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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1084519 times)
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« Reply #10245 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:00 AM »

France to send troops as UN warns of chaos in Central African Republic

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 7:40 EST

France said Tuesday it would send hundreds of extra troops to the strife-torn Central African Republic after the UN warned the country was descending into “complete chaos”.

Calls were growing for an international reaction to the violence in CAR amid mounting warnings that the mineral-rich but desperately poor nation was on the verge of genocide and faced a “human catastrophe of epic proportions.”

Reports have described a litany of horrors in the landlocked, sprawling country, with security forces and militia gangs razing villages, carrying out public execution-style killings and perpetrating widespread rapes.

France has proposed a UN Security Council resolution that would authorise international troops to use force in its former colony and on Tuesday Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris would send more troops to assist a beleaguered African mission.

“France will support this African mission with about 1,000 soldiers,” Le Drian said on Europe 1 radio, adding that the deployment would be “for a short period, in the range of about six months”.

In contrast to its military intervention earlier this year another former colony, Mali, France this time would be working to assist “an African force that is already in the process of being set up”, Le Drian said.

CAR Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye said after meetings in Paris on Monday that France had talked of adding 800 troops to the 410 French soldiers already based in the capital, Bangui.

Lying in he heart of Africa, CAR has struggled with a series of coups and rebel uprisings since gaining its independence in 1960.

The latest crisis began when a coalition of rebels known as Seleka forced president Francois Bozize to flee in March and replaced him with a rebel leader, Michel Djotodia — the country’s first Muslim president.

A transitional government has since lost control of the mineral-rich country of 4.5 million people.

Risk of regional ‘implosion’

In some parts of CAR, fighting has broken out between mainly Muslim former rebels and militia groups set up to protect Christian communities, which make up about 80 percent of the population.

Western officials and rights groups have said inter-religious tensions are on the rise, with France, the United Nations and the United States all warning of the risk of genocide.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday that the violence could spread.

“If there is a power vacuum and implosion, it will affect all the countries in the region, in Chad, the Sudans, the Congo, Cameroon,” Fabius told France Culture radio.

“It is not called Central Africa for nothing… if the centre of Africa implodes, you will see the consequences.”

France has circulated a draft Security Council which could be passed by the 15-member council next week.

The resolution aims to strengthen an African stabilisation force in CAR as a first step toward turning it into a formal UN peacekeeping mission.

The force, known as MISCA, currently has about 2,500 troops but has been hampered by a lack of funds, arms and training.

The force’s numbers should increase to about 3,600 when it is taken over by the African Union in December.

The Security Council resolution would allow African and French troops to use “all necessary measures” including force to protect civilians in CAR and impose on embargo on all types of arms and ammunition.

‘Catastrophe of epic proportions’

UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson called for the Security Council to act quickly on the crisis.

Eliasson said CAR is “becoming a breeding ground for extremists and armed groups in a region that is already suffering from conflict.”

“A country in the heart of Africa is descending into complete chaos before our eyes,” Eliasson told the council. “The situation requires prompt and decisive action.”

Rights group Amnesty International has also urged the UN to tackle the “human catastrophe of epic proportions unfolding in the Central African Republic”.

“The situation is worsening on a daily basis in CAR, with extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls widely committed with total impunity by members of the security forces and armed groups alike,” Amnesty said.

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« Reply #10246 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:01 AM »

Researchers: Anti-AIDS programs help protect South Africa’s poor from infection from ‘sugar daddies’

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 25, 2013 21:45 EST

Government grants to help poor children in South Africa also play an important role in reducing HIV risk from “sugar daddies” who prey on teenage girls, a study said on Tuesday.

In a wide-ranging probe published in The Lancet Global Health, researchers in Britain and South Africa interviewed 3,500 teenagers and followed this up with another interview a year later.

Teenage girls from households which received child support were two-thirds less likely to have a much older boyfriend compared to counterparts from homes that did not receive the benefit, they found.

These girls were also half less likely to have sex in exchange for food, money or school fees.

South Africa has more than one in six of the world’s tally of people infected with the AIDS virus.

At the end of 2012, it had 6.1 million people with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), of whom 3.4 million were women, according to UN figures.

Half of all new infections were among young people, and girls were two to three times likelier to be infected than boys.

One of the biggest sources of infection are so-called sugar daddies — older men who give girls money or material benefits in exchange for sex.

These men are far likelier than boys in the girl’s age group to have HIV and also likelier to press a girl to have sex without a condom.

“This study shows that as long as they are given enough money to survive, girls will choose not to have a sugar daddy,” said Lucie Cluver of the University of Oxford.

“It also shows how valuable it is to give not only to younger children but also to teenagers, who are most at risk of HIV infections.”

Child support in South Africa was 280 rands ($35 or 26 euros) per month per household in 2012. It was paid to 11.2 million children under 18 under a means-tested scheme. There is also a foster-child grant of 770 rand, being paid for 573,000 children.

Expansion of these programmes means that support now reaches about 70 percent of eligible children in South Africa, according to the probe.

With 100-percent coverage, 77,000 new relationships between girls aged 12-18 and “sugar daddies” could be prevented each year, it estimated.

Two smaller studies in sub-Saharan Africa have previously provided evidence that cash transfers, focused on poor youngsters, can be useful weapons in the fight against HIV.

One was in Malawi, involving a pilot trial that involved small cash payments to girls; the other was in Tanzania, where money was given every quarter on condition that the girl returned a negative result in tests for sexually-transmitted disease.

The study in South Africa, though, is the first to analyse a grant scheme that is taking place in real life and on a massive scale, rather than in carefully controlled research conditions.

It also comes as other sub-Saharan African countries are mulling whether to introduce social welfare payments for poor households with children.

These systems “can substantially reduce unsafe partner selection by adolescent girls,” said the paper.

“(They) are of potential importance for effective combination strategies for prevention of HIV.”

There were limits to the advantages of the South African scheme, the investigators added.

It helped wean girls off dependence on “sugar daddies,” but did not reduce their exposure to other HIV risks, such as having unprotected sex when drunk.

Nor did the grant scheme have any change in HIV risk for boys, who comprised half of the volunteers in the study.

The teenagers were from four urban and rural areas in Mpumalanga and the Western Cape.

The interviews were carried out between 2009 and 2012 when the grant scheme was expanding, and some eligible households received the money but others did not.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #10247 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:03 AM »

Tunisian rapper and journalist each get suspended jail terms for protest-related charges

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 25, 2013 17:00 EST

A Tunisian court Monday handed suspended four-month prison sentences to a Tunisian rapper and a journalist accused of insulting public officials, and acquitted another musician, their lawyer told AFP.

“This is an initial victory, because they risked a year and six months in prison,” Ghazi Mrabet said, adding that he would discuss the verdict with his clients and advise them to appeal.

Tunisian rappers Aymen Feki and Moustapha Fakhfakh, as well as the French-Tunisian journalist Hind Meddeb, were charged with insulting public officials and attacks on public morals, crimes punishable by jail terms of one year and six months respectively.

Fakhfakh was acquitted.

The charges related to a confrontation between police and protesters in June at the end of the trial of rapper Weld El 15, who was jailed for defaming the police in a song by the same court in the Ben Arous suburb of Tunis.

Meddeb was accused of insulting the police in the courtroom, and Feki of lashing out at the police during street scuffles afterwards.

“Moustapha, Aymen and I are here to give a sign of good faith. We believe we have done nothing wrong,” Meddeb told AFP before the trial.

She admitted to shouting insults when the scuffles broke out after the conviction of Weld El 15 — who was later freed on appeal when his jail term was reduced to a six-month suspended sentence.

But she insisted that the insults “were not addressed” to the police or the judiciary.

The two rappers had also pleaded innocent to the charges against them.

Mrabet asked the judge on Monday to drop the charges against all three, stressing that Meddeb had been questioned by police without an interpreter present, even though “she doesn’t speak Arabic”.

Since an Islamist-led government took power after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, trials of musicians and journalists have multiplied, sparking charges from rights groups that the authorities are stifling freedom of expression.

Weld El 15 has been on the run since August when he received a 21-month jail sentence in absentia, on separate charges of performing songs deemed insulting to the police at a concert in the eastern town of Hammamet.

He plans to appeal the verdict in court on December 5, after a fellow rapper, Klay BBJ, who was convicted on the same charges, was released on appeal in September after contesting the ruling.

Since the mass uprising that ousted former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, attempts to reform the Tunisian judiciary and the security forces have stalled.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #10248 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:05 AM »

Syrian foes to attend Geneva peace talks in January

Government and opposition representatives will meet for first time to discuss peaceful transition, UN announces

Associated Press, Monday 25 November 2013 16.35 GMT   

Syria's government and opposition will meet for the first time in Geneva in January, in an attempt to halt the nearly three-year-old civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people, the United Nations has announced.

Previous attempts to bring the two sides together have failed, mainly because of disputes over who should represent the government and opposition, the future role of President Bashar al-Assad, and whether Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers should be at the table.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, urged the government and opposition to help the conference succeed by taking steps to stop the violence, provide access for humanitarian aid, release detainees and help hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people return to their homes.

"We go with a clear understanding: the Geneva conference is the vehicle for a peaceful transition that fulfils the legitimate aspirations of all the Syrian people for freedom and dignity, and which guarantees safety and protection to all communities in Syria," Ban said at the UN's headquarters in New York.

He said a key goal of the conference, scheduled for 22 January, would be the establishment of a transitional government with powers over military and security.

The UN statement did not specify who would represent Syria's opposition at the talks, but Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, said the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, would participate. The group has limited control over the myriad rebel groups fighting Assad's forces.

Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for group, said it had not yet decided who it would send, but remained opposed to inviting Iran to the talks. Iran, a staunch supporter of Assad, has given him significant financial support and is believed to have sent military advisers and trained pro-government militiamen and directed one of its proxies, the Lebanese Shia Muslim group Hezbollah, to fight alongside Assad's troops.

"We want to have a successful conference, and we are not interested in a conference that is going to waste time; we are not interested in a conference that is going to justify killing more Syrians," Saleh said. "As of now, what I can say is Iran is not a party that's welcome given the current circumstances to attend the conference. If they change their positions, they start pulling out and stop killing Syrians, we will start talking about them attending to the conference."

The UN's goal is based on a roadmap for a Syrian political transition adopted by the US, Russia and other major powers at a conference on Syria in June 2012 in Geneva, to which the warring sides were not invited.

The roadmap envisioned the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers agreed to by both sides, and ending with elections. But there has been no agreement on how to implement it.

One of the biggest sticking points has been the future role of Assad. This month the Syrian National Coalition agreed to attend peace talks if a number of conditions were met, including humanitarian corridors to give relief agencies access to besieged areas and the release of detainees, particularly women. But the group stressed that Assad could have no role in the transitional period. The coalition dropped an earlier demand that Assad step down before any peace talks.

Syrian government officials have said Assad will not step down and may even run for another term in presidential elections scheduled for mid-2014. Recent battlefield victories have shifted the momentum of Syria's conflict in Assad's favour.

Russia has been the key sponsor and ally of Assad's government, blocking UN security council resolutions that would impose sanctions, and continuing to provide it with weapons.

Last week the UN general assembly's human rights committee demanded that Syria's government immediately allow humanitarian aid to reach all areas of the country and stop hampering distribution with "bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles".

Hague called on the Syrian government "to take immediate steps to alleviate humanitarian suffering across the country, and stop their brutal tactics, which include besieging and attacking civilian areas".

He said: "In the coming weeks they need to demonstrate that they will go to the Geneva II talks prepared to negotiate a political transition and end the violence.

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« Reply #10249 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:07 AM »

All-American singer wows Arabs Got Talent with Umm Kulthum cover

Boston-born Jennifer Grout has amazed Middle Eastern viewers, reaching the Arabs Got Talent final despite speaking little Arabic

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo, Monday 25 November 2013 18.18 GMT       

She is American, speaks little Arabic, and has never been to Egypt. But Jennifer Grout, 23, has wowed Middle Eastern audiences by reaching the final of Arabs Got Talent – the spin-off of the British and US shows of similar names – with a near-perfect rendition of a song by Egypt's best-loved singer, Umm Kulthum.

Born and raised in Boston, Grout's Arabic accent has inspired debates about whether she is merely pretending to be a westerner. Her fellow contestants are from different parts of the Middle East, and include Mayam Mahmoud, 18, billed as Egypt's first hijab-wearing rapper.

"There's lots of rumours that I'm not actually American," Grout said. "I'm very flattered by that because it means I'm doing something that is … unbelievable."

When first auditioning, Grout struggled for credibility. She remembers sitting down with her oud (the forerunner of the lute) in front of an audience in Lebanon, where the show is filmed, and where "nobody took me seriously".

"What's your name?" asked one of the judges, Egyptian actor Ahmed Helmy, in Arabic. "Sorry?" replied Grout, in English, to titters from the crowd.

