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« Reply #11280 on: Jan 15, 2014, 08:07 AM »

ALGERIA Season presidential

Regular, opponents, family system, emigrants or stagers of Algerian politics, declared or potential presidential candidates in the election next April begin to talk about them.

El-Watan
Ali Boukhlef
January 15, 2014   

Never a presidential election was surrounded by so much uncertainty, intrigue and, most importantly, puzzles. Three months before the election, no candidate stands out. Despite the darkness, candidates engage in battle. If some know in advance that they will be eliminated before the final race, others are aware that they will serve, at best, hares real competitors. In a competition often played outside the polls, some candidates for nomination are already included Dean.

This is the case Zeghdoud Ali, chairman of a microscopic advantage: the Algerian Rally. The man and the training that is part of what some observers call "seasonal" policy. They disappear for years before reappearing, often for reasons other than political competition, with the approach of elections. Asked by reporters about the reasons for this attitude, the old politician said that "to make policy, we need resources." The speaker speaks, of course, funding.

Like many of his "colleagues", Ali Zeghdoud comes to the presidential election, but do not forget to support each occasion, the Head of State in place. This is also the case of Mohamed Benhamou, a defector from the Algerian National Front [FNA, conservative] who created a party, El-Karama (Dignity). This training had its first dissent even before approval.

The presence of Bouteflika distort race

Among the ancient figures that animate political life during each election, Ali Fawzi Rebaine, president of Ahd 54 [54 pact with reference to the principles of the Algerian revolution 1954], is one of the few individuals capable of enforce an impeccable political pedigree. In addition to his activism, which earned him months imprisonment in 1980, the son of shaheed [martyr] regularly participates in the presidential election. It gets certainly modest results "due to fraud", but his opposition to the system is constant. His attacks against the government are all virulent recurring.

Son of shaheed too, Moussa Touati is also a "regular" presidential candidate for at least 10 years. The President of the Algerian National Front (FNA) has achieved modest results in the last elections. The child Medea [80km south-west of Algiers] frankly does not support power. But unlike other parties, he prefers a "constructive opposition."

Among the opponents who have never contested the elections, Soufiane Djilali has the profile of an opponent therefore. This fifties, who created in 2012 the Jil Jadid [new generation] party is the only one for now, to condition his candidacy withdrawal from the race of the current head of state. He believes that the presence of Abdelaziz Bouteflika distort the race.

In addition to these more or less known personalities Algerians, a new class of citizens came to give color to this supposed to be the largest in the country's politics election. At least four "immigrants" want to try their luck to preside over the destinies of the country. This is the famous writer Yasmina Khadra, the businessman Rachid Nekkaz, the financial expert Ali Benouari and economist Kamel Benkoussa.

An alternative

In addition to being ignored Algerians, some are facing a big problem: they must give up their second nationality. Rachid Nekkaz would have done, while, obviously, Yasmina Khadra [pseudonym of the writer Mohammed Moulessehoul] and Kamel Benkoussa not have this problem. Things are more complicated for against the former Minister of Budget [between June 1991 and February 1992]. And in addition to having Swiss nationality, Swiss cantonal Benouari elected.

The last category of candidates, or about to be, is composed of former prime ministers. This group differs Ahmed Benbitour. The former head of government [December 1999 - August 2000] Abdelaziz Bouteflika was the first to declare his candidacy for president. It's been over a year since the child Metlili [located in the center of the country] multiplies public appearances to sell his options to "change the system". The former Minister of Finance [1994-1996], which has no partisan attachment, wants an alternative to a system that has been used.

Other applications covered for the moment, science fiction. This is the case of former Prime Minister [August 2000-May 2003], Ali Benflis, whose nomination is "imminent", or Mouloud Hamrouche [Prime Minister from September 1989 to June 1991] that s is never spoken publicly on the subject or Ouyahia [Prime Minister from 1995 to 1998 and from 2003 to 2006, general secretary of the National Democratic Rally until the end of 2012] which was officially "retired from public life" .

Other political observers also mention the possible candidacy of incumbent Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal where Abdelaziz Bouteflika is not seeking a fourth term. Despite their differences, all these candidates know that the presidential election has played so far outside the polling stations.


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« Reply #11281 on: Jan 15, 2014, 08:11 AM »

Arab Neighbors Take Split Paths in Constitutions

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and CARLOTTA GALLJ
JAN. 14, 2014
IHT

CAIRO — One is setting a standard for dialogue and democracy that is the envy of the Arab world. The other has become a study in the risks of revolution, on a violent path that seems to lead only in circles.

Tunisia and Egypt, the neighbors whose twin revolts ignited the Arab Spring, are a dual lesson in the pitfalls and potentials for democracy across the region.

On the third anniversary of the flight of the former strongman, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s constituent assembly was poised on Tuesday to approve a new constitution that is one of the most liberal in the Arab world. A carefully worded blend that has won the approval of both the governing Islamist party and its secular opposition, the new charter presents the region with a rare model of reconciliation over the vexing question of Islam’s role in public life.

Egyptians, meanwhile, trudged to the polls on Tuesday and Wednesday for their third referendum in three years to approve a new constitution: this time for one that validates the military ouster of their first fairly elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and gives power and immunity to both the military and the police.

“ ‘Train wreck’ might be a charitable way to describe where Egypt is right now,” said Nathan J. Brown, an expert on Arab legal systems at George Washington University. In Tunisia, he said, “everybody keeps dancing on the edge of a cliff, but they never fall off.”

The difference, scholars said, lies in the shape of the shards left after each country’s revolt. Tunisia’s brutal security police virtually collapsed during its revolt, while its small, professionalized military historically had no interest in political power. In civilian politics, its Islamist and secular factions were relatively evenly matched, with the Islamists winning only a plurality in Tunisia’s first free vote. Each side needed the other to govern.

In Egypt, where the military has been a political player since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s 1952 coup, the generals stepped in to remove President Hosni Mubarak, himself a onetime military man, and never fully receded. Further complicating matters, each side of the political divide had reason to hope it might rule alone: The Islamists dominated the elections, while their opponents knew the military was waiting in the wings.

“The opposition knew that, first, it might never win another election and, second, the military was there,” Mr. Brown said.

With the ouster of Mr. Morsi and the violent crackdown on his supporters last summer, what started out as a revolution in Egypt became just another chapter in “the very old and always violent story” of “the rivalry between the security state and the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Zaid al-Ali, a legal expert in Cairo tracking both charters for the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

“In Tunisia, we have turned the page completely, and you really feel that a revolution has taken place,” he said. “In Egypt, that is debatable.”

Tunisia, scarred by its own grinding and sometimes violent conflict between secular autocrats and political Islamists, was trapped in an even more restrictive police state than was Egypt, with less space for political participation or dissent before the revolt.

Egyptians lined up to vote on a new constitution under the watch of the security forces and military leadership of Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. A bomb exploded early in the day, but no one was injured.

Until mid-December, its process also appeared to teeter on the brink of collapse. There were assassinations of left-leaning political leaders and allegations that the moderate Islamist ruling party, Ennahda, had done too little to combat a militant Islamist insurgency. For five months, a political deadlock halted the drafting of the constitution. Perhaps prodded by the overthrow of the elected Islamists in Egypt, however, the two sides finally reached an accommodation last month, settling on a caretaker prime minister for the government and getting back to work on the charter.

Ennahda won wording stating that Islam is the religion of Tunisia but gave up on any reference to Islamic law. “Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign state, Islam is her religion, Arabic her language and republic her regime,” a clause of the preamble reads. The more liberal parties, with strong lobbying from civil society groups, secured guarantees that Tunisia would remain a civil state with separation of powers and pledges of freedoms and rights. “Tunisia is a state of civil character, based on citizenship, the will of the people and the primacy of law,” the counterpart clause of the preamble reads.

Neither clause can be amended by future governments.

The constitutional assembly “finally found some equilibrium,” said Ghazi Gherairi, secretary general of the International Academy of Constitutional Law in Tunis, the capital. “It is a result of consensus, and this is new in the Arab world.”

Egypt’s referendum on Tuesday appeared to be set to produce a near-unanimity in votes but hardly a consensus. A landslide approval is expected to open the presidential campaign by the military leader who removed Mr. Morsi, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi. Voters at several polling places seemed to doubt that anyone might vote against it.

“What? Everybody is voting yes to the constitution,” one man exclaimed on leaving a polling place after he mistakenly thought he had overheard another say he had cast his ballot against it.

“No, I meant I voted against the last one,” that voter, Sami Hadid, 73, clarified, referring to the constitution drafted by an Islamist-led assembly and approved in the referendum a little more than a year ago. “I hate the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The public debate has been one-sided, to say the least. The Brotherhood boycotted the referendum, dismissing the vote as an attempt to legitimate an illegal coup. The government has shut down Egyptian news media outlets sympathetic to the group, declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, jailed its leaders, seized its assets and criminalized membership.

In recent days, the new government has arrested at least seven activists merely for trying to hang signs or stickers opposing the new charter. On Tuesday, more were arrested, state news media reported.

The voting began with a small explosion near a court building in the Imbaba neighborhood of Giza, across the river from Cairo, damaging the facade but injuring no one.

By nightfall, the Ministry of Health said that at least 11 people had died, but even the deaths were disputed. The Brotherhood said at least four of the dead were civilians, including a child, who had been killed by the police. The Interior Ministry said the four had been killed by members of the Brotherhood. Dozens of other supposed members of the Brotherhood were arrested on charges of attempting to disrupt the vote, but there were no major protests.

“This time it has surpassed Mubarak at the height of his authoritarianism,” said Hossam Bahgat, the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

For virtually the first time since the 1989 one-candidate plebiscite that granted Mr. Mubarak a fourth term, Mr. Bahgat planned to sit out the vote, he said. “Like most Egyptians, I guess that I am indifferent,” he said.

About a third of the electorate turned out in December 2012, to vote on the last charter, which passed by a ratio of about two to one. During the run-up to the vote, anti-Islamist politicians, judges, government officials and most of the privately owned news media attacked the draft of the charter for opening a door to potential religious restrictions on individual rights.

The new charter retains the main clause stipulating that the principles of Islamic law are the wellspring of Egyptian jurisprudence. But it removes a more controversial clause that sought to constrain the way judges interpret those principles, by defining them according to the broad schools of mainstream Sunni Muslim scholarship.

Many voting Tuesday said they sought mainly to be rid of the Brotherhood, which had failed to master the bureaucracy, revive the economy or calm the streets. With patriotic music blaring from military vehicles outside and helicopters flying low overhead, polling places had the feel of a kind of martial pageant.

“It is all for the love of our country and the love of Sisi!” said Nadia Sayed, 64, sitting with a group of female friends in Nasr City. “He will do everything good for our grandchildren,” she said, before the women broke into ululation and a pop song, “Bless the Hands,” celebrating the army and police for removing Mr. Morsi.


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« Reply #11282 on: Jan 15, 2014, 08:14 AM »

Mideast Strife Turns Trial on Beirut Assassination Into Another Fault Line

By SOMINI SENGUPTA
JAN. 14, 2014
IHT

UNITED NATIONS — Perhaps it was wishful thinking from the start. The huge car bomb that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon nearly nine years ago led to an ambitious international investigation intended to bring about a new era of accountability to a country long splintered by political violence.

That effort, costing hundreds of millions of dollars and countless hours, is finally going to trial — and it could not come at a trickier time.

As prosecutors prepare to make their case this week, the sectarian tensions spilling over from Syria have led to a new wave of killings among Lebanon’s Shiite and Sunni political factions.

Now, the international tribunal is being dragged into the center of this rapidly intensifying crisis. Instead of resolving a case that split a volatile nation, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has become another front in the deadly sectarian showdown playing itself out in the region.

“The tribunal has its own dynamic, its own sort of lineage, but it’s become part of this larger conflict,” said Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. “It is kind of held hostage by larger events going on.”

The prosecution contends that all four of the suspects going on trial on the outskirts of The Hague on Thursday are supporters of Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite group in Lebanon that is sending fighters to help President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in his civil war against an array of Sunni rebels. Hezbollah, which built its reputation as a foe of Israel, could face new threats to its claim as Lebanon’s defender if more evidence emerges that the group has turned its weapons on Muslims, not to mention the country’s former prime minister.

Using records from over 50 cellphones, the prosecution plans to detail, for the first time, how the operatives meticulously planned and carried out the attack on Mr. Hariri, tracking his movements for months, procuring the van used in the bombing and following his convoy as it left Parliament en route to his residence.

But the suspects have evaded arrest and will be tried in absentia, the first time in an international tribunal since Nuremberg. Even if they are convicted, they are entitled to a new trial if they are apprehended later.

Complicating matters, the prosecution opens in the shadow of the killing of one of Mr. Hariri’s political allies, Mohamad B. Chatah, in late December. Since then, Mr. Chatah’s supporters have issued excited and hyperbolic statements demanding that the tribunal greatly expand its mandate and seek justice for his killing as well, a move that the United Nations Security Council would be unlikely to approve amid the turmoil in the region.

