July 31, 2013
In Gaza, Iran Finds an Ally More Agreeable Than Hamas
By FARES AKRAM
BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip — The oil, sugar, pasta and other staples looked innocuous enough as dozens of young Palestinian volunteers, sweating in the heat at a warehouse here, packed them into cartons destined for Gaza’s poor during the holy month of Ramadan.
But in Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, almost everything has a political flavor.
The food boxes bore the logo of Islamic Jihad and the Iranian flag alongside the Palestinian one. Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed extremist militant group, often challenges the larger Hamas.
Organizers at the packaging center said that the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation, a Beirut-based Iranian charity, was financing the $2 million food aid project. Islamic Jihad has been granted the honors of distributing the 40,000 parcels, giving it a boost at a delicate time when Hamas is struggling to cope with a shifting regional landscape.
In recent months, Iran has suspended millions of dollars in monthly aid to Hamas because the group did not stand by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, its former patron, in his struggle against rebel forces. Unlike Hamas, Islamic Jihad did not leave its base in Damascus and has kept up relations with the government of Mr. Assad, a longtime Iranian ally.
Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, said that the food relief served as an Iranian reminder to Hamas that Iran was its only reliable backer.
“The aid also aims to support Islamic Jihad as a resistance movement in the face of Israel,” Mr. Abusada added.
Hamas has also been suffering from the turmoil in neighboring Egypt. As the Egyptian military has stepped up its campaign against Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza, it has destroyed or closed most of the lucrative smuggling tunnels that run beneath the Egypt-Gaza border, depriving Hamas of significant tax revenue.
There are signs that Hamas is now trying to mend its relations with Iran. This week Hamas joined other groups at a meeting in an Islamic Jihad office in Gaza to help plan activities for International Quds Day, a day of solidarity with Jerusalem that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini instituted when he came to power in Iran in 1979 and which falls on the last Friday of Ramadan. In recent years only Islamic Jihad observed the event, with small demonstrations in Gaza.
In what was perhaps a gesture meant to lower tensions further, an Islamic Jihad official said that the group had allocated 3,000 Iranian-financed food packages to Hamas for distribution to needy families on its lists.
Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, said that additional food had become necessary in light of the Egyptian crackdown on the smuggling tunnels.
“In these difficult circumstances, the distribution of aid from the Islamic nation is a blessing,” he said.
Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, said it was the right of Palestinians in Gaza to get assistance from the Islamic Republic, just as they take aid from the United States.
For Um Anwar Saleh, 53, a widow and the mother of three from the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, the aid was welcome regardless of where it had come from.
“Those who help us are better than those who don’t,” she said as she waved for a taxi to help her get the heavy carton home from the warehouse. “May Allah reward them.”
July 31, 2013
A Nation Shaped by Its Poorest Citizens
By MANU JOSEPH
NEW DELHI — They squat like giant frogs to mop the floors. They carry large lanterns on their heads at wedding processions. With grave faces, they iron underwear that is not theirs, and serve their masters in many other ways. But there is something else that India’s poor do for the rich, something more complicated. That is why poverty is often top news in this great republic, as it has been over the past several days. Not because of its rarity or its power to shock — that is a laughable thought — but because the poor have a relentless and extraordinary influence on the rest.
Last week, the Indian government announced that it had good news. In the span of seven years starting in 2004, nearly 138 million Indians had ceased to be extremely poor. Not because they had died, but because they had risen above the poverty line, also known as the Tendulkar Line.
But there was no celebration. The poor did not appear to know of their great escape. As for the middle class and the mainstream news media, they reacted with anger. They denounced the news as deceit by statistics, and condemned, as they have before, the Tendulkar Line, which stands for a household expenditure of about 5,000 rupees, or $83, a month for an urban family of five, and even less in rural areas.
In defense of the government, a politician who was once an actor said he could enjoy a full meal in Mumbai for 12 rupees. Another politician, an avid golfer, said it was possible to eat for just 1 rupee — if an Indian “desired.” Another said 5 rupees would fetch a meal. There was much uproar from their political rivals, social activists and journalists. Yet another politician has set out to prove that he can have a meal for 20 rupees, angering the middle class even more.
A less clownish defense from within the government was that the Tendulkar Line, if adjusted for living costs in India, is roughly equal to the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.25, which several nations have adopted.
India’s leading commentator on economics, Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar, wrote in his column that “the world,” in which he included “poverty specialists,” praised China when it claimed to have reduced the number of its extremely poor by 220 million between 1978 and 2004 using a definition of poverty that was lower than the Tendulkar Line, but that the Indian government’s success was being regarded with suspicion by development economists, talk show guests and other forms of intellectuals, who consider the Tendulkar Line an insult to India’s poor.
The poor would be moved if they only knew how much reverence the well-fed have for their condition, a sort of sacred plight that should not be defiled by charlatan statistics. In fact, the elite in India are deeply influenced, affected and shaped by the nation’s poverty.
At a fundamental level, it provides an affluent Indian with a moral direction, if not for himself then for the nation — end poverty — and an honorable reason to hold politicians in contempt — they have not ended poverty.
It also provides him with an indisputable reason to believe that he himself is privileged, a belief he abandons only with the shock of first setting foot in a prosperous nation. Every Indian in the upper reaches of society is, inescapably, a poverty-eradication thinker. His insurmountable problem is finding a competent authority to whom to delegate this task.
Yet, he is also a great beneficiary of the nation’s poverty. It may appear that he is part of a fiercely competitive society, but the fact is that, considering the odds he would face if every Indian were empowered, if every Indian child had eaten well and gone to a decent school, he has it easy. In almost every sphere of activity, men and women with limited talents can go very far because most Indians have never had the opportunities to fully challenge them.
In return, among other things, he has to endure the relentless stares of poverty.
The simplest signs of affluence can seem obscene in public. Is it arrogant to walk down a street in most neighborhoods eating Kentucky Fried Chicken? It probably is. In a large upper-middle-class settlement of Gurgaon, which is a part of the National Capital Region, parents dropping their children off at school almost always use their smaller, more modest cars. Apart from practical reasons, like the greater convenience of parking, they are also unnerved by the steady stares of idle men sitting on the walls, standing on the sidewalks. The well-to-do prefer to be inconspicuous when they leave their children in someone else’s care for hours.
Abject poverty also, inevitably, shapes the works of India’s economists, artists, journalists and curious people who make documentaries for a living. Until recently, India’s novelists and filmmakers complained that the outside world did not take them seriously if they were not portraying exotic Indian poverty. That grouse has since subsided as the bleeding hearts of the outside world have moved to new frontiers.
Not surprisingly, poverty is at the heart of Indian economics. For most of July, India’s news media joyously played host to a battle between the economists Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati. Mr. Sen restated his long-held conviction that investment in public health and education would, along with the benefits of a market economy, take India far. Mr. Bhagwati restated his own that India must focus primarily on economic growth, to give it the means to pay for social welfare.
Mr. Sen, in an interview, chuckled when he used an expression that is popular in India: “inclusive growth.”
I asked him why he found it funny.
“I don’t find it funny,” he said. “I find it somewhat redundant. Sustained economic growth and inclusive growth are not disparate.”
But somehow India has managed to separate the two. It is as if the nation did not really want the demise of poverty. For, after all, it is India’s most enduring heritage.
Manu Joseph is editor of the Indian newsweekly Open and author of the novel “The Illicit Happiness of Other People.”
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
August 1, 2013, 3:35 am
How Not to Talk About Poverty in India
By MONOBINA GUPTA
Growing up, I remember seeing young couples munching peanuts, idly walking past the banks of Dhakuria Lake, across the expanse of the open fields, in the heart of Kolkata, as dusk settled in. “Poor man’s romance” ran the wry joke drawing attention to the city’s severe economic plight and the benighted Calcuttan couple’s dwindling purchasing power. Predictably, the city’s peanut-munching, hand-holding subaltern lovers featured in many Bengali films, with Bengals’ joblessness and ubiquitous impoverishment at the heart of the narratives.
Nostalgia hung over that romantic walk through the image of innocent love sustained on a cheap paper packet of peanuts. But nostalgia is undoubtedly not what’s driving our politicians to glorify dirt-cheap meals these days.
Congress spokesmen and ministers have recently made a spectacle of themselves by claiming the poor could fill themselves with meals costing just 1, 5 or 12 rupees, no more than 20 U.S. cents. The idea here is not to evoke nostalgia of ascetic romance but to bear out the larger economic claims based on the Planning Commission’s recent reports of the dwindling numbers of the poor — a phenomenon, according to these politicians, resulting from growth and its trickle-down effect. Last month, the Planning Commission released figures stating that between 2011 and 2012, only 22 percent of Indians lived below the poverty line. The controversial assertion was calculated by capping monthly expenditures at 1,000 rupees in urban areas – about $16 – and 816 rupees in rural areas. This meant that anyone who spent over 33.33 rupees per day in cities or 27.2 rupees in villages could be counted as ‘poor.’ Unsurprisingly, the commission’s numbers have been the subject of contentious debate, with many pointing out that 33 and 27 rupees would not even buy enough food for a person to sustain themselves on a daily basis.
Seen in this context, the statements coming out of the Congress Party were part of a larger attempt to gag “povertarian” critics by underlining the easy availability of cheap meals that the poor can eat in order to survive on their meager wages, which the government claims are enough to keep them out of the poverty trap. For some policymakers and economists, “povertarianism” is synonymous with socialism and regressive thinking, and they say that by repeatedly emphasising the rising numbers of poor people in India, such thinking seeks to reverse the immense gains of 20 years of economic liberalization. Those calling for close attention to social inequalities – malnourishment, hunger, the lack of a safety net for the vulnerable – are seen as cynics diverting attention from the optimistic narrative of India’s rise as a global player.
True to form, the politicians in question – Raj Babbar and Farooq Abdullah – have since retracted their statements, expressing regret. By now the “sin atonement” sequence is firmly lodged in the politicians’ daily vocabulary, given that every second day someone or other shoots himself in the foot and then — after hell has broken loose – “regrets” his callousness. But the retraction of these statements should not make us blind to the larger context from which they emerge, one where we are constantly hammered with the slogan of an Aspirational India, even as its cheerleaders are averse to recognizing the persistent (if not growing) levels of inequality in society. Take the case of Narendra Modi, one of the most prominent symbols of Aspirational India. Last year it was revealed that the National Family Health Survey discovered that between 1998/1999 and 2005/2006, the percentage of underweight children in Gujarat had increased to 47 percent. When The Wall Street Journal asked Mr. Modi about these numbers, the chief minister blamed Gujarati’s middle class girls for being more interested in beauty than health.
