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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1072081 times)
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« Reply #9540 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:25 AM »

Mexico clown convention condemns fancy-dress drug cartel killing

Latin American clowns gathered in Mexico City say killer dressed in wig and rubber nose had nothing to do with them

Associated Press in Mexico City, Thursday 24 October 2013 09.46 BST   

Delegates to a three-day Latin American clown convention in Mexico City have distanced themselves from the murder last week of a drug lord by a hitman in fancy dress, insisting no genuine member of their profession would have committed the crime.

Convicted drug trafficker Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix was shot dead on Friday in the Baja beach resort of Los Cabos by a gunman wearing a clown costume, complete with wig and a rubber nose. The dead man was the eldest brother of Mexico's once-feared Arellano Felix clan.

Clown leader Tomas Morales, a 21-year veteran of the trade who goes by the stage name Payaso Llantom, said he was certain the killer was not a professional clown. He said clowns in Mexico, especially in outlying states, know each other, and their costumes and makeup are individualised and recognisable.

"The people who do that, they're not clowns. I can swear on my mother's grave it wasn't a clown," said Morales, whose costume includes frizzy blue hair and a tiny top hat. "We are not like that … we are non-violent."

Bufon Marley, the stage name of 49-year-old Alberto Villanueva who dresses like a medieval jester, said of the killer: "It's sad that it has fallen to that level."

"I don't think it will hurt our profession, because in our communities, people know us."
A clown with his little clown daughter waits for the start of a laugh-a-thon world record attempt at the 17th International Clown Convention in Mexico City. There was no last laugh, sadly, the attempt fell short by 15 minutes.

Morales said, however, that there was a precedent of thieves stealing clown costumes to commit crimes.

"We clowns suffer robberies," Morales said. "The criminals have stolen our vehicles, our costumes, our sound equipment, our makeup, and with these same tools we use to work, they use them to commit robberies."

An estimated 500 clowns from around Latin America gathered on Wednesday at the International Clown Meeting in Mexico City and held a 15-minute laugh-a-thon to demonstrate their opposition to the violence that prevails in the country.

As hard as it might sound to be a clown in a country so riven by crime and violence, the laughing came naturally, Villanueva said.

"We laugh at the very things that hurt us," he said. "It is a very special, very Mexican humour."

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« Reply #9541 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:29 AM »

Canadian PM Harper rejects accusations linking him to bribery scandal

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 23:17 EDT

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday strongly refuted accusations linking him to a Senate expenses scandal that has been a drag on his Tories’ popularity and the Senate.

Harper and the Senate Conservative leadership were loosely implicated the previous day by a senator at the centre of the scandal, Mike Duffy, in alleged “bribery, threats and extortion of a sitting legislator.”

Duffy also accused the prime minister’s office of a “monstrous political stunt” to try to get the expenses scandal off the front pages of newspapers — which opponents labelled an attempted cover-up.

As well he said he was threatened with expulsion if he did not go along.

Harper in the House of Commons flatly rejected Duffy’s claims, one by one, in answers to opposition questions.

“You cannot claim an expense you did not incur. That is not right, that is not proper and that will not be tolerated in this party,” Harper summarized.

His stance was in stark contrast to the previous day when Harper appeared to dodge questions about the affair.

The scandal began with a series of articles and newscasts last December critical of Duffy for claiming a housing expense for a cottage in his home province of Prince Edward Island while he lived primarily in Ottawa.

Duffy said he was personally ordered by Harper to “pay back the money.”

But he resisted, arguing that his expense claims were within the rules — which many have since argued are too vague.

“To pay back money I didn?t owe, would destroy my reputation,” Duffy said in the Senate on Tuesday.

The expense is typically available to senators who live outside Ottawa but must maintain a second home in the capital, for work.

“The problem is not with Senator Duffy. It’s with the existing rules,” Duffy’s lawyer Donald Bayne argued.

Regardless, the spending was not sitting well with voters, including the Tories’ supporters and so the prime minister’s office concocted a scheme to repay the Can$90,000 in expenses, Bayne explained.

Duffy said he eventually went along because it would also mean that he would not be censured. “I would not be audited by Deloitte… I would get a pass,” he said.

The scheme is now being investigated by federal police after Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, revealed in May that he gave Duffy the money to repay the funds.

Wright also resigned.

Duffy and two other Conservative senators — all three appointed by Harper — meanwhile were sacked from caucus over what an audit revealed were “troubling” expense claims.

Now the Senate is considering suspending them without pay for what their peers called “gross negligence,” but Duffy through his lawyer called it a “mob hunt.”

In the corridors of Parliament, opposition leaders meanwhile attempted to rest the blame on Harper.

If Harper knew about the Can$90,000 cheque and is charged criminally, he would be forced to step down.

“This is a profound scandal that directly implicates Stephen Harper,” main opposition New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair told reporters in Ottawa.

The New Democratic Party — the only party without representation in the Senate — wants the Senate abolished. The other two main political parties have called for reform of the Senate.

“A leader takes responsibility when things go wrong and this prime minister has consistently avoided taking any responsibility for this sordid mess,” Liberal leader Justin Trudeau told his caucus.

Harper countered: “Any assertion that I was in any way consulted or had any knowledge of Mr. Wright’s payment to Mr. Duffy is categorically false. Had I known about it, I would not have permitted it. As soon as I knew about it, on May 15, I revealed it to the public.”

A fourth Liberal Senator who retired in August, meanwhile, was accused by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in court documents filed on Wednesday of “fraud” over his expense claims.

No charges have been laid.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9542 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:30 AM »

Oldest and most distant galaxy ever discovered was a prolific star factory

Exceptionally high rate of star formation in the galaxy, formed a mere 700m years after the big bang, has baffled astronomers

Ian Sample, science correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 24 October 2013      

Astronomers have spotted the most distant galaxy ever seen after a faint ray of light struck a telescope on a volcano in the middle of the Pacific.

The ancient group of stars lies 30bn light years from Earth, far beyond the handle of the Big Dipper that traces a celestial saucepan in the constellation of Ursa Major.

Researchers detected the galaxy with a new infrared instrument that was fitted last year to the Keck telescope that sits on the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii.

Analysis of light coming from the galaxy showed that it formed only 700m years after the big bang, or 13.1bn years ago, making it the oldest and most distant galaxy known.

"This is really a quest to understand our origins," said Steve Finkelstein, an astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin. "By trying to push further and further back in time, we are really studying the origins of our own Milky Way galaxy."

Because the universe is expanding, light from stars and other celestial objects is stretched out as it travels through space. This increases its wavelength. The effect is called redshift because it makes visible light look redder.

Finkelstein used the Mosfire (Multi-Object Spectrometer for Infra-red Exploration) instrument on the Keck telescope to survey 43 distant galaxies that had been glimpsed by the Hubble Space Telescope but never confirmed.

The device picked up light from only one, a galaxy that goes by the cumbersome name of z8_GND_5296, according to a report in the journal Nature.

The light coming from the galaxy was more redshifted than astronomers had seen before, making it 40m years older than the previous record holder. The colour of the galaxy suggested it was rich in metals.

Early measurements showed that the galaxy had a mass of 1bn suns, which is 40 to 50 times lighter than the Milky Way. What surprised astronomers most was the intense rate the galaxy was churning out stars, around 150 times faster than the Milky Way.

"We didn't think you could make galaxies with such intense star formation rates in the early universe. Star formation tends to be proportional to the mass of a galaxy, and the masses of galaxies in the early universe tend to be small," said Finkelstein.

The scientists have a couple of potential explanations for the galaxy's extraordinary rate of star creation. It may contain more gas than expected, which is used in the manufacture of stars. Or it may be drawing in gas much faster from the space between galaxies. Finkelstein hopes that follow-up observations will now answer the question.

The search for distant galaxies is driven by the aim to find, ultimately, the first ones to form in the universe. These galaxies could have been home to stars that produced the first batch of natural elements heavier than helium when they exploded at the end of their lives.

Astronomers may struggle to find more distant galaxies with telescopes operating today. But towards the end of the decade, Nasa expects to launch the James Webb Space Telescope, which has been designed to look further back into the history of the universe.

• This article was amended on 24 October 2013. The original stated that the newly measured galaxy was 40bn to 50bn times lighter than the Milky Way. This has been corrected.

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« Reply #9543 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:52 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

October 24, 2013

Anger Growing Among Allies Over U.S. Surveillance


BERLIN — Leaders and citizens in Germany, one of America’s closest allies, simmered with barely contained fury on Thursday over reports that American intelligence had tapped into Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, the latest diplomatic fallout from the documents harvested by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden.

In an unusual move between staunch allies, Germany summoned the United States ambassador over the claims.

Ms. Merkel herself angrily demanded assurances from President Obama that her cellphone was not the target of an American intelligence tap as soon as suspicions surfaced on Wednesday. Washington hastily pledged that her calls were not being monitored and would not be in future but conspicuously said nothing about the past.

While the chancellor kept quiet before heading to Brussels for a European summit on Thursday, one of her closest allies, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, gave full voice to the shock expressed by politicians and citizens.

“If that is true, what we hear, then that would be really bad,” Mr. de Maizière told ARD, Germany’s leading state television channel. America is Germany’s best friend, he noted, adding: “It really can’t work like this.”

He suggested that there would be consequences. “We can’t simply go back to business as usual,” he said.

Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the leader of the Greens, shared the indignation, noting that America is a close ally but that normal business could not be conducted “if we go about suspecting one another.”

Her consternation was mixed with an element of “we told you so.” The Greens had argued since the first disclosures last summer of mass American surveillance that Ms. Merkel needed to be more vigorous and not simply accept American assurances that no German laws had been broken.

That was also a strong strand in online comments pouring into German media Web sites.

Ms. Merkel’s angry call to Mr. Obama was the second time in 48 hours – after a similar furor in France prompted Mr. Obama to call President François Hollande — that the president found himself on the phone with a close European ally to argue that continuing revelations of invasive intelligence gathering should not undermine decades of hard-won trans-Atlantic trust.

Both episodes illustrated the diplomatic challenge to the United States posed by the cache of documents that Mr. Snowden handed to the journalist Glenn Greenwald and others. Last week, Mr. Greenwald concluded a deal with the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to build a new media platform that aims in part to publicize other revelations from the data Mr. Greenwald now possesses.

The damage to core American relationships continues to mount. Last month, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil postponed a state visit to the United States after Brazilian news media reports — fed by material from Mr. Greenwald — that the N.S.A. had intercepted messages from Ms. Rousseff, her aides and the state oil company, Petrobras. Recently, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which has said it has a stack of Snowden documents, suggested that United States intelligence had gained access to communications to and from President Felipe Calderón of Mexico while he was still in office.

Secretary of State John Kerry had barely landed in France on Monday when the newspaper Le Monde disclosed what it said was the mass surveillance of French citizens, as well as spying on French diplomats. Furious, the French summoned the United States ambassador, Charles H. Rivkin, and Mr. Hollande expressed “extreme reprobation” for the reported collection of 70 million digital communications from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.

In a statement published online, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, disputed some aspects of Le Monde’s reporting, calling it misleading and inaccurate in unspecified ways.

He did not address another report by Le Monde that monitoring by the United States had extended to “French diplomatic interests” at the United Nations and in Washington. Information garnered by the N.S.A. played a significant part in a United Nations vote on June 9, 2010, in favor of sanctions against Iran, Le Monde said.

Two senior administration officials — from the State Department and the National Security Council — had arrived in Berlin only hours before the German government disclosed on Wednesday that it had received unspecified information that Ms. Merkel’s cellphone was under surveillance.

If confirmed, that is “completely unacceptable,” said her spokesman, Steffen Seibert. The accusations followed Der Spiegel’s disclosures in June of widespread American surveillance of German communications, which struck an especially unsettling chord in a country scarred by the surveillance undertaken by Nazi and Communist governments in its past.

Mr. Seibert quoted the chancellor, who was raised in Communist East Germany, as telling Mr. Obama that “between close friends and partners, which the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America have been for decades, there should be no such surveillance of the communications of a head of government.”

