The man who 'nearly broke the internet'
Sven Olaf Kamphuis is accused of global cybercrime, but Spanish police found him in a squalid flat with his name on the letterbox
Giles Tremlett in Granollers
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 May 2013 12.14 BST
The day Sven Olaf Kamphuis parked his huge orange Mercedes van with its German numberplates outside Bar Javis, in the Catalan town of Granollers, the owner's son snapped a picture with his mobile phone.
"Not a lot happens in this street," Maria Cruz, the bar's owner, explained. "And it was so huge, with all those funny antennas and solar panels poking out of the roof, that it blocked the light to the bar."
Even stranger was the 35-year-old Dutch man who parked it in this narrow street after renting a small attic flat with windows made of glass blocks in the poorer end of this nondescript town 15 miles from Barcelona.
Even on hot early summer days, Kamphuis wore a woollen hat. And he spoke no Spanish, answering "yes, yes" in English to everything people from this friendly neighbourhood said to him.
Sven Olaf Kamphuis Sven's van
Kamphuis, 35, is one of the most controversial characters in the murky world of spam and hacking – deemed the internet's public enemy number one by some, though others believe his reputation has been blown out of proportion by the grandstanding of his foes.
Capable of rigging up sophisticated computer systems anywhere, including the back of a van, he allegedly masterminded a flurry of March internet attacks that the security company CloudFlare claimed "almost broke the internet", plunging the world into digital darkness. When Spanish and Dutch police arrested him they found the flat occupied by a tangle of cables and computer gear. A copy of the science fiction writer Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver lay on the unmade bed.
Kamphuis displayed a Napoleonic sense of grandeur. "He claimed he had diplomatic status," said the Spanish police officer who led the operation, but asked not to be named. "He said he was the telecommunications minister and foreign minister of a place called the Cyberbunker Republic. He didn't seem to be joking."
"The request to arrest him came from the Netherlands," said the police officer, who heads the cybercrime unit in Barcelona. "But Britain, the United States and Germany were all affected by the massive denial of service attacks that he launched.
"The van was fitted out as a mobile office from which he could launch his attacks. Amongst other things we found the IP addresses of his targets and that is part of the evidence we are sending to the Netherlands."
Kamphuis has yet to be tried, but Spanish police believe they know his modus operandi. "He brought together hackers from around the world to launch the attacks. It is obviously not all over yet, because the Dutch have been under attack again in recent days – presumably as revenge by his friends.
"Some of them have networks of zombie computers, having spread viruses that let them control others people's computers. They all agree to launch the attack and they do millions of requests to the server at the same time."
The result was what the New York Times called an attack of previously "unknown magnitudes", producing a 300bn-bits-per-second data stream that targeted the British and Swiss-based anti-spam operator Spamhaus and its allies. This had reportedly blacklisted his CB3ROB/Cyberbunker company, which claims its servers are housed in an old Nato nuclear bunker near Rotterdam, for hosting hundreds of spam and malware websites. Kamphuis happily claimed to be punishing Spamhaus for "abusing their influence".
"Nobody ever deputised Spamhaus to determine what goes and does not go on the internet," he told the New York Times in an angry message. He later denied involvement. "We want to be absolutely clear that the DDoS [distributed denial of service] attacks are not and have not ever been orchestrated within CB3ROB/CyberBunker, nor are they conducted under the supervision of Sven," he wrote on his Facebook page.
But the huge number of spammers he hosts has led even hacktivists sympathetic to his pro-Pirate party, Anonymous and Julian Assange's stance to question his real activities.
Several other mysteries remain. If this was one of the most successful spammers in history, why was he living in a squalid flat and a camper van?
"If you get paid a few cents for each spammed email and you send out million emails every day, then you can make a lot of money," said the Spanish police chief.
Kamphuis certainly did not behave like a criminal on the run. "He seemed too relaxed to be a crook," said Cruz. "And he certainly didn't hide away. He had even written his name on the letterbox."
"He wasn't really trying to hide," agrees the Spanish police chief. "I think he thought that we wouldn't track the attacks to him or that we would leave him alone because he was not attacking Spanish targets."
His attacks were widely reported to have slowed the entire internet down, but internet speed trackers such as Internet Traffic Report barely registered a blip.
Some point to publicity-seeking grandstanding by CloudFlare, an internet security company called in to protect Spamhaus. It claimed this was "the DDoS [attack] that almost broke the internet".
"The record-breaking attacks were initially directed at Spamhaus infrastructure such as websites, mailservers and nameservers. Then, over the course of the following two weeks, the attacks escalated to targeting Spamhaus's supporting networks and services including various internet exchanges," Spamhaus's British founder Clive Linford said on his blog, describing the attacks that started in the middle of March. "While the DDoS caused disruptions to our organisation and its hosts and partners, the flow of the Spamhaus anti-spam data that protects over 1.7bn mailboxes worldwide was never interrupted."
Kamphuis was last week taken to the Netherlands – a country that recently announced plans to let police hack into computers located abroad, installing spyware, reading emails and deleting files. He is being held in jail while investigators decide what charges to bring.
A spokesman for the Dutch public prosecutor's office said he would appear before a court in Rotterdam again this week to have bail conditions reviewed after the "unprecedented heavy attacks" on Spamhaus and its partners in the US, Netherlands and Great Britain.
May 19, 2013
Slow Response by Georgians to Mob Attack on Gay Rally
By ANDREW ROTH and OLESYA VARTANYAN
MOSCOW — Georgian television captured clear images as a mob of more than 20,000 attacked a small gay rights march in downtown Tbilisi on Friday, sending at least 14 people to the hospital.
Some of the priests leading the rock-throwing throngs who stormed past police cordons could be seen participating in the melee; one repeatedly slammed a stool into the windshield of one of several minibuses trying to carry the marchers to safety, while another punched marchers and tried to drag a driver out of a bus. Some gave their names in interviews.
But as of Sunday, the Georgian police have made no arrests, and there are few signs that the investigation is moving forward.
Instead, a bishop who helped to organize the mass turnout — ostensibly a counterprotest — said from the pulpit that while the violence was “regrettable” and those who committed it should be punished, the Georgian Orthodox Church was obligated to protest the gay rights rally and would “not allow anyone to humiliate us.”
“When there are so many people, it is difficult to speak only about Christianity and morals,” said the bishop, Iakob Iakobashvili, in his Sunday sermon in Tbilisi. “Many were not able to overcome their nature and saw enemies in the others, said bad words and punched them. I was told clergymen were among them. I am not able to either condemn or justify them. They are also humans.”
Georgia’s prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has benefited from the support of the church, which exercises enormous power in the country, though usually behind the scenes. His decision on whether to pursue prosecutions will serve as a test of that relationship.
On Friday evening, with crowds of men still roaming downtown Tbilisi in search of gays, Mr. Ivanishvili promised a quick response to the violence. Yet on Sunday, at a parade for a local police force, he made no mention of either arrests or an investigation. Instead, his comments celebrated the role of the police in preventing worse injuries to the marchers. Several officers were among those hospitalized, including one with a broken leg; and a number of marchers and a journalist suffered head or chest injuries from being hit with rocks, according to Georgian news reports.
“When the question arose about saving the minority,” Mr. Ivanishvili said, “police bravely acted in their defense, and were able to lead them away from the raving masses.”
Zviad Koridze, a veteran local journalist at the Tbilisi-based Council of Ethics for Journalists, called the slow pace a reminder of the church’s influence.
“The government is acting very carefully, one could say ineffectively,” said Mr. Koridze in a telephone interview. “Everyone is simply waiting. Because in three days they should have made arrests and given some sort of answer to the events in Tbilisi.”
While the Georgian Orthodox Church usually wields its power discreetly, it has occasionally, and effectively, taken overt political or social action. In 2010, Orthodox activists began picketing a television station over “Night with Shorena,” a television show run by a former Georgian Playboy cover model who advocated sex before marriage. The show was closed down after several months. In 2011, the church protested a law granting minority religions legal standing. In 2012, the church joined protests over the torture of prison inmates. Ilia II, the Georgian Orthodox patriarch, has warned Georgians that placing their children in foreign schools would harm them morally.
Ilia II is widely acknowledged to be the most popular figure in the country. He offered no sermon on Sunday, but on Friday, after the violence, he urged protesters to leave the streets and for both sides “to pray for one another.”
“We do not accept violence,” he said, according to Interfax. “But it’s also unacceptable to give propaganda” to homosexuality.
A day earlier, he had urged the Georgian government to ban the gay rights march, writing that the majority of Georgians saw gay activism as “an insult.”
Outside of the Tbilisi church where Bishop Iakobashvili spoke Sunday, Elza Kurtanidze, 34, a former schoolteacher, said that she had spent the last days “hotly” debating if those who attacked the marchers should be punished.
“We have already gone too far by having gays and lesbians openly promoting their way of life,” she said. “This is unacceptable! By allowing things like this, we let Georgia turn from the road of its traditional destiny.”
“Arrests will be too much; it will help to further excite the situation in Georgia,” she added.
Also outside the church was Leila Dzneladze, 16, who said that while she opposed the violence, she believed that the “truth was on the side of the church.”
“No one should be punished for this,” she said. “This is for God to judge them, not us.”
Andrew Roth reported from Moscow, and Olesya Vartanyan from Tbilisi, Georgia.
Imran Khan blames MQM leader Hussain for killing of activist
Leader of Tehreek-e-Insaf party says Altaf Hussain's Muttahida Qaumi Movement behind death of Zahra Shahid Hussain
Jon Boone in Islamabad
The Guardian, Monday 20 May 2013
Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, on Sunday blamed the killing of a political activist on the eve of a partial rerun of voting in Karachi on Altaf Hussain, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader, who runs his party from exile in London.
Zahra Shahid Hussain, the vice-president of Khan's PTI party in the southern province of Sindh, was gunned down outside her home in the upmarket Defence area of Karachi on Saturday.
Police said she died from a shot to the head in an attack that might have been either an attempted mugging that turned deadly or a deliberate political killing. The attack came after a week of protests by PTI activists, who accused the MQM of attempting to intimidate PTI voters into not voting.
Since the 1980s the MQM has maintained a firm grip over Karachi, enjoying solid support from the city's community of mojahirs, the Urdu-speaking descendants of Muslims who moved to Pakistan from India in 1947.
The party has long been accused of having an illegal armed wing intimately involved in Karachi's criminal economy of drugs, extortion and land theft.
On Twitter on Sunday night, Khan, who is being treated for back injuries in hospital, said he held Altaf Hussain directly responsible for the murder of the 65-year-old as he had "openly threatened PTI workers and leaders through public broadcasts". He also criticised the UK for not taking action against Altaf Hussain: "I hold the British government responsible as I had warned them to act against Altaf Hussain after his open threats to kill PTI workers." Khan's attack on the MQM leader, a man few dare to publicly criticise, has capped a dire week for the party, which some commentators believe has been shocked by a weakening of its position in Karachi.
Although it has managed to cling to the 18 seats it had in the last parliament, it has seen its share of the vote fall by almost 10 percentage points and the PTI emerge as major challenger.
Last week Altaf Hussain responded furiously to PTI accusations of vote-rigging with a speech broadcast from London in which he appeared to threaten PTI demonstrators in the sprawling port city with violent retribution.
The Metropolitan police are examining whether he can be prosecuted for inciting violence.
"They have gone into shock over these results," said one Karachi-based security consultant. "People have voted against them because of their utter failure to do anything in the last five years. In retrospect, the PTI could have done even better if they had put more effort into Karachi."
Diplomats say Altaf Hussain's tirades and increasingly erratic behaviour are a growing source of embarrassment to party officials who manage MQM affairs in Pakistan. "They would be much happier if they could speak to him and vet what he says," one diplomat said.
Farooq Sattar, the most senior MQM leader in Pakistan, appeared to accept that Altaf Hussain had gone too far with his speech from London, saying the MQM leader had retracted his remarks and offered an apology.
In the early hours of Sunday he lambasted members of the MQM's central committee for failing to defend the party against media criticism and Khan's explosive accusations.