“If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, ‘I won’t drink milk, I’ll get fat,’” The chief minister said. Nor is this problem unique to Gujarat. According to UNICEF, around 46 percent of Indian children below 3 years of age are “too small for their age”, while 16 percent are “wasted”. These are not figures that feature in the narrative about optimistic India.
The recent spat between the economists Jagdish Bhagwati, Arvind Panagariya and Amartya Sen is essentially about these divergent approaches to the India story. Caught in a debate that has unfairly juxtaposed growth to welfare, Amartya Sen has become the common point of attack for all those who have sharpened their swords against “povertarianism” over the years. In an increasingly incoherent war of words, Sen has been taken to task for personifying everything that Aspirational India fears and loathes – from communism and welfare to personal relationships with ‘foreign’ women. But the anxiety around Amartya Sen’s focus on issues like welfare is illustrative of a broader problem afflicting Indian policymakers. Like those who talk about cheap meals for the poor, anti-povertarians who swear by the Aspirational India credo are the ones who think that 1 rupee meal can be an index of poverty alleviation, and that the poor can survive on scraps of food.
It would appear that even aspirations are not about equal access to better things in life. Going by the utterances of the politicians and economists, the poor are meant to be unequal even when it comes down to basic necessities like one square meal a day. The poor can only aspire to survive; no 5-rupee peanut romance for them. Not that even a hand-to-mouth raw existence is possible in 1, 5 or 12 rupees. While the upwardly mobile classes, the real beneficiaries of what is called “growth,” can aspire to fancier meals in ever-proliferating luxurious restaurants, the poor can aspire only to live and work.
Last year in the United States, Cory A. Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., did a food stamp experiment. He lived on a $4-a-day food budget for a week to show how deprived food stamp recipients are.
“We have much work to do at the local level to address a legacy of structural inequities in the American food system,” Mr. Booker wrote in his challenge announcement on LinkedIn. “As more and more working people and families – many holding down more than one job – face greater and greater challenges to juggle housing, medical, and transportation costs, meeting nutritional needs becomes a serious problem and a social justice issue.”
Contrast this with Mr. Abdullah’s words: “If you want, you can fill your stomach for 1 rupee or 100 rupees, depending on what you want to eat.” One wonders what Mr Abdullah wants to eat. Perhaps cake.
Monobina Gupta is the national editor of editorial pages at the Daily News and Analysis newspaper in New Delhi.
August 1, 2013
Court Rules North Koreans Can Inherit Property From South
By CHOE SANG-HUN
The Supreme Court of South Korea has ruled for the first time that North Korean children of a South Korean citizen have the right to inherit their deceased parent’s property, court officials said on Thursday.
The verdict set a legal precedent with far-reaching implications on the divided Korean Peninsula, as it opened the way for what could be a flood of similar lawsuits. Millions of Koreans were separated from their families across the border after the peninsula was divided at the end of World War II in 1945, with the 1950-53 Korean War sealing the border.
Many of those living in the South died without meeting their children, spouses or siblings in the North again or finding a way to bequeath their fortunes to those living in the impoverished North. There is no telephone, e-mail or letter exchange allowed between the two Koreas.
The decision this week involved a man identified only by his surname, Yoon. A native of North Korea, Mr. Yoon fled to South Korea during the war, traveling only with his eldest daughter but leaving his wife and five other children behind in the North. The wife died in the North in 1997.
When the war ended in a stalemate and with the peninsula still divided and no hope for him to reunite with his family, Mr. Yoon remarried in the South and had four children here. South Korea does not permit bigamy, but while it banned its citizens from contacting North Koreans during the cold war, it provided legal protection for a second marriage in the South.
A doctor by training, Mr. Yoon left 10 billion won, or $8.9 million, worth of property when he died in 1987.
As his South Korean children moved to inherit the properties, his North Korea-born daughter, now 78, filed a lawsuit in 2009, claiming that they should share the fortune with Mr. Yoon’s children in the North.
She went to extraordinary lengths to win her case. She found a Korean-American who was willing to travel to the isolated North to find, with the help of the North Korean government, her siblings in the North and collect DNA evidence, including hair and fingernail samples, and she videotaped statements from them allowing her to represent them in a South Korean court of law.
In a 2011 lower-court ruing, which was formally upheld by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the North Koreans were recognized as biological children of Mr. Yoon. The court also recognized the North Koreans’ right to hire a South Korean lawyer and file a lawsuit in the South, as well as their rights to a portion of the inheritance from their father.
Despite the ruling, the North Korean children are unlikely to get their money anytime soon.
In anticipation of the cases like Mr. Yoon’s, South Korea enacted a law last year stipulating that any inheritance money won by North Koreans be kept in the care of a court-appointed custodian and sent to the North only with government permission. With tensions high with the North after its Feb. 12 nuclear test, South Korea keeps tight restrictions on any cash transmissions to the North.
But legal experts say that if the North Koreans file another lawsuit claiming that this law violates their rights under the Constitution of South Korea, it can open a whole new legal battle over the ban on cash transmissions. The South Korean Constitution includes North Korea in the South Korean territory, essentially giving all North Koreans citizenship in South Korea.
“The court order raises more questions than it answers,” the conservative daily Chosun Ilbo said in an editorial after the original 2011 ruling. “This could trigger chaos and an explosive increase in lawsuits.”
Before Mr. Yoon’s, there had been a couple of other cases in which North Korean children claimed a stake in their South Korean fathers’ inheritances. They were settled out of court.
In 2005, the grandson of a dead North Korean novelist won a lawsuit against a South Korean publisher, which was accused of violating the novelist’s copyrights. In 2011, an 86-year-old North Korean man helped his South Korean daughter win back his land held by a provincial government in the South after he learned that his wife in the South had never remarried after their separation during the war.
In 2011, a North Korean woman defected to South Korea to sue her step-grandmother for a share of an inheritance from her late grandfather. The grandfather met the North Korean woman, his only surviving kin in the North, for the first time in the 1990s, when the two Koreas promoted political reconciliation and allowed family reunions for limited numbers of people. He had since regularly sent her cash through brokers in China.
When the cash stopped coming after the man’s death, the North Korean granddaughter defected to the South to claim her share.
Asylum seekers sent to Manus Island despite fire safety warning
Transfers to Manus Island went ahead in 2012 without Diac acting fully on a report that found 'real threat' to life and property
theguardian Thursday 1 August 2013 11.12 BST
Asylum seekers were transferred to Manus Island without the Department of Immigration (Diac) acting fully on a report that raised huge fire safety concerns about the regional processing centre, Guardian Australia has learned.
A document released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that as of 11 October 2012 there was “no fire service connected within the total detention centre” as the piping from the water mains on the base was riddled with “numerous leaks”. But former Diac employee Greg Lake, who worked as the Canberra-based director of regional processing, said that the first transfer to Manus, which took place on 21 November 2012, went ahead without the department properly acting on the report.
The document, produced by ABCO Water Systems and commissioned by Diac, examines the state of water provision on Manus and describes the “urgent need for a comprehensive fire system to be available”, and warns of the “real threat” to life and property as a result of the dysfunctional fire system.
“As transportable type buildings are being utilised and the possibility of the upgraded camp being based on transportable buildings there is an urgent need for a comprehensive fire system to be available,” the report says.
It continues: “This is for both safety and security reasons. From recent reports, deliberately lit fires are a distinct possibility. Transportable buildings will burn to the ground within seven minutes and the danger to both life and property is a real threat.”
The report says the department has two options to create an adequate fire system. The first involves repairing the existing system and supplying hoses mounted on a “rapid response trailer”, and the second installing a new system meeting “applicable Australian standards”.
Speaking to Guardian Australia, Lake, who read the report at the time it was handed to Diac, said there “wasn’t sufficient time to implement either of those two recommendations” before the first transfers of detainees, which included women and children, took place on 21 November.
He says the warnings contained within it were understood by senior public servants in the department but that “neither could be actioned before the first transfer”. Lake says fire services were not up to either of the recommended standards on Manus as of December 2012, when he was transferred from Canberra, but added that some efforts were made following the ABCO report to improve fire services on Manus.
The Department of Immigration could not respond to questions about when an adequate fire service was installed on Manus, but a spokeswoman said that “appropriate systems are now in place”.
The news follows revelations by New Matilda that the department knew of problems with water supplies on Manus island before transfers took place, and from Fairfax media that the department was aware of malaria risks before transferring women and children to the island in November.
The documents that led to these revelations, as well as those from Guardian Australia, were obtained by freedom of information requests by Humanitarian Research Partners, a not-for-profit human rights and research organisation.
Uruguay approves state-grown marijuana bill
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 1, 2013 7:07 EDT
Uruguay moved closer to becoming the world’s first nation to produce and distribute marijuana, after its lower house approved a bill putting control of the drug in government hands.
The controversial measure approved Wednesday was unveiled in June last year as part of a series of efforts to combat rising violence.
If the measure wins Senate approval, it would mark the first time a national government takes charge of production and distribution of legal marijuana.
Lawmakers argued for 14 hours before approving the text with 50 votes in favour out of 96.
“The regulation is not meant to promote consumption,” lawmaker Sebastian Sabini, who helped draft the legislation, said at the beginning of the session.
“Consumption already exists,” he argued. NGO workers favoring regulation of legal marijuana had filed into the chamber’s visitors’ galleries as lawmakers emphasized that the drug business finances organized crime.
Marijuana use has doubled in the last ten years in the small, mostly rural South American country of 3.4 million.
The government of leftist President Jose Mujica, who is a doctor by training, has given its blessing to the measure.
The lengthy debate was expected in the lower house, where the president’s left-leaning Frente Amplio (FA) party has a narrow majority. All the opposition parties are against the proposed law.
The measure specifies that the government would assume control and regulation of the importation, planting, cultivation, harvesting, production, acquisition, storage, marketing and distribution of marijuana and its derivatives.
After registering, users would be able to cultivate up to six plants, gain access to the drug as part of a marijuana-growing club; or purchase up to 40 grams per month at a dispensary.
Marijuana users in Uruguay, not surprisingly, said they were delighted by the vote.
