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TFI Daily News

World News for World Changers

Jul 31

Headlines

Netanyahu Vows to Complete Gaza Tunnels Destruction
(Reuters) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing international alarm over a rising civilian death toll in Gaza, said on Thursday he would not accept any ceasefire that stopped Israel completing the destruction of militants’ infiltration tunnels.

China Evacuates Hundreds of Workers in Libya to Malta
(Reuters) China has evacuated several hundred workers from Libya and is taking them by ship to Malta, the head of the Malta Civil Service, Mario Cutajar, said on Wednesday.

Food Supplies Cut to Rebel Stronghold in East Ukraine
(Reuters) Food supplies have been cut to the rebel stronghold of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine during a military offensive on the city by government forces, local officials said on Thursday.

U.S. Missionary Jailed in North Korea Feels ‘Abandoned’: Paper
(Reuters) A U.S. missionary imprisoned in North Korea since 2012 has said he feels abandoned by his government and has appealed again for help in securing his release, a pro-North Korea newspaper reported on Thursday.

Sierra Leone President Declares State of Emergency Over Ebola
(Reuters) Sierra Leone has declared a state of public emergency to tackle the worst ever outbreak of Ebola and will call in security forces to quarantine epicenters of the deadly virus, President Ernest Bai Koroma said in a statement.

Diggers Try to Reach More Than 100 Feared Trapped in India Landslide
(Reuters) Rescuers in India were digging through swirling mud to uncover dozens of submerged homes on Thursday and find more than 100 people swallowed up by a landslide that flattened almost an entire village, with the confirmed death toll at 21.

Russia Says U.S. Accusations Over Nuclear Treaty ‘Unfounded’
(Reuters) Russia on Wednesday dismissed Washington’s accusations that it has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Treaty as “unfounded”, and said it had its own complaints against the United States over the treaty.

Argentina slides into default as debt talks fail
NEW YORK (AP)—The collapse of talks with U.S. creditors sent Argentina into its second debt default in 13 years and raised questions about what comes next for financial markets and the South American nation’s staggering economy.

19 swimmers drown off Pakistan beaches
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP)—At least 19 people have drowned off southern Pakistani beaches because of heavy waves and strong currents, rescuers said Thursday.


Thought of the Day

“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.”—Margaret Wheatley


Running Just Minutes a Day Cuts Death Risk

By Matt Cantor, Newser, July 29, 2014

Good news for those who keep meaning to exercise, but can never seem to find the time: If you can manage a few minutes of running a day—even going slowly—you may cut your risk of death from cardiovascular disease. So suggests a new, 15-year study of more than 55,000 adults. Researchers found that the risk of death from any cause among runners in the group was 30% lower than the risk among non-runners; runners also faced a 45% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, according to a press release.

The fascinating part: “The benefits were the same no matter how long, far, frequently, or fast participants reported running,” the release notes. Nor did a person’s sex, age, or body mass index matter, and even smokers saw the same benefits. Runners lived an average of three years longer than non-runners. The study prompts the researchers to suggest that running should be promoted as seriously as smoking and obesity are discouraged. Researchers do, however, note a caveat: The study doesn’t prove that running causes longer life, and it’s possible—despite efforts to control for outside factors—that those who run are just healthier in general, WebMD adds. (But be careful: Earlier this year, another study found that running too much could kill you sooner.)


A mysterious rash on a woman’s hands and lips stumped specialists

By Sandra G. Boodman, Washington Post, July 28, 2014

At first the rash didn’t bother her, said Julia Omiatek, recalling the itchy red bumps that suddenly appeared one day on her palm, near the base of her first and third fingers. It was January 2013—the dead of winter in Columbus, Ohio—so when the area reddened and cracked a few weeks later, she assumed her problem was simply dry skin and slathered on some cream.

Omiatek, then 35, had little time to ponder the origin of her problem. An occupational therapist who works with adult patients, she was also raising two children younger than 3. A few weeks later when her lips swelled and the rash appeared on her face, she decided it was time to consult her dermatologist.

Skin problems were nothing new; Omiatek was so allergic to nickel that her mother had had to sew cloth inside her onesies to prevent the metal snaps from touching her skin and causing a painful irritation. Over the years she had learned to avoid nickel and contend with occasional, inexplicable rashes that seemed to clear up when she used Elidel, a prescription cream that treats eczema.

But this time the perpetually itchy rash didn’t go away, no matter what she did. Over the course of 11 months, she saw four doctors, three of whom said they didn’t know what was causing the stubborn eruption that eluded numerous tests. The fourth specialist took one look at her hand and figured it out.

“The location was a tip-off,” said Matthew Zirwas, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who specializes in treating unexplained rashes. Omiatek’s case was considerably less severe than that of many of the approximately 300 other patients he has treated for the same problem.

“I can’t tell you the number of people who come into my office with a horrible, weeping, itchy rash that’s ruining their lives; it’s all they can think about,” he said. “And when I tell them the cause, they just burst into tears” of relief.

The strong reaction Omiatek displayed was to a chemical called methyllisothiazolinone, MI for short, which is used in high concentration in hundreds of beauty and personal care products.

In Omiatek’s case, MI was in the new brand of “sensitive” baby wipes she had begun using a few weeks before the hand rash erupted. The pattern of the rash, which was on her right, dominant hand, matched the way one would use a wipe. MI was also in the dishwashing soap she used as well as in her soap and shampoo.

Luckily for Omiatek, she did not use premoistened personal wipes containing MI, as have scores of Zirwas’s patients. Most, he said, arrive in his office after months of misery. Some were convinced they had a horrible sexually transmitted disease; in fact, the rash was an allergic reaction to the wipes they had been using.

“It’s like wiping with poison ivy leaves,” Zirwas said. “I cannot tell you the number of people just bawling in my office because they have a horribly itchy weeping rash around their anus. They’ve been to doctor after doctor and no one could figure it out.” Zirwas estimates that about half of the approximately 300 MI allergy patients he has seen were using wipes. Cases of allergic reactions have also been reported in babies and young children who had been exposed to baby wipes containing the preservative, and outbreaks have been reported in Europe.

Unlike shampoo or soap that is rinsed off, the substances in toilet wipes remain on the skin, in a part of the body where evaporation does not occur. “It gets driven into the skin, perpetuating the problem,” said Zirwas, noting that it takes months for the rash to clear entirely after a patient stops using the product.

Zirwas said that manufacturers are aware of the problem, and some have pledged to remove the chemical from their products. In a statement, Kimberly-Clark, which says that its products are safe, recently introduced an MI-free line of baby wipes. The company has pledged to remove the preservative from all its wipes by the end of this year.

The concentration of MI in some personal-care products was increased about five years ago to replace other preservatives, including formaldehyde, which have been linked to health problems. “People thought it was going to be” an effective replacement, Zirwas said, “but around two or three years ago, we started seeing an incredible increase in the number of people allergic to it.”

