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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 299017 times)
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« Reply #7860 on: Jul 31, 2013, 06:59 AM »

Scientists move one step closer to resurrecting woolly mammoths

By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 20:33 EDT

The pioneering scientist who created Dolly the sheep has outlined how cells plucked from frozen woolly mammoth carcasses might one day help resurrect the ancient beasts.

The notional procedure – bringing with it echoes of the Jurassic Park films – was spelled out by Sir Ian Wilmut, the Edinburgh-based stem-cell scientist, whose team unveiled Dolly as the world’s first cloned mammal in 1996.

Though it is unlikely that a mammoth could be cloned in the same way as Dolly, more modern techniques that convert tissue cells into stem cells could potentially achieve the feat, Wilmut says in an article today for the academic journalism website, The Conversation.

“I’ve always been very sceptical about the whole idea, but it dawned on me that if you could clear the first hurdle of getting viable cells from mammoths, you might be able to do something useful and interesting,” Wilmut told the Guardian.

“I think it should be done as long as we can provide great care for the animal. If there are reasonable prospects of them being healthy, we should do it. We can learn a lot about them,” he added.

Woolly mammoths roamed the Earth tens of thousands of years ago in a period called the late Pleistocene. Their numbers began to fall in North America and on mainland Eurasia about 10,000 years ago. Some lived on for a further 6,000 years. Their demise was likely the result of hunting and environmental change.

The prospect of raising woolly mammoths from the dead has gathered pace in recent years as the number of frozen bodies recovered from the Siberian permafrost has soared. The rise comes because the ice is melting, but also because of awareness in the region that there is money in the ancient remains.

Earlier this month, the most complete woolly mammoth carcass ever recovered from Russia was unveiled at an exhibition in Yokohama, Japan. The baby female, nicknamed Yuka, lived about 39,000 years ago, and is remarkable for the preservation of her fur and soft tissues, such as muscle.

Samples from Yuka have been sent to the laboratory of Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced South Korean stem cell scientist, who, with Russian researchers, hopes to clone the mammoth.

Though Wilmut does not doubt the sincerity of the scientists hoping to clone woolly mammoths with the Dolly technique, he said the idea was “wildly optimistic” because the technical challenges were so tough.

In his article for The Conversation, Wilmut explains the formidable hurdles that stand in the way of scientists who want to clone the beasts. The technique requires scores of healthy mammoth cells and hundreds or thousands of eggs from a closely related species, such as the Asian elephant.

The most immediate problem is that mammoth cells must survive with their DNA intact. In practice, they degenerate quickly at the temperature of melting snow and ice, when most remains are found.

“By the time you’ve got a bone sticking up in the sunshine, it’s effectively too late. You need to get it straight out of the deep freeze, as it were,” Wilmut said.

Another problem is that cloning needs a female of a closely related species to provide eggs and to carry the pregnancy achieved with any cloned embryo. The closest living relatives to mammoths are elephants, but these are not plentiful enough to collect eggs from.

“Because there is a danger of elephants becoming extinct, it is clearly not appropriate to try to obtain 500 eggs from elephants,” Wilmut writes.

There is an alternative, though. If good-quality cells can be extracted from mammoth remains – and that is a big if – they could be reprogrammed into stem cells using modern procedures. These could then be turned into other kinds of cell, including sperm and eggs. Mice have already been born from sperm and eggs made from stem cells.

“If the cells were from a female, this might provide an alternative source of eggs for use in research, and perhaps in breeding, including the cloning of mammoths.

“From a male they would be sperm, and they might be able to fertilise eggs to produce a new mammoth embryo,” Wilmut writes.

But the scientist, who in many peers’ eyes should have shared the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine with Sir John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka last year, said it could be 50 years before the techniques for resurrecting the woolly mammoth were perfected. There will be no Pleistocene Park soon.

That gives time for scientists to work out some of other problems that would arise if a mammoth were ever born again.

One concern is that the mammoth would be adapted to frigid conditions while its mother would be used to a hot, dry climate.

Another problem is that one will not be enough. “Ideally, and before too long, you need to provide them with friends and neighbours to interact with,” Wilmut said. “The whole issue is what are the effects on the animal’s welfare.”

None of it will happen unless scientists can pluck good-quality cells from carcasses that have lain in the ice for thousands of years. Will it ever happen? “I would say it’s fairly unlikely, but the world is full of surprises,” Wilmut said.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #7861 on: Jul 31, 2013, 07:20 AM »

In the USA....

Edward Snowden's father says FBI asked him to fly to Moscow

Lon Snowden says his son will be 'treated horribly' if he returns to US and in his place he would stay in Russia

James Meikle and agencies
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 12.21 BST   

The father of the whistleblower Edward Snowden has said the FBI tried to persuade him to fly to Moscow so that he could encourage his son to return to the United States.

"I said: 'I want to be able to speak with my son … Can you set up communications?' and it was 'Well, we are not sure,'" Lon Snowden told the Washington Post. "I said: 'Wait a minute, folks, I'm not going to sit on the tarmac to be an emotional tool for you.'"

Snowden's father, who is retired from the US Coast Guard, also said he preferred Edward to remain in Russia, where he is stuck in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport while Russia considers his request for temporary asylum.

"If he comes back to the United States, he is going to be treated horribly. He is going to be thrown into a hole. He is not going to be allowed to speak." The 52-year-old said he had been as "surprised as the rest of America" when his son, who worked for a contractor, was revealed as the source of the leaks about surveillance by the National Security Agency to the Guardian. "As a father it pains me what he did," Snowden said. "I wish my son could simply have sat in Hawaii and taken the big paycheck, lived with his beautiful girlfriend and enjoyed paradise. But as an American citizen, I am absolutely thankful for what he did."

Lon Snowden said that two days after Edward was revealed as the whistleblower, FBI agents had arrived at his home outside Allentown, Pennsylvania. He had spoken to them for four hours and shared emails he had exchanged with his son. Later the FBI asked him to fly to Moscow. FBI officials declined to comment on why negotiations about the idea foundered, the Post said.

As to why Lon Snowden had not flown to Moscow himself, he said: "Sure, I could get on a flight tomorrow to Russia. I'm not sure if I could get access to Edward." He said he had communicated with his son through intermediaries.

In an interview with the state-owned Rossiya 24 TV, the older Snowden, his words translated into Russian, said he had yet to decline the idea of travelling to Moscow at the FBI's request, but would first like to know what the agency wanted him to do. "If [Edward] wants to spend the rest of his life in Russia, I would agree. I am not against it. If I were in his place, I would stay in Russia, and I hope Russia will accept him."

He did not think his son would get a fair trial in the US. "I hope that he will return home and appear in court … But I don't expect that … a court would be fair. We cannot guarantee a fair court." He also thanked Vladimir Putin and his government for the "courage" they had shown in keeping his son safe. Lon Snowden also addressed his son, saying: "Your family is well and we love you. We hope you are healthy, we hope you are well, I hope to see you soon, but most of all I want you to be safe." He added: "I want you to find safe haven. I know the last 55 days have been very difficult."

Anatoly Kuchera, a Russian lawyer helping Edward Snowden, told the programme he thought the asylum request would be granted "in the coming days" and the US had not sent an official request for extradition. "Just saying 'hand him over' is absolutely dishonourable and incorrect," he said.

**********

Senators strongly criticise intelligence chiefs over NSA data collection

Ron Wyden tells US senate of 'violations of court orders' while Mark Udall calls for major reforms of surveillance programmes

Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 01.33 BST   

On the eve of a major US Senate hearing on the National Security Agency's bulk surveillance, two senators called for major reforms of the NSA's collection of phone records and accused US intelligence leaders of misleading the public about its impact on privacy.

A letter sent by the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, to Ron Wyden, a Democratic senator for Oregon, on Friday said that there had been "a number of compliance problems" with the NSA's bulk, ongoing collection of millions of Americans' phone records, but "no findings of any intentional or bad-faith violations".

On the Senate floor late on Tuesday afternoon, Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, all but accused Clapper of lying.

Citing classified documents that he did not specify, but referring to "violations of court orders", Wyden said that "these violations are more serious than those stated by the intelligence community, and are troubling". Wyden urged senators to read classified intelligence documents about the bulk surveillance for themselves.

"Any policymaker who simply defers to intelligence officials without asking to see their evidence is making a mistake," Wyden warned.

Clapper has already apologised for untruthfully testifying during a March Senate colloquy with Wyden that the NSA does "not wittingly" collect data on millions of Americans. Representatives for Clapper did not immediately return a request for comment on Wyden's accusation.

"The violations I've touched on tonight are a lot more serious than [senators] have been told," Wyden said. "I'm going to keep pressing to make more of these details public."

Wyden's frequent partner on the intelligence committee, Mark Udall, a Democratic senator for Colorado, called on the White House for a "more effective, less intrusive" way to collect phone records related to national security.

"Conduct the program instead through direct queries to phone companies where there is a direct connection to terrorism and espionage," Udall urged on the Senate floor.

Like Wyden, Udall criticised intelligence leaders and their political allies for saying the bulk phone-records collection had helped to stop terrorists.

"I have seen no evidence that the bulk phone-records collection alone played a meaningful role, or any role, in disrupting terrorist plots," Udall said.

It may be "more convenient" for the NSA to conduct a phone-records dragnet, Udall said, but "convenience alone cannot justify" the effort.

Udall also briefly said that the NSA phone-records programme includes the "who, what, where, when and how long" of Americans' phone calls – seemingly a reference to NSA tracking location data on phone calls, which a number of intelligence officials, including Clapper in his letter, have said they do not perform "under this programme".

"Information on whom [Americans] call, when they call, and where they call from is private information," Udall said.

A Udall spokesman clarified that the Senator was not talking about cellular-site tracking, but more about landline location.

Citing the razor-thin margin by which the NSA's bulk phone-records collection survived a vote last week in the House of Representatives, Wyden and Udall vowed to continue their push to curtail the programme.

"Make no mistake about it … we are going to stay at this," Wyden said.

On Wednesday morning, the Senate judiciary committee will hold its first hearing into the NSA programmes, with anticipated testimony from senior officials from the justice department and NSA. The committee is chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) who, alone among committee chairmen in the Senate and House, is vocally in favour of shutting the bulk collection down. Ahead of the hearing, the Obama administration is considering declassifying more secret documents from the Fisa court explaining how the bulk collection is conducted. The Los Angeles Times reported that one of those documents under consideration is a 2007 Fisa court order governing the rules for bulk phone-records collection.

**********

U.S. to declassify documents on NSA spy programs

By Reuters
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 19:09 EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. spy agencies plan to release newly declassified documents as early as this week about the National Security Agency surveillance programs revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden, and also material related to a secret intelligence court, a U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday.

The declassified documents were intended to provide the public more information about the programs as part of a commitment by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for greater transparency, the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The documents would also include information about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the official said. That court operates in secrecy in making decisions on government surveillance requests.

General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, said he was glad the government was taking action to declassify more information.

“I think it is the right thing. I think it helps articulate what we are trying to do and why we are trying to do it,” he told Reuters in Las Vegas where he is scheduled to speak at the Black Hat conference of cybersecurity experts on Wednesday.

“I think the more we can give to the American people, the better. We always have to balance security of the nation with transparency. But in this case I think it is a good thing,” Alexander said.

Snowden’s release of information about the NSA surveillance programs to American and European media outlets sparked an uproar over revelations last month that U.S. intelligence agencies had collected data on phone calls and other communications of Americans and foreign citizens as a tool for fighting terrorism.

The move to declassify more information about the surveillance programs, which intelligence officials say have helped thwart terrorist attacks, comes as some lawmakers seek curbs in response to privacy concerns.

Snowden has been charged under the U.S. Espionage Act and is stuck at an airport in Russia while seeking asylum in a country that will not hand him over to the United States.

(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington and Jim Finkle in Las Vegas; Editing by Andrew Hay and Mohammad Zargham)


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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/31/2013 01:38 AM

US Shows No Mercy: Bradley Manning Convicted

By Sebastian Fischer in Fort Meade, Maryland

A US military court acquitted Bradley Manning of the worst charge against him, but he isn't out of the woods yet.

Before reading out the verdict she held in her hands, Judge Denise Lind, an Army colonel, peered out at the court room once again, looking at the prosecutors, the defense and, of course, at Bradley Manning, the diminutive 25-year-old who sat next to his brawny lawyer David Coombs. It would take a while, Lind said, as she prepared to read out the 22 charges. She then adjusted her glasses and commenced.

Yet after only about five minutes, the military judge was done. Things began pretty well for WikiLeaks informant Manning as he listened to his conviction on Tuesday, but by the end it was agonizingly painful.

The first and most serious charge against Manning was that of aiding the enemy. In theory, the death penalty can be applied in such convictions, but the government had only demanded life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole. Just life imprisonment. Manning stood. The judge looked at him and read, "Not guilty." Manning made an effort not to show any emotion, just as he had done for the past eight weeks of his trial.

Then Lind proceeded, reading out one verdict after the other. "Guilty," she said. "Guilty, guilty, guilty." In the end, it was a word Manning heard on a total of 20 out of 22 charges. Guilty of espionage, guilty of theft, guilty of computer fraud. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Responding to the conviction, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, "This is the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower. It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism. It is a short sighted judgment that cannot be tolerated and must be reversed. It can never be that conveying true information to the public is 'espionage'."

Manning's family also issued a statement. "While we are obviously disappointed in today's verdicts," they wrote. "We are happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America's enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform."

140 Years in Prison

Most of the offenses carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. For some of them he would face only two years. Taken together, though, he could face around 140 years in prison -- the maximum possible sentence. In the coming weeks, the exact sentence will be negotiated at the military court at the Fort Meade military base in Maryland. Witnesses will be called to testify once again. Manning's defense attorney appeared hopeful after the acquittal on the charge of aiding the enemy.

"We won the battle," Coombs said, "now we need to go win the war. Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire." It sounds like victory. But is it?

It's clear what messages the judge is seeking to send in this trial of the largest betrayal of secrets in American history.

The first is that no mercy will be shown for whistleblowers. The United States is pursuing and treating whistleblowers as traitors. The Manning ruling is intended to have a deterrent effect for others who might seek to follow in his footsteps.

The second is that Lind stopped short of creating a precedent for the erosion of press freedom in the US.

If the court had convicted Manning on charges of aiding the enemy, it would have equated publishing stories about the documents in the media with aiding the enemy. Prior to Manning's verdict, Daniel Ellsberg -- who once leaked the Pentagon Papers to prove the sheer hopelessness of the Vietnam War -- offered some insight. "The idea that you can execute someone for an offense that had no element of intent or even specified effect," he told the Christian Science Monitor, "or that you can face life in prison or death simply from informing an enemy or potential enemy in the process of informing fellow citizens for their benefit is potentially a lethal blow to the First Amendment or freedom of speech and the press."

Last Friday, Manning's defense attorney Coombs sought to portray the difference between leaking data to the public and the enemy in this way: If, for example, you leak a troop movement from point A to point B at a certain time, then the enemy can only profit from this information if it is received directly. If the information is passed on to the public, then that troop movement will most certainly not happen because the enemy will obviously have access to that information as well.

Crackdown on Whistleblowers

Still, the fact that Manning wasn't convicted of aiding the enemy in no way diminishes the massive pressure that US President Barack Obama has applied on the media and potential future whistleblowers. Recently, James Risen, an investigative reporter with the New York Times, was ordered by a federal court to testify against a confidential CIA source -- with the threat of imprisonment if he refused to do so. Risen said he would go to jail if necessary to protect his source. Presently, the US is prosecuting six different people on allegations that they betrayed government secrets -- more than under any previous president.

Nevertheless, there have been some significant shortcomings in Manning's defense. During the Manning trial, Coombs failed in his strategy of seeking to paint a portrait of the 25-year-old as a whistleblower who did so for moral reasons, as a "humanist." Coombs repeatedly depicted his client as "young, naïve, but good intentioned." What Manning had done, he said, "is not anti-patriotic. That is something that is not anti-American. That really is what America is about -- that we take everybody."

