August 3, 2013
Scandal in South Korea Over Nuclear Revelations
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — Like Japan, resource-poor South Korea has long relied on nuclear power to provide the cheap electricity that helped build its miracle economy. For years, it met one-third of its electricity needs with nuclear power, similar to Japan’s level of dependence before the 2011 disaster at its Fukushima plant.
Now, a snowballing scandal in South Korea about bribery and faked safety tests for critical plant equipment has highlighted yet another similarity: experts say both countries’ nuclear programs suffer from a culture of collusion that has undermined their safety. Weeks of revelations about the close ties between South Korea’s nuclear power companies, their suppliers and testing companies have led the prime minister to liken the industry to a mafia.
The scandal started after an anonymous tip in April prompted an official investigation. Prosecutors have indicted some officials at a testing company on charges of faking safety tests on parts for the plants. Some officials at the state-financed company that designs nuclear power plants were also indicted on charges of taking bribes from testing company officials in return for accepting those substandard parts.
Worse yet, investigators discovered that the questionable components are installed in 14 of South Korea’s 23 nuclear power plants. The country has already shuttered three of those reactors temporarily because the questionable parts used there were important, and more closings could follow as investigators wade through more than 120,000 test certificates filed over the past decade to see if more may have been falsified.
In a further indication of the possible breadth of the problems, prosecutors recently raided the offices of 30 more suppliers suspected of also providing parts with faked quality certificates and said they would investigate other testing companies.
“What has been revealed so far may be the tip of an iceberg,” said Kune Y. Suh, a professor of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University.
With each new revelation, South Koreans — who, like the Japanese, had grown to believe their leaders’ soothing claims about nuclear safety — have become more jittery. Safety is the biggest concern, but the scandals have also caused economic worries. At a time of slowing growth, the government had loudly promoted its plans to become a major builder of nuclear power plants abroad.
The scandal, Professor Suh said, “makes it difficult to continue claiming to build reliable nuclear power plants cheaply.”
South Koreans say they are already suffering for the industry’s sins. The closing of the three reactors, in addition to another three offline for scheduled maintenance, has led the country’s leaders to order a nationwide energy-saving campaign in the middle of a particularly muggy summer. At university campuses, students have deserted the libraries for cooler Internet cafes, and major corporations have turned down air-conditioning.
President Park Geun-hye has kept off her own air-conditioning even when she hosted foreign guests, including Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook. And some entrepreneurs have capitalized on the troubles, selling “cool scarves” made of a special fabric that, after being dipped in water, keeps wearers cool for hours. But the modeling and creativity have not stopped the grousing, or alleviated anger at the industry.
Critics of South Korea’s nuclear industry say there were plenty of warning signs.
Last year, the government was forced to shut down two reactors temporarily after it learned that parts suppliers — some of whom were later convicted — had fabricated the safety-test certificates for more than 10,000 components over 10 years. But the government emphasized at the time that those parts were “nonessential” items and that the industry was otherwise sound.
As it turned out, the problems went much deeper.
The investigation that began this spring suggested that the oversight within the supply chain may also be more deeply compromised. A company that was supposed to test reactor parts skipped portions of the exams, doctored test data or even issued safety certificates for parts that failed its tests, according to government investigators. And this time the parts involved included more important items. Among the parts that failed the tests were cables used to send signals to activate emergency measures in an accident.
“This is not a simple negligence or mistake; this is a deliberate fabrication by those who were supposed to safeguard the reliability of parts,” said Kim Yong-soo, a professor of nuclear engineering at Hanyang University in Seoul. “It raises serious questions about the immune system of our nuclear power industry.”
Although much remains unclear with the investigations under way, experts say they know enough to pinpoint the underlying cause of the scandal: an industry that is even more highly centralized than Japan’s, with poor oversight on the relations among the major players.
While Japan has a small number of utilities that provide nuclear power, South Korea has just one: the state-run Korea Electric Power Corporation, or Kepco. One of its subsidiaries, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, runs all the plants. Another, Kepco Engineering & Construction, designs them and is tasked with inspecting parts from suppliers and vetting the safety certificates they include from testing companies.
Over the years, senior retirees from the two subsidiaries have found jobs with parts suppliers and testing companies or invested in them, according to industry data submitted to the National Assembly.
In a culture where honoring personal ties is often considered more important than following regulations, the porous borders among the members of the supply chain resulted in what government officials and industry experts call an “entrenched chain of corruption.” Important school and hometown connections among the groups further cemented the collusive links, they said. And then there is the lure of bribery, which has often lubricated relationships between South Korean parts suppliers and their buyers in various industries.
“In the past 30 years, our nuclear energy industry has become an increasingly closed community that emphasized its specialty in dealing with nuclear materials and yet allowed little oversight and intervention,” the government’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a recent report to lawmakers. “It spawned a litany of corruption, an opaque system and a business practice replete with complacency.”
In the current scandal, Korea Hydro officials are accused of ordering Kepco E & C to ignore faked certificates from the testing firm Saehan Total Engineering Provider Company. The testing company’s top officials and investors included current and former employees from Kepco E & C or their family members. (Although the company was called for comment several times in recent days, no one picked up the main line.)
But the problems appear to go beyond testing. At the home of one of the Korea Hydro officials, investigators found boxes of cash amounting to several hundred thousand dollars. Investigators tracing the origin of the money recently arrested officials of Hyundai Heavy Industries, a major parts supplier, on bribery charges. Prosecutors said the money was meant to ensure contracts for Hyundai Heavy and appeared not to be part of the scandal over testing certificates.
In a statement jointly issued in June, Korea Hydro, Kepco E & C and two other state-financed nuclear industry companies promised “self-purification measures.” To “root out corruption arising from collusive ties,” they said they would make it mandatory for senior officials to make public their personal assets, ban all employees from buying stocks in suppliers or getting jobs there after retirement, and reduce the retirement package benefits for those fired for corruption.
Amid a public uproar, the government fired the heads of both the Kepco subsidiaries. It also promised to enact new laws and tighten regulations to ban retirees from the two subsidiaries from getting jobs at suppliers and test agencies.
Political opposition parties, which control some seats on the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission — the top nuclear watchdog, which has long been criticized as being too cozy with the industry — recently added two critics of nuclear power to the regulatory group. But many worry the changes, and promised changes, will not be enough.
After last year’s scandal, the government had vowed to keep parts suppliers found to have falsified documents from bidding again for 10 years. But in February, Korea Hydro imposed only a six-month penalty for such suppliers. And nuclear opponents say that more fundamental changes are needed in the regulatory system, pointing out that one of the government’s main regulating arms, the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety, gets 60 percent of its annual budget from Korea Hydro.
Some go further, saying ordinary South Koreans will have to change their own expectations before real change can occur.
The nuclear industry, they say, was built around the notion that South Korea’s industries needed inexpensive power, leading Kepco to build plants quickly and operate them cheaply.
“South Koreans have guzzled cheap electricity while turning a blind eye to the safety concerns of their nuclear power plants,” said Yang Lee Won-young, a leader at the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement. “They may end up paying dearly.”
August 3, 2013
Iran’s President Puts New Focus on the Economy
By THOMAS ERDBRINK
TEHRAN — Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, vowed Saturday to work with the outside world to lift the “oppressive sanctions” crippling the Iranian economy, as he received the official backing of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a ceremony marking the start of his presidential term.
In an acknowledgment of the growing toll that international economic restrictions connected to Iran’s nuclear program are having on the population, both Mr. Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei made the economy a major theme of their remarks.
“People called for change and improvement in their living standards, they want to live better,” Mr. Rouhani said.
But he and the ayatollah offered somewhat different solutions. Whereas Mr. Rouhani said that interactions with the world, meaning talks with Europe and potentially the United States, were a way out of the crisis, Ayatollah Khamenei, who as supreme leader has final word on all important issues, expressed pessimism that such overtures would yield fruit. “Some of our enemies do not speak with our language of wisdom,” he said, urging self-sufficiency.
As Mr. Rouhani takes his public oath of office on Sunday, Iran’s growing economic crisis sits atop his agenda. Sanctions have slashed oil exports and limited Iran’s ability to transfer money from abroad. The shortage has been aggravated by the profligate spending that is a legacy of the departing government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
During most of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s two four-year terms, Iran enjoyed an oil windfall, with a flow of dollars and euros that fueled huge imports on goods ranging from ice cream to Porsches.
But now Mr. Rouhani’s aides describe Iran’s economic situation as the worst in decades. Many blame what they call Mr. Ahmadinejad’s erratic economic policies, punctuated by slashed subsidies and unbridled inflation.
The signs of woe abound.
Lacking money, Iran’s national soccer team scrapped a training trip to Portugal. Teachers in Tehran nervously awaited their wages, which were inexplicably delayed by more than a week. Officials warned recently that food and medicine imports have stalled for three weeks because of a lack of foreign currency.
While Mr. Rouhani has asked for a hundred days to review the state of the economy and devise solutions, there are some voices who now say that the only way to solve the economic ills is to come up with a political settlement of Iran’s nuclear dispute. Those voices were barely heard during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s tenure.
“Rouhani’s economic success depends on the determination of Iran’s other leaders to find a solution for the nuclear support,” an economics professor, Mohsen Renani of the University of Isfahan, told the Web site Neco News.
In another sign of dissatisfaction over the consequences of Iran’s nuclear stance, an influential political professor publicly expressed doubt recently over the benefits of the nuclear program. “Why are we producing radioisotopes when we can import them much cheaper?” the professor, Sadegh Zibakalam of Tehran University, told the reformist weekly Aseman. “Why should we maintain a nuclear program when we have no economic justification?”
While those voices may have grown louder, they by no means represent the official position of Iran’s ruling establishment, which maintains that self-sufficiency in nuclear energy is nonnegotiable.
“Whatever happens, our nuclear stances will not change nor waver,” Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, a former member of Parliament and an influential Friday Prayer leader in Isfahan, said in an interview. “Our supreme leader, the nation and all officials from all factions believe this is our inalienable right, so we will not retreat at all.”
But ignoring the increasing economic pressures, while promising a better future — a strategy favored by Iran’s leaders over the past years — is proving increasingly complicated. Almost everybody in Iran is feeling the pain.
“It starts with little things, like some weeks ago there was no butter to be found,” said Somaye, 31, a teacher who asked that she not be fully identified so as not to attract the attention of the authorities. “It makes you think, What’s going on?”
Like those of other teachers in Tehran, the capital and economic pulse of the country, her wages came in unusually late this month, after officials had promised every day they would pay. It took 10 days for her salary to be transferred. “I got in trouble with debts I had to pay,” she said.
Last week, the Portuguese coach of Iran’s soccer team, Carlos Queiroz, who helped Iran qualify for the 2014 World Cup, told local news media that an important training trip to Lisbon had been canceled because officials said there was no money to pay for it. Importers are complaining that the Central Bank is not providing them with foreign currency needed to buy products abroad. “We really need all sorts of medicine, from contraception pills to products for hemophilia patients,” said one influential importer who asked not to be identified because of his government contacts. “But we can’t bring them in as the Central Bank is not providing us with dollars.”
Less oil money is coming in because of the sanctions. Iran’s largest customer, China, has not been paying for oil purchases with cash, instead bartering with goods and equipment at unfavorable prices, the news agency Tasmin reported last Sunday, quoting Amir Jafarpour, the manager of the Oil Ministry’s transportation and fuel headquarters.
“Instead of getting our money we have been forced to buy 315 Chinese-made subway coaches at higher prices,” he said, complaining that the Chinese were also pocketing the interest at Iranian oil bank accounts in China.
The sanctions situation could become far more onerous under legislation passed Wednesday by the United States House of Representatives, which would basically coerce Iran’s remaining oil customers to find other suppliers. The legislation, which the Senate will consider next month, amounts to a threatened embargo on Iran’s oil, its most important export.
Mr. Ahmadinejad defended his policies in a meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei last week, saying that Iranians had never been happier and that his government had successfully changed the way ballooning state subsidies were distributed by increasing prices of staples and giving direct cash handouts of $13 each to 60 million people each month.
But as members of Mr. Rouhani’s team prepare to take over, they say they are shocked with what they are finding as they go through the books. “The economic situation is much worse from what we expected,” Akbar Torkan, a member of Mr. Rouhani’s inner circle, told Aseman.
Others are more outspoken. “Iran is an economical wreck,” Yahya Ale Eshaq, a former trade minister and close ally of Mr. Rouhani, told Tejarat-e Farda, a business magazine, last week.
Warning that imported raw materials had dwindled, grinding local production to a halt, Mr. Ale Eshaq, who is also the head of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, said that one of Mr. Rouhani’s main challenges would be just to provide basic goods. “We will face shortages,” he said.
Mr. Rouhani has criticized Mr. Ahmadinejad’s economic policies, saying that almost no jobs had been created during his two terms and that millions of Iranians could face unemployment in coming years.
He also told lawmakers that inflation was rising at an annualized rate of 42 percent — far higher than the 32 percent rate reported by the government-controlled Central Bank. Private economists say Iran’s inflation rate could be even higher.
“The outgoing government for a long time enjoyed record oil revenues,” said Morteza Bank, a former minister who now advises Mr. Rouhani. He said that Iran was currently exporting one million barrels of oil a day. That is less than half the 2.5 million barrels a day exported before the sanctions were imposed.
“We have to make the effort to reconstruct this economical wreck,” he told the semiofficial Iranian Labour News Agency on Saturday.
Those close to Mr. Rouhani say he will do what he can to turn the economy around. He is now asking Parliament to alter the coming budget to prevent a deficit, which means his cabinet will take unpopular measures like cutting the cash payments and increasing gasoline prices.
“Unless we take measures, we will not be able to pay the cash subsidies from December onward,” Gholam Reza Tajgardoun, a former vice president, warned in the reformist newspaper Shargh Daily.