Avoiding MI is easy, Zirwas said; it is listed as an ingredient on a product’s label. Omiatek said she is taking no chances. She now reads labels carefully and has stopped using all baby wipes in an attempt to avoid “funky chemicals.”


Learning to Make Work More Like Summer Camp

By Amy Zipkin, NY Times, July 18, 2014

WHEN Leanne Robinson saw an ad asking, “Why not get paid to travel?” she had no good answer. Why not?

That was 20 years ago. She enrolled in a tour director course offered by a San Francisco vocational school and, having recently turned 70, has traveled to places as varied as Nova Scotia and Southeast Asia. But instead of paying for her trips out of her own pocket, she is paid by someone else to take them.

Ms. Robinson, who has worked for a succession of tour companies, is now a group leader for Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel. She shepherds travelers to exotic locales, taking responsibility for passengers and such details as luggage, lost items and, at times, medical issues. And in so doing she has become a trendsetter for her generation.

“It’s a pretty nice working environment,” she said.

As baby boomers redefine retirement and puzzle about how to stretch their nest eggs, they are negotiating the boundaries between work and leisure. In a 2013 study conducted by Merrill Lynch and the consulting firm Age Wave, 70 percent of preretirees said they wanted to work after retirement but most were “seeking flexible work arrangements such as working part time or alternating between periods of work and time off.” As a result, some are choosing jobs in tourism and hospitality.

Experts acknowledge the trend and predict it is likely to grow. “It’s a reasonably recent phenomenon,” said Stephen Jennings, a principal at Deloitte Travel, Hospitality & Leisure. “You’ve got the economic tumult of the recession and the slow pace of recovery sitting on top of a demographic bubble that’s feeling a little less wealthy than in 2007.” He added, “There is matching up of baby boomers with flexibility with leisure businesses that have struggled with complicated schedules.”

Tour companies, cruise lines, ski resorts, museums, the National Park Service and its concessions have temporary and seasonal job openings. The Commercial Services Program of the National Park Service has contracts with 500 concessionaires, estimating that they employ more than 25,000 workers during the peak season.

Among the most visible concessionaires are Aramark, in Philadelphia (which manages operations at Mesa Verde National Park, Gettysburg National Military Park and the United States Mints in Denver and Philadelphia, among others); Xanterra Parks & Resorts, in the Denver area (which provides lodging in Yellowstone and at the Grand Canyon, among other parks and resorts); and Delaware North Companies, in Buffalo (which operates the Plaza Hotel in New York and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, among other places).

These companies are eyeing a potentially lucrative travel market for those over 50. “Baby boomers responded to the recession as savings and home values suffered by decreasing their travel expenditures, and generally continue to be cautious, but their travel is now recovering,” Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, wrote in an email. A study last December conducted by Homewood Suites by Hilton tracked 12,000 AARP members, 80 percent of whom averaged $3,000 on vacations annually.

Betsy O’Rourke, vice president for sales and marketing at Xanterra, says her company frequently turns to older workers to provide services.

“June, July and August was the summer season, which now extends from May to October. There’s not a traditional college student that can work that schedule,” said Patty Ceglio, seasonal human resources specialist at CoolWorks.com, a website based outside Yellowstone National Park that specializes in outdoor and environmental jobs. Listings are up 30 percent this year.

A section of the site designated “Older and Bolder” focuses on older workers. David Freireich, a spokesman for Aramark, which advertises on the site, estimates that retirees make up 25 to 30 percent of the seasonal applicant pool for jobs in areas like retail sales and front desk and office staff. “They are seasoned in the work force, customer service-oriented and very knowledgeable,” he wrote in an email.

Embarking on seasonal or temporary employment can be uncertain. Pay may start at minimum wage, although discounted room and board or other perks may be offered. Still, those who choose the lifestyle and its compromises say the work is satisfying.

Bill Whetstone, 65, was an information technology executive for a medical products company in Warwick, R.I., until 2005. He was at a recreational vehicle show in Arizona in 2009 when he had a chance encounter with a district manager of the nonprofit Yellowstone Association, which sponsors education and research programs at the park. After an interview, he was offered seasonal employment as a sales associate in the bookstore at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center.

Two years ago he became the full-time district manager of that bookstore and three satellite stores. A staff of 26 shrinks to three or four during the off-season. Between seasons, he and his wife, who also sells books, travel or visit family.

They live in a recreational vehicle near the visitor center. Whether a national park provides housing, which may be dormitory-style for concession employees, is determined for each park based on housing availability, the concession’s size and the distance of the park from communities where housing is available.

In his free time, Mr. Whetstone says he hikes, fishes and practices the dobro, a type of steel guitar. He frequently socializes with other employees over potluck suppers and campfires. “We call it summer camp,” he said.

“People don’t really need to replace 100 percent of their income on the glide path to full retirement,” said Martha Deevy, a senior research scholar and director at the Stanford Center on Longevity. “What they want is different from what they wanted when they were raising families and building assets.”

Steven Ekstedt, 57, is working for Xanterra as a waiter at the Grand Canyon this season. He has worked in a different national park each of the last four summers. Mr. Ekstedt, a former chief financial officer of Accuchex, a payroll management company in Novato, Calif., said, “I don’t want to go back to a career working behind a desk five days a week.” He added, “Dealing with people all over the country and the world and being able to help is great fun.”

Ahead of his travels, he sold his condominium in suburban San Francisco and purchased a 32-foot recreational vehicle. He pays $100 a month for his parking space and utilities at the Grand Canyon; the cost is deducted from his paycheck.

To keep busy and to avoid dipping into his savings during the off-season and between jobs, he said he took a retail job one holiday season and also returned briefly to his former employer.

But experts differ on their views of seasonal work. “The part-time hours are flexible from an employer’s perspective, not an employee’s,” said Norman P. Stein, a law professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

And while there may be an opportunity cost of a shift from full- to part-time employment, Nicole Maestas, senior economist at the RAND Corporation, said that lower-paying jobs that offer other benefits could be more appealing.

For Mary Ann Crotty, 71, those benefits include flexible scheduling and access to cultural events. As part of an Art Institute of Chicago program for temporary employees, Ms. Crotty assists with office duties and special projects.

While many colleagues have backgrounds in art history, Ms. Crotty, who also owns an antiques business, has experience in database conversions and accounting. “They’ve given me a lot of freedom and a lot of responsibility,” she said. The pay range for the position is $13 to $17 an hour. She works no more than 30 hours a week.

She has latitude to schedule a month away every year. Although she’s been a temporary worker for nearly a decade, Ms. Crotty plans to continue. Last year the museum renewed her badge for five years.


Sixteen-foot swells reported in once frozen region of Arctic Ocean

By Fred Barbash, Washington Post, July 30, 2014

Big waves like those fit for surfing are not what we think of when contemplating the Arctic Ocean. The water is ice-covered most of the time—and it takes large expanses of open sea plus wind to produce mighty surf.

