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« Reply #7650 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:02 AM »

6 Indian men get life in prison for rape, robbery of Swiss tourist

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 20, 2013 16:31 EDT

Six men accused in the gang-rape and robbery of a 39-year-old Swiss woman cyclist holidaying in India were sentenced to life terms Saturday by a court in central India.

“All the accused have been convicted and we are satisfied with the judgement,” said the public prosecutor in the case, Rajendra Tiwari, after the ruling, the Press Trust of India and other local media reported.

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Insecticide in free meal that killed 23 Indian pupils

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 20, 2013 12:35 EDT

Oil used to cook a school lunch that led to the deaths of 23 pupils in eastern India contained powerful insecticide, a forensic report said Saturday.

The children died after eating lentils, potatoes and rice cooked at the school last Tuesday with oil containing an agricultural insecticide — organophosphorus — that was five times the strength commercially available, the report said.

************

Indian school lunch pesticide not widely available, says magistrate

Pesticide in cooking oil more than five times more concentrated than commercial version, according to forensic report

Reuters in Patna
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 21 July 2013 11.21 BST   

The free school lunches that killed 23 Indian children last week were contaminated with concentrated pesticide that is not widely available, according to the district magistrate overseeing the police investigation.

The children fell ill within minutes of eating a meal of rice and potato curry in their one-room school in Bihar state on Tuesday, vomiting and convulsing with stomach cramps.

The lunch was part of India's mid-day meals scheme, which covers 120 million children and aims to tackle malnutrition and encourage school attendance. It had already drawn widespread complaints over food safety.

The deaths sparked protests in Bihar.

An initial forensic investigation found that the meal had been prepared with cooking oil that contained monocrotophos, an organophosphorus compound used as an agricultural pesticide, Ravindra Kumar, a senior police official, told reporters on Saturday.

The pesticide found in the oil was more than five times more concentrated than that used in a commercial version, according to a forensic report.

"It is highly poisonous, it's highly toxic, and, therefore, it has to be diluted when used as commercial pesticides," said district magistrate Abhijit Sinha.

"Typically it has to be diluted five times. So one litre of monocrotophos is mixed with five litres of water."

Sinha said the concentrated form was not widely available and the pesticide was normally sold commercially in the diluted state.

Police said on Friday they suspected the cooking oil used in the meal was kept in a container previously used to store the pesticide. They are still looking for the headmistress of the school, who fled after the deaths.

The World Health Organisation describes monocrotophos as highly hazardous and that handling and application of it should be entrusted only to competently supervised and well-trained applicators.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations says all waste and contaminated material associated with the chemical should be considered hazardous waste and destroyed in a special high-temperature chemical incinerator facility.


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« Reply #7651 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:08 AM »

July 20, 2013

President Lifts Emergency Rule in Myanmar

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar’s president on Saturday lifted a state of emergency in the central part of the country that was put in place after Buddhist-led mobs went on a rampage in March, killing dozens of Muslims and burning down their shops and homes. Many of the victims were teachers and students from an Islamic school.

The decision to lift the emergency order in Meiktila, Mahlaing, Wundwin and Thazi several months ahead of schedule was an indication that “peace and stability” had been restored, said the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar.

The move came as President Thein Sein was wrapping up a European tour that was aimed in part at cleaning up the image of a country plagued by religious violence. Mr. Thein Sein told France 24 television that allegations of “ethnic cleansing” in the state of Rakhine were not true and were part of a “smear campaign” by outsiders.

The unrest in Meiktila was set off by a quarrel at a gold shop owned by a Muslim on March 20, but escalated after a group of Muslims burned a monk to death.

Enraged, mobs of Buddhists destroyed 12 of the city’s 13 mosques and burned down hundreds of homes before marching to an Islamic school, where they killed 36 teachers and students. The violence, which left 44 people dead, went unchecked until a state of emergency was declared March 22. A curfew was imposed, and the assembly of more than five people was prohibited.

“Lifting the emergency order is an important step, but the critical question is, what is the government’s plan to foster reconciliation between Buddhist and Muslim communities in these areas?” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, noting that 7,000 displaced people were still afraid to return to their homes. “Just hoping for the best is not much of a plan.”
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« Reply #7652 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:11 AM »


Kashmir militants rebuild their lives as hopes of a lasting peace grow

Veterans of the insurgency come back from Pakistan as India's once violent state embraces policy of rehabilitation

Jason Burke in Shopian, Kashmir   
The Observer, Sunday 21 July 2013   

Shabir Ahmed Dar has come home. His children play under the walnut trees where he once played. His father, white-bearded and thin now, watches them. The village of Degoom, the cluster of traditional brick-and-wood houses in Kashmir where Dar grew up, is still reached by a dirt road and hay is still hung from the branches of the soaring chinar trees to dry.

But Dar has changed, even if Degoom has not. It is 22 years since he left the village to steal over the "line of control" (LoC), the de facto border separating the Indian and Pakistani parts of this long-disputed former princely state high in the Himalayan foothills. Along with a dozen or so other teenagers, he hoped to take part in the insurgency which pitted groups of young Muslim Kashmiris enrolled in Islamist militant groups, and later extremists from Pakistan too, against Indian security forces.

"I went because everyone else was going. The situation was bad here. I had my beliefs, my dream for my homeland. I was very young," he said, sitting in the room where he had slept as a child.

The conflict had only just begun when he left. Over the next two decades, an estimated 50,000 soldiers, policemen, militants and, above all, ordinary people were to die. Dar's aim had been to "create a true Islamic society" in Kashmir. This could only be achieved by accession to Pakistan or independence, he believed.

But once across the LoC, even though he spent only a few months with the militant group he had set out to join and never took part in any fighting, he was unable to return. "I was stuck there. I made a new life. I married and found work. I didn't think I would ever come back here," Dar said.

But now the 36-year-old has finally come home, with his Pakistani-born wife and three children. He is one of 400 former militants who have taken advantage of a new "rehabilitation" policy launched by the youthful chief minister of the state, Omar Abdullah.

Dar's father heard of the scheme and convinced his son to return last year. "I am an old man. I wanted to see my son and grandchildren before I die. I wanted him to have his share of our land," said Dar senior, who is 70.

The scheme is an indication of the changes in this beautiful, battered land. In recent years, economic growth in India has begun to benefit Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority state. At the same time, despite a series of spectacular attacks on security forces by militants in recent months, violence has fallen to its lowest levels since the insurgency broke out in the late 1980s. The two phenomena are connected, many observers say.

It is this relative calm that has allowed Dar and the others to return – and allows even some hardened veterans who have renounced violence to live unmolested. "A few years ago the [Indian intelligence] agencies would have shot this down because they would have seen it as another move to infiltrate [militants from Pakistan]," Abdullah, the chief minister, said.

The scheme is not, however, an amnesty. "If there are cases against them they will still be arrested [and] prosecuted … Largely this scheme has been taken up by those who have not carried out any acts of terrorism. Either they never came [across the LoC], or if they came we never knew about it," Abdullah said.

So far there have been only two cases – one unproved – of people becoming active again in the insurgency on returning to the Indian side. Police officials confirm that the "returnees" live quietly. One reason for this is that most of them, like Dar, left during the first wave of early enthusiasm for "the cause" which swept Kashmir amid repression in the late 1980s, but were swiftly disillusioned. Ehsan ul-Haq, who now runs a shoe shop in central Srinagar after spending 21 years in Pakistan, remembered how he crossed the LoC with 300 others one night in 1990. A political campaigner, the 53-year-old remembered how he "wanted to make Kashmir into Switzerland" but "through the years saw only destruction".

"Once money entered into it, the cause was lost; all purpose, all direction, was gone," said ul-Haq, who left his political party soon after arriving on the Pakistani side of the LoC. He married a local girl, had five children and ran a stationery business. Of the original 300 who had crossed with him, he said, 100 were killed fighting in the insurgency, a dozen had returned to the homes they had left as "returnees" under the new scheme, and the rest had remained across the LoC. In all about 4,000 men were still "over there", he said.

Some former militants did not wait for the returnee scheme. Abdul Ghaffar Bhatt, 55, joined the Hizbul Mujahideen group, which is still active, in 1989. Bhatt had long been involved in a political Islamist organisation, but the transition to violent militancy came after authorities in Srinagar bulldozed the car workshop he had recently set up. "They had attacked my identity and my culture. They had detained me and my friends. But this was a direct attack on my income, my life. One day I was a king; the next a beggar. I had a family, three children. I made my decision and left them," Bhatt remembered.

For three years, Bhatt was a senior commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, running operations against Indian troops and local security forces in and around Srinagar and sheltering in the militant camps across the LoC when necessary. These were years of intense violence in Kashmir as security forces struggled to contain an insurgency with significant local support. Human rights abuses were committed systematically by all involved.

"We fought for an independent Kashmir. Religion was important for me, of course, but we were all together – secularists, nationalists, Islamists," he remembered.

However, infighting and the growing influence of Pakistani intelligence services – still officially denied by Islamabad – led Bhatt to lay down his arms. "We had been united. Now we had all different groups. We were no longer a Kashmiri movement. Now I look back and I think we were used by Pakistan against India, like the US used the Afghans against the Soviets," Bhatt said.

The veteran militant returned to Kashmir secretly seven years ago, slipping through India's almost unguarded border with Nepal. Recognised and detained, he spent months in prison being interrogated before being released. Now he spends his days in Srinagar with the children he did not see for decades. His 26-year-old son, Bilal, earns 7,000 rupees (£85) a month selling newspapers. He does not want to follow his father's path. "We have to struggle for our freedoms but peacefully, with no blood, no violence. This is what humanity demands. It is what most of my friends feel," he said.

However, those who have returned under the official scheme do not find life easy. Places in schools are hard to come by and government promises of vocational training are unfulfilled. Life is toughest for the wives of returnees who, with relations between India and Pakistan still poor, are unable to go back to see families and friends in Pakistan.

"It is a kind of hell I am living now," said Farhat, 33, who married a former militant codenamed "Asgar" 15 years ago and came back with him to his native village in the hills of north Kashmir earlier this year.

The stunning view from their new home across orchards to the shimmering expanse of Wular lake is no compensation for her previous life. "We had a house, land, work, schools, everything over there. Here we have nothing. We made a terrible mistake. We have tried to go back, but cannot," Farhat said. Her 13-year-old son, Hamza, is now angry, moody and sometimes violent.

In Degoom village, Dar, too, says he regrets his decision. "My wife is so unhappy," he says. "No one should come back until there is freedom here."

Abdullah, the chief minister, has suggested some kind of peace and reconciliation commission for Kashmir. "Ultimately we want to heal wounds. We want to be able to answer questions," he said. "A lot of people have said that [a commission] is a post-conflict measure. My question is: what sort of benchmarks for violence do you want to set?

"I think Kashmir would be ready. I am not sure that India and Pakistan are ready."


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« Reply #7653 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:13 AM »

Nazi-themed cafe in Indonesia sparks global outrage

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 20, 2013 9:37 EDT

From a painting hung high on a blood-red wall, Adolf Hitler peers down on young students eating schnitzel and slurping German beer in Indonesia’s Nazi-themed cafe.

The SoldatenKaffee (“The Soldiers’ Cafe”) opened its doors in the western Javanese city of Bandung in 2011, named after the popular hangout for soldiers in Germany and occupied Paris during World War II.

Eerier than the gas mask canisters and battle flags bearing swastikas is the more than two years’ silence that has followed the cafe’s grand launch.

When the cafe opened no one voiced offence at the waiters and guests dressed as Nazi soldiers — the Holocaust is weak on the radar in Indonesia, home to the world’s biggest Muslim population, where the Jewish community numbers a mere 20 people.

But a recent report about SoldatenKaffee in the English-language Jakarta Globe newspaper triggered angry responses online and prompted Bandung deputy mayor Ayi Vivananda to summon the owner for a meeting.

“We need to ask him first in detail what his real intentions are. But what is clear is that Bandung city will not allow anyone here inciting racial hatred,” he said on Thursday.

The cafe’s creator and owner, Henry Mulyana, said he did not intend to bring back memories of the Holocaust but was not surprised to be branded a “bad guy”.

“I don’t idolise Hitler, I simply adore the soldiers’ paraphernalia,” Mulyana, a Christian who likes playing with air rifles, told AFP at the cafe on Tuesday.

His collection is on display for diners and includes a water canteen, bayonet, goggles and a lantern, most of them bought online.

“The ones with swastikas on them are worth more,” he said.

The restaurant had only ever received positive press before the recent exposure in English-language media and receives a regular stream of customers.

“We’re living in Indonesia and Indonesians weren’t tortured in the Holocaust, so we don’t really care,” said mining company employee Arya Setya, eating a plate of spaghetti at the cafe with his girlfriend.

But now that news of the cafe’s existence has reached a wider audience, it has sparked outrage among Jewish communities in other parts of the world.

“The Simon Wiesenthal Center is reaching out to senior Indonesian diplomats to express on behalf of our 400,000 members and victims of the Nazi Holocaust our outrage and disgust,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, from the Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group, told AFP by email.

“We expect that all appropriate measures will be taken to close down this business celebrating a genocidal ideology that at its core denigrates people of color and all non-Aryans,” he wrote.

Under Indonesian law, anyone who deliberately shows hatred towards others based on race or ethnicity can be jailed for up to five years.

But such vilification usually goes unchecked, with hardline Muslim groups carrying out violent attacks on religious minorities with near impunity in recent years.

Mulyana said that his cafe has also attracted Western guests, including Germans, with one photographed on its Facebook page wearing a red swastika T-shirt along with several Indonesians in the same clothes.

He revealed he plans to set up an even bigger cafe on the resort island of Bali, which attracts throngs of foreign tourists each year.

“I’ll certainly display Hitler’s image, as well as Winston Churchill’s, and paraphernalia from American and Japanese soldiers from World War II,” he said.

His cafe could not contrast more deeply with attitudes in Europe, where several countries have criminalised the promotion of Nazi ideology and the denial of the Holocaust.

