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« Reply #6990 on: Jun 17, 2013, 06:36 AM »

Film-makers hail G8 summit victory for European cinema

Dardennes brothers hail breakthrough as campaign to preserve the integrity of European film industry bears fruit

Ben Child, Monday 17 June 2013 11.59 BST   

High-profile supporters of a campaign to ensure that the film industry is not adversely affected by forthcoming free trade talks between the European Union and the US are celebrating an apparent victory.

Belgium's Dardennes brothers, Britain's Ken Loach and Stephen Frears, Spain's Pedro Almodóvar and Germany's Wim Wenders are among the European film-makers who have opposed opening the continent's film industry to competition from Hollywood. On Friday, EU trade ministers signalled that cultural industries will not be up for discussion at this week's G8 summit in London.

Countries like France, where 40% of movies shown on TV must be of local origin and 60% of European origin, benefit most strongly from protectionist measures that could be outlawed under a blanket free trade deal. The French government also levies cinema tickets to fund domestic film production to the tune of about €1bn (£850m) a year.

"A wonderful victory for European culture," wrote the two-time Palme d'Or winners Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

While the British government has largely welcomed the extension of open competition to cultural fields, French president François Hollande has shown determination to ensure his country's "exception culturelle" remains intact.

Supporters say a deal would boost transatlantic commerce by billions and effectively create a global template for free trade, as commerce between the EU and the US makes up more than half of the world's economic transactions.

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« Reply #6991 on: Jun 17, 2013, 06:41 AM »

Hassan Rouhani's election as Iranian president met by cautious optimism

Hopes in the west for better relations tempered by knowledge that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is still country's most powerful figure

Ian Black, Middle East editor
The Guardian, Sunday 16 June 2013 18.52 BST   

Hassan Rouhani's victory in Iran's presidential election has boosted cautious hopes for a change in the country's troubled relations with the west – amid warnings that any new policies would have to be authorised by the hardline supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The US congratulated Rouhani – using his clerical title, "Sayyid" – and pledged to "engage Iran directly" to find a "diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear programme". Britain called on him to "set Iran on a different course for the future".

Arab states sent formal greetings but commentators emphasised the sharp divisions over Tehran's support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria – which mirrors Saudi Arabia's backing for the rebels seeking to overthrow him. Syria's opposition coalition called on Rouhani "to recognise the will of the Syrian people as they persevere in the face of foreign aggression and tyrannical rule".

Iran is also the patron of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia movement that in recent weeks has been fighting openly alongside the Syrian army. The involvement of Iranian security personnel in Syria has been far more discreet.

Israel, whose nuclear monopoly in the Middle East is threatened by what Tehran insists is a peaceful nuclear programme, was dismissive. "The international community must not give in to wishful thinking or temptation and loosen the pressure on Iran for it to stop its nuclear programme," warned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Rouhani gave little away in his first public comments, saying: "The nations who tout democracy and open dialogue should speak to the Iranian people with respect and recognise the rights of the Islamic republic."

Expectations for significant international repercussions from Iran's election result are generally modest. Under Iran's hybrid system ultimate power still rests with Khamenei. Elected presidents do not have the freedom of action to change course on major security, defence and other foreign policy issues.

Still, Rouhani has views of his own and seems likely respond to positive signals – from the US in particular. It was during his talks with EU governments from 2003 to 2005 that Iran suspended elements of its nuclear programme. It was only when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president that Iran aggressively accelerated uranium enrichment.

During the election campaign he linked the state of the economy to the nuclear standoff and attacked Khamenei's candidate (and Iran's current nuclear negotiator) Saeed Jalili, for incompetence on the issue, saying that his dogmatic approach and "slogan of resistance" had not achieved much. Rouhani also suggested in an interview that the Americans had first broached talks and Khamenei vetoed them – contrary to the standard narrative in Tehran which portrays Iran as always reasonable.

"We could be in for a rethink period on foreign policy," suggested one veteran Iranian analyst. "But it could be a long process of gradual change rather than a overhaul. Rouhani's 16 years in the national security council puts him in a very strong position in understanding and handling the policy-formation process and the people and the agencies involved."

For some observers, Rouhani's candidacy suggested a parallel with the decision in 1988 to appoint Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as commander of the army with a view to extricating the country quickly from its bloody eight-year war with Iraq. Rafsanjani was elected president the following year.

In this optimistic view, Rouhani is the right man to lead a new initiative to allow Iran to disengage from its lonely and economically debilitating battle over the nuclear issue. "As the author of Iran's previous dabbling in nuclear concessions, he can be the fall guy, yet again, for a deal that the [supreme] leader wishes to disavow," said Suzanne Maloney of the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy.

The key question is how much room for manoeuvre he will be permitted to have by Khamenei, the powerful Revolutionary Guards and intelligence establishment. His cabinet, observers say, will be important to calm fears in the conservative camp that he is not planning a coup against them.

"The [supreme] leader, it would appear, has accepted that things are not right and that a change was needed," argued Ali Ansari of St Andrews University. "What we do not know is how far he has accepted that the crisis in the country is real. I remain anxious that all these raised expectations will founder on the obstruction of a leader who has not fully heard the message or understood what people want."If Khamenei thinks that Rouhani can just introduce cosmetic changes to sweeten the west and get sanctions lifted, then I fear that he [Khamenei] will be sadly disappointed. But so will all those Iranians who want to see real change. Rouhani has to deliver substantive changes otherwise it's not going to work."


White House says Tehran must 'heed will of people' on Rouhani victory

Statement after election of moderate as president says 'US remains ready to engage Iranian government directly'

Matt Williams in New York, Saturday 15 June 2013 21.08 BST   

The White House on Saturday called on Tehran to "heed the will of the Iranian people", after the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani was elected as the country's new president.

In a statement, the Obama administration congratulated Iran's voters on having the "courage in making their voices heard" in the face of censorship and intimidation. It added that Washington remained open to engagement to reach a diplomatic solution to concerns over Tehran's nuclear programme.

The White House's comments came shortly after it was announced that Rouhani – a moderate figure who has expressed a desire to re-establish relations with the west – had won the popular vote. A western-educated cleric and former nuclear negotiator, he secured more than 50% of the vote, it was announced by Iran's interior minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar – enough to avoid a run-off election. The election of a moderate could go some way towards a thawing of relations between Iran and the west.

In the White House's initial response, it seemingly held out an olive branch in terms of a negotiated settlement over the issue of sanctions and Iran's nuclear ambitions. In April, the last round of talks between the two sides broke down, with seemingly little progress made. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, hinted that negotiations could be heading towards a deadline, noting that the talks were not an "interminable process". The election of Rouhani will raise hopes that a solution can be found.

The White House statement said: "The United States remains ready to engage the Iranian government directly in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear programme."


June 16, 2013

U.S. Seems Eager for Nuclear Talks With Iran’s New Leader


WASHINGTON — President Obama’s top foreign policy aides said Sunday that they planned to press Iran’s newly elected president to resume the negotiations over his country’s nuclear program that derailed in the spring.

But while the election of the new president, Hassan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator who is considered a moderate compared with the other candidates, was greeted by some administration officials as the best of all likely outcomes, they said it did not change the fact that only the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would make the final decision about any concessions to the West.

Even so, they said they wanted to test Mr. Rowhani quickly, noting that although he argued for a moderate tone in dealing with the United States and its allies when he was a negotiator, he also boasted in 2006 that Iran had used a previous suspension of nuclear enrichment to make major strides in building its nuclear infrastructure.

On the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Denis McDonough, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, said of Mr. Rowhani’s election over the weekend: “I see it as a potentially hopeful sign. I think the question for us now is: If he is interested in, as he has said in his campaign events, mending his relations — Iran’s relations with the rest of the world — there’s an opportunity to do that.” But Mr. McDonough said doing so would require Iran “to come clean on this illicit nuclear program.”

Another senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, noted that for Mr. Rowhani, “wanting to end Iran’s isolation is different from agreeing to move the nuclear program to a place where it would take them years to build a weapon.”

Many of the leading strategists on Iran from Mr. Obama’s first term have become increasingly critical of the president’s handling of the issue this year. Early optimism that Iranian negotiators were ready to discuss the outlines of a deal — one that would have frozen the most immediately worrisome elements of the country’s nuclear program in return for an acknowledgment of the country’s right to enrich uranium under a highly obtrusive inspection regimen — faded in April, when the talks collapsed.

But Mr. Obama chose, after some internal debate, not to allow the breakdown in talks to become a crisis, partly because he was immersed in the debate over American intervention in the Syrian civil war. “There were a lot of distractions,” said one former senior official who remains involved in the internal debates.

Last week, James B. Steinberg, a former deputy secretary of state under Mr. Obama, was among the writers of an op-ed article in The Washington Post arguing that “a sense of crisis is warranted” because Iran has used the first half of the year to develop two alternative paths to potentially building a bomb.

One is through a new generation of centrifuges, not yet in full operation, that could sharply reduce the amount of time Iran would need to produce weapons-grade fuel. The second is the progress that the country has apparently made in building a heavy-water reactor, that could produce plutonium in coming years, the approach Pakistan is taking to modernize its nuclear weapons program.

American intelligence officials are concerned that once the facility is loaded with nuclear fuel, it could not be bombed without causing an environmental disaster. Intelligence officials have warned the White House that nuclear material could be put in the facility over the next year.

“The time is fast approaching when diplomacy will be of little or no value or credibility,” Mr. Steinberg wrote with former Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Stephen J. Hadley, a former national security adviser to President George W. Bush. They urged the administration to “put forward a bold, comprehensive settlement offer that would be attractive to the Iranian people,” something the administration has declined to do so far, and to make clear that the United States is “serious that all options, including the use of force” would be used if the offer was rejected.

Mr. Rowhani gave a glimpse of his views on negotiating strategy in a speech in 2004, which leaked out of Iran two years later. “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran,” he recalled at the time, “we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan,” a major production site. “By creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.”

He added a grace note that American and Iranian officials often repeat today: “We do not have any trust in them,” he said of the West. “Unfortunately, they do not trust us, either. They think we are out to dupe them, and we think in the same way — that they want to trick and cheat us.”

The situation Mr. Rowhani inherits today is far more complex, and more fraught. The conflict in Syria has raised the prospect that Iran could lose its one ally in the region. It has also given Iran’s government new opportunities to frustrate Washington and Europe with its military support of the Syrian government. Sanctions against Iran are harsher now than ever, cutting the country’s oil production by about a million barrels a day. Iran’s currency has plummeted in value.

Wendy Sherman, the chief negotiator for the United States, characterized her latest encounters with the Iranians, as the talks collapsed, this way: “It was all ‘We need sanctions relief and let’s see how little we can do to get it.’ ”

Iran had little leverage when Mr. Rowhani left his post as nuclear negotiator. Today, by the account of international inspectors, it has six tons of low enriched uranium, enough to make five or six nuclear weapons with further enrichment. There is a separate stockpile with 20 percent purity, meaning it could be turned to weapons grade in a few weeks.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. By holding a portion of that fuel in the form of a powder, which can be converted for use in a reactor, Iran has stayed just below the “red line” described by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu: the production of 250 kilograms or 550 pounds, about one weapon’s worth.

The United States has been pressing Iran to stop production of the medium-enriched fuel and to ship it out of the country to eliminate the most imminent threat.

“For all practical purposes, the Iranians have crossed the red line that was drawn last fall in the General Assembly,” Amos Yadlin, the former head of military intelligence in Israel, said in April.

Mr. Netanyahu insists the line has not been crossed, but on Sunday he said: “Iran will be judged by its actions. If it continues to insist on developing its nuclear program, the answer must be clear — to stop it by any means.” But the divisions in Israeli politics on the issue were clear: Shimon Peres, the elder statesman serving as Israel’s president, said Mr. Rowhani’s policies “will be better, I am sure, and that is why people voted for him.”

Mr. Obama’s former aides say his challenge is to engage Mr. Rowhani without letting up on his vow never to let Iran get a nuclear weapon, even if force is necessary. Colin H. Kahl, who held a senior Pentagon position under Mr. Obama dealing with Middle East military policy, said last week, “When the president says ‘all options are on the table’ I can tell you the table is set.”

But Mr. Kahl recently published a report written with two others for the Center for a New American Security, “If All Else Fails,” examining the preparations needed for containment. “Iran could create a nuclear weapon in secret,” he said last week. “We need to think about containment even if we hope never to do it.”

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« Reply #6992 on: Jun 17, 2013, 06:45 AM »

Pakistani militants shoot dead two polio vaccination workers

Murders raise to nearly 20 the number of health workers killed on campaign to help rid Pakistan of endemic disease

Associated Press in Peshawar, Pakistan, Sunday 16 June 2013 19.54 BST   

Gunmen have killed two anti-polio health workers in north-west Pakistan, police said on Sunday, in the latest violence directed at efforts to eradicate the endemic disease from the country.

Two attackers shot the Pakistani health workers, who were on a vaccination drive in Kandar village, said Swabi district police chief, Mohammad Saeed. The gunmen arrived on foot and later disappeared, he added.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack. But some militant groups oppose the vaccinations and accuse the workers of spying for the US. They point out the case of the CIA using a Pakistani doctor to collect blood samples from the family of Osama bin Laden in order to track him down and kill him in Pakistan in 2011.

Militants also try to block inoculation campaigns by portraying them as a conspiracy to sterilise and reduce the world's Muslim population. Over the past year, nearly 20 health workers from the anti-polio campaign have been murdered.

Pakistan is one of three countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, that is still affected by polio, with 58 cases reported in 2012, down from 198 in 2011. The World Health Organisation said in March that some 240,000 children have missed polio vaccinations because of security concerns in Pakistan's tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

It said the health workers have not been able to immunise children in the Taliban strongholds of North and South Waziristan since July 2012.The shootings came a day after the Pakistani al-Qaida-linked militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi killed 24 people in the southwestern city of Quetta.

In the first of Saturday's attacks in Quetta, a blast ripped through a bus carrying female students, killing 14. When the victims were taken to the nearby hospital, a suicide bomber struck there. Other attackers captured parts of the complex, triggering a siege by security forces in which four paramilitaries also died.

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« Reply #6993 on: Jun 17, 2013, 06:55 AM »

June 16, 2013

Dozens Killed In Attacks Targeting Iraqi Shiites


BAGHDAD — Car bombings and attacks across Iraq killed at least 33 people and wounded more than 100 on Sunday, security officials said, the latest in a wave of sectarian violence that has erupted across the country in recent months.

Several bombs exploded in five southern Shiite-dominated provinces, killing civilians. Other attacks, near Tikrit and Mosul, struck security forces, officials said.

