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 21 
 on: Jul 30, 2014, 06:25 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Smarter urban water: how Spain's Zaragoza learned to use less

Facing severe crop failure and forest fires, pioneering citizens transformed habits in a decade and reduced water use by 27%

Ashifa Kassam   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 09.55 BST   

The drought, when it came two decades ago, was severe. As reservoirs across Spain dried up in the early 1990s, the number of forest fires soared, crops whittled and more than 11 million Spaniards faced water shortages. Scientists would go on to note that the five-year drought – the worst on record in the last century – ranked among the country’s worst natural disasters in terms of people affected.

When the rains began to fall again in 1996, municipalities scrambled to secure their quotas and set water restrictions on residents. But in the northern city of Zaragoza, one group took a very different approach.

Water had always been managed in a reactive way in Spain, said Víctor Viñuales, co-founder and director of the Spanish NGO Fundación Ecología y Desarrollo (Ecology and Development Foundation). His approach was, as he put it: “We need water, where will we find it?” It was an approach that had pushed Spain into a counter-intuitive position of having one of the world’s highest per capita water consumption rates despite limited access to freshwater. “There simply weren’t any policies in place to manage the demand.”

Trained as a sociologist, Viñuales wondered what would happen if municipalities focused less on making sure residents had access to all the water they wanted and more on reducing demand. From that thought began a 15-year experiment in Zaragoza that has revolutionised how many in Spain – from locals to public officials – think about water management.

Today Viñuales rattles off statistic after statistic to show how this city of 700,000 has transformed itself. Between 1997 and 2012, per capita use of water in Zaragoza dropped from 150 litres/day to 99 litres/day. The drop even sustained an increase in population; between 1997 and 2008, the city’s population grew by 12% but daily water use dropped by 27%.

The project started simply, with a challenge put to the city’s residents to save 1bn litres of water in a year. “It was a collective challenge with a simple objective that was easy for people to understand,” said Viñuales. “Because behind any of these processes of social transformation lies an exercise in the seduction of the citizens.”

Spurred into action by widespread media coverage and school outreach campaigns, more than 30,000 residents formally pledged to reduce their water use. In the first year of the project, the city’s residents surpassed their goal, saving 1.176bn litres of water, an amount equivalent to 5.6% of annual domestic consumption.

The next phase of the project relied on a network of what Viñuales called 50 volunteer “accomplices”. Free audits were offered to help implement water-saving – and ultimately cost-saving – measures to a diverse group that included a hospital, a fish vendor and a swimming pool. As soon as positive results came rolling in, Viñuales’s group would spread the word to similar business, handing out guidebooks that explained which techniques were used.

He pointed to a local hairdressing salon, where the audit resulted in water savings of 90%. “Immediately we spread the news about these good practices to the other 1000 hairdressing salons in the city.” With the leaders marking the path, the majority soon followed, he said, prompted along by an ongoing large-scale awareness raising campaign.

Behind the scenes, his group worked with the municipality to offer discounts on water-saving products as well as to residents who managed to reduce their water consumption. The city’s water bills were redesigned so that residents could see how much water they had used that month in comparison to previous months. Viñuales’s group also worked with retailers to ensure that water-saving options – for products ranging from toilets to taps – were widely available to citizens. “What we did was articulate the project, then use social and economic actors to weave the project into the lives of citizens. The project really belonged to everyone,” said Viñuales. He and his team are now working with officials across Spain to implement similar programs in various cities and regions.

In Zaragoza, the focus has shifted to innovation in water management, through a research cluster that uses the city as a “living lab,” said Marisa Fernández who leads the Zinnae cluster.

A public park in the city that sits on a steep slope, for example, has become the site of several experiments to tackle erosion. “A plant company from Zaragoza has put a certain type of plant there and a company from Madrid developed a watering system for it. Both are testing to see if they can avoid erosion without wasting water.”

The city’s aquifer is also getting a makeover, as the cluster, the University of Zaragoza and various companies work together to develop a “smart” system to manage its use. “When we began, we inherited years of raising awareness amongst residents, companies and the city,” said Fernández. “There was a trajectory of collaboration of many years.”

As the Spanish economy fights off a double-digit recession and rampant unemployment, environmental issues have been pushed to the back burner, she said. “Municipalities in Spain have limited their spending on infrastructure. They’re not looking for innovation, but rather just maintenance.” The cluster has responded by increasingly tying their work to cost-saving benefits as well as setting their sights beyond the Spanish border, targeting markets across Europe and in central and south America.

Spain’s crippling economic crisis served to underscore a virtue that’s been key to the project, said Viñuales: Patience. “We’re talking about a process of 15 years. To achieve profound change – whether it be environmental, social or cultural – you have to be prepared to take it on for the long haul.

“Here in Zaragoza we’ve had that profound change. The population grew, but we use fewer resources than before.” He paused before he adding, “It’s really what needs to be achieved on a global level.”

 22 
 on: Jul 30, 2014, 06:11 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Coordinated Sanctions Aim at Russia’s Ability to Tap Its Oil Reserves

By PETER BAKER, ALAN COWELL and JAMES KANTER
JULY 29, 2014

WASHINGTON — The United States and Europe kicked off a joint effort on Tuesday intended to curb Russia’s long-term ability to develop new oil resources, taking aim at the Kremlin’s premier source of wealth and power in retaliation for its intervention in Ukraine.

In announcing coordinated sanctions, American and European leaders went beyond previous moves against banking and defense industries in an effort to curtail Russia’s access to Western technology as it seeks to tap new Arctic, deep sea and shale oil reserves. The goal was not to inhibit current oil production but to cloud Russia’s energy future.

The new strategy took direct aim at the economic foundation of Russia, which holds the largest combined oil and gas reserves in the world.

“The biggest edge that Western energy companies still have is their technological edge — that’s why these sanctions have the potential to have significant impact,” said Michael A. Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Chinese companies can’t step in and provide shale technology where U.S. companies are blocked. They can provide capital; they can provide people. They can’t fill in on the technology front.”

The technology cutoff could be important because Russia is only now at the early stages of developing new Arctic, deep sea and shale resources. Most of its current production comes from depleted Siberian deposits that will eventually run out. And several Western oil companies have been working with Russia to expand their resources.

ExxonMobil has a joint venture with Rosneft, the state-owned oil giant, to develop Arctic oil, and is scheduled to start drilling in the Kara Sea within weeks. BP, which owns 19.75 percent of Rosneft, just signed a joint venture with the Russian firm in May to search for shale oil in the Volga-Urals region.

Even though BP announced higher quarterly profits on Tuesday, its stock was hammered by the sanctions news, falling 3 percent. BP warned investors bluntly that further sanctions “could adversely impact our business and strategic objectives in Russia.”

Dan Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said the new energy measures underscored how much ties had deteriorated. “A year ago, Western collaboration with Russia’s energy sector was one of the bright spots in what had become a dour relationship,” he said. “No longer.”

The carefully orchestrated actions on both sides of the Atlantic were intended to demonstrate solidarity in the face of what American and European officials say has been a stark escalation by Russia in the insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Until now, European leaders had resisted the broader sorts of actions they agreed to on Tuesday, and their decision to pursue them reflected increasing alarm that Russia was not only helping separatists in Ukraine but directly involving itself in the fighting.

