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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1083833 times)
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« Reply #7335 on: Jul 05, 2013, 07:12 AM »

The Economist explains

How do you stop an asteroid hitting Earth?

Jul 3rd 2013, 23:50 by T.C.

MOST asteroids in the solar system come nowhere near the Earth, and of those that do, most are so small that they burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere. But, as a report written by America's National Academy of Sciences points out, a big one is almost certain to hit eventually. Depending on how big it is, and where it comes down, it could wipe out a city, a country or possibly even human civilisation. In February the world got a graphic reminder of the risk, when a small rock disintegrated above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, killing nobody but injuring around 1,500 people. That has focused attention on how to protect the Earth from future impacts, because asteroid strikes are one of the few natural disasters that humans have the power to prevent. But how?

Even small asteroids are massive and very fast-moving, so destroying them outright is not a realistic option. Instead, scientists aim to nudge them off course, so that they sail harmlessly past the Earth. To do that, though, they must find them first. NASA, America's space agency, reckons it has found almost all the potentially Earth-threatening asteroids with a diameter of a kilometre or more (big enough to cause global devastation). In 2005 it was given the task of finding 90% of those above 140 metres wide. Other space agencies run similar programmes, and the B612 Foundation, a charity, aims to launch an asteroid-hunting space telescope in 2016. But the smaller an asteroid is, the harder it is to spot. Worse, small ones are more common than big ones, and they can still be dangerous despite their size. Although it was only around 30 metres across, the Chelyabinsk meteorite packed about the same explosive power as a medium-sized nuclear bomb. A telescope being built at the University of Hawaii aims to scan the night sky looking for small rocks that have evaded detection, the idea being to give the authorities enough time to evacuate the target area.

Assuming that a dangerous rock is found, though, there are plenty of options. The one that springs to most people's minds—possibly because it was employed in the films "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon"—is simply to blast the rock with nuclear weapons. That is one of the options being studied by NEOShield, a European Union project that is researching asteroid-deflection. But it is risky. Many asteroids are simply clumps of rock held loosely together by gravity. A nuclear blast might simply split a big asteroid into two medium-sized ones, either or both of which could still hit the Earth. Provided an asteroid is spotted with plenty of time to spare (years or decades, depending on its size), subtler methods may therefore be more reliable. One would be to use a "kinetic impactor", astronomer-speak for ramming the rock with something heavy to knock it off course. An asteroid might also be gently pushed into a less dangerous orbit using a solar sail, a rocket motor or an ion engine. Most graceful of all would be a "gravity tractor", in which a spaceship is flown near the asteroid. Its minuscule gravitational influence would then perturb the rock's orbit enough to ensure that it missed the Earth.

Even after Cheylabinsk, talking about the risk from asteroids is likely to provoke giggles at dinner parties. But with well over a hundred known impact craters on Earth alone, spending a few tens of millions of dollars on asteroid defence looks like a sensible insurance policy. For the truly paranoid, though, there are some space-borne risks that are impossible to insure against. Dangerous asteroids have orbits that frequently bring them close to the Earth, which makes them comparatively easy to spot. That is not true of comets, which zip in and out of the inner solar system on highly elongated orbits. In 1994 the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into Jupiter, leaving an Earth-sized hole in that planet's atmosphere. If such a long-period comet came zooming out of deep space on a collision course with Earth, astronomers would probably have too little warning to do anything about it. The risk of that happening is virtually zero. You are more likely to die in almost any other way you can think of. But if it ever did happen, it really would be Armageddon.

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« Reply #7336 on: Jul 05, 2013, 07:14 AM »

Astronomers finetune search for life on other planets with new water detection technique

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 5, 2013 4:32 EDT

European astronomers said on Friday they had devised a technique to detect water in the atmosphere of planets orbiting other stars.

Using a telescope in Chile, they teased out a tell-tale infra-red signature from water in the atmosphere of a gassy planet called HD 189733b, which orbits its star every two days and is hot enough to melt steel.

The work is another technical breakthrough in the fast-moving field of exoplanet research, they said.

A total of 723 planets have been spotted outside our own Solar System since 1995, according to the website, while NASA ( puts the tally at 879.

Several thousand findings by the specialist Kepler orbital telescope await confirmation.

So far, no exoplanet spotted has the potential to be a home away from home for us humans.

It would have to be a rocky planet, rather than a gas one, orbiting in a balmy zone which would enable water to exist in liquid form and thus nurture life as we know it.

The new technique should aid the search, as it can be used by big telescopes on the ground as well as more expensive ones in orbit, said Jayne Birkby who led a team from Leiden University in the Netherlands.

“We knew our technique worked for simple molecules at shorter wavelengths, but in order to hunt for water, we had to go to longer wavelengths where the Earth’s atmosphere really starts to obstruct the signals we are looking for, so we weren’t sure we would find anything,” she said in a press release.

“Of course we were delighted when we saw the signal jump out at us. It means we can do much more with this technique.”

Birkby was to present the research on Friday at a meeting of Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society in Edinburgh, Scotland, the RAS said.

The team used an instrument called the cryogenic high-resolution infra-red echelle spectrograph, or CRIRES, mounted on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile’s Atacama desert.

“In the next decade our work will help astronomers refine their search for Earth-like planets – and even life – in orbit around other stars,” said Birkby.

“It’s incredibly exciting to think that in my lifetime we will reach a day when we can point up to a star and say with confidence that it has a world just like our own.”

* kepler.afp_-e1324745246340.jpg (48.25 KB, 613x344 - viewed 97 times.)
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« Reply #7337 on: Jul 05, 2013, 07:33 AM »

In the USA...

Privacy group to file Supreme Court petition against NSA surveillance program

By David Ferguson
Thursday, July 4, 2013 21:55 EDT

The Domestic Surveillance Project division of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) announced Thursday that it plans to file a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court (FISC) ruling which authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect metadata on domestic phone calls. According to Think Progress, the privacy rights group intends to file the petition on Monday.

Domestic Surveillance Project Director Amie Stepanovich made the announcement at a Restore the Fourth rally in Washington on Thursday, one of several rallies across the country dedicated to protesting the NSA’s sweeping spying programs and invoke the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Stepanovich told Think Progress after the rally, “EPIC truly believes that this Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court exceeded its authority, is not acting in accordance with the law and needs to be overturned — and cannot be allowed to continue conducting this surveillance.”

EPIC submitted a previous petition to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and NSA Director General Keith Alexander demanding the suspension of the domestic metadata collection program.

“We believe that the NSA’s collection of domestic communications contravenes the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and violates several federal privacy laws, including the Privacy Act of 1974, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 as amended,” reads the petition.

“We hereby petition the National Security Agency, a component of the Department of Defense, for relief,” it continued. “We ask the NSA to immediately suspend collection of solely domestic communications pending the completion of a public rulemaking as required by law. We intend to renew our request each week until we receive your response.”

Other rights agencies have opened legal challenges against the NSA, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who challenged the domestic information gathering program as an infringement upon First Amendment rights of free speech and association, Fourth Amendment privacy protections and that the program exceeds the authority of the Patriot Act.


July 04, 2013 07:00 PM

Postal Service Is Logging All Our Mail for Law Enforcement

By Susie Madrak

Oops! They left out the part where they take a photo of your letter.

So! Our helpful surveillance state is collecting yet another form of metadata, but this one is even easier because it doesn't require asking a judge for permission:

    WASHINGTON — Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: A handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home.

    “Show all mail to supv” — supervisor — “for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green.

    “It was a bit of a shock to see it,” said Mr. Pickering, who owns a small bookstore in Buffalo. More than a decade ago, he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group labeled eco-terrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Postal officials subsequently confirmed they were indeed tracking Mr. Pickering’s mail but told him nothing else.

    As the world focuses on the high-tech spying of the National Security Agency, the misplaced card offers a rare glimpse inside the seemingly low-tech but prevalent snooping of the United States Postal Service.

    Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, but that is only a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

    Together, the two programs show that snail mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.

    The mail covers program, used to monitor Mr. Pickering, is more than a century old but is still considered a powerful tool. At the request of law enforcement officials, postal workers record information from the outside of letters and parcels before they are delivered. (Actually opening the mail requires a warrant.) The information is sent to whatever law enforcement agency asked for it. Tens of thousands of pieces of mail each year undergo this scrutiny.

    [...]“It’s a treasure trove of information,” said James J. Wedick, a former F.B.I. agent who spent 34 years at the agency and who said he used mail covers in a number of investigations, including one that led to the prosecution of several elected officials in California on corruption charges. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”

    But, he said: “It can be easily abused because it’s so easy to use and you don’t have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form.”

    For mail cover requests, law enforcement agencies simply submit a letter to the Postal Service, which can grant or deny a request without judicial review. Law enforcement officials say the Postal Service rarely denies a request. In other government surveillance programs, such as wiretaps, a federal judge must sign off on the requests.


July 4, 2013

Résumé Shows Snowden Honed Hacking Skills


In 2010, while working for a National Security Agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden learned to be a hacker.

He took a course that trains security professionals to think like hackers and understand their techniques, all with the intent of turning out “certified ethical hackers” who can better defend their employers’ networks.

But the certification, listed on a résumé that Mr. Snowden later prepared, would also have given him some of the skills he needed to rummage undetected through N.S.A. computer systems and gather the highly classified surveillance documents that he leaked last month, security experts say.

Mr. Snowden’s résumé, which has not been made public and was described by people who have seen it, provides a new picture of how his skills and responsibilities expanded while he worked as an intelligence contractor. Although federal officials offered only a vague description of him as a “systems administrator,” the résumé suggests that he had transformed himself into the kind of cybersecurity expert the N.S.A. is desperate to recruit, making his decision to release the documents even more embarrassing to the agency.

“If he’s looking inside U.S. government networks for foreign intrusions, he might have very broad access,” said James A. Lewis, a computer security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The hacker got into the storeroom.”

In an age when terabytes of data can be stashed inside palm-size devices, the new details about Mr. Snowden’s training and assignments underscore the challenges that the N.S.A. faces in recruiting a new generation of free-spirited computer experts with diverse political views.

Mr. Snowden, who is now marooned at an airport in Moscow waiting to see if another country will grant him asylum, has said he leaked the documents to alert the public to the sweeping nature of the American government’s surveillance. He took a job as an “infrastructure analyst” with Booz Allen Hamilton in April at an N.S.A. facility in Hawaii, he has said, to gain access to lists of computers that the agency had hacked around the world.

Mr. Snowden prepared the résumé shortly before applying for that job, while he was working in Hawaii for the N.S.A. with Dell, the computer maker, which has intelligence contracts. Little has been reported about his four years with Dell, but his résumé, as described, says that he rose from supervising computer system upgrades for the spy agency in Tokyo to working as a “cyberstrategist” and an “expert in cyber counterintelligence” at several locations in the United States.

In what may have been his last job for Dell in Hawaii, he was responsible for the security of “Windows infrastructure” in the Pacific, he wrote, according to people who have seen his résumé. He had enough access there to start making contacts with journalists in January and February about disclosing delicate information. His work for Dell may also have enabled him to see that he would have even more access at Booz Allen.

Some intelligence experts say that the types of files he improperly downloaded at Booz Allen suggest that he had shifted to the offensive side of electronic spying or cyberwarfare, in which the N.S.A. examines other nations’ computer systems to steal information or to prepare attacks. The N.S.A.’s director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, has encouraged workers to try their skills both defensively and offensively, and moving to offense from defense is a common career pattern, officials say.

Whatever his role, Mr. Snowden’s ability to comb through the networks as a lone wolf — and walk out the door with the documents on thumb drives — shows how the agency’s internal security system has fallen short, former officials say.

“If Visa can call me and say, ‘Are you in Dakar, Senegal?’ when they see a purchase that doesn’t fit my history, then we ought to be able to detect something like this,” said Michael V. Hayden, a former director of the N.S.A. and the C.I.A. “That continuous monitoring does not seem to have been in place.”

But Michael Maloof, a software developer who supplied internal monitoring systems to private companies, said that with Mr. Snowden’s training in hacking, he “would have known to keep his probes low and slow, a little bit here, a little bit there, so there was nothing to detect.”

If alarms went off as he grabbed documents, Mr. Maloof said, Mr. Snowden might have been able to explain away the alerts by saying that he was merely testing the protections as part of his security job.

Mr. Snowden grew up in Baltimore’s southern suburbs, where many of his neighbors would have been tech-savvy N.S.A. employees working at the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade. Conventional schooling did not agree with him, and he dropped out of high school and eventually sought technical training in a series of courses.

As early as 2003, when he was 20, he showed interest in the skills, prized by hackers, required to operate anonymously online. “I wouldn’t want God himself to know where I’ve been, you know?” he, or someone identified as him from his screen name and other details, wrote on a forum on the tech news site Ars Technica.

Three years later, about the time he joined the C.I.A., he had discovered the long list of jobs available to anyone with computer expertise who could pass a detailed “lifestyle” polygraph test and get a security clearance. “If you’re cleared, have a lifestyle, and have specialized I.T. skills, you can go anywhere in the world right now,” he wrote under the screen name TheTrueHOOHA.

By the next year, he was a C.I.A. technician posted in Geneva, operating under cover as a “diplomatic attaché,” as his résumé calls the job. His C.I.A. job appears to have been standard I.T. work, though in an exotic high-security setting.

He was “called upon repeatedly” for TDYs, he wrote, using government jargon for temporary duty, “including support of U.S. president.” That reference, government officials say, is probably related to assistance with computer security or other routine assignments during presidential trips to Europe.

Mr. Snowden said he got “six months of classified technical training,” and he claimed to have served as “technical adviser to 3rd countries across the region,” presumably meaning Europe.

Evidently still in Switzerland in early 2009, Mr. Snowden referred to the United States’ aggressive high-tech spying, but with a sarcastic edge.

“We love that technology,” he wrote in a chat later published by Ars Technica. “Helps us spy on our citizens better.”