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni extremists have stepped up their efforts to undermine the Shiite-led government and to stoke sectarian divisions since the beginning of the year. Nearly 2,000 Iraqis have been killed since April, according to the Interior Ministry, making it the country’s most violent period since 2008. Sunday’s attacks also came a day after the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, threatened Shiites with more violence.

The first attacks occurred in Basra Province in southern Iraq, where an Iraqi official and five civilians were killed when the official’s convoy was struck by two car bombs, officials said. Ten people were wounded.

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded near a vegetable market, killing five people and wounding 12 others, the police said. Later, three car bombs exploded in Wasit and Babil Provinces and the city of Nasiriya, killing five civilians and wounding more than 70 others.

In Madaen, southeast of Baghdad, two car bombs exploded on the main road, killing 5 people and wounding 10, the police said.

In the northern city of Mosul, four police officers were killed and four others wounded in clashes with unidentified gunmen, a police official said. And in Tikrit, a roadside bomb struck an army patrol, killing two soldiers, a security official said.

Late Sunday, a suicide bomber stormed into a cafe in southeastern Baghdad and set off his explosives, killing 6 men and wounding 22 other people, a police official said.

“Let the world see what’s happening to us,” said Ali Ahmed, who was wounded in the explosion.

“We cannot even sit in a simple cafe,” he said from his hospital bed. “I hate my life!”

Yasir Ghazi contributed reporting.

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« Reply #6994 on: Jun 17, 2013, 06:57 AM »

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
June 17, 2013, 6:11 am

As Rape Reports Increase in Delhi, a Call for Uncommon Men and Women


Last December, a young woman we call “Nirbhaya” was so brutally assaulted and raped by six men on a bus that she died from her injuries two weeks later. She was barely older than my daughter Mira. Grieving, I looked for solace in student memories. I had resisted going to a women’s college at Delhi University, but a few years later at Mount Holyoke, a college for women in Massachusetts, I discovered a world where no one had to remind you to “lean in” because every woman already had her shoulder to the wheel and was moving the needle on everything from microbiology to challenging history with herstory. I was surrounded by women who wrote poetry, discussed politics, dismantled engines, designed buildings, managed newspapers, and danced for the joy of being able to do so. It was a world where women were not less than but equal to – a world, as the playwright Wendy Wasserstein put it, of “Uncommon Women.”

The assault happened in New Delhi – the city of my birth and the city where I now live. It is comforting for many to believe that cultures of rape arise in war-torn places like the Democratic Republic of Congo. Now suddenly it was New Delhi that was labeled the “capital of rape.” The latest statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau indicate that a woman is raped in India every 20 minutes and that this horrendous statistic could well be worse because of high levels of underreporting. According to the N.C.R.B., the number of crimes against women reported to the Indian police has increased from 228, 650 in 2011 to 244,270 in 2012. Out of the 24,923 rape cases registered by the police across India in 2012, 706 cases of rape were reported in Delhi, according to the N.C.R.B. In 2011 the number of rape cases reported in Delhi was 572.

A woman is raped every six minutes in the United States, and across the globe one in every three women has experienced violence. The persecuted are not an ethnic minority, or a racial group, or a religious sect; they simply had the “misfortune” of being born inside female bodies.

A young woman who attends college has already beaten the odds – two out of three illiterate people in the world are female. Yet even schools and universities are not safe spaces for women. Teachers routinely demand sexual favors, date rape is common, and a majority of girls are discouraged from pursuing competitive sports or fields like science and mathematics. A 2011 report by Princeton University in New Jersey found that too few women at the university held visible positions of leadership like head of student government or editor of the college newspaper. Women’s colleges are outliers, providing environments where in addition to intellectual skills, women’s physical confidence and sexuality are also valued.

Yet I wondered, Will young graduates hold onto confidence in a world struggling to deal with women’s equality? Will they find the courage to speak up when they see injustice perpetrated – not just against women but against religious and caste minorities, transgendered people and the poor? Will they challenge assumptions made about them on the basis of their class or the color of their skin?  Will they tell themselves it isn’t worth getting upset about, that they should just smile and change the subject?

Will they balance the contradictory demands being imposed on them in our “mad mad world”? They aspire to freedom and equality, but are bombarded by messages on television, in advertisements and in movies showing women as sexy accessories to fancy cars. People say guys don’t go for girls who are “too smart,” “too aggressive” or just “too much.” Even feminist mothers worry that their daughters’ skirts are too short or their necklines too low. It is even harder for people who are gay or bisexual or transgender – can they celebrate their sexuality and humanity and deal with those who are threatened by it? Can they become loving parents and partners and still sail around the world, become doctors or carpenters, stand-up comedians or artists, climb mountains, advocate for Dalit rights or environmental justice? Will today’s graduates educate the men in their lives – their employees, fathers, sons, lovers and brothers — about male privilege with humor and unabashed candor?

These were the questions that haunted me as I joined in the protests after Nirbhaya’s death. I remembered the last time I marched on Delhi’s streets. It was 1983.

For three years since my graduation from high school, a nationwide anti-rape campaign had demanded the reopening of the Mathura rape case and pushed for amendments to India’s rape law. Mathura, a teenage tribal girl, was raped in 1972 by two police officers, in the police station in the dead of night, while her relatives were waiting and crying outside. A female lawyer took up her case immediately afterward, but the court cast the blame on Mathura, calling her a woman of “easy virtue,” and the two police officers were released. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling. The growing women’s movement in India was outraged.

Prominent lawyers took up the cause, as did the national news media. Women organized public meetings and poster campaigns, collected thousands of signatures, staged demonstrations and submitted petitions to members of Parliament and the prime minister. My friends and I joined a street theater group. Our play “Om Swaha” addressed the horrors of dowry murder, another prevalent form of gender violence. We performed on our college campus, in slums and at busy street intersections. Sometimes people laughed at us; sometimes they cried and shared their experiences. My mother and many of her friends courted arrest in front of Parliament and were hauled off to police stations. It was an inspiring time, but the protesters were limited to upper-middle-class, educated women who belonged to women’s rights organizations. Even caring men, like my father, were not present at the rallies.

After heated debates and much prevarication, Parliament passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 1983, which said that in cases of custodial rape, the burden of proof would lie with men, and that if a female victim made a statement that she did not consent, the court would believe her. It felt like a significant victory.

Yet here I was 30 years later protesting one more in a series of sexual assaults against women and girls. I walked with an unbearable sense of failure. What difference had my activism made? What about the Global Fund for Women and the thousands of women’s groups that it had funded? What about women like Betty Makoni, a schoolteacher in Zimbabwe who founded the Girl Child Network to challenge sexual abuse in schools; and Oral Ataniyazova in Uzbekistan, who fought environmental contamination in communities around the Aral Sea; and Sakena Yacoobi in Afghanistan, who ensures girls have the right to go to school? What were we to make of our idealism now?

I turned in despair to the young man walking beside me and asked, “Why are these men here? You do this to women. Why the calls for the death penalty? Why?” He turned to me, his face somber. “Ma’am, you may not believe me, but I was shaken by this experience. Nirbhaya was not alone – her male friend was beaten and thrown out of the bus along with her. He was a victim and he survived to tell us what happened. For years men have thought rape is a ‘woman’s issue’ that has nothing to do with us. This incident made us wake up, and we are asking what is our role in addressing this ugly side of ourselves and of the society we dominate.”

I looked around me – there were so many young men walking with their sisters, girlfriends and mothers. There were fathers and uncles too. It was different than in 1983. “We need the help of women, ma’am,” he went on. “This is a confusing time; we need to think what does it mean to be a man. Maybe if we work on this together, we can make it right.”

Yes, I thought, smiling back at him, yes we can. We can offer educations that teach how all human beings – women and men – are capable of great intellectual contributions, fierce sexual desire and deep empathy, as well as mean-spiritedness and bigotry. We can make it right when both girls and boys are taught the value of poetry, art, mathematics and scientific inquiry. To quote Bertrand Russell, we can make it right with an education that gives “a sense of the value of things other than domination, to help create wise citizens of a free community.”

We need less domination and more imagination to succeed in this world. We need uncommon women standing with uncommon men because our world faces uncommon challenges. We have no clearly marked strategies to resolve global warming and energy needs or explanations for why nations spend more on weapons than on schools or clean water. But we can be one billion rising against violence and for justice. We can make sure revolutions celebrate our right to dance.

We need uncommon men and women to make it right. We need them to be so strong they can be gentle; so educated they can be humble; so fierce they can be compassionate; so passionate they can be rational; and so disciplined that they can be free.

Kavita Nandini Ramdas is the Ford Foundation’s representative for India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.


June 15, 2013

Caste Is Not Past


BANGALORE, India — CASTE is not a word that modernizing India likes to use. It has receded to the unfashionable background. Newspapers reserve their headlines for the newer metrics of social hierarchy: wealth and politics, and those powerful influencers of popular culture, actors and cricket stars.

There are two stories we tell ourselves in urban India. One is about how education transforms lives. It is the golden key to the future, allowing people to rise above the circumstances of their birth and background. And sometimes, it does. In my own neighborhood, a few sons and daughters of cooks and gardeners are earning their engineering and business degrees, and sweeping their families into the middle class. Not many, certainly. But enough that this is a valid hope, a valid dream.

The other story is about how the last two decades of economic growth have fundamentally changed the country, creating jobs and income and nurturing aspiration where earlier there was none. New money and an increasingly powerful middle class are supposedly displacing the old social hierarchies.

These are exciting stories, even revolutionary in a country where, for centuries, the social order was considered immutable. Traditionally, Indian society was divided into four main castes. At the top, Brahmins, as priests and teachers; second came the Kshatriyas, the warriors and rulers; third, Vaishyas, who were merchants; last, Shudras, the laborers. And below them all, the Dalits, or untouchables, called Harijans, or “children of God,” by Mahatma Gandhi (for indeed, who isn’t?).

The castes were ostensibly professional divisions but were locked firmly into place by birth and a rigid structure of social rules that governed interaction between and within them.

That, famously, was then. Discrimination based on caste has been illegal in India for more than six decades. In today’s urban India, this land of possibility, separated from rural India by cultural and economic chasms, it seems reactionary even to speak of caste. Certainly it shouldn’t — and usually doesn’t — come up at work or at play or in the apartment elevator.

If it features in urban conversations at all, it is defanged, reduced to cultural stereotypes and amusing-if-annoying tropes that never bother with political correctness. Gujarati Baniyas of the Vaishya caste have a keen eye on finance. Tamil Brahmins do math and classical music. Nobody parties or fights harder than a Punjabi Khatri (of the Kshatriyas). It’s the equivalent, in America, of expecting the Asian kid to have good grades, the black man to be the best dancer and the Jewish guy to be well-read and have some slight mother issues.

As India transforms, one might expect caste to dissolve and disappear, but that is not happening. Instead, caste is making its presence felt in ways similar to race in modern America: less important now in jobs and education, but vibrantly alive when it comes to two significant societal markers — marriage and politics.

No surprise on that first one. Inter-caste marriages in India are on the rise but still tend to be the province of the liberal few. For much of the country, with its penchant for arranged marriages and close family ties, caste is still a primary determinant in choosing a spouse.

Politics is where caste has gotten a surprising new lease on life. After money and education, democracy is, of course, the third powerful force transforming Indian society. But Indians, it turns out, are passionate about the caste of their politicians. Nearly half of the voting population of even a highly educated city like Bangalore considers caste to be the No. 1 reason to vote for a candidate.

Democracy gives power to people who previously had none. But, like race, caste can shift political discussions from present-day merit to payback for historical injustices.

Six decades of democratic statehood have attempted to correct the imbalances of the past through “reservation” — job and education quotas for the so-called backward castes, like the Dalits. This program has been effective, in a fairly hit-or-miss fashion. Some say that nearly all university seats are reserved for lower castes, effectively blocking Brahmins from higher education. Others point out that the vast majority of high paying jobs are still in the hands of the top three castes.

This, then, is the problem of discussing caste in India: the profound lack of information and contradictory data on the subject. Succeeding governments for years shied away from gathering caste-based data, preferring, with obscure political wisdom, to enact their policies in the dark. This changed in 2011, with the first Indian census to visit the subject in eight decades.

The ostensible reason for the caste census was to see where we were economically. But let’s have no doubt, the impact will be political.

Indian political parties have played caste politics for years. The powerful Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party and its derivatives have thrived on an anti-Brahmin platform in Tamil Nadu. The compelling rise of Mayawati, a Dalit woman who goes by one name, to chief minister of Uttar Pradesh was built on the support of her caste. But, once in office, her reputation as one of the world’s most influential female politicians was marred by corruption and mismanagement in her administration. Last year, her party lost control of Uttar Pradesh’s legislative assembly, and Ms. Mayawati resigned her position. Now, in an intriguing twist, she hopes to regain power by wooing not just Dalits but also Brahmins, arguing that the latter are newly marginalized.

The census results will give strategists their best tools for precisely targeting voters and tailoring campaign messages to caste concerns and fears. Caste will probably grow as a voter focal point, at the expense of administrative competency in economics, education, foreign policy, women’s rights, the environment and every other vital matter of governance that concerns a growing India.

So that is the fascinating conundrum of Indian society: on one hand, caste is losing its virility as India opens up opportunities and mind-sets, while on the other, the forces of democratic politics ensure that it will thrive and never be forgotten as a crucial social index.

Lavanya Sankaran is the author of the novel “The Hope Factory.”

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« Reply #6995 on: Jun 17, 2013, 07:00 AM »

June 17, 2013

Crowds Protest as Indonesian Lawmakers Consider Raising Fuel Prices


JAKARTA — The Indonesian House of Representatives met Monday evening to debate a revised budget that includes a highly contentious increase in the price of subsidized gasoline, which drew thousands of protesters into the streets of the capital.

The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wants to raise gasoline prices 44 percent, from 4,500 rupiah, or 45 cents, a liter, or 0.26 gallon, to 6,500 rupiah to help close a widening budget deficit. The country’s Finance Ministry has said spending on fuel subsidies could reach $23 billion in 2013, compared with about $20 billion last year, if urgent action is not taken.

Amid heavy rain, protesters including members of labor groups — the Jakarta police estimated as many as 4,000 — staged rallies and burned tires Monday outside the national legislative complex in south Jakarta to voice opposition to any price increases. The police said they had deployed nearly 20,000 officers to maintain order, given violent protests that had erupted during past fuel price debates.

Demonstrations by students and other groups were also reported in other cities around Indonesia.

