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« Reply #7590 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:14 AM »

07/18/2013 11:56 AM

Rotterdam Art Heist: Stolen Masterpieces Likely Incinerated

The whereabouts of valuable paintings stolen from the Rotterdam Kunsthal museum last year have long been uncertain, despite the arrest of the alleged thieves. Now the mother of one of the accused says she burned them in an oven.

A high-profile art theft from a Rotterdam museum has taken a tragic turn. In one of the most spectacular art heists to hit Europe in decades, last October thieves stole a number of valuable paintings from the Rotterdam Kunsthal, including works by Lucian Freud, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso. Though suspects were arrested in the case, officials had been unable to find the art. Now it appears the works were likely destroyed.

Six Romanians have been charged with the theft, and are currently awaiting trial. Olga Dogaru, the mother of one of the accused, told Romanian TV last week that she had incinerated the paintings in a stove after the arrest of her son. The thieves had been unable to find buyers for the works and she was worried about being discovered, she said.

Forensic specialists have since inspected the stove and found evidence of "painting primer, the remains of canvas and paint," Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, director of Romania's National History Museum, told the Associated Press. Law enforcement officials must now determine whether the ashes came from the missing paintings in question.

The artworks, which included Monet's "Waterloo Bridge, London" and Picasso's "Harlequin Head," are estimated to be worth a total of between €50 million and €100 million ($65 million and $131 million).

In a statement given to the Rotterdam-based newspaper NRC Handelsblad, the Cordia family, which owned the paintings and had lent them to the Dutch museum, said: "The only statement we as a family want to give is that it's a shame that, in all probability, these works of art no longer exist and will no longer be viewable by us as a family or by the public. And this because of the 'greed' of another."

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« Reply #7591 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:19 AM »

Taliban's letter to Malala Yousafzai: this is why we tried to kill you

Adnan Rasheed tells schoolgirl she was targeted because Taliban believed she was running smear campaign

Saba Imtiaz in Karachi
The Guardian, Wednesday 17 July 2013 20.33 BST      

A senior member of the Pakistani Taliban has written an open letter to Malala Yousafzai – the teenager shot in the head as she rode home on a school bus – expressing regret that he didn't warn her before the attack, but claiming that she was targeted for maligning the insurgents.

Adnan Rasheed, who was convicted for his role in a 2003 assassination attempt on the country's then-president Pervez Musharraf, did not apologise for the attack, which left Malala gravely wounded, but said he found it shocking.

"I wished it would never happened [sic] and I had advised you before," he wrote.

Malala was 15 when she and two classmates were targeted by a masked gunman who picked them out on a school bus as they went home from school in Pakistan's northwest Swat valley last October.

She was seriously injured in the attack, and was flown to Britain to receive specialist treatment from doctors in Birmingham, where she and her family now live.

Last week, she celebrated her 16th birthday by delivering a defiant speech at the United Nations in New York, in which she called on world leaders to provide free schooling for all children.

In the letter, Rasheed claimed that Malala was not targeted for her efforts to promote education, but because the Taliban believed she was running a "smearing campaign" against it.

"You have said in your speech yesterday that pen is mightier than sword," Rasheed wrote, referring to Malala's UN speech, "so they attacked you for your sword not for your books or school."

The rambling four-page letter, in patchy English, citing Bertrand Russell, Henry Kissinger and historian Thomas Macaulay, was released to media organisations in Pakistan.

In it, Rasheed – a former member of Pakistan's air force, who was among 300 prisoners to escape jail in April last year – advises Malala to return to Pakistan, join a female Islamic seminary and advocate the cause of Islam.

He admitted that the Taliban are "blowing up" schools, but justified the attacks on the grounds that the Pakistani army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps use schools as hideouts.

Hundreds of schools have been targeted in Pakistan's north-west: activists say some had been used by the military, but many attacks were motivated by the Taliban's opposition to girls' education.

The Taliban commander also justified recent attacks in Pakistan on health workers vaccinating children against polio by claiming the west was trying to sterilise Muslims.

The letter is clearly intended to influence opinion in Pakistan: although in much of the world Malala has been hailed as a symbol of courage, at home she has been the subject of intense criticism and vilification. Online commentators have described her as a "drama queen" and even accused her of spying for the CIA.

Rasheed contrasted international support for Malala with the lack of coverage given to those killed in US drone attacks – a source of intense grievance in Pakistan.

"If you were shot [by] Americans in a drone attack, would [the] world have ever heard updates on your medical status? … Would you were called to UN? Would a Malala day be announced?"

Gordon Brown, now a UN special envoy on global education, said: "Nobody will believe a word the Taliban say about the right of girls like Malala to go to school until they stop burning down schools and stop massacring pupils."


July 11, 2013

Siege by Taliban Strains Pakistani Girls’ Schools


GHALANAI, Pakistan — The classroom in Ghalanai, an area nestled amid the mountains of Pakistan’s tribal belt, has the air of a military camp: a solitary tent pitched beside a bombed-out building, ringed by a high wall and protected by an armed gunman.

“We need to assure parents that it’s safe,” said Noor Haider, a local tribal leader who took on school security after Taliban militants bombed the school three years ago.

Extreme measures have become necessary as Taliban militants have pressed their violent campaign against girls’ education in northwestern Pakistan, bombing schools and terrifying pupils and parents.

More than 800 schools in the region have been attacked since 2009, according to government education authorities. But it was a vicious attack last October on an outspoken 15-year-old schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, that moved the issue to global prominence.

A Taliban hit man shot Ms. Yousafzai in the head in an attempt to silence her eloquent advocacy of education rights in Swat, a picturesque mountain valley that had been the scene of fierce fighting between the Taliban and the military.

After a medical evacuation to Britain, where war surgeons repaired her shattered skull, Ms. Yousafzai has made a startling recovery. In March, she resumed her schooling in Britain. And on Friday she is marking her 16th birthday by addressing a youth assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

That speech will be the first unmediated public appearance by a young woman who has become an international symbol of teenage bravery and educational activism. Ms. Yousafzai has won numerous honors and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. News of her progress is assiduously followed across the world.

Back in Pakistan, however, the Taliban war on girls’ education continues unabated.

Ghalanai is the headquarters of Mohmand, a hilly tribal agency along the Afghan border where schools have been the targets of more than 100 attacks. Military check posts dot the hilltops, overlooking largely barren land. A female suicide bomber almost killed the leader of a religious party here this year.

The Pakistani Taliban see schools as symbols of both Western decadence and government authority, but their attacks are also intended to deny the Pakistani military the possibility of establishing temporary bases in the buildings. Typically, they strike in the dead of night, planting explosives that topple buildings and shred desks and blackboards.

The authorities have struggled to respond. At the Government Girls Primary School, Mr. Haider started the tent school with help from the United Nations. Otherwise, the government has done little, he said.

And the Taliban continue to exert pressure on parents and pupils. Night letters posted in the town describe girls’ schooling as a “product of the West” and order pious Muslims to shun the schools.

The siegelike situation has led some brave young women to follow Ms. Yousafzai’s example and defy the Taliban edicts. That was the case in Shabqadar, on the edge of Mohmand, where the Taliban decided to send a violent message in December.

Hira Gul, a 14-year-old pupil, was awakened by an explosion at midnight. The next morning she found a pile of rubble where her school had stood. The attack came as no surprise. “This has become very common in our area,” she said.

Her teacher, however, was profoundly affected. For days after the attack, the teacher, Fazeelat Bibi, visited the destroyed school every morning “to cry my heart out,” she said.

She has restarted class in her back garden. But attendance has fallen 75 percent, and Ms. Bibi has started wearing an all-covering burqa to work to avoid attracting the Taliban’s attention.

“Teaching here was never easy,” Ms. Bibi said.

She noted a prevailing conservative mind-set in which education is the preserve of boys. But she added, “Now it’s fear and growing extremism that are making parents keep children at home.”

The attacks on schools are mostly the work of the Pakistani Taliban, who see girls’ education as un-Islamic. The group earned global scorn and revulsion after it proudly claimed responsibility for the attack on Ms. Yousafzai — a claim that, at least briefly, helped rally Pakistani public opinion against the movement.

In Swat, which lies about 50 miles east of Mohmand, deeper in the mountains, some tribesmen have lionized Ms. Yousafzai as a teenage heroine who stood up to the Taliban where many others have faltered. Despite continuing threats, the girls’ school that she attended, which was run by her father, is open and running at full strength.

“We were not expecting the pupils to come back, but they did,” said the school administrator, Iqbal Khan.

Ms. Yousafzai, meanwhile, has resumed her schooling, at Edgbaston High School for Girls in Birmingham, England. Another teenage girl hurt in the October attack recently arrived in England to join her.

“They will not stop me,” Ms. Yousafzai recently wrote on her Facebook page. “I will get my education, if it is in home, school or any place.”

But Ms. Yousafzai’s plight has also provoked some contrary reactions in her own community, ranging from jealousy and suspicion to naked fear. An attempt to rename a government girls’ school after her failed after students loudly protested that, by associating with Ms. Yousafzai, they would make targets of themselves.

In the bazaar, some residents hint at resentment toward the global attention to Ms. Yousafzai. Some complain that it has overshadowed the bravery of other young women. Others indulge in muttered conspiracies about Western intervention.

Some have posted crude abuse on Ms. Yousafzai’s Facebook page alongside the praise for her campaign, calling her a “kanjri” — an Urdu word for a prostitute — or an “American agent.”

“Many people think it is a fabricated drama,” said Ihsanullah Khan, 35, a university lecturer in Swat’s main town, Mingora. “And so many other people have spoken out against militants, or sacrificed their lives. Why are they forgotten?”

Equally, though, the Taliban war on education has strengthened the resolve of Pakistani leaders who see no choice but to stand up against the militants’ cultural and religious dictates.

Mr. Haider, the tribal leader in Ghalanai, said the Taliban had recently kidnapped one of his relatives because he allowed the security forces to draw water from wells on the family’s land.

Since elections in May, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, bordering the tribal belt, has been governed by the party of Imran Khan, a charismatic politician who has a reputation for being soft on the Taliban, yet who has also increased the provincial education budget by 30 percent.

Yet the decision about whether to defy Taliban edicts on girls’ schooling often falls to individual families. The greatest resistance often comes from fearful fathers, said Ms. Bibi, the teacher in Shabqadar.

“They say they don’t want their daughters to become the next Malala,” she said.

Taha Siddiqui reported from Ghalanai, and Declan Walsh from London. Sana ul Haq contributed reporting from Swat, Pakistan.

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« Reply #7592 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:20 AM »

July 17, 2013

With New Law, Afghanistan Moves Closer to Election


KABUL, Afghanistan — With Afghanistan’s financial future riding on next year’s presidential election, President Hamid Karzai signed a new election law on Wednesday, at least temporarily easing concerns that the vote could be significantly delayed or put off indefinitely.

Up until the end of last week, there were widespread concerns among American and European diplomats, whose countries bankroll the Afghan government and security forces, that a pair of election laws crucial to next year’s vote would not be passed before Parliament adjourned for the summer. That would have made the current timetable, which calls for an election in April, nearly impossible to meet.

Instead, Parliament passed both laws in the past few days. Mr. Karzai on Wednesday signed the one widely expected to be the most contentious for him: it lays out the composition and rules for Afghanistan’s election commission and a separate commission to adjudicate complaints about voter fraud and other irregularities. Afghan and Western officials said they expected the second law, which governs how the vote will be held, to be signed soon enough to avoid scheduling problems.