“Our martyr and beloved comrade, Mohamad, your name will be loudly pronounced at the opening sessions of the international tribunal in a few days in The Hague,” said the office of Saad Hariri, the former prime minister’s son and political heir.

Another Hezbollah opponent predicted on television in recent days that the tribunal would eventually indict Hezbollah’s powerful leader, Hassan Nasrallah, an even more unlikely prospect given that the court has focused on the attackers, not their political patrons.

Hezbollah leaders have dismissed the court as proof of a broader Western plot against their organization and urged Lebanese not to cooperate with the investigation. Last year, unidentified hackers splashed the names of witnesses on a Lebanese newspaper’s website, an intimidating move in a country with a long history of political killings.

“A lot of people think they can corner Hezbollah with an international indictment,” said Kamel Wazne, a political analyst in Beirut who is distrustful of the court. “But with Hezbollah fighting an open war in Syria, sending fighters openly, who is going to come and enforce anything at this point?”

The court has spent about $325 million since opening its doors in 2009, with the aim of trying those who carried out the attack that killed Mr. Hariri and 22 others on Feb 14, 2005. Its mandate can stretch across a 14-month period, to include related killings, though it stops well short of the current violence straining the tenuous politics of Lebanon.

But with the newly inflamed tensions between Lebanon’s opposing factions, the court has become something of a political football, used by each side to highlight the perceived wrongs being committed against it. That has left the tribunal straining to prove its credibility as an unbiased arbiter of justice.

The prosecutor, Norman Farrell, said he regretted having to conduct the trial without the defendants in court, but insisted that the tribunal would help the quest for accountability.

“Though it is not complete justice or final justice, in the sense that the accused are not present, it is a form of justice,” Mr. Farrell said. He added that he hoped the trial would “contribute to the desire at least to move towards the end of impunity.”

The head of the defense office, François Roux, said by email that while he believed that the defendants’ rights were “adequately defended” by expert counsel, their absence plainly complicated their defense. The defense team cannot ferret out new witnesses, drill down into witness statements or “have access to information in the possession of your client that could potentially exonerate him.”

The indictments of the four defendants — a fifth suspect was indicted last year but is not yet part of the coming trial — offer a case study of how important cellphones can be in a criminal inquiry. Investigators obtained a trove of cellphone call records from the Lebanese authorities to assemble a detailed portrait of whom the suspects called, when and how often they called, and their locations in the months and hours leading up to the attack on Mr. Hariri.

Some of the suspects carried up to eight phones, according to the indictment, using specific sets of phones for specific purposes: to track Mr. Hariri in the weeks before the attack, to buy a Mitsubishi van for $11,000 in cash and, finally, to spread what the prosecution calls false information to the news media about who carried out the attack.

One suspect, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, used five phones in 14 months, the prosecution says, using one for a few weeks before switching to another.

The phones were particularly active on Feb. 14, 2005, the day of the bombing. There were 33 calls among one group of phones — the indictment calls it “the red network” — from 11 a.m. to 12:53 p.m. Two minutes later, as Mr. Hariri’s convoy passed the St. George Hotel on Rue Minet el Hos’n, the van exploded. Remains of the suicide bomber who drove the van were found at the scene. His identity is unknown.

Hezbollah’s political opponents, led by the Hariri family’s March 14 bloc, have contended that the tribunal has turned up evidence of Hezbollah’s hand in the assassination.

Trials in absentia are extremely rare in international courts. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia initially faced a similar challenge in bringing suspects to the dock, until British soldiers, who were in the Balkans as part of a peacekeeping force authorized by the United Nations, started arresting them, recalled David Bosco, an American University professor and the author of a new book on international courts. It helped that Western powers had enormous economic leverage, too, he said.

Lebanon is altogether a different story. The United States and Britain are champions of the tribunal. Both provide financial support, as does the government of Lebanon. But Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful political party, is supported by Syria and Iran, leaving the court with little influence over Hezbollah’s decision not to cooperate.

“In situations where you have less leverage, less control, it’s much more difficult to do these kinds of cases,” Mr. Bosco said.

The Lebanon court is unusual in another way: It is focused on an act of terrorism against a leader of one political faction. That has made it especially ripe for criticism.

“By its very nature you’re going to have more accusations of one-sided justice, and that clearly affects its credibility,” said David Tolbert, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York, who worked on several international tribunals, including briefly the one for Lebanon. “One had hoped this would be a starting point for much wider accountability.”


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« Reply #11283 on: Jan 15, 2014, 08:16 AM »

Israeli defense minister apologizes for accusing John Kerry of ‘obsession’ with peace

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 19:04 EST

Israel’s Minister of Defence Moshe Yaalon apologised Tuesday to US Secretary of State John Kerry after he accused the American of having an “obsession” with Middle East peace, sparking a furious diplomatic row between the two allies.

The White House had described Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon’s initial comments as “offensive,” in a mark of the degree of outrage in Washington at the latest public spat between the two countries, which follows a major row over Iran policy.

However, in a statement, a contrite Yaalon said: “Israel and the United States share a common goal to advance the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians led by Secretary Kerry.

“We appreciate Secretary Kerry’s many efforts towards that’s end.

“The defence minister had no intention to cause any offence to the secretary, and he apologises if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister.”

In private conversations with Israeli and American officials, revealed by the top-selling Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, Yaalon was quoted as expressing the hope that Kerry, who has made 10 trips to Israel since March, would end his peace push and focus his energies elsewhere.

“The American plan for security arrangements that was shown to us isn’t worth the paper it was written on,” Yaalon was quoted as saying, accusing Kerry of being naive.

“Secretary of State John Kerry — who arrived here determined, and who operates from an incomprehensible obsession and a sense of messianism — can’t teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians,” Yaalon reportedly said.

“The only thing that might save us is if John Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us be.”

His comments provoked fury in Washington causing fresh tension between the governments of President Barack Obama and of Netanyahu.

US President Barack Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney said Yaalon’s remarks “if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate, especially in the light of everything Secretary Kerry is doing to support Israel’s security needs”.

“Secretary Kerry and his team have been working nonstop in their efforts to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the deep concern the United States has and the deep commitment the United States has for and to Israel’s future and the Israeli people,” Carney said.

“To question Secretary Kerry’s motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defence minister of a close ally.”

‘Put this right’

A State Department official called on Netanyahu to publicly disavow his minister’s comments.

“We expect the prime minister to put this right by expressing publicly his disagreement with the statements against Secretary Kerry,” the official told AFP.

Speaking earlier in the Israeli parliament, Netanyahu had chided Yaalon for the personal nature of his criticism of Kerry, although he did not take issue with his comments about US policy.

“Even when we have disagreements with the United States, it is about the matter at hand and not about the person,” Netanyahu said.

Kerry coaxed Israelis and Palestinians back into direct negotiations last summer and has since shuttled tirelessly between the two leaderships in a bid to keep the talks alive.

His proposals include a security plan for the border between a future Palestinian state and neighbouring Jordan, involving high-tech equipment to enable Israel to reduce or end its troop presence on the ground, Israeli media say.

Yaalon’s remarks came on the back of a US-Israeli spat over a landmark deal Washington and other world powers reached with Iran in November on its controversial nuclear programme.

Israel publicly opposed the plan, which will see limited relief for Tehran from Western sanctions in exchange for rolling back parts of its civil nuclear programme, describing it as a “disaster” and a “gift” to its biggest foe.

Israel has also been at loggerheads with its US ally over its drive to expand its settlements in the occupied West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, even while the peace talks with the Palestinians that Kerry helped relaunch are under way.

Just last week, Israel unveiled plans to build another 1,800 new settler homes, hot on the heels of Kerry’s latest visit.

A senior US official on Tuesday reiterated Washington’s opposition to settlement building, which it has called “illegitimate.”


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« Reply #11284 on: Jan 15, 2014, 08:24 AM »


Syria peace talks: Russia and US lay groundwork for ceasefire

Assad government and rebels consider allowing humanitarian relief ahead of UN-led talks due later this month in Geneva

Associated Press in Paris
theguardian.com, Monday 13 January 2014 13.30 GMT

Syria's government and the opposition have agreed to consider opening humanitarian access in the run-up to a peace conference that would bring the sides together for the first time, top diplomats for Russia and the US said on Monday.

Speaking in the middle of a two-day series of meetings in Paris, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, also said they were pressing for a ceasefire and prisoner exchange between the warring sides.

But the Damascus government derided the meetings in Paris, saying in a statement they were "closer to illusions than reality and taken by people who are detached from reality and extremely far from any acceptable political logic". Russia has been one of Syria's closest allies.

Lavrov questioned whether the western-backed Syrian opposition, which has not yet agreed to attend peace talks and has limited influence inside Syria, was willing or able to carry out agreements in the face of intense infighting that has pitted al-Qaida-linked militants against more moderate factions. Nearly 700 rebel fighters have died in recent days.

"There are many terrorists in Syria and they are becoming more numerous," Lavrov said. "When we talk about the need for a ceasefire, to unblock as many settlements as possible to provide humanitarian access, all those factors are taken into account … We do not want a ceasefire which would be used by terrorist groups. Because that would be against the interests of everyone."

The opposition Syrian National Coalition is in disarray ahead of the Geneva talks on 22 January and the Paris meetings were intended to pressure it to attend. But Kerry said the opposition had nonetheless agreed to consider a ceasefire, prisoner exchange and to allow humanitarian access to thousands of people trapped behind battle lines.

Kerry acknowledged that "terrorists greatly complicated this equation", but warned: "If disorder is allowed to continue to grow, it is extremists who will benefit, and all the people who want peace and stability who will lose."

While Kerry and Lavrov agreed on several points, Washington and Moscow remain at an impasse on whether Iran, Syria's strongest ally, should attend the peace talks.

The Syrian National Coalition has struggled for credibility within Syria, as one rebel brigade after another has broken away and accused the exiled group of being out of touch. The coalition is nearing collapse, with members split on whether to attend talks that would bring the opposition to the negotiating table with President Bashar al-Assad's representatives for the first time.

Kerry said he would welcome Iran's participation in the upcoming talks but only if Tehran signs off on earlier diplomatic agreements that any transitional government in Syria would not include Assad or his close allies.

The UN did not invite Iran to the peace conference and the US has long maintained that Tehran cannot participate if it does not agree with its guiding principles.

Lavrov, however, said Iran should attend, adding that some participants have rejected parts of the earlier agreement. He did not specify, but Assad's government, which is sending a delegation, has said the president will not surrender power and may run again in elections due later this year.

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

West has discussed co-operation with Syria, Damascus claims

Syria claims western countries worried about Islamist militants in rebel ranks have asked Assad regime for co-operation

Agencies
theguardian.com, Wednesday 15 January 2014 08.36 GMT   

The intelligence services of some western countries opposed to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, have visited Damascus to discuss security co-operation with his government, the Syrian foreign minister has claimed .

"I will not specify [which countries] but many of them have visited Damascus, yes," the deputy minister, Faisal Mekdad, said in an interview broadcast on the BBC.

Mekdad said that the contacts appeared to show a rift between the political and security authorities in some countries opposed to Assad.

His comments were broadcast as his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, reportedly landed in the Syrian capital, following an official visit to Lebanon.

Western powers have supported the opposition with rhetoric but have backed away from material aid as al-Qaida-linked groups take advantage of a power vacuum in rebel-held regions.

Western countries are worried about the presence in rebel ranks of foreign Islamist militants who have travelled to Syria to join the three-year struggle to topple Assad.

"Frankly speaking the spirit has changed," Mekdad added. "When these countries ask us for security co-operation, then it seems to me there is a schism between the political and security leaderships."

Asked if he was confirming that British intelligence had been in contact with Syria, he declined a direct reply.

"I am saying that many of these countries have contacted us to co-ordinate security measures," he added.

Syria plunged into civil war after an uprising against four decades of Assad family rule erupted in March 2011 and descended into an armed insurgency following an army crackdown on protests.

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

U.S. Pledges $380 Million in Relief Aid for Syria

By MICHAEL R. GORDON
JAN. 15, 2014   
IHT

KUWAIT — Secretary of State John Kerry pledged $380 million in new assistance on Wednesday to help civilians who are suffering because of the civil war in Syria.

The pledge came as Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, who is chairman of the donors’ conference here, said that $6.5 billion was needed to provide medical care, food, water and shelter for Syrian refugees and civilians inside the country through 2014.

That is the largest appeal for assistance in the history of the United Nations. It comes as the number of Syrian refugees has grown and conditions inside the country have dramatically deteriorated.

The session was held in a lavish conference center, which was only recently completed. But as the offers of aid rolled in, several factors continued to raise concerns.

First, Mr. Kerry warned that the new aid would not be sufficient unless President Bashar al-Assad stopped “using starvation as a weapon of war” and his forces allowed international aid to reach besieged areas, including the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta.

On Monday, Mr. Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, said that pressing the Syrian government and the opposition to allow access to besieged areas would be a major objective of a peace conference on Syria that is to begin on Jan. 22 in Switzerland.