International lenders like the World Bank have urged the Indonesian government to eliminate subsidies altogether, as savings could go to crucial social programs, including health care, as well as much-needed infrastructure investment.

However, with national legislative elections scheduled for April 2014 and a presidential election three months later, fuel subsidies are a hot-button political issue.

‘'They have to increase the prices because we are bleeding in our budget,'’ said Didik Rachbini, a prominent economist and member of Mr. Yudhoyono’s National Economic Council, which comprises economists and leading businessmen and advises the president on economic policy. ‘‘But this is political, a very political issue.'’

Indonesian lawmakers may have to put politics aside, however, if they want to avoid harming one of Asia’s best-performing economies.

Hand-wringing on the fuel subsidy issue dating to April has caused foreign investors to abandon Indonesia’s capital and debt markets in recent days and has created growing trade and current account deficits. The rupiah, meanwhile, has fallen to nearly 10,000 against the dollar.

Although Indonesia has plenty of oil production fields and is among the top 25 oil-producing nations in the world, it is a net importer of petroleum. Gasoline is so heavily subsidized that at the end of 2012, the country had the lowest fuel prices of any net oil-consuming nation in the world, according to the World Bank. The second-lowest was the United States, where a gallon sold for $3.29 on Dec. 31 — nearly twice as much as in Indonesia.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or P.D.I.P., the country’s largest opposition party, has rejected any plan to raise gasoline prices, saying there are other ways to plug holes in the state budget.

‘'My party has done calculations and we suggest the government instead work on improving cost recovery in the oil and gas sector by about 153 trillion rupiah,’’ said Eva Sundari, a P.D.I.P. lawmaker. ‘‘At the same time we recommend improvements in the taxation collection process. There is more potential revenue if we intensify efforts.'’

She said she continued to support artificially low gasoline prices ‘'because I am a leftist.'’

Most members of Mr. Yudhoyono’s governing coalition have agreed to support the plan, which would also increase diesel prices 1,000 rupiah. The government also reached an agreement with House Commission XI, which oversees financial issues, on raising both fuel prices and the state budget purchase quota for subsidized fuel, as well as increasing the budget deficit target from 1.6 percent to 2.4 percent.

A final vote was expected Monday night, yet the outcome remained far from certain.

In March 2012, Mr. Yudhoyono proposed raising fuel prices, but even members of his own governing coalition revolted at the last minute, quashing his plan at a raucous House session as student and labor groups outside clashed with police officers on live national television.

The revised state budget includes the renewal of a cash compensation program for poor Indonesian families to cushion the blow from the subsidy decision and a resulting increase in inflation, as was done when gasoline prices were raised in 2008.

However, many working class Indonesians have said that any increase in the price of gasoline automatically creates higher costs for numerous items, including food staples, clothing and public transportation.
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« Reply #6996 on: Jun 17, 2013, 07:02 AM »

June 16, 2013

Faltering Economy in China Dims Job Prospects for Graduates


HONG KONG — A record seven million students will graduate from universities and colleges across China in the coming weeks, but their job prospects appear bleak — the latest sign of a troubled Chinese economy.

Businesses say they are swamped with job applications but have few positions to offer as economic growth has begun to falter. Twitter-like microblogging sites in China are full of laments from graduates with dim prospects.

The Chinese government is worried, saying that the problem could affect social stability, and it has ordered schools, government agencies and state-owned enterprises to hire more graduates at least temporarily to help relieve joblessness. “The only thing that worries them more than an unemployed low-skilled person is an unemployed educated person,” said Shang-Jin Wei, a Columbia Business School economist.

Lu Mai, the secretary general of the elite, government-backed China Development Research Foundation, acknowledged in a speech this month that less than half of this year’s graduates had found jobs so far.

Graduating seniors at all but a few of China’s top universities say that very few people they know are finding jobs — and that those who did receive offers over the winter were seeing them rescinded as the economy has weakened in recent weeks.

“Many companies are not expanding at all, while some of my classmates have been hired and fired in the same month when the companies realized that they could not afford the salaries after all,” said Yan Shuang, a graduating senior in labor and human resources at the Beijing Institute of Technology.

Ms. Yan said she had been promised a job at a sports clothing company over the winter. But the company canceled all hiring plans in March as the economy weakened.

China quadrupled the number of students enrolled in universities and colleges over the last decade. But its economy is still driven by manufacturing, with a preponderance of blue-collar jobs. Prime Minister Li Keqiang personally led the cabinet meeting, on May 16, that produced the directive for schools, government agencies and state-owned enterprises to hire more graduates, a strategy that has been used with increasing frequency in recent years to absorb jobless but educated youths.

“Any country with an expanding middle class and a rising number of unemployed graduates is in for trouble,” said Gerard A. Postiglione, the director of the Wah Ching Center of Research on Education in China at Hong Kong University.

A national survey released last winter found that in the age bracket of 21- to 25-year-olds, 16 percent of the men and women with college degrees were unemployed.

But only 4 percent of those with an elementary school education were unemployed, a sign of voracious corporate demand persisting for blue-collar workers. Wages for workers who have come in from rural areas to urban factories have surged 70 percent in the last four years; wages for young people in white-collar sectors have barely stayed steady or have even declined.

Economists have long estimated that the Chinese economy needs to grow 7 or 8 percent annually to avoid large-scale unemployment. But that rule of thumb has become less reliable in recent years as the labor market has split.

Relatively slow growth is still creating enough jobs to provide full employment for the country’s blue-collar workers. But much faster growth may be needed to create white-collar jobs for the graduates pouring out of universities.

The International Monetary Fund predicts the Chinese economy will grow 7.75 percent this year — slower than the growth of 10 to 14 percent before 2008, but still a much faster pace than in the West. The main problem for China lies in the sheer growth in graduates; the United States produces three million graduates a year, while China has increased its annual number of graduates by more than five million in a single decade.

One response, endorsed by the State Council, is to urge more graduates to take jobs at small, private companies. But a generation of people who grew up under the government’s “one child” policy has proved risk-averse and slow to join or set up new companies.

“I would not work for private companies, that is not secure — only state-owned ones,” Ms. Yan said.

Many graduating seniors, seeing limited job opportunities, are applying to the country’s fast-expanding graduate schools. Yang Yi, a senior majoring in applied economics at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said that after applying unsuccessfully for jobs through the winter, he was prepared to seek a master’s degree.

“Hopefully the economy will have recovered when I graduate in two years,” he said. “Getting a master’s degree is always better than working in small companies that might not even last long.”

Chinese students have been gravitating toward majors that are perceived as academically less demanding but likely to lead to careers in banking. Business administration and economics majors have proliferated, partly because the country’s many new private universities find them inexpensive subjects to teach. Programs in engineering and other sciences, with their requirements for costly labs, have grown more slowly.

As in the West in recent years, financial services is an extremely popular field among college graduates, who besiege banks, brokerage firms and other businesses in the sector with job applications. Ministry of Human Resources statistics show that average pay for banking sector employees, at $14,500 a year, is twice the level of pay in sectors like health care and education.

Graduates from the best universities still have a strong chance of finding a job, particularly if they do not set their sights too high. Lin Yinbi, a senior graduating in trade and economics from the prestigious Renmin University in Beijing, said that he had job offers from a heating company and a supermarket chain, but was still applying for a well-paid bank job.

“The question is, What kind of job is it?” he said. “Does it align with our major? Does it pay enough? Do we have room to grow?”

Wang Zhian, a prominent Chinese broadcaster whose microblog has more than 200,000 followers, created a stir this spring by recommending that college graduates take jobs packing and unpacking homes for moving companies.

“The most important thing for graduating seniors is to figure out a way to survive, and if that means you have to become a moving company worker, then so be it,” he said. “You can’t live off your parents forever.”

Keith Bradsher reported from Hong Kong and Sue-Lin Wong from Beijing. Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Mia Li contributed research from Beijing.

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« Reply #6997 on: Jun 17, 2013, 07:05 AM »

Gambian tourist paradise conceals local misery and human rights abuses

The EU has cut aid to the west African country experiencing a tourism boom, where executions happen apparently at random

Monica Mark in Banjul, Sunday 16 June 2013 16.50 BST

Behind a row of luxurious resorts overlooking sparkling blue seas in the Gambia's capital, Banjul, lie more meagre lodgings, nicknamed Mile 2 Hotel. A stone's throw from the white sands that make this west African country the region's biggest package holiday destination, the mosquito-infested Mile 2 central prison houses Gambians jailed for offences including distributing T-shirts without official permission.

Ten of thousands of winter sun-seekers flock to mainland Africa's smallest country each year, drawn by its stunning beaches, bird-watching and haunting kora music. As the Arab spring pushes holidaymakers from the former north African hotspots – Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia – Gambian tour operators say bookings have increased over the last twelve months. But beneath the package holiday gloss is the acute paranoia of one of Africa's worst police states.

"Gambia is not a military dictatorship but nobody likes to mention the president's name," said a tour guide, who agreed to speak only during a canoe trip on the meandering Gambia river, far from earshot. "Tourism has brought jobs but we cannot even discuss improving the sector."

Since taking power in a bloodless coup in 1994, President Yahya Jammeh has swapped army fatigues for a white gown and sceptre, and rules through a potent mix of state brutality and mysticism, claiming to cure a long list of maladies from Aids to erectile dysfunction. Enfolded by Senegal, which is one of Africa's most successful democracies, the Gambia has one of the continent's worst human rights records.

Tourism has become an economic lifeline under the regime of a president who urges "every Gambian to be a policeman".

After years holidaying in Tunisia, Emma, a housewife from Gloucestershire in her 50s, chose the Gambia as an alternative this year. "The only thing I know about the president is his portrait is absolutely everywhere, isn't it? But I'd recommend this place to anyone, you're absolutely safe here," she added, sipping a cocktail as jewel-coloured birds darted through baobab trees and peacocks strolled by her hotel pool.

Many of the Gambia's 1.7 million citizens face a much darker reality. Activist and former minister Amadou Scattred Janneh was sentenced to life imprisonment for distributing T-shirts at a rally. He shares a cell with a 24-year-old jailed for creating an online social media profile using the president's name.

Janneh said that in August last year he saw nine prisoners apparently randomly dragged out of their cells and executed by firing squad. "It was very traumatic. No-one knew what criteria they used," he said. "One person had already served their term, another had been in jail for eight months, another for 27 years."

A spokesperson for the European Union, which has earmarked €76m (£64.6m) in development aid to the Gambia for the period 2008–13, said it had cut funding by 20% following "concerns" about human rights.

While Jammeh has fans – literacy and infrastructure have improved over his two decades in charge – his secret police, disguised as everything from gigolos to street hawkers, have arrested people for reacting "indifferently" when his presidential convoy passes.

Janneh predicted that one day Gambians will have had enough. "Gambia will not have anything like the Tunisia or Libya uprisings, but there's a real possibility of violent upheaval. Gambians have been pushed to the wall," he said.

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« Reply #6998 on: Jun 17, 2013, 07:07 AM »

une 16, 2013

New Governor Shock to Some Inside Egypt


CAIRO — Egypt’s Islamist president appointed a new governor of Luxor on Sunday who comes from the political arm of an Islamist group that once carried out terrorist attacks that killed dozens of tourists, soldiers and police officers in the same city.

The group, the Gamaa al-Islamiyya, renounced violence in 2003 and joined the political process after the revolution in 2011.

But its partisans hold ultraconservative views on matters like sunbathing, women wearing shorts, the consumption of alcohol and other things that many tourists consider necessary components of vacations to see the country’s Pharaonic sites. Luxor is a major attraction, and tourism has been vital to the Egyptian economy.

Many people were shocked by the appointment.

“It is amazingly tone-deaf to symbolism,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an analyst at the Century Foundation. “Everybody is interested in the process of normalization of these former militant groups into politics, but I think it is pretty audacious to appoint a Gamaa member to be governor of Luxor, of all places.”

The new governor, Adel Asaad al-Khayyat, is not well known outside upper Egypt, where he was a leader in the engineers’ syndicate and worked for a government office that promotes regional development.

Security officials say he was detained without charge by the Egyptian authorities during the crackdown on Islamist groups after the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat in 1981.

Mr. Khayyat did not immediately comment on what his policies would be as governor. Aides to President Mohamed Morsi could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

But the appointment immediately drew jokes that the end of Egypt’s ancient pre-Islamic heritage was nigh.

“The governor of Luxor from the Gamaa? O.K., get us two idols from there before it’s too late,” the TV comedian Bassem Youssef posted on Twitter.

Mr. Khayyat’s group follows a puritanical form of Islam called Salafism that seeks to closely imitate the lives of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. While less well organized than the Muslim Brotherhood, the group to which Mr. Morsi belonged, Salafists have formed political parties and won seats in Parliament.

Some Salafi leaders have expressed disregard, and even hostility, toward Egypt’s pre-Islamic relics and monuments, which they consider pagan.

They were widely blamed for splashing blue paint on a statue of a mermaid in Alexandria last month. And in 2011, they wrapped cloth around a fountain that depicted mermaids, and hung a sign praising Egyptian women for dedication to their husbands.

Salafi political leaders have not actively moved to eliminate the country’s ancient sites, but their contempt for the ways of non-Muslim tourists is well known. A fatwa, or religious decree, published on the Gamaa al-Islamiyya’s Web site advised members of the group not to build tourist accommodations.

“Because tourist villages have aspects that anger Allah, including alcohol, gambling and other forbidden things, building these hotels and villages is considered aiding their owners in sin and aggression, and is not permitted,” the decision read.

Mr. Khayyat was one of 17 new governors named Sunday, 7 of them from the Muslim Brotherhood. The group now has 13 of Egypt’s 27 governorates.
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« Reply #6999 on: Jun 17, 2013, 07:08 AM »

Mandela’s wife thanks world for messages of support

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, June 17, 2013 8:45 EDT

Nelson Mandela’s wife Graca Machel thanked the world on Monday for its messages of support for the ailing anti-apartheid icon which she said had eased “the burden of anxiety”.

South Africa’s first black president, 94, was rushed to a Pretoria hospital on June 8 with a recurrent lung infection and remains in a serious condition although he is said to be improving.

“Our gratitude is difficult to express. But the love and peace we feel give yet more life to the simple ‘Thank you!’,” Machel, 67, said in a message.

“So much love and generosity from South Africans, Africans across the continent, and thousands more from across the world, have come our way to lighten the burden of anxiety; bringing us love, comfort and hope,” she said.

“The messages have come by letter, by SMS, by phone, by Twitter, by Facebook, by email, cards, flowers and the human voice, in particular the voices of children in schools or singing outside our home,” Machel wrote.