While Mulyana does not deny the Holocaust happened, he said making the tragedy taboo was hypocritical.

“If we want to speak up about humanity, why don’t they stop wars in this world now, like in Afghanistan? War always claims so many lives,” he said.

However, when contacted by AFP on Saturday Mulyana said he had decided to close down the cafe temporarily, refusing to give further details.

Indonesia, where 90 percent of the population of 240 million identify themselves as Muslim, does not recognise Judaism among its six official religions.

The country has no diplomatic relations with Israel and vocally advocates for the state of Palestine, although it has quietly engaged in economic and military ties.

Today just one synagogue exists in the country, in the city of Manado. A century-old synagogue in the city of Surabaya was shut down by extremists protesting against the 2008-9 war in Gaza.

Other Indonesians in Manado are believed to have Jewish roots, some hiding their heritage for safety fears.

A lack of sensitivity towards the Holocaust has also been shown in other parts of Asia.

Thailand’s prestigious Chulalongkorn University was forced to apologise on Monday after its students created a mural depicting Hitler among comic book superheroes during graduation celebrations.

And in 2006, an Indian restaurateur outraged the country’s small Jewish community by opening “Hitler’s Cross”. He was forced to change the name days later.

Historian Asvi Warman Adam from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences blames Indonesia’s education system and schools for a lack of awareness about the Holocaust and world wars.

“We don’t hear a lot of criticism against the Nazis and fascism in Indonesia,” Adam said.

“Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf’ is banned in many countries, but it’s freely distributed here. It’s translated into Indonesian and is quite often sold out,” he said.

He said the school curriculum was focused on national history and trying to legitimise Indonesia’s 32-year Suharto dictatorship, which saw the slaughter of at least 500,000 communists, Chinese and alleged sympathisers.

Islamic hardliners, who are the most vocal when it comes to blasphemy against Islam, are unlikely to make any noise about the cafe, Adam said.

“But if a Jewish-themed cafe opened, they would most likely stage a protest,” he said.


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« Reply #7654 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:17 AM »


Nauru riot: 125 asylum seekers arrested

Another 420 transferred to tents at second camp after $A60m fire destroyed main Australian detention centre on island

Associated Press in Canberra
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 21 July 2013 05.03 BST   

About 125 people who sought asylum in Australia were in police custody on the Pacific island nation of Nauru after a riot ended with fire destroying most of the Australian-run detention centre there, an official said on Sunday.

The blaze on Friday evening destroyed all the accommodation blocks, medical facilities and offices and caused damage worth an estimated A$60m (£36m/US$55m), the immigration department said. Only the dining and recreation buildings survived.

The department could not say how many detainees had been charged. The Nauru police commissioner, Richard Britten, did not immediately return a phone call on Sunday.

The remaining 420 asylum seekers had been transferred to tents at a second detention camp under construction on another part of the tiny atoll, which is home to fewer than 10,000 people, the spokeswoman said.

Eight asylum seekers received hospital treatment following the riot in which protesters hurled rocks at guards and police armed with batons and shields.

Clint Deidenang, a resident who witnessed the hour-long riot from the camp fence, told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio on Saturday that up to 1,000 local Nauruan men carrying machetes and steel pipes arrived to help police prevent the asylum seekers breaking out. Deidenag described it as the biggest riot he had ever seen on the island.

Australia pays Nauru and Papua New Guinea to hold asylum seekers who attempt to reach the Australian shore by boat. Their asylum claims are assessed at the island detention camps.

The Australian government has announced that effective from last Friday all refugees who come by boat to Australia will instead be permanently settled in Papua New Guinea, a national of 7 million mostly subsistence farmers.

Ian Rintoul, co-ordinator of Australia's Refugee Action Coalition advocacy group, said asylum seekers could no longer be adequately cared for on Nauru because of the fire and should be brought to Australia. Rintoul said Friday's protest about the time taken to process asylum claims had been planned throughout last week. The fire had not been planned, he said.

"The Friday night protest was planned to be a breakout and march to the airport then back to the detention centre," Rintoul said. "What seems to have happened is that there has been far more resistance than had been expected."

Most of the protesters were Iranian, Palestinian, Lebanese and Iraqi, he said.

****************

July 21, 2013

Australia Defends New Refugee Policy, Despite Riot

By MATT SIEGEL
IHT

SYDNEY, Australia — Senior Australian officials on Sunday defended the country’s tough new policy aimed at curtailing the surge of people attempting a dangerous boat journey to claim asylum as the the Australian navy intercepted the first vessel that will be subjected to the policy.

Every year, thousands of asylum seekers pay smugglers to ferry them in often unsafe, overcrowded vessels to Christmas Island, a remote territory in the Indian Ocean that is Australia’s closest point to Indonesia. Australia has struggled for more than a decade to deter the asylum seekers from attempting the potentially deadly journey.

Under the policy announced Friday by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat are to be sent to refugee-processing centers in Papua New Guinea, which like Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention. If the asylum seekers are found to be genuine refugees, they will be resettled in Papua New Guinea, but forfeit any right to seek asylum in Australia.

That announcement appears to have been a factor in a riot Friday at an Australian-run detention center on the Pacific island nation of Nauru.

A spokeswoman for the Australian foreign ministry told The Associated Press on Sunday that the riot had caused damages worth an estimated $55 million, and led to the arrest of 125 asylum seekers.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Attorney General Mark Dreyfus were among the senior Australian officials making the rounds of Sunday morning talk shows to defend the policy.

‘'I think the position of the vast majority of the Australian people is that, subject to some room for judicial oversight and review, it is the executive government backed by the Parliament that ought to make the final decision on whether people be processed on Australian soil or somewhere else,'’ Mr. Carr told Sky News.

The first opportunity to test that proposition same Saturday when a ship carrying 81 asylum seekers that was intercepted by the Australian Navy.

Tony Burke, the immigration minister, said that the passengers would be sent to Papua New Guinea if they decided to proceed with their asylum claim.

But the decision to send potential refugees to Papua New Guinea, a politically unstable country suffering from what some experts have called an epidemic of violence, particularly against women and children, has already raised serious ethical and legal questions.

David Manne, a prominent human rights lawyer who succeeded in blocking a similar proposal in 2011 to process migrants in Malaysia, declined to speculate on the likelihood of a legal challenge over the boat intercepted Saturday. He did, however, assert that Papua New Guinea was ill-equipped to protect the asylum seekers.

‘'The sad reality is that P.N.G. is an extremely unsafe place,'’ he said in an e-mail exchange. ‘'There can be no assurance that refugees will be given the protection they’re entitled to, and there is every prospect they will not be protected.'’

A decade ago, under Prime Minister John Howard, asylum seekers were transported to nearby island nations for a lengthy processing intended to remove the incentive for claiming asylum on Australia’s shores.

Mr. Rudd abandoned the policy when he became prime minister for the first time in 2007, which led to an explosion in the number of arrivals.

In 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard opened new offshore detention centers in Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, but they lacked the capacity to handle the deluge of arrivals and did little to discourage them.


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« Reply #7655 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:23 AM »

Japan wins rights to drill on Pacific floor for rare minerals used in consumer electronics

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 20, 2013 16:57 EDT

Japan on Saturday said it had won the rights to explore for cobalt-rich crusts in the Pacific, a move that could reduce its dependence on China for rare metals.

A government press release said the International Seabed Authority (ISA) had approved Japan’s plan to probe a 3,000-square-kilometre area beneath international waters off the isolated Japanese coral atoll of Minamitorishima.

The area is located 600 kilometres (375 miles) off the atoll which lies 1,850 kilometres south of Tokyo.

The Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, acting on the government’s behalf, is due to sign a formal contract with the ISA covering 15 years of exploration rights, the statement said.

Cobalt-rich crusts are presumed to cover the seabed between 1,000 and 2,000 metres down, containing such rare metals as manganese, cobalt, nickel and platinum, according to the statement.

Resource-poor Japan needs the metals for its high-tech components, including lithium-ion batteries and automobile engines.

China, the world’s leading supplier of rare metals and rare earths, has used its position as diplomatic leverage at a time when it is locked in a row with Japan over Tokyo-controlled islands in the East China Sea.

In 2010, China restricted rare-earth exports when Japan arrested the captain of a Chinese trawler that was involved in a run-in with two Japanese coastguard cutters trying to coax it away from the disputed Senkaku Islands, claimed by China which calls them Diaoyu.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the initial approval of the exploration plan is “extremely significant as it can enhance the possibility of Japan’s resources development”.

Japan last obtained exclusive rights to explore the seabed for minerals under international waters in 1987, for manganese nodules in an area southeast of Hawaii, the statement said.

But with the nodules scattered at least 4,000 metres below sea level, development has yet to begin, the business daily Nikkei said.

The ISA was established by the UN Law of the Sea Convention to organise and control all mineral-related activities beneath international waters.
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« Reply #7656 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:28 AM »


Israel braces for tough peace talks with Palestinians

Binyamin Netanyahu says any agreement reached on future Palestinian state would have to be ratified by Israeli referendum

Associated Press in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 21 July 2013 11.05 BST   

Israel's prime minister says he expects recently announced peace talks with the Palestinians to be tough, and that any agreement reached would have to be ratified in a national Israeli referendum.

Binyamin Netanyahu spoke on Sunday at his weekly cabinet meeting, his first on-camera remarks since the US secretary of state, John Kerry, announced the resumption of peace talks – ending a five-year deadlock.

Netanyahu said his main guiding principles would be to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel and to avoid a future Palestinian state becoming an Iranian-backed "terror state".

Final status negotiations aim to reach a deal on the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees and security arrangements. The Palestinians say talks will be based on Israel's pre-1967 borders.

************

Israel to free 'heavyweight' Palestinian prisoners

Release of prisoners who have been in jail for decades comes as part of agreement to enter preliminary peace talks in US

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 20 July 2013 14.17 BST   

Israel has said it will release "heavyweight" Palestinian prisoners as part of an agreement to enter preliminary talks in Washington, with the aim of an eventual resumption of long-stalled peace negotiations.

Hours after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, announced that the two sides in the conflict had agreed to discuss terms for negotiations, Yuval Steiniz, Israel's minister for international relations, said a prisoner release would be carried out in stages.

"I don't want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years," he told Israel Radio. The release of long-serving prisoners has been a key Palestinian demand.

But Steinitz said Israel would balk at agreeing on the pre-1967 border as the parameter for territorial negotiations. "There is no chance we will agree to enter any negotiations that begin with defining territorial borders or concessions by Israel, nor a [settlement] construction freeze," he said.

Kerry's announcement of progress in his four-month mission to revive the Middle East peace process was delivered in Amman on Friday night after four months of intensive diplomacy. It received mixed interpretations.

Tzipi Livni, who will represent the Israeli side in the preliminary talks and is a long-term advocate of negotiations, hailed the move as a significant breakthrough.

"These were long months of scepticism and cynicism," she said in a statement. "But now, four years of diplomatic stagnation are about to end." The talks would be "complex and not easy", she said, but this was "the right thing for our future, our security, our economy and values".

A senior Palestinian official said President Mahmoud Abbas had signed up "not to a resumption of negotiations but only talks about talks". The Palestinians would demand a written statement that the 1967 border would be the basis for territorial negotiations, he said, but the expectation was that Israel would refuse.

The issue of the 1967 border as the parameter for negotiations has become a key sticking point. The Palestinians want all the land occupied by Israel over the past 46 years for their state, but Israel wants to keep its major settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on its side of a future border. On Thursday, a report that Israel had agreed to the 1967 border as a basis for talks was categorically denied by the office of the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

According to Daniel Levy of the European Council for Foreign Relations, Kerry may have missed a crucial opportunity to test Netanyahu's frequently stated willingness to re-enter talks by insisting that the "entry ticket is the 1967 border plus agreed land swaps".

But he said Kerry deserved credit for the "not insignificant" achievement of getting agreement for exploratory talks. "The challenge is what happens next. I don't think Kerry has much in his pocket. Not being cynical does not automatically translate into being optimistic as to where these talks can lead," he said.

Kerry's carefully worded statement acknowledged difficulties and challenges ahead. "No one believes that the long-standing differences between the parties can be resolved overnight or just wiped away," he said. But both sides had decided that "the difficult road ahead and the daunting challenges that we face are worth tackling".

As well as huge gaps on the core issues – borders, the future of Jerusalem which both sides want as their capital, and whether Palestinian refugees will be allowed to return to their homeland – there is deep mistrust on both sides after decades of fruitless and wearying negotiations.

The designated negotiators for each side are old hands, which could help to short-circuit some discussions but may also make fresh, radical thinking unlikely. Saeb Erekat, for the Palestinians, has been involved in negotiations for more than 20 years; Livni, a lonely advocate for the two-state solution in the current Israeli government, is also a veteran of past talks.

Levy predicted close US involvement in the exploratory sessions: "Kerry is not about to drop the ball". A phone call from the US president, Barak Obama, to Netanyahu on Thursday to urge engagement will have reminded the Israeli leader that "this is not a John Kerry solo show", he said.

Both sides may have been encouraged to sign up for initial talks by European Union guidelines, published on Friday, banning funding or grants to Israeli bodies with links to settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians will have been bolstered by the move; the Israelis alarmed at the prospect of international sanctions and isolation. Notably, the US did not criticise the European move.

The most recent direct talks, in September 2010, lasted just 16 hours before breaking down amid acrimony and blame. There are indications that both sides are already preparing to point the finger at the other should any future talks hit the buffers.

"It's the first direct talks for several years, and that's significant. But it shouldn't be overblown," Natan Sachs of the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, told the Jerusalem Post. "There's a sense the parties are entering the talks with an eye on the blame game."

Meanwhile, in a further indication of obstacles ahead, Hamas – the Islamist party which rules the Gaza Strip – said Abbas had no legitimate to right to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people. "The Palestinian Authority's return to negotiations with the occupation [is] at odds with the national consensus," a spokesman said.



