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Friday, March 14, 2014

On March 14, 2014 by Conspiracy Realism in    No comments

By , Friday, March 14, 4:19 PM


U.S. officials announced plans Friday to relinquish federal government control over the administration of the Internet, a move that pleased international critics but alarmed some business leaders and others who rely on the smooth functioning of the Web.
Pressure to let go of the final vestiges of U.S. authority over the system of Web addresses and domain names that organize the Internet has been building for more than a decade and was supercharged by the backlash last year to revelations about National Security Agency surveillance.
The change would end the long-running contract between the Commerce Department and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based nonprofit group. That contract is set to expire next year but could be extended if the transition plan is not complete.
“We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan,” Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, said in a statement.
The announcement received a passionate response, with some groups quickly embracing the change and others blasting it.
In a statement, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) called the move “consistent with other efforts the U.S. and our allies are making to promote a free and open Internet, and to preserve and advance the current multi-stakeholder model of global Internet governance.”
But former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tweeted: “What is the global internet community that Obama wants to turn the internet over to? This risks foreign dictatorships defining the internet.”
The practical consequences of the decision were harder to immediately discern, especially with the details of the transition not yet clear. Politically, the move could alleviate rising global concerns that the United States essentially controls the Web and takes advantage of its oversight position to help spy on the rest of the world.
U.S. officials set several conditions and an indeterminate timeline for the transition from federal government authority, saying a new oversight system must be developed and win the trust of crucial stakeholders around the world. An international meeting to discuss the future of Internet is scheduled to start on March 23 in Singapore.
The move’s critics called the decision hasty and politically tinged, and voiced significant doubts about the fitness of ICANN to operate without U.S. oversight and beyond the bounds of U.S. law.
“This is a purely political bone that the U.S. is throwing,” said Garth Bruen, a security fellow at the Digital Citizens Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group that combats online crime. “ICANN has made a lot of mistakes, and ICANN has not really been a good steward.”
Business groups and some others have long complained that ICANN’s decision-making was dominated by the interests of the industry that sells domain names and whose fees provide the vast majority of ICANN’s revenue. The U.S. government contract was a modest check against such abuses, critics said.
“It’s inconceivable that ICANN can be accountable to the whole world. That’s the equivalent of being accountable to no one,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, a trade group representing major Internet commerce businesses.
U.S. officials said their decision had nothing to do with the NSA spying revelations and the worldwide controversy they sparked, saying there had been plans since ICANN’s creation in 1998 to eventually migrate it to international control.
“The timing is now right to start this transition both because ICANN as an organization has matured, and international support continues to grow for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance,” Strickling said in a statement.
Although ICANN is based in Southern California, governments worldwide have a say in the group’s decisions through an oversight body. ICANN in 2009 made an “Affirmation of Commitments” to the Commerce Department that covers several key issues.
Fadi Chehade, president of ICANN, disputed many of the complaints about the transition plan and promised an open, inclusive process to find a new international oversight structure for the group.
“Nothing will be done in any way to jeopardize the security and stability of the Internet,” he said.
The United States has long maintained authority over elements of the Internet, which grew from a Defense Department program that started in the 1960s. The relationship between the United States and ICANN has drawn wider international criticism in recent years, in part because big American companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft play such a central role in the Internet’s worldwide functioning. The NSA revelations exacerbated those concerns.
“This is a step in the right direction to resolve important international disputes about how the Internet is governed,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of Public Knowledge, a group that promotes open access to the Internet.
Verizon, one of the world’s biggest Internet providers, issued a statement saying, “A successful transition in the stewardship of these important functions to the global multi-stakeholder community would be a timely and positive step in the evolution of Internet governance.”
ICANN’s most important function is to oversee the assigning of Internet domains — such as dot-com, dot-edu and dot-gov — and ensure that the various companies and universities involved in directing digital traffic do so safely.
Concern about ICANN’s stewardship has spiked in recent years amid a massive and controversial expansion that is adding hundreds of new domains, such as dot-book, dot-gay and dot-sucks, to the Internet’s infrastructure. More than 1,000 new domains are slated to be made available, pumping far more fee revenue into ICANN.
Major corporations have complained, however, that con artists already swarm the Internet with phony Web sites designed to look like the authentic offerings of respected brands.
“To set ICANN so-called free is a very major step that should done with careful oversight,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers. “We would be very concerned about that step.”