“That would be a grave breach of trust,” Mr. Seibert quoted her as saying. “Such practices must cease immediately.”

The government statement did not disclose the source or nature of its suspicions. But Der Spiegel said on its Web site that Ms. Merkel acted after it submitted a reporting inquiry to the government. “Apparently, after an examination by the Federal Intelligence Service and the Federal Office for Security in Information Technology, the government found sufficient plausible grounds to confront the U.S. government,” Der Spiegel wrote.

ARD, Germany’s premier state television channel, said without naming its sources that the supposed monitoring had targeted Ms. Merkel’s official cellphone, not her private one.

About an hour after the news broke in Berlin, Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, appeared before news media in Washington, reporting the Obama-Merkel phone call and saying that “the president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring, and will not monitor, the communications of the chancellor.”

Mr. Obama pledged, as he had to Mr. Hollande, and to Mexico and Brazil, that intelligence operations were under scrutiny and that he was aware of the need to balance security against privacy.

The first disclosures from Der Spiegel in June almost soured the long-planned meeting between Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel in her capital, which the president visited as a candidate in 2008, delivering a speech before an estimated 200,000 people.

In June, there were far fewer, carefully screened and invited Germans and Americans on hand to hear Mr. Obama at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of Berlin’s unity and freedom since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

Shortly beforehand, Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel stood side by side in her chancellery, fielding questions about American surveillance of foreigners’ phone and e-mail traffic. Pressed personally by Ms. Merkel, the president said that terrorist threats in Germany were among those foiled by intelligence operations around the world, and Ms. Merkel concurred.

Senior intelligence officials have since made plain that cooperation between the United States and Germany in the field is essential to tracking what they view as potential terrorist threats.

But if indeed American intelligence was listening to Ms. Merkel’s phone, or registering calls made and received, the trust between Berlin and Washington could be severely damaged. Since June, even senior officials in the German government have voiced more caution about cooperating with the United States and wondered in private about the extent to which any information gleaned was shared with, for example, business rivals of German companies.

The German government said it had been assured that German laws were not broken, but the issue remains politically fragile.

In July, Ms. Merkel joked with television interviewers who asked about the situation, “I know of no case where I was listened to.”

At a separate news conference that month, she signaled on a more serious note that she understood the importance, for all Western allies, of collecting intelligence. But she also emphasized that German or European laws should not be violated.

The alarm of Americans — and, indeed, their allies — after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was understandable, Ms. Merkel said then, but “the aim does not justify the means. Not everything which is technically doable should be done. The question of relative means must always be answered: What relation is there between the danger and the means we choose, also and especially with regard to preserving the basic rights contained in our Basic Law?”

Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin, Dan Bilefsky from Paris, and Jackie Calmes from Washington.


The White House Smacks Down NBC News for Getting ObamaCare Change Wrong

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013, 10:38 pm

The White House communications department was more than a little miffed this evening by the incorrect reporting on the individual mandate’s timing being changed. The Obama administration didn’t delay the individual mandate or extend the enrollment period, but they did fix an overlap in the deadlines.

NBC wasn’t sure if Congress needed to weigh in on what they inaccurately thought the White House did. (Note: NBC is hardly the worst of MSM.) Much concern about that because this President has to be watched at all times – one of these days he’s going to break a law for real, unlike Benghazi and the IRS or the time he took strikes in Syria to Congress when he didn’t have to. This confusion fed right into Republicans’ hyper concern trolling for their big investigation tomorrow.

The White House communications team corrected the record and referred the press to Jay Carney’s Monday presser. Josh Earnest tweeted, “NBC is wrong again. Individual mandate timing hasnt changed. Deadline for having insurance is March 31. Was true this am. Is true tonight.”

    NBC is wrong again. Individual mandate timing hasnt changed. Deadline for having insurance is March 31. Was true this am. Is true tonight.

    — Josh Earnest (@jearnest44) October 23, 2013

Awww. And here House Republicans were foaming at the mouth with excitement over another bomb they could toss at ObamaCare for their “investigation” into the websites tomorrow. Well, no matter, reality has no bearing on Republican talking points. To the witch hunts!

A confused anchor then pondered who to believe — NBC or the White House? After all, what would the White House know about changes they made to the timing of the individual mandate. Maybe the Press Secretary?

    As @jearnest44 says: Individual mandate timing hasn't changed. Deadline for having insurance is 3/31. Was true this am. Is true tonight.

    — Jay Carney (EOP) (@PressSec) October 23, 2013

Matt Lehrich got smart about it, “Pro tip: if @PressSec said it from the podium Monday, it’s not breaking, exclusive, or a “scoop” today.”

    Pro tip: if @PressSec said it from the podium Monday, it's not breaking, exclusive, or a "scoop" today.

    — Matt Lehrich (@Lehrich44) October 23, 2013

Oh, that’ so not helpful. Trust nothing. I was warned tonight that ObamaCare is a ruse to get your personal information for the NSA in Utah – so naturally, we can’t believe the White House on policy matters that are in writing.

    White House to take down new health care website for repairs due to continued glitches. @TomCostelloNBC starts us off #NBCNightlyNews

    — NBC Nightly News (@nbcnightlynews) October 18, 2013

    NBC News *does* confirm the deadline for having insurance is delayed. It's not a delay of the individual mandate.

    — Suzy Khimm (@SuzyKhimm) October 23, 2013

Dan Pfeiffer responded, “.@SuzyKhimm NBC’s report on the news was innacurate. This has nothing to do with the website, its something that had to happen anyway”. Clearly it did, since it overlapped. And let’s be honest here; the White House will be falling over themselves laughing tomorrow when Republicans go crazy over this, and they will.

Republicans are just that clueless. They will blow this up and try to make a meal/election out of it, as if finding a problem in the rollout of a great idea suddenly makes their shutdown of the government over said good idea a winner. Prepare yourselves for the massive growth of the GOP’s delusions.

The media is as obsessed with the GOP’s talking points about the ObamaCare website as they were the GOP’s phony scandals and the Tea Party before that. It would be amusing if it weren’t so inconsistent and revelatory about what they ignore and what they amplify.

They can’t be this short sighted, can they? No one is going to remember a few glitches by 2014. The press keeps assuring us that no one will remember the GOP’s shutdown of government by 2014, and yet GLITCHES ARE FOREVER!

The ObamaCare website is not a monster. It is not under your beds and it will not destroy ObamaCare. It’s a tech problem, not a death from lack of health insurance problem. It’s a clarification of timing, not Katrina (notice that Republicans only get upset when we try to save lives, but if many people are dying, that’s no biggie). Perspective much?

This just goes to show you that the sham that it’s only our government that needs to be checked and not our corporate press covering for the corporate shills (GOP and some corporatist Democrats) stealing wealth from the 98% continues.

Dan Pfieffer then tweeted the link to PolitiFact’s launching of the factchecking of pundits and added, “There should be some sort of penalty for over and incorrect use of breaking news alerts by media organizations”

No Dan, only the President gets a penalty for glitches. But glitches by corporate media — like oh, basing a false claim that the White House changed talking points to cover something up on the pretense that you have read the actual Benghazi emails when you didn’t, you relied on Republicans to tell you what the emails said — are okay. Get with the program. You guys are the problem because you deliberately misled the entire country by using Republican Congressional aides as “sources” on Benghazi and the IRS “scandal” — OH WAIT. That wasn’t you. Well. Benghazi!

President Obama’s account tweeted in the middle of the fray, “Good news: A new report shows how @Obamacare will save the country $190B over ten years.” Someone better tell President Obama that the press has no time to address how he might be helping to save the country money. They are very busy with glitches now that Benghazi died in spite of ABC’s Jonathan Karl’s right wing training camp for journalists. Now, if John McCain had saved us a dime, well, that there is some straight talk my friend.

This is the same media that was so outraged when Republicans tried to screw their own staffers during the shutdown (the shutdown that hurt our economy and killed jobs but is so not worth talking about anymore cuz GLITCHES!). The beltway was aghast – did you know staffers only make between $20-40K? Hey, beltway, did you know that many hard working Americans live on less than $14k a year with a family and they die from lack of healthcare while you concern troll about glitches? Maybe there are stories on the ground other than shiny object Tea Party rallies and possible ObamaCare glitches that may or may not be happening in reality.

Your 4th estate knows where to focus, my friends — right on the White House as long as George W. Bush isn’t in it. And that’s fine except the real theft is going on in the GOP-led House right now and this media is pretending like there’s nothing to see because they are terrified of Republicans.


October 23, 2013

Contractors Assign Blame, but Admit No Faults of Their Own, in Health Site


WASHINGTON — Contractors that built President Obama’s health insurance marketplace point fingers at one another and at the government, but each insists that it is not responsible for the problems that infuriated millions of Americans trying to buy insurance on the Web site, according to testimony prepared for a Congressional hearing on Thursday.

Some of the biggest contractors set forth their experiences in testimony for the hearing, by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Cheryl R. Campbell, a senior vice president of CGI Federal, a unit of the CGI Group, the main contractor, said all of its work had been done “under the direction and supervision” of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which she said was responsible for the performance of the federal exchange.

“We acknowledge that issues arising in the federal exchange have made the process for selecting and enrolling in qualified insurance plans difficult to navigate for too many individuals,” Ms. Campbell said. “Unfortunately, in systems this complex with so many concurrent users, it is not unusual to discover problems that need to be addressed once the software goes into a live production environment.”

She said CGI had won the contract for the federal exchange through a two-step process of “full and open competition.”

She blamed “another contractor” for problems that consumers have had creating secure password-protected accounts. She did not name the company, but government records show it is Quality Software Services Inc., a unit of the UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest insurers.

These problems “created a bottleneck that prevented the vast majority of users” from gaining access to the federal exchange, Ms. Campbell said.

The federal exchange, she said, is “not a standard consumer Web site,” but “a complex transaction processor” that must simultaneously help millions of Americans shop for insurance and enroll in health plans. It must communicate instantaneously with computer systems developed by other contractors and with databases of numerous federal agencies and more than 170 insurance carriers qualified to do business in the 36 states where the federal marketplace operates, she said.

Andrew M. Slavitt, the UnitedHealth executive responsible for Quality Software Services, said its identity verification tool was just one part of “the federal marketplace’s registration and access management system, which involves multiple vendors and pieces of technology.”

These were overwhelmed by people trying to use the site, Mr. Slavitt said. One reason for the logjam, he suggested, is that the administration made “a late decision requiring consumers to register for an account before they could browse for insurance products.”

Mr. Slavitt said that Quality Software Services was one of several companies that tested the federal marketplace before it opened.

“In our role as tester,” he said, “we were tasked with identifying errors in code that was provided to us by others.” The results were reported back to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the relevant contractor, “who in turn was responsible for fixing coding errors or making any necessary changes,” he said.

John Lau, a program director for Serco, another contractor, said his company was seeing an increase in paper applications. Serco is supposed to enter data from those applications in the government’s computerized eligibility system, but problems in that system have created challenges for Serco, as they have for consumers, Mr. Lau said.

The same contractors, testifying before the same committee on Sept. 10, assured lawmakers that they were ready to handle a surge of users when the federal exchange opened on Oct. 1.

Trying to catch up with problems still plaguing the federal exchange, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, and Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, met at the White House on Wednesday with top executives from insurance companies, including Aetna, Humana, Kaiser Permanente, WellPoint and several Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans.

The White House said technology experts from government and industry were working together “to iron out kinks” that had provided insurers with incomplete and inaccurate information about people trying to enroll.


John Boehner Sees Obamacare Pink Elephants After House Republicans Kill 120,000 Jobs

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013, 3:34 pm

The government shutdown caused by the House Republicans has killed 120,000 jobs, but John Boehner is seeing a pink elephant labeled Obamacare killing the economy.

Rep. Boehner said,

    You know, we had another jobs report yesterday. Another, frankly, disappointing jobs report. This economy’s not creating the jobs that the American people are looking for. Their wages are stagnant, and part of the problem is that we’ve got the whole threat of ObamaCare continuing to hang over our economy like a wet blanket.

