Exclusive: Japan cuts April Iran oil purchases 77 percent: trade
By Osamu Tsukimori LONDON | Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:50am EDT
Japan will slash its crude purchases from Iran by almost 80 percent in April compared to the first two months of the year as buyers comply with Western sanctions, trade sources said.
The cuts, amounting to 250,000 barrels per day, are the steepest yet by the four Asian nations who buy most of Iran's 2.2 million bpd of exports, as tightening sanctions make it tough to pay, ship and insure the oil.
The United States and Europe are trying to squeeze the revenues Iran makes from its oil exports to force it to halt a nuclear program they fear will be used to make weapons but which Tehran says is for power generation.
Japanese buyers will load just 75,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from Iran in April, trade sources said, down 77 percent from the average imports of 322,900 bpd in the first two months of the year. Customs data is not yet available for March.
The sources declined to be identified because they are not authorized to talk to the media.
Japan in January imported 122 million barrels of oil, with Saudi Arabia supplying about 41 million, followed by United Arab Emirates which pumped just over 26 million. Third-largest supplier Iran shipped 10.5 million barrels to Japan that month.
Japan's biggest buyers of Iranian oil, Showa Shell Sekiyu KK and JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp, are likely to load four cargoes amounting to 2.25 million barrels in April, the sources said, with shipments arriving this month and next. Both companies declined to comment.
EU measures ban Europe's insurers, the providers of around 90 percent of the world's tanker insurance, from giving cover to Iranian oil exports anywhere in the world, and Japanese insurers have also imposed their own shipping restrictions.
The EU sanctions on insurance apply to new oil contracts struck since January 23, and to all contracts after July 1. Japan's Iranian oil buyers are in negotiations to renew annual contracts that run from April through March each year.
Last year, at least 10 tankers a month called at Iranian ports to lift oil for Japan. In April, three or four tankers are expected to load, traders said.
Japan and South Korea have lobbied for exemptions to allow them to continue shipping reduced volumes of crude, but insurance and shipping executives say a complete ban now looks likely.
The threat of a cut in Iranian supplies drove oil prices in March to $128 a barrel, their highest level since 2008. Investment bank JP Morgan estimated Iran's output may fall 1 million bpd by the end of June as refiners cut imports.
In the second half of 2011, Japan cut between 15 and 22 percent of its oil imports from Iran, which was enough for the United States to grant it a waiver from sanctions. Refiners and traders have continued to cut their annual contracts.
Sources said top importer Showa Shell had reduced the volume of oil it will import from Iran under an annual deal the company renewed in April. One source said the cuts may range between 15 percent to 20 percent from last year's 100,000 bpd contract, but exact details were not available.
JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp, Japan's biggest oil refiner, has not renewed a contract to buy 10,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude, which expired in March. JX has another contract for 80,000 bpd of crude from Iran, which was renewed in January.
The Japanese crude buyers succeeded in convincing Iran to widen the force majeure clause in the annual contracts to include sanctions. The clause is usually limited to exempting buyers and sellers from liability due to fires, accidents and natural calamities.
"The main issue was getting Iran to agree to the additional force majeure clause," a trader with a North Asian refiner said.
China, Japan and South Korea have together cut imports from Iran by 22 percent, or 279,000 barrels per day (bpd), to 940,000 bpd, in the first two months of the year from a year earlier, according to data compiled by Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Florence Tan in Singapore; Writing by Manash Goswami; editing by Simon Webb and Keiron Henderson)
Rocket technology isn’t the only thing the Stalinist hermit kingdom of North Korea sucks at. It’s not exactly investing in web design, either.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has a Flash-heavy official webpage in English, to instruct the curious about the peculiar ways of its homebrewed “Juche” ideology (“…the masters of the revolution and construction are the masses of the people and that they are also the motive force of the revolution and construction…”). Not a bad look — functional, elegant — and certainly a step up from the GeoCities-esque design of its official news agency.
But, as it turns out, it’s an amateurish look. North Korea’s using a webpage template that costs $15.
Take a look at the source code. A keyword search for “envatowebdesign” will turn up a prompt comment from the site’s theme seller telling the person who bought it how to customize. Only whomever built the thing for Pyongyang didn’t bother. It’s a bit like leaving the plastic overlay on your fancy new TV telling you about the screen size. A quick check on the source code of the IgniteThemes “Blender” template confirms that it’s what North Korea built. Price check? $15.
Not exactly a web presence that screams, “We’re an elite nuclear power that must be respected.” In fact, it took a Fordham University computer science undergrad a couple minutes’ sleuthing to determine the embarrassing origins of the site design.
Michael DiTanna, a junior at Fordham, got an assignment in his Korean history/political science course to browse North Korean official media and analyze its content. He quickly checked out the official webpage — and decided to check under the hood.
