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« Reply #9675 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:50 AM »


October 30, 2013

Iran Denies Halt to 20 Percent Uranium Enrichment

By THOMAS ERDBRINK
IHT

TEHRAN — Iran has never stopped 20 percent uranium enrichment, Iran’s top nuclear official said on Wednesday, contradicting an influential lawmaker who last week said the country had voluntarily halted its production.

“Twenty percent uranium and nuclear plates are being produced inside the country and there has never been a halt in the production trend,” the official, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was quoted as saying by the Icana news agency, which is the mouthpiece of Iran’s Parliament.

Iran has a stockpile of nearly 300 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 20 percent, which it says is needed to power a reactor in Tehran, but analysts say Iran has produced enough fuel to last years.

Last week Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, a lawmaker who is the deputy head of the national security and foreign policy committee, announced that the country had stopped enriching uranium up to 20 percent, telling Icana that “the site has the required fuel at the moment and there is no need for more production.”

The remarks by Mr. Hosseini were seen as a possible indication that Iran was willing to compromise over its enriched uranium stockpile in negotiations with the big powers over the country’s disputed nuclear program, which the West says is a guise for reaching the capability to make nuclear weapons. Iran says its activities are purely peaceful.

Mr. Hosseini later said he had been misquoted but did not specify how. The committee’s chairman, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, denied Iran had ceased production.

While Mr. Salehi was correcting Mr. Hosseini, Mr. Salehi was corrected concerning another matter on Wednesday by the minister of intelligence, Mahmoud Alavi. He said Mr. Salehi’s recent claims that four “nuclear saboteurs” had been arrested after they tried to steal nuclear secrets from a power plant were inaccurate.

Mr. Alavi said the four suspects had been seeking scrap metal, according to the semiofficial Islamic Students’ News Agency. The men had dug a hole under a fence around the power plant in order to sneak the purloined scrap metal out and sell it, he said.

“These people were thieves, not nuclear saboteurs,” the minister said. “They were from a village close to the power plant, and they had done such things before.”
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« Reply #9676 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:51 AM »

October 30, 2013

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge Defendants Deny Charges

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The last two surviving leaders of Cambodia's radical Khmer Rouge regime still on trial for genocide and other war crimes issued their final defense Thursday, distancing themselves from the deaths of more than 1.7 million people who died during their rule.

Former head of state Khieu Samphan, 87, and 82-year-old Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist and No. 2 leader, both made lengthy closing statements at the U.N.-backed tribunal in the capital, Phnom Penh.

A verdict is not expected in the case until the first half of next year, more than two years after the trial began.

Shortly after seizing Phnom Penh in April 1975, the Khmer Rouge forced an estimated 1 million people — even hospital patients — out of the capital, herding them en masse into the countryside in an effort to create a communist agrarian utopia.

By the time the bizarre experiment ended in 1979 with a Vietnamese invasion, close to 2 million people were dead, most from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution. Their bodies were dumped in shallow mass graves that still dot the country today.

"It is easy to say that I should have known everything, I should have understood everything, and thus I could have intervened or rectified the situation at the time," Khieu Samphan defiantly told the court. "Do you really think that that was what I wanted to happen to my people?"

"The reality was that I did not have any power," he said.

Nuon Chea also defended his actions, saying he never ordered Khmer Rouge cadres "to mistreat or kill people to deprive them of food or commit any genocide."

Unlike Khieu Samphan, however, Nuon Chea accepted "moral responsibility" for the deaths, repeating previous efforts to distance himself from actual crimes.

"I would like to sincerely apologize to the public, the victims, the families, and all Cambodian people," said the frail former leader, speaking steadily as he read from pages of notes. "I wish to show my remorse and pray for the lost souls that occurred by any means" during the Khmer Rouge rule.

Nuon Chea's words are unlikely to be any consolation for survivors, hundreds of whom crowded the courtroom and the tribunal's grounds.

"He is just trying to cheat the court so that he can be freed," said Bin Siv Lang, a 56-year-old woman who lost 11 relatives during the Khmer Rouge rule. "If he issued no orders to kill people, his subordinates would not have killed."

Death and disability have robbed the tribunal of other defendants. Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died in March, and his wife Ieng Thirith, the regime's social affairs minister, was declared unfit for trial in September 2012 after being diagnosed with dementia. The group's top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

The tribunal, launched in 2006, so far has convicted only one defendant, Khmer Rouge prison director Kaing Guek Eav, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011.

The present trial's focus is on the forced movement of people and excludes some of the gravest charges related to genocide, detention centers and killings.

Nuon Chea said he believed his trial proved he "was not engaged in any commission of the crimes as alleged by the co-prosecutors. ... In short, I am innocent."

Khieu Samphan said bitterly that he had lost faith in the tribunal because "no matter how hard I try to explain, they (the court's judges) will only turn their deaf ears at me."

"It is clear that everyone wants only one thing from me — that is, my admission of guilt ... concerning the acts that I have never ever committed at all."

___

Associated Press Writer Sopheng Cheang contributed to this report.
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« Reply #9677 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:53 AM »

Bangladesh to decide garment wage rise amid unrest fears

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 14:16 EDT

A government panel was striving Wednesday to reach agreement on a wage rise for Bangladesh’s crisis-hit garment industry, amid warnings of fresh crippling strikes if the increase is too low.

The panel is trying to set a new minimum wage for four million garment workers, after factory disasters in recent months killed more than 1,000 people and highlighted the industry’s appalling pay and conditions.

The government pledged to raise wages by November, based on the Minimum Wage Board’s recommendation, after strikes last month saw hundreds of thousands of workers take to the streets, torch factories and clash with police to demand an increase.

“We expect to reach a final decision tomorrow,” M. Kamaluddin, a member of the six-person panel, told AFP.

However he said negotiations within the panel — which includes union officials and factory owners — were still continuing over how much to increase the current monthly wage of 3,000 taka ($38), which was last raised in 2010.

“Both sides have to make some concessions so that we can find a solution,” Kamaluddin said.

Bangladesh is the world’s second largest clothing exporter and the industry is a mainstay of the economy. But wages are well below those in other major garment-making nations such as China, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in April that killed 1,135 people in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters sparked pledges from leading Western retailers and the Bangladeshi government of improved conditions.

Owners’ representative Arshad Jamal Dipu told AFP that manufacturers were “ready to hike wages by around 50 percent”.

But union official Sirajul Islam Rony warned of fresh protests if owners did not agree to more than double the monthly wage to 8,114 taka.

“No way we’ll agree a 4,500 taka minimum wage. The owners must offer more, otherwise workers will hit the streets again,” he told AFP.

Dipu said many factories could not afford to raise wages further than the current offer, pointing to a slump in orders from Western retailers.

Some factories have also been forced to spend heavily to fix fire and building safety problems at their factories following the Rana Plaza and other disasters.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, already facing down mass opposition rallies and protests, can ill afford another series of strikes ahead of elections.

Sources said Hasina might intervene at the last minute to fix a figure that pleases unions — in an effort to woo voters in the country’s largest workforce ahead of January elections.

The Minimum Wage Board’s recommendation for a new wage must be approved by the government before becoming law.

Protests over poor wages, benefits and working conditions are frequent in Bangladesh but have gained in intensity since the April disaster.

Manufacturers and police said strikes in September hit production at more than 500 garment factories — where clothes are made for top retailers such as Tesco and H&M — costing owners some $40 million.

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« Reply #9678 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:56 AM »


Japan's three biggest banks face yakuza links inquiry

Loans to mobsters scandal at Mizuho prompts wider investigation into Mitsubishi UFJ and Sumitomo Mitsui groups

Justin McCurry in Osaka
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 October 2013 10.47 GMT   

Japan is to investigate the country's three biggest banks over possible ties to organised crime after it emerged that one major banking group had lent money to people connected to the yakuza.

A recent loan scandal involving Mizuho Financial Group, Japan's second biggest megabank, highlighted organised crime's attempts to gain a foothold in the country's financial sector.

A consumer finance firm affiliated with Mizuho was found to have extended more than $2m dollars (£1.2m) in loans to people tied to the yakuza, the name given to Japan's influential network of crime syndicates.

The chairman of Mizuho, Takashi Tsukamoto, will resign that post but stay on as head of the parent company. Mizuho's president, Yasuhiro Sato, will receive no salary for six months. Dozens of other Mizuho executives will have their pay cut.

After acknowledging that he had been "in a position to know" about the loans, Sato bowed in apology at a press conference, and said: "We have caused a lot of trouble for many people, including shareholders and other stakeholders.

"Again, I apologise sincerely. The problem was that we weren't aware or sensitive enough to loans that were being done by an affiliate company."

A total of 230 loans, mainly for buying cars, were made by Orient Corp, a consumer credit company financed by Mizuho.

Initially, Mizuho said only the bank's compliance officers had known about the loans, but later conceded that senior executives, including Sato, had also been aware of them.

A report by a third-party panel formed to investigate the Mizuho scandal said bank executives failed to act when they learned of the loans in late 2010/early 2011 but had not set out to cover them up. The panel's findings mean the scandal is unlikely to result in any legal action.

In response to criticism that it failed to act for two years after the discovery, Mizuho is expected to end the loans and screen potential clients for potential links to the mob.

The investigation by Japan's Financial Services Agency, scheduled to start next Tuesday, will target Mizuho, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group – Japan's biggest bank by assets – and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group. Investigators will look into any previous dealings with organised crime and whether the banks are doing enough to prevent loans from finding their way to the yakuza.

This is not the first time evidence has emerged of underworld involvement in Japan's banking industry. In 1997 Dai-Ichi Kangyo bank was found to have lent money to a group led by a racketeer, and several executives were arrested for paying him off.

The latest scandal illustrates the grey area the yakuza inhabits in Japanese society. Membership of a gang is not illegal, and laws making business with crime syndicates illegal have only recently been introduced.

Sections of the Japanese media were critical of the light punishment meted out to Mizuho. In a scathing editorial, the Asahi Shimbun suggested that the bank's initial failure to admit that senior executives knew about the loans was an attempt to deter further investigation.

"If Mizuho does not feel the urgency to reform its corporate culture, we must say it is still gravely ill," the paper said.

The yakuza is a collection of powerful rival gangs that, with help from smaller affiliates, occasionally turn to extreme violence as they compete for wealth and influence in Japan's cities.