    Employers scared to death in terms of what they have to do and what they don’t have to do, afraid to add new employees. And, you know, when you look at the problems with ObamaCare all the focus here lately has been on the website. Clearly there’s problems with the website, but I would argue that the problems go much further than that.

    How about the report over the last couple of days of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are finding out that they’re going to lose their coverage because the plans they have today don’t qualify under ObamaCare. And when you begin to look at these hundreds of thousands of people I think what you’re going to see at the end of October are more Americans are going to lose their health insurance than are going to sign up at these exchanges. This is a very serious problem. It’s affecting our economy. And it’s affecting the ability of the American people to find the job that will help them take care of themselves and their families.

John Boehner has decided that the best way to dig himself out of the hole that he dug for himself with the government shutdown is to blame President Obama and the ACA for everything. Unfortunately for Speaker Boehner, what he was trying to pass off today was complete BS.

Nowhere in Boehner’s remarks does he cite any actual evidence that Obamacare is negatively impacting the economy. The reason why he can’t list any evidence, because there isn’t any.

John Boehner substituted feelings and opinions for facts. Speaker Boehner used phrases like “employers are scared,” and “I think” to make is case that the ACA is destroying the economy.

The fact that it is impossible for a law that won’t be fully implemented until January to destroy the economy months in advance appears to be lost on the Speaker of the House. Obamacare is the Republican version of the pink elephant. They see it everywhere, and blame it for everything that happens.

House Republicans killed 120,000 jobs with their government shutdown. There is no statistical evidence that the ACA has caused a single job to be lost.

The real job killer isn’t the ACA. It’s John Boehner and his Koched up caucus.


October 23, 2013

Health Care Law Fails to Lower Prices for Rural Areas


As technical failures bedevil the rollout of President Obama’s health care law, evidence is emerging that one of the program’s loftiest goals — to encourage competition among insurers in an effort to keep costs low — is falling short for many rural Americans.

While competition is intense in many populous regions, rural areas and small towns have far fewer carriers offering plans in the law’s online exchanges. Those places, many of them poor, are being asked to choose from some of the highest-priced plans in the 34 states where the federal government is running the health insurance marketplaces, a review by The New York Times has found.

Of the roughly 2,500 counties served by the federal exchanges, more than half, or 58 percent, have plans offered by just one or two insurance carriers, according to an analysis by The Times of county-level data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. In about 530 counties, only a single insurer is participating.

The analysis suggests that the ambitions of the Affordable Care Act to increase competition have unfolded unevenly, at least in the early going, and have not addressed many of the factors that contribute to high prices. Insurance companies are reluctant to enter challenging new markets, experts say, because medical costs are high, dominant insurers are difficult to unseat, and powerful hospital systems resist efforts to lower rates.

“There’s nothing in the structure of the Affordable Care Act which really deals with that problem,” said John Holahan, a fellow at the Urban Institute, who noted that many factors determine costs in a given market. “I think that all else being equal, premiums will clearly be higher when there’s not that competition.”

The Obama administration has said 95 percent of Americans live in areas where there are at least two insurers in the exchanges. But many experts say two might not be enough to create competition that would help lower prices.

For example, in Wyoming, two insurers are offering plans at prices that are higher than in neighboring Montana, where a third carrier is seen as a factor in keeping prices lower.

It is unclear how the online marketplaces might evolve over time. Many large insurers are closely watching what happens in the first year to decide whether to more aggressively pursue new markets. In the meantime, problems with the Web site are making it harder for them to know whether the exchanges’ slow start is the result of technical difficulties or more serious underlying problems, such as a lack of consumer demand, that would discourage them from entering.

In some cases, competition varies markedly across county lines. In Monroe County, Fla., which includes the Florida Keys, two insurers, Cigna and Florida Blue, offer plans on the federal exchanges. In neighboring Miami-Dade County, there are seven companies, including Aetna and Humana, two of the nation’s largest players.

In rural Baker County, Ga., where there is only one insurer, a 50-year-old shopping for a silver plan would pay at least $644.05 before federal subsidies. (Plans range in price and levels of coverage from bronze to platinum, with silver a middle option.) A 50-year-old in Atlanta, where there are four carriers, could pay $320.06 for a comparable plan. Federal subsidies could significantly reduce monthly premiums for people with low incomes.

Counties with one carrier are mostly concentrated in the South. Nearly all of the counties in Mississippi and Alabama, for example, are served by just one insurer, according to The Times’s analysis. Other states with scarce competition include Maine, West Virginia, North Carolina and Alaska.

“The consumer wants some level of choice,” said Alexander K. Feldvebel, the deputy insurance commissioner for New Hampshire, where one carrier, Anthem Blue Cross, owned by WellPoint, now offers plans. “You don’t have that when you have a single carrier offering all the products.”

The Times examined carriers and prices on the federal exchanges for the second-cheapest silver plan, the level on which subsidies are based, available to a 50-year-old. Comparable data for state-run plans was unavailable.

The Obama administration, while not disputing the findings, responded to the analysis in a statement that the marketplaces “allow insurers to compete for customers based on price and quality.” It added that the tax-credit subsidies that will lower monthly payments for many consumers had also “brought more companies to the market, resulting in increased options for consumers and lower-than-expected premiums.”

Insurance executives say they set their rates without knowing what other insurers were doing.

“No one knew who was going to file,” said Barbara Morales Burke, an executive with BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, the only insurer offering coverage in 61 of the state’s 100 counties. “We developed the rates we always do based on actuarial information and reasonable estimates.”

Market Concentration

The Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2010, was designed to make health insurance available to people who had not been able to afford it or had been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. It has transformed the market for individual insurance by creating marketplaces aimed at making it easier for consumers to compare their options. The law also sought to level the playing field for new insurers.

Before its passage, the existing insurance marketplace was often dominated by a single insurer.

“The picture that comes away even before the A.C.A. went into effect was that insurance markets are highly concentrated in many states,” said Larry Levitt, a policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

One of the main ways of fostering competition was through the creation of consumer-operated plans, called co-ops, to compete with existing insurers. They received some $2 billion in federal loans and are operating on 22 exchanges. At least 18 others were proposed when the program was discontinued as part of last year’s negotiations over the fiscal cliff.

Concerns have risen recently about the co-ops’ financial viability because of heavy regulation and a lack of visibility so far among consumers, although it is too early to know whether or not they will succeed.

“If co-ops are the game-changing, paradigm-changing force that we hope and expect them to be, they will permanently drive down rates,” said John Morrison, the president of the board of the National Alliance of State Health CO-OPs, which recently released a study concluding that premiums were lower in states with co-ops.

Some say the arrival of a co-op changed the landscape in Montana, where the insurers Blue Cross and PacificSource were joined by Montana Health CO-OP.

In neighboring Wyoming, two insurers are offering plans under the exchange: Blue Cross and WINHealth, a small health maintenance organization, or H.M.O. The cheapest silver plan available to a 50-year-old in Wyoming cost nearly as much as the most expensive Montana plan.

“Adding that third competitor really changes the landscape vastly,” said Jerry Dworak, chief executive of the Montana co-op. He said the other insurers had predicted that their rates would be 25 percent higher in the marketplace, but those increases did not materialize. “It was amazing how close the rates were,” he said.

The story is the same in other states, like South Carolina, where a new co-op competes in many rural areas.

“If the co-op didn’t exist, we would look like North Carolina,” said Jerry Burgess, the chief executive of Consumers’ Choice Health Plan.

Some insurers, especially those that specialize in serving Medicaid populations, have seen opportunity in the millions of new customers expected to enroll in the marketplaces. Some hospital systems have also created their own plans. About a quarter of the insurers are new to the individual market.

Another effort to increase competition has been less successful. The law created what are called multistate plans, in which a private carrier offers insurance in the marketplaces of multiple states under contract with the federal government. But federal officials selected Blue Cross to offer those plans, which is already the dominant insurer in many states.

“If you’ve got Blue Cross competing with Blue Cross, it doesn’t give you much competition,” said Timothy S. Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University.

In Orange County, Ind., the silver plan offered through Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s multistate plan is the same price — $487.11 for a 50-year-old — as another Anthem silver plan offered in the marketplace.

The Rural Problem

In rural regions, several factors combine to create a landscape that is inhospitable to newcomers. Developing relationships with doctors and hospitals can be costly where cities and towns are widely scattered and the pool of potential customers is small.

“I think the problem was that the Affordable Care Act was designed for where the majority of the people live, in the big cities where there’s a lot of competition among health care providers,” said Tom Hirsig, Wyoming’s insurance commissioner.

He said insurers simply did not find his state, with its population of fewer than 600,000, attractive.

“You’ve got to have some bargaining chips and we don’t have that much,” he said.

Often a single hospital dominates an area, giving insurers little leverage when negotiating reimbursement rates. Only one Wyoming county is served by more than one hospital, said Stephen K. Goldstone, the chief executive of WINHealth.

“What it costs to be treated here is more expensive than other places because there’s no competition among providers,” Mr. Goldstone said.

In southwest Georgia, another rural region, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia is the dominant carrier, and it is the only insurer operating in 54 of the state’s 159 counties.

“This has been what Georgia’s issues have been, that rural areas don’t have the best access to care,” said Amanda Ptashkin of Georgians for a Healthy Future, a consumer advocacy group.

Bert Kelly, a spokesman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, which is owned by WellPoint, said the higher premiums reflected the area’s higher medical costs and not a lack of competition.

In some areas, having one or two major carriers may be an advantage in being able to negotiate with powerful hospital systems.

Mr. Feldvebel, the New Hampshire regulator, said, “The bigger your carrier is, the bigger the discount the carrier can deliver because they have more lives to bargain with.”

It is also difficult to attract new insurers to areas where the population has health problems. Only one carrier, Highmark Blue Cross, is offering coverage in West Virginia, which has high rates of obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes.

Spreading Blame

A lack of competition does not always translate to higher premiums. In Tennessee, much of the state is served by just one or two carriers, but premiums are lower there than in neighboring states, even though Tennessee also struggles with high rates of obesity and chronic diseases.

“We smoke and we eat and we use prescription drugs far above what national averages are,” said Brian Haile, who was in charge of planning Tennessee’s state-run insurance marketplace before the governor decided to switch to federal oversight late last year.

Mr. Haile said he found the lack of competition in the online marketplace in his state “shameful” and blamed the federal government. Still, he said he believed his earlier efforts to encourage carriers to reduce rates worked.

Some regulators blame state lawmakers for not taking a more active role. In North Carolina, lawmakers decided not to expand Medicaid eligibility and not to run their own marketplace. Insurers “are accustomed to working with state insurance regulators,” rather than federal officials, said Wayne Goodwin, the state’s insurance commissioner.

“Had North Carolina maintained a state-based exchange and if it had expanded Medicaid, we would have had more health insurance carriers offering choices for consumers,” said Mr. Goodwin, an elected Democrat.

Observers cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the current landscape, noting that several major insurers were waiting to see what happens next.

One such company is Centene, a national insurer that has focused on plans for Medicaid recipients and low-income consumers.

K. Rone Baldwin, a Centene executive, said the company had offered plans under the brand name Ambetter Health in nine states, but it views this year as merely a start.

“We don’t view 2014 as the make-or-break year,” he said.

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« Reply #9544 on: Oct 25, 2013, 05:58 AM »

Germany and France demand talks with US over NSA spying revelations

German chancellor Angela Merkel says allies need to rebuild trust after reports her phone was monitored by US spies

Sam Jones, James Ball and agencies, Friday 25 October 2013 08.55 BST     

The French and German governments have demanded talks with the US by the end of the year as the row over the spying activities of the US National Security Agency intensifies.

Their calls follow reports that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had her phone monitored by the NSA and reports that the agency eavesdropped on calls made by members of the French administration.

The revelations are threatening to create a major rift between the US and its European allies. The former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that such activities had to be curtailled. "There is no reason to spy on Angela Merkel. It's a real scandal," he said. "A new agreement is needed between the EU and the US; this cannot continue.

Others, however, were less shocked by recent reports. "I can't believe anyone is terribly surprised," Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to Nato, told the same programme. Volker said every government tried to collect the best possible information, adding: "As a government official for many years I assumed that my cellphone and email account were susceptible to spying."

