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« Reply #6930 on: Jun 14, 2013, 06:53 AM »

June 13, 2013

Exhibit at Auschwitz-Birkenau Honors Children of Holocaust


OSWIECIM, Poland — A small bird, an empty baby carriage, a soldier pointing a gun at a family in the woods. The simple sketches arranged by the Israeli artist Michal Rovner tell the story of loss, fear and hope through the eyes of the 1.5 million children killed in the Nazi Holocaust.

The sketches, with work that includes color footage of Jewish life in Europe between the World Wars and a six-and-a-half-foot-high volume of the Book of Names, make up the new permanent exhibit at Auschwitz-Birkenau honoring the Jewish victims. Called simply “Shoah,” the multimedia exhibit, which tries to push visitors beyond their knowledge of the facts of the Nazis’ Final Solution, was dedicated Thursday in a ceremony attended by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There are Holocaust deniers,” Mr. Netanyahu said after touring the exhibit. There, he found the name of Judith, his father-in-law’s twin sister, who was among the 4.2 million known victims listed in the oversize book displayed in the former brick barracks. “Let them come to Block 27 and let them go name by name.”

Mr. Netanyahu has accused Iran of plotting a second Holocaust, and recent Israeli attacks on Damascus demonstrate Israel’s desire to take advantage of the chaotic situation in Syria to send a clear message to Iran’s government. On Thursday, he charged that the Allies had failed to act against the Holocaust, despite knowledge of what was happening in the gas chambers of Birkenau, and vowed that the Israeli people would never again place their fate in the hands of others.

“From here in Auschwitz-Birkenau, this place that serves as a living testimony to the wish to destroy and obliterate our nation, I, the prime minister of the state of Israel, state of the Jewish people, am telling all nations of the world the state of Israel will do all within its power to prevent a second Holocaust,” Mr. Netanyahu said, in Hebrew.

Set in the original brick, two-story former barracks of Block 27, the exhibit seeks to complement the museum’s permanent collection of artifacts and the authenticity of the camp itself, through multimedia installations by contemporary Israeli artists, said Avner Shalev, the director of the Yad Vashem Institute for Holocaust Research in Israel, who curated the $8 million exhibit.

“We decided that we are not going to compete with the artifacts,” Mr. Shalev said. The Israeli government asked Yad Vashem to create the exhibit, after Ariel Sharon, then the prime minister, returned from the camp in 2005 dismayed at the outdated, ill-kept display created in the 1960s to honor the Jewish dead.

Faced with the task of making it worth visitors’ effort to spend 30 more minutes with the display, after having already toured the sites and main museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mr. Shalev huddled with researchers, teachers and survivors for several years to develop a mix of moving images, maps, audio clips of Hitler’s anti-Semitic rants and survivors’ videotaped testimony.

“The exhibit deals with a level of spiritual experience that builds on a culture of elements that you identify with and that make up your identity as a human being,” Mr. Shalev said.

One room is dedicated to the youngest victims. With dark, wooden watchtowers outside the windows, the fragility of the children’s drawings rendered on the wall by Ms. Rovner slows down visitors and draws them close.

Edited together from fragments of about 3,000 pictures drawn by Jewish children before they were executed, the work tells their story of longing for a daily life lost, through empty baby carriages and a mother hugging her child goodbye; of fear of soldiers poised in the woods and bombs breaking their homes; of the train tracks disappearing beneath the yawning gate at Birkenau.

“They found some kind of energy although they were taken away from everything they knew,” Ms. Rovner said of the children.

“They didn’t tell this story,” she said. “They couldn’t.”

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« Reply #6931 on: Jun 14, 2013, 06:54 AM »

06/14/2013 01:38 PM

A Hardliner and Conservatives: Iranians Get Few Choices for President

By Raniah Salloum

Fifty million Iranians are voting on Friday for a new president. Of the six conservative candidates, Saeed Jalili is the most hardline. If he wins, the Islamic Republic could become even more authoritarian -- and the West should expect tougher confrontations.

The people of Iran will choose from six candidates during this Friday's presidential election -- all are conservative. Not a single candidate has seriously criticized the system in the Islamic Republic. They belong to the establishment. But one stands out as being particularly extreme.

"Saeed Jalili stands for radical positions," says Walter Posch, an expert on Iran at the respected German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin. "The question with this election is: Will Jalili win or not?" If Jalili prevails, it means the radical wing within the Iranian establishment has won.

Elections in Iran are not free. There are no independent election observers monitoring the voting process, so tampering is possible. The outcome of the election is therefore nearly impossible to predict. Aside from Jalili, the candidates include Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, former Minister of Petroleum Mohammad Gharazi, Mohsen Rezai of the Revolutionary Guard and former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani. If none of the candidates receives over 50 percent of the vote on June 14, the top two will compete in a run-off race scheduled for June 21.

The candidates are handpicked by the Guardian Council, whose members were all chosen directly or indirectly by the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. So the results of the election are telling about the distribution of power within the establishment. "The infighting this time is more heated than it has been during other elections," says Posch.

Jalili is running under the slogan: "Resistance is the key to success." For the 48-year-old, these are not empty words. He is serious about the ideology of the Islamic Republic. The arch-conservative veteran of the Iran-Iraq War is a staunch supporter of the system. He accuses his rivals in the presidential race of being too lenient.

Foreign Confrontation, Domestic Repression

They also continue to believe that Iran has the right to its nuclear program. In dealing with the West, however, some of the candidates are in favor of moderation and have signaled a willingness to compromise on the details. The fact of the matter is that it is Ayatollah Khamenei who defines the basic aspects of Iran's nuclear policy. Still, the president does have influence over the tone of exchange with the West. Ultimately he represents Iran in the international arena. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom term limits prohibit from re-election, will likely be remembered above all for his verbal swipes at Israel.

In some ways Jalili and Ahmadinejad are similar. Both are relatively young nationalist radicals who from rather modest circumstances have managed to climb the ranks of the Islamic Republic.

But Jalili is considered a more faithful devotee of Khamenei. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, is more of a populist than an ideologue. Unlike Jalili, he has charisma and support among parts of the population. He often challenged the establishment. Even Khamenei was personally opposed to Ahmadinejad's presidency -- and drew the short straw.

A victory for Jalili would mean not only a continuation of confrontational foreign policy, but also of domestic repression.

Under Ahmadinejad's presidency, the political freedoms of Iranians were scaled back, especially after the controversial election of 2009 and subsequent protests.

On the other hand, the populist was also willing to engage in confrontations with the clerical establishment -- such as when he granted certain women permission to watch soccer before Ayatollah Khamenei intervened and reinstated the ban.

Jalili the ideologue would scarcely try to expand the social rights of women. Were Jalili to become president, the political system could very well become even more authoritarian. The power would be even more densely concentrated around Khamenei. As a faithful devotee of the supreme leader, the president would be relegated to a minor role.

During the presidency of Ahmadinejad, Khamenei publicly considered abolishing the office -- the only halfway-democratic-looking element in Iran's political system. "If Jalili becomes president, Iran will undergo an internal conversion and move forward on its course of confrontational foreign policy," says Posch. "With this election, Iran stands at a crossroads."


Iranians go to polls after spirited end to presidential campaign

Public interest in Friday's election surges after Hassan Rouhani attracts backing from reformers and opposition figures

Saeed Kamali Dehghan   
The Guardian, Friday 14 June 2013   

Iranians are voting for a new president following an election campaign that began flatly but took off when thousands poured on to the streets to show their support for their preferred candidate.

Since reformists and opposition figures threw their weight behind the moderate contender Hassan Rouhani, public interest in the lone cleric running in the election has surged significantly.

Videos and pictures posted online of Rouhani's campaign rallies in Tehran and other major cities such as Mashhad show scenes reminiscent – albeit on a smaller scale – of the 2009 election, when supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, dubbed the Green movement, created a historic momentum.

Six candidates, a slate of hopefuls who qualified to stand only after an acrimonious vetting process, are competing to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after eight years in office.

"We are finally bidding farewell to Ahmadinejad, and that alone is something to welcome," Mohammad, a Tehrani citizen, said via online chat on Facebook.

"Regardless of the outcome, I celebrate the fact that he is finally leaving Iranian politics."

The three-week campaign period, which saw candidates embarking on an extensive schedule of provincial visits and campaigners taking to the streets to spread the word, officially ended in the early hours of Thursday and polls opened on Friday morning.

"At first I did not want to vote. Elections are not free in my country," said Mona, a university student in Tehran. "But I have changed my mind after seeing the euphoria in the past couple of days in the streets of Tehran. People are desperate for a change and I'm voting for Rouhani."

As the polls opened, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged a large turnout and said he did not "give a damn" about US suggestions that the ballot was unfair.

"What is important is that everyone takes part," Khamenei said, speaking live on state television as he cast his ballot in Tehran. "Our dear nation should come [to vote] with excitement and liveliness and know that the destiny of the country is in their hands and the happiness of the country depends on them."

Earlier, Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in the country, said: "It is possible that some do not want to support the Islamic republic but surely they want to support their own country. They should vote too." Khamenei had previously said that he would consider any vote a vote for the Islamic republic.

It is the first presidential election since 2009, when protests against the official results sparked an uprising. This was followed by months of unrest and a crackdown on journalists and activists. Mousavi and another candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, are currently under house arrest.

Despite a surge in the number of people deciding to vote, some still fear their vote will not be counted. Mina, a young woman from the central city of Isfahan, said: "Last time they stole our votes. What is the guarantee this time that they will count them?"

On the last full day of campaigning, thousands of activists filled the streets. A video shot on Tehran's Vali-e-Asr street and posted on YouTube showed hundreds of Rouhani supporters holding up banners and chanting slogans at supporters of Saeed Jalili, a hardliner.

Many prominent figures sympathetic to Rouhani have in the past few days urged undecided voters to back him, warning that lack of participating will increase Jalili's chances.

Although the remaining five candidates besides Rouhani are conservative figures unlikely to bring major reform to the country's ruling system, almost all the men are critical of Ahmadinejad's government and have pledged to bring changes to the country's economic and political landscape, putting an end to an era when populist policies of the outgoing president sparked widespread controversies.

Tehran's pragmatic mayor, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, is also among the conservative candidates seen as having a good chance of winning or entering a runoff with Rouhani.

"On Ghalibaf's watch, Tehran has changed positively," said Akram from Tehran. "I'll vote for him because I believe he can be a good president."

In the run up to the election Iranian authorities clamped down on activists and campaigners, with journalists, lawyers and members of Iran's religious and ethnic minorities facing harassment.

"The escalation in repression is an outrageous attempt by the Iranian authorities to silence critics ahead of the presidential election," said Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther. "The surge in recent violations underlines Iran's continued and brazen flouting of human rights standards through its persecution of political dissidents, and betrays the glaring absence of a meaningful human rights discourse in the election campaign."

On Wednesday Google's security chief warned against a "politically motivated" phishing attack on tens of thousands of Iranian users.

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« Reply #6932 on: Jun 14, 2013, 07:02 AM »

une 14, 2013

South Korean Agents Accused of Tarring Opposition Before Election


Nine agents from the National Intelligence Service of South Korea wrote more than 1,700 postings on the Internet in a psychological warfare campaign against North Korea last year, using some of them to attack domestic opposition parties and their candidates ahead of South Korea’s presidential election in December, state prosecutors said on Friday.

Their top supervisor, Won Sei-hoon, former director of the intelligence agency, was accused of overseeing the online operation and was indicted in the case on Friday. But prosecutors said they did not indict the nine agents because they were simply obeying Mr. Won’s instructions.

Mr. Won, who was not arrested, faced trial on charges of violating the national election law, which bans government officials from using their influence to affect an election, as well as violating a separate law that prohibits government intelligence officials from meddling in domestic politics.

While announcing the result of their two-month-long investigation, prosecutors did not comment on whether or how the alleged operation by the intelligence agents affected the Dec. 19 election. President Park Geun-hye, the governing party candidate at the time, won one million votes more than her main rival, Moon Jae-in, the candidate of the main opposition Democratic Party and a key target of the intelligence agents’ online criticism.

The agents used hundreds of Internet IDs to upload comments as part of what the intelligence authorities have called a normal psychological campaign against North Korea. The intelligence agency has accused North Korea of using the Internet to try to spread Communist propaganda and spawn anti-government sentiment in South Korea, one of the world’s most wired countries.

But prosecutors said that at least 67 of the postings uploaded by the agents between September and December last year criticized the main opposition Democratic Party, a minor progressive party and their presidential candidates, accusing them of being too soft on North Korea or sympathizing with it. Prosecutors said they would present the postings, some of which used offensive language, in court as evidence of illegal meddling in the presidential election.