A successful election is seen as vital to Afghanistan’s stability, and American and European diplomats have warned that billions of dollars in aid will not materialize unless the vote is credible. A flawed vote could also make it difficult for the United States and its allies to continue training and financing the Afghan Army and police forces after the NATO combat mission here ends next year, they said.

At the same time, Afghanistan’s backers have made clear that the vote is an Afghan affair, and they have set a low bar for credibility. The benchmark most often cited is an election “acceptable” to the Afghan people — that is, a vote that does not result in a crisis just as the American-led coalition is wrapping up operations.

Yet squabbling over the election laws between Mr. Karzai and his political opponents during the past eight months had raised early doubts that Afghanistan could meet even that low standard.

Wednesday’s signing of the so-called structural law appeared to have helped assuage those concerns, offering a bright spot in the often grim assessments of the prospects for Afghan democracy.

Ahmad Nader Nadery, who heads the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, an independent watchdog group, said the signing of the structural law “is an encouraging development.” He said, “It comes late, but finally, despite all the opposition to this law from the government.”

“We were concerned this would not come into effect,” he added. “Now the challenge is to make sure this law gets properly implemented.”

One Western diplomat remarked that it was “amazing — for once, the cynics around here were proven wrong.”

The complaints commission, in particular, had been a source of serious dispute that at one point threatened to scuttle the new law. That would have left Afghanistan holding the vote under the same presidential decrees used to govern the 2009 presidential election, which was marred by fraud and set off months of crisis.

Mr. Karzai did not want the complaints commission at all, viewing it as the source of his problems in 2009, when it disqualified hundreds of thousands of votes, forcing him into a runoff. But the opposition insisted the commission remain in place, and it also wanted at least two of its five members to be foreigners appointed by the United Nations.

An earlier draft of the election law was vetoed by Mr. Karzai because of the dispute over the complaints commission.

But, as pressure from the United States and Europe mounted, a compromise was struck: the commission would be written into the law, but it would include only Afghans. It could, however, hire foreign technical experts to help.

At the same time Mr. Karzai’s office announced that the president had signed the law, it also said a committee made up of lawmakers, human rights activists and others was being convened to name members of the election and complaints commission.

The law “corresponds with what the international community said was important,” said Nicholas Haysom, a senior United Nations official in Afghanistan. “They had asked for the two laws to be passed as part of the government’s commitments” in exchange for billions in aid over the coming years.

But, he cautioned, “As with many of things, this is a hurdle in a race which consists of lots of hurdles.”

Apart from selecting members of the election and complaints commissions, the next major step is the nomination of candidates, who are supposed to begin registering in September.

Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting.

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« Reply #7593 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:22 AM »

Fearful Indian schoolchildren refuse free meals

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 18, 2013 7:10 EDT

Thousands of schoolchildren were refusing free meals in poverty-stricken eastern India after 22 children died from eating lunch apparently contaminated with insecticide, officials said Thursday.

Authorities were trying to reassure frightened students and parents in the state of Bihar as police stepped up their investigation into the tragedy, focusing on the school headmistress who has fled.

The 22 children, aged four to 12, died after eating lentils, vegetables and rice cooked at a village school on Tuesday, sparking violent protests from angry residents.

Some 30 children remain ill in hospitals in the state capital Patna and the city of Chhapra after eating the food, which initial tests showed may have been tainted with insecticide.

Children elsewhere in the state were dumping their meals in bins or refusing even to touch them, despite pleas from school officials that the tragedy would not recur, a senior state government official said.

“Parents have warned their children to not even touch the meal served in the school,” Lakshmanan, who uses only one name, told AFP.

“Some of the students dumped the lunch in school dustbins and we are trying to convince everyone that the tragedy will not be repeated,” said Lakshmanan, director of the midday meal scheme in Bihar.

India’s state governments run the world’s largest school feeding programme involving 120 million children. Bihar is one of India’s most populated and poorest states.

Educators see the scheme as a way to increase school attendance, in a country where almost half of all young children are undernourished. But children often suffer from food poisoning due to poor hygiene in kitchens and occasionally sub-standard food.

Authorities have instructed all teachers and cooks in the state to first taste the free lunch before serving to the children.

“We will have to make parents believe that mid-day meals provide nutrition and are not meant to kill students,” said Lakshmanan.

Police conducted raids on Wednesday night across the district of Saran, where the village school is located.

They raided the home of the headmistress Meena Kumari, who fled after the children started dying on Tuesday, a senior officer said on condition of anonymity.

“We found two containers filled with insecticide in the headmistress’s house along with pulses, vegetables and rice allotted for the midday meals,” said the officer, who is investigating the deaths.

State education minister P.K. Shahi said Wednesday police were probing whether the food was accidentally or possibly deliberately poisoned.

Media reports also quoted villagers as saying the use of contaminated, foul-smelling mustard oil for cooking might have caused the deaths.

A state government minister has said the cook complained to the headmistress about the smell of the oil before going ahead on Tuesday.

But the headmistress allegedly dismissed her concerns, the minister said.

Parents have accused the state government and emergency officials of failing to react swiftly to the crisis. One father described how he and other parents carried their children on motorbikes to a hospital because there were no ambulances.

“Four of us (each) carried a child’s body on motorcycles and people say there is a government in Bihar,” Satendra Mishra told the Indian Express newspaper.

“If there is one, why has no official reached the village yet?”

Video footage has shown emotional and chaotic scenes at one hospital in Chhapra, as children, their limbs dangling and heads lolling, were carried inside. Other children, lying listless on stretchers, were placed on intravenous drips as outside, inconsolable relatives wept.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar announced compensation of 200,000 rupees ($3,373) for each of the bereaved families.


India's acid attack survivors welcome rules to help stop rise in assaults

India has restricted the sale of acid and increased the penalty for attacks, but campaigners are also demanding compensation

KumKum Dasgupta in Delhi, Thursday 18 July 2013 11.58 BST   

After eight years of running between police stations, hospitals and courts, Laxmi, 22, an acid attack victim, can finally relax a little.

On Tuesday, after relentless pressure and criticism from the supreme court, the Indian government published guidelines to regulate the retail sale of acids.

In 2005, two youths poured acid on Laxmi while she was waiting for a bus at Khan market, New Delhi, because she had refused to marry one of them. Her face and body were left disfigured.

A year later, she filed a public interest litigation (PIL) and sought a ban on the sale of the toxic liquid, citing increasing numbers of attacks on women.

The government said this week it would treat acid as a poison and apply the Poison Act 1919 to regulate its sale. The reclassification means that shops will need a licence to sell the substance, buyers will have to submit a photo identity card and it must not be sold to under 18s.

The responsibility for implementation of the law lies with state governments. Acids are easily available in general stores across India for less than 50p per litre.

There are no official figures on acid attacks in the country but it is estimated that there are up to 1,000 a year. In the past six months, 92 such incidents were reported to New Delhi's Women in Distress helpline, set up by the local government.

In May, Preeti Singh Rathi, 25, was attacked in Mumbai and suffered severe injuries to her face and organs. She died on 1 June after developing liver and kidney infections as a result of the attack. Her father, Amar Singh Rathi, has demanded an investigation into her death. The culprit remains at large.

In April, parliament passed a bill permitting more rigorous punishments for assaults on women. Previously, acid attacks were prosecuted as general acts of violence and courts were free to issue sentences. But under the new bill, the minimum jail term for acid attacks is 10 years; the maximum is a life sentence. A proposal for perpetrators to compensate victims, including coverage of medical expenses, was dropped, however.
A survivor of an acid attack attends a rally with her child in Dhaka A survivor of an acid attack attends a rally for victims with her child in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photograph: Andrew Biraj/Reuters

"The draft rules are a step forward," says Laxmi, whose name has become synonymous with the campaign for justice for acid attack survivors. "But the rehabilitation part is still unclear."

In the past eight years, Laxmi, who works as a project co-ordinator at Stop Acid Attacks, a New Delhi-based organisation that supports survivors, has undergone seven reconstructive operations at an estimated total cost of Rs 30 lakh (£34,000). She hopes to have further surgery before a final cosmetic operation.

Laxmi, who has been the family's sole breadwinner since her father's death last year, admits finding the money for surgery will not be easy. She earns only Rs 10,000 (£120) a month, and although she has received financial support from her father's former employer, it is uncertain whether the company will continue to assist her.

"Before the attack, I was like any other normal school-going kid. I was keen on music and was preparing to try my luck in Indian Idol. But the attack upset all plans," she says. "For months, I could not come to terms with the incident. But then you can't sit back and blame your fate. So I decided to fight."

Albeena Shakil, a women's rights activist and lecturer at Delhi University, believes the curb on the sale of acids has not gone far enough. "There should have been a ban on the retail sale of acids. There is a basic reluctance to come out with an effective legislation and this looks like a rush job," she says.

"There is no clear indication on the rehabilitation or the compensation process of the victims … and medical care and the legal process is frightfully expensive."

Alok Dixit, founder of Stop Acid Attacks, says: "The victims are happy because there has been some movement in the PIL after so many years. In that sense, it is a victory. But I am sceptical of the draft. How did the government come up with a draft without even talking to the victims or the civil society organisations? Until last week, they did not even have any data on acid attacks."

Dixit said the government should have outlined a comprehensive compensation and rehabilitation plan for the survivors of acid attacks, and a mechanism to fast-track cases. He added that implementation of the new regulation would prove difficult.

In the next 10 days, Dixit and lawyer Kamlesh Jain will file a PIL. They have three demands: the government must pay for the full treatment costs of survivors; set up a rehabilitation and compensation scheme; and increase the minimum sentence for acid attacks to life imprisonment.

In Bangladesh, perpetrators of such attacks can face the death penalty, and the sale of acid is regulated. The country experienced a decline in acid attacks between 2002 and 2009, while India has seen an increase, according to the Avon Foundation for Women.

Laxmi says her new job has boosted her confidence. But she adds: "You know what we need desperately? A counsellor who can help us come to terms with the situation and give us the confidence to face the world. It's not easy to live with a disfigured face."

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« Reply #7594 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:29 AM »

July 17, 2013

I.M.F. Tells China of Urgent Need for Economic Change


WASHINGTON — China’s growth has slowed significantly in recent months. But even its current pace of expansion may not be sustainable, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday, unless China starts making significant and systemic economic changes — and soon.

“Since the global crisis, a mix of investment, credit and fiscal stimulus has underpinned activity,” the I.M.F. said in a major annual assessment of the Chinese economy. “This pattern of growth is not sustainable and is raising vulnerabilities. While China still has significant buffers to weather shocks, the margins of safety are diminishing.”

The report emphasized increasing risks to the Chinese economy, touching on familiar themes though with more urgency than previous reports.

China still has large foreign currency reserves and plenty of room for new government spending to buffer any unexpected shocks, Markus Rodlauer, the I.M.F.’s China mission chief, said in an interview. But he said the Chinese economy was becoming more vulnerable and change was becoming more difficult to make as time passes.

The I.M.F. — with a variety of international economic officials, research groups, academics and financial market participants — has raised concern that money is pouring into mispriced real estate and infrastructure investments in China that are increasing growth in the short term but might do little for the Chinese economy later.

For decades, a cheap currency, cheap labor and huge infrastructure investment fueled enormous growth. China has made “substantial” progress on rebalancing its trade deficits with the rest of the world, the I.M.F. said, and its current-account balance as a share of its total economy is less than a quarter of its precrisis peak.

The fund described the Chinese currency as “moderately” undervalued, as it has for about a year after a long stretch of calling it “significantly” undervalued — a policy maneuver that helped increase China’s exports but angered many countries whose goods became relatively less competitive.

