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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1082474 times)
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« Reply #9705 on: Nov 01, 2013, 07:19 AM »

Niger migrants died from thirst, after stranding in Sahara desert

Women and children who tried to cross desert on foot to reach Algeria suspected to have been trafficked

Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 31 October 2013 14.02 GMT   

The bodies of 92 people, almost all women and children, have been found in the Sahara desert. Rescuers said the people had died of thirst after their vehicle broke down during their attempt to reach Algeria from Niger.

An aid worker in Niger, a vast, landlocked country that straddles the desert between north and sub-Saharan Africa, told the Guardian that the scene was traumatic for the rescuers. They had discovered the bodies scattered in small groups around the desert.

"This is extremely difficult and the most horrible thing I have ever seen," said Almoustapha Alhacen, a rescuer who lives in Arlit, a uranium mining town 50 miles away. "These are women and children; they were abandoned and left to die. We found them scattered over a large area, in small groups. Some were lying under trees, others exposed to the sun. Sometimes we found a mother and her children. Some were children alone."

"They were left there for so long that their bodies are decomposed. Some of the bodies are still there."

The group was discovered after survivors reached Arlit on foot. Local experts said that the people were victims of human trafficking and were believed to have died two weeks ago as they tried to walk 12 miles in scorching sun to reach a well after the lorry they were travelling in broke down leaving them stranded.

Sources in Niger said that the group, who began their perilous journey across the desert in late September, was comprised of local people from Zinder, the second largest city in southern Niger, close to the border with Nigeria.

"We think that all these people are from the villages around Zinder," said Alhacen. "But until the investigation is finished, we cannot know all the details. It is very common for migrants to travel through this part of Niger. We have people from Nigeria and Burkina Faso, as well as people from Niger. They are trying to reach Libya and Algeria."

One security expert stressed that the group were not economic migrants but victims of trafficking.

Moussa Akfar, a security expert based in Niamey, Niger's capital, said: "This was in fact a case of poor people and children who were being trafficked to Algeria. There is an inquiry underway but we know that this was trafficking because economic migrants go to Libya – in Libya you find people of all nationalities, from Nigeria, Cameroon and other countries, heading to Europe.

"In this case all the victims were Nigerien from Zinder, and they were being trafficked. The questions that have to be asked now is how officials on road checkpoints did not alert the authorities about this group. There is endemic corruption at work."

Details are still emerging about what happened to the group. The discovery of the 92 people – they were known to be 32 women and 48 children among them, reports said – comes after a further 35  bodies were found this week.

The two groups were believed to be of the same set of migrants who were travelling north  aboard two lorries in an attempt to reach Algeria.

They died in October, only six miles from the border between Niger and Algeria, after one of their two vehicles broke down and left them stranded as it headed off looking for replacement parts.

Niger security sources told the local press that 21 had survived, including two who had walked across the desert to Arlit, the nearest town and site of a plant for the French nuclear company Areva.

A further 19 who continued on their journey to Algeria and reached the town of Tamaresset, in southern Algeria, were turned away and repatriated back to Niger, local press reported.

The route taken across Niger's desert, which often begins in the southern town of Zinder and then proceeds through desert to the town of Agadez, is a well-known traffickers' route for transportations to north Africa.

Beyond the Sahara some people then try to board boats to Europe, while others end up in Algeria seeking work.

"Zinder and Agadez, these are the main migrant routes, as well as human trafficking routes in Niger," said Johnson Bien-Aime from the children's development organisation Plan Niger. "We know that trafficking is happening every day in these areas, but unfortunately, until now, nothing has been done about it."

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been rocked by repeated food crises in recent years. Last year Save the Children termed Niger the worst place in the world to be a mother amid its warnings that continuing poverty levels were driving people to undertake life-threatening journeys to higher income nations.

While many in Niger said that the October deaths were linked to trafficking, Algeria being the intended destination, Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of Arlit, said the group could have been trying to reach Europe.

"They were probably heading to the Mediterranean to try to go to Europe, or else to Algeria to work," said Feltou.

Rescue workers who found the bodies said the group could have included a party from an Islamic madrasa school, given the large number of children and an elderly man among the victims who appeared to be an Islamic teacher.

The plight of migrants from Africa and the Middle East is increasingly under the spotlight after a series of tragedies in which large numbers have died trying to reach Europe, including the 365 who perished off the Italian island of Lampedusa on 3 October when their boat capsized.

Tens of thousands of west African migrants, many of whom have paid as much as $3,000 to be taken across the desert from Niger to north Africa, arrive in Europe by sea each year, according to the United Nations.

"Sadly this is a typical migration that has been going on over last number of years," said John Ging, from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "We estimate that 80,000 make that journey every year from the Sahara, and basically they are economic migrants so impoverished they have to make these hazardous journeys."

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« Reply #9706 on: Nov 01, 2013, 07:20 AM »

Kenyan victims of 2007 violence complain after president's trial delayed

International criminal court puts Uhuru Kenyatta's trial back for third time as country tries to avoid seeing leader in dock

Daniel Howden in Nairobi, Thursday 31 October 2013 20.05 GMT

Victims of the post-election violence that swept Kenya at the end of 2007 have complained after the international criminal court delayed the trial of the country's president Uhuru Kenyatta until next year. It was the third time that the prosecution has been postponed, this time moved from 12 November to 5 February. The ruling comes amid frantic diplomatic efforts by Kenya to avoid having its president put in the dock at The Hague.

"The victims are angry," said Fergal Gaynor, a lawyer appointed by the ICC to represent 20,000 ordinary Kenyans who lost homes, livelihoods and loved-ones during orchestrated ethnic clashes where 1,300 people died.

"By the time this starts he will have been committed to trial for more than two years. Meanwhile the victims are sitting there in abject poverty and have not received any compensation."

Kenyatta, who would be the first sitting head of state to be put on trial at the ICC, faces five counts of crimes against humanity linked to his alleged role in commissioning and directing the mayhem that followed a disputed election in December 2007.

The ICC's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she "did not oppose" the defence's application for a postponement. She is seeking to introduce new witnesses to replace several who have withdrawn and possibly add to existing charges which would not be admissible until February.

The son of Kenya's founding president allied with a former political rival and fellow ICC indictee to win election in March this year. His deputy president, William Ruto, is already on trial in a separate but related case. Their election campaign leaned on nationalist rhetoric but stopped short of threats to withdraw cooperation.

Since taking office that stance has shifted with recent the president saying he is no longer a private citizen and casting the ICC as a sovereignty issue.

The Kenyan government has made an urgent application to the UN Security Council demanding a 12-month deferral of both cases on the grounds that current heads of state should be immune from prosecution. This call won backing earlier this month from the African Union, which has accused the ICC of "hunting Africans".

Diplomats close to the application, which will be voted on Friday, said it was unlikely to succeed. It would need nine votes in the 15-member council to pass and seven of the states are parties to the Rome statute that established the ICC.

"They just don't have the maths," said one European diplomat.

The prosecutor's office hit out earlier this year at what they described as an unprecedented campaign of witness intimidation and bribery. The Hague-based tribunal has issued a warrant for the arrest of Lucas Barasa, a Kenyan former journalist whom it accuses of illegally approaching witnesses, but he has not been detained.

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« Reply #9707 on: Nov 01, 2013, 07:25 AM »

New drug ‘supertunnel’ found under U.S.-Mexico border

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 31, 2013 21:12 EDT

U.S. and Mexican authorities have unearthed another sophisticated “supertunnel” used to smuggle drugs beneath their common border, the third since 2011, officials said Thursday.

Zig-zagging for a third of a mile beneath the border between San Diego and Tijuana, the newly-constructed tunnel was equipped with an electric-powered rail system to carry the drugs, as well as ventilation.

For the first time, agents seized cocaine intended to be smuggled through the tunnel as well as more than eight tons of marijuana, indicating that Mexican drug cartels are getting increasingly “desperate,” they said.

“These cartels are foolish to think they’re shoveling under the radar,” said US Attorney for Southern California Laura Duffy at a press conference outside the San Diego warehouse where the US end of the tunnel was found Wednesday.

Investigators released video footage of the tunnel, which they stressed was uncovered before it had been been used.

In a message to drug smugglers including notably Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, Duffy vowed: “If you continue to build and attempt to use these tunnels, we are determined to make this a big waste of your dirty money.”

Three people were arrested and authorities seized the huge marijuana haul as well as 325 pounds of cocaine, which is usually transported in smaller quantities and does not come through tunnels.

“Their traditional routes are failing at this point. They’re very desperate. They’ll do anything they can to get into the US,” said Bill Sherman, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s San Diego office.

As with two other “supertunnels” discovered in 2011, agents pounced before it had even become operational. “They did not move one gram of narcotics thru that tunnel,” said Sherman.

Law enforcement authorities were increasingly seeing attempts to bring narcotics including cocaine and methamphetamines over the border through tunnels, or micro-light aircraft.

“Those are acts of desperation,” he said.

The tunnel was built at an average depth of 35 feet, and was 4 feet high by 3 feet wide, said Derek Benner of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Construction likely took a year or more, officials said, adding that it was the work of “engineers and architects.” It included hydraulically-controlled steel doors.

Of the three arrested, two were detained in connection with the cocaine seized, and one, a Mexican national, was held over the marijuana haul. All face a maximum of 10 years to life in jail, officials said.

In Tijuana, a Mexican security source said the tunnel was accessed at the southern end by a metal stairway down to a depth of 20 meters, from a building about 80 meters from the border fence.

Discoveries of such underground passageways along the US-Mexico border are not uncommon and authorities say they are used by organized crime groups to traffick drugs and people into the United States.

The tunnel was the eighth large scale such structure discovered since 2006, and the fifth intercepted since 2010.

Over 77,000 people have died in drug-linked violence since 2006, when troops were deployed to battle drug cartels, including under ex president Felipe Calderon and his successor Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office last year.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


Mexican senate approves new taxes on junk food and soda

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 31, 2013 17:05 EDT

Mexico’s Senate passed a vast fiscal reform on Thursday to increase the government’s lackluster tax revenue through new levies on higher earners, junk food and soda.

The reform was championed by President Enrique Pena Nieto to boost government coffers in order to invest in infrastructure and create a universal social security safety net.

But critics warn that the slew of taxes could threaten an economy that has already slowed down this year, with the government forecasting growth of 1.7 percent this year compared to 3.9 percent in 2012.

Following a night-long debate, the Senate sent the bill back to the chamber of deputies since it contained 14 changes to the provisions that passed the lower house this month.

One of the modifications was an eight percent tax on high-calorie foods, up from five percent approved by deputies as part of efforts to curb the country’s obesity and diabetes epidemics.

The senators also approved a one peso (8 US cent) surcharge per liter of sugary drinks, a measure backed by health advocates whose anti-obesity campaign is financed by the philanthropy organization of New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

The bill also increases the maximum income-tax rate from 30 percent to 35 percent for those earning three million pesos ($230,000) or more per year.

The reform was backed by Pena Nieto’s centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party and some members of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party.

But the conservative National Action Party walked out of the debate after the Senate ended the reduced sales taxes enjoyed by states bordering the United States.

The conservatives fear that raising the tax at the border will harm assembly plants that make everything from candy to televisions and auto parts.

The government hopes the reform will increase revenue by 1.4 percent of gross domestic product next year.

Taxes in Mexico are equivalent to 13.7 percent of GDP, compared to an average 18.4 percent in the rest of Latin America, according to the government.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

« Last Edit: Nov 01, 2013, 07:31 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9708 on: Nov 01, 2013, 08:16 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Senate committee backs bill that would allow NSA data collection to continue

Legislation would provide increased transparency but NSA critics in Congress say proposals don't go far enough

Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts in Washington, Thursday 31 October 2013 21.10 GMT  

The Senate intelligence committee approved a bill on Thursday that would provide for increased transparency of the National Security Agency's bulk collection of US phone records but allow the controversial practice to continue.

Sponsored by chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, the bill lets the NSA continue to collect phone metadata of millions of Americans for renewable 90-day periods, and allows the government to retain it. Some legislators have alternatively proposed letting phone companies hold the metadata. It passed the committee by an 11-4 vote Thursday afternoon, paving the way for a full Senate vote.

Further codifying current practice, the bill allows analysts to search through the data when if they suspect there is a “reasonable articulable suspicion” that a suspect is associated with international terrorism.

Additionally the bill adds new leeway for the NSA to continue surveillance begun on foreigners outside the US if they enter the country "for a transitory period not to exceed 72 hours".

The bill is a direct challenge to one introduced Tuesday by senator Patrick Leahy that would end domestic phone-records collection. It was also opposed by leading intelligence committee member Mark Udall, who said it did not go far enough.

"The NSA's invasive surveillance of Americans' private information does not respect our constitutional values and needs fundamental reform, not incidental changes. Unfortunately, the bill passed by the Senate intelligence committee does not go far enough to address the NSA's overreaching domestic surveillance programs," Udall said.

Another Democratic member of the committee, Ron Wyden, said the bill maintains "business as usual" and "remains far from anything that could be considered meaningful reform".

Feinstein defended the NSA bulk collection program, but said there was a need to rebuild public trust. “The NSA call-records program is legal and subject to extensive congressional and judicial oversight, and I believe it contributes to our national security,” she said in a statement. “But more can and should be done to increase transparency and build public support for privacy protections in place.”

In her statement, Feinstein said the bill would also make a number of improvements to transparency and oversight on the NSA, including:

• Requiring an annual public report of the total number of queries of NSA's telephone metadata database and the number of times the program leads to an FBI investigation or probable cause order.

• Requiring that the foreign intelligence surveillance court impose limits on the number of people at NSA who may authorise or query the call-records database.

• Establishing criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison for intentional unauthorized access to data acquired under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) by the United States.

• Mandating the Fisa court impose a limit on the number of contacts (or “hops”) an analyst can receive in response to a query of bulk communication records.

After the committee's hearing had ended, Feinstein strongly endorsed the NSA's main domestic program. "I think there's huge misunderstanding about this NSA database program, and how vital I think it is to protecting this country," she told reporters.

Concern over the intelligence committee’s bill was expressed by independent legal experts who said the stage was now set for a showdown with the USA Freedom Act, a bill introduced by Leahy and Jim Sensenbrenner that would prohibit bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records.

Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice said: “The intelligence committee bill and the USA Freedom Act present two opposing visions of the relationship between law-abiding Americans and the national security state. The fundamental question is: should the government have some reason to suspect wrongdoing before sweeping up Americans’ most personal information to feed into its databases? Leahy and Sensenbrenner say yes; Feinstein says no.”

Wyden suggested that recent concern about NSA spying on foreign leaders had distracted from the real focus on mass domestic surveillance in the US. “The statements that American intelligence officials have made this week about collecting on the intentions of foreign leadership, that’s consistent with the understanding I’ve had for years, as a member of the intelligence committee,” he said.

“That has implications for foreign policy. My top priority is ending the mass surveillance, digital surveillance, on millions and millions of law-abiding Americans.”

Feinstein unexpectedly announced on Monday that she was “totally opposed” to the foreign leader spying of the sort the NSA conducts of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Feinstein has been a staunch supporter of the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

“Americans are making it clear, that they never – repeat never – agreed to give up their constitutional liberties for the appearance of security,” Wyden said. “We’re just going to keep fighting this battle. It’s going to be a long one.”

Separately, Feinstein said that James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, had agreed to provide her in writing with a statement about a Washington Post story that alleged the NSA had intercepted data in transmission between Google and Yahoo data centers. She said she was withholding judgment on the story until she saw Clapper's rebuttal.

Her strong endorsement of the domestic phone records collection indicates that the powerful Senate Democrat is not yet prepared to expand the criticism of the NSA she launched on Monday, when she "totally opposed" its surveillance of foreign allied leaders – a more traditional intelligence activity than bulk phone metadata surveillance.

