Russia Bans Jehovah’s Witnesses, Calling It an Extremist Group

MOSCOW — Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday declared Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that rejects violence, an extremist organization, banning the group from operating on Russian territory and putting its more than 170,000 Russian worshipers in the same category as Islamic State militants.

The ruling, which confirmed an order last month by the Justice Ministry that the denomination be “liquidated” — essentially eliminated or disbanded — had been widely expected. Russian courts rarely challenge government decisions, no matter what the evidence.

Viktor Zhenkov, a lawyer for the denomination, said Jehovah’s Witnesses would appeal the ruling. He said it had focused on the activities of the organization’s so-called administrative center, a complex of offices outside St. Petersburg, but also branded all of its nearly 400 regional branches as extremist.

“We consider this decision an act of political repression that is impermissible in contemporary Russia,” Mr. Zhenkov said in a telephone interview. “We will, of course, appeal.”

An initial appeal will be made to the Supreme Court’s appellate division, Mr. Zhenkov said, and if that fails, Jehovah’s Witnesses will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France.

Hard-line followers of Russia’s dominant faith, the Orthodox Church, have lobbied for years to have Jehovah’s Witnesses outlawed or at least curbed as a heretical sect, but the main impetus for the current campaign to crush a Christian group active in Russia for more than a century seems to have come from the country’s increasingly assertive security apparatus.

Founded in the United States in the 19th century, Jehovah’s Witnesses has its worldwide headquarters in the United States and, along with all foreign-led groups outside the control of the state, is viewed with deep suspicion by Russia’s post-Soviet version of the KGB: the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B.

Summing up the Justice Ministry’s case against the denomination, the ministry’s representative, Svetlana Borisova, told the Supreme Court on Thursday that Jehovah’s Witnesses had shown “signs of extremist activity that represent a threat to the rights of citizens, social order and the security of society.”

During six days of hearings over two weeks, lawyers and witnesses for the religious group repeatedly dismissed the extremist allegation as absurd, arguing that reading the Bible and promoting its nonviolent message could in no way be construed as extremist.

Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued in Moscow, condemned the court ruling as “a serious breach of Russia’s obligations to respect and protect religious freedom.”

Rachel Denber, the human rights group’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said the decision delivered “a terrible blow to freedom of religion and association in Russia.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses shuns political activity and has no record of even peaceful — never mind violent — hostility to the Russian authorities. But it has faced growing hostility from the state since President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia began his third term in 2012 and put the Orthodox Church at the center of his push to assert Russia as a great military and moral power.

The denomination suffered relentless persecution by the KGB during the Soviet era, and after more than a decade of relative peace following the collapse of Communism in 1991, it again became a target for official harassment under a 2002 anti-extremism law. That law makes it illegal for any group, other than the Orthodox Church and other traditional religious institutions, to proclaim itself as offering a true path to religious or political salvation.

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NY bans school project asking students to argue in favor of Holocaust

A homework assignment that asked students in an upstate New York school district to argue for or against the Final Solution, from the perspective of a Nazi official, was withdrawn and will not be assigned again.

High school students in an advanced class in Oswego County were given a project to pretend they were members of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party in order to argue for or against the Holocaust’s Final Solution.

“This is an exercise on expanding your point of view by going outside your comfort zone and training your brain to find the evidence necessary to prove a point, even if it is existentially and philosophically against what you believe,” the instructions for the assignment said.

Two students who complained about the exercise were given an alternative task.

But the students, Archer Shurtliff and Jordan April, took their complaint further and called for the teacher to apologize and for the school district to permanently ban the assignment, the Syracuse.com website reported. Neither of the students, both 17, is Jewish.

On Monday, New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the assignment has been permanently scratched.

“Since first learning of the assignment, I’ve done my homework to determine the facts in this situation,” Elia said in a statement. “I spoke with district officials about this serious matter. We agree the assignment should not have been given. The teacher apologized and the assignment will not be used in the future.”

Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League’s New York regional director, praised the district and Elia after saying in a statement, “There is no assignment that could ever be given to students that even hints at a balanced perspective to the horrors of Nazi actions during the Holocaust….