So the fact that researchers have now measured swells of more than 16 feet in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea, just north of Alaska, is a bit of a stunner. Swells of that size, researchers say, have the potential to break up Arctic ice even faster than the melt underway there for decades thanks to rapid global warming.

The wave measurements, using sensors beneath the surface communicating via satellite, were recorded by Jim Thomson of the University of Washington and W. Erick Rogers of the Naval Research Laboratory in 2012 and reported in an article in Geophysical Research Letters this year.

Sixteen feet was the average during a peak period, Thomson said in an email. “The largest single wave was probably” 9 meters, or about 29 feet, he said. The average over the entire 2012 season was 3 to 6 feet.

The distances of open water change “dramatically throughout the summer season, from essentially zero in April to well over 1000 km in September,” they reported. “In recent years, the seasonal ice retreat has expanded dramatically, leaving much of the Beaufort Sea ice free at the end of the summer.”

Because swells carry more energy, they reported, they will likely increase the pace of ice breakup in the region, eventually producing an “ice-free summer, a remarkable departure from historical conditions in the Arctic, with potentially wide-ranging implications for the air-water-ice system and the humans attempting to operate there.”

“Waves could accelerate the ice retreat,” Thomson said in his email from a village on the Arctic, where he was getting ready to deploy some wave buoys. “We don’t have much direct evidence of this, or knowledge of the relative importance compared with melting, but the process is real. We are conducting a large project this summer to answer just that question.”


ManServants

BY T.L. Stanley, Mashable, July 29, 2014

This guy is so handsome he turns heads and so chivalrous he acts as a human shield between you and life’s harsh realities. He doesn’t mind the silly pet names you call him, and he never complains about anything. The words, “As you wish,” fall trippingly off his tongue, and he compliments you like clockwork every 15 minutes.

Is this the world’s most perfect boyfriend?

Oh heavens no, honey. You’ll have to pay for this dude. And, basically, he’s a rental.

A startup in San Francisco called ManServants aims to give every woman exactly what she wants: a man who does exactly what she wants. The company, founded by two advertising copywriters, wants to unleash your inner lady of leisure by providing you with a gentlemanly tailored-to-order mashup of butler, bodyguard and cabana boy.

But this is not—repeat, not—an escort service.

“It’s completely PG,” said co-founder Dalal Khajah, who works at ad agency AKQA. “We have a very strict code of conduct and a very rigorous training process.”

Among the written rules for ManServants: “A ManServant keeps his penis in his pants and out of the lady’s face.” In other words, minds out of the gutter, everyone.

ManServants, which has been in beta test for months, launches in the fall. The idea for ManServants sprung, partly, from a colleague who insisted that her bachelorette party be male stripper-free. Khajah and Wai Lin said they never understood where that modern tradition came from anyway, since so many women think it’s awkward and unsexy.

Instead, they envisioned a service that would send a pressed and polished man to do a woman’s bidding at such an event, serving drinks, cleaning up, making witty small talk and fawning over the guest of honor. All without a tear-away shirt in sight.

ManServants may also become personal assistants/errand boys, if that’s what the customer wants, because, as Wai Lin points out, “every woman’s fantasy is different.” During testing, for instance, one woman asked for a sassy gay best friend who could give her pointers to spice up her marriage. Another wanted a bodyguard at her office to screen all her visitors.

And yet another wanted to be served food while the ManServant sang tunes from The Little Mermaid.” (Songs will cost extra, according to the company’s website).

The service isn’t intended to compete with existing Rent-a-Hubby and other handyman-for-hire companies, she said, but rather fill a void where no entrepreneurs have yet gone.

“It’s kind of our dream to annihilate the male stripper industry,” Khajah said, “but really we just want to flip the script and provide another option.”


Yes, It Could Happen Again

Roger Cohen, The Atlantic, Jul 29 2014

Pessimism is a useful prism through which to view the affairs of states. Their ambition to gain, retain, and project power is never sated. Optimism, toward which Americans are generally inclined, leads to rash predictions of history’s ending in global consensus and the banishment of war. Such rosy views accompanied the end of the Cold War. They were also much in evidence a century ago, on the eve of World War I.

Then, as now, Europe had lived through a long period of relative peace, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Then, too, rapid progress in science, technology, and communications had given humanity a sense of shared interests that precluded war, despite the ominous naval competition between Britain and Germany. Then, too, wealthy individuals devoted their fortunes to conciliation and greater human understanding. Rival powers fumed over provocative annexations, like Austria-Hungary’s of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908, but world leaders scarcely believed a global conflagration was possible, let alone that one would begin just six years later. The very monarchs who would consign tens of millions to a murderous morass from 1914 to 1918 and bury four empires believed they were clever enough to finesse the worst.

The unimaginable can occur. That is a notion at once banal and perennially useful to recall. Indeed, it has just happened in Crimea, where a major power has forcefully changed a European border for the first time since 1945.

When a 19-year-old Bosnian Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo, on June 28, 1914, he acted to secure Serbia’s liberty from imperial dominion. He could not have known that within weeks, Austria-Hungary would declare war on Serbia, goading Russia (humiliated in war a decade earlier by Japan) to mobilize in defense of its Slavic ally, which caused the Kaiser’s ascendant Germany to launch a preemptive attack on Russia’s ally France, in turn prompting Britain to declare war on Germany.

Events cascade. It is already clear that the nationalist fervor unleashed by Putin after a quarter century of Russia’s perceived post–Cold War decline is far from exhausted. Russians are sure that the dignity of their nation has been trampled by an American and European strategic advance to their border dressed up in talk of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Whether this is true is irrelevant; they believe it. National humiliation, real or not, is a tremendous catalyst for war. That was the case in Germany after the Treaty of Versailles imposed reparations and territorial concessions; so, too, in Serbia more than 70 years later, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, a country Serbia had always viewed as an extension of itself. The Moscow-backed separatists taking over government buildings in eastern Ukraine and proclaiming an independent “Donetsk People’s Republic” demonstrate the virulence of Russian irredentism. Nobody can know where it will stop. Appetite, as the French say, grows with eating.

Let us indulge in dark imaginings, then, in the cause of prudence. Here is one possible scenario: Clashes intensify between Ukrainian government forces and paramilitary formations organized by Russian fifth columnists. The death toll rises. The ongoing NATO dispatch of troops and F-16s to Poland and the Baltic states, designed as a deterrence, redoubles anger in Russia. The American president, saying his war-weary country will not seek conflict, imposes sanctions on the entire Russian oil-and-gas sector. European states dependent on Russian energy grumble; a former German chancellor working in natural gas says his country’s interests lie with Moscow. Then, say, an independence movement of the Russian minority gains momentum in Estonia, backed with plausible deniability by Moscow’s agents, and announces support for the Donetsk People’s Republic. A wave of cyberattacks disables Estonian government facilities, and an Estonian big shot calls the Russian leader an “imperialist troglodyte trapped in a zero-sum game.” After an assassination attempt on the Estonian foreign minister at a rally in the capital, calls grow louder for the American president to invoke Article 5. He insists that “drawing red lines in the 21st century is not a useful exercise.”

