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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 434461 times)
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« Reply #8550 on: Sep 06, 2013, 07:49 AM »

September 5, 2013

In an Unsettled Cambodia, Preparing to Confront the Government

By THOMAS FULLER
IHT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — He screamed, “This is so unjust!” But Yann Rith, a 25-year-old resident of Phnom Penh, did not struggle against the group of men who carried him away.

A supporter of Cambodia’s political opposition, Mr. Yann Rith was taking part this week in a practice protest, a role-playing exercise intended to show other supporters how to submit peacefully if arrested by the riot police.

“We will be nonviolent!” Mr. Yann Rith declared, as he patted down his rumpled, button-down shirt.

Cambodia’s opposition is planning to confront the country’s authoritarian government with a demonstration on Saturday to protest what it says was widespread cheating in the July 28 national election that the ruling party says it won. But in a country scarred by years of civil war and genocide, the leaders of the opposition are proceeding cautiously, doing everything they can to convince the public that the protest will be peaceful even as government security forces have begun deploying.

The planned demonstration here in the capital is scheduled to last only three hours and will remain in the public square that Cambodian law designates as a protest area. The opposition carried out two rehearsals this week with thousands of supporters listening to instructions on how to resist any provocations.

“We don’t want a revolution, we don’t want a brawl,” Kem Sokha, the vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, told supporters gathered for a rehearsal on Wednesday. “We just want justice.”

Nearly six weeks after the election, which a number of monitoring groups say was marred by widespread voting irregularities, Cambodian politics remain in a deadlock. The leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, early on called for a special committee to investigate the reported irregularities and decide whether new balloting or recounting was necessary. But hopes of a negotiated solution have faded as Mr. Sam Rainsy says his attempts to engage the governing party “led nowhere.” And there seems little doubt who has the upper hand.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power 28 years, has a firm grip over the army, the police, the judicial system and nearly every other institution in the country, analysts say. As a symbol of his power, the Khmer-language news media, which toe the government’s line, preface the prime minister’s name with a Cambodian honorific that roughly translates as “His Highness.”

Ou Virak, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, an independent advocacy organization in Phnom Penh, said he supported the right of the opposition to protest but was skeptical it would threaten the governing party’s grip on power.

“How are you going to topple the government with a three-hour demonstration?” he said.

Mr. Sam Rainsy says he is counting on the protests to maintain the momentum and energy of the election campaign. “They will look bad when they come with their guns and water cannons to crack down on us,” he said in an interview, referring to security forces. “We will offer them flowers.”

The election in July was a political milestone for the country because the governing party, the Cambodian People’s Party, lost its near-total monopoly on power, taking 55 percent of the seats in Parliament, down from 73 percent in the previous election, according to unofficial results. Mr. Hun Sen — who with the help of the Vietnamese in 1979 drove out the murderous Khmer Rouge — appeared chastened by the result, and in the days after the election, he spoke in conciliatory terms about his relations with the opposition.

But in recent weeks, he has returned to his characteristic combative style, honed over years in which he has accumulated unrivaled power. Once official election results are announced, which is expected on Sunday, members of his party say, with or without the cooperation of the opposition, they will proceed with the opening of a new session of the National Assembly and form another government, possibly as early as next week.

The government, which is portraying the protest as an attempt to instigate riots, has deployed military units to the outskirts of the capital, and the riot police are conducting their own rehearsals.

“It’s a rebellion,” said Phay Siphan, the secretary of state in the Council of Ministers, which functions as a cabinet. “They plan to use Cambodian bloodshed as their red carpet to power.”

Mr. Phay Siphan, a member of the governing party, said there would be some “policy adjustments” in the new government and shuffling of posts inside the party.

“We are going to get rid of some of our old policy makers,” he said. “The anticorruption unit will be stronger and more active than before.”

Kem Lay, a researcher who has conducted surveys and studied social trends for government ministries as well as for the United States Agency for International Development, said Cambodian intellectuals and human rights advocates were ambivalent about their political choices.

Mr. Hun Sen’s party is resented for allowing land to be seized from farmers, for the opaque way that contracts and concessions are given to groups of businesspeople close to the party and for stifling the independence of the judiciary.

But Mr. Kem Lay said he also saw autocratic tendencies in Mr. Sam Rainsy’s leadership of the opposition — and a generalized lack of competence and experience among the candidates that the party put forward in the July election. “It would have been a big disaster if the opposition had won the election,” Mr. Kem Lay said. “They are not ready.”

Although the result of the election remains disputed, Mr. Kem Lay points to one positive outcome: he noticed that villagers and low-level government officials were speaking their minds, being more analytical and critical of government policies, a development that he describes as the maturing of the Cambodian electorate.

At the rehearsal on Wednesday, a 34-year-old woman named Mai Simorn surged into the crowd with a wad of Cambodian money in her hands. She had collected donations from workers at the garment factory where she works as a seamstress and handed them to the organizers of the protest.

Divorced from her husband, Ms. Mai Simorn earns a base salary of about $80 a month at the factory, barely enough to support her two children. Saturday is a workday, but she plans to ask for half of the day off to attend the protest.

“Our life is not easy,” she said. “We need to dare to protest.”
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« Reply #8551 on: Sep 06, 2013, 07:51 AM »


Inner Mongolia detains dozens in Communist party internet crackdown

Chinese regional authorities arrest 52 people for illegally distributing information online and stirring up ethnic tension

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Friday 6 September 2013 12.14 BST   

Authorities in the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia have arrested 52 people for spreading "internet rumours", underscoring rising ethnic tensions in the area, a New York-based human rights group reported this week.

The detainees are suspected of "deliberately stirring up ethnic relations [and] encouraging the masses to appeal for their interests in a radical way such as [organising] student strikes and protest demonstrations", the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre reported on 4 September, citing a local police statement posted late last month.

The suspects were detained for illegally distributing 1,200 pieces of information, including "internet rumours and false reports of disaster, epidemic, and police emergency", according to the statement.

Both the statement and follow- up state media reports suggest that the detentions are part of a nationwide "strike hard" campaign by the Communist party to tighten its grip on the country's online communities.

On Friday afternoon, the Inner Mongolia autonomous region public security bureau could not be reached for comment.

Ethnic tensions have long been a source of social unrest in Inner Mongolia, a resource-rich region bordering Mongolia and Russia. Government mining programmes have dealt a blow to the region's natural environment, forcing many of its indigenous nomads to abandon their traditional way of life.

Ethnic Mongolians account for less than a fifth of the region's 24 million people, and many are discontent with a perceived lack of economic opportunities in towns and cities.

In May 2011, protests rippled through the region after Han Chinese drivers killed a Mongolian herder as he attempted to block a caravan of coal trucks. Inner Mongolian authorities deployed riot police, severed communications networks and barricaded university campuses, quashing the demonstrations shortly after they began.

Regional authorities arrested another 23 people in mid-August for circulating "internet rumours" that disaster victims from south-western Sichuan province would be relocated to Inner Mongolia, the state newswire Xinhua reported.

The recent spate of detentions has coincided with a thwarted protest in Ordos, a city in the region's arid west, according to the Washington-based broadcaster Radio Free Asia.

"In Ordos, a herder died after being run over, causing a mass incident because the construction of the railway was affecting the grasslands and causing opposition among local people," Xi Haiming, the chairman of the Germany-based Inner Mongolian League for the Defense of Human Rights, told the broadcaster.


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« Reply #8552 on: Sep 06, 2013, 07:53 AM »

September 5, 2013

Opposition Lawmaker Arrested in Treason Plot in South Korea

By CHOE SANG-HUN
IHT

SEOUL, South Korea — An opposition lawmaker was arrested on Thursday on charges of plotting an armed rebellion to help overthrow the South Korean government in the event of war on the divided Korean Peninsula.

The lawmaker, Lee Seok-ki, who is affiliated with the far-left United Progressive Party, became the first member of the National Assembly to face treason charges since democratically elected leaders replaced the country’s past military dictators. The National Assembly had opened the way for his arrest on Wednesday, when it overwhelmingly approved a bill that removed his legislative immunity.

Mr. Lee, 51, was accused of bringing together 130 followers in May to plot an armed uprising in support of North Korea if war broke out between the North and South. The alleged meeting took place at a time when fears of a possible military conflict on the peninsula surged after the North’s nuclear test in February, with the North threatening to attack Washington and the South Korean capital, Seoul, with nuclear and missile strikes and South Korea vowing to retaliate.

Mr. Lee and his party have denied the charges against him. They have instead accused South Korea’s National Intelligence Service of starting a “witch hunt” to divert attention from accusations that its agents had used an online smear campaign last year to attack political rivals of President Park Geun-hye, who was then the conservative governing party’s candidate for the presidential election in December.

A former director of the spy agency is now on trial on charges of ordering such a campaign.

Hours after the bill was passed in the National Assembly to allow the arrest of Mr. Lee, intelligence agents took him from his parliamentary office amid angry protests from his party members and drove him to a jail in Suwon, south of Seoul.

On Thursday, Mr. Lee faced a judge who called a hearing to decide whether to issue an arrest warrant. Mr. Lee again denied treason charges. But the judge, Oh Sang-yong, issued the warrant, saying that Mr. Lee might flee unless locked behind bars. Then the intelligence agency formally arrested Mr. Lee.

Three other members of the United Progressive Party were arrested on the same charges last week. The intelligence service said it was investigating other party members.
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« Reply #8553 on: Sep 06, 2013, 07:54 AM »

Australian PM Kevin Rudd heads for election wipe-out

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 6, 2013 7:16 EDT

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd vowed Friday to fight to the end despite polls showing him heading for an election wipe-out as rival Tony Abbott looked forward to getting straight to work.

A Galaxy survey in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, a day before voters cast their ballots, found Rudd had failed to make any inroads on the conservative opposition leader.

On a two-party basis, the ruling Labor party was trailing 47 to 53 percent, with the newspaper saying Abbot’s Liberal/National coalition could pick up as many as 20 to 25 extra seats in the lower House of Representatives.

This would give them more than 90 seats in the 150-seat parliament.

An overwhelming 78 percent of the 1,503 people questioned said Abbott had performed better during the election campaign. Just eight percent said Rudd, with the rest undecided.

But the prime minister, who has struggled for traction after toppling Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female leader, just weeks before calling the election, said he was not ready to give up.

“I believe I can win the election,” Rudd said Friday evening.

“The people of Australia will ultimately decide but my message… is very simple… if on the day before election day you still have doubts about how Mr Abbott’s massive cuts will affect your jobs and job security, your hospitals and schools, then don’t vote for him.”

The economy has been a key election battleground and the opposition on Thursday pledged Aus$40 billion ($37 billion) of savings if it wins.

Rudd added: “We continue to fight right through till 6:00 pm tomorrow,” when polls close, and seized on the coalition announcing then retracting on Thursday night plans for a mandatory Internet porn filter.

He called the policy backflip a “debacle”.

“How many other policies do they have in their bottom drawer that they don’t want to tell Australians about?” he asked.

Despite his fighting words, Rudd appears to have an insurmountable task with all the nation’s main newspapers — bar The Age in Melbourne — backing Abbott in election eve editorials.

Yet Abbott, speaking on Network Ten late Friday, said the election was still “anyone’s to win” and urged voters to bring in a new government led by him.

“I will be an orthodox prime minister, because I want to lead an adult, grown-up government,” he said.

“And that’s why I think Australia can’t have another three years like the last six, because I don’t believe we have always had an adult, grown-up government over the last six years.”

Abbott said if he won office, the first thing he would do would be to go for a bike ride “with the guys I’ve been riding with for years”.

“Then into the office to do briefings because you can’t muck around with something as important as the future of our country.”

But he cautioned that it was too early to start celebrating.

“It’s like being in a grand final, five minutes to go, only a goal or two in it, anything could happen,” he said.

“If it happens I will be extraordinarily conscious of the heavy burden of responsibilities, of duties, that will have descended on my shoulders.

“Inevitably, anyone who is suddenly given a big job, even if you have been preparing for it for years and you know you are ready for it, when it happens, if it happens, you are conscious of being on a great threshold.”

Voting is mandatory in Australia and by Friday afternoon some three million of the 14.7 million enrolled voters had already cast their ballots at pre-polling stations and via postal votes, the electoral commission said.