Members of Mr. Rouhani’s inner circle have hewed to the official line that the sanctions and economic woes will not force any nuclear concessions. “First of all we are looking for seriousness from the other side,” said an associate of Mr. Rouhani’s. “Unless we see tangible, serious, active reach-out, we will not be persuaded to spin around empty gestures,” the associate said, asking to remain anonymous upon Mr. Rouhani’s request.
Lord Ashcroft in dispute with Belize over control of offshore register
Belizean government has seized control of registers of offshore companies and ships, suggesting schism with Tory peer
The Observer, Sunday 4 August 2013
Lord Ashcroft, the billionaire Tory party donor, has been drawn into a bitter row with the government of Belize over the control of its offshore register, which has been responsible for the formation of more than 100,000 companies in the tax haven.
In a move that suggests a schism between the Tory peer and his adopted country, the Belize government has seized control of the International Business Companies Registry (IBCR) of offshore companies and the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize (Immarbe), its register of ships. The IBCR is operated by Belize International Services Limited (BISL) which is co-owned by a Panamanian law firm and Waterloo Investment Holdings Limited (WIHL), a British Virgin Islands company in which Ashcroft has a 77% stake.
Waterloo says its lawyers have agreements to operate the offshore registry dating back to 1993. A deal to extend the agreement to 2020 was signed with a previous government. But Ashcroft, the former deputy chairman of the Tory party, who came under fire before the last election when it emerged he had been a "non-dom", is now at loggerheads with the government over the arrangement. complex legal case.
In addition to effectively renationalising the offshore register, Belize plans to hit BISL with a tax bill for $30m. Waterloo International has expressed its "disappointment and outrage" at the decision and has launched legal action to recover $60m in compensation from the Belize government.
But the row has also raised questions about how much money Ashcroft's business interests have made from helping develop Belize as a tax haven.
The prime minister of Belize, Dean Barrow, signalled recently that he thought taxpayers would benefit from the registry being under government control. "I see them making threats about how many millions of dollars they are going to sue for," he said. "When you look at what was collected over the past few years, the figure they are talking about is outrageous and laughable, but they will seek legal recourse … And we say 'bring it on', because there is no way that we will allow this abuse to continue, so as to endanger the economy of this country."
In a statement, WIHL said its board "considers the government of Belize's decision to disregard the sanctity of BISL's contract to be the latest in a clear and expanding pattern of the government's rejection of private investment in Belize", and warned "no investment, whether local or foreign, is safe in Belize".
The row has raised questions about whether Ashcroft will distance himself from his adopted country. In recent years, he has devoted more time to his interests in the Turks and Caicos Islands, where he enjoys special "belonger" status, equivalent to citizenship, but it appears inconceivable that he would walk away from Belize.
In 2009 he wrote in his autobiography, Dirty Politics Dirty Times: "I cannot imagine my life devoid of work, politics, travel or Belize.
Mexico investigating alleged reappearance by drug lord thought to be dead
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 3, 2013 13:35 EDT
Three years after Mexican drug lord Nazario Moreno was declared dead, doubts abound about his demise, with stories of him indoctrinating recruits every Sunday and hosting a feast last year.
Even though his body was never recovered, the government announced on December 10, 2010, that “El Chayo” was killed after an hours-long gunfight with federal police near the city of Apatzingan, in the western state of Michoacan.
At the time, then government security spokesman Alejandro Poire cited “several elements and information obtained” in the operation to declare that the head of La Familia Michoacana cartel was dead.
But the new government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December, is now checking whether the man also known as “The Craziest One,” who would be 43 years old today, is really dead.
“We are corroborating it. He was allegedly killed by the federal police, but during the previous government,” a current government spokesman told AFP.
La Familia began to crumble after his disappearance, leading to the creation of an offshoot christened as the Knights Templar, whose brutality prompted civilians in Michoacan to form vigilante forces and the government to deploy thousands of troops in May.
Several residents of Michoacan insist that Moreno is now leading the Knights Templar, who were accused of killing a vice admiral in an ambush last Sunday, days after clashes with police that left four officers and 20 gangsters dead.
While the government vows to pacify the state, a federal police officer in the area said official intelligence states that the capo is hiding in the rough mountain terrain of a region known as Tierra Caliente (Hot Land) — the epicenter of clashes between police and the cartel.
The resurrection of Moreno would probably suit the drug kingpin, a self-styled “messiah” who wrote the “Gospel of La Familia” — a sort of gang bible with rules barring its members from consuming drugs or alcohol.
A leader of a vigilante group said he was among 60 people invited by Moreno to a dinner in a house in the small town of Aguililla in September 2012.
“It’s the kind of invitation that you can’t turn down,” the vigilante said.
The guests arrived on time for the food, music and dancing. “El Chayo” showed up three hours later, with armed men providing security at the house while others monitored the only road leading to the town.
The guests were ordered to turn off their cellphones and were forbidden from leaving until after Moreno had left at dawn.
“He didn’t do any proselytism,” the vigilante said. Instead, he displayed left-wing politics and revealed that he was now known as Ernesto Villa Moreno, in honor of Argentine guerrillero Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Mexican revolution hero Pancho Villa.
But Moreno told the group that his men were “very good at killing Zetas,” he said, referring to members of a rival cartel.
Juan Manuel, an 18-year-old who says he was recruited by the cartel to be a hitman at age 13, said that Moreno and other Knights Templar leaders meet to indoctrinate their men every Sunday.
“El Chayo has very large weapons,” said Juan Manuel, who said he recently left the cartel and last saw Moreno two months ago.
Moreno began his criminal career selling marijuana in the United States, where he lived as an undocumented migrant.
He founded La Familia after returning to his native Michoacan and his cartel, which vowed to impose “divine justice,” made its presence known in 2006, when it rolled five human heads down a bar’s dance floor.
After his alleged death, Servando Gomez, alias “La Tuta,” created the Knights Templar, taking inspiration from La Familia’s religious image by adopting the red cross of Christian crusaders and painting it on the side of cartel cars.
“The Craziest One” is not the first Mexican drug capo whose death is shrouded in doubt.
Amado Carrillo Fuentes, alias “The Lord of the Skies,” is said to have died in 1997 while undergoing plastic surgery but some in Mexico believe he is still alive
Last year, the navy said marines had killed Zetas cartel leader Heriberto Lazcano, but his body was stolen from a funeral home hours later and has never been recovered.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Excitement, but anxiety too, as Uruguay sets liberal path with new cannabis law
In the first country set to legalise the sale and production of marijuana, opinion is divided on the merits of the experiment
The Observer, Saturday 3 August 2013 18.17 BST
The "weed brothers" have been turning away potential pot-buying customers from their tiny shop in downtown Montevideo quite a lot recently. "They come about three times a day to ask if we're selling marijuana yet," say Juan and Enrique Tubino. They've had to put up a sign stating: "We don't sell marijuana."
It's not just because the Tubino brothers keep their shop packed high with cannabis pipes, herb grinders and rolling paper – or because of the giant green hookah in the display window – that would-be customers are pouring in. The big excitement is because tiny Uruguay, a country so small that a single dialling code covers the whole territory, is about to become the first in the world to legalise the production and sale of marijuana. The Tubinos are hoping that their Yuyo Brothers shop (yuyo is Spanish for weed) can capitalise on its fame among Montevideo cannabis users to sell legally what goes into the pipes.
"When people think of liberal drug laws, they tend to think of Holland, but actually it's Uruguay that has always been at the forefront," says Hannah Hetzer, a young dual-nationality Austrian-American from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) who landed in Uruguay in February to help local drug reform activists. The DPA is a weighty US drug policy reform NGO that can boast tycoons such as George Soros and Richard Branson and celebrities including Sting on its board of directors. "Uruguay never banned private consumption of any drug at all, including hard drugs such as heroin, even though their production and sale is banned," says Hetzer.
When Jose Mujica, Uruguay's president, put his considerable political weight behind drug law reform in this small but ultra-liberal South American state, the DPA sent Hetzer to Montevideo to guide money from Soros's Open Society Foundations into an unprecedented media campaign that helped to push the groundbreaking legal changes through the lower house of congress. Approval by the senate, where Mujica holds a strong majority, is expected soon.
Other Latin American countries, such as Colombia and Bolivia, emboldened by Uruguay's move and frustrated over their own failure to beat the powerful and bloody illegal cartels that control drug production in the region, will be looking carefully at how the reform fares.
The law will grant licences to private producers for large-scale cannabis farming and regulate the distribution of marijuana at controlled prices through pharmacies to registered consumers, all under the strict eye of the government. It will also allow home growing of up to six plants per household, and the creation of "cannabis clubs" in which home growers will be able to band together to produce marijuana in greater quantities as long as it is not for sale.
This is music to the ears of 27-year-old Enrique Tubino, the youngest of the two "weed brothers", who has been growing cannabis illegally at home for years. "Now we'll be able to grow our weed in peace without having to hide. That's going to be a big change, in our heads, in the concept, on the street. There's going to be many colourful balconies now," he laughs.
Marijuana consumption seems to be high in Uruguay, especially among young people. "Surveys show that about 4.5% of the population smokes marijuana on a more or less regular basis," says Sebastian Sabini, the 32-year-old bearded and sneaker-wearing congressman who drafted the new law. "I've never seen people smoking on the street as much as they do here," says Hetzer. "It seems more widespread than anywhere else."
That and a long liberal tradition regarding matters such as a strict separation of church and state helped to ease the passage of the new law. When Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis in February, Mujica decided not to fly to Rome for his inauguration.
"Uruguay is a totally lay country," explained Mujica at the time. "There is separation of church and state since the last century. Uruguay is different from the rest of Latin America regarding this. We have great respect, there is freedom of worship, but we are not believers."
Although approval for the reform is low, both critics and supporters agree that opposition is not virulent. "Someone scrawled 'Sabini is a junkie' on a city wall," says Sabini. But that is meek protest even for distinctly civil Uruguay, where political opponents seldom quarrel too loudly. With a population of only 3.3 million, it is hard for politicians and activists not to know personally those on the other side of the ideological fence.
Even though support for the reform is low among the population at large, there is no strong vocal opposition so far. "Polls placed those against the law at about 66% at the start of this year," says Hetzer. "And even after our intense media campaign, that only dropped by about three points, but it is not an issue that could sway an election. It is not an important issue, even for those against it."
Opponents of the law disagree with technical aspects, but not the essence. "Smoking marijuana is legal in Uruguay, you can't be arrested for smoking on the street; you could smoke here in front of the building of congress without any problem, even before this law," says Javier García, a congressman who voted against the change. "I'm a doctor and I don't agree with the law for medical reasons. I don't believe that marijuana is not a stepping stone to harder drugs such as cocaine, as its proponents allege. I feel we just don't have enough scientific research yet to back this law; there's no international precedent. It raises the risk of drug tourism and consumption is already legal, so what's the basis for it? Not individual freedom, because private consumption is already guaranteed."
Supporters and critics of the reform both see the ghost of American "imperialism" behind legalisation, on the one hand, and the war against drugs on the other. Sabini sees US support for the war on drugs in Latin America as a tool for dominance over weak nations. "The US provides the arms and we provide the dead," he says.
But García sees instead a new brand of "US imperialism" behind powerful NGOs such as the Drug Policy Alliance pumping dollars into Uruguay to support the new law. "They are using us as a testing ground for reforms that they wouldn't dare test at home. They're treating us like guinea pigs."
Hetzer sees it differently. "Uruguay is the perfect country to do this; it's small, it's got good institutions, very little corruption," she says. "And this drug law reform follows in the same year that Uruguay legalised abortion and same-sex marriage. It's part of a broader trend towards a more liberal society that's taking place; it's not just a single issue."
Despite the consensus, some aspects of the law remain contested. Small entrepreneurs such as the Tubino brothers are unhappy about only pharmacies so far being allowed to sell marijuana.
"That's giving too much power to the multinationals or anyone with big money, as they would be the only ones who could finance such a distribution system," says Enrique Tubino. "There's a rumour that tobacco companies are studying this, which would be the worst. Can you imagine? The Green Marlboro!"
But Sabini defends the decision to grant pharmacies a marijuana monopoly.
"Pharmacies have more experience selling drugs for medicinal use," he says. "They have nationwide reach, they have trained personnel, security precautions in place for handling important sums of money and a data system for prescriptions that can be adapted to the sale of marijuana only to registered users."
The Tubino brothers are not convinced. "We've been having offers from investors from Spain and Holland. Those are big tigers," says Juan Tubino.
"We'd like the government to set up some protectionism to defend us Uruguayans against that. But if it doesn't, we'll just have to grow tough nails and fight against the tigers, too."
The Christian Science Monitor
Genetic Adam and Eve could have been contemporaries, scientists say
By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / August 2, 2013 at 6:08 pm EDT
Thousands of years ago, somewhere in Africa, lived a man who – probably – had no idea that he, among all the other men in his group, would go on to become humankind’s most recent common male ancestor. Scientists would call him “Adam.”
Now, a new paper published in the journal Science significantly narrows the time during which Adam could have lived – about 120,000 to 156,000 years ago – putting him in about the same time period as humankind’s most recent common female ancestor, often dubbed “Eve." The research revises previous findings that dated Adam within a much longer period.
And the findings also ease recent doubts that the Y chromosome can reliably trace ancient lineage, renewing confidence that tracing and dating lineage using mutations in the Y chromosome could be critical in answering some of the vexing questions about how and where the first humans originated.
“We’ve shown that we can do this kind of dating, and that the Y chromosome is a really powerful tool,” says Brenna Henn, a genetics researcher at SUNY Stony Brook. “Now that we can use the Y chromosome in this manner, we can go back and look into other big questions, like exactly where in Africa did humans originate?”