Let us further imagine that shortly after the president delivers his speech, in a mysterious coincidence, a Chinese ship runs aground on one of the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, administered by Japan, in the East China Sea. China dispatches a small force to what it calls the Diaoyu Islands “as a protective measure.” Japan sends four destroyers to evict the Chinese and reminds the American president that he has said the islands, located near undersea oil reserves, “fall within the scope” of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. A Republican senator, echoing the bellicose mood in Washington, declares that “Estonia is more than a couple of rocks in the East China Sea” and demands to know whether “the United States has torn up the treaty alliances in Europe and Asia that have been the foundation of global security since 1945.” The president gives China an ultimatum to leave the Japanese islands or face a military response. He also tells Russia that another act of secessionist violence in Estonia will trigger NATO force against Russian troops massed on the Estonian border. Both warnings are ignored. Chinese and Russian leaders accuse the United States of “prolonging Cold War hostilities and alliances in pursuit of global domination.” World War III begins.

It could not happen; of course it couldn’t. Peace, if not outright pacifism, is now bred in the bones of Europeans, who contemplate war with revulsion. Europe is politically and economically integrated. America, after two wars without victory, is in a period of retrenchment that may last a generation. Wars no longer happen between big land armies; they are the stuff of pinpoint strikes by unpiloted drones against jihadist extremists. Putin’s Russia is opportunistic but it is not reckless in countries under NATO protection. China, with its watchword of “Harmony,” is focused on its own rising success and understands the usefulness of the United States as an offsetting Pacific power able to reassure anxious neighbors like Japan and Vietnam. For the time being, Beijing will not seek to impose its own version of the Monroe Doctrine. It will hold nationalism in check even as the Asian naval arms race accelerates. Unlike in 1914 or 1939, the presence of large American garrisons in Europe and Asia sustains a tenacious Pax Americana. The United Nations, for all its cumbersome failings, serves as the guarantor of last resort against another descent into horror. The specter of nuclear holocaust is the ultimate deterrent for a hyperconnected world. Citizens everywhere now have the tools to raise a cacophony in real time against the sort of folly that, in World War I, produced the deaths of so many unidentifiable young men “known unto God,” in Kipling’s immortal phrasing.

Convincing? It would certainly be nice to believe that, as President Clinton suggested in 1997, great-power territorial politics are a thing of the past. A new era had dawned, he said, in which “enlightened self-interest, as well as shared values, will compel countries to define their greatness in more-constructive ways.” In fact, the realization that the Russian bear can bite as well as growl is timely. It is a reminder that a multipolar world in a time of transition, when popular resentments are rising over joblessness and inequality, is a dangerous place indeed.

The international system does not look particularly stable. The Cold War’s bipolar confrontation, despite its crises, was predictable. Today’s world is not.


Federal review stalled after finding forensic errors by FBI lab unit spanned two decades

By Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, July 29, 2014

Nearly every criminal case reviewed by the FBI and the Justice Department as part of a massive investigation started in 2012 of problems at the FBI lab has included flawed forensic testimony from the agency, government officials said.

The findings troubled the bureau, and it stopped the review of convictions last August. Case reviews resumed this month at the order of the Justice Department, the officials said.

U.S. officials began the inquiry after The Washington Post reported two years ago that flawed forensic evidence involving microscopic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people. Most of those defendants never were told of the problems in their cases.

The inquiry includes 2,600 convictions and 45 death-row cases from the 1980s and 1990s in which the FBI’s hair and fiber unit reported a match to a crime-scene sample before DNA testing of hair became common. The FBI had reviewed about 160 cases before it stopped, officials said.

The investigation resumed after the Justice Department’s inspector general excoriated the department and the FBI for unacceptable delays and inadequate investigation in a separate inquiry from the mid-1990s. The inspector general found in that probe that three defendants were executed and a fourth died on death row in the five years it took officials to reexamine 60 death-row convictions that were potentially tainted by agent misconduct, mostly involving the same FBI hair and fiber analysis unit now under scrutiny.

“I don’t know whether history is repeating itself, but clearly the [latest] report doesn’t give anyone a sense of confidence that the work of the examiners whose conduct was first publicly questioned in 1997 was reviewed as diligently and promptly as it needed to be,” said Michael R. Bromwich, who was inspector general from 1994 to 1999 and is now a partner at the Goodwin Procter law firm.

Bromwich would not discuss any aspect of the current review because he is a pro bono adviser to the Innocence Project, which along with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is assisting the government effort under an agreement not to talk about the review. Still, he added, “Now we are left 18 years [later] with a very unhappy, unsatisfying and disquieting situation, which is far harder to remedy than if the problems had been addressed promptly.”

Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole this month ordered that reviews resume under the original terms, officials said.

Revelations that the government’s largest post-conviction review of forensic evidence has found widespread problems counter earlier FBI claims that a single rogue examiner was at fault. Instead, they feed a growing debate over how the U.S. justice system addresses systematic weaknesses in past forensic testimony and methods.

“I see this as a tip-of-the-iceberg problem,” said Erin Murphy, a New York University law professor and expert on modern scientific evidence.

“It’s not as though this is one bad apple or even that this is one bad-apple discipline,” she said. “There is a long list of disciplines that have exhibited problems, where if you opened up cases you’d see the same kinds of overstated claims and unfounded statements.”

According to a Justice Department spokesman, officials last August completed reviews and notified a first wave of defendants in 23 cases, including 14 death-penalty cases, that FBI examiners “exceeded the limits of science” when they linked hair to crime-scene evidence.

However, concerned that errors were found in the “vast majority” of cases, the FBI restarted the review, grinding the process to a halt, said a government official who was briefed on the process. The Justice Department objected in January, but a standoff went unresolved until this month.

After more than two years, the review will have addressed about 10 percent of the 2,600 questioned convictions and perhaps two-thirds of questioned death-row cases.


Argentina in denial over debt dispute

By Robert Plummer, BBC News, 30 July 2014

Right from the start, the Argentine government’s attitude to its debt dispute with US hedge funds has made it all but inevitable that the country will fail to reach a compromise.

“We’re not going to default, they’ll have to invent a new term to define what’s happening,” said President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner last week, deep in denial, as the deadline loomed for the country to meet its obligation to the so-called “vulture funds”.

Thanks to a US court decision, Argentina is required to pay $1.3bn (£766m) to investors who bought its bonds at a big discount after its economic meltdown and previous default in 2001-02.

It failed to do so by 30 June and a 30-day grace period is now set to expire.

But the government has been resisting this course of action, because it fears that this could lead to the unravelling of other debt deals that it struck with most of its creditors.