In recent years Japan's crime syndicates have made bold attempts to move into white-collar crime after crackdowns on traditional sources of income such as prostitution, loan sharking, gambling and drug smuggling.

The Yamaguchi-gumi, the biggest and wealthiest yakuza group with nearly 40,000 members, has been called "Goldman Sachs with guns".

The failure to rid Japan's financial sector of yakuza involvement has strengthened calls for the police and banks to share information about possible criminal infiltration.

Taro Aso, the finance minister, said Mizuho's mob loans were an "extremely serious problem", adding that regulators would study the panel's report before deciding whether to take any further action.

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

Japan's hunts threaten some dolphins and whales with extinction, says EIA

Japan relying on out-of-date data for hunts of small cetaceans, putting some species of whales, dolphins and porpoises at risk, warns Environmental Investigation Agency

Associated Press
theguardian.com, Thursday 31 October 2013 09.16 GMT   
   
Whaling in Taiji Fishermen in the Japanese fishing town of Taiji catch up to 2,300 of Japan's annual quota of 20,000 dolphins by herding them into shallow water. Photograph: Robert Gilhooly

Japan's hunts of smaller whales, dolphins and porpoises threaten some species with extinction, an environmental group said on Thursday.

Catch quotas are based on data collected as much as 20 years ago and some species have been overhunted beyond the point of recovery, the Environmental Investigation Agency said in its report.

The lucrative market in live catches for aquariums, especially in China, poses another risk, the report said. Live animals can sell for between $8,400 and $98,000, sometimes more than the roughly $50,000 from sales of meat for a single bottlenose dolphin.

Japan set its catch limit for small cetaceans at 16,655 in 2013, far below the 30,000 caught annually before limits were set in 1993 but still the largest hunt in the world.

Japan's Fisheries Agency would not comment on the EIA report because it has not seen it. Japan defends its coastal whaling as a longstanding tradition, source of livelihood and as necessary for scientific research.

The London-based independent conservation group said Japan is failing to observe its stated goal of sustainability and urged the country to phase out the hunts over the next decade.

"The government has a responsibility to restore and maintain cetacean species at their former levels," said Jennifer Lonsdale, a founding director of the EIA.

The small cetaceans are among a number of species facing severe declines in Japan. They include Japanese eels, a delicacy usually served roasted with a savoury sauce over rice, and torafugu, or puffer fish.

The status of each species varies, depending on its range and hunting practices. Catch limits for Dall's porpoises are 4.7-4.8 times higher than the safe threshold, the report said.

For the striped dolphin, once the mainstay of the industry but now endangered and disappearing from some areas, catches have dropped from over 1,800 in the 1980s to about 100.

That is still four times the sustainable limit, the report said. It urged that the government update its data on the abundance of it and other species and stop transferring quotas from already overfished areas to areas that exceed their quotas.

Under a 1946 treaty regulating whaling, nations can grant permits to kill whales for scientific research.

In July, Japan defended its annual harpooning of hundreds of whales in the icy seas around Antarctica, insisting the hunt is legal because it gathers valuable scientific data that could pave the way to a resumption of sustainable whaling in the future.

Australia has appealed to the international court of justice to have the whaling outlawed.


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« Reply #9679 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:59 AM »


Syria's chemical weapons production facilities destroyed, says watchdog

International chemical weapons watchdog OPCW says it's team has inspected 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites in Syria

Reuters in Beirut
theguardian.com, Thursday 31 October 2013 10.50 GMT   

Syria has destroyed all of its declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities, meeting a key deadline in an ambitious disarmament programme, the international chemical weapons watchdog said in a document seen by Reuters.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its teams had inspected 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites across the country. The other two were too dangerous to inspect but the chemical equipment had already been moved to other sites which experts had visited, it said.

"The OPCW is satisfied it has verified, and seen destroyed, all declared critical production/mixing/filling equipment from all 23 sites," the document said.

Under a Russian-American-brokered deal, Damascus agreed to destroy all its chemical weapons after Washington threatened to use force in response to the killing of hundreds of people in a sarin attack on the outskirts of Damascus on 21 August. It was the world's deadliest chemical weapons incident since Saddam Hussein's forces used poison gas against the Kurdish town of Halabja 25 years ago.

The United States and its allies blamed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's forces for the attack and several earlier incidents. Assad has rejected the charge, blaming rebel brigades.

Under the disarmament timetable, Syria was due to render unusable all production and chemical weapons filling facilities by 1 November - a target it has now met. By mid-2014 it must have destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical weapons.

The next deadline is 15 November, by when the OPCW and Syria must agree to a detailed plan of destruction, including how and where to destroy more than 1,000 metric tonnes of toxic agents and munitions.

Ralf Trapp, an independent chemical weapons disarmament specialist, said the destruction of Syria's declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities was a "major milestone" in the effort to eliminate the country's chemical weapons.

"Most of the sites and facilities declared by Syria to the OPCW have been inspected, their inventories verified, equipment for chemical weapons production disabled and put beyond use, and some of the unfilled weapons have also been disabled," he said.

At one of those locations the OPCW said it was able to verify destruction work remotely, while Syrian forces had abandoned the other two sites.

Trapp said it was "important to ensure that the remaining facilities can be inspected and their equipment and weapons inventoried and prepared for destruction as soon as possible".

The OPCW mission is being undertaken in the midst of Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people. The unprecedented conditions had raised concerns that the violence would impede the disarmament, but the OPCW says Syrian authorities have been cooperating with the weapons experts, who have been able to visit all but three of the chemical sites.

Syrian authorities said that "the chemical weapons programme items removed from these sites were moved to other declared sites", an OPCW document said. "These sites holding items from abandoned facilities were inspected."

The OPCW has not said which sites it has been unable to visit, but a source briefed on their operations said one of them was in the Aleppo area of northern Syria and another was in Damascus province.

One major chemical weapons site is located close to the town of Safira, south-east of Aleppo. Assad's forces have bombarded the town in recent weeks in an attempt to expel rebel fighters including al Qaida-linked brigades.


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« Reply #9680 on: Oct 31, 2013, 05:02 AM »


Yemeni street artist uses Sana'a walls to remember the disappeared

Murad Sobay, who downplays comparisons with Banksy, stencils faces of vanished political prisoners to keep their memory alive

Abubakr al-Shamahi in Sana'a
theguardian.com, Thursday 31 October 2013 07.00 GMT

Peering out from one of the perimeter walls of Sana'a University is a young man's face, stencilled in black and white paint. Daubed next to him is his name and the year he disappeared. A metre on is another face, and then another, and then another, stretching along the whole perimeter of the wall.

The faces belong to Yemeni political prisoners who simply vanished, leaving behind families who have little or no knowledge of their fate. Some go as far back as the 1970s and some date to the Yemeni revolution against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011.

They are part of a campaign called The Walls Remember Their Faces, the brainchild of a 26-year-old street artist, Murad Sobay.

"The meaning of the word 'wall' has changed. A wall was a prison, a barrier – now a wall is a way of expressing yourself, a wall is inspiring. The walls hold the memory of the disappeared political detainees better than people can," he explained.

The campaign has spread across the streets of Sana'a and other cities in Yemen. It is not Murad's only campaign; Colour the Walls of Your Street was an attempt to use street art to beautify areas that had been affected by armed clashes in Sana'a in 2011. His most recent campaign, 12 Hours, aims to highlight Yemen's "ills", each hour focusing on a different issue such as sectarianism, the kidnapping of foreigners and US drone strikes in the country.

"After the revolution, I found that the soul of the Yemeni people was broken because of war, the circumstances, the situation inside the country," said Sobay. "I found that the buildings and the streets were full of bullets, full of damage. So I went on Facebook and said I would go on to the streets to paint the next day and I did."

While there may be doubters that street art can have an effect in a traditional society like Yemen, Sobay is adamant that it is more effective than other methods. "Street art has an amazing ability to highlight an issue in a single moment. Things like sectarianism, I don't need an hour-long lecture, with street art I only need a split second."

Sobay is quick to downplay comparisons to Banksy, he says he is more of a Van Gogh man, but he shares the British artist's passion for using street art to challenge the political status quo. "The revolution has been stolen by ugly people," Sobay said. "They are the same regime but it divided amongst itself."

In turn, the authorities have not been too enchanted by his work, often covering up the artwork.

"It's a sensitive issue for them," he said. "It makes them fearful. The eyes of those who disappeared watch the killers, the officials with blood-soaked hands, right in front of their houses."


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« Reply #9681 on: Oct 31, 2013, 05:03 AM »


Ghana: west Africa's haven of stability has its own challenges

Oil and mining industries attract investors, but critics point out financial mismanagement by successive governments

Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 October 2013 14.35 GMT      

Ghana has a reputation as a poster-child for democracy and a haven of stability in west Africa. The international community has form in simplifying the image of west African countries this way. Mali was once described, not that long ago, as "one of the most enlightened democracies in all of Africa".

Cote d'Ivoire was, after independence from France, regarded as an "economic miracle" – the financial powerhouse of west Africa, a label which glossed over the potential, eventually realised, for electoral and ethnic disputes to send it into a downwards trajectory of civil war from which it is still recovering.

In some respects, the net beneficiary of instability elsewhere in west Africa is Ghana. Only in some respects – because in a region where goods, people and weapons flow freely across porous borders, instability in any west African country is to the detriment of all the others. But Ghana has emerged, by comparison to its neighbours, as one of the very few countries where elections are managed smoothly, and where electoral disputes are resolved by judges, not armed factions.

This political track record rightly inspires enthusiasm both in and towards Ghana. Stable governments, combined with its lucrative deposits of oil, gold and agricultural commodities, have made Ghana a key destination for foreign investors. This week's Economist Summit in Accra – Ghana: turning potential into opportunity – is one of numerous international meetings in the Ghanaian capital in recent weeks bringing together businesses, governments, and existing and potential investors.

But the picture that emerges as to where the country is today is complex, and in some ways contradictory.

There is much about which to be optimistic.

"We had periods in the 70s when Ghana was the fastest declining economy in the world, but Ghana's record since 1983 has been better than all of sub-Saharan Africa," said the country's vice-president, Kwesi Amissah-Arthur. "That growth has translated into high capital incomes, and real growth, consistently rising over the years … we have substantially reduced poverty. This shows that the growth has trickled down."

