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« Reply #7755 on: Jul 26, 2013, 07:10 AM »

In the USA...

Senate committee votes unanimously to sanction any country that takes Snowden

By Reuters
Thursday, July 25, 2013 15:28 EDT

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Senate panel voted unanimously on Thursday to seek trade or other sanctions against Russia or any other country that offers asylum to former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who has been holed up for weeks at a Moscow airport.

The 30-member Senate Appropriations Committee adopted by consensus an amendment to a spending bill that would direct Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with congressional committees to come up with sanctions against any country that takes Snowden in.

Snowden is wanted by the United States on espionage charges for revealing details of government intelligence programs. He arrived in Moscow on June 23 from Hong Kong, where he had fled to escape capture and trial in the United States.

He has asked for temporary asylum in Russia until he can reach a country that will shelter him, but U.S. authorities have made clear they will be deeply disappointed if Russia lets the fugitive leave the airport.

Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have said they could offer sanctuary to Snowden.

Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said he introduced the amendment to try to get the attention of any country that might take in Snowden, not Russia in particular, although he noted Moscow has lined up against the United States on other issues, including the civil war in Syria.

“When it comes to Russia, it’s just not about Snowden. They are allying with Iran, 100,000 Syrians have been killed, they are providing weapons to Assad that are getting in the hands of Hezbollah. And really enough’s enough,” said Graham, who has suggested the U.S. consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.

The amendment would direct Kerry to meet with congressional committees to develop sanctions options “including revocation or suspension of trade privileges and preferences.”

It was not immediately clear how any sanctions program would work, and the spending bill is several steps from becoming law.

But the United States has a number of programs that provide international trade benefits to developing countries, including Bolivia and Venezuela, which could be affected.

The country also has a free trade agreement with Nicaragua that could come under scrutiny.

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters on Thursday that President Barack Obama’s administration was having “ongoing conversations” with Russia and that authorities there had not made clear Snowden’s status.

(Additional reporting by Doug Palmer and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Vicki Allen)


House leaders defend voting against bill to rein in NSA spying

By Reuters
Thursday, July 25, 2013 18:49 EDT

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican and Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives on Thursday defended their support for a spy program that sweeps up vast amounts of electronic communications after it survived a surprisingly close vote a day earlier.

The House voted 217-205 on Wednesday to defeat an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would have limited the National Security Agency’s ability to collect electronic information, including phone call records.

The strong support for the amendment – bolstered by an unlikely alliance of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans – surprised many congressional observers because House leaders and members of the Intelligence Committee had strongly opposed it.

The vote reflected deep concern among members from both parties about the extensive data gathering exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, which worries many Americans and could become an issue as members prepare for next year’s election.

Republican Representative Justin Amash and Democratic Representative John Conyers co-sponsored the measure.

The White House and senior intelligence officials opposed the amendment, which had been prompted by Snowden’s revelations. Snowden, a fugitive from the United States, has been holed up at a Moscow airport for the past month, unable to secure asylum.

Although Speaker John Boehner said he was glad the House had the debate, he was unapologetic about his vote, echoing the contention of the Obama administration and intelligence chiefs that the NSA program was essential for national security.

“I voted last night because these NSA programs have helped keep Americans safe. There are, in my view, ample safeguards to protect the privacy of the American people,” he told a news conference on Thursday.

“I’m proud of my colleagues who stood up for what I think they believe was a program that really is working to help protect the American people,” Boehner said.

More Democrats than Republicans voted for the amendment. The House vote split the parties, with 111 Democrats in favor and 83 opposed, while 94 Republicans were in favor and 134 against.

Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, who voted against the amendment, said Democrats voted on both sides of the resolution, but “stand together” in their concerns about the program.

“I don’t want anybody to misunderstand a vote against the Amash resolution yesterday,” she told her weekly news conference.

On Thursday, Pelosi sought signatures among her colleagues for a letter to President Barack Obama listing “lingering questions and concerns” about the data collection program and seeking more information, including whether the bulk metadata telecommunications collection sufficiently protects Americans’ privacy.

(Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Peter Cooney)


July 25, 2013

Roberts’s Picks Reshaping Secret Surveillance Court


WASHINGTON — The recent leaks about government spying programs have focused attention on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and its role in deciding how intrusive the  government can be in the name of national security. Less mentioned has been the person who has been quietly reshaping the secret court: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

In making assignments to the court, Chief Justice Roberts, more than his predecessors, has chosen judges with conservative and executive branch backgrounds that critics say make the court more likely to defer to government arguments that domestic spying programs are necessary.

Ten of the court’s 11 judges — all assigned by Chief Justice Roberts — were appointed to the bench by Republican presidents; six once worked for the federal government. Since the chief justice began making assignments in 2005, 86 percent of his choices have been Republican appointees, and 50 percent have been former executive branch officials.

Though the two previous chief justices, Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, were conservatives like Chief Justice Roberts, their assignments to the surveillance court were more ideologically diverse, according to an analysis by The New York Times of a list of every judge who has served on the court since it was established in 1978.

According to the analysis, 66 percent of their selections were Republican appointees, and 39 percent once worked for the executive branch.

“Viewing this data, people with responsibility for national security ought to be very concerned about the impression and appearance, if not the reality, of bias — for favoring the executive branch in its applications for warrants and other action,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and one of several lawmakers who have sought to change the way the court’s judges are selected.

Mr. Blumenthal, for example, has proposed that each of the chief judges of the 12 major appeals courts select a district judge for the surveillance court; the chief justice would still pick the review panel that hears rare appeals of the court’s decisions, but six other Supreme Court justices would have to sign off. Another bill, introduced by Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, would give the president the power to nominate judges for the court, subject to Senate approval.

Chief Justice Roberts, through a Supreme Court spokeswoman, declined to comment.

The court’s complexion has changed at a time when its role has been expanding beyond what Congress envisioned when it established the court as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The idea then was that judges would review applications for wiretaps to make sure there was sufficient evidence that the F.B.I.’s target was a foreign terrorist or a spy.

But, increasingly in recent years, the court has produced lengthy rulings interpreting the meaning of surveillance laws and constitutional rights based on procedures devised not for complex legal analysis but for up-or-down approvals of secret wiretap applications. The rulings are classified and based on theories submitted by the Justice Department without the participation of any lawyers offering contrary arguments or appealing a ruling if the government wins.

The court “is becoming ever more important in American life as more and more surveillance comes under its review in this era of big data,” said Timothy Edgar, a civil liberties adviser for intelligence issues in both the Bush and Obama administrations. “If the court is seen as skewed or biased, politically or ideologically, it will lose credibility.”

At a public meeting this month, Judge James Robertson, an appointee of President Bill Clinton who was assigned to the surveillance court in 2002 by Chief Justice Rehnquist and resigned from it in December 2005, offered an insider’s critique of how rapidly and recently the court’s role has changed. He said, for example, that during his time it was not engaged in developing a body of secret precedents interpreting what the law means.

“In my experience, there weren’t any opinions,” he said. “You approved a warrant application or you didn’t — period.”

The court began expanding its role when George W. Bush was president and its members were still assigned by Chief Justice Rehnquist, who died in 2005. Midway through the Bush administration, the executive branch sought and obtained the court’s legal blessing to continue secret surveillance programs that had originally circumvented the FISA process.

The court’s power has also recently expanded in another way. In 2008, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act to allow the National Security Agency to keep conducting a form of the Bush administration’s program of surveillance without warrants on domestic soil so long as only foreigners abroad were targeted. It gave the court the power to create rules for the program, like how the government may use Americans’ communications after they are picked up.

“That change, in my view, turned the FISA court into something like an administrative agency that makes rules for others to follow,” Judge Robertson said. “That’s not the bailiwick of judges. Judges don’t make policy.”

For the most part, the surveillance court judges — who serve staggered seven-year terms and take turns coming to Washington for a week to handle its business — do not discuss their work, and their rulings are secret. But the documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor, have cast an unusual spotlight on them.

The first of the documents disclosed by Mr. Snowden was a top-secret order to a Verizon subsidiary requiring it to turn over three months of calling records for all its customers. It was signed by Judge Roger Vinson, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan who had previously achieved prominence in 2011 when he tried to strike down the entirety of President Obama’s health care law.

Chief Justice Roberts assigned Judge Vinson to the surveillance court in 2006, one of 12 Republican appointees, compared with 2 Democratic ones.

While the positions taken by individual judges on the court are classified, academic studies have shown that judges appointed by Republicans since Reagan have been more likely than their colleagues to rule in favor of the government in non-FISA cases over people claiming civil liberties violations. Even more important, according to some critics of the court, is the court’s increasing proportion of judges who have a background in the executive branch.

Senator Blumenthal, citing his own experience as a United States attorney and a state prosecutor, said judges who used to be executive branch lawyers were more likely to share a “get the bad guys” mind-set and defer to the Justice Department if executive branch officials told them that new surveillance powers were justified.

Steven G. Bradbury, who led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in the second term of the Bush administration, argued that it made sense to put judges who were executive branch veterans on the court because they were already familiar with the issues. And he challenged the claim that they would be more deferential.

“When it comes to highly technical national security issues, I really think there is value in a judge being a former prosecutor or a former government lawyer who understands how the executive branch works,” he said, adding that such judges “will be familiar with the process and able to ask the tough questions and see where the weak points are.”

Either way, an executive branch background is increasingly common for the court.

When Judge Vinson’s term ended in May, for example, Chief Justice Roberts replaced him with Judge Michael W. Mosman, who was a federal prosecutor before becoming a judge.

Other current judges include Raymond J. Dearie, a United States attorney; Reggie B. Walton, a prosecutor who also worked on drug and crime issues for the White House; and F. Dennis Saylor IV, chief of staff in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. The only Democratic appointee, Judge Mary A. McLaughlin, was also a prosecutor.

Stephen Vladeck, an American University law professor, said having executive branch veterans — including what he called “law-and-order Democrats” — on the court carried advantages because they brought experience with security issues. But the downside, he argued, is that they may also be unduly accommodating to government requests.

“The further the court’s authority has expanded from where it was in 1978, the greater the need has been for independent-minded government skeptics on the court,” he said.

Chief justices have considerable leeway in choosing judges — the only requirement is that they ensure geographic diversity. In practice, according to people familiar with the court, they have been assisted in evaluating whom to select by the director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. The counselor to the chief justice and the surveillance court’s presiding judge also sometimes play a role. Judges sometimes volunteer for consideration, while chief justices and their advisers sometimes come up with their own ideas.

Generally, the people familiar with the court said, evaluations have been based on reputation, workload, willingness to undergo an intrusive background check, and experience in security issues. Judges have served an average of 15 years before being assigned to the surveillance court.

Chief Justice Roberts has dealt with a small circle. His past two choices to direct the judiciary’s administrative office have been Republican-appointed judges, Thomas F. Hogan and John D. Bates, whom he also appointed to the surveillance court.

Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, who has filed a bill that would let Congressional leaders pick eight of the court’s members, said it was time for the court to have a more diverse membership.

“They all seem to have some type of a pretty conservative bent,” he said. “I don’t think that is what the Congress envisioned when giving the chief justice that authority. Maybe they didn’t think about the ramifications of giving that much power to one person.”


July 25, 2013

Spy Agencies Under Heaviest Scrutiny Since Abuse Scandal of the ’70s


American intelligence agencies, which experienced a boom in financing and public support in the decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, have entered a period of broad public scrutiny and skepticism with few precedents since the exposure of spying secrets and abuses led to the historic investigation by the Senate’s Church Committee nearly four decades ago.

On three fronts — interrogation, drone strikes and now electronic surveillance — critics inside and outside Congress have challenged the intelligence establishment, accusing officials of overreaching, misleading the public and covering up abuse and mistakes. With alarm over the threat of terrorism in slow decline despite the Boston Marathon attack in April, Americans of both parties appear to be no longer willing to give national security automatic priority over privacy and civil liberties.

On Thursday, leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees began talks aimed at reaching a consensus on adding privacy protections to National Security Agency programs after a measure to curtail the agency’s collection of phone call data received strong bipartisan support on Wednesday. The amendment failed, 217 to 205, but the impassioned public debate on a program hidden for years showed the profound impact of the disclosures of Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who is now a fugitive from American criminal charges in Russia.

“We fight on,” Representative Justin Amash, the Michigan Republican who proposed the amendment to end the phone log collection, said on Twitter.

The vote suggested that lawmakers are reading recent polls, which show Americans with deeply mixed feelings about the trade-offs of privacy and counterterrorism but growing less tolerant of what they see as intrusions. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week showed that 39 percent of those questioned say it is more important to protect privacy than to investigate terrorist threats. That was the highest number since the question was first asked in 2002, when it was 18 percent.

Powerful, secret government agencies have long existed in tension with American democracy, tolerated as an unfortunate necessity in a dangerous world and regarded with distrust. When the world looks less dangerous, the skepticism increases, often fueled by revelations of bungling, waste or excesses.

The post-9/11 combination of ballooning budgets, expanding technological abilities and near-total secrecy set up the intelligence agencies for an eventual collision with public opinion, in a repeat of a scandal-reform cycle from almost four decades ago.

Starting in 1975, the Senate committee led by Frank Church of Idaho produced no fewer than 14 volumes on intelligence abuses, detailing the C.I.A.’s assassination schemes, the F.B.I.’s harassment of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the N.S.A.’s watch-listing of some 75,000 Americans. The C.I.A. director, Richard Helms, was convicted of lying to Congress.