Wyden would not comment on the Washington Post report on the Google and Yahoo intercepts. But the senators suggested it had implications for the privacy of Americans’ communication.

“Decades ago, countries had their own kinds of communication systems. Now that you’ve had the merger of global communications, I think you’re going to have a lot more challenges spying on foreigners with implications for US citizens,” Wyden said.

Following the markup of the bill, the intelligence panel held a classified hearing. Clapper and his chief counsel, Robert Litt, were seen entering the Hart Senate office building ahead of the markup and the hearing. Clapper refused to comment.


Apple, Facebook and Google call for 'substantial' reform of NSA surveillance

Firms call for 'substantial enhancements to privacy protections' and 'appropriate oversight' in letter to Senate committee

Dominic Rushe in New York, Thursday 31 October 2013 22.22 GMT

Tech giants including Apple, Facebook and Google called for substantial reforms to the US government's surveillance programmes Thursday in a letter to the Senate judiciary committee.

In the wake of more revelations about the lengths to which the National Security Agency has gone to intercept data, the companies have called for more transparency and "substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs."

The letter, also signed by AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo, follows the release of more documents obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that reveal the US authorities were secretly tapping in to the tech firm's main communications links.

The letter "applauds" the USA Freedom Act, a bill sponsored by Democrat senator Patrick Leahy and Republican congressman James Sensenbrenner that would end the bulk collection of data from millions of Americans and set up a privacy advocate to monitor the Fisa court, which oversees the NSA's US activities.

"Recent disclosures regarding surveillance activity raise important concerns in the United States and abroad. The volume and complexity of the information that has been disclosed in recent months has created significant confusion here and around the world, making it more difficult to identify appropriate policy prescriptions," the letter states.

"Our companies have consistently made clear that we only respond to legal demands for customer and user information that are targeted and specific.

"Allowing companies to be transparent about the number and nature of requests will help the public better understand the facts about the government's authority to compel technology companies to disclose user data and how technology companies respond to the targeted legal demands we receive," they write.

In a recent report the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) said the US tech firms could end up losing out on tens of billions of dollars in the cloud-based computing space in the wake of Snowden's revelations. Cloud computing is a rapidly growing area and revelations that the US authorities have been scooping up the personal data of millions of users, particularly outside the US, could cost them business.

"On the low end, US cloud computing providers might lose $21.5bn over the next three years," ITIF concluded. On the high end the report put the figure at $35bn.

"We urge the administration to work with Congress in addressing these critical reforms that would provide much needed transparency and help rebuild the trust of Internet users around the world," the letter said.


October 31, 2013

Angry Over U.S. Surveillance, Tech Giants Bolster Defenses


SAN FRANCISCO — Google has spent months and millions of dollars encrypting email, search queries and other information flowing among its data centers worldwide. Facebook’s chief executive said at a conference this fall that the government “blew it.” And though it has not been announced publicly, Twitter plans to set up new types of encryption to protect messages from snoops.

It is all reaction to reports of how far the government has gone in spying on Internet users, sneaking around tech companies to tap into their systems without their knowledge or cooperation.

What began as a public relations predicament for America’s technology companies has evolved into a moral and business crisis that threatens the foundation of their businesses, which rests on consumers and companies trusting them with their digital lives.

So they are pushing back in various ways — from cosmetic tactics like publishing the numbers of government requests they receive to political ones including tense conversations with officials behind closed doors. And companies are building technical fortresses intended to make the private information in which they trade inaccessible to the government and other suspected spies.

Yet even as they take measures against government collection of personal information, their business models rely on collecting that same data, largely to sell personalized ads. So no matter the steps they take, as long as they remain ad companies, they will be gathering a trove of information that will prove tempting to law enforcement and spies.

When reports of surveillance by the National Security Agency surfaced in June, the companies were frustrated at the exposure of their cooperation with the government in complying with lawful requests for the data of foreign users, and they scrambled to explain to customers that they had no choice but to obey the requests.

But as details of the scope of spying emerge, frustration has turned to outrage, and cooperation has turned to war.

The industry has learned that it knew of only a fraction of the spying, and it is grappling with the risks of being viewed as an enabler of surveillance of foreigners and American citizens.

Lawmakers in Brazil, for instance, are considering legislation requiring online services to store the data of local users in the country. European lawmakers last week proposed a measure to require American Internet companies to receive permission from European officials before complying with lawful government requests for data.

“The companies, some more than others, are taking steps to make sure that surveillance without their consent is difficult,” said Christopher Soghoian, a senior analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But what they can’t do is design services that truly keep the government out because of their ad-supported business model, and they’re not willing to give up that business model.”

Even before June, Google executives worried about infiltration of their networks. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the N.S.A. was tapping into the links between data centers, the beating heart of tech companies housing user information, confirming that their suspicions were not just paranoia.

In response, David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, issued a statement that went further than any tech company had publicly gone in condemning government spying. “We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping,” he said. “We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone.”

A tech industry executive who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivities around the surveillance, said, “Just based on the revelations yesterday, it’s outright theft,” adding, “These are discussions the tech companies are not even aware of, and we find out from a newspaper.”

Though tech companies encrypt much of the data that travels between their servers and users’ computers, they do not generally encrypt their internal data because they believe it is safe and because encryption is expensive and time-consuming and slows down a network.

But Google decided those risks were worth it. And this summer, as it grew more suspicious, it sped up a project to encrypt internal systems. Google is also building many of its own fiber-optic lines through which the data flows; if it controls them, they are harder for outsiders to tap.

Tech companies’ security teams often feel as if they are playing a game of Whac-a-Mole with intruders like the government, trying to stay one step ahead.

Google, for instance, changes its security keys, which unlock encrypted digital data so it is readable, every few weeks. Google, Facebook and Yahoo have said they are increasing the length of these keys to make them more difficult to crack.

Facebook also said it was adding the encryption method of so-called perfect forward secrecy, which Google did in 2011. This means that even if someone gets access to a secret key, that person cannot decrypt past messages and traffic.

“A lot of the things everybody knew they should do but just weren’t getting around to are now a much higher priority,” said Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist of Cryptography Research, which makes security technologies.

Facebook said in July that it had turned on secure browsing by default, and Yahoo said last month that it would do the same for Yahoo Mail early next year. And Twitter is developing a variety of new security measures, including encrypting private direct messages, according to a person briefed on the measures.

Many tech companies have made public information about the number of government requests for user data they receive, and sued to ask for permission to publish more of this data. On Thursday, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Apple and AOL reiterated these points in a letter to members of Congress.

But publishing the numbers of requests the companies receive has less meaning now that reports show the government sees company data without submitting a legal request.

A sense of betrayal runs through the increasingly frequent conversations between tech company lawyers and lawmakers and law enforcement in Washington, and in private conversations among engineers at the companies and increasingly outspoken public statements by executives.

Mr. Drummond and Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and chief executive, have said privately that they thought the government betrayed them when the N.S.A. leaks began, by failing to explain the tech companies’ role to the public or the extent of its spying to the tech companies, according to three people briefed on these conversations. When President Obama invited tech chief executives to discuss surveillance in August, Mr. Page did not go and sent a lower-level employee instead.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, sarcastically discussed surveillance at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in September.

“The government blew it,” he said. “The government’s comment was, ‘Oh, don’t worry, basically we’re not spying on any Americans.’ Right, and it’s like, ‘Oh, wonderful, yeah, it’s like that’s really helpful to companies that are really trying to serve people around the world and really going to inspire confidence in American Internet companies.’ ”


US court blocks NYPD stop-and-frisk ruling and removes judge from case

Federal court says Shira Scheindlin showed appearance of bias when she ruled that stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional

Adam Gabbatt in New York, Thursday 31 October 2013 21.56 GMT       

A federal appeals court has blocked a judge's ruling that demanded changes to the New York police department's controversial stop-and-frisk policy and ordered she be removed from the case.

In a victory for the outgoing mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, the court said Shira Scheindlin's ruling, in which she declared the practice to be unconstitutional, would be stayed pending the outcome of an appeal by the city.

Scheindlin had ruled that the city violated the constitution in the way it carried out its program of stopping and questioning people. She appointed an outside monitor to oversee major changes to the NYPD, and ordered reform to police training and supervision, among a range of other measures.

The ruling on the unconstitutionality of stop-and-frisk stands, but those changes will now be delayed pending the outcome of the city's appeal, and Scheindlin will no longer be involved in the case. Jonathan Moore, a lead attorney in the federal lawsuit challenging the department's stop-and-frisk practices, said was "unprecedented".

"Basically, this court is saying to the citizens of New York, who have followed this case and who were very uplifted by the fact that a federal judge stood up to protect the rights of all citizens of the city of New York … this is the panel of the second circuit saying: 'Drop dead, New York'," Moore said.

"It's embarrassing, it's unprecedented and it's a travesty of justice that this panel did this."

Sheindlin ruled in August that police officers violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of people by wrongly targeting black and Hispanic men. In addition to appointing an outside monitor to oversee police, she ordered a pilot program to test body-worn cameras in some precincts where most stops occur.

The city asked the second circuit for a stay on the ruling, and the remedy measures. But in Thursday's ruling, the second circuit went significantly beyond the city's demands, ordering that the case be reassigned to another judge because Scheindlin had violated the judicial code of conduct by compromising the need for impartiality. The court said it had been influenced in part by a series of media interviews and public statements given by Scheindlin, in which she responded to criticism.

The court cited comments made by Scheindlin in articles in the New York Times, the New Yorker and elsewhere responding to public criticism of her by Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly.

Campaigners against stop-and-frisk say Scheindlin was the victim of a whispering campaign orchestrated by the city. Throughout the trial, the mayor and the police commissioner attacked Scheindlin in media interviews and speeches, but declined to testify in court.

The pair criticised Scheindlin as being "in the corner" of civil liberties activists campaigning against stop-and-frisk while an internal report by Bloomberg's office, shared with the New York Daily News in May, sought to portray the judge as biased against law enforcement.

Moore criticised the second circuit for removing Scheindlin from the case.

"To not only issue a stay, but to remove this judge who had been working on this case for so many years and worked very hard and conscientiously and provided everybody a fair trial … to remove her, based upon the things that the court said … I never heard of such a thing."

Moore said he and his team would file a motion for re-hearing "en banc" – a legal procedure requesting all the active judges of the second circuit to weigh in on the case. He said the motion would be filed "as soon as we can".

Bloomberg's tenure as mayor ends in December, with New York City due to vote for its next leader on Tuesday. Polls shows that Democrat Bill de Blasio, an outspoken critic of stop-and-frisk, is the clear favourite.

De Blasio has made the policy a central issue of his campaign, with his mixed-race son featuring prominently in his campaign adverts praising the Democratic nominee's stance on stop-and-frisk.


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

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

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.


    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.


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

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

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.


John Stossel: Women’s insurance should cost more because ‘maybe they’re hypochondriacs’

By David Edwards
Thursday, October 31, 2013 9:57 EDT

Libertarian Fox Business host John Stossel argued on Thursday women should be forced to pay more for health insurance because “maybe they’re hypochondriacs” and use more services.

During an appearance on Fox & Friends, Stossel asserted to host Steve Doocy that President Barack Obama’s health care reform law “just kills the market” by mandating that women can no longer be charged more than men for insurance.

“The competition of the market is the only thing that makes things better,” he explained. “Yesterday, President Obama stood in front of a bunch of women in Massachusetts and said, ‘No longer will those evil insurance companies be able to charge you women more.’”

“Women go to the doctor much more often than men! Maybe they’re smarter or maybe they’re hypochondriacs,” Stossel continued. “They live longer. Who knows? But if it’s insurance, you ought to be able to charge people who use the services more, more.”

“But, John, you’re not paying attention,” Doocy said sarcastically. “This administration, this president wants to make everything fair. It’s not fair if you pay less than she does… And as a number of Republicans have made the argument, why should I pay for — I’m in my 60s, why should I pay for your maternity coverage?”

“Or why should women pay for men’s Viagra?” Stossel asked. “This mandating all this stuff it has to cover just takes away consumer choice.”


October 31, 2013

When Insurers Drop Policies: Three Stories


Charles Nance, Dean Wright and Julie Tyrrell are getting dropped — forced out of their existing health insurance plans — and landing smack in the middle of the uproar over President Obama’s health care law.

One expects to pay more. One expects to pay less. And one is just trying to figure it all out.

Each, in a different way, represents the relatively small part of America that the Obama administration did not talk about while campaigning for the Affordable Care Act: people who have health insurance that they like, but who will be unable to keep it under the law.

Now that new insurance marketplaces are opening, insurance companies are canceling millions of individual plans that fail to meet minimum standards. The dropped plans have become the political talking point of the moment — and, according to many Republicans, a symbol of the president’s flawed ambitions.

Mr. Obama says that people will be better off in the long run with more robust coverage.

Yet the individual stories add up to a more complicated tale.

Mr. Nance, who did not like the president’s plan to begin with, is angry.

He and his wife recently received a notice informing them that they could no longer keep their existing plan. Their insurance company offered an alternative that would cost twice as much.

“I don’t think it’s fair at all,” said Mr. Nance, 57, a home inspector in suburban St. Louis.

Mr. Wright received a similar notice. But to his surprise, he will pay less by going through a state insurance exchange.

“It’s a pretty good deal,” said Mr. Wright, 63, a retired editor who lives in Birch Bay, Wash. He said he will save about $100 a month, although his new plan will not cover out-of-network care.

And like many, Ms. Tyrrell is still trying to navigate the new landscape. Her existing plan will be dropped next year, she said, and her insurance company is raising prices by nearly 18 percent.

But she is unsure if she qualifies for federal subsidies because she has had trouble logging on to the problem-plagued government website,

“There’s so little information now,” said Ms. Tyrrell, 54, a freelance writer in Phoenix.

The Affordable Care Act was signed into law by Mr. Obama in 2010. Since then he has assured Americans: “If you like your insurance plan you will keep it. No one will be able to take that away from you. It hasn’t happened yet. It won’t happen in the future.”

But it is happening. It is unclear how many of the estimated 10 million to 12 million people who have individual insurance plans, as opposed to the vast majority who have insurance through their employers, might see their plans discontinued.

Individual plans are typically renewed annually and, even before the law, such plans were usually subject to changes in rates or coverage. Discontinuing plans affect a small minority of Americans, and some people will be grandfathered in.

Those in plans that have remained essentially unchanged since the law’s passage can keep their coverage even if it does not meet the new standards, which include coverage for things like prescription drugs, maternity care and even pediatric dental care.

But because of the transitory nature of the market — individual insurance often serves as a bridge between jobs, or as a stopgap until government programs like Medicare or Medicaid kick in — many customers have changed plans or bought new coverage since the law was passed.

Insurance executives are frustrated. They say they want to keep as many customers as they can and are reluctant to turn away business. And they want to sell as many new policies as they can that comply with the law.

“We’re not terminating their coverage,” said Jon Urbanek, a senior executive at Florida Blue. Many other insurance executives are reluctant to speak publicly, given the politics and public attention. Privately, many say that technical problems with the federal website have made people anxious about switching plans.

“They are not able to piece together a complete story right now, and that’s adding to the confusion,” one executive said.

Some insurers are offering to renew existing coverage before 2014. But some people must find an alternative. And some insurers are telling their existing customers about the plans that most closely resemble their current coverage, providing examples of plans that cost about the same or have similar features.

Supporters of the law are quick to note that the individual insurance market was an unforgiving place, favoring the healthy with reasonable rates while excluding older people or those with existing medical conditions. Plans must now offer more comprehensive coverage, and insurers must take all comers. Insurers must also charge everyone, healthy or otherwise, the same rates.