Hannah Tetteh, Ghana's minister for foreign affairs and regional integration, gave impressive statistics about the country's rate of growth. The contribution of agriculture to GDP was about £4bn in 2010, and by 2012 it had reached about £5bn.

Industry, including oil and mining, brought in about £2.5bn in 2010, now that figure is over £6bn. And, deflecting criticisms that Ghana has become too dependent on commodity exports, Tetteh argued that the services sector is still the biggest contributor to Ghana's GDP, providing over 50% of income.

But there are also complaints of financial mismanagement by successive Ghanaian governments. Ghana's budget deficit is one of the highest in Africa, 70% of state income is used to pay salaries in a bloated public sector, and inflation is rising fast.

The fact that Amissah-Arthur resorted to comparing Ghana's inflation now with levels in the 1970s, when its economy was in freefall with triple-digit inflation, hardly inspires confidence. Now inflation is at double-digit rates – this year at a still worrying rate of around 11.9%.

"Ghana faces too many risks, it could fall into a growth trap, like other countries that grow fast and then suddenly stop growing," said Santiago Herrera, Ghana country director for the World Bank. "Ghana needs a growth strategy based in productivity growth … a functional public investment system, governance reform, and better education."

The World Bank has collected data which shows graphically how Ghana is not spending money efficiently, compounding the problem of low government income with poor results for the money it has.

A Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) showed that Ghana is by no means the lowest spender when it comes to education, but achieves among the poorest results.

It is these inefficiencies, and a lack of scrutiny of government policy and executive power, that led to some stark critics questioning whether Ghana is a model democracy in any real sense.

"Of 55 countries in Africa, Ghana is one of only 13 democracies," said George Ayittey, founder of the Free African Foundation. "And if you apply a strict definition of democracy, Ghana might not make it at all."

He said: "Free and fair elections are not enough to count as a democracy. In Ghana we need to reform the electoral system, our government is bloated – there are more than 80 ministers. Our wage bill for the civil service consumes 70% of government income. And the government is so hungry for money that it slaps tariffs on anything that moves.

"Ghanaians are overtaxed, and the government is spending like a drunken sailor."

It's easy to see why Ghana attracts donors, investors and tourists alike – with its political stability and relatively accessible markets. As the regional director for DHL Express Charles Brewer said, he waited one hour to get through immigration at Ghana's airport upon arrival for the Economist gathering, which was unacceptable – but if it had been Nigeria, it would have been three hours.

But Ghana still has problems, serious ones, and nobody benefits from papering over the cracks.


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« Reply #9682 on: Oct 31, 2013, 05:04 AM »

Palestinians say Israel ‘destroying peace process’ with new housing

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 12:34 EDT

The Palestinians on Wednesday accused Israel of trying to wreck peace talks with plans to build 1,500 new settler homes in east Jerusalem, hours after the Jewish state freed 26 Palestinian prisoners.

A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeina, said the move “destroys the peace process and is a message to the international community that Israel is a country that does not respect international law”.

Plans to build the homes in the city’s Arab sector emerged in Israeli media almost immediately after Israel began freeing 21 prisoners to the West Bank and another five to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip overnight.

Later, a senior Israeli official confirmed to AFP that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Saar had “agreed on four building plans in Jerusalem”.

The sequence was almost a mirror image of August 13, when a first tranche of 26 prisoners was freed and Israel announced construction of more than 2,000 new settler homes, mostly in east Jerusalem.

The Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, called on Abbas’s western-backed Palestinian Authority to break off the talks, saying they encouraged Israeli settlement.

“It is … the PA’s negotiations with the occupation that are now providing (Israel) with a cover for these crimes,” Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement on Wednesday.

In the West Bank, thousands of cheering people turned out to welcome home prisoners, who were tasting freedom for the first time in 20 years or more, in a formal ceremony at Abbas’s presidential compound in Ramallah.

Tearful reunion with relatives

After a tearful reunion with their relatives, many of the newly-released prisoners were carried through the crowds on people’s shoulders.

“There will be no (peace) agreement if so much as one Palestinian prisoner remains behind bars,” Abbas told the excited crowd, referring to the 5,000 or so inmates Israel still held by Israel.

In the northern West Bank village of Burqa, Muayyad Hijjeh, 46, arrived home at 3:30 am (0130 GMT) after serving more than 21 years of a multiple life sentence for the May 1992 killing of an Israeli security guard in the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

Despite the late hour, dozens of locals came onto the streets decked with flags to greet the man they call “the hero of Eilat”.

“This is the happiest moment of my life” Hijjeh told AFP. “I feel like someone who was lost in the desert for a really long time and just found water.”

In Gaza, the five ex-prisoners were met by hundreds of relatives and well-wishers as they emerged through the Erez crossing and entered the Strip, sparking lively celebrations late into the night.

The move to ramp up settlements was mooted last week by a senior Israeli official who said it had been coordinated in advance with the Palestinians and the Americans.

But Abbas, speaking shortly before the announcement, flatly denied that.

“There are some living among us who say that we have a deal (to release prisoners) in exchange for settlement building, and I say to them, be silent,” he said.

All 26 prisoners were convicted of killing Israelis, mostly before the 1993 Oslo accords, which granted the Palestinians limited self-rule but failed to bring about an independent state.

Earlier this year, Netanyahu agreed to release 104 prisoners in stages in a move that facilitated a return to direct talks in late July, ending a three-year hiatus.

The first batch was freed on August 13, and a third release of another 26 inmates is planned for December, Palestinian officials said. The final group is to be freed in March.

The prisoner release has sparked tensions within Netanyahu’s coalition, with the premier describing the decision to free them as “one of the most difficult” he had ever made.

Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon on Wednesday urged the United States to sideline the peace talks in favour of dealing with the Iran nuclear issue as a priority.

Danon, a hardline member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said that an agreement with the Palestinians by the target date of May 2014 was “wishful thinking”.

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« Reply #9683 on: Oct 31, 2013, 05:06 AM »


October 30, 2013

Rebel Stronghold Falls to Congolese Army

By NICHOLAS KULISH and JOSH KRON
IHT

KIGALI, Rwanda — The last major population center controlled by a feared Congolese rebel group fell to government soldiers on Wednesday, a significant turning point in an insurrection that has brought further chaos and instability to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Troops seized the rebel stronghold of Bunagana on the Ugandan border, the latest town reclaimed in the army’s rapid advance in recent days of fighting. The remaining fighters belonging to the rebel group, known as the M23, hid in the hills or crossed the frontier into Uganda rather than face the reinvigorated national army, officials said.

Soldiers shelled rebel positions in Bunagana and engaged in light skirmishes before the M23 pulled back. The soldiers marched into the town amid spontaneous street celebrations as locals cheered their arrival.

The rebel group’s political leader, Bertrand Bisimwa, crossed from eastern Congo into Uganda on Wednesday, but the Ugandan Army said he did not surrender.

“He was coming to make contribution to peace talks,” said Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, a spokesman for the Ugandan military.

The Ugandan capital, Kampala, has been the scene of peace talks between the Congolese government and the M23. But those talks broke off last week and fighting resumed.

Colonel Ankunda said that Mr. Bisimwa had not surrendered, as a Ugandan newspaper reported, but had traveled there for peace negotiations. “The talks are still going on,” he said. “They are in a meeting.”

Roger Lumbala, a member of the M23 negotiating team at the peace talks in Kampala, told Reuters that the retreat was a result of diplomatic, rather than military, pressure and that the rebels were ready to sign a peace agreement with the government.

“At this stage, it’s really starting to look as if it’s a surrender treaty and not a political treaty like it was a few months ago,” said a senior United Nations official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations. “It essentially will capture the reality on the ground, which is that as a military force the M23 is finished.”

Russ Feingold, the United States special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa, said Wednesday that the two sides should “sign a final, principled agreement that provides for the disarmament and demobilization of the M23 and accountability for human rights abusers.”

Mohammed Adar, the representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Uganda, said about 5,000 refugees had streamed into Uganda from the Bunagana area in the past 24 hours. “We are also getting reports that some M23 elements have also come, but just very small numbers,” he said, including nine combatants who had surrendered to the Ugandan military.

Another United Nations official reported that 33 combatants from the rebel group had surrendered to peacekeepers this month. Many more surrendered to the Congolese military. Displaced people were returning to their homes in the town of Kibumba and surrounding areas, the United Nations also said, the scene of heavy fighting over the weekend as rebels dug in and the military fought to displace them.

Rich in valuable minerals, eastern Congo has been troubled by conflict for decades. The M23, which named itself after March 23, 2009, the date of a failed peace deal, is only the latest group to destabilize the region.

For more than a year and a half, the M23 controlled various towns and mines and stretches of land along eastern Congo’s border with Rwanda and Uganda, even setting up a system of tax levies and local administrators. Among their safest havens was Bunagana, a short walk across the border to stable and relatively prosperous Uganda.

The military advance represented a major turnaround from a year ago, when rebels from the M23 group seized the provincial capital of Goma. That setback galvanized support for a more robust military presence in eastern Congo for the military and for the United Nations, which created a muscular intervention brigade.

This time, the Congolese Army appeared better armed and better equipped. Soldiers were being paid more regularly, and morale and discipline seemed to improve, analysts said. In August, government forces supported by the intervention brigade retook the high ground on the outskirts of the city in heavy fighting. Both sides returned to the negotiating table, but not for long.

The talks fell apart last week and fighting resumed Friday, with the Congolese military quickly taking the upper hand. The army notched a series of successes, retaking the towns of Kibumba, Kiwanja, Rutshuru, Rumangabo and finally on Wednesday, Bunagana.

But numerous armed groups still operate in the region and an end to the M23 could quickly lead to a new successor organization if underlying dissatisfaction among the public, which lacks many basic services, is not addressed.

“Are they still going to be happy a month from now or six months from now when there are no medical services or schools open?” the senior United Nations official asked. “There’s a long way to go.”

Nicholas Kulish reported from Kigali, and Josh Kron from Nairobi, Kenya. Pete Muller contributed reporting from Bunagana, Democratic Republic of Congo.