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« Reply #7657 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:38 AM »


Syria's Assad is stronger now, says David Cameron

Prime minister says Britain will not be supplying arms to Syrian rebels despite pressing for lifting of EU arms embargo

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 21 July 2013 10.53 BST   

David Cameron has admitted the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has strengthened his position in recent months as he warned that the country faced a "depressing trajectory".

In an interview on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, the UK prime minister also gave his clearest indication to date that Britain will not be supplying arms to the Syrian rebels despite pressing for the lifting of the EU arms embargo.

Cameron insisted he was still committed to helping the Syrian opposition but admitted its numbers included "a lot of bad guys". He also acknowledged that Assad had strengthened his position.

The prime minister said: "I think he may be stronger than he was a few months ago, but I'd still describe the situation as a stalemate. And yes, you do have problems with part of the opposition that is extreme, that we should have nothing to do with."

But Cameron said it would be wrong to abandon the opposition – although he indicated Britain would provide only non-lethal equipment.

He said: "[Having extremists in the opposition] is not a reason for just pulling up the drawbridge, putting our head in the sand – to mix my metaphors – and doing nothing. What we should be doing is working with international partners to help the millions of Syrians who want to have a free democratic Syria, who want to see that country have some chance of success."

Asked about arming the opposition, the prime minister said: "We're not intervening by supplying weapons, but I think we can with partners … to strengthen those parts of the Syrian opposition that really do represent the Syrian people."

Cameron denied his wife Samantha – who was deeply moved by the plight of Syrian refugees when she visited a refugee camp in Lebanon – was dictating government policy. The Times reported last week that she had been pressing for greater intervention.

Cameron said: "She does not influence my policy on this. I've been very passionate about this for a long time. But I would accept that we're on a depressing trajectory and we need to change that."

************

Obama considering military power in Syria, top general tells Senate

Chairman of joint chiefs Martin Dempsey tells armed services committee that he has provided Obama with options for use of force

Associated Press in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 18 July 2013 23.06 BST   

The top US military officer told a Senate panel Thursday the Obama administration is deliberating whether to use military power in Syria, where a civil war entering its third year has killed almost 93,000 people.

Amid an increasing clamor among President Assad's opposition for active US involvement, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs, said during congressional testimony that he has provided President Barack Obama with options for the use of force. But he declined to detail those choices, saying "it would be inappropriate for me to try to influence the decision with me rendering an opinion in public about what kind of force we should use."

Dempsey made his remarks after Senator John McCain, a leading Republican, asked him which approach in Syria would carry a greater risk: continued limited action on the part of Washington or more significant actions such as the establishment of a no-fly zone and arming the rebel forces with the weapons they need to stem the advance of President Assad's forces.

"Senator, I am in favor of building a moderate opposition and supporting it," Dempsey said. "The question whether to support it with direct kinetic strikes … is a decision for our elected officials, not for the senior military leader of the nation."

The use of kinetic strikes, a military term that typically refers to missiles and bombs, "is under deliberation inside of our agencies of government," Dempsey said.

Asked about Dempsey's comments, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama always asks his military commanders for options "and that is true in an arena like Syria." He said the president is constantly reviewing US options in Syria.

"There are a whole range of options that are out there," said navy admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the joint chiefs, said of the planning for military action in Syria. "We are ready to act if we're called on to act."

McCain later told a group of reporters he plans to block Dempsey's confirmation, saying he was dissatisfied with the answers to the questions Dempsey was asked about Syria.

I want to see him answer the question," McCain said. "Hello!"

Seeking a compromise, Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat and the committee chairman, asked Dempsey to provide the panel by early next week with an unclassified list of options and the general's assessment of the pros and cons of each. Levin made clear he is not asking Dempsey to share his personal opinion on whether or not to use force in Syria. Dempsey agreed to provide the list.

Levin said he hoped the assessment from Dempsey would give McCain "greater reassurance".

"I don't know if it will, but that was the way in which I think a legitimate issue needs to be addressed," Levin told reporters.

Dempsey acknowledged in response to a question from Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, that Assad's forces have the upper hand in Syria.

"Currently the tide seems to have shifted in his favor," the general said.

The armed services committee is considering Dempsey's and Winnefeld's nominations for a second term. The Democratic-led committee is all but certain to approve the reappointments.

Leading senators including Levin and McCain, have been pressing Obama to take a more forceful approach to defeat Assad's forces. While the administration has authorized lethal aid to rebel forces battling Assad's troops, it isn't trying to enforce a no-fly zone in which Syria's combat aircraft would be barred from flying, or otherwise intervene militarily to halt the war.

*************

Syria crisis: no option off the table, says Hammond

Defence secretary responds to outgoing armed forces chief's remark that Britain risks being dragged into war if it tries to arm rebels, but says UK troops unlikely to be deployed

Press Association
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 18 July 2013 13.21 BST   

No option is being taken off the table when considering how best to approach the situation in Syria, the defence secretary has said.

But Philip Hammond said it appeared unlikely that British troops would be deployed in the country.

Hammond's comments come after the outgoing head of the UK's armed forces said Britain risks being dragged into war with Syria if it tries to rein in the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and arm rebels.

General Sir David Richards, chief of the defence staff, on Thursday officially handed over the role to General Sir Nicholas Houghton at a parade in central London.

Gen Richards agreed that no option was being taken off the table, but admitted that if it was found that chemical weapons were being stockpiled, Britain would have to act.

Last week British spy chiefs warned that Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of al-Qaida militants if Assad was toppled, with potentially "catastrophic" consequences.

The parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC), which oversees the work of the spy agencies, said there was "serious concern" about the security of the "vast stockpiles" of chemical weapons amassed by the regime.

Hammond, who attended Thursday's parade and commended Gen Richards' time as armed forces chief, said: "I think it's very unlikely that we would see boots on the ground (in Syria), but we must never take any of the options off the table.

"The military role and the Ministry of Defence role is to plan for contingencies.

"It's not our job to decide how and when and if to deploy forces in any particular role, but to make sure that the prime minister and the national security council have the maximum range of options open to them so that they can use military options as part of a much broader palette of diplomatic and political initiatives to try to achieve what we all want to achieve, which is peace and stability in that region of the world."

On Thursday, Gen Richards described the situation in Syria as a "huge humanitarian tragedy" and said the first thing to do was to contain the situation better, particularly in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan.

"First of all the UK won't do anything by itself; it will act with allies, in particular with the USA," he said.

"We are not taking anything off the table, but we are being very cautious for reasons I am sure everyone will understand."

Asked if Britain would have to get involved to clean up chemical weapons, he added: "I think if that sort of thing happened we'd almost invariably have to become involved in all our interests but most important for the people of Syria."

David Cameron told ITV News, when asked if Britain was preparing for war in Syria: "No, what we are doing is we are helping the Syrian opposition – the official opposition who I think represent, and the EU has decided represent, the legitimate concerns of the Syrian people.

"We are helping them with training, with advice, with support, because we want to give the mainstream majority in Syria who want a peaceful, democratic, pluralistic Syria to have a proper future. That is what we should be doing."

The prime minister's spokesman also said, at a briefing in Westminster, that there could be no "military victory" in Syria, and the focus must be on a political resolution.

"Our objective here is to bring an end to the sufferings of millions of innocent civilians and support those who want to build a peaceful democratic and inclusive Syria," he said.

"We certainly share General Richards' view that this is a very complex situation in Syria and that there are a number of different challenges.

"But we will continue to work hard with our allies to find a political solution because that is the right way forward."

Sir Menzies Campbell, who is a member of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: "David Richards' frank assessment confirms what many of us have suspected.

"The government, and particularly Number 10, would be well advised to heed his timely and well-judged warning, which is believed to reflect opinion in the wider military."

Gen Richards, 61, steps down after a career of more than 40 years in the British army.

He was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1971 and served in Northern Ireland, Germany, East Timor, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, where his role as head of the international security and assistance force (Isaf) made him the first British general to command American troops since the second world war.

He handed over formally on Thursday to General Houghton, who served as his deputy as vice-chief of the defence staff up until May, at the end of three years in the post in a ceremony at Horse Guards Parade attended by personnel from all three services.

Hammond praised his "long and distinguished" career in the military and said Gen Houghton faced challenges as the armed forces and Ministry of Defence go through a period of transformation.

"These are really very challenging and exciting times and Nick Houghton has been involved in this process from the beginning as the vice -chief of the defence staff and I know that he will carry this work on as the chief of the defence staff."

Gen Richards said: "I have enjoyed my service more than I could possibly have hoped. It has provided me with challenge, interest and the opportunity to make a positive difference to many people's lives, from Northern Ireland to Afghanistan and lots of places in between.

"I retire now with a huge sense of the privilege I have had to serve this nation as a soldier for 42 years, to serve Her Majesty the Queen, and to serve my comrades whom, on occasion, I have had the joy to lead."

He said there were lots of challenges for his successor Gen Houghton, including counter-terrorism, the growth of cyberwar, and problems in the Middle East.

"There's lots for him to do, he's a fantastic bloke, and then there's money, you've got to make sure it all adds up. But I'm content I leave the armed forces certainly in much better shape than we thought might be the case even a year ago."

Gen Houghton, who was the senior British military representative in Iraq between 2005 and 2006, said he hoped for a good outcome in Afghanistan, and hoped to give to the government "as wise a counsel as possible" about how to use the armed forces.

He said: "This is an occasion to recognise the responsibility for the leadership of our nation's armed forces.

"Although today is not about individuals or our private thoughts, it should be no surprise that David and I both share the same sense of the enormous responsibility and privilege which our appointment bestows."




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« Reply #7658 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:39 AM »

July 20, 2013

For South Sudan and the U.N., a Relationship of Growing Distrust

By JOSH KRON and NICHOLAS KULISH
IHT

KAMPALA, Uganda — Long before South Sudan achieved its hard-fought independence, the United Nations was here, feeding its hungry, sending in doctors to fight disease and steering the vast, destitute region toward its goal of self-governance and self-determination.

But instead of gratitude and comity, the relationship between the United Nations and the young country it helped midwife into existence two years ago has evolved into one characterized by growing distrust on both sides. South Sudan, meanwhile, has become one of the most dangerous theaters of operations for the United Nations.

The relationship has taken on added urgency as ethnic clashes have fueled a growing crisis in the restive Jonglei State.

In April, seven United Nations employees and five Indian peacekeepers working for the body were killed in an ambush in Jonglei by armed men identified by the South Sudanese as antigovernment rebels.

Last December, South Sudan’s military shot down a United Nations helicopter, killing all four Russian crew members in what officials in the South Sudanese capital of Juba later said was a result of miscommunication.

United Nations personnel, including the former human rights chief there, have been detained and even beaten up by security agents, while equipment has been impounded. A human rights researcher for the body was expelled from the country last year and, after an anticorruption campaign, a special presidential adviser hired by the United Nations mission fled after receiving death threats.

In late June, a report by the United Nations secretary general said that there had been seven cases of arrest and detention, one assault and one illegal seizure of property involving staff members of the mission since the last report in March.

“Until January of last year, politically the government in Juba saw the U.N. as an ally — that is no longer the case,” said an adviser to both the United Nations and the South Sudanese authorities, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating either side.

Myriad United Nations agencies operate in South Sudan, helping to improve literacy, road access, health and more, but it is South Sudan’s relationship with the body’s peacekeeping mission itself, the adviser said, that is growing increasingly tense and has been punctuated by heated discussions.

The question now is whether the episodes have simply been evidence of the risks that come with operating in a country that is heavily armed and unstable after decades of civil war or evidence of something more volatile, even a growing sense of enmity.

South Sudanese officials increasingly question whether the world body is on their side, with earlier support for independence turning to criticism of the young government’s record on human rights and continuing confrontation with neighboring Sudan, from which South Sudan seceded.

The situation today stands in stark contrast to the heady optimism that followed South Sudan’s independence in July 2011. Days of celebration led to the sobering reality of trying to govern the country, Africa’s newest and one of the least developed in the world.

After decades of civil war and neglect by rulers in Sudan, landlocked South Sudan has few paved roads and little industry to speak of aside from the oil production upon which it depends for revenue. Largely rural, the country has a very young and very poor population estimated to be around 11 million, divided into more than a dozen ethnic groups.

Sudan and South Sudan each accuse the other of waging a proxy war by arming rebels groups. Conditions are particularly dire in Jonglei, a large, swampy territory where ethnic conflict is keeping at least 100,000 civilians from receiving aid.

“The fighting is threatening the lives of ordinary people and has reduced the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide urgently needed help,” Valerie Amos, the United Nations’ under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said in a statement last week. She called on all parties to “create the necessary security environment conducive for aid delivery.”

The administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah, said in another statement last week that the United States was “gravely concerned by the serious escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Pibor County in South Sudan’s Jonglei State” as a result of the violence there.

The situation is complicated by the fact that South Sudan’s security personnel are a confusing mixture of soldiers, militia members and police and intelligence officers, widely considered undisciplined and violent. In 2011, police officers assaulted the leader of the United Nations human rights division in South Sudan, who had to be hospitalized. Humanitarian groups have complained about security forces’ hijacking aid convoys.

South Sudanese say that for all the assistance channeled to the impoverished country, the wealth of the aid industry does not reach the national economy. They also say that foreign officials are hired without checking with the government, breeding tension, and that the United Nations does not alert the military to peacekeeper movements. The United Nations has failed to protect civilians and its mandate is overreaching, they contend.

Perhaps most damaging to the relationship is the impression that the peacekeeping mission has turned its back on the South Sudanese in their simmering conflict with Sudan.

“It seems like they are favoring Khartoum,” said Ben Majok, a former South Sudanese soldier in Rumbek, a city in central South Sudan.

The United Nations says it is losing tolerance for South Sudan’s human rights record, and warns that the growing threats to the security of its staff are obstructing its work. The body’s current mandate in South Sudan, described in its budget as “political transition” and “extension of state authority,” is completely different from what it was during Sudan’s civil war.

