Archive for October, 2013

Anti-Austerity Protesters Clash with Police in Rome

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

At least 16 people, including four officers, have been injured and eight protesters were arrested, as anti-austerity protesters clashed with police on Thursday in the centre of Rome.

A police helicopter swooped over central Rome as demonstrators pelted lines of police with eggs and fruit, threw “thunder flash” pyrotechnics and climbed on top of police vehicles.

The protesters were calling for more affordable housing, better wages and improved conditions for immigrants and refugees, tens of thousands of whom live in a twilight zone of semi-legality in Italy, with many forced to squat in disused buildings or sleep rough.

Organisers said Thursday’s protest was a continuation of an anti-austerity march through Rome on Oct 19.

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Sofia Architecture University Joins Student Blockades

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Bulgarian Architecture Students are joining  the “Occupy” protest movement and are demanding the resignation of Sofia chief architect.

Students from the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, UACEG in the Bulgarian capital Sofia are joining the blockade movement staged at other schools, informs bTV on Thursday.

In a statement issued to the media the architecture students vow to firmly stand behind the “occupy” protest movement against the current government.

Students from UACEG also demand the resignation of Sofia chief architect Petar Dikov over “controversial projects that slowly, but surely are destroying our city”, announced the students, as cited by bTV.

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Employment Litigation: Who is Your Enemy?

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

employment litigation

When a company is sued by an employee, the company naturally views the employee as the problem.  But in many cases, another equally dangerous enemy exists in employment litigation – disguised as the company defense lawyer.  The legal fees paid to defense firms can easily eclipse the amount paid to resolve the case.

The legal profession as a whole has come under attack for being too expensive and inefficient.  Law school applications are declining and compensation paid to lawyers is falling as clients demand better value.

Many sectors have adjusted to the new climate, but the major employment defense firms remain largely unchanged. Let’s explore.

Your Legal Bill May Exceed the Cost of Settlement

Most employment defense firms today are made up of hundreds of lawyers and support staff in offices located throughout the country at prestigious addresses.  The lawyers are well compensated and enjoy large private offices.

Who pays for this massive overhead?

You do when you hire one of them to defend you. These giant legacy operations thrive on inefficiency.  They have a financial incentive to protract disputes to generate fees. This is why these firms send two lawyers to take the plaintiff’s deposition.  And it is why these depositions last an entire day or more.

That deposition, however, could easily be handled by a single lawyer in one or two hours.

Multiple Seven Hour Depositions of Employees

A recent wage and hour case brought by security guards serves as an example of billing abuse.  In that case, the security gaurds sued to recover overtime pay.  The issues were simple.  The job of a security guard is no secret.

Yet the defense firm deposed each guard for an entire day.  Two lawyers for the defense were present at each deposition.  The settlement obtained by the guards mostly likely was less than the fee earned by the defense lawyers.

The business owner would have been better off paying the guards early in the case.

Slim Odds and Big Bills

Summary judgment is another billing bonanza for defense firms.  In almost every case, these firms file motions and generate sizable bills.  The motions, however, are rarely effective and can easily be defeated simply by showing a material factual dispute.

Material fact disputes exist in most employment cases.

Affordable Alternatives and Better Service

The large traditional defense firms are safe choices for large enterprises with deep pockets or insurance.  The problem with these firms is that they are not cost effective.

Why pay $80,000 to solve a $40,000 problem?

What Should You Do if Sued by an Employee?

Here is a simple road map:

Assess Legal Costs in Advance

Conduct an early realstic assessment and try to resolve the matter before legal costs mount.  The employee and their firm are equally motivated to resolve the matter early and will do so at a discount.

Minimalistic Defense

If early resolution is not possible, take an aggressive, focused and minimalistic defense of the claim.  Do only what is abosultely necessary to win the case.  Most all cases are winnable.

Seek Project Pricing

Use a law firm that offers project pricing with upfront, agreed upon prices for each task. For example, the deposition of the plaintiff should take no more than two hours and cost $2000 or less.  Consider hiring a firm the also represents employees as they may have a more balanced approach.

Mediate a Resolution

Mediate a resolution if possible. Know that 95% of employment cases settle and your case will also. So keep your costs down but be prepared to win at trial if necessary.

Court Photo via Shutterstock

The post Employment Litigation: Who is Your Enemy? appeared first on Small Business Trends.

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High-Stakes Tourism: Vampire Hunters Descend on Bulgaria

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

By Charlotte McDonald-Gibson
Time magazine

Nikolai Ovcharov is a little dismissive of Count Dracula. The infamous bloodsucker was “a very fierce tyrant,” the Bulgarian archaeologist concedes, but his alleged lair in the Romanian town of Bran is “the smallest castle I have ever seen.” He doubts the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s character even spent the night. It is, he says, “a little bit of lies, a little bit of truth, a little bit of sensation.”