By 2010, he had switched agencies and moved to Japan to work for Dell as an N.S.A. contractor, and he led a project to modernize the backup computer infrastructure, he said on the résumé. That year also appears to have been pivotal in his shift toward more sophisticated cybersecurity.

He gained his certification as an “ethical hacker” by studying materials that have helped tens of thousands of government and corporate security workers around the world learn how hackers gain access to systems and cover their tracks.

The program, operated by a company called EC-Council, has a code of honor that requires ethical hackers to keep private any confidential information that they obtain in checking systems for vulnerabilities. Sanjay Bavisi, the company’s president, said he knew of only one person who had lost his certification for making information public.

For years, N.S.A. officials have visited hacker gatherings to promote the agency and recruit workers. General Alexander, the director, gave the keynote address a year ago at Defcon, a large hacker conference, in Las Vegas. But Mr. Snowden’s profile will now be carefully studied by intelligence officials for clues about how to hire skilled young hackers without endangering the agency’s secrets.

John R. Schindler, a former N.S.A. official who now teaches at the Naval War College, said that the background investigation for Mr. Snowden’s security clearance was clearly flawed. “For years, N.S.A. and now the Cyber Command have struggled with how to relate to the hacker community,” he added. “It’s obvious that some sort of arrangement to allow hackers to work for N.S.A. and the intelligence community in a systematic way is needed.”


Delay in Obamacare requirement puts onus on the honor system

By Reuters
Friday, July 5, 2013 5:01 EDT

By Sharon Begley

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Obama administration’s move to delay a key element of healthcare reform has another, unintended, consequence: A crucial part of that reform will depend on consumers observing the honor system, with millions of dollars at stake.

The U.S. government said on Tuesday it would postpone by a year the provision that employers with 50 or more workers provide them with health insurance; the delay is intended to let companies work out how they report their compliance to tax authorities.

Data on what coverage employers offer and what it costs, to be provided to the Internal Revenue Service, is also meant to help verify whether consumers qualify for government subsidies to purchase health insurance on state- and federally run online exchanges that open on October 1. President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform needs millions of people to enroll in coverage sold on the exchanges in their first year in order to work, spreading the financial risk among millions of consumers.

While most of those buyers are expected to be people without insurance, the law lets employees whose workplace offers only “unaffordable” plans – those costing more than 9.5 percent of a worker’s household income – not only sign up for coverage but receive federal subsidies, via tax credits, to pay for it. Those subsidies are expected to be worth some $5,000 per person annually, and before this week’s announcement were expected to total about $23 billion next year.

Just under 26 million Americans are expected to be legitimately eligible for subsidies, estimates Families USA, a nonprofit group that works to expand access to healthcare.

Delaying the “employer mandate” already means the government is giving up potential revenue next year, as businesses whose employees buy subsidized coverage on an Obamacare exchange would be fined $3,000 per person.

In addition, without the reporting requirements of the employer mandate in 2014, “the exchanges and the IRS will not be able to verify whether someone’s coverage is unaffordable” and thus whether the person is eligible for subsidies, said law professor Timothy Jost of Washington and Lee School of Law in Lexington, Virginia.

That leaves it up to individual consumers to be honest about what they do, or do not, qualify for.


“The shift of employees to the exchanges could cost (the government) a boatload,” said Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “Some people who are ineligible for subsidies, because their employer offers affordable insurance, may attempt to get subsidies on the exchanges. The IRS will have a hard time policing that sort of conduct.”

States running their own Obamacare exchanges are scrambling to figure out how to deal with the delay in the employer-reporting requirement.

California, said spokeswoman Anne Gonzales, “was planning to tap into information from large employers to verify employee health coverage. The exchange is currently evaluating how the delay in implementation of the large employer mandate will impact enrollment and verification.”

Of course, a good deal of the information Americans send the IRS, such as the value of the household goods they donated to the Salvation Army, already relies on the honor system.

“Obviously the government has made the decision that they’re willing to live with that,” said Kendra Roberson, a healthcare lawyer at law firm Covington & Burling LLP, referring to an honor system for these aspects of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The honor system may force the government to leave even more money on the table. The law imposes a penalty of $95, or 1 percent of household income, on people who fail to obtain coverage. But those whose employer-sponsored policy is unaffordable – defined as more than 8 percent of household income for purposes of penalty assessment – do not have to pay the penalty even if they do not buy insurance.

To check whether someone is truly exempt, the IRS has to know whether the employer offers coverage and at what price.

“If the IRS doesn’t have information about the plans large employers offer, it will be very hard to verify that. It will be an honor system,” said Michigan’s Bagley. “It could cost the government some money” if individuals elude the penalty through error or dishonesty.


Guantánamo hunger strike: US to force-feed detainees during Ramadan

Government says feedings provide 'essential nutritional and medical care' and will not interfere with religious observance

Karen McVeigh in New York, Wednesday 3 July 2013 22.18 BST   

The US government has refused to stop force-feeding detainees on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay during the holy month of Ramadan.

In court papers rejecting a petition by four of more than 100 detainees said to be refusing food, the US said the feedings provided "essential nutritional and medical care" and would not interfere with religious observance of Ramadan, which begins on Monday.

Observant Muslims fast daily from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. Lawyers for President Obama also said that the "public interest lies with maintaining the status quo".

Last month, Obama gave a speech in which he promised to work towards closing the base, and to allow the release of many of the 86 prisoners held there who have been cleared for transfer. He described the camp as a moral problem for the nation that had to be solved.

The feeding of detainees, via neogastric tube, will be carried out by the facility "before dusk and after sunset in order to accommodate their religious practices", they said, "absent any unforeseen emergency or operational issues".

Colonel Greg Julian, director of public affairs for US southern command, said: "We do not force-feed observant Muslims during daylight hours during Ramadan. These policies have been in place for years, and are consistent with our mission to safely detain while supporting the religious practices of those in US custody. If told to do differently, we will do so."

Government lawyers said that enteral or force feeding is authorised by federal regulations when a prisoner's life or permanent health is in danger, and is related to "preserving order security and discipline within the detention facility", according to court documents in the case.

US government lawyers also argued that the detainees bringing the case, Shaker Aamer, Nabil Hadjarab, Ahmed Belbacha and Abu Wa'el Dhiab, are not "persons" under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and are therefore not protected under it.

A group of detainees began a hunger strike in February this year, in protest at their detention. Some have been detained without trial for more than a decade. It also highlights Obama's failure to deliver a 2008 campaign pledge to close the camp.

Aamar, who has spent 11 years without trial at the camp, despite being twice cleared for release, recently spoke of increasingly brutal tactics being used in an attempt to break the strike.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the US, reiterated its call on Monday for the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to stop.

Lawyers for the detainees described the tube feeding as "barbaric" and hit out at the failure of the US government to provide a specific guarantee that no feeding would happen during the day.

Cori Crider, counsel for the men and strategy director at Reprieve, said: "These are more weasel words from the Obama administration – they say they have 'no plans' to force-feed during the day in Ramadan, but give no guarantees. Meanwhile, on the eve of Independence Day, they ride rough-shod over the fundamental right of people to choose what goes into their bodies. "

Jon Eisenberg, US counsel for the men, said: "The Obama administration argues here that 'the public interest lies with maintaining the status quo'. The status quo is that these men are being held indefinitely without any sort of trial, even though they were cleared for release years ago."

"Consider the irony of the Obama administration arguing here that the Guantánamo Bay detainees are not 'persons' within the scope of US law guaranteeing religious freedom, in a post-Citizens United world where even corporations are endowed with legal personhood."

There are 166 detainees at Guantanamo, 106 of them are on hunger strike. Of those, 45 of them are being fed through tubes directly into the stomach, according to the court papers.

In its court filing, the US Department of Justice also denied claims that it was giving the drug Reglan to the detainees.


Judges refuse to let up on order to reduce California prison overcrowding

By Reuters
Thursday, July 4, 2013 14:39 EDT

By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) – A federal court on Wednesday refused to back down from an order requiring California to reduce prison overcrowding by the end of the year, a goal that could force the early release of up to 10,000 inmates.

The decision is the latest in a feud between California Governor Jerry Brown and a panel of three judges over how best to relieve crowding and improve medical and mental health treatment in the state’s 33 prisons.

The judges – Stephen Reinhardt, Lawrence K. Karlton and Thelton E. Henderson – have twice threatened Brown with contempt of court for refusing to comply with their orders to reduce the state’s prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity from just under 150 per cent now.

The matter has already gone up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which backed the panel’s demand in 2011.

But Brown has still refused to comply. The governor wants to go back to the Supreme Court to argue that times have changed in the 23 years since the original case was filed and the state should not be held to earlier standards for prison overcrowding.

Moreover, Brown says, the poor mental health and medical care that were at the root of initial concerns about overcrowded conditions have been remedied.

Last month, the judges again ordered Brown to reduce crowding, saying the state would simply have to release some inmates if it could not find other places for them.

Prison officials said that would mean letting 10,000 inmates out early and asked the judges to issue a stay on their order so the department could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, the judges refused.

“Despite our repeated efforts to assist defendants to comply with our population reduction order, they have consistently engaged in conduct designed to frustrate those efforts,” the panel wrote. “They have continually sought to delay implementation of the order.”

A Brown Administration spokeswoman said on Wednesday the state would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay on the order while an appeal was made.

“Our appeal of the three-judge court’s unprecedented order to release nearly 10,000 inmates by the end of this year is in progress,” said Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections.

The two cases at the heart of the judges’ order were filed in 1990 and 2001 over poor mental health and medical care in California correctional facilities. The state has consistently lost appeals of court orders to ease the overcrowding that the courts found to be at the heart of those problems.

Michael Bien, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the 1990 case, said the state should comply with the order instead of continuing to fight it.

“The arguments they raise are the arguments that have been rejected already by the Supreme Court,” Bien said. “There’s really nothing new. It’s time the state moved on.”


July 4, 2013

A Disease Without a Cure Spreads Quietly in the West


BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — In 36 years with the Los Angeles police, Sgt. Irwin Klorman faced many dangerous situations, including one routine call that ended with Uzi fire and a bullet-riddled body sprawled on the living room floor.

But his most life-threatening encounter has been with coccidioidomycosis, or valley fever, for which he is being treated here. Coccidioidomycosis, known as “cocci,” is an insidious airborne fungal disease in which microscopic spores in the soil take flight on the wind or even a mild breeze to lodge in the moist habitat of the lungs and, in the most extreme instances, spread to the bones, the skin, the eyes or, in Mr. Klorman’s case, the brain.

The infection, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled “a silent epidemic,” is striking more people each year, with more than 20,000 reported cases annually throughout the Southwest, especially in California and Arizona. Although most people exposed to the fungus do not fall ill, about 160 die from it each year, with thousands more facing years of disability and surgery. About 9 percent of those infected will contract pneumonia and 1 percent will experience serious complications beyond the lungs.

The disease is named for the San Joaquin Valley, a cocci hot spot, where the same soil that produces the state’s agricultural bounty can turn traitorous. The “silent epidemic” became less silent last week when a federal judge ordered the state to transfer about 2,600 vulnerable inmates — including some with H.I.V. — out of two of the valley’s eight state prisons, about 90 miles north of here. In 2011, those prisons, Avenal and Pleasant Valley, produced 535 of the 640 reported inmate cocci cases, and throughout the system, yearly costs for hospitalization for cocci exceed $23 million.

The transfer, affecting about a third of the two prisons’ combined population, is to be completed in 90 days, a challenge to a prison system already contending with a federal mandate to reduce overcrowding. Jose Antonio Diaz, 44, who has diabetes and was recently relocated to Avenal, is feeling “very scared of catching it,” said his wife, Suzanne Moreno.

Advocates for prisoners have criticized state agencies for not moving the inmates sooner. “If this were a factory, a public university or a hotel — anything except a prison — they would shut these two places down,” said Donald Specter, the executive director of the Prison Law Office, which provides free legal assistance to inmates.

The pending transfer has underscored the complexities and mysteries of a disease that continues to baffle physicians and scientists. In Arizona, a study from the Department of Health Services showed a 25 percent risk of African-Americans with newly diagnosed valley fever developing complications, compared with 6 percent of whites.

“The working hypothesis has to do with genetic susceptibility, probably the interrelationships of genes involved in the immune system,” said Dr. John N. Galgiani, a professor at the University of Arizona and the director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence, founded in 1996. “But which ones? We’re clueless.”

Kandis Watson, whose son Kaden, 8, almost died, had a gut feeling that “something was not right,” she said, when Kaden began feeling sick two years ago. The pediatrician prescribed antibiotics, but Kaden’s health deteriorated, with a golf ball-size mass developing at the base of his neck. The infection enveloped Kaden’s chest, narrowing his trachea.

Kaden was essentially breathing through an opening the size of a straw, said Dr. James M. McCarty, the medical director of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital Central California in Madera, where Kaden spent six months. Today the boy is back to his mischievous self, surreptitiously placing a green plastic lizard in his mother’s hair.

But how he contracted valley fever is still guesswork. “I think he got it being a boy, digging in the dirt,” Mrs. Watson said.

Kern County, where Bakersfield is located, had more than 1,800 reported cases last year. At Kern Medical Center, Dr. Royce H. Johnson and his colleagues have a roster of nearly 2,000 patients. Many, like Mr. Klorman, have life-threatening cocci meningitis.

“I got a bad break,” said Mr. Klorman, who is known as Joe. Until illness forced his retirement, he preferred a squad car to a desk job. Now he travels four hours round trip three times a week so Dr. Johnson can inject a powerful antifungal drug into his spinal fluid. In other patients, the disease has been known to eat away ribs and vertebrae.

“It destroys lives,” said Dr. Johnson, whose daughter contracted a mild form. “Divorces, lost jobs and bankruptcy are incredibly common, not to mention psychological dislocation.”