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« Reply #8554 on: Sep 06, 2013, 07:57 AM »


Embattled Colombian president names 'peace and unity' cabinet

Juan Manuel Santos struggles to regain credibility amid farmer protests and scepticism over Farc peace talks

Reuters in Bogota
theguardian.com, Friday 6 September 2013 06.15 BST   

The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, has named five new ministers in a "unity and peace" cabinet – a bid to strengthen his government before presidential elections in 2014 and address heavy criticism of his handling of farming protests that turned violent last week.

Santos called on each new minister to help him bring an end to five decades of war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and resolve problems in the agriculture sector.

Santos has not yet said whether he will run for a second term next year but his re-election has become more difficult in recent weeks and hinges on securing peace with the Farc during talks under way in Cuba.

"Constructing peace will require a great mobilisation among citizens, it will require participation in new areas to plan and execute agreements reached in Havana," said Santos, 62, after naming his new team at the presidential palace.

The entire cabinet resigned on Monday, standard procedure before the president shuffles his cabinet. Santos named Amylkar Acosta as energy minister, Aurelio Iragorri as interior minister, Alfonso Gomez Mendez as justice minister, Ruben Dario Risaralde as agriculture minister and Luz Helena Sarmiento as environment minister.

The finance minister, Mauricio Cardenas, kept his post, as did the defence minister, Juan Carlos Pinzon, and the foreign minister, Maria Angela Holguin.

The changes to ministerial posts like agriculture and energy are likely aimed at calming tempers after labour disputes across Colombia's vast rural areas and in the mining sector.

The cabinet shuffle comes a few days after Santos was forced to send troops to patrol the streets of Bogota when protests led by farmers became violent and caused havoc across the capital. The nationwide dispute led to the deaths of five people.

"We have to do something that hasn't been done in 80 years," said Santos, the scion of one of the nation's most powerful families. "Have an agrarian revolution."

Approval for the centre-right Santos slumped in the latest Gallup opinion poll taken at the most agitated point of the protest and as Colombians become weary of scant progress in the talks with the Farc. Santos's public approval more than halved to 21% from 48% at the end of June.

His popularity soared when he first announced talks with the drug-funded Farc but a year later patience has worn thin as the rebel leadership takes centre stage in televised statements while continuing to attack military and economic targets.

The rebels still have a lot to lose if Santos fails to return to office next year. His predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, a former ally turned foe, has spent the last few years grooming candidates to run for election in May.

The still-popular Uribe, whose father was killed in a botched kidnapping attempt by the Farc, was responsible for some of the harshest blows against the rebels and would almost certainly support an end to the talks in Havana.

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

Human rights in Colombia: how bad do things have to get?

The trade union leader Huber Ballesteros has been arrested on dubious grounds. Such violations are Colombia's dirty little secret

Ellie Mae O'Hagan   
theguardian.com, Thursday 29 August 2013 17.06 BST   

At the end of July, I found myself in sitting in the attorney general's office in Colombia. I had spent the previous week travelling across the country with the NGO Justice for Colombia, and the idea was for me to meet the attorney general's office and talk about the things I'd observed – the political prisoners I'd heard about, the state atrocities, the unsolved executions. And so I did: I sat there in unwashed hair and flip flops, a scruffy 5ft tall British writer in a room full of old men in suits, and I talked about the human rights violations I'd seen. The more I talked, the more terrified the men looked. It was like I'd discovered Colombia's dirty secret. They tried to convince me human rights were protected in Colombia. They wanted to give me a presentation which would explain all the things I'd seen. I told them I wanted to write a piece about it for the British press. They looked ashen.

A month later, they gave me the perfect spur to write. This week, the attorney general made the decision to arrest trade union leader and opposition leader Huber Ballesteros; a man with whom I'd eaten breakfast in Colombia, and who was scheduled to be the international speaker at this year's TUC conference in September. Ballesteros, a trade union leader whose life is so endangered he travels everywhere with bodyguards, had been eating lunch on 25 August when he was arrested and detained for "rebellion" and "financing terrorism". These are notoriously trumped-up charges, which have historically been used in Colombia to imprison trade unionists, students, activists, and defenders of human rights.

Ballesteros has been accused of channelling money from human rights organisations, including Justice for Colombia, to the Farc – the leftwing peasant insurgency which the government denounces as terrorists. Justice for Colombia rejects the allegations and says the government is sending a worrying message to the international community about its willingness to tolerate dissent. Having met Ballesteros and witnessed his dedication and how rooted he is in Colombia's social movements and communities, I find the charges highly suspicious.

Although the Colombian government insists the arrest is legitimate, it seems beyond coincidental that it comes at a time when there is widespread protest in Colombia, led by Ballesteros and a committee of nine others. The week before Ballesteros was seized, the country had seen strikes over free trade agreements with the EU and the US, which the protesters say make it impossible for them to make money off their own crops because they can't compete with foreign imports. Free trade agreements don't include any effective human or labour rights clauses, which mean the ability of workers in Colombia to challenge their poor pay, working conditions and so on is virtually zero. Despite its enthusiasm for commenting on humanitarian issues in Syria, Libya and so on, the British government is so far yet to utter a single word on Colombia, even though its own free trade agreement is part of the problem.

Ballesteros has been denied bail and as of yesterday is languishing in La Picota prison in the country's capital. The conditions of Colombia's prisons are notoriously horrendous, and if the stories I heard during my visit are to be believed, he can expect to live with double the population the prison is meant to hold, a total lack of hygiene, rotten food, and no access to healthcare for even the most serious conditions. One of the nastiest stories I heard came from the director of Justice for Colombia, Mariela Kohon, She told me she had met a prisoner in November last year who had literally carved a slice off his face to cut off a tumour.

There are currently hundreds of political prisoners locked up in Colombia, most of which are human rights activists appalled at the country's social problems – such as the fact that it has the highest number of displaced people in the world (10% of the country's overall population), incredible wealth inequalities, or the fact that the army is currently being investigated for nearly 5,000 extrajudicial executions.

Beneath the Caribbean beaches, rum and coconuts, and rich endless countryside lies a damaged and broken nation, where even the most innocuous forms of dissent are punished by the blithe removal of even the most basic rights. As the international media pores over the inhumane actions of the Syrian government, I have to wonder: how bad do things in Colombia have to get before the rest of the world realises there is a problem?


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« Reply #8555 on: Sep 06, 2013, 07:59 AM »

September 5, 2013

Chilean’s Family Files Suit in U.S. Over His Torture and Death in ’73

By PASCALE BONNEFOY
IHT

SANTIAGO, Chile — A former Chilean Army officer charged with murdering Víctor Jara, a popular folk singer, shortly after the 1973 military coup has been sued in a Florida court under federal laws allowing legal action against human rights violators living in the United States.

Mr. Jara, then 40, was a member of the Communist Party and an accomplished theater director and songwriter whose songs of poverty and injustice remain vastly popular. He was arrested with hundreds of students and employees at the Santiago Technical University, where he was a professor, a day after the Sept. 11 coup that ushered in 17 years of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

The detainees were taken to Chile Stadium, used to hold thousands of prisoners. There, Mr. Jara was singled out with a few others, beaten, tortured and shot. His body, with 44 bullet wounds, was found dumped outside a cemetery with four other victims. The arena was later renamed Víctor Jara Stadium.

The lawsuit against the former officer accused of his murder, Pedro Pablo Barrientos, comes as Chileans take part in a number of cathartic, emotionally charged events leading up to the 40th anniversary of the coup.

It was filed Wednesday by the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability in a Jacksonville district court on behalf of Mr. Jara’s widow and daughters under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991. Mr. Barrientos, 64, moved to the United States in 1989 and became an American citizen. He lives in Deltona, Fla., southwest of Daytona Beach.

Last December, a Chilean judge charged Mr. Barrientos and another officer, Hugo Sánchez, with committing the murder. Six other officers were charged as accomplices.

“Although ideally justice should be achieved in the home country, international justice efforts are at the service of the victims and by pursuing them, we can support and invigorate justice at home,” said Almudena Bernabeu, a lawyer for the center.

Mr. Barrientos was found in Deltona last year by a Chilean television crew and denied having ever been in the stadium. But a dozen soldiers from his regiment have testified that he was in charge of the companies sent there. One of the soldiers, José Paredes, said in legal testimony that he had witnessed Mr. Barrientos and other officers beat and torture Mr. Jara and other prisoners.

“After that, Lieutenant Barrientos decided to play Russian roulette, so he took out his gun, approached Víctor Jara, who was standing with his hands handcuffed behind his back, spun the cylinder, put it against the back of his neck and fired,” Mr. Paredes stated. The gun went off and Mr. Jara “fell to the ground,” he added. The other officers fired as well, he said.

Although the Chilean Supreme Court authorized the judge’s request to extradite Mr. Barrientos from the United States in January, the Chilean government has not sent the extradition request to American officials. The 543-page legal file is still being translated, according to the Foreign Ministry.

After Mr. Jara’s death, his wife, Joan Jara, a British-born dancer who moved to Chile in 1954, left the country with her two young daughters. She returned 11 years later and has dedicated the past 40 years to “rescuing Víctor from being merely a victim.”

Since she first filed a criminal lawsuit in Santiago in 1978, the case has been handled by half a dozen judges; it was closed and later reopened; Mr. Jara’s remains were exhumed for forensic analysis and reburied in 2009; and the details about his killing have been coaxed out of witnesses drop by drop.

“All of the information that has been dug out about the officers who were in the stadium has been discovered without the help of the army,” she said.

The legal action against Mr. Barrientos seeks damages for torture; extrajudicial killing; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; crimes against humanity; and arbitrary detention. The plaintiffs are requesting trial by jury. The ultimate goal, Ms. Jara said, was not monetary compensation, but to use the only available legal tool in the United States to hold Mr. Barrientos accountable. Mr. Barrientos could not be reached for comment.

“There’s no money that can cure the damage that has been suffered,” she said in a recent interview. “I’ve had two lives: one before and one after 1973.”


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« Reply #8556 on: Sep 06, 2013, 08:03 AM »

Treasure trove of fossils found under Venezuelan oil fields

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 5, 2013 18:15 EDT

Under the rich Venezuelan soil, paleontologists have found treasures rivaling the bountiful oil: a giant armadillo the size of a Volkswagen, a crocodile bigger than a bus and a saber-toothed tiger.

Oil companies’ surveys of the soil have uncovered a trove of fossils dating from 14,000 to 370 million years ago.

Many of the 12,000 recorded specimens from different eras are now kept in a tiny office of the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research.

A strong smell of oil fills the room as Ascania Rincon opens the drawer of a filing cabinet to reveal the tar-stained femur of a giant, six-ton mastodon from 25,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age.

Unfazed by the significance of the finds already made, the head of the institute’s Laboratory of Paleontology is intent on realizing his next goal: locating human fossils for proof of prehistoric human life in the area.

“We are close. You have to keep exploring the area. We have already found spearheads,” he told AFP. “What’s lacking is reliable indication that man hunted the megafauna that we are finding. And lacking are human fossils.”

Located in northern South America, Venezuela has a complex geological structure that leaves it swimming in oil deposits teeming with life preserved from so very long ago.

Most of the fossils are concentrated in a large area north of the Orinoco River where the Atlantic Ocean originated 200 million years ago, the paleontologist explained.

About eight million years ago, the Orinoco was formed, followed by the Isthmus of Panama (or Isthmus of Darien, which links North and South America) about three to five million years ago.

The fossils found during the surveys include a featherless chicken that looked like an iguana, a three-meter (10-foot) pelican and giant sloths that lived on land 12 million year ago, unlike their modern relatives living in the trees.

But it can take years to prepare a fossil for classification. Experts needed four years after its discovery to identify a saber-toothed tiger, a darling of the collection dubbed Homotherium venezuelensis.

Once a fossil is found, experts must remove the sediment, transport it, wash it and carefully compare it to existing specimens.

In September, the institute plans to announce the discovery in a remote area of the country of a new species, Rincon said proudly, without revealing the whole surprise.

“Imagine a puzzle of 5,000 pieces and you have 200 pieces you are trying to interpret and draw a conclusion that might contribute something to science,” he said.