In their nationally televised announcement of their investigation results, prosecutors depicted the intelligence agents as overzealous officials who overstepped their normal job duties by using their anti-North Korean psychological operations to attack the domestic opposition's North Korea policies. The opposition parties have called for a new parliamentary investigation, claiming that the intelligence agency’s online activities were aimed directly at helping Ms. Park’s election.

Ms. Park’s office did not comment on the prosecutor’s announcement on Friday. Mr. Won also was not immediately available for comment. But through his lawyers, he has denied interfering in the election, saying that his agency’s online activities were part of normal psychological operations focused on North Korea.

Mr. Won had served as the top intelligence official under President Lee Myung-bak, Ms. Park’s predecessor, until Ms. Park took office in February.

During the election campaign, the opposition claimed that the intelligence agency engaged in illegal campaigning for Ms. Park. But three days before the election, the police announced that they had investigated and found no evidence to support the opposition’s allegation.

Kim Yong-pan, former chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police, was indicted on Friday on charges of withholding criminal evidence in an attempt to illegally intervene in the police investigation by junior officers.
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« Reply #6933 on: Jun 14, 2013, 07:06 AM »

Julia Gillard speaks of fears for women in public life after Sattler radio ambush

PM raises concerns that interview in which she was asked about the sexuality of her partner might dissuade women from politics

Katharine Murphy, deputy political editor, Friday 14 June 2013 02.49 BST   

Julia Gillard has said she does not want women and girls to be dissuaded from participation in public life after an extraordinary radio interview in which she was asked whether her live-in partner, Tim Mathieson, was gay.

Radio broadcaster Howard Sattler has been sacked after a strong public backlash to the interview broadcast on Perth radio on Thursday afternoon.

In her first comments since the encounter, Gillard told reporters that, like the sex discrimination commissioner, Liz Broderick, she was concerned that women could be put off from entering politics by unfortunate episodes such as the Sattler interview.

“I’ve seen the remarks of the sex discrimination commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick. She has spoken about her concerns that things like this send a message to women and to girls not to be involved in public life,” she said in Adelaide on Friday morning.

“I’m concerned about that too. I don’t want to see a message like that sent to … young girls. I want young girls and women to be able to feel like they are included in public life and not have to face questioning like the questioning I faced yesterday.”

The prime minister declined further comment on the issue.

Broderick had said she felt angry listening to the Sattler interview, and was concerned about the impact it would have on the public discourse, and on women with aspirations to enter politics, or any kind of public role.

Kevin Rudd, campaigning in Sydney, attacked the Sattler interview. "I think it's totally off," Rudd said.

Sattler posed the question to the prime minister on Thursday afternoon on the premise of clearing up rumours and things "you hear".

Sattler said to the prime minister he would offer her a chance to clear up ''myths, rumours, snide jokes and innuendo'' during the interview on Perth's 6PR.

"Tim's gay?" Sattler inquired of the prime minister.

"Well that's absurd," Gillard replied.

"But you hear it," Sattler persisted. "He must be gay, he's a hairdresser. It's not me saying it."

"Well, Howard, I don't know whether every silly thing that gets said is going to be repeated to me now, but to all the hairdressers out there, including the men who are listening, I don't think that in life one can look at a whole profession full of different human beings and say gee, we know something about every one of those human beings," the prime minister said, before adding: "It's absurd."

Rather than dropping the issue, Sattler continued with the inquisition, evidently seeking to obtain a direct denial. "You can confirm that's he's not [gay]?"

"Oh, Howard, don't be ridiculous. Of course not," Gillard said. "Let me bring you back to Earth."

After first suspending Sattler, Fairfax announced late on Friday that the broadcaster had been sacked from his program. Radio station 6PR issued a statement apologising to the prime minister and to Mathieson.

"During an interview on the Drive program yesterday presenter Howard Sattler pursued a line of questioning with prime minister Julia Gillard that was disrespectful to the office and the person of the prime minister and was entirely inappropriate," the statement read.

"Radio 6PR apologises unreservedly to Ms Gillard and Mr Mathieson for allowing these matters to be raised on the Drive Program. In the wake of yesterday's interview Radio 6PR suspended Mr Sattler from broadcasting pending a review of the matter today. The station has now decided to terminate Mr Sattler's engagement."

Sattler for his part was unrepentant, and signalled his intention to take legal action against Fairfax concerning his dismissal.

The ambush of the prime minister on radio followed days of political controversy over the so-called gender wars.

A furore erupted earlier this week over a lewd menu prepared in association with an LNP fundraiser in Brisbane containing explicit references to the prime minister's body including her breasts and "big red box".

Brisbane restaurant owner Joe Richards said he prepared the menu not as a public rebuke but as a private "in-joke" with his son. The LNP's candidate for the seat of Fisher, Mal Brough, apologised for the offending document, and so did his party organisation.

Richards says the menu was not circulated among guests at the fundraiser for Brough in late March – although Labor ministers on Thursday queried whether that account of events should be believed.

Brough has said the content of the menu was entirely inappropriate.

The LNP candidate said he apologised initially, not because he has seen the menu himself, but because he believed others might have seen it. He later clarified with Richards that it had not gone beyond the kitchen.


‘Intersex’ included on Australia’s new gender guidelines

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, June 14, 2013 7:24 EDT

The Australian government has announced new guidelines on gender recognition which state that individuals should be given the option of selecting “male”, “female” or “intersex” on their personal documents.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the new guidelines, which come into operation from July 1, will make it simpler for people to establish or change their sex or gender in personal records held by federal government departments and agencies.

“We recognise individuals may identify, and be recognised within the community, as a gender other than the gender they were assigned at birth or during infancy, or as an indeterminate gender,” Dreyfus said in a statement Thursday.

“This should be recognised and reflected in their personal records held by departments and agencies.”

The move comes after the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2009 recommended the government consider developing national guidelines concerning the collection of sex and gender information.

The new guidelines state that “where sex and/or gender information is collected and recorded in a personal record, individuals should be given the option to select M (male), F (female) or X (Indeterminate/Intersex/Unspecified)”.

They state that sex reassignment surgery and/or hormone therapy are not pre-requisites for the recognition of a change of gender in Australian government records.

When someone requests the sex on their personal record be changed, Dreyfus said the government would accept a statement from their doctor or psychologist, a valid Australian passport (which have allowed X under sex for several years), or a state or territory birth certificate or other document which shows their preferred gender status.

“Transgender and intersex people in Australia face many issues trying to ensure the gender status on their personal records matches the gender they live and how they are recognised by the community,” Dreyfus said.

“These guidelines will bring about a practical improvement in the everyday lives of transgender, intersex and gender diverse people.”

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« Last Edit: Jun 14, 2013, 07:23 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #6934 on: Jun 14, 2013, 07:10 AM »

US says it will arm Syrian rebels following chemical weapons tests

US says it will provide military aid to rebels after confirming for first time that it has evidence of nerve gas use

• White House statement on Syria regime's chemical weapons

Dan Roberts in Washington
The Guardian, Friday 14 June 2013   

The US has said it will provide military support to the Syrian rebels after confirming it believes there is concrete evidence of nerve gas attacks by government forces against rebel groups.

The assessment that limited attacks have taken place, based on CIA tests on blood, urine and hair samples from dead or wounded rebel fighters, is the first time Washington has supported claims made by British and French intelligence services in recent weeks. Assad has repeatedly denied using any chemical weapons in the bitter civil war.

"Following a deliberative review our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year," said a White House statement.

"Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information. The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete. "

The White House believes its assessment means Syria has crossed the so-called "red line" that President Barack Obama established early in the conflict as a test for further western intervention to support the rebels.

Late on Thursday details began to emerge of the shape military aid might take. Senator John McCain, one of the strongest proponents of US military action in Syria, said he was told on Thursday that Obama had decided to "provide arms to the rebels", a decision confirmed by three US officials, according to the Associated Press. The officials cautioned that decisions on the specific type of weaponry were still being finalised, AP said, but they might include small arms, ammunition, assault rifles and a variety of anti-tank weaponry such as shoulder-fired remote-propelled grenades and other missiles.

The CIA was expected to be tasked with teaching the rebels how to use the arms the White House had agreed to supply, AP said. The New York Times gave a similar outline of the arms involved, while adding that the anti-aircraft munitions hotly sought by the rebels were not under consideration. Syrian rebel groups have repeatedly called for both anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

The deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said: "The president has made a decision about providing more support for the opposition and will be providing further support to the SMC (Supreme Military Council) and that includes providing military support. I can't detail what types of support yet."

He added: "We have not made any decision about a no-fly zone … The best thing we can do is help the opposition on the ground."

McCain, a leading US hawk who has been pushing for intervention, said: "I applaud the president's decision and I appreciate it."

"But the president of the United States had better understand that just supplying weapons is not going to change the equation on the ground [or] the balance of power. These people – the Free Syrian Army – need weapons, heavy weapons to counter tanks and aircraft, they need a no-fly zone, and Bashar al-Assad's air assets have to be taken out and neutralised. We can do that without risking a single American airplane."

In a conference call with reporters, Rhodes had given examples of the military support the US might be providing but did not mention offensive weapons directly. "We are trying to improve their effectiveness as a fighting force and their cohesion, such as their ability to communicate with each other … and medical equipment to deal with casualties."

Officials in Washington remain divided about more extensive intervention, with many still concerned that enforcing a no-fly zone could backfire or drag the US into further conflict.

National security advisers met in Washington on Wednesday to discuss possible options but Obama was not present.

Thursday's statement based on the CIA reports said there was no reason to think the resistance has access to chemical weapons.

"We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons, and has taken steps to secure these weapons from theft or attack," it said. "We have no reliable, corroborated reported to indication that the opposition has acquired or used chemical weapons."

The CIA report said the US has acquired blood, urine and hair samples from two Syrian rebels – one dead, and one wounded – who were involved in a firefight with Syrian government forces in mid-March near the town of Utubya, north-east of Damascus.

"While the lethality of these attacks make up only a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which now stands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades," said Rhodes.

The White House said it would take decisions on how to proceed "on its own timeline" but would be discussing what to do with allies at the G8 next week.
"The president has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has," said Rhodes.

"There are a range of options available to us ... but we will make decisions based on the US national interest as well as what might help the rebels on the ground," Rhodes added in the conference call with reporters.

"The influx of foreign fighters to the conflict has added an element of urgency to the situation."

Asked why this decision had been taken now, the White House said it needed to be sure that military assistance would end up in the right hands.

"It takes time to establish a pipeline for direct military assistance but we are now comfortable working with the SMC and General Idriss," said Rhodes. "The type of assistance we are going to provide is going to be substantively different to what we have provided since April."

His comments strongly point toward arming the rebels with significant new weapons.

Rhodes said the new US strategy was "aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the SMC on the ground and their ability to defend themselves".

Washington said it would be consulting with the United Nations and had provided its alleged evidence of chemical weapons use to the Russians. Obama is due to have bilateral talks with President Putin at next week's G8 summit in Northern Ireland.


White House statement on Syrian regime chemicals weapons - full text

Statement by Ben Rhodes, the US deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, on chemical weapons, Thursday 13 June 2013 23.00 BST   

At the President's direction, the United States Government has been closely monitoring the potential use of chemical weapons within Syria. Following the assessment made by our intelligence community in April, the President directed the intelligence community to seek credible and corroborated information to build on that assessment and establish the facts with some degree of certainty. Today, we are providing an updated version of our assessment to Congress and to the public.

The Syrian government's refusal to grant access to the United Nations to investigate any and all credible allegations of chemical weapons use has prevented a comprehensive investigation as called for by the international community. The Assad regime could prove that its request for an investigation was not just a diversionary tactic by granting the UN fact finding mission immediate and unfettered access to conduct on-site investigations to help reveal the truth about chemical weapons use in Syria. While pushing for a UN investigation, the United States has also been working urgently with our partners and allies as well as individuals inside Syria, including the Syrian opposition, to procure, share, and evaluate information associated with reports of chemical weapons use so that we can establish the facts and determine what took place.

Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information. The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete. While the lethality of these attacks make up only a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which now stands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades. We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons. We have no reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.

The body of information used to make this intelligence assessment includes reporting regarding Syrian officials planning and executing regime chemical weapons attacks; reporting that includes descriptions of the time, location, and means of attack; and descriptions of physiological symptoms that are consistent with exposure to a chemical weapons agent. Some open source reports from social media outlets from Syrian opposition groups and other media sources are consistent with the information we have obtained regarding chemical weapons use and exposure. The assessment is further supported by laboratory analysis of physiological samples obtained from a number of individuals, which revealed exposure to sarin. Each positive result indicates that an individual was exposed to sarin, but it does not tell us how or where the individuals were exposed or who was responsible for the dissemination.

