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Eagle ‘hot spot’ in Virginia could be replaced by a golf course and homes

But if the corporation that owns the land where they live has its way, moving day will come soon.

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Richmond County recently approved a request from Diatomite Corporation of America to rezone a large section of the cliffs for a sprawling resort with pricey housing and an 18-hole golf course atop a habitat used by tens of thousands of eagles each year.

The proposed development on the rezoned land has set off a heated skirmish in sleepy Richmond County, which federal troops occupied during the Civil War. It also is known as the place where native tribes fired arrows at explorer John Smith as he sailed through in 1608. In the fall, the county board will consider whether to allow construction.

Opponents such as the Chesapeake Conservancy and Friends of the Rappahannock say wiping away hundreds of trees will destroy the scenery that Smith viewed before English settlers arrived.

Even worse, they say, a resort that would take years to build could permanently damage one of the most important gathering places for eagles in the Chesapeake Bay region. Hundreds of eagles live there, and as many as 20,000 visit to feed on shad, herring and blue catfish as they migrate between Canada and South America. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, also has expressed concern.

“This is a global hot spot,” said Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology, a research group that studies nature and birds at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. “There’s no other place on the continent like the Chesapeake Bay for eagles, and this place is one of the most important places in the bay. It’s an eagle magnet.”

But a backer of the project said the conservationists are part of “a cabal of interests,” including property owners along the Rappahannock, who are using environmental issues as a wedge to keep the remote and quiet landscape to themselves. He described their opposition as a NIMBY movement — “not in my back yard.”

“You feel like you’re being shot at all the time,” said Robert Smith, an attorney for Diatomite, which is based in Miami, according to court records. The land that conservationists call historic and pristine was once denuded for resources to fight the Civil War, Smith said. Now, the eagle population, which has rebounded nationwide after being classified as endangered, is so plentiful that they appear to be everywhere in Virginia, he said.

“It’s a false assumption that man and nature can’t co-exist,” Smith said.

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The bald eagle is one of the biggest success stories of the Endangered Species Act. America’s national symbol was nearly eliminated by destruction of its habitat, food contamination, illegal shooting and pesticide use in the 1970s. But the population recovered with protection and was removed from the endangered list eight years ago.

On a recent Tuesday, about two dozen brown-feathered eagles,1-year-old and younger, playfully screeched and swooped at each other over the Rappahannock. Nearby, an adult bald eagle glided over still water and snatched a fish.

They inhabit Fones Cliffs, where bluffs a 1,000 feet high overlook a wide section of the river. The Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to purchase the land in recent years but failed. And a budget request by President Barack Obama this year that would have provided funds to conserve a major portion of the property was denied by Congress, said Joel Dunn, president and chief executive of the Chesapeake Conservancy, who helped lobby for that effort.

Diatomite bought the land in the 1950s for a chalky sedimentary rock of the same name. The rock was heralded for its many uses — from an additive in cement to a kitchen grease cleanser to a purifier of beer. But cheaper substitutes have lessened its value.

Three years ago the company envisioned another use for the property. The land would be developed for a 116-room lodge, guest cottages and a 150-seat restaurant, as well as 718 homes that would cost between $300,000 and $500,000, said Morgan Quicke, Richmond County’s administrator.

“This is certainly much bigger than anything than we’ve ever been a part of,” Quicke said.

Diatomite promised the county planning board that the development will bring new jobs and added tax revenue to a county still recovering from the 2008 recession.

In a nod to county history, Smith said in a February presentation that “monuments will be erected to recognize John Smith and the first English settlers.” An 18-hole championship golf course would tie everything together.

And Smith, the attorney, said that there would be millions of dollars in additional tax revenue. Conservation easements that protect virgin land from development now yield $5 per acre in taxes for the county. “Our property . . . will generate approximately $9,000 per acre,” Smith said.

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But will buyers flock to what Quicke described as “a very rural part of the county . . . big farms, big land owners, big tracts of land, narrow roads” 35 miles from the small city of Fredericksburg? The largest road, two-lane Route 624 is so sparsely traveled that workers didn’t bother to paint a yellow stripe.

Most homes in the area cost no more than $150,000, and they would be dwarfed by the 3,500-square-foot houses in the proposed project.

The county board of supervisors will start considering the proposal in the fall, a process that could take a year. Its attraction to buyers is “something that needs to be determined as we go through the process,” Quicke said.

Diatomite says there’s a market, but what the county “might consider is maybe getting a second opinion.”

Hill Wellford, whose 2,200-acre property sits along the river, said there’s no reason to think that people will flock to the area after eagles are chased from Fones Cliffs. Wellford joined one of several conservation groups opposed to the project and wrote a letter to the planning board to denounce the project.

“The vision is not to be against development, but to focus on how to protect essential natural features, spawning crabs and bird habitat,” said Wellford, a retired lawyer.

Wellford said that 10 active eagle nests are on his land. Through binoculars, he recently watched two nesting, one with a lifeless fish in its talons. “You realize you’re seeing something special.”

But Smith argues that Virginia’s eagle population has grown to a saturation point, so large that younger birds cannot find unoccupied territory. Citing Watts and other bird experts, Smith said eagles “will nest at airports, on a chimney, at nuclear power plants.”

Yet Watts, with the Center for Conservation Biology, said he is strongly opposed to development.

Watts said he has debunked past arguments by conservationists who sought to stop developments by using the destruction of the eagle habitat as an excuse. But “this is different than those. That area is a nexus for populations across the coast. There’s a much larger public good at Fones Cliffs that trumps local landowner rights.”

Iran nuclear deal seen cutting oil prices by $15 a barrel

Iran and world powers reached a preliminary agreement on April 2 that set the parameters for further negotiations needed to complete an agreement by a June 30 deadline.

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The re-entry of more Iranian barrels could cut the agency’s price projection by $5 to $15 a barrel, the EIA said Tuesday.

“If a comprehensive agreement that results in the lifting of Iranian oil-related sanctions is reached, then this could significantly change the STEO forecast for oil supply, demand, and prices,” the EIA said in the report. “However, the timing and order that sanctions could be suspended is uncertain.”

Iran’s full return to the oil market risks delaying a recovery in prices, which have slumped by almost half since last year amid a supply glut. Iran could boost output by at least 700,000 barrels a day by the end of 2016, the EIA said. The nation produced 2.85 million barrels a day in March, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The EIA said in the report that West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, will average $70 next year and Brent will be at $75.03. The forecasts don’t take additional Iranian supply into consideration.