But imbalances in China’s domestic economy “remain large,” the I.M.F. warned, as Chinese consumers have not replaced consumers from the United States, Germany and other countries who helped stoke China’s growth for years. Consumption rates have barely budged from last year. But net purchases of physical assets like roads, hospitals and commercial buildings grew further as a share of the economy.

“A decisive shift toward a more consumption-based growth path has yet to occur,” the I.M.F. said. “Accelerating the transformation of the growth model remains the main priority.”

The fund focused on a few areas of acute risk.

One is the financial system. China has had a huge boom in lending through “less regulated” parts of its financial system, the fund said. It raised concerns about the adequacy of China’s regulatory controls, the quality of underwriting and the pricing of risk.

The formal banking sector might not be as strong as it looks, either, the I.M.F. warned. “Based on reported data, bank balance sheets appear healthy and loan books show only a modest deterioration in asset quality,” the report said. “However, banks remain vulnerable to a sharper worsening of corporate sector financial performance.”

Another issue is a proliferation of debt-financed spending by local governments without adequate tax bases, often through “local government financing vehicles” that have long been regarded as a weak spot in China’s markets. “Further rapid growth of debts would raise the risk of a disorderly adjustment in local government spending,” the I.M.F. warned.

Finally, it cautioned of the possibility of plummeting prices in real estate markets. It said real estate remained “prone to bubbles” in no small part because many Chinese savers do not earn interest on their deposits and, as a result, push money into housing markets.

Making adjustments to the financial markets and correcting the pace of infrastructure spending might mean slower growth in the near term, the I.M.F. has said. But it might mean more sustainable growth in the long term, with substantial benefits not just for China but also for global growth.

That message was delivered as the Chinese economy is already slowing considerably; growth has fallen to an annual pace of about 7.5 percent, down from a peak of more than 14 percent in 2007, before the global financial crisis.

More broadly, the emerging market economies that helped pull the world out of the global recession have cooled, dragging the global growth rate down with them. Growth remains sluggish in the United States, and much of Europe is mired in a recession.

“Growth in emerging market economies will remain high, much higher than in the advanced economies, but may be substantially lower than it was before the crisis,” Olivier Blanchard, the chief economist for the I.M.F., said at a news briefing this month.

Top Chinese policy makers are aware of the issues that the I.M.F. and other analysts have raised, and they generally agree. They have in part engineered the recent economic slowdown and have shown a willingness to make changes. But few details are available about how the new Chinese government might move to revamp the economy. More information is expected after a major Communist Party meeting this fall.

The fact that China’s population is aging — and its labor force gradually shrinking — adds to the pressure for a structural overhaul.

The authorities say they aim to raise domestic consumption and productivity, reduce China’s reliance on exports and construction investment, and rein in financial risks flagged in the I.M.F. report. But many entrenched interest groups, including state-owned enterprises, public banks and midlevel officials who run huge sections of the economy, are more comfortable with the status quo.

In recent weeks, China’s government has made it increasingly clear that it is prepared to tolerate slower growth and that it will not repeat the aggressive stimulus that followed the global financial crisis.

Prime Minister Li Keqiang reiterated that message in comments reported by the official Xinhua news agency on Wednesday. Although he acknowledged that the economy faced risks and challenges, Mr. Li said it remained “generally stable.”

While the authorities must work to “keep economic growth within a reasonable range,” they will aim to deploy “targeted” policies and “not change the direction of policies based only on temporary changes in economic barometers,” he said, according to Xinhua.

In a note referring to Mr. Li’s comments, Qu Hongbin, chief China economist at HSBC in Hong Kong, wrote, “Beijing is trying to boost public confidence and emphasize the seriousness of its intention by reiterating the need to stabilize growth.”

Bettina Wassener contributed reporting from Hong Kong.


World increasingly believes China will become the top superpower: Pew poll

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 18, 2013 7:14 EDT

The world increasingly believes China will become the top superpower but the United States enjoys a better image in most regions, according to a poll released Thursday.

A 39-nation study by the Pew Research Center found that the United States is still enjoying the boost to its reputation that followed the election of President Barack Obama — except in a number of Islamic nations where Washington remains widely disliked.

The survey, the US-based center’s largest since 2007, found growing criticism of China in most of East Asia and Europe.

“However, even in many countries where America is still seen as the top economic power, most believe China will someday become the leading overall superpower,” the study said.

In Western Europe, the public in all countries polled except Italy — where the United States was especially popular — believed that China has topped or has already surpassed the United States “as the world’s leading superpower.”

But the study put the US favorability rating globally a 63 percent, compared with 50 percent for China. Even nations with widespread anti-US feeling gave higher marks when asked about the American people and most acknowledged that Washington allowed personal freedoms for its own citizens.

Relative perceptions of the United States and China varied widely among countries.

The biggest swing in the US favor was in Japan, where a territorial row with China has flared. A mere five percent of Japanese viewed China favorably — far lower than in any other country polled — while 69 percent were positive about the United States.

In the other direction, only 11 percent of Pakistanis saw the United States favorably against 81 percent who held positive views of China, which Islamabad often considers its key supporter.

Asia-Pacific nations were mostly supportive of the United States but divided on predicting the future. Two-thirds of Australians believed that China would emerge as the top superpower, a view shared by fewer than one-third in Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Most economists believe it is only a matter of years before China, whose population is more than four times that of the United States, surpasses the United States in the raw size of its economy.

But many experts doubt that China will quickly catch up with the United States in the global reach of its culture, diplomacy and economy.

The Pew study found limited interest in Latin America and Africa in China’s music and movies, although most admired the Asian power’s technological advances.

China’s image declined significantly over the past two years in Europe, dropping 11 points in Britain and nine percent in France.

The trend is likely due to “unease about China as a commercial competitor” as well as “European frustration with Chinese unilateralism in foreign affairs,” the survey said.

Greece was the only European Union member where a majority held positive views of China and fewer than half of people were favorable toward the United States.

China’s image also declined in several places where the United States is unpopular. In Egypt, China’s favorability rating dropped 12 points to 45 percent, although it was still well above the 16 percent for the United States.

Outside the Islamic world, the United States was ranked worst in China, where 40 percent were favorable toward the United States, and Argentina, where the figure was 41 percent — in contrast to a positive image of the United States in much of Latin America.

While Obama remained far more popular than his predecessor George W. Bush, the survey found widespread opposition to his pursuit of attacks with unmanned drones against alleged extremists in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Majorities only in the United States itself and in Israel and Kenya, countries with wide pro-US sentiment, supported the drone policy.

The Pew Research Center conducted the survey in March and April, before revelations of US electronic surveillance caused anger in Europe and before the military coup in Egypt.

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« Reply #7595 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:31 AM »

July 17, 2013

Momentum Shifts in Syria, Bolstering Assad’s Position


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Not long ago, rebels on the outskirts of Damascus were peppering the city with mortar rounds, government soldiers were defecting in droves and reports circulated of new territory pried from the grip of President Bashar al-Assad.

As his losses grew, Mr. Assad unleashed fighter jets and SCUD missiles, intensifying fears that mounting desperation would push him to lash out with chemical weapons.

That momentum has now been reversed.

In recent weeks, rebel groups have been killing one another with increasing ferocity, losing ground on the battlefield and alienating the very citizens they say they want to liberate. At the same time, the United States and other Western powers that have called for Mr. Assad to step down have shown new reluctance to provide the rebels with badly needed weapons.

Although few expect that Mr. Assad can reassert his authority over the whole of Syria, even some of his staunchest enemies acknowledge that his position is stronger than it has been in months. His resilience suggests that he has carved out what amounts to a rump state in central Syria that is firmly backed by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah and that Mr. Assad and his supporters will probably continue to chip away at the splintered rebel movement.

“Assad is powerful now, not as a president who controls a state but as a warlord, as someone who has more and more sophisticated weapons than the others,” said Hassan Hassan, a Syrian commentator at the Abu Dhabi-based English-language newspaper The National. “He is not capable of winning back the country.”

The civil war has Balkanized the country, with an array of armed groups controlling different areas. The government retains its grip on the capital and has been solidifying its control over a string of major cities to the north. Rebel groups hold large swaths of land in the country’s north and east, though they are far from unified, with militias competing for resources, imposing their own laws and sometimes turning their guns on one another. The Kurds, Syria’s largest ethnic minority, control their own areas and often fight to keep the rebels out.

Over all, about 60 percent of the Syrian population lives in government-controlled areas, while the rebels effectively control 60 percent to 70 percent of the actual territory, said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syrian expert with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. That is because the rebels are strongest in less populated rural areas, he said.

But a stalemate that has divided the country for months has begun to shift as Mr. Assad’s forces — bolstered by regular support from his allies — have rolled back rebel gains and eased the pressure on the capital.

Even fighters who had hoped that Mr. Assad would end up deposed, dead, jailed or exiled like other autocrats singled out in the Arab Spring uprisings have begun to acknowledge the emerging reality.

“If the revolution continues like this, the people will revolt against us,” said a rebel commander from the central city of Homs, where Mr. Assad’s forces have made gains in recent days.

The commander, who wanted only his first name, Ahmed, used to protect his family, criticized his fellow rebels for putting the interests of their brigades ahead of the wider anti-Assad struggle and accused them of hoarding powerful weapons or selling them for a profit. That lack of unity has prolonged the war and made their mission harder, he said.

“If a regular Syrian comes and asks me what we have given him, I don’t know what to say,” Ahmed said.

Throughout the more than two years of fighting, the military prowess on both sides has been heavily linked to the reliability of their international backers. Mr. Assad has received continuous military and financial support from Russia and Iran as well as added muscle on the battlefield from Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group and political party. While he has come to rely more heavily on local militias, the clear command structure of the army and Mr. Assad’s status as a unifying figurehead have kept his forces together.

Meanwhile, the many rebel groups have had to compete for irregular bursts of support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and a range of private funders, each with its own ideological interests. This has exacerbated tensions among the rebel groups, as a win for one is seen as a loss for others. The rise of Qaeda-linked groups like the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has further splintered the cause, with some Syrian fighters resenting international jihadists who have joined the battle to serve their own ends.

The United States and its Western allies have pressed for Mr. Assad to leave power and talked about arming select rebel groups. The European Union lifted its arms embargo on Syria, which rebels expected would lead to weapon supplies.

But rebels say none have arrived so far.

“They do not want the fall of this regime; that is why they are not helping,” said Gen. Salim Idris, the head of the Free Syrian Army, a loosely knit umbrella group that has been soliciting aid and that is supposed to funnel it to vetted groups while keeping it from extremists.

General Idris accused the West of delaying with endless meetings, summits and requests for new “guarantees” that extremists would not get arms, and said this left the rebels at a huge disadvantage against Mr. Assad’s forces.

“They have Russia and Iran and Hezbollah,” he said. “But these democratic countries that call for freedom, when you have people seeking freedom from dictatorial, oppressive regimes and need help, they do not give any aid.”

But in recent months, the rebels have also failed to consolidate their victories, plan and execute new advances and provide basic services to civilians in areas they control.

Nearly a year after launching the battle to take Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, the city remains damaged and divided. Many residents blame the rebels for bringing the destruction.

Farther south, government forces with help from Hezbollah seized the town of Qusayr last month, depriving the rebels of a key pathway for arms and fighters from Lebanon into central Syria.

Since then, the rebel movement has shown signs of internal disarray. Clashes among battalions are on the rise, and many who welcomed international jihadists for their battlefield skills have turned against them. Last week, extremists killed two rebel commanders in separate episodes in northern Syria.