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« Reply #9684 on: Oct 31, 2013, 05:08 AM »


Escobar's Rolex and other items seized from Colombia's drug lords are sold

Bogotá auction of watches, jewellery and art clears out items seized from traffickers – and Farc rebel commander Raúl Reyes

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 October 2013 16.02 GMT      

It's a wristwatch that could only have belonged to someone like Pablo Escobar: a solid gold Rolex encrusted with hundreds of fine diamonds. With a sale value estimated at $70,000 (£43,000), it went to the highest bidder at Colombia's first warehouse auction of narco-goods for the equivalent of just $8,500 (£5,300).

A knock-off Rolex that was owned by a Farc rebel commander known as Raúl Reyes, meanwhile, went for three times its street price.

The silent auction held over two days in Bogotá aimed to clear out more than 20 years of artwork, jewellery and other goods seized from Colombia's colourful pantheon of flashy drug traffickers who couldn't spend their millions fast enough.

On the block were paintings by renowned Colombian artists Alejandro Obregón, David Manzur and Luis Caballero. One Obregón painting fetched $77,000 (£47,900).

The bidder who went home with the Escobar watch, and about $50,000 worth of other gold jewellery, says he used his savings to make his purchases. "I don't trust banks," says the buyer, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

"You never know who might track you down and ask for their things back," he says, explaining his caution. In the case of the Escobar Rolex, that's unlikely: the capo of capos was shot dead on a rooftop in 1993 in Medellín, where the buyer is from.

The fact that the Colombian government has been holding on to drug traffickers' things for so long points to the long and tortuous legal process of asset forfeiture, which can sometimes take as long as 10 years. A bill making its way through Congress would streamline procedures and shorten the time to a maximum of 18 months.

The Escobar Rolex buyer says he's likely to erase the past of the things he bought at the auction and claims that he will melt down most of it to make new jewels. "I don't like where these things come from," he says, referring to the jewels' narco past. "For me it's just an investment."

Next to the luxury items up for auction were surprisingly mundane objects, such as costume jewellery and cheap prints, an indication that either the narcos were duped into buying fakes, or that some of the originals may have been quietly switched in the two decades the goods sat in a government warehouse.

And then there's the rebel commander's fake Rolex, which came in several disassembled parts.

For Paula Silva, who made the winning $80 bid, the value it holds is historical. The watch was found on Reyes after he was killed in an air raid on his jungle camp in 2008. Before it was determined to be a knock-off, Colombians were scandalised that a leftist guerrilla leader would be sporting such a luxury item, but a former government peace commissioner later revealed that he had bought the watches for several rebel leaders at 20 euros each when they were on an official tour of Europe in 2000, during ultimately failed peace talks.

Silva bought it, along with several shiny golden replicas of Egyptian relics and some elaborate bronze sculptures, to add to a roving museum set up by the consulting firm she works for, which specialises in helping firms stay away from money-laundering traps.

"It's amazing what people will buy to clean dirty money," she says.


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« Reply #9685 on: Oct 31, 2013, 05:17 AM »


Hitler lived until 1962? That's my story, claims Argentinian writer

The startling theory that the Führer survived in exile until age 73 was examined in a book. Now its British authors are accused of plagiarism

Vanessa Thorpe   
The Observer, Saturday 26 October 2013   

The notorious claim that Hitler escaped his Berlin bunker to live incognito in Argentina first gained popular currency in 1945, when Stalin spoke of it. Since then the idea has resurfaced occasionally, with alleged photographic and documentary evidence pored over by conspiracy theorists. Now the theory that the German dictator followed his fellow Nazis Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele to South America is at the centre of a fresh row.

The authors of the 2011 book Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler, which was made into a documentary film earlier this year, have been accused of plagiarism by a journalist in Argentina. Abel Basti claims his research has been unfairly used to substantiate claims made in the book. Grey Wolf, published by Sterling Publishing, based in New York, challenged the accepted view that the Führer shot himself in his Berlin bunker on 30 April 1945 and that Eva Braun also committed suicide by taking cyanide. Arguing that American intelligence officials turned a blind eye to Hitler's escape in return for access to Nazi war technology, Gerrard Williams and Simon Dunstan set out the case for a scenario almost too horrible to contemplate: that the Führer and Eva Braun made a home in the foothills of the Andes and had two daughters.

Hitler, they claim, escaped punishment and lived out his life in tranquillity in Patagonia until his death in 1962 at the age of 73.

The publisher billed the book as the result "of five years of travelling and interviewing eyewitnesses and piecing together a mountain of evidence". Now Basti alleges that this is "a grossly misleading statement" and that Williams and Dunstan held on to evidence he had spent years putting together.

Williams, a British TV journalist who has worked for Reuters, the BBC and Sky News, and his co-author, Dunstan, firmly deny the claim.

"Basti did in no way invent the idea of Hitler being alive in Argentina," Williams told the Observer. "Books on the subject existed as far back as 1953 and 1987. I have never plagiarised anyone's work. Simon Dunstan, as the author of over 50 books on military history, hasn't either. We're both very aware of the law."

Williams travelled in 2007 to Argentina, where he acknowledges that he received help from Basti, along with other researchers and translators. Basti now claims that on seeing the book and hearing of the new film he realised that the work he had handed over to Williams for use on an earlier documentary film project had been plagiarised.

Basti says he signed a contract conferring all rights to his work to Williams's company in return for substantial payments to come. On this basis, he adds, he introduced Williams to two key witnesses in the case for Hitler's survival, a Jorge Colotto and Captain Manuel Monasterio.

Filming began in September 2008, but was cut short when financiers pulled out due to the worldwide financial crisis. Basti claims his contract was terminated and so asked for his research to be returned but says nothing was sent back.

Following publication of Grey Wolf, Basti says he was incensed to see that he had been quoted as regarding one photograph as proof of Hitler's survival. The book has also annoyed Ricardo D'Aloia, the editorial director of Ambito Financerio, the flagship newspaper of a group that had earlier published reports of Basti's research. D'Aloia is angered at the suggestion that he handed the authors video and potential evidence belonging to Basti.

Williams denies that he was introduced to key witnesses by Basti. He also denies D'Aloia's claims, which, he says, are "simply untrue". He adds that he "cannot see how quoting from taped interviews, thoroughly sourced to the company who made it implicitly clear that it was their material, is any sort of violation of copyright".

The claims about Hitler's life in exile in Argentina have been ridiculed by historian Guy Walters, who pronounced them "2,000% rubbish" when the book came out. "It's an absolute disgrace. There's no substance to it at all. It appeals to the deluded fantasies of conspiracy theorists and has no place whatsoever in historical research," he said.


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« Reply #9686 on: Oct 31, 2013, 05:19 AM »

Chilean observatory finds the coldest place in space

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 18:56 EDT

The coldest place in the universe — just one degree above absolute zero, the temperatures at which all atoms freeze — is the Boomerang Nebula, astronomers in Chile said Wednesday.

It is about 5,000 light years away in the Centaurus constellation, the scientists at the ALMA observatory said.

The nebula is “colder, in fact, than the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, which is the natural background temperature of space,” the statement explained.

It runs a temperature of one degree Kelvin (-272 degrees Celsius or -458 degrees Fahrenheit), making it “the coldest known object in the universe,” the ALMA said.

The Boomerang Nebula is a relatively young planetary nebula, which is a glowing shell of ionized gas ejected from the outer layers of a sun-like star in its final stages.

It is expanding rapidly, and using up energy in the process, creating a cooling effect, permitting it to stay colder than the temperatures around it.

The image was captured by the Atacama Large Millimeter-submillimeter Array — ALMA — a telescope installed on a plateau 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) high in the Atacama desert, where almost no humidity or vegetation to block its view of the heavens.

The installation is a joint effort among North American, European and Asian agencies.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9687 on: Oct 31, 2013, 05:20 AM »

Kepler telescope finds ‘hellish’ exoplanet with Earth-like mass

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 17:30 EDT

An Earth-sized planet far beyond our Solar System has been found to have a similar mass to our planet, said researchers Wednesday engaged in the hunt for other habitable worlds.

While Kepler-78b is not a hospitable place, with surface temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees Celsius (3,600 degrees Fahrenheit), confirmation of its mass and density was hailed as a good omen for the discovery of other Earth-like planets.

In separate papers in the journal Nature, two groups of scientists said they had independently measured Kepler-78b’s mass — one team put it at 1.69 times that of Earth and the other at 1.86 times.

Their calculations of the exoplanet’s density were 5.3 and 5.57 grams per cubic centimetre, respectively — also similar to Earth’s 5.5 grams and implying a composition of rock and iron.

This made Kepler-78, which orbits its star every 8.5 hours, the exoplanet most similar to Earth for which the mass, radius and density has been determined.

“Its existence bodes well for the discovery and characterisation of habitable planets,” Drake Deming of the University of Maryland’s astronomy department wrote in a comment on the papers, also carried by Nature.

The study of exoplanets, those beyond our Solar System, is aimed at finding possibly habitable Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars.

Most of the exoplanets identified at first were gas giants orbiting at scorchingly-close distances to their stars — that is until NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, launched in 2009, started discovering thousands of rocky and icy exoplanets.

The size of these planets is measured by the amount of light they block when they pass in front of their parent star, and Kepler has revealed that Earth-sized planets are “abundant” in our Galaxy, wrote Deming.

But a planet’s composition is much more difficult to determine.

In the case of Kepler-78b, its proximity to its host star made it easier to measure the “Doppler shift” effect it exerted — influencing the star’s motion with its gravitational force.

“But that boost of the Doppler signal comes at the price of a hellish environment,” wrote Deming.

“A view from the surface of Kepler-78b would be dominated by the blazing disk of the star filling about half of the sky from horizon to zenith. According to current understanding, the chances of life in such an environment are nil.”

In order to host life, and allow water to flow in liquid form, a planet must be at a distance from its star that allows surface temperatures to be neither too hot nor too cold.

Nevertheless, Kepler-78b is an “encouraging sign” in the search for extrasolar habitable worlds — not least because it showed there were other planets like Earth composed of rock and iron.

Kepler-78b “foreshadows leaps forward in the search for life beyond the Solar System,” said Deming.

In January, astronomers using the Kepler telescope said the Milky Way contained at least 17 billion planets the size of Earth, and likely many more.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9688 on: Oct 31, 2013, 05:22 AM »

Dark matter stays hidden as Large Underground Xenon detector fails to see a single particle

By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 14:02 EDT

The world’s most advanced instrument for detecting dark matter – the invisible substance thought to account for most of the matter in the universe – has ended its first three months of service without catching a hint of the stuff.

