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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1008475 times)
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« Reply #7380 on: Jul 08, 2013, 06:41 AM »

Israel looks to force ultra-Orthodox Jews into military service

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, July 7, 2013 17:51 EDT

The Israeli government on Sunday approved a draft law which will spell the end of a system which has seen tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox exempt from military service.

The draft bill, which passed in the cabinet and later in the day in the ministerial committee for legislation, still faces a series of votes in parliament before becoming law.

It stipulates that ultra-Orthodox Jewish men must either join the army or perform civilian service, and if passed it will be implemented over the next four years.

The new law seeks to amend the current situation in which ultra-Orthodox men receive exemptions if they are studying in religious seminaries.

Military service is compulsory in Israel, with men serving three years and women two.

But tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox currently avoid army service by virtue of being enrolled in yeshivas or seminaries.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews represent roughly 10 percent of Israel’s population of just over eight million.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the move, which beyond bringing ultra-Orthodox men into military and civilian service would “integrate them into the labour force”.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the law was “the only way to change an unfair reality which had consolidated over 65 years” since the state’s inception in 1948.

Expanding the draft is vehemently opposed by the ultra-Orthodox parties, but the two parties currently representing that public — Shas and United Torah Judaism — remain outside Netanyahu’s coalition formed earlier this year.

Four cabinet members belonging to Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu faction, which joined forces with Netanyahu’s Likud prior to the latest elections, abstained from the vote since it did not address the issue of Arab Israelis, who are largely exempted from the draft.

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« Reply #7381 on: Jul 08, 2013, 06:46 AM »

Mexicans brave the streets to vote amid intensifying violence

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, July 7, 2013 18:04 EDT

Mexicans were voting in local elections in 14 states on Sunday with one key governorship at stake after a campaign marred by violence against candidates.

The governor’s seat in Baja California state, held by the conservative National Action Party (PAN) opposition for the past 24 years, was the biggest prize in the regional polls and its result could affect a national reforms pact.

Some 32 million voters were casting ballots in 931 of the country’s 2,440 municipalities as well as for candidates in state legislatures in 14 of 32 federal entities.

Soldiers were providing security in several states while the federal attorney general’s office deploy some 1,500 agents following a rash of violence that took the lives of at least six candidates, campaign workers and their relatives in recent weeks.

The latest victim was Aquiles Gonzalez, a mayoral campaign manager of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party in the northern state of Zacatecas who was murdered on Friday.

The old ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which reclaimed the presidency in December after a 12-year absence, hopes to triumph in Baja California, home to the vital border town of Tijuana.

President Enrique Pena Nieto made two big promises when he took office: Reducing the level of drug violence that left 70,000 dead during his predecessor’s six-year term, and keeping the PRI’s old undemocratic ways in the history books.

Pena Nieto struck a Pact for Mexico with the PAN and the PRD that led to the major education and telecommunication reforms, and he hopes to breathe new life into the energy sector and tax system.

But the pact coud be affected by the local election if the PAN loses Baja California, which could weaken the opposition party’s leader, Gustavo Madero, whose deal with the PRI has angered a wing of his party.

The opposition has also accused the PRI of returning to its old ways by luring voters with social programs for the local election.

Madero himself said he was unable to vote at his polling station in the northern state of Chihuahua, posting a video on Twitter of the closed location and the message “Morning TRICKS of the PRI.”

The PRI has rejected accusations of dirty tricks and countered that the opposition has committed abuses. A PRI candidate in Chihuahua has been among the victims of the campaign season.

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« Reply #7382 on: Jul 08, 2013, 06:48 AM »

Raul Castro rails against Cubans' sloppy habits and decaying morals

The 82-year-old Cuban president denounces petty 'social indiscipline' such as drinking and swearing in the street

Associated Press in Havana, Monday 8 July 2013 04.45 BST   

Raul Castro spent the lion's share of a prominent speech on Sunday scolding his countrymen for all kinds of bad behaviour, from corruption and theft to public urination and the practice of raising pigs in cities.

Speaking before legislators at one of parliament's twice-annual sessions, the Cuban president railed against decaying morals, a deteriorating sense of civic responsibility and vanishing values such as honour, decency and decorum.

Castro aired a laundry list of complaints about illegal activities that he said did the country harm: unauthorised home construction, illicit logging and slaughter of livestock and the acceptance of bribes, to name a few.

He also fulminated against baser examples of "social indiscipline": shouting and swearing in the streets, public drinking and drunk-driving, dumping rubbish on the roadside and people relieving themselves in parks.

At times, the 82-year-old's speech sounded like a generational broadside against disrespectful youth who do as they please, a diatribe that could have crossed the lips of many a grandfather.

"When I meditate on these regrettable displays, it makes me think that despite the undeniable educational achievements made by the Revolution ... we have taken a step back in citizens' culture and public spirit," Castro said. "I have the bitter sensation that we are a society ever more educated, but not necessarily more enlightened."

Other examples of bad behaviour cited by Castro included:
• People showing up late to work;
• Graffiti and vandalism of parks, monuments, trees and gardens;
• Loud music that disturbed neighbours' sleep;
• Raising pigs in cities despite the public health risk;
• Scavenging metal from phone and electrical lines, sewers, signs and traffic lights;
• Fare evasion on public transport;
• Failure to comply with school dress codes, and teachers who accept bribes for higher grades;
• Lack of deference to the elderly, pregnant women, mothers with small children and the disabled;
• Children throwing rocks at cars and trains.

"All this takes place right in front of our noses without inciting public condemnation and confrontation," Castro said.

"It is not acceptable to equate vulgarity with modernity, sloppiness and negligence with progress," he said. "Living in society entails, in the first place, accepting rules that preserve respect for decency and the rights of others."

The Cuban leader also spoke of the corrosive effects of official corruption, quoting his elder brother Fidel as saying such activity posed a greater risk to the Cuban revolution's success than any outside forces.

Castro's biannual speech to parliament has sometimes been a moment to announce new initiatives, but Sunday's was short on specifics. Perhaps his most notable comment was a reiteration of the importance of doing away with Cuba's unique dual currency system.

Most citizens get paid in Cuban pesos, while a second currency, the dollar-pegged convertible peso, is used in tourism and to buy most imported goods.

Castro told legislators the Cuban economy was advancing "positively" even if those gains had yet to be felt by the average Cuban family.

Castro also voiced support for Latin American allies' apparent willingness to grant the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum, though he did not say whether Cuba itself would offer him refuge or safe passage.

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« Reply #7383 on: Jul 08, 2013, 06:50 AM »

Obama urged to halt Ramadan force-feeding at Guantánamo

Islamic leaders call on administration to rethink policy towards hunger-striking detainees during religious fast

Ben Ferguson , Maggie O'Kane, and Ed Pilkington in New York
The Guardian, Monday 8 July 2013   
Link to video: Yasiin Bey (AKA Mos Def) force-fed under standard Guantánamo Bay procedure

Islamic community leaders are calling on the Obama administration to rethink its policy of force-feeding hunger-striking detainees in Guantánamo during the month-long fast of Ramadan that begins on Monday.

The US government has said that barring "unforeseen emergency or operational issues" it will respect the daylight fast by trying only to force feed 45 detainees at night. Muslim groups say that by refusing to suspend the practice during Ramadan the US is adding insult to injury.

"We believe it's wrong to force feed at any time but it is particularly upsetting to do it through Ramadan," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman of the largest US Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, the Council On American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He said the situation was Kafkaesque: "It's not just a religious issue, it's also a human rights issue in violation of international norms and medical ethics."

Dr Azzam Tamimi, an Islamic community leader in Britain, said he hoped the Obama administration would reconsider. "As Ramadan starts, this issue is becoming increasingly embarrassing for the US government; it's about time President Obama took a brave decision to end this in a way that would be appreciated around the Islamic world."

The continuation of force-feeding through Ramadan is being legally challenged by four of the 106 detainees who are on hunger strike in protest at their prolonged detention without trial. A lawsuit filed with a federal court in Washington last week argues that night-time feeding could lead to long periods without water, endangering the hunger strikers.

To mark the beginning of Ramadan, the human rights group Reprieve has released to the Guardian a video in which the actor and rapper Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) submits himself to the enteral feeding imposed in Guantánamo. When the first tube was dislodged, he was unable to go ahead with a second attempt by the medical team to insert it.

The star said that he volunteered to be force-fed by two volunteer doctors to highlight what was happening to the hunger strikers in Guantánamo.

The four-minute video, directed by Bafta award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia, seeks to reconstruct the specific force-feeding instructions set out in standard operating guidelines from Guantánamo leaked to al-Jazeera. It shows a plastic tube being inserted through Bey's nostril into his stomach. The "Medical Management Standard Operating Procedure" document leaked from the detention camp defines a hunger striker as a detainee who has missed at least nine consecutive meals or whose weight has fallen to less than 85% of his ideal body weight.

If force feeding is deemed medically necessary, medical personnel shackle the detainee "and a mask is placed over the detainee's mouth to prevent spitting and biting". A feeding tube is then passed through the detainee's nostril into the stomach.

The process takes about 20 to 30 minutes but they can be required to stay in the restraint chair for up to two hours until a chest x-ray confirms the nutrient has reached their stomach.

The prisoner is then removed from restraint chair to "dry cell" where they are observed by a guard for up to an hour "for any indication of vomiting or attempts to induce vomiting". If they do vomit, they are returned to the restraint chair for the entire duration of the observation period in subsequent feeds.

If they bite the tube, the guards hold their head still for "as long as necessary for the detainee to relax his jaw".

Other religious groups have also spoken out against the practice. Last month Bishop Richard Pates, chair of the committee on international justice and peace for the US conference of Catholic bishops, wrote to the defence secretary Chuck Hagel noting the opposition of the International Committee of the Red Cross to force-feeding. "Rather than resorting to such measures, our nation should first do everything it can to address the conditions of despair that have led to this protest."

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« Reply #7384 on: Jul 08, 2013, 06:54 AM »

Bangladesh factory tragedy gives hope to leather workers

Campaigners seek to focus global attention on harsh working conditions and environmental damage caused by industry

Jason Burke in Dhaka
The Guardian, Sunday 7 July 2013 16.52 BST   

The gutters run blue and red, contaminated by chemicals; the air is acrid with fumes; the white midday sun bleaches the dirt of the busy thoroughfare. Mohammed Jalal, 42, is sitting under a ragged awning. He sips tea served scalding hot, despite the 45C temperature. Soon he will return to work in one of the 185 tanneries that dominate this choked, congested neighbourhood of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

"If there was any other job, I'd do it," Jalal says, shaking his head.

Bangladesh has been under a spotlight since the deaths in April of 1,130 workers in the collapse of a factory in Dhaka, which produced cheap garments for western high street retailers. In the tragedy's aftermath, politicians in the chaotic south Asian state promised reforms and companies such as Primark, Matalan and Gap scrambled to repair battered reputations.

Many western firms have signed up to an agreement that legally binds them to source garments from factories in Bangladesh with safe working conditions and to contribute to the cost of improvements. Others are negotiating a separate accord.

But Bangladesh is also a major supplier of leather for shoes, handbags, belts, jackets and suitcases used in Britain, other European countries and south-east Asia. This booming trade – predicted to soon be worth more than $1bn annually but notorious for its harsh conditions and pollution – has received less attention. Almost all Bangladeshi leather is produced from local animal hides by about 15,000 labourers in the small Dhaka neighbourhood of Hazaribagh. A recent report from international campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) described "systemic human rights violations" in the industry. They also warn over a catastrophic environmental impact as tanneries discharge huge quantities of toxic waste into the Buriganga river, which flows through Dhaka.

Residents and workers in Hazaribagh are hoping they may see some benefits from the global outrage that followed the Rana Plaza factory collapse.

"We know what happened to those poor people and have heard that the whole world was angry. Maybe this can help us too," said Jalal, who has worked in the tanneries for 30 years.

European buyers of leather from Bangladesh and diplomats from European countries, have recently sought details of conditions in the tanneries from local authorities and business organisations.

"We have been contacted by a number of firms, via the concerned ministry, looking to be reassured," said Mohammed Abdul Hai, head of the Bangladesh Tanners Association. "We were able to tell them that any problems here will soon be resolved."

Hai said he had allayed European concern by reassuring them that the tanneries would move to a new purpose-built complex on the outskirts of the city next year. The zone will be equipped with a waste treatment plant and conditions for workers will be hugely improved.

"We [told them] that they could forget the [current] conditions in Hazaribagh because soon we are going to be based at the new site and there production will be based on international norms. We hope that within five years we will be a model industry in Bangladesh," he said.

Belal Hossain, president of Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leather Goods & Footwear Exporters Association, also insisted that any concerns about environmental compliance in the tanneries "will be resolved in short time".

But, in spite of a series of court rulings since 2001 requiring the government to move the tanneries or shut them down, the expensive relocation scheme has been repeatedly delayed. There is little sign that the land allocated for the new factories is being prepared.

Activists and workers express doubt that after decades of delays the move will happen soon.

"The tanneries are horrible. I worry it may be a lost cause. The courts have ordered relocation again and again but each successive government had demanded more time," said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association.

Two main concerns are the health of workers and child labour. Conditions vary but in several factories visited by the Guardian, men could be seen working with minimal or no protection from the range of corrosive chemicals used in the tanning process. Some wore little more than rubber gloves and plastic sheets wrapped around their waists while working with acids and bleach. While some had been equipped with cheap rubber boots, none was wearing a face mask or eye protection. The heat in many tanneries is intense. In some, saline solution is distributed to workers to prevent dehydration. Teenagers were also present in several tanneries, in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits hazardous work for under-18s.