The controversy deepened on Thursday when the Guardian revealed the NSA had monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department. The latest claims, which emerged from a classified document provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, have further overshadowed this week's EU summit in Brussels.

Despite US efforts to placate Merkel – including a phonecall made by the US president, Barack Obama, on Wednesday – she has refused to conceal her anger over the issue. "We need trust among allies and partners," Merkel told reporters in Brussels on Thursday. "Such trust now has to be built anew. This is what we have to think about."

Although the US and Europe were allies facing the same challenges, she said, "such an alliance can only be built on trust. That's why I repeat again: spying among friends, that cannot be." She added: "It's become clear that for the future, something must change – and significantly.

"We will put all efforts into forging a joint understanding by the end of the year for the co-operation of the [intelligence] agencies between Germany and the US and France and the US, to create a framework for the co-operation."

Her sentiments were echoed by the French president, François Hollande. "What is at stake is preserving our relations with the United States," he said. "They should not be changed because of what has happened. But trust has to be restored and reinforced."

The latest confidential memo provided by Snowden reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials in its "customer" departments – such the White House, State and the Pentagon – to share their "Rolodexes" so the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems.

The document notes that one unnamed US official handed over 200 numbers, including those of the 35 world leaders, none of whom is named. These were immediately "tasked" for monitoring by the NSA.

After Merkel's allegations became public, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, issued a statement that said the US "is not monitoring and will not monitor" the German chancellor's communications. But that failed to quell the row, as officials in Berlin quickly pointed out that the US did not deny monitoring her phone in the past.

Earlier, it was reported that the US had denied ever spying on the British prime minister, David Cameron. Caitlin Hayden, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told the Daily Telegraph: "We do not monitor PM Cameron's communications."

Asked if the US had ever spied on Cameron in the past, she replied: "No."

The prime minister's official spokesman refused to comment, saying: "I'm not going to comment on matters of security or intelligence."

Britain and the US – along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand – are members of the so-called Five Eyes group, who share signals intelligence and are supposed not to spy on each other.


Germany and France warn NSA spying fallout jeopardises fight against terror

Angela Merkel and François Hollande lead push at EU summit to reshape transatlantic spying and agree new code of conduct

Ian Traynor in Brussels, Friday 25 October 2013 12.31 BST   

Germany and France are to spearhead a drive to try to force the Americans to agree new transatlantic rules on intelligence and security service behaviour in the wake of the Snowden revelations and allegations of mass US spying in France and tapping of the German chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone.

At an EU summit in Brussels that was hijacked by the furore over the activities of the National Security Agency in the US and Britain's GCHQ, the French president, François Hollande, also called for a new code of conduct agreed between national intelligence services in the EU, raising the question of whether Britain would opt to join in.

Shaken by this week's revelations of NSA operations in France and Germany, EU leaders and Merkel in particular warned that the international fight against terrorism was being jeopardised by the perception that mass US surveillance was out of control.

The leaders "stressed that intelligence-gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism", a summit statement said. "A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary co-operation in the field of intelligence-gathering."

Merkel drove the point home: "We need trust among allies and partners. Such trust now has to be built anew … The United States of America and Europe face common challenges. We are allies. But such an alliance can only be built on trust."

Privately, according to senior sources who witnessed the two-hour discussion of intelligence snooping on Thursday evening, Merkel told the other leaders that the issue at stake was not that her mobile phone may have been tapped by the Americans, but that it represented "the phones of millions of European citizens".

While conceding that intelligence services everywhere might be prone to behaving badly, Hollande dismissed suggestions that the Americans were merely operating as other security services also did. He complained that the revelations by the US whistleblower, Edward Snowden, showed a level of eavesdropping and data gathering that took place nowhere in Europe and was unique to the US agency.

It is plain that the French and the Germans want to limit the damage from the NSA furore, but also hope to engage the Americans to rein in their activities. They set a deadline of the end of the year for results. The statement said other countries could join the negotiations, leaving the door open for British participation.

Given the role of GCHQ in the mass surveillance, Cameron found himself the target of veiled criticism at the summit, according to witnesses. Merkel complained that Britain enjoyed a privileged position with the Americans because it is the only EU member in the "Five Eyes Club" – the intelligence-sharing arrangement linking the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Senior EU security officials suspect that Berlin may seek to exploit the crisis to gain admission to, or at least greater co-operation with, the Five Eyes pact.

Cameron, sources said, responded to the critical remarks by stressing that under his premiership the shared intelligence with the four other countries had resulted in several terrorist plots being foiled, with countless lives saved.

The controversy deepened on Thursday when the Guardian revealed that the NSA had monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given their phone numbers by an official in another US government department. The latest claims, which emerged from a classified document provided by Snowden, have further overshadowed this week's EU summit in Brussels.

Despite US efforts to placate Merkel – including a phone call with the US president, Barack Obama, on Wednesday – she has refused to conceal her anger.

Merkel briefed the other leaders in some detail on the 20-minute conversation with Obama, sources said, adding that several participants commented that they thought the US leader was "embarrassed".

The European anger and frustration was directed at a US agency seen to be out of control and beyond appropriate scrutiny rather than being aimed at Obama.

The latest confidential memo provided by Snowden reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials in its "customer" departments – such as the White House, state department and the Pentagon – to share their Rolodexes so that the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems.

The document notes that one unnamed US official handed over 200 numbers, including those of the 35 world leaders, none of whom has been named. These were immediately "tasked" for monitoring by the NSA.


10/24/2013 07:16 PM

'That's Just Not Done': Merkel Comments on Spying Allegations

German Chancellor Angela Merkel broke her silence Thursday over German allegations that US intelligence agencies tapped her cell phone. Upon arriving at an EU summit in Brussels, Merkel told reporters that the trust between Germany and the US "now has to be built anew."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded sharply Thursday to reports that her cell phone has been the target of United States intelligence gathering. "Spying between friends, that's just not done," she said upon arriving in Brussels for a planned, two-day summit of European Union leaders.

The chancellor confirmed to reporters that she told US President Barack Obama by phone on Wednesday that there needs to be trust among allies and that "such trust now has to be built anew." Spying among friends is unacceptable, Merkel continued, "This applies to every citizen in Germany. Thus, as chancellor, I am responsible for enforcing it."

It is the first time that Merkel has personally commented on the spying allegations, which were brought to the chancellor's attention by a SPIEGEL inquiry. Her spokesman publicly raised the issue on Wednesday, forcefully calling on the Obama administration to clarify the claims. On Thursday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle took the unusual step of calling a meeting with the American ambassador to Germany, John B. Emerson.

'We Need to Take Measures'

Several other EU leaders at the summit in Brussels echoed Germany's concerns about US spying. "Facts are facts. We cannot accept this systematic spying, whatever it may be," said Elio di Rupo, the Belgian prime minister. "We need to take measures and I can't imagine measures at the national level. We need to take European measures."

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said: "Our capacity to search for this kind of information is to hinder terrorism, criminal activities, the risk of war. That should be clear."

"This is serious," intoned Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, "I will support [Merkel] completely in her complaint and say that this is not acceptable. I think we need all the facts on the table first."

The latest revelations come on the heels of a French newspaper report this week that the US National Security Agency (NSA) monitored millions of French phone calls, prompting Paris to summon the US ambassador for an explanation.

Meanwhile, Merkel is facing domestic political pressures, as she attempts to form a coalition government between her conservative Christian Democratic Union and the opposition Social Democrats before Christmas.


10/25/2013 12:24 PM

EU Summit: Merkel's Delicate Dance over Spying Allegations

By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Brussels

While at the EU summit in Brussels, German Chancellor Merkel has been forced to perform a diplomatic balancing act. She must express the appropriate amount of indignation over allegations she was spied on by the US, but she must also avoid alienating her important allies.

According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, there's no need to call her. Anyone who does this "basically always hears the same thing," she told journalists on Thursday night. Her comment came after yet another long day at a European Union summit in Brussels, though there is currently no "acute crisis," Merkel said, referring to the euro crisis, which has waned in recent months.

But the crisis over alleged spying by US intelligence agencies on her mobile phone has just begun, requiring her to perform a complicated balancing act.

The chancellor must appear outraged enough to reflect German and European outrage over the allegations, yet she must also avoid publicly denouncing Berlin's most important ally, the United States.

Her nonchalant reference to which of her mobile phones might be under surveillance by US intelligence agencies (a phone registered to her conservative Christian Democratic Party) is just one facet of this delicate diplomacy. EU member states have expressed their "mutual concern" over the US' activities and their trust has been shaken, she said. But, Merkel added, this trust must be quickly rebuilt because Europe and the US are allies, after all.

Regardless, rules and respect also apply to intelligence agencies, Merkel said sternly. As such, she and French President François Hollande plan to hold bilateral talks with the US to create parameters for intelligence work on behalf of the EU.

Verbal Pirouettes

The chancellor will hear nothing of ruling out the creation of free-trade agreement with the US in protest of the spying, as some have suggested. "Those who walk away must have an idea of how they plan to return," she said, adding that perhaps now the negotiations are more important than ever.

And the chancellor's verbal pirouettes continued with this statement: "Transatlantic friendship is not a one-way street," she said. "The Americans need friends too."

As for questions about how US President Barack Obama reacted to the allegations of spying during their conversation on Wednesday, Merkel was less forthcoming. "I won't quote from private conversations," she said tersely.

New Data Protection Initiative Still Unlikely

The chancellor's approach illustrates the dilemma of this EU summit. The leaders are all in agreement that spying between friends is "just not done," as Merkel said at her appearance in Brussels. Hollande made a personal complaint this week to Obama about surveillance operations on French citizens. Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta recently spoke out against alleged American spying in a talk with US Secretary of State John Kerry. And Belgian Prime Minister Elio de Rupo -- whose country's partly state-owned telecom company Belgacom was, according to documents seen by SPIEGEL, hacked by British intelligence agencies -- said simply: "We cannot accept this systematic spying."

But does so much indignation necessarily mean that the EU will decide on new data protection regulations? Almost certainly not.

At the end of the summit, the leaders will receive an invitation for their ministers to finally get serious about the implementation of a proposed data protection law, which EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding called "Europe's declaration of independence."

The European Parliament insists it had already demanded the suspension of the SWIFT agreement and the exchange of banking data with the US as early as Monday. "We now need the political will to introduce more data protection in Europe," said Christian Democratic European Parliament member Manfred Weber.

Jan Philipp Albrecht, a representative of the Green Party, rejected doubts that data protection regulation could be passed before European Parliament elections in May 2014, saying: "Of course it can be done, if there is will." And the word among European Commission members is that the cell phone scandal is the impetus needed to push forward a data protection initiative.

A Shift Into the Unknown

But member states remain reluctant. Before the Merkel cell phone scandal broke, the EU leaders had wanted to push data protection policy onto the backburner. Will this change under the pressure of current events? "I cannot promise it," said Merkel. The proposed provisions are said to be highly complex, complicated and problematic for Germany -- but also for other EU countries like Great Britain. National administrations are beholden to their respective data protection guidelines.

More EU data protection before 2015, as Reding and others have suggested, sounds like a compromise. But it is also a shift into the unknown. In the coming year, the current European Commission will end its term of office, and a new European Parliament assembles in May. A source within European delegation circles says the turnover "is a victory for US Internet companies," as still nothing official has been announced. But the Americans probably already knew that -- thanks to the NSA.


Report: U.S. may have hacked former French president’s network with Israel’s help

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 25, 2013 7:38 EDT

France believed the United States attempted to hack into its president’s communications network, a leaked U.S. intelligence document published on Friday suggests.

U.S. agents denied having anything to do with a May 2012 cyber attack on the Elysee Palace, the official residence of French presidents, and appeared to hint at the possible involvement of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, a classified internal note from the U.S. National Security Agency suggests.

Extracts from the document, the latest to emerge from the NSA via former contractor Edward Snowden, were published by Le Monde newspaper alongside an article jointly authored by Glenn Greenwald, the U.S. journalist who has been principally responsible for a still-unravelling scandal over large-scale U.S. snooping on individuals and political leaders all over the world.