“We have felt the closeness of the world and the deepest meaning of strength and peace.”

She referred to Mandela by the clan name Madiba by which he is affectionately known in South Africa.

“Madiba once said: ‘What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made in the lives of others..’ I have thought of his words on each occasion the world stood with him, making a difference to him, in his healing.”

Mandela, who is due to celebrate his 95th birthday on July 18, has been hospitalised four times since December.

South African President Jacob Zuma said Sunday that Mandela was showing a “sustained” improvement after more than a week in hospital although his condition remained serious.

The Nobel peace laureate had appeared frail and distant in the last images broadcast of him at the end of April during a visit by Zuma and other ANC leaders.

Graca Machel, who became Mandela’s third wife in 1998, has been at her husband’s bedside since the first day of his latest hospitalisation.

Unlike Winnie Madizikela-Mandela, Mandela’s second wife who has been seen many times at the hospital entrance, nobody has seen Machel in the last few days.

Journalists deployed outside Pretoria’s Mediclinic Heart Hospital suspect that Machel is sleeping inside.

Machel was the wife of another head of state, president Samora Machel, the hero of Mozambique independence who died in 1986.

Although he has retired from public life, Mandela is still venerated by an entire people who see him as the incarnation of the end of three centuries of white-minority rule in South Africa.

Black South Africans were able to vote for the first time in 1994.

Mandela is admired throughout the world for his lifelong sacrifice in fighting the brutal regime of racial segregation installed with apartheid in 1948, and for his role in bringing multiracial democracy to South Africa, a country many feared would disintegrate into civil war.

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« Reply #7000 on: Jun 17, 2013, 07:10 AM »

Rio police tear gas thousands at protest demanding health care and education

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, June 16, 2013 18:36 EDT

Police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse around 3,000 protestors from outside Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium ahead of the Confederations Cup match between Italy and Mexico on Sunday.

The demonstrators were attempting to enter the stadium in protest at the vast sums of money spent on the organisation of the tournament and next year’s World Cup, which Brazil is also hosting.

“I don’t care about the World Cup — I want health and education!” chanted protestors, as witnessed by an AFP journalist.

The demonstrators, mainly young, and many of whom wore the Brazilian flag, left the scene quickly after being prevented from accessing the freshly renovated arena.

“Brazilian democracy is still very young and they don’t let us protest,” complained Fabio Gomes, a 33-year-old event producer, as he rubbed eyes irritated by the tear gas.

Police said there were 3,000 protestors, but that their number could have swelled to 5,000 as people continued to arrive at the scene.

The demonstrators started to mingle with supporters arriving for the Group A clash between Mexico and Italy, which was the first game in the tournament to be staged in Rio.

A strong police line, reinforced with riot police, initially held protestors back — only letting through supporters who displayed tickets — before charging.

Prior to Saturday’s opening game between Brazil and Japan in Brasilia, police broke up a similar protest with tear gas and rubber bullets, resulting in 33 injuries and 20 arrests.

The start of the competition has been marked by protests over the huge cost of preparations to host the World Cup, which is expected to reach $15 million (11 billion euros).

Meanwhile, Brazilian media lashed out on Sunday at what they saw as an excessive police response to protesters ahead of Saturday’s match in Brasilia.

“Fiesta inside (the stadium) … war outside,” was how Jornal de Brasilia daily headlined its coverage in juxtaposing that of the match with that of the protests.

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« Reply #7001 on: Jun 17, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Scientists attempt to revive extinct Galapagos tortoise species

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, June 17, 2013 7:20 EDT

Scientists will try to revive two species of giant Galapagos tortoises thought to have been extinct by breeding genetic relatives in captivity, experts leading the effort said.

The Galapagos Islands, located 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off Ecuador’s Pacific coast, are famed for the large number of species that have developed there in isolation.

New research techniques have revealed that at Wolf volcano on Isabela Island, 17 hybrid giant tortoises have been found with genes from the extinct Pinta Island tortoise, and about 280 hybrids have been found with genes from the extinct Floreana Island tortoise.

Among those with Pinta genes, at least one pair has 80 percent of the original species’ genes, while among the Floreana hybrids, many have up to 90 percent of the original species genes.

“That gives us the possibility, literally, of bringing back these species which at the moment are considered extinct,” Galapagos National Park applied sciences chief Washington Tapia told AFP.

Giant tortoises have life spans of up to 180 years, growing to 1.8 meters (five feet nine inches) long and nearly 400 kilograms (880 pounds) in weight.

Last year the body of “Lonesome George,” a giant Galapagos tortoise once believed to be the last of its kind, was sent to New York after its death to be embalmed and then returned home.

A rare Pinta Island giant tortoise discovered in 1971, George was estimated to be a century old when he died June 24, 2012. At the time, he was believed to be the last of his kind.

The Floreana Island tortoise was widely thought to have been extinct for more than 100 years. One of their last sightings was by British naturalist Charles Darwin when he visited the Galapagos in 1835.

Darwin studied the tortoises, which evolved in isolation, as he developed his theory of natural selection.

Now Tapia’s team is eyeing something of reverse natural selection: bringing back to life animals technically considered to have died out.

He said that experts will soon start trying to get pairs in captivity to produce offspring close to their genetic origin. But due to the lengthy lifespan of the animals, Tapia said that he will not live to see the results: true to the slow pace tortoises are famous for, it should take about 120 years to get all the data in.

The female tortoises reach sexual maturity at around 20-25 years, and males at around 25-30. Tapia said that mating a female and male with 80-90 percent Floreana genes should produce offspring with about 95 percent of the genes of the original species.

With the Pintas, “there is a chance, albeit remote, that we could end up with a male being produced with only original-species genes,” Tapia said.

For now, the future of the Floreana lies with about 92 animals born in captivity since 2012. More testing has to be done to determine which have the greatest original-species genetic content so that those males and females can be bred.

Tapia said that one of the main goals is for the tortoises to be released back into their natural habitats as soon as possible, even as hybrids, so that they can help bring the ecosystems of the islands back into balance after they were disturbed by imported species, such as goats.

The Wolf hybrids have a salty story of their own: park officials believe the tortoises were taken to Isabela Island in the 17th and 18th century by pirates who picked them up to eat, but then decided they were no longer needed as a source of meat and tossed them overboard.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #7002 on: Jun 17, 2013, 07:17 AM »

Valentina Tereshkova became first woman in space 50 years ago

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, June 16, 2013 0:49 EDT

On June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly into space in a major propaganda coup for the Soviet Union.

Two years after Yuri Gagarin’s historic first manned flight, Tereshkova blasted off in a Vostok-6 spaceship, becoming a national heroine at the age of 26.

She remains the only woman ever to have made a solo space flight.

In April 1962, officials narrowed down the candidates for the flight to five. In a top-secret process, they picked two engineers, one school teacher, one typist and one factory worker who had performed 90 parachute jumps: this was Tereshkova.

After seven months of intensive training, they chose Tereshkova, who grew up in a peasant family and was a Communist Youth (Komsomol) leader at her textile factory in the historic city of Yaroslavl, around 280 kilometres (174 miles) from Moscow.

Tereshkova was not allowed to confide even in family members, who only learnt of her exploit when Moscow announced it to the entire world.

When she blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, another Soviet spaceship, Vostok-5, was already in orbit for two days, piloted by cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky.

During her three-day mission, Tereshkova circled Earth 48 times. On the first day, she communicated with Bykovsky and even sang him songs. Their communication was then interrupted as the two spaceships moved further away from each other.

Her flight experienced numerous glitches which were only made public after the fall of the Soviet Union.

“A problem appeared on the first day of the flight,” Tereshkova said at a press conference in Star City, home to a cosmonaut training centre, earlier this month.

“Due to a technical error, the spaceship was programmed not for a landing but for taking the ship into a higher orbit,” she said, meaning that the ship was heading further and further from Earth.

The error was corrected, but chief constructor Sergei Korolyov asked Tereshkova not to tell anyone.

“I kept the secret for 30 years,” she said.

Tereshkova wrote in her official report that her spacesuit hurt her leg and that her helmet weighed down her shoulders and scratched her head. She also said she vomited during the flight.

This information was also kept under wraps in order not to spoil the triumph of the first woman in space.

Tereshkova’s landing also prompted concerns at mission control. She had difficulty in guiding her spaceship and her communications were cut off just before descent began, Soviet general Nikolai Kamanin, who was in charge of the space sector at the time, revealed later.

Tereshkova catapulted out of her space capsule — as was then standard procedure — and parachuted down to land in Altai in southern Siberia.

But mission control did not know Tereshkova’s location for two hours after she landed, spaceship constructor Boris Chertok admitted in his memoirs.

Rescuers finally found her tens of kilometres away from the expected spot.

Tereshkova has said in interviews that during the landing her nose smashed against the visor of her helmet and she had to cover up the bruise with make-up at official ceremonies.

After her accomplishment, the second woman to go into space in 1982 was also from the Soviet Union, Svetlana Savitskaya. In 1983 the first American woman, Sally Ride, followed.

Since then more than 40 women from the US have gone into space, but just one other Russian, Yelena Kondakova, in 1994 and 1997.

Doctor Yelena Dobrokvashina trained for 14 years for space and was set to take part in an all-female mission with Savitskaya that was eventually dropped.

“It was probably because of male chauvinism,” Dobrokvashina, now employed at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems that works with cosmonauts, told AFP.

“When we were training at Star City, the space industry chiefs were divided: some supported the all-female project, while others could not stand the idea.”

Now another would-be cosmonaut, Yelena Serova, 36, is training for a six-month mission to the International Space Station next year.

Speaking to AFP, she called Tereshkova “a heroic personality, the woman of the century”.

“If all goes well and my flight goes ahead, that will be a signal to encourage more and more women to try their strength in space,” she said.

Like Gagarin, Tereshkova made just one space flight.

Several months afterwards, she married a cosmonaut, Andriyan Nikolayev. Their marriage was “probably useful for politics and science”, wrote General Kamanin.

In 1964 she gave birth to a daughter Yelena. The couple later divorced and Tereshkova remarried.

After occupying various honorific roles during the Soviet period, at 76 Tereshkova is a lawmaker for the ruling United Russia party.

But the adventurous spirit remains: she said this month that she would be “ready” to fly to Mars, even if it were a one-way trip.

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« Reply #7003 on: Jun 17, 2013, 07:39 AM »

In the USA...

US looks to G8 summit to build consensus over Syria

Washington in talks with allies over radical options including no-fly zone as plan for small arms support meets lukewarm reaction    

Dan Roberts in Washington, Miriam Elder in Moscow, Richard Norton-Taylor in London and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
The Guardian, Saturday 15 June 2013   

The White House will use next week's G8 summit to seek international support for further intervention in Syria that may go beyond the limited military assistance announced on Thursday night, in an attempt  to force the Assad regime and its Russian allies into meaningful peace talks.

Discussions are under way between the US and key foreign allies over a range of options, including a no-fly zone, and are likely to come to a head during the G8, when Obama is also scheduled to have bilateral discussions with President Putin.

As apparent US plans to provide small arms to rebel forces met with a disappointed reaction among commanders on the ground, attention is shifting in Washington to building consensus for more radical options.

"This is a fluid situation so it is necessary for [Obama] to consult with leaders of the G8 about the types of support that we are providing for the opposition," the deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said in a press conference on Friday.

On Friday night, Obama discussed the situation in Syria in an hour-long video conference with British prime minister David Cameron, French president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian prime minister Enrico Letta ahead of next week's summit in Lough Erne.

However, the option of using western air power to impose a no-fly-zone is still seen as fraught with difficulties, according to diplomats in Washington, who say the US and Britain remain wary of becoming embroiled in an escalating military conflict.

Hopes of swiftly persuading the Russians not to oppose such a move were also dashed on Friday when Moscow said it did not believe new US claims of chemical weapons use by Syrian government forces and warned that even arming the rebels with guns would jeopardise peace talks.

Yury Ushakov, foreign policy adviswr to Vladimir Putin, said American officials had briefed Russia on Assad's alleged deployment of chemical weapons. "But I will say frankly that what was presented to us by the Americans does not look convincing," he said. "It would be hard even to call them facts."

Syria's foreign ministry accused the US of lying about chemical weapons use to give it an excuse to intervene. "The White House ... relied on fabricated information in order to hold the Syrian government responsible for using these weapons, despite a series of statements that confirmed that terrorist groups in Syria have chemical weapons," a spokesman said.

Instead, US diplomatic sources say Washington is likely to work with European and Arab allies to assess how much further it can go in supporting the rebels without triggering a wider international conflict.

"The Russians have been awful on this all along, so it's not surprising they are being difficult now," said one US government official.

David Cameron said Britain welcomed the changed US position over chemical weapons and military support, but UK officials said any decision to impose a no-fly zone or "safe havens" would need an international agreement.

"I think it, rightly, puts back centre stage the question, the very difficult question to answer but nonetheless one we have got to address: what are we going to do about the fact that in our world today there is a dictatorial and brutal leader who is using chemical weapons under our noses against his own people," said the prime minister in an interview with the Guardian.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the UN security council should meet urgently to reach a joint position on Syria. "We hope the security council will achieve a united approach," she told the BBC, adding that it would still be best to attempt an international Syrian peace conference.

But without the support of Russia, a permanent member of the security council, such consensus remains difficult.

Syrian rebels reacted with disappointment to the US announcement of military suppor", saying it would have limited impact if – as is widely understood in Washington – it was currently limited to small arms and ammunition.

Captain Ammar Jamal, an FSA commander in Damascus, said: "We need to know what kind of weapons. Are they going to send me a gun? What am I going to do with a gun?"

"We want anti-aircraft launchers and anti-tanks missiles would be great," he added.

Government forces are shortly expected to begin a major offensive against the rebel-held city of Aleppo, a factor that the White House said had helped prompt its decision to intervene.

But security analysts in Washington said the US decision to provide unspecified military support was unlikely to make much difference on its own.

Barry Pavel, a former senior director for defence policy and strategy on the National Security Council under President Obama, said: "It looks like this was an agreement to arm the rebels with small arms and possibly anti-tank missiles, but in light of what others are throwing at them, including Hezbollah and possibly Iran, I don't think it's going to help – these are baby steps."

Anthony Cordesman, who was director of intelligence assessment in the office of the secretary of defence and who now works at the Center for Stategic and International Studies, said Thursday's announcement should not be read too carefully and was likely just a first step in attempts to reposition the US.

"There is probably a reason for not saying too much before the G8 where there will be a final attempt to work with the Russians and be clear about what level of Arab support you have," he said.