The additional output from Iran could lead to an annual average growth of about 500,000 barrels a day in global inventories in 2016, stressing storage capacity and pressuring prices, the EIA said. The agency projected that global stockpiles will grow by 100,000 barrels a day in 2016, without considering additional supplies from Iran.

Iran holds at least 30 million barrels in storage and could move oil out of storage more quickly during the second half of 2015 “in preparation to increase production if discussions on sanctions show progress,” the EIA said.

“As a result, the global market may see incremental increases in Iran’s crude oil exports before seeing a substantial increase to Iran’s production,” the agency said.

The pace and volume at which more Iranian oil can re-enter the market are uncertain, the EIA said.

The key to making a sheet pan meal work; recipe

Since the dawn of time, my working lunch has been yogurt, fruit, raisins and sunflower seeds.

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But for the past few weeks, a photo team has been working in my house, shooting the images for my next book, “Dorie’s Cookies.” Every day it’s lunch for the crew – and lunch isn’t apple and yogurt. One day we had my Farmers Market Frittata; on another, Claudia Ficca, the food stylist, made salmon burgers. We’ve had baked rigatoni, quinoa salad, stuffed peppers and lots of green salads with chunky vegetables and tomatoes from the garden.

And then one day, when time was short, we had this dish: chicken, apples, onions and kale, cooked on a sheet pan and ready in a smidge over half an hour. We declared it a triumph, and it has become one of my go-to dishes.

The expression “sheet pan dinner” is trendy now, but really the one-sheet meal is not all that different from a one-pot meal, except that it’s so much faster. The essence of a sheet pan meal is that it is, indeed, a meal, and the key to making the meal great is that everything you put on the pan has to cook in the same amount of time as its neighbors. It’s a bit of a juggling act to find foods that go together and have the same cooking times, but you can usually make the dish work by paying attention to how you cut things. Chunks cook faster than wholes; chicken and fish cook faster than beef, depending on how you slice, dice and chop; and seafood cooks super fast.

For this dish, I chose bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts – big ones; the two halves weighed in at about 1 1/2 pounds total – and then I hacked them in half crosswise. Because I’m a sucker for meat and fruit, and because it’s the season, I included cored and halved apples. There are red onion wedges alongside the apples, and kale hides under the chicken; make sure to tuck in as much of the kale as you can, so that only a few frilly edges peek out and singe under the high heat. But what really makes the dish is the seasoning, a mix of vaguely Moroccan and kind of Middle Eastern spices.

The main spice is ras el hanout, a North African blend that’s rarely the same from one spice mixer to another. It typically includes sweet spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and allspice; musky ones, like cumin; bright notes of ginger, galangal, coriander and pepper; and some floral notes, often from rosebuds. It’s exotic, and it’s made a touch more exotic and more citrusy when you add ground sumac to it. You can substitute garam masala for the ras el hanout and lemon zest, and a tad of additional salt for the sumac, and the dish will still be terrific.

You can also change the spices completely, of course, and you can add a head of garlic, cut in half (or swap it for the onions), use pears instead of apples, or include wedges of sweet potato. Don’t skip the fresh lemon juice on the finished dish. The juice adds vividness to the spices and perks up the roasted onions and kale.

After having this quick, hearty, satisfying dish for lunch, it’ll be hard to go back to a steady diet of apple and yogurt – and maybe I won’t.

Dorie Greenspan’s Sheet Pan Chicken With Apples and Kale

4 servings

Ras el hanout is a complex spice blend with North African roots; you can make your own or buy it.

It will help to have an instant-read thermometer (for the chicken).

MAKE AHEAD: The spice mixture can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to several weeks.

Ras el hanout and ground sumac are available at Whole Foods Markets and at Mediterranean markets.

From cookbook author Dorie Greenspan.

Ingredients

About 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the baking sheet

1 tablespoon homemade or store-bought ras el hanout (may substitute garam masala; see headnote and find the recipe online at washingtonpost杭州桑拿会所,/recipes)

1 teaspoon ground sumac (may substitute the finely grated zest of 1 lemon plus a pinch of salt)

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

Pinch ground harissa or ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon honey

2 large apples, preferably Honeycrisp

2 lemons, one of them cut in half

1 medium red onion, trimmed and cut into quarters

About 8 large leaves curly kale, stemmed and torn into large pieces

2 skin-on, bone-in chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2 pounds total), cut in half (may substitute 4 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs)

Steps

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or a double layer of parchment paper; oil the surface.

To make the spice mixture, stir together the ras el hanout, sumac, the 3/4 teaspoon of salt, the 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper and the harissa or cayenne pepper, then stir in the honey and 1 teaspoon of the oil.

Peel the apples, core them and cut them in half horizontally. Squeeze the juice from a lemon half over the apples and rub it in (to keep the fruit from discoloring). Arrange the apple halves cut side up on the baking sheet, using one half of the pan for the apples and the onion, and spoon some of the spice mixture on top of each apple (about 1/3 of the mixture, total, spooned around the top of each). Put the onion quarters on the sheet, then drizzle a teaspoon or two of the oil over them and season each lightly with salt and a little black pepper.

Season the torn kale with a little salt, rubbing the salt into the leaves, and then toss with 1 teaspoon or so of the oil. (They will wilt a bit.) Arrange the kale on the other half of the baking sheet.

Cut each chicken breast crosswise in half (for a total of 4 pieces; if you’re using thighs, leave them whole). Rub the remaining spice mixture into the chicken pieces, on all sides. Place the chicken on top of the kale, tucking the leaves of kale in so that most of them are covered by the chicken. Squeeze the juice from the remaining half of the lemon over the chicken. Cut the squeezed lemon halves in half and nestle those quarters among the chicken pieces.

Roast (middle rack) for 25 to 35 minutes or until a thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the chicken registers 165 degrees.

Cut the remaining lemon into quarters for serving, for squeezing over the chicken, apples and kale.

Divide the chicken, apples, kale and onion quarters among individual plates; serve right away.

Nutrition | Per serving: 360 calories, 30 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 500 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 14 g sugar

Greenspan is the award-winning author of 11 cookbooks, the most recent of which is “Baking Chez Moi.” Read more on her Web site, doriegreenspan杭州桑拿会所,, and follow her on Twitter: @doriegreenspan.

Inversions are often last stop for companies avoiding U.S. taxes

Many companies invert after years of avoiding billions of dollars in income taxes by routing profits offshore that should have been reported in the United States, according to Internal Revenue Service filings in tax court.