Once athletic, Deandre Zillendor, 38, dropped to 145 pounds from 220 in two weeks, and lesions erupted on his face and body. “You keep it forever, like luggage,” he said of the disease.

Todd Schaefer, 48, who produces award-winning pinot noirs in Paso Robles, was told by his doctors that he had 10 years to live. That was 10 years ago. But valley fever has disseminated into his spinal column and brain, and his conversation is interrupted by grimaces of pain. Ruggedly handsome, he still outwardly resembles the archetype of the California good life. But Mr. Schaefer has had a stroke, a hole in his lung, two serious heart episodes and relapses that “put me on the edge of life,” he said.

He believes he got infected with valley fever atop a tractor during the construction of Pacific Coast Vineyards, which he runs with his wife, Tammy. One doctor initially suggested bed rest, chicken soup and cranberry juice.

Today Mr. Schaefer can no longer can drink wine, and he begins every morning retching. “I told her to leave me,” he said at one low point, of his wife, who is 37. “She’s too young, too beautiful.”

Dr. Benjamin Park, a medical officer with the C.D.C., said that the numbers of cases are “under-estimates” because some states do not require public reporting. They include Texas, where valley fever is endemic along the Rio Grande. In New Mexico, a 2010 survey of doctors and clinics by the state’s public health department revealed that 69 percent of clinicians did not consider it in patients with respiratory problems.

Numbers spike when rainfall is followed by dry spells. Many scientists believe that the uptick in infections is related to changing climate patterns. Kenneth K. Komatsu, the state epidemiologist for Arizona, where 13,000 cases were reported last year, said that another factor may be urban sprawl: “digging up rural areas where valley fever is growing in the soil,” he said.

In Avenal, citizens have become activists, looking into possible environmental factors, including a regional landfill that accepts construction waste. Three of the four children of James McGee, a teacher, have contracted the disease, including Marivi, 17, who was found convulsing in the ladies’ room at school. Dr. McCarty of Children’s Hospital is seeing an increasing number of children from Avenal.

Valley fever was a familiar presence during the Dust Bowl, and in Japanese internment camps throughout the arid West. Yet there is still no cure, and research on a fungicide and a potential vaccine have been stalled by financing issues. One company, Nielsen Biosciences Inc., has developed a skin test to identify cocci but has not yet been able to make it financially viable.

Part of the difficulty is that cocci is “a hundred different diseases,” Dr. Johnson said, depending on where in the body it nests. His patients include farm workers, oil field workers and construction workers.

One of his patients, Barbara Ludy, 61, had a job that involved taking care of a man who is quadriplegic. She was strong enough to lift his 175-pound frame, plus his wheelchair, into a van. Cocci meningitis affected her ability to think, to remember, to walk, to live independently. When her weight dropped to 71 pounds, her distraught daughters went to Goodwill to buy their mother size zero clothes.

One daughter, Jennifer Gillet, now takes care of her mother full time. Ms. Ludy is recuperating, slowly. And things are looking up: She is now a size 10.

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Venezuela and Nicaragua offer asylum to Edward Snowden

President Maduro offers to protect NSA whistleblower 'from persecution by the empire' and rejects US extradition request

Jonathan Watts and agencies, Saturday 6 July 2013 09.45 BST

Venezuela and Nicaragua have offered asylum to Edward Snowden, the US whistleblower who is believed to have spent the past two weeks at a Moscow airport evading US attempts to extradite him.

The Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, and his Nicaraguan counterpart, Daneil Ortega, made the asylum offers on Friday, shortly after they and other Latin American leaders met to denounce the diversion of a plane carrying the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, due to suspicions that Snowden might have been on board.

The invitations came as Snowden sent out new requests for asylum to six countries, in addition to the 20 he has already contacted, according to WikiLeaks, which claims to be in regular contact with the former National Security Agency contractor.

Most of the countries have refused or given technical reasons why an application is not valid, but several Latin American leaders have rallied together with expressions of solidarity and welcome.

"As head of state of the Bolivarian republic of Venezuela, I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young Snowden … to protect this young man from persecution by the empire," said Maduro who, along with his predecessor Hugo Chávez, often refers to the US as "the empire".

The previous day, Maduro told the Telesur TV channel that Venezuela had received an extradition request from the US, which he had already rejected.

A copy of the request, seen by the Guardian, notes that Snowden "unlawfully released classified information and documents to international media outlets" and names the Guardian and the Washington Post. Dated 3 July and sent in English and Spanish, it says: "The United States seeks Snowden's provisional arrest should Snowden seek to travel to or transit through Venezuela. Snowden is a flight risk because of the substantial charges he is facing and his current and active attempts to remain a fugitive."

It adds that he is charged with unauthorised disclosure of national defence information, unauthorised disclosure of classified communication intelligence and theft of government property. Each of these three charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000.

Describing Snowden as "a fugitive who is currently in Russia", it urges Venezuela to keep him in custody if arrested and to seize all items in his possession for later delivery to the US. It provides a photograph and two alternative passport numbers – one revoked, and one reported lost or stolen.

Maduro said he did not accept the grounds for the charges.

"He has told the truth, in the spirit of rebellion, about the US spying on the whole world," Maduro said in his latest speech. "Who is the guilty one? A young man … who denounces war plans, or the US government which launches bombs and arms the terrorist Syrian opposition against the people and legitimate president, Bashar al-Assad?"

The Bolivian government, which has said it would listen sympathetically to an aslyum request from Snowden, said it too had turned down a pre-emptive US extradition request.

Ortega said Nicaragua had received an asylum request from Snowden and the president gave a guarded acceptance.

"We are an open country, respectful of the right of asylum, and it's clear that if circumstances permit, we would gladly receive Snowden and give him asylum in Nicaragua," Ortega told a gathering in Managua.

So far, the countries that have been most vocal in offering support are close allies of Venezuela. Ecuador has also expressed support for Snowden, though the government there has yet to decide whether it would grant aslyum. It is already providing refuge for the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for about a year.

Many in Latin America were furious when the Bolivian president's flight from Russia was denied airspace by European countries, forcing it to land in Vienna, where Morales had to spend more than half a day waiting to get clearance to continue his journey.

Morales said the Spanish ambassador to Austria arrived at the airport with two embassy personnel and asked to search the plane. He said he refused.

The Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, acknowledged on Friday that the decision to block Morales plane was based on a tip that Snowden was on board.

"They told us that the information was clear, that he was inside," he told Spanish TV, without clarifying who the tip was from.

It is assumed the US was behind the diversion, though US officials have said only that they were in contact with the countries on the plane's route.

France has apologised to Bolivia.

Morales said when he finally arrived in La Paz: "It is an open provocation to the continent, not only to the president; they use the agent of North American imperialism to scare us and intimidate us."

At a hastily called meeting of the Unasur regional bloc, many governments condemned the action against Morales plane.

"We are not colonies any more," Uruguay's president, José Mujica, said. "We deserve respect, and when one of our governments is insulted we feel the insult throughout Latin America."

The Argentinean president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was also present, along with a senior representative of President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil.

Regional support may make it easier for the country offering asylum to resist US pressure for extradition. But whether Snowden can make it to South America remains uncertain, as are his current circumstances. He has not been seen or heard in public since he flew to Russia from Hong Kong. WikiLeaks says it is in touch with him and that he has widened his search for aslyum by adding six new countries.

In a tweet, the group said it would not reveal the names of the nations "due to attempted US interference".


Latin America sees US diverting Morales' plane as Yankee imperialism

In its haste to seize NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the Obama administration may not realise the fury it has aroused

Stephen Kinzer, Friday 5 July 2013 15.52 BST   

In its eagerness to capture the fugitive leaker Edward Snowden, the Obama administration has taken a step that will resound through Latin American history.

On Tuesday, in a still unclear sequence of events, an airplane carrying President Evo Morales of Bolivia was diverted from its flight path and forced to land in Austria. Morales was on his way home from a visit to Moscow, during which he had suggested that Bolivia might grant Snowden asylum.

Someone – almost certainly in Washington – arranged for France, Italy, and Portugal to deny his plane use of their airspace. It was forced to land for refueling in Austria, and was allowed to proceed only after Austrian security officers determined that Snowden was not aboard.

Such an act would have stirred anger if it had been aimed at any president, but in Latin America, it has a special resonance. Conflict with the United States is one of the overwhelming facts of Latin American history. Morales is one of several regional leaders who have won elections by promising to pull their countries out of Washington's orbit.

Some of those leaders reacted angrily to the downing of Morales's plane. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador called it an "affront to all America". President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina condemned it as a relic of "colonialism that we thought was completely overcome".

If it becomes clear that the United States was behind this action – it has not yet admitted responsibility – this incident will go down in history as the defining episode of US-Latin America relations during the Obama administration. It suggests that the United States still considers Latin American countries less than fully sovereign. Nothing angers people in those countries more. It is what they call "Plattismo".

That is a reference to the Platt Amendment of 1901, which recognized Cuba as an independent country but required that it enter into no treaty and incur no foreign debts without permission from Washington, and also that it recognize the right of the United States to intervene in Cuba at will.

The Platt Amendment was abrogated in 1934, but in the eyes of many Latin Americans, it still seems to define Washington's understanding of their continent. That view was immeasurably strengthened this week.

In Washington, the attempt to capture Snowden by forcing down Morales's plane may have been seen as nothing more than a clever gamble. Latin Americans take it far more seriously. To them, it is a brutally humiliating blow that recalls memories of a century and a half of intervention.

This episode has greatly strengthened Morales and other Latin American leaders who are critical of the United States. It makes their anti-Yanqui rhetoric seem newly credible. It has even, ironically, made Snowden a Latin American hero. Any president who offers him asylum will bathe in a wave of continent-wide admiration.

That will have to be weighed, however, against the reaction from Washington. A few days ago, after President Correa suggested that he might accept Snowden in Ecuador, Vice-President Joseph Biden called him. They reportedly spoke for half an hour. Afterward, Correa's enthusiasm for accepting Snowden declined palpably. That is not surprising. The United States has means to wound Latin American countries deeply, chiefly by altering trade policies to cut imports in ways that would throw thousands out of work.

The Biden phone call, followed by the action against Morales's plane, are clear signals of how seriously the Obama administration views Snowden's leaks. Some in Washington seem to consider him a cyber-enemy whose crimes against the United States are nearly equivalent to those of Osama bin-Laden.

By elevating Snowden to this level, the United States has made clear that any country accepting him will be made to suffer. It also, however, provides a tempting opportunity to Latin American leaders. Whoever welcomes Snowden will instantly join the revered pantheon of rebels who dared to defy what José Martí called "the eagle with larcenous claws".

Whether any is willing to accept the harsh punishment that Washington would likely impose may soon become clear.


Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, not a spy – but do our leaders care?

Legislators and journalists alike have been cavalier in their condemnations of the man responsible for the NSA leaks

Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Friday 5 July 2013 18.03 BST         

According to US legislators and journalists, the surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden actively aided America's enemies. They are just missing one essential element for the meme to take flight: evidence.

An op-ed by Representative Mike Pompeo (Republican, Kansas) proclaiming Snowden, who provided disclosed widespread surveillance on phone records and internet communications by the National Security Agency, "not a whistleblower" is indicative of the emerging narrative. Writing in the Wichita Eagle on 30 June Pompeo, a member of the House intelligence committee, wrote that Snowden "has provided intelligence to America's adversaries".

Pompeo correctly notes in his op-ed that "facts are important". Yet when asked for the evidence justifying the claim that Snowden gave intelligence to American adversaries, his spokesman, JP Freire, cited Snowden's leak of NSA documents. Those documents, however, were provided to the Guardian and the Washington Post, not al-Qaeda or North Korea.

It's true that information published in the press can be read by anyone, including people who mean America harm. But to conflate that with actively handing information to foreign adversaries is to foreclose on the crucial distinction between a whistleblower and a spy, and makes journalists the handmaidens of enemies of the state.

Yet powerful legislators are eager to make that conflation about Snowden.

The Twitter account of Representative Mike Rogers (Republican, Michigan), the chairman of the House intelligence committee, on 18 June placed Snowden and accused WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning in the same company as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, two infamous CIA and FBI double-agents. (The tweet appears to have been deleted.)

When I asked about the conflation, Rogers' Twitter account responded: "All 4 gave critical national security information to our enemies. Each did it in different ways but the result was the same."

Never to be outdone, Peter King, a New York Republican and former chair of the House homeland security committee, proclaimed Snowden a "defector" on 10 June. Days later, Snowden left Hong Kong to seek asylum in an undetermined country – a curious move for a defector to make.

Once elected and appointed leaders casually conflate leaking and espionage, it is a matter of time before journalists take the cue. For insight into the "fear and isolation that NSA leaker Edward Snowden is living through", CNN turned to Christopher Boyce – who sold US secrets to the USSR before becoming a bank robber.

There are understandable suspicions that Snowden may have aided foreign intelligence services in order to aid in his escape from American criminal justice. While some have speculated that the Russian or Chinese intelligence services might have snuck a look at the highly sensitive intelligence material Snowden is carrying, that material is heavily encrypted. For what it's worth, in a Guardian webchat I asked Snowden directly if he would trade access to his documents for asylum. He said he would not.

Perhaps Snowden lied. Perhaps he might change his mind. But all of that is far off in the realm of speculation. As things stand now, there is no evidence Snowden has aided any US adversary or intelligence service, wittingly or not.

Even the Obama administration has stopped short of terming Snowden a spy, even in the course of attacking his character. (Yes, he was indicted under the Espionage Act, but the actual charges against him are theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence information to an unauthorized person.) In an email meant to discredit Snowden in the press, an anonymous "senior administration official" told reporters on 24 June that Snowden's ostensible idealism "is belied by the protectors he has potentially chosen: China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador". That's something to remember the next time Washington wants to talk about its commitment to human rights while cooperating with, say, China and Russia.
Edward Snowden Edward Snowden. Photograph: Reuters/The Guardian

When asked directly if there was any evidence that Snowden had cooperated with any intelligence service or American adversary, the administration and Congress declined to provide any. The office of the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, declined to comment for this story. The Justice Department and the House intelligence committee didn't even respond to inquiries.