We are working with allies to present a credible, evidentiary case to share with the international community and the public. Since the creation of the UN fact finding mission, we have provided two briefings to Dr. Åke Sellström, the head of the mission. We will also be providing a letter to UN Secretary General Ban, calling the UN's attention to our updated intelligence assessment and specific incidents of alleged chemical weapons use. We request that the UN mission include these incidents in its ongoing investigation and report, as appropriate, on its findings. We will present additional information and continue to update Dr. Sellström as new developments emerge.

The President has been clear that the use of chemical weapons – or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups – is a red line for the United States, as there has long been an established norm within the international community against the use of chemical weapons. Our intelligence community now has a high confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime in Syria. The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has.

Our decision making has already been guided by the April intelligence assessment and by the regime's escalation of horrific violence against its citizens. Following on the credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the President has augmented the provision of non-lethal assistance to the civilian opposition, and also authorized the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council (SMC), and we will be consulting with Congress on these matters in the coming weeks. This effort is aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the SMC, and helping to coordinate the provision of assistance by the United States and other partners and allies. Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the SMC. These efforts will increase going forward.

The United States and the international community have a number of other legal, financial, diplomatic, and military responses available. We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own timeline. Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives, which include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity.


Cameron backs US assessment on Syrian chemical weapons use

Exclusive: PM praises Washington for 'candid' analysis claiming Assad troops have used chemical weapons against rebels

Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt, Friday 14 June 2013 12.18 BST   

Britain shares the "candid assessment" by the US that the regime of President Bashir al-Assad has used chemical weapons against rebels in the Syrian conflict, David Cameron has said.

Speaking to the Guardian after the White House announced it had found evidence of the use of the nerve agent sarin, the prime minister praised the US for giving added detail which poses "difficult questions" about how to confront Assad.

The US has said it will provide military support to the Syrian rebels after its "deliberative review".

The prime minister showed support for the US when he told the Guardian in an interview before the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland: "We do [share the US judgment]. I discussed this with President Obama on my recent visit. Our intelligence agencies have been sharing information. We share their view that, as we put it, growing levels of information about chemical weapons used by the regime and no firm evidence that chemical weapons have been used by the opposition.

"I welcome this candid assessment by the Americans. I think it, rightly, puts back centre stage the question, the very difficult question to answer but nonetheless one we have got to address: what are we going to do about the fact that in our world today there is a dictatorial and brutal leader who is using chemical weapons under our noses against his own people."

The US assessment that limited attacks have taken place, based on CIA tests on blood, urine and hair samples from dead or wounded rebel fighters, is the first time Washington has supported claims made by British and French intelligence services in recent weeks. Assad has repeatedly denied using any chemical weapons in the bitter civil war.

"Following a deliberative review our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year," said a White House statement.

"Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information. The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete."

The White House believes its assessment means Syria has crossed the so-called "red line" that President Barack Obama established early in the conflict as a test for further western intervention to support the rebels.

Senator John McCain, one of the strongest proponents of US military action in Syria, said he was told on Thursday that Obama had decided to "provide arms to the rebels", a decision confirmed by three US officials, according to the Associated Press. The officials cautioned that decisions on the specific type of weaponry were still being finalised, AP said, but they might include small arms, ammunition, assault rifles and a variety of anti-tank weaponry such as shoulder-fired remote-propelled grenades and other missiles.

The CIA was expected to be tasked with teaching the rebels how to use the arms the White House had agreed to supply, AP said. The New York Times gave a similar outline of the arms involved, while adding that the anti-aircraft munitions hotly sought by the rebels were not under consideration. Syrian rebel groups have repeatedly called for both anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

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« Reply #6935 on: Jun 14, 2013, 07:11 AM »

Mugabe calls elections – and Tsvangirai rejects them as illegal

Zimbabwe set for fresh political chaos as Mugabe decrees date for elections and quashes constitution

David Smith   
The Guardian, Thursday 13 June 2013 17.51 BST

Zimbabwe seems poised for a fresh political crisis following Robert Mugabe's declaration of an election for next month which has now been rejected as "unlawful" by his chief rival.

Seeking to extend his 33-year rule Mugabe on Thursday used a presidential decree to bypass parliament and set the long-awaited poll for 31 July.

"Given the deadline imposed by the constitutional court it is inexpedient to await the passage through parliament of an act dealing with the situation," the 89-year-old said in a government notice.

But there was swift and angry reaction from the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, whose Movement for Democratic Change joined the president's Zanu-PF party to form the unity government after the violent 2008 election.

Under the power-sharing agreement they signed then, Tsvangirai said, the president could only act in consultation with the prime minister in announcing election dates.

"President Mugabe's actions are a unilateral and flagrant breach of our constitution and the GPA [global political agreement]," Tsvangirai told journalists in the capital, Harare. "I, as PM, cannot and will not accept this."

Mugabe was also infringing the voter-registration process, disenfranchising first-time voters and denying political parties and Zimbabweans the chance to inspect the much-criticised voters roll, Tsvangirai said.

"The point being made is that president Mugabe has acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally and is deliberately creating and precipitating an unnecessary constitutional crisis. The constitution makes the president the chief upholder and defender of the constitution.

"It is therefore regrettable that the chief defender and upholder has become the chief attacker and abuser of the constitution. Surely, the defender-in-chief cannot become the attacker-in-chief!"

He also accused Mugabe of ignoring a regional mediation process led by South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma. Tsvangirai said crucial reforms to the media and security sector, both of which were seen as favouring Zanu-PF, had yet to be carried out.

"Clearly therefore, the unilateral proclamation made today is a deliberate attempt to stall the reform agenda in Zimbabwe. Without reforms, Zimbabwe is yet again heading to another contested, predatory and illegitimate election."

Referring to the last election in 2008 in which more than 200 people died, he added: "In short, another June 27."

The 61-year-old continued: "I will not accept a situation where Zimbabweans will yet again be railroaded and frog-marched to another illegitimate and violent election.

"The people of Zimbabwe are suffering. Businesses are shutting down, workers are under attack and the economy has frozen. A fraudulent and illegitimate election will deepen the crisis and will not reverse this malaise."

Tsvangirai said he had advised his lawyers to make an urgent court application to reverse the decision and he would appeal to regional mediators to intervene. He argues that Zimbabwe cannot hold elections before 25 August.

Lindiwe Zulu, Zuma's top Zimbabwe negotiator, told Reuters she was flying to Harare on Friday but declined to comment on the election announcement.

According to Mugabe's declaration, legislative and local elections will also take place on 31 July, and a presidential runoff will be held on 11 September if necessary. Opinion polls suggest a close contest between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, making a runoff likely.

Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round of the previous election, accusing the security forces and pro-Mugabe militias of attacking his supporters around the country.

Mugabe has repeatedly dismissed calls for reforms in the security services. Senior generals have vowed their allegiance to him and have refused to salute Tsvangirai since he became prime minister in 2009, arguing he did not take part in the guerilla war that ended colonial rule and gave Mugabe power in 1980.

Campaigners have criticised Mugabe for again denying access to international observers for this year's ballot.

The pressure group Free and Fair Zimbabwe Election said: "The general election will be fiercely contested. It is in the interest of all parties that the process is clean and the result is acceptable and sustainable.

"Given what happened in 2008, when violence and intimidation were among the main features of the campaign, it seems a reasonable expectation that the government would welcome the presence of neutral observers so that all parliamentarians, and their supporters, can accept the result as the fair outcome of a free election in a democracy."

Veritas, a legality research group, said Mugabe's amended election laws still had to be passed by Zimbabwe's parliament.

"Presidential powers cannot be used to do by regulation what the constitution says must be provided for by an act of parliament," the group said.

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« Reply #6936 on: Jun 14, 2013, 07:13 AM »

06/13/2013 06:09 PM

Tunisian Feminist Leader: 'Femen, Please Leave Us Alone'

By Raniah Salloum

European Femen activists have been sentenced to four months in prison for their topless protest in the Tunisian capital last month. Now the country's opposition leader, herself a respected feminist, is asking Femen to leave, calling their actions counterproductive.

With their topless protest in Tunis, three Femen activists -- one German, two French -- caused widespread outrage in Tunisia last month. Representatives of the Muslim community have already expressed their anger, but now Tunisian feminists are also criticizing the women's actions.

"Femen, please leave us alone," appealed Tunisian feminist and opposition leader Maya Jribi in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. "You risk ruining everything that we have fought for."

At the end of May the three Femen activists demonstrated half-naked in front of the Justice Ministry in Tunis. It was the group's first such stunt in an Arab country. On Wednesday, a Tunisian court convicted the women of public indecency and sentenced each of them to four months in prison.

The three young Europeans were protesting in support of Tunisian activist Amina Sboui, who has gone by the name of Amina Tyler. Sboui is currently in prison for protesting a Salafist gathering and writing the word "Femen" on a wall near a cemetery. She was convicted of desecrating a cemetery and public indecency.

"We already have enough problems in Tunisia. Femen, please don't add one more," says Jribi. The 53-year-old Tunisian politician has been working for decades for women's rights, first under the authoritarian regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and now under the Islamist-led coalition government.

Playing into the Hands of Islamists

When it comes to women's rights, Tunisia is ahead of the curve in the Arab world. There is a decades-old feminist movement, to which Jribi belongs. She leads one of the country's major political parties, the secular-liberal Republican Party, and hers is one of the loudest voices in Tunisia's Constituent Assembly. One of her central goals is making sure that women's rights are not scaled back under pressure from radicals.

"We in Tunisia have a different cultural and political context than in Germany," says Jribi. "Here, Islamists try to explain women's issues in terms of identity politics." The 'emancipated woman' is a concept of the permissive, debauched West, she says, and it doesn't work in Tunisia. "We Tunisian feminists are trying to steer the discussion away from identity. Women's rights are a social and political issue," says Jribi.

But the efforts of Tunisian women are now endangered by Femen, she complains. In their own way, the European activists are playing the game according to the Islamists' rules, she says. They are turning the emancipation of Tunisian women into a question of identity -- as well as a culture war, by dubbing their campaign "Topless Jihad."

Concern from Berlin

After the activists were charged on Monday, Femen announced that they would be staging further protests in Tunisia. "Please don't," says Jribi. "There are other ways to fight for women's rights in Tunisia -- without getting undressed."

The German government, meanwhile, has expressed concern about the incarceration of the activists. "The council of the three women has decided to appeal the verdict," said a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry. The German Embassy in Tunis will "continue to give consular guidance to the German national and will follow the proceedings carefully."

Sources at the Foreign Ministry say that Germany's human rights commissioner, Markus Löning, will travel to Tunisia to visit to the imprisoned Femen activists.

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« Reply #6937 on: Jun 14, 2013, 07:14 AM »

June 13, 2013

Argentina Falls From Its Throne as King of Beef


BUENOS AIRES — A thick slab of grass-fed sirloin dripping in its own juices: so many Argentines consider such a feast a birthright to be enjoyed regularly that one president in the 1990s quipped to an American magazine, “Tell your readers, ‘Don’t come to my country if they’re vegetarian.’ ”

But tastes change, even here.

Beef consumption in this red-meat colossus has decreased so much over the decades that the nation recently fell from its perch as the world’s top per capita consumer of beef, a title Argentine ranchers are fighting to regain from their tiny neighbor, Uruguay. In another jolt, a study warned that pizzerias could soon outnumber steakhouses in this city.

As if that were not enough to rattle the national psyche, Argentina slipped into 11th place, behind countries like New Zealand and Mexico, in the global ranking of beef exporters this year, prompting solemn reactions like one in a major newspaper that declared it “the end of a reign.”

“We live, at this moment, immersed in shame,” the writer Diego Vecino said in a recent 4,000-plus-word magazine article that explored declining beef consumption. “In the last few years, our Argentine national identity has been roughed up as never before,” he lamented, in a slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion. “The ritual of the barbecue persists, but in many cases under the kitsch glow of a retro experience.”

It is hard to overstate beef’s centrality to the Argentine way of life for more than a century. Novels and poems extol the art of cattle ranching on the vast pampas, long a touchstone of national pride. Cafes in this city bulge with diners feasting on steaks washed down with glasses of malbec. At lunchtime, it is still possible to see construction crews preparing slabs of beef on makeshift grills, the smoky smell of this ritual permeating their work sites.

Argentines ate about 129 pounds of beef a person last year, far surpassing Americans, who mustered a mere 57.5 pounds by comparison. But Argentina’s current level is a pale shadow of its peak: 222 pounds of beef for every man, woman and child, achieved in 1956.

Reasons vary for these doldrums. Beef prices have surged with inflation, but cattlemen contend that government price controls aimed at preventing domestic beef consumption from falling further have wreaked havoc by making it costly to maintain large herds. Others, eying China’s rising demand for grains over the last decade, say it is simply more profitable to farm soybeans than to raise cattle.

