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« Reply #9555 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:51 AM »


Primark offers long-term compensation to Rana Plaza factory collapse victims

Clothing retailer calls on other brands to help injured workers and families of those killed in Bangladesh disaster

Press Association
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 October 2013 17.31 BST

The clothes retailer Primark has offered to compensate injured workers and relatives of those who died in the Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh.

Six months ago 1,129 workers were killed and about 2,500 injured when the garment factory building in Dhaka collapsed. The factory had been supplying high-street brands around the world.

Primark, owned by Associated British Foods, has offered to pay long-term compensation to the victims of the disaster or their families.

Five hundred and fifty workers at the supplier New Wave Bottoms, which had been making clothes for Primark, will be given a third short-term payment, believed to be three months' wages, while the long-term compensation is finalised.

The minimum wage in Bangladesh is £24 a month and Primark said this offer would "alleviate immediate hardship".

As part of the longer-term deal workers will get medical and vulnerability assessments by experts at Dhaka University, independent doctors, unions and non-governmental organisations. Primark will begin paying compensation early next year.

"The company calls on other brands sourcing from Rana Plaza to now contribute a fair share of this tranche of aid," a spokesman said.

The announcement follows pressure from campaigners for fashion brands whose clothes were produced at Rana Plaza to agree long-term compensation, although it comes amid concerns that many UK consumers are showing little interest in the disaster.

Sir Richard Lambert, a former editor of the Financial Times and former director general of the CBI, told an ethical business conference in London on Thursday: "I am actually amazed about how little impact the disaster in Bangladesh has had on consumers in this. I see no change in consumer habits here."

Primark's move coincides with a candlelit vigil at the factory site by injured workers, relatives of the dead and members of the global unions IndustriALL and UNI which are fighting for the introduction of safe standards in garment factories.

Last month IndustriALL called a meeting of some of the world's largest retailers in Geneva to discuss a £47.2m compensation fund for the workers injured in the disaster, and the families of those who died. Only nine brands using clothes from the factory turned up.

Primark, which is headquartered in Dublin and trades under the Penneys banner in Ireland, had a supplier on the eighth floor of the building. It was one of 28 brands being supplied from the factory. Other companies are said to be considering whether to follow the proposal.

Primark said it was pressing ahead with its compensation scheme because of the time it is taking to reach agreement.

It committed to paying another three months' wages to all workers or their families if the other 27 brands which used Rana Plaza refuse to support their compensation scheme. Primark also sent food aid to 1,300 families within a week of the building collapse.


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« Reply #9556 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:53 AM »

Mongolians target success on the darts world stage

Darts federation hopes to woo players away from traditional sports of wrestling, riding and archery – and defeat the English

Tania Branigan in Ulan Bator
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 09.49 BST     

Mongolians have long prided themselves on their prowess in the three "manly" sports: wrestling, riding and archery. But they are now sweeping to victory in a new field, where sharp eyes and competitive focus are every bit as crucial – darts.

"When we first began participating, people would say: 'How can you guys play? We thought you lived in gers [felt tents] and rode horses; do you even have buildings?'" said Erdene Mandakh, president of the Mongolian Amateur Darts Federation. "Now they have stopped asking; they just see us as competitors. But this is only the beginning."

Britain's own manly sport takes little room, uses cheap equipment and is suited to Mongolia's fierce winters, when temperatures can sink to -40C.

"In China, ping-pong is pretty much the national sport. We want to bring darts to that level," said Odbileg Khayankhyarvaa, who co-founded the federation in 2009.

The two men were among the earliest to discover the game, in the early 1990s. "My generation of Mongolian darts players didn't know anyone other than John Lowe, Eric Bristow and Dennis Priestley," Erdene said.

These days, novices have it easy: they can watch their fill of matches via the internet. "But back then," said the 35-year-old, "you would get one video that someone brought back from Russia, maybe. That would be a huge deal. There was no colour TV and hardly anyone had a video player. You would finally find a machine and everyone would gather and you would sit and watch it all night."

In those days, dartboards were usually found in markets, with people betting on the outcome.

Baatar Tsend tried her hand one day and discovered she was a natural. Soon it became an obsession. "There is nothing bad about darts," said the 49-year-old, twice national women's champion. "If I compare it to a person – I would say I am in love with darts."

Her passion is such that she played on even when a nearby stove set fire to her fur coat, too absorbed to notice until a strange smell wafted to her nostrils. On the verge of going into labour, she persuaded friends to smuggle her a dartboard through a hospital window so she could train.
Erdene Mandakh and Baatar Tsend, Mongolian darts players Darts champions Erdene Mandakh (right) and Baatar Tsend. Photograph: Dan Chung

Last year, she insisted on competing one day after her appendectomy, despite being unable to stand up straight to throw. Hovering at the oche at an Ulaanbaatar leisure centre, darts in hand, she analysed the roots of her devotion. "Since ancient times our people have been practising archery and ankle bone shooting," she said. "They've got great aim, so maybe this is in our genes or something: our special Mongolian genes."

History does not record whether Genghis Khan cried salt tears when he realised there were no more worlds to conquer. But Baatar wept with joy when she saw her friend Erdenechimeg Dondou, 38, clinch the women's gold medal at the Darts World Cup in Shanghai this August.

"I was so joyful and excited I didn't even realise I was jumping up and down on the podium," recalled Erdenechimeg, who trains before and after her work at a power plant each day. Just a few months earlier, Erdenechimeg and Erdene took gold in the mixed doubles at the Asian Darts Tournament. "My dream is that, in the near future, I'll go to the birthplace of darts and compete against British players," she added.

The players offer numerous explanations for the game's appeal: it teaches calmness and focus, improves your mental arithmetic, suits all ages and statures and even boosts your health. "They say that with billiards, you walk 5km in an hour. In darts, you do probably more; 10km," Odbileg claimed.

That seems a generous estimate. But the players are certainly less portly than one might expect, perhaps because they have shunned beer for soft drinks in the hope of winning government backing.

China is another darts latecomer but, they point out, it already has a specialist school. The Mongolian players are also seeking commercial support and new ways of wooing potential players to supplement the 2,000 already converted. They have promoted the game at the annual Mongolian scout jamboree and at outdoor events in the snow; through companies and government departments; and most of all, to their nearest and dearest.

Erdene's wife and two elder sons are enthusiasts and even his toddler has his own set of darts. "He laughs and smiles when he sees the board," his father said proudly. "Inside my home it's darts – and outside the home it's darts … My life is all about darts.

"Of course, our dream is to play against English people and beat them. Our dream is to defeat the English. Our dream is to become world champions."

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

Mongolia's special relationship with North Korea pays economic dividends

Ulan Bator's longstanding links with Pyongyang can help stability in region, says foreign minister of democratic ex-Soviet satellite

Tania Branigan in Ulan Bator
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 11.46 BST         

North Korean workers toil in factories and on building sites, kimjongilia flowers bloom at a special exhibition, and a restaurant serves plates of bulgogi as another patriotic song blares from a television. Yet this chilly north Asian capital is not Pyongyang, but Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

When Mongolia's president, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, arrives in North Korea on Sunday – the first head of state to visit since Kim Jong-un took power – it will cement a longstanding relationship.

Other countries have ties to North Korea, but Mongolia is highly unusual as a democracy enjoying warm relations with both Pyongyang's authoritarian regime and Seoul government in the South. "The visit of our president will elevate relations to a new stage," Mongolia's foreign minister, Luvsanvandan Bold, told the Guardian.

"We want to make a more secure region – more safe and stable – with more economic development. Of course we have different systems but we shared a common history and there's a lot of sympathy between Mongolian and Korean people."

Mongolia, then a Soviet satellite, was the second country to recognise North Korea and took orphans following the Korean war. Such charitable initiatives continued after Mongolia's democratisation; last month it delivered food aid, following a request from Pyongyang.

Charles Armstrong, professor of Korean Studies at Columbia University and author of Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, said the countries had a shared history that pre-dated the communist period and "a common concern about domination by larger countries, namely Russia and China, and retaining political independence".

On Mongolia's side, its ability to engage with North Korea is a potentially important asset in dealing with other, more powerful countries.

"Ulan Bator can be a useful platform to create understanding," the foreign minister said. "What Mongolia can provide is leverage to improve the situation in the region and pursue the initiative for parties to share dialogue … We see a lot of room to be more active."

Last year Ulan Bator hosted talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang on Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.

"Mongolia has done a good job of portraying itself as an honest broker on Korean peninsula issues. It is probably the only country that both North and South Korea can be said to trust," Armstrong said.

"To the extent that North Korea can be persuaded to do anything, Mongolia can play an important mediating role … Of course, North Korea is fiercely protective of its independence and will act in its own perceived interest, taking maximum advantage of the countries it deals with. But due to its non-threatening nature, Mongolia is in a better position to positively influence North Korea's behaviour than are China, Russia, South Korea, Japan or the US."

Economic links are becoming as important; one key advantage for the landlocked country is North Korea's access to the sea.

Earlier this year, Mongolia-listed HB Oil bought a 20% stake in a North Korean state-owned refinery. It plans to supply crude oil to the Sungri refinery, based in the special economic zone at Rason, exporting the products back to Mongolia.

"That has triggered a lot of interest," said Munkhdul Badral, founder of business research firm Cover Mongolia, who visited Pyongyang with a business delegation last month. "Other potentially developing countries are already crowded with Chinese investment … It doesn't make much sense for Mongolian companies to be going into Myanmar [Burma]."

Mongolian firms can also benefit from offering others a route into North Korea. "Essentially, this HB Oil opportunity has provided those foreign investors who specialise in managing funds in emerging and frontier markets with an opportunity to gain exposure to the DPRK [North Korea]," said Joseph Naemi, non-executive director of HB Oil.

If the North Koreans approve the processing agreement, Sungri could reach full operational capacity as early as the first quarter of 2015, he said; the Mongolian oil firm also has exclusive rights to onshore exploration, development and production of hydrocarbons.

Given Pyongyang's fractious relations with other governments, such investments come at significant risk. "Of course, sanctions can change. If they affect the oil and gas industry of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] then yes, we are out of business," said Naemi, adding that if the sector was not used to risk, "oil would have been at $1,000 a barrel 30 years ago".

Others warn that foreign operations in North Korea face considerable domestic challenges and have little protection even if their countries have good diplomatic relations, as Chinese businesses have found.

"I can think of five or six cases - two are success stories," said Andrei Lankov, an expert on North Korea at Kookmin University in Seoul.

Hiring North Korean workers, however, had proved "a capitalist dream: people work hard, don't ask for much money and never ever unionise". There are around 1,700 such labourers in Mongolia and construction and manufacturing firms seek more; existing agreements would allow up to 5,000 to work there.

Lankov noted that North Koreans paid "very significant" bribes to get jobs abroad because they could earn five or six times the average wage at home. Even after Pyongyang has taken a large chunk of their earnings, "it's unbelievably profitable - and they save most of it and buy goods that will sell well in the North Korean markets, multiplying it".

He and others argue that exposing North Koreans to the outside world has to be positive. "We are still not a rich country, but we have gained a lot of experience in the past 20 years and more in shaping society and democratising. I think that's very important," said Bold. "There are a lot of opportunities for North Korea … It is very important they can see how there could be a transformation process."

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

North Korean leaders may be called to face ICC over 'human rights abuses'

Panel sitting in London hears 'extremely powerful' evidence of mistreatment by totalitarian country and neighbour China

Peter Walker   
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 October 2013 19.13 BST   

UN investigators leading an inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea are consulting international lawyers over the possibility of summoning senior regime figures to appear before the international criminal court.

China could also face condemnation for its longstanding policy of sending home North Koreans, despite evidence they faced mistreatment and abuse on their return, said the head of the inquiry after what he called heart-rending testimony in London by escapees from the country.

Among witnesses to the panel, which has spent two days taking evidence in the UK after sessions in South Korea and Japan, was a former political prisoner who described having to enter the cell he shared with 40 other detainees via a door 50cm (20in) high, a deliberate policy by guards so they crawled "like animals".

Another UK-based exile wept as she said she had been forced to leave behind her Chinese-born infant son when she was sent back to North Korea for fear of the treatment he would receive under the country's racial purity beliefs.

Michael Kirby, the Australian retired judge who chairs the panel, set up in March by the UN human rights council and due to report by the end of the year, described the evidence in London as extremely powerful. He said: "You have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the testimony you receive."

The panel is consulting legal experts in London and the US on the possibility of extending the remit of the Hague-based international criminal court (ICC) to try people for abuses in North Korea, Kirby told reporters.

He said: "We have in our mandate an obligation to look at who, in positions high and low, is responsible for the human rights violations we find. That is a matter that is agitating a lot of our thoughts at the moment."

While North Korea is not a signatory to the treaty that created the ICC, Kirby said, the UN security council had the power to extend the court's remit in exceptional cases.

China was also likely to be asked to account for its policy of treating North Koreans who flee to the country as economic migrants, Kirby said, given that treaties to which Beijing is a signatory compel nations to protect those who face maltreatment when sent home.

"The gathering evidence of the inquiry is certainly that people who are sent back from China to North Korea suffer very great punishments," he said. "This is a matter which may need to be considered by us."

Many of the 65 witnesses heard by the panel fled North Korea via China, with a number saying they faced incarceration in prison camps and abuse when they returned.

Kim Song Ju told the hearing that he received subhuman treatment when sent back, including the use of the cell with the 50cm door.

Park Jiyhun, who was returned from China several times, said she believed her son might have been sold into human trafficking when she was ejected from China.

The inquiry also heard that women returned from abroad were routinely checked for pregnancy in case they were carrying a child by a foreign father, and that one mother was forced to drown her newborn baby in a bucket because prison guards believed the father was Chinese.

Such notions of racial purity had "resonances that are specially horrifying if you are in Europe, because of the memory of the second world war", Kirby noted.

It was difficult to remain objective in the face of such "very distressing" evidence.

North Korea had been asked repeatedly to give its side but refused, he said.

The hope was, Kirby said, that the commission's report would bring renewed focus to human rights in North Korea, which had "slipped below the radar" compared to the likes of Syria and Burma.

Kirby said: "There's not a lot of interest in or knowledge about human rights issues in North Korea.

"The problems which are described in the evidence are known vaguely by the international community but there is not the engagement with them."


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« Reply #9557 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:55 AM »


Bo Xilai's appeal rejected by Chinese court

Former Communist party boss claimed verdict was formality as he mounted fiesty defence against corruption convictions

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 07.46 BST   

A court in eastern China has rejected an appeal by the ousted Chinese leader Bo Xilai and upheld his life sentence for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

Bo, the 64-year-old former Communist party head of the south-western metropolis of Chongqing, was once known for his charisma, elaborate anti-crime campaigns and neo-Maoist politics. He fell from grace last year after his second-in-command fled to the US consulate in a neighbouring city, exposing his wife's murder of a British businessman in a Chongqing hotel.

Last month, the Jinan intermediate people's court in the coastal Shandong province sentenced Bo to life in prison for accepting £2.1m in bribes, embezzling more than £500,000 and abusing his position by blocking an investigation into the murder.

After a brief session on Friday, the Shandong high people's court upheld the lower court's decision, China's state newswire Xinhua reported via its official microblog. It did not provide further details. Bo will not have another chance to appeal.

He mounted a feisty defense at his trial, turning what many had expected to be a brief, staid affair into a five-day drama full of cutting dialogue and lurid revelations. He denied all of the charges.

Analysts said that while the Chinese government was keen to present the trial as evidence of the country's rule of law, authorities tightly controlled the proceedings and determined his verdict well in advance.

Bo's former second-in-command, Wang Lijun, is serving a 15-year prison sentence after being found guilty of a series of charges, including defection. His wife, Gu Kailai, was found guilty of murder last year and received a suspended death sentence – effectively life in prison.

Bo's sentence was the harshest for a current or former member of China's politburo, the country's top decision-making body, since 1981, when Mao's widow Jiang Qing received a suspended death sentence for overseeing atrocities during the Cultural Revolution.

Bo Zhiyue, an expert on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore, called the rejected appeal unsurprising. "Politically I think [Bo] is finished," he said. "But Chinese politics are not predictable. You never know – something may happen down the road."


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« Reply #9558 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:57 AM »


October 24, 2013

Tibetans Call China’s Policies at Tourist Spot Tacit but Stifling

By DAN LEVIN
IHT

XIAHE, China — Buddhist monks in flowing burgundy robes hurried along the dirt paths of the Labrang Monastery, trying their best to ignore the scrum of Chinese tourists following their every move, many with cameras fit for paparazzi.

Pilgrims and those less spiritually inclined wandered through the ornate complex here in the mountain town of Xiahe to gaze upon towering Buddha statues bathed in incense. Some tourists held back to indulge in distinctly unenlightened pursuits, smoking cigarettes and pouting at smartphones in the high-tech vanity ritual known as the selfie.

One of the most important sites in Tibetan Buddhism, Labrang presents an idyllic picture of sacred devotion that is carefully curated by the Chinese government, which hopes to convince visitors that Tibetan religion and culture are swaddled in the Communist Party’s benevolent embrace.

But behind closed doors, many of the monastery’s resident monks complain about intrusive government policies, invisible to tourists, that they say are strangling their culture and identity.

“Even if we’re just praying, the government treats us as criminals,” said a young monk, who like others interviewed recently spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid government repercussions.

Such frustrations, many monks say, are what have driven more than 120 Tibetans to set fire to themselves since 2009, including 13 in the Labrang area, in a wave of protests that has gone largely unreported in Chinese news media.

International human rights advocates say that rather than address the underlying grievances — including Beijing’s deeply unpopular campaign to demonize the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader — Chinese authorities have responded with even harsher policies that punish the relatives of those who self-immolate and imprison those who disseminate news of the protests to the outside world.

Exile groups and analysts say Labrang and a handful of other monasteries across the vast Tibetan plateau in Central Asia have become showcases for Beijing’s strategy, which seeks to stifle dissent in well-trafficked tourist sites without scaring away visitors.

