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« Reply #8565 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:17 AM »

Kim Dot Com resigns from Mega to pursue plans for his New Zealand political party

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 5, 2013 8:52 EDT

Internet mogul Kim Dotcom said on Thursday he was resigning from his new venture Mega to focus on fighting extradition to the United States and his plans for a New Zealand political party.

Dotcom launched mega.co.nz in January, a year after his wildly successful Megaupload empire was shut down as part of a US-led investigation into online piracy.

The 39-year-old, who was arrested when armed New Zealand police involved in the US probe raided his Auckland mansion, confirmed that he had resigned as a director of Mega at an August 29 board meeting.

“Mega is in excellent hands,” he tweeted. “I resigned as managing director to focus on my copyright case and a new political party.”

Dotcom, who is free on bail in New Zealand pending an extradition hearing expected to take place in April next year, said he was still working on development of a web-based music service called Megabox.

The extradition case has dragged on in the courts and is subject to numerous appeals, with Dotcom estimating earlier this year that his legal bills could exceed US$50 million.

He announced plans this week to launch a political party to contest next year’s New Zealand election, which will attempt to prevent conservative Prime Minister John Key winning a third term.

Dotcom has been a fierce critic of Key, whom he accuses of bowing to Hollywood pressure by pursuing the piracy case against him.

The party is set to be launched on January 20 next year, the second anniversary of the raid on Dotcom’s home. He cannot stand for parliament directly because he remains a German national, but intends to serve as the party’s president.


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« Reply #8566 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:20 AM »


Maldives gears up to choose new president

Observers hope the result of Saturday's election will bring stability to the troubled Islamic nation of 450,000 people

Nicholas Milton in Male and Jason Burke   
theguardian.com, Friday 6 September 2013 19.11 BST   

The dark rainclouds blow in from the Indian ocean, the streets are decked with candidates' colours, and the cafes are noisy with political debate: it's election time in the Maldives.

On Saturday nearly half the 450,000 inhabitants of this remote archipelago – better known for luxury tourism than political debate – are expected to vote to choose their next president.

The result, many observers hope, may bring a new stability to the increasingly troubled nation and could even chart a way for larger nations across the Islamic world undergoing rapid and traumatic change.

"I've always said what happens in Maldives first, happens in the Middle East later," Mohamed Nasheed, the former president, told reporters in the capital, Male, this week.

Regional powers are watching closely. India has deep commercial and diplomatic links with the Maldives. Sri Lanka has cultural and other ties. China too is keenly interested in developments in the strategically situated island nation.

Nasheed, 46, is the candidate of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the only figure who is known internationally. The veteran human rights activist and climate change campaigner is fighting to regain the presidency. Though he won the polls that ended the three-decade autocratic rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008, early optimism swiftly evaporated.

In February 2012, after a series of escalating clashes over issues such as the independence of the judiciary and alleged "anti-Islamic" policies in the Sunni Muslim nation, Nasheed was forced to resign.

Supporters claim he was a victim of a coup d'etat and say that there is now an opportunity to allow the MDP to complete its ambitious welfare programme.

Mohamed Rafeeu, 50, an electrical engineer at Male airport, said he wanted Nasheed to "serve a full [five-year] term".

"In his three years [in power] he built over a thousand houses, brought in a pension, built schools and provided transport between the islands. He wanted to build 10,000 houses but the coup stopped that. The people should give Nasheed the chance to serve a full term."

Nasheed says he will win the two-round election outright this weekend. He will need more than half the votes to avoid a runoff in three weeks, which could see him facing the consolidated support of all his rival candidates.

"There is no power stronger than the power of the people," he told reporters.

But observers suggest the results of Saturday's poll may be close and that a second round is probable. Though Nasheed and the well-organised MDP dominate urban, youthful constituencies, rivals have strong support among older people, much of the business community, religious groups and in the outlying islands which have seen less development in recent years.

Candidates include the outgoing president Mohammed Waheed and Gasim Ibrahim, a hugely wealthy tycoon.

Some Maldivians appear nostalgic for the stability of the long decades of Gayoom's rule, particularly elements of the security forces. The island's police chief used Twitter six days ago to thank the former president for founding the country's police service. His statement prompted accusations of bias from the MDP.

Ahmed Mumthaz, a 31 year old fisherman, said he would vote for Abdullah Yameen, the half brother of the former ruler whose campaign is seen as the biggest threat to Nasheed returning to power.

Visiting Male from his home island Velassaru, in the far south of the archipelago, Mumthaz, speaking in Male's bustling fish market, said Yameen was "the only one who would provide a real change of government".

"Fishing is in a bad way. Stocks are decling and prices are falling. Nasheed would take us backwards, Waheed did nothing when he was President. And Qasim is all about big money," he said.

The coming of democratic politics to the Maldives, a sultanate for many centuries, then a British protectorate from 1887 until full independence in 1965, has raised difficult social, religious and political questions.

The near 1 million foreign tourists who visit each year rarely leave their resorts, where consumption of alcohol is tolerated. They see little of the 900-year-old Muslim culture of the islands. Through his long rule Gayoom, encouraged "moderate" strands of Islam which bolstered his authority, though more conservative and more politicised strands of Muslim practice and thought made inroads.

Recent years have seen increased attendance at mosques, more men growing beards as a sign of devotion, and more women forgoing traditional colourful dress and donning headscarves. Such trends mirror those elsewhere in the Islamic world and have intensified since Gayoom left power.

There has also been rapid economic development and wide-reaching social change. Though portrayed in tourist literature as an island paradise, the Maldives suffers high levels of unemployment, severe environmental problems, overcrowding, drug abuse as well as a new gang culture and rising crime.

Though the MDP has tried to keep the debate centred on reviving economic growth – which slowed to 3.4% in 2012 from 7.0% in 2011 as tourism slumped, according to the Asian Development Bank – questions of identity and faith have been pushed to the forefront.

Nasheed has tried to foster interfaith dialogue and has spoken about the need for a new moderate Islamic culture. His opponents have accused him of being anti-Islamic and played up their own religious credentials.

Traditional practices and views also remain strong, particularly on outlying islands. Earlier this week a coconut was seized by police in the south of the archipelago following suspicions that it was part of a bid to use black magic to influence the poll results.

The rights of women have also become an major topic of debate.

Dunya Maumoon, daughter of Gayoom, and head of the women's wing of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), said she was proud of new laws against domestic violence introduced under the outgoing president.

"It was a landmark piece of legislation as it's the first time women's right to justice has been recognised in Maldives. In our manifesto, we have policies which will benefit women such as ... more awareness of victims ... and a more equitable settlement after divorce," Maumoon told the Guardian.

There are fears that, with politics so polarised, even a clear result that is universally accepted as credible may not bring calm. Parliamentary elections are due to be held next year and could prompt new instability.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, last week called on "all Maldivians to work together in a constructive manner toward national harmony and democratic consolidation."

Fanan Habeeb, a 22-year-old office worker in Male, said her priority was "peace for this country". "There has been too much violence on the streets," she said.


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« Reply #8567 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:23 AM »

September 6, 2013

Homesick Militants Are Offered a Way Back to Kashmir

By GARDINER HARRIS
IHT

LOLAB VALLEY, Kashmir — Many of them left as teenagers, impulsive boys fired by indignation who sneaked across the border to Pakistan-controlled territory without telling their mothers.

But even militants get homesick.

“My first contact with my mother was three years after I’d left, and my parents had no idea what had happened to me,” said Abdul Hamid Rather, who left India-controlled Kashmir in 2001 when he was 14. “She was weeping, and I was weeping.”

More than 350 former militants have returned here to India-controlled Kashmir recently in a quiet new effort to deal with the growing problem of rehabilitating some of the thousands who left home in recent decades to fight for Pakistan in its long-running separatist feud with India over the disputed territory.

“It turns out that it’s not as dangerous as it might seem,” said Shuja Nawaz, the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, a research group in Washington. “It’s probably better to have them under scrutiny in India than out of reach in Pakistan.”

In addition to the prospect of seeing aging parents, Kashmiris, in their bowl-shaped valley and its breathtaking vistas, find an unusually powerful incentive for putting down arms.

Under the new program, once a former fighter has decided he wants to return, his family files an application with the Indian authorities. If there are no accusations that he attacked India or killed anyone, the application is usually approved. After that the former jihadi is required to meet with the police regularly for at least a year.

There have been hiccups in the program, in part because Pakistan has chosen not to participate. Returnees must fly to Nepal and cross into India by bus or car. And like all peace efforts between India and Pakistan, it has been overwhelmed this summer by some of the deadliest fighting in a decade between the nuclear-armed rivals. Dozens have died, and life near the Line of Control that separates the Indian and Pakistani claims has once again become dangerous and uncertain.

But even as fighting continues, former militants continue to trickle back into India-controlled territory, where returnees say they have found life both better and worse than they expected.

Ghulam Mohammad Mir, 27, was 14 and just finishing the ninth grade in 2000 when a recruiter he had once played cricket with asked if he wanted to cross the line. The border was fairly porous at the time, and the recruiter told Mr. Mir and four of his classmates that they could return after just a few days, Mr. Mir said.

It was the first of what Mr. Mir and his friends would soon discover were many lies. “We were trapped there,” he said.

They were sent to camps, where for eight months they received intensive religious indoctrination. Then for another eight months they trained in weaponry, including machine guns. At the end of his training, Mr. Mir made clear that he had no stomach for war, he said. So he left the camps and began driving an auto-rickshaw. In 2007, he married a Pakistani woman and soon had three children.

He spent all of his savings to return to India-controlled territory last year, and has since started a small tea shop. Of the four boys who ran away with him, he said, two were killed, one returned and one remains in Pakistan-controlled territory.

Mr. Mir said that his first year back was challenging. Neighbors were suspicious. His paperwork was not in order. But he is convinced that his children will have a better life in India than they would have had in Pakistan, with its myriad economic, social and political problems.

“My life is better here,” he said. “I am living with my mother, and that is a pleasure.”

Khazir Mohammad Sheikh, 32, is less cheery. He left the Lolab Valley in 1997 when he was 16. He had been working in a bakery after leaving school at 13, but fighting led to the bakery’s closing and his own decision to leave for Pakistan.

He is vague about how he spent his first years in Pakistan-controlled territory, but he married in 2002 and soon had three children. After his wife died a year ago, he decided to return.

Now, he said, he is stuck in a no man’s land. The Indian government has yet to give him the identity papers he needs to land a job, and he lacks the money needed to start a bakery. He believes the Indian government owes him a job or a grant so that he can get his life restarted.

“O.K., we made a little mistake and crossed over to the Pakistan side,” he said. “Now we’re back, and all I’m asking for is a little help. I want a job.”

Mr. Sheikh spoke while sitting in a plastic chair with his 2-year-old son on his lap. Two of his four brothers and a dozen nieces and nephews stood around as he spoke. None had left for Pakistan. The prodigal son, Mr. Sheikh was asking for benefits his own brothers have not gotten.

One of those brothers, Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, works as a day laborer and eyed his brother skeptically.

“We’re happy that my brother is back,” he said. “If the government can help him, all well and good. If it cannot, he will find his own way.”

Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, acknowledged “teething problems” in the returnee program. Getting the men and their families appropriate paperwork and educational placements has been difficult, he said. “Their citizenship is a gray area we have to sort out,” he said.

That so many of the returned men expected to be given cash and government jobs has been a surprise, Mr. Abdullah said. One problem he did anticipate was interference from Indian security agencies, and they have acted as expected, Mr. Abdullah said.

The case of Liaqat Ali Shah, who returned in March, is often cited. Mr. Shah was approved to come, but a relative who was supposed to meet him, his wife and daughter at the border with identity cards failed to appear.

He was then arrested, hustled to New Delhi and accused of planning terrorist attacks on India. The Delhi police even unveiled a cache of weapons and explosives they claimed that Mr. Shah had stashed in a guesthouse near a famous Delhi mosque.

But the Kashmiri authorities vouched for Mr. Shah, and the case against him fell apart. Investigators have since determined that the weapons stashed in the guesthouse were left by a man living at a Delhi police barracks. Mr. Abdullah called the case an obvious frame-up.

In his return, Mr. Shah has done more to embarrass Indian authorities than he ever could have done in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Sitting on a carpet in a rustic Kashmiri house a 20-minute hike from the nearest road, Mr. Shah related the story of his arrest and imprisonment with great delight.

“I am planning to hold a press conference!” Mr. Shah said as his father-in-law, a wizened old man wearing something akin to a magician’s hat, sat cross-legged and nodded.

Like many returnees, Mr. Shah said he expected the Indian government to give him money, nearly $10,000, he said. “I read it in the papers that they were promising us that kind of money,” he said.

It is an expectation that bewilders Mr. Abdullah, but he said the program was working for most people and would certainly remain in place.

“You’re not a terrorist for life,” he said. “It’s very possible that you will change your mind.”

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.


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« Reply #8568 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:25 AM »


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
September 6, 2013, 9:46 am

The Way Out for the Indian Economy

By BIBEK DEBROY

The Indian economy is in bad shape. Most discussions about the economy’s woes focus on the external sector: a high current account deficit/gross domestic product ratios, dwindling foreign investment inflows, rupee depreciation and debt repayment that will be due near the end of the fiscal year.

Most of the knee-jerk government reactions also are related to the external sector, like the little bits of movement to further open foreign direct investment and increases in import duties. The actions are all understandable because a crisis will always be in the external sector through the balance of payments, which includes trade and foreign investments.

However, the external sector is a manifestation of what’s going wrong domestically. Until recently, the government confidently spoke of 6.7 percent real growth in the 2013-14 fiscal year, but outside the government, no one expects G.D.P. growth to be significantly higher than 4.5 percent. A young India expects 8 to 9 percent growth, which is also required for the sufficient creation of jobs. Meanwhile, retail inflation is chugging along at around 9.5 percent annually.

Given the political uncertainty, it is unrealistic to expect any significant reforms from the incumbent government. My proposal for fixing the economy is more for the incoming government, regardless of its political composition. Many policies foisted by the current central government, which lead to inefficient public expenditure, fail to create assets and fail to target subsidies, and distort markets, will be impossible to reverse – food security, land acquisition, “mandatory” corporate social responsibility programs. An incoming government will have to work around those constraints.

Nevertheless, there are options. First, let’s look at taxes. The goods and services tax, whose implementation has been postponed indefinitely because not enough effort was made to persuade state governments was expected to give G.D.P. a one-shot increase of 1.5 to 2 percent. The tax should be resurrected to apply uniformly to all states in place of all other taxes, including stamp duties. In the same vein, the Direct Taxes Code needs to be simplified by eliminating exemptions for both direct and indirect taxes. Altogether, these tax exemptions amount to 5.5 percent of G.D.P. The procedural costs of tax compliance will not decline if the exemptions are allowed to continue, nor will the tax base be broadened. Since it’s almost a given that public expenditure will increase, all exemptions should be whittled down.

Next, the government should look at selling off its stakes in banking, insurance and aviation sectors. Even if privatization is a dirty word, there is no reason there shouldn’t be an aggressive sale of government assets, open to foreign investors, notwithstanding arguments that market conditions aren’t quite right.

By decentralizing and devolving, public expenditure can be made more efficient by reducing administrative costs. For example, many ministries and departments in Delhi need no longer exist. When such cuts are added to tax reforms and divestment, the fiscal deficit will take care of itself. The deficit should also be regarded as a symptom, not the disease.

One of the most common complaints about doing business in India is the lack of proper infrastructure. Land acquisition, forest and environmental clearances have mucked up the entire infrastructure sector, roads and power included. But the government can set clear deadlines for these. It can make forest and environmental clearances parallel, rather than sequential, as they are now. It can also ensure that clearances, once granted, will not be opened up retrospectively.

Complaints have also been made about onerous regulations in India, but there is a place for regulation, as long as the powers of regulators are unified. They need to be made independent and their recommendations need to be made mandatory. While this is important for physical infrastructure, it is also important for social sectors like education and health, where there is a pending liberalization agenda.

The bane of the last four years has been that the private sector has been made to feel unwelcome and has been subjected to other bits of government intervention, too numerous to mention. The investment-G.D.P. ratio has declined by around 4 percentage points compared to high-growth years between 2003 and 2007, but that too is a symptom, not the disease. The private sector needs to be accepted as creators of wealth, from the biggest conglomerates to the smallest firms, and the petty government interventions need to be removed. During the high-growth years, it wasn’t just the private corporate sector that drove investments and growth. It was also the micro, small and medium entrepreneurs, and in the last four years, they too have been shackled by the government.