“We are witnessing a historic decline in our beef industry,” said Ernesto Ambrosetti, chief economist of the Argentine Rural Society, the country’s largest farming association. “Now our smaller neighbors, Paraguay and Uruguay, have passed us” in the export rankings.

Government officials contend that their policies to lift beef consumption, including export restraints and price controls intended to make the meat more affordable, are turning the tide. Indeed, domestic consumption has recovered slightly from a record low in 2011.

But while Argentina has experienced swings in beef consumption in the past, some see the latest drops as evidence of a broader paradigm shift: many Argentines are simply opting for a more varied diet.

The shift — reflected in a rising demand for foods like poultry, pasta and pizza; a greater awareness of the health risks associated with eating beef; and even the emergence of an insurgent vegetarian dining scene in Buenos Aires — does not sit well with some Argentines.

“Beef consumption is threatened by modern trends of healthy eating, mainly the exaltation of what’s natural and ecological, stimulating vegetable consumption,” the Argentine Beef Promotion Institute warned in a 2006 report, warily acknowledging a “new age culture and the appearance of cooking fads incorporating other products.”

For some Argentines who were raised in a society so focused on beef, the adjustment was long overdue. “I almost don’t eat meat now,” said Susana Carfagna, a 61-year-old retiree, as she walked out of a butcher shop with some ground chicken as an alternative to beef burgers. “It’s not healthy. I have high cholesterol and need a more balanced diet.”

At Buenos Aires Verde, a vegetarian restaurant with a pastel orange and lime green color scheme, diners can choose from options like patties made from yamani rice and adzuki beans, or cannelloni made with dehydrated fruit and flax seeds.

“Argentines are demanding a change,” Mauro Massimino, 33, a vegetarian who owns the restaurant, said as his predominantly svelte clientele ate their meals. “Around five years ago, vegetarianism started to gain traction here, and the growth since has been incredible.”

The growth of vegetarian restaurants in Argentina’s capital has unfolded at a time of big change — some say upheaval — in the countryside. As recently as 2007, Argentina had about 55.6 million head of cattle, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. That number fell to 48.1 million in 2011, before recovering somewhat this year to an estimated 51.2 million. (That is still more cows than people, given the country’s population of more than 40 million.)

As Argentina’s economy over the past decade recovered from a collapse in 2001, beef prices in the country surged. Struggling with the broader increase in inflation, the authorities in 2006 announced a temporary ban on beef exports in an effort to expand the domestic supply and bring down prices for Argentine consumers.

Since then, the government has limited beef exports and imposed price controls, moves that ranchers claim are eroding profitability. As losses mounted, a wave of slaughterhouse shutdowns left thousands of people jobless in recent years. Many cattle ranchers have shifted into soybean farming, with the grain exported largely to China where it is used as animal feed.

The government has tried to curb the impact of rising beef prices and diminished supply through a program called “Meat for Everyone,” offering more than a dozen popular cuts of beef at low prices to consumers in the Buenos Aires metro area.

But officials have also promoted other types of animal protein, reflecting the nation’s dependence on agribusiness. “It is much more gratifying to eat some grilled pork than to take Viagra,” President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said in 2010, joking about what she described as the meat’s libido-enhancing qualities while announcing subsidies for the pork industry.

For many Argentines, how much beef they eat comes down to another factor: price. In the last three years, coveted cuts of cuadril (rump steaks) have jumped in price almost 90 percent, to about $5.80 a pound, said Juan Pagano, a butcher in the neighborhood of Colegiales.

“It’s unbelievable how the prices have shot up,” said Eduardo González, 48, who cleans industrial water tanks for a living. Buying a relatively cheap and tough cut of beef one recent evening at a supermarket, he said he could no longer afford sirloin.

“But I still try to eat beef four times a week; if I did not, I would die!” he said, with a chuckle. “It is fundamental.”

Indeed, many Argentines are not taking the decline of their beef industry lying down.

Claudia Valenti, a nutritionist for the municipality of Buenos Aires, said people should eat beef, preferably lean cuts, every day.

“We are not herbivores,” Ms. Valenti said.

“Human beings never were, apart from at the very beginning of time.”

Jonathan Gilbert contributed reporting.


June 13, 2013

Ex-President of Argentina Sentenced


Former President Carlos Saúl Menem was sentenced to seven years in prison on Thursday for illegally smuggling weapons to Ecuador and Croatia in violation of international embargoes in the 1990s. The court also barred Mr. Menem, now a senator, from holding elective office, and asked the Senate to vote to remove the immunity he enjoys as an elected member of Congress. The sentence is final unless overturned by the Supreme Court. An appeals court found Mr. Menem, above, and 11 others guilty in March, overturning his acquittal at trial in 2011. Mr. Menem, 82, who served two terms as president from 1989 to 1999, acknowledged signing secret decrees to export weapons to Venezuela and Panama, but said he had no idea that the tons of rifles and ammunition made in Argentina would end up in Ecuador and Croatia. Given his age, Mr. Menem could be allowed to serve his sentence at home.

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« Reply #6938 on: Jun 14, 2013, 07:16 AM »

June 13, 2013

Guardians of Peru’s Treasures Stake Out Post Office to Block Smuggling


LIMA, Peru — Gladiz Collatupa, an archaeologist, once stashed six mummies at her parents’ house for safe keeping. That was when she dug for artifacts in the dirt of Peru, rich with the leavings of past cultures like the Inca and the Moche. Now she digs through packages at the post office instead, searching for ancient treasure being smuggled out of the country.

Ms. Collatupa and a colleague, Sonia Rojas, an art historian, are a pair of Indiana Joneses in reverse. Instead of swashbuckling around the world looting ruins, they try to keep Peru’s ancient riches from being spirited out of the country by mail.

“With less danger,” noted Ms. Rojas, a petite woman in glasses with a keen interest in colonial Peruvian paintings. She wears a khaki vest with a large button that says, “I defend my cultural heritage.”

The women work for Peru’s Ministry of Culture as part of a program aimed at stopping the illegal export of valuable historic and prehistoric objects and artwork, a depletion that began nearly 500 years ago with the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire and has never stopped.

Last year, the post office team, which Ms. Collatupa joined in August, replacing another archaeologist, made 22 seizures, totaling dozens of items. They included pre-Columbian textiles and pottery, fossils, a 19th-century saber, a 19th-century oil painting of St. Anne teaching the Virgin Mary to read, a shipment of 56 books and other texts belonging to the National Library, and a group of religious and legal documents from the 18th century.

This year, they have made seven seizures of items that include old coins and replicas of pre-Columbian dolls that incorporate ancient cloth looted from archaeological sites.

“No matter how small a piece is, it’s important,” said Ms. Collatupa, who has learned to distinguish pre-Hispanic textiles by the way they feel — smoother and softer with age — and by the patterns in the weaving. “They are part of our identity.”

Many of the items are bound for the United States, mailed by tourists who may be unaware they are breaking the law. But others are shipped by dealers and collectors who know exactly what they are doing.

Mostly, Ms. Rojas, 36, and Ms. Collatupa, 32, do not confront the bad guys. But in March, a collector who had tried to mail a silver coin minted in Peru in 1838 to Canada showed up at the postal facility to complain. The coin was a fake, he said, and therefore should not have been seized.

The words “Firm for the Union” were stamped on the coin, and Ms. Rojas stood her ground: her examination showed that it was genuine, and it stayed in the country. Like most other items seized at the post office, it was added to the collection of the National Museum.

Still, there is little incentive for unscrupulous traffickers to obey the law. A Sotheby’s auction of pre-Columbian works, held in Paris in March, took in more than $13 million for about 150 items. The auction occurred despite claims by the governments of Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica that many of the objects had been illegally removed from their countries.

And the penalties are relatively minor. Since 2007, no one has been sent to prison for cultural trafficking in Peru, and only five people have been given the maximum fine of about $1,900, at the current exchange rate, according to Blanca Alva, who is in charge of the Culture Ministry’s efforts to stop trafficking.

“Compare that to the prices that our pieces bring” in auctions abroad, Ms. Alva said.

Ms. Alva has also stepped up efforts to recover objects that made it out of the country, often many years ago. Last month, the Foreign Ministry announced the recovery of 125 pieces from the United States, Mexico, Switzerland and Chile, including pre-Columbian ceramic pieces, a 17th-century manuscript, colonial paintings and a silver receptacle for carrying the eucharist that was stolen from a church in Cuzco.

In 2011, Yale University began returning hundreds of artifacts carted away decades ago from Machu Picchu, the famous Incan citadel.

All of this taps into powerful notions of national pride and a lingering resentment over the colonial past. Such themes may have added resonance today in Peru, a country with a strong sense of its heritage, where a decade of sustained economic growth has ignited hopes for greater recognition and influence in the region and around the world.

Ms. Alva said she cried when the Machu Picchu artifacts came back.

“It’s the feeling that something is being made whole, something that belongs to me,” she said. “It is a little humiliating for us to feel that our heritage is being sold for a price.”

The highlight of Ms. Collatupa’s archaeological career came in 2006 when she worked for a power company building a generating station in Lima — and excavated the six mummies that were exposed during construction. The mummies, from the Ichma culture, from about the 15th century, were wrapped in cloth so that only the tops of their heads poked out. Ms. Collatupa could see their skulls and some hair and feathered headdresses. “It was very exciting,” she said.

There was nowhere at the construction site to keep the mummies, so she brought the desiccated remains home to her parents’ house. They were not exactly the kind of visitors they had hoped their daughter would be bringing home.

“My parents didn’t like it,” she said. The unusual houseguests stayed for about a month in boxes in the garage before leaving to find a permanent home at a local museum.

While no one has been caught trying to mail mummies out of the country on their watch, Ms. Collatupa and Ms. Rojas have had some exciting finds at the post office too, including a 16th-century Incan ceramic cup and colonial oil paintings. Ms. Collatupa sometimes dreams about the big score, like recovering an object stolen from a Peruvian museum.

But mostly their job seems like a never-ending and extremely frustrating backward Christmas. They are forever opening and then rewrapping packages meant for other people.

In the high-ceilinged postal sorting center where they work, packages arrive down big spiral chutes like water slides at an amusement park. And the sticky chirp of clear packing tape peeling off the roll is never far away.

On a recent morning, the women sorted through a load of several dozen packages leaving the country, arranged in piles by destination: 14 to the United States, 11 to Spain, 8 to Japan, 5 to France.

They decided to inspect a box headed to Japan because it was mailed from Cuzco, a popular tourist town that is a center for the black market in antiquities. The packing list said it contained dolls, a red flag because unscrupulous artisans often use scraps of pre-Hispanic textiles looted from tombs to make dolls that may be offered to tourists as real Incan artifacts.

A customs agent slit open the tape on the package, and Ms. Rojas and Ms. Collatupa donned latex gloves to remove the contents: a Peruvian national soccer team shirt, a purple down vest, a floppy cloth hat and a plastic bag filled with what appeared to be the dolls mentioned in the packing slip: a couple of dozen finger puppets made of brightly colored, synthetic — not pre-Columbian — yarn.

They replaced the items and closed the box with a strip of yellow tape indicating it had been opened by customs authorities.

As the women work, a dog is led around to sniff packages for drugs. Many more packages are opened by customs agents looking for drugs (which are found every day, usually in small quantities) than by the women searching for cultural contraband. But sometimes the two types of searches overlap. In February customs agents looking for drugs opened a box that contained 11 rare silver coins minted in the 16th century.

“You never know what you’re going to find,” Ms. Rojas said. “Every box could contain a surprise.”

Andrea Zarate contributed reporting.

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« Reply #6939 on: Jun 14, 2013, 07:28 AM »

World’s population will hit 7.2 billion next month

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, June 13, 2013 20:13 EDT

The world’s population will hit 7.2 billion next month and 10.9 billion by 2100, with most of the growth a result of high birthrates in the developing world, the United Nations said Thursday.

The UN’s latest “World Population Prospects” report said the number of people inhabiting the planet at the start of the next century could top 16.6 billion, or depending on the statistical model, could be as low as 6.8 billion.

In either case, the population in the world’s poorest regions is anticipated to rise dramatically, the UN said.

The number of inhabitants in the world’s least developed countries is projected to double, from 898 million inhabitants this year to 1.8 billion in 2050. The number will soar to 2.9 billion by 2100, the UN report said.

“Although population growth has slowed for the world as a whole, this report reminds us that some developing countries, especially in Africa, are still growing rapidly,” Wu Hongbo, United Nations Undersecretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, said in a statement.

By contrast, population in the world’s developed nations is expected to remain largely unchanged, inching upward from 1.25 billion this year to around 1.28 billion in 2100.

