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As the Islamic State group pushes across Anbar, Iraqi tribes in Abu Ghraib block takeover

The capital has been on alert amid fears that Abu Ghraib will be easy prey as the group vows to continue its march toward Baghdad

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Closing off West Africa won't help in Ebola fight, Red Cross chief says

The secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that the time frame is possible if there is ‘good isolation, good treatment of the cases which are confirmed, good dignified and safe burials of deceased people’

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How Putin Became a Central Figure in the First Ever Vote to Ban Fracking in Texas

Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 28, 2009. (Photo: Remy Steinegger / World Economic Forum ) On September 8, a Texas state regulatory agency sent a letter to United States Secretary of State John Kerry, suggesting that US anti-fracking activists are receiving funding from Russian President Vladimir Putin. “It is reasonable to assume,” Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter wrote, “that their intention is to increase their market share of natural gas production and distribution as Russia is the second largest producer of natural gas in the world.” This move by Texas coincides with the lead up to an Election Day referendum on the state’s first proposed city-wide fracking ban, to be held in the city of Denton on November 4. But this particular move by Texas to discredit activists is not a new one. In fact, it highlights one way climate campaigners have previously been tracked and monitored by intelligence agencies, public relations firms, and their powerful clients to create “actionable intelligence.” That is, information that could help undermine and eventually defeat social movements. The letter was publicized in a press release headlined, “Porter Exposes Putin Plot to Hurt Texas Economy.” It offers no direct proof to back up the Putin claims, only citing “multiple reports” linking Russia’s massive state-owned natural gas company Gazprom to public relations and lobbying firms, such as industry giant Ketchum. Porter also wrote that Russia’s strategy includes bankrolling anti-fracking environmental groups and pushing propaganda by distributing the Academy Award-nominated documentary Gasland, which Porter called “an incredibly deceitful film.” Kerry has not yet responded publicly to the letter. And Carlos Espinosa, the Texas Railroad Commission’s director of special projects, admitted in emails obtained under the Texas Public Information Act that there was no actual paper trail corroborating the Putin story, only claims from others in the news. “Our information is based off of reports from the New York Times, CNN, National Review, and many others, including a former American Ambassador to Russia,” Espinosa wrote in response to a reporter’s query. “Gazprom is spending tens of millions of dollars — that we know of — to eliminate competition globally. It’s likely they’ve influenced much of the overall anti-hydraulic fracturing movement’s message.” Texas’ economic interest in developing its natural gas resources and the state’s long history of working hand-in-hand with the energy industry may explain its effort to discredit the anti-fracking movement. In his letter, Porter insists that the US government must protect the “vitality of the industry that produces these resources and paves the way for American energy independence.” This cozy relationship between the industry and its regulatory agency does not go unnoticed by activists. “The RRC is not a regulator, but a facilitator of industry’s wishes,” Will Wooten, a Denton, Texas-based anti-fracking activist who has also been involved in the Tar Sands Blockade, said in an email. “Whether approving the eminent domain process for pipelines like the Keystone XL, or allowing fracking to expand in urban areas with no real regulations in place, the RRC is there to make sure industry gets what it wants.” The Texas Railroad Commission did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article. History Repeats Itself The Putin tactic may have originated with Austin, Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. When the US anti-fracking movement began to gain steam in 2010, Stratfor began monitoring the activities of anti-fracking activists. It did so on behalf of its “biggest client,” the American Petroleum Institute. In a June 2010 email obtained by Wikileaks from the now-imprisoned Anonymous “hactivist” Jeremy Hammond, Stratfor senior Eurasia analyst Lauren Goodrich made a now-familiar accusatory overture: US-based anti-fracking organizations — and in particular, Gasland director and producer Josh Fox — might be tied to Putin. “[Fox] said his film was paid for by HBO,” wrote Goodrich. “However, I would be interested to see who else funded this documentary (ie Coal or Russia, etc.).” Personnel records obtained via the Public Information Act show that the Texas RRC hired Espinosa in August, about a month before the release of the Porter letter. Espinosa formerly worked as a senior counselor at the public relations firm Dezenhall Resources. Importantly, Espinosa gave final guidance to “tee up” Porter’s letter for dissemination to the press. PR Industry’s “Navy Seals” Dezenhall, the self-described “Navy SEALs of the communications business,” previously hired security firm Beckett Brown International (BBI) to surveil Greenpeace USA as part of its issues management due diligence process. In practice, that meant not only open-source snooping on the Web, but also “pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings,” according to a 2008 Mother Jones investigation. Greenpeace filed a lawsuit in 2010 against both BBI and Dezenhall, which was dismissed upon appeal in August. In the world of corporate public relations, firms like Dezenhall and Stratfor provide what Judith Richter, author of the book Holding Corporations Accountable: Corporate Conduct, International Codes and Citizen Action, points to as a key public relations technique: “environmental monitoring.” The practice amounts to an “early warning system that helps PR managers to locate the smoke and take action before a major fire develops,” Richter wrote in her book. “As a result of such information-gathering, public relations firms have [developed] data banks on activist and other relevant groups and organizations.” It’s no coincidence, then, that such tactics are now being deployed in Texas and beyond, working their way all the way up to the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Barry Smitherman, another Texas Railroad Commissioner, cited these claims made by the NATO Secretary General in a July 11 letter to Denton Mayor Chris Watts. In so doing, Smitherman hinted that those pushing for the city-wide fracking ban in Denton, Texas might be funded by Moscow. “It would therefore appear that not all efforts to ban hydraulic fracturing are grounded in environmental concerns,” wrote Smitherman. “With this in mind, I trust you will all will determine whether funding and manpower behind this effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in Denton is coming from out of state sources or from those who would profit from the imposition of such a ban.” Out of Touch? As Denton narrows in on its vote on the would-be historic fracking ban, powerful industry players have spent big money to defeat the measure. Citizens on the ground in Denton recently told the Dallas Observer that the Putin talking point has woven its way into the door-to-door canvassing operations of those volunteering to get out the vote in support of striking down the fracking ban proposal. But Wooten, the anti-fracking activist, dismisses the Putin claims. “While the [Russia] meme may be effective for [industry] on a national and international level, on a local level in Denton it just sounds out-of-touch with the issue at hand and borderline wingnut,” he said. “These tactics are hurting their support among Dentonites, not helping.”