The government’s collapse in India has been bureaucratic and executive. It isn’t just about coalitions and legislative collapse. There has been executive collapse because the Cabinet doesn’t collectively function and has been taken over by Group of ministers and Empowered Group of Ministers. There has been executive collapse because bureaucrats, who are naturally risk averse, are no longer insulated from bona fide [not mala fide] consequences of their decisions. The so-called steel frame of the bureaucracy has become rusted.

Had one had complete freedom to chalk out a center-right agenda, it would be a long wish list, including reversal of several decisions taken after 2004. But that’s a pointless exercise. We are stuck with those center-left policies. However, there are different definitions of reform, and within the constraints set by those inherited center-left policies, there is plenty one can do to push the reform agenda.

In fact, two bills that were approved by Parliament this week could act as the catalyst for much-needed changes. The land acquisition legislation, which is designed to prevent government seizures of agricultural land, could be used as a trigger to push for a restoration of the right to property, which was excised from the Constitution in 1978, and establish a satisfactory database of land titles, among other changes.

The second piece of legislation, the food security bill, which guarantees a legal right to food for 70 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, could help lead to the decentralized identification of households below the poverty line by village councils.

That will enable targeting of subsidies, which is important because the government should end the practice of the deciding the prices at which retail petroleum products can be sold. It discourages investments, because prices are too low, and also leads to across the board subsidisation, not just for poor. Decentralized identification of households below the poverty line will mesh with the government’s efforts to assign a 12-digit ID to every Indian through the Aadhaar program and provide cash transfers directly to the poor through bank accounts, which would make it more difficult for corrupt government officials to steal their benefits.

India doesn’t deserve 4.5 percent growth and 9.5 percent inflation. It deserves 9.5 percent growth and 4.5 percent inflation, and it is possible. If one takes care of the endogenous (domestic problems), the exogenous (balance of payments) will take care of itself.

Bibek Debroy is a professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

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Six men in India will be behind bars for life over gang-rape of Nepal student

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 6, 2013 13:23 EDT

A court in southern India handed down life sentences Friday to six men for the gang-rape of a law student on a university campus last year.

The six were also ordered to pay a fine totalling 6,000 rupees (around $90) to the 21-year-old victim from Nepal over the injuries and trauma she suffered in the attack last October in Bangalore.

Sessions judge K. Sangannavar told the court the men would be sent to prison “till their natural death”.

The sentence comes days before a verdict is due on four men charged over the fatal gang-rape of a physiotherapy student in New Delhi on a bus last December, a crime that sparked outrage across India.

Weeks of protests over that crime and the wider issue of women’s safety in India led to tougher laws against sex offenders.

On October 13, the law student had been walking with a male companion in a secluded area of the Bangalore campus when a group of eight approached them. The woman was attacked after her companion was beaten up.

The judge, who found the group guilty earlier in the week, said they deserved the maximum sentence as their crime “involved not just the physical torture, but also the mental trauma of the victim that won’t go away for a long time”.

A seventh suspect is being tried in a juvenile court while the eighth is still on the run. The six convicted, who were all residents of a nearby rural area, were arrested within a week of the assault.

The woman abandoned her studies after the assault and returned to Nepal.

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« Reply #8569 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:27 AM »

September 6, 2013

Iran Ruling In Europe Draws Anger From U.S.

By JAMES KANTER
IHT

BRUSSELS — In a setback for the United States’ attempts to isolate Iran, a European Union court threw out sanctions Friday on seven Iranian companies, including four banks, rejecting arguments that they were acting as front companies to bypass the punitive measures.

The General Court in Brussels, the union’s second-highest tribunal, ruled that the bloc wrongly imposed sanctions against the Iranian companies as part of its efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, a decision that immediately drew the ire of American officials.

The United States Treasury took the opposite tack on Friday, imposing restrictions on a network of six individuals and four businesses for links to oil sales.

“We are very disappointed by the court’s decision today,” a Treasury spokesman said in a statement. “The evidence linking these banks to Iran’s illicit nuclear activities is clear and strong, and no financial institution anywhere should allow these Iranian banks to transact with them.”

The Treasury said its actions on Friday represented a renewed crackdown to curb the use of front companies, financial institutions and businesspeople to conceal the direct involvement of the Iranian government and entities like the National Iranian Oil Company and the Naftiran Intertrade Company.

The developments came amid signs of a more moderate tone in Iran’s foreign policy after the election of President Hassan Rouhani in June. That has extended to its nuclear activities, which Tehran says are legal and peaceful but which Western nations and Israel consider a cover for developing the ability to make atomic bombs.

The ruling in Europe involved decisions by the union’s governments to freeze the accounts of companies, including Post Bank of Iran, the Iran Insurance Company, Good Luck Shipping and the Export Development Bank of Iran, from 2008 to 2011.

In a statement, the General Court ruled that the Council of the European Union, an executive body of government ministers from all union countries, did not “properly establish” that the companies “had provided support for nuclear proliferation.”

The sanctions will remain in place for at least two months pending any appeal to the European Court of Justice, the bloc’s highest tribunal.

The Treasury Department’s action, which prohibits Americans from doing business with the named individuals and companies, and freezes their assets, was aimed at a network of entities linked to Seyed Seyyedi, an Iranian businessman and the director of Sima General Trading, a company previously penalized by the Treasury.

The Treasury identified KASB International, Petro Royal FZE and AA Energy FZCO as companies based in the United Arab Emirates, controlled by Mr. Seyyedi and helping the Iranian national oil company to evade sanctions.

The Treasury also identified a number of individuals representing Swiss Management Services, National Iranian Oil Company-International Affairs in London and the Iranian Oil Company U.K. as helping the Iranian government evade oil sanctions.

“Our sanctions on Iran’s oil sales are a critically important component of maintaining pressure on the Iranian government,” David S. Cohen, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury, said in a statement.

The ruling in Brussels was the latest in a string of reversals for European Union governments, which have been reluctant to share evidence that they deem overly sensitive or that might compromise intelligence gathering.

Seeking to address the problem, European governments agreed in October to shift tactics by moving away from blacklisting individual banks and instead imposing across-the-board measures, like requiring authorization of transactions of more than 10,000 euros, or about $13,100, with some exceptions for transfers in areas like humanitarian aid, medical equipment and farming.

European officials are expected to hold initial discussions on whether to appeal on Tuesday, according to a European Union diplomat with direct knowledge of those plans. The diplomat spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks would not be made public.
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« Reply #8570 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:32 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/05/2013 01:30 PM

Turkey's Protest Hero: The Standing Man Says More Must Be Done

By Hasnain Kazim in Istanbul

With his silent demonstration, Erdem Gündüz became the face of the protest movement against the Turkish government. But since then, demonstrators have achieved little. The fight must go on, Gündüz says.

Erdem Gündüz feels somewhat uncomfortable as he stands in front of the Atatürk statue once again, worried that it might be too contrived. But he doesn't need convincing. "I know the power of photos and what you journalists want," he says with a smile.

He sets his backpack down to keep it out of the picture, then poses, turning to the left and right for variety. Gündüz, a short, wiry man, is a dancer and actor. Born in the Turkish capital of Ankara and raised in Izmir, on the Mediterranean coast, he has been back in Istanbul studying dance and performing for a couple of years.

The 34-year-old has no party affiliation, nor does he oppose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government or support the opposition. But, like thousands of others, he has been drawn to demonstrations at Gezi Park, where people are protesting the authoritarian leadership of the country. The state has come to fear people like him.

"Aren't you…?" asks a young waitress in a cafe. "Yes, that's me," he answers before she can remember his name. Gündüz. Sometimes he writes it Gunduz, on Facebook for example, because people abroad struggle with the "Ü." He smiles, and she beams back at him. "Cool!" she says, walking away shyly.

Gündüz has become an icon of the peaceful resistance movement in Turkey. Or rather, he is being made into one. Protest movements need a face, preferably one that is young and memorable. Gündüz, with his long, curly hair, is aware of this. But his newfound fame seems at once uncomfortable and flattering to him. Does he want to be the face of the protest? On Thursday, Gündüz will be accepting a media prize in the German city of Potsdam, just outside of Berlin. But by the time of our meeting, he didn't yet know what he was going to say.

The Standing Man

The Istanbul protests began in late May because one of the city's few green spaces, Gezi Park, was set to be razed for a controversial construction project. Police went after the peaceful demonstrators with tear gas and batons -- a response that sparked a national protest movement that became about far more than just the park.

On June 17, the government issued a ban on demonstrations in Istanbul, a move intended to smother the movement. That's when Gündüz decided he would find his own manner of protest. "I drove to Taksim Square around 6 p.m. and stood there," he says. In a white shirt and dark pants, with his backpack in front of him, he just stood there. And stood, and stood.

At first, hardly anyone noticed him. After 15 minutes, the first people began taking photos. And then word of his silent protest began making the rounds on Twitter. Hundreds of people joined him.

"I'm not the type to talk about politics," he says. "I'm an artist. I prefer to talk about dance." But he also wants to achieve something with his art, and he has managed that with the protest. He is now known as "duran adam," the standing man. He stood there for eight hours, until 2 a.m. when the police arrived. The officers weren't quite sure what to do with him. Was it a protest, or was he crazy? Should they really go after a young man who was simply standing there?

"It was important that I protest alone, as an individual," he says. "When one does this in a group, it is immediately considered a terrorist organization."

After finding nothing in his backpack, they made it clear that he should get lost or expect the use of force. "I took three steps back," Gündüz says. "But this didn't make an impression on them and I ended my campaign. I didn't want any further violence."

Concerned with Physicality

He has since had many imitators, and some claim they chose this form of protest before Gündüz. Many are in awe of him, but he is also hated. "There are photos of me with a bull's-eye on them," he says, but adds that he is not afraid. "We will have to keep going." It won't be enough, even if Erdogan yields, he says. "Then a new government leader will come in and do similar things." Instead, the authoritarian system must be eliminated to make room for more democracy and freedom, he says.

"As a dancer, I am concerned with physicality. What am I supposed to think when a theologian says publicly that pregnant women should no longer show themselves in public because the sight of them is unsavory? When women are encouraged to have at least three, or better yet, five, children? What kind of social concept is that? What kind of understanding of freedom?"

A couple of years ago, Gündüz protested the headscarf ban at Turkish universities. "We tied headscarves on and sat in the lecture halls," he says. But back then, his protest was one likely to have been supported by the Erdogan government. This time around, instead of reaching out to its critics and searching for solutions, Ankara brutally put down the protest movement and marginalized it.

It appears as though Erdogan's ruling conservative-Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) itself is divided over the right approach. This fall it could face a crucial test if fresh protests begin as expected. Politicians are concerned about the university cities, where protests are likely as the semester begins. Security forces are ready "to give the right answers and show those who don't know their limits their proper place," Erdogan said recently.

For Gündüz, there will be no more silent protest. He isn't planning a repeat performance. "One does something like that once, and that's it," he says. Perhaps he'll come up with something new, he says, adding that the fight against authoritarian governance and the lack of freedom are not over.


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« Reply #8571 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:38 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/06/2013 06:44 PM

Failure On All Fronts: No Progress from G-20 Leaders

By Carsten Volkery

The G-20 summit ended worse than expected on Friday -- with acrimony, division and name-calling over Syria. The conference, which was originally conceived as an economic forum, also failed to deliver results on global recovery.

In the end, even a meeting between Barack Obama and Pig Putin failed to deliver results. Participants at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg couldn't manage to find a common position on Syria. The American president demanded that punitive action be taken against Syria, but his Russian counterpart stood between Obama and his allies. Now any decision on a possible military strike against Damascus will be up to the US Congress.

Washington has left no doubt that, from this point on, it will prepare an intervention without a United Nations mandate. Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, said negotiations in the Security Council had failed because of opposition from Moscow. And it is also unclear whether Washington will still wait for a report on the use of poison gas in Syria before taking action. It could still take a few more weeks before that report is delivered.

No Common Position

The failure at the G-20 summit to reach an agreement that would have enabled a Security Council deal was expected. The meeting of the world's 20 most important industrialized and emerging nations was originally conceived as an economic forum. Its limits are quickly reached when it is used to discuss issues of foreign policy. Only a few years ago, fans of the G-20 dreamed the constellation could be developed into a substitute for the large and often unruly UN, but few speak in such broad strokes today.

Skeptics of the G-20, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, noted before the expansion of the G-8 to including 20 members in 2008 that making the group bigger would not necessarily make it any easier to solve problems. From the looks of things now, such concerns were prescient. Yet another summit, this time in St. Petersburg, demonstrated that the differences in interests and political views between the member states are simply too great.

It is largely the Western nations, who view themselves as champions of universal values and norms, that are pushing for an intervention in Syria on humanitarian grounds. When it comes to emerging nations, however, foreign policy tends to be more pragmatic. The best example of that is China, which has warned that a military strike against Syria could jeopardize the global economy.

One can certainly debate whether it makes sense to conduct a military strike. Critics correctly note that a limited bombing attack would do little change the situation in Syria. Besides, the European Union hasn't even been able to agree to a common position. Countries like France and Britain support military efforts, even if the British will not be participating themselves now that the House of Commons rejected a direct role in Syria. And other European countries oppose any attempt by the United States to go it alone. A third group, which includes Germany, doesn't want to commit.

Overshadowed by Syria

Indifference seemed to be the prevailing position among participants at the summit. They condemned the deployment of poison gas in Syria on Aug. 21, saying it violated international conventions, but the majority of G-20 states do not feel they are required to act. At the same time, this apathy among countries also means that the US government likely has no reason to fear mass resistance in the international community if it decides to strike Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

The intended focus of the G-20 meeting had been the global economy, but those discussions were overshadowed by the Syria crisis. The Europeans had sought to push for deeper efforts to combat shadow banks and tax evasion. In principle, the G-20 countries had already agreed that all financial centers around the world would be subjected to supervisory authorities. But things fell apart when it got down to the details. Many emerging countries, but also the United States, don't believe they should have to sacrifice domestic advantages for the sake of greater competition for international capital.

That's why summit participants didn't agree to any concrete measures in the fight against tax tricks used by large corporations. Nor were they able to reach any agreement on tighter regulations for shadow banks, including hedge funds, private equity and money market funds. For now, they have merely agreed to a timeframe: They plan to revisit the issue in November.

Peace Conference Unlikely

All eyes are on Washington with regards to Syria -- the US Congress is set to vote next week on military intervention in the war-torn country. A majority in favor of military action is by no means a certainty, however, neither in the Senate nor in the House of Representatives. The Senate foreign relations committee gave the green light on military authorization on Wednesday, and Obama also has the House leaders of both parties on his side. But the president still has some convincing to do when it comes to senators and members of congress -- in some US constituencies, Syrian intervention is just as unpopular as in Europe.

Should the US Congress approve the move, military action would only be a question of time. Obama has spoken of "limited action" in Syria with the aim of weakening the Assad regime, not overthrowing it. But it remains to be seen what will happen after that. A peace conference -- which would include all parties involved in the civil war, as well as other power players in the region -- is still under consideration. The controversial question of whether Assad and Iran would be asked to attend has yet to be solved, though. The Pig has warned the American president that military action would obliterate all hope of a peace conference in the near future.

Though bringing Syrians to the table will be difficult, bridging the gap between Russia and the US will be equally complicated. Diplomatic relations between the two nations have hit rock bottom at this week's G-20 summit. Not only did Pig Putin openly called Secretary of State John Kerry a liar, Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said that Russia had contributed nothing to a solution in Syria. Verbal disarmament is unlikely -- the discussion will only become more heated.


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« Reply #8572 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:45 AM »


The German election results will burst Britain's Eurosceptic bubble

The UK media can say what they like, but Angela Merkel will not move her country an inch from its place at the heart of the EU

Jochen Hung   
Saturday 7 September 2013 10.00 BST     

In spite of frequent warnings by business leaders, a majority of people in Britain currently want to leave the European Union. Even the reluctant admission by the government of the benefits of Britain's membership has not changed that much.

Now, it seems, even the Germans are coming round to British Euroscepticism. Over the past two weeks, British conservatives have been in a giddy state of excitement after Angela Merkel seemed to back David Cameron's calls for a reform of the EU. Following her cautious thought experiment of "giving back" some powers to national governments, the Daily Mail reported that the German chancellor had apparently "opened a secret back channel" to the government to help with the renegotiation. After this revelation, the Telegraph added triumphantly, Labour's attempt to discredit Cameron's campaign for a new relationship with the EU "now looks even sillier". The Times, meanwhile, interpreted Merkel's comments as proof that a "pan-European agreement" over EU reform is within reach. Over at ConservativeHome, Marc Wallace was more cautious, but still welcomed the news "on the principle that any movement in the right direction is better than nothing".