The South Sudanese are “looking for a mission that would protect them from enemies,” according to the United Nations’ peacekeeping chief in South Sudan, Hilde F. Johnson.

It is not unprecedented for the United Nations to clash with local residents and officials. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, residents have hurled stones at United Nations convoys, accusing the body of incompetence. In Haiti, civilians have attacked peacekeepers over fears that they brought disease and did not do enough to improve the country. In Kashmir, where a United Nations mission has been operating for more than 50 years, politicians have asked the peacekeepers to leave.

Despite the tense relationship in South Sudan, officials on both sides are trying to continue forward. South Sudan’s minister of information insists that relations remain smooth. Ms. Johnson said that risk was something peacekeeping missions “have to live with,” but that there had been “incidents we didn’t expect.”

The peacekeeping presence in South Sudan is older than the republic itself, which Ms. Johnson once referred to as “still a toddler by every measure,” and has been acutely intertwined with the history of the nation’s birth.

Within months of independence, the relationship between the government and the United Nations was put to the test. First, South Sudan shut down oil production, then accounting for roughly 99 percent of national income, over a disagreement with Sudan. Then South Sudan’s army invaded Sudanese oil fields, which they claimed were in disputed territory.

Rather than receiving the support they had become accustomed to, South Sudanese forces got a strongly worded demand from the United Nations mission to withdraw. One private consultant with South Sudan’s government called it a moment of reckoning for South Sudan. The relationship has been slowly deteriorating ever since.

By June 2012, when the mission’s mandate was up for renewal, Vice President Riek Machar wrote to the United Nations requesting that the mission be downgraded, calling the mandate “no longer appropriate.”

That same month the United Nations published a report claiming that South Sudan’s military had committed widespread abuses in Jonglei in an effort to disarm civilians there. The government in Juba condemned the report as one-sided. In November, a human rights officer researching atrocities in Jonglei was expelled from the country.

The attack on the United Nations helicopter in December “rendered aerial reconnaissance for early warning purposes impossible,” the office of the secretary general warned in a report in March, and “restricted the capacity to react to incidents in a timely manner.”

Josh Kron reported from Kampala, and Nicholas Kulish from Nairobi, Kenya.


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« Reply #7659 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:41 AM »

Mexico could legalize marijuana in five years: former president Vicente Fox

By Reuters
Friday, July 19, 2013 21:30 EDT

By Gabriel Stargardter

SAN CRISTOBAL, Mexico (Reuters) – Mexico could legalize marijuana within the next five years, stripping brutal drug cartels of a major source of income, former President Vicente Fox said on Friday.

Fox, who battled the powerful cartels while president between 2000 and 2006, has since become a staunch advocate of reforming Mexico’s drug laws, arguing that prohibition has helped create the criminal market that sustains the gangs.

Under his successor, Felipe Calderon, Mexico launched a military offensive to crush the cartels, but the violence spiraled instead, and more than 70,000 people have been killed in drug-related bloodletting since the start of 2007.

Legalization was the best way of ending the “butchery” of the drug gangs, Fox said as he hosted a conference in support of the measure in his home state of Guanajuato in central Mexico.

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December, is opposed to legalization, but he has said that the decision by the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado to legalize recreational marijuana use has given him a more open mind.

Asked by Reuters whether Mexico could legalize marijuana by the time Pena Nieto’s term ends in 2018, Fox said:

“I think it’s going to happen much sooner. Once California gets into this, Mexico is going to be obligated to speed up its decision process.”

Previous bills to legalize marijuana in Mexico have failed to move forward and a majority of Mexicans oppose such a move.

California, which borders Mexico, rejected a 2010 measure to legalize cannabis, though medical marijuana is legal.

Plans are still underway to legalize recreational use of marijuana in California, and Tom Angell, a spokesman for Marijuana Majority, a U.S.-based group in favor of cannabis reform, said the state was very likely to vote again by 2016.

Fox’s view reflects a wider trend in Latin America where a number of former and current leaders, including Guatemalan President Otto Perez, are backing alternative approaches to U.S.-backed strategies of eradication and interdiction.

The 71-year-old Fox, whose election in 2000 for the conservative National Action Party (PAN) ended seven decades of one-party rule in Mexico, worked closely with the United States during his time in office to combat Mexican drug gangs.

But after leaving office, he became a fierce critic of the strategy pursued by his party colleague Calderon.

That angered many in the PAN, and Fox sparked more uproar during last year’s presidential election campaign by encouraging Mexicans to support Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico between 1929 and 2000.

Fox has been campaigning for marijuana legalization at a series of events this year in the United States and Mexico.

On Friday he was joined by former Microsoft executive James Shively, who plans to create the first U.S. national marijuana brand, as well as a wide range of activists and academics that included former Mexican health minister Julio Frenk.

(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Dave Graham and; Eric Beech)


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« Reply #7660 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:45 AM »


The Christian Science Monitor

Mars heist: Red Planet was robbed of most of its atmosphere billions of years ago

By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / July 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm EDT

Mars was robbed.

Two separate papers published in the journal Science provide evidence that Mars’s atmosphere was lost in cataclysmic events some 4 billion years ago, leaving the planet with too thin an atmosphere to support living organisms there. The findings, which show a shift in the proportions of heavy and light isotopes over time, join mounting evidence that the planet once had conditions conducive to life.

“Previous measurements had reported enrichment of heavier isotopes in [hydrogen], [carbon], and noble gases, and as an end-result, models run backward in time indicated an atmosphere on Mars thicker than that of Earth’s,” says Christopher Webster, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the lead author of one of the studies. “Our Curiosity measurements are more accurate than previous measurements, so we can better tie our results to the time-scale provided by the meteorite record.”

Using data from Curiosity rover's SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instruments, scientists found that the heavy isotope carbon-13 is more prevalent in the current Martian atmosphere than it was in the past, relative to the lighter carbon-12, which has one fewer neutron. The same was true for the ratio of argon-36 to heavier isotope argon-38.

The change in proportions from the original material that formed Mars some 4.5 billion years ago indicates a violent and then gradual stripping of mass from the atmosphere’s top.

The loss of atmosphere likely began about 3 to 4 billion years ago, soon after Mars’s birth, said Dr. Webster. A huge impact from a Pluto-sized object, followed by smaller impacts, likely tore at the planet’s atmosphere, pocking the planet with the craters, including the Gale Crater in which Curiosity landed last summer.

Those impacts ruined the plant’s dipole magnetic field, which on our own planet diverts solar wind particles. Over the next few billion years, those particles careened into the atmosphere’s top, pulling more of that protective cover apart, he said.

Scheduled to launch in November, the Mars orbiting MAVEN probe is expected to fill in gaps in understanding of the current depletion of Mars's atmosphere, as those solar particles continue to thin its uppermost layer.

The new publications corroborate mounting evidence that life could have been possible on the Red Planet – but that about 3 to 4 billion years ago, the planet changed, becoming an inhospitable place.

“It is a good bet that the thicker atmosphere could have kept parts of the planet warm enough for microbial life to survive for a while,” said Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and the lead author on the other Science paper.

In March, NASA scientists reported that the first rock that Curiosity drilled into proffered critical, life-supporting elements, including hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. It also contained clays, which form in water.

Then, this week, scientists at Caltech provided evidence of a delta into which an enormous Mars ocean might have once sloshed. Scientists there proposed that the ocean could have spanned about a third of the planet, feeding rivers and streams that girdled the foreign world.

But those findings are about Mars in the past tense: Curiosity, which has been on Mars for about a year and travelled more than a kilometer, has found no evidence of liquid water on the modern planet.

And NASA scientists report in these most recent papers that the methane levels on Mars are significantly lower than previously thought. In 2009, Earth-based measurements of the Martian atmosphere had found high quantities of methane gas there. Since most methane gas on Earth is produced by living organisms, and since the compound dissipates in just a few hundred years, its presence suggested that something was recently alive – or was still alive – and pumping gas on Mars.

Now, measurements taken from Mars’ surface show very little methane gas there – less than about 2 parts-per-billion. Lively Earth has about 1,800 parts-per-billion.

“The lack of methane in the atmosphere at the very trace levels that SAM can measure is surprising in light of previously published work,” said Dr. Mahaffy, noting that his team plans to continue searching the planet for the gas, in light of the data six years ago.

While scientists believe that the Red Planet could have once been warm and wet, it is still an open debate if life could have developed there before the atmosphere was tugged away, leaving the planet cold and dry.

“A big question that still needs an answer is how long the surface of the planet might have stayed warm and was this long enough for robust microbial life to develop and thrive,” said Mahaffy. “These are big questions that may take several missions and possibly returned samples or even future explorers on the surface to answer.”


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« Reply #7661 on: Jul 21, 2013, 07:46 AM »

Elon Musk’s mission to Mars

By Rory Carroll, The Guardian
Saturday, July 20, 2013 10:15 EDT

He’s known as the real-life Tony Stark: a billionaire inventor working on electric cars, an 800mph ‘Hyperloop’ train system and reusable rockets. The plan, says Elon Musk, is to minimize climate change – and colonize the red planet

Elon Musk has flown so high, so fast, it is hard not to wonder when, and how, he will crash to earth. How could he not? Musk is so many things – inventor, entrepreneur, billionaire, space pioneer, inspiration for Iron Man’s playboy superhero Tony Stark – and he has pushed the boundaries of science and business, doing what others declare impossible. At some point, surely, he will fall victim to sod’s law, or gravity.

He is only 41, but so far Musk shows no sign of tumbling earthwards. Nasa and other clients are queuing up to use his rockets, part of the rapid commercialisation of space. His other company, electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors, is powering ahead. Such success would satisfy many tycoons, but for Musk they are merely means to ends: minimising climate change and colonising Mars. And not in some distant future – he wants to accomplish both within our lifetimes.

Musk has a reputation for being prickly but when I meet him at SpaceX, his headquarters west of Los Angeles, he is affable and chatty, cheerfully expounding on space exploration, climate change, Richard Branson and Hollywood. Oh, and what he would like written on his Martian tombstone.

“The key thing for me,” he begins, “is to develop the technology to transport large numbers of people and cargo to Mars. That’s the ultimate awesome thing.” Musk envisages a colony with 80,000 people on the red planet. “But of course we must pay the bills along the way. So that means serving important customers like Nasa, launching commercial broadcasting communication satellites, GPS satellites, mapping, science experiments. “There’s no rush in the sense that humanity’s doom is imminent; I don’t think the end is nigh. But I do think we face some small risk of calamitous events. It’s sort of like why you buy car or life insurance. It’s not because you think you’ll die tomorrow, but because you might.”

Musk does not look the stereotypical plutocrat. He wears jeans and a T-shirt and sits behind a rather ordinary desk overlooking a car park, beyond which is Hawthorne, California’s answer to Slough. He occupies the corner of a ground-floor, open-plan office that barely constitutes a cubicle. Walk just 40 metres, however, and there is a sight to quicken the pulse: SpaceX’s factory, a 1m sq ft sprawl where engineers and technicians work on rockets, propulsion systems and casings for satellites. Suspended over the entrance is the cone-shaped capsule of Dragon, which last year became the first commercial vehicle in history to successfully dock with the International Space Station. SpaceX’s next step is to fly humans, up to seven per Dragon, starting between 2015-17.

The final frontier has fascinated Musk since he was a boy. Growing up in Pretoria, the son of a Canadian mother and South African father, he taught himself coding and software, mixing geek talent with business nous: he designed and sold a video game, Blastar, by the age of 12. He later studied economics and physics in Canada and the US and moved to Silicon Valley, resolving to focus on three areas: the internet, clean energy, space.

Musk made his mark by co-founding PayPal, which transformed e-commerce, in 1999. He sold it three years later to eBay for $1.5bn. When, armed with this fortune, he turned to space exploration, the consensus said he was nuts. Building and launching rockets was the preserve of states – big states, because small states tended to spend a fortune trying and still fail.

He was influenced, he says, by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, a science fiction saga in which a galactic empire falls and ushers in a dark age. “It’s sort of a futuristic version of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Let’s say you were at the peak of the Roman empire, what would you do, what action could you take, to minimise decline?”

It takes me a moment to realise it’s not a rhetorical question. Um, poison the barbarians’ water supply, I joke. Musk smiles and shakes his head. The answer is in technology. “The lessons of history would suggest that civilisations move in cycles. You can track that back quite far – the Babylonians, the Sumerians, followed by the Egyptians, the Romans, China. We’re obviously in a very upward cycle right now and hopefully that remains the case. But it may not. There could be some series of events that cause that technology level to decline. Given that this is the first time in 4.5bn years where it’s been possible for humanity to extend life beyond Earth, it seems like we’d be wise to act while the window was open and not count on the fact it will be open a long time.”

The SpaceX factory is vast and employs 3,000 people but is remarkably clean, bright and quiet. Technicians are casually dressed in shorts or jeans, sneakers or sandals. One group checks on a Falcon 9 launch system; across the corridor another works on protective fairings to encase cargo; a few yards from that a guy with goggles produces spare parts from a 3D printer; in a sealed lab next door colleagues with hairnets and blue coats inspect equipment for a launch later this year, the company’s third supply mission for Nasa.

The factory exudes Silicon Valley’s no-fuss ethos, a streamlined contrast to Nasa bureaucracy and bloat. The space agency, having retired its shuttle fleet, increasingly outsources launch services to Musk. SpaceX’s focus on reusable technology has slashed costs – the company says it can get an astronaut to the space station for $20m, versus $70m charged by Russia for a seat on a Soyuz rocket. SpaceX is testing reusable pr ototype rockets that can return to Earth intact, rather than burn up in the atmosphere. If successful, rockets could be reused like aeroplanes, cutting the price of a space mission to just $200,000, for fuel.

Offering cheap, reliable delivery services to Nasa and commercial clients such as broadcasters is for Musk a means to perfect the technology that can get humans to Mars. He believes it could happen within decades – giving him a chance to live his last days there. “It’d be pretty cool to die on Mars, just not on impact,” he jokes. Turning serious, he adds: “It’s a non-zero possibility. I wouldn’t say I’m counting on it but it could happen.”

