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« Reply #10605 on: Dec 12, 2013, 07:35 AM »

EU has failed to defend Edward Snowden, says activist group

Index on Censorship claims European Union has also neglected to protect newspapers writing about mass surveillance

Matthew Taylor and Nick Hopkins   
The Guardian, Thursday 12 December 2013   

The European Union has failed to stand up for whistleblower Edward Snowden or properly defend newspapers that have written articles about the scale of mass state surveillance, according to freedom of expression group Index on Censorship.

To mark the launch of a report on Thursday, Mike Harris, the organisation's head of advocacy, criticised the EU for failing to take a strong stance against the mass state surveillance revealed by Snowden and a range of other freedom of expression issues in Europe and elsewhere.

"No EU member state defended Edward Snowden as a whistleblower," said Harris. "The EU failed to issue a strong collective statement against mass surveillance, nor have unjust laws such as criminal defamation or national insult laws prevalent across the continent been repealed."

He said despite new powers to deal with breaches to the right of freedom of expression the EU had failed to defend newspapers such as the Guardian, which has come under intense political pressure for reporting on the scale of mass state surveillance based on Snowden's revelations.

"Media freedom in particular has come under attack – from the recent seizure of the Guardian's computers, through to the Hungarian government's clampdown on their media – all in states that have signed up to strong human rights commitments. While the EU likes to talk about the importance of 'European values', it is failing to practice what it preaches."

The Guardian, along with some of the world's other major media organisations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and Der Spiegel, began disclosing details of the extent and reach of secret surveillance programmes run by Britain's eavesdropping centre, GCHQ, and the National Security Agency in June.

The revelations have sparked a huge debate on the scale of mass surveillance and the legal framework and oversight governing western spy agencies. Civil liberties groups have criticised the UK government for putting intense political pressure on the Guardian and other media groups covering the leaks rather than addressing the implications of the mass surveillance programmes that have been uncovered.

The report, Time to step up: the EU and freedom of expression, says the EU should have done more and also highlights its failure to take strong action in Italy under Silvio Berlusconi where there have been serious concerns around media plurality concerns or in Hungary where there has been a severe crackdown on press freedoms. It also criticises the EU's lack of support for democrats in the Middle East prior to the Arab spring, saying it failed to actively encourage and foster the spread of freedom and democracy in the region.

Harris said: "The EU has a hugely positive role to play in the world, as the home to some of the world's best places for freedom of expression and as the world's largest trading block with huge economic leverage. It is beginning to take a more proactive stance with more funding for human rights defenders and targeted sanctions on Belarus, but it can do so much more to support freedom in its neighbourhood."

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« Reply #10606 on: Dec 12, 2013, 07:39 AM »

December 11, 2013

Hardships Linger for a Mending Ireland


DUBLIN — On the rare days when John Donovan visits downtown Dublin, there is a buzz in the air: Streets bustle with pedestrians. “Sold” signs festoon Georgian brick buildings that had languished on the market for years. At Silicon Docks, a hub where Google, Facebook and other tech companies are clustered, crowds of taxis line up for easy fares.

It certainly looks like Ireland is recovering from near economic collapse. And this weekend Ireland will technically become the first of Europe’s crisis-hit countries to emerge from an international financial rescue program.

But in the suburb of Shankill where Mr. Donovan, 55, lives, the economic hubbub is absent. Many of his neighbors are barely scraping by. He moved into his mother’s small cottage after his hardware supply business buckled during the crisis. With his scant savings eroded, he shoots pigeons for food and grills them outdoors to reduce his gas and grocery bills. “I do that just to live,” he said.

“The Irish people have endured a horrendous time,” Mr. Donovan said. “The government must take their foot off the neck of the nation.”

The Irish government’s severe austerity program was a condition of the 67.5 billion euro, or $92.9 billion, lifeline it received amid a severe banking crisis. But in part because of the sharp cutbacks, Ireland has regained the confidence of investors and will no longer need to rely on the international loans. It can now borrow money in financial markets at low interest rates. But it still must repay most of the loans it has received, which could take decades.

While it has been painful for Ireland’s citizens, it is an achievement European leaders are hailing as a sign that Europe is moving past the worst of a five-year crisis. And with Greece, Portugal and Cyprus still struggling to exit their multibillion-euro bailouts, Ireland is being held up as nothing less than a symbol for recovery.

International investors have been impressed with Ireland’s ability to improve its finances: The interest on its 10-year bond has been reduced to 3.5 percent from 14.5 percent. Newspaper headlines announce hundreds of new jobs weekly, especially in technology. A small revival is even blooming in construction, which imploded when the Celtic Tiger economy went bust.

But the rigor required to get there has been painful. The government cut 30 billion euros in spending, or nearly 20 percent of gross domestic product, one of the largest austerity programs anywhere. New taxes were introduced. Salaries for public employees were cut by around 20 percent, and reductions in unemployment and welfare benefits followed. The bill to bail out Ireland’s banks has amounted to nearly €10,000 per Irish citizen.

“Ireland is the closest thing to a success story that European leaders have,” said Simon Tilford, the chief economist at the Centre for European Reform in London. “But it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny because there’s been a huge fall in the domestic economy and living standards.”

Martin Brennan earns €9.50 an hour cleaning a hospital near his home in the working-class Dublin suburb of Drimnagh and his wife gets €380 working three days a week in a university administrative job. After buying food and paying bills, there is little money to spare for his family of four. With bailout-linked taxes on property and income, “we have nothing left over,” he said.

Nearly everyone the Brennans know is underwater on their mortgage. Several neighbors were out of work, including a man who was recently fired with 11 others at a family business that collapsed. Martin Brennan shuddered as he talked about how several hospital employees had started going to a soup kitchen for meals. “People are eating cornflakes for dinner,” he said. “Economists say it’s an urban legend. Tell them it’s for real.”

Such hardships may persist well after Ireland exits its bailout. Because financial rigor will still be needed to maintain Ireland’s creditworthiness, Prime Minister Enda Kenny is planning to introduce a further €2.5 billion in spending cuts and new taxes next year.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said that Ireland was trying to “grow the economy, create jobs and tackle the unacceptably high unemployment levels.” Growth is expected to rebound to 1.8 percent in 2014. Unemployment is still high at 12.8 percent for the quarter, but is declining after the economy added 58,000 jobs this year.

Still, Ireland must stick to fiscal targets, he said. Debt, at 123 percent of gross domestic product, should fall once Ireland is extracted from the bailout. The deficit, which has shrunk to 7.5 percent of G.D.P. from 30 percent in 2010, should also continue to decline.

As the austerity measures have played out, the number of people in need has jumped. Homelessness is up nearly 20 percent since 2010. A study by Growing Up in Ireland tracking 11,000 families with young children found 67 percent could not afford basic necessities, and were behind on utility bills, rent and the mortgage.

Consumer spending has been flat. This year through the end of the third quarter, 18.5 percent of homeowners had missed a mortgage payment and 12.5 percent were three months or more behind on their repayments, according to the central bank. Half of all loans to small- and medium-size business are also in arrears.

More than 200,000 of Ireland’s population of 4.6 million have emigrated since 2008. Youth unemployment is 28 percent. Over 60 percent of job seekers have been out of work for a year or more. And 20 percent of children now live in households where neither parent works, the highest rate in the European Union.

Mr. Donovan labored to recover from the bust. He went from owning a five-bedroom home, boats and cars to figuring out a way to survive.

A stout, energetic man, he was determined to turn his life around. After recovering from depression, he entered a government retraining program and obtained masters’ degrees in law and business. But of the 1,583 résumés he sent out, only four interviews materialized.

“There were jobs, but no one wants to hire a 55-year-old,” he said. Eventually, a friend with a construction supply business gave him an internship. At €22,000, or about $30,000 a year, it didn’t pay much more than welfare. “But I want to work,” he said. A chill permeated his home as he kept the heat off to make ends meet; he said he had cut out all extraneous expenses.

Although Shankill appeared affluent — just 10 minutes from where Bono’s mansion overlooks the Irish Sea — Mr. Donovan said about 10 percent of the 17,000 inhabitants were underwater on their mortgages. Neighbors of Mr. Donovan’s who were builders, cleaners and florists all lost their businesses, and the local pub owner closed two of his three pubs.

The austerity was squeezing most people Mr. Donovan knew. “The government, in a moment of madness, has burdened every man, woman and child with a debt we may never escape,” he said. “We are on our backside.”

Mr. Brennan, the hospital worker, thought the same thing. He knew the government was laboring to fix the economy. But he did not expect to see the improvement in his lifetime. “We’ve already tried to live five years on nothing,” Mr. Brennan said. “If they push things much more, it’ll kill us.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 12, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated economic data attributed to the Irish central bank. This year through the third quarter, 18.5 percent of homeowners had missed a mortgage payment; it is not the case that two-thirds of homeowners have not paid their mortgage on time for the last two years.

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« Reply #10607 on: Dec 12, 2013, 07:40 AM »

December 11, 2013

Military Chief in Iran Scolds a Top Official


TEHRAN — The highest commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran lashed out at the country’s foreign minister on Wednesday, telling him to stick to diplomacy and stay out of military business.

The commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, responded to statements by the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was reported to have said a week ago that the United States military could take out Iran’s defenses with “just a couple of bombs.” Mr. Zarif later said he had been misquoted. Mr. Jafari, who developed Iran’s military doctrine of employing guerrilla tactics against powerful enemies, said that even “thousands of bombs” could not destroy the corps’ capabilities.