"What is unclear to everyone in DC is whether the administration is going to go on doing too little too late to have meaningful effect. The problem is this is a White House that remains deeply divided."

On Thursday night, the White House hinted at the diplomatic tightrope walk to come.

"We're also going to be consulting in the days ahead with both Congress and the international community," Rhodes added.

"The president will also be consulting with his G8 partners in the United Kingdom beginning next week, and we'll continue to have discussions both with friends and allies, including those who have joined us and the Friends of the Syrian People and at the United Nations where we are sharing this information."

French officials are to meet for discussions this weekend with the head of the Free Syrian army, Salim Idriss, and the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, will hold telephone talks with John Kerry.

"Any final decision will be up to the three heads of state – France, the UK and US – at the G8," a French official said.

On the issue of any decision on military support, the official said: "We are waiting for talks at the G8. The acknowledgement from the US that Syria has 'crossed clear red lines', and the fact that France and the UK announced last week solid proof of the use of chemical weapons is changing things."

On Friday, France said that establishing a no-fly zone in Syria was unlikely for now because of opposition from some members of the UN security council.

Philippe Lalliot, the foreign ministry spokesman, said: "The problem with this type of measure is that it can only be put in place with approval from the international community. A decision from the United Nations security council is needed, and not just any decision."

A Chapter 7 resolution authorising military action was needed and that was unlikely to be passed, he said.

France, whose foreign minister said last month that "all options were on the table" in terms of responding to Syria's use on chemical weapons, will continue talks with the Syrian opposition this weekend.

Paris, which has channelled large amounts of medical and humanitarian aid and built on contacts in liberated zones, is concerned at Syrian government gains this month, including the taking of the former rebel stronghold of Qoussair, and the implications for the balance of force in the run-up to July's Geneva talks.


Apple releases figures on government data requests

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, June 17, 2013 7:05 EDT

U.S. tech giant Apple revealed on Monday it received between 4,000 and 5,000 data requests in six months from US authorities, days after Facebook and Microsoft released similar information.

Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and several other top Internet and technology companies have come under heightened scrutiny since word leaked of a vast, covert Internet surveillance program US authorities insist targets only foreign terror suspects and has helped thwart attacks.

In a statement on its web site, Apple said in the period between December 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013, federal, state and local law enforcement had requested customer information up to 5,000 times, related to between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices.

Most commonly, these requests were related to criminal investigations, searches for missing children or patients with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide, Apple said.

But the iPhone maker said it works vigorously to protect the privacy of its users and only provides information by court order.

“Regardless of the circumstances, our legal team conducts an evaluation of each request and, only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities,” it said, noting that sometimes the requests were denied altogether.

Apple also specified certain types of communications are protected, such as FaceTime and iMessage conversations, which are “protected by end-to-end encryption so no one but the sender and receiver can see or read them.”

“Apple cannot decrypt that data,” the statement said.

“Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.”

Facebook said Friday it had received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests for user data affecting 18,000 to 19,000 accounts during the second half of last year, while Microsoft said it had received 6,000 to 7,000 requests affecting 31,000 to 32,000 accounts during the same period.

Both firms said they were prohibited by law from listing a separate tally for security-related requests or secret court orders concerning terror probes.

Internet freedom group The Center for Democracy & Technology praised the release as an “important step” but urged the government to allow the companies to release further details.

There has been a public backlash for the tech companies since government contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of PRISM, a vast program that saw nine companies turn over user data to the US National Security Agency.

Leaked details of the program — first published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post — have reignited debate over the trade-offs between privacy and security more than a decade after the September 11 attacks.

The companies have denied claims the NSA could directly access their servers. US authorities have said the program was legal and limited.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told lawmakers last week the program could have prevented 9/11 and said the leaks had caused “significant harm to our nation and to our safety.”

He also confirmed that Snowden was the subject of a criminal investigation.

Snowden, a 29-year-old IT technician, has gone to ground in Hong Kong, where he had surfaced for media interviews after the leaks were published. He has vowed to contest any extradition order in court.


Detainees’ defense lawyers want Red Cross’ secret Guantanamo files

By Reuters
Monday, June 17, 2013 8:56 EDT

By Jane Sutton

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) – Lawyers for five prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 attacks in 2001 have asked to see confidential reports made by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross who visited the defendants at the Guantanamo detention camp.

The issue is one of dozens on the docket for a week-long pretrial hearing set to start on Monday in the death penalty case against the alleged mastermind of the hijacked plane attacks on the United States, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four co-defendants accused of funding and training the hijackers.

The judge will also be asked to decide whether the defendants can be excluded from the courtroom during pretrial discussions of classified material and whether military jailers are meddling in attorney-client communications, which are supposed to be confidential.

ICRC delegates have made more than 90 visits to the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba since the detention camp was opened in January 2002 to hold men captured in U.S. counterterrorism operations overseas.

The Geneva Conventions, the international treaties that govern the treatment of captives held during armed conflicts, authorize the Geneva-based group to make such visits to ensure that captives are treated humanely.

The ICRC keeps its findings strictly confidential, working privately with detaining authorities to improve conditions for captives.

“The ICRC is as secretive as the CIA,” joked Navy Commander Walter Ruiz, a lawyer who represents alleged al Qaeda money courier Mustafa al Hawsawi.

The 9/11 defendants, and about 10 other captives who were previously held in secret CIA prisons, are housed separately from the general prisoner population at Guantanamo, in a maximum-security facility known as Camp 7. The judge overseeing the trial ruled in January that defense lawyers could inspect the camp, but those visits still have not been arranged.

Defense lawyers want to see ICRC reports about conditions at Camp 7 to ensure they do not interfere with the defendants’ ability to help prepare a defense. The reports about their clients’ treatment could also yield mitigating information that might spare the defendants from execution if they are convicted of the most serious charges against them, which include terrorism, hijacking and murdering 2,976 people.


The ICRC takes no position as to whether the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals comply with international law, the group’s lawyers said in a court document. But they will argue against releasing their reports to the defense lawyers, even though they have said they would not make them public.

“This absolute right to non-disclosure of the ICRC’s confidential information, including the right not to be compelled to testify in judicial proceedings, has been recognized consistently by international tribunals and by the international community,” the ICRC said.

The ICRC has said previously that its tenacious and confidential scrutiny of the Guantanamo detention operation has resulted in improvements in prisoners’ treatment. The group normally opens its archives after 40 years but can withhold personal details such as detainees’ names.

In a leaked memorandum in the New York Times in 2004, the ICRC accused the U.S. military of using tactics “tantamount to torture” on prisoners at Guantanamo. The Pentagon rejected the allegations of psychological and physical abuse and the ICRC declined to confirm or deny their authenticity.

President Barack Obama, who recently reiterated his intent to close the Guantanamo detention camp, has ordered the military to comply with the Geneva Conventions’ standards for humane treatment.

The State Department is expected shortly to announce the appointment of veteran Washington lawyer Cliff Sloan to oversee the closure of the Guantanamo prison, sources familiar with the decision said late on Sunday.


Bernie Sanders Strikes a Blow for Privacy With New Bill To Limit the Patriot Act

By: Jason Easley
Jun. 14th, 2013

Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation that would put strict limits on the domestic surveillance powers of the FBI and NSA.

In a statement, Sen. Sanders said, “We must give our intelligence and law enforcement agencies all of the tools that they need to combat terrorism but we must do so in a way that protects our freedom and respects the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches.”

The legislation puts limits on what records can be search, and requires agencies to have reasonable suspicion based on specific information in order to obtain a warrant. There would be no more data mining through open ended court orders, and agencies would have to have reasonable suspicion to justify searches for each record or document. The bill would increase congressional oversight, and eliminate the presumption that anyone who is known to a suspect is relevant to an investigation.

Sen. Sanders is proposing a return to sanity. There is absolutely no justifiable reason for the open ended surveillance powers in the Patriot Act. It has been 12 years since 9/11. It is time to look past the hysteria that allowed a horribly flawed piece of legislation to be passed, renewed, and renewed again.

Bernie Sanders is doing something that his critics on the right are too afraid to do. He is challenging the status quo. Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden have let this story devolve into an agenda driven circus. The reason why I have been critical of the motives of both of these men is because Sen. Sanders’ legislation was exactly what I wanted to see. Glenn Greenwald is moving back to the fringe where he belongs, and I don’t care if Snowden is hiding out on the moon. The real issue here has always been the Patriot Act.

Greenwald over hyped his story, and completely missed the real value of what he was reporting. What the NSA is doing isn’t a scandal. It isn’t proof that Obama is the root of all evil. It is a great opportunity to demonstrate what the Patriot Act continues to do to our liberties.

Congress is full of national security cowards. Sen. Sanders is serving with people who recently voted to protect rapists in the military, because they didn’t want to take sexual assault investigation out of the chain of command. This legislation has zero chance of ever being passed, but this could be the most significant legislative effort to limit the Patriot Act that the country has ever seen.

The con men, the media whores, and the wanna be martyrs will continue to spin this and stumble down the wrong path. Real change will have to come from Congress, and Bernie Sanders took the first important step towards victory in the battle to restore our liberties.


Marco Rubio Embarrasses Himself While Trying to Bash Obama on Syria

By: Jason Easley
Jun. 16th, 2013

Sen. Marco Rubio embarrassed himself yet again on national television by putting his ignorance on full display while trying to bash President Obama on Syria.

Transcript from ABC’s This Week:

    KARL: Thank you. so you have been pushing for a long time for the U.S. to arm the rebels. Is this going to make a difference?

    RUBIO: Well, let me just say that in politics or in foreign policy, timing matters. So these were options that were there for us a year and a half ago, before this thing kind of became this chaotic. It behooved us to kind of identify whether there were any elements there within Syria fighting against Assad that we could work with, reasonable people that wouldn’t carry out human rights violations, and could be part of building a new Syria. We failed to do that. This president failed to do that.

    So now your options are quite limited. Now the strongest groups fighting against Assad, unfortunately, are al Qaeda-linked elements. That doesn’t mean that they all are, but it certainly — this group has become the most organized, the best armed, the best equipped. Our options are now really narrower than they were a few months ago.

    So look, I think we should continue to search to see if there are any elements fighting against Assad that are reasonable, that we can work with, that will respect human rights and hopefully build a new Syria. I just think it’s a lot tougher now when you’ve got Hezbollah running around and Russia fully arming Syria, and Iran fully engaged in this as well. I think that the fact that it’s taken this White House and this president so long to get a clear and concise policy on Syria has led us — has left us with the worst possible scenario right now.

    KARL: OK, so we’re here now though. What would President Rubio do right now? Would you commit U.S. forces to — to a no-fly zone?

    RUBIO: First of all, if I was in charge of this issue, we never would have gotten to this point. We would have identified elements that we could have worked with, and we would have made sure that those elements, not the al Qaeda elements, were the best armed, best equipped and best trained. That being said, I think we need to continue to search for elements on the ground that we can work with, and we should try to do the best we can to increase their viability and their strength so that even when Assad falls, and we hope that he still will, they will be the ones on the ground with — with the best ability to kind of manage a future, hopefully democratic Syria, and peaceful Syria.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s big plan for Syria is to find the good guys and work with them. That’s it. Finding the good guys equals victory. This “strategy” sounds an awful lot like George W. Bush’s strategy to win in Iraq. Rubio later goes on to show that he knows nothing about what he is talking about by suggesting that he would have done the same thing that President Obama is doing, but he would have done it sooner.

Rubio’s problem was that he HAD to find a way to bash Obama for doing exactly what he supported in the past, so he invoked the GOP’s silly find the good guys sooner criticism and ran with that. Marco Rubio demonstrated that he has very childlike view of the world. He and his party still believe that there are good guys and bad guys, and all we have to do is find the good guys in order to win.

In the real world, there are no black hats and white hats. In the case of Syria the Assad regime is the black hat, and the people fighting him are various range from black to gray hats. Sen. Rubio was pretending that if Obama would have acted sooner the pro-Islamist rebels who don’t want democracy would have been transformed into an entirely different kind of rebel force, but reality is much more complicated that Marco’s fantasy.

A UN investigation found that most Syrian rebels don’t want democracy, and that both Assad and the rebels are committing war crimes. As UN investigator Paulo Pinheiro put it, “There is a very complicated distinction between the bad and the good rebels.”

Sen. Rubio sacrificed facts in order to bash the president, and his answer was so embarrassing that it demonstrated why Rubio should never be taken seriously as a potential presidential candidate.


Rand Paul Claims Liberal Elites Want to Exterminate Christians

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Jun. 15th, 2013

Rand PaulSen. Rand Paul (R-KY) went off the deep end this week at Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to the Majority Conference. Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., he doubled down on the old War on Christianity meme that wears so well among the faithful. Despite shoving their religion down our throats for 2,000 years, we are to believe these poor bigots are in danger of extinction – whoever the Islamists don’t get, the liberal elites will.

Watch Courtesy of Right Wing Watch:

“It saddens me to see these countries that are supposedly our allies that they continue to persecute Christians,” he said, ignoring the persecution of non-Christians BY Christians here at home, in America.

    It angers me to see my tax dollars supporting regimes that put Christians to death for blasphemy against Islam, countries that put to death Muslims who convert to Christianity and counties who imprison anyone who marries outside their religion.

Mr. Paul apparently thinks it is perfectly okay for Christians to treat non-Christians in these ways, for example, the “Kill the Gays” legislation in Uganda, or reducing the LGBT community and non-Christians to second-class citizen status here at home.

It angers me that my tax dollars go toward propping up the Church, when the First Amendment clearly states that the government shall make no law establishing religion.

    “I say no more money to countries that are doing that to Christians.”

I say no more money to Christian organizations that harass and persecute anyone they don’t approve of.

“There is a war on Christianity,” he told his audience, well ahead of the Christmas season. “Not just from liberal elites here at home, but worldwide.”

By war on Christianity, he means we have the nerve to tell him we don’t feel his religious beliefs trump or own. The audacity!

    “And your government, or more correctly you are having to pay for it. You are being taxed to send money to countries that are not only intolerant of Christians but openly hostile…”

Other countries, you say? Our tax dollars don’t have to leave these shores to support a religion that is not only intolerant of non-Christians (or the wrong kind of Christians) but openly hostile.

He kinda misses the entire point of the First Amendment, doesn’t he?

Rand Paul doesn’t care about the persecution of gays and lesbians, or of transgenders. He doesn’t care about the persecution of Pagans or secularists or of atheists. He doesn’t care about anyone but Christians.