“As a user, it is an important law because we are going to have control over (the marijuana) we consume” said William, 21.
By contrast, he said, the cannabis sold by drug traffickers contains “a lot of substances that we don’t want to consume.”
Gerardo Amarilla of the opposition National Party, listing marijuana’s effects on health, said the project was “playing with fire.”
According to a survey released this week, 63 percent of people in Uruguay are against the government’s plan.
Under the current law, possession of marijuana for personal use is permitted in Uruguay. Judges however can determine what quantity is considered appropriate for personal use.
Many Uruguayans are concerned the law will give the impression to foreign tourists that the country is a great place to unwind with marijuana or stronger drugs.
Uruguay’s National Drug Board (JND) has said that the country is home to approximately 20,000 daily marijuana users, while the total number of consumers reached 120,000.
The JND estimated that 22 tons of marijuana are currently being sold in the country for between $30 and $40 million per year.
The legislative debate comes one year after the measure was floated by the government and in recent months has given rise to public debate and a media campaign.
“It’s a change we’ve been waiting for, and it fixes the hypocrisy in the previous law,” Juan Vaz, a spokesman for the Association of Cannabis Studies told AFP.
He said that the official figures on consumption were incorrect, estimating instead that the number of regular users was closer to 200,000.
But pharmacists did not favour selling marijuana in their stores.
“We disagree with the sale of an abusable drug in a pharmacy, which is considered a health center,” Virginia Olmos, president of the Association of Chemists and Pharmacists of Uruguay told AFP.
Mexico to detain ‘Queen of the Pacific’ over drug trafficking
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 19:44 EDT
Mexico will detain Sandra Avila Beltran, known as the “Queen of the Pacific” for her links to the drug trade, after the United States deports her, an official said Wednesday.
The government official, who requested anonymity, said Avila Beltran faces an investigation into a scheme to launder money through real estate purchases.
Last week, a US judge sentenced her to 70 months in prison but she was due to be released due to time already served in Mexico and the United States.
She had been convicted of being an accessory after the fact in keeping a drug lord from being apprehended.
A prominent figure in Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa cartel, Avila Beltran, 52, reached a plea deal that resulted in the sole charge.
Avila Beltran was sentenced for being an accessory after the fact in helping her former boyfriend — Colombian Juan Diego Espinosa, nicknamed “El Tigre” — avoid arrest.
He had served as a key liaison between the Sinaloa and Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel.
Avila Beltran was arrested on September 28, 2007, south of Mexico City. Her lawyers had previously won three appeals to avoid her extradition.
She had been accused of belonging to a trafficking organization dedicated to buying and transporting drugs between Colombia and the United States from at least January 1999 to March 2004, Mexican prosecutors had said.
Avila Beltran gained notoriety by smiling for the cameras and inspiring books and even a well-known ballad.
Australia opens ‘world’s smartest’ aquarium
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 1, 2013 7:16 EDT
A major research aquarium able to simulate ocean warming and carry out key studies on the deadly crown-of-thorns starfish devastating the Great Barrier Reef opened in Australia on Thursday.
The Aus$35 million (US$31.4 million) National Sea Simulator, or SeaSim, was unveiled in the northern city of Townsville by Industry Minister Kim Carr, who said it was a vital weapon in protecting the reef and Australia’s vast territorial waters.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), where SeaSim is housed, has labelled it as the “world’s smartest aquarium”. It has an “awesome” array of technology on offer, according to AIMS principal research scientist Mike Hall.
“When we started planning SeaSim we visited over 40 marine aquariums around the world to identify key attributes of the perfect research facility,” said Hall.
“What we’ve built takes the best in the world and adds new technologies and an incredible level of automation and control.”
Hall said researchers would be able to tweak a sophisticated array of parameters in the SeaSim tanks, including water temperature and acidity, salinity, lighting, nutrient levels, and water quality to test a range of hypotheses.
“It still has walls, unlike the open ocean. But it will fast-track marine discovery,” he said.
Tackling the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish responsible for widespread damage to the Barrier Reef would be a key priority for the simulator, according to AIMS chief John Gunn.
Coral cover on the embattled reef — which is facing a world heritage downgrade from UNESCO — has halved in the past 27 years, with the starfish blamed for 42 percent of the damage.
“We need to understand why starfish populations periodically boom leading to massive reef destruction. Is it due to nutrients in flood waters or are more complex factors at play?” said Gunn.
He said the coral-feasting starfish were known to communicate via chemical signals, and SeaSim would explore whether those same signals could be replicated to “trick starfish into congregating or dispersing — making physical removal easier”.
“We hope to answer these and many other questions about the starfish with the help of SeaSim,” he said.
The Australian government has funded a culling programme for the coral predators, which are naturally-occurring but have proliferated due to pollution and run-off.
Canberra formally downgraded the reef’s health from moderate to poor last month, with cyclones and floods depleting water quality and reducing coral cover by 15 percent since 2009.
SeaSim will also explore the mechanisms of coral bleaching and how the reef may adapt to warmer, more acidic oceans, with long-term, multi-organism and multi-generational studies possible on a larger scale than ever before possible.
Ice-Free Arctic Was Responsible For Super-Warm Pliocene Epoch, Research Finds
A year-round, ice-free Arctic Ocean could help to explain why the Earth is known to have been significantly warmer during the Pliocene Epoch than the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at the time would have otherwise suggested, according to new research from the University of Colorado Boulder.
"Year-round ice-free conditions across the surface of the Arctic Ocean could explain why Earth was substantially warmer during the Pliocene Epoch than it is today, despite similar concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."
“Year-round ice-free conditions across the surface of the Arctic Ocean could explain why Earth was substantially warmer during the Pliocene Epoch than it is today, despite similar concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”
The last time that CO2 levels were as high as they are now — at 400 ppm — was during the Pliocene, 3-5 million years ago. The climate then was 3.5-9 Fahrenheit warmer than it is now (due to, a large degree, a warm Arctic at the time). If the atmospheric CO2 levels now are the same as then, but it was much warmer then, why? What are the mechanisms for that?
Something to note — we are already committed to warm considerably more than we already have as a result of the greenhouse gases that have already been put into the atmosphere, the warming/environmental changes occur relatively (as compared to the human attention span) slowly… As this new research shows, though, some of these environmental changes can themselves lead to further changes in the environment as a whole — such as a year-round ice-free leading to a “blanket of water vapor and clouds that keeps the Arctic warmer year-round”.
It was only just in May that we hit the 400 parts per million milestone — as recorded by instruments at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Evidence shows that the “carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere reached 400 ppm — between 3 and 5 million years ago during the Pliocene — Earth was about 3.5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer (2 to 5 degrees Celsius) than it is today. During that time period, trees overtook the tundra, sprouting right to the edges of the Arctic Ocean, and the seas swelled, pushing ocean levels 65 to 80 feet higher. Scientists’ understanding of the climate during the Pliocene has largely been pieced together from fossil records preserved in sediments deposited beneath lakes and on the ocean floor.”
“When we put 400 ppm carbon dioxide into a model, we don’t get as warm a planet as we see when we look at paleorecords from the Pliocene,” stated Jim White, director of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and co-author of the new study. “That tells us that there may be something missing in the climate models.”
The University of Colorado at Boulder continues:
Scientists have proposed several hypotheses in the past to explain the warmer Pliocene climate. One idea, for example, was that the formation of the Isthmus of Panama, the narrow strip of land linking North and South America, could have altered ocean circulations during the Pliocene, forcing warmer waters toward the Arctic. But many of those hypotheses, including the Panama possibility, have not proved viable.
For the new study, led by Ashley Ballantyne, a former CU-Boulder doctoral student who is now an assistant professor of bioclimatology at the University of Montana, the research team decided to see what would happen if they forced the model to assume that the Arctic was free of ice in the winter as well as the summer during the Pliocene. Without these additional parameters, climate models set to emulate atmospheric conditions during the Pliocene show ice-free summers followed by a layer of ice reforming during the sunless winters.
In the model simulation, year-round ice-free conditions caused warmer conditions in the Arctic because the open water surface allowed for evaporation. Evaporation requires energy, and the water vapor then stored that energy as heat in the atmosphere. The water vapor also created clouds, which trapped heat near the planet’s surface.
“We tried a simple experiment in which we said, ‘We don’t know why sea ice might be gone all year round, but let’s just make it go away,’ ” stated White, who also is a professor of geological sciences. “And what we found was that we got the right kind of temperature change and we got a dampened seasonal cycle, both of which are things we think we see in the Pliocene.”
“Basically, when you take away the sea ice, the Arctic Ocean responds by creating a blanket of water vapor and clouds that keeps the Arctic warmer.”
The researchers are now “trying to understand what types of conditions could bridge the standard model simulations with the simulations in which ice-free conditions in the Arctic are imposed. If they’re successful, computer models would be able to model the transition between a time when ice reformed in the winter to a time when the ocean remained devoid of ice throughout the year. Such a model also would offer insight into what could happen in our future. Currently, about 70 percent of sea ice disappears during the summertime before reforming in the winter.”
“We’re trying to understand what happened in the past but with a very keen eye to the future and the present,” White stated. “The piece that we’re looking at in the future is what is going to happen as the Arctic Ocean warms up and becomes more ice-free in the summertime. Will we continue to return to an ice-covered Arctic in the wintertime? Or will we start to see some of the feedbacks that now aren’t very well represented in our climate models? If we do, that’s a big game changer.”
The new research was just published in the journal Palaeogeography, Paleoclimatology, Palaeoecology.
Saturn’s Moons Mimas And Pandora — Beautiful New Image From NASA’s Cassini
July 31, 2013
Seeing the two moons together in one image makes for an interesting sight, owing to their differences — Pandora is a relatively small moon (50 miles across) that didn’t possess the mass necessary to pull itself into a round shape in the same way that the larger moon Mimas did. It’s thought — by researchers — that the strange elongated shape of Pandora may hold clues to how it, and the other moons near Saturn’s rings, formed.
NASA has more: “This view looks toward the anti-Saturn hemisphere of Mimas (246 miles, or 396 kilometers across). North on Mimas is up and rotated 28 degrees to the right. The image was . The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 690,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) from Mimas. Image scale is 4 miles (7 kilometers) per pixel. Pandora was at a distance of 731,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) when this image was taken. Image scale on Pandora is 4 miles (7 kilometers) per pixel.”