All of this has given Mr. Assad a new level of confidence, said Assem Kansou, a member of the Lebanese Parliament and the local branch of Mr. Assad’s Baath Party whose children grew up with Mr. Assad and who has visited him frequently throughout the crisis.

Mr. Assad appeared worried months ago when rebels on the outskirts of Damascus often fired shells at downtown, said Mr. Kansou. But his mood appeared better last month, after the army took Qusayr and pushed the rebels farther from the capital.

“Now you sit with him and you see that he is at ease, " Mr. Kansou said. “He’s a person who is very confident in himself, working bit by bit. All needs to be fixed, but he has a sense that this crisis will pass with all of its consequences.”

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.

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« Reply #7596 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:35 AM »

Nelson Mandela 'doing much better' as 95th birthday arrives

At launch of new clothing range, granddaughters give update on former president's health

David Smith in Johannesburg
The Guardian, Thursday 18 July 2013

Their family has been accused of crass commercialism, exploiting their grandfather's name and tarnishing his legacy by fighting over his final resting place. Undaunted, two of Nelson Mandela's granddaughters chose the eve of his 95th birthday to launch a collection of 299 rand (£20) T-shirts emblazoned with "Legend", "Revolutionary" and "Long Walk to Freedom".

Swati Dlamini and Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway said they would be among 30 to 40 family members visiting the former president in hospital in Pretoria on Thursday. They said he could expect 95 cupcakes along with cards made by their children, and described his condition as "still critical, but he's doing much better".

The pair, who featured in the critically mauled reality TV show Being Mandela, had posted half a dozen tweets on their joint Twitter account inviting allcomers to the launch in one of South Africa's more luxurious shopping malls. But it could not be described as a public stampede. The handful of shoppers at the Cross Trainer in Sandton were comfortably outnumbered by staff and about 20 journalists eager for health updates.

In a window display there were pictures with fake gold frames showing the anti-apartheid hero. One captured him beaming alongside Michael Jackson.

Swati wore two of the 14 new designs. Asked whether they were competing with the Nelson Mandela Foundation's 46664 brand – a reference to his prison number on Robben Island – she replied: "We are all trying to achieve the same objective."

She added: "We launched it around my grandfather's birthday to celebrate his legacy. My grandfather was also a lover of fashion. He became famous for his Madiba shirts."

Mandela has been described as a global brand comparable with Coca-Cola or Google. Close to where his granddaughters gave a series of interviews, billboards advertised Mandela commemorative coins, souvenir shops offered Nelson Mandela Day mugs and wristbands, bookshops displayed Long Walk to Freedom and other Mandela titles in their windows and tourists posed for photos beside a giant statue in, perhaps inevitably, Nelson Mandela Square.

Swati and Zaziwe, both in their 30s, denied that they were trying to cash in with their Kardashians-style reality show and clothing range. Swati said: "Our grandparents have always told us that this legacy and this name also belongs to us and that we have a birthright to it, and that's essentially it."

Zaziwe said: "This is just us doing us. This is our name as well, there's nothing we can do about it. We were born into this family and it's our name: we love it, we cherish it, we respect it and we are just trying to continue our grandfather's legacy."

When Mandela was admitted to hospital on 8 June with a recurring lung infection and then slipped into a critical condition, many doubted he would see his 95th birthday. But his condition appears to have improved in recent weeks.

In a statement released on Wednesday, his grandson Mandla said: "The fact that my grandfather is with us to this day when doomsday people predicted his demise makes me proud of his fighting spirit which he has demonstrated over the many years of his life."

Mandela's daughter Zindzi said he had made "dramatic progress". She told Sky News: "I visited him yesterday and he was watching television with headphones. He gave us a huge smile and raised his hand … He responds with his eyes and his hands."

Mandela was gaining energy and strength, Zindzi said. "I should think he will be going home any time soon."

Mandela will be among the first recipients of a smart ID card launched by the South African government on Thursday. It will be accepted by Zindzi on his behalf.

His foundation has asked people in South Africa and beyond to mark international Nelson Mandela Day on Thursday by volunteering 67 minutes to charity in honour of his 67 years of public service. President Jacob Zuma will oversee the donation of houses to poor black and white families in "a non-racial settlement" in the Pretoria area, and the retired archbishop Desmond Tutu will help paint a school in Cape Town. Other celebrations in South Africa include the world's biggest birthday card and the world's biggest Mandela portrait.

The country's last white president, FW de Klerk, said: "Nelson Mandela is approaching the end of the long walk that he began 95 years ago in Qunu. On his birthday we should commemorate the remarkable contribution that he has made to South Africa and to all its people. Today should be a time for quiet and respectful contemplation – and not for unseemly squabbling over the ownership of Mr Mandela's heritage."
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« Reply #7597 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:38 AM »

Cubans deal out the cards in the new game of be your own boss

Momentous changes have brought big opportunities for Cuba's self-employed, but the long shadow of communism remains

Virginia Lopez in Havana, Wednesday 17 July 2013 14.49 BST   

The first thing Yunior de Jesús plans to do after the Cuban government approves his licence for self employment is to get a snazzier business card. He wants it printed on glossy paper, with a Havana cityscape backdrop and his new job title – estate agent – in bold.

The card, he says, will cement his reputation among his growing clientele – Cuba's incipient property market still relies heavily on word of mouth. It will also signal his entrance among a new breed of small-scale, self-employed entrepreneurs, or cuentapropistas, making strides in the country's emerging market economy.

"I've made myself a name but a card would give me more visibility," he says.

It's been three years since Raúl Castro, Fidel's brother and successor, enacted a series of economic changes designed to breathe life into the island's decrepit economy. Among the most significant measures was granting Cubans the right to sell their cars and homes, the only forms of private property countenanced after the revolution which ousted the Batista regime in 1959. The other change was to allow for self-employment.

The reforms, widely welcomed after half a century of a Soviet-style economy, still came with strong state control. Homes can only be sold to other Cubans or foreigners who permanently reside in the island, and ownership is limited to one home.

For Cubans, most of whom know only state-owned enterprises, possessing and openly distributing a business card is a striking indication that both policies and mind-sets are changing.

But the changes, and the sales, are slow and for the time being De Jesús must settle for a giant cardboard sign to advertise his services, propped next to a bench on the wide walkways of the Paseo del Prado in downtown Havana.

The tree-lined promenade, where dozens of young men gather each day, offers a perfect vantage point to witness the emergence of Cuba's unique economic model, in which vestiges of communism coexist with the halting first steps of market capitalism. For De Jesús, 39, this is embodied in his work arranging both permutas, or house-swaps – a traditional way for Cubans to upgrade their homes – and the sale of homes for hard cash. Mortgages are not available.

"We are going to improve so that there is more, but we are not capitalists. Don't get confused. There are changes, but all within socialism, so that we all have the same rights," adds De Jesús .

The changes feel momentous and the air is buzzing with activity, but many argue the reforms are insufficient and designed to help the government maintain its grip on society.

"What they are doing is de-penalising some informal markets like housing rentals and liberalising some highly restricted sectors like the self-employed or remittances. But they are not really expanding property rights," says Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College in the US.

"They have not moved forward with the expansion of credit, which is essential for markets, or with contract protection. They have not liberalised the information sector – neither traditional nor new – or created opportunities for investors to hire workers directly.

"In other words, there are huge barriers to the autonomy of the private sector."

Yet the signs of change are everywhere. They are hanging from the wrought iron balconies of crumbling colonial mansions, or pinned to wooden doors; hand-written on cardboard or printed on thick vinyl. Cubans are offering everything from pizzas to watch repair services and driving lessons.

Three years ago the government published a list of almost 200 authorised self-employment opportunities. The positions, which include restaurant owner, manicurist and fortune teller, are allowing Cubans to earn a living beyond the close gaze of "the revolution" for the first time since 1959.

Minerva Estrada, 53, operates a pizza restaurant out of what used to be her living room, with a 1950s-era oven, and now makes enough to support her 84-year-old father and attend a nearby gym – another of the approved business enterprises.

For her, the suggestion that Cuba may be opening up to a capitalist-style economy is tantamount to a betrayal. The changes, she says, are adjustments to a system that needed revising but which will always remain socialist.

"The Cuban people will never turn capitalist. We've suffered what we needed to in order to change – for good," Estrada says.

Yet the option of becoming a cuentapropista is not available to all. To date, 420,000 licences for self-employment have been issued in a country of 11 million people, where the average monthly income is equivalent to $20 (£13.20).

the step into self-employment is easier for those with access to remittances sent by relatives or friends living in the US. The transition has also been smoother for groups of workers such as taxi drivers, who have been able to opt out of direct state employment and into state-sponsored taxi co-operatives.

The barriers encountered by the rest of the population are shored up by complex and unresolved issues such as race and social status which predate the Castro revolution.

"White Cubans still enjoy greater access to the economy, to remittances from Miami and to the big houses of the Batista era," says Alexei Rodriguez, a singer with Obsesion, one of Cuba's top hip-hop bands, who shares his home with his parents, wife and brother. "They are also the ones that can travel, or can turn their homes into restaurants.

"Not everyone benefits, but I cannot say [this inequality] is a failure of the revolution. This is an on-going process; it's still being built. I need to believe this or I will stop fighting," Rodriguez adds.

In Old Havana, the historic centre of the Cuban capital, crumbling buildings adjoin grandiose hotels and some of the streets are blocked with debris. However, the temporary chaos is not a symptom of the decades-long neglect that afflicts the rest of the city, but the result of renovation efforts that are transforming the area into a tourist mecca. Soon, Old Havana will have a revamped electricity supply and telecommunications system buried underground to complement immaculately restored colonial facades and 1950s storefronts.

Despite the architectural facelift, not all share Rodriguez's optimism. The promises of better times are likely to skip the generation which grew up under Castro.

Pimpi is still working as an errand boy in a government office aged 38.

"I hear projects being discussed and I can see the changes, but I cannot feel them. Walk three blocks in any direction and you're in an entirely different Havana", he says. "My only hope is to live my life. The changes will be for my daughters. I can't do much more at this point," he adds.

Regardless of the reforms at home, many believe the island's fate will be determined by outside forces such as an end to the US embargo and the reliability of subsidised Venezuelan oil imports.

For critics, Cuba's most testing challenge comes from a leadership that is as obsolete as the economy. "The greater problem is that despite all the talk of revolutionary change, whenever they try to imagine a better Cuba, they can only remember the past," says Corrales.

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« Reply #7598 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:40 AM »

Captured Zetas drug boss Miguel Angel Trevino seeks protection from ‘torture’ from Mexican authorities

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 18, 2013 7:18 EDT

The captured head of the Zetas drug cartel has filed for legal protection over claims that he is at risk of torture or isolation during his detention, court officials said.

A court official who visited Miguel Angel Trevino, alias “Z-40,” determined that the drug kingpin has no grounds to complain and a judge will likely reject his bid in the coming days, one of the sources said.

Trevino has been held at a facility of the federal attorney general’s office in Mexico City since he was nabbed by Mexican marines in a pre-dawn operation in northeastern Mexico last Monday.

Trevino — himself accused of torture and murder — filed four complaints against the attorney general’s office for “the possible practices of torture, isolation and mistreatment that may have taken place or may take place,” an official said.

But the court official who visited him “saw that there is no isolation, nor mistreatment or torture, or the risk that this could happen,” the official added.

The legal protection Trevino is seeking aims to protect the rights of detainees but it would not lead to his release, the official said.

Rights groups have accused authorities of committing abuses and torture against prisoners since troops were deployed to crack down on drug cartels in 2006.

