TBR News March 20, 2013

Mar 20 2013


The Voice of the White House

           Washington, D.C. March 20, 2013:  “Now that the American print media is dying, advertisers are rushing to the Internet to hawk their wares. Click on a news website and at once ads for useless and unwnted projects pop up and have to be removed.


            Who cares if doctors don’t want you to know about how you can lose forty pounds of ugly fat overnight with a special product you can now buy? Or rent a condo on some disease-ridden Carribbean island? Or learn how silver is going to be worth a thousand dollars an ounce in a few weeks and you can buy it right here!


            And the funniest of all are the constant emails from Facebook telling you “Lolita wants to talk with you again!” Facebook and other social sites have such close connections with the FBI and other investigative agencies that no one but a desperate fool would ever post personal information on any of them.


            And note that Internet II is a wholly-owned entity of the aforesaid FBI so be warned.


            And also ignore the “news stories” about some inventor from Bad Seepage, Ohio, who had developed a phone scrambler that no one can break into. Yes they can and those who like to snoop on everyone have invented this one.”


Internet’s ‘bad neighbourhoods’ spread scams and spam (They also clog up the Internet with misleading ads for worthless products)


March 15, 2013

BBC News

            About 50% of all junk mail on the net emerges from just 20 internet service providers (ISPs), a study has found.


            The survey of more than 42,000 ISPs tried to map the net’s “bad neighbourhoods” to help pinpoint sources of malicious mail.


The survey by a researcher in Holland found that, in many cases, ISPs specialise in particular threats such as spam and phishing.


Methods to thwart attacks and predict targets also emerged from the study.


The large-scale study was carried out to help fine-tune computer security tools that scrutinise the net addresses of email and other messages to help them work out if they are junk or legitimate. Such tools could make better choices if they were armed with historical information about the types of traffic that emerge from particular networks.


In his analysis Giovane Cesar Moreira Moura who studied at the University of Twente found that some networks could be classed as “bad neighbourhoods” because, just like in the real world, they were places where malicious activity was more likely.


Of the 42,201 ISPs studied about 50% of all junk mail, phishing attacks and other malicious messages came from just 20 networks, he found. Many of these networks were concentrated in India, Vietnam and Brazil. On the net’s most crime-ridden network – Spectranet in Nigeria – 62% of all the addresses controlled by that ISP were seen to be sending out spam.


Networks involved in malicious activity also tended to specialise in one particular sort of malicious message or attack, he discovered. For instance, the majority of phishing attacks came from ISPs based in the US. By contrast, spammers tend to favour Asian ISPs. Indian ISP BSNL topped the list of spam sources in the study.


Analysis tools


Mr Moreira Moura pointed out that malicious traffic coming from one network did not reveal its ultimate source. Many cybercriminals route spam and other traffic through hijacked PCs or send it across compromised corporate networks that join the net via an ISP.


The data gathered for the study is helping to create analysis tools that will do a better job of assessing whether traffic coming from sources never seen before is good or bad. In the same way that people avoid walking through parts of towns and cities known to be dangerous, security tools can start to filter traffic from ISPs known as historical sources of malicious messages.


FBI’s demands for private data struck down by federal court

Judge says national security letters – which allow government to obtain data without citizens’ consent – breach first amendment


March 15, 2013

by Ed Pilkington in New York



The FBI has suffered a dramatic setback in its use of hyper-secret gagging orders in the name of national security to obtain the private data of US citizens, after a federal court struck down the practice.


A judge in a California US district court ordered the US government to stop issuing what are called “national security letters”. Susan Illston said the letters, which have mushroomed since 9/11 under the Patriot Act, were unconstitutional as they breached the first amendment rights of the parties being served the orders.


NSLs have been an increasingly important part of the US government’s approach to counter-terrorism, though their growing use has been matched by mounting unease on the party of civil libertarians. Last year the FBI sent out more than 16,000 of the letters relating to the private data – mainly financial, internet or phone records – of more than 7,000 Americans.


Previous court action has led to the FBI being accused of abusing its powers under the NSL statute by issuing the letters far more extensively than in the limited counter-terrorism situations for which they were devised.


The letters are among the most secretive tools of any deployed by the US state. The demand for data comes with a gagging order attached – meaning that the recipient of the NSL is not allowed even to discuss the letter in public.


As an additional affront, civil liberties groups say, the FBI is allowed to issue the letters without approval from a judge. Only the green light of a local FBI chief is required.


The judge’s order will not go into immediate effect as she built in a 90-day delay to allow the government to appeal. It was made in response to a highly unusual court case in which one of the recipients of an NSL – an unnamed telecoms company – sued the FBI for breach of its rights in May 2011.


The FBI shot back by counter-suing the company.


The telecoms company was represented in the case by the Electronics Frontier Foundation, a non-profit group that advocates for public rights in the digital world. In a statement, the EFF’s senior staff attorney Matt Zimmerman said the court order had exposed the constitutional shortcomings of the NSLs.


“The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.”


The foundation’s legal director Cindy Cohn added that the judge had also highlighted the First Amendment as a protection for the public against executive surveillance power. “The NSL statute has long been a concern of many Americans, and this small step should help restore balance between liberty and security.”


US scraps final phase of European missile shield


March 16, 2013

BBC News


US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has scrapped the final phase of its European missile defence shield, citing development problems and funding cuts.


Upgraded interceptors were to have been deployed in Poland to counter medium- and intermediate-range missiles, and potential threats from the Middle East.


Mr Hagel said the threat had “matured” and that the US commitment to Nato missile defence remained “ironclad”.


The interceptors had been strongly opposed by the Russian government.


It complained that they would be able to stop Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and undermine its nuclear deterrent.