The sweeping reforms that resulted included the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires court approval for eavesdropping on American soil; a presidential ban on political assassination; and the creation of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to keep an eye on the agencies. In 1991, in response to the Iran-contra scandal, Congress tightened restrictions on covert action.

Those reforms rankled some advocates of national security, notably Dick Cheney, who as vice president used his powerful position to push the N.S.A. to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and strongly backed C.I.A. leaders when they decided to use methods long considered torture on Qaeda suspects.

Both programs continue to reverberate today. The N.S.A.’s aggressive warrantless surveillance, though reined in by legislation after it was exposed by The New York Times in 2005, included the phone data collection debated by the House on Wednesday. The decision to authorize brutal interrogation techniques is the subject of a 6,000-page report prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democratic staff; the report is likely to be partly declassified and made public in the next few months.

The report accuses the C.I.A. of misleading Congress, the Justice Department and even the administration of President George W. Bush about the interrogation program, which is now defunct. Some agency officials and Senate Republicans consider the report to be ill-informed second-guessing, but it will almost certainly come as another blow to the credibility of the spy agencies.

Until this year, the C.I.A.’s use of drones to kill terrorism suspects in Pakistan and Yemen — stepped up in part because detaining and questioning such suspects had proven so problematic — had generated little public controversy. That changed early this year, as Congress debated the wisdom of targeted killing for the first time, notably in a 13-hour filibuster by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, who challenged the drone killings of Americans overseas.

At a time of partisan gridlock in Congress, the drone debate and now the surveillance debate were remarkable for the bipartisan coalitions that took shape on both sides. Libertarian Republicans, wary of government power and especially of the Obama administration, found common cause with liberal Democrats who have long complained of the intelligence agencies’ secrecy and power. That coalition could be repeated in the Senate, where Mr. Paul has worked with two Democrats, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Arizona.

Clearly the narrow vote would not be the last word. Representative Mike D. Rogers, Republican of Michigan, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, promised lawmakers on Thursday that he would include new privacy safeguards in an intelligence policy bill he hopes to draft in September.

“That’s where the action may well be,” Mr. Udall said.

A subplot to all three of the counterterrorism programs that have come under such scrutiny is the role of leakers, or whistle-blowers as they prefer to be called, and the Obama administration’s aggressive prosecution of them. C.I.A. interrogation methods and N.S.A. surveillance came to public light only because of leaks; the debate over the drone program was spurred in part by the leak of a Justice Department white paper on the killing of Americans.

Perhaps nothing captured the old American ambivalence about the secret corners of government like the scenes playing out on opposite sides of the globe this week. Members of Congress took turns criticizing and defending the N.S.A. programs they could not have mentioned in public at all before the illegal leaks of Mr. Snowden, still hiding out at Moscow’s airport as Russian officials pondered whether to grant him temporary asylum.

Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.


July 25, 2013

In Closing Argument, Prosecutor Casts Soldier as ‘Anarchist’ for Leaking Archives


FORT MEADE, Md. — A military prosecutor portrayed Pfc. Bradley Manning on Thursday as an “anarchist” who, seeking to “make a splash,” betrayed the United States’ trust when he leaked vast archives of secret documents to WikiLeaks, lifting a veil on American diplomatic and military activities.

As closing arguments began in the high profile court-martial trial, the prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, focused squarely on the most contentious charge that Private Manning is facing: that by giving the information to WikiLeaks for publication on a Web site that the world could see, he is guilty of “aiding the enemy.”

That charge has never been brought in a leak case, and the theory behind it could establish a precedent with implications for investigative journalism in the Internet era. But Major Fein said it was justified in Private Manning’s case. Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence.

“Pfc. Manning was not a humanist; he was a hacker,” Major Fein said, adding: “He was not a whistle-blower. He was a traitor, a traitor who understood the value of compromised information in the hands of the enemy and took deliberate steps to ensure that they, along with the world, received it.”

Private Manning’s defense lawyer, David E. Coombs, has portrayed him as a well-intentioned and principled, if naïve, protester who was motivated by a desire to help society better understand the world, who wanted to prompt a national debate and who was selective about which databases he released to avoid causing harm. Mr. Coombs is set to deliver his closing arguments on Friday.

While Major Fein made his arguments, reporters watched the trial on a closed-circuit feed at the media center. Two military police officers in camouflage fatigues and armed with holstered handguns paced behind each row there, looking over the journalists’ shoulders, which had not happened during the trial. No explanation was given.

Major Fein spoke from late morning until nearly 6 p.m., going over each batch of documents in detail and repeatedly returning to the theme of what he said was Private Manning’s recklessness and betrayal.

He argued that Private Manning’s “wholesale and indiscriminate compromise of hundreds of thousands of classified documents” for release in bulk by the WikiLeaks staff, whom he called “essentially information anarchists,” should not be portrayed as an ordinary journalistic leak but as a bid for “notoriety, although in a clandestine form.”

Leaking to “established journalistic enterprises like The New York Times and The Washington Post would be a crime,” Major Fein said, but “that is not what happened in this case and under these facts.”

He added, “WikiLeaks was merely the platform which Pfc. Manning used to ensure that all of the information was available to the world, including the enemies of the United States.”

Some of the files given to WikiLeaks by Private Manning, he emphasized, were found in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and showed up in a Qaeda propaganda video.

Private Manning has already pleaded guilty to a lesser version of the charges he is facing. He has also confessed to providing WikiLeaks with two videos of airstrikes in which civilians and journalists were killed; files about detainees’ being held without trial at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; hundreds of thousands of incident reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; and about 250,000 diplomatic cables.

Given the volume of the documents Private Manning released, Major Fein said, “there is no way he even knew what he was giving WikiLeaks.”

Major Fein focused on Private Manning’s training, when he was warned to avoid posting secret information on the Internet, and zeroed in on one of the few factual disputes in the case: the date Private Manning downloaded and leaked an encrypted video of a botched airstrike in Afghanistan that killed 100 to 150 civilians, many of them women and children.

Private Manning contends he did so in the spring of 2010. Major Fein argued that a variety of circumstantial evidence indicated that Private Manning instead downloaded it in late November 2009, less than two weeks after he arrived in Iraq.

The timing is important because it speaks to the dueling portrayals of Private Manning. The prosecution wants to show that he immediately seized upon his opportunity to release classified information through WikiLeaks, but the defense has argued that he only gradually decided to do so after seeing things that troubled him.

Similarly, Major Fein pointed to evidence that he said showed that Private Manning was also responsible for leaking a rare file he has denied disclosing, a list of 74,000 names and e-mail addresses of soldiers and civilians deployed in Iraq. That dispute is important because the accusation could undercut Private Manning’s portrayal of himself as selecting only information that could inspire socially valuable debate.

Major Fein also focused on Private Manning’s chats with Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks leader, based on logs recovered from his computer that have not been made public. At one point, he said, Mr. Assange offered to get Private Manning an encrypted cellphone to use in Iraq. At another, Private Manning sought Mr. Assange’s help in cracking an encrypted password for an anonymous account on his classified computer, but the joint effort failed, Major Fein said.


July 25, 2013

U.S. Prison Populations Decline, Reflecting New Approach to Crime


The prison population in the United States dropped in 2012 for the third consecutive year, according to federal statistics released on Thursday, in what criminal justice experts said was the biggest decline in the nation’s recent history, signaling a shift away from an almost four-decade policy of mass imprisonment.

The number of inmates in state and federal prisons decreased by 1.7 percent, to an estimated 1,571,013 in 2012 from 1,598,783 in 2011, according to figures released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an arm of the Justice Department. Although the percentage decline appeared small, the fact that it followed decreases in 2011 and 2010 offers persuasive evidence of what some experts say is a “sea change” in America’s approach to criminal punishment.

“This is the beginning of the end of mass incarceration,” said Natasha Frost, associate dean of Northeastern University’s school of criminology and criminal justice.

About half the 2012 decline — 15,035 prisoners — occurred in California, which has decreased its prison population in response to a Supreme Court order to relieve prison overcrowding. But eight other states, including New York, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, showed substantial decreases, of more than 1,000 inmates, and more than half the states reported some drop in the number of prisoners. (Figures for three states were estimated because they had not submitted data in time for the report.) The population of federal prisons increased slightly, but at a slower rate than in previous years, the report found.

Imprisonment rates in the United States have been on an upward march since the early 1970s. From 1978, when there were 307,276 inmates in state and federal prisons, the population increased annually, reaching a peak of 1,615,487 inmates in 2009.

But in recent years, tightened state budgets, plummeting crime rates, changes in sentencing laws and shifts in public opinion have combined to reverse the trend. Experts on prison policy said that the continuing decline appears to be more than a random fluctuation.

“A year or even two years is a blip and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but three years starts to look like a trend,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit research group based in Washington. But he said that the rate of inmates incarcerated in the United States continued to be “dramatically higher” than in other countries and that the changes so far were “relatively modest compared to the scale of the problem.”

Most observers agree that the recession has played a role in shrinking prison populations. In 2011 and 2012, at least 17 states closed or were considering closing prisons partly for budgetary reasons, representing a reduction of 28,525 beds, according to a report by the Sentencing Project published last year.

But Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project, said that while fiscal concerns might have led to the turnaround in some states, the need to cut budgets had not been the deciding factor.

“They’re not simply pinching pennies,” Mr. Gelb said. “Policy makers are not holding their noses and saying we have to scale back prisons to save money. The states that are showing drops are states that are thinking about how they can apply research-based alternatives that work better and cost less.”

Changes in state and federal sentencing laws for lower-level offenses like those involving drugs have played a central role in the shift, he and others said, with many states setting up diversion programs for offenders as an alternative to prison. And some states have softened their policies on parole, no longer automatically sending people back to prison for parole violations.

But changing public attitudes are also a major driver behind the declining prison numbers. Dropping crime rates over the last 20 years have reduced public fears and diminished the interest of politicians in running tough-on-crime campaigns. And public polls consistently show that Americans are now more interested in spending money on education and health care than on building more prisons.

“People don’t care so much about crime, and it’s less of a political focus,” said Professor Frost, who is a co-author of a forthcoming book, “The Punishment Imperative.”

The result has been an unusual bipartisan effort to reduce the nation’s reliance on prisons, with groups like Right on Crime, devoted to what it calls the “conservative case for reform,” pushing for lower-cost and less punitive solutions than incarceration for nonviolent offenders.

Marc Levin, senior policy adviser for Right on Crime, described the change in conservatives’ position on parole violators: It used to be “Trail ’em, nail ’em and jail ’em,” he said, “but there’s been a move to say, ‘Yes, there’s a surveillance function, but we also want them to succeed.’ ”

Some of the most substantial prison reductions have taken place in conservative states like Texas, which reduced the number of inmates in its prisons by more than 5,000 in 2012. In 2007, when the state faced a lack of 17,000 beds for inmates, the State Legislature decided to change its approach to parole violations and provide drug treatment for nonviolent offenders instead of building more prisons.

In Arkansas, which reduced its prison population by just over 1,400 inmates in 2012, legislators in 2011 also passed a package of laws softening sentencing guidelines for low-level offenders and steering them to diversion programs.

“It’s a great example of a state that made some deliberate policy choices to say we can actually reduce recidivism and cut our prison group at the same time,” Mr. Gelb said.

Joan Petersilia, a law professor at Stanford and a co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, said in an interview last year that she thought Americans had “gotten the message that locking up a lot of people doesn’t necessarily bring public safety.” California’s example, she said, has also spurred other states to consider downsizing for fear of facing similar litigation.

But Professor Petersilia added that though the trend may have begun out of a need for belt-tightening, it had grown into a national effort to rethink who should go to prison and for how long.

“I don’t think in modern history we’ve seen anything like this,” she said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 26, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the decrease in the prison population in Arkansas in 2012. It was just over 1,400, not 14,000.


Republicans Launch A Campaign to Convince The Uninsured NOT to Buy Health Insurance

By: Jason Easley
Jul. 25th, 2013

Legislation to repeal healthcare reform continues to go nowhere, so the Republican Party is now trying to defeat Obamacare by convincing the uninsured not to buy health insurance.

Reuters reported that, “With the Obama administration poised for a huge public education campaign on healthcare reform, Republicans and their allies are mobilizing a counter-offensive including town hall meetings, protests and media promotions to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage…President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy is the first major social program to face a highly organized and well-financed opposition years after enactment. The forces arrayed against it could undermine the aim of extending health coverage to millions of uninsured people at affordable rates, if not enough younger adults sign up to make it economically viable.”

This is part of the secret Republican playbook for 2014 that Sarah Jones wrote about recently, “It’s Romneyesque in its blind fail. It’s ORCA on steroids. From giving subject lines for op-eds (because nothing says opinion like a copy and paste!) to giving instructions for how to use townhalls for propaganda so they can stay on the offensive, Republicans are bound and determined to double down on the fail.”

The same right wing corporate billionaires and media chimps who were behind the Astroturf efforts to stop Obamacare from being passed are mobilizing again to try to convince the American people that having health insurance is a bad thing. Republicans don’t want you to be able to see a doctor. If you can see a doctor when you need to, you might like it, and that would be a “win” for President Obama.