The report said the number of people living in the developed world would decline if not for immigration from poorer countries, which is projected to average about 2.4 million people a year from 2013 to 2050.

Much of the increase in world population between 2013 and 2050 — when the number is expected to hit 9.6 billion — is projected to take place in Africa.

The report said that half of all population growth between 2013 and 2100 is expected to be concentrated in just eight countries: Nigeria, India, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Uganda, Ethiopia and the United States.

The study also highlighted the fast-growing number of seniors — and not just in rich regions.

In more developed parts of the world, 23 percent of the population is already 60 or older. Their percentage is projected to climb to 32 percent in 2050, and 34 percent in 2100.

Globally, the number of people 60 or older is expected to more than triple by 2100 to hover near 3 billion. The proportion of older citizens in developing countries is forecast to more than double by 2050 and triple to 27 percent by 2100.

Longevity also is on the rise, the United Nations said.

The number of people aged at least 80 is projected to spike almost seven-fold to 830 million by the start of next century, up from 120 million this year and 392 million in 2050.

Sixty-eight percent of those 80 and over are forecast to live in developing countries by 2050.

Even as the population is rising, the UN report said fertility is expected to fall globally, with a major drop projected for least developed countries — from 4.53 to 2.87 children per woman in 2045-2050 and to 2.11 in 2095-2100.

The rest of the developing world is expected to see a dip to 2.09 from 2.40 in 2045-2050, and 1.93 in 2095-2100.

Most developing countries have had below-replacement fertility — below 2.1 children per woman — for several decades. That includes all of Europe except Iceland.

The largest so-called low-fertility countries are China, the United States, Brazil, Russia, Japan and Vietnam.

In other findings, the UN study said that India would surpass China’s as the world’s most populous country around 2028, when both nations will have about 1.45 billion people.

India will continue to grow for several decades after that to about 1.6 billion and then slowly slip to 1.5 billion in 2100.

China’s population is expected to start decreasing after 2030 and could reach 1.1 billion in 2100.

The study also found that Nigerians are expected to outnumber Americans before 2050.

Europe’s population, meanwhile, is projected to decline by 14 percent between 2013 and 2100.

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« Reply #6940 on: Jun 14, 2013, 07:44 AM »

In the USA..

NSA surveillance: Guardian poll finds majority in US want greater oversight

Poll finds two-thirds of Americans want NSA's role reviewed, and 56% find current congressional oversight insufficient

• Harry J Enten: Obama's approval rating slips as voters lose trust in government

Harry J Enten and Ed Pilkington in New York, Thursday 13 June 2013 13.11 BST   

A clear majority of Americans are concerned about the actions and operations of the National Security Agency (NSA) and want the intelligence body to be subjected to further review and greater congressional oversight, a Guardian poll has found.

In the opinion poll, conducted for the Guardian by Public Policy Polling, two-thirds of voters who responded said that in the light of a week-long series of leaked disclosures about the NSA's surveillance activities they wanted to see its role reviewed. Only 20% thought there were no grounds for further review, while 14% could not say either way.

In a separate question, 56% said that they believed Congress had failed to conduct sufficient oversight of the NSA, which is a branch of the department of defence charged with collecting and analysing national security information. Recent disclosures by the Guardian have unveiled the NSA's vast data-mining programs of telephone records and other digital communications involving millions of Americans.

The revelations originated with a former contract worker for the NSA, Edward Snowden, who said he decided to blow the whistle on the agency's digital dragnet operations because he wanted the public to know about the "federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive power that rule the world". The poll suggests that his stated ambition has, at least for now, been achieved: some 90% of those surveyed said they had heard about the recent news involving the NSA's collecting and storing of Verizon phone records and gaining access to data from major internet companies, and 61% said they believed a fresh debate was needed over the balance between privacy and security.

The poll shows that a substantial majority of Americans – 60% – want their government to be more open about its data collection so that the public can understand what is going on. A much smaller proportion, only 35%, said they agreed that the government needs to keep the data it collects secret in order to protect national security.

Most American voters – 58% – are also fearful about private firms acting as contractors to the defence department have too much access to state secrets. Only 8% of respondents said they thought government contractors had too little access.

Snowden worked most recently for the private firm Booz Allen Hamilton, doing contract work through that company for the NSA in Hawaii.

Despite these areas of relative agreement, Americans are much less firm in their opinions when asked about official data gathering activities. Some 44% of respondents approve of the government collecting internet and/or phone data from them, and a relatively close 50% think it is a bad idea.

Similar results were found when the sample was asked what they thought of the government's collection of metadata, with 40% approving and a 50% disapproving. The term was explained in the survey as being the collection of characteristics such as length of a phone call and who called whom but not the content of the phone call itself.

The Obama administration has attempted to justify the NSA's actions in the light of the recent leaks by saying the agency only skims metadata information rather than listening into conversations. Advocates of greater openness in official affairs say that this is misleading.

"It's not surprising that people are more ambivalent about metadata because many people have little knowledge about how deeply personal metadata can be. It can be a window into every aspect of your life – who you are speaking to, for how long, where from – it's a database of everything you do," said Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney at the campaign for online rights, the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

One group more than any other has intense qualms about the expansion of executive powers in data sweeping: young Americans. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, a commanding 81% want to see the NSA's role reviewed and 69% think there needs to be a wider debate about privacy versus security.

The poll also indicates that the disclosures could have political ramifications for Obama. Nearly half – 48% – of American voters say they are less likely to support Obama because of the recent revelations on data-gathering, while only 17% say they are more likely to support him.

This split is less pronounced among Obama's Democratic base, with 25% of Democrats saying they were more likely to support Obama against 28% who said the opposite. Obama's Democratic base, especially among black voters, generally expressed less concern about the NSA disclosures than Republican-leaning voters.

For instance, 68% of those identifying themselves as Republican said they thought Congress had not done enough oversight of the agency, while only 40% of Democrats were similarly worried.

There was one area, however, of bipartisan agreement. Both Democratic- and Republican-leaning respondents replied by 59% that they felt the government needed to be more open about its data collection activities.

• Public Policy Polling surveyed 512 registered voters between 10-11 June 2013 on behalf of the Guardian. The firm did not use cell phones to reach the sample.


NSA PRISM: Pentagon bracing for anti-government activism over climate change disasters

By Nafeez Ahmed, The Guardian
Friday, June 14, 2013 8:37 EDT

Top secret US National Security Agency (NSA) documents disclosed by the Guardian have shocked the world with revelations of a comprehensive US-based surveillance system with direct access to Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants. New Zealand court records suggest that data harvested by the NSA’s Prism system has been fed into the Five Eyes intelligence alliance whose members also include the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But why have Western security agencies developed such an unprecedented capacity to spy on their own domestic populations? Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.

Just last month, unilateral changes to US military laws formally granted the Pentagon extraordinary powers to intervene in a domestic “emergency” or “civil disturbance”:

“Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”

Other documents show that the “extraordinary emergencies” the Pentagon is worried about include a range of environmental and related disasters.

In 2006, the US National Security Strategy warned that:

“Environmental destruction, whether caused by human behavior or cataclysmic mega-disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis. Problems of this scope may overwhelm the capacity of local authorities to respond, and may even overtax national militaries, requiring a larger international response.”

Two years later, the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Army Modernisation Strategy described the arrival of a new “era of persistent conflict” due to competition for “depleting natural resources and overseas markets” fuelling “future resource wars over water, food and energy.” The report predicted a resurgence of:

“… anti-government and radical ideologies that potentially threaten government stability.”

In the same year, a report by the US Army’s Strategic Studies Institute warned that a series of domestic crises could provoke large-scale civil unrest. The path to “disruptive domestic shock” could include traditional threats such as deployment of WMDs, alongside “catastrophic natural and human disasters” or “pervasive public health emergencies” coinciding with “unforeseen economic collapse.” Such crises could lead to “loss of functioning political and legal order” leading to “purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency…

“DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance.”

That year, the Pentagon had begun developing a 20,000 strong troop force who would be on-hand to respond to “domestic catastrophes” and civil unrest – the programme was reportedly based on a 2005 homeland security strategy which emphasised “preparing for multiple, simultaneous mass casualty incidents.”

The following year, a US Army-funded RAND Corp study called for a US force presence specifically to deal with civil unrest.

Such fears were further solidified in a detailed 2010 study by the US Joint Forces Command – designed to inform “joint concept development and experimentation throughout the Department of Defense” – setting out the US military’s definitive vision for future trends and potential global threats. Climate change, the study said, would lead to increased risk of:

“… tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural catastrophes… Furthermore, if such a catastrophe occurs within the United States itself – particularly when the nation’s economy is in a fragile state or where US military bases or key civilian infrastructure are broadly affected – the damage to US security could be considerable.”

The study also warned of a possible shortfall in global oil output by 2015:

“A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions.”

That year the DoD’s Quadrennial Defense Review seconded such concerns, while recognising that “climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.”

Also in 2010, the Pentagon ran war games to explore the implications of “large scale economic breakdown” in the US impacting on food supplies and other essential services, as well as how to maintain “domestic order amid civil unrest.”

Speaking about the group’s conclusions at giant US defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton’s conference facility in Virginia, Lt Col. Mark Elfendahl – then chief of the Joint and Army Concepts Division – highlighted homeland operations as a way to legitimise the US military budget:

“An increased focus on domestic activities might be a way of justifying whatever Army force structure the country can still afford.”

Two months earlier, Elfendahl explained in a DoD roundtable that future planning was needed:

“Because technology is changing so rapidly, because there’s so much uncertainty in the world, both economically and politically, and because the threats are so adaptive and networked, because they live within the populations in many cases.”

The 2010 exercises were part of the US Army’s annual Unified Quest programme which more recently, based on expert input from across the Pentagon, has explored the prospect that “ecological disasters and a weak economy” (as the “recovery won’t take root until 2020″) will fuel migration to urban areas, ramping up social tensions in the US homeland as well as within and between “resource-starved nations.”

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was a computer systems administrator for Booz Allen Hamilton, where he directly handled the NSA’s IT systems, including the Prism surveillance system. According to Booz Allen’s 2011 Annual Report, the corporation has overseen Unified Quest “for more than a decade” to help “military and civilian leaders envision the future.”

The latest war games, the report reveals, focused on “detailed, realistic scenarios with hypothetical ‘roads to crisis’”, including “homeland operations” resulting from “a high-magnitude natural disaster” among other scenarios, in the context of:

“… converging global trends [which] may change the current security landscape and future operating environment… At the end of the two-day event, senior leaders were better prepared to understand new required capabilities and force design requirements to make homeland operations more effective.”

It is therefore not surprising that the increasing privatisation of intelligence has coincided with the proliferation of domestic surveillance operations against political activists, particularly those linked to environmental and social justice protest groups.

Department of Homeland Security documents released in April prove a “systematic effort” by the agency “to surveil and disrupt peaceful demonstrations” linked to Occupy Wall Street, according to the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF).

Similarly, FBI documents confirmed “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector” designed to produce intelligence on behalf of “the corporate security community.” A PCJF spokesperson remarked that the documents show “federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”

In particular, domestic surveillance has systematically targeted peaceful environment activists including anti-fracking activists across the US, such as the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, Rising Tide North America, the People’s Oil & Gas Collaborative, and Greenpeace. Similar trends are at play in the UK, where the case of undercover policeman Mark Kennedy revealed the extent of the state’s involvement in monitoring the environmental direct action movement.

A University of Bath study citing the Kennedy case, and based on confidential sources, found that a whole range of corporations – such as McDonald’s, Nestle and the oil major Shell, “use covert methods to gather intelligence on activist groups, counter criticism of their strategies and practices, and evade accountability.”

Indeed, Kennedy’s case was just the tip of the iceberg – internal police documents obtained by the Guardian in 2009 revealed that environment activists had been routinely categorised as “domestic extremists” targeting “national infrastructure” as part of a wider strategy tracking protest groups and protestors.

Superintendent Steve Pearl, then head of the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (Nectu), confirmed at that time how his unit worked with thousands of companies in the private sector. Nectu, according to Pearl, was set up by the Home Office because it was “getting really pressured by big business – pharmaceuticals in particular, and the banks.” He added that environmental protestors were being brought “more on the radar.” The programme continues today, despite police acknowledgements that environmentalists have not been involved in “violent acts.”