By all means, consider Snowden a hero, a traitor or a complex individual with a mixture of motives and interests. Lots of opinions about Snowden are valid. He is a necessarily polarizing figure. The information he revealed speaks to some of the most basic questions about the boundaries between the citizen and the state, as well as persistent and real anxieties about terrorism.

What isn't valid is the blithe assertion, absent evidence, that the former NSA contractor actively collaborated with America's enemies. Snowden made classified information about widespread surveillance available to the American public. That's a curious definition of an enemy for US legislators to adopt.


Edward Snowden’s leaks cause editorial split at the Washington Post

By Roy Greenslade, The Guardian
Friday, July 5, 2013 7:18 EDT

US paper accused of facing both ways over NSA whistleblower

Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing activities have not only split America’s journalistic community, it appears to have split the Washington Post’s staff too.

In a surprising editorial, “Plugging the leaks in the Edward Snowden case”, the paper argued that the first priority should be to prevent Snowden “from leaking information that harms efforts to fight terrorism and conduct legitimate intelligence operations.”

It pointed out that Snowden “is reported to have stolen many more documents, encrypted copies of which may have been given to allies such as the WikiLeaks organisation.” And then it said:

“Stopping potentially damaging revelations or the dissemination of intelligence to adversaries should take precedence over US prosecution of Mr Snowden — which could enhance his status as a political martyr in the eyes of many both in and outside the United States.”

And all this in the paper responsible for publishing Snowden’s leaks. No wonder the facing-both-ways leading article moved syndicated newspaper columnist David Sirota to comment on

“What sets this Washington Post editorial apart — what vaults it into the annals of history — is how it is essentially railing on the Washington Post’s own source and own journalism.”

He contends that the editorial “represents the paper’s higher-ups issuing a jeremiad against their own news-generating source and, by extension, the reporters who helped bring his leak into the public sphere.”

Citing the Post’s famed Watergate investigations, he sees it as “the equivalent of the paper issuing an editorial in 1972 not demanding more information from President Nixon, but instead insisting the Nixon administration’s first ‘priority should be to prevent Deep Throat from leaking information.”

Then comes his main, serious message:

“At one level, this is all downright hilarious. But at another level, it isn’t because it potentially intensifies a larger chilling effect on investigative journalism that is happening throughout the media.”

There is, of course, something of a British parallel over Snowden’s NSA leaks. The Guardian has been criticised by rival newspapers because of the revelations. Some papers have simply ignored them, as I wrote here.

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Brazilian courts uphold Vatican’s annulment decree in incest case

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 5, 2013 16:08 EDT

A Brazilian justice has for the first time upheld a Vatican ruling to annul a marriage, with the former husband and wife to be considered single rather than divorced, judicial sources said Friday.

“It is the first time that the Superior Tribunal of Justice (Brazil’s highest appeals court) has ratified a marriage annulment on the basis of the Catholic church’s statute,” a court spokesman said.

The decision was made on May 21 by the tribunal’s president Felix Fischer but was not made public until now.

The husband and wife in the case are now considered “single” and not “divorced” as they would have been if the marriage annulment had been obtained through civil law, the spokesman said.

The court said the husband had accused his wife of incest with her three sons in the annulment request. It did not give the couple’s names.

Lawyer Jose Eduardo Coelho Dias, who argued the case before the tribunal, explained that his client had turned to the Vatican in order to rebuild his life as a Catholic.

“He had already obtained a divorce after years of marriage but he wanted to erase the name of his wife from all registries, to protect his sons, ” press reports quoted the lawyer as saying.

The wife lost all rights over her children, including custody and even visitation rights.


July 5, 2013

Chile: Rape Ignites Abortion Debate

The case of a pregnant 11-year-old girl who was raped has set off a national debate about abortion in one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America. State television reported that the girl, known only as “Belen,” is 14 weeks pregnant. Police arrested her mother’s partner, who confessed to abusing the fifth grader. Doctors say her life and that of the fetus are at high risk. But ending the pregnancy is not an option. Chile allowed abortions for medical reasons until they were outlawed in 1973 by the Pinochet dictatorship. The current government of President Sebastián Piñera has opposed any loosening of the prohibition. Many Chileans were venting outrage about the case on social media on Friday. (AP)

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Snowden leaks now threaten U.S.-EU cooperation on travel, financial data

By Reuters
Friday, July 5, 2013 18:21 EDT

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is threatening to suspend two agreements granting the United States access to European financial and travel data unless Washington shows it is respecting EU rules on data privacy, EU officials said on Friday.

The threat reflects European disquiet about allegations that the United States has engaged in widespread eavesdropping on European internet users as well as spying on the EU.

Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, wrote to two senior U.S. officials on Thursday to voice European concerns over implementation of the two agreements, both struck in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks and regarded by Washington as important tools in the fight against terrorism.

“Should we fail to demonstrate the benefits of (the agreements) for our citizens and the fact that they have been implemented in full compliance with the law, their credibility will be seriously affected and in such a case I will be obliged to reconsider (whether) the conditions for their implementation are still met,” Malmstrom said.

EU-U.S. relations are going through a “delicate moment”, she wrote in the letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and David Cohen, Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

“Mutual trust and confidence have been seriously eroded and I expect the U.S. to do all that it can to restore them,” she said in the letter, seen by Reuters.

Malmstrom is dispatching a team of officials to Washington next week for previously scheduled reviews of both information-sharing agreements.

The Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) provides the U.S. Treasury with data stored in Europe on international financial transfers. The Passenger Name Record agreement covers data provided by passengers when booking tickets and checking in for flights. All such information is passed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


The United States and the EU need to show that the two data-sharing agreements “continue to bring benefits to our security and that the robust safeguards attached to them are respected to the full. We need complete transparency and a maximum of information on both programs,” Malmstrom wrote.

The European Parliament, some of whose members have long worried that the agreements granted the United States too much access to European data, called on Thursday for the scrapping of both accords unless Washington revealed the extent of its electronic spying operations in Europe.

Many of the eavesdropping reports were based on leaks by fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Last month, U.S. officials confirmed the existence of an electronic spying operation codenamed PRISM, which according to Snowden collects data from European and other users of Google, Facebook, Skype and other U.S. companies.

In a separate leak, the United States was accused of eavesdropping on EU offices and officials.

France initially urged the EU to delay talks on an ambitious trade pact with the United States over the alleged spying.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said later that Europe would begin the trade talks on Monday as planned but would at the same time set up EU-U.S. working groups to examine the scope of U.S. intelligence-gathering.

Separately, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the country’s intelligence services were not spying on the United States and that he did not think German policymakers were under U.S. surveillance.

“Anything else would be inacceptable,” he was quoted by the mass-circulation Bild newspaper as saying.

“It would be inacceptable for NATO partners and friends to spy on German government offices and if that were the case, we would not only demand that this stops immediately, we would also demand an apology.”

(By Adrian Croft. Additional reporting by Michelle Martin in Berlin, editing by Mark Heinrich)


NSA leaks: UK blocks crucial espionage talks between US and Europe

First talks to soothe transatlantic tensions to be restricted to data privacy and Prism programme after Britain and Sweden's veto

Ian Traynor in Vilnius, Friday 5 July 2013 14.36 BST    

Britain has blocked the first crucial talks on intelligence and espionage between European officials and their American counterparts since the NSA surveillance scandal erupted.

The talks, due to begin in Washington on Monday, will now be restricted to issues of data privacy and the NSA's Prism programme following a tense 24 hours of negotiations in Brussels between national EU ambassadors. Britain, supported only by Sweden, vetoed plans to launch two "working groups" on the espionage debacle with the Americans.

Instead, the talks will consist of one working group focused on the NSA's Prism programme, which has been capturing and storing vast amounts of internet and mobile phone metadata in Europe.

The disclosures in the Guardian over the past month have triggered a transatlantic crisis of confidence and threatened to derail crucial free trade talks between the EU and the US, also due to be launched in Washington on Monday.

The talks on Prism and data privacy have been arranged to coincide with the trade talks in an attempt to defuse the transatlantic tension. EU diplomats and officials say the offer of talks by the Americans is designed to enable the leaders of Germany and France to save face following revelations about the scale of US espionage – particularly in Germany, but also of French and other European embassies and missions in the US.

Other aspects of the dispute, such as more traditional spying and intelligence matters, will be off limits for the Europeans after Britain insisted the EU had no authority to discuss issues of national security and intelligence.

"It was decided. It finished successfully," said Dalia Grybauskaitė, the president of Lithuania, which has just assumed the EU's six-month rotating presidency and which mediated the sensitive talks in Brussels over the past two days.

On Thursday, Grybauskaitė said the Europeans hoped to hold two separate strands of consultations with the Americans. By Friday she and José Manuel Barroso, the European commission president, conceded that the intelligence strand had been dropped. "Intelligence matters and those of national security are not the competence of the EU," he said, echoing the UK's objection.

Senior EU diplomats, officials, and government ministers confirmed that Britain opposed most of the rest of the EU on joint European talks with the Americans on intelligence and espionage, meaning that national governments will need to pursue the issues separately with Washington.

"The consultations in Washington will first of all address data protection matters. Addressing the intelligence topic is not expected," said a senior Lithuanian official.

The Lithuanian government phoned Carl Bildt, Sweden's foreign minister, on Thursday evening to try to remove the Swedish resistance, but failed, sources said. The talks in Brussels continued throughout the night as diplomats sought to come up with wording that would keep everyone happy.

Officials said the abortive attempt to come up with a common European position only served to highlight the divisions that have surfaced as a result of the espionage scandal, with the Europeans against the Americans, the French and the Germans against the British, and leading pro-EU figures arguing that the fiasco has underlined the case for Europe constructing its own cyber-defences.

"We need our own capacities, European cloud computing, EU strategic independence," said Michel Barnier, the French politician and European commissioner for the single market.

Such is the transatlantic and intra-European disarray over the espionage wars, that senior east and west European politicians and intelligence veterans privately suspect a Russian role in the intelligence row. They point to the presence of the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden – apparently still at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport – and to the controversy surrounding the Bolivian presidential plane. President Evo Morales, travelling from Moscow, was forced to land in Vienna after being denied permission to enter the airspace of several EU countries.

The surveillance dispute led to calls, particularly from France, for the long-awaited negotiations on a transatlantic free trade pact to be delayed. The simultaneous opening of talks on the NSA, Prism and surveillance is designed to mute such calls and give European leaders an opportunity to climb down while claiming concessions from the Americans, EU diplomats said.


07/05/2013 04:54 PM

Spying Scandal: What's the Fuss about US Surveillance?

A Commentary by Jan Fleischhauer

Having experienced two dictatorships with notoriously effective intelligence systems, Germans are furious about NSA eavesdropping. Now they want to put even stricter rules in place -- but without paying the necessary price.

So maybe I'm not in the best position to comment on the NSA spying scandal. Ten days ago, I traveled to the United States to stay in a vacation home on the East Coast. "As a patriot, I find that traveling to America has become unacceptable," a colleague of mine texted me on Monday. In my own defense, I can only say that the scope of the scandal could not have been foreseen when I began my journey.

Since then, however, one has much to fret about. If I understand things correctly, the Americans are in the fast lane to setting up a state of hyper-surveillance in Europe ruled over by data dictator Barack Obama. And all good Germans are united in their outrage. Even Sigmar Gabriel, head of the center-left Social Democrats, is calling for prosecutors to launch an investigation into the head of the NSA.

Here in America, it's hard to come by reliable information on the scandal. I open up the New York Times every day hoping to learn something deeper. But even though it's the leading newspaper among the world's left-leaning elite, it only devoted a small side section to the biggest bugging scandal in history. On Tuesday, it broke a pattern by publishing a piece about the uproar sparked by revelations that the US had bugged the EU diplomatic representation in Washington. But, of course, it only got a slot on Page 4, behind stories about Syria, Egypt and the lax lending practices of Chinese banks. In fact, the "Gray Lady" deemed its coverage of Wimbledon more important than writing about how the US intelligence agency has violated the civil rights of millions.

Different Concepts of Privacy

It's hard to explain to Americans how Germans see this issue. Try telling someone from the US why we Germans have no problem sitting in a sauna full of naked people but get nervous when the Google camera-car rolls by and takes digital images of our houses. I gave it my best shot, but let's just say this: Our concept of the private sphere is not immediately clear to people abroad.

I've also learned that it is no easy task to clarify to Americans why Germans are more than happy to consign their children to state care when they are just one year old but would go through hell and high water to keep their personal information out of state hands. In most cases, Americans don't like the state nosing into their personal affairs. But, when it comes to internal and external security, they have resigned themselves to the necessity of government meddling.

For some reason, we Germans have taken the exact opposite approach: We delegate things to the state that we could take care of ourselves. But when it comes to issues we can't do alone, we don't trust the state to do them either.

The problem with American bugging is that it will never be exactly clear what we're supposed to be afraid of. The threat is rather abstract -- but that makes it all the more threatening.

To understand why Germans are so hyper-attuned to data-privacy issues, one probably has to look into our past. There is good reason for a land that has experienced two dictatorships -- one with a Gestapo, the other with a Stasi -- to be more sensible when it comes to the dangers of absolute monitoring.

Not Just to America 's Benefit

The sad truth is that the Germans have and continue to benefit mightily from America's spying program. Unfortunately, Germany is far from being an empty patch on the global map of Islamic extremism. And the lion's share of the information on the activities of extremists in Germany has been provided by the very agencies that we are now so livid about. They are America's eyes and ears on the world -- but they are ours, too.