Christians have never been the target of persecution in the Western world since the fifth century, and before that, they were persecuted for less than ten years total. Less than ten years. Christianity has been systematically persecuting people since the fifth century and it is still doing so today, right here at home Right in front of Rand Paul’s eyes. Right in front of his audience’s eyes.

By campaigning against the First Amendment, Rand Paul has shown himself to be completely unsuitable for high office. His job is to represent everyone in his district, not only Evangelical Christians. His job as president would be to represent the interests of ALL Americans, not only Evangelical Christians.

But Rand Paul can’t and won’t do that. Rand Paul is a tool of the Religious Right and his avowed fears of an Islamic Caliphate fall just a little flat when he himself aspires to be a Caliph here at home. The presidency is a secular – not a religious – office, and Rand Paul and his supporters would do well to remember that in an age of declining church membership and young people increasingly tired of the persecution of their friends.

The Republican tent has gotten very small, and unfortunately for the GOP, Republicans seem to embrace that fact, using language that, while sure to appeal to the base, alienates the rest of America. Their problem in an ecumenical sense, is similar to their immigration problem.

Pragmatically, it would benefit them to tone down the holy war rhetoric but they can’t. This sort of thing builds up a momentum of its own. There is no backtracking from either/or propositions. They have declared the rest of us to be evil, and you cannot compromise with evil.

Pragmatism is a dinosaur in the Republican Party, as you can see from some of the crazy remarks coming out of this year’s conference. US News & World Report gives us a quick rundown:

    “We gotta put some salsa sauce on the Republican party.” – Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, calling for more Latino outreach by the Republican party. He also encouraged delegates to “just reach out and grab that brown hand.”

    “Immigrants are more fertile.” – former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, making the case for immigration reform

    “College campuses are indoctrination camps for the abortion industry.” – Kate Obenshein, vice president of Young America’s Foundation, in a panel on advancing the pro-life movement. She also called Planned Parenthood “barbarians.”

    “We are at a tipping point the likes of which we have never seen in civilization.” – Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., on government spending.

    “Allen West is a real American … We should really take something from his gene pool and put it everywhere across this great country.” – actor and conservative speaker John Ratzenberger, best known as “Cliff” from the TV show “Cheers,” introducing West to the convention crowd.

    “We lost because Obama won crushing, lopsided majorities among Americans who are single, poor, irreligious … There are people who are all three.” – Michael Medved, conservative radio talk show host, on why Republicans lost the 2012 presidential election.

John Ratzenberger wanting to spread of Allen West’s sperm is disturbing enough, and contrary to Ann Coulter, it is not Marco Rubio (ironically, a past speaker at the conference) and the other Republicans who support immigration reform who will destroy the Republican Party. It is the religious bigots like Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, and others.

Paul and his audience won’t see that – their religious zealotry has blinded them to our shared reality and to cause and effect. They are blinded by hatred for humanity, and if this is their battle cry for 2016, they have lost already.


The Republican Party Is Teaching Hate by Passing Their Bigotry Down To The Next Generation

By: Rmuse
Jun. 16th, 2013

Americans love to mark specific days to celebrate and honor important American achievements and various members of society, and cynics often state the obvious that days honoring children, grandparents, mothers, and fathers are promoted mercilessly by commerce to guilt consumers into spending their hard-earned cash. In 1910, as a complement to the day honoring mothers, a day celebrating fatherhood and to honor male parenting began humbly in Spokane Washington, and after a slow start, it has become a commercial success and for many, the one day each year they express gratitude for their fathers. There is little doubt that fathers play a crucial role in how their children grow and develop into adults, and it is true that one can learn a great deal about a father through their children’s attitudes, work ethic, and morality whether for the better or worse, and after recent revelations two Republican legislator’s sons posted vile bigoted remarks on social media, it informs they are, if not their fathers’ sons, they are certainly Republican Party sons.

First, it is important to acknowledge that not all Republicans are racists, homophobes, anti-immigrant, and sexist sycophants, but there is no denying the Republican Party made great use of coded, but glaringly obvious, references to lazy African Americans, dangerous immigrants, and homosexuals ripping apart the moral fiber of America before, during, and after the campaigns in the 2012 election. None of the references were accidental, and they catered to the significant number of bigoted voters Republicans counted on to win their respective elections whether it was for state or national legislatures or the presidency of the United States. It cannot be disputed that Republicans would not risk alienating minority, immigrant, women, or gay voters if they were not certain their supporters would have little trouble decoding not-so-subtle bigotry and show up at the ballot box to support candidates that shared their bigotry. Subsequently, Republican politicians’ children learned to recognize GOP dog whistles to racists, homophobes, anti-immigrant, and sexist voters and two examples are Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Representative Joe Heck’s (R-NV) sons.

Jeff Flake’s son, Tanner, chose the moniker “n*ggerkiller” for an online game, made comments on YouTube freely using the n-word, referred to Mexican Americans as “the scum of the Earth,” and used “f*ggot” and “Jew” freely on social media outlet Twitter. Heck’s son, Joey, revealed he learned from Republicans’ coded bigotry and used words such as “f*ggot” and “n*gga,” and demeaned Mexican Americans claiming New York Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez “can hop the border faster than he can throw the ball.” He also parroted Republican anti-gay rhetoric that, “there are gays everywhere. Maybe that’s god’s way of thinning the population because faggots can’t have babies.” The young Heck also assailed presidential debate moderator Martha Raddatz as unqualified because of her gender, and that Willard Romney “made Barack Obama his ‘slave.’” He also asserted President Obama was “promoting the sports of spear chucking and rock skipping; sports they do in his home country.”  Now, it is impossible to know for sure whether Flake and Heck’s sons learned their bigotry while campaigning with their dad’s or in the backyard playing catch, but they certainly noticed the dog whistles the fathers’ party used during the 2012 campaign.

Republicans made frequent use of terms their constituency understood to demean African Americans and minorities with words such as “illegals,” Newt Gingrich decrying Obama as the “food stamp President,” Romney claiming Obama supporters want “handouts,” and “welfare;” especially during the Republican primaries in Southern states.  Although not repeated openly by Republicans in Congress, GOP leaders never tamped down claims by right-wing conspiracy theorists questioning the President’s citizenship, or assertions he was a “Muslim, power-mad socialist, dumb affirmative-action baby,” or that he won the presidency because of promotion by “a race-crazed, condescending liberal elite.” In a more direct form of racial animus, Republicans at all levels have been exposed for sending racist emails they dismissed as “politically inspired jokes” and never racially insensitive. It is likely that after four years of Republican propaganda, the racial hostility targeting the President did rub off on Flake and Heck’s sons, and it seems obvious they failed to condemn the racial animus at home or their children would not feel comfortable spreading hate on visibly open social media forums that were sure to be exposed.

It is entirely possible that Senator Flake and Representative Heck are not bigots in Republican ranks, and it is true their supporters do not define the politicians, but it is curious they never condemned the racial animus of their supporters. Republican fathers must understand that every time they address supporters decrying the gay threat, lazy African Americans stealing wealth from white people, immigrants polluting America, and the African

American President who “needs to learn to be an American,” their children standing behind them absorb every word as gospel. Perhaps men like Flake and Heck spent quality time teaching their sons that part of campaigning is repeating bigoted rhetoric and just politics as usual and not their true sentiments, but based on their sons’ openly bigoted remarks, it is doubtful they were doing anything but parroting what they spent their short lives learning at home and on the campaign trail.

It is truly tragic that the majority of bigotry both adults and children express openly was passed down from father, and mother, to children over generations. Children are not naturally bigoted, prejudiced, or full of hate, but they are natural sponges and they pick up every bigoted remark their parents utter whether it is demeaning gays, minorities, or a religion other than Christianity. Politicians’ children are not immune from their fathers’ rhetoric, and neither are children of parents parroting demeaning remarks made during the long and perpetual campaigns Americans suffer through. The Republican Party is guilty of perpetuating racial animus, anti-gay sentiments, and the hateful intolerance toward immigrants to garner support from the current and next generation of bigoted voters. Fathers cannot control what Republican politicians do in words and deeds, but they can shield their sons and daughters from their bigoted rhetoric; unless they are Republican politicians themselves and in that case, they have already programmed the next generation of bigots. Happy Father’s Day.


This Is What Happens When Common Sense Invades the Republican Party

By: Black Liberal Boomer
Jun. 14th, 2013

Being found in possession of even a sliver of conscience and an ounce of common sense is proving to be a serious liability for certain Republican leaders.

You may have seen the stories in recent weeks about how Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer are both throwing their political weight behind Medicaid expansion – and thereby helping thousands of poor people in their states and cooperating with the sin of Obamacare at the same time  - which has put them in direct head-to-head conflict with the frustrated wishes of those perpetual ankle biters we all know and love so well known as the Tea Party.

This is a rather comical dilemma to observe to anyone who is even remotely familiar with these two political characters. Brewer, of course, is now known for being the disrespectful little twit of a Governor who had the nerve to wag her finger in the face of the President of the United States in front of all available cameras as if he were some sort of errant schoolchild. Tea Party types and other related dimbulbs took great delight in watching Brewer pose as someone who wasn’t afraid to disrespect the nation’s Commander in Chief. As for Snyder, he has gained nationwide recognition – and appreciation from those same Tea Party types – for hijacking democracy in his own state while gleefully ignoring the will of the voters as he works to transform the rights and privileges of his office to better resemble something more befitting the king he believes himself to be.

But now, at this late date, the confounding duo has made the decision to exercise a bit of decency and common sense, possibly hoping against hope that even the Tea Party would be able to understand why denying the benefits of Medicaid to lower income people in their economically troubled states might not be an intelligent decision at this time. But, alas, the Tea Party section of the Republican party is where hope goes to lay down and die.

From the Detroit Free Press:

    As the state House of Representatives begins debating a new Medicaid expansion bill, tea party activists are fighting back.

    A coalition of tea party groups sent an open letter to Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday, saying he risks losing their support for re-election for his embrace of Medicaid expansion as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

    They said that support and his invitation to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to the state to push the expansion, “Is the straw that has broken the camel’s back for grassroots activists and in no way represents conservatives.”

    “Governor Snyder has gone too far by seeking help from one of the most polarizing figures in modern history, a representative of the most destructive American President of our history as a nation,” the letter says.

From Think Progress:

    Brewer is far from the only Republican official to endorse expansion. But the combative governor’s tenacious — and often aggressive — pursuit of expanding Medicaid has taken many political observers by surprise.

    While promoting Medicaid expansion in March, Brewer warned that the “human cost” of failing to expand the program ”can’t be calculated.” At another rally, she sounded defiant in the face of Republican political blowback. “This is a fight worth fighting for. Are we going to win? Darn right, we are going to win,” she told a cheering crowd.

    The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that expanding Medicaid would cut Arizona’s uninsurance by almost a third. That means that about 50,000 poor Arizonans would have access to basic and specialty health care, including diagnostic and clinical services, as well as care for the disabled and the mentally ill.

    Brewer has followed up on her tough rhetoric with action. She recently vetoed five bills in quick succession to show her displeasure with the legislature’s inaction, following through on a threat she made to shut down lawmaking until Medicaid and the budget issue was resolved.

    The arm-twisting appears to have worked, despite sharp criticism from conservatives in her own party. The chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee called Brewer a “rogue governor” in a letter warning Republican state senators not to buck the traditional party line on Medicaid. Tea Party activists have dismissed her actions as “tyranny.”

Stay tuned. This could be fun.


Bill Clinton Brilliantly Eviscerates the Blind Stupidity of The Tea Party

By: Jason Easley
Jun. 14th, 2013

Former President Bill Clinton called out the tea party for discouraging bipartisanship by wanting people to check their brains at the door.


Alex Wagner: Do you think bipartisanship is dead? Governor Christie is going to speak at CGI America. He plays a boardwalk game with President Obama and it is a national issue. They go and tour the state of New Jersey after devastating storms He’s hand-in-glove with the president on recovery efforts and the Republican Party is furious. What is going to happen to Chris Christie when he comes — and again, is pledging to work with the efforts — work in hand with former Democratic president?

President Clinton: Well, it’s interesting. I think in the culture of the Northeast, if you’re a Republican and want to get elect and re-elected, bipartisanship is imperative. In sort of the way we’ve separated out our cultures, in the Deep South and some of the intermountain west, if you want to do that, you get creamed. I mean I saw that this Republican woman who was a third-generation I think owner of a general store that sold guns and had 100% NRA record was the chairman of the committee in the Tennessee legislature that referred a bill to committee, she basically killed the bill for the session that the NRA wanted that said you could carry your loaded concealed weapon anywhere and leave it in any parking lot. Any parking lot at all. And they ran pictures of her and her district with President Obama and beat her by 16 points in the primary. In other words, they’re basically trying to get everybody to check their brain at the door.

Bob English got beat in South Carolina because he said he realized he didn’t have to hate the president to disagree with him. And that global warming was real. Boy, those were non-starters. He gets beat more than 2 – 1 in the primary. So there are cultures in which this is happening.

But in the end, this constant conflict, this ideological war, is wildly ineffective at getting anything done. It won’t work in the modern world. So I think that where bipartisanship is possible, you just have to keep working on it. Congress cannot function. Part of this, to be fair, it is reapportionment. but a part of it is, look at the media. Why are you successful? Finally people think we’ve got an answer to Fox. Why are all these things being broken up in niche networks? We’re sorting ourselves out by what we believe. I tell everybody now it is America’s last remaining bigotry. We’re less racist, sexist, homophobic than we used to be. We just don’t want to be around anybody that disagrees with us.

Notice that Clinton mentioned two examples where more extreme right wingers punished Republicans for daring to express bipartisan thoughts or defying the will of the NRA. The same closed mindedness also exists on the extreme left, but the difference is that the far left doesn’t primary Democrats who they feel run afoul of their agenda.

President Obama and congressional Democrats spent years reaching out to Republicans in a bipartisan way. Their efforts were regularly rebuffed by congressional Republicans who are terrified that any expression of bipartisanship will get them primaried.

The main reason why the far right has been able to kill bipartisanship is that the Republican Party has gotten smaller. Reagan’s big tent has been replaced with a one idea pup tent. Chris Christie stands out because he is one of the last of an endangered species. He is a Republican that will express the occasional bipartisan thought.

Too much ideological rigidity is a bad thing. I cringe every time Obama offers to compromise with Republicans and the far left goes on their tea partylike rant about how the president is caving. Politics shouldn’t viewed as the zero sum game that many see it as today. President Clinton understands the problem and the solution. The hard part is going to be getting the country back to where it needs to be.

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06/17/2013 06:09 PM

Obama's Soft Totalitarianism: Europe Must Protect Itself from America

A Commentary by Jakob Augstein

Is Barack Obama a friend? Revelations about his government's vast spying program call that assumption into doubt. The European Union must protect the Continent from America's reach for omnipotence.