“American bombs may cause damage to our infrastructure, but the missile and strategic capabilities of the I.R.G.C. are remarkable,” Mr. Jafari said during a meeting with students, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported. “Even if the U.S. manages to bomb us, they can destroy 20 percent of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ missile capability at the maximum.”

The remarks reveal growing tensions in Iran between the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani, which is trying to reach a lasting nuclear deal with world powers in exchange for sanctions relief, and hard-liners like Mr. Jafari, who are openly skeptical that a deal can be reached.
Commenting on the temporary nuclear agreement negotiated last month with the world powers, Mr. Jafari said that Iran had “given the maximum and received the minimum,” but he added that Iran’s “red lines,” most prominently what it says is its right to enrich uranium on its own soil, had not yet been crossed.
The West is trying to pressure Iran to give in on its principles, Mr. Jafari said, adding that this will never happen. “They do this so Iran crosses its red lines,” he said, “but this is impossible, and if the other side takes such an approach, we will return to the past.”
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« Reply #10608 on: Dec 12, 2013, 07:46 AM »

Indian court overturns ruling decriminalising gay sex

Rights campaigners say surprise decision to ditch 2009 judgment on colonial-era law takes country back to dark ages

Jason Burke in Delhi, Wednesday 11 December 2013 13.55 GMT   

Hundreds of people have taken to the streets across India in spontaneous protests following an unexpected supreme court decision reversing a previous judgment that had decriminalised gay sex in the country.

The decision means same-sex relations in India are once again subject to a 153-year-old law, passed under British rule, which defines them as "unnatural" and punishable by a potential 10-year jail sentence. The law was in effect repealed in 2009 by a landmark ruling by the high court of Delhi, the capital.

Activists had expected the supreme court simply to rubber-stamp the earlier ruling. The institution is known for its broadly progressive judgments, which often order politicians or officials to respect the rights of the poor, disadvantaged or marginalised communities.

"It's a tremendous blow. It's unprecedented for a court with a long history of expanding rights to reduce dignity not protect it," said Gautham Bhan, a prominent activist.

Vikram Seth, the author, told the NDTV news channel: "Today is a great day for prejudice and inhumanity and a bad day for law and love. But law develops and love is resilient and prejudice will be beaten back.

"I wasn't a criminal yesterday but today I certainly am. And I propose to continue being a criminal. But I do not propose to ask the permission of their lordships when deciding who to love and whom to make love to."

A coalition of conservative religious and social groups had petitioned the supreme court to overturn the earlier ruling. The two-judge bench decided that only India's parliament could change the law.

The petitioners included Baba Ramdev, a controversial Hindu holy man with a mass following who has fought a long legal battle to maintain the ban on gay sex.

At a press conference on Wednesday in Delhi, Ramdev invited "the gay community" to his yoga ashram, where he would "cure them of homosexuality", which he described as "unnatural, uncivilised, immoral, irreligious and abnormal", by "keeping them in a room with a heterosexual for a few days".

Kapil Sibal, India's law minister, said he could not comment on the judgment. The home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, said it was "not possible to legislate on anything now".

Few people expect the beleaguered Indian government, which faces a tough battle to keep power in general elections next spring, to risk limited political capital and sparse energy on a fight for gay rights.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata party, a Hindu nationalist party that supports "traditional" values, has won a series of recent victories in state elections at the expense of the traditionally liberal, secular Congress. Though Indian society is changing very rapidly, it remains profoundly conservative. Gay people say they face significant discrimination and police harassment, even if prosecutions under section 377, the law that has just been reinstated by the supreme court, are rare.

However, gay activists say there is increasing mobilisation and support. India's first gay pride march took place in the eastern city of Kolkata in 1999 and only about a dozen people attended. Now thousands gather every year and India's capital Delhi, its financial centre, Mumbai, the IT hub of Bangalore and other cities have started holding similar events. Gay film festivals and university campus groups have also sprung up.

"This is not the same community as 10 years ago. This is a real call to arms," said Bhan, the activist.

The original 2009 ruling to exempt gay sex between consenting adults from the ban was the result of a case brought by the Naz Foundation, an Indian sexual rights organisation that fought a legal battle for almost a decade.

The Indian home ministry had argued in favour of keeping section 377, saying that homosexuality spread HIV and therefore the ban could not be considered an infringement of human rights.

In the most recent hearings, however, Indian government officials argued that the ban was unjustified.

"Indian society prevalent before the enactment of the [ban] had a much greater tolerance for homosexuality than its British counterpart, which at that time was under the influence of Victorian morality and values in regard to family and the procreative nature of sex," the attorney general had argued.

After the Delhi high court ruling in its favour, a collective of mostly faith-based groups took an appeal to the supreme court.

Suresh Kumar Kaushal, a retired government officer and astrologer, who led the legal challenge, argued the "scriptures" were "against such behaviour".

"Even animals don't indulge in such activities," Kaushal's petition to the supreme court said.

Meenakshi Ganguly, the south Asia director of Human Rights Watch, called Wednesday's ruling "a disappointing setback to human dignity, and the basic rights to privacy and non-discrimination".

"Now the government should … seek to repeal section 377 [and] should join countries like Australia and New Zealand that have already abolished this colonial law that they too inherited and take the lead in ending such discrimination," Ganguly said.


Reinstating India's gay sex ban is a huge step back for the country

The Delhi supreme court's decision to uphold a law criminalising homosexuality is a servile adherence to colonial bigotry

Priyamvada Gopal, Wednesday 11 December 2013 15.29 GMT       

A long-running campaign in India to end the unconscionable criminalising of same-sex relations between two consenting adults received a major blow today as the supreme court refused to uphold the Delhi high court's 2009 decision striking down section 377 of the Indian penal code. The latter judgment, while an undoubted milestone, had somewhat prematurely been hailed as "legalising homosexuality in India". The distinctly Victorian nastiness of section 377 in fact forbids "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal". For India's British colonial rulers this could have meant many things, including consensual fellatio between a man and a woman, but its squeamish machismo clearly had in mind penetrative sex between two adult males, a spectre that continues to terrify the morally correct across the world.

With the making of a new and relatively progressive constitution in 1950, the Indian state had the opportunity to revise the statute books entirely. This did not happen. Many colonial laws, including draconian statutes against "sedition" and "offending religious sensibilities" remained on the books. Rather than breaking with the moralising authoritarianism of the colonial state, its postcolonial successors in many parts of the world chose continuity. But, as the high court's judgment pointed out in relation to section 377, this has meant violating the egalitarian ethos of independent India's constitution, which explicitly upholds equality before the law and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

The existence of a law targeting and criminalising homosexuality makes for an untenable contradiction; there can be no contest as to whether the Indian state should uphold its own constitution or keep dithering over the nonexistent merit of vicious 19th-century disciplinary frameworks. If the racial hierarchy put in place by the colonial state was unacceptable – and all fully postcolonial states enshrine this unacceptability in their very being – then so too is its outdated and punitive sexual order. You cannot have one without the other. As long as India continues to adhere to this sexual hierarchy it cannot be said to be fully culturally independent of Victorian Britain. No high growth indices or boasting about being an economic "powerhouse" can cover up the scandal of a servile adherence to colonial bigotry.

It is important to note, of course, that while the legislation itself is colonial, hostility to non-heterosexual and non-reproductive sexuality runs deep in many patriarchal cultures. Section 377 has allowed for bigots of various religious and moral persuasions to temporarily suspend their own opportunistic mutual hostilities and unite to make the case for persecuting sexual dissidents. While it is true that the legislation has rarely been used to prosecute homosexuality, its existence allows for intolerance and harassment. It also leaves the gate open for a future Hindu religious chauvinist government – not at all an impossibility in India's near future – to exercise state violence against those it deems to be outliers. This possibility makes the repeal of the section particularly urgent and the supreme court's suggestion that it needs to be debated in parliament is nothing more than, well, stonewalling. What sense is there in delaying a long overdue and emphatic rejection of discriminatory, indeed anti-Indian, laws? There is no more sense in permitting such a law remaining on the books than there would be in keeping one that prohibited darker-skinned people from acting as judges over light-skinned defendants or prevented women from joining the medical and legal professions, also Victorian colonial ideas.

Depressing as this latest setback has been, the commitment and courage shown by numerous civil rights organisations and campaigners continues to galvanise and inspire. It seems unthinkable that they will not prevail in the long run, with both right and the spirit of the constitution – whatever the supreme court's current judgment – so clearly on their side. A poster held up by a young campaigner reads "Pyaar kiya koi chori nahi kee", a musical line from the film Mughal-e-Azam in which a courtesan who will be sentenced to death for daring to love a prince insists that she has loved someone, not stolen something. Indian legislation would be well advised to make this distinction between desire and crime, one that was so blurred for an empire that was happy to criminalise the harmless while it plundered and stole, all in the name of piety and righteousness.

• This article was amended on 12 December 2013. It originally stated that "Pyaar kiya koi chori nahi kee" was a line from the film Anarkali. This has now been corrected.

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« Reply #10609 on: Dec 12, 2013, 07:48 AM »

Thailand's former prime minister charged with murder

As protests continue against government that replaced him, Abhisit Vejjajiva is accused over deaths during 2010 uprising

Staff and agencies in Bangkok, Thursday 12 December 2013 11.52 GMT      

Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand's opposition leader and previous prime minister, has been formally charged with murder in a development that has the potential to further inflame protests by his supporters demanding the resignation of the current government.