“If the regime can allow access to United Nations and international weapon inspectors, surely it can do the same for neutral international humanitarian assistance,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Kerry said that Mr. Assad’s foreign minister would be visiting Moscow soon to consult with the Kremlin on the peace conference. He added that he planned to discuss the issue of humanitarian access again by phone with Mr. Lavrov as he flew back Wednesday to Washington.

But Mr. Kerry did not identify any punitive measures — economic, diplomatic or military — that might be taken if the Assad government refused to heed appeals to provide humanitarian access or did so intermittently. Mr. Kerry later told reporters that the State Department was examining “a whole set of different options” but that they were “not ready for prime time.”

Another concern is that in the past, not all donor nations have followed through on their pledges. Only about 70 percent of the funding sought by the United Nations for Syria in 2013 was actually provided. Amnesty International said earlier this month that the United Arab Emirates, one of the richest Arab countries, “made promises on aid that failed to fully materialize.” Russia, it added, “has only made minimal contributions to the humanitarian effort.”

The $380 million Mr. Kerry pledged means that the United States has committed more than $1.7 billion in humanitarian aid since the crisis began, the most of any donor. Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, made the largest pledge at the Wednesday conference: $500 million. Saudi Arabia and Qatar each pledged $60 million.

A final worry is that the situation in Syria is deteriorating so rapidly that the humanitarian needs seem to outpace the resources promised. Some 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced within their own country and more than 2.3 million have fled Syria as refugees.

“Even under the best circumstances, the fighting has set back Syria years, even decades,” Mr. Ban said.



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« Reply #11285 on: Jan 15, 2014, 08:29 AM »

15 January 2014
BBC

UN stresses Central African Republic disaster warning

A senior UN envoy has called for a huge international effort for the Central African Republic.

Speaking to the BBC in the capital, Bangui, John Ging of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the country was in a "mega-crisis".

Mr Ging said that many in the population were living in fear because of religious and ethnic attacks.

He said the concern now was that matters could worsen further.

Last week the UN warned that the country faced disaster because of people fleeing the conflict to pack into overcrowded camps with poor sanitation.

It said that measles had broken out at the airport in the capital, Bangui, where about 100,000 people are seeking refuge from clashes between rival militias.
'Huge international effort'

Mr Ging said that "massive displacement" in the CAR had meant that almost a million people had left their homes throughout the country.
A soldier from the international peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic Sporadic violence has continued, despite the presence of 1,600 French troops and 4,000 African Union peacekeepers

"And with that displacement, of course, you have all the humanitarian needs: shelter, food, medical care and so on. Our great fear is that it will deteriorate and spiral out of control. Although for a million people it's already out of control."

He called for a huge international effort to tackle the situation.

"Everything has been lost," he said. "Homes have been destroyed, facilities, schools and medical centres completely ransacked and destroyed [along with] water wells."

He said that the "wanton destruction was hard to conceive" and there was "a huge task ahead for the whole community... both domestically and internationally to help the people of this country to rebuild their lives".

Mr Ging said the situation for people outside the capital, Bangui, was even worse, because they are geographically isolated and it was harder to get the assistance to them.
Map showing the location of the Central African Republic and the countries that border it

"[For some] the options are stark: stay in the jungle and die or come back and possibly be killed," he said.

Foreigners in CAR continue to be repatriated. One of nearly 300 Malians who landed in Bamako on Thursday told the BBC of his relief to be out of the country.

"It's hard to know how to put it, except now we are in paradise. Over there it is hell," Mamadou Ndiaye said.

"They smashed up our house and shop. They are at the airport so we Muslims cannot go there, for fear of being chopped up. And the Christians cannot come into our neighbourhood, the one known as the Senegalese quarter," the 25-year-old said.

Mali's government brought back 500 people last week and with further flights organised by the International Organisation for Migration, the number of Malian returnees is expected to be more than 1,000.

Following a UN investigation into the conflict on Tuesday, which found widespread sectarian killings of civilians and sexual violence, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned that massive violations could recur without further significant international invention.

More than 1,000 people have died in sectarian violence, which erupted when Seleka rebels seized power in March last year and Michel Djotodia became the country's first Muslim leader.

Although he disbanded his Seleka, they continued to attack Christian civilians, prompting the formation of vigilante groups, which targeted Muslims.

Mr Djotodia stepped down last Friday under intense pressure from CAR's neighbours. A special session of parliament has convened to elect a new interim leader for the landlocked country of 4.6 million people.

Sporadic violence has continued, despite the presence of 1,600 French troops and 4,000 African Union peacekeepers.


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« Reply #11286 on: Jan 15, 2014, 08:32 AM »

Roman head hunters in England: Researchers analyze skulls with gruesome results

By Maev Kennedy, The Guardian
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 20:30 EST

Improved forensic techniques have shed new light on 39 skulls excavated near Museum of London in 1988

Scores of skulls excavated in the heart of London have provided the first gruesome evidence of Roman head hunters operating in Britain, gathering up the heads of executed enemies or fallen gladiators from the nearby amphitheatre, and exposing them for years in open pits.

“It is not a pretty picture,” Rebecca Redfern, from the centre for human bioarchaeology at the museum of London, said. “At least one of the skulls shows evidence of being chewed at by dogs, so it was still fleshed when it was lying in the open.”

“They come from a peculiar area by the Walbrook stream, which was a site for burials and a centre of ritual activity – but also very much in use for more mundane pursuits. We have evidence of lots of shoe making, so you have to think of the cobbler working yards from these open pits, with the dog chewing away – really not nice.”

“We believe that some of the heads may be people who were killed in the amphitheatre. Decapitation was a way of finishing off gladiators, but not everyone who died in the Roman amphitheatre was a gladiator, it was where common criminals were executed, or sometimes for entertainment you’d give two of them swords and have them kill one another.
Other heads may have been brought back by soldiers from skirmishes, probably on the Hadrian or Antonine walls – again, it would have taken weeks to bring them back, so not a nice process.”

The 39 skulls were excavated at London Wall almost within sight of the Museum of London in 1988, and deposited at the museum, but the scientists have only recently applied improved forensic techniques to them. Redfern and her colleague Heather Bonney, from the Earth Sciences Department of the Natural History Museum, publish their results for the first time this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The tests revealed that almost all the skulls are of adult males – some could not be identified – and most bear scars and slash marks of many wounds inflicted around the time of death. Many also have multiple healed wounds, one with the shattered cheek bone typical of a violent punch in the face, showing their lives were not tranquil. On some there is clear evidence of decapitation with a sword: possibly all were killed in that way, but if the fatal blow was through the neck the proof has vanished with the rest of their bodies.

“Whether they died in the amphitheatre or in battle, decapitation with a sword is a very efficient way of ending a life – somebody very much wanted these people dead,” Redfern said.

The evidence suggests that they were left for years decomposing in the open pits.

“There is none of the fracturing you’d expect if they’d been put on spikes, so it looks as if they were just set down and left – though of course you could have had a nice shelf to display them on.”

There is evidence of head taking from across the Roman empire, including Trajan’s column in Rome which shows clean shaven Roman soldiers presenting bearded barbarian heads as trophies to the emperor. Heads are also shown being held up in triumph on tomb stones of cavalry officers in Britain and elsewhere. Although pits of body parts have been found in Britain, the London skulls, deposited over several decades, are an unprecedented find from the Roman capital.

Hundreds of skulls have been found for centuries along the course of the long vanished Walbrook – most recently by the team working on the new Crossrail station just outside Liverpool Street station.

They have often been interpreted either as washed out of Roman cemeteries, or as victims of Boudica’s revolution, when the East Anglican leader of the Icenii tribe swept south to London in AD 60, torching Roman settlements and towns.
However, the work of Redfern and Bonney may force archaeologists to have another look at the skull finds.

The London Wall skulls are far too late for Boudica: they have been dated to the 2nd century AD, a time of peace, prosperity and expansion for the Roman city.

“These were all young men, very untypical of what we usually find in Roman burials, where we tend to get the very young and the old,” Redfern said.

“Most people in second century London lived peaceful quiet lives – but as we now know, not everyone. This is a glimpse into the very dark side of Roman life.”

© Guardian News and Media 2014


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« Reply #11287 on: Jan 15, 2014, 08:40 AM »

Neutrinos: A little-noticed breakthrough lets scientists see the distant cosmos like never before

700 trillion ‘neutrinos’ just passed through your body. Now, a huge detector in Antarctica is finding others from far-flung galaxies.

Global Post
01/14/2014

PORTLAND, Maine — Imagine being one of the very first humans, tens of thousands of years ago, to actually look up at the night sky. You’d see dozens of lights and other sights, with no understanding of what they were, where they were, or anything else. You might think they were just “pinholes in the curtain of night.”

Only after centuries of study, with the invention of countless increasingly complex devices to peer into the sky, can we say we know anything at all about planets, stars, galaxies, and the universe as a whole.

But a recent scientific discovery has brought us back to that very first night: to the very beginning of our exploration, and to the realization of just how rudimentary our knowledge is.

After decades of searching, scientists have detected high-energy subatomic particles originating from previously unknown sources in the universe.

The particles themselves aren't news. Neutrinos — nearly massless, charge-less byproducts of radioactive decay — were first theorized in 1930 and first detected in 1956 during nuclear experiments on Earth.

Since then, we have learned that neutrinos are literally everywhere. In the time it takes to read this sentence, about 700 trillion of them run through your body. Almost all of the neutrinos scientists have detected originated either from the Sun, from the Earth’s atmosphere, or from man-made nuclear activities.

However, an almost impossibly tiny proportion come from the far reaches of the universe. Tracing those neutrinos' movements offers the possibility of greatly expanding our understanding of the cosmos.

For more than a decade, a research project called IceCube has sought to do just that — to detect neutrinos from outside our galactic neighborhood, using a cubic-kilometer detector embedded in the Antarctic ice sheet.

A paper published in the journal Science revealed late last year that IceCube had detected 28 of the particles.

And that’s rocked the physics world.

These minuscule particles from distant sources are analogous to the light emitted by the first stars ever seen by human eyes.

Because they are so tiny and electrically neutral, neutrinos “can travel at nearly the speed of light from the edge of the universe without being deflected by magnetic fields or absorbed by matter,” according to IceCube’s explanatory webpage.

Most vitally, “they travel in straight lines from their source,” which means when we "detect them here on Earth, we can calculate where they came from, like a laser pointer aimed back out into space,” said Francis Halzen, a physicist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who directs IceCube.

“At the moment we don’t know what we’re mapping,” he added.

Still, the accomplishment is significant, in that it may lead to the discovery of more distant parts of the cosmos than we have ever known. It could even lead to new fields of physics. Some scientists suspect these extra-galactic neutrinos may be able to tell us more about the heretofore invisible “dark matter” that many believe makes up most of the mass of the universe.

Very high-energy neutrinos, like the 28 detected by IceCube, are as much as billion times more energetic than those commonly found here on Earth. They are thought to come from supernovas and black holes, but nobody is sure yet.

“The energy requirements of these sources are so large” that theorists’ imaginations are being stretched to come up with possible explanations, Halzen said. “We are really looking at the violent processes” of the universe.

Halzen has spent most of his career searching for neutrinos and trying to explain their origins, and not even he knows what we’ll find.

IceCube is only the first glance from the first “eye” ever to look at the sky in this way. “It’s like a map of the universe with 28 pixels,” he said. “That’s a lot of emptiness.”

Finding even these few neutrinos has taken decades of innovation and science. As far back as the 1970s, Halzen said, it was clear that finding high-energy neutrinos would require a massive detector.

Scientists thought that using a cubic kilometer of ice in the South Polar Plateau could be a way to achieve this. They embedded equipment in the ice, setting up a grid of deep holes and inserting long strings with detectors at regular intervals. The goal of wiring this massive cube was to detect tiny light pulses emitted when, at extremely rare intervals, a neutrino actually hit a piece of matter.

In 1999, your correspondent witnessed an early, small-scale test of the idea at the South Pole. Using hot-water hoses to “drill” the holes that house the equipment, a detector was built just 1 percent of the size of IceCube's. The effort consumed massive quantities of fuel to power huge water heaters near the South Pole. When that project — called AMANDA, for Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array — proved the concept was valid, construction began on the larger IceCube. It only finished in December 2010.

Now the task is to keep adding to the neutrino map, in part with IceCube, but also by finding more efficient means of detecting high-energy neutrinos, Halzen said. As that picture comes into sharper focus, physicists and astronomers can compare it with other maps of the universe, including those marking known locations of black holes, pulsars, and supernovas.

Right now, “there’s nothing that stands out” as matching up, Halzen said, though it’s obviously quite early in the process.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/140107/science-neutrinos-icecube-antarctica-distant-galaxies


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« Reply #11288 on: Jan 15, 2014, 09:02 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers

By DAVID E. SANGER and THOM SHANKER
JAN. 14, 2014
NYT

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks.

While most of the software is inserted by gaining access to computer networks, the N.S.A. has increasingly made use of a secret technology that enables it to enter and alter data in computers even if they are not connected to the Internet, according to N.S.A. documents, computer experts and American officials.

