Wednesday, January 30, 2013

US to dramatically expand Cyber Command in face of defence cuts

Although US policy makers may be discussing ways of cutting the US military, the Department of Defence intends to increase the size of the Cyber Command dramatically over the next few years.
Scott Borg, director of US Cyber Consequences Unit claims the number of those devoted to cyber security woud be quite small, even when expanded, relative to the size of the US military and also the size of the problem:
"Compared to the size of the American military and of the Pentagon itself, it is a tiny number, and given the importance of cyber security, given the fact that all our defence systems depend upon computers, all of our weapons ... our military operations are completely dependent on computers, devoting fewer than 5,000 people to cyber security seems [like a] very small thing."
Defenders of an expansion plan cite the changed nature of 21st century warfare. They claim that cyber attacks at the behest of governments have been increasing. The US has only recently even admitted to developing cyber weapons. However, the New York Times reported last year that the Obama administration had carried out attacks on computer systems that run the Iranian nuclear programs. The Stuxnet virus that attacked Iran's nuclear program seems to have been developed through Israeli and US cooperation. The US blame Iran for a cyber attack that crashed thousands of computers at the Saudi state oil company Aramco. Many cyber-espionage incidents seem tooriginate in China and it is suspected that the government is involved.
Logo of US Cyber Command
Logo of US Cyber Command
Critics of the cyber security expansion plans worry that the programs will be a threat to privacy as well as internet freedom. The National Security Agency and the Pentagon who will oversee the program lack both accountability and oversight according to critics. Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald writes:
"The US government is the single greatest menace when it comes to aggressive cyber warfare. The United States government along with the Israelis is really the only country to use cyber weapons in a sophisticated and aggressive way, just like it was the only one to use the atomic bomb; and before that it was the only one to use drone warfare so a major part of this expansion is not about protecting businesses from attack ... [but] it is making sure the US government can continue to destroy whomever it wants at will using sophisticated cyber weaponry."
At present, the US Cyber Command, which was set up only in 2010, has only about 900 people. The Washington Post reports that plans are to hire at least 4,000 more people. The Command will have three divisions.
The National Mission Force will work to protect computer systems in the US that run electrical grids and other infrastructure. Combat Mission Forces will help plan and execute cyber attacks. Finally, Cyber Protection Forces will be charged with developing adequate security for the Defense Department itself.
Countries around the world are realizing that a great deal of damage can be done by a very few people with no conventional weapons at all. Ben David an Israeli analyst says:
"If you have a few smart people and a good computer, then you can do a lot. You don't need an aircraft, you don't need tanks, you don't need an army. You can penetrate another country, create huge damage without even leaving your armchair."

Monday, January 28, 2013

Turkish sociologist sentenced to life for bombing that experts say was a gas leak accident

Sociologist Pinar Selek has been sentenced to life imprisonment for a 1998 bombing in Istanbul, even though she had been acquitted three times previously and experts say that there was no bombing but the explosion was an accident caused by a gas leak.
Selek said she was shocked by the verdict when the court convicted her of a supposed bombing in Istanbul's Spice Bazaar in 1998, after being found not guilty of the crime 3 times already:
“I am shocked by the verdict; it is the first time the court found me guilty. I have been acquitted three times before. This is a first, tomorrow I will have a press meeting.I know that people won't let me be sacrificed.I want my acquittal back. It is so hard to express what I feel about this scandalous legal situation. It is like asking a woman how she feels after she was subjected to violence but I can tell you how I remain standing after 15 years. There is incredible solidarity with me."
Selek has been living in Strasbourg, France, where she is studying. Along with 30 NGOs and political party representatives from France, human rights activists from Germany, Italy, and Austria attended the court hearing in Istanbul yesterday.
Nearly 150 people held a protest before the trial. Another suspect was also sentenced to life imprisonment. Selek's problems began in 1998 when she was detained while studying the Kurdish issue in Turkey. She refused to name people she had interviewed during her research. She claims to have been tortured while in prison and her research material was confiscated. She was only released after two and a half years in prison.
The chief judge this time ruled that Selek should be released but all other judges found her guilty and imposed the life sentence. From the very first, explosives experts have claimed that there was no bombing at all but that the explosion was caused by a gas leak. A June 2000 report by experts at Istanbul University said:
“The prosecutor’s report is not scientific, it is written with an intention to mislead the court. Nitrocellulose can be found in several substances, but it is not proof of the presence of a bomb.”
Another report by a medical faculty also ruled out a bomb explosion saying that the prosecutors' report was unscientific:
“None of the evidence matches with injuries inflicted by the explosion of a bomb.”
Three experts assigned by the court also declared the explosion was definitely due to a gas leak, not because of a bomb. You would think that would be an end to the matter.
However, after two further acquittals Selek's case was brought before the court again. The judges included a judge who had earlier resisted the acquittal verdict and another who had appealed that verdict. The court was obviously stacked against Selek. Defense objections to the judges on the grounds they were not objective were dismissed.
This trial was a travesty of justice. There should be more publicity to help this brave woman escape the fate rigged up for her by Turkish authorities. The enclosed video was posted in 2011. The noise on the video stops a minute or so from the start. There are many more videos on You Tube but they seem to be all in Turkish.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Former CIA officer and torture whistleblower to serve 2.5 years in jail