But after she started singing, the atmosphere changed. "When I played the first line, the audience started chuckling. But I kept going, and after about 30 seconds, everyone changed their minds and started supporting me."

Grout is through to the show's final on 7 December, with the judges first won over by her version of Umm Kulthum's Baeed Annak, a love song that is tough even for native-speakers to master – and then Oh Birds, by Syrian singer Asmahan.

"You don't speak a word of Arabic," another judge, Lebanese singer Najwa Karam, told her, "and yet you sing better than other singers."

Grout's version of Baeed Anak is of particular interest in Egypt, where Umm Kulthum's popularity has barely dropped since her 40-year career in the middle of the 20th century and she remains a national hero – four million Egyptians reportedly took to the streets to mourn her death in 1975. Her most famous love-song, Enta Omri, is still regularly heard wafting from Egyptian cafes and car radios.

"She is born again every morning in the heart of 120 million beings," said the actor Omar Sharif . "In the east, a day without Umm Kulthum would have no colour."

Umm Kulthum aficionados gave a varied reaction to Grout's unlikely interpretation of their icon. Nahla Mattar, the director of Cairo's Umm Kulthum museum, said she was impressed by Grout's dedication, but argued the singer still needed "a lot of deep training in Quranic recitation. So far … she is still just an American girl singing that melody."

But Professor Virginia Danielson, Umm Kulthum's first English-language biographer, said "her resonance – that slightly nasal sound – is particularly compelling and very expressive in this style of singing. Her voice is strong, very pretty and she commands the style of the repertory very well. If I were going to criticise, I'd say the rhythmic structure of the piece escapes her a bit, but otherwise she sang very well, I thought."

The daughter of musicians, Grout grew up playing the violin and piano, and only became interested in Arab music in 2010, while at university in Canada. After reading an article about the Lebanese diva Fairouz, Grout was intrigued, and began singing and playing the oud in a Syrian cafe in Montreal. After graduating, she later moved to Morocco to immerse herself in its music scene, using translation websites to get a sense of each song's meaning. "I have a natural ear for picking up accents," she said, "but not necessarily for languages."

It was after recording two CDs with local artists that a friend of a friend in Morocco suggested she audition for Arabs Got Talent. Television talent shows were never on Grout's horizon growing up in America. "One of my aunts was a big fan of shows like American Idol and was always bugging me, as a 12-year-old, to sing some pop song," Grout said. "But I didn't even watch those kinds of shows."

Now Grout may win one – and she has already won over hearts and minds. "We have always been following and imitating the west," said Najma Karam, one of the show's judges. "This is the first time someone who's not related in any way to the Arab world – an American who doesn't speak the language – performs in Arabic."

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« Reply #10250 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:09 AM »

November 25, 2013

Egypt’s Government Struggles to Gain Footing as Dissent Grows


CAIRO — When the new military-backed Egyptian government lifted a nationwide state of emergency more than 10 days ago, it seemed to be proclaiming a momentary victory in the battle with its principal foe, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose regular protests had begun to wither.

But the government’s problems hardly abated. In brazen and occasionally spectacular attacks, militants have stepped up a campaign of assassinations and bombings aimed at the security services.

Non-Islamist critics have accused the government of incompetence or growing authoritarianism, potentially broadening the opposition beyond supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the deposed Islamist president. At the same time, unrest has begun to surface in different places, lately sweeping up Islamist students on university campuses.

And notably, small cracks have begun to appear in the coalition that supported the ouster of Mr. Morsi as the government has faced anger from recent allies and rare criticism in the once-fawning local news media. It has become harder for officials to blame the Brotherhood for all the nation’s woes, nearly five months after it was swept from power and then battered by a relentless campaign of state repression. But rather than trying to move beyond the conflict, the government still seems largely shaped by it.

Officials have started to dismiss critics using the language of previous autocratic rulers, blaming a shadowy fifth column or foreign meddling. And in response to dissent, they have drafted repressive new laws to replace the state of emergency, including a law issued on Sunday that bans protests by more than 10 people without the government’s approval.

“They have kept alive the idea of ‘enemies of the nation’ and the war on terror — the only glue keeping the bits and pieces together,” said Rabab el-Mahdi, a political science professor at the American University of Cairo, speaking of the interim government. “For any ruling alliance to be stable, it cannot depend on force or coercion. They lack any kind of ideological shield, except being against the Brotherhood.”

“They are not delivering,” Ms. Mahdi added, “and they will keep facing the dissent.”

Some of the criticism of the government seems to be a result of competing agendas within state institutions, rather than from spontaneous outrage. Analysts say that calls for an even harsher crackdown on the Islamists, for example, could emanate from security agencies that the government, like its predecessors, has made no attempt to reform.

To solidify its legitimacy, the government has started an aggressive campaign to promote a referendum on a draft constitution, the first milestone in a so-called road map that the military has promised will restore democracy to Egypt. Officials hope a decisive approval of the constitution would undercut the Muslim Brotherhood’s claim that it alone commands popular support, after prevailing in successive elections over the last three years.

The vote is scheduled for January. The outcome has the potential to change the nature of the conflict between the state and the Brotherhood, according to Michael Wahid Hanna, a scholar at the Century Foundation in New York who studies Egypt.

“Does it pass by more than the Morsi constitution?” he asked, referring to the 2012 Constitution that was approved by 63 percent of voters, despite vigorous opposition of the drafting process and the charter from non-Islamists.

If the referendum were to be approved by a wide margin, the Brotherhood, which has resisted the idea of negotiation on the military’s terms, could be “well and truly isolated, and they might have to reconsider,” Mr. Hanna said.

These days, though, the state’s conflict with the Brotherhood is just one of its many struggles. In an unnerving episode for the government, leftists and other activists who were in the forefront of the 2011 revolt against former President Hosni Mubarak demonstrated last week against both the Brotherhood and the military in Tahrir Square in Cairo. The activists tore down the base of a planned memorial to protesters who were killed during the revolt, and two demonstrators were killed in clashes with the police.

Even some commentators who had enthusiastically backed the military’s ouster of Mr. Morsi have bluntly criticized the government recently.

“We were silent and put our tongues in our mouths,” Mamdouh Hamza, a strident critic of the Islamists, said during a television interview. “We didn’t want to serve the interests of the Brothers.”

Mr. Hamza, criticizing the government’s response after a train crash that killed 27 people, accused the cabinet of being “against the goals of the revolution.”

Another commentator, Khaled Abu Bakr, questioned the credentials of the interim prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, saying he “belonged in a university” rather than at the head of the cabinet. “My satisfaction with the 30th of June doesn’t mean my satisfaction with everything that followed,” he added, referring to the date of protests against Mr. Morsi before the military takeover. “Don’t bring me a cabinet chairman like that in a phase like this.”

The new law regulating protest demonstrations has set off the loudest complaints. The final draft calls for jail time or heavy fines for exactly the kind of public demonstrations that brought down Mr. Mubarak and propelled the current government to power.

Protesters are required to notify the authorities three days before any demonstration, and they are forbidden to gather at places of worship. Organizers across the political spectrum have customarily used Friday Prayer at mosques as starting points for marches. The law also permits security agencies to prohibit public gatherings, demonstrations or meetings — including political campaign events — if they are deemed a threat to public order. Citizens have the right to appeal to a court.

In a radio interview on Monday, Mr. Beblawi said the law merely regulated protests. Asked about those who failed to seek permission — like Mr. Morsi’s supporters, who do not recognize the government — Mr. Beblawi compared them to “a man who kills or another who deals drugs.”

“If arrested, they will be put to trial and punished,” he said.

Karim Medhat Ennarah, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, called the law “unrealistic,” for seeking to regulate the near-daily marches that occur across the country, by Islamists or workers or anyone else with a complaint.

“The current political institutions are not able to assimilate the newly politicized groups, and that hasn’t changed in three years,” he said. “The only response is to try and control them.”

David D. Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.

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« Reply #10251 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:10 AM »

November 25, 2013

Government Abuse Drives Eritreans to Flee, U.N. Says


GENEVA — Severe government abuse, not harsh living conditions, is driving thousands of Eritreans to flee their country every month and risk their lives trying, often by precarious means, to reach other countries, a United Nations investigator said Monday. Her assertion puts a spotlight on an exodus that resulted in tragedy last month when hundreds of migrants, many of them Eritreans, drowned as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.

Complete deprivation of freedom and security, a “blanket disrespect of fundamental human rights” and the desire to “find a place where they feel protected” was pushing 2,000 to 3,000 Eritreans to flee their country every month, the investigator, Sheila B. Keetharuth, a United Nations special rapporteur, said in a statement after a 10-day visit to Tunisia, where she interviewed Eritrean migrants.

Most of those she interviewed spoke of a daily struggle to get food and water but said that was not their main reason for leaving, said Ms. Keetharuth, a human rights lawyer from Mauritius. Instead, they cited a system of compulsory and open-ended military service in Eritrea in which they said punishment amounting to torture and detention in inhumane, degrading conditions was routine. Women said they were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse by officers, Ms. Keetharuth said.

The thousands of Eritreans fleeing the country are well aware that the risks they face crossing deserts and seas may be life-threatening, Ms. Keetharuth said. “Nobody in his right mind would take such a decision,” she quoted a young Eritrean man as telling her. “We do it because there is no other choice.”

More than 7,500 Eritreans reached Italy in the first nine months of the year, the United Nations said, but the dangers of the journey, often made in rickety boats operated by smugglers, were starkly exposed in October when more than 300 people drowned as their boat sank off the coast of Italy.

Some Eritreans trying to reach the Persian Gulf states make hazardous trips with smugglers across the Red Sea, ending up destitute and stuck in Yemen, but most pay traffickers to travel through Sudan and then north to Tunisia, Libya or Egypt in an effort to find transportation to Europe, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

The agency said it had received “horrific stories” of Eritreans who try to reach Israel being held in the Sinai Peninsula by traffickers who contact their families threatening to torture or kill the migrants if they do not receive ransoms. “It’s a real problem with organized crime,” said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the agency. “It’s making a lot of money this way.”
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« Reply #10252 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:12 AM »

Honduras elections: ruling National party's candidate wins presidential race

Officials say Juan Orlando Hernández has irreversible lead but leftwing rival Xiomara Castro challenges results

Associated Press, Tuesday 26 November 2013 10.05 GMT   

Honduran voters have given the ruling National party four more years in the presidency even though crime worsened and poverty and unemployment increased under the outgoing president, Porfirio Lobo.

Electoral authorities said Juan Orlando Hernández, 45, the party's candidate who campaigned on a law-and-order platform, had an irreversible lead in the hotly contested presidential race.

Even before the announcement late on Monday, his main competitor, Xiomara Castro, had challenged the official returns and claimed victory for herself. Her husband, the former president Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 coup, said they wouldn't accept the results.

With about 68% of the votes counted from Sunday's election, Hernández had 34% to 29% for Castro in an eight-candidate field.

"It's not the final result, but it's an irreversible trend," said Lourdes Rosales, a spokeswoman for the supreme electoral tribunal.

Hernández will likely face a divided congress, whose 128 members were also elected on Sunday. As a result, the political situation is unlikely to change dramatically in this failing state of 8.5 million people, which has the world's highest per-capita murder rate. It has been a focal point for US drug enforcement efforts as the transit point for much of the South American cocaine heading to the US.

More than half of the country lives in poverty, and the number working for less than the minimum wage of £220 a month has grown from 28% in 2008 to 43% today.

Castro's candidacy was viewed as an attempt by Zelaya to make a comeback after his term was cut short by a coup that continues to contribute to Honduras's political instability.

After the electoral tribunal's declaration, ther was no immediate comment from either Castro or Zelaya, and the streets were calm.

Hernández and Castro had entered the election neck-and-neck in opinion polls, and there were fears a disputed vote could bring protests and more instability. International observers, including the US ambassador, Lisa Kubiske, had congratulated Hondurans on a peaceful vote with high turnout and said the vote and the count appeared to be clean.

Castro, 54, led the race for months, portraying herself as the candidate for change and promising constitutional reform that would make the country more equitable.

In the closing weeks, however, Hernández, 45, wiped out her lead as he promised to do "whatever I have to" in fighting crime in a country where much of the cities are controlled by gangs and the outlying remote areas are held by drug runners.

As president of Congress, Hernández pushed through legislation creating a military police force to patrol the most difficult areas of the big cities instead of the national police, a force penetrated by corruption and often accused of extrajudicial killings.

Hernández, a lawyer and reserve army lieutenant who studied law at New York University, was first elected to Congress in 1997 and became the body's president in 2010. Opponents accuse him of using the position to consolidate his power over other branches, including the judiciary.

He said Honduras needed a more effective anti-drug strategy with the US.

"For them it's a problem of public health, but for us it's a problem of blood and death," he said during the campaign. "We expect that the stage that's about to begin will be more effective than the one in the past."

Zelaya, a wealthy rancher, was deposed by his own Liberal party after he aligned himself with the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. He was taken out of the country at gunpoint as he was attempting to hold a referendum on whether to rewrite the constitution, which Honduras's supreme court ruled illegal.