In the MB Tannery, one 15-year-old said he was paid 3,500 taka (£30) a month to cut and shape leather six, or sometimes seven, days a week. One boy, who said he was 13, said he was paid 4,000 taka for a 12-hour shift as a general helper.

Habibur Rahman, the managing director of the tannery, said he employed about 125 labourers "but no children".

"It's heavy duty work. It's not suitable for children," he said. Local law considers a child to be under 14 years old and says under-18s can do light work for restricted periods.

Most of the workers in Hazaribagh are paid monthly wages of between 6,000 taka to 25,000 taka for eight to 14-hour days, six or even seven days a week. Such salaries mean labour costs in Bangladesh can be anything up to a half of those in China, the major competitor, and are one reason for the boom in leather production in the south Asian state.

The long hours among machinery and toxic chemicals – some workers sleep in the factories – take their toll. Most complain of eye, respiratory, cardiac and skin problems, as well as frequent accidents.

Mohammed Rintu, who pulls heavily loaded carts in the tanneries, listed the ailments of long-term tannery workers. "We get eye problems from the lime, breathing trouble, your heart doesn't go right. When you mix the sodium [metabisulphite] and ammonium [chloride] with the water, the gas gets into your lungs and face," Rintu, 29, said. Hossain, said accidents were "not frequent" but Abdul Malek, general secretary of the Tannery Workers' Union disagreed.

"There is no routine for such accidents. There can be three accidents in a day and none on another day. I disagree with the owners that such accidents happen once in two or three years," Malek said.

It is not just the workers who suffer. The tanneries are flanked by slums and crowded residential streets with schools, mosques and shops. Space is so limited that some homes are built on stilts over stinking waste outflows.

"It's a terrible place for kids. They cough, vomit because of the stench. There are lots of skin problems and respiratory issues for people of all ages," said Hamida Akhter, a healthworker and mother of two. She is sceptical of the claims of officials and industry representatives that the tanneries will be relocated soon.

"They've been saying they will soon be gone for 13 years and it has not happened. I don't think much is likely to change round here soon," Akhter, 29, said.


U.S. mega corps shun popular agreement to let unions inspect Bangladesh factories

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, July 7, 2013 21:14 EDT

AFP - Seventy top retailers have pledged to improve worker safety and allow inspection of all of their garment factories in Bangladesh within nine months under a pact signed with unions after a deadly factory collapse, a statement said Monday.

Repairs and renovations resulting from the inspections will also be carried out, the retailers pledged as part of the legally binding agreement signed in the wake of the April collapse of the Rana Plaza complex, which killed 1,129 people.

“Initial inspections at every factory will be completed at the latest within nine months, and plans for renovations and repairs put in place where necessary,” a statement from the pact’s steering committee said.

Western retailers, including Carrefour, Primark and Tesco, started signing up to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in May to improve shocking factory conditions in Bangladesh, the world’s second biggest apparel maker, with clothing accounting for 80 percent of its exports.

A headquarters to oversee implementation of the pact will be set up in the Netherlands and inspectors will aim to “identify grave hazards and the need for urgent repairs,” according to the statement, giving details of the pact.

The deal requires top retailers to underwrite renovations and make a two-year commitment to the factories where renovations will be undertaken.

Labour umbrella groups, including Swiss-based IndustriALL, stepped up pressure on retailers to sign the agreement after the nine-storey building crumbled on April 24, causing one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

“Our mission is clear: to ensure the safety of all workers in the Bangladesh garment industry,” said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL.

The task of inspecting and improving factories could prove hugely daunting. A survey by a prestigious Dhaka-based engineering university last week found nine out of ten Bangladeshi garment plants are risky structures, and many were built without qualified engineers.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), which represents 4,500 garment factories, initially welcomed the accord, saying it reflected the retailers’ long term commitment to the country.

But in recent weeks manufacturers have criticised the organisers, saying the BGMEA should have been brought on board.

“They should have definitely included the BGMEA and the knitwear manufacturers in the accord and its decision-making bodies. After all, it’s our factories they are going to inspect,” BGMEA vice-president Reaz-Bin-Mahmood told AFP.

Scott Nova, head of the US-based Worker Rights Consortium, told AFP the BGMEA was not included because “this agreement is focused on the responsibility of the brands to ensure that factories are made safe”.

While leading European retailers have joined the agreement, American brands such as Walmart and Gap have snubbed the accord and opted for self-regulation.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer and one of Dhaka’s top buyers, has promised to inspect its Bangladeshi suppliers and publish the results, while Gap says it launched its own drive last October.

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« Reply #7385 on: Jul 08, 2013, 06:56 AM »

Scientist warns capacity to grow food is plateauing in many parts of the world

By John Vidal, The Guardian
Monday, July 8, 2013 2:22 EDT

Countries may not be able to increase food production because many staple crops are close to their physiological growing limits

Britain and other countries may not be able to increase the amount of food they grow because many staple crops are close to their physiological growing limits, one of the world’s leading food analysts has warned.

“In France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, the three leading wheat producers in western Europe, there has been little rise in yields for over 10 years. Other countries will soon be hitting their limits for grain yields. Agriculturally advanced countries are hitting natural limits that were not widely anticipated,” said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Institute in Washington and a former US government plant scientist.

“Rice yields in Japan have not increased for 17 years. In both Japan and South Korea, yields have plateaued at just under five tons per hectare. China’s rice yields are now closely approaching those of Japan and may also soon plateau,” he said.

After decades of constantly rising grain yields, governments have not understood the significance of the plateauing of yields and the fact that it will become much harder to feed the extra three billion people expected to be alive by 2050, said Brown.

“Since 1950, grain yields across the world have tripled. Those days are gone. The pace has slowed. Between 1950 and 1990, the world grain yield increased by an average 2.2% a year. Since then the rise has slowed to 1.3%.”

According to Brown, who helped India double its harvests in the 1970s, rising grain yields have been the key to keeping world food supplies in line with population growth. “We are hitting the glass ceiling. The levelling off of wheat yields is very real. It’s not a great problem in Europe but in China and India it will be. India is adding 18 million people a year to its population.”

British scientists back Brown’s analysis. “It is worrying. Crop yields are plateauing across the board in Britain,” said Stuart Knight, director of crops and agronomy at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany and lead author of a new government study of the phenomenon. “In the mid-1990s we were not worried but suddenly food security is on the agenda. Wheat yields tripled in Britain between 1950 and 1990 but now we are running to stand still.”

Britain, he said, will start collaborating with other European countries including Sweden to investigate why yields are not improving. “Crops do have physiological limits but we think we are a long way from that. There is no one reason but we think the genetic pool needs to be refreshed for [crops such as] wheat, but there is no single factor,” said Knight.

Yields depend on the amount of sunlight that plants get, the water and fertiliser they receive, and the seeds. But, says Brown, traditional plant breeders have pushed genetic potential close to the physiological limits, leaving farmers with limited options to grow more.

“Governments have not understood that we have now begun to press against the natural limits of grain yields. There are natural constraints and there is no way round this unless you redesign the plants. Traditional plant breeders have really done just about everything that they could,” said Brown on a visit to London.

“Grain yield per hectare, like any biological growth process, cannot continue rising indefinitely. It has its limits. Once we remove nutrient constraints by applying fertiliser and we remove soil moisture constraints by irrigating, then it is the potential of photosynthesis and local climate that limits crop yields,” he said.

“Scarcity is now the problem. We have real constraints in water, soil erosion and yields all coming on top of climate change. It is a convergence that we have never faced before.”

The best long-term hope of increasing yields, say many governments, is dramatic advances in genetic modification. The UK government, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the International Rice Research Institute (Irri) based in the Philippines have put more than $20m into trying to engineer more efficient photosynthesis in rice to increase production. However, progress has been slow and there is no likelihood of a breakthrough for many years.

“Rice yield growth is a concern. Rates need to increase. We are hoping to ‘supercharge’ rice by giving it a more efficient way to photosynthesise – or convert sunlight to grain – by using “C4″ photosynthesis found in other plants such as corn, which could result in up to 50% higher production, all while using less water and nutrients,” said an Irri spokeswoman in Manila. “It is long-term visionary research that could fundamentally change global rice production.”

 © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #7386 on: Jul 08, 2013, 07:00 AM »

DNA sequencing: Jurassic Park was not so wide off the mark

By Robin McKie, The Observer
Monday, July 8, 2013 2:02 EDT

Mapping the genome of a horse from 700,000 years ago has raised tantalising possibilities

It remains one of the most intriguing premises for a science fiction film. Near the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s classic Jurassic Park, scientists reveal how they have collected the DNA of dinosaurs from mosquitoes trapped in amber more than 65m years ago. These insects had previously fed on dinosaurs’ blood and by extracting these blood cells, and removing their DNA, entrepreneur John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) recreates genomes of velociraptors, triceratops, and other dinosaurs. From these genomes, he clones the terrifying creatures that go on to terrorise the film’s characters.

At the time, the idea – originally outlined by Michael Crichton in his book Jurassic Park – sounded plausible until researchers pointed out that DNA simply cannot exist intact for such lengths of time. In fact, you would be lucky if you could go back more than a few thousand years before DNA becomes hopelessly fragmented, it was argued. Defences that repair DNA in living cells disappear after death. As a result, DNA strands quickly break up. Hence researchers’ limit of a few thousand years for the feasibility of creating an extinct creature’s genome.

But reality has a way of catching up on science fiction. Technical developments in DNA recovery have slowly transformed the business of recovering ancient genetic material. As a result, in 2010, a team led by Svante Pääbo, at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, revealed it had sequenced the entire genome of a Neanderthal based on three specimens at least 38,000 years old from Vindija Cave, Croatia. The work has since provided critical insights into modern humans’ genetic relationships with this ancient hominin species.

Since then Pääbo’s researchers have pushed their genome sequencing power even further into the past and last year announced they had sequenced the genome of a girl belonging to a species of humans called the Denisovans – a close relation to the Neanderthals – who lived about 80,000 years ago. The study showed she had brown eyes, hair and skin.

But now scientists have taken that sequencing age limit even further – and by a considerable margin. In Nature this week, a team led by Ludovic Orlando of Copenhagen University published a paper in which they reveal the entire genetic sequence of a species of horse that lived around 700,000 years ago – almost 10 times the current limit. It is an extraordinary achievement, one that immediately raises the prospect that scientists might soon create the genomes of creatures that died more than a million years ago, possibly several million years. By that reckoning, Crichton and Spielberg would not seem to be so far out.

Of course, Orlando and his colleagues were fortunate in one respect. Their horse genome was recreated from a bone fragment that was found in the Arctic permafrost at Thistle Creek, Canada. Its DNA had, in effect, been kept in cold storage for all that time. Nevertheless, unravelling it involved the use of advanced computing techniques, infomatics, and the ability to study the structures of proteins found in the sample. As Orlando stated: “We were amazed about the quality of the sample. We not only beat the record for [oldest] genome characterisation by almost an order of magnitude… we also discovered that a whole bunch of approaches can be used to characterise the deep evolutionary past.”

The work will certainly help scientists understand the evolution of the horse but it is the wider implications of Orlando’s work that really excites, a point stressed by molecular biologists Craig Millar and David Lambert in an accompanying editorial in Nature. The new research raises “the tantalising proposition that complete genomes several millions of years old may recoverable given the right environmental conditions”, they state. Ancient human forebears such as Homo erectus which first appeared in the fossil record around 1.8m years ago and more recent ancestors, such Homo heidelbergensis, may soon come within range of the genome sequencers, offering all sorts of insights into the evolution of Homo sapiens.

Of course, recreating ancient genomes does not mean we could actually clone such creatures. A host of ethical and practical difficulties would have to be surmounted before that became possible, issues that were ignored by Spielberg and Crichton. Nevertheless, science does indicate they were not quite as far from the mark as was previously supposed.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #7387 on: Jul 09, 2013, 05:52 AM »

Brazil demands explanation from US over NSA spying

Foreign minister expresses 'deep concern' over extensive spying revealed in documents uncovered by Edward Snowden

Jonathan Watts and agencies, Monday 8 July 2013 17.26 BST   

Brazil has called on Washington to explain why US intelligence agencies have been monitoring millions of emails and phone calls from its citizens, as the international fallout from the US whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations spread to Latin America.

The foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, expressed "deep concern" about a report that appeared in O Globo newspaper at the weekend, which detailed how the US National Security Agency (NSA) had conducted extensive spying activities in Brazil.

Based on documents provided by Snowden, the O Globo story showed how the US had been carrying out covert surveillance on ostensibly friendly nations. Similar reports in Europe and Hong Kong have sparked indignation in recent weeks.

After the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, called in cabinet ministers to discuss the issue, the government issued a statement of concern.

"The Brazilian government has asked for clarifications through the US embassy in Brasília and the Brazilian embassy in Washington," Patriota said. He said his country would ask the United Nations to work on an international regulation "to impede abuses and protect the privacy" of internet users.

The federal police and the Brazilian Telecommunications Agency have been instructed to investigate how the data is collected by the US spy agency.

The communications minister, Paulo Bernardo, said it was likely to have been done by satellite or by tapping undersea cables, but he also wanted to find out whether domestic international providers were involved.

"If that has happened, these companies broke Brazilian law and acted against our constitution, which safeguards the right to privacy," Bernardo said.

The O Globo story, which was written with the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, sparked consternation in Brazil on Saturday when it pointed to surveillance maps among Snowden's documents that showed the country was among the most heavily data-mined nations, alongside China, Russia and Pakistan.

It showed the acquisition of data was done through the NSA's Fairview programme, which is a collaboration with an unnamed US telecommunications company to gain access to data flowing through its network.