John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who blew the whistle on CIA torture practices, was sentenced to more than two years in prison for leaking the name of a covert officer to a reporter.
US district judge of the court in Alexandria Virginia, Leonie Brinkema, said she would have given Kiraikou a much longer sentence if she could. A plea deal in which Kiriakou pleaded guilty last year required the judge to sentence him to 2 and a half years. The judge rejected arguments that he was acting as a whistleblower when he leaked the officer's name.
In the plea bargain, Kiriakou pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. He is the first person convicted under the law in 27 years.
While supporters of Kiriakou say he was a whistleblower who exposed the CIA's torture of detained terrorists, prosecutors claim he was trying to increase his fame and public visibility by using his insider knowledge. John Kiriakou worked for the CIA as an intelligence officer from 1990-2004.
Many hoped that officials involved in rendition and torture under the Bush administration would be brought to justice by Obama. But even on his first day in office in January 2009, Obama made it clear that he would as he put it, be looking forward:
"...he said that month that while he did not “believe that anybody is above the law,” he preferred “to look forward as opposed to looking backwards” and that he did not want C.I.A. employees to “suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering.” "
Both Obama and Eric Holder, Obama's Attorney General at the time, had condemned water-boarding and other torture methods allowed under the Bush administration. John Brennan, Obama.s chief counter-terrorism advisor whom he has nominated for CIA chief did not. This is not surprising since Brennan was also a key intelligence officialwithin the Bush administration:
"In 1999 he was appointed chief of staff to George Tenet, then-Director of the CIA.[3][6] Brennan became deputy executive director of the CIA in March 2001.[3] He was director of the newly created Terrorist Threat Integration Center from 2003 to 2004, an office that sifted through and compiled information for President Bush's daily top secret intelligence briefings and employed the services of analysts from a dozen U.S. agencies and entities."
Eric Holder did examine did examine specific cases of the deaths of two prisoners but decided that he did not have enough evidence to prosecute. When water-boarding incidents were examined they were studied only in terms of use of the practice that exceeded legal limits set out in the Bush rules which claimed the practice was not torture! Holder's decision ensured that there would be no more looking backward---except in the case of whistleblowers.
Only bad deeds should remain unpunished. Good deeds that embarrassed the government must be punished no matter how long ago they occurred even if they happened under a rival administration and the practices revealed were condemned by Obama and Holder.

Friday, January 25, 2013

As union density shrinks giant inflatable "Scabby the Rat" may be retired

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the percentage of US workers who are members of unions was just 11.3% in 2012, down from 11.8% in 2011.
The full set of statistics is available here. As has been the case for some time, the public sector is the most unionized section of the work force but even there, less than half the work force is unionized and the percentage is dropping as well, down from 37% IN 2011 to 35.9% in 2012.
As many traditional blue collar industries move overseas, younger workers are less likely to belong to a union. Union membership is highest among workers aged 55 to 64 at 14.9% while the lowest percentage of union membership is among ages 16 to 24 at just 4.2%
Union membership provides extra benefits for workers. In wages alone, organized workers earn on average 21% more than those not in companies with unions. Of course in some states now, workers in union-organized plants are able to benefit from the union activity and contract without belonging to the union or participating in the costs involved.
At present the percentage of private sector workers who are unionized is at a record low. In 1929, the year when statistics were first available, 12.4% of private workers were unionized. A mere 6.6% of private sector workers were organized in 2012, down from 6.9% in 2011.
Rather than using tradition as inspiration and attempting to instill some sense of solidarity with those who in the past helped many US workers to gain some measure of security and a reasonable standard of living, some in the AFL-CIO leadership want to break with the past.
Sean McGarvey head of the group's building trades department suggests that construction unions abandon their practice of exhibiting a huge inflatable rat at strikes and other events.
McGarvey tweeted this recommendation:
"Meeting with our Presidents and state councils. Issued a call to retire the inflatable rat. It does not reflect our new value proposition."
In spite of the fact that "scab" is a derogatory term for temporary workers hired during a strike to help break the strike, "Scabby the Rat" has become a symbol of union pride at demonstrations. According to Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights, who is the exclusive maker of the balloons, they were originally made for Chicago unions but have spread throughout the nation.
After McGarvey's tweet there were immediately hostile responses. Carpenters Union Local 157 member, Gregory Butler wrote on Facebook
:“As usual, nobody bothered to ask the membership what we think about that! I've been a shop steward for 15 years and I just found out about this decision from you! Sorry, but that's that bullshit.”
Big Sky's website boasts:
“Our rats have been seen from the front page of the Wall Street Journal to the New Yorker.They have been in hundreds of newspaper articles and even appeared on several T.V. shows such as the Sopranos.”
In 2011 the National Labor Relations Board had to issue a ruling as to whether the giant rats were picket signs, since picket signs are prohibited at certain work-sites. The NLRB ruled that the rat balloons were exempt from the law since they "constituted symbolic speech".
The giant rats are not that cheap. They range in price from $2,000 to $8,000; Union groups who have bought them will not want to retire them until they get a good return on their investment. Cindy Harrity, a union organizer for CWA Local 1298 in Hamden Connecticut said her union saved for years to buy their rat:
“I worked really hard to get that rat. We love our ratI. It gets workers really enthusiastic at rallies.”
Harrity tweeted back at McGarvey as to why Scabby should be put out to pasture.
MacGarvey replied:
“The rat symbolizes intimidation tactics of 30 years ago. We want to engage owners re: our value proposition not threaten them.”
McGarvey and many other construction union leaders want to take a business-friendly approach rather than an adversarial approach to their relationship with management.
The construction unions' council website says:
“We will prove to contractors and owners that a partnership with North America’s Building Trades Unions is the best investment they will ever make.”
Union leaders point out that union projects are more likely than non-union contracts to be finished on time and without cost overruns according to union leaders.
Notice that those who are opposed to unions do not take this positive position but are working hard and quite effectively at limiting union and working-class power in every way possible They try to use negative propaganda about unions at every turn.
The rank and file of unions may not put up with this new "be nice" campaign. Construction worker Gregory Butler said:
“I've been in this union for 20 years.I got in when ’the men with the broken noses‘ ran it, so I know a little bit about intimidation. The rat was a symbol of the end of the era of the wiseguys and their-side deals with rat contractors. As for that ‘engage owners re: our value proposition’ Mark Breslin bullshit, I'm sorry, but the owners know they can get people to do our $ 46/hr jobs for $7. All the ’value proposition’ in the world isn't going to change that fact.”
The US union movement chose the route of Gompers' that led to "business unionism", rather than confrontation with capital. .Labor historian Melvyn Dubofsky writes:
"By 1896 Gompers and the AFL were moving to make their peace with Capitalism and the American system. Although the AFL had once preached the inevitability of class conflict and the need to abolish 'wage slavery', it slowly and almost imperceptibly began to proclaim the virtues of class harmony and the possibilities of a more benevolent Capitalism."[
When US capitalism was thriving in the Golden Age, after the second World War, union membership grew and peaked but ever since it has been in decline as globalization weakens the power of unions to bargain for better wages or working conditions. Now advanced capitalist countries are imposing austerity measures that will not only make unions weaker but also cut the safety net and savage any entitlements that workers in general were able to gain through the power of democracy.
Democracy itself is now a system run to a considerable degree by money much of it in the interests of capital. Any union movement which thinks that it can win concessions out of such a system by being nice is bound to decline in power even further and lose even more members. US unions are adopting the same viewpoint of many other businesses. Their problems will be solved by rebranding.!