The National party won regularly scheduled elections later that year, but Lobo's tenure as president was seen as weak because he failed to bring change in a divided country. He accused his opponents several times of trying to oust him as well.

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« Reply #10253 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:14 AM »

CIA turned Guantánamo Bay inmates into double agents, ex-officials claim

Controversial secret programme reportedly turned al-Qaida suspects into spies with lure of freedom, safety for families and millions in cash

Associated Press in Washington, Tuesday 26 November 2013 12.28 GMT   
In the early years after 9/11, the CIA turned some Guantánamo Bay prisoners into double agents then sent them home to help the US kill terrorists, current and former US officials said.

The CIA promised the prisoners freedom, safety for their families, and millions of dollars from secret accounts.

It was a risky gamble. Officials knew there was a chance that some prisoners might quickly spurn their deal and kill Americans. For the CIA, that was an acceptable risk in a dangerous business. For the American public, which was never told, the programme was one of the many secret trade-offs the government made on its behalf. At the same time the government used the fear of terrorism to justify jailing people indefinitely, it was releasing dangerous people to work for the CIA.

The programme was carried out in a secret facility built near the prison's administrative offices in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The eight small cottages were hidden behind a ridge covered in thick scrub and cactus.

The programme and the handful of men who passed through these cottages had various official CIA codenames.

But those aware of the cottages knew it best by its sobriquet, Penny Lane, a nod to the Beatles song and a riff on the CIA's other secret facility at Guantánamo, a prison known as Strawberry Fields.

Nearly a dozen current and former US officials described aspects of the programme. All spoke on condition of anonymity as no one was authorised to discuss the secret programme publicly by name, even though it ended in about 2006.

Some of the men who passed through Penny Lane helped the CIA find and kill many top al-Qaida operatives, current and former US officials said. Others stopped providing useful information and the CIA lost touch with them.

When prisoners began streaming into Guantánamo Bay in January 2002, the CIA recognised it as an unprecedented opportunity to identify sources. That year, 632 detainees arrived at the detention centre. The following year a further 117 arrived.

By early 2003, Penny Lane was open for business.

Candidates were ushered from prison to the relative comfort of Penny Lane, officials said. The cottages had private kitchens, showers and televisions. Each had a patio.
Real beds

Some prisoners asked for, and received, pornography. One official said the biggest luxury in each cottage was the bed – not a military-issued cot but a real bed with a mattress. The cottages were designed to feel more like hotel rooms than prison cells, and some CIA officials jokingly referred to them as the Marriott.

Current and former officials said dozens of prisoners were evaluated but only a handful, from a variety of countries, were turned into spies who agreed to work for the CIA.

The CIA declined to comment on the claims.

The US government says it has confirmed that about 16% of former Guantánamo Bay detainees rejoined the fight against America. Officials suspect, but have not confirmed, that a further 12% also took up arms against the US.

It's not clear whether the men from Penny Lane are included in those figuresNone of the officials interviewed by the AP knew of an instance in which any double agent killed Americans.

Though the number of double agents recruited at Penny Lane was small, the programme was significant enough to draw President George Bush's attention, a former official said. Bush interviewed a junior CIA case officer who had just returned from Afghanistan, where the agency typically met with the agents.

President Barack Obama took an interest for a different reason. Shortly after taking office in 2009, he ordered a review of the former detainees working as double agents because they were providing information used in Predator drone strikes, one of the officials said.

Infiltrating al-Qaida has been one of the CIA's most sought-after but difficult goals, something that other foreign intelligence services have only occasionally accomplished. Candidates for Penny Lane needed legitimate terrorist connections. To be valuable to the CIA, the men had to be able to reconnect with al-Qaida.

The CIA would have seemingly had a large pool to draw from. Vice-President Dick Cheney called the Guantánamo prisoners "the worst of a very bad lot". The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said they were "among the most dangerous, best trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth".
Flimsy evidence

In reality, many were held on flimsy evidence and were of little use to the CIA. While the agency looked for viable candidates, those with no terrorism ties sat in limbo. It would take years before the majority of detainees were set free, having never been charged. Of the 779 people who were taken to Guantánamo, more than three-quarters have been released, mostly during the Bush administration.

Many others remain at Guantánamo Bay, having been cleared for release but with little hope of freedom in sight.

"I do see the irony on the surface of letting some really very bad guys go," said David Remes, an American lawyer who has represented about a dozen Yemeni detainees at Guantánamo. But Remes, who was not aware of Penny Lane, said he understood its attraction.

"The men we were sending back as agents were thought to be able to provide value to us," he said.

Prisoners agreed to co-operate for a variety of reasons, officials said. Some received assurances that the US would resettle their families. Another thought al-Qaida had perverted Islam and believed it was his duty as a Muslim to help the CIA destroy it. One detainee agreed to co-operate after the CIA insinuated it would harm his children, a former official said.

All were promised money. Exactly how much each was paid remains unclear. But altogether, the government paid millions of dollars for their services, officials said. The money came from a secret CIA account, codenamed Pledge, that's used to pay informants, officials said.

The arrangement led to strategic discussions inside the CIA: if the agency's drones had a shot at Osama bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, would officials take the shot if it meant killing a double agent on the American payroll? It never came to that.

The biggest fear, former officials involved with the program recalled, was that a former detainee would attack Americans then publicly announce that he had been on the CIA payroll.

Al-Qaida suspected the CIA would attempt a programme like this and its operatives were very suspicious of former Guantánamo detainees, intelligence officials and experts said.

The US government had such high hopes for Penny Lane that one former intelligence official recalled discussions about whether to secretly release a pair of Pakistani men into the US on student or business visas. The hope was that they would connect with al-Qaida and lead authorities to members of a US cell.

Another former senior intelligence official said that never happened.

Officials said the programme ended in 2006, as the flow of detainees to Guantánamo slowed to a trickle. The last prisoner arrived in 2008. Penny Lane still stands and can be seen in satellite photos, but the complex has long been abandoned.

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« Reply #10254 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:18 AM »

Archaeological discoveries suggest the Buddha was born hundreds of years earlier than thought

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 25, 2013 14:16 EST

Evidence of a previously unknown wooden structure unearthed at the Buddha’s birthplace suggests the sage might have lived in the 6th century BC, two centuries earlier than thought, archeologists said Monday.

Traces of the ancient timber structure was found under a brick temple that is itself within Buddhism’s sacred Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini, in southern Nepal near the Indian border.

In design it resembled the Asokan temple erected on top of it. Significantly, it featured an open area, unprotected from the elements, from which it appeared a tree once grew.

“This sheds light on a very very long debate” over when the Buddha was born and, in turn, when the faith that grew out of his teachings took root, said archeologist Robin Coningham in a conference call.

It’s widely accepted that the Buddha was born beneath a hardwood sal tree at Lumbini as his mother Queen Maya Devi, the wife of a clan chief, was traveling to her father’s kingdom to give birth.

But much of what is known about his life and times has its origins in oral tradition, with little scientific evidence to sort out fact from myth.

Many scholars have maintained that the Buddha — who renounced material wealth to embrace a life of enlightenment — lived and taught in the 4th century BC and died in his 80s.

“What our work has demonstrated is that we have this shrine (at Buddha’s birthplace) established in the 6th century BC” that supports the hypothesis that the Buddha might have lived in that earlier era, Coningham said.

Radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques were used to date fragments of charcoal and grains of sand found at the site.

Geoarcheological research meanwhile confirmed the existence of tree roots within the temple’s central open area.

Coningham was co-director of an international team of archeologists at Lubini, partly funded by the Washington-based National Geographic Society.

Its peer-reviewed findings appear in the December issue of the journal Antiquity.

Lumbini today is a UNESCO world heritage site, visited by millions of pilgrims every year.

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« Reply #10255 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:21 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

Is hydrogen the secret to water on Mars?

By Liz Fuller-Wright, Staff writer / November 25, 2013 at 11:46 am EST

Mars has valleys deeper than the Grand Canyon, braided river channels, and a level seashore reaching around the northern third of the planet. These signs point to water – a lot of water – in Mars's early history. But it's too cold for liquid water now, so how could Mars have had rivers and oceans 3.8 billion years ago, back when the sun was colder and dimmer?

Just add hydrogen, suggests a team of scientists from Penn State and NASA. "A CO2 -H2  greenhouse could have done the trick," writes Ramses Ramirez, lead author of a new paper appearing in the Nov. 24 Nature Geoscience.

"You just need a little nudge," explains Jim Kasting, a Penn State professor and fellow author on the paper. "On early Mars, you can almost make it warm enough with carbon dioxide and water vapor, but not quite. You need something to push you over the edge."

Ever since the valleys were discovered in the 1970s, scientists have been trying to explain how a cold planet with a negligible atmosphere could ever have been warm enough to have running water on the surface. It hasn't been easy. Various greenhouse gases have been suggested – carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, water vapor – but none were abundant enough to keep Mars balmy. Also, many gases create clouds, which undercut their greenhouse effectiveness by reflecting sunlight back up into space.

Considering all the problems with keeping Mars warm, some scientists have considered a series of "transient" atmospheres. They argue that big meteor impacts could blast enough material into Mars's sky to create a temporary atmosphere that would heat the planet into a brief warm spell, lasting just long enough to flash-thaw huge chunks of ice into catastrophic floods that would pour across the surface, quickly carving the visible channels and valleys.

But the longer we look at Mars, the more valleys and channels we find, note Ramirez and Kasting. Big ones. The amount of water required to carve and shape them just isn't compatible with flash-in-the-pan transient atmospheres, they argue. So they set out to model a stable, warm climate on early Mars.
Hydrogen: an unlikely hero

They got a hint from the hydrogen-rich atmosphere of the outer planets. By itself, atmospheric hydrogen (H2 ) is nearly useless as a greenhouse gas. It's too stable and symmetrical to get excited by passing sunlight. But on Earth and on Saturn's moon Titan, hydrogen gets help from nitrogen (N2 ), and together they can trap an impressive amount of heat.

The secret is in the collisions between molecules of nitrogen and hydrogen: if hydrogen gets rattled enough, it can temporarily lose its symmetry and stability. Once unstable, hydrogen becomes a very effective greenhouse gas.

"The collisions introduce a dipole moment to the hydrogen molecule," explains Kasting, "so there's a little bit of charge offset between the negative charge in the electrons and the positive charge in the nucleus, and that's what allows it to interact with the electromagnetic radiation, to absorb infrared energy."

"This is why hydrogen has been overlooked for a long time," he adds with a chuckle. "It's not obvious that that's going to happen."

The same mechanism that works on the Earth and Titan could work on Mars, the authors say, to trap heat and create a warm, wet planet. But there's one problem: Mars doesn't have much nitrogen.

It does have volcanoes that belch methane (CH4 ) and carbon monoxide (CO), which interact in the martian atmosphere to create carbon dioxide (CO2 ) – and carbon dioxide should work just as well as nitrogen to knock hydrogen off-balance, the authors say.

When Ramirez added hydrogen into the computer models of the early martian atmosphere, it made all the difference, even using conservative estimates for the effectiveness of carbon dioxide-hydrogen collisions.

"You can get up to the freezing point, and therefore we have a mechanism to explain the valleys," says Kasting.

In fact, with enough hydrogen, you could theoretically make Mars "quite warm," he says, but it's more likely that temperatures stayed pretty chilly – just warm enough to have rainfall, rivers, and a stable water cycle.

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« Reply #10256 on: Nov 26, 2013, 08:49 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

November 25, 2013

Obama Signals a Shift From Military Might to Diplomacy


WASHINGTON — The weekend ended with the first tangible sign of a nuclear deal with Iran, after more than three decades of hostility. Then on Monday came the announcement that a conference will convene in January to try to broker an end to the civil war in Syria.

The success of either negotiation, both long sought by President Obama, is hardly assured — in fact the odds may be against them. But the two nearly simultaneous developments were vivid statements that diplomacy, the venerable but often-unsatisfying art of compromise, has once again become the centerpiece of American foreign policy.

At one level, the flurry of diplomatic activity reflects the definitive end of the post-Sept. 11 world, dominated by two major wars and a battle against Islamic terrorism that drew the United States into Afghanistan and still keeps its Predator drones flying over Pakistan and Yemen.

But it also reflects a broader scaling-back of the use of American muscle, not least in the Middle East, as well as a willingness to deal with foreign governments as they are rather than to push for new leaders that better embody American values. “Regime change,” in Iran or even Syria, is out; cutting deals with former adversaries is in.

For Mr. Obama, the shift to diplomacy fulfills a campaign pledge from 2008 that he would stretch out a hand to America’s enemies and speak to any foreign leader without preconditions. But it will also subject him to considerable political risks, as the protests about the Iran deal from Capitol Hill and allies in the Middle East attest.

“We’re testing diplomacy; we’re not resorting immediately to military conflict,” Mr. Obama said, defending the Iran deal on Monday in San Francisco. “Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically,” he said earlier that day, “but it’s not the right thing for our security.”