The US has always insisted that the missile shield was intended to protect against attacks by Iran and North Korea.


Analysts said Friday’s announcement could open the door to another round of talks between the US and Russia on nuclear arms reductions.


‘Shifting resources’


The dropping of the fourth and final phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) for missile defence was announced quietly at a news conference, reports the BBC’s Matt Wells in Washington.


Almost as an aside, Mr Hagel confirmed that in order to fund 14 new Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) in Alaska by 2017 to guard against increased threats from North Korea, the SM-3 IIB programme – a land-based standard missile – would be “restructured”, our correspondent adds.


“The purpose was to add to the protection of the US homeland already provided by our current GBIs against missile threats from the Middle East,” Mr Hagel said.

“The timeline for deploying this programme had been delayed to at least 2022 due to cuts in Congressional funding. Meanwhile, the threat matures.


“By shifting resources from this lagging programme to fund the additional GBIs as well as advanced kill vehicle technology that will improve the performance of the GBI and other versions of the SM-3 interceptor, we will be able to add protection against missiles from Iran sooner while also providing additional protection against the North Korean threat.”


Mr Hagel promised that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) allies in Europe would see no difference to their level of protection as a result, with the first three phases of the EPAA providing coverage of all of their territory as planned by 2018.


“Let me emphasise the strong and continued commitment of the United States to Nato missile defence. That commitment remains ironclad.”


Mr Hagel made no reference to Russia’s objections. Officials in Moscow had hinted that they would not consider further nuclear arms cuts if the SM-3 interceptors were deployed.


Our correspondent says defence spending is being squeezed in the US, and the Pentagon believes tough decisions have to be made about where the main threat lies.


“Cancelling phase 4 opens the door to another round of US-Russian nuclear arms reductions,” Tom Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association, told the Associated Press. “We give up nothing since phase 4 was not panning out anyway. This is a win-win for the United States.”


The decision was, however, criticised by Republicans in the Congress.


“President Obama’s reverse course decision will cost the American taxpayer more money and upset our allies,” said Representative Mike Rogers, who chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees ballistic missile defence.


Although North Korea is many years away from developing an effective inter-continental ballistic missile with nuclear capability, the mood in Washington is that the US needs to stay ahead of the threat posed by an increasingly belligerent regime in Pyongyang, he adds.



60 Years On, Stalin Still Sparks Debate, But Fewer Russians Care


March 5, 2013

by Alexey Eremenko

RIA Novosti


MOSCOW, Stalin’s handwriting is barely legible. One has to strain to make out what he wrote in blue pencil on a list of people held by the secret police, then known as the NKVD.


What he wrote is, “Execute everyone.”


A copy of the scribbled-on list was distributed Tuesday by the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial at one of numerous events marking the 60th anniversary of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s death.


They ranged in tone and spirit from the laying of flowers to unequivocal condemnation, and were accompanied by a flurry of op-eds mulling the “Great Leader’s” role in Russia’s past and present.


The death toll from the Great Terror of 1937-1938 – Stalin’s purges of Soviet elites – was 700,000, and historians estimate the total number of victims of his political repressions at anywhere between 3 million and 39 million.


Nevertheless, a sizeable part of the Russian population retains a fondness for Stalin, according to recent polls – though the main trend over the past decade has been toward growing indifference to the tyrant, who died on March 5, 1953.


Young people care particularly little about the notorious Soviet leader: 59 percent of respondents aged 18-24 admitted indifference toward Stalin in a recent survey by the independent Levada Center, which presented its Russian-language version in Moscow on Tuesday.


A similar poll by the state-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), published Tuesday, found that 38 percent of respondents did not care about Stalin, up by 20 percentage points since 2001. Among 18- to 24-year-olds the figure was even higher: 44 percent.


“The main thing that’s happening is a slight increase in indifference,” sociologist Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Center, said at the presentation.


Those who do care for Stalin are driven by nostalgia for the Soviet Union, not a desire for more purges, according to pollsters.


Still, Stalin’s name remains capable of triggering vicious debate in Russia – and is occasionally invoked by politicians, including some in the Kremlin, who simply lack another template to model relations between government and society, according to Gudkov.


“Society is seen as passive, moldable and in need of guidance, while the government is wise, setting development goals and leading the country to a bright future,” Gudkov said.


“In a sense, Stalin is still alive and serves as an embodiment of the greatness of the state,” said Maria Lipman, a Moscow-based analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which commissioned the Levada study.


One paradox reflected by the Levada poll, conducted in October with 1,600 respondents, was a simultaneous perception of Stalin as both good and cruel.


Forty-seven percent said Stalin was a “wise leader who brought the Soviet Union to might and prosperity,” while 64 percent said he was a “cruel, inhuman tyrant,” according to the poll, which was first published in English last week. This means at least 11 percent think Stalin was both things at once.


Just over half of respondents, 51 percent, said Stalin’s repressions were a “political crime” that cannot be justified, while 22 percent said they were necessary; a startling 23 percent had no opinion.


The VTsIOM poll, which also included 1,600 respondents, showed that 33 percent viewed Stalin positively – a figure virtually unchanged since 2001 – while 25 percent disapproved of him.


Much of the Russian public harbors nostalgia for the Soviet Union, idealizing its paternalist, predictable ways, which contrast favorably with a modern Russia plagued by corruption, crime and income inequality, Carnegie’s Lipman wrote in comments about the Levada poll.


People also tend to overlook Stalin’s atrocities because, in Russians’ view, after centuries of authoritarian rule, “national authority cannot be expressed without violence,” wrote Gudkov.