New Zealand environmentalist want New Zealand cat-free

Gareth Morgan, a New Zealand economist and environmentalist, campaigns to make New Zealand a cat-free country. He claims that cats have contributed to the elimination of nine native species of birds.
In an interview with the New York TImes, Morgan maintains that "cats are a 'friendly neighborhood serial killer' of birds." Of course so are native hawks and other bird predators. It is not even certain that cats have contributed to the elimination of those species that are now extinct, because cats also help get rid of rodents that feed on their eggs. As for being serial killers that is just rhetorical overkill. All those Kiwi automobile drivers are serial killers as well. I imagine bird road kill is as common in New Zealand as elsewhere.
Morgan has his own website here
In an Atlantic interview by email, Morgan suggests four steps for ridding New Zealand of cats:
1. "All cats to be registered chipped and neutered — raising the barriers to cat ownership to those similarly already faced by dog owners. Chipping instead of collars is because cats more easily slip collars. [Ed: Chipping, or micro-chipping, means inserting an implant under the skin for identification.]
2. "Citizens to be encouraged to cage-trap cats wandering on their properties and turn them in to the local authority.
3. "Cats surrendered to the local authority Pound, to be euthanized if unregistered, to return to registered owner who is fined.
4. "Councils to offer free disposal of cats. Vets are prohibitively expensive."
After cats have been 'disposed of,' households would be encouraged not to obtain another pet thus ending the population of kiwi kitties as we know it."
The first step would involve considerable expense for cat-owners I should think. It would probably result in even more unregistered cats, especially since some might not want their cats neutered. Steps two and three actually happen in many places I expect. Even around here in rural Manitoba this is the case. Anyone can claim cats captured, because in this area, cats are not usually registered, though a few may have microchips. There would be certain fees charged.
Rather than being euthanized, I would rather see the cats put up for adoption at least for a certain length of time. Maybe they should be released at local dumps to help dispose of the huge amounts of food humans waste! The fourth step is to offer free disposal of cats. In Gareth propaganda language this should read: "Councils will become serial murderers of innocent cats."
Gareth's campaign is not doing that well. Only 24% answering a survey on his own website. have agreed not to replace their current cat. Gareth has a huge cat problem in New Zealand. According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, New Zealand has the most cat owners in the entire world, and a feline population of 1.4 million in a total human population of 4.5 million. Almost half of New Zealand households, 48%, have cats.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

UN to investigate legality of drone strikes and civilian casualties

The UN will launch a formal investigation into the legality of drone strikes and also of the casualties that result from them.
The announcement came as there is a report that the latest US drone strike in Yemen is claimed to have mistakenly killed two children. Ben Emmerson, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism said at a press conference in London that he will lead a group of international specialists who will examine drone attacks in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan by the CIA and Pentagon. However, the group will also examine drone use by UK and US forces in Afghanistan, as well as Israel's use of drones against Palestinians.
The senior UK lawyer will work with international criminal lawyers, a senior Pakistani judge, and a leading UK forensic pathologist as well as other experts. A serving judge-advocate with the US military will be "assisting the inquiry in his personal capacity." More about the members of the team can be found at the end of this article.
Emmerson told reporters at the new conference:
’Those states using this technology and those on whose territory it is used are under an international law obligation to establish effective independent and impartial investigations into any drone attack in which it is plausibly alleged that civilian casualties were sustained.’
Neither the US nor others have carried out such investigations so the UN is doing so as a last resort. The UK Minister of Defence is already said to be co-operating with the investigation. The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice has indicated that Washington "has not ruled out full co-operation". We shall see. The US has refused so far even to admit officially that any such program exists.
Back in May 2010, Philip Alston had already presented to the UN a detailed report on the legal questions of targeted killing. Most of the recommendations he suggests have not been carried out by the Obama administration nor anyone else.
The UN Human Rights Council is taking action after a number of nations including, Russia, China, and Pakistan requested action be taken on covert drone strikes. Emmerson said:
‘It’s a response to the fact that there’s international concern rising exponentially, surrounding the issue of remote targeted killings through the use of unmanned vehicles.’
The group is expected to make recommendations to the UN general assembly this fall. The team will also recommend further UN action should it be justified by the findings of the inquiry. Of course nothing will get through the UN security council unless the US approves it, so there will not be any teeth in what the UN says or does. If there are any UN resolutions condemning the attacks, they will come from the General Council. Many countries ignores those resolutions since they are interpreted as advisory and consdiered non-binding, whenever they demand something a country does not want to do.
A particular area the inquiry may examine is the alleged practice of the CIA of deliberately targeting rescuers and even funeral goers in Pakistan strikes, a practice revealed in an investigation by the Bureau for the SundayTimes. In October 2012, Emmerson said:
‘The Bureau has alleged that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. Christof Heyns [UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killing] … has described such attacks, if they prove to have happened, as war crimes. I would endorse that view.’
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) praised the inquiry and requested that the US cooperate with and aid the invetigators. A spokesperson noted:
‘Whether it does or not will show whether it holds itself to the same obligation to co-operate with UN human rights investigations that it urges on other countries”
The Obama administration has rejected requests from the ACLU for information on its targeted killing programs or the basis for the legality of its drone attacks. The ACLU made a Freedom of Information Act request two years ago on January 13, 2010. Two years later having gone to court as well, the group still has not been able to get the information.
The Obama administration will have to decide whether to cooperate with the UN investigation. Perhaps it will in order to try and influence the investigation but on the other hand it may decide just to take a hard line as it has so far all along about releasing any information except what could be used for propaganda purposes.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Kurds in northern Syria fight off jihadist attacks across Turkish border