“Immediately after visiting the site I noticed the website used some common open source web elements — specifically the main image banner,” DiTanna tells Danger Room. Noticing the “envatowebdesign” marker “gave away the template’s source.” It was a few short steps for him to locate the correct template and note its price. In fact, it took him about 15 minutes — one for each dollar charged for North Korea’s favored template.
“I had to present on this in class and everyone was pretty shocked,” DiTanna says via email.
North Korea’s website may be as amateurish as its consistent inability to boost a satellite into space. But maybe there’s wisdom in North Korea’s online thrift. Pyongyang’s facing a new round of international sanctions after last week’s rocket launch.
April 19, 2012 Veterans Department to Increase Mental Health Staffing By JAMES DAO
The Department of Veterans Affairs will announce on Thursday that it plans to hire about 1,600 additional psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other mental health clinicians in an effort to reduce long wait times for services at many veterans medical centers.
The hiring, which would be augmented by the addition of 300 clerical workers, would increase the department’s mental health staff by nearly 10 percent at a time when the veterans health system is being overwhelmed not just by veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but also by aging veterans from the Vietnam era.
“History shows that the costs of war will continue to grow for a decade or more after the operational missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended,” Eric K. Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, said in a statement to be released Thursday. “As more veterans return home, we must ensure that all veterans have access to quality mental health care.”
The announcement comes as the department is facing intensified criticism for delays in providing psychological services to veterans at some of its major medical centers.
The department’s own inspector general is expected to release a report as soon as next week asserting that wait times for mental health services are significantly longer than the department has been willing to acknowledge.
Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has also scheduled hearings next week about the delays.
And last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, issued a scathing ruling saying that the department had failed to provide adequate mental health services to veterans.
“No more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligation,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the majority. The Obama administration has appealed the ruling.
The veterans department says that it has worked hard to keep pace with the tide of new veterans needing psychological care, increasing its mental health care budget by 39 percent since 2009 and hiring more than 3,500 mental health professionals.
The department says it has also established a policy to do mental health evaluations of all veterans not in crisis within 14 days, a goal it says it meets 95 percent of the time.
However, the inspector general’s report is expected to question the validity of that claim.
One issue confronting the department has been finding enough mental health clinicians to fill job openings, particularly in rural areas. The director of veterans health care in Montana recently was reassigned, for instance, amid complaints that she had been unable to hire psychiatrists to staff a new psychiatric unit.
But department officials said they were confident that they would be able to find qualified mental health clinicians in most regions. Funds for the new jobs will be allocated out of the current department budget, the officials said, and clinicians will be added to all 21 of the department’s service networks.
The vast majority of the new hires, about 1,400, will be patient care providers. But the department also plans to hire more than 100 people for a crisis hot line as well as 100 examiners to review disability compensation and pension claims.
That disability compensation system is struggling with a growing backlog, with nearly 900,000 veterans currently waiting for decisions on their claims.
India tests nuclear-capable missile that can reach China
By Jatindra Dash BHUBANESWAR, India Thu Apr 19, 2012 6:59am EDT
India successfully test-fired on Thursday a nuclear-capable missile that can reach Beijing and Eastern Europe, thrusting the emerging Asian power into a small club of nations that can deploy nuclear weapons at such a great distance.
Footage showed the rocket with a range of more than 5,000 km (3,100 miles) blasting through clouds from an island off India's east coast. It was not immediately clear how far the rocket flew before reaching its target in the Indian Ocean.
The defense minister said the test was "immaculate".
"Today's successful Agni-V test launch is another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a message to the scientists who developed the rocket.
Almost entirely Indian-made, the Agni-V is the crowning achievement of a program developed primarily with a threat from neighboring China in mind. It will not be operational for at least two years, the government says.
Only the U.N. Security Council permanent members - China, France, Russia the United States and Britain - along with Israel, are believed to have such long-range weapons.
Fast emerging as a world economic power, India is keen to play a larger role on the global stage and has long angled for a permanent seat on the Security Council. In recent years it has emerged as the world's top arms importer as it upgrades equipment for a large but outdated military.
"It is one of the ways of signaling India's arrival on the global stage, that India deserves to be sitting at the high table," said Harsh Pant, a defense expert at King's College, London, describing the launch as a "confidence boost".
The launch, which was flagged well in advance, has attracted none of the criticism from the West faced by hermit state North Korea for a failed bid to send up a similar rocket last week.
China's Foreign Ministry said the two countries should "work hard to uphold friendly strategic cooperation", and for peace and stability in the region.
"China and India are large developing nations. We are not competitors but partners," the Chinese ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin, said when asked about the missile test at a briefing.
The Global Times tabloid, which is owned by the Chinese Communist Party's main mouthpiece the People's Daily, struck a less conciliatory tone.