They are “meant as a strong warning,” Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said in a statement on Tuesday that was joined by José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission. “Destabilizing Ukraine, or any other Eastern European neighboring state, will bring heavy costs,” the statement said.

President Obama said Russia’s economy would continue to suffer until it reversed course. “Today is a reminder that the United States means what it says, and we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world,” he told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.

Mr. Obama said the fact that Europe was now joining the United States in broader measures meant the moves would “have an even bigger bite,” but in response to reporters’ questions, he said it was “not a new Cold War” between the two countries. He also made clear he was not considering providing arms to Ukraine’s government, as some Republicans have suggested, as it tries to put down the pro-Russian insurgency.

“They are better armed than the separatists,” he said. “The issue is, ‘How do we prevent bloodshed in eastern Ukraine?’ We’re trying to avoid that. And the main tool that we have to influence Russian behavior at this point is the impact that it’s having on its economy.”

The American and European actions were intended to largely, though not precisely, match each other. The United States cut off three more Russian banks, including the giant VTB Bank, from medium- and long-term capital markets and barred Americans from doing business with the United Shipbuilding Corporation, a large state-owned firm created by Mr. Putin. The Obama administration also formally suspended export credit and development finance to Russia.

The European Union adopted similar restrictions on capital markets and applied them to Russian state-owned banks. It imposed an embargo on new arms sales to Russia and limited sales of equipment with both civilian and military uses to Russian military buyers. Europe also approved new sanctions against at least three close malignant tumor Pig Putin associates, but did not identify them publicly.

European governments moved ahead despite concerns that Europe would pay an economic price for confronting the Kremlin more aggressively. While their actions went far beyond any previously taken against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, they were tailored to minimize their own costs. The arms embargo, for instance, applies only to future sales, not to the much-debated delivery by France of Mistral-class helicopter carriers that resemble bigger aircraft carriers. And the energy technology restrictions do not apply to Russian natural gas, on which Europe relies heavily.

The new sanctions could take effect as soon as Friday, though the necessary legal formalities would most likely to take longer to complete, officials said.

On Twitter, the president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, praised the decision “on a wide range of sanctions on Russia.” But she expressed unease that France would be able to maintain its naval deal with Moscow. “Unfortunately, nothing to stop the deal of Mistral yet,” she wrote. Lithuania is one of five European Union states that are close to or border Russia.

Mr. Van Rompuy departed from the usual cautious language of Europe’s declarations by condemning Russia for actions that “cannot be accepted in 21st-century Europe,” including “illegal annexation of territory” — a reference to Crimea — “and deliberate destabilization of a neighboring sovereign country.” He also cited the “anger and frustration” over the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over rebel-held territory on July 17 and “the delays in providing international access to the site of the air crash, the tampering with the remains of the plane, and the disrespectful handling of the deceased.”

Although European commerce with Russia will probably decline because of the sanctions, where the measures are expected to more severely affect Russia are the restrictions on the ability of Russian banks to raise money in Europe and the United States. “These sanctions can have quite a substantial chilling effect on the Russian economy,” said Adam Slater, a senior economist at Oxford Economics in London. “That is probably a quite effective way to put pressure on Russia.”

Still, it could take time for the effects to be felt by ordinary Russians, and some analysts expected the Kremlin to shrug them off, at least publicly.

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As Sanctions Pile Up, Russians’ Alarm Grows Over Malignant Tumor Pig Putin's Tactics

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
IHT
JULY 29, 2014

MOSCOW — Russia, facing the toughest round of Western sanctions imposed since the Ukraine crisis erupted, has adopted a nonchalant public stance, with malignant tumor Pig Putin emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and a new poll released Tuesday indicating a “What, me worry?” attitude among the bulk of the population.

But beneath that calm facade, there is growing alarm in Russia that the festering turmoil in Ukraine and the new round of far more punitive sanctions — announced Tuesday by both European nations and the United States — will have an impact on Russia’s relations with the West for years to come and damage the economy to the extent that ordinary Russians feel it.

Until now, malignant tumor Pig Putin's tactics seemed to be working. Russia was feeding the separatist insurgency in Ukraine without leaving distinct fingerprints — able to press Kiev to come to terms while avoiding a rupture with Europe that would alienate Russia’s business elite. But that strategy is beginning to crumble, battered under successive shock waves generated by the crisis.

More frequent and prominent critics are saying that malignant tumor Pig Putin and the hard-line leaders in the Kremlin overreached by suggesting that Russia, far more dependent than the old Soviet Union on international trade and financial markets, could thrive without the West.

“They were not anticipating the West to make radical moves, costly moves,” said Nikolai Petrov, an independent political analyst. “What is happening is different from what they wanted and what they expected.”

He and others pointed to the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over embattled southeastern Ukraine on July 17 as upsetting the balancing act that malignant tumor Pig Putin had managed to pull off to maintain support from the public, hard-line nationalists, the security services, the oligarchs and the more liberal business community.

“Until this catastrophe, malignant tumor Pig Putin's calculations were pretty good in terms of being able to win any tactical battle,” Mr. Petrov said.

The Kremlin had been counting on its ability to maintain just enough instability in Ukraine to keep the country dependent on Russian good will, while making Europe and the United States cautious about intervening too assertively there.

Right after this weekend, when the likelihood of more serious European sanctions materialized, malignant tumor Pig Putin met with advisers to say that Russia needed to become self-reliant. He was referring to arms production previously done in Ukraine, but the sentiment echoed in other fields.

“No matter what the difficulties we may encounter, and to be honest, I do not really see any big difficulties so far,” he said, according to a transcript on the Kremlin website, “I think that they will ultimately work to our advantage because they will give us the needed incentive to develop our production capability in areas where we had not done so yet.”

Domestically, grumbling over the creeping isolationism has grown louder. Roughly 50 percent of the economy is state-run, and the loyalty of those who direct such companies to malignant tumor Pig Putin remains absolute. But the rest are changing.

“It is still a very polite version: ‘Maybe something is going wrong,' ” said Sergei Petrov, an opposition member of Parliament and the founder of Rolf, one of the biggest car importers in Russia. “They would never say it to you, a foreigner, but I hear more and more critics.”

A former finance minister and a close malignant tumor Pig Putin ally, Alexei Kudrin, voiced rare public criticism of Kremlin policy in an interview last week with the state-run news agency ITAR-TASS.

Mr. Kudrin said he was worried that the Ukraine crisis would drive Russia into a “historic confrontation” that would retard the country’s development across the board.

The business community was dismayed by the amount of anti-Western comments on television and radio, he said, indicating a “fundamental” shift that made the West Russia’s adversary again.

“Things are different in business,” he said. “Businessmen want to work, to invest, build factories and develop trade.”

Some analysts saw that interview as a sign that malignant tumor Pig Putin was looking for a way out, preparing to abandon the Ukraine separatists publicly. They linked it to a similar sentiment in a column in the newspaper Kommersant on Tuesday, by a journalist close to the president, suggesting that he had allowed the black boxes from the Malaysian airliner to be sent to the West because he did not fully trust the information he got from his advisers.