The technology, which the agency has used since at least 2008, relies on a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted surreptitiously into the computers. In some cases, they are sent to a briefcase-size relay station that intelligence agencies can set up miles away from the target.

The radio frequency technology has helped solve one of the biggest problems facing American intelligence agencies for years: getting into computers that adversaries, and some American partners, have tried to make impervious to spying or cyberattack. In most cases, the radio frequency hardware must be physically inserted by a spy, a manufacturer or an unwitting user.

The N.S.A. calls its efforts more an act of “active defense” against foreign cyberattacks than a tool to go on the offensive. But when Chinese attackers place similar software on the computer systems of American companies or government agencies, American officials have protested, often at the presidential level.

Among the most frequent targets of the N.S.A. and its Pentagon partner, United States Cyber Command, have been units of the Chinese Army, which the United States has accused of launching regular digital probes and attacks on American industrial and military targets, usually to steal secrets or intellectual property. But the program, code-named Quantum, has also been successful in inserting software into Russian military networks and systems used by the Mexican police and drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union, and sometime partners against terrorism like Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, according to officials and an N.S.A. map that indicates sites of what the agency calls “computer network exploitation.”

“What’s new here is the scale and the sophistication of the intelligence agency’s ability to get into computers and networks to which no one has ever had access before,” said James Andrew Lewis, the cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Some of these capabilities have been around for a while, but the combination of learning how to penetrate systems to insert software and learning how to do that using radio frequencies has given the U.S. a window it’s never had before.”

How the N.S.A. Uses Radio Frequencies to Penetrate Computers

The N.S.A. and the Pentagon’s Cyber Command have implanted nearly 100,000 “computer network exploits” around the world, but the hardest problem is getting inside machines isolated from outside communications.

1. Tiny transceivers are built into USB plugs and inserted into target computers. Small circuit boards may be placed in the computers themselves.

2. The transceivers communicate with a briefcase- size N.S.A. field station, or hidden relay station, up to eight miles away.

3. The field station communicates back to the N.S.A.’s Remote Operations Center.

4. It can also transmit malware, including the kind used in attacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

No Domestic Use Seen

There is no evidence that the N.S.A. has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States. While refusing to comment on the scope of the Quantum program, the N.S.A. said its actions were not comparable to China’s.

“N.S.A.'s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

Over the past two months, parts of the program have been disclosed in documents from the trove leaked by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. A Dutch newspaper published the map of areas where the United States has inserted spy software, sometimes in cooperation with local authorities, often covertly. Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, published the N.S.A.'s catalog of hardware products that can secretly transmit and receive digital signals from computers, a program called ANT. The New York Times withheld some of those details, at the request of American intelligence officials, when it reported, in the summer of 2012, on American cyberattacks on Iran.

President Obama is scheduled to announce on Friday what recommendations he is accepting from an advisory panel on changing N.S.A. practices. The panel agreed with Silicon Valley executives that some of the techniques developed by the agency to find flaws in computer systems undermine global confidence in a range of American-made information products like laptop computers and cloud services.

Embracing Silicon Valley’s critique of the N.S.A., the panel has recommended banning, except in extreme cases, the N.S.A. practice of exploiting flaws in common software to aid in American surveillance and cyberattacks. It also called for an end to government efforts to weaken publicly available encryption systems, and said the government should never develop secret ways into computer systems to exploit them, which sometimes include software implants.

Richard A. Clarke, an official in the Clinton and Bush administrations who served as one of the five members of the advisory panel, explained the group’s reasoning in an email last week, saying that “it is more important that we defend ourselves than that we attack others.”

“Holes in encryption software would be more of a risk to us than a benefit,” he said, adding: “If we can find the vulnerability, so can others. It’s more important that we protect our power grid than that we get into China’s.”

From the earliest days of the Internet, the N.S.A. had little trouble monitoring traffic because a vast majority of messages and searches were moved through servers on American soil. As the Internet expanded, so did the N.S.A.'s efforts to understand its geography. A program named Treasure Map tried to identify nearly every node and corner of the web, so that any computer or mobile device that touched it could be located.

A 2008 map, part of the Snowden trove, notes 20 programs to gain access to big fiber-optic cables — it calls them “covert, clandestine or cooperative large accesses” — not only in the United States but also in places like Hong Kong, Indonesia and the Middle East. The same map indicates that the United States had already conducted “more than 50,000 worldwide implants,” and a more recent budget document said that by the end of last year that figure would rise to about 85,000. A senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the actual figure was most likely closer to 100,000.

That map suggests how the United States was able to speed ahead with implanting malicious software on the computers around the world that it most wanted to monitor — or disable before they could be used to launch a cyberattack.

A Focus on Defense

In interviews, officials and experts said that a vast majority of such implants are intended only for surveillance and serve as an early warning system for cyberattacks directed at the United States.

“How do you ensure that Cyber Command people” are able to look at “those that are attacking us?” a senior official, who compared it to submarine warfare, asked in an interview several months ago.

“That is what the submarines do all the time,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe policy. “They track the adversary submarines.” In cyberspace, he said, the United States tries “to silently track the adversaries while they’re trying to silently track you.”

If tracking subs was a Cold War cat-and-mouse game with the Soviets, tracking malware is a pursuit played most aggressively with the Chinese.

The United States has targeted Unit 61398, the Shanghai-based Chinese Army unit believed to be responsible for many of the biggest cyberattacks on the United States, in an effort to see attacks being prepared. With Australia’s help, one N.S.A. document suggests, the United States has also focused on another specific Chinese Army unit.

Documents obtained by Mr. Snowden indicate that the United States has set up two data centers in China — perhaps through front companies — from which it can insert malware into computers. When the Chinese place surveillance software on American computer systems — and they have, on systems like those at the Pentagon and at The Times — the United States usually regards it as a potentially hostile act, a possible prelude to an attack. Mr. Obama laid out America’s complaints about those practices to President Xi Jinping of China in a long session at a summit meeting in California last June.

At that session, Mr. Obama tried to differentiate between conducting surveillance for national security — which the United States argues is legitimate — and conducting it to steal intellectual property.

“The argument is not working,” said Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution, a co-author of a new book called “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar.” “To the Chinese, gaining economic advantage is part of national security. And the Snowden revelations have taken a lot of the pressure off” the Chinese. Still, the United States has banned the sale of computer servers from a major Chinese manufacturer, Huawei, for fear that they could contain technology to penetrate American networks.

An Old Technology

The N.S.A.'s efforts to reach computers unconnected to a network have relied on a century-old technology updated for modern times: radio transmissions.

In a catalog produced by the agency that was part of the Snowden documents released in Europe, there are page after page of devices using technology that would have brought a smile to Q, James Bond’s technology supplier.

One, called Cottonmouth I, looks like a normal USB plug but has a tiny transceiver buried in it. According to the catalog, it transmits information swept from the computer “through a covert channel” that allows “data infiltration and exfiltration.” Another variant of the technology involves tiny circuit boards that can be inserted in a laptop computer — either in the field or when they are shipped from manufacturers — so that the computer is broadcasting to the N.S.A. even while the computer’s user enjoys the false confidence that being walled off from the Internet constitutes real protection.

The relay station it communicates with, called Nightstand, fits in an oversize briefcase, and the system can attack a computer “from as far away as eight miles under ideal environmental conditions.” It can also insert packets of data in milliseconds, meaning that a false message or piece of programming can outrace a real one to a target computer. Similar stations create a link between the target computers and the N.S.A., even if the machines are isolated from the Internet.

Computers are not the only targets. Dropoutjeep attacks iPhones. Other hardware and software are designed to infect large network servers, including those made by the Chinese.

Most of those code names and products are now at least five years old, and they have been updated, some experts say, to make the United States less dependent on physically getting hardware into adversaries’ computer systems.

The N.S.A. refused to talk about the documents that contained these descriptions, even after they were published in Europe.

“Continuous and selective publication of specific techniques and tools used by N.S.A. to pursue legitimate foreign intelligence targets is detrimental to the security of the United States and our allies,” Ms. Vines, the N.S.A. spokeswoman, said.

But the Iranians and others discovered some of those techniques years ago. The hardware in the N.S.A.'s catalog was crucial in the cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities, code-named Olympic Games, that began around 2008 and proceeded through the summer of 2010, when a technical error revealed the attack software, later called Stuxnet. That was the first major test of the technology.

One feature of the Stuxnet attack was that the technology the United States slipped into Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz was able to map how it operated, then “phone home” the details. Later, that equipment was used to insert malware that blew up nearly 1,000 centrifuges, and temporarily set back Iran’s program.

But the Stuxnet strike does not appear to be the last time the technology was used in Iran. In 2012, a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps moved a rock near the country’s underground Fordo nuclear enrichment plant. The rock exploded and spewed broken circuit boards that the Iranian news media described as “the remains of a device capable of intercepting data from computers at the plant.” The origins of that device have never been determined.

On Sunday, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency, Iran’s Oil Ministry issued another warning about possible cyberattacks, describing a series of defenses it was erecting — and making no mention of what are suspected of being its own attacks on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil producer.

***********

Obama to Place Some Restraints on Surveillance

By PETER BAKER and CHARLIE SAVAGE
JAN. 14, 2014    
NYT

WASHINGTON — President Obama will issue new guidelines on Friday to curtail government surveillance, but will not embrace the most far-reaching proposals of his own advisers and will ask Congress to help decide some of the toughest issues, according to people briefed on his thinking.

Mr. Obama plans to increase limits on access to bulk telephone data, call for privacy safeguards for foreigners and propose the creation of a public advocate to represent privacy concerns at a secret intelligence court. But he will not endorse leaving bulk data in the custody of telecommunications firms, nor will he require court permission for all so-called national security letters seeking business records.

The emerging approach, described by current and former government officials who insisted on anonymity in advance of Mr. Obama’s widely anticipated speech, suggested a president trying to straddle a difficult line in hopes of placating foreign leaders and advocates of civil liberties without a backlash from national security agencies. The result seems to be a speech that leaves in place many current programs, but embraces the spirit of reform and keeps the door open to changes later.

The decision to provide additional privacy protections for non-American citizens or residents, for instance, largely codifies existing practices but will be followed by a 180-day study by the director of national intelligence about whether to go further. Likewise, instead of taking the storage of bulk data out of government hands, as recommended by a review panel he appointed, Mr. Obama will leave it in place for now and ask lawmakers to weigh in.

The blend of decisions, to be outlined in a speech at the Justice Department and in a presidential guidelines memorandum, will be Mr. Obama’s highest-profile response to the disclosures about the National Security Agency made in recent months by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor who has fled to Russia.

But as intelligence officials have sorted through Mr. Obama’s evolving position, they have been divided about how significant his adjustments will be.

Some officials complained that the changes will add layers of cumbersome procedure that will hinder the hunt for potential terrorists, while others expressed relief that Mr. Obama is not going further and confidence that they could still work within the new guidelines without sacrificing much.

“Is it cosmetic or is there a real thumb on the scale in a different direction?” asked one former government official who worked on intelligence issues. “That’s the question.”

The White House said the president’s review is incomplete and would not comment further Tuesday.

The developments came as the nation’s judiciary waded into the highly charged debate. In a letter made public on Tuesday, a judge designated by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to express the views of the judicial branch warned that some changes under consideration would have a negative “operational impact” on a secret foreign intelligence court.

Judge John D. Bates, a former chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, urged Mr. Obama and Congress not to alter the way the court is appointed or to create an independent public advocate to argue against the Justice Department in secret proceedings. Any such advocate, he wrote, should instead be appointed only when the court decided one was needed.

Judge Bates objected to the workload of requiring that courts approve all national security letters, which are administrative subpoenas allowing the F.B.I. to obtain records about communications and financial transactions without court approval.

And he raised concerns about greater public disclosure of court rulings, arguing that unclassified summaries would be “likely to promote confusion and misunderstanding.”

The judge’s letter, versions of which he sent to the leaders of several congressional committees, was released as all five members of Mr. Obama’s surveillance review group testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, seeking support for their recommendations.

Illustrating the cross-pressures on the president, the advisers argued for the appointment of the independent version of a public advocate, a recommendation the president is expected to follow, though it is not clear how he will structure the position.

“We admire Judge Bates and respect his views,” said Cass R. Sunstein, of Harvard Law School and a former Obama White House official who served on the review panel. “We respectfully disagree with that one, on the ground that the judge sometimes is not in the ideal position to know whether a particular view needs representation and that in our tradition, standardly, the judge doesn’t decide whether one or another view gets a lawyer.”

The judge’s objection to the proposal on national security letters dovetailed with that of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, who argued it would be inefficient to have to go to a judge each time records were sought. Mr. Obama has decided not to require court approval in every case, but might still require it in some circumstances, according to one administration official.

Mr. Obama will cut back on the number of people whose phone records can be examined by the N.S.A. through its bulk data program. Currently the agency can scrutinize call records of people as far as three steps, or “hops,” removed from a suspect. Mr. Obama’s review panel proposed limiting searches to people just two steps removed. He is also likely to cut down the number of years such data can be retained; currently it is deleted after five years.