The MQM, with its solid block of seats in parliament, is used to remaining in power, regardless of which party heads the government.
For the past five years, the MQM has enjoyed enormous influence by being a key coalition partner of the government led by the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP), which was trounced in the election on 11 May.
But Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, has won enough seats in the election to ignore the MQM.
The prospect of the MQM having much-reduced political influence in Islamabad has raised fears it could once again resort to the sort of violence and intimidation that party officials have claimed they have been trying to put behind them.
Sattar, the senior MQM leader, accused Khan of further inflaming a city already vulnerable to violent confrontations between the ethnic groups that live there. "The killing of Zahra Shahid Hussain was a conspiracy by someone who wants to take advantage, to bring Karachi to another test in terms of sectarian and political polarisation," he said.
Khan should wait for the results of a police investigation, he said, adding that the MQM would launch a defamation action against the former cricket star.
Election authorities ordered fresh voting at 43 polling centres in a largely upmarket area of Karachi where there were reports of serious irregularities, including ballot-stuffing and attempts to intimidate voters in the national elections.
The MQM and other parties boycotted the new poll after demanding the election be rerun in the entire constituency.
One PTI voter, called Ashar, who ventured to a polling station at a school in the Defence neighbourhood which was the scene of protests last week, described the killing of Zahra Shahid as "despicable". "It is purely political, because of the power struggle happening right now," he said.
Pakistan turns off air-conditioners and tells civil servants to ditch socks
New dress code issued to government employees as country endures blackouts of up 20 hours a day amid 40C temperatures
Reuters in Islamabad
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 May 2013 12.39 BST
Pakistan has told its civil servants not to wear socks as the country turns off air-conditioners amid soaring temperatures to deal with chronic power cuts.
The government has turned off all air-conditioning in its offices as the country endures blackouts of up to 20 hours a day in some places.
"There shall be no more use of air-conditioners in public offices till such time that substantial improvement in the energy situation takes place," a cabinet directive said. As part of a new dress code, moccasins or sandals must be worn without socks.
The power shortages have sparked violent protests and crippled key industries, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs in a country already beset by high unemployment, a failing economy, widespread poverty and a Taliban insurgency.
The "load-shedding" means many families cannot pump water, let alone run air-conditioners, with disastrous knock-on effects on health and domestic life.
Frustration over the power cuts contributed to the former ruling party's poor showing in the 11 May general election.
Two ministers in charge of water and power explained what could be done to end power cuts in parts of the country enduring temperatures of 40C and above – absolutely nothing, it seems, except raise prices. Ministers Musadiq Malik and Sohail Wajahat Siddiqui "expressed their inability to overcome the crisis", the Daily Times quoted them as telling a news conference in Lahore on Monday.
"They have termed financial constraints as a major, and incompetence as a minor, hurdle in resolving the issue," the newspaper said. "Presenting the realistic picture, the ministers announced that they were going to increase the price of electricity and gas for all sectors."
They gave no details but said the problem would get worse before it got better. About two-thirds of Pakistan's energy is generated by oil and gas, and there are widespread gas shortages, with cars run on compressed natural gas queuing up for hours overnight to fill their tanks.
Iranian elections: 'Opposition? There is no such word here'
Indifference, contempt, cynicism, disillusionment and fear seem to be the dominant emotions among young Iranians they prepare to got to the polls to vote for a new president – or not
Tehran bureau correspondents
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 May 2013 12.30 BST
"I will vote," says Arash, a university student who has just turned 18. "I don't know any of the real candidates yet but I will vote, because I can.
"We have to try to make changes," he explains amid a birthday party in the middle-class Tehran neighborhood of Gisha. "By not doing anything, nothing will happen."
He says those who fail to act are "living their lives like a herd of sheep by putting their fate in the hands of others.
"For me, though, this is a chance to practise my democratic rights."
For many Iranians who have become eligible to vote since the last presidential election in 2009, , the awakening of political consciousness came with the emergence of the opposition Green Movement and its violent suppression over the months that followed.
"I don't know who is actually running since no one knows who'll be on the final list vetted by the Guardian Council," Arash adds. In 2009, 475 Iranians registered to run for president. Only four were approved as candidates after vetting by the council of religious and legal experts. This year, there are 686 would-be chief executives.
Arash say he is interested to find out who among them will be the "real" candidates; some of his friends at the party feel differently. Omid, who will turn 18 just before the ballot, on 14 June, is very pessimistic about the whole process.
"I won't vote in these elections," he says. "I don't know any of the people who are running, and from what I have seen over the last four years, and all of the hardships that my parents have experienced since the last election, I don't think that my vote even counts."
Amir, 23, says, "I have one vote, and I will use it." He is sporting a bohemian look, with a long, curly ponytail and large spectacles. "I guess each person has a duty toward the society, wherever one lives. We live together in this city, in this province, in this country, and we have to get involved. I will vote not only in the presidential election but in the municipal and regional elections as well."
In an apparent move to boost participation in the presidential poll, the regional elections will be held for the first time on the same day.
Who will get his vote?
He says that, except for the former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, any of the reformists who may be running are unknown to him
Though he has not generally been considered a reformist, Rafsanjani did publicly call for the government to address protesters' grievances in 2009. On11 May, the final day of registration for potential presidential candidates, he submitted his name. Khatami – who did not register – had announced his support for Rafsanjani the day before, declaring, "I think he is the person who can best help the system and solve the people's problems."
Amir continues: "The only other person who has a good chance is [the Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher] Ghalibaf.
"However, unless we have the full list in front of us, it's hard to make a choice. Nevertheless, I will not vote for a violent person or a person representing a radical and violent ideology."
A recent audio recording of Ghalibaf has since surfaced linking him directly to the violent suppression of protests in 1999 and thereafter. Reportedly speaking to a group of young Basiji paramilitary government loyalists about three weeks ago, Ghalibaf even boasts about beating them himself with a stick from the back seat of a motorbike.
Overhearing Amir's comments, Parisa, 24, and her boyfriend, Muhammad, 25, erupt into an argument. In June 2009, Parisa had just started working as a camerawoman and journalist at a reformist newspaper.
During the demonstrations that followed the announcement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election, she was severely beaten by the security forces; Muhammad works in the garment industry.
"I have one vote," he says, echoing Amir. "I will exercise it because it's important to me … What do you suggest?"
"I suggest we boycott the elections," Parisa replies. "They will do what they want, no matter what we say. Even if we do participate, they will pull out a majority vote for who they want from the ballot boxes, and get on with their plans."
He responds: "If we participate and vote for our own candidate, even if it is a choice between bad and worse, at least we show that we do exist. It shows that there is an opposition."
Parisa points to a scar on the back of her neck, left by the beating she suffered four years ago. "Opposition? There is no such word in the vocabulary of the Islamic Republic."
"You say that we are not important for these people," says Muhammad. "It really depends on how you look at this issue. Ignoring our social and political rights is one thing. But we were, and are, important enough for them to spend millions of dollars on antiriot gear, phone-tapping and tracing technology, CCTV and crowd-monitoring tools, satellite signal jamming and hundreds of other suppression devices to take us down. They are afraid of us. They are afraid of the youth born in the late 80s and 90s. So we are important, and we have to participate in the elections."
Parisa answers: "For them, we are only important to make the election look sensational and successful. Just before the 2009 election we were practically dancing in the streets. But what happened right after that? I lost my job, our home phone was tapped for several years, and my family and I were regularly insulted. Until just a few months ago, we were all living in hell. We do not have any power against the mullahs. I will not vote."
Outside the Tehran University of Art, two postgraduate classmates stand chatting. "Well, naturally, I want these elections to bring about positive, lasting change in our country," says Mahmoud, 24. "I don't care for all the chaos. I'd prefer candidates who actually want to participate and contribute to a healthy process."
Mahmoud, who wears his hair and beard long, says that despite the fraud many Iranians believe was committed to ensure Ahmadinejad's 2009 victory, he is ready to go to the polls again this year. "I'm like someone whose mum slaps him," he says. "I won't run away after it happens once; but if it happens a second time, I'm gone."
"When I say I'm going to vote, I mean a vote only for Rafsanjani or Khatami," he stresses. "I won't be voting for anyone else. I would honestly like to see Khatami as president. He is in the best position to free [Mir Hossein] Mousavi, [Mehdi] Karroubi and other political prisoners."
In response to large street protests that took place around the country on 14 February 2011, the two opposition leaders and their wives, Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karroubi, were placed under house arrest and cut off almost entirely from the outside world. (Fatemeh Karroubi was released a few months later.)
Kourosh, Mahmoud's 26-year-old classmate, says how much he wishes Khatami would run. I ask his opinion of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's closest political confidant, who did register to run.
Mashaei has been the target of scorn by many in the ruling conservative establishment because of statements he has made that place Iranian nationalism on a par with the state's Islamic identity. Does he count as an "opposition" candidate?
"I'm willing to vote for the most rightwing fundamentalist out there before I vote for him," says Koroush. "He is a two-faced hypocrite … like his president."
Ali, the 26-year-old owner of an internet cafe on a major Tehran boulevard, describes what the coming election means for his livelihood.
"Business is terrible right now," he says "They have closed all of the VPNs [virtual private networks] and slowed down the internet speed to almost nothing. My customers are all gone.
"I don't have any hope for any of them," he says of the presidential nominees. "They can't do anything. Someone who has already been president before will have to do it again. It would be great if Rafsanjani won again: he has a pretty good résumé."
Ali says he doesn't think much about the events of 2009. "My identification card is full of stamps. I've participated in every election, and I most certainly will if Rafsanjani is running," he says.
The card he refers to is his shenasnameh,
issued to all Iranians at birth, in which each trip to the polls is recorded.
Sara, a 29-year-old cosmetics salesperson, says, "I'm not going to vote at all. In fact, I've never voted. My ID card is totally empty.
"When it's so obvious how engineered everything is, why waste my time?
Why get all dressed up and grab a pen and go write down someone's name?" Nor does she think highly of the opposition: "I won't even vote for the Green Movement candidates, if they run. They've got only their own interests at heart. They are concerned with consolidating power."
Shopping at Sara's counter, 23-year-old Elna is of the same mind.
"I've just got no energy for elections any more," says the sociology student. "Everything was so awesome four years ago; it really made us want to participate. But not this time. They're all the same. There might be a bit of difference here and there, but in the end they're all just killing and maiming people with no accountability whatsoever, aren't they?
"Considering all that has happened, there's no chance of the atmosphere of four years ago coming back. People are terrified," Elna concludes. "It's no use any more. Ultimately, they couldn't do anything."
Muhammad, 24, a member of the engineering corps of the Basij, says he voted for Ahmadinejad in both 2005 and 2009. But this time, he adds, "I just hope Mashaei doesn't run, or anyone from Ahmadinejad's circle, for that matter. It would probably lead to more infighting that would ultimately hurt the regime. Ahmadinejad more or less stands against the greater interests of the regime now, and [that] has made support for him untenable for a lot of people."
Mehrdad, 28, who works for his father's food distribution company, disagrees vehemently. "I reject this entire regime. I'm not voting, even for Rafsanjani and Khatami: they act in their own way to legitimise the regime. I would only vote for Mir Hossein Mousavi. He's a real man.
"I'm surprised that Khamenei doesn't just become a candidate and put all our minds at ease," he says with a wry smile. "Maybe he's just a bit too modest."
In her third year of university studies, Sahar says the past two presidential elections have opened her eyes to "domestic and international realities." She blames the country's deepening economic woes on poor management by the government, coupled with international sanctions. Her father has his own food processing company, which he has run for 16 years.
"It was all going well until four or five years ago," she says. "In these last few years, he has struggled to even meet his payrolls. He may even be forced to shut the plant and declare bankruptcy.
"That's our condition here in the country. Then internationally, according to my friends and family, one has to endure much humiliation and indignity, and present a thousand and one reasons just to establish a bank account.
"Given the way things are going, and the candidates they have announced so far, I will not participate in the elections … The president has already been picked."