“The surface area of Mimas is slightly less than the land area of Spain. The low density of Mimas, 1.15 g/cm³, indicates that it is composed mostly of water ice with only a small amount of rock. Due to the tidal forces acting on it, Mimas is noticeably prolate; its longest axis is about 10% longer than the shortest. The ellipsoidal shape of Mimas is especially noticeable in some recent images from the Cassini probe.”
“From its very low density and relatively high albedo, it seems likely that Pandora is a very porous icy body. There is a lot of uncertainty in these values, however, so this remains to be confirmed.”
In the USA....
XKeyscore: NSA tool collects 'nearly everything a user does on the internet'
• XKeyscore gives 'widest-reaching' collection of online data
• NSA analysts require no prior authorization for searches
• Sweeps up emails, social media activity and browsing history
• NSA's XKeyscore program – read one of the presentations
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 13.56 BST
tional Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.
The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian's earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.
The files shed light on one of Snowden's most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.
"I, sitting at my desk," said Snowden, could "wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email".
US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden's assertion: "He's lying. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do."
But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.
XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA's "widest reaching" system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet", including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.
Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing "real-time" interception of an individual's internet activity.
Under US law, the NSA is required to obtain an individualized Fisa warrant only if the target of their surveillance is a 'US person', though no such warrant is required for intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets. But XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst.
One training slide illustrates the digital activity constantly being collected by XKeyscore and the analyst's ability to query the databases at any time.
The purpose of XKeyscore is to allow analysts to search the metadata as well as the content of emails and other internet activity, such as browser history, even when there is no known email account (a "selector" in NSA parlance) associated with the individual being targeted.
Analysts can also search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language in which the internet activity was conducted or the type of browser used.
One document notes that this is because "strong selection [search by email address] itself gives us only a very limited capability" because "a large amount of time spent on the web is performing actions that are anonymous."
The NSA documents assert that by 2008, 300 terrorists had been captured using intelligence from XKeyscore.
Analysts are warned that searching the full database for content will yield too many results to sift through. Instead they are advised to use the metadata also stored in the databases to narrow down what to review.
A slide entitled "plug-ins" in a December 2012 document describes the various fields of information that can be searched. It includes "every email address seen in a session by both username and domain", "every phone number seen in a session (eg address book entries or signature block)" and user activity – "the webmail and chat activity to include username, buddylist, machine specific cookies etc".
In a second Guardian interview in June, Snowden elaborated on his statement about being able to read any individual's email if he had their email address. He said the claim was based in part on the email search capabilities of XKeyscore, which Snowden says he was authorized to use while working as a Booz Allen contractor for the NSA.
One top-secret document describes how the program "searches within bodies of emails, webpages and documents", including the "To, From, CC, BCC lines" and the 'Contact Us' pages on websites".
To search for emails, an analyst using XKS enters the individual's email address into a simple online search form, along with the "justification" for the search and the time period for which the emails are sought.
The analyst then selects which of those returned emails they want to read by opening them in NSA reading software.
The system is similar to the way in which NSA analysts generally can intercept the communications of anyone they select, including, as one NSA document put it, "communications that transit the United States and communications that terminate in the United States".
One document, a top secret 2010 guide describing the training received by NSA analysts for general surveillance under the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, explains that analysts can begin surveillance on anyone by clicking a few simple pull-down menus designed to provide both legal and targeting justifications. Once options on the pull-down menus are selected, their target is marked for electronic surveillance and the analyst is able to review the content of their communications:
Chats, browsing history and other internet activity
Beyond emails, the XKeyscore system allows analysts to monitor a virtually unlimited array of other internet activities, including those within social media.
An NSA tool called DNI Presenter, used to read the content of stored emails, also enables an analyst using XKeyscore to read the content of Facebook chats or private messages.
An analyst can monitor such Facebook chats by entering the Facebook user name and a date range into a simple search screen.
Analysts can search for internet browsing activities using a wide range of information, including search terms entered by the user or the websites viewed.
As one slide indicates, the ability to search HTTP activity by keyword permits the analyst access to what the NSA calls "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet".
The XKeyscore program also allows an analyst to learn the IP addresses of every person who visits any website the analyst specifies.
The quantity of communications accessible through programs such as XKeyscore is staggeringly large. One NSA report from 2007 estimated that there were 850bn "call events" collected and stored in the NSA databases, and close to 150bn internet records. Each day, the document says, 1-2bn records were added.
William Binney, a former NSA mathematician, said last year that the agency had "assembled on the order of 20tn transactions about US citizens with other US citizens", an estimate, he said, that "only was involving phone calls and emails". A 2010 Washington Post article reported that "every day, collection systems at the [NSA] intercept and store 1.7bn emails, phone calls and other type of communications."
The XKeyscore system is continuously collecting so much internet data that it can be stored only for short periods of time. Content remains on the system for only three to five days, while metadata is stored for 30 days. One document explains: "At some sites, the amount of data we receive per day (20+ terabytes) can only be stored for as little as 24 hours."
To solve this problem, the NSA has created a multi-tiered system that allows analysts to store "interesting" content in other databases, such as one named Pinwale which can store material for up to five years.
It is the databases of XKeyscore, one document shows, that now contain the greatest amount of communications data collected by the NSA.
In 2012, there were at least 41 billion total records collected and stored in XKeyscore for a single 30-day period.
Legal v technical restrictions
While the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008 requires an individualized warrant for the targeting of US persons, NSA analysts are permitted to intercept the communications of such individuals without a warrant if they are in contact with one of the NSA's foreign targets.
The ACLU's deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, told the Guardian last month that national security officials expressly said that a primary purpose of the new law was to enable them to collect large amounts of Americans' communications without individualized warrants.
"The government doesn't need to 'target' Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications," said Jaffer. "The government inevitably sweeps up the communications of many Americans" when targeting foreign nationals for surveillance.
In recent years, the NSA has attempted to segregate exclusively domestic US communications in separate databases. But even NSA documents acknowledge that such efforts are imperfect, as even purely domestic communications can travel on foreign systems, and NSA tools are sometimes unable to identify the national origins of communications.
Moreover, all communications between Americans and someone on foreign soil are included in the same databases as foreign-to-foreign communications, making them readily searchable without warrants.
Some searches conducted by NSA analysts are periodically reviewed by their supervisors within the NSA. "It's very rare to be questioned on our searches," Snowden told the Guardian in June, "and even when we are, it's usually along the lines of: 'let's bulk up the justification'."
In a letter this week to senator Ron Wyden, director of national intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that NSA analysts have exceeded even legal limits as interpreted by the NSA in domestic surveillance.
Acknowledging what he called "a number of compliance problems", Clapper attributed them to "human error" or "highly sophisticated technology issues" rather than "bad faith".
However, Wyden said on the Senate floor on Tuesday: "These violations are more serious than those stated by the intelligence community, and are troubling."
In a statement to the Guardian, the NSA said: "NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests.
"XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA's lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system.
"Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true. Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA's analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks … In addition, there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse from occurring."
"Every search by an NSA analyst is fully auditable, to ensure that they are proper and within the law.
"These types of programs allow us to collect the information that enables us to perform our missions successfully – to defend the nation and to protect US and allied troops abroad."
White House unable to confirm if Congress briefed on NSA spy program
Spokesman defers questions on top-secret XKeyscore program, saying he was unaware if administration had briefed lawmakers
Paul Lewis in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 20.58 BST
Jay Carney said he could not give an assurance that Congress had been informed about the surveillance capability.
The White House declined to say on Wednesday whether the administration ever briefed the US Congress about a top-secret NSA spy program that, according to documents, allows analysts to to search through huge databases of emails, online chats and the browsing histories without prior authorisation.
The Guardian revealed on Wednesday how the NSA describes in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.
The disclosure, which came from documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, comes as the fallout over US surveillance tactics threatens a deepening problem for the White House.
White House press spokesman Jay Carney said he could not give an assurance that Congress had been informed about the surveillance capability. "I am saying I don't know the answer to that," he said, referring questions to the office of the director of national intelligence.
When pressed, he claimed the Guardian's article contained inaccuracies, adding that "informing people about false claims isn't necessarily what we do". He did not specify which part of the report the White House believes to be inaccurate.
The two senior members of the House intelligence committee also rowed in behind Carney. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman, and the ranking Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger, condemned the Guardian's disclosures.
"The latest in the parade of classified leaks published today is without context and provides a completely inaccurate picture of the program," they said in a joint statement.
They said XKeyscore was "simply a tool used by our intelligence analysts to better understand foreign intelligence".
At a heated Senate judiciary committee hearing on Wednesday, members the questioned the truthfulness of the US intelligence community,
Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, said: "We need straightforward answers, and I'm concerned we're not getting them."
Leahy, joined by ranking Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, criticised director of national intelligence James Clapper for making untruthful statements to Congress in March about the bulk phone records collection on Americans, and NSA director Keith Alexander for overstating the usefulness of that collection for stopping terrorist attacks.
Grassley called a recent apology to senator Ron Wyden and the intelligence community "especially disturbing".
"Nothing can excuse this kind of behavior from a senior administration official," Grassley said. "Especially on a matter of such importance."
Earlier in the day, under growing pressure to be more open about its surveillance techniques, the US administration voluntarily declassified a number of previously classified documents about the bulk collection of phone records.
They may not be the last classified documents to be released to the public. Carney said Barack Obama had encouraged senior national security officials to "look at programs and see where we can be as transparent as possible".
However, in a testy exchange, he was unable to say whether any members of Congress had been informed about XKeyscore or its capabilities.
According to training materials, XKeyscore allows NSA analysts to mine agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.
Asked about whether Congress had been briefed about the program, Carney did not answer, instead repeating the NSA's formal response. "As we've explained, and the intelligence community has explained, allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are false," he said.
"Access to all of NSA's analytic tools is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks. There are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent those who don't have access from achieving that access."
Pressed on whether lawmakers had been informed about XKeyscore, Carney replied: "Well the question was front-loaded with assertions that I had an answer to."
Asked again whether Congress had been informed, Carney referred the question to the office of the director of national intelligence. However he eventually conceded that he did not know whether lawmakers were made aware of the program.
Previously, the White House said the fact it briefed some members of Congress on the NSA's surveillance programs, such as its bulk collection of phone data, justified the spy agency's work, because lawmakers knowingly authorised its activities.