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Shifting their legal address abroad makes it easier for them to tap the cash without paying taxes on it.

Five companies involved in inversions — Medtronic, Covidien, Eaton, Abbott Laboratories and Ingersoll-Rand — are in court battles with the IRS over income credited to units in low-tax jurisdictions such as the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg and Bermuda. Those companies collectively hold about $67 billion in offshore earnings, barely taxed anywhere in the world.

The cases raise questions about one of the most common justifications companies offer for inverting — that they should be able to use their foreign profits without paying onerous U.S. taxes. A substantial share of that income isn’t really foreign but was earned in the United States, according to the IRS.

Companies that assert they must move overseas to use offshore cash are “hypocritical,” said Gabriel Zucman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics. “They’ve chosen to book those profits in these countries with extremely low tax rates or zero tax rates. The U.S. does not force them to book profits in Bermuda or the Caymans.”

The companies say that their taxable profits are allocated to subsidiaries around the world in accordance with the law. Most of their overseas profits are not being disputed by the IRS. Moreover, many companies that aren’t inverted also avoid U.S. income taxes by shifting profits offshore.

Unlike most countries, the U.S. has a global taxation system. American companies owe income taxes at a rate of 35 percent on their profits worldwide. Because they can defer the bill on profits attributed to overseas operations until the money is repatriated, companies push income out of the U.S. through “transfer pricing.” In other words, corporate subsidiaries pay each other for the use of valuable patents, brand names or other goods.

Such profit shifting costs the U.S. and Europe more than $100 billion annually, according to two recent academic estimates. It also means that U.S. companies are sitting on at least $2 trillion held by foreign subsidiaries.

“The real game is not shifting headquarters or profits to Ireland” through inversions, said Zucman. “The real game is seeking close to zero tax rates by moving profits to places like Bermuda or Caymans and so on. This has been done on a massive scale by U.S. firms.”

The share of U.S. multinationals’ profits attributed to a handful of tax-friendly locales — including Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland and Grand Cayman — has more than doubled over 20 years, from 25 percent in 1993 to 56 percent in 2013, U.S. Commerce Department data compiled by Zucman show. In some cases, the share of profits that companies attribute to those countries is ten times greater than the portion of actual workers there, the Congressional Research Service found last year.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group funded by governments around the world, is attempting to restrict profit shifting. Its initiatives could affect U.S. companies including Google, Apple and Starbucks.

“Transfer pricing is the elephant in the room,” said Stephen E. Shay, former deputy assistant secretary for international tax affairs at the Obama Treasury Department, now a professor at Harvard Law School. “Transfer pricing is what makes inversions even more valuable.”

If American companies want to use their offshore cash in the U.S., they must pay corporate income tax at a rate of 35 percent, with a credit for taxes paid abroad. While some companies over the years have figured out ways to bring home the cash and avoid that bill without taking a foreign headquarters, they are increasingly inverting abroad to save those taxes. The technique often requires merging with a smaller foreign company, and then choosing an address in a tax-friendly jurisdiction like Ireland or the Netherlands. Sometimes the merger partner is a company that itself inverted from the U.S. Top executives typically stay in the U.S. and the overseas offices often employ just a handful of people.

In the past three years, 14 U.S. companies have shifted their legal addresses to tax-friendlier jurisdictions abroad. Seven more are pursuing similar plans, including Burger King Worldwide and semiconductor maker Applied Materials. The Treasury Department introduced rules in September to restrict the benefit of inversions.

Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based medical device maker, cited its untapped overseas cash when it announced plans in June to change its legal address to Ireland through a merger with Covidien.

“This is not about lowering tax rates,” Medtronic Chief Executive Officer Omar Ishrak said at the time. “What we will have is access to the cash generated outside the U.S.”

Yet at least $1 billion of Medtronic’s foreign profits never should have been there, the IRS alleges in U.S. Tax Court filings. Instead, those profits were improperly attributed to a mailbox in a Grand Cayman office building to avoid taxes, according to the government. The IRS has called the company’s profit shifting “absurd,” characterizing it as “a transfer to a shell corporation domiciled in a tax haven which had little or no operations there.”

Medtronic attorneys have said in court filings that the IRS’s attempt to tax those profits is “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.” Fernando Vivanco, a company spokesman, said Medtronic “pays all applicable foreign taxes on its foreign earnings in the countries in which it conducts business.”

Medtronic’s prospective merger partner Covidien, already an inverted company, is in a separate IRS dispute. The government alleges that Covidien shifted too much profits to a subsidiary in Luxembourg through an intra-company loan. Covidien, run from the Boston suburb of Mansfield, was once part of Tyco International, which inverted into Bermuda in 1997. Covidien was spun off from Tyco in 2007 and later moved its legal address to Ireland.

Covidien’s attorneys have called the IRS position “erroneous,” court filings show.

Covidien is one of several inverted companies to route profits to Luxembourg, according to court filings and recent disclosures by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The funnelling of profits to the tiny nation prompted an effort by the European Parliament to censure European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, formerly the Luxembourg prime minister for almost 19 years. The censure vote failed last month.

Industrial manufacturer Eaton shifted its legal address from Cleveland to Ireland in 2012. One result: the company reported a tax rate of just 0.6 percent last year, down from 12.9 percent in 2011.

For several years, an Eaton unit in the Cayman Islands reported returns on capital of more than 400 percent, according to an IRS filing. The agency called that “unjustified,” and is seeking about $127 million in back taxes.

Eaton said the analysis by IRS economists challenging its offshore arrangement is “without foundation in fact or law.”

While the company employs 103,000 people around the world, it expects to have “just less than 100 employees” in its corporate office in Dublin, said Scott Schroeder, a spokesman.

Ingersoll-Rand is also in a court dispute with the IRS. The interest paid on intra-company loans enabled Ingersoll-Rand to shift profits out of the U.S. and into subsidiaries in Luxembourg and Barbados, court filings show. (The company, which operates out of North Carolina, has shifted its legal address first to Bermuda and then to Ireland.) The IRS is seeking almost $1 billion in back taxes, interest and penalties from the company, according to securities disclosures.

Ingersoll-Rand has taken advantage of gaps in the law and received hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. government despite a federal ban on awarding contracts to inverted companies. Misty Zelent, an Ingersoll-Rand spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Then there is Abbott Laboratories. The company plans to shed a chunk of its overseas generic drug business and merge it with pharmaceutical company Mylan Inc. Abbott will retain a stake in the combined business, which would be incorporated in the Netherlands. Mylan will continue to be run from the Pittsburgh suburbs.