Six Days of Stalin


When mourners crowded around Stalin’s coffin on Moscow’s Trubnaya Square in March 1953, they crushed each other – how many died is still classified information – and wailed in what scholars later dubbed a fit of mass hysteria. Back then, the dictator’s image could be seen all over the country. But now, you need to know where to look.


In the southern city of Volgograd, for example, five minibuses – popular Russian stand-ins for shoddy public transportation – have been adorned since February with Stalin’s visage, a move aimed to commemorate the Generalissimo’s contribution to the famed 1942-1943 battle of Stalingrad, as the city was known back then. Many historians view Nazi Germany’s defeat in that confrontation as the beginning of the end of World War II.


Volgograd is now officially renamed Stalingrad – for six days a year. The confusing measure was instituted in January in response to a proposal by local Communists to call the city Stalingrad year-round – which, polls showed, was not welcomed by the majority of city residents.


Or go to Yekaterinburg, the main city of the Urals region, and turn on the television. You stand a fair chance of catching a 30-second anti-Stalin ad reminding viewers about the 700,000-some people whose executions were authorized by his regime in 1937-1938.


Both the minibuses and the ads are grassroots initiatives. Officials tread on Stalinist ground more gingerly – but tread they do. In 2009, Stalin’s name was restored as part of the interior design of Moscow’s Kurskaya metro station, from which it had been removed in the late 1950s. City officials cited the need to “uphold historical authenticity” at the time.


About a thousand admirers came to Stalin’s grave by the Kremlin walls Tuesday to lay flowers. Most were supporters of the Communist Party, which prefers to see Stalin as a “wise leader,” not an “inhuman tyrant.”


The modern Kremlin has never explicitly endorsed Stalin, and both incumbent President Vladimir Putin and his predecessor, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, have voiced emotional criticism of the dictator’s policies.


The comments, however, were never touted by the powerful state media like many other presidential statements. Moreover, Putin also spoke in 2009 about some “positive aspects” of Stalin’s rule, including industrialization and the defeat of Nazi Germany, even though he denounced “mass crime against our nation.”


The Kremlin can justify its own paternalist and mildly authoritarian policies by drawing connections to the Stalinist regime, both Lipman and Gudkov said Tuesday.


Stalin is also understandably popular with the country’s left, including the Communists, the most powerful opposition party in Russia. Its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, led the flower-laying ceremony at Stalin’s burial site.

Getting the Tyrant Out of the System


The dictator’s name will continue to be exploited by politicians until Russia completes “de-Stalinization,” the head of Memorial, Arseny Roginsky, told RIA Novosti.


Stalin ruled Russia from 1924 until 1953, gradually consolidating his hold on power, a task for which the mass repressions were instrumental. During his reign, the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany in World War II and became an industrial superpower, though historians still argue whether Stalin’s purges sped up or hampered the country’s rise.


Victims of the purges were rehabilitated, many of them posthumously, and Stalin’s statues and portraits ordered to be removed after his death by his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced the dictator’s crimes. But “de-Stalinization” was put on hold after Khrushchev. And though the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and most recently Medvedev, who was president in 2008-2012, also made efforts to dismantle Stalin’s legacy, neither made renouncing his crimes a major part of state ideology or engaged the public in a focused debate about his regime.


“De-Stalinization remains a bitter but needed medicine” required to “restore a healthy social environment” in Russia, said Andrei Sorokin, head of the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History.


Sorokin co-presented with Memorial on Tuesday a new publication of the “execution lists” of some 33,000 victims of the Great Terror personally authorized by Stalin or his closest aides. It is this publication that includes the execution order scribbled by Stalin.


Last August, a man was detained in front of the Lenin Mausoleum on Red Square for staging a solitary picket demanding the burial of both Lenin and Stalin, who shared the mausoleum from 1953 until 1961, when Stalin was quietly interred in the necropolis by the Kremlin wall.


The picketer was ruled insane and shipped off to a mental hospital, reports said at the time. But perhaps he understood more than most when he urged his compatriots to find a way to bid the Soviet leaders a final farewell and move on.


Venezuela to investigate Hugo Chávez poisoning claims

Acting president vows to ‘seek truth’ over Chávez’s death amid fears his cancer was result of poisoning by foreign rivals


March 13, 2013



Caracas –Venezuela will launch an inquiry into claims that Hugo Chávez‘s cancer was the result of poisoning by his enemies abroad, the government has said.


Critics of the government view the accusation as a typical Chávez-style conspiracy theory intended to feed fears of “imperialist” threats to Venezuela’s socialist system and distract people from daily problems.


The acting president, Nicolás Maduro, vowed to open an investigation into the claims surrounding the death of the president, which were first raised by Chávez after he was diagnosed with the disease in 2011.


“We will seek the truth,” Maduro told the Telesur regional TV network. “We have the intuition that our commander Chávez was poisoned by dark forces that wanted him out of the way.”


Foreign scientists will be invited to join a state committee to investigate the accusation, he said.


Maduro, 50, is Chávez’s handpicked successor and is running as the government’s candidate in a snap presidential election on 14 April that was triggered by the president’s death last week.


He is trying to keep voters’ attention focused on Chávez to benefit from the outpouring of grief among his millions of supporters. The opposition is centring its campaign on portraying Maduro, a former bus driver, as an incompetent who is exploiting Chávez’s demise.


“Let’s take the president [Chávez] away from the political debate, out of respect for his memory, his family, his supporters,” the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles’s campaign chief, Henri Falcon, told reporters.


Polls from before Chávez’s death gave Maduro a lead of more than 10 percentage points over Capriles. He lost to Chávez by 11 percentage points in October.


Capriles has tried to jump-start his campaign with accusations that Maduro and other senior officials lied about the details of Chávez’s illness, hiding the gravity of his condition from Venezuelans.


