Saudi Arabia court jails Facebook cyber-activists


Press TV file photo

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced seven cyber activists to between five to 10 years in prison for inciting protests, mainly by using Facebook…The men were arrested in September last year, according to Human Rights Watch and their trial began in April.

They were charged with posting online messages to encourage protests, although they were not accused of directly taking part in demonstrations.

It is seen as the country’s latest move against online political dissent…

The longest sentence of 10 years was reportedly given to an activist who set up two Facebook groups allegedly explaining the best protest techniques.

The rights group said the men had all admitted contributing to Facebook pages supporting the leading Shia cleric Tawfiq al-Amer, who was held in February 2011 after calling for a constitutional monarchy.

His arrest provoked anti-government rallies inspired by a wave of popular revolt in the country’s Eastern Region, where much of its crude oil is sourced.

The seven men were sentenced on 24 June for “allegedly inciting protests and harming public order, largely by using Facebook“…

Several of the defendants said they had been tortured into signing confessions, according to HRW.

The case contained two elements that the Saudi authorities are particularly sensitive about, the BBC World Service’s Middle East editor Sebastian Usher reports – political criticism expressed online and protests staged by the Shia minority in the east of the country.

Life in a world full of peace. How peace is achieved – or is it controlled – is another matter. From here, it looks like the peaceable kingdom is working harder than ever to shut down dissent.

Teen sisters made video of dancing in the rain – murdered by relatives for staining “the family honour”

Two teenage sisters have been murdered in Pakistan after they were accused of tarnishing their family’s name by making a video of themselves dancing in the rain.

The girls, aged 15 and 16, are seen running around in traditional dress with two other younger children outside their bungalow in the town of Chilas, in the northern region of Gilgit.

The sisters, named as Noor Basra and Noor Sheza, appear to break into dance and one even flashes a smile at the camera…

Police are investigating whether the attack was arranged by the girls’ step-brother, named as Khutore, who allegedly wanted to ‘restore the family’s honour’…

The sisters’ other brother has filed a case against Khutore and the four other alleged accomplices who are now believed to be on the run.

The girls were shot alongside their mother in their home by five gunmen in the town of Chilas…

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said at least 943 women and girls were murdered in 2011 for allegedly defaming their family’s honour.

Gotta love religious fundamentalism. Yes, they vary according to degree – and point in history. Anyone with a conscience knows that most American lynchings were perpetrated by “Good Christians” – according to their peers.

Meanwhile, I don’t see a whole boatload of reasons for continuing the taxpayer dollars poured into the rathole that is Pakistan’s military and political sewer. Benefits to America’s questionable foreign policy is nil. The fraction that filters through the corrupt bureaucracy is negligible.

Disabled duck getting a 3D-printed foot

Buttercup the duck was born with a strange birth defect. One of the little duckling’s legs faced the wrong direction. To remedy the situation, 3D printing technology has been used to create a prosthetic leg that should allow Buttercup to live a somewhat normal, albeit much more famous, life.

Before resorting to the somewhat drastic option of surgery and a 3D printed prosthesis, Buttercup’s owner tried traditional physical therapy, but this only managed to get his foot to turn partially in the right direction. Because of this, walking was a difficult task.

When therapy failed, Buttercup was sent to Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary in Arlington, TN, USA. Once there, his new owner Mike Garey realized that something had to be done, or the duck would have a miserable life. For one, walking on the side of its foot could lead to infections, which can have serious repercussions.

The deformed foot was removed back in February, and Garey, who is a software engineer, began looking for options for a prosthetic. Sure, the duck could have a peg leg, but he decided he would rather give Buttercup a more natural new foot.

In the end, 3D printing company NovaCopy signed on to give Buttercup a new foot using silicone instead of the rigid plastic typically found in 3D printed objects. After all, a duck foot needs to be able to flex in order to be functional.

The final design is quite interesting. It uses a stretchy silicone sock to hold the new foot in place, without being uncomfortable. It took the team a few iterations and failed designs, but it looks like Buttercup, who is currently moving around on his stump, will receive his new foot very soon.

My kind of useful geek tale.

Questions of agriculture and climate change meet at Cornell

For farmers, a warming climate challenges fundamental decisions they have always made based on the certainty of the weather – such as when to plant various crops, which varieties to choose or what investments in cooling or irrigation infrastructure would make the most economic sense. They will soon have a resource to help them navigate the changes: the Cornell Institute for Climate Change and Agriculture. Allison Morrill Chatrchyan becomes its first director Sept. 1.