But the president will not, at least for now, back the panel’s suggestion that telecommunications firms keep such data and that the government be allowed to tap into those databases only when necessary.

Intelligence officials complained it would be inefficient to have to go to multiple companies, so some officials proposed creating an independent consortium to store the data instead.

Mr. Obama has decided against keeping the data at the private providers because they do not want that responsibility, officials said, and no independent consortium currently exists. As a result, he will ask Congress to work with him to determine the best way to store the data.

He also appears likely to reject the idea of separating code breakers and code makers. Some critics of the N.S.A. were disturbed that the agency’s encryption team charged with bolstering online security systems against hackers was working with the team that tries to penetrate computer systems used by terrorists.

The letter by Judge Bates was accompanied by 15 pages of often specific comments about possible surveillance reforms.

It is highly unusual for judges to weigh in on public policy debates involving the other two branches of government, but Judge Bates, the director of the Administrative Office of the United States Court, said that Chief Justice Roberts had designated him to “act as a liaison” and that he had consulted other judges.

The judge emphasized that his comments were meant to address smooth operation of the court and were “not intended as expressions of support or opposition to particular introduced bills.”

Still, his comments went beyond workload issues. He objected to a proposal by Mr. Obama’s review group to take away Chief Justice Roberts’s sole power to appoint the 11 judges of the surveillance court and have them picked instead by the chief judges of the appeals courts.

Ten of the 11 current judges were appointed by Republican presidents, and critics have called for more diversity. “The chief justice is uniquely positioned to select qualified judges,” Judge Bates argued.

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Bernie Sanders Tells Democrats To Go Nuclear and Break the GOP’s UI Benefits Filibuster

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, January, 14th, 2014, 6:43 pm   

Sen. Bernie Sanders has a solution to ending the Republican filibuster of the unemployment benefits extension. He thinks Democrats should go nuclear and pass the extension with just 50 votes.

Alex Wagner asked Sen. Sanders if he thought that Democrats had done something wrong in opening the door to pay fors or if this was just the cost of doing business with the Republicans.

Sen. Sanders answered,

Well, I think as you’ve just indicated, and everybody’s got to understand, when George W. Bush was president we extended long term unemployment on five separate occasions. The Republicans at that point did not ask for any offsets at that time, and that should be what should be what we are doing right now. This is a state of emergency. 1.4 million people who have very little to live upon.

My own view, and it’s a fairly radical view here within the Senate, is that what we should do is say you know what? We’re going to require 50 votes, a majority. We’re going to overcome the Republican filibuster. We don’t need to have to get 60 votes for every single piece of legislation designed to help working families. Whether it’s extending unemployment benefits or raising the minimum wage, majority should rule.

It isn’t a coincidence that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hinted at something very similar to what Sen. Sanders suggested recently. While appearing on the January 5th edition of CBS’ Face The Nation, Reid left the door open to eliminating all filibusters if Republicans don’t stop obstructing everything. The more Senate Republicans obstruct common sense things like helping the unemployed, the louder the calls are going to get for Democrats to permanently end the Republicans’ tactic of filibustering legislation.

Sanders’ idea isn’t as radical as he thinks it is. Rationality and negotiation have both failed with these Republicans so Democrats need to speak the language of brute force.

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Alison Grimes Hammers Mitch McConnell for Heartlessly Laughing at the Unemployed

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, January, 14th, 2014, 2:07 pm   

On Tuesday morning, the campaign for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Democratic candidate for US Senate running against Republican incumbent, and Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, released a statement slamming McConnell for his stance on the extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. The statement, attributable to campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton, is as follows:

    “It is shameful that after failing for nearly 30 years to offer a credible plan to put Kentucky back to work, Mitch McConnell has the audacity to laugh in the faces of more than 18,000 unemployed Kentuckians, including 1,200 coal miners in Pike County. The people of Kentucky deserve a Senator they can be proud of — not one who offensively looks down upon our people and is an embarrassment to the values we hold dear. We take care of our own in this state. As Senator, Alison Lundergan Grimes will never turn her back on the hardworking men and women of the Commonwealth.”

On Monday, during a radio interview, McConnell was caught laughing  about the plight of the unemployed in his state who are suffering and left with nothing due to benefits being cutoff. With a vote being held in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon on the extension of the UI benefits, it is obvious that McConnell is going to vote no, even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has given the GOP what it wants, which is offsetting the new spending with cuts elsewhere. Still, McConnell will heartlessly and callously vote against the extension.

The thing is, as McConnell is trying to maintain his far-right cred in his upcoming primary battle with Tea Partier Matt Bevin, he needs to realize that he is becoming more and more unpopular with the residents of Kentucky. By trying to be as conservative as possible, he might be able to shake off the Tea Party and win the GOP primary. Yet, by supporting highly damaging, unpopular and unsympathetic policies, he is killing himself ahead of the general election. As it stands now, he is tied in the polls with Grimes. At this rate, on the road he’s traveling on, it is looking like he will lose to her in a landslide. And that will be a good thing for the people of Kentucky.

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Obama warns Congress he will act alone to help the jobless: ‘I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 13:11 EST

President Barack Obama said Tuesday he was pleased Congress had passed a sweeping $1 trillion spending bill, but warned he would wield power alone if lawmakers blocked his policy plans.

The omnibus spending bill reached by negotiators from the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democratic-run Senate funds the government until the end of the fiscal year in September, averting another government shutdown in the medium term.

“I’m very pleased to see the House and the Senate agreed to a budget,” Obama said as he met his cabinet at the White House.

The president encouraged Congress to pass the measure as “quickly as possible” to offer budget certainty for government agencies and departments.

Obama also called on Congress to act on his other priorities, including an extension of jobless insurance for the long-term unemployed and comprehensive immigration reform.

But White House hopes for an unblocking of the partisan gridlock snarling his second term look likely to be unfounded, a fact Obama appeared to recognize in his remarks, as he promised to wield the power of his office to mitigate the travails of the struggling middle class.

“We’re not just going to wait for legislation,” Obama said.

“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone, I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive action and administrative actions that move the ball forward.”

While Obama can use his authority to implement policy changes on issues ranging from immigration to climate change and other issues, he must pass laws through Congress to enact the kind of sweeping political change he envisages and to deploy the power of the public purse.

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John Boehner Lies and Blames President Obama for West Virginia Chemical Spill

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, January, 14th, 2014, 3:47 pm   

At a press conference today Speaker Boehner lied and blamed President Obama for the West Virginia chemical spill by accusing the president of not enforcing the regulations and doing his job.

Speaker Boehner was asked if more regulations were necessary after a chemical spill in West Virginia left 300,000 people without safe drinking water.

He answered, “The issue is this: We have enough regulations on the books. And what the administration ought to be doing is actually doing their jobs. Why wasn’t this plant inspected since 1991? I am entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people. Somebody ought to be held accountable here. What we try to do is look at those regulations that we think are cumbersome, are over the top, and that are costing the economy jobs. That’s where our focus continues to be.”

The Republican Party has waged a decades long war on the EPA and environmental regulations, but Speaker Boehner wants the American people to believe that the chemical spill in West Virginia was President Obama’s fault. Boehner knows full well that the company that owned the tank that ruptured, Freedom Industries, was exempt from both state and federal inspections because they don’t produce chemicals.

Instead of admitting that chemical spills like the one in West Virginia are a logical consequence of what happens when environmental regulations are repealed, Boehner lied and blamed Obama.

The truth is that the EPA could not have inspected the tank, because the tank was exempt from inspection. Republicans will never admit that their agenda of regulatory rollback is hazardous to the health of the American people. They prefer to pass the buck with nonsensical lies, and hope that the American people don’t notice the danger present in their deregulatory zeal The West Virginia chemical spill isn’t an example of presidential failure. It is a textbook demonstration of what happens when Republicans get their way, and the nation has less government regulation in critical areas.

West Virginia is the perfect example of how electing reckless Republican ideologues can literally put lives at risk.

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Chris Christie’s God Complex Makes Him More Deserving of Prison Than the Presidency

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, January, 14th, 2014, 10:02 am   

Retribution is regarded as a form of punishment inflicted in the spirit of vengeance, and although some scholars consider retribution different from revenge, they are both for perceived wrong treatment. For a person in a position of power with inflated feelings of amour-propre, privilege, or infallibility, wrong treatment can be perceived as something as minor as failing to show proper obeisance or submission that is typical of people with a god complex. A person with a god complex regards themselves as superior, and their opinions unquestionable, to the extent they disregard rules and demand special consideration or privileges. There is nothing as particularly dangerous as a politician with a god complex.

The scandal surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and revelations a case of political retribution drove the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge (GWB) would be damning enough if he was connected to just one instance of political retribution, but there is a mountain of evidence that retribution, bullying, and a sense of infallibility informs that Christie suffers from a god complex. Over the coming weeks, and likely months, investigations, subpoenas, and federal inquiries will reveal whether the GWB lane closures were a case of political retribution, an attempt to thwart a billion-dollar redevelopment project, or a warning to Democrats in New Jersey’s legislature not to cross dictator Chris Christie. The real issue is not just whether Christie had a hand in closing lanes on the GWB, but his character, or lack thereof, that drives his sense of entitlement, bullying, and willingness to use any means to impose his will;  including pilfering federal funding for disaster relief to maintain his hold on power.

Bloated-ego Christie has “sent messages” (retribution) to people failing to acknowledge his deity beginning with former Governor Richard Codey. Cody said Christie denied him state trooper protection, fired Codey’s cousin from his position at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and removed a former Codey aide from the New Jersey Office of Consumer Affairs because Codey publicly disagreed with him. After a Republican State Senator, Sean Kean, told a reporter Christie erred in not calling for a state of emergency sooner during a 2010 blizzard, Christie banned Kean from attending the next Christie news conference held in Kean’s home district. One of Christie’s aides told a New Jersey newspaper that Kean “got what he deserved.” Alan Rosenthal, a Rutgers Professor, saw his state funding slashed after he supported a re-districting map favorable to Democrats, and a Republican State Senator, Christopher Bateman, saw confirmation of a judicial candidate he recommended suddenly stall after he voted against Christie’s reorganization of the state’s public medical education system.

After 36-year-old Iraq war veteran, Democrat Steven Fulop, won his election as mayor of Jersey City in May 2013, Christie made congenial promises to help him in any way he could. Christie’s office set up a full day of meetings and scheduled appointments with heads of six different agencies, including transportation, economic development, the state treasurer and the commissioner of community affairs as well as with  the director of Hurricane Sandy recovery. A Christie aide wrote, “We’re looking forward to working closely with you and your administration. Some of the conversations may be simple and introductory, while others may focus on actual pending projects and issues.” However, after Fulop sent word he could not endorse Christie’s re-election, Christie’s office called off all meetings, refused to return Fulop’s calls, and declined to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery, transportation and other issues.

Christie’s sense of entitlement, and quest for power, also drove him to misuse about $2 million in Superstorm Sandy federal relief funds for an ad campaign that put him in the spotlight during his re-election campaign. Christie is being audited by the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for “misappropriating funds allocated by Congress from the Sandy aid package and taking advantage of this waiver for political purposes.” The inspector’s focus is on a federally-financed $25 million Jersey Shore marketing campaign that included a television commercial featuring Christie and his family which cost $2 million more than a competing bid without them. New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. requested the investigation in an August 8, 2013 letter; “It is inappropriate for taxpayer-funded dollars that are critical to our state’s recovery from this natural disaster to fund commercials that could potentially benefit a political campaign.”

Republican Senator Rand Paul said Christie’s appearance in the ads gave the recovery effort a “black eye. People running for office put their mug all over these ads while they were in the middle of a political campaign. You think there might be a conflict of interest there? That’s why people who are trying to use taxpayers’ money wisely are offended to see our money spent on political ads. That’s just offensive.” Christie blamed President Obama for the ads and said, “The Stronger Than The Storm “ad campaign was just one part of the first action plan approved by the Obama Administration and developed with the goal of effectively communicating that the Jersey Shore was open for business during the first summer after Sandy.” However, although the Obama administration approved a waiver to allow the state to spend $25 million on ads, it was not involved in the bidding process under federal review, and certainly would not have authorized spending $2 million in taxpayer money for a Chris Christie campaign ad.

Chris Christie is drunk on his own sense of self-importance that is manifest in his four years of bullying, vindictive political retribution, and blatant disregard for the people of New Jersey who are as much victims as politicians who make the mistake of failing to do obeisance in the presence of Christie’s bloated-ego. It would be bad enough if Christie’s retribution was isolated to shutting down 2 lanes on the GWB to thwart a billion-dollar redevelopment project or send a message to Democrats in New Jersey’s legislature he is not to be crossed, but the cretin has racked up an impressive record of vengeance that are too numerous to ignore. Fortunately for New Jersey residents, the state legislature and federal government are not ignoring Christie’s malfeasance borne of his god complex that drives his sense of entitlement and infallibility.