So far, Germans have been able to count on others providing tips when things threatened to get serious. But that can't continue forever. Likewise, when it comes to the surveillance business, there are no free lunches. This has prompted the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence agency, to ask for more funding for its own Internet-surveillance activities. But, as things now look, we would prefer to give our intelligence services fewer means to defend us from attacks than to expose ourselves to accusations that we violated civil rights. The Green party has already branded the current fiasco as a "meltdown of the constitutional state."

Politicians should be honest enough with voters to spell out the costs, should the country move away from data surveillance. If a suitcase bomb were to explode soon in a major German city because we were too late in sifting through the meta-data of the perpetrators, it would be nice if the Justice Ministry could muster the courage to explain to people that these kinds of attacks are now the price we pay for the right to determine what happens with our personal information -- a right we currently place so much value on.

Why Bug the EU?

Yet one major mystery remains at the end of this week of outrage: Why on earth would the United States bug an EU embassy? What did the Americans expect to learn from such eavesdropping? Was it really so crucial for them to unveil why it's no longer forbidden to sell bent cucumbers in the EU or why restaurants aren't allowed to put olive oil dispensers on tables?

There can be only one explanation: The NSA must have a form of institutional punishment set up for its employees. Whoever screws up is forced to listen to EU diplomats talk for hours on end. But, on the bright side, the current fiasco will put an end to this particular violation of human rights as well.

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« Reply #7341 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:01 AM »

07/05/2013 06:36 PM

Horticultural Hate: The Mystery of the Forest Swastikas

By Danny Kringiel

Over 20 years ago, a landscaper in eastern Germany discovered a formation of trees in a forest in the shape of a swastika. Since then, a number of other forest swastikas have been found in Germany and beyond, but the mystery of their origins persist.

Blame it on the larches. Brandenburg native Günter Reschke was the first one to notice their unique formation, according to a 2002 article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. To be more precise, however, it was the new intern at Reschke's landscaping company, Ökoland Dederow, who discovered the trees in 1992 as he was completing a typically thankless intern task: searching aerial photographs for irrigation lines.

Instead, he found a small group of 140 larches standing in the middle of dense forest, surrounded by hundreds of other trees. But there was a crucial difference: all the others were pine trees. The larches, unlike the pines, changed color in the fall, first to yellow, then brown. And when they were seen from a certain height, it wasn't difficult to recognize the pattern they formed. It was quite striking, in fact.

As he was dutifully accomplishing the task he had been given, the intern suddenly stopped and stared, dumbfounded, at the picture in his hand. It was an aerial view of Kutzerower Heath at Zernikow -- photo number 106/88. He showed it to Reschke: "Do you see what this is?" But the 60-by-60 meter (200-by-200 foot) design that stood out sharply from the forest was obvious to all: a swastika.

Reschke is actually a fan of his native Uckermark region of northeastern Germany, extolling its gently rolling hills, lakes and woods, as the "Tuscany of the north." But what the two men discovered in 1992 in that aerial photograph thrust this natural idyll into the center of a scandal.

A Swastika as a Birthday Gift?

Reschke chartered a plane to fly over the area, and indeed, a neatly delineated swastika was clearly visible. The local forester, Klaus Göricke, set out to uncover the origin of the troubling larch formation, and he found out that the trees had been there for a long time. By measuring the trees, he came to the conclusion they had been planted in the late 1930s. That means that for decades, during every spring and autumn, a massive swastika took shape in the Kutzerower Heath -- surviving the Russian occupation, Communist rule in East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall without ever attracting notice.

The fact that it went undiscovered for so long was in part due to the short period of time each year that it was visible. Furthermore, it could only be seen from a certain altitude, and the airplanes that headed north out of Berlin were already much too high for passengers to see the swastika in the forest. Private planes, on the other hand, were forbidden in East Germany.

It didn't take long for rumors to spread about how the swastika got there in the first place. A local farmer claimed that he had planted the trees as a child, with a forester paying him a few cents for each seedling he put in the ground. Others reported that it was put there as a sign of loyalty after a nearby villager had been taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by the Nazis because he had secretly been listening to the BBC. Still another version holds that a local Nazi leader ordered the trees planted on the occasion of Hitler's birthday. Finally, the Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported that it was planted in gratitude to the Reich Labor Service for building a street in Zernikow.

Whatever the truth may be, the story began to make waves well beyond the region. French reporters suddenly appeared in Zernikow, eager to fly over the heath to see the swastika for themselves. The daily Le Figaro published an article on the forest formation that reportedly led then-French President François Mitterand to call his German counterpart, Roman Herzog. Soon thereafter, the German president began pressuring the local forestry office to get rid of the offensive symbol.

A Scramble to Remove Trees

The effects were immediate. In 1995, forestry workers armed with chainsaws made their way to the copse of larches and cut down 40 trees. They reported back to their supervisors that the symbol was now unrecognizable, and the commotion surrounding the Kutzerower Heath quickly subsided.

But the forestry workers were badly mistaken. It took five years before their error was discovered, but in 2000, the news agency Reuters published photos of a bright yellow and clearly visible swastika in the forest near Zernikow -- even if the edges were a bit frayed. And the media response was once again immense. Even the Chicago Tribune wrote about it, noting that the swastika forest was not helpful for a region that had already become notorious for racist violence.

In fact, officials started becoming increasingly worried that the place could become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis. This prompted the Agriculture Ministry of the eastern state of Brandenburg to plan drastic measures. In 2000, Jens-Uwe Schade, a ministry spokesman, told Reuters that the intention had been to cut down all the trees in the area. But the BVVG, the federal office in charge of property management, blocked the plan because ownership of some of the property was in dispute and only gave the green light for state forestry officials to cut down 25 of the trees.

This was done on the morning of Dec. 4, 2000. Forestry workers had to be very careful about choosing which trees to cut down and about making sure that the swastika was no longer visible. They also had to cut the stumps just a few centimeters above the ground so that they could no longer be viewed from the air.

Fads and Fables

However, planting swastikas in forests wasn't something that only happened in the Uckermark. As Jens-Uwe Schade already explained in 2000, this had become "a fad among National Socialist foresters" during the Nazi period.

For example, already in the early 1970s, US soldiers complained to the government of the state of Hesse after finding not only a huge swastika on the southern slope of a spruce forest near a place called Asterode, but also the year "1933" formed by larches. A similar symbol reportedly caused a major stir in Jesberg, in northern Hesse, when it was discovered in the 1980s. And, in 2000, a professor of folklore found a swastika of evergreen Douglas firs planted backwards in a deciduous forest in Wiesbaden. In fact, reports soon started emerging about tree swastikas all over Germany.

In Sept. 2006, the New York Times also reported on a complete forest near the remote village of Tash-Bashat, in Kyrgystan, shaped as a swastika. The origins of this swastika in reverse measuring some 180 meters (600 feet) across were also shrouded in legend and uncertainty. One villager claimed that an ethnic German forest supervisor, who had been exiled to the east but was a Nazi sympathizer, directed the planting of the forest in the 1940s. Another reported that the trees had been planted by a mysterious "professor" in the 1960s before he was taken away by the KGB. A local guide said the trees had been planted in the late 1930s as a sign of German-Russian friendship when Hitler and Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact. Reporter C.J. Chivers also found legends the forest had been planted by German POWs pressed into forestry duty. He never did track down its true origins, but he wrote that, if it really really was planted by German prisoners, the "symmetry in the tree line … may be the Third Reich's only practical joke."

This article originally appeared in German on, SPIEGEL ONLINE's history portal.

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« Reply #7342 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:03 AM »

07/05/2013 03:24 PM

Ghosts of the NSA: Relics of Cold War Spying Dot Germany

By Johannes Korge

The National Security Agency has long been active in Germany, though much of its spying was conducted against the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Today, former listening stations and other facilities dot the German landscape.

Tracking down traces of the National Security Agency in Germany isn't particularly difficult. One merely has to head to Berlin and look for the city's highest point. It can be found in the southwest corner of the city -- Teufeslberg, or "Devil's Mountain." Made of piled up rubble gathered from Berlin following World War II, the "mountain" rises 115 meters (377 feet) above the nearby waterway known as the Havel.

In the winter, it is the place where Berliners meet to sled; in the summer it is a haven for mountain bikers and daytrippers. And hobby historians: At the very top of the hill stands the most famous NSA relict in Germany -- five gigantic white radar balls. The listening station was used until the end of the Cold War, primarily to spy on the east.

Teufelsberg used to be part of the NSA's global espionage network called Echelon, which the US intelligence service used to keep an eye on Moscow. From 1957 to 1991, the NSA maintained a presence on Teufelsberg and eavesdropped on satellite-based telephone conversations, filtered fax reports and analyzed Internet datasets. The NSA was still doing all that in 2013, as SPIEGEL recently reported, but it no longer requires the massive radar towers.

Desolate and in Disrepair

Today, the artificial hill looks desolate. When the Americans withdrew, the listening station began to fall into disrepair. The covering on the radomes is torn in many places, and inside the facility weeds are growing out of the debris.

But it's not just weather and age that have led the buildings to deteriorate. Shortly after the turn of the century, the government of the city-state of Berlin decided that guarding the empty facility had become too expensive. It then became the target of regular break-ins and vandalism. Rotraud von der Heide, an artist and the curator of the Initiative Teufelsberg, a group seeking to preserve the facility, says, "the facility is totally destroyed because private owners weren't able to carry out their construction plans, and now the building permits have expired. For the past year-and-a-half, two young people have been leasing it." Originally, a conference hotel had been envisioned for the site, but those plans ultimately failed.

Those leasing the site are now responsible for security at the facility. Using revenues generated through frequent tours, they are financing the constant repairs required for the fence surrounding property. "New holes are cut in the fence every night, and we turn trespassers over to the police," said von der Heide. "Earlier, people had parties in the facility. There were also copper thieves who ripped wires out of the walls. That's no longer possible now."

Big Plans

The initiative has big plans for the hill. During Germany's "Day of Open Monuments," in September, they plan to open the former listening station to the public for three days.

By then, von der Heide plans to completely transform the area into one giant artwork. "The hill is becoming more and more fantastic. It's a magical art space that is constantly changing," the artist says. That's also a product of anonymous graffiti artists whose paintings cover the massive walls and the insides of the radomes, she says.

A second NSA listening station in Germany, located some 200 kilometers to the west -- represents the opposite extreme. Whereas the Teufelsberg radomes were difficult to ignore, the facility in Schöningen, near Braunschweig, was more hidden. Mayor Henry Bäsecke says that there was an American facility in the nearby forest consisting of "containers and large antennas. But the facility has since been torn down. "There's nothing left here, and nature is slowly reconquering the property," Bäsecke says.

At Least 17 Surveillance Hubs at Cold War Peak

Some 50 kilometers south of Munich is yet another listening post of note. Bad Aibling the southernmost facility in a chain of such espionage centers operated in Germany by US intelligence agencies. In 1989, shortly before the end of the Cold War, SPIEGEL counted 17 such surveillance hubs. But it's a figure that may have been even higher. The network extended from the town of Schleswig near the Danish border right down to the edge of the Alps. Most of the facilities were located close to the former border between West and East Germany, as close as possible to the enemy.

In Bad Aibling, the outsized radomes of the disused listening station also dominate the landscape. In 2004, the Americans left, but Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND, continues to operate nearby. The 17,000 resident city is hard at work transforming the 134 hectare (331 acre) property for civilian use. The community has already turned a small part of the property into sporting facilities, Peter Schmid of the city administration says. Here, local teams play football in the shadows of the radomes. The rest is to be built up by a property developer, with plans for a zero-energy settlement to be constructed.

Still, the area's eventful history hasn't been forgotten. Since 2009, it has hosted an annual electro- and house-music festival that attracted 17,000 fans last year to revel between the radar towers and a former aircraft hangar. The name of the two-day festival recalls the American spy network: The Echelon festival.

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« Reply #7343 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:14 AM »

Pig Putin's Russia...

Russian opposition leader vows to destroy 'disgusting feudal system'

Alexey Navalny uses closing remarks of embezzlement case against him to condemn Vladimir Putin's government

Miriam Elder in Moscow, Friday 5 July 2013 16.03 BST   

Russia's top opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, has vowed to destroy the "feudal system of power" lorded over by Pig Putin during powerful closing remarks to a provincial court that could send him to prison for six years.

Blasting Pig Putin's government for "occupying" power, pilfering the country of billions of dollars and leading Russia down a path of vodka-fuelled degradation, Navalny urged his followers not to be afraid as he awaits a likely jail sentence.

"My colleagues and I will do everything to destroy this feudal system that exists in Russia – this system of power where 83% of the national wealth belongs to 0.5% of the country," he said.

"Not one of us has the right to neutrality," Navalny told the court (video) in Kirov, 500 miles east of Moscow, where he is standing trial on charges of embezzlement that are widely seen as a means of silencing Putin's most virulent critic.

"Each time one of us thinks: 'I'll just stand aside and things will happen without me and I'll wait', then he is helping this disgusting feudal system that sits like a spider in that Kremlin," Navalny said.
Navalny addresses the court (in Russian).

Navalny has grown from being a politically active anti-corruption activist into the most prominent opposition leader to organise mass anti-Putin protests that shook Moscow early last year. He has continued to uncover dozens of cases of official wrongdoing, from state-run companies to prominent MPs. Last month, he announced he would run for mayor of Moscow in snap elections called for September.

In a country where independent political activism is crushed and expressing anti-Putin sentiment is increasingly dangerous, many had long expected Navalny's arrest. As Pig Putin unleashed a crackdown against civil society unseen since the Soviet era upon his return to the Kremlin last year, prosecutors brought case after criminal case against Navalny.

In Kirov, state prosecutors allege that Navalny, 37, embezzled 16m roubles (£330,000) worth of timber from a state firm when he was advising the region's liberal governor in 2009.

On Friday, prosecutors asked the judge to hand him a six0year jail sentence and a 1m rouble fine – below the maximum 10-year sentence he could have faced, but enough to keep him in jail for Russia's next presidential election in 2018.