"India should not overestimate its strength, "the paper said in an editorial published before the launch, which was delayed by a day because of bad weather.
India has not signed the non-proliferation treaty for nuclear nations, but enjoys a de facto legitimacy for its arsenal, boosted by a landmark 2008 deal with the United States.
On Wednesday, NATO said it did not consider India a threat. The U.S. State Department said India's non-proliferation record was "solid", while urging restraint.
"NO ARMS RACE - MUTUALITY"
India says its nuclear weapons program is for deterrence only. It is close to completing a nuclear submarine that will increase its ability to launch a counter strike if it were attacked.
India lost a brief Himalayan border war with its larger neighbor, China, in 1962 and has ever since strived to improve its defenses. In recent years the government has fretted over China's enhanced military presence near the border.
It is buying more than 100 advanced fighter jets, likely Rafales built by France's Dassault, in one of the largest global arms deals.
Even so, slow procurement procedures and corruption scandals mean its army, the world's second biggest, relies on critically outdated guns and suffers ammunition shortages.
Defense analyst Uday Bhaskar said India was not in an arms race with China, which has far greater capabilities, including missiles with a range closer to 10,000 km (6,000 miles).
"As and when Agni-V moves from technological proficiency to assured, credible and proven operational induction - maybe by 2014 - India will move towards acquiring that elusive mutuality it seeks with China," Bhaskar said in a column for Reuters.
Thursday's launch may prompt a renewed push from within India's defense establishment for a fully fledged intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, with weapons capable of reaching the Americas, though some of India's allies may bridle at such an ambition.
"Policy-wise it becomes more complicated from now on, until Agni-V, India really has been able to make a case about its strategic objectives, but as it moves into the ICBM frontier there'll be more questions asked," said Pant.
The Agni-V is the most advanced version of the indigenously built Agni, or Fire, series, part of a program that started in the 1960s. Earlier versions could reach old rival Pakistan and Western China.
The three stage rocket is powered by easier-to-use solid rocket propellants, can carry a 1-tonne nuclear warhead and is road mobile.
(Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Additional reporting by Satarupa Bhattacharjya in NEW DELHI and Sui-Lee Wee in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel)
CIA seeks new authority to expand Yemen drone campaign
By Greg Miller 18 April 2012
The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said.
Securing permission to use these “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives.
The practice has been a core element of the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan for several years. CIA Director David H. Petraeus has requested permission to use the tactic against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which has emerged as the most pressing terrorism threat to the United States, officials said.
If approved, the change would probably accelerate a campaign of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen that is already on a record pace, with at least eight attacks in the past four months.
For President Obama, an endorsement of signature strikes would mean a significant, and potentially risky, policy shift. The administration has placed tight limits on drone operations in Yemen to avoid being drawn into an often murky regional conflict and risk turning militants with local agendas into al-Qaeda recruits.
A senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations, declined to talk about what he described as U.S. “tactics” in Yemen, but he said that “there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States.”
U.S. officials acknowledge that the standard has not always been upheld. Last year, a U.S. drone strike inadvertently killed the American son of al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. The teenager had never been accused of terrorist activity and was killed in a strike aimed at other militants.
Some U.S. officials have voiced concern that such incidents could become more frequent if the CIA is given the authority to use signature strikes.
“How discriminating can they be?” asked a senior U.S. official familiar with the proposal. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen “is joined at the hip” with a local insurgency whose main goal is to oust the country’s government, the official said. “I think there is the potential that we would be perceived as taking sides in a civil war.”
U.S. officials said that the CIA proposal has been presented to the National Security Council and that no decision has been reached. Officials from the White House and the CIA declined to comment.
Proponents of the plan said improvements in U.S. intelligence collection in Yemen have made it possible to expand the drone campaign — and use signature strikes — while minimizing the risk of civilian casualties.
They also pointed to the CIA’s experience in Pakistan. U.S. officials said the agency killed more senior al-Qaeda operatives there with signature strikes than with those in which it had identified and located someone on its kill list.
In Pakistan, the CIA “killed most of their ‘list people’ when they didn’t know they were there,” said a former senior U.S. military official familiar with drone operations.
The agency has cited the Pakistan experience to administration officials in arguing, perhaps counterintuitively, that it can be more effective against al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate if it doesn’t have to identify its targets before an attack. Obama, however, ruled out a similar push for such authority more than a year ago.
Increasing focus on Yemen
The CIA, the National Security Agency and other spy services have deployed more officers and resources to Yemen over the past several years to augment counterterrorism operations that were previously handled almost exclusively by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command.
The CIA began flying armed drones over Yemen last year after opening a secret base on the Arabian Peninsula. The agency also has worked with the Saudi and Yemeni intelligence services to build networks of informants — much the way it did in Pakistan before ramping up drone strikes there.