Rincon’s laboratory, staffed with only five researchers, has state and private support but lacks the logistical and technological resources of similar operations in other countries.

His team finds in paleontology a mission to raise awareness of what was on the planet millions of years ago and encourage people to care for the Earth today.

“We are destroying what little is left of the forests, oceans, deserts; we are destroying our ecosystems and accelerating extinction,” said Rincon.

The researcher, who knew he wanted to be a paleontologist since he was eight years old, urged the younger generations to take up the torch.

“Paleontology is fun. It seems that it has no use, but it has economic implications. With a fossil record, we can determine the age of an oil field,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #8557 on: Sep 06, 2013, 08:05 AM »

NASA unmanned spacecraft to study Moon’s atmosphere

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 6, 2013 7:56 EDT

NASA hopes to unravel more of the Moon’s mysteries Friday by launching an unmanned mission to study its atmosphere, the US space agency’s third such probe in five years.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is to launch Friday at 11:27 pm (Saturday 0327 GMT) aboard a Minotaur V rocket — a converted peacekeeping missile — from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Since US astronauts last walked on the moon four decades ago, rocket scientists have learned that there is more to the Moon than just a dusty, desolate terrain.

Recent NASA robotic missions such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have returned troves of images detailing the Moon’s cratered surface, while NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) revealed how being pummelled by asteroids resulted in the Moon’s uneven patches of gravity.

A previous NASA satellite, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite(LCROSS) discovered water ice when it impacted in 2009, the space agency said.

“When we left the Moon we thought of it as an atmosphere-less ancient surface,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate.

“We have discovered that the Moon scientifically is very much alive, it is still evolving and in fact has a kind of atmosphere.”

The Moon’s atmosphere is so thin that its molecules do not collide, in what is known as an exosphere.

Exploring that exosphere will be a $280 million solar and lithium battery-powered spacecraft about the size of a small car — nearly eight feet (2.4 meters) tall and five feet (1.85 meters) wide.

After launch, LADEE aims to hurtle itself beyond Earth’s orbit so it can circle the Moon, first cruising at a height of about 250 kilometers (156 miles) for just over a month, and then moving lower to 20 to 60 kilometers (12.4 – 37.3 miles) from the surface for the science portion of its mission.

It is carrying an Earth-to-Moon laser beam technology demonstration and three main tools, including a neutral mass spectrometer to measure chemical variations in the lunar atmosphere and other tools to analyze exosphere gasses and lunar dust grains, NASA said.

“These measurements will help scientists address longstanding mysteries, including: was lunar dust, electrically charged by solar ultraviolet light, responsible for the pre-sunrise horizon glow that the Apollo astronauts saw?” NASA said.

Other instruments will seek out water molecules in the lunar atmosphere.

About 100 days into the science portion of the mission, the LADEE spacecraft will do a death plunge into the Moon’s surface.

The spacecraft was made in a modular design that aims to “ease the manufacturing and assembly process” and “drastically reduce the cost of spacecraft development,” NASA said.

Potential future uses of this module could include unmanned probes to an asteroid or to Mars, as well as future Moon probes, though none are planned for now.

US astronauts first walked on the Moon in 1969, and the last explorers of the Apollo era visited in 1972.

The US space agency has no plans to follow LADEE with a human mission to the Moon.

LADEE was conceived when NASA was planning to return humans to the Moon as part of the Constellation program, which President Barack Obama cancelled early in his presidency for being over budget and redundant in its goals.

NASA’s next big human exploration project aims to send humans to Mars by the 2030s

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« Reply #8558 on: Sep 06, 2013, 08:07 AM »


The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com

NASA picks four possible Mars landing sites, none of them interesting

By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / September 5, 2013 at 3:56 pm EDT

NASA has whittled to four the number of potential landing sites for its 2016 mission to Mars. All of the “semifinalists,” as the agency puts it, are un-interesting, featureless plots.

NASA’s next mission to Mars is scheduled to land on the planet in August 2016, six months after its launch from Earth. Called the Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport lander – or, more succinctly, InSight – the stationary lander will tuck into Mars’s underground to investigate the Red Planet’s interior and its formation some 4.6 billion years ago. Scientists hope that plumbing beneath Mars’s surface will help in explaining the processes that formed Earth, as well as the exoplanets popping up in new portraits of the universe.

Choosing a landing ground for InSight is much simpler than choosing one for a Mars rover, said Matthew Golombek, a geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Rovers must be put down near the features they’ve been outfitted to research, which means that the crafts have been deposited next to interesting plains or mountains. But InSight is designed to research Mars’s interior, which, conveniently, is accessible all over the planet, as long as the surface is soft enough to penetrate.

“When you land a rover, it’s designed to measure certain things, so you have to make sure those things are available,” says Dr. Golombek. “Here, there are no real scientific requirements. That makes the job dramatically easier.”

Still, there are some conditions that a plausible landing spot must meet. The four landing-site candidates, selected from an initial roster of 22 potential plots of real estate, are all in Mars’s Elysium Planitia, an equatorial plain named for the ancient Greeks’ heroic afterlife.

That region, about 500 miles southward from Curiosity’s touchdown spot, is near enough to the equator to protect landers from the cold closer to the poles, as well as primed to power the InSight’s solar array throughout the year. The region is also low enough in elevation to have the requisite atmosphere to decelerate the craft and, NASA hopes, land it without incident.

And though InSight is less hampered with the demands of science, it is perhaps more hampered with cost restrains than previous rover missions. InSight’s budget is capped at $425 million, not including rocket costs, as per the conditions of NASA’s Discovery Program, the competition through which the project won funding in August 2012. That means that the lander is reliant on cost-effective but imprecise landing gear – the same design that ferried Phoenix to Mars' surface in 2008.

To cope with the imprecision, each of the four possible landing sites is an ellipse measuring 81 miles from east to west and 17 miles from north to south. That gives the lander a wide berth within which the craft has a 99 percent chance of landing. In comparison, the Curiosity rover – for which mission costs totaled about $2.5 billion –  could steer itself as it slipped through the atmosphere and required a target landing ellipse about 12 miles by 16 miles wide.

“The less complex your landing system is, the bigger your uncertainty,” says Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Since it’s not possible to predict just where in that giant ellipse InSight will touch down, NASA scientists plan to next use Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images to make careful reviews of the four sites' potentially hazardous rocks and slopes, looking for the “flattest and safest” of the choices, says Dr. Banerdt.

In July of next year, the scientists will present the two choices believed to have the fewest number of obstacles within their borders. Then, a year after that, the scientists will choose just one site. That final site will also have to go through another review process before the lander is launched that spring – no stone will be left unturned, so to speak.

If the landing goes well, InSight will hammer a probe nine to 15 feet into the ground to monitor heat coming from the planet's interior. It will also use a seismometer to measure Martian earthquakes, as well as radio equipment to gauge the planet’s rotation pull.

Mars’ interior is believed to have changed little over the last four billion years or so, even as its surface, once warm and wet before the planet morphed into a “Red” one, has changed, says Banerdt, That’s because, so far as scientists know, Mars has not been subject to plate tectonics, the eraser-like process that has melted down all record of Earth’s own earliest years.

“That evidence has been obliterated on the Earth,” says Banerdt. “To understand how planets formed, we need to go to a planet that hasn’t gone through a plate tectonic phase.”

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« Reply #8559 on: Sep 06, 2013, 08:09 AM »

Where is the world’s biggest volcano? On the floor of the Pacific, geologists find

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 5, 2013 13:50 EDT

Geologists on Thursday announced they had uncovered a stupendous volcano that is the biggest in the world and rivals the greatest in the Solar System.

Dubbed Tamu Massif, the volcano is part of the Shatsky Rise, a deep plateau on the floor of the Pacific located around 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) east of Japan, they said.

It comprises a single, immense, rounded dome in the shape of a shield, formed of hardened lava from an eruption around 144 million years ago.

It covers around 310,000 square kilometres (119,000 square miles) — the equivalent area of Britain and Ireland combined — and slopes upwards to a height of around 3.5 kms (2.2 miles) above the sea floor.

“Tamu Massif is the largest known single, central volcano in the world,” the team reported in the journal Nature Geoscience.

In area, “it is… approximately the same as the British Isles or Olympus Mons on Mars, which is considered the largest volcano in the Solar System.”

It adds: “Although Olympus Mons seems to be a giant because it is more than 20 kms (12 miles) in height, its volume is only around 25 percent larger.”

Olympus Mons, in addition, has relatively shallow roots, whereas Tamu Massif delves some 30 kilometres (18 miles) into Earth’s crust.

Ocean surveyors had until now surmised Tamu Massif to be a vast system of multiple volcanoes, a kind that exists in about a dozen locations around the planet.

The realisation that it was a single volcano of truly massive size only came to light when the team, led by William Sager at Texas A&M University, sought an overview.

They assembled data from rock samples, taken from an ocean-floor drilling project, and a chart of the seabed, provided by deep-penetration seismic scanners aboard a survey ship.

Put together, the findings suggest mega-volcanoes found in other parts of the Solar System have cousins on Earth, says the paper.

“The Earth variety is poorly understood because these monsters found a better place to hide — beneath the sea,” it argues.

In an email exchange with AFP, Sager said it seemed unlikely that Tamu Massif was still active.

“The bottom line is that we think that Tamu Massif was built in a short (geologically speaking) time of one to several million years and it has been extinct since,” he said.

“One interesting angle is that there were lots of oceanic plateaus (that) erupted during the Cretaceous Period (145-65 million years ago) but we don’t see them since. Scientists would like to know why.”

Other volcanic leviathans could be lurking among the dozen or so large oceanic plateaux around the world, he thought.

“We don’t have the data to see inside them and know their structure, but it would not surprise me to find out that there are more like Tamu out there.

“Indeed, the biggest oceanic plateau is Ontong Java plateau, near the equator in the Pacific, east of the Solomons Islands. It is much bigger than Tamu — it’s the size of France.”

The name Tamu comes from Texas A&M University, where Sager taught for 29 years before moving to the University of Houston this year, he explained.


* The-sun-rises-over-the-Pacific-ocean-AFP.jpg (22.65 KB, 615x345 - viewed 25 times.)
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« Reply #8560 on: Sep 06, 2013, 08:27 AM »

In the USA...

September 5, 2013

N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web

By NICOLE PERLROTH, JEFF LARSON and SCOTT SHANE
NYT

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.

Many users assume — or have been assured by Internet companies — that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

Beginning in 2000, as encryption tools were gradually blanketing the Web, the N.S.A. invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. Having lost a public battle in the 1990s to insert its own “back door” in all encryption, it set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth.

The agency, according to the documents and interviews with industry officials, deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products. The documents do not identify which companies have participated.

The N.S.A. hacked into target computers to snare messages before they were encrypted. In some cases, companies say they were coerced by the government into handing over their master encryption keys or building in a back door. And the agency used its influence as the world’s most experienced code maker to covertly introduce weaknesses into the encryption standards followed by hardware and software developers around the world.

“For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about N.S.A. accomplishments for employees of its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. “Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”

When the British analysts, who often work side by side with N.S.A. officers, were first told about the program, another memo said, “those not already briefed were gobsmacked!”

An intelligence budget document makes clear that the effort is still going strong. “We are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic,” the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., wrote in his budget request for the current year.

In recent months, the documents disclosed by Mr. Snowden have described the N.S.A.’s reach in scooping up vast amounts of communications around the world. The encryption documents now show, in striking detail, how the agency works to ensure that it is actually able to read the information it collects.

The agency’s success in defeating many of the privacy protections offered by encryption does not change the rules that prohibit the deliberate targeting of Americans’ e-mails or phone calls without a warrant. But it shows that the agency, which was sharply rebuked by a federal judge in 2011 for violating the rules and misleading the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, cannot necessarily be restrained by privacy technology. N.S.A. rules permit the agency to store any encrypted communication, domestic or foreign, for as long as the agency is trying to decrypt it or analyze its technical features.

The N.S.A., which has specialized in code-breaking since its creation in 1952, sees that task as essential to its mission. If it cannot decipher the messages of terrorists, foreign spies and other adversaries, the United States will be at serious risk, agency officials say.