As a result, a second default is now in prospect, and the outcome could be painful for an economy that is already in recession.

Last time around, Argentina was left unable to repay or service more than $100bn of debt. The resulting default meant that it has not been able to borrow further money on the international markets since then.

Two successive restructuring deals, in 2005 and 2010, covered the overwhelming majority of bondholders, who agreed to accept about one-third of what they were originally owed.

However, hedge funds NML and Aurelius Capital Management snapped up a large chunk of the remaining distressed debt at low prices and are now pressing to be paid the full face value of their holding.

Their case against the Argentine government has been trundling through the US judicial system for some time. But Buenos Aires didn’t expect the crunch to come so soon.

President Fernandez’s government fully expected the dispute to go all the way to the US Supreme Court, which would have bought the country more time.

But in June, the Supreme Court declined to hear Argentina’s appeal against the decision of a lower court that made it liable for the money.

Under that court’s ruling, Argentina cannot use the US financial system to keep paying the restructured bondholders unless it also pays the “vulture funds”.

And there are other hold-outs from the previous restructuring deals who could now follow the hedge funds’ example and press for the full face value of their bonds.

Argentina would like to spin out the negotiations with the “vulture funds” until 2015, when the clause will no longer apply.

But the US courts have refused to comply, seeing the restriction as one of Argentina’s own making that could be circumnavigated if the government wanted to.

And after all, why should the Argentine government put itself out? As Capital Economics emerging markets economist David Rees points out, any default will have a “negligible” direct impact on it.

“The authorities are already locked out of international markets and will remain so,” he says.

“But default is likely to have negative consequences for the wider economy in two ways,” he adds.

“First, it is likely to cause interest rates on corporate debt to increase, which may deter investment and hamper activity in the private sector.

“Second, default may spur some capital outflows, exacerbating a shortage of hard currency and putting renewed pressure on foreign exchange reserves and the peso.”

That hard currency shortage is reaching a critical point. The amount of foreign exchange held by the central bank fell by 30% last year and is now less than $30bn (£18bn)—the lowest level since 2006.

As well as allowing Argentina to service its debts, that money is also needed to finance imports. Capital outflows would also do further harm to an economy that is expected to contract by 1% this year.

Undeterred by all this, President Fernandez is ploughing on in her usual combative style. But Argentina’s woes are testing her leadership style to the limit, while economic and political analysts are already hoping that the end of her mandate in October 2015 will usher in an era of renewal after the next presidential election.


Elegant Louvre Garden in Paris infested with rats

By Louise Dewast, AP, Jul 29, 2014

PARIS (AP)—Rats are on the rampage in the elegant garden of the Louvre Museum, so bold they romp on the grass in broad daylight, defying death threats from sanitation workers and scaring tourists.

The hot weather in Paris has brought many picnicking visitors to the garden, whose garbage is a feast for the rats. And they’re getting help from animal lovers who dig up poison and feed them water.

The vermin are finding a lifeline from “people who don’t want us to kill animals,” said Jean-Claude Ndzana Ekani, a museum employee who was working Tuesday with technicians from an extermination company,

The lush area which extends into the Tuileries Gardens gives a rat plenty of places to hide, but still the critters scamper about openly, unfazed by people strolling about.

The Louvre, which owns the garden, has been trying to combat the rat problem for months but clearly hasn’t succeeded. In May, sanitation officials and exterminators decided to embark on an all-out offensive: “A decision was made to do a shock operation,” Ndzana Ekani said. Workers, acting methodically, were seen Tuesday pouring poison down the rat holes.

It hasn’t helped.

“I see about 10 or 15 (rats) every day,” said Traore Massamba, 25, a maintenance worker. “There are a lot of people who come here to picnic and they leave their leftovers, so I think that attracts them.”

Dutch tourist Evelyne Delemarre, 31, let out a scream after seeing a rat scamper by.

Rodents have long made Paris their home. In 2000, mice were caught picnicking on the delicate pastries in the window of the luxury shop Fauchon. To the west of the capital, moles are an ever-present problem at the Palace of Versailles—which has its own mole-catcher.


Ransoming Citizens, Europe Becomes Al Qaeda’s Patron

By Rukmini Callimachi, NY Times, July 29, 2014

BAMAKO, Mali—The cash filled three suitcases: 5 million euros.

The German official charged with delivering this cargo arrived here aboard a nearly empty military plane and was whisked away to a secret meeting with the president of Mali, who had offered Europe a face-saving solution to a vexing problem.

Officially, Germany had budgeted the money as humanitarian aid for the poor, landlocked nation of Mali.

In truth, all sides understood that the cash was bound for an obscure group of Islamic extremists who were holding 32 European hostages, according to six senior diplomats directly involved in the exchange.

The suitcases were loaded onto pickup trucks and driven hundreds of miles north into the Sahara, where the bearded fighters, who would soon become an official arm of Al Qaeda, counted the money on a blanket thrown on the sand. The 2003 episode was a learning experience for both sides. Eleven years later, the handoff in Bamako has become a well-rehearsed ritual, one of dozens of such transactions repeated all over the world.

Kidnapping Europeans for ransom has become a global business for Al Qaeda, bankrolling its operations across the globe.

While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have earned at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just in the past year.

In various news releases and statements, the United States Treasury Department has cited ransom amounts that, taken together, put the total at around $165 million over the same period.

These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funnel the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid, according to interviews conducted for this article with former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The inner workings of the kidnapping business were also revealed in thousands of pages of internal Qaeda documents found by this reporter while on assignment for The Associated Press in northern Mali last year.

In its early years Al Qaeda received most of its money from deep-pocketed donors, but counterterrorism officials now believe the group finances the bulk of its recruitment, training and arms purchases from ransoms paid to free Europeans.

Put more bluntly, Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter of Al Qaeda.

The foreign ministries of France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Germany denied in emails or telephone interviews that they had paid the terrorists.

Several senior diplomats involved in past negotiations have described the decision to ransom their citizens as an agonizing calculation: accede to the terrorists’ demand, or allow innocent people to be killed, often in a gruesome, public way?

Yet the fact that Europe and its intermediaries continue to pay has set off a vicious cycle.

“Kidnapping for ransom has become today’s most significant source of terrorist financing,” said David S. Cohen, the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a 2012 speech. “Each transaction encourages another transaction.”

And business is booming: While in 2003 the kidnappers received around $200,000 per hostage, now they are netting up to $10 million, money that the second in command of Al Qaeda’s central leadership recently described as accounting for as much as half of his operating revenue.

“Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil,” wrote Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, “which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure.”

The stream of income generated is so significant that internal documents show that as long as five years ago, Al Qaeda’s central command in Pakistan was overseeing negotiations for hostages grabbed as far afield as Africa. Moreover, the accounts of survivors held thousands of miles apart show that the three main affiliates of the terrorist group—Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in northern Africa; Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen; and the Shabab, in Somalia—are coordinating their efforts, and abiding by a common kidnapping protocol.