Abhisit stands charged over the deaths of a 43-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl during a crackdown on anti-government protests during 2010 when he was in power. The Red Shirt movement had taken to the streets in support of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was thrown out as prime minister in a 2006 military coup.

Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, now holds office as prime minister and the protesters on the streets demanding her ousting are aligned with Abhisit.

About 90 people were killed in the 2010 crackdown. Other cases are still pending against Abhisit.

In 2010 the Red Shirt protesters occupied downtown Bangkok for months. Abhisit's government approved the use of live ammunition under limited conditions and deployed sharpshooters during the demonstrations. He has denied the charges against him.

In the face of the current protests, Yingluck Shinawatra has dissolved parliament and called elections but rejected demonstrators' demands to stand aside immediately and hand power to an unelected council.

Protesters announced they cut off electricity to the prime minister's office compound on Thursday and demanded that police abandon the premises.
The protesters have threatened to force their way in if police don't leave. Police attempts to negotiate were rebuffed, but they did not withdraw immediately.

Police confirmed that power had been cut to some buildings in the compound, collectively called Government House.

Protesters also cut barbed wire placed on top of the steel fence surrounding the compound while police stationed nearby looked on. Yingluck Shinawatra was not in her offices at the time

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy premier also accused of murder during the 2010 protests, has asked police and military chiefs to meet him by Thursday evening and choose their side in the crisis.

The politically powerful army, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years, has said it does not want to get involved this time but may mediate.

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« Reply #10610 on: Dec 12, 2013, 07:49 AM »

Japan condemned for 'secret' executions

Two more men have been hanged, under a system where death row prisoners are not told of their execution until hours before

Justin McCurry in Tokyo, Thursday 12 December 2013 08.31 GMT   

Japan has carried out another round of "secret" executions, bringing to eight the number of inmates sent to the gallows under the year-old administration of Shinzo Abe.

Media reports said two men had been hanged in the fourth round of executions since Abe took office last December. Previous hangings took place in February, April and September, suggesting that the government plans to carry them out every few months.

On Thursday, Mitsuo Fujishima, 55, was hanged for two murders in 1986, while Ryoji Kagayama, 63, had been convicted of killing two people in 2000 and 2008, media reports said.

Japan has brushed aside calls by Amnesty and the European Union to abolish the death penalty, citing strong public support for the punishment.

Opinion polls regularly put support for capital punishment at over 80%.

Thursday's hangings came just after the parliamentary recess began, and as Abe's approval ratings began to tumble following the passage last week of a controversial secrecy law.

The justice minister, Sadakazu Tanigaki, who signed the execution orders, said the two executed men had been guilty of brutal crimes.

"The executions were carried out after careful consideration of their cases," Tanigaki told reporters, adding that he saw no need to respond to calls to review the opaque way Japan administers capital punishment.

Prisoners, who spend years, even decades, on death row, typically are not told of their execution until hours before they are led to the gallows. Their lawyers and relatives are informed only after the execution has been carried out.

In a report published in 2008, Amnesty said inmates in Japan were being driven insane and exposed to "cruel, inhuman and degrading" punishment.

The executions in February this year were the first since September 2012.

The previous government, led by the centre-left Democratic party of Japan, executed nine people during its three years and three months in office. That included an 18-month period in which no one was hanged. The resumption of executions in March 2012 angered campaigners, who believed Japan was moving toward abolition.

On Thursday, Amnesty said Japan was increasingly out of step with the international community.

"The fast pace at which the Abe administration is conducting executions goes directly against the international community's repeated calls to abolish capital punishment," the group's Japan branch said in a statement.

Japan now has 129 inmates on death row, including Shoko Asahara, leader of the doomsday cult behind the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in which 13 people died and thousands were injured.

Japan and the US are the only G7 countries to retain capital punishment, along with more than 50 other countries, including China and Iran. More than two-thirds of countries, including all EU member states, have ended executions in law or practice.

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« Reply #10611 on: Dec 12, 2013, 07:54 AM »

China's coal emissions responsible for 'quarter of a million premature deaths'

Hundreds of thousands of children still at risk from dangerous levels of air pollution as poisonous smog fills cities, study says

Jennifer Duggan, Thursday 12 December 2013 03.00 GMT   

Emissions from coal plants in China were responsible for a quarter of a million premature deaths in 2011 and are damaging the health of hundreds of thousands of Chinese children, according to a new study.

The study by a US air pollution expert, commissioned by Greenpeace, comes as many areas in northern and eastern China have been experiencing hazardous levels of air pollution in recent weeks.

In some eastern cities including Shanghai, levels were off the index that tracks dangerous pollution, with schools closing and flights being cancelled or diverted. Sales of air purifiers and face masks have soared with many retailers selling out of stock as residents try to protect themselves from the poisonous smog. In Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces visibility was reduced to less than 50 metres earlier this week and in the city of Nanjing a red alert for pollution was maintained for five consecutive days.

The analysis traced the chemicals which are made airborne from burning coal and found a number of health damages were caused as a result. It estimates that coal burning in China was responsible for reducing the lives of 260,000 people in 2011. It also found that in the same year it led to 320,000 children and 61,000 adults suffering from asthma, 36,000 babies being born with low weight and was responsible for 340,000 hospital visits and 141 million days of sick leave.

"This study provides an unprecedentedly detailed picture of the health fallout from China's coal burning," said Dr Andrew Gray, a US-based expert on air pollution, who conducted the research. Using computer simulations, Gray said he was able to "draw a clear map tracing the trail of health damages left by the coal fumes released by every power plant in China, untangling the contribution of individual companies, provinces and power stations to the air pollution crisis gripping the country."

China's air pollution problems frequently make headlines around the world.

Isabel Hilton, editor of China Dialogue, an independent website that publishes information and debate on the environment in China, said coal is the main cause of the country's air pollution problems. Coal burning in China "produces heavy metal pollution and produces particulate pollution on a scale that is getting quite extraordinary," she said.

China is the world's largest consumer of coal, which is its main energy source, and is responsible for around half the world's coal consumption. The impacts of its reliance on coal are becoming more well known and recently there was much online discussion after an eight-year-old girl was diagnosed with lung cancer which her doctor blamed on air pollution.

According to Gray's study, while the growth of coal consumption has slowed, 570 new coal-fired plants are either being built or are planned, and if they go ahead would be responsible for a further 32,000 premature deaths each year.

In September, the Chinese government announced a plan to tackle the high levels of air pollution including for the first time measures to cut coal consumption. Under the plan, China aims to cut air pollution in some of the worst affected areas including Beijing by 2017.

Hilton said that the reductions in the plan would not be enough to make a difference within a short time frame. "It is going to be difficult to make a difference very shortly. Much more radical things will have to happen," she said.

"The government has been forced into much greater transparency on the data," she added. "But I do think the ambition has to be raised quite a lot."


China considers nationwide ban on smoking in public

Rulers of country that is home to more than 300 million smokers mull ban that could be implemented within a year

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Wednesday 11 December 2013 15.46 GMT      

China's leaders are considering a nationwide smoking ban in public, a leading health official said on Wednesday, as the country's tobacco-related health and economic costs continue to mount.

Yang Jie, deputy director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention's Office of Tobacco Control, said China's cabinet was mulling over a regulation that would ban smoking in public places nationwide. "Optimistically," he said, it could be implemented within a year.

"If you look at the general development of legislation, I don't think there are a lot of problems," he said at a briefing about the health costs of tobacco use in China. "What is most troubling is how to enforce the law effectively."

China is home to more than 300 million smokers – a third of the global total – and produces nearly half of the world's cigarettes, according to official statistics.

Smoking-related diseases cause more than a million deaths in the country a year, and experts expect the number to nearly triple by 2030. Smoking is deeply ingrained in the country's business culture; cigarettes are doled out as a token of respect and given as gifts on formal occasions, especially outside of major cities, where there is no social stigma against smoking anywhere, at any time.

Efforts at tobacco control in the country have been largely ineffective. One of the biggest barriers to progress is political. The Chinese government owns the country's tobacco industry, and 7-10% of its annual revenue – about 600bn yuan (£60.3bn) in 2011 – comes from tobacco sales. China's premier, Li Keqiang, oversees the country's public health policy; his younger brother, Li Keming, runs the country's state-owned tobacco monopoly.

"The most important thing is to take tobacco control away from the tobacco industry," Judith Mackay, a senior advisor to the World Lung Foundation, said at the briefing. "That's a really important structural change that will have to happen before, quite honestly, anything happens in China."

Since China signed the World Health Organisation framework convention on tobacco control in 2003 – a treaty designed "to protect present and future generations from the devastating … consequences of tobacco consumption" – the country's tobacco production has risen dramatically, from 1.75tn cigarettes a year a decade ago to about 2.58tn in 2012. China's health ministry has banned smoking in a variety of public places, but lacks the power to enforce its laws.

"China's years of anti-smoking efforts have had almost no results," China's official newswire Xinhua said last Wednesday, after the figures were released.

Yet Mackay said the government's attitude towards tobacco control was changing. China's Central Party School has completed a 200-page research paper suggesting that the country adopt a tougher stance on smoking, she said.

The president, Xi Jinping, led the research institution until January, and Mackay said the study was conducted under his watch.

In an interview, Mackay recalled a conversation last year with one of the study's nine co-authors, Zhang Zhongjun.