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« Reply #7599 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:42 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

King Midas in space? Rare star collision produces gold.

Scientists from Harvard University have for the first time found concrete evidence that gold is produced in the collision of two extremely rare stars.

By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / July 17, 2013 at 5:44 pm EDT

Brides and grooms have stars not only in their eyes, but also in their wedding bands, scientists have found.

Researchers at Harvard University say they have observed an unusual astronomical event that sends gold flying into space. A similar event could have been responsible for the glittering metal's presence on Earth.

Most of the lighter elements found were created within stars, as a byproduct of nuclear fusion. When those stars exploded at the end of their lifecycle, they shot elements like calcium, iron, and carbon into the universe. Those star-created elements and others would join with hydrogen and helium originating from the Big Bang to become the building blocks of our world, and of our bodies: the calcium from star explosions is in our bones; the iron is in our blood; and the carbon is in our DNA.

But simple star death does not explain how the elements heavier than iron, including gold, arrived here. Those elements cannot be made in the typical star’s artisan laboratory. Among the leading candidates for the birth of those metals is a supernova, the cataclysmic explosion of a white dwarf star, believed to happen just three times every century in our entire galaxy.

Now, a team of Harvard astronomers has for the first time offered data supporting an alternative idea: gold is instead created in an even rarer event, the merger of two unusual stars, called neutron stars.

“It's widely said that gold may originate in supernovae, or explosive star deaths, but this is still debated within the scientific community,” says Wen-fai Fong, a graduate student at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and one of the researchers on the project, in an email interview. “This potential discovery provides an alternative, and perhaps dominant, mechanism for gold production.”

She noted that the two ideas are not mutually exclusive, and gold could be produced in both events.

As a star's core is compressed during a supernova, it collapses into an extremely dense object called a neutron star. These remnant stars – there are about 2,000 known to be in our galaxy – have masses of 1.4 to 3.2 times that of our sun, but all that mass is packed into a space less than 15 miles wide. By comparison, the sun is 864,938 miles wide.

It is now possible that it takes a collision of two neutron stars to create gold, one of the rarest elements in the universe.

“The production of heavy elements, such as gold, should accompany every neutron star merge,” says Ms. Fong.

Neutron stars orbit each other in twos. As their energy wanes over time and as their orbits shrink, the stars eventually collide in a booming event that is estimated to happen only once every 10,000 to 100,000 years per galaxy, says Fong.

Less than one percent of the materials flung out into space in the cataclysm are heavy metals. And just a fraction of those heavy metals are gold, said Fong.

But that fraction is an incredible volume – in the prodigious event, about 10 moons worth of gold was created, showering surrounding space as though it had been singed by King Midas’ fingers.

The findings, due to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, come after researchers last month identified what is known as a short gamma-ray burst, or a flash of light from an explosive event happening light years afield from us. This burst, called GRB 130603B, originated at a distance of 3.9 billion light-years from Earth, and is one of the nearest bursts to us ever recorded.

The flash lasted for just two-tenths of a second, but GRB 130603B then offered researchers a slow fade of mostly infrared light. That afterglow did not in brightness or behavior match the usual one that follows such a burst, as a high-speed jet of particles smashes into the gas surrounding the exploding object.

Instead, that glow was the telltale signature of radioactive elements undergoing radioactive decay. Those elements had been cooked-up in the neutron-rich exploded material.

Since this studied collision happened in a distant galaxy, the specific gold it produced is not actually the metal in our earthly products. Our resident gold was likely formed in similar events closer to Earth.

“The gold produced in this event (and others like it) is identical to what we have on Earth,” said Edo Berger, a professor of astronomy at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the lead researcher on the project, in an email interview.

“Similar events in our galaxy prior to the formation of the solar system enriched the galaxy with gold,” he said. “The solar system then formed out of this material and the gold made it into the Earth.”

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« Reply #7600 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:56 AM »

In the USA...

NSA warned to rein in surveillance as agency reveals even greater scope

NSA officials testify to angry House panel that agency can perform 'three-hop queries' through Americans' data and records

Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Wednesday 17 July 2013 20.19 BST   

The National Security Agency revealed to an angry congressional panel on Wednesday that its analysis of phone records and online behavior goes exponentially beyond what it had previously disclosed.

John C Inglis, the deputy director of the surveillance agency, told a member of the House judiciary committee that NSA analysts can perform "a second or third hop query" through its collections of telephone data and internet records in order to find connections to terrorist organizations.

"Hops" refers to a technical term indicating connections between people. A three-hop query means that the NSA can look at data not only from a suspected terrorist, but from everyone that suspect communicated with, and then from everyone those people communicated with, and then from everyone all of those people communicated with.

Inglis did not elaborate, nor did the members of the House panel – many of whom expressed concern and even anger at the NSA – explore the legal and privacy implications of the breadth of "three-hop" analysis.

But Inglis and other intelligence and law enforcement officials testifying before the committee said that the NSA's ability to query the data follows rules set by the secret Fisa court, although about two dozen NSA officials determine for themselves when those criteria are satisified.

A document published last month by the Guardian detailing the history of the NSA's post-9/11 bulk surveillance on telephone and internet data refer to one- or two-hop analysis performed by NSA. The document, provided by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, does not explicitly mention three-hop analysis, nor does it clearly suggest that such analysis occurs.

Wednesday's hearing was the second major public congressional hearing about the NSA's surveillance activities since the Guardian and the Washington Post disclosed some of them in early June. Unlike the previous hearing on June 18 before the House intelligence committee, members of the House judiciary committee aggressively questioned senior officials from the NSA, FBI, Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

One senior member of the panel, congressman James Sensenbrenner, the author of the 2001 Patriot Act, warned the officials that unless they rein in the scope of their surveillance on Americans' phone records, "There are not the votes in the House of Representatives" to renew the provision after its 2015 expiration.

"You're going to lose it entirely," Sensenbrenner said.

Inglis and deputy attorney general James Cole repeatedly argued that the NSA's surveillance was limited because it only searches through its databases of phone records when it has a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" of a connection to terrorism.

But several members of the committee, of both parties, said they were concerned not merely about the analysis of the phone records but about NSA's collection of millions of Americans' phone data in the first place, without an individual suspicion of connections to terrorism.

"The statute says 'collection'," congressman Jerrold Nadler told Cole. "You're trying to confuse us by talking use."

Congressman Ted Poe, a judge, said: "I hope as we move forward as a Congress we rein in the idea that it's OK to bruise the spirit of the constitution in the name of national security."

Inglis, Cole and Robert Litt, the senior legal counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, also argued that the surveillance activities were restricted by the oversight of Congress and the Fisa court. Legislators challenged both contentions.

Congressman Spencer Bachus said he "was not aware at all" of the extent of the surveillance, since the NSA programs were primarily briefed to the intelligence committees of the House and Senate.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren revealed that an annual report provided to Congress by the government about the phone-records collection, something cited by intelligence officials as an example of their disclosures to Congress, is "less than a single page and not more than eight sentences".

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, challenged Litt's contention that the Fisa court was "not a rubber stamp" by way of a baseball analogy. Jeffries noted that some of the greatest hitters in baseball history – the Cardinals' Stan Musial, the Red Sox's Ted Williams, the Tigers' Ty Cobb and the Yankees' Babe Ruth – did not hit more than four balls safely per 10 times at bat, for career batting averages ranging from Musial's .331 to Cobb's .366.

He then noted that the Fisa court approves over 99% of government requests for surveillance – which would give the government a lifetime batting average of .999 – saying: "But you've taken the position that the Fisa court is an independent check."

Litt, continuing the analogy, said that when the government submits a surveillance request or "throws a pitch", the Fisa court "says 'throw a little bit higher, a little more inside'" rather than ruling it out of the strike zone.


Yet another sad example of the utterly corrupt corporate media in collusion with the government ...

Edward Snowden’s travels overshadow his leaks in U.S. media

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 17, 2013 19:50 EDT

Edward Snowden’s revelations about a vast American data dragnet may have riveted the world for weeks, but in the United States the fugitive and his scramble for asylum are overshadowing the substance of the leaks themselves.

US broadcasters last month gave wall-to-wall coverage to the bombshell leaks by Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who spilled classified information about NSA counter-terrorism programs.

But the networks and cable news operators soon bumped the NSA story from the top news slot in favor of the closely-watched Florida murder trial of George Zimmerman, who on Saturday was found not guilty.

In Congress, US lawmakers swiftly convened public and classified hearings last month to assess the programs that scoop up billions of pieces of telephone and Internet data from Americans and others around the world.

But after a flurry of bipartisan denouncements of the leaks, and some calls by lawmakers to revisit the authority Congress bestows on the NSA and other intelligence agencies, the House and Senate returned to executive nominations, debates on student loan interest rates and a farm bill.

Proponents of reform of the surveillance programs worry that the saga of Snowden, who has eluded US capture for weeks while holing up in a Moscow airport transit terminal and who on Tuesday requested asylum from Russia, is muscling debate about surveillance policy out of the US headlines.

“That is a concern. Snowden himself and his travels now, his asylum, have become sort of the salacious part of the story that the press is interested in covering,” American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Michelle Richardson told AFP.

While Richardson agreed that US media has covered “the substance of the case,” the twists and turns of a man desperate to avoid facing charges of espionage are driving the story.

“The media has been paying far too much attention to the person behind the leaks, and that’s unfortunate when we’re talking about what we can do to fix these problems that he’s exposed,” said Trevor Timm, an activist with the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Some lawmakers have introduced bills aimed at recalibrating US laws on surveillance, but this summer and autumn will be spent on more pressing issues, such as a looming clash over the US budget.

Privacy experts are focusing on the secret court set up under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to handle requests for warrants against terror suspects.

The court’s powers were broadened after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and the court is seen as secretly authorizing the NSA’s data collection.

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill urging President Barack Obama’s administration to declassify key FISA court orders and White House interpretations of post-9/11 intelligence-related law.

“The administration can offer oversight and transparency reforms to these surveillance programs,” Timm said.

But many Americans seem ambivalent about a profound questioning of NSA powers.

According to a recent Quinnipiac survey, 45 percent of Americans believe US counterterrorism efforts have gone too far, against 40 percent who do not.

But 51 percent support the gathering of telephone metadata — phone numbers, locations and other information, but not call content — in order to help thwart terror attacks.

Is such a program therefore necessary to ensure the safety of Americans? Yes, according to 54 percent of respondents. Is it too intrusive? Nearly the same number, 53 percent, said yes.

The debate could crystallize when Congress renews authority for the programs — in June 2015 for the telephone data collection, and December 2007 for PRISM, the program which monitors Internet and email use.

“Hopefully we will have had enough debate and hearings and investigation so that at that time, we will get meaningful reform, and it will be very difficult for Congress simply to reenact the law as it now stands,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel for The Constitution Project.


The Christian Science Monitor

Federal Reserve chief tells Congress: You're making weak economy worse</b?

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke tells Congress that its tax hikes and spending cuts are creating 'strong headwinds' for economic recovery and could be costing 750,000 new jobs.

By Mark Trumbull, Staff writer / July 17, 2013 at 1:37 pm EDT

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that the US economy needs more help from the fiscal policies that Congress controls, not just from the Fed’s own stimulus efforts.

He said that the economy faces “strong headwinds created by federal fiscal policy,” and he said this “makes a big difference” in terms of jobs and the unemployment.

Appearing at a congressional hearing, Chairman Bernanke said that Congress's moves to pare back on tax cuts and federal spending are reducing the pace of economic growth by about 1.5 percentage points. For reference, the economy was growing by about 1.8 percent in the year’s first quarter.

