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One of the most heralded "success stories" of post-Taliban Afghanistan has been the growth of its independent media. Afghan and international news organizations in Afghanistan have largely enjoyed press freedoms rivaling those of many Western nations.
But today's expulsion of New York Times correspondent Matthew Rosenberg calls into question how much progress Afghanistan has made in terms of rule of law and press freedoms.
Afghanistan's attorney general's office ordered Rosenberg out after he refused to reveal anonymous sources for a story published Tuesday. In it, Rosenberg quoted top Afghan officials discussing the possibility of forming an interim government due to the protracted and unresolved presidential election.
A statement released today by the Afghan government's media center says Rosenberg was acting more as a spy than a journalist and that the country had to protect the national interest.
Media experts in Afghanistan say the attorney general cannot order a journalist to reveal sources — only a court can.
A spokesman for the attorney general said the office demanded that Rosenberg name his sources in order to prove that the quotes were real. Rosenberg's refusal to do so, the spokesman says, means the report was fabricated. The attorney general determined it was a risk to Afghan national security to allow Rosenberg to stay in the country.
Afghan media expert Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar says this is nothing but the government playing politics and exploiting a vague clause of the Afghan constitution that states the press must not report against the national interest or national security. He says Rosenberg's reporting violated no laws — and in fact, the attorney general never charged the correspondent with a crime.
Rosenberg issued this statement on his way to the airport today (where he was escorted through immigration by Kabul's chief prosecutor and police general):
"The expulsion order is legally groundless and even ridiculous (the day before they expelled me, they ordered me not to leave the country). I'm leaving because the alternative is to risk an arbitrary and equally groundless arrest.
"This order was issued because President Karzai insisted on it. It was clear the authorities had no interest in following their own laws, but were intent on expelling me because they disliked a story. I'm lucky enough that I can just leave. The millions of Afghans whose lives are governed by these same officials deserve better."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly accused The New York Times of following secret agendas and attempting to divide Afghanistan.
Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizy says that Rosenberg's expulsion was necessary to "stop the evil in the NYT's reporting."
Faizy also tweeted: "... biased reporting by the NYT, not properly sourced can be considered nothing but a fabrication aimed at seeking a specific motive."
Addressing the issue today, U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham said, "We deplore this decision, which is unjustified and based on unfounded allegations." His statement continued:
"This first expulsion of a journalist in post-Taliban Afghanistan is a regrettable step backward for the freedom of the press in this country. There is no mistaking the signal this sends to all journalists working in Afghanistan, whether they are Afghan, American, or any other nationality. I expressed today to President Karzai our strong concern about this unwarranted action. I asked him to affirm his government's recognition of the importance of protecting the freedom of the press, as an important part of the legacy of his presidency."
Faizullah Zaki, spokesman for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, called the expulsion unacceptable and says this type of government abuse will not happen under the next administration.
Bank of America Corp. has agreed to pay nearly $17 billion in a settlement with federal regulators over allegations that it misled investors into buying risky, mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the 2008 financial meltdown.
The Department of Justice, which announced the $16.65 billion deal today, describes it as "the largest civil settlement with a single entity in history."
BOA, the second-largest U.S. bank, will pay a $9.65 billion penalty and provide $7 billion in relief to troubled borrowers, Reuters reports. The bank says it's expecting a $5.3 billion hit to third-quarter earnings as a result of the deal.
The settlement "addresses allegations that Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Countrywide each engaged in pervasive schemes to defraud financial institutions and other investors in structured financial products known as residential mortgage-backed securities, or RMBS," Attorney General Eric Holder said.
The securities typically included a high percentage of sub-prime mortgages and the sellers misrepresented to investors the degree of risk involved, Justice alleges. When the housing market collapsed, many of the RMBS became worthless.
Holder said the subprime mortgages bundled into the securities "contained material underwriting defects; they were secured by properties with inflated appraisals; they failed to comply with federal, state, and local laws; and they were insufficiently collateralized."
Even so, he said "these financial institutions knowingly, routinely, falsely, and fraudulently marked and sold these loans as sound and reliable investments. Worse still, on multiple occasions - when confronted with concerns about their reckless practices - bankers at these institutions continued to mislead investors about their own standards and to securitize loans with fundamental credit, compliance, and legal defects."
Countrywide, acquired by the Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, accounts for most of the alleged wrongdoing. BOA also owns Merrill Lynch.
The settlement is the latest in a series prompted by the Justice Department actions. In November, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay $13 billion and in July, Citigroup came to a $7 billion deal with the federal investigators.
But, as The New York Times writes: "More than any other Wall Street giant, Bank of America was the source of the troubled subprime loans that helped ignite the crisis."
The Times says that while no bank executives will face charges as part of the agreement, "prosecutors are preparing a separate civil case against [former Countrywide CEO] Angelo Mozilo, the man who came to embody the risk-taking for which Bank of America is now paying dearly, a rare move against a senior executive at the center of the financial crisis."
The newspaper says Mozilo's company "originated mortgages that went to people with little income to repay them, causing devastating losses for investors who bought the loans."
USA Today writes: "Despite the size of the new settlement, some consumer groups have criticized the lack of detailed data on investor losses linked to the mortgage-selling scheme, as well as an absence of charges against specific bank officials."
When Europeans came to the Americas, they brought some nasty diseases — smallpox, cholera and typhus, to name a few.
But one pathogen was already there. And it likely traveled to the shores of South America in a surprising vessel.
By analyzing DNA from 1,000-year-old mummies, scientists have found evidence that sea lions and seals were the first to bring tuberculosis to the New World. The sea animals likely infected people living along the coast of Peru and northern Chile, a team from the University of Tubingen in Germany reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.
"We weren't expecting to find a connection to marine mammals," says archaeologist Kirsten Bos, the lead author on the study. "It surprised us all."
Ancient Peruvians might have caught the TB bacteria while hunting and eating seals, Bos says, or during some type of ceremony.
"These people had a spiritual connection to seals," she says. "Images of seal hunting and seals themselves have been found on ceramics used by Peruvian cultures. One ceramic has a sea lion on the handle. That's pretty neat."
Previous studies have found signs that tuberculosis infected people across North and South Americas. But genetic data suggest that TB originated in Africa.
So how did the bacteria finds its way to the New World before Europeans hit the high seas?
To try and figure that out, Bos and her colleagues screened thousands of skeletons for signs of TB infections. TB is known for damaging lungs. But the infection can also scar bones and curve the spine.
Sixty-eight skeletons had traces of TB infections. Bos and her colleagues could extract tuberculosis DNA from three skeletons found in southern Peru and dating back to 700 to 1,000 A.D.
The team got enough DNA to reconstruct the bacteria's genomes. To their surprise, the genes didn't look like those from TB that infects people today. Instead, the bacteria were most closely related to a type of TB that infects Pinnipeds — seals, sea lions and walruses.
"Our results suggest that TB emerged in Africa about 6,000 years ago," Bos says. "Then at some point, the bacteria made a jump from land animals to a sea lion or seals."
These animals probably spread the bacteria to Australia and South America, where people were infected, she says.
The team can't rule out the possibility that the Peruvians passed TB onto seals or sea lions. But Kos believes that's an unlikely scenario: "It would require humans having regular interactions with [live] seals, like rangers have with cattle today. Humans weren't farming or herding seals then."
The study couldn't determine how common the ancient TB strain was in humans — or even if the bacteria could spread from person to person.
But one thing is certain: The strain of TB found in the mummies isn't the one circulating in North and South Americans today. "It seems the ancient strain of TB was actually replaced by European lineages," Bos says.