The Pentagon knows that environmental, economic and other crises could provoke widespread public anger toward government and corporations in coming years. The revelations on the NSA’s global surveillance programmes are just the latest indication that as business as usual creates instability at home and abroad, and as disillusionment with the status quo escalates, Western publics are being increasingly viewed as potential enemies that must be policed by the state.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

© Guardian News and Media 2013


NSA to release details of attacks it claims were foiled by surveillance

Senator says spy agency will provide 'cases where surveillance has stopped a terrorist attack' as early as Monday

Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Thursday 13 June 2013 22.56 BST   

NSA director Keith Alexander General Alexander's claim that the surveillance programs helped stop terrorist attacks have come under criticism. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The National Security Agency (NSA) plans to release details of terrorist attacks thwarted by its controversial bulk surveillance of Americans’ communications data, a senior US senator said on Thursday.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (Democrat, California), the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said the NSA director, General Keith Alexander, would provide “the cases where this [surveillance] has stopped a terrorist attack, both here and in other places” as early as Monday.

The claim that the surveillance programs helped stop terrorist attacks has come under criticism from two US senators who sit on the intelligence committee.

“When you're talking about important liberties that the American people feel strongly about, and you want to have an intelligence program, you've got to make a case for why it provides unique value to the [intelligence] community atop what they can already have," Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, told the Guardian in an interview on Thursday.

But the FBI director, Robert Mueller, forcefully defended the programs on Thursday to the House judiciary committee by saying the broad surveillance could have foiled the 9/11 attacks and averted “another Boston”.

Feinstein’s comments followed an afternoon briefing attended by 47 senators about two NSA programs recently disclosed by the Guardian: one that collects the phone records of millions of Americans; and another, known as Prism, that targets the online communications of individuals believed to be outside the US. For many senators, it was their first exposure to the details of how the programs operate.

Yet the programs may soon change. Feinstein said she had “tasked director [of national intelligence James] Clapper to consider the program, to present some changes, if he feels it necessary. We will consider changes.”

She added: “We will certainly have legislation which will limit or prevent contractors from handling highly classified technical data.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that Edward Snowden, a former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor to the NSA, used a thumb drive to exfiltrate data about the surveillance programs to the Guardian and the Washington Post.

Feinstein also cleared up a lingering uncertainty about the role of the courts in overseeing the NSA’s ability to comb through its database of the phone records of millions of Americans. The NSA has the ability to search the database unilaterally.

“To search the database you have to have reasonable, articulable cause to believe that an individual is connected to a terrorist group,” Feinstein said. “Then you can get the numbers. If you want to collect content, then you get a court order.”

Pressed by the Guardian if that meant the NSA did not require a court order to search through the database, she replied, “That’s my understanding.”

In a heated Senate appropriations committee hearing on Wednesday, the NSA chief, General Alexander, said: “We don't get to swim through the data,” and that searching through it requires a “very deliberate process.” But that process is not overseen by a judge ahead of time, according to the Senate intelligence committee chairwoman.

Feinstein also said that before any content could be searched pursuant to a court order, all the NSA possesses is “the name and the number called, whether it’s one number or two”.

Yet US intelligence leaders have firmly denied its phone-records databases contain any names of any subscribers.

“The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the identity of any subscriber,” according to a 6 June factsheet released by Clapper. It is unclear if Feinstein misspoke or learned new information at the briefing, as she spoke to reporters for about four minutes before leaving to catch a plane.


Syria’s Use of Chemical Weapons Will Be Dealt With Obama Style

By: Jason Easley
Jun. 13th, 2013

The warmongers aren’t going to like this, but the White House’s announcement that Syria has used chemical weapons doesn’t mean a Bush style regime change.

In a statement the White House committed to arming the Syrian rebels:

Following on the credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the President has augmented the provision of non-lethal assistance to the civilian opposition, and also authorized the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council (SMC), and we will be consulting with Congress on these matters in the coming weeks. This effort is aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the SMC, and helping to coordinate the provision of assistance by the United States and other partners and allies. Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the SMC. These efforts will increase going forward.

(That sound you hear off in the distance is Darrell Issa weeping as his “scandal” spotlight gets turned off.)

In an earlier statement, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes announced confirmation that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons on its own people:

Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information. The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete. While the lethality of these attacks make up only a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which now stands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades. We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons. We have no reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.

Before anybody gets all crazy paranoid and screams that this confirms that Obama is just like Bush, there is one big difference. President Obama took a lot of flak from the hawks on the left and right, but he waited for the evidence before he acted. Unlike George W. Bush, this president isn’t manufacturing evidence as justification for a war that he wants.

The sad part is that the Bush administration’s lies have even managed to stain the humanitarian justification for action even when a regime is using chemical weapons on its own people. The fact that Bush has sown a generation of doubt about foreign policy intervention has been, and likely was, one of the reasons why President Obama has been so cautious.

The hawks are giddy over this announcement from the White House. They want airstrikes. They want action, but it is a certainty that the president will stick to his own doctrine that liberation isn’t achieved at the barrel of a U.S. soldier’s gun. This administration will likely work with international community on a no-fly zone, and increase their aid to the Syrian rebels.

We tried the regime change thing under Bush, and now Iraq is selling their oil to China.

At times like these it is a comfort to know that the shoot first, make up your own questions later presidency of George W. Bush has been replaced by the current administration’s consistency policy of support for democracy and humanitarian intervention.

Assad must go, but the fact that it won’t be done through a Bush style regime change is a good thing for Syria, the United States, and the rest of the world.


Millionaire GOP Congressmen Are Trying to Cut $20 Billion In Food Stamps For the Poor

By: Jason Easley
Jun. 13th, 2013

As 26 House Democrats take the Food Stamp Challenge, prominent millionaire Republican congressmen are poised to pass a bill that would cut $20 billion from the food stamp program.

Twenty six House Democrats are trying feed themselves on $31.50 for an entire week. Most of them realized very quickly that $1.50 per meal doesn’t go very far.

Rep. Hank Johnson (R-GA) (D-GA) appeared on MSNBC’s Politics Nation to discuss his experience so far.

Rep. Johnson explained how little $31.50 actually bought. He detailed his diet for the week. Johnson said that he would only be eating two meals a day. His meat for the day will be bacon. He got lucky, and found a buy one get one free sale. He also will subsist on oatmeal, Ramen noodles, hot dogs, waffles, syrup, bananas, and he “splurged” on some tea.

Rep. Johnson said that Republicans would never pass these cuts if they had to live on $31.50 a week, but, “The problem is that we have so many millionaires on the other side of the aisle that they will never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, or trying to stretch dollars so that they can eat for the period of time that they have the finances to pay for.”

According to the Fiscal Times, congressional Republicans are arguing that the food stamp program is corrupt, “But many congressional Republicans and conservative groups believe that food stamp spending is out of control and ripe with corruption – and that it needs to be reined in to reduce the deficit. These critics say a once relatively modest social safety net has grown into a costly grab bag for down-on-their-luck middle-class Americans, college students looking for free pizza and junk food and countless others who game the system.”

This isn’t even close to the truth.

Look at who is really on food stamps:

It not college students, but children who make up the largest group of food stamp recipients.

When Republicans want to talk about social safety net programs they always fall back on some version of Ronald Reagan’s rich, black, Chicago welfare queen, but the truth is white people are the largest racial group of food stamp recipients.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that two of the House Republicans who are pushing the hardest for these cuts are millionaires Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor. Over the course of the past year, both of these men have referred to cutting food for the poor as common sense.

Republicans like Cantor and Ryan claim to be opposed to these programs because they create a “culture of dependency,” but what they don’t tell you is that they support a different culture of dependency. The difference is that Republicans want the poor to be dependent on Wal-Mart for a job. They want to make sure that there is no safety net for anyone, so that the non-rich are serfs and servants who serve at the whim of the wealthy and corporations. Republicans aren’t opposed to dependency. Their problem is that programs like unemployment insurance and SNAP offer people help, so that they aren’t working for pennies a day while hoping a billionaire is generous and pays them enough to feed themselves.

There is a war on the poor happening right now, and the bad news is that the poor are losing.

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June 12, 2013, 5:43
As Pig Putin Tries to Charm World Expo Voters, Protesters March Again in Moscow


Video of protesters calling for the release of opposition activists in Moscow on Wednesday.

As the Kremlin continued its campaign “to show as many people as possible that Russia is a normal country” by winning the right to host yet another international event, thousands of distinctly off-message protesters marched through Moscow on Wednesday, calling for the release of political prisoners and a “Russia without Putin.”

Click to watch:

Away from the noisy streets of the capital, Russia unveiled its bid to host the 2020 World Expo in Yekaterinburg with a personal appeal recorded by the nation’s president, Vladimir V. Putin.

Speaking in English, Mr. Putin assured delegates of the International Exhibitions Bureau that Russia would make the event “a priority national project” and offered to pay all expenses for 90 developing nations, enabling them “to freely participate in the Expo, completely free of charge.”

Mr. Putin has had success with similar pitches in the past, helping to sway the delegates who awarded Russia the 2014 Winter Olympics, the 2016 Ice Hockey World Championship and the 2018 World Cup.

Yekaterinburg, sometimes transliterated Ekaterinburg, was known during the Soviet era as Sverdlovsk, for Yakov Sverdlov, the Bolshevik revolutionary who commanded the 1918 assassination there of Czar Nicholas II and his family.

Video of the march posted online by Novaya Gazeta — the newspaper that once published reports by Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of Mr. Putin’s rule who was murdered in 2006, on the Russian president’s birthday — showed that the protesters also chanted, “Putin’s a thief.”

Click to watch:


Russia dismisses US claims of Syrian chemical weapons use

Moscow says evidence it has been shown 'does not look convincing', and cautions US against arming Syrian rebels

Miriam Elder in Moscow and Richard Norton-Taylor, Friday 14 June 2013 14.29 BST   

Russia has dismissed US assertions that Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people, and said any US move to arm Syrian rebels would jeopardise efforts to convene a peace conference.

Responding to White House moves to broaden its military support for the forces lined up against Assad's regime, the Kremlin said it was not convinced by the pretext for doing so.

Yuri Ushakov, foreign policy adviser to Vladimir Putin, said US officials had briefed Russia on the allegations against Assad. "But I will say frankly that what was presented to us by the Americans does not look convincing," he said. "It would be hard even to call them facts."

The White House said late on Thursday that it would supply direct military aid to Syria's rebels after concluding that government forces had used chemical weapons, something Barack Obama has called a "red line".

David Cameron told the Guardian on Friday that Britain shared the Americans' "candid assessment".

In Damascus, Syrian officials denounced the US verdict as a "caravan of lies" and said Washington's decision to arm the rebels was a "flagrant double standard" in its dealings with terrorism.

"The White House … relied on fabricated information in order to hold the Syrian government responsible for using these weapons, despite a series of statements that confirmed that terrorist groups in Syria have chemical weapons," the foreign ministry said.

Russia has consistently obstructed US-led attempts to bring sanctions against Assad's regime for the bloody conflict that has resulted in almost 100,000 deaths in Syria, and millions of people displaced. Officials say they do not support Assad and are merely against foreign intervention on principle, but Moscow has continued to supply arms and other aid to Assad as his last major ally alongside Iran.

The issue of arming the rebels has taken on extra urgency in recent days as pro-Assad forces are believed to be moving towards Aleppo, Syria's second city, for a possible showdown with rebel forces that could change the course of the two-year conflict. Heavy fighting was reported in Aleppo on Friday morning.

It remains unclear exactly what weaponry the Americans might supply. Senator John McCain, one of the strongest proponents of US military action in Syria, said he was told on Thursday that Obama had decided to "provide arms to the rebels". Officials told the Associated Press that details were being finalised but that the weapons might include small arms, ammunition, assault rifles and a variety of anti-tank weaponry such as shoulder-fired remote-propelled grenades and other missiles.

The CIA was expected to be tasked with teaching the rebels how to use the weapons, AP reported. The New York Times gave a similar outline of the arms involved and said anti-aircraft munitions, hotly sought after by the rebels, were not under consideration. Syrian rebel groups have repeatedly called for both anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

Analysts suggested that the US might step up the intelligence effort in Syria and possibly use groups of special forces to advise and train rebel groups rather than intervene overtly with military force.

There is deep concern in British military and intelligence circles about the prospect of direct US military intervention in Syria. Even establishing no-fly zones or "safe areas" would be extremely risky and lead to confrontation with Syrian forces, observers warned.

"There is no political appetite for it, in Washington or in London, and even Paris has gone quiet," said Brigadier Ben Barry, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Russia has insisted on a diplomatic solution, but an international peace conference announced by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has been plagued by disagreements from the start, including over Russian demands that Iran attends the talks.

Ushakov said US pledges of military aid to the opposition would further complicate attempts to convene a conference. "If the Americans … carry out more wide-scale aid to the rebels and opposition, it will not make organising the international conference easier," he said.

The Russian foreign ministry reiterated that position in a statement released on Friday, but said it remained committed to holding an international peace conference. It said US arms deliveries to the rebels would "drive up the level of violent confrontation and violence against innocent civilians".