Sat a mile underground in a defunct gold mine in South Dakota, the Large Underground Xenon (Lux) experiment aims to detect dark matter particles as they drift through the Earth. It is the most sensitive detector for the mysterious substance ever made.

The failure to even glimpse dark matter means that tentative sightings by other experiments are almost certainly false. The Lux results do not rule out the existence of dark matter, but instead narrow down the possible forms it might take.

“We saw nothing,” said Richard Gaitskell, a co-spokesman for the Lux experiment at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “We do not have a single dark matter candidate event.”

The nature of dark matter has mystified scientists for 80 years, since the Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky noticed that galaxies rotated in such a way that they must contain more matter than was visible. His observations have been confirmed time and again in recent decades. Around 85% of the matter in the universe is now thought to be “dark”, meaning it neither emits nor reflects light.

Measurements by the European Space Agency’s Planck mission showed in March that normal matter – the stuff of stars, planets and people – accounts for less than 5% of the mass-energy in the observable universe, while dark matter makes up around 27%. The rest of the cosmos, around 68%, is labelled dark energy and is thought to be the driving force behind the expansion of the universe.

“We have entered the new millennium and yet we still have no idea what 95% of the universe is made of. Our level of ignorance is quite staggering, and it’s one of the largest challenges we have right now,” said Gaitskell.

At the centre of the Lux detector in the Sanford mine in South Dakota is a two-metre-high titanium tank filled with 370kg of liquid xenon cooled to -100C. The detector is housed far underground to shield it from energetic cosmic rays that can create spurious signals in the instrument. The detector tank is surrounded by pure, de-ionised water to provide more shielding.

It is thought dark matter usually passes straight through normal matter, but not always. If a dark matter particle hit a xenon atom in the Lux detector, it would produce a tiny flash of light that would be picked up by sensors at the top and bottom of the tank. The collision would produce electrons too, which would be pulled to the top of the tank by an electric field. Here, they would meet a thin layer of xenon gas and produce a second flash of light, used to confirm the event.

Results from the first three-month run of the LUX detector drew a blank on a family of dark matter particles called weakly interacting massive particles, or wimps. That rules out hints of dark matter reported by experiments such as the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) and Coherent Germanium Neutrino Technology (Cogent) detectors at the Soudan mine in Minnesota.

In April, scientists working on CDMS said they had tentative evidence for three dark matter particles. But if the signals were real, Lux would have seen more than 1,500 of the particles during its run. “We see absolutely no events, and that’s a hell of a disagreement,” said Gaitskell.

But Gaitskell remains optimistic. “You only become deflated if you view scientific problems in the context of individual scientists. That’s not a useful way to see things when you are trying to make scientific discoveries. If you bind it up with individual egos, that’s when mistakes are made,” he said. “We are closing in on dark matter.”

Henrique Araujo, a physicist on Lux based at Imperial College London, said the experiment will now be prepared for a longer, 300-day search for dark matter. The scientists will not only look for wimps, but also weakly interacting slim particles, or wisps.

One theory, called supersymmetry, predicts a particle called a neutralino that could be a component of dark matter. But confidence in supersymmetry has taken a beating because the Large Hadron Collider has found no evidence to support the theory. Another option is a member of the wisp family of particles called an axion. The arcane nature of physics calls for some imagination when it comes to naming particles. The axion was named after a washing powder.

“We don’t really know what the universe is made of,” Araujo told the Guardian. “We understand only a few percent of it, so we are frying the small fish before we are frying the big ones. Without dark matter we know very little about how the universe really evolved and what its fate is.”

Physicists are already designing, and are nearly ready to build, an upgraded dark matter detector called LZ that will be 100 times more sensitive than Lux. The experiment will replace Lux in the Sanford mine and use a tank filled with seven tonnes of xenon.

“The overwhelming evidence from cosmology is there has to be something out there that is like dark matter, but that is the only statement we can make,” said Pedro Ferreira, an astrophysicist at Oxford University. “All we know is there is this thing that clumps but we don’t know anything about its properties. We have nothing to go on. If we could find the dark matter, our amount of information increases dramatically. From zero.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #9689 on: Oct 31, 2013, 05:49 AM »

In the USA...Unites Surveillance America

Darkmail opens: New email encryption standard aims to keep government agencies out

Silent Circle and Lavabit hope to respond to Snowden leaks with service stopping 'state snoopers' accessing email metadata

Alex Hern   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 October 2013 20.00 GMT      

Two email providers forced to close their services in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations on mass surveillance have proposed a new open standard for secure email that would be harder for security services and others to eavesdrop upon.

The encrypted email service Lavabit, and Silent Circle, a firm also encrypting phone calls and texts, are the founding members of the Darkmail Alliance, a service that aims to prevent government agencies from listening in on the metadata of emails.

The metadata is the information bundled up with the content of an email such as that showing the sender, the recipient and date the message was sent.

Conventional email can never be made fully secure because the standard requires some metadata to be sent unencrypted.

Mike Janke, Silent Circle's chief executive and co-founder, said that this factor meant the medium was "fundamentally broken".

The new service was revealed at the Inbox Love conference in California on Wednesday. The alliance hopes to bring on board potential partners.

"We want to get another dozen to two dozen email providers up and running on Darkmail architecture so that at any one time citizens of the world can choose two dozen email providers to get their email service from," said Janke.

The ultimate aim is to get the big email providers, such as Microsoft, Yahoo! and Gmail, using the new standard too.

The Darkmail Alliance aims to fix many of the problems affecting the old standard. "The existing email architecture is 40 years old, and it's what allows the world's surveillance community, hackers and other data mining companies, to get [users'] data," Janke told the Guardian.

He said that the services Lavabit and Silent Mail kept too much data on the provider's server. "So what happened is you saw nation states can go to an email provider and coerce them into turning over the keys and decrypting.

"Look at Lavabit, they were coerced by law. The same thing happened to Hushmail. And on top of that, you've got big data companies like Microsoft, Yahoo! [Google] and 50 others that offer these free services that are actually mining your email for keywords. And selling it and packaging it up for ads. So it's broke, it's absolutely broke."

Lavabit, which was once used by the US whistleblower Snowden, was forced to shut down in July 2013 when its founder, Ladar Levison, was ordered to hand over the keys to all his users' private data. Facing a fine of $5,000 a day, he complied, then switched off the servers.

Levison said: "I'm worried about how we're just a blink technologically away from becoming a totalitarian state, where our government is watching us all the time.

"You have to remember that the email protocols that we're using today were developed in the 70s when there were only a handful of people on the internet, or back then it was called Darpanet, and everybody trusted everybody else.

"Security was never baked into the protocols, it's really become an afterthought. And as a result, messages [are] passed over the internet in plaintext. It's hard to develop a system which is backwards compatible but is secure by default. In fact it's impossible."

The proposal of the alliance, it says, is as close to being compatible with conventional email as can be; users can send and receive insecure emails with contacts on normal services, and it is only when an email is sent between two accounts within the alliance that the message is encrypted and routed from one peer to the other without going through a central server.

That mechanism would prevent the kind of metadata collection routinely carried out by intelligence agencies, such as that exposed by Snowden, the alliance says.

Janke said: "We always say we will be successful if, in three years, 50% of the world's email are sent through this Darkmail architecture. That's why we teamed up [with Lavabit] … This whole unique engine that we developed, we're putting it out open source. We think it's our responsibility to do that."

The focus is on the mid-to-small providers initially, but Janke said he had one bigger target in mind.

"The interesting part is, at Inbox Love it's going to be all the big [providers], Microsoft, Yahoo!, Gmail – you name it. And we know that eventually, as we start to proliferate what we call the email 3.0 architecture, they're going to have to decide. It's going to be very difficult for them."

The ball was going to be in the court of big email providers. "What are they going to do?" said Janke. "Are they going to actually join in? Or are they going to kick the can down the road?"

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

October 30, 2013

No U.S. Action, So States Move on Privacy Law

By SOMINI SENGUPTA
NYT

State legislatures around the country, facing growing public concern about the collection and trade of personal data, have rushed to propose a series of privacy laws, from limiting how schools can collect student data to deciding whether the police need a warrant to track cellphone locations.

Over two dozen privacy laws have passed this year in more than 10 states, in places as different as Oklahoma and California. Many lawmakers say that news reports of widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency have led to more support for the bills among constituents. And in some cases, the state lawmakers say, they have felt compelled to act because of the stalemate in Washington on legislation to strengthen privacy laws.

“Congress is obviously not interested in updating those things or protecting privacy,” said Jonathan Stickland, a Republican state representative in Texas. “If they’re not going to do it, states have to do it.”

For Internet companies, the patchwork of rules across the country means keeping a close eye on evolving laws to avoid overstepping. Many companies have an internal team to deal with state legislation. And the flurry of legislation has led some companies, particularly technology companies, to exert their lobbying muscles — with some success — when proposed measures stand to harm their bottom lines.

“It can be counterproductive to have multiple states addressing the same issue, especially with online privacy, which can be national or an international issue,” said Michael D. Hintze, chief privacy counsel at Microsoft, who added that at times it can create “burdensome compliance.” For companies, it helps that state measures are limited in their scope by a federal law that prevents states from interfering with interstate commerce.

This year, Texas passed a bill introduced by Mr. Stickland that requires warrants for email searches, while Oklahoma enacted a law meant to protect the privacy of student data. At least three states proposed measures to regulate who inherits digital data, including Facebook passwords, when a user dies.

Some of the bills extend to surveillance beyond the web. Eight states, for example, have passed laws this year limiting the use of drones, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has advocated such privacy laws. In Florida, a lawmaker has drafted a bill that would prohibit schools from collecting biometric data to verify who gets free lunches and who gets off at which bus stop. Vermont has limited the use of data collected by license plate readers, which are used mostly by police to record images of license plates.

California, long a pioneer on digital privacy laws, has passed three online privacy bills this year. One gives children the right to erase social media posts, another makes it a misdemeanor to publish identifiable nude pictures online without the subject’s permission, and a third requires companies to tell consumers whether they abide by “do not track” signals on web browsers.