Some members of Congress have disputed this assertion, saying they never knew how surveillance legislation was being interpreted.
NSA director Keith Alexander insists mass surveillance programs respect privacy
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 17:38 EDT
The director of the National Security Agency has tried to dampen the current outcry over US government surveillance programmes by insisting such programmes respect Americans’ privacy. He also said that he is unable to intercept his own daughters’ emails.
General Keith Alexander told a conference of hackers on Wednesday that extensive surveillance had disrupted dozens of terrorist attacks but that technical and policy restrictions protected the privacy of ordinary Americans.
“The assumption is our people are just out there wheeling and dealing. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have tremendous oversight over these programmes. We can audit the actions of our people 100%, and we do that,” he said.
Addressing the Black Hat convention in Las Vegas, an annual gathering for the information security industry, he gave a personal example: “I have four daughters. Can I go and intercept their emails? No. The technical limitations are in there.” Should anyone in the NSA try to circumvent that, in defiance of policy, they would be held accountable, he said: “There is 100% audibility.” Only 35 NSA analysts had the authority to query a database of US phone records, he said.
General Alexander rejected suggestions that his staff could monitor all US internet traffic and phone calls. “The fact is, they don’t,” he said.
The four-star army general, who in addition to the NSA heads the Central Security Service and US Cyber Command, was responding to mounting concern over alleged civil rights violations by post-9/11 intelligence gathering networks. That pressure mounted on Wednesday when the Guardian published details of a programme called Xkeyscore, which allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.
In Washington, the bipartisan leaders of a powerful Senate committee questioned the truthfulness of the US intelligence community in a heated hearing as officials contradicted previous statements to Congress about the controversial collection of the phone records of millions of Americans.
Alexander, who is usually shy of publicity, attempted to win over the 7,000-strong gathering of industry professionals in Las Vegas as part of a charm offensive to contain the damage and deter Washington from curbing the programmes.
“Our job is defending this country, saving lives, supporting our troops in combat,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to provide the information that they need to survive [and] to go after the enemy.”
The intelligence community had failed to “connect the dots” to prevent the 11 September 2001 attacks, as well as earlier attacks on New York, US embassies in Africa and the USS Cole, he said.
Terrorists driven by a desire to “create a caliphate” of sharia law in the middle east continued to plot attacks. “Terrorists live among us,” he said. Expanded and improved intelligence gathering, however, had thwarted 54 terror-related activities, including 13 in the US. Of those 54 activities, 42 were terror plots, he said.
He credited the collection of US phone records’ metadata and the interception of the content of foreign communications, saying both programmes helped disrupt a 2009 plot to bomb the New York City subway which would have been the worst attack since 9/11.
General Alexander said NSA operatives worked under strict controls, including oversight by Congress, the executive and judges on the Fisa court, which he said was a tough watchdog: “I can tell you from the wire-brushings that I’ve received that it is not a rubberstamp.”
He also rejected reports of unauthorised, massive snooping. “What comes out is that we’re collecting everything. That is not true,” he said. The NSA did not sweep up all emails. “That’s wrong, we don’t. And if we did, we would be held accountable.” He did not mention Xkeyscore.
Without naming the whistleblower Edward Snowden, or media outlets which have published Snowden’s leaks, the general said the recent revelations would benefit terrorists. “The damage to our country is significant and irreversible.” He did not elaborate.
Alexander’s foray from the beltway to address hackers at Caesar’s Palace had been compared to entering the lion’s den. Cyber professionals have a sometimes tense relationship with Washington and have been unnerved by the Snowden revelations and the possible impact on their multi-billion dollar industry. Organisers said they had never sensed this level of tension or apprehension in 16 years of Black Hat. Security guards confiscated eggs – presumably intended to be thrown – minutes before the NSA chief spoke.
A few hecklers interrupted, accusing him of “lying”, “bullshitting” and not reading the constitution. “I have read it. So should you,” he shot back, earning laughs and applause.
In uniform, General Alexander spoke calmly and sprinkled a few jokes and personal references into his speech, including the fact he has 15 grandchildren. He praised the audience and invited them to help improve NSA. “You are the greatest gathering of technical talent anywhere in the world … I want you to help us make it better.” The performance won over the hackers, who applauded warmly at the end.
Alexander, 61, has amassed vast powers since 9/11 by arguing that the US needs to aggressively defend against digital attack. In addition to the NSA, the Central Security Service (which coordinates eavesdropping between the armed services) and US Cyber Command, which was set up under the Obama administration to deter cyber-attacks, he also commands the navy’s 10th fleet, the 24th Air Force and the Second Army.
A Wired profile said Alexander inspired within the government a mix of respect and fear not seen since FBI director J Edgar Hoover. Nicknames include Emperor Alexander, for his ability to expand bureaucratic fiefdoms, and Alexander the Geek, for his longstanding interest in electronics and computers. The walls of his headquarters inside Fort Meade in Maryland are reportedly wrapped in protective copper shielding, to block giveaway electromagnetic signals.
The Pentagon is enduring deep cuts but Alexander persuaded it in April to seek $4.7bn – a $1bn increase – in the 2014 budget for cyber-operations. That could be imperilled by eroding public and political support following Snowden’s leaks.
A Pew Research Center survey found that 47% of Americans worry that anti-terrorism surveillance programmes go too far and endanger civil liberties, against 35% who worry they don’t go far enough. In 2010 only a third thought such programmes went too far.
A congressional alliance of libertarians on the right and civil rights advocates on the left came within a whisker – seven votes – of passing an amendment to curb bulk collection of phone records.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Snowden leaves Moscow airport, gets refugee status in Russia
Thursday, August 1, 2013 7:54 EDT
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Thursday after Russia granted him refugee status, ending more than a month in limbo in the transit area.
A lawyer who has been assisting Snowden said the young American, who is wanted in the United States for leaking details of secret government intelligence programs, had left the airport for a secure location which would remain secret.
“Edward Snowden has successfully acquired refugee status in Russia,” the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, which is also assisting Snowden, confirmed on Twitter.
His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told state television: “I have just seen him off. He has left for a secure location … Security is a very serious matter for him.”
Snowden, 30, arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23. He had hoped to fly to Latin America, where three countries have offered to shelter him, but was concerned that the United States would prevent him reaching his destination.
Snowden’s case has caused new strains in relations between Russia and the United States which wants him extradited to face espionage charges.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, writing by Timothy Heritage,; editing by Elizabeth Piper)
Word Count: 196
Clarence Thomas’ wife sparks effort to impose tougher Supreme Court ethics
By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 19:13 EDT
Democrats in the House and Senate plan to re-introduce legislation that would hold Supreme Court justices to the same judicial standards as federal judges.
Mother Jones reported that Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) will introduce the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2012 on Thursday. Similar legislation was proposed by Murphy in 2011.
The Democrats plan to introduce the bill in response to the alleged conflict of interest involving Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Last week it was revealed that Thomas’ wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, was part of a secret group that hoped to advance the conservative agenda. She had previously founded Liberty Central, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group that opposed the Affordable Care Act.
Scalia and Thomas have also participated in secretive political strategy sessions hosted by Koch Industries.
The justices’ political affiliations raised questions about whether they should be disqualified from ruling on cases that could aid their political allies. The group Common Cause, for instance, said in 2011 that the Citizens United ruling directly benefited Koch Industries.
The Judicial Conference Code of Conduct requires federal judges to recuse themselves in cases where there may be a potential or perceived conflict of interest. Supreme Court justices, however, are not required to follow the code.
“We Can’t Survive on $7.25″
July 31, 2013
by Lauren Feeney
Fast food workers in seven U.S. cities are walking off the job this week in what organizers say is the largest strike in the industry’s history.
The wave of protests began Monday in New York City, where workers earning as little as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour — in a town where the average rent is over $3,000 a month — demanded $15 per hour and the right to organize.
The average yearly salary of fast food workers in New York City is $11,000, according to protest organizers Fast Food Forward. The group Wider Opportunities for Women estimates that a single mother with two children needs a minimum of $6,376 per month to survive in the Big Apple.
As a result of this discrepancy, many fast food workers rely on government services like Medicaid and food stamps.
“The fact is, we are subsidizing their business model,” says Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and attended the rally in Manhattan to show support for the workers. Ellison says the minimum wage is kept down by lobbyists who spend industry money to buy favorable legislation. He points out that the minimum wage, in real dollars, is lower now than it was in 1968.
Fast food chains can afford to pay their workers more (despite an ad campaign launched in response to the protests suggesting otherwise). A group of economists in support of a $10.50 minimum wage say that McDonald’s could cover half the cost of such an increase by raising the cost of a Big Mac from $4.00 to $4.05. Another study by a student at the University of Kansas found that McDonald’s could double all employee salaries — from workers earning the minimum wage to CEO Donald Thompson, who earned $8.75 million last year — by increasing the cost of a Big Mac by 68 cents.
Ellison, who supports increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation and executive pay, says that while “miracles happen,” with Congressional Republicans fighting against basics like food stamps and healthcare, consumers who support higher wages for fast food workers should put pressure on the industry by voting with their dollars.
“They need to say, if you’re not paying a livable wage, we’re not going in there,” he said.
08/01/2013 03:14 PM
Free in Russia: Whistleblower Snowden Leaves Moscow Airport
Edward Snowden left a Moscow airport on Thursday after being granted temporary asylum in Russia. His attorney is declining to state his whereabouts, but the whistleblower has permission to stay for a year.
Edward Snowden officially entered into Russia on Thursday, with the prospect of staying in the country as a free man for up to a year. The whistleblower left Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Thursday afternoon after spending more than a month in the transit area. After the United States invalidated his passport, he had to wait until he had obtained temporary travel documents from the Russian government before he could leave the airport.
In a brief interview, Snowden's lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told the Wall Street Journal his client had been given permission to stay in Russia for one year. "I already escorted him out of the airport into a taxi," the lawyer told the newspaper, although he declined to state his whereabouts.
Snowden gained attention around the world with his leak of documents exposing secret spying programs operated by the United States and other countries that monitor global Internet and telephone communications. He first fled to Hong Kong and later to Russia. The US government wants to try him for the betrayal of secrets and has repeatedly demanded that he be extradited.
Snowden submitted his official request for temporary asylum in Russia on July 16 in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport to an employee of Russia's Federal Migration Service.