Monks here describe a largely unseen web of controls that keep potential troublemakers in line: ubiquitous surveillance cameras, paid informers and plainclothes security agents who mingle among the busloads of tourists. Hidden from the throngs are the political education sessions during which monks are forced to denounce the Dalai Lama. Stiff jail sentences await those who step out of line. “If we don’t obey, it will be terrible for us,” the monk said.

Founded in the early 18th century, the Labrang Monastery is tucked into the dusky hills of northwestern Gansu Province. Each day, hundreds of Chinese tourists arrive to spin colorful prayer wheels lining the monastery perimeter and sip tea at hotels designed to resemble Tibetan nomadic tents. Along the town’s main street, they buy turquoise-encrusted amulets, dress up in monks’ robes and take turns trying on the ceremonial yellow hats that resemble mohawk-style haircuts. Officials hope that a recently completed airport will draw even bigger crowds.

In a monastery courtyard surrounded by whitewashed mud walls, a Chinese family from the provincial capital, Lanzhou, knelt down to pray to Buddha. “If you ask nicely, he’ll make your wish come true,” said the mother, Ming Yang, who acknowledged that her understanding of Buddhism ended there.

With an eye on the lucrative prestige of a Unesco World Heritage listing, the central government is giving the monastery a $26 million face-lift. Around 1,000 monks and 65,000 volumes of Buddhist scripture are housed in the sprawling complex, which local officials say is in dire need of structural improvements.

Yet locals complain that much of the construction is aimed at increasing tourism, rather than benefiting Tibetans. “It looks fancy, but in reality all the improvements are for Chinese people,” one said.

Tourism is rapidly reshaping much of the Tibetan plateau. According to the Xinhua state news agency, six million tourists visited Lhasa, the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, in the first eight months of this year, a 20 percent increase over the same period in 2012. The boom has attracted several international hotel chains to the city, which is under de facto martial law.

In May, Tibetan exile groups started a boycott campaign against the InterContinental Hotels Group, which is building a 2,000-room luxury resort next to the historic residence once occupied by the Dalai Lama.

In the wake of violent anti-Chinese protests that swept Tibet in 2008 and the wave of self-immolations that followed, security forces have tightened their grip. The crackdown reaches deep into the folds of Tibetan spirituality. According to the International Campaign for Tibet, officials have posted notices in Tibetan areas declaring it illegal to pray for self-immolators or to show solidarity “by burning incense, chanting religious scriptures, releasing animals from killing and lighting candles.” At least two monks have been jailed for praying on behalf of self-immolators, the group said.

Exile groups say such tactics only alienate Tibetans further. “Even lighting a butter lamp or incense stick becomes an act against the state,” Kate Saunders, communications director for the organization, said from London.

Yet local enforcement has been erratic. Nowhere is this more clear than at Labrang, where a framed photo of the Dalai Lama sits on an altar beside a large golden Buddha. For years, the government has banned photos of the Dalai Lama and forbidden Tibetans to worship him as a religious figure. Monks at Labrang said they believed that local officials had decided to quietly tolerate such photos in an effort to head off further unrest.

On the tour, few of the Chinese day-trippers seemed to recognize the older, bespectacled man Beijing has called “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” The monk guiding the group made no mention of his identity, lest it threaten the ticket sales and donations needed to cover operating costs.

But being the main attraction on a Buddhist safari has spiritual drawbacks.

“Chinese tourists just barge in when we’re studying,” a middle-aged monk said as he fingered a set of prayer beads. “It knocks on our minds, but they don’t care.”

Such complaints appear to be falling on deaf ears. During a tour of the region in July, China’s top official in charge of ethnic minorities, Yu Zhengsheng, insisted that economic development was the panacea for what ailed Tibetans. In the same breath, he condemned the Dalai Lama’s “middle way,” which calls for genuine autonomy in Tibet but not independence, saying it conflicts with China’s political system.

“Only when people’s lives have been improved can they be better united with the Chinese Communist Party and become a reliable basis for maintaining stability,” he said, according to Xinhua.

But local Tibetans seethe at China’s refusal to recognize their most basic aspirations. “Our hope is that the Dalai Lama can return,” said a monk, looking out for eavesdroppers while sitting at a cafe. “Without him, there is no chance our religion and culture will survive.”


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« Reply #9559 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:59 AM »

October 24, 2013

Hardships Mounting for Refugees Inside Syria

By ANNE BARNARD
IHT

DAMASCUS, Syria — Some five million Syrians are now refugees in their own country, many living hand-to-mouth in vacant buildings, schools, mosques, parks and the cramped homes of relatives. Others are trapped in neighborhoods isolated by military blockades, beyond the reach of aid groups. Already desperately short of food and medicine as winter closes in, they could begin to succumb in greater numbers to hunger and exposure, aid workers say.

The long civil war has forced two million Syrians outside the country‘s borders, but more than twice that number face mounting privations at home, and the toll keeps rising. The deepening humanitarian crisis threatens to set the country’s development back decades and dwarfs any aid effort that could conceivably be carried out while the conflict continues, aid workers and analysts say.

The cost of replacing damaged homes and infrastructure alone is estimated at more than $30 billion, and the ruin mounts daily. More than half of the country’s hospitals are destroyed or closed, and according to Save the Children a fifth of Syrian families go without food one week a month. Syria’s economy has shrunk by half.

Even in relatively safe areas, a closer look at bustling streets reveals the displaced spilling from every corner. Thousands of people live in the gyms and hallways of a sports complex turned state-run shelter in the coastal city of Latakia. In the capital, Damascus, newcomers crowd ramshackle hotels, half-finished buildings, offices and storefronts. Long lines form outside the shrinking number of government bakeries still operating. In some of the suburbs, people have confessed to eating dogs and cats, and imams have even issued decrees saying it is religiously permissible.

Outside the Umayyad Mosque in the heart of old Damascus, Nasreen, 25, cradled her baby in her lap one recent evening. She and her siblings, husband and parents, who declined to give their family name for fear of reprisals, were cramped into a single room nearby, having fled the suburb of Daraya after their home was damaged.

With rising rent depleting their savings, and the shop they relied on for income now sealed off behind a government blockade, they accept occasional handouts from neighborhood organizations. But what weighs on them most are thoughts of the future: They said they could not imagine when or how they might return to a hometown where entire blocks have been bombed to rubble.

“We have only God,” she said.

Even those still in their homes are increasingly suffering as inflation soars and food shortages grow, especially in areas blockaded by the government or rebels. Many are angry and mystified that more help has not reached them from the outside world.

“It is as if we are living on Jupiter or Mars,” said Qusai Zakarya, a spokesman for an opposition council in Moadhamiya, south of Damascus, where the government has not allowed aid convoys to enter for nine months. “Everyone is looking at us from the window and we are in a separate world. Everyone left us alone, every single person on this planet.”

In a news conference in Kuwait on Thursday, the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said that Turkey, which has absorbed 600,000 Syrian refugees, would keep its border with Syria open, but he also expressed his “deep disappointment and frustration because of the absence of a proper reaction by the international community” to the humanitarian crisis.

A $1.5 billion international aid effort, carried out under dangerous and politically charged conditions by the United Nations, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and smaller local organizations, provides stopgap food, schooling and medicine to millions of people. But it is underfinanced, covers just a fraction of the needs, fails to reach people in blockaded areas and does not begin to address the collapse of Syria’s health, education and economic infrastructure and its devastating implications for the country’s future, aid officials in Syria and across the region say.

“If we continue to deal with this crisis as a short-term disaster instead of a long-term effort, the region will face even more severe consequences,” Neal Keny-Guyer, the chief executive of Mercy Corps, wrote recently, calling for increased American financing and a new focus on longer-term development projects, like repairing water infrastructure.

Some go further, saying that the only meaningful humanitarian action now is to end the fighting.

Omar Abdelaziz al-Hallaj, an independent Syrian adviser to aid, development and conflict resolution efforts in the region, told the Lebanese Economic Association in Beirut recently that the focus must be shifted “from saving a few lives to saving more lives by halting the violence.”

The war, Mr. Hallaj and United Nations officials in Syria said, is disintegrating administrative and social structures at a pace that makes it impossible to deliver adequate aid even if financing were available, which it is not. “No donor funds have ever been known to be given in the magnitude of aid needed in Syria,” Mr. Hallaj said.

To help the more than six million people displaced or severely affected by the crisis inside Syria, the United Nations has asked for $1.5 billion, far less than the $3 billion it has requested to aid the two million refugees outside the country. The discrepancy stems in part from United Nations principles of dealing with sovereign states, under which the plan is intended only to support efforts led by the Syrian government. That creates a politically awkward situation, in that much of the need is in rebel-held areas.

If the war goes on for another year, Mr. Hallaj said, Syria “will be reduced to the bottom of the development ladder, along with countries like Somalia and Yemen,” a shocking fall for a country that before the war produced most of its own food and medicine, and despite worsening economic inequality had a strong social safety net and educational system by regional standards.

The Syrian government prides itself on continuing to pay salaries even in areas controlled by the opposition, and in some cities local ministry offices continue to work with United Nations agencies. But the estimated $10 billion the government used to pump annually into local spending for social services, utilities, subsidies and the like has mostly evaporated, Mr. Hallaj said.

Aid workers and analysts warn that as the war continues into its third winter — with harvests depleted by fighting — deaths from hunger, disease and cold could begin to exceed those from the violence, which has already killed 115,000 people. A trickle of reported malnutrition deaths of sick and vulnerable people in blockaded areas could be a harbinger of more widespread famine, aid workers say.

In Damascus recently, where most United Nations agencies work in the otherwise nearly empty Four Seasons Hotel, aid workers offered example after example of how their sizable efforts remain a drop in the bucket.

Barbara Atherly, the head of Unicef’s education program in Syria, said that the agency was providing one million children with schooling, increasingly by distributing educational materials to families and communities to organize lessons themselves, since many schools have been destroyed and teachers have dispersed.

But more than three million children are directly affected by the crisis, Unicef’s Syria director, Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, said, including more than two million internally displaced and another million in hard-to-reach conflict areas. That does not include more than a million children who have fled the country.

Over all, two million children have not had regular access to schooling in the past year, he said, adding that as the conflict continues, “there is a real risk of a lost generation of Syrians.”

The World Food Program is feeding three million people a month, plying dangerous roads with 1,200 trucks and employing 9,000 people. But that leaves two million displaced people without food aid, and understates the need in pockets where deliveries have not reached in months.

Those areas include rebel-held suburbs of Damascus blockaded by the government and government-held parts of Aleppo.

“Their situation is dire,” said Matthew Hollingworth, the food program’s Syria director. Hundreds of thousands of people are living on what food they can grow and the small amounts of food they can get past checkpoints, he said, as stored food stocks dwindle “to a frighteningly low level.”

Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said that replacing the prescription drugs once provided by the government would cost $500 million yearly, dwarfing his agency’s entire budget in Syria.

In the southern province of Dara’a, a third of health workers have fled, especially from rural areas, Mr. Abdel-Jelil of Unicef said. He described one woman who crossed the front lines to bring her children to the city for vaccines.

Most of all, he said, children are paying the price in terms of health, education and psychological trauma.

“A lot are talking adult talk, about visas, about borders, about relatives who are outside of the country,” Mr. Abdel-Jelil said. “They still have dignity and resilience. But there is a limit to resilience.”


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« Reply #9560 on: Oct 25, 2013, 07:00 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/24/2013 02:54 PM

Self-Assembly on the Savanna: IKEA Shelters House Refugees

By Johannes Korge

The Swedish furniture giant IKEA has sent self-assembly huts to the savanna of Ethiopia to house Somali refugees. If the test case proves successful, they soon could be used as alternatives to tents in other parts of the world.

The howling wind is always the first thing that Sayunda Hassan Ibrahim hears when she wakes up in the morning. The constant buffeting makes the walls shake, but something has been different for the past three weeks. Although Sayunda still hears the wind, she doesn't notice it as much as when she lived in a tent.

When she gazes up from her sleeping mat these days, she sees beige roof panels, metal and plastic supporting rods and plastic bolts. It's a strange sight for this young refugee from the Somali countryside. An average consumer from Western Europe, though, might recognize some of the components.

The Swedish furniture giant IKEA had 13 newly developed huts erected on the Ethiopian savanna at the Kobe refugee camp last August. The precisely arranged row of Swedish-designed structures stands in stark contrast to the tents and barracks in other parts of the camp. It's a test case for the company, and if the IKEA huts pass, they could soon offer refugees around the world a better home than conventional tents.

"It's essential to test these structures in a raw environment to get an impression of their durability," says Olivier Delarue from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which currently houses more than 10 million people worldwide. He says he hopes these new shelters will provide "physical protection, but also emotional benefits like dignity and privacy." The initial test phase is due to be completed by the end of the year.

Hot and Dusty

Sayunda Hassan is 15 years old and has been fleeing war all of her life. Now, together with her parents and three siblings, she is living in the 17.5 square meters (188 square feet) of living space offered by an IKEA shelter.

The plastic huts are exposed to the hot wind on the edge of the Kobe camp, which is a hellish place. During the dry season, temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). And after enough dry weather, the dust arrives -- a reddish powder that works its way into every crack and crevice and makes it hard to breathe. When the wind blows hard, Kobe is covered in dust.

A bit of dust has also made its way into the Ibrahim family's hut, due to the holes drilled in the roof. In just a few days, a solar module will be mounted there and connected to a rechargeable battery that powers a small lamp at night.

Planners hope that the huts' assembly problems will soon all be ironed out. IKEA designers have promised it would be possible to piece together the small houses -- by hand and without any tools -- in just four hours. In reality, says Ismael Abdullali Abdinoor, it usually takes an entire day to build one. The 38-year-old Somali also lives in one of the new plastic abodes.

Camp managers have appointed him as a kind of superintendent for the IKEA structures. When it's time to build a hut, he's there to help. If something breaks, Abdinoor steps in. "It's a lot of work," he says, "but the new houses seem much more stable than the huts and tents that are used elsewhere in the camp."

He's a refugee like the other 37,000 Somalis in the camp. But he's proud to now have a door that he can step out of -- in fact, he even has two doors. All IKEA structures have dual entrances to ensure that residents can always exit on the downwind side. "Otherwise it would be virtually impossible to open the door on stormy days," says Abdinoor.

Expensive Prototypes

Normally it takes less than a year before the tents supplied by aid organizations are reduced to tatters by wind, sand and insects. If the weather is particularly severe, six months of wear and tear is enough to ruin them. The IKEA huts are designed to last at least six times longer.

The company has outsourced the designing of the new shelters to a Swedish organization called the Refugee Housing Unit, but IKEA provides the technology. The prototypes are made by hand in Sweden. At $7,000 (€5,000) each, they are still far too expensive. But once they go into large-scale production, designers are aiming for a price of $1,000.

IKEA is likely to benefit from the promotional value of the campaign, which would be a positive development since dubious manufacturing conditions and the right-wing past of company founder Ingvar Kamprad have tarnished the firm's image. The IKEA Foundation, the furniture maker's philanthropic branch, has so far invested €3.4 million in the project.

"These people are living under extremely difficult conditions," says the head of the foundation, Per Heggenes, "and we want to use part of IKEA's profits to help them make a new start."


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« Reply #9561 on: Oct 25, 2013, 07:05 AM »


Kenyan deputy president must attend trial, international criminal court rules

ICC overturns decision excusing William Ruto from appearing on charges of orchestrating election violence

Associated Press in The Hague
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 09.24 BST   

The international criminal court has overturned a decision excusing Kenya's deputy president from attending his trial on charges of orchestrating deadly violence after his country's 2007 election.

The decision on Friday by appeal judges means William Ruto must appear at his trial but can still be excused by judges on a case by case basis.

The ruling may deepen tensions between the court and African leaders, who accuse it of unfairly targeting their continent. It could also set a precedent for Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, whose trial on similar charges is scheduled to start next month.

Appeal judges reversed a ruling by trial judges this year that allowed Ruto to miss most of his trial. Prosecutors appealed and Ruto has so far attended much of his case.


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« Reply #9562 on: Oct 25, 2013, 07:07 AM »


Eritrea's human rights record comes under fire at United Nations

East African nation strongly denies 'shoot-to-kill' policy as general assembly hears over 300,000 have fled in past decade

Associated Press in New York
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 09.43 BST   

Human rights abuses in Eritrea are forcing 2,000-3,000 people to flee the east African nation every month despite a "shoot-to-kill policy" targeting those attempting to leave, a UN investigator said on Thursday.

Sheila Keetharuth, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, said the UN refugee agency was concerned about 305,723 Eritreans who have fled over the past decade.

The most serious human rights violations are being committed in Eritrea, Keetharuth said, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, extended incommunicado detention, torture, indefinite national service, and lack of freedom of expression, assembly, religious belief and movement.

She told the general assembly's human rights committee that "excessive militarisation" in the country and indefinite national service for all Eritreans aged 18-50, often without adequate remuneration, "causes countless Eritreans to desert from their positions and flee the country".

Eritrea, a former Italian colony, gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war. It has been feuding over its border with Ethiopia ever since, including a war from 1998-2000 in which about 80,000 people died.

Eritrea has also disputed its border with the tiny port nation of Djibouti. Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki has been in power since the country broke away from Ethiopia in 1991.

Eritrea's ambassador to the UN, Arya Desta, rejected the report and Keetharuth's portrayal of the country, saying human rights issues were being used "as a tool of political pressure".

He accused unnamed countries of spearheading the imposition of "unfair and unjust" sanctions and of holding the entire population "in a state of 'no war, no peace'." Desta also denied there was a shoot to kill policy for illegally crossing the border and said youths were not required to stay for extended military service and were offered wide educational opportunities.

Eritrea has barred Keetharuth, a human rights lawyer from Mauritius, from visiting the country but she said she spoke to Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, Djibouti and elsewhere in preparing her report. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also issued highly critical reports of human rights in Eritrea, calling it an oppressive state.

Keetharuth pointed to the number of Eritreans on board the two boats of migrants that sank off the coasts of Italy and Malta in October. "It demonstrates the desperation of those who decide to flee, despite the extreme dangers along escape routes and an unknown future," Keetharuth said.

She said that nearly as many Eritreans – 7,504 – as Syrians – 7,557 – have arrived in Italy by sea from 1 January to 30 September this year, citing figures from the UN.