Still, diplomacy is a protracted, messy business with often inconclusive results. It is harder for a president to rally the American public behind a multilateral negotiation than a missile strike, though the deep war weariness of Americans has reinforced Mr. Obama’s instinct for negotiated settlements over unilateral action.

White House officials suggest that the president always planned to arrive at this moment, and that everything that came before it — from the troop surge in Afghanistan to the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden — was cleaning up after his predecessor.

“In 2009, we had 180,000 troops in two wars and a ton of legacy issues surrounding terrorism,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “So much that was done out of the box was winding down those wars. We’ve shifted from a very military face on our foreign policy to a very diplomatic face on our foreign policy.”

Much of that diplomacy has been on public display in the hypercaffeinated travels of Secretary of State John Kerry, who, in addition to his work on Iran and Syria, has persuaded the Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. A few hours after sealing the nuclear deal in Geneva, he flew to London for talks on the Syria conference.

But some of the crucial dealings have occurred in the shadows. In March, administration officials said, Mr. Obama authorized a small team of senior officials from the White House and the State Department to travel secretly to Oman, the Arab sultanate, where they met face to face with Iranian officials to explore the possibility of a nuclear deal.

The cloak-and-dagger was necessary, the officials said, because it allowed the United States and Iran to discuss the outlines of a nuclear deal without fear that details would leak out. Cutting out others eliminated the competing agendas that come with the six negotiating partners engaged in the formal Geneva talks.

But the disclosure that the United States and Iran had been talking privately angered France, which registered its displeasure two weeks ago by warning that the proposal then being discussed was too lenient and that it would not accept a “sucker’s deal.”

For all of Mr. Obama’s emphasis on diplomacy, analysts noted that the United States often depends on others to take the initiative. In the case of Iran, it was the election of Hassan Rouhani as president, with his mandate to seek a relaxation of punishing sanctions.

In the case of Syria, it was a Russian proposal for President Bashar al-Assad to turn over and destroy his chemical weapons stockpiles, an option the White House seized on as a way of averting a military strike that Mr. Obama first threatened and then backed off from.

“The C.W. deal made the Iran diplomacy much more viable and attractive to the administration,” said Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former Obama administration official. But he added, “Neither in Syria or Iran is there an ambition for something larger.”

Mr. Obama has called for Mr. Assad to give up power. But his diplomatic efforts on Syria have done little to bring that about, and next month’s conference in Geneva is likely to demonstrate that far from negotiating his departure, Mr. Assad is digging in.

Similarly with Iran, the administration is adamant that it is negotiating what amounts to an arms-control agreement in response to a specific security threat. A broader opening to Iran — one that could make it a partner on regional issues like Syria or Afghanistan, or even open its political system — seems far-off.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Mr. Obama listed his priorities in the Middle East as Iran, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Promoting democratic principles, while still important, was no longer an overriding interest.

That more pragmatic approach was on display this month when Mr. Kerry visited Egypt, where the military-backed government is prosecuting its ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, and cracking down on his Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Mr. Kerry emphasized continuity with Egypt’s generals and said little about their brutal tactics.

For Mr. Obama, all of this may matter less than resolving the nuclear threat from Iran, an achievement that would allow him to reduce America’s preoccupation with the Middle East and turn to another of his foreign-policy priorities, Asia.

“This was a president who was elected on the promise to wind down two wars responsibly,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former administration official who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “He can now also say he has avoided a third war.”

Before he can be sure of that, though, Mr. Obama faces the treacherous task of negotiating a final agreement. This time, the administration will have to do the bargaining with its partners, and it faces vocal skepticism from Israel and members of Congress.

“The Iran talks are a four-ring circus,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former under secretary of state who coordinated Iran policy during the Bush administration. “This is going to be among the most complex and difficult diplomatic cases ever.”

“We’re trying to deal with very difficult, cynical countries through different means,” said Mr. Burns, who now teaches at Harvard, where he has started the Future of Diplomacy Project. “But the public is weary; they want us to work things out without fighting.”

Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from London.


Obama defends Iran policy amid Israeli criticism

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 25, 2013 19:10 EST   

US President Barack Obama defended his administration’s Iran policy on Monday but said “huge challenges” remained to successfully implement a landmark deal on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Obama has come under fierce criticism from Republican rivals at home and key allies abroad, such as Israel, for pursuing a diplomatic solution to the Iran question.

Israel decried the breakthrough agreement reached in Geneva on Sunday — under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for an easing of sanctions — as a “historic mistake.”

Obama, however, insisted that the US policy of diplomacy twinned with sanctions had been more productive than rhetoric, stating that “tough talk” alone would not guarantee US security.

“For the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress on Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said. “Key parts of the program will be rolled back.”

Obama said diplomacy would continue over the coming months in a bit to settle “once and for all” the “threat of Iran’s nuclear program.”

“Huge challenges remain, but we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems,” Obama said.

“We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of violence, and tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security.”

Earlier Monday, France said the European Union could begin lifting sanctions on Iran next month as world powers set about implementing the deal with Tehran while seeking to placate a furious Israel.

In a radio interview, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said EU foreign ministers were to meet next month to discuss lifting some sanctions as part of the deal, a move he said could take place “in December.”

One senior Western diplomat, who refused to be named, told AFP the focus in the coming weeks would be “swift implementation”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday decided to send his national security advisor to Washington for talks on Iran after warning the deal will convince Tehran it has a free hand to achieve a breakout nuclear capability.

Obama has repeatedly tried to reassure Netanyahu, calling him on Sunday to discuss the issue.

The Geneva deal came just days after Iran’s supreme leader described Israel as a “rabid dog” that was “doomed to collapse”.

Tehran has a long history of belligerent statements towards the Jewish state, and Israel — the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power — has repeatedly warned that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat.

‘Israel’s security at heart’

Speaking in Jerusalem, the EU ambassador-designate to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, told a crowd of diplomats and the country’s intelligence minister that the 28-member bloc had “Israel’s security at heart.”

The so-called P5+1 world powers that negotiated the accord with Iran — the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany — say it is a key first step that wards off the threat of military escalation in the volatile Middle East.

Under the deal, which lasts for six months while a more long-lasting solution is negotiated, Tehran will limit uranium enrichment to low levels used only for civilian energy purposes.

It will also neutralize its existing stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, which is close to weapons-grade and therefore an area of top concern.

In return, the Islamic state will get some $7 billion in sanctions relief in access to frozen funds and in its petrochemical, gold and precious metals and auto sectors.

But the raft of international sanctions that have hobbled the Iranian economy remain untouched.

Fabius said that Iran committed “to giving up the prospect of a nuclear weapon” as part of the interim deal.

“As much as Iran can move forward where civilian nuclear energy is concerned, it cannot do so for the atomic weapon,” he added.

But these pacifying moves have failed to convince many Israelis, and a poll conducted by the daily Israel Hayom found more than three-quarters of Israeli Jews believe Iran will keep up its nuclear drive despite the Geneva deal.

Most Iranian newspapers on Monday hailed the Geneva deal, attributing the relatively swift success to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Zarif, who led the Iranian delegation at the talks, received a hero’s welcome when he returned home and insisted Monday that the “structure of Iran’s nuclear program was preserved.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


Christian American Patriots Militia leader: We now have authority to shoot Obama

By Travis Gettys
Monday, November 25, 2013 13:43 EST
In apparent threat made against President Barack Obama’s life posted on Facebook has caught the attention of the Secret Service.

Agents declined to comment on the post, which has been removed but was preserved in screen captures by Social News Daily, made Tuesday by Everest Wilhelmen, leader of the Christian American Patriots Militia.

“We now have authority to shoot Obama, i.e., to kill him,” Wilhelmsen posted on his Facebook page. “His willful violations and alienation of our Constitution, constant disregard for our peaceful protests and corruption of all the three branches of government, (i.e., rogue and illegitimate government), reveal the dictator that he is. Obama and his co-conspirators disrespect our Constitution (constitutional rule of law) and abuse the American people.”

The post was made the same day as a gathering of right-wing cranks, conspiracy theorists and gun advocates met at a park across from the White House demanding that Obama voluntarily leave office.

Wilhelmsen does not refer specifically to the Reclaim America Now rally, but he does circle the date as he attempts to constitutionally justify his apparent call for the president’s murder.

“The authority to kill Obama comes from the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution: He is levying war on the United States and aiding and comforting our foreign enemies – the 2nd Amendment gives us the right and duty (authority) to engage an enemy of the United States that does so with the design to reduce us under absolute Despotism. I would be very surprised, if Obama does not leave Washington DC today (Nov. 19th) … never to return, if he is not dead within the month,” Wilhelmsen posted.

Wilhelmsen is listed as the group administrator of the Christian American Patriots Militia’s Facebook page, which claims more than 1,400 members who operate as a “closed group” and cites a hodgepodge of Bible verses to justify armed rebellion against the U.S. government.

“God judges time morally and He will use whatever He sees fit to accomplish His ends,” the group says in its social media description. “So be prepared to wage war. And this is in fact why Obama has labelled Christians and other patriots as ‘terrorists,’ a lie to his army. Obama knows God may lead us to wage violent war in the defense of our Constitution.”

Wilhelmsen posts a variety of anti-Obama and anti-Muslim messages on his own Facebook page and Twitter account, including multiple links to a blog post that attempts to argue that military personnel are duty-bound by their oath to remove Obama from office as a criminal.

His social media accounts frequently compare to Obama to Hitler and warn against impending genocide, particularly against Christians and conservatives.

Two other apparent threats against Obama’s life drew the Secret Service’s attention in recent weeks.

A University of Connecticut student, 32-year-old Joshua Klimas, underwent psychiatric evaluation after agents said he admitted to sending threatening emails to the White House.

“If you do not resign by the end of the year I will kill you! You are a traitor and it is my duty under the United States Constitution to end your life for crimes against the American people,” one email read. “There will not be any more warnings only bullets flying in your direction from drones I built for the sole purpose of removing you from the office you stole from this country.”

An 81-year-old Wisconsin man, Elwyn Nels Fossedal, was ordered held last week by a magistrate after prosecutors said he told neighbors he would shoot and kill the president if he suddenly appeared in front of him at the post office.

Witnesses reported the incident, and Secret Service agents said Fossedal repeated the threat after they met with him to investigate.

If convicted of the threat, Fossedal could face up to five years in prison.


The Religious Right With Their Weaponized Jesus Are Not Christians

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Tuesday, November, 26th, 2013, 7:28 am   
It is instructive that Lieutenant General William G. “Jerry” Boykin (retired), who now works as the Family Research Council’s executive vice president, cares more about what Jesus looked like than what Jesus taught.

Boykin, another one of those who says Islam is not entitled to First Amendment protections, and thinks God, not the American people, chooses our presidents, told the audience of a Men’s Prayer Breakfast at William Jessup University, that,

    [Jesus] was a man. He was a man’s man, but we feminized him in the church…he was a tough guy and that’s the Jesus that I want to be like. That’s the side that I want to be like. But we’ve feminized Jesus in the church and the men can’t identify with him anymore; not the kind of men that I want to hang out with, they can’t identify with this effeminate Jesus that we’ve tried to portray. He was a tough guy. He was a man’s man.

For Boykin it was bromance at first sight and perhaps a wee bit of latent homosexuality as he waxed over Jesus’ “big, bulging biceps…thin waist” and “strong shoulders” (Who knew Jesus was the Marlboro man?)

Boykin’s accidental outing of himself aside, we don’t know what Jesus actually looked like. But we do know that he was not the strangely Germanic blond guy of popular imagination. He was a dark-skinned Semite.

There is also no doubt that Jesus smelled bad. They didn’t have deodorant in the first century of the Common Era so Jesus smelled bad, Peter smelled bad, Pontius Pilate smelled bad, Caiaphas smelled bad, the guys who nailed Jesus to the cross smelled bad, and so did the two rebels he was executed with and the people who watched, including Jesus’ mother. We get that. But smelling bad doesn’t make you a man when everyone – women included – smells bad. This sort of reasoning is why Boykin is working for the FRC.

We get that too.

But it’s a shame Boykin and the FRC care more about what Jesus smelled and looked like than they do the important things, like what Jesus taught about the poor coming first and the rich, having sold their souls to the dark powers that ruled the age to become rich, coming last. That would be swell, but people like Boykin prefer the Weaponized Jesus of the twenty first century to the apocalyptic prophet of the first.

Jesus is often portrayed as a carpenter but he might well have been, like Socrates, a stone mason, since the word used, in Mark 6:3, τέκτων (tekton), means only that he made things with his hands; it does not specify which craft he practiced. So yes, he would have been a hardy, no doubt muscular fellow, though Geza Vermes, whom I often cite here, points out that the language used – “son of a carpenter” – is used in the Talmud to mean somebody who is “learned” and therefore might have simply signified that Jesus was wise. Of course, we already figured that out, given what he said about rich people chances of getting into heaven (Matthew 19:24).