More than 500 miles from the Iranian capital, two teenage boys are hanging out on the side of a road in the town of Torghabeh. It was here, in 1960, that the Tehran mayor, Ghalibaf, whom many see as a leading candidate, was born. Asked about Ghalibaf's popularity in his home town, 15-year-old Ghasem says: "I still don't really know. Nobody here actually cares about the elections, to be honest. I can't even vote."
Adel, 19, leans casually against his motorcycle and straightens out his baggy trousers. He says he has graduated from high school but currently has no plans to enter university, Unlike Ghasem, he is eligible to vote.
"If Khatami or Ghalibaf runs, I'll vote for one of them. If Hashemi Rafsanjani ran, I'd vote for him, too. He's a clever bastard," he says, wryly.
Adel says his family voted for Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's reformist challenger, in 2009. "We all voted for Mousavi," he says. "Nobody voted for Ahmadinejad. Literally, all of Mashhad and Torghabeh voted for Mousavi."
Adel says that should neither Ghalibaf nor Khatami run, he will wait to see who else enters the race. He stresses, though, that he would never vote for Mashaei.
"He can't fool me," he says. "He's no different from Ahmadinejad."
Revising his position, he then says that if neither Ghalibaf nor Khatami chose to run, or were deemed ineligible, he would not vote at all.
Isn't that a risk? It is widely believed in Iran that getting a decent job requires a shenasnameh
filled with the official stamps that indicate electoral participation. But Adel says he is not swayed.
"Why should I worry?" he asks. "I don't feel like voting. Let's see if they can come up with even four reasonable candidates, and then we'll talk about people voting."
**********Internet in ‘coma’ as Iran election looms
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 19, 2013 10:28 EDT
Iran is tightening control of the Internet ahead of next month’s presidential election, mindful of violent street protests that social networkers inspired last time around over claims of fraud, users and experts say.
The authorities deny such claims, but have not explained exactly why service has become slower.
Businesses, banks and even state organisations are not spared by the widespread disruption in the Internet, local media say.
“The Internet is in a coma,” said the Ghanoon daily in a report in early this month.
“It only happens in Iran: the election comes, the Internet goes,” it said, quoting a tweet in Farsi.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and numerous other sites, including thousands of Western ones, have been censored in Iran since massive street demonstrations that followed the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.
Those protests — stifled by a heavy-handed crackdown that led to numerous arrests and even deaths — were instigated online and observers say the authorities are choking the Internet to prevent a recurrence.
One DVD vendor, who sells illegal copies of Western movies downloaded online, said “you can forget about downloading stuff; the bandwidth drops every other minute.”
A network supervisor at a major Internet service provider in Tehran said his company had been unable to address complaints about slower speeds, particularly accessing pages using the HTTPS secure communications protocol.
“Browsing (the net) is difficult due to the low speed. Even checking emails is a pain,” he said.
“Sometimes, loading a secure Google page takes a few long seconds,” he added.
Like others interviewed for this article, he did not want to be identified for fear of retribution.
The problem is not limited to slower speeds, but also affects what people can actually access in a country whose rulers take great care in seeking to ensure that people do not see or read things deemed to be inappropriate.
Earlier this month, an Iranian IT website reported that the last remaining software that enables users to bypass filters imposed on net traffic “has become practically inaccessible.”
Among such software is the virtual private network (VPN), which lets people circumvent the filtering of websites.
VPN uses certain protocols to connect to servers outside Iran. In that way, the computer appears to be based in another country and bypasses the filters.
Blocking these protocols could theoretically contribute to slower speeds.
Use of VPN, or its sale, is illegal in Iran on the official grounds that it is insecure and allows access to material deemed as depraved, criminal or politically offensive.
Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard, head of the parliamentary communications committee, said VPN was blocked in early March, which has contributed to slowing the Internet, media reported.
He did not elaborate.
Authorities refuse to officially confirm the new restraints, but former officials and media reports have accused the Supreme Council of Cyberspace of ordering them.
The council, set up in March 2012, is tasked with guarding Iranians from “dangers” on the Internet while enabling “a maximum utilisation of its opportunities.”
The information and communication technology (ICT) ministry did not respond to AFP requests for an interview on the issue.
The complaints come as Iran prepares to elect its new president on June 14, but the authorities reject claims that there is any link with that and the current problems.
“Many parameters are involved in the Internet’s speed, but the election drawing near is not one of them,” a deputy ICT minister, Ali Hakim Javadi, said in early May.
His remarks have failed to allay concerns among an officially estimated 34 million net users out of a population of 75 million.
“Even if I wanted to believe it, I cannot ignore the timing,” said Ali, a computer engineer.
The disruptions are also linked to Iran’s stated plan of rolling out a national intranet that it says will be faster, more secure and clean of “inappropriate” content, observers say.
Critics say the unfinished “National Information Network” could expose Iranians to state monitoring once operational. They argue that a “National VPN” service launched in March could be a test run.
Users of the state-approved VPN service, available to select businesses reportedly at a monthly rate of 4,000,000 rials ($115, 88 euros), say it provides a relatively fast connection to select global websites.
The illegal VPN was available for as little as $50 for a full year.
“You can actually get some work done with this VPN. But it is almost as if you are paying the government to spy on you,” said one business user wary that his privacy could be violated.
The intranet could theoretically enable the regime to shut down the Internet at sensitive times, or effectively slow down it to a point where it is unusable.
But the authorities insist the network will co-exist with the Internet.
And a Tehran-based Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, was also sceptical.
“It is unlikely that Iran would implement more restrictions, as that would render its Internet inoperable to its people, businesses and even (governmental) organisations that heavily rely on it,” said the diplomat.
North Korea fires two more missiles
Missile launches bring total to six in three days as Pyongyang defends right to carry out drills
Reuters in Seoul
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 May 2013 12.21 BST
North Korea has fired two more short-range missiles, making six launches in three days, and condemning South Korea for criticising what it said were its legitimate military drills.
South Korea's defence ministry said North Korea had fired one missile on Monday morning and a second one in the afternoon. Both were fired into the sea off North Korea's east coast, a ministry official said.
The launches followed more than two months of threats from North Korea that it would wage a nuclear war against South Korea and the US if it were attacked. The North condemned joint US and South Korean military exercises, that ended in late April, as a rehearsal for an attack on its territory.
"We are conducting intense military exercises to strengthen our defence capacity," North Korea's KCNA news agency quoted the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, the body that handles inter-Korean issues, as saying on Monday.
"Our military is conducting these exercises in order to cope with the mounting war measures from the US and South Korea, which is the legitimate right of any sovereign country."
North Korea frequently fires short-range missiles, although the current spate of launches has drawn criticism from Seoul and Washington after the recent threats from the North.
Seoul condemned the launches for stoking tension in the region while Beijing, the North's sole major ally, called for restraint.
"These launches are its tactic of signalling to the world that the regime is willing to negotiate now, while at the same time saving face," Kim Yeon-su, a professor at Korea National Defence University in Seoul, which is part of the defence ministry, said of North Korea. Kim said North Korea had an arsenal of hundreds of short- and medium-range missiles.
There appears to be little prospect of talks between North Korea and the US as Washington insists Pyongyang needs to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, something the isolated and impoverished state has said it will not do.
Mother of Chinese rape victim becomes human rights crusader
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 20, 2013 7:26 EDT
The kidnap, rape and forced prostitution of her daughter set Tang Hui on a mission to seek justice. But it was Chinese authorities’ repeated obstructions, even detaining her, that made her a die-hard activist.
For seven years she has fought against the men who violated her child, and the system that blocked her, becoming a cause celebre in 2012 after her efforts landed her in a labour camp.
The public outcry over her sentence led to her release and Tang resumed her crusade — which even she considers unlikely to succeed. But she refuses to give up.
“The biggest change for me has been that I no longer believe there is justice in this society,” Tang said in an interview in Changsha, the capital of her home province of Hunan.
The 40-year-old’s voice rose and her chin-length hair, still growing back after being shorn at labour camp, shook at times as she spoke.
But, she added: “For sure I will persevere.”
Tang set out demanding punishment for seven men who in 2006 forced her daughter — 11 at the time — into sex work, and for a dozen police she says raped her child and falsified evidence to protect the abductors.
The men lured Tang’s daughter at a skating rink in her hometown of Yongzhou by showing off their moves on the ice before seizing her.
Three months later Tang found her at a brothel but said an officer handling the case declined to intervene. “He didn’t even go inside, just stayed at the side of the road, then got in his car and drove away,” she recalled.
Eventually other police arrived to rescue the girl.
But it was just the end of the beginning of Tang’s battle, and along the way, she says, she has endured beatings, false charges and labour camp.
In this way Tang — who only went to primary school and now helps run a small shop — fell into what Yu Jianrong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has called a “vicious cycle” of ordinary citizens becoming obsessed activists after their initial injustices are mishandled.
“As local governments use even more severe methods… people’s complaints grow more extreme,” he wrote in a rare public criticism last December.
The child came out scarred — she contracted herpes, suffers from nightmares even today and still shuns men. To try to avoid any stigma she has moved away to another province and switched schools almost every year.
Tang stayed in Hunan to pursue justice, her efforts funded by loans from family and friends and her husband’s meagre income from temporary jobs.
She tracked the kidnappers’ trial impatiently as it took a year to open and then meandered in the courts for another four — an unusually slow process for China’s normally decisive legal system.
Frustrated, she found ways to agitate — inviting trouble in a country that quashes social disturbance.
She handed out leaflets recounting her story. Twice she knelt for hours outside the Changsha high court. Dozens of times she travelled to Changsha and Beijing to petition higher authorities, an age-old practise in China.
Aggravated officials whose jobs depend on preventing protest began to monitor Tang and, she said, “every time I went to Beijing they would bring me back”.
On one occasion she was detained in Changsha and beaten so badly that she stayed in hospital for over a week, vomiting for days as her swollen head throbbed, she said.
Finally in June 2012, two men were sentenced to death, four to life in prison and one to 15 years.
Tang continued to seek punishment for the police, but was soon sentenced to 18 months hard labour at a prison-like camp outside Changsha for doing so, along with her earlier efforts.
Xinhua state news agency said she was condemned for “seriously disturbing social order and exerting a negative impact on society”.
Many petitioners face such fates in China, and the camps can involve gruesome abuses from electric shocks to shackling in painful positions, a Chinese magazine revealed in April.
Tang said she was never allowed to speak with other inmates so did not learn what they experienced.
News of her detention spread online, scandalising the public. “The state should protect citizens,” one social media user wrote, calling her ordeal “so unfair”. Just over a week in, Tang was released.
She filed a lawsuit over her sentence, which was rejected, and has now submitted an appeal which a court said at the weekend will be heard — although she considers victory a “remote possibility”.
“Ordinary people like me, even if we kneel a thousand times, ten thousand times, we cannot get results,” she said.
But the risk of further punishment does not dissuade her, she said.
“If I thought about such things, then there are things I would not dare do. And if you don’t dare do some things, then those people will never get what they deserve.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Ivory Coast finding reconstruction easier than reconciliation
At first glance, Ivory Coast has come a long way since 2010's post-election violence. But is the progress merely an illusion?
Tamasin Ford in Abidjan
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 May 2013 07.00 BST
Link to video: Ivory Coast's reconciliation under threat from victor’s justicehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/video/2013/may/20/ivory-coast-reconciliation-video
Construction sites loom at every twist and turn of the super six-lane highways that weave around the Ébrié lagoon in the heart of Abidjan. Roads are being widened. New apartment blocks and shopping malls are joining 1970s skyscrapers on the skyline. And the final touches on a shiny new high-rise tower signal the African Development Bank's return after more than a decade.
Two years after the post-election conflict, when more than 3,000 people were killed, Ivory Coast's economy is bouncing back. With the country relieved of nearly $8bn (£5bn) in debt after reaching completion point of the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, investors are returning and GDP climbed to 9.8% last year.
"The recovery has been very impressive," said Marcelo Giugale, the World Bank's head of economic policy and poverty reduction in Africa, on a recent visit. "Not just economically speaking, but institutionally."