Just in recent weeks, the Obama administration has called on the intelligence agencies for details of communications by leaders of Al Qaeda about a terrorist plot and of Syrian officials’ messages about the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. If such communications can be hidden by unbreakable encryption, N.S.A. officials say, the agency cannot do its work.

But some experts say the N.S.A.’s campaign to bypass and weaken communications security may have serious unintended consequences. They say the agency is working at cross-purposes with its other major mission, apart from eavesdropping: ensuring the security of American communications.

Some of the agency’s most intensive efforts have focused on the encryption in universal use in the United States, including Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL; virtual private networks, or VPNs; and the protection used on fourth-generation, or 4G, smartphones. Many Americans, often without realizing it, rely on such protection every time they send an e-mail, buy something online, consult with colleagues via their company’s computer network, or use a phone or a tablet on a 4G network.

For at least three years, one document says, GCHQ, almost certainly in collaboration with the N.S.A., has been looking for ways into protected traffic of popular Internet companies: Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft’s Hotmail. By 2012, GCHQ had developed “new access opportunities” into Google’s systems, according to the document. (Google denied giving any government access and said it had no evidence its systems had been breached).

“The risk is that when you build a back door into systems, you’re not the only one to exploit it,” said Matthew D. Green, a cryptography researcher at Johns Hopkins University. “Those back doors could work against U.S. communications, too.”

Paul Kocher, a leading cryptographer who helped design the SSL protocol, recalled how the N.S.A. lost the heated national debate in the 1990s about inserting into all encryption a government back door called the Clipper Chip.

“And they went and did it anyway, without telling anyone,” Mr. Kocher said. He said he understood the agency’s mission but was concerned about the danger of allowing it unbridled access to private information.

“The intelligence community has worried about ‘going dark’ forever, but today they are conducting instant, total invasion of privacy with limited effort,” he said. “This is the golden age of spying.”

A Vital Capability

The documents are among more than 50,000 shared by The Guardian with The New York Times and ProPublica, the nonprofit news organization. They focus on GCHQ but include thousands from or about the N.S.A.

Intelligence officials asked The Times and ProPublica not to publish this article, saying it might prompt foreign targets to switch to new forms of encryption or communications that would be harder to collect or read. The news organizations removed some specific facts but decided to publish the article because of the value of a public debate about government actions that weaken the most powerful privacy tools.

The files show that the agency is still stymied by some encryption, as Mr. Snowden suggested in a question-and-answer session on The Guardian’s Web site in June.

“Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on,” he said, though cautioning that the N.S.A. often bypasses the encryption altogether by targeting the computers at one end or the other and grabbing text before it is encrypted or after it is decrypted.

The documents make clear that the N.S.A. considers its ability to decrypt information a vital capability, one in which it competes with China, Russia and other intelligence powers.

“In the future, superpowers will be made or broken based on the strength of their cryptanalytic programs,” a 2007 document said. “It is the price of admission for the U.S. to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace.”

The full extent of the N.S.A.’s decoding capabilities is known only to a limited group of top analysts from the so-called Five Eyes: the N.S.A. and its counterparts in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Only they are cleared for the Bullrun program, the successor to one called Manassas — both names of an American Civil War battle. A parallel GCHQ counterencryption program is called Edgehill, named for the first battle of the English Civil War of the 17th century.

Unlike some classified information that can be parceled out on a strict “need to know” basis, one document makes clear that with Bullrun, “there will be NO ‘need to know.’ ”

Only a small cadre of trusted contractors were allowed to join Bullrun. It does not appear that Mr. Snowden was among them, but he nonetheless managed to obtain dozens of classified documents referring to the program’s capabilities, methods and sources.

Ties to Internet Companies

When the N.S.A. was founded, encryption was an obscure technology used mainly by diplomats and military officers. Over the last 20 years, it has become ubiquitous. Even novices can tell that their exchanges are being automatically encrypted when a tiny padlock appears next to a Web address.

Because strong encryption can be so effective, classified N.S.A. documents make clear, the agency’s success depends on working with Internet companies — by getting their voluntary collaboration, forcing their cooperation with court orders or surreptitiously stealing their encryption keys or altering their software or hardware.

According to an intelligence budget document leaked by Mr. Snowden, the N.S.A. spends more than $250 million a year on its Sigint Enabling Project, which “actively engages the U.S. and foreign IT industries to covertly influence and/or overtly leverage their commercial products’ designs” to make them “exploitable.” Sigint is the acronym for signals intelligence, the technical term for electronic eavesdropping.

By this year, the Sigint Enabling Project had found ways inside some of the encryption chips that scramble information for businesses and governments, either by working with chipmakers to insert back doors or by exploiting security flaws, according to the documents. The agency also expected to gain full unencrypted access to an unnamed major Internet phone call and text service; to a Middle Eastern Internet service; and to the communications of three foreign governments.

In one case, after the government learned that a foreign intelligence target had ordered new computer hardware, the American manufacturer agreed to insert a back door into the product before it was shipped, someone familiar with the request told The Times.

The 2013 N.S.A. budget request highlights “partnerships with major telecommunications carriers to shape the global network to benefit other collection accesses” — that is, to allow more eavesdropping.

At Microsoft, as The Guardian has reported, the N.S.A. worked with company officials to get pre-encryption access to Microsoft’s most popular services, including Outlook e-mail, Skype Internet phone calls and chats, and SkyDrive, the company’s cloud storage service.

Microsoft asserted that it had merely complied with “lawful demands” of the government, and in some cases, the collaboration was clearly coerced. Some companies have been asked to hand the government the encryption keys to all customer communications, according to people familiar with the government’s requests.

N.S.A. documents show that the agency maintains an internal database of encryption keys for specific commercial products, called a Key Provisioning Service, which can automatically decode many messages. If the necessary key is not in the collection, a request goes to the separate Key Recovery Service, which tries to obtain it.

How keys are acquired is shrouded in secrecy, but independent cryptographers say many are probably collected by hacking into companies’ computer servers, where they are stored. To keep such methods secret, the N.S.A. shares decrypted messages with other agencies only if the keys could have been acquired through legal means. “Approval to release to non-Sigint agencies,” a GCHQ document says, “will depend on there being a proven non-Sigint method of acquiring keys.”

Simultaneously, the N.S.A. has been deliberately weakening the international encryption standards adopted by developers. One goal in the agency’s 2013 budget request was to “influence policies, standards and specifications for commercial public key technologies,” the most common encryption method.

Cryptographers have long suspected that the agency planted vulnerabilities in a standard adopted in 2006 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and later by the International Organization for Standardization, which has 163 countries as members.

Classified N.S.A. memos appear to confirm that the fatal weakness, discovered by two Microsoft cryptographers in 2007, was engineered by the agency. The N.S.A. wrote the standard and aggressively pushed it on the international group, privately calling the effort “a challenge in finesse.”

“Eventually, N.S.A. became the sole editor,” the memo says.

Even agency programs ostensibly intended to guard American communications are sometimes used to weaken protections. The N.S.A.’s Commercial Solutions Center, for instance, invites the makers of encryption technologies to present their products to the agency with the goal of improving American cybersecurity. But a top-secret N.S.A. document suggests that the agency’s hacking division uses that same program to develop and “leverage sensitive, cooperative relationships with specific industry partners” to insert vulnerabilities into Internet security products.

By introducing such back doors, the N.S.A. has surreptitiously accomplished what it had failed to do in the open. Two decades ago, officials grew concerned about the spread of strong encryption software like Pretty Good Privacy, designed by a programmer named Phil Zimmermann. The Clinton administration fought back by proposing the Clipper Chip, which would have effectively neutered digital encryption by ensuring that the N.S.A. always had the key.

That proposal met a backlash from an unlikely coalition that included political opposites like Senator John Ashcroft, the Missouri Republican, and Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, as well as the televangelist Pat Robertson, Silicon Valley executives and the American Civil Liberties Union. All argued that the Clipper would kill not only the Fourth Amendment, but also America’s global technology edge.

By 1996, the White House backed down. But soon the N.S.A. began trying to anticipate and thwart encryption tools before they became mainstream.

Each novel encryption effort generated anxiety. When Mr. Zimmermann introduced the Zfone, an encrypted phone technology, N.S.A. analysts circulated the announcement in an e-mail titled “This can’t be good.”

But by 2006, an N.S.A. document notes, the agency had broken into communications for three foreign airlines, one travel reservation system, one foreign government’s nuclear department and another’s Internet service by cracking the virtual private networks that protected them.

By 2010, the Edgehill program, the British counterencryption effort, was unscrambling VPN traffic for 30 targets and had set a goal of an additional 300.

But the agencies’ goal was to move away from decrypting targets’ tools one by one and instead decode, in real time, all of the information flying over the world’s fiber optic cables and through its Internet hubs, only afterward searching the decrypted material for valuable intelligence.

A 2010 document calls for “a new approach for opportunistic decryption, rather than targeted.” By that year, a Bullrun briefing document claims that the agency had developed “groundbreaking capabilities” against encrypted Web chats and phone calls. Its successes against Secure Sockets Layer and virtual private networks were gaining momentum.

But the agency was concerned that it could lose the advantage it had worked so long to gain, if the mere “fact of” decryption became widely known. “These capabilities are among the Sigint community’s most fragile, and the inadvertent disclosure of the simple ‘fact of’ could alert the adversary and result in immediate loss of the capability,” a GCHQ document warned.

Since Mr. Snowden’s disclosures ignited criticism of overreach and privacy infringements by the N.S.A., American technology companies have faced scrutiny from customers and the public over what some see as too cozy a relationship with the government. In response, some companies have begun to push back against what they describe as government bullying.

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook have pressed for permission to reveal more about the government’s requests for cooperation. One e-mail encryption company, Lavabit, closed rather than comply with the agency’s demands for customer information; another, Silent Circle, ended its e-mail service rather than face such demands.

In effect, facing the N.S.A.’s relentless advance, the companies surrendered.

Ladar Levison, the founder of Lavabit, wrote a public letter to his disappointed customers, offering an ominous warning. “Without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent,” he wrote, “I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

John Markoff contributed reporting.

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

Revealed: The NSA’s Secret Campaign to Crack, Undermine Internet Security

The National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in January 2010.

by Jeff Larson, ProPublica, Nicole Perlroth, The New York Times, and Scott Shane, The New York Times, Sep. 5, 2013, 3:08 p.m.  

Note: This story is not subject to our Creative Commons license.

Editor's Note: Why We Published the Decryption Story

http://www.propublica.org/article/why-we-published-the-decryption-story

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

This story has been reported in partnership between The New York Times, the Guardian and ProPublica based on documents obtained by The Guardian.

For the Guardian: James Ball, Julian Borger, Glenn Greenwald
For the New York Times: Nicole Perlroth, Scott Shane
For ProPublica: Jeff Larson

The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.

Many users assume — or have been assured by Internet companies — that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

What's New Here

    The NSA has secretly and successfully worked to break many types of encryption, the widely used technology that is supposed to make it impossible to read intercepted communications.
    Referring to the NSA's efforts, a 2010 British document stated: "Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data are now exploitable." Another British memo said: "Those not already briefed were gobsmacked!"
    The NSA has worked with American and foreign tech companies to introduce weaknesses into commercial encryption products, allowing backdoor access to data that users believe is secure.
    The NSA has deliberately weakened the international encryption standards adopted by developers around the globe.

Documents

    BULLRUN Briefing Sheet from GCHQ: http://www.propublica.org/documents/item/784284-bullrun-briefing-sheet-from-gchq.html
    SIGINT Enabling Project: http://www.propublica.org/documents/item/784285-sigint-enabling-project.html

Beginning in 2000, as encryption tools were gradually blanketing the Web, the N.S.A. invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. Having lost a public battle in the 1990s to insert its own “back door” in all encryption, it set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth.

The agency, according to the documents and interviews with industry officials, deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products. The documents do not identify which companies have participated.

The N.S.A. hacked into target computers to snare messages before they were encrypted. And the agency used its influence as the world’s most experienced code maker to covertly introduce weaknesses into the encryption standards followed by hardware and software developers around the world.

“For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about N.S.A. accomplishments for employees of its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. “Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”

When the British analysts, who often work side by side with N.S.A. officers, were first told about the program, another memo said, “those not already briefed were gobsmacked!”

An intelligence budget document makes clear that the effort is still going strong. “We are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic,” the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., wrote in his budget request for the current year.