Bernanke said an extra 1.5 percentage points of growth could add as many as 750,000 new jobs and bring the unemployment rate from 7.6 percent to 6.9 percent.

His words represent a pointed message at a time when economic growth is weak, the Fed has been struggling to bring the jobless rate down, and Congress has shifted from stimulus efforts to focus on bringing down federal deficits.

Bernanke didn’t say Congress should start ignoring federal deficits to launch a massive new stimulus effort. But he said the need for fiscal discipline to avoid an unsustainable buildup of national debt can be addressed for the long term without imposing severe tightening this year.

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“My suggestion to Congress is to consider policies that involve somewhat less restraint in the near term,” he said, adding later that in his view Congress has failed so far to address long run issues such as entitlement reform.

The US economy has continued to grow this year, according to government data, despite tax hikes that took effect in January and automated spending cuts in many federal programs (known as the “sequester”) that began taking effect in April.

But growth has been tepid. The 1.8 percent growth rate in the first quarter could be followed by a second-quarter pace of 0.7 percent, the firm Macroeconomic Advisors predicts.

Bernanke expressed the view, shared by many economic forecasters, that gross domestic product (GDP) should start rising at a faster rate later in the year, as the pinch of those early-year policy changes fades.

“But, of course, that hasn’t happened yet,” he said.

Democrats at the hearing appeared more open than Republicans to Bernanke’s message about the challenge posed by tightening of fiscal policy.

“Your good work … still needs some help from the policymakers [
in Congress],” said Rep. Al Green (D) of Texas, during the discussion between the Fed chairman and members of the House Financial Services Committee.

Similarly, the Obama administration has proposed jobs-oriented fiscal measures such as a ramp-up in infrastructure spending.

A stumbling block for any adjustments to fiscal policies for this year is that the two parties remain sharply divided on the long term issue of entitlement reform.

Bernanke also warned against a partisan standoff in Congress this year over raising the nation’s debt limit – since delay on that issue can rattle investor confidence. His prepared statement said “risks remain” that tight fiscal policy will impose unexpectedly strong restraint on the economy, “or that the debate concerning other fiscal policy issues, such as the status of the debt ceiling, will evolve in a way that could hamper the recovery.”

The hearing also focused the Fed’s monetary policies, with Bernanke pledging to maintain an “accommodative” stance designed to spur growth until the unemployment rate falls significantly.


Late-term abortion Dr. George Tiller’s murderer could be released early

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, July 18, 2013 9:15 EDT

The murderer of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller may only be facing half of his original sentence thanks to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, The Kansas City Star reported recently.

Scott Roeder, who was sentenced to life in prison under Kansas’s “Hard 50″ mandatory minimum sentencing law, is likely among thousands of inmates around the country whose jail term will be impacted by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Alleyne v. United States. In its most recent term, the court handed down several major rulings dealing with prisoner sentencing, resulting in further restrained judges and prosecutors and more powerful juries.

None of those decisions were more important than Alleyne, in which the American Civil Liberties Union and The Sentencing Project successfully argued that mandatory minimum sentences, particularly for drug-related crimes, are one of the main drivers of racial disparities in the nation’s prison system.

As a consequence of Alleyne, the Kansas Attorney General dropped a “Hard 50″ prosecution against Brett Seacat, a man who was convicted of murdering his wife. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett told The Kansas City Star the ruling also means any “Hard 50″ case on appeal in Kansas are likely to also be impacted by Alleyne. And one of those appeals is Scott Roeder’s.

A jury deliberated for 37 minutes before finding Roeder guilty of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, a frequent rhetorical target of Fox News Republican opinion host Bill O’Reilly and the fourth U.S. abortion doctor to die at the hands of right-wing assassins. Roeder, who was 51 at the time a judge sentenced him to a “Hard 50″ in 2010, murdered Tiller with a single gunshot to the forehead in front of Tiller’s church congregation. He later testified that he did in fact shoot Tiller in order to save babies.

Because of his age and because of the way the concurrent sentences stacked up against him, Roeder’s “Hard 50″ sentence was delivered to him by a judge who called it a life sentence, yet thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Alleyne, there’s a chance that might not be the case.

“Judges might still have some room to maneuver, using avenues such as revisting the sentencing phase of a case still on appeal, or stacking sentences consecutively to reach a higher number of years to be served,” The Kansas City Star opined on Wednesday. “Certainly there are good reasons for sentencing guidelines to help keep justice fair. But families of victims also deserve their due in extreme cases.”
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« Reply #7601 on: Jul 19, 2013, 05:50 AM »

07/19/2013 12:17 PM

Greenwald: 'Explosive' NSA Spying Reports Are Imminent

Journalist Glenn Greenwald says new reports from the trove of NSA data supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden can be expected in the next few days. Speaking on a German talkshow, he said they would be even "more explosive in Germany" than previous reporting.

Are new revelations from the NSA data trove going to drop in the next few days? Speaking on a political talk show on German public broadcaster ARD on Thursday night, Glenn Greenwald said he expected stories to appear in the coming days that would be even "more explosive" in Germany than reports previously published about cooperation between the National Security Agency and German intelligence authorities.

Greenwald is the journalist who broke the original story about former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden's data trove, revealing how the intelligence agency taps tech giants' user data to facilitate its mass-scale surveillance. Since then, additional reporting on the documents by SPIEGEL has exposed how the American intelligence agency spies on both the European Union and a half-billion communications connections in Germany each month. The reports sparked a massive political debate in Germany over how much the German government knew about the spying -- an egregious violation of the country's privacy laws -- and whether it was actively cooperating with the Americans.

He told host Reinhold Beckmann that he and journalist Laura Poitras had obtained full sets of the documents during a trip to Hong Kong, with around 9,000 to 10,000 top secret documents in total. Greenwald said they had been in possession of the data for around seven weeks and had not had a chance to analyze all the material, noting that some of the documents were extremely complicated. "We're working on it," he said.

Greenwald Carries Data with Him

Asked by the host about his own security, Greenwald said he felt "threatened in the sense that there are very prominent American politicians and even American journalists who have called for my arrest, who have called me a criminal." He added, "There's a very robust CIA presence where I work, in Rio de Janeiro," and when you have very secret documents from the world's most powerful government, "you definitely think about your security." He told Beckmann he carries the data with him at all times, but also that other copies have been stored on the Internet.

Greenwald said he maintains regular contact with Snowden using encrypted chat technologies. Snowden, he said, "knew that the choice he was making" when he leaked the data "would submit him to serious risks and would make him the most wanted man in the world." Still, he said Snowden is convinced "it was the right choice." Snowden is currently in the transit area of Moscow's international airport awaiting a decision on his application for temporary asylum in Russia.

Describing German intelligence cooperation with the NSA, he said that Germany wasn't partnering at the same level as Britain, Australia, Canada or New Zealand, but that it was "sort of in the next tier where they exchange information all the time."


07/18/2013 09:26 PM

Prism in Afghanistan: Conflicting Accounts By German Government

By Matthias Gebauer

In Germany, the scandal surrounding NSA spying is getting odder by the day. A new Defense Ministry memo suggests a claim made by a mass-circulation newspaper that Germany's army knew about Prism in 2011 is, in fact, true.

The scandal in Germany surrounding spying activities by the United States' National Security Agency took a surprising twist on Thursday. A report by a German mass-circulation daily that described the use of a program called Prism in NATO-occupied Afghanistan has led to the German Defense Ministry contradicting the foreign intelligence agency BND.

It started on Wednesday when the broadsheet Bild reported that the American intelligence service NSA had deployed the controversial data-collection tool Prism in Afghanistan and that Germany's armed forces, the Bundeswehr, knew of the program by the autumn of 2011 at the latest.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert, speaking on behalf of the BND, was quick to deny the Bild report. He said on Wednesday that the software which had been used in Afghanistan was part of "a NATO/ISAF program and was not the same as the NSA's Prism program." Seibert said the programs were "not identical." According to Seibert's account, there are two different Prism programs -- the much discussed NSA Prism program, which has been used in recent years to intensively monitor German communications, as well as an ISAF program for Afghanistan.

But the Defense Ministry is now contradicting that characterization. In a two-page memo obtained by several German media outlets, Rüdiger Wolf, a high-ranking ministry official, states that the Prism program used in Afghanistan is a "computer-aided US planning and information analysis tool" used for the coordination of "American intelligence systems," that is "operated exclusively by US personnel" and is "used Afghanistan-wide by the US side."

Prism Accessible Exclusively to Americans

Wolf describes in detail how the Bundeswehr and NATO have no access to the US program. He adds that while there may be computer terminals at the German base in Mazar-e-Sharif that are equipped to access the program, they can only be used by Americans.

If members of the Bundeswehr wanted access to information, they had to send a special form to the IJC command center in Kabul, almost entirely controlled by the US Army -- that is, if they wanted US data that went beyond the information possessed by NATO intelligence. When they got the data back, "the origin of the information" was "fundamentally unrecognizable" to the Germans.

It is precisely such procedures that Bild reported on this week, citing a classified September NATO order. In the paper, NATO members, including the German-led Regional Command North in Afghanistan, are called upon to direct requests for the "Prism" system to American personnel -- military or civilian (which in this case is a reference to intelligence workers) because NATO has no access to the system. Given that Bild printed a copy of the order in its newspaper, the BND's portrayal already seemed odd on Wednesday.

According to Wolf's own admissions, the Germans don't know very much about the Prism program in Afghanistan. It is unclear, for example, how Prism is deployed at the US Army-dominated headquarters in Kabul and the ministry doesn't know the "extent of use." However, Wolf once more reiterated that all information obtained from intelligence sources served to protect German soldiers -- including "insights provided by the US side that could have come from Prism."

A Slap in the Face

The Defense Ministry is also very cautious compared to the BND when it comes to deferentiating the Prism program in Afghanistan from the Prism spying program that was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and involves the systematic monitoring of German communications. The information supplied by the US would have pertained only to the situation in Afghanistan. It was "not a data fishing expedition" on German citizens, according to the memo, and in fact had "no proximity" to the NSA surveillance program in Germany and Europe.

With his cautious formulation, Wolf deliberately avoids saying whether or not the two programs are identical.

This representation of the facts, which was already made to some extent on Wednesday by Defense Ministry spokesman Stefan Paris, is like a slap in the face for the BND. Shortly after Seibert appeared at the press conference, insiders wondered why the intelligence agency would so unambiguously commit itself to the position that the Prism program in Afghanistan is part of the composite ISAF system. But the BND didn't pull back on its position, although Paris clearly said that the Prism program in Afghanistan is operated exclusively by Americans.

Members of the opposition were quick to attack the BND for its assertions. "The Chancellery, acting on behalf of the BND, deliberately lied to the public on Wednesday," Green Party defense expert Omid Nouripour told SPIEGEL ONLINE. According to Nouripour, Wolf's description makes it clear that there is no NATO Prism program. The German government, he says, should stop making excuses and finally begin to seriously investigate the spying scandal.


July 18, 2013

Obama May Cancel Moscow Trip as Tensions Build Over Leaker


WASHINGTON — President Obama may cancel a scheduled trip to Moscow to meet with President Pig Putin in September as the standoff over the fate of Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor seeking asylum there, takes its toll on already strained relations between the United States and Russia, officials said Thursday.

Canceling the meeting in Moscow would be seen as a direct slap at Pig Putin, who is known to value such high-level visits as a validation of Russian prestige. While the White House may be using the meeting as leverage to win cooperation as it seeks the return to the United States of Mr. Snowden, who is now staying at a Moscow airport, the reconsideration also reflects a broader concern that the two countries are far apart on issues like Syria, Iran, arms control and missile defense.