The agency’s strategy in Pakistan was centered on mounting a drone campaign so relentless that it allowed no time between attacks for al-Qaeda operatives to regroup. The use of signature strikes came to be seen as critical to achieving that pace.
The approach involved assembling threads of intelligence from multiple sources to develop telltale “signatures” of al-Qaeda activity based on operatives’ vehicles, facilities, communications equipment and patterns of behavior.
A former senior U.S. intelligence official said the CIA became so adept at this that it could tell what was happening inside an al-Qaeda compound — whether a leader was visiting or explosives were being assembled, for example — based on the location and number of security operatives surrounding the site.
The agency might be able to replicate that success in Yemen, the former intelligence official said. But he expressed skepticism that White House officials, including counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, will approve the CIA’s request.
The situation in Pakistan’s tribal territory “is far less ambiguous than in Yemen,” the former official said. “Brennan has been deliberate in making sure targets we hit in Yemen are terrorist targets and not insurgents.”
As a result, the CIA has been limited to “personality” strikes in Yemen, meaning it can fire only in cases where it has clear evidence that someone on its target list is in a drone’s crosshairs.
Often, that requires information from multiple sources, including imagery, cellphone intercepts and informants on the ground.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, as the Yemen-based group is known, has not been linked to a major terrorist plot since its failed attempt to mail parcels packed with explosives to addresses in Chicago in 2010. The death of Awlaki in a CIA drone strike last year is thought to have diminished the group’s ability to mount follow-on attacks.
But U.S. counterterrorism officials said that Awlaki’s death did not extinguish the group’s determination to attack the United States and noted that other key operatives — including Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who designed the bombs used in the parcel plot — remain at large.
A quickening pace
The pace of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen is still far from the peak levels in Pakistan, but it is on a distinctly upward trend, with about as many strikes so far this year as in all of 2011.
Which U.S. entity is responsible for each strike remains unclear. In Pakistan, the CIA carries out every drone strike. But in Yemen, the United States has relied on a mix of capabilities, including drones flown by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command, as well as conventional military aircraft and warships parked off the coast.
The JSOC has broader authority than the CIA to pursue militants in Yemen and is not seeking permission to use signature strikes, U.S. officials said.
Obama administration officials have refused to provide details of how militants are targeted or to disclose the identities of those killed.
Asked to explain the surge in strikes this year, U.S. officials denied that there has been any change in authorities. Instead, they attributed the pace to intelligence-gathering efforts that were expanded several years ago but are only beginning to pay off.
“There has never been a decision to step up or down” the number of strikes, said a senior U.S. official involved in overseeing the Yemen campaign. “It’s all intelligence-driven.”
The Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks drone operations, estimates that there have been 27 strikes in Yemen since 2009 and that 198 militants and 48 civilians have been killed.
Awlaki was killed last September, six weeks after the CIA began flying armed drones over Yemen. This year, one senior AQAP operative has been killed: Abdul Mun’im Salim al Fatahani, who was suspected of involvement in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, was killed in January by a drone strike in Abyan province, according to the Long War Journal.
Staff writers Karen DeYoung and Julie Tate contributed to this report.
Is James Cameron Investing In Asteroid Mining Project? By THE DEADLINE TEAM Wednesday April 18, 2012 @ 11:02pm PDT Tags: James Cameron, Planetary Resources
Director James Cameron, who just made history piloting a submersible 7 miles below the surface of the Pacific in the Mariana Trench, appears to have his sights on the opposite direction with investors who include Google cofounders Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, former Microsoft executive (and space philanthropist) Charles Simonyi and Ross Perot Jr., son of the former presidential candidate. The venture known as Planetary Sources is scheduled to be announced Tuesday in Seattle.
Information about the impending announcement was posted today on MIT’s Technology Review. The release says “the company will overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.”
The MIT blog suggests the venture “sounds like asteroid mining. Because what else is there in space that we need here on earth? Certainly not a livable climate or a replacement for our dwindling supplies of oil.” The press conference will take place at the Museum of Flight in Seattle on Tuesday, April 24 at 10:30 a.m. PDT and will be available via webcast.
After Bo's fall, Chongqing victims seek justice By Keith B. Richburg, 19 April 2012
BEIJING — The dramatic ouster of Bo Xilai as Communist Party chief in Chongqing has prompted an outpouring from people who say their relatives were wrongly jailed under his rule and want the government to reopen their cases.
More than 4,000 people were jailed during an aggressive anti-crime campaign that Bo launched in late 2007. While Bo insisted that he was cracking down on gangsters and lawlessness, critics say he led a brutal effort designed to punish rivals and squeeze money from local businesses.
How the government handles the myriad cases and the mounting evidence of wrongdoing poses yet another test for a Chinese leadership that is anxious to contain the growing scandal, but that also claims to be publicly committed to upholding the rule of law.