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« Reply #9563 on: Oct 25, 2013, 07:18 AM »

Corporations push back against Mexico’s proposed junk-food tax

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 24, 2013 18:40 EDT

Via lobbying and full-page newspaper advertisements, big companies and health advocates are pressing lawmakers in a fight over soda and junk-food taxes to curb Mexico’s obesity epidemic.

The Senate is debating legislation that would impose a five-percent tax on high-calorie snacks such as sweets and potato chips as well as a surcharge of one peso (8 US cents) per liter of sugary drink.

The lower house already passed the measures last week, adding the food levy to a broad fiscal reform package introduced by President Enrique Pena Nieto to improve Mexico’s lackluster tax collection.

While the reform also seeks to increase income taxes on higher earners, the special taxes on foods and drinks have gained the most attention in a country where 71 percent of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese.

With the Senate due to vote by month’s end, health advocacy groups and industry lobbies have cajoled lawmakers and taken out newspaper ads almost every day for weeks to make their cases.

The escalating battle has drawn prominent names from abroad, notably the neighboring United States.

The lobbies represent international companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and Kraft Foods while health advocacy groups have received $10 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by New York’s billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Pena Nieto said Tuesday his fiscal reform was “obviously controversial” because any overhaul of the tax system will “affect certain interests and generate discomfort among others.”

Bloomberg praised Pena Nieto when the Mexican president presented his soda tax plan last month, although a US court rejected the New York mayor’s own plan to ban giant soft drinks in restaurants in July.

World’s top soda consumer

The food and drink industry argues that such taxes are ineffective because multiple factors cause obesity, but proponents say they are crucial public health measures in the country leading the world in soda consumption.

Alejandro Calvillo Unna, director of the consumer advocacy group El Poder del Consumidor, said multinationals fear that other nations may copy Mexico’s tax proposals if they become law.

“That’s their fear. Their fear is not the economic impact nor the loss of jobs, that doesn’t interest them. What interests them is growth markets and how this could affect the region,” Calvillo told AFP.

Calvillo’s group, which has benefited from Bloomberg’s funding, has lobbied for a soda tax for three years to combat the dual health hazards of obesity and diabetes plaguing the country.

He said the levy could prompt Mexicans to consider healthier choices such as water in a country where per-capita consumption of sugary drinks amounts to 163 liters (43 gallons) per year.

His group has not taken a position on the junk-food tax but it has promoted a two-peso levy per liter of soda, which he said would reduce consumption by 21 percent.

Mexico now has a higher rate of overweight people than the United States and it also has the highest prevalence of diabetes among the 34-nation Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development.

Coup de grace

But the industry as well as an organization representing 72,000 small stores in Mexico warn that the levies would do more harm than good.

Jaime Zabludovsky Kuper, executive president of the consumer-goods industry group ConMexico, said they “stigmatize products that are made with the strictest quality norms” and encourage the proliferation of the informal economy.

Zabludovsky, whose group represents companies such as Kraft and Kellogg’s, said he has conveyed ConMexico’s concerns to lawmakers and finance ministry officials.

“Mexico is a very important market and it could be a precedent for this to happen in other markets,” he told AFP.

Cuauhtemoc Rivera, director of the ANPEC association of small shopkeepers, said sodas are the top products sold in mom-and-pop shops, representing up to 40 percent of their revenue.

“At least four in 10 will face the dilemma and terrible decision of having to close their operations,” he said. “This would be the coup de grace.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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

Fatal explosion at Mexico sweet factory

At least one person dead and scores injured after blast inside factory in border city of Ciudad Juárez
   
Associated Press in Ciudad Juárez
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 08.57 BST   

An explosion inside a sweet factory in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez has left one person dead and at least 40 injured.

The blast took place on Thursday night on the second floor of the Dulces Blueberry factory and caused the floor to collapse, injuring people working downstairs, said factory worker Ismael Bouchet.

"I was able to help five people who walked out of the building but as soon as they were out they went into shock and fainted," he said outside the factory, which produces gummy bears and jelly beans.

Authorities said the cause of the blast had not been determined but Bouchet said a steam boiler had been installed recently in the area.

The Ciudad Juárez civil protection director, Fernando Mota, said firefighters found a body inside and that six of the at least 40 injured were in serious condition. He added that several workers were missing and could be trapped inside the building.

Firefighters and rescue crews continued to search the building for further victims.

Bouchet said people could smell acid in the area where the explosion occurred. "Since the morning, several co-workers said there was a bad smell, that it smelled of acid and because it was a new area we thought it was normal," Bouchet said.

Photographs of workers being helped by paramedics showed people with injuries that resembled chemical burns.

Dulces Blueberry employs 300 people and the sweets are sent to a distributor based in El Paso, Texas, across the border with the US.

Ciudad Juárez is a manufacturing hub and the assembly plants there employ many of its residents.

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« Reply #9564 on: Oct 25, 2013, 07:52 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

October 25, 2013

Germany and France Propose Talks With U.S. to Rein In Spying

By JAMES KANTER
NYT

BRUSSELS — The leaders of Germany and France offered on Friday to hold talks with the United States in an effort come up with mutually acceptable rules for surveillance operations, easing a trans-Atlantic spying dispute that has plunged relations between America and Europe to a low point.

Fury over reports that American intelligence had monitored the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany spread from there to other European leaders a day earlier and prompted calls to suspend trade talks with the United States.

The concerns could spread with the publication in The Guardian newspaper of a report that as long ago as October 2006, the National Security Agency had been eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of 35 world leaders. The assertion emerged in what the newspaper described as a classified document leaked by the former N.S.A. intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden.

The article did not identify the leaders but said their phone numbers had been provided by other American officials in response to a request from the N.S.A. to share their contacts with intelligence gatherers.

In Brussels, seeking to rebuild trust among the longstanding allies, Ms. Merkel told an early-morning news conference that a pact should be agreed by the end of the year ending the kind of surveillance that was made public as part of the disclosure of documents harvested by Mr. Snowden.

The aim is to “come to a common understanding of the services between the United States and Germany and France so that we put down a framework for cooperation,” Ms. Merkel said after European Union leaders ended a first day of talks.

In a joint statement, the 28 European Union leaders at the two-day summit meeting “took note of the intention of France and Germany to seek bilateral talks” with the United States. The leaders also “noted that other E.U. countries are welcome to join this initiative,” which they said “underlined the close relationship between Europe and the U.S.A. and the value of that partnership.”

The revelations about the eavesdropping on Ms. Merkel follow reports of extensive American electronic surveillance in France and suggestions that American and British intelligence services monitored and are probably still monitoring Italian telecommunications networks.

But in a further sign of a willingness to defuse the dispute, Ms. Merkel said at the news conference that the leaders meeting in Brussels had not talked about interrupting negotiations with the United States to reach a landmark trade deal aimed at reducing tariffs and aligning regulations.

“I always take the view that when you leave the room, you have to always contemplate how to get back in again,” said Ms. Merkel, referring to the importance of keeping the trade talks going. “In such a tense situation, such talks may be even more important than usual.”

Asked whether she wanted an apology from the United States, Ms. Merkel said, “The most important thing at this juncture is to find a basis for the future” so that “trust can be rebuilt.” But she warned the United States that “words will not be sufficient” to make amends, adding, “It’s become clear for the future that things have to change, and they have to change radically.”

She also suggested that the door had been left open to a possible suspension of an agreement with the United States that allows it to track the finances of terrorist groups. Lawmakers at the European Parliament voted earlier this week to suspend the agreement because of suspicions that the United States authorities were tapping European citizens’ personal financial data.

That agreement is important to Washington because it allows the American authorities to continue having access to European banking data from a cooperative responsible for routing trillions of dollars daily among banks, brokerage houses, stock exchanges and other institutions. The cooperative, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, is based near Brussels. It provided the United States with personal data after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I have a certain understanding for the position of the European Parliament,” Ms. Merkel said. Approval by the European Union’s member states is required for the resolution to take effect.

Some European Union officials have seized on the latest revelations about United States snooping as a way to give new momentum to a fiercely contested proposal that could require American companies like Google and Yahoo to seek clearance from European officials before complying with United States warrants seeking private data.

The legislation would also seek to bolster privacy protection in Europe with fines that could run to billions of euros on the biggest technology companies if they fail to adhere to rules like those limiting the sharing of personal data.

The proposal has met with fierce opposition from business groups in the United States and Europe. Countries like Britain have pushed strongly to delay any final decision rather than endorse the deadline of spring 2014 called for by European Union officials and lawmakers to adopt the rules.

The British view appeared to have prevailed by Friday morning. In their statement, the 28 leaders agreed that it was “important to foster the trust of citizens and businesses in the digital economy,” but they said adopting the privacy rules by 2015 would be sufficient.

Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London.

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

October 24, 2013

Allegation of U.S. Spying on Merkel Puts Obama at Crossroads

By DAVID E. SANGER and MARK MAZZETTI
NYT

WASHINGTON — The angry allegation by the German government that the National Security Agency monitored the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel may force President Obama into making a choice he has avoided for years: whether to continue the age-old game of spying on America’s friends and risk undercutting cooperation with important partners in tracking terrorists, managing the global economy and slowing Iran’s nuclear program.

The pressure to make such a choice builds each day, as some of the United States’ closest allies have demanded explanations from Washington after similar disclosures about the breadth and sophistication of American electronic spying. Inside the administration it has touched off behind-the-scenes recriminations between the White House and the intelligence agencies over how much detail was given to White House officials about which world leaders are being monitored.

“This was colossally bad judgment — doing something because you can, instead of asking if you should,” said one career American official with long experience in Europe. A senior administration official declined to say what Mr. Obama knew or did not know about monitoring of Ms. Merkel’s phone, but said the president “doesn’t think we are in the right place.”

The tension with Germany built last week after German officials were given evidence of the cellphone monitoring by Der Spiegel, the German weekly newsmagazine. The first protests to Washington came in an angry phone call to Susan E. Rice, the president’s national security adviser, from her German counterpart, Christoph Heusgen.

During the call, according to German officials, Ms. Rice insisted that Mr. Obama did not know about the monitoring of Ms. Merkel’s phone, and said it was not currently happening, and would not in the future. But according to American officials familiar with the call, Ms. Rice would not acknowledge that the monitoring took place, even though she did not dispute the evidence the Germans had provided to her, which stretched back into the administration of President George W. Bush.

If Ms. Rice’s contention that the president was unaware of the monitoring is correct, it raises the question of why he was not alerted — especially after tensions rose earlier this year, following the first revelations by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, about American spying operations in Germany. Mr. Obama addressed those concerns at length during a visit to Germany.

There is little new in spying among allies: the oft-quoted line from Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson that “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail” was barely true when he uttered it in 1929, and Mr. Stimson himself later oversaw the breaking of codes during World War II.

But the sentiment is particularly potent in the case of a country like Germany, which has been critical for a number of American intelligence operations. The BND, Germany’s main intelligence agency, has pursued suspected terrorist cells and was critical to extracting information from an Iranian scientist whose computer hard drive revealed documents strongly suggesting Iran was working on the design of a nuclear warhead. It played a supporting role in trying to cripple Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, through the use of a cyberweapon.

A spokesman for the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., declined to comment about any American discussions with the Germans about the intelligence relationship between the two countries.

In the past, Germany has pushed for an agreement similar to the understanding that the United States has with Britain and three other English-speaking allies that prohibits spying on one another.

Until now the Obama administration has been loath to broker such a deal with the Germans, who have publicly stated their interest in a nonspying pact, partly because other nations would demand a similar arrangement. But the revelations of recent days have so strained relations between Washington and Berlin that that calculus appears to be changing — especially because American officials have difficulty making a credible case for what the United States has to gain from spying on senior German officials.

In the past, there have been questions about what the United States might gain from entering into a no-spying pact with the Germans. Several years ago, Dennis C. Blair, then the director of national intelligence, held discussions with French officials about such an agreement between the United States and France partly because he thought such a pact could yield practical benefits: it would allow the F.B.I. and other counterintelligence organizations to shift the few resources used in trying to hunt down French spies inside the United States to more productive assignments.

Mr. Blair made the proposal despite the fact that the French are believed to have had an active program of industrial espionage inside the United States, working vigorously to steal American technological secrets. And current and former American intelligence officials said that the Germans are far less aggressive inside the United States than the French.

Administration officials say the National Security Agency, in its push to build a global data-gathering network that can reach into any country, has rarely weighed the long-term political costs of some of its operations. Whether to make those kinds of reciprocal agreements with allies is among the questions two different administration reviews of N.S.A. spying practices hope to address.

One is being run inside the National Security Council. Another is under way by five members of an outside review panel created by Mr. Obama after the disclosures by Mr. Snowden.

Among its members are Richard A. Clarke, who served in the Clinton and both Bush administrations and has become an expert on cyberconflict; Michael J. Morell, a former deputy director of the C.I.A.; and Cass Sunstein, who ran the office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama White House before returning to Harvard Law School.

Two leading legal academics are also members: Peter Swire, an expert in privacy law, and Geoffrey R. Stone, a constitutional law expert and former dean of the University of Chicago Law School, where Mr. Obama taught.

The advisers are looking at a range of issues, from the collection of “metadata” about the calls and Web searches conducted by Americans to the surveillance of allies and their leaders.

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October 24, 2013, 2:56 pm

Senator Intensifies Probe of Data Brokers

By NATASHA SINGER
NYT

A Congressional probe into the multibillion-dollar data brokerage industry – companies that collect, analyze, sell or share personal details about consumers for marketing purposes – is intensifying.

On Wednesday afternoon, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat, sent a letter to Donald Robert, the chief executive of Experian, asking for information about a company subsidiary, called Court Ventures, that sold sensitive consumer data, allegedly to an identity theft service in Vietnam.

Senator Rockefeller is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which last year began investigating the practices of nine leading data brokers including Experian, a credit bureau that also offers marketing and fraud prevention services.

“The committee’s investigation has focused to date on how companies including Experian collect and sell consumer information for marketing purposes, while the information Experian reportedly sold to identity thieves – such as Social Security numbers and banking information – appears to be data Experian collects and sells for risk assessment activities,” Mr. Rockefeller wrote in the letter to Mr. Robert. “However, if these recent news accounts are accurate, they raise serious questions about whether Experian as a company has appropriate practices in place for vetting its customers and sharing sensitive consumer data with them, regardless of the particular line of business.”

Mr. Rockefeller’s letter is part of a larger effort by the Commerce Committee to understand how companies collect, share and sell intimate details about the shopping habits, health concerns, family circumstances and financial status of consumers at a time when Americans are increasingly sharing personal information online.

The letter cited an article by KrebsOnSecurity.com, an Internet security news site, which published a report Sunday on the alleged sale of sensitive data by Court Ventures to the Web site Superget.info, whose administrators were based in Vietnam.

The report said that Court Ventures had signed a data-sharing agreement with another information services firm, called U.S. Info Search, and that Court Ventures had resold the other company’s data to Superget.info.

Last week, the Department of Justice announced an indictment against one of the administrators of the Superget.info site, a Vietnamese national named Hieu Minh Ngo. Among other allegations, the indictment charges him with conspiracy to commit identity fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Experian bought Court Ventures, described on Experian.com as an aggregator that repackages and resells electronically available public records data “obtained from more than 1,400 state and county sources,” in 2012.

In a statement, Gerry Tschopp, a spokesman for Experian, said: “After the acquisition, the U.S. Secret Service notified Experian that Court Ventures had been and was reselling data from U.S. Info Search to a third party that the U.S. Secret Service was investigating as possibly engaged in illegal activity. Following the notice by the U.S. Secret Service, Experian discontinued reselling U.S. Info Search data and worked closely and in full cooperation with law enforcement to bring Vietnamese national Hieu Minh Ngo, the alleged perpetrator, to justice.”

He added that “no Experian database was accessed” and that the suspect in the case had obtained access to the data before Experian acquired the company.

Experian, which reported revenue of $4.73 billion in its 2013 fiscal year, had already come under scrutiny by Mr. Rockefeller before the news reports this week.

Last year, the senator asked data brokers including Experian, Equifax, TransUnion and Reed Elsevier, which owns the Lexis-Nexis database, to provide a list of all sources from which the companies obtained information on consumers; a list of the types of details the companies collected about consumers; and a list of the services and data they offer to third parties.

One data broker, for instance, estimated that more than 250,000 Web sites apprise consumers that they share data with third parties.

But, according to Mr. Rockefeller’s letter to Mr. Robert, Experian to date has “refused to fully respond” to the Commerce Committee’s request for the identities of Experian’s sources of consumer data and the purchasers of that data.

Mr. Tschopp, the Experian spokesman, said: “We have responded — and will continue to respond – in a very transparent manner to Senator Rockefeller.”

Last month, Mr. Rockefeller widened his probe, asking a dozen popular Web sites to provide information on their information-sharing practices with data brokers. The sites included About.com, Babycenter.com, Bankrate.com, Health.com, Investopedia.com, Mensfitness.com and Self.com.

“While some consumers may not object to having their information categorized and used for marketing,” Mr. Rockefeller wrote to executives at the sites, “before they share personal information, it is important that they know it may be used for purposes beyond those for which they originally provided it.”

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 24, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated at one point the name of a data broker. It is Experian, not Expedia.

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

October 24, 2013

North Carolina Prosecutor Takes Shots at the Laws He’s Obliged to Enforce

By JOHN PERAGINE
NYT

RALEIGH, N.C. — The criticism could not have been much harsher: North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature had set out to undo 50 years of progress with a Tea Party-inspired “playground of extremist fantasies” that include tax giveaways to its richest residents and election law changes that make it harder for residents to register and vote.

But the author of that scathing assessment in The Huffington Post last week was the North Carolina attorney general, Roy Cooper, a Democrat and the man whose job it is to enforce those laws, including the voting changes that have already become the subject of a federal lawsuit.

His remarks brought a sharp rebuke from Gov. Pat McCrory and accusations from Republicans that Mr. Cooper is letting his ambition — he is widely expected to run against Mr. McCrory, a Republican, in 2016 — get in the way of his duties as attorney general.

