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FAA does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop guidelines by 2015 [AFP]
|The US has named six states that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the move of the unmanned aircraft into domestic skies.The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although officials concede the project may take longer than expected.
Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market.
Many universities are starting or expanding drone programmes.
Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia will host the research sites, providing diverse climates, geography and air-traffic environments, Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator, said on Monday.
At least one of the six sites will be up and running within 180 days, while the others are expected to come online in quick succession, Huerta said.
The growing US drone industry has critics among both conservatives and liberals.
Giving drones greater access to US skies moves the nation closer to “a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinised by the authorities”, the American Civil Liberties Union declared in a report last December.
Huerta said his agency is sensitive to privacy concerns involving drones. Test sites must have a written plan for data use and retention and will be required to conduct an annual review of privacy practices that involves public comment.
While selecting the sites, the FAA considered geography, climate, ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk. New York’s site will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast US airspace.
Nevada offered proximity to military aircraft from several bases.
In choosing Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of locations in seven climatic zones.
“These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies,” Anthony Foxx, US transportation secretary, said in a statement.
*NO INJURIES REPORTED FROM BNSF TRAIN FIRE IN NORTH DAKOTA
A train has derailed west of Casselton, North Dakota just before 2:20 p.m. Monday. As Valley News Live reports, several area emergency teams are on scene and are setting up an incident command center. Emergency crews are urging people to stay inside and a code red alert has been sent out to residents in a two mile radius of the accident. The Casselton Fire Department says a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train is involved. An unknown number of cars derailed, but Valley News Live reports is told one bulk oil car is on fire and toxic black smoke is being released.
DEVELOPING: Emergency crews on scene of train accident with large fire in Casselton, North Dakota: pic.twitter.com/2rjSTFe6OI
— ABC News (@ABC) December 30, 2013
— NewsBreaker (@NewsBreaker) December 30, 2013
— NewsBreaker (@NewsBreaker) December 30, 2013
Train oil tanker explosion in North Dakota 20 miles west of Fargo .. pic.twitter.com/rO2y0uonUS
— Ed Schultz (@WeGotEd) December 30, 2013
— PzFeed Top News (@PzFeed) December 30, 2013
— Mark Day (@1310MarkDay) December 30, 2013
Conditions for journalists have become difficult since President Morsi’s overthrow in July, rights groups say
|Al Jazeera has condemned the arrest of four of its journalists held by Egyptian authorities since Sunday night and demanded their immediate release.
Award-winning Nairobi-based correspondent Peter Greste, Al Jazeera English bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Cairo-based producer Baher Mohamed and cameraman Mohamed Fawzyre have been held in custody since their arrest by security forces on Sunday evening.
The arrests follow a period of sustained intimidation towards Al Jazeera staff, property and coverage since the military-orchestrated removal of President Mohamed Morsi in July.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network’s spokesperson said of the latest arrests: “We condemn the arbitrary arrest of Al Jazeera English journalists working in Cairo and demand their immediate and unconditional release.
“Al Jazeera Media Network has been subject to harassment by Egyptian security forces which has arrested of our colleagues, confiscated our equipment and raided our offices despite that we are not officially banned from working there.”
These arrests are part of what Reporters Without Borders has called growing hostility towards journalists in Egypt.
There has also been a campaign against Al Jazeera in particular as the channel’s offices were raided in August and security forces seized equipment which has yet to be returned.
Al Jazeera called on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release all its detained staff unconditionally along with their belongings and equipment.
Greste is a veteran journalist who previously worked for Reuters, CNN and the BBC over the past two decades.
Human-rights groups say conditions for journalists in Egypt have become difficult since Morsi was removed by the military on July 3, 2013.
The latest arrests come after a series of clashes between police and Muslim Brotherhood supporters across Egypt.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Monday that Egypt, Syria and Iraq have become among the deadliest countries for journalists to work in.
In a special report released by the New York-based organisation said conditions in the country had “deteriorated dramatically”.
“Amid stark political polarisation and related street violence, things deteriorated dramatically for journalists in Egypt, where six journalists were killed for their work in 2013.”
Day After Saudi Arabia Gives Record $3 Billion To Lebanese Army, Lebanese Troops Fire At Syrian Warplanes | Zero Hedge
That didn’t take long.
It was only yesterday that Saudi Arabia pledged a record $3 billion to prop up Lebanon’s armed forces, in what the WSJ described as “a challenge to the Iranian-allied Hezbollah militia’s decades-long status as Lebanon’s main power broker and security force.” Lebanese President Michel Sleiman revealed the Saudi gift on Lebanese national television Sunday, calling it the largest aid package ever to the country’s defense bodies. The Saudi pledge compares with Lebanon’s 2012 defense budget, which the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put at $1.7 billion.
