If you were in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago you might have noticed the enormous security measures taken for the 46 world leaders who convened for the Nuclear Summit. A huge portion of the city was closed, sidewalks were lined with D.C. police, and streets were regularly blocked off for passing twenty-car motorcades.
South Africa will be in a similar position with the start of the World Cup next month, with 43 leaders already having confirmed their attendance. Turns out though, 43 leaders isn't seen a big problem -- rather, it's the potential of a 44th visitor that has South Africa's police department sweating. And, surprisingly, he happens to be the 44th president of the United States.
Speaking before a cabinet meeting on World Cup security, South Africa's police chief, General Bheki Cele, estimates that a visit by the U.S. president, and the subsequent crowds that would clamor to see him, would double the scale of the security requirements, saying, "that 43 will be equal to this one operation." It would be such a headache that the police chief is "praying" that the U.S. is eliminated after the first stage because of rumors that Obama might visit if the U.S. national team makes it any further.
Here's hoping his prayers aren't heard.
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Ukrainian nationalists are extremely unhappy over what they see as increased Russian influence since the election of Viktor Yanukovych. They showed their displeasure today by engaging in a chaotic "debate" -- using smoke bombs and eggs -- in Ukraine's parliament over Russia's lease of a Black Sea naval base being extended until 2042. Needless to say, this resulted in some entertaining photos and video:
For more on the rowdy Rada, see FP's list of the world's most unruly parliaments.
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Throughout history, supernatural causes have often been used to explain the occurrence of natural disasters. These days, however, religious figures and political pundits seem to be grabbing at straws. Take the following example:
An Iranian cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, was quoted by Iranian media today connecting the frequency of earthquakes with the aggregate modesty of Iranian women's garb. According to Sedighi, flirting with men, wearing a tight shirt or neglecting your head scarf is the principal cause behind tectonic shifts. "Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes." I think he may have just stumbled upon the perfect evil plot for the next James Bond movie.
Then again, he doesn't look so nutty when you compare him to Rush Limbaugh's comment that the volcanic eruption in Iceland is God's reaction to the passage of healthcare reform. On the bright side, now that we know that God punishes Europe for our satanic legislation, we can pass all the reform we like... God sure does work in mysterious ways.
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Raul Castro has made some modest reforms since taking over in July 2006. A few token changes, including the introduction of cell phones, DVD players, microwaves and computers, have been made - but access to these amenities has been prohibitively expensive. New salary incentives were also introduced in 2008, although such moves are not completely new.
All in all, the expected moves towards a market-oriented economy have been lacking. But now there are some small signs that the leadership is planning to liberalize some sectors of its economy. Where will they start, you ask? It might not be where you would expect: barber shops and beauty salons.
According to the measure -- which state run media has not yet announced -- all barbers and hairdressers in small shops will be allowed to charge market prices and pay taxes (15 percent of average revenue) instead of getting a set monthly wage:
Daisy, a hairdresser in an eastern Guantanamo province, told the Reuters news agency that under the old system the government took in 4,920 pesos per month per hairdresser.
Now she will pay the government 738 pesos per month and keep any earnings above that.
‘We have to pay water, electricity and for supplies but it seems like a good idea,' Daisy said.
She said that while the plan did not turn the shops into co-operatives, employees would have to join forces to decorate and maintain the establishments."
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When Justice John Paul Stevens retires this summer he will have served longer than any Supreme Court Justice in history save one -- William O. Douglas. In his decades on the court, Stevens has had a profound influence on several issues -- including one of the central aspects of recent U.S. foreign policy: the "War on Terror".
Stevens has made a couple landmark decisions regarding alledged terrorist detainees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first one, Rasul v. Bush, was decided in 2004. He wrote the majority opinion in the case, finding that foreigners held in Guantanamo Bay are under the jurisdiction of federal courts, saying, "They have never been afforded access to any tribunal, much less charged with and convicted of wrongdoing; and for more than two years they have been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control." This meant that prisoners could now challenge their detainment through legal channels.
Two years later, in 2006, Stevens wrote the majority 5-3 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. The ruling curbed executive power by arguing that the government had to follow U.S. laws and the Geneva conventions when detaining prisoners of war. Moreover, because neither the president nor Congress has the authority to authorize military tribunals when they can be avoided, they are illegal in this case. When speaking about the use of military tribunals, Stevens argued:
The danger posed by international terrorists, while certainly severe, does not by itself justify dispensing with usual procedures.
Because the procedures adopted to try Hamdan do not comply with the uniformity requirement of Article 36(b), we conclude that the commission lacks power to proceed.