This is not much more than wishful thinking. As always with the enigmatic chancellor, it's not clear from her comments in which direction she moved or if, indeed, she moved at all. One thing is clear, though: she will not move her country an inch from its place at the heart of the EU. While it is true that Merkel is not such a passionate proponent of the European project as Konrad Adenauer or Helmut Kohl, she is far from a Eurosceptic. She might not see the need, as her predecessors still did, to dress Germany's national interest in the EU's existence in a heart-felt declaration of European brotherhood. But she will not alter Germany's course in the European integration process. Anything else would be political suicide, because in contrast to the British, the German electorate is ardently pro-EU. A recent opinion poll showed that pro-European sentiment among Germans has actually increased over the last few years. Most surprisingly, considering the whole euro crisis, the number of people who want a return to the trusty old deutschmark is at an all-time low. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which commissioned the survey, this trust in the single currency is the main reason why Germany's Ukip equivalent, the EU-critical Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), has performed so badly. At the moment, just over two weeks before the general election, several polls show that only about 3% would vote for the party, not enough to even make the election threshold of 5%.

According to another survey, by the thinktank Open Europe, Germans are getting fed up with propping up their southern neighbours. But when you look more closely at the numbers, the general trust in the EU is still apparent: 60% of respondents are against a return to the deutschmark and 55% even wish for tighter political integration, as long as this does not include direct fiscal transfers.

This difference in the popular sentiment in both countries has a lot to do with the fact that in Germany, EU membership is mostly linked to memories of postwar resurgence and western reintegration, while the country's own national narrative is fraught with disaster and genocide. Britain, on the other hand, has a powerful national culture (driven home with every media report about the royal baby), while the EU raises painful notions of imperial decline. Another reason is the fact that the EU has a bad press in Britain, and I mean that quite literally: a little-known passage from the Leveson report that (ironically) has not been reported on much in the papers criticised the UK media's coverage of the EU as "a further category of story where parts of the press appeared to prioritise the title's agenda over factual accuracy". Examples included a headline from the Daily Telegraph claiming that children were to be banned from blowing up balloons under EU safety rules. That was, of course, downright wrong. As the Leveson report mentioned, "there was to be no ban on balloons, merely the introduction of a requirement for balloons to carry a warning".

As with the balloon story, the recent reports on Merkel's Eurosceptic stance were heavy on the agenda and light on accuracy. Her comments were blown up by the British media to lend some much-needed credibility to the Tory attack on the EU. I expect that as soon as the last ballot is counted in the German elections in September, she will burst these bubbles.

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/06/2013 04:27 PM

Right-Wing Surprise: Anti-Euro Party Surges Before Election

By Annett Meiritz and Severin Weiland

A recent poll shows Germany's anti-euro Alternative for Germany party closing in on a place in parliament. This could cause a huge upset for the established parties -- and dramatically alter the German political landscape

At first glance, the Alternative for Germany's (AfD) campaign ad seems about as threatening as a commercial for the local optician. It features outraged, but pleasant-seeming citizens -- a father and his daughter, a newspaper-reading businesswoman and a cyclist -- looking thoughful while asking questions. "Why is all our money going to Greece, instead of being invested in damaged streets and bridges?", one person asks. "Why are pensioners left with an ever-smaller amount of money in their wallets? Who is paying for the debt that our politicians are accruing?", asks another.

The party is also trying to send a positive message at campaign events. During a demonstration in Hamburg several weeks ago, a young mother was captured on camera by an AfD campaigner. "There aren't any populists taking part here," she says, blinking into the sunlight. Party leader Bernd Lucke, who made an appearance in a casual polo shirt, encouraged people to "demonstrate peacefully".

Just two weeks before the general election, the anti-euro party is hopeful about its prospects. In a survey published earlier this week, the AfD, for the first time ever, came close to achieving the five percent vote-share required to win seats in the German parliament, the Bundestag. Things had quieted on the AfD front recently, until German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble thrust the Greek bailout back on to the agenda in mid-August.

The AfD could stand to profit from these developments in the last leg of the election campaign. Pollsters say the burgeoning party -- which currently has 10,000 members -- shouldn't be written off. According to Klaus-Peter Schöppner, the chief executive officer at polling firm TNS Emnid, an additional two or two-and-a-half percentage points could be derived from protest voters and former supporters of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Left Party. "It could still get exciting," he says.

Fighting Off the Extreme-Right

Should the AfD be able to jump the five percent hurdle, it could upset the current power dynamic in the Bundestag. The CDU's coalition with the business-friendly Free Democrats would no longer be an option -- because opposition seats would then outnumber those held by the CDU and FDP -- nor would a center-left coalition between the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party. Such a scenario would point to the formation of a grand coalition.

Until now, the mainstream parties have been going out of their way to ignore the euroskeptic party. The plan was not to draw attention to the AfD for fear of raising its appeal. In political circles, the party has been viewed with an increasing sense of disquiet -- no one is quite sure how the AfD could affect the climate in the Bundestag.

One thing is clear, though: the political newcomer, which was founded in the spring, has a shady underbelly. One of its slogans, "Immigration according to qualification, not into welfare" is reminiscent of a similar line used by the right-wing extremist NPD ("Immigration into welfare: we say no!") The party is lining the streets with campaign posters stating that "The euro is ruining Europe." Some of its supporters have been posting Islamophobic and racist content on websites incuding Facebook.

Its relationship with the far-right scene is a continuous source of controversy for the AfD, which has been fighting against efforts by the NPD and the defunct German People's Union (DVU) to infiltrate the party. AfD spokesperson Konrad Adam recently declared that right-wing extremists were "not welcome" in the party.

In comments published in SPIEGEL this week, the head of AfD's Hamburg chapter, Jörn Kruse, admitted he had understimated the problem of people from the far-right infiltrating the party. "Unfortunately, you can't deny that in some states right-wing groups are being systematically formed that want to influence the party's content and image."

Former members of the Republicans, the national conservative party founded in the 1980s, are allowed to join the AfD's ranks. Before they are admitted, however, they have to take part in a screening process. "This means that if someone states that they were affiliated with the Republicans in the 1980s, we interview him to see whether they display any xenophobic tendencies," says party leader Lucke.

In left-wing circles, the AfD has become an object of hate. Campaign posters have been torn down, and Lucke was recently attacked by masked, apparently left-wing agitators at a campaign event in Bremen.

Pollsters Uncertain

Unlike the unsophisticated National Democrats, the AfD has intellectuals in its ranks, which adds a degree of credibility. Thanks to Lucke, a professor of economics, Alexander Gauland, a former newspaper publisher, and journalist Konrad Adam, the party is able to find resonance in liberal, middle-class and conservative circles. "Sympathizing with the AfD isn't frowned upon," says Schöppner.

By sticking to its simple, euroskeptic line, the AfD has inhabited a gap in the political market. Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to keep the topic out of the campaign. The Social Democratic Party (SPD), meanwhile, has set itself a trap in the Greek bailout debate: its previous support for financial aid means the center-left party is finding it hard to provide real alternatives.

This is prompting widespread discontent. According to polling company Allensbach, eight percent of Germans are considering giving their vote the the AfD. Looking at all of the data collected by the country's main polling companies, though, an average of only 2.8 percent would actually end up voting for the anti-euro party.

A precise prognosis of the AfD's performance on September 22 is, according to pollsters, harder to make than for any other party. "The AfD does not have a traditional voter base, because it has only existed for a short time. With older parties, it is easier to filter out voter fluctuation. This doesn't work as well with those that have just arrived on the political scene," says Schöppner.

When asked whether the anti-euro party could enter the Bundestag, Schöppner says: "That's impossible for me to say."

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/06/2013 08:30 PM

Poll Plummet: What Happened to Germany's Green Party?

By Charles Hawley

Just two years ago, it looked like Germany's Green Party was going to challenge the Social Democrats for the honor of being the country's second largest party. Now, poll numbers suggest only one in 10 voters will support them. What went wrong?

It was an astounding result. In April of 2011, a political survey found that fully 28 percent of German voters supported the Green Party, well more than the center-left Social Democrats. Immediately, pundits began writing about a new Volkspartei, that uniquely German term which implies a big-tent, yet cosily familiar, political party.

But there was one problem. Elections were still more than two-and-a-half years away. And now, with the vote two-and-a-half weeks away, the picture is not nearly as rosy. A poll released Thursday found that just 10 percent of Germans intend to vote for the Greens on Sept. 22. It is the lowest survey result for the once popular party since way back in 2009.

So what happened? Party leaders such as Jürgen Trittin have tried to shrug away the poll numbers. "I would advise waiting serenely for what happens on Sept. 22," he said on Thursday.

But the newest survey is not an outlier. The Greens have been consistently bleeding support ever since the spring of 2011. Along the way, they have achieved a few notable successes in state elections, but the trend has been a downward one for over two years. It is as if the German electorate has suddenly decided that the party is no longer needed.

Making Strides

Political pundits, of course, won't go quite that far, but they do point to the fact that many core Green issues have become mainstream in recent years. And much of that is thanks to Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU). She has proven expert at borrowing political demands from other parties and then taking the credit for implementing them. When it comes to policy areas near and dear to the Green heart, the list is long: pacifism, the nuclear energy phase-out, gender equality and expanded childcare. On every single one of those issues, Merkel's administration has made strides.

"The Greens are worried," says Ulrich Eith, director of the Baden-Württemberg Institute for Political Education. "It is certainly nice for them that progress has been made on their issues, but it was the CDU that made it happen. All they can now say is, 'but we are the original.'"

Merkel's political opportunism, however, is only one part of the equation. Recent history is equally important. The peak of the Greens' survey powers came just weeks after the massive tsunami struck the east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, leading to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Given that the Green Party emerged from the anti-atomic energy movement in the 1980s, it is hardly surprising that Germans' deep fear of unchecked nuclear radiation manifested itself in a burst of support for the environmental party.

Furthermore, Merkel's government was floundering badly at the time, seemingly more interested in bickering than leading. Many voters, says Eith, were searching for a place to register their protest. Supporting the Greens seemed just the thing.

"The competition was terrible," notes Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at the Free University in Berlin. "The SPD was terrible and the Left Party, my God! That helped the Greens."

First Time Ever

The party was able to capitalize on its popularity too. On March 27, the Greens scored 24.2 percent in a state vote in Baden-Württemberg, beating out even the Social Democrats. That state now has a Green governor, Germany's first ever.

But did they draw the wrong conclusions? Even as Merkel's government spent the last two years systematically implementing some of the Greens' central demands -- beginning, most spectacularly, with the decision taken in early June of 2011 to phase out nuclear energy by the beginning of next decade -- the Greens seemed to begin preparing for a future as Germany's third large political party. Certainly in the run-up to this year's election, the Green Party tried its hand at policy proposals far outside of its normal sweet spot.

Its success has been modest. One of the party's central proposals in the current campaign, for example, has been that of raising taxes on high earners and introducing a 1.5 percent tax on assets of over €1 million as a way of increasing social justice. To be sure, many of the party's core voters support such a proposal, despite being in the upper tax brackets themselves. But it seems poorly designed should the Greens be interested in getting their new supporters to actually cast a ballot for the party on Sept. 22. Other proposals have likewise fared poorly.

"I think the Greens share some guilt (for their lower poll numbers)," says Neugebauer. "Their efforts to gain competence in other fields have distracted attention from their own key issues. It has diluted them significantly."

In addition, the Greens lack a campaigner of the caliber of Joschka Fischer, the party's widely respected éminence grise who served as Germany's foreign minister in the government of Gerhard Schröder from 1998 to 2005. The current top pairing of Trittin and Katrin Göring-Eckardt has failed to generate much excitement, both of them having been part of the party leadership for years. Trittin, for his part, has managed to do little more than deliver the perfect symbolic photo for the party's recent troubles by capsizing in a canoe during a July campaign event.

'A Large Consensus'

Most of all, though, it could be that the Greens' return to earth is simply a function of the election cycle. It is often the case that governing parties lose support during the term, only for voters to return as the next election nears. For opposition parties, the opposite is true.

And in this election season, notes Eith, controversy is largely absent. "The differences between the parties are not fundamental at the moment," he says. Nobody wants to send soldiers abroad. Nobody wants to go to Syria. Nobody wants to make significant changes to our economy. No party, except for the Alternative for Germany, wants to get rid of the euro. There is a large consensus."

Such an atmosphere, he adds, provides voters with little incentive to change parties from the last time around.

Neugebauer agrees. "The anger is gone," he says. "At a time when people look around and see things going well, they tend to go back to the big parties."


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« Reply #8573 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:52 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/05/2013 06:01 PM

Detroit, Germany: Study Warns of Ongoing Depopulation Trend

By David Böcking

Rents in many large German cities are too high, but in some towns vacancies are rampant. A new study warns that if these developments continue, many cities could end up looking like Detroit.

Long lines, desperate renters: Those who have tried to find an apartment in Munich or Hamburg are familiar with the challenge. It is almost impossible to find a place to live in those cities.

Indeed, the shortage of affordable apartments in many German cities has become an issue this campaign season, with the center-left Social Democrats even putting their demand for affordable rents on some of their campaign posters. But a trip through parts of eastern Germany, such as the states of Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt, shows an entirely different world of abandoned and dilapidated buildings, boarded up storefronts and empty streets.

The German housing market is drifting in two opposing directions, as is evident in a new study released Thursday by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research. The study finds that demand for housing in major cities and their surrounding areas will continue to rise, while the shrinking of smaller cities and towns will become a "mass phenomenon," according to study author Michael Voigtländer.

The researchers calculated the housing needs per person in all cities, towns and rural districts in Germany using two different scenarios. One assumed that living space per person would rise while the second presumed it would remain constant. In the past, per-capita living space has risen along with standard of living and because more people chose to live on their own.

Shrinking in the West

But regardless of which scenario turns out to be correct, the study found that peak demand will have been reached by 2050. Even before that, certain regions -- particularly in the eastern German states of Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt -- will experience a shrinking housing market. In the town Suhl in Thuringia, for example, demand for housing could drop by 23 percent by 2030, making every fifth apartment superfluous.

But towns in western Germany are also shrinking. In the small cities of Salzgitter, in Lower Saxony, and Remscheid, in North Rhine-Westphalia, demand could shrink by 17 and 14 percent respectively.

Several large cities, meanwhile, will see an increase in housing demand, such as Munich (about 13.5 percent), Hamburg (7.1 percent), Frankfurt (6.8 percent) and Berlin (6.4 percent). The highest expected growth in demand is not for a particular city, but rather the area surrounding Munich. According to the study, towns such as Erding (up 15.8 percent), Ebersberg (14.5 percent), Dachau (13.8 percent) and Freising (13.6 percent), are expected to see the biggest rise in demand.

For less popular locations, the study indicates, massive change is coming, including an increase in empty housing. This, warns Voigtländer, is a societal problem. Empty buildings reduce the chances that surrounding apartments can be rented and leads to vandalism and dilapidation. The researchers involved in the study cite the US city of Detroit as an example, where large swaths of the inner city have been abandoned. Costs rise too, in such a scenario, because providing trash pickup or sewage service to the entire city is being paid for by fewer residents.

Targeted Development

The phenomenon is by no means new. Towns across rural Germany, particularly those in the eastern part of the country, but also in many areas in the west, havelong been experiencing falling populations as younger residents head to cities for study and work. Many mid-sized cities in Germany have long since begun doing what they can to get rid of excess housing.

The study gives little cause for optimism. Even if people continue to want more living space per capita, and even immigration brings 200,000 people a year to Germany, the trend will continue. Voigtländer recommends that towns should accept the development. They should not attempt to attract new residents with new commercial and residential real estate, which could only worsen the situation. Instead, they should focus on upgrading the existing apartments, he said.

The Institute is working with the Federal Environment Agency on a wider solution, which would involve a national system of certification. Similar to carbon emissions trading, that would make new development land a valuable and tradable commodity, and would result in more targeted development of new housing.


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« Reply #8574 on: Sep 07, 2013, 06:58 AM »

PIT PUTIN'S RUSSIA ..

September 6, 2013

In Moscow Mayoral Race, an Important Nonfavorite

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and ANDREW ROTH
IHT

MOSCOW — The campaigning in Moscow’s strange mayoral race concluded Friday evening on a fittingly strange note, with the main contenders holding dueling concerts in a last bid to draw large crowds of supporters before entering a 24-hour silent period before Sunday’s vote.

Outside the Olympic Stadium, a behemoth Soviet-era structure, supporters of the incumbent mayor, Sergei S. Sobyanin, arrived in a chilling wind and rain to see Russian pop stars like Grigory Leps and Turetsky Choir, an a cappella group. Many attending the invitation-only event were city employees or their guests.