And the dispute between the two is a reminder of how deep and bitter the divide remains in a state still making sense of the fiercely conservative, boldly activist legislative session that ended in July. In a state long seen as a relatively moderate outlier in the South, the session was the first with a Republican governor and legislature since Reconstruction.

Mr. Cooper is not backing off his criticism. “The legislature should be spending more of their time on issues that matter in this state, such as jobs, education and Medicaid expansion,” he said in an interview this week. But he said his views do not affect his ability to enforce the law.

Mr. McCrory disagrees. “He can have his personal opinion, but as a lawyer he should not publicize your personal opinion if you’re going to be defending the people who are promoting this common-sense law,” he said Monday during an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. “Good lawyers don’t do that.”

The governor’s communications director, Kim Genardo, accused Mr. Cooper of “using political invectives instead of the facts.”

Mr. McCrory has used executive office funds to hire outside counsel, Butch Bowers, who represented South Carolina last year on voting rights issues. Bob Stephens, the governor’s general counsel, said, “We have serious concerns about statements Attorney General Cooper made which could cause a potential conflict and even be used against the state he represents.”

Mr. Cooper said that he would work with the outside counsel the governor hired, but that the attorney general’s office would defend the state as it has in the past.

Late last month, the Justice Department sued the state, alleging that the law passed by the legislature and signed by Mr. McCrory in August was created with the purpose of suppressing voter turnout among minority and low-income voters in particular. Civil rights groups have also filed suit.

Mr. McCrory argues that requiring voters to provide an ID to vote is in line with the majority of other states.

“While some will try to make this seem to be controversial, the simple reality is that requiring voters to provide a photo ID when they vote is a common-sense idea,” he said. “This new law brings our state in line with a majority of other states throughout the country.”

Mr. McCrory concedes that there have been few reported instances of voter fraud in the state that would be addressed by the law. But, he said after signing it, “Just because you haven’t been robbed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lock your doors at night or when you’re away from home.” He added that the state would provide free IDs to lawful residents and that the law would not go into effect until 2016.

Critics, however, say that North Carolina’s law goes well beyond voter ID and that its provisions are aimed at Democratic voters. Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, who specializes in election law, called it “the most sweeping antivoter law in at least decades.”

The new law would require voters to have a government-issued photo ID, but excludes those from colleges and government employers and those issued by public assistance agencies commonly used by poor or minority voters. It also shortens the time for early voting; eliminates same-day registration; cuts out Sunday voting, often used by black voters; eliminates the option to vote a straight ticket, used more commonly by Democrats; and ends a program that preregistered high school students.

Mr. Cooper’s remarks drew some criticism beyond that of Republican supporters of the law.

Kirk Randleman, a former assistant attorney general who served under Mr. Cooper for nine years, said he was surprised by Mr. Cooper’s outspoken comments on matters that could come before his office.

“Cooper always insulated the staff from politics,” Mr. Randleman said. “I have never known him to be so public about his personal views.” Referring to Mr. Cooper’s predecessor, he said: “When Mike Easley was the attorney general, even before he ran for governor, I never knew him to make such public policy statements as Roy Cooper has.”

Similarly, Ken Spaulding, a Democrat who has already announced a bid for governor, said Mr. Cooper should appoint an independent counsel to defend the state on the election case and on cases involving the state’s law banning same-sex marriage, with which Mr. Cooper has also expressed disagreement.

To many, Mr. Cooper’s comments presage continuing political turmoil in a state where voting is almost equal for the two parties, but where gerrymandering has left Republicans in lopsided control of the legislature and the House of Representatives.

“I believe Cooper is trying to work on the swing voters in the 2016 election for the North Carolina gubernatorial election,” said Donald H. Taylor, a professor of public policy at Duke University. “The House, Senate and governor are all Republican; they are ideologically skewed in one direction, and the Democrats are working early to show that they are opposed to the direction the state seems to be headed.”

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Texas AG Admits If Minorities Voted For Us, Republicans Wouldn’t Have to Suppress Votes

By: Adalia Woodbury
Thursday, October 24th, 2013, 10:24 pm
PoliticusUSA

Conservatives never did embrace voting rights for women and minorities.  Paul Weyrich  said it back in the 1980′s.  The more people vote, the worse Republicans do in elections.

When the Tea Party’s Judson Phillips  said that restricting the vote to property owners is a “wise idea”  he was simply restating the general thrust of Paul Weyrich’s sentiments.

First they combined gerrymandering with rigged and faulty voting machines.

Vote suppression reached a level of intensity unseen since Jim Crow after the 2008 presidential election.

As my colleague Dennis S. observed, Conservatives never could lose graciously.  The very notion of Americans rejecting Sarah Palin aka God’s gift to Birchers was just too much for them to take.  So rather than long for the good old days when voting was a privilege bestowed on propertied white men, state Republicans decided enough is enough. They are going to get your votes my pretties, and your ability to register too.

Of course, they underestimated our intelligence,when they claimed that vote suppression was the solution to the statistically non-existent problem of voter fraud.

Their best efforts backfired big time. In 2012, voters braved all that the Tea Party Republicans dished out and re-elected Barack Obama.

Since then, the Supreme Court of the United States gutted the pre-clearance formula in the Voting Rights Act and the right wing went to town passing laws that courts had previously ruled unconstitutional.

The excuse du jour for vote suppression is it’s just another form of gerrymandering.

Some admit, with pride, that suppressing votes gives Republicans an electoral advantage  In the Tea Republlican logic, if it’s about electoral advantage, then it can’t be about racism.

In response to the DOJ’s challenge of Texas’s redistricting plan and voter ID laws, Attorney-General, Gregg Abbott admitted what we already know. Republicans want to suppress votes by racial minorities because that’s the only chance they’ve got at winning elections . Evidently, even that’s not enough suppression because Abbot wants to target women  too.  But hey, no racism was intended and no sexism intended.  This is just good old fashioned gerrymandering.

    In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats.6 It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates. …. The redistricting decisions of which DOJ complains were motivated by partisan rather than racial considerations,

    Last year, Abbott claimed the purpose of ID laws was to stop voter fraud.  But the absence of evidence to support that excuse meant he had to come up with another reason to tell the courts.

This year, it’s just about party politics as usual.  The fact that voter ID laws disproportionately affect racial minorities is merely coincidence.  It’s about the fact that “those people” keep voting Democrat so that they can get free stuff.  If they voted Republican instead of the “food stamp” President, Republicans wouldn’t need to suppress their votes.

In reality, Republicans are trying to hold our votes for ransom just as they tried to hold the government and the economy for ransom because things didn’t go their way.

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October 24, 2013

Contractors Describe Limited Testing of Insurance Web Site

By ROBERT PEAR
NYT

WASHINGTON — Federal officials did not fully test the online health insurance marketplace until two weeks before it opened to the public on Oct. 1, contractors told Congress on Thursday.

While individual components of the system were tested earlier, they said, the government did not conduct “end-to-end-testing” of the system until late September.

The disclosure came at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating problems plaguing the federal marketplace, or exchange, a central pillar of President Obama’s health care overhaul. The hearing suggested that the team of contractors was more like an orchestra with scores of musicians playing different tunes and no conductor to lead the overall effort, set the tempo or unify the ensemble.

Lawmakers from both parties expressed anger and dismay at the contractors’ performance. The lawmakers said they felt misled because the same contractors testified at a hearing on Sept. 10 that the online marketplace was working properly and was ready to enroll millions of Americans eager to buy insurance, subsidized by the government.

The Obama administration was supposed to coordinate the work of the contractors on the federal insurance exchange. But witnesses had difficulty delineating their roles and responsibilities on the project, and they said the government was responsible for all the major decisions.

“There is a major league blame game going on,” said Representative Pete Olson, Republican of Texas.

Representative David B. McKinley, Republican of West Virginia, told the witnesses: “I haven’t heard one of you apologize to the American public on behalf of your company for the problems. Are apologies not in order? I haven’t heard the words ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

Executives from two contractors — CGI Federal, a unit of the CGI Group, and the UnitedHealth Group — said the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decided to open the exchange on Oct. 1 even though testing had raised concerns.

After the hearing, Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Medicare agency, said, “Due to a compressed time frame, the system was not tested enough.” She did not answer questions about whether the administration had considered delaying the debut of the online marketplace.

Politics pervaded the session. Republicans said that technical problems crippling the federal Web site epitomized fundamental flaws in the 2010 health care law, Mr. Obama’s most significant legislative achievement.

Democrats said that the law was fundamentally sound, and that the Web site needed to be fixed immediately so people could get the insurance they had been promised.

“Fix it, don’t nix it,” Democrats said.

Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, said: “Three weeks after the Web site went live, we are still hearing reports of significant problems. These problems need to be fixed, and they need to be fixed fast.”

Cheryl R. Campbell, a senior vice president of CGI Federal, the main contractor on the federal exchange, said that end-to-end testing of the full integrated system first occurred “in the last two weeks of September.”

Another witness, Andrew M. Slavitt of UnitedHealth, said, “We didn’t see full end-to-end testing until a couple of days leading up to the launch” of the federal marketplace on Oct. 1.

The UnitedHealth Group owns one of the nation’s largest insurance companies and also owns Quality Software Services Inc., which supervised “identity management,” including the use of password-protected accounts, in the federal marketplace.

Ms. Campbell and Mr. Slavitt said they would have preferred months of testing, in keeping with industry standards for a project of such immense complexity. The federal exchange must communicate with other contractors and with databases of numerous federal agencies and more than 170 insurance carriers.

The vision of affordable insurance for all Americans has been tarnished by technical problems that have made it difficult for consumers to shop in the federal marketplace serving 36 states.

Ms. Campbell said that CGI had continually reported to top officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, including Michelle Snyder, the chief operating officer of the agency, and Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer.

In response to questions, Ms. Campbell said, “We were not responsible for end-to-end testing” of the whole system. The Medicare agency, known as C.M.S., was responsible, she said.

Mr. Slavitt said that his company had tested computer code for the federal marketplace and found errors in it. “We informed C.M.S. that more testing was necessary,” he said.

The contractors, like Mr. Obama, said the federal Web site, HealthCare.gov, had been inundated by more consumers than anticipated.

But Representative Anna G. Eshoo, Democrat of California, called this “a lame excuse.”

“I represent Silicon Valley,” Ms. Eshoo said. “This is the 21st century. There are thousands of Web sites that handle concurrent volumes far larger than what HealthCare.gov was faced with. Amazon and eBay don’t crash the week before Christmas, and ProFlowers doesn’t crash on Valentine’s Day.”

The contractors said the Obama administration decided in late September to block a feature of the Web site that allowed consumers to see the full unsubsidized prices of insurance plans without registering or creating personal accounts.

Republicans said the White House did not want consumers to be shocked by the high prices. Most people buying insurance on the exchange will qualify for subsidies that lower the costs.

Ms. Campbell of CGI said “we would be more than happy” to turn on this feature of the Web site if instructed to do so by the government.

Ms. Bataille said the Medicare agency had made “a business decision” to focus on other aspects of the Web site, so that consumers could file applications and enroll online.

Mr. Slavitt said his company was “one of many independent contractors” that tested computer code developed for use in the federal exchange.

Representative Bill Johnson, Republican of Ohio, said this arrangement defied common sense.

“How can you be an independent tester when you are an integral developer of part of the system?” Mr. Johnson asked. “How does that qualify you as independent?”

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Darrell Issa’s Anti-Obama ACA Website Witch-Hunt Will Be Another Republican Humiliation

By: Dennis S
Thursday, October 24th, 2013, 3:12 pm
PoliticusUSA

I hate to say I told you so, but I did offer the opinion on this hallowed site that the Tea Party wasn’t going to take the recent successful (for Democrats) abandonment of the partial government shutdown and the extension of the raising the debt ceiling issue without the inclusion of decimating the Affordable Care Act, with grace and acceptance. Of course virtually every other breathing progressive predicted the same reaction.

The Teapublican Party (any pretense of the Tea Party and Republican Party being separate entities has long since been proven false) has come storming back with a hateful vengeance. And where better to start the next round of destroying ‘that black president’s’ legacy than the interior of the ever-reliable hearing room of Chairman Darrell Issa’s sit-com House Committee on Oversight and (tee hee) Government reform. Beneath the largely meaningless ‘investigative’ gabble of “Fast and Furious”, Benghazi, the IRS and car thefts, concealed weapons and arson for insurance money; oh, excuse me, those last three are Issa’s own ethical and potentially criminal problems (more on Issa’s alleged avocations here), what has emerged? Well, nothing other than a doofis and laughable Eric Holder Contempt of Congress designation. Whatever minimal corrective measures that needed to be taken were already well underway by the time Issa lowered his partisan gavel.

And what will emerge from this latest encore of the politically illegitimate committee undertaking? Well, again, nothing. Puffery, attacks on administration officials, and a call for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ hide. Maybe Issa attack dog Trey Gowdy can recreate his April, 2012 arrogant and mean spirited attack on Sebelius, an accomplished member of the Obama team. Teapublicans would certainly wallow in it.

As always the Koch brothers, Karl Rove and the usual suspects have handed their Teapublican sycophants the latest template to continue their ACA slash and burn tactics. Here’s a striking example of what is expected of these elected politipuppets. Nation of Change pinpointed a definitive example of how Teapublican “employees” of billionaires are supposed to react when questioned about the roll-out of Healthcare Insurance Marketplaces. In this case it was a CNN interview with North Carolina Teapublican House member, Renee Ellmers. She was reacting to the enthusiastic endorsement of his states experience with the Marketplace by Kentucky Democratic Governor, Steve Beshear.

Here’s where to go for more of the back-story and video reaction. Note especially how she uses the term “monumental failure” in describing the exchange signups. That’s the propaganda phrase that the billionaires are handing out to all Teapublicans and right-wing talking heads. You’ll hear it a million times nationwide with the sole purpose of ingraining it in the noggins of people who can’t separate fact from fiction.

Less concerning to Washington extremists is a red state “monumental failure.” This one tracks back to a 2012 South Carolina Department of Revenue multiple security breach by a foreign hacker who broke into the department’s encrypted website on several occasions beginning in August and managed to purloin 3.6 million Social Security numbers and 387,0000 credit and debit card numbers.

There were innumerable opportunities that presented themselves as simple defenses against this intrusion including a relatively dirt-cheap $25,000 dual password system that would have prevented the whole thing. All of these defense mechanisms were ignored by Governor Nikki Haley (who thinks she can be on a future Teapublican national pres/VP ticket), computer personnel and the right-wing legislature. Any DC TP’ers give the least little damn about pressing the issue and assigning blame? Hell no; that’s a “state” issue. Of course, the right-wing congresspeople will spend hours a day yammering about “state” insurance exchanges. In selective partisanship, that’s not a “state” issue.

Teapublicans are howling for a quick fix to the federal signup system. Let’s let our objective gene control the conversation here. As for the numerous computer problems that marred access to the health exchange marketplace, to quote the president, “there was no excuse.” I don’t need to catalog those problems, every right-wing rag and media outlet in these United States has dedicated multiple hours a day to that partisan task sans answers to the problems or offers of help.

Here’s where I save the sit-com committee lots of time and trouble. What Teapublicans will never admit is that in large measure the signup problems were a consequence of a ‘surge of interest’ on the part of consumers, resulting in the online overload of the system, a very common problem experienced thousands of times per year by the public and private sectors. It wouldn’t do for the right-wing to acknowledge that despite their years of 24/7 verbal, written and electronic thunder ripping the contents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, for the vast majority of citizens, right, left and center their “monumental” efforts drew a blank among reasonable and informed Americans.

It’s also worthy of noting that the administration did commit a major gaffe in underestimating not only the initial reaction. The fact is, however, that according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a great number of states declined to run or administer their own Health Insurance Marketplaces. The breakdown was 27 washed their hands of it altogether, 7 formed partnerships and 17 agreed to take on the task of signing up their citizens. Ironic (as are so many things Teapublican) that the fed-hating states, hated the responsibility of signing up consumers to that very federal government.

Another ironic factor much worthy of note: How many of the major players in setting up the online signup site were government agencies and employees and how many were outside private contractors; adored and encouraged by the right? CGI Federal credited with having great input into the building of the HealthCare.gov site is a contractor with a rather sketchy history dating back to the Clinton (can you say DINO?) administration. The Washington Post’s ‘Wonkblog’ paints a not so flattering picture of this outfit.

So it really boils down to all things Teapublican. To hell with federal workers, let’s go with the high-priced outside contractors. To hell with taking in-state responsibility for signing up new customers for the health insurance exchanges and marketplaces. To hell with the president as the right continues to press the attack on every front. That’s the real story Darrell and Trey; any questions?

This too shall pass!

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Heroic President Obama Responds to Rep. Pete Sessions’ Ugly Insult with Dignity and Grace

By: Jason Easley
Thursday, October 24th, 2013, 1:05 pm
PoliticusUSA

After Rep. Pete Sessions insulted the president by telling him, ‘I cannot even stand to look at you,’ President Obama responded with heroic dignity and grace.

HuffPost reported,

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told his Democratic caucus last week in a private meeting that a top House Republican said to President Barack Obama, “I cannot even stand to look at you,” according to two Democratic senators who were present.

    The account was confirmed by two Senate Democratic aides who said they independently learned of the exchange from other senators.

    The two senators who spoke to HuffPost did not hear the Republican make the remark, but said a top White House aide who was present later told Senate Democratic leaders that the lawmaker who said he couldn’t stand to look at the president was Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Rules Committee.

    Reid then told the caucus about the incident on Tuesday and named Sessions, according to one of the two Democratic senators who spoke to HuffPost. Reid also told the caucus that he was “sorry” to have to tell them about it, per this senator, but gave Obama credit for his “dignified” response to Sessions. Reid reportedly told the caucus that Obama responded to Sessions by saying he understood that they disagreed on many issues and he respected their differences.

Sen. Dick Durbin’s claim about about the insult to the president was flatly denied by the White House, because this administration has a policy of ignoring and downplaying comments and events that could be viewed as racial attacks against this president.

Many people who follow politics, and understand the hatred that many congressional Republicans have for this president, suspected that Sen. Durbin was telling the truth. Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democratic Senators and aides have now confirmed the story.