To minimize the risk to their fighters, the terror affiliates have outsourced the seizing of hostages to criminal groups who work on commission. Negotiators take a reported 10 percent of the ransom, creating an incentive on both sides of the Mediterranean to increase the overall payout, according to former hostages and senior counterterrorism officials.

Their business plan includes a step-by-step process for negotiating, starting with long periods of silence aimed at creating panic back home. Hostages are then shown on videos begging their government to negotiate.

Although the kidnappers threaten to kill their victims, a review of the known cases revealed that only a small percentage of hostages held by Qaeda’s affiliates have been executed in the past five years, a marked turnaround from a decade ago, when videos showing beheadings of foreigners held by the group’s franchise in Iraq would regularly turn up online. Now the group has realized it can advance the cause of jihad by keeping hostages alive and trading them for prisoners and suitcases of cash.

Only a handful of countries have resisted paying, led by the United States and Britain. Although both these countries have negotiated with extremist groups—evidenced most recently by the United States’ trade of Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl—they have drawn the line when it comes to ransoms.

It is a decision that has had dire consequences. While dozens of Europeans have been released unharmed, few American or British nationals have gotten out alive. A lucky few ran away, or were rescued by special forces. The rest were executed or are being held indefinitely.

On Feb. 23, 2003, a group of four Swiss tourists, including two 19-year-old women, woke up in their sleeping bags in southern Algeria to the shouts of armed men. The men told the young women to cover their hair with towels, then commandeered their camper van and took off with them.

Over the coming weeks, another seven tour groups traveling in the same corner of the desert vanished. European governments scrambled to find their missing citizens.

Weeks passed before a German reconnaissance plane sent to scan the desert floor returned with images of their abandoned vehicles. More weeks passed before a scout sent on foot spotted something white through his binoculars.

It was a letter left under a rock.

In messy handwriting, it laid out the demands of a little-known jihadist group calling itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.

Armed with a few hunting rifles and old AK-47s, the kidnappers succeeded in sweeping up dozens of tourists over several consecutive weeks, mostly from Germany, but also from Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Holland. Though they planned the first few ambushes, they appear to have grabbed others by chance, like a pair of hapless 26-year-olds from Innsbruck, Austria, who were spotted because of the campfire they had lit to cook spaghetti.

Beyond the initial grab, the kidnappers did not seem to have a plan. The only food they had was the canned goods the tourists had brought with them. The only fuel was what was in each gas tank. They abandoned the cars one by one as they ran out of fuel, forcing their hostages to continue on foot.

A 47-year-old Swedish hostage, Harald Ickler, remembers being so hungry that when he found a few leftover Danish butter cookie crumbs, he carefully scooped them into the palm of his hand, and then let them melt in his mouth.

“Once they had us, they didn’t seem to know what to do with us,” said Reto Walther of Untersiggenthal, Switzerland, who was in one of the first groups to be grabbed. “They were improvising.”

Despite the amateur nature of the operation, the jihadists had hit a soft spot. Almost none of their hostages had resisted, simply putting up their hands when they saw the gunmen. And although the Europeans outnumbered their captors, the hostages never tried to run away during what turned into a six-month captivity for some of them, and described the foreboding desert surrounding them as an “open-air prison.”

Crucially, although the European nations had firepower superior to that of the scrappy mujahedeen, they deemed a rescue mission too dangerous.

The jihadists asked for weapons. Then for impossible-to-meet political demands, like the removal of the Algerian government. When a 45-year-old German woman died of dehydration, panicked European officials began considering a ransom concealed as an aid payment as the least-bad option.

“The Americans told us over and over not to pay a ransom. And we said to them, ‘We don’t want to pay. But we can’t lose our people,’” said a European ambassador posted in Algeria at the time, who was one of six senior Western officials with direct knowledge of the 2003 kidnapping who confirmed details for this article. All spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information remains classified.

“It was a very difficult situation,” he said, “but in the end we are talking about human life.”

The exploits of the band of fighters in the Sahara did not go unnoticed.

A year later, in 2004, a Qaeda operative, Abdelaziz al-Muqrin, published a how-to guide to kidnapping, in which he highlighted the successful ransom negotiation of “our brothers in Algeria.” Yet at the same time, he also praised the execution of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was grabbed in Pakistan in 2002 and beheaded nine days later by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a senior Qaeda member believed to be one of the architects of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Within a few years, there was a split within Al Qaeda, with the group’s affiliate in Iraq grabbing foreigners specifically to kill them.

In Algeria, the kidnappers of the European tourists followed a different path.

They used the €5 million as the seed money for their movement, recruiting and training fighters who staged a series of devastating attacks. They grew into a regional force and were accepted as an official branch of the Qaeda network, which baptized them Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. As kidnapping revenue became their main lifeline, they honed and perfected the process.

By Feb. 2, 2011, when their lookouts in southern Algeria spotted a 53-year-old Italian tourist, Mariasandra Mariani, admiring the rolling dunes through a pair of binoculars, they were running a sleek operation.

Her tour guide was the first to spot them, and screamed at her to run. As their cars sped toward her, she sprinted to her nearby desert bungalow and locked herself inside. She could do nothing but sit frozen on the mattress as they broke down the door. They threw her in a waiting car, handcuffing her to the dashboard. Before they sped off, they made sure to place a rolled up blanket next to her, so that the jihadist sitting next to her would not accidentally make contact with a woman.

“Who are you?” she asked them.

“We are Al Qaeda,” they replied.

If previous kidnapping missions did not seem to have a thought-out plan, the gunmen who seized Ms. Mariani drove for days on what appeared to be a clearly delineated route. Whenever they were low on fuel, they would make their way to a spot that to her looked no different in the otherwise identical lunar landscape.

Under a thorn bush, they would find a drum full of gasoline. Or a stack of tires to replace a punctured one. They never ran out of food.

Ms. Mariani would later learn they had an infrastructure of supplies buried in the sand and marked with GPS coordinates.

One afternoon they stopped just above the lip of a dune. The fighters got down and unfastened a shovel. Then she heard the sound of a car engine. Suddenly a pickup truck roared out. They had buried an entire vehicle in the mountain of sand.

“It was then that I realized, these aren’t just normal criminals,” said Ms. Mariani.

Weeks passed before Ms. Mariani’s captors announced that they were going to allow her to make a phone call. They drove for hours until they reached a plateau, a flat white pan of dirt.

Years earlier, their strategy for broadcasting their demands had been to leave a letter under a rock. Now they had satellite phones and a list of numbers. They handed her a script and dialed the number for Al Jazeera.

“My name is Mariasandra Mariani. I am the Italian who was kidnapped,” she said. “I am still being detained by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”

The Italian government scrambled to create a crisis unit, including a 24-hour hotline for the kidnappers.