“The notion that students were asked to engage in such thinking trivializes the horrific experiences of the victims and we are pleased that it will no longer be part of the curriculum,” he added.

But State Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn called for Elia’s resignation, noting that last week, she defended the assignment as “critical thinking,” according to the New York Daily News.

Zionist Occupied Government of Germany Bans Free Speech

Angela Merkel has previously said that Germany values free expression. If that is really the case why is it that the government wants to fine websites over $50 million because for user posts containing mean words? Seems like quite the contradiction here.

From AP:

Germany’s justice minister is proposing fines of up to 50 million euros ($53 million) for social networking sites that fail to swiftly remove illegal content, such as hate speech or defamatory “fake news.”
The plan proposed Tuesday marks a further step in Germany’s attempt to impose its strict domestic laws against incitement on the free-wheeling world of online chatter.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party, said social media companies had already taken voluntary steps to crack down on hate crimes that have resulted in improvements.
“This isn’t sufficient yet,” Maas said, citing research that he said showed Twitter deletes just 1 percent of illegal content flagged by users, while Facebook deletes 39 percent.

 

The proposal would require companies to provide a round-the-clock service for users to flag illegal content, which would have to be removed by the site within seven days. All copies of the content would also have to be deleted and social media companies would need to publish a quarterly report detailing how they have dealt with such material.

These proposals are so extreme that even websites like Facebook and Twitter which censor the shit out of material won’t be able to comply. It just isn’t possible for them to do this.
It should be obvious that Germany is one of the most tyrannical governments in the world today.

They put people in prison for having beliefs about fake historical events like the Jew Holocaust or for saying mean things about foreign invaders who are raping and killing people in the streets. This is the furthest thing from free expression.

There is very little difference between the current German government and what George Orwell depicted in his book 1984. Germany needs a revolution and they need one fast!

Why France now bans unlimited soda refills

Five years after passing a tax on soft drinks, France now officially bans unlimited refills of sugary drinks across the country.

Aiming to fight obesity, France’s new all-you-can-drink ban is the latest move amidst a growing global trend, as cities and countries try to reduce overconsumption of sweetened drinks. In the United States, however, where several cities have tried to impose soda taxes, such attempts have faced a difficult fight.

“We’re definitely seeing more interest in taxing sugary sweet beverages both in the United States and around the world, as there’s a growing awareness about the health consequences of overconsumption of sugary sweet beverages,” Julie Aoki, the director of healthy eating and active living at the Public Health Law Center in St. Paul, Minn., tells The Christian Science Monitor.

Recommended: How to create a better food system (+video)

The new regulation, which was adopted in April 2015 as part of a larger public health law, went into effect on Friday. France has already had a tax on sweetened beverages since 2012. The law intends to further the government’s fight to limit obesity and related problems, particularly among young people.

The mandate states that it will be illegal to sell any drinks with added sugars or sweeteners on an unlimited basis, either for a fixed price or for free. In addition to soda, some other affected beverages include flavored non-carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks.

Following the order, soda fountains at school cafeterias, hotels, and restaurants will no longer be available.

A 2014 Eurostat survey shows that 15.3 percent of France’s adults are considered obese, just below the average of 15.9 percent across the European Union as a whole, and much lower than the 36.5 percent obesity rate in the United States.

The new French law, the first of its kind in the world, is in line with the recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO). In October, the WHO, an agency of the United Nations, urged countries around the world to raise taxes on sugary drinks by 20 percent to reduce their consumption as a way fight obesity and health issues that have been tied to obesity.

Some countries have already implemented similar propositions. Mexico, with one of the highest rates of obese adults in the O.E.C.D., introduced a roughly 10 percent “soda tax” in 2014. Britain, where about 25 percent of the adult population is labeled obese, is introducing a sugary drinks tax in 2018.

Yet, as the popularity of taxing sugary drinks spreads around the world, it has met with much resistance in the United States. Opponents of such laws call them government obtrusion into consumers’ personal choices, and question the effectiveness of these taxes.

In June, when Philadelphia’s City Council gave approval for its 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugared beverages, the American Beverage Association released a statement calling the move “discriminatory and highly unpopular.”