“The institute grew out of a very real need to help farmers adapt to the marked changes in our climate that are already underway,” said Mike Hoffmann, director of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station. “Many current agricultural practices are based on long-standing assumptions about temperature and the length of the growing season that are no longer true.”

The institute will act as a clearinghouse for research, climate monitoring, decision‐support tools and applications at the intersection of climate and agriculture. An early step will be developing a website for disseminating and gathering information on farm-level impacts and trends, losses and gains resulting from warming and extreme weather…

Two key functions of the institute will be to foster development of decision-making tools to help farmers know when to invest in changes based on science and sound economics, and to establish collaborations to address issues related to climate change and agriculture…

“Cornell has depth and breadth across a multitude of disciplines involved in climate change and agriculture, including crop and soil science, pest management, earth and atmospheric sciences, plant breeding and genetics, and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future,” said Kathryn Boor…Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Strategic decisions backed by sound science will pay off in the long term for New York farmers.”

Or they could rely on Know-Nothings in Congress for a bailout at taxpayers’ expense after years of ignoring science and putting their trust in 19th Century nutballs.

Given the choice, I’d rather see farmers working with scientists, agronomists and economists who are truly on their side – and offering science-based support.

Latest Snowden release: NSA has been bugging EU offices

The United States has bugged European Union offices and gained access to EU internal computer networks, according to secret documents cited in a German magazine on Saturday, the latest in a series of exposures of alleged U.S. spy programs.

Der Spiegel quoted from a September 2010 “top secret” U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) document that it said fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had taken with him, and the weekly’s journalists had seen in part.

The document outlines how the NSA bugged offices and spied on EU internal computer networks in Washington and at the United Nations, not only listening to conversations and phone calls but also gaining access to documents and emails.

The document explicitly called the EU a “target”

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said that if the report was correct, it would have a “severe impact” on relations between the EU and the United States.

“On behalf of the European Parliament, I demand full clarification and require further information speedily from the U.S. authorities with regard to these allegations,” he said in an emailed statement.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told Der Spiegel: “If these reports are true, it’s disgusting.

Another day in the life and times of transparency in the government of the United States.

US army blocks access to Guardian website to preserve “network hygiene”

The US army has admitted to blocking access to parts of the Guardian website for thousands of defence personnel across the country…A spokesman said the military was filtering out reports and content relating to government surveillance programs to preserve “network hygiene” and prevent any classified material appearing on unclassified parts of its computer systems.

The confirmation follows reports in the Monterey Herald that staff at the Presidio military base south of San Francisco had complained of not being able to access the Guardian’s UK site at all, and had only partial access to the US site, following publication of leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden…

…A spokesman for the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (Netcom) in Arizona confirmed that this was a widespread policy, likely to be affecting hundreds of defence facilities.

“In response to your question about access to the guardian.co.uk website, the army is filtering some access to press coverage and online content about the NSA leaks,” said Gordon Van Vleet, a Netcom public affairs officer.

“The Department of Defense routinely takes preventative ‘network hygiene’ measures to mitigate unauthorized disclosures of classified information onto DoD unclassified networks…”

You have to love government doublethink. They say “We’re not blocking the website. Just the website’s content.”

Not too much different from President Obama’s excuse for the NSA spying on Americans – it’s legal – with no consideration for whether or not it’s ethical, egregious bordering on criminal.

They are so afraid of someone else in the military reflecting upon Edward Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle on our government spying on the entire sentient world. I wonder what else there is to be revealed?

Priest from Vatican Bank busted in plot to smuggle €40 million into Italy from Swiss bank accounts

A senior Catholic cleric with connections to the Vatican bank was arrested on Friday for plotting to help rich friends smuggle tens of millions of euros in cash into Italy from Switzerland, in the latest blow to the Vatican’s image.

Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, 61, who worked as a senior accountant in the Vatican’s financial administration, was arrested along with an Italian secret service agent and a financial intermediary in a tale that reads like a spy novel.

It involves police wiretaps, a private plane rented to collect the cash from Locarno, burned cell phones and an allegedly corrupt secret services agent who promised to get the money past customs.