But stiff lobbying efforts were able to stop a so-called right to know bill proposed in California this year that stood to hurt the online industry. The bill would have required any business that “retains a customer’s personal information” to share a copy of that information at the customer’s request, as well as disclose which third parties have received the information. The practice of sharing customer data is central to digital advertising and to the large Internet companies that rely on advertising revenue.

“ ‘Right to know’ is an example of something that’s not workable,” said Jim Halpert, a lawyer with the national firm DLA Piper, who leads an industry coalition that includes Amazon, Facebook and Verizon. “It covers such a broad range of disclosures. We advocated against it.”

More than a year ago, the White House proposed a consumer privacy bill of rights, but Congress has not yet taken on the legislation. And a proposed update to the 27-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act has stalled. The proposal would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant, based on probable cause, before they could read through emails.

Several legislators said they felt compelled to act because Congress had not. “They don’t act in the best interest unless it’s in their best interest,” said Daniel Zolnikov, a first-time legislator in Montana. Mr. Zolnikov, a Republican, suggested that the lack of action was because of lobbying efforts from “special interests” on Capitol Hill.

So Mr. Zolnikov took up the privacy issue in his state house: Montana became the first state in the nation this year to pass a law that requires police to obtain a search warrant before it can track a suspect’s whereabouts through cellphone records.

According to a survey conducted in July by the Pew Internet Center, most Americans said they believed that existing laws were inadequate to protect their privacy online, and a clear majority reported making great efforts to mask their identities online. Some of those surveyed said they cleared browsing histories, deleted social media posts or used virtual networks to conceal their Internet Protocol addresses — and a few even said they used encryption tools.

Many states have already responded to those opinions. In the last couple of years, about 10 states have passed laws restricting employers from demanding access to their employees’ social media accounts.

California set the stage on digital privacy 10 years ago with a law that required organizations, whether public or private, to inform consumers if their personal data had been breached or stolen. Several states followed, and today, nearly every state has a data breach notification law.

This year, California amended that landmark law, adding an Internet user’s login name and password to the menu of personal information that is covered. The California attorney general’s office also has a full-time unit to enforce digital privacy laws.

But even in California, the steps taken on privacy legislation are not sweeping overhauls like those supported by the White House. And some bills in the state never become law at all. Last year, the Legislature passed a bill compelling police to seek a warrant before searching cellphone records to track a suspect’s location. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it, saying it did not strike “the right balance” between the needs of citizens and the police.

John Pezold, a Republican representative in Georgia, said that issues like creating jobs were more pressing than privacy for many of his constituents. But he said the issue of digital privacy was beginning to bubble up, especially because of the recent reports on eavesdropping by the federal government.

“They’re becoming increasingly wary that their lives are going to be no longer their own,” said Mr. Pezold, who plans to introduce a broad consumer privacy bill in the next legislative session. “We have got to protect that.”

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

NSA Taking a Lot of Heat, So Deserved, But There’s a Lot More to the Story

By: Dennis S
Wednesday, October, 30th, 2013, 7:20 pm
PoliticusUSA

This topic is going to jar a lot of us out of our comfort zone. In American media, all issues have to be black or white. In fact issues are rarely black or white, a truism the right completely fails to grasp. A conspicuous current example is the question of U.S.National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance of foreign nations and their leaders, especially the “enraged” European countries of France, Germany and Spain. A goodly number of progressives are equally enraged on behalf of these three leadership victims of American officialdom snooping where their snoopers ostensibly don’t belong. Of course the Teapublican press loves the issue. It gets to use a favorite word in right-wing lingo headlines; “ENRAGE.” As in, “U.S. spying ENRAGES allied leaders.”

Let’s examine the three enraged surveillance targets that are the most offended by U.S. intelligence prying into their business. It would be instructive to point out that France features no less that 8 different agencies that could be best described as intelligence or spy agencies domestically and abroad (beyond question, including their own surveillance of the United States). The General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) is, as its name implies, the biggie external intelligence agency. It works under the French ministry of defense with another agency in counterintelligence abroad that addresses threats to French security. You don’t think either agency has ever used the same tracking devices and strategies as the Americans to get some clues about what they’ll run into “abroad.” I would guess that the right-wing defaming Francophobia of “Freedom Fries” brought a lot of French intelligence attention our way.

As a country, France plays host to a myriad of nasty gatherings of nutzoids under assorted banners. U.S. Homeland Security created the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and response to terrorism (START). It lists no fewer than 51 different organizations, all of them having used terror to one degree or another as a political wedge. A few are no longer active. One of the active groups is called; oh, let me see; what was that name? I’ve got it; Al Qaeda!!!

I’m sure another concern of NSA rests with the ongoing activities of Frances’ Algerian population, roughly the same percentage as the U.S. African American total. Algerians emigrated from Northern Africa and are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims. Al Qaeda is also overwhelmingly Sunni. So maybe it’s in our best interest to keep an eye (and ear) on this bunch that have proven repeatedly through word and deed their belief that the only good American is a dead American.

The idea that German Chancellor Angela Merkel would sternly lecture the Obama administration about “shattered trust” doesn’t hold water. Her country gave us Hitler, Nazis, 6 million dead Jews, Neo-Nazis, decades of the lefty terrorist Baader-Meinhof Group and currently hosts its own Al Qaeda citizenry. And Angela might recall the name Mohamed Atta, the terrorist most identified with carrying out an attack that killed over 3,000 people in New York City 22 years ago. Atta met several times a week, pre-9/11, in Hamburg with at least a half-dozen participants in that attack, two of who were pilots of aircraft involved in the terrorism, as was Atta. Shattered trust indeed! Of course being a free market, anti-labor favorite of the G.W. Bush administration makes it easy for Angela to fire off such salvos.

Now we arrive at the latest band-wagon passenger; Spain. This beautiful country has become a favorite roosting spot for increasing numbers of Muslims. Nothing wrong with that considering the historical (way back) Spanish ties with Islam. It would, however, be wrong to totally ignore a relatively new grouping of a million people, the vast majority simply wanting a better life, but bound to include a few terrorist-inclined bad actors. Spain apparently doesn’t ignore everybody either. The Spanish government features 8 intelligence and surveillance agencies.

There’s one small problem with the “enraged responses” directed at NSA by Spanish intelligence authorities. If you believe a revelation in Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, (scroll past the first 5 articles) the locals were all in on the surveillance, cooperating and facilitating the action with NSA. The electronic metadata, computer and phone information was even shared with other countries, including those bitching the loudest about the practice.

As I used to tell my little ones when they were still little ones, “Take a timeout.” Yes, God knows there are abuses of this system of gathering intelligence from an ally or even a bad guy. No question NSA might stumble on to some heated phone sex between Pierre and Brigitte or intercept an email full of deeply personal convictions of love and other sweet nothings. But then again the heavy-breathing verbiage could be fraught with potentially seemingly innocent, but potentially deadly code words for a terrorist attack in the making like gang notes kited out of penitentiaries. A harmless phrase like “tell Leon I said hi” could mean “Shoot Leon in the back of the head and make sure it takes.”

I’m quite conflicted when it comes to protecting American interests. This much we know; terrorists, mostly, but not entirely, of Middle East persuasion, hate us with every fiber of their being. Unlike most U.S. citizens, they’re more than willing to accompany their victims to the hereafter through their own kamikaze version of suicide bombs. We also know they’ll take down huge buildings to make their statement of infinite malevolence.

Privacy can be a nebulous term. Back in Grandpa and grandma’s or great-grandpa or grandma’s day, there were telephone party lines or multi-party lines. At any given time, a neighbor or as many as a couple of dozen neighbors might be listening in on your “private” phone conversation.

There seems to be little or no privacy in today’s society. Participants in social media will give up every ounce of info about themselves, friends and family. Twitter routinely runs one photo after another with every member of the family and Instagram “selfies”, generally goofy pics of the subject of the photo, often in varied states of undress, are all the current rage.

But, yes, we do have a right to privacy if so desired. Our business should stay our business if we choose. But the price we pay for the extraordinary advances in computer and communications technology is that good guys and bad guys can access most of our electronic information with ease. That, of course, includes all Internet entries, email and phone calls.

At the end of the day, I’m left with two questions. Edward Snowden just seems a little too pat to me. Not your typical whistle-blower. He was already paid extremely well in his day job, his timing was exquisite and his fleeing well organized by China and Russia at the very least. I’m also puzzled why foreign leaders who knew of their own role and every other industrialized nation’s role in NSA surveillance pretended to be so shocked and “enraged.”

Some of this needs fixing, including coming up with a better idea, but mostly it’s just another opportunistic shot across the bow at the White House that the right hopes will poison the well of good will that Barack Obama had built up overseas.

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President Obama Calls Out The Media For Grossly Misleading Coverage of The ACA

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, October, 30th, 2013, 8:43 pm   
PoliticusUSA

President Obama called out the media today for misleading the American people with inaccurate stories about people having their health insurance canceled due to the ACA.

Transcript:

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Because of the tax credits that we’re offering and the competition between insurers, most people are going to be able to get better, comprehensive health care plans for the same price or even cheaper than projected. You’re going to get a better deal.

    Now, there’s a fraction of Americans with higher incomes who will pay more on the front end for better insurance with better benefits and protections like the patient’s bill of rights, and that will actually save them from financial ruin if they get sick. But nobody is losing their right to health care coverage. And no insurance company will ever be able to deny you coverage or drop you as a customer altogether. Those days are over, and that’s the truth. That is the truth. (Cheers, applause.)

    So for people without health insurance, they’re finally going to be able to get it. For the vast majority of people who have health insurance that works, you can keep it. For the fewer than 5 percent of Americans who buy insurance on your own, you will be getting a better deal. So anyone peddling the notion that insurers are canceling peoples’ plan without mentioning that almost all the insurers are encouraging people to join better plans with the same carrier and stronger benefits and stronger protections while others will be able to get better plans with new carriers through the marketplace, and that many will get new help to pay for these better plans and make them actually cheaper — if you leave that stuff out, you’re being grossly misleading, to say the least. (Applause.)

It is one thing for Republicans to be grossly misleading people about the law. They oppose the ACA and have been trying to destroy it for nearly four years, but what the media is guilty of is ignorance and laziness. The mainstream media has decided that they are going to be against the ACA. They think that is where a majority of the American people are, so that is how they are going to cover the story.