“The tax passed today is a regressive tax that unfairly singles out beverages, including low- and no-calorie choices,” the association said.

In Mexico, at least, the tax may be working to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Researchers identified a 6 percent decrease in the sale of sugary beverages in 2014; by the end of the year, that had grown to 12 percent. Meanwhile, sales of bottled water were up by 4 percent.

In the November 2016 election, four US cities passed new soda taxes (San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., Albany, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., ), bringing the total to seven US cities with a soda tax. Berkeley, Calif., was the first US city to pass a sugary drinks tax in 2014, and a 2016 study showed that consumption of soda fell 21 percent in low-income neighborhoods.

Trump bans Syrian refugees, halts entrance from 7 Muslim countries

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday barred all refugees from entering the United States for four months — and those from war-ravaged Syria indefinitely — declaring the ban necessary to prevent “radical Islamic terrorists” from entering the nation.

The order immediately suspended a program that last year resettled to the US roughly 85,000 people displaced by war, political oppression, hunger and religious prejudice.

Trump indefinitely blocked all those fleeing Syria, where a civil war has displaced millions of people, and imposed a 90-day ban on entry to the US from seven Muslim majority nations.

“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas,” Trump said as he signed the order at the Pentagon. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”

Trump said the halt in the refugee program was necessary to give government agencies time to develop a stricter vetting system. But the order did spell out what additional steps he wants the Homeland Security and State departments to take.

Five members of the Jouriyeh family, Syrian refugees headed to the US as part of a resettlement program. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

The US may admit refugees on a case-by-case basis during the freeze, and the government will continue to process requests from people claiming religious persecution, “provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country.”

In an interview with CBN News, Trump said persecuted Christians would be given priority in applying for refugee status.

“We are going to help them,” Trump said. “They’ve been horribly treated.”

Syrian Christians and Muslims offer prayers for nuns held by rebels, at the Greek Orthodox Mariamiya Church in Damascus, Syria, on Sunday, December 8, 2013. (photo credit: AP)

The order was signed on Trump’s most robust day of national security and foreign policy at the start of his presidency, marked by a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May and a lengthy phone call with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

As a candidate, Trump called for a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration to the US. He later shifted his focus to putting in place “extreme vetting” procedures to screen people coming to the US from countries with terrorism ties.

The State Department said the three-month ban in the directive applied to Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — all Muslim-majority nations.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said it would file a federal lawsuit Monday challenging the constitutionality of the executive order.

“There is no evidence that refugees — the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation — are a threat to national security,” said CAIR National Litigation Director Lena F. Masri. “This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality.”

During the past budget year, the US accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 people from Syria. President Barack Obama had set the refugee limit for this budget year at 110,000.

Trump, according to the executive order, plans to cut that to 50,000. Refugee processing was suspended in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and restarted months later.

The president was applauded by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said it was “time to re-evaluate and strengthen the visa-vetting process.” Many Democrats cast the measures as un-American.

“Tears are running down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty tonight as a grand tradition of America, welcoming immigrants, that has existed since America was founded has been stomped upon,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Trump’s order was signed on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which brought to mind the failure to help refugees during World War II.

The order makes no mention of a plan to provide safe zones in Syria and the surrounding area. A draft of the order had directed the Pentagon and the State Department to produce a plan for safe zones in the war-torn Mideast nation.

The president’s directive capped a hectic first week for Trump at the White House, giving Americans an initial look at how he intends to position the United States around the globe.

Earlier Friday, he hosted British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House for his first meeting with a world leader since taking office. Asked about whether he would revert back to Bush-era use of torture, Trump said he would defer to the views of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in the East Room of the White House on January 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

“He has stated publicly that he does not necessarily believe in torture or waterboarding, or however you want to define it. … I don’t necessarily agree,” Trump said. “But I would tell you that he will override because I’m giving him that power. He’s an expert.”

The Associated Press and other news organizations have obtained copies of a draft executive order signaling sweeping changes to US interrogation and detention policy. The draft, which the White House said was not official, also requests recommendations on whether the US should reopen CIA detention facilities outside the United States. Critics said the clandestine sites have marred America’s image on the world stage.