Republicans have moved beyond obstructing the legislation. They’ve blown past trying to obstruct the implementation of the law. Republicans are literally trying to convince individual Americans that healthcare is bad them. This is the Republican Party’s last gasp effort to stop Obamacare. The law kicks in on October 1. The only way that they can stop millions of people from getting health insurance is to lie them, and hide how it will benefit them. It might be funny, if their efforts to misinform didn’t have such deadly consequences. People could die if they believe the Republican Party’s misinformation,and refuse to buy health insurance.

Republican candidates around the country will campaign on stopping Obamacare in 2014, but it is unlikely that they will be able to do anything more to repeal the law no matter how the election turns out. Their best chance to get rid healthcare reform will come after the presidential election in 2016. By the time the next president takes office, millions of uninsured Americans will have had health insurance for over two years. Good luck trying to convince millions of people that it is a good idea to take away their healthcare.

Twenty six million Americans are eligible for Obamacare subsidies, but they don’t know it. Families making $47,000-$94,000 a year are also eligible, and one third of those eligible for subsidies are age 18-34. Republicans are trying to make sure that these people stay uninformed, because denying Barack Obama a victory is more important than the health and well being of the constituents that they have taken an oath to represent.


July 25, 2013 05:00 PM

One Chart Reveals Republicans' 'Health Care Emergency'

By Jon Perr

With Congress set to adjourn for the summer, Republican leaders are hoping to reprise the recess of 2009, when furious Tea Partiers armed with incendiary signs, bogus GOP talking points and occasionally guns (though not the truth) ran roughshod over town hall meetings nationwide. But along with their streams of sound bites and planted questions, the centerpiece of the Republican summer strategy to go "on the offense" against Obamacare is what planners are calling "Emergency Health Care Town Hall" meetings designed to showcase "the negative effects of the health care law and the House Republicans' plan to dismantle it.

But as conservative Byron York and liberal Greg Sargent agree, that tactic could very well backfire on the GOP. After all, as the chart above shows, it is only because of Republican Congressmen and Governors that millions of Americans in the reddest of states will remain without health insurance in 2014.

Though they have voted 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Congressional Republicans have yet to offer their own proposal to replace it. But 26 GOP-led states sued to overturn the ACA, the Supreme Court gave them one small victory. States could opt out of the expansion of Medicaid to cover American earning up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Now, 24 states have chosen to turn their backs on billions in federal funding and millions of their own residents.

In June, the authors of "The Uninsured After Implementation of the Affordable Care Act: A Demographic and Geographic Analysis" tallied up the Republican body count. For each of the 50 states, the study how many residents would gain health insurance by of the 50 states opting in or out of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.

The numbers are staggering. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry denounced Obamacare Medicaid expansion as a "fool's errand." But his foolishness in opting out means an extra 1.9 million Texans will needlessly go without health insurance in state where 24 percent of all residents--and 30 percent between the ages of 18 and 64--lack coverage. In Florida, where the GOP legislature is rebuffing Republican Governor Rick Scott's choice to accept the windfall from Washington, another million residents will be left uncovered. (In contrast, over 300,000 more Arizonans will gain insurance, thanks to a rare showing of common sense by Governor Jan Brewer.) Next door neighbors Minnesota and Wisconsin provide another useful case study. While Democrat Mark Dayton will be cutting the ranks of the uninsured by almost half in his state, in Madison Republican Scott Walker is leaving an estimated 182,000 folks out in the cold.

Those numbers aren't lost on Republicans like Governor Brewer and Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany.

Despite overwhelming GOP opposition in her state legislature, Brewer endorsed the Medicaid expansion, explaining "It's pro-life, it's saving lives, it is creating jobs, it is saving hospitals." Two weeks ago, Dr. Boustany lamented that in his state Governor Bobby Jindal had decided to reject the ACA funding and with it, leave 300,000 in Louisiana uninsured. In Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich continues to press his GOP legislative majority to accept the Medicaid expansion that would cover an additional 366,000 Buckeye State residents, declaring "I believe it's a matter of life and death." As Kasich warned his GOP colleagues in June:

    "When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he's going to ask you what you did for the poor. You'd better have a good answer."

Their answer--that Republicans must oppose the Affordable Care Act because President Obama supported it--like won't be sufficient to gain entry through the Pearly Gates. Thanks to GOP rejection of Medicaid expansion, roughly 11.5 million of their constituents will needlessly remain without health coverage. (Preliminary data also suggest that the blue states running their own health insurance exchanges will be able to deliver lower than expected premiums.) Making matters worse, John Boehner's efforts to repeal the entirety of the Affordable Care Act--capping profits for private insurers, shrinking the Medicare prescription drug donut hole, enacting prohibitions on using pre-existing conditions to deny or rescind coverage--would mean all Americans continue to be at the mercy of the insurance industry. And as the numbers clearly show, today health care is worst where the GOP polls best.

That is the real Republican health care emergency.


Mitch McConnell Tells Americans with No Healthcare, ‘You Aren’t an Issue’

By: Jason Easley
Jul. 25th, 2013

Mitch McConnell admitted that Republicans don’t care if Americans don’t have healthcare by stating on Fox News Sunday that uninsured Americans aren’t an issue.

Here is the video:

Transcript via Think Progress:

    WALLACE: One of the keys to ObamaCare is that it will extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured. In your replacement, how would you provide universal coverage?

    MCCONNELL: Well first let me say the first single thing we can do for the American system is get rid of ObamaCare. … The single biggest direction we can take in terms of improving health care is to get rid of this monstrosity. [...]

    WALLACE: But you’re talking about repealing and replace, how would you provide universal coverage?

    MCCONNELL: I’ll get to it in a minute. [...]

    WALLACE: I just want to ask, what specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30 million people who are uninsured?

    MCCONNELL: That is not the issue. The question is, how can you go step by step to improve the American health care system. … We’re not going to turn the American health care system into a Western European system.

McConnell advocated for modest reforms, and claimed that the Republicans want to take a scalpel to the American healthcare system, as he argued on behalf of the same tired ideas that Republicans always try to pass off as healthcare reform. McConnell pushed buying insurance across state lines and tort reform. The one common denominator in all the Republican solutions is that they will do nothing to insure more people.

Sen. McConnell frankly admitted that the Republican Party doesn’t care getting more Americans access to healthcare. The uninsured aren’t an issue. They don’t matter. In order to defend his position that the uninsured don’t really need healthcare, McConnell claimed several things that flat out weren’t true. McConnell claimed Obamacare kills jobs when in reality, it creates them. He stated that America has the best healthcare system in the world, when in reality the U.S. healthcare system is one of the worst in developed world. The U.S. system is 37th in the world. If this is what Republicans consider the best, then we now know what they mean by “American exceptionalism.”

Congressional Republicans are trying to revive their Obamacare lies because they are running out of time. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll found that after the Supreme Court ruling support for the ACA jumped 11 points with Independents and 5 points with Republicans. Overall, support for the law jumped 5 points from 43% to 48%. If the ACA crosses the threshold and is supported by a majority of Americans, Republicans will find themselves on the wrong side on another issue.

The GOP is motivating their base by reading from their book of Obamacare lies, but they are bringing nothing new to the table for everyone else. Voters heard all of this in 2009 and 2010. The GOP problems are being compounded by the fact that Democrats are taking advantage of their new chance to sell the law by explaining the good things in the ACA.

If Republicans want to campaign on healthcare instead of the economy and jobs, more power to them, they are more than welcome to adopt Mitch McConnell’s talking point that the uninsured don’t matter.

McConnell’s comments confirm that the American people come last in the minds of the Republican Party. That’s going to make one heck of a campaign slogan for Democrats in November.


Alison Grimes Fires a Brilliant Warning Shot at Mitch McConnell

By: Sarah Jones
Jul. 25th, 2013

Wow. If you’ve been waiting for the war on women to backfire against Republicans, allow me to introduce you to Alison Grimes, the Democrat running against Senator Mitch McConnell for a Kentucky Senate seat.

Be prepared to watch one of the best campaign videos ever made, and I’ve worked on a few of them. Granted, this is long format for the web, and that allows more time, but this is still a prize worthy campaign video.

Watch here:

Alison Grimes begins speaking in a soft, but authoritative voice, “Hi, I’m Alison Grimes and I’m running to represent Kentucky in the United States Senate. We’re kicking off the campaign next week and I you to be the first to know about it. Now I’m here in this dining room because you could say that it all started right here two years ago, only made this TV ad. ”

“I loved making that ad. I got to introduce Kentucky to two of the strongest women I’ve never known and there was a chance to talk about something I firmly believe in, that the government should either help or get out of the way.”

Sweet smile.

“That’s a lesson a certain Kentucky Senator has never learned. What many people don’t know as that my grandmother Thelma who was sitting here on my left died just a few months after we made that commercial. She was 92 years old and would have been so proud to see this day.”

“It’s really for her and for people just like her all across Kentucky I’m running for Senate. People who don’t come for much, but who work hard every day making Kentucky a better place for all of us. My grandmother knew that if you wanted to get something done you don’t stand in the way, you stand by your principles, but you also figure out where you can agree and how we can come together.”

“But that’s not happening in Washington today and Senator McConnell is the biggest part of the problem. He’s wasted decades blocking legislation that would have helped Kentucky and our country. And over the last few years he’s done it for the worst possible reason — out of spite.”

Oh. She went there.

“I don’t always agree with the president, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put the good of our people ahead of the bad that comes from acting petty and small.”

Petty and small, indeed. Nicely played, Ms Grimes. “Together we can change that next Tuesday July 30th.”

Here comes the power punch right to the gut, “Now this part’s for you Senator. Your campaign wants to play silly games about where I am and where I stand.”

Wait for it…. Okay, “Well I’m right here in Kentucky, Senator, where I’ll be holding you accountable for voting to double Medicare premiums on Kentucky seniors, including our retired coal miners, for being against requiring the Department of Defense to buy equipment that’s made in America first, for failing to stand up for women when you voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Violence Against Women Act, and for opposing raising the minimum wage over and over again while you became a multimillionaire in public office.”

Game on, McConnell.

And Alison is so charming whilst delivering her death blows. Such a sweet smile. She’s perfect for Kentucky: A southern lady, taking on a corrupt, greedy, mean old man.

Now for the warning shot, “We’ll have this debate Senator, and as you’ve probably already seen I don’t scare easy.”

Then Grandma comes to sit next to Alison, banging her laptop down on the dining room table, and says ,”And neither do I, Senator! What rhymes with Mitch? It’s time to switch. Let’s get started honey. This one’s for Thelma.”

Yup. The ladies are fighting back, and when they invoke their Grandmothers, well, Senator McConnell has no idea what he’s messing with. Alison Grimes is McConnell’s worst nightmare. She’s a Southern lady, invoking the strong Southern matriarch as her guide. She’s soft-voiced but steely-spined. She is referencing character and principle, neither of which McConnell will want to discuss. And she’s not afraid of him. Not one bit.

Also, we all know what rhymes with Mitch and it’s not just switch or ditch, but it does describe him perfectly.

The more McConnell attacks Alison in personal ways, as is his modus operandi (he can’t talk about his record, for heaven’s sake), the uglier he’s going to look to Kentuckians because Alison is such a lady. He can’t fight Alison the way he would have fought Ashley Judd, as Alison is already well known and popular as the current Secretary of State. She’s a beloved local while he’s a DC insider, and she knows how to fight the patriarch like only a Southern woman can.


NC Senate Sticks It to Women with Final Approval of Its Attack on Reproductive Rights

By: Adalia Woodbury
Jul. 25th, 2013

On the heels of suppressing voting rights, North Carolina’s Senate was on a roll and gave final approval to their version of state interference in women’s reproductive health.

We’ve seen similar laws in other Republican controlled states – most recently Texas.  In short, they introduce a series of regulations on existing reproductive health clinics that are impossible to comply with, cost prohibitive or both.

In North Carolina’s version, the provision that stood out the most for public debate requires reproductive health clinics to meet the same regulatory standards required of ambulatory surgery clinics.  This is a trick du jour of Republicans who fantasize about women living to blink and say yes master to their husbands before moving on to the next pregnancy.

Another provision is touted by the corporate media, like CNN and WRAL   as requiring the doctor to be present during the entire surgical procedure.  But as “Pam Pearson”, who commented on CNN’s report  pointed out this is misleading.

    The part of the bill that “requires doctors to be present during an abortion” concerns medical, non-surgical abortions, which are performed in some states with the doctor advising via a webcast (sometimes called telemedicine) – it’s a way to provide support for this sort of procedure to remote areas, although it is not currently being done in NC in this fashion. The other part of the bill would require a doctor to stay with a patient throughout the surgical and post-surgical period of an abortion, instead of allowing other health care professionals to address these needs, as they typically do in the context of other procedures. The truth – all these provisions are designed to restrict access to abortion and reproductive healthcare, they have NOTHING to do with safety or concern for women.

Indeed, other provisions bolster Pearson’s assertion that this has nothing to do with safety or concern for women. The fact that Republicans first tried to pass this in  a bill on Sharia law in the dead of the night, then in a bill regulating motorcycles is sort of a red flag that this is about fulfiling an ideological agenda. Aside from those provisions the bill contains some other features that do nothing to raise standards or address women’s safety.  Such as:

- Any healthcare provider is free to opt out of abortion procedures.