But the prosecutor, Major Ashden Fein sought to portray Manning as a traitor out of vanity, as a soldier for whom neither the pledge of allegiance or the flag meant anything. Manning was no whistleblower, he argued -- he instead repeatedly claimed that Manning was a hacker and a traitor.

Manning confessed early on, back in February, that he had leaked the documents to WikiLeaks. He admitted to 10 lesser charges, knowing he would likely be sentenced to around 20 years in prison. It was a futile move, though, and he could now face decades behind bars.

Far away in Moscow, Edward Snowden is likely following the headlines very closely.

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

Julian Assange expects Bradley Manning to appeal ‘dangerous’ verdict

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 19:38 EDT

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Tuesday called US soldier Bradley Manning a “hero” and said he expected him to appeal after a military judge convicted him of espionage.

Assange said the verdict had set a “dangerous precedent” and was an example of “national security extremism” from the Obama administration.

He told journalists at a small press conference in London’s Ecuadorian embassy that he “expects that the case will be appealed.”

“Bradley Manning’s alleged disclosures have exposed war crimes, sparked revolutions and induced democratic reforms,” he argued.

“He is the most important journalistic source the world has ever seen.”

Assange, who has been holed up in the embassy since June last year in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex claims, said Manning was “unquestionably heroic.”

He accused Obama of betrayal over his treatment of “whistleblowers” and insisted Manning’s crimes had no victim except “the US government’s wounded pride.”

The administration’s “attacks on Bradley Manning are not a sign of strength but a sign of weakness,” he added.

He drew comparisons with former CIA operative Edward Snowden, who is currently wanted in the US over another security leak, praising the pair for “willing to risk their liberty and possibly their lives” to bring information to the public.

In all, Manning was found guilty of 20 of 22 counts related to his leaking of a huge trove of secret US diplomatic cables, government records and military logs to the WikiLeaks website.

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The Bradley Manning verdict is still bad news for the press

By Dan Gillmor, The Guardian
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 15:56 EDT

Dan Gillmor: The Obama administration’s war on leaks and, by extension, the work of investigative reporters, has been unrelenting

The American journalism trade is breathing a collective – but premature and, in many cases, grossly hypocritical – sigh of relief today. A military judge has found Bradley Manning guilty of many crimes, but “aiding the enemy” isn’t one of them.

Had the judge found Manning guilty of aiding the enemy, she would have set a terrible precedent. For the first time, an American court – albeit a military court – would have said it was a potentially capital crime simply to give information to a news organization, because in the internet era an enemy would ultimately have been able to read what was leaked.

However, if journalism dodged one figurative bullet, it faces many more in this era. The ever-more-essential field of national security journalism was already endangered. It remains so. The Obama administration’s war on leaks and, by extension, the work of investigative reporters who dare to challenge the most secretive government in our lifetimes, has been unrelenting.

The Manning verdict had plenty of bad news for the press. By finding Manning guilty of five counts of espionage, the judge endorsed the government’s other radical theories, and left the journalism organization that initially passed along the leaks to the public, Wikileaks, no less vulnerable than it had been before the case started. Anyone who thinks Julian Assange isn’t still a target of the US Government hasn’t been paying attention; if the US can pry him loose from Ecuador’s embassy in London and extradite him, you can be certain that he’ll face charges, too, and the Manning verdict will be vital to that case.

The military tried its best to make life difficult for journalists covering the Manning trial, but activists – not traditional journalists – were the ones who fought restrictions most successfully. Transcripts weren’t provided by the government, for example. Only when the Freedom of the Press Foundation crowd-sourced a court stenographer did the public get a record, however flawed, of what was happening.

That public included most of the press, sad to say. Only a few American news organizations (one is the Guardian’s US edition) bothered to staff the Manning trial in any serious way. Independent journalists did most of the work, and did it as well as it could be done under the circumstances.

The overwhelmingly torpid coverage of this trial by traditional media has been yet another scandal for the legacy press, which still can’t seem to wrap its collective brain around the importance of the case, and especially its wider context. National security journalist Jeremy Scahill summed it up after the verdict when he told Democracy Now: “We’re in a moment when journalism is being criminalized.”

For those who want to tell the public what the government is doing with our money and in our name, there are new imperatives. Governmental secrecy, surveillance and the systematic silencing of whistleblowers require updated methods for journalists and journalism organizations of all kinds. Americans pursuing this craft have to understand the risks and find countermeasures.

That is not enough. The public needs to awaken to the threat to its own freedoms from the Obama crackdown on leaks and, by extension, journalism and free speech itself. We are, more and more, a society where unaccountable people can commit unspeakable acts with impunity. They are creating a surveillance state that makes not just dissent, but knowledge itself, more and more dangerous. What we know about this is entirely due to leakers and their outlets. Ignorance is only bliss for the unaccountable.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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Democrats seek to systematically debunk Republican’s IRS claims

By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 17:58 EDT

House Democrats are attempting to push back against the Republican narrative of the IRS scandal.

In video uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee highlighted that many Republican claims about the IRS had been directly contradicted by Treasury Inspector General J. George Russell, the man in charge of investigating the IRS targeting of tea party groups.

During a congressional hearing last month, Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) asked the inspector general if the scrutiny of tea party groups applying for tax exempt status was politically motivated. He also asked if the White House had an “enemies list” and if the Obama administration had used the IRS to target tea party groups. Russell said there was no evidence to support those claims.

Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) also released a statement on Tuesday blasting a Republican report on the IRS targeting of tea party groups. The report concluded that conservative groups received much higher levels of scrutiny than progressive groups, but Levin accused the report of being woefully incomplete.

“The Republican analysis makes no mention of the time period of applications reviewed, no mention of whether they were the same applications reviewed by TIGTA in connection with the audit, and no mention of the fact that there are terms that reflect liberal organizations other than ‘progressive,’ he explained in his statement. “What’s more, it doesn’t disclose the overall number of conservative groups – compared with liberal groups – who applied for tax-exempt status. This is a recurring problem in this investigation – the release of incomplete information.”

“The overwhelming fact remains that Republicans will do everything they can to deflect attention from their inability to do almost anything – a record that has earned them historically low ratings from the American public,” Levin concluded.

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Obama’s tax code bargain: Lower corporate tax rate but eliminate loopholes

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 17:11 EDT

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday will propose lowering corporate tax rates in exchange for eliminating loopholes in a renewed bid to strike a fiscal deal with rival Republicans.

The reheated tax reform plan, first proposed and then rejected by Republicans in 2011, is part of a renewed bid by the president to create a “better bargain” for the middle class in a second term thus far marked by few accomplishments.

Republicans, especially Tea Party conservatives, have rejected any proposals that would increase government revenue, insisting that only spending cuts can roll back the bloated deficit without further harming the sluggish economic recovery.

Seeking middle ground, the president was to give a speech in Chattanooga, Tennessee calling for a simplification of the US tax code that would lower the tax rate for businesses without worsening the deficit.

“Our current tax code is broken and too complex, with businesses that play by the rules paying a 35 percent tax rate while many corporations that can hire hundreds of lawyers pay virtually no taxes at all,” the White House said in a statement.

“That is why the president has called for a revenue-neutral simplification of our business tax code to eliminate loopholes that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas and establishes a top tax rate of 28 percent,” it said.

“Some businesses would pay less, some corporations would pay more, but everyone would pay their fair share.”

In Chattanooga, Obama was to continue a ground campaign launched last week aimed at reviving interest in stalled economic initiatives, many of which date back to his first term.

Obama is seeking a “grand bargain” with rival Republicans that would simplify the tax code while boosting investment in education and infrastructure.

But with 2014 congressional elections on the horizon, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has expressed little interest in working with the president.

The Republicans insist Obama’s plans would only saddle corporations with more taxes while pouring more money into government programs they believe do not work.

An aide to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, speaking on condition of anonymity, roundly rejected the latest initiative.

The official insisted that any reforms apply to the corporate and individual tax codes, that all changes be revenue-neutral and that there be no additional “stimulus spending.”

“The president is taking his idea of tax reform, making it worse, and then demanding ransom of more stimulus spending to get it. Some bargain,” the official said.

In the speech at an Amazon distribution center in Chattanooga, Obama was expected to hail signs of an improving economy, including the online retail giant’s announcement Monday that it will hire another 7,000 US workers.

Despite lingering high unemployment and low growth, Obama has insisted in a string of recent speeches that the economy is on the right track after his administration helped it to narrowly avoid another Great Depression in 2009.

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New EPA chief: Can we stop talking about regulations killing jobs, please?

By Reuters
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 19:14 EDT

By Richard Valdmanis and Valerie Volcovici

CAMBRIDGE, Mass./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Delivering her first speech as the top U.S. environmental steward, Gina McCarthy on Tuesday pre-empted a frequent mantra of critics of the Environmental Protection Agency – that the agency’s regulations disrupt the economy and cost jobs.

The benefits derived from rules to address climate change and protect the environment far outweigh their costs, said McCarthy, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 18 as EPA administrator.

“Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs, please?” McCarthy said in a speech at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The EPA, often a lightning rod for Republican opposition in Congress, is working to develop “a new mindset about how climate change and environmental protection fits within our national and global economic agenda,” McCarthy said.

Embracing the need to cut carbon emissions should be seen not as a threat but as a “way to spark business innovation,” she said.

The federal Clean Air Act, the basis of the EPA’s powers to set rules, has produced $30 in benefits for every dollar spent in its name, she added.

McCarthy was confirmed after a months-long process that at one point involved a Republican boycott of a committee vote and required her to answer more than 1,000 questions posted by senators about the EPA’s rulemaking processes and transparency.

The speech, just a few miles from her hometown of Boston, marked the start of a nationwide tour to talk about why acting on climate change is necessary and to dispel common criticisms.

McCarthy, along with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, is making public appearances to help President Barack Obama roll out the Climate Action Plan he announced in June.

At the heart of Obama’s plan will be new EPA regulations that will target carbon emissions from existing power plants, which account for more than one-third of U.S. greenhouse gases and in many cases are fired by coal.

McCarthy said the agency will try to replicate the success it had with the U.S. automotive industry, with which it collaborated to craft new fuel efficiency standards.

“This is a game plan for other sectors to follow on how we can reduce emissions, strengthen energy security and develop new economic benefits for consumers and businesses,” McCarthy said.

In addition to close collaboration with industry, McCarthy said she will look to states and local governments that have piloted emission reduction policies and blueprints without waiting for Washington. She said the EPA would not be a leader, but a follower of states’ programs to curb emissions, relying on the work they’ve already put into force.

‘HONEST COMMENTER’ ON KEYSTONE

McCarthy also addressed one of the most controversial environmental and energy issues facing the Obama administration – the proposed Keystone Pipeline project.

Responding to a question about the climate impact of the 830,000 barrel per day pipeline, McCarthy first jokingly pretended to walk away from the podium before responding.

“In all seriousness, I think the best that EPA can do is to be an honest commenter on the environmental impact statement, which we’ve done our best to do and which we’ll continue to do,” she said.

An assessment of the project by the EPA released in March raised concerns about the analysis done by the State Department, which found there would be no significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

McCarthy said the Obama administration was examining all aspects of the pipeline proposal.

“It is not supposed to be easy,” she said. “It is supposed to be hard, it is supposed to be all interests coming together and screaming at the top of their lungs like three crazy children.”

(Reporting By Richard Valdmanis; Writing by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Ros Krasny, Maureen Bavdek and Leslie Adler)

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Senate urges financial regulators to implement reforms

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 16:34 EDT

US senators pressed regulators on Tuesday to speed up implementation of financial service industry reforms aimed at reducing risks from transactions like derivatives swaps that contributed to the 2007 financial crisis.

Mary Jo White, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is charged with regulating US markets and securities, told the Senate Banking Committee she hoped to roll out many rules that protect investors and consumers this year.

“I have several things on front burners,” said White, a former high-profile prosecutor who was confirmed as President Barack Obama’s SEC chief in April.

“I think we’ve made very good progress. We’re continuing to push extremely hard to complete those rulemakings.”

The SEC is overseeing implementation of dozens of new regulations laid out in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010, which sought to tighten regulations on broad sections of the financial services industry in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Among them are the much-anticipated regulations on the so-called Volcker Rule, a segment of Dodd-Frank aimed at keeping banks from speculative trades in their own accounts, a tactic that led to the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression.

Asked specifically about a time line for the Volcker rulemaking, White said, “that may be completed by year-end.”

Also under final crafting are new rules on the application of Dodd-Frank to cross-border, security-based swap transactions.

But White said the SEC was short-staffed, and two new two new commissioners were just taking up their posts on the five-member body.

“I’m not saying every single one will be done by year-end,” she said of the various reforms, which include regulations on small business filing requirements, the relatively new practice of crowdfunding, and disclosures of chief executive salaries.

“Having just passed Dodd-Frank’s third anniversary, there is still considerable work to be done,” Senator Michael Crapo, the committee’s top Republican, told the hearing.

Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission which oversees the complex environment of swap deals, testified along with White.

While Gensler said the CFTC has “not shied away from bringing cases against large banks” that break the rules, he and White bemoaned the comparatively low level of funding for their agencies.

“I would say our enforcement resources are tiny compared to the size of the markets,” Gensler said.

“The American public put $180 billion into AIG,” he said, referring to the 2008 bailout of the insurance giant.

“That’s 600 times what the president asked for funding for our agency.”

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

Senate confirms full slate of labor board nominees

By Reuters
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 19:10 EDT

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm five nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, marking the first time in a decade that the bipartisan agency that oversees union elections and polices unfair labor practices has had a full Senate-confirmed slate of five members.

“It’s time to ratchet down the political rhetoric that has haunted this agency,” Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa said before the votes.

Democratic nominee Mark Gaston Pearce, the board’s current chairman, was confirmed for another term by a 59-38 vote.

Before President Barack Obama named Pearce to the board in 2010, he represented workers and unions in private practice and was an attorney in an NLRB regional office in Buffalo, New York.

“Together, we will continue to do the work that is necessary to enforce the law, so that business owners and employees can prosper and improve the lives of their families, their communities and our country,” Pearce said of the newly confirmed board in a statement.

Democrats Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer, who both received a 54-44 vote, are also longtime labor lawyers who have worked in NLRB regional offices.

Hirozawa has been chief counsel to Chairman Pearce. He also spent 20 years at a labor and employment firm in New York City and worked in an NLRB field office there.

Schiffer works in the general counsel’s office at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. She began her legal career in an NLRB regional office in Detroit, Michigan, before going into private practice.

Two Republican nominees, Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson, were confirmed by voice vote.

Both are attorneys who represent management in labor disputes. Miscimarra works for the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Chicago. Johnson works in the Los Angeles office of the firm Arent Fox.

“With today’s vote, our country has qualified public servants on duty to defend America’s workers, businesses and families,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.

The confirmations in the Democrat-controlled chamber mark the end of a contentious political battle over NLRB nominations. Republican lawmakers, who have accused the agency of activist decision-making, had refused to reconfirm two current board members whose appointments are being challenged in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In mid-July, Obama withdrew the contested nominations and replaced them with Hirozawa and Schiffer. The swap was key to a bipartisan deal to usher an array of stalled nominations through the Senate.

The case before the Supreme Court challenges the validity of Obama’s 2012 “recess appointments” to the NLRB when the Senate was in session but not conducting business. A federal appeals court in January ruled the appointments invalid. The Obama administration has appealed and the Supreme Court will hear the case during its next term, which begins in October.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Ros Krasny and Stacey Joyce)

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

Ted Cruz: ‘Why is President Obama threatening to shut down the federal government?’

By David Edwards
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 12:50 EDT

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Tuesday argued that President Barack Obama and Democrats, not Republicans, were the ones trying to shut down the federal government because he insisted on funding a health care reform law that was passed in 2010.