Trump held firm Friday on another controversy — trade and illegal immigration from Mexico. He told reporters he had a “very good call” with Pena Nieto earlier in the day, but he reaffirmed his belief that Mexico has “outnegotiated and beat us to a pulp” on trade — and that would change.

“We’re no longer going to be the country that doesn’t know what it’s doing,” he declared a day after the Mexican leader canceled his visit to Washington in response to Trump’s plans to build a border wall and have Mexico pay for it.

Trump bans government scientists from sharing their work with the taxpayers who funded it

Donald Trump wants to be known as the president who tweets, but his administration is prohibiting government researchers from sharing their findings with the Americans who pay for their work.

The president signed executive orders Tuesday that cut off all new contracts and grantsfor the Environmental Protection Agency — and he also banned the agency’s employees from providing updates on social media or to journalists, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sent an email Monday morning, which was obtained by BuzzFeed News, prohibiting its employees from communicating with the public about their taxpayer-funded work.

Those “public-facing documents” include news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds and social media content, said Sharon Drumm, chief of staff of the Agricultural Research Service.

The U.S. Department of the Interior reportedly ordered employees to stop posting messages on government Twitter accounts after the National Park Service a post comparing the size of Trump’s inauguration with President Barack Obama’s in 2009.

Drumm’s message did not specifically refer to Trump, but the department’s scientists believe the order was a message from the administration.

The memo was vaguely worded enough that department officials aren’t sure whether scientists are allowed to publish studies in academic journals or present findings at conferences.

Washington Post reporter also tweeted Tuesday afternoon that taxpayer-funded economists might also be forbidden from sharing their findings with the public without approval from the Trump administration.

 

A University of Maine researcher issued a warning on social media that additional political attacks on scientists were coming.

“Please, stand up for science and the environment,” warned Jacquelyn Gill, a paleoecologist and biogeographer. “This is the emergency we were all worried about.”

President Obama bans oil drilling in large areas of Atlantic and Arctic oceans

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/12/20/president-obama-expected-to-ban-oil-drilling-in-large-areas-of-atlantic-and-arctic-oceans/?utm_term=.4f71bad1d285

 

President Obama moved to solidify his environmental legacy Tuesday by withdrawing hundreds of millions of acres of federally owned land in the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean from new offshore oil and gas drilling.

Obama used a little-known law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to protect large portions of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic and a string of canyons in the Atlantic stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia. In addition to a five-year moratorium already in place in the Atlantic, removing the canyons from drilling puts much of the eastern seaboard off limits to oil exploration even if companies develop plans to operate around them.

The announcement by the White House late in the afternoon was coordinated with similar steps being taken by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to shield large areas of that nation’s Arctic waters from drilling. Neither measure affects leases already held by oil and gas companies and drilling activity in state waters.

“These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” the White House said in a statement. “They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.

White House officials described their actions to make the areas off limits to future oil and gas exploration and drilling as indefinite. Officials said the withdrawals under Section 12-A of the 1953 act used by presidents dating to Dwight Eisenhower cannot be undone by an incoming president. It is not clear if a Republican-controlled Congress can rescind Obama’s action.

“There is a precedent of more than half a century of this authority being utilized by presidents of both parties,” a White House aide said. “There is no authority for subsequent presidents to un-withdraw. . . . I can’t speak to what a future Congress will do.”

“The U.S. is not acting alone today. Canada is acting to put an indefinite stop to activity in its waters as well,” the aide said. “With Canada, we send a powerful signal and reinforce our commitment to work together.”

David Rivkin, an attorney for the Baker and Hostetler law firm who served on the White House Counsel staffs of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, disagreed with the assertion that the decision cannot be overturned. “Basically I say the power to withdraw entails the power to un-withdraw,” Rivkin said, “especially if you determine the justification for the original withdrawal is no longer valid.”

A legal fight would likely follow, Rivkin said. But “it’s not clear why Congress would want to give a president tremendous authority operating only one way.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) responded sharply on Twitter: “Yet another Obama abuse of power. Hopefully, on[e] that will be reversed…exactly one month from today” after Trump’s inauguration. Cruz closed his tweet with a hashtag: “Taking away Obama’s pen and phone.”

