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US: Defense Secretary Robert Gates: A straight shooter retires

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© The Associated Press / Alex Brandon
Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.
He served two presidents as a pragmatic, independent, non-ideological voice of reason.

Our leaders are not held in particularly high regard these days. Corruption, venality, ideological rigidity and self-serving politics have helped create a national atmosphere of discord and divisiveness and have helped push politicians and government officials down, down, down in the polls.

So it is worth taking note of Robert Gates, the U.S. secretary of Defense since late 2006, who is stepping down this week. Gates, a 67-year-old former CIA director, served in his current job under two presidents: George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And though the two were as different as two presidents could be, Gates served them both as a pragmatic, independent, non-ideological voice of reason, by all appearances driven less by self-promotion than by concern for the national interest and the common good.

He wasn't always one of our favorites. Back in the 1980s, Gates was a little too close to (but never indicted in) the Iran-Contra scandal, in which American officials traded arms for hostages in Iran and used the profits to fund the right-wing Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. He was known as a hotheaded and impulsive Cold Warrior, a hard-liner against the Soviets and other governments of the left. He even advocated airstrikes against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua in 1984.

Gates has mellowed since then, but even now we don't agree with all of his positions, including his vehement campaign in recent weeks for only a "modest" reduction in troop levels in Afghanistan this year and next.

Bizarro Earth

Syrian Protesters Warn of 'Volcano' This Week

Syrian troops continue to shoot and kill mourners and refugees flee to Lebanon as the protest movement warns of a "volcano" this week. Various sources reported that up to 18 civilians, including two mourners, were gunned down Friday by soldiers and secret police loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.


Hourglass

Assange Shakes Up Legal Team

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© Agence France-Presse
Legal eagles: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange addresses the media as he leaves Court in south-east London earlier this year. The Australian has recruited new lawyers to his team.
Julian Assange is bringing in the UK's most high-profile lawyers as he tries to avoid extradition to Sweden.

The move comes ahead of an important July 12 appeals hearing in the UK High Court, which will rule on whether Assange - who heads Wikileaks - should be handed over to Swedish authorities for questioning.

The website chief has denied wrongdoing and has not been formally charged. The allegations arose as WikiLeaks was in the midst of a controversial release of a bevy of US State Department cables.

Attorneys Gareth Peirce and Ben Emmerson will represent Assange at the upcoming hearing, their offices confirmed separately. His long-time lawyer, Mark Stephens, declined to say whether he was still representing Assange.

"I'm not prepared to go into that," Stephens said by phone. Asked if he had parted ways with Assange, Stephens said: "That's not entirely accurate."

Star of David

State Dept Threatens Prison for US Participants in Gaza Aid Flotilla

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Israeli officials have been ratcheting up their rhetoric in demanding that the world unite to stop humanitarian aid from being delivered to the people of the Gaza Strip, calling such attempts an existential threat to Israel and a "deliberate provocation" by the world.

While this hasn't resulted in European nations or others stopping humanitarian groups from moving forward with the aid, it has shifted the Obama Administration's position from opposition to open threats.

Now, the US State Department is not only railing against the flotilla as "irresponsible" but is threatening criminal charges against American participants, claiming that the attempt to deliver aid to Gaza amounts to "conspiring to deliver material support" to Hamas and could lead to lengthy prison sentences.

Laptop

LulzSec dumps hundreds of Arizona, US Police documents

Border cops' private laundry aired

Lulz Security's string of embarrassing hacks continued as the group released hundreds of internal documents belonging to various Arizona law enforcement agencies, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Many of the documents released over BitTorrent are stamped "law enforcement sensitive" and "for official use only," and the dump of some 700 files contains material from a variety of agencies, including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety has reportedly acknowledged that its computer systems were compromised and the department's website had been inaccessible for more than eight hours at time of writing. A post on LulzSec's website, said hackers targeted the agency for its enforcement of a recently enacted Arizona law that makes it a crime for aliens to be in the state without carrying immigration documents and gives police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the US illegally.

Display

Hackers Leak Former British PM Tony Blair Data

tblairzinehack
© cnet
TeaMp0isoN releases what looks like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's electronic address book.
Hackers today released what looks like personal information on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, including the contents of his electronic address book, with contact data for members of Parliament and for what could be Blair's dentist and his mechanic.

A link to the data on the Pastebin Web site was sent out on Twitter from the account of "TeaMp0isoN" along with a message saying "Tony Blair should be locked up, he is a war criminal." Earlier in the day, the TeaMp0isoN account had featured a tweet that said the group was targeting Blair for his support of the war in Iraq.