Last week, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) called on Republicans to refuse to vote on a continuing resolution to fund the government if included any funding for Obamacare. Cruz said that the government should be shut down unless the Affordable Care Act was “fully” defunded.

“Under no circumstances will I support a continuing resolution that funds even one penny of Obamacare,” Cruz told The Heritage Foundation on Tuesday. “In order to win this fight, we need to get 41 Republicans in the Senate to make the same commitment or we need 218 Republicans in the House.”

“The next step will be that President Obama and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid will scream and yell, ‘Why are those mean and nasty Republicans threatening to shut down the government over Obamacare?’” he continued. “And at that point, we’ve actually got to stand up and fight.”

“We’ve got to stand up and make the argument and win the argument that, ‘No, that’s not true. We have voted to fund the federal government. We want to fund the federal government. Why is President Obama threatening to shut down the federal government? Because he wants force Obamacare down people’s throats.’”

One reporter pointed out to Cruz that polls showed that most people thought that defunding a law and shutting down the government was not the proper way to govern.

The Texas senator, however, argued that some polls had been crafted as tools of advocacy.

“Even phrased in the most ridiculous, offensive way, half of Republicans said, absolutely,” he noted. “Now, what’s interesting is if you frame it the other way, ‘Should President Obama shut down the federal government in order to force Obamacare on individual families even though corporations are getting a waiver?’ You know what? Those polls numbers flip around immediately.”

“It is the only strategy that I’m aware of that can work,” Cruz explained. “And if we do not pursue this strategy, we are saying, we surrender. Obamacare will remain a permanent feature of the American economy. And you know what? There are an awful lot of members of Congress in both Houses who campaigned explicitly on saying, we will fight to repeal Obamacare.”

Update (1:45 p.m. ET): Cruz later argued that a government shutdown would not be a “horrible calamity” because the same thing essentially happened every weekend.

He pointed to the government shutdown of 1995 as example: “Number one, the world didn’t end. Planes didn’t fall out of the sky, Social Security checks didn’t stop, military paychecks didn’t stop, we didn’t default on our national debt. What happened was that non-essential government services were temporarily suspended while the [continuing resolution] expired. Now, that happens every single week on the weekend. On Saturdays and Sundays, we see temporary partial government shutdowns and the world doesn’t end.”

***********

‘Morning Joe’ panel calls Ted Cruz ‘completely ignorant’ member of ‘Taliban’

By David Ferguson
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 9:00 EDT

Wednesday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” host Joe Scarborough and panel ripped into Texas freshman Sen. Ted Cruz and his intention to shut down the federal government to stop the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Scarborough called Cruz a “train wreck” and “completely ignorant,” while Daily Best editor Tina Brown compared him to a member of the “Taliban.”

“Have you seen what Ted Cruz is doing?” Scarborough asked. “Ted Cruz is attacking anybody who’s not willing to shut down the government over Obamacare. He’s lambasting fellow conservatives like Tom Coburn — Tom Coburn! — and saying that he serves in the ‘surrender caucus.’”

“I need to be very careful about what I’m going to say here,” said the former Florida Republican congressman. “Ted Cruz comes in obviously so completely ignorant about the war that Tom Coburn has been fighting for twenty years, and to say something like this about Tom Coburn — Ted Cruz, he is a total train wreck.”

Former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle said, “If I were little Teddly Cruz, I would be extremely cautious about getting into the ring with Tom Coburn. Ted Cruz would end up being Kid Candle in that fight. One blow, and he will be out against Tom Coburn.”

“Jon Favreau’s written a great piece in the Daily Beast about this whole trend now about not the small government conservative, but the no government conservative,” said Best editor Tina Brown. “That is what Tom Cruz is a member of. This is the Taliban.”

Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjNSgRIKEwg

**********

Rush Limbaugh Still Controls A Major Political Party

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 9:04 EDT

Very few people bother to vote in primaries. This is true even in contentious presidential elections where there are ton of nominees to choose from, such as the Obama vs. Clinton stand-off in 2008 or the Romney vs. A Cast of Clowns stand-off in 2012. For instance, only 9.4 million people voted in the Republican primary in 2012, out of over 56 million who voted for Romney in the general. For state and local offices, it’s even lower turnout, which means that a handful of determined extremists can basically run the party, especially the Republican party, where the most wild-eyed fanatics just so happen to be the most dedicated voters.

This is how it works, therefore:

    Wild-eyed fanatics who are all hopped up on the latest bizarre theories and paranoias fed to them by Rush Limbaugh and Fox News choose the most right-leaning candidate out of the field. In major primaries—well, only the presidential one anymore—enough cooler heads show up that this may not happen, but on the state and especially local level, good luck to anyone who shows a bit of common sense, if they’re up against someone who can speak pure Wingnut.
    Come the general election, at least in red states, a strong majority of white people automatically vote for the Republican, often with no idea how bad the politician they voted for really is. They vote Republican because being “conservative” is their identity as white people in red states, even if their understanding of that is no deeper than “guns are good and liberals are bad”. If they really thought about it, they probably wouldn’t be supportive of the ending Medicare/privatizing schools agenda that has become mainstream in the Republican party through the primary system, but the fear of becoming one of those hated liberals tends to override policy concerns.
    In some cases, however, certain politicians have been targeted—think Todd Akin—who thought themselves a shoo-in because of this process, but because relentless national attention to their fanatical views, enough reluctant Republicans switched their vote. After all, if you do it just this once—whether it’s voting Democratic or sex with someone outside of your usual gender of preference—it doesn’t mean you have to give up  your identity. While that’s a good lever to pull for Democrats, it also have limited value, for this reason. Every time Democrats run a “look at this woman-hating fanatic!” campaign, they exhaust a number of people who are giving them their one lifetime vote for a Democrat.

I bring this up because Alex Pareene’s article about Rush Limbaugh’s declining audience is exciting news, but it’s also worth contemplating that the decline is slow enough that Limbaugh himself may retire or pass away before his ratings decline below a point of controlling the Republican base. It is true that Limbaugh’s numbers seem small enough:

    The first thing to remember is that no one actually has any clue how many people listen to Limbaugh with any regularity. Limbaugh’s audience certainly sounds massive at 14 million weekly listeners, but that supposedly represents any person who tunes into Limbaugh’s show for any period of time over the course of a week. At any given period in his show, though, an average of three million people are tuned to Limbaugh. That’s not nothing, but it’s close. It wouldn’t crack the top 25 broadcast TV shows. And radio ratings involve even more guesswork and estimation (and spin) than television ratings. Limbaugh said his audience was “20 million” 20 years ago and people have just been repeating that number ever since, but no one actually has any clue.

That’s a group that would have no real power in the United States…unless somehow they managed to gain control over a major political party that had a reliable set of voters who worry that their balls will fall off if they cross the line and vote their conscience instead of their identity. Which they can unfortunately do, because so few people vote in primaries. Fourteen million people is enough to supply all the primary voters you need to control the party twice over. On the state and local level, only a fraction of Limbaugh’s audience is needed to turn his paranoia about “RINOs” into action, voting for the wingnuttiest of the wingnuts. That’s why we have such fun characters in Congress as Michele Bachmann, Louis Gohmert, and Steve King, and why that faction is going to have pull and even, in some cases, complete control for a long ass time.
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XKeyscore: NSA tool collects 'nearly everything a user does on the internet'

• XKeyscore gives 'widest-reaching' collection of online data
• NSA analysts require no prior authorization for searches
• Sweeps up emails, social media activity and browsing history
• NSA's XKeyscore program – read one of the presentations

Glenn Greenwald   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 13.56 BST   
  
tional Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.

The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian's earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.

The files shed light on one of Snowden's most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.

"I, sitting at my desk," said Snowden, could "wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email".

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden's assertion: "He's lying. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do."

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA's "widest reaching" system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet", including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.

Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing "real-time" interception of an individual's internet activity.

Under US law, the NSA is required to obtain an individualized Fisa warrant only if the target of their surveillance is a 'US person', though no such warrant is required for intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets. But XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst.

One training slide illustrates the digital activity constantly being collected by XKeyscore and the analyst's ability to query the databases at any time.

The purpose of XKeyscore is to allow analysts to search the metadata as well as the content of emails and other internet activity, such as browser history, even when there is no known email account (a "selector" in NSA parlance) associated with the individual being targeted.

Analysts can also search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language in which the internet activity was conducted or the type of browser used.

One document notes that this is because "strong selection [search by email address] itself gives us only a very limited capability" because "a large amount of time spent on the web is performing actions that are anonymous."

The NSA documents assert that by 2008, 300 terrorists had been captured using intelligence from XKeyscore.

Analysts are warned that searching the full database for content will yield too many results to sift through. Instead they are advised to use the metadata also stored in the databases to narrow down what to review.

A slide entitled "plug-ins" in a December 2012 document describes the various fields of information that can be searched. It includes "every email address seen in a session by both username and domain", "every phone number seen in a session (eg address book entries or signature block)" and user activity – "the webmail and chat activity to include username, buddylist, machine specific cookies etc".
Email monitoring

In a second Guardian interview in June, Snowden elaborated on his statement about being able to read any individual's email if he had their email address. He said the claim was based in part on the email search capabilities of XKeyscore, which Snowden says he was authorized to use while working as a Booz Allen contractor for the NSA.

One top-secret document describes how the program "searches within bodies of emails, webpages and documents", including the "To, From, CC, BCC lines" and the 'Contact Us' pages on websites".

To search for emails, an analyst using XKS enters the individual's email address into a simple online search form, along with the "justification" for the search and the time period for which the emails are sought.

The analyst then selects which of those returned emails they want to read by opening them in NSA reading software.

The system is similar to the way in which NSA analysts generally can intercept the communications of anyone they select, including, as one NSA document put it, "communications that transit the United States and communications that terminate in the United States".

One document, a top secret 2010 guide describing the training received by NSA analysts for general surveillance under the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, explains that analysts can begin surveillance on anyone by clicking a few simple pull-down menus designed to provide both legal and targeting justifications. Once options on the pull-down menus are selected, their target is marked for electronic surveillance and the analyst is able to review the content of their communications:

Chats, browsing history and other internet activity

Beyond emails, the XKeyscore system allows analysts to monitor a virtually unlimited array of other internet activities, including those within social media.

An NSA tool called DNI Presenter, used to read the content of stored emails, also enables an analyst using XKeyscore to read the content of Facebook chats or private messages.

An analyst can monitor such Facebook chats by entering the Facebook user name and a date range into a simple search screen.

Analysts can search for internet browsing activities using a wide range of information, including search terms entered by the user or the websites viewed.

As one slide indicates, the ability to search HTTP activity by keyword permits the analyst access to what the NSA calls "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet".

The XKeyscore program also allows an analyst to learn the IP addresses of every person who visits any website the analyst specifies.

The quantity of communications accessible through programs such as XKeyscore is staggeringly large. One NSA report from 2007 estimated that there were 850bn "call events" collected and stored in the NSA databases, and close to 150bn internet records. Each day, the document says, 1-2bn records were added.

William Binney, a former NSA mathematician, said last year that the agency had "assembled on the order of 20tn transactions about US citizens with other US citizens", an estimate, he said, that "only was involving phone calls and emails". A 2010 Washington Post article reported that "every day, collection systems at the [NSA] intercept and store 1.7bn emails, phone calls and other type of communications."

The XKeyscore system is continuously collecting so much internet data that it can be stored only for short periods of time. Content remains on the system for only three to five days, while metadata is stored for 30 days. One document explains: "At some sites, the amount of data we receive per day (20+ terabytes) can only be stored for as little as 24 hours."

To solve this problem, the NSA has created a multi-tiered system that allows analysts to store "interesting" content in other databases, such as one named Pinwale which can store material for up to five years.

It is the databases of XKeyscore, one document shows, that now contain the greatest amount of communications data collected by the NSA.


In 2012, there were at least 41 billion total records collected and stored in XKeyscore for a single 30-day period.


Legal v technical restrictions

While the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008 requires an individualized warrant for the targeting of US persons, NSA analysts are permitted to intercept the communications of such individuals without a warrant if they are in contact with one of the NSA's foreign targets.

The ACLU's deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, told the Guardian last month that national security officials expressly said that a primary purpose of the new law was to enable them to collect large amounts of Americans' communications without individualized warrants.

"The government doesn't need to 'target' Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications," said Jaffer. "The government inevitably sweeps up the communications of many Americans" when targeting foreign nationals for surveillance.

In recent years, the NSA has attempted to segregate exclusively domestic US communications in separate databases. But even NSA documents acknowledge that such efforts are imperfect, as even purely domestic communications can travel on foreign systems, and NSA tools are sometimes unable to identify the national origins of communications.

Moreover, all communications between Americans and someone on foreign soil are included in the same databases as foreign-to-foreign communications, making them readily searchable without warrants.

Some searches conducted by NSA analysts are periodically reviewed by their supervisors within the NSA. "It's very rare to be questioned on our searches," Snowden told the Guardian in June, "and even when we are, it's usually along the lines of: 'let's bulk up the justification'."

In a letter this week to senator Ron Wyden, director of national intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that NSA analysts have exceeded even legal limits as interpreted by the NSA in domestic surveillance.

Acknowledging what he called "a number of compliance problems", Clapper attributed them to "human error" or "highly sophisticated technology issues" rather than "bad faith".

However, Wyden said on the Senate floor on Tuesday: "These violations are more serious than those stated by the intelligence community, and are troubling."

In a statement to the Guardian, the NSA said: "NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests.

"XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA's lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system.

"Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true. Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA's analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks … In addition, there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse from occurring."

"Every search by an NSA analyst is fully auditable, to ensure that they are proper and within the law.

"These types of programs allow us to collect the information that enables us to perform our missions successfully – to defend the nation and to protect US and allied troops abroad."

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

White House unable to confirm if Congress briefed on NSA spy program

Spokesman defers questions on top-secret XKeyscore program, saying he was unaware if administration had briefed lawmakers

Paul Lewis in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 20.58 BST   
  

Jay Carney said he could not give an assurance that Congress had been informed about the surveillance capability.

The White House declined to say on Wednesday whether the administration ever briefed the US Congress about a top-secret NSA spy program that, according to documents, allows analysts to to search through huge databases of emails, online chats and the browsing histories without prior authorisation.

The Guardian revealed on Wednesday how the NSA describes in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.

The disclosure, which came from documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, comes as the fallout over US surveillance tactics threatens a deepening problem for the White House.

White House press spokesman Jay Carney said he could not give an assurance that Congress had been informed about the surveillance capability. "I am saying I don't know the answer to that," he said, referring questions to the office of the director of national intelligence.

When pressed, he claimed the Guardian's article contained inaccuracies, adding that "informing people about false claims isn't necessarily what we do".  He did not specify which part of the report the White House believes to be inaccurate.

The two senior members of the House intelligence committee also rowed in behind Carney. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman, and the ranking Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger, condemned the Guardian's disclosures.
"The latest in the parade of classified leaks published today is without context and provides a completely inaccurate picture of the program," they said in a joint statement.

They said XKeyscore was "simply a tool used by our intelligence analysts to better understand foreign intelligence".

At a heated Senate judiciary committee hearing on Wednesday, members the questioned the truthfulness of the US intelligence community,

Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, said: "We need straightforward answers, and I'm concerned we're not getting them."

Leahy, joined by ranking Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, criticised director of national intelligence James Clapper for making untruthful statements to Congress in March about the bulk phone records collection on Americans, and NSA director Keith Alexander for overstating the usefulness of that collection for stopping terrorist attacks.

Grassley called a recent apology to senator Ron Wyden and the intelligence community "especially disturbing".

"Nothing can excuse this kind of behavior from a senior administration official," Grassley said. "Especially on a matter of such importance."