U.S. and Canadian officials have negotiated for months to reach a joint understanding on how to manage adjacent areas in the ocean in an effort to make the new protections as sweeping and politically durable as possible. Meanwhile, advocacy groups lobbied Obama to ban oil and gas leasing in the Arctic entirely.

Obama bans drilling in large parts of Atlantic and Arctic oceans

President Obama banned oil drilling in large areas of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, using a law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.(The White House)

Obama already invoked the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to safeguard Alaska’s Bristol Bay in 2014, and again last year to protect part of Alaska’s Arctic coast. The president has protected 125 million acres in the region in the last two years, according to a fact sheet issued by the White House.

The Beaufort and Chukchi seas are habitat for several species listed as endangered and species that are candidates for the endangered species, including the bowhead whale, fin whale, Pacific walrus and polar bear. Concern for the animals has heightened as the Arctic warms faster than anywhere else in the world and sea ice the bears use to hunt continues to melt.

The underwater canyons protected by the president cover nearly 4 million acres across the Atlantic continental shelf break, “running from Heezen Canyon offshore New England to Norfolk Canyon offshore the Chesapeake Bay,” according to a separate fact sheet.

They are widely recognized as major biodiversity hotspots that are critical to fisheries. The canyons provide deep water corals used by a wide array of fish. The area also provides habitat “for . . . deepwater corals, deep diving beaked whales, commercially valuable fishes, and significant numbers of habitat-forming soft and hard corals, sponges, and crabs,” the White House said.

The American Petroleum Institute denounced the decision. “The administration’s decision to remove key Arctic and Atlantic offshore areas from future leasing consideration ignores congressional intent, our national security, and vital, good-paying job opportunities for our shipyards, unions, and businesses of all types across the country,” said Erik Milito, the group’s Upstream director.

“Our national security depends on our ability to produce oil and natural gas here in the United States,” Milito said. “This proposal would take us in the wrong direction just as we have become world leader in production and refining of oil and natural gas and in reduction of carbon emissions.”

Contradicting the White House’s statement, Milito said George W. Bush removed previous 12-A withdrawal areas with a memorandum and made all but marine sanctuaries available for leasing. “We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this decision as the nation continues to need a robust strategy for developing offshore and onshore energy,” he said.

But a wide range of conservation groups hailed the decision. League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski called it “an incredible holiday gift,” saying that “an oil spill in these pristine waters would be devastating to the wildlife and people who live in the region.”

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called it “a historic victory in our fight to save our Arctic and Atlantic waters, marine life, coastal communities and all they support.” Carter Roberts, president and chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund, applauded what he called “a bold decision” that “signals some places are just too important not to protect.”

Oil production in the Arctic represents a tenth of one percent of the nation’s oil production overall, the White House said. The area is so sensitive and so remote that the economics of exploration is costly.

Shell, which said in September 2015 that it would shelve drilling plans after spending $7 billion and not finding significant amounts of oil, still has one remaining lease in the Chukchi Sea where it drilled a well earlier last year. Shell is also part of a joint venture with Italian oil giant ENI and Spanish firm Repsol in the Beaufort Sea that holds 13 leases.

Shell held other leases in the Beaufort Sea, which the company transferred to the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., a company belonging to the Native Americans in the region.

An earlier plan to allow limited drilling off the Atlantic coast was shelved after state governments along the southern Atlantic coasts — including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia — expressed worries over the effect on their beaches, tourist industry and environmentally sensitive marsh.

The Navy also objected. The Pentagon provided Interior with a map “that identifies locations … areas where the [Defense’s] offshore readiness activities are not compatible, partially compatible or minimally impacted by oil and gas activities,” department spokesman Matthew Allen said. The map included nearly the entire proposed drilling area.

The Obama administration eventually closed the Atlantic to drilling for five years.

President-elect Donald Trump could counter Obama’s plan with his own five-year plan, but even so it would be years before drilling could start.

The president-elect’s authority to undo a permanent prohibition is unclear. But Congress, controlled by Republicans, could move to rescind the withdrawal of federal lands from oil and gas exploration.