During her 14-month captivity, whenever the kidnappers felt that attention had flagged, they erected a tent in the desert and forced Ms. Mariani to record a video message, showing her surrounded by her armed captors.

A total of 11 former hostages grabbed by Qaeda units in Algeria, Mali, Niger, Yemen and Syria who agreed to be interviewed for this article reported a similar set of steps in the negotiations, beginning with an imposed period of silence. Video messages and telephone calls were infrequent, often months apart. The silence appeared purposeful, intended to terrorize the families of the captives, who in turn pressured their respective governments.

In the Italian village of San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Ms. Mariani’s 80-year-old mother stopped sleeping in her bedroom, moving permanently to the couch in front of the TV. Her aging father would burst into tears for no reason. In France, the frantic brother of a hostage held for a year in Syria developed an ulcer.

All over Europe, families rallied, pressuring governments to pay. Ms. Mariani was ultimately released, along with two Spanish hostages, for a ransom that a negotiator involved in her case said was close to €8 million.

The bulk of the kidnappings-for-ransom carried out in Al Qaeda’s name have occurred in Africa, and more recently in Yemen and Syria. These regions are thousands of miles from the terror network’s central command in Pakistan. Yet audio messages released by the group, as well as confidential letters between commanders, indicate the organization’s senior leaders are directly involved in the negotiations.

As early as 2008, a commander holding two Canadian diplomats angered his leaders by negotiating a ransom on his own. In a letter discovered by this reporter while on assignment for The A.P. in Mali last year, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb blamed the commander, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, for securing only the “meager sum” of €700,000—around $1 million—saying the low amount was a result of his unwillingness to follow the instructions of their leadership in Pakistan.

In the dozens of kidnappings that Al Qaeda has carried out, the threat of execution has hung over each hostage, reinforced in videos showing the victim next to armed and menacing jihadist guards. In fact, only a minority of hostages—just 15 percent, according to an analysis by The Times—have been executed or have died since 2008, several of them in botched rescue operations.

The potential income hostages represent has made them too valuable to the movement. In a 2012 letter to his fellow jihadists in Africa, the man who was once Bin Laden’s personal secretary and who is now the second in command of Al Qaeda, wrote that at least half of his budget in Yemen was funded by ransoms.

“Thanks to Allah, most of the battle costs, if not all, were paid from through the spoils,” wrote Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “Almost half the spoils came from hostages.”

Mr. Kaleva realized his captors did not intend to kill him when he became ill with what he feared was a giardia infection, and his worried kidnappers immediately brought him medicine.

When Ms. Mariani fell ill from violent dysentery in the burning sands of the Malian desert, a jihadist doctor hooked her up to an IV, nursing her back to health.

Elsewhere in the Sahara, the jihadists trucked in specialized medication for a 62-year-old Frenchwoman who had breast cancer.

“It was clear to us,” said Mr. Kaleva, “that we are more valuable to them alive than dead.”

But hostages from countries that do not pay ransoms face a harsh fate.

In 2009, four tourists were returning to Niger from a music festival in Mali when kidnappers overtook their cars, shooting out their tires. The hostages included a German woman, a Swiss couple and a British man, Edwin Dyer, 61.

From the start of the negotiations, the British government made clear it would not pay for Mr. Dyer’s release. Al Qaeda’s North African branch issued a deadline, then a 15-day extension.

“The British wanted me to send a message saying one last time that they wouldn’t pay,” said a negotiator in Burkina Faso, who acted as the go-between. “I warned them, ‘Don’t do this.’ They sent the message anyway.”

Sometime after, the public information office of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb published a communiqué: “On Sunday, May 31, 2009, at half past seven p.m. local time, the British captive, Edwin Dyer, was killed,” it said. “It seems Britain gives little importance to its citizens.”

The Swiss and German nationals held alongside Mr. Dyer were released after a reported ransom of €8 million was paid, according to one of the Swiss negotiators who helped win their release. The same year, lawmakers in Bern voted on a national budget that “suddenly had an extra line for humanitarian aid for Mali,” said the official.

In England, Mr. Dyer’s grieving brother, Hans, said his brother’s citizenship cost him his life.

“A U.K. passport is essentially a death certificate,” he said.

Negotiators believe that the Qaeda branches have now determined which governments pay.

Of the 53 hostages known to have been taken by Qaeda’s official branches in the past five years, a third were French. And small nations like Austria, Switzerland and Spain, which do not have large expatriate communities in the countries where the kidnappings occur, account for over 20 percent of the victims.

By contrast, only three Americans are known to have been kidnapped by Al Qaeda or its direct affiliates, representing just 5 percent of the total.

“For me, it’s obvious that Al Qaeda is targeting them by nationality,” said Jean-Paul Rouiller, the director of the Geneva Center for Training and Analysis of Terrorism, who helped set up Switzerland’s counterterrorism program. “Hostages are an investment, and you are not going to invest unless you are pretty sure of a payout.”

Western countries have signed numerous agreements calling for an end to ransom paying, including as recently as last year at a G8 summit, where some of the biggest ransom payers in Europe signed a declaration agreeing to stamp out the practice. Yet according to hostages released this year and veteran negotiators, governments in Europe—especially France, Spain and Switzerland—continue to be responsible for some of the largest payments, including a ransom of €30 million —about $40 million—paid last fall to free four Frenchmen held in Mali.

A presidential adviser in Burkina Faso who has helped secure the release of several of the Westerners held in the Sahara said he routinely deals with aggressive Western diplomats who demand the release of Qaeda fighters held in local prisons in an effort to win the release of their hostages, often one of the additional demands kidnappers make.

“You would not believe the pressure that the West brings to bear on African countries,” he said. “It’s you—the West—who is their lifeblood,” he said. “It’s you who finances them.”

The suitcases of cash are now no longer dropped off in the capital of the respective country, he said.

The official, who would speak only on the condition that his name be withheld for security reasons, went on to describe how the money is transferred. He said European governments send an escort, who travels with the money several hundred miles into the desert until the last safe outpost, usually leaving from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, or Niamey in Niger. The official says the negotiator and his driver then continue driving all day, and sometimes all night, traversing a roller coaster of undulating dunes.

Once the negotiator arrives at the meeting point, he waits until his satellite phone beeps with a text message. In the message is a pair of GPS coordinates.

He drives another five to six hours until he reaches the new address in the sand, and waits for the next text, containing another set of coordinates. The process is repeated a minimum of three times, until the jihadists finally show themselves.

The money is counted on a blanket on which the fighters sit cross-legged, their guns at their sides, the official said. The millions are then divided into stashes, wrapped in plastic and buried in holes hundreds of miles apart, a detail he was able to glean following repeated meetings with the terrorist cell. They mark the location on their GPS, keeping track of it just as they track their buried cars and fuel drums.