Earlier in the day, under growing pressure to be more open about its surveillance techniques, the US administration voluntarily declassified a number of previously classified documents about the bulk collection of phone records.

They may not be the last classified documents to be released to the public. Carney said Barack Obama had encouraged senior national security officials to "look at programs and see where we can be as transparent as possible".

However, in a testy exchange, he was unable to say whether any members of Congress had been informed about XKeyscore or its capabilities.

According to training materials, XKeyscore allows NSA analysts to mine agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

Asked about whether Congress had been briefed about the program, Carney did not answer, instead repeating the NSA's formal response. "As we've explained, and the intelligence community has explained, allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are false," he said.

"Access to all of NSA's analytic tools is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks. There are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent those who don't have access from achieving that access."

Pressed on whether lawmakers had been informed about XKeyscore, Carney replied: "Well the question was front-loaded with assertions that I had an answer to."

Asked again whether Congress had been informed, Carney referred the question to the office of the director of national intelligence. However he eventually conceded that he did not know whether lawmakers were made aware of the program.

Previously, the White House said the fact it briefed some members of Congress on the NSA's surveillance programs, such as its bulk collection of phone data, justified the spy agency's work, because lawmakers knowingly authorised its activities.

Some members of Congress have disputed this assertion, saying they never knew how surveillance legislation was being interpreted.


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

NSA director Keith Alexander insists mass surveillance programs respect privacy

By Rory Carroll, The Guardian
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 17:38 EDT

The director of the National Security Agency has tried to dampen the current outcry over US government surveillance programmes by insisting such programmes respect Americans’ privacy. He also said that he is unable to intercept his own daughters’ emails.

General Keith Alexander told a conference of hackers on Wednesday that extensive surveillance had disrupted dozens of terrorist attacks but that technical and policy restrictions protected the privacy of ordinary Americans.

“The assumption is our people are just out there wheeling and dealing. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have tremendous oversight over these programmes. We can audit the actions of our people 100%, and we do that,” he said.

Addressing the Black Hat convention in Las Vegas, an annual gathering for the information security industry, he gave a personal example: “I have four daughters. Can I go and intercept their emails? No. The technical limitations are in there.” Should anyone in the NSA try to circumvent that, in defiance of policy, they would be held accountable, he said: “There is 100% audibility.” Only 35 NSA analysts had the authority to query a database of US phone records, he said.

General Alexander rejected suggestions that his staff could monitor all US internet traffic and phone calls. “The fact is, they don’t,” he said.

The four-star army general, who in addition to the NSA heads the Central Security Service and US Cyber Command, was responding to mounting concern over alleged civil rights violations by post-9/11 intelligence gathering networks. That pressure mounted on Wednesday when the Guardian published details of a programme called Xkeyscore, which allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.

In Washington, the bipartisan leaders of a powerful Senate committee questioned the truthfulness of the US intelligence community in a heated hearing as officials contradicted previous statements to Congress about the controversial collection of the phone records of millions of Americans.

Alexander, who is usually shy of publicity, attempted to win over the 7,000-strong gathering of industry professionals in Las Vegas as part of a charm offensive to contain the damage and deter Washington from curbing the programmes.

“Our job is defending this country, saving lives, supporting our troops in combat,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to provide the information that they need to survive [and] to go after the enemy.”

The intelligence community had failed to “connect the dots” to prevent the 11 September 2001 attacks, as well as earlier attacks on New York, US embassies in Africa and the USS Cole, he said.

Terrorists driven by a desire to “create a caliphate” of sharia law in the middle east continued to plot attacks. “Terrorists live among us,” he said. Expanded and improved intelligence gathering, however, had thwarted 54 terror-related activities, including 13 in the US. Of those 54 activities, 42 were terror plots, he said.

He credited the collection of US phone records’ metadata and the interception of the content of foreign communications, saying both programmes helped disrupt a 2009 plot to bomb the New York City subway which would have been the worst attack since 9/11.

General Alexander said NSA operatives worked under strict controls, including oversight by Congress, the executive and judges on the Fisa court, which he said was a tough watchdog: “I can tell you from the wire-brushings that I’ve received that it is not a rubberstamp.”

He also rejected reports of unauthorised, massive snooping. “What comes out is that we’re collecting everything. That is not true,” he said. The NSA did not sweep up all emails. “That’s wrong, we don’t. And if we did, we would be held accountable.” He did not mention Xkeyscore.

Without naming the whistleblower Edward Snowden, or media outlets which have published Snowden’s leaks, the general said the recent revelations would benefit terrorists. “The damage to our country is significant and irreversible.” He did not elaborate.

Alexander’s foray from the beltway to address hackers at Caesar’s Palace had been compared to entering the lion’s den. Cyber professionals have a sometimes tense relationship with Washington and have been unnerved by the Snowden revelations and the possible impact on their multi-billion dollar industry. Organisers said they had never sensed this level of tension or apprehension in 16 years of Black Hat. Security guards confiscated eggs – presumably intended to be thrown – minutes before the NSA chief spoke.

A few hecklers interrupted, accusing him of “lying”, “bullshitting” and not reading the constitution. “I have read it. So should you,” he shot back, earning laughs and applause.

In uniform, General Alexander spoke calmly and sprinkled a few jokes and personal references into his speech, including the fact he has 15 grandchildren. He praised the audience and invited them to help improve NSA. “You are the greatest gathering of technical talent anywhere in the world … I want you to help us make it better.” The performance won over the hackers, who applauded warmly at the end.

Alexander, 61, has amassed vast powers since 9/11 by arguing that the US needs to aggressively defend against digital attack. In addition to the NSA, the Central Security Service (which coordinates eavesdropping between the armed services) and US Cyber Command, which was set up under the Obama administration to deter cyber-attacks, he also commands the navy’s 10th fleet, the 24th Air Force and the Second Army.

A Wired profile said Alexander inspired within the government a mix of respect and fear not seen since FBI director J Edgar Hoover. Nicknames include Emperor Alexander, for his ability to expand bureaucratic fiefdoms, and Alexander the Geek, for his longstanding interest in electronics and computers. The walls of his headquarters inside Fort Meade in Maryland are reportedly wrapped in protective copper shielding, to block giveaway electromagnetic signals.

The Pentagon is enduring deep cuts but Alexander persuaded it in April to seek $4.7bn – a $1bn increase – in the 2014 budget for cyber-operations. That could be imperilled by eroding public and political support following Snowden’s leaks.

A Pew Research Center survey found that 47% of Americans worry that anti-terrorism surveillance programmes go too far and endanger civil liberties, against 35% who worry they don’t go far enough. In 2010 only a third thought such programmes went too far.

A congressional alliance of libertarians on the right and civil rights advocates on the left came within a whisker – seven votes – of passing an amendment to curb bulk collection of phone records.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

***********

Snowden leaves Moscow airport, gets refugee status in Russia

By Reuters
Thursday, August 1, 2013 7:54 EDT

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Thursday after Russia granted him refugee status, ending more than a month in limbo in the transit area.

A lawyer who has been assisting Snowden said the young American, who is wanted in the United States for leaking details of secret government intelligence programs, had left the airport for a secure location which would remain secret.

“Edward Snowden has successfully acquired refugee status in Russia,” the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, which is also assisting Snowden, confirmed on Twitter.

His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told state television: “I have just seen him off. He has left for a secure location … Security is a very serious matter for him.”

Snowden, 30, arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23. He had hoped to fly to Latin America, where three countries have offered to shelter him, but was concerned that the United States would prevent him reaching his destination.

Snowden’s case has caused new strains in relations between Russia and the United States which wants him extradited to face espionage charges.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, writing by Timothy Heritage,; editing by Elizabeth Piper)
Word Count: 196


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« Reply #7863 on: Aug 01, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Pig Putin's Russia....

Russian official: Anti-LGBT laws will apply to Olympic athletes and guests

By David Ferguson
RawStory
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 11:30 EDT

An official from St. Petersburg, Russia has declared that the country’s new anti-LGBT laws will apply to guests and athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In an interview with The Echo of Moscow radio, Vitaly Milanov, author of the St. Petersburg “anti-LGBT propaganda law,” said that he has no reason to suspect that guests and athletes will be granted exceptions under the rule. He also went on to vouch for the sterling heterosexual credentials of the men of Russia’s figure skating team.

While the International Olympic Committee said in a statement on Friday, “The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games,” Milonov said that he didn’t know where the person making the statement got the authority to flout national law. Nor, he said, should athletes expect to be able to openly express their sexuality if it deviates from what Russia has deemed to be the “traditional,” i.e., heterosexual model.

Milanov told the Echo (via Google Translate) that the anti-LGBT law “applies to the whole of the Russian federation” and that even “(i)f you run well,” he said, “it does not mean that you can seduce children.”

When the Echo correspondent asked Milanov about the possibility of LGBT tourists at the games, he replied, “Are we saying that some people can seduce children and some can not? I think that no one should seduce children. Therefore, the law can not be overruled by government decree. Federal law applies to the whole territory of the Russian Federation, and nobody has the right to suspend it.”

Milanov went on to say that while the government may say it’s fine for LGBT athletes to compete, “It will not be so fine.” Only if the athlete is “normal,” he said, should they be allowed to participate in the Olympic games. LGBT athletes, he said, are not strong because their orientation excuses their weakness. “I am running bad,” he claimed the athletes will say, “because I am not a man and not a woman.”

The Echo interviewer pointed out that there are many openly gay champion male figure skaters, to which Milanov replied, “You know, I can tell you that the best figure skating is the Soviet school of figure skating. We have a completely traditional team. I am personally acquainted with many Olympic champions. Not only that, I actually grew up among these families. And I can say that this is not the case. Russian figure skaters are perfectly normal people, interesting, traditional people with large families.”

As part of its statement on Friday, the IOC said, “The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardise this principle.”


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« Reply #7864 on: Aug 01, 2013, 06:42 AM »


The Economist explains

How did Estonia become a leader in technology?

Jul 30th 2013, 23:50 by A.A.K. | MUMBAI

WHEN Estonia regained its independence in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, less than half its population had a telephone line and its only independent link to the outside world was a Finnish mobile phone concealed in the foreign minister's garden. Two decades later, it is a world leader in technology. Estonian geeks developed the code behind Skype, Hotmail and Kazaa (an early file-sharing network). In 2007 it became the first country to allow online voting in a general election. It has among the world’s zippiest broadband speeds and holds the record for start-ups per person. Its 1.3m citizens pay for parking spaces with their mobile phones and have their health records stored in the digital cloud. Filing an annual tax return online, as 95% of Estonians do, takes about five minutes. How did the smallest Baltic state develop such a strong tech culture?

The foundation was laid in 1992 when Mart Laar, Estonia’s prime minister at the time, defibrillated the flat-lining economy. In less than two years his young government (average age: 35) gave Estonia a flat income-tax, free trade, sound money and privatisation. New businesses could be registered smoothly and without delays, an important spur for geeks lying in wait. Feeble infrastructure, a legacy of the Soviet era, meant that the political class began with a clean sheet. When Finland decided to upgrade to digital phone connections, it offered its archaic 1970s analogue telephone-exchange to Estonia for free. Estonia declined the proposal and built a digital system of its own. Similarly, the country went from having no land registry to creating a paperless one. “We just skipped certain things…Mosaic [the first popular web browser] had just come out and everyone was on a level playing field,” recalls Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president. Not saddled with legacy technology, the country's young ministers put their faith in the internet.

A nationwide project to equip classrooms with computers followed and by 1998 all schools were online. In 2000, when the government declared internet access to be a human right, the web spread into the boondocks. Free Wi-Fi became commonplace. Rubber stamps, carbon paper and long queues gave way to “e-government”. The private sector followed: the sale of Skype to eBay in 2005, for $2.6 billion, created a new class of Estonian investors, who made tens of millions of euros from their shareholdings—and have been putting their experience, and their windfalls, to good use. Today Tehnopol, a business hub in Tallinn, the perky capital, houses more than 150 tech companies. Given the country’s tiny domestic market, start-ups have been forced to think global, says Taavet Hinrikus, Skype’s first employee and co-founder of TransferWise, a peer-to-peer money-transfer service whose customers are spread across Europe and America. According to the World Bank, over 14,000 new companies registered in Estonia in 2011, 40% more than during the same period in 2008. High-tech industries now account for about 15% of GDP.

How can other countries—that lack Estonia's small size and its clean sheet—follow its example? “It’s sort of obnoxious to say, ‘Do what we did’,” says Mr Ilves. But he submits that Estonia’s success is not so much about ditching legacy technology as it is about shedding “legacy thinking”. Replicating a paper-based tax-filing procedure on a computer, for instance, is no good; having such forms pre-filled so that the taxpayer has only to check the calculations has made the system a success. Education is important, too: last year, in a public-private partnership, a programme called ProgeTiiger (“Programming Tiger”) was announced, to teach five-year-olds the basics of coding. “In the 80s every boy in high-school wanted to be a rock star,” says Mr Hinrikus. “Now everybody in high-school wants to be an entrepreneur.”

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« Reply #7865 on: Aug 01, 2013, 06:53 AM »


Spain PM denies taking illegal funds but admits handling scandal badly

After months of evasion, Mariano Rajoy tells parliament that his mistake was in supporting his party's jailed ex-treasurer

John Hooper, southern Europe editor
theguardian.com, Thursday 1 August 2013 13.04 BST   

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, struggled on Thursday to disentangle himself from the tentacles of the funding scandal that has pinned him down since the start of the year by admitting he had handled it badly.

He said his mistake was to have been duped into trusting – and supporting – his party's jailed former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas. He flatly denied that he or other leaders of his conservative People's party (PP) had received illegal payments.

Bárcenas, who faces trial for bribery, tax evasion and other offences, has told a judge he accepted millions in cash donations from construction firms, some of which he passed on to senior PP officials, including Rajoy, in the form of bonuses.

The prime minister's confession – though of ingenuousness, rather than dishonesty – represented a dramatic change of approach after months of evasion. But forced before parliament by the threat of a motion of censure, he claimed that supporting Bárcenas at an early stage of the scandal was his "entire role in the story". He said: "I made the mistake of continuing to trust someone whom we now know did not deserve it."

Sweeping aside the prime minister's version, the Socialist leader, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba read out to him some of the text messages he had exchanged with the PP's former treasurer: "I shall always be there", "Luis, we are doing what we can" and "Luis, be strong".

Those, he said, were not the exchanges "of a prime minister with a criminal" (the word Rajoy had used to describe Bárcenas). They were those of "a confederate with someone who can put him in a tight spot".

Rajoy's surprise admission of mistakes will inevitably raise doubts about his judgment on other issues. But, perhaps more seriously for his political future, it makes him a hostage to whatever details have yet to come out.

Bárcenas has shown himself a master of media manipulation, carefully timing the leak of compromising evidence. There is a widespread belief that he has yet to make his most damaging allegations.

The prime minister tried to bolster his position by pointing to signs of recovery in the economy, notably a drop in unemployment in the second quarter. In an attempt to put opposition deputies on the defensive, he claimed that their concentration on the PP funding scandal was damaging the country's reputation abroad and thus its chances of emerging from a two-year recession.

Dismissing the Socialists' censure motion threat as "puerile", Rajoy said: "I came [to parliament] to halt the erosion of Spain's image."

The prime minister said he had always declared his full income to the tax authorities and that all the PP's payments to its employees – including bonuses – were noted in its accounts. It was up to individual officials of the party to declare their earnings.

Rajoy said his government had introduced several measures to tackle corruption. And he promised that next month he would present what he called a national plan for democratic regeneration.

It emerged in January that Bárcenas had hidden up to €48m (£41m) in Swiss bank accounts. He left his post in 2009, but the PP continued to provide him with financial support.

In his reply, Rubalcaba stressed the length of Bárcenas's involvement with the PP. It was impossible to believe that Rajoy, who has been the leader of the party since 2004 and a member of its executive since 1989, "knew nothing of the illegal funding of the PP for 20 years", he said.

