Archives for February 2014

Russia accused of invading Crimea as U.S. warns against ‘grave mistake’

n13-iconThe Guardian reports: Russia and the west are on a collision course over Crimea after Moscow was accused of orchestrating a “military invasion and occupation” of the peninsula, as groups of apparently pro-Russian armed men seized control of two airports and Russian troop movements were reported across the territory.

The new authorities in Kiev, installed following the removal of the pro-Moscow president this week, accused Russia of “an attempt to seize airports”, and on Friday evening the main Crimean air hub at Simferopol was still guarded by unidentified, uniformed men. Later it was announced that the airport had been closed and incoming flights diverted.

“I see what has happened as a military invasion and occupation in violation of all international treaties and norms,” said the new Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov. “This is a direct provocation aimed at armed bloodshed on the territory of a sovereign state.”

The White House warned that any Russian military intervention in Ukraine would be a “grave mistake”. The UN security council took up the issue at a session last night. The sudden escalation of the crisis amounts to the most dangerous stand-off in the former Soviet Union since the Russia-Georgia war six years ago. [Continue reading…]

The Daily Beast adds: Private security contractors working for the Russian military are the unmarked troops who have now seized control over two airports in the Ukrainian province of Crimea, according to informed sources in the region. And those contractors could be setting the stage for ousted President Viktor Yanukovich to come to the breakaway region.
[…]
Paul Saunders, the executive director of the Center for the National Interest, said that the Obama administration faces a particularly bad set of choices when it comes to responding to the airport takeovers, especially if is confirmed they are Russian government controlled security contractors.

“If the Obama administration takes a public position that they are Russian forces, then they need to explain what they plan to do. This will be quite similar to the red line in Syria, in that they will have to choose between imposing the ‘consequences’ that administration officials have warned about, repeating statements that have been ignored, or saying that it is not really an ‘invasion,’” he said. [Continue reading…]

Luke Harding writes: Moscow’s military moves so far resemble a classically executed coup: seize control of strategic infrastructure, seal the borders between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine, invoke the need to protect the peninsula’s ethnic Russian majority. The Kremlin’s favourite news website, Lifenews.ru, was on hand to record the historic moment. Its journalists were allowed to video Russian forces patrolling ostentatiously outside Simferopol airport.

Wearing khaki uniforms – they had removed their insignia – and carrying Kalashnikovs, the soldiers seemed relaxed and in control. Other journalists filming from the road captured Russian helicopters flying into Crimea from the east. They passed truckloads of Russian reinforcements arriving from Sevastopol, home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in this very Crimean coup. But Putin’s playbook in the coming days and months is easy to predict. On Thursday, the Crimean parliament announced it would hold a referendum on the peninsula’s future status on 25 May. That is the same day Ukraine goes to the polls in fresh presidential elections.

The referendum can have only one outcome: a vote to secede from Ukraine. After that, Crimea can go one of two ways. It could formally join the Russian Federation. Or, more probably, it might become a sort of giant version of South Ossetia or Abkhazia, Georgia’s two Russian-occupied breakaway republics – a Kremlin-controlled puppet exclave, with its own local administration, “protected” by Russian troops and naval frigates. Either way, this amounts to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, de facto or de jure.

Ewen MacAskill adds: But a Russian takeover of the Crimea could turn out to be disastrous in the long run. The Kremlin would be underestimating the impact of the sizeable population of Tartars who were forcibly deported from the Crimea by Stalin in 1944 and not allowed to return until the beginning of Perestroika in the 1980s.

[Igor] Sutyagin, who is at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said: “The Tartars are very anti-Russian. They will do anything not to be under the Russians. They will be determined to fight for Ukraine. It would be a second Chechnya. There are a lot of mountains in Crimea, just as in Chechnya.”

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Searching for the elephant’s genius inside the largest brain on land

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Ferris Jabr writes: Many years ago, while wandering through Amboseli National Park in Kenya, an elephant matriarch named Echo came upon the bones of her former companion Emily. Echo and her family slowed down and began to inspect the remains. They stroked Emily’s skull with their trunks, investigating every crevice; they touched her skeleton gingerly with their padded hind feet; they carried around her tusks. Elephants consistently react this way to other dead elephants, but do not show much interest in deceased rhinos, buffalo or other species. Sometimes elephants will even cover their dead with soil and leaves.