Still, many people were surprised by how the law could affect them. Some said they felt betrayed, given that the president pledged that people could keep their insurance plans.

Mr. Nance was surprised that the new law would affect his family, since they had been paying for their own insurance for 11 years. His plan carries a deductible of $3,000 and a premium of about $500 a month. He said that he and his wife were in good health and that their coverage had met their needs.

Mr. Nance learned in September that his existing plan would end on Dec. 31 because it did not comply with the new law. His insurer, Anthem BlueCross BlueShield, offered a replacement plan that would cost nearly twice as much and come with an annual deductible of close to $12,000.

“It’s not affordable, and it’s not better than what I had in any way, shape or form,” Mr. Nance said. He said he does not qualify for federal subsidies, and has had difficulty signing onto the online marketplace to evaluate his options. For now, he has purchased a one-year plan through United Healthcare that is similar in price and features to his existing plan.

In Arizona, Ms. Tyrrell is struggling to figure out her options. For years she dealt with annual rate increases and the fear that her coverage would be canceled.

“It’s a frightening situation,” Ms. Tyrrell said. She recently learned that she had rheumatoid arthritis, and when that happened, she said, “I thought, I have lost every bit of bargaining that I possibly had.”

Ms. Tyrrell is not sure what she will do, but, despite the problems, she generally supports the law.

“We have to start somewhere,” she said.


October 31, 2013

In Alabama Race, a Test of Business Efforts to Derail Tea Party


MOBILE, Ala. — With only days to go before a special Republican primary runoff for Congress here in South Alabama, the national business lobby is going all in.

In the first test of its post-government-shutdown effort to derail Tea Party candidates, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce put on a rally on Tuesday in the warehouse of an aluminum plant to show its support for Bradley Byrne, a lawyer and former Republican officeholder.

Companies as diverse as Caterpillar and AT&T have also sent in a last-minute flurry of donations. The goal, backers of Mr. Byrne said, is to elect not just a Republican, but the right kind of pro-business one.

Dean Young, the Tea Party-backed businessman who is running against Mr. Byrne, seems only to be reveling in his opponent’s establishment, big-money support, repeatedly praising Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for leading the way to the government shutdown and saying that if he wins it will be in the face of “the entire Republican establishment.”

“I’ve got an army of people that care about this nation,” said Mr. Young, a tall, brawny man with a shaved head and a stern delivery, after a debate on Wednesday night. “We’re on our own, but that’s O.K., because when we win, it sends a bigger message.”

Despite Mr. Byrne’s substantial advantage in campaign money and endorsements, Republican consultants and voters here say that the zeal of Mr. Young’s Christian conservative supporters puts the outcome of the runoff at even odds, suggesting that the fight over control of the Republican Party is likely to be long, hard and unpredictable.

It is a reality that has some of the Washington lobbyists and political consultants who are helping orchestrate the anti-Tea Party push concerned, particularly given that extreme conservatives tend to be more reliable voters.

Mr. Young’s voters are drawn by his declaration that homosexuality “always has been, always will be” wrong, his full backing of using a government shutdown “to stop Obamacare,” and his insistence that people “have the right to acknowledge God in schools and in the public square.”

Supporters of moderate Republican candidates worry about whose voters will turn out.

“We can have all the money in the world, but if we can’t get the center-right Republicans to the polls on Primary Day then it does not matter,” said Steve LaTourette, a former Ohio congressman who is now trying to build an $8 million “super PAC” to help support more mainstream Republicans in 2014 primaries.

In the aftermath of the shutdown last month, business leaders from Washington and around the nation have vowed to play a greater role in coming primaries like this one.

They are increasingly concerned that a core group of anti-establishment conservatives in the House is threatening to derail their agenda, not just in terms of keeping the government open for business, but also when it comes to passing a comprehensive new immigration law, revising the nation’s tax code and making changes to the health care law, instead of just trying to kill it.

A second test case already emerging is in Michigan, where business groups are aligning behind Brian Ellis, a Grand Rapids investment manager who is trying to oust Representative Justin Amash, a Republican who was one of the core House lawmakers who supported the shutdown.

Mr. Byrne, who early in his political career was a Democrat before running as a Republican for state senator and then unsuccessfully for governor again as a Republican in 2010, clearly has the party establishment behind him. Two of the three congressmen who have held this House seat since 1965, two of the Republican candidates who lost in the September primary and the National Rifle Association have all endorsed him.

“We have a big choice to make and it’s an important choice, and if we make the wrong choice we can send somebody to Congress who’s a show horse and not a workhorse,” Mr. Byrne said at the debate on Wednesday night, presenting himself as a candidate who can make deals and get things done rather than pick fights on principle.

The Chamber of Commerce has contributed money in House Republican primaries before, but it expects to play a role in a greater number of these intraparty fights in the coming year.

Rob Engstrom, the chamber’s national political director, explained this strategy on Tuesday, when he flew in to endorse Mr. Byrne, standing on a stage next to him at the warehouse in Foley.

“The No. 1 goal of the U.S. Chamber’s political program is to protect the pro-business majority in the House of Representatives,” Mr. Engstrom said to the crowd. “In addition to protecting that majority, we are also very interested in what is the composition of that majority. We want to find candidates who come from the private sector, we want to find candidates who come from the chamber family.”

Contributions from corporate America have been pouring into Mr. Byrne’s campaign in recent days. Just in the first three workdays of this week, for example, $5,000 checks came in from political action committees run by Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant; the National Beer Wholesalers Association; the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America; the BASF Corporation, the chemical company; and the National Association of Home Builders, among others.

And on Tuesday, the Chamber of Commerce, which also contributed $5,000 to the campaign, disclosed that it had spent $185,000 in so-called independent expenditures to help Mr. Byrne’s cause, with the money going to a Washington-area political consulting firm to send out mail to Alabama voters and to take out Internet advertisements.

David French, the chief lobbyist at the National Retail Federation, whose members such as Walmart have contributed to Mr. Byrne’s campaign, said that in House districts like this one in Alabama, the Republican nominee is almost certain to win the seat when the full election takes place in December. That means the business community has one shot to influence the outcome.

“If you don’t play in the primaries, you are not going to take part in those races,” Mr. French said.

Among the Mobile business elite there is anxiety about the runoff, and many believe that an angry electorate has found what it is looking for in Mr. Young’s brand of aggressive — but by all accounts sincere — politics.

Recent elections in Alabama have proved that politicians with a strong Christian conservative following can win big races, even when significantly outraised. Aware of this, some in the Byrne camp have quietly reached out to Democrats, hoping to attract non-Republicans to the polls. But it is unclear whether that will happen, or would be enough.

“We are hungry for bold, B-O-L-D, all caps,” said Linda King, a retiree who is volunteering for Mr. Young’s campaign.

For Ms. King and her fellow volunteer Joy Hansel, the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce — a group that supports immigration law change — only reinforces their belief that they are supporting the right man for the job.

“Every endorsement comes with an expectation,” Ms. Hansel said. “We’re relying on a higher power.”

Campbell Robertson reported from Mobile, and Eric Lipton from Washington.


All Pay, No Work House Republicans Plan to be In Session for Only 113 Days Next Year

By: Jason Easley and Sarah Jones
Thursday, October, 31st, 2013, 3:00 pm   

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is rewarding the least popular House in history by cutting their number of scheduled work days from 126 in 2013 to 113 in 2014.

The 2014 House calendar reveals where the Republican majority’s priorities really are. House Republicans are scheduled to be in session for only 12 days in each of the first three months of the year. The “busy month” for House Republicans will come during the usually slow July political season.

This schedule is all about giving House Republicans the time to campaign in their districts and fundraise. They will be on vacation for the entire month of August, in session for 10 days in September, and will only be working for a laughable two days during the month before the 2014 election.

House Republicans will still get their same $174,000 salaries for doing even less work. In fact, they will be getting a pay increase per day in session over what they made in 2013. Going strictly by the calendar, members of the House made $1,385.95 per legislative day. In 2014, that number will increase to $1,589.32. Members of the House are responsible for doing more than just being in session, but this House has already revealed itself to be the least productive in history. Instead of voting on legislation, members of the House spend 30%-70% of their time fundraising.

This schedule is more typical behavior from a Republican caucus that is so selfish that members aren’t capable of agreeing with each other to pass even the most basic legislation. John Boehner likes to talk about the People’s business, but by calendar design many members of the current House majority are only interested in serving their own interests.

Boehner and Cantor are already thinking about cutting down the number of scheduled days in session for the rest of 2013, because they can’t think of an agenda to vote on for the rest of the fall.

That attitude of this House was typified by Speaker Boehner on CBS’s Face The Nation when he said, “Well, Bob, we should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

The American people deserve better. They deserve representatives who will vote. They deserve representatives that actually show up for work. They deserve a House that tries to pass legislation instead of seeing their mission as obstruction and destruction.

It’s time to throw Boehner and his group of lazy House bozos out of the majority in 2014.


Nicole Wallace Warns Republicans to Stop Railing Against The Obama Administration

By: Sarah Jones
Thursday, October, 31st, 2013, 11:51 am      

In an appearance on MCNBC’s Morning Joe, Nicole Wallace (former George W. Bush adviser and McCain/Palin campaign adviser) ruined all of the gang’s orgasmic revelry of false equivalency over Obama’s bad numbers in the latest NBC/WSJ poll by pointing out that Republicans have even worse numbers, and there seems to be no bottom for the party.

Wallace then warned Republicans to stop being about nothing but criticism, “So I think the peril in looking at these numbers for President Obama is to continue down the path of railing against his administration’s policies.”

The Republican Party’s approval ratings are at an all time low according to a new NBC News/WSJ poll that shows just 22% have positive feelings for the GOP while 53% see it negatively, but the President is also at an all time low according to this poll, with 45% having negative feelings about Obama and just 41% viewing him a favorable light. These two things are clearly not the same, since 41 is much bigger than 22.

After Mike and Joe expressed scornful disdain for President Obama’s falling poll numbers, Joe Scarborough said, “I don’t see things getting better for either side after the shutdown. Republicans think they’re getting a boost from the President’s problems can see it’s just not enough to be against their guy, Republicans have to come up with their own ideas.”

Nicole Wallace (another reality based Republican strategist trying desperately to awaken the party before it’s too late) responded, “That’s right and if you look at these numbers we keep talking about arriving at some sort of floor for Republicans, and what’s so stunning is the bottom keeps getting lower and lower.”

She continued, “What Republicans have to take…. – we have to draw a line in the sand and decide that every time we’re in front of a camera it’s an opportunity to talk about what we’re for. So I think the peril in looking at these numbers for President Obama is to continue down the path of railing against his administration’s policies.”

Shortly thereafter, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) joined the show to express glee that the media is obsessed with the bad ObamaCare rollout, so no one is asking Republicans why they shutdown the government. This is like being excited that he cheated on his LSAT and got into a good school. Republicans are still going to have to perform at some point — they can’t cheat their way through everything.

And that is precisely Nicole Wallace’s point. Yes, Obama is taking a hit right now (due in no small party to media malfeasance regarding the ACA exchanges), but he is also not running for office again. And he is nowhere near 22% approval ratings. If the media gets this concerned over 41% approval ratings for the President, one wonders why they are equating this equally with a stunningly low 22% approval for the GOP.

If the public blames both parties for the shutdown, that is also the fault of less than accurate reporting. Republicans can take glee in the public being fooled again, but they are only fooling themselves if they take complete refuge in having dirtied the President on their way down.

Immigration reform is coming, and Republicans can’t handle it. It is poised to expose them once again as the do-nothing, extremist, nihilistic, radical obstructionists that they are.
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Republicans Go On a Scorched Earth Crusade In Case They Lose In 2014

By: Rmuse
Thursday, October, 31st, 2013, 5:18 pm   

After the 2012 general election, the Republican Party claimed it had done some soul searching and realized that their extremism toward the poor, women, and minorities cost them the victory they were certain was theirs for the taking. Mainstream Republicans concluded that the party should reach out positively to the many groups they alienated with their extremism and engage in compromise, and hardline conservatives were convinced that if the party had been more extreme voters would have handed them victory. The extremist conservatives concluded that opposing compromise and lurching farther to the right was the key to undying support from the voters.  After shutting down the government and making a very real threat to default on the nation’s debt, there is little doubt that Republicans abandoned the official party line and lined up en masse behind the hardline conservatives and followed their plan to pitch farther to the right and decry compromise.

Two events in the past two days revealed that the entire Republican Party is in the grips of extremists, and that they have no intention of compromising, even symbolically, or abandoning their assault on the American people and the government. It is safe to say now that there are no moderate Republicans in either the House or Senate and despite their declining approval ratings; they have embraced teabagger extremism and are firmly in the grasp of the Koch brothers’ teabagger movement.

On Tuesday in the U.S. Senate, every single Republican who voted to raise the debt ceiling and re-open the government voted symbolically to repudiate their own votes out of abject fear of extremists who believe they control the fate of the Republican Party. Because they are mortified of the hardliners on the far right and the billionaires funding the teabagger movement, Republicans held a “symbolic vote of apology” to the extremists for taking what they thought was a “moderate” position to keep America from defaulting on its fiscal obligations.

It is difficult to comprehend why Republicans in the House and Senate are terrified of crossing megalomaniac Ted Cruz, but 27 Senate Republicans symbolically begged Cruz and the Koch brothers for forgiveness for doing their jobs. It is likely that Republicans who voted with Democrats to save the nation’s economy took the teabagger and conservative belief tank warnings that their votes were part of the public record and fair game to marshal support for primary challenges. Their “symbolic apology vote” is revealing in that Senate Republicans are well aware that there is a steep political price to pay for opposing extremists who lust to decimate the economy, and it does not bode well for Americans with a waning hope that the GOP learned anything from the public’s ire for shutting the government and nearly crashing the world’s economy. House Republicans will likely hold a similar apology vote this week and House budget chairman Paul Ryan put Democrats in the Senate on notice that he is a devoted follower of the extremist no-compromise sect.

For his opening remarks at the start of bicameral budget negotiations, Ryan announced that there will be no compromises on new tax reform to close loopholes that will be necessary for any deficit reduction plan that can pass Congress and be signed into law. Ryan said, “I know my Republican colleagues feel the same way so I want to say this from the get-go: If this conference becomes an argument about taxes, we’re not going to get anywhere.” Ryan followed the Koch brother Wall Street script and demanded Democrats do the same and acquiesce to cut Social Security he claimed is going broke. Ryan lied, as usual, and claimed that if Republicans could not cut into Americans’ retirement savings the deficit will create an economic crisis. He said Social Security’s effect on the deficit “weighs down our economy today and we’ve got to get a handle on the debt” despite news yesterday that the debt is at its lowest level in five years. Eric Cantor concurred with Ryan and said the budget talks should “focus on trying to deal with the ultimate problem, which is this growing deficit.” However, the deficit is not growing; it’s shrinking at the fastest rate since the end of World War II in large part due to tax increases on the wealthy last January that Republicans claimed would fail to reduce the deficit.

Ryan’s counterpart in the budget negotiations, Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made it clear that Democrats are not going to enact GOP priorities without addressing some of their own. She said, “Compromise runs both ways. While we scour programs to find responsible savings, Republicans are also going to have to work with us to scour the bloated tax code– and close some wasteful tax loopholes and special interest subsidies. Because it is unfair — and unacceptable — to ask seniors and families to bear this burden alone.” Murray is naïve to think Republicans in the House or Senate will compromise because they are well aware the Kochs and their extremist teabags will destroy moderate Republicans as fast as they will destroy the economy unless they are allowed to rape and pillage the people.