He might have been big, strapping, smelly AND wise. We’ll just never know. And it really doesn’t matter.

And that is because most of us would agree that what Jesus said was more important than what he looked like. Think about the Beatitudes and Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and think about them particularly in terms of what President Barack Obama has accomplished with regards Iran and its nuclear program.

Because it is Obama the Republican response was automatically negative but their response should have been to remember Jesus’ words, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7).

What we get instead is Bryan Fischer proclaiming that God will curse America for making a deal with Iran. Fischer forgets Jesus entirely and goes all Old Testament on us:

What he cursed us with are people like Bryan Fischer and Jerry Boykin and groups like the Christian America Patriots Militia, who have been claiming that Jesus and the Second Amendment together gives them the right to assassinate the president.

If Republicans really cared about Jesus, and what Jesus taught, they would be talking less about their Savior’s manly odor, flip open the New Testament that supposedly informs their beliefs, and realize that having done what Jesus wanted, Obama is blessed, not cursed, and that even if he does something you don’t like, you forgive him, not kill him.

It is too much to say that Jesus would say he wants his religion back. It was never his religion to begin with, after all. It is beyond contestation that Jesus was a Jew who preached an apocalyptic message to the Jews, that he ignored the Gentiles (Pagans) and not only ignored them, but told his disciples to avoid them, referring to Gentiles in true Jewish fashion as “dogs” and “swine” (Matthew 7:6).

Jesus did not invent Christianity. Christianity is a religion that was invented about Jesus, based, allegedly, on his teachings and not his appearance. But Jesus would certainly want those teachings heeded. He did not walk all over a Galilee infested with bandits, rebels, Herodians, and Romans, just for yucks. It was hot, dangerous – and smelly, after all.

We have to assume (assuming a historical Jesus in the first place) that he was serious about what he said.

He died for it, after all.

Whether Jesus was right or wrong about what he taught, whether he was an illiterate Galilean craftsman or divine, he died miserably and in great agony on the cross. And in at least one of the mutually contradictory versions of his death, he told his Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He did not say “nuke ‘em till they glow” or “bomb them into the Stone Age,” like would a Republican.

We should respect that, Christian or otherwise.

But Jerry Boykin and his ilk have no genuine respect for Jesus. Jesus has become “weaponized” – a club used to bludgeon enemies. This is not at all what Jesus would have wanted, since he said to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) and that if somebody steals your shirt to give them your cloak as well (Matthew 5:40) and to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).

The only weapon here is love.

But conservatives hate that Jesus. Hate is more their speed. Old Testament wrath. A god who tosses nukes with his fingertips. That god profits them and their friends in the military industrial complex. That’s a Jesus they can get behind. That’s the Jesus Boykin really loves with all his manly man’s heart.

Unfortunately, that’s not the Jesus in the gospels, which is, after all, supposed to be a good message, not a bad.

The thing is, if Christianity is a religion about what Jesus taught, then these people on the Religious Right are not Christians at all. How much greater their crime if they claim Jesus actually created Christianity.

Yes, I do think Jesus would want his gospel heeded if he put in an appearance today. And I suspect he would have a few words for the dogs and swine on the Religious Right who have been masquerading as followers of the rabbi from Galilee.


Right Wing Extremists Say God Will Help Them Overthrow President Obama

By: Jason Easley
Monday, November, 25th, 2013, 4:22 pm      

After their plot to overthrow the president before Thanksgiving failed miserably, right wing extremists are now claiming that God will help them overthrow Obama.

After Larry Klayman’s plot to mobilize millions in front of the White House in order to overthrow Obama became an epic fail by drawing dozens, the hatemonger declared victory and pulled out the big guns.

Klayman is turning to God to overthrow President Obama,

    Neither yours truly nor other members of our ever-growing coalition will be deterred by these actions of the far left, no more than other revolutionaries in past U.S. history were. Indeed, our Founding Fathers – Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson and others – were attacked similarly not just by King George III and his British crown, but by colonial Tories. And, while I do not equate myself to Jesus Christ or Moses, so too were these true revolutionaries, one of which is the Son of God and the other a messenger and agent. They were called every name in the book in unsuccessful attempts to destroy them, and I am not talking about the Bible.

    We the People will not be deterred in our revolution to free the nation from the corrupt establishment class that has driven the country into the ground, of which Obama sits atop as the current president, no matter how we are smeared and threatened and no matter how the left and their allies in the media and elsewhere try to destroy us all.

    So we must act alone, with the support of our Creator. As it declares in the Declaration of Independence, which we read to the crowd Tuesday, “A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of free people. … And for support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

What makes extremists like Larry Klayman different from the Founding Fathers is that Barack Obama isn’t a king. Obama has been twice elected president by a majority of the voters in this country. He isn’t a monarch, or a tyrant. He’s your president. If you don’t like it, deal with it.

The right has gotten seriously desperate when they are counting on God to overthrow the president. The arrogance of the assumption that God is on their side is undercut by the results of the last two presidential elections. Judging from 2008 and 2012, God is either a Democrat or non-partisan. Either way, God is most definitely not on the side of people like Larry Klayman.

However, if the right can claim God is floating above with a tea bag on his or her head, why can’t the left claim the endorsement of the divine as well?

God apparently thought that a kid named Barack Obama should be president. God gave that president the inspiration to reform the health insurance system so that more people could have access to affordable healthcare. Over the last few years, God has been very helpful to the Democratic Party.

Maybe God has nothing to with it, and politics is politics.

A thought that these extremists will never entertain is that God is not on their side. Even worse than God not being on their side, God may be an Obamabot.

God is never going to overthrow President Obama, and Klayman’s antics demonstrate that the Founding Fathers were right. Religion and politics don’t mix.


John Boehner’s Socialism: Taxpayers Pay 75% of His Premiums and His Wife is On Medicare

By: Sarah Jones
Monday, November, 25th, 2013, 2:58 pm   

“Next year Mrs. Boehner will be on Medicare.” This news was brought to you by Michael Hiltzik at the LA Times, in the midst of his fact-checking of John Boehner’s claims to be paying tons more money post-ObamaCare (shockingly a lie).

Also, “Boehner’s premiums are partially covered by his employer, the federal government, which pays up to 75% of employee premiums, up to a cap of $426.14 a month (for 2014).” This is confirmed by Factcheck.Org, which finds that the government pays on average 72% and up to 75%.

Not only do we, the taxpayers, fund 75% of Boehner’s premiums, but his wife is going on Medicare.

Republicans have been trying to kill Medicare for years.

Republicans call public servants like teachers “thugs” for any perks they get, but have no problem with getting 75% of their own premiums paid for.

Republicans like to pretend that their health insurance is the same as any federal employee. U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, made that claim in Florida. And while it’s technically true that their plans are the same, and federal employees get a much better deal than the private sector employees, Congress gets other perks (is this a bad time to remind Boehner that he kept the House gym open when his party shutdown the government?). PolitiFact explained:

    (M)embers of Congress do have two optional health perks that not all other federal employees enjoy.

    One is use of the Office of the Attending Physician, a low-profile Navy clinic on the Capitol’s first floor that offers basic medical services to members, Hill staffers and sickness-stricken tourists. The clinic was started in 1928 to respond to accidents and emergencies on the Hill, according to a July 2011 profile of the operation by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. Members can opt to regularly access the clinic for services such as X-rays, flu shots and physical therapy at an annual fee of $503.

    The other is access to medical and emergency treatment at military hospitals. There’s no charge for outpatient care at Bethesda Naval Hospital (or at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, though it has closed).

Also, most Americans don’t have their premiums picked up by other tax payers.

If austerity were really such a priority for Republicans, surely they’d take aim at the lazy entitlement taking among their own ranks. Why go on Medicare? Why let the government (aka, taxpayer) fund your premiums? My fiscally conservative grandparents refused such payments and paid their own way so I see no reason why austerity preachers wouldn’t do the same.

This proves that John Boehner doesn’t know anything about what most Americans deal with when it comes to healthcare… and for that matter, most Congressional members do not. But Republicans are the people trying to derail affordable healthcare for Americans.

So maybe they should hush up about things they don’t understand, and get on with the business of being total hypocrites on our tax dollars. It’s what they do best.

November 25, 2013

As Homeless Line Up for Food, Los Angeles Weighs Restrictions


LOS ANGELES — They began showing up at dusk last week, wandering the streets, slumped in wheelchairs and sitting on sidewalks, paper plates perched on their knees. By 6:30 p.m., more than 100 homeless people had lined up at a barren corner in Hollywood, drawn by free meals handed out from the back of a truck every night by volunteers.

But these days, 27 years after the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition began feeding people in a county that has one of the worst homeless problems in the nation, the charity is under fire, a flashpoint in the national debate over the homeless and the programs that serve them.

Facing an uproar from homeowners, two members of the Los Angeles City Council have called for the city to follow the lead of dozens of other communities and ban the feeding of homeless people in public spaces.

“If you give out free food on the street with no other services to deal with the collateral damage, you get hundreds of people beginning to squat,” said Alexander Polinsky, an actor who lives two blocks from the bread line. “They are living in my bushes and they are living in my next door neighbor’s crawl spaces. We have a neighborhood which now seems like a mental ward.”

Should Los Angeles enact such an ordinance, it would join a roster of more than 30 cities, including Philadelphia, Raleigh, N.C., Seattle and Orlando, Fla., that have adopted or debated some form of legislation intended to restrict the public feeding of the homeless, according to the National Coalition of the Homeless.

“Dozens of cities in recent years,” said Jerry Jones, the coalition’s executive director. “It’s a common but misguided tactic to drive homeless people out of downtown areas.”

“This is an attempt to make difficult problems disappear,” he said, adding, “It’s both callous and ineffective.”

The notion that Los Angeles might join this roster is striking given the breadth of the problem here. Encampments of homeless can be found from downtown to West Hollywood, from the streets of Brentwood to the beaches of Venice. The situation that has stirred no small amount of frustration and embarrassment among civic leaders, now amplified by fears of the hungry and mostly homeless people, who have come to count on these meals.

“They are helping human beings,” said Debra Morris, seated in a wheelchair as she ate the evening’s offering of pasta with tomato sauce. “I can barely pay my own rent.”

There are now about 53,800 homeless people in Los Angeles County, according to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development last week, a 27 percent increase over last year. Only New York had a higher homeless population.

The problem is particularly severe here because of the temperate climate that makes it easier to live outdoors, cuts in federal spending on the homeless, and a court-ordered effort by California to shrink its prison population, said Mike Arnold, the executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, an agency created by the city and county in 1993.

All told, about $82 million in government funds is spent each year on helping homeless here, Mr. Arnold said.

Tom LaBonge, one of the two City Council members who introduced the resolution (the other, also a Democrat, was Mitch O’Farrell), said food lines should be moved indoors, out of consideration to the homeless and neighborhoods. “There are well-intentioned people on both sides,” Mr. LaBonge said.

But, he added: “This has overwhelmed what is a residential neighborhood. When dinner is served, everybody comes and it’s kind of a free-for-all.”

Ted Landreth, the founder of the food coalition, said his group had fought back community opposition before — it moved to this corner after being ordered out of Plummer Park in West Hollywood in 1990 because of similar complaints — and would do so again.

“The people who want to get rid of us see dollar signs, property values, ahead of pretty much everything else,” he said.

”We have stood our ground,” he added. “We are not breaking any law.”

Communities that have sought to implement feeding restriction laws have faced strong resistance. In Philadelphia, advocates for the homeless won an injunction in federal court blocking a law there that would have banned food lines in public parks. Even before the court action, religious groups had moved in and began setting up indoor food lines.

In many ways the agonies of the national battle over dealing with homelessness are etched into this four-block-square section of Hollywood, where industrial buildings, including the Cemex cement factory, film production facilities and the stately former headquarters of Howard Hughes’s enterprises, sit two blocks up North Sycamore Avenue away from a middle-class neighborhood of Spanish Mission homes. Construction in the area is bustling, reflecting the gentrification that is taking place across this city.

The coalition’s truck, a Grumman Kurbmaster, arrives every night at 6:15, drawing as many as 200 people from across the region.

The other night, men and women lined up for firsts and, if desired, seconds. Some were quiet and grateful, and a few were loud and agitated. “You all right?” Mr. Landreth asked one man who was shouting to himself.

Just up the street, 75 people filled a living room, anxiously exchanging stories about what many described as a neighborhood under siege, and demanding help from local officials.

“You guys have had your fill here — we know that,” Officer Dave Cordova of the Los Angeles Police Department told them. “And the food coalition doesn’t help. Where do all these guys go after they get something to eat?”

Peter Nichols, the founder of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch, which helped organize the meeting, said there has been a steady increase in complaints about petty crime, loitering, public defecation and people sleeping on sidewalks.

“While it sounds good in concept — I’m going to pull up to a curb, I’m going to feed people, I’m going to clean up and I’m going to leave — well, there are not restrooms,” he said. “Can these people get a place to sleep? To clean up? We want there to be after-care provided every day they do the program. But they don’t and they can’t.”