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On March 14, 2014 by Conspiracy Realism in ,    No comments
Leonid Kravchuk

(This article was corrected on March 14. Originally Posted March 13th 2014.)

KIEV — It could be seen as saber rattling, fear-mongering or an astute prediction by a man with intimate knowledge of Ukrainian-Russian history, but Leonid Kravchuk is adamant that Russian President Vladimir Putin has strayed into potentially cataclysmic territory, and that the current showdown in Crimea could escalate into a world war.
In an interview with International Business Times, Kravchuk, who led Ukraine to independence in 1991 and became its first president, claimed there are already 18,000 Russian soldiers in his country and that a full-scale Russian invasion would cause Western powers – including NATO – to engage them militarily.

Sitting in his spacious office in Kiev, surrounded by decades’ worth of Ukrainian mementoes and exquisite amber handicrafts as a motley crew of self-styled defenders awaits in nearby Maidan Square, Kravchuk said he sees disturbing parallels between the current crisis and the outbreak of World War II, when he was a 5-year-old boy whose family lived in the village of Velykyi Zhytyn.

Velykyi Zhytyn, now part of Ukraine, was part of Poland until the Nazi invasion in 1939, which sparked the deadliest conflict in human history, and in which Kravchuk’s father died while fighting for the Polish cavalry. He sees the Ukrainian crisis as comparable to the second partition of Poland, and warns of a similar spreading conflict given Russia’s aggressive stance and this week’s announcement that the U.S. would send military aircraft and troops to neighboring Poland.

“In case of a full Russian invasion, there is the risk of a third world war,” Kravchuk told IBTimes. “Ukraine is in the center of Europe; it has a population of 45 million; it has borders with several Western countries; and, of course, if Russia invaded Ukraine and war started, the conflict could spread to neighboring European countries.” He is more convinced than ever of the imminent threat, though his warning is more detailed and less alarmist in tone than his stance in a recent op-ed for the Russian magazine, in which he asked, “Does Russia not understand that this is the beginning of World War III?”

It's not unusual, of course, for someone to raise the specter of another world war during a geopolitical crisis. Such warnings were first issued soon after the end of World War II, during the Korean War in 1951, and have occasionally cropped up in the decades since, including in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and during the Bosnia War, from 1992 to 1995, when observers noted that World War I had begun there, in Sarajevo, with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914.

But Kravchuk is not generally given to hyperbolic analogies and sensationalism. He is known as a master practitioner of realpolitik, which allowed him to survive the cutthroat rivalries within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and climb to its highest echelons, and has described himself as someone who tries to “slip through the raindrops” rather than open an umbrella.

“Sometimes in politics you can’t move forward in a straight line,” he said with a hearty laugh in his office a few blocks from the Maidan, where the Ukrainian uprising began, and which is now a patchwork encampment of self-defense brigades that range from simple patriots to Cossacks and black-shirted, skinhead ultra-nationalists.

Yet even a wily politician can see the potential for major upheaval in the showdown with Russia over Crimea, and Kravchuk’s voice and expression convey stunned incredulity at Putin’s actions, which he sees as a reckless gamble that risks global confrontation.

The current threat, he said, is well understood by European leaders, particularly Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who warned that the world “stands on the brink of conflict, the consequences of which are not foreseen.”

The Pentagon, meanwhile, has said it would send 12 F-16 aircraft and 300 U.S. troops to Poland by the end of the week to demonstrate its commitment to defend its allies in the region.

With tensions building, Kravchuk said that perhaps Putin “has forgotten in which century he is living -- the century of globalization, and he has forgotten that in Europe there is an organization called NATO, and that this military alliance is led by the United States.”

To avert catastrophe, Kravchuk said, “all levers – economic, political, military – must be employed to put pressure on Russia.” The U.S. and Europe also must make clear what kind of assistance will be given to Ukraine, he said.

Asked if he believes Western powers will assist Ukraine militarily, at risk of war, he said, “You need to ask that to those Western powers and those organizations – I cannot answer for them. But if you analyze all the developments regarding Ukraine, I see it’s possible to get their support for our security.” He noted that in addition to the U.S. deployments to Poland, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned that Russia must recognize the potential consequences of its actions.