Dmitri Sergeyev, 59, who was given a ticket by a friend who works in the city’s education department, took shelter from the rain under an overhang to smoke a cigarette and said he would vote for Mr. Sobyanin on Sunday.

“There just isn’t another exit,” Mr. Sergeyev said. “He’s a leader; you can look at his life and see that. The streets are being repaired. They’ve fixed the playground by my house.” As for other candidates, Mr. Sergeyev was dismissive. “What other candidates? Who knows anything about them?”

Less than two miles away, however, supporters of Mr. Sobyanin’s main challenger, the anticorruption candidate Aleksei A. Navalny, gathered in the raw chill for their own concert, an outdoor event headlined by a Belarussian rock band called Lyapis Trubetskoi. But the main draw was clearly Mr. Navalny himself.

“I look out at this crowd, and I see a sea of smiles,” said Darya Droviannikova, 24, an art teacher, who said she would vote for Mr. Navalny on Sunday. “He has become the incarnation of all of our hopes for change.”

A strong sense of stagecraft has pervaded the race since June when Mr. Sobyanin abruptly announced he would step down from the mayor’s post — two years before the official end of his term — not because he wanted to leave the job but to force a snap election, sharply increasing his advantage over potential opponents.

In July, Mr. Navalny, who has emerged as the most prominent leader of the political opposition to President Pig Putin, was convicted on embezzlement charges, ordered jailed on a five-year sentence and led from the courtroom in handcuffs. The next day, however, he was unexpectedly released after the same prosecutors who had wanted him in prison said his participation was needed in the Moscow race to ensure a fair election.

With the conviction hanging over him, it has been clear all along that Mr. Navalny will never be mayor. The main question in Sunday’s election is whether he and the Communist Party candidate, Ivan Melnikov, will attract enough votes to prevent Mr. Sobyanin from clearing the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

For Mr. Sobyanin, who refused to debate his opponents, the main purpose of the campaign has seemed to be to convince the public that his inevitable victory would be the result of a truly competitive election and not an inevitable victory orchestrated by the Kremlin.

Indeed, the competitiveness of the race — rather than his own attributes as a public servant — was the main theme of Mr. Sobyanin’s remarks to the crowd at the Olympic Stadium on Friday evening.

“There’s an excellent slogan: Let’s return Moscow to the Muscovites,” he said in recorded remarks posted later on the Internet. “We’ve done that. Muscovites themselves are choosing their city’s government!”

To applause and cheers, he continued: “Muscovites themselves are choosing their city’s mayor. Muscovites are worthy of this. Together we are holding open, honest, fair and competitive elections in Moscow.”

An even bigger drama, beyond the question of a runoff, is what will happen to Mr. Navalny, who could be told at any moment that his appeal has been denied and he is being returned to prison.

Mr. Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who has said little publicly during the campaign, drove that point home during a speech on Friday evening, saying her family was prepared.

“Our family is seen by the authorities as the place where they can hit us hardest,” Ms. Navalny said. “But if somebody in government sees the family as a vulnerable point, then he is mistaken. Family is the strength of every normal person, and moreover of a true politician. In 20 years, and every year, we are learning to be good parents and good spouses. But if we have to resist pressure, we will also learn that science.”

Mr. Navalny himself offered up his classic fiery remarks. Dressed in black jeans, a turtleneck and a raincoat, he asked voters to support him. “These elections decide who will be the next mayor,” he said. “But to a larger extent, these elections are about what place we give ourselves, what place we want to take for ourselves in this country.”

In his speech, he also joked about officials refusing to say his name. “It’s very funny when all these guys in the Kremlin are afraid to call me by name and call me ‘the politician’ or ‘that gentleman,’ ” he said. “My name is Aleksei Navalny. I’m running for mayor along with you.”

Noah Sneider contributed reporting.


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« Reply #8575 on: Sep 07, 2013, 07:01 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/06/2013 01:13 PM

Bye Bye, VW Bus: The End of an Era in Brazil

By Jens Glüsing

Only Brazil still produces the classic 56-year-old VW camper van, but not for much longer. With a final special edition series of the beloved vehicle wrapping up before year's end, the race is on for those looking to buy used models.

Some of them make rattling and popping noises, while others creak when heavily loaded and have rust-colored age marks. They may be old, but many are deeply cherished. New ones can still be purchased, but not for much longer, because the days of the Volkswagen Bus are numbered in Brazil, the only place the company still produces the vehicle.

Businessman Ademir Cardona, 47, gently runs his hand across a model from the 1970s. "If no one wanted them anymore, well, I'd understand that," he says. "But people are beating a path to my door to get her."

The VW Bus is feminine in Brazil, where the model, known as the "Bulli" in Germany, is called the "A Kombi." There have long been rumors about its imminent demise, but now it's official. In December, the last VW Type 2 Bus, considered a classic the world over, will roll off the line in São Paulo. That's because the vehicle is no longer up-to-date, now that Brazil will require all new cars to have anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and airbags starting in 2014. These features are simply not feasible in the 56-year-old model, VW engineers say.

"Nonsense," says Cardona. "With a little good will, they could do it." He has already installed power steering, power windows, reclining seats and air-conditioning in his VW Buses, all features the inventors never envisioned. Cardona operates a company called Cia das Kombis in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. He has 34 vehicles in his inventory, all available for purchase or rent.

The business is going well and Cardona had planned to expand, but now he's worried about the future. "It's becoming more difficult to get parts," he says. "VW is carrying the only real people's car to its grave."

'Adapted Technology on Wheels'

The first VW Buses were assembled in a large building near São Paulo in 1953. Four years later, Volkswagen do Brasil began series production. Hardly any other vehicle in the world has been manufactured for so long. In Brazil, the VW Bus represented an astonishingly successful marriage of German engineering and the Brazilian lifestyle. More than 1.5 million have been produced in the country, where the VW Bus is the bread-and-butter vehicle for several generations of small businesses. A new bus costs 47,000 real, or about €15,000 ($19,700), making it the most inexpensive minibus on the market.

VW Buses are ubiquitous at weekly markets and on construction sites, and they often double as mobile kiosks, ambulances and even hearses. In Rio de Janeiro, overloaded VW Buses travel up and down the hills of the city's shantytowns known as favelas, and in the Amazon region they are used to transport tourists along muddy roads and bring the indigenous people back to their villages. When a VW bus breaks down, any village mechanic with a wrench knows how to get it back on the road.

"The VW Bus is adapted technology on wheels," says Cardona. Like millions of Brazilians, he too owes his career as a businessman to the VW Bus. Twenty years ago, Cardona bought three used buses from a brewery. He sold one for a profit and rented the other two. Today his company has a reputation beyond Porto Alegre's city limits.

A customer recently had a 1966 VW Bus restored to look like the one her father once had. "During the day, he used the bus to deliver wood for parquet flooring, and at night he and his family slept in it," says Cardona.

A Fancy 'Last Edition'

Over the decades, Volkswagen has periodically made minor updates to the popular vehicle. Lights were installed to replace the old flip-out turn signals, which would occasionally hit pedestrians in the face when they popped out of the side of the vehicle. For a few years, the VW Bus wasn't just available with the legendary air-cooled boxer engine, but also as a diesel. However, the model wasn't well-engineered and was quickly taken off the market.

When new emissions regulations came into effect, VW installed a water-cooled engine. Since then, a black radiator grill has marred the classic front. But the change didn't hurt its popularity. This year alone, more than 13,000 VW Buses have been built, most of them assembled by hand. But customers don't have much to choose from. In Brazil, the VW Bus is only available as either a 9-seater or a delivery van. And it only comes in one color: white.

As a farewell gesture, VW will produce a final series of the bus in its former glory. The "Last Edition" commemorative series, consisting of only 600 buses, will be wearing the "skirt and blouse," as the Brazilians call the legendary luxury version from the 1960s and 70s. The model will even have curtains on the windows, and the only concession to modernity is an MP3 radio with a USB port. VW will charge 85,000 real, or about €27,000 for the collector's edition.

There is no successor to the VW Bus in sight. Volkswagen has no vehicle in its lineup that could even approach the Bus in terms of space and pricing. For this reason, anyone who owns a VW Bus today, says Cardona, should be paying attention, because prices for used models are on the rise.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Last Edit: Sep 07, 2013, 07:20 AM by Rad » Logged
Rad
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« Reply #8576 on: Sep 07, 2013, 07:19 AM »

In the USA...

NSA decryption revelations 'provide roadmap' to adversaries, US warns

Office of the director of national intelligence also suggests stories published by the Guardian and New York Times are 'not news'
 
James Ball   
theguardian.com, Friday 6 September 2013 18.27 BST     

The Obama administration has responded to revelations on the NSA's successes in defeating online security and privacy published on Thursday by the Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica.

In a statement issued on Friday, the office of the director of national intelligence (ODNI), which oversees the US's intelligence agencies, suggested the stories, simultaneously published on the front pages of the New York Times and Guardian, were "not news", but nonetheless provided a "road map … to our adversaries".

At the core of the story, based on reporting from dozens of top-secret documents relating to encryption passed to the Guardian by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, were efforts by the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ to place "backdoors" in online security, and to undermine internationals standards.

These efforts included:

• A 10-year NSA program against encryption technologies made a breakthrough in 2010 which made "vast amounts" of data collected through internet cable taps newly "exploitable".

• The NSA spends $250m a year on a program which, among other goals, works with technology companies to "covertly influence" their product designs.

• The secrecy of their capabilities against encryption is closely guarded, with analysts warned: "Do not ask about or speculate on sources or methods."

• The NSA describes strong decryption programs as the "price of admission for the US to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace".

• A GCHQ team has been working to develop ways into encrypted traffic on the "big four" service providers, named as Hotmail, Google, Yahoo and Facebook.

However, the ODNI said it was not surprising that intelligence agencies would work to defeat encryption, and that disclosing any specifics would cause damage.

"It should hardly be surprising that our intelligence agencies seek ways to counteract our adversaries' use of encryption," the statement begins. "Throughout history, nations have used encryption to protect their secrets, and today, terrorists, cybercriminals, human traffickers and others also use code to hide their activities. Our intelligence community would not be doing its job if we did not try to counter that.

"While the specifics of how our intelligence agencies carry out this cryptanalytic mission have been kept secret, the fact that NSA's mission includes deciphering enciphered communications is not a secret, and is not news. Indeed, NSA's public website states that its mission includes leading 'the US government in cryptology … in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies.'

"The stories published yesterday, however, reveal specific and classified details about how we conduct this critical intelligence activity. Anything that yesterday's disclosures add to the ongoing public debate is outweighed by the road map they give to our adversaries about the specific techniques we are using to try to intercept their communications in our attempts to keep America and our allies safe and to provide our leaders with the information they need to make difficult and critical national security decisions."

Privacy groups, however, said the NSA's activities were endangering privacy and putting both US internet users and businesses users at risk.

"Even as the NSA demands more powers to invade our privacy in the name of cybersecurity, it is making the internet less secure and exposing us to criminal hacking, foreign espionage, and unlawful surveillance," said the ACLU's principal technologist Christopher Soghoian.

"The NSA's efforts to secretly defeat encryption are recklessly shortsighted and will further erode not only the United States' reputation as a global champion of civil liberties and privacy but the economic competitiveness of its largest companies."

A blogpost by Dan Auerbach and Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation dubbed the activities "frightening" and "an egregious violation of our privacy".

Meanwhile, the New York Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan praised the collaboration, calling the organisations' reporting "an important story, published courageously". In the same post, she quoted the Times' executive editor Jill Abramson as noting "The Guardian at the beginning was highly concerned about working in a way that kept the material secure – we went to lengths to safeguard the material."

Abramson said she had met with US officials who had asked her not to publish the story, but said the decision to publish alongside the Guardian was "not a particularly anguished one".

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

Microsoft and Yahoo voice alarm over NSA's assault on internet encryption

Tech companies say they were unaware of top secret programs but warn they present 'substantial potential for abuse'

Dominic Rushe in New York
The Guardian, Saturday 7 September 2013

Two of the world's biggest technology companies, Microsoft and Yahoo, expressed deep concern on Friday about widespread attempts by the US and UK intelligence services to circumvent the online security systems that protect the privacy of millions of people online.

Microsoft said it had "significant concerns" about reports that the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, GCHQ, had succeeded in cracking most of the codes that protect the privacy of internet users. Yahoo said it feared "substantial potential for abuse".

Google said it was not aware of any covert attempts to compromise its systems. However, according to a report in the Washington Post on Saturday, the company said that it had accelerated the encryption of information in its data centres in a bid to prevent snooping by the NSA and the intelligence agencies of other governments.

Documents obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden and published jointly by the Guardian, the New York Times and the nonprofit news organisation ProPublica on Thursday show that agents at GCHQ have been working to undermine encrypted traffic on the "big four" service providers, named as Hotmail (the Microsoft email service now known as Outlook), Google, Yahoo and Facebook.

Yahoo responded with a strongly worded statement on Friday. "We are unaware of and do not participate in such an effort, and if it exists, it offers substantial potential for abuse. Yahoo zealously defends our users' privacy and responds to government requests for data only after considering every applicable objection and in accordance with the law," a spokesman said.

A Microsoft spokesperson said: "We addressed these issues in our blog on July 16. We have significant concerns about the allegations of government activity reported yesterday and will be pressing the government for an explanation."

Tensions between tech firms and US authorities have been escalating. On Monday Microsoft and Google will file their latest legal briefs in a joint attempt to force the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court to allow them to disclose more information about the requests for confidential information they receive.

A spokesman for Google said: "The security of our users' data is a top priority. We do not provide any government, including the US government, with access to our systems. As for recent reports that the US government has found ways to circumvent our security systems, we have no evidence of any such thing ever occurring. We provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law."

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

In a blogpost Ron Bell, Yahoo's general counsel, said: "Our legal department demands that government data requests be made through lawful means and for lawful purposes. We regularly push back against improper requests for user data, including fighting requests that are unclear, improper, overbroad or unlawful. In addition, we mounted a two-year legal challenge to the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and recently won a motion requiring the US government to consider further declassifying court documents from that case."

The revelations over the agencies' assault on encryption were greeted with consternation by technology industry groups.

Ed Black, president of the Washington-based Computer and Communications Industry Association said the NSA had a "tragic case of myopia" and had put all internet users' data at risk.

"By secretly embedding weaknesses into encryption systems in order to create a 'back door' for surveillance access, the NSA creates a road map for similar cyber-incursions by others with less noble intentions," Black said in a statement.

But on Friday, the office of the director of national intelligence (ODNI), which oversees the US's intelligence agencies, said it should "hardly be surprising that our intelligence agencies seek ways to counteract our adversaries' use of encryption".

In a statement issued on Friday, the ODNI said the stories were "not news" but warned that they threatened national security.

"The stories published yesterday, however, reveal specific and classified details about how we conduct this critical intelligence activity. Anything that yesterday's disclosures add to the ongoing public debate is outweighed by the road map they give to our adversaries about the specific techniques we are using to try to intercept their communications in our attempts to keep America and our allies safe and to provide our leaders with the information they need to make difficult and critical national security decisions," said the ODNI.

The latest revelations come as experts warn the private sector is becoming increasingly distrustful of the NSA and its allies. Speaking to federal technology website Nextgov.com, Christopher Finan, a former White House and Pentagon official who worked in cyber offence research, said the NSA revelations were underming relations with the private sector.

Private industry has long counted on the NSA's cybersecurity expertise. "NSA has postured itself as a neutral arbiter who could provide these capabilities to the private sector and really didn't necessarily want much in return," said Finan. "I don't know if they can present themselves as the same honest broker now that we're seeing the enormous quantities of data that they are actually taking in."

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

Explaining the latest NSA revelations – Q&A with internet privacy experts

The Guardian's James Ball and cryptology expert Bruce Schneier answer questions about revelations that spy agencies in the US and UK have cracked internet privacy tools

James Ball and Bruce Schneier   
theguardian.com, Friday 6 September 2013 15.41 BST   

Today, beginning at 3pm ET | 8pm BST, the Guardian's James Ball, who reported on the latest NSA and GCHQ revelations, and cryptology expert Bruce Schneier, who wrote about the implications, will take your questions on the new revelation that the US and UK governments can crack much of the encryption protecting personal data, online transactions and emails – as well as the ongoing debate over surveillance. Toss your questions below and as you wait for a response, re-visit yesterday's stories:

• How US and UK spy agencies defeat internet privacy and security

• How internet encryption works

• The US government has betrayed the internet. We need to take it back
The Q&A is now over.

First Question:
User avatar for rahulilr
rahulilr
06 September 2013 4:47pm

Can we trust open source? Of course it is more transparent than properietry, but if NSA has been influencing standard documents, what is stopping them penetrating free software?