“The ultimate goal is to understand when and where there was a modern human population,” she says.
Dr. Henn and colleagues analyzed the Y chromosome from 69 men from nine globally divergent regions, including Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Algeria, Pakistan, Cambodia, Siberia, and Mexico. The Y chromosome, which in human males is one chromosome of the 23 pairs that form the genome, is a useful means through which to follow paternal lineage, as it is passed as an exact copy from father to son, whereas other chromosomes are shuffled and reshuffled in the making of a new person.
The mitochondrial genome, passed from a mother to both male and female children, is likewise used to plot maternal lineage. It has been used to date Eve.
Still, over hundreds of thousands of years, the Y chromosome is not always faithfully copied. Like mitochondrial DNA, it mutates, and those mutations can be used to trace lineage. Researchers identified about 11,000 mutations in the genetic sequences of the 69 men, after comparing their sequences to what is known as the reference genome. Those mutations were then plotted as a family tree, with the tip of each branch representing an individual’s unique mutation not shared with any of the other men.
Scientists have long suspected that those mutations occur at a regular rate, which would make it possible to then attach a date to those mutations. But since there is not yet a standard mutation rate in genomics, the team had to create their own.
To do so, they referred back to a known event: the migration of humans in North America 15,000 years ago. Mutations common to all modern Native Americans must have existed prior to the peopling of the New World, whereas variants among that population must have developed during the past 15,000 years.
That 15,000-years-ago marker was used to give the scientists a rate at which mutations occur, which was then applied to the Y chromosome tree. All the calculations were then redone with the 69 men’s mitochondrial DNA, to also trace their common female ancestor.
The new research dates the common Y chromosome to about 120,000 to 156,000 years ago and the mitochondrial DNA to some 99,000 to 148,000 years ago, meaning that Adam and Eve now have a 28,000 year period during which they could hypothetically have overlapped. Previous estimates had put the man sometime between the wide range of 50,000 to 150,000 years ago, and Eve at some 120,000 to 156,000 years ago.
The closing of the gap in Adam's possible time period is in part due to improved technology that makes more of the Y chromosome’s base pairs – the units that make up each chromosome and the spots where mutations occur – available for research. Previous studies had looked at hundreds of thousands of base pairs, while this latest paper looked at about 10 million base pairs, Henn said, noting that more base pairs mean more identified mutations and more accurate results.
The new research also makes a major step in genomics in using the same mutation rate to trace back both the Y chromosome and the mitochondria, Henn said. Previously, dates for Adam and Eve had often been calculated using different mutation rates.
And differences in mutation rates could still also explain continued disparities between researchers on pinpointing Adam and Eve’s time period. A separate paper also published Friday in Science also identified about 11,000 mutations in their sample sequences but used a different mutation rate – calculated using an estimated migration date of peoples to Sardinia – to date Adam. That paper’s results put Adam somewhere between 180,000 to 200,000 years ago.
“Mutation rate has really been an unappreciated issue in this kind of analysis,” said Henn, adding that she and colleagues are working to improve the accuracy of their Native American-based mutation rate. Once that is obtained, the team will return to the same data to re-date Adam and Eve and possibly narrow the periods during which the two could have lived.
Despite their biblically inspired monickers, Adam and Eve are not humankind’s first ancestors. Although the pair could have overlapped in time, it’s not necessary – and in fact “statistically unlikely,” says Henn – that the two ever even met.
Instead, Adam’s “Y” chromosome was passed to his male children, and to their male children, and so on. In a separate event, Eve’s mitochondrial DNA was passed to all her children, and to all her children's children, and so on. Other ancient people contemporaneous with Adam and Eve also passed to their children their Y chromosomes and mitochondria, but over the past hundreds of thousands of years, that material was filtered out of humankind’s genetic makeup.
Those Adam and Eve contemporaries also have modern descendants – and in fact parts of their genomes might be common in modern humans – but that lineage is not yet traceable. In short, Adam and Eve are our most recent common identifiable ancestors.
“There are other segments in our genome that we could trace common ancestry from, but those are tricky things,” said Henn.
In the USA...
August 3, 2013
Other Agencies Clamor for Data N.S.A. Compiles
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency’s dominant role as the nation’s spy warehouse has spurred frequent tensions and turf fights with other federal intelligence agencies that want to use its surveillance tools for their own investigations, officials say.
Agencies working to curb drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement complain that their attempts to exploit the security agency’s vast resources have often been turned down because their own investigations are not considered a high enough priority, current and former government officials say.
Intelligence officials say they have been careful to limit the use of the security agency’s troves of data and eavesdropping spyware for fear they could be misused in ways that violate Americans’ privacy rights.
The recent disclosures of agency activities by its former contractor Edward J. Snowden have led to widespread criticism that its surveillance operations go too far and have prompted lawmakers in Washington to talk of reining them in. But out of public view, the intelligence community has been agitated in recent years for the opposite reason: frustrated officials outside the security agency say the spy tools are not used widely enough.
“It’s a very common complaint about N.S.A.,” said Timothy H. Edgar, a former senior intelligence official at the White House and at the office of the director of national intelligence. “They collect all this information, but it’s difficult for the other agencies to get access to what they want.”
“The other agencies feel they should be bigger players,” said Mr. Edgar, who heard many of the disputes before leaving government this year to become a visiting fellow at Brown University. “They view the N.S.A. — incorrectly, I think — as this big pot of data that they could go get if they were just able to pry it out of them.”
Smaller intelligence units within the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have sometimes been given access to the security agency’s surveillance tools for particular cases, intelligence officials say.
But more often, their requests have been rejected because the links to terrorism or foreign intelligence, usually required by law or policy, are considered tenuous. Officials at some agencies see another motive — protecting the security agency’s turf — and have grown resentful over what they see as a second-tier status that has undermined their own investigations into security matters.
At the drug agency, for example, officials complained that they were blocked from using the security agency’s surveillance tools for several drug-trafficking cases in Latin America, which they said might be connected to financing terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere.
At the Homeland Security Department, officials have repeatedly sought to use the security agency’s Internet and telephone databases and other resources to trace cyberattacks on American targets that are believed to have stemmed from China, Russia and Eastern Europe, according to officials. They have often been rebuffed.
Officials at the other agencies, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the tensions, say the National Security Agency’s reluctance to allow access to data has been particularly frustrating because of post-Sept. 11 measures that were intended to encourage information-sharing among federal agencies.
In fact, a change made in 2008 in the executive order governing intelligence was intended to make it easier for the security agency to share surveillance information with other agencies if it was considered “relevant” to their own investigations. It has often been left to the national intelligence director’s office to referee the frequent disputes over how and when the security agency’s spy tools can be used. The director’s office declined to comment for this article.
Typically, the agencies request that the N.S.A. target individuals or groups for surveillance, search its databases for information about them, or share raw intelligence, rather than edited summaries, with them. If those under scrutiny are Americans, approval from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is required.
The security agency, whose mission is to spy overseas, and the F.B.I., its main partner in surveillance operations, dominate the process as the Justice Department’s main “customers” in seeking warrants from the intelligence court, with nearly 1,800 approved by the court last year.
In a statement, the security agency said that it “works closely with all intelligence community partners, and embeds liaison officers and other personnel at those agencies for the express purpose of ensuring N.S.A. is meeting their requirements and providing support to their missions.”
The security agency’s spy tools are attractive to other agencies for many reasons. Unlike traditional, narrowly tailored search warrants, those granted by the intelligence court often allow searches through records and data that are vast in scope. The standard of evidence needed to acquire them may be lower than in other courts, and the government may not be required to disclose for years, if ever, that someone was the focus of secret surveillance operations.
Decisions on using the security agency’s powers rest on many complicated variables, including a link to terrorism or “foreign intelligence,” the type of surveillance or data collection that is being conducted, the involvement of American targets, and the priority of the issue.
“Every agency wants to think that their mission has to be the highest priority,” said a former senior White House intelligence official involved in recent turf issues.
Other intelligence shops usually have quick access to N.S.A. tools and data on pressing matters of national security, like investigating a terrorism threat, planning battlefield operations or providing security for a presidential trip, officials say. But the conflicts arise during longer-term investigations with unclear foreign connections.
In pressing for greater access, a number of smaller agencies maintain that their cases involve legitimate national security threats and could be helped significantly by the N.S.A.’s ability to trace e-mails and Internet activity or other tools.
Drug agency officials, for instance, have sought a higher place for global drug trafficking on the intelligence community’s classified list of surveillance priorities, according to two officials.
Dawn Dearden, a drug agency spokeswoman, said it was comfortable allowing the N.S.A. and the F.B.I. to take the lead in seeking surveillance warrants. “We don’t have the authority, and we don’t want it, and that comes from the top down,” she said.
But privately, intelligence officials at the drug agency and elsewhere have complained that they feel shut out of the process by the N.S.A. and the F.B.I. from start to finish, with little input on what groups are targeted with surveillance and only sporadic access to the classified material that is ultimately collected.
Sometimes, security agency and bureau officials accuse the smaller agencies of exaggerating links to national security threats in their own cases when pushing for access to the security agency’s surveillance capabilities. Officials from the other agencies say that if a link to national security is considered legitimate, the F.B.I. will at times simply take over the case itself and work it with the N.S.A.
In one such case, the bureau took control of a Secret Service investigation after a hacker was linked to a foreign government, one law enforcement official said. Similarly, the bureau became more interested in investigating smuggled cigarettes as a means of financing terrorist groups after the case was developed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Mr. Edgar said officials in the national intelligence director’s office occasionally allow other agencies a role in identifying surveillance targets and seeing the results when it is relevant to their own inquiries. But more often, he acknowledged, the office has come down on the side of keeping the process held to an “exclusive club” at the N.S.A., the F.B.I. and the Justice Department, with help from the Central Intelligence Agency on foreign issues.
Officials in the national intelligence director’s office worry about opening the surveillance too widely beyond the security agency and the F.B.I. for fear of abuse, Mr. Edgar said. The two intelligence giants have been “burned” by past wiretapping controversies and know the political consequences if they venture too far afield, he added.
“I would have been very uncomfortable if we had let these other agencies get access to the raw N.S.A. data,” he said.
As furious as the public criticism of the security agency’s programs has been in the two months since Mr. Snowden’s disclosures, “it could have been much, much worse, if we had let these other agencies loose and we had real abuses,” Mr. Edgar said. “That was the nightmare scenario we were worried about, and that hasn’t happened.”
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.
Bernie Sanders Calls What Wal-Mart Has Done To America A Great Obscenity
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 3rd, 2013
Sen. Bernie Sanders called out the Walton family for paying Wal-Mart workers starvation wages while collecting huge government subsides. Sanders called what Wal-Mart has done a great obscenity.
On The Ed Show, Sen. Sanders responded to the Republican claim that Wal-Mart can’t afford to wage employee wages with a few choice words for the Walton family:
Ed, you want to hear one of the great obsenities of our time? The wealthiest family in this country is the Walton family. They’re worth about $100 billion. That’s more wealth than the bottom 40% of the American people. One of the reasons the Walton family the owners of Wal-Mart are so wealthy is that they receive huge subsidies from the taxpayers of this country.
When you pay at Wal-Mart starvation wages. You don’t provide benefits. Who picks up the difference? The answer is that many of the workers in Wal-Mart end up getting Medicaid. They get food stamps. They get affordable housing paid for by the taxpayers of this country, while the Walton family remains the wealthiest family in the country. If that is not obscene, I don’t know what is.
According to Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch, Wal-Mart has received, “More than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments around the country.”
A May 2013 study by the House Democratic Staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce found that single Wal-Mart Supercenter costs taxpayers $904,542 per year, and could cost taxpayers up to $1,744,590 per year in public assistance costs. As of July 2012, Wal-Mart had 4,253 stores. Wal-Mart’s refusal to pay their workers a living wage costs taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
Republicans defend what Wal-Mart is doing as the free market, but there is nothing free market about taking billions of dollars from taxpayers while forcing those same taxpayers to support their employees, because Wal-Mart will not pay adequate wages. That isn’t the free market. It is corporate welfare.
When Republicans oppose raising the minimum wage, they are supporting lining the pockets of the Walton family with your money.
It doesn’t matter if you shop at Wal-Mart or not. If there is a Wal-Mart in your community, the Waltons are benefiting from the taxes that you pay. It is an unjust manipulation of our economy, and one of the great hypocrisies that supposedly free market champion Republicans continue to support and encourage Wal-Mart’s corporate welfare, while starving the working poor.
If you want to force Wal-Mart to take responsibility for adequately compensating their workers, demand an increase in the minimum wage.
Democrats Introduce Bill that Could Lead to Impeachment for Justices Thomas and Scalia
By: Adalia Woodbury
Aug. 3rd, 2013
On Thursday, a group of Democratic lawmakers proposed a law to establish a Code of Conduct for the Supreme Court.
It’s surely to have Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Scalia quaking in their Tea Party boots because it would mean they would actually have to be independent of political and other influences. They would also have to have the appearance of independence. They would have to stay away from political activity. That part would be really hard.
As it stands, this law would help guarantee that Supreme Court Justices are held to the same ethical standards we expect of other judges.
Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, joined by Senators Chris Murphy, Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse, introduced the bill. It would make ethics mandatory, rather than an option left to the discretion of Justices like Thomas and Scalia. It would mean all the Justices would have to live by the sort of ethical standards that Justice Kagan applied when she recused herself from Arizona’s ”papers please” law because she was Solicitor General at the time the Federal government filed suit. She did the same thing in 24 other cases on the same grounds.