If Christie were a law enforcement officer, he would be charged with abuse under color of authority. However, he is just a self-indulgent glory hog and power-hungry man with a god complex who regards himself as superior to the extent he disregards rules and demands special consideration that state and federal inquisitors are more than happy to give him.

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Court ruling a big blow to ‘Net neutrality’

Internet-service providers will no longer be required to treat all kinds of Web activity equally, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in a decision that could dramatically reshape online access.

By Caleb Garling
01/14/2014
NYT

Internet-service providers will no longer be required to treat all kinds of Web activity equally, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in a decision that could dramatically reshape online access.

The decision overturns key parts of the Federal Communications Commission’s “Net neutrality” regulations, which barred Internet providers from restricting speeds or even blocking visits to different sites.

Analysts say the ruling could allow providers to slow down sites like bandwidth-heavy Netflix or Google and force them — or their visitors — to pay for faster access.

Verizon, a leading provider of landline and wireless-phone service as well as Internet access, had accused the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of overreaching in its 2010 “Open Internet” order, which barred broadband providers from discriminating against or blocking any data distributed over their networks — a goal of those advocating a concept also known as Net neutrality.

Verizon, which brought the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, argued that because it built its network, it has the right to manage its costs and services as it pleases.

Judges said that although the FCC has oversight of how Internet providers manage traffic, its regulations were overreaching, largely because of the agency’s decision eight years earlier that classified broadband as an “information service” rather than as a “common-carrier” telecommunications service.

The tech world blasted Tuesday’s ruling, saying it could turn the free-for-all that is the Internet into an industry more akin to cable television.

“The D.C. Circuit’s decision is alarming for all Internet users,” said Harvey Anderson, senior vice president of legal affairs for browser company Mozilla. “Thanks to a legal technicality, essential protections for user choice and online innovation are gone.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said his agency is considering a Supreme Court appeal, and insisted the FCC will not “abandon its responsibility to oversee that broadband networks operate in the public interest.”

“(The FCC) will not disregard the possibility that exercises of economic power or of ideological preference by dominant network firms will diminish the value of the Internet to some or all segments of our society,” he wrote in a blog post.

The ruling is a major defeat for the Silicon Valley lobby, which sought to convince Washington that Web access should remain unconstrained by Internet providers.

But the changes could affect far more than the tech world.

Verizon, Comcast and a handful of other broadband providers control the vast majority of Internet access nationwide, and that lack of competition has sparked concern across a variety of industries.

“Now that the Internet has become the primary mechanism for delivering information, services and applications to the general public, it is especially important that commercial Internet-service providers are not able to control or manipulate the content of these communications,” said Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association.

Rashad Robinson, executive director of African-American advocacy group ColorOfChange.org, fears that large private companies may start to squeeze out public discourse online.

“Our communities rely on the Internet to speak without a corporate filter, to access information and connect to the world, and to be able to organize and hold public officials and corporations accountable.”

Verizon insists the ruling won’t result in any changes to Internet access.

“Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet which provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content when, where and how they want,” a spokesman said in a statement. “This will not change in light of the court’s decision.”

Verizon was joined in its fight by conservative and business groups that oppose neutrality rules, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

All told, the widely watched case drew nearly a dozen friend-of-the-court briefs.

Philadelphia-based Comcast, which had promised to follow the open-Internet rules for seven years in order to win the FCC’s 2011 approval for its takeover of NBCUniversal, offered similar assurances.

“We remain comfortable with that commitment because we have not — and will not — block our customers’ ability to access lawful Internet content, applications, or services,” David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president, said in a statement. “Comcast’s customers want an open and vibrant Internet, and we are absolutely committed to deliver that experience.”

Consumer advocates have long pushed for Net-neutrality rules.

They argue that without such requirements, broadband providers could give preferential treatment to their own services or those of their affiliates — or could favor data from companies willing to pay more to get their data treated preferentially.

For instance, Comcast could favor NBCUniversal’s TV shows or movies while degrading similar content streaming from Netflix, or could demand that Netflix pay extra fees.

Appeals Judge David Tatel acknowledged such risks, writing that “A broadband provider like Comcast might limit its end-user subscribers’ ability to access The New York Times website if it wanted to spike traffic to its own news website, or it might degrade the quality of the connection to a search website like Bing if a competitor like Google paid for prioritized access.”

But Tatel said the FCC could not impose common-carrier-style regulation on the providers after previously deciding to classify them as more loosely regulated “information services.”

While holding open the possibility that the FCC might appeal Tuesday’s ruling, Wheeler hailed its conclusion that the FCC has broad authority to write rules “governing broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic,” and suggested there might be other ways to make them stick.


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Echoes of 1914: are today's conflicts a case of history repeating itself?

Historian Christopher Clark on drawing parallels with 1914

Christopher Clark
The Guardian, Thursday 16 January 2014   
   
In the spring of 2011, I was in the middle of writing a chapter about the Italo-Turkish war of 1911, which began when the Kingdom of Italy attacked and invaded the Ottoman territory known today as Libya. This war, now almost totally forgotten, was the first in which aircraft went up in reconnaissance to signal enemy positions to artillery batteries; it was also the first to see aerial bombardments, using bombs thrown from Italian aeroplanes and airships. Scarcely had I begun writing, but there was news once again of air strikes on Libya. Exactly 100 years later, bombs were falling on Libyan towns and the headlines were full of the same names – Tripoli, Benghazi, Sirte, Derna, Tobruk, Zawiya, Misrata – as the newspapers of 1911.

The correspondences were uncanny, but what did they mean? The answer is anything but clear. The conflict of 2011 was fundamentally different from its predecessor. The Italo-Turkish war of 1911 triggered the chain of opportunist assaults on Ottoman south-eastern Europe known as the first Balkan war, sweeping away the geopolitical balances that had enabled local conflicts to be contained. It was a milestone (one of many) on the road to a war that would consume first Europe and then much of the world.

There was and is little reason to suppose that the air strikes of 2011 will bring such terrible consequences in their wake. History does not repeat itself, but, as Mark Twain remarked, it does occasionally rhyme. What do these rhymes mean? They may merely be symptomatic of a culture obsessed with anniversaries and remembrance. But we should not exclude the possibility that such moments of historical deja vu reveal authentic affinities between two moments in time.

In recent years, the affinities have piled up. It is becoming a truism that the world increasingly resembles the world of 1914. Having left behind the bipolar stability of the cold war, we are struggling to make sense of a system that is increasingly multipolar, opaque and unpredictable. As in 1914, a rising power confronts a weary (though not necessarily declining) hegemon. Crises rage unchecked in strategically sensitive regions of the world – in some of these, like the current standoff over the Senkaku islands in the western Pacific, great power interests are engaged. No one who – from the standpoint of the early 21st century – follows the course of the summer crisis of 1914 can fail to be struck by the contemporary resonances. It began with a squad of suicide bombers and a cavalcade of automobiles. Behind the outrage at Sarajevo was an organisation with a cult of sacrifice, death and revenge; but this organisation was scattered in cells across political borders; it was unaccountable, its links to any sovereign government were oblique, hidden.

Even the furore over WikiLeaks, espionage and Chinese cyber-attacks has its early 20th-century counterparts: French foreign policy was compromised in the previous pre-war years by targeted high-level intelligence leaks; the British worried about Russian espionage in central Asia and in early summer 1914 a spy at the Russian embassy in London kept Berlin appraised of the latest naval talks between Britain and Russia. The most scandalous case of all was that of Colonel Alfred Redl, who rose to head Austrian counter-intelligence but was himself an agent for the Russians and gave them high-quality military intelligence until he was arrested and allowed to kill himself in May 1913.

Is history trying to tell us something, and if so, what?

In summer 2008, after a brief war between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, the Russian ambassador to Nato, Dmitri Rogozin, claimed to discern in the drama unfolding in the Caucasus a replay of the July crisis of 1914. He even expressed the hope that Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's president (whom he regarded as the aggressor in the quarrel), would not go down in history as "the new Gavrilo Princip" – a reference to the young Bosnian Serb who assassinated the Austrian heir to the throne and his wife on 28 June 1914. In the aftermath of those killings, Serbia's conflict with Austria-Hungary had drawn in Russia, transforming a local conflict into a world war. If Georgia succeeded in securing the support of Nato, could the same happen?

These dark omens were never realised. Nato thought better of hitching its wagon to the star of the hot-headed Georgian president. After a limited US naval demonstration in the Black Sea, the crisis died away. Georgia was not early 20th-century Serbia, Nato was not tsarist Russia, and Saakashvili was not Gavrilo Princip. Rogozin's attempt to bolt the present on to a lop-sided analogy with the past was not an honest attempt at historically grounded prognosis, but a warning to the west to stay out of the conflict. It was both historically imprecise and hermeneutically empty.

Even in better informed and less manipulative hands, historical analogies resist unequivocal interpretation.

The problem is only partly that the fit between the past and the present is never perfect or even close. More fundamental is the problem that the meaning of past events is just as elusive – and just as susceptible to debate – as their meaning in the present. Take the case of China, for example. Is the China of today an analogue of the imperial Germany of 1914, as is often claimed?

Even if we decide that it is, what lessons should we draw from the parallel? If we take the view that German aggression above all else started the first world war, we may conclude the US should take a hard line against contemporary Chinese importuning. But if we see in the war of 1914-1918, as I do, the consequence of interactions between a plurality of powers, each of which was willing to resort to violence in support of its interests, then we might also infer we need to devise better ways of integrating new great powers into the international system. At the very least, 1914 remains (as it was for President John F Kennedy during the Cuba missile crisis of 1963) a cautionary tale about how very wrong international politics can go, and how fast, and with what terrible consequences.

It remains important that we challenge manipulative or reductive readings of the past when these are mobilised in support of present-day political objectives. The recourse to history is most enlightening when we understand our conversations about the past are as open-ended as our reflections on the present should be. History is still "the great instructor of public life", as Cicero said. Being blind to the future, we have no other. But it is an eccentric educator.

History's wisdom comes to us not in the form of pre-packaged lessons but of oracles, whose relevance to our current predicaments has to be puzzled over.

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100 years since World War 1: numbers that show what's changed

With partner newspapers in Europe, we've sourced 100 years of data to see how the France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK have changed since 1914.

The 15 legacies still with us today

Three street news vendors displaying their headline boards relating to the financial crisis and martial law in Germany. August 1 1914

Instinctively, we know that Europe has undergone vast social and economic change since 1914. But what does that change look like when it's quantified?

Together with Süddeutsche Zeitung, El Paîs, La Stampa, Gazeta Wyborcza and Le Monde we've attempted to find out. The data we've gathered has been set against images from 1914 below.
Armed forces

Invariably, the absence of a direct threat has made most European countries reduce the size of their standing forces. In Germany, they have shrunk by 2,300%, in the UK by 600% while in Italy, the army has grown by 16%.

Population

Meanwhile, the citizens those armies are intended to protect have grown at a rate that is all the more surprising given the loss of life that the first world war produced (the casualty figures are contested by historians but estimates for the UK alone come close to 1 million).

Spain has swelled faster than any other country, and is now 57% larger than it was in 1914. The UK has grown by 44% while France and Italy now have almost 37% more people than they did in 1914.
Then and now_population Graphic: Amanda Shndruk, Data: Guardian & European partners

Having babies

Those rises can not be simply attributed to recent immigration to Europe. The number of births per 1,000 people in Europe has risen dramatically since 1914.
Then and now_Birthrate Graphic: Amanda Shndruk, Data: Guardian & European partners

Living longer

For every year that has passed in Europe since the outbreak of war, almost 4 months has been added to the average citizen's life. The balance of longevity has also shifted; while the French once outlived their European neighbours by more than 2 years in 1914, they are now surpassed by the Spanish and Italians.
Now and then life

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Archduke Franz Ferdinand descendant: don't blame us for first world war

Karl Habsburg-Lothringen says major powers were ready for war anyway when heir to Habsburg empire was assassinated

Cathrin Kahlweit in Vienna and Philip Oltermann in Berlin
theguardian.com, Wednesday 15 January 2014 17.11 GMT    

A descendant of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in Sarajevo triggered the first world war, has said that his family should not be blamed for causing the war that led to 37 million people killed or wounded.

In an interview with a European group of newspapers including the Guardian, Karl Habsburg-Lothringen, the grandson of the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Charles I, said: "If you were to simplify it, you could say that the shooting in Sarajevo started the first world war. But if there hadn't been the shooting in Sarajevo, it would have kicked off three weeks later somewhere else."

The fatal shooting of the Austrian archduke on 28 June 1914, by the 19-year-old Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip, is widely held to have triggered a chain reaction that dragged Russia, Germany and eventually France and Britain into war.

Habsburg-Lothringen said he believed there was no need for his family to show remorse for the tragedy of the first world war "because that would mean we had been guilty in the first place, and that we would have to redeem ourselves for something".