"If someone thinks that in hearing this threat of six years I will run away, abroad, or hide somewhere, you are very, very mistaken," Navalny said. "I'm not running anywhere – I have no other choice. I don't want to do anything else. I want to help the people of my country.

"It's been 15 years since huge oil and gas money arrived and what has it brought to the country? Did we get better access to medicine, education, housing conditions? What did we get – those of us on this or that side of the defendants' bench? The only thing that became more accessible to our people now than in Soviet times is vodka.

"We will destroy this feudal system that robs all of you," he said.

Addressing the judge, who kept his eyes cast downward during a speech that recalled the traditions of Soviet dissidents, Navalny said: "Even though you put me on the defendants' bench, my colleagues and I will protect you from all this."

The judge is due to hand down his verdict on 18 July. Less than 1% of Russian court cases end in acquittals.


July 5, 2013

Prosecutor Urges Six-Year Term for Russian Opposition Leader


MOSCOW — In closing arguments on Friday, a prosecutor urged a Russian judge to convict the political opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny of embezzlement and sentence him to six years in jail — a verdict that would destroy his political career and eliminate him as a threat to President Pig V. Putin by imprisoning him until after the next presidential election.

Mr. Navalny is the most prominent opposition figure in modern Russia to face prosecution, and he has accused the Kremlin of pursuing trumped-up charges as political retribution. While forcefully denying the allegations, he has long said he expects to be convicted in the trial, which was streamed live online from Kirov, a regional capital. The verdict is to be delivered on July 18.

For more than a year, as Mr. Navalny helped to lead big street protests against Mr. Putin, the Kremlin seemed to waver between a desire to imprison him and a reluctance to galvanize his supporters by locking him up. Mr. Navalny has declared his candidacy for mayor of Moscow in an election to be held in September, but he has also said he hopes one day to be president.

“Change Russia,” proclaims a glossy pamphlet produced by his campaign. “Start with Moscow.” It adds the tag line, “Honest leadership — a European level of life.”

This particular case against Mr. Navalny — he faces several others — stems from a brief period when he served as an adviser to the governor of the Kirov region, for whom his work included efforts to reorganize a government-controlled timber company. Mr. Navalny and a co-defendant, Pyotr Ofitserov, a businessman and acquaintance who worked with him on the timber project, are charged with embezzling nearly $500,000. A third man accused in the scheme pleaded guilty and has cooperated with the prosecutors.

The prosecutor on Friday requested a five-year prison term for Mr. Ofitserov and a fine of about $30,000.

If Mr. Navalny, 37, is convicted of criminal charges, he will be barred from running for any office. A six-year term, while less than the maximum possible sentence of 10 years, would, if served in full, keep him in prison until after Russia’s next presidential election in 2018.

In addition, the prosecutor, Sergei Bogdanov, asked the judge to impose a fine of about $30,000. “I believe that the punishment proposed by the state is just and proportionate to the committed crime and the loss suffered by the state,” Mr. Bogdanov said.

Mr. Navalny rose to prominence as an anticorruption blogger with a special knack for turning a scathing phrase. The most devastating was his branding of United Russia, which supported Mr. Putin for president, as “the party of swindlers and thieves” — which quickly became an unshakable catchphrase.

In a defiant speech in the courtroom on Friday, Mr. Navalny, wearing khaki slacks and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, denounced the Russian government, and pledged to push ahead with his opposition activities.

“Myself and my colleagues will do everything possible to destroy this feudal regime being established in Russia,” he said. “If somebody thinks that having heard the threat of the six-year imprisonment I would run away abroad or hide somewhere, they are mistaken. I cannot run away from myself. I have nothing else but this, and I don’t want to do anything else but to help my country.”

He added, “This cannot last endlessly, that the 140-million-strong people of one of the biggest and richest countries are subjugated to a handful of bastards."

In the mayoral race, Mr. Navalny is challenging the popular, and heavily favored, Kremlin-backed incumbent, Sergei S. Sobyanin, who submitted his resignation this year in a maneuver to call early elections.

The risk of inciting Mr. Navalny’s supporters, and bolstering his stature as a rival of Mr. Putin, has prompted speculation that he will receive a suspended sentence. That would still end his political aspirations, however.

The Kremlin has insisted that it does not interfere in the justice system. But Mr. Navalny is just one of several opposition leaders now facing criminal charges seemingly unrelated to their political activity. Acquittals in Russian criminal cases are extremely rare.

The allegations against Mr. Navalny were originally investigated in Kirov and dropped by the local authorities, who said there was insufficient evidence of a crime. But the case was revived after being taken over by the federal Investigative Committee, which is led by Aleksandr I. Bastrykin, a close ally of President Putin.

Mr. Navalny has lived with the risk of being arrested for years, and has served several short-term detentions, typically after street protests. In recent months, however, the authorities have barred him from traveling abroad.

In the courtroom on Friday, one of Mr. Navalny’s lawyers, Olga Mikhailova, repeated the defense team’s denunciation of the case as politically motivated and unjust. “The character of the charges, the lack of real evidence from the prosecution, the judge’s dismissal of nearly all defense motions all bear witness that this trial does not answer to the rules of justice,” she said, “and is aimed at only one thing: to publicly discredit and sentence a famous civic and political activist for political motives.”

Mr. Bogdanov sought to portray the case as routine, with the notable exception of its celebrity defendant. “There are a great number of similar crimes, and there is nothing new in our criminal case, not in the goals, nor the means, nor the execution of the crime,” he said. “There is only one difference: the accused. It is he who evokes genuine interest in society and adds a special resonance to the case.”

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« Reply #7344 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:20 AM »

Nicolas Sarkozy returns to politics after expenses ruling threatens UMP party

Speculation grows of comeback as former French president vows to defend 'pluralism' after campaign funding decision

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Friday 5 July 2013 17.29 BST   

Nicolas Sarkozy has returned to the political scene in Paris, vowing to fight back after his presidential campaign expenses were rejected by France's highest constitutional body, which has plunged his already cash-strapped party into financial turmoil.

The former right-wing president, who lost to the Socialist François Hollande in 2012, had been keeping a relatively low profile in France as he travelled the world on well-paid speaking engagements. In recent months, his supporters in Paris had dropped hints and fed speculation about a political comeback to fight the presidential elections in 2017.

His backers have always stopped short of confirming an election bid and Sarkozy was expected to keep silent until next summer before considering a political comeback. Recent gatherings, including a visit to David Cameron at Downing Street, fed rumours that his 2012 vow to quit politics could be overturned.

On Friday a decision by the constitutional council that Sarkozy had exceeded his 2012 campaign spending limits led the enraged former president to break his silence. The council upheld an earlier decision by an election watchdog that Sarkozy's budget went over the €22.5m (£20m) limit and failed to account for all his costs, including some rally spending, leaflets and travel. The ruling means Sarkozy's right-wing UMP, France's main opposition party, which is already deeply in debt, will be denied €11m in state subsidies.

Sarkozy immediately quit his seat on the constitutional council – an automatic position given to all ex-presidents – saying he wanted "freedom" to speak out. Then, on Facebook, he denounced the "unprecedented" decision that put his political party and "pluralism" in "peril". He vowed to take on his "responsibilities" in fighting for "the guarantee of freedom of democratic expression in our country". He asked the public to help and linked to a party fundraising campaign.

Although his reappearance on the political scene stopped short of a full election bid, French media speculated that a big TV or newspaper interview would now follow. Sarkozy's political supporters argued he was being victimised. He currently features in several corruption inquiries, including alleged illegal campaign funding from the frail L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt and alleged illegal campaign funding from the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2007. Other cases under investigation include alleged organised fraud over a payout to Bernard Tapie, a businessman and Sarkozy-supporter, misusing public funds to pay for opinion polls and allegedly using illegal kickbacks from arms sales to Pakistan to fund a political campaign in the 1990s.

Henri Guaino, an ally, said there was a "climate of Sarkozy-hunting" in France.

The UMP Paris MP Bernard Debré said Sarkozy's return to politics in reaction to the expenses ruling was not good for the UMP party. "It would be too early," he said. "If one simply returns to politics for vengeance against sanctions by the constitution council, it's not a good thing."

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« Reply #7345 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:24 AM »

Surgeon turned Rome mayor vows to revive city – his toughest operation yet

Ignazio Marino outlines his plans to rebuild the Italian capital, a city with an illustrious past but an uncertain present

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Friday 5 July 2013 15.58 BST   

When he was elected mayor of Rome last month, Ignazio Marino received a gift in the post from colleagues at the Thomas Jefferson university in Philadelphia: a box set of Arnold Schwarzenegger films. Some might have thought it verging on the blasphemous for the man in charge of one of the world's art house capitals, but he was nonetheless delighted.

Marino, a bespectacled, bicycling 58-year-old, nurses a "passion" for the Austrian-born American, and quotes his best lines liberally, to the dismay of his advisers, during interviews. But, while the coming-together may seem incongruous, the two men do have at least one thing in common – before he entered politics, Marino's daily life was about as far from that of the mayor of Italy's capital as a film-star's is from that of the governor of California.

But while Arnie was breaking box office records as the Terminator, Marino was a transplant surgeon. After a medical career that took him from Italy to the US and back again, during which time he performed his home country's first organ transplant on a patient with HIV, Marino decided to run for election in 2006 as a senator in Italy's parliament.

This year, he raised the stakes by standing as the centre-left Democratic party's candidate for Rome mayor against the centre-right incumbent, former neo-Fascist Gianni Alemanno. During the campaign he was targeted by animal rights activists who denounced him for having tried to use baboon organs for human transplants. So why do it? "Because of the challenge," he said, in a recent interview with the Guardian.

It is certainly that. In his latest incarnation Marino is stepping to the political fore at a time when voter disillusionment is high and, in his own words, "the feeling that politics is bribing, corruption, stealing, is very entrenched in the minds of many, many Italians and probably the majority of Romans". He is also taking over the reins of a city with an illustrious past but an uncertain present, a dysfunctional transport system, creaking public services and unparalleled, but woefully underfunded, cultural treasures.

"It's a controlled emergency, where you need to make a plan, you need to have an organisation, a schedule, and obviously resources," he said. "It's different from emergencies where you just do your best to save a life. You need to make a solid plan and stick with that."

In an attempt to reduce car use, protect ruins from traffic fumes and enhance the sight for tourists and locals, one of Marino's first plans as mayor is to partially pedestrianise a stretch of the via dei Fori Imperiali, the traffic-clogged road built under Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, which cuts through some of the most precious archaeological sites of ancient Rome.

In recognition of the need for environmental and cultural improvement, it is emblematic of much of Marino's vision for Rome. The medical man, who travels around the city on a maroon bicycle, in keeping with the ascetic political zeitgeist, has said he would like to find an outside corporate sponsor to revive the capital's botched bike-hire service.

And, having witnessed two closures last month of the Colosseum due to wildcat strikes, he is also keenly aware of the capital's need to improve and capitalise on the showcasing of its cultural treasures. Even though the amphitheatre falls under the administration of the state, the symbolic impact of the closures is obvious and Marino said they left him feeling "very discouraged".

He would like to see the great Rome tourist experience, which many find dazzling and maddening in equal measure, streamlined, with, for example, a single ticket allowing entrance to all museums. He would not like to see a repeat of £54 which a British family were charged this year for four ice-creams.

Beyond the basic challenges, Marino is eyeing a greater prize – that of giving a once-glorious city a renewed contemporary energy.

Born in Genoa, he came to the capital aged 13 and, later on, trained in one of its hospitals while witnessing the bloodiest effects of the terror-ridden anni di piomba (years of lead). "I think we really need to fix ordinary problems like traffic but we also need to give the town a vision," he said. "For example, my dream is to give to Rome a science museum. It doesn't have one, which is pretty unusual for a capital."

With the coffers in their current state, however, that may have to remain a dream for the time being. The city's public transport agency, for example, is reported to be on the verge of bankruptcy.

But Marino remains optimistic. He says that when he decided to leave the US for mafia-blighted Palermo, to help set up a transplant centre in 1997, his colleagues thought "it would be a disaster, a failure, the ruin of my career". But it was not, and the centre has been successful.

And, as ever, his medical career is informing his political one. "It's like in an operating theatre," he says. "The way successful surgeons operate is by sitting in a conference room, studying all the X-rays, all the medical charts, the medical history of the patient, and then you decide what plan you will be pursuing.

"A successful surgeon, in my view, is someone who is planning and discussing the pros and cons before the action. Then you go in the operating theatre; you have your plan, but you work all together … This is the idea that I have, and I think that if I am able to perform this way, and have the city councillors perform in this way, I think we will succeed."

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« Reply #7346 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:39 AM »

Fighting across Egypt as Brotherhood supporters told to stay on streets

Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader tells followers to continue protesting until return of ousted president Mohamed Morsi

Patrick Kingsley and Martin Chulov in Cairo
The Guardian, Saturday 6 July 2013      

Egyptian cities were left strewn with rocks, glass and bullet casings on Saturday morning after almost 24 hours of violence which left 30 dead and more than 1,100 injured.

Clashes erupted on Friday night between supporters and opponents of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in central Cairo and other cities across Egypt , as fears of an expected backlash against his removal materialised.

Fighting broke out shortly after the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie – reported to have been arrested on Thursday – appeared unexpectedly at a rally in east Cairo on Friday evening to tell his followers to remain on the streets until Morsi's return. The ousted president had once been a senior member of the Islamist party.

In Cairo, a crowd of close to 5,000 Morsi supporters crossed the Nile over the 6 October Bridge, near the hub of opposition dissent, Tahrir Square. Turning left towards Maspero, the state television centre, they were approached by anti-Morsi demonstrators and fighting broke out in the streets.

Similar scenes were also reported in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, and there were reports of skirmishes in Luxor in the south of the country. The Sinai peninsula was placed on a state of emergency after an attack by gunmen on a local airport. There were also clashes reported in Damanhour, in Egypt's north-east, and Beni Suef, in the south, as Islamists protested across the country at Morsi's removal – in what the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups had billed as a "day of rejection".