As Senator Blumenthal said:
This legislation’s goal is to preserve public trust and confidence – the lifeblood of the Supreme Court – after claims of questionable conduct by some Justices, No Justice, any more than a judge, should advance a partisan cause or sit on a case involving a personal friend or interest. There is no persuasive reason in law or logic why Supreme Court Justices should not be held to the same high standard as other federal judges.
The proposed law holds the Supreme Court to the same standards required of judges in the federal court system. Currently, Justices on the Supreme Court decide for themselves if they should recuse themselves from cases in which they may have a personal stake or in Thomas’ case, his wife has a political or financial stake as a holy roller in the Tea Party.
Justices Thomas and Scalia who attended a few partisan fundraisers also ruled in favor of the conservatives raising questions about their independence. This was especially true in Citizens United because that ruling undid decades of established law.
Both of these actions violate the code of conduct already in place for Federal court judges.
We saw how well leaving Supreme court Justices to their own devices worked out when Justice Thomas ruled on the Affordable Care act, while his wife Ginni was paid to lobby against the law. The fact that Thomas “forgot” , to disclose Ginni’s income from lobbying against healthcare – even after she supposedly ceased lobbying against healthcare doesn’t help. That would have been more than just an oops moment had there been a code of conduct for the Supreme Court. Thomas’ conflict of interest problmes are not restricted to benefits to Ginni.
Questions about Thomas and Scalia’s judicial independence are nothing new. We saw it when both Supreme Court Justices attended a Koch Brothers fundraiser in 2010 and the Federalist Society fundraiser they attended in 2011, Thomas’ failure to disclose the sources Ginni’s income for six years also came out in 2011. A code of ethics for the Supreme Court is a bill whose time came a few years ago and has increasing importance given Ginni Thomas’s involvement with Groundswell.
As noted by Media Matters,
The recent Groundswell memoranda obtained by David Corn of Mother Jones reveal that these conflicts are getting worse.
Ginni Thomas was the founder and leader of Liberty Central, a political nonprofit “dedicated to opposing what she characterizes as the leftist ‘tyranny’ of President Obama and Democrats in Congress.” The group was funded by Harlan Crow, frequent patron of the Thomas’ projects and causes and a financial supporter of right-wing campaigns such as the “swift boat” attacks on then-presidential candidate John Kerry and the advertising push to confirm President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees. Crow also serves on the board of the American Enterprise Institute, whose Edward Blum brought the two most recent attacks on the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action before the Supreme Court. Justice Thomas favored Blum’s positions against progressive precedent on both civil rights issues.
Had Federal Court judges been as ethically challenged as Clarence Thomas, they would have been forced to resign. Considering that the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, it seems the bar for ethical standards should be the same as those for lower courts – if not higher.
If the Supreme Court had a code of conduct, Thomas would have had to recuse himself on several cases in which his wife’s high profile within the Tea Party would scream of bias. Had he failed to do so, there would be a legal basis with teeth to seek Thomas’ resignation. For Thomas and Scalia defenders tempted to question the constitutionality of holding Supreme Court Justices to ethics, Article 3 of the constitution says justices “shall hold their offices during good behaviour. If independence from pillow talk with a political lobbyist isn’t good behavior, I don’t know what is.
Let’s face it, if you are sleeping with someone within a political party whose agenda is to prevent certain classes of eligible voters from voting, the odds of forgetting that fact while considering the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act are zero – or at least it sure looks that way to any reasonable person. The same holds true when you at least look like you might be having pillow talk with someone with a political stake in the Defense of Marriage Act.
One can point to Justice Kagan’s ethical standards as proof that Supreme Court Justices can and do take principles like judicial independence and the appearance of it seriously. Then one is reminded of Justices Thomas and Scalia.
This law would address one of the many problems created by the sort of corruption that has become synonymous with the Republican Party and its puppet masters. But then, that would mean doing something constructive and it would also mean that the separation of powers are in fact separate, rather than subject to pillow talk between one Supreme Court Justice and one member of the Groundswell propaganda alliance.
Republicans Go On a Nationwide Rampage Of Eliminating Laws That Protect Americans
Aug. 3rd, 2013
When lawmakers in Washington consider introducing new legislation, they typically do not have the luxury of what the software industry calls beta testing which involves sending a new product outside the company for real-world exposure to determine if it is viable for public consumption. However, since extremist conservatives swept into power in several states, Congressional Republicans have paid close attention to tactics and new laws Republicans enacted in state legislatures as a form of beta testing before introducing similar measures in Congress that affect the entire nation. Of course, there are precious few, if any, Republican-sponsored legislation at the state level that do anything beneficial for the people due to the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and their fill-in templates that take rights from the people.
Since the House controls the nation’s purse strings, they have followed the lead of Republicans in states slashing programs for the poor, but they have run into a brick wall in the Democratically controlled Senate. Still, it did not stop them from an exceptionally cruel and inhumane move to eliminate funding for SNAP (food stamps) in the farm bill they claimed was prohibitively expensive and extraneous. However, they did find enough money to provide subsidies for corporate agriculture following state level Republicans cutting safety nets and education to give corporations and the rich new tax cuts. In the Senate, Republicans aligned with teabaggers are following Texas and Florida to take rights away from the people. It did not take long for Marco Rubio (TB-FL) to announce his intent to introduce a 20-week abortion ban within days of nearly identical legislation enacted and signed into law by Texas Governor Rick Perry, and now 36 Republicans have signed on to pass legislation recently signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott.
In June, at the urging of large corporate employers, the Republican House Majority leader and active ALEC member Steve Precourt provided a template the Florida legislature passed and Governor Rick Scott signed making it illegal to pass future legislation to provide paid sick leave to employees. The pre-emptive law was written by ALEC and supported by the Chamber of Commerce and Florida’s largest corporate employers. Doubtless a new bill introduced in the Senate on Wednesday will have the same level of support from big business and their lobbyists. The new measure was introduced by Republican senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Rand Paul (R-KY) that makes it virtually impossible for Congress to pass any legislation to improve working conditions or regulate the workplace. Apparently, seeing ALEC’s success in Florida emboldened 36 members of the Republican caucus in the Senate to sign on to a national measure to preemptively prohibit future legislation corporations, the Chamber of Commerce, and ALEC will object to and goes far beyond just banning future legislation for paid sick leave.
The proposed legislation is a death knell for any future attempt to raise the minimum wage, prohibit employers from firing workers because they are gay, or protecting women from sexual harassment from their superiors. The bill will also permanently establish anti-worker decisions by the conservative High Court and disallow Congress from reworking worker protections to accommodate an unfavorable worker rights decision. Coburn and Paul are attempting to restore the constitutional regime that at one time prohibited child labor laws, overtime pay, and other national regulations that protected workers. Allegedly the bill cannot be applied retroactively to existing labor laws, but it does allow procedural objections to be raised against any new legislation that does not comply with the limits imposed by the bill. The bill’s typically teabagger and libertarian intent is to neuter the federal government and bring it in line with a long-discarded vision of the Constitution outlining Congress’ specific powers and requiring all federal laws to be specifically enumerated in the Constitution. In fact, Coburn and Paul labeled the bill the “Enumerated Powers Act of 2013″ and it requires “a concise explanation of the specific authority in the Constitution that is the basis for its enactment.” The legislation is a prelude to Republicans abolishing Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, public education, and of course worker protections like minimum wage, child labor laws, and overtime pay that Republicans claim are not specifically written in the Constitution and thus are unconstitutional in their libertarian minds.
The idea of eliminating laws that protect Americans is the new standard for Republicans, so it is little surprise they support a law preemptively banning new legislation not enumerated in the Constitution. Two weeks ago House Speaker John Boehner claimed Republicans would be judged favorably by the number of laws they repeal, and coupled with their refusal to pass any meaningful legislation over the past two-and-a-half years, the Senate proposal goes a long way towards making the government ineffective in serving the people; especially working Americans. Republicans have sought myriad ways to eliminate worker protections since the New Deal, but they have increased their attacks since 2011 as twelve governors have signed preemptive laws banning future legislation that benefits workers. The Coburn and Paul bill will make the practice universally applicable in all 50 states and is a disaster for working Americans in any and every industry.
There is little argument from thinking Americans that Republicans will make any attempt to take worker protections away from the people to enrich their corporate donors, but the bigger implication is their drive to neuter the government to fit their libertarian vision of America. The idea that Congress is prohibited from passing any legislation that is not specifically noted in the Constitution effectively eliminates most federal laws, and it is curious if Republicans will also apply the “enumerated powers” principle to laws they favor such as those taking away a woman’s right to choose her reproductive health, oil subsidies, faith-based initiatives, or congressional representatives getting free healthcare, travel allowances, or a handsome pension.
Republicans are on a tear to disable the federal government’s ability to serve the people much like Republican-controlled states like Michigan where the governor appointed minor dictators to replace elected city representatives and became a law unto themselves. It is beyond the pale that in a representative democracy, a major party is passing, or attempting to pass, legislation prohibiting future legislation, but after seeing the success in several Republican states, 36 Senate Republicans are doing just that and it reveals their goal of completely neutering the federal government and limiting it to precise wording in the Constitution that effectively means no law is legal; it is a path to every libertarian’s goal of total anarchy.
If Americans thought for a second that Republicans could not possibly get any worse, the Coburn-Paul enumerated powers act is proof that their war on Washington is indeed a war against America, and although they are only copying state laws targeting worker rights today, they have a rash of Republican-controlled state laws to copy and with Republican assaults on women’s rights, voting rights, and freedom from religion rights it is just a matter of time before the entire country will fall victim to the devastation in states like Texas, North Carolina, Kansas, and Michigan. The most frightening aspect is that any attempt by voters to change Draconian laws is being eliminated because it will not be long before congressional Republicans attempt to pass a law preemptively banning free and fair elections after state level Republicans repeal laws allowing the people to vote. It is not an exaggeration because remember; John Boehner said Republicans would be remembered by how many laws they repeal and after forty attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they have to be taken seriously.
Republicans Use Extortion In Their Latest Attempt to Transform America
Aug. 2nd, 2013
Extortion is obtaining something from someone who is induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, or fear that an unpleasant result will create damage for the people under their care such as their family. There are examples of rich and powerful people inducing politicians to deceive the public and act on their behalf by intimidating them with electoral demise leaving the victim little recourse but to resign their office and expose the extortionist, or follow directions and violate their office and the public trust. There has been a culture of extortion plaguing Washington for decades, but over the past four-and-a-half years it has increased to a point that a few rich and powerful actors have put the nation at risk and created mass suffering for a growing segment of the population. The conservative movement has openly called for war on the government to transform the nation to fit their libertarian vision, and they have used extortion to induce Republicans to use extortion to achieve their libertarian masters’goals.
It has long been a practice of groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA), evangelical fanatics, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ALEC, Koch brother’s Americans for Prosperity, Grover Norquist, and various conservative belief tanks to grade Republicans based on their voting records. For example, any Republican who even considers voting for gun safety measures is threatened by the NRA with a failing grade, loss of campaign donations, and a certain primary challenge in the next election. Evangelical groups launch vigorous campaigns against Republicans who fail to support anti-women’s choice measures, and a critical assessment by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist brings out teabagger opposition to unseat Republicans who dare support any form of government revenue. Nearly every conservative group recruits and funds primary challengers to politicians unwilling to support Draconian cuts to domestic programs, and it explains once-moderate Republicans willingness to slash domestic programs that inflict damage on their own constituents. Republicans may call it conservative politics, but it is simple extortion that Republicans in turn use to extract concessions from President Obama and Democrats to satisfy their corporate and anti-tax masters.
It is important to look back at the debt ceiling crisis of 2011 to comprehend the web of extortion extending from Grover Norquist and libertarian Koch brothers down to Republicans John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, and Paul Ryan who extorted devastating spending cuts by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States with a credit default. Americans will be paying for Republican extortion for a decade as a result of the debt limit fiasco, and besides costing the nation over $19 billion in extra interest fees after S&P downgraded America’s credit, there were hundreds-of-thousands of jobs lost and millions more as a result of Republican’s sequestration.
It is also important to remember that after Republicans extracted $1.5 trillion in domestic spending cuts and waited to enact brutal sequester cuts, Speaker of the House John Boehner said, “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.” Boehner was happy to inflict damage that cost Americans jobs, the government added interest expense, and the sequester that is ravaging Americans and the economy, but he was thrilled to extort no tax increases that prompted S&P to downgrade America’s stellar credit rating. Now, as the Republicans await another opportunity to extort more budget cuts in the upcoming budget and debt ceiling battle, Boehner signaled Republicans will not consider any new revenue and is using the sequester he was “pretty happy” about to extort deeper cuts from President Obama.
On Tuesday, a Republican who is likely not being extorted by Norquist, Chamber of Commerce, and Americans for Prosperity expressed reluctance to keep sequester cuts from doing any more damage. The House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) finally said what President Obama and Democrats have stated for months that “the sequester is unrealistic, ill-conceived, and a policy that must be brought to an end.” However, Boehner said, “Sequestration is going to remain in effect until the president agrees to cuts and reforms that will allow us to remove it, none of us wanted, none of us like it, there are smarter ways to cut spending.” Boehner, besides being an extortionist is a liar; especially when he said he was pretty happy and that President Obama “insisted on the sequester.” The President has offered major concessions to Republicans to replace the cuts that are ravaging jobs, the economy, and Americans’ lives, but Boehner is insisting on more.
Boehner exposes his allegiance to libertarians when he said “none of us” want the sequester when he has the power to stop the cuts immediately, but he is holding out for reforms (banking and environmental deregulation), deeper domestic cuts, and tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations in Paul Ryan’s budget. President Obama has already approved over $1.5 trillion in spending cuts and offered Republicans even more, but Boehner and his libertarian masters demand more and he is unwilling to make any concessions. It is despicable for Boehner to demand deeper cuts and tax reform from the President in exchange for raising the debt limit and fixing the sequester, but it is pure evil to use results of 2011′s extortion as a threat to force the President Obama to concede just to save the American people and the economy from more damage.