That sparked a torrent of attacks, with senior government officials using words like “Nazi” and “fascist” to describe Capriles, who has Jewish ancestors.


In a televised message, the information minister, Ernesto Villegas, read a letter to the “sick opposition” from the late president’s daughter, Maria Gabriela Chávez, who has at times been viewed as a possible future successor.


“Stop playing with the pain of a nation and a devastated family,” she wrote. “It is unfair, inhuman, unacceptable that they now say we were lying about the date of his [death] … Focus on politics, don’t play dirty.”


Capriles was quick to respond with a flurry of tweets: “Never, in all these years, have I offended the president or his family. If one word has been taken thus by his family, I’m sorry,” he wrote on Twitter.


“I don’t offend families as they have mine. They have even called me a Nazi, when my great-grandparents were murdered in a Nazi concentration camp,” he added, referring to the government.


In an increasingly acrimonious campaign, both sides on Tuesday accused each other of planning violence.


The opposition displayed photos circulating on the internet showing an assault rifle and a pistol being held up to a TV screen that was broadcasting Capriles’s face. They also said there were indications of plans to attack Capriles when he was scheduled to register his candidacy on Monday. In the end, aides went instead.


Government spokesmen repeated accusations that opposition activists planned to disrupt Maduro’s campaign. In an attempt to discredit Capriles, they waved photos of a plush New York apartment they said belonged to him, and displayed copies of university documents they claimed showed he never completed a law degree.


Capriles, 40, a business-friendly regional governor running for the opposition’s Democratic Unity coalition, is trying to dissociate Maduro from Chávez in voters’ minds.


“He’s attacking Nicolás Maduro, saying Nicolás is not Chávez,” the senior Socialist party official and Maduro’s campaign chief, Jorge Rodríguez, said.


“Of course Nicolás isn’t Chávez, but he is his faithful, responsible, revolutionary son. All these insults and vilification are going to be turned into votes for us,” he said.

Tuesday was the last day of official mourning for Chávez, although public tributes are likely to continue. His embalmed body will be taken in procession to a military museum on Friday.


Millions have filed past Chávez’s coffin to pay homage to a man who was adored by many of the poor for his humble roots and welfare policies, but was also loathed by many for his authoritarian style and bullying of opponents.


Though Maduro has spoken about combating crime and extending development programmes in the slums, he has mostly used his frequent appearances on state TV to talk about Chávez.


The 58-year-old president was diagnosed with pelvic cancer in June 2011 and underwent four operations before dying of what sources said was metastasis in the lungs.


Maduro said it was too early to specifically point a finger over Chávez’s cancer, but noted that the US had laboratories with experience in producing diseases.


“He had a cancer that broke all norms,” Maduro told Telesur. “Everything seems to indicate that they [enemies] affected his health using the most advanced techniques.”


Maduro has compared his suspicions over Chávez’s death with allegations that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in 2004 from poisoning by Israeli agents.


The case echoes Chávez’s long campaign to convince the world that his idol and Venezuela’s independence hero Simón Bolívar died of poisoning by his rivals in Colombia in 1830.


Web browsers consider limiting how much they track users


March 15, 2013

by Craig Timberg,

The Washington Post


It’s often hard to tell which is the Web’s priority: helping you learn about the world or helping the world — and especially advertisers — learn about you.


But that balance is beginning to shift, to the delight of consumer advocates and the horror of industry groups. Browser makers increasingly are embracing privacy controls that could limit the ability of advertisers to track ­users, threatening to undermine business models that now support many popular online services


The development is driven more by market forces than governmental action, as highlighted by the recent announcement that the maker of one of the world’s most popular browsers, Firefox, is experimenting with new restrictions on the use of cookies — bits of computer code that allow companies to monitor users as they move among Web sites.


The news has sparked a fervent debate about the economic value of online tracking and the importance of cookies to the smooth functioning of the digital world. On the day of Firefox’s announcement last month, an official from the Interactive Advertising Bureau tweeted that the browser’s maker had launched “a nuclear first strike” against the industry.


That prompted fears that Internet companies could respond with more sophisticated tools that would allow tracking to continue or even expand.


“We’re at the risk of an arms race here,” said Peter Swire, a Clinton administration privacy expert who is now an Ohio State University law professor. “This could break the Internet. It interferes with existing browsing models, and it puts bigger pressure on users to take escalating steps to protect their privacy.”


Swire was tapped in November to help resurrect talks aimed at giving consumers an easy way to block tracking of their Web behavior. The initiative, called “Do Not Track” and pushed by the Obama administration, has foundered over deep divisions between Internet industry trade groups and privacy advocates. The two sides have not agreed on what “Do Not Track” even means, much less how it should be implemented.


Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, is a nonprofit group that’s much smaller than other browser makers, such as Google, Microsoft and Apple. Yet its potential impact is outsized because Firefox is used by about 20 percent of the world’s desktop computers, according to NetMarketShare.


Mozilla is testing its new ­cookie restrictions on a version of Firefox released to about 10,000 users, said Harvey Anderson, vice president and general counsel. No decision has been made on a general release, but he said limiting tracking would make Firefox operate more clearly in the in­terests of consumers. He cited a February report by Ovum, an industry research group, showing that 68 percent of people using the Internet in 11 countries say they would limit tracking of their Web traffic if they easily could.


“This kind of feature creates a Web that’s more in line with a user’s expectations,” Anderson said.


The changes under consideration for Firefox would allow shopping or news Web sites, for example, to place cookies on a user’s computer to enable the tracking of preferences for customized service. It would block cookies from sites users never knowingly visited, such as those of the networks that place advertising on sites maintained by news organizations or other groups.