In the city of Ras al-Ain in the Kurdish area of northern Syria, fighting rages between several radical groups who crossed the border from Turkey and joined battle against Kurdish militia defending the city.
In order to conserve his military power, Assad withdrew his troops from Kurdish areas of Syria allowing the Kurds to be more or less autonomous. The Kurds themselves are divided on whether to support or fight against the Assad regime and are staying more or less neutral while defending control of the area they occupy.
Attacks on Ras al-Ain have caused many residents to flee the city. The jihadists were from the Al-Nusra Front and Ghuraba al-Sham. A resident said that:
"the fighting became more intense in the evening after Kurdish fighters received reinforcements to try to stop the fiercest rebel assault ever since insurgents first arrived in the city"
Al-Nusra Front is listed by the US as a terrorist organization a designation that is opposed by Syrian rebels since the group are active and effective fighters against Assad.
A Kurdish activist, living in Ras al-Kain said that the jihadists crossed the nearby Turkish border with three tanks and entered the city. He claimed the Kurdish militia seized one tank.The activist noted:
“The advancing rebels did not use the tanks to fight the regime. Instead, they used them to shell Ras al-Ain."
One wonders how jihadists are able to get tanks in Turkey without the Turkish government being aware of what is happening.
Kurdish analysts suspect that Turkey may be using the jihadists to wage their own battle against Kurds. Many worry about the consequences of a continuing battle between Kurds and jihadists. Prominent Kurdish journalist and activist Massoud Akko said:
“Should the fight morph into a struggle between Kurds and Arabs... Syria and the revolt [against Assad] are both in real danger.”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tuareg rebels in Mali support French intervention

The Tuareg rebels who want an independent state of Azawad in northern Mali are ready to support French military intervention to help combat Islamic rebels in the north.
Contrary to my report in an earlier article, the rebels in northern Mali are not all united against the French military intervention. Moussa Ag Assarid, a representative of the Azawad National Liberation Movement, said:
"We're ready to help, we are already involved in the fight against terrorism. We can do the job on the ground. We've got men, arms and, above all, the desire to rid Azawad of terrorism."
After a coup in March of 2012, the Tuareg were able to capture much of the north. On April 6 2012, the MNLA declared the independence of Azawad from Mali. A declaration of Independence was signed but no foreign government recognized the state. Over the next month or so, the MNLA lost territory to Islamists. One group that contested territory with the MNLA was Ansar Dine led by former Tuareg fighter Ilya Ag Ghaly. Although the MNLA and Ansar Dine declared on May 26 that they would merge to form an Islamist state, conflict continued. Towards the end of June 2012, Ansar Dine claimed control of all the cities in northern Mali. The MNLA, very much weakened, tried to negotiate a form of self-rule with the central government. . The Tuareg now expect the Malian government to allow the French to help them defeat the Islamists and as a reward give them autonomy in the north. They also demand that the Malian army stay out of the territory until an agreement is reached. An MNLA official said:
"We don't want to see the Malian army in Azawad without a prior accord between the two parties. We are ready for talks aimed at finding a solution."
It is not clear that the MNLA has much sway now on the ground. The group is accused of raping and pillage in its earlier takeover of the north. The MNLA made the mistake of selling weapons to the Islamists. Some of the Tuareg had fought for Gadaffi and when he was overthrown moved into Mali bringing weapons with them.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Protesters in Aden demand independence for South Yemen