But there has been no direct indication from malignant tumor Pig Putin that he wants to change tacks.

Officially, Russia tried to play down the airplane disaster, which killed all 298 people on board, although some news outlets raised questions from the start. The front page of the government-owned Russkaya Gazeta the day after the crash put the report on the bottom half — the top story was that Russians were eating less bread and potatoes.

The general sense here was that the West was again piling on Russia without evidence — that it was a political issue.

“In my opinion, we face a critical situation today,” Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, an independent polling organization, told a weekend seminar audience. “But our society does not realize it against a backdrop of patriotic and chauvinistic euphoria.”

That euphoria was rooted in the relatively bloodless, seemingly costless annexation of Crimea in March. The public expected that the rest of the crisis in Ukraine would be resolved with similar ease.

“The situation began changing dramatically after the crash of the Boeing,” Mr. Gudkov said. “According to our research, reaction inside the country was quite weak, but the Western European public has drastically changed its attitude towards Russia.”

Indeed, poll results released Tuesday by the Levada Center showed the Russian public barely concerned about sanctions. More than 60 percent of respondents thought they would have little or no impact on them. Malignant tumor Pig Putin remains hugely popular.

The official attitude was also calm. “We can’t ignore it,” the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said at a news conference on Monday when asked about the expected sanctions. “But to fall into hysterics and respond to a blow with a blow is not worthy of a major country.”

Mr. Lavrov also expressed disappointment that the Ukraine crisis was damaging relations between Russia and the West, but said repeatedly that it was the fault of Western capitals because they had encouraged Kiev to fight rather than negotiate.

“No one is pleased with the deterioration of relations between the partners,” he said. “We are trying to influence the situation in Ukraine to move it from the military confrontation to political negotiations.”

But others were less sanguine as the sanctions piled up.

Beyond sanctions, an arbitration court in The Hague ruled Monday that Russia should pay former Yukos shareholders $50 billion for breaking up the oil and gas company decade ago. The ruling added an element of uncertainty to dealing with Gazprom and Rosneft, the two state-controlled giants of the Russian energy economy that absorbed Yukos holdings.

Economic issues are likely to broaden the split between the more liberal economists and the conservative members of the security services, analysts said. Malignant tumor Pig Putin makes all the crucial decisions, however, and no one is likely to challenge him directly.

“There is a split, but the antiwar party lacks the instruments to forcemalignant tumor Pig Putin into practical action,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister turned opposition politician.

Kremlin officials seeking to break with the West believe that whatever financing they lose there, they can regain from China or India, Mr. Milov said, without realizing that neither banking system is geared to provide the billions in long-term credit that Russian companies routinely got from Western banks.

Indeed, at a recent dinner party, a Kremlin confidant said that the future would be all about “Russian might and Chinese wealth.” Did the West not worry, he mused aloud, that China would be the big winner?

Over all, Mr. Milov said, the outlook seems bleak.

“We are sliding into something which is clearly becoming a long-term standoff, and malignant tumor Pig Putin looks committed and not ready to give up,” he said. “It is a bad sign that everything is becoming a long-term problem.”

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Russia takes defiant stance in face of tough EU and US sanctions

Russian officials say focus will shift to domestic market production, but analysts say defence and oil industries will suffer

Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 10.59 BST   

As the US and the European Union adopted tougher economic sanctions against Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine and downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Russian officials struck a defiant note, promising that Russia would localise production and emerge stronger than before. But analysts in sectors that could be affected by the sanctions – finance, defence and energy – predicted that they would suffer in isolation from the west.

The EU reached a deal on Tuesday evening to cut off Russian state-owned banks from European capital markets and was quickly joined by the US, which denied the state-owned banks VTB Bank OAO, Bank of Moscow and the Russian Agricultural Bank access to the US economy.

In addition, the EU banned any trade in arms or "related material" with Russia, and the US prohibited transactions with Russia's United Shipbuilding Corp, which it classified as a defence company.

Both the EU and the US will also ban technology exports to Russia for deep-water, Arctic or shale oil drilling. The sanctions imposed by the EU, which does far more trade with Russia than the US, will be reviewed in three months.

Shares in VTB, Russia's second-largest bank, dropped by 3% at the start of trading on Wednesday but later regained most of that. The Russian stock market on the whole grew, with the MICEX and RTS indices rising by about 2%.

The Bank of Moscow said in a statement it was focused on its domestic market, and its business "wouldn't suffer at all from the imposed sanctions". Russia's central bank promised to prop up banks hit by sanctions. "If necessary, appropriate measures will be taken to support these organisations in order to protect the interests of their customers, depositors and creditors," it said in a statement.

But the measures are likely to raise the cost of credit in Russia and likely take their toll on the economy. Andrei Klepach, the deputy chairman of the state-owned bank VEB, said on Russian television on Tuesday that sanctions could halt economic growth or even lead to a recession in the country. Previously, Russia has forecast a 1% growth in gross domestic product this year – although the IMF this month downgraded its forecast to 0.2%, citing capital flight and falling investment amid western economic pressure.

Reacting to the sanctions on Wednesday, Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's deputy prime minister, who is in charge of Russia's defence and space industries, wrote on Twitter: "Obama's decision to impose sanctions against the United Shipbuilding Corporation is a clear sign that Russian military shipbuilding is becoming a problem for Russia's enemies." Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the parliament's foreign affairs committee, tweeted: "Obama won't go into history as a peacemaker – everyone has already forgotten about his Nobel peace prize – but as the US president who started a new cold war."

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said on Monday about the expected sanctions that Russia for now would not "fall into hysterics" or take retaliatory measures. "I assure you, we will overcome any difficulties that may arise in certain areas of the economy, and maybe we will become more independent and more confident in our own strength," Lavrov said.

But despite Lavrov's statement, a group of ruling party lawmakers said on Tuesday they would introduce legislation to ban auditing and consulting companies from "aggressor countries", including the big four auditing firms Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers. In addition, Russia's consumer watchdog, which has been known to wield import bans for political purposes, placed a ban on some fruits and vegetables from EU member Poland.

Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at Otkritie Bank, said that such measures against "aggressor countries" is not likely to pass because it would have little impact on western economies but would be disastrous for traded Russian companies, which are all audited by international firms. Instead, Russia could adopt asymmetric measures to ban foreign companies or cut off its export, Tikhomirov said.

In response to sanctions, Russian state-owned banks will probably try to sell more debt on the domestic and Asian markets, but will nonetheless have to increase the cost at which they lend money, Tikhomirov added.

For now, Russian banks are not taking steps to ward off the effects of sanctions, because they expect the situation to be short-lived.

"It will be a burden on Russia's central bank and sovereign fund," he said. "The issue for Russian banks and the market in general is not catastrophic, but macroeconomic pressure will increase, as will growth of inflation and of cost of credit."

State-owned banks Sberbank and VTB declined to comment for this story.

In one example of the import substitution sought by the Kremlin, Russia's president, malignant tumor Pig Putin, snorted at a meeting with representatives of Russia's military-industrial complex on Monday night that the country would replace imported components for its arms production, and the impending "technological difficulties" would in the end be beneficial for the country.