Referring to the story in his blog, Greenwald noted that Brazil was merely an example of a global practice.

"There are many more populations of non-adversarial countries which have been subjected to the same type of mass surveillance net by the NSA: indeed, the list of those which haven't been are shorter than those which have," he wrote.

He said Brazil was just an example of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance by the US.

Latin America is already bristling after the forced diversion last week of the Bolivian president Evo Morales's plane, which was denied access to Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese airspace en route back from Moscow because of suspicions that Snowden was on board. It is assumed that the US was behind this policing action.

Snowden has not been seen or heard of in public since he landed at Moscow airport two weeks ago on his way from Hong Kong to Ecuador. However, WikiLeaks has issued statements on his behalf in which he revealed he had requested asylum in 26 countries.

Most have turned him down, but Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia have offered refuge. Ecuador said it had yet to make a decision.

Cuba's president, Raúl Castro, added his support for Snowden at the weekend. "We support the sovereign right of Venezuela and all states in the region to grant asylum to those persecuted for their ideals or their struggles for democratic rights," he told Cuba's national assembly. However, Cuba has yet to formally offer sanctuary to the former NSA contractor.

The Russian government has yet to comment on the asylum offers, but a senior parliamentarian indicated that patience may be running thin with Snowden, who has been living in the transit area of Moscow airport.

Alexei Pushkov, who chairs the Duma's foreign affairs committee, stated that a move to Venezuela would be the best solution for the fugitive.

"Venezuela is waiting for an answer from Snowden. This, perhaps, is his last chance to receive political asylum," Pushkov said in a tweet on Sunday.

Although Snowden now has options in Latin America, his ability to travel there from Moscow is uncertain given the difficulty of crossing airspace in Europe and the possibility of any plane he is on being intercepted if it passes through US airspace.

Senior US politicians have underscored that any nation helping Snowden should suffer the consequences.

The US House intelligence committee chairman, Mike Rogers, said on Sunday that the US should look at trade agreements with the nations that are offering asylum "to send a very clear message that we won't put up with this kind of behaviour".

As the latest report from Brazil shows, documents provided by Snowden have contained embarrassing revelations about US spying operations on friendly nations as well as its own people.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, said in a CNN interview on Sunday that US relations with some allies had been damaged and the revelations had affected "the importance of trust".

Dempsey said the US would "work our way back. But it has set us back temporarily."


Edward Snowden: US surveillance 'not something I'm willing to live under'

In second part of Glenn Greenwald interview, NSA whistleblower insists he is a patriot who regards the US as fundamentally good

Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill   
The Guardian, Monday 8 July 2013 19.22 BST   

Link to video: Edward Snowden: 'The US government will say I aided our enemies'

Edward Snowden predicted more than a month ago while still in hiding in Hong Kong that the US government would seek to demonise him, telling the Guardian that he would be accused of aiding America's enemies.

In the second instalment of an interview carried out before he revealed himself as the NSA whistleblower, Snowden insisted that he was a patriot and that he regards the US as a fundamentally good country.

But he said he had chosen to release the highly classified information because freedoms were being undermined by intelligence agency "excesses".

The interview was conducted on June 6 in a hotel room in Hong Kong. The first part of the interview was released on Sunday June 9, starting a media frenzy and intensifying US efforts to track him down.

Snowden has since fled Hong Kong for Moscow, where he is reportedly marooned while resisting US attempts to extradite him to face charges under the Espionage Act.

In the newly released interview excerpts, he predicted he would be portrayed not as a whistleblower but a spy.

"I think they are going to say I have committed grave crimes, I have violated the Espionage Act. They are going to say I have aided our enemies in making them aware of these systems. But this argument can be made against anyone who reveals information that points out mass surveillance systems," he said.

Asked whether he had sought a career in the intelligence community specifically to become a mole and reveal secrets, Snowden, 30, said he had joined government service very young, first enlisting in the US army immediately after the invasion of Iraq out of a belief in "the goodness of what we were doing. I believed in the nobility of our intentions to free oppressed people overseas."

But his views shifted over the length of his career as he watched the news, which he saw as propaganda, not truth. "We were actually involved in misleading the public and misleading all the publics, not just the American public, in order to create certain mindset in the global consciousness and I was actually a victim of that."

He had not fallen out of love with America, only its government. "America is a fundamentally good country. We have good people with good values who want to do the right thing. But the structures of power that exist are working to their own ends to extend their capability at the expense of the freedom of all publics."

In the new excerpts, he explained his motivation for revealing the information. "I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded," he said. "And that's not something I'm willing to support, it's not something I'm willing to build and it's not something I'm willing to live under."

He also insisted he had continued with his job while waiting for political leaders to rein in what he decribed as "government excesses".

But, he said, "as I've watched I've seen that's not occuring, and in fact we're compounding the excesses of prior governments and making it worse and more invasive. And no one is really standing to stop it."

Snowden has been attacked by his critics for first going to Hong Kong, which is part of China, even though it enjoys freedoms not available on the mainland, and to Russia. He has been offered asylum in Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua but faces the practical problem of how to get to any of these countries.

The most recent poll, for the Huffington Post and YouGov, suggested a shift in support away for Snowden, with 38% saying they feel he did the wrong thing in leaking documents against 33% who felt he did the right thing. After the first interview, 35% said he did the wrong thing while 38% said he had done the right thing.

The interview took place immediately after the Guardian published the first leak about a court order to Verizon ordering it to hand over US customers' call records to the NSA.

Snowden explained why he thought that story and the other subsequent leaks about the NSA and its partnership with the corporate sector had to be made public.

"They are getting everyone's calls, everyone's call records and everyone's internet traffic as well."

In reference to one surveillance system – Boundless Informant – that he said allowed the NSA to track data it was accumulating, he said: "The NSA lied about the existence of this tool to Congress and to specific congressmen in response to previous inquiries about their surveillance activities."

He was part of the internet generation that grew up on the understanding that it was free, he said. The partnership between the intelligence agencies and the corporate sector was a "dangerous collaboration", especially for an organisation like the the NSA that has demonstrated time and again "it works to shield itself from oversight".


07/08/2013 03:34 PM

Edward Snowden Interview: The NSA and Its Willing Helpers

In an interview conducted using encrypted e-mails, whistleblower Edward Snowden discusses the power of the NSA, how it is "in bed together with the Germans" and the vast scope of Internet spying conducted by the United States and Britain.

Shortly before he became a household name around the world as a whistleblower, Edward Snowden answered a comprehensive list of questions. They originated from Jacob Appelbaum, 30, a developer of encryption and security software. Appelbaum provides training to international human rights groups and journalists on how to use the Internet anonymously.

Appelbaum first became more broadly known to the public after he spoke on behalf of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a hacker conference in New York in 2010. Together with Assange and other co-authors, Appelbaum recently released a compilation of interviews in book form under the title "Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet."

Appelbaum wound up on the radar of American authorities in the course of their investigation into the WikiLeaks revelations. They have since served legal orders to Twitter, Google and Sonic to hand over information about his accounts. But Appelbaum describes his relationship with WikiLeaks as being "ambiguous," and explains here how he was able to pose questions to Snowden.

"In mid-May, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras contacted me," Appelbaum said. "She told me she was in contact with a possible anonymous National Security Agency (NSA) source who had agreed to be interviewed by her."

"She was in the process of putting questions together and thought that asking some specific technical questions was an important part of the source verification process. One of the goals was to determine whether we were really dealing with an NSA whistleblower. I had deep concerns of COINTELPRO-style entrapment. We sent our securely encrypted questions to our source. I had no knowledge of Edward Snowden's identity before he was revealed to the world in Hong Kong. He also didn't know who I was. I expected that when the anonymity was removed, we would find a man in his sixties."

"The following questions are excerpted from a larger interview that covered numerous topics, many of which are highly technical in nature. Some of the questions have been reordered to provide the required context. The questions focus almost entirely on the NSA's capabilities and activities. It is critical to understand that these questions were not asked in a context that is reactive to this week's or even this month's events. They were asked in a relatively quiet period, when Snowden was likely enjoying his last moments in a Hawaiian paradise -- a paradise he abandoned so that every person on the planet might come to understand the current situation as he does."

"At a later point, I also had direct contact with Edward Snowden in which I revealed my own identity. At that time, he expressed his willingness to have his feelings and observations on these topics published when I thought the time was right."

Editor's note: The following excerpts are taken from the original English-language version of the interview. Potential differences in language between the German and English versions can be explained by the fact that we have largely preserved the technical terms used by Snowden in this transcript. Explanations for some of the terminology used by Snowden as well as editor's notes are provided in the form of footnotes.

Interviewer: What is the mission of America's National Security Agency (NSA) -- and how is the job it does compatible with the rule of law?

Snowden: They're tasked to know everything of importance that happens outside of the United States. That's a significant challenge. When it is made to appear as though not knowing everything about everyone is an existential crisis, then you feel that bending the rules is okay. Once people hate you for bending those rules, breaking them becomes a matter of survival.

Interviewer: Are German authorities or German politicians involved in the NSA surveillance system?

Snowden: Yes, of course. We're 1 in bed together with the Germans the same as with most other Western countries. For example, we 2 tip them off when someone we want is flying through their airports (that we for example, have learned from the cell phone of a suspected hacker's girlfriend in a totally unrelated third country -- and they hand them over to us. They 3 don't ask to justify how we know something, and vice versa, to insulate their political leaders from the backlash of knowing how grievously they're violating global privacy.

Interviewer: But if details about this system are now exposed, who will be charged?

Snowden: In front of US courts? I'm not sure if you're serious. An investigation found the specific people who authorized the warrantless wiretapping of millions and millions of communications, which per count would have resulted in the longest sentences in world history, and our highest official simply demanded the investigation be halted. Who "can" be brought up on charges is immaterial when the rule of law is not respected. Laws are meant for you, not for them.

Interviewer: Does the NSA partner with other nations, like Israel?

Snowden: Yes. All the time. The NSA has a massive body responsible for this: FAD, the Foreign Affairs Directorate.

Interviewer: Did the NSA help to create Stuxnet? (Stuxnet is the computer worm that was deployed against the Iranian nuclear program.)

Snowden: NSA and Israel co-wrote it.

Interviewer: What are some of the big surveillance programs that are active today and how do international partners aid the NSA?

Snowden: In some cases, the so-called Five Eye Partners 4 go beyond what NSA itself does. For instance, the UK's General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has a system called TEMPORA. TEMPORA is the signals intelligence community's first "full-take" Internet buffer that doesn't care about content type and pays only marginal attention to the Human Rights Act. It snarfs everything, in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit. Right now the buffer can hold three days of traffic, but that's being improved. Three days may not sound like much, but remember that that's not metadata. "Full-take" means it doesn't miss anything, and ingests the entirety of each circuit's capacity. If you send a single ICMP packet 5 and it routes through the UK, we get it. If you download something and the CDN (Content Delivery Network) happens to serve from the UK, we get it. If your sick daughter's medical records get processed at a London call center … well, you get the idea.

Interviewer: Is there a way of circumventing that?

Snowden: As a general rule, so long as you have any choice at all, you should never route through or peer with the UK under any circumstances. Their fibers are radioactive, and even the Queen's selfies to the pool boy get logged.

Interviewer: Do the NSA and its partners across the globe do full dragnet data collection for telephone calls, text and data?

Snowden: Yes, but how much they get depends on the capabilities of the individual collection sites -- i.e., some circuits have fat pipes but tiny collection systems, so they have to be selective. This is more of a problem for overseas collection sites than domestic 6 ones, which is what makes domestic collection so terrifying. NSA isn't limited by power, space and cooling PSC constraints.

'US Multinationals Should Not Be Trusted'
Interviewer: The NSA is building a massive new data center in Utah. What is its purpose?

Snowden: The massive data repositories.

Interviewer: How long is the collected data being stored for?

Snowden: As of right now, full-take collection ages off quickly ( a few days) due to its size unless an analyst has "tasked" 7 a target or communication, in which the tasked communications get stored "forever and ever," regardless of policy, because you can always get a waiver. The metadata 8 also ages off, though less quickly. The NSA wants to be at the point where at least all of the metadata is permanently stored. In most cases, content isn't as valuable as metadata because you can either re-fetch content based on the metadata or, if not, simply task all future communications of interest for permanent collection since the metadata tells you what out of their data stream you actually want.

Interviewer: Do private companies help the NSA?

Snowden: Yes. Definitive proof of this is the hard part because the NSA considers the identities of telecom collaborators to be the jewels in their crown of omniscience. As a general rule, US-based multinationals should not be trusted until they prove otherwise. This is sad, because they have the capability to provide the best and most trusted services in the world if they actually desire to do so. To facilitate this, civil liberties organizations should use this disclosure to push them to update their contracts to include enforceable clauses indicating they aren't spying on you, and they need to implement technical changes. If they can get even one company to play ball, it will change the security of global communications forever. If they won't, consider starting that company.

Interviewer: Are there companies that refuse to cooperate with the NSA?

Snowden: Also yes, but I'm not aware of any list. This category will get a lot larger if the collaborators are punished by consumers in the market, which should be considered Priority One for anyone who believes in freedom of thought.

Interviewer: What websites should a person avoid if they don't want to get targeted by the NSA?

Snowden: Normally you'd be specifically selected for targeting based on, for example, your Facebook or webmail content. The only one I personally know of that might get you hit untargeted are jihadi forums.

Interviewer: What happens after the NSA targets a user?

Snowden: They're just owned. An analyst will get a daily (or scheduled based on exfiltration summary) report on what changed on the system, PCAPS 9 of leftover data that wasn't understood by the automated dissectors, and so forth. It's up to the analyst to do whatever they want at that point -- the target's machine doesn't belong to them anymore, it belongs to the US government.