The Saudi move was announced hours after thousands of Lebanese turned out for the funerals of former cabinet minister Mohamad Chatah and some of the other victims killed Friday in a bombing in downtown Beirut. The bomb was believed to have targeted Mr. Chatah, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah’s dominance of Lebanese affairs and security. No group has claimed responsibility. Saudi Arabia on Friday responded to the assassination by calling for Lebanon to build up the government and armed forces “to stop this tampering with the security of Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
Surprisingly, the biggest winner here may be none other than France: “Lebanon would use the Saudi grant to buy “newer and more modern weapons,” from France, said Mr. Sleiman, an independent who has become increasingly critical of Hezbollah. It followed what he called “decades of unsuccessful efforts” to build a credible Lebanese national defense force.”
However, back to the Lebanese quid pro quo: less than 24 hours after the announcement, what does Lebanon go ahead and do? Why it fired at Syrian warplanes (recall Syria is the archnemesis of Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar) of course, the first time it has done so since the start of the Syrian conflict. From BBC:
Lebanese troops have fired at Syrian warplanes violating its airspace, for what is thought to be the first time since the conflict in Syria began.
Lebanon’s National News Agency said the army had responded to a raid on Khirbet Daoud, near Arsal in the Bekaa Valley.
Syrian government forces have fired into Lebanon in the past, targeting rebels sheltering over the border.
The Lebanese authorities had until now not responded militarily, hoping they would not be dragged into the war.
Arsal is predominantly Sunni and its residents have been broadly supportive of the Sunni-dominated uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam.
The north-eastern town has been flooded with refugees since the Syrian military launched an offensive in the Qalamoun mountains last month.
Some 20,000 people have settled in makeshift camps, as Syrian troops backed by members of the militant Lebanese Shia Islamist movement Hezbollah have sought to cut rebel cross-border supply routes.
And that is how Syria buys proxy war access on yet another front in an indication that its hopes that sooner or later the Syrian conflict will re-escalate enough to allow the “developed west” to stage another chemical attack and finally have the US topple Assad, are still alive. The only question is whether this time Putin, instead of simply diffusing the Syrian confrontation once again, will have an incendiary present or two for the Saudi princes, in part as gratitude for the string of recent Saudi-inspired terrorist attacks in Volgograd.
This morning we were treated to the usual stupifying comments from Greek leadership that “Greece won’t need more loans,” and will “start becoming a normal country,” because the Greek ‘recovery’ is “built on solid foundations.” However, it appears the public-at-large is not so happy as the BBC reports shots were fired at the German ambassador’s residence in Athens. Samaras said Greeks “have gone through hard times.” With over 60 bullets fired, it seems the someone is upset that their union overlords won’t lift those hard times anytime soon…
Shots were fired at the German ambassador’s residence in Athens early on Monday, without causing injury.
Bullets were found embedded in the steel gate, Greece’s Kathimerini news website reports.
Ambassador Wolfgang Dold’s residence is in the Greek capital’s Halandri district. The raid took place at around 03:30 local time (01:30 GMT).
It is not clear who the attackers were. Germany’s insistence on budget cuts has caused much resentment in Greece.
At least 60 spent bullet casings were found at the scene of the attack. Police say the bullets came from two Kalashnikov assault rifles.
So far no-one has admitted carrying out the attack.
In a message to the unidentified perpetrators, Mr Dold said “whoever is responsible for this act: you will not succeed in disrupting the close and friendly relations of our two countries”.
He was in the residence when the shots were fired.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Berlin took the attack “very seriously” and “nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify such an attack”.
The Greek government called it a “cowardly terrorist action” aimed at undermining Greece’s six-month presidency of the EU, which begins on 1 January.
Germany is the biggest lender involved in the Greek bailout – a 240bn-euro (£200bn; $331bn) rescue for the debt-laden country that started in 2010.
The bailout conditions require Greece to rein in public spending, and that has meant hardship for Greeks who have lost their jobs or who now pay more for essential services.
In 1999 the ambassador’s residence was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, in an attack claimed by the now defunct radical left-wing group November 17.
Following up on the latest stunning revelations released yesterday by German Spiegel which exposed the spy agency’s 50 page catalog of “backdoor penetration techniques“, today during a speech given by Jacob Applebaum (@ioerror) at the 30th Chaos Communication Congress, a new bombshell emerged: specifically the complete and detailed description of how the NSA bugs, remotely, your iPhone. The way the NSA accomplishes this is using software known as Dropout Jeep, which it describes as follows: “DROPOUT JEEP is a software implant for the Apple iPhone that utilizes modular mission applications to provide specific SIGINT functionality. This functionality includes the ability to remotely push/pull files from the device. SMS retrieval, contact list retrieval, voicemail, geolocation, hot mic, camera capture, cell tower location, etc. Command, control and data exfiltration can occur over SMS messaging or a GPRS data connection. All communications with the implant will be covert and encrypted.”