On Tuesday, Barack Obama is coming to Germany. But who, really, will be visiting? He is the 44th president of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. He is an intelligent lawyer. And he is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

But is he a friend? The revelations brought to us by IT expert Edward Snowden have made certain what paranoid computer geeks and left-wing conspiracy theorists have long claimed: that we are being watched. All the time and everywhere. And it is the Americans who are doing the watching.

On Tuesday, the head of the largest and most all-encompassing surveillance system ever invented is coming for a visit. If Barack Obama is our friend, then we really don't need to be terribly worried about our enemies.

It is embarrassing: Barack Obama will be arriving in Berlin for only the second time, but his visit is coming just as we are learning that the US president is a snoop on a colossal scale. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that she will speak to the president about the surveillance program run by the National Security Agency, and the Berlin Interior Ministry has sent a set of 16 questions to the US Embassy. But Obama need not be afraid. German Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich, to be sure, did say: "That's not how you treat friends." But he wasn't referring to the fact that our trans-Atlantic friends were spying on us. Rather, he meant the criticism of that spying.

Friedrich's reaction is only paradoxical on the surface and can be explained by looking at geopolitical realities. The US is, for the time being, the only global power -- and as such it is the only truly sovereign state in existence. All others are dependent -- either as enemies or allies. And because most prefer to be allies, politicians -- Germany's included -- prefer to grin and bear it.

'It's Legal'

German citizens should be able to expect that their government will protect them from spying by foreign governments. But the German interior minister says instead: "We are grateful for the excellent cooperation with US secret services." Friedrich didn't even try to cover up his own incompetence on the surveillance issue. "Everything we know about it, we have learned from the media," he said. The head of the country's domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, was not any more enlightened. "I didn't know anything about it," he said. And Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was also apparently in the dark. "These reports are extremely unsettling," she said.

With all due respect: These are the people who are supposed to be protecting our rights? If it wasn't so frightening, it would be absurd.

Friedrich's quote from the weekend was particularly quaint: "I have no reason to doubt that the US respects rights and the law." Yet in a way, he is right. The problem is not the violation of certain laws. Rather, in the US the laws themselves are the problem. The NSA, in fact, didn't even overreach its own authority when it sucked up 97 billion pieces of data in one single 30-day period last March. Rather, it was acting on the orders of the entire US government, including the executive, legislative and judicial branches, the Democrats, the Republicans, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Supreme Court. They are all in favor. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, merely shrugged her shoulders and said: "It's legal."

A Monitored Human Being Is Not a Free One

What, exactly, is the purpose of the National Security Agency? Security, as its name might suggest? No matter in what system or to what purpose: A monitored human being is not a free human being. And every state that systematically contravenes human rights, even in the alleged service of security, is acting criminally.

Those who believed that drone attacks in Pakistan or the camp at Guantanamo were merely regrettable events at the end of the world should stop to reflect. Those who still believed that the torture at Abu Ghraib or that the waterboarding in CIA prisons had nothing to do with them, are now changing their views. Those who thought that we are on the good side and that it is others who are stomping all over human rights are now opening their eyes. A regime is ruling in the United States today that acts in totalitarian ways when it comes to its claim to total control. Soft totalitarianism is still totalitarianism.

We're currently in the midst of a European crisis. But this unexpected flare-up of American imperialism serves as a reminder of the necessity for Europe. Does anyone seriously believe that Obama will ensure the chancellor and her interior minister that the American authorities will respect the rights of German citizens in the future? Only Europe can break the American fantasy of omnipotence. One option would be for Europe to build its own system of networks to prevent American surveillance. Journalist Frank Schirrmacher of the respected Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper recommended that over the weekend. "It would require subsidies and a vision as big as the moon landing," he argues.

A simpler approach would be to just force American firms to respect European laws. The European Commission has the ability to do that. The draft for a new data privacy directive has already been presented. It just has to be implemented. Once that happens, American secret services might still be able to walk all over European law, but if US Internet giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook want to continue making money off of a half-billion Europeans, then they will have to abide by our laws. Under the new law, companies caught passing on data in ways not permitted are forced to pay fines. You can be sure that these companies would in turn apply pressure to their own government. The proposal envisions setting that fine at 2 percent of a company's worldwide revenues.


06/17/2013 01:46 PM

The German Prism: Berlin Wants to Spy Too


The German government has been largely silent on revelations of US Internet spying. Berlin profits from the program and is pursuing similar plans.

Just a few days ago, the man whom many Germans now see as one of the greatest villains in the world visited Berlin. Keith Alexander, the head of the world's most powerful intelligence operation, the National Security Agency (NSA), had arranged meetings with important representatives of the German government, including top-ranking officials in Germany's intelligence agencies and leading representatives of the Chancellery and the Interior Ministry.

Alexander gave his usual presentation about how the world could be more effectively spied on and allegedly made safer. At such presentations, the NSA chief likes to extol the virtues of his agency's "incredible technical expertise," and he urges allies to invest more in controlling and monitoring today's new technologies. Alexander maintains there has to be more intensive surveillance of the Internet.

But while they were still chatting about the Internet in Berlin government offices, news stories were breaking around the world that Alexander's NSA may already have the Web firmly under its control. A former US intelligence official named Edward Snowden had leaked information to the press on the virtually all-encompassing Prism online surveillance program.

The world soon learned that Alexander's NSA, with the help of direct access to the servers of US Internet giants, is able to secretly read, record and store nearly every type of digital communication worldwide. The public also discovered that the Americans have a preference for spying on Germany -- more so than on any other country in Europe. During the days of the Cold War, when Germans referred to the US as "big brother" it had a positive connotation. Now, that term has an entirely different meaning.

Snowden's leak raises important questions: How much surveillance of the Internet is a free society willing or able to tolerate? Does the fear of attacks justify a comprehensive monitoring of e-mails, search queries on Google and conversations on Skype? And can a country like Germany allow its citizens to be spied on by another country?

'The State Cannot Look Away'

Surveillance cannot be based on blind faith in a democracy, but rather on a wide degree of acceptance by informed citizens, politicians and allied countries. This is by no means the case with Prism.

There are plenty of reasons to venture a confrontation with the Americans over this issue, particularly in Germany, where there has been a greater awareness of the importance of data protection than elsewhere in the world, and where citizens have engaged in heated debates over routine data collection efforts such as the national census.

"When foreign agencies infringe upon fundamental rights on German territory, the state cannot look away," says Dieter Deiseroth, a judge at Germany's Federal Administrative Court. "Accepting the massive collection of private information would be a serious violation of the principle that every state has to defend such rights," he contends.

Will Revelations Disrupt Obama Visit?

Yet the German government and German intelligence agencies are reacting in such a blasé manner to the intrigues of their visitor from the NSA that it's as if they have been told something as banal as the notion that English is "de facto" the official language of the US.

The revelations appeared to be unpleasant for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was presumably concerned that the news could disrupt this week's carefully choreographed visit to Berlin by US President Barack Obama. During an internal discussion, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert reacted almost indignantly when the Justice Ministry urged an inquiry into the matter -- the only German ministry to make such a demand. Publicly, though, Seibert merely said that this "annoying" matter had to be thoroughly examined and that this review process remained ongoing. Furthermore, the Interior Ministry announced that it was discussing the issue with US agencies. Genuine concern would have sounded different.

Why is the German government reacting so calmly to something that it should find alarming? Perhaps because these revelations are nothing new for it? Because the Germans would like to enjoy the same capabilities that Prism affords the Americans? Or because our friends from the other side of the Atlantic so readily share their knowledge about the world and its villains with us?

Germans Would Like To Spy More

All of these motives probably play a role. The truth is that the Germans would love to be able to engage in more online espionage. Until now, the only thing missing has been the means to do so. Consequently, an outraged reaction from Berlin would have seemed fairly hypocritical.

Roughly half a dozen countries maintain intelligence agencies like the NSA that operate on a global scale. In addition to the Americans, this includes the Russians, Chinese, British, French and -- to a lesser extent -- Israelis and Germans. They have all placed the Internet at the heart of their surveillance operations. The vision of a wildly proliferating, grassroots, democratic Internet with totally secluded niches has long since become a thing of the past. Tomorrow's world is a digital habitat where even the most far-flung corners are exposed to outside eyes, and where everything can be stored for posterity -- and actually is stored, as with Prism.

What is surprising about the NSA's program is its size and professionalism. The objective here is also shared by agencies in other countries, above all the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence agency, which is currently significantly extending its capabilities. Last year, BND head Gerhard Schindler told the Confidential Committee of the German parliament, the Bundestag, about a secret program that, in his opinion, would make his agency a major international player. Schindler said the BND wanted to invest €100 million ($133 million) over the coming five years. The money is to finance up to 100 new jobs in the technical surveillance department, along with enhanced computing capacities. This may sound like a pauper's version of the Prism program, but it represents one of the most ambitious modernization projects in the BND's history, and has been given the ambitious German name Technikaufwuchsprogramm (literally "Technological Coming-of-Age Program").

Germany 's Mini-NSA

By the end of 2018, the German agency intends to become a kind of mini-NSA and finally be able to compete in the global espionage business. Legislators have already approved €5 million for 2014, but are still wrangling over the rest of the funding.

"Of course our intelligence agencies also have to be present on the Internet," says Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU). "It is unacceptable that criminals are arming themselves technologically, using the Internet more and more efficiently -- and we, the state, can do nothing to stop them," says Friedrich, adding that the German government has to ensure "that we use new legal and technological approaches to compensate for our dwindling control over communications among criminals."

Until now, the monitoring capabilities of the BND have been much more modest than those of its big brother, the NSA, but they basically work according to the same principles. At key junctions for digital traffic in the country, the German foreign intelligence agency has set up its own technical accesses. They work like a police inspection on the Autobahn: A portion of the data stream is diverted to a parking lot and checked. Copies of the flagged-down data are directly forwarded to BND headquarters in Pullach, near Munich, where they are more carefully examined.

The largest traffic control takes place in Frankfurt, in a data processing center owned by the Association of the German Internet Industry. Via this hub, the largest in Europe, e-mails, phone calls, Skype conversations and text messages flow from regions that interest the BND like Russia and Eastern Europe, along with crisis areas like Somalia, countries in the Middle East, and states like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

German law allows the BND to monitor any form of communication that has a foreign element, be it a mobile phone conversation, a Facebook chat or an exchange via AOL Messenger. For the purposes of "strategic communications surveillance," the foreign intelligence agency is allowed to copy and review 20 percent of this data traffic. There is even a regulation requiring German providers "to maintain a complete copy of the telecommunications."

A Daunting Wealth of Information

In contrast to the NSA, though, the German intelligence agency has been overwhelmed by this daunting wealth of information. Last year, it monitored just under 5 percent, roughly every 20th phone call, every 20th e-mail and every 20th Facebook exchange. In the year 2011, the BND used over 16,000 search words to fish in this data stream. According to BND experts, over 90 percent of these are "formal" search criteria like phone numbers, e-mail addresses and IP addresses that lead to mobile phones and computers owned by private Internet users or companies that the BND suspects of engaging in illegal activities.

German Internet surfers are officially off-limits. If e-mail addresses surface that end in ".de" (for Germany), they have to be erased. The international dialing code for Germany, 0049, and IP addresses that were apparently given to customers in Germany also pass through the net. The idea here is to avoid infringing upon civil rights that are guaranteed in Germany -- analogous to the US, where the full weight of the surveillance state should not fall on its own citizens, but rather on foreigners.

During day-to-day Internet usage, though, it's hard to differentiate between "German" and "non-German." At first glance, it's not evident where users live whose information is saved by Yahoo, Google or Apple. And how are the agencies supposed to spot a Taliban commander who has acquired an email address with German provider GMX? Meanwhile, the status of Facebook chats and conversations on Skype remains completely unclear.

Following the use of this initial, loosely-woven net, BND investigators cast a finer one. Now, they are looking for concrete keywords. If anything touching on the area of proliferation comes up, for instance, the computer system sounds an alarm, such as when the names of certain chemicals are mentioned, or ingredients that Iran could use in its nuclear program. In recent years, BND officials have continuously refined their investigative methods. In 2010, the BND read some 37 million e-mails, including a torrent of spam. The fine-tuning was somewhat better in 2011, when only 2.9 million e-mails were caught in the net. Last year, only roughly 900,000 e-mails were diverted. While the Germans only sift through and evaluate a portion of the intercepted communication, and store just a fraction of this as relevant, the Americans collect everything, at least according to the recent leaks. In the US the basic principle appears to be that stored data is good data. Data protection authorities say that this basically flies in the face of the right to "informational self-determination."

Indignation Muted

Nevertheless, the official indignation over Prism has remained largely muted, partly because German authorities often benefit from the Americans' secrets. Information from the NSA has played a role in nearly every major German terrorist case over the past decade. For example, it helped lead to the arrest and conviction of the would-be terrorists in Germany's so-called "Sauerland cell," led by Fritz Gelowicz. In 2006, the NSA intercepted email traffic between Germany and Pakistan. The trail led to a group of German Islamists who were planning deadly bomb attacks in Germany.

All of this is vaguely reminiscent of the CIA's practice of torturing terror suspects. German intelligence agencies gladly accepted the results of "enhanced interrogation techniques," even if they preferred not to know exactly how this information was obtained.

The importance of the NSA to the German government was exemplified not only by agency head Alexander's stopover at the Chancellery, but also by a longer visit by German Interior Minister Friedrich at NSA headquarters in early May.

Still, one has to wonder whether the German government shouldn't better protect its citizens against foreign intelligence agencies like the NSA -- and whether it shouldn't at least show a modicum of interest in its secret programs.

Only One German Minister Criticizes Prism

"There are more questions than answers," says German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party. In a letter sent to European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding, she wrote that the alarming news had "sparked concern and indignation" in Germany. So far, though, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger is the only member of the government to openly criticize the NSA practices. "President Obama has to provide a clarification," she says. "I am sure that Chancellor Merkel will ask some critical questions of Obama," she concludes.

Merkel could ask, for instance, why Europe's economic powerhouse is subjected to a similar degree of scrutiny as leading autocracies like China and Iran -- and what the legal basis for this is. She could also ask why the NSA monitors no other European country more intensively than its loyal ally Germany.

In any case, she will have to ask better questions than those posed by Cornelia Rogall-Grothe, a state secretary in the German Interior Ministry, who wrote last Tuesday on behalf of her ministry to the US Embassy in Berlin. Her queries read like an official declaration of helplessness -- or routine devotion to duty. "Are US agencies running a program or computer system with the name Prism?," the Interior Ministry official asked. She could have also asked if New York was located in the US. It sounded like a clueless request from the German government.