- Prohibts  healthcare insurance providers in the ACA exchange from offering coverage for abortion services.  (The irony is that many healthcare plans also don’t provide coverage for prenatal care and other pregnancy services.)

- Bans cities and counties from offering their employee’s health care policies that include coverage for abortions.

This is intrusive government on steroids.  Aside from intruding on women’s personal decision making, bills like this also intervene  on the relationship a woman has with her significant other or spouse and her doctor – not to mention the fact that it intrudes on decisions made by cities and counties.

Combined with the voter suppression bill, Pope’s Republicans are sticking it to every North Carolinian they can in the waning hours before they close session.

It’s possible that Governor McCrory will honor his campaign promise to veto any bill restricting women’s reproductive rights.  But then, I don’t believe in multi-colored unicorns either.


John Boehner Lies And Won’t Tell America About His Personal Investment in Keystone XL

By: Rmuse
Jul. 25th, 2013

In any nation’s justice system, the theory behind meting out punishment for violating the law is, besides taking a criminal out of circulation, to deter citizens who consider or are inclined to break the law from acting on their impulses. Indeed, the reason people continue violating the law is because they are not held accountable for their actions and regardless it is white collar crime, armed robbery, or assault and battery, criminals who go unpunished have no reason to refrain from being a menace to society. Politicians are shielded from investigation and prosecution because of their positions of power, and there are myriad examples of high-ranking politicians who continually break the law with impunity.

In 2011, Speaker of the House John Boehner stood in front of the American people and castigated President Obama for not approving Canadian oil company TransCanada’s permit to build the KeystoneXL pipeline, and lied profusely to the American people that the project would create hundreds of thousands of American jobs. Despite TransCanada’s admission that the project would create less than 2,000 jobs over a two  year period, Boehner had no compunction lying to provide the Koch brothers, ConocoPhillips, and oil exporters with profits as well as enriching a foreign corporation by using American land to send tar to the Gulf Coast for refining and export on the foreign market.

It turned out that in 2010, Boehner invested in 7 Canadian tar sand companies according to his 2010 financial disclosure, and stood to profit from the pipeline’s construction leading to an appeal to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to launch an investigation into share manipulation and personally profiting by using his high-ranking position in the House. At the time, Boehner’s actions inspired a national petition to force his resignation. Boehner already had a history of using his position to influence legislation, and in 1995 he passed out checks on the floor of the House from the tobacco industry to legislators who voted for legislation favorable to the industry. At the time, Boehner feigned ignorance of unethical practices, and promised he would certainly never distribute corporate checks for votes on the House floor. Subsequently, because he was not punished, he blatantly lied to the American people to enrich a foreign oil corporation, American oil industry, and himself in 2011.

If Boehner had been punished in 2011, he may have thought twice about repeating the lie that the Keystone pipeline would create more than TransCanada’s estimate of less than 2,000 jobs, but he was not and  he returned this week lying to the people about the number of jobs Keystone’s approval will create. On Tuesday at a press conference, Boehner claimed  that “if the president was serious about helping the economy he would reach out and work with us to pass things like the Keystone Pipeline that would put tens of thousands of Americans back to work.”

Republicans are prone to lie, cheat, and steal from the American people to advance the interests of their corporate masters as a matter of course, but they take extraordinary steps to enrich the obscenely profitable oil industry including handing out billions of dollars in subsidies while slashing domestic programs because, as they are wont to say, “America is broke” because the industry pays them handsomely. The affront to the American people is building the Keystone pipeline will not provide one drop of  oil to America, and will in fact raise fuel prices by at least 23 cents a gallon according to Keystone’s owners TransCanada. Earlier in the year, a report to the State Department prepared by the oil industry claimed construction of the pipeline and development of  Canada’s tar sands was environmentally safe, and it was another conflict of interest to allow a company the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil, and other oil industry groups used to compile favorable studies despite climate scientists warned developing Alberta tar sand was “game over for the environment” according to leading climate scientist James Hansen. However, destroying the climate aside, it is Speaker John Boehner’s continual lying to profit the oil industry, his stock portfolio, and the Koch brothers who refine 25% of tar sands and store the waste along America’s rivers, in America that requires an immediate investigation by the Department of Justice. Boehner has to go, and his options are resigning forthwith to save his family the  humiliation of a Congressional Ethics investigation for conflict of interest, and facing a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation for share manipulation to profit himself, Koch Industries, and the oil industry’s foreign export business.

No American is supposed to be above the law, and yet time and time again rich and powerful men, and high-ranking Republican politicians, are given a free pass to violate the trust afforded them by the American people. When Boehner was caught red-handed handing out tobacco industry checks he should have faced an ethics committee and kicked out of Congress, and because he wasn’t, he continues using his position of authority to lie to the American people to profit himself, Koch Industries, and the oil industry that contributes heavily to his campaign and it is long-past time to treat him like any other criminal and hold him accountable if for no other reason than to deter the next Republican from lying to profit the obscenely profitable oil industry.

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« Last Edit: Jul 26, 2013, 07:25 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #7756 on: Jul 26, 2013, 12:54 PM »

Mitch McConnell's opponent fires a warning shot.
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« Reply #7757 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:18 AM »

Pig Putin's Russia

Russian neo-Nazi ‘Occupy’ group tortures LGBT youths

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, July 26, 2013 14:51 EDT

A Russian neo-Nazi group calling itself “Occupy-Pedofilyay” has taken to luring LGBT teens with personal ads, then kidnapping and torturing them before making their victims “come out” to friends and family on camera, human rights groups claimed this week.

“Gay victims aged 12-16 are reportedly lured in by the group… led by Maxim Martsinkevich, known under the nickname “Cleaver,” European LGBT news service Pink News reported Friday.

The Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, an LGBT group in eastern Europe, published an image Wednesday of an unidentified young man being held down by two older men wearing all-black. Their apparent victim has a red substance smeared on his chest and appears to be holding a sex toy.

The group claims that Cleaver, a skinhead and neo Nazi, uses the website to pose fake personal ads offering dates to LGBT youths. He and fellow “Occupy-Pedofilyay” members pounce when their victims respond and agree to meet up.

“These self-proclaimed ‘crime fighters’ perform their actions under the broad day light, often outside and clearly visible to general public that indifferently passes by or even commend them,” Spectrum Human Rights Alliance claims. “Video recordings of bullying and tortures are freely distributed on the Internet in order to out LGBT teens to their respective schools, parents and friends. Many victims were driven to suicides, the rest are deeply traumatized.”

A video published on Tuesday purports to show this very behavior as a 15-year-old boy is mocked and beaten before hoodlums spray him with urine.

Russia has experienced a surge of anti-LGBT sentiments in recent years amid a crackdown on activists that’s seen the parliament pass a law forbidding anyone from equating gay and straight relationships. The country’s highest court also upheld a ban on pride parades in Moscow last year, forbidding LGBT activists from marching for the next 100 years.

Russian Premiere Vladimir Putin also banned adoption of Russian orphans by LGBT couples abroad in an order that took effect on July 1, much to the delight of U.S. shock jock Rush Limbaugh.

A survey conducted by the Russian NGO Levada-Center last March found that 85 percent of Russians oppose same sex marriage. A further 34 percent said they believe LGBT people have contracted a disease that makes them this way, while five percent went so far as to say that LGBT people should be killed.


Russia faces vodka boycott in backlash against anti-gay law

LGBT activists target brands including Stolichnaya and Russian Standard in response to ban on 'gay propaganda'

Alec Luhn in Moscow, Friday 26 July 2013 18.56 BST   

There's nothing more Russian than vodka, so when gay and lesbian activists decided to protest against the country's persecution of homosexuals it made sense to target its most famous drink.

The US sex writer Dan Savage, famous for his online campaign against the homophobic senator Rick Santorum, called for a vodka boycott to draw attention to new laws allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual or "pro-gay".

"To show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people and straight allies in Pig Putin's increasingly fascistic Russia: dump Russian vodka," Savage wrote on his blog, He singled out the brands Stolichnaya and Russian Standard, coining the hashtag #DumpStoli for the campaign, which has been backed by Queer Nation and the Russian-American group Rusa LGBT.

Savage said attacks on LGBT people in Russia were escalating, and criticised the state for banning gay pride marches in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Six bars in Chicago announced they would stop selling Russian products, and a seventh bar said it had withdrawn Stolichnaya, according to Windy City Times, a Chicago LGBT newspaper.

The campaign seemed to have an instant success when the manufacturers of Stolichnaya criticised Russia's record on lesbian and gay rights.

In an open letter published this week, Val Mendeleev, the head of the SPI group, condemned the Russian government for "limiting the rights of the LGBT community" and noted that the Russian state has no ownership or control of the brand, which is produced in Latvia.

On its Facebook page, the company posted a multicoloured banner reading: "Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong and proud with the global LGBT community against the actions and beliefs of the Russian government."

Stolichnaya, with its distinctive red-and-white label, was produced by the state in Soviet times and was reportedly the favourite vodka of Boris Yeltsin. After an attempt by the Russian state to regain the brand name in the 2000s, SPI Group, which is based in Luxembourg, has produced Stolichnaya in Latvia using Russian ingredients. Meanwhile, the state-owned Soyuzplodimport produces a nearly identical vodka in Russia.

Russia's leading gay rights activist said the boycott was misguided.

"They mixed everything up. Stolichnaya isn't Russian," said the lawyer Nikolai Alekseev, head of the Moscow Pride organising committee.

"This is all good for attracting attention to the situation in Russia, like any other action, such as boycott of the Olympics, but it will not drastically change anything," he added.

Unlike Stolichnaya, Russian Standard vodka is produced in Russia and is owned by the Russian oligarch Roustam Tariko. A spokesman for the company declined to comment.

In June Russia's parliament unanimously passed a law banning the spreading of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" among minors, prompting calls for other countries to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The law in effect makes it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, and to distribute material on gay rights. It introduces fines for individuals and media groups found guilty of breaking the law, as well as special fines for foreigners. Four Dutch activists were charged in Murmansk this week under the law.

This is not Savage's first controversial LGBT campaign: in 2003, he held a contest to create a definition for "santorum" after Santorum made comments critical of gay marriage. The new word was defined as "the frothy mixture of lube and faecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex".

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« Last Edit: Jul 27, 2013, 06:38 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #7758 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:20 AM »

07/26/2013 03:06 PM

Nazi Hunters: 'We've Received over a Dozen Tip-Offs

By Friederike Heine

Dramatic new posters calling on the German public to submit information about possible Nazi war criminals are having an effect, says the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

This week's launch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's most recent campaign, which offers rewards to the German public for submitting information that could lead to the apprehension of the last remaining Nazi war criminals, was met with limited optimism. Some legal experts branded the late move to bring surviving suspects to trial as questionable, given past leniency shown to high-ranking individuals in the Holocaust machinery.

But despite the lukewarm response, the initiative, which began on Tuesday, already seems to be paying off. According to Efraim Zuroff, director at the organization's Jerusalem office, the hotline is already receiving between 30 and 40 calls a day. Though many of the calls are from individuals expressing support for the project, there have also been over a dozen seemingly legitimate tip-offs.

The next step will involve differentiating between bogus leads and authentic ones. "There will be a lengthy filtering process," Zuroff told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Friday. "In our experience, only a fraction of the calls we get actually turn into tangible leads. Since the launch of Operation Last Chance II in 2011, we've received as many as 5,000 calls and emails, and only 106 names have actually been turned over to prosecutors."

The posters depict the entrance gate of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and the slogan, "Late. But not too late," and have been put up in three major German cities: Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne. They also offer rewards of up to €25,000 ($33,000) for information, which may be a motivating factor for those responding to the campaign, said Zuroff. "Naturally, there will be some respondents interested in the monetary reward. But the money is primarily a tool for publicity," he added.

The Center is targeting both death camp guards and members of the Einsatzgruppen, squads that were composed primarily of SS and police personnel. Zuroff, who coordinates the Center's research of Nazi war criminals, suggests that there could still be as many as 120 living in Germany, with only roughly half of those still physically able to stand trial.

Operation Last Chance II was launched two years ago in an attempt to step up prosecutions following a legal precedent set by the 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk, found guilty by a Munich court of being an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews while he was a guard at Sobibor in occupied Poland.

The ruling allowed prosecutors to reopen hundreds of investigations into former death camp guards, giving them the option to prosecute individuals as accessories to murder, even if they could not prove the defendants personally killed anyone.

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« Reply #7759 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:21 AM »

07/26/2013 01:24 PM

Sell-Off: Newspaper Giant Turns Back on Journalism

By Stefan Schultz, Vanessa Steinmetz and Christian Teevs

Axel Springer is poised for radical change. The German media company, one of the largest in Europe, announced Thursday it is selling a slew of newspapers and magazines in order to focus on its digital business. The move marks a move away from journalism.

On Thursday morning, the mood in the foyer of the Axel Springer building in Hamburg was one of disbelief. Staff were gathered in the same lobby where they celebrated their Christmas party just months ago. But this time, they hadn't come to celebrate.

This is not going to be easy, warned Andreas Wiele, a senior executive at Axel Springer, Europe's largest newspaper publisher, before breaking the news that the company will be selling a clutch of its regional newspapers and women's and television magazines to Funke Mediengruppe so that the company can focus on digital media. Bild der Frau, Hörzu and the Hamburger Abendblatt, a major regional daily with circulation of around 200,000, are among the publications included in the deal.