(Such changes would affect advertising on Web sites operated by The Washington Post Co., which is a member of the Inter­active Advertising Bureau.)


Firefox’s changes would mimic how Apple’s Safari browser has long handled cookies. Apple once was a small player in the browser market, but the success of its iPhone and iPad has made Safari the most popular browser on mobile devices.


The biggest player in the desktop browser market, Microsoft, has implemented new privacy controls on its latest generation of Internet Explorer, activating by default a feature that requests ad networks to not track users. The setting has little practical effect because ad networks generally ignore such requests, but the move signaled the rising importance of privacy issues to browser makers.


Digital advertisers say that ads targeted by user behavior are effective, allowing baseball fans to see ads for game tickets or people learning Spanish to see ads for travel packages to Mexico. The revenue generated by these online businesses pays for many of the free programs and services that users enjoy. The Digital Advertising Alliance trade group runs a program allowing users to opt out of most forms of targeted advertising.


Browser changes that disrupt online business models would come at a high cost, advertisers say, hitting smaller companies and Web sites with particular intensity. To survive, these companies may turn to tracking technology that’s harder for browsers to block, such as digital fingerprinting that can use basic information about the location of a computer and the software installed to distinguish it from other machines.


“Innovation absolutely will happen. Work-arounds absolutely will happen. But in the time that takes to happen, a lot of blood will be left on the tracks,” said Randall Rothenberg, president and chief executive of the Interactive Advertising Bureau. (It was the group’s general counsel, Mike Zaneis, who tweeted about a “nuclear first strike.”)


Anderson said Mozilla takes such concerns seriously and would consider altering the proposed cookie restrictions to make sure they don’t unfairly skew the digital advertising market. Some of the biggest players in online advertising are Facebook, Yahoo and Google, but they probably would avoid the kinds of restrictions Firefox is considering because of an exception that allows cookies to be placed by sites users voluntarily visit.


The role of Google, which gets most of its revenue from advertising and has been criticized in recent years for its approach to personal privacy, has drawn particular attention from those pushing for greater controls. Google’s Chrome browser has features that allow users to limit tracking or opt out altogether from targeted advertising, but the company is not publicly considering the more aggressive actions taken by Apple or Microsoft and under consideration by Mozilla.


“We’ll continue working with [the] industry on a common approach to responding to the Do Not Track feature,” Google spokesman Chris Gaither said.


As Web traffic increasingly shifts to mobile devices, Google’s role is likely to grow. Smartphones based on its Android operating system are the most popular in the world. Mobile devices — and the browsers made for them — generally have fewer privacy controls than desktop or laptop computers.


Some analysts say the intensity of the debate gives Internet advertisers an opportunity to make a public case for the value of tracking before browsers limit it further. Shopping Web sites, for example, use cookies to recommend books or new clothes to regular visitors and to allow them to easily track orders without signing in for each visit.


“There’s a risk that the industry will see this as an opportunity to escalate, and that will lead down a rat hole,” said Jules Polonetsky, director of the Future of Privacy Forum, an industry-supported think tank. “It’s fine for tracking to come out into the sunlight and for companies to realize that if all you’re trying to do is sell people stuff, most people are cool with that so long as they believe people are trying to do things for them rather than to them.”



Israel’s Iron Dome: Doubts over success rate


March 13, 2013

by Jonathan Marcus BBC Defence Correspondent

BBC News


A leading US expert on missile defence has raised doubts about the efficacy of Israel’s Iron Dome defence system.


Israeli officials say it hit some 84% of the targets engaged in last year’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza.


But Professor Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests the defence system’s success rate may have been “drastically lower”.


The success of the Iron Dome was one of the most significant military aspects of Israel’s brief campaign.


During this upsurge in fighting – dubbed Operation Pillar of Defence by the Israeli military – Israeli aircraft, drones and artillery bombarded Palestinian targets, while Palestinian groups fired over 1,400 rockets into Israel.


The Iron Dome missile defence system – built by the Israeli company, Rafael, but largely funded by the US – was rushed into service to defend against the Palestinian missile threat.




Mr Postol has a track-record in debunking claims made for state-of-the-art missile defence systems.


In the wake of the 1991 Gulf War after which lavish praise was directed at the Patriot defensive system used by the Americans to defend against incoming Iraqi Scuds – Mr Postol showed that the Patriot’s defenders – like the Patriot itself – were wide of the mark.


Patriot’s success rate, he argued, could have been less than 10%, perhaps even zero. It may actually have hit nothing.


Mr Postol’s criticism of the Iron Dome rests upon the nature of the warhead carried by the interceptor missile and the observed trajectories – or flight paths – of the launches he has studied from the November 2012 conflict.


In essence he believes that the only way Iron Dome can be sure of destroying the warhead of an incoming rocket is to hit it head on.


“If the interceptor is flying a crossing or diving trajectory compared to that of the incoming rocket,” he told me, “then you are not going to destroy the warhead. Even hitting the incoming warhead side-on will probably not have sufficient energy to detonate it, he argues.




Mr Postol says that while he cannot say what the performance of Iron Dome was in Operation Pillar of Defence, “all the available evidence unambiguously indicates a drastically lower level of performance than the 84% claimed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).”


His view is that the successful hit rate on incoming warheads could be as low as 5-10%.


Mr Postol says that if the IDF wants to make such claims, then it should provide the data to back them up.


He acknowledges that it might have been “a reasonable strategy for Israel to claim that Iron Dome was working, as an excuse not to invade Gaza at an enormous cost to both sides. ”


But he argues that “continuing such a deception can only result in the misappropriation of limited defence assets”.


Mr Postol says that “as an American supporter of Israel’s right to self-defence”, he does not feel comfortable seeing the US spend money on a weapon system “that hardly works”.