Do we have evidence supporting/denying contamination of open source?

Answer:

    James Ball: Because the NSA and GCHQ have been influencing standards, and working to covertly modify code, almost anything could potentially have been compromised. Something as simple as – hypothetically – modifying a basic random-number-generator could weaken numerous implementations of open-source code.

    That said, anything done to open source projects, particularly popular ones, will have to be subtle, as anyone can audit the code. So I do believe they’re more trustworthy/dependable than other things. But almost nothing is certain, and we see quite regularly bugs/vulnerabilities discovered in major open source projects that have lain undiscovered for months.

Question:
User avatar for bushism
bushism
06 September 2013 4:28pm

Is there any reason to believe that these back doors have also been built into hardware?

Answer:

    Ball: There’s every reason to think this. The Washington Post mentioned in passing last week the use of ‘implants’, and the New York Times’ take on this story made reference to efforts against “encryption chips”.

Question:
User avatar for SteppenHerring
SteppenHerring
06 September 2013 4:19pm

How hard do you think it will be to get people to take security seriously when people are willing to type so much personal data into Facebook/Google+ etc?

Answer:

    Ball: I think we need more awareness of privacy and security generally, and I think as generations grow up net-native (as today’s teens are), that’s taking care of itself. I don’t think people who volunteer information to a strictly-controlled network on Facebook (or webmail, etc) are automatically willing to share that same information with their governments. That’s a large part of what the whole privacy and security debate the NSA files are fueling is about, I think.

Question:
User avatar for oberstm
oberstm
06 September 2013 3:57pm

How would one go about selecting a VPN service that is still viable? All US-based ones are likely compromised via National Security Letters, and many foreign ones are probably hacked. Is there anything specific about a VPN service's transmission protocol (key exchange method) that may make it more reliable?

Answer:

    Ball: As you say, I think this is quite difficult, but one thing that is worth flagging is we have a sense of what the US and the other “Five Eyes” nations (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) are doing, because we have a whistleblower from those agencies.

    It’s not inconceivable that intelligence agencies in other countries are doing a lot of the same things (it would be surprising if they weren’t doing some of it) – but we won’t hear about them unless a Chinese, Russian, German, Indian, etc, Edward Snowden comes along. I hope they do.

Question:
User avatar for AhzirrTraajijazeri
AhzirrTraajijazeri
06 September 2013 4:17pm

First off -- thanks to James and Bruce for taking some time to answer people's questions! I know a lot of us need answers in these uncertain times.

Mine is a two-part question:

1.) What can the average internet user do to protect him- or herself from government snooping online?

2.) What can the average citizen do to help stop the NSA?

Thank you.

Answer:

    Ball: Bruce had a great article yesterday (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/05/nsa-how-to-remain-secure-surveillance) on what to do to try to secure your own communications. I think it’s a brilliant starting place, especially for journalists and activists. Even though he’s described it well, of course, I think it’s beyond the expertise levels of 95%+ of internet users. This stuff is seriously hard, and I hope the crypto community carries on trying to make it easier.

    As to the second question, the solution is going to have to be political: if your view is that what the NSA is doing isn’t acceptable, I think contacting congressmen, petitioning, and campaigning are the right steps. I’m sure the EFF, ACLU, EPIC and similar organizations will be stepping up their long-running efforts in the near future.

Question:
User avatar for FlipGuard
FlipGuard
06 September 2013 4:40pm

Bruce's article giving advice on staying more private online included selecting certain encryption algorithms based on their mathmatical features etc -- what are some direct examples of the most 'safe' encryption techniques to use, key lengths etc?

How can Tor be any safer than VPN if both SSL/TLS and VPN methodologies have been exploited? Is the Tor routing process still a good security?

Answer:

    Ball: GCHQ’s phrasing of beating “30” then “300” VPNs suggest it’s done on a case-by-case basis, rather than a blanket capability. It’s also worth noting that just because the NSA can, say, beat SSL in some (or many, or most) cases, it doesn’t mean they can do it all the time, especially as they often seem to circumvent rather than directly beat security. Tor also has its onion methodology. I think Bruce’s take – that Tor makes tracing you harder, rather than impossible – seems a sensible one.

Note: Bruce Schneier has been traveling but will be online shortly. James Ball will take questions in the meantime.

Question:
User avatar for Patrick White
Patrick White
06 September 2013 4:58pm

The questions I find myself asking are "Who is chiefly responsible for this breach of trust?", "Will anyone be held accountable?" and "What sort of backlash will there be, if any, from society at large?".

Answer:

    Ball: Me too! There are a lot of issues here, not least that the technological capabilities of the NSA have hugely outpaced the efforts of most lawmakers to meaningfully understand them, let alone regulate them.

    In the environment after 9/11, the agency had a permissive environment to expand its remit, masses more funding, and technological advancements making surveillance possible on a scale never previously imaginable. For privacy advocates, the past decade was essentially the perfect storm.

    That encroachment happened under three Presidents, from two parties. I don’t think this is a partisan issue. It feels a little like the (apocryphal) tale of a frog in boiling water: if the water is slowly heated, the frog never notices it’s being cooked.

    A final note is that at a bare minimum we need to hold senior intelligence officials accountable in public, and demand honest answers. Obama’s Director of National Intelligence has been accused of outright lying to Congress, seemingly with no adverse consequences. If you’re looking to increase accountability and transparency, surely you’ve got to start there.

Question:
User avatar for estebanesto
estebanesto
06 September 2013 7:29pm

Thus far the focus has been on the US and UK. But we see the five-eyed acronym on some of the documents. Should Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians be concerned about their privacy too?

Answer:

    Ball: The short answer is yes – the techniques revealed in the whole NSA Files series are shared with the five eyes nations, as is access to most of the databases of intelligence and communications the agencies collect.

    Of course, there’s a flipside, which is that (in theory at least) the citizens of the five-eyes nations get a little bit extra protection against being spied on by the others – so perhaps you should be more worried if you’re NOT in the US, UK, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Hard to say!

Question:
User avatar for geoffk
geoffk
06 September 2013 6:50pm

Could the spooks sell the information or keys when they retire?..Would it be impossible?

Answer:

    Ball: If the NSA’s internal security was perfect, Edward Snowden would never have been able to leak. We’re essentially lucky he chose to release to the press – and it’s worth remembering he asked for responsible, measured publication, not mass-release – rather than simply sell it to hackers or criminals.

    If someone in a similar position to Snowden decided to just take what they could and sell it to a foreign government, or criminal gang, would we ever know? It seems unlikely we’d be told. And given the NSA has repeatedly said they don’t know which documents Snowden accessed, maybe they wouldn’t know either.

    That’s an important, additional, reason to be very concerned about the scope of NSA surveillance and activities, in my view – whatever your take on the need/legitimacy of mass-surveillance in general.

Question:
User avatar for dellcam
dellcam
06 September 2013 8:18pm

Your article states:

    $250m-a-year US program works covertly with tech companies to insert weaknesses into products


I don't see tech industry and their lobbyists rallying to put a stop to this. Won't this revelation that the US government is undermining the quality of their products damaging their reputation with consumers -- as well as effect the ability of the US tech industry to export their products around the world?

Answer:

    Ball: I think this is a serious risk of what the NSA has been doing: if I ran a US security company, I’d be concerned about my reputation (maybe deservedly so, though) – and I’m sure overseas competition will be stressing their ability to refuse US government requests in their advertising (though maybe their own government have similar programs).

    That does seem to have been a concern of the NSA and GCHQ. I find that quite telling: if companies are just doing what the government requires, and no more, why such a need for secrecy around it? Why can’t they level? I think the efforts some of the silicon valley firms seem to be making are a good start – though what seems to be happening with Lavabit (a secure email company that shut down) are concerning.

    Finally: this could be a boost to the free software / open source movement, too. That would be no bad thing.

Question:
User avatar for KatharineAshton
KatharineAshton
06 September 2013 8:37pm

They may have broken various methods of encryption (I'd assumed as much), but my question is; is this legal/viable evidence, that can be used in court? My understanding is that evidence that is acquired via snooping in on a secure/encrypted connection is illegitimate, and thus unusable in a court of law? (Not that legality seems to bother these people)

Answer:

    Ball: I can’t speak for the US system, as I don’t know it in detail (if you do, please chip in, in the comments) but in the UK intercept evidence isn’t admissable in court – it can be used as part of an investigation, and to get information which is then obtained ‘again’ by means of a warrant (so it can be used in court), but you can’t use it towards a conviction.

    All three of the UK’s major political parties have said they want to make intercept evidence available in court, but the intelligence agencies have long opposed it – so far, with success.

Question:
User avatar for Martin1984
Martin1984
06 September 2013 8:26pm

    Details may be protected by one or more ECIs and/or the secure BULLRUN COI

COI = Community of interest
So what does ECI stand for? The term is used frequently in the documents.

Answer:

    Ball: ECI stands for “Exceptionally Controlled Information” – it’s another level above top-secret, which keeps information to a very select group of individuals.

Question:
User avatar for ThisIsNotJohn
ThisIsNotJohn
06 September 2013 8:24pm

In the face of the larger Snowden revelations, has The Guardian made any website changes, or critiqued business partners data usage, like Google and Facebook [for example how they may use the comments on this very page], in exploration of ways to insure, or at least enhance, TheGuardian.com users' privacy?

Answer:

    Ball: I can only really speak on this from the journalists’ perspective, as a reporter, but here I know we’re definitely thinking about what we can do to help make it clear how potential sources can communicate with us safely and securely (something we obviously think about anyway).

    Obviously it’s something reporters have thought about for a long time, in terms of technical and legal protections (I use things like OTR, GPG email, etc, and have for several years), but I think in the wake of this particular story any responsible reporter at any outlet in the world should be reassessing what they do. I’d like to see outlets doing more to learn about security, train their staff in it, and I’d like to see outside groups doing more to help with training – and building new tools to help. It takes a village, and all that.

Question:
User avatar for ColinOnTweets
ColinOnTweets
06 September 2013 8:40pm

Hi, thanks for answering questions. While everyone focuses on facebook accounts and emails, there's this thing that's been nagging me. A month ago the US authorities concluded a prosecution against 5 russians that have penetrated NASDAQ and many banks. They stole over 160 million credit card numbers, and had the entire NASDAQ network under control, apparently.

http://arstechnica.com/security/2013/07/nasdaq-is-owned-five-men-charged-in-largest-financial-hack-ever/

I think that is more dangerous than facebook accounts. How likely is it that thes NSA tampering have weakened the security of say financial institutions or critical communication infrastructure?

Answer:

    Ball: This touches on a really important issue: if the NSA *have* successfully undermined some universal encryption standards, then they may have indeed made some infrastructure more vulnerable to attacks by foreign governments.

    That would have been a conscious trade-off in the agency, though possibly one based either on the hope/knowledge that hackers in the Chinese or Russian governments (or gangs) weren’t sophisticated enough to take advantage of the flaws, and would never get to that level, and that they would never get a mole inside the NSA or a contractor who could pass on knowledge of it. That seems like quite a lot of bets to take.

    I wonder, if more were ever to emerge on what standards were compromised, whether there’d be widespread concern or reprisals. Could the NSA face legal responsibility for leaving institutions open to attack?

Note: Bruce Schneier will now begin answering questions

Question:
User avatar for IndependentSkeptic
IndependentSkeptic
06 September 2013 4:02pm

Bruce, in an article yesterday you said that you used the Tails version of Linux for security purposes. Another Linux distribution built for security is Liberté Linux. Are there any reasons to prefer Tails over Liberté?

Answer:

    Schneier: I like Tails because it fits on a memory stick and gives me a relatively secure environment on any computer. I don't know Liberte, so I can's comment on it. In general, I don't have any inside knowledge about which applications have been compromised and which are secure. I'm making my best guesses based on what we all now know about the NSA's methods and economic realities.

Question:
User avatar for AnotherBee
AnotherBee
06 September 2013 4:22pm

Are there known to have been any "hacker" exploits of back-doors built into hardware, software or standards at the request of NSA/GCHQ?

What steps do NSA/GCHQ take to stop their operatives "going rogue" and supplying exploitable information to hackers or other parties?

Answer:

    Schneier: It's a good question. Given 1) that the NSA has repeatedly said that they do not know what documents Edward Snowden has, and 2) that they would not have known he had them had he not gone public, it is reasonable to assume he's not the first. He's the first to go public.

Question:
User avatar for ID0140272
ID0140272
06 September 2013 4:19pm

From what I got the gist of this round of revelations is that cryptography has been weakened by human, political decisions: that of the government to make covert agreements with tech companies - by the way, are they voluntary on their part or not? - to collaborate with intelligence agencies, for example, and let them insert "secret vulnerabilities".

Of course there is a legal complication here - the companies say they are basically compelled to comply when required by law - but there seems to be a difference between mathematically defeating cryptography and circumventing it by covert partnerships.

So my question is: can we still trust cryptography per se? Is it still mathematically sound or does NSA spying provide us with a case to believe that it is «less secure than we thought», as in this paper by MIT http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2013/encryption-is-less-secure-than-we-thought-0814.html?

Fabio Chiusi
https://twitter.com/fabiochiusi

Answer:

    Schneier: I wrote about this explicitly here. I believe we still can trust cryptography. The problem is that there is so much between the mathematics of cryptography and the "encrypt" button on your computer, and all of that has been subverted.

Question:
User avatar for eriktau
eriktau
06 September 2013 5:22pm

What are the implications for the financial industry? For example, can people trust their internet banking services? Any comment what a reasonable security action in this matter an ordinary citizen (whatever that is) should take?

Answer:

    Schneier: Like everything else, it depends on the definition of "trust." Even before any of these Snowden revelations, we knew that the FBI has been collecting wholesale banking data on Americans. And this deliberate weakening of the cryptographic systems that protect Internet banking only put us at greater risk from criminals and other espionage agencies.

    As to your second question, I talked about how to maintain security here. But what ordinary citizens need to do is to make their voices heard; this will not stop unless we all demand it, loudly and repeatedly.

Question:
User avatar for johnwashburn
johnwashburn
06 September 2013 6:45pm

Regarding the"10-year NSA program against encryption technologies made a breakthrough in 2010".

Is the breakthrough NSA break through related to the MD5 weakness described in
http://www.sslshopper.com/article-md5-weakness-allows-fake-ssl-certificates-to-be-created.html

Has the NSA created a poisoned (i.e. false) root certificate purporting to be from a trusted Certificate Authority (e.g. from thawte, symantec, trustco, etc.)?

If so, how does one identify the poisoned CA root certificate?

How do I inform my SSL (secure socket layer) module from not using any certificate "signed" by the poisoned certs?

Better yet, have my SSL browser module not use *ANY* SSL cert signed only with an MD5 signature?

Answer:

    Schneier: I do not know. My guess is that the "breakthrough" is not related to MD5. The cryptanalysis of that was public, and the algorithm is only peripherally involved in confidentiality. And I would certainly suspect the entire CA root structure. Answer to "poisoned CA root question": I don't think we can. Answer to SSL questions: MD5 should have been purged years ago.

Question:
User avatar for pjpfeifer
pjpfeifer
06 September 2013 6:33pm

Assuming these are illegal activities, what is the ultimate motivator for these private companies to be complicit?
Wouldn't these private companies be concerned with losing market share when/if these revelations became public? What's the motivation?

Answer:

    Schneier: There are many possible motivations. Patriotism. A desire to help. Fear of reprisal if you won't help. Not wanting to engage in an expensive legal battle. I'm sure the NSA promises absolute secrecy; perhaps the possibility of losing market share when it becomes public is so remote that it's not really an issue.

Question:
User avatar for lmindlin81
lmindlin81
06 September 2013 7:41pm

My questions are:

1. Are the symmetric and/or asymmetric protocols (AES-256, RSA-2048+) fundamentally compromised? Or is it simply the implementation?

2. Are point to point VPN links between commercial OTS h/w such as SonicWALL therefore decryptable, even with PFS?

3. Are A/V vendors cooperating with NSA/GCHQ to ignore gov't malware in order to compromise endpoints? If so, would it makes sense to use A/V such as Kaspersky?

4. Mobile devices: Is it possible the h/w or s/w on Androids and iPhones is backdoored, rendering on-device encryption such as silent phone useless?

5. All-in-all, is it safe to assume that there exists no viable means of protecting traffic against NSA/GCHQ?

Answer:

    Schneier: 1. I believe that the algorithms are not fundamentally compromised, only the implementations. I talk about this more here.