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What the floods did to Kashmir’s grand heritage

What floods did to Kashmir’s most treasured historic sites

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Unable to protect rhinos, Kruger Park opens auction on endangered species

Feeding Asia’s demand for rhino horn, poachers attack relentlessly, so the endangered animals will be auctioned off to safer homes

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Real’s Bale doubtful for Liverpool

Wales international Gareth Bale is facing a race to be fit for Wednesday’s Champions League game at Liverpool.

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UK grapples with delicate issue of returning jihadists

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Do you lock them up, or try to rehabilitate them? Britain has taken a hard line on citizens returning from fighting in Syria and Iraq, but anti-extremism groups and experts say more good might come from trying to help them. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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UN chief: 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day

He told the U.N. observance of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty that at least 700 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2010

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Beijing marathon will go ahead despite smog, official insists

<!– google_ad_section_start –> The Beijing International Marathon will go ahead as planned tomorrow, despite the heavy smog enveloping the capital, a race official has said. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Wei Ying-chung appears in court in cooking oil scandal

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Wei Ying-chung, former head of Taiwan’s Wei Chuan Food, a subsidiary of mainland-based Ting Hsin International Group, appeared in court today over his alleged role in the recent cooking oil scandal. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Lagos motorists back ‘horn-free day’

Many motorists use their horns sparingly in Nigeria’s main city, Lagos, to show support for a campaign to reduce noise levels and promote road courtesy, a BBC reporter says.

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Scots unemployment falls by 40,000

Unemployment in Scotland fell by 40,000 between June and August to stand at 151,000, according to official figures.

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Fly genes hold clue to human illness

Scientists sequence the entire genome of the common housefly in a bid to find cures for human diseases.

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Ebola’s impact on global food supply a cause for concern

The West African Ebola epidemic and its impact on food security will be a topic of discussion as officials from African nations and other international dignitaries gather for the annual World Food Prize award ceremony to discuss the challenges of …

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Alonso between McLaren & Mercedes

Fernando Alonso is torn between signing for McLaren or taking a year out and joining Mercedes, writes Andrew Benson.

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Taliban ambush kills 22 Afghan security force members

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Taliban insurgents have killed at least 22 security force members in an ambush in northern Afghanistan. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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VIDEO: Rosberg ruins tyres after early error

A first-lap lock-up into Turn 2 at the Sochi Autodrom puts Nico Rosberg on the back foot in the inaugural Russian Grand Prix.

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VIDEO: Silence to mark Brighton bombing

A minute’s silence will be held to mark the 30th anniversary of the IRA bomb attack on a Brighton hotel during the Conservative party conference.

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China detains Transition Institute co-founder Guo Yushan on troublemaking charges

<!– google_ad_section_start –> A Chinese scholar and rights advocate who founded an influential non-governmental think tank has been detained on the criminal charge of provoking troubles, his lawyer said Sunday. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Germany’s role in global crises questioned over lack of military might

A government-commissioned study calls for major reforms to avoid expensive and problematic delays

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