What is going through an elephant’s mind in these moments? We cannot explain their behavior as an instinctual and immediate reaction to a dying or recently perished compatriot. Rather, they seem to understand—even years and years after a friend or relative’s death—that an irreversible change has taken place, that, here on the ground, is an elephant who used to be alive, but no longer is. In other words, elephants grieve.

Such grief is but one of many indications that elephants are exceptionally intelligent, social and empathic creatures. After decades of observing wild elephants—and a series of carefully controlled experiments in the last eight years—scientists now agree that elephants form lifelong kinships, talk to one another with a large vocabulary of rumbles and trumpets and make group decisions; elephants play, mimic their parents and cooperate to solve problems; they use tools, console one another when distressed, and probably have a sense of self (See: The Science Is In: Elephants Are Even Smarter Than We Realized)

All this intellect must emerge, in one way or another, from the elephant brain—the largest of any land animal, three times as big as the human brain with individual neurons that seem to be three to five times the size of human brain cells. [Continue reading…]

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The ultimate interactive weather map

a13-iconCurrent wind and temperature at 500hPa:

The current wind conditions in the polar vortex at 10hPa:

Click on the Earth button to see an interactive view where you can:

  • select current condition, +/- 3hrs, +/- 1 day (Control: Now « – ‹ – › – »);
  • switch between atmospheric and ocean conditions (Mode: Air – Ocean);
  • select a height from surface upwards (Height: Sfc – 1000 – 850 – 700 – 500 – 250 – 70 – 10 hPa);
  • choose an overlay showing wind, temperature, relative humidity, air density, etc. (Overlay: Wind – Temp – RH – AD – WPD – TPW – TCW – MSLP);
  • and select a projection.

Drag the image to view different locations and double-click for larger scale. Click on projection “O” to return to an orthographic view of the planet.

Source: http://earth.nullschool.net/ Creator: Cameron Beccario

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The threat to rhinos also endangers their habitat

rhinos

Rachel Nuwer reports: Some large animals influence their surroundings more than others. Elephants are known as ecosystem engineers for their tendency to push over trees and stomp shrubby areas in the savannah into submission. This keeps forests at bay, which otherwise would overtake open grasslands. Wolves, on the other hand, are apex predators. They keep other species like deer in check, preventing herbivore populations from getting out of hand and eating all the plants into oblivion. Both elephants and wolves are keystone species, or ones that have a relatively large impact on their environment in relation to their actual population numbers.

African rhinos, it turns out, also seem to be a keystone species. According to a recent study published by Scandinavian and South African researchers in the Journal of Ecology, rhinos maintain the diverse African grasslands on which countless other species depend.

Surprisingly, prior to this study no one had looked closely rhinos’ roles in shaping the ecosystem. Most researchers focused on elephants instead. Suspecting that these large animals influence their environment, the authors took a close look at rhinos in Kruger National Park in South Africa. [Continue reading…]

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Grab great wildlife experiences while you can?

e13-iconPerhaps it should be called eco-catastrophe tourism: rushing to catch a glimpse of natural wonders before they disappear.

For under $4,000 you can visit Kenya to witness Africa’s wildebeest migration. But if you want to be able tell your grandchildren what it was like, don’t wait too long.

CNN lists “11 great wildlife experiences [that] could disappear within your lifetime,” and helpfully provides details about the tour operators and packages so that you can catch a glimpse of the last rhinoceros, polar bears, tigers, gorillas, and orangutans.

I guess each of these creatures is acquiring greater market value, the closer to extinction it comes.

I imagine that the tour operators and tourists feel that these enterprises are contributing towards the protection of species and their environments and to some extent that might be true.

There also seems to be a predatorial element at play. The hunters might only come away with photographs, videos, and memories, yet appealing to a desire to see something rare before it is lost, caters more to an acquisitive impulse than it contributes towards the prevention of species and habitat loss.

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Monsanto blamed for kidney disease epidemic in Sri Lanka

n13-iconOOSKAnews reports: New research by Sri Lankan medical professionals has identified high amounts of the herbicide glyphosate as the culprit behind the high levels of chronic kidney disease in the country’s North Central province and other key rice-producing areas.

The researchers found that glyphosate, which is widely used in paddy cultivation to prepare the soil, has the capacity to retain arsenic and other heavy metals in water.