When confronted with a vicious and ugly face to face insult, the president responded in a dignified and heroic fashion. What President Obama has faced from Republicans is reminiscent of what Jackie Robinson faced when he broke baseball’s color line. The difference is that Robinson was a ballplayer. Barack Obama is the President of the United States.

It is unimaginable that a white president — Democratic or Republican — would ever have to deal with members of Congress insulting them in such a disgraceful face to face way. Rep. Sessions disrespected the President of the United States. He disrespected the presidency, and he disrespected Barack Obama as a human being.

President Obama’s response was admirable. His dignity and restraint in the face of such disrespect is something that America can proud of.

The intentional, systemic Republican disrespect of President Obama will ensure that they will be remembered as villains. Whether you agree or disagree with this president politically, his response to this private insult revealed the character of a decent man who is always mindful that he is carrying the weight of history.

Barack Obama has been a good president, but he is an even better person.

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October 24, 2013

Group Linked to Kochs Admits to Campaign Finance Violations

By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
NYT

A secretive nonprofit group with ties to the billionaire conservative businessmen Charles and David Koch admitted to improperly failing to disclose more than $15 million in contributions it funneled into state referendum battles in California, state officials there announced Thursday.

The group, the Arizona-based Center to Protect Patient Rights, is one of the largest political nonprofits in the country, serving as a conduit for tens of millions of dollars in political spending, much of it raised by the Kochs and their political operation and spent by other nonprofits active in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

The settlement, announced by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris of California and the Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforce California’s campaign finance laws, includes one of the largest penalties ever assessed on a political group for failing to disclose donations. The center and another Arizona group involved in the transactions, Americans for Responsible Leadership, will pay a $1 million fine, while two California groups must turn over $15 million in contributions they received.

Together, the groups are part of an intricate, interlocking network of political nonprofits that have taken on a prominent role in state and national politics in recent years, bolstered by legal and regulatory shifts, including the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010.

Records and documents uncovered during the California investigation provide a rare glimpse into how such groups closely coordinate transfers of money that mask the sources of the contributions and skirt state and federal disclosure rules.

“This case highlights the nationwide scourge of dark money nonprofit networks hiding the identities of their contributors,” Ann Ravel, the commission’s chairwoman, said in a statement.

Last year, as California voters faced two major ballot initiatives — one, Proposition 30, which would raise taxes on the wealthy, and another, Proposition 32, which would prohibit unions from using automatic payroll deductions to raise money for political campaigns — a Republican consultant, Anthony Russo, began raising money in connection with the two initiatives.

Some of the money went into political action committees in California, which are required to disclose their contributors. But roughly $29 million came from a group of 150 California donors who wished their contributions to remain secret, among them the billionaire investor Charles R. Schwab and Gene Haas, a prominent businessman and philanthropist. Those contributions were directed to Americans for Job Security, a Virginia-based conservative group that is not required to disclose donors, to spend on issue advertisements.

In September 2012, with the election drawing near, Americans for Job Security concluded that California law might require disclosure of some of those contributions, and began transferring a total of $24.6 million to the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which was founded by Sean Noble, a Republican operative. Mr. Noble has worked closely with Koch-founded political groups and been a featured speaker at the brothers’ biannual donor conferences; he also worked closely with Mr. Russo to help draft the strategy in California.

A donor working with Mr. Russo called and e-mailed Charles Koch several times early that October, according to an e-mail obtained by investigators, seeking a contribution of “several million” for the effort and praising Mr. Noble. “Sean Noble from your group has been immensely helpful in our efforts,” the donor wrote. “I look forward to seeing you on a golf course — probably after the election.”

The center is not formally controlled by the Kochs, and Robert A. Tappan, a Koch spokesman, said neither brother ultimately contributed to the California effort. “We did not support, either directly or indirectly, this ballot initiative, which would have restricted public and private sector employees’ rights to contribute to candidates,” Mr. Tappan said.

California requires that the underlying sources of money behind significant political spending be disclosed. To skirt this regulation, when the Virginia-based group gave $25 million to the Center to Protect Patient Rights, it did not specifically earmark any of those funds for the California referendums. But the group made clear that it hoped the center would financially support the efforts in California to block the income tax increase and blunt unions’ political power.

The center obliged, transferring $25 million during the same period to two other groups: Americans for Responsible Leadership, in Arizona, and the American Future Fund, an Iowa-based conservative group with close ties to the Koch network. Mr. Russo told investigators that the transfer was made with the understanding that some of the money would be used to assist two California organizations active in the referendum battles, the commission said Thursday. Proposition 30 passed, and Proposition 32 was defeated.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Center to Protect Patient Rights acknowledged that it should have disclosed itself as the source of the donations to both of the California groups, the Small Business Action Committee and the California Future Fund for Free Markets.

The investigation into the center has already had repercussions within the Koch political world, which is relying less on the center to transfer money to allied political groups, instead using a group controlled more directly by Koch executives.

Malcolm Segal, a lawyer for the center, said in a statement, “The commission today recognized that C.P.P.R. acted in ‘good faith’ and that there was absolutely no intent to violate campaign reporting rules.”

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Grayson’s Firestorm – GOP Says the Truth is Unacceptable and Deplorable

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Friday, October 25th, 2013, 7:34 am
PoliticusUSA

During the Bush years it became commonplace for Republicans to act outraged demand apologies from Democrats any time a Democrat spoke the truth about what was taking place.

They haven’t given up on that. They have learned it is an effective way of deflecting attacks and unwanted attention and given control of the media, they have gotten away with it time and again, ensuring that there is no debate on the things they say and do, but rather on the reactions of the liberals and progressives who object.

Alan Grayson (D-FL) has been outspoken in his opposition to the tea party and its politics. When he sent out a fundraising email earlier this week using a burning cross for the “t” in tea party he started, if you’ll pardon the expression, a firestorm. Republicans reacted immediately, saying the truth was “unacceptable and deplorable.”

In other words, in another telling example of tea party logic, speaking the truth about hate is somehow worse than the hate itself.

Fox News, which makes hay with “over-the-top rhetorical bomb at its political foes” somehow managed to claim, without a trace of irony, that Grayson “is known for lobbing over-the-top rhetorical bombs at his political foes.” Fox News went on to say Grayson has “a history of inflammatory comments” but Fox News itself relies on an endless stream of inflammatory comments to inflame the base.

Grayson released a statement Wednesday referencing the tea party’s habit of making racist remarks and concluded, “IF the hood fits, wear it.”

In an interview with Orlando ABC affiliate WFTV, Grayson said,

“I think the Tea Party should expel those members who engage in hate speech…. So many members of the Tea Party have engaged in hate speech against the president, against the first lady, against numerous members of the Congress and against me. And we could give you examples of that.”

Grayson said, “I’m calling them out for their hate. That’s not wrong. That needs to be done. It’s the only way to end it.”

Is Grayson wrong? No, he’s not. The tea party is a völkisch (ethnic nationalist) movement with strong ties to secessionist feeling in the South. Racism abounds in the tea party. They exchange and publish racist images of President Barack Obama and the First Lady, they wave Confederate battle flags – the flag of the Southern slave-owning states. It is a prominent part of their rhetoric. Point to any of this, however, and the tea party reacts like they are reacting now.

The thing is, this KKK comparison has been made by scholars. As Huffington Post observed Tuesday,

    Grayson’s comparison is not novel. Professors Matt Barretto and Christopher Parker, in their book “Tea Party, Change They Can’t Believe In,” published by Princeton University Press, make a similar case. “The authors argue that this isn’t the first time a segment of American society has perceived the American way of life as under siege,” the book’s blurb reads. “In fact, movements of this kind often appear when some individuals believe that ‘American’ values are under threat by rapid social changes. Drawing connections between the Tea Party and right-wing reactionary movements of the past, including the Know-Nothing Party, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, and the John Birch Society, Parker and Barreto develop a framework that transcends the Tea Party to shed light on its current and future consequences.

“How dare you tell the truth about us!” This is the same reaction we’ve seen in the recent past from various tea party candidates, including Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and others.

The Religious Right’s racist ex-president of the Family Research Council, Gary Bauer, posted just such a complaint at his Campaign for Working Families on Wednesday:

    Here we go again. Liberals and their media allies constantly blame hateful rhetoric on the right for the meltdown of civility in Washington. Yet while Republicans passed bill after bill to avoid the government shutdown, Democrats refused to consider them, all the while comparing Republicans to “hijackers,” “arsonists” and “terrorists.”

    With the government shutdown over, have Democrats stopped the name calling? Not a chance! In fact, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) went a step further, sending out a fundraising email equating the Tea Party with the KKK. An image in Grayson’s email spelled out “Tea Party,” but the “T” was a burning cross. (See it here.)

    And get this: The context of the email was a recent interview Grayson did with Al Sharpton discussing the government shutdown. Even when discussing fiscal policy differences, liberals like Alan Grayson inevitably resort to demonizing conservatives as racists.

    If Barack Obama were serious about bi-partisan cooperation, which he isn’t, he would start by publicly condemning Alan Grayson.

Keep in mind, this self-righteous Gary Bauer is the same Gary Bauer who told the Values Voter Summit in 2012 that Obama’s supporters are mostly welfare recipients, and who, leading up to Obama’s re-election in 2012, said that Obama depended on army of welfare recipients and fraudulent votes for re-election and afterward asserted that “voter fraud is rampant in urban areas.”

In fact, this July, Bauer sent out an offensive email of his own. As Right Wing Watch relates,

    In an email to supporters of his Campaign for Working Families today, Gary Bauer wondered why African Americans are still so upset about racism and continue “falling through the cracks” when “every major goal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been reached.”

    In the email — “Will Holder Persecute George Zimmerman?” — Bauer laments that discussions on race can’t happen in America because “it inevitably degenerates into another round of bashing non-minorities and an indictment of America’s past sins.” Social services, “‘gangsta’ culture” and a lack of patriotic education, Bauer claims, are the real culprits for problems in the black community.

For people like Bauer, whites are the victims of racism, not its perpetrators. Truth-speakers like Alan Grayson cannot be allowed to re-direct the debate by focusing on the facts of racism, and especially not on the tea party’s hate-filled rhetoric.

Republicans want to hate with impunity and play the victim when called out. As Alan Grayson said, this has to end. We must not let them turn Grayson into the hater. Grayson spoke truth to power and we have few enough today who are brave enough to do so.

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Tea Party Galaxy: Voyage to the Center of Delusion

Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMn2ZvKNkIE#t=60






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« Reply #9565 on: Oct 26, 2013, 05:37 AM »

Germany and Brazil working on UN resolution concerning NSA spying

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 25, 2013 17:05 EDT

Germany and Brazil are working on a UN General Assembly resolution aimed at highlighting international anger at US data snooping in other countries, diplomats said Friday.

The resolution would not mention the United States and would call for extending the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to internet activities.

“German and Brazilian diplomats met counterparts from Europe and Latin America today to discuss a draft resolution,” a UN diplomat involved in the talks said on condition of anonymity.

“The aim is to send a message to those who abuse the system,” added the diplomat.

Germany has been angered by eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone by US intelligence. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a trip to the United States last month over allegations the National Security Agency intervened her office’s communications.

Rousseff had already announced that Brazil would seek a UN measure on privacy.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights went into force in 1976, before the internet started.

But Brazil and Germany want a provision of the covenant that says “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation” extended to cyberspace.

The two countries plan to put the resolution to a UN General Assembly committee that handles human rights.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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NSA surveillance: more revelations as EU leaders meet in Brussels

Italian magazine reports allegedly vast scale of US and British spying, and Le Monde publishes another NSA document

Lizzy Davies in Rome and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 15.35 BST   

As European leaders met in Brussels on Friday, fresh revelations about NSA snooping continued to emerge, with an Italian magazine focusing attention on the allegedly vast scale of US and British surveillance of telephone and email communications in Italy.

The weekly L'Espresso magazine said it had learned that documents obtained by the whistleblower Edward Snowden showed the intensive monitoring of Italian telecoms networks by both the NSA and GCHQ.

Through their "more modern and more invasive" Tempora programme, the magazine wrote, the British intelligence services were allegedly able to collect large amounts of data, which they then shared "in total collaboration" with their close allies at the NSA.

L'Espresso published no new documents, but said it had ascertained that Italy - and particularly Sicily - had become a focus of activity because of its strategic location between Europe, north Africa and the Middle East.

It said that GCHQ had access to three fibre-optic telecommunications cables - SeaMeWe3, SeaMeWe4, and the Europe Asia segment of the so-called FLAG cable - which between them had three landing points in Sicily.

Writing that the priorities of Tempora, first revealed by the Guardian in June , were wide-ranging, L'Espresso claimed they included establishing "the political intentions of foreign governments", trade deals, and information to help support Britain's economic wellbeing.

L'Espresso wrote: "The British authorities' licence to spy is very large and allows for businesses, politicians and statesmen to be kept under control."

The extent to which Italy's own intelligence services were aware of these alleged activities was unclear, the magazine reported, claiming that the Italians had a "third party agreement" with the British but giving no further details.

In a statement to Italy's parliamentary committee for the intelligence and security services and for state secret control (Copasir), Italy's intelligence services denied they had made an agreement with GCHQ for the interception of data from the cables.

In France, the daily newspaper Le Monde published an internal NSA document which it said showed the "tensions and distrust between Paris and Washington".

The document, a preparatory note before a visit to the NSA by two top French intelligence officials in April 2013, shows that French officials suspected the US could have been behind a now well-known cyber-attack on the French presidential computer network at the Elysée in May 2012.

The hacking incident occurred just before the second round of the French presidential election, when Nicolas Sarkozy was still in power. Le Monde stated that the two French officials went to ask their US counterparts at the NSA for an explanation.

The NSA document states that no US intelligence agency or of its close allies in Britain and Canada were behind the electronic attack.

The Elysée tightened its cybersecurity after the May 2012 incident, in which suspected detectors had been installed allowing access to information from the presidency and the hacking of presidential computers. "The attack was not part of an act of sabotage which was to be made public, but of the desire to be permanently installed invisibly at the centre of the presidency", an expert on the case told Le Monde.

It added: "To attempt, or to appear, to prove their good faith, the NSA planned to send two analysts from NTOC [the NSA's crisis centre] in March to assist the French in finding the attacker. On the eve of their departure, France cancelled the visit and hardened its tone, demanding that [French intelligence officials] Bernard Barbier and Patrick Pailloux be given a hearing at the NSA on 12 April 2013.

"The internal NSA document notes that at no point did the French transmit the elements at their disposal concerning the possible responsibility of the Americans. Doubtless because the French want to see how the NSA responds when they presented their findings."

The NSA document shows that the US maintained it had no role in the cyber-attack.


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October 25, 2013

Amid New Storm in U.S.-Europe Relationship, a Call for Talks on Spying

By ALISON SMALE
IHT

BERLIN — While President Obama has tried to soften the blow, this week’s disclosures about the extent of America’s spying on its European allies have added to a series of issues that have sharply eroded confidence in the United States’ leadership at a particularly difficult moment.

The sharp words from Germany, France and others this week are part of a broader set of frustrations over issues like the Syrian civil war, the danger posed to the global economy by Washington’s fiscal fights and the broader perception that President Obama himself — for all his promises to rebuild relations with allies after the presidency of George W. Bush — is an unreliable partner.

This American administration is “misreading and miscalculating the effects” of its deeds in a Europe that is less ready than it once was to heed the United States, said Annette Heuser, executive director of the Bertelsmann Foundation, a research organization in Washington.

Early on Friday, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President François Hollande of France emerged from a meeting of European leaders to call for talks with the United States on new rules for their intelligence relationship. A statement from the European leaders said a “lack of trust” could undermine trans-Atlantic intelligence cooperation.

Earlier in the week the European Parliament had acted to suspend an agreement with the United States that allows it to track the finances of terrorist groups, citing suspicions that the United States authorities were tapping European citizens’ personal financial data.

The disclosures contained in the documents leaked by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden have crystallized a growing sense in Europe that post-Sept. 11 America has lost some of the values of privacy and accountability that have been the source of the world’s admiration for its version of democracy.

So fierce was the anger in Berlin over suspicions that American intelligence had tapped into Ms. Merkel’s cellphone that Elmar Brok of Germany, the chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee and a pillar of trans-Atlantic exchanges since 1984, spoke Friday of America’s security establishment as a creepy “state within a state.”

Since Sept. 11, 2001, he said, “the balance between freedom and security has been lost.”

To be sure, the United States and Europe are like a bickering couple that will never break up. For all the sharp words, they cannot even begin to contemplate an actual divorce. Many of the European complaints about the United States also seem directed mainly at a domestic audience, and may not result in concrete changes to a relationship that has weathered many storms.

But the United States under Mr. Obama had lost a considerable amount of European patience and good will even before the latest round of disclosures from the leaked N.S.A. documents.

First came the diplomatic shambles over Syria, where, in late summer, the United States seemed poised for military action after the killing of hundreds by chemical weapons. France keenly backed America, as did Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron. But Mr. Cameron unexpectedly failed to get support from his Parliament, Mr. Obama wavered, Russia stepped in with a last-minute diplomatic solution that left Germany and other nations diplomatically bruised, and France was left hanging out to dry.

Barely had the trans-Atlantic partners gotten over that discomfort than the divisive partisan politics of Washington precipitated a government shutdown and brought the United States — and thus Europe and the world — to the brink of default and economic turmoil.

This week, two American ambassadors, Charles H. Rivkin in France and John B. Emerson in Germany, were summoned to the Foreign Ministries in Paris and Berlin for a dressing down by two of America’s closest friends. The depressing spectacle reversed the traditional roles played by Europe and America, certainly for Germany. France is a proud nuclear power, and while relations have been exceptionally warm in recent years, it is strongly independent and a frequent critic, particularly of American culture.

Still, it was unusual to hear the foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, lecture so sternly.

“This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable, and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens,” he said. “We fully agree that we cooperate to fight terrorism. It is indispensable. But this does not justify that personal data of millions of our compatriots are snooped on.”

Germany, basically a post-World War II creation of the United States and its allies, is much less accustomed to such lecturing, with Germans to this day frequently referring to the United States as their country’s school for democracy.