1 "We're" refers to the NSA.

2 "We" refers to the US intelligence service apparatus

3 "They" refers to the other authorities.

4 The "Five Eye Partners" is a reference to the intelligence services of United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

5 "ICMP" is a reference to Internet Control Message Protocol. The answer provided here by Snowden was highly technical, but it was clear that he was referring to all data packets sent to or from Britain.

6 "Domestic" is a reference to the United States.

7 In this context, "tasked" refers to the full collection and storage of metadata and content for any matched identifiers by the NSA or its partners.

8 "Metadata" can include telephone numbers, IP addresses and connection times, among other things. Wired Magazine offers a solid primer on metadata.

9 "PCAPS" is an abbreviation of the term "packet capture".

Interview conducted by Jacob Appelbaum and Laura Poitras


07/08/2013 05:47 PM

Indispensible Exchange: Germany Cooperates Closely with NSA

German authorities insist they knew nothing of the NSA's Internet spying operations. But SPIEGEL research shows how closely US and German agencies work together. The German opposition is asking uncomfortable questions 11 weeks ahead of a general election.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government faces uncomfortable questions about German involvement in American and British Internet and telephone surveillance after whistleblower Edward Snowden told SPIEGEL that German agencies and the NSA are "in bed together."

With a general election due in 11 weeks, the controversy has opened up a new battleground in the campaign, and the opposition center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Green Party are charging onto it.

SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel said it could be that Merkel "knows more than has become known so far."

Thomas Oppermann, a senior member of the SPD, called on the government to cancel surveillance cooperation agreements with the United States. Hans-Christian Ströbele, a lawmaker with the Greens, said he didn't believe the government's statements that it didn't know about the spying.

"For me it's just a matter of time before the government admits something," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Petra Pau of the Left Party said Merkel should stop "pretending she knew nothing."

For the last four weeks, the German government has been insisting that it didn't know that the United States has spent years monitoring vast quantities of Internet traffic, emails and telephone calls.

The parliament's oversight committee monitoring German intelligence activities has met three times since the revelations came to light, and each time senior government representatives who had been called to testify shrugged their shoulders.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution -- Germany's domestic intelligence agency -- the BND foreign intelligence agency, and Merkel's Chancellery were all apparently unaware of what has been going on. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said he knew nothing but made clear that the data fishing by Germany's American friends was bound to be OK. Criticism of it, he said, amounted to "anti-Americanism."

Germany Cooperates Closely With NSA

But Snowden told SPIEGEL that the BND knew more about the activities of the NSA in Germany than previously known.

SPIEGEL reporting also indicates that cooperation between the NSA and Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND, is more intensive than previously known.

A lot is at stake for Europe and the US. This week talks will begin on the planned trans-Atlantic free trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Invesment Partnership (TTIP). The Americans' snooping could endanger the project.

The Snowden case is entering its next round. At first he revealed how the NSA spes on data networks. Last week SPIEGEL reported that the US was also spying on its allies including Germany. Now the controversy has broadened to include whether the allies themselves are involved in the snooping.

There are times when the inner workings of the world suddenly come to light. Veils fall to the ground and the world suddenly looks different. These are such times.

A man does something that represents the best traditions of the West -- he enlightens people, points out wrongdoing and opens eyes. That's what Edward Snowden has done. And what's happening to him? The West's leading nation, the US, is hunting him down, and almost every country is going along with it, especially the rest of the West.

Western Nations Kow-Towing to US

Fear is governing the world, fear of the wrath of the US, fear of President Barack Obama who was once hailed as a global savior. Few seem ready to dare to take on the political and economic superpower.

The West is making itself look ridiculous through submissiveness, by failing to live up to its own values. Meanwhile, states like China or Russia, the constant focus of Western moral finger-wagging, were the first where Snowden sought shelter.

Last Wednesday, Merkel and Obama had a telephone conversation in which both tried to play down the row. There would be "opportunities for an intense exchange about these questions," officials said afterwards. That wasn't the tough talking that 78 percent of Germans are demanding of Merkel in her dealings with the US on the issue, according to a recent opinion poll by Infratest Dimap.

This week a German government delegation will travel to Washington for talks with the Department of Homeland Security, the NSA and the US administration. They hope to glean information on what has been going on. When German opposition parties complained that the delegation only consisted of second-tier officials, Interior Minister Friedrich hastily decided to join them.

9/11 Silenced Criticism of 'Echelon' Spying System

Foreign data snooping has caused outrage in Germany and Europe before. Twelve years ago, a European Parliament committee criticized "Echelon," which it described as a "global surveillance system for private and business communcations." In a 200-page report, the committee said that within Europe, all communications via email, telephone and fax were regularly monitored by the intelligence services of the US, Britain, Canada and Australia.

The European lawmakers recommended a series of rules and agreements to curb the snooping. But two months later, terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and it quickly emerged that some of them had lived in Germany. All criticism of "Echelon" fell abruptly silent.

But the German government, despite all its current protestations of ignorance and innocence, cannot be unaware that US surveillance specialists remain active on German soil. At present the NSA is expanding its presence in Germany considerably.

The best-known monitoring facility is in the Bavarian town of Bad Aibling, extensively described in the "Echelon" report. Officially, the Americans gave up the listening post in 2004. But the white domes of the "Echelon" system, known as radomes, are still there. When the site was officially turned over to civilian use, that didn't apply to the area with the snooping technology. A connecting cable now transmits the captured signals to the site of the Mangfall army base a few hundred meters away. This is officially a German army communications base -- but in truth it belongs to the BND. Cooperating closely with a handful of NSA surveillance specialists, the German foreign intelligence service analyzes telephone calls, faxes and everything else transmitted via satellite.

BND Admits Monitoring Cooperation With NSA

Officially, the BND post in Bad Aibling doesn't exist, and neither does the local cooperation with the Americans. But in a confidential meeting with the parliament's intelligence oversight committee, BND head Gerhard Schindler last Wednesday confirmed the cooperation with the US service,

There are other locations in Germany where the Americans engage in data monitoring. The US army runs a top secret lstening post in the town of Griesheim near Darmstadt, in western Germany. Five radomes stand on the edge of the August-Euler airfield, hidden behind a little forest. If you drive past "Dagger Complex" you get suspicious looks from security guards. It's forbidden to take photos. Inside, soldiers analyze information for the armed forces in Europe. The NSA supports the analysts.

The need for data appears to be so great that the US army is building a new Consolidated Intelligence Center in the nearby city of Wiesbaden. The $124 million building will house bug-proof offices and a high-tech control center. As soon as it's completed, "Dagger Complex" will be shut down. Only US construction firms are being used. Even the building materials are being brought in from the US and closely guarded along the way.

Is it really conceivable that the German government knows nothing of what the NSA is doing on its own doorstep? Last month Interior Minister Friedrich said in a parliamentary debate on the NSA snooping: "Germany has fortunately been spared big attacks in recent years. We owe that in part to the information provided by our American friends." Sentences like that reveal a pragmatic view of the US surveillance apparatus: What the NSA gets up to in detail is secondary -- what counts is what its snooping reveals. And that information, intelligence officials admit, is indispensable.

Without the tip-offs provided by the Americans, authorities would be partly blind in the fight against terrorism. While the BND and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution are bound by strict rules, foreign intelligence agencies operating in Germany are largely uncontrolled in what they do, as long as it serves the war on terror.

Frankfurt's Role as East-West Data Crossroads

The example of Frankfurt, Germany's financial center, illustrates that. Frankfurt is a major crossroads for digital data. This where fiber-optic cables from Eastern Europe and Central Asia meet data lines from Western Europe. Emails, photos, telepone calls and tweets from crisis-hit countries in the Middle East also pass through Frankfurt. This is where international providers -- companies like Deutsche Telekom or US firm Level 3, which claims to transmit a third of the world's Internet traffic -- operate digital hubs.

For agencies like the NSA or BND, Frankfurt is an inexhaustible source of information. Documents provided by Snowden show that the NSA accesses half a billion pieces of communication each month. The BND also helps itself to data here. It is allowed to tap up to 20 percent of it. The service feeds data from five hubs in Germany for analysis to its headquarters in Pullach near Munich. Its analysts comb through the data for phone calls, emails or Internet messages that might uncover a nuclear smuggling deal or an al-Qaida plot.

The BND uses the NSA's help to analyze Internet traffic from the Middle East. The Americans provide the Germans with special tools that work with Arabic search terms. Does the US agency get access to the data in return? The BND denies this. All cooperation is in the form of assessing "finished intelligence," or completed intelligence reports, it insists.

But relations between the BND and NSA are closer than publicly admitted. They work together on clearly defined individual joint operations abroad when it comes to fighting terrorism or monitoring weapons shipments. At the Bad Aibling listening post, an NSA team works closely with BND agents. The BND uses Bad Aibling mainly to monitor Thuraya satellite phones used in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Americans help the Germans in this work. Is it really conceivable that with such close cooperation the one partner didn't know what the other was doing?

US Need Not Fear Much German Criticism

"We have no information so far that Internet hubs in Germany were spied on by the NSA," says the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maassen. He also has no information on any snooping on the German government by the US. The agency has set up a working group to investigate Snowden's allegations.

In the end it's relatively insignificant whether any light will be shed on the outflow of German Internet data to the US. The German authorities are unlikely to criticize the Americans too harshly. "We can be blackmailed," said a high-ranking security official. "If the NSA shut off the tap, we'd be blind."

The US isn't just a friend, it's an all-powerful force one can choose to be friends with or not. The Snowden case shows how closely intertwined friendship and submissiveness can be.



In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A.

Published: July 6, 2013

WASHINGTON — In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say.

The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.

The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.

Last month, a former National Security Agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden, leaked a classified order from the FISA court, which authorized the collection of all phone-tracing data from Verizon business customers. But the court’s still-secret decisions go far beyond any single surveillance order, the officials said.

“We’ve seen a growing body of law from the court,” a former intelligence official said. “What you have is a common law that develops where the court is issuing orders involving particular types of surveillance, particular types of targets.”

In one of the court’s most important decisions, the judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the “special needs” doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures, the officials said.

The special needs doctrine was originally established in 1989 by the Supreme Court in a ruling allowing the drug testing of railway workers, finding that a minimal intrusion on privacy was justified by the government’s need to combat an overriding public danger. Applying that concept more broadly, the FISA judges have ruled that the N.S.A.’s collection and examination of Americans’ communications data to track possible terrorists does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment, the officials said.

That legal interpretation is significant, several outside legal experts said, because it uses a relatively narrow area of the law — used to justify airport screenings, for instance, or drunken-driving checkpoints — and applies it much more broadly, in secret, to the wholesale collection of communications in pursuit of terrorism suspects. “It seems like a legal stretch,” William C. Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University, said in response to a description of the decision. “It’s another way of tilting the scales toward the government in its access to all this data.”

While President Obama and his intelligence advisers have spoken of the surveillance programs leaked by Mr. Snowden mainly in terms of combating terrorism, the court has also interpreted the law in ways that extend into other national security concerns. In one recent case, for instance, intelligence officials were able to get access to an e-mail attachment sent within the United States because they said they were worried that the e-mail contained a schematic drawing or a diagram possibly connected to Iran’s nuclear program.

In the past, that probably would have required a court warrant because the suspicious e-mail involved American communications. In this case, however, a little-noticed provision in a 2008 law, expanding the definition of “foreign intelligence” to include “weapons of mass destruction,” was used to justify access to the message.

The court’s use of that language has allowed intelligence officials to get wider access to data and communications that they believe may be linked to nuclear proliferation, the officials said. They added that other secret findings had eased access to data on espionage, cyberattacks and other possible threats connected to foreign intelligence.

“The definition of ‘foreign intelligence’ is very broad,” another former intelligence official said in an interview. “An espionage target, a nuclear proliferation target, that all falls within FISA, and the court has signed off on that.”

The official, like a half-dozen other current and former national security officials, discussed the court’s rulings and the general trends they have established on the condition of anonymity because they are classified. Judges on the FISA court refused to comment on the scope and volume of their decisions.

Unlike the Supreme Court, the FISA court hears from only one side in the case — the government — and its findings are almost never made public. A Court of Review is empaneled to hear appeals, but that is known to have happened only a handful of times in the court’s history, and no case has ever been taken to the Supreme Court. In fact, it is not clear in all circumstances whether Internet and phone companies that are turning over the reams of data even have the right to appear before the FISA court.

Created by Congress in 1978 as a check against wiretapping abuses by the government, the court meets in a secure, nondescript room in the federal courthouse in Washington. All of the current 11 judges, who serve seven-year terms, were appointed to the special court by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and 10 of them were nominated to the bench by Republican presidents. Most hail from districts outside the capital and come in rotating shifts to hear surveillance applications; a single judge signs most surveillance orders, which totaled nearly 1,800 last year. None of the requests from the intelligence agencies was denied, according to the court.

Beyond broader legal rulings, the judges have had to resolve questions about newer types of technology, like video conferencing, and how and when the government can get access to them, the officials said.

The judges have also had to intervene repeatedly when private Internet and phone companies, which provide much of the data to the N.S.A., have raised concerns that the government is overreaching in its demands for records or when the government itself reports that it has inadvertently collected more data than was authorized, the officials said. In such cases, the court has repeatedly ordered the N.S.A. to destroy the Internet or phone data that was improperly collected, the officials said.

The officials said one central concept connects a number of the court’s opinions. The judges have concluded that the mere collection of enormous volumes of “metadata” — facts like the time of phone calls and the numbers dialed, but not the content of conversations — does not violate the Fourth Amendment, as long as the government establishes a valid reason under national security regulations before taking the next step of actually examining the contents of an American’s communications.