"He said that there are a million jobs lost per year because a million people die from tobacco," she said.

"That's the first time in China that I've seen this economic understanding, that the economic balance is definitely in favour of health.

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« Reply #10612 on: Dec 12, 2013, 07:57 AM »

ACT gay marriage law is ruled invalid by high court of Australia

Judges rule same-sex marriage law could not sit concurrently with the federal Marriage Act and therefore 'is of no effect'

Daniel Hurst, Thursday 12 December 2013 03.15 GMT   

The high court of Australia has struck down the country’s first same-sex marriage law, revoking the legal status of a handful of such weddings since last weekend.

Same-sex marriage advocates expressed their disappointment at the short life of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) law, but highlighted another significant aspect of the ruling: a clear finding that the federal parliament has the constitutional power to introduce a national law allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Several dozen couples solemnised their relationships under a recently introduced ACT “marriage equality” law that defined marriage as a union of two people of the same sex, which attempted to avoid overlap with the federal Marriage Act. The marriages that took place under the ACT law since it came into force on Saturday no longer have legal effect.

The development is a setback for campaigners who hoped for action from state and territory parliaments after the federal parliament voted against a national same-sex marriage law last year.

The high court ruled unanimously on Thursday that the ACT law could not sit concurrently with the federal provision that marriage is between a man and a woman, and the entire ACT law “is of no effect”. The court said the federal parliament had the power under the constitution to legislate on same-sex marriage and the federal Marriage Act was a “comprehensive and exhaustive statement of the law of marriage”.

“The court held that the object of the ACT act is to provide for marriage equality for same-sex couples and not for some form of legally recognised relationship which is relevantly different from the relationship of marriage which the federal law provides for and recognises,” the court said in its summary of the judgment.

“Accordingly the ACT act cannot operate concurrently with the federal act. Because the ACT act does not validly provide for the formation of same-sex marriages, its provisions about the rights of parties to such marriages and the dissolution of such marriages cannot have separate operation and are also of no effect.”

Same-sex couples who had married under the ACT law, and religious campaigners opposed to gay nuptials, attended the high court in Canberra to hear the decision. The groups were divided about whether the ruling increased pressure on Tony Abbott and the federal parliament to legislate same-sex marriage nationally.

Glenda and Jennifer Lloyd, who married under the ACT law, said they had tried to prepare for the disappointment of their marriage being ruled void by the high court. Regardless of the legal outcome, they said they still felt married, having made a genuine commitment to each other.

Ivan Hinton, who wed his partner Chris Teoh last weekend, said it was "personally devastating" to be legally "unmarried" less than a week after their vows but was confident the momentum and public support for marriage equality was unstoppable.

The constitutional law expert George Williams said the ruling meant the couples “were never married, in effect”.

“It obviously adds a personal dimension to the issue, because the the ceremonies they went through have been found to have no legal foundation,” Williams said.

The federal government – which launched the legal challenge against the ACT law – was always in a stronger position in arguing its case, he said. The high court noted the problems with the way the ACT law was drafted, including the use of the title “marriage equality” which indicated an intention to operate within the same domain as the federal Marriage Act.

Williams said it was significant that the high court made clear the federal parliament had the power to legislation for same-sex marriage nationally. He had not expected this to be spelled out in the ruling.

“That’s a very significant finding and it’s significant because when the federal bills have come into the parliament the ‘no’ people have argued strongly it would be unconstitutional … This clears the way for a federal law.”

A small band of opponents of same-sex marriage held signs quoting the Bible and one that included "Mum & Dad" in a love heart above the words "God made Adam & Eve". Another anti-gay-marriage placard said: "Father, forgive them."

One woman was euphoric at the high court ruling, walking around the forecourt declaring: "God bless Australia, hallelujah … God is love; God is love." She was challenged by several supporters of same-sex marriage who questioned why she was so happy at the removal of a law that celebrated love.

Rodney Croome, the national convener of the Australian Marriage Equality lobby group, said the ACT marriages were a "huge step forward, from which there is no return". Contrary to claims about undermining of the institution of marriage, Croome said couples that had married in the ACT had shown they valued marriage so highly that they were willing to risk a high court ruling invalidating it a short time later.

Croome said marriage equality was not really about laws or the constitution, but were mainly about love, commitment and family. The high court confirmed the assumption of many people that the federal parliament had the power to legislate for same-sex marriage. "There is no going back from it."

The Australian Christian Lobby’s managing director, Lyle Shelton, characterised the "clear decision" against the ACT law as a win for common sense. Shelton – a key critic of efforts to legalise same-sex marriage – voiced sympathy for the couples who held ceremonies since Saturday.

"I think it's really sad for those people who have taken the decision over the weekend," he said. "It is unfortunate for them and I do feel for them."

Shelton also did not endorse the "pretty awful" signs held by some critics of same-sex marriage outside the high court. But Shelton restated his opposition, arguing the rights of children should be placed above the needs of adults. He said about 10 attempts had been made to legislate same-sex marriage in Australia in the past few years and he was concerned it would be legalised "by fatigue".

"I think this issue has had a pretty good go," he said.

But the Greens flagged a fresh push to pass same-sex marriage at a federal level and demanded Abbott allow his Coalition colleagues a free vote on the issue.

The court said the section of the constitution allowing the commonwealth to legislate for “marriage” should not be interpreted as being limited “only to the status of marriage, the institution reflected in that status, or the rights and obligations attached to it, as they stood at federation” in 1901. It noted that other legal systems now provided for marriage between persons of the same-sex and concluded that the constitution’s reference “includes a marriage between persons of the same sex”.

The court said the federal parliament had not made a law permitting same-sex marriage but the absence of such a provision did not mean the ACT could make one. The high court asked why the federal parliament amended the federal Marriage Act in 2004 – under John Howard’s government – if not to demonstrate that the federal law “was to be complete and exhaustive”. This amendment made it clear that same-sex marriages were not to be recognised in Australia.

Meanwhile a bill to allow same-sex marriage in Western Australia was introduced to state parliament by Greens MP Lynn MacLaren, Australian Associated Press reported.

MacLaren said Williams and Greens MPs in other states had advised her, and her bill could survive a high court challenge.

"This bill builds on momentum across Australia to close the gap of inequality once and for all,” MacLaren said.

She said she believed it would have enough support to pass the WA parliament.


Australia incest case shocks country

Authorities under scrutiny for not acting sooner over generations of sexual abuse and neglect in New South Wales family

Alison Rourke in Sydney, Thursday 12 December 2013 11.36 GMT   

In two run-down caravans and a couple of old tents on a farm in some of Australia's best wool-growing country, a dark secret of intergenerational incest and child abuse that has dominated the lives of 40 members of one family for decades has come to light.

In a community of around 2,000 people, three and a half hours' drive south-west of Sydney, genetic testing has shown 11 children in one family have parents who are related to each other, some closely. Questions are now being asked about why it took authorities so long to act on warnings that children were at risk.

Each child had suffered years of sexual abuse, perpetrated by brothers, sisters, cousins, fathers, an uncle and a grandfather over four generations.

The extended family first came to the attention of authorities in June 2010. Over the next two years, seven 'risk of significant harm reports' were issued, mostly relating to neglect, failure to seek necessary medical attention and failure to ensure the children attended school.

The makeshift camp where the family lived had no running water or toilets. The children did not know how to use toilet paper and some could not brush their teeth and ate with their hands. Dirt covered one of the caravan's cooking facilities and rotten vegetables lay in a fridge. A kangaroo slept on one of the children's beds.

Initially the family complied with a request in June 2012 from social services to improve their living conditions but a month later 12 children, all cousins, ranging in age from five to 15 years, were removed by police after the authorities concluded that they would be at risk of harm if they remained at the property.

The children were filthy, malnourished and barely able to speak. Some had moderate intellectual disabilities and could not be understood by social workers. Others had chronic hearing, sight and dental issues. One child, a nine year-old girl, was described as having 'dysmorphic' features. None had attended school regularly, if at all.

It soon emerged these children have been living a nightmare that went far beyond neglect. Assessed by psychologists and social workers, the children exhibited sexualised behaviour and reported that they had engaged in "inappropriate sexual conduct" with each other.

The intergenerational abuse is thought to date back 40 years. The grandparents of the children removed, Timothy and June Colt (pseudonyms given to them by the court), married in New Zealand in 1966. They had seven children, Rhonda, Betty, Cherry, Frank, Charlie, Paula and Martha (all pseudonyms). The family moved to Australia, living in various locations across four states.

Three of Timothy and June's daughters – Betty, 46, Rhonda, 47, and Martha, 33 – who lived together in squalor on the rural property, are mothers to 11 of the 12 children removed. The fourth mother is Betty's 30-year-old daughter, Raylene.

Only Rhonda's five-year-old daughter was found not to have been fathered by a blood relative.

Betty, Martha and Raylene each deny that their children are the progeny of incestuous relationships, despite the fact that genetic testing has proved otherwise

Three of the girls aged seven, eight and nine claimed that their uncle, Charlie Colt, was also their father. He lived on the property when the children were removed. The nine year-old also claimed Charlie Colt had sex with her.

It's believed that the family patriarch, Timothy Colt, who died in 2009, fathered children with one of his daughters and one of his granddaughters.

Five of the boys removed also admitted to torturing animals on the farm including puppies and cats. They also said they had mutilated the genitals of animals.