Their report was presented to Special Projects Minister S. M. Chandrasena on February 5. The researchers urged the government to take immediate action to ban imports of the harmful agro-chemical. They said the prevalence of end-stage renal failure is reaching epidemic levels in the country.

Dr. Channa Jayasumana, a senior lecturer at the Medical Faculty of Rajarata University and the lead researcher, said: “The chemical glyphosate mixed with hard water lasted for about 20 years.”

“The toxins contained in agro-chemicals are deposited in hard water found in North Central Province, and they will remain in the human body for over six years,” he added.

Jayasumana said that in 2012, Sri Lanka had imported nearly 500,000 metric tonnes of glyphosate, which was developed by US-based international agricultural giant Monsanto. Monsanto’s patent for the broad-spectrum herbicide, marketed under the brand name “Roundup,” expired in 2000.

Jayasumana claimed Monsanto was aware of the health risks, but had not educated poor farmers and people living in areas where rice is cultivated to take precautions to prevent disease. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Dino Saluzzi — ‘Romance’

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Selective outrage — there’s a lot of it going around

e13-iconJustin Doolittle writes: Wrapping up a two-day trip to Saudi Arabia recently, a high-ranking State Department official sharply criticized the ruling family’s egregious and intensifying human rights abuses.

“Lack of progress in Saudi Arabia has led to a great deal of frustration and skepticism in my government and in the international community,” an assistant secretary of state told reporters in Riyadh. “There hasn’t been sufficient action taken by the government to address the issues of justice and accountability,” this official asserted. “We heard from many people about people who are still unaccounted for, whose whereabouts and fates are unknown to their family members.”

The United States, justifiably incensed by the Saudi regime’s ongoing assault on human rights, is considering tabling a resolution at the March session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which might include a call for an international investigation. “We understand growing concern, frustration, and skepticism among many in my country and many in the international community that has led to increasing calls for international investigation and an international process,” the visiting diplomat warned.

None of what you have just read actually happened, of course. In reality, the U.S. official is assistant secretary of state Nisha Biswal, she was speaking to reporters in Colombo, not Riyadh, and her blunt criticism was in reference to the government of Sri Lanka, not the ruthless, theocratic dictatorship that rules Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading…]

Among those who express most outrage about U.S. foreign policy, the most common refrain is that American officials are guilty of shameless hypocrisy. “[N]o government that only fumes selectively over fundamental issues of right and wrong deserves to be taken seriously,” Doolittle writes. Maybe not.

But shouldn’t the same standard then apply to those who are criticizing the U.S. government and its allies?

There are those whose outrage cannot be contained whenever the Israeli government bombs Gaza and yet offer barely a murmur when the Syrian government bombs its own cities. Why should their selective outrage be taken any more seriously than that of the U.S. government?

The fact is, if only those who are unblemished by hypocrisy have a right to speak out, then we would probably all have to remain silent.

Instead, we should probably be more concerned about whether the outrage is justifiable than whether the critic is without fault.

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The new Great Game: Why Ukraine matters to so many other nations

a13-iconBloomberg Businessweek reports: Ukraine doesn’t seem like the kind of place that world powers would want to tussle over. It’s as poor as Paraguay and as corrupt as Iran. During the 20th century it was home to a deadly famine under Stalin (the Holomodor, 1933), a historic massacre of Jews (Babi Yar, 1941), and one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters (Chernobyl, 1986). Now, with former President Viktor Yanukovych in hiding, it’s struggling to form a government, its credit rating is down to CCC, a recession looms, and foreign reserves are running low. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, head of the opposition party affiliated with former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said on Feb. 24 in Parliament, “Ukraine has never faced such a terrible financial catastrophe in all its years of independence.”

But Ukraine is also a breadbasket, a natural gas chokepoint, and a nation of 45 million people in a pivotal spot north of the Black Sea. Ukraine matters—to Russia, Europe, the U.S., and even China. President Obama denied on Feb. 19 that it’s a piece on “some Cold War chessboard.” But the best hope for Ukraine is that it will get special treatment precisely because it is a valued pawn in a new version of the Great Game, the 19th century struggle for influence between Russia and Britain.