The truth is that the media likes things simple and dumb. They can understand website broken. They can understand people losing their coverage, but they never bother to look deeper and ask why some people are seeing their policies get canceled. The answer is that these policies were crap coverage, but the media can’t be bothered to mention that part in their stories.

The big secret about the mainstream media is that many of them have no idea what they are talking about. They haven’t read the ACA. The media doesn’t understand the issues. This is why they are so drawn to whatever the Republican Party puts out there. Republicans have perfected the art of giving the media the ready made easy story, but the most galling thing about the media coverage is that much of it is missing out on the really big story.

While the media focuses on website glitches and Republicans who are complaining because their junk health insurance got canceled, what they aren’t talking about is that the ACA is going to be good for a whole lot of people. There will be no bigger life changer than access to affordable health care for tens of millions of Americans.

It isn’t just the Republican Party who is set to be on the wrong side of the history of the ACA. Because of their indifference to facts, the media’s performance during this time will be poorly remembered too. President Obama and the White House are going to have to keep up the fight, because the misleading media stories are going to keep coming.

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Proudly Cheerleading for ObamaCare Because the Media is Supposed to be Serving the People

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, October, 30th, 2013, 7:31 pm   
PoliticusUSA   

Perspective is sorely lacking, and this apparent disconnect with regular citizens has never been so glaring as it is right now during the media’s ACA website glitch hysteria.

The gang of beltway intelligentsia came down on Joan Walsh when she pointed out that tech glitches were not the be all end all of ObamaCare, which just goes to show you that you are only allowed to have one thought in the media and it’s the one that the boys agree is “accurate” – the fact that white men are the minority and can’t possibly speak for everyone is totally lost here.

So the reason you see this huge disconnect is we have a government run by mostly privileged white men, being reported on by mostly privileged white men. Their experience frames their views, and they are so privileged that they stamp these views as the “facts” without a moment of doubt that they are correct and right.

A tech glitch will never stop desperate people from signing up for health insurance. It won’t stop the tears of gratitude from the many (not few) who had a health scare without insurance. And by the way, those with insurance were also denied help from insurance companies before ObamaCare.

Not everyone has the kind of privilege that makes messing with them a bad bet.

So we come again to the meaning of “minority”. In social and political terms, “minority” refers to people who hold few positions of power. Groups of minorities are categorized by race, gender, disability, wealth, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and more. Maybe white men from privileged backgrounds (who hold the majority of positions of social power in our society) don’t really know anything about what a majority (together, minorities are a numerical majority) of this country faces when they try to access services. If they did, they wouldn’t dream of being obsessed with tech glitches and hold music fails.

If you disagree with the media narrative, you are called names because apparently that is how the “intelligentsia” fights battles — by avoiding the issues, ideas and other people’s experiences and frames, and just attacking the character of the dissenter as less than. Joan Walsh was called an “Obama cheerleader” and a “c*nt” for pointing out that maybe the tech glitches aren’t something to get hysterical over, which is code for I don’t have a real argument, so I’m going to call this woman a cheerleader and that will shut her up.

Then she was accused of agitprop, which is hysterical coming from people who are using insults to silence dissent from their Anointed Opinion, but whatever– irony died so long ago. Anyone who disagrees with the established narrative will get it in the heart, so beware.

It’s adorable that folks are living in the old days when our government was the problem, and not the corporate theft of our government and rights. Very cute. But when facing reality, you can see actual agitprop is the same old same old — the status quo protecting itself from the people, from liberalism, from social change and social justice. (See the IRS “scandal”.)

Privilege. It’ll make a fool of you if you let it.

And while those people offered average Americans zero respect, I will offer them the courtesy of saying that I am sure they do not mean to be obtuse and ridiculous in their hysteria. But that is the curse of privilege. You make a fool of yourself when you have no intention of doing so, and you don’t even know it because in your frame of reference, it is a super big deal if you can’t get what you want right now and it is not offered perfectly.

For the rest of the country — for the minorities of the country, for the poor, the working class, the underdogs of the country, they never expected perfection because they are not used to getting what they need, let alone what they want how they want it.

Get it?

They just wanted a lifeline and they will wait on hold for it and suffer through glitches for it. Also, most of the country can’t afford to wallow in theoreticals. They must be practical. A practical person gets a website glitch and tries the phone number because they need insurance. They don’t ponder the impact of glitches on Obama’s legacy.

The under-reported truth is that actual Americans are dying from lack of health insurance and yet our corporate media can’t stop concern trolling over glitches. If you dare question the perspective or priority, you are called an Obama Cheerleader, which is just like calling the ACA “ObamaCare” (meant as an insult but derp, not so insulting upon inspection), and said by someone who does not respect the fact that this President’s policies speak for the underdogs of this country. It’s worth noting that Obama has been the best president for women in terms of policy ever. No one calls defenders of policies that benefit the privileged “cheerleaders” because they are the status quo and thus do not require cheering.

To speak from the perspective of a minority and suggest that access to affordable healthcare is not destroyed if we have to wait a few weeks even is to be an “Obama Cheerleader”. Or maybe it’s just being a cheerleader for justice.

And maybe Obama is on the right side on this issue. Note that there is no difference in these people’s eyes from the policy to the man, or it would be “ObamaCare cheerleader”. That’s important and telling, because what Walsh was actually doing was supporting the policy for good, logical reasons that she laid out but they reduced it to a woman cheering a man instead of being a (implied naturally, innately) superior intellect as the men are.

Cheering ObamaCare is actually cheering for all of the folks who aren’t privileged. Aren’t these the people the fourth estate is supposed to be serving?

No, tech glitches are not the Big Deal, and they are not going to kill liberalism forever!1!1! They will be fixed and all of this will look as silly as it does right now to some of us.

Who’s going to fix the condescension of the social majority, or at least point out that this attitude is indicative of a failure to embrace the tenets of actual liberalism, while pretending that all liberalism depends on this one moment and only White Man can save us all from the inevitable failures of the black president and his cheerleaders.

Truly, the President does not require another Very Important Person to inform him that the website needs to be fixed. So thanks but no thanks to the backseat screeching that is only doing one thing — enabling the rabid right’s destruction of the biggest piece of liberal legislation in decades. And yes, I will proudly go down in history as someone who cheered for ObamaCare.

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

October 30, 2013

Contrite White House Spurns Health Law’s Critics

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and ROBERT PEAR
NYT

BOSTON — The White House on Wednesday blended expressions of contrition for the troubled rollout of its health care law with an aggressive rejection of Republican criticism of it, as the administration sought a political strategy to blunt the fallout from weeks of technical failures and negative coverage.

While Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, apologized profusely during a politically charged hearing on Capitol Hill, President Obama traveled to Massachusetts to argue forcefully that the Affordable Care Act will eventually be just as successful as the similar plan pioneered by Mitt Romney, his onetime rival and a former governor of the state.

Speaking in the historic Faneuil Hall, where Mr. Romney signed the Massachusetts plan into law, the president also took “full responsibility” for the malfunctioning health care website and promised to fix it. But he pledged to “grind it out” over the weeks and months ahead to ensure the law’s success and prove its Republican critics wrong.

“We are going to see this through,” Mr. Obama vowed, pounding his fist on the podium as the audience roared with approval.

The dual messages from Mr. Obama and Ms. Sebelius over the course of the day reflect a recognition by officials inside the White House that while apologies are in order, the administration cannot let Republicans expand concerns about the HealthCare.gov website into a broader indictment of the law.

Senior advisers to the president said they understood that the bungled rollout of the insurance marketplace has given Republicans another opportunity to litigate the political case against the health care law. But they said they viewed the weeks ahead as a period of inevitable improvement that will vindicate their position.

“The weight of that momentum will have a positive impact,” one senior administration official said, requesting anonymity to talk about White House strategy planning. “Really it’s about blocking and tackling and getting that work done.”

With Republicans showing no sign of backing off, the challenge for Mr. Obama and Democrats in the months to come will be to deflect political attacks that unfairly demonize the health care law while acknowledging its shortcomings. Achieving that nuance could prove tricky for an administration whose top health official, Ms. Sebelius, on Wednesday called the rollout of the online insurance marketplace a “debacle.”

Ms. Sebelius told lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that she was as surprised as anyone when the website collapsed on Oct. 1 under pressure from millions of users and was crippled by technical problems in subsequent days. While she was aware of the risks in a big information technology project, she said, “no one indicated that this could possibly go this wrong.”

Ms. Sebelius told the committee: “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.”

The shift in strategy from the White House comes as new challenges emerge for the law. The problem-plagued website crashed again just before Ms. Sebelius began testifying in front of a skeptical congressional panel. And officials acknowledged that the federal insurance marketplace for small businesses, which had already been delayed a month from Oct. 1, would not open until the end of November.

In three and a half grueling hours of testimony, Ms. Sebelius gamely defended the troubled rollout of the law and apologized for what had gone wrong. But nothing she said could overcome the stark message displayed on a large video screen showing a page from HealthCare.gov: “The system is down at the moment. We are experiencing technical difficulties and hope to have them resolved soon. Please try again later.”

Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, said the administration had not properly tested the security of the insurance website, which receives financial information on consumers seeking subsidies to help pay their premiums.

Mr. Rogers read from a government memo that said security controls for the federal exchange had not been fully tested as of Sept. 27. This creates a potentially “high risk” for the exchange, said the memo, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The memo said that security controls would be “completely tested within the next six months.”

Republicans continued to accuse Mr. Obama of lying to the American people when he said repeatedly over the past four years that people who had a health insurance plan they liked could keep it, regardless of the changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers grilled Ms. Sebelius on why insurance companies are canceling policies for thousands of people across the country.

Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the committee, said: “There are millions of Americans coast to coast who no doubt believed the president’s repeated promise that if they liked their plan, they’d be able to keep it. They are now receiving termination notices.”

Ms. Sebelius tried, with little success, to allay concerns about those notices, which have been sent to hundreds of thousands of consumers stating that their individual insurance policies would soon be terminated because they did not comply with new standards under the Affordable Care Act. She said the cancellation of some policies was a justifiable byproduct of the 2010 health law.

But in Massachusetts, Mr. Obama for the first time admitted that some people who have had what he called “substandard” insurance plans may have to choose another one now that the Affordable Care Act has gone into effect. He accused lawmakers in Washington of distorting that fact by failing to mention that the new plans they have will be more comprehensive and often come with cheaper premiums.