Whether the American people know it or not, their government and their well-being are under control of the Koch brothers and their extremist cabal with no hope for any kind of respite unless the maniacs are thrown out of Congress. It is likely that Republicans realize that their recent shutdown and debt limit crisis laid waste to their brand and are intent on a scorched Earth crusade in the next year in case the 2014 midterms do not give them two more years to eviscerate America. They have already signaled they will kill jobs, starve seniors, children, and 900,000 Veterans with food stamp cuts, and have well-laid plans to steal Americans’ Social Security retirement accounts during the budget negotiations as promised by House Speaker John Boehner.

No American outside of the richest one percent of income earners is safe with extremist conservatives running the country, and regardless Republicans lost the 2012 general election, they are still attacking women, gays, the infamous forty-seven percent, voting rights, minorities, and democracy itself. Although it appears that once moderate Republicans are terrified of extremists, the Kochs, and religious fanatics, it is more reasonable to assume that they are simply finishing what Reagan conservatives started thirty years ago and are laying waste to America and its people to see their storied “vision of a transformed America” reach fruition.


A Journey to the Dark Heart of Christian Extremism

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Friday, November, 1st, 2013, 7:36 am      

Being ChristianConservatives like to extol so-called small-town virtues, of the sort immortalized in song by John Cougar Mellencamp. Small towns are supposedly the home of “real Americans” and bastions of virtue. Small towns, we are told, are the home of God-fearing family values Christians.

Mellencamp sang about being “taught to feel Jesus in a small town” but there is feeling and then there is feeling. Televangelists use Jesus like a weapon to not only fire up their congregations but to be armed and fired at their foes. Liberals do not always understand, because they have not seen it for themselves, the fire that consumes megachurch congregations and therefore fuels the Religious Right’s culture war.

This brings us to K.C. Boyd’s Being Christian – A Novel and its central character, John Christian Hillcox, otherwise known as Pastor C or just plain JC, a mail order Baptist minister who represents everything we have come to hate about the self-righteous hypocrisy of the Religious Right.

Being Christian is a character study, a tale of biblical sin straight out of South Texas. It is at once a morality tale and a tale of immorality. Inspired by the author’s real-life experiences, it is a journey to the dark heart of Christian extremism.

As we saw yesterday with Tom DeLay, the Religious Right loves tales of false redemption – the ultimate get out of hell free card. No matter how horrible your actions, you can always say you found Jesus and all is forgiven.

It is instructive that in Christian’s mind he was once an unsavory example of amorality and criminal behavior: coming from a violent upbringing, he feels he had earned prison if not a death sentence for his actions (in his own words, “stared hell in the face”). But Christian thinks he has left the unsavory aspects of his character behind; he has turned away from his past and embraced a life of Jesus-driven virtue as a “revered pastor.”

Christian knows deep down in places he won’t let his mind travel to, that his new self, not only the image but the man beneath, is a sham, that he is a “religious pretender” and a “shell of a man.” But he has convinced himself that he is what others see him to be. The moral here seems to be that nobody loves redemption more than those in need of it themselves; in the end and in a frenzy of ecstatic mutual need, they all get together and convince each other that everything they know to be false is somehow true.

What is frightening about Christian is that though fictional he is so real; we can look up from the book and see him all around us, on the Internet, on television. He is everywhere.

I asked the K.C.Boyd the other day about what inspired Christian and his story:

    Hrafnkell: Christian strikes me as a collection of all the worst vices of megachurch pastordom, and at the end of the book we learn that Christian is indeed inspired by “key personalities,” plural. Did any one person provide more inspiration than any other or did you take something from each of them in more or less equal parts?

    K.C. Boyd: Having so completely entered the dark world of today’s televangelist mega-pastors, my main character, John Christian Hillcox, literally sprang to life, almost of his own accord. He was a little bit of this and a little bit of that – - a composite of the oh-so-many horrible things and people about whom I’d read and heard.

    Hrafnkell: As always, I was struck while reading your book by the fundamentalist capacity for self-deception. Christian seems to possess this quality in spades. I wonder sometimes who is more deceived, the deceiver or those who are willingly deceived by the deceiver. It is difficult for me to feel any of them are really victims.

    K.C. Boyd: I couldn’t agree more. I firmly believe that we are all shaped by our backgrounds and childhoods. Today’s Christian extremists, many of whom learned bigotry with their first solid food, not only want to hate, but they need to. Like the character, many of these people are ruled by their psychological frailties, just as they are easily manipulated. Dominionist pastors know if they fill people with fear, warn them they are in constant danger from the evil “other” and promise them an eternity far better than the earthly hell in which they’re living, they’ll control them. As Hermann Goering said at Nuremberg, “All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY.”

    Regarding who’s the deceiver and who’s being deceived, I believe that these narcissistic mega-pastors come to believe their own mythology. Is Christian a victim? No, not really. He would have been had he not chosen the dark path he did. It’s all about choice.

Christian is married to a “Mexican illegal” he had back-seat sex with years before. Remember, this is South Texas – there are no “undocumented workers” in Christian’s world. Because she was already pregnant with somebody else’s child at the time, he got to marry the girl and with her a earned trip to a well-deserved hell.

When, seven years later and a pastor he meets Darlene Steeger, he finds her so arousing that once he is sure she is not the “Devil in drag,” he convinces himself, just as he once convinced himself that he was part of God’s master plan, that she has been sent to test him.

As the author put it, it’s all about choice but fundamentalists have a funny way of understanding choice. They talk a lot about personal responsibility but everything that happens to them always seems to be somebody else’s fault. Christian doesn’t have any free will, because free will would demand he take responsibility for his actions. So much easier to believe God willed this or that and Satan had choreographed everything else.

When he meets Darlene again and she tells him about being thirteen and entered by her mother in a beauty pageant, we learn all about Christian’s family values: “The thought of this sexually ripe woman perched on the cusp of puberty was so arousing to Christian it was all he could do not to erupt right there on the spot.” For her part, Darlene sees a physically uninspiring Christian made more virile by being Jesus’ spokesman.

Test him she does, and he her, and soon enough they are off to the big city and fame and riches just as Jesus intended. This left me wondering what it is about preachers like Christian that make them so appealing to women:

    Hrafnkell: Christian is utterly repulsive to the reader but he seems to possess a sort of oily charisma for women in your story. Is this female behavior also something you have witnessed?

    K.C. Boyd: No. And let’s face it: people – - in this case, women – - are drawn to power. But I read about it in pastoral scandal after scandal. The repression these guys practice is phenomenal, all the more so for the ways in which it eventually leaks out. Take for example: Ted Haggard, who actively condemned same-sex attraction, as evidenced by his active role In Prop 8 even while, at the same time he was enjoying a life of “drug-filled homosexual trysts.” There are almost more examples of fallen pastors (sadly, many of whom confess and rise again,) than there are of those who aren’t disgraced – - again, another reason it was so easy for me to create Christian.

    Hrafnkell: I and other men I’ve known have wondered what makes rock stars, even the ugly ones, such a draw for women. One gal explained to us that it is the power they have being up on stage. Do you think this is part of Christian’s pull? You do not describe him as a prime physical specimen.

    K.C. Boyd: As I just mentioned, YES! It’s the power. Charisma – - that certain je ne sais quoi – - is irresistible. When you’re around it, you know it and it’s seductive as hell. The good news is that it’s not always physical – - that leaves plenty of room for the rest of us to work on our charms. The bad news is it’s seductive and enormously powerful.

    Hrafnkell: I am married to a recovering Pentecostal. She and others like her are still dealing with the emotional scars and I suspect they always will be. Was writing Being Christian at all cathartic for you after your experiences? Did you feel that you got it out of your system?

    K.C. Boyd: It was cathartic and it wasn’t. I experienced an unspeakable relief in bringing to life the kinds of characters and situations that had come to scare the living daylight out of me. Having lived and breathed this religious manipulation that I’d come to see as genuinely evil, my greatest frustration was the public ennui I met when I tried to talk about the subject. Few were willing to discuss the growing religious politics and even fewer knew the players.

If you’re wondering how an author researches a book like this, I did too, and I asked K.C. Boyd about her research methods:

    Hrafnkell: I read that you explored first-hand the far right Evangelical world by attending services. Did you have to do any additional research for this book?

    K.C. Boyd: Yes, so much more. Prior to and during the Bush years, Ohio was in the vanguard of pulpit electioneering. In fact, I began my religious/political self-education as a response to a challenge to visit The Solid Rock Church, a church best known for a sculpture that locals had dubbed “Touchdown Jesus,” a bright white, 60 foot high arms-to-the-heavens monstrosity that literally lorded over travellers on Ohio’s Interstate 75. (In 2010, “Touchdown, “struck by lightning, burned to a crisp, leaving many to question the message there.)

    Back to my story: The challenge was to visit Solid Rock where I would witness Christian love in action by virtue of its well-integrated congregation. While suitably impressed by the show of people in all shapes and sizes, colors and economic backgrounds, many of whom busily sipping away at super-sized Slurpees while they worshipped, I was far more intrigued by the pastor’s invitation to return that night to hear J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio’s then Secretary of State and newly announced gubernatorial candidate, electioneer from the pulpit. Coming off of Bush and Rove’s successful 2000 courtship and marriage to the Christian Right – - and knowing of Blackwell’s desire to Christianize Ohio – - I was right to be gravely concerned. And so I returned.

    That night I learned of a newly formed organization, The Ohio Restoration Project (ORP,) whose intent was to build a pyramid-like scheme, linking pastor to pastor and congregant to congregant with the intent to get out the vote but only after the ORP had influenced it. Because so many low-information citizens get most of their information at church, this was indeed an ominous turn.

    And so began my countless incognito trips across Ohio, attending services where politicians preached their barely concealed theocratic desires, to luncheons and rallies where food was exchanged for voter registration and pastors used the post 9/11 fear to hype the ever-looming dangers and thus, the consequent need for Islamaphobia, homophobia, any kind of phobia.

    Additionally, I spent hour upon hour watching sermons, new and old, on tape and on television, as well as reading everything I could find on the subject while networking away. All in all, it felt like I’d earned a PhD in Christian Extremism and it was terrifying.

    Hrafnkell: What would you recommend to the reader interested in learning more – outside of, that is, subjecting themselves to what you put yourself through?

    K.C. Boyd: Great question. I’d start with Michelle Goldberg’s The Rise of Christian Nationalism and move on to Chris Hedges’ American Fascists (I also recommend his earlier book, Losing Moses On The Freeway.) Sarah Posner’s God’s Profits is another must-read as is Jeff Sharlet’s brilliant book, The Family. Those are the easy, more accessible ones.

    Hrafnkell: I find it hard not to see the Religious Right as a Christian heresy. Moderate Christians like to dismiss them as “fake” Christians but this is an accusation leveled by Christians at other Christians since Day One. Do you think people like Christian Hillcox are Christians?

    K.C. Boyd: I do not. I think they’re megalomaniacal narcissists, plain and simple. In a world of people and politicians fawning over them – - handing over their hard-earned money and/or political sway, placing them high on television pedestals – - most of today’s mega-pastors enjoy untold wealth (remember, their churches aren’t taxed so no one has a clue how much they pocket for themselves) and power. They own Lear jets, big cars and mansions replete with ranches and shooting ranges. Politicians are in their pockets, thanks to the substantial voting blocs they control and because of that, more and more often, they are electing their own. We see daily evidence that Dominionists fill the ranks of government, from local all the way up to the Supreme Court. And let’s not forget how close we were to having Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency.

If you find this world frightening, even in fictional form, you’re not alone. I asked the author if she thought there was anything “normal” Christians could do:

    Hrafnkell: I’ve always wished mainline Protestantism would stand up for the Christianity I remember from my childhood. Do you think there would be any positive effect if mainline Protestant denominations would speak out against fundamentalist theologies on the right like that portrayed in your book?

    K.C. Boyd: Maybe. It’s nearly impossible for traditional denominations to compete with the coffee-culture song and dance productions that go on in every mega-church across the country. These are slick operations with even slicker operators. The only way traditional churches can compete is to become more user-friendly. They need to reach out to the young, to make their spaces into old-fashioned community meeting spots – - to become social once again but to do it with the kind of marketing twist that the young will notice. It’s do-able but a very tall order.

Being Christian is available on’s Kindle for just $7.95 and $11.33 in paperback. It is also available on Nook. See what makes the enemies of liberty tick and start reading it today.

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« Reply #9710 on: Nov 02, 2013, 06:25 AM »

11/01/2013 01:57 PM

NSA Whistleblower: Snowden Open to Testifying in Germany

Edward Snowden says he is willing to cooperate with investigations into NSA spying. At a meeting with a German lawmaker in Moscow, he reportedly suggested he would be open to coming to Germany, and complained of a US 'campaign of persecution.' Berlin has at least signaled readiness to talk.

Edward Snowden has said he is willing to cooperate with investigations into the US spying scandal -- but he will not testify on Russian soil. The former contractor for the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) wrote down his intentions in a letter handed to German Green Party lawmaker Hans-Christian Ströbele after the pair met in Moscow, where Snowden has been granted temporary asylum.

In the letter, which Ströbele also signed, Snowden said he would "cooperate in the responsible finding of fact" with regard to the "truth and authenticity" of the documents he has leaked.

The 30-year-old former contractor for the NSA hit out at Washington's treatment of him, criticizing what he described as a "severe and sustained campaign of persecution" that forced him from his family and home. He also argued that the benefits of his actions are becoming increasingly clear in the form of "new laws and policies to address formerly concealed abuses of the public trust."

Snowden met with Ströbele in secret on Thursday for almost three hours, with journalists John Geotz, from public German broadcaster ARD, and Georg Mascolo, the former editor-in-chief of SPIEGEL, also in attendance. Footage of the meeting was broadcast by ARD on Thursday night.

'Why Not Talk to Him Personally?'

At a press conference on Friday, Ströbele revealed the meeting had been organized for months. "You all know that since June, the entire world has been talking about Edward Snowden," he said. "Then I thought, why not talk to him personally?"

"I therefore have not had a holiday because I have been waiting with a packed bag," Ströbele added.

Snowden is holed up in Moscow after being granted asylum by the Russian authorities in June. He fled the US after leaking the documents, which have repeatedly embarrassed Washington and other Western governments by revealing the extent of their intelligence gathering -- including reports that the NSA was bugging German Chancellor Angela Merkel's own mobile phone. The US has issued a warrant for Snowden's arrest.

The main topic of Thursday's meeting was the conditions under which Snowden would be able to testify to a public prosecutor or an investigating committee of Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag. According to Ströbele, Snowden raised the possibility of making a statement in front of an inquiry.

'He Knows a Lot'

"He has clearly indicated that he knows a lot," Ströbele said Thursday, adding that Snowden is "ready to come to Germany and to testify there." The circumstances of any such visit would still need to be clarified.

According to the veteran Green Party politician, who represents Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, it would theoretically be possible to assure Snowden safe passage to Berlin, or to question him in Moscow. Snowden himself has indicated he has "interest in principal", but also referred to his "complicated legal situation," ARD reported.

Snowden's lawyer, however, has said that he cannot travel abroad to testify. Anatoly Kucherena told Russian news agency Interfax that his client would not testify about alleged spying on Merkel. Snowden would remain in Russia -- he could not travel abroad as he would then lose his temporary asylum status. "In addition, according to the existing agreements, he cannot disclose any classified information as long as he is in Russia," Kucherena told Interfax.

Ströbele confirmed this on Friday at the press conference, although he said Snowden "can see himself coming to Germany." In order for that to happen, though, he would need to have assurances that he could safely stay in Germany or a comparable country afterwards. One option would be for the German government to provide him safe passage, "if that were clear, then he would be prepared to come," said Ströbele.