Massive protests have broken out in the southern port city of Aden. A southern separatist movement has been demanding an independent state of South Yemen ever since it was absorbed into Yemen more than 22 years ago.
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets demanding restoration of the former independent state of South Yemen. Aden was the capital of South Yemen until 1990. The demonstration was held on the anniversary of a 1986 civil war in which the exiled former leader Abdul Ismail returned from Moscow and tried to reclaim power. In 1990 officials agreed to come under rule of the north. Ever since, there have been secessionist groups who want South Yemen to be restored. There have been constant complaints that southern development is ignored by the north. The roots of the South Yemen movement are in contrast to those of the Islamic radicals in the south. South Yemen was a secular state, Marxist oriented, and an ally of Russia.
In the spring, when there was an offensive against parts of the south controlled by Islamic militants, there was also an offensive in Aden to clear out separatists. Major General Mansour Hadi has offered to negotiate with officials from South Yemen to grant partial autonomy to the region but most at the demonstration were demanding independence.
The Obama administration is a fervent supporter of the new Yemeni government and President Hadi, the new ruler, who was formerly vice-president under former President Saleh who was also supported by the US until protests and civil unrest made it crucial that he be replaced. Hadi was elected in a contest in which he was the sole contestant. This has been help up as a model for democracy in the area! Obama even suggested that Yemen be made a model to follow in Syria after Assad is turfed out.
This was arranged in concert with the GCC and in particular Saudi Arabia. Saleh and his cronies were granted immunity for prosecution for any of their crimes and his relatives continued to wield considerable power in the new government. President Hadi has supported the US intervention in Yemen since it has been instrumental in helping him drive Islamic rebels out of the areas they had occupied last year. However, the groups continue constant attacks on the government using guerrilla tactics.
US Ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein interviewed by the official Yemeni state media insists that the entire South Yemen secessionist movement is an Iranian plot that is orchestrated by "extremists" opposed to Yemeni democracy in a bid to destabilize the Straits of Hormuz.
Of course the US has been intervening in Yemen for decades. While Iran may be interested in expanding their influence in Yemen, the more likely Iranian intervention would be to aid the Houthi rebels in the north who are Shia. Insofar as there are radical extremists in the south, they are Sunni Islamic radicals often linked to Al Qaeda not to Iran. The democracy in Yemen that Iran is supposed to oppose has been of autocratic rulers supported by the US and neighbouring Arab states.
President Hadi is charged with drawing up a constitution with elections not scheduled until 2014. A national reconciliation dialogue is also to take place to iron out differences among different groups. Islamic radicals are unlikely to take part in the dialogue and apparently most from the Southern secessionist movement will not either. Given that many key groups may not attend, the dialogue will probably be between different factions of the old guard.
Yemen represents a successful model in that the democratic demonstrators who originally tried to bring about democratic change have been mostly sidelined and the transition is led by the old guard under the guidance of foreign powers, but not Iran! Meanwhile the US is advancing its own drone democracy in Yemen to help provide security.

Obama carries on and expands Bush policies

In an article in Salon, Alex Kane a reporter for MondoWeiss, lists five ways in which Obama has carried on with Bush policies such as rendition, indefinite detention, warrant-less wiretapping, drone attacks, and use of Guantanamo.
Kane points out that on his second day of office Obama broke with the Bush era by signing executive orders that banned torture and he also promised that Guatanamo would be closed within a year. Guantanamo is still open.
Obama can hardly be blamed entirely for the failure to close Guantanamo since the Republican Party has tried to block attempts to close the base. Nevertheless, Obama has hardly continued to press that hard to close the base and he himself has signed bills that restrict his ability to close it.
As if often his strategy, Obama threatened to veto the NDAA of 2013 but then signed it. In the provisions of the act is one that restricts “the transfer of detainees into the United States for any purpose, including trials in federal court. It also requires the defense secretary to meet rigorous conditions before any detainee can be returned to his own country or resettled in a third country.”
Human Rights Watch has blasted the restrictions saying:
“Indefinite detention without trial at Guantanamo is illegal, unsustainable and against U.S. national security interests, and it needs to end. The administration should not continue to just blame Congress. President Obama should follow through on his earlier commitments and make the effort to overcome the transfer restrictions.”
As the appended video indicates, 86 of the inmates at Guantanamo have been cleared for release. However, the restrictions imposed on their release means that they will still be held indefinitely.
Obama does not seem to care. He is more concerned with nominating for the CIA John Brennan, a person closely associated with all the Bush programs that Obama and Democrats railed against not so long ago, including torture and extraordinary rendition. Obama tried to appoint Brennan in his first term but memory of his service to Bush was still too strong. Instead he made him a top advisor on counter-terrorism. Brennan has been a staunch defender of the expanded drone program initiated by Obama.
Obama has expanded the drone program far beyond anything that existed under Bush. Not only does he use it in war zones but in any area where there are suspected militants. The Bush administration carried starting in 2002 carried out only 52 drone strikes. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism these strikes killed an estimated 438 including 182 civilians and 112 children. Even before Obama's second term begins he has ordered 300 drones strikes just in Pakistan. These strikes killed about 2,152 people including 290 civilians with 64 being children.
However there are other disastrous effects of the drone programs as the constant buzzing of drones above:
“terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.”
There is no sign of any end to the program just continuous expansion beyond targeting specific individuals to signature strikes. The Washington Post describes a new "matrix" being developed as part of:
“the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.”
This is just a sample of the detailed information presented in the article, which shows that Obama is carrying on and expanding Bush policies. Even as he does so, there is only limited opposition to what is happening. The nomination of Brennan is a perfect example of how any opposition has become muted. The reality for many liberals seems to be that there is no alternative, so keep quiet or the Republicans will get you if you don't watch out.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Fashion show features stealth and anti-surveillance wear