Abbott has used a tax shelter known as a “Double Irish” to move at least $3 billion in profits to Bermuda, records show. That technique is being phased out by the Irish government after international pressure.

In the U.S., Abbott is in a $312 million IRS dispute over moving valuable patent rights to Ireland. Abbott is in settlement discussions with the IRS, said Scott Stoffel, a company spokesman.

Abbott is sitting on $24 billion in offshore earnings on which it has paid no U.S. taxes, securities filings show. If the deal is completed, the portion of that cash that ends up with Mylan will likely never be taxed in the U.S. at all.

“Everyone seems apologetic about inversions — I’m not,” Abbott CEO Miles White said in a July conference call. “It’s about access to your capital that already had its taxes paid and not so much about ducking U.S. tax, as people seem to think.”

_ With assistance from Zachary R. Mider in New York.

Cuban artist pushes boundary between art and politics, and pays a price

From a young age, Bruguera, 46, won international acclaim as an irreverent, barrier-breaking performance artist.

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She smeared the floor with pig’s blood to make a point about sexual assault. She stripped naked and ate dirt in tribute to Cuba’s vanished indigenous tribes. During one performance in Colombia, she circulated trays of cocaine — real cocaine — among the audience, inviting viewers to try it. They did.

By comparison, what landed Bruguera in trouble with communist authorities seems rather mild. Soon after the Dec. 17 announcement that the United States and Cuba would restore diplomatic relations, Bruguera flew to the island from Europe and tried to organize a free-speech forum. The transgressive part was the location: Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

It was meant as a challenge, she said — a test to see how much Cuba was willing to change as part of its new relationship with the United States.

The event never happened. Before she could reach the plaza, Bruguera was arrested, along with more than two dozen supporters. Since then she has been detained four more times and has been barred from leaving the country while facing charges of disturbing the public order, resisting arrest and inciting criminal behavior.

Cuban authorities “are trying to depict me as a rebel without a cause,” Bruguera said in an interview, her arms still bruised after being hauled off by police with members of the Ladies in White opposition group after their weekly protest march.

“I am a rebel, but one with a cause, and it’s one that they have given me: the fight on behalf of freedom of expression and against political hatred,” she said.

Cuban authorities do not see Bruguera as a causeless rebel so much as a calculated provocateur, backed by anti-Castro forces abroad, who is swooping in for a political stunt. Soon after she arrived in late December, Bruguera said, security officials took her aside to issue a warning about her plans for the open-mike event.

“They told me: ‘You think you’re coming back here to create another Maidan (the square in Kiev where Ukraine’s 2013-2014 revolution began), but we’re not going to let you.’ “

Bruguera’s treatment also suggests that communist authorities intend to send a signal to other Cubans who are thinking of returning home to take advantage of new economic opportunities and easing tensions with the United States. Cuba is willing to welcome them back as entrepreneurs, sure, but not as dissident activists.

Bruguera, who has lived most of the past two decades in the United States and Europe, says she never emigrated from Cuba. In recent years, as she worked to organize an immigrant political party in Paris and joined the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, her creative work increasingly smudged the line between art and activism.

The former — in particular the kind that takes place in museums and movie theaters — has considerable latitude in contemporary Cuba. The latter, when it occurs in the street, does not.

In 1961, two months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, Fidel Castro issued the famous dictum that would lay out his view of artistic freedom: “Within the Revolution, anything goes; against the Revolution, nothing.” Cuban artists have been trying to figure out what that means pretty much ever since.

The issue is not an academic one. Art is big business in Cuba, and one of the careers that allows young people to earn income independently, profiting from a global fascination with the island that is as strong as ever, particularly among collectors in the United States.

Over the years, as censorship eased, art also became an outlet for expression in a country that doesn’t allow traditional activism. Young Cubans who seethe at their government’s political controls or Internet restrictions can’t protest in the street, but they can produce dark, brooding works of art that dramatize or satirize Cuban reality. And international collectors love the stuff.

Bruguera, who earned a master’s degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and went on to teaching positions in the United States and France, doesn’t make objects that look nice on a coffee table or complement the drapes. Her art, by nature, is intangible and somewhat unpredictable.

And because Bruguera wants to blur the line between art and political activism, it can also make it difficult to discern where her “performance” starts and ends.

Bruguera’s legal ordeal over the past six months serves a broader artistic goal, she says, in which the Cuban government has been an all-too-willing participant in her attempt to probe the boundaries of expression at what she sees as a pivotal moment in her country’s history.

“All of this is a performance,” she said. “It is unfolding as events occur.”

The government prefers theater, she said. “It likes having a script that can be acted out by a cast of characters it creates.”

In contrast, she said, “performance is a space for spontaneity, where human beings can be themselves, instead of acting out roles.”

Like Cuban authorities, critics of the Obama administration do not view Bruguera’s case as an abstract exercise in aesthetics. Her arrest is proof, they say, that Cuban President Raúl Castro isn’t opening up at all and that Obama’s policies have emboldened him to be more repressive.

“We’re not naive,” read a statement by the president of Cuba’s Fine Arts Association on the day of her arrest. “The meaning of this performance isn’t going to be interpreted as a work of art. It is a political provocation.” Her goal, the statement said, was the same as that pursued by Castro’s opponents, who, it added, helped promote her appearance.

“The act has no other aim than to undermine the negotiations that have given hope to many human beings, above all Cuba’s 11 million people,” the statement read.

Bruguera, who identifies herself as a leftist and calls Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., her “favorite politician,” insists it is not her intention to embarrass the Obama administration or give fodder to its critics. She said her goals are wholly related to Cuba’s uncertain future. She wants a new law protecting freedom of speech and to open a center for art and activism named for the late political theorist Hannah Arendt.

Bruguera’s most recent arrests occurred in the middle of Cuba’s biggest art festival — the Havana Biennial — with many of the world’s leading gallery owners and collectors in town. Some supporters urged a boycott and gathered protest signatures on her behalf, but ripples from Bruguera’s case haven’t reached very far beyond Cuba’s arts scene.

Some artists and critics said they have been confused about her goals. They don’t want to see Bruguera treated as a criminal, but they said they are puzzled as to what the avant-garde artist was trying to accomplish.

“I never saw Tania as a political activist,” said Cristina Vives, an art curator and historian who worked with Bruguera earlier in her career and considers her “brilliant.”