Now, said Guntram Wulff, director of Breugel, a policy organization in Brussels, “the students are calling the teacher,” reminding the Obama administration of democratic values.

That the call came from a German chancellor who was raised in Communist East Germany, and thus has personal familiarity with government spying, heightened the irony and the bitterness.

The Snowden documents have led to calls in a number of European countries, especially Germany, for greater assurance that the digital privacy of their citizens is respected.

How much leverage Europeans have in order to achieve that in a borderless Internet world is questionable, although as Ms. Heuser noted, the past week has united them as never before in their calls for privacy and better data protection. Even Mr. Cameron of Britain, whose intelligence services are closely allied with their counterparts in the United States, backed the French and Germans in their quest for American cooperation in setting and sticking to new rules for an era of digital data.

Yet, even united, the Europeans often feel like bystanders, powerless to stop the dithering or insensitivity of their partner, the world’s No. 1 power. Threats to halt talks on a trans-Atlantic trade deal that would create a free market of about 800 million people in Europe and the United States are empty, since the deal would produce much needed growth and create jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

That mutual dependence has kept the old couple together for decades. But many analysts warn that the younger generation may be far more fickle. The old-guard Atlanticists who nurtured modern Germany knew war, or cold war and division. A year of study in America constituted their discovery of the world.

Today’s young Europeans can go anywhere, and glean information from all sorts of sources. A job in Shanghai, Singapore or India is seen as little different from one in Los Angeles or New York, Ms. Heuser said. Meanwhile, in the United States Congress, there are fewer and fewer young members with foreign experience, something once gained, in many cases, by military service.

After this week, the older European generation is wondering about the marriage, too. “America has always been about freedom and a guarantor for freedom,” said Mr. Brok, bitterly. “Perhaps we were too naïve.”

He sets off on Sunday on his latest trip to Washington and glimpse of a security machine that he suggested is so drowning in data that it misses valuable clues, like the Russian warning about the Tsarnaev brothers before the Boston Marathon bombings.

“In China, I expect such behavior,” he said. But, from America, “this is real disappointment.”

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

The NSA scandal puts Europe to the test

EU member states have a duty to protect their citizens from snooping. There is surely more to come

Guy Verhofstadt   
The Guardian, Friday 25 October 2013 18.48 BST   

On one level we should hardly be shocked by the revelations that the National Security Agency has been tapping our phones and monitoring our metadata. The thing about secret services that is not so secret is that they all spy on each other. Some, like the Americans, probably do it better than others. Countless Hollywood movies and BBC dramas about spooks and covert operations have brought this reality into our living rooms. Yet we probably laboured under the assumption that our spies were only after the "bad guys" – those broadly falling inside George Bush's definition of the "axis of evil" – not our friends and allies.

Angela Merkel's discovery that her personal mobile phone had been a target of NSA hacking disrupted this week's EU summit. The relationship she nurtured with the US president was suddenly undermined by questions about the true level of trust she thought they enjoyed. She was not alone, though. Leaked NSA memos revealed by the Guardian suggest up to 35 world leaders have been similarly treated. But this is not just an elite spying exercise. The NSA has been trawling through 70m communications from French citizens in the space of just one month. This is spying on a massive scale and clearly not exclusively directed at combating terrorism.

A case can be made for secret services to monitor phone calls and internet use of suspected terrorists or criminal gangs under the supervision of a judge or a minister who can be held accountable, but the systematic hacking of world leaders goes way beyond the bounds of good behaviour; it would be a very ugly world if no one could be trusted.

We should now be asking whether we have entered an Orwellian world of "thought crimes" and "Big Brother". The anti-terrorism measures we are taking are having a deleterious effect on our civil liberties – our right to privacy and freedom to go about our business without fear that we are being monitored. The Snowden revelations have pointed to NSA "back door" spyware being implanted in devices at the point of manufacture and of internet and social media giants being compromised. Data stored on servers on US soil is no longer above suspicion, and who knows what happens to our airline passenger data that is collected every time we take a flight?

Only last week MEPs voted to recommend the suspension of a controversial EU-US financial data-sharing agreement to assist with the US terrorist finance tracking programme. The agreement allows the US department for homeland security to access data from the Swift database (the conduit for all global financial transactions). Parliament had reluctantly accepted the agreement, following the personal intervention of Joe Biden, the US vice-president, and on condition of extra privacy safeguards. But allegations broadcast on Brazilian TV suggest that the system was hacked illegally. In light of all the evidence and new revelations, the US does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.

The spying scandal will now put Europe to the test. It must show that it is both willing and able to protect the rights of European citizens and uphold its core principles. The European Commission and member states should translate their indignation into a firm response, not brush the scandal under the carpet, for there will surely be more to come. Parliament's recommendation to suspend the exchange of Swift data requires a proposal from the commission and backing from two-thirds of EU member states. They should dangle this like a sword of Damocles over the heads of the Americans: that co-operation will be halted if the snooping on allies does not stop.

Second, no final agreement on a transatlantic trade and investment agreement between the EU and US can be concluded until this issue has been satisfactorily resolved. I would not recommend halting negotiations since a transatlantic free-trade area is manifestly in our own interests, but there will undoubtedly be chapters related to data privacy and regulation of online services that would be problematic in the current climate.

Third, the EU is updating its data protection legislation in light of developments in digital and online technology over the last 15 years. The legislation was voted at committee stage last week and is due to be completed before the end of the current European parliamentary mandate in June next year. Indeed, this legislation is urgently needed so that nationals of all member states are equally protected from unauthorised data gathering. The US spying scandals have also forced the issue of extra-territoriality into the foreground. MEPs have reinserted the "anti-Fisa" clause, enabling the blocking of surveillance by foreign law-enforcement bodies, despite lobbying by the US administration to drop it.

Guaranteeing national security is no easy matter and often pits one right against another. There will always be those who want more security or more privacy. What matters is knowing what is being done to protect our freedom so we can judge for ourselves and hold our politicians to account for the balance they strike. Without accountability, the state becomes all-powerful and we slip from democracy to dictatorship. The US (and possibly other countries participating in their programme or operating similar schemes) have been put in the spotlight and now have a duty to explain themselves to those they represent and serve.

Governments have a duty to look after our safety, but in a free and open democracy they also have a duty to look after our liberty. In some countries, not least those in the Arab world fighting for their rights and freedoms, many are prepared to risk their lives for liberty. It is a sobering thought for all those who bear the responsibility of government.


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

October 25, 2013

In Spy Uproar, ‘Everyone Does It’ Just Won’t Do

By DAVID E. SANGER
IHT

WASHINGTON — The angry protests from Germany’s chancellor over the National Security Agency’s monitoring of her cellphone and France’s furor over the collection of data about millions of its citizens have obscured a new reality: The digital age has merely expanded the ability of nations to do to one another what they have done for centuries.

But at the same time, it has allowed the Europeans, the Chinese and other powers to replicate N.S.A. techniques.

France has long been considered one of the most talented powers at stealing industrial secrets and intellectual property, intelligence officials say, although in recent years it has been pushed to the sidelines by the Chinese. Their daily cyberattacks have worked their way into the Pentagon and gotten them the blueprints for the F-35, the most expensive fighter jet in history.

The Russians have a reputation in the intelligence community for taking their time to infiltrate specific communications targets. “They are a lot more patient than the Chinese,” one former American intelligence official said recently, “and so they don’t get caught as often.”

The Israelis are well known for cooperating with the United States on major intelligence targets, mostly Iran, while using a combination of old-fashioned spies and sophisticated electronic techniques to decipher Washington’s internal debates, the officials say.

Long before Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany waved a new, encrypted cellphone at reporters on Thursday in Brussels — a way to foil the N.S.A., the German leader suggested, although maybe it arrived in her hand a little late — President Obama got an early primer on how vulnerable national leaders are to espionage of all sorts.

Fresh from the discovery that Chinese hackers had broken into the computer systems used by his 2008 campaign, he waged a bureaucratic war to hold on to his BlackBerry. In the end, he won a partial victory when he was issued a National Security Agency-approved, heavily encrypted model, with his communications limited to a small number of advisers and old friends. (He may lose it, some officials say, if the Chinese-owned computer maker Lenovo buys the BlackBerry brand from its hemorrhaging Canadian manufacturer.)

While it is tempting to dismiss the latest revelations with an everyone-does-it shrug, American officials now concede that the uproar in Europe about the N.S.A.’s programs — both the popular outrage and a more calculated political response by Ms. Merkel and France’s president, François Hollande — may have a broader diplomatic and economic effect than they first imagined.

In Washington, the reaction has set off a debate over whether it is time to put the brakes on the N.S.A., whose capabilities, Mr. Obama has hinted, have expanded faster than its judgment. There are now two groups looking at the N.S.A.’s activities: one inside the National Security Council, another with outside advisers. The president all but told Ms. Merkel that “we don’t have the balance right,” according to one official.

“Sure, everyone does it, but that’s been an N.S.A. excuse for too long,” one former senior official who talks to Mr. Obama often on intelligence matters said Friday. “Obama has said, publicly and privately, that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. But everyone has moved too slowly in moving that from a slogan to a policy.”

Diplomats at the United Nations on Friday said that Germany and Brazil, two of the countries whose leaders have been subjected to N.S.A. invasions of their communications, were drafting a General Assembly resolution that would seek to strengthen Internet privacy.

The diplomats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the drafting is still in the early stages, said momentum for the measure, begun in the summer, had been invigorated by the most recent disclosures of American eavesdropping. A formal resolution could be ready for consideration next month in what would be the first internationally coordinated response to the N.S.A. spying. Word of the German-Brazilian initiative was first reported on the Web site of Foreign Policy.

In Europe, where Ms. Merkel and Mr. Hollande demanded Friday that the United States open negotiations on a “code of conduct” that would limit surveillance, there is a sense that the steady stream of revelations may give them an upper hand. Ms. Merkel keeps repeating the phrase that the Americans must “restore trust.” One way the French and Germans intend to do that is to seek some form of inclusion in the inner circle of American intelligence allies, or at least for a deeper intelligence alliance.

Right now that inner circle, called the “Five Eyes,” consists of the United States and four English-speaking partners: Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Those partners agree not to spy on one another and to share in many of the United States’ deepest intelligence secrets, as the trove of highly classified documents made public by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, makes clear.

But Europe’s demands may go further than a stronger spying relationship with the United States. The European Union wants to require American companies, led by Internet powerhouses like Google and Yahoo, to get the approval of European officials before complying with warrants issued in the United States seeking information, e-mails or search histories about European citizens. The European Union would slap the technology companies with huge fines if they failed to agree to those rules, meaning that the companies would be caught between two masters and several legal systems.

Those kinds of demands would have been hard to imagine during the cold war, when European nations relied on the United States for protection from the Soviet Union, and American spying and rule-setting were tolerated.

“We had more cushion then,” said Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who as a diplomat worked for several American presidents on the unification of Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. “This is all part of a larger distancing of the U.S. by the Europeans,” he said, one in which traditional allies cannot agree on rules for spying and rules for governing the Internet.

Viewed that way, the tapping of Ms. Merkel’s phone was something of a remnant of a previous era. The tapping in fact appears to have begun roughly a decade ago, during the George W. Bush administration. Yet it is unclear what motivated the Bush administration to monitor her cellphone — she appears to have at least two, and the target apparently was her personal one — or why Mr. Obama seemed unaware that it was happening, even five years into his presidency. (His national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, assured her German counterpart that the president knew nothing about it, even while refusing to confirm that it happened.)

Mr. Obama, like his predecessors, argues that the United States taps phones and hacks into computers only to protect the world, not to gain commercial advantage. But no one in the government has admitted that the N.S.A. has been spying on Ms. Merkel, or the Mexican president, or the Brazilians, much less explained why. One thing is clear: The N.S.A.’s cold-war-era argument, that everyone does it, seems unlikely to win the day.

Rick Gladstone and Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York.

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ACLU: Lavabit 'fatally undermined' by US request for encryption keys

Rights group files briefing in defence of founder Ladar Levison and says government's demands 'unreasonably burdensome'

Dominic Rushe in New York
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 20.16 BST   
    
Lavabit closed its service in August after the US authorities demanded he hand over the encryption keys for its entire service. Photograph: Getty Images

The US government "fatally undermined" Lavabit, the secure email service used by whistleblower Edward Snowden, when it demanded access to encryption keys that kept the service secure, the American Civil Liberties Union said in court filings on Friday.

The ACLU has filed a "friend of the court" briefing in defence of Lavabit and its founder, Ladar Levison, who faces contempt of court charges after his decision to close down his service rather than co-operate with US authorities.

ACLU lawyer Catherine Crump said the government's "unreasonably burdensome" demands "fundamentally destroyed the company as a whole".

"Lavabit's business was predicated on offering a secure email service, and no company could possible tell its clients that it offers a secure service if its keys have been handed over to the government," Crump said.

Lavabit closed its service in August after the US authorities demanded he hand over the encryption keys for its entire service – a move Levison said would have compromised the personal details of his 40,000 clients.

Levison had previously offered the FBI access to the account that is believed to have been used by Snowden. The name of the FBI's target is redacted in court documents, and Levison is gagged by a court order from commenting.

Lavabit gave up the encryption keys after the government obtained court orders – including a grand jury subpoena and a stored communications act –and an authorised search warrant. The court denied Lavabit's motion to quash the warrants, and when the company failed to do so by the stipulated deadline, the court held Lavabit in contempt.

"The district court's contempt holding should be reversed, because the underlying orders requiring Lavabit to disclose its private keys imposed an unreasonable burden on the company. Although innocent third parties have a duty to assist law enforcement agents in their investigations, they also have a right not to be compelled "to render assistance without limitation regardless of the burden involved", ACLU said in its brief.

Crump said encryption services were a fundamental part of the internet. "Encryption has been mischaracterised by some people," she said. "Far from being the domain of criminals, encryption is a valuable tool used by everyone on the internet."

Lavabit was under no legal obligation to design a system that would give the government easy access to its clients' information, the ACLU argues.

"Whereas Congress has required telecommunications carriers, such as telephone companies, to build surveillance capabilities into their networks that enable the government to intercept users' communications and related metadata in real time, it has explicitly refrained from extending this requirement to email service providers," the court documents state.

The government had won court-ordered access to accounts on Lavabit rival Hushmail.

Hushmail's court-ordered co-operation triggered "a barrage of negative publicity after information about its surveillance assistance appeared in court documents", the ACLU argues.

"Whereas the government required Hushmail to provide only particular users' data, Lavabit faced a demand for the private encryption keys protecting all of its users' data, and would likely have fared much worse."

Lavabit is currently fighting its contempt charges and has filed briefs arguing that the US investigation violated its constitutional fourth amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches. The company has set up a legal fund to help with the costs that has so far raised $96,000.

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

As Europe erupts over US spying, NSA chief says government must stop media

With General Alexander calling for NSA reporting to be halted, US and UK credibility as guardians of press freedom is crushed

Glenn Greenwald   
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 20.22 BST           

The most under-discussed aspect of the NSA story has long been its international scope. That all changed this week as both Germany and France exploded with anger over new revelations about pervasive NSA surveillance on their population and democratically elected leaders.

As was true for Brazil previously, reports about surveillance aimed at leaders are receiving most of the media attention, but what really originally drove the story there were revelations that the NSA is bulk-spying on millions and millions of innocent citizens in all of those nations. The favorite cry of US government apologists -–everyone spies! – falls impotent in the face of this sort of ubiquitous, suspicionless spying that is the sole province of the US and its four English-speaking surveillance allies (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

There are three points worth making about these latest developments.

• First, note how leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with basic indifference when it was revealed months ago that the NSA was bulk-spying on all German citizens, but suddenly found her indignation only when it turned out that she personally was also targeted. That reaction gives potent insight into the true mindset of many western leaders.

• Second, all of these governments keep saying how newsworthy these revelations are, how profound are the violations they expose, how happy they are to learn of all this, how devoted they are to reform. If that's true, why are they allowing the person who enabled all these disclosures – Edward Snowden – to be targeted for persecution by the US government for the "crime" of blowing the whistle on all of this?

If the German and French governments – and the German and French people – are so pleased to learn of how their privacy is being systematically assaulted by a foreign power over which they exert no influence, shouldn't they be offering asylum to the person who exposed it all, rather than ignoring or rejecting his pleas to have his basic political rights protected, and thus leaving him vulnerable to being imprisoned for decades by the US government?

Aside from the treaty obligations these nations have to protect the basic political rights of human beings from persecution, how can they simultaneously express outrage over these exposed invasions while turning their back on the person who risked his liberty and even life to bring them to light?

• Third, is there any doubt at all that the US government repeatedly tried to mislead the world when insisting that this system of suspicionless surveillance was motivated by an attempt to protect Americans from The Terrorists™? Our reporting has revealed spying on conferences designed to negotiate economic agreements, the Organization of American States, oil companies, ministries that oversee mines and energy resources, the democratically elected leaders of allied states, and entire populations in those states.

Can even President Obama and his most devoted loyalists continue to maintain, with a straight face, that this is all about Terrorism? That is what this superb new Foreign Affairs essay by Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore means when it argues that the Manning and Snowden leaks are putting an end to the ability of the US to use hypocrisy as a key weapon in its soft power.

Speaking of an inability to maintain claims with a straight face, how are American and British officials, in light of their conduct in all of this, going to maintain the pretense that they are defenders of press freedoms and are in a position to lecture and condemn others for violations? In what might be the most explicit hostility to such freedoms yet – as well as the most unmistakable evidence of rampant panic – the NSA's director, General Keith Alexander, actually demanded Thursday that the reporting being done by newspapers around the world on this secret surveillance system be halted (Techdirt has the full video here):

    The head of the embattled National Security Agency, Gen Keith Alexander, is accusing journalists of "selling" his agency's documents and is calling for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets snatched by former contractor Edward Snowden.

    "I think it's wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn't make sense," Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department's "Armed With Science" blog.