A spokesman for Israel’s ministry of defence responded to Mr Postol’s critique by saying that it strongly rejected the “unsubstantiated study published recently regarding the performance of Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ system”.


“The baseless claims do not in any way reflect the performance of ‘Iron Dome’ in the last year and a half, since it has been put into operational service.”


“The population of the centre and south of Israel,” the spokesman added, “experienced – first hand – the system’s achievements during Operation ‘Pillar of Defence’, which proved itself with an interception rate of over 80%.”


“The security establishment is more than content with the system’s impressive results and will continue to acquire more ‘Iron Dome’ batteries,” he added, concluding that, in short, “the system saves lives”




US state of Maryland votes to abolish death penalty

March 15, 2013

BBC News


The US state of Maryland is poised to abolish the death penalty after its lawmakers voted 82 to 56 in favour of the move.


The measure now needs to be signed by Governor Martin O’Malley to become law.


Correspondents say it will be a formality as the Democratic governor has campaigned for five years to have the death penalty repealed.


Once signed into law, Maryland will become the 18th US state to abolish executions.


“Evidence shows that the death penalty is not a deterrent, it cannot be administered without racial bias and it costs three times as much as life in prison without parole,” Governor O’Malley said in a statement.


“What’s more, there is no way to reverse a mistake if an innocent person is put to death.”


Opponents of the bill insisted capital punishment was a necessary tool to punish those who commit the most serious crimes.


Maryland has had the death penalty since 1638 when the territory was a British colony.


However, the state has neither sentenced anyone to death nor executed a prisoner since 2005.


The vote took place in the Maryland House of Delegates in the state capital, Annapolis. Eighty Democrats and two Republicans voted for the bill, which needed 71 votes to pass. Eighteen Democrats joined 38 Republicans to vote against it.


Connecticut became the 17th state to repeal the death penalty last year, meaning more than a third of the 50 states have now renounced executions.



The Lyndon Johnson tapes: Richard Nixon’s ‘treason’


March 15, 2013

by David Taylor

BBC News


Declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson’s telephone calls provide a fresh insight into his world. Among the revelations – he planned a dramatic entry into the 1968 Democratic Convention to re-join the presidential race. And he caught Richard Nixon sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks… but said nothing.


After the Watergate scandal taught Richard Nixon the consequences of recording White House conversations none of his successors have dared to do it. But Nixon wasn’t the first.


He got the idea from his predecessor Lyndon Johnson, who felt there was an obligation to allow historians to eventually eavesdrop on his presidency.


“They will provide history with the bark off,” Johnson told his wife, Lady Bird.


The final batch of tapes released by the LBJ library covers 1968, and allows us to hear Johnson’s private conversations as his Democratic Party tore itself apart over the question of Vietnam.


The 1968 convention, held in Chicago, was a complete shambles.


Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters clashed with Mayor Richard Daley’s police, determined to force the party to reject Johnson’s Vietnam war strategy.


As they taunted the police with cries of “The whole world is watching!” one man in particular was watching very closely.


Lyndon Baines Johnson was at his ranch in Texas, having announced five months earlier that he wouldn’t seek a second term.


The president was appalled at the violence and although many of his staff sided with the students, and told the president the police were responsible for “disgusting abuse of police power,” Johnson picked up the phone, ordered the dictabelt machine to start recording and congratulated Mayor Daley for his handling of the protest.


The president feared the convention delegates were about to reject his war policy and his chosen successor, Hubert Humphrey.


So he placed a series of calls to his staff at the convention to outline an astonishing plan. He planned to leave Texas and fly into Chicago.


He would then enter the convention and announce he was putting his name forward as a candidate for a second term.


It would have transformed the 1968 election. His advisers were sworn to secrecy and even Lady Bird did not know what her husband was considering.


On the White House tapes we learn that Johnson wanted to know from Daley how many delegates would support his candidacy. LBJ only wanted to get back into the race if Daley could guarantee the party would fall in line behind him.


They also discussed whether the president’s helicopter, Marine One, could land on top of the Hilton Hotel to avoid the anti-war protesters.


Daley assured him enough delegates would support his nomination but the plan was shelved after the Secret Service warned the president they could not guarantee his safety.


The idea that Johnson might have been the candidate, and not Hubert Humphrey, is just one of the many secrets contained on the White House tapes.


They also shed light on a scandal that, if it had been known at the time, would have sunk the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee, Richard Nixon.


By the time of the election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks – or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had “blood on his hands”.


The BBC’s former Washington correspondent Charles Wheeler learned of this in 1994 and conducted a series of interviews with key Johnson staff, such as defence secretary Clark Clifford, and national security adviser Walt Rostow.


But by the time the tapes were declassified in 2008 all the main protagonists had died, including Wheeler.


Now, for the first time, the whole story can be told.


It begins in the summer of 1968. Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war, and he knew this would derail his campaign.


He therefore set up a clandestine back-channel involving Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser.


At a July meeting in Nixon’s New York apartment, the South Vietnamese ambassador was told Chennault represented Nixon and spoke for the campaign. If any message needed to be passed to the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, it would come via Chennault.


In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris – concessions that would justify Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared.


Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.


So on the eve of his planned announcement of a halt to the bombing, Johnson learned the South Vietnamese were pulling out.


He was also told why. The FBI had bugged the ambassador’s phone and a transcripts of Anna Chennault’s calls were sent to the White House. In one conversation she tells the ambassador to “just hang on through election”.


Johnson was told by Defence Secretary Clifford that the interference was illegal and threatened the chance for peace.


In a series of remarkable White House recordings we can hear Johnson’s reaction to the news.