But amid the praise of the government's economic success under President Alassane Ouattara, the former deputy head of the International Monetary Fund, there are accusations of "victor's justice", continued human rights violations and revenge attacks (pdf).
For 10 years, Ivory Coast existed as two self-governing halves. A failed coup in 2002 essentially split the country in two, with the north controlled by the rebels of the former Forces Nouvelles and the south in the hands of Laurent Gbagbo, the former president. When Gbagbo refused to step down after his defeat in the 2010 presidential elections, violence erupted. Both sides were implicated in human rights violations.
When Ouattara was sworn in as president in May 2011, the Forces Nouvelles became the government army, the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI). Warlords were given strategic command posts, rebel zone commanders controlling the illicit cocoa and cashew nut trade gained political strength, and, according to the UN panel of experts report (pdf), "their warlord-style economic activities" continued.
Ouattara has vowed repeatedly to uphold impartial justice, claiming no one will be protected. Last month, the justice minister, Coulibaly Gnenema, said he was ready to prosecute anyone in the military if there is proof of illegal activity. However, while more than 150 pro-Gbagbo supporters have been held to account for violent crimes related to the conflict, only a handful from the pro-Ouattara camp have been prosecuted.
In the far west of the country, in the fertile farmland close to the Liberian border, there is little sign of economic recovery. Plagued by land conflict that has sparked some of the country's most brutal violence over the past decade, the once lush virgin rainforest is home to sprawling cocoa plantations and remains a tinderbox of land disputes and insecurity. Duekoue witnessed the single biggest massacre in the country when pro-Ouattara forces captured the town during the conflict in April 2011.
Bohe Constant, 45, and his family, from the pro-Gbagbo area of town, were among 30,000 refugees who camped out at Duekoue's Catholic mission. "It wasn't safe outside for men," he said as he explained how they were pulled out of the crowds and shot on the spot. No one has been charged for the killings. "It's victor's justice," added Constant. "This cannot solve the problem."
While there has been some reform of the security forces, the western region of Ivory Coast is still volatile and unpredictable. In March, 15 people were killed by unidentified gunmen (pdf) who stormed through the border villages of Zilebly and Petit Guiglo in the middle of the night, setting fire to houses as people slept. At least 7,000 people fled and only a few hundred have returned.
"There are many who are afraid," said Anselme Dandé, the youth president of Zilebly, whose home was burned down during the attack. Some say the violence was sparked by disputes over land, others say it was down to gunmen, hiding in the forests across the border in Liberia and intent on destabilising the government. Since then, the UN envoy to Ivory Coast has requested the use of drones to monitor the border and the Ivorian government has increased the number of army personnel in the region. Security remains an issue, however.
In the nearby town of Bloléquin, lines of people waited patiently to see the sous-préfet, the second in charge of the region. Sitting behind a desk piled high with manila folders, Claude Koffi said land conflicts take up most of his time. "More than 60% of those who come to the sous-prefecture come for land dispute issues," he said, "for example, saying someone else has sold their land or with a dispute over their boundaries. We will listen to them and try to help."
Land and who owns it has often been cited as a root cause of Ivory Coast's conflict. As the thousands of refugees in Liberia return, along with those displaced internally, the threat of violence persists. "If we do not pay attention now to solve land conflicts, there's a high risk of things escalating in the west," said Boniface Dié who helps mediate land disputes for the Norwegian Refugee Council, an NGO working in the west.
As Ivory Coast rebounds economically, prompting thoughts of a return of the "Ivorian miracle", tensions over the lack of justice and security bubble under the surface. Attacks in the west and the lack of prosecutions undermine the government's efforts for national reconciliation and stability.
"The reconstruction is relatively easy compared to reconciliation," said Giugale. "You can build a bridge, the question is whether all parties and all segments of society want to cross that bridge."
*************Ivory Coast military accused of torture during 'reprisal' crackdown
Hope of reconciliation after civil war fades amid claims of inhuman treatment of perceived Gbagbo loyalists
David Smith, Africa correspondent
The Guardian, Monday 19 November 2012
Ivory Coast's military has carried out arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, extortion, inhuman treatment and torture, Human Rights Watch claims, dealing another blow to hopes of reconciliation after last year's civil war. A report by the watchdog details a "brutal crackdown" following a string of attacks on military installations around the country in August. The attacks were allegedly committed by militants loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo, who is awaiting trial at the international criminal court.
The resulting military action recalls the grave crimes of the 2010-11 post-election crisis, in some cases under the same commanders responsible for those abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
"The security threats to Ivory Coast are real, but widespread abuses by the military will fuel – rather than end – them," said Corinne Dufka, senior west Africa researcher for the charity. "The government should quickly show the determination to bring to account the soldiers responsible for torture, inhuman treatment, and criminality."
Alassane Ouattara was elected president after beating Gbagbo in a 2010 runoff with the backing of other parties. But the incumbent rejected the results, triggering a brief civil war in 2011 that forced him from power. Since then Ouattara, a former International Monetary Fund official, has been praised for overseeing an economic recovery but concerns have been raised over a lack of reconciliation between rival political factions. Since April at least 50 people, including many civilians, have been killed during seemingly co-ordinated attacks, which the Ivorian government has blamed on pro-Gbagbo militants intent on destabilising the country.
The response has been uncompromising. In August, members of the government's Republican Forces carried out mass arrests of perceived Gbagbo supporters almost daily in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Yopougon, Human Rights Watch said. "Without arrest warrants or individualised evidence, soldiers arbitrarily arrested young men in their homes, at neighbourhood restaurants, at bars, in taxis and buses, as they walked home from church, and at traditional community celebrations.
"Soldiers often arrived in neighbourhoods in military cargo trucks and forced 20 or more perceived pro-Gbagbo youth to board. Hundreds of young men appear to have been rounded up and detained, largely on the basis of their ethnicity and place of residence. Those arrested were often brought to military camps, which are not lawful detention sites for civilians under Ivorian law."
The charity said it had interviewed five captives who told how military personnel subjected them to beatings and floggings, generally during questioning related to the location of guns or alleged suspects, or to extract a confession. Several had scars allegedly from the physical abuse, and of other detainees returning to cells with bruises and open wounds. A former detainee at a military police camp described his mistreatment: "I was there for a week, and they questioned me every day but the last one. Each day they pulled me out and took me to another room for questioning‚ 'Where are the guns?' 'I don't own a gun, I've never held a gun.' Whack! They'd wrap their belt around their hand and hit me in the head, the face, the side.
"The metal [ring] of the belt was on the end they hit you with, [I think] to inflict the most pain. I had a lot of wounds, from when they'd strike you just right with the metal ring."
In August and September, the commander in charge of one detainment camp was Ousmane Coulibaly, better known as "Bin Laden", Human Rights Watch said. In a previous report on the post-election violence, it had named him as one of the Republican Forces commanders whose soldiers committed acts of torture and dozens of summary executions during the final battle for Abidjan in April and May 2011.
"The recurrent crimes committed under certain commanders should serve as a stark reminder of the consequences of impunity," Dufka said. "Military commanders who oversee abuses should no longer be untouchable, or else Ivory Coast will continue to be plagued by the grave human rights violations that have marked the last decade."
Human Rights Watch said it had briefed the Ivorian government on its findings and that officials stressed the gravity of the security threat and the need for solidarity with the military in the face of the repeated, violent attacks. They also promised an investigation into the abuses and indicated that anyone found responsible for torture or inhuman treatment would be prosecuted.
EU decision to lift Syrian oil sanctions boosts jihadist groups
Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida affiliate, consolidates position as scramble for control of wells accelerates
Julian Borger and Mona Mahmood
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 19 May 2013 12.51 BST
The EU decision to lift Syrian oil sanctions to aid the opposition has accelerated a scramble for control over wells and pipelines in rebel-held areas and helped consolidate the grip of jihadist groups over the country's key resources.
Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated with al-Qaida and other extreme Islamist groups, control the majority of the oil wells in Deir Ezzor province, displacing local Sunni tribes, sometimes by force. They have also seized control of other fields from Kurdish groups further to the north-east, in al-Hasakah governorate.
As opposition groups have turned their guns on each other in the battle over oil, water and agricultural land, military pressure on Bashar al-Assad's government from the north and east has eased off. In some areas, al-Nusra has struck deals with government forces to allow the transfer of crude across the front lines to the Mediterranean coast.
Syria oil fire map Syria oil fire map
As a result of the rush to make quick money, open-air refineries have been set up in Deir Ezzor and al-Raqqa provinces. Crude is stored in ditches and heated in metal tanks by wood fires, shrouding the region with plumes of black smoke, exposing the local population to the dangers of the thick smog and the frequent explosions at the improvised plants.
Heating oil, diesel and petrol is condensed in hoses running from the tanks through pools of water and sold across the north, as far as Aleppo. The remaining crude is shipped by road on tankers to Turkey.
One leading opposition figure said: "The northern front hasn't just gone dormant; the northern front has gone commercial."
The EU announced it was lifting its oil embargo in April to help the moderate opposition. The implementation regulations have yet to be issued so the decision has not taken effect, but regional experts say the announcement intensified the race for oil – a race the western-backed moderates lost.
Joshua Landis, an expert on the region at the University of Oklahoma who runs the Syria Comment blog, said the EU decision on oil "sent a message that oil could come back online faster than most thought possible".
"Whoever gets their hands on the oil, water and agriculture, holds Sunni Syria by the throat. At the moment, that's al-Nusra," Landis said. "Europe opening up the market for oil forced this issue. So the logical conclusion from this craziness is that Europe will be funding al-Qaida."
Abu Albara, an al-Nusra fighter who spoke to the Guardian by telephone from Deir Ezzor, said: "Now, we can say that most of the oil wells are in the hands of the rebels, only a single oil facility in Hasakah is still under the control of [Kurdish fighters]. There are two other oil wells close to the Iraqi borders in the desert. The Iraqi army have surrounded them with tanks but we do not know what they are doing with them."
The al-Nusra guerilla said the group was merely guarding the wells it captured, but the rival groups have accused the Islamists of asset-stripping them for quick money.
"Jabhat al-Nusra is investing in the Syrian economy to reinforce its position in Syria and Iraq. Al-Nusra fighters are selling everything that falls into their hands from wheat, archaeological relics, factory equipment, oil drilling and imaging machines, cars, spare parts and crude oil," Abu Saif, a fighter with the Ahrar Brigade, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, told the Guardian by phone from the Deir Ezzor area.
"The Syrian regime itself is paying more than 150m Syrian lire [£1.4m] monthly to Jabhat al-Nusra to guarantee oil is kept pumping through two major oil pipelines in Banias and Latakia. Middlemen trusted by both sides are to facilitate the deal and transfer money to the organisation."
A western diplomat watching the situation said: "We understand that in Deir Ezzor, it's a bit of a mix. Al-Nusra is there and there is sometimes co-operation with the regime for practical reasons. In some areas oil products are being given to the local communities, but there are clear dangers in these kinds of open-air refineries."
The diplomat said the EU implementation regulation for the lifting of the oil embargo would include safeguard clauses that would give the western-backed opposition, the National Coalition, the power to authorise exports. But as things stand, the coalition and its allies hold very little of Syria's oil wealth in their hands.
A former Syrian oil executive in the rebel-held areas said: "In the last few months, they seem to have figured a way to sell the oil supply across the lines from the rebels to government forces, through intermediaries trusted on both sides."
The former executive said the oil trade had spawned a growing demand for oil tanker lorries, as a single shipment could earn a profit of up to $10,000 (£6,600). He added that al-Nusra and other jihadist groups were using much of the money to win hearts and minds in areas they have captured, such as al-Raqqa city, which fell in March.
"If you look at what the money does in these places," he said, asking for his name not to be used because of the sensitivity of the issue. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist. You bring in flour, you repair the bakeries, so there are big smiles in the local community. It's an incredible marketing machine."
In April, the head of the western-backed rebel Supreme Military Council, General Selim Idriss, pledged to create a force to secure the oilfields and other economic resources in Deir Ezzor, al-Hasakah and Raqqa provinces, but that force has yet to materialise and observers doubt Idriss has the money, manpower or weaponry to displace the jihadists.