"Our task is to insure ourselves against the risk of our foreign partners not fulfilling contracts, and this includes political risks," malignant tumor Pig Putin snorted. "We need to provide for the reliable and on-time delivery of vital parts and components and carefully keep track of their quality."

The remarks appeared directed toward the effects of the expected western sanctions, as well as the end of cooperation with Ukraine, which has been a major manufacturing base for arms components, especially engines for aircraft and ships. In addition, Russia has a large arms trade with France, having ordered not only two Mistral warships from the country but also licensing to produce thermal imagery devices and electronics for its Su-30 fighter jet. Although the Mistral warship contract will go through, new trade in arms components with Europe will be halted. In light of sanctions Russia will likely turn towards the Asian market to supply such components, Igor Korotchenko, editor of the National Defence journal, told the newspaper Izvestia.

But independent defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said that despite Putin's optimism, replacing many of the foreign-sourced components was a "sheer impossibility". He said 90% of defence-industry electronics were produced in the west, arguing that even intercontinental ballistic missiles are not fully Russian-made.

"Self-dependence and doing everything on your own soil, that didn't work even in medieval times, and right now practically all Russian weapons systems use foreign components or materials," he said.

The restrictions placed by the EU on the oil industry are also likely to be painful but not crippling. BP, which owns nearly 20% of Russia's state-owned oil major Rosneft and has been cooperating with it to explore Arctic deposits, said further sanctions "could have a material adverse impact on our relationship with and investment in Rosneft, our business and strategic objectives in Russia, and our financial position and results of operations".

A drilling rig that ExxonMobil and Rosneft will operate as part of its exploration project in the Arctic Ocean left port in Norway two days after MH17 was downed. But further Arctic exploration projects will be put into doubt.

Ildar Davletshin, an oil analyst at Renaissance Capital, said western technologies to drill in the Arctic would not be needed until conventional reserves begin to dry up by 2020, he added.

In response to sanctions, Rosneft is will probably seek to divest from non-core assets and decrease its participation in projects in Venezuela and other countries, he said.

"It's a very connected industry, high-technology components could be produced in Russia or China but it will take time to re-orient," he said.

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MH17: Abbott says Australia is unlikely to follow tougher US and EU sanctions

Prime minister says his priority is recovering bodies from the crash site as the US and EU increase sanctions against Russia

Daniel Hurst in Canberra
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 03.44 BST   

Australia is unlikely to follow the US and European Union in pursuing new sanctions against Russia as its focus remains on recovering the bodies of victims of the downed flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine.

Tony Abbott played down the prospect of rapidly strengthening Australia’s existing sanctions. The prime minister emphasised his priority was the 38 Australian citizens and residents who were among 298 people on the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 brought down, apparently by a missile attack, on 17 July.

A multinational team, including Australian federal police (AFP), Dutch police and personnel from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, has been seeking to enter the site but the fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatist forces has made it too dangerous.

Abbott said the situation on the ground was “very fluid” and the team wanted to try again to access the site on Wednesday. The prime minister said authorities owed it to the victims and their loved ones “to make every reasonable effort”.

“If it doesn’t happen today, we’ll try again tomorrow,” he said on Wednesday. “If it doesn’t happen tomorrow, we’ll try again the next day. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”

On Tuesday, Barack Obama announced new US sanctions targeted at the Russian economy including weapons, energy and finance. The US president said the measures were in response to “Russia’s unwillingness to recognise that Ukraine can chart its own path.”

The EU also announced a series of measures against Moscow to restrict Russian state-owned banks from accessing European capital markets, arguing they were a signal that “illegal annexation of territory and deliberate destabilisation” of a neighbouring sovereign country could not be accepted in 21st-century Europe.

Abbott said he was aware of the new sanctions but they were “a matter for the Europeans and others”.

“We already have some sanctions on Russia,” he said. “I’m not saying that we might not at some point in the future move further, but at the moment our focus is not on sanctions; our focus is on bringing home our dead as quickly as we humanly can.”

Abbott’s comments were consistent with his recent remark that Australia was not interested in engaging in “the politics of eastern Europe”.

In the immediate aftermath of the plane coming down Abbott made forthright criticisms of Russia, but since the passage of a UN security council resolution he has sought to emphasise the humanitarian nature of the mission to recover the bodies and secure evidence.

“We are just focused on getting onto the site as quickly as we can,” Abbott said. “We want to get in, we want to get cracking and we want to get out.”

Foreign minister Julie Bishop said the multinational team was carefully considering the risks of any potential mission to the site of the downed aircraft.

“We are assessing the situation in terms of risks day by day, hour by hour, and we will not take any unacceptable risks given that we have unarmed police as part of our humanitarian mission,” Bishop said.

Abbott has previously said the inability to access the site was frustrating and called for all parties to “be as good as their word”.

In an interview with radio 2UE on Tuesday, Abbott said the separatists, the Ukrainian government and Russia had “all said they want the fighting to stop, at least insofar as is necessary for the site to be secured, the bodies to be recovered, the investigation to be assisted and justice to be done”.

The AFP deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin also warned that ongoing fighting in the area might jeopardise the collection of potential evidence. Colvin said on Monday that Australians must prepare for the possibility that not all remains would ultimately be recovered.

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/30/2014 10:33 AM

Europe's Ground Zero: Fairy Tales and Fabrications in Eastern Ukraine

By Christian Neef in Grabovo, Ukraine

There's an eerie silence at the MH 17 crash site in eastern Ukraine, even as a civil war and propaganda battles rage around it. Few here seem concerned that the investigation into the tragedy could influence future ties with Europe.

Alexander Hug isn't really supposed to be here. He hasn't seen his wife and three children, aged four, three and nine months, for weeks and his family came to Kiev for a short visit. Instead of Kiev, though, Hug now finds himself on a road some 650 kilometers (400 miles) away from the capital -- in eastern Ukraine, among fields of wheat and sunflowers. The next village, about a kilometer away, is called Grabovo.

It's the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, fell out of the sky, likely after having been struck by an anti-aircraft missile.

"I experienced the Balkan wars and the Middle East, but what happened here was very extreme," the 42-year-old says, with typical Swiss understatement. But then he loses his composure after all. "This is an unbelievable tragedy of immense scope," he says. "An airplane crashes over a war zone, totally innocent vacationers fall from the sky, and then access to the disaster site is hindered."

Hug is the deputy head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine. He has been monitoring activities at Europe's easternmost edge for months now -- in the "People's Republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk that have been proclaimed by pro-Russian separatists. The expectation of the OSCE's 57 member states is that Hug will provide an objective look at what is happening in the region.

Hug first arrived at the scene of the crash 24 hours after the Boeing 777 went down at 4:20 p.m. on July 17. Since then, he has driven the 60 kilometer stretch between Donetsk and Grabovo on a daily basis. On this particular day, he is accompanying three Malaysia Airlines experts, the first who dared travel to the crisis area. They were only allowed access to the site with the permission of the rebels.