Fashion designers strive for many different effects when designing clothes but few will have in mind trying to make the clothes protect the wearer from surveillance.
Adam Harvey, Brooklyn-based artist worked for years as a photographer. However, he claims that in recent years since 9/11 and the Patriot Act, cameras have stopped becoming "art-making tools" and have become "enablers of surveillance societies". Of course this is ridiculous, cameras can be used for both purposes still. Artists just like to make their points in goofy sayings at times. Harvey is certainly correct in that cameras are more and more serving surveillance functions.
Harvey began experimenting with household make-up that would make it more difficult for computers to use facial recognition programs to identify people. This is demonstrated on the appended video made back in 2010 that showed off this makeup at a fashion show.
At present, the US only uses surveillance drones in the US for surveillance of the border with Mexico. Most surveillance is overseas in war zones and against suspected terrorists. By 2020 however the Federal Aviation Administration expects that in US domestic airspace there will be as many as 30,000 drones. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation many law enforcement agencies across the US can hardly wait to get their own surveillance drones, some of which can “can zoom in and read a milk carton from 60,000 feet." Harvey has consequently set out to design clothing that will help shield wearers from the all-seeing eye of Big Brother's drones.
On January 17, Harveywill unveil his Stealth Wear in a London Studio. The press release reads:
“Building off previous work with CV Dazzle, camouflage from face detection, Privacy Mode continues to explore the aesthetics of privacy and the potential for fashion to challenge authoritarian surveillance.”
Harvey works in collaboration with New York City designer Johanna Bloomfield. Harvey said last year:
“I think building privacy into modern garments can make them feel more comfortable and, like armor, more protected. Data and privacy are increasingly valuable personal assets and it doesn’t make sense to not protect them. It’s also a great conversation starter.”
Among the items of Stealth Clothing are the Off Pocket. This is an anti-phone accessory that will instantly zero out your phone's signal. There is also an XX-shirt in which there is an x-ray shielding print in the shape of a heart that will protect your heart from x-ray radiation. Finally there is protection against drone surveillance something we will need quite soon. The anti-drone hoodie and anti-drone scarf: garments are designed to thwart thermal imaging, a technology used widely by drones.
While protecting one's privacy is a good idea, an even better idea would be to roll back the invasive prying of the surveillance state. However, we can do both at once.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hamas and Fatah leaders hold reconciliation talks with President Mursi in Cairo

Leader of Fatah and president of the Palestinian authority Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas head, Khaled Meshal, met separately with Egyptian President Morsi in Cairo. They then held reconciliation talks with president Morsi mediating.
The two Palestinian factions signed a reconciliation pact in Cairo in May of 2011 but the main points in that agreement are not yet implemented. Officials from Hamas and Fatah said that the talks will focus on a unity government. This would make it possible to hold parliamentary and presidential elections that are long overdue.
Hamas won a majority of seats in elections in 2006 and took over the Gaza strip in 2007. Hamas recently allowed Fatah to hold rallies in the Gaza Strip controlled by Hamas. Fatah has reciprocated by allowing Hamas rallies in the West Bank. The Hamas delegation is also slated to meet with Egyptian intelligence representatives to talk about the ceasefire with Israel in the Gaza Strip. Hamas was formed in 1987 as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and hence has historical ties with the group associated with Egyptian president Mursi.
Egypt was instrumental in negotiating the truce that ended an 8-day military offensive launched by Israel last November. More than 150 Palestinians and 6 Israelis were killed in the conflict. Hamas has refused to renounce violence and also does not recognize Israel's right to exist. However, the present leader Khaled Meshal has said that he would agree to a settlement with Israel based upon the 1967 borders but with the right of return of all displaced Palestinians. Israel, US, and the EU all designate Hamas as a terrorist group, although Iran, Russia,Turkey, and Arab nations do not. A unified Palestinian movement would give more power to the Palestinians in negotiating with Israel. However, both Israel and the US are opposed to a unified government with Hamas given the stance of Hamas on Israel and the use of violence.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Egyptian constitution restricts protests and strikes

The Shura Council's Human Rights Committee has newly granted legislative powers that it has used to draft new laws regulating protests and strikes. Many of the 26 articles drafted so far have been criticized both by labor and human rights groups.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party daily paper has published some of the provisions of the proposed law. The first 18 articles regulate protests and the last 8 put restrictions on the right to strike.
The legislation actually continues repressive legislation that dates back to Law 14 of 1923 when Egypt was a British protectorate. The law criminalized anti-occupation protests. Malek Adly of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights notes
:"Most of the provisions of this draft law have been copied verbatim from Law 14. This is evident in the use of terms like 'police,' which has long been replaced by the word 'shorta,' along with other outdated terms."
Adly explains that this anti-protest legislation was later adopted by Egyptian monarchs and military rulers to quell discontent. Now Mursi, the elected president, with a constitution passed by a majority vote, is doing the same. You have the same repression thinly veiled with a democratic veneer.
Before the January uprising that overthrew Mubarak, strikes had been growing. As the appended video shows trade unions played an important part in the revolution. However, strikes and industrial action have risen in number even since the revolution.
The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) harshly criticized the law, noting that it added additional control mechanisms that were not even present during the Mubarak regime. Adly believes that these policies are meant to control unrest that could follow from the US $4.8 billion loan from the IMF. Adly claims:
"We are heading towards austerity measures, tax hikes, subsidy cuts and [higher] unemployment, which will quite likely prove to be unpopular. This is why the state wants to do away with political rights as well as socio-economic rights. It seeks to strip citizens of their right to object to governmental policie."
There are a number of restrictions on protests. Article 2 requires that authorities must be notified three days prior to a protest. Authorities can refuse permission to hold the protest. Article three requires that the duration, place, and reasons for the protests must be clearly announced in advance.
Article 6 says that protests cannot take place in schools, houses of worship, or state buildings except for lectures and these must be approved by authorities. Article 7 demands that a representative be appointed to each protest action to ensure it does not get out of hand. Article 10 gives authorities the power to designate protest routes
Other articles give security forces authority to disperse any demonstrations regarded as harmful to national interests. Another requires governorates to allocate specific areas for demonstrations that do not obstruct traffic. Article 14 requires that demonstrations occur after 7 a.m. and disperse by 7 p.m. Under these regulations, the demonstrations in Tahrir square would have been illegal and subject to dispersal. No doubt if they happen again, some of the same people who were arrested and jailed under the old regime will now arrest many of those who protested alongside of them. Adly was critical of many of these articles saying that at most some of the provisions would apply only under a state of emergency.
Strikes are also very much regulated. A strike may not halt traffic or disrupt production, or public transport. Article 21 allows strikes within the workplace as long as they do not harm production or the national economy. It is quite often the harm caused to production that is the very reason for strikes since it put pressure on companies to settle. If workers strike, they are not working and that in itself will impact production. As Adly puts it:
“How can workers go on strike without halting production? The whole point of a strike is to halt production, and to use this action as a pressure mechanism against the employer."
There are many other regulations hostile to workers. Karim Saber, director of the Land Center for Human Rights said that the Trade Union Liberties draft law of September 2011, has been scrapped and the Brotherhood are now drafting their own laws.
Karam Saber, director of the Land Center for Human Rights, explains that the Brotherhood have scrapped the “Trade Union Liberties” draft law which was finalized in September 2011, and are now drafting their own laws which regulate Egypt’s trade unions and professional syndicates. The International Labor Organizations is threatening to blacklist the Egyptian government as a violator of labor rights, for failing to issue a trade union law protecting worker's rights to freely organize. Will we hear complaints about this from the IMF or from the Obama administration? Will the issue even be covered by mainstream western media?