For similar reasons, the commission lacks power to proceed under the Geneva Conventions, which are part of the law of war under Article 21 of the UCMJ.
Common Article 3 of those conventions, which we hold applicable to this case, prohibits the passing of sentences without previous judgment by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."
With the legal questions surrounding Gitmo far from settled, Stevens' absence will certainly be felt.
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Google's January investigation into Chinese hacking of over twenty companies and the emails of dozens of human rights activists has highlighted an increasingly potent form of espionage:
"Cyber espionage is the great equalizer. Countries no longer have to spend billions to build globe-spanning satellites to pursue high-level intelligence gathering, when they can do so via the web..."
That is from a joint report released today by the Information Warfare Monitor and Shadowserver Foundation called "Shadows in the Cloud". It details how China-based hackers stole secret documents from the Indian Defense Ministry, the Dalai Lama's offices and the U.N over the past year. Although the report acknowledges no Chinese government link to what they dub the "Shadow Network," the information harvested is unlikely to be of much benefit to individuals. It includes secret assessments of India's security in regions bordering Tibet, Bangladesh and Myanmar; missile systems; information on the domestic Maoist insurgency; and embassy assessments of Indian relations with West Africa, Russia, former Soviet republics and the Middle East.
Reuters neatly summarizes the report's conclusions into how the attackers operated:
"The cyber-spies used popular online services, including Twitter, Google's Google Groups and Yahoo mail, to access infected computers, ultimately directing them to communicate with command and control servers in China"
Although the Chinese government has denied any involvement and made clear that it views hacking as an international crime, it will be interesting to see if it investigates such hacker networks operating from its territory. There is surely enough evidence to do so. On the other hand, it is no secret that the U.S. also hosts a large number of the world' cybercriminals; a recent report from Symantec's Message Labs showed that while the bulk of the world's targetted email attacks (28 percent) originate in China, 14 percent originate in the U.S.
In fact, since the Google-China debacle exploded, grievances in the American media have seemed to focus on freedom of speech and freedom from censorship rather than on issues of espionage. The Indian press also seems somewhat unconcerned -- the report has gotten little attention there and the Chinese government has brushed it off as media hype. It just seems that all parties are resigned to the fact, at least tacitly, that this is the way things work nowadays.
Female homicide bombers are being fitted with exploding breast implants which are almost impossible to detect, British spies have reportedly discovered.
The shocking new Al Qaeda tactic involves radical doctors inserting the explosives in women's breasts during plastic surgery - making them "virtually impossible to detect by the usual airport scanning machines."
It is believed the doctors have been trained at some of Britain's leading teaching hospitals before returning to their own countries to perform the surgical procedures.
MI5 has also discovered that extremists are inserting the explosives into the buttocks of some male bombers.
"Women suicide bombers recruited by Al Qaeda are known to have had the explosives inserted in their breasts under techniques similar to breast enhancing surgery," Terrorist expert Joseph Farah claims.
Now let's just hope the TSA doesn't add new screening measures to protect against ... such threats.
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In September 2009, authorities at an airport in Mangalore arrested two passengers arriving from Dubai with 18 kilograms of contraband hidden in their suitcases. This wouldn't be shocking if they were smuggling drugs, but they weren't. Instead, the passengers were carrying nearly 90,000 dollars worth of saffron. This wasn't an isolated incident either; authorities confiscated 10 kilograms of the stuff at the same airport in July 2009.
Why is saffron (which is the most expensive spice in the world) suddenly being smuggled into India?
Well, it turns out that production in Kashmir, the primary growing area for high-quality Indian saffron, has fallen 85 percent in the last 10 years. Experts are blaming climate change, poor irrigation, and pollution in the region. In response, prices in India have doubled in the past three years. Meanwhile, with Iran and Spain supplying most of the saffron to the world market, global prices have held steady.
Now, the subsequent price gap between India and other countries has led to an opportunity for smugglers to profit; the spice sells for double in India than what it in other markets -- up to $5,000 per kilogram. So, learning from their experience with drugs, gangs operating in India, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are using saffron "mules" to carry shipments in their luggage on international flights. Easier for them to carry than other contraband goods (such as drugs), saffron is not easily detectable -- or probably even screened for -- by customs officials.
Smugglers are also trying to avoid paying hefty export and import taxes, which have only increased potential profit margins. While the Iranian government recently imposed a five percent export tax on bulk shipments of saffron, the Indian government has imposed both an export ban and import taxes to protect the interests of saffron growers in Jammu, Kashmir, and Punjab.
With less risk and such high profit who wouldn't be mad about saffron? Drugs are just so passé.
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