Other private companies are filling the void left by diminished, budget-squeezed state programmes, but Musk doesn’t seem to worry about the competition. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is making “relatively slow” progress with his company Blue Origin, he says. When I ask about Virgin Galactic, which is due to start commercial flights later this year, Musk chuckles, then turns diplomatic. “We’re not really in the same …” he pauses, looking for the right word, “the same area. What Richard [Branson] is doing is creating a sort of fun sub-orbital ride which lasts five minutes. [He's] trying to create something that’s entertaining and exciting … which is fine. But I wouldn’t say we’re competitors.”

After a decade Musk’s other company, Tesla Motors, is now also reaping success: booming sales of the all-electric model S have put it into profit and driven the share price to over $100. Last month Consumer Reports, an independent testing group, rated the car 99 out of a 100, saying it performed better than any other car – electric or conventional – it had tested. Tesla is now investing in supercharger stations across the US, and speeding up battery swaps, so drivers can travel coast to coast without worrying about losing power. The same will happen in other countries. A diminished band of sceptics warns that technical and distribution challenges may yet dull Telsa’s sheen, and they could be right, but there is no denying Musk’s feat in breaking the auto industry’s paralysis to make a profitable, zero-emissions car. He plans to celebrate its coming of age by driving his children from Los Angeles to New York in a Tesla later this year.

Musk is evangelical about weaning us off fossil fuels. He is chairman of SolarCity, which provides solar power to California, and this week he revealed more detail on perhaps his most intriguing business idea yet, something some consider one of history’s craziest-sounding transportation fancies: the Hyperloop, an 800mph self-powered ground-based system that could zip between LA and San Francisco in half-an-hour. On Monday he promised to reveal an “alpha design” by August 12. The project has geeks and transport wonks buzzing – Musk, after all, is Tony Stark, minus the goatee.

He squirms a bit when asked about the comparison. “It’s kind of cool, I suppose. Obviously there are some important differences between me and Tony Stark, like I have five kids, so I spend more time going to Disneyland than parties. I feel a bit like Tony Stark’s dad. I do like parties though.” (Musk, twice divorced, has denied rumours he is dating Cameron Diaz.)

He made a cameo in Iron Man 2, playing himself, but prefers the latest film. (“It was quite a bit better. I liked it. The Mandarin could have been a better villain, maybe.”) Musk laments that there has yet to be a great Mars movie (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall was “fun, but ridiculous”) and says he has urged James Cameron to make one. “Does the world need Avatar 3? The world could use a good movie about establishing a base on Mars.”

The world could also do with a wake–up call about climate change, he says. “Most people don’t really appreciate the magnitude of the danger. The glacier melts are very stark. As you heat the planet up it’s just like boiling a pot.” The single most important counter-measure is to tax carbon, he says. That would, of course, benefit SolarCity but he denies commercial self-interest. SpaceX rockets use jet fuel and Tesla cars rely on carbon since fossil fuels produce about half of US electricity. “The reason we should do a carbon tax is because it’s the right thing to do.” Carbon dioxide’s production of greenhouse gas is not factored into its price – in the jargon, an unpriced externality, he says. “It’s economics 101, elementary stuff.”

Musk acknowledges limited progress by the Obama administration but avoids criticising the president, which may or may not be related to a $465m federal loan guarantee which helped Tesla make the model S. He already funds environmental groups, and battles by proxy; would he consider setting up his own? He looks thoughtful. “I may need to do something like that.”

One reason for caution, however, is the fiasco over Fwd.us, an immigration reform lobby group set up by Mark Zuckerberg, the objectives of which include “securing the borders” and “attracting the world’s best and brightest workers”. Musk signed up, along with other Silicon Valley luminaries, only to quit over the group’s tactics.

“In order to get support they compromised and agreed to pay for essentially anti-environmental ads for a couple of key conservative senators. And that was not right. You should fight on the merits of the cause, not play some Machiavellian game where you agree to support things that are bad in order to get some things that are good passed.”

The interview time is over and a queue of SpaceX managers and engineers has formed behind me, waiting to speak to the boss. Some clutch odd-looking tools and instruments, widgets in Musk’s plan to fly humans 33.9m miles through space and land, safely, on the red planet. If all goes well he will be able to go himself, an elderly man taking a one-way trip. If he dies there, what should be engraved on his tombstone? Musk frowns a moment, then grins. “Holy shit, I’m on Mars, can you believe it?”

© Guardian News and Media 2013


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In the USA...

July 20, 2013 02:00 PM

McDonald’s Accidentally Served Up Minimum Wage 'McManifesto'

By Richard RJ Eskow
CrooksAndLiars

Marie Antoinette, meet Ronald McDonald.

A lot of people are angry about McDonald’s new financial advice website for employees, an ill-conceived project which drips with “let them eat cake” insouciance.

“Every dollar makes a difference,” McDonald’s lectures its struggling and often impoverished workers.

But it’s time to ditch the resentment and offer McDonald’s a word of thanks. It has just performed an invaluable service for campaigns like Raise the Minimum Wage, anupcoming July 24 campaign to raise the minimum wage, and petitions like this one by serving up a timely and exhaustively researched brief on their behalf. This new website provides invaluable data for a living-wage “McManifesto.”

You want fries with that?
Golden Archness

Get this: The new employee website, co-created with Visa, helpfully suggests that people who work for this Fortune 500 corporation begin the financial planning process by taking a second job.

As a number of ticked-off writers have observed, McDonald’s also pretty much advises its employees not to clothe themselves, heat their homes, seek educational advancement, or pay more than $600 in rent and $20 in health insurance premiums per month. (As Daniel Gross notes, that would pay for about two days of coverage.)

And, as if that’s not enough, there isn’t even any money for food in the McDonald’s sample budget. Apparently for McDonald’s employees the phrase “Happy Meal” means you’re happy whenever you’re lucky enough to scrounge a meal.

People were seething at the website’s arch touches, which include interactive games like “Financial Football” and “Road Trip to Savings,” and were thunderstruck by the lordly obliviousness behind pronouncements like “Knowing where your money goes and how to budget it is the key to your financial freedom.”(Not when there’s not enough of it, Sir Ronald.)

Peter S. Goodman notes that McDonald’s receives a fortune in “corporate welfare.” In fact, government policies help most of the country’s underpaying mega-corporations keep expanding through a series of tax breaks and other concessions.

Economically, we’re super-sizing them.
Heart of the Matter

Many McDonald’s workers need public assistance to survive, which often includes Medicaid. That’s right: The public is even subsidizing McDonald’s low wages and lousy benefits when it comes to health care.

Subsidize McDonald’s? For health care? With that food it should be hit with a surcharge.

Fun fact: McDonald’s says it serves nine million pounds of French fries globally every day. Since slightly more than half its franchises are in the U.S., that means Americans presumably consume between four and five million pounds of this lard-laden, massively space-time curving starchy mass every 24 hours.

Each McDonald’s French fry is a tiny, fat-drenched drone missile aimed directly at the American cardiovascular system. One can only imagine how much of our nation’s runaway health care costs are traceable to this one corporation alone.

And we’re subsidizing its health care, rather than the other way around.
Gross Profits

In 2012 McDonald’s had gross profit of more than $10 billion on annual revenues of $27 billion. That’s up more than 12 percent from 2010. The lard business is good.

Visa, which for some reason has been spared most of this week’s online fury, deserves its own share of negative attention. As the financial half of this website team, Visa presumably provided the handiwork which reminds struggling fast-food employees that “every day and every dollar make a difference.”

Visa, like McDonald’s, is a coddled corporation. A government less corrupted by Big Money would have broken up this monopolistic enterprise long ago, especially given its tendency to abuse its marketplace dominance. Visa was originally created by one fraud-ridden and bailed out megabank, Bank of America, and continues to enrich another. And, as CNN Money reported, its 2008 IPO “created a nice windfall for its owners, including its largest shareholder JPMorgan … about $1.3 billion on its 29 million shares.”

JPM made the headlines with yet another major fraud just this morning, adding piquancy to the knowledge that it bleeds us a little every time we swipe a credit card or debit card. And yet these two corporate anti-heroes have performed a great service by making the case so beautifully:

Americans can’t live on today’s minimum wage.
With a Side of Cynicism

As this video from LowPayIsNotOK.org makes clear, it takes a minimum of $15 per hour to even begin earning a living wage in this country. (And that’s without some basic necessities.)If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity it would now be $16.54 per hour, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research. It would be $10.74 if it had merely kept pace with inflation – although McDonald’s and VISA have now demonstrated that this isn’t enough to live on either. (The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25.)

That adds an extra dose of cynicism to the website’s observation that “You can have almost anything you want as long as you plan ahead and save for it.”

That lie carries a special sting for the millions who have been locked out of the American Dream. Thanks to the deliberate policy decisions of the last four decades – breaks and giveaways for corporations, coupled with lost income for the majority – social mobility and income fairness have plunged in this country.

No matter how much you try to save on a minimum wage, a better life will remain beyond your means – until something changes.
Are there no roommates? Are there no malt shops?

A McDonald’s-like tone-deafness let Washington Post blogger Timothy B. Lee in for a heavy dose of online criticism too, when he defended the McDonald’s/Visa budget. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Gawker’s Neil Casey calls $600 per month for rent a ‘laughably small’ figure, but Casey should spend more time outside the Northeast Corridor. When I lived in St. Louis, my roommate and I each paid $425 per month …”

Roommate? That clichéd thinking reflects one of the key misconceptions about minimum-wage workers: that they’re teenagers or twenty-one-year-olds just starting out in life. It’s closely related to the myth that most fast-food workers are fresh-faced kids serving root beer floats at the local malt shop.

In fact, less than 16 percent of minimum-wage workers are teenagers. Many are parents, which makes the “roommate” suggestion especially silly. More than seven million children live in a minimum-wage home. And many minimum-wage workers live in poverty. (SeeReal Faces of the Minimum Wage for more.)
You Deserve a Break Today

America is crying out to McDonald’s as if with one voice: “Stuff that financial planning website in your Egg McMuffin.”The pain and anger is palpable. But it’s not enough. What do we do?For one thing, we can sign a petition supporting a bill which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 – and then demand it be raised even further. We can back the minimum-wage campaigns being waged around the country, including the upcoming July 24 Day of Action to commemorate the anniversary of the last minimum wage increase four years ago. These build on an exciting grassroots movement of fast-food workers in cities like Detroit. (Watch for more information here.)

McDonald’s should join the wage movement it so ably served this week, because economic misery is hurting its bottom line in the U.S. and worldwide. And while its new and successful “dollar menu” shows that it’s willing to profit from hard times, that’s only a short-term fix in a declining economy.

Pay your workers what they deserve, McDonald’s. But the rest of us won’t wait for you. We’re taking action, because we agree with you about one thing:

Every dollar makes a difference.

Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onrSMaIu6eo

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FBI Document— Plots to Kill Occupy Leaders “If Deemed Necessary”

By Dave Lindorff on Jun 27, 2013
By WhoWhatWhy

dissenting-vote-suddenly-dies-down-sniper-election-from-the-demotivational-poster-1273925293Would you be shocked to learn that the FBI apparently knew that some organization, perhaps even a law enforcement agency or private security outfit, had contingency plans to assassinate peaceful protestors in a major American city — and did nothing to intervene?

Would you be surprised to learn that this intelligence comes not from a shadowy whistle-blower but from the FBI itself – specifically, from a document obtained from Houston FBI office last December, as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Washington, DC-based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund?

To repeat: this comes from the FBI itself. The question, then, is: What did the FBI do about it?

The Plot

Remember the Occupy Movement? The peaceful crowds that camped out in the center of a number of cities in the fall of 2011, calling for some recognition by local, state and federal authorities that our democratic system was out of whack, controlled by corporate interests, and in need of immediate repair?

That movement swept the US beginning in mid-September 2011. When, in early October, the movement came to Houston, Texas, law enforcement officials and the city’s banking and oil industry executives freaked out  perhaps even more so than they did in some other cities. The push-back took the form of violent assaults by police on Occupy activists, federal and local surveillance of people seen as organizers, infiltration by police provocateurs—and, as crazy as it sounds, some kind of plot to assassinate the “leaders” of this non-violent and leaderless movement.

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what the document obtained from the Houston FBI, said:

 An identified [DELETED] as of October planned to engage in sniper attacks against protestors (sic) in Houston, Texas if deemed necessary. An identified [DELETED] had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas. [DELETED] planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles. (Note: protests continued throughout the weekend with approximately 6000 persons in NYC. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests have spread to about half of all states in the US, over a dozen European and Asian cities, including protests in Cleveland (10/6-8/11) at Willard Park which was initially attended by hundreds of protesters.)

Occupiers Astounded—But Not Entirely

Paul Kennedy, the National Lawyers Guild attorney in Houston who represented a number of Occupy Houston activists arrested during the protests, had not heard of the sniper plot, but said, “I find it hard to believe that such information would have been known to the FBI and that we would not have been told about it.”  He then added darkly, “If it had been some right-wing group plotting such an action, something would have been done. But if it is something law enforcement was planning, then nothing would have been done. It might seem hard to believe that a law enforcement agency would do such a thing, but I wouldn’t put it past them.”

He adds, “The use of the phrase ‘if deemed necessary,’ sounds like it was some kind of official organization that was doing the planning.” In other words, the “identified [DELETED” mentioned in the Houston FBI document may have been some other agency with jurisdiction in the area, which was calculatedly making plans to kill Occupy activists.

Kennedy knows first-hand the extent to which combined federal-state-local law enforcement forces in Houston were focused on disrupting and breaking up the Occupy action in that city. He represented seven people who were charged with felonies for a protest that attempted to block the operation of Houston’s port facility. That case fell apart when in the course of discovery, the prosecution disclosed that the Occupiers had been infiltrated by three undercover officers from the Austin Police department, who came up with the idea of using a device called a “sleeping dragon” -- actually chains inside of PVC pipe -- which are devilishly hard to cut through, for chaining protesters together blocking port access. The police provocateurs, Kennedy says, actually purchased the materials and constructed the “criminal instruments” themselves, supplying them to the protesters. As a result of this discovery, the judge tossed out the felony charges.