The PP has been fending off claims of undisclosed donations since 2009. But it was not until this year that Rajoy was personally tainted.

In January, the newspaper El País published documents purporting to show the PP's accounting over the 10 years to 2009. Among other things, they indicated that Rajoy had received salary top-ups from Bárcenas.


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« Reply #7866 on: Aug 01, 2013, 06:56 AM »


IMF finds $11bn black hole in Greek finances and warns of new write-off

Recession continues in Greece as unemployment hits 27%, but flickering growth returns elsewhere in EU

Larry Elliott   
The Guardian, Wednesday 31 July 2013 18.03 BST   

The International Monetary Fund warned the eurozone yesterday that it may be forced to write off a chunk of Greece's debt after identifying an $11bn black hole in the finances of the recession-stricken country.

In its regular update on the programme of financial austerity and structural change agreed to by Athens in return for financial help, the Washington-based IMF said weak growth and a sluggish pace of reform had opened up a funding gap in both 2014 and 2015.

The IMF, which is struggling to persuade developing countries to back Greece's bailout, said "debt sustainability" continued to be a risk.

The commitment of Greece's European partners to provide relief as needed to keep debt on the programmed path remains, therefore, a critical part of the programme.

"But the programmed path entails still very high debt well into the next decade, leaving Greece accident-prone for an extended period. Should debt-sustainability concerns prove to be weighing on investor sentiments even with the framework for debt relief now in place, European partners should consider providing relief that would entail a faster reduction in debt than currently programmed."

On a day when 11 Latin American countries led by Brazil announced that they had failed to support handing the latest tranche of bailout funds to Greece, the IMF estimated the funding gap for the country that sparked the eurozone debt crisis in 2010 would be $4.4bn in 2014 rising to $6.5bn in 2015

"Greece has made important progress in rectifying pre-crisis imbalances" the Fund said, noting that the country was on the cusp of balancing its books once debt interest payments were excluded and that the trade deficit had also come down sharply.

But it stressed that the adjustment had been caused mainly by recession rather than by an improvement in productivity caused by structural reforms. "The ongoing correction of imbalances has come at a very high cost. The economy is in the sixth year of recession. Output has fallen by nearly 25% since its peak in 2007. The unemployment rate is about 27%, and youth unemployment exceeds 57%.

"To avoid further across-the-board cuts in wages and pensions, and to ensure that the recession gradually bottoms out and gives way to a steady recovery in 2014, it is essential that structural reforms gain much stronger support and momentum."

In the eurozone as a whole, tentative optimism that the recession is finally receding was supported by the first fall in unemployment in more than two years in June. After rising by almost 3.75m to more than 19m since the spring of 2011, the EU's statistical agency Eurostat said the jobless total reduced by 24,000.

While the unemployment rate remained steady at 12.1%, the figures showed wide variations in joblessness. The unemployment rate held steady in Germany, rose slightly in France, the Netherlands and Belgium and came down to 26.3 % in Spain and 12.1% in Italy.

Howard Archer, European economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "June's dip in unemployment is likely a reflection of recent increased signs that eurozone economic activity has stabilised, and it fuels hopes that the eurozone can eke out marginal growth over the second half of 2013."


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« Reply #7867 on: Aug 01, 2013, 07:00 AM »

National archives: Whitehall prepared Queen's speech for third world war

Queen's address to the nation on likelihood of nuclear strikes drawn up following bellicose rhetoric from Soviet Union

Robert Booth and Alan Travis   
The Guardian, Thursday 1 August 2013   

It is the Queen's speech that nobody ever wants to hear. In 1983 senior civil servants drafted a message they envisaged the monarch might have to deliver to the nation on the eve of all-out nuclear war with Russia.

The message, rousing and bleak in equal measure, was prepared during a secret Whitehall exercise designed to test Britain's reaction to international developments that tilted the world to the brink of a third world war. In it, the Queen would describe the "madness of war" and "the deadly power of abused technology" and call on Britain to summon the spirit of two world wars in its battle to survive.

The extraordinary speech forms part of a chilling 320-page war games scenario – codenamed Wintex-Cimex 83 – which was drawn up by top intelligence, defence and Home Office staff. It is revealed in a cache of secret documents released on Thursday by the National Archives, which evokes the shadow of nuclear armageddon that hung over Britain 30 years ago.

The address begins by recalling her last broadcast, when "the horrors of war could not have seemed more remote as my family and I shared our Christmas joy".

She continues: "Our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds. I have never forgotten the sorrow and pride I felt as my sister and I huddled around the nursery wireless set listening to my father's inspiring words on that fateful day in 1939. Not for a single moment did I imagine that this solemn and awful duty would one day fall to me."

Prince Andrew, then a helicopter pilot with HMS Invincible, is, the Queen explains, already in action and "it is this close bond of family life that must be our greatest defence against the unknown".

Other files show the government rowed with the British Medical Association's over its estimate that Britain would suffer 33 million casualties in a nuclear attack, with more than 1 million dying from the blasts in London alone. A top-secret top secret briefing for whichever leader won the 1983 general election explained howthe Cobra room in Downing Street was equipped with facilities to trigger the launch of nuclear missiles, and advises the incoming prime minister that if a Soviet strike looms she or he should disperse ministers around the country to form "embryo governments" to take control if London is destroyed and the prime minister killed.

The briefing adds that the doctrine of "no first use of nuclear weapons" – one that was not accepted by Nato – was known as NOFUN.

The potential Queen's speech was written as in real life the UK ambassador to Moscow warned that the warlike rhetoric of Yuri Andropov, general secretary of the Soviet Communist party, had become "profoundly disturbing". Against this backdrop, the war planners produced a scenario in which a bellicose new USSR leadership had taken control and launched attacks on West Germany, Scandinavia, Italy and Turkey. Chemical and nuclear strikes would be next.

The scenario imagined half a million people heading for the hills of Wales and the West Country to escape bombings in which thousands had already died. Violent anti-war protests convulsed London and military bases in Scotland, while alcohol sales across the country rocketed and hospital medicine stores were looted.

Defence chiefs had concluded that Nato would have to launch a nuclear strike first or face defeat by the overwhelming force of the USSR, codenamed Orange. "The enemy is not the soldier with his rifle nor even the airman prowling the skies above our cities and towns but the deadly power of abused technology," the Queen continued in her address. "But whatever terrors lie in wait for us all the qualities that have helped to keep our freedom intact twice already during this sad century will once more be our strength."

She signs off: "As we strive together to fight off this new evil, let us pray for our country and men of goodwill wherever they may be. God bless you all."

As the imagined war unravels, the officials realise they may have made some serious strategic errors, not least in possessing large numbers of short-range nuclear weapons that, if used on the battlefield, would leave Nato worse off than the enemy. The scenario concludes with escalating chaos in the west and Nato taking the "solemn decision" to launch the first nuclear weapons against eastern bloc countries to "remind" Moscow that Nato will continue to resist.

There is panic, particularly in Scotland, where civilians expect a retaliatory nuclear strike, but the exercise ends on a bleakly hopeful note with Orange, its allies devastated by Nato nuclear attacks, offering to open peace negotiations. The Queen's address signs off: "As we strive together to fight off this new evil, let us pray for our country and men of goodwill wherever they may be. God bless you all."

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

National archives: Reagan blindsided Thatcher over 1983 Grenada invasion

Thatcher told Reagan she was deeply disturbed by US plan for intervention, only to be informed marines were ready to strike

Robert Booth   
The Guardian, Thursday 1 August 2013   

Ronald Reagan blindsided Margaret Thatcher over the US invasion of the Commonwealth island of Grenada in 1983, giving her less than 12 hours' notice of the attack, Downing Street papers reveal.

The supposedly close cold war alliance between the two leaders was plunged into acrimony when the US president informed Downing Street of the invasion plan at 11pm the night before a force of 1,900 marines attacked the island, which had been taken over in a military coup led by Cuban-linked Marxists in October 1983.

Thatcher responded in the strongest language, telling Reagan in a late-night cable she was "deeply disturbed". Her foreign secretary, Geoffrey Howe, later said the episode was a "humiliation" that caused Thatcher "intense embarrassment".

The extraordinary tension between Reagan and Thatcher is set out in Downing Street files released under the 30-year rule. They reveal a flurry of late-night communications in which the leaders clashed bitterly over the response to the bloody military coup that had rocked Washington. Reagan feared the island would become a Soviet outpost in America's back yard and he complained of the construction of an airstrip, "which looked suspiciously suitable for military aircraft, including Soviet-built long-range bombers".

The dispute over US interventionism was not confined to the Caribbean. Thatcher also clashed with Reagan over his plans for a military strike against Lebanon following the 23 October truck bombing of a US marine barracks in Beirut, files show. She told him she was "frankly apprehensive about the retaliatory action you propose". Reagan backed down on that occasion, but did not do so in Grenada.

Maurice Bishop, the prime minister of the Caribbean island, had been killed along with five associates, and power seized by a military revolutionary council.

While America feared a Soviet advance in the region, British intelligence considered the coup "a severe setback to the revolutionary cause in the Caribbean", files show. On the eve of attack Thatcher wrote a note saying there was "no reason to think that military intervention is likely to take place". Her view was reinforced by Howe, who made a statement on Grenada to the Commons that made no mention of the imminent invasion, the first of its kind by America on a former British colony and a monarchy.

Reagan caught Thatcher so unawares that she had no chance to send the friendly "Dear Ron" response drafted after Reagan said he was giving "serious consideration" to an invasion. Before she could send it down the hotline, Reagan cabled again – just four hours later – to say the invasion was on. The surprise was made worse by the fact that Thatcher had been dining with the US ambassador that evening.

"I must tell you that the decision which you describe causes us the gravest concern," she finally told him. "I cannot conceal that I am deeply disturbed by your latest communication. You asked for my advice. I have set it out and hope that even at this late stage you will take it into account before events are irrevocable."

By now it was after midnight and a few minutes after Thatcher sent her note she spoke to Reagan by secure telephone line and urged him to consider her arguments very carefully. Reagan "undertook to do so but said: "We are already at zero," according to a memo from Thatcher's private secretary, John Coles. In other words, the US troops were ready to strike.

Reagan replied that the US was "increasingly concerned by Grenada's recent drift into the Soviet bloc … It is clear that Grenada has now been taken over by a group of leftist thugs who would likely align themselves with Cuba and the Soviet Union to an even greater degree than did the previous government."

Reagan's response was signed off with "warmest regards", but the US disregard for British concern was politically embarrassing for Downing Street.

The next day, as US helicopters and troop carriers descended on the island, Howe had to explain to parliament how Downing Street was blindsided, saying of the Americans: "We were given no indication that they favoured encouraging or joining in any military intervention."

The dispute rumbled on, and two weeks later, Thatcher met the US deputy secretary of state, Kenneth Dam. The Americans "expressed regret about the lack of any adequate consultation but did not accept they were wrong to take action", according to a note of the meeting. "The subsequent fracas has left bruises on both sides," the memo said.



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« Reply #7868 on: Aug 01, 2013, 07:03 AM »


Sweden's 'Hannibal Lecter' cleared of all charges

Sture Bergwall speaks of his relief as allegations of murder and cannibalism are overturned after he withdraws confessions

David Crouch in Gothenburg
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 19.44 BST   

It is a story worthy of Sweden's finest crime writers. A serial killer who cuts up and eats more than 30 people in the country's worst murder spree, earning a reputation as the country's very own Hannibal Lecter.

Under interrogation by police investigators a suspect confesses to the crimes, saying he maimed and raped his victims and ate their remains. The youngest victims was a nine-year-old girl whose body was never found.

In a series of trials starting in 1994, the killer is convicted of eight murders and locked up indefinitely in an institution for the criminally insane.

But two decades later it emerged that the man, Sture Bergwall, was not a murderer after all. Rather he made up his confessions after being drugged by incompetent investigators only too eager to close their cases.

On Wednesday the last of those murder convictions was overturned when Bergwall was acquitted of the murder and dismemberment of a schoolboy 37 years ago.

"That a person has been convicted of eight murders and later been declared innocent, that is unique in Swedish legal history," prosecutor general Anders Perklev said after the acquittal. "It must be judged as a failure for the justice system."

There had been no forensic or other evidence against Bergwall, his conviction relying solely on his confession, Perklev said. The confession, it emerged after years of painstaking work by investigative journalists, was coaxed out of Bergwall – then calling himself Thomas Quick – while he was in a psychiatric hospital and taking enormous quantities of benzodiazepines.

Justice minister Beatrice Ask immediately announced a full review. "This is basically about seeing how it could go so wrong," she told Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet. Bergwall's lawyer, Thomas Olsson, said: "It is a big scandal and a failure of the system, but also a victory: the Swedish legal system has shown it has the strength and integrity to admit its mistakes and correct them."

In a further breakthrough for Bergwall earlier this week, a court granted his request for an independent assessment of his mental state. He could be free in two to four months, Olsson said.

In the meantime Bergwall will remain in Säter psychiatric hospital, his home for the past 22 years. He has been free from medication since 2002, Olsson said.

Björn Asplund's 11-year-old son, Johan, disappeared in 1980. Bergwall later claimed to have raped, strangled and dismembered him. "This is what we have struggled with ever since the first day Thomas Quick entered the scene – I never believed he was responsible for my boy's death or any of the murders," Asplund said on Wednesday.

"The real killers are roaming free in our society because of the travelling circus surrounding Thomas Quick."

Johan disappeared so long ago that the statute of limitations on his case has expired, so there will be no new investigation and no prospect of a conviction.

"No one will ever go to court for the death of my son, but I want to see the justice minister or the prime minister step forward and apologise to all the relatives of victims who have suffered so long and been so badly treated by the Swedish justice system," Asplund said.

Journalist Jenny Küttim worked for three years with the late documentary maker Hannes Råstam to expose the miscarriage of justice. While delighted at the verdict, which fully vindicates Råstam's work, she is also bitter.

"It means that you can get away with anything because nobody will be held responsible, and that's terrible," Küttim said, calling for an independent review to scrutinise the psychiatric ward where Bergwall was held, the police, and the prosecutors involved in the murder investigations.

"Otherwise we can never learn from the history of this crime."

Now 63, Bergwall wrote on his blog that it was "a day of joy and a day of reflection". He has retracted all his confessions.

**********

Sture Bergwall: the day I came face to face with Sweden's Hannibal Lecter

Elizabeth Day remembers the benign, pale man who, as Thomas Quick, was victim of Sweden's worst miscarriage of justice

Elizabeth Day   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 18.13 BST   

It's not every day you meet Sweden's answer to Hannibal Lecter. But, in October 2012, I found myself doing just that when I became the first British journalist to interview Thomas Quick, the Scandinavian serial killer who never was.

As I approached the forbidding exterior of Säter psyhiatric hospital, I had no idea what awaited me on the other side of the thick, barred windows. All I had been told about Thomas Quick (real name: Sture Bergwall) was that he liked pastries. On the long drive from Stockholm, the photographer Andy Hall and I stocked up on supplies from a local service station. I think we both felt they were a kind of sacrificial offering: a way of pacifying the beast.

But when we were led through the automatically-locking doors and airport-style security gate, what we found was a benign-looking man in his 60s wearing a navy jumper, sandals with socks and a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. He looked like a harmless geography teacher approaching retirement. He had a packet of chewing tobacco on the table in front of him and would slip a pouch under his top lip at a quite point in conversation. He had noticeably pale, unlined skin – the result, I imagined, of prolonged incarceration.

In person, he was a willing interviewee and happy to answer any question I put to him. What I found strange about him was the absence of any defining feature. I still couldn't tell you what kind of man he is, beyond being an obviously troubled one.

He had a knack for reflecting back what you most wanted to hear (his fake confessions had been made because he craved the attention) and although he expressed remorse over what he'd done, I wasn't convinced he actually felt it.