It is likely there are Republicans who know their “no new revenue” policies and devastating budget cuts are retarding economic growth, killing jobs, and harming Americans, but they are victims of extortion by the likes of Norquist, the Chamber of Commerce, and libertarian belief tanks threatening their political existence. Part of their dilemma is pledging allegiance to Norquist to never raise taxes, and the threat of primary challenges funded by the Koch brothers, Heritage PACs, and wealthy corporations if they violate their sworn oath. The fact that Republicans violated their oath of office by swearing an oath to Norquist should precipitate ethics investigations or recall efforts for violating Article 1 Section 8, but Republican leadership itself is being threatened with political oblivion if they fail to do their masters’ bidding. If they had the slightest modicum of integrity or regard for this country and its people, they would either renounce their loyalty to anti-American conservatives and libertarians or resign their offices, but like most people caught up in criminal enterprises, the appeal of easy money (campaign donations) and political power is irresistible.
There are many pundits that claim Republicans have become a joke, but there is nothing whatsoever funny about criminals; especially when they are damaging the country and people they were elected to serve. Republicans are criminals for using extortion, hostages, and ransom demands to benefit a few powerful men and it is meaningless that they are extortion victims themselves. They extorted devastating budget cuts to kill jobs, retard economic growth, and increase poverty to preserve tax cuts for their masters and they plan to extort more damage from President Obama. However, the President warned Republicans he will not negotiate with hostage takers and extortionists again, and it is the right tactic when dealing with criminals who should at least face voter recalls for their malfeasance. If they had any integrity or regard for this country or its people, they would renounce their loyalty to the real crime bosses or resign their offices, but they have neither integrity nor regard for America and that alone should warrant an ethics investigation.
Darrell Issa Is Hot on the Trail of a New Bogus Obama ‘Scandal’
By: Yellow Dog Yankee
Aug. 1st, 2013
His investigation of the IRS a humiliating failure, Darrell Issa, the multimillionaire California congressman and Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has not given up his crusade to inflict as much harm as possible on the Obama Administration. This time he has dragged along the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) for cover.
Issa’s latest target, in a letter sent to Richard Cordray, finally the official Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), are four former CFPB employees. The charge? That they took advantage of the revolving door between government and the private sector with the hope of financial gain. Or stated another way, they did this despite not being members of Congress.
The details of the accusations made by the two Republican chairs are inside baseball, but as simply as possible, here is the deal. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which mandated the formation of CFPB also set out some standards for mortgage lending. Among those standards is the so-called “Ability to Repay” requirement which simply means that lenders must make a reasonable determination that a borrower can repay the loan for which he/she is applying (otherwise known as Lending 101). Loans that meet this goal are considered “qualified mortgages” (QM) under Dodd-Frank, a designation that gives the lender protection from liability in the event the borrower does ultimately default. CFPB was given the task of outlining the steps lenders had to take in writing a QA, qualifying for the legal protections and increasing the loan’s value and saleability on the secondary market.
Former CFPB Deputy Director Raj Date, worked on the QA rule which went through several revisions, each of which carried a period of public comment. Industry stakeholders, consumer groups, and consumers made many comments and each time CFPB went back to the drawing board. When the final rule was issued last January the process of developing it and to a lesser extent the rule itself were pretty widely praised by those having an interest in it.
Less than a month after the rule was published Date left CFPB mouthing the usual about spending time with his family. At some point three other senior officers, Gary Reeder, Chris Haspel, and Mitch Hochburg, also resigned. Two months after leaving the Bureau Date incorporated Fenway Summer LLC, an investment firm and, in due course, hired the other three men. News stories have said that Fenway’s business model is focused on those who do not meet the standards for qualified mortgages.
Maybe Fenway and Date’s intent in founding it don’t pass the smell test. However neither does the Issa/Hensarling letter which requests a lot of documentation from CFPB and is obviously the opening shot in another Issa witch hunt. If Issa is able to push this new investigation onto the front pages here is what the media won’t tell its readers.
1. The standards for Ability-to-Repay were laid out in Dodd-Frank. CFPB was charged only with formulating the regulations for administering them.
2. The process of formulating the regulations was very transparent as industry leaders have said. There was ample time for input and little criticism of the final product.
3. Mr. Hensarling’s committee has been holding hearing after hearing decrying the monopoly that government has on the housing finance system and the lack of private lending in that system. What Date seems poised to do is to assist the private sector to reenter one aspect of that market.
4. Congress itself pioneered the practice of passing laws then going to work for those affected by them, expressly to help them circumvent those laws. Anything Date is planning – at least as far as outlined in the Issa/Hensarling letter – falls far short of that.
But beyond the cluelessness of 1 -3 and the hubris of 4, the real smelly thing about the letter is its own obvious agenda. The committee chairmen (and the three Republican subcommittee chairs who also signed it) could give a fig about the four ex-employees. What they really want is control over CFPB. Hensarling and Issa have been nearly apocalyptic over the very existence of the agency – Hensarling even refusing to allow Cordray to testify before his committee because he wasn’t the confirmed head of the Bureau, a confirmation Senate Republicans blocked for two years. But one of the final paragraphs in the letter should tell you everything you need to know about the Issa/Hensarling agenda:
“Although the CFPB is now two years old it remains “something of a mystery to many market participants as it ramps of operations’ (quoting the Wall Street Journal). This lack of transparency has apparently incentivized Mr. Date and other CFPB alumni to create a cottage industry unique to the Bureau’s regulatory agenda. Simply put, it appears that former CFPB employees are now offering financial products in a market sector created by the very rules they were in a position to influence while working in senior leadership positions at the CFPB. This conduct raises serious questions about the integrity of the CFPB’ s rulemaking process and the conduct of some of its most senior former officials. We are deeply concerned that this close relationship between the CFPB and its former officials ultimately could harm consumers.”
Director Cordray was finally confirmed only because of the Senate’s compromise last month to avoid the “nuclear option.” His seat at the table – that there even is a table – are something Republicans are simply not going to tolerate. One man’s decision, rightly or wrongly, to fill a gap he perceived in the system, is going to escalate to another major battle over the structure, funding, and very existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Alison Grimes Storms Into Fancy Farm and Turns Mitch McConnell Into a Paranoid Old Man
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 3rd, 2013
Democratic senate candidate Alison Grimes blew into the Fancy Farm Picnic, stared down Mitch McConnell, and left him looking like a directionless and paranoid old man.
Alison Grimes began by talking about her long name and then said with your help Kentucky in January 2015 you can call me senator. Grimes said that she didn’t have to apologize for having more government experience than Rand Paul. She took a shot at Paul by pointing out that he wasn’t in Kentucky, he was spending his weekend with his loved ones, the tea party in Iowa. Grimes slammed McConnell for trying to gut Medicare. She said,”If the doctors told Sen. McConnell he had a kidney stone, he would refuse to pass it.” She hammered McConnell for being the most unpopular senator among both Democrats and Republicans.
Grimes said that McConnell is disliked by the voters in Kentucky and in the United States. She said McConnell is at the center of the DC dysfunction. The Democrat said after years of McConnell’s leadership the GOP stands for Gridlock Obstruction and Partisanship. She told McConnell to stop. She called out his empty rhetoric on defending Kentucky coal. She called McConnell on his votes against the Violence Against Women Act, and the Fair Pay Act.
Grimes called for Kentucky to have a senator that unites all Kentuckians. She said Kentucky women deserve equal pay for equal work, and she will fight to keep the state’s jobs from going overseas.
The McConnell supporters in the crowd tried to drown Grimes out, but by the end of the speech they were reduced to low murmur, as she had the Democrats in the crowd applauding and chanting along with her.
After seeing her speak today, it’s clear that McConnell isn’t going to be able to defeat Grimes simply by tying her to President Obama. Grimes is on the offensive, and going after McConnell hard. She also pulled some pages from Elizabeth Warren’s campaign playbook by making a strong appeal to women in the state.
Sec. of State Grimes has one big thing working for her. She is running on an anti-incumbent message during a time when Congress has never been less popular. She is also running against the ultimate symbol of Republican obstruction and incumbency. The contrast in the two candidates’ speeches was obvious. McConnell talked in paranoid tones about what would happen to Kentucky if he wasn’t reelected. Grimes talked about what she could do for Kentucky as the state’s senator.
The problem Grimes will face is that she is dealing with a very powerful incumbent who will have virtually unlimited resources at his disposal. McConnell is the Godfather of Kentucky politics. He is a 30 year incumbent for a reason. He knows how to win reelection. Grimes will be a formidable candidate, and this election won’t be easy. Those on the left should not wait to support Grimes. The time to get organized is now. Mitch McConnell and his tens of millions of dollars of negative ads are coming.
While McConnell is busy with his tea party primary challenger, Alison Grimes has a chance to define him to voters now. This is why Democrats must get involved in this race early. They have an opening here. President Obama beat Mitt Romney and all of Citizens United fueled negative ads, because he defined Romney early and often. Democrats must do the same thing in Kentucky. They must get excited, get involved, and get active right now if they are going to defeat Mitch McConnell.
Mitch McConnell Whines That An Invasion of Liberals is Pushing Him Around
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 3rd, 2013
Mitch McConnell is desperately trying to save his job, and he is claiming that liberals are invading Kentucky and pushing him around.
McConnell began his speech with an indirect attack on Alison Grimes that included an Anthony Weiner joke. McConnell then pivoted to running against Obama. He said, “The liberals are worried, because just as I predicted Obamacare is a disaster.” He said that liberals are coming down to the state,”to push him around.” He also said that he hand Rand Paul give it to the liberals every single day. McConnell was trying hard to ward off his tea party primary challenger by connecting himself at the hip to Rand Paul.
McConnell said that Kentucky can’t get things done from the back bench, and insinuated that reelecting him would keep Kentucky strong. McConnell attacked Harry Reid by calling him, “A Nevada yes man for Barack Obama.’ McConnell said the choice is between an Obama yes man or a Kentuckian to run the Senate.
Minority Leader McConnell was very impressive. He managed to work in every single stereotype about liberals that one can think of. McConnell used the term nanny state, and was doing his best to paint himself as a true Kentuckian. It is clear that McConnell is worried about his tea party challenger. McConnell hinted in his short remarks that he is going to run an especially vicious and negative campaign.
While sitting on a $15 million campaign war chest, McConnell claimed with a straight face that liberals are coming to Kentucky to push him around. Sen. McConnell will exponentially outspend both his primary opponent, and his general election opponent Alison Grimes. However, facts are no defense for the Republican Party’s paranoia get out the vote effort.
McConnell offered up no agenda, and no ideas. His speech was about gluing himself to Rand Paul, and spreading more fear of the black president. It was fascinating to watch McConnell try to defuse the charge that he has become too Washington by slapping on his heavy Kentucky accent. McConnell is arguing that his incumbency is a good thing, which will be a tough sell to an electorate that is tired of congressional failure.
Mitch McConnell is continuing his campaign of appealing to Republican paranoia and fear. His debut message for 2014 wasn’t terribly strong. Mitch’s main message seems to be that he is so weak that liberals are coming to the state to push him around. Mitch can’t hold off the liberal hordes by himself, so he needs the help of every ‘Merica loving Republican in the state to save his sorry ass. Sen. McConnell’s ominous warning to Republicans was that if he goes down, they’re next.
McConnell didn’t offer to do anything for Kentucky. He sounded like a 70 year old, 30 year incumbent, who say anything to save his job. If the paranoia doesn’t sell, Sen. McConnell is going to have a major problem.
08/05/2013 12:32 PM
'The NSA Benefits': Mass Data Transfers from Germany Aid US Surveillance
By Hubert Gude, Laura Poitras and Marcel Rosenbach
German intelligence sends massive amounts of intercepted data to the NSA, according to documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden, which SPIEGEL has seen. The trans-Atlantic cooperation on technical matters is also much closer than first thought.
Agents with the United States National Security Agency (NSA) sometimes wax lyrical when they look back on their time in Germany -- to the idyllic Chiemsee lake and the picturesque Bavarian town of Bad Aibling. Anyone who has received "a free beer at the club email" and knows "that leberkäse is made of neither liver, nor cheese" can claim to be a real Bavaria veteran, former NSA employees write in a document called the "A Little Bad Aibling Nostalgia."
The profession of love for the Bavarian lifestyle and the large surveillance base southeast of Munich is among the documents in the possession of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, some of which SPIEGEL has seen. The surveillance facility is known for its large "radomes," giant golf ball-like structures which contain state-of-the-art surveillance technology. They were officially closed in September 2004.
The Americans, though, were quietly replaced by telecommunications experts from the German military, part of the Fernmeldeweitverkehrsstelle der Bundeswehr. They moved into the Mangfall barracks, only a few hundred meters from the abandoned NSA structures, laid cables to the radomes and secretly took over the NSA's large-scale surveillance of radio and satellite communications.
The supposed military site is in fact a secret facility operated by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency. NSA surveillance specialists also moved onto the grounds of the barracks, into a windowless building that had been erected within just a few months. Because of its metal shell, German BND agents refer to the building, with a mixture of affection and derision, as the "Tin Can."
The tête-à-tête between the two intelligence agencies at the Mangfall barracks was given various code names in the ensuing years and became one of their most extensive cooperative projects in Germany.
Day After Day
And the site in Bad Aibling could very well provide the answer to a question that has been on the minds of German politicians and the public in recent weeks.
The Snowden documents mention two data collection sites known as signals intelligence activity designators (SIGADs), through which the controversial US intelligence agency gathered about 500 million pieces of metadata in December 2012 alone. The code names cited in the documents are "US-987LA" and "US-987LB." The BND now believes that the first code name stands for Bad Aibling.