Snowden's Dad: 'I Would Stay in Russia'
On Wednesday, his father Lon Snowden recommended that his son stay in Russia. "I feel Russia has the strength and resolve and convictions to protect my son," he told Russian TV station Rossiya 24. "If it were me, I would stay in Russia and that's what I hope my son will do," he said, adding that he hopes to soon have the chance to visit him. Addressing his son, Lon Snowden said, "your family is well and we love you."
Snowden also expressed concerns about how his son might be handled by the justice system if he returned to the US. "The fact is, no assurances have been made that he will be given a fair trial," he told the station.
Lon Snowden also warned his son might face a fate similar to that of Bradley Manning, who was convicted by a military court this week of violating the Espionage Act by providing hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Manning "was stripped of his clothes, kept for 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, his glasses were removed," he said. "That was unacceptable. I just don't have a high level of trust in our justice system, not only because of what has happened to my son."
Edward Snowden asylum case is a gift for Pig Putin
Decision to grant whistleblower asylum is a humiliating rebuff that exposes the impotence of 21st-century US power
theguardian.com, Thursday 1 August 2013 17.29 BST
For the past four years the Obama administration has tried hard to "reset" relations with Russia. The idea wasn't a bad one. A more co-operative Kremlin might help the White House with its pressing international problems – the war in Syria, the US military draw-down in Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear programme.
On Thursday, however, bilateral relations appeared anything but reset as Edward Snowden – dressed in his trademark grey shirt and carrying a dark backpack – strolled out of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. He had been holed up there for five and a half weeks, ever since he slipped out of Hong Kong. Now he was free.
Pig Putin's decision to grant Snowden asylum – and make no mistake, Pig Putin called this one – is a humiliating, wounding rebuff to the US. In theory Snowden has been allowed to stay for one year. In reality he is learning Russian and ploughing his way through Doystoyevsky. Snowden's stay in Russia could be indefinite.
Among other things, the Snowden story has exposed the impotence of 21st-century US power. With no US-Russia extradition treaty there is little the White House can do to winkle Snowden out. It can, of course, express displeasure. Obama is likely to cancel a trip to St Petersburg for the G20 summit in September.
The irony, as Senator John McCain was quick to point out, is that Moscow's record on human rights and freedom of speech is far worse than Washington's. While Snowden was stuck at the airport the opposition leader Alexei Navalny got five years in jail. (Navalny was promptly bailed following his provincial show trial, apparently amid Kremlin in-fighting.)
Since returning for a third term as president, Pig Putin has moved to crush mass protests against his rule. He has introduced a series of repressive laws against human rights organisations, selectively arrested leading critics and jailed the feminist punk band Pussy Riot.
Russia's treatment of its own whistleblowers is grim and awful. Think Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead in Moscow in 2006, or Natalia Estemirova, kidnapped in Chechnya's capital, Grozny, in 2009 and murdered. Last month Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who exposed massive fraud at the interior ministry, was convicted of tax evasion. Magnitsky was an unusual defendant: he was already dead.
All of this provides ammunition to Snowden's critics. They seek to portray him not as a heroic information activist but as a traitor and a spy. They point out, correctly, that Russia's surveillance state is nasty and intrusive. The FSB, the ubiquitous successor to the KGB, has more extensive secret powers than the NSA. It can snoop on anyone, and frequently does.
Ultimately, though, the US has only itself to blame for this cold war-style mess. You can hardly fault Snowden for wanting to avoid the fate of Bradley Manning, who following his conviction this week for espionage faces 136 years in jail. The US has taken a vengeful attitude towards those who leak classified information. It cancelled Snowden's passport. It (wrongly) forced down the plane of Bolivia's president. Snowden wasn't exactly left with options.
For Pig Putin, meanwhile, Snowden is a wonderful gift. By granting the American asylum he can pose as the champion of human rights in the face of US aggression. Russia's president is already a master of "whataboutism" – indeed, it is practically a national ideology. (Whenever visiting western heads of state complain of Russia's alleged democratic failings, Pig Putin points to their own record with the words: "What about …")
On the face of it Snowden's situation appears rosy, though as his lawyer admitted on Thursday that Snowden missed his girlfriend. Over time his position may seem less alluring. Russia's spy agencies will keep a close and unfaltering watch over their new guest, not just now but in the years and decades to come.
After Snowden, no business as usual for U.S. and Russia
Friday, August 2, 2013 7:12 EDT
By Matt Spetalnick and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – After causing weeks of embarrassment for the U.S. intelligence community, the Edward Snowden saga has now cast a shadow over international efforts to end the Syrian civil war and deal with Iran, and could also undermine White House hopes for a nuclear arms reduction deal.
Russia’s decision on Thursday to grant asylum to Snowden threatens to send already-strained relations between the United States and Russia to the lowest point in years and further complicate efforts to work out geopolitical challenges.
With Russia’s sheltering of the former U.S. spy agency contractor seen as a slap in the face to President Barack Obama, the White House is weighing whether he should now back out of a Moscow summit in early September, in a direct snub to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The fact that Washington is even issuing such a threat underscores the potentially damaging repercussions for any prospects of reconciling the two former Cold War rivals on thorny global issues that go well beyond the fate of a single 30-year-old hacker trying to evade U.S. prosecution, analysts say.
The two men are highly unlikely to sort out all their many differences even if the summit goes ahead as planned. They have bad personal chemistry and previous meetings have been awkward and unproductive.
While the Kremlin played down any bilateral friction, Obama administration officials and top lawmakers suggested it would not be business as usual now that Russia has given Snowden a year’s asylum and allowed him to leave Moscow’s airport after more than five weeks in limbo.
“The political climate in Washington on Russia is poisonous,” said Andrew Weiss, a former Russia adviser to President Bill Clinton. “There was already plenty of anger toward Russia brewing in the political establishment. Snowden is an accelerant.”
The long list of U.S. differences with Russia is topped by Moscow’s support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war even as Obama has led international calls for him to step aside.
Worsened ties between the United States and Russia could now make it even more difficult for them to cooperate in arranging Syrian peace talks aimed at a political solution.
With Iran about to install newly elected President Hassan Rouhani, who has signaled greater willingness to negotiate over its disputed nuclear program, there are also concerns in Washington that Russia may break ranks with Western countries seeking to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions through tough sanctions.
DEEPLY AT ODDS
On human rights, the United States and Russia remain deeply at odds. The White House has been mostly measured in its criticism of the Kremlin’s crackdown on opponents, but it may now feel freer to be more outspoken in the aftermath of the Snowden decision.
For his part, Putin has used Washington’s pursuit of Snowden, who faces U.S. espionage charges for revealing National Security Agency surveillance secrets, to accuse the Obama administration of hypocrisy for chiding him on human rights.
Tensions over Snowden are also likely to make it harder for Obama to push forward on negotiations for a new nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia, a proposal he issued in a speech in Berlin in June and which he hopes to make part of his legacy. Russia so far has shown little appetite for the idea.
Though counterterrorism has emerged as a rare bright spot in relations, especially in the aftermath of April’s Boston Marathon bombings, this too could suffer. White House spokesman Jay Carney said pointedly that the Russian decision on Snowden “undermines a long history of law enforcement cooperation.”
Even before Snowden, the consensus in Washington and Moscow was that the “reset” in ties with Russia that the newly elected Obama touted in 2009 had run its course.
But Obama’s critics say the return to the presidency of Putin and his anti-U.S. rhetoric has shown that the U.S. leader was naive to put his faith in Moscow. They point to the Snowden decision as a rebuke that calls for a tough response and say it is one more foreign policy failure at a time when Obama struggles to assert influence in crises sweeping Syria and Egypt.
“Unless we want to remain in the position of someone who is insulted and demeaned, sooner or later those in Washington who want Russia to pay the price for this chain of insults will prevail,” said Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The Obama administration must now decide how far it wants to go in demonstrating its anger. But its options may be limited, especially at a time when Washington needs continued use of Russian territory for its withdrawal from Afghanistan and still hopes for Russian diplomatic cooperation against Iran.
Obama’s first major decision is whether to go ahead with a one-on-one summit with Putin in Moscow next month.
Scrapping the meeting might not antagonize Russia too badly. But it would be a different story if Obama decides not to attend the Putin-hosted summit of G20 leaders in St. Petersburg shortly afterwards – something considered unlikely.
Some U.S. lawmakers have called for a U.S. boycott of the Winter Olympics that Russia will host in Sochi next February, but that is also seen as a step too far for the White House.
Despite increased strains, no one is predicting a rupture in relations between Washington and Moscow. Many believe the two sides will go through a period of drift but ultimately find a way to “compartmentalize” their disagreements and move on.
“Neither side wants an antagonistic relationship. That would just make the world a more dangerous place,” said James Goldgeier, dean of the School of International Service at American University in Washington.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Eric Walsh)
Obama willing to change controversial surveillance programs
Thursday, August 1, 2013 21:11 EDT
By Mark Felsenthal and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Thursday told lawmakers he is open to changing controversial surveillance programs in order to restore public confidence and provide assurance the government is not violating citizens’ privacy, participants at the meeting said.
“We understand the American people really do need to know what’s going on now and what’s going on in the past and get the right kind of assurances that their privacy has not been breached,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss, who attended the meeting.
“We’ve got to figure out ways to make the program more transparent,” he said.
Since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed widespread government collection of phone and Internet records, a debate has erupted over how far the government should be allowed to go in monitoring its citizens’ communications to protect the country from attacks.
Opposition to government surveillance has created an unlikely alliance of libertarian Republicans and some Democrats in Congress. The House of Representatives last week narrowly defeated an amendment to a spending bill that would have limited the NSA’s scope to collect electronic information.
Obama met at the White House with Chambliss and other lawmakers who sit on the intelligence and judiciary committees. These included Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, who has been a skeptic of the NSA data collection program, and Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee on which Chambliss is the top Republican.
Also present were Representative Mike Rogers, who chairs the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, and Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the panel.
The White House said the president had called the meeting to discuss the surveillance program and “to hear from some of the programs’ most prominent critics and defenders.”
The intelligence committee leaders said in a joint statement they intend to work through August on proposals to increase transparency and protect privacy in counterterrorism programs.
At the White House, the discussion focused on the need to amend, but not necessarily abolish, the surveillance program, and to explain its merits to those who worry it is an invasion of privacy, Chambliss told reporters.