In one call to Senator Richard Russell he says: “We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he has been doing it through rather subterranean sources. Mrs Chennault is warning the South Vietnamese not to get pulled into this Johnson move.”


He orders the Nixon campaign to be placed under FBI surveillance and demands to know if Nixon is personally involved.


When he became convinced it was being orchestrated by the Republican candidate, the president called Senator Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader in the Senate to get a message to Nixon.


The president knew what was going on, Nixon should back off and the subterfuge amounted to treason.


Publicly Nixon was suggesting he had no idea why the South Vietnamese withdrew from the talks. He even offered to travel to Saigon to get them back to the negotiating table.


Johnson felt it was the ultimate expression of political hypocrisy but in calls recorded with Clifford they express the fear that going public would require revealing the FBI were bugging the ambassador’s phone and the National Security Agency (NSA) was intercepting his communications with Saigon.


So they decided to say nothing.


The president did let Humphrey know and gave him enough information to sink his opponent. But by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been told he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency. So Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway.


Nixon ended his campaign by suggesting the administration war policy was in shambles. They couldn’t even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table.


He won by less than 1% of the popular vote.


Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968.


The White House tapes, combined with Wheeler’s interviews with key White House personnel, provide an unprecedented insight into how Johnson handled a series of crises that rocked his presidency. Sadly, we will never have that sort of insight again.


We now know…


After the Viet Cong’s Tet offensive, White House doves persuaded Johnson to end the war


Johnson loathed Senator Bobby Kennedy but the tapes show he was genuinely devastated by his assassination


He feared vice-president Hubert Humphrey would go soft on Vietnam if elected president


The BBC’s Charles Wheeler would have been under FBI surveillance when he met administration officials in 1968


In 1971 Nixon made huge efforts to find a file containing everything Johnson knew in 1968 about Nixon’s skulduggery



Michelle Shocked enrages fans with onstage anti-gay rant

Former lefty favourite loses gig bookings after saying same-sex marriage will be ‘downfall of civilisation’


March 19, 2013


by Sean Michaels



Singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked has shocked fans after launching an anti-gay rant onstage in San Francisco on Sunday night. The singer – who became a favourite of leftwing music fans with early albums such as The Texas Campfire Tapes and Short Sharp Shocked, but who is now a born-again Christian – began telling the crowd her views of Proposition 8, California‘s legal definition of marriage being a union between a woman and a man.


“When they stop Prop 8 and force priests at gunpoint to marry gays, it will be the downfall of civilisation, and Jesus will come back,” Shocked told the crowd at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, before many of them reportedly walked out. “You are going to leave here and tell people, ‘Michelle Shocked said God hates faggots.'”


The club’s manager tried to end the show, but Shocked continued playing until venue staff pulled the plug and turned off the stage lights.


Shocked, 51, has been an alternative music icon since the late 80s and early 90s, when her raw sound and radical politics briefly caught the zeitgeist. Although she is from Texas, she was particularly successful in the UK, where three of her LPs reached the top 50. Though Shocked’s popularity has waned, she has continued making music, describing herself as an “anarchist skateboard punk” and, for about two decades, a born-again Christian.


Audience members at Sunday’s show were stunned by her remarks. “She said gay marriage would cause the end of the world,” tweeted @anile02. “She’s a total bigot and said so on stage,” agreed @lisahubbert. “It was unreal. We had to leave.” @TheGuapo said he felt like an “emotional hostage”: “[she] went full hate speech”.


Several venues – in Illinois, California, Oregon and Colorado – have now cancelled forthcoming shows.


Shocked has not directly responded to these developments, except to tweet: “Truth is leading to painful confrontation.”


In a 2008 interview with the Dallas Voice, Shocked strongly denied rumours that she is a lesbian. “[But] what if we called you an ‘honorary lesbian’?” asked the interviewer. “I would be honoured,” she replied. Describing herself as a “devout practising Christian”, she said she was still coming to terms with “bigotry” in the church. “According to my Bible, which I didn’t write, homosexuality is immoral,” she explained. “But homosexuality is no more less a sin than fornication. And I’m a fornicator with a capital F.”


Challenge for pope in Europe’s dwindling church


March 19 2013

by Raf Casert


Associated Press= BORGLOON, Belgium (AP) — The church is made of rusty steel beams separated by gaps, and its austere beauty won it an international prize. Yet the eerie desolation of the see-through art installation has also turned into a reflection on the state of Roman Catholicism on a religion-weary continent where real churches, like the dozen dotting the hills of this verdant area, increasingly lose their flock and function.


Pope Francis faces a daunting array of challenges, and one of them is bringing souls back to the historic heartland of the Catholic church. The pontiff has already gotten off to a promising start with a humble charm that has electrified Catholics — and his installation ceremony Tuesday reinforced his sway over hearts and minds as he launched an appeal to protect the planet and the poor.


But reviving the faith won’t be easy on a secularized continent that has been horrified by church sex abuse scandals and alienated by the church’s conservative positions on contraception, female ordination and priestly celibacy.


“There won’t be any miracle solutions on offer for the new pope,” said Rik Torfs, a Belgian senator and professor of canon law at Leuven University.


Across large swaths of Europe, empty pews and empty pulpits are the stark reality of centuries-old churches in a continent where, not so long ago, the village spire was the main point of reference for society. In Italy, the Vatican’s own backyard, being Catholic often seems more a cultural trait than a way of worship. Traditionally Catholic France and Ireland are also turning away from the church. Even in deeply devout Poland, the nation of the widely beloved Pope John Paul II, faith is starting to waver.


“The structure of the church, both statistically as intellectually has been very much weakened,” said Torfs.