Netanyahu bans ministers from speaking to Trump administration

http://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-bans-ministers-from-speaking-to-trump-administration/

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned government ministers from speaking with President-elect Donald Trump or members of his administration.

Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman sent a letter on Monday to ministers instructing them not to speak with the nascent government.

The letter instructed ministers that all contact must be either through the Prime Minister’s Office or the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

This highly unusual move follows the publication of a letter on Saturday written by Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) to Stephen Bannon on the Breitbart website. Ariel thanked Bannon for his support of and friendship with Israel.

President-elect Donald Trump's appointment for senior counselor and chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon looks on during a national security meeting with advisers at Trump Tower, October 7, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Ariel specifically mentioned Bannon’s opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement, his opposition to BDS boycotts of Israel, and Breitbart opening a Jerusalem bureau “to promote Israeli points of view in the media.”

Bannon, who was appointed as President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist, has been roundly condemned by many Israeli and Jewish groups for his alleged support of the white nationalist alt-right movement.

Last week, as the results of the election were announced, Netanyahu instructed his government not to speak publicly about the new president-elect. However the instruction was issued only after several right-wing ministers had praised Trump in the media for his supposed support for Israeli activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu himself congratulated Trump shortly after the results were announced.

“The bond between the US and Israel is based on shared values, shared interests and a shared future. I am sure that President-elect Trump and I will continue to strengthen the special alliance between Israel and the US and we will bring them to new heights,” he said.

The prime minister also released a video after the election congratulating Trump.

Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer met with Trump in New Yorkon Thursday, and declared that Jerusalem was looking forward to working with his entire team — including Bannon.

“Israel has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel,” Dermer told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

Google Bans Hundreds of Accounts For Participating in Pixel Tax-Dodging Scheme

Google suspended hundreds of accounts used by people trying to take advantage of a US sales tax loophole in order to make a profit on the resale of Pixel phones. Although the accounts were restored after a few days, this creates an unsettling precedent for Google users.

Members of the site Dan’s Deals report that they were locked out of their Google accounts after trying to resell Pixel phones. The lockouts caused them to lose access to Gmail, Google Drive, Google Photos, and other Google services. The situation also prevents the affected users from being able to authenticate logins for other accounts. About 200 of those affected received emails stating all of their data would be deleted, if they did not successfully appeal their suspension.

The locked out users were reportedly buying phones from the Google’s Project Fi mobile carrier and shipping them to a reseller Dan’s Deals in New Hampshire, a business that operates from a state with no sales tax. The reseller promised to split the profit from the resale with the original customers. The site had been exploiting the tax loophole for years with the previous Android phones, and it says it never had any issues.

In a statement to Gizmodo, a Google spokesperson said:

We identified a scheme in which consumers were asked to purchase Pixel devices on behalf of a reseller, who then marked-up the cost of those devices in order to resell them to other customers. We prohibit the commercial resale of devices purchased through Project Fi or the Google Store so everyone has an equal opportunity to purchase devices at a fair price. Many of the accounts suspended were created for the sole purpose of this scheme, but since some customers were not aware of these Terms of Sale and are now locked out of many Google services they rely on, we’re restoring access to these customers’ accounts.

It’s not all that uncommon for technology sites to suspend accounts for violating terms of service, but a conglomerate such as Google can often overcompensate for bad behavior by punishing people too hard for minor infractions. People are entangled in the company’s services, and such far-reaching bans can have huge impacts on people’s lives.

Luckily for these customers, not all hope has been lost. Dan’s Deals is reporting that the suspended accounts have been reactivated. Here is the message they reportedly received:

Hello Google user,

Your Google Account was suspended as part of our fraud prevention efforts, based on violations of our Terms of Service and Terms of Sale for Devices. After reviewing your appeal, we are re-enabling your account.
Google takes violations of our terms very seriously, and we ask that you review relevant terms and product policies to ensure that you understand them. Repeated violations of our terms may lead to account termination.
In order to access your Google account, please sign in. When you sign in, you will be asked to verify a security code via SMS. Once you verify the code, you will be able to access your account again.
Last but not least, we wanted to remind you that Google users can always export and download their data from Google products like Gmail, Photos, and Drive while their account is active. In a few easy steps, you can create an archive to keep for your records or backup your data to another service. More information about backing up your data can be found at google.com/takeout.