A Blind Eye

This attitude has a long tradition. When it comes to the thorny issue of American surveillance of German citizens, German politicians have never been courageous. Claus Arndt is a legal expert who served from 1968 to 1999 on the Bundestag's G-10 Commission, which decides on surveillance measures by intelligence agencies. He says that top politicians have never made an issue of surveillance by the Americans, and that they all "did their best to stick their heads in the sand." Perhaps it is this sense of fatalism that still influences certain government representatives today.

The special relationship between both countries dates back to the days of the Cold War. The Federal Republic of Germany had the Americans to thank for its security, if not for its very existence. In return, the authorities tended to turn a blind eye when American intelligence agencies operated on German soil. During this period, the allies secured wide-ranging surveillance rights in Germany, many of which are still valid today.

The Germans only objected when the Americans became far too brazen. Prior to the visit of US President Gerald Ford in Bonn in 1975, a team from the US intelligence agency insisted that it had to check that everything was in order at Palais Schaumburg, the former Chancellery, to ensure the president's safety. But then two men were caught fiddling with the phone lines. The head of the Chancellery threw the men out of the building.

But kicking someone out the door has become considerably more difficult in this age of online espionage. What's more, it requires wanting to eject someone in the first place.


Edward Snowden: the truth about US surveillance will emerge

In a live chat with Guardian readers, NSA whistleblower says US leaders cannot 'cover this up by jailing or murdering me'

Ewen MacAskill in New York
The Guardian, Monday 17 June 2013 07.27 BST   

The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has warned that the truth about the extent of surveillance carried out by US authorities would emerge, even if he was eventually silenced.

In a live Q&A with Guardian readers from a secret location in Hong Kong, Snowden hinted at more disclosures to come and that their publication could not be prevented by his arrest or – more chillingly – his death.

Answering a ­question about whether he had more secret material, the 29-year-old former National Security Agency contractor wrote: "All I can say right now is the US government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or ­murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped."

Snowden, who is hiding in a safe house in Hong Kong, where he remains free despite admitting to the biggest leak of US secrets in a generation, spent nearly two hours taking questions on the Guardian website. His discussed issues ranging from why he picked a Chinese-controlled territory as his hideout to his specific concerns about the Obama administration. He also clarified questions about his salary at Booz Allen Hamilton and the the extent of access he had as a contractor for the NSA.

With opinion in the US divided between those who see him as a traitor and those who view him as a hero, Snowden said he fled the country because he did not believe he had a chance of a fair trial.

"The US government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime. That's not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it," he said.

Snowden, whose leaked documents opened a debate about the balance between intrusive government surveillance versus security, does not regard himself as having committed a crime but instead as the person exposing alleged criminality on the part of the Obama administration.

In the Q&A session, Snowden said he had initially been encouraged by the public response. "Unfortunately, the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history," he said.

Snowden emphatically denied speculation that he had cut a deal with the Chinese government, giving them classified documents in exchange for providing him with an eventual safe haven. In the most colourful quote of the interview, he said: "Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now."

He claimed that he had not revealed documents about US operations about legitimate military targets. Snowden said he had focused instead on operations that targeted civilian infrastructure: universities, hospitals and private businesses. "These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target … Congress hasn't declared war on the countries – the majority of them are our allies – but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people."

Snowden, who spent a decade working with various defence contractors on secondment to the CIA and the NSA as a communications specialist, reiterated that he had delayed going public because of his hope that Barack Obama's election would mark a sea change but he had ended up disillusioned.

"Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantánamo, where men still sit without charge," he said.

During interviews in Hong Kong, Snowden expressed a desire once he had gone underground to speak directly to the public through a Q&A.

His choice of Hong Kong has left many puzzled, especially as he could have opted to fly direct to Iceland, which he said was his preferred asylum option and whose legislators have emerged as strong supporters of online freedom and whistleblowing.

Explaining his reasoning, Snowden said it had been risky for him to leave the US, as NSA employees have to declare foreign travel 30 days in advance. "Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current US administration," he said.

Snowden said he had chosen Hong Kong as a based because it provided a "cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained".

Addressing the backlash against him in the US, Snowden said much of it was predictable. He said: "It's important to bear in mind I'm being called a traitor by men like former vice president Dick Cheney. This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead. Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American."

Snowden also clarified a point about his salary, which he had put in an earlier interview at $200,000. His last employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, said he made $122,000 a year. Snowden, who held a number of posts in recent years, said $200,000 was a "salary high" and that he had taken a pay cut to work at Booz Allen.


Edward Snowden 'not a Chinese spy' - Beijing

Remarks follow accusation from Dick Cheney that whistleblower was a 'traitor' who may have had connection with China

Tania Branigan in Hong Kong, Monday 17 June 2013 13.14 BST   

China's foreign ministry has dismissed speculation that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden might have spied for Beijing as "completely groundless".

Spokeswoman Hua Chunying, speaking at a regular press briefing on Monday, also urged the US to "pay attention to the international community's concerns and demands and give … the necessary explanation" of its surveillance activities.

Her remarks were in response to questions from two state media organisations. She had previously declined to comment on the 29-year-old's case, or his claims that the US had hacked targets in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland.

On Sunday former US vice president Dick Cheney told Fox News that Snowden was a "traitor" and questioned his decision to travel to Hong Kong.

"I'm suspicious because he went to China. That's not a place where you would ordinarily want to go if you are interested in freedom, liberty and so forth," Cheney said, adding: "It raises questions whether or not he had that kind of connection before he did this."

Cheney suggested that Snowden could still have confidential data and that the Chinese would "probably be willing to provide immunity for him or sanctuary for him in exchange for what he presumably knows or doesn't know".

Others have suggested that, if anything, Beijing could lean on the Hong Kong government to return him to the US for the sake of bilateral relations.

Hong Kong is part of China but enjoys considerable autonomy under the "one country, two systems" framework. Snowden told the Guardian he chose to go there because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent", and he believed it was one of the few places that could resist the US government.

But he also noted: "I think it is really tragic that an American has to move to a place that has a reputation for less freedom. Still, Hong Kong has a reputation for freedom in spite of the People's Republic of China."

He checked out of a hotel there to move to an unknown location last Monday, but told the South China Morning Post last week that he would stay and fight any request for his surrender in the territory's courts.

"I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American," he told the paper.

Any surrender request would normally be the decision of the Hong Kong government, but Snowden would be able to challenge it through the territory's legal system. However, lawyers think he would probably be unsuccessful in the end. In theory, Beijing could step in to stop him being sent back, but it would be unlikely to relish an all-out public row with the US.

Earlier on Monday, the populist state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said that agreeing to surrender Snowden to the US "would be a face-losing outcome for both the Hong Kong SAR [special administrative region] government and the Chinese central government".

It added: "Unlike a common criminal, Snowden did not hurt anybody. His 'crime' is that he blew the whistle on the US government's violation of civil rights.

"Extraditing Snowden back to the US would not only be a betrayal of Snowden's trust, but a disappointment for expectations around the world. The image of Hong Kong would be forever tarnished."

The newspaper does not represent the official voice of the government and often runs provocative material such as hawkish military commentaries.

But after years of criticism from the US over its human rights abuses and more recently hacking, Beijing appears to be enjoying its opportunity to turn the tables, with extensive coverage of the growing controversy over US surveillance on television and websites and in newspaper commentaries.

According to the latest revelations from top secret documents uncovered by Snowden and seen by the Guardian, British intelligence agencies intercepted the communications of foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009.


Obama defends 'system of checks and balances' around NSA surveillance

Addressing leaked NSA files, president says Department of Justice is investigating 'possible extradition' of Edward Snowden

Ewen MacAskill in New York, Monday 17 June 2013 23.33 BST   

Barack Obama addressed what he described as the public "ruckus" over the leaked National Security Agency surveillance documents on Monday, indicating that the US authorities would pursue extradition from Hong Kong of the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In his first public comments in 10 days about the NSA disclosures, Obama also said he had set an oversight board made up of independent citizens and the ordered the declassification of documents relating to surveillance to allow the public to see the broader context.

The president, who is attending the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, was speaking on PBS's Charlie Rose programme. Asked about Snowden, who remains free in Hong Kong and who took part in an online Guardian Q&A on Monday, the president said: "The case has been referred to the DOJ for criminal investigation … and possible extradition. I will leave it up to them to answer those questions."

Any request for extradition – technically a "surrender" in Hong Kong – would normally be the decision of the territory's government. Snowden would be able to challenge it through the Hong Kong legal system, although lawyers think he would probably be unsuccessful in the end. In theory, Beijing could step in to stop him being sent back, but it would be unlikely to relish an all-out public row with the US. Obama did not offer any more details about the process in his PBS interview.

Instead, he addressed criticism that he has shifted a long way from the liberal positions he championed during his 2008 White House race, and denied that he had adopted the surveillance regime put in place by the previous administration "lock, stock and barrel". Obama said: "My concern has always been not that we shouldn't do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances."

The president it was a "false choice" to say that American freedoms needed to be sacrificed in the goal of national security. "That doesn't mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program, in any given action that we take. So all of us make a decision that we go through a whole bunch of security at airports, which when we were growing up that wasn't the case … To say there's a tradeoff doesn't mean somehow that we've abandoned freedom." He added that it was his job to "make sure that we're making the right tradeoffs".

Obama praised the professionalism of the NSA and insisted that it did not listen to the phone calls or read the emails of US citizens. Only the FBI had that power, and then only with a warrant.

The president conceded that while he was confident the necessary system of checks and balances was in place, the public might not fully be aware of this. "What I've asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program."

He also disclosed that he had set up an "oversight board" to examine the issues of privacy. "I've stood up a privacy and civil liberties oversight board, made up of independent citizens including some fierce civil libertarians. I'll be meeting with them." He did not give any further details about the board.


Iceland: ‘Ministers do not respond to Snowden’s request’

18 June 2013

Whistleblower Edward Snowden, who revealed the vast extent of US monitoring of Internet communications, has asked for political asylum in Iceland.

His request was submitted by Kristinn Hrafnsson, the WikiLeaks spokesman on the island, however, in the columns of Fréttablaðið, the journalist explains that neither the prime minister or the interior minister have yet to respond.

To pursue his application, Snowden will have to be present on Icelandic territory, explains Fréttablaðið. As it stands, the former CIA employee is still in Hong Kong.


Yahoo reveals US surveillance requests

Company follows Facebook, Microsoft and Apple in publishing details of data requests from law enforcement agencies

Stuart Dredge, Tuesday 18 June 2013 08.39 BST   

Yahoo has joined the increasing number of technology companies publishing details of how many requests US law enforcement agencies have made for data on their users.

The company gave more details of its dealings with US authorities as it sought to reassure customers in the wake of the scandal surrounding the National Security Agency's Prism surveillance programme.

A blogpost co-signed by Yahoo's chief executive, Marissa Mayer, and general counsel, Ron Bell covers the same period as Apple's disclosure earlier in the week: 1 December 2012 to 31 May 2013.

"During that time period, we received between 12,000 and 13,000 requests, inclusive of criminal, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and other requests," they wrote. "The most common of these requests concerned fraud, homicides, kidnappings, and other criminal investigations."

Mayer and Bell stated that they were legally unable to publish details of request numbers under the FISA. "We strongly urge the federal government to reconsider its stance on this issue," they wrote, before outlining plans for more transparency about the data Yahoo shares with law enforcement agencies.

"Democracy demands accountability. Recognising the important role that Yahoo! can play in ensuring accountability, we will issue later this summer our first global law enforcement transparency report, which will cover the first half of the year. We will refresh this report with current statistics twice a year."

Yahoo's disclosure of US requests between 1 December 2012 and 31 May 2013 can be compared directly with that of Apple, which said on Monday that it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from federal, state and local authorities in that time period.

Facebook and Microsoft's disclosures covered a different period: the second half of 2012. Facebook said it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests in that six-month period, while Microsoft said it received between 6,000 and 7,000.

All the companies are fighting hard to regain any trust lost with their users since the Guardian broke the news of the NSA's Prism programme. Their initial public responses focused on denying all knowledge of any programme giving the NSA direct access to their servers.

In recent days, their strategy has shifted to espousing transparency by publishing their US request figures, while seeking to stress that they push back against requests they see as inappropriate.

When Facebook's published its requests data, the general counsel, Ted Ullyot, wrote: "We aggressively protect our users' data when confronted with such requests: we frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested".

Apple's statement said: "Regardless of the circumstances, our legal team conducts an evaluation of each request and, only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities. In fact, from time to time when we see inconsistencies or inaccuracies in a request, we will refuse to fulfill it."

Yahoo's statement falls into that pattern too. "As always, we will continually evaluate whether further actions can be taken to protect the privacy of our users and our ability to defend it," write Mayer and Bell. "We appreciate – and do not take for granted – the trust you place in us."


Edward Snowden's live Q&A: eight things we learned

Key points from the whistleblower's responses to questions about the NSA leak

Haroon Siddique, Tuesday 18 June 2013 12.47 BST   

On Monday the whistleblower Edward Snowden gave an exclusive live Q&A to the Guardian to answer questions about the biggest intelligence leak in NSA history and revelations about government surveillance. Here are some key things we learned:

1. There is very little information on private individuals the intelligence services cannot get access to

    The reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on – it's all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time. Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications. For at least GCHQ, the number of audited queries is only 5% of those performed …

    If I target for example an email address, for example under FAA 702, and that email address sent something to you, Joe America, the analyst gets it. All of it. IPs, raw data, content, headers, attachments, everything. And it gets saved for a very long time – and can be extended further with waivers rather than warrants.

2. Snowden waited to release the documents, hoping Obama would bring change

    Obama's campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly. Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge.

3. He fears that the US will stop at nothing to silence him

    All I can say right now is the US government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.

4. Snowden is confident he has the public on side

    If the Obama administration responds with an even harsher hand against me, they can be assured that they'll soon find themselves facing an equally harsh public response.

5. But he is less impressed with the media response

    Initially I was very encouraged. Unfortunately, the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history.

6. Encryption offers protection

    Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on. Unfortunately, endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.

7. He isn't too upset about being called a traitor by Dick Cheney

    Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein, and King, the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school.

8. And if Snowden had been planning to defect to China he'd be petting a phoenix right now

    The US media has a knee-jerk 'RED CHINA!' reaction to anything involving HK or the PRC, and is intended to distract from the issue of US government misconduct. Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.

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