In recent months, the documents disclosed by Mr. Snowden have described the N.S.A.’s broad reach in scooping up vast amounts of communications around the world. The encryption documents now show, in striking detail, how the agency works to ensure that it is actually able to read the information it collects.

The agency’s success in defeating many of the privacy protections offered by encryption does not change the rules that prohibit the deliberate targeting of Americans’ e-mails or phone calls without a warrant. But it shows that the agency, which was sharply rebuked by a federal judge in 2011 for violating the rules and misleading the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, cannot necessarily be restrained by privacy technology. N.S.A. rules permit the agency to store any encrypted communication, domestic or foreign, for as long as the agency is trying to decrypt it or analyze its technical features.

The N.S.A., which has specialized in code-breaking since its creation in 1952, sees that task as essential to its mission. If it cannot decipher the messages of terrorists, foreign spies and other adversaries, the United States will be at serious risk, agency officials say.

Just in recent weeks, the Obama administration has called on the intelligence agencies for details of communications by Qaeda leaders about a terrorist plot and of Syrian officials’ messages about the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. If such communications can be hidden by unbreakable encryption, N.S.A. officials say, the agency cannot do its work.

But some experts say the N.S.A.’s campaign to bypass and weaken communications security may have serious unintended consequences. They say the agency is working at cross-purposes with its other major mission, apart from eavesdropping: ensuring the security of American communications.

Some of the agency’s most intensive efforts have focused on the encryption in universal use in the United States, including Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL, virtual private networks, or VPNs, and the protection used on fourth generation, or 4G, smartphones. Many Americans, often without realizing it, rely on such protection every time they send an e-mail, buy something online, consult with colleagues via their company’s computer network, or use a phone or a tablet on a 4G network.

For at least three years, one document says, GCHQ, almost certainly in close collaboration with the N.S.A., has been looking for ways into protected traffic of the most popular Internet companies: Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft’s Hotmail. By 2012, GCHQ had developed “new access opportunities” into Google’s systems, according to the document.

“The risk is that when you build a back door into systems, you’re not the only one to exploit it,” said Matthew D. Green, a cryptography researcher at Johns Hopkins University. “Those back doors could work against U.S. communications, too.”

Paul Kocher, a leading cryptographer who helped design the SSL protocol, recalled how the N.S.A. lost the heated national debate in the 1990s about inserting into all encryption a government back door called the Clipper Chip.

“And they went and did it anyway, without telling anyone,” Mr. Kocher said. He said he understood the agency’s mission but was concerned about the danger of allowing it unbridled access to private information.

“The intelligence community has worried about ‘going dark’ forever, but today they are conducting instant, total invasion of privacy with limited effort,” he said. “This is the golden age of spying.”

A Vital Capability

The documents are among more than 50,000 shared by The Guardian with The New York Times and ProPublica, the nonprofit news organization. They focus primarily on GCHQ but include thousands either from or about the N.S.A.

Intelligence officials asked The Times and ProPublica not to publish this article, saying that it might prompt foreign targets to switch to new forms of encryption or communications that would be harder to collect or read. The news organizations removed some specific facts but decided to publish the article because of the value of a public debate about government actions that weaken the most powerful tools for protecting the privacy of Americans and others.

The files show that the agency is still stymied by some encryption, as Mr. Snowden suggested in a question-and-answer session on The Guardian’s Web site in June.

“Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on,” he said, though cautioning that the N.S.A. often bypasses the encryption altogether by targeting the computers at one end or the other and grabbing text before it is encrypted or after it is decrypted.

The documents make clear that the N.S.A. considers its ability to decrypt information a vital capability, one in which it competes with China, Russia and other intelligence powers.

“In the future, superpowers will be made or broken based on the strength of their cryptanalytic programs,” a 2007 document said. “It is the price of admission for the U.S. to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace.”

The full extent of the N.S.A.’s decoding capabilities is known only to a limited group of top analysts from the so-called Five Eyes: the N.S.A. and its counterparts in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Only they are cleared for the Bullrun program, the successor to one called Manassas — both names of American Civil War battles. A parallel GCHQ counterencryption program is called Edgehill, named for the first battle of the English Civil War of the 17th century.

Unlike some classified information that can be parceled out on a strict “need to know” basis, one document makes clear that with Bullrun, “there will be NO ‘need to know.’ ”

Only a small cadre of trusted contractors were allowed to join Bullrun. It does not appear that Mr. Snowden was among them, but he nonetheless managed to obtain dozens of classified documents referring to the program’s capabilities, methods and sources.

Ties to Internet Companies

When the N.S.A. was founded, encryption was an obscure technology used mainly by diplomats and military officers. Over the last 20 years, with the rise of the Internet, it has become ubiquitous. Even novices can tell that their exchanges are being automatically encrypted when a tiny padlock appears next to the Web address on their computer screen.

Because strong encryption can be so effective, classified N.S.A. documents make clear, the agency’s success depends on working with Internet companies — by getting their voluntary collaboration, forcing their cooperation with court orders or surreptitiously stealing their encryption keys or altering their software or hardware.

According to an intelligence budget document leaked by Mr. Snowden, the N.S.A. spends more than $250 million a year on its Sigint Enabling Project, which “actively engages the U.S. and foreign IT industries to covertly influence and/or overtly leverage their commercial products’ designs” to make them “exploitable.” Sigint is the abbreviation for signals intelligence, the technical term for electronic eavesdropping.

By this year, the Sigint Enabling Project had found ways inside some of the encryption chips that scramble information for businesses and governments, either by working with chipmakers to insert back doors or by surreptitiously exploiting existing security flaws, according to the documents. The agency also expected to gain full unencrypted access to an unnamed major Internet phone call and text service; to a Middle Eastern Internet service; and to the communications of three foreign governments.

In one case, after the government learned that a foreign intelligence target had ordered new computer hardware, the American manufacturer agreed to insert a back door into the product before it was shipped, someone familiar with the request told The Times.

The 2013 N.S.A. budget request highlights “partnerships with major telecommunications carriers to shape the global network to benefit other collection accesses” — that is, to allow more eavesdropping.

At Microsoft, as The Guardian has reported, the N.S.A. worked with company officials to get pre-encryption access to Microsoft’s most popular services, including Outlook e-mail, Skype Internet phone calls and chats, and SkyDrive, the company’s cloud storage service.

Microsoft asserted that it had merely complied with “lawful demands” of the government, and in some cases, the collaboration was clearly coerced. Executives who refuse to comply with secret court orders can face fines or jail time.

N.S.A. documents show that the agency maintains an internal database of encryption keys for specific commercial products, called a Key Provisioning Service, which can automatically decode many messages. If the necessary key is not in the collection, a request goes to the separate Key Recovery Service, which tries to obtain it.

How keys are acquired is shrouded in secrecy, but independent cryptographers say many are probably collected by hacking into companies’ computer servers, where they are stored. To keep such methods secret, the N.S.A. shares decrypted messages with other agencies only if the keys could have been acquired through legal means. “Approval to release to non-Sigint agencies,” a GCHQ document says, “will depend on there being a proven non-Sigint method of acquiring keys.”

Simultaneously, the N.S.A. has been deliberately weakening the international encryption standards adopted by developers. One goal in the agency’s 2013 budget request was to “influence policies, standards and specifications for commercial public key technologies,” the most common encryption method.

Cryptographers have long suspected that the agency planted vulnerabilities in a standard adopted in 2006 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the United States’ encryption standards body, and later by the International Organization for Standardization, which has 163 countries as members.

Classified N.S.A. memos appear to confirm that the fatal weakness, discovered by two Microsoft cryptographers in 2007, was engineered by the agency. The N.S.A. wrote the standard and aggressively pushed it on the international group, privately calling the effort “a challenge in finesse.”

“Eventually, N.S.A. became the sole editor,” the memo says.

Even agency programs ostensibly intended to guard American communications are sometimes used to weaken protections. The N.S.A.’s Commercial Solutions Center, for instance, invites the makers of encryption technologies to present their products and services to the agency with the goal of improving American cybersecurity. But a top-secret N.S.A. document suggests that the agency’s hacking division uses that same program to develop and “leverage sensitive, cooperative relationships with specific industry partners” to insert vulnerabilities into Internet security products.

A Way Around

By introducing such back doors, the N.S.A. has surreptitiously accomplished what it had failed to do in the open. Two decades ago, officials grew concerned about the spread of strong encryption software like Pretty Good Privacy, or P.G.P., designed by a programmer named Phil Zimmermann. The Clinton administration fought back by proposing the Clipper Chip, which would have effectively neutered digital encryption by ensuring that the N.S.A. always had the key.

That proposal met a broad backlash from an unlikely coalition that included political opposites like Senator John Ashcroft, the Missouri Republican, and Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, as well as the televangelist Pat Robertson, Silicon Valley executives and the American Civil Liberties Union. All argued that the Clipper would kill not only the Fourth Amendment, but also America’s global edge in technology.

By 1996, the White House backed down. But soon the N.S.A. began trying to anticipate and thwart encryption tools before they became mainstream.

“Every new technology required new expertise in exploiting it, as soon as possible,” one classified document says.

Each novel encryption effort generated anxiety. When Mr. Zimmermann introduced the Zfone, an encrypted phone technology, N.S.A. analysts circulated the announcement in an e-mail titled “This can’t be good.”

But by 2006, an N.S.A. document notes, the agency had broken into communications for three foreign airlines, one travel reservation system, one foreign government’s nuclear department and another’s Internet service by cracking the virtual private networks that protected them.

By 2010, the Edgehill program, the British counterencryption effort, was unscrambling VPN traffic for 30 targets and had set a goal of an additional 300.

But the agencies’ goal was to move away from decrypting targets’ tools one by one and instead decode, in real time, all of the information flying over the world’s fiber optic cables and through its Internet hubs, only afterward searching the decrypted material for valuable intelligence.

A 2010 document calls for “a new approach for opportunistic decryption, rather than targeted.” By that year, a Bullrun briefing document claims that the agency had developed “groundbreaking capabilities” against encrypted Web chats and phone calls. Its successes against Secure Sockets Layer and virtual private networks were gaining momentum.

But the agency was concerned that it could lose the advantage it had worked so long to gain, if the mere “fact of” decryption became widely known. “These capabilities are among the Sigint community’s most fragile, and the inadvertent disclosure of the simple ‘fact of’ could alert the adversary and result in immediate loss of the capability,” a GCHQ document outlining the Bullrun program warned.
Corporate Pushback

Since Mr. Snowden’s disclosures ignited criticism of overreach and privacy infringements by the N.S.A., American technology companies have faced scrutiny from customers and the public over what some see as too cozy a relationship with the government. In response, some companies have begun to push back against what they describe as government bullying.

Google, Yahoo and Facebook have pressed for permission to reveal more about the government’s secret requests for cooperation. One small e-mail encryption company, Lavabit, shut down rather than comply with the agency’s demands for what it considered confidential customer information; another, Silent Circle, ended its e-mail service rather than face similar demands.

In effect, facing the N.S.A.’s relentless advance, the companies surrendered.

Ladar Levison, the founder of Lavabit, wrote a public letter to his disappointed customers, offering an ominous warning. “Without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent,” he wrote, “I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

John Markoff contributed reporting for The New York Times.

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

September 06, 2013 06:00 AM

Mitt Romney Campaign Admits Fox News Was Their Home

By John Amato
CrooksAndLiars

This is an amazing story for its honesty. Most of us know that Fox News functions as the GOP's home base of operations, but did you know that Mitt Romney used Fox as a way to hide out from the rest of the journalists that were covering the 2012 election?

    Harvard University's Shorenstein Center just released an exhaustive report by CNN political reporter Peter Hamby dissecting the performance of the political news media during the 2012 presidential campaign through the case study of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. It deals primarily with the rise of rapid-fire online journalism and how hyper-aggressive reporters seeking to meet demands for content and make names for themselves caused problems for Romney team as they strove to stay on message. Romney's campaign, Hamby wrote, was particularly vulnerable to this dynamic and was constantly looking for ways to get its message out without having to deal with the "frenzy" of reporters and their interminable questions.

    That's where Fox News came in.