The entire story is unusual, and shows how Google is trying to take more control over product distribution. Obviously, the creation of the Pixel phone alone is a good indicator that the company wants to take more control over Android phone sales in general—but this shows that Google is getting very serious about how people buy into the Android experience.

Pandemonium as Nuremberg city council bans anti-Semitic photography exhibit

http://www.timesofisrael.com/pandemonium-as-nuremberg-city-council-bans-anti-semitic-photography-exhibit/

 

NUREMBERG, Germany — “Fascists!” the young woman furiously screamed at a speaker at Saturday’s Nuremberg town meeting. Just a few seconds before, a man had grabbed her companion by the neck following a heated exchange, and shook her.

What was supposed to have been a discussion about censorship and the radical Left instead devolved into a violent attack against critics of an anti-Israel group.

The impetus for the town meeting was the aftermath of a decision to ban a group of artists from erecting an anti-Israel exhibit at the Nuremberg Left Literature Fair. The fair takes place each year in the city-owned Künstlerhaus cultural center and Mayor of Nuremberg Ulrich Maly (Social Democratic Party) had prohibited the building’s use for a well-known anti-Semitic program.

The program in question was a photography exhibit on the so-called Cologne Wailing Wall — a controversial interactive art installation that was on display in Cologne’s Cathedral square on and off since 1991. There creator Walter Herrmann, who died this year, invited passersby to write their opinions of the Jewish state on pieces of cardboard.

Historically adorning the “wall” have been such slogans as, “Hitler is the past, but Israel is the present.” Alongside the slogans, a painting showed a man draped in an American flag and a Star of David devouring a boy on the end of a fork. In his other hand, the man held a knife with the word “Gaza” on it. Next to the dinner plate stood a glass of blood.

Jewish organizations, political parties and the mayor of Cologne have accused Herrmann of spreading anti-Semitic sentiments.

The recent Nuremberg town hall meeting was representative of the polarizing effect the subject has had on residents — in fact, at certain points the evening’s events could be only described as pure pandemonium.

Anneliese Fikentscher of Arbeiterfotografie holds up a sign with a quote from the German constitution which says there is no censorship in Germany. (Felix Balandat/Times of Israel)

“I am allowed to be a little bit emotional,” Anneliese Fikentscher said, excusing herself for her use of foul language in front of the roughly 30 people gathered in the Künstlerhaus to discuss the banned exhibit.

Fikentscher is co-head of the Arbeiterfotografie photography association — which developed the current exhibit on the Cologne Wailing Wall — along with her comrade Andreas Neumann.

Fikentscher and Neumann claim the ban is against the city’s restrictions, and have described the actions against their group as censorship, saying the municipality was being unconstitutional. Article 5 in the German constitution prohibits censorship.

Yet some of the meeting’s attendees had other questions — such as why Arbeiterfotografie works together with right wing-publicists, and why the group went to Iran to meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Andreas Neumann of Arbeiterfotografie during a discussion on the Left Literature Fair. (Felix Balandat/Times of Israel)

Elias Davidsson, an Icelandic composer who described himself as a Palestinian of Jewish decent, stepped to the microphone and declared, “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is one of the greatest statesmen in the world!”

Jaws dropped.

A shouting match ensued, with supporters of Arbeiterfotografie taking aim at the critics. At one point, one critic stood up and said, “Fuck off,” before leaving the room.

Two women continued to ask questions, inquiring why Arbeiterfotografie works together with Salafist radicals. After one of the women was physically attacked, the Left Literature Fair’s organizer, Walter Bauer, lost his temper and threw the women out. The attacker, however, remained in the room undisturbed.

Arbeiterfotografie has participated several times at the Left Literature Fair, where this year more than 60 events were held.

Publishers offer their books at the Left Literature Fair. (Felix Balandat/Times of Israel)

Fikentscher and Neumann, heads of Arbeiterfotografie, have been accused of trying to form a “national-socialist querfront,” or unification of the extreme Left and extreme Right. The two contest the fact that Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust, and have reported that the US might have induced the earthquake in Fukushima using weather warfare technology.