    "We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don't know how to do that. That's more of the courts and the policy-makers but, from my perspective, it's wrong to allow this to go on," the NSA director declared. [My italics]

There are 25,000 employees of the NSA (and many tens of thousands more who work for private contracts assigned to the agency). Maybe one of them can tell The General about this thing called "the first amendment".

I'd love to know what ways, specifically, General Alexander has in mind for empowering the US government to "come up with a way of stopping" the journalism on this story. Whatever ways those might be, they are deeply hostile to the US constitution – obviously. What kind of person wants the government to forcibly shut down reporting by the press?

Whatever kind of person that is, he is not someone to be trusted in instituting and developing a massive bulk-spying system that operates in the dark. For that matter, nobody is.
Leaving

As many of you likely know, it was announced last week that I am leaving the Guardian. My last day here will be 31 October, and I will write my last column on that date.

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David Cameron agrees with EU concerns over NSA surveillance

PM says EU summit statement was 'good and sensible', and rails against Edward Snowden and those publishing revelations

Ian Traynor in Brussels
The Guardian, Friday 25 October 2013 19.01 BST     

David Cameron "silently acquiesced" to an EU statement raising questions about mass US surveillance operations and Britain's collaboration in them, Angela Merkel said on Friday following a two-day Brussels summit.

All 28 national leaders, Cameron included, responded to allegations of US tapping of the German chancellor's mobile phone and large-scale interception of telephone calls in France by voicing concern about the US National Security Agency (NSA) and deploring the possible collapse of transatlantic trust unleashed by the ongoing revelations. The statement also implicitly questioned Britain's role through the activities of the GCHQ.

Asked whether the prime minister supported the statement cobbled together during a two-hour debate on the intelligence row, Merkel said: "David Cameron was present at the discussion. He listened to it. He wasn't against it. That is silent acquiescence as far as I go."

Another European leader confirmed Merkel's account of events, while a senior EU official present at the discussion said: "Britain was almost not intervening in the debate. It agreed immediately."

The leaders, including the prime minister, agreed that the NSA revelations raised "deep concerns among European citizens" and that a resulting loss of trust could imperil the transatlantic effort to combat terrorism.

In a pointed reference to GCHQ's role, the leaders' statement said the issue of trust applied not only to the US, but also to relations between EU member states.

"Intelligence gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism. This applies to relations between European countries as well as to relations with the US. A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary co-operation in the field of intelligence gathering."

At a post-summit press conference, the PM repeatedly insisted he would not discuss issues pertaining to national security or intelligence gathering, but described the agreed statement as sensible, and aimed at averting a breach between the EU and the US.

"The leaders of the European Union issued a good and sensible statement about this matter and I agree with that statement," he said.

Shaken by recent revelations about NSA operations in France and Germany, EU leaders and Merkel in particular warned the international fight against terrorism was jeopardised by the perception that mass US surveillance was out of control.

Merkel drove the point home: "We need trust among allies and partners. Such trust now has to be built anew … The United States of America and Europe face common challenges. We are allies. But such an alliance can only be built on trust."

While European leaders warned that the mass surveillance imperilled the counter-terrorism effort, Cameron blamed the US whistleblower, Edward Snowden, as well as "the newspapers helping him".

In what was seen as his most trenchant attack on the Guardian, the PM said: "What Mr Snowden has in effect done and what some newspapers are assisting him in doing is going to make it a lot more difficult to keep our countries and our citizens safe.

"There are lots of people who want to do us harm, who want to blow up our families, who want to maim people in our countries. That is a fact, it's a not a pleasant fact, but it's true … That is the threat that we face.

"The point is what Snowden is doing and to an extent what the newspapers are doing in helping him do what he is doing, is frankly signalling to people who mean to do us harm how to evade and avoid intelligence and surveillance and other techniques. That is not going to make our world safer. It's going to make our world more dangerous. The first priority of a prime minister is to help try and keep your country safe. That means not having some lah-di-dah, airy-fairy view about what this all means."

The leaders agreed that Germany and France are to spearhead a drive to try to force Washington to agree new transatlantic rules on intelligence and security service behaviour in the wake of the Snowden revelations.

François Hollande also called for a new code of conduct agreed between national intelligence services in the EU, begging the question of whether Britain would opt to join in.

The Franco-German talks with the US were open for others to join, the summit agreed. British officials made plain the UK would not take part. Cameron said that Barack Obama would welcome the talks with the Europeans, but set Britain apart.

"Obviously Britain has a very strong and unique intelligence relationship with the US," he said.

Part of that is the so-called Anglophone Five Eyes pact on intelligence-sharing between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Given Britain is the sole EU member of the pact, it surfaced as a source of rancour and envy in the debate. According to another senior official who witnessed the two-hour discussion on intelligence snooping, Merkel raised the issue directly with Cameron in private.

"Regarding Britain, there were some allusions about the so-called Five Eyes," the official said.

"Angela Merkel and others said that 'unlike David we are unfortunately not part of it'. David Cameron then made the point about the importance that the group has for British national security and also the fight against terrorism. He gave figures about how many terrorist attacks and how many casualties were avoided in the last years since he was prime minister."

The private discussion highlighted the divergent views of Cameron and other European leaders on the NSA controversy. While most leaders deplored the reports of Merkel's phone being tapped, Cameron declined to join them.

Merkel told the meeting that the issue was not her mobile, but "the phones of millions of European citizens".

Hollande dismissed the argument that spies will be spies. "He said that some people ask: 'Why are you attacking the Americans? Everybody does this.' But that is not true, at this level of spying, I don't how many millions of millions of citizens," the source said. "It raises issues of privacy and fundamental rights."

It was plain that France and Germany both want to limit the damage from the NSA furore, but also hope to engage the US to rein in its activities. They set a deadline of the end of the year for results. Senior officials said the big fear was of further Snowden revelations upsetting their agenda to get transatlantic relations back on an even keel.

Merkel briefed the other leaders in some detail on her 20-minute conversation with Obama on Wednesday. Several participants commented that they thought the US leader was embarrassed, the sources said.

The European anger and frustration was directed at a US agency seen to be out of control and beyond appropriate scrutiny, rather than being aimed at Obama.

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

October 24, 2013 10:00 AM

Claim on 'Attacks Thwarted' by NSA Spreads Despite Lack of Evidence

By Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica

Two weeks after Edward Snowden's first revelations about sweeping government surveillance, President Obama shot back. "We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany," Obama said during a visit to Berlin in June. "So lives have been saved."

In the months since, intelligence officials, media outlets, and members of Congress from both parties all repeated versions of the claim that NSA surveillance has stopped more than 50 terrorist attacks. The figure has become a key talking point in the debate around the spying programs.

"Fifty-four times this and the other program stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks both here and in Europe — saving real lives," Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said on the House floor in July, referring to programs authorized by a pair of post-9/11 laws. "This isn't a game. This is real."

But there's no evidence that the oft-cited figure is accurate.

The NSA itself has been inconsistent on how many plots it has helped prevent and what role the surveillance programs played. The agency has often made hedged statements that avoid any sweeping assertions about attacks thwarted.

A chart declassified by the agency in July, for example, says that intelligence from the programs on 54 occasions "has contributed to the [U.S. government's] understanding of terrorism activities and, in many cases, has enabled the disruption of potential terrorist events at home and abroad" — a much different claim than asserting that the programs have been responsible for thwarting 54 attacks.

NSA officials have mostly repeated versions of this wording.

When NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander spoke at a Las Vegas security conference in July, for instance, he referred to "54 different terrorist-related activities," 42 of which were plots and 12 of which were cases in which individuals provided "material support" to terrorism.

But the NSA has not always been so careful.

During Alexander's speech in Las Vegas, a slide in an accompanying slideshow read simply "54 ATTACKS THWARTED."

And in a recent letter to NSA employees, Alexander and John Inglis, the NSA's deputy director, wrote that the agency has "contributed to keeping the U.S. and its allies safe from 54 terrorist plots." (The letter was obtained by reporter Kevin Gosztola from a source with ties to the intelligence community. The NSA did not respond when asked to authenticate it.)

Asked for clarification of the surveillance programs' record, the NSA declined to comment.

Earlier this month, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pressed Alexander on the issue at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

"Would you agree that the 54 cases that keep getting cited by the administration were not all plots, and of the 54, only 13 had some nexus to the U.S.?" Leahy said at the hearing. "Would you agree with that, yes or no?"

"Yes," Alexander replied, without elaborating.

It's impossible to assess the role NSA surveillance played in the 54 cases because, while the agency has provided a full list to Congress, it remains classified.

Officials have openly discussed only a few of the cases (see below), and the agency has identified only one — involving a San Diego man convicted of sending $8,500 to Somalia to support the militant group Al Shabab — in which NSA surveillance played a dominant role.

The surveillance programs at issue fall into two categories: The collection of metadata on all American phone calls under the Patriot Act, and the snooping of electronic communications targeted at foreigners under a 2007 surveillance law. Alexander has said that surveillance authorized by the latter law provided "the initial tip" in roughly half of the 54 cases. The NSA has not released examples of such cases.

After reading the full classified list, Leahy concluded the NSA's surveillance has some value but still questioned the agency's figures.

"We've heard over and over again the assertion that 54 terrorist plots were thwarted" by the two programs, Leahy told Alexander at the Judiciary Committee hearing this month. "That's plainly wrong, but we still get it in letters to members of Congress, we get it in statements. These weren't all plots and they weren't all thwarted. The American people are getting left with the inaccurate impression of the effectiveness of NSA programs."

The origins of the "54" figure go back to a House Intelligence Committee hearing on June 18, less than two weeks after the Guardian's publication of the first story based on documents leaked by Snowden.

At that hearing, Alexander said, "The information gathered from these programs provided the U.S. government with critical leads to help prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries around the world." He didn't specify what "events" meant. Pressed by Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., Alexander said the NSA would send a more detailed breakdown to the committee.

Speaking in Baltimore the next week, Alexander gave an exact figure: 54 cases "in which these programs contributed to our understanding, and in many cases, helped enable the disruption of terrorist plots in the U.S. and in over 20 countries throughout the world."

But members of Congress have repeatedly ignored the distinctions and hedges.

The websites of the Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee include pages titled, "54 Attacks in 20 Countries Thwarted By NSA Collection."

And individual congressmen have frequently cited the figure in debates around NSA surveillance.

    Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., who is also on the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement in July referring to "54 terrorist plots that have been foiled by the NSA programs." Asked about the figure, Westmoreland spokeswoman Leslie Shedd told ProPublica that "he was citing declassified information directly from the National Security Agency."
    Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, issued a statement in July saying "the programs in question have thwarted 54 specific plots, many targeting Americans on American soil."
    Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., issued his own statement the next day: "The Amash amendment would have eliminated Section 215 of the Patriot Act which we know has thwarted 54 terrorist plots against the US (and counting)." (The amendment, which aimed to bar collection of Americans' phone records, was narrowly defeated in the House.)
    Mike Rogers, the Intelligence Committee chairman who credited the surveillance programs with thwarting 54 attacks on the House floor, repeated the claim to Bob Schieffer on CBS' "Face the Nation" in July."You just heard what he said, senator," Schieffer said, turning to Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., an NSA critic. "Fifty-six terror plots here and abroad have been thwarted by the NSA program. So what's wrong with it, then, if it's managed to stop 56 terrorist attacks? That sounds like a pretty good record." Asked about Rogers' remarks, House Intelligence Committee spokeswoman Susan Phalen said in a statement: "In 54 specific cases provided by the NSA, the programs stopped actual plots or put terrorists in jail before they could effectuate further terrorist plotting.  These programs save lives by disrupting attacks. Sometimes the information is found early in the planning, and sometimes very late in the planning. But in all those cases these people intended to kill innocent men and women through the use of terror."
    Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., went even further in a town hall meeting in August. Responding to a question about the NSA vacuuming up Americans' phone records, he said the program had "been used 54 times to be able to interrupt 54 different terrorist plots here in the United States that had originated from overseas in the past eight years. That's documented."
    The same day, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who sits on the Intelligence Committee, defended the NSA at a town hall meeting with constituents in Cranston, R.I. "I know that these programs have been directly effective in thwarting and derailing 54 terrorist attacks," he said. Asked about Langevin's comments, spokeswoman Meg Fraser said in an email, "The committee was given information from NSA on August 1 that clearly indicated they considered the programs in question to have been used to help disrupt 54 terrorist events. That is the information the Congressman relied on when characterizing the programs at his town hall."

Wenstrup, Heck and Lankford did not respond to requests for comment.

The claims have also appeared in the media. ABC News, CNN and the New York Times have all repeated versions of the claim that more than 50 plots have been thwarted by the programs.

The NSA has publicly identified four of the 54 cases. They are:

    The case of Basaaly Moalin, the San Diego man convicted of sending $8,500 to Somalia to support Al Shabab, the terrorist group that has taken responsibility for the attack on a Kenyan mall last month. The NSA has said its collection of American phone records allowed it to determine that a U.S. phone was in contact with a Shabab figure, which in turn led them to Moalin. NSA critic Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has argued that the NSA could have gotten a court order to get the phone records in question and that the case does not justify the bulk collection of Americans' phone records.
    The case of Najibullah Zazi, who in 2009 plotted to bomb the New York subway system. The NSA has said that an email it intercepted to an account of a known Al Qaeda figure in Pakistan allowed authorities to identify and ultimately capture Zazi. But an Associated Press examination of the case concluded that, again, the NSA's account of the case did not show the need for the new warrantless powers at issue in the current debate. "Even before the surveillance laws of 2007 and 2008, the FBI had the authority to — and did, regularly — monitor email accounts linked to terrorists," the AP reported.
    A case involving David Coleman Headley, the Chicago man who helped plan the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. Intelligence officials have said that NSA surveillance helped thwart a subsequent plot involving Headley to attack a Danish newspaper. A ProPublica examination of that episode concluded that it was a tip from British intelligence, rather than NSA surveillance, that led authorities to Headley.
    A case involving a purported plot to attack the New York Stock Exchange. This convoluted episode involves three Americans, including Khalid Ouazzani of Kansas City, Mo., who pleaded guilty in 2010 to bank fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda. An FBI official said in June that NSA surveillance helped in the case "to detect a nascent plotting to bomb the New York Stock Exchange." But no one has been charged with crimes related to that or any other planned attack. (Ouazzani was sentenced to 14 years last month.) The Kansas City Star reported that one of the men in the case had "pulled together a short report with the kind of public information easily available from Google Earth, tourist maps and brochures" and that his contact in Yemen "tore up the report, 'threw it in the street' and never showed it to anyone." Court records also suggest that the men in Yemen that Ouazzani sent over $20,000 to may have been scamming him and spent some of the money on personal expenses.

For more from ProPublica on the NSA, read about the agency's campaign to crack Internet security, a look at the surveillance reforms Obama supported before he was president, and a fact-check on claims about the NSA and Sept. 11.


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« Reply #9566 on: Oct 26, 2013, 06:15 AM »


DNA tests confirm Maria's mother as Bulgarian Sasha Ruseva

Sasha Ruseva said she gave birth to Maria four years ago, but gave her away as she was too poor to care for her

Associated Press in Sofia
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 16.33 BST   

DNA tests have confirmed that a Bulgarian Roma couple are the parents of a girl in Greece known as Maria, officials have said.

Genetic profiles of Sasha Ruseva and her husband, Atanas, matched that of the girl, said Svetlozar Lazarov, an interior ministry official in Sofia.

Ruseva has said she gave birth to a baby girl four years ago in Greece while working as an olive picker, and gave the child away because she was too poor to care for her.

Maria has been in temporary care since last week after authorities raided a Roma settlement in central Greece and later discovered that the girl was not the biological child of the Greek Roma couple she was living with. The couple were arrested and charged with abduction and document fraud.

A lawyer representing the Greek couple said they planned to seek legal custody of the fair-haired girl. The couple have told authorities they received Maria after an informal adoption.

Under Greek law, child abduction charges can include cases where a minor is voluntarily given away by the parents outside the legal adoption process.

The couple's lawyer, Costas Katsavos, said: "Now that they're in prison there's not much they can do. But provided what we said is borne out, that it was not an abduction, then logically they will be released from prison and they will be able to enter a proper [adoption] process … They truly and ardently want her back."

Costas Yannopoulos, director of the Greek children's charity Smile of the Child, which has been looking after the girl, said he had no comment on her fate. "We are dealing with the humanitarian side of this issue, looking after a young girl," Yannopoulos said.

Maria's case has drawn global attention, playing on the shocking possibility of children being stolen from their parents or sold by them. But its handling by media and authorities has raised concerns of racism toward the European Union's estimated six million Gypsies, a minority long marginalised in most of the continent.

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

Maria case exposes extent of child trafficking in crisis-hit Greece

Growing black market revealed as Bulgaria names mother of girl found in Roma camp and Athens couple accused of buying baby

Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Friday 25 October 2013 20.40 BST   

The chaotic state of Greece and its public institutions was once again thrust into the spotlight on Friday when police announced they had arrested a childless couple in Athens on suspicion of attempting to pass off an eight-month-old Roma girl as their own.

The pair were seized as DNA tests proved that a Bulgarian couple are the biological parents of another little girl whose discovery in a Roma camp in central Greece has triggered fears of rampant child-trafficking in the crisis-plagued country.

Announcing the results, Bulgaria's interior ministry said genetic profiling proved that Sasha Ruseva, a Roma woman, was the mother of the mystery girl known only as Maria. The 38-year-old had said she gave birth to the blond, blue-eyed child while working as an olive picker in Greece but, unable to support the baby, had given her to a family living in a nearby Roma community.

Friday's arrests came days after another Roma couple were charged with child abduction on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos when authorities discovered them with a baby boy who was not their own.

All three cases have thrown an unflattering light on the chaotic state of a nation not only in economic freefall but struggling to cope with a bureaucracy that is edging closer to collapse. After a supreme court prosecutor ordered an investigation this week into thousands of possibly fake birth certificates, officials, charity workers, lawyers and child-advocacy experts agreed that the country's dysfunctional public administration had left Greece's birth registration system wide open to abuse.

Widespread use of legal loopholes by corrupt state workers – in an EU member nation that until May had lacked a national birth registry – provided particularly fertile ground for child trafficking.