What Mr. Landreth described as the most serious threat in its existence — a powerful combination of opposition from homeowners, businesses and city officials — is stirring deep concern among the people who come here to eat most nights.

“I know because of the long lines, a lot of times we have trouble and confusion,” said Emerson Tenner, 46, as he waited for a meal. “But there are people here who really need this. A few people act a little crazy. Don’t mess it up for everyone else.”

Aaron Lewis, who said he makes his home on the sidewalk by a 7-Eleven on Sunset Boulevard, chalked up opposition to what he described as rising callousness to people in need.

“That’s how it is everywhere,” Mr. Lewis said. “People here — it’s their only way to eat. The community doesn’t help us eat.”

Matt Hamilton contributed reporting.


Low Wage Work Rebellion May Finally Bring Down Our Poverty Rate

By: Deborah Foster
Monday, November, 25th, 2013, 9:40 am      

This has been the year of the low-wage worker rebellion. Fast food workers walking out for a day. Wal-Mart workers trying to unionize, only to face retaliation. Protesting workers taking their plight to the media. Part of inequality is the gross amassing of wealth in the hands of a tiny number of individuals comprising the overclass. But, the other major part of inequality is the mass of unemployed, underemployed, and low-wage workers who cling to the labor market precariously. The fact that the minimum wage has barely budged (in real dollars) in 45 years contributes to the fact that wages have fallen behind productivity. Tired of their constant struggle to survive and spurred by knowledge of the nation’s unprecedented inequality, minimum wage workers have been striking and protesting across the country. They know the corporations and businesses they work for are making record profits (e.g. Wal-Mart, McDonalds, etc.), yet these same employers falsely cry, “Bankruptcy,” whenever someone suggests that they pay their workers better. It’s not like these companies are unaware that their workers are struggling. McDonalds set up a website (related video) chock full of ideas and a hotline that encourages its workers to seek out government benefits or work two jobs. If all else fails, McDonalds suggests its employees sell their Christmas gifts. House Democrats have published a report estimating that Americans subsidize Wal-Mart wages at a rate of $5,815 per employee. A Wal-Mart store is asking their employees to donate canned goods to other Wal-Mart workers in need. So, even as the money-hoarding six members of the Walton family who inherited Wal-Mart’s profits have the same wealth as the bottom 30% of Americans, they pay their workers wages that require them to seek canned food donations. No matter what the answer to their employees’ inability to make ends meet, in their minds, it is not a living wage, despite evidence Wal-Mart could pay workers $25,000 a year without raising prices.

Twenty-five years ago, William Julius Wilson introduced us to the term, “underclass,” to describe the 10% of people in poverty who were concentrated in urban areas in pockets of extreme poverty, tormented by entrenched social problems like drug/alcohol abuse, violence, damaged families, and poor educational prospects. Wilson explained that these communities were the result of economic forces including the loss of manufacturing jobs, the movement of middle and upper class people to the suburbs, and the loss of services in urban communities. Conservatives insisted their intergenerational poverty was a trap caused by welfare, so they hollered loudly that welfare must be reformed, and then the “underclass” would disappear. In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, or welfare reform went into effect. Thereafter, healthy people could not receive welfare benefits for more than two years at a time, and for no more than five years over their lifetime (notably, it is truly amazing how many conservatives still don’t know these rules two decades later).

For a brief period of time, employment rates went up and poverty rates went down, even among the “underclass.” But this short-lived situation, which seemed to bolster conservative arguments that welfare was holding people back, had an alternative and much more obvious explanation: the economy of the 1990s was remarkably strong. People who were forced off welfare were able to find jobs with relative ease. However, a new class of people was also created, or rather, expanded, the working poor. Despite working full-time, their jobs did not bring their families above the poverty line. The low-wage, no-benefit jobs former welfare recipients took could not sustain a family, yet conservatives lauded the fact they were employed, saying just having a job was sufficient. They were unconcerned about the swelling numbers of the working poor. The dilemma of the working poor was invisible, however, because they typically could receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which effectively supplemented their wages by giving them tax-payer supported, annual checks that would give them a small boost, sometimes up over the poverty line.

As the nation moved into the 2000s, recessions pushed these low-level, typically low-skill, workers into unemployment and back into poverty, often without welfare as a safety net. While extreme poverty had declined in the 1990s, it went soaring back up in the 2000s, especially after the 2008 recession. Though it is surely bittersweet, Wilson can turn to his conservative policy opponents, and say, “I told you so.” Welfare was not causing people to be poor; their job prospects were. Poverty disproportionately affects people of color, and so too, do low wages. Although they are only 32% of the population, they comprise 42% of minimum wage workers. If the minimum wage was raised to $10.10, almost 6 million people would be brought out of poverty, 60% of whom would be people of color.

Millions of “expendable” employees occupy the temporary worker force, stuck with low wages, no benefits, and uncertain futures. People who used to have relatively decent-paying jobs working for the government, even in low-level positions, now work for private contractors that pay them minimum wage. This year, these workers went on strike not once, not twice, but three times as part of the Good Jobs Nation campaign. Most remarkable is the fact that 4 in 10 low wage contractor employees qualifies for and needs government benefits (e.g. Medicaid, food stamps) to get by.

If making staggering profits off of underpaying your workforce isn’t exploitation, it is difficult to find a more appropriate description. Raising the minimum wage is a popular idea; 4 in 5 Americans are in favor of doing so. Americans know there is a “wage crisis.” Robert Reich reminds us that Henry Ford paid a decent wage, because he knew his workers could not afford to buy his product without one. And in fact, Wal-Mart’s profits have decreased as our nation’s low wage workers struggle to even buy products from them. It’s time that corporations across the country remembered Ford’s economic lesson.


November 25, 2013

Inquiry in Cover-Up of Ohio Rape Yields Indictment of Four Adults


Four adults in the school system of Steubenville, Ohio, including the superintendent, were indicted Monday by a grand jury looking into the cover-up of a rape that drew national attention and outrage because students recorded it on social media but did not alert the authorities.

Michael McVey, 50, the superintendent of Steubenville City Schools, was indicted on a charge of obstructing justice, along with three others including an elementary school principal, eight months after two teenage football stars were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl.

The case was widely followed because social media also seemed to be on trial: teenagers exchanged scores of text messages and cellphone images documenting the assault, during a night of drunken parties in August 2012. The police learned of it only when the girl’s parents gave them a flash drive two days later filled with graphic Twitter posts and video.

“While this started out being about the kids, it is also just as much about the parents, about the grown-ups, about the adults,” said Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, in announcing the charges.

The attorney general offered no details on Monday about what led to the charges against the superintendent, including felony counts of tampering with evidence and obstructing justice.

But a person in law enforcement with knowledge of the grand jury said the charges were related not to the August 2012 rape, but to an accusation of an earlier rape, in April 2012, of a 14-year-old student, who came forward after the publicity over the case involving the football players.

Both cases have been handled by the attorney general, who stepped in after the local prosecutor recused herself.

Online activists, including Anonymous, a hacker group, turned the case into a cause célèbre by accusing the community of closing ranks to protect its athletic heroes.

Many in Steubenville, a struggling industrial town on the Ohio River border with West Virginia, resented the scrutiny, accusing outsiders of painting with too broad a brush.

After a four-day trial in March, a judge convicted the two football players, a former quarterback and a former wide receiver.

The indictment against the elementary school principal, Lynett Gorman, 40, on a charge of failing to report child abuse, related to the earlier case of the 14-year-old girl. Two others were charged in the case of the 16-year-old: a high school wrestling coach, Seth Fluharty, 26, charged with failing to report child abuse, and Matthew Bellardine, 26, a former assistant football coach, who was charged with allowing under-age drinking and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In an interview last year, Mr. McVey said that he was satisfied at the time of the episode that the head football coach, Reno Saccoccia, would take care of the matter and discipline his players.

Mr. Saccoccia was not indicted. His winning Big Red teams are so popular they regularly fill the hometown side of a stadium known as Death Valley, whose 10,000 seats could accommodate more than half Steubenville’s population.

At the trial of the two players convicted in March, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, a text message was read from Mr. Mays stating that he had persuaded Mr. Saccoccia “to take care of it” and that his coach “was joking about it so I’m not that worried.”

Asked at a news conference about the head coach, Mr. DeWine said he was forbidden to speak about the grand jury investigation, which he praised as thorough. “Every possible charge against any possible individual was considered,” he said.

Earlier, seeming to anticipate the question, Mr. DeWine said: “Some may ask why others were not indicted. Under our system of justice the grand jury must have probable cause to believe all the elements of a criminal offense are present.”

“It is simply not sufficient that a person’s behavior was reprehensible, disgusting, mean-spirited or just plain stupid,” he said. Mr. DeWine said he did not anticipate further indictments, barring new evidence.

Robert Fitzsimmons, a lawyer representing the victim and her family, said the system had worked. “We’re very satisfied with the decision,” he said. That the head coach was not indicted after being the subject of rumors, he added, “teaches everyone we shouldn’t point fingers until the evidence is known.”

If convicted, Mr. McVey could serve more than five years in prison.

Mr. DeWine criticized the adults who he said had failed to set boundaries for teenagers, and he criticized social media, for allowing people to instantly spread information without responsibility.

“Technology makes it possible to disseminate words and information, either true or false, at the push of a button,” he said. “We don’t have to look each other in the eye — leaving an electronic barrier that divorces us from shame and from the hurt felt by others.”

Juliet Macur and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 25, 2013

An earlier version of this article, a picture caption and a web summary misstated the link between the four indictments announced by Ohio’s attorney general and the rape of a 16-year-old girl last year. While the grand jury actions resulted from an inquiry into a cover-up of that case, two of the indictments — including the obstruction charge against the schools superintendent of Steubenville — resulted from another rape case, involving a 14-year-old, last year. The article also incorrectly described one of the adults indicted. She is an elementary school principal, not an elementary school teacher.

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« Reply #10257 on: Nov 27, 2013, 06:32 AM »

UN advances surveillance resolution reaffirming 'human right to privacy'

• Draft goes ahead despite US and UK concerns over language
• Inquiry possible into impact of excessive government spying

Dominic Rushe in New York, Tuesday 26 November 2013 20.00 GMT   

The United Nations moved a step closer to calling for an end to excessive surveillance on Tuesday in a resolution that reaffirms the “human right to privacy” and calls for the UN’s human rights commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the impact of mass digital snooping.

A UN committee that deals with human rights issues adopted the German- and Brazilian-drafted resolution that has become an increasingly sensitive issue among UN members.

The resolution, titled “The right to privacy in the digital age”, does not name specific countries but states the UN is: “Deeply concerned at the negative impact that surveillance and/or interception of communications … may have on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights.”

The resolution says “unlawful or arbitrary” surveillance may “contradict the tenets of a democratic society”. It says states “must ensure full compliance with their obligations under international human rights law”.

The 193-member general assembly is expected to vote on the non-binding resolution next month.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Brazil and Germany after leaked documents from former National Security Agency consultant Edward Snowden revealed that the agency had spied on their political leaders.

Britain and Australia – which, along with the US, Canada and New Zealand, make up the “Five-Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance – had pushed for its language to be weakened and lobbied successfully for one key component to be removed.

Australia’s bargaining power may have been weakened by revelations that it attempted to listen in on the private cellphone of the Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and inner circle. Indonesia is now negotiating a bilateral code of ethics on intelligence-sharing with Australia.

The main sticking point was over language stating that foreign nationals should have the same rights to privacy as the citizens of countries carrying out mass surveillance. US law currently gives citizens far greater protection than foreigners from NSA operations.

The Five-Eyes members argued that the legal right to privacy was an internal matter for states alone.

At the same time, countries including Cuba and Venezuela had pushed for more explicit language on alleged extraterritorial human rights violations during the negotiations.

Diplomatic sources told the Guardian: “The UK and Australia did most of the talking, but outside of the negotiations the US clearly signalled they had concerns.”

The source said he was pleased that the majority of the resolution was now moving forward, and pointed to its call for the UN high commissioner for human rights to conduct an inquiry and present a report next year on “the protection and promotion of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance and/or interception of digital communications and collection of personal data”.

That investigation is likely to look again at the international laws surrounding the “extraterritoriality” of privacy and whether people’s right to privacy has been infringed by the types of surveillance exposed by Snowden.

In a letter to the UN committee, the UK said it was “pleased to join consensus” but expressed frustration that “the text was circulated late in the committee, with the result that member states were given limited opportunity to engage in the thorough discussion that this subject deserves”.

While general assembly resolutions are non-binding, unlike resolutions of the 15-nation security council, those that enjoy broad international support carry significant moral and political weight.

Tung Yin, professor of law at Lewis & Clark Law School, said the resolution would bring further attention to the issues raised by Snowden, but it would be unlikely to have any real impact on the NSA’s activities “except at the margins".