The planned exhibit in Nuremberg, which was published online following the ban from the festival, does not mention the discussions about the Cologne Wailing Wall. The installation includes phrases like, “An elite of criminals, the New-World-Order-Mafia, enslaves the rest of the world and controls politics, media and corporations.”

According to Arbeiterfotografie, the Cologne Wailing Wall is an “outrcy against racism and war,” and “a memorial to democracy and freedom of expression.”

But prior to the fair, the publishing house Ventil Verlag decided to cancel its participation, stating that the exhibition is anti-Semitic.

Books on display at the Left Literature Fair. On the left is 'Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews,' published by the anti-Semitic Zambon publishing house. To the right is 'The Road to Auschwitz: And We Stopped Being Humans.' (Felix Balandat/Times of Israel)

“Not least the withdrawal of one of the participating publishers the requests of concerned citizens who heard of this item on the program make it — from the viewpoint of the Künstlerhaus — advisable to not give the impression that even a touch of anti-Semitic sentiments will be tolerated,” said Matthias Strobel, director of the city’s cultural centers.

“We believe in a responsibility to history, to the citizens of our town, to guests and to everyone who finds any relativization of the Holocaust unbearable,” Strobel said.

‘We believe in a responsibility to history’

Apart from Fikentscher and Neumann, other authors and publishers with a profound interest in Israeli politics appeared at the Left Literature Fair this year. One, the Zambon Verlag from Frankfurt, is well known for spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, both from left- and right-wingers.

And publisher Unrast Verlag presented a book that questions the “narrative of selection“ concerning Operation Entebbe. According to an article in the book, the selection of Israeli hostages by German left-wing terrorists was not anti-Semitic because the hostages were selected by their nationality, not religion.

The presence of anti-Israel groups in Nuremberg doesn’t come as a surprise to Norbert Zlöbl, who is head of an arts and crafts program for young people based in the Künstlerhaus. Up until 2008, he represented the Ça Ira publishing house, which is known as a left-wing, pro-Israel organization, at the Left Literature Fair.

‘I call that a militant refusal of reasoning, and what we see today are the unsavory results of that refusal’

Ça Ira was, however, accused of being overly aggressive and was banned from the fair — according to Zlöbl behind the back of many other publishers. Zlöbl says that certain organizers of the fair “didn’t want to tolerate criticism of left-wing anti-Semitism anymore.”

“I call that a militant refusal of reasoning,” he said, “and what we see today are the unsavory results of that refusal.”

In the last few years, anti-Israel activity in Nuremberg has increased. Following the Israeli military’s actions in Gaza 2014, hundreds of demonstrators stormed a Burger King restaurant in Nuremberg’s central train station, believing it was in the hands of Zionists.

This year, a small al-Quds demonstration was held — the only one in Germany apart from another in Berlin.

Also, the anti-Israel organization Solidarity International has been active in Nuremberg for years. On their website one can donate to the Emergency Committee for Relief and Reconstruction of the Jenin Camp. Its general coordinator, Fakhri Turkman was a minister in the Hamas-led Palestinian National Authority government of March 2006. Solidarity International has a post office box in a social center of the city of Nuremberg.

According to its director Matthias Strobel, the Künstlerhaus “cherished the trustful and reliable cooperation with the organizers of the Left Literature Fair.”

Given this, Strobel said that the Künstlerhaus continues to see itself as the future venue of the Left Literature Fair. This assessment was made before the attack against one of the critics at the town hall meeting.

Asked for a statement about the accusations that Arbeiterfotografie was spreading anti-Semitism, the organizers of the fair — two societies associated with the autonomous radical left in Nuremberg — declined to comment to The Times of Israel.

Despite all the commotion surrounding the fair, Joachim Hamburger, press spokesman of the Jewish community, sees no concrete threat of physical harm for Jews in Nuremberg. However, following recent attacks against Jews in Europe, security measures on the community grounds were increased. Hamburger is relieved that the mayor prohibited the exhibit on the Cologne Wailing Wall.

“Every time we have needed this town’s help, she has stood shoulder to shoulder with us,” Hamburger said.