"It would be wrong to point the finger at one state," he said. "If you do that, you would have to take into account that there were already significant tensions, especially between Germany and Russia, who had already started to mobilise their troops along the borders."

He said he sympathised with the thesis that there was a readiness for war among all the leading European nations. "Many were already in the starting blocks, waiting for the great conflict. If you had to blame someone, then the greatest blame would lie with nationalism itself," he said.

Austria-Hungary, an empire of 50 million people, and tsarist Russia had for decades pursued a policy of confrontation over influence in eastern Europe, leading to the 1912 Balkan war that anticipated the larger conflict. But Habsburg-Lothringen said his grandfather, the last emperor, had only "inherited the war".

"He had nothing to do with it. In addition, he had made several attempts to pacify the situation, which he was criticised for at the time, and he used family contacts to lead peace talks."

Charles I "clearly saw that a basic problem was the situation of the Slavic people within the Habsburg empire".

"Maybe he also realised that the Serbs saw him as their main enemy," Habsburg-Lothringen said, "because he wanted to balance out, but essentially minimise, the dominating influence of the Serbs among the Slavic people."

Princip wanted Bosnia to become part of Serbia; Austria issued Serbia with a series of demands which would force them to investigate the killing and crack down on anti-Austrian propaganda, demands that were mostly accepted by Serbia; a month later Austria declared war on Serbia. When Russia mobilised in support of its ally Serbia, Germany declared war on Russia, and then France, and invaded Belgium. When Germany did not withdraw from Belgium, Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August.
Otto von Habsburg Otto von Habsburg, pictured in 1936. Photograph: Imagno/Getty Images

Some historians argue the Habsburg empire's multi-ethnic central European policy had become outdated and was doomed for failure. But Habsburg-Lothringen argued that the vision pursued by his father, Otto von Habsburg, the last crown prince of Austria-Hungary, was more relevant than ever.

"I am happy that Europe has developed in the way in which he had envisioned. The EU was the continuation of the old idea of a super-national empire by other means. That's what Otto von Habsburg saw in Europe and what he wanted. The circumstances have changed, that's right, but we are working on the idea of a super-national legal structure and a subsidiarity principle."

Karl Habsburg-Lothringen, president of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield, dedicated to the protection of cultural goods in war zones, said: "I have been in Africa a lot and seen how they see Europe. The Africans think that Europe looks to the future, they admire the idea of a European court. The idea of the nation state belongs to the past century."

After the end of the first world war, members of the Habsburg family were forbidden by law from running for the Austrian presidency. In 2011, Ulrich Habsburg-Lothringen successfully challenged the ban in court. Karl Habsburg-Lothringen supported his cousin's action: "The Habsburg law is absurd, there's nothing else to be said about it.

"All our rights were taken away from us, we were dispossessed and sent into exile. Our assets were put into a fund and should have been returned to us after that fund was dissolved. But that never happened.

"For example, I grew up with the grotesque situation that I as a child had an Austrian passport, issued in Munich, in which it said that I could to travel to every country in the world apart from Austria. That rule was only changed at the end of the 60s."

He said the severity with which the Austrian authorities had discriminated against his family was not representative of the mood among the people.

Asked if there was a Volkszorn, a popular anger against the Habsburg family in Austria, he said: "On the contrary, there was always a lot of sympathy for the Kaiser – also because it was recognised how much he engaged himself for peace, for the care of the starving.

"Most of the members of my family regard this war not just as part of a country's history but as part of our family history."


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« Reply #11290 on: Jan 16, 2014, 06:45 AM »


Catalonia to vote on whether to seek right to hold independence referendum

Vote in Catalan parliament is unlikely to lead to secession from Spain, but could fan flames of independence movement

Associated Press in Barcelona
theguardian.com, Thursday 16 January 2014 10.47 GMT   

Catalan lawmakers are to vote on Thursday on whether to seek the right to hold a referendum on independence from Spain.

The vote is a milestone in years of mass protests by Catalans, who are fiercely proud of their distinct culture and language. As lawmakers entered the Catalan parliament in Barcelona for a debate before the vote, dozens of Catalans waved independence flags and a smaller group unfurled Spanish flags, yelling: "Catalonia is Spain."

But the vote is also largely a symbolic one. Catalonia can ask Spain for permission to hold an independence vote all it wants; Madrid still has the power to say no, and it almost certainly will.

The prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has repeatedly said he will not allow Catalonia a secession referendum because Spain's 1978 constitution does not envision anything but a unified Spanish state, and stipulates that referendums affecting Spain must be held nationally and not regionally. He has an absolute majority in parliament, which assures he will prevail, and the main opposition Socialist party also opposes a referendum.

Still, the vote, which those in favour of secession are expected to win easily, could fan the flames of an already impassioned independence movement, especially if it garners the two-thirds majority that supporters are hoping for. A strong separatist message may also inspire independence movements elsewhere in the European Union at a time when European unity has been rocked by economic crisis. Belgium's Flemish speakers are gearing up to push for greater autonomy in May elections, while Scotland is preparing to hold its own referendum on breaking away from Britain in September.

Even if Madrid refuses to allow an independence vote, Catalan politicians might decide to try to hold a referendum anyway. That would put them in perilous legal terrain: when the northern Basque region, where separatist sentiment is also strong, failed to obtain permission for a similar referendum in 2005, Spain said Basque leaders could face jail if they went ahead with a vote.


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« Reply #11291 on: Jan 16, 2014, 06:51 AM »


Seven killed as Russian security forces corner suspected militants in Dagestan

Shootout leaves three security officers and four gunmen dead during sweep for Islamists ahead of Sochi Olympics

Reuters in Moscow
theguardian.com, Wednesday 15 January 2014 19.20 GMT   

Three members of the Russian security forces and four gunmen were killed in a shootout on Wednesday during a sweep for Islamist militants, who have threatened to attack the Winter Olympics, which begin in Sochi next month.

After two suicide bombings in southern Russia in December, Moscow is on high security alert. Russian president Pig Putin has staked much personal and political prestige on the success of the Games, and put security forces on combat footing in Sochi.

Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAC) said the dead militants included a man accused of carrying out a car bomb attack in the city of Pyatigorsk late last year that killed three people.

The shootout occurred on the same day that Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, introduced legislation aimed at broadening the powers of security services and boosting their oversight of the internet.

Voting has yet to be held on the bill, which the daily newspaper Vedomosti said was worked out during closed sessions between MPs and representatives of the federal security service and the interior ministry.

The group of militants had been trapped in a house in the village of Karlanyurt in Dagestan, the NAC said in a statement. Five officers were also wounded in what a spokesman called a special operation.

Police said they defused two explosive devices at the house where the militants fought with the security forces. Russian television showed images of grey plumes of smoke rising later from a house in the impoverished North Caucasus region.

The capital of Dagestan, Makhachkala, is about 385 miles east of Sochi. The mostly Muslim region is plagued by bombings and shootings that target state and police officials as part of militants' fight to create an Islamist state.

At least 34 people were killed last month in suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd. Putin ordered safety measures to be strengthened nationwide after the attacks.

About 37,000 personnel are now in place to provide security in Sochi, which is located on the Black Sea and on the western edge of the Caucasus mountains. The International Olympic Committee has expressed confidence the Games will be safe.

But, underlining the danger of attacks, security forces said on Saturday they had arrested five members of a banned militant group in southern Russia and defused a homemade bomb packed with shrapnel.

The main spokesman for Russian Federation's Investigative Committee, whose responsibilities include looking into bombings and other attacks, appealed to civilians on Tuesday to be more vigilant and help avert the threat of "terrorist" attacks.

The insurgency is driven by a mix of religious fundamentalism and anger among local residents over corruption and efforts by appointed, pro-Moscow regional leaders to clamp down on militants.


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« Reply #11292 on: Jan 16, 2014, 06:53 AM »

Julie Gayet to sue French magazine Closer over Hollande affair claims

Actor consults lawyers while French media leave prurience to 'ango-saxonne' press to concentrate on presidential politics

Kim Willsher in Paris
theguardian.com, Wednesday 15 January 2014 17.22 GMT   

The French actor at the centre of François Hollande's alleged love triangle is to sue the magazine that revealed her and the French president's supposed secret trysts, it has been reported.

While Hollande, 59, told journalists he would not drag Closer through the courts for breaching his privacy, Julie Gayet, 41, is said to have consulted lawyers with a view to initiating legal proceedings.

Closer published a special edition on Friday, claiming Hollande had been visiting Gayet at a flat a stone's throw from the Elysée Palace, without the knowledge of his partner Valérie Trierweiler.

The magazine also printed a series of photographs of Gayet entering the apartment building, followed some time later by a man it claimed was Hollande arriving on the back of a scooter.

Gayet had already lodged a formal legal complaint last March over rumours circulating on the internet that she was romantically involved with the French president.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Hollande said his indignation at the invasion of privacy was "total" but he would not be taking legal action. Otherwise, he refused to speak of the alleged affair.

Among the French media there was less concern about the president trundling along the boulevards of Paris on a scooter to meet his girlfriend than about his political decision to take what is seen as a sharp turn to the right.

In short, it mattered less that he was allegedly cheating on his partner than that he had become a social democrat (and in any case only the perfidious and prurient "anglo-saxonne" press was interested in the former).

There was hardly a word either about Trierweiler who was packed off to a hospital after learning of her partner's infidelity?, or sidelined for the good of the president amid concerns she could make serious trouble. Nobody knew and nobody asked.

"I am a social democrat", Hollande declared at Tuesday's press conference as if confessing to a self-help group, adding that he would remain one how ever many times the question was asked.

It was not a matter of choice that he was pledging less welfare and tax cuts for businesses, he said, but of necessity; in his own words "a social compromise".

The French papers compared Hollande to Gerhard Schröder, Germany's Social Democratic chancellor from 1998 to 2005, and suggested the president had abandoned socialism and chosen "third way" politics.

Libération's headline, "Hollande Libéré", made a play on the French word liberer (to free) and liberale (indicating an advocate of the free market).

"By claiming the 'social democrat' line yesterday, the head of state clarified his political position at the risk of being accused of turning liberal [free market]," Libération wrote.

"Social Democracy: Hollande comes to terms with it", said the inside-page headline. Trierweiler and the president's alleged affair were relegated to a sidebar on page three.

Even the populist Le Parisien, stuck to politics with its headline: "High Voltage. In front of the press the president announced a series of economic and social measures while remaining very discreet about his personal situation that he will clarify later."

The centre-right Le Figaro's front page carried a picture of the president and the words: "A verbal U-turn."

Meanwhile, another U-turn nearly went unnoticed: on Tuesday, the French satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaîné reported that the culture minister, Aurélie Filippetti, had nominated Gayet to be on the prestigious seven-member Villa Médicis jury that decides which budding young artists get to go to the French Académie in Rome.

This, it suggested, belied the notion that the "Hollande affair" was private and nothing to do with politics. "Did François Hollande ask for this nomination? Did Aurélie Filipetti take the initiative?," asked Le Figaro.

By Wednesday morning it was being made clear by French officials that Gayet would not be nominated to the Villa Médicis jury.

Where the president's personal tribulations were mentioned by the French media, it was through the prism of the "anglo-saxonne" press, thus allowing them to report developments while appearing to be above it all.

British and American media were variously described as "ironic", "disconcerted" , "astonished", "electrified" and "grasping at revelations".

"Affaire Gayet: the Anglo-Saxon press is astonished at the prudence of French journalists. British newspapers criticise the 'deference' of the French press, while the Americans are thrown by the respect for their private lives afforded political leaders," wrote Le Figaro.

"The Hollande-Gayet affair electrifies the foreign media," announced Le Monde's political page. Le Parisien said the "willingly impertinent" British press had "waited with delectation for a flurry of questions on the French head of state's relationship with a 41-year-old actor".

Only Le Figaro appeared to notice that the French embassy in London had declared war on "French-bashing".

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

French Leader’s Policy Proposals Seek Centrist Path

By ALISSA J. RUBIN
JAN. 15, 2014
IHT

PARIS — President François Hollande startled the usually staid world of European economic policy with proposals to take France in a centrist direction with tax cuts for companies, reductions in public spending and a business-friendly tone.

Mr. Hollande detailed his economic plans at a news conference on Tuesday attended by hundreds of journalists, many of them more interested in his answers to questions about his affair with an actress than his economic policies. He described his new approach as a “responsibility pact” between the French government and business.

On Wednesday, the proposals drew accolades and encouragement from European Union leaders and German officials, who have long pushed for France to make structural changes in its economy. Mr. Hollande drew cautious support from French business leaders.

But France’s far-left and far-right parties expressed dismay, saying that the nation needed a generous government safety net.

For those on the left, who have pushed to have generous social programs funded by hefty taxes, Mr. Hollande appeared to be relinquishing his position as Europe’s Socialist standard-bearer and strongest opponent of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, whose philosophy of austerity has perhaps strengthened Germany but has yet to bring financial stability to poorer euro zone countries like Greece.

Mr. Hollande, who as a candidate took a stand against European austerity policies and as president has resisted calls for deep public spending cuts, strongly rejected the accusation that he had become a free marketer, saying that he “had not been won over by liberalism,” a reference to economic liberalism, which in France means a market approach.