According to staff, Wiele made an effort to show concern for their situation, but many felt the company's decision displayed a complete disregard for its employees. Wiele was booed when he thanked employees for years of successful service, while the works council was applauded when it harangued the managers.

Even many on the executive floor were surprised to hear that Springer is cutting the rope on the print industry, say insiders. In fact, the switch in focus is in keeping with CEO Mathias Döpfner's new strategy. Not only has his revamp of the company, designed to boost returns and stock prices, been so far successful, it also amounts to an affadavit: the third-largest media company in Germany has apparently lost faith in the profitability of journalism.

Steady Demise

Germany has witnessed the demise of a number of its traditional print newspapers in recent years, with the Financial Times Deutschland and the Frankfurter Rundschau filing for bankruptcy in 2012 alone, as well as the news agency dapd. Döpfner is keen to avoid Springer's print offerings from suffering a similar fate.

Although most of the publications it has sold to Funke are still profitable -- with the exception of the daily Berliner Morgenpost -- they are all facing dwindling readerships as the public turns to the Internet, as well as falling ad rates. Now, Springer is opting not to come up with ideas to tackle these structural changes but rather to sell off newspapers and magazines at a time when they can still fetch decent prices.

"We can only be pro-active when we're in good shape," Döpfner write in an internal email to his staff which has been seen by SPIEGEL ONLINE.

It's a plan that appears at least partly effective, with Funke paying €920 million ($1.2 billion) for its new assets, although Springer will actually be lending it some of that sum. Privately-held Funke will pay €660 million by June 30, 2014, at the latest, while Axel Springer will lend the remainder of the price to Funke for several years.

But Döpfner gets to top up the company coffers and concentrate on digital publications. "We will remain on track to becoming a leading digital media company," he wrote in his email. He was even more bullish at the company's last general meeting, when he enthused about "a virtual and dematerialized media world."

Döpfner's zeal is rooted in Springer's balance sheets. In 2007, newspapers and magazines accounted for 72.9 percent of turnover, the digital business just 8.1 percent. By 2012, that figure had shot up to 35.5 percent, while only 47.6 percent of turnover came from the print business. Selling off regional newspapers, women's and television magazines will see the print business shrink again. Last year, they earned Springer €512 million -- 15 percent of the company's turnover -- but as of 2014, digital publications will provide the lion's share of profits.

Of its publications, Springer is nevertheless retaining the newspapers Bild -- its flagship tabloid and the highest-circulation newspaper in Europe with a daily readership in excess of 12 million -- national broadsheet Die Welt and tabloid B.Z, which will be merged with Bild Berlin, while it is also holding on to its magazines in the Auto-Bild Group, the Computer-Bild Group, Sport-Bild and the music publications Metal Hammer, Musikexpress and Rolling Stone.

Journeying Away From Journalism

But Springer's strategy is more than a departure from print journalism: It also marks a move away from journalism, period. With the rapidly developing digital business, the companies proving most profitable include the careers platform Stepstone, the housing portals Immonet and Seloger and the price comparison portal Idealo.

In 2012, two-thirds of revenues -- some €787 million -- in Springer's digital business dervived from non-media products, while media products accounted for just €387 million. The company does not reveal how much of that was made by actual journalism, but insiders told SPIEGEL that profits from ads and paid content is "dropping steadily."

The future of journalism at Springer is not looking promising. Even the remaining print business is facing cuts. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, up to €20 million is to be slashed at Bild, Bild am Sonntag and B.Z., with up to 200 jobs set to be eliminated.

But Döpfner pledged in his email to keep investing in journalism at Bild and the Welt Group -- although many have their doubts.

The Springer company is turning into a "service entertainment consortium in the style of Time Warner," says media expert Michael Haller. Martin Welker, also a media expert, meanwhile calls it "disappointing that Springer is not trying harder to reconcile the digital industry with journalism."

"Axel Springer would not have made this sort of strategic decisions," says Peter Jebsen from the company's works council.

He could prove right. According to Axel Springer's biographer Hans-Peter Schwarz, the entrepreneur, who died in 1985, apparently never stopped missing the company's early years as publisher of the Hamburger Abendblatt.

"(That period) was when I truly loved my job," he is quoted as saying in his biography. In Springer's opinion, the purpose of magazines and journalism was to shed light on mankind, thereby bringing about political change.

Now that Springer no longer owns Hamburger Abendblatt, the one-time newspaper man would surely be none too pleased by the direction his company is taking.

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« Reply #7760 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:23 AM »

Swedish lesbians far more likely to marry than gay men

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 26, 2013 15:14 EDT

Lesbian women in Sweden are more likely to enter a same-sex marriage or civil partnership than gay men are, according to data released by the country’s statistics agency on Friday.

At the end of last year, 4,521 Swedish women were registered as having a spouse of the same gender, which was 24 percent more than the number of men who did.

Foreign partners were not included in the data, compiled by Statistics Sweden, explaining why the total figure was an odd number.

Lesbians were more likely to tie the knot because it is easier for them to have children than it is for gay men, whose options are limited to adopting or finding a surrogate mother, said Ulrika Westerlund, the head of Sweden’s Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL).

“As is the case with everyone else, legal protection for a family is stronger if the parents are married, than if they are only cohabiting,” she said.

Although artificial insemination is legal for lesbian parents in Sweden, many of them travel to neighbouring Denmark to conceive their child using an anonymous sperm donor, she added.

For those couples, marrying was often necessary to ensure the other partner could become the child’s legal parent.

Sweden lifted its adoption ban for same-sex couples in 2003, but assisted insemination is only provided if the child’s biological father is known.

Gays and lesbians have been allowed to wed in religious or civil ceremonies in the Scandinavian country since 2009. Civil unions were legalised in 1995.

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« Reply #7761 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:25 AM »

Ex-IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn charged with pimping

By Reuters
Friday, July 26, 2013 11:10 EDT

PARIS (Reuters) – Former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn will be tried on charges of pimping, prosecutors said on Friday, capping an inquiry into sex parties attended by a man whose French presidential hopes were dashed by a separate 2011 U.S. sex scandal.

Prosecutors in the northern city of Lille said investigating judges had determined that Strauss-Kahn, 64, who has been under investigation in the case since 2012, should be judged by a criminal court.

The decision came as a surprise after a public prosecutor had recommended in June that the inquiry be dropped without trial.

“We’re not in the realm of the law, we’re in ideology. We’re sending someone to court for nothing,” said Henri Leclerc, one of Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers.

The so-called Carlton affair, named after a hotel in Lille, involves sex parties that Strauss-Kahn has acknowledged attending. He says he was unaware that the women who participated were prostitutes.

Strauss-Kahn is charged with “aggravated pimping.” Pimping under French law is a broad crime that can encompass aiding or encouraging the act of prostitution. Strauss-Kahn was charged with the more serious form because it allegedly involved more than one prostitute.

The crime carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison and a fine of 1.5 million euros ($2 million).

The former French finance minister quit his post as head of the International Monetary Fund in 2011 after being accused of raping a maid in New York, a charge that was later dropped. ($1 = 0.7555 euros)

(Reporting By Alexandria Sage and Chine Labbe.; editing by Mark John)

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« Reply #7762 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:30 AM »

Bulgaria's 'class war'

The long-running protests in Bulgaria are not a plot led by middle-class Soros-oids – they are about social alternatives

Mariya Ivancheva, Sofia
The Guardian, Friday 26 July 2013 21.00 BST          

On Tuesday the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, witnessed a night of violence. After 40 days of protest the National Assembly was besieged amid demands that the government resign, and police stormed the peaceful crowd. A bus full of MPs trying to get away was surrounded and its windows broken, and scores of people were wounded. The next day Mihail Mikov, chair of parliament, said that "looking for solutions within the constitution becomes increasingly difficult".

A brief look back can explain why. The collapse of Bulgaria's centre-right government in February following protests against rising electricity bills led to early elections in May. These produced a coalition of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Movement for Rights and Liberties – the party supported by the Turkish minority in Bulgaria – under the prime minister, Plamen Oresharski.

Since 14 June protests have demanded Oresharski's resignation. He was elected on a pledge of popular reforms that would benefit the most economically vulnerable, but any trust in him dissipated with the appointment of Delyan Peevski as head of the state agency for national security. In the eyes of most Bulgarians the media monopolist was corruption incarnate.

The peaceful protests – which coincided with more violent events in Brazil, Turkey and Egypt – have been described as "middle class" by international media that have otherwise largely ignored them. This trope eclipses the reality of the people on the ground, who barely make ends meet on average incomes in the EU's poorest member state.

This rhetoric also exists in local narratives, both for and against the protests. The creation of a strong middle class as a result of Bulgaria's transition to liberal democracy and a free market was once the collective dream; now it is used to divide the country. Rightwing intellectuals present protesters as "intelligent", "moral", even "beautiful" and "smiling". This self-proclaimed "cultural and professional elite" presents itself as "European", "non-violent", "able to pay bills and taxes", as distinct from the "uncivilised" Bulgarians who staged the protests in February. By contrast, most protesters – public service workers and students – see all the protests as intrinsically related. They do not formulate, however, any economic demands or critique the IMF- and EU-inspired austerity and privatisation agendas – embraced by all Bulgarian governments – that led to mass unemployment and dismantled the welfare institutions of the socialist state.

The BSP and its media supporters have also used the "Sofian middle class" rhetoric to turn many Bulgarians against the protesters. They are portrayed as a part of a transnational elite network, connected to power centres in Washington and Brussels. It is alleged that the protesters are paid-up "Soros-oids"; the financier George Soros and the Open Society Institute are seen as masterminds of the protests. Oresharski's timid reforms are thus portrayed as fighting a world conspiracy against ordinary Bulgarians.

What really stands between the protesters and emancipatory politics is the neoliberal hegemony of previous decades, which emptied the collective political imagination. Protests are framed as explicitly "anti-communist" – and the "communism" of the BSP is expressed in its complicity with non-transparent privatisation deals and economic austerity. Talk of "anti-communism" stifles any real debate about economic and social alternatives. New legislative measures, meanwhile, render the emergence of new political actors increasingly difficult, and Bulgaria remains subordinated to local oligarchy and power blocs. As a consequence, the growing political and economic crisis and the precariousness of the majority of Bulgarians are addressed only by the racist far right, whose electoral power is slowly expanding.

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« Reply #7763 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:43 AM »

US will not seek death penalty for Edward Snowden, Holder tells Russia

Reports this week claimed Snowden had applied for asylum in Russia because he feared torture if he was returned to US

Adam Gabbatt in New York
The Guardian, Friday 26 July 2013 19.03 BST   

The US has told the Russian government that it will not seek the death penalty for Edward Snowden should he be extradited, in an attempt to prevent Moscow from granting asylum to the former National Security Agency contractor.

In a letter sent this week, US attorney general Eric Holder told his Russian counterpart that the charges faced by Snowden do not carry the death penalty. Holder added that the US "would not seek the death penalty even if Mr Snowden were charged with additional, death penalty-eligible crimes".

Holder said he had sent the letter, addressed to Alexander Vladimirovich, Russia's minister of justice, in response to reports that Snowden had applied for temporary asylum in Russia "on the grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty".

"These claims are entirely without merit," Holder said. In addition to his assurance that Snowden would not face capital punishment, the attorney general wrote: "Torture is unlawful in the United States."

In the letter, released by the US Department of Justice on Friday, Holder added: "We believe that these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr Snowden's claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise."

The US has been seeking Snowden's extradition to face felony charges for leaking details of NSA surveillance programmes. There were authoritative reports on Wednesday that authorities in Moscow had granted Snowden permission to stay in Russia temporarily, but when Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, arrived to meet his client at Sheremetyevo airport, he said the papers were not yet ready.

Kucherena, who has close links to the Kremlin, said Snowden would stay in the airport's transit zone, where he has been in limbo since arriving from Hong Kong on 23 June, for the near future.

The letter from Holder, and the apparent glitch in Snowden's asylum application, suggest that Snowden's fate is far from secure.

But a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin insisted Russia has not budged from its refusal to extradite Snowden. Asked by a reporter on Friday whether the government's position had changed, Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that "Russia has never extradited anyone and never will." Putin has previously insisted Russia will not extradite Snowden to the US. There is no US-Russia extradition treaty.

Putin's statement still leaves the Russian authorities room for manoeuvre, however, as Snowden is not technically on Russian soil.

Peskov said that Putin is not involved in reviewing Snowden's application or involved in discussions about the whistleblower's future with the US, though he said the Russian security service, the FSB, had been in touch with the FBI.

Speaking on Wednesday, Snowden's lawyer said he was hoped to settle in Russia. "[Snowden] wants to find work in Russia, travel and somehow create a life for himself," Kucherena told the television station Rossiya 24. He said Snowden had already begun learning Russian.

There is support among some Russian politicians for Snowden to be allowed to stay in the country. The speaker of the Russian parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, has said Snowden should be granted asylum to protect him from the death penalty.

The letter from Holder was designed to allay those fears and negate the grounds for which Snowden as allegedly applied for asylum in Russia. The attorney general said that if Snowden returned to the US he would "promptly be brought before a civilian court" and would receive "all the protections that United States law provides".

"Any questioning of Mr Snowden could be conducted only with his consent: his participation would be entirely voluntary, and his legal counsel would be present should he wish it," Holder said.