'Snowden Made a Good Impression'

Ströbele will report on his conversation with Snowden at a special session of the Parliamentary Control Panel, the body in Germany's parliament charged with keeping tabs on the country's intelligence agencies. "Snowden is alive and well, and made a good impression," Ströbele told ARD on Thursday. "He has a mission, an urge to communicate. He wants to establish a rightful state of affairs again."

Journalist Mascolo, meanwhile, said that Snowden is satisfied with the direction the debate on US surveillance activities has taken since his leaks. According to Mascolo, the former NSA contractor is guarded but can speak freely, and he views the conversation with Snowden as the "start of a dialogue."

The German Justice Ministry confirmed reports that the US government has already placed an extradition request for Snowden as a precautionary step. However, according to a legal opinion prepared by the Bundestag Research Department at the request of the Left Party, Germany could offer Snowden safe passage.

According to the ARD report, Snowden would be safe from deportation if he were provided with a residence permit. Since the withdrawal of his US passport, Snowden is officially stateless. A residence permit can be issued on the basis of international law or on humanitarian grounds as well as for the "protection of political interests."

Germany Now Open to Questioning Snowden

The German government has at least signaled its willingness to talk with Snowden. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats, said on Friday: "If Mr. Snowden is ready to talk with German authorities, we will find possibilities to make this conversation possible." He did not specify who exactly would lead such a conversation.

"If the message is that Mr. Snowden will give us information, then we will willingly receive that," Friedrich said. "Every new insight, everything that gives us information and facts, is good." The government, he said, is grateful for all information, "whether it is through Mr. Ströbele or letters or whatever." The demonstrative willingness to talk is remarkable, as up until now, Berlin's attitude had been that questioning Snowden was not an option.

The whistleblower was granted temporary asylum by Moscow in the summer, thereby offering him protection from prosecution by the US, which has issued arrest warrants and threatened to charge Snowden with treason.

Snowden has been in Russia since Jun. 23 after leaving Hong Kong by plane and being stranded at a Moscow airport. He was eventually provided temporary asylum in Russia on Aug. 1. The US government is demanding his extradition to face espionage charges.

His lawyer reports that his funds are running out, and in response, Snowden supporters set up a fundraising website which has already collected $49,000 (€35,600).

dsk -- with wires


GCHQ and European spy agencies worked together on mass surveillance

Edward Snowden papers unmask close technical cooperation and loose alliance between British, German, French, Spanish and Swedish spy agencies

Julian Borger   
The Guardian, Friday 1 November 2013 17.02 GMT    

The German, French, Spanish and Swedish intelligence services have all developed methods of mass surveillance of internet and phone traffic over the past five years in close partnership with Britain's GCHQ eavesdropping agency.

The bulk monitoring is carried out through direct taps into fibre optic cables and the development of covert relationships with telecommunications companies. A loose but growing eavesdropping alliance has allowed intelligence agencies from one country to cultivate ties with corporations from another to facilitate the trawling of the web, according to GCHQ documents leaked by the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

The files also make clear that GCHQ played a leading role in advising its European counterparts how to work around national laws intended to restrict the surveillance power of intelligence agencies.

The German, French and Spanish governments have reacted angrily to reports based on National Security Agency (NSA) files leaked by Snowden since June, revealing the interception of communications by tens of millions of their citizens each month. US intelligence officials have insisted the mass monitoring was carried out by the security agencies in the countries involved and shared with the US.

The US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, suggested to Congress on Tuesday that European governments' professed outrage at the reports was at least partly hypocritical. "Some of this reminds me of the classic movie Casablanca: 'My God, there's gambling going on here,' " he said.

Sweden, which passed a law in 2008 allowing its intelligence agency to monitor cross-border email and phone communications without a court order, has been relatively muted in its response.

The German government, however, has expressed disbelief and fury at the revelations from the Snowden documents, including the fact that the NSA monitored Angela Merkel's mobile phone calls.

After the Guardian revealed the existence of GCHQ's Tempora programme, in which the electronic intelligence agency tapped directly into the transatlantic fibre optic cables to carry out bulk surveillance, the German justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, said it sounded "like a Hollywood nightmare", and warned the UK government that free and democratic societies could not flourish when states shielded their actions in "a veil of secrecy".
'Huge potential'

However, in a country-by-country survey of its European partners, GCHQ officials expressed admiration for the technical capabilities of German intelligence to do the same thing. The survey in 2008, when Tempora was being tested, said the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), had "huge technological potential and good access to the heart of the internet – they are already seeing some bearers running at 40Gbps and 100Gbps".

Bearers is the GCHQ term for the fibre optic cables, and gigabits per second (Gbps) measures the speed at which data runs through them. Four years after that report, GCHQ was still only able to monitor 10 Gbps cables, but looked forward to tap new 100 Gbps bearers eventually. Hence the admiration for the BND.

The document also makes clear that British intelligence agencies were helping their German counterparts change or bypass laws that restricted their ability to use their advanced surveillance technology. "We have been assisting the BND (along with SIS [Secret Intelligence Service] and Security Service) in making the case for reform or reinterpretation of the very restrictive interception legislation in Germany," it says.

The country-by-country survey, which in places reads somewhat like a school report, also hands out high marks to the GCHQ's French partner, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE). But in this case it is suggested that the DGSE's comparative advantage is its relationship with an unnamed telecommunications company, a relationship GCHQ hoped to leverage for its own operations.

"DGSE are a highly motivated, technically competent partner, who have shown great willingness to engage on IP [internet protocol] issues, and to work with GCHQ on a "cooperate and share" basis."

Noting that the Cheltenham-based electronic intelligence agency had trained DGSE technicians on "multi-disciplinary internet operations", the document says: "We have made contact with the DGSE's main industry partner, who has some innovative approaches to some internet challenges, raising the potential for GCHQ to make use of this company in the protocol development arena."

GCHQ went on to host a major conference with its French partner on joint internet-monitoring initiatives in March 2009 and four months later reported on shared efforts on what had become by then GCHQ's biggest challenge – continuing to carry out bulk surveillance, despite the spread of commercial online encryption, by breaking that encryption.

"Very friendly crypt meeting with DGSE in July," British officials reported. The French were "clearly very keen to provide presentations on their work which included cipher detection in high-speed bearers. [GCHQ's] challenge is to ensure that we have enough UK capability to support a longer term crypt relationship."

Fresh opportunities

In the case of the Spanish intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Centre (CNI), the key to mass internet surveillance, at least back in 2008, was the Spaniards' ties to a British telecommunications company (again unnamed. Corporate relations are among the most strictly guarded secrets in the intelligence community). That was giving them "fresh opportunities and uncovering some surprising results.

"GCHQ has not yet engaged with CNI formally on IP exploitation, but the CNI have been making great strides through their relationship with a UK commercial partner. GCHQ and the commercial partner have been able to coordinate their approach. The commercial partner has provided the CNI some equipment whilst keeping us informed, enabling us to invite the CNI across for IP-focused discussions this autumn," the report said. It concluded that GCHQ "have found a very capable counterpart in CNI, particularly in the field of Covert Internet Ops".

GCHQ was clearly delighted in 2008 when the Swedish parliament passed a bitterly contested law allowing the country's National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) to conduct Tempora-like operations on fibre optic cables. The British agency also claimed some credit for the success.

"FRA have obtained a … probe to use as a test-bed and we expect them to make rapid progress in IP exploitation following the law change," the country assessment said. "GCHQ has already provided a lot of advice and guidance on these issues and we are standing by to assist the FRA further once they have developed a plan for taking the work forwards."

The following year, GCHQ held a conference with its Swedish counterpart "for discussions on the implications of the new legislation being rolled out" and hailed as "a success in Sweden" the news that FRA "have finally found a pragmatic solution to enable release of intelligence to SAEPO [the internal Swedish security service.]"

GCHQ also maintains strong relations with the two main Dutch intelligence agencies, the external MIVD and the internal security service, the AIVD.

"Both agencies are small, by UK standards, but are technically competent and highly motivated," British officials reported. Once again, GCHQ was on hand in 2008 for help in dealing with legal constraints. "The AIVD have just completed a review of how they intend to tackle the challenges posed by the internet – GCHQ has provided input and advice to this report," the country assessment said.

"The Dutch have some legislative issues that they need to work through before their legal environment would allow them to operate in the way that GCHQ does. We are providing legal advice on how we have tackled some of these issues to Dutch lawyers."
European allies

In the score-card of European allies, it appears to be the Italians who come off the worse. GCHQ expresses frustration with the internal friction between Italian agencies and the legal limits on their activities.

"GCHQ has had some CT [counter-terrorism] and internet-focused discussions with both the foreign intelligence agency (AISE) and the security service (AISI), but has found the Italian intelligence community to be fractured and unable/unwilling to cooperate with one another," the report said.

A follow-up bulletin six months later noted that GCHQ was "awaiting a response from AISI on a recent proposal for cooperation – the Italians had seemed keen, but legal obstacles may have been hindering their ability to commit."

It is clear from the Snowden documents that GCHQ has become Europe's intelligence hub in the internet age, and not just because of its success in creating a legally permissive environment for its operations. Britain's location as the European gateway for many transatlantic cables, and its privileged relationship with the NSA has made GCHQ an essential partner for European agencies. The documents show British officials frequently lobbying the NSA on sharing of data with the Europeans and haggling over its security classification so it can be more widely disseminated. In the intelligence world, far more than it managed in diplomacy, Britain has made itself an indispensable bridge between America and Europe's spies.


NSA spying: Germany and Brazil produce draft UN resolution

Document does not name US but calls for end to mass surveillance and gross invasions of privacy

Reuters, Saturday 2 November 2013 11.08 GMT   

Germany and Brazil have presented a draft resolution to a UN general assembly committee that calls for an end to excessive electronic surveillance, data collection and other gross invasions of privacy.

The draft resolution, which both Germany and Brazil made public on Friday, does not name any specific countries, although UN diplomats said it was clearly aimed at the US, which has been embarrassed by revelations of a massive international surveillance programme from a former US contractor.

The German-Brazilian draft would have the 193-nation assembly declare that it is "deeply concerned at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance of communications".

It would also call on UN member states "to take measures to put an end to violations of these rights and to create the conditions to prevent such violations, including by ensuring that relevant national legislation complies with their obligations under international human rights law".

The resolution will likely undergo changes as it is debated in the general assembly's third committee, which focuses on human rights. It is expected to be put to a vote in the committee this month and then again in the general assembly next month, diplomats said.

"We have received the draft and will evaluate the text on its merits," said an official at the US mission to the UN.

Several diplomats said they would be surprised if the resolution did not receive the support of an overwhelming majority of UN member states.

The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, and German chancellor, Angela Merkel, have both condemned the widespread snooping by the US National Security Agency. Charges that the NSA accessed tens of thousands of French phone records and monitored Merkel's mobile phone have caused outrage in Europe.

General assembly resolutions are non-binding, unlike resolutions of the 15-nation security council. But assembly resolutions that enjoy broad international support can carry significant moral and political weight.

The resolution would urge states "to establish independent national oversight mechanisms capable of ensuring transparency and accountability of state surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data".

It would also call on the UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, to prepare and publish a report "on the protection of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial, including massive, surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data".

Disclosures about a massive US surveillance campaign came from documents leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The US has said it is not monitoring Merkel's communications and will not do so in the future, but has not commented on possible past surveillance.

The UN said this week that the US had pledged not to spy on the world body's communications after a report that the NSA had gained access to the UN video conferencing system.


Snowden document reveals key role of companies in NSA data collection

NSA leverages relationships with commercial partners to collect vast quantities of data from fibre-optic cables, file shows

• Tapping fibre-optic cables – see the NSA slide

Ewen MacAskill and Dominic Rushe in New York, Friday 1 November 2013 21.40 GMT      

The key role private companies play in National Security Agency surveillance programs is detailed in a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden and published for the first time on Friday.

One slide in the undated PowerPoint presentation, published as part of the Guardian's NSA Files: Decoded project, illustrates the number of intelligence reports being generated from data collected from the companies.

In the five weeks from June 5 2010, the period covered by the document, data from Yahoo generated by far the most reports, followed by Microsoft and then Google.

Between them, the three companies accounted for more than 2,000 reports in that period – all but a tiny fraction of the total produced under one of the NSA's main foreign intelligence authorities, the Fisa Amendents Act (FAA).

It is unclear how the information in the NSA slide relates to the companies' own transparency reports, which document the number of requests for information received from authorities around the world.

Yahoo, Microsoft and Google deny they co-operate voluntarily with the intelligence agencies, and say they hand over data only after being forced to do so when served with warrants. The NSA told the Guardian that the companies' co-operation was "legally compelled".

But this week the Washington Post reported that the NSA and its UK equivalent GCHQ has been secretly intercepting the main communication links carrying Google and Yahoo users' data around the world, and could collect information "at will" from among hundreds of millions of user accounts.

The NSA's ability to collect vast quantities of data from the fibre-optic cables relies on relationships with the companies, the document published on Friday shows.

The presentation, titled "Corporate Partner Access" was prepared by the agency's Special Source Operations division, which is responsible for running those programs.

In an opening section that deals primarily with the telecom companies, the SSO baldly sets out its mission: "Leverage unique key corporate partnerships to gain access to high-capacity international fiber-optic cables, switches and/or routes throughout the world."

The NSA is helped by the fact that much of the world's communications traffic passes through the US or its close ally the UK – what the agencies refer to as "home-field advantage".

The new revelations come at a time of increasing strain in relations between the intelligence community and the private sector. Google and Yahoo reacted angrily on Wednesday to the Washington Post's report on the interception of their data.

The Guardian approached all three companies for comment on the latest document.

"This points out once again the need for greater transparency," a Google spokesman said.

He referred to a letter the company and other Silicon Valley giants sent to the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday. "The volume and complexity of the information that has been disclosed in recent months has created significant confusion here and around the world, making it more difficult to identify appropriate policy prescriptions," the letter said.

A Microsoft spokesperson said: "We are deeply disturbed by these allegations, and if true they represent a significant breach of trust by the US and UK governments. It is clear that there need to be serious reforms to better protect customer privacy."

Yahoo had not responded by the time of publication.

The companies are also fighting through the courts to be allowed to release more detailed figures for the number of data requests they handle from US intelligence agencies. Along with AOL, Apple and Facebook, they wrote to the Senate judiciary committee this week calling for greater transparency and "substantial" reform of the NSA.

Google, the first to publish a transparency report, has reported US authorities' requests for user data increased by 85% between 2010 and 2012 (from 8,888 in 2010 to 16,407 in 2012). But the vast majority of those are requests from local law enforcement looking for information about potential drug traffickers, fraudsters and other domestic criminal activity.

Legally compelled NSA request relating to foreign terrorist targets, which none of the firms are allowed to disclose, are thought to represent a tiny fraction of the overall figure.

While the internet companies are listed by name in the NSA document, the telecoms companies are hidden behind covernames.

The names of these "corporate partners" are so sensitive that they are classified as "ECI" – Exceptionally Controlled Information – a higher classification level than the Snowden documents cover. Artifice, Lithium and Serenade are listed in other documents as covernames for SSO corporate partners, while Steelknight is described as an NSA partner facility.

In a statement defending its surveillance programs, the NSA said: "What NSA does is collect the communications of targets of foreign intelligence value, irrespective of the provider that carries them. US service provider communications make use of the same information superhighways as a variety of other commercial service providers.

"NSA must understand and take that into account in order to eliminate information that is not related to foreign intelligence.

"NSA works with a number of partners and allies in meeting its foreign-intelligence mission goals, and in every case those operations comply with US law and with the applicable laws under which those partners and allies operate."