This concept is rooted partly in the “special needs” provision the court has embraced. “The basic idea is that it’s O.K. to create this huge pond of data,” a third official said, “but you have to establish a reason to stick your pole in the water and start fishing.”

Under the new procedures passed by Congress in 2008 in the FISA Amendments Act, even the collection of metadata must be considered “relevant” to a terrorism investigation or other intelligence activities.

The court has indicated that while individual pieces of data may not appear “relevant” to a terrorism investigation, the total picture that the bits of data create may in fact be relevant, according to the officials with knowledge of the decisions.

Geoffrey R. Stone, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, said he was troubled by the idea that the court is creating a significant body of law without hearing from anyone outside the government, forgoing the adversarial system that is a staple of the American justice system. “That whole notion is missing in this process,” he said.

The FISA judges have bristled at criticism that they are a rubber stamp for the government, occasionally speaking out to say they apply rigor in their scrutiny of government requests. Most of the surveillance operations involve the N.S.A., an eavesdropping behemoth that has listening posts around the world. Its role in gathering intelligence within the United States has grown enormously since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Soon after, President George W. Bush, under a secret wiretapping program that circumvented the FISA court, authorized the N.S.A. to collect metadata and in some cases listen in on foreign calls to or from the United States. After a heated debate, the essential elements of the Bush program were put into law by Congress in 2007, but with greater involvement by the FISA court.

Even before the leaks by Mr. Snowden, members of Congress and civil liberties advocates had been pressing for declassifying and publicly releasing court decisions, perhaps in summary form.

Reggie B. Walton, the FISA court’s presiding judge, wrote in March that he recognized the “potential benefit of better informing the public” about the court’s decisions. But, he said, there are “serious obstacles” to doing so because of the potential for misunderstanding caused by omitting classified details.

Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the N.S.A. director, was noncommital when he was pressed at a Senate hearing in June to put out some version of the court’s decisions.

While he pledged to try to make more decisions public, he said, “I don’t want to jeopardize the security of Americans by making a mistake in saying, ‘Yes, we’re going to do all that.’ ”


The world must hear from Edward Snowden again

The White House and its media allies are gradually undermining the NSA whistleblower. The cause of liberty needs his advocacy

Mark Weisbrot, Monday 8 July 2013 15.20 BST   

In the case of Edward Snowden and the secret surveillance abuses that he has exposed, it's us against them. But who is "us" and who is "them?"

This started out as a story of government spying programs exposed by a daring whistleblower, akin to the famous Pentagon Papers of 1971. This clearly pitted "us", the citizens and residents of the United States, against "them", an abusive, unaccountable government violating our rights and our constitution in secret. The citizens of other countries who had their rights violated by NSA spying, such as in Europe and, now we learn, Brazil, also became part of that "us".

But over the last few weeks powerful media outlets, mirroring the efforts of the US government, have shifted the narrative to more convenient terrain. "Us" now means "America", led by our national security state, which – if possibly overzealous sometimes – is trying to protect "us". "Them" is our adversaries – terrorists, of course, but also any government that is independent enough to be branded as "anti-American". And Edward Snowden – the "fugitive leaker" at best, or "traitorous spy" at worst – has, in some unexplained manner, helped "them", and seems to be getting help from "them" (in this case, governments that are "anti-American"; that is, independent of Washington).

Never mind that even Russia didn't want to get involved in the whole thing, and insisted that Snowden could only stay there if he would "cease his work aimed at damaging our American partners", the cold war rhetoric is too irresistible for journalists steeped in its patriotic fervor. Like Mike Meyers' Austin Powers, who woke up after a decades' long nap and didn't know that the cold war was over, they are ready to do battle with America's "enemies".

One of the most influential human rights organizations in the world, Amnesty International, didn't buy this media narrative. Last Tuesday, it accused the US government of "gross violations of [Snowden's] human rights", for trying to block him from applying for political asylum. Amnesty declared:

    "It appears he is being charged by the US government primarily for revealing its – and other governments' – unlawful actions that violate human rights …

    "No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations … Snowden is a whistleblower. He has disclosed issues of enormous public interest in the US and around the world."

The leading media outlets virtually ignored this voice and the legal issues that it raised.

The media can often determine what most people think on most issues, if given enough time and insufficient opposition. So, it is not surprising that the number of people who think that Snowden "did the right thing" has fallen over the past few weeks.

At this point, there is only one person who can turn this around: that is Edward Snowden himself. He has recorded only one interview, the one with Glenn Greenwald in which he took responsibility for the disclosures. It was a brilliant interview: he was crystal clear – morally, politically, and rhetorically.

    "I'm no different from anybody else. I don't have special skills. I'm just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what's happening and goes, 'This is something that's not our place to decide, the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.'"

The sincerity of his appeal convinced millions that he was "us" – and that the people who now want to put him behind bars for life are "them".

It is understandable why he hasn't given any media interviews since then. He didn't expose these programs, despite some ridiculous punditry to the contrary*, to promote himself. He wants the focus to be on the crimes committed in secret by government, not on him. But sometimes, there is no avoiding center stage.

*Click to read:

Snowden is the only person right now who can reach hundreds of millions of people with a truthful message. The media is currently hungry for his words; they are eager to ignore most of the other truth-tellers, like Amnesty International; or to disparage them. They have demonized Julian Assange, who has yet to be even charged with a single crime, not even a misdemeanor. They will eventually destroy Snowden if he does not forcefully speak out and defend himself.

This has practical, as well as political, consequences. On Friday, Venezuela and Nicaragua offered asylum to Snowden, followed by Bolivia on Saturday. And there are an unknown number of other countries – including Ecuador – that would almost certainly grant him asylum if he showed up there. There are a number of ways for him to fly to these places without passing over any country that takes orders from Washington. But will the US government violate international law again, and risk innocent lives, by trying to force down a plane in international air space?

This decision may depend on the Obama team's forecast of how the media would portray such a crime. If Snowden explains to the world why his actions were a legitimate and eminently justifiable exposure of government criminality, the White House may think twice about further illegal and possibly forceful efforts to block Snowden's right to political asylum.

The Obama team did not comment on the offers of asylum. This was very smart, since it was a safe bet that the media would respond for them, framing the issue not as one of independent governments exercising their right and obligation to offer political asylum to a whistleblower, but rather "them" trying to poke a finger in the eye of the United States.

But there are millions of Americans, and many more throughout the world, who can see through this crusty cold war retread. Snowden can reach many millions more with the truth. He needs to speak – not only to save himself, but also future whistleblowers whom the Obama administration wants to silence by punishing him. What is at stake is the whole cause of human rights, especially the right to asylum. The citizens of the world need to see that triumph over the intimidation from those who believe that raw power is all that counts.

« Last Edit: Jul 09, 2013, 07:04 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #7388 on: Jul 09, 2013, 05:59 AM »

July 8, 2013

Chilean Court Approves Extradition Request for Former Sect Leader


SANTIAGO, Chile — The Supreme Court has authorized a judge’s request to seek the extradition of a doctor who fled to Germany in 2011 after being convicted as an accomplice in the sexual abuse of minors in the 1990s when he was a leader of Colonia Dignidad, a German sect in southern Chile, the court announced Monday.

The doctor, Harmut Hopp, 69, has been living in Krefeld, a small city in North Rhine-Westphalia. In January, Chile’s Supreme Court confirmed the five-year sentence against him on charges that he was an accomplice to the sect’s leader, Paul Schäfer, in the rape of 4 boys and the sexual abuse of 16 others.

Mr. Schäfer founded the self-sufficient religious sect near Parral, 200 miles south of the capital, Santiago, in 1961 after fleeing West Germany, where he faced charges of sexually abusing boys. Colonia Dignidad also served as a clandestine torture center during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, according to official human rights reports. Mr. Schäfer died in prison in 2010 while serving a 20-year sentence for the sexual abuse of 25 minors.

Dr. Hopp was part of Mr. Schäfer’s inner circle and the director of Colonia Dignidad’s hospital, which served the local population. It was there, according to multiple testimonies and court records, that Colonia members were tortured and forcibly drugged with psychotropics. Some local children from rural areas who had been taken to the hospital for treatment never returned to their families.

One such boy, Efraín Morales, was abducted by Colonia Dignidad in 1967 after his mother took him to the hospital when he was 2 months old. The hospital refused to give the baby back to the family, and the Germans adopted him illegally, changing his last name to Vedder. When Efrain was 8, he said, Mr. Schäfer began raping him; around that time, the boy started questioning the sect’s strict discipline and asking about his birthparents.

“That’s when they started giving me pills in the hospital,” Mr. Vedder said. “When they realized I was throwing them away, they began injecting me once a week. When that wasn’t enough, they would make me stay at the hospital for weeks. I was given pills and shots until I fell unconscious, and they applied electroshock. This lasted 23 years.”

Mr. Vedder escaped Colonia in 2002 and now lives in Santiago.

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights has filed several lawsuits against Dr. Hopp in a Krefeld court on behalf of former Colonia members who now live in Germany and accuse Dr. Hopp of causing them serious physical harm through forced drugging.

One of the lawsuits is based on the disappearance of Elizabeth Rekas, who was four months pregnant when she was abducted in 1976 and presumably taken to Colonia Dignidad, where she disappeared. Dr. Hopp was being investigated for this crime at the time he escaped Chile.

In February 2012, Dr. Hopp testified before a court in Krefeld.

In the ruling made public Monday, the Supreme Court recommended that if Germany continues to refuse to extradite Dr. Hopp, Chilean officials ask that he serve his sentence in a German prison.
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« Reply #7389 on: Jul 09, 2013, 06:00 AM »

July 8, 2013

In Ecuador, a Magazine’s Death Comes Amid Questions


QUITO, Ecuador — Their faces were long, and so was the night. In the offices of Ecuador’s only weekly newsmagazine, the small staff of about a dozen people struggled to produce a final issue, even as locksmiths changed the locks on the doors.

The closing had been announced only a day earlier. It came as a surprise. The staff members were especially bitter because they had been told there was no money to pay their severance packages, so they split their time between trying to finish the last issue and filling out government forms to demand the money they were owed.

Frustrated that the magazine’s administration had apparently taken away access to some computer servers needed for the final issue, Juan Carlos Calderón, the bespectacled editor with a salt-and-pepper goatee, who was dressed in a black shirt and blue jeans, suddenly stalked into the room and shouted: “For dignity’s sake! Let’s go! We can’t do our work!”

No one paid him any mind. After a moment he stormed out again.

At one point the staff decamped to a side room to have a group picture taken, each person holding a sign in front of his mouth that said “fired.”

In the end, though, the magazine, Vanguardia, died unceremoniously, shutting its doors at the end of last month without releasing a farewell issue.

But the cause of death is much in dispute.

The owner said the country’s contentious new news media law had killed the magazine by creating restrictions that threatened to strangle a free press. The magazine’s last issue, due out on July 1, never appeared in print.

President Rafael Correa, whose government was often the subject of critical coverage in the magazine, gloated over the corpse, saying it had starved to death: no one read it, he said, and the money ran out.

But the magazine’s reporters and editors had a different opinion: it died of fear.

“It’s illogical to think that you have to quit instead of fight,” said Mr. Calderón, 50, Vanguardia’s editor. “This reflects fear, and it reflects impotence.”

Santiago Preckler, 72, a copy editor who worked at the magazine for almost all of the eight years of its existence, was more blunt. Yes, he said, the new law would make it much harder to publish hard-hitting journalism, but the owner’s decision to silence the magazine was the wrong response.

“He’s a coward,” Mr. Preckler said.

The owner and president is Francisco Vivanco, who also operates a daily newspaper, La Hora, which continues to publish. A repeated target of Mr. Correa’s televised excoriations of the media, Mr. Vivanco prepared a statement for Vanguardia’s final issue with a slashing criticism of the new law, which the president signed in June.

“We cannot accept in silence that the government should determine the topics and agendas that we can cover,” Mr. Vivanco wrote, rejecting the idea that “all freedom of information should be regulated, inspected and that a superintendent chosen by the president should stand as executioner to penalize.”

Mr. Correa had long pushed for a law regulating the media, but he was not able to pass it until last month, shortly after beginning a new term in which his party holds a majority in the National Assembly for the first time. The president and his supporters say the new law will force a biased news media, controlled by a small elite, to be more fair and accurate.

Beyond penalties for publishing or broadcasting material that harms a person’s reputation or honor, the law prohibits something called media lynching, which it defines as the publication of material intended to reduce someone’s prestige or credibility.

It also sets restrictions on the coverage of court cases, creates government bodies with wide powers to regulate and penalize journalists, and bans the publication of personal communications, including e-mails and conversations.

Critics say the restrictions stifle investigative journalism, patently undermining Mr. Correa’s recent posture as a defender of whistle-blowers and anti-secrecy crusaders. Mr. Correa has sheltered Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, for more than a year in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and offered to consider an asylum request from Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive American intelligence contractor wanted by the United States.

But in an interview, Mr. Correa said he was interested in making journalists more accountable, and he strongly dismissed Mr. Vivanco’s contention that the law alone had forced the magazine to shut down.

“That is a lie,” Mr. Correa said.

The president said the magazine had serious financial problems. And he accused it of lying to advertisers about its circulation, a fraud he said would have been revealed under a provision in the media law that authorizes the government to carry out circulation audits. He said that the magazine claimed its circulation was around 15,000, but that it was actually below 5,000.

“This is not honest journalism,” Mr. Correa said.

