problem Too: How the rise of a powerful businessman threatens to undermine democratic institutions in the heart of Europe: Ola Cichowlas and Andrew Foxall, Democracy Lab/Foreign Policy, 10 April 2015

Czech oligarch Andrej Babis, his country’s second-richest man and one of the most politically influential billionaires in the world, is expanding his business empire into Prague’s corridors of power.

Babis currently serves as finance minister, but his ambitions are far grander. The rise of Babis -- nicknamed "Babisconi," after Italian billionaire turned prime minister Silvio Berlusconi -- marks a turning point in his country’s post-communist history.

Since its “Velvet Divorce” with Slovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic has made a rapid transition to democracy and market economics, enjoying some of Europe’s highest growth rates and becoming an active member of the EU. Like its Central European neighbors, the new country flourished and became, initially, a remarkable success story. But in recent years, its liberal democracy has weakened.

Since the global financial crisis, many Czechs have become increasingly disillusioned with Brussels. The Czech media landscape, once admirably diverse, is now increasingly controlled by powerful tycoons. President Milos Zeman has encouraged this process and, under his leadership, anti-establishment forces have flourished. Though the situation in Prague is not quite as dire as in Budapest, where Viktor Orban appears to be losing faith in democracy as a system, the rollback of democratic institutions in the Czech Republic is ringing alarm bells in a corner of Europe vulnerable to the influence of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The rise of Andrej Babis is a case in point.


Police suspect Bulgarian-Hungarian trafficking ring behind deaths of migrants found in truck
: image via Reuters Top News @Reuters, 28 August 2015

Four years ago Babis founded the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) party. After a series of scandals in which politicians enriched themselves in office, Babis’s party aimed, ironically enough, to capitalize on Czechs’ rising distaste for wealthy businessmen. ANO rose to power with the help of anti-corruption and anti-establishment slogans, at times even calling the Czech Republic a "failed state." It finished second in the country’s 2013 parliamentary elections and went on to join the coalition government. A year later, in the 2014 European Parliament elections, ANO went one better: It won more votes than any other Czech party.



Woman with smartphone (Milan): photo by Luca Napoli, 2 June 2013


As elsewhere in Europe, ANO’s brand of anti-politics resonates with the public. Portraying himself as a non-politician and outsider, Babis promises to dramatically change Czech governance. ANO’s voters are also attracted by his personal appeal: A blunt-speaking entrepreneur, his face beams out at Czechs from billboards and newspaper pages. But Babis and his fortune -- $2.4 billion, according to Forbes -- are mired in controversy.

Historians from Slovakia’s National Memory Institute, which preserves files dating from the country’s period under Nazi and communist rule, published documents suggesting not only that Babis collaborated with Czechoslovakia’s secret police, the StB (under the codename Bures), but that he may have even worked for the Soviet KGB as well. In 2014, Babis successfully sue the National Memory Institute in a Bratislava court, claiming that he had been wrongly registered as an agent in StB files. But the institute is appealing, maintaining that the court ruled unfairly and that former StB officers had lied under oath to protect him. Under the 1991 Czech lustration law, it is illegal for former StB collaborators and top communist functionaries to hold high political and economic posts. Yet when Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (a member of the Czech Social Democratic Party, the country’s largest party) appointed Babis finance minister in 2014 without requesting a lustration certificate as he was supposed to, a Prague court merely announced its intention to fine him -- and the fine was annulled on Sobotka’s appeal.

Babis denies reports that his family, too, cooperated with the StB, arguing that they -- like many families -- were victims of the communist regime. But the archives suggest otherwise. Documents say that Babis’s diplomat father, Stefan (who allegedly ran a Vienna-based black-market arms trade business under the protection of the StB), and his brother, Alexander, voluntarily cooperated with the agency. When contacted for comment, Babis’s office said that he had cleared his name, while Babis himself has called all such allegations about his past “bullshit.”



Andrej Babiš – Czech oligarch
: image via Politico/European Voice, 11 September 2014


Babis’s business success -- which translated into a monthly salary of $1.4 million before he entered government -- is often attributed to the contacts he made during the late communist period. During the Velvet Revolution of November 1989, Babis was based in Morocco as a representative for Petrimex, Czechoslovakia’s state-controlled trade company. He returned home to see his country split in two. In 1993, Babis, helped by his former director at Petrimex, founded the fertilizer giant Agrofert, currently the Czech Republic’s fourth-largest company and a near-monopoly in several sectors of the economy.

Along the way, Agrofert acquired state-owned companies using state-backed loans on which Babis ultimately defaulted. (The Czech anti-corruption police eavesdroppped on Babis on the suspicion that he had participated in fraud at one of the companies.) In 2006, after Babis’s main business rival, Frantisek Mrazek, was found dead under mysterious circumstances, some suggested that Babis was to blame. Mrazek, it was alleged, had compromising material on Babis that he was planning to make public. No charges, however, were brought against Babis.

Babis’s businesses continue to benefit from his connections with the Czech political elite, in particular with President Milos Zeman. As prime minister in 2001, Zeman oversaw the sale of Unipetrol, a state-owned chemical company, to Babis. The deal was evidence of a strategic partnership between the two men that continues to this day. Although Babis pulled out of the sale a year later, he oversaw the sale of Unipetrol to a Polish company in 2005. Afterwards, high-ranking Polish officials reported that 42 million euros ($53 million) had been handed out in bribes on both sides of the border. In Warsaw, the scandal shook the Polish political scene. In Prague, however, the Czech Parliament failed to open an investigation, allegedly because of Babis’s close  with then Prime Minister Stanislav Gross. (In an email exchange with the authors, Babis’s office insisted that “no bribes” had been paid.)