The document is a briefing note prepared in April this year for NSA officials who were due to meet two senior figures from France’s external intelligence agency, the DGSE.

The French agents had travelled to Washington to demand explanations over their discovery in May 2012 of attempts to compromise the Elysee’s communications systems.

The note says that the branch of the NSA which handles cyber attacks, Tailored Access Operations (TAO), had confirmed that it had not carried out the attack and says that most of its closest allies (Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand) had also denied involvement.

It goes on to note: “TAO intentionally did not ask either Mossad or (Israel’s cyber intelligence unit) ISNU whether they were involved as France is not an approved target for joint discussions.”

Le Monde interpreted this sentence as being an ironic reference to a strong likelihood that Mossad had been behind the attack.

The cyber attacks on the Elysee took place in the final weeks of Nicolas Sarkozy’s term, between the two rounds of the presidential election which he ended up losing to Francois Hollande.

The attacks had been previously reported by French media, who have described them as an attempt to insert monitoring devices into the system but it remains unclear whether the presidential networks were compromised for any time.

There was no immediate response from the Elysee on Friday when asked for comment by AFP.

Sarkozy enjoyed warmer relations with the United States than any French president of recent times, to the extent that the media sometimes referred to him as “Sarko the American.”

The revelations about the Elysee attacks followed damaging revelations that the US had tapped the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and spied on other allies.

“Spying between friends, that’s just not done,” Merkel said Thursday at the start of a summit of European Union leaders which has been overshadowed by the issue.

On a lighter note, the leaked document published by Le Monde on Friday underlines that NSA officials were anxious not to cause any further offense to their angry French counterparts.

Along with the technical details, the briefing note contains a phonetic guide to the pronunciation of the names of the French visitors.

They included DGSE technical director Bernard Barbier and Patrick Pailloux.


NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts

• Agency given more than 200 numbers by government official
• NSA encourages departments to share their 'Rolodexes'
• Surveillance produced 'little intelligence', memo acknowledges

James Ball   
The Guardian, Friday 25 October 2013     

The National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department, according to a classified document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The confidential memo reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials in its "customer" departments, such as the White House, State and the Pentagon, to share their "Rolodexes" so the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems.

The document notes that one unnamed US official handed over 200 numbers, including those of the 35 world leaders, none of whom is named. These were immediately "tasked" for monitoring by the NSA.

The revelation is set to add to mounting diplomatic tensions between the US and its allies, after the German chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday accused the US of tapping her mobile phone.

After Merkel's allegations became public, White House press secretary Jay Carney issued a statement that said the US "is not monitoring and will not monitor" the German chancellor's communications. But that failed to quell the row, as officials in Berlin quickly pointed out that the US did not deny monitoring the phone in the past.

Arriving in Brussels for an EU summit Merkel accused the US of a breach of trust. "We need to have trust in our allies and partners, and this must now be established once again. I repeat that spying among friends is not at all acceptable against anyone, and that goes for every citizen in Germany."

The NSA memo obtained by the Guardian suggests that such surveillance was not isolated, as the agency routinely monitors the phone numbers of world leaders – and even asks for the assistance of other US officials to do so.

The memo, dated October 2006 and which was issued to staff in the agency's Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID), was titled "Customers Can Help SID Obtain Targetable Phone Numbers".

It begins by setting out an example of how US officials who mixed with world leaders and politicians could help agency surveillance.

"In one recent case," the memo notes, "a US official provided NSA with 200 phone numbers to 35 world leaders … Despite the fact that the majority is probably available via open source, the PCs [intelligence production centers] have noted 43 previously unknown phone numbers. These numbers plus several others have been tasked."

The document continues by saying the new phone numbers had helped the agency discover still more new contact details to add to their monitoring: "These numbers have provided lead information to other numbers that have subsequently been tasked."

But the memo acknowledges that eavesdropping on the numbers had produced "little reportable intelligence". In the wake of the Merkel row, the US is facing growing international criticism that any intelligence benefit from spying on friendly governments is far outweighed by the potential diplomatic damage.

The memo then asks analysts to think about any customers they currently serve who might similarly be happy to turn over details of their contacts.

"This success leads S2 [signals intelligence] to wonder if there are NSA liaisons whose supported customers may be willing to share their 'Rolodexes' or phone lists with NSA as potential sources of intelligence," it states. "S2 welcomes such information!"

The document suggests that sometimes these offers come unsolicited, with US "customers" spontaneously offering the agency access to their overseas networks.

"From time to time, SID is offered access to the personal contact databases of US officials," it states. "Such 'Rolodexes' may contain contact information for foreign political or military leaders, to include direct line, fax, residence and cellular numbers."

The Guardian approached the Obama administration for comment on the latest document. Officials declined to respond directly to the new material, instead referring to comments delivered by Carney at Thursday's daily briefing.

Carney told reporters: "The [NSA] revelations have clearly caused tension in our relationships with some countries, and we are dealing with that through diplomatic channels.

"These are very important relations both economically and for our security, and we will work to maintain the closest possible ties."

The public accusation of spying on Merkel adds to mounting political tensions in Europe about the scope of US surveillance on the governments of its allies, after a cascade of backlashes and apologetic phone calls with leaders across the continent over the course of the week.

Asked on Wednesday evening if the NSA had in the past tracked the German chancellor's communications, Caitlin Hayden, the White House's National Security Council spokeswoman, said: "The United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel. Beyond that, I'm not in a position to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity."

At the daily briefing on Thursday, Carney again refused to answer repeated questions about whether the US had spied on Merkel's calls in the past.

The NSA memo seen by the Guardian was written halfway through George W Bush's second term, when Condoleezza Rice was secretary of state and Donald Rumsfeld was in his final months as defence secretary.

Merkel, who, according to Reuters, suspected the surveillance after finding her mobile phone number written on a US document, is said to have called for US surveillance to be placed on a new legal footing during a phone call to President Obama.

"The [German] federal government, as a close ally and partner of the US, expects in the future a clear contractual basis for the activity of the services and their co-operation," she told the president.

The leader of Germany's Green party, Katrin Goring-Eckhart, called the alleged spying an "unprecedented breach of trust" between the two countries.

Earlier in the week, Obama called the French president François Hollande in response to reports in Le Monde that the NSA accessed more than 70m phone records of French citizens in a single 30-day period, while earlier reports in Der Spiegel uncovered NSA activity against the offices and communications of senior officials of the European Union.

The European Commission, the executive body of the EU, this week backed proposals that could require US tech companies to seek permission before handing over EU citizens' data to US intelligence agencies, while the European parliament voted in favour of suspending a transatlantic bank data sharing agreement after Der Spiegel revealed the agency was monitoring the international bank transfer system Swift.


Obama left increasingly isolated as anger builds among key US allies

Merkel the latest to rebuke Washington over NSA spying while US relationships in the Middle East are also unravelling

Dan Roberts and Paul Lewis in Washington, Thursday 24 October 2013 21.04 BST  

International anger over US government surveillance has combined with a backlash against its current Middle East policy to leave President Obama increasingly isolated from many of his key foreign allies, according to diplomats in Washington.

The furious call that German chancellor Angela Merkel made to the White House on Wednesday to ask if her phone had been tapped was the latest in a string of diplomatic rebukes by allies including France, Brazil and Mexico, all of which have distanced themselves from the US following revelations of spying by the National Security Agency.

But the collapse in trust of the US among its European and South American partners has been matched by an equally rapid deterioration in its relationships with key allies in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia this week joined Israel, Jordan and United Arab Emirates in signalling a shift in its relations with the US over its unhappiness at a perceived policy of rapprochement toward Iran and Syria.

Though the issues are largely unrelated, they have led to a flurry of diplomatic activity from Washington, which is anxious to avoid a more permanent rift in the network of alliances that has been central to its foreign policy since the second world war.

Secretary of state John Kerry has been meeting with Saudi and Israeli leaders in an effort to keep them involved in Middle East peace talks about Palestine and Syria, Obama met Wednesday with Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to reassure him over separate anxiety over US drone attacks, and the White House has been privately trying to mend fences with world leaders on the surveillance issue.

"The [NSA] revelations have clearly caused tension in our relationships with some countries and we are dealing with that through diplomatic channels," said White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday.

"These are very important relations both economically and for our security, and we will work to maintain the closest possible ties."

But the Guardian has spoken with several diplomats and foreign government officials – all of whom agreed to talk only on the condition of anonymity – who say the White House is still underestimating the anger felt over recent disclosures.

They argue that US officials are being deliberately disingenuous when they claim that all countries engage in similar forms of espionage, even against allies. While it is widely accepted that the US, Britain, France, Russia and China engage in counter-espionage, other countries do not have the tools to conduct surveillance on the scale of the NSA.

A European diplomat said that the White House had presented a false comparison by claiming all countries were engaged in the same tactics.

"How would the US respond if it discovered a friendly country was covertly listening to the calls of thousands of US citizens – including Obama?" the diplomat said.

France, Mexico, Brazil and Germany have all provided the White House with a list of detailed questions about the reports of surveillance, demanding explanations and assurances it will stop. None have so far received what they believe to be a satisfactory answer.

Some foreign officials posted in Washington have changed the way they conduct business since the revelations about US surveillance: not speaking about sensitive information over the phone, increasing the frequency of de-bugging inspections in embassies, and keeping some communications – those deemed most secret – out of secure cables, having now concluded that their encryption may have been compromised by the NSA.

In Brazil, thousands of federal workers are now being ordered to adopt a form of highly-encrypted email – a program that was quickly accelerated after the Edward Snowden disclosures. And although the State Department insists that a planned bilateral meeting between Obama and Brazillian president Dilma Rousseff has merely been "postponed", it has not yet been rescheduled. Brazil is insisting the US come clean about the nature of the surveillance it has been conducting before it schedules another summit.

Speaking before Wednesday's revelation about Merkel's phone, a senior western diplomat speculated that the tenor of debate would be transformed if it emerged that an elected European politician had been targeted – as occurred in Brazil and Mexico.

"If that happened, there would be a huge uproar," the diplomat said. "This is not an issue that will go away.

"The surveillance debate in the US is focused on the constitution – and whether the privacy of US citizens is compromised. There seems to be minimal acknowledgement about the concern other countries have about the rights of their citizens."

One European official said the disclosures had prompted EU countries to review policies on internet governance, privacy and data-sharing, amid growing scepticism about whether the US can be trusted. Major transatlantic trade negotiations have also been jeopardised amid anxiety that the US' surveillance tools give it an advantage during talks.

"It has become clear we're not doing business on a level-playing field during negotiations," the official said.

A Brazilian official said that some top-level discussions with the US on energy matters had been suspended as a consequence of leaks, which suggested Canada may have spied on its energy and mines ministry. It would be "impossible" for discussions to proceed on that basis, the official added.

A Latin American diplomat said that if no satisfactory answer and apology was forthcoming, a scenario they thought unlikely, there would be enormous pressure for affected countries to react with more than just rhetoric.

"Countries that have close partnerships simply should not spy on each other to that kind of level," they said. "There has to be some kind of consequences."

The combination of diplomatic setbacks has led to particular scorn from Obama's critics on the American right, who compare his growing international unpopularity with his criticism of George W Bush for damaging America's reputation through the Iraq war.

"This is a perfect storm," said Jim Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. "Countries are getting impatient with US foreign policy largely because they see it as one of disengagement, but the NSA scandal has given them fresh reason to mistrust us, too."

So far the official response in Washington has been muted, but there are signs of growing American frustration with the criticism it is receiving at the same time that it is expected to act as world leader.

On Wednesday, for example, Washington's outgoing ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Smith, rebuked those calling for greater US involvement in the Middle East.

"Much criticism has been directed at the US and there is a mounting frustration at the perceived lack of a coherent foreign policy in the region but then we hear the same refrain that somehow only we can fix it," he told an Arab/US policy conference in Washington.