The visit took place last Tuesday, five days after the aircraft had been shot down. The rebels claimed that the remains of all 298 of the dead had been recovered, but the stench of death among the wreckage told a different story. Hug says he has seen "body parts all over the place."

Evidence for the depth of the tragedy that occurred here is everywhere. There is a Bali travel guide still lying there, as is the children's toy that was shown on television. There's also a folder with the floor plans for a new home -- a dream that had nearly been attained by a young Dutch family that perished in the crash.

Investigation Will Determine Future Relations

Grabovo is Europe's Ground Zero -- a crime that must be resolved, because the findings are likely to determine how Europe deals with a Russian that is supporting self-proclaimed separatists in eastern Ukraine, both paying and equipping them. Europe has already indicated that it is losing patience with Moscow, and on Tuesday imposed the toughest round of sanctions yet.

Here, though, nobody seems overly concerned about the implications of the crime, with the exception of Hug, a tall man of 6'4" wearing a blue-checkered shirt, a bullet-proof vest and a white OSCE armband as he directs the gaggle of journalists who have descended on the site. The other exceptions are the trio of Malaysian experts who can be seen roaming the fields with backpacks and cameras.

As had been the case for days, apart from Hug and the Malaysians, the crash site was devoid of any guards or teams of investigators and was open to anyone, including plunderers. The rebels have even taken away aircraft parts and presented them like trophies at checkpoints located kilometers away.

The world outside of eastern Ukraine may be shaken by this disaster -- indeed, the UN Security Council showed rare unanimity when it demanded that an international investigation be conducted. But none of that is tangible on the ground here. So far, little has been done to clarify what happened. Instead there has been a lot of finger-pointing. What is clear is that the death of 298 people has opened a new round in the battle over Ukraine, with each side now feeling its position has been validated.

One gets a sense for this about 10 kilometers away from Grabovo, where parts of the fuselage and luggage bins lie. Village residents have placed signs along the road reading, "Stop the genocide in Donbass," or "Rescue our children from the Ukrainian army!"

Rhetorical Polemics

You can also get a sense for it on a road near Grabovo, where a woman wearing a summer dress and high heels suddenly appears holding shell fragments in her hand. Speaking to the gathered journalists, who represent publications from all over the world, she says she comes from Shakhtarsk and claims her hometown had just been shelled with such projectiles by the Ukrainian army. That, she says, should be investigated, adding that it was much more important. How she managed to get to us from Shakhtarsk, located over 20 kilometers away, and why she appeared just at that moment remains unexplained.

Then a rebel "press officer" wearing an exotic uniform comes down the street and talks about the West's crimes. "The usual rhetorical polemics," Hug notes.

On the same day, the Security Council of Russia held a meeting in Moscow to address the crash of Flight MH 17. Yet again,  malignant tumor Pig Putin repeated his allegation that "neo-fascist, fundamentalist forces had used arms to seize power in Kiev." He went on to describe the separatists as a "part of the population" that disagrees with the developments in Ukraine.

Russians Call the Shots

The disgruntled segment of the Ukrainian population that  malignant tumor Pig Putin refers to is represented near Grabovo by the woman in the summer dress and the 10 heavily armed men of the "People's Republic," who, while claiming to be protecting OSCE staff, are more likely present to keep watch over them. The armed men are wearing brand new camouflage uniforms with patches that read "Sevastopol, City of Heroes," and "The Crimean Spring." One, a young man with a headband and long hair holding a Kalashnikov in his hands and carrying a pistol in his waist belt, tells a Russian television team that he's also from Moscow. When asked where, he says he's from the city's Cheryomushki district. When asked what he does there, he responds by saying he sings in the church choir -- and he has the voice and looks to back it up. He means it seriously. But then he adds, "I'm here voluntarily."

He's just as Ukrainian as Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the "People's Republic of Donetsk" who also hails from Moscow. When Borodai handed MH 17's flight recorder over to the Malaysia Airlines experts, they referred to him as "your excellency," just to play it safe. For some time now, it has been leaders from Moscow and not local forces who have been calling the shots in the separatist republic. It's a subject that neither Putin nor the Russian media have shown much interest in addressing. Instead, the public defamation of Ukraine by Russia has reached new heights in the wake of the MH 17 crash.

That too is palpable in Grabovo. A correspondent for Russia's Channel One does a stand-up report from the edge of the wreckage area for the evening news. In it, he claims that the government in Kiev has done everything it could to prevent international experts from getting to the crash scene. Then a Russian news agency issues a report claiming that the Malaysian aviation experts and their OSCE escorts came under fire by Ukrainian fighter jets on their way to the crash site.

Disinformation

The reports are just as untrue as the majority of what Russian television stations broadcast from the separatist republics each day. There is, for example, the report that air traffic controllers, located 270 kilometers away in Dnipropetrovsk, a city under the control of a governor friendly to Kiev, instructed Flight MH 17 to change its path in order to make it easier for Ukrainian fighter jets to shoot it down. European air traffic safety regulators have long since refuted reports of a course change and have stated that the aircraft followed its originally planned route. Few residing between Moscow and Donetsk are interested in hearing that, however. People even believe the most absurd reporting on the disaster, like stories claiming that MH 17 had been carrying corpses when it took off from Amsterdam. It's a fairy tale that is repeated incessantly on countless Russian news broadcasts.

The separatists and Moscow alike have indignantly denied that a Buk surface-to-air missile shot MH 17 down. They have also vehemently denied that rebels could even have been in possession of the air defense system. They claim that evidence in the form of photos and recordings of conversations have been fabricated by the Ukrainians and the Americans.

But on Wednesday, Alexander Khodakovsky, a rebel leader in Donetsk and commander of the notorious Vostok battalion, told Reuters that rebels did in fact possess the Buk missile system and that it could have come from Russia. Khodakovsky later retracted his statements, but the recording of the interview shows that it is in fact precisely what he said.

OSCE official Hug has almost daily dealings with the rebels. Twice since April, he has had to intervene to secure the freedom of Western hostages held by them.

He says he only continues to speak with Borodai or his deputy, adding that they generally do what they say, "at least to a certain degree." He notes that "we've known for some time now that there is quarreling among the rebels and that there are differences between the political level and their armed forces." He describes it as a "thicket of alliances," with many acting on their own.

War Continues Unabated

In exactly this moment, heavy shelling begins around 20 kilometers away from Grabovo in Snizhne, the town from which it is believed the rebels fired the missile that brought down Flight MH 17. The impact of the rockets in Snizhne is visible from as far away as the crash site. Despite the tragedy, the war continues unabated here.

Just a few days later, rebels in the area again shoot down two planes, Ukrainian Air Force SU-25 fighter jets. In recent weeks, they have shot down 14 aircraft. Evidence is overwhelming that the Malaysian Airlines Boeing was among them.

The developments have led to political radicalization in Ukraine as well. Last week, President Petro Poroshenko ordered a partial mobilization for the third time, saying he needed 60,000 soldiers for deployment in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, he also got the opportunity for new elections after the parties backing him quit the government coalition. It is now likely that the final remaining members of parliament from the party of Poroshenko's deposed predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, will be voted out of office. In addition, the Communist Party, which remains strong in the separatist areas, is expected to be banned.