"Idriss probably felt he had to say that, to reassure the Europeans," Landis said. "But nobody takes such claims seriously. Where is he going to get 30,000 men from?"
The only rivals to the power of the jihadists in the oil region are the Kurds in al-Hasakah, and the Sunni tribes around Deir Ezzor, who have found themselves increasingly marginalised by Islamic extremists.
In one well-documented case, fighting broke out in the village of al-Musareb, near Deir Ezzor, between al-Nusra fighters and local tribesmen over ownership of an oil tanker. The al-Nusra commander, a Saudi called Qasura al-Jazrawi, was killed. As a reprisal, the jihadist group levelled much of the village and executed 50 of its residents.
Apart from the latest round of conflict the oil rush has triggered, human rights campaigners have raised concerns about the health impact of the wildcat refining industry. Skin and breathing complaints have become common while there are reports of workers on the improvised oil fields, including children, being burned to death in accidents.
An opposition activist in Hasakah, Salman Kurdi, said: "They refine oil by boiling it to very high temperatures by using gas cans, and most of the time, they blow up. It's killed many of the people who work there.
"A month ago, an explosion happened in an oil well called Shadada, in the countryside south of here, and five people were killed. They dig a big hole and put lots of fire in it and gas to make it boiling. If you travel south to the countryside, you can spot the smoke rising every few kilometres."
Egypt police shut passage to Israel due to abductions
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 19, 2013 10:14 EDT
Egyptian police closed a commercial passage with Israel on Sunday in support of colleagues who shut down a crossing with Gaza to protest the abduction of policemen, state media reported.
The protesters say the commercial Al-Ouga crossing between Egypt and Israel will remain closed until three policemen and four soldiers abducted by gunmen in the Sinai peninsula are released, the official MENA news agency reported.
Police had shut down the Rafah crossing with the Palestinian Gaza Strip to the north on Friday, a day after gunmen abducted the policemen, who worked in the crossing, and soldiers.
State media has said security officials were in talks with the abductors via local Bedouin leaders who hold sway in the restive peninsula.
A spate of hostage-taking has rocked the Sinai, which borders Israel as well as Gaza, but they usually last for no longer than 48 hours and are often carried out by Bedouin seeking the release of jailed relatives.
Such abductions have been on the rise since the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran president Hosni Mubarak.
Kuwait deports ‘hundreds’ for traffic offenses
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 19, 2013 10:16 EDT
Kuwait has deported hundreds of expats for traffic offences in the past month, a report said on Sunday, drawing condemnation from a human rights group.
The Al-Anbaa newspaper cited a senior interior ministry official as saying that as many as 1,258 foreigners have been deported for traffic violations since a crackdown began about a month ago.
Foreign residents caught driving without a licence, using their cars to carry paying passengers, jumping a red light for a second time, or breaking the speed limit by more than 40 kilometres per hour (25 miles per hour), can be deported without a court order.
The Kuwait Society for Human Rights called on the government to halt the deportations describing them as “oppressive”.
“The oppressive measure against expatriates… violates the basic principles of human rights,” it said.
The group warned that the measure could tarnish the Gulf state’s image abroad at a time when its human rights record is under scrutiny.
Kuwait is home to 2.6 million expatriates who form 68 percent of the country’s 3.8 million population.
Kuwaiti nationals who commit similar offences have their vehicles seized and can be sent to court.
Last month, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Thekra al-Rasheedi said the emirate plans to deport around 100,000 expatriates every year for the next decade to reduce the number of foreigners living in the Gulf state by one million.
She did not say what measures she would adopt to carry out the plan.
Foreigners need to hold a university degree, earn 400 dinars ($1,400) a month and have lived in Kuwait for at least two years to be eligible to apply for a driver’s licence, under a decision issued nearly a decade ago.
May 19, 2013
Fresh Israeli Face Plays Down Dimming of Political Star
By JODI RUDOREN
TEL AVIV — To say Yair Lapid has been on a roller coaster would be an understatement. One recent headline blared about his “meteoric rise and fall,” another said he had gone from “political darling to national whipping boy.”
Mr. Lapid, a popular television host with no political experience, stunned Israel in January by galvanizing the secular middle class around kitchen-table concerns to make his new Yesh Atid Party the second largest in Parliament. He was immediately crowned a kingmaker, and talked openly about quickly replacing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But he ended up with the fraught job of finance minister, and facing a huge deficit. As he presented an austerity budget this month with tax increases and subsidy cuts that hit hard the people he claimed to represent, polls showed his approval rating plummeting to 21 percent; fewer than half of those who voted Yesh Atid (There is a Future), said they would pick the party again. The protesters who had helped propel his political rise began showing up outside his home on a cul-de-sac here.
So after months of communicating with the public only on Facebook, Mr. Lapid has embarked on a media blitz, deploying his telegenic good looks and sound-bite savvy. He summoned a series of journalists to an outdoor cafe here on Thursday, wearing jeans and his trademark black T-shirt, and tried to take the long view.
“I’m going to be bashed now, and be the beneficiary of this within, I don’t know, a year or a year and a half,” Mr. Lapid, 49, said in his first interview with an international news organization since his unexpected vault into global headlines. He still hopes to succeed Mr. Netanyahu, but said, “I’m in no hurry.”
Asked about the transition to politics, he called it “painful,” joking, “I used to have so many opinions before I learned the facts.”
In an hourlong conversation, Mr. Lapid offered no criticism of Mr. Netanyahu. He said he talks or exchanges text messages almost daily with Naftali Bennett, the leader of the nationalist Jewish Home Party, with whom he formed an alliance to block the ultra-Orthodox from joining Israel’s governing coalition. He declined to discuss security issues like Iran.
An avowed centrist, Mr. Lapid nevertheless took a hard line on policy toward the Palestinians, the issue that has defined Israeli politics for decades but that was overshadowed by domestic concerns in the recent campaign. He said that Israel should not change its policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank in order to revive the stalemated peace process, and that Jerusalem should not serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state — an essential part of Palestinian plans.
Mr. Lapid acknowledged that tens of thousands of Jews would someday be uprooted from what he described as “remote settlements” in the West Bank, something he called “heartbreaking.” But he said that problem should be set aside for now, advocating the immediate creation of an interim Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank where no Jews live, with final borders drawn in perhaps three, four or five years. Palestinian leaders have roundly rejected temporary borders.
While he described the two-state solution as “crucial” to preserving Israel as a Jewish nation, he offered no hints of Israeli concessions that could break the stalemate in the peace process. Instead, he repeatedly said he hoped that Secretary of State John Kerry, who is scheduled to arrive here this week for his fourth visit in two months, would “jump-start” it.
And he expressed extreme skepticism about the likelihood of reaching a deal with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, saying, “He’s one of the founding fathers of the victimizing concept of the Palestinians.”
He also questioned whether Palestinians truly wanted a state.
“Israelis want peace and security and Palestinians want peace and justice — these are two very different things, and this is the real gap we have to close,” he said. “More and more people are saying to themselves and to others, this is not going to happen, all we have to do is some maintenance and we’ll see. Some people think ‘we’ll see’ is ‘God will help us,’ which is not a very tangible idea to me. Others say, ‘Some problems are not to be solved,’ which is a very sad idea.
“I am saying what we need to do is something.”
Yet while Mr. Lapid vowed “to be proactive about this and do everything in my power to contribute to the discourse,” he said he has not spoken with Mr. Kerry since sitting with him at a state dinner during President Obama’s visit to Jerusalem in March. Nor has he met with any Palestinians since taking office.
He said he had found Mr. Netanyahu “more willing” and “more prepared than people tend to think” to make peace with the Palestinians. Indeed, there was little daylight between the two men’s positions. Mr. Lapid said he would not stop the so-called “natural expansion” of settlements in the West Bank, nor curtail the financial incentives offered Israelis to move there. He said the large swaths of land known as East Jerusalem that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed must stay Israeli because “we didn’t come here for nothing.”
“Jerusalem is not a place, Jerusalem is an idea,” he said. “Jerusalem is the capital of the Israeli state.”
Little known outside Israel a few months ago, Mr. Lapid in April ousted Mr. Netanyahu from Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people, and last week topped the Jerusalem Post’s ranking of influential Jews. (Mr. Netanyahu landed at No. 3.) But he has become the target of angry Facebook campaigns and editorial cartoons, and is battered daily by columnists across the spectrum.
“In no time at all, he has lost his major assets: the credibility and trust of the Israeli voter,” Yossi Verter, the political writer for the left-leaning daily Haaretz, wrote Friday. In Yediot Aharonot, Nahum Barnea said, “The truth is that Lapid has taken too much upon himself.” And in the right-leaning Jerusalem Post, Gil Hoffman observed, “The boxer who idolizes Muhammad Ali has now become a political punching bag.”
One of the things that led some to turn on Mr. Lapid was the revelation that he met in April with Sheldon Adelson, the ultraconservative financier who backs Mr. Netanyahu and owns the Israel Hayom newspaper that loyally supports him. Mr. Lapid said Thursday that Mr. Adelson requested the meeting to ensure that the government would continue its matching grant of about $40 million to Birthright, a program that brings young Jews to Israel, and that “there was nothing political about it.”
Throughout the interview, Mr. Lapid was charming, confident — and controlling. Pressed on a certain point, he warned, “I’m so good at not answering questions I don’t want to answer that we could go all night.” And he refused to be photographed for this article at the cafe, insisting that the photographer try Friday, when Mr. Lapid would don a jacket to meet with the German foreign minister.
He was sanguine about his situation, rejecting the conventional wisdom that he has made a series of missteps.
“Making hard choices always seems to be mistakes, but these are not mistakes,” he said. “If you want to change a country, you’re going to be bumped every now and then.”
Ethan Bronner and Irit Pazner Garshowitz contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 20, 2013
An earlier version of this story misstated the timing of Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival in Israel. He is scheduled to arrive this week, not next week.
Venezuela’s new government ‘open’ to resuming U.S. diplomatic relations
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 19, 2013 21:06 EDT
Venezuela's Foreign Minister Elias Jaua attends an ALBA ministers meeting in Guayaquil, Ecuador on April 22, 2013. Venezuela on Sunday made a rare diplomatic overture to the United States, suggesting it could
Venezuela on Sunday made a rare diplomatic overture to the United States, suggesting it could be time for better ties.
“We are going to remain open to normalizing relations with the United States,” Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said on Televen television Sunday.
“The first thing would be to resume diplomatic representation at the highest level,” he said.
The country’s late socialist president Hugo Chavez was a staunch critic of the United States, and his successor Nicolas Maduro is still feeling out its footing with Washington.
Chavez for more than 14 years unleashed verbal broadsides on US leaders before his death in March. The United States and Venezuela since 2010 have not even had ambassadors in their embassies in their respective capitals.
Maduro, who earlier said his government would like to increase dialogue with the United States, has selected lawmaker Calixto Ortega as its potential US envoy.
US President Barack Obama however has not congratulated Maduro for his controversial, razor-thin April 14 election, as Maduro’s opposition rival Henrique Capriles presses claims that the Venezuelan presidential election was marred by irregularities.
Maduro meanwhile slammed Obama “the top leader of devils” after he commented on post-election unrest in Venezuela.
Despite the bad blood, Venezuela sells about 900,000 barrels of oil every day to the United States.
HIV vaccine efforts face several years of ‘void’ after latest setback
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 19, 2013 10:25 EDT
The hunt for an HIV vaccine has gobbled up $8 billion in the past decade, and the failure of the most recent efficacy trial has delivered yet another setback to 26 years of efforts.
With the next attempts expected to be years away, top researchers now say there is a “void” or a “gap” in current clinical trial efforts to test whether a vaccine may be safe and effective in people.
A kind of ongoing autopsy of the last four major bids to make an HIV vaccine has informed the field as to what does not work, with the latest casualty being a trial called HVTN 505 that was halted early because it did not prevent HIV.
“It leaves us with a gap in several years before we have another HIV vaccine efficacy trial under way, and that is unfortunate,” said James Kublin, executive director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.