Syria no-fly zone would violate international law, says Russia

Comments by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov underline G8 challenge faced by US in trying to gain support for intervention

Staff and agencies, Saturday 15 June 2013 12.11 BST   

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has said that any attempt to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria using US fighter jets and Patriot missiles from Jordan would violate international law.

Lavrov's comments on Saturday underline the challenge facing the US at the G8 summit next week where the White House hopes to get international support for further intervention in Syria.

Russia, which has protected President Bashar al-Assad from three UN security council resolutions aimed at pressuring him to end the violence, vehemently opposes any foreign military intervention in the conflict.

"There have been leaks from western media regarding the serious consideration to create a no-fly zone over Syria through the deployment of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and F-16 jets in Jordan," Lavrov said. "You don't have to be a great expert to understand that this will violate international law."

The US has moved Patriot missiles and fighter jets into Jordan in the past week, officially as part of an annual exercise, but it made clear that the military assets could stay on when the war games were over.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that a US military proposal to arm rebels fighting against Assad would include a limited no-fly zone inside Syria that could be enforced by US and allied planes on Jordanian territory. The US justified its decision to arm the rebels by saying it had discovered evidence of Syria's use of chemical weapons, but Lavrov said it was not clear that the US evidence would meet international standards of reliability.

He said the evidence must meet the standards of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which specifies that samples taken from blood, urine and clothing can be considered reliable evidence only if supervised by organisation experts from the time they are gathered to when they are delivered to a laboratory.

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Erdoğan offers to suspend Gezi Park redevelopment pending court case

Turkish PM makes concession after late-night meetings with protesters' representatives to end almost two weeks of demonstrations

Peter Beaumont in Istanbul, Friday 14 June 2013 14.14 BST   

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, appears to be backing away from a threatened "final" confrontation to clear thousands of protesters occupying an Istanbul park, after a series of late-night meetings with representatives of those involved in street protests which have engulfed dozens of Turkish cities.

In what appeared to be a calculated political move to step back from the violent confrontations that have left five dead and more than 5,000 injured since protests erupted in Turkey, Erdoğan said on Friday he would suspend plans to redevelop Gezi Park pending a government court appeal.

By offering the concession Erdoğan appears to be counting on the protests fading. The prime minister had earlier refused to meet with members of Taksim Solidarity.

In a separate development an Istanbul court released 43 Gezi Park protesters who had been arrested, meeting another of the demonstrators' demands.

Erdoğan's change in tactics comes a day after the European parliament voted to condemn Turkey for the "harsh measures" used on demonstrators.

Although the largest wave of protests in recent Turkish history was triggered by a violent crackdown on 31 May on environmental campaigners occupying the park, since then the protests have been transformed into a wider, if loose, coalition of those opposed to Erdoğan and his ruling moderate Islamist AKP, who they accuse of creeping authoritarianism.

The promise of a breakthrough emerged in a series of meetings in the country's capital, Ankara, and Istanbul. In Ankara, Erdoğan met both artists and representatives of Taksim Solidarity, named for the square adjoining Gezi Park that has been the focus for the worst clashes.

Hüseyin Çelik, deputy chairman of the AKP who attended the talks, said the meeting had been positive but reiterated Erdoğan's position that the occupation has to end.

"Our government has been very tolerant, as tolerant as it goes in a democracy, but I don't think the government will leave that place under occupation for long," he said.

Earlier this week, Taksim Square was cleared by police with water cannon, teargas and rubber bullets in some of the worst scenes of violence in the protests.

In Istanbul, the city's governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu also held a five-hour midnight meeting with young protesters invited via Twitter at a cafe on the shores of the Bosphorous to hear their complaints.

"We felt they showed sensitivity … and did not have an unyielding stance regarding staying there [in the park]," Mutlu told reporters.

Signs of movement to end the two-week standoff prompted a rally on the Turkish stock market rally and a drop in bond yields.

Protesters in the park have tentatively welcomed the moves by Erdoğan as the "first positive sign".

Representatives of Taksim Solidarity who attended the meeting said Erdoğan had promised to abide by the outcome of a court case filed in an effort to stop the redevelopment and would hold a referendum on the plans if the court found in the government's favour.

"The prime minister said that if the results of the public vote turned out in a way which would leave this area as a park, they will abide by it," Tayfun Kahraman of the protest group told reporters following the meeting.

"His comments that the project will not be executed until the judiciary makes its decision is tonight's positive result."

Taksim Solidarity said in a subsequent statement that it would decide as a whole what course of action to take after consulting on the results of the overnight meeting, leaving it unclear whether it would continue protesting.

The pledge by Erdoğan – whose party plans to hold rallies in Ankara and elsewhere this weekend – suggests that he has calculated that he can defuse the current political crisis by putting the onus on the courts, not his own damaged political reputation, and hope that there is insufficient agreement among those in the park on other issues for the occupation to continue.

This is despite the fact that a poll of those in Gezi Park published earlier this week suggested that almost half were there because of their unhappiness with Erdoğan's style of government.

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« Reply #6943 on: Jun 15, 2013, 06:13 AM »

June 14, 2013

Differing Views on Privacy Shape Europe’s Response to U.S. Surveillance Program


PARIS — Olaf Storbeck, a German columnist, has decided to “ditch Googlemail b/c Prism,” he wrote on Twitter. A London-based writer for Reuters, he is now a customer of Swissmail, a Swiss provider that charges a fee, and he says he is tinkering with a VPN, a virtual private network of the kind used by many corporations.

It is too early to say what impact the disclosure of widespread Internet spying in the United States government’s Prism program will have on the European public. Not everyone here is as attuned to privacy issues as Mr. Storbeck. But official European reaction, at least, has been loud and angry.

The response in Europe is partly based on a political reaction to what is perceived as American superpower arrogance and the secrecy surrounding Prism and its supposed safeguards. But it is also founded on a different conception of privacy than in the United States, where the prevailing attitude since Sept. 11, 2001, has been that the government is doing what is required to protect citizens from attacks that can come from anywhere, including Europe.

The European response is not uniform, but it is based on tradition, differing philosophies of the law and history, especially in countries that lived under dictatorships, whether fascist or Communist, and where governments remain mistrusted.

J. Trevor Hughes, writing on a blog called Privacy Perspectives, said that “privacy has always been a difficult concept to define.” For Europeans, he wrote, “privacy is a human right, while for Americans, privacy tends to be about liberty.”

Germany is the country most aggressive in protecting individual privacy. Because of the Nazis and then the East German secret police, the Stasi, a united Germany endorsed a Basic Law that has strict limits and parliamentary oversight over the intelligence services.

Even when European allies conduct a trans-European counterterrorism operation, if the target is in Germany or is a German citizen, and German intelligence must be used, a German must be in charge, said Richard J. Aldrich, a professor of international security at Warwick University in Britain. And there are restrictions on how long surveillance images can be retained.

Google was forced by German regulators to allow individuals to obscure their homes in its Street View database, for example, and European complaints have pushed companies like Facebook to improve their data protection.

But the Sept. 11 attacks and other acts of terrorism have had an impact in Germany, too. According to a poll in the newspaper Die Zeit, about 40 percent of Germans think that governments are right to monitor Internet communications for security reasons. And nearly half say they want to keep using services by American companies like Google, Facebook and Skype for communication and do not feel monitored. There was more skepticism among those 18 to 24.

In Britain, where the common law is based on property rights, privacy is “an existential concept,” Mr. Aldrich said, something less than physical property, which may help explain why there are so many surveillance cameras and so few complaints about them. Alice Thomson, a columnist for The Times of London, seemed to speak for many when she said that her worries were less about Internet privacy than about pornography. “I don’t care who is watching me,” she wrote. “It’s what my children are watching that bothers me.”

In France, where the state is centralized and strong, there is relatively little parliamentary or private oversight of the intelligence services.

Official responses to Prism have varied, with a widespread concern that the United States government is not applying even supposedly laxer American privacy protections to information garnered about non-Americans.

Viviane Reding, the European Union’s outspoken justice commissioner, has demanded explanations from Washington and said that Prism “shows why a clear legal framework for the protection of personal data is not a luxury but a necessity.”

Part of the reaction may stem from the successful American effort in January 2012, opposed by Ms. Reding, to get the European Commission to strip from data privacy legislation a measure that would limit the ability of United States intelligence agencies to ask for data on the European Union.

Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament from the free-market party Democrats 66, said that “for a lot of people on both sides of the Atlantic, this is a wake-up call, leading to serious questions both at the highest level and in the general public.”

The case will complicate negotiations on a free trade agreement, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Ms. Schaake said. “I worry about the fallout from Prism,” she said. The European Parliament, “representing 500 million people, must give thumbs up to a deal. And the key question is will there be enough trust, and that trust has certainly had a blow with the revelations of Prism.”

There has been a history of differences between the United States and the European Union on issues of personal and corporate data since the Sept. 11 attacks. There have been squabbles over access to interbank transfer data and payments (a program known as Swift), and over the provision of passenger lists for airplanes flying to the United States from Europe. (France and Britain have similar requirements for planes flying there.)

And there are continuing debates over whether individuals have the right to expunge data they posted in earlier, less circumspect days — what the French call “the right to be forgotten.”

Europe has gone ahead with its Galileo program to provide an alternative to the American GPS system, developed by the military, but that has more to do with security concerns than data protection, Mr. Aldrich said. Given the growing dependence on GPS for ordinary travel, let alone for telephone monitoring and weapons systems, he said, Europeans are as much worried about infiltration and interference with the GPS monopoly by a third country as they are about American use of the data.

Mr. Aldrich said the problem of personal privacy and counterintelligence was so complicated because most people had little understanding “of where their data sits and who owns it.” Most people’s understanding of intelligence is also out of date, he said. It is now less about “spying” than about algorithms turned loose on huge amounts of data from airlines, banks, credit card companies, and telephone and Internet companies.

It is no longer about “people in trenchcoats” or wiretapping, he said. It is about metadata, he said, “what the C.I.A. calls ‘the electronic exhaust fumes of our lives,’” and the algorithms that allow patterns to be found.

“They have a virtual you and me in a bottle, kept in a warehouse in Utah,” he said. “And in 10 years’ time there will even be better stuff.”

It remains to be seen whether Europeans will spontaneously disengage from social networks they believe may be subject to surveillance. Carsten Tauber, a German blogger, decided last December, before the Prism disclosure, that he had had enough of Facebook. It was too commercial, he said, and offered too little protection of his privacy.

But even Mr. Tauber is skeptical about whether huge numbers of Germans will follow his example. “The Prism case won’t have a huge effect,” Mr. Tauber said. “In the final analysis, Germans don’t really care about data protection.” Social networking “is the future,” he said. “I don’t see how we can stop it.”

Steven Erlanger reported from Paris, and Jack Ewing from Frankfurt.


June 14, 2013

Snowden’s Leaks on China Could Affect Its Role in His Fate


HONG KONG — The decision by a former National Security Agency contractor to divulge classified data about the United States government’s surveillance of computers in mainland China and Hong Kong has complicated his legal position, but may also make China’s security apparatus more interested in helping him stay here, law and security experts said on Friday.

The South China Morning Post, a local newspaper, reported on Friday that Edward J. Snowden, the contractor, had shared detailed data showing the dates and Internet Protocol addresses of specific computers in mainland China and Hong Kong that the National Security Agency penetrated over the last four years. The data also showed whether the agency was still breaking into these computers, the success rates for hacking and other operational information.

Mr. Snowden told the newspaper that the computers were in the civilian sector. But Western experts have long said that the dividing line between the civilian sector and the government is very blurry in China. State-owned or state-controlled enterprises still control much of the economy, and virtually all are run by Communist Party cadres who tend to rotate back and forth between government and corporate jobs every few years as part of elaborate career development procedures.

Kevin Egan, a former prosecutor here who has represented people fighting extradition to the United States, said that Mr. Snowden’s latest disclosures would make it harder for him to fight an expected request by the United States for him to be turned over to American law enforcement. “He’s digging his own grave with a very large spade,” he said.

But a person with longstanding ties to mainland Chinese military and intelligence agencies said that Mr. Snowden’s latest disclosures showed that he and his accumulated documents could be valuable to China, particularly if Mr. Snowden chooses to cooperate with mainland authorities.

“The idea is very tempting, but how do you do that, unless he defects,” said the person, who spoke anonymously because of the diplomatic delicacy of the case. “It all depends on his attitude.”

The person declined to comment on whether Chinese intelligence agencies would obtain copies of all of Mr. Snowden’s computer files anyway if he were arrested by the Hong Kong police pursuant to a warrant from the United States, where the Justice Department has already been reviewing possible charges against him.

A Hong Kong Police Force spokeswoman said earlier this week that any arrest would have to be carried out by the Hong Kong police and not by foreign law enforcement. The Hong Kong police have a responsibility to share with mainland China anything of intelligence value that they find during raids or seizures of evidence, according to law enforcement experts.