This wasn't out of any great malice on his part – it was more that he was in a state of delayed shock over what had happened. He had been out of his mind on benzodiazepines for the best part of 10 years and was still only just emerging from the narcotic fog. A man who has been imprisoned for much of his adult life is probably in a state of suspended development.

Now that Bergwall has been acquitted of all charges, the Thomas Quick affair surely stands one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in modern times. It was the Swedish journalist Hannes Rastam who first exposed the story. Sadly, he is not alive to witness Bergwalls' final acquittals: Rastam died of cancer of the liver and pancreas in January 2012.

It will be interesting to see how Bergwall copes with life on the outside. He has siblings who have offered to care for him and told me he wanted to pursue a quiet life somewhere no-one recognises him. When I asked him what he would do if he was acquitted, he smiled and replied: "I'll walk out of the door and just keep walking."



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« Reply #7869 on: Aug 01, 2013, 07:08 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
08/01/2013 01:25 PM

Russian Avant-Garde Art: Police Break Up Suspected Forgery Ring

By Sven Röbel and Andreas Wassermann

The collapse of the Soviet Union flooded the art market with works of often uncertain provenance. German and Israeli police now believe they have broken up a "cartel" suspected of selling hundreds of Russian avant-garde forgeries worth tens of millions.

Dusk was falling over the foothills of the Ural Mountains as art lovers from Perm, 1,150 kilometers (700 miles) east of Moscow, witnessed a minor sensation. On this evening in May 2005, the state-run art gallery on Komsomolskiy Prospekt presented a series of spectacular Russian avant-garde masterpieces that had unexpectedly re-emerged from the dim recesses of history. Among these works were a composition by El Lissitzky, a "Portrait of a Woman in Blue" by Aristarkh Lentulov and a painting by Kazimir Malevich that had been unknown until then even within the art world.

This extravagant exhibition came from the private collection of a mysterious businessman named Edik Natanov, an art lover who attended the show's opening in a dark suit and black T-shirt, presenting his motivations as altruistic. "I wanted to show people something they had never seen before," Natanov told a television crew, smiling modestly.

Perm's art enthusiasts didn't get to see the jewel of Natanov's collection, though. "K19," an avant-garde effusion of color bearing Wassily Kandinsky's well-preserved signature, was at an auction house in Milan at that moment, where it was up for sale for several million euros.

In this oil painting, dated 1919, respected Moscow art professor Valery Turchin believed he recognized not only Kandinsky's complex visual language, but also the "erratic glow of spiritualized matter." Additionally, Turchin wrote in an exhibition catalogue, the work contained unmistakable religious references to the apocalypse and the Last Judgment.

The secular justice system, however, was not quite so effusive in its praise of the supposed masterpiece. In fact, a Milan criminal court ruled earlier this year that "K19" was nothing but a forgery. Working on behalf of the Italian court, appraisers had determined that the purported Kandinsky could "hardly" have been painted in 1919 and must have originated decades after the artist's death, in 1944. In fact, they found that some of the paint on the canvas was "not even completely dry."

'Rediscovered'

Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), headquartered in Wiesbaden, has taken an interest in the case as well. BKA investigators believe that two of Natanov's long-standing business partners, who sought to sell the purported Kandinsky painting in Italy, are the "marketing directors" of a cartel that, in their view, has flooded the art market with forged works of Russian avant-garde artists. According to the BKA, this group "operates internationally" and has sold at least 400 paintings, each for "four- to seven-figure euro sums" and generally to private collectors. The total profits from such activities -- if the BKA's suspicions prove true -- reach at least into the double-digit millions.

This places the art world at the cusp of a new forgery scandal sure to overshadow all previous ones. In the past, forgers tended to focus primarily on the oeuvre of individual artists. Wolfgang Beltracchi, for example, hoodwinked the art world with works in the style of Max Ernst and Heinrich Campendonk, while a would-be German "count" put several hundred Giacometti forgeries into circulation.

But now an entire epoch -- the Russian avant-garde -- has become suspect. The market is flooded with works from the first decades of the 20th century that are said to have been newly discovered. But few can prove their provenance beyond a doubt.

There are historical reasons for this chaos. After the 1917 October Revolution, Soviet museums acquired avant-garde works en masse. Some painters, including Malevich, even made copies of their own works to meet the production goals of Lenin's massive state. Then, under Joseph Stalin, the only works of art that counted were eye-catching, monumental pieces in the Socialist realist style, while the abstract work of avant-garde artists was denounced as "decadent and bourgeois."

The flourishing trade in Russian avant-garde art didn't take off in a big way until the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the "rediscovered" paintings often had thrilling stories to back them up. Some came from secret government warehouses, one hears, while others were carefully hidden family possessions.

Operation Malefiz

While investigating suspected money laundering, agents of Lahav 433, a new law-enforcement organization known as the "Israeli FBI," stumbled upon this scene more or less by chance. They discovered that some of their suspects were apparently also dealing in art forgeries. When they discovered a gallery in the western German city of Wiesbaden that they suspected of crooked dealings, they brought their counterparts at Germany's BKA into the investigation.

In a covert operation, German and Israeli police monitored telephone conversations and email correspondence while tracing shady cash flows around the globe. In June, the investigators finally struck in a concerted action under the code name "Malefiz" (the name of a German board game, but also an obsolete word for a crime or misdeed). They searched apartments, galleries and offices in both Israel and Germany, froze Swiss bank accounts and confiscated hundreds of works of art.

In a single furniture store in Wiesbaden, BKA agents discovered nearly 1,000 suspicious paintings, drawings and watercolors that were apparently being stored for future sale. The storeroom was not climate controlled and lacked any special security system -- hardly a way to store goods worth millions.

The raid led to the arrest of two art dealers, Itzhak Z., 67, and Moez Ben H., 41, identified in this way due to German privacy laws. According to the files on their case, the two are strongly suspected of "fraudulently selling for profit forged Russian avant-garde works of art presumably produced in Israel and Russia." Among the two suspects' offerings were works from the same "Natanov Collection" that had caused such a stir at the 2005 exhibition in Perm.

A 'Family Inheritance'

That collection, also the source of the supposed Kandinsky painting "K19," was largely unknown to German art experts. Only the small art magazine Artprofil devoted a lengthy article to this "private, museum-quality art collection." According to the article, Edik Natanov hails from a distinguished family from Samarkand, Uzbekistan, that has collected art "for generations."

The grandfather, Mikhail, was supposedly a "well-traveled scholar" who headed a collective farm during the Soviet era, acquiring most of the works in the current art collection in the 1950s. After his death, according to Artprofil, these paintings passed into the hands of his son and then, in 1995, to his grandson Edik.

Whether that story is truth or fiction, the fact remains that, in early July 2002, five items from the collection, including the dubious Kandinsky, turned up on loan to an art museum in Pereslavl-Zalessky, a town 140 kilometers (87 miles) northeast of Moscow. The delivery receipt was signed by Edik Natanov.

At the time, the heir of this putative art fortune was president of a diamond trading company based in Israel while also getting involved in the gallery business in Wiesbaden. In August 2002, he founded his own art dealership together with Itzhak Z., who is now in prison, and another partner, Daniel S.

The three business partners rented upscale commercial space in a historic building on Wiesbaden's Taunusstrasse and invested several hundred thousand euros in renovations, with the plan of creating an exclusive exhibition space. They also installed a walk-in safe for the paintings in the building's cellar. And they were quick to give their company an international-sounding name, combining the first letters of each of their last names to call themselves "SNZ Galeries," although they evidently failed to note that in English the word "galleries" is spelled with two l's.

Fake It Till You Make It

By this point, the trade in Russian avant-garde art was in full swing. By March 2002, a piece from the "Natanov Collection" found its way to an auction house in Frankfurt. This constructivist portrait, titled "The Writer" and supposedly painted by Nadezhda Udaltsova between 1915 and 1920, was valued at €100,000 ($130,000). But then, the auctioneer recalls, he received a call telling him the painting was a fake. To be on the safe side, he pulled it from the auction.

Business got better as time went on. In 2004, the Triton Foundation, an art foundation established by a wealthy Dutch couple that had made its fortune in shipping, purchased a "Natanov" piece, "Dynamic Composition" by Alexandra Exter. Several hundred thousand euros are believed to have changed hands.

According to a Russian exhibition catalogue published in 2003, at that time, Natanov's collection included at least 18 Russian avant-garde pieces, including two Malevich works, two Jawlenskys and the supposed Kandinsky composition "K19."

It was with this last painting that Itzhak Z., Natanov's fellow gallery owner, evidently hoped to make millions. Original Kandinskys come onto the market only rarely -- and they fetch top prices.

The hurdles that must be cleared to make such a sale, however, are high. Any piece that hasn't received approval from the Paris-based Société Kandinsky is more or less impossible to sell on the established art market. The society, founded by Kandinsky's widow, Nina, keeps close watch over the artist's body of work, and auction houses only accept pieces listed in the society's catalogue.

"K19" didn't have that stamp of approval. So, to sell the painting, Natanov's business partners needed a broker who could connect them with the gray market.

Business Ups and Downs

One such man was an Italian named Andrea N. At the time, N. was working for a gallery in Paris that bought and sold works by Modigliani and Picasso, but he was not averse to doing a little business on the side. In exchange for a hefty commission, N. agreed to look for a buyer for "K19."

In February 2005, Moez Ben H. traveled to Paris. He was executive director of SNZ Galeries at the time and had talked up the fabled Kandinsky work to Andrea N. on an earlier visit. This time, he brought the masterpiece with him, handing it over to the Italian middleman at his apartment on Avenue Emile Zola, on the Left Bank of the Seine.

Andrea N. stored the painting in his wardrobe. His housemate kept an eye on the valuable artwork whenever he was out, N. later told the court, since he was a writer and "only left the apartment to run errands."

Soon it seemed N. had found a way to market the painting. He took "K19" out of the wardrobe, packed it and flew with it to Italy. The supposedly valuable Kandinsky work made the journey in the cargo hold, packed in among the other passengers' suitcases. In Milan, N. met up with a former antiques dealer who ran a small auction house on Corso Garibaldi. The dealer showed "K19" to several prospective buyers over the course of the following months, but no one wanted to buy it.

The gallery owners back in Wiesbaden didn't let that stop them. Having finally finished renovations on their exhibition space on Taunusstrasse, they threw a grand opening party attended by the local smart set on November 7, 2006. Meanwhile, the demand for unknown Russian avant-garde works seemed to be increasingly, and this included paintings from the "Natanov Collection." In April 2007, for example, the "Composition" supposedly painted by Alexandra Exter around 1913 sold at auction in Berlin for a possibly record-breaking €310,000.

Then SNZ Galeries received good news from Milan: A wealthy businessman was willing to pay €3 million for "K19." The painting was delivered to the businessman's office in late 2007 in exchange for collateral in the form of securities ostensibly worth millions of euros.

But disagreements arose over the payment, as it seems both sides of the deal were not above using tricks. While the businessman wanted to pay for the alleged Kandinsky with shares in an American real estate fund, Natanov's business associate Z. wanted to see cash. An intermediary, apparently worried about his commission, filed charges against the buyer, claiming his securities turned out to be useless junk.

In July 2008, when Italian police arrived at the businessman's office to retrieve the painting for the seller, the erstwhile buyer retorted that it was a forgery anyway. In the end, police confiscated the painting -- and launched a criminal investigation of everyone involved.

Things went downhill from there for the Wiesbaden gallery. Former employees say Z. began visiting the local gambling hall more frequently and that Natanov was nowhere to be found. Moez Ben H. resigned as executive director in late 2009 and, a year later, the leaderless company was forced to abandon its premises. H. went on to become a seller of secondhand goods in Wiesbaden.

Unanswered Questions

But the BKA uncovered further shady business dealings. H. and Z. are suspected of having sold at least seven more forgeries of Russian avant-garde art since 2011, for a total of over €2.53 million. Six of these supposed masterpieces -- including three by Natalia Goncharova, one by Malevich and another by Lissitzky -- ended up in Spain. A collector in Germany's Rhineland region paid €450,000 for another painting, this one in the style of Lyubov Popova.

Proving whether these and other recovered paintings are indeed forgeries will require the BKA to conduct extensive investigations -- and a separate one for each individual work. The only piece so far proven to be a fake is the purported Kandinsky.

Investigators still need to determine where the fakes were made and how many people painted them. At least some of the paintings, investigators believe, may have been produced by a 53-year-old painter in St. Petersburg, who was caught in the act of forging three paintings simultaneously in Tel Aviv on January 13.

Natanov, meanwhile, has publicly and repeatedly stressed that he had his artworks extensively appraised for authenticity, although he claimed to trust "only experts from Russia."

Was the collector deceived by his business associates? Or did he know about their activities and decide to offer up his family history to lend a credible legend to their forgeries? German investigators have not charged Natanov with any crime. He claims he no longer has anything to do with this business and that he parted ways with business partner Z. years ago because they supposedly "didn't get along."

Natanov says he "simply left" the supposed Kandinsky, which had "been in the family for years," with Z., and that he "didn't received any money for it, nor did I ask for any." He also says that's just the kind of person he is. He still has his art collection, but he declines to reveal how many pieces are in it.

Defense lawyers for Itzhak Z. and Moez Ben H. likewise declined to comment on the accusations. Both men were tried in Italy, where on February 19, 2013, the third chamber of Milan's criminal court sentenced them to suspended sentences of one year each for their involvement in the sale of the forged Kandinsky. The verdicts, however, are not yet legally binding.

As for "K19," the painting is now stored alongside confiscated antiques in a slightly dilapidated side room of a former imperial residence in Monza, a city just north of Milan. The residence serves as an evidence storage facility for the Carabinieri, Italy's paramilitary police force.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein


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« Reply #7870 on: Aug 01, 2013, 07:10 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/31/2013 06:06 PM

Polish Dissident Adam Michnik: 'We Are Bastards of Communism'

Adam Michnik is editor-in-chief of Poland's leading daily and its most prominent former dissident. In a SPIEGEL interview, he talks about the threat of authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe, the decline of the region's political culture and feelings of being treated like second-class citizens in Europe.

We are sitting in a room on the sixth floor of the building occupied by the leftist-liberal Warsaw newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. There are stacks of newspapers and books everywhere, and on the walls are certificates from American and German universities next to photos of Adam Michnik with statesmen from around the world. Michnik is sitting at the table smoking an electric cigarette. He is the editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's most important nationwide daily newspaper, which started being published in 1989 as the first legal newspaper of the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) trade union. Michnik, 66, is the country's most prominent former dissident. He was sent to prison several times for his political convictions, starting at the age of 19. He wrote for underground newspapers and supported the independent Solidarity trade union. When the communist regime declared martial law in 1981, Michnik was detained. In the spring of 1989, he took part in the Round Table talks, as an adviser to Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, and negotiated the first free elections. Since then, he has focused his attention on the upheavals in Eastern Europe. For Michnik, the demonstrations in Bulgaria against the corrupt political class, the authoritarian tendencies in Hungary and nascent nationalism are all the delayed consequences of 40 years of oppression and patronization under communism. Michnik has a special relationship with SPIEGEL. When he was allowed to go to Paris in the 1970s to visit Jean-Paul Sartre, he called the SPIEGEL offices in Hamburg from Paris. He wanted to know whether its editors would like to print an essay he had written, which they did. "It was the first article I was able to publish in a truly important Western publication," Michnik says. "It sent a message to Poland's rulers that they could not sideline me with force."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Michnik, for more than six weeks now, thousands of people have taken to the streets in Bulgaria to demonstrate against their country's rotten political system. More than 20 years after Eastern Europe's democratic awakening, political conflicts are still characterized by turf wars and hatred. Why?

Michnik: We lack a political culture, a culture of compromise. We in Poland, as well as the Hungarians, have never learned this sort of thing. Although there is a strong desire for freedom in the countries of Eastern Europe, there is no democratic tradition, so that the risk of anarchy and chaos continues to exist. Demagoguery and populism are rampant. We are the illegitimate children, the bastards of communism. It shaped our mentality.