The flowchart of how the NSA makes your iPhone its iPhone is presented below:
- NSA ROC operator
- Load specified module
- Send data request
- iPhone accepts request
- Retrieves required SIGINT data
- Encrypt and send exfil data
- Rinse repeat
What is perhaps just as disturbing is the following rhetorical sequence from Applebaum:
“Do you think Apple helped them build that? I don’t know. I hope Apple will clarify that. Here’s the problem: I don’t really believe that Apple didn’t help them, I can’t really prove it but [the NSA] literally claim that anytime they target an iOS device that it will succeed for implantation. Either they have a huge collection of exploits that work against Apple products, meaning that they are hoarding information about critical systems that American companies produce and sabotaging them, or Apple sabotaged it themselves. Not sure which one it is. I’d like to believe that since Apple didn’t join the PRISM program until after Steve Jobs died, that maybe it’s just that they write shitty software. We know that’s true.”
Or, Apple’s software is hardly “shitty” even if it seems like that to the vast majority of experts (kinda like the Fed’s various programs), and in fact it achieves precisely what it is meant to achieve.
Either way, now everyone knows that their iPhone is nothing but a gateway for the NSA to peruse everyone’s “private” data at will. Which, incidentally, is not news, and was revealed when we showed how the “NSA Mocks Apple’s “Zombie” Customers; Asks “Your Target Is Using A BlackBerry? Now What?”
How ironic would it be if Blackberry, left for dead by virtually everyone, began marketing its products as the only smartphone that does not allow the NSA access to one’s data (and did so accordingly). Since pretty much everything else it has tried has failed, we don’t see the downside to this hail mary attempt to strike back at Big Brother and maybe make some money, by doing the right thing for once.
We urge readers to watch the full one hour speech by Jacob Applebaum to realize just how massive Big Brother truly is, but those who want to just listen to the section on Apple can do so beginning 44 minutes 30 seconds in the presentation below.
“We’re an easy target for recruiters,” one homeless man explains. “We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we’re easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven’t eaten, they offer to find us a job.” As Reuters exposes, 3 years after the earthquake and tsunami that caused the meltdown at Fukushima’s nuclear facility, Northern Japanese homeless are willing to accept minimum wage (from yakuza-based entities) for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.
Seiji Sasa hits the train station in this northern Japanese city before dawn most mornings to prowl for homeless men.
He isn’t a social worker. He’s a recruiter. The men in Sendai Station are potential laborers that Sasa can dispatch to contractors in Japan’s nuclear disaster zone for a bounty of $100a head.
“This is how labor recruiters like me come in every day,”
It’s also how Japan finds people willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.
In January, October and November, Japanese gangsters were arrested on charges of infiltrating construction giant Obayashi Corp’s network of decontamination subcontractorsand illegally sending workers to the government-funded project.
In the October case, homeless men were rounded up at Sendai’s train station by Sasa, then put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima City for less than minimum wage, according to police and accounts of those involved. The men reported up through a chain of three other companies to Obayashi, Japan’s second-largest construction company.
Obayashi, which is one of more than 20 major contractors involved in government-funded radiation removal projects, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But the spate of arrests has shown that members of Japan’s three largest criminal syndicates – Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai – had set up black-market recruiting agencies under Obayashi.
“We are taking it very seriously that these incidents keep happening one after another,” said Junichi Ichikawa, a spokesman for Obayashi. He said the company tightened its scrutiny of its lower-tier subcontractors in order to shut out gangsters, known as the yakuza. “There were elements of what we had been doing that did not go far enough.”
Reuters found 56 subcontractors listed on environment ministry contracts worth a total of $2.5 billion in the most radiated areas of Fukushima that would have been barred from traditional public works because they had not been vetted by the construction ministry.
“If you started looking at every single person, the project wouldn’t move forward. You wouldn’t get a tenth of the people you need,” said Yukio Suganuma, president of Aisogo Service, a construction company that was hired in 2012 to clean up radioactive fallout from streets in the town of Tamura.
“There are many unknown entities getting involved in decontamination projects,” said Igarashi, a former advisor to ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan. “There needs to be a thorough check on what companies are working on what, and when. I think it’s probably completely lawless if the top contractors are not thoroughly checking.”
“I don’t ask questions; that’s not my job,” Sasa said in an interview with Reuters. “I just find people and send them to work. I send them and get money in exchange. That’s it. I don’t get involved in what happens after that.”
“The construction industry is 90 percent run by gangs.”
It would seem, perhaps, that France (and the US) need their own nuclear accident to unleash an employment boom…
By Roger Bootle
We can all breathe a sigh of relief that the world is not going to come to an end as a result of a default by the US government. Well, for now, anyway. But this does not mean that debt problems have gone away. Indeed, across the Pacific a serious debt problem is still building in Japan.