Many of the relatives have been making the trek from the southwestern interior city of Chongqing to the home of Li Zhuang, a prominent Beijing lawyer, who they hope can help them get justice for their relatives languishing in jails back home. Most come secretly, and do not want themselves or their relatives to be identified for fear of retribution.
“My place has become the petitioning office for Chongqing people,” said Li, who was receiving a steady stream of visitors on a recent morning. “They know I am against what Bo Xilai did in Chongqing.”
Before his sudden fall last month, Bo was a charismatic rising star in China’s opaque political system. His ascent was disrupted by a wide-ranging corruption and murder probe that has already snared his wife, a household aide and a number of his top associates. Bo’s removal, and the ensuing investigation into the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, has embroiled China’s Communist Party in its worst internal strife since the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.
In Chongqing, Bo was perhaps best known for leading a ferocious assault on crime called “da hei,” or “strike the black,” that was led by his right-hand man, the former police chief Wang Lijun, who later betrayed him.
The thousands jailed in the campaign, also called “hard strike” in the Chinese media, included gang members, wealthy businessmen, police officers and local government officials. About 1,000 people were sentenced to forced labor, and dozens executed, many after hasty trials that ignored even rudimentary judicial procedures. Many have alleged that they were tortured while in custody and confessed under duress.
Li, the lawyer, listens to the relatives’ stories and gives them advice where he can. But he tells them he is not in a position to offer legal services. In fact, he was one of the victims and is trying to have his own conviction overturned.
Li went to Chongqing in 2009 at the request of family members of Gong Gangmo, who ran a motorbike company and was accused of being part of a criminal syndicate. But Gong told the court that Li encouraged him to lie and to claim he was tortured — so Li was then arrested and jailed for 18 months after a quick trial and despite his protestations of innocence.
Li was released in June 2011, after his case sparked a national outcry about the breakdown of law and order in Chongqing, where even lawyers could be arrested for defending their clients.
A ‘sensitive’ topic
Since the Bo scandal erupted, China’s Communist rulers have been trying to allay widespread suspicions that he was removed for political reasons ahead of this year’s leadership change. “This criminal case shall not be interpreted as a political struggle,” said an official editorial Thursday by Xinhua, the state news agency. “China is a socialist country based on the rule of law, and the sanctity and authority of that law shall not be trampled upon.”
One way for officials to show they really are concerned with the law, critics say, would be to reopen all the criminal cases in Chong-qing under Bo’s nearly five-year tenure, and not just investigate the case of the deceased Briton.
So far, however, China’s Communist authorities have shown no desire to revisit the anti-crime campaign and the cases of thousands still imprisoned.
On April 17, another lawyer, Liu Yang, published an open letter online, calling for lawyers to join him in reviewing criminal cases in Chongqing. “I received many calls for help, and I felt we needed to do something for the country, the people and for Chongqing, too,” Liu wrote. He said 26 lawyers had offered to join him.
But Liu said he was called in Thursday before the Beijing Bureau of Legal Affairs and told to desist. After his morning meeting, he declined to answer any more questions, saying the topic had become too “sensitive.”
Seizures of assets
Among those caught in Bo’s sweep were the former top judicial official in the city, Wen Qiang, who was executed in July 2010 for corruption, and Xie Caiping, known as the “Godmother of Chongqing” for her illicit gambling dens and rumored stable of 16 lovers.
But also swept up were virtually all of Chongqing’s top businessmen, whose family members say they had no connection to criminal activity; rather, they say, the businessmen were targeted so their assets could be seized.
Among them was Wang Tianlun, a wealthy businessman with the Jinpu Food Company, who received a death sentence that was suspended, and was forced to pay a fine of 100 million renminbi. Family members said all of Wang’s assets have been frozen.
Lawyer Chi Susheng, who was hired by Wang’s family members, said she is dealing with three cases in Chongqing involving 50 people, and believes many innocent people are still jailed in the city. “I’ve been working in the criminal law field since 1979,” she said, “but I have seldom found cases dealt with like they were in Chongqing.”
Scores of police officers were also jailed for alleged corruption during Bo’s campaign. But their family members maintain that the policemen, too, are innocent, and that the real goal was to remove officers believed loyal to the previous local administration.
In one example, a decorated 50-year-old policeman with 30 years of experience was arrested in May 2010 for supposedly conniving with one of the jailed businessmen and taking bribes. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison, where he remains. His wife — who asked that neither she nor her husband be named — said, “They fabricated this.”
The woman, who is trying to have her husband’s case reopened, sobbed when she described how he was tortured to confess and lost nearly 50 pounds. “I couldn’t even recognize him,” she said. Asked how she took the news of Bo Xilai’s downfall, she laughed and said, “You can tell from my laughter. I won’t say anything in words.”