SPIEGEL: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who is very radical in his approach to the press and the opposition, is not without his admirers in Eastern Europe. The same holds true in your country with conservative nationalist opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Is the authoritarian brand of politician characteristic of the East?

Michnik: We still have politicians who strive for a different type of country: Kaczynski as well as Orbán in Hungary. They want a gradual coup. If Orbán stayed in power in Hungary or if Kaczynski were to win an election in our country, it would be dangerous. Both men have an authoritarian idea of government; democracy is merely a façade.

SPIEGEL: Orbán says that a "centralist majority democracy" is needed so that clear decisions can be made, by decree, if necessary. Otherwise, he says, dangers like the economic crisis cannot be averted.

Michnik: Hitler said the same thing when he issued special decrees and emergency regulations. It's the road to hell. To be honest, Hungary is the country where I would have least expected this to happen, but it was the first to cut a hole into the Iron Curtain. In Romania and Bulgaria, perhaps, but not in Hungary. What is happening there now stems from a disappointment in the Social Democrats, who were in power before and drove the country into economic ruin. Fortunately, Poland quickly implemented the most important reforms needed to make the transition to a market economy at the beginning of the 1990s. It was different in Hungary. That's why the population is now disappointed and is calling everything into question, even the things it once dreamed of achieving.

SPIEGEL: Do people suddenly no longer care that someone is removing judges or editors-in-chief who are not toeing the party line? Have they forgotten what it was like under the communists?

Michnik: A part of society in our countries would still prefer an authoritarian regime today. These are people with the mentality of Homo sovieticus. But they also exist in France -- just think of Le Pen -- and even in Finland and Sweden.

SPIEGEL: Orbán is trying to direct his country into a "system of national cooperation without compromises." What does he mean by that?

Michnik: British historian Norman Davies called this form of democracy a "government of cannibals." Democratic elections are held, but then the victorious party devours the losers. The gradual coup consists in getting rid of or taking over democratic institutions. These people believe that they are the only ones in possession of the truth. At some point, parties no longer mean anything, and the system is based, once again, on a monologue of power. The democratic institutions in the West are more deeply embedded in the West than in Eastern Europe. Democracy can defend itself there. Everything is still fragile in our countries, even two decades after the end of communism.

SPIEGEL: Orbán, Kaczynski and others talk about wanting to finally finish the revolution of 1989 and settle scores with the communists. Do former communist officials still pose a threat today?

Michnik: I think it was a good thing that Poland chose the path of reconciliation and not the path of revenge. Nevertheless, I'm still treated with hostility. I was a supporter of (former German Chancellor Konrad) Adenauer. He too had several options after the war: to send the people around him who had supported Hitler to prison or to turn them into democrats. He chose the second path. We also wanted our new Poland to be a Poland for everyone. The other path would have meant the opposition assuming power immediately in 1989 and not sharing it with the old regime. We would have had to hang the communists from the streetlights, and a small, elite group would have been in charge. That would have been anti-communism with a Bolshevik face.

SPIEGEL: Many say that the old boys' networks have become re-established. In Bulgaria, several thousand people, including many members of a new, urban middle class, are currently demonstrating against their country's political class.

Michnik: Yes, but there were also free elections in Bulgaria, where the opposition has just won. In a democracy, the government is a reflection of society because people are elected. Sometimes the type of person from the old machine, who is everything but an appealing figure, happens to win an election. But democracy applies to everyone, not just the noble and the clever.

SPIEGEL: In Bulgaria, the secret police archives were opened only half-heartedly. And, in Romania, former members of the notorious Securitate are still active everywhere. What's it like to live in a society in which the culprits of the past are better off then their former victims?

Michnik: You're saying the same thing I used to say about Germany --"old Nazis all over the place." But they were ex-Nazis. Of course, Romania was an Orwellian state, and the Securitate was everywhere. All countries that emerge from a dictatorship have these problems, as did Spain and Portugal. But it shouldn't justify introducing an anti-communist apartheid.

SPIEGEL: The West is demanding that there be more of an accounting for the past. Is that too simplistic for your taste?

Michnik: Yes. After the fall of communism in Poland, we had a post-communist as president for two terms: Aleksander Kwasniewski. He was very good. He brought Poland into NATO and the European Union. The call to finally clean house is a propaganda tool of the right, which tolerates the leftists who it condemns. Kaczynski appointed a judge to the position of deputy justice minister who had once sentenced current President (Bronislaw) Komorowski to a prison term.

Nationalism as the Last Stage of Communism
SPIEGEL: Nationalism is flourishing once again under authoritarian, right-wing leaders, such as Kaczynski and Orbán. How can this be happening in a united Europe?

Michnik: In times of great turmoil, such as we are experiencing today, people search for something to cling to. In Hungary, it's the Trianon complex. No Hungarian has forgotten that, under the Treaty of Trianon, two-thirds of the kingdom had to be handed over to neighboring countries after World War I, and that many Hungarians now live across those borders. Orbán uses this instrument to his advantage.

SPIEGEL: He preaches a new "Hungarianism."

Michnik: Back in 1990, I wrote that nationalism is the last stage of communism: a system of thought that gives simple but wrong answers to complex questions. Nationalism is practically the natural ideology of authoritarian regimes.

SPIEGEL: And anti-Semitism is on the rise along with it. According to a US study, 70 percent of people in Hungary say that the Jews have too much influence on business activity and the financial world.

Michnik: Poland is the only country in Eastern Europe that was able to control itself in this respect. Anti-Semitism is no longer socially or politically acceptable in Poland.

SPIEGEL: How should the West treat Orbán?

Michnik: We should be openly critical. Europe cannot remain silent on Hungary. Sanctions should be imposed, if necessary. When the West imposed sanctions on communist Poland after martial law was declared, we said that we didn't notice anything. But they were ultimately effective.

SPIEGEL: The government in Warsaw has also been restrained in its criticism of Hungary.

Michnik: It has the feeling that the Eastern European EU countries are already being treated as second-class members, and that open criticism would make the discrimination even worse.

SPIEGEL: Why do those in the East feel like second-class citizens within the EU?

Michnik: Look at Poland. There are those there who are convinced that we belong in the first class. It has to do with our messianism, with the feeling of being Christian Europe's advance guard on the frontier of the barbaric East.

SPIEGEL: Poland is doing well economically, and it's getting a lot of money from the European Union.

Michnik: That's true, but people don't realize it. Seen from the perspective of Paris, Prague or Berlin, Poland is a great country. But turn on the Catholic station Radio Maryja, and you'll hear that Poland is the land of disaster and is allegedly being run by people who want to biologically wipe out the Polish nation. Some 30 percent of Poles believe that the plane crash in Smolensk, in which then-President Lech Kaczynski was killed, was the result of a conspiracy between (Polish) Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Vladimir Putin.

SPIEGEL: Where does this urge to constantly see the bad side of things -- which is not just prevalent in Poland -- come from?

Michnik: Poland and the entire East haven't seen as much change as in the last 20 years in centuries. But it hasn't reached our consciousness yet. We still love to be pessimists.

SPIEGEL: Is that why hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans flock to the West?

Michnik: Life is still more comfortable in the West than in Eastern Europe. Besides, our countries were hermetically sealed in the past. Now people can finally get out, and they're taking advantage of it. People make money in the West, and then many come back and open a business at home. That's not a bad thing. Conversely, more and more people are now coming to Poland from Belarus and Ukraine.

SPIEGEL: In your view, do those countries also belong in Europe?

Michnik: I would be very much against Europe sitting back and doing nothing on the issue of Ukraine. The French have openly said that they don't want Ukraine, while the Germans have said as much, just not as clearly.

SPIEGEL: As a dissident, you paid a high price for your political convictions. Why do former members of the Polish opposition no longer play a role in politics today?

Michnik: It probably had to happen. Politics in a democracy requires other psychological conditions. The fight against communism was a little like a war: We put on the uniform and went to the front, and after the victory many of us withdrew. We dissidents had very high moral standards. No one believed that communism would actually collapse in front of our eyes. But then it happened, and suddenly people like me, with a completely different background than most of their fellow Poles, were in power. But we hadn't learned to make policy according to the rule of a democracy. Besides, our noble aspirations were probably too much for the majority of the people.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Michnik, thank you for this interview.

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED by JAN PUHL, MARTA SOLARZ and CHRISTIAN NEEF


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« Reply #7871 on: Aug 01, 2013, 07:15 AM »


July 31, 2013

In Heavy Zimbabwe Voting, No Repeat of Disastrous 2008 Events

By LYDIA POLGREEN
IHT

DOMBOSHAWA, Zimbabwe — For Nyaradzai Majuru, the choice of how to cast her ballot was simple. Before she and her husband received a two-acre plot of land that had been seized from a white farmer several years ago, they were penniless subsistence farmers on a scrap of communal land. Now, they grow green beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and cabbages that they sell in the market.

“Our life is better now because of President Mugabe,” said Ms. Majuru, 27, her youngest child tied to her back with a blanket, referring to Robert Mugabe, 89, who has led this country since it shook off white rule in 1980. “I support him all the way.”

But for 40-year-old Elizabeth, a janitor at an agricultural college in this small farming town 20 miles north of the capital, life has only gotten worse under Mr. Mugabe’s rule. Hyperinflation wiped out her savings. Hunger gnawed at her family. A lucky few got land, but the country’s economy was destroyed, she said, declining to give her last name out of fear of reprisals by the government.

“We need change in this country,” Elizabeth said. “We are tired of this old man.”

They were among the millions of Zimbabweans who went to the polls on Wednesday in what many here are calling the most pivotal election since the nation voted out white rule. Despite frigid predawn temperatures, people lined up before the polling stations opened, eager to decide whether to end or extend the three-decade tenure of Mr. Mugabe, a liberation war hero who still holds a tight grip on the country.

In Harare, the capital, there was none of the violence and intimidation that characterized the disastrous 2008 presidential election season, when 200 people died in a state-sponsored crackdown on the opposition and others seen as supporting it.

“This is a huge change, the fact that people can stand around and talk openly about their views,” said Namo Mariga, an agribusiness entrepreneur, after casting his ballot in the upscale suburb of Borrowdale. “The atmosphere is much freer.”

The election pits Mr. Mugabe against the former union organizer Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change. Mr. Tsvangirai won the most votes in the first round of the election in 2008 but refused to participate in a runoff because of the attacks on his supporters. A deal brokered by regional powers put the two rivals into an uneasy power-sharing agreement, and both are now seeking an outright victory to govern alone.

“It is quite an emotional moment sometimes when you see all these people after all the conflict, the stalemate, the suspicion, the hostility,” Mr. Tsvangirai said after casting his ballot. “I think there is a sense of calmness that finally Zimbabwe will be able to move on again.”

Sporadic problems were reported in a number of regions. Lines were long in urban areas, raising concerns that not everyone would be able to vote Wednesday. The challengers said the Zimbabwe Election Commission had deliberately reduced the number of polling stations in their strongholds to discourage voters, but the commission denied it. Some voters who registered recently found that their names were not on the rolls, but they were able to cast ballots using the registration receipt.

“We’ve already made clear this election is illegal, illegitimate, unfree and unfair,” said Tendai Biti, the secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. “We are participating with a heavy heart.”

The planning for the election has been chaotic and rushed because Mr. Mugabe unilaterally set a much earlier election date than other political parties had anticipated.

But early reports from election officials and some monitors said that the voting had gone well. Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria who is leading the African Union observer delegation, said that based on initial reports the voting had been peaceful and orderly, and appeared to be free and fair.

Joyce Kazembe, the deputy chairwoman of the Zimbabwe Election Commission, said, “I believe that the election is free and fair.” Turnout was very high, the commission said, and it ordered that polling stations stay open until midnight to accommodate people waiting in long lines.

Mr. Mugabe, after casting his ballot, appeared confident of victory in remarks to reporters. Asked if he would serve a full five-year term, he said: “Why not? Why should I field myself if it’s to cheat the people and I resign after?”

Fears of rigging remained high. Neil Padmore, 35, brought a pen to the polling station because he had heard people say that the government’s pens used special ink that would disappear a few hours after the ballot was cast.

“I am hoping that the sheer volume of the voters will prevent them from rigging,” said Mr. Padmore, who runs a company that lays fiber optic cable. “We need change in Zimbabwe. We can’t have this draconian environment.”

But some voters said that Mr. Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, deserved to stay in power because they put Zimbabwe’s agricultural land, long controlled by a few thousand white commercial farmers, into the hands of black people through seizures.

Amina, a 26-year-old clothing trader who lives in Mbare and asked that only her first name be used, said that her brother had been given a farm by the government and was prospering.

“He’s getting rich by the season,” she said. Her father fought in Mr. Mugabe’s insurgent army in the 1970s and lost a leg to a bomb. Mr. Mugabe, she said, made black people masters of their own destiny.

“He always told us the main grievance for the war was that we needed land,” she said. “They wanted to be masters of their own country.”

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

Zimbabwe election null and void, says Morgan Tsvangirai

Prime minister says election was heavily manipulated and did not meet regional or African election standards

Associated Press in Harare
theguardian Thursday 1 August 2013 13.13 BST   

Morgan Tsvangirai, the main challenger to Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has said Wednesday's election is "null and void" owing to alleged violations in the voting process. Mugabe has denied vote-rigging.

Tsvangirai said the election was heavily manipulated and did not meet regional or African election standards. An election monitoring group that is not affiliated with the state said the poll was compromised by a campaign to stop voters from casting ballots.

Mugabe says the allegations are a smear campaign. Final results are expected by Monday. The election posed one of the biggest challenges to Mugabe's 33-year grip on power.

"The shoddy manner in which it has been conducted and the consequent illegitimacy of the result will plunge this country into a serious crisis," Tsvangirai said.

The head of African Union observer mission, Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president of Nigeria, said late on Wednesday that reports of irregularities would be investigated "but have not yet been substantiated".

Mugabe's Zanu-PF party said on Thursday it had withdrawn an unauthorised message on its Twitter feed claiming a resounding victory. The party said it was awaiting the release of results by the state election commission, the only body allowed under the law to announce the outcome.

Solomon Zwana, head of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, said it found a wide range of problems in the election and that the poll was compromised by a campaign to stop voters from casting ballots. The monitoring group said as many as one million out of the more than six million eligible voters were not on electoral lists.

The election passed off peacefully compared with the disputed and violent polls in 2008. Thousands of voters lined up in Harare's populous Mbare township, but by Wednesday evening all the voters had been accommodated, polling officials said.

"It's a tremendous turnout," said Magodelyo Yeukai, Mbare presiding officer. Polling officials and party agents brought blankets to polling stations so they could sleep next to the ballot boxes to make sure they were not tampered with.

Mugabe, 89, has said he will step down if he loses. Zimbabwe's government was effectively dissolved on Wednesday. Mugabe and Tsvangirai have each predicted outright victory that would avoid the formation of another coalition.

The state election body has said administrative, logistical and funding problems hindered voting arrangements. These problems have been fixed at the more than 9,000 polling stations nationwide, it said.

Previous elections in 2002 and 2008 were marred by allegations of vote-rigging and political violence. Rights groups say there has been little overt violence this time but noted deep concerns over voter lists, the role of Mugabe's loyalist police and military in the voting process, and bias in the dominant state media and the sole national broadcaster, which is controlled by his loyalists.

The International Crisis Group, a research organisation, said it feared a return to a protracted political crisis and possibly extensive violence if the result was inconclusive and disputed.