A 'Russian Lockerbie'

Behind the scenes in the Kremlin, away from the official television propaganda, uncertainty is beginning to spread.  malignant tumor Pig Putin himself has seemed agitated and nervous in his latest television appearances.

Voices claiming that Russia's intervention in eastern Ukraine has turned into a disaster are growing louder, as are those who consider the shooting down of MH 17 to be a turning point. Moscow-based journalist and columnist Yulia Latynina described the events as a "Russian Lockerbie." And the editor-in-chief of the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta is even predicting  malignant tumor Pig Putin's descent to the status of political "pariah" because he armed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

A program on radio broadcaster Echo of Moscow, which is at least half-way independent, came to the conclusion last week that the situation had blindsided Putin. Political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky said in the program that the president had come across as being quite optimistic prior to the shooting down of MH 17. The separatists had encircled the Ukrainian army south of Donetsk and  malignant tumor Pig Putin believed he was on the verge of being able to force the West to negotiate over Ukraine's fate. That, Belkovski believes, was the goal of  malignant tumor Pig Putin's interference in Ukraine all along. But the shooting down of the aircraft has altered the situation and Moscow's support for the rebels wound up costing the lives of 298 innocent people. "This has made clear once and for all that  malignant tumor Pig Putin can no longer disentangle himself from the separatists."

Alexander Hug is still at the site of the downed plane, with the wreckage in sight. He says he doesn't want to comment on any of this. "The OSCE has no political agenda," he says, "and that's what makes it possible for us to be in the combat area of the rebels." He says his most important mission is making sure that the world finally has access to the crash site in Grabovo.

In the meantime, supporters of the separatists continue living in their own world. On the way back to Donetsk, which was being shelled by the Ukrainian army at the time, a young man could hardly hide his excitement. He was very certain, he said, that malignant tumor Pig Putin's troops, "would invade" this week. "Finally."

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Belarus to host Ukraine crisis talks

President Petro Poroshenko wants discussions with Russia and OSCE to focus on securing access to MH17 crash site

Reuters
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 10.46 BST   

Belarus is to host talks between Ukraine, Russia and OSCE representatives on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, President Alexander Lukashenko's office has said.

It did not say when the meetings would take place but the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, asked Lukashenko to host the talks on Thursday, and to focus on securing access to the site where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was brought down in east Ukraine this month.

Fierce fighting has prevented officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reaching the crash site for several days.

There was no indication pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukraine's army would attend the talks, although Lukashenko's office said "all interested sides" were invited.

The talks were expected to involve Russia's ambassador to Kiev, Mikhail Zurabov, and former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, who have met several times since the crisis began but have failed to secure a breakthrough.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine prevented OSCE representatives from reaching the crash site on Tuesday for the third successive day.

"Decisions are being made on a political level on ensuring safety on the site," Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE in Ukraine said on Wednesday. "Today, as far as we know, we won't be going there."

An OSCE convoy had earlier on Wednesday been stopped by rebels about six miles outside the city of Donetsk because of fighting further along the route, but OSCE officials later denied the team had been trying to reach the crash site.

Poroshenko wants the talks in Minsk to also discuss the release of hostages Kiev claims are being held by the rebels in east Ukraine, the Ukrainian president said in a statement on Facebook.

He appears to have turned to Belarus for help because the former Soviet republic is a Moscow ally but also has a solid relationship with Ukraine.

The regional authorities in Donetsk, one of the regions worst hit by the fighting, said on Wednesday morning that 19 people had been killed in the past 24 hours.

Kiev's military offensive has forced the rebels out of some areas they held, apart from their strongholds in and around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, and fighting has intensified since the airliner was brought down on 17 July killing all 298 people on board.

The west believes the separatists probably shot the plane down by mistake and has accused Russia of arming them. Moscow denies this.

 23 
 on: Jul 30, 2014, 06:07 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Coordinated Sanctions Aim at Russia’s Ability to Tap Its Oil Reserves

By PETER BAKER, ALAN COWELL and JAMES KANTER
JULY 29, 2014

WASHINGTON — The United States and Europe kicked off a joint effort on Tuesday intended to curb Russia’s long-term ability to develop new oil resources, taking aim at the Kremlin’s premier source of wealth and power in retaliation for its intervention in Ukraine.

In announcing coordinated sanctions, American and European leaders went beyond previous moves against banking and defense industries in an effort to curtail Russia’s access to Western technology as it seeks to tap new Arctic, deep sea and shale oil reserves. The goal was not to inhibit current oil production but to cloud Russia’s energy future.

The new strategy took direct aim at the economic foundation of Russia, which holds the largest combined oil and gas reserves in the world.

“The biggest edge that Western energy companies still have is their technological edge — that’s why these sanctions have the potential to have significant impact,” said Michael A. Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Chinese companies can’t step in and provide shale technology where U.S. companies are blocked. They can provide capital; they can provide people. They can’t fill in on the technology front.”

The technology cutoff could be important because Russia is only now at the early stages of developing new Arctic, deep sea and shale resources. Most of its current production comes from depleted Siberian deposits that will eventually run out. And several Western oil companies have been working with Russia to expand their resources.

ExxonMobil has a joint venture with Rosneft, the state-owned oil giant, to develop Arctic oil, and is scheduled to start drilling in the Kara Sea within weeks. BP, which owns 19.75 percent of Rosneft, just signed a joint venture with the Russian firm in May to search for shale oil in the Volga-Urals region.

Even though BP announced higher quarterly profits on Tuesday, its stock was hammered by the sanctions news, falling 3 percent. BP warned investors bluntly that further sanctions “could adversely impact our business and strategic objectives in Russia.”

Dan Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said the new energy measures underscored how much ties had deteriorated. “A year ago, Western collaboration with Russia’s energy sector was one of the bright spots in what had become a dour relationship,” he said. “No longer.”

The carefully orchestrated actions on both sides of the Atlantic were intended to demonstrate solidarity in the face of what American and European officials say has been a stark escalation by Russia in the insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Until now, European leaders had resisted the broader sorts of actions they agreed to on Tuesday, and their decision to pursue them reflected increasing alarm that Russia was not only helping separatists in Ukraine but directly involving itself in the fighting.

They are “meant as a strong warning,” Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said in a statement on Tuesday that was joined by José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission. “Destabilizing Ukraine, or any other Eastern European neighboring state, will bring heavy costs,” the statement said.

President Obama said Russia’s economy would continue to suffer until it reversed course. “Today is a reminder that the United States means what it says, and we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world,” he told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.

Mr. Obama said the fact that Europe was now joining the United States in broader measures meant the moves would “have an even bigger bite,” but in response to reporters’ questions, he said it was “not a new Cold War” between the two countries. He also made clear he was not considering providing arms to Ukraine’s government, as some Republicans have suggested, as it tries to put down the pro-Russian insurgency.

“They are better armed than the separatists,” he said. “The issue is, ‘How do we prevent bloodshed in eastern Ukraine?’ We’re trying to avoid that. And the main tool that we have to influence Russian behavior at this point is the impact that it’s having on its economy.”