    Hamby talked to Eric Fehrnstrom, political consultant and senior adviser to Romney, about how the Romney campaign approached the media. Per Fehrnstrom, the strategy was to limit access to the group of reporters traveling with Romney whenever possible, and instead make the candidate available for interviews on Fox News, because with Fox the campaign knew which questions were coming and knew that Romney wouldn't get hit with too many follow-up queries:

        He said the campaign would rather sit the candidate down for an interview with Fox News than take questions from his press corps. At Fox, he said, the candidate could safely explain himself without being pressed by a crowd of news-starved reporters. "We'd much rather go on a Fox program where we know the question is going to come up and Mitt can give his answer and it's not going to a frenzy of questioning," Fehrnstrom said. "He will be able to give his response. There may be a follow up or two, and then that's it. The frenzy is not something that you would willingly do if you had other options. It's like here you can either do this frenzied news conference, or we can do a more sedate studio appearance with Sean Hannity. I'd take the sedate over the frenzy any day."

    That's a fairly amazing statement. Fox has become so integral to national Republican politics that senior campaign staffers freely talk about its unique role in campaign strategy. Presumably other cable or broadcast networks could also provide a comparatively "sedate" environment for a candidate looking to escape the "frenzy" of the traveling press, but they chose Fox for a reason. For candidates like Romney, Fox is a sanctuary from the rest of the media where the candidate's message can get out there without anyone challenging it. "There may be a follow up or two, and then that's it."journalists that were covering the 2012 election?

I concede that campaigns can be overwhelmed with the social media aspect of today's journalism, but Romney's team really messed up because by only talking to people that are going to vote for you in a general election all but spells disaster for that campaign. And indeed it was a disaster. But the GOP is not taking the lessons that should have been learned by team Romney in 2012 and instead are doubling down on only talking to their peeps.

Reince Priebus will make sure of that.

    In a highly anticipated move, the Republican National Committee voted unanimously on Friday to deny NBC and CNN the rights to host or sponsor a Republican primary debate unless those two networks cancel their respective Hillary Clinton film projects.

    "CNN and NBC anchors will just have to watch on their competitors’ networks," RNC chairman Reince Priebus told the committee members in Boston. While NBC and CNN's competitors stand to benefit from the RNC's decision, there's another potential winner who has gone unmentioned: Univision.

    On Friday, RNC communications director Sean Spicer told POLITICO that the boycott would extend to NBC and CNN's Spanish-language channels: Telemundo and CNN Español. "My understanding is that they both would be excluded," Spicer wrote in an email.

    That leaves Univision, the country's leading Spanish-language network, as the obvious go-to for any Republican primary debate targeted toward America's rapidly growing Latino population, which the GOP is desperate to make inroads with in 2016. The Republicans did not hold formal debates with any of the three Spanish-language channels in 2012, though they did hold a "presidential forum" with Univision. But more importantly, all CNN debates were broadcast to America's Spanish-speaking population on CNN Español. Without that channel, the RNC will need to find another avenue to reach Latino voters.

Although Rush Limbaugh has said that he's too famous to moderate a GOP debate, I'm sure there are many ditto heads that will jump at the chance. Wouldn't it be grand though if let's say a Laura Ingraham got the chance to question Gov. Chris Christie during a debate since she sees him as a traitor to the GOP as do many other right wing pundits out there.

    Bill O’Reilly complained about him. Rush Limbaugh called him “fat” and a “fool.” Dick Morris argued that he had cost Mitt Romney the presidency.
    On right-wing radio, Fox News and Twitter feeds, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has been taking a pounding from high-profile personalities, who said his abundant praise of President Obama’s leadership of the recovery after Hurricane Sandy helped snuff out Republican hopes of capturing the White House.

    “Judas,” they called Mr. Christie. “Traitor.”

    Or worse.

    “It would not surprise me,” the radio host Laura Ingrahamsaid on Tuesday, “if Chris Christie at some point became a Democrat.”

Many Republicans will not get a fair shake in a FOX News only set of GOP debates so I'm all for it. You go run with it.
« Last Edit: Sep 06, 2013, 08:38 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #8561 on: Sep 07, 2013, 05:56 AM »


Obama assembles fragile alliance blaming Assad for chemical attacks

11 G20 countries sign statement calling for 'strong response' to chemical weapons, but Putin says most oppose military action

Patrick Wintour in St Petersburg
The Guardian, Friday 6 September 2013 21.03 BST

Barack Obama left a fractious G20 summit in St Petersburg on Friday after assembling a fragile alliance of countries accusing Bashar al-Assad of being responsible for using poison gas against civilians. However, the US president left behind a defiant Russian counterpart threatening unspecified military support for Syria if America attacks.

Pig Putin claimed that a majority of the G20 opposed any US-led intervention, and gave no ground by continuing to insist that the chemical weapons attacks were a provocation by Syrian rebels designed to win international backing for an attack on the Assad regime. David Cameron described the Pig's position as impossible.

Pig Putin revealed that he and Obama had had a one-to-one meeting lasting around 30 minutes in which they had discussed Syria. Both men had listened to the other's position but they had not agreed, he said.

British sources suggested that Obama, struggling to put together a majority in the US Congress for military strikes, may have to wait for up to a fortnight for a vote in the House of Representatives, where opposition is strong.

Echoing that timing, the French president, François Hollande, the only definite European supporter of a military strike, said he did not expect a congressional vote in the US until the UN weapons inspectors had reported on whether there had been a chemical attack on 21 August. Cameron added that no one doubted there had been an attack, not even Syria; the dispute was over culpability, he said.

In a minor diplomatic advance for Obama, 11 of the G20 nations signed a joint statement at the end of the two-day summit calling for "a strong international response to a grave violation of the world's rules" in response to last month's chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, east of the Syrian capital, Damascus.

The signatories, including the UK, the US and France, said evidence "points clearly to the Syrian government being responsible for the attack which is part of a pattern of chemical weapons use by the regime" and warned it would not be possible to achieve a UN consensus on action.

The signatories also "recognise that the UN security council remains paralysed, as it has been for two and a half years. The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to suffering in Syria. We support efforts by the US and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons."

The painfully constructed wording stops short of explicit support for a punitive, but limited, military strike by the US. Yet the statement represents more international sympathy than seemed likely at the summit's outset. Other signatories included Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Turkey – a coalition that may sway some US congressmen weighing up whether to defy domestic America opinion and back military strikes. A Downing Street source claimed the statement "backs US efforts and the American president has clearly set out his intended military response".

Russia, China, South Africa, Indonesia, Argentina and Brazil were among those that refused to sign. But it was the absence of German chancellor Angela Merkel's signature that was the most frustrating – a result deemed to be a blow to the Franco-German alliance.

Obama, who will address the American people next Tuesday in a televised address, was equivocal on whether he would persuade Congress. "It's conceivable at the end of the day I don't persuade a majority of the American people that it's the right thing to do," he said. "And then each member of Congress is going to have to decide."

The president said he could ignore a rejection of military action by Congress, but hinted such defiance would be hard to justify. A resolution is likely to be voted upon in the Senate on Wednesday after it was formally introduced on Friday. Obama said during remarks at the end of the summit that he put the issue before Congress "because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad's use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States".

"The majority of the room is comfortable with our conclusion that Assad, the Assad government, was responsible for their use," he said, adding that this was disputed by the Pig.

A number of countries believed that any military force needed to be decided at the UN security council (UNSC), a view he said he did not share. "Given security council paralysis on this issue, if we are serious about upholding a ban on chemical weapons use then an international response is required, and that will not come through security council action," Obama said. That view was shared by Cameron, who argued that world morality could not be "contracted out to the UNSC".

Pig Putin offered a different interpretation of the state of world opinion at his closing press conference. He said: "Will we be helping Syria? We will. And we are already helping – we send arms, we co-operate in the economic sphere."

In many of the private sessions, the Russian president has appeared agnostic on whether the poison gas was used by Assad's forces or rebels. But in public he took a harder line: "I presume that everything concerning the so-called use of chemical weapons is a provocation on the part of the fighters, who expect assistance from the outside, I mean assistance from the countries that have supported them from the very start. This is the essence of this provocation."

He went to argue that the use of force against Syria would be illegitimate. "The use of force on a sovereign state is only possible if it is done for self-defence – and as we know Syria is not attacking the US – or under a decision made by the UN security council," Putin said. "As one participant in our discussion said, those who act otherwise put themselves outside of law."

He said it was not true to assert opinion had been 50-50 divided at the summit. He claimed only Turkey, Canada, Saudi Arabia and France supported military operations against Syria, while Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Italy opposed the option at the summit. Russia also warned the US and its allies against striking any chemical weapon storage facilities in Syria. The Russian foreign ministry said such targeting could release toxic chemicals and give militants or terrorist access to chemical weapons.

"This is a step toward proliferation of chemical weapons not only across the Syrian territory but beyond its borders," the Russian statement said.

The Kremlin said on Friday that Russia was boosting its naval presence in the Mediterranean, moving warships into the area and stoking fears about a larger international conflict if the United States orders air strikes.

Illustrating the risks associated with a strike, the US state department ordered non-essential American diplomats to leave Lebanon, a step under consideration since last week when Obama said he was contemplating military action against the Syrian government.

**********

Syria divides deepen during Putin's G20 dinner

Leaders fail to reach agreement over military action as UN called on to fulfil its obligations while Russia maintains position

Patrick Wintour   
theguardian.com, Friday 6 September 2013 13.34 BST   
   
G20 leaders have failed to agree on any punitive action against the Assad regime in Syria, or even that it had been responsible for the chemical weapons attack east of Damascus in August.

The majority of leaders at a summit dinner on Thursday evening in Peterhof, near Saint Petersburg, were not in favour of any punitive action unless it was agreed by the UN security council, although strong calls for the UN to live up to its responsibilities were made by the Americans, the Turkish, Canadians, French and British.

The UK prime minister, David Cameron, described the debate at the four-hour dinner as passionate, but said the summit was never going to reach agreement on Syria due to the depth of divisions.

He expressed his frustration with the insistence by Russia's president, PIg Putin, that the chemical attack that may have claimed more than 1,000 lives was undertaken by rebel forces rather than the government. He said Putin "was miles away from what I think the truth is and miles away from what many of us believe".

Cameron expressed scepticism that Pig Putin could be persuaded by any evidence that the chemical attack was launched by the government's forces. Cameron reported the Pig  "said to me he would like to see further evidence of regime culpability and we will go on providing him evidence, but I think it will take a lot to change his mind, let me put it that way".

During the dinner, Pig Putin told Barack Obama and François Hollande that the chances of reviving peace talks soon after a punitive bombing strike would be minimal.

The Russian leader won the support of the Chinese, a long-term ally of the Pig on Syria, but backing also came from the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, Argentina, Brazil and several European leaders, including Angela Merkel. One German diplomat said "Putin did not need to toughen his tone at the dinner. There were enough sceptics."

Desperate efforts by the French delegation to establish at the least a common European position appear to have failed, with French fury aimed at the EU president of the council, Herman Van Rompuy, for criticising an attack without first consulting EU foreign ministers on his position.

The Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, said the working dinner had only confirmed there were splits. The lack of consensus will be a blow to Obama as he struggles to raise a majority for military action from a sceptical US Congress.

According to French sources, Pig Putin refused to say whether he believed the chemical attack had been committed by the Syrian government or by rebel forces, but did accept that chemical weapons should not be used and breached international law.

The tension at the dinner was raised by reports of US intercepts from Iran suggesting Tehran would authorise attacks on American interests in the event of an attack on Syria.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, told a news conference in New York: "Even in the wake of the flagrant shattering of the international norm against chemical weapons use, Russia continues to hold the council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities.

"What we have learned, what the Syrian people have learned, is that the security council the world needs to deal with this crisis is not the security council we have."

Cameron, giving his account of the dinner, said: "The argument that did flare up at the dinner last night is a disagreement again about whether it is possible to have legal military engagements outside a UN security council resolution. Our strong legal advice is that there is a responsibility to protect – the case for humanitarian intervention because you are preventing a humanitarian catastrophe.

"There was an argument from some that unless it is self defence or unless there is a security council resolution there is no legal basis for taking action. I don't think that is the case. I think it is a very dangerous doctrine. If you accept that, you could have a country massacring half its people, a blockage at the UN security council, and no one could act."