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« Reply #7872 on: Aug 01, 2013, 07:18 AM »


UN gears up for DRC offensive as Goma laments escalating violence

Civilians have been attacked near Monusco bases, but the UN peacekeeping force now has a mandate to fight back

Jessica Hatcher in Goma
theguardian.com, Thursday 1 August 2013 10.04 BST   

Even in the remotest reaches of North Kivu, where roads do not go, you will find children with whom you have at least two words in common: "Monuc", the original name of the UN peacekeeping force, and "biscuit", thanks to their misguided attempt to ingratiate themselves by distributing baked goods among people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now called Monusco, the force is highly visible but largely ineffectual, locals say.

"They do not do anything," says a doctor in his office in Goma, the provincial capital. The national army, FARDC, is fighting the M23 rebel group on the outskirts of the city. Behind rebel lines, a catalogue of abuse has taken place in recent months, including rape, forced recruitment and summary executions. "The primary mission of 17,000 soldiers in this country is to protect civilians and they've done nothing so far. The UN forces are on a sightseeing mission," said the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Things may be about to change. The UN is deploying an offensive combat force for the first time in an attempt to neutralise eastern Congo's myriad armed groups. In March, Monusco adopted resolution 2098, which enabled offensive combat and authorised an "intervention brigade". The brigade will comprise 3,000 troops from Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa. Approximately 70% have arrived in Goma so far.

On Tuesday, the UN announced the brigade's first operation would be to assist the army with the enforcement of a disarmed "security zone" that spans from Goma to Sake, 17 miles west. Monusco will take "all necessary measures", including the use of force, to disarm anyone who is not part of the national security forces.

The international community doing "nothing" in the conflicted border areas of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda is a grievous complaint. The UN has admitted its failure over the 1994 slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans, and acknowledged a change in role was needed with the adoption in 2005 of its "responsibility to protect" principle.

In eastern Congo, civilians have been raped, beheaded and massacred in close proximity to Monusco bases. The force has existed for 13 years and has cost $10bn (£7bn), but commentators agree that it has failed on numerous occasions to secure civilians.

"The UN should go away completely and leave a small force here, maximum 5,000, with their new mandate. That is what we need," says the doctor, who for 15 years has being trying to heal the damage caused by armed groups.

People remember 20 November last year when M23 took control of Goma. "Why did Monusco not stop them? They lost our faith," one man recalls. Like the doctor, he believes the new brigade is, in principle, a good thing. "The Congolese think of Goma and they think of war. The intervention brigade will help to change that," he says.

Not everyone is convinced. "History tells us that any military offensive in the DRC, regardless of who leads it, will have significant humanitarian consequences," says Caelin Briggs, a Washington-based advocate for Refugees International. In 2009, the UN supported the Congolese army in an offensive to destroy a Hutu rebel group. It disarmed more than a thousand rebels, she says, but failed to prevent the displacement of nearly a million people, 1,400 civilian deaths and 7,500 rapes. Critics fear the intervention brigade may only add a new armed group to the fray.

Clashes between the government and M23 outside Goma are a reminder of the humanitarian consequences of any military campaign. Around six miles north on the main road, sandwiched between rolling hills, Kanyarucinya's wooden buildings stand empty, some destroyed by M23's shells. This battleground was a refuge for about 60,000 displaced people last year. North of the M23 line in Rutshuru, people are desperate: wages are being looted and assistance is not getting through.

A concern among NGOs in Goma is how the UN is blurring the line between military and humanitarian roles. Will those providing aid be perceived as allied to this new militarised group? For organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins sans Frontières, their neutrality in conflicts is rewarded with access to those in need. In many areas of eastern Congo there is an assumption that any outsider belongs to Monusco. "If that imbued affiliation is there, and then perception of Monusco declines, we could start seeing problems for humanitarians," Briggs says.

There is also criticism that the new force creates a conflict of interest within the peacekeeping brigade. "Humanitarian action has to be humanitarian and has to be done by a neutral actor," one Goma-based co-ordinator said.

But a spokesman for Monusco, Manodge Mounoubai, rejects claims that the new mandate is contradictory. In a rare, impassioned response to criticism, he said the UN simply could not tolerate armed groups killing the Congolese people. The doctor in Goma, who saw 150 war-wounded as a result of the rebellion in November, says it is about time.

The government has sought to improve its forces. The battalions that failed to defend Goma last year and perpetrated crimes against civilians have gone. The troops that replaced them appear better disciplined and are receiving adequate food and wages. A source linked to the president, Joseph Kabila, says this indicates a promising new political will. The government has pushed M23 back three miles, according to a Monusco commander. "The kind of gains they've made, everybody's impressed," he says.


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« Reply #7873 on: Aug 01, 2013, 07:21 AM »


Egyptian cabinet vows to disperse pro-Morsi protest camps

Cabinet say camps represent threat to national security but Muslim Brotherhood says it will remain on streets of Cairo

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 17.27 BST   

The Muslim Brotherhood has said it will remain on the streets despite Egypt's military-backed cabinet vowing on Wednesday to forcefully disperse two month-long protest camps housing thousands of supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi, prompting fears of a third state-led massacre of pro-Morsi protesters in as many weeks.

In a televised statement late on Wednesday afternoon, the cabinet said the camps "represent a threat to Egyptian national security" and the authorities would "begin taking all necessary measures to address these dangers and put an end to them, commissioning the interior minister to do all that is necessary regarding this matter within the framework of the constitution and the law".

In response Gehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, said they would continue to maintain the camps – one in Giza, west Cairo, and the other at Rabaa al-Adawiya, east Cairo, near the scenes of both of this month's mass killings of Morsi supporters.

"We are not leaving," Haddad said. "Rabaa is an open, peaceful sit-in of citizens protesting against the coup. People can roam freely through here and see there is no threat here. We don't intend on dispersing it any time soon."

The two sit-ins were set up in protest at Morsi's removal by the army on 3 July. Pro-Morsi marches regularly snake from the sites, disrupting traffic across much of Cairo and causing further government frustration.

Egypt's new army-backed interim government has called for the camps' closure as a precondition for dialogue with the Brotherhood, maintaining that they contain torture cells and terrorist units. But although there are credible allegations of abuse, many accusations directed at the camps are unsubstantiated.

While the camps' continued existence makes further bloodshed in their vicinity ever more likely, the Muslim Brotherhood refuses to close them down since they see their street presence as the only safeguard against a wider crackdown on their organisation across the country.

On Wednesday afternoon officials also said they would prosecute several senior Brotherhood officials including its leader, Mohamed Badie, on charges of inciting violence.

Many fear further arrests. "A lot of people are scared to go home because they know they will be arrested," said Mohamed Soudan, a spokesman for the Brotherhood's political wing, said earlier this week. "Don't tell me we should engage in the political process. There is no political process in Egypt."

Haddad said the Brotherhood was in catch-22 situation. "Whatever we do, we're under the threat of the police state."

Other senior Brotherhood members have argued that it is up to the military to compromise first, since their recent brutal treatment of Morsi supporters gives them little faith in the army's intentions.

"What have they compromised on?" said Gamal Heshmat, a member of the group's 19-strong governing body. "They've arrested thousands of us, killed hundreds, pursued our leaders, and shut down [sympathetic] television channels."

Critics of the Brotherhood accuse them of victimhood and of seeking martyrdom instead of realistic political solutions. Others also say they are hypocrites for having ignored the brutal treatment of protesters during Morsi's tenure.


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« Reply #7874 on: Aug 01, 2013, 07:25 AM »

July 31, 2013

Despite West’s Efforts, Afghan Youths Cling to Traditional Ways

By AZAM AHMED and HABIB ZAHORI
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — Walk through the streets of Kabul and evidence of the West’s decade-long war literally clings to the Afghan youth: the American labels emblazoned on their shirts and jeans, the stylish sunglasses they wear, the cellphones they clutch to update their lives on Twitter and Facebook.

To those who like to think that the foreign presence here has left more than spent shells and hollowed-out buildings, what the young people of Kabul wear and value can itself offer a sense of comfort. These trappings of the West, the hope goes, belong to a generation ready to embrace women’s rights, democracy and other ideals that America and its allies have spent billions of dollars trying to instill.

But interviews with dozens of Afghan youth paint a picture of a new generation bound to their society’s conservative ways, especially when it comes to women’s rights, one of the West’s single most important efforts here. Attempts to alter women’s roles in society remain controversial among the younger generation, perhaps the starkest example of the West’s limited influence as coalition forces prepare to withdraw next year.

“If someone thinks that youngsters have changed, they should think twice,” said Amina Mustaqim Jawid, the director of the Afghan Women’s Coalition Against Corruption. “These young men grew up in a war environment. They don’t know about their own rights; how can we expect them to know about their sisters’ rights, their mothers’ rights or their wives’ rights? If they wear jeans and have Western haircuts, that doesn’t mean they are progressive.”

Even in Kabul, one of the most liberal cities in Afghanistan, many young men and women express beliefs that fly in the face of the messages coming from American Embassy outreach efforts. Censorship, particularly when it comes to religious offenses, summons little ire. Many consider democracy a tool of the West. And the vast majority of Afghans still rely on tribal justice, viewing the courts as little more than venues of extortion.

On a recent afternoon, young women gathered on the third floor of a wedding hall, enduring the stifling heat in black niqabs to protest a recently proposed law aimed at protecting the rights of Afghan women. The men remained outside, forming a barricade along the busy street to prevent strangers from entering the hall.

One poster read, “I am a Self-Aware Woman, I Will Not Be Deceived by the Empty Slogans of the West.”

“This law is not only against Islamic values; it is also against all other ethical values,” one protester, Saida Hafiz, said to a crowd of about 200 young women and children assembled in the room. “If we remain silent today, soon our society will be morally corrupted like that of the West.”

Such impressions can be heard throughout the city: in the shared street taxis that cart Kabulis across town, in the bustling cafes of the city’s sparkling Shar-e Naw neighborhood, even on the campuses of the nation’s most prestigious universities.

Group taxi rides, which serve as Kabul’s de facto bus system, offer an unfiltered view of the local perspective. On board, men of all ages speak openly about everything from politics to traffic — often in the presence of women.

On a recent evening, a crowd idled downtown along Enhesarat Street, waiting for cars and minivans amid a cacophony of horns and engines. A few men piled into a dusty minivan headed for Taimani 2, an area in West Kabul. As the minivan lurched along the pockmarked roads, they chatted about a recent shoe-throwing fight between two female parliamentarians.

“Who let these women into Parliament?” said an old man with red hair and blue eyes, his knees pressed against his chest. “Women were meant to stay at home.”

A young man seated beside him, holding books on his lap and dressed in a blue T-shirt and gray pants, nodded in agreement.

On another trip, from the neighborhood of Kolola Pushta back downtown, a similar scene unfolded. A young student from the Afghan-Korea Vocational Institute, dressed in a blazer and slacks, brought up a recent Western public art project, where young men and women doled out pink balloons to passers-by.

“Did you see what those girls were wearing?” he asked another passenger, citing the women’s short sleeves and fitted pants. “If my sister dressed like that, I would kill her.”

Protests proliferated in the days after the bill concerning women’s rights was introduced. Though lawmakers almost immediately blocked it, given the outcry from religious leaders, supporters promised to reintroduce the legislation, setting off a wave of debate. The measure would essentially cement rights that have ostensibly been in place through presidential decree for several years — including protections against child marriage, polygamy and violence against women.

About 200 male students flooded the gates of Kabul University, the nation’s most prestigious public university, calling for an end to the bill and the presidential decree.

Gathered with a small group of friends after the protest, which he did not attend, Mohammad Taib, 19, said the draft was in conflict with Islam.

“Those who are pushing for the approval of the law, they are doing it to make Westerners happy,” Mr. Taib said. “Those with independent ideas are strictly against it.”

His friend Mohammad Haroun, added: “I believe in women’s rights, but in strict accordance with Islam.”

In reality, a lot of what is thought to be Shariah law in Afghanistan is actually tribal tradition. Some of the most severe cultural practices, like the selling of young girls to pay off debt, are elements of Pashtun code that would be unacceptable in most other Islamic countries.

“That’s a huge problem,” said Din Mohammad Gran, the dean of Kabul University’s Shariah law school, who does not support the women’s rights bill. “Some people have a misinterpretation of Islam that they learned from the wrong sources.”

While conservative voices are easy enough to find in and around the capital, Kabul is not without its progressive pockets. Groups like Afghanistan 1400, a collection of young Afghan leaders committed to social and political change, are often cited as the vanguard of civic activism.

Corporate workplaces have also become surprising petri dishes for quiet activism. At Tolonews, one of the country’s largest television news organizations, men find themselves working for women as economic realities scuttle normal social dynamics.

This, in part, reflects what some observers say is the chasm between the public and private behavior of many Afghans, who are not as conservative as they seem.

“Our traditions and conventions are telling us one thing, and the realities on the ground are telling us something else,” said Saad Mohseni, the founder of Tolonews. “People are actually acting in a very different way from how they are talking.”

Some young Afghan women have taken the issue head-on, opting to speak out publicly for their rights. While they know their struggle lies along the outer edge of the accepted social protests for women, activists like Noor Jahan Akbar have adopted the long view.

“After 30 years of war, what do you expect?” asked Ms. Akbar, a young blogger who helped organize a recent demonstration supporting the bill. “A mind-set built over 100 years takes longer than 10 years to change.”

Ms. Akbar and about 100 other women and a handful of men began their protest one morning near the entrance to the Afghan Parliament, shouting slogans from a megaphone and carting banners.

As the day wore on, whispers circulated that the Shariah law students were coming to violently upend the protest. Police officers massed along the periphery, their battering rods and plastic shields raised.

Suddenly, hundreds of men emerged from behind the police, shouting chants and carrying banners. The crowd easily eclipsed Ms. Akbar’s protesters, snarling traffic along the road.

But these demonstrators were not focused on women’s rights. They were riled up in support of a Kabul University dean accused of mistreating minority students.

Even as the women spoke out, these masses marched past, largely oblivious to their words.

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

August 1, 2013

Afghans Yield in Dispute With U.S. Over Stiff Fines for Cargo Shipments

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — Faced with the possible loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in American aid, Afghanistan abruptly backed off a threat to impose steep fines on the NATO-led coalition over missing paperwork for cargo shipments, the coalition said on Thursday.

On the surface, the long-running dispute was largely a bureaucratic quarrel. But the fines could have driven up the cost of the coalition’s withdrawal, and the spat’s emergence into the spotlight last month demonstrated the increased willingness of Afghan officials to publicly decry what they portrayed as American arrogance.

Afghan officials had contended that the coalition, which is allowed to import supplies duty free, had never filed paperwork to claim the exemption on most of the material it had brought to Afghanistan. They estimated 70,000 containers had been imported over the past decade, and said each was subject to a $1,000 fine now that the coalition was taking its material out. The total fine would have amounted to $70 million.

Neither side would say on Thursday how they resolved the dispute. The coalition announced the deal in a relatively brief statement, saying Afghanistan’s finance minister, Omar Zakhilwal, had recommended the fines be waived, and the government of President Hamid Karzai agreed. There was no immediate comment from Afghan officials.

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the commander of coalition forces, made a point in the statement of personally thanking Mr. Zakhilwal and Mr. Karzai for their “leadership and direct engagement” on the issue.

The conciliatory language appeared to be an effort to mitigate what looked like a humiliating climb-down by Afghan officials. Mr. Zakhilwal, in particular, had cast the issue in terms of national pride, saying the fines were as much about respect for the laws of Afghanistan as money. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Mr. Zakhilwal’s comments last month had come after Afghanistan briefly closed its border crossings to NATO shipments. The borders were reopened on the condition that the matter be resolved within a month, he had said at the time.

American officials were incensed by the move, which they saw as an effort to wring more money out of the United States and its allies, who have spent more than $100 billion rebuilding Afghanistan since 2001.

Within days, the Senate had passed a measure that would have cut aid to Afghanistan $5 for every $1 of fines or a total of $350 million.

The coalition, meanwhile, simply began flying material out of the county when the border was closed, even though the cost of air shipments exceeded that of paying the fine and moving the cargo by land.



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