Russia, which straddles Europe and Asia, has sought a role in the rest of Europe since the reign of Peter the Great in the early 18th century. An alliance with Ukraine preserves that. “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire,” the American political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in 1998. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants Ukraine to join his Eurasian Union trade bloc, not the European Union. Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet is headquartered in Sevastopol, a formerly Russian city that now belongs to Ukraine. [Continue reading…]

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The murders before the Boston Marathon

f13-iconSusan Zalkind writes: It’s nearly midnight in a nondescript condo complex a few blocks from Universal Studios in Orlando, and Tatiana Gruzdeva has been crying all day. Though neither of us knows it yet, as she sits on the corner of her bed and sobs in tiny convulsions, the fact that she’s talking to me will lead to her being arrested by federal agents, placed in solitary confinement, and deported back to Russia.

Next to us on the bed are nine teddy bears. Eight of them came with her from Tiraspol, Moldova. The ninth was a gift from her boyfriend, Ibragim Todashev. Today would have been Ibragim’s 28th birthday, but he is not here to see it, because in the early hours of May 22, 2013, a Boston FBI agent shot and killed him in this very apartment, under circumstances so strange that a Florida state prosecutor has opened an independent investigation. According to the FBI, just before Ibragim was shot—seven times, in two bursts, including once in the top of the head—he was about to write a confession implicating himself and alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a brutal triple homicide that took place in Waltham, Massachusetts, in September 2011.

I’m sitting awkwardly at one end of the twin bed. She’s crying quietly, cross-legged at the other end, wearing shorts and a white shirt with sequins. Most of her outfits have sequins or rhinestones. She’s 19. I’m 26. We both have long blond hair. We’ve both been close to men who were in trouble with the law, and lost them violently. We’ve been talking for about an hour, mostly about men, and parties, and moving forward after a tragedy. Ibragim was a good man, she says. He could never have committed a murder.

“I’m here alone,” she cries. “I hope it never can be worse than this.”

I try to comfort her, but it’s complicated. We both want to know why Ibragim Todashev was killed. She wants to clear his name. For me, and for the families of the Waltham murder victims, Ibragim’s shooting may have snuffed out the last chance at finding out what really happened that night. In the back of my mind is this question: Did her dead boyfriend kill my friend Erik? [Continue reading…]

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ISIS withdraws from parts of northern Syria

n13-iconThe Associated Press reports: Members of an al-Qaida-breakaway group withdrew Friday from parts of the northern province of Aleppo, ahead of a Saturday deadline issued by another rebel group that could spark more infighting, opposition activists said.

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant evacuated from several towns north of Aleppo, including Azaz near the Turkish border, Aleppo-based activists who go by the names of Ibrahim Saeed and Abu Raed said. Rival fighters moved in shortly after, the activists and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The pullout came three days after the leader of a powerful al-Qaida-linked group in Syria gave the Islamic State a five-day ultimatum to accept mediation by leading clerics to end infighting or be “expelled” from the region.

The ultimatum, announced in an audio recording by the leader of the Nusra Front, aims to end two months of deadly violence between the Islamic State and other Islamic factions that activists say has killed more than 3,000 people. The infighting is undermining the opposition fighters’ wider struggle against President Bashar Assad’s government.

There has been no official reaction from the Islamic State so far but they most likely will reject the ultimatum, possibly leading to more deadly battles in the coming days.

Saeed said Islamic State fighters appear to be withdrawing toward their stronghold in the northeastern city of Raqqa, the first provincial capital in Syria to fall to the rebels. The Islamic State’s shadowy leader, known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, once called it the group’s capital. [Continue reading…]

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Mole who met Bin Laden killed by Al Qaeda in Bosnia

n13-iconNBC News reports: An FBI mole who provided valuable intelligence on al Qaeda and met with Osama bin Laden was lured away from the FBI to work for the CIA, but was killed by al Qaeda operatives in Bosnia who suspected he was an informant, NBC News has learned exclusively.

The informant, a Sudan-born driver and confidante to “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, the radical Muslim cleric who allegedly masterminded the first attempt to take down the World Trade Center, had been the sole human asset providing first-person information about al Qaeda in the mid-1990s as the terror group gained strength around the globe.

According to sources familiar with the management of the mole, the FBI recruited him in 1993 because he was a known associate of the Blind Sheikh. [Continue reading…]

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NSA chief suggests outsourcing mass surveillance to phone companies?