10/24/2013 07:20 PM

Frenemies: Spying on Allies Fits Obama's Standoffish Profile

By Gregor Peter Schmitz

Diplomats are not surprised that the security agencies under US President Barack Obama have reportedly been monitoring close allies like German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has failed to foster close relationships with other heads of state, causing much frustration around the world.

US President Barack Obama was scheduled to visit the Church of Our Lady cathedral in Dresden during a June 2009 whistle-stop visit to Germany. Diplomats from the German Foreign Ministry had painstakingly planned every last detail. They were looking forward to the photographs of Chancellor Angela Merkel with the US president in front of cheering crowds.

But the White House bristled. The president didn't want to do that -- that was the word in Washington. He reportedly placed little value on such photo ops, and he had to leave as quickly as possible, to get to an appearance at the Buchenwald concentration camp. The haggling went back and forth for weeks, and in the end the White House gave in, but only a little. Obama raced through Dresden. After their visit inside the church, Merkel had to shake hands with visitors by herself. The president had already disappeared.

On this day, at the latest, it must have dawned on diplomats that this US president was different from his predecessors. He was someone who did not attach value to diplomatic niceties nor to the sensitivities of his close friends, which he already had proven as a presidential candidate. At that time he put Chancellor Merkel in an awkward position by wanting to make a campaign speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate. This site was traditionally set aside for sitting presidents, which Obama also knew.

The Democrat, who prefers to spend his evenings with his family or alone in front of his computer, has made it no secret in Washington that he does not want to make new friends. That maxim especially applies to his foreign diplomacy. Unlike his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama is loved by the people of the world, but much less by their heads of government. On the heels of recent revelations that US spy agencies might have monitored Chancellor Merkel's cell phone, the complaints about Merkel's "lost friend" Obama are misplaced. Obama doesn't want to be a friend

A Frosty Welcome

During a recent visit by a European head of government to Washington, the atmosphere was described as frosty by those in the entourage from Europe. Obama didn't find the time for even a little small talk, the sources said, and "it seemed to some like an appointment with a lawyer."

Obama angered Nicolas Sarkozy by choosing to dine with his family instead of with France's then-president during his visit to Paris. The Polish and Czech heads of state were informed by telephone by the president that a long-planned missile defense system would not be installed in their countries. And when it comes to Britain, traditionally America's closest partner, Obama was initially uncomfortable with the enshrined notion of a "special relationship" between the two countries. He may have expressed his own vision for the friendship when, on his state visit, he brought the queen an iPod as a gift. London was not amused.

The frustration extended well beyond the typical bruised vanities of the Europeans, whom members of the Obama administration like to describe behind closed doors as infantile. An African head of government said during a visit to Washington that he longed for the days of George W. Bush. At least with him, he said, one knew where one stood.

'Coolness Has Its Price'

Israel, one of the closest allies of the US, was irritated that Obama didn't find time for a state visit during his first term in office. Obama let the relationships with Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki deteriorate so much that the troop withdrawals grew more difficult.

And Obama promised the Asian diplomats that he would be the "Pacific president," but he just cancelled his trip to the continent because the budget debate was more important to him.

So much non-diplomacy is new among US presidents. Reagan wooed Margarent Thatcher. George H.W. Bush confided in Helmut Kohl as Bill Clinton did in Tony Blair. George W. Bush, who many thought was an isolationist, could count on a whole team of "buddies," such as the then-prime minister of Spain, José Aznar, and the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. He even entertained them at his ranch in Texas.

Merkel was also invited there, and in return Bush ate a dinner of wild boar in her German electoral district. The chancellor has from time to time said that she values such trans-Atlantic closeness.

That is over. "Coolness has its price," Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl wrote in 2010, adding that Obama appeared to have no genuine friend among world leaders. But what for? He has the NSA.

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« Reply #9545 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:05 AM »

10/25/2013 01:03 PM

Friday Elections: Czech Republic Prepares to Welcome 'Babisconi'

By Jan Puhl in Prague

Frustrated by their political class, Czechs have a habit of voting for unusual outsiders. In Friday's election, one newcomer looks set to do particularly well: Andrej Babis, the country's second-richest man. Other favorites include a prince and a hard-line communist.

A Czech tabloid recently nicknamed Andrej Babis, the new star on the Czech political scene, "Babisconi." But, when compared with Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, he quips: "I have no interest whatsoever in underaged girls."

In truth, there are some similarities between the Czech and the former Italian prime minister: Babis is a billionaire and the country's second-richest man. But he earned his fortune in agriculture, investing in grain, milk, meat and fertilizers. He likewise owns the Lieken wholesale bakery in Germany and has recently invested millions in a media conglomerate, including Mlada fronta Dnes, the country's largest broadsheet newspaper. Babis is now intent on entering politics.

Using private money, Babis established his ANO party, which means "yes" in Czech and stands for "Action of Dissatisfied Citizens." In the run-up to parliamentary elections, ANO has polled strongly: It may even become the second- or third-strongest party in parliament.

Babis is not the first outsider in Prague who has unexpectedly turned into a darling. The Czech public despairs of its political class and is willing to give anyone a chance who isn't a radical or a member of the establishment.

'I Want to Run the Country Like a Business'

Czech politics has been buffeted by scandal after scandal, and these elections were called because Prime Minister Petr Necas was forced to resign in the summer in the course of a scandal. Police combed his office after allegations arose that his chief of staff -- who was also his alleged mistress -- had bribed parliamentarians and instructed security services to surveil Necas' wife, from whom he was separated.

Babis' success is perhaps surprising given how little he has to say for himself. "I want to run the country like a business," he says before adding that the Czech Republic should no longer be governed by politicians "who have never worked." But, in Czech politics, few are troubled by Babis' lack of clarity on policy issues.

Earlier in the year, former Prime Minister Milos Zeman won the presidency. After a hiatus from politics, all Zeman seemingly had to do was show some folksy charm. He has admitted to drinking "six glasses of wine and two shots of plum brandy" daily. Zeman is also known for his bluster, often referring to political opponents as "hyenas."

Zeman smokes around 40 cigarettes a day and recently astonished his audience at a speech when he claimed that smoking is not harmful to one's health as long as one only starts after the age of 27.

Fractured Parliament, Fragile Coalition

Much more serious, though still an outsider, is Karel Schwarzenberg, the prince and former foreign minister who leads the fiscally conservative TOP 09 party. Some Czech voters support the amiable, idiosyncratic man and his party even though he speaks their language with a faint German accent. As a member of Europe's upper nobility, he has nine first names and was forced to live in exile for a long time during the country's communist era.

Paradoxically, even those who held power during that period are viewed as outsiders today. Since the country's transition to democracy, Czech communists have replaced the hammer and sickle of their party logo with cherries -- but that's about all the changes there have been. Indeed, they are considered to be the only communist party in Europe that sticks to the tenets of the Iron Curtain age. But doing so has given them an onerous stigma: No other party dares to team up with the oppressors of yore -- but, of course, this has also left them free of the taints of any scandals or affairs. They can expect to attract about as many votes as Babis, the billionaire.

Election experts predict that the party landscape in the Czech parliament will be very fractured, with up to 10 factions. The Social Democrats led by Bohuslav Sobotka will form the strongest faction, but they will have a hard time cobbling together a coalition government with staying power. It's hard to say whether Babis will play an important role in this, seeing that he lacks the lust for power and craftiness of a Berlusconi.

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« Reply #9546 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:13 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

Spain turns corner, as its recession officially ends

By Andrés Cala, Correspondent / October 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm EDT

Spain's recession is officially over.

But while that's good news for Europe’s fifth biggest economy – and for the European Union as whole – there's still a long way to go before the majority of Spaniards feel the improvements.

Spain’s Central Bank said Wednesday that the economy grew 0.1 percent in the third quarter – a facially insignificant but symbolically important indicator of the end of more than two years of grueling recession and an affirmation of Europe’s slow recovery. And Spain's National Statistics Institute announced today that unemployment dropped for a second straight quarter, to just under 26 percent.

Exports have surged as a result of improved Spanish competitiveness, albeit primarily due to plummeting workers’ wages. Foreign investment is also rising, as stock markets once again swell with money from abroad.

It’s invariably the beginning of what most expect will be a very slow recovery and the result of successful policies that have reined in a government deficit, unsustainable borrowing costs, and decades of uncontrollable spending.

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“This is good news that will improve confidence in Europe as a whole,” says Josep Oliver, an applied economics professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. “Spain’s crisis can’t be understood without understanding crisis in Greece, Italy, or elsewhere. As Spain does its homework and reduces financial fragmentation, the European economy improves, and as the European economy improves, Spain benefits more.”
A long road

Still, the majority of Spaniards have little reason to cheer. The economy is indeed recovering, but it’s not something that is palpable on the street. Exports and foreign investment don’t create many jobs or translate into more spending. Domestic consumption continues to contract, weighing down the economy.

Even if it is dropping, unemployment remains near record highs and salaries continue to fall. In fact, the slight drop in unemployment in 2013 is the result of an increase in seasonal employment, and permanent employment continues to decrease.

There is no end in sight to the austerity and painful adjustments that Spain has been prescribed to recover from its 7.5 percent economic contraction since 2008. Consensus forecasts estimate there are still two or three more years at least before any real recovery trickles down.

The end of the recession “won’t translate into more spending,” Dr. Oliver says. “The Spanish economy is heavily indebted and internal demand won’t improve soon, meaning the economy will continue relying on exports.”

In fact, the government of Mariano Rajoy plans little change in spending in 2014 and has already announced more spending cuts to continue cutting the deficit below 3 percent by 2016, the European target.

Spain’s public deficit is the highest in the European Union, topping 10 percent of the gross domestic product. The government expects the GDP for 2013 to shrink 1.3 percent, in line with other forecasts, while the economy in 2014 is expected to grow 0.7 percent, far below what is required for improvements to translate into noticeable improvements.

And there are numerous risks to Spain's recovery, mostly from abroad. Another budget showdown in the United States; a winding down of stimulus public spending, especially in the US; or a slowdown in China could all put Spain back into the line of fire.

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« Reply #9547 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:23 AM »

Woman in Bulgaria says girl found living with family in Greece may be hers

Sasha Ruseva says she will take back Maria if DNA tests prove girl is the daughter she left with family several years ago

Helena Smith in Sofia
The Guardian, Thursday 24 October 2013 19.24 BST   

A Bulgarian woman is undergoing DNA tests after authorities acknowledged she could be the biological mother of a girl found living with an unrelated Roma couple in Greece.

A worldwide hunt for the girl's parents led police to the central Bulgarian town of Nikolaevo where a mother of eight admitted she "may have" given birth to Maria.

Sasha Ruseva told Bulgarian TV that she had had a baby girl while working in Greece in January 2009, but could not afford to take her home. The baby was left with a fellow Roma family who agreed to raise her, Ruseva said, although she insisted money was never exchanged.

"I intended to go back and take my child. Meanwhile I gave birth to two more kids so I was not able to go back," Ruseva told reporters, while cradling a fair-skinned girl with a remarkable resemblance to blonde, blue-eyed Maria.

Her claims support the statements of the couple in whose home Maria was found when police raided a Roma community, ostensibly in search of weapons and drugs, in Greece last week. Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou were arrested on charges of abducting a minor and imprisoned pending trial on Monday.

Greek police hinted there was enough evidence to suggest that the 39-year-old man and 40-year-old woman were at the centre of a child trafficking ring. Much of that speculation hinged on the discovery that the woman had two identities and had claimed to have given birth to six of her 13 children in the space of 10 months. After DNA tests Greek authorities announced they were not Maria's biological parents.

A prosecutor's office in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, said it had opened a formal investigation into Ruseva's claims. The 38-year-old, who was expected to undergo a DNA test on Thursday, said she would take the child back if it was proved she was her daughter.

A Bulgarian interior ministry official said preliminary charges had been pressed against her "for deliberately selling a child while residing out of the country". The official said that, during questioning Ruseva had said she had recognised the Greek couple after seeing their pictures on TV.

Ruseva told reporters: "There is a resemblance but how should I know if she is mine or not," adding that she had not eaten and felt sick after seeing the pictures of Maria.