The money is written off by European governments as an aid payment, or else delivered through intermediaries, like French nuclear giant Areva, a state-controlled company that a senior negotiator said paid €12.5 million in 2011 and €30 million in 2013 to free five French citizens. (A spokesman for Areva denied in an email that a ransom had been paid.)

Almost a year into her captivity in 2012, Mariasandra Mariani thought she could not take it anymore. Her captors were holding her in a landscape of black granite in northern Mali, which amplified the suffocating heat. When the wind blew, it felt as if someone were holding a blow dryer inches from her skin. She spent all day next to a bucket of water, sponging herself to try to keep cool.

She told her guard that her modest family, which grows olives in the hills above Florence, did not have the money, and that her government refused to pay ransoms. Her captor reassured her.

“Your governments always say they don’t pay,” he told Ms. Mariani. “When you go back, I want you to tell your people that your government does pay. They always pay.”


Senior Guerrilla Leaders Tied to Acts of Persecution After Civil War

By Dan Bilefsky and Somini Sengupta, NY Times, July 29, 2014

PARIS—A special European Union prosecutor said Tuesday that senior members of the Kosovo Liberation Army engaged in a campaign of persecution against ethnic Serbs after the 1998-99 Kosovo war, and said evidence suggested that the armed group had targeted a number of individuals after the war to harvest and sell their organs.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008, almost a decade after NATO bombs helped eject the former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic from Kosovo, ending a brutal civil war against the ethnic Albanian majority. But regional reconciliation has been hampered by accusations that senior members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, known by its initials K.L.A., have not been held fully accountable for suspected war crimes.

A European Union task force was set up in September 2011 under the leadership of Clint Williamson, an American diplomat who served as the war crimes envoy in the administrations of George W. Bush and President Obama. The task force was created after a Council of Europe report accused Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, the former commander of the K.L.A. of having led a “mafialike” group that smuggled human organs, weapons and heroin during and after the war. Mr. Thaci has strenuously rejected those accusations and the Kosovo government at the time called them “despicable.”

While refusing to describe whether Kosovo’s current political leadership was potentially implicated in war crimes, Mr. Williamson said at a news conference on Tuesday in Brussels that the suspects included “individuals at the most senior levels of the K.L.A.”

He said senior officials of the guerrilla group had intentionally targeted minority populations with acts of persecution that included “unlawful killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, illegal detentions in camps in Kosovo and Albania, sexual violence, other forms of inhumane treatment, forced displacements of individuals from their homes and communities, and desecration and destruction of churches and other religious sites.”

Mr. Williamson added that the practice of removing organs for transplant had occurred on a limited scale and that evidence suggested that a “handful” of individuals were killed for the purpose of extracting and trafficking their organs. But he said there was currently insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone for the crimes, adding that the investigation had been tainted by witness intimidation in Kosovo.

He said the persecution resulted in the ethnic cleansing of minority Serb and Roma communities from parts of the country. It also targeted ethnic Albanians who were political enemies of K.L.A. leaders, he said.

Mr. Williamson’s conclusions will most likely be welcomed by Serbia, which has long argued that international justice has unfairly focused on Serbs suspected of war crimes at the expense of those who targeted Serbs during the war and its aftermath.

Mr. Williamson said a special tribunal was expected to be established early next year. The new court is likely to face challenges. Past investigations of reports of organ trafficking in Kosovo have been undermined by witnesses’ fears of testifying in a small country where clan ties run deep and former members of the K.L.A. are still feted as heroes.


Turkish deputy prime minister says women should not laugh out loud

Agence France-Presse, 29 July 2014

One of the most senior members of the Turkish government sparked an outcry on Tuesday, after declaring that women should not laugh loudly in public.

The deputy prime minister, Bülent Arinc, one of the co-founders of the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development party (AKP), made the comment while lamenting the moral decline of modern society.

“A man should be moral but women should be moral as well, they should know what is decent and what is not decent,” Arinc said in a speech on Monday, in the western Bursa region for the Bayram holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

“She should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times,” he added.

Arinc went on to denounce a moral degradation that left society awash with drugs and prostitution, and lashed out at popular Turkish soap operas for encouraging lax lifestyles, in comments quoted throughout the Turkish media and online.

He denounced the excessive use of cars, saying that if even the “river Nile was filled with petrol”, there wouldn’t be enough to go around. Arinc also slammed the excessive use of mobile phones in Turkish society, with women “spending hours on the phone to swap recipes”.

His comments provoked a storm on social media, with political tensions riding high as Erdogan prepares to stand in presidential elections on 10 August.

Erdogan’s main rival in the polls, the mild-mannered former head of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, took to Twitter to poke fun at Arinc. “We need to hear the happy laughter of women,” he wrote.

Anti-Erdogan bloggers responded with even greater anger. One Twitter user, bturkmen, said: “Stop giving us moral lessons and instead count all the money that you have stolen,” referring to corruption allegations against Erdogan and his circle, which surfaced last year.


As Sanctions Pile Up, Russians’ Alarm Grows Over Putin’s Tactics

By Neil MacFarquhar, NY Times, July 29, 2014

MOSCOW—Russia, facing the toughest round of Western sanctions imposed since the Ukraine crisis erupted, has adopted a nonchalant public stance, with President Vladimir V. Putin emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and a new poll released Tuesday indicating a “What, me worry?” attitude among the bulk of the population.

But beneath that calm facade, there is growing alarm in Russia that the festering turmoil in Ukraine and the new round of far more punitive sanctions—announced Tuesday by both European nations and the United States—will have an impact on Russia’s relations with the West for years to come and damage the economy to the extent that ordinary Russians feel it.

Domestically, grumbling over the creeping isolationism has grown louder. Roughly 50 percent of the economy is state-run, and the loyalty of those who direct such companies to Mr. Putin remains absolute. But the rest are changing.

“It is still a very polite version: ‘Maybe something is going wrong,’ “ said Sergei Petrov, an opposition member of Parliament and the founder of Rolf, one of the biggest car importers in Russia. “They would never say it to you, a foreigner, but I hear more and more critics.”

A former finance minister and a close Putin ally, Alexei Kudrin, voiced rare public criticism of Kremlin policy in an interview last week with the state-run news agency ITAR-TASS.

Mr. Kudrin said he was worried that the Ukraine crisis would drive Russia into a “historic confrontation” that would retard the country’s development across the board.

The business community was dismayed by the amount of anti-Western comments on television and radio, he said, indicating a “fundamental” shift that made the West Russia’s adversary again.

“Things are different in business,” he said. “Businessmen want to work, to invest, build factories and develop trade.”

“In my opinion, we face a critical situation today,” Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, an independent polling organization, told a weekend seminar audience. “But our society does not realize it against a backdrop of patriotic and chauvinistic euphoria.”

“The situation began changing dramatically after the crash of the Boeing,” Mr. Gudkov said. “According to our research, reaction inside the country was quite weak, but the Western European public has drastically changed its attitude towards Russia.”


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