    2. I don't know. I have no reason to believe that SonicWALL is secure.

    3. This is an interesting question. I actually believe that AV is less likely to be compromised, because there are different companies in mutually antagonistic countries competing with each other in the marketplace. While the U.S. might be able to convince Symantec to ignore its secret malware, they wouldn't be able to convince the Russian company Kaspersky to do the same. And likewise, Kaspersky might be convinced to ignore Russian malware but Symanetec would not. These differences are likely to show up in product comparisons, which gives both companies an incentive to be honest. But I don't know.

    4. I think it would be completely implausible for the NSA not to pursue both Android and iOS with the same fervor as the rest of the Internet.

    5. That's what I wrote about here

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

Welcome to the end of secrecy

The real lesson of the Snowden leaks is not the threat to privacy. It is the NSA's losing battle against the new agents of openness

Jeff Jarvis   
theguardian.com, Friday 6 September 2013 16.56 BST   

It has been said that privacy is dead. Not so. It's secrecy that is dying. Openness will kill it.

American and British spies undermined the secrecy and security of everyone using the internet with their efforts to foil encryption. Then, Edward Snowden foiled them by revealing what is perhaps – though we may never know – their greatest secret.

When I worried on Twitter that we could not trust encryption now, technologist Lauren Weinstein responded with assurances that it would be difficult to hide "backdoors" in commonly used PGP encryption – because it is open-source.

Openness is the more powerful weapon. Openness is the principle that guides, for example, Guardian journalism. Openness is all that can restore trust in government and technology companies. And openness – in standards, governance, and ethics – must be the basis of technologists' efforts to take back the the net.

Secrecy is under dire threat but don't confuse that with privacy. "All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret," Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez tells his biographer. "Secrecy is what is known, but not to everyone. Privacy is what allows us to keep what we know to ourselves," Jill Lepore explains in the New Yorker. "Privacy is consensual where secrecy is not," write Carol Warren and Barbara Laslett in the Journal of Social Issues.

Think of it this way: privacy is what we keep to ourselves; secrecy is what is kept from us. Privacy is a right claimed by citizens. Secrecy is a privilege claimed by government.

It's often said that the internet is a threat to privacy, but on the whole, I argue it is not much more of a threat than a gossipy friend or a nosy neighbor, a slip of the tongue or of the email "send" button. Privacy is certainly put at risk when we can no longer trust that our communication, even encrypted, are safe from government's spying eyes. But privacy has many protectors.

And we all have one sure vault for privacy: our own thoughts. Even if the government were capable of mind-reading, ProPublica argues in an essay explaining its reason to join the Snowden story, the fact of it "would have to be known".

The agglomeration of data that makes us fear for our privacy is also what makes it possible for one doubting soul – one Manning or Snowden – to learn secrets. The speed of data that makes us fret over the the devaluation of facts is also what makes it possible for journalists' facts to spread before government can stop them. The essence of the Snowden story, then, isn't government's threat to privacy, so much as it is government's loss of secrecy.

Oh, it will take a great deal for government to learn that lesson. Its first response is to try to match a loss of secrecy with greater secrecy, with a war on the agents of openness: whistleblowers and journalists and news organizations. President Obama had the opportunity to meet Snowden's revelations – redacted responsibly by the Guardian – with embarrassment, apology, and a vow to make good on his promise of transparency. He failed.

But the agents of openness will continue to wage their war on secrecy.

In a powerful charge to fellow engineers, security expert Bruce Schneier urged them to fix the net that "some of us have helped to subvert." Individuals must make a moral choice, whether they will side with secrecy or openness.

So must their companies. Google and Microsoft are suing government to be released from their secret restrictions – but there is still more they can say. I would like Google to explain what British agents could mean when they talk of "new access opportunities being developed" at the company. Google's response – "we have no evidence of any such thing ever occurring" – would be more reassuring if it were more specific.

This latest story demonstrates that the Guardian, now in partnership with the New York Times and ProPublica, as well as publications in Germany and Brazil that have pursued their own surveillance stories, will continue to report openly in spite of government acts of intimidation.

I am disappointed that more news organizations, especially in London, are not helping support the work of openness by adding reporting of their own and editorializing against government overreach. I am also saddened that my American colleagues in news industry organizations, as well as journalism education groups, are not protesting loudly.

But even without them, what this story teaches is that it takes only one technologist, one reporter, one news organization to defeat secrecy. At length, openness will out.

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

NSA surveillance: A guide to staying secure

The NSA has huge capabilities – and if it wants in to your computer, it's in. With that in mind, here are five ways to stay safe

• Explaining the latest NSA revelations – Q&A
  
Bruce Schneier   
theguardian.com, Friday 6 September 2013 14.09 BST         

'Trust the math. Encryption is your friend. That's how you can remain secure even in the face of the NSA.' Photograph: Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

Now that we have enough details about how the NSA eavesdrops on the internet, including today's disclosures of the NSA's deliberate weakening of cryptographic systems, we can finally start to figure out how to protect ourselves.

For the past two weeks, I have been working with the Guardian on NSA stories, and have read hundreds of top-secret NSA documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. I wasn't part of today's story – it was in process well before I showed up – but everything I read confirms what the Guardian is reporting.

At this point, I feel I can provide some advice for keeping secure against such an adversary.

The primary way the NSA eavesdrops on internet communications is in the network. That's where their capabilities best scale. They have invested in enormous programs to automatically collect and analyze network traffic. Anything that requires them to attack individual endpoint computers is significantly more costly and risky for them, and they will do those things carefully and sparingly.

Leveraging its secret agreements with telecommunications companies – all the US and UK ones, and many other "partners" around the world – the NSA gets access to the communications trunks that move internet traffic. In cases where it doesn't have that sort of friendly access, it does its best to surreptitiously monitor communications channels: tapping undersea cables, intercepting satellite communications, and so on.

That's an enormous amount of data, and the NSA has equivalently enormous capabilities to quickly sift through it all, looking for interesting traffic. "Interesting" can be defined in many ways: by the source, the destination, the content, the individuals involved, and so on. This data is funneled into the vast NSA system for future analysis.

The NSA collects much more metadata about internet traffic: who is talking to whom, when, how much, and by what mode of communication. Metadata is a lot easier to store and analyze than content. It can be extremely personal to the individual, and is enormously valuable intelligence.

The Systems Intelligence Directorate is in charge of data collection, and the resources it devotes to this is staggering. I read status report after status report about these programs, discussing capabilities, operational details, planned upgrades, and so on. Each individual problem – recovering electronic signals from fiber, keeping up with the terabyte streams as they go by, filtering out the interesting stuff – has its own group dedicated to solving it. Its reach is global.

The NSA also attacks network devices directly: routers, switches, firewalls, etc. Most of these devices have surveillance capabilities already built in; the trick is to surreptitiously turn them on. This is an especially fruitful avenue of attack; routers are updated less frequently, tend not to have security software installed on them, and are generally ignored as a vulnerability.

The NSA also devotes considerable resources to attacking endpoint computers. This kind of thing is done by its TAO – Tailored Access Operations – group. TAO has a menu of exploits it can serve up against your computer – whether you're running Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, or something else – and a variety of tricks to get them on to your computer. Your anti-virus software won't detect them, and you'd have trouble finding them even if you knew where to look. These are hacker tools designed by hackers with an essentially unlimited budget. What I took away from reading the Snowden documents was that if the NSA wants in to your computer, it's in. Period.

The NSA deals with any encrypted data it encounters more by subverting the underlying cryptography than by leveraging any secret mathematical breakthroughs. First, there's a lot of bad cryptography out there. If it finds an internet connection protected by MS-CHAP, for example, that's easy to break and recover the key. It exploits poorly chosen user passwords, using the same dictionary attacks hackers use in the unclassified world.

As was revealed today, the NSA also works with security product vendors to ensure that commercial encryption products are broken in secret ways that only it knows about. We know this has happened historically: CryptoAG and Lotus Notes are the most public examples, and there is evidence of a back door in Windows. A few people have told me some recent stories about their experiences, and I plan to write about them soon. Basically, the NSA asks companies to subtly change their products in undetectable ways: making the random number generator less random, leaking the key somehow, adding a common exponent to a public-key exchange protocol, and so on. If the back door is discovered, it's explained away as a mistake. And as we now know, the NSA has enjoyed enormous success from this program.

TAO also hacks into computers to recover long-term keys. So if you're running a VPN that uses a complex shared secret to protect your data and the NSA decides it cares, it might try to steal that secret. This kind of thing is only done against high-value targets.

How do you communicate securely against such an adversary? Snowden said it in an online Q&A soon after he made his first document public: "Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on."

I believe this is true, despite today's revelations and tantalizing hints of "groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities" made by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence in another top-secret document. Those capabilities involve deliberately weakening the cryptography.

Snowden's follow-on sentence is equally important: "Unfortunately, endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it."

Endpoint means the software you're using, the computer you're using it on, and the local network you're using it in. If the NSA can modify the encryption algorithm or drop a Trojan on your computer, all the cryptography in the world doesn't matter at all. If you want to remain secure against the NSA, you need to do your best to ensure that the encryption can operate unimpeded.

With all this in mind, I have five pieces of advice:

1) Hide in the network. Implement hidden services. Use Tor to anonymize yourself. Yes, the NSA targets Tor users, but it's work for them. The less obvious you are, the safer you are.

2) Encrypt your communications. Use TLS. Use IPsec. Again, while it's true that the NSA targets encrypted connections – and it may have explicit exploits against these protocols – you're much better protected than if you communicate in the clear.

3) Assume that while your computer can be compromised, it would take work and risk on the part of the NSA – so it probably isn't. If you have something really important, use an air gap. Since I started working with the Snowden documents, I bought a new computer that has never been connected to the internet. If I want to transfer a file, I encrypt the file on the secure computer and walk it over to my internet computer, using a USB stick. To decrypt something, I reverse the process. This might not be bulletproof, but it's pretty good.

4) Be suspicious of commercial encryption software, especially from large vendors. My guess is that most encryption products from large US companies have NSA-friendly back doors, and many foreign ones probably do as well. It's prudent to assume that foreign products also have foreign-installed backdoors. Closed-source software is easier for the NSA to backdoor than open-source software. Systems relying on master secrets are vulnerable to the NSA, through either legal or more clandestine means.

5) Try to use public-domain encryption that has to be compatible with other implementations. For example, it's harder for the NSA to backdoor TLS than BitLocker, because any vendor's TLS has to be compatible with every other vendor's TLS, while BitLocker only has to be compatible with itself, giving the NSA a lot more freedom to make changes. And because BitLocker is proprietary, it's far less likely those changes will be discovered. Prefer symmetric cryptography over public-key cryptography. Prefer conventional discrete-log-based systems over elliptic-curve systems; the latter have constants that the NSA influences when they can.

Since I started working with Snowden's documents, I have been using GPG, Silent Circle, Tails, OTR, TrueCrypt, BleachBit, and a few other things I'm not going to write about. There's an undocumented encryption feature in my Password Safe program from the command line); I've been using that as well.

I understand that most of this is impossible for the typical internet user. Even I don't use all these tools for most everything I am working on. And I'm still primarily on Windows, unfortunately. Linux would be safer.

The NSA has turned the fabric of the internet into a vast surveillance platform, but they are not magical. They're limited by the same economic realities as the rest of us, and our best defense is to make surveillance of us as expensive as possible.

Trust the math. Encryption is your friend. Use it well, and do your best to ensure that nothing can compromise it. That's how you can remain secure even in the face of the NSA.

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

September 06, 2013 03:00 PM

N.S.A. Has Cracked Most Of Encryption-Digital Scrambling Online Safeguards

By John Amato
CrooksAndLiars

If you were wondering how far has the NSA actually gone in their quest to spy on Americans, the NY Times has your answer. They are master code breakers who hacked their way to being able to get through almost all online protections, and they are close to being able to see everything that happens online.

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

    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.

The NSA has invested billions of our tax dollars to figure out how to hack into everything online so that their eavesdropping could continue. This is scary, people:

    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.

    “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!”

The Brits were gobsmacked by what the NSA can do. I suggest you read the whole article. It didn't matter to the NSA that they were prohibited from putting in back doors to all encryption, so they went the Anonymous way.

    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.

Even with the cat out of the bag, the NSA will never stop trying to spy on all Americans. And there are consequences for all of us when other agency's start to use their capabilities for other purposes outside of protecting us from terrorist attacks.

Click to watch Greenwald..it's just incredible: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV_U51GqJQ4

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

President Obama Says He Learns What NSA Is Doing From The Press, Then Goes To NSA For Details

By Techdirt
Saturday, September 7, 2013 10:34 EDT

Ewan MacAskill calls out a rather astounding statement by President Obama during his most recent press conference in St. Petersburg at the G20 summit. The very last question, which I believe is asked by AFP reporter Tangi Quemener, asks President Obama to respond to some of the recent NSA leaks, in particular the spying on Brazilian and Mexican officials. The President gives the usual long and winding answer about doing what intelligence agencies do, and various costs and benefits, but then there's this:

    Now, just more specifically, then, on Brazil and Mexico. I said that I would look into the allegations. I mean, part of the problem here is we get these through the press and then I've got to go back and find out what’s going on with respect to these particular allegations -- I don’t subscribe to all these newspapers, although I think the NSA does -- now at least. (Laughter.)

Leaving aside the "joke" at the end, the admission is rather startling. Here is the President of the US admitting two astounding things. First, it appears that he and the NSA really have no clue at all what information Ed Snowden walked away with, and second (and worse), it appears that the President is admitting that he doesn't know what the NSA is doing and is similarly learning these facts from the press. This comes from the same President who has repeatedly insisted that there is plenty of oversight over these programs. If that's true, then he shouldn't be taken by surprise when the press reveals what the NSA is doing, and shouldn't have to "go back and find out what's going on." He's more or less admitting that there's no oversight and the NSA is a rogue agency making its own rules, only checked on when the press reveals something.

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

Court Says TSA Can Lie About Whether Or Not It Has The Information You're Requesting

By Techdirt
Saturday, September 7, 2013 10:34 EDT

In theory, the Freedom of Information Act is great. It allows citizens to pursue disclosure from government entities in order to better understand processes or look for malfeasance. In reality, however, it's often incredibly difficult to convince these agencies to actually free up any information.

Whatever isn't delayed indefinitely is redacted heavily. Everything else that doesn't hit these two extremes tends to run into various bureaucratic walls. FOIA request fulfillment is often handed off to whatever part of the agency seems least likely to want the job, either because of its natural antipathy towards the public or because it's chronically understaffed.

It's gotten to the point where people are regularly suing the government to get documents released. No one needs to point out the sheer insanity of a system that expends public money to keep public documents from the public, especially one that is governed by an act meant to make the wall between the public and its servants so thin as to be nearly transparent.

Now, take that insanity and add to it a court decision that basically says it's perfectly fine for government agencies to lie to the public about the availability of requested information. The blogger who runs TSA Out of Our Pants! recently had his FOIA lawsuit against the agency dismissed by a district court. In her decision, Judge Joan A. Lenard came to a conclusion that agreed with the TSA's assertion that it didn't have the records the blogger requested, despite evidence to the contrary.

    U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard granted the TSA the special privilege of not needing to go that route, rubber-stamping the decision of the TSA and the airport authority to write to me that no CCTV footage of the incident existed when, in fact, it did. This footage is non-classified and its existence is admitted by over a dozen visible camera domes and even signage that the area is being recorded. Beyond that, the TSA regularly releases checkpoint video when it doesn’t show them doing something wrong (for example, here’s CCTV of me beating their body scanners). But if it shows evidence of misconduct? Just go ahead and lie.

Attached below, you'll see his photos of the security cameras. While there may be some periodic dumps of stored footage, the likelihood of just the footage he requested not being available is pretty slim, especially since (as he points out) the TSA has no trouble locating flattering footage of its employees hard at work.

The court does seem to have a point about his second argument -- that releasing unredacted info about the TSA employees involved doesn't really serve the public interest. The TSA argued that releasing the names and faces could "expose them to unnecessary unofficial questioning, harassment, and stigmatization." This argument is a bit of a non-starter, as any public position has a good chance of exposing employees to all of the above. The TSA's second argument, the one the judge agreed with, is a bit more on point.

    The TSA also determined that "none of the individuals' personal information would shed light on how TSA performs its statutory duties generally or in the particular instance at issue..." The TSA concluded that "the public interest in having that information disclosed was insufficient to merit disclosure."

This makes more sense even if it does seem a little illogical to pretend the TSA's employees, who work in public areas and interact with many members of the public, should somehow expect this level of privacy to be retroactively applied. However, the overall point is solid: naming names doesn't "shed light" on the issue. The TSA-opposing blogger does make a very good point, however: for all the concern the TSA has for its own members' privacy, it's rather careless with the privacy of others. Earlier this year, the TSA published an unredacted copy of his driver's license in a public court filing. Presumably this was an accident and not some petty form of intimidation.]