FBI Response

WhoWhatWhy contacted FBI headquarters in Washington, and asked about this document—which, despite its stunning revelation and despite PCFJ press releases, was (notwithstanding a few online mentions) generally ignored by mainstream and “alternative” press alike.

The agency confirmed that it is genuine and that it originated in the Houston FBI office. (The plot is also referenced in a second document obtained in PCJF’s FOIA response, in this case from the FBI’s Gainesville, Fla., office, which cites the Houston FBI as the source.)  That second document actually suggests that the assassination plot, which never was activated, might still be operative should Occupy decisively re-emerge in the area. It states:

On 13 October 20111, writer sent via email an excerpt from the daily [DELETED] regarding FBI Houston’s [DELETED] to all IAs, SSRAs and SSA [DELETED] This [DELETED] identified the exploitation of the Occupy Movement by [LENGTHY DELETION] interested in developing a long-term plan to kill local Occupy leaders via sniper fire.

Asked why solid information about an assassination plot against American citizens exercising their Constitutional right to free speech and assembly never led to exposure of the plotters’ identity or an arrest—as happened with so many other terrorist schemes the agency has publicized—Paul Bresson, head of the FBI media office, offered a typically elliptical response:

The FOIA documents that you reference are redacted in several places pursuant to FOIA and privacy laws that govern the release of such information so therefore I am unable to help fill in the blanks that you are seeking.  Exemptions are cited in each place where a redaction is made.  As far as the question about the murder plot, I am unable to comment further, but rest assured if the FBI was aware of credible and specific information involving a murder plot, law enforcement would have responded with appropriate action.

Note that the privacy being “protected” in this instance (by a government that we now know has so little respect for our privacy) was of someone or some organization that was actively contemplating violating other people’s Constitutional rights— by murdering them. That should leave us less than confident about Bresson’s assertion that law enforcement would have responded appropriately to a “credible” threat.

Houston Cops Not Warned?

The Houston FBI office stonewalled our requests for information about the sniper-rifle assassination plot and why nobody was ever arrested for planning to kill demonstrators. Meanwhile, the Houston Police, who had the job of controlling the demonstrations, and of maintaining order and public safety, displayed remarkably little interest in the plot:  “We haven’t heard about it,” said Keith Smith, a public affairs officer for the department, who told us he inquired about the matter with senior department officials.

Asked whether he was concerned that, if what he was saying was correct, it meant the FBI had not warned local police about a possible terrorist act being planned in his city, he said, “No. You’d have to ask the Houston FBI about that.”

Craft International Again

Sniper action by law enforcement officials in Texas would not be anything new. Last October, a border patrol officer with the Texas Department of Public Safety, riding in a helicopter, used a sniper rifle to fire at a fast-moving pickup truck carrying nine illegal immigrants into the state from Mexico, killing two and wounding a third, and causing the vehicle to crash and overturn. It turns out that Border Patrol agents, like a number of Texas law enforcement organizations, had been receiving special sniper training from a Dallas-based mercenary-for-hire organization called Craft International LLC.  It seems likely that Houston Police have also received such training, possibly from Craft, which has a contract for such law-enforcement training funded by the US Department of Homeland Security.

Efforts to obtain comment from Craft International have been unsuccessful, but the company’s website features photos of Craft instructors training law enforcement officers in sniper rifle use (the company was founded in 2009 by Chris Kyle, a celebrated Army sniper who last year was slain by a combat veteran he had accompanied to a shooting range). A number of men wearing Craft-issued clothing and gear, and bearing the company’s distinctive skull logo, were spotted around the finish line of the April Boston Marathon, both before and after the bombing. Some were wearing large black backpacks with markings resembling what was seen on an exploded backpack image released by the FBI.(For more on the backpacks that allegedly contained the bombs, see this piece we did in May.)

An Activist Responds

Remington Alessi, an Occupy Houston activist who played a prominent role during the Occupy events, was one of the seven defendants whose felony charge was dropped because of police entrapment. He says of the sniper plot information, which first came to light last December as one of hundreds of pages of FBI files obtained by PCJF, “We have speculated heavily about it. The ‘if deemed necessary’ phrase seems to indicate it was an organization. It could have been the police or a private security group.”

Alessi, who hails from a law-enforcement family and who ran last year for sheriff of Houston’s Harris County on the Texas Green Party ticket, garnering 22,000 votes, agrees with attorney Kennedy that the plotters were not from some right-wing organization. “If it had been that, the FBI would have acted on it,” he agrees. “I believe the sniper attack was one strategy being discussed for dealing with the occupation.” He adds:

I assume I would have been one of the targets, because I led a few of the protest actions, and I hosted an Occupy show on KPFT.  I wish I could say I’m surprised that this was seriously discussed, but remember, this is the same federal government that murdered (Black Panther Party leader) Fred Hampton. We have a government that traditionally murders people who are threats. I guess being a target is sort of an honor.

There, Alessi is referring to evidence made public in the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s which revealed that the FBI was orchestrating local police attacks (in Chicago, San Francisco and New York) on Panther leaders. (For more on that, see this, starting at p. 185, esp. pp. 220-223; also see this .)

Alessi suspects that the assassination plot cited in the FBI memo was

probably developed in the Houston Fusion Center (where federal, state and local intelligence people work hand-in-glove). During our trial we learned that they were all over our stuff, tracking Twitter feeds etc.  It seems to me that based on the access they were getting they were using what we now know as the NSA’s PRISM program.

He notes, correctly, that in documents obtained from the FBI and Homeland Security by the PCJF’s FOIA search, the Occupy Movement is classed as a “terrorist” activity.

Ironically, while the Occupy Movement was actually peaceful, the FBI, at best, was simply standing aside while some organization plotted to assassinate the movement’s prominent activists.

The FBI’s stonewalling response to inquiries about this story, and the agency’s evident failure to take any action regarding a known deadly threat to Occupy protesters in Houston, will likely make protesters at future demonstrations look differently at the sniper-rifle equipped law-enforcement personnel often seen on rooftops during such events. What are they there for? Who are the threats they are looking for and potentially targeting? Who are they protecting?  And are they using “suppressed” sniper rifles?  Would this indicate they have no plans to take responsibility for any shots silently fired?  Or that they plan to frame someone else?

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KBR must face lawsuit over alleged kickbacks from military contracts: court

By Reuters
Saturday, July 20, 2013 9:29 EDT

By Jessica Dye

(Reuters) – The government can pursue “enhanced” penalties from Houston-based defense contractor KBR Inc over allegations that employees took kickbacks involving military contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruling reinstates the government’s civil claim against KBR in connection with employees’ alleged violations of the Anti-Kickback Act, a law that bars government contractors and subcontractors from using bribes to influence awards.

In 2010, the U.S. government joined a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that employees in KBR’s transportation department accepted bribes in the form of meals, gifts and entertainment, from companies seeking to secure subcontracts with KBR to transport military goods around the globe.

The government sued under a section of the Anti-Kickback Act that allows it to recover enhanced penalties for “knowing” violations of the law. Under that law, judges can impose civil penalties equal to twice the amount of each kickback, and up to $11,000 for each occurrence of the prohibited conduct.

The government’s suit alleged KBR employees took 317 separate kickbacks with a total value of roughly $46,000, according to court filings.

KBR argued that it could not be penalized for its employees’ actions, and that the U.S. government had not shown that the employees acted to benefit KBR. A federal judge in Texas dismissed the government’s claim in 2011.

The U.S. appealed, and on Friday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the lower court and said that KBR could be found vicariously liable for its employees’ conduct under the anti-kickback law. It did not address the merits of the government’s case.

A KBR spokesman said the company was disappointed with the ruling. A representative for the Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

A former supervisor in KBR’s transportation department, Robert Bennett, pleaded guilty in 2008 to accepting perks on at least 40 occasions in connection with the military contracts. Kevin Smoot, an employee at subcontractor EGL Inc, pleaded guilty in 2007 to lying to federal investigators and giving kickbacks to KBR employees, including Bennett.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye in New York; Editing by Eric Beech and Robert Birsel)

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Trayvon Martin protests being held in more than 100 U.S. cities

By Matt Williams, The Guardian
Saturday, July 20, 2013 12:44 EDT

Protests led by veteran civil rights leaders and the parents of Trayvon Martin are set to take place across the US on Saturday, amid ongoing anger over the acquittal of the man who shot dead the unarmed black teenager.

Demonstrators are set to gather outside federal court buildings and police headquarters in more than 100 cities, to call on the Department of Justice to file a civil rights case against George Zimmerman, the man who was found not guilty of second-degree murder of the 17-year-old.

The nationwide action, which was called for by the Reverend Al Sharpton, comes a day after President Barack Obama addressed the issue of Martin’s death in emotional remarks, in which he suggested that the US was still not “a post-racial society”. The president’s comments, which were made during an unscheduled press conference at the White House, came days after he urged calm over last Saturday’s acquittal of Zimmerman by a Florida jury.

Organisers of Saturday’s protests have voiced hopes that they will be peaceful, with no further outbreaks of the kind of violence that led to arrests in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area earlier this week. But feelings remain high over perceived injustice and racial bias in the case.

Sharpton, who will lead one rally along with Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, outside police headquarters in New York, has said he hopes continued public pressure will force the Justice Department to bring a civil rights case against Zimmerman. A planned demonstration in Miami, near the home where the 17-year-old Martin lived, was due to be led by his father.

Federal prosecutors have said they are pursuing an investigation into whether Zimmerman, who is part-Hispanic, violated civil rights laws. Lawyers with expertise in civil rights have said they think new charges are unlikely, however.

Public comments from one of the six jurors, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law as a factor in reaching her conclusion that Zimmerman acted in self-defence, has stepped up pressure on the state’s Republican-dominated legislature to repeal or change the law. According to the instructions given to the jury, Zimmerman had “no duty to retreat and right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believed it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself”.

Though the stand your ground law was not specifically cited as part of the defence mounted by Zimmerman’s lawyers, the jury instructions paving the way for his acquittal came directly from the 2005 statute.

Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, who met sit-in demonstrators outside his office in Tallahassee on Thursday, said he supports the stand your ground law and has no intention of convening a special legislative session to change it. But Obama suggested that was the wrong course of action.

“I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case,” he said.

In his comments on Friday, Obama also urged all Americans to try to understand the Martin case from the perspective of African-Americans.

“There is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws,” the president said. “A lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush. If a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario … both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”

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Conservatives Are Terrified By America’s Rising Surge of Liberalism

By: Sarah Jones
Jul. 19th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

It’s funny that it took conservatives this long, or rather one conservative, this long to arrive here. But here he is.

Strong liberalism is on the rise, Bruce Bartlett announces rather sadly in the Fiscal Times, as you would expect for a supply-side economics expert who was a policy adviser to Reagan. Liberalism is on the rise, it’s going to take over just like conservatism did, because people like liberal ideas like a minimum wage and taxing the rich, he tells us.

But before Bartlett gets to the super sad part about how conservatives have no ideas and liberalism might just get somewhere if only they had a strong leader, Bartlett has to drag liberalism-in-action through the mud, chock full of the usual FDR resentment (“free stuff” isn’t written anywhere, but you can hear the whispers). He opines, “One can argue about how liberal Obama is, but it is obvious that he has not been a transformational president. It is clear that the energy remains on the Republican side with almost all policy issues debated within a conservative framework.”

This is how Republicans comfort themselves, but it’s actually not accurate. The framework of a policy argument is not set by the President; it’s a cultural matter, as all policy debate really is. Yes, Democrats and liberals need to do a better job of reframing issues if they want to win hearts and minds. The media is stuck in the stone age when Republican frames were all the rage.

But also, Obama has been very liberal via an incremental approach to long term paradigm shifting. Only someone who hasn’t actually read what was in the stimulus thinks Obama isn’t liberal, and isn’t enacting a very liberal agenda. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone. Republicans would really freak out if they knew.

Michael Grunwald’s “The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era” breaks it down:

    As ambitious and far-reaching as FDR’s New Deal, the Recovery Act is a down payment on the nation’s economic and environmental future, the purest distillation of change in the Obama era.

    The stimulus has launched a transition to a clean-energy economy, doubled our renewable power, and financed unprecedented investments in energy efficiency, a smarter grid, electric cars, advanced biofuels, and green manufacturing. It is computerizing America’s pen-and-paper medical system. Its Race to the Top is the boldest education reform in U.S. history. It has put in place the biggest middle-class tax cuts in a generation, the largest research investments ever, and the most extensive infrastructure investments since Eisenhower’s interstate highway system. It includes the largest expansion of antipoverty programs since the Great Society, lifting millions of Americans above the poverty line, reducing homelessness, and modernizing unemployment insurance. Like the first New Deal, Obama’s stimulus has created legacies that last: the world’s largest wind and solar projects, a new battery industry, a fledgling high-speed rail network, and the world’s highest-speed Internet network.

But it’s a comfort to Republicans to pretend that Obama hasn’t fundamentally changed America, that he’s been inept.

Ironically, Obama has been a better fiscal leader than any Republican of late. He’s shown restraint, responsibility, integrity, and character. He paid for his healthcare reform program – a program based on a liberal idea but implemented using competition as its foundation. Is Obama moderate? No, but he’s wise and has a solid temperament. He is not an extremist, a fact which does not preclude being a strong liberal unless you only see liberals as they were stereotyped in the 1960s. Obama picks up on good ideas and he doesn’t care where they come from. This causes many to view him inaccurately based on that one idea.

Bartlett thinks Republicans have a shot at taking control of the Senate, for sure keeping the House, but the White House may be a long shot for them. “Just as the political energy of conservatives turned in their favor long before Republican politics caught up with it, I think there are signs that conservative energy is weakening and liberal energy is rising today.”