UPDATE: Microsoft issued a further statement after publication of the Guardian's story. A spokesperson said: "Microsoft only discloses customer data when served with valid legal orders and in June we published a complete view of the volume of orders we received from the US government.

"But it is clear that much more transparency is needed to help the companies and their customers understand these issues."


NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden says US 'treats dissent as defection'

Former analyst writes letter to German government over response to his 'act of political expression'

Tom McCarthy in New York, Friday 1 November 2013 21.18 GMT   
The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has expressed confidence that international pressure will force the United States to drop its prosecution of his case, in a letter revealed on Friday.

Snowden reflected on his legal status in a letter that was handed in person on Thursday to a member of the German parliament, which is to hold a debate on NSA spying later this month.

"I hope that when the difficulties of this humanitarian situation have been resolved, I will be able to cooperate in the responsible finding of fact regarding reports in the media, particularly in regard to the truth and authenticity of documents," Snowden wrote in the letter, which was addressed to the German government.

Outrage over American spying has grown in Germany since Der Spiegel magazine reported last Saturday that the NSA has been monitoring chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone since 2002. Impassioned opposition to US surveillance has also emerged in Brazil, France and elsewhere – including the United States.

“I am heartened by the response to my act of political expression, in both the United States and beyond,” Snowden wrote, later asserting that "the outcome of my effort has been demonstrably positive".

The US, however, "continues to treat dissent as defection" and "seeks to criminalize political speech with felony charges that provide no defense", he wrote.
Hans-Christian Stroebele presents Edward Snowden with an award Hans-Christian Stroebele presents Edward Snowden with the Whistleblower Award 2013. Photograph: Irina Oho/HO/EPA

Snowden was charged in June with unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person. The offenses fall under the US Espionage Act and carry penalties of fines and up to 10 years in prison. Snowden also has been charged with theft of government property, and could face further charges in the future.

A decision not to bring charges against Snowden would require the Obama administration to change its spots. Under President Barack Obama, the department of justice has used the 1917 Espionage Act to bring felony charges against government employees or contractors eight times – compared with three such prosecutions previously ever. A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists found that Obama has pursued the most aggressive "war on leaks" since the famously paranoid Nixon administration.

"I look forward to speaking with you in your country when the situation is resolved, and thank you for your efforts in upholding the international laws that protect us all," Snowden's letter concluded.


White House rejects criticism of Obama over NSA surveillance as rift deepens

Veteran diplomats question NSA director's assertion that ambassadors request monitoring of foreign leaders

Dan Roberts and Paul Lewis in Washington, Friday 1 November 2013 20.10 GMT      

The White House sought on Friday to distance itself from the National Security Agency's monitoring of foreign leaders, rejecting criticism that President Barack Obama was understating his knowledge of the agency's activities.

In a further sign of the growing blame game within Washington over the affair, spokesman Jay Carney said Obama paid close attention to terrorism intercepts but had no need to personally bug the phones of allies.

"The president is a very deliberate consumer of the intelligence gathered for him on national security matters," said Carney. "But when the president wants to find out what the heads of state of friendly nations think, he calls them."

The White House comments followed an admission on Thursday from secretary of state John Kerry that some surveillance practices were carried out "on auto-pilot" and had not been known to the president. That was followed on Thursday night by the NSA director, Keith Alexander, blaming Kerry's own department for driving its spying on friendly world leaders.

"The intelligence agencies don't come up with the requirements. The policymakers come up with the requirements," Alexander said. "One of those groups would have been, let me think, hold on, oh: ambassadors."

Alexander said the NSA collected information when it was asked by policy officials to discover the "leadership intentions" of foreign countries. "If you want to know leadership intentions, these are the issues," he said.

On Friday, veteran US diplomats questioned that assertion.

Thomas Pickering, who served as ambassador to Russia, India, Israel, Jordan and the United Nations, said he found it puzzling that intelligence agencies would interpret requests for information as a green light to bug the phones of friendly government leaders.

"To point the finger at ambassadors as being responsible for generating these requests seems, in my experience, to be far fetched," Pickering told the Guardian.

"In my time, intelligence requirements were never based on collection methods, they were based on intelligence interests. That an ambassador may have been interested in the views of a foreign leader is not a reason to say they had any responsibility for how that information was gathered."

Pickering, who recently led a White House review of the 2012 assassination of the US ambassador to Libya, said he had no direct knowledge but would be surprised to find the NSA was taking direction from ambassadors on such matters.

"It would be self-evident that embassies would be interested in knowing, but it is a huge jump to imagine that an ambassador could somehow be so persuasive as to persuade the intelligence community," he said.
NSA director Gen Keith Alexander. NSA director General Keith Alexander. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Alexander's explanation also drew scorn from James Carew Rosapepe, who served as an ambassador under the Clinton administration, who said "we generally don't do that in democratic societies" during an event at the the Baltimore Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday.

Pressed over the apparent "inconsistency" between comments by Alexander and Kerry, Jen Psaki, the state department's chief spokeswoman, said on Friday: "I don't actually think there was an inconsistency … I would just refute the notion of the question."

She added that the reviews into surveillance programs announced by the White House included all branches of government, and that Kerry's remarks applied not just to the state department.

"When the secretary made his comments yesterday, he said 'we'," she said. "He is talking about a collective 'we', as in the entire government is looking at these programs."


November 02, 2013 01:00 AM

Dianne Feinstein’s Fake FISA Fix May Expand Use of Phone Dragnet


Dianne Feinstein and 10 other Senate Intelligence Committee members approved a bill yesterday that purports to improve the dragnet but actually does almost nothing besides writing down the rules the FISA Court already imposed on the practice.

I’ll have far more on DiFi’s Fake Fix later, but for now, I want to point to language that could dramatically expand use of the phone dragnet database, at least as they’ve portrayed its use.

Here’s how, in June, DiFi described the terms on which NSA could access the dragnet database.

    It can only look at that data after a showing that there is a reasonable, articulable that a specific individual is involved in terrorism, actually related to al Qaeda or Iran. At that point, the database can be searched. [my emphasis]

Here are the terms on which her Fake Fix permits access to the database.

    there was a reasonable articulable suspicion that the selector was associated with international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor. [my emphasis]

The bill passed yesterday does not require any tie to al Qaeda (or Iran!). An association with al Qaeda (and Iran!) is one possible standard for accessing the database. But it also permits use of the data if someone is “associated with activities in preparation” for international terrorism.

Does that include selling drugs to make money to engage in “terrorism”? Does that include taking pictures of landmark buildings? Does that include accessing a computer in a funny way?

All of those things might be deemed “activities in preparation” for terrorism. And this bill, as written, appears to permit the government to access the database of all the phone-based relationships in the US based not on any known association with al Qaeda (and Iran!), but instead activities that might indicate preparation for terrorism but might also indicate mild nefarious activity or even tourism crossing international borders.

Click to watch:

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11/01/2013 04:19 PM

'Obscene Wording': Russian News Agency Shut Due to Swears

By Benjamin Bidder

Russia's media watchdog agency has forced the closure of the Rosbalt news organization because of two YouTube videos containing swear words. Russian journalists are furious, calling it the latest attack on freedom of the press.

Russia's media watchdog agency has forced the closure of a news organization due to "obscene wording." On Thursday, a court accepted the request by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, or Roskomnadzor, and revoked the license of the Rosbalt news agency. The judges justified the decision by claiming Rosbalt had repeatedly used Russian swear words.

The head of the news agency, Natalia Cherkesova, and her employees are allowed to stay on for one month, in which they can appeal to the country's top court. The closure will affect 60 editors and countless freelancers. Rosbalt, which is headquartered in St. Petersburg and is smaller than news agencies like Ria Novosti and Interfax, had become especially popular online.

Russian President Pig Putin criminalized the spread of swears in early April, when he approved a change to the country's media law. The media watchdog agency sent warning letters to editors explaining that spreading swears represented a "misuse of press freedom."

YouTube Videos Are Blamed

Rosbalt's troubles stem from its coverage of two online video clips -- one showing a scene after a car accident, the other an appearance by imitators of the band Pussy Riot. Both videos included swears that are indecorous, but not unpopular, in Russia. Like countless other media companies, Rosbalt posted the videos on its site. Although the Rosbalt editor had, as is normally the case, covered the swears with a beep noise, the media watchdog referred to the uncensored, original YouTube videos in court.

Press spokespeople were indignant at the closing of the news agency. The case would have "negative effects on the entire media landscape and on freedom of expression in Russia," said Pavel Gusev, the editor-in-chief of the high-circulation Moskowskij Komsomolez tabloid. The attack on Rosbalt will not "improve the image of our country," criticized Nikolai Svanidze, a TV journalist and biographer of ex-President Dmitry Medvedev.

The actions of the Russian censors could also further strain the already tense relationship with Berlin. Rosbalt editor Cherkesova is member of the steering committee of the German-Russian Petersburg Dialogue -- a biannual meeting of politicians, businessmen and representatives from civil society, which aims to foster mutual understanding between the two countries. Traditionally, the working groups address German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin on the last day of the Forum. This means Russia's president may need to listen to uncomfortable questions about Rosbalt when that happens.

And there are several such questions: The Rosbalt editors can't understand why they were shut down when other news organizations were given, at most, a warning in similar cases. Rosbalt engages in independent journalism, but other newspapers and websites attack the Kremlin much more harshly. Compared to the audience of millions reached by the anti-Putin broadcaster Echo of Moscow, Rosbalt's reach is small. It's possible the organization is being weakened in advance of a hostile takeover.

Baffling Shutdown

It's surprising that, of all news organizations, Rosbalt became the victim of the authorities. It is especially well connected to law enforcement and security agencies. After the anti-immigrant riots in the Moscow suburb of Biryulyovo in the middle of October, Rosbalt published exclusive reports with information from the security agencies, claiming the unrests were stoked and targeted.

Rosbalt's strong ties to the security agencies have a familiar explanation: Rosbalt head Cherkesova is married to a former general. Like the Pig, Viktor Cherkesov began his career in the Soviet secret service, the KGB, in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Cherkesov rose to become the Petersburg head of the Federal Security Service, FSB. When Pig Putin moved into the Kremlin in 2000, he first made Cherkesov his representative in the northwest of the country, and then later the head of the powerful Federal Drug Control Service of the Russian Federation, FSKN. Cherkesov fell into disfavor in 2007 when he brought conflicts into the public eye by speaking of a "war between the security agencies."

When thugs stopped his wife's car in early October and beat up the driver, it merely took a few phone calls for those responsible to be apprehended. In Russia's most important northern city, General Cherkesov is still a famous man. But his influence is no longer strong enough to prevent the media watchdog's attack on Rosbalt. As a representative for the Communists in parliament, today Cherkesov counts himself among the opposition.


Arctic 30 moved to Saint Petersburg

Activists and journalists from Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise, charged with hooliganism in Russia, moved from Murmansk

Shaun Walker in Moscow and Sam Jones   
The Guardian, Friday 1 November 2013 18.39 GMT   

The environmental campaigners and journalists detained on board the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise in September, and since charged by Russian authorities with hooliganism, are being moved from the Arctic port of Murmansk to Saint Petersburg.

A lawyer for the so-called Arctic 30, Mikhail Kreindlin, confirmed on Friday evening that they had already left the pre-trial detention centre in Murmansk where they had been held since being taken off the Arctic Sunrise.

The 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists were initially charged with piracy by Russian authorities, but this was later downgraded to "hooliganism as part of an organised group", a lesser charge which still carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail. Investigators have said they may bring further charges of endangering the lives of officials against individual activists, and Greenpeace said on Friday that the piracy charges have still not formally been lifted. All 30 have had bail applications rejected by courts in Murmansk.

A source in the Saint Petersburg prison service told Russian news agencies on Friday evening that the activists were not yet in the city. Kreindlin was uncertain exactly how the transfer was taking place, but said the most likely form of transport would be in a specially equipped prison service train carriage. The train journey from Murmansk to St Petersburg takes about 27 hours. It was not immediately clear why the activists were being moved.

"It could be due to all kinds of things," said Kreindlin. "It's very hard to tell. It could be a procedural move, or it could be an attempt to improve their conditions ahead of the visit to Russia of the Dutch king next week." The Arctic Sunrise sailed under a Dutch flag, and the Dutch government has appealed to the International Sea Law Tribunal, calling on Russia to release the activists. A hearing is due next week.

A silent protest in support of Kieron Bryan, a freelance video journalist who is one of six Britons among the 30, will be held on Saturday afternoon outside the Russian embassy in London. The protesters will hand over a petition calling for Bryan's release signed by 1,400 journalists, including the editors of all major national British papers.

The deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman, who is Bryan's local MP, said she would visit the detained journalist herself if the Russian authorities failed to issue a visa to his brother, Russell.

"I'm not going to stop raising this issue and pressuring the Russian authorities until Kieron is home," Harman told the Guardian. "It's a nightmare and if they won't give a visa for Russell, I shall ultimately ask for a visa myself to go and visit him. I don't think he should be left without seeing anybody except the consular officials from time to time and the lawyers."

Harman wrote to the Russian ambassador in London on 10 October urging Bryan's release and to ask for a meeting. Although he replied 12 days later with a letter in which he said the Russian government understood and sympathised with the concerns of the detainees' families, he stressed the case was subject to due process - and did not respond to her request for a meeting.

Harman added: "Every single day that goes by is another day that Kieron is facing a very uncertain future in detention. I think it's very bad that the Russian ambassador took so long to reply. But worse, he didn't even respond to my request to meet him."

She also warned Moscow that the Commons was united in its condemnation of Russia's treatment of the detainees. While British MPs rarely intervened in the judicial processes of other countries, said Harman, they felt compelled to do so in this case.

"It is quite unusual to have a situation where MPs from all parties and all different parts of the country are saying, 'It's your criminal justice system but we don't think our citizens should be in it'," she said. "This concern is not a flash in the pan; it's not going to abate; it's only going to get stronger every day that Kieron is detained."

The Greenpeace case has caused anger in many western capitals, and was raised with Russia's prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, by his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault, in Moscow on a visit on Friday.

Medvedev said he guaranteed that the case would be judged "in accordance with Russian laws", and that he could not support acts which endangered the environment or human life.

The Arctic Sunrise was stormed by armed Russian coastguard officials in the Pechora Sea as activists attempted to board the Prirazlomnaya oil rig, an offshore platform operated by the Russian energy company Gazprom.

"These installations are like a powder keg," said Medvedev. "Even if they have the most noble intentions, nobody has the right to break the law around these places," he said, insisting that the Greenpeace protest could have had lethal consequences for workers on the oil rig.

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November 1, 2013

A Fiscal Scold, Merkel Softens Tone at Home


BERLIN — A German government that has for years preached austerity as the sole path to prosperity, both at home and abroad, is poised to break open its pocketbook.

As Chancellor Angela Merkel, known for her insistence on fiscal rectitude, negotiates for her third term with her only viable coalition partner, the Social Democrats, she is being pushed to accept a range of leftist policies that would sharply increase government spending.

Among the measures being demanded are a minimum wage — the country’s first — of $11.50 an hour, equal pensions in the east and the west, equal pay for men and women, higher child care payments, a tax increase for the wealthy, and sharply increased funding for infrastructure, education and energy.

There is little change for the moment in Germany’s attitude toward its neighbors. While Greece, Italy, Spain and even France are hacking away at long-cherished parts of their social safety net to meet the demands of Berlin and their international creditors, Ms. Merkel, a conservative, and her unyielding finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, are resisting any sort of redistribution of funds within the euro zone.

Berlin’s attention to its own domestic priorities seems likely to stir resentment that the medicine of austerity prescribed by Berlin abroad is administered with less zeal at home. Analysts say the contrast is angering voters throughout Europe, where populist and anti-European Union parties are steadily gaining strength outside Germany.