The conviction on Thursday of Aleksei A. Navalny, a prominent leader of the opposition to Pig Putin, on embezzlement charges further underscored the deepening divide between the two countries as the White House pronounced itself “deeply disappointed” at what it called a trend of “suppressing dissent and civil society in Russia.” The verdict and five-year sentence came a week after the posthumous conviction of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer investigating official corruption who was arrested and died in custody.

“We call on the Russian government to cease its campaign of pressure against individuals and groups seeking to expose corruption, and to ensure that the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of all of its citizens, including the freedoms of speech and assembly, are protected and respected,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary.

The talk of human rights rang hollow to the Kremlin given the Snowden case. Mr. Putin has suggested that Washington is being hypocritical in complaining about Russian actions while seeking to prosecute a leaker who exposed American surveillance programs. But Mr. Putin has also made clear that he does not want the showdown to harm ties.

“Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are far more important than squabbles about the activities of the secret services,” he told Russian reporters who asked Wednesday about the scheduled Moscow meeting.

The White House announced the coming meeting between Mr. Obama and Pig Putin when the two leaders met in Northern Ireland last month. It was added as an extra stop on a trip to St. Petersburg for the annual gathering of the Group of 20 nations. But while Mr. Obama is still committed to going to St. Petersburg, officials said he is now rethinking the Moscow stop, not just because of the impasse over Mr. Snowden but because of a growing sense that the two sides cannot agree on other issues enough to justify the meeting.

The White House has not publicly confirmed the prospect of canceling the Moscow meeting, but it has sent unmistakable signals that the possibility is now on the table. Asked directly on Wednesday if Mr. Obama was still going to Moscow before the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Mr. Carney declined to say. “I can say that the president intends to travel to Russia for the G-20 summit,” Mr. Carney said. “I don’t have anything to add to what we’ve said in the past about that trip.”

But some critics have urged Mr. Obama to go further.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said that the president should push to move the G-20 meeting out of Russia altogether and that the United States should boycott the Winter Olympic Games set for 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

“President Obama, should you go to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the G-20 summit if they give Snowden asylum and they don’t change their policy toward Syria and continue to help Iran?” Mr. Graham said Wednesday on “The Lead With Jake Tapper” on CNN. “Should you go? My advice to you is, I wouldn’t go to St. Petersburg. I would ask for a change of venue.”

The Snowden episode has likewise harmed American relations with China after Mr. Snowden initially fled to Hong Kong and was then allowed on a plane to Moscow despite an American request for his arrest. The American consul general in Hong Kong on Thursday said the case had sowed distrust and called into question the city’s supposed legal autonomy.

“It will take some time to repair the damage there,” Stephen M. Young, the consul general, who will leave his post by the end of the month, said in departing remarks. “We were frankly disappointed by the way our colleagues here in Hong Kong” handled the situation.

Mr. Obama announced in a speech last month in Berlin that he wanted to negotiate another round of arms cuts with Russia, cutting each side’s stock of deployed strategic warheads by another third beyond the New Start treaty signed in his first term. The administration hoped to advance that initiative at the meeting in Moscow by framing future discussions over reductions.

But Pig Putin has publicly linked further reductions to a range of other strategic issues, including American plans to build a missile defense system in Europe, and has insisted on bringing in other nuclear powers. Privately, American officials say they have received no real response to Mr. Obama’s overture, or any other indication of any policy breakthrough to justify the Moscow meeting.

Ashton B. Carter, the deputy defense secretary, said that the reductions made no sense unless Russia agreed to commensurate cuts. “The goal is to get Russian reductions,” he said in an interview at the Aspen Security Forum. He said that by doing so, the administration hoped to make a case for eliminating North Korea’s small arsenal and dissuading Iran from building a weapon.

Some Republicans in Washington expressed concern on Wednesday at reports that Russia was violating its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987. Last month, Pig Putin publicly questioned the utility of that treaty.

Although a new unclassified State Department report mentioned no such violations, Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, asked senior military leaders at a hearing if a newspaper report on treaty violations was true. Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he could not answer in an unclassified briefing.

Such violations would make it unwise to pursue further nuclear arms cuts with Russia, Ms. Ayotte said. “Given the behavior of Russia, I think it is at best naïve to think that we’re going to be able to negotiate any kind of further reductions, which I would oppose,” she said. “I don’t think that is the right direction for the protection of this country.”

Angela E. Stent, a former national intelligence officer on Russia now at Georgetown University, said Obama administration officials were questioning the Moscow meeting because they were “not clear what will actually be signed,” even if Mr. Snowden’s case was resolved by then. “There seem to be significant gaps between the Russian and U.S. sides on these important issues such as Syria, missile defense and arms control,” she said.

Dr. Stent, author of a coming book on Mr. Putin and Russian-American relations, said she could not recall another time since the cold war that an American president had called off a meeting that was already scheduled. “If they do cancel that part of the summit, that’s unprecedented since the collapse of the Soviet Union from the American side,” she said. “And it raises the question for the Obama administration — Russia’s not going to be a high priority for the rest of the term.”

Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington, David E. Sanger from Aspen, Colo., and Gerry Mullany from Hong Kong.


July 18, 2013 11:00 AM

Grayson, the Guardian, and the Soldiers: Defense Amendment Would End Troop Censorship

By Richard RJ Eskow

This is a story that hasn't been covered yet, as far as we know: Alan Grayson is fighting for the right of US troops in the Middle East to read any online news outlet they want - including the one that keeps breaking new stories about the NSA.

They’re fighting for freedom, but they can’t read the story that has captivated the world. At least, America’s troops in the Middle East can’t read about the NSA scandal on the British newspaper which broke the story, together with the Washington Post. The Obama Defense Department blocked troops’ access to the Guardian website on July 1.

Just in time for Independence Day.

At first the military claimed that they were only blocking portions of the Guardian site, and that they were only doing it to preserve ‘network hygiene.’  If that isn’t a chilling phrase, what is?  That initial story from Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts included statement from the DoD claiming that they were blocking all reports about Edward Snowden and the NSA revelations as a matter of ‘hygiene.’

And yet the Washington Post carried most of the same information about the NSA story. In fact, it broke the story in coordination with the Guardian. Details were quickly picked up by most other news outlets. Neither the Post nor any other newspaper has seen its site blocked by the military.

What’s more, it was quickly discovered that the censorship wasn’t restricted to NSA-related items. The entire Guardian website has been blocked from troops’ eyes.  Why? Is it theGuardian’s tone? Its editorial thrust? Aren't our troops allowed to read what they like and form their own opinions?

What, precisely, is “unhygienic” about the Guardian?

Rep. Alan Grayson has introduced an amendment to the upcoming Defense Appropriations Bill which is impressive in its economy of language. It reads in full: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to restrict the access of members of the Armed Forces to publically available online news media during morale, welfare, and recreation periods.”

We would expect Grayson’s amendment to enjoy bipartisan support. National security isn’t threatened by providing our troops with the same other Americans have – especially since they’re citizens and voters, as well as soldiers. Democrats should support Grayson’s amendment because it fits well with their pro-soldier and pro-freedom of speech rhetoric. Republicans should support it because it’s making a potential source of Administration criticism available to our fighting – and voting – men and women.

This is another striking example of the Administration’s willingness to use extra-legal means against information outlets it dislikes, as when it pressured independent corporations like Visa and Mastercard to withhold services from Wikileaks. (Wikileaks had partnered with the New York Times, which faced no such extrajudicial punishment.)  This may be one more instance of the government pushing the bounds of propriety and/or legality to see what it can get away with –

- which so far has been a lot.

As far as we know, the Guardian is alone in receiving this censorship treatment. Coincidentally or not, the Guardian is the only major newspaper covering this story which does not have to make a profit. It is supported instead by a trust.

Coincidence? We report, you decide.

The Grayson Amendment will come up for a vote late this week or early next week. We’ll be following its progress. Some of the troops may be following it too – but not on the Guardian.

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« Reply #7602 on: Jul 19, 2013, 05:55 AM »

Alexei Navalny released from custody

Russian opposition leader to await outcome of appeal against jail sentence at home amid protests calling for ousting of Pig Putin

Miriam Elder and agencies, Friday 19 July 2013 09.02 BST   

Link to video: Alexei Navalny freed following anti-Pig Putin protests in Moscow

A Russian court has temporarily released the opposition leader Alexei Navalny from custody, but placed him under travel restrictions, as he awaits the outcome of an appeal against his five-year jail sentence.

Prosecutors unexpectedly asked for Navalny to be allowed to wait for the appeal decision at home in Moscow after his conviction on embezzlement charges.

The move could be intended to appease opposition activists. On Thursday night, thousands of Russians flooded the main arteries leading to the Kremlin, demanding his freedom and calling for the ousting of the president, Pig Putin. Dozens were detained.

Navalny was taken from the courtroom in handcuffs on Thursday after the judge, Sergei Blinov, ended a three-hour verdict reading by finding him guilty. He hugged his wife, Yulia, and was led away by police.

An anti-corruption activist who became the most popular figure to emerge from protests that erupted around Pig Putin's return to the Kremlin last year, Navalny was accused of embezzlement and a handful of other charges, after Putin unleashed a crackdown on the opposition in the wake of his inauguration.

Navalny has built a large following via corruption investigations into Pig Putin's closest allies that he publicises on his popular social media accounts and blogs. On Tuesday, just two days before the verdict hearing, he released an investigation into alleged corruption at Russian Railways, one of Russia's largest state-run firms, headed by a close Pig Putin ally, Vladimir Yakunin. He has dubbed Putin Russia's "main thief".

The verdict against Navalny – that he embezzled 16m roubles (£325,000) from a timber firm while advising the governor of Russia's Kirov region – is widely seen as a means of silencing him.

He was sentenced alongside a co-defendant, Petr Ofitserov, who was given four years in jail. Ofitserov's wife, and the mother of his five children, sobbed uncontrollably after the sentence was handed down.

As the verdict was being read, Ofitserov wrote on his Facebook page: "I'm getting lots of messages saying: 'hold on, hold on'. Thanks everyone for the support – it helps. But if they jail people like us, then we're not the ones who will have to hold on. It's bad in the cage, but at least it's honest. You'll have to make a more difficult choice – either you're with them or with yourselves."

In Moscow, the centre of last year's anti-Pig Putin protests, Russians erupted in anger at the verdict. Thousands occupied Tverskaya, the main street leading to the Kremlin, as riot police and special forces attempted to break up the gathering. Protesters shouted "Freedom!" and erupted into applause as cars honked in solidarity.

In a statement released after the verdict, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man and now its best-known political prisoner, wrote that it was "inevitable and predictable" because of Russia's long history of jailing political opponents. Khodorkovsky was arrested 10 years ago on economic charges widely seen to be punishment for his wealth and ability to challenge Putin.

"[Until] we realise that the trials of Navalny, Bolotnaya and hundreds of thousands of other guiltlessly convicted people are our trials, they are just going to keep on locking us up, one at a time," he wrote. "The era of unbelief and indifference is ending."

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, issued a rare statement to condemn the verdict against Navalny, saying it "proves that we have no independent judiciary".

The Russian elite also expressed shock and anger at the verdict.

Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister who remains close to Pig Putin, wrote on Twitter: "The verdict seems less like punishment and more like it is aimed at isolating him from society and from the election process."