All of the removed children will remain in care until the age of 18. The case came to light after the Family Court of New South Wales took the unusual step of publishing its judgment in the case.

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« Reply #10613 on: Dec 12, 2013, 08:02 AM »

Palestinians draw parallels with Mandela's anti-apartheid struggle

Mahmoud Abbas says Mandela was 'symbol of liberation from colonialism and occupation for all peoples'

Harriet Sherwood in Ramallah, Thursday 12 December 2013 10.28 GMT   

The death of Nelson Mandela has given fresh impetus to Palestinian efforts to portray the Israeli occupation as a form of apartheid that should be confronted with a similar international campaign that took on South Africa's white regime.

Mandela's message of solidarity from a 1997 speech in which he said "our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians", has been repeatedly invoked across Palestine in the past week.

Demonstrators carried posters of Mandela who also strongly criticised Israel's close ties to the apartheid government, at regular weekly protests against Jewish settlements and the vast concrete and steel separation barrier in the West Bank on Friday. Israeli troops fired teargas, rubber-coated bullets and water cannon to disperse protesters, injuring dozens.

Congregations lit candles to honour Mandela's life at packed services and masses at churches across the West Bank on Sunday. At the Holy Family Church in Ramallah, Father Raed Abusahlia's sermon included many references to biblical figures, with unmistakeable parallels to the man who led the struggle for justice in South Africa.

The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Mandela's death was "a great loss to Palestine". He was, he added, "a symbol of liberation from colonialism and occupation for all peoples".

Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, said Mandela was an inspiration "for nations suffering injustice and resisting occupiers".

Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail who is sometimes described as a potential "Palestinian Mandela", wrote an open letter to the late South African leader: "From within my prison cell, I tell you that our freedom seems possible because you reached yours. Apartheid did not prevail in South Africa, and apartheid shall not prevail in Palestine.... The ties between our struggles are everlasting."

On Wednesday, 12 Palestinian human rights groups published a statement commemorating Mandela, saying "the success of the South African struggle against apartheid... provides us with faith that we, the Palestinian people, will also succeed in our struggle against the Israeli occupation and its practices of apartheid and colonialism."

Israel is struggling to counter a widening global campaign likening its treatment of the Palestinians to apartheid – an assertion that for many years was regarded as a marginal view but which has gained currency because of the failure to establish a Palestinian state. Comparisons between the former regime in South Africa and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories have become relatively commonplace – not just by Palestinians and their supporters, but also among Israelis and the international community.

When Jimmy Carter's book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid appeared in 2006, the former US president was accused of anti-semitism for saying Israel operated a "system of apartheid" in the Palestinian territories. The same year, a Guardian article which made a detailed comparison between contemporary Israel with apartheid-era South Africa was greeted with outrage in some quarters.

But, since then, warnings of an Israeli form of apartheid have been made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, former intelligence chiefs Ami Ayalon and Yuval Diskin, as well as other public figures in Israel, academics, analysts, UN investigators and human rights groups.

In a 2007 report, John Dugard, then a UN special rapporteur and a former South African professor of international law, said: "Israel's laws and practices certainly resemble aspects of apartheid."

"The 'A-word' used to be taboo, but this has changed as the situation has changed," said Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa. "The situation that has developed in the West Bank over four and a half decades is a kind of apartheid. If you compare the suffering of black people in South Africa under 40 years of apartheid, and the suffering of the Palestinians under 46 years of occupation, I don't know who suffered more."

He said the apartheid comparison was only valid in the West Bank, where Palestinians and Israeli settlers are subject to separate legal systems and have different access to land, water, natural resources and freedom of movement.

But Shawan Jabarin, director of the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq, said Palestinians on both sides of the pre-1967 Green Line were living under a regime of apartheid, defined as "a systematic, institutionalised policy of discrimination against ethnic groups for the benefit of other ethnic groups".

He cited current efforts by the Israeli government to forcibly move thousands of Bedouin Arabs off their ancestral land in the Negev desert into state-designated towns as an example of apartheid policy. "What we have is occupation, apartheid and colonialism at the same time. It's not a copy of South African apartheid, it's more complex – and it's worse."

The international community should impose sanctions on Israel to put pressure on the state to change course, Jabarin added. Supporters of the Palestinian cause say the campaign for boycott, sanctions and divestment against Israel is gaining traction.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, said the claim that Israel was operating an apartheid-type regime was "a libel that simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny". He added: "This is the Palestinians' marketing strategy to the international community. They are trying to artificially shroud themselves in Mandela's aura. It's a way of avoiding making necessary concessions."

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's executive committee, who knew Mandela well, said he had "internalised the Palestinian issue, it was his issue, it wasn't just a question of solidarity. It is a question of self-determination, freedom, human dignity, human rights, persistence. These are the things the two struggles have in common."


Roger Waters compares Israel to Nazi Germany

British rocker says parallels are ‘so crushingly obvious’; blasts the ‘powerful’ US Jewish lobby
By Times of Israel staff December 9, 2013, 8:15 pm   

Former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters compared the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi Germany on Saturday and decried the “powerful” Jewish lobby in the US.

In an interview with CounterPunch magazine, Waters — a longtime supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — remarked, regarding the Palestinians, that the “parallels with what went on in the ’30s in Germany are so crushingly obvious.

“There were many people that pretended that the oppression of the Jews was not going on. From 1933 until 1946,” Waters said. “So this is not a new scenario. Except that this time it’s the Palestinian people being murdered.”

Waters, an outspoken critic of Israel, came under fire in July for using a pig-shaped balloon with Jewish symbols, including a Star of David, at his concerts.

However, the Anti-Defamation League said that Waters has a long history of using these symbols in his concerts. “While we wish that Mr. Waters would have avoided using the Star of David, we believe there is no anti-Semitic intent here,” an ADL spokesman said.

Speaking to CounterPunch, Waters slammed US policies toward the Palestinians, and attributed them to the “Israeli propaganda machine,” whose messages effectively trickled into the mainstream media. In a call to the public to join the BDS movement, Waters explained that the main deterrence for many Americans interested in the movement is the backlash anticipated from Jews in the United States.

“The Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock ‘n’ roll, as they say,” Waters stated.

Last August, Waters issued a public letter to musicians to boycott Israel. A few months earlier, in an interview with The Huffington Post, Waters remarked that the US has a “knee-jerk” policy to support “anything” that Israel does.


Roger Waters says Israel’s wall is ’100 times more horrifying’ than Berlin wall

Philip Weiss on September 19, 2013 71

The Institute for Middle East Understanding has published a translation of an interview with Roger Waters by Alon Hadar that appeared in Hebrew in the September 18, 2013 issue of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. Waters is a highly controversial figure in Israel because he has vigorously supported the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) call. Here are excerpts of the very long interview. He defends his use of the term apartheid to describe the occupation, says blaming the Palestinians for the conflict is like blaming a rape victim for being raped, and says the Israeli separation wall is 100 times more horrifying than the Berlin wall– and the Berlin wall was taken down.

Go to the link to see his views on an attack on Syria (he’s against it).  Excerpts:

    Hadar: Israel is one of the few states in the Middle East where an artist like yourself can come and express his opinions without fearing for his life. Don’t be a big hero abroad, come here and try to convince us that you’re right.

    Waters: “I tried to convince, it was not effective. I never saw a visit of a popular musician having an impact on Israeli policy, other than the fact that those singers legitimize that policy.”

    H: The international artists that ignored your calls argued that you shouldn’t mix politics and music.

    W: “I know these arguments: “I’m only a humble musician,” “I’m only doing my show.” That was the position of Alicia Keys.”

    H: You tried to convince her with no success, she arrived here and performed here.

    W: “She’s a grown woman and can do whatever she wants.”..

    H: And meanwhile, your fans feel quite hurt by you.

    W: “I want the fans to understand that I’m not just talking in order to criticize. I am criticizing the government’s policy. I don’t want to criticize Israeli citizens.”

    H: And still, you boycott them.

    W: “I’ve been in your country, I’ve traveled throughout the West Bank, I visited Jenin. I saw the checkpoints, the settlements, the occupation forces. I decided that I wanted to protest. What do they expect me to do in order to protest? To chain myself to the railings at Buckingham palace? That doesn’t seem particularly effective.”

    H: But a cultural boycott is an exceptional and extreme step.

    W: “When white activists started to organize protests outside South Africa to awaken world public opinion, they said: ‘You have to take apart the system because it is wrong.’ The movement progressed slowly over the years and developed the idea of a cultural boycott. The only reason for the boycott is that it is effective.”

    H: You’re talking about an apartheid regime in South Africa. Here the situation is totally different.

    W: “In the occupied territories, Jews are governed by civil laws and there are totally different laws for the Palestinians and the Arabs, who are under military laws. That is exactly like the old Pass Laws that were in South Africa. That’s apartheid! Clear and simple. No question.”

    At this point, Waters refers us to the dictionary, to check the exact definition of apartheid, to prove that he is right. And indeed: “Population separation on the basis of race, a regime where the ruling race has privileges that members of other races do not have.” This doesn’t help, Waters continues: “When one race or ethnic group controls another race or ethnic group by means of its power, this is the crime of apartheid and that’s the status quo, all day, every day, in the occupied territories,” he says and raises his voice. “That’s how it is in Israel itself as well, there are different laws depending on whether you are Jewish or Arab.”

    H: You forget that Netanyahu already declared his support for the idea of two states and called on the Palestinians to enter into negotiations without preconditions.