Details of the case against Scarano will come as an acute embarrassment to Pope Francis, who, since his election in March, has pointedly eschewed many of the trappings of office and sought to stress the importance of a simple life of devotion…

Scarano, who was arrested in a Rome parish and taken to Rome’s Queen of Heaven jail, had hatched a plot to bring up to €40 million into Italy for a family of shipbuilders in his hometown of Salerno in southern Italy, magistrate Nello Rossi told reporters.

Rossi is already investigating the Vatican bank for money laundering, and the latest arrests stemmed from that…

According to Rossi, in July last year Scarano engaged Giovanni Zito, a paramilitary Carabiniere policeman on loan to the secret services, to help him get the money, which was in a Swiss bank, into Italy without tax and customs controls.

The third person arrested was Giovanni Carenzio, a financial broker with offices in Switzerland and the Canary Islands and who was acting as the fiduciary for the owners of the money…

It was not clear how or when the money got to Switzerland in the first place.

Rossi said his office would seek permission from the Vatican, which is a sovereign state, to question officials. “This is just a piece in a much larger mosaic,” he said.

Scarano, who Rossi said had worked for a German bank before he became a priest, was for years a senior accountant for a Vatican department known as APSA, whose official title is the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See…

Seriously, does any of this surprise anyone? Aren’t we beyond the era of naïveté about the Roman Catholic church and corrupt wealth?

RTFA for lots of details. A farce worthy of being made into a comic Italian movie.

Former high-ranking US general under investigation for leaks


General Cartwright and his boss

One of the highest ranking military officers in the US is under investigation for allegedly leaking top secret information about a cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear programme…

NBC news channel reported…that retired General James Cartwright, a former second-highest-ranking officer, was under investigation for leaking information on a covert computer virus, called Stuxnet.

The virus was used in 2010 to temporarily disable 1,000 centrifuges used for enriching uranium by Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Cartwright, who was the number two person in the joint chiefs of staff from 2007 to 2011, was instrumental in the development of Stuxnet, and his role was publicised in a New York Times article published last year.

The article exposed that the virus was the Obama administration’s key weapon against Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.

President Barack Obama responded to the article sternly: “My attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks. These are criminal acts when they release information like this.”

Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington DC, said that there was ongoing speculation about Cartwright’s motive behind the leaks.

“It’s simply a stunning development when you consider that the Obama administration has always said that ‘people who leak are going to be prosecuted if we figure out who they are.'”

Will Cartwright be treated as cruelly as Bradley Manning? Will he be prosecuted for espionage the way Ed Snowden is threatened by scumbags like Dick Cheney and Peter King?

I need a new pair of rubber boots if I’m to wade through Obama’s hypocrisy. So much of his ideology is typical Democrat Cold War crappola. He authorizes a criminal attack on another nation – then, villainizes a participant for leaking the tale.

As much of an historic event was his election, that doesn’t change the fact that the core of his politics remains the same old barely useful and timid pragmatism we’re accustomed to from Democrats since Truman. It’s all we’re allowed by our tired TweedleDeeDumb two old parties.

Freedom to marry returns to California

First marriage SF
Kris Perry and Sandy Stier married by AG Kamala Harris

Same-sex marriages were set to resume in California on Friday, after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a surprise order lifting an injunction preventing the unions.

The order came in response to an opinion released Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court that effectively killed a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages in the state.

Within moments of the ruling, couples, officials and activists began to converge on San Francisco City Hall, where unions were due to resume immediately.

On my way to S.F. City Hall,” tweeted the state’s attorney general, Kamala Harris. “Let the wedding bells ring!”

Harris arrived with her arm around a key lawyer in the case, as the couple at the heart of a case challenging the state’s ban waited eagerly for their marriage license to be issued…

The 9th Circuit had been expected to wait 25 days before lifting the injunction so the Supreme Court would have time to release a formal order. But the judges decided to act instead on Friday, a move that would allow the marriages to begin in advance of Gay Pride weekend.

“The stay in the above matter is dissolved effective immediately,” the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said in its ruling.

Lotta happy people in California, tonight. I imagine a few gay couples from here in Santa Fe may be on their way to San Francisco for the weekend.

Especially since our state’s attorney general is a 2nd or 3rd generation political hack who wouldn’t make waves if he jumped into the bathtub. He wants to be governor so bad he can taste it. And he has the courage and leadership qualities of a blue-tailed skink.