The Chongqing court could in theory reopen any case at any time; in reality, such a politically laden decision would only be made at the most senior level of the Communist Party. Li Zhuang said he is not optimistic because the sheer number of cases is too big.
In a brief interview last July in Chongqing, Bo defended his anti-crime crackdown, saying he found a lawless place when he arrived as party secretary in 2007. “It didn’t just occur to me to crack down on the triads,” he said. “It’s because when I arrived in Chongqing, the triad gangsters were here first. All governments in the world would do the same thing.”
Bo added, “If there are any illegal or mafia-related problems — someone breaking the law — we will crack down.”
Researchers Wang Juan in Shanghai and Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.
After nearly 40 years, Marine pilot talks about UFO encounter
8:57 PM, Apr. 19, 2012 by Lindsay Ruebens
After nearly four decades of keeping mum about a close encounter with a UFO over Pensacola, a retired Marine Corps pilot is telling his story in a newly released book.
On the night of Feb. 6, 1975, then Marine Reserve Squadron Capt. Larry Jividen was piloting a T-39D Sabreliner combat trainer and utility aircraft with a crew of five aboard.
The two-hour flight, which began around sunset, took off and landed at Pensacola Naval Air Station. As the Sabreliner was returning from the training mission,
Jividen said noticed the aircraft was being paced by a circular red light.
He radioed in to Pensacola Approach Control to ask what the traffic was, but they didn’t see anything on the radar besides the Sabreliner.
Jividen said that he and the five others all saw, from a distance, a round solid object in the sky at about their 1-o’clock position.
He said the UFO didn’t act like any kind of military or civilian craft.
“On the radio, every time the guy would push the mic button, you’d hear people in the background chattering about it,” Jividen said. “They were very concerned and excited that they couldn’t see it on their radar, and they wanted to know what we were seeing.”
Intrigued, Jividen decided to turn toward the UFO to see what it would do. “Suddenly the red light jumped to the left, which would be the 11-o’clock position on the nose,” he said.
After making sure the red light wasn’t a lighthouse, Jividen said he wanted to find out if the UFO was solid.
Flying underneath it, he said the UFO was surrounded by stars, and flying over it, the UFO cast a silhouette against the Gulf of Mexico.
“After about five minutes, it sped out to the west over the horizon,” Jividen said. After landing, he said he filed a report on the incident. “And we never got any further feedback on the event,” he said.
But after reading John Alexander’s first edition of “UFOs: Myths, Conspiracies and Realities,” Jividen felt compelled to share his story with the author, who is known for researching UFO sightings involving credible government and military witnesses.
“He was the one individual I thought would be credible to tell the story to,” Jividen said.
After being featured in Alexander’s new edition, which was released March 28, and a recent Huffington Post story, Jividen is in the national UFO spotlight.
Jividen lived in the Pensacola-area from 1969 to 1976 while he was a flight instructor for the Marine Corps aboard Pensacola Naval Air Station.
He was a Marine Corps pilot for nine years.
During the Vietnam War, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “heroism and extraordinary achievement” for piloting a helicopter extracting a Marine reconnaissance team that was under heavy fire.
He said he’s lost touch with all of the crew members from the flight in 1975, but he’s hoping he might reach some who might have retired in Pensacola and might want to share information.
Jividen, 67, retired in 2002 as a United Airlines pilot and lives in Henderson, Nev.
And after all these years, does he still believe he saw a UFO piloted by extraterrestials?
“It was probably a visitor from somewhere that is observing us,” he said. “Whether it’s something inter-dimensional, from an alternate universe, an atmospheric phenomenon… there are several possibilities.”
Darpa to Troubled Soldiers: Meet Your New Simulated Therapist By Katie Drummond April 20, 2012 | 6:30 am Categories: DarpaWatch
The Pentagon hasn’t made much progress in solving the PTSD crisis plaguing this generation of soldiers. Now it’s adding new staff members to the therapy teams tasked with spotting the signs of emotional pain and providing therapy to the beleaguered. Only this isn’t a typical hiring boost. The new therapists, Danger Room has learned, will be computer-generated “virtual humans” programmed to appear empathetic.
It’s the latest in a long series of efforts to assuage soaring rates of depression, anxiety and PTSD that afflict today’s troops. Military brass have become increasingly willing to try just about anything, from yoga and reiki to memory-adjustment pills, that holds an iota of promise. They’ve even funded computerized therapy before: In 2010, for example, the military launched an effort to create an online health portal that’d include video chats with therapists.
But this project, funded by Darpa, the Pentagon’s far-out research arm, is way more ambitious. Darpa’s research teams are hoping to combine 3-D rendered simulated therapists — think Sims characters mixed with ELIZA — with sensitive analysis software that can actually detect psychological symptoms “by analyzing facial expressions, body gestures and speech,” Dr. Albert Rizzo, who is leading the project alongside Dr. Louis-Philippe Morency, tells Danger Room.