    W: “There are some politicians who say something about the two-state solution and that they want peace, but their policies don’t show any sign that that’s true. They continue building settlements, they continue the occupation.”

    H: Israel has never annexed the territories. At every opportunity, it declares that this situation is temporary. There is not one Israeli citizen who is not interested in peace.

    W: “If you look at the map and see where the settlements are and where the wall passes, then you see that it’s not something temporary. There is a deliberate attempt here to annex the entire territory. By the way, they already annexed East Jersualem and the Golan Heights officially, not just de facto.”…

    H: You are painting a picture of black and white, of the good guys and the bad guys. And what about the Palestinians? Aren’t they partly to blame for the situation?

    W: “I think that putting part of the blame on Palestinians is a bit like putting part of the blame of rape on the woman being raped. The victim is never guilty. In this case, Palestinians were expelled from their land in `48 by armed force and were not allowed to return to their homes. They are the victims. It is unavoidable that some of them will try to resist in ways that I do not agree with.”

    H: You’re supposed to be a peace loving man, and here you are doing a boycott. Is that really the right way?

    W: “Yes, just like in South Africa. In the end, it was very effective and the only state that continued to support the whites in South Africa was Israel. Even though South Africa is still not a perfect place in any sense of the word, there is no discrimination there anymore. I want you to get to that situation in Israel.”…

    H: Did you grow up in a political household?

    W: “My mother was a declared communist. Our house was filled with documentation of the cruelest crimes committed in the name of Nazi ideology and the Third Reich. I was never in the gas chambers, obviously, but I was exposed as a young child to its results, and I have never forgotten the Holocaust. My mother (who died a few years ago at the age of 96) dedicated the rest of her life to political activism that she believed would provide great benefit to a great number of people.”

    H: Your father was killed when you were only five months old, in that same war.

    W: “My father died fighting the Nazis while in the British army in south Italy. Before the war, he was very involved in Palestine, he was a teacher at Saint George’s School in Jerusalem and dearly loved the country and its people. So I feel a kind of connection to this country through him. They ask me, “why do you do it?” I have no choice but to do what I’m doing. My political life and the feeling that I have to take part and be active are totally connected to the example I got from both my parents. My parents could have been two complete idiots, and then I guess I wouldn’t be what I am today. I feel very lucky that my parents were good, decent, thoughtful people.”…

    H: That is not a wall, that is a separation fence that was built after a series of suicide bombings that originated in Palestinian Authority areas. You insist on continuing to see it as a symbol of ethnic separation.

    W: “You listen to the official position of every Israeli government for generations, that you need the barrier for defense, and then you look at the map, and you understand that it is there for land theft and annexation in every possible sense. So why do you lie? Why pretend that it has any connection whatsoever to security matters? You need to be on the Green Line, on the 1967 borders, as you intended. But you’re not, it’s another piece of untruth, they are lying and I don’t understand how they expect to advance toward peace this way.”

    H: Come on, is it really possible to compare the separation wall with the Berlin wall?

    W: “Your wall is a hundred times more horrifying, and yours still exists – theirs was destroyed a long time ago.”…

    H: All you do is criticize. How should the West act in the chaos of the Middle East?

    W: “The first step is to leave them alone. Don’t decide that you know what’s best, that you can be the cop of the region. We need to stop sending them arms. You want to fight? Go pick up a rock. Let’s not make it into an industry that starts wars and makes trillions of dollars. One day, you’re playing in the backyard of your garden and a minute later you have no legs. Why?…”

    H: You celebrated your 70th birthday. Do you have thoughts about your age? Until when will you continue to perform?

    W: “I don’t think about my age when it comes to anything that has to do with my performance on stage or my work. I think about it in my own personal context – how much longer I have to live. You can’t reach the age of 70 without fearing for your condition and without feeling that you’re creaking.”

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« Reply #10614 on: Dec 12, 2013, 08:06 AM »

December 11, 2013

U.S. Suspends Nonlethal Aid to Syria Rebels


WASHINGTON — Just a month before a peace conference that will seek an end to the grinding civil war in Syria, the Obama administration’s decision to suspend the delivery of nonlethal aid to the moderate opposition demonstrated again the frustrations of trying to cultivate a viable alternative to President Bashar al-Assad.

The administration acted after warehouses of American-supplied equipment were seized Friday by the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist fighters who have broken with the moderate, American-backed opposition, but who also battle Al Qaeda.

Administration officials said that the suspension, confirmed on Wednesday, was temporary and that the nonlethal aid, which is supplied by the State Department, could flow again.

But with rebels feuding with one another instead of concentrating on fighting Mr. Assad, and with the United States still groping for a reliable partner in Syria, the odds of any peace conference breaking the cycle of bloodshed appeared to have dimmed. For the White House, which has pinned its hopes on a political solution, the fracturing of the opposition raises a number of thorny questions, including whether the United States should work more closely with Islamist forces.

Some experts on Syria said the episode called into question not only the effectiveness of the moderate groups the United States has supported in Syria for the last two years but also the administration’s broader strategy for forcing Mr. Assad to yield power.

“For all practical purposes, the moderate armed opposition that the administration really wanted to support — albeit in a hesitant and halfhearted way — is now on the sidelines,” said Frederic C. Hof, who as a State Department official worked on plans for a political transition in Syria and is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Under such circumstances, Mr. Hof said, the prospects for major progress at the peace conference were “pretty grim.”

In the murky events of last Friday, American and opposition officials said, the Islamic Front also seized the northern Syrian headquarters of Gen. Salim Idris, the leader of the military wing of the moderate Syrian opposition, formally known as the Supreme Military Council. According to American officials, General Idris was in Turkey, where he has a house, when the headquarters was taken over and then left for Qatar, which has provided money and weapons to the resistance. He is now said to be back in Turkey.

American officials are still struggling to assess what the internecine battle means. “If we’re able to understand that, we could revert to the provision of nonlethal assistance,” a senior administration official said.

The official said that the United States would not rule out talks with the Islamic Front, but that it was too soon to determine whether the administration would abandon its insistence that all American and allied assistance be funneled through the Supreme Military Council.

For months, Secretary of State John Kerry has argued that a political solution is the only answer for a civil war that has already led to the deaths of more than 100,000 Syrians. His goal is to encourage a handover of power from Mr. Assad to a transitional government.

But Mr. Assad, who has received substantial military support from Iran and Russia, seems as entrenched as ever.

At the same time, the opposition groups that the Obama administration has designated as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people appear to have grown weaker, in part because of their tenuous ties to many of the rebel fighters inside the country and because of the lukewarm support they have received from the West.

The Syria peace conference, which Mr. Kerry originally thought would be held last May, is now scheduled for Jan. 22. It had been planned for Geneva but is to be shifted to the lakeside Swiss town of Montreux because Geneva hotel rooms have been booked for a luxury watch fair.

A major aim of the meeting is to begin the process of identifying Syrians who might serve in a transitional governing body that would run the country if Mr. Assad yielded power.

But as the Islamic fighters have begun to play an increasingly important role in the fight against Mr. Assad, the administration is faced with the choice of whether to include their representatives in any transitional government and perhaps even give them military aid.

“It puts the administration into a situation of having to choose between supporting moderate groups or effective ones,” said Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The episode that prompted the aid suspension occurred last week when the Islamic Front seized control of warehouses in Atmeh, Syria, that contain the American-supplied aid.

According to rebel commanders in Turkey and Syria, the incident unfolded with a confusing series of events that reflects the uncertainty on the front lines amid shifting rebel alliances.

By one account, news spread that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, an extremist group affiliated with Al Qaeda that has clashed with rival insurgents, was planning an attack on the military headquarters and warehouses controlled by General Idris’s Supreme Military Council, which are near the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Turkey border.

The Supreme Military Council is the nominal leadership of the loose-knit Free Syrian Army, which the United States has promoted as a relatively moderate force and which the State Department has supported with nonlethal aid such as food rations, computers and vehicles.

Fighters from the Islamic Front rushed to the area, they claimed, to protect the warehouses, but ended up seizing them and the American equipment and supplies inside. But other opposition officials say the report of an attack by Qaeda-affiliated extremists was merely a ruse.

Maysara, an Free Syrian Army commander from Saraqeb in Idlib Province who maintains contacts in the Islamic Front, said that when fighters from three Islamic Front battalions reached the headquarters, they found it deserted and believed the commanders there had fled.

The Islamic Front fighters, he said, told him that they then “took the opportunity and stole everything in the headquarters,” including about 40 pickup trucks and tanks.

Under the administration’s division of labor, the State Department is in charge of supplying nonlethal aid while the C.I.A. runs a covert program to arm and train Syrian rebels.

“We have seen reports that Islamic Front forces have seized the Atmeh headquarters and warehouses,” a State Department official said. “As a result of this situation, the United States has suspended all further deliveries of nonlethal assistance into northern Syria. The humanitarian aid to the Syrian people is not impacted by this suspension.”

The impact of the aid suspension was hard to gauge, as rebels have routinely complained that aid from the United States, Britain and their allies is too little, too late and has had little influence on the conflict.

Khatab, the commander of a small Free Syrian Army battalion, interviewed by phone in Turkey, said that the suspension would hamper fighters like his. But he added that it would ultimately harm the Islamic Front as well, suggesting that whatever the official policies, the Islamic Front had cooperated with the Supreme Military Council and received supplies through it.