The Wall Street Journal reports: The departing National Security Agency chief offered senators an unexpected option Thursday for restructuring the agency’s U.S. phone-data collection program: narrow it to obtain only terrorism-related data.

The remarks by NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander were striking because the government’s justification for the data-collection program has been that the NSA needs the full database of Americans’ call records to uncover otherwise unknown terrorist connections.

But Gen. Alexander instead signaled that the information the NSA needs about terrorist connections might be obtainable without first collecting what officials have termed “the whole haystack” of U.S. phone data.

Explaining the option, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that intelligence agencies could “look at what data you actually need and get only that data.”

This is the argument many privacy advocates have made since the details of the phone-data-collection program were disclosed in June by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. They say it is unnecessary to obtain records from millions of ordinary Americans to seek out terrorists.

Gen. Alexander suggested that teasing out the relevant data would involve a mechanism under which the NSA would make classified requests to phone companies asking for data only for phone numbers associated with terrorist suspects. [Continue reading…]

I didn’t hear the actual testimony, but the way it is reported here makes it sound like Alexander is suggesting that mass collection of U.S. phone data might no longer be necessary.

But the only thing that he seems to be saying may be unnecessary is for the NSA to do the collection.

For the NSA to make classified requests to the phone companies, it is those companies that would need to be doing the mass data collection.

And maybe that now looks like an appealing option not only because it would provide the NSA with extra constitutional protection; it might also create opportunities for even more extensive data collection with even less oversight.

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Eavesdropping by algorithm is still eavesdropping

Bruce Schneier writes: Increasingly, we are watched not by people but by algorithms. Amazon and Netflix track the books we buy and the movies we stream, and suggest other books and movies based on our habits. Google and Facebook watch what we do and what we say, and show us advertisements based on our behavior. Google even modifies our web search results based on our previous behavior. Smartphone navigation apps watch us as we drive, and update suggested route information based on traffic congestion. And the National Security Agency, of course, monitors our phone calls, emails and locations, then uses that information to try to identify terrorists.

Documents provided by Edwards Snowden and revealed by the Guardian today show that the UK spy agency GHCQ, with help from the NSA, has been collecting millions of webcam images from innocent Yahoo users. And that speaks to a key distinction in the age of algorithmic surveillance: is it really okay for a computer to monitor you online, and for that data collection and analysis only to count as a potential privacy invasion when a person sees it? I say it’s not, and the latest Snowden leaks only make more clear how important this distinction is.

The robots-vs-spies divide is especially important as we decide what to do about NSA and GCHQ surveillance. The spy community and the Justice Department have reported back early on President Obama’s request for changing how the NSA “collects” your data, but the potential reforms – FBI monitoring, holding on to your phone records and more – still largely depend on what the meaning of “collects” is. [Continue reading…]

Those who claim a special privilege to define words in their own way, defying the dictates of everyday usage, are also claiming a right to employ their own definitions of truthfulness and lying. This might have some legal utility, but the price for going this route is that language, thus constrained, becomes worthless.

As Schneier notes, Google has also fallen back on the dumb-machine defense when claiming that it does not read our email.

Back when Gmail was introduced, this was Google’s defense, too, about its context-sensitive advertising. Googles computers examine each individual email and insert an advertisement nearby, related to the contents of your email. But no person at Google reads any Gmail messages; only a computer does. In the words of one Google executive: “Worrying about a computer reading your email is like worrying about your dog seeing you naked”.

The absence of human eyes does not add a layer of privacy. On the contrary it constitutes a glaring lack of oversight by promoting a fiction: that what people don’t see, must be harmless.

Google is not a dumb companion, eager to please and dependably obedient; its only loyalty is to its own commercial interests and it currently sees those interests best served by pursuing an ambition to dominate the field of machine learning.

The data analysis being performed by computers enables surveillance more sweeping than could ever be carried out by people.

Although most Americans seem more afraid of government than commerce, the powers being exercised by the NSA are dwarfed by those that have been acquired by companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Indeed the intelligence community has been doing little more than opportunistically taking a piggyback ride on the shoulders of Silicon Valley.