For now, the system, called SIM Sensei, is being designed for use at military medical clinics. A soldier could walk into the clinic, enter a private kiosk, and log on to a computer where his or her personal simulated therapist — yes, you can pick from an array of different animated docs — would be waiting. Using Kinect-like hardware for motion sensing, a microphone and a webcam, the computer’s software would take note of how a patient moved and how they spoke. The video above offers a demonstration of what a SIM Sensei would look like, and how they’d interact with a patient.
SIM Sensei won’t replace human clinicians. Instead, it’ll supplement them, and help military clinics prioritize which patients need care most acutely, and which can wait to see a flesh-and-blood doctor. If a soldier talking to the SIM exhibits minor symptoms, the Sensei might help him or her schedule an appointment to see a human therapist in two weeks’ time. But if the Sensei detects “red flags” in an individual’s behavior — vocal patterns that signal depression, for example — the SIM could schedule that patient to see a doctor immediately.
“Let’s say you have a more serious case, where it becomes evident to the Sensei that a patient is exhibiting major depression or might be a suicide risk,” Dr. Rizzo tells Danger Room. “The computer could immediately call for a human doctor to come take over.”
The initiative is a collaborative effort between the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) and Cogito Health, a spin-off company developed by MIT researchers. It’s also the next phase of an ongoing Pentagon-funded project, called SIM Coach, that’s designed for soldiers to use within the privacy of their own homes but doesn’t incorporate any analysis of a soldier’s body language or vocal tone.
ICT has deep experience with virtual therapy. Under Rizzo’s leadership, the institute was the first to develop immersive programs that allowed patients afflicted with PTSD to revisit combat scenarios. The programs have been widely lauded, and are now used by more than 60 military medical clinics across the country.
Cogito’s role, on the other hand, raises something of a red flag. The company was developed out of the lab of MIT scientist Alex Pentland. He’s the number-cruncher whose “reality mining” spurred Darpa to throw millions into a dubious program to mine social data and then yield conclusions about U.S. progress in Afghanistan, known as Nexus 7. The initiative, as Danger Room reported exclusively last year, has been something of a disaster.
Cogito is also grounded in data mining. But the company’s aim is to evaluate a single person’s well-being, rather than an entire community’s. The company will incorporate its bespoke software suite, called “Honest Signals,” into the new Darpa program. It “assesses cues in an individual’s natural speech and social behavior” to spot potential mental health problems, according to a statement that Cogito e-mailed to Danger Room. The company declined to offer studies on the efficacy of “Honest Signals,” but did point to a book — co-written by Pentland — on that very subject.
Rizzo acknowledges that pulling accurate data out of an individual’s face, voice and other such metrics remains a challenge. “We’ve got some heavy lifting ahead of us,” he says. But he’s also extremely confident that Pentland and Cogito are well equipped with data that can turn SIM Sensei into a success. “These guys are bright as hell,” he says. “They’re pioneers in the field, and they’ve got an amazing capacity to detect the smallest problems that pop up in someone’s behavior.”
That said, the SIM Sensei idea is also bogged down by another downside. Computer-based therapy, in comparison to face-to-face treatment, is inevitably impersonal.
Studies on the efficacy of telemedicine (therapy via video chat with a human therapist), where PTSD or depression are concerned, have been mixed. But in an interview with PBS published last year, Stars and Stripes reporter Megan McCloskey summed up the shortcomings of such therapy for mental health conditions. “Many of those who need more intensive counseling … don’t like the impersonal nature of talking to a TV screen,” she says. “For some, telemedicine doesn’t meet their needs and adds to their sense of isolation.”
Cyber therapy would be even more vicarious. Soldiers will talk to a videogame character, rather than a real person, through their computer screen.
But a robust virtual option would give soldiers, many of whom still shy away from face-to-face mental health treatment, the option to seek solace in a more anonymous alternative. Eventually, Rizzo and his colleagues hope to see SIM Sensei available for soldiers within the comforts of their own home, rather than a military clinic.
“A lot of people still don’t want to stop by the clinic and meet with a real person,” he says. “Technology is ripe for us to leverage. I’m extremely confident that we can use it, leverage it, to help people who otherwise wouldn’t get better.”
Hollywood Studios Lose High Court Appeal in Landmark Australian Piracy Case 4:45 AM PDT 4/20/2012 by Pip Bulbeck
SYDNEY - The High Court of Australia has rejected an appeal by the major Hollywood studios in the three-year landmark copyright infringement case they brought against Internet service provider iiNet Ltd.
The full bench of five High Court justices unanimously dismissed the appeal by the studios, including Warner Bros, Disney, Fox and Paramount Pictures, alongside 29 other companies including Australian independent distributors and TV networks here under the umbrella of the Australian Federation against Copyright Theft (AFACT) .