“She didn’t need it to be effective as an artist,” Vives saod. “And she has always been one of the most effective artists I know of.”

Asked if she viewed her work as “against the Revolution” and beyond the boundaries vaguely established by Castro in 1961, Bruguera answered with a question.

“What is the Revolution today?” she asked. “I think the negotiations with the United States have created a crisis of identity and a need to redefine what ‘revolution’ means.”

Secret Service director revises account of his role in leak case

Director Joseph P.

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Clancy this week alerted investigators from the Department of Homeland Security that he was revising his account, the officials said. Clancy says he now remembers details of the incident, which involved agency personnel circulating information from its files that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), an outspoken critic of the service, had once applied for a job at the agency and was turned down.

During a highly publicized inquiry by the DHS inspector general, Clancy told investigators that he was unaware of the information about Chaffetz until being informed April 1 that The Washington Post planned to publish an article about the matter, according to the report by Inspector General John Roth. Clancy also told investigators that he had been unaware that his staff was circulating the information internally, in violation of federal privacy law.

Roth’s report, released Wednesday, found that 45 agents and supervisors had peeked at Chaffetz’s personnel file, which was stored in an internal Secret Service database. The report said 18 supervisors, including the deputy director and Clancy’s chief of staff, knew that the information had been accessed inside the agency. But the report said Clancy was a notable exception and had never been informed.

Clancy now says he knew that the unflattering information was being shared inside his agency and was told about it by a top deputy before it was leaked to the news media, officials said.

As a result of his new statements, investigators from Roth’s office plan to reinterview Clancy about his revised account, the officials said.

In a statement to The Post, Clancy said Thursday that after the inspector general’s report was released this week, he recalled becoming aware on March 25 of a “speculative rumor” that Chaffetz had applied to the service and had been rejected. Clancy said he considered it at the time to be “not credible” and “not indicative” of any inappropriate action by employees.

“It was not until later that I became aware that this rumor had developed as Agency employees had used an Agency database to gain access to this information,” Clancy said in the statement. “I feel it is extremely important to be as accurate as possible regarding my knowledge of this matter and I have personally spoken to Chairman Chaffetz to advise him of the additional information that I provided to the Inspector General.”

Chaffetz, who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and has often clashed with Secret Service brass, said in an interview Friday that Clancy apologized to him in a telephone call. The lawmaker said Clancy also acknowledged during the call that he had learned the information about the job application several days before it became public but then had forgotten.

Chaffetz said it’s troubling that the director didn’t seem too concerned about his staff members knowing something they would have learned by violating federal privacy law.

“It wasn’t as if the director made any effort to squelch this at the time,” Chaffetz said. “He knew about it the day after the hearing. There’s no evidence that he did anything about it.”

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Lawmakers from both parties have said the efforts to embarrass Chaffetz are intolerable and have called on Clancy to punish those in his agency who were involved. One of Clancy’s hand-picked assistant directors, Edward Lowery, urged that the information about Chaffetz be made public, according to Roth’s report.

A Secret Service official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said Clancy should not have been expected to know immediately that the information came from an internal file or that it posed a problem.

“Upon receiving a speculative rumor of this nature, a senior manager or any other employee would have no reasonable expectation to immediately know, or instinctively presume, that the information had to come from a Secret Service data system,” the official said.

The latest disclosures about Clancy come at time when doubt is mounting over his ability to reform the agency after high-profile security failures and misconduct in recent years.

President Obama picked Clancy as director this year against the advice of an administration panel of experts, who urged selecting an outsider to help improve the Secret Service. Clancy is a 27-year veteran of the agency and the former head of the president’s security detail. The panel said the Secret Service needed a transformative new leader without agency ties who could shake up its entrenched culture of secrecy and impunity.

In this latest incident, top leaders in the Secret Service began fuming when Chaffetz led a March 24 committee hearing at which he repeatedly criticized Clancy for mishandling several cases of security lapses and misconduct, and accused him of misleading the committee. Within minutes of the hearing’s start, an agent looked up Chaffetz’s name in an internal master database, and found that he had applied to be an agent in 2003 and had been turned down without getting an interview, according to Roth’s report.

Roth’s team found that Lowery had urged making public that Chaffetz had been turned down for a job. “Just to be fair,” Lowery wrote in his March 31 email.

“Again they are demonstrating why we need to conduct thorough oversight of their agency,” Chaffetz said in reaction. “Their culture is reprehensible.”

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On Friday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Clancy expressing his deep concern at the effort to use private information to smear a critic, and he demanded answers about how Clancy would hold people accountable in the incident.

“No one, whether a Member of Congress or a private citizen, should have private information violated in this manner. This incident is precisely why Americans do not trust the federal government with their personal information,” Goodlatte said.

He demanded that Clancy tell him by Wednesday how he will discipline the individuals identified as sharing this information and specifically asked about Lowery.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), a friend of Chaffetz who sat in on a briefing Wednesday on the investigation’s findings, said Clancy needs to recognize that the agency has broken a sacred trust with the public – not just a congressman.

“This is about expecting and trusting law enforcement officials to use the special tools we entrust them with,” Gowdy said. “You cannot use these special tools the public gives you to go after someone doing their job.”

In response to the inspector general’s findings about inappropriate conduct at the Secret Service, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday that Obama was concerned about the activity but had not lost faith in the director.

“The president certainly has confidence that the appropriate steps will be taken to hold accountable those who didn’t follow procedures,” Earnest said. “When there are mistakes that are made, we’ve seen the director do the right thing, which is step up and take responsibility and offer an apology where it’s appropriate, but also assure not just Congressman Chaffetz, but also the president and the American people, that there will be accountability.”

Earnest added that the service’s initial response to this report is an indication that “there is strong leadership in place at the Secret Service.”

Despite the high expectations set by Obama and DHS leaders, the agency has been bedeviled by more high-profile miscues.

In March, two top supervisors, including the second in command of Obama’s security detail, spent a night drinking at an agent’s retirement party in a downtown bar and then drove onto the White House complex, through barricades and into an investigation of a suspected bomb. A watch commander decided to let them drive off without any sobriety testing, even though officers on the scene thought that both men were drunk.

In April, a female staffer reported that a top supervisor at headquarters had sexually assaulted her at an office party. That same month, an errant gyrocopter landed on the White House grounds, revealing that the service had little protection from drones and similar unmanned aircraft.