“We don’t know what type of changes we’re going to make,” he said. “But the president was very amenable for providing the right kind of leadership to ensure that we get together and that we do the right thing.”
The chairman of the House Judiciary panel, Republican Bob Goodlatte, who was also at the meeting, said he plans to hold hearings to ensure that the surveillance does not infringe on civil liberties.
“I stressed to the president that Congress must ensure that the laws we have enacted are executed in a manner that is consistent with congressional intent and that protects both our national security and our civil liberties,” he said in a statement.
A small group of senators unveiled two bills before the White House meeting on Thursday seeking to alter the surveillance programs.
One measure would create a new “special advocate” position who could argue in a court that operates in secret to make decisions on government surveillance requests, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The other would change the way judges are appointed to the FISA courts to ensure that the court represents a broad spectrum of political views.
(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
Edward Snowden passed time in airport reading and surfing internet
Lawyer says NSA whistleblower read Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and has been learning Russian alphabet
Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Thursday 1 August 2013 18.03 BST
By the time he was granted temporary asylum in Russia and left Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Thursday, the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden had spent 40 days in the confines of the airport's transit zone.
According to his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden kept himself busy by reading Russian literature and history and learning the Russian alphabet.
The circumstances of his stay in Sheremetyevo were similar to "house arrest, only not at home", said Kucherena, who noted the psychological pressures of remaining confined indoors in a legal no man's land.
"I wouldn't have held out for 24 hours with him in the airport," he said. "What is the transit zone? It's a sterile zone. There are constant loudspeaker announcements every day – a flight from Washington has arrived, a flight from London has arrived, a flight from Barcelona has arrived. I heard them for hours when I was there. If a person is there indefinitely it can drive him to psychosis."
Kucherena began helping Snowden to seek temporary asylum in Russia after a meeting between the whistleblower and government and human rights officials on 12 July, and he became Snowden's only human connection with the outside world.
He went to the airport several times a week, taken each time by bus from the departures area to a room where Snowden had no bodyguards or minders. Snowden had arrived with almost no luggage, so the lawyer brought him new shirts and a new pair of shoes, as well as books. The American had little to do besides surf the internet and read.
Kucherena said he selected a number of classic books to help Snowden understand the mentality of the Russian people: Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, a collection of stories by Anton Chekhov, and writings by the historian Nikolai Karamzin. Snowden quickly finished Crime and Punishment. After reading selections from Karamzin, a 19th-century writer who penned the first comprehensive history of the Russian state, he asked for the author's complete works. Kucherena also gave Snowden an alphabet book to help him to start learning Russian.
Snowden was not able to go outside – "he breathes disgusting air, the air of the airport," Kucherena said – but nevertheless remained in good health and told his lawyer he had "been in worse circumstances". Nonetheless, the psychological pressures of the waiting game took its toll.
"It's hard for him, when he's always in a state of expectation," Kucherena said. "On the inside, Edward is absolutely independent, he absolutely follows his convictions. As for the reaction, he is convinced and genuinely believes he did it first of all so that Americans and all people would find out that they are spying on us."
After appearing on a Russian news show via video link with Snowden's father, Lon, Kucherena has been helping the elder Snowden obtain a visa to visit his son in Russia. Kucherena said he spoke with Lon Snowden after the show to discuss the logistics of a trip, which the lawyer said should be possible to arrange despite there being "some sort of game with the FBI that is not legal".
"It's visible that he worries about his son, which is important," Kucherena said. "He's proud that his son grew up to be such a person … He understands what a burden his son is bearing now, the pressure on him.
"He asked me to say hi to Edward and give him a hug. He wants to see him," he added.
Snowden has reportedly spoken with his father only through intermediaries. Kucherena said he did not know whether the whistleblower was in touch with other families or friends, or with his girlfriend.
People had been writing from all over Russia offering Snowden lodging, protection and money, Kucherena said. "I was surprised there was so much activity on the part of Russians and such concern about him," he said.
The lawyer denied that he or Snowden had had any contact with foreign governments, or that he had spoken with the Kremlin about Snowden's asylum. "I don't need to talk to high-ranking officials," Kucherena said. "I don't want to engage in big politics. [Law] is my trade."
08/01/2013 11:25 PM
'A Political Decision': Berlusconi Stays in Game Despite Ruling
By Fabian Reinbold
On Thursday, a court convicted former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in a legally binding ruling for the first time. But it referred a decision on a ban on political office back to a lower court. For now, he will continue to play a major role in Italian politics.
The sound of a single champagne cork popping could be heard outside of Rome's imposing Justice Palace on Thursday. Paolo Graziano, 32, with wildly curly hair, took a deep swig out of the bottle and made a face. "A half-victory," he said, before passing the bottle around to friends. "So we're having cheap prosecco." Graziano then took another sip before sighing. "He's half saved himself yet again," he said.
He couldn't have put it much better. After dozens of trials, Silvio Berlusconi has been convicted for the first time in a legally binding ruling. Investigators worked for years in their pursuit of the former Italian leader. There were house and office searches because of alleged perjury, promotion of prostitution and bribery -- many of which ended because either the statute of limitations had expired, or he was protected by his lawyers or laws he had custom-tailored to his needs. In the end, though, a court convicted Berlusconi on tax evasion charges, even imposing a four-year prison sentence. But "Il Cavaliere," as Berlusconi is known, escaped with a black eye.
It was a strange ruling in a case that many had followed closely in Italy. With it comes the end of an at times tenacious, absurd and historic appeals process. The verdict had been delayed repeatedly since Tuesday, and it got delayed again on Thursday when the judges deliberated for six hours behind closed doors. In the end, few were likely pleased with the ruling.
As presiding Judge Antonio Esposito appeared at around 7:45 p.m. to read the short verdict between the marble columns of Brancaccio hall inside the Justice Palace, most of the journalists gathered didn't realize what had just happened. Italy's highest court upheld a sentence imposed against Berlusconi by a lower court, but referred a decision on a ban on the former prime minister from holding public office back to the Milan appeals court. That court is now expected to rule on the issue. If the high court in Rome had affirmed the lower court's four-year ban on Berlusconi holding public office, it would have been the end of his political career. At the moment, he still has the prospect of remaining in politics.
In a televised address two and half hours after the ruling, Berlusconi denied all guilt, saying he had never engaged in tax evasion or any other crime. "We must continue to fight and engage in politics," he said.
'Il Cavaliere' May Lose His Title
The court also rejected objections by the co-defendants in the trial on charges relating to tax evasion and slush funds at Berlusconi's Mediaset company. A few things swayed in Berlusconi's favor. Despite the sentence, the 76-year-old will not have to face any time in jail -- partly because he is over 70. And of the four years in his sentence, three have been removed because of an immunity law (one of the few he didn't actually push through parliament himself). That leaves just one year that Berlusconi can either complete with community service or, as is widely expected, through house arrest.
Although that may not sound tragic for a billionaire with an opulent apartment in Rome's city center, and villas near Milan and on the island of Sardinia, it still has the potential to dramatically alter a person's life -- particularly if that person is a politician. He could still attend party meetings, but he would have to get permission before leaving his home or speaking to the press from one of the very judges he so despises. And he wouldn't be able to hold any of the rallies he loves. "It would be hell for him," the Italian daily Republicca wrote.
Berlusconi will probably also have to give up his globally famous nickname, "Il Cavaliere." Berlusconi was once bestowed with the honor of the order of merit by an Italian president, but convicted criminals are not allowed to keep it.
'An Italian Ruling'
Still, being banned from office would have been a far more severe punishment for Berlusconi, who remains a senator in Italy. He wouldn't have been allowed to run in new elections and would have lost his vote and his seat in the Senate. It would have been an extremely uncomfortable decision for the Italian coalition government, which is comprised of Berlusconi supporters and foes who have come together out of sheer necessity. For now, the decision has been delayed.
In that sense, even if the ruling is unobjectionable in a legal sense, it can still be described as a political one. It means the government, for which there appears to be no real alternative in Italy at the moment, is spared of a major test of its strength in the Senate. It also means that Berlusconi can continue to hold his office, as it is uncertain when the Milan court will rule on whether he should lose that privilege. Public prosecutors have already said they want to reduce their request for a ban on office from five to three years.
So Berlusconi will remain a part of Italian politics. He's already announced his latest plans, too. This autumn, he wants to revive his dissolved Forza Italia party. Berlusconi began his political career with the party, named after a football song, in 1994. With Thursday's ruling, he may still be in the game.
Residents of Rome who waited outside the court hold a similar view. "It's an Italian ruling," said a 57-year-old woman standing behind prosecco-drinking Graziano. "It will change nothing." She then shrugged her shoulders. "We will wake up tomorrow morning and Berlusconi will still be there."
Pig Putin's Russia...
Madonna and Lady Gaga accused of breaking Russian visa rules
Vitaly Milonov, politician behind St Petersburg's law banning gay 'propaganda', leads efforts to charge outspoken singers
theguardian.com, Friday 2 August 2013 12.21 BST
Russian officials are considering prosecution against Lady Gaga and Madonna after discovering they entered the country under incorrect paperwork.
The office of Russia's prosecutor general has issued a statement confirming that neither singer obtained an appropriate visa prior to performing there last year. Madonna, who played in August 2012, and Gaga, who appeared in December, travelled under cultural-exchange visas. These documents "do not grant their bearers the right to engage in any commercial activity," authorities said. According to the Russian legal information agency, prosecutors are now considering asking Russia's foreign ministry or federal migration service to press charges.
As any foreigner who has visited Moscow will know, Russian immigration can be extremely complicated. But Gaga and Madonna's mistakes weren't just discovered by accident: prosecutors launched their investigation only after being contacted by one of the singers' most outspoken enemies.
The man in question was Vitaly Milonov, who serves in St Petersburg's municipal legislature and authored St Petersburg's law banning gay "propaganda" – a model for recent legislation passed by the Duma. After Gaga and Madonna spoke in support of LGBT issues at their 2012 concerts, Milonov tried to pursue them in court for "promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism among minors". These claims were unsuccessful.
Russian entertainment promoters worry that the prosecutors' announcement could have a chilling effect on future tours by western performers, as well as tourism for this winter's Sochi Games. "Not one artist, circus or exhibition will come here if the prosecutor's office fines someone now," Yevgeny Finkelstein, a promoter in St Petersburg, told RIA Novosti.