Dracula, it seems, has competition: his name is Krivich, he is a 14th century aristocratic pirate, and since the discovery of his skeleton with a iron spike through his chest near Bulgaria’s Black Sea town of Sozopol last year, vampire hysteria has descended on Bulgaria.

Tourist visits to Sozopol’s archaeological museum have tripled since the discovery. A Japanese film crew is the latest to make the trek to the coast for a documentary on the ghoulish find.

Bulgaria’s archaeologists are a bit bewildered by the attention. Vampire mythology is nothing new to the country: since the advent of Christianity in the 10th century, burial rituals have involved mutilation of some corpses to prevent them rising again to prey on the innocent. Now the archaeologists are puzzling over exactly what cocktail of truth, lies and sensation is appropriate to lure the tourists without compromising their scientific integrity.

“We should use everything that is interesting and sensational: historical fact, legends, myths,” says Ovcharov, a professor at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and a vampire expert. But he adds: “I’m afraid at the moment of vulgarization and diverting from the real explanation of these rituals.”

Krivich is not Bulgaria’s only outcast with a stake through his chest. More than 100 such sites have been uncovered across Bulgaria, and the practice continued well into the past century. Burial rituals aimed at keeping the dead firmly in the ground were performed on anyone who died an unnatural death or lived a lawless life. They ranged from pirates and other criminals to suicides, children who died before they were christened and people who lived to an unnaturally old age.

Ovcharov has documented more than 20 rituals deviating from the traditional Christian burial. One body had metal rings on its arms and legs pinning the skeleton down. Others have heavy stones on the grave, while many have their hands bound. “The families are responsible to stop the vampire transformation of the dead body,” he explains. “These people believe that between the first and fourth day after the death, the human soul is not in paradise or hell, it stays between sky and earth and it is in danger from evil powers.”

Ovcharov is not adverse to sensationalism. He relishes his reputation as a maverick of the archaeological world, boasting that he has “a big collection of hats — much more than the original Indiana Jones.” But there is one measure he insists upon: once anthropological investigations are finished, all the vampire graves his team unearths must be given a second funeral and reburied.

This had brought him into conflict with Bulgaria’s other famous vampire expert, Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the Bulgarian National History Museum. It was his team who uncovered Krivich, and the bones have been excavated and put on display at the Sozopol Archaeological Museum. His presence has boosted the museum’s profits by up to 300%.

“When the interest is down, we will bury him,” Dimitrov insists. “We will always rebury all skeletons we found. They are the builders of this county, they are the fathers of this country, so we need to pay them some respect.”

Interest does not, however, appear to be dying down, and Bulgaria could definitely do with any tourist dollars the graves may attract. It is the poorest nation in the European Union, with more than a quarter of its young people out of work. The government is trying to promote tourism to boost the economy, and it seems to be working. Tourist numbers have been rising each year since 2009, and so far this year they are up nearly 6% on the same period in 2012.

Despite Ovcharov’s skepticism about Count Dracula, Transylvania-based tourism consultant Gavin Bell says Bulgaria should take some tips from Romania on luring tourists with the myths. “It brings in the literary types, it brings in the Goths and the vampire fans,” says Bell, who also runs a tour company, Discover Carpathia.

Even if the bones are reburied, replicas can be created and sites developed in which history and culture is told through interactive displays and interactions with the local community.

“You do it with real communities and not in staged, folklore ways,” says Bell. “That way you bring in real money to rural economies, and not just to a few tour operators and a few places like a museum and the guys doing the kitsch stuff.”

There is always place for the kitsch, however, and Ovcharov is warming to the idea of a museum. If he had the funds, he would like to replicate U.S. museums he has visited like the Lincoln Memorial, which combine multimedia and artifacts. But if the worst comes to the worst, he says, “we should put some records of screams and artificial blood … how else are we going to present the vampires?”

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Syria’s Chemical Weapons Equipment Destroyed – OPCW Experts

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Syria’s declared equipment for producing chemical weapons has been destroyed, the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW says.

Syria’s declared equipment for producing, mixing and filling chemical weapons has been destroyed a day before the deadline set by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), informs BBC.

OCPW inspectors were sent to Syria following allegations, denied by the government, that its forces had used chemical weapons in civilian areas.

The inspections were agreed between Russia and the US after Washington threatened to use force in Syria.

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South Stream Groundbreaking Ceremony Held in Bulgaria

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Russian-sponsored gas pipeline project South Stream was held Thursday at site of the Bulgarian compressor station “Rasovo.”

The village of Rasovo is in northwestern Bulgaria in the minciplaity of Medkovets, Montana region.

The ceremony was attended via video link from the building of the Council of Ministers in the capital Sofia by the CEO of Russian energy giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria Plamen Oresharski, the Minister of Economy and Energy of Bulgaria, Dragomir Stoynev, and the Energy Minister of the Russian Federation, Alexander Novak.