“Currently there are 18,000 Russian troops in Ukraine,” Kravchuk said. “There are irregulars, and sleeping cells too, and we don’t know their number… they are mostly operating in Crimea.”

Ukraine is strategically positioned between Russia and Europe, which is one reason the current conflict threatens to spill over beyond its borders. The Crimean War in the 1850s was fought between Russia (then ruling Ukraine) and France, Britain and the Ottoman Empire. Throughout its history, Ukraine’s borders have changed many times, with a significant portion of what is now Western Ukraine having been annexed by Soviet forces from Poland in 1939, and formerly Russian Crimea added in 1954.

Ukraine existed as a Soviet state until 1991, when it gained its independence as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kravchuk, who resigned from the Communist Party that year, was Ukraine’s first elected president, serving from 1991 to 1994. He was defeated in his bid for a second term in 1994 but has remained active in Ukrainian politics, having alternatively supported Viktor Yanukovych and rival Yulia Tymoshenko.

Many Ukrainians faulted Kravchuk for relinquishing Soviet nuclear weapons that were based in their country, which they now say could have prevented Russian aggression. But Kravchuk dismisses the idea, saying, “I don’t think nuclear weapons would have made a difference. We wouldn’t have been able to use them, as they were controlled from outside Ukraine, and even if we could or wanted to use them, those nuclear heads’ capability expired in 1998 anyway.”

If he were the Ukrainian president right now, Kravchuk said, “at all costs I would meet with Putin and would try to persuade him that a Russian war with Ukraine would be a tragedy, not only for our nations.”

Because of its geographic location, Ukraine should act as a buffer between Russia and Europe, he said. “Since we are such a coveted piece of land, we need to observe strict neutrality… something like Finland.” That, he said, would not preclude forging close economic and trade links with both the European Union and Russia.

“Ukraine should have a special status; that’s something that can be arranged,” he said.

Kravchuk favors a level of autonomy among Ukrainian regions to preserve the nation’s unity, including for Crimea and Western Ukraine. “There shouldn’t be any one region dominating over others,” he said. But he is unwavering in his belief that Ukraine should remain one nation.

He has a unique vantage point on the crisis, as a former Ukrainian leader and Communist with long, close ties to Russia. He said he became disillusioned with party politics early on, while a student and Communist Party member in Moscow in 1969, when he claims he was given access to restricted documents in which Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin called for the extermination of Ukrainian peasants and workers. “Later, in Kiev, I was in charge of the files that documented the Holodomor,” he said, referring by the Ukrainian name to the manmade famine in the early 1930s reputedly orchestrated by Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, which caused the deaths of millions of Ukrainians.

During his long, eventful life – Kravchuk is now 80 – he survived the Second World War; Stalin’s lingering cult of personality and its eventual repudiation by Khrushchev; Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika reforms; the Cuban Missile Crisis; and that most incredible event, the collapse of the Soviet Union. “I never expected to see that,” he said of the latter, “and that I would sign its death certificate.” He said that he would have imagined the Soviet Union would collapse only as a result of a catastrophic conflict, with massive bloodshed.

Kravchuk, then the president of Ukraine, and his peers – Boris Yeltsin, with the Russian Federation, and Stanislav Shushkevich, with Belarus, signed the Belavezha Accords on Dec. 8, 1991, which effectively dissolved the Soviet Union. “The Soviet Union came to an end without a single bullet being shot and without a single drop of blood being shed, and I don’t think the world gives that its due credit yet,” Kravchuk said.

Given that the Soviet Union collapsed without bloodshed, in contrast to Kravchuk’s own expectations, perhaps he could be expected to be optimistic that diplomacy will prevent a military showdown in Ukraine. And he does hold out hope that the two sides can find common diplomatic ground. But when asked if he is fearful that such efforts will ultimately fail, he first said, “Yes, I fear,” then immediately rephrased his answer. “I don’t fear, but I suffer for what is going on… Ukraine was my child and now Ukraine is giving birth to his own children, which is why I fear what the future may have in store for us… but I don’t fear, I have said I would pick up my own arms and fight for my land…”

Asked if he truly expects a world war, he first hedged, then issued a challenge. “I don’t think Putin has completely lost his mind – he is an intelligent person who needs to understand the consequences of his actions,” he said.

But, he added, “If Third World War begins, we will have Nuremberg Trials again, but this time in Moscow.”