In his regular Saturday television program on June 29, Mr. Correa discussed the magazine’s demise. The magazine’s circulation was so small the owners did not even read it, he said. And while the media law alone was not responsible for the weekly’s closing, he said, it was “the cherry on the cake, the coup de grâce,” because it would have revealed the magazine’s true circulation numbers.

He added that he sympathized with the workers who would lose their jobs.

Mr. Correa regularly rails at the press, accusing it of being biased against him and urging his followers not to read newspapers. He has frequently disputed television news reports and complained to newspapers about articles, headlines or, in at least one case, a cartoon, demanding corrections. Critics say he has created a climate in which journalists feel intimidated.

Last year, Mr. Correa won a libel lawsuit against a newspaper, El Universo, that included a $42 million judgment and could have sent a columnist and three executives at the paper to jail, until he pardoned them and forgave the fine.

He also sued Mr. Calderón, the editor of Vanguardia, and another journalist for a book they had written about Mr. Correa’s older brother, Fabricio Correa, and his involvement in government contracts. A judge ordered the defendants to pay Mr. Correa $2 million, but the president agreed last year to drop that legal action as well and said they would not have to pay.

On the last Friday night of June, as Vanguardia’s crestfallen staff tried to put out one more issue, the lugubrious scene felt like a wake.

But the staff kept working. “I will be satisfied that I did my job,” said Fernanda Grijalva, 27, who sat at her computer laying out pages.

At about 3 a.m. the staff finally put the last issue to bed. But Mr. Calderón said the company had not printed the magazine. However, staff members posted a digital version online, with a picture of Mr. Snowden on its cover.

Mr. Calderón said some of the magazine’s hardest-hitting articles could not have been published under the new law. But he said it was the media’s obligation to fight back. Some elements in the law could be used in favor of journalists, he said, citing language establishing free access to information and a provision that a journalist cannot be required to reveal his sources.

“Vanguardia represented a breath of air in an environment that was becoming more and more asphyxiating, where nearly the totality of media outlets have stopped doing investigative journalism,” Mr. Calderón said. With the silencing of Vanguardia, he said, “the country loses the possibility of having a different version than the official version.”

In the interview, Mr. Correa said the closing of Vanguardia was an example of how the new law would make the media better. “That the bad press should disappear, of course that’s good for society,” he said. “The more good press there is the better.”

And who decides which press is good and which is bad?

“Society, through this law,” Mr. Correa said. “Telling the truth, that’s the good press. Lies, that’s the bad press. There’s no room for confusion there.”

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« Reply #7390 on: Jul 09, 2013, 06:04 AM »

Bolivia's indigenous people join fight to save Gran Chaco wilderness

Second largest wilderness in South America threatened by farming, ranching and drugs trade

Dan Collyns in the Gran Chaco, Bolivia, Monday 8 July 2013 21.08 BST   

Only from Cerro Colorado – a rocky outcrop that rears vertiginously over the treetops – is it possible to make out the vastness of the Gran Chaco as it stretches from this corner of Bolivia beyond the horizon into Paraguay. This enormous swath of dry forest and scrubland, where every plant or tree bears thorns, is South America's second largest wilderness after the Amazon rainforest.

The Gran Chaco is threatened on all sides: Mennonite cattle ranchers have bought up large tracts in Paraguay and Brazilian farmers looking for cheap land for their soy crops have flooded across the border.

The quarter of it that lies in Bolivia is the best preserved, but even its habitats have been disrupted by a gas pipeline and military operations against drug traffickers, whose camps have been spotted in the 34,000 sq km (13,000 sq miles) of Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco national park. Bigger than Belgium, it is Bolivia's largest national park.

Erika Cuéllar, a Bolivian conservation biologist with an Oxford doctorate, is training the indigenous people of this expanse of dry forest totalling 1m sq km how to work as field biologists, giving them the means to make a living – and a stake in the rich biodiversity of the continent's second biggest ecosystem.

Cuéllar's vision is to turn young people from the Chaco's three main indigenous groups – the Guaraní, Ayoreo and Chiquitano – into what she calls parabiologists. A parabiologist is akin to a paramedic, who can save lives but does not have the years of training of a medical doctor, she explained.

"These people are a part of the natural environment; they belong to this land. If they are not involved, I don't see how we can achieve the long-term conservation of the biodiversity of this area," she said, as she led a dozen trainees from Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina on a dawn survey of animal tracks.

Few people are adapted to the Chaco's 45C (113F) summer temperatures, freezing nights in the winter, lack of water and biting insects. Yet despite its aridity, the Chaco is home to more than 3,400 plant species, 500 species of birds and 150 mammal species including jaguars, pumas, peccaries, giant anteaters and even eight different types of armadillo ranging in size from 300g to 30kg.

"[The indigenous inhabitants] are the best people to tell you what is going on in the Chaco. I want to give them the option to stay in the area they know," said Cuéllar, who is half-Guaraní.

She explained that many were forced to take work on sugar plantations earning as little as 16 bolivianos (£1.50) for a tonne of cut and cleaned cane.

Communities in the Chaco nominate participants for the 400-hour course of modules from basic biology to mathematics. The students earn a formal certificate for learning how to use GPS, design research projects, collect data and present results.

"The idea of empowering and involving local people in conservation attracted attention," said Cuéllar, who in 2012 was awarded 100,000 Swiss francs (£69,000) under the Rolex award for enterprise. In 2001, she was successful in pushing through a ban on hunting guanacos, the wild ancestor of the llama, of which about 200 survive in the Chaco.

Cuéllar believes the parabiologist model can work in other Latin American countries with areas of rich biodiversity and indigenous populations. She is a familiar face in the Guaraní villages near the Kaa-Iya national park, where the nasal, sing-song tones of the native tongue predominate over Spanish.

One of the motives for protecting the huge area was evidence of uncontacted indigenous Ayoreo families living in the heart of the Chaco. It is the only place in South America outside the Amazon where uncontacted indigenous people still live.

"As an indigenous Guaraní, being a parabiologist has helped me to protect my community," said Jorge Segundo, 40, a village leader and the most experienced of Cuéllar's 17 parabiologists.

Segundo's monthly wage of 3,500 bolivianos – handsome by local standards – has given him a stake in the Chaco's biodiversity, which supports a string of communities that hunt sustainably.

But despite her string of international awards, Cuéllar said conservation was not a priority for the government of President Evo Morales, which had shown no interest in supporting her efforts. "I can work for my entire life trying to protect the Chaco but only someone with political power can really protect this land," she said.

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« Reply #7391 on: Jul 09, 2013, 06:12 AM »

'Massacre' of Morsi supporters leaves Egypt braced for new violence

Muslim Brotherhood condemns killings in Cairo, which came hours before interim president set out election timetable

Ian Black and Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Tuesday 9 July 2013   

Egyptians are braced for new violence after at least 51 supporters of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi were killed by security forces in what the Muslim Brotherhood condemned as a massacre, but the military insisted was the result of an armed attack on a Cairo barracks.

Hours after the country's single bloodiest incident in over a year, interim president Adly Mansour set out a timetable for amending the constitution, and for parliamentary and presidential elections for early 2014. Under the constitutional declaration by Mansour late on Monday, he would create two appointed committees to work out amendments to the Islamist-drafted constitution passed under Morsi.

A referendum on the new document would be held within four months. Elections for a new parliament would be held within two months after that, around mid-February. Once the new parliament convenes, it would have a week to set new presidential elections.

Monday's incident took place outside a Republican Guard officers' club where Morsi is rumoured to be in detention. The Brotherhood said its people were attacked during morning prayers, but the army said an attempt had been made by "a terrorist group" to storm the heavily guarded building. Emergency services confirmed 435 people were injured.

Egypt's interim presidency announced a judicial investigation into the killings, but that did not appease angry crowds, who were still massing as night fell at the nearby Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, a focal point for pro-Morsi protests. The US said it was "deeply concerned" and called on Egypt's army to "exercise maximum restraint".

Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of the al-Azhar mosque and the country's senior Muslim cleric, warned of the danger of "civil war" after the earlier shootings and said he was going into seclusion until violence ended and reconciliation began.

Injured victims described how shooting began hours after hundreds of thousands of people attended rival rallies for and against Morsi. The deaths blocked attempts to form a new civilian-led transitional government and fuelled already high tensions on the eve of the Ramadan holiday.

"There were dawn prayers and then I heard someone calling for help," Mohamed Saber el-Sebaei told the Guardian. "Just before we finished, the shooting started. The army units that were standing in front of the Republican Guard headquarters first started shooting teargas, then live ammunition above people's heads.

"People started to fall back and then an armoured vehicle came round the right-hand side escorted by a group of soldiers with their rifles shooting directly into the people. I was taking cover … behind some rubble and I felt something hit my head."

Initial claims that women and children were among the dead were not confirmed.

But a doctor running a field hospital called the three hours he had spent treating casualties some of the worst he had experienced in his life.

The army said an "armed terrorist group" had tried to break into the compound and attacked security forces. Two policemen and an army officer died and 40 soldiers were injured, with seven in critical condition. The army said it had arrested at least 200 people with "large quantities of firearms, ammunition and Molotov cocktails".

But many unanswered questions remained. Protesters could not agree whether the security forces fired first with teargas or live ammunition. Some were later filmed holding firearms.

The army's narrative was contradicted by testimony from residents who said at least 100 protesters, including children, fled to a nearby tower block – implying that not all of them were involved in an attack.

Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch tweeted: "Regardless of what started [the] violence … [the] military and police have responsibility to exercise restraint and not use excessive and lethal force."

Morsi, narrowly elected a year ago, was deposed by the Egyptian military last Wednesday after mass protests led by the Tamarod (Rebellion) movement. Mansour, the head of the high constitutional court, replaced him as interim president. Morsi supporters say it was a military coup. Opponents call it a continuation of the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

In immediate political fallout, the conservative Salafi Noor party withdrew from already faltering talks on a transitional government. "We wanted to avoid bloodshed, but now blood has been spilled. We will end all negotiations with the new authorities," it said. Political sources said Mohamed ElBaradei or Ziad Baha al-Din were likely to be named interim prime minister.

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a moderate Islamist who left the Brotherhood last year, called on interim president Adly Mansour to step down and told al-Jazeera TV the incident was "a horrible crime against humanity and all Egyptians".

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party (FJP) said it was calling "on the great Egyptian people to rise up against those who want to steal their revolution with tanks and armoured vehicles, even over the dead bodies of the people". But a spokesman clarified later that the appeal was for a "peaceful uprising". Jihadi groups in Sinai threatened "severe retaliation". Saad Amara, a senior FJP figure, said the killings were like Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza and carried out by "armed criminals".

Hamdeen Sabahi, a former presidential candidate and leftist opposition leader, said the only beneficiaries were the Muslim Brotherhood and others who sought to polarise the situation and drive Egypt into civil war.

The US has been trying to defuse the crisis by brokering an agreement between the Brotherhood and the military, but Egyptian analysts and politicians say there is now no chance Morsi will be restored or that the defence minister, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, will resign, as the Islamists are demanding.

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said in a statement: "It is crucial that there is a swift return to democratic processes in Egypt. All sides of the political spectrum should work together for the sake of the country's political and economic future."


07/08/2013 03:39 PM

Revolution Reloaded: Difficult Path Forward for a Divided Egypt

By Ralf Hoppe and Daniel Steinvorth

Egypt has been racked by violence since last week's military intervention to remove President Mohammed Morsi. What, though, is the way forward? The stories of three Cairo residents help provide clues.

How legitimate is a revolution when the people have to look to the military for help? It is a question that begs asking, and an important one, says Yasmin al-Gouchi, among the leaders of the vast recent protests that resulted in the military stepping in to remove Mohammed Morsi from the presidency. Her friends agree, it is an important question. But they would prefer to answer it later.

After all, this isn't the moment for difficult questions, not now, shortly after a revolution has taken place. Al-Gouchi, a kindly young woman, risked her life a dozen times in recent weeks and she almost ended up in prison. But last Wednesday, he and her fellow protesters finally prevailed.

What exactly that will mean for the country remains to be seen. Violence over the weekend was certainly not a good omen and on Monday morning, a clash between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and the military resulted in at least 42 dead. The Islamist group urged Egyptians to rise up against the army as a consequence. Furthermore, the conservative Islamist Nour party said it was withdrawing from talks on the formation of an interim government.

Still, there was an immediate attempt by the interim leadership to calm the situation, with the interim leadership expressing "deep regret," according to Reuters, and pledging to set up a judicial committee to investigate what went wrong. Mohamed ElBaradei, who is involved in the interim leadership, though his exact capacity has not yet been finalized, tweeted on Monday that his country was in "dire need" of reconciliation.

Last Wednesday, of course, the extent of the coming violence could not be foreseen and Al-Gouchi and the protest movement danced, sang and rejoiced in front of the presidential palace in Cairo until 4 a.m., and then they went to the apartment they had rented two months earlier, on the top floor of a 10-story building, with no nameplate on the door. Only nine people knew that this was where the revolution lived, says Yasmin. They call the apartment the "control room." Their computers are still there, and it's also where they hid some of their lists of signatures.

A Moving Speech

They were happy and relieved on the night after the victory, says Yasmin, if only because they hadn't been thrown in prison. They were in high spirits, celebrating Mahmoud Badr, their elected leader, who had sat behind army chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi when he made the all-important announcement on television. President Mohammed Morsi, he said, had "failed to meet the demands of the Egyptian people," and was being replaced by Adly Mansour, head of the Supreme Constitutional Court. He also said that there would be elections soon, and an interim government would run the country until then.

The seating arrangement for the announcement was symbolic of the nature of the coup: the general in the middle, surrounded by the Coptic pope, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, and Mahmoud Badr, the leader of the rebellious youth movement. The general spoke, and then Badr stepped up to the microphone and gave a moving speech.