Many antigovernment activists reacted with scorn and bravado, saying they did not care about the suspension of aid that they believed had been mostly for show.

“What nonlethal assistance?” said Moaz, an activist who recently fled Syria. “The U.S. is supporting us with expired tuna, and in this way they think they are supporting the revolution.”

Michael R. Gordon and Mark Landler reported from Washington, and Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon.


December 11, 2013

News Organizations Call On Syrian Rebels to End Kidnappings


Thirteen international news organizations, including the BBC, The Associated Press and The New York Times, have written a letter to the armed opposition in Syria asking for assurances that their reporters will not be abducted.

Over the past year, the letter says, the organizations have “witnessed a disturbing rise in the kidnapping of journalists while on assignment within the northern provinces of Aleppo, Idlib and al-Raqqa,” and elsewhere in Syria. The organizations estimate that more than 30 journalists are now being held, the letter said, and that as a result many of them have “decided to limit their coverage of the war.”

“We understand that, as in any war zone, reporters face great risk of injury and death,” the letter says, “and we accept those risks, but the risk of kidnapping is unacceptable, and the leadership is in a position to reduce and eliminate risk.”

Other news organizations signing the letter are The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Atlantic Media, The Economist, The Guardian, The Telegraph and Getty Images.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, in a blog post about the letter, said that even “the Iraq War, the deadliest conflict for journalists” since the committee was founded, “did not reach such chilling numbers.” There have been seven abductions in the past two months alone, the organization said, and at least one journalist has been tortured while in captivity.

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« Reply #10615 on: Dec 12, 2013, 08:08 AM »

December 11, 2013

Development Blitz Provokes a Murmur of Dissent in Monaco


MONACO — As protests go, it was tiny: just a handful of people gathering quietly at a condemned building they thought should not be torn down. But in a place where dissent is rare, the demonstration counted as daring, even radical.

And futile, too, given that the protest was aimed at a company controlled by the entity that controls just about everything here: Monaco’s royal family.

“There’s nothing, really, that anybody can do,” said Elizabeth Wessel, a fashion designer opposed to the demolition of the 81-year-old Sporting d’Hiver, a former gambling club and one of the region’s last remaining Art Deco buildings, to make way for a vast new development backed by the royal family’s business interests. Claude Rosticher, a 77-year-old painter who organized the September demonstration, said: “The principality always has the final word.”

Monaco seems like the most benign of places, a slice of unreality on the French Riviera that is smaller than a square mile and has a population of about 36,000; a per-capita income of more than $150,000; and an unemployment rate of zero. Home to a collection of privacy-craving, superrich foreigners attracted to its pleasant climate and even more pleasant policy of not charging income tax, it is governed as a kind of consensual dictatorship by Prince Albert II, a 55-year-old former playboy who took over the job after his father, Prince Rainier, died in 2005.

Albert is very wealthy — Forbes estimated his fortune at $1 billion two years ago — and he and his family are depicted in gossip magazines as endlessly glamorous and slightly mysterious. Residents describe the prince, who from time to time mingles among them, as affable. But they also seem reluctant, to the point of paranoia, to question his policies publicly.

It is certainly unwise to criticize him personally: Last month, a 23-year-old man was convicted in court of insulting the royal family on Facebook (he got an eight-day suspended sentence). In 2011, a 50-year-old resident was sentenced to six days in prison for “dishonoring the monarchy” after drunkenly making unflattering remarks about the prince in a bar.

In few areas is the state’s authority felt more than in matters of development, a crucial issue in an overcrowded place where the only way to expand is up and the only way to build something new is to replace something old. Construction has been booming in Monaco over the last 20 years, with traditional structures — from the Sporting d’Hiver to single-family villas — being dismantled and replaced by the opulent high-rises beloved of Russian oligarchs.

Many big projects here are connected to the Société des Bains de Mer de Monaco, the principality’s dominant force in entertainment, tourism and recreation. S.B.M., as it is called, owns many of Monaco’s big-ticket properties — 33 restaurants, five casinos, four hotels and the Sporting d’Hiver, for starters. It in turn is 69 percent owned by Albert and his family.

S.B.M., whose 3,700 workers make it by far Monaco’s largest employer, has already begun tearing down the Sporting d’Hiver — once the site of the principality’s most glittering charity balls. It is to be replaced by a sprawling complex of offices, luxury apartments and high-end boutiques designed by the British architect Richard Rogers.

When news of the plan came out — “It was suddenly announced by S.B.M. that this is what they were going to do,” said Molly Brown, a longtime resident who opposes the project — critics tried to block it.

At the nearby Hôtel de Paris, which is also owned by S.B.M. and is to be closed and partly refurbished, workers walked off their jobs for a one-hour strike this summer. Preservationists lobbied lawmakers at the National Council, as the legislature is known; wrote angry editorials; held public meetings; and signed an online petition that eventually drew 1,000 signatures.

But nothing worked.

“We know there’s only one boss,” said Eric Elena, a member of the National Council, speaking of the prince. Despite Mr. Elena’s job as a supervisor at Monaco’s main casino, also owned by S.B.M., he spoke out earlier this year against the Sporting d’Hiver redevelopment, one of only three lawmakers to do so.

But even if all of his legislative colleagues had objected, there was little they could have done in what is the world’s second smallest independent state, behind the Vatican. For one thing, the legislature is elected only by native Monegasques, about a third of the population. For another, it does not serve as a check on power per se, but merely offers take-it-or-leave-it advice to the prince and to the government (which is appointed by the prince).

But even when residents chafe at the lack of democratic niceties, they extol Monaco’s many virtues — sparkling streets, high salaries, generous health care, negligible crime and a stringent policy of barring residency to people whose bank accounts, for example, do not meet the authorities’ approval.

Many residents believe that “they are suffocating here” and that they “don’t have any liberties,” Mr. Elena said. But, he added, “in terms of living standards, Monaco surpasses all other countries.”

Roger-Louis Bianchini, a retired journalist who worked at the newspaper Nice Matin and who has written extensively about Monaco, put it this way: “It isn’t a dictatorship, but at the same time people are afraid to seize power. They don’t seize it because they fear losing their benefits.”

S.B.M.’s director of real estate, Daniel Lambrecht, in an interview in his office, which is decorated with an oversized photograph of Albert and his wife, Princess Charlene, on their wedding day, said he sympathized with the protesters, to a point. But he also said that the new project made economic sense. “I respect their emotions, but these are subjective, not objective,” he said.

In Monaco, it does not do much good to remain mad at S.B.M. for too long. Last summer, the company held a 150th-birthday banquet for 500 people “all loyal to the principality,” according to the website of the chef Alain Ducasse, who catered the event as a “Diner Sur L’Herbe” — a reinterpretation (and renaming) of the famous work by Édouard Manet, which was painted the same year the company was founded.

Everyone who was anyone was there, even people who privately criticize the prince — who appeared, waving to the crowds. It was as clear an illustration as any of how Monaco can seem like one big family, with all the compromise that entails.

“The joke is that if you get drunk and lose your keys and don’t want to have to go home in the middle of the night, all you have to do is go up to a police officer and swear about Prince Albert,” said an English fashion photographer here, who did not want his name used. “They’ll put you in the cells for the night.”

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« Reply #10616 on: Dec 12, 2013, 08:10 AM »

December 11, 2013

Hagel Lifts Veil on Major Military Center in Qatar


AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit to the advanced air operations center here this week was not just a stop at an important outpost of the United States military. It was also a major step forward for Pentagon transparency.

The highly classified American facility, officially called the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, coordinated all of the attack and surveillance missions for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and would be equally critical if an American president decided that only bombs and missiles could halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It hosts liaison officers from 30 allies in Europe and the Persian Gulf.

Until this week, however, its location was carefully guarded by the Pentagon and the Qatari government, out of concerns from both about sensitivities to its presence.

In the past, journalists had to sign nondisclosure agreements if they wanted to report from inside the base in the desert outside the capital, Doha. And, when asked, the Pentagon said the operations center was somewhere in Southwest Asia.

But on his latest trip to the region, which ended Tuesday, Mr. Hagel lifted the gag rule.

Touring the headquarters, usually referred to by its acronym, CAOC (pronounced KAY-ock), Mr. Hagel described the air operations hub as “one of the most impressive facilities we have.” Inside the warehouse-size command center, three giant digital maps carried tracking details of every aircraft — civilian and military — in the skies over three vital regions: Syria and its neighbors, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan.

Pressed to explain the rationale for finally acknowledging the air operations center and its location. Pentagon officials said the point of the defense secretary’s week of travels was to prove to Persian Gulf partners that the United States would remain engaged in the region — despite budget pressures at home, a rebalance of interests to Asia and the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In essence, the American military cannot reassure its allies and deter potential adversaries if it hides what it does, and it helps to show that it can do it from right in the neighborhood.

There was no official comment on the disclosure from the Qatari government. But a senior Pentagon official described Mr. Hagel’s conversation with his Qatari counterpart, Maj. Gen. Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah, on the standard diplomatic rules of anonymity.

The general noted that Bahrain openly embraces the American Fifth Fleet, and so that tiny nation is known as the focus of efforts to defend waters of the Persian Gulf. According to the Pentagon official, General Attiyah then said that Qatar was proud of its role hosting the command center defending the region’s airspace.

Defense secretaries always stop at American military installations on their global travels, both to speak with commanders about the mission and to extend the nation’s thanks to forward-deployed troops.