Amid chaotic scenes near Tahrir, neither the army nor police intervened for two hours in what was the area's first glimpse of factional fighting since Morsi was forced from office on Wednesday. Live ammunition was heard as the two sides pelted each other with fireworks and stones. Molotovs were thrown and a car was burned out in clashes that ended only once the army sent several armoured vehicles to calm the situation at about 10pm.

Tensions were already high after security forces guarding Morsi shot and killed at least three of his supporters protesting outside the Republican Guards building in Cairo in which he was being held – and injured 15 more.

The shootings came as a Brotherhood official claimed that every single member of the organisation's leadership group had been arrested or was wanted by police, after new warrants were issued on Friday. A senior Brotherhood official claimed they were now being accused not just of insulting the judiciary, but of inciting murder.

The violence against Morsi's supporters confirmed the worst fears of Islamists, who warned this week that they would face renewed violent oppression under the new military-backed regime.

Demonstrators at the scene said they had initially wanted to rescue the former president from captivity and escort him back to the presidential palace. But once the protesters – who marched on the Republican Guards building from two different mosques – arrived at about 3pm, they claimed that, in fact, they stayed back, chanting their support.

According to one eyewitness, the shootings began half an hour later, after a man left the crowd, approached a barbed-wire fence protecting the compound and fixed a Morsi poster to it. "Then he walked back," said Anas Abdel Rahim, a 19-year-old salesman with blood staining his hands after a teenager was shot in his arms. "Then someone wearing civilian clothes [on the army's side of the line] came to take the poster off the fence. People started shouting. He left it. He went to a soldier. They had a conversation. After the conversation the guy in civilian clothes started shooting."

Following the shots, protesters started running and security officials fired teargas and birdshot into the crowds – many of whom were caught unawares.

"They starting shooting, people started running, I was praying, and I got shot," said Ahmed Mohamed, bent over beside an ambulance as medics plucked birdshot pellets from his back.

The Guardian photographed live ammunition marked with army insignia at the scene. An army spokesman denied its involvement in the shooting.

Nearby a 50,000-strong pro-Morsi rally was held, where Brotherhood officials admitted that the immediate operational future of the party, a strictly hierarchical group that relies heavily on its leaders, was in disarray. With all the members of its top-level "Guidance Office" likely to be arrested soon, and most of its 200-strong, second-tier "Shura Council" seemingly also sought by police, the Brotherhood faces the most serious disruption to its operational capacity in decades. Senior Brotherhood officials appeared uncertain of who could take over in the event of Badie's arrest.

Asked who could succeed the organisation's spiritual leader, Mohamed Beltagy, a Brotherhood "guidance officer", replied: "Whoever remains in the Guidance Office." He said he expected to be arrested himself once he left the rally. After it was pointed out that no guidance officers might soon be left at liberty, Beltagy said: "These questions should be asked of the person that decided to leave the Brotherhood without leadership."

But Beltagy said the Brotherhood would survive. "Attempts to destroy [us] have been going on for 80 years and have never succeeded."

"We will go underground if we have to," said Salah Sultan, a senior official in the Brotherhood, and Egypt's deputy minister of Islamic affairs.

Egypt's new interim president, Adly Mansour, is expected to move into the country's presidential palace in north-east Cairo on Saturday – a compound occupied by Morsi aides only a few days ago. Mansour is expected to name the prime minister and may also name a cabinet, diplomatic sources said.

It was also announced that Egypt had been suspended from the African Union because of the circumstances of Morsi's departure.


07/05/2013 02:02 PM

World from Berlin: 'The Army Had No Choice' in Egypt

What comes next in Egypt? With large Muslim Brotherhood protests expected for Friday, continued violence is certainly one possibility. Still, German commentators largely agree that the military coup was not to be avoided.

Where is Egypt headed? Is it a powder keg about to explode into civil war? Or will the military succeed in tempering anger over the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi and getting the country started on a new, peaceful path to democracy?

Events on Friday could be decisive in determining the answer. The indications that more violence could lie in the country's near future are many. Thousands of Morsi supporters are still camped out in Cairo, surrounded by military vehicles and soldiers lest their protests turn violent. And, earlier in the day, suspected Islamic militants attacked four sites in northern Sinai, including two military checkpoints, a police station and an airport used by the military. The attacks left one soldier dead and three wounded, and prompted Egypt to close its border crossing with Gaza. Scattered skirmishes have likewise been reported elsewhere.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist allies have called for mass protests on Friday, dubbing it the "Friday of Rejection," according to Reuters. The Brotherhood, enraged at the military for ousting Morsi and for continuing to round up and detain senior Brotherhood figures, has reportedly urged followers to keep the protests peaceful, but it has still declared its "complete rejection of the military coup" and said that it refuses "to participate in any activities with the usurping authorities," according to the AP.

'Glorious Revolution'

On the other side stand those who now hold the reins but are urging Morsi's supporters to look to the future and join them in forming a new government and constitution. In his inaugural speech on Thursday, interim President Adly Manour said that the protests had "corrected the path" of the "glorious revolution" that began with the 2011 overthrow of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak. Likewise, a spokesman wrote in a statement released late Thursday that the military has a "strong will to ensure national reconciliation, constructive justice and tolerance."

In Germany, responses have been tempered. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the country must return to constitutional order as quickly as possible. "I call on all those responsible in Egypt to act calmly, to meet each other halfway and to seek ways out of this serious crisis of state together," he said Thursday. Chancellor Angela Merkel merely stated Thursday that Egypt was experiencing an "undoubtedly cataclysmic event that we must track with great concern." On Friday, Development Minister Dirk Niebel took things a bit further, telling public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk that the fact that a majority of Egyptians weren't happy with Morsi's leadership did not "justify a military putsch" and that the matter would have been better handled at the ballot box.

In Friday's leading newspapers, German commentators look for signs of hope among the clouds of uncertainty:

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Can the military overthrow in Egypt be justified? Yes. Egypt was on the edge of collapse. Economically, the country is in disastrous shape. On the political front, the conflict between the regime and the opposition had become hopelessly deadlocked and the street battles … were being fought in part with firearms. An agreement between the Islamists holed up in the presidential palace and the opposition, which was propelling people onto the streets, had become increasingly unlikely. The army, as the only institution in the country that still functions, hardly had another choice but to intervene."

"The beginning of 'Egyptian democracy' was problematic. The cardinal error was not the fact that the Islamists came to power -- after all, they were elected. No, the president and his Muslim Brotherhood, despite undeniable hurdles, have primarily themselves to blame for their failure. As the representatives of a secretive political-religious society which sees itself as part of the elite, they greedily grabbed for the perks, pointedly excluded many and divided a heterogeneous society. Despite their claims, they are not democrats. The Muslim Brotherhood sees elections merely as a vehicle through which they can achieve their preferred form of state. And that is not pluralistic democracy…. It is primarily for that reason, and not just because of the economic crisis, that Egyptians took to the streets to display their lack of trust in the elected head of state. It is primarily for that reason that they were waiting for the army."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Whatever happens in Egypt, Morsi's removal has an impact on the rest of the Arab world. The Islamists haven't totally lost their appeal, but they have lost much of their innocence and credibility. This simplifies the search for new options. The Islamists, Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists will continue to play a role in politics in the years to come, but they will no longer dominate. If the former Egyptian opposition does its job well, the secular movements in other countries will get a boost too, especially in Tunisia and Libya."

Business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Having a change in power at the tips of bayonets is not so desirable. But, given all the bad options, this could be the best one. As a result of the military's intervention, Egypt at least has a chance to make a second go at democracy. … Unlike with the toppling of Mubarak, the job of the West this time has been clear from the get-go: to support the (Egyptian) military as long as it commits itself to a swift transfer of power to civilian structures; making sure that human and civil rights are respected; and to employ all possible forms of influence to ensure this. This can range from IMF loans to American military aid to tourism."

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Where things go from here is an open question. Will it come to a civil war like the one in Algeria during the early '90s? The first steps of Cairo's generals don't suggest that things will turn out that way on the Nile. Even the Muslim Brotherhood appears to shrink from this extreme. Many of them are just as disgusted as the liberal forces in the country with the catastrophic way in which their president exercised his office. … Nevertheless, people should not deceive themselves. Egypt is stuck in its worst economic crisis since the end of the monarchy. Mohammed Morsi failed because he couldn't alleviate the country's suffering. Will the new rulers be able to do any better? One can only hope."

Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Morsi's opponents … have won a Pyrrhic victory. The generals are the wrong friends for the democratic movement. They are no democrats, and they are even less interested in safeguarding the development of democracy (in Egypt). … The military is a state within a state … and it has been pulling the strings in the background for decades. … The liberal opposition, in particular, cannot be certain that the military won't next topple a government that (the opposition) has elected and which corresponds with its views. For this reason, the joy over Morsi's ouster is short-sighted. The army's intervention could turn out to be more dangerous than is currently foreseeable. Egypt is threatened by a deep division that could result in conditions like those seen in Algeria."

-- Josh Ward


Obama silent over Egypt in muted Washington response to violence

Three killed in Cairo as situation deteriorates, prompting condemnation of US silence at home and abroad

Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Friday 5 July 2013 20.05 BST   

Violence in Cairo was met with silence from Washington on Friday, as the Obama administration appeared to weigh its response to the evolving Egyptian crisis.

Egypt's new military regime clashed with pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters during a series of demonstrations, leaving at least three people dead according to reports. The violence came as the army declared a state of emergency in Suez and southern Sinai and dissolved the upper house of the Egyptian parliament.

But criticism from Washington over the violence was, pointedly, muted. President Barack Obama did not issue a statement on Friday. Neither the State Department nor the Pentagon held briefings and Congress was out of session following the Fourth of July holiday.

Behind the scenes, Obama administration officials worked the phones to temper the volatile Egyptian situation. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, on Friday, after speaking the day before to the Egyptian chief of staff, Lieutenant General Sedki Sobhi. Administration officials spoke on Thursday to representatives from Egypt, Israel and Turkey as well.

But the lack of any public statement in Washington stood in contrast to denunciations by regional leaders. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said "those who rely on the guns in their hands, those who rely on the power of the media cannot build democracy" and blasted the west for "double standards". The African Union suspended Egypt's membership.

The Obama administration's reluctance to wade deeper into the Egyptian crisis is partially explained by the extent of US interests in the crucial Arab country. The Egyptian military is a bulwark against violence and weapons shipments spreading northeast into Gaza and south into Sudan and eastern Africa. Egypt is the recipient of nearly $1.5bn in annual US aid, eclipsed only by Israel as a financial client of Washington.

That money is not supposed to flow in the event of a coup. But those interests, more than any semantic distinction the White House or the State Department draws to describe the military overthrow of Mohammed Morsi's elected government, appear to create hesitation in Washington to cutting off aid to the new military regime in Cairo.

"I wouldn't cut it off," a former chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, Howard Berman, told the New York Times. The Republican senator Ted Cruz wrote a Wednesday op-ed for the magazine Foreign Policy in which he blasted Obama for not demanding Morsi's ouster himself.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal urged the White House to continue funding Cairo, suggesting that Egyptians would be "lucky" if their new ruling generals turned out to be like the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet, a man reviled by human-rights advocates, "took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers", the newspaper explained.

The White House and the State Department declined to warn the Egyptian military publicly against it seizing power, having delivered a public ultimatum to Morsi on Monday. Obama's most expansive comments came after the military ousted Morsi, in which he said the "best foundation for lasting stability is a democratic political order" that included "secular and religious, civilian and military".

The comments were notable in that Obama did not criticize the military for taking power, instead urging it to hand it over to a "democratically elected civilian government". He did not pledge an aid cut-off, instead saying his administration would "review" its aid disbursements, a statement that was interpreted as a warning to the Egyptian military.

John Bellinger, a State Department legal adviser in the Bush administration, said there are steps the department can take to avoid the awkward designation of a coup in Egypt.

"The legal adviser's office may examine whether there is an argument that a military coup has not taken place because of the popular opposition to Morsi and because a new civilian president has been sworn in," said Bellinger, now a partner at Arnold & Porter, a law firm with influence in Washington.

"A more straightforward approach would be for Secretary Kerry to conclude that a military coup had taken place but to ask Congress to pass legislation to allow the president to waive the sanctions, as Congress did after the 9/11 attacks to allow President Bush to waive the sanctions against Pakistan."


July 5, 2013

Israel Sees a Chance for More Reliable Ties With Egypt and a Weakening of Hamas


JERUSALEM — After Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist, was elected president of Egypt a year ago, he refused any contact with Israelis, raising deep anxiety here and concern about the future of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, a cornerstone of regional stability for decades.

But with Mr. Morsi’s ouster and the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt this week, Israelis see the prospect of a return to what they view as a more reliable status quo, as well as a weakening of Hamas, the militant Islamic group that runs Gaza.

And yet, the good news for Israel remains tempered by the danger of chronic instability next door.

“What is important for Israel is a stable Egypt,” said Shaul Shay, a former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council. “I don’t see the Muslim Brotherhood there swallowing the blow and waiting another 80 years to try to return to power. The story is not over, despite the fireworks in Cairo.”

While Mr. Morsi served as head of state, Israel’s only line of communication with Cairo was through the Egyptian military and security establishment, which is now controlling Egypt’s political process. Perhaps more reassuring to Israel is the role of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the top commander who led the move to depose Mr. Morsi.

General Sisi is well known in Israel’s defense establishment from his past roles in military intelligence and in northern Sinai. An Israeli expert said that even after Mr. Morsi appointed General Sisi as his defense minister, the general’s office continued to communicate and coordinate directly with Israel.

Israeli officials have maintained a diplomatic silence since Mr. Morsi’s overthrow, refusing to comment publicly on what they say is an internal Egyptian affair.