The contact list appears to be from when Blair was prime minister and includes a phone number for 10 Downing Street. CNET dialed that number and talked to an unidentified representative from the current prime minister's office. That representative confirmed that the number was for 10 Downing Street but said the office had no comment on the matter. There was no immediate response to an e-mail sent to the address the office gave for Blair, who resigned as prime minister four years ago and was succeeded by Gordon Brown.

Sherlock

UK: Senior Conservative MP Shale found dead in toilet at Glastonbury festival

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© Jsn Photography/WireImage
A police officer at Glastonbury festival, where Christopher Shale was found in a backstage area.
David Cameron pays tribute to 'a big rock in my life' after Shale is found in toilet on day his strategy documents were leaked

A close political ally of David Cameron has been found dead in a portable toilet in a backstage area at Glastonbury festival. Christopher Shale, the chairman of West Oxfordshire Conservative Association (Woca), was found dead on Sunday morning.

Shale was a successful businessman as chief executive of Oxford Resources Ltd, the corporate cost-reduction company based in Chipping Norton. Previously he was chief executive of SGL Communications. He was also a director of the Centre for Policy Studies and a sponsor of OpenEurope, the eurosceptic thinktank.

Cameron's Witney parliamentary constituency is in west Oxfordshire and Shale was said to know Cameron well.

The prime minister released a statement in which he said: "Sam and I were devastated to hear the news about Christopher. He was a great friend and has been a huge support over the last decade in west Oxfordshire.

Star of David

Israel Warns Media Against Boarding Gaza Flotilla

Israel on Sunday threatened to ban international journalists for up to a decade from the country if they join a flotilla planning to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The warning reflected Israeli jitters about the international flotilla, which comes just over a year after a similar mission ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists in clashes with Israeli naval commandos.

Israel is eager to avoid a repeat of last year's raid, which drew heavy international condemnations and ultimately forced Israel to loosen a blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza. Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons into the territory.

It remains unclear when the current flotilla will actually set sail, but organizers have hinted it could be as soon as this week.

In a letter to foreign journalists, the Government Press Office's director, Oren Helman, called the flotilla "a dangerous provocation that is being organized by western and Islamic extremist elements to aid Hamas."

Ambulance

Venezuela's Chavez in 'critical' condition: report

Chavez Coup Anniversary 2008
© Venezuelanalysis.com
President Chavez celebrating the defeat of the coup with supporters in 2008
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who is in Cuba following emergency surgery, is in "critical" but stable condition, Miami's El Nuevo Herald reported Saturday, citing US intelligence sources.

Chavez's government has said he was operated on for a pelvic abscess June 10 and is recovering well; the president's brother has told Venezuelan state media that Chavez could return to Caracas in about two weeks.

But the Venezuelan government has not addressed details of Chavez's condition. And opposition lawmakers are up in arms in Caracas as many think it is unconstitutional for the president to be governing from abroad.

The Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald cited unnamed US intelligence sources as refusing to comment on rumors in Venezuela that Chavez could be receiving treatment for prostate cancer.

Yet one source was quoted as saying that Chavez "is in critical condition; not on the brink of death, but critical indeed, and complicated."

The same sources said Chavez's daughter, Rosines, and his mother, Marisabel Rodriguez, were recently whisked off to Cuba in an air force plane, the report said.

"They took Marisabel and her daughter out urgently," another source told the paper. "That was 72 hours ago."

Brick Wall

US Supreme Court Tells Working Women, You're on Your Own

Walmart supreme court
© Unknown
Sitting in the majestic paneled courtroom in the U.S. Supreme Court three months ago, it did not take long to get that dreaded sense that Betty Dukes and 1.5 million other current and former women employees at Wal-Mart were not likely to prevail in their epic 10-year battle against the nation's largest private employer.

On Monday, that premonition came true. The Supreme Court threw out several lower-court rulings and declared that the women's claims of massive, persistent sex discrimination were not sufficiently similar to merit class-action status. Ladies, you are on your own!

In order to get the case certified as a class action, Dukes and her fellow plaintiffs had introduced vast amounts of evidence supporting their claims of discrimination. Women made up two-thirds of the Wal-Mart work force, yet held only one-third of management jobs. Wal-Mart had a far smaller proportion of women managers when compared to the other major retailers. Indeed, in 1999 (the most recent date for which data were available) Wal-Mart had a lower percentage of female managers than its top competitors had in 1975.

Other evidence from Wal-Mart's own personnel records showed that women were paid less on average than their male counterparts in all job classifications, despite having higher performance ratings and more seniority than their male co-workers.

This evidence, along with more than 100 declarations from women employees around the United States, convinced a San Francisco federal court to certify the class in 2004, allowing the women to sue en masse and giving them a fighting chance against the corporate giant. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the class certification three separate times, albeit by a narrow majority. Wal-Mart was thrilled when the pro - big business Supreme Court agreed to hear its appeal.