But what exactly happened on that evening? How does one define a coup against the government by both the people and the military? Was it a sign of a lack of democratic consciousness, or just the opposite?

Eventually the rebels became tired in their control room. It had grown light outside, and at 8 a.m. al-Gouchi went to sleep on one of the cots set up in the room. Her last thought before closing her eyes was that there was nothing they couldn't achieve.

Al-Gouchi is a friendly and inconspicuous 25-year-old woman from Cairo. She wears a light-colored headscarf, has a boyfriend, loves Verdi operas and Beethoven sonatas, and she is a fan of actor Adil Imam, as well as Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former president and popular hero. "I'm afraid I have ordinary taste," she says.

In the Name of the People

But despite her modesty, Al-Gouchi was one of the co-founders of Tamarud, or Rebellion, perhaps the largest peaceful protest movement in the Arab world. It began with only nine young, angry Egyptians from the middle class, but they recruited others, organized their effort and spent months planning. In the end, they had collected what they claim were 22 million signatures opposing Morsi, and had brought three million people into the streets. In doing so, they convinced the military to overthrow the government in the name of the people.

President Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, voted into office a year ago, was deposed and placed under house arrest. Several members of the Brotherhood were detained temporarily, their broadcast stations were taken off the air and their newspapers shut down.

Confused Western politicians, criticizing the means but praising the end, avoided using the word coup, instead referring to it as a military intervention undertaken to avert a more disastrous outcome. According to the organization Human Rights Watch, dozens have been killed in street fighting since the end of June.

Al-Gouchi ended up spending half the day sleeping after the revolution, with Apache helicopters circling above the Nile River bridges and air force fighter jets roaring through the skies above Cairo. Mohamed Sharaf, though, arrived in his office at 9 a.m. sharp on the first morning post-Morsi. Sharaf, a computer expert, is a cheerful and jovial man in his early 40s, the father of two sons. "I was a completely normal, harmless citizen" before the revolution, he says.

Sharaf spent last Wednesday night in front of the television, explaining politics to his sons and discussing the events of the day with his wife. That night, he says, marked the end of the life he had led until then, and the beginning of a new life. He had been part of an apolitical middle class, a group that is referred to reproachfully, but half in jest, as "Hisb al-Kanaba," or the Sofa Party, people who sit on their sofas and leave politics to others. "But in the last two months I realized that I had to become involved," he says. "Absolutely! Otherwise my country would go to the dogs. We couldn't allow the Muslim Brotherhood to control Egypt."

'We Want an Islamic State!'

On the day after Morsi's overthrow, members of the Muslim Brotherhood withdrew to neighborhoods like Nasr City, the Islamist stronghold in the northeastern part of Cairo. An estimated 7,000 people gathered in front of the Raba'a al-Adaweya Mosque, where they pitched tents -- an entire tent city, in fact. It was a clear sign that they intend to stay. The crowd consisted mostly of men, from young to very old, all with stern faces. Many carried hardhats, baseball bats or thick sticks. Everywhere, there were images of their ousted president.

One of the men was a 45-year-old bookkeeper named Fahmi Fawzi. Muscular, bearded and wearing a blue baseball cap, he was furious. "We want the whole world to know," he said. "They didn't give us a chance, the military, the Christians, the foreign agents and supporters of the old regime who infiltrated Tamarud. We Muslim Brothers are the victims of a criminal coup."

As Fawzi spoke, about 100 men lined up behind him. A man with a microphone began to stir up the crowd, shouting: "We want an Islamic state!" The men shouted in response: "We want an Islamic state! An Islamic state!"

These are three very different Egyptians: Yasmin al-Gouchi, the Tamarud activist; Mohamed Sharaf, the citizen who has shaken awake by events; and Fahmi Fawzi, the embittered member of the Muslim Brotherhood. They don't know each other, but each of them played a role in shaping Egypt's fate in recent days and weeks.

Without the fiercely determined Tamarud activists, Sharaf would never have brought himself to demonstrate on Tahrir Square and demand Morsi's overthrow. It would not have occurred to him that it was time to change his life. Without Sharaf and the other apolitical, outraged citizens, Tamarud would have remained a clique of dreamers sitting in Internet cafés. And without the alliance between Tamarud and Hisb al-Kanaba, the Muslim Brotherhood would probably still be in power, and Fahmi Fawzi would be a happy man. He would have been able to rise through the ranks of the Brotherhood's strict hierarchy with the prospect of earning more money and gaining more respect.

The story of these three Egyptians is the story of a recaptured revolution -- or of a coup, depending on one's standpoint. It began with a "Day of Rage" on Jan. 25, 2011 and came to its first climax on Feb. 11, 2011, the day the military forced Hosni Mubarak to resign. It reached its second climax last week, when his successor was overthrown. In the interim, there was a constitutional referendum, a parliamentary and a presidential election, protests by millions of people and dozens of dead, wild strikes and senseless violence. And yet, as the events of Sunday evening indicate, the story is far from over.

'This Is Our Democracy'
"This is only the beginning," said Sharaf on the morning after the revolution. He and Hussam Hussain, a coworker, were sitting in their office, too wound up to work. Sharaf was considering whether to go to Tahrir Square in the afternoon. Hussain had been there on the previous evening together with his wife. She was afraid, he explains, "but I told her that we couldn't stay out of this, and that had to do our part. This is our democracy, and now it's up to us to shape it."

The wives of the two men -- a teacher and an attorney -- voted for Morsi a year ago. They believed that he was incorruptible because he was pious and, more importantly, that he came with a clean slate, unlike his opponent Ahmed Shafik, a former member of the Mubarak camp. Sharaf and Hussain didn't know which of the two candidates to vote for, so they chose not to vote. But they accepted the outcome, thinking that this was what happened in a democracy.

"But Morsi made some dramatic mistakes," says Sharaf. "And when you notice that the pilot is unable to fly the plane, you have to get him out of the cockpit. You can't say: Leave him be, because he has a four-year employment contract!" Egypt isn't a flight simulator, say the two men.

Still, even as the country has been wrested from the Muslim Brotherhood's control, the way forward will be full of tough challenges. Al-Gouchi and her Tamarud activists will have to turn their skillful guerilla tactics into something more suited to everyday life, and they have to be careful not to allow themselves to be crushed. The party of couch potatoes cannot succumb to old routines, and people like Sharaf and Hussain will have to hold onto their sense of political responsibility. "My wife will now join a party," says Hussain. "It isn't my thing, but I will support her."

And the Muslim Brotherhood? It will have to find a new role. If it wants to avoid descending into sectarianism, it will have to shed its conspiracy theories and fantasies of omnipotence. It has the most difficult role to play in the current political drama. Fawzi and his fellow Islamists still haven't realized that Egypt has changed. First and foremost, it will have to do its part to prevent the kind of violence that struck on Monday morning -- and calling for an uprising against the Egyptian military is certainly not going to help.

Rising Bodycount

Still, the violence was perhaps not unexpected. Last Friday, tens of thousands of Morsi supporters converged on Tahrir Square, spurred on by Mohammed Badie, the head of the Brotherhood. At a previous rally, he had said: "We will sacrifice ourselves, our souls and our blood, for President Morsi." That Molotov cocktails flew through the air, shots were fired and scuffles ensued late last week seemed to be part of the plan.

It only worsened throughout the weekend and the casualty count has risen. Indeed, there is more and more talk about Algeria now, a country where Islamists won an election, the military staged a coup and the ensuing civil war cost tens of thousands of lives. Egypt is certainly not Algeria, but society is deeply polarized, and no one knows what the Muslim Brotherhood will do next. Will it take part in elections? Will it go underground again? Will there be attacks and political murders again, as there were in the past?

Al-Gouchi and two of her fellow activists, Sara Kamal and Mai Wachbar, were sitting at a McDonald's restaurant in the Dokki neighborhood, not far from Tahrir Square, last week. They were drinking tea and eating strawberry yoghurt as Arab pop music blared from the loudspeakers. Their laptops were open.

We asked Al-Gouchi the same question again: How legitimate is a revolution when it needs the military's support?

"That's an important point," she says. "We discussed it often at the beginning. But it's also very theoretical. The reality, however, was like this: We had nothing, while the Muslim Brotherhood had the government machine on its side. Getting the army involved was our only option." She pushes her yoghurt to the side. "To be perfectly honest, many of us gave Morsi a chance at first, but we were quickly disappointed."

A Majority on Paper

Morsi was elected in late June 2012, after winning 51.7 percent of the vote in a runoff election. But turnout was low, with only a little more than half of all eligible voters going to the polls. Furthermore, many only voted for him because his rival was a former member of the Mubarak administration. In the end, only about a quarter of voters truly wanted to see Morsi in office. It was a majority on paper, formally legitimate, but Morsi used it as a moral carte blanche. And within only one year he had managed to alienate an overwhelming majority of Egyptians.

This is why the question of the legitimacy of this coup is so complicated, a question that can only be answered by considering the events of the last year.

Al-Gouchi, Sharaf and many other protesters accuse Morsi of making three mistakes. First, they argue that Morsi took every opportunity to place his supporters in government positions, the media, the judiciary and the police, while caring very little about their competency. "We care about a person's ability to solve a problem," says Sharaf, "and not about whether he is devout." The low point, says Al-Gouchi, was Morsi's attempt to push through an Islamic constitution in November 2012.

Second, they fault Morsi for his inability to unite the nation, and for his complete lack of sensitivity. When the new Coptic pope came into office, Morsi made a point of keeping his distance. He tolerated Islamist clerics agitating against Christians, Shiites and liberals. And he appointed a member of the radical group Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya as governor of Luxor, a city where the terrorist group had once committed attacks on tourists.

Morsi's third mistake, say his critics, lies in his handling of the economy. "Of course Morsi couldn't get rid of decades of corruption overnight," says Sharaf. "But what did he do? Nothing at all. This year, we have learned that the Muslim Brotherhood is a corrupt mafia group itself." Gasoline became scarce and there were frequent power outages. The Egyptian pound lost value and the cost of bread and many other goods rose.

No Politics at McDonald's

The reasons for these failures lie in the history of the Brotherhood. Founded in 1928, it has operated largely as an underground group since then, taking a tactical approach, and yet consistently behaving with a conspiratorial martyr-like mentality. Many of its members and leaders spent time in prison, which explains the group's constant thinking in terms of "us" and "them."

"You can't even have a normal conversation with Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Their worldview is isolationist and they see conspiracies everywhere," says Al-Gouchi. "And they also believe that they are acting on God's behalf, which makes them obstinate." This distrustfulness is like an infectious disease, she says, "and it's spread throughout the entire society."

The young women of Tamarud were speaking passionately and loudly, in voices hoarse from singing and shouting. One of the guests occasionally looked up from his milkshake. Suddenly the manager appeared at their table, looking tense and surly. The women should leave immediately, he says, because political discussions were not welcome at McDonald's.

The three young women hesitated for a moment before closing up their laptops. Then they got up, not deigning to look at the man. "There are more important things to worry about," says Yasmin by way of explanation. And then they left.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


White House sidesteps 'coup' questions as US continues aid to Egypt

Jay Carney says it is not in America's best interests to decide yet whether the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi amounted to a coup

Dan Roberts in Washington, Monday 8 July 2013 22.04 BST   

The Obama administration attempted to sidestep questions over the legality of military aid to Egypt on Monday, claiming it was not in its "best interests" to decide yet whether the armed overthrow of the country's elected president amounted to a coup or not.

US law prevents any administration providing support to the leaders of a military coup, but the White House announced it will not suspend foreign aid to Egypt for now, pending further review of how army generals behaved both during and after the change of regime in Cairo.

"We have had a long relationship with Egypt and the Egyptian people and it would not be wise to abruptly change our assistance programme," said spokesman Jay Carney. "The smart policy is to review this matter."

"There is not a simple or easy answer here," he added. "It is in our interests to observe and engage."

Despite mounting pressure from congressional critics such as Senator John McCain, the White House also refused to put a timeline on its suspension of judgment over the legal status of the revolt.

The US spends $1.3bn on military aid to Egypt each year, and a further $250m in economic assistance – a factor which the administration hopes may act as a check on military leaders and encourage them to return power swiftly to an elected government.

But congressional hawks see the issue as more evidence that the White House is "behind the curve" on events in the Middle East.

"It is difficult for me to conclude that what happened was anything other than a coup in which the military played a decisive role," said McCain.

"I do not want to suspend our critical assistance to Egypt but I believe that is the right thing to do at this time," he said.

Though adamant it is not picking sides, the administration argues it takes more than elections to make a democratic government and believes ousted president Mohamed Morsi should have done more to respect the views of opposition groups since winning the first election following the revolution against President Mubarak.

"It is important to acknowledge that tens of millions of Egyptians have legitimate grievances with Morsi's undemocratic form of government and do not believe it is a coup," said Carney.

But the US has also been heavily criticised in the region for allegedly inciting recent violence by giving what is seen as tacit backing to the overthrow of Morsi.

At least 51 people were killed in Cairo on Monday when the Egyptian army opened fire on supporters of the toppled Islamist leader.

"The US remains deeply concerned by increasing violence and dangerous levels of political polarisation," insisted White House spokesman Carney.

"We condemn any violence or incitement to violence and we call on the military to exercise restraint. We also condemn the explicit calls to violence by the Muslim Brotherhood."

He also called on army leaders to stop arresting Muslim Brotherhood leaders and allow a free press to operate, but declined to comment on how the White House felt they had behaved so far.

"What is not helpful is to give hourly or daily grades [to the generals]," said Carney. "We are making our broad position to clear to them."