The American and European actions were intended to largely, though not precisely, match each other. The United States cut off three more Russian banks, including the giant VTB Bank, from medium- and long-term capital markets and barred Americans from doing business with the United Shipbuilding Corporation, a large state-owned firm created by Mr. Putin. The Obama administration also formally suspended export credit and development finance to Russia.

The European Union adopted similar restrictions on capital markets and applied them to Russian state-owned banks. It imposed an embargo on new arms sales to Russia and limited sales of equipment with both civilian and military uses to Russian military buyers. Europe also approved new sanctions against at least three close malignant tumor Pig Putin associates, but did not identify them publicly.

European governments moved ahead despite concerns that Europe would pay an economic price for confronting the Kremlin more aggressively. While their actions went far beyond any previously taken against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, they were tailored to minimize their own costs. The arms embargo, for instance, applies only to future sales, not to the much-debated delivery by France of Mistral-class helicopter carriers that resemble bigger aircraft carriers. And the energy technology restrictions do not apply to Russian natural gas, on which Europe relies heavily.

The new sanctions could take effect as soon as Friday, though the necessary legal formalities would most likely to take longer to complete, officials said.

On Twitter, the president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, praised the decision “on a wide range of sanctions on Russia.” But she expressed unease that France would be able to maintain its naval deal with Moscow. “Unfortunately, nothing to stop the deal of Mistral yet,” she wrote. Lithuania is one of five European Union states that are close to or border Russia.

Mr. Van Rompuy departed from the usual cautious language of Europe’s declarations by condemning Russia for actions that “cannot be accepted in 21st-century Europe,” including “illegal annexation of territory” — a reference to Crimea — “and deliberate destabilization of a neighboring sovereign country.” He also cited the “anger and frustration” over the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over rebel-held territory on July 17 and “the delays in providing international access to the site of the air crash, the tampering with the remains of the plane, and the disrespectful handling of the deceased.”

Although European commerce with Russia will probably decline because of the sanctions, where the measures are expected to more severely affect Russia are the restrictions on the ability of Russian banks to raise money in Europe and the United States. “These sanctions can have quite a substantial chilling effect on the Russian economy,” said Adam Slater, a senior economist at Oxford Economics in London. “That is probably a quite effective way to put pressure on Russia.”

Still, it could take time for the effects to be felt by ordinary Russians, and some analysts expected the Kremlin to shrug them off, at least publicly.

***********

As Sanctions Pile Up, Russians’ Alarm Grows Over Malignant Tumor Pig Putin's Tactics

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
IHT
JULY 29, 2014

MOSCOW — Russia, facing the toughest round of Western sanctions imposed since the Ukraine crisis erupted, has adopted a nonchalant public stance, with malignant tumor Pig Putin emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and a new poll released Tuesday indicating a “What, me worry?” attitude among the bulk of the population.

But beneath that calm facade, there is growing alarm in Russia that the festering turmoil in Ukraine and the new round of far more punitive sanctions — announced Tuesday by both European nations and the United States — will have an impact on Russia’s relations with the West for years to come and damage the economy to the extent that ordinary Russians feel it.

Until now, malignant tumor Pig Putin's tactics seemed to be working. Russia was feeding the separatist insurgency in Ukraine without leaving distinct fingerprints — able to press Kiev to come to terms while avoiding a rupture with Europe that would alienate Russia’s business elite. But that strategy is beginning to crumble, battered under successive shock waves generated by the crisis.

More frequent and prominent critics are saying that malignant tumor Pig Putin and the hard-line leaders in the Kremlin overreached by suggesting that Russia, far more dependent than the old Soviet Union on international trade and financial markets, could thrive without the West.

“They were not anticipating the West to make radical moves, costly moves,” said Nikolai Petrov, an independent political analyst. “What is happening is different from what they wanted and what they expected.”

He and others pointed to the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over embattled southeastern Ukraine on July 17 as upsetting the balancing act that malignant tumor Pig Putin had managed to pull off to maintain support from the public, hard-line nationalists, the security services, the oligarchs and the more liberal business community.

“Until this catastrophe, malignant tumor Pig Putin's calculations were pretty good in terms of being able to win any tactical battle,” Mr. Petrov said.

The Kremlin had been counting on its ability to maintain just enough instability in Ukraine to keep the country dependent on Russian good will, while making Europe and the United States cautious about intervening too assertively there.

Right after this weekend, when the likelihood of more serious European sanctions materialized, malignant tumor Pig Putin met with advisers to say that Russia needed to become self-reliant. He was referring to arms production previously done in Ukraine, but the sentiment echoed in other fields.

“No matter what the difficulties we may encounter, and to be honest, I do not really see any big difficulties so far,” he said, according to a transcript on the Kremlin website, “I think that they will ultimately work to our advantage because they will give us the needed incentive to develop our production capability in areas where we had not done so yet.”

Domestically, grumbling over the creeping isolationism has grown louder. Roughly 50 percent of the economy is state-run, and the loyalty of those who direct such companies to malignant tumor Pig Putin remains absolute. But the rest are changing.

“It is still a very polite version: ‘Maybe something is going wrong,' ” said Sergei Petrov, an opposition member of Parliament and the founder of Rolf, one of the biggest car importers in Russia. “They would never say it to you, a foreigner, but I hear more and more critics.”

A former finance minister and a close malignant tumor Pig Putin ally, Alexei Kudrin, voiced rare public criticism of Kremlin policy in an interview last week with the state-run news agency ITAR-TASS.

Mr. Kudrin said he was worried that the Ukraine crisis would drive Russia into a “historic confrontation” that would retard the country’s development across the board.

The business community was dismayed by the amount of anti-Western comments on television and radio, he said, indicating a “fundamental” shift that made the West Russia’s adversary again.

“Things are different in business,” he said. “Businessmen want to work, to invest, build factories and develop trade.”

Some analysts saw that interview as a sign that malignant tumor Pig Putin was looking for a way out, preparing to abandon the Ukraine separatists publicly. They linked it to a similar sentiment in a column in the newspaper Kommersant on Tuesday, by a journalist close to the president, suggesting that he had allowed the black boxes from the Malaysian airliner to be sent to the West because he did not fully trust the information he got from his advisers.

But there has been no direct indication from malignant tumor Pig Putin that he wants to change tacks.

Officially, Russia tried to play down the airplane disaster, which killed all 298 people on board, although some news outlets raised questions from the start. The front page of the government-owned Russkaya Gazeta the day after the crash put the report on the bottom half — the top story was that Russians were eating less bread and potatoes.

The general sense here was that the West was again piling on Russia without evidence — that it was a political issue.

“In my opinion, we face a critical situation today,” Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, an independent polling organization, told a weekend seminar audience. “But our society does not realize it against a backdrop of patriotic and chauvinistic euphoria.”

That euphoria was rooted in the relatively bloodless, seemingly costless annexation of Crimea in March. The public expected that the rest of the crisis in Ukraine would be resolved with similar ease.

“The situation began changing dramatically after the crash of the Boeing,” Mr. Gudkov said. “According to our research, reaction inside the country was quite weak, but the Western European public has drastically changed its attitude towards Russia.”