Unfortunately for this blogger, along with anyone else filing FOIA requests with government agencies, the judge not only took the TSA's claim that it didn't have the footage at face value in order to dismiss one of the claims, it also gave it tacit permission to permanently lock away any other info it wished to keep undisclosed.

    Judge Lenard ruled that once a document is labeled “Sensitive Security Information” (which the TSA does by merely waiving [sic] a magic wand and writing “SSI” on the cover of a document) the U.S. District Court loses its power to review that determination, and the U.S. Court of Appeals is the proper forum. But wait, the Court of Appeals doesn’t evaluate FOIA claims, so now, in order to get a document you want, you must petition 2 courts and pay over $800 in filing fees alone.

And that's how the FOIA works in reality. Limitations, delays, redactions and over-classification. That alone would be enough of an uphill battle without courts pitching in with decisions that further distance requested information from the public.
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« Reply #8577 on: Sep 08, 2013, 06:44 AM »

September 8, 2013

Syrian Forces May Have Used Gas Without Assad's Permission: Paper

By REUTERS

BERLIN — Syrian government forces may have carried out a chemical weapons attack close to Damascus without the personal permission of President Bashar al-Assad, Germany's Bild am Sonntag paper reported on Sunday, citing German intelligence.

Syrian brigade and division commanders had been asking the Presidential Palace to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last four-and-a-half months, according to radio messages intercepted by German spies, but permission had always been denied, the paper said.

This could mean Assad may not have personally approved the attack close to Damascus on August 21 in which more than 1,400 are estimated to have been killed, intelligence officers suggested.

Germany's foreign intelligence agency (BND) could not be reached for comment.

Bild said the radio traffic was intercepted by a German naval reconnaissance vessel, the Oker, sailing close to the Syrian coast.

Last week the head of the BND, Gerhard Schindler, gave confidential briefings to the German parliament's defense and foreign affairs committees. Bild said Schindler told the defense committee that Syria's civil war could continue for years.

The chief of staff of Germany's armed forces, General Volker Wieker, also told lawmakers the influence of al-Qaeda linked forces with within the rebels was becoming stronger and stronger.

Members of the foreign affairs committee present at the briefing told Reuters Schindler had said that although the BND did not have absolute proof Assad's government was responsible, it had much evidence to suggest it was.

This included a phone call German spies intercepted between a Hezbollah official and the Iranian Embassy in Damascus in which the official said Assad had ordered the attack.

Germany, along with the European Union, blames the Syrian government for the attack but urged waiting for a report from U.N. weapons inspectors before any U.S.-led military response.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel repeated in an interview with Bild am Sonntag that Germany would not take part in any military intervention but that the use of chemical weapons should not go without response.

Merkel is fighting to win a third term in a federal election in two weeks. Germans are overwhelmingly opposed to military action in Syria.

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

Syria: The Administration’s Attribution Failure

CrooksAndLiars
09/08/2013

Reuters confirms something that I have long suggested: the government doesn’t know who ordered the CW attack in Syria on August 21.

The Administration’s best case tying Bashar al-Assad to the attack, through the Scientific Studies and Research Council, consists of speculation that the group may be involved and apparent specific knowledge that the head of the organization was not involved.

    A declassified French intelligence report describes a unit of the SSRC, known by the code name “Branch 450″, which it says is in charge of filling rockets or shells with chemical munitions in general.

    U.S. and European security sources say this unit was likely involved in mixing chemicals for the August 21 attack and also may have played a more extensive role in preparing for it and carrying it out.

    [snip]

    U.S. officials say Amr Armanazi, a Syrian official identified as SSRC director in a State Department sanctions order a year ago, was not directly involved. [my emphasis]

This is what every government has used as central proof; yet even here they appear to just assume that because SSRC controls Assad’s CW they probably were involved.

Remember, we’ve already had anonymous admissions that the intelligence community isn’t really sure who controls Assad’s CW; nor do they know what happened when rebels took over a location where weapons had been stored.

    Over the past six months, with shifting front lines in the 2½-year-old civil war and sketchy satellite and human intelligence coming out of Syria, U.S. and allied spies have lost track of who controls some of the country’s chemical weapons supplies, according to the two intelligence officials and two other U.S. officials.

    U.S. satellites have captured images of Syrian troops moving trucks into weapons storage areas and removing materials, but U.S. analysts have not been able to track what was moved or, in some cases, where it was relocated. They are also not certain that when they saw what looked like Assad’s forces moving chemical supplies, those forces were able to remove everything before rebels took over an area where weapons had been stored. [my emphasis]

And months ago, the government worried a rogue officer might launch Assad’s CW.

So on multiple occasions the intelligence community has raised ways — rebel capture, non-authorized capture on the Syrian side, or rogue officer — in which CW might be released against Assad’s wishes. Yet their case tying this attack to Assad relies on mere assumptions that none of those things have happened, even while they know the chain of command did not operate as it normally would have.

With all that in mind, consider the implications in this Alan Grayson op-ed. He explicitly reports the Administration has provided no more than a 12-page classified summary. He suggests the summary doesn’t refer to individual social media reports and, given the rules imposed by Mike Rogers, he would be unable to take notes on which social media reports it referred and cross-check them.

    Per the instructions of the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, note-taking is not allowed.

    Once we leave, we are not permitted to discuss the classified summary with the public, the media, our constituents or even other members. Nor are we allowed to do anything to verify the validity of the information that has been provided.

Remember, the Administration’s own map betrays some doubts that the social media reports, at least, would all hold up. If the Administration has simply decreed that no one can check their claims (remember, these are social media reports, and therefore not classified!), it suggests those doubts are now much stronger.

Then Grayson points to the same intercept that has provided the strongest proof that the attack came from within the regime, albeit launched without the authorization of the chain of command.

    The danger of the administration’s approach was illustrated by a widely read report last week in The Daily Caller, which claimed that the Obama administration had selectively used intelligence to justify military strikes in Syria, with one report “doctored so that it leads a reader to just the opposite conclusion reached by the original report.”

    The allegedly doctored report attributes the attack to the Syrian general staff. But according to The Daily Caller, “it was clear that ‘the Syrian general staff were out of their minds with panic that an unauthorized strike had been launched by the 155th Brigade in express defiance of their instructions.’ ”I don’t know who is right, the administration or The Daily Caller. But for me to make the correct decision on whether to allow an attack, I need to know. And so does the American public.

In the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Grayson asked that this intercept be declassified. There were reports the Administration would declassify select intercepts, but thus far it hasn’t happened.

In short, the Administration is so sensitive about their case they’re unwilling to allow members of Congress check even the open source parts of it, and any means of tying the attack to Assad relies on assumptions and an intercept that seems to undermine their case.

Which is why the Administration is invoking on a theory it would never apply to itself: that because Assad is Commander in Chief of his military, he must be held accountable for any actions taken by someone in his military, even if done without authorization.Here’s what accountability for chain of command in the US military looks like, from just yesterday.

    The Marine Corps has dropped criminal charges against an officer accused in connection with a YouTube video showing Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters, the Marine Corps Times reports.

    Capt. James V. Clement, the only officer criminally charged in the case, instead will face a Board of Inquiry that will determine an administrative punishment, the website said. He’s accused of “substandard performance of duty, misconduct, and moral or professional dereliction.”

    [snip]

    Clement is not seen in the YouTube video but faced charges of dereliction of duty, violation of a lawful general order, making false statements to an investigator and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman for failing to supervise junior Marines, failing to stop the misconduct of junior Marines and failing to report misconduct.

We’re not even willing to hold an officer accountable for making false statements about the desecration of corpses caught on tape, much less the President himself. (Remember, too, the President went to great lengths to hide a memorandum of notification that, among other things, amounted to a direct order from Bush that CIA cooperate with Syria in torturing Maher Arar and others.)

And yet, with at least some evidence that the chain of command didn’t want this attack, and with an absence of any evidence directly tying Assad to it, we’re still planning on starting a war over it.

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

Grayson: All we really know about bombing Syria is that we don’t know what happens next

By David Ferguson
RawStory
Saturday, September 7, 2013 16:03 EDT

In an interview with Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) laid out a case against military intervention in Syria and said that not only is the U.S. unlikely to affect the outcome of the current conflict between Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad and rebels the rebels who oppose his regime, but that no one knows exactly what would happen after the raid.

Grayson said in the piece, which appeared on Saturday, that the Obama administration is operating on the assumption that Russia, Iran and Syria itself will take no retaliatory action, and went on to question the accuracy of the intelligence that the administration has received with regards to the situation on the ground in the unstable Middle Eastern republic.

“The one thing you can be sure of in warfare is you can’t be sure of anything,” he said.

“(T)here’s a substantial amount of hubris here,” alleged the Florida congressman. “They think they know where the targets are, they think they know how to hit it with enough force but not too much force, they think they know how the Russian and the Iranians will react. We cannot determine all this. On some level, we’re assuming the reaction from Russia and Iraq and Syria will be zero: We’ll carry out this attacks, and there’ll be no response.”

“This is a bit of a sensitive subject, but the administration has been honest that they have no smoking gun that the attack was ordered by Assad. The evidence of his involvement is circumstantial,” he continued. “We’re two years into a civil war that he’s winning. The Russians and Iranians have told him not to use chemical weapons. Hezbollah has told him not to use chemical weapons because their fighters are at risk. So he’s winning, there’s scant and circumstantial evidence that he ordered the attack. Why are we gaming out his incentives when we don’t know he ordered it?”

This position would fly in the face of the current conventional wisdom in Washington, which considers the chemical attacks an act of the Assad regime proper, not rogue elements within it.

Klein raised the question of what he calls the “meta-argument” for invading Iraq, that having drawn the hypothetical “red line” before the world, “America’s potency on the world stage will be greatly harmed if we permit the red line to be clearly crossed without serious reprisal.”

Grayson scoffed at the idea, saying, “That’s ridiculous: Every country in the world understands that upon the president’s command, we could turn it into a field of molten glass. There is simply no need for that kind of analysis. And by the way, if that kind of analysis was a real thing, we wouldn’t talk about red lines or purple lines or green lines. That’s vague. You’d say if you do X, we will do Y. The president didn’t say that, and that unfortunately has led us into another ambiguous situation.”

Grayson’s prescription for the region is to provide humanitarian aid for the refugees who have streamed out of the country.

“Nobody is saying we should do nothing,” he said. “But the reason why the administration won’t go to the U.N. is because they’d lose the vote. Even [President George W.] Bush took a stab at getting U.N. authorization for the war in Iraq. The president isn’t doing the same even as he claims to be acting on behalf of the international community.”

When asked whether he believes that the White House will get the votes it needs in Congress to pass a resolution in favor of military action in Syria, Grayson said no. Not only is the administration losing the proposition in Congress, he said, but the public is also against it. With the public so closely watching the president’s decision, Grayson asserted, there will be no way to hedge or finesse the matter, either.

He asked, “When has the White House ever — ever — been able to turn around a vote? It hasn’t happened in the entire Obama administration; much less happened when the constituent mail is running 100-1 against. When nobody is paying attention, anything is possible. The president can offer you favors or employ moral suasion or enlist lobbies. But the public is watching and is extremely angry about the president’s position. In that kind of environment, the president doesn’t even have the tools.”

***********

Syria crisis: Kerry says west must not be 'silent spectators to the slaughter'

Secretary of state visits Paris and says Obama is yet to decide whether US will delay possible air strike until after UN report

Tom Dart   
theguardian.com, Saturday 7 September 2013 20.43 BST

Barack Obama is keeping his options open and is yet to decide whether the US will delay possible military action against the Syrian government until after a United Nations report on the Assad regime's alleged chemical weapons attack, John Kerry said on Saturday.

The US secretary of state travelled to Europe on Friday for a three-day visit, aiming to boost international backing for a possible strike in retaliation for the suspected use of chemical weapons in Damascus on 21 August.

Kerry addressed reporters in Paris alongside Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister. France has emerged as the US's key ally as it attempts to persuade the international community to support action against Syria.

While European Union foreign ministers issued a strongly-worded statement on Saturday, condemning the attack and suggesting there is "strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible", the EU said that military retaliation should not occur until the UN inspectors have delivered their report.

Kerry compared Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, to Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler, repeating his contentious claim, made earlier in the week, that the trio are the only leaders to have used chemical weapons since the Geneva Protocol against such methods was signed in 1925.

"This is our Munich moment. This is our chance to join together and pursue accountability over appeasement," Kerry said on Saturday, in a reference to the Munich Agreement between Nazi Germany and Europe's leading powers. He added: "This is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter … this is not the time to allow a dictator unfettered use of some of the most heinous weapons on earth."

Kerry insisted that intervention in Syria was vital to American security. He sought to assuage concerns that it could lead to a lengthy and difficult campaign by saying that any military action would be "targeted and limited but clear and effective" and would not involve "boots on the ground". He said: "We are not talking about going to war, this is not Iraq and it's not Afghanistan. It's not even Libya or Kosovo."

Asked about Obama's stance towards the UN inspectors, Kerry said: "The president of the United States has made no decision. I will return to Washington and obviously this will be a point of discussion but we take that decision under advisement."

Obama is seeking congressional approval for a strike, with US lawmakers set to vote later this month.

The president will give interviews on Monday to the three network news anchors, as well as to anchors from PBS, CNN, and Fox, more evidence of a "full court press" strategy ahead of pivotal congressional votes on military strikes in Syria.

The interviews will be taped on Monday afternoon and will air during each network's Monday evening news broadcast, the White House said.

Obama will make a nationally televised address on Tuesday.

Kerry is also using his brief trip to hold talks on the Middle East peace process. During a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Lithuania earlier on Saturday, he urged the EU to put off a planned ban on financial assistance to Israeli organisations working in the occupied Palestinian territories, according to Reuters.

Rather than issue punitive measures, Kerry asked the ministers to find ways to encourage Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which resumed in July.

On Sunday, he is scheduled to meet representatives of Arab nations in Paris and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in London.

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

September 7, 2013

Obama’s Battle for Syria Votes, Taut and Uphill

By MARK LANDLER and JONATHAN WEISMAN
IHT

WASHINGTON — Each morning for the last week, at 7:45, more than a dozen White House aides have mustered in the corner office of President Obama’s chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, to get their marching orders for what has become the most intense, uphill lobbying campaign of the Obama presidency.

The White House’s goal is to persuade Congress to authorize a limited military strike against Syria to punish it for a deadly chemical weapons attack. But after a frenetic week of wall-to-wall intelligence briefings, dozens of phone calls and hours of hearings with senior members of Mr. Obama’s war council, more and more lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, are lining up to vote against the president.

Officials are guardedly optimistic about the Senate, but the blows keep coming. On Saturday, Senator Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, perhaps the most endangered incumbent up for re-election, came out against the authorization to use force.

In the House, the number of rank-and-file members who have declared that they will oppose or are leaning against military action is approaching 218, the point of no return for the White House. Getting them to reverse their positions will be extremely difficult.

Administration officials say publicly that they are not rattled by such grim vote counts. The debate, they say, will only be fully engaged this week, when Congress returns from recess and Mr. Obama is back from his trip to Sweden and Russia. On Tuesday night, he will lay out his case for a strike to the nation in a speech from the White House.

“It’s too early to jump to any conclusions on where the House or Senate is,” Mr. McDonough said in an interview on Friday. “The effort will only intensify next week.”

To improve its odds, the White House is enlisting virtually every senior official from the president on down. In addition to members of Congress, it is reaching out to Jewish groups, Arab-Americans, left-leaning think tanks and even officials from the George W. Bush administration, some of whom are acting as surrogates. It is also getting help from the nation’s most powerful pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is mounting its own campaign for military action.

The White House and its allies in Congress differ on how the administration handled the first week of the campaign. Administration officials said they succeeded in dispelling doubts about whether the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, carried out the chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21 that they say left more than 1,400 people dead.

“We set a goal this week of making sure people understood the facts of the case,” Mr. McDonough said Friday. “No one with whom I’ve spoken doubts the intelligence. We’re not really debating the veracity of the central charge.”

But people on Capitol Hill said the White House’s initial case for action proved unpersuasive, particularly in the hearings with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.

Lawmakers came away believing that General Dempsey projected an image of military reluctance, that Mr. Hagel seemed occasionally unsure of himself, and that Mr. Kerry exuded a characteristic air of confidence that some members appreciated and others chafed at.

Aides to Congressional Democratic leaders said Saturday that videos of the aftermath of the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, showing civilians lying on the ground in convulsions, have been shown to lawmakers in classified briefings open only to members of Congress. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, posted the videos on the committee’s Web site on Saturday for the public to see.