But the sensitivities of host nations sometimes make it difficult on reporters. For example, on Mr. Hagel’s previous trip to the region, in the spring, when he unveiled arms-sales deals worth almost $11 billion, the traveling press boycotted one troop visit because the gulf state said the location could not be identified — even though it routinely appears even in official Pentagon announcements.

Officials at the center said the United States and its allies still fly more than four dozen fighter or bomber missions over Afghanistan every day, all coordinated here — although the number of times they drop ordnance in support of troops on the ground is rare as the war winds down.

But interest in what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan is undiminished, and the center gathers more than 800 hours of surveillance video over the war zone every day.

In a single long workday on a trip whose purpose was essentially to shore up allies, Mr. Hagel was on the ground in Afghanistan — as well as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It would be difficult to pick four partner nations in a single strategic crescent where the prize is higher — or that have more complicated relations with Washington.

In Afghanistan, Mr. Hagel made a conspicuous decision not to meet with its mercurial president, Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that was unanimously approved by a council of elders that he himself convened. Mr. Hagel’s strategy seemed to be for Mr. Karzai to feel the heat from his own public, which polling shows overwhelmingly supports an enduring, if limited, allied military presence.

And in Pakistan, Mr. Hagel and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed on the dangers of terrorism, but disagreed over how to combat militants operating inside Pakistan.

The signals from Saudi Arabia and Qatar were a bit fainter, but no less important.

In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia has expressed great anxiety about the interim nuclear deal with Iran as giving far too much in the way of sanctions relief in exchange for far too little in the way of guaranteeing that Tehran can never build a nuclear weapon.

And both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have rejected American appeals not to arm rebel militias in Syria, especially those with a more extremist agenda than the moderate Free Syrian Army, which has been Washington’s portal into the civil war.

A senior Pentagon official said that in his meeting with the Saudi crown prince, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Mr. Hagel said “that the United States will continue planning for all options to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon,” according to a senior Pentagon official.

In Qatar, Mr. Hagel and his counterpart signed a new Defense Cooperation Agreement that includes joint training and exercises and other unspecified cooperative military actions. That was in the winnings category.

But officials said Mr. Hagel and the Qataris ended the meetings with their positions unchanged on how to deal with opposition forces in the complicated and bloody Syrian civil war.

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« Reply #10617 on: Dec 12, 2013, 08:11 AM »

Uruguay marijuana decision 'breaks internationally endorsed treaty'

International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says legalisation of drug contravenes the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

Reuters, Wednesday 11 December 2013 18.50 GMT   
Uruguay's decision to legalise marijuana is in violation of an international convention on drug control, a Vienna-based body set up to monitor government compliance with such treaties has said.

Uruguay became the first country to legalise the growing, sale and smoking of marijuana on Tuesday, in a pioneering experiment that will be closely watched by other nations debating drug liberalisation.

A government-sponsored bill approved in the senate provides for regulation of the cultivation, distribution and consumption of marijuana and is aimed at wresting the business from criminals in the small South American nation.

But the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said the legislation contravenes the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, to which it said Uruguay is a party.

"Cannabis is controlled under the 1961 convention, which requires states parties to limit its use to medical and scientific purposes, due to its dependence-producing potential," INCB president Raymond Yans said in a statement.

He was surprised, the statement added, that Uruguay's legislature and government "knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed legal provisions of the treaty".

The INCB describes itself as an independent, quasi-judicial body charged with promoting and monitoring compliance with the three international drug control conventions, including the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Uruguay's attempt to quell drug trafficking is being followed closely in Latin America, where the legalisation of some narcotics is being increasingly seen by regional leaders as a possible way to end the violence spawned by the cocaine trade.

Rich countries debating legalisation of cannabis are also watching the bill, which philanthropist George Soros has supported as an "experiment" that could provide an alternative to the failed US-led policies of the long "war on drugs".

Other countries have decriminalised marijuana possession and the Netherlands allows its sale in coffee shops, but Uruguay will be the first nation to legalise the whole chain from growing the plant to buying and selling its leaves.

Yans, the INCB president, said Uruguay's decision "fails to consider its negative impacts on health since scientific studies confirm that cannabis is an addictive substance with serious consequences for people's health".

"Cannabis is not only addictive but may also affect some fundamental brain functions, IQ potential, and academic and job performance and impair driving skills. Smoking cannabis is more carcinogenic than smoking tobacco," the INCB statement added.

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« Reply #10618 on: Dec 12, 2013, 08:16 AM »

Edward Snowden: NSA isn’t like East German Stasi, but still dangerous

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 12:38 EST

Former US national security contractor Edward Snowden hopes his leaks of classified documents will lead to greater transparency by governments, he said in rare comments published Wednesday.

The fugitive Snowden, Time’s runner-up behind the pope for its person of the year, told the magazine he chose to defy his obligations when he learned the scope of surveillance programs conducted without being disclosed.

“What we recoil most strongly against is not that such surveillance can theoretically occur, but that it was done without a majority of society even being aware it was possible,” he told Time in an email interview.

Snowden, who is living in Russia under temporary asylum and was branded “the dark prophet” by Time, has given few interviews since leaking a trove of secret documents from the National Security Agency.

He said he took the risk of publicizing the data because of the dangers he saw of a surveillance state.

“The NSA is surely not the (East German) Stasi, but we should always remember that the danger to societies from security services is not that they will spontaneously decide to embrace mustache twirling and jackboots to bear us bodily into dark places, but that the slowly shifting foundation of policy will make it such that mustaches and jackboots are discovered to prove an operational advantage toward a necessary purpose,” he told Time.

He told the magazine that he hopes his disclosures will help bring about changes by forcing a rethinking by the public, the technology community, the US courts, Congress and the executive branch.

“The president could plausibly use the mandate of public knowledge to both reform these programs to reasonable standards and direct the NSA to focus its tremendous power toward developing new global technical standards that enforce robust end-to-end security, ensuring that not only are we not improperly surveilling individuals but that other governments aren?t either,” he said.

Snowden was given asylum in Russia in August, to the fury of the United States, where he could face espionage charges following disclosures that have provoked international uproar and strained US ties with allies.

Time wrote that Snowden has begun to settle into his new life in Russia, learning the language and reading Dostoyevsky?s “Crime and Punishment.” The report said he uses the Internet through encrypted and anonymous connections.

Snowden said he believes encryption and the ability to be free of surveillance are fundamental rights.

“In general, if you agree with the (US constitution’s) First Amendment principles, you agree with encryption. It’s just code,” he said.

“Arguing against encryption would be analogous to arguing against hidden meanings in paintings or poetry.”

Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong before pitching up in Russia in June, added that he did not defend every story that has been written, but that he allowed journalists he worked with to be the final arbiters of what was published.

“There have of course been some stories where my calculation of what is not public interest differs from that of reporters, but it is for this precise reason that publication decisions were entrusted to journalists and their editors,” he told Time. “I recognize I have clear biases influencing my judgment.”

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« Reply #10619 on: Dec 12, 2013, 08:17 AM »

‘Goldilocks’ study shows which planet’s climates are just right for human life

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 17:00 EST

The bad news: Earth’s oceans will evaporate away.

The good news: It won’t happen for another billion years or so.

Those are the conclusions of a new study into the so-called Goldilocks zone — the distance from a star at which water on a rocky planet can exist as a liquid rather than as permanent ice or vapour.

As in the fairy tale, a planet’s temperature has to be not too hot and not too cold, but just right for sustaining the stuff for life as we know it.

Jeremy Leconte of the Pierre Simon Laplace Institute in Paris investigated a well-known phenomenon in astrophysics: as a star ages, it increases in brightness.

In their simulation of Earth, the Sun’s rising luminosity will eventually cause a runaway greenhouse effect, they found.

Water vapour is a greenhouse gas. This means that beyond a certain point, increasing vapour from the warming oceans will stoke Earth’s surface temperature — which in turn causes more sea water to evaporate, and thus adds to the warming, and so on.

In around a billion years, liquid water on the surface of the planet will have completely disappeared, leaving an utterly desiccated surface, according to their model.

The time estimate for ocean loss is “several hundred million years later” than previously thought, France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) said in a press statement.

The high-tech modelling includes a 3-D simulation that factors in solar heat per square metre, the seasons and the vapour cycle.

Previous models have tended to simulate the Earth as having a simple and uniform climate system. They usually place the start of the evaporation as soon as 150 million years from now, which is relatively brief in geological terms.

The study, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, concludes that the Goldilocks zone may be somewhat bigger than thought.

The precious zone starts at 0.95 Astronomical Units (AU) for a star that is the size and present age of the Sun, it says.

One AU is 149.6 million kilometres (92.95 million miles), being the average distance between the Earth and the Sun — the orbit of our planet is slightly elliptical.

By comparison, Venus, Earth’s sister planet in size, lies at 0.75 AU: it is just a bit too close to the Sun.

In its infancy, it may have had oceans, when solar luminosity was less than today, some astrobiologists believe.

Today, scorched, bone-dry and barren, it is shrouded with thick, roiling clouds of carbon dioxide.

The findings could be useful for understanding exoplanets, or planets that orbit stars outside our Solar System, say the authors.

The hope is to locate a rocky planet in the Goldilocks zone, so if the zone is wider than thought, this boosts the statistical chances.

So far, astronomers have only discerned uninhabitable planets made of gas, or rocky planets that are so close to the Sun that any atmosphere they had will have probably been stripped away.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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