Police said the unnamed couple arrested on Friday, who are believed to be Greek, had allegedly paid a Roma woman €4,000 (£3,400) for the baby shortly after she was born in February. The suspects, described as a 53-year-old man and 48-year-old woman desperate to have children, allegedly turned to an intermediary with ties to the murky world of baby trafficking and offered to buy one. They now face charges of abducting a minor.

Similar charges were brought against the couple with whom Maria was found when police conducted a raid on a Roma settlement near Larissa last week – although their lawyer said on Friday that they would immediately seek to be released from prison after their story of being given the girl was backed up by her real mother and Bulgaria's release of the DNA results.

Maria, who could be as old as six, was spotted peeping from under a blanket when officers and court officials swooped on the camp in search of weapons and drugs.

The discovery of the girl, who has undergone a battery of medical examinations to determine her age and origins, had the nation riveted – and triggered a worldwide search for her biological family. Smile of the Child, the charity in whose care she has since been placed, received more than 10,000 calls – many from parents whose own children had gone missing – following an international appeal to locate her relatives.

Inquiries revealed that the child's purported parents not only bore no relationship to her but had repeatedly falsified birth registrations in municipalities around the country. Records proved that the woman found to be looking after Maria claimed to have given birth to six of her 14 children in less than a year – a ruse that would have enabled her to collect about €2,800 a month in child benefits.

Highlighting the parlous state of birth registrations in Greece, Konstantinos Tzanakoulis, the mayor of Larissa, the provincial capital of the region where Maria was found, admitted it was "pure luck" that the case had been uncovered at all.

"Who knows how many such incidents exist?" he asked. "We may never know."

As a frontier state of the EU, at the crossroads of east and west, Greece has long been at the centre of the illicit trade in people trafficking. Since the debt-stricken nation's economic crisis began, the trade is believed to have worsened as effective state controls collapsed.

Stories are legion of babies being bought on the black market in a country with one of the lowest fertility rates in the EU. Bulgarian women have long fallen prey to schemes that involved them giving birth in Greece and handing over their babies to childless Greek couples in exchange for a fee.

At the head office of Smile of the Child, the charity he founded on the death of his son in 1995, Costas Giannopoulos said flawed Greek laws had not helped. "Child trafficking is not just a Greek problem," he said. "It's a European problem but the laws here are so complex and bureaucratic they make legal adoptions very difficult.

"I have a case of a child who was dropped at one of our homes by parents who were drug addicts and could not look after him but because the law says the [birth] family has to approve any adoption, and that has not happened, it has been impossible to place him."

For years, Smile of the Child has worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Last year it supported 42,000 children, including many from Roma communities, as violence, bullying and child abuse soared amid the country's financial meltdown.

In the charity's open-plan office, psychologists and social workers operate hotlines that have "rung off the hook" since the discovery of little Maria. "What this case has taught us is that we shouldn't assume anything," said Giannopoulos, a respected child advocate who is now advising the government on how to simplify the birth registration system. "From the beginning it was wrong to assume she was kidnapped or illegally adopted, even if an illegal act took place that was against the dignity of the child."

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

Irish ombudsman to investigate seizure of two Roma children

Children's ombudsman given powers by justice minister to investigate actions of garda and Health Service Executive

Henry McDonald in Dublin
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 18.14 BST   

Ireland's ombudsman for children is to launch an unprecedented independent inquiry into the Republic's police force and health service over the way they handled the cases of two Roma children who were taken into care this week.

Organisations representing the Roma community in Ireland had been calling for an independent investigation into why the garda took the two children – a seven-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy – despite their parents' protests and placed them into the care of the Health Service Executive.

The children, who both had blonde hair and blue eyes, were taken from their parents after reports from members of the public that they did not belong to two Roma couples living in Dublin and the Irish Midlands. DNA tests subsequently proved that the respective couples were the children's parents.

Emily Logan, the children's ombudsman, said Ireland's justice minister had given her special powers to investigate the behaviour of the garda. Before Friday the children's ombudsman had no such powers to examine the force.

Logan said she wanted to explore "how the children and the families were treated and how the standards of public administration were carried out by the garda and the HSE".

She said it would be usual for her office to interview all the garda officers who searched the Roma families' homes. If the seized girl was well enough she would also be interviewed.

Logan said she was determined that her finished report would be made public.

It is understood that as well as any legal action the families at the centre of the controversy may now take, a number of private individuals in the Republic may initiate private prosecutions against the garda and the HSE over the double mistake.

Meanwhile, the mother of the two-year-old boy seized in Athlone on Wednesday spoke of her son's fear when the garda arrived. He was returned to his family on Thursday.

Loredaiva Sava said her son had been crying and scared, and had told her: "The garda, she come to take me back," after waking up.

Her partner, Iancu Muntean, said the child had asked him: "What happened, Daddy, why do you bring me down there?" when the raid on the house took place.

Muntean said he did not believe an Irish family would be treated in the same way and believed it was a type of discrimination against the Roma community.

He produced a photograph of the boy's maternal grandfather who has the same blue eyes and blonde hair as his son.

Amnesty International said the "eyes of the world are now on Ireland" to act properly and meet the demands of the Roma families for an independent inquiry.

Colm O'Gorman, spokesman for the human rights organisation in the Republic, said any responses to reported child protection concerns needed to be proportionate and non-discriminatory.

He said: "If it is found that the authorities' actions were discriminatory, steps must taken to ensure this is not repeated. There must be a public apology to the Roma families for the wrongdoing.

"The eyes of the world are now on Ireland, and the government must show institutional discrimination will not be tolerated."

The justice minister, Alan Shatter, urged people not to stop reporting concerns over children in the light of the Roma families' treatment. He said that over the last four years Ireland's health service had intervened to remove children from families almost 3,000 times.

He said: "Quite clearly no fault of any nature attaches to the two families concerned for the events that took place and I have asked that the social services provide any support or assistance that they or their children require to cope with these very difficult events."


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« Reply #9567 on: Oct 26, 2013, 06:16 AM »


Student gets 40 years for terror campaign against Muslims

Pavlo Lapshyn hunted down a Muslim to murder before he bombed three Midlands mosques to trigger a race war

Vikram Dodd   
The Guardian, Friday 25 October 2013 19.33 BST

A white supremacist who hoped to "ethnically cleanse" Muslims has been told he will serve at least 40 years imprisonment for a terror campaign in which he hunted down a Muslim to murder before he bombed three Midlands mosques aiming to kill and maim worshippers.

Pavlo Lapshyn, 25, came to Britain in April from Ukraine after winning a prize to further his studies. Instead he tried to trigger a race war, fuelled by extremist material on his computer – including a video game called "ethnic cleansing" which celebrated racist violence.

Within a day of arriving and starting a work placement in Birmingham, Lapshyn who was a PhD student, was viewing an extremist rightwing Russian website used by those imprisoned for racist crimes, including murder.

A day later he photographed himself with a Buffalo River hunting knife in his bedroom and three days later took it onto the streets, "intent on finding a Muslim to murder", Mr Justice Sweeney said as he sentenced Lapshyn.

His victim was Mohammed Saleem, 82, walking home from a mosque with the aid of a walking stick in Small Heath, Birmingham, just after 10pm.

Lapshyn approached the grandfather of 23 children from behind, and plunged the blade in so deep it reached the front of Saleem's body. Saleem collapsed, with one wound 18 cm deep.

Lapshyn had pleaded guilty on Monday at the Old Bailey to the terrorist campaign of murder and bombings across the West Midlands from April to July.

He confessed after his arrest that he was a violent racist and had parts for three more bomb attacks.

Photos and video recovered after his arrest revealed him experimenting with bombs in the Ukrainian countryside before he came to Britain. He had also researched where he could get materials in Birmingham to make improvised explosive devices.

He placed bombs outside mosques in Walsall and Wolverhampton in June, before packing his final device with nails which was aimed at worshippers entering Friday lunchtime prayers at Tipton mosque.

Three hundred people would have been in the path of the shrapnel that shot across the car park, leaving nails embedded in tree trunks. But the mosque had temporarily moved prayers back one hour.

The prosecution had said Lapshyn's crimes were so severe he should receive a whole life tariff .

But the judge said he was not sure Lapshyn murdered to "further a cause" but acted alone "motivated by your own extreme and appalling prejudices." Counter terrorism police say there is no sign the PhD student acted under the control and direction of anyone else and that he was self-radicalised.

Lapshyn was sentenced to a minimum term of 40 years, with sentences of 12 years for the three mosque bombings to run concurrently. He was sentenced by the same judge overseeing the case of two men accused of murdering Lee Rigby in May in a London street.

With Saleem's family in court, Mr Justice Sweeney told Lapshyn, who listened impasssively: "You clearly hold extreme rightwing white supremacist views, and you were motivated to commit the offences by religious and racial hatred in the hope that you would ignite racial conflict and cause Muslims to leave the area where you were living.

"Such views, hatreds and motivation are abhorrent to all right thinking people, and have no place whatsoever in our multi-faith and multicultural society."

In a victim impact statement Saleem's daughter Shazia said: "The murder has disabled our minds in every emotional way possible. Dad did not die of old age or illness: he died because he was stabbed violently in the back by a gutless coward."

Lapshyn confessed the murder during police interviews: "I have a racial hatred so I have a motivation, a racial motivation and racial hatred."

He believed a series of attacks would cause more damage with the aim that "the Muslims will have to leave our area".

It emerged that West Midlands police had investigated one of Saleem's children over the killing after receiving a false witness statement. He was eliminated from inquiries.

In a statement, the Muslim Council of Britain said of Lapshyn: "There will be some who will view his activities as those of a lone wolf.

"But in a summer that saw an unprecedented rise in attacks on mosques and Islamic institutions, it is important for all of us to challenge anti-Muslim hatred, just as we challenge those who wrongly use Islam to carry out acts of violence."

Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale, head of the West Midlands police counter-terrorism unit, said Lapshyn had shown no remorse or regret.


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« Reply #9568 on: Oct 26, 2013, 06:22 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/25/2013 07:00 PM

Femen Fatigue: Flashy Feminists Struggle to Muster Support

By Fabian Reinbold

Members of the controversial feminist group Femen have launched a number of eye-catching protests in Germany. But the public isn't shocked by their "sextremist" tactics anymore, leading to a dwindling of already meager support.

For a moment, it seemed like Femen had arrived on the mainstream political stage. Josephine, a Femen activist, was chatting away with her hosts, representatives of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). Just one seat away sat Olaf Scholz, the SPD mayor of the northern city-state of Hamburg. As he stepped up to the podium, Femen activist Zana straightened her glasses, while fellow-crusader Hellen clapped politely.

Ten minutes later, while Scholz was talking about "the principle of equity and rightfulness" in refugee policies, the three women tore off their blouses, ran toward the mayor, wrangled with his bodyguards and repeatedly shouted "Shame on you, Scholz!" Hellen had the words "Ditch Scholz" painted on her chest and "Stop Racism" on her back. In terms of Femen protests, it was a rather standard affair, only tailored for the ongoing refugee controversy in Hamburg.

For a year now, the bare-breasted warriors from Ukraine have had a base in the port city. They and their counterparts in Berlin have been sounding a rallying cry in the debate over feminism. The women have attacked Vladimir Putin at a trade fair in Hanover, stormed the stage of the Heidi Klum hit show "Germany's Next Topmodel" and protested in front of the Chancellery and on the Reeperbahn, the heart of Hamburg's red-light district.

The group's first protest, at a Hamburg IKEA in October 2012, was only covered by local media. After their ambush of Scholz, the three feminists laughed it up over beers at a Thai restaurant, commenting that Scholz's bodyguards are now quite familiar with them.

The only issue, however, is that Femen has become a household name in Germany. Of course, that is a success in its own right -- but also the problem.

Nevertheless, the group's members in Germany, who now number a bit over 12, want to remain true to their cause. But, to do so, they're going to have to come up with something new. Other feminists have badmouthed their way of protesting for some time. What's changed, though, is that the group's now-routinized form of protest is increasingly boring its core constiuency -- the very people who don't immediately write Femen members off as simple-minded, anti-religious and suffering from historical amnesia. Indeed, the group is in danger of becoming, in a word, old.

'We Draw International Attention'

Without drawing attention and media coverage, the Femen tactic is ineffectual. After they were released by Hamburg police following the Scholz attack, the three activists immediately checked their smartphones to see who was already reporting on their feat. "We wanted to say to the face of the man responsible for the racist controls in Hamburg that he should be ashamed of himself," said activist Hellen Langhorst. "And we're drawing international attention to the refugee problem."

Femen has developed a habitual protest routine. They tip off reporters before any demonstrations. What's more, whenever they are charged with trespassing or slander, the case is often dropped.

The question is: Do their protests really have any positive effect? Indeed, it doesn't help that there are reports claiming that a man is actually behind the group's Ukrainian mother organization, inciting them to wage naked protests. Such reports only confirm mainstream skepticism about Femen.

The Femen activists in Germany, however, prefer not to comment on such issues. Josephine Witt, for example, says of the alleged Ukrainian mastermind, "It might be that he briefly held the reins." But she and her fellow German activists stress that they founded their branch independently, and that only one of them had even ever spoken on the phone with the mysterious man.

Femen also has no doubts about the justness of one activist's highly criticized protest trip to Tunisia. Josephine Witt, who spent four weeks in jail after waging a protest on behalf of an imprisoned Tunisian activist, says she doesn't regret it a bit. The time in jail was rough, she admits, but she's proud of what she did. "I'd had enough of couch-potato feminism, and I've accomplished more than that with Femen," she says. "The battle continues."

Branding 'Sextremism'

To continue waging their battle against patriarchy, members of the German Femen division, who are mainly university students, need money. The self-proclaimed "sextremists" set up a bank account over the summer in order to solicit donations, which they say are vital for travel and training expenses. But so far, less than €300 ($415) has been deposited into the account.

With funding hard to come by, the women hope that some merchandising will help them with their finances. They recently began making handbags hand-painted with six different slogans, such as "Fuck Your Morals," each of which costs €15, shipping not included. They stress that the bags are made out of "fair trade" materials. And the group says that sales have been good, though they decline to cite concrete figures.

Of course, this only piques the curiosity of those who always suspected that Femen is merely a marketing ploy. But the activists view it as a pragmatic matter. The bags allow their backers to openly publicize their support. Still, the German femenistas don't have any plans to sell what their Ukrainian sisters-in-arms offer: breast prints at $70 a pop.


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« Reply #9569 on: Oct 26, 2013, 06:23 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/25/2013 05:37 PM

EU Apathy: Leaders Fail to Make Progress at Summit

By Christopher Alessi

This week's European Council summit was sidelined by new accusations of US spying in Europe. But despite the distraction, it's clear EU leaders have deferred plans for greater integration, and lack the political will to address pressing concerns like migration.

Ahead of talks in Brussels this week, European Union leaders said they planned on tackling some tough issues. But as the event drew to a close on Friday, it was clear they had failed to push ahead with their once-bold agenda for deeper fiscal and political integration. The quarterly European Council summit also made little headway on data protection reform or creating a coherent policy to address the divisive issue of migration.

This is likely because, after four years of crisis, the embattled euro zone's prospects are gradually improving and market pressures have abated -- in no small part due to the European Central Bank's commitment last year to "do whatever it takes." As a result, experts say, European leaders have lost the incentive to tackle the politically sensitive issue of developing an authentic political and fiscal union to complement the monetary one.

"The political and fiscal plans are basically off the table. There would need to be another major crisis to bring them back," says Zsolt Darvas, a senior fellow at the Brussels-based Bruegel think tank. Darvas suggests that a loss of market confidence in the highly-indebted Italian economy, the euro zone's third largest, could be the one wild card that would force the EU to refocus on fiscal coordination.

Despite an effort to synchronize national budgets through last year's Fiscal Compact, EU leaders have for the moment shelved proposals for establishing a joint European budget through the development of a European treasury, mutualizing debt, and creating a European unemployment benefits system, among others. "Fiscal coordination is not fiscal union," says Darvas.

"The debate has stalled because the urgency has decreased, because the crisis is over in the eyes of the media," says Karel Lannoo, CEO of the Center for European Policy Studies, citing recent reports on Spain's fragile recovery. "But has the economic situation changed so much?"

While the beleaguered southern European country technically emerged from recession in the third quarter of this year, eking out growth of 0.1 percent, the overall picture remains clouded. Spanish unemployment dropped only slightly from 26.3 percent to 26 percent. Quarterly growth in the whole euro zone averages about 0.2 percent per quarter, while euro area unemployment hovers around 12 percent.

Leaders Use Summit to 'Congratulate Themselves'

Beyond fiscal issues, "There is no political will at the moment to pursue political integration over justice, borders, or foreign policy," says Judy Dempsey, a senior associate at Carnegie Europe. She cites the rise of euro-skepticism and the far-right throughout Europe, which makes it difficult for governments to pursue pan-European policies.

Nonetheless, the EU did officially agree earlier this month to give the ECB supervisory powers over euro-zone banks, the first step in developing a so-called banking union. While a banking union is a vital component of further European integration, EU leaders have yet to agree on a number of important elements that would make such a union truly effectual: first and foremost, a joint resolution mechanism for addressing weak euro-zone banks. EU leaders used the summit to "congratulate themselves on the banking union, but did not progress in other fields," says Lannoo.

Still, while scant, progress was made on moving forward with the banking union, Darvas argues. "There was an agreement to reach an agreement on the resolution mechanism by the end of the year at the finance ministry level," he says. Following recent pressure by the ECB and warnings that some euro banks will likely fail upcoming stress tests, a compromise could be on the horizon. Even Germany, which has resisted a scheme that would force national governments to guarantee loans to struggling euro zone lenders, "might be willing" to shift its stance, says Darvas.

Ultimately, the summit was overshadowed by allegations that US intelligence agencies had monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone. Goals to develop a European digital economy and a solution to the issue of migration -- one of the most politically controversial issues in the EU --were addressed rhetorically, but little was achieved substantively.

The main public takeaway of the gathering, says Dempsey, was a commitment by Germany and France to hold talks with the United States over its spying practices. Following the summit, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande called for the development of a new transatlantic agreement over intelligence gathering.


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