Day after day and month after month, the BND passes on to the NSA massive amounts of connection data relating to the communications it had placed under surveillance. The so-called metadata -- telephone numbers, email addresses, IP connections -- then flow into the Americans' giant databases.
When contacted, the BND stated that it believed "that the SIGADs US-987LA and US-987LB are associated with Bad Aibling and telecommunications surveillance in Afghanistan."
Officially, the German government is still waiting for an answer from Washington as to where in Germany the metadata documented in the NSA files was obtained. For the BND and the Chancellery, which supervises the foreign intelligence agency, the clarification of what and who are behind the two SIGADs, and exactly what sort of information was passed on, is an extremely delicate matter.
The heads of both the BND and the Chancellery have stated their positions publicly with surprising clarity. BND President Gerhard Schindler said that data relating to German citizens was only passed on to the Americans in two instances, both in 2012. Chanceller Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla -- who is nominally in charge of coordinating Germany's intelligence agencies -- even stated that the German agencies had acted in full compliance with the country's data privacy laws.
Closer Cooperation than Thought
The opposition is now waiting for an opportunity to disprove these statements. The center-left Social Democrats have made the Snowden revelations an issue in Germany's upcoming parliamentary election. An SPD campaign poster depicts Chancellor Angela Merkel and the words: "Privacy. Virgin Territory for Merkel?"
The fact that massive amounts of metadata reached NSA databases from German soil is likely to ratchet up the discussion over the role of the BND and its cooperation with the NSA even further. New documents from the Snowden archive also show that there is much closer cooperation than previously thought in relation to the controversial XKeyscore surveillance program. SPIEGEL reported on the delivery and use of the program two weeks ago.
According to the documents, there was a meeting not long ago between agents from the NSA, the BND and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency, in which the latest potential applications of XKeyscore were discussed. In addition, it wasn't just Germans using American surveillance programs. According to the documents, US agents also showed an interest in two BND programs, which, according to American experts, were to some extent even more effective than their own solutions.
Should the BND information be correct, it could provide Berlin a convenient way to save face. The data gathered in Bad Aibling apparently would seem to relate to the BND's legal foreign surveillance targets, which consists primarily of data transmitted in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
In response to inquiries, the BND confirmed that it does transmit connection data to the NSA. But it notes: "Before metadata relating to other countries is passed on, it is purged, in a multistep process, of any personal data about German citizens it may contain." According to the BND, its surveillance does not apply to German telecommunications and German citizens. In addition, say BND officials, there is currently no reason to believe that the "NSA gathers personal data on German citizens in Germany."
This would mean that although the data diverted in Bad Aibling and passed on to the NSA is technically acquired in Germany, it generally does not relate to German citizens. The BND is forbidden from monitoring the communications of German citizens by the G-10 law, a regulation anchored in the constitution and which limits the powers of the intelligence agencies.
But the massive transfer of data abroad raises new, fundamental questions about the legality of cooperation on matters of intelligence. On what legal grounds does the BND cooperate to such a vast extent with the NSA? How should the transfer of this metadata be classified, especially now that documents from the Snowden archive have revealed the far-reaching possibilities for analysis provided by the data? And given the sheer volume of data involved, how does the BND intend to rule out the possibility that the metadata does in fact contain data relating to Germans?
As a rule, the NSA is also not permitted to spy on US citizens, although its records indicate that the agency cannot guarantee that there haven't been exceptions to the rule. For this reason, there are special procedures to avoid such intelligence glitches.
Does the BND also have such procedures? And in light of the massive transfer of data, how credible is the statement from Chief of Staff Pofalla that German intelligence agencies meticulously observed data privacy laws?
In response, the BND states: "All activities in the context of cooperation with other intelligence services are undertaken in compliance with the law, especially the BND law and the G-10 law."
Questions relating to the exchange of data become all the more pressing when one considers that Bad Aibling, according to the documents from the Snowden archive, was, at least for a time, not the only BND listening post on German soil from which large amounts of data were sent to the NSA -- a "daily" occurrence, according to the NSA documents.
In a 2006 travel report, members of an NSA delegation rave about their first visit to the BND surveillance facility in Schöningen, near Braunschweig in north-central Germany. According to the visitors' notes, about 100 BND employees there, with the help of 19 antennas, intercepted the signals of satellite and mobile communications providers in Afghanistan and Africa.
A 'New Level'
The document mentions 400,000 recordings of data from satellite telephone provider Thuraya, 14,000 recordings of data from commercial satellite operator Inmarsat and 6,000 recordings a day of mobile communications, as well as daily eavesdropping on 62,000 emails. "The NSA benefits from this collection, especially the … intercepts from Afghanistan, which the BND shares on a daily basis."
When confronted with this information, the BND stated: "None of the data acquired there is currently being transmitted to the NSA."
The NSA delegation's trip report is also interesting for another reason. It has not yet been clearly determined exactly how much German intelligence services and the Chancellery knew about American surveillance activities and when they knew it. It has been conspicuous that many of the official denials issued in recent weeks have referred explicitly and exclusively to the PRISM surveillance program -- perhaps for good reason.
The NSA delegation's 2006 report suggests that there was close cooperation, especially on technical surveillance issues. A "new level" had been reached in this regard, the report reads. The BND officials had apparently managed to impress their visitors. BND specialists presented various analysis tools to their US counterparts, including two systems called Mira4 and VERAS. "In some ways, these tools have features that surpass US SIGINT capabilities," the report reads.
If the US delegation's trip report is to be believed, the two agencies arranged a deal of sorts at the time. "The BND responded positively to NSA's request for a copy of Mira4 and VERAS software," the report reads. In return, the Germans apparently asked the NSA for support.
The cooperation apparently continued to develop in this spirit, becoming particularly close at the Mangfall barracks, headquarters of the Special United States Liaison Activity Germany, or SUSLAG, which represented the NSA locally, since 2004.
To mark the first anniversary of working in the Tin Can, the NSA representative and her German counterparts symbolically celebrated the strong spirit of cooperation in Bavaria by planting a tree in front of the NSA building.
But their cooperation would extend well beyond symbolism and spatial proximity. The NSA office apparently embarked on a program of "strategic cooperation," which was reflected in two specific intelligence joint ventures on German soil. According to one NSA document, two joint NSA and BND operations were already underway at the time of the tree-planting ceremony: the Joint Analysis Center and the Joint SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) Activity program.
The document indicates that there were five civilian NSA analysis specialists working with BND experts who had specialized in data from Russia. The joint telecommunications surveillance program began in 2004 and was directed against "terrorism, proliferation and other foreign targets."
The NSA specialists developed their own communications center in the Tin Can and, according to the documents, established the first direct electronic connection to the NSA network. This opened the door to the large-scale transfer of data.
The existence of joint German-American surveillance task forces suggests that the agencies must have been very well informed about their respective counterparts' surveillance options. This seems all the more likely given that the technical exchange only intensified in the ensuing years. US agents trained their German counterparts to use the especially productive XKeyscore surveillance program, which the NSA provided to both the BND and the BfV.
According to a document from the Snowden archive, the German NSA office and the BND jointly presented XKeyscore to the BfV in October 2011.
"The BND XKEYSCORE system successfully processed DSL wiretap collection belonging to a German CT (counter-terrorism) target," reads the document, which SPIEGEL has seen. As a result of the successful demonstration, the vice president of the BfV "formally requested" the software.
The intelligence agencies continued thereafter to consult closely with one another on the productive surveillance program and its further development.
According to the documents, this cooperation also involved discussions of previously unknown analysis tools within the program, such as "behavior detection," or the ability to detect certain situations, groups or even individuals on the basis of behavioral patterns. The goal of training sessions provided by the Americans was apparently to familiarize the Germans with the capabilities of XKeyscore, especially its "discovery capabilities."
According to the documents, one of these training sessions, in which representatives of the BND and the BfV were to be told about new details in XKeyscore and, in particular, about "behavior detection," was scheduled to be held in Bad Aibling in April -- only a few weeks before Edward Snowden's revelations about XKeyscore and other surveillance programs began.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
08/05/2013 01:09 PM
NSA Blowback: German Minister Floats US Company Ban
German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger on Monday called for new EU rules on data protection and a ban on American companies that violate them.
With the NSA spying scandal continuing to make headlines in Europe, the German Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, has raised the possibility of new, tangible measures to punish corporations that participate in American spying activities. In an interview with Die Welt, the liberal Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called for the creation of EU-wide rules to regulate the protection of information, and said that, once those rules are in place, "United States companies that don't abide by these standards should be denied doing business in the European market."
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that a package of EU measures is required in order to fight "the widespread spying of foreign spy services" and that German data protection laws should be a yardstick for the rest of the European Union -- German privacy laws are considerably tighter than those of the United States and much of Europe.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich also raised corporate accountability in July, when he suggested requiring European firms to report any data they hand over to foreign countries. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who is running for reelection in September as part of the pro-business Free Democratic Party, did not further specify which kinds of penalties she would like American companies to face, though it seems unlikely that Europe would completely ban companies like Google, which dominate the online search market, or Facebook from doing business. Both of those companies were implicated in the documents leaked by former intelligence worker Edward Snowden.
It is the latest development in a German election season that has come to be dominated by online privacy issues. Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced widespread criticism from the opposition for her handling of the NSA scandal and Peer Steinbrück, the Chancellor candidate of the opposition SPD party, recently told German television channel ZDF that Merkel should demand written assurances from the Americans they will respect German laws and interests and not engage in industrial espionage.
In another interview with Die Welt, former German High Court Justice Hans-Jürgen Papier defended the current government in its handling of the privacy debate. The state has a "basic responsibility to protect its citizens from the attacks of foreign powers," he said, but it "can only be responsible for doing things that it has the legal power, and is able, to do." It is increasingly easy, he said, for countries to impinge on the freedoms of the citizens of other countries, and those who are spied on have little recourse to defend themselves. In response, Papier called for a new global agreement on data protection.
In recent weeks, the German foreign intelligence service (BND) has also come under attack for its own close cooperation with the NSA. In the latest of several SPIEGEL revelations about the agency, the BND was discovered to have provided the Americans with the metadata for millions of phone conversations, emails and text messages, and to have given them copies of two German digital spy systems named Mira4 and Veras. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger also addressed this news in her interview, saying "the BND must finally put all the facts on the table."
Greenwald: Congress ‘forced to learn about what the NSA is doing’ from newspapers
By David Edwards
Sunday, August 4, 2013 13:31 EDT
Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald on Sunday chided the U.S. government for claiming it had provided “robust oversight” of the National Security Agency (NSA) even though members of Congress were forced to go to his paper to learn about secret programs that gather data on American citizens.
In an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz, Greenwald pointed to his Sunday Guardian column that explains how “members of Congress have been repeatedly thwarted when attempting to learn basic information about the National Security Agency (NSA) and the secret FISA court which authorizes its activities.”
“We keep hearing that there’s all kinds of robust oversight by Congress,” Greenwald said, adding that lawmakers had provided “very detailed letters trying to get this information and they’re being blocked from getting it and they’ve said, and other members have said that they are forced to learn about what the NSA is doing from what they’re reading in our reporting.”
“I think the most amazing thing, one of the most amazing things in this whole episode, Martha, there is a 2011 opinion, 86 pages long from the FISA court, that ruled that much of what the NSA is doing which is spying on American citizens is both unconstitutional in violation of the Fourth Amendment and illegal, a violation of the statute,” he continued. “This opinion remains a complete secret. The FISA court has said they have no objection to having it released, but the Obama administration insists it has to be secret.”
“Both members of Congress and others have been requesting simply to read that court opinion. And the intelligence committee that is led in the House by Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), who represents the NSA district, receives all kinds cash from the defense and intelligence agencies, industries, have refused to allow them access.”
August 4, 2013
In Germany, Union Culture Clashes With Amazon’s Labor Practices
By NICK WINGFIELD and MELISSA EDDY
In the United States, technology giants like Amazon are often celebrated as fonts of innovation and jobs.
But across the Atlantic — nein, non, no.
Even as President Obama spoke about middle-class jobs last week at an Amazon warehouse in Tennessee, Amazon was facing strikes at warehouses in Germany, its second-biggest market. Unions there say the company has imported American-style business practices — in particular, an antipathy to organized labor — that stand at odds with European norms.
“In Germany, the idea that warehouse workers are going to be getting opposition from an employer when it comes to the right to organize, that’s virtually unheard-of,” said Marcus Courtney, a technology and communications department head at Uni Global Union, a federation of trade unions based in Nyon, Switzerland. “It puts Amazon out in left field.”
Amazon is hardly out there alone, however. Large American technology companies are increasingly running into obstacles as they expand in Europe. For Facebook and Google, the running issue is privacy. Google was fined this year by German authorities for illegally collecting personal data while creating its Street View mapping service, after facing minimal sanctions over Street View at home. Meanwhile, European privacy regulators are considering tough regulations to protect consumers on the Internet, a direct challenge to Google, Facebook and other online companies that mine personal data.
Antitrust officials in Europe are scrutinizing Apple’s relationships with wireless carriers, as well as Google’s competitive practices. And Google, Apple and Amazon have all been criticized by European lawmakers for tactics that help them minimize their tax bills.
Amazon has been criticized for its working conditions in the United States — but not nearly to the same extent as in Europe. On the surface, Amazon’s labor problems in Germany revolve around wages.
The union says workers in warehouses in two small German cities are properly classified as retail employees, and should be paid at the higher rate required for people who work in department stores and other retail outlets. Amazon says they are more properly classified as warehouse workers, and paid at a lower rate.
The subtext, though, is Amazon’s opposition to unions in its warehouses as a general principle, because the company fears unions will slow down the kind of behind-the-scenes innovation that has propelled its growth.