The court (the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court) ruled that iiNet held no responsibility for the copyright infringement carried out by its customers and declared that the Internet service provider had no technical power to prevent customers from using the BitTorrent system, upholding a previous federal court decision.
"Rather, the extent of iiNet's power to prevent its customers from infringing ... copyright was limited to an indirect power to terminate its contractual relationship with its customers," the court said.
The High Court judgement also found that infringement notices sent by AFACT to iiNet did not provide the ISP "with a reasonable basis for sending warning notices to individual customers containing threats to suspend or terminate those customers."
The High Court dismissed the appeal with costs. iiNet said legal costs of the case to date were approximately $9 million.
"iiNet has never supported or encouraged unauthorized sharing or file downloading," iiNet chief executive Michael Malone said after the ruling. "Today's High Court five-nil ruling confirms that iiNet is not liable for 'authorizing' the conduct of its customers who engaged in online copyright infringement,” he added.
Malone repeated previous assertions that increasing the availability of lawful, online content in a more timely, affordable and reasonably priced manner by the film industry brought the focus back to customers and was the best method to protect content owners' copyright.
"Increasing the availability of licensed digital content is the best, most practical approach to meet consumer demand and protect copyright," Malone said. "We have consistently said we are eager to work with the studios to make their very desirable material legitimately available to a waiting customer base - and that offer remains the same today."
Indeed it has been reported that AFACT, iiNet and other ISPs have been holding discussions with Australia’s attorney general to develop a policy for dealing with online copyright infringement.
AFACT managing director Neil Gane said Friday that the ruling recognized that legislative change was required to address the widespread copyright infringements via peer to peer technology in Australia and called on the government to make changes to the Copyright Act.
“Both judgements in this case recognize that copyright law is no longer equipped to deal with the rate of technological change we have seen since the law of authorization was last tested. They both point to the need for legislation to protect copyright owners against P2P infringements,” Gane said.
“The judges recognize the significant rate of copyright infringement online and point to the fact that over half the usage of iiNet’s Internet service by its customers (measured by volume) was represented by Bit Torrent file sharing, which was known to be used for infringing activities,” he said.
Gane added that overseas developments in online copyright protection have superceded Australian law since the case began over three years ago. “Legislators, regulators and courts around the world have mandated that ISPs must play a central role in preventing online copyright theft,” he said. “Fortunately, many ISPs have come to the conclusion that being involved in online copyright protection is in their commercial interests. ISPs are becoming increasingly dependent on monetizing legal content and therefore protecting its value.”
Gane said it was too early to comment on the details of the decision, but that the copyright owners would be having discussions with the government in due course.
By Chris Buckley BEIJING | Sat Apr 21, 2012 7:51am EDT
China's military warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have raised risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea in the toughest high-level warning yet after weeks of tensions.
China's official Liberation Army Daily warned that recent jostling with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have sent ships could boil over into outright conflict, and laid much of the blame at Washington's door.
This week American and Filipino troops launched a fortnight of annual naval drills amid the stand-off between Beijing and Manila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay.
The joint exercises are held in different seas around the Philippines; the leg that takes place in the South China Sea area starts on Monday.
"Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force," said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People's Liberation Army.
"Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability."
Up to now, China has chided the Philippines over the dispute about the uninhabited shoal known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal and which China calls Huangyan, about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon.
China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan across the South China Sea, which could be rich in oil and gas and is spanned by busy shipping lanes.
Major General Luo Yuan, a retired PLA researcher well-known for his hawkish views, amplified the warnings from Beijing issued through state media.
"China has already shown enough restraint and patience over this incident," Luo said of the friction with Manila, according to an interview published on Chinese state television's website (news.cntv.cn).
If the Philippines "takes irrational actions, then the current confrontation could intensify, and the Chinese navy will certainly not stand idly by," he added.
Beijing has sought to resolve the disputes one-on-one with the countries involved but there is worry among its neighbors over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in staking claims over the seas and various islands, reefs and shoals.
In past patches of tension over disputed seas, hawkish Chinese military voices have also risen, only to be later reined in by the government. The same could be true this time.
Since late 2010, China has sought to cool tensions with the United States. Especially with the ruling Chinese Party preoccupied with a leadership succession late in 2012, Beijing has stressed hopes for steady relations throughout this year.
Nonetheless, experts have said that China remains wary of U.S. military intentions across the Asia-Pacific, especially in the wake of the Obama administration's vows to "pivot" to the region, reinvigorating diplomatic and security ties with allies.
The Liberation Army Daily commentary echoed that wariness.
"The United States' intention of trying to draw more countries into stirring up the situation in the South China Sea is being brandished to the full," said the newspaper.