The construction of the Bulgarian section South Stream gas pipeline was officially launched on Thursday after a meeting of over four hours between Miller and Oresharski.

A year ago the previous center-right government of Boyko Borisov signed signed with Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom the final investment decision for the construction of the South Stream gas transit pipeline.

The South Stream agreement was signed in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on November 15, 2012 by former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, in addition to another agreement for the Russian natural gas supplies for Bulgaria, which stipulates a 20% discount as of January 1, 2013.

The South Stream pipeline is intended to transport up to 63 billion cubic meters of natural gas to central and southern Europe, diversifying Russian gas routes away from transit countries such as Ukraine.

The pipes will go from Russia to Bulgaria via the Black Sea; in Bulgaria it will split in two – with the northern leg going through Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, and Slovenia to Austria and Northern Italy, and the southern leg going through Greece to Southern Italy.

The Black Sea underwater section of South Stream between Russia and Bulgaria will be 900 km long, and will be constructed at a maximum depth of 2 km. In order to service the supplies for South Stream, Russia will expand its own gas transit network by building additional 2 446 km of pipelines with 10 compressor stations with a total capacity of 1473 MW, a project to be called “South Corridor” and to be completed in two stages by 2019.

The pipeline’s core shareholders include Gazprom with 50%, Italy’s Eni with 20% and Germany’s Wintershall Holding and France’s EDF with 15% each. Gazprom has already established national joint ventures with companies from Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Hungary and Serbia to manage the onshore section of the South Stream pipeline.

The opposition right-wing Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB) party recently slammed the South Stream gas pipeline project as the “second huge corruption-ridden project of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the Kremlin and the energy mafia.”

To illustrate their point, DSB members pointed out that Bulgaria was not going to receive any money at all for 15 years in a row and all revenues generated by the gas pipeline during the period would go to Russian energy giant Gazprom.

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Sofia University President Prof. Ivan Ilchev: Occupation – Bad Idea

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Interview of Novinite.com and Novinite.bg with Professor Ivan Ilchev, Ph.D. in history, president of Sofia University, the oldest and biggest higher education facility in Bulgaria.

In recent days, Bulgaria’s capital Sofia has witnessed a series of student protests and the occupation of university buildings that have injected new life into a persistent anti-government movement.

We talked with Prof. Ilchev as students still occupy “Lecture Hall 272”, the largest teaching room in Sofia University’s St. Kliment Ohridski building.

Professor Ilchev, could you give us an update about the situation at Sofia University?  Is it still under anti-governmental siege?

Everything is normal at Sofia University.

But do teachers have access to the building? Is it possible to have lectures and preserve the educational process normal?

No, at the moment this is not possible. Teachers do not have access to the building, only people from the administration staff are allowed to enter.  In other words the university staff is looking after its everyday tasks.

Do you expect that the students will decide to put an end to the occupation of the university soon?

I have no idea, I am no Vanga.

Do you plan to hold meetings with the protestors, who have occupied the building of the university?

We do that every day, we discuss the situation with them every single day.

What do you think of occupation as a way to show disapproval and protest?

I did my best to convince the protestors occupation of the building is a very bad idea. The declaration of the Academic Council also says that the students should seek other ways of protest, because right now the university is the only institution that suffers losses from this protest, not those against whom it is directed.

Do you sense a political element in the occupation?

Yes, of course.

Politics and protests against the current political order in Bulgaria entered the university.  How do you feel about that?

Politics should be kept out of universities. Unfortunately in real life things happen differently and not always as we would like them to happen.

How about meeting students who are against the occupation? May be they can help solve the crisis?

We have tried that too. It is impossible to convince someone, who is determined not to listen to a word you are saying.

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Sofia ER Hospital Rallies against Budget Cuts

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

About 200 employees of Sofia’s “Pirogov” emergency hospital staged Thursday a protest rally against budget cuts.

The rally was triggered by the decision of the Nationa Health Insurance Fund, NZOK, to pay only 80% of activities of medical institutions by the end of the year.

The idea for the protest has occurred spontaneously in the morning and was supported by the entire staff. Not everyone attended the rally as this would mean completely shutting the hospital, the demonstrators are quoted in saying.

On Wednesday, NZOK has transferred to “Pirogov” 80% of the money due for September, said Associated Professor Stoyan Milanov, Head of the hospital.

According to him, the amount will merely cover employees’ salaries.

“I hope this protest will not affect the patients and our work. This is a cry for help, a shout of indignation. We cannot go on the same way any longer. This must end. We certainly want to work in a normal way. Without security, we cannot continue. This is one of the strategic hospitals, does anyone think about this,” said Milanov.

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KAL’s cartoon

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Politics this week

Thursday, October 31st, 2013
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