Hospital records in Greece show that Ruseva gave birth to a girl in Lamia, about 95 miles from the camp where Maria was discovered, on 31 January 2009 – the date the couple had registered as the child's birth date.

Maria has been moved into the care of the Greek charity, Smile of the Child, whose hotlines have been bombarded by more than 10,000 calls, often from people as far away as Australia and the US whose own offspring have gone missing.

For the past week the girl, who was thought to be around the age of four before a forensic pathologist declared she was likely to be five or six, has been undergoing medical examinations.


Call for Irish ombudsman to investigate Roma family removals

Rights group demands independent inquiry into why boy and girl were taken away by police and health authorities

Henry McDonald in Dublin, Thursday 24 October 2013 16.15 BST   

Ireland's ombudsman should investigate how the police and health authorities mistakenly took two children from two Roma families because they wrongly believed the boy and girl were victims of trafficking, a human rights organisation has demanded.

Pavee Point, the main advocacy group for the Roma community in Ireland, said an independent inquiry was needed rather than "self-investigation" by the Garda Síochána and the Heath Service Executive.

The seven-year-old girl and two-year-old boy were returned to their families on Wednesday after DNA tests proved their familial relationship.

The father of the boy, who was taken from his home in the Irish midlands by officers on Tuesday, produced a photograph showing that his blond son shared the fair colouring of his maternal grandfather in Romania.

Iancu Muntean was able to speak about the case because a judicial order that barred the other Roma family in Dublin from revealing their names does not apply to the Athlone family.

Muntean, having protested unsuccessfully to garda officers who arrived to take the child, said he told them: "You have the power. I don't have power. What can I do? I don't make trouble."

As his child was being driven away, he told the officers: "Please don't make him cry, please don't make him upset … Please bring my son home, I'll just give you whatever you want, just take me, not my son."

He said his wife and four-year-old daughter were extremely distressed and had been unable to sleep while his son was in the care of the HSE.

The 22-year-old Roma man, who has lived in Ireland since 2005, said he willingly offered DNA samples to prove the child was his son.

Alan Shatter, the Irish justice minister, has asked for a report on the incidents from Martin Callinan, the police commissioner, but said the officers involved had acted in good faith.

Pavee Point, however, stressed the need for a fully independent inquiry into what they described as "two state abductions".

Aisling Twomey, Pavee Point's spokeswoman, said: "We believe that this inquiry needs to go to the office of the ombudsman for complete independence and an entire review of the events of the past few days.

"The framework of that inquiry must take into account the actions of all state authorities to consider how these events came about and what could have, or should have, been done differently. We are pushing for this full and complete independence and anything less is insufficient."

Twomey said the Roma families had received a mixture of "support, concern and vitriol in relation to these cases" through her organisation.

She added: "Racism and discrimination against the Roma have been significant problems long before this news coverage started."

Iancu Muntean senior said he hoped what had happened to his son never happened to another family.

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« Reply #9548 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:26 AM »

Childless couple arrested in Greece for 'buying' Roma baby

Arrests follow international furore over case of girl called Maria found living with unrelated Roma family

Associated Press in Athens, Friday 25 October 2013 11.43 BST   

Greek police have arrested a childless couple in Athens on suspicion of buying an eight-month-old Roma girl and trying to register her as their own, amid an international search for the parents of another little girl known as Maria who was found living with an unrelated Roma family in Greece.

Bulgarian authorities are now trying to establish whether a local Roma woman is the mother of Maria, a strikingly fair girl aged five or six. The woman has been tested for a DNA match and served with preliminary charges of child selling, but has not been detained.

The case of Maria has drawn global attention, playing on the shocking possibility of children being stolen from their parents and sold. But its handling by both the media and the authorities has raised concerns of racism towards the European Union's estimated 6 million Roma – a minority long marginalised across most of the continent.

The couple arrested in Athens on Wednesday allegedly paid a Roma woman €4,000 ($£3,400) for the baby, a Greek police statement said. Authorities are looking for the baby's birth parents and potential intermediaries in the alleged transaction.

The suspects, aged 53 and 48, were expected to be charged later on Friday with child abduction, which under Greek law can include cases where a minor is voluntarily given away by its parents outside the legal adoption process.

The same charges were brought against the couple with whom Maria was found living in a Roma settlement outside Farsala, in central Greece, a week ago. They have been kept in custody pending trial. They are also suspected of fraudulently obtaining birth certificates for a total of 14 children.

Greek authorities are trying to work out whether the children all exist, or whether the alleged document fraud was part of a welfare scam – the couple allegedly received more than €2,500 a month in benefits.

They insist they were looking after Maria with their own five children after an informally arranged adoption.

The girl was placed into the care of a children's charity and her DNA details were provided to Interpol which has so far failed to match her to any missing children declared in its records, from Poland to the US.

On Wednesday, another Roma couple were charged with child abduction on the eastern Greek island of Lesvos, after police found them with a baby boy that was not their own. The couple allegedly told authorities that they were childless and had been given the baby by a Roma woman in Athens who had five children of her own and took pity on them.

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« Reply #9549 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:30 AM »

Roma fear witch hunt after Greek case

The discovery of a girl unrelated to the Roma couple bringing her up has led to fears of an unfair backlash across Europe

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Helena Smith in Athens, Philip Oltermann in Berlin and Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Thursday 24 October 2013 20.16 BST      

When Maria Demeova sat down on her bus to work and glanced at newspaper headlines about the "blonde angel" child taken from a Roma couple in Greece, her heart sank. "Though the facts of the case haven't been established, there is a fear that the whole Roma community across Europe is being put on trial for something which might or might not have happened in one family," she says.

Now a teaching assistant at a Sheffield secondary school, 28-year-old Demeova, who is Roma, says she grew up with daily prejudice and discrimination, which persists in her native Slovakia.

"I was segregated at school, kept away from the non-Roma children, but I worked hard, I got a good degree."

In the UK, she supports Europe Roma International. "We spend a lot of time countering stereotypes that are totally wrong – that none of us have blue eyes or fair hair, that we don't want to work, that we're all musicians. Roma are very worried about this child case and media coverage across Europe. Even in the UK, Roma are talking about it, asking, will people be afraid of us all now?"

The 10 to 12 million Roma people in Europe already make up one of the largest, most disadvantaged minorities on the continent. They frequently live in makeshift camps with no water or electricity, face routine evictions, become victims of violence, are discriminated against over jobs, and find their children segregated at school.

Rights groups are now, however, concerned about a knock-on effect across Europe of an anti-Roma witch hunt gathering pace following the frenzy over the case of Maria, the fair-haired child found in the Roma camp near Farsala, Greece.

DNA tests have shown that Maria is not related to the couple raising her and the man and woman have been held on charges of abduction and document fraud while an investigation continues.

Days after this discovery, two fair-haired Roma children in Ireland, a girl aged seven, and a two-year-old boy , were taken from their parents by police on the basis that they looked different from their relatives. But after DNA tests they were returned to their families.

Martin Collins, of the Traveller and Roma centre Pavee Point, says he blames a kind of "hysteria" sweeping the continent since the Greece case. He says he fears the start of racial profiling, with authorities going into Roma communities and forcibly removing children in the absence of any welfare concerns.

There are also fears of the public taking matters into their own hands. In Serbia last weekend there were reports of skinheads entering a Roma area and trying to take a boy aged two from his family because he was "not as dark as his parents". The parents called the police.

The Roma community, suffering stereotyping and prejudice over perceived criminality, was alreadybeen a target.

Earlier this year some people in Dortmund, Germany, called the police to report that adults of Roma appearance were taking children to a flat and leaving without them. When the police investigated, they realised the flat was the venue for a children's birthday party.

In Italy, in 2007, three weeks after the murder of an Italian woman by a Romanian immigrant sparked an intense anti-Roma outcry, a 15-month-old girl was snatched from her mother's parked car in the small town of Cernusco Lombardone, near Milan, while her mother went into a supermarket. One of the first places the police looked, according to reports, was a nearby Gypsy camp. They found nothing there because soon afterwards the baby was discovered at the home of a mentally unstable Italian woman in the area.

Dezideriu Gergely, executive director of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in Budapest, says: "If a crime has been committed in Greece, and it's still by no means clear, those who committed it should be treated as individuals, not as representatives of their ethnicity.

"The Irish cases show how easily authorities can act on assumptions or perceptions. This type of action is racial profiling, targeting a group following a concept of guilty until proven otherwise. Since the Greek case [in Roma communities], the assumption that their children don't belong to their families is causing a lot of anxiety.

"There is a misconception, a prejudice and stereotype, which is that Roma are thieves and therefore they steal babies, and on the basis of this stereotype people expect authorities to act. I've never seen a case like this before."

Campaigners warn that European countries' administrations have for years fostered widespread violations of the rights of Roma children. Roma children are statistically much more likely than others to be put into state care, forced into segregated school classes to be kept apart from the majority populations, and forcibly evicted from their homes.

A 2011 report by the ERRC found "significant over-representation" of Roma children in state care institutions in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Romania and Slovakia. The researchers said children were often removed due to prejudice and racism.

While poverty was not officially an acceptable criterion for removing children to a home, in the case of Roma the authorities were blaming families for not being able to improve their social and living conditions; they took children away on the basis of poverty.

The placing of Roma children who do not have any unusual educational needs or mental disability into special needs schools continues in countries such as the Czech Republic.

The European court of human rights has ruled against several countries, including Hungary, Greece, the Czech Republic and Croatia, for segregating Roma schoolchildren.

"You'd hope educating children in special schools simply because of their ethnicity would be unthinkable in Europe in 2013," said Fotis Filippou, of Amnesty International, after one ruling.

Gabriela Hrabanova, the former head of the Czech government's Roma office, and now policy coordinator for the European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network, in Brussels, warns that speculation around the Greek case may fuel the rhetoric of extreme-right political groups in the runup to European elections.

She says: "There's a real fear of increased stigmatisation against Roma as a whole because it will feed the racist rhetoric of hard-right parties rising in Europe. Already politicians are using this case. In the runup to elections this is particularly worrying, because this discourse will have a negative effect on politicians deciding public policy."

She says the case feeds into stereotypes embodied in storytelling by adults, especially the old saying: "Behave, or the Gypsies will take you."

Despite recent moves by bodies such as the European commission and Council of Europe to highlight and combat discrimination against Roma, deprivation and segregation of many their communities in Europe has increased. Meanwhile, the anti-Roma political discourse, once the preserve of the far right, has moved more and more into the mainstream.

Last month the EU told France it could face sanctions over the treatment of its Roma community after the Socialist interior minister said most should be deported and France was "not here to welcome these populations". Amnesty International reported 10,000 Roma evicted from makeshift camps in France in the first half of this year.

François Hollande, the French president, is embroiled in a row over Leonarda, a Roma girl, aged 15, who was ordered off a school bus in France and deported to Kosovo. The Czech Republic has seen a wave of anti-Roma street demonstrations in recent months.

In Greece, in an atmosphere of rightwing extremism and growing racism, authorities have targeted the 300,000-strong Roma community, human rights groups say. The raid on the Farsala Roma camp, where Maria was found, is a part of that drive, they say. "Roma have been persecuted [here] for as long as anyone can remember but they have been particularly scapegoated recently with camps being raided supposedly in search of weapons and drugs," says Petros Constantinou, who runs Greece's leading anti-racist, anti-fascist movement, Keerfa.

The government, he adds, "is determined to assume the far-right mantle" in law and order. "And it has seen that attacks on Roma work." He says the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has seen its popularity rise on the back of "progroms" against the Roma. Like other human rights defenders he thinks the media's "blonde angel" discovery has served to reinforce racist stereotypes.

Nikos Voultsos, who also works at Keerfa, says: "From what we know, there have been raids on camps nationwide following the discovery of the little girl. The case has been used to stigmatise an entire community."

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« Reply #9550 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:32 AM »

Madeleine McCann inquiry reopened by Portuguese police

Fresh investigation into British girl's disappearance comes a week after UK police made TV appeal with efit of new suspect

Vikram Dodd   
The Guardian, Thursday 24 October 2013 18.13 BST   

Portugese police, who once falsely treated the parents of Madelaine McCann as suspects in her disapearance, have reopened their investigation after discovering new lines of inquiry.