Another concern for researchers is that two vaccine trials — HVTN 505 and a previous trial known as STEP that ended unsuccessfully in 2007 — both revealed apparent increases in the number of vaccinated patients who got HIV.
HVTN 505 showed 41 cases of HIV were acquired in the vaccine group, compared to 31 in the placebo group. Among some 2,500 participants, the difference was not statistically significant, and so researchers found that no harm was caused by the trial.
“But the number is in the wrong direction,” said trial leader Scott Hammer, who described the trial’s outcome as a “disappointment.”
Researchers are still investigating why this may have happened, but some theorize the cold virus known as Ad5 that served as a vector to deliver the vaccine may have somehow caused more infections by making it easier for HIV to penetrate the body.
“You scratch your head,” said Hammer, a professor of medicine at Columbia University, adding that Ad5 may now be considered too risky and other options are being investigated.
“No one is going to want to a do a major trial with this sort of vector in the future,” he told AFP.
The key puzzle in the vaccine search has been the nature of the human immunodeficiency virus itself, which has managed to fool modern medicine by changing its genetic makeup so often that a single weapon cannot silence it.
“The virus is a very elusive foe,” said Wayne Koff, chief scientific officer at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).
“It is more variable than almost any other virus that a vaccine has been attempted for. So if one wants to make antibodies against a virus that is variable, one has to have a broadly reactive antibody,” he told AFP.
A small number of HIV-positive people have been found to produce antibodies that can neutralize a broad range of HIV variants, but scientists have not yet figured out how to make a vaccine from that information.
“Lots of people are working on that very hard. I would have thought we would have that immunogen to test in phase I trials by now, but hopefully soon,” said Hammer, a leading HIV researcher.
About 34 million people are infected with HIV worldwide, and AIDS has killed 30 million people since the epidemic began 30 years ago.
The vaccine field has fallen short of expectations since 1984, when Margaret Heckler, who was then US secretary of Health and Human Services, declared a vaccine would be ready for testing in about two years’ time.
The first phase I trial of a vaccine began in 1987 at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and included 138 healthy volunteers. The first large-scale trials did not begin until the late 1990s.
The sole success story to date has been a trial in Thailand known as RV144, which in 2009 saw a modest, 31 percent rate of protection, still far below the 50 percent threshold needed in order to license a vaccine.
Researchers are continuing to study the results for clues as to why it worked in some cases but not others, and why it appears the protective effects may have waned over time.
A similar vaccine modeled for South Africans is expected to enter human trials in the next couple of years. Other approaches for increasing T-cell immunity are also on the horizon.
“I am an optimist. I think we are at least halfway there, hopefully further,” said Hammer. “The world needs an HIV vaccine.”
18-year-old’s breakthrough invention can recharge phones in seconds
By Stephen C. Webster
Sunday, May 19, 2013 18:42 EDT
An 18-year-old science student has made an astonishing breakthrough that will enable mobile phones and other batteries to be charged within seconds rather than the hours it takes today’s devices to power back up.
Saratoga, Calif. resident Eesha Khare made the breakthrough by creating a small supercapacitor that can fit inside a cell phone battery and enable ultra-fast electricity transfer and storage, delivering a full charge in 20-30 seconds instead of several hours.
The nano-tech device Khare created can supposedly withstand up to 100,000 charges, a 100-fold increase over current technology, and it’s flexible enough to be used in clothing or displays on any non-flat surface.
It could also one day be used in car batteries and charging stations not unlike those used by the Tesla Model S, which includes “supercharger” technology that promises to charge vehicles in 30 minutes or less.
“I’m in a daze,” Khare told CBS San Francisco after being honored among the three finalists at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix over the weekend. “I can’t believe this happened.”
Over 1,600 finalists from around the world competed in the science fair for a $75,000 scholarship grand prize awarded by Intel. Runners-up received $50,000 scholarships.
Khare was the runner-up to 19-year-old Romanian student Gorden E. Moore, who created a low-cost artificial intelligence that can drive vehicles. She tied with Louisiana 17-year-old Henry Wanjune, who figured out new ways to measure dark matter and energy in space.
In the USA...
The Mainstream Media Suffers from Conservative-Induced Stockholm Syndrome
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
May. 20th, 2013
Kurtz’s position is that, for President Obama and the mainstream media, the honeymoon is over; that “The press has turned on President Obama with a vengeance.”
That immediately made me think of the power of perceptions. For example, I hadn’t been aware Obama and the media had ever been married. The honeymoon is over? The honeymoon can’t be over for the simple reason that there never was a honeymoon. When has the mainstream media ever been pro-Obama? Have mainstream media figures like Howard Kurtz have fallen for the Republican Big Lie of a “liberal media elite”?
I begin to wonder if the MSM is suffering from conservative-induced Stockholm syndrome. Certainly, after years of simultaneously defending the conservative viewpoint and being attacked for supposedly defending the liberal viewpoint, they have a right to be messed up. I wonder if, due to dangerously high levels of delusion, it is time to put the MSM, if not the Fourth Estate as a whole, away as a threat to society.
Kurtz wrote that,
Suddenly, the White House briefing room is filled with confrontational questions. Suddenly, the news pages are ablaze with scandal, and the commentators — even some of the president’s usual defenders — are bemoaning his shortcomings. Suddenly, Obama isn’t getting the benefit of the doubt.
I don’t think that in general, Obama was ever given the benefit of the doubt by the so-called liberal media elite but the conservative viewpoint has gained wide currency: Fox News did a piece in November 2012 in which they examined “Five ways the mainstream media tipped the scales in favor of Obama.”
You know what the media’s sin was? I will tell you, since Fox News won’t. The mainstream media’s sin was in actually reporting what Republicans were saying. Fox News spun this as: “The media unfairly jumped on inconsequential mistakes — or even invented controversies — from Romney and hyped them in to multi-day media “earthquakes.”
Fox News can say Romney’s problems were trivial but they were clearly not trivial for the American voter. I don’t know about you, but being characterized as an “uppity taker” cannot be defended as a “gaffe” or “misstep” unless by that you mean Romney accidentally said what he actually thought about us. The real problem for the American voter was not that the media had the decency to actually report Romney’s words but that Romney said them – and worse, believed them – in the first place.
For just about the first time ever, the Republican Party’s extremism bit itself in the ass, becoming so extreme that even the mainstream media could ignore it no longer. They actually had the audacity to, as Fox News put it, “Pound Romney With Partisan Fact Checking”! And of course, they’ll never forgive ABC’s Martha Raddatz for actually doing her job rather than letting the debate turn into another Jim Lehrer-sponsored Republican infomercial.
Yes, refusing to conform to Republican propaganda is apparently a form of media bias. Anything less than a free pass for their extremism is pro-Obama bias.
Another example: Fox News insists the economy is Obama’s Achilles heel. But the economy has improved, the deficit is disappearing at an unbelievable rate. The problem is not that the mainstream media has refused to report the truth about the economy – what Fox News calls “burying the bad economy”; the problem is that the mainstream media has failed to sufficiently conform to Republican propaganda. And all this while pretending that the Republican-controlled House has nothing to do with the economy, despite controlling the budget, despite spending the past half-decade obstructing any positive response to the economic debacle Republicans are responsible for in the first place!
In other words, in the real world, the economy is the Republicans’ Achilles heel, which was essentially the position of the Obama campaign. Republicans are just pissed that, for once, the truth won out. So we find Michele Malkin whining on May 13 of this year that, “For the Obama administration and the mainstream media, everything’s relative.” She complains that “CBS News President David Rhodes’ brother is Obama Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes” but she won’t tell you that ABC’s Jonathan Karl is an Alumnus of a Conservative Media Training Program. No, that would skew her rant toward the factual, and we can’t have that, because Karl is the guy responsible for, as Sarah Jones called it, “the infamous Benghazi email lie.”
Of this incident, Kurtz wrote, “The Karl report turned out to be based on an inaccurate, misleading characterization of an email,” somehow managing to fail to mention that the Republicans had doctored those emails, and ABC News’ own culpability, as though poor Karl was the victim of a hoax. That the lie worked to skew opinion of Obama to the negative was obliquely admitted by Kurtz: “for the first time, many journalists came to believe the administration had something to hide—and that they had been personally misled in press briefings. That is guaranteed to get the blood flowing.”
If the media is so pro-Obama, why are they suspicious of Obama and not of the Republican Party, which so adroitly manipulated this episode?
They may not all be Fox News, but sometimes, there isn’t a lot of difference. The Republican point of view shows up everywhere, like US News & World Report contributing editor and Fox News opinion guy Peter Roff, who in September 2010 provided “More evidence of pro-Obama mainstream media bias”; or former Bush speechwriter Mary Kate Cary September 2012 opinion piece in the US News & World Report, that “Americans Are Sick of Media’s Pro-Obama Bias.”
No, they’re not, because there is no “Pro-Obama bias” in the media. What Cary is upset about is that her feelings have been hurt by an insufficiently compliant media that is no longer quite so anxious to swallow Republican lies hook, line, and sinker.
Yet apparently, according to Kurtz, ”According to Obama’s longtime detractors, the denizens of the fourth estate are finally climbing out of a tank in which they have been immersed since roughly 2007.”
Kurtz cautions that “the reality is a bit more nuanced than that.” He tells us that,
It’s easy to say that news organizations recoiled from Obama only when their own special interests were threatened, and maybe there’s some truth to that. But the media also have a deep, abiding love for scandal, and beyond the AP phone records story, the administration is lately providing that scandal in spades.
No, Mr. Kurtz: the Republicans have provided the mainstream media with scandal in spades, 100% American made. Look at how eager ABC News was to roast the president alive on the strength of doctored Republican emails. And ABC News hasn’t even had the decency to apologize for misleading the American people.
But there is nuance. CBS at least had the decency to out ABC’s “scoop,” exposing it for the lie it is (a crime for which they will never be forgiven, as Malkin’s outrage demonstrates). The Republicans are still acting like the emails they doctored are the real ones, but then the Republicans still act like it’s the height of the Gilded Age.
Kurtz alleges that, “Some in the media rolled over for Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign, though the record was decidedly more mixed once he took office.”
I don’t see this at all. I didn’t see it then and I don’t see it now. I think that if you go back and look at the mainstream media’s track record since 2008, you will see precious little evidence of a liberal media elite, or as Sarah Palin – upset that the media dared actually print what she said – whiningly put it, “lamestream media.”
But personal feelings toward this president who has never courted the press no longer matter; nor do personal predilections on gun control and immigration reform. The scandal machinery has kicked into high gear, and its sheer noise may drown out everything else.
The scandal machinery engineered by the Republican Party and all too eagerly embraced by a right-leaning mainstream media. Bill Maher and Americans uninfected by Republican propaganda understand where the real scandal lies: in Republican obstructionism; in the mainstream media pretending Republican lies are the truth.
Reality has never been more skewed than by the conservative spin on the true state of the MSM, so for conservative Jennifer Rubin, writing at The Washington Post, a mainstream media “see no evil, hear no evil, report no evil” can only describe a MSM reluctance to properly investigate the imagined evils of liberalism. We know full well the real scope of the problem, which is the MSM’s reluctance to talk about what the Republicans have been doing to America since 2008.
But the mainstream media has studiously avoided looking into Republican action/inaction since 2008 just as it had studiously avoided the implications of the faked emails. Maybe Kurtz should be asking himself why that is, rather than pretending the mainstream media was ever President Obama’s friend.
Mitch McConnell Crashes and Burns When Pressed for Evidence of Obama Scandal
By: Jason Easley
May. 19th, 2013
When asked for evidence of Obama’s role in the IRS scandal, Mitch McConnell crashed and burned by babbling on about a culture of intimidation with no supporting proof.