NSW man flees car washed down river

A man who climbed out of his car as it was being washed away in floodwaters has been rescued after sheltering in a NSW cabin for two days.

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Michael Bermingham’s car was washed off a road near Upper Allyn on Tuesday night but the 56-year-old reportedly managed to escape along with his dog after his car was swept three kilometres down the flooded Allyn River.

“I was being rumbled and tumbled and turned around in water upside down,” he told ABC at John Hunter Hospital.

He said he may have been in the waters for nearly 20 minutes before he managed to escape and make his way to a nearby cabin to the north of Dungog.

Mr Bermingham was found on Thursday shortly after his belongings were found nearby by members of the public.

He is in a stable condition at John Hunter Hospital.

Recovery efforts around the state are continuing as residents return home to assess the damage in Raymond Terrace.

“The storm waters have rattled quite a few of the houses. There is going to be a bit of a clean-up,” Port Stephens Deputy Mayor Chris Doohan told AAP.

For those returning home it could be hard to know how to get support to repair damage, Legal Aid Disaster Response co-ordinator Brenda Staggs said.

“When people have been through something traumatic like this, dealing with insurers can be a little bit confusing,” Ms Staggs said.

Although the damage was not as extensive as the havoc wreaked by storms in the region in April, she expected many calls in the coming weeks.

She also reminded people that temporary accommodation costs could be claimed from insurers.

NRMA insurance spokeswoman said they had already had around 860 claims for storm damage to homes across NSW and the damage was quite widespread.

SES has reminded people not to take risks around floodwaters even as the weather cleared.

“It is particularly dangerous after events. That’s when we have some bad accidents,” SES spokeswoman Sue Pritchard said, warning people not risk driving through areas until floodwaters had cleared.

Rescue crews are still searching for experienced yachtsman Mal Lennon, 62, after he was washed overboard by a large wave while at the helm of his yacht Amante on the NSW mid-north coast on Wednesday.

The search near Broughton Island off the coast of Port Stephens is being carried out by marine police but rescuers say there is little chance the sailor survived rough sea conditions.

Official: VA improperly spent $6 billion on care

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been spending at least $6 billion a year in violation of federal contracting rules to pay for medical care and supplies, wasting taxpayer money and putting veterans at risk, according to an internal memo written by the agency’s senior official for procurement.

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In a 35-page document addressed to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, the official accuses other agency leaders of “gross mismanagement” and making a “mockery” of federal acquisition laws that require competitive bidding and proper contracts.

Jan Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, describes a culture of “lawlessness and chaos” at the Veterans Health Administration, the massive health-care system for 8.7 million veterans.

“Doors are swung wide open for fraud, waste and abuse,” he writes in the March memo, which was obtained by The Washington Post. He adds, “I can state without reservation that VA has and continues to waste millions of dollars by paying excessive prices for goods and services due to breaches of Federal laws.”

Frye describes in detail a series of practices that he says run afoul of federal rules, including the widespread use of purchase cards, which are usually meant as a convenience for minor purchases of up to $3,000, to buy billions of dollars worth of medical supplies without contracts. In one example, he says that up to $1.2 billion in prosthetics were bought using purchase cards without contracts during an 18-month period that ended last year.

He also explains how VA has failed to engage in competitive bidding or sign contracts with outside hospital and healthcare providers that offer medical care for veterans that the agency cannot provide, such as specialized tests and surgeries and other procedures. Frye says VA has paid at least $5 billion in such fees, in violation of federal rules that the agency’s own general counsel has said since 2009 must be followed.

Frye alleges further violations in the agency’s purchase of billions of dollars worth of prosthetics and in the acquisition of a wide range of daily medical and surgical supplies. He says many products are bought without the competitive bidding and contracts essential to ensure quality care, effective use of tight dollars and proper government oversight.

“These unlawful acts may potentially result in serious harm or death to America’s veterans,” Frye wrote. “Collectively, I believe they serve to decay the entire VA healthcare system.”

VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said in a statement that some of the care the agency pays for is not covered by federal acquisition law. She also said that the agency is trying to manage rapid growth in medical care administered by outside providers, with authorizations for outside medical care jumping 46 percent in the first four months of 2015 over the same period last year.

Dillon said VA officials are urging Congress to pass legislation that would allow an “expedited form of purchasing care” for veterans who need to go outside the VA system. She said the bill “would also resolve legal uncertainties that have arisen” regarding the use of purchasing agreements other than those required by federal acquisition regulations.

VA has been under intense pressure to provide adequate care to the surge of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Frye makes clear in his memo that the agency’s violations of purchasing law have been going on for years and that senior leaders have had many opportunities to revamp their practices.

He discloses his repeated efforts to raise his concerns with other senior officials at the agency but says he was consistently ignored. He also accuses top agency officials of deceiving Congress when they were asked about questionable practices.

VA operates one of the largest healthcare systems in the country, spanning 150 hospitals and more than 800 outpatient clinics. The agency has been struggling to serve not only the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but also a surge in veterans who served in the 1960s and 1970s.

VA has been rocked since last year by revelations about long wait times for veterans seeking treatment for health issues including cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. McDonald’s predecessor, Eric Shinseki, resigned as VA secretary last year after a coverup of monthslong hospital wait times became public, and Congress has given the system $10 billion in new funding to ramp up private medical care.

On Thursday, Frye will have a chance to explain his concerns directly to lawmakers. He is scheduled to testify before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee about waste and fraud in the purchase card program.

Frye, 64, is a retired Army colonel who has overseen VA’s acquisitions and logistics programs — one of the federal government’s largest — since 2005. In his role as the agency’s senior procurement executive, he is responsible for developing and supervising VA’s practices for acquiring services and supplies, but he is not in charge of making the purchases. A former Army inspector general, he has held senior acquisition positions over 30 years in government.

Some of his concerns were previously flagged by VA’s inspector general, who has reported for years that weak contracting systems put the agency at risk of waste and abuse. Thousands of pharmaceutical purchases were made without competition or contracts in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, often by unqualified employees, investigators found. And according to documents that have not been made public, the inspector general’s office has warned VA repeatedly that its use of purchase cards needs better oversight.

For the most part, Frye does not explain why the rules are so widely flouted. But he suggests, in this discussion of purchase cards, that the reason may be laziness. He calls these payments an “easy button” way of buying things. Frye told McDonald he became aware in 2102 that government purchase cards were being used improperly by VA. About 2,000 cards had been issued to employees who were ordering products and services without contracts, Frye recounts.