From the German perspective, years of frugality and sacrifice have led to a strong economy, a full treasury and predicted budget surpluses to the end of Ms. Merkel’s next four-year term in 2017. What Berlin is demanding of its European partners, German officials are quick to say, is that they do much the same for themselves.

“The Germans say to themselves, ‘We are a family, and the other Europeans are distant relatives,’ ” said Jürgen W. Falter, a professor of political science at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. “In a family, you stand together; distant relatives, you help when you can.”

It is a sentiment widely shared across the German political spectrum. Since Ms. Merkel rose in the ranks of the conservative Christian Democrats in the 1990s, she has already moved her party well to the left. That shift helped cement her election victory in September, when the results showed that Germans voters wanted center-left policies, but run by the nominally conservative chancellor.

Reviving her partnership with the Social Democrats, with whom Ms. Merkel governed in her first term, from 2005 to 2009, implies a further shift to the left in a country where most people expect the state to assist in times of need, and the gap between rich and poor — while widening — is narrower than in the United States or even Britain.

In this move, Ms. Merkel is being pushed by domestic pressures to adopt policies that would actually be welcomed by most economists, the United States Treasury and many leading European officials. They have long argued that Germany needs to balance growth in the euro zone by stimulating domestic demand and reducing its dependence on exports.

For years, Ms. Merkel has rebutted that reasoning, saying each country has to keep its own fiscal house in order. But under pressure from domestic politics, she appears to be easing up.

Ms. Merkel has also pledged to help others in Europe, especially in alleviating youth unemployment and building a European future by investing in research and training. But the Social Democrats want her to go even further, arguing for more aid to the poorer European countries as well as more spending at home.

Much speculation in the current coalition talks, then, has revolved around whether Ms. Merkel’s partners will demand to take over the Finance Ministry, now run by Mr. Schäuble, a passionate European who has come to personify Germany’s austerity policies on the Continent.

It is one place where Ms. Merkel could draw a line, as she and her inner circle seem to feel vindicated by glimmers of growth in weaker European countries, crediting the austerity policies they have advocated. Even if the Social Democrats gained control of the Finance Ministry, it would not necessarily signal a major change in Berlin’s policies toward the rest of Europe, given the broad support in Germany for Ms. Merkel’s handling of the euro crisis, analysts have said.

Whether the Social Democrats can persuade Ms. Merkel in particular and Germans more broadly to free up funds for the rest of Europe — or at least lighten Berlin’s demands for greater budget rigor among its European Union partners — is hardly clear, even as the widening gap between Germany’s strength and that of its partners becomes an increasingly pressing issue for the union’s long-term health.

If there is no attempt to redistribute income at the European level, then “the imbalance in Europe will only increase,” said Nils Diederich, a politics and social sciences professor at the Free University in Berlin.

And that could work against Germany’s interests in the long term, analysts say. Germany has prospered in recent years, as Ms. Merkel and many analysts acknowledge, in part because the euro is undervalued relative to the German economy and its export success, and overvalued relative to the economies of nations to the south, such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Germany, in contrast to its partners in the bloc, boasts that it has never had so many people working and contributing to tax and welfare systems — just over 42 million. In September alone, the government said, it collected 55 billion euros in taxes, about $75 billion. While sovereign debt has soared since the early 2000s, it is, at around 80 percent of gross domestic product, less of a share of national wealth than in the United States, France or Britain.

Yet politicians of all stripes and, not least, voters have come around to the notion that Germany has put off too many of its own needs for too long while the euro crisis has absorbed the chancellor’s attention. To judge by the political theater since the Sept. 22 elections, domestic spending will take precedence, and many economists say that after years of austerity, a loosening of the purse strings here is long overdue.

A recent study said that Germany would have to spend more than €100 billion, or about $135 billion, over the next 15 years just to repair its existing stock of roads, bridges and railways, which in populous areas of western Germany have been neglected for years. With an average of 1.4 children per woman — 2.1 is the replacement rate — Germany needs to find ways to make life easier for working women.

Ms. Merkel, listing her priorities for a third term — when she is expected to be increasingly conscious of her legacy — included a strong and durable European Union. But her other priorities underscored her desire to leave behind a stronger Germany, too. That richer, stronger Germany may act as a locomotive for the rest of Europe, increasing imports and perhaps even migrant flows from France, Italy, Spain or elsewhere. But demands on Germany for greater sharing, despite Berlin’s attachment to austerity policies for the union broadly, are only likely to increase.

From Rome, Roberto d’Alimonte, a political science professor at Luiss Guido Carli University, expressed little doubt that Germany would eventually have to redistribute wealth in Europe, not just at home, if for no other reason than to secure its own standing.

“What place in history can Germany have without Europe?” he asked in a telephone interview. “A community of values has to include also some kind of solidarity. Because without that, it will not survive.”


11/01/2013 01:04 PM

Boy, Girl, Other: Intersex Advocates Call for Surgery Ban

By Irene Habich

A new law in Germany allows parents to leave their child's gender blank on birth certificates. Intersex activists are pleased, but want to go further. Often themselves scarred by invasive operations performed at birth, some want to prohibit sex reassignment surgeries on children.

Expectant parents look forward to that moment when they sit in the doctor's office and look at the ultrasound picture. Will it be a boy or a girl? And yet sometimes the answer is not immediately clear, even after the child is born.

Approximately one out of every 4,500 babies is born intersex, with genital anomalies. The external sex organs may not correspond with the internal sex organs, or with the child's chromosomal sex. A baby with the male Y chromosome may appear as a girl, or a baby with two X chromosomes may appear as a boy. Combinations of testicles and ovaries, or a clitoris and penis are possible.

On Nov. 1, Germany began offering parents the option of declining to choose a gender for their child on birth certificates, allowing intersex babies to grow up and decide for themselves what their gender is.

Lucie Veith, chair of the German Association of Intersex People, calls the change "a step in the right direction." She says she fears the law may have downsides, like if children are "forced out of the closet" in schools and left vulnerable to discrimination. Her organization is also calling for the German government to take the reform even further. They want to ban doctors and parents from surgically assigning children their sex at birth. Veith says such operations are mostly medically unnecessary.

"The right to bodily integrity is violated," she says, referring to one of the fundamental human rights listed in the Basic Law, Germany's constitution. The activist organization says these sex assignment surgeries amount to "mutilating cosmetic operations on the genitals of children" that have to be put to a stop.

'Routine Sexual Invasion'

Many intersex adults experienced painful and traumatic treatments in their childhood, and controversial medical interventions are still common. After a vaginoplasty, or the surgical construction of a vagina, for example, dilators have to be inserted on a regular basis for the rest of the person's life to prevent the vaginal walls from collapsing. "I've heard from many who experienced that as a kind of routine sexual invasion," Veith says.

The decision to live as a man or woman, or to live outside the gender binary, should rest with the individual, Veith says, once they've reached sexual maturity. Her organization calls for a legal ban on any medically unnecessary interventions before the child's 16th birthday.

"Efforts to produce an unambiguous body impose circumstances upon the child that it may not want," says sexual scientist Hertha Richter-Appelt of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. Nevertheless, not all people who received sex assignment surgery as children are unhappy later in life, she adds -- intersex children may later resent their parents' decision, regardless of whether or not they received the operation.

"When the issue is definitively deciding what is truly better for the children, we have to be honest and say that we often don't know," Richter-Appelt says. She recommends holding off on treatments to assign gender until the child hits puberty.

When -- Or If -- To Operate

Susanne Krege is a surgeon at the Maria-Hilf Hospital in the western German city of Krefeld who specializes in intersex children, most often children who are genetically female with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). This class of genetic conditions causes irregular hormone production that begins in utero. Girls with CAH often produce too much male hormones, meaning they can be born with an abnormally large clitoris that may look like a small penis. A common treatment is the surgical reduction of the clitoris, which can reduce sexual sensitivity later in life.

That, however, is uncommon with the most current surgical methods, Krege says. She performs the operation on babies only when the parents strongly insist on it, she says, and usually recommends waiting until the child develops. She offers vaginoplasty when the child is mature enough to perform the dilation herself. And in cases of children with undescended testicles, she also recommends waiting before surgically intervening. Removal of the testicles requires lifelong hormone replacement therapy, which can greatly increase the risk for cancer.

Intersex advocacy groups say operations are still performed much too early. Krege, however, says that "doctors who deal with the issue more intensively don't do that anymore." She recommends coming up with new guidelines.

Lucie Veith says she's not just concerned with when to perform surgery, but also whether it is necessary at all: "You can be happy as an intersex person too," she says.

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« Reply #9713 on: Nov 02, 2013, 06:37 AM »

Two Golden Dawn members killed in drive-by shooting outside Athens office

Third member of far-right Greek party severely injured in what police call 'terrorist attack'

Helena Smith in Athens, Friday 1 November 2013 20.49 GMT   

Crisis-plagued Greece was thrown into further turmoil on Friday after two members of the far-right Golden Dawn party were shot dead in what police called a "terrorist attack" outside one of the organisation's offices in Athens.

Two men, described as a 20 and 23-year-old, died instantly in the drive-by shooting, according to a statement released by the extremist group.

"Two helmeted terrorists on a motorbike stopped in front of Golden Dawn's offices in [the northern Athens suburb of] Neo Iraklio while the office was open and a lot of people were [gathered around] its entrance," said the party.

"The co-rider got off [the bike] and in cold blood executed two young men at a distance of about half a metre. Before leaving the terrorists fired again … they literally emptied their weapons [of bullets] on top of them."

A third Golden Dawn member, identified as a 29-year-old father of one, was fighting for his life in an Athens hospital after being severely injured in the hail of gunfire.

"His situation is very critical," the country's health minister Adonis Georgiadis told Skai TV.

Police said the attack, conducted with an MB5 machine gun, bore all the hallmarks of a well-organised terrorist operation although government officials insisted they were not ruling out any scenario.

Greece's public order minister Nikos Dendias issued a carefully-worded statement shortly after 8.30pm local time, approximately one hour after the attack. "I express my sorrow at the death of two young men," he said. "The law will prevail. The country will not be allowed to become a battle field for the settling of scores."

The attack comes almost two months after a leftwing hip-hop artist, Pavlos Fyssas, was fatally stabbed by a self-confessed member of Golden Dawn in a working class area of Athens. The murder set in motion a crackdown on the neo-Nazi party that has since seen its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, and several of his leading cadres imprisoned on charges of using the virulently anti-immigrant organisation to operate a

a criminal gang that sowed wanton terror on the streets of Greece.

In an explosive political atmosphere already poisoned by the despair wrought by cuts demanded in return for rescue funds to prop up the country's debt-stricken economy, the crackdown has heightened tensions.

"Some are preparing to lead this country to civil war," said Panos Kammenos, leader of the rightwing Independent Greeks party, reacting to the killings. "Clearly there are those who want to destabilise this country politically," he added suggesting that "foreign centres" were among the dark forces working against Greece.

The cold-blooded murders were quick to send a chill through Athens' entire political establishment. Insiders said it had sent tremors through the fragile coalition government with many describing the mood in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' office as being "numb" with shock.

"The murderers, whoever they are, will be treated mercilessly," said Simos Kedigoglou, a government spokesman, emerging from a crisis meeting called by Samaras.

Across the board there were fears of the backlash the murders could unleash.

"It's a very dangerous development that could lead to a vicious cycle of blood being shed in a country that is already being torn apart," said Andreas Papadopoulos, spokesman of the small Democratic Left party, which withdrew from the tripartite government in disgust over its economic policies in the summer.

Analysts worried on Friday that Golden Dawn, which has accused the political establishment of waging a war to destroy it, will use the tragedy to once again boost its ratings in the polls. "My fear is that Golden Dawn will exploit this to make the point that it too is being persecuted, that it's own members are being cold-bloodedly murdered," said the political commentator Dimitris Tsiodras.

Catapulted into parliament for the first time in June 2012, the neo-fascist party remains the country's third biggest political force, although its support has plummeted since the 18 September murder of Fyssas. Last week, the Greek parliament voted to cut off funding for the party as the campaign intensified to marginalise it.

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« Reply #9714 on: Nov 02, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Albania: hundreds fall ill after harvesting cannabis

Hospital in the southern city of Gjirokastër says 700 people sought treatment for effects of handling cannabis since June

The Guardian, Friday 1 November 2013 19.31 GMT   

Doctors in Albania say hundreds of people have fallen ill from harvesting cannabis in a lawless region that for years has been out of bounds to police, local media reported on Friday.

The hospital in the southern city of Gjirokastër said 700 people had sought treatment since June for the effects of planting, harvesting, pressing and packing the cannabis in the village of Lazarat.

"In the last two months about seven to eight people arrive in the emergency ward each day and many more have come earlier with disorders from hashish," Hysni Lluka, a Gjirokastër doctor, told Top Channel television.

Some 2,000 people, including poor Roma who have set up a camp near Lazarat, have been working for months in the cannabis fields, where producers pay €8 per 10 kilos of processed drug.

The illegal practice has flourished in Lazarat over two decades of turbulent transition in Albania since the end of hardline communist rule. Lazarat has become a byword for lawlessness in Albania, with cannabis growers brazen enough to shoot at police officers who venture near their fields. Aerial pictures suggest some 60 hectares have been cultivated in Lazarat, with 300,000 cannabis plants, capable of yielding 500 tonnes or half the total cannabis production in Albania.

Lluka said women and teenagers, who account for some 40% of those working in Lazarat, had sought help for bouts of vomiting, stomach pain, irregular heartbeats and high blood pressure. Last week one patient came in a critical state. Lazarat is a stronghold of the Democratic party, which was in power for eight years before losing a June election to the Socialist party. The Democrats promised to tackle Albania's cannabis problem but police shied away from striking Lazarat.

Artan Didi, the new director of police appointed by the Socialists, has said the police will no longer "back down to Lazarat".

The US State Department's international narcotics control report for 2013 listed Albania as a transit and destination country for cannabis, heroin and cocaine.

Authorities seized more than 21 tonnes of cannabis in 2012, double the amount of the previous year, it said, although that could reflect increased production.

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« Reply #9715 on: Nov 02, 2013, 06:48 AM »

Sex workers need support – but not from the 'hands off my whore' brigade

Prosititutes need better allies than French men focused on their own sexual freedoms – but too often, feminists only make their lives harder

Selma James, Friday 1 November 2013 17.47 GMT          

The 343 French intellectual men who signed a statement – "Hands off my whore" – defending their right to buy sexual services has infuriated women and caused wide controversy. Not only does it tell us what they think of sex workers, but of women generally and particularly what they think they can get away with saying publicly at this moment in time.

I have just signed a feminist statement opposing France's attempt to criminalise clients. The proposed law would impose a €1,500 fine on those paying for sex, double for a second offence. My motive for opposing it is entirely different from that of these men – not men's sexual freedom but women's ability to make a living without being criminalised and deprived of safety and protection. Driven further underground, women would be at the mercy of both those clients who are violent and those police who are sexist, racist and corrupt and like nothing better than to persecute and take advantage of "bad girls". For this is the inevitable consequence of such laws. Sex workers are the first to suffer from any proposals that make it more difficult, and therefore more dangerous, to contact clients.

The fact is that sex workers have not been able to count on prominent feminists to support their long struggle for decriminalisation. Instead, establishment feminists have spearheaded attempts by governments to make it harder for women to work. Their stated aim is to abolish prostitution, not to abolish women's poverty. That is an old story and it is painful that it is now enhanced with feminist rhetoric: disguising its anti-woman content by proposing the criminalisation of men.