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GCHQ intercepted webcam images of millions of Yahoo users worldwide

n13-iconThe Guardian reports: Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy”. [Continue reading…]

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Karen Greenberg: Obama’s commandments

Think of us as having two presidents.  One, a fellow named Barack Obama, cuts a distinctly Clark Kent-ish figure.  In presiding over domestic policy, he is regularly thwarted in his desires by the Republicans in Congress and couldn’t until recently get his most basic choices for government positions or the judiciary through the Senate.  For the most minimal look of effectiveness, he has to rely on relatively small gestures by executive order.  In the recent history of the American presidency, he is a remarkably powerless figure presiding over what everyone who is a media anyone claims is a riven, paralyzed, even broken government structure, one in which the Republicans are intent on ensuring that a Democratic president can do nothing until they take the White House (which is almost guaranteed to be never).  What this president wants, almost by definition, he can’t have.  He is, as Guardian columnist Gary Younge wrote recently, a man who’s lost the plot line to his own story and has been relegated to the position of onlooker-in-chief.

But keep in mind that that’s only one of our two presidents.  The other, a fellow named Barack Obama, flies (by drone) like Superman, rules more or less by fiat, sends U.S. missiles to strike and kill just about anyone, including American citizens, anywhere in the distant backlands of the planet, and dispatches the country’s secret warriors (whether from the CIA or the special operations forces) wherever he pleases.  He can, with rare exceptions, intervene violently wherever he chooses.  He can (by proxy) listen in on whomever he’s curious about (including, it seems, 320 German business and political leaders).  He rules over what former Congressional insider Mike Lofgren calls the “deep state” in Washington, a national security apparatus that is neither riven, nor broken, nor paralyzed, with only the rarest intercessions from Congress.  In this world, Obama’s powers have only grown, along with the “kill list” he reviews every week.

Admittedly, in his actions abroad from Afghanistan to Libya, his moves on the global stage haven’t exactly proven to be brilliant coups de théâtre.  Many have, in fact, been remarkably boneheaded.  But no one ever claimed that Superman’s superpowers included super-brain-power.

Think of this White House, then, as the schizophrenic presidency, one half remarkably impotent, the other ever more potent.  The conundrum is that they both inhabit the same man.  And if they add up to anything, as Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and TomDispatch regular, makes clear today, it’s long-term bad news for the country and the planet. Tom Engelhardt

The Five Commandments of Barack Obama
How “thou shalt not” became “thou shalt”
By Karen J. Greenberg

In January 2009, Barack Obama entered the Oval Office projecting idealism and proud to be the constitutional law professor devoted to turning democratic principles into action.  In his first weeks in office, in a series of executive orders and public statements, the new president broadcast for all to hear the five commandments by which life in his new world of national security would be lived. 

Thou shalt not torture.

Thou shalt not keep Guantanamo open.

Thou shalt not keep secrets unnecessarily.

Thou shalt not wage war without limits.

Thou shalt not live above the law.

Five years later, the question is: How have he and his administration lived up to these self-proclaimed commandments?

[Read more…]

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Qatar’s foreign domestic workers subjected to slave-like conditions

n13-iconThe Guardian reports: Foreign maids, cleaners and other domestic workers are being subjected to slave-like labour conditions in Qatar, with many complaining they have been deprived of passports, wages, days off, holidays and freedom to move jobs, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

Hundreds of Filipino maids have fled to their embassy in recent months because conditions are so harsh. Many complain of physical and sexual abuse, harassment, long periods without pay and the confiscation of mobile phones.

The exploitation raises further concerns about labour practices in Qatar in advance of the World Cup, after Guardian reports about the treatment of construction workers. The maids are not directly connected to Qatar’s preparations for the football tournament, but domestic workers will play a big role in staffing the hotels, stadiums and other infrastructure that will underpin the 2022 tournament. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt’s ‘AIDS curing device’ may be a fake bomb detector

a13-iconMashable: On Saturday, the Egyptian army unveiled a “miraculous” device it claims will detect and cure AIDS and Hepatitis. But the device, named C-Fast, looks eerily similar to a fake bomb detector sold by a British company to Iraq in the late 2000s.

That device, codenamed ADE 651, was later found to be a scam. One that reportedly cost the Iraqi government as much as $85 million dollars, and perhaps hundreds of lives. Its creator, James McCormick, was indicted and later sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The possible link between the C-Fast and the fake bomb detector, named ADE 651, was first spotted by the Libyan Youth Movement, a citizen organization born after the Egyptian revolution of 2011. The group posted a picture of the two devices on Twitter.

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