Alarmingly, Babis’s approach to governing the country was, until recently, based on the notion that he would “govern the state like a business.”


A refrigerated truck, in which bodies of 71 migrants have been found on the A 4 Austrian highway, is parked in a facility which used to be a veterinary station at the border in Nickelsdorf, Austria on August 28, 2015. Austrian police said Friday that three people were in custody in Hungary over the discovery of 71 dead migrants in an abandoned truck with Hungarian number plates. AFP PHOTO / VLADIMIR SIMICEK

Lorry found to contain the bodies of 71 dead refugees on an Austrian motorway, still bearing brand logo of the chicken meat processing firm Hyza, a subsidiary of Agrofert, the vast holding company owned by Czech Finance Minister and oligarch Andrej Babis. The Czech Republic will not take any extraordinary security measures in reaction to the uncovering of 71 dead refugees in a lorry in Austria, Interior Minister Milan Chovanec told journalists today. He said the system of tightened checks of immigrants, applied by Prague since mid-June and also focusing on lorries and coaches, is sufficient.: photo by Czech News Agency, 28 August 2015

As in neighboring Slovakia and nearby Hungary, the rich and powerful are consolidating their control over the Czech media. In Prague, Babis is leading the way in what has been dubbed the “oligarchization” of the media. When the global financial crisis struck, long-term international investors began pulling out. Babis, who already owned a number of influential newspapers, expanded his media holdings: he acquired MAFRA Media Group, which controls the best-selling Czech broadsheet newspaper Mlada fronta DNES, and bought Radio Impuls, which has the largest listenership in the Czech Republic. These outlets regularly feature sympathetic coverage of Babis -- and criticism of his opponents. Since becoming finance minister, Babis has recruited senior police officers, state security agents, and former communist informers to help him consolidate power. This alliance of security forces, business, and the media is currently constrained by independent judges -- though such checks seem increasingly fragile.

Babis’s multiple media outlets have launched investigations into alleged corruption involving Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, whose position Babis craves. After years of genuine media independence, many Czechs are talking of a return to the 1970s, when journalists aligned themselves with the political order. Babis wants to control, not just change, Czech politics.

The rise of Andrej Babis represents a new era in Czech politics -- one that is more preoccupied with business interests than safeguarding democracy. Prague was once a focal point for change in Central Europe, home to the former Eastern Bloc’s strongest dissident traditions. But in 2015, the Czech capital is in a very different place than what was envisaged by those who stood on Wenceslas Square in November 1989.

Corrections, April 23, 2015: Agrofert is the Czech Republic’s fourth-largest company, not the largest, as the article earlier stated. The Czech police conducted wiretaps on Andrej Babis in conjunction with a fraud investigation; his company did not obtain information on rivals through eavesdropping, as originally claimed. And Mlada fronta Dnes is the Czech Republic’s best-selling broadsheet newspaper, not the best-selling newspaper overall.


Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis is seen casting his vote in the European Parliament elections at an elementary school in this file photo taken in Prague May 23, 2014.  REUTERS/David W Cerny/Files

Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis is seen casting his vote in the European Parliament elections at an elementary school in Prague
: photo by David W Cerny/Reuters, 23 May 2014

Governing a state like a business (II): The E-Commerce Solution to the Immigration Problem


Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said the regional climate initiative “does nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses, with no discernible or measurable impact upon our environment.”: photo by Mel Evans/Associated Press, 26 May 2011

Chris Christie: I would track immigrants like FedEx packages: Republican presidential contender revives lagging campaign by telling New Hampshire crowd he would ask FedEx to devise an immigrant tracking system: Reuters  29 August 2015

New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, said on Saturday he would combat illegal immigration by tracking foreign visitors like FedEx packages.

Christie, who is well back in the pack seeking the Republican nomination for president, told a campaign event in the early-voting state of New Hampshire that, if elected president, he would ask FedEx’s chief executive officer, Fred Smith, to devise the tracking system.

Immigration has become a top issue in the Republican campaign, with front-runner Donald Trump vowing to deport all the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and to build a wall along the southern border.

“At any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is. It’s on the truck. It’s at the station. It’s on the airplane,” Christie told the crowd in Laconia, New Hampshire. “Yet we let people come to this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them,” he said.

FEDEX E-COMMERCE SOLUTIONCOMPONENTS OF THE E-COMMERCE SOLUTIONAccording to me some information systems/processes involved ...

Fedex E-Commerce Solution
: graphic by Aabhas Rastegi: image by Aabhas Rastogi via Fed Ex Corporation (MIS)


Christie has been lagging in recent opinion polls and is in danger of not making the top 10 candidates who will participate in the next official Republican debate, on 16 September.
With real estate mogul Trump taking a hard line on illegal immigration, other Republican candidates in the 2016 White House race have sought to toughen their stances as well.

Christie did not say specifically how the system he proposes would track people the same way packages are tracked by FedEx, which scans a bar code on the package at each step in the delivery process.

A FedEx spokeswoman declined to comment on Christie’s remarks.



There were long lines at the local approaches to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, N.J., because all but one, right, had been closed: photo by Amy Newman/Northjersey,com, 12 September 2013