The fresh Portugese investigation will run in parallel with the Scotland Yard inquiry that produced an efit of a man detectives want to identify and question, and who is yet to come forward.

British police say the Portugese lines of inquiry are seperate, at this stage, to the ones developed by the Yard's investigation.

Kate and Gerry McCann said the developments gave them hope their missing daughter will be found and that those who abducted her will be hunted down.

Madeleine, then aged three, disappeared six years ago during a family holiday in Praia da Luz, southern Portugal, whose police force shelved the case five years ago.

A review by a new team of Portugese detectives led officials to decide to launch the latest investigation.

In a statement the McCanns said: "We are very pleased that the investigation to find our missing daughter Madeleine has been officially reopened in Portugal.

"We hope that this will finally lead to her being found and to the discovery of whoever is responsible for this crime. Please be patient and respect the work of the police as they endeavour to find the answers we so desperately need."

Last week Metropolitan police officers flew to Portugal to be briefed on the latest developments from the Portugese police. The McCanns were briefed at the end of the meeting in Lisbon.

The Met described the developments as "significant" and said detectives from Operation Grange, the UK-led hunt for Madeleine, will now travel regularly to Portugal to liase with detectives.

Mark Rowley, a Met assistant commissioner, said: "The meeting was very positive, and we and the policia judiciara [Portuguese police] have a shared determination to do everything possible to discover what happened to Madeleine.

"Colleagues in Portugal fully shared with us the developments in their review, and the fact that they were taking the significant step of applying for the investigation to be formally reopened.

"This is a welcome development, but both sides of the investigation are at relatively early stages, with much work remaining to be done."

The head of the British investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, made fresh television appeals last week in the United Kingdom, Holland and Germany. Another appeal will be screened on Irish television later this month.

Rowley said: "This new momentum is encouraging, but we still have a way to go, and as with all major investigations, not all lines of enquiry that look promising will yield results."

The home secretary, Theresa May, welcomed the developments. "The police have been working very closely with the Portuguese police and I think they've been developing the evidence and the leads and possibilities of leads that we've seen coming forward recently," she told the BBC.

"I think we've got very good collaboration between the Met and the Portuguese police and I think that is now starting to bear fruit.

"I hope it will enable a resolution of this terrible thing that happened to the McCann family, so that her parents are able to know finally what did happen to Madeleine."

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« Reply #9551 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:40 AM »

Swiss activists on campaign to rein in executive pay: ‘We’re going to pull out all the stops’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 24, 2013 18:58 EDT

Supporters of a drive to rein in executive pay in Switzerland stepped up their campaign Thursday after polls put them neck and neck with opponents a month before a referendum.

Hoping to see the same kind of backlash that in March saw Swiss voters back a ban on golden handshakes in the business world, the left-wing campaigners behind the “1:12″ initiative are working round the clock ahead of the November 24 plebiscite.

The 1:12 label refers to the ratio between the lowest and highest salaries in companies, which the referendum spearheaded by the youth wing of the Swiss Socialist Party would lay down in the law.

“We’re going to pull out all the stops,” David Roth, head of the youth wing, told AFP.

To hammer home their message, the campaigners have opted for guerrila marketing tactics in Switzerland’s financial hub Zurich, projecting images onto the building of banking giant UBS.

They also kicked off a “Fat Cat of the Week” campaign on their Facebook page, spotlighting the head of UBS’s investment banking division Andrea Orcel.

Orcel’s salary is 194 times higher than that of the lowest-paid UBS employee, they underlined.

The former Bank of America Merrill Lynch executive chairman, previously at Goldman Sachs, also received a 26-million Swiss franc (21 million euro, $29 million) golden handshake when he joined UBS in 2012.

The 1:12 proposal is opposed fiercely by the Swiss business world and the right and centre of the political spectrum, and had been expected to fall flat.

But a poll commissioned by Switzerland’s public broadcaster SSR, released at the end of last week, showed that supporters and opponents on 44 percent each.

“It’s better than previous polls which only gave 35 percent in favour,” Roth said, though he cautioned that campaigners knew they still had their work cut out.

“It could still vary between 10 or 15 percent for each side,” he explained.

Referendums are the cornerstone of Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, and are held several times a year.

Most Swiss cast their ballots by post, and their voting papers are scheduled to be sent out next week, along with campaign material from the opposing camps.

With voters therefore weighing up their choices, Roth said his campaign team planned a massive rally in Zurich on November 2.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9552 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:44 AM »

Turkish college students revive the country’s dormant protest movement

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 24, 2013 17:40 EDT

Four months after protests against the planned redevelopment of an Istanbul park devolved into a violent national uproar against the government, Turkish students are taking to the streets once again to fight an all-too-familiar scheme.

Turkish riot police fired on students with tear gas and water cannon as workers broke ground last week on a road that will intersect the campus of Middle East Technical University (METU), which contains the largest park in the capital of Ankara.

The authorities had hoped the cover of darkness and the Eid Holidays would deter them, but activists have been battling the project since September and amassed rapidly once an alert went out that work had begun.

The planned route, designed to alleviate a chronic traffic problem that chokes the city, will see 3,000 trees uprooted, and has received the full-throated backing of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Nothing will stop the construction of this road. This road is civilisation,” he told ministers during a weekly meeting on Tuesday. “Even if we have to destroy a mosque, we will knock it down and rebuild it elsewhere. But the road will go ahead!”

Erdogan has referred to those opposed to the project as “modern-day bandits” and accused the opposition Republican People’s Party of stoking the atmosphere of revolt, a charge he has levelled against political opponents before.

In fact, the parallels to another contentious development of a Turkish park are somewhat uncanny.

June’s unrest at Gezi Park in Istanbul erupted when a peaceful sit-in against the destruction of the city’s main green space was met with a heavy-handed response that left at least six people dead and thousands injured in three weeks of clashes between protesters and police.

The violence spiralled into nationwide demonstrations against Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), accused of repressing critics and forcing Islamic values on the mainly Muslim but staunchly secular nation.

Even Erdogan’s vice-premier, Bulent Arinc, has noted the obvious echoes between the two sites. “There are incidents at METU that remind us of what happened at Gezi,” he said.

The rector of the university, Ahmet Acar, described the decision to start construction as “illegal” and has promised to take the issue to court, and as the days go on the protests are expected to grow larger.

Solidarity vigils are already beginning. On Tuesday in the city of Eskisehir, west of Ankara, where student Ali Ismail Korkmaz was beaten so severely in June (allegedly by police) he eventually died of a brain haemorrhage, students gathered to plant trees in their own university’s park.

Round Two for Erdogan?

These are the green shoots of a secular and liberal dominated protest movement that has lain relatively dormant for the last few months.

“As with Gezi, it’s not just about trees being uprooted,” Zeki Ulkenli, professor of town planning at METU, told AFP. “It’s the entire platform of this government that’s in question.”

The movement has a formidable foe in Erdogan, even with an image tarnished by what Amnesty International described as “gross human rights violations” committed in June, including the use of live ammunition, tear gas, water cannon, plastic bullets and beatings.

“Some people don’t seem to have learned their lesson from Gezi,” said Jean Maurice Rippert, the European Union’s ambassador to Turkey, on Monday.

And some see Erdogan’s bloody-minded attack on opponents of the road project at a progressive institution as holding a particular significance for the conservative Islamic-rooted premier.

“Prime Minister Erdogan is leading a punitive raid against METU, as he has done against other institutions that have been focal points for protest against him,” said a young professor at the university on condition of anonymity.

But, he warned, “This place can resist.”

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« Reply #9553 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:46 AM »

Couple's kiss in Kurdistan kicks off storm of protest

Islamic groups in Iraqi Kurdistan condemn kiss protesting against vandalism of famous sculpture in Sulaimaniya

Orlando Crowcroft in Sulaimaniya, Thursday 24 October 2013 15.52 BST      

Last week Kamaran Najm was a little-known local photographer going about his life in Sulaimaniya, in Iraqi Kurdistan. But one kiss changed all that.

Najm, 31, caused a storm of controversy when he posted a picture of him and his girlfriend kissing in Azadi park, near the city centre, on the plinth of a recently vandalised statue.

The kiss was a protest against a spate of vandalism in Suli, as it is affectionately known by locals, that culminated in the destruction of sculptor Zaher Sidq's 2009 Statue of Love – which shows a man and woman embracing – in the park.

"I was in the park with some friends. It was just a normal gathering, and I asked my girlfriend to climb up on the statue. I just turned to her and we looked at each other, and then we kissed," he said. "Of course, we knew it wasn't just a normal kiss between boyfriend and girlfriend. It was a protest against the people who destroyed the statue."

A friend took a picture of Najm and his Dutch girlfriend – whose name they are not revealing owing to security concerns – which Najm published on his Facebook page with a simple caption: "No comment." Then, he says, the backlash started. "The first three hours it was mainly media outlets calling me. I had no idea that this was the first public kiss in Azadi park," he said.

Although the couple were protesting at the vandalism, which included an attack on the grave of famed Kurdish romantic poet Sherko Bekas, not everyone got the picture. Kurdistan's two major Islamic groups spoke out in condemnation, believing they had set out to offend Islamic sensibilities. "Everyone should be against the kiss. It's an effort to disorient Kurdish Muslim youths," Muhammad Hakim, of the Kurdistan Islamic Group, was quoted as saying by Kurdish online news site Bas News.

The authorities seem to agree, with local media reporting that the regional prosecutor was pursuing a lawsuit against Najm for "behaving or performing an act out of the accepted social and cultural norms".

The news that Najm could be charged has led to copycat pictures on Facebook, but he says he has not had time to pay much attention to them. "I've been told couples in and outside Kurdistan have been taking pictures of themselves kissing and putting it on Facebook. I am told it is about 10 or 11 couples now," Najm said.

Meanwhile his personal life – and not just calls from angry relatives – has kept him busy."I've been saying my girlfriend, but I should say my fiancee now," he said, proudly. "With the photograph out there, we just decided it was time."

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« Reply #9554 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:50 AM »

Indian prime minister not worried about U.S. hacking because he doesn’t have a cell phone or use email

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 25, 2013 7:44 EDT

India’s 81-year-old prime minister does not own a mobile phone or use personal email, giving New Delhi “no cause for concern” about new U.S. hacking revelations, his office said Friday.

The Guardian newspaper reported Friday that U.S. spies eavesdropped on the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after White House, Pentagon and State Department officials gave them the numbers.

The new revelations, based on a classified document provided by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, come amid fury from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose communications were allegedly targeted.

Asked if Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was concerned, his spokesman replied: “The prime minister doesn’t use a mobile phone and he doesn’t have an email account.

“His office uses email, but he has no personal email … We have no information and no cause for concern,” he added.

India has witnessed a mobile telecom boom in the past decade with the latest figures from the national telecom regulator showing 876 million phone connections in the country of 1.2 billion people.

But the industry is also at the heart of one of the worst graft scandals afflicting Singh’s embattled administration with ex-telecom minister A. Raja on trial over allegedly corrupt allocation of phone licenses in 2008.

India initially played down the impact of spying by the US National Security Agency, saying that information gleaned from its activities had helped prevent terror attacks and loss of life.

But following allegations that computers and phones in the Indian embassy and its UN mission in New York had been compromised, it took a slightly tougher line, saying it would seek answers from Washington.

Soft-spoken Singh, promoted to the top job owing to his reputation as “Mr. Clean” and a successful stint as a reformist finance minister in the 1990s, has seen his popularity plunge in recent years.

Instead of the wise and respected economist capable of steering India through momentous change, he is now routinely portrayed in the local media as the out-of-touch and weak head of a graft-ridden government.

On Thursday, while returning from a trip to Russia and China, he told journalists that he would be happy to be questioned by police over an alleged coal scam amid growing speculation he will be called to give evidence.

He also defended his legacy.

“I am doing my duty. I will continue to do my duty. What impact my 10 years of prime ministership will have is something which is for historians to judge,” he added.

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