He added that despite Snowden's passport being revoked he "remains a US citizen" and said the US would facilitate a direct return to the country.

Germany's president, who helped expose the workings of East Germany's Stasi secret police, waded into the row on Friday. President Joachim Gauck, whose role is largely symbolic, said whistleblowers such as Snowden deserved respect for defending freedom.

"The fear that our telephones or mails are recorded and stored by foreign intelligence services is a constraint on the feeling of freedom and then the danger grows that freedom itself is damaged," Gauck said.


Edward Snowden better off in Russia than US, his father says

NSA whistleblower's father says he has lost faith in the US justice department and his son needs a safe haven

Associated Press in McLean, Virginia, Saturday 27 July 2013 02.16 BST   

The father of the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden says his son has been so vilified by the Obama administration and members of Congress that he is now better off staying in Russia.

Lon Snowden had been working behind the scenes with lawyers to try to find a way his son could get a fair trial in the US. Edward Snowden has been charged in federal court with violating the Espionage Act by leaking details of NSA surveillance.

But in a telephone interview with the Associated Press, the elder Snowden said he had lost faith in recent weeks that his son would be treated fairly by the justice department. He now thinks his 30-year-old son is better off avoiding the US if possible until an administration that respects the constitution comes into office.

"If it were me, knowing what I know now, and listening to advice of sage people like [Pentagon Papers leaker] Daniel Ellsberg ... I would attempt to find a safe haven," Snowden said.

As a military analyst more than four decades ago, Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, a secret study of America's involvement in Vietnam, to newspapers.

The elder Snowden said he thought Russia was probably the best place to seek asylum because it was most likely to withstand US pressure. Edward Snowden applied for temporary asylum in Russia last week.

Lon Snowden, a Coast Guard veteran who has worked on national security issues in his career, said he has tremendous faith in the American people and in the constitution. He said that in a more subdued environment his son could get a fair trial, and his actions would be considered in the context of his desire to expose a surveillance program that he and others believe exceeds constitutional bounds.

But he said the justice department's efforts to pressure other countries to turn over Snowden, coupled with silence from President Barack Obama and the attorney-general, Eric Holder, in the face of denunciations from members of Congress who have labelled Snowden a traitor, have eroded his hope for a fair trial.

On NBC's Today show on Friday, Lon Snowden said there had been a concerted effort by some members of Congress to "demonise" his son.

Lon Snowden and his lawyer, Bruce Fein, released a letter on Friday asking Obama to dismiss the criminal charges against Edward Snowden and to support legislation "to remedy the NSA surveillance abuses he revealed".

The elder Snowden and Fein said they were disgusted by Holder's letter on Friday to Russian officials promising that Snowden would not face the death penalty if he were extradited. They said it reflected a mindset that Snowden was presumed guilty and that a sentence of 30 years or life would be a reasonable punishment.

In the phone interview Lon Snowden said he had had no direct contact with his son, and knew no more about his day-to-day life in Moscow, where he is reportedly staying at an airport transit zone, than anyone else.

Lon Snowden and Fein are starting a nonprofit group called the Defense of the Constitution Foundation to promote the issues his son has raised.

"In essence, he has passed on the torch of democracy," Lon Snowden said of his son.

He said he wasn't sure there was much he could do to help his son.

"He sacrificed everything and gained nothing," the elder Snowden said. "He's done what he's done. The consequences are unavoidable, and I don't know if I can mitigate those."


Glenn Greenwald and other NSA critics to testify before Congress: Rep. Grayson

By Paul Lewis, The Guardian
Friday, July 26, 2013 14:34 EDT

Congress will hear testimony from critics of the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices for the first time since the whistleblower Edward Snowden’s explosive leaks were made public.

Democrat congressman Alan Grayson, who is leading a bipartisan group of congressman organising the hearing, told the Guardian it would serve to counter the “constant misleading information” from the intelligence community.

The hearing, which will take place on Wednesday, comes amid evidence of a growing congressional rebellion NSA data collection methods.

On Wednesday, a vote in the House of Representatives that would have tried to curb the NSA’s practice of mass collection of phone records of millions of Americans was narrowly defeated.

However, it exposed broader-than-expected concern among members of Congress over US surveillance tactics. A majority of Democrat members voted in support of the amendment.

Grayson, who was instrumental in fostering support among Democrats for the the amendment, said Wednesday’s hearing would mark the first time critics of NSA surveillance methods have testified before Congress since Snowden’s leaks were published by the Guardian and Washington Post.

“I have been concerned about the fact that we have heard incessantly in recent weeks from General Keith Alexander [director of the NSA] and Mr James Clapper [director of National Intelligence] about their side of the story,” he said. “We have barely heard anything in Congress from critics of the program.

“We have put together an ad hoc, bipartisan hearing on domestic surveillance in on the Capitol. We plan to have critics of the program come in and give their view – from the left and the right.”

Grayson said the hearing had bipartisan support, and was backed by the Republican congressman Justin Amash, whose draft the amendment that was narrowly defeated.

“Mr Amash has declared an interest in the hearing. There are several others who have a libertarian bent – largely the same people who represented the minority of Republicans who decided to vote in favour of the Amash amendment.”

The hearing will take place at the same time as a Senate hearing into the NSA’s activities. That will feature Gen Alexander and possibly his deputy, Chris Inglis, as well as senior officials from the Department of Justice and FBI.

The simultaneous timing of the hearings will lead to a notable juxtaposition between opponents and defenders of the government’s surveillance activities.

“Both Congress and the American people deserve to hear both sides of the story,” Grayson said. “There has been constant misleading information – and worse than that, the occasional outright lie – from the so-called intelligence community in their extreme, almost hysterical efforts, to defend these programmes.”

Although not a formal committee hearing, Grayson’s event will take place on Capitol Hill, and composed of a panel of around a dozen members of Congress from both parties.

Grayson said those testifying would include the American Civil Liberties Union as well as representatives from the right-leaning Cato Institute.

“They are both going to come in and make it clear that this programme is not authorised by existing law – and if it were authorised by existing law, that law would be unconstitutional,” Grayson said.

The congressman added that Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who first revealed details of the surveillance programmes leaked by Snowden, had also been invited to testify via video-link from his base in Rio.

“Even today, most people in America are unaware of the fact the government is receiving a record of every call that they make, even to the local pizzeria,” Grayson said.

“I think that most people simply don’t understand that, despite the news coverage, which my view has been extremely unfocused. There has been far too much discussion of the leaker, and not enough discussion of the leak.”

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« Reply #7764 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:48 AM »

July 26, 2013

A Trail of Masterpieces and a Web of Lies, Leading to Anguish


CARCALIU, Romania — On a snowy day in January, Radu Dogaru, sheltering with a computer at his mother’s house in this remote Romanian village, set out the terms for a deal that had eluded him for months but that now suddenly seemed tantalizingly close.

Communicating on Facebook with a fellow member of a gang that, three months earlier in Rotterdam, had pulled off the biggest art theft in decades, Mr. Dogaru said he wanted to “finish the show” and work out a sale of the stolen paintings to a wealthy local wine producer who had sent word that he was keen to buy.

The paintings, by Picasso, Monet, Matisse and other modern masters, were worth tens of millions of dollars. But Mr. Dogaru, desperate to unload the canvasses, told his accomplice, Mihai Alexandru Bitu, that the eager buyer could have “the dogs” for 400,000 euro, about $531,000, and agreed to take the paintings to a meeting the next day to complete the sale.

“What do you think about this buyer, so hot suddenly?” asked Mr. Dogaru, according to a record of the exchange. “Yesterday he was not interested, and now he is hitting the phones.”

What he did not realize, though, was that the buyer, Serghei Cosma, was cooperating with the Romanian prosecutor’s office and planned to attend the meeting with an agent masquerading as an art expert. The whole thing was an elaborate sting operation.

“We were about to catch them red-handed,” said Raluca Botea, the chief prosecutor in a special Romanian unit responsible for fighting organized crime and the leader of the hunt for the art thieves. She was one of numerous people close to the case interviewed for this article. Mr. Cosma declined to comment.

Just a few hours later, however, the operation fell apart, when Mr. Dogaru received a warning that the police were tapping his cellphone. Today, six months on, the fate of the paintings is still unknown, as law enforcement authorities in Romania and the Netherlands, as well as art lovers around the world, struggle to penetrate the fog of claims and counterclaims about what happened to the masterpieces, from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam.

Have they been burned, as Mr. Dogaru’s mother, Olga, has at times claimed? Or perhaps spirited away by a tall mystery man in a fancy black car, as she has asserted at other times? Or could they, as many in the desolate village of Carcaliu believe, simply be hidden somewhere in this rural corner of Romania?

“As a citizen of the world, I want to believe that the paintings still exist,” said Ms. Botea, the chief prosecutor. “But as a prosecutor I need facts. I don’t yet know what has happened to them or whether they have been destroyed or not.”

The failure of the sting operation extinguished hopes that the only person who knew — and perhaps still knows — the exact location of the paintings might lead the authorities to his loot, and has left the art world fearing the works may be lost forever. Investigators are not sure how many paintings Mr. Dogaru planned to sell to the bogus buyer and suspect only four, each for 100,000 euros, but that would have been much better than the none they have now.

Arrested on the night of Jan. 19, Mr. Dogaru, who is scheduled to go on trial in August, has admitted to stealing the paintings but has given little solid information about what has become of them. He has suggested darkly that other, bigger fish are involved and will kill him if he talks.

But, according to Ms. Botea, the chief prosecutor, much of what Mr. Dogaru, 29, and his 50-year-old mother, who was arrested in March, have said has scant relation to the truth.

In one instance, Mr. Dogaru indicated that the robbery in Rotterdam had been an inside job. He pointed a finger at the director of the Kunsthal museum, describing him as a man who wanted to help a wayward son entangled with a Romanian prostitute. In fact, the director is a woman, with young children.

Mr. Dogaru’s lawyer, Radu Catalin Dancu, said he had pressed his client to say where the paintings are and who else might have been involved in the robbery other than the small group of small-time Romanian criminals now in detention. But this, said the lawyer, has yielded nothing concrete.

Mr. Dogaru’s mother, meanwhile, has spun a tangled web of contradictory stories. “She changes her story all the time depending on how she sees the interests of her son,” Ms. Botea said.

Small Town Roots

One thing that does seem clear is that after a meandering journey the paintings ended up for a time in Carcaliu, a village mostly inhabited by Russian-speaking Old Believers, a community that broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century and developed a deep wariness of outsiders.

Mr. Dogaru was raised largely by his Russian-speaking mother — his hot-tempered Romanian father kept getting thrown in jail for violent brawls. His 86-year-old grandmother said Mr. Dogaru “prayed, crossed himself and read the Bible.”

“He is a very serious man,” she added.

Villagers say that they occasionally saw Mr. Dogaru at church and that, unlike many local men, he did not get drunk or smoke and took great pride in his physical condition. But, according to a neighbor who declined to be named because he feared retribution, Mr. Dogaru’s only real interest in religion was the theft of icons from village homes.

“When he is here, we have trouble. When he goes, everything is calm,” the neighbor said.

The paintings Mr. Dogaru has admitted to stealing in Rotterdam — which include Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge, London,” Gauguin’s “Girl in Front of Open Window” and Picasso’s “Harlequin Head” — started their journey to what many fear was oblivion in a bold raid last year.

Mr. Dogaru and an associate grabbed seven works shortly after 3 a.m. on Oct. 16, entering and leaving the Kunsthal in just 96 seconds, and leaving no clues to their identity except for blurry, unrecognizable images on security cameras. The alarm sounded only as they left.

The next morning, Mr. Dogaru took five of the stolen paintings to Brussels, where he attempted to sell them to a mobster known as “George the Thief”; failing, he carried the works back to Rotterdam the same day. One of Mr. Dogaru’s partners hid all seven paintings in pillows and drove nearly nonstop to Carcaliua, arriving on Oct. 19, according to a detailed account of the group’s activities contained in an official indictment.

Though only a small village, Carcaliu has so far defied months of insistent probing by the anti-organized crime unit, which hired a man from the area to try to make sense of the archaic Russian spoken there and carried out some 60 searches. The village has resisted giving up its secrets.

Describing the case as the “most difficult” in her 24-year career, Ms. Botea said, “There are nights we cannot sleep because of the frustration we feel about this whole case.”

Mr. Dogaru appears to have hidden the works initially in his family home but later moved at least some of them in a suitcase to the house of his mother’s sister, Marfa Marcu. Mrs. Marcu, in an interview, said she had never opened the suitcase. She says she last saw it when her sister took it away, along with a shovel, soon after Mr. Dogaru’s arrest.

Mrs. Dogaru has told prosecutors that, with the help of her son’s girlfriend, she buried the case in the yard of an abandoned house. After a few days, they dug it up, wrapped the paintings in plastic and buried them in a nearby cemetery.

The trail then goes cold. In an interview with prosecutors on Feb. 27, Mrs. Dogaru said that sometime in January, this time acting alone, she dug up the paintings and, desperate to destroy the evidence of her son’s theft, brought them home and burned them all — in a stove used to heat water for the bathroom and a sauna.

How she managed to do this is not clear. The stove in which Mrs. Dogaru claimed to have shoved all the artworks is barely a foot wide and seems far too small to contain what would have been a bulky bundle of canvas and wood.