“I am a social democrat,” he declared.

And his proposals, Mr. Hollande said, “are not a shift” in views, but “an acceleration on the same path.”

Germany’s foreign minister, its president and the European Union, all praised Mr. Hollande’s proposals, cautioning, however, that they could be hard to deliver on for political reasons.

“What the French president presented yesterday is, firstly, courageous,” said Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister of Germany.

“That seems to me to be the right way, not only for France, but it can also be a contribution that brings Europe as a whole” into a stronger position as it strives to emerge from an economic crisis, Mr. Steinmeier said. But he cautioned that similar changes had taken a long time to come to fruition in Germany because of political obstacles.

Mr. Hollande’s proposals include a cut in payroll taxes that he said would reduce the costs of business and independent workers by 30 billion euros ($41 billion) by eliminating the amount paid by companies and independent workers for the family allocation, a tax that finances an allowance for each child after the first as well as an array of other family benefits.

The family allocation and other benefits are core elements of France’s social programs and have been credited with contributing to it having one of the highest birthrates in Europe. The allowance is income blind, going to all French families.

Mr. Hollande also said he would cut spending by €50 billion but did not specify where.

Economic experts, while gratified that Mr. Hollande finally seemed willing to wrestle with France’s intractable unemployment, which has hovered between about 10 and 11 percent for close to three years, and an economy that is barely growing, remained skeptical that he would be able to persuade his party to support the changes. The experts also said that while it is easy to talk about cutting tax revenues, the president has yet to explain what programs or benefits he would reduce or eliminate to pay for the cuts — not to mention how difficult it would be to win political support for such cuts.

“Better late than never,” said Daniel Gros, director of the Center for European Policy Studies, an independent organization in Brussels.

“But I must say its implementation is the difficult part,” Mr. Gros said, adding that even with the proposed cuts, government spending in France would remain at over 50 percent — it is now at 57 percent — of GDP, making it the second highest in Europe.

That is still “more than the economy can bear if it wants to remain competitive,” he said.

He questioned whether Mr. Hollande’s Socialist Party would go along with the changes, but reflected that he might be more able to reduce social spending than a conservative leader.

“Sometimes, as in Germany, the left can better do these social policy reforms than right,” Mr. Gros said.

It was Ms. Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, who set the course for reducing government spending and strengthening the government’s relationship with business.

Although the international media from Tuesday’s news conference dealt with Mr. Hollande’s affair with an actress and the hospitalization of his companion, Valérie Trierweiler, who has been serving as the first lady, those in the French news media on Wednesday were focused on his economic plans, generally supportive, tempered with concern about what they would mean for France’s social safety net.

“He is shaking up the Socialist Party,” said Pierre-Alain Furbury, a journalist who covers economic issues for Les Echos, a business newspaper.

Reiterating that Mr. Hollande’s plans were a real departure from his policies and his tone during the presidential campaign, when he embraced a 75 percent tax on the rich and criticized big business, Mr. Furbury said that this could be “the most important speech in his five years as president,” and even change the positions embraced by his party.


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« Reply #11293 on: Jan 16, 2014, 06:54 AM »


Vocational education: why the Finns do it best

Could technical training help to tackle youth unemployment? Gita Subrahmanyam argues Finland's approach has key lessons for the developing world

Gita Subrahmanyam
Guardian Professional, Wednesday 15 January 2014 16.37 GMT   
   
Could a bias against vocational education be keeping young people unemployed?

If the Finnish approach is anything to go by, technical and vocational education and training, or TVET, could provide a means of tackling youth unemployment. While a negative social bias has often prevented young people, in both developing and developed countries, from enrolling on vocational track programmes, Finland's reforms over the past decade have made TVET popular, contributing to lower youth unemployment rates.

One reason for high youth unemployment across the world – and particularly in developing countries – is a growing mismatch between the supply and demand for skills. In most African countries there is an oversupply of social science and business graduates but an undersupply of engineers, scientists and technicians. Domestic skills shortages mean that countries rely on foreign labour to fill high demand for technically-skilled personnel.

Developing countries could minimise skills mismatches by placing greater emphasis on TVET. Vocational education tends to result in a faster transition into the workplace, and countries that have it at the core of the curriculum – such as Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands – have been successful in maintaining low youth unemployment rates. Yet by contrast few African governments, for example, allocate adequate funding to this.

Moreover, in many developing countries, young people and their parents shun vocational education, which they regard as a 'second-choice' education option. Its low status is often rooted in countries' colonial past, associated with the training received by 'inferior' groups for blue-collar jobs. Vocational track programmes therefore attract few students. The research that has focused on African countries, has shown the enrolment rate in secondary-level TVET is 5% or less.

Its low status is also linked to quality concerns. Many people associate vocational track programmes with low academic performance, poor quality provision and blocked future pathways. Their concerns are often justified: in most African countries for example, vocational tracks do not lead to higher education, the teachers are low-paid and under-qualified, and learning environments are outdated.

To unlock the potential of vocational education requires radical reforms to the education system and sustained campaigns to change social perceptions.

So what practical lessons does Finland have for developing countries? The International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training recently held an eForum online conference to gather knowledge, experiences, innovations and promising practices on how to increase TVET's role and impact in tackling youth unemployment. Attendees of the virtual conference included a delegate from Finland who outlined how her country successfully overcame bias against TVET.

According to Mervi Jansson, director of educational partnerships at Omnia, a TVET institution with 10,000 students, Finland's systematic efforts to upgrade the quality and status of TVET have paid off. Today over 50% of Finnish youth apply for the programmes, and it is now more competitive than general education. Last spring, 70% of applications to the vocational education track were successful, as against 94% to the general education track.

Finland's success is based on external and internal policy shifts. Legislative reforms since 2000 allow TVET students to progress to further studies at university or applied sciences level and provide its institutions with the same generous basic and development funding as general education institutions. Finland's curriculum has been restructured to include the national core curriculum required for access to university, as well as strong on-the-job training and lifelong learning components. Finally, TVET schools across Finland promote their services to parents by arranging regular visits and parents' evenings.

EForum participants identified measures that countries can adopt to raise the status and quality of TVET:

• Change legislation, so that TVET is not a 'dead end' but leads to further education.

• Some countries rely on donor financing to meet their education costs, so TVET will be competing with primary and basic education for funds. We need to increase funding, so that TVET institutions can pay teachers reasonable salaries, upgrade learning environments and invest in professional development.

• Integrate on-the-job training and lifelong learning into the TVET curriculum to ensure that graduates are job-ready yet adaptable to changing skills requirements.

• Raise teaching quality by increasing the qualifications levels required of TVET teachers and making pedagogical training obligatory.

• Encourage companies and other key stakeholders to co-operate in TVET planning and processes, including curriculum design, training and mentoring.

• Publicise TVET's benefits to parents through publicity campaigns, parents' evenings and showcasing student achievements.

Obviously, these measures would need to be tailored to developing countries' unique circumstances. In addition, countries would need to find ways of changing social perceptions of TVET.

The Finnish example is of course no blueprint. Even in its own context, it is only one part of the youth unemployment puzzle: Finland itself continues to suffer from high youth unemployment, despite upgrading its TVET system, because it relies too heavily on a few large firms to provide jobs for its population – as evidenced during Nokia's recent collapse. While Finland has begun to place greater emphasis on entrepreneurship, including incorporating entrepreneurship education into the TVET curriculum, it still needs to undertake basic labour market reforms. While developing countries also need to address structural issues that impede youth employment, it is time we took a more thoughtful look at the potential of vocational education.

Gita Subrahmanyam is a research associate at London School of Economics.


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« Reply #11294 on: Jan 16, 2014, 06:58 AM »

In Greece, Elites Are Starting to Feel the Pain

By NIKI KITSANTONIS
JAN. 16, 2014
IHT   

ATHENS — Since the country’s financial meltdown, Greeks have protested what many here criticize as the unfairness of the biting austerity measures that have raised taxes and trimmed salaries and benefits for average Greeks, while the elite escaped similar burdens or being held accountable for their part in creating the mess in the first place.

Suddenly, to the satisfaction of many here, that dynamic has begun to change. With new vigor, Greek prosecutors working independently of politicians — and sometimes in the face of passive resistance from them — are pursuing corruption cases against a widening pool of current and former high-ranking state officials and members of the business elite once deemed untouchable.

In country after country, officials have had difficulty deciding whether or how to prosecute those responsible for the conditions that led to the financial crisis that began in 2008 and the dark economic period that followed. Here in Greece, the country most afflicted by the collapse, prosecutors say that investigations, launched over the past year or so, are finally coming to fruition.

Analysts add that the prosecutors have more sway now than ever as Greeks smarting from more than three years of austerity demand punishment for those who ransacked state coffers and pushed Greece close to bankruptcy. The combination of the strong public desire for catharsis and a weak government has given the prosecutors far more room to maneuver than they have had in the recent past.

“For the first time, Greek justice is reaching really high up,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of legal theory at the University of Athens. “One reason is that the public desire for catharsis is strong, another is that the political system is weak and has too much to lose by trying to intervene. It risks being exposed.”

In the past week alone, prosecutors have reeled in several prominent businessmen, including Dimitris Kontominas, the owner of a television station and insurance company, as well as Angelos Filippidis, the former head of Hellenic Postbank, and several of his colleagues, over a loan scandal deemed to have cost the former state lender some 500 million euros, or $680 million.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kontominas, 75, was released from detention after posting a record €5 million in bail and was banned from leaving the country. The day before, the businessman had answered to charges of fraud and money laundering from an Athens hospital bed.

Mr. Filippidis, who prosecutors allege recklessly approved loans without guarantees, is in a Turkish jail awaiting extradition to Greece following his arrest at an Istanbul hotel last week.

Also in custody is the former managing director of the country’s Skaramangas shipyards, Sotiris Emmanouil, who according to prosecutors, pocketed €23 million in bribes to secure a submarine deal with the German firm Ferrostaal. At the same time, prosecutors are deepening an investigation into a new scandal involving kickbacks for state defense contracts that has implicated senior members of the Greek military for the first time.

Meanwhile, a former conservative minister Michalis Liapis, is being investigated amid reports that he used European Union subsidies to renovate his holiday home. Mr. Liapis, a cousin of a former prime minister, Costas Karamanlis,, received a suspended jail sentence this month for driving a car with fake license plates in an apparent attempt to skirt increased road taxes.

At the frontline of this unprecedented crackdown are the capital’s two top corruption prosecutors — Eleni Raikou, 52, and Popi Papandreou, 36. The latter, known as “the terminator” for her meticulous investigations, compiled the report that led to former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos being convicted for money laundering last October, a landmark verdict in a country where top-ranking state officials are rarely prosecuted.

Judicial officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they have not come under political pressure.

“We are a parallel authority,” one said. “I don’t take orders from the prime minister”

But they have also received little or no support for their efforts. Even as graft scandals multiply, no new employees have been hired, leaving four corruption prosecutors with a mounting caseload. In one office, telephones have a bar on international calls, obliging officials seeking access to suspects’ bank accounts to call from their cellphones, at their own expense.

Despite the practical difficulties, prosecutors appear determined and are pushing for a change to the law to allow those who return money stolen from the state to be spared prison time. “The point is to get the money back,” one official said.

The biggest challenge is recouping bribes pocketed by officials in exchange for securing defense contracts with foreign firms, she said.

Three deals for submarines, tanks and aircraft worth some €5 billion — all deemed to have been purchased at inflated prices — have come under the scrutiny of prosecutors, and another 10 deals are also slated to be investigated.

Greece had the highest defense expenditure, in relation to gross domestic product, in the European Union in 2009, before the debt crisis hit, amid enduring security concerns about its traditional rival, Turkey; that budget has since been halved to 1.7 percent of G.D.P. under pressure from Greece’s international creditors.

Asked to estimate the total pocketed in bribes from Greek defense deals over the past 20 years, the official shrugged. “I’ll retire and I still won’t know,” she said.

Some of the bribe money has been recovered. The €17 million recouped in the past month will go toward “covering needs in the health and education sectors,” the Finance Ministry said. Around half of that money was returned by a former Defense Ministry official, Antonis Kantas. “I took so many bribes that I’ve lost count,” Mr. Kantas told a magistrate. A lower-ranking Defense Ministry employee was found to have a private jet.

Equally eye-popping are the details of a new scandal embroiling Hellenic Postbank, a former state lender which was absorbed by Greece’s fourth largest lender Eurobank last summer after being stripped of its bad loans. One of the beneficiaries, the businessman Mr. Kontominas, is alleged to have used a portion of a €110-million loan to buy a luxury home in London for his daughter.

The judicial crackdown has been welcomed by ordinary Greeks who have seen their incomes cut by a third since the crisis hit.

“We drain our bank accounts to pay higher taxes, and they fill theirs by evading them and cheating the system,” said Aliki Theodorou, a 45-year-old teacher. “It’s about time someone else started paying.”
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