He said his concerns grew after learning that a supervisor in New York had recorded more than $50 million in prosthetics purchases in increments of $24,999 — $1 under the charging limit on each card. In a response to a member of Congress who inquired about the purchases, Shinseki had few answers. “No contract files exist” and “there is no evidence of full and open competition,” Shinseki wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Post.

Purchase cards, Frye says in his memo, can be a sufficient means of acquiring goods and services for “micro-purchases” up to $3,000. Above that limit, the cards can be used for payment only if there is a certified invoice linked to a properly awarded contract.

Frye’s concerns about payments for outside medical services are rooted in the reality that VA hospitals do not have the resources or specialists to provide all the treatment veterans require, such as obstetrics and joint replacements. For these services, VA normally refers veterans to a list of doctors or labs in their area.

The agency, Frye says, is required to identify providers through a competitive process and contract with them to ensure that the government pays reasonable prices and gets the best value and quality. And contracts help ensure veterans are legally protected if they get poor care or if a medical procedure goes wrong.

But according to Frye’s account, VA spent about $5 billion on outside medical care in both 2013 and 2014 in the absence of contracts, and such practices “extend back many years.” “Based on my inquiry in January 2013, (the Office of the General Counsel) confirmed in writing the fact VHA was violating the law,” Frye says.

Large medical systems similar to VA order many supplies in bulk through a list of approved vendors, identified through a competitive process, to ensure quick delivery for the best price. But VA’s system for these “just-in-time” purchases is deeply flawed, and this is yet another way that the agency wastes money, Frye says.

He writes that there are many types of supplies that are not covered by these arrangements. Instead, they are ordered off the shelf, without competition and for higher prices, from a “shopping list” containing 400,000 items, “indiscriminately and not in accordance” with acquisition laws.

Tennessee shooter struggled with clash of faith, drugs

It was getting late and Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez had work the next morning at his new job some two hours away in Franklin, said a close friend who was with him that night and spent several hours with him in the days leading up to the shooting.

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Abdulazeez dropped off a couple of his friends at their homes on the night in April, snorted some crushed caffeine pills and started to drive.

A little after 2 a.m., Abdulazeez was arrested for driving under the influence, according to court papers, an incident sharply at odds with blog posts in which he portrayed himself as a devout Muslim and his existence in this world a “prison of monotony and routine.”

The portrait emerging of Abdulazeez isn’t one of a committed Muslim or vengeful jihadist, but rather an aimless young man who came from a troubled home and struggled to hold down a job after college, said friends and law enforcement officials.

He never dated, the friend said.

In a statement, his family said Abdulazeez’s mental illness had contributed to the crime. “For many years, our son suffered from depression. It grieves us beyond belief to know that his pain found its expression in this heinous act of violence,” the statement said.

Abdulazeez had been in and out of treatment for his depression and frequently stopped taking his medication, despite his parents’ pleas for him to continue, said a person close to the family.

Abdulazeez smoked pot occasionally and then would feel guilty for violating his faith and beat himself up for it, said the close friend who has known Abdulazeez for 15 years and was recently questioned by the FBI. The friend, also a Muslim, spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because he is concerned for his family’s privacy.

The friend said Abdulazeez was especially ashamed of his DUI arrest, which led to his mugshot being posted online and in Just Busted, a newspaper sold at local gas stations.

“He was pretty upset about it,” said the friend, who spoke with Abdulazeez almost daily in the weeks and days leading up to the shooting. “It was kind of degrading to him.”

Abdulazeez’s friends said he liked to shoot guns, drive four-wheelers through the mud and hike in the mountains. Within the past year, he bought two assault rifles — an AK-74 and an AR-15 — and a Saiga 12 pistol-grip shotgun from an online weapons site. Abdulazeez and his friends would drive out to the Prentice Cooper State Forest, where they would blast away at the state park’s gun range. None of his friends thought twice about his decision to purchase military-style assault weapons.

“Take any typical Chattanoogan — Christian or Muslim — and he’s going to like to shoot guns, ride trucks and climb mountains,” the friend said.

Abdulazeez’s father was angry when he spotted one of the assault rifles in their home, and Abdulazeez hid other guns from him. “His dad was always against him having guns and said they weren’t safe to have around the house,” the friend said. Abdulazeez insisted that he was old enough to handle them responsibly.

The friend and Abdulazeez — along with two other young Muslim men — spent hundreds of hours together over the past four years, including the weeks and months leading up to the violent attack. Sometimes they talked about the Middle East’s bloody wars, such as the battles between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and the chaos in Syria.

Abdulazeez blamed some of the bloodshed on U.S. foreign policy.

“All of us are upset right now about the fighting. It wasn’t anything that would throw up red flags,” said the friend. “We never would have seen this coming at all, but especially from him. Nobody suspected a thing. If we had, we would have done something to prevent this from happening.”

Indeed, the most striking thing about the last days that Abdulazeez spent with friends is how normal they appear to have been. Two days before the shooting, he texted his friend to ask if he wanted to go hot-rodding outside Chattanooga.

“You wanna go to lookout?” he asked, referring to the mountain on the city’s outskirts.

“IDK,” the friend replied. “I might have to run a few more errands.”

“I hear ya,” Abdulazeez texted back. “Let me know.”

The two men met up later that night around 11 p.m. and took off in a Ford Mustang Abdulazeez had rented — the same car that he used in the attacks. They drove for hours around the curving mountain roads surrounding Chattanooga. “We talked and had a lot of ‘oh [expletive]’ moments,” said the friend who recalls returning home around 3 a.m. Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, the friends exchanged texts for the last time. The friend was struggling with how to balance his Muslim faith with the more secular demands of his work, which included serving bacon to customers.

Abdulazeez responded a quote from the prophet Muhammad — that speaks to the tensions in the world between believers and non-believers. “Whosoever shows enmity to a wali [friend] of Mine, then I have declared war against him,” it begins. It ends by encouraging devout Muslims to keep the faith and draw closer to God.

Although the exchange suggests Abdulazeez was devout, he often seemed to struggle with his faith. Abdulazeez was fasting for the Ramadan holiday, which requires Muslims not to eat or drink during daylight hours. But he doesn’t appear to have regularly attended his parents’ mosque in the months leading up to the shooting, according to members of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga.

“The father came regularly. The mother did occasionally,” said Bassam Issa, the president of the society, which includes the mosque. “We really didn’t know much about the boy. He wasn’t around.”