Transcript from NBC News:
GREGORY: Let me get right to it and start on the IRS. Why don’t you accept the word from not only White House officials but from former acting commissioner who said, these were foolish mistakes about targeting con– conservative groups, but there is not evidence of a political agenda?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Actually, there is a culture of intimidation throughout the administration. The IRS is just the most recent example. Let me just recount a few for your audience. Over at HHS, back during the Obamacare debate, Secretary Sebelius sent out a directive to health insurance companies telling them they couldn’t inform their policyholders of what they thought the impact of Obamacare would be on them. Now she’s trying to shake them down for contributions in effect to a group to go out and try to convince the public that they should love Obamacare. Over at the FCC, there have been efforts by Obama appointees to– to shut down or make difficult people who are seeking to buy advertising to criticize the administration. Over at the SEC, the Obama appointees have been engaged in an effort to make it difficult for corporations to exercise their First Amendment, political rights. The IRS– coming back to the IRS. The head of the union at the IRS gives 99 percent of her campaign money to Democrats. She openly criticizes the Republican House for trying to reduce government spending and has specifically targeted Tea Party groups in her public comments. It’s no wonder that the agents and the IRS sort of get the message. The president demonizes his opponent. The head of their union demonizes the people…
GREGORY: But Senator, that– that was a leap…
SEN. MCCONNELL: …who think that…
GREGORY: …that’s a leap that can you make as argument, but you don’t have fact to back it up. You can create and I just asked…
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, the investigation…
GREGORY: …I asked Dan Pfeiffer about it. You can you talk about a culture. Do you have any evidence that the President of the United States directed what you call a culture of intimidation at the IRS to target political opponents?
SEN. MCCONNELL: I– I don’t think we know what the facts are. All I can tell you is…
GREGORY: But that hasn’t stopped you from– from accusing.
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, what we’re talking about here is an– an attitude that the government knows best, the nanny state is here to tell us all what to do and if we start criticizing, you get targeted.
Basically, Sen. McConnell admitted that Republicans don’t have any evidence to back up their IRS allegations. They are investigating an Obama connection to the IRS scandal because they are falsely attributing some beliefs to him that he does not hold.
McConnell’s culture of intimidation talking point was supposed to act as justification for all of the congressional investigations.
Minority Leader McConnell never thought that David Gregory would ask him for evidence to back up his accusations. McConnell’s claim about Obamacare was a lie. The directive was sent out because insurance companies were sending their Medicare customers confusing and deceptive mailings designed to whip up opposition to Obamacare. His claim about the FCC was based on an attempt by the commission to require local stations to post online the names of those who purchase television campaign ads. Mitch McConnell views openness and transparency as part of Obama’s culture of intimidation.
McConnell’s complaint about the SEC also involved Citizens United. The SEC is considering a disclosure rule that would require publicly traded companies report to shareholders all of their political donations. According to McConnell, trying to stop billionaires from secretly buying our government is Obama intimidation.
Republicans have been screaming about an Obama culture of corruption since the president took office, but when asked to prove their allegations, they offer zilch. Without even realizing it McConnell proved that all of these “Obama scandals” are nothing more than political fishing trips. Congressional Republicans are hoping to find something to confirm their conspiracies about this president.
The truth is that outside of Obama hate, Mitch McConnell’s got nothing.
The Lie Matters: What Did Sen Coburn Know about the Edited Benghazi Email and How Did He Know It
By: Sarah Jones
May. 19th, 2013
Joy Reid dropped a little Benghazi lying leaker bomb yesterday on the Reid Report blog. A trusted source of hers told her to look at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. One person who stood out to her was Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who was on Morning Joe on May 9th, the day before the now debunked Benghazi email bombshell, claiming that there were “glaring omissions” in what was given to the intelligence committee, but that he couldn’t talk about it yet.
Senator Coburn appears to be referencing the email that was edited and shopped by “Republicans on Capitol Hill” to media outlets, and picked up by the gullible rube Jonathan Karl at ABC, as well as repeated by The Weekly Standard and a CBS reporter. This suggests that he saw the edited version of the email that was leaked by Republicans.
The Reid Report detailed on Saturday:
A very trusted source of mine gave me a cryptic piece of advice yesterday, which was to take a look at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. I didn’t know quite what to make of it at the time, but tonight it occurred to me: could someone on that committee also have been on the Select Committee on Intelligence, which is the one that got the email briefing in February?
Here’s the Republican membership of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (the Committee is chaired by Democrat Thom Carper of Delaware):
• Tom Coburn, (OK) Ranking Member
• John McCain (AZ)
• Ron Johnson (WI)
• Rob Portman (OH)
• Rand Paul (KY)
• Mike Enzi (WY)
• Kelly Ayotte (NH)
Pretty juicy list! Note how stacked the minority side of the committee is with presidential aspirants, potential aspirants, a former aspirant, and some of the most hardcore tea party Senators, including some, like Rand Paul, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, who have gone after, first Susan Rice, and then Hillary Clinton guns blazing on Benghazi. But only one of those Senators ALSO sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence — which is the one that my administration source says got the February briefing”
And that person is Tom Coburn.
Joy Reid points out that “On May 9th — literally the day before Jonathan Karl’s “bombshell” report went live, Coburn appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe” and said that the State Department was going to be in trouble because of “glaring omissions” that he could not discuss yet, but he assured us all would come out eventually.
Sen. Tom Coburn said the State Department was in real trouble due to a “glaring omission”, and that it would “eventually come out” but he “can’t talk about it now”, “I think the State Department has real trouble. Having sat on the intelligence committee and seen the review of emails that went back and forth as they developed the list, there is are glaring problem there that will eventually come out, and I can’t talk about now, but there was an omission that was given to the intelligence committee.”
Do tell, Senator. How did he know about the “glaring omission” in the emails? Someone had to have shown him the Republican version of the emails, since there is no glaring omission in the actual emails. The very next day, Jonathan Karl sold his soul to the devil by publishing his “exclusive” (aka, a lie).
Reid points out that this doesn’t mean the leaker is Coburn or is even from his office, but she’s fairly certain the leaker is high up (most likely a Republican top staffer, unless Republicans are even more suicidal than they currently appear) who leaked the deceptively edited email at the direction of their member.
Coburn, a far right Republican, does sit on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
The Senator, who misses his fair share of votes (“from Jan 2005 to May 2013, Coburn missed 112 of 2,611 roll call votes, which is 4.3%. This is worse than the median of 1.6% among the lifetime records of senators currently serving”), sits on the following committees:
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Ex Officio, Subcommittee on Emergency Management, Intergovernmental Relations, and the District of Columbia
Ex Officio, Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight
Ex Officio, Subcommittee on Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
Ex Officio, Subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce
Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
Member, Subcommittee on Economic Policy
Member, Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development
Member, Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance, and Investment
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
In January, Senator Coburn appointed Brian E. Treat as his Chief of Staff. Treat has been with him since he was in the House in 1998-2000, and then from 2005 to now. An index of Coburn’s past and present staffers can be found here.
Coburn’s top five donors from 2007- 2012 election were (per Open Secrets):
Club for Growth $63,300 $63,300 $0
Emergent Biosolutions $20,650 $15,650 $5,000
Cummins-American Corp $15,400 $6,400 $9,000
Koch Industries $14,800 $4,800 $10,000
Rooney Holdings $13,500 $13,500 $0
Coburn has said that he will retire in 2016. He is infamous for saying, “It’s just a good thing I can’t pack a gun on the Senate floor.” That was right before he told his constituents that Obama likes the culture of dependency because it worked so well for him as an African American male.
The most interesting thing about this suspicion is that if the leak came from the Senate and not the House, it can be investigated by Democrats who are the hamstrung, beleaguered majority in the Senate. I would have bet on the House being the leak for this reason, but perhaps I’ve underestimated Republican hubris.
Yesterday, Democratic Rep Adam Schiff (D-CA) called for an investigation into how the doctored email ended up in the media’s hands. There’s no way that Darrell Issa would allow an investigation of Republicans in the House. He’s way too invested in abusing his power for partisan gain, especially after the big money told Republicans to stop any legislating and just focus on drumming up Obama scandals.
Karl and ABC brushed this under the rug today, claiming that his story still stood. It most certainly does not. But clearly, they aren’t going to be outing their source and CBS did enough by outing that it was offered to them by Republicans on Capitol Hill. Americans deserve to know who lied to Congress, the public, and the press and why. Remember, “it’s the lie that matters”… and the cover up.
Republicans have been nattering on since September 12 about Benghazi. Now that we have the first piece of evidence that there has been malfeasance and an attempt to mislead the public, albeit by Republicans, suddenly they aren’t interested in wasting time on investigations anymore. File that with the years-stalled WMD investigations.
Benghazi Bullshit: The Real Scandal is the Media Pretending that Republicans Aren’t Lying
By: Sarah Jones
May. 19th, 2013
Pardon my language, but I’ve had it with this bullshit.
The real scandal, the only scandal, is that your “free press” is once again pretending as if Republicans are not lying to them. They are pretending that House Republicans did not feed a lie to the press in order to forward their bullshit Benghazi narrative.
The press is very busy and important moving forward the narrative that there’s a scandal. Oh, you might be impressed at first that they’ve finally found the courage so clearly missing during the Bush years, when they scraped the lies off of the administration’s feet with subservience and deference befitting propaganda outlets.
But you’d only be impressed if you didn’t look any deeper. You see, there is one consistency here and that is that when Republicans lie to the press, the public, and Congress, from WMD to Benghazi, the press carries their water like the corporate serfs they are.
They are not doing this to hold the executive branch accountable. They are doing it because this is the only time they have any balls at all, and they must make a show of it. They haven’t the courage to stand up to corporate Republicans in Congress because their corporate bosses need their Republican stooges to deregulate them for the profit. They haven’t the integrity to stand up to Bush’s WMD. But boy oh boy, can they stand up for phony Benghazi bullshit!
On the Sunday shows this week, you’d have thought that Jake Tapper never busted ABC’s deliberately misleading Benghazi email “exclusive” as the joke it was. Much concern over the trifecta of scandals. Yesterday I was listening to CNN on satellite radio, and they were breathless with the scandals– would Obama ever recover?
But it’s perfectly okay for ABC to lie to the public, carrying Benghazi bullshit for their conservative reporter who didn’t even demand to see the original email before passing along Republicans’ interpretation of it as fact.
Your media hasn’t the guts to call ABC out, just like they got Fox’s back when the President said they were not a news organization. It’s a big club, and the only reason you got the Tapper story is probably because Tapper has a grudge against Karl. He should despise him for being a moron and a Republican stooge, but that’s not the problem at all. After all, we all remember when Tapper was carrying GOP Benghazi water, so concerned that the administration might have not been honest – based on nothing but Republicans claiming so during an election — oh, but, integrity!
The problem is that ABC replaced Tapper with this former CNN conservative because, you know, chasing after a demo that is aging itself out of existence seemed like a great plan to ABC. I don’t give a crap why Tapper went all Benghazi bombshell on Karl, Karl set himself up for it. But who is going to go after the rest of the walking dead corporate puppets?
Do they even care about the truth? If they did, Republican Benghazi bullshit would not be headlining. The headline right now should be that ABC doesn’t see anything wrong with what Karl did, and apparently our misinformed public couldn’t give a crap either. Kim Kardashian! Sparkles! Oh, yes, and Obama is Nixon/Bush only worse. Wrap that up with a bullshit bow, because that is all you are getting for news from the bullshit factory that brought you WMD as a real thing.
Note: I save bad language for moments like this, when nothing else will do. My contempt runneth over.
Cowardly Karl: ABC Let’s Their Chief White House Correspondent Issue Non-Apology
By: Sarah Jones
May. 19th, 2013
On CNN’s Reliable Sources, host Howard Kurtz read a statement this Sunday from Jonathan Karl, chief White House Correspondent for ABC News, that didn’t make Karl look any better, but in fact only raised more questions.
Karls’ statement was a response to being busted by Jake Tapper of CNN for taking a doctored email hawked to other reporters by House Republicans and creating an “excuslive” out of it that specifically charged that the White House had changed talking points in order to protect itself.
Jonathan Karl isn’t backing down. Nope. He’s doubling down on the accusations while expressing regret that the email was quoted incorrectly (by whom? aliens who took over his keyboard?) and for the “distraction” from what Karl sees as the real story:
Clearly, I regret the email was quoted incorrectly and I regret that it’s become a distraction from the story, which still entirely stands. I should have been clearer about the attribution. We updated our story immediately.