In a written statement on Feb. 28, Mrs. Dogaru retracted the incineration story and said she had, in fact, handed the paintings to a Russian-speaking man, about 40, who arrived at her house in a black car. She explained that her son, whom she visited in prison to get instructions, had told her to expect such a visitor and to give him the paintings.

Mrs. Dogaru told the same story to a live-in housekeeper, Florentina Pondichie, and to her and her son’s lawyer, Mr. Dancu. The housekeeper, in an interview, said she had never seen Mrs. Dogaru burn anything in the stove late at night and thought the artwork had been taken away. The lawyer, too, doubted that the paintings were burned. “I believe that somehow, somewhere we will find these paintings,” he said.

Since February, however, Mrs. Dogaru has flip-flopped more than once. In a statement in June, she returned to her earlier version of a pyre of artworks in the bathroom stove but on Monday, she told a panel of three judges in a Bucharest courtroom: “I did not burn them.”

The only hard, but still very tentative, evidence of what might have happened has come from a laboratory at the National History Museum in Bucharest, which last week completed a forensic analysis of ash collected from the stove.

“It is quite likely that something terrible has happened,” said the museum’s director, Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu. Analysis of the ash, he said, had found nails, tacks, color pigments and fragments of canvas indicating the remains of at least four paintings.

“We know that she burned some paintings, but we don’t know if what she burned were the paintings from the Kunsthal,” the director said.

Eyeing a Bigger Prize

When Mr. Dogaru first left Carcaliu for the Netherlands last year, he left behind a reputation for brawling and small-time banditry but gave no indication of a career ahead as a world-class art thief.

Soon after his arrival in Rotterdam, Mr. Dogaru took an unorthodox turn in his quest for new and brighter horizons: He registered his girlfriend, Natasha Timofei, then 18 and a former star pupil at Carcaliu’s village school, on, a pornographic Web site that bills itself as a “prostitution marketplace.”

While the girlfriend made about $2,655 a week from clients — about four times the average monthly salary in Romania — Mr. Dogaru and two Romanian friends spent their time pimping, pumping iron and robbing houses, according to the indictment.

But then they set their sights on a more ambitious goal: stealing masterworks of 19th- and early-20th-century art from the Kunsthal museum.

“He has known only one thing since he was 4 years old, and that is stealing,” said Stefan Karpov, a Carcaliu resident who recalled Mr. Dogaru as a bully notorious for his brushes with the law.

Back in Romania after the robbery, Mr. Dogaru began telephoning contacts, believing that stolen paintings by world-famous artists could be sold in much the same way as stolen luxury watches, which he had some experience in fencing. His contacts included Petre Condrat, a prominent model in Bucharest, who he thought might know wealthy people interested in buying “something different, something special,” according to the prosecutor’s account of the case.

On Nov. 17, he sent an accomplice, Eugen Darie, with two works — a Matisse and a Gauguin — to meet a possible buyer found by Mr. Condrat. An art expert was present to verify authenticity.

After examining the brush strokes and composition, the expert, Mariana Dragu, took the paintings into the bathroom to inspect them under an ultraviolet light. She decided they were genuine. When the meeting finished, she promptly alerted the police. “It was obvious that the paintings did not have a legal origin,” she said last week in a telephone interview.

Panic Sets In

Quickly homing in on Mr. Dogaru as the ringleader, the Romanian anti-organized crime unit started tapping his phones and in the following weeks tracked his increasingly frantic efforts to find a buyer.

“I’m thinking what the hell are we going to do with this luggage,” Mr. Dogaru told his accomplice, Mr. Darie, in early January. “I’m worried that were are going to be stuck real bad.”

Mr. Darie, who has since been arrested and admitted to driving the getaway car in Rotterdam and to driving the paintings to Romania, replied that if a buyer could not be found soon “we are going to bury them” and “we can dig them up in a hundred years if we want.”

Investigators, who were listening in, realized that their quarry was getting desperate and could be lured in, along with the paintings, if they could set up a bogus buyer.

But their hope turned to panic when on Jan. 19, Mr. Dogaru said in a phone conversation that he was “very scared” and suggested that he might burn the paintings. Mr. Dogaru had just been told by Mr. Condrat, the model, that the police were tapping his cellphone.

Investigators say they think Mr. Condrat, who could not be reached for comment, had no specific information about the investigation but was trying to distance himself from Mr. Dogaru.

The call nonetheless upended the sting operation. Fearing that the art work might go up in smoke, the anti-organized crime unit ordered Mr. Dogaru’s immediate arrest. “We had to do something,” Ms. Botea said.

Even from behind bars, Mr. Dogaru has still not given up on trading the paintings. When two Dutch police officers and a prosecutor traveled to Romania in June to interview him, according to Romanian officials who were present, Mr. Dogaru offered to give them four paintings if they moved him to stand trial in the Netherlands, where he apparently judged prisons to be more congenial than those in Romania.

The Dutch authorities allow that Mr. Dogaru might have offered information on the paintings’ whereabouts in return for a trial in the Netherlands, but they deny ever taking the deal seriously.

“He may have offered, but we, from the beginning, have said that we will do it in the usual way, through the Romanian authorities,” said Jeichien de Graaff, a spokesman for the Rotterdam public prosecutor.

“Our aim has always been to get the artwork back.”

George Calin contributed reporting from Bucharest, Romania, and Christopher Schuetze from Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

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« Reply #7765 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:49 AM »

July 26, 2013

President-Elect Stirs Optimism in Iran and West


TEHRAN — Bogged down in faltering nuclear talks with the European powers nearly 10 years ago, Hassan Rouhani did something that no Iranian diplomat before or since has managed to do.

He took out his cellphone, say Western diplomats who were there, dialed up his longtime friend and associate, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and convinced him that Iran needed to suspend nuclear enrichment. The call by Mr. Rouhani, who was elected president in June and will take office next week, resulted in an agreement in October 2003, the only nuclear deal between Iran and the West in the past 11 years.

“Rouhani showed that he is a central player in Iran’s political establishment,” said Stanislas de Laboulaye, a retired director general of the French Foreign Ministry, who was a member of the European delegation during the talks between 2003 and 2005. “He was the only one able to sell something deeply unpopular to the other leaders.”

There is growing optimism in Iran and in the West that Mr. Rouhani, 64, is ready to restart serious talks on the nuclear issue; Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq told the United States this month that Mr. Rouhani was ready to start direct talks, and the Obama administration has indicated a willingness to engage in head-to-head dialogue after years of inclusive multiparty negotiations.

In his campaign for president and again in recent weeks, Mr. Rouhani has made it clear that he is deeply concerned about his country’s growing economic troubles and is determined to soften the harsh tone and intransigent tactics of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which have stalled nuclear negotiations and cut off relations with most of the developed world. But the question, as always in Iran, is the extent to which a President Rouhani can accomplish these goals.

“It is clear that numerous challenges await him,” said Mirza Agha Motaharinejad, a communications professor who campaigned for Mr. Rouhani in his home province of Semnan. “His political survival starts with who he will pick as cabinet members. The more representatives from different factions, the more support he will have.”

Mr. Rouhani rarely gives one-on-one interviews to reporters.Any Iranian president has to answer to the supreme leader. But that is not the only limitation on his power in the treacherous and complex politics of the Islamic republic. The rise and precipitous fall of Mr. Ahmadinejad stands as a warning of the fleeting nature of a president’s power in Iran.

Mr. Ahmadinejad came to power and was re-elected — fraudulently, most observers said — as the candidate of the traditionalist faction of ultraconservative clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders. For years he rode high, taking particular pleasure in sticking the West in the eye, denying the Holocaust and challenging Israel. But by the end of his tenure he was locked in bitter infighting with his former patrons and widely unpopular with the public, which blamed him for the country’s economic woes.

Mr. Rouhani was defeated by the traditionalists after the nuclear deal fell apart in 2005 and left, politically speaking, for dead. He was a “sellout” in his critics’ eyes who had committed the unpardonable sin of showing weakness — though his supporters would call it reasonableness — in the negotiations with the Europeans.

In one of the most startling turnarounds in the history of the Islamic republic, he has managed to resurrect his career from that low point, drawing on connections that trace back to the earliest days of the clerical resistance to the shah. If he is to realize his ambitions of redirecting the country to the moderate course he has laid out — stressing greater individual rights, a relaxation of tensions with the West and the repair of Iran’s flagging economy — he will have to contend with precisely those forces that defeated him and Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Rouhani was born Hassan Fereydoon during the reign of the pro-Western shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, into a family of bazaar businessmen and clerics in a small desert town. A precocious boy, he was only 13 when he began studies at a seminary in the theological center of Qum, where he would befriend many of the men who would later become central figures in the Islamic republic.

“From an early age I would overhear my father telling family members that I would become a cleric,” Mr. Rouhani writes in his memoir, one of six books he has published. “It was my destiny.”

Qum was a hotbed of resistance against the shah, and young Hassan fit right in. “We, the students, were ready to be killed, imprisoned or tortured,” Mr. Rouhani wrote in that same memoir, of the 1963 arrest of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who would later lead the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “We had sticks in our room, and when we heard a car pull up in our alley we were sure we would be arrested.” He was all of 14 at the time.

He later studied law at Tehran University and performed his compulsory military service in Mashhad, where he struck up a friendship with Mr. Khamenei.

In 1978 Mr. Rouhani moved to Britain, taught Islamic jurisprudence at Lancaster University and was set to attend Harvard as a graduate student when the revolution broke out. Instead of Cambridge, Mass., he headed off to Paris to join the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini.

Long known as fiercely intelligent, he became renowned after the revolution for his ability to navigate a system dominated by ideologues, building consensus among many opposing forces. Those close to him describe Mr. Rouhani as the golden boy of the Islamic republic’s close-knit group of leaders and a deal maker who has had a direct hand in most of Iran’s major foreign policy decisions over the past three decades.

He was one of three Iranian officials to meet with the former national security adviser Robert McFarlane when he secretly visited Tehran in 1986 to arrange the arms-for-hostages deal that would later erupt into the Iran-contra scandal. But they caution that he is, above all, a Shiite Muslim cleric who has dedicated his life to the Islamic Revolution, which he will never betray.

“Our opponents are wrong to expect compromises from Rouhani; the sanctions and other pressures will not make us change our stances,” said one of his former closest associates during an interview in Tehran. He requested anonymity because Mr. Rouhani has asked that no one speak in his name. “Rouhani is interested in a dialogue, not a monologue, with the West. He is prepared to reach common ground, but only if the other side is ready to reach common ground.”

In his books on foreign policy, Mr. Rouhani writes that modernity has failed, and that Christians in the West gave in to secularism without a fight. According to him, the United States and the Islamic republic are in permanent conflict. Israel, he writes, is the “axis of all anti-Iranian activities.” Yet he also raises issues like Iran’s massive brain drain and high unemployment figures in a book on the economy, and proposes membership in the World Trade Organization. “We need to keep a good relation with the people; only with them we can continue to resist and confront the U.S.A.,” he wrote in one of his two books on “foreign policy and Islamic thought.”

Nevertheless, diplomats who have faced him in negotiations praised his skills and flexibility. “He is perfectly placed in Iran’s system of power,” said Paul von Maltzahn, a former German ambassador to Iran who met Mr. Rouhani several times. “He is not easily manipulated and assertive.”

The last time they met was during a private visit by the former German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer. Mr. von Maltzahn recalled: “We all had dinner. Mr. Rouhani spoke about Glasgow, where he had studied in the 1990s. He cracked jokes. He’s straightforward, no double dealer.”

During his 16 years as the secretary of Iran’s most important decision organ, the National Security Council, Mr. Rouhani prevented hard-liners from forming an alliance with Saddam Hussein after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, his associates said. Instead, Iran remained neutral. He directed Iran’s unexpectedly respectful reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and he was instrumental in helping the United States coordinate with opposition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq when the United States invaded those countries.

It was his toughest negotiation — the one that led to the 2003 agreement — that led to his public fall from grace. Is he willing to try again? Analysts say he might well be. “He is a proactive soldier of this system since his youth,” said Nader Karimi Joni, a columnist for reformist papers. “It’s his brainchild, and he feels responsible. Any solutions he will come up with will be within the limits of the system of the Islamic republic.”

Some European diplomats say they fear that Mr. Rouhani was too optimistic in 2003, perhaps getting ahead of most of the leadership. “After a while we started to worry whether he or his team had fully briefed the other leaders,” said one European negotiator, who requested anonymity, not wanting to hurt the chances of success for any coming talks.

But Mr. Rouhani’s associate, who has full knowledge of the talks, disagreed. “Our mistake was that we gave the Europeans too much credit, but they were on the phone with the Americans all the time,” he said. “What matters now is that with Mr. Rouhani’s election a new window of opportunity has opened up for the West. I suggest they seize the moment.”

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« Reply #7766 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:54 AM »

North Korea marks war anniversary with giant parade in Pyongyang

If you want peace, you have to prepare for war, military aide to Kim Jong-un tells the crowd

Reuters in Pyongyang, Saturday 27 July 2013 05.41 BST   

North Korea celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Korean War truce on Saturday with a massive military parade trumpeting the revolutionary genius of three generations of leaders that gave it "victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War".

Leader Kim Jong-un was joined by China's vice-president, Li Yuanchao, on the podium overlooking Pyongyang's main Kim Il-sung square to inspect a massive throng of soldiers in goosestep and a display of weapons including its mid-range missiles.