Abdulazeez also struggled to find work after he graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with an engineering degree. He briefly landed a job at a nuclear power plant in Ohio but was dismissed when he failed a background check. He told friends he had failed the company’s drug test after smoking marijuana.

He remained in Ohio, where he lived with relatives and worked for a moving company.

Back home, his family also appeared to be struggling. His mother had filed for divorce in 2009, alleging physical and sexual abuse, but later pulled the petition. In recent years, their house, in a middle-class suburb of neatly tended lawns and towering oaks, began to fall into disrepair. The home’s wooden clapboards are warped, and the gray paint is peeling. The lawn is badly overgrown.

Issa said that immediately after the shooting, Abdulazeez’s father apologized for the damage his son had done. “He was distraught,” Issa said. “His voice was broken, and he said he was very sorry for what his son caused to the community of Chattanooga and the Islamic community here.”

Issa wondered if Abdulazeez had been radicalized during his several trips to Jordan, the last in 2014 when he was in the region for seven months.

“It has to be the overseas trip that caused this,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can figure out.”

Others who knew Abdulazeez when he was a mixed-martial-arts fighter reflected on his time in the ring, searching their memory for signs of potential violence.

Chet Blalock, owner of Blalock’s International Mixed Martial Arts Gym in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., described Abdulazeez as “very respectful” but stubbornly determined.

“My students would get him in a chokehold, and he wouldn’t tap out,” Blalock said, describing an incident in 2012. “He would just go to sleep.”

“It was a little crazy,” he added.

Less than two hours after the violent rampage, Abdulazeez’s friend texted him to check when they’d be able to meet up for the Muslim holiday of Eid. He’d seen the news alerts about the shooting in Chattanooga and wanted to talk about it with Abdulazeez, who he assumed was still at his new job outside Nashville.

By that point, Abdulazeez was already dead.

An earnest ‘My bad’ is good business

When he complained about the noise in Cabin 7243, he says a cruise line representative offered to either relocate him “temporarily” to a different room or to give him earplugs.

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He couldn’t move because he was next to his elderly in-laws, who needed his assistance.

“No further compensation was offered, and we felt that we were just brushed off,” says Landman, who works for a hotel in Las Vegas.

I asked Carnival about Landman’s cruise. It reviewed his case and decided that as a “goodwill gesture” it would refund 20 percent of his cruise fare and offer him a 15 percent discount on a future sailing.

Landman wants to know: Is that a sincere apology?

It’s a timely question. Companies are constantly apologizing to their customers, but the recent news cycle has delivered two high-profile mea culpas for travelers. Volkswagen last month said it regretted rigging some emissions tests, stating it was “deeply sorry” that it betrayed the trust of its customers and the public. United Airlines’ new chief executive, Oscar Munoz, is on a national apology tour, admitting the company hasn’t lived up to customers’ expectations since its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines.

For wronged travelers, simply having a company admit to a problem is a good start. But gauging the sincerity of the apology is not always so easy.

Although there’s no magic formula for determining whether an apology is genuine, there are indicators of good faith, experts say. They include the right timing, sufficient remorse, an offer to be transparent and cooperative, concrete actions and appropriate compensation.

One of the hallmarks of a sincere apology is its promptness. “Are they doing it because the clock has run out and they have no choice?” asks Dan McGinn, a reputation management expert based in Arlington, Virginia. “A public apology, when it ultimately comes, is often too convoluted to be of any real value. The wording is carefully calibrated to express regret, without accepting responsibility.”

An apology like VW’s, which came soon after the scandal hit the news, is more compelling than United’s, issued via full-page newspaper ads years after the painful merger with Continental and subsequent low customer-service scores. (It’s also more convincing than Carnival’s, which came only after a consumer advocate asked about Cabin 7243.)

For an apology to be effective, a company must admit its guilt. And that can be difficult, according to Matt Brubaker, a corporate messaging expert with FMG Leading. “In many cases, public apologies are really not apologies at all, but PR statements designed to minimize risk, eliminate negative consequences and save face while sidestepping the actual wrongdoing or misstep,” he says.

Another sign the apology is legitimate is whether it is accompanied by a sincere expression of remorse, preferably from someone at a high level, according to “When Sorry Isn’t Enough” co-author Jennifer Thomas, a researcher specializing in the psychology of corporate apologies.

“You have to not only express regret but also say that you’re sorry for the hurt you’ve caused,” she says.

By that measure, VW and United put a few points on the board. Both apologies came directly from the CEO, even though they were a little vague about the damage they caused their customers.

Credible apologies also have to include a promise to do better, says Gary Frisch, who has covered the VW apology for the Bulldog Reporter, a public-relations trade publication.

“A good apology needs to include the promise of transparency — from the offer to cooperate with any investigation to taking questions from the media and answering them as fully as possible,” he says. “The minute you say, ‘No comment,’ or walk away from the microphone without a Q&A, you’ve lost the public’s trust.”

The apology must also be accompanied by action, like taking Cabin 7243 out of the Miracle’s inventory, improving airline service or even finding new leadership.

“You look at their actions,” says Rasheen Carbin, who handles PR for a technology company in Oak Brook, Illinois, “not just their words.”

Carbin says by that standard, VW’s mea culpa, which came from its (now former) CEO, Martin Winterkorn, was pretty sincere, “not because it was especially heartfelt but because he lost his job. Nothing shows the public that you’re serious like someone getting fired.”

Munoz didn’t offer a way to contact him directly in his newspaper ads, instead pointing the public to a generic company Web site. That hasn’t gone over well with some of United’s customers.

Compensation is another element of a sincere apology — maybe the most difficult of all. How do you make things right?

“A business should offer a refund, replacement or an additional gift item or service to show their sincerity,” says Toni Coleman, a McLean, Virginia, psychotherapist and relationship expert. “This would truly say, ‘We are sorry, value your opinion and business, and want to serve you again.’ “

Carnival’s offer certainly fits that bill. It’s still unclear how VW will compensate its customers, and United hasn’t offered its passengers any kind of make-good for the years of dreadful service they received.

And the final ingredient? “Asking for forgiveness,” says Thomas, the psychologist. That’s often implied in corporate mea culpas but rarely articulated.

No apology is perfect, of course. Landman isn’t turning down Carnival’s money, but he is unsure whether he’ll ever book another cruise with the line. VW owners are stuck with their vehicles, and United’s customers are unlikely to defect to another airline, now that most competition has been squeezed out of the industry.

Anyone care to apologize for that?

Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. E-mail him at [email protected]杭州桑拿按摩,.