“Look at the UN special rapporteur’s reports on drone strikes," he said. "They have consistently warned against extrajudicial killings and yet the number of drone strikes continues to increase.”

Last month, Martin Scheinin, former UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, told the European parliament that the “the surveillance constituted an unlawful or arbitrary interference with privacy or correspondence. This assessment follows independently from multiple grounds”.


Justice Department urged to make public secret surveillance documents

Appeals court judges hear arguments in case brought by activist group EFF designed to shed light on what critics call 'secret law'

Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Tuesday 26 November 2013 18.25 GMT   
Supporters of Edward Snowden at a congressional hearing in Brazil on NSA surveillance The case is one of several recent transparency lawsuits launched in the wake of the Snowden revelations. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Federal appeals judges in Washington will soon decide whether the public has the right to see secret Justice Department documents setting out the legality of surveillance practices – which powerful senators say amount to a body of secret law.

A panel of three judges from the District of Columbia circuit court of appeals met on Tuesday morning to hear arguments related to the government's ability to withhold from public view a 2010 ruling from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) about the FBI's ability to get customer data from telecommunications firms without any legal encumbrances.

The case, Electronic Frontier Foundation v Department of Justice, is one of several recent transparency lawsuits launched in the wake of the Snowden revelations in the Guardian and other news organisations. The lawsuits are designed to shed light on what senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, members of the intelligence committee, call anti-democratic "secret law." But the surveillance practice at issue is not believed to involve the sort of bulk data collection that the NSA engages in.

It is believed to be the first time the DC appeals court has ever heard a case applying the Freedom of Information Act to the OLC, a Justice Department body that assesses the legality of administration policies – a remarkable rarity considering that Washington is the venue for many national-security cases under the Freedom of Information Act.

Directly at issue during the 45-minute session on Tuesday was whether the OLC’s opinions are adopted by the agencies they advise – in this case, the FBI and possibly the CIA – or whether the office merely passed along non-operational guidance.

It is unlikely the judges would compel the Justice Department to disclose the OLC opinion should they decide it was not central to and impactful of the FBI surveillance practice, which is described obliquely in a heavily redacted Justice Department inspector general’s report from January 2010.

The practice is apparently no longer used by the FBI. Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Mark Rumold called it a “devolution” of a form of administrative subpoena issued by FBI for customer records.

Between 2003 and 2006, the inspector general report indicates, the FBI kept telecommunications personnel “embedded in the FBI itself”. Requests for customer data – previously subject to court-issued subpoenas or warrants – amounted to “Post-It notes,” Rumold said.

At least one judge on the panel indicated impatience with Rumold’s argument that the OLC perspective was “controlling” on federal agencies like the FBI.

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Judge David Sentelle.

Daniel Tenny, a Justice Department lawyer, contended that the OLC opinion amounted to private guidance from administration lawyers, typically exempt from transparency laws.

But Tenny conceded that it was unlikely that a federal agency could disregard a formal OLC opinion about the legality of an action performed by the agency, or a power it claimed to possess.

“As a matter of executive practice, we would expect that they wouldn’t,” Tenny said.

Judge Harry Edwards, Sentelle’s colleague on the panel, seemed to doubt Tenny’s contentions that the Office of Legal Counsel opinion did not have a controlling effect on the FBI and that the public did not have an interest in seeing the opinion.

“You’re blowing it off too quickly,” Edwards said.

The third judge on the panel, Sri Srinivasan, questioned both attorneys and gave little impression as to his inclinations. The panel is likely to take months before issuing a ruling.

After the hearing, Rumold said it was possible that the CIA may rely on the OLC opinion for what the New York Times recently described as a practice of collecting financial data in bulk. He also warned that the FBI’s claim not to perform the unencumbered data collection from telecommunications firms was a reversible policy choice now that the OLC had blessed it.

“It’s the same problem in the NSA context,” Rumold said. “The blossoming of secret surveillance law under government privilege.”


NSA surveillance: Europe threatens to freeze US data-sharing arrangements

After Edward Snowden revelations, EU executive underlines US compliance with European law and 'how things have gone badly'

Ian Traynor in Brussels
The Guardian, Tuesday 26 November 2013 18.40 GMT      

The EU executive is threatening to freeze crucial data-sharing arrangements with the US because of the Edward Snowden revelations about the mass surveillance of the National Security Agency.

The US will have to adjust their surveillance activities to comply with EU law and enable legal redress in the US courts for Europeans whose rights may have been infringed, said Viviane Reding, the EU's justice and rights commissioner who is negotiating with the US on the fallout from the NSA scandal.

European businesses need to compete on a level playing field with US rivals, Reding told the Guardian.

The EU commissioner said there was little she or Brussels could do about the activities of the NSA's main partner in mass surveillance, Britain's Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ, since secret services in the EU were the strict remit of national governments. The commission has demanded but failed to obtain detailed information from the British government on how UK surveillance practices are affecting other EU citizens.

"I have direct competence in law enforcement but not in secret services. That remains with the member states. In general, secret services are national," said the commissioner, from Luxembourg.

As a result of the Snowden disclosures, the EU has reviewed existing data-sharing agreements with the Americans concerning commercial swaps between US and European companies, information traded aimed at suppressing international terrorist funding, and the supply of information on transatlantic air passengers. It is also rethinking ongoing negotiations over exchanging data with the Americans on judicial and police co-operation. And it is drafting new Europe-wide data protection rules requiring US internet companies operating in the EU to obtain permission to transfer data to the US and to restrict US intelligence access to it.

Pressing the Americans in negotiations in Washington last week, Reding was unable to obtain US figures on the scale of the US surveillance of Europeans.

The commercial data exchange, known as "Safe Harbor", was found to be flawed.

"The commission will underline that things have gone very badly indeed. Our analysis is Safe Harbor seems not to be safe. We're asking the US not just to speak, but to act," Reding said. "There is always a possibility to scrap Safe Harbor … It's important that these recommendations are acted on by the US side by summer 2014. Next summer is a Damocles sword. It's a real to-do list. Enforcement is absolutely critical. Safe Harbor cannot be only an empty shell."

The commission is to come forward on Wednesday with a set of recommendations addressing the risks exposed by Snowden. The package was agreed in Brussels on Monday, said senior officials, but is opposed by Britain's representative in the commission, Lady Ashton.

The Snowden disclosures are "a wake-up call for the EU and its member states to advance swiftly on data protection reform", the commission is expected to say."The question has arisen whether the large-scale collection and processing of personal information under US surveillance programmes is necessary and proportionate to meet the interests of national security … EU citizens do not enjoy the same rights and procedural safeguards as Americans."

Reding stressed that US concessions on legal redress were central to Brussels' demands. American citizens in Europe can go to the courts if they feel their rights are infringed. Europeans without right of residence in America may not.

"For two years I have asked for reciprocity," said Reding. "I couldn't get that. It needs a change of [US] legislation and the administration has always told me they couldn't get that through."

Senior EU officials are cautiously confident that the Obama administration realises the damage done to transatlantic trust by the Snowden leaks and that it will act to assuage some of the EU concerns.

"The US tone has changed," said a senior official present at the Washington negotiations last week. "The Americans were always stonewalling. Now the cat is out of the bag. We are seeing movement."

US flexibility contrasted with outright British hostility to EU moves to reinforce privacy rights, the officials said. The new EU rules being drafted on data protection were opposed openly "150%" by the British, said another senior official. "There's nothing new here."

But the Germans were also opposed, arguing that the new regime was not strict enough. The Scandinavians and some east Europeans also had some reservations about new data privacy rules from Brussels, suggesting they will have trouble surviving in current form.

The aim is to get the new regulations through the legislative cycle by next May, but that looks unlikely.

Cecilia Malmström, the commissioner for home affairs, is to declare on Wednesday that the onus is on Washington to come clean about the Snowden disclosures.

"Serious concerns still remain following the revelations," she will say. "If the US wants to overcome current tensions, they need to shed full light on these allegations. Our co-operation with the US in the fight against terrorism has been put into question by the NSA revelations."

• This article was amended on 27 November 2013. An earlier version said GCHQ stood for the General Communications Headquarters. That has been corrected to Government Communications Headquarters.


11/26/2013 01:35 PM

Pentagon Contracts: German Scientists Accused of Naivete

By Lena Greiner

German research institutions have accepted more than $10 million in contracts from the Pentagon since 2000 to cover seemingly benign topics like congenital tumors. But it appears some of these projects also have controversial military applications.

What could a person possibly have against the desert locust? These peaceful creatures nourish themselves with leaves and fruit, and they like sunlight and the company of others -- thus their penchant for traveling together in swarms in the broad daylight. But there are mavericks among these locusts -- ones that travel alone and at night. From 2008 to 2011, a research group led by Dr. Uwe Homberg at Germany's University of Marburg sought to unlock the mystery of how the insects that fly at night orient themselves in the dark.

The research seems innocuous enough on the surface, but in hindsight, university President Katharina Krause isn't happy about it. Contacted by SPIEGEL ONLINE, she said she would have "seriously urged against taking on the project given the clear military-oriented expectations of the funder." The client was the United States Defense Department. For €143,600 ($194,600), the Americans reportedly sought to determine ways to orient and steer drones and weapons based on the behavior of the desert locust during night flight.

German public broadcaster NDR and Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung first reported on Monday that 22 German universities and research institutions have received more than $10 million from the US Defense Department's budget since 2000. The article states that the sponsored projects cover both basic and defense research, including explosives. The Ludwig-Maxilian University of Munich, for example, received more than $470,000 in 2012 to find ways to improve military explosives.

The funding raises a number of serious questions in Germany about the relationship between the Pentagon and the country's institutes of higher education and research. Are they helping the US to develop killing machines? And are some German universities violating their own so-called civil clauses dictating that any research they conduct should be exclusively for civilian purposes?

US Institutions Clamor for Pentagon Funds

"The US has a military research and development budget of €70 billion per year," says Jürgen Altmann, a peace researcher and physicist at TU Dortmund, a university of applied sciences, who has been studying new military technologies and the associated risks for the past 25 years. Altmann argues that the projects reported on this week in Germany are negligible by comparison.

US universities have a long tradition of military research, and institutes clamor for generously funded contracts from the Pentagon. In Germany, though, scientific research for purposes of war is viewed critically, and groups at many universities have pressured officials at these institutions to agree to conduct research exclusively for peaceful and civilian purposes. Between 2000 and 2010, the German Defense Ministry provided €46 million in funding for defense-related research projects to 48 universities -- a paltry sum compared to what the Pentagon pumps into American universities.

A total of 13 German universities have already implemented civil clauses stipulating that research and teaching is either completely barred from any military influence or, in cases of doubt, decisions must be taken transparently whether a project will be accepted or not.

The University of Bremen was the first German university to bind itself to a civil clause. But the recent reporting has revealed that two doctoral positions there were financed by the Pentagon. An environmental physicist landed the contracts without the knowledge of his dean's office or the university's top leadership. The projects were attributed merely as "third-party funds" on the university's accounting forms, keeping both the public and education ministries in the dark about their true nature.

Despite sounding suspicious, this procedure is as commonplace as it is legal. Scientists at German universities are compelled to seek out third-party funding, in part because their institutions depend on it. And because the German constitution has no restrictions on research, scientists have only to comply with corresponding laws, like those regulating gene technology, biological agents, weapons and foreign trade. If a researcher's university has a civil clause, he or she is obliged, when in doubt, to ask for an assessment from the dean's office. But researchers are not required to comply with that assessment.

Is Tumor Research Problematic?

For its part, the University of Bremen says it wouldn't have any problem with a Pentagon contract because it claims the funding only went toward basic research. But Altmann, the physicist, has his doubts. "The US Congress already resolved decades ago that there has to be a military application when it comes to contracts coming from the Pentagon -- even if it initially only has to do with basic research." He does, however, note one exception: medicine.

And things are still lacking when it comes to upholding the civil clause. "I'm not aware of any German university that already has a procedure in place for reviewing projects," Altmann says.

Some research institutions act as if they were downright clueless. The working group on "inherited tumor and deformity illnesses" at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) has received money from the United States for 10 years. "The US Army uses a certain percentage of its budget for research that can especially be used transnationally," the UKE said in a statement. "The working group has gladly made use of these funds amid very low funding for rare diseases in Germany. Military earmarks are not connected to the acceptance of money."

So can research into tumors be dubious? The US Defense Department wants to know how the human body works, Altmann says. "On the one hand, it's about being able to better protect and cure their own soldiers. On the other, it's about becoming more aware of potential enemy attacks with biological weapons."

Yet once something is researched and published, it is available to anyone for any use. This gives rise to what researchers call a dual-use dilemma. Rockets that transport satellites into space, for example, could also be used to carry nuclear weapons. Knowledge about pathogens can be used to develop new medicines or biological weapons. Nuclear technology can harvest energy or build atomic bombs.

And research into the desert locust? It can help to perfect drone wars.