-Jonathan Karl, ABC News Chief White House Correspondent
Somehow, Karl believes that the story still stands. But all examinations of the emails show that the minor edits fundamentally altered the meaning of the email. They were edited in order to make the Obama administration look bad, “inventing the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed.” That was the entire point of Karl’s story, and not coincidentally, the narrative of House Republicans.
Karl tried to defend his false story at the time by claiming his story still stood and pointing his finger at the White House. He wanted more information, darn it! Sadly for him, the White House complied and those emails proved that Karl’s story did not stand. Jason Easley explained at the time that by doing this, Obama put a stake through the heart of the GOP’s Benghazi scandal:
The president put a stake through the heart of the GOP’s attempts to revive Benghazi by releasing 100 pages of emails. (Now, the world can see how badly Jon Karl and ABC News got played when they used the summaries of someone else’s notes.) The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent published an email from Tommy Vietor, who until recently was the spokesperson for the National Security Council. Vietor wrote, “Regarding the talking points, it’s not surprising that the entire government would want the chance to look at and edit that language. This was a dynamic situation and new information was constantly flowing in, and different agencies had important concerns that had to be addressed – the State Department had security concerns, the FBI was worried about its investigation, and the CIA had a major, yet still undisclosed, role.”
What makes this even more egregious is that somehow Jake Tapper got the original email. How did he do that? Was Karl unable to get the original email or is he responsible for altering it?
Karl’s Rovian mea culpa actually only raises more questions, most specifically who is responsible for incorrectly quoting the email. Until now, it seemed he was had by the House GOP, who hawked their email to other reporters. But now, we have to ask — who altered the email, who “quoted it” incorrectly? Is Karl trying to cover for House GOP?
Yesterday, I gave Karl the benefit of the doubt, even after learning that he had been trained by a conservative media outlet also responsible for unleashing James O’Keefe, Michelle Malkin, and a host of other well known frothing lunatics who now pass themselves off as “journalists”.
Proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is indeed a Republican with an agenda that has made him blind to evidence and a general sucker for any lie a Republican wants out there, Karl’s words remind us all that crazy can never see just how crazy it appears, “I regret that it’s become a distraction from the story, which still entirely stands.” Oh, thanks for clearing that up, Karl. Integrity: ZERO.
Karl’s non-apology apology and refusal to go on his own network, let alone Reliable Sources, to explain what happened and how he came to mislead the public is indicative of an agenda that can’t afford the prying eyes of a TV audience.
Jonathan Karl is a coward, and a dupe. He misled his readers about his source, attributing it to a review of the actual emails when in fact he never had them. He got played by the GOP. The public is already starting petitions demanding his resignation (a move I support). But instead of apologizing for the real crime, ABC let him double down, claiming that he regrets this distraction. ABC is chasing after Fox News in the integrity department.
Jonathan Karl has officially become his own scandal, exposed by his own words and hubris.
Lyin’ Paul Ryan Tells A Fact Free Tale About Obama and The IRS Scandal
By: Jason Easley
May. 19th, 2013
Paul Ryan ignored the evidence, and wove a web of lies in an attempt to insinuate that President Obama was involved in the IRS scandal.
Paul Ryan started off his Fox News Sunday interview by admitting that he had no proof that President Obama was involved in the IRS scandal. This did not stop Rep. Ryan from insinuating that Obama was involved in the IRS scandal.
What we also know from just this one hearing is that groups with the word progressive, or organizing, groups with a liberal persuasion did not have this targeting. They went through. They were approved. So we know that they specifically targeted people based on their political beliefs. Based on people who have a suspicion of the size and direction of government. Based on tea party, and 9/12, and the word patriots. So we know for sure they targeted people based on their political beliefs.
We’ve got allegations based on, you know, religious beliefs that were contrary to the president’s positions. We have credible allegations that donors to these groups were targeted. We know that the IRS leaked private confidential information to the public, for political, which served political purposes, so there’s so much more that we’ve just uncovered that we do not know the root causes of.
And so to suggest that this is some bureaucratic snafu, it it, that’s already been disproven, Chris. The other point I’d say this is. The person in charge of this bureaucratic snafu is has now been put in charge of implementing Obamacare. The IRS is now going to be granted huge amounts of unprecedented power over our health care in the implementation of Obamacare, and so this is just rotten to the core. This is arrogance. This is big government cronyism, and this is not what hardworking taxpayers deserve. People deserve a government that they can trust. That’s honest, that’s impartial, equality before the law, and that’s not what we are getting here, so to try and suggest bureaucratic snafus. We already know that this is not true.
Paul Ryan was lying. His lie was one of omission. Rep. Ryan made those claims based on only the year 2010. The problem is that the IRS also targeted liberals 2011 and 2012. In 2012, the IRS revoked the tax exempt status that they had given a liberal group in 2011.
The report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that the IRS was targeting groups on both the left and the right who were interested in expanding or limiting government. The IRS wasn’t targeting for partisan reasons. They were trying to figure out if these political groups violated the tax exempt status limitations on partisan political activity.
Ryan also lied about the IRS having power over health care. The IRS will be involved in making sure that everyone is participating in Obamacare or paying the penalty. The IRS will not be involved in health care, or health care decisions.
Republicans are trying to use this IRS scandal to attack Obama, and stop Obamacare. Notice that near the end of his remarks Ryan mentioned people deserve a government that they can trust. This statement was the first sign that the goal of these scandals is to use them against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Republicans are laying the groundwork for the argument the Obama administration can’t be trusted, and Clinton would represent a third term for Obama.
It is all a lie. There is no evidence that the president was involved, but that is not going to stop Republicans from drawing connections where none exist in order to trump up another Obama scandal.
White House Fights Back: We’ve Seen the GOP Playbook of False Allegations Before
By: Sarah Jones
May. 19th, 2013
Top White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer fought back against the week of Republican lies on Meet the Press, telling David Gregory, “We’ve seen this playbook from the Republicans before. What they want to do when they are lacking a positive agenda is they want to drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped up hearings, and false allegations. We’re not going to let that happen.”
He then proceeded to drop a few fact bombs on the alleged “scandals”.
Transcript from NBC News, with modifications and additions for missing text, my bold:
DAVID GREGORY: You don’t buy the theory there’s a big cloud, scandal over this president.
DAN PFEIFFER: No, I do not. We’ve seen this playbook from the Republicans before. What they want to do when they are lacking a positive agenda is they want to drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped up hearings, and false allegations. We’re not going to let that happen. The president has business to do for the American people.
DAVID GREGORY: We’re going to hear from Dave Camp (R-MI, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee)… This is one of the things he said. I want to get your reaction.
DAVE CAMP: Listening to the nightly news, this appears to be an example of cover-ups and it seems like the truth is hidden from the American people just long enough to make it through an election.
DAVID GREGORY: How do you react to that?
DAN PFEIFFER: There’s no evidence to support at that. The first time the White House was aware of this investigation was a few weeks ago when our office was notified it was happening. At that point, we had no idea what the facts were. Congressman Issa has been aware of this investigation since before the election. He didn’t say anything publicly for very good reason. As he said, want to make sure you actually have facts before you raise allegations — when you’re talking about a nonpartisan entity like the IRS.
DAVID GREGORY: You’re a communications professional as well. You never want a president of the United States coming out and saying I just learned about this from news reports. It doesn’t look like someone is large and in charge–
DAN PFEIFFER: In this situation that’s exactly what you want. You don’t want the President involved in an independent investigation with an agency with an independent stature like the IRS. That would be inappropriate.
The Obama administration appointed a career official to review the IRS procedures, someone who has served under presidents of both parties, because that is exactly what you do when you do not have an agenda to cover something up. The President is staying out of the investigation, as he should.
The facts are that the IRS was not only “targeting” conservatives. In fact, conservatives were only 1/3 of the groups “targeted”. During another one of the Republicans’ wasteful congressional hearings, they got handed their hysteria on a platter of “don’t ask questions you don’t know the answer to”, when they forced acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller to explain to them that conservatives were not targeted. Eric W. Dolan at Raw Story reported Saturday that Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) stepped in a big puddle of unbecoming fact:
“If the targeting wasn’t targeting, if the targeting wasn’t based on philosophy, how come only conservatives got snagged?” Roskam confidently asked.
“They didn’t, sir,” Miller responded. “Organizations of all walks and all persuasions were pulled in. That’s shown by the fact that only 70 of the 300 organizations were tea party organizations, of the ones that were looked at by TIGTA [Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration].”
Furthermore, Republicans knew about the IRS investigation last year, because they requested it (caution: Jonathan Karl article). They also know why it didn’t “come out” then, and that is because no wrongdoing had been found yet. This is the nature of investigations, something Issa admitted then and now plays confused over. However, you can’t blame Republicans for their most defining characteristic of jumping the gun. They don’t care much for evidence, as proven in these trumped up charges (Benghazi gate, in which they were busted as manufacturing evidence against the Obama administration, should burnish the WMD rep once and for all).
The “scandal” that certain folks knew about the “IRS targeting conservatives”, suggesting yet another coverup, was planted in the press last week by Republican congressional aides, who failed to mention that Congressman Issa also knew about it.
These are the facts, and it’s a sad commentary on our media that the White House had to send out their own representative to point these things out. If they didn’t, the “trifecta” of trumped up scandals would be allowed to continue ala the Clinton years, costing untold amounts of money and halting government for years. But guess what? President Obama is not going to let that happen again.
Democrats have learned a few things from the Clinton years, but Republicans clearly have not. Speaker Boehner was already asked if he was worried about backlash last week. If they aren’t careful, the narrative by next week will resemble something closer to the truth: These scandals are trumped up by Republicans, who have once again lied to the press, Congress, and the public.
Meanwhile, the President’s approval ratings are going up.
Backlash is on the menu.
Scandals Backfire on Republicans as Obama’s Approval Ratings Go Up
By: Jason Easley
May. 19th, 2013
Despite the many attempts by Republicans to generate a scandal, a new CNN/ORC poll found that the president’s approval ratings have increased by two points.
The latest CNN/ORC poll reveals that President Obama’s approval rating has gone up by two points from 51% in April to 53% today, while his disapproval rating has fallen by two points from 47% to 45%. While 85% of those polled agree that the IRS targeted of political groups is very or somewhat important issue, by a margin of 61%-37% respondents believed that President Obama’s statements on the matter have been completely mostly true. (That 37% number comes up a lot in polling. It represents the higher end of the number of self-identified conservatives/Republicans in the country.) By a margin of 54%-42% respondents think Republicans are reacting appropriately to the matter, but the vast majority (55%-37%) believe that the IRS acted alone without White House orders.
A majority of those polled were dissatisfied with the way the Obama administration handled Benghazi (53%), but they believe that the administration was passing along the facts as they knew them to be at that time (50%-44%).
These “scandals” haven’t hurt President Obama at all. The most logical reasons for this are that people aren’t paying attention, and those who are don’t believe the Republicans. President Obama has always been well liked trusted by a majority in this country. For years,Republicans have tried and repeatedly failed to damage the relationship that the president has with a majority of Americans.
President Obama has been consistently viewed by the majority in this country as honest. This hasn’t stopped Republicans from continuing to damage their own brand by trying to portray the president as dishonest, or covering up something.
This poll reveals that congressional Republicans are walking a fine line on the IRS scandal. People support them investigating the IRS, but they don’t support turning the investigation into an Obama witch hunt. Since House Republicans excel at self-destruction, they should be expected to try to link Obama to the IRS in their future hearings.
The scandals appear to be backfiring, and setting a dangerous trap for Republicans. The fundamental political dynamic of President Obama being much more popular than the Republican Party is shaping these numbers. If the unpopular congressional Republicans continue to attack Obama with scandals, they will make the president more popular and drive his poll numbers up.
The Obama scandals are backfiring in a big way. If Republicans don’t play it straight with these investigations, they could end up boosting Obama while burying their own party.