Alexei Navalny woos new audiences through Russian gossip magazine
Cover story in Secrets of the Stars is departure from opposition leader's web exposes and polemical writings
Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Thursday 1 August 2013 11.17 BST
The Russian celebrity gossip magazine Secrets of the Stars with Alexei Navalny and wife on cover The Russian celebrity gossip magazine Secrets of the Stars with Alexei Navalny and his wife on the cover. Photograph: Alec Luhn for the Guardian
The cover of the celebrity gossip magazine Secrets of the Stars usually features pop singers, film stars or President Vladimir Putin, who has appeared numerous times.
So it came as a surprise when opposition leader and Moscow mayoral candidate Alexei Navalny landed on the tabloid's cover in an indication of his growing fame.
This week's issue features Navalny hugging his wife, Yulia, on the cover under the headline "Her love is stronger than the fear of losing her husband and the father of her children". In the article inside, the magazine, which has generally portrayed Putin in a positive light and once showed him shirtless on the cover, describes Navalny favourably, noting the irregularities that marred his trial and the view that the charges were fabricated.
A judge convicted the anti-corruption blogger of embezzlement and sentenced him to five years in a prison colony on 18 July, in a trial that a state investigator admitted was, at least in part, politically motivated.
After thousands took to the streets outside the Kremlin to protest against the sentence, the prosecution made an unexpected request to release the opposition leader from police custody during the appeal process, and Navalny returned to Moscow to continue his mayoral campaign.
The article about him and his wife in Secrets of the Stars, Russia's best-selling weekly entertainment publication, marks an important development in the candidate's attempts to reach new audiences before the mayoral election set for 8 September.
Navalny leads the field of challengers but remains far behind Kremlin-backed acting mayor, Sergei Sobyanin. Three polls this month have shown that between 4% – 9% of Muscovites are ready to vote for Navalny, whereas they have given Sobyanin between 34% – 56% of the vote. A July poll found that 79% of Russians had heard of Navalny, up drastically from May, when only 41% knew of him.
Alexei Navalny Alexei Navalny is led away in handcuffs by Russian police after being sentenced to five years in jail. Photograph: Valentina Svistunova/EPA
The candidate has been covered negatively – if at all – by state-controlled media, including television, which a majority of Russians still rely on for information. Channel One, the most-watched station, did not cover the trial on the afternoon of the verdict.
Previously, Navalny was little-known outside of an internet-savvy minority in Moscow, and his hard-hitting corruption exposes and fiery protest speeches are hardly the domain of tabloid publications like Secrets of the Stars. The magazine includes a column called Kremlin Expert that relays political news in the voice of Putin's black labrador retriever Connie.
The article provoked disbelief among Navalny fans on Twitter, and the liberal internet publication Slon.ru ran a piece about it with the headline #NoWay.
Pro-Kremlin analyst Yevgeny Minchenko said he suspected the campaign paid for the article, but said it would introduce the candidate to a new audience and improve his popularity by a few percentage points. "Navalny with his winning looks and nice wife will gain votes from a part of the population who vote not for political views but for personal likeability."
The candidate's press secretary, Anna Veduta, denied speculation that his campaign had paid for the article, saying that Navalny was reaching out to new audiences, especially non-internet users, mainly through personal meetings at metro stations around the city.
The article focuses on Yulia Navalny and her support she gives her husband despite political pressure and the stresses of the trial. It concludes by describing him being freed while his appeal is considered. "Yulia was the first to jump into her beloved's arms. She understands that this is just a small reprieve, since no one has cancelled the verdict. But she believes that their love will defeat all barriers and is ready to fight for the happiness of her family until the end."
08/01/2013 10:07 PM
Birth Rate Boon?: Germany Promises Daycare for All
By Friederike Heine
A new law went into effect in Germany on Thursday guaranteeing every child over 12 months of age a slot at a daycare facility. The government hopes the policy will help reverse one of Europe's lowest birth rates.
When Irena Schauk learned that her 14-month-old son would not be receiving a place in a daycare center in Berlin's central Mitte district, the news disappointed the mother, but came as little surprise. The struggle to find slots at the Kita -- short for Kindertagesstätte, the German word for a nursery -- can be Sisyphean for working parents in some parts of the country. Schauk, 29, says she'd been hearing Kita war stories for years.
"I had heard about parents outbidding one another and offering extravagant gifts to nursery managers," Schauk says. She adds that several other acquaintances also received rejection letters -- with one family finding a slot in an inconveniently located daycare center and another mother instead opting to stay home to care for her child.
A new law in Germany that went into effect on Thursday seeks to improve the situation for working parents like Schauk. Under the new rules, all parents with a child aged 12 months or older have the right to a slot in a daycare center. Previously, the rule applied only to parents with children aged three or older. It also provides any parent whose child is denied a slot with a legal provision to challenge the decision, though some have warned the option could prove expensive and might not make a difference anyway -- especially if there literally is no daycare option available in a community.
In the run-up to the new law, German media have been filled with reports about a rush to build new daycare centers across the country to meet the additional demand. Last year, a national drug store chain went bust, and some of the empty retail spaces are now being transformed for use as new daycare centers. Because the centers lack playgrounds, children are brought to nearby parks for outdoor physical activity. One company even claims to have delivered several hundred Quonset hut-like containers for use as Kitas. Communities are improvising across Germany to abide by the law, converting warehouses, theaters and even car repair shops into daycare centers. The problems are particularly acute in densely populated urban areas like central Munich, where little real estate is available for new daycare centers.
Despite a pledge by German Family Minister Kristina Schröder that a sufficient number of daycare places would be available by the August 1 deadline, experts have warned that in urban areas especially, the government's goal is little more than wishful thinking. In many areas, the infrastructure isn't even in place to accommodate the children. Only three weeks ago, the German Association of Cities warned that 90,000 of the more than 800,000 daycare slots pledged by Schröder still weren't ready.
And that's not the only problem: In some parts of Germany, cities are having a hard time attracting the people to the profession that it needs. Daycare professionals here are underappreciated and underpaid. One Munich daycare center has even recruited workers from debt crisis-plagued Greece to help fill the gap. In larger cities like Frankfurt, many daycare centers are having trouble finding employees. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the government underestimated how high demand would be. The Family Ministry originally assumed that parents of only one-third of children that meet the criteria would register their kids for Kita slots. The figure has since been revised to 39 percent, but in some cities, like Heidelberg or Frankfurt, the actual demand is already surging to 50 percent.
For every Irena Schauk, there's also a Hannah Dahlmeier, a 31-year-old, Munich-based architect recently profiled in SPIEGEL. A university student at the time, Dahlmeier began looking in Munich for a daycare slot for her future child seven years ago when she was only in her 16th week of pregnancy. After receiving rejection after rejection, she finally had to become a stay-at-home mom. It was only after two years of regularly searching that she finally found a slot. It was like "winning the lottery," she recalled. For women like Dahlmeier in many parts of Germany, getting a future child on the waiting list for a daycare slot is something that often happens before the baby bump is even showing.
Beyond infrastructure, personnel and other issues, there is a more fundamental problem that is a source of worry: the nagging one of quality. A recent report commissioned by the Federal Families Ministry and conducted by some of the most renowned educational theorists in the country found that the quality of teaching in the vast majority of daycare facilities is either mediocre or seriously lacking. Only three percent overall were deemed to be of "good" quality.
In Germany, education laws are determined by the states, but when it comes to curricula at daycare institutions, the rules are deliberately vague, with major differences across different regions. As SPIEGEL recently noted, politicians shy away from more binding curricula because they know that child care facilities could start to have problems very quickly.
But there's a cost to this, too. The study also evaluated some 2,000 children between the ages of two and four, who were divided into groups based on diverse criteria. The study found that children in only 2.6 percent of those groups were being provided with the kind of stimulation that would later help them with reading, mathematics, the sciences and other important areas of education. It also concluded that Germany's current child care infrastructure doesn't promote equal opportunities among different socio-economic groups, a problem that is being especially felt among the growing number of children of immigrant families. The researchers said that Germany's child care offerings are especially helpful to "well-educated German middle-class families," but not to "socially disadvantaged families or families with fewer educational resources."
The daycare situation is particularly dire in western states like Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia, where in urban areas there are three infants for each available daycare spot. Eastern regions are less affected, partly because state child care was already the norm in East Germany, where the idea of working women was part of the model of socialist society. The infrastructure remained in place after reunification.
Meanwhile, there is widespread consensus, also in the West, that no German mother should have to stay at home looking after her children if she would rather work. In 1992, the government decided that children from the age of three should have the legal right to daycare, with the initiative expanded further in 2008 to include toddlers over 12 months.
Though the initiative to expand the country's daycare infrastructure is costing the German government some €12 billion ($16 billion), worryingly little emphasis is being placed on the actual quality of teaching and the working conditions for educators.
The lack of child care provision is a permanent component of the German political agenda, mainly because of the country's extremely low birth rate. One government in Berlin after the other has relentlessly tried to reverse the downward spiral, with the legal right to daycare only one of myriad policies aimed at encouraging potential parents.
Germany spends some €200 billion ($270 billion) on promoting children and families each year and yet its birth rate, at 1.39 per woman aged 15 to 49, remains among the lowest in Europe. Though many experts doubt the effectiveness of many of the country's family policies, the current government is hoping that a combination of parent-friendly initiatives can begin to tackle the problem of "Schrumpfnation Deutschland" (shrinking Germany). Chancellor Angela Merkel has also pursued a broader approach intended to create stronger links between the family and the workplace.
Early on in her tenure, Merkel instituted parental leave benefits that are widely considered some of the most generous in Europe. Under the program, parents can receive up to 65 percent of their monthly salary over a period of up to 14 months.
More recently, the chancellor put the expansion of all-day schools back on the agenda. German primary schools finish earlier than elsewhere in Europe -- sometimes as early as 11 a.m. -- which makes it harder for mothers in particular to combine work and family.
The government is hoping that it can also make establishing families more attractive with its new child care pledge -- and there is in fact evidence the push could actually help. The researchers responsible for a report commissioned by the Family Ministry and completed earlier this year into the costs and benefits of the country's family policy, claim there is empirical evidence of a correlation between the availability of preschool places and the birth rate. In certain rural districts of western Germany, they found that an increase in the number of daycare spots for children by 10 percent led to an increase in the birth rate to 3.5 percent from 2.4 percent within two years.
With additional reporting by SPIEGEL Staff.