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« Reply #7392 on: Jul 09, 2013, 06:16 AM »

July 8, 2013

Syrian Governing Party Ousts a Political Insider


BEIRUT — Syria’s governing Baath Party on Monday removed Vice President Farouk al-Shara from its top decision-making body, a shake-up that further sidelined the Syrian political insider who has ventured closest to publicly criticizing the government’s handling of the two-year uprising.

Mr. Shara, 74, a longtime associate and adviser of President Bashar al-Assad and his family, is no dissident. But he has kept a low profile since he made what in Syria’s tightly controlled political scene passed for controversial statements. Also potentially leading loyalists to view him as a threat was the fact that he was mentioned as a possible replacement for Mr. Assad in any transitional government.

“There is a clear policy to get him out from the Syrian political scene,” said a political analyst in Damascus, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for his safety. He added that Mr. Shara posed a political threat because “he has clean hands, is not corrupt and didn’t participate in the bloody crackdown.”

What was unclear was why such a move had come now, when the government had been projecting greater confidence after retaking some rebel-held territory. Government forces are newly hammering rebel strongholds in the strategic central city of Homs, prospects for a negotiated settlement seem remote, and the opposition is suffering from new turbulence.

On Monday, the prime minister of the opposition’s still-notional interim government, Ghassan Hitto, resigned in what was a new setback for the main exile opposition group, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

“The circumstances which have become known to all did not allow me to initiate work on the ground,” Mr. Hitto said in a statement.

Mr. Hitto, a naturalized American citizen from Damascus, struggled to start an interim government that could administer rebel-held territories and unify rebel fighters. He was hampered by the reluctance of the United States and its allies to fully support the opposition, and by rivalries within the movement.

The coalition’s new leader, Ahmad Assi al-Jarba, also holds few cards, he made clear in his first public statements on Sunday, his first day in office. The opposition’s military position is weak, he told Reuters, saying it will not attend peace talks organized by Russia and the United States unless it improves.

He called for a truce during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this week, apparently to allow aid to reach Homs, where, he said, “we are staring at a real humanitarian disaster.”

The government says it is advancing into the old center of Homs to push out terrorists — part of what seems to be a recent strategy to double down on a push for military victory.

Some analysts speculated that a hardening line might have been the reason for the ouster of Mr. Shara, the Syrian vice president, from the Baath Party’s top ranks, known as the regional command.

The official news agency, SANA, gave little explanation, issuing an opaque statement saying that the party “should develop itself through adhering to reality,” and was “setting new restrictions” in selecting members.

In December, Mr. Shara told a Lebanese newspaper that the government could not achieve a military victory over the insurgency.

He called for an internationally monitored cease-fire and a national unity government, saying Syria was not fighting for “the survival of an individual or a regime.”

Mr. Shara is a Sunni Muslim from Dara’a, the southern city where the uprising began. But many in the armed opposition have been hostile to the prospect of even a nonmilitary figure like Mr. Shara remaining in power.

Nonetheless, the political analyst said, Mr. Assad effectively kept Mr. Shara under house arrest. Mr. Shara has rarely been seen lately in his office in downtown Damascus, the analyst added.

The move is somewhat symbolic, given that the Baath Party’s regional command is on paper a powerful institution, approving provincial governors and domestic policies, but in practice Mr. Assad governs with a tight coterie of officials mainly drawn from the military and security services, analysts say.

Early in the conflict, said Yezid Sayigh, an analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, there was “some faint hope” that the command would assert itself and push for dialogue, but it quickly became clear that its members had little impact. Still, he said, Mr. Shara’s position there “gave him a certain legitimacy to speak out.”

The chief of the party’s Aleppo branch, Hilal Hilal, was expected to be appointed as Mr. Assad’s new deputy at the head of the regional command. A Syrian familiar with the military situation in Aleppo said Mr. Hilal had led Baathist militias in Aleppo recently, wearing a military uniform, and was being rewarded for backing Mr. Assad on the ground.

Other new members of the command included Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi, like Mr. Shara a Sunni from Dara’a; the Parliament speaker; the minister of electricity; and the heads of the party-run labor union and student union.

Analysts suggested that the party might be trying to sideline internal dissent as well as to give positions to new constituencies to bolster its popularity amid frustration with the hardships of the crisis. Baath Party members from the provinces have been among the protesters and army defectors joining the rebels, the Damascus-based analyst said.

Abu Nizar, 55, a Baath Party member and government employee who gave only a nickname for safety, said he rarely attended party meetings any more.

“Who cares about the Baath Party’s new command,” he said, “when price of the dollar today reached 260 Syrian pounds,” which would make Syrians’ earning power about a fifth of pre-crisis levels.

He said he was unable to afford the food he wanted to buy for Ramadan. “What will the new Baathist command give me,” he asked, “more salary or more pan-Arabism slogans?”

An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria, and Hania Mourtada from Beirut.

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« Reply #7393 on: Jul 09, 2013, 06:19 AM »

Second ‘Prisoner X’ held in top secret in Israel

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 9, 2013 6:00 EDT

A second ‘Prisoner X’ was being held in top-secret conditions in the same jail where an Israeli-Australian spy took his his own life in 2010, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Court documents cited by Haaretz newspaper said the prisoner was being held in another wing of Ayalon prison at the same time as Ben Zygier, an alleged Mossad spy whose mysterious arrest and subsequent suicide shocked Israel and Australia when it hit the headlines in February.

The documents show the second prisoner had already been convicted without saying what his crime was.

The prisoner, who was being held under similar conditions to Zygier, was not named and it was not clear from the papers whether he was still incarcerated, Haaretz said.

Zygier, who was initially referred to as “Prisoner X” before the Australian press identified him as an agent for Israel’s shadowy Mossad spy service, was found hanged in a supposedly suicide-proof cell in Block 15 of Ayalon prison in December 2010 with Israel going to extreme lengths to cover up his existence and the reason for his imprisonment.

Haaretz said the second prisoner was being held in Block 13 and that like Zygier, his case was being handled by the Shin Bet internal security service and the prison’s intelligence officers.

The paper said the information was included in an appendix to a transcript of hearings and decisions on the Zygier case, which was released by the Central District Magistrates Court following a Haaretz request.

Avigdor Feldman, a lawyer who visited Zygier just days before his death and who specialises in security cases, told army radio that certain assumptions could be drawn from a detainee being classified as ‘prisoner X.’

“They are Israeli, they work in institutions linked to security whose activities are shrouded in secrecy,” he said.

“And their detention demonstrates the failure of these organisations which are not capable of preventing offences such as those for which these agents have been arrested,” he said.

Two months ago, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which broke the original story about ‘Prisoner X’ in February, said that Zygier had been arrested after unwittingly sabotaging a top-secret spy operation to bring home the bodies of Israeli soldiers missing in Lebanon.


July 8, 2013

New Prayer Confrontation at Western Wall


JERUSALEM — Thousands of ultra-Orthodox teenage girls and adults flooded the Western Wall early Monday, forcing a group of activist women to hold their monthly service farther from the wall than usual. It was the latest chapter of a bitter struggle over the nature of public prayer at one of Judaism’s holiest sites.

Two ultra-Orthodox men were arrested on suspicion of throwing objects at the women in the activist group, who prayed amid taunts and jeers in a section of the plaza behind the wall itself that was cordoned off by the police. An ultra-Orthodox woman was also arrested for entering a cordoned-off area, a police spokesman said.

The standoff came as Israel’s government is at work on new regulations governing prayer at the site, a remnant of a retaining wall around the ancient Jewish Temple, after a spate of arrests in recent months of members of the activist group, Women of the Wall, which prompted outrage, particularly among American Jews. Women of the Wall has been meeting on the first of each Jewish month for nearly 25 years, and it recently won a court decision protecting women’s right to wear prayer shawls and other religious garments traditionally used by men, which had long been prohibited at the site by Israeli laws and court rulings.

Anat Hoffman, the leader of the group, said she was “very disappointed” with the police for placing the women in an area that she said had usually been used for police parking and was “next to the toilet, next to the exit.”

“The police let the bullies dictate life for the rest of us,” Ms. Hoffman said.

Micky Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, said that the women were cordoned off for their safety, as they were in May and June, and that the large crowds led the police to move the service. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis had issued a call for students to fill the site, as they did in May, when five religious protesters were detained by the police.

The women’s group, numbering about 200, was surrounded by ultra-Orthodox men shouting insults as it conducted its service, which included a bat mitzvah ceremony and concluded with the singing of “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem. Many of the Orthodox wore headphones to drown out the women’s voices, even as prayers from the men’s section were amplified by microphones.

A 15-year-old girl who was among the throng of ultra-Orthodox blocking access to the women’s section directly in front of the wall said of the group, “It is so sad to see these women in the holiest place in the world.” Leah Aharoni, an ultra-Orthodox woman who helped found a new group, called Women for the Wall, this spring to counter the original group, said, “They are praying, we are praying — there isn’t a problem.”

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who heads the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which governs the site, called on the government committee working to revamp the prayer protocols — in part by establishing a new section where women and men would be permitted to pray together — “to come to a quick solution so that such scenes will not be repeated.”

“The picture of victory that one side presents from this Rosh Hodesh and the picture of victory that the other side presented from last Rosh Hodesh is not a victory but a failure for all of us,” Rabbi Rabinowitz said in a statement, using the Hebrew term for the first of the month, “because people are trying to make the Western Wall, which should be a unifying place, into a divisive place.”

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« Reply #7394 on: Jul 09, 2013, 06:20 AM »

South Sudan: 'independence is not as beautiful as we thought'

As South Sudan faces up to a host of development challenges, it badly needs a unifying vision to harness the country's optimism

Andrew Green in Juba, Tuesday 9 July 2013 11.40 BST   

In January 2011, Lorna Merekaje was an official observer at the referendum in which more than 98% of southern Sudanese voted to sever their ties with Sudan. She remembers the fireworks and parties that lasted until dawn when South Sudan officially became the world's newest country on 9 July of that year.

Two years later and Merekaje, who now heads a local organisation working to improve governance, says: "The excitement is gone." People have come to realise, she reflects, that "independence is not as beautiful as we thought".

As South Sudan began to confront the challenge of running a country without enough schools, hospitals or roads, the unity that had underpinned the referendum and declaration of independence dissolved.

More than 2,000 mothers die for every 100,000 live births and 75 of every 1,000 babies will not survive to their first birthday, according to a humanitarian update. Last year, the UN treated 90,000 children for acute malnutrition.

Agricultural production has yet to take off. And there are few roads to transport produce. A $225m US-funded highway means Juba now has access to neighbouring Uganda and, by extension, the rest of east Africa. But once lorry drivers reach the capital, they encounter potholed and – during the rainy season – impassable roads to other areas of South Sudan.

The government has proposed paving more roads and providing communal farming equipment, but, like many plans, they are on hold because of austerity measures. The budget shrank after the government turned off oil production and, with it, 98% of the state's revenue in January 2012. Landlocked South Sudan refused to pay the fees Khartoum demanded to use its pipeline. After protracted negotiations, the oil came back on in April, but austerity measures will continue until the end of this year.

The country's scarce resources have been stretched further by the return of nearly 2 million people who fled during decades of fighting, while rebel groups – not least David Yau Yau's forces in Jonglei state – have displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

But there has been progress. Though infant mortality is high, it has dropped since 2006 (pdf), when 102 out of every 1,000 babies died before the age of one. The World Bank reported last year that a child in South Sudan has a 60% chance of getting some education, up from 40% a decade ago. And at the mid-year review of the country's consolidated appeal in June – a call for donor support from more than 100 UN and humanitarian groups – the organisers were able to revise down the number of people who will not have enough to eat this year by 500,000, to 4.1 million. The country has an estimated population of 11 million.

International donors have already met more than half of this year's $1.05bn appeal. Overall, the US has committed $169.7m this year, followed by the European commission with $79.7m and the UK with $60.8m.

Toby Lanzer, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in South Sudan, says the combination of a good harvest and the slowing pace of new returnees means "life in South Sudan is more stable and secure than at any stage since independence".

But more donations will not solve South Sudan's biggest problem, Merekaje says. After decades of war, South Sudanese are prepared to go without, but what they want from the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement – and not the donors – is a vision to bring the country together again.

An initiative to do that has begun, says Zacharia Diing Akol, director of training at the Sudd Institute, a local thinktank. Leaders have been discussing a national reconciliation process.

Akol says surveys conducted by the institute found people across South Sudan were almost unanimously in favour of the idea. President Salva Kiir this year named a group of religious leaders to head a committee for national healing, peace and reconciliation. The archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Daniel Deng Bul, who chairs the committee, says the process will be based "on spiritual values". The group's first major activity was a national day of prayer on Sunday.

A model for reconciliation – and whether punitive action will be taken against people who confess to violent acts, or whether they will be forgiven – has yet to be agreed. Bul says committee members would let people decide through community-based meetings.

How the committee proceeds is critical, according to Akol. "If it is done well, it has the potential to bring the country together," he says. "If it is done poorly, it has the potential to backlash and make it difficult for a national initiative to succeed."

Despite the disappointments and the discord, there is still a sense that independence was the right move.

Mabior Dhieu, 29, simply plans to enjoy the day's celebrations. Dhieu, a former fighter for the Sudan People's Liberation Army, which he joined at the age of 11, is unemployed but optimistic that "there is another generation coming up" that will have opportunities he did not.

Dhieu cast his mind back two years. As the clock approached midnight on 8 July, he stepped into a church and "prayed up to morning. I prayed for our nation, for our independence. I didn't believe we could get it."

Now that South Sudan is free, says Dhieu, it is their job to figure out "how to grow up like other nations in the world".

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