Dave Clark, the company’s vice president of worldwide operations and customer service, says Amazon views unions as intermediaries that will want to have a say on everything from employee scheduling to changes in processes for handling and packaging orders. Amazon prizes its ability to quickly introduce changes like these into its warehouses to improve the experience of its customers, he said.
Last year, the company spent $775 million to buy a manufacturer of robots that it plans to eventually deploy in its warehouses, though it has not said when they would come to Germany. The last thing it wants is to have to get approval from unions for such changes.
“This really isn’t about higher wages,” Mr. Clark said. “It isn’t a cost question for us. It’s about what our relationship is with our people.”
“We’re still a developing industry,” he added — despite the fact that Amazon posted revenue of $15.7 billion in the last quarter and the company is enjoying a buoyant stock price.
In the United States, Amazon successfully thwarted efforts to unionize. Over a decade ago, Mr. Courtney of Uni Global led an unsuccessful effort in the company’s home state of Washington to organize Amazon’s customer service representatives.
Two years ago, an investigative article by The Morning Call newspaper in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley chronicled poor working conditions in an Amazon warehouse in the state, including instances where it stationed paramedics outside to take heat-stressed workers to the emergency room. Amazon says it has addressed the problem by installing air-conditioning in all of its facilities.
More recently, a firm that provides temporary employees for Amazon warehouses is defending itself in a class-action suit that claims the firm shortchanged workers on pay as they waited in security lines to exit warehouses.
Jonathan Barnes, a spokesman for the staffing firm named in the suit, Integrity Staffing Solutions, declined to comment.
But it is a different story in Germany, where the powerful labor movement behind the Amazon strikes traces its roots back more than two centuries.
Mr. Courtney, the Swiss-based head of the federation of trade unions, said other American tech giants, including I.B.M. and Hewlett-Packard, have been more tolerant than Amazon of unions in their European operations.
And the strikes in Germany raise especially knotty problems for the company, which has ambitious expansion plans there.
Germany is Amazon’s second-biggest market after North America, accounting for $8.73 billion, or 14 percent, of total company revenue in 2012. Even as workers in Bad Hersfeld and Leipzig began their recent strikes, Amazon announced plans to open a ninth logistics center in Germany, in the former East German state of Brandenburg, west of Berlin.
The strike was organized by the powerful service workers union ver.di, which has about 2.3 million members across Germany, and a sizable war chest to pay striking workers.
Thomas Schneider, ver.di’s point man for organizing the strike at the Leipzig plant, argued that Amazon’s tactics, along with its refusal to even enter into talks with the unions, created an image of being against its own work force that could hurt it in the long run.
“When it is put under pressure, Amazon reacts,” Mr. Schneider said.
The company says that after a year, its German workers make more money on average than those in similar businesses. And it says it has complied with German labor laws by allowing worker councils at its warehouses. But these councils are legally forbidden from getting involved in wage deals, which is why the union wants to get involved.
In Germany, Amazon’s Mr. Clark said, the strikes had not disrupted its business because the number of workers walking out had been relatively small. When necessary, the company has been able to shift orders to other facilities that are not striking, he said.
The union, though, credits the strikes for recent improvements to overtime scheduling, an increase in the number of break rooms and a pledge by Amazon to pay Christmas bonuses, a standard practice in German industry.
At a strike in June with hundreds of workers who gathered outside the gates of the Leipzig plant, the head of ver.di, Frank Bsirske, played on Amazon’s motto of “Work hard. Have fun. Make history,” telling the strikers they should take it to heart.
“You are making history by striking,” Mr. Bsirske told the crowd to cheers and whistles. “You are making history by demanding higher wages. We are not going to let a big American company come here and play Wild West. This is a clash of cultures.”
Gibraltar 'the party is over' comments from Madrid raise concerns in London
Foreign Office vows to safeguard British sovereignty over Rock after Spanish minister escalates row, promising a harder line
Shane Hickey and agencies
The Guardian, Monday 5 August 2013
The Foreign Office voiced "concern" on Sunday night following comments from the Spanish foreign minister, which appear to suggest Madrid is preparing to take a harder line in the escalating dispute over Gibraltar.
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC, José García-Margallo criticised the conciliatory stance taken by the previous government towards the Mediterranean outpost saying, "The party is over".
The minister suggested a €50 (£43.40) fee could be imposed on every vehicle entering or leaving the territory, known as the Rock, via the border with Spain. The minister said the proceeds would be used to help Spanish fishermen affected by damage to fishing grounds allegedly caused by the Gibraltarian authorities. Such a fee would be a punitive cost on residents who regularly commute to Spain for work.
Spain is also considering closing its airspace to flights heading to Gibraltar, and changing the law so that online gaming companies operating from the British overseas territory have to use Spanish servers and come under the jurisdiction of Madrid's taxation regime, García-Margallo said. He also indicated that the Spanish tax authorities may launch an investigation into property owned by about 6,000 Gibraltarians in neighbouring parts of Spain, as part of its EU obligations to control "fiscal irregularities".
Spain disputes Britain's three centuries of sovereignty over Gibraltar, which is home to close to 30,000 people with an economy dominated by off-shore banking, internet gambling operations and tourism.
Under the previous socialist government, Spain softened its stance on the territory, discussing other issues without bringing up sovereignty while agreeing to give Gibraltar a voice in any talks with Britain over its status.
The centre-right government of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has taken a harder line regarding its claim on the territory. London has made clear that it will not negotiate over sovereignty as long as Gibraltar's people want to remain British.
"We are concerned by comments on Gibraltar which we are looking into further," a foreign office spokesman said.
"As we have said, we will not compromise on our sovereignty over Gibraltar, nor our commitment to its people. We continue to use all necessary measures to safeguard British sovereignty."
García-Margallo's comments represent the latest escalation in the dispute over the status of Gibraltar, following a number of alleged Spanish incursions into the territory's waters.
William Hague, the foreign secretary, last weekend phoned his Spanish counterpart to complain about Spain ramping up border checks, which forced drivers to wait for up to seven hours in searing heat. On Saturday, the Foreign Office summoned the Spanish ambassador to demand assurances that there would be no repeat of the excessive checks.
The authorities in Gibraltar said the elderly, children and the infirm were forced to wait in up to 30C heat, with the medical services treating people who were stuck in the queues.
Boats from Gibraltar began dumping blocks of concrete into the sea near the territory almost two weeks ago, saying it was creating an artificial reef that would foster fish populations.
Spain said the reef would block its fishing boats and ramped up border checks, creating long lines at the border between Spain and the territory.
Gibraltar complained to the European commission over what it says are unreasonable controls at the border, saying they violate European Union rules on free movement.
Gibraltar chief minister accuses Spain of sabre-rattling
Fabian Picardo says Spain is acting like North Korea and that 'hell will freeze over' before Gibraltar removes artificial reef
theguardian.com, Monday 5 August 2013 08.24 BST
Gibraltar's chief minister has accused Spain of acting like North Korea and sabre-rattling over the country's new hardline stance on Gibraltar.
Fabian Picardo said the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil, was being belligerent when he suggested that a €50 (£43) fee could be imposed on every vehicle entering or leaving the British Mediterranean outpost through its border with Spain.
García-Margallo said the proceeds could be used to help Spanish fishermen who have lost out because of damage to fishing grounds allegedly caused by Gibraltarian authorities. Such a fee could impose punitive costs on Gibraltarians who regularly commute to Spain to work.
Picardo said "hell will freeze over" before the authorities in Gibraltar remove an artificial reef which Madrid claims is harming Spanish fishermen. He said any border costs would violate European Union freedom of movement rules.
Spain is also considering closing its airspace to flights heading to the Rock. Picardo claimed such a move would be dangerous was the "politics of madness".
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "What we have seen this weekend is sabre-rattling of the sort that we haven't seen for some time. The things that Mr García-Margallo has said are more reminiscent of the type of statement you'd hear from North Korea than from an EU partner.
"We've seen it before during Franco's time during the 1960s but I think all of us hoped that those politics were never going to come back and that the much more enlightened politics of Mr [Miguel Ángel] Moratinos, who was the previous but one foreign minister of Spain, would prevail, which talked about people working together and creating economic benefits for the citizens on both sides of the frontier rather than the belligerence we are seeing now."
On Sunday the Foreign Office voiced concerns over García-Margallo's comments and said Britain would not compromise its sovereignty over Gibraltar.
A spokesman made clear that the UK expected Madrid to live up to the commitments it made in the 2006 Cordoba agreement, which included deals on issues such as border crossings and flight access, as well as establishing a tripartite forum for regular dialogue between Britain, Spain and Gibraltar.
García-Margallo's comments represent the latest escalation in the dispute over the status of Gibraltar, following a number of alleged Spanish incursions into the territory's waters.
Spain claims sovereignty over the Rock, which stands on the southernmost tip of the Iberian peninsula but has been a British overseas territory since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The British government has made clear that it will not negotiate over sovereignty as long as Gibraltar's people want to remain British.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, last month phoned García-Margallo to complain about Spain increasing border checks, which forced drivers to wait for up to seven hours in high temperatures.
On Sunday the Foreign Office summoned the Spanish ambassador to demand assurances that there would be no repeat of the excessive checks.
Gibraltar: David Cameron says UK will not compromise with Spain
Downing Street says prime minister is seriously concerned by growing tension over British overseas territory
Patrick Wintour and agencies
theguardian.com, Monday 5 August 2013 13.01 BST
Diplomatic relations between Britain and Spain have come under further strain after Downing Street said David Cameron was seriously concerned about events on the Spanish border with Gibraltar.
The comments came as Gibraltar's chief minister accused Spain of acting like North Korea after the country's foreign minister suggested introducing a €50 (£43) border fee for vehicles entering or leaving the Rock as part of a long-running dispute over territorial waters.
A No 10 spokesman said the Foreign Office was urgently seeking clarification of reports in the media about the possibility of the Spanish government imposing fees or closing air space. The PM's spokesman said the plans had not been directly raised with the UK government.
"Specifically on this issue of border fees, the Spanish have not raised the prospect of introducing border fees with us. We are seeking an explanation from them regarding reports that they might target Gibraltar with further measures."
The government is in close contact with the Spanish about the issue, but the spokesman refused to give further details about what the next steps might be.
No 10 seems to believe the sabre rattling over border fees may prove to be theatrical. The EU has been trying to settle the dispute over fishing rights, but is not expecting a breakthrough in the short term.
The dispute may ultimately turn on whether the UK is willing to take Spain to court to clarify the legal position on sovereignty of waters.
Cameron last spoke to his counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, about the issue at a European council meeting in June, before the latest escalation of tensions at the border. On Friday last week, William Hague, the foreign secretary raised concerns about delays at the border, with the Spanish ambassador to the UK.
Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, said the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil, was being belligerent when he suggested that a €50 fee could be imposed on every vehicle entering or leaving the British Mediterranean outpost through its border with Spain.
García-Margallo said the proceeds could be used to help Spanish fishermen who have lost out because of damage to fishing grounds allegedly caused by Gibraltarian authorities. Such a fee could impose punitive costs on Gibraltarians who regularly commute to Spain to work.
Picardo said hell will freeze over before the authorities in Gibraltar remove an artificial reef which Madrid claims is harming Spanish fishermen. He said any border costs would violate EU freedom of movement rules.
Spain is also considering closing its airspace to flights heading to the Rock. Picardo claimed such a move would be dangerous, and was the "politics of madness".
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "What we have seen this weekend is sabre rattling of the sort that we haven't seen for some time. The things that Mr García-Margallo has said are more reminiscent of the type of statement you'd hear from North Korea than from an EU partner.
"We've seen it before during Franco's time during the 1960s but I think all of us hoped that those politics were never going to come back and that the much more enlightened politics of Mr [Miguel Ángel] Moratinos, who was the previous but one foreign minister of Spain, would prevail, which talked about people working together and creating economic benefits for the citizens on both sides of the frontier rather than the belligerence we are seeing now."
Shadow Foreign Office minister Kerry McCarthy described Spain's proposal to impose a border fee as unacceptable and said the Foreign Office should strongly reject it. She said: "Time and again, the Spanish government has triggered unnecessary delays and disruption to people trying to cross the border between Spain and Gibraltar.
"Now they appear to be using the prospect of a transit fee as a bargaining chip with the UK. This is simply unacceptable. At this time of year many of those people trying to cross the border are British holidaymakers and their families. It is wrong for the Spanish government to attempt to use the border crossing to score political points at their expense.
"Gibraltar's residents also make heavy use of the border crossing to reach their jobs and relatives in Spain. Any measure designed to penalise the residents of Gibraltar should be strongly rejected by the Foreign Office."
On Sunday, the Foreign Office voiced concerns over García-Margallo's comments and said Britain would not compromise its sovereignty over Gibraltar.
A spokesman made clear that the UK expected Madrid to live up to the commitments it made in the 2006 Cordoba agreement, which included deals on issues such as border crossings and flight access, as well as establishing a tripartite forum for regular dialogue between Britain, Spain and Gibraltar.
Spain claims sovereignty over the Rock, which stands on the southernmost tip of the Iberian peninsula but has been a British overseas territory since the treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The British government has made clear that it will not negotiate over sovereignty as long as Gibraltar's people want to remain British.
Turkish court returns verdicts over Ergenekon plot against government
Security forces fire teargas in fields near court building as defendants' supporters protest against five-year trial
Reuters in Silivri
theguardian.com, Monday 5 August 2013 12.21 BST
A Turkish court has begun returning verdicts on nearly 300 defendants accused of plotting to overthrow the government, handing prison sentences of up to 20 years to some and acquitting others.
The court is announcing the verdicts individually. Verdicts on high-profile defendants including the former armed forces commander General Ilker Basbug are yet to be announced.