For signs of this decline, look no further than Paris, where the famed Notre Dame Cathedral is celebrating its 850th anniversary this year.


On Pope Francis’ installation day, thousands of tourists easily outnumbered less than 200 worshippers in the pews, even as the ceremony on St. Peter’s Square was televised inside the cathedral.


A total of 13 million people visit Notre Dame each year, making for long lines to get inside. But the cathedral’s own website notes that for those who want to attend Mass, there is rarely a wait.


To highlight the move to secularism, many churches have been turned into restaurants and shops, or even demolished, often given a new function in society never intended by those who originally built them.


In Belgium’s Ghent, a chapel is now a fancy women’s clothing store. Across the border in the Netherlands, Maastricht has seen its Dominican church become one of the fanciest book stores in Europe. In the same city, a 15th century Gothic church is now ensconced in a contemporary boutique hotel.


It is this disappearing act that gave Pieterjan Gijs of the Gijs Van Vaerenbergh architecture firm ideas.


Built like a real village church, the Borgloon art installation’s layered structure allows visitors to see right through it, and this evanescence gives it a double layer of beauty and philosophical depth. It won the 2012 prize for best religious building by the web site Arch Daily.


“Ever more, churches stand empty and in that sense, it latches on to this issue,” Gijs said.


Looking through his work of art, called Reading Between the Lines, one can see Borgloon’s real Saint Odulphus church, whose origins go back almost a millennium and which has now fallen on hard times.


Inside, 12 little candles symbolized all of the baptisms that have taken place there in nearly 1 ½ years, a small number for the main church of an area covering some 10,000 people. By contrast, 17 little crosses show the number of church burials in just the past four months — testament to a dwindling flock that is not being boosted by enough new souls.


Maria Vrancken, who remembers going to church every day as a schoolgirl, doesn’t see too many full church services at St. Odulphus anymore. “No, only for funerals,” she said. “And even then, it depends who gets buried.”


The statistics bear her out.


The latest figures from Leuven University Professor Marc Hooghe show that baptisms in Belgium declined from 93.6 percent of births in 1967 to 57.6 percent in 2009. Religious marriages suffered an even worse fate, going from 86.1 percent to 26.2 percent over the same period. And church attendance fell from some 43 percent to just 5 percent.


The Pew Research Center assessed religious observance during the papacy of Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, and found it low within the four nations with the biggest Catholic populations in western Europe.


“Across all four countries, a minority of Catholics say religion is very important in their lives,” the Pew study found, going as low as 15 percent for French Catholics. Weekly Mass attendance continued to decline. Among Spanish Catholics, it sank from 31 percent to 24 percent between 2009 and 2011, and in Germany, Benedict’s homeland, it fell from 23 percent to 16 percent over the same period. French Mass attendance slipped from an already low 10 percent to 9 percent. Pew said it had not routinely surveyed Mass attendance in Italy.


That decline in popular support has affected the standing of the church in society and politics and also undermined its strength from within. “There was a short circuit between the church and the contemporary world. The church no longer has the structure it had a few decades ago,” said Torfs. “It has weakened more than public opinion realizes. It is even worse.”


Things are already bad enough for 63-year-old Vrancken in Borgloon. She said there were two priests left for 13 churches, medium to very small, in and around the eastern Belgian town.


“There are some retired priests who come in and help every now and then,” she said. “So they say that people have to go to Mass, but they almost cannot do it anymore because there are almost no more Masses left.”


Here again, the stats back up her point. The Hasselt bishopric which covers Borgloon had 843 diocesean priests in 1967; that number had dwindled to 335 in 2009. For the whole of Belgium, the number of priests went from 10,087 to 3,659 in the same period.


And with quantity, also went some quality, said Torfs.


“The big problem is to find enough people that can engage in this world and stand their ground. Priests who can take on the external world and have enough gravitas.”


Still, the right pope will be able to make a difference.


And Pope Francis, said Torfs, has certainly made the best possible start.


“For the first time in decades we have someone with a new outlook on the world,” he said. “We haven’t had that in a long time.”

Lori Hinnant contributed from Paris



Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements shot dead


March 20, 2013

BBC News


The head of the department of corrections in the US state of Colorado has been shot dead at his home, authorities say.


Tom Clements, 58, was shot on Tuesday evening as he was called to the front door of his home near the city of Colorado Springs, officials said.


Police have launched a manhunt for his killer.


Police spokesman Lt Jeff Kramer said search dogs had been called in to scour a wooded area around Mr Clements’ home.


Lt Kramer said a family member reported the shooting at at about 20:30 local time (02:30 GMT on Wednesday) and officers found Mr Clements dead in his home in the town of Monument.


Police have not yet suggested any motive for the killing.


Lt Kramer was quoted by the Denver Post as saying that there was no evidence of an attempted robbery or break-in.


“We know of his position and realise that it is a possible motive for a crime such as this,” the El Paso County Sheriff’s office spokesman told the newspaper.


“It’s a quick, rapidly evolving investigation.”


Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper appointed Mr Clements to the post in 2011. The prisons chief had previously worked for more than three decades in the Missouri Department of Corrections.


The governor praised Mr Clements’ track record, saying he had found ways of improving prison safety and setting up programmes that helped offenders reintegrate successfully after leaving prison.


In a statement sent to employees of the department of corrections, Gov Hickenlooper said: “Last night, Tom Clements was killed at his home in Monument. I can hardly believe it, let alone write words to describe it.”


He described Mr Clements as “unfailingly kind and thoughtful” and someone who “sought the good in any situation”.


Gov Hickenlooper has ordered flags in the state to be flown at half-mast from sunrise to sunset until the day after Mr Clements’s funeral, the Denver Post reported.


Mr Clements is survived by his wife and two daughters.

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