Patricia Ho, a lawyer who specializes in political asylum at Daly and Associates, a Hong Kong law firm, said that if Beijing decides that it wants Mr. Snowden to stay in Hong Kong for a long time, the simplest way to do so would be for mainland officials to quietly tell Hong Kong’s government officials not to hurry the legal process.

The United States and China have long accused each other of monitoring each other’s computer networks for national security reasons. The United States has also accused China of hacking to harvest technological secrets and commercial data on a broad scale from American companies and transferring that information to Chinese companies to give them a competitive advantage.

Tom Billington, an independent cybersecurity specialist in Washington, said that mainland China could benefit by obtaining a copy of the data that Mr. Snowden gave to The South China Morning Post. The data, if independently verified, could help Chinese officials figure out which computers have been hacked, patch security holes, itemize compromised data, analyze the quality of computer security defenses and develop techniques for hardening other Chinese computers against future surveillance by the N.S.A.

“It certainly would seem valuable data for the Chinese,” Mr. Billington said.

According to The Guardian newspaper of Britain, Mr. Snowden showed up with four laptop computers for a meeting with its journalists in Hong Kong. But The Los Angeles Times has reported that Mr. Snowden originally smuggled electronic files out of the National Security Agency in Hawaii using a USB thumb drive.

Simon Young, the director of the Center for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, said in a statement that it would be a violation of Hong Kong law to disclose any information that had been shared confidentially by the Hong Kong or mainland Chinese governments with the United States.

“These recent developments underline the importance of Mr. Snowden obtaining immediate legal advice in Hong Kong, especially before any further disclosures are made,” Mr. Young said.

Mr. Young did not suggest whether any of the data shared by Mr. Snowden would fall into this category. But the Hong Kong government has a history of close law enforcement cooperation with the United States, particularly in the area of counterterrorism. The Hong Kong police have long focused on trying to prevent the territory’s freewheeling financial system from becoming a base for Al Qaeda-related money laundering.

The South China Morning Post said that one target of N.S.A. hacking identified by Mr. Snowden was the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which hosts the city’s main hub for Internet connections to the rest of the world. “The University has not detected any form of hacking to the network, which has been running normally,” the university said in a statement.

The newspaper said that it had not independently verified the accuracy of the data that Mr. Snowden provided. But the United States government has not questioned the authenticity of any of the documents he has released.

The Global Times, a nationalistic mainland Chinese newspaper under direct control of the Communist Party, published an editorial on Friday calling for China to glean as much information as possible from him.

“Snowden is a ‘card’ that China never expected,” the commentary said. “But China is neither adept at nor used to playing it.”

The commentary also called for China and Hong Kong to treat Mr. Snowden kindly enough so that others with national security secrets will not be discouraged from fleeing here. “China should make sure that Hong Kong is not the last place where other ‘Snowdens’ want to go,” it said.

The Associated Press reported on Friday that Britain had issued an alert to airlines around the world warning them not to bring Mr. Snowden to its soil, and threatening them with a fine of 2,000 pounds, or $3,125. Geoffrey Robertson, of London, who was an initial lawyer for Julian Assange during the WikiLeaks dispute, criticized the alert as unusual because it was being applied to someone who has denounced government policies.

“This is a power hitherto used only against those who incite terrorism, race hatred and homophobia — never before against whistle-blowers,” Mr. Robertson wrote in an e-mail. “The British government is simply afraid that its judges, who are fiercely independent, and the European court would embarrass its closest ally by ruling that Snowden could not be extradited because, even if his “revelations” prove to be mistaken, he would be subjected to oppressive treatment akin to that being meted out to Bradley Manning,” the American Army private accused of having leaked secrets in the WikiLeaks case.


Facebook, Microsoft reveal surveillance request figures

Facebook says it received almost 10,000 US government requests for user data in the second half of 2012

Reuters, Saturday 15 June 2013 06.28 BST   

Facebook and Microsoft have struck agreements with the US government to release limited information about the number of surveillance requests they receive, a modest victory for the companies as they struggle with the fallout from disclosures about a secret government data-collection program.

Facebook on Friday became the first to release aggregate numbers of requests, saying in a blog post it received between 9,000 and 10,000 US requests for user data in the second half of 2012, covering 18,000 to 19,000 of its users' accounts. Facebook has more than 1.1 billion users worldwide.

The majority of those requests are routine police inquiries, a person familiar with the company said, but under the terms of the deal with the justice department, Facebook is precluded from saying how many were secret orders issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Until now, all information about requests under Fisa, including their existence, were deemed secret.

Microsoft said it had received requests of all types for information on about 31,000 consumer accounts in the second half of 2012. In a "transparency report" Microsoft published earlier this year without including national security matters, it said it had received criminal requests involving 24,565 accounts for the whole of 2012.

If half of those requests came in the second part of the year, the intelligence requests constitute the bulk of government inquiries. Microsoft did not dispute that conclusion.

Google said late on Friday it was negotiating with the government and that the sticking point was whether it could only publish a combined figure for all requests. It said that would be "a step back for users", because it already breaks out criminal requests and national security letters, another type of intelligence inquiry.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft had all publicly urged the US authorities to allow them to reveal the number and scope of the surveillance requests after documents leaked to the Guardian suggested they had given the government "direct access" to their computers as part of the National Security Agency program called Prism.

The disclosures about Prism, and related revelations about broad-based collection of telephone records, have triggered widespread concern and congressional hearings about the scope and extent of the information-gathering.

"We hope this helps put into perspective the numbers involved and lays to rest some of the hyperbolic and false assertions in some recent press accounts about the frequency and scope of the data requests that we receive," Facebook wrote on its site.

Facebook said it would continue to press to divulge more information. The person familiar with the company said that it at least partially complied with US legal requests 79% of the time, and that it usually turned over just the user's email address and internet protocol address and name, rather than the content of the person's postings or messages.

It is believed that Fisa requests typically seek much more information. But it remains unclear how broad the Fisa orders might be.

Among the other remaining questions are the nature of court-approved "minimisation" procedures designed to limit use of information about US residents. The NSA is prohibited from specifically targeting them.

"If they are receiving large amounts of data that they are not actually authorised to look at, the question then becomes what are the procedures by which they determine what they can look at?" said Kevin Bankston, a lawyer at the Centre for Democracy & Technology. "Do they simply store that forever in case later they are authorised to look at it?"

In addition, some legal experts say recent US laws allow for intelligence-gathering simply for the pursuit of foreign policy objectives, not just in hunting terrorists and spies.


Hong Kong protesters back Edward Snowden, denounce allegations of U.S. spying

By Reuters
Saturday, June 15, 2013 8:20 EDT

By Grace Li and Venus Wu

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A few hundred rights advocates and political activists marched through Hong Kong on Saturday to demand protection for Edward Snowden, who leaked revelations of U.S. electronic surveillance and is now believed to be holed up in the former British colony.

Marchers gathered outside the U.S. consulate shouting slogans denouncing alleged spying operations aimed at China and Hong Kong, but the numbers were modest compared to rallies over other rights and political issues.

“Arrest Obama, free Snowden,” protesters shouted outside the slate grey building as police looked on. Many waved banners that said: “Betray Snowden, betray freedom”, “Big brother is watching you” and “Obama is checking your email”.

Some blew whistles in support of Snowden, 29, the American former CIA contractor who has acknowledged being behind leaks of the surveillance programs by the National Security Agency.

The procession moved on to government headquarters in the city, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 but enjoys far more liberal laws on dissent and freedom of expression.

About a dozen groups organized two rallies, including the city’s two largest political camps. Leaders of major political parties sought explanations for Snowden’s allegations of spying.

Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing political party, the DAB, demanded an apology from Washington, clarification of “illegal” espionage activities and an immediate halt to them.

“I think the Hong Kong government should protect him,” the DAB’s vice-chairwoman, Starry Lee, said outside the consulate.

Snowden reportedly flew to Hong Kong on May 20. He checked out of a luxury hotel on Monday and his whereabouts remain unknown. Snowden has said he intends to stay in Hong Kong to fight any potential U.S. moves to extradite him.


China has avoided any explicit comment on its position towards Snowden. A senior source with ties to the Communist Party leadership said Beijing was reluctant to jeopardize recently improved ties with Washington.

Snowden told the South China Morning Post this week that Americans had spied extensively on targets including the Chinese University of Hong Kong that hosts an exchange which handles nearly all the city’s domestic web traffic. Other alleged targets included government officials, businesses and students.

Snowden pledged not to “hide from justice” and said he would place his trust in Hong Kong’s legal system. Some legal experts, however, say an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and the United States has functioned smoothly since 1998.

It is unclear whether Chinese authorities would intervene over any U.S. attempts to extradite Snowden, though lawyers say Beijing has rarely interfered with extradition cases.

His arrival comes at a sensitive time for Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, whose popularity has sunk since taking office last year amid a series of scandals and corruption probes into prominent figures. Leung has offered no comment on Snowden.

Interest among residents into the case is growing and numbers could rise if extradition proceedings are launched.

Demonstrations on issues ranging from denunciations of pro-communist education policy imposed by Beijing, high property prices and a growing wealth gap have attracted large crowds.

A vigil marking the anniversary of China’s June 1989 crackdown on democracy advocates drew tens of thousands this month and a record 180,000 last year.

Diplomats and opposition figures in the city have warned of growing behind-the-scenes meddling by Beijing in Hong Kong’s affairs, as well as deep-rooted spying activities.

(Additional reporting by James Pomfret and Anne-Marie Roantree; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Ron Popeski)

[A protester supporting Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA), holds a placard showing pictures of Snowden and Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan during a demonstration in Hong Kong June 15, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip]

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« Reply #6944 on: Jun 15, 2013, 06:20 AM »

Greek prime minister backtracks on decision to close public broadcaster

Antonis Samaras tries to calm political crisis by offering partial reinstatement so transmissions can resume 'immediately'

Helena Smith in Athens, Saturday 15 June 2013 00.51 BST   

Greece's prime minister, Antonis Samaras, attempted late on Friday night to end the turmoil over his decision to close the country's public broadcaster – with a proposal to partially reinstate the company so it could resume transmissions "immediately".

The proposed closure of the Hellenic Broadcasting Company (ERT) has led to the conservative leader facing his worst political crisis since assuming power a year ago.

He announced the apparent climbdown in the hope it would stem the public protests that have once again put Athens in the eye of the storm.

"To find a solution to the issue … I propose that a temporary committee of broad parliamentary acceptance be appointed," he said in a statement.

The committee, he suggested, should be set up "with the express purpose of hiring a small number of [ERT] employees so that the broadcast of news programmes can begin immediately".

But instead of calming tensions, his offer inflamed them. Within hours, his two centre-left coalition partners rejected the offer, reinforcing speculation that they would walk out of the uneasy alliance now ruling Greece if ERT is not quickly reopened.

Dimitris Trimis, the head of the country's association of journalists, ESEA, described the compromise as being "totally insufficient".

He said: "It proves that he is under tremendous pressure but it falls far short of the demands of unions and ERT employees who have already experienced huge cutbacks.

"He still wants to go ahead with his plans to radically restructure the organisation."

Prior to his announcement, Samaras had come under immense pressure, both at home and abroad, to switch the state-run channel back on.

Describing ERT as a huge drain on the public purse, he had previously insisted the broadcaster, which employs 2,700, would not be reopened until it had been overhauled in line with the demands of Greece's "troika" of creditors – the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the EU,

Earlier on Friday, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) had urged Samaras to reverse his decision after emergency talks in Athens.

"We ask the government to re-establish the signal on TV, radio and web," said the body's president Jean-Paul Philippot, noting it was the first time in the history of Europe that a country had elected to shut down its own broadcaster.

Across the continent officials have also expressed dismay at the move made when the broadcaster was transmitting live late on Tuesday.

Berlin, which has bankrolled most of the bailout funds propping up the debt-stricken Greek economy, is said to be outraged at the prospect of political crisis in Athens shattering the calm before Germans go to the polls in September.

With all sides digging in their heels, the spectre of elections had become a real possibility.

"No one, with the exception of [neo-Nazi and fast-growing] Golden Dawn, wants elections in this country," said political scientist Dimitris Kerides.

"It was absolutely expedient that Samaras found a way to back down without losing face."

Analysts did not rule out the compromise being used as a bargaining chip ahead of crucial talks between all three coalition leaders on Monday.

Samaras, addressing the youth wing of his own centre-right party on Friday, accused those who defended the broadcaster of being "hypocrites," likening ERT to a den of "sin … and scandals that our people will learn".

The public prosecutor's office had ordered an official probe into the widespread corruption and malpractice that had bedevilled the company, he said.

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