Edward Snowden a 'hero' for NSA disclosures, Wikipedia founder says

• Jimmy Wales calls for 'major re-evaluation' of NSA surveillance
• 'I think that history will judge Snowden very favourably'

Adam Gabbatt   
The Guardian, Monday 25 November 2013 17.06 GMT      

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has called on Barack Obama to rein in the National Security Agency as he described the whistleblower Edward Snowden as "a hero" whom history will judge "very favourably".

In an interview with Al Jazeera’s Head to Head show, Wales called for a "major re-evaluation" of the NSA, adding that the public "would have never approved this sweeping surveillance program" had it been put to a vote.

The revelations, Wales said, had been "incredibly damaging and embarrassing to the US".

"It makes it very difficult for someone like me to go out, as I do speak to people in authoritarian countries, and say: 'You shouldn’t be spying on activists, you shouldn’t be censoring the internet', when we [in the US] are complicit in these acts of extraordinary intrusion into people’s personal lives."

Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia having flown there on 23 June this year. He is wanted in the US on espionage charges after passing a trove of documents to journalists from the Guardian and the Washington Post revealing the extent of the NSA's surveillance programs.

"It’s difficult to have a judgment in such a short period of time on a person I don’t know, and where we don’t know what might appear in the future. But, given everything that I know today, he is a hero," Wales told Head to Head host Mehdi Hasan and a live audience at the Oxford University Union.

"He is a person that has been very careful in the materials that he has leaked … they have been in the abstract, he has never leaked anything that would put any particular agents at risk, and so forth. He has exposed what I believe to be criminal wrongdoing, lying to Congress and certainly a shock and an affront, in America, an affront to the fourth amendment. I think that history will judge him very favourably.”

Wales co-founded Wikipedia in 2001 and grew it to become the sixth most popular website in the world. Despite Snowden’s disclosures, the site would not relocate its servers outside the US, Wales said.

“The US remains a jurisdiction for things like freedom of speech, safeguards for internet companies. We would consider it, for sure, but so far we haven’t seen anything that would make us want to leave the US.

“There is a growing sense of concern in Congress about this, a growing sense in Congress that public is angry about this, that they have been misled and I think we are going to see legislation to change this – at least if I have anything to do with this, I think we will.”

In June Snowden was charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person”. The Kremlin has said it will not hand him over to the US government.


Edward Snowden’s latest leak: NSA monitored online porn habits of ‘radicalizers’ to discredit them

By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, November 27, 2013 0:48 EST

A document provided by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden explains the agency’s plan to discredit Islamic “radicalizers” by monitoring their online habits for indications they visited pornographic websites or used “sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls,” the Huffington Post reported Tuesday night.

“Radicalizers appear to be particularly vulnerable in the area of authority when their private and public behaviors are not consistent,” the document states. The Post reported that the Oct. 12 missive was sent to the Drug Enforcement Association (DEA) and the Commerce, Customs, Justice and Transportation Departments.

The document Snowden provided identifies six Muslim “globally-resonating radicalizers,” one of them a “U.S. person,” the agency term for an American citizen or permanent resident. Under the listing for the subjects’ “vulnerabilities,” two are described as engaging in “online promiscuity.” Another subject, described as a “well-known media celebrity” who targets an Arabic-speaking audience, has a “glamorous lifestyle” listed as a possible point of attack.

“Examining how the six radicalizers establish and maintain access with different pools of people susceptible to their message — and their perceptions of the difficulties in doing so — suggests that there are vulnerabilities that can be exploited in terms of this access,” the document states. “Emerging radicalizers may be vulnerable on this point as well.”

Journalist James Bamford, who has covered the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) searches for American public figures’ “vulnerabilities,” told the Post the NSA’s apparent activities brought to mind the tactics employed by former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

“Back then, the idea was developed by the longest serving FBI chief in U.S. history,” Bamford told the Post. “Today it was suggested by the longest serving NSA chief in U.S. history. And back then, the NSA was also used to do the eavesdropping on King and others through its Operation Minaret. A later review declared the NSA’s program ‘disreputable if not outright illegal.’”

However, former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker defended the tactic, saying that concerns over the agency’s surveillance being used as a political deterrent were not enough to justify abandoning it.

“If people are engaged in trying to recruit folks to kill Americans and we can discredit them, we ought to,” Baker told the Post. “On the whole, it’s fairer and maybe more humane” than bombing a target, he said, describing the tactic as “dropping the truth on them.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #10258 on: Nov 27, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Bulgarian students lead wave of protest

Young people occupying institutions all over the country amid growing anger over corruption and unemployment

Kit Gillet in Sofia
The Guardian, Tuesday 26 November 2013 23.03 GMT      

Just after 1am inside Sofia University, a handful of young people are spray painting protest banners in a dimly lit corridor. Upstairs in a lecture hall, and dotted around nearby classrooms, fellow students are curled up on the floor asleep. Volunteers in yellow jackets are standing guard at the university gates.

It is the fourth week of an occupation. Hundreds of students in a dozen institutions across Bulgaria have taken over all or parts of their universities, padlocking the gates and adding a new dimension to a movement that has rapidly escalated into the biggest rolling wave of demonstrations since the collapse of communism 24 years ago.

Something has snapped in Bulgaria this year. Fury at corruption and nepotism, youth unemployment at 28.7%, low wages and limited job opportunities that force qualified Bulgarians to find work overseas, and a sense that those in power have for too long put their own interests above those of the country, have coalesced this year into one long pulse of anger.

Public opinion polls suggest that around two-thirds of Bulgaria's 7.3 million people support the movement. "We have to try to get morals back into our political system," said Mina Hristova, a 23-year-old cultural anthropology student. "We are here because we need to show our politicians that there are consequences to their actions."

The state has resorted to bussing in supporters to confront the semi-permanent street demonstrations that have choked Sofia this year. "We've gone through difficult times in the last 23 years, but we've always found a solution," the foreign minister, Kristian Vigenin, told the Guardian on a recent march.

The fury spilled out on to the streets in June when tens of thousands marched through the capital in outrage over the appointment of Delyan Peevski, a well-connected media mogul, as head of the State Agency for National Security. Peevski had lost an earlier position as deputy minister of disaster management after allegations of corruption.

For many in Bulgaria this was painful proof of the nepotistic nature of their political system, which, according to Transparency International, is the second most corrupt among the 28 EU member states, beaten only by Greece.

Peevski's resignation less than 24 hours after his appointment did nothing to quell the anger. Instead, protesters demanded the resignation of the centre-left government of the prime minister, Plamen Oresharski, which had been in office for just six weeks.

Oresharski told the people that it was too soon to judge him, but every day since, protesters have gathered outside parliament to shout slogans and demand real political change. In late July, protesters clashed with riot police after a crowd of 2,000 trapped government officials inside the parliament building for eight hours. It was one of the few nights that saw bloodshed in an otherwise peaceful protest movement.

After five months of protesting, in recent weeks it has been Bulgarian students who have taken the lead, occupying their universities and organising the daily protests outside parliament.

"Every one of us had the feeling that something was wrong from when we were children," said Ivaylo Dinev, a 24-year-old history student and the informal leader of the student protests. "We've seen the influence of the mafia in politics all of our lives, no matter which party is in power. What we need is real change. Before I was 18, I was a rebel without a cause. Now I have a cause."

Inside Sofia University, handmade banners and signs ask students to "talk big" and imagine what they would do if they were in political office. Sleeping bags hang from nearby coat pegs.On a raised platform at the front of the lecture hall, protest leaders discuss plans and strategies.

According to Borislav Gavrilov, a professor of modern history at Sofia University, members of the former communist secret police remain in positions of power across Bulgarian society, wielding unfair influence and stunting the development of the nation. "They are all through the government, the economy, the media – especially the media," he explained. "People are sick and tired of fake change. We had protests in 1997, 2009 – hopefully this is third time lucky."

"Trust in the government has now eroded to an unprecedented degree," said Daniel Smilov, a professor of political science at Sofia University, adding that protesters have lost their faith in all the political parties. "The government complains that the protesters don't want dialogue, but it is unclear what the dialogue should be about, since the protesters' main demand is new elections and the government refuse to consider that," he said.

Last Tuesday, students clashed with riot police as they tried to form human chains around the exits from parliament. Twenty-three protesters were arrested, and the following day a further 25 were rounded up in their homes in an early-morning operation. "We were just sitting on the ground in front of the police singing protest songs when they tried to pull us apart," said Nona Keranova, a 20-year-old law student, who was with some of the group who were arrested.

Keranova was not arrested, but she says she was dragged along the ground by a policeman and pushed up against a wall. It was unknown people later in the evening, she added, and not the students, who clashed with the police and threw bottles at them. "We are trying to change things peacefully," she said.

Not all the students are happy with the occupation, which has shut down many of the university's faculties, including law and languages. Every evening the students gather in one of the lecture halls to discuss the day's activities and vote on important measures.

Students who are not part of the occupation are invited to come to talk and debate. "We try to explain why this occupation is needed, that it is up to us to keep these protests going," said 19-year-old Teodora Shalvardjieva, who began her studies in international relations weeks before the occupation began. "We can't stop this until the government resigns."

Some are persuaded, but many others just want to get back to their studies, fearful that the whole academic year will be forfeit if the occupation continues for much longer. On Monday it was announced that classes would resume shortly, but that the student occupation would remain in place.
Rise of the far right

Almost 10,000 refugees have arrived in Bulgaria this year, most of them Syrians fleeing the civil war. The surge has fuelled xenophobic tensions and concerns over violent attacks and the growth of rightwing parties.

Last week the new Nationalist party was formed, combining football hooligans, ultranationalists and skinheads, while another faction announced the creation of vigilante groups.

Bulgaria is the poorest member of the EU and many say it cannot support a wave of refugees. In a recent poll, 15% said they approved of violence against foreigners, while 20% wanted the border with Turkey closed.

November has seen a spate of attacks and protests against asylum seekers, and Amnesty has warned that "recent government statements risk inflaming the situation".

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Posts: 28727

« Reply #10259 on: Nov 27, 2013, 06:39 AM »

Silvio Berlusconi set for Senate vote on expulsion

Despite pleas and threats from Berlusconi, Italian senators almost certain to vote in favour of expelling former PM after tax fraud conviction

Lizzy Davies in Rome and agencies, Wednesday 27 November 2013 12.35 GMT      

Silvio Berlusconi could suffer arguably the heaviest blow of his political career on Wednesday night when the upper house of parliament is expected to vote to oust him following a conviction for tax fraud.

A hostile front of the centre-left and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) is almost certain to vote against the former prime minister, who pulled his Forza Italia party from Enrico Letta's governing coalition and into opposition on Tuesday.

Berlusconi, who resigned as PM in late 2011 amid concerns over Italy's growing financial instability, received his first definitive conviction in 20 years of legal battles on 1 August. He was sentenced to four years in prison, commuted to one year of community service.

The debate over the parliamentary ramifications of the conviction has dominated the national political scene for the past four months. The 77-year-old media magnate has issued alternate pleas and threats in an attempt to avoid being stripped of his seat under a law passed last year – with the support of his then party, the Freedom People – which stipulates that MPs convicted of serious criminal offences must be ineligible for parliament.

Berlusconi has kept up the battle until the last minute, claiming on Monday to have new evidence that he said would exonerate him, and begging his fellow senators to put off the vote until the documents had been examined.

He insists the conviction is another sign of his continuing persecution by leftwing judges. He has indicated that Giorgio Napolitano, the Italian president, should pardon him without him having to ask – an idea that drew a terse response from the former communist head of state.

Berlusconi is not expected to be present for the Senate vote. It is thought he will address supporters who are due to gather outside his residence in central Rome on Wednesday afternoon.

He is expected to begin serving his sentence next year for the tax fraud conviction, which related to a complex system of illegally inflated invoices at his Mediaset television empire. But this is not the end of his legal woes. Among other matters, he has been ordered to stand trial on charges of bribing a senator in an attempt to bring down Romano Prodi's government, and is appealing against a first-grade conviction handed down in June for having sex with an underage girl and abusing his office to cover it up. He denies the allegations in both cases.

Despite his expected expulsion, Berlusconi will by no means disappear from the political scene. His future role has been compared to that of Beppe Grillo, the M5S's figurehead who himself has not been elected.

"The Senate is voting the expulsion of a man who is since yesterday the reference point for a large opposition formation," wrote the analyst Stefano Folli in the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore. "After [centre-left hopeful and Florence mayor Matteo] Renzi and Grillo, we will have another extra-parliamentary leader."

The expulsion vote is expected to heighten the tensions that have plagued the Letta government from its inception this year, even if, with a breakaway centre-right group that remains loyal to the coalition, it has a reasonably secure if small majority.

With their leader kicked out of the senate, Forza Italia MPs could prove highly disruptive in opposition and could stymie the kind of institutional reforms Letta says he wants to pass, Folli wrote. "It's better not to delude ourselves: Berlusconi's collaborators have already explained that the right will be against almost everything."

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