Earlier, security forces fired teargas in fields around the court building in the Silivri jail complex, west of Istanbul, as defendants' supporters gathered to protest against the five-year trial that has become a battle between the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the secularist establishment.
Prosecutors say an alleged network of secular arch-nationalists, codenamed Ergenekon, pursued extrajudicial killings and bombings in order to trigger a military coup, an example of the anti-democratic forces that Erdoğan says his Islamist-rooted AK party has fought to stamp out.
Critics including the main opposition party have said the charges are trumped up, aimed at stifling opposition and taming the secularist establishment that has long dominated Turkey. They say the judiciary has been subject to political influence in hearing the case.
"This is Erdoğan's trial, it is his theatre," Umut Oran, a parliamentarian with the opposition CHP party, said at the court. "In the 21st century for a country that wants to become a full member of the European Union, this obvious political trial has no legal basis."
Erdoğan has denied interfering in the legal process, stressing the judiciary's independence. But he has criticised the prosecutors handling the case and expressed disquiet at the length of time defendants have been held in custody.
With main access roads shut and protesters' buses prevented from reaching the area, hundreds of the defendants' supporters attempted to cross fields to reach the court and prison complex, but police with riot shields blocked their advance.
"The day will come when the AKP will pay the price," some chanted on the approach road to Silivri, where hundreds of riot police and gendarmes were on duty.
Among the 275 defendants accused in the case are military officers, politicians, academics and journalists. They deny the charges.
Basbug criticised the court in comments published on his Twitter account on Sunday, saying the public would not accept the punishment of innocent people.
"The 'court' will announce its verdict in an atmosphere that was not even seen in times of martial law, with even families being banned from coming," he wrote. "They know they will smear a black stain on the glorious history of the Turkish state and army like never before."
The threat of a coup is not far-fetched: the secularist military staged three coups in Turkey between 1960 and 1980 and pushed the first Islamist-led government out of office in 1997.
But Erdoğan has gradually chipped away at the army's influence, including in the courts, since his AK party first came to power in 2002. Last September the court in Silivri sentenced more than 300 military officers to jail on charges of plotting to overthrow Erdoğan a decade ago, in a plot dubbed Sledgehammer.
The government's control over Nato's second largest army was clearly illustrated on Saturday, when Ankara appointed new military commanders in an overhaul of its top ranks, forcing the retirement of a senior general regarded as a government critic.
The Turkish public initially widely welcomed the trial on the grounds that it would bring to account the country's "deep state" – an undefined network of secularists long believed to have been pulling the strings of power in Turkey.
As the trial advanced, however, criticism grew. The European commission has also expressed concern.
Nedim Sener, an investigative journalist accused of links to Ergenekon and still on trial in a related case, said: "We were all happy when this court case started because we thought it was an effort to clean up the deep state. But we soon realised it was an effort to clean up political opponents."
Pig Putin's Russia.....Bloodhound Gang banned from playing Russia after flag stunt
'These idiots will not perform in Kuban,' says culture minister after band's bassist puts Russian flag down his pants
theguardian.com, Monday 5 August 2013 12.00 BST
Bloodhound Gang were this weekend banned from playing a Russian festival after their bassist shoved the country's flag down his underpants during a gig.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cpvx-fa5wBw
According to the CNN, the band were performing a gig in Odessa on Wednesday night when bassist Jared Hasselhoff took a Russian flag and put it down the front of his trousers, before pulling it out the back: "Don't tell Pig Putin," he told the crowd prior to the stunt. The above YouTube video of the incident went viral in Russia and Ukraine.
In a Twitter post, Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky confirmed that the band would from now on be banned from playing Russia. He wrote: "Bloodhound Gang is packing its bags. These idiots will not perform in Kuban."
According to Associated Press, Moscow reacted angrily to the stunt and as the members of Bloodhound Gang drove to Anapa airport on Saturday, activists from a pro-Kremlin youth group threw eggs and tomatoes at their vehicle. They were also ejected from their afternoon flight to Moscow after they had already boarded the plane, but following an interview by transport police took a later flight, Russian news agencies reported.
While Hasselhoff was quoted as saying that it was band tradition for everything thrown on stage to be passed through his pants, he has publicly apologised for the incident. However, Russia's law enforcement agency threatened to press criminal charges for desecrating the national flag.
The stunt comes amid a rise in tension between the US and Russia over whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who was given temporary asylum in Russia at the end of July to help him evade prosecution in the US. It also follows new concerns for western artists performing in Russia after Lady Gaga and Madonna were last week accused of breaking Russian visa rules.
Malta needs EU help to cope with its immigration crisis
Malta receives the highest number of asylum applications in the world in relation to its population. Only EU help can alleviate a growing sense of despair
theguardian.com, Sunday 4 August 2013 16.15 BST
Earlier this week, a rubber dinghy overloaded with refugees attempting to flee Africa for the safety of Europe ran into difficulty. As the boat – travelling from Libya to the EU's smallest state, Malta – began to sink, the Maltese army launched a 13-hour overnight operation to rescue the 112 passengers. Eight were airlifted to hospital for emergency treatment; the rest were suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and sunstroke.
This story is not unusual. Each week similar boats arrive on the country's shores. Last month, the prime minister, Joseph Muscat, attempted to send two planeloads of Somali migrants back to Africa, without hearing their pleas for asylum – echoing recent suggestions of a "tow-back" policy in Australia – before the European court of human rights (ECHR) issued an interim ruling that this would be illegal. (Muscat has since said that he was never going to follow through with the push back; it was merely a stunt intended to provoke the EU into action).
Whether or not it was a stunt, the move reflects a government in despair. Before Malta joined the EU in 2004, immigration levels were negligible. Because it is located close to north Africa, it has now become a gateway for migrants seeking entry to Europe. In relation to its population, it receives the highest number of asylum applications in the world. This is partly because it's so small – smaller than the Isle of Wight. The 17,000 undocumented migrants who have arrived in the last decade are equivalent to 2.7 million landing in Britain.
Having made the perilous journey, conditions for refugees when they arrive are poor. Malta operates a policy of mandatory detention of up to 18 months for undocumented migrants, housing them in crowded detention centres. Last week, it was fined €60,000 by the ECHR after the conditions that some migrants had been held in were ruled to constitute "inhuman or degrading treatment". These included cold temperatures, inadequate diet and lack of access to open air or exercise for up to three months at a time.
As elsewhere, immigration policy has become an obsession in recent weeks. Australia is facing controversy over its practice of diverting refugees to camps in Papua New Guinea, while the UK is embroiled in discussion about the ethics of a Home Office crackdown on illegal immigration. Visiting family in Malta last week, immigration was the topic of conversation everywhere I went; flicking through the national papers, page after page was dedicated to it.
And as elsewhere, there are factors at play here other than population pressures. The migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, are hard to miss in a nation that previously saw very few foreigners. Concerns about a "cultural invasion" have been expressed; anecdotes abound of rising crime in areas populated by migrants, though there is no evidence to support this; and racist assaults have begun to occur.
The residents of Malta must, and gradually will, adjust to a more multicultural society. But in the meantime, the country feels as though it is failing to cope with the situation. Whether this is a "crisis" or not is up for debate – many of the migrants ultimately move on from Malta, and research from Oxford University has suggested that the use of detention centres is a way of exaggerating the severity of the situation – but the government argues that it simply doesn't have the resources to deal with the boatloads of migrants arriving on its shores. It is renewing its call for the EU to implement a policy of mandatory burden sharing, whereby countries elsewhere in Europe would be obliged to absorb some of the migrants arriving in "frontier" countries like Malta. This solution has been supported in the past by Italy, Cyprus and Greece, also struggling with an influx of asylum applications, particularly after the Arab spring, but it has generally been met with resistance in Brussels.
What is clear is that the situation cannot continue as it is, with no integration, ethnic minorities segregated and exploited, and racist sentiments on the rise. Push backs, like the one attempted last month, are quite rightly illegal, but if the EU supports the protection of asylum seekers it must help frontier countries implement policies that will help achieve this. Countries like Malta, which has little experience of dealing with immigration, should not be left to their own devices. Proper systems must be put in place to assist migrants when they arrive, process applications faster and integrate or resettle them if they are granted asylum. The EU must offer resources and co-operation across member states to see that this happens.
Tor 'deep web' servers go offline as Irish man is held over child abuse images
Man alleged to be behind Freedom Hosting, service provider for many hidden sites, battles FBI request for extradition to US
theguardian.com, Monday 5 August 2013 12.07 BST
Freedom Hosting, linked by the FBI to child abuse images, has gone offline, as the FBI sought the extradition of a 28-year-old suspect from Ireland.
Eric Eoin Marques is the subject of a US arrest warrant for distributing and promoting child abuse material online.
He has been refused bail by the high court in Dublin, reported the Irish Independent, until the extradition request is decided. Marques, who is both a US and Irish national, will face the high court again on Thursday.
If extradited to the US, Marques faces four charges relating to images hosted on the Freedom Hosting network, including images of the torture and rape of children. He could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Freedom Hosting hosted sites on the The Onion Router (Tor) network, which anonymises and encrypts traffic, masking the identity of users.
Whistleblowers, journalists and dissidents too?
On Sunday, Tor's official blog posted a detailed statement confirming that a large number of "hidden service addresses", or servers anonymised using the network, had unexpectedly gone offline.
Tor was quick to distance itself from Freedom Hosting, which has been claimed to be a hub for child abuse material as well as Silk Road – the eBay of hard drugs, saying "the persons who run Freedom Hosting are in no way affiliated or connected to the Tor Project Inc, the organisation co-ordinating the development of the Tor software and research."
"Anyone can run hidden services, and many do," said the statement. "Organisations run hidden services to protect dissidents, activists, and protect the anonymity of users trying to find help for suicide prevention, domestic violence, and abuse recovery.
"Whistleblowers and journalists use hidden services to exchange information in a secure and anonymous way and publish critical information in a way that is not easily traced back to them. The New Yorker's Strongbox is one public example."
Security blogger and former Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs wrote on Sunday that users were identified using a flaw in Firefox 17, on which the Tor browser is based.
Rik Ferguson, vice-president of security research at Trend Micro, said he was awaiting further details to be made public as Marques is brought to trial, but that the takedown and related law enforcement "is great news for the campaign against child exploitation".
"The malicious code made a 'victim machine' which visited one of the compromised hidden sites, and requested a website on the 'visible' web, via HTTP, thereby exposing its real IP address. As the exploit did not deliver any malicious code, it is highly unlikely that this was a cybercriminal operation.
"It is a legitimate concern that users of child abuse material may simply go elsewhere, and as such the individual users should continue to be targeted by law enforcement globally. However, going after the people and organisations that really enable this content to be made available at all is a much more effective strategy."
In 2011, hacking collective Anonymous took down Freedom Hosting with a targeted DDos attack as part of an anti-paedophile campaign. Anonymous also published details of the accounts of 1,500 members of Lolita City, claiming Freedom Hosting was home to 100GB of child abuse material.
Users on the Tor sub-Reddit were suspicious about the news, dissecting the details of the vulnerability and pointing to a previous case where the FBI had taken over and maintained a site hosting child abuse material for two weeks in order to identify users.
"FBI uploads malicious code on the deep web sites while everyone is off at Defcon. Talk about paying dirty," commented VarthDaTor. Defcon is an annual event in the US for security experts and hackers.
Dozens injured in Morocco at protest over Spanish paedophile's release
King revokes royal pardon of Daniel Galván Viña who could now spend remaining 28 years of term in Spanish prison
theguardian.com, Monday 5 August 2013
Dozens of people were injured at the weekend when police in Morocco baton-charged demonstrators protesting against the royal pardon granted to a Spanish paedophile. Daniel Galván Viña was released after serving barely two years of his 30-year sentence for sexually abusing 11 children aged between three and 14 years old.
On Sunday night King Mohammed VI revoked the pardon "given the seriousness of the crime" and ordered his justice minister to discuss the issue with his opposite number in Spain. According to the Spanish ambassador in Rabat, this opens the way to negotiating for Galván to complete the remaining 28 years of his sentence in Spain.
Galván, 64, had been last name on a list of 48 Spanish prisoners submitted by Spain's King Juan Carlos for pardon. Most of the others had been jailed for drug trafficking.
The Spanish royal palace expressed the crown's "deep gratitude" when the prisoners were pardoned on 30 July.
According to the Moroccan digital newspaper Lakome, Galván was released at the express request of the CNI, Spain's national intelligence agency. The organisation allegedly extracted him from Iraq where he worked as a spy within the military under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Galván is an Iraqi from Basra and appears to have acquired his Spanish name from the secret service, along with a new identity as a retired professor of oceanography. He moved to Rabat eight years ago where he organised parties in his home for poor and vulnerable children whom he abused and photographed.
According to Galván's lawyer, the pardon came as a complete surprise to his client but he lost no time in contacting the Spanish consulate in Morocco to expedite his departure. Lakome says his release may form part of a spy exchange between Madrid and Rabat. The Moroccan justice ministry said in a statement that such pardons "are granted for interests of state within the framework of friendly diplomatic relations between countries".
Galván's trial and conviction in September 2011 attracted widespread media attention in Morocco. As well as the 30-year sentence, he was ordered to pay €4,800 (£4,170) to the families of eight of his victims.
While many of the 48 prisoners granted pardon have yet to be freed pending payment of fines, Galván was granted safe conduct to Spain's north African enclave of Ceuta without paying the families. The Spanish group Lawyers Without Frontiers is demanding that he complete his jail sentence is Spain. Further demonstrations are expected this week.
Abdelali Hamieddine, a senior member of the ruling Islamist Justice and Development party, said "Moroccans have the right to demonstrate when they feel humiliated and the authorities don't have the right to react so violently."