The need to work in prostitution is exploding with the austerity that has hit women hardest. When the welfare reform bill and the policing and crime bill were before parliament in 2009, we asked feminist MPs to oppose them, on the grounds that many single mothers on benefits made to "progress towards work", would progress towards the street corner, the only available option. We had no takers.

One result of the absence of voices of influential and powerful feminists defending women's right to work and in safety, is that the field is left open to men. The men, in the usual self-referential terms, defend their own rights as clients, not women's rights as workers. Nevertheless it's about time men admitted to being clients (intellectuals as that). But next time they should first check with the workers they are claiming to support, what they are proposing to say.

I was in France in 1975 just after the famous prostitutes' strike that launched the modern sex workers' movement in the west: women had occupied churches first in Lyon and then all over France to protest police arresting and fining them while doing nothing to stop murders and rapes. They formed the French Prostitute Collective and proclaimed: "Our children don't want their mothers in jail." Their actions inspired sex workers here to form the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP). I was the first spokeswoman – none of the women could be public then, so they asked this respectably married housewife and women's activist, to speak for them. I was happy to learn and take direction from censored sisters.

Their first statement was For prostitutes, against prostitution, as so many in the women's liberation movement were hostile to sex workers and seemed to confuse the work with the worker – much as the housewife was confused with housework. We kept repeating (on both scores): we are not our work!

Nearly 40 years later, sex workers still face persecution and prosecution across the world. The French attempt to criminalise clients follows the Swedish model, which also inspired the UK's Policing and Crime Act (2009). Opposition spearheaded by the ECP succeeded in limiting the criminalisation of clients to those deemed to "have sex with a prostitute forced or coerced". But raids and arrests of sex workers have escalated, and so has violence against the women.

A 24-year-old was murdered on Monday night in Ilford. Her tragic death comes in the wake of Operation Clearlight, a major police crackdown on street prostitution. Over 200 women have received "prostitute cautions" (where, unlike standard police cautions, there is no requirement to admit guilt and no right to appeal) in the last year and many have been arrested for loitering and soliciting and/or for breaching anti-social behaviour orders.

The murdered woman was Romanian. An increase in racism against Romanian people in particular, fuelled by the government's anti-migrant witch-hunt, may also have contributed to her targeting. Another Romanian commented: "When the police raided the premises where I work, they were rude and bullying, calling me names and accusing me of being a beggar and a criminal. They tried to get me deported even though I have the right to be in the UK. They claim they are saving victims of trafficking but it is immigrant women like me who are targeted. How can we report threats and violence if we are scared that we will be arrested or deported?"

French sex workers must have the last word. Morgane Merteuil, general secretary of Strass (Syndicat du Travail Sexuel), which campaigns for decriminalisation, told the men claiming to defend them: "We are nobody's whores, especially not yours … If we fight for our rights it is largely to have more power against you, so we can dictate our terms … "

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« Reply #9716 on: Nov 02, 2013, 06:51 AM »

The Oslo hotel where you can sleep with your favourite rock star

The musicians may just be projections but when a European supergroup – including members of A-ha and Coldplay – was given carte blanche to decorate they got straight to the point

Helen Russell, Friday 1 November 2013 16.18 GMT      

The ultimate fantasy of many a 1980s teenager is being made a reality in Oslo, where a hotel is offering guests the chance to sleep with A-ha. Well … one of the band members anyway. Other available bed-partners include the bassist from Coldplay, the singer from the Danish band Mew, or a Grammy award-winning music-producer (for the more discerning guest).

The Nordic hotel that replaced pay-TV porn with contemporary art has produced another first: an interactive suite that encourages guests to project a life-size image of their favourite musician onto the bed beside them as they sleep (or not, as the case may be).

The idea came from A-ha's Magne Furuholmen, Coldplay's Guy Berryman, Mew singer Jonas Bjerre and producer Martin Terefe, who together make up the pan-European supergroup Apparatjik. The band formed in 2008 to create the music for the BBC Two series Amazon with Bruce Parry and has been recording and performing together ever since.

Rock stars are generally better known for wrecking hotel rooms than designing them but Furuholmen says that the idea of creating a suite held a particular appeal. "One common denominator of all four members of Apparatjik is that we've spent a disproportionately large part of our lives in hotel rooms and we were sick of every room looking identical." Petter Stordalen, boss of the Nordic Choice chain, felt the same and invited Apparatjik to do something about it at his flagship hotel, The Thief. "Art has always been really important to me," says Stordalen, "so this seemed like a good idea. I gave the band carte blanche to do what they wanted – and they did."

"We started by going around tacky gift shops trying to find things to make the room as kitsch as we could and create a sort of 'disco combat' feel," explains Furuholmen. "We found pixelated carpets, retro fabrics, lots of vinyl, and something every hotel room needs: a disco ball for the bathroom." Furuholmen and his band mates took these treasures and created Apparatjik World, an eclectic mix of art, video, music and installations – including projections of band members dressed as semi-nude muscle men with bulging silver posing pouches ("we like a costume: it gives us freedom," says Furuholmen). The result? "Quirky … with a touch of insanity," is how Stordalen describes his new suite.

The guests seem to like it, too. "We've had a great response from regulars, as well as some big names who've stayed," says Stordalen. The hotel is a favourite among A-listers and although its owner won't name names, gossip sites report that Justin Bieber and Jay Z have been recent guests.

There's just one problem. "We've got this internal competition going on about which band member's projection is the most popular," says Furuholmen, "in bed." So whose buttons are getting pressed? Stordalen, the man with the answers, won't divulge numbers. "I don't want anyone to get upset," he says. "So the results are strictly confidential."

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« Reply #9717 on: Nov 02, 2013, 06:53 AM »

Kosovo elections hold a key to Serbia’s bid to join E.U.

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 1, 2013 18:45 EDT

Key local elections in Kosovo on Sunday will be closely watched for the turnout of its minority Serb population and is seen as a vital step in Serbia’s bid to join the European Union.

Kosovo, the territory which sparked a war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian rebels in 1998-1999, remains the main stumbling block to Serbia’s bid to join the bloc.

There are some 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo. The 40,000 living in the north, which has maintained a certain control of institutions, are torn over whether to vote in the elections, backed for the first time by Belgrade.

“By taking part in the elections organised by Pristina, Serbs from the north will recognise the existence of” Kosovo as an independent country, Belgrade-based political analyst Dusan Janjic told AFP.

“This is their main dilemma since so far they have lived under Serbian institutions and do not know what life under Pristina authorities will look like,” he said.

Serbia still officially rejects Kosovo’s independence but has encouraged the minority Serb community to vote in Sunday’s elections as part of a EU-brokered deal with Pristina to normalise their relations.

That deal in April had helped Serbia secure the green light to begin membership talks with Brussels, and holding up its end of the accord is vital if Belgrade is to push on with its bid to join the bloc.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton labelled the elections “a key moment in Kosovo’s future and an important element in the process of normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia”.

“The EU will be following closely the conduct of the elections,” she said in a statement.

Some 1.7 million across the territory are eligible to vote in the polls for deputies and mayors of 36 Kosovo municipalities.

Anxious to get the Serb community to the polls, officials from Belgrade have descended in northern Kosovo, particularly in the key town of Kosovska Mitrovica, to champion their case.

Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic visited Kosovo Friday and made a final appeal to ethnic Serbs.

“Vote for your own good. The elections are important for your future in Kosovo,” Vucic told a rally in the Serb-populated enclave of Gracanica, near Pristina.

But hardline nationalist ethnic Serbs have actively campaigned against the vote, plastering the streets of Mitrovica with posters, and blasting nationalist songs and calls for the population to boycott the polls.

Lamberto Zannier, Secretary General of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe — which is helping to run the polls in northern Kosovo — raised concerns about the nationalists’ campaign.

“I personally continue to be concerned about uncertain security conditions on the ground and the ongoing boycott campaign in the north, which includes intimidation of candidates, voters and persons engaged in the election process,” Zannier told the representatives of the OSCE member states in Vienna.

But besides dealing with pressure from nationalists, the Serb community is also being pulled the other way by Belgrade.

Several employees of Serbia-controlled institutions — schools, hospitals and administrative offices — have said on condition of anonymity that Belgrade is using veiled threats to get them to the polls.

“I have to vote,” said Petar, a man close to retirement. “My boss and several colleagues informed me that it was a Belgrade order and that it would be monitored who cast ballots,” he told AFP. “I’m too scared that I could lose my job if I did otherwise.”

Miroslav, a man in his thirties, also said he had received orders from his employer to vote. “People are threatened with being fired if they do not vote,” he said.

For Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, the elections will be a test of his decision to negotiate an agreement and improve relations with Belgrade.

The deal brokered by Brussels has been strongly criticised by the nationalist opposition in Pristina which rejects any dialogue with Serbia until it recognises Kosovo’s independence.

Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) is expected to win most of the ethnic Albanians’ votes on Sunday.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9718 on: Nov 02, 2013, 07:01 AM »

Pakistan on high alert after Taliban leader killed by US drone strike

Government says death of Hakimullah Mehsud has destroyed attempts to hold peace talks with Islamist militants

Conal Urquhart and Jon Boone in Lahore, Saturday 2 November 2013 10.35 GMT

Pakistan's security forces have been put on high alert after a CIA drone attack killed the leader of the country's Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, in the country's lawless tribal areas.

A Pakistani government minister said the strike by an unmanned aircraft on Friday had destroyed attempts to hold peace talks with the militants which began this week.

Mehsud and five other Taliban militants were killed and two others wounded in the attack after he left a meeting at a mosque in the Dande Darpa Khel area of North Waziristan. The Pakistani Taliban have named Khan Sayed Sajna as their new leader after a secret meeting of their ruling council. He is described as lacking in formal education but with great military experience.

Although Mehsud's death has been wrongly reported in the past, informants in the tribal area said they were confident one of the country's most agressive militant leaders was dead.

"He was targeted as he was returning to his home from a nearby mosque where he had been holding discussions with his comrades," said a military officer based in a city close to the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a region which is home to many Islamist terrorist groups. "He was right at his front door and at least three missiles were fired."

A senior US intelligence official told the Associated Press the US received positive confirmation on Friday morning that he had been killed.

on Friday Pakistan's foreign ministry condemned the drone attack as a "violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

A Pakistani Taliban fighter said on Saturday Mehsud's body was "damaged but recognisable", Reuters reported. Taliban commanders said Mehsud's funeral would be held on Saturday.

Militant and official sources said Mehsud's driver and bodyguard were among the dead.

Of the 60 council members attending the meeting, 43 voted in favour of Sayed succeeding Mehsud, according to the Karachi-based

According to the website, Sayed, 36, was involved in the attack on a naval base in Karachi in May 2011 and masterminded a 2012 jailbreak in which the Taliban freed 400 inmates in the north-western city of Bannu.

"Sayed has no basic education, conventional or religious, but he is battle-hardened and has experience of fighting in Afghanistan," an official told

Although Mehsud's four-year tenure as head of Pakistan's most feared militant group has been marked by horrific attacks that have killed scores of soldiers, government officials and civilians, his death looked likely to provoke fury among some politicians who believe the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) should be brought in to peace talks.

All political parties unanimously supported government attempts to negotiate with the TTP at a meeting in September. Just this week the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, announced that talks between the two sides had finally begun.

A government official claimed Mehsud had been discussing the matter with fellow fighters just before he was killed, while the Taliban said a government peace delegation was in Miranshah, the regional capital of North Waziristan, at the time of the attack.

The country's right-wing religious parties are likely to interpret the drone strike as a deliberate attempt by the US to scupper peace talks with an organisation that swears allegiance to Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, who fight against Nato troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Sharif, who held meetings with the US president, Barack Obama, in Washington DC last week, has repeatedly called for an end to drone strikes, despite persistent suspicions that Pakistan continues to give secret backing to the attacks.

But the US was never likely to turn up an opportunity to kill Mehsud, the mastermind of a devastating suicide bomb attack on a CIA station in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan in 2009 in which seven CIA officers died.

The ingenious plot involved a Jordanian triple agent who the CIA believed was working for them but was in fact taking orders from Mehsud.

The suicide bomber was ushered into the military base to brief CIA officers on al-Qaida, and detonated his explosive vest once he was inside.

In a video filmed before the attack and released afterwards, Mehsud appeared alongside the Jordanian, who said the attack was in retribution for the death of his fellow tribesman and predecessor as Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in August 2009.

Saifullah Mahsud, the director of the Pakistani thinktank FATA Research Centre, said the movement was unlikely to be overly affected by the killing of its leader.

"It's a very decentralised organisation," he said. "They've lost leaders to drone strikes before."

Mehsud's death comes just weeks after the TTP chief took the risky and unusual step of granting an interview to a BBC cameraman who had travelled to Pakistan's lawless north-west.

The interview was conducted in the open air despite the non-stop presence of drones in the sky.

In May, a drone strike killed Mehsud's second-in-command, and one of his most trusted lieutenants was captured in Afghanistan last month.

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« Reply #9719 on: Nov 02, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Obama administration open to Iraq PM Maliki's request for surveillance help

Iraqi leader to meet president at White House on Friday, although requests for US military aid will not be met

Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Friday 1 November 2013 15.24 GMT   
Almost every day brings an addition to the list of nations angered about the pervasive surveillance capabilities of the United States. Except for one, which wants as much US spy expertise as President Obama will provide: Iraq.

The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will meet Obama at the White House on Friday afternoon. Maliki is on his first trip to the US in two years, amidst an onslaught of violence in his country not seen since the worst days of the US occupation.

US officials say Maliki is unlikely to leave Washington having secured the US military hardware he has sought, such as Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets and air-defense systems. But Maliki has been vocal in expressing his desire for US intelligence aid as well, a request to which US officials have signaled their receptivity.

“We are talking with the Americans and we are telling them we need to benefit from their experience, from intelligence information and from training from those who are targeting al-Qaida in a developed, technical, scientific way,” Maliki said at the US Institute of Peace on Thursday.

Obama administration officials say they stand ready to help Iraq, and are more receptive to the intelligence-sharing request than they are to requests to provide Maliki with US forces, to train his military.

“We do want to help the Iraqis develop the capability to target these [terrorist] networks effectively and precisely,” a senior administration official told reporters. “Some of the requests are in that line.”

The official would not specify intelligence systems or methods sought by Maliki to target a rising tide of terrorist attacks by Sunni extremists, which have prompted and fueled the revival of Shia militias, some backed by Iran. There is much speculation that Washington will approve new drone strikes or drone surveillance over Iraqi airspace to assist Maliki; the US has a launchpad for drones north-west of Iraq, at Turkey’s Incirlik air base.

Maliki’s visit to Washington comes amidst great skepticism about the sectarian, Shia character of his administration and his closeness to Iran. A bipartisan Senate letter to Obama this week, signed by influential senators on the foreign relations and armed services committee, complained of Maliki’s “failure of governance”. The letter, however, explicitly endorsed “greater intelligence sharing” with Iraqi security forces.

Intelligence sharing still carries a risk: Maliki’s closest ally is the US's regional adversary, Iran. The New Yorker reported recently that Iraq’s rejection of a residual US military force in 2011, an act that resulted in all but a handful of US troops withdrawing that December, came at the instigation of the Iranian spy chief Qassem Suleimani.

A senior administration official indicated that the US was at least open to the Iraqi spy request.

“When our troops were there, when our troops left, we’ve had a relationship in terms of intelligence cooperation, intelligence sharing, as we do with partners all over the world,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Combatting a rising tide of suicide bombings and insurgent targeting of civilian areas – there were 979 violent deaths in October alone, according to a UN report – means “making sure they have information in terms of where people are located, where it’s coming from, where the funding is coming from, and that’s something we can do pretty effectively,” the official said, adding that the targeting help would be “a key topic of discussion over the course of the visit.”

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