Whereas the US debt crisis has been triggered by a disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over the role of the state in the economy and society, and specifically over “Obamacare”, Japan’s debt problem is a slow burner.
As a share of GDP, government debt has been growing since the early 1990s. This is the result of the long-running weakness of economic growth, repeated fiscal stimulus packages and a long period in which the overall price level has stagnated or fallen. Japan has managed to muddle through, but it now looks as though it is close to a tipping point.
The scale of the problem is staggering. Japan’s net government debt is about 140pc of GDP. This is way ahead of the US, which is on 87pc, and not that far below Greece. What’s more, it is easy to see the ratio increasing further. The IMF expects net debt to rise to 148pc of GDP over the next five years. In fact, if the economy performs badly, inflation remains low or borrowing costs rise, debt could easily follow an explosive path, with the ratio quickly rising towards 300pc of GDP.
So what to do? If Japan followed anything like this path, then some form of default would eventually become inevitable. Accordingly, why not cut the whole process short and get the thing over and done with by defaulting now?
Quite apart from all the usual objections to default, Japan suffers from another major obstacle, namely that its debt is overwhelmingly held by Japanese financial institutions, including banks. A default would land the financial sector with massive losses and could cause a catastrophic financial crisis.
The orthodox way to tackle debt is to impose austerity via cuts to government spending or increases in taxes. In fact, Japan will increase its consumption tax in April and quite considerable deficit reduction is promised for the next few years.
But this runs into two problems that are familiar from a European perspective. First, such austerity is not popular and the politicians in Japan may yet baulk at the scale of the tightening to be imposed.
Second, austerity tends to reduce GDP – even though George Osborne may believe that it hasn’t done so in the UK. If it does reduce GDP, then the debt to GDP ratio would probably rise.
Faster economic growth would help but is in practice difficult to achieve. The government is pursuing some supposedly radical structural reforms but it is unlikely that, even if these are pushed through, they will have much of an impact soon enough. And in trying to grow its way out of the debt problem, unlike America, Japan faces a huge demographic hurdle. It simply isn’t making enough Japanese. The size of the workforce is already falling and will continue to do so for decades.
The way out for Japan is to try to engineer a higher rate of inflation, perhaps much higher than the current 2pc target. For any given rate of increase of real GDP this would give a higher rate of growth of nominal GDP, that is to say, expressed in money terms. With debt fixed in money terms this would, other things being equal, bring down the debt to GDP ratio.
Admittedly, other things may not be equal. The danger is that markets would force up the rate of interest on Japanese debt and thereby increase the amounts that the government had to pay out in debt interest. That could easily offset the effect of higher inflation.
In fact, it could lead to the debt ratio ending up higher. Yet in the Japanese case, this is unlikely.
The Bank of Japan would continue to hold short-term interest rates at close to zero for several years. That would ensure that the rates on short-term debt remained subdued. Moreover, it would continue to buy huge quantities of Japanese government debt. It might also consider obliging financial institutions to hold extra amounts of government debt.
How would Japan achieve higher inflation? Quantitative easing (QE), or printing money, as it is colloquially known, will eventually give you higher inflation – provided that you do it on sufficient scale. This is what the Japanese central bank now seems prepared to do.
A fall of the yen would be a crucial part of the mechanism by which inflation moved higher.
This is what has happened recently. Japanese inflation has risen to 0.9pc, but almost wholly as a result of the fall of the yen from the high 70s to the dollar to about 100. There has been hardly any domestically generated inflation. But if the yen continued to weaken, that would surely follow.
Throughout the past 30 years, Japan has been a testing ground both for problems and their possible solutions that have appeared later in the West. It experienced a bubble economy in the late 1980s and then experienced the pain of a long drawn-out balance sheet recession, brought on by the collapse of asset prices and the drying up of credit.
It also went through a slow dragging deflation of consumer prices before anyone in the West thought that this was an issue. And for some time now it has faced the problems caused by an ageing and falling population.
Could it also show the way on the inflation solution to the debt problem which continues to bedevil so many countries in the West? For the UK, a deliberate embrace of higher inflation remains only a risk rather than a probability. For we are in a very different position from Japan. Our debt ratio is nowhere near as high and our potential to grow our way out of the problem is much greater, not least due to our more favourable demographic prospects. The same is true for the US.
But there are several members of the eurozone for whom this is not true. Greece and Italy spring to mind. Unless their debt is “forgiven”, some form of default appears inevitable.
While they remain in the euro, of course, they cannot default through inflation because they do not control their own monetary policy.
But if they were to leave the euro, the Japanese experience might be highly influential.
Roger Bootle is managing director of Capital Economics firstname.lastname@example.org