Next fight and crisis will be about raising debt ceiling

With the fiscal cliff avoided, Obama now faces other challenges soon, including the need to raise the $16.4 trillion borrowing limit. He also has to deal with the more than $100 billion in automatic spending cuts that were delayed for just two months.
The spending cuts will probably be replaced by more targeted cuts that could be over a longer period as well. Speaking form Hawaii where he is on a family vacation, Obama said he is willing to consider more spending cuts and tax increases to help reduce the deficit.
On the debt ceiling, Obama claimed he would not compromise on the issue. Last time, the Congress had a standoff over the issue and the US credit rating was downgraded. Republicans want to use the issue as leverage to force the Democrats to make more spending cuts. Obama warned about any attempt to block an increase:
"If Congress refuses to give the United States the ability to pay its bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy could be catastrophic. Our families and our businesses cannot afford that dangerous game again."
Immediately after the House finally passed the fiscal cliff deal, Obama said
: "I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they've already racked up through the laws that they passed."
Actually the US has already reached the spending limit of $16.394 trillion. Since it cannot borrow money in the markets, "extraordinary measures" are being used to pay bills on time. This can go on only for a couple of months. The issue must be solved soon. Both Obama and Senate minority leader McConnell both agree that the debate on the issue should be resolved early and not at the last minute. To cover just a year of borrowing, the debt limit will need to be increased by almost a trillion dollars.
The Government Accountability Office estimates that the increased costs of borrowing during the standoff was about $19 billion in interest during the next decade. If the Congress did not approve an increase some analysts think that Obama could simply invoke the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution that says:
"The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."
According to this view, Obama could then simply order the Treasury Secretary to keep borrowing to pay bills. The White House has claimed that it would not use this strategy. It is regarded as risky politically. Joseph Minarik, a former chief economist at the White House Budget Office said
:"It is hard to imagine any Treasury secretary, or any president, allowing himself -- or herself -- to be the first to default on the public debt. That having been said, no one knows what other options lurk in the file cabinets of the attorneys in the Treasury. They aren't talking."..
While Obama may not want to have a long debate that would involve trading off spending cuts for a hike in the spending limit, he may not have any choice. Mitch McConnell put the matter bluntly:"The president may not want to have a fight about government spending over the next few months, but it's the fight he is going to have, because it's a debate the country needs." In a Yahoo op-ed McConnell said that Obama must deliver a serious plan to cut government spending. Unless the Republicans see some significant movement on that front there will probably be no agreement about raising the debt ceiling let alone the delayed multi-billion dollar spending cuts.

IMF official to meet with Egyptian officials about postponed IMF loan

A senior official from the International Monetary Fund will meet with Egyptian officials on Monday. They will discuss the $4.8 billion dollar loan agreement postponed in December because of the political instability in the country.
The IMF official, the Middle East and Central Asia director, Masood Ahmed, will meet with President Mursi, Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, some ministers, and the central bank governor as well. Discussion will be about recent developments in the economy and possible help by the IMF in meeting challenges facing the Egyptian economy.
The government recently replaced both the finance minister and the interior minister. These moves were made after promises made by President Mursi to assuage anger over the economic situation. Sources in the Egyptian cabinet confirmed the action.
Although the IMF loan had been rejected earlier in June 2011, it is now seen as crucial to dealing with the Egyptian deficit and economic slump caused by the continuing political turmoil. Political conflict continues as many reject the recently passed constitution. A parliamentary election is expected within the next two months. The new IMF loan has also been criticized by many.
Last Wednesday, the Egyptian pound hit record lows at the same time as debt insurance costs rose, even though Mursi promised that he would not allow Egypt to slip into a further economic crisis. The central bank was forced to implement new rules in order to conserve dwindling foreign reserves. The finance minister said that the pound would soon stabilize, but many economists thought otherwise. Some economists however did say that Egypt simply could not afford to continue its daily currency auctions. Egyptians have been swapping Egyptian pounds for US dollars driving down the value of the pound.
President Morsi dismissed talk on the street that the country was on the verge of bankruptcy, saying through his Twitter account:
"How can anyone say that a country like Egypt, which is meeting all of its financial obligations, is going be bankrupt."
The Egyptian pound had fallen only 6% since the uprising in 2011. However, this week alone the currency has fallen 3.2%. The regime had been auctioning off currency at the rate of $75 million a day. Egyptians fear devaluation of the pound and banks have now imposed a limit on dollar withdrawals. Successful negotiations with the IMF may help ease the situation.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cat caught delivering contraband in Brazilian prison

 Here is a video link to the cat being searched.