Navalny, who largely appeals to Russia's internet-connected urban youth disillusioned with Putin's increasingly authoritarian politics, was waging a campaign for Moscow mayor in snap elections called for September. He was forced to withdraw his candidacy in the wake of the verdict.

If he serves the entire five-year sentence, he will be released from jail only after Russia's next presidential election, in 2018.


Russian opposition figures: where are the others?

As Alexei Navalny is sentenced to five years in prison, many more anti-Putin campaigners are in jail or awaiting trial

Miriam Elder, Thursday 18 July 2013 15.46 BST   

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23

Member of the anti-Putin punk band Pussy Riot. Arrested in March 2012 for performing a punk anthem inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow and sentenced in August 2012 to two years in prison after being found guilty of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".

Maria Alyokhina, 25

Member of Pussy Riot. Arrested and sentenced to two years in prison at the same time as Tolokonnikova.

Konstantin Lebedev, 34

Leftwing political activist sentenced to two and a half years in prison for "plotting mass unrest" following an anti-Pig Putin protest on 6 May 2012. Lebedev pleaded guilty amid rumours he was collaborating with the Russian government.

Maxim Luzyanin, 36

Anti-Pig Putin activist sentenced to four and a half years in November 2012 after admitting to plotting mass unrest during the 6 May protest. Many thought his decision to co-operate with judicial authorities would result in a lower sentence.

Awaiting trial

Leonid Razvozzhayev, 40

Leftwing political activist abducted from Ukraine while trying to seek political asylum in October 2012, currently in pre-trial detention. Awaiting charges of plotting mass unrest following the 6 May protest that turned violent.

Sergei Udaltsov, 36

Leftwing political activist under house arrest awaiting charges of plotting mass unrest following the 6 May protest.

On trial

Maria Baronova, 29

Anti-Pig Putin activist on trial for plotting mass unrest following the 6 May protest.

More than a dozen other Russians who took part in the 6 May protest are on trial.


Pig Putin rival's sentence forces the question: what next for opposition?

Alexei Navalny's conviction on a demonstrably sham charge has shattered lingering illusions about the nature of Russian power

Michael Idov, Thursday 18 July 2013 15.52 BST   

Most of my friends in Moscow predicted a suspended sentence for Alexei Navalny, as we had for Pussy Riot last summer. A nice, worldly stance, with just a touch of weary cynicism. And then we twatched him embrace his wife and head off to jail for five years on a sham charge.

The only way to pass the time, for now, is to analyse the reasons for our surprise – or, rather, for the lingering illusions about the nature of Russian power that precipitated it. Lately, Moscow has been heading down a Singaporean path of urbanist comfort at liberty's expense: new pedestrian zones, public wi-fi, bike-share schemes.

At the same time, our freedoms have been systematically trashed: new restrictions on public assembly; a jaw-dropping law that prohibits all media from saying good things about single-sex families. This has led to a bizarre semi-complacency, where we praise parts of the government on specific achievements while insisting on their illegitimacy in a more abstract way.

For a while, it was possible to keep the good life separate from the crackdown, to pretend the two were not terms and liabilities of a single social contract. Just as in September 2011, when Putin's return shocked into protest the Russians lulled by Medvedev's talk of modernisation, my friends and I are realising again how optimistic we had been. Russia has joined the list of countries with an imprisoned opposition leader. The worst-case scenario is, in fact, here.

But what to do? Democratic reform is impossible (Navalny's case shows that irritants will end up in jail before a vote is cast), protest is useless (and, judging from the trials of random protesters from the 6 May 2012 rally, dangerous), but violence is still undesirable. Trying to gee up change on the municipal level has also been revealed as a pipe dream: it was only on Wednesday that Navalny got his official papers as a Moscow mayoral candidate, a race he has now quit. Even if his sentence were suspended, a guilty verdict bars him from ever running for office. All routes to peaceful change have been cut. For now, the overriding feeling is helplessness, tinged with shame for the last year of passivity.: "

Michael Idov is editor-in-chief of GQ Russia


Theresa May: international relations a factor in not holding Litvinenko inquiry

Home secretary's letter over decision not to hold public inquiry into death of poisoned Russian spy is published

Press Association, Friday 19 July 2013 12.44 BST   

The home secretary, Theresa May, has admitted "international relations" were a factor in the government's decision not to hold a public inquiry into the death of poisoned Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

Coroner Sir Robert Owen had requested that the government order the inquiry because he could not consider vital secret evidence as part of a normal inquest.

This was backed by Mr Litvinenko's widow Marina, who said she and her legal team were "shocked and disappointed" by the government's refusal.

On Friday a letter from Mrs May to Sir Robert explaining the reasons for the decision was published.

It said: "It is true that international relations have been a factor in the government's decision-making.

"An inquest managed and run by an independent coroner is more readily explainable to some of our foreign partners, and the integrity of the process more readily grasped, than an inquiry, established by the government, under a chairman appointed by the government, which has the power to see government material potentially relevant to their interests, in secret.

"However, this has not been a decisive factor and, if it had stood alone, would not have led the government to refuse an inquiry."

May said the government is anxious that Mr Litvinenko's death is properly investigated, and accepts that there are "important factors" in favour of establishing an inquiry.

She wrote: "May I begin by assuring you that the government shares your concern to make certain that the tragic death of Mr Litvinenko is properly investigated.

"Like you, the government is anxious that as much as possible of the investigation is conducted in public, and in such a way that Mr Litvinenko's family are as closely involved in the process as is consistent with the public interest."

Mr Litvinenko, 43, was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 while drinking tea at the Millennium Hotel in London's Grosvenor Square in 2006.

Since his death his widow and son Anatoly have battled to discover the truth about what led to his killing.

May told Sir Robert the inquest will be able to address key concerns.

"It is the view of the government that, despite the serious concerns you express, an inquest will go a substantial way to addressing or allaying public concern about this incident," she said.

"It will be able to use open material, for example, to explore the circumstances in which the polonium was brought into this country, to ascertain the likely movement of the polonium and those who were apparently carrying it around the country; to expose the evidence about the events leading up to the murder."

She said an inquiry would take longer and cost more than a normal inquest, and that ministers could address any remaining concerns over Litvinenko's death after legal proceedings had finished, possibly with an independent review.

"The question whether or not public concern remains at the end of that process is a matter primarily for ministers and one best judged at the conclusion of the inquest."

Any secret evidence presented during a public inquiry would have to be held in closed session and would remain private, she said.

"The result would be that an inquiry would reveal publicly only that which the inquest would reveal publicly. The persons perhaps most closely concerned with the investigation, namely Marina and Anatoly Litvinenko, would learn no more from an inquiry than they would from the inquest."

Sir Robert, who is considering the points in May's letter, had ruled in May that he could not hear evidence linked to the alleged involvement of the Russian state in Litvinenko's death, or whether his killing could have been prevented, in public.

He said that excluding key evidence on the issue of Russian involvement would cause him "grave concern".

Mr Litvinenko's family believe he was working for MI6 at the time of his death and was killed on the orders of the Kremlin.

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« Last Edit: Jul 19, 2013, 06:15 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #7603 on: Jul 19, 2013, 06:00 AM »

Madrid protesters demanding Rajoy's resignation clash with police

Fury over alleged corruption amid austerity crisis drives thousands onto streets in Spanish capital and Barcelona

Associated Press in Madrid, Friday 19 July 2013 06.43 BST   

Thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of the the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, demonstrated on Thursday night in Madrid.

What started as a peaceful event turned violent towards midnight after riot police clashed with some protesters, resulting in at least several people being arrested and injured.

The protesters jammed downtown streets outside the Madrid headquarters of the ruling Popular party, insisting Rajoy should leave office because of allegations he received payoffs from a slush fund before his party won elections in 2011. Thousands more demonstrated in Barcelona.

Shortly before midnight, groups of protesters in Madrid clashed with police wielding batons. An Associated Press photographer saw one protester with his face bloodied, a police officer hurt by a flying projectile and at least two protesters arrested by authorities.

Earlier in the week opposition leaders called for Rajoy to explain himself before parliament or face a censure vote.

On Monday Rajoy brushed off demands he should resign after text messages emerged that seemed to show him comforting a former political party treasurer under investigation over a slush fund and secret Swiss bank accounts. The treasurer has claimed Rajoy took under-the-counter payments, accusations Rajoy denies.

The spectacle of alleged greed and corruption has enraged Spaniards hurting from austerity and high unemployment.

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« Reply #7604 on: Jul 19, 2013, 06:05 AM »

Iceland isn't really a paragon of gender equality

Boardroom quota laws and high proportion of female postgraduates may point to our problems, not our successes

Alda Sigmundsdóttir, Friday 19 July 2013 11.53 BST   

Four years ago, Iceland elected its first female prime minister. But how far has the gender equality movement really come?

Iceland: the country that outlawed strip clubs and wanted to make hardcore porn illegal. That elected a lesbian prime minister. That suffered an economic meltdown and then sent in the women to "clean up the mess". That ranked at the top of the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report 2012. The country home to the a university where, it is now reported, 70% of all postgraduate students are female.

It is tempting to imagine these stories sum up what Iceland is all about: Iceland bailed out the people and jailed the bankers, Icelandic women are the Valkyries of gender equality, marching stealthily toward the goal of total emancipation. The stuff of shallow social media memes, that spread through cyberspace like an out-of-control virus. Alas, the truth behind the facade is always far more complex.

In some respects the last electoral term was golden for Icelandic women. The milestones were impressive: Iceland voted in Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir as prime minister, and her first cabinet was evenly split between men and women, while her second had a female majority – six women to five men. That same government passed the law banning strip clubs, criminalised payments for sexual services, and set a boardroom quota law stipulating that 40% of company boards needed to be made up of women.

Yet for all their supposed advances in gender equality, Icelandic women are not that different from women elsewhere in the western hemisphere. They are still being slotted into gender-specific professions like nursing and teaching. They struggle to navigate the demands of the labour market while still being largely responsible for home, hearth and children.

There was a reason for that boardroom law, after all. Icelandic women currently make up a paltry 3% of all company board members in the country. And with the boardroom law set to take effect on 1 September this year, it is a little difficult to see how the 40% quota will be achieved. It is also hard to envisage the current government setting stringent measures to enforce the law.

Last May Icelanders voted to bring back into power the conservative parties that brought Iceland to the brink of bankruptcy in 2008. Apart from any other implications, this appears to have constituted a significant setback for Icelandic women. Currently, of nine cabinet ministers, only three are female. And gender stereotyping is alive and well. When it first took office, the government's economic affairs and trade committee was made up of nine men and not a single woman. Meanwhile, the welfare committee was made up of eight women and one man. A token woman was subsequently added to the former, and a second man to the latter, but only after a flurry of criticism forced the (male) coalition leaders to make the change.

While those latest figures on women in postgraduate programmes seem encouraging, they are a little hard to interpret. Yes, they could mean that Icelandic women are competent, strong and ambitious – which they most certainly are. Or they could mean that women still need a higher level of education than men to compete with them in the labour market. They could also mean that the educational system is failing to meet the needs of boys and young men, as it seems to be in many countries around the world. Or that men are not entering graduate programmes because they are under great pressure to provide for their families.

Let us not forget that in order to reach true equality we must work to meet the needs of both sexes, ensuring that each individual can flourish in his or her own way. The patriarchy oppresses both men and women. We can only hope that some of those savvy females currently working on their postgraduate degrees eventually work to move Iceland forward, towards an ideal of true gender equality. And that the conservatives in the crowd move aside to let them.

• This article was commissioned after a suggestion from Pairubu. If there's a subject you'd like to see covered on Comment is free, please visit our You Tell Us page

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