He notes that these days, “conservatives are basically on the defensive, as liberals were in the 1970s.” They don’t have something they want to accomplish. They aren’t for anything. (This has been obvious for the last four years.)

Bartlett then identifies that the public is favoring a liberal agenda based on the following from a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute:

    For example, 63 percent of people support higher taxes on those making more than $250,000, with only 34 percent opposed. There is now majority support for allowing gays to marry versus 41 percent opposed.
    Raising the minimum wage is supported by 73 percent of people, with just 25 percent opposed. And 54 percent of people favor legal abortion, with 42 percent wanting it to be illegal.

Whose agenda does that sound like? That’s right. The President’s. And many Congressional Democrats and at least one Independent.

But that’s not what Bartlett sees, “Today, Democrats lack leadership and much of the party’s weakness vis-à-vis the Republicans stems from it. The party’s base is depressed, lethargic and fearful of attacks from the right. But strong, articulate leadership can turn that around overnight, I believe.”

Liberals just need a good leader, Bartlett posits. Someone who can defend liberal policies (see above; aka, the President’s agenda). It’s time for “an unknown back-bencher to possibly catapult himself or herself into the presidency, as those with more name recognition and seniority play it safe.”

Liberals have plenty of “back-benchers”, or front-benchers, who are clearly articulating liberal policies. Elizabeth Warren comes immediately to mind. Bernie Sanders. And heck, given the agenda Bartlett himself labeled as liberal, our current President is just that liberal leader.

That’s just another thing Republicans don’t get. Liberals have a strong leader. He’s in the White House. He doesn’t look like Republicans think a liberal looks; he doesn’t sport a beard and hippie sandals, but he’s as much of an FDR liberal as a modern president can be under the changed Congressional rules and Republican obstruction.

And yes, sometimes the Democratic base is “depressed, lethargic and fearful of attacks from the right”. They have PTSD after years of Republican dirty bombs. Many of them still fall for Republican lies, even though they know the Republican playbook includes things just like what Darrell Issa just did to Obama. Some of them still trip over it.

But it’s not because they don’t have a good leader. It’s because the media hasn’t caught up with the changes, and the media still courts Republicans as if Republicans were the forever ruling class. Liberals are still treated as if they stink, as if they are fresh off the commune with glazed eyes and no working vehicle.

In reality, liberals look like President Obama and Elizabeth Warren. They are college students, day traders, nurses, doctors, lawyers, writers, artists – they are everywhere. They are more mainstream than Republicans dare face.

Even in the South.

In 2008, Republicans ran against Obama by calling him the “most liberal Senator” in the Senate. Why didn’t it occur to Republicans then that Obama won in spite of being labeled the most liberal senator in the entire universe ever-ever-ever?

The message was clear as a bell to me. That label doesn’t carry the stigma they think it does. This is not the 1970s, the 1980s, or even the 1990s. This country had just survived Bush. We weren’t hating on liberals.

So yes, Bartlett is correct — liberalism is on the rise. But it’s far past where he thinks it is, because he can’t recognize the very policies he calls liberalism when this President has them as his agenda, and he can’t recognize liberal leaders if they aren’t wearing a t-shirt that says HIPPIE. He doesn’t want to see what’s already here, even if he’s more intellectually honest than most of his party, whose fear blinds them to this reality.

Welcome to 2013 folks.
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« Reply #7663 on: Jul 22, 2013, 05:51 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/22/2013 12:19 PM

'Key Partners': The Secret Link Between Germany and the NSA

Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly said she knew nothing about American surveillance activities in Germany. But documents seen by SPIEGEL show that German intelligence cooperates closely with the NSA and even uses spy software provided by the US. By SPIEGEL

It was a busy two days for the surveillance specialists of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency. At the end of April, a team of 12 senior BND officials flew to the United States, where they visited the heart of the global American surveillance empire: the National Security Agency (NSA). The purpose of their mission can be read in a "top secret" NSA document which SPIEGEL has seen -- one of the trove of files in the possession of whistleblower Edward Snowden.

According to the document, BND President Gerhard Schindler repeatedly expressed an "eagerness" to cooperate more closely with the NSA. The Germans, the document reads, were looking for "guidance and advice."

Their wish was fulfilled. Senior employees with the NSA's Foreign Affairs Directorate were assigned to look after the German delegation. The Americans organized a "strategic planning conference" to bring their German partners up to speed. In the afternoon, following several presentations on current methods of data acquisition, senior members of a division known as Special Source Operations, or SSO, spoke to their German guests. The SSO, one of the most secretive groups within the intelligence community, is the division that forms alliances with US companies, especially in the IT sector, for data mining purposes. Snowden describes this elite unit as the NSA's "crown jewels".

The journey to Washington wasn't the first educational trip by German intelligence officials across the Atlantic this spring -- nor was it the last. Documents from Snowden that SPIEGEL has seen show that cooperation between Berlin and Washington in the area of digital surveillance and defense has intensified considerably during the tenure of Chancellor Angela Merkel. According to one document, the Germans are determined to "strengthen and expand bilateral cooperation."

Completely Unaware?

This is awkward news for Merkel, who is running for re-election as the head of the center-right Christian Democrats. The German campaign had been relatively uneventful until recently, but now a new issue seems to have emerged: the Americans' lust for data. Opposition politicians have intensified their attacks in recent days. First Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democratic candidate for the Chancellery, accused Merkel of having violated her oath of office for failing to protect the basic rights of Germans. Not long later, SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel referred to Merkel as a "spin doctor who is trying to placate the population." According to Gabriel, it has since been proven that the German government knew about the NSA's activities.

But the attacks from the SPD are not the chancellor's biggest worry; the real threat comes from within. At a very early juncture, Merkel insisted that her government had been completely unaware of the NSA's activities. It is a position she reiterated before starting her summer vacation last Friday.

She will now be judged on the basis of those statements. Internally, Merkel's advisors argue that she had no choice but to take such a clear position. After all, both the head of the BND and the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency, had said that they had had no detailed knowledge of the Prism surveillance program and the extent of American data collection. On what basis could Merkel have contradicted them?

But with each day, fears are growing at the Chancellery that a paper could eventually turn up that clearly shows the government's knowledge of the NSA activities.

But does that really matter? What is worse? To be governed by a cabinet that conceals its connivance from citizens? Or to have a chancellor and ministers whose intelligence agencies exist in a parallel world, beyond the supervision of the government and parliament? Internal NSA documents show that the Americans and German intelligence agencies are cooperating more closely than previously known. The repeated assertions by the government and intelligence agencies in recent weeks that they were not fully aware of what US surveillance specialists were doing appear disingenuous in the extreme in light of the documents SPIEGEL has seen from the collection secured by Snowden.

'Key Partners'

According to those documents, the BND, the BfV and the Bonn-based Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) all play a central role in the exchange of information among intelligence agencies. The NSA refers to them as "key partners."

The Americans provided the BfV with one of their most productive spying tools, a system called "XKeyscore." It's the same surveillance program that the NSA uses to capture a large share of the up to 500 million data sets from Germany, to which it has access each month, according to internal documents seen and reported on by SPIEGEL on the first of this month.

The documents also reveal the lengths to which the German agencies and German politicians were willing to go to develop an even closer relationship with the Americans. This is especially applicable to the G-10 law, which establishes the conditions under which surveillance of German citizens is permissible. In one classified document -- under a section titled "Success Stories" -- it reads: "The German government modifies its interpretation of the G-10 privacy law … to afford the BND more flexibility in sharing protected information with foreign partners."

The claim that German intelligence agencies knew nothing was already hard to believe given that they have been cooperating with American agencies for decades. According to an NSA document from this January, cooperation between the offensive divisions of the NSA and the BND's "Technical Reconnaissance" unit began long ago in 1962.

The Americans are extremely satisfied with the Germans. For decades, Washington poked fun at the conscientious German spies, who always had a legal decree on hand to justify why they were regrettably unable to participate in an especially delicate operation. This was a source of annoyance to the Americans, but ultimately they had no choice but to accept it.

More recently, however, that has changed, as the Snowden documents indicate: The German bureaucrats have become real spies.

During the course of 2012, in particular, the Germans showed great "eagerness and desire" to improve their surveillance capacities and even "to take risks and to pursue new opportunities for cooperation with the US," according to the NSA documents to which SPIEGEL was given access.

A Close Link

The shift to a more offensive German security policy began in 2007, when Merkel's conservatives were in power in a coalition with the SPD, the so-called "Grand Coalition." Based on information the NSA had passed on to the BfV, German authorities discovered a group of Islamists led by convert Fritz Gelowicz, known as the Sauerland cell. Gelowicz and several of his friends had planned to detonate bombs in Germany. To this day, the German government is grateful to the Americans for the tip.

According to the NSA document, the successful operation created "a significant level of trust" between the NSA and the BfV. Since then, the document reads, there have been "regular US-German analytic exchanges and closer cooperation in tracking both German and non-German extremist targets." The documents show that the NSA also provided several training sessions for BfV agents. The aim was "to improve the BfV's ability to exploit, filter and process domestic data." The hope was to create interfaces so that data could be exchanged on a larger scale -- a cooperation "that could benefit both Germany and the US," the paper reads.

The pact also intensified on German soil. An NSA analyst accredited as a diplomat at the US Embassy in Berlin uses an office at the BfV once a week. According to the document, the analyst's job is to "nurture" the thriving relationship with the BfV. The agent also "facilitates US requirements." In addition, the Germans set up a "communications link" to the NSA to improve ties between agencies.

Personal relationships also intensified. In May alone, just a few weeks before the Snowden revelations began, BfV President Hans-Georg Maassen, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich and the 12-member BND delegation paid a visit to NSA headquarters. In the same month, NSA Director General Keith Alexander traveled to Berlin, where he made a stop at the Chancellery, which supervises the BND.

The cooperation went beyond high level visits. According to the papers from the Snowden files which SPIEGEL has seen, the NSA provided the BfV with XKeyscore, and BND officials were also very familiar with the tool, given that their job was to instruct their counterparts with German domestic intelligence on how to use the spy program. The main reason the BfV was to be provided with XKeyscore was to "expand their ability to support NSA as we jointly prosecute CT (counter-terrorism) targets."

A "top secret" presentation dated Feb. 25, 2008, which almost reads like an advertising brochure (the American spies are apparently very proud of the system), reveals all the things XKeyscore was capable of doing already five years ago.

NSA Pleased with German 'Eagerness'
According to the presentation, the system is easy to use and enables surveillance of raw data traffic "like no other system."

An NSA transparency titled "What is XKeyscore?" describes a buffer memory that enables the program to absorb a "full take" of all unfiltered data for a number of days. In other words, XKeyscore doesn't just track call connection records, but can also capture the contents of communication, at least in part.

In addition, the system makes it possible to retroactively view which key words targeted individuals enter into Internet search engines and which locations they search for on Google Maps.

The program, for which there are several expansions known as plug-ins, apparently has even more capabilities. For instance, "user activity" can be monitored practically in real time and "anomalous events" traced in Internet traffic. If this is true, it means that XKeyscore makes almost total digital surveillance possible.

From the German perspective, this is especially troubling. Of the roughly 500 million data sets from Germany to which the NSA has access each month, XKeyscore captured about 180 million in December 2012.

This raises several questions. Does this mean that the NSA doesn't just have access to hundreds of millions of data sets from Germany, but also -- at least for periods of days -- to a so-called "full take," meaning to the content of communication in Germany? Can the BND and the BfV access the NSA databases with their versions of XKeyscore, which would give them access to the data on German citizens stored in those databases?

If this were the case, the government could hardly claim that it had no knowledge of the Americans' vigorous data acquisition activities.

German 'Eagerness' Is 'Welcomed'

SPIEGEL put these questions to both agencies and the Chancellery, but it received no answers on the use of the system. The BND merely issued a brief statement, saying that it was regrettably unable to comment publicly on the details of intelligence activities.

The NSA and the White House were similarly curt in their responses to SPIEGEL inquiries, merely noting that they had nothing to add to the remarks President Barack Obama made during his recent visit to Berlin.

The new revelations also shine a spotlight on the presidents of the BND and the BfV, Gerhard Schindler and Hans-Georg Maassen. Both men are relatively new in their positions. But BND President Schindler in particular, in office since January 2012, has already made his mark. He embodies the new, more offensive approach being taken by the foreign intelligence agency, which the NSA has expressly praised. Schindler's "eagerness," according to the NSA documents, was "welcomed" already in 2012.

When he came into office, the outspoken head of the BND encapsulated the new willingness to take risks. Internally, he asked each BND department to submit three proposals for joint operations with the US intelligence agencies.

Of course, there are also positive sides to this closer cooperation with the Americans. One of the BND's responsibilities is to protect German soldiers and prevent terrorist attacks. Doing so adequately is impossible without help from the Americans. Conversely, the BND's reputation has improved among US intelligence agencies, especially after it proved to be helpful in the Kunduz region of northern Afghanistan, where the German military, the Bundeswehr, is stationed. The Germans are now the third-largest procurer of information there.

They don't just share their information with the NSA, but also with 13 other Western countries. Some time ago, the agency brought its technical equipment in Afghanistan up to the latest standard. Results have been especially good since then, and the NSA is pleased.

In recent years, the BND has had the capability to listen in on phone conversations on a large scale in northern Afghanistan, aiding in the arrests of more than 20 high-ranking members of the Taliban -- including Mullah Rahman, once the shadow governor of Kunduz.

Relaxed Interpretation of Privacy Laws

According to an NSA document dated April 9, Germany, as part of the surveillance coalition in Afghanistan, has developed into the agency's "most prolific partner." The Germans are similarly successful in North Africa, where they also have special technical capabilities of interest to the NSA. The same applies in Iraq.

But according to the documents, the German foreign intelligence agency went even further in its effort to please the Americans. "The BND has been working to influence the German government to relax interpretation of the privacy laws to provide greater opportunities of intelligence sharing," the NSA agents noted with satisfaction in January.