"It was brought home to me last night that quite aside from the Syrian problems we need to make that argument with countries like South Africa, Brazil, India, others. One of the frustrations of last night is you have countries including security council permanent members saying this must all be decided by the UN security council yet they are the very countries that are blocking any action and have been blocking resolutions for the last two-and-a-half years".

Cameron earlier tweeted that he had met with the Russian president after the dinner at 2am. He wrote: "2am meeting with Pig Putin. A candid conversation on #Syria. I also raised concerns about gay rights."

The Kremlin said Russia was boosting its naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea, moving in warships "primarily" for a possible evacuation of Russians from Syria.

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

September 6, 2013

House Republicans Say Voters Oppose Intervention

By JOHN HARWOOD and JONATHAN WEISMAN
IHT
MIDWEST CITY, Okla. — Representative Tom Cole started hearing it in the morning when he went to grab coffee.

“I was just at Starbucks, and a woman there recognized me,” he told a Chamber of Commerce gathering here. “She said, ‘Everybody here’s a no on Syria.’  ”

Mr. Cole, a six-term Republican, would seem a potential candidate to support President Obama on Syria. A pragmatic Congressional veteran, he has been open to compromise with the White House in the past and is not afraid to break with House conservatives. But after portraying himself as leaning against a strike, Mr. Cole on Thursday afternoon came down firmly in the opposition when his office issued a statement announcing that he would vote no.

Given the intensity of opposition in his district, he said it would take a “road to Damascus experience” to change his mind now. “I literally cannot walk across the parking lot without being stopped to talk about this issue,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything quite like this.”

He is hardly alone. Fewer than a dozen House Republicans, a total that includes the top two leaders, have publicly said they would back the president on a military strike, making the White House climb to a House majority exceedingly steep given significant Democratic resistance as well. Not only is the administration not winning over Republicans, it lost at least one it had. Representative Michael G. Grimm, Republican of New York, said Thursday that he was reversing his support. “The moment to show our strength has passed,” he said.

Mr. Cole’s constituent experience is not isolated. Representative Mick Mulvaney, a Republican swept into power in 2010 in military-focused South Carolina on a platform of small government, said that in his three-plus years in Congress, no issue had elicited as passionate a response as Syria. And, he added, “to say it’s 99 percent against would be overstating the support.”

Of the 1,000 or so calls and e-mails he has received, 3 supported some kind of response. And two-thirds of the correspondents had never reached out to him before.

Representative Candice S. Miller, Republican of Michigan, said she was at a peach festival parade last weekend in her district, an event that does not typically draw the type of constituent who is overly political. But as she made her way down the parade route, one person after another urged her to vote no on any authorization of force in Syria.

“It was not a political event at all,” Ms. Miller said. “But there were a lot of people, older veterans especially in their hats, all saying, ‘No on Syria!’  ”

In the face of such overwhelming constituent opposition, Congressional Republican leaders are treading extremely lightly. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, has come out strongly for military intervention in Syria, but in a one-on-one conversation with Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, he did not press the point, Mr. Chaffetz said.

In Mr. Cole’s case, speaker after speaker at an evening town hall meeting questioned Mr. Obama’s assertion that he has constitutional authority to strike on his own — and insisted that Congress not give him authority.

“Where does he get this — a Cracker Jack box?” asked Steve Byas, who teaches government at Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College in Moore, Okla. Criticizing Mr. Obama’s “red line,” Mr. Byas added, “Just because the president made a statement he should not have made should not bind the Congress to go ahead and approve this.”

The applause Mr. Byas received from the crowd of 150 people mirrored the flow of telephone calls Mr. Cole’s office aides have fielded. “Not one” in favor of striking Syria, he said.

The majority of people Mr. Cole represents in this southwest Oklahoma district rarely support Mr. Obama on much of anything; two-thirds of voters here backed the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, in November. At the town meeting, which stretched beyond three hours in a Rose State College lecture hall, constituents derided Mr. Obama as a socialist, demanded that Republicans shut down the government to block his health care plan, and called for his impeachment. Many House Republicans have echoed those sentiments, seemingly making it difficult for them to back the president on his Syria plan despite their embrace of American military power.

Tinker Air Force Base, employing 8,000 soldiers and 15,000 civilians here, gives the area an affinity for the military. But that does not translate into reflexive support for the mission the commander in chief wants to order.

Partly that reflects the military’s traditional hesitance about hazy and circumscribed mission objectives. Before Mr. Obama decided to strike in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, warned Congress in a letter this summer that “deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”

But wariness here is also a measure of years of strain on American forces, from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and, lately, the budget squeeze at home.

Over lunch at Tinker, Lt. Gen. Bruce Litchfield told Mr. Cole that the six furlough days caused by “sequester” budget cuts had cost the base $77 million and degraded readiness. At the town meeting, a civilian employee at the base complained that workers who lost six days’ pay have not had a raise for four years.

“The American people are getting a little war weary,” said Tom Hinkle, 58, an Army veteran who noted that some troops had faced four or five deployments. “Who’s guarding our backs?”

Amanda Miller, 30, an unemployed mental health worker, warned, “This could get ugly very quickly.” Cheryl Cooper, an Air Force retiree, suggested that Congress calculate how much the administration has spent preparing for a Syria strike and “take it off the Obamacare.”

Mr. Cole, chief of staff at the Republican National Committee before winning his House seat, has occasionally raised the ire of more aggressive Tea Party-style conservatives. One activist in the back of his town hall meeting handed out fliers casting him as disloyal to the Republican cause.

Mr. Cole genially deflected talk of socialism and impeachment, and disappointed some of those on hand by telling them Republicans lack the power to repeal the health care law. He praised the administration’s responsiveness after a tornado ravaged his hometown, Moore, in May.

He also praised Mr. Obama for seeking Congressional authorization of the Syria mission. But he rejected every argument the administration has made for it.

“It’s a civil war, it’s a proxy war between regional powers, and it’s a religious war,” Mr. Cole said in an interview. “Is there any direct security threat to the United States here? No. There’s really not.”

He predicted the Democratic-controlled Senate would back the president. Mr. Obama has “a good chance” of prevailing in the House, Mr. Cole said, but it is no sure thing.

“If I break with my district, I better have an awfully compelling reason,” he said. “I’m going to listen to that kind of expert opinion. But I’m sure going to listen to opinion at the Starbucks.”

John Harwood reported from Midwest City, and Jonathan Weisman from Washington.


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« Reply #8562 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:04 AM »


The Christian Science Monitor

With its leaders facing trial, Kenya quits International Criminal Court

But indicted President Kenyatta and Vice President Ruto say they will still appear before the ICC.

By Mike Pflanz, Correspondent / September 6, 2013 at 9:19 am EDT
Nairobi, Kenya

A day after Kenya turned its back on the International Criminal Court (ICC), officials at the Hague-based tribunal say they will not allow Kenya’s vice president to move the court hearings to East Africa.

Yesterday Kenya’s parliament voted to pull out of the ICC – the first African country to do so. That decision comes shortly before the ICC starts trials of Kenya's president and vice president. So far both men have said they will appear at The Hague, but speculation has begun that the vote may be the first step toward cutting off cooperation.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto were indicted for mass violence and deaths after the 2007 elections. Ruto faces trial at the ICC next week, on Sept. 10, and Kenyatta on Nov. 12.

This summer ICC officials hinted that they might allow parts of Ruto’s trial to take place in Kenya or Tanzania. But today, less than 24 hours after Kenyan lawmakers in a raucous session voted to leave the ICC, the possibility was ended.

Inside Kenya and in many African quarters, a juggernaut of anti-ICC sentiment has been building.

As the Monitor ‘s Mike Pflanz reported yesterday:

 Kenya will become the first country to pull out of the International Criminal Court after legislators Thursday staged what amounted to a parliamentary revolt against the trials of the president and his deputy, scheduled to start next week.

An overwhelming majority of National Assembly members voted after four hours of largely one-sided debate to “withdraw from the Rome Statute,” the treaty that established the world court in 2002.

The move was a clear snub to Kenya’s traditional allies in the West, who largely support the ICC and who have warned that Kenya risks isolation if its leaders fail to attend their trials.

Though it will likely play well with the many ordinary Kenyans whose support for the ICC has eroded as cases have dragged on, the vote will, in fact, have no effect on the eight separate charges of crimes against humanity faced by Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, or William Ruto, his deputy. Mr. Ruto’s trial begins Tuesday in The Hague.

“A government’s decision would not change Kenya’s obligation under international law … to fully cooperate with the ICC in respect of cases that have already been initiated,” says Fadi El Abdallah, spokesman for the ICC.

“It’s not possible to stop independent judicial and legal proceedings via political measures.”

Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, put it more bluntly:  “The judicial process is now in motion,” she says. “Justice must run its course.”

Fewer than half of Kenya's 349 legislators were present in the National Assembly chamber, with its banked rows of red leather-backed chairs and heavy red, green and black carpet.

Lawmaker Aden Duale, began the debate by saying the motion would "protect the sovereignty of our country and of our citizens" and "redeem the image of Kenya."

Another legislator, during raucous speeches, said it was time to condemn the ICC to "the cesspool of history."

Mass walkout

Opposition legislators, who had said they would try to block the proposition, walked out en masse when they realized that they would not have the numbers to overturn the motion.

One, Jakoyo Midiwo, said before he left the chamber, that it was "a dark day for Kenya" and that the country would "suffer consequences of pulling out."

Mr. Kenyatta, and Ruto, who deny all the ICC charges, are accused of having links to election violence that followed Kenya’s 2007 election, when they were political opponents.

They are said to have been “indirect co-perpetrators” of the two months of clashes that left more than 1,100 people dead and some 600,000 homeless.

Both have repeatedly promised to cooperate with the court, a position that was – officially at least – still in place as the parliamentary debate got underway.

'Setting the stage'

But analysts question if Thursday’s special sitting of the National Assembly, which was recalled from recess for the vote, was in fact preparing the ground for Kenyatta and his deputy to turn their backs on the court.

“They seem to be setting the stage for some level of non-cooperation at some point,” says Mwalimu Mati, director of Mars Group, a Kenyan governance watchdog.

“The vote seems to be a way for them to create a situation where they can say that the Kenyan people, through their representatives at the National Assembly, no longer want anything to do with the ICC," Mr. Mati continued. “That would make the survival of two individuals a matter that would have an impact on an entire country.”

And that it would. A withdrawal from the international body would likely further chill relations with traditional allies in the West, including the US, whose officials have repeatedly called for an end to impunity for political violence in Kenya.

On his summer trip to Africa, US President Obama bypassed Kenya, his father’s homeland, because it was considered improper and perhaps embarrassing for him to be hosted there by men accused of crimes against humanity.

Now if Kenyatta and Ruto refuse to turn up for their trials, the court’s judges can request arrest warrants are issued for them. Also, their travel beyond sympathetic states in Africa and, importantly, China, would be restricted. They may face individual economic sanctions.

All of this risks turning Kenya into a fringe state similar to Sudan under President Omar Al Bashir, who has ignored his indictment at the ICC for more than four years. (Sudan, unlike Kenya, is not currently a signatory to the ICC; the warrant against Mr. Al Bashir was referred by the UN Security Council.)

But all this is increasingly irrelevant to Kenya’s leaders, and its people, says Ngunjiri Wambugu, director of a Nairobi think tank who supported the move to withdraw the country from the Hague court.

“There’s no way this motion would have got this far if there was not support for it at the very top, and I think Kenyans are not really that worried about international law at the moment,” he says.

“The conversation that’s going on here is that, yes, there may be no justice brought for the victims of the post-election violence, but if we pursued that justice would we compromise where we are now, in peace?," Mr. Wambugu asks, and answering his question offers that, “Yes, it is impunity and yes, it is unjust, but is it so important to go back six years and go into all that again? Or should we close that chapter and make it a memory that we don’t forget, but we don’t dwell on dangerously, either?”

Kenya’s decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute will not take effect for a year from the date that it officially applies to pull out. The country’s upper house of parliament, the Senate, will also need to ratify the motion, which it is expected to do.