The next phase of the campaign will be more individualized, and more from Mr. Obama himself. Democrats who are balking are being asked at least to vote against Republican procedural moves meant to delay or derail an up-or-down vote. After all the arguments are exhausted, aides said, it will come down to a personal pitch: the president needs you to save him from a debilitating public defeat.

But first, advisers said, the president needs to explain to the public in his speech on Tuesday why Syria is not another Iraq.

“Right now, to most of the country, this seems like a simple question of, ‘Is Congress going to vote to start another war?’ ” said David Plouffe, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama who, like other veterans of his 2008 campaign, was back in the West Wing last week. “Tuesday night and other opportunities can help fill in the picture for people about both the rationale and limited nature of the response.”

On the day the president is speaking, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee plans to blanket Capitol Hill with 250 advocates, having already contacted dozens of lawmakers to urge them to support a strike.

The advocates will carry a simple message, according to a person involved in the effort: Syria is a proxy for Iran, and the failure to enforce Mr. Obama’s “red line” against the use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad will be interpreted in Tehran as a sign that he will not enforce a red line against the production of nuclear weapons by the Iranian government.

Israel itself is staying out of what it regards as a domestic American political debate. But Michael B. Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, said he was telling any lawmaker who expressed fears that Syria would attack Israel in retaliation for an American missile strike: “Don’t worry about us. We can defend ourselves.”

Among the most visible surrogates could be Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Obama’s former secretary of state, who aides say is likely to address Syria at one or both of two events this week: a previously scheduled visit to the White House on Monday to promote wildlife conservation, and a speech the next day in Philadelphia.

The White House is also putting officials, including the president, before audiences and television cameras. Mr. Obama will tape interviews on Monday with ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS and CNN. Mr. McDonough will appear on all five Sunday news programs, and on Monday the national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, will address the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute.

The last time the White House lobbied this intensively on a single issue was the 2009 health care law. But unlike that battle, which was largely pitched to the Democratic ranks, the White House this time is also appealing to Republicans. Administration officials note that in private conversations, lawmakers repeatedly asked to have their voices heard on Syria.

The administration’s shift began taking shape late last week at briefings for Congressional chiefs of staff and legislative directors. At a bipartisan briefing that was well attended, Robert S. Ford, the senior American envoy to the Syrian opposition, offered a frightening picture of a Middle East with uncontrolled weapons of mass destruction, aides who attended said.

Tailoring the pitch, the White House and Republican Congressional leaders organized another briefing just for Republican staff members to hear from Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser to Mr. Bush, and Eric S. Edelman, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Edelman, in particular, focused on what Republican leaders have been emphasizing: a broader context for the Syrian conflict that includes Iran, loose weapons of mass destruction and the threat to Israel, according to Republican aides.

On the Democratic side, Mr. McDonough met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, while Ms. Rice met with the Congressional Black Caucus, whose loyalty might be crucial.

On Friday, Mr. McDonough and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, held a conference call with Democratic freshmen. Some Democrats have been invited to the Situation Room to meet with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Leaders in both parties say that there is a narrow window to win over or change enough votes to secure passage of the authorization, but that window may close before Mr. Obama’s speech.

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, wrote an opinion article for The Richmond Times-Dispatch explaining his support for a strike in terms that could sway other Republicans — namely that it could combat the influence of Iran and Hezbollah.

But aides say there was a reason Mr. Cantor chose his hometown newspaper: He had to reach his own constituents, who, like most Americans, are opposed to military action.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, called on Mr. Cantor to hear his position but emerged leaning toward no. “I don’t see how they do that now,” he said of winning authorization. “They may be able to squeak it out. But at best it’s going to be razor thin.”

Jonathan Martin contributed reporting.

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

September 7, 2013

Kerry and French Foreign Minister Appeal Together for Strike Against Syria

By MICHAEL R. GORDON
IHT

PARIS — The two most vocal advocates of an international response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria teamed up on Saturday when Secretary of State John Kerry and his French counterpart made an unusual joint appeal for military action.

“France and the United States stand together,” said Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, who argued that a punishing military strike was needed to redraw the red line against the use of chemical weapons.

Mr. Kerry reached back to President John F. Kennedy’s meetings with President Charles de Gaulle and sought to touch a chord with wary Europeans over the need to stand up to the “slaughter” of civilians by delivering much of his presentation in fluent French.

France has displaced Britain as the United States’ main military ally if force is to be used against the Syrian government.

But Mr. Kerry and Mr. Fabius, who each confront a skeptical public at home, need each other politically as well. France has been Exhibit A in the State Department’s campaign to demonstrate that it has managed to mobilize some international support.

French officials, for their part, have made clear that they do not want to go it alone against Syria.

The events that unfolded on Saturday, however, indicated that the next phase of the American and French partnership on Syria will require more coordination.

In an effort to obtain broader backing for a military operation from European nations, France’s president, François Hollande, said Friday that his government would not act militarily before United Nations inspectors presented their findings about the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus, Syria’s capital.

The move was intended to secure a measure of support from Germany, Italy and other European nations, which are concerned that action will be taken without the approval of the United Nations Security Council because of the threat of a Russian veto. And it enabled Mr. Hollande to make the point that there would be some sort of United Nations process before the use of force.

After Mr. Hollande’s remarks, the European Union issued a statement on Saturday at a meeting in Lithuania calling for a “clear and strong response,” endorsing his decision and expressing hope that a “preliminary” version of the report by the United Nations inspectors would be released “as soon as possible.”

The statement, which was read by Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s chief foreign policy official, papered over some of the lingering divisions in the European Union’s ranks.

The statement urged the Security Council to “fulfill its responsibilities” but pointedly did not call for an attack or say that the Council’s approval was required before a military strike could be carried out.

Still, the European Union’s move enabled Germany and France to narrow the gaps between their positions.

On Saturday, Germany indicated that it would support an international response in Syria, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle saying in Vilnius, Lithuania, that Berlin had wanted to wait for European foreign ministers to take a common stand before making its decision.

But while the maneuvering preserved the appearance of European unity, it posed some potential complications for the Obama administration.

Since the mandate of the United Nations inspectors is limited to establishing whether a chemical attack took place, and not who carried it out, the Obama administration has repeatedly asserted that the United Nations evaluation is irrelevant.

But since the administration is also eager to have French participation in any attack, it also has a powerful incentive to accept Mr. Hollande’s approach, especially if it would not greatly delay an American strike for which President Obama has decided to seek Congressional approval.

Senate and House members return from their recess on Monday, when debate on the issue is expected to pick up. Mr. Obama is scheduled to address the nation Tuesday night about Syria.

Mr. Fabius suggested on Saturday that an arrangement might be worked out to protect the interests of all sides.

He said Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, had assured him that the inspectors’ assessment would be submitted very soon.

Mr. Fabius made it clear that he expected the report to be presented before October, and a Western European official who asked not to be named, because he was privy to private diplomatic communications, said it might be ready by next Sunday or soon after.

Such a schedule would enable the United Nations to claim that the work of its inspectors was relevant. It would enable European governments to tell their constituents that there had been United Nations involvement before military action, and it would not appear to tie the Americans’ hands.

Mr. Kerry declined to comment on the Europeans’ insistence that any military action follow the submission of the inspectors’ preliminary report, adding that he would take up the question with Mr. Obama and top officials after he returned to Washington on Monday.

But with an uphill battle to win Congressional support and Mr. Obama receiving less backing than he would have wished during the recent Group of 20 summit meeting, the White House may be ready to embrace Mr. Hollande’s strategy.

“The president has given up no right of decision in respect to what he will do,” said Mr. Kerry, who nonetheless added that he was encouraged by the “very powerful statement” made by the European Union.

Suzanne Daley contributed reporting from Paris.


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« Reply #8578 on: Sep 08, 2013, 06:49 AM »


Protesters in Tunisia renew calls for government to step down

Largest protest since opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi was killed in July intensifies pressure on ruling Ennahda party

Reuters in Tunis
theguardian.com, Saturday 7 September 2013 23.43 BST   

Tens of thousands of Tunisians took to the streets of Tunis on Saturday to renew their demands that the Islamist-led government step down and end a political deadlock threatening the north African country's fledgling democracy.

It was the largest protest since Tunisia's crisis erupted over the killing of an opposition leader in July, increasing pressure on the ruling Ennahda party to make way for a caretaker government before proposed elections.

Waving red and white national flags and pictures of murdered opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi, protesters packed streets around a building where a national assembly had been drafting a new constitution until its work was suspended due to unrest.

"It's over for them, they should leave," said sports teacher Houssem Ben Hassen at the rally, wrapped in a Tunisian flag. "We need a government for all Tunisians."

Divisions between Tunisia's Islamists and their secular opponents have widened since the uprising that ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, a revolt that triggered unrest across the Arab world and toppled rulers in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Tunisia's transition since that revolt has been relatively peaceful, with the moderate Islamist Ennahda party sharing power with smaller secular parties.

But tensions have increased in the nation of 11 million since Brahmi was killed in July, just months after another secular opposition figure was murdered by gunmen who authorities say were tied to radical Islamists.

Drawn-out wrangling over political control, elections and a new constitution now threatens transition and economic growth in a country once seen as the most promising example for the region's nascent democracies following the Arab spring.

The head of the constituent assembly about to finish drafting the new constitution halted its work after Brahmi's assassination, throwing the country's transition plan for a caretaker cabinet and elections off track.

Facing a vote analysts say it may lose, Ennahda has said it is willing to step down, but asked for at least a month to allow the national assembly to finish writing the constitution and to negotiate over the composition of the caretaker government.

After talks failed to end the standoff this week, Tunisia's opposition Salvation Front – a mix of leftists and traditional parties including leaders who once served under Ben Ali – threatened to intensify protests against Ennahda.

"We have to put more pressure on the government so they step down. There is no other solution," said Jilani Hammami, an opposition member. "If we wait for Ennahda, then they will carry on for two months and keep on with their programme."

While the Egyptian army's overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July following mass protests against him has further emboldened the anti-Islamist opposition in Tunisia, it is unlikely to follow Egypt's path.

With its strong links to Europe and a non-political military staying out of the fray, most analysts see Tunisia weathering its current crisis to hold elections despite disagreements over how and when the poll will happen.

"The contours of a compromise have been sketched: a new technocratic government and the approval of the constitution within the space of a month or two," said Riccardo Fabiani, a Middle East analyst with London-based Eurasia Group.

"The real obstacle is the issue of when the current government should leave and a new one should be formed."


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« Reply #8579 on: Sep 08, 2013, 06:53 AM »

September 7, 2013

In Egypt, a Welcome for Syrian Refugees Turns Bitter

By SARAH MOUSA and KAREEM FAHIM
IHT

CAIRO — Dozens of men with clubs and knives stormed a charity for Syrian refugees a few days after the Egyptian military ousted President Mohamed Morsi — making it clear they were no longer welcome in Egypt.

“You Syrians — you’re setting the country on fire,” the attackers yelled in July as they beat Raqan Abulkheir, who is originally from Homs in central Syria. He runs the refugee center out of an apartment in a Cairo suburb where thousands of Syrians have settled. His 25-year-old son was bludgeoned over the head and left in a coma.

During the two and a half years of civil war in Syria, more than two million people have fled the country, most of them taking up residence as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But as many as 300,000 have eventually made their way to Egypt, where they were welcomed, including by Mr. Morsi and his Islamist allies, who were vocal backers of the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

“The people here supported us,” said Mohamed Taher, a filmmaker from northern Syria. “Egyptians did what they could to help Syrians. They went out of their way to do more.”

But as public anger grew against Mr. Morsi leading up to his ouster, the Syrians were cast as his allies. And, along with other foreigners, they were made scapegoats as the military took power and warned of external plots to destabilize Egypt, unleashing a suffocating xenophobia in the news media and on the streets.

One former member of Parliament called for Syrians and other foreigners to be executed. A television host told the “real men” among the Syrians to “go back to your country and solve your problems there.”

The rising nationalism was sudden, and startling. Mohamed Abazid, 28, a refugee from Dara’a in southern Syria, grew fearful as he saw fliers being passed around. “My Egyptian brother, my Egyptian sister,” the fliers said. “Fight the Syrian occupation and defend your jobs.”

In recent weeks, some of the new government’s prominent supporters have publicly praised Mr. Assad’s military, in a jarring turn for the many refugees who felt safe in Egypt as dissidents.

Since the beating, Mr. Abulkheir has returned to work in this Cairo suburb, and his son, who had 40 stitches in his head, has recovered, he said. Other refugees said they had faced no problems, but stories like Mr. Abulkheir’s have made them nervous. Many Syrians have chosen to spend less time in public or to leave Egypt altogether for Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan, exacerbating the regional refugee crisis. Others take their chances with smugglers and flee by boat to Italy, refugee advocates say. And hundreds more Syrians have been arrested and deported.

Before Mr. Morsi’s ouster, it was difficult to find seats on flights to Cairo from the refugee hubs in Istanbul; Beirut, Lebanon; and Amman, Jordan. After the military-backed government took power, Syrians were required, for the first time in decades, to obtain visas. Over the last two months, “based on the information available, we’ve had almost no Syrians coming in,” said Edward Leposky, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency. The refugees have memorized outbound flight schedules.

While thousands of refugees already settled in Egypt have been registering with the United Nations in a desperate attempt to legalize their status, an increasing number have been closing their files with the agency, including about 820 refugees in August, an indication they were intending to leave, he said.

Since most Syrian refugees are not registered, their advocates say, the numbers of people leaving are certainly much higher. “There is increasing anxiety about the insecurity here, and the poor treatment they are receiving,” Mr. Leposky said, mentioning insults and threats, incitement in the news media and calls to boycott Syrian businesses.

The anxiety hums on the outskirts of Cairo, in the suburbs spotted with luxury neighborhoods and lower- and middle-class housing projects where many Syrians found cheap apartments.

In one of the Syrian apartment buildings, Mamoun, a man from Syria’s capital, Damascus, recovered from stab wounds he received when a man attacked him on a bus after Mamoun asked people to stop smoking.

He was not sure why he was attacked: Syrians say that these days, their accent is enough to invite hostility. The man who stabbed him accused him of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi’s Islamist party.

When he stumbled onto the pavement, bleeding, bystanders seemed afraid to approach him, and finally directed him to a pharmacy. Mamoun, who had lived with his family in Brooklyn for a time before moving back to Syria and then to Egypt, asked to be identified by only his first name for the family’s safety.

His story has circulated among his family and friends: At least 15 families he knows have fled to Italy, he said. Other relatives in Syria who were considering joining him in Egypt heard his story and decided to stay put.

“Egypt was a calm country,” Mamoun said. “Now, there isn’t a calm country in the region.”

In the nearby 6th of October City, parts of which have come to be known as Little Damascus, the refugees say the official hostility has amplified the frustrations of Egyptians with their own faltering economy, and Egypt’s chronic insecurity since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

“My Egyptian neighbors say: ‘You’re taking our jobs. We’re done with you,’ ” said a woman from the Ghouta region near Damascus, where hundreds of Syrians died last month in a suspected chemical weapons attack.

The woman, who lives alone, has changed the way she dresses to make herself less identifiable as a Syrian, and now peppers her speech with Egyptian colloquialisms.

“The people who came here were already damaged,” she said.

Refugees say their troubles have roots in a rally Mr. Morsi held in June in solidarity with the Syrian opposition, shocking many Egyptians, and cementing the link between the refugees and Mr. Morsi’s fate.

At the rally, one speaker approvingly compared the situation in Syria to the jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, while another insulted Shiite Muslims. Mr. Morsi said that he was severing diplomatic ties with Syria and, for the first time, spoke about his support for a no-fly zone.

Many Syrians saw the event as an attempt by the embattled president to rally support among Islamists and feared they would be tainted by his troubles. After the military took over and some Syrians were arrested protesting with Mr. Morsi’s supporters, it made matters much worse for the refugees.

“The Brotherhood played with the Syrian cause,” said Mr. Taher, the filmmaker. “We didn’t leave Syria to get involved in another war.”

On a recent evening, employees at the VIP Cafe in 6th of October City swept away shards from the storefront’s shattered glass. What started as a scuffle expanded when dozens of local thugs smashed the cafe’s front and some of the tables and chairs. The owner, Osama al-Loge, said that the police came hours later and did not bother to listen to his complaint.

“We were protected under the old regime,” said Mr. Loge, who said he found it simple to open his cafe when Mr. Morsi was president and the government seemed intent on easing life for the refugees. Now, he said, he goes to work and then home again, hoping he will not be noticed.

“At least in Damascus we know who our enemy is,” he said. “Here, we’re never sure. The government? Thugs? Police? The people?”

Asmaa Al Zohairy contributed reporting.


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