“We are observing very closely,” one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. “This is a matter of highest importance for us. We really hope the Egyptians manage to put together a functioning democracy, slowly but surely, but there is still a very high level of uncertainty.”

He added, “What’s next is anybody’s guess.”

Still, for some Israelis, the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood was reason enough to celebrate.

“It’s good that the Muslim Brotherhood has gone,” said Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. “If they had stayed in power for another two or three years, they’d have taken control of the military and everything else, and Egypt would have become like Iran.”

Mr. Morsi did not radically shift Egyptian policy toward Israel, upholding Egypt’s commitment to the peace treaty. Under his authority, the Egyptian military acted in the volatile Sinai Peninsula against Islamic militants who had been attacking Egyptian forces in recent years and using the wild desert terrain to stage cross-border attacks against Israel. Israeli experts said Israeli-Egyptian security coordination over Sinai in the last year had been closer and more intense than during the era of Mr. Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

In November, Mr. Morsi played an instrumental role in brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza, ending a fierce eight-day Israeli offensive. Hamas has since worked to rein in rocket fire by Gaza militants against southern Israel.

With Egypt in flux, the Sinai Peninsula remains a potential source of friction. Early Friday, gunmen attacked an airport and Egyptian security forces there. The Egyptian authorities took the immediate step of indefinitely closing the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border, presumably to block any potential access for Hamas to its allies in Egypt.

It was a sign of the times for Hamas, which faces increasing isolation, experts said. When the Brotherhood was in power in Egypt, Hamas had a strong ally.

For a while after Mr. Morsi’s election victory, Hamas felt empowered. Mr. Morsi sent his prime minister to Gaza in November in a show of solidarity amid the Israeli offensive. In October, the emir of Qatar became the first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas took over in 2007. He pledged $400 million for major housing and infrastructure projects there.

But the high expectations never fully materialized. The Rafah crossing remained limited to passengers and closed to commercial goods. The Egyptian military recently stepped up its campaign against the tunnels beneath the border that are used for smuggling goods, weapons and fugitives. The clampdown is causing shortages of cheap fuel and depriving Hamas of the significant tax revenues it collects from the underground trade. In addition, Qatar indefinitely suspended its projects in Gaza, partly because of the unstable situation in Egypt. Qatari officials were apparently unable to get to Gaza to endorse the second phase of the work.

Hamas had already been suffering from a sharp drop in financing from Iran in recent months because the group did not stand by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, its former patron, in his struggle against rebel forces.

“Hamas is in a very difficult situation because its outside relations are shrinking,” said Akram Atallah, a political analyst in Gaza.

But Israeli experts cautioned that a weakened Hamas was not necessarily good for Israel, either, noting that weakness could also lead to extremism.

Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described Egypt as “the sick man on the Nile,” adding, “A situation in which Egypt, a nation of 85 million people, is in danger of some kind of implosion is a horror scenario for all of us.”

Internal chaos would also be likely to further erode Egypt’s historic role as a leader of the Arab world, but Israeli analysts said its influence had already been in decline for years.

“Egypt is busy with its own domestic problems and is not much of an actor on the regional scene,” said Efraim Inbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza.


Egypt: on the brink of disaster

It is, to say the least, ironic that the African Union called the coup for what it was and, notably, the European Union did not

The Guardian, Friday 5 July 2013 20.00 BST          

Millions of Egyptians took to the streets earlier this week with legitimate complaints about Mohamed Morsi. They accused him of monopolising power, of assaulting the separation of powers between the presidency and the judiciary, of bearing down on journalists, and ruining the economy. These were genuine concerns after just one year and the throng was swelled by the deep resentment the Muslim Brotherhood itself had generated. This explosion was a long time coming.

Yesterday, however, hundreds of thousands more were on the streets demanding his restoration. Whether or not Mr Morsi had been good or bad, he had been their choice and they were being robbed of it. If you can take to the streets, they were saying, we can take to them too, and they did in provinces all over Egypt. That is one of the consequences of deciding the fate of regimes with military coups, however popular. Once you stage a coup once, you can stage another one again. Once parliaments are dissolved and constitutions suspended, the street becomes the only arbiter of legitimacy. It is, to say the least, ironic that the African Union called the coup for what it was and, notably, the European Union did not.

As the deaths and injuries from street clashes and shootings rose, it is not difficult to see where this will end up. The stakes are huge, not just for Egypt but for the Arab world as a whole. Before the disaster of major civil unrest in the Arab world's most populous country unfolds, two things must be done. All parties must be included in the transition and elections must be held as soon as possible. This is a matter of deeds as well as words. It is little use for the judge who has been propelled into the position of being the country's new interim president, Adly Mansour, to reach out to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to call it part of the fabric of society, when 300 Brotherhood officials have been arrested and warrants have been issued for its entire top leadership. In the jargon of such operations, this is called decapitation. It is designed to cripple an organisation and prevent it from organising legitimate opposition.

Inviting the army in may yet prove to be one of the biggest mistakes that the demonstration in Tahrir Square made. The military only agreed to allow presidential elections to take place after the fall of Hosni Mubarak because a majority of its top staff realised they could not control the country on their own. That conclusion is even truer today, as the protest against the coup multiplies. The army is not protecting any revolution by opening fire on fellow Egyptian citizens – whoever they may be. It is imperilling it.

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« Reply #7347 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:43 AM »

80 sexual assaults in one day – the other story of Tahrir Square

Egypt's women increasingly at risk of rape and sexual assault as rights groups warn of a step up in attacks

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo, Friday 5 July 2013 12.57 BST   

Link to video: Cairo bodyguard volunteers 'protect women protesters'

On Wednesday night, when Egypt's army chief announced the forced departure of Mohamed Morsi, the streets around Tahrir Square turned into an all-night carnival. But not everyone there was allowed to celebrate. Among the masses dancing, singing and honking horns, more than 80 women were subjected to mob sexual assaults, harassment or rape. In Tahrir Square since Sunday, when protests against Morsi first began, there have been at least 169 counts of sexual mob crime.

"Egypt is full of sexual harassment and people have become desensitised to it – but this is a step up," said Soraya Bahgat, a women's rights advocate and co-founder of Tahrir Bodyguard, a group that rescues women from assault. "We're talking about mob sexual assaults, from stripping women naked and dragging them on the floor – to rape."

Since Sunday, campaigners say at least one woman has been raped with a sharp object.

Such crimes have been endemic at Tahrir protests since at least the 2011 revolution, but they have never been documented in such high numbers.

"It's been underreported because a lot of people are unwilling to come forward," said Bahgat, "and because no one wanted to disturb the sanctity of Tahrir."

In a typical attack, lines of men push their way through the packed square, surround lone women, and start ripping at their clothes until they are naked. Some women have been violated by men using their hands.

"Suddenly, I was in the middle, surrounded by hundreds of men in a circle that was getting smaller and smaller around me," one woman has written of the experience. "At the same time, they were touching and groping me everywhere and there were so many hands under my shirt and inside my pants."

"We call it the circle of hell," said Bahgat, who herself narrowly escaped assault this week.

Since last November, help has been at hand. Two volunteer rescue groups – Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (OpAntish) and Tahrir Bodyguard – have squads of rescuers patrolling the square in groups of around 15. The two organisations have slightly different tactics and uniforms, but their methods are broadly the same. They seek to fight off the attackers, sometimes with clubs and flamethrowers, and re-clothe the women – and then secret them to safe-houses nearby, or even to hospital. Mobs have been known to try to break down the safe-house doors, while some of the rescuers have been assaulted themselves.

Often, random passers-by join in the attacks. But all activists in the field feel sure the assaults are usually started by groups of men who go to the square together on crowded protest days with the specific intention of violating women.

"There's an absolute absence of any security forces in Tahrir," explained Bahgat, who no longer runs the group. "And also the crowd seems to have become conditioned to it."

Such indifference is not specific to Tahrir. While in the past year many more people have begun to mobilise against it, sexual harassment still remains an accepted part of Egyptian life. According to a UN survey released this April, 99.3% of Egyptian women reported being sexually harassed, with 91% saying they feel insecure in the street as a result.

One problem is that sexual harassment is not properly defined under Egyptian law, which makes prosecuting perpetrators difficult. Another is that when women try to file complaints under more general harassment and assault laws, their cases are not taken seriously by police. "Cases that are reported to the police are handled in a disgusting manner," said Mariam Kirollos, an OpAntish organiser, and an activist for women's rights. "They are not taken seriously. In some cases, girls filing a police report are even harassed."

For most, the obstacles start long before they reach the police station, as passers-by try to excuse the harassers' behaviour. "People say, 'oh, he was poor, he didn't know what he was doing," said Bahgat.

"Primarily, the blame is on the woman. People always ask: what was she wearing?"

When Lyla el-Gueretly, a 30-year-old teacher, was sexually harassed and then assaulted on a Cairo bridge in April, she was repeatedly told by passers-by not to pursue charges.

"They said: what did he actually do?" Gueretly remembered. "They said I should just let it go. If you're a 'decent' girl, you're expected to leave it."

But Gueretly for once refused, chose to follow the case through to court – despite being discouraged at every turn – and last month became one of just half-a-dozen women to successfully prosecute a man for harassment in Egypt.

Even then, the conviction was a legal fudge – for mere physical assault, rather than anything sexual – and her harasser was sentenced to jail in absentia, having been allowed to leave custody. Police have made no serious attempts to track him down.

"The problem is that the state has been condoning these crimes," said Kirollos. "There's no accountability whatsoever. There has also been zero effort by the government to change how the media or the education system deals with this problem."

Egypt's National Council for Women is working with the country's interior ministry to set up a system where women can report sexual harassment to a specialised team of female police officers – so that their cases might be taken more seriously. The group has also proposed new legislation to Egypt's cabinet that specifically outlaws sexual harassment.

But with Wednesday's coup changing the people in power, both projects may not happen. Besides, campaigners are adamant that the problems cannot be solved by legal tweaks alone.

"It's going to take more than just laws, and more than just implementing those laws, to stop this happening," said Kirollos. "Society needs to change to stop it."

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« Reply #7348 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:45 AM »

Millions of Syrians in need of food aid as war devastates food production

World's worst humanitarian disaster has left 93,000 dead, displaced 4.25 million and forced 1.6 million to leave the country

Mark Tran, Friday 5 July 2013 17.32 BST   

Four million Syrians will be in need of urgent food aid, UN agencies have warned, as crop and livestock production has been devastated by the civil war.

The most vulnerable include the internally displaced, small-scale farmers, herders, casual traders, the urban poor, pregnant mothers, the disabled and chronically sick.

If the present conflict continues, the food security prospects for 2014 could be worse than they are now, said a joint report from the World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation. "With so many adverse factors now stacked against the crop and livestock sectors, and assuming that the present crisis remains unresolved, domestic production over the next twelve months will be severely compromised," the report said.

The world's worst humanitarian disaster has left 93,000 people dead, displaced 4.25 million people internally and forced more than 1.6 million to leave the country to seek refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The number of people in need is expected to rise to 10 million, nearly half of the population, by the end of the year.

According to the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan in June, 6.8 million people were in need of humanitarian help. It estimated the number of people in need of urgent and sustained food help at 4 million for the rest of the year. Even before the crisis, the nutrition situation was already alarming, with 9.3% of children suffering from wasting and 23% of them stunted. Besides a worsening in quality of diet, child health concerns are also due to reduced vaccination coverage from 95% in 2009 to 80% in 2012. Coverage is expected to decrease as the crisis persists.

Agriculture has played an important part in Syria's economy, contributing some 18% to GDP and involving 17% of its labour force. Before the crisis, 10 million Syrians lived in rural areas, 80% of whom made a living from agriculture. The war, however, has had a devastating impact on agriculture. Food production has been hampered by high costs and reduced availability of inputs, damage to agricultural machinery and storage facilities, the threat of violence and the flight from the land by farmers. Some crops may not be harvested.

Irrigation canals and cotton mills, among other infrastructure, have also suffered damage. Wheat flour milling factories and bakeries are either no longer operating or are operating at low capacity. In addition, sanctions have exacerbated the situation, leading to shortages of agricultural inputs, crop-protection materials, diesel, and spare parts.

Accordingly, wheat production for this year is estimated at 2.4m tonnes, 40% lower than the average for the 10 years before 2010-11 and 15% less than the poor 2011-12 crop, although barley production is up. Livestock has been badly affected by the current conflict and by international sanctions with sheep and cattle numbers down by about 35% and 25% respectively.

There are practically no routine drugs or vaccines for animals and no vets to administer them.

"Due to higher prices, more Syrian livestock are being sold in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. With the virtual loss veterinary services within Syria, livestock diseases are being transmitted to neighbouring countries, thereby posing a potentially serious regional animal-health problem," said the report.

Before the crisis, Syria was a significant exporter of agricultural produce, including cotton, fruit and vegetables, sheep and cattle. But exports have dried up leading to losses of about $500,000 a year.

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« Reply #7349 on: Jul 06, 2013, 06:46 AM »

Yemen capital rocked by fatal blast

Roadside bomb in Sana'a centre of opposition to ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh kills three soldiers and injures two others

Reuters in Sana'a, Saturday 6 July 2013 10.55 BST   

A roadside bomb in Yemen's capital Sana'a has killed three soldiers and injured two others during a security patrol.

A security official said the blast early on Saturday targeted a car in Sana'a's al-Hasaba district, a centre of opposition to former Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, who formally ceded power in February last year. The official said it was unknown who carried out the attack.

Yemen is the poorest Arab state, with a third of the population living on less than £1.50 a day. The central government faces a Shia uprising in the north, an Islamist insurgency in the south and east, and a southern separatist movement.

Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia and sits along the Red Sea shipment route for crude, is already home to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

The country is navigating an uncertain political transition after Arab spring protests brought down Saleh in early 2012, leading to the creation of a two-year interim government.

* Yemen-police-officers-ins-010.jpg (35.68 KB, 460x276 - viewed 87 times.)
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