“If you leave that stuff out, you are being grossly misleading, to say the least,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama made comparisons between the rollout of the national health care law and the problems experienced in the days after the Medicare prescription drug program went into effect in 2006. In his remarks, the president said that when those problems occurred, “Democrats worked with Republicans to make it work.”

The president also repeatedly invoked Mr. Romney’s name as evidence of the bipartisan spirit that led to the passage and implementation of the health care law in Massachusetts. He said Mr. Romney “did the right thing on health care” in the state.

But Mr. Romney did not return the favor, issuing a statement hours before the president’s speech that repeated his longstanding criticism of the national law.

“Nothing has changed my view that a plan crafted to fit the unique circumstances of a single state should not be grafted onto the entire country,” Mr. Romney said. “Health reform is best crafted by states with bipartisan support and input from its employers, as we did, without raising taxes, and by carefully phasing it in to avoid the type of disruptions we are seeing nationally.”

White House aides said they did not ask Mr. Romney to attend the speech.

Michael D. Shear reported from Boston, and Robert Pear from Washington.

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Blackburn and Pallone spar over Obamacare and ‘scam’ insurance policies

By Arturo Garcia
RawStory
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 23:20 EDT

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) accused congressional colleague Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) on Wednesday of being “insulting” toward Americans in the continuing debate over the effects of the Affordable Care Act on individual health care buyers.

“To be so insulting to people to say, ‘The insurance you’ve had is a scam,’” Blackburn said in a joint interview with CNN host Piers Morgan, arguing that President Barack Obama was wrong to assure individual buyers that their plans would be grandfathered into the law.

Pallone countered that the cuts were being caused by insurance companies cutting their customers, rather than raising their plans to meet the new standards required by the law.

“If insurance companies want to continue to offer lousy plans that don’t have good coverage and cost a lot of money to the taxpayer or to the insured, they can,” Pallone told Blackburn and Morgan.

“What percentage of people who want to keep their plan or their doctor, as per the president’s promise, are actually gonna be able to do that?” Morgan asked.

“About 90 percent,” Pallone replied, before Morgan interjected by citing an NBC News report stating that 40 to 60 percent of insurance buyers would be forced out of their plans. However, Pallone clarified that that issue affects buyers in the individual marketplace.

Reports like NBC’s have been criticized by Moyers & Company and the Los Angeles Times, among others, for ignoring the limitations of many of the original plans and the savings many subjects could get through government subsidies.

“So why didn’t the president just say that?” Morgan demanded. “Why didn’t he just say, instead of making this bold promise to sell his plan, why didn’t he just say that? Why didn’t he just be honest.”

“We have to look at this from a practical point of view,” Pallone said in response. “We want people to be insured, and have a good insurance policy.”

“What about telling the American people the truth?” Morgan repeated.

“We’re offering a good insurance policy at an affordable price,” Pallone continued. “If Marsha says I want to keep some lousy plan that’s a scam, well, the insurance company isn’t gonna sell it anymore, because nobody’s gonna buy it. And that’s the bottom line.”

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Republicans Celebrate as 49 Million Americans Will Soon Have Less Food to Eat

By: Rmuse
Wednesday, October, 30th, 2013, 10:25 am
PoliticusUSA

Most people understand that a happy feeling because something they did provided what they needed to happen, or produced a desired result that dealt with a problem in an acceptable way, is satisfaction or gratification. It is doubtless that this coming Friday Republicans will experience exhilarating satisfaction because millions of low-income seniors, working families, children, veterans, and disabled Americans will have less food to eat and likely Republicans will enjoy a ravishing feast to celebrate their good fortune. Americans have come to expect no less from Republicans who revel in taking food from hungry people; especially if they are senior citizens and children.

After stripping food stamp funding from a still languishing farm bill and lusting to cut $40 billion of food assistance for the poor, Republicans can rejoice this coming Friday 48 million people, including more than 21 million children, will see their SNAP (food stamp) benefits reduced. The cuts are coming because the President’s fiscal stimulus of 2009 is running out and Republicans have no intention to extend the food assistance because besides killing Americans’ jobs, keeping people hungry is their favorite activity.

Although the cuts will be a boost for Republican egos, it is horrid news for the 49 million Americans (14.5% of all American households) who are food insecure. Food insecure means 49 million American citizens, most of whom work, are retired, or children do not have the funds to meet their basic food needs and have no idea where their next meal is coming from. Republican inaction is making sure the “food insecure” will not have to worry about the next meal because there will not be any forthcoming for about a week during each month.

According to Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the Food Bank for New York City, the impending cuts mean about 76-million meals “will no longer be on the plates of the poorest families” in NYC alone. 76 million meals outstrips the total number of meals distributed each year by the largest food bank in the country, and Republicans will rejoice that according to Purvis, “There will be an immediate impact.”  Purvis went on to say “they’re going to lose what’s basically an entire week’s worth food” each month, and that their situation is going to be “pretty daunting” because Republicans “are attempting to punish people for being poor.” In conservative circles, Republicans, teabaggers, libertarians, and the uber-wealthy take comfort in knowing in their Christian hearts that a person “had to have done something terribly wrong to be poor” and they are likely reaping god’s wrath at the hands of his Republican representatives.

Purvis said Republicans could not care less that “more and more folks have more than one job and are still needing help,” but that is the punishment for living in a nation run by Republicans constantly plotting to keep poor Americans hungry.  She also recalled that “we were told, you know, by the president…these cuts will not happen, we won’t get rid of the program.” It is now crystal clear that President Obama failed to understand the depth of Republican inhumanity, or that they were Hell-bent on taking food away from tens-of-millions of Americans. Maybe now, after three-and-a-half years of ravaging social safety nets to punish the poor for being poor, the President comprehends that Republicans only serve in the U.S. Congress to punish Americans. Two weeks ago a conservative pundit, Bill Kristol, exposed the true nature of Republican barbarism when he contended that a prolonged government shutdown (that failed) would “not be the end of the world, honestly, even if you’re on nutritional assistance from the federal government.” It is likely that for millions of poor Americans losing a week’s worth of food each month, seeing their children go hungry may indeed feel like the end of the world.

Republicans have been on a tear to take nutritional assistance from poor Americans since they took control of the House after the 2010 midterms when Paul Ryan submitted, and submitted again, a Heritage Foundation-approved budget that included SNAP program cuts of $135 billion which would completely end assistance for millions of low-income families. The budget that every Republican voted for twice adversely affects low-income working families with children, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities, because like an efficient animal extermination strategy, Republicans believe it is important to cull the weakest and most vulnerable Americans from the population first to make room for the next group to go; the middle class that is falling into poverty at an alarming rate.

There is a secondary benefit for Republicans cutting food stamp funding that often goes unnoticed but fits neatly in their well-planned assault on the people since they elected an African American President. Republicans love taking food out of the mouths of hungry children and senior citizens, but they get an extra benefit because each dollar of food stamps infuses over $1.70 of spending into the economy that creates jobs. If there is only one thing the GOP loves more than taking food from Americans it is killing jobs. It really is an elegant plan to decimate the population because killing jobs with drastic food stamp cuts will send more Americans into poverty to wonder where their family’s next meal is coming from and if Republicans have their way it will not be coming at all.

America already has the second highest percentage of children living in poverty in the developed world and Republicans are on pace to claim the number one spot by cutting food assistance to families in poverty and near poverty. Creating poverty is one area Republicans have excelled over the past six years, and they are likely dismayed that food stamps lifted a record 4 million people above the poverty line in 2012, but with the looming cuts due to take place on Friday, and House Republicans holding out for greater food stamps cuts, they can easily add 4 million Americans back to the poverty rolls that should give them a great deal of satisfaction.

Of all the things Republicans have taken from the American people, food is the one item that reveals their true inhumanity. Republicans can hardly claim their barbarism is borne of budget concerns or fiscal austerity because they always find funding to give the oil industry, agricultural corporations, religious organizations, corporations, and the defense industry subsidies exceeding the cost of fully funding food stamps. Their sole intent is creating poverty and starving low-income families, children, seniors, and disabled Americans, and on Friday they will have successfully taken a significant amount of food out of the mouths of 48 million Americans including 21 million children that will give them immeasurable satisfaction.

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Chris Hayes goes off: ‘American capitalism is not producing’ for 47 million poor Americans

By Arturo Garcia
RawStory
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 22:12 EDT

MSNBC host Chris Hayes couldn’t contain his exasperation on Wednesday in discussing the implications for poor Americans if $5 billion is cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on Friday.

“Fifteen percent of Americans are poor,” Hayes told Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and his other panelists. “Forty-seven million people. I look at that and I say, this is not working. What we are doing right now — our system, the system we’re running, is failing. Forty seven million people hungry, in poverty, in this country is a failing rate. American capitalism is not producing, at this moment, broad gains for people. It is not.”

McGovern, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, also called for President Barack Obama’s administration to join a broader discussion about not only conserving SNAP benefits, but the overall effects of poverty on the country.

“We need to be talking about increasing the minimum wage,” McGovern proposed. “We need to be talking about how you extend ladders of opportunity to help people get out of poverty. But in the meantime, we need to make sure that we are there with a safety net to make sure that people have at least enough to eat. What a radical idea, that everybody in this country — the richest country in the history of the world — ought to have enough to eat.”

Taking $5 billion out of the SNAP program, New York Coalition Against Hunger executive director Joel Berg told Hayes, would have the same effect as shutting down all of the country’s food charities for a year, a loss that food banks would not be able to cover, a topic that, as Media Matters reported on Tuesday, has gone largely ignored in media circles.

“Until this segment, as far as we know, this is the first network news show to even discuss 48 million people losing food,” Berg said. Technically, however, Hayes’ colleague Al Sharpton, addressed the issue on Tuesday.

But while conservative media outlets are correct in pointing out that the program has expanded to cost $80 billion, Food Bank for New York City president Margarette Purvis told Hayes, they are often content to ignore the broader context behind that phenomenon.

“It’s not growing off on its own — it reflects that there is a huge hunger crisis,” Purvis argued. “The problem is that we’re treating the issue as the people, rather than the issue [being], why is hunger this bad in this country? Everyone should be upset about this, not upset at the people who are suffering through it.”



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