Indeed, when Schindler took office, BND officials were divided over whether it was legal to pass on information to partner intelligence agencies that had been obtained in accordance with the German G-10 law. Schindler decided that it was, and the United States was pleased.

The surveillance base in Bad Aibling, a well-known American listening post in southern Germany, also shows how close ties are between the BND and the NSA. It was a symbol of technical espionage during the Cold War. Most recently, the NSA referred to the listening post by the code name "garlic." Although the last parts of the base were officially handed over to the BND in May 2012, NSA officials still come and go.

The NSA chief for Germany is still stationed at the local Mangfall Barracks. Some 18 Americans were still working at the surveillance station at the beginning of the year, 12 from the NSA and six working for private contractors. The office is expected to be scaled back during the course of the year, with the plans ultimately calling for only six NSA employees to remain at the base. According to the Snowden documents, their work will be to "cultivate new cooperation opportunities with Germany."

To be sure, intensive cooperation in counterterrorism activities is part of the core mission of Germany's foreign intelligence agency. But did lawmakers know about the scope of cooperation with the Americans? And, if they did, since when?

Making Things Worse

So far, the BND has been able to count on support from the Chancellery for its new approach. But things seem to be changing. The surveillance scandal has the potential to shake public confidence in the German government and in Chancellor Merkel -- and could negatively effect her chances for re-election.

The NSA's activities, of course, are not exactly driving the German people into the streets in droves. Nevertheless, revelations as to the extent of America's surveillance abroad are chipping away at Merkel's image as a reliable manager of the government. Some 69 percent of Germans are dissatisfied with her efforts to shed light on the issue, a number that has alarmed the Chancellery. Until the end of last week, Merkel had tried to distance herself from the subject, issuing only sparse statements. Instead of Merkel, Interior Minister Friedrich was expected to handle the delicate matter.

But Friedrich only made things worse, returning largely empty-handed from his trip to Washington. Instead, he seemed extremely proud of the fact that he had been allowed to speak with US Vice President Joe Biden.

To make matters worse, Friedrich had hardly returned to Germany before making the remark that "security" was a "Supergrundrecht," a new concept that implies that security trumps other civil rights. A minister charged with upholding the constitution who suddenly invented an interpretation of the German constitution that suits the NSA's purposes? At that moment, Merkel must have realized that she couldn't leave things entirely to her interior minister.

Last Friday, shortly before leaving for her summer vacation, Merkel unveiled an eight-point plan intended to provide more data security. But most of her points felt more like placebos. How, for example, are European intelligence agencies to agree on common data privacy guidelines if British and French intelligence agents are already snickering over the Germans' obsession with data privacy?

In a Bind

Merkel is in a bind. On the one hand, she doesn't want to give the impression that she is doing nothing about the Americans' lust for information. On the other hand, this also brings the scandal closer to the chancellor. In the end, it will revolve around the question of how much the government knew about the Americans' surveillance activities. Last Friday, the BND insisted, once again, that it had "no knowledge of the name, scope and extent of the NSA 'Prism' project being discussed."

But even if that's true, Prism was only a part of the NSA's surveillance system, and the new documents show that Germany was indeed extremely familiar with the agency's comprehensive ability to spy. They benefited from it, and they wanted more.

But Merkel claims that she knew nothing about the Americans' surveillance software. "I became aware of programs like Prism through current news reports," she told the left-leaning weekly newspaper Die Zeit last week. According to Merkel's staff, when she uses such language, she is relying on statements made by the German intelligence chiefs.

But what does that mean? Does the German government still have its intelligence agencies under control? Or have they become a kind of state-within-a-state?

And who exactly keeps track of whether the agencies, in their zeal to enforce the "Supergrundrecht" of security, haven't already gone too far?

The place where the activities of domestic and foreign intelligence agencies ought to be debated is the Parliamentary Control Panel in the German Bundestag. By law, the government is required to regularly and "comprehensively" inform the 11 members of the board, which meets in secret, about the work of the BND and the BfV, and explain "procedures with special importance."

Oddly enough, the board has met four times since the beginning of the NSA scandal, and, four times, lawmakers have learned little about the global data surveillance programs. Instead, they were forced to listen to long-winded lectures by those responsible, the essence of which generally was: We really don't know anything.

Spotlight on Merkel

Over the years, the board has mutated into a stage for large egos and is no longer particularly secret. The problem is that many panel members don't have sufficient time or expertise to truly understand the kind of activities the intelligence agencies are engaged in. It is a perfect situation for Germany's spies: The less the public learns about their activities, the more they can go about their business undisturbed.

"Monitoring of the agencies is purely theoretical," says Hans-Christian Ströbele, the Green Party representative on the board. "We don't learn about the truly explosive issues until they've been exposed by the media." This isn't surprising, given the vagueness of statutory provisions on the supervision of intelligence agencies.

The agencies enjoy "complete freedom," says attorney Wolfgang Neškovi, who once spent many years on the control board for the Left Party. The CDU, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) have now agreed to establish an intelligence body to monitor the intelligence agencies. But in light of recent events, CDU domestic policy expert Clemens Binninger believes that a "major solution" is needed. He favors the idea of a parliamentary intelligence official, to be provided with his own powers and staff.

There is also growing mistrust of the intelligence agencies within Merkel's government, a situation which led to a memorable scene in the federal press conference last Wednesday. According to a NATO document that had been circulated before the press conference, the German military was indeed aware of the existence of Prism. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert stated that it was the BND's assessment that the program in question had nothing to do with NSA spy software. But he made sure to keep a distance from the intelligence agency's assessment. Later, the Defense Ministry issued a statement of its own which directly contradicted the BND statement.

It is an awkward situation for Merkel. In the midst of an election campaign, her government suddenly looks to be characterized by chaos. Of course, if it turns out that the intelligence agencies were deceiving her, she could clean house. BND chief Schindler would seem to be in the front of the firing line, with Ronald Pofalla, who, as Merkel's chief of staff, is tasked with monitoring the intelligence agencies, not far behind.

But the Chancellery staff has no illusions. The SPD and the Greens will continue putting Merkel in the NSA spotlight no matter what happens. "The chancellor is more interested in defending the interests of the US intelligence agencies in Germany than German interests in the United States," says SPD Chairman Gabriel. It seems unlikely that the opposition will stand down any time between now and election day, on Sept. 22.

BY RENÉ PFISTER, LAURA POITRAS, MARCEL ROSENBACH, JÖRG SCHINDLER and HOLGER STARK

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

***************

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/22/2013 01:24 PM

Berlin and the NSA: Questions Mount for Merkel's Chief of Staff

By Veit Medick

Revelations that German intelligence services have been using US spying software could create problems for Angela Merkel and her chief of staff, who is responsible for coordinating the agencies. Opposition politicians are demanding answers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had hoped to tune out of politics this week during her annual hiking holiday in northern Italy But that may prove difficult following the latest revelations in the spying scandal involving America's National Security Agency (NSA) and its mass surveillance of German communications.

Over the weekend, SPIEGEL reported on NSA documents seen by the magazine's journalists from the trove of data provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, indicating not only that German intelligence agencies worked together with the NSA, but also that they deployed some of its tools -- even after Merkel became chancellor.

That, combined with indications that German intelligence agencies may have been playing fast and loose with data privacy laws in Germany, has the opposition foaming. "The latest media reports about the close relationship between German and American intelligence services confirm the impression that the German government either feigned ignorance, kept quiet about its complicity or that the intelligence agencies have gotten out of control," said Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democratic challenger for the Chancellery, said in a Monday statement.

"The most alarming news is that the government of Ms. Merkel appears to have made the interpretation of the G-10 law (which establishes the conditions under which surveillance of German citizens is permissible) more flexible in order to make it easer to provide protected data to foreign services," he added. "Now it has to be clear that the time of playing this issue down has passed."

"The issue here goes to the core of our democracy and constitutional state," Steinbrück said. "That's why it is to be expected the chancellor herself demand a binding pledge from the US government to immediately cease the spying on citizens, companies and possibly official locations in millions of instances."

Bad Time for Merkel

According to the documents seen by SPIEGEL, a high-ranking delegation with Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND, travelled to NSA headquarters in Maryland to receive data collection training at the end of April. The documents also indicate that workers with Germany's domestic intelligence agency, which monitors extremism, were given training by their American partners.

That in and of itself isn't objectionable. But what is controversial is that the German services have deployed one of the NSA's most useful tools. The XKeyscore data program is a system, the documents show, capable of capturing unfiltered communications with a "full take," meaning metadata and content of communications, for up to several days at a time.

Over the weekend, Hans-Georg Maassen, the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution confirmed the agency had deployed the program for testing.

The revelations come at a bad time for Merkel, just weeks before federal elections. The chancellor and her cabinet have been massively criticized in recent weeks for their tepid efforts to clarify the spying scandal, which included revelations that the NSA spied on European Union institutions and up to a half-billion German communications connections each month. The government will now have to explain what it knew. The claim oft repeated by various officials that the government first learned about the spying activity through press reports is losing credibility fast. Is it really possible, some are asking, that cooperation was so deep between the three intelligence agencies that they were exchanging software without those with responsibility getting a whiff of the American's data obsession?

The details also raise new problems for Merkel because they will shift some of the focus in the scandal to her Chancellery and her chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, who is also the chancellor's intelligence coordinator. The Chancellery is responsible for the government's supervision of intelligence agencies, and critical questions will be posed about whether Pofalla knew about the programs. The heads of the intelligence agencies meet several times a month with Chancellery officials to discuss current developments, and Pofalla has had plenty of opportunities recently to ask questions.

No Comment

Pofalla is likely to come under considerable pressure -- if he didn't know anything, then he allowed the intelligence services to make a fool out of him. And if he did have details, then he will have to answer questions about why he didn't mention that knowledge to the closed-door committee in parliament responsible for oversight of German intelligence. Pofalla chose not to comment when contacted on Sunday by SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Meanwhile, Merkel's opponents are already lining up with criticism. "The German government is behaving like an obedient altar boy to US security policies," said Renate Künast, the Green Party's floor leader in parliament. "Supervised by the Chancellery, the BND is dealing in our private data."

There are still many open questions, including how and when the German foreign intelligence service used XKeyscore and what kind of data was captured. Most important, however, is the question of whether or not it was deployed legally or whether German services are obtaining data on Germans in illegal ways and then passing it along to its American partner. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution chief Maassen ruled out that possibility in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, and the BND's Schindler has also said it didn't happen. But one of the Snowden documents indicates that the BND was very familiar with the system -- so much so that it offered to provide training on XKeyscore to colleagues at the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

In general, it appears the BND has been a good partner to the Americans. The documents note an "eagerness" by BND President Schindler to cooperate more closely with the NSA. "The BND has been working to influence the German government to relax interpretation of the privacy laws to provide greater opportunities of intelligence sharing," NSA agents noted in January.

Leaders with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Germany's most important opposition party, are outraged. "If it is true that the BND president wanted to circumvent German privacy laws, then he has to be replaced," party boss Sigmar Gabriel said on Sunday.

'It Is Orwellian'

In Steinbrück's Monday statement, he also asked why Pofalla hasn't yet commented on the allegations.

Hansjörg Geiger, who has served as head of both the BND and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is likewise furious. In Monday's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he lambasted the US intelligence services' spying programs, saying unlimited data retention and surveillance needs to be stooped. "It is wrong, it is Orwellian," he said. "The sheer possible quantity of monitoring creates a new quality," he said. He called for the creation of an "Intelligence Codex" to regulate the work of intelligence services within the EU and NATO. Under it, any intelligence work on the territory of another member state would only be allowed with its permission and under the agreement that local laws were observed. Mutual political and economic espionage would be explicity forbidden.

Members of the Parliamentary Control Panel in the Bundestag have also vented. By law, the government is required to regularly and "comprehensively" inform the 11 members of the board, which meets in secret, about the work of the BND and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, and explain "procedures with special importance."

Panel members have critical questions about why the BND and Office for the Protection of the Constitution remained mum about the use of the software. "We should consider engaging a special investigator," said SPD domestic policy expert Michael Hartmann. Steffen Bockhahn, a member of the panel with the Left Party, also expressed his frustration. "It appears there is fear of being forbidden (from taking certain actions), and that's why they aren't forthcoming," he said. "It's apparently not clear to them that they are obliged to inform the Control Panel."

The next meeting of the panel had been scheduled for August. But Ronald Pofalla has now said he hopes to provide the body with more information this week. It has not yet been determined when that will take place.


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« Reply #7664 on: Jul 22, 2013, 05:53 AM »

Japan warns Britain to stay in the European Union

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, July 21, 2013 9:38 EDT

Japan has warned that tens of thousands of British jobs with Japanese firms could be at risk if London pulls out of the European Union, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

Tokyo’s submission to a British government consultation said Japanese companies liked Britain because it offered a gateway to the European market, the Sunday Times said.

Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU and then hold a referendum on membership before the end of 2017 if he is still in office.

The Japanese government’s submission to the British Foreign Office review said it was “committed to making its relationship with the EU stronger than ever before”.

“In this context, it expects that the UK will maintain a strong voice and continue to play a major role in the EU,” the Sunday Times quoted it as saying.

“The UK, as a champion of free trade, is a reliable partner for Japan. More than 1,300 Japanese companies have invested in the UK, as part of the single market of the EU, and have created 130,000 jobs, more than anywhere else in Europe.

“This fact demonstrates that the advantage of the UK as a gateway to the European market has attracted Japanese investment.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Northern Ireland last month for the G8 meeting hosted by Cameron.

Japan’s embassy in London was quoted by the Sunday Times as saying that while some countries had not submitted comments, Tokyo thought it was appropriate because it is a major investor.

“If the UK leaves the single market, countries investing in the UK and exporting to the EU would have to pay tariffs, and that is not good news,” the embassy was quoted as saying in a statement.

Close ally the United States has also previously warned Britain against isolating itself from the EU.


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