Kim, clad in black, exchanged words with Li through an interpreter but did not make public remarks at the parade, which appeared to be one of the largest ever put on by the North.

Choe Ryong-hae, Kim's main military aide and the chief political operative of the North's 1.2m-strong army, said the reclusive state saw peace as a top national priority and its military was aimed at safeguarding North Korea from invasion.

"Reality shows if peace is sought, there must be preparations for war," Choe said in a speech. "For us with our utmost task of building an economy and improving the lives of the people, a peaceful environment is greater than ever."

The remarks were moderate in tone, without the bellicose rhetoric that routinely fills the North's public commentary, and Choe did not mention the country's nuclear arms programme or name the United States as its chief enemy.

Kim and Li, along with the North's top military officials and the youthful leader's uncle Jang Song-thaek, seen as North Korea's second most powerful man, watched as a missile arsenal paraded past, including the newly developed mid-range Musudan.

Fighter jets and large military helicopters flew over the square packed with tens of thousands of soldiers, North Korean and foreign veterans of the Korean War and diplomats.

On Thursday, Kim met Li in the highest-level talks between the two countries since their ties seemed to fray following Pyongyang's missile and nuclear tests in the past year, which led to tougher UN sanctions backed by Beijing.

Li told Kim Beijing would push for talks on removing nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, according to China's Foreign Ministry.

China's official Xinhua news agency, in a commentary on Saturday, said the time was right to for all sides to seek a permanent end to the state of hostilities on the peninsula, but said North Korea had to live up to its responsibilities.

"For Pyongyang's part, its security concerns are understandable and should be addressed properly, but violating UN security council resolutions is not helpful. It has to keep its end of the bargain," Xinhua said.

In the South Korean capital Seoul, veterans of some of the 16 countries that fought under the United Nations command during the Korean War marked the truce at a more intimate event.

"For the past 60 years, an uncertain peace that can be broken at any moment has been maintained," South Korean President Park Geun-hye said.

"The war has been suspended and we are in the midst of the longest truce."

In 1950 the United States rallied the United Nations to send troops to counter the North's invasion of the South, which was backed by Soviet forces. The allies nearly destroyed Kim Il-sung's army when China intervened.

On 27 July 1953, the commanders of North Korea, China and the US signed the armistice, setting up a 150-mile border across the peninsula that is the world's most heavily guarded frontier.

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« Reply #7767 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:56 AM »

July 26, 2013

Japanese Minister Proposes More Active Military Presence in Region


TOKYO — Japan is considering the acquisition of offensive weapons and surveillance drones and will assume a more active role in regional security, the country’s defense minister said Friday, providing an early glimpse of ways the new conservative government could lead the nation farther than ever from its postwar pacifism.

The minister, Itsunori Onodera, said Japan was considering taking such steps to counter the growing military capabilities of North Korea and of China, which has been extending its influence in the region and is embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan over islands in the East China Sea. The drones would be used to monitor Japan’s vast territorial waters, presumably including the area around the islands.

Mr. Onodera spoke after his ministry released an interim report on an overhaul of Japanese defense strategy ordered up by the cabinet of the country’s hawkish prime minister, Shinzo Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party won a decisive election victory on Sunday. The interim report is meant to start debate on the issues before decisions on changes to defense policy that are expected to be announced by the end of the year.

Mr. Abe has vowed to reverse the long decline of his nation, which was Asia’s dominant local power during much of the last century but is being eclipsed by China. In addition to his economic revitalization strategy known as Abenomics, the prime minister has said he wants to change Japan’s antiwar Constitution, written by American occupiers after World War II, to allow its forces to become a full-fledged military.

Such a fundamental shift would require parliamentary approval and a referendum. But analysts said acquiring an offensive weapon, like a cruise missile, would be an important symbolic step away from the current constitution’s limitations.

“It would be a big deal, a fundamental change in our defense philosophy,” said Narushige Michishita, director of security studies at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. “For Abe, this would be an important step toward normalizing Japan and its military.”

The changes in the defense report would continue a broader shift in military strategy begun under an opposition government three years ago that ended Japan’s cold-war-era focus on fending off a Russian invasion from the north in favor of developing a more dynamic air-sea capability to defend its far-flung islands to the south. Even before then, Japan had been slowly strengthening its ability to respond to threats from North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear programs, and to China’s growing assertiveness.

Since taking office in December, Mr. Abe has nudged Japan even farther toward a more robust military. This year, his government passed the first increase in Japan’s defense budget in a decade, though the size of the gain was tiny compared with China’s growth in military spending.

Friday’s report also contained repeated calls for finding ways to deepen cooperation with the United States, which has 50,000 soldiers and sailors in Japan. Mr. Abe has made close ties with Washington a centerpiece of his defense strategy, saying Japan must increase its military capabilities to share more of the security burden that the United States now bears in the region.

Some in Mr. Abe’s party have already been calling for strengthening Japan’s military capabilities by developing or buying from the United States cruise missiles or other weapons that could be used to launch a strike on a North Korean missile before it was launched. However, on Friday, Mr. Onodera stressed that any such weapons, if acquired, would be used only if Japan was attacked first and thus did not represent a shift from the purely defensive nature of the Japanese military, called the Self-Defense Forces.

The caution reflects the challenge that Mr. Abe faces as he seeks to raise Japan’s military profile in a region where memories of Japan’s wartime aggression remain raw. During visits to Southeast Asian nations, Mr. Abe has tried to cast Japan as a reliable partner that can help offset the growing influence of China, which has been embroiled in heated territorial disputes with many nations in the region. On Friday, Mr. Abe invited China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to an immediate summit meeting aimed at lowering tensions.

Still, analysts and politicians say Mr. Abe’s message of a more robust military has struck a chord among a Japanese public that feels increasingly anxious as China has appeared to challenge the long-held military dominance of the United States in Asia. This has fed growing calls for Japan to build up its own ability to defend itself, while also trying to keep the United States engaged in the region at a time when the Pentagon faces deep budget cuts.

“Over the last few years, the Japanese people’s feelings about the national security environment, and also about the Ministry of Defense and the Self-Defense Forces, have changed,” Mr. Onodera told reporters. “This has led to the current revision” that the Liberal Democrats have under way.

The anxiety over China has also led to a growing public acceptance of the Japanese military, which was long blamed for leading Japan into catastrophic defeat in World War II. In one symbolically important change, the report on Friday called for creating a single, unified command for Japan’s army, the Ground Self-Defense Forces, to improve its coordination and efficiency. That would reverse a decision made after Japan’s postwar armed forces were created in 1954 to break the ground forces into several smaller regional commands so they would be too weak and divided to hijack the civilian government, as the Imperial Army did during World War II.

In another significant step, the report called for increasing Japan’s military presence in Southeast Asia by helping those nations build their own defense capacities to respond to possible Chinese provocations. The report also called for closer military cooperation with Australia and South Korea, two other former targets of Japan’s early-20th-century aggression.

In addition, the report called for building up the country’s ability to help Japanese citizens during a terrorism or hostage crisis like the one in Algeria earlier this year, in which nearly 40 gas plant workers were killed, 10 of them Japanese.

Many of the changes were stated only vaguely in the report and had to be elaborated upon by Mr. Onodera. He said Japan was considering the acquisition of drones like the American-made Global Hawk, though he refused to name China as a possible target of surveillance. He also said Japan was considering the purchase of tilt-rotor aircraft like the United States military’s Osprey as part of an established plan to build an amphibious infantry unit similar to the Marines that could defend outlying islands.

“Japan has 6,800 islands,” Mr. Onodera said. “Any country should be able to defend itself.”

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« Reply #7768 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:58 AM »

Nauru riot accused 'are unlikely to get fair trial'

Charges against more than 150 asylum seekers are more than island's system can cope with, says former justice secretary

Oliver Laughland, Saturday 27 July 2013 02.35 BST   

More than 150 asylum seekers facing criminal charges on Nauru, following a riot at the regional processing centre last Friday, are unlikely to receive a fair trial due to the inability of the legal system to cope, according to a former justice secretary of Nauru.

David Lambourne, who served as justice secretary on the island state between 2010 and 2011, said he believed the criminal justice system was simply unable to cope with such a large volume of complex cases, with the Department of Immigration in Australia also indicating it had no plans to fund the defence costs of the accused.

Lambourne said that public legal defence on Nauru was “woefully inadequate” as it consisted only of seven pleaders, or legal advocates appointed by government with limited legal training.

He said: “These cases are beyond the capacity of the pleaders who are on the island, with all due respect to them. They do not have the legal knowledge to be able to properly defend these accused. And so it’s going to come down to whether any international lawyers are willing to represent these guys on a pro bono basis.”

But a trial potentially involving more than 100 defendants would undoubtedly require a huge amount of pro bono assistance.

Lambourne added: “An effective justice system requires the accused people be given proper representation so their defence can be effectively argued. If they [the accused] continued to be represented by the pleaders, then they are not going to be effectively represented. The pleaders are going to be up against prosecutors who are lawyers and it’s an unequal challenge.

“It’s simply a reflection of the fact that the legal profession in Nauru is woefully inadequate for anything that is even remotely complicated,” he said.

The Nauru Bulletin, a state newsletter released every fortnight, confirmed that 152 asylum seekers in court will be charged with a range of offences, including riot and unlawful assembly as well as some arson on public building charges. The accused are being seen in the Nauru district court in groups of 10, with the first hearing held on Thursday, and an expectation for them to continue all through next week.

Lambourne said that the arson charges would present additional difficulties as they would need to be heard in a higher court.

The bulletin says that, at present, the asylum seekers charged with offences are being represented by “court-appointed lawyers”. It reports that the magistrate hearing the cases has advised prosecution lawyers that “if the state cannot accommodate the detainees, there will be no choice but to grant bail”, indicating that some of the accused could be returned to regional processing on the island next month.

Joanna Olsson, director of the Nauruan government’s Information Office, said she was unaware of any request from the Nauruan government to Australia for legal defence assistance in the hearings. But a spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration said the criminal proceedings were “a matter for the Nauruan government”.

Daniel Webb, a lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne said: “The right to a fair trial is protected under international law, and also under the Nauruan constitution. Access to legal representation is a key component of that right.

“Australia can’t have it both ways. We can’t employ Nauru as an agent of our domestic policy, but then hide behind Nauru’s sovereignty when that suits us. Australia transferred these asylum seekers to Nauru, it’s Australia’s responsibility to make sure their human rights are respected post-transfer.”

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« Reply #7769 on: Jul 27, 2013, 07:01 AM »

More than 130 Morsi supporters killed in Egypt clashes

Death toll reaches at least 136 in Cairo as Muslim Brotherhood accuses security forces of shooting to kill

Patrick Kingsley and agencies in Cairo, Saturday 27 July 2013 10.29 BST   

At least 136 supporters of Egypt's ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, have been shot dead by security officials in what is the worst state-led massacre in the country since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, according to figures released by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

The Egyptian health ministry said that it had counted only 20 dead so far – though their figures are only based on bodies delivered to state institutions. Reporters at the scene counted at least 36 corpses in a single room.

The massacre took place in the small hours of Saturday morning, at a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya, east Cairo, where tens of thousands of pro-Morsi supporters have camped since Morsi was deposed on 3 July.

Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said the shooting started shortly before pre-dawn morning prayers on the fringes of a round-the-clock vigil being staged by backers of Morsi, who was toppled by the army more than three weeks ago.

"They are not shooting to wound, they are shooting to kill," Haddad said, adding that the death toll might be much higher.

Al Jazeera's Egypt television station reported that 120 had been killed and some 4,500 injured in the early morning violence near Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawia mosque.

Reporters at the scene said firing could still be heard hours after the troubles started.

"I have been trying to make the youth withdraw for five hours. I can't. They are saying they have paid with their blood and they do not want to retreat," said Saad el-Hosseini, a senior Brotherhood politician.

"It is a first attempt to clear Rabaa al-Adawia," he said.
An injured supporter of Mohamed Morsi is treated at a field hospital. An injured man is treated at a field hospital. Photograph: Ahmed Khaled/EPA

There was no immediate comment from state authorities on what had happened.

The clashes started after police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Morsi supporters who tried to extend the sit-in in eastern Cairo.

Al Jazeera showed medics desperately trying to revive casualties arriving at a field hospital set up near the mosque.

El-Haddad said police started firing repeated rounds of tear-gas at protesters on a road close to the mosque sometime after 3am local time (2am BST). Shortly afterwards, live rounds started flying, hitting people at close range.

The deaths come just two weeks after military and police officers massacred 51 Morsi supporters at a nearby protest in east Cairo.

They also happened less than 24 hours after hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters gathered in Egyptian streets to give General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the army chief who ousted Morsi, their assent to crackdown on what he had on Wednesday called "terrorism".

Sceptics say this is a euphemism for a violent campaign on largely peaceful Morsi supporters, who have held sit-ins and marches across several Egyptian cities since Morsi was overthrown – including at Rabaa al-Adawiya. For weeks, most Egyptian media have depicted pro-Morsi supporters as terrorists.

"It doesn't make sense for a defence minister to ask people to give him authority to fight terrorism," said Abdallah Hatem, a 19-year-old student from Cairo, on Friday.

"So his speech was a pretext for something else – a pretext to fight peaceful protesters who want Morsi to come back."

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