There are no doubt many ways to smuggle goods into prisons but in Arapirica, Brazil an unusual strategy failed. A cat was caught trying to walk through prison gates in the city of Arapirica in north-east Brazil.
The guards noticed the cat walking towards them with tape around its back and stomach. On examination the cat was found to carrying a considerable amount of contraband that included drills, an earphone, a memory card, and a mobile phone with charger. The jail is in Arapirica a city of about 215,000, located about 250km (155 miles) south-west of Recife in Alagoas state. There are 263 detainees in the prison. Every detainee is a suspect, especially those that had pet cats! The local police are investigating the incident. However, a prison official told the local paper Eastado de S Paulo:
"It's tough to find out who's responsible for the action as the cat doesn't speak,."
The cat was not charged or arrested but was taken to an animal disease center to receive care. Perhaps it will be sent to a cat reform school when it has a clean bill of health. Officials said that the items could very well have been used to communicate with criminals outside the prison or to help them escape. The incident happened on New Year's day but the photos have only been released now. I wonder how the prisoners were able to train the cat to bring goods to them? Perhaps this has been an ongoing service that the cat has provided for a mere mouthful of cat candies.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Muqtada al-Sadr, Shia leader, supports Sunni protests against PM al-Maliki in Iraq

The popular Shiite Iraqi leader, Muqtada al-Sadr has thrown his support behind Sunni protesters against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Al-Sadr said that Maliki must bear full responsibility for the unrest in Iraq. Maliki has made a number of moves to centralise power. His actions have enraged many Sunnis and also officials in the Kurdish autonomous area in northern Iraq. Iraq's vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, a prominent Sunni politician was charged with various offenses including running death squads, convicted of murder in September, and sentenced to death in absentia. Al-Hashimi took refuge in Turkey. Sunnis say that Maliki is constantly sidelining them. During the rule of Saddam Hussein, Sunnis were dominant in the government. More recently Maliki raided the office and home of the Iraqi finance minister, Rafie al-Issawi, another prominent Sunni politician. Issawi claims that 150 of his guards and employees were arrested in the raids. These actions have sparked huge protests by Sunnis in which they have blocked off main routes to Jordan and Syria from Baghdad. No doubt al-Sadr's move has been in part calculated to improve prospects for his party and himself in upcoming elections. Al-Sadr spoke in Najaf, one of the holiest cities of the Shiite sect. In spite of many of his own followers being persecuted by Sunnis during Hussein's reign and his close connections with Iran, Al-Sadr is an Iraqi nationalist who fears the expanding conflict between Sunnis and Shia sects. Maliki's actions fuel this division. While Al-Sadr has always been fiercely anti-American, at the same time, he has always tried to foster unity among Iraqis. Al-Sadr tried to set the Sunni protests in a wider context saying:
“The Iraqi spring is coming. We are with the demonstrators, and Parliament must be with them, not against them,” he said. “The legitimate demands of the demonstrators, by which people know what they want, should be met.”
Al Sadr even expressed his willingness to go to Anbar, the Sunni-dominated province, to join in demonstrations. Maliki warned protesters that he might lose patience with the demonstrations:
"I say to those who follow these agendas: Don't think it's difficult for the government to take measures against you or to re-open the road and put an end to this matter. We have been very patient with you, but don't expect this issue to be open-ended."
Violence has increased in Iraq in 2012 and Al Qaeda appears to be making a come-back. Iraq Body Count put the civilian death toll in 2012 at 4,471 and this does not include the final two weeks of the year. Last year the toll was 4,136.

Truce between Maoist rebels and Philippine government ended early

The Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines blame each other for calling off a truce almost two weeks before the scheduled end. This development threatens ongoing peace talks between the Maoist rebels and the government.
The original truce was scheduled to run from December 20th to January 15. However, the CPP called the truce off on January 2nd saying it believed the government wanted the truce to last only until then. A spokesperson for Philippine president Benigno Aquino III said that the Communist Party together with its armed wing the New People's Army (NPA) just wanted an excuse to end the ceasefire early. The CPP statement said:
"The [communist New People's Army (NPA)] and the people's militias should immediately assume an offensive posture and confront and frustrate the enemy campaigns of suppression."
. A spokesperson for Aquino, however, said that the government would continue to observe the ceasefire until January 15. He also claimed that the rebels found an extended ceasefire to be detrimental to them and so ended it early and blamed the government. The two sides had agreed to the peace talks in mid-December. These were the first high-level peace talks in over a year. A military spokesperson in the southern Philippines claims that the NPA had already violated the ceasefire when they mounted an attack on the outskirts of Davao and briefly held two government troops and three civilians. However, no one was injured apparently and those held were released. Peace talks between the groups have often broken down. In November 2011, the CPP pulled out of the talks when the government refused to free jailed comrades who the CPP claimed were actually meant to be consultants in the negotiations. The NPA has been waging armed struggle in the Philippines since 1969. In the 1980's the rebels were much stronger and there were an estimated 26,000 fighters but now the current strength has dwindled to about 4,000 fighters. Although the CPP is outlawed in the Philippines and the NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the US, there are a number of legal leftist groups that even elect members to the Philippine legislature and also operate as NGO's. Most of the NPA operations and support for the movement are in rural areas often neglected by the government. The appended video is several years old.

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner investigating Twitter over data privacy concern.

Irish privacy regulators are launching an investigation into precisely how much data Twitter collects from, its URL-shortening system....