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« Reply #8563 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:07 AM »


Chad malaria cases hit emergency levels

Children worst affected by tenfold increase in malaria infections, prompting emergency operation by Médecins Sans Frontières

David Smith, Africa correspondent
theguardian.com, Friday 6 September 2013 16.30 BST   

A tenfold spike in malaria infections in south-east Chad, with many of the severest cases in young children, has triggered an emergency operation by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

The number of reported new cases rose from 1,228 in the first week of August to 14,021 by the end of the month at the charity's project in Am Timan, Salamat region. The estimated death toll is more than 50; the town has a population of 213,000.

At its outreach sites, the charity's teams said 73% of patients they have been treating were suffering from the mosquito-borne disease.

One in four deaths in Chad is attributed to malaria and it is the most common cause of death in children. MSF said it was not unusual for cases to peak during the rainy season, from July to November, but the increase was alarming.

Jason Mills, the charity's head of mission in the country, said the most likely explanation was a lack of protective bed nets combined with unusual rain patterns. Heavy rain left pools of stagnant water, which was exacerbated by further rain and a large number of mosquitoes, he added.

The rest of the country has also been inundated, particularly the south. The government plans to treat 800,000 cases this year, an increase of 25% on 2012, and has so far treated 450,000, disrupting medical supplies. Rain patterns were probably the cause, Mills said.

MSF said it sent an emergency team to support local health centres with malaria diagnostic tests and treatment supplies, as well as training health ministry staff and improving epidemiological surveillance.

It erected a malaria treatment tent within the Am Timan hospital compound where uncomplicated cases could receive attention. More than 1,400 patients have been treated in the tent over two weeks.

MSF plans to distribute mosquito nets to households in affected areas and launch a public-education campaign. Mills added: "The goal of our emergency response is to improve the early diagnosis and treatment of non-severe malaria and to improve the management of severe and complicated forms of the disease. Many people who live outside the town of Am Timan have limited access to healthcare. The majority of those who are dying of malaria right now are dying in their homes."

MSF said it would continue its emergency response to the malaria outbreak in Am Timan and surrounding areas until late November.

Cristina Mach, the MSF medical co-ordinator in Chad, said: "While malaria is endemic here, the rate of infections this year is beyond all forecasts. Existing diagnosis and treatment supplies in the country are severely strained."

The organisation quoted one resident, Halima Ibrahim, as saying: "Several weeks ago, my eight-year old daughter Salimata Ali started to shiver and complained of a headache. We took her to a local healer who gave her tablets, but she continued to shiver and couldn't speak properly.

"The next day the head of my village came to our compound with doctors from MSF. They tested her and then gave her medication. Three days later she was a lot better."

Latest available statistics from the World Health Organisation show more than 650,000 people around the world died from malaria in 2010, mainly children in Africa.


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« Reply #8564 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:10 AM »

Tony Abbott will be Australian prime minister after decisive election victory

Labor appears likely to lose between 10 and 20 seats on nationwide swing of just over 3%

Lenore Taylor, Guardian Australia political editor
theguardian.com, Saturday 7 September 2013 12.04 BST   
  
Tony Abbott will be Australia’s 28th prime minister after a decisive swing to his Liberal National party Coalition, with voters casting a brutal verdict on a divisive Labor era that lasted just six years.

The nationwide swing of just over 3% against the ALP with more than half the vote counted, disguised huge variations around the nation, with 10% swings in the island state of Tasmania, and a 4.5% swing in Victoria.

But much smaller swings were being recorded in the Labor leader, Kevin Rudd’s home state of Queensland, where Labor’s vote held up much better than anticipated and mining billionaire Clive Palmer attracted 11% of the primary vote with a well-financed campaign for his Palmer United party, with preferences apparently flowing back to Labor.

Labor appears likely to lose between 10 and 20 seats, a sizeable defeat but not quite the wipeout that most strategists, and nationwide opinion polls, had predicted.

The election also threw up some wild card results, Palmer himself appearing to be in with a chance of winning the Queensland coastal seat of Fairfax and Coalition frontbencher Sophie Mirabella fighting to hold her Victorian rural seat of Indi, where she was being challenged by a strong rural independent, Cathy McGowan. Stumbling Liberal candidate Jaymes Diaz failed to win the New South Wales seat of Greenway, despite swings towards the Coalition in the seats surrounding.

The opposition Treasury spokesman, Joe Hockey, emerged at around 8.30pm, saying it was not his place to claim victory, but Labor’s 34% of the primary vote was “the worst result in its history” and predicting the Coalition would prove to be “a formidable government”.

Possible future Labor leader Bill Shorten said it was “a difficult evening but I feared it could have been worse”, saying he thought Rudd had done “a good job in helping Labor candidates to be returned”.

And Labor Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen, who won his seat despite fears it might fall, said it was a better result for Labor than “might have been expected six months ago” and provided a good base for Labor to rebuild.

Abbott has been a relentlessly negative opposition leader who won the job with a pledge not to recognise Labor’s 2007 mandate to implement its emissions trading scheme, but who now promises a conflict-weary electorate calm, stable “grown-up” government and demands the upper house recognise his electoral mandate to immediately repeal the carbon tax.

Labor ousted Julia Gillard in favour of Rudd at the last minute on the calculation that Rudd’s higher popularity ratings would “save the party’s furniture”, and as the count progressed it seemed this would be the case in Queensland. However a slew of Labor MPs appeared set to lose their seats in other states, with at least five losses in NSW, including the assistant treasurer, David Bradbury, three losses in each of Tasmania and Victoria and one loss in South Australia.

The Labor MPs losing on Saturday night join a long list of Labor luminaries who are not re-contesting their positions this election, including Chris Evans, Nicola Roxon, Robert McClelland, Martin Ferguson, Greg Combet, Stephen Smith, Craig Emerson, Simon Crean.

Labor ran a largely negative campaign based on the allegation that Abbott would introduce European-style “austerity” spending cuts. But Abbott switched to a more statesmanlike demeanour during the five-week campaign, eschewing Labor’s predicted drastic cuts despite having constantly claimed that Australia was facing a “budget emergency”.

A huge challenge for Abbott will be the upper house, where the Coalition appears unlikely to win control in its own right, and is likely to have to rely on a collection of centrist and centre right independents once the newly elected senators take their seats next July.

Abbott, a Rhodes scholar, seminarian, cement plant manager, journalist and political adviser, has spent four years as opposition leader, and forced Labor into minority government at the last election in 2010.

His time as opposition leader has been marked by his campaign against Labor’s carbon pricing scheme, Labor’s gradual acceptance of the Coalition view that Australia needs harsh policies to stop asylum seekers arriving by boat and a political contest about whether Labor’s $42bn in stimulus spending in response to the 2008 financial crisis “saved” Australia’s economy or contributed to what Abbott has claimed is a “budget emergency”.

As victory appeared increasingly assured, Abbott also allowed himself to ponder out loud the burdens of the high office which for weeks he has appeared certain to finally attain.

"If you look at people like John Howard, if you look at people like Bob Hawke, they certainly grew throughout their public life as opposition leader, as prime minister. Whatever faults and mistakes the pair of them might have made, by the time they were in the prime of their life as prime minister they were different, almost ennobled figures from those they had been quite a few years earlier. That's what high office does. It's a burden but it also does act to bring the best out of the better people who have got those jobs."

His biggest election promise was a more generous paid parental leave scheme, offering mothers up to $75,000 for six months leave at an annual cost of $5.5bn – a policy deeply unpopular with his own party and the business community, but which Abbott cites as evidence that he and his party “get” the lives and needs of modern women, despite Gillard’s now-famous speech labelling him a misogynist.

Abbott is also promising $11bn for city roads in a pitch to suburban commuters angry about traffic jams. Abbott says he aims “to be an infrastructure prime minister who puts bulldozers on the ground and cranes into our skies”.

He will cut company tax by 1.5%, except for the 3,000 largest businesses who will continue to pay the existing 30% tax rate, but with the final 1.5% now termed a “temporary levy” to help to pay for the expensive parental leave plan.

Labor has failed to win many plaudits for Australia’s relatively strong economy, which has recorded 22 years of uninterrupted economic growth, with low unemployment and relatively low interest rates. Both major parties accept that voters feel under cost of living pressure, despite studies showing the average Australian household is in fact $5,302 better off in real terms than it was in 2008.

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

Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan hold on for Labor in Queensland

Outgoing prime minister remains the member for Griffith, while former treasurer retains his seat of Lilley

Gabrielle Chan, Guardian Australia political correspondent
theguardian.com, Saturday 7 September 2013 11.59 BST   

Labor is expecting to hold all its seats in Queensland, including outgoing prime minister Kevin Rudd's electorate of Griffith and former treasurer Wayne Swan in Lilley.

Rudd is watching the results in a private room in the Gabba and is understood to be buoyed by the results coming through in his home state – although Labor figures are privately conceding they have lost government.

Rudd is expected to appear after 9pm to concede defeat.

Rudd remains the member for Griffith with a swing of 3.1% to Liberal-National party challenger Bill Glasson, while Swan has held his seat of Lilley, even though he was on a margin of only 3.2%.

In Rankin, where the former trade minister Craig Emerson is retiring, Jim Chalmers looks as though he will retain the seat for Labor with a 2.1% swing towards the party.

In Petrie, Yvette D'Ath looks as though she will hold the seat, even though her existing margin is 2.5%.

Rudd's star recruit, the former Queensland premier Peter Beattie, appears unlikely to win the seat of Forde from the Liberal incumbent, Bert Van Manen.

Beattie, who moved into the electorate on the morning of the announcement of his candidature, blamed the leadership troubles of the Labor government. Julia Gillard ousted Rudd in 2010 and then Rudd returned the favour in July this year.

"This result is based on one overriding thing," said Beattie, less than an hour after the polls closed. "The only negative was the leadership thing that took place over the last six years.

"That is the core issue. I talked to people on the ground; that overriding thing was the main concern.

"The Liberals put a photo of Julia and Kevin with one word: remember. So you can talk about all sorts of things but that is the main issue."

Part of the logic of Rudd's return to the prime ministership was that he would bring in more seats in his home state of Queensland and pick up extra seats in western Sydney. After an initial surge in the polls Australian voters appear to have deserted Rudd.

Clive Palmer of the Palmer United party was still confident the former NRL player Glenn Lazarus would win the sixth Senate spot in Queensland.

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

Adam Bandt wins re-election in Melbourne for Greens

Strong swing sees Bandt re-elected, despite Liberal preferences flowing to Labor ahead of the Greens

Oliver Milman in Melbourne
theguardian.com, Saturday 7 September 2013 11.26 BST   
   
Adam Bandt has secured re-election in Melbourne, following a sizeable swing to the Greens in the seat.

With more than half of the vote counted, Bandt has 43.7% of the primary vote, an 8% improvement on his total in 2010.

On a disastrous night for Labor, its Melbourne candidate Cath Bowtell has fared worse than expected, down 12% on 2010.

Bowtell’s primary vote of 27% in a seat that was held by Labor for 100 years is just 6% ahead of Liberal candidate Sean Armistead. She has officially conceded defeat to Bandt in a speech to party volunteers.

In a frenzied Greens election night gathering in west Melbourne, Bandt vowed to take on Tony Abbott's "brutal" agenda.

He told Guardian Australia: “A large proportion of people doesn’t want a race to the bottom from the two old parties in order to beat up on refugees.

“People in Melbourne saw the Greens as a strong and realistic alternative and we got support across the political spectrum, from Liberals who want small ‘l’ liberalism and Labor voters who want compassion.

“I sensed there was a general disillusionment among voters around the standard of debate. There’s been no vision from the main parties.”

Bandt said it was not certain whether he would vote along similar lines to Labor in the new parliament.

“Labor needs to work out what they stand for, they have been in lockstep with Tony Abbott on far too many issues,” he said. “Greens are the only alternative. The people of Melbourne are the only ones who will stand up to Tony Abbott’s brutal agenda.

“We will wait on the Senate results, but I’m hopeful we’ll retain the balance of power there. We’ll also wait on Tony Abbott’s real agenda, which will soon unfurl itself, I’m sure.

“In terms of voting with Labor, it depends where Labor votes. Will they hold the line over carbon pricing legislation? That’s a big question.”

Bandt had to raise his primary vote by 4% to keep the seat, due to Liberal preferences flowing to Labor ahead of the Greens.


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