Indeed, poll results released Tuesday by the Levada Center showed the Russian public barely concerned about sanctions. More than 60 percent of respondents thought they would have little or no impact on them. Malignant tumor Pig Putin remains hugely popular.

The official attitude was also calm. “We can’t ignore it,” the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said at a news conference on Monday when asked about the expected sanctions. “But to fall into hysterics and respond to a blow with a blow is not worthy of a major country.”

Mr. Lavrov also expressed disappointment that the Ukraine crisis was damaging relations between Russia and the West, but said repeatedly that it was the fault of Western capitals because they had encouraged Kiev to fight rather than negotiate.

“No one is pleased with the deterioration of relations between the partners,” he said. “We are trying to influence the situation in Ukraine to move it from the military confrontation to political negotiations.”

But others were less sanguine as the sanctions piled up.

Beyond sanctions, an arbitration court in The Hague ruled Monday that Russia should pay former Yukos shareholders $50 billion for breaking up the oil and gas company decade ago. The ruling added an element of uncertainty to dealing with Gazprom and Rosneft, the two state-controlled giants of the Russian energy economy that absorbed Yukos holdings.

Economic issues are likely to broaden the split between the more liberal economists and the conservative members of the security services, analysts said. Malignant tumor Pig Putin makes all the crucial decisions, however, and no one is likely to challenge him directly.

“There is a split, but the antiwar party lacks the instruments to forcemalignant tumor Pig Putin into practical action,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister turned opposition politician.

Kremlin officials seeking to break with the West believe that whatever financing they lose there, they can regain from China or India, Mr. Milov said, without realizing that neither banking system is geared to provide the billions in long-term credit that Russian companies routinely got from Western banks.

Indeed, at a recent dinner party, a Kremlin confidant said that the future would be all about “Russian might and Chinese wealth.” Did the West not worry, he mused aloud, that China would be the big winner?

Over all, Mr. Milov said, the outlook seems bleak.

“We are sliding into something which is clearly becoming a long-term standoff, and malignant tumor Pig Putin looks committed and not ready to give up,” he said. “It is a bad sign that everything is becoming a long-term problem.”

***************

Russia takes defiant stance in face of tough EU and US sanctions

Russian officials say focus will shift to domestic market production, but analysts say defence and oil industries will suffer

Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 10.59 BST   

As the US and the European Union adopted tougher economic sanctions against Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine and downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Russian officials struck a defiant note, promising that Russia would localise production and emerge stronger than before. But analysts in sectors that could be affected by the sanctions – finance, defence and energy – predicted that they would suffer in isolation from the west.

The EU reached a deal on Tuesday evening to cut off Russian state-owned banks from European capital markets and was quickly joined by the US, which denied the state-owned banks VTB Bank OAO, Bank of Moscow and the Russian Agricultural Bank access to the US economy.

In addition, the EU banned any trade in arms or "related material" with Russia, and the US prohibited transactions with Russia's United Shipbuilding Corp, which it classified as a defence company.

Both the EU and the US will also ban technology exports to Russia for deep-water, Arctic or shale oil drilling. The sanctions imposed by the EU, which does far more trade with Russia than the US, will be reviewed in three months.

Shares in VTB, Russia's second-largest bank, dropped by 3% at the start of trading on Wednesday but later regained most of that. The Russian stock market on the whole grew, with the MICEX and RTS indices rising by about 2%.

The Bank of Moscow said in a statement it was focused on its domestic market, and its business "wouldn't suffer at all from the imposed sanctions". Russia's central bank promised to prop up banks hit by sanctions. "If necessary, appropriate measures will be taken to support these organisations in order to protect the interests of their customers, depositors and creditors," it said in a statement.

But the measures are likely to raise the cost of credit in Russia and likely take their toll on the economy. Andrei Klepach, the deputy chairman of the state-owned bank VEB, said on Russian television on Tuesday that sanctions could halt economic growth or even lead to a recession in the country. Previously, Russia has forecast a 1% growth in gross domestic product this year – although the IMF this month downgraded its forecast to 0.2%, citing capital flight and falling investment amid western economic pressure.

Reacting to the sanctions on Wednesday, Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's deputy prime minister, who is in charge of Russia's defence and space industries, wrote on Twitter: "Obama's decision to impose sanctions against the United Shipbuilding Corporation is a clear sign that Russian military shipbuilding is becoming a problem for Russia's enemies." Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the parliament's foreign affairs committee, tweeted: "Obama won't go into history as a peacemaker – everyone has already forgotten about his Nobel peace prize – but as the US president who started a new cold war."

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said on Monday about the expected sanctions that Russia for now would not "fall into hysterics" or take retaliatory measures. "I assure you, we will overcome any difficulties that may arise in certain areas of the economy, and maybe we will become more independent and more confident in our own strength," Lavrov said.

But despite Lavrov's statement, a group of ruling party lawmakers said on Tuesday they would introduce legislation to ban auditing and consulting companies from "aggressor countries", including the big four auditing firms Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers. In addition, Russia's consumer watchdog, which has been known to wield import bans for political purposes, placed a ban on some fruits and vegetables from EU member Poland.

Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at Otkritie Bank, said that such measures against "aggressor countries" is not likely to pass because it would have little impact on western economies but would be disastrous for traded Russian companies, which are all audited by international firms. Instead, Russia could adopt asymmetric measures to ban foreign companies or cut off its export, Tikhomirov said.

In response to sanctions, Russian state-owned banks will probably try to sell more debt on the domestic and Asian markets, but will nonetheless have to increase the cost at which they lend money, Tikhomirov added.

For now, Russian banks are not taking steps to ward off the effects of sanctions, because they expect the situation to be short-lived.

"It will be a burden on Russia's central bank and sovereign fund," he said. "The issue for Russian banks and the market in general is not catastrophic, but macroeconomic pressure will increase, as will growth of inflation and of cost of credit."

State-owned banks Sberbank and VTB declined to comment for this story.

In one example of the import substitution sought by the Kremlin, Russia's president, malignant tumor Pig Putin, snorted at a meeting with representatives of Russia's military-industrial complex on Monday night that the country would replace imported components for its arms production, and the impending "technological difficulties" would in the end be beneficial for the country.

"Our task is to insure ourselves against the risk of our foreign partners not fulfilling contracts, and this includes political risks," malignant tumor Pig Putin snorted. "We need to provide for the reliable and on-time delivery of vital parts and components and carefully keep track of their quality."

The remarks appeared directed toward the effects of the expected western sanctions, as well as the end of cooperation with Ukraine, which has been a major manufacturing base for arms components, especially engines for aircraft and ships. In addition, Russia has a large arms trade with France, having ordered not only two Mistral warships from the country but also licensing to produce thermal imagery devices and electronics for its Su-30 fighter jet. Although the Mistral warship contract will go through, new trade in arms components with Europe will be halted. In light of sanctions Russia will likely turn towards the Asian market to supply such components, Igor Korotchenko, editor of the National Defence journal, told the newspaper Izvestia.

But independent defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said that despite Putin's optimism, replacing many of the foreign-sourced components was a "sheer impossibility". He said 90% of defence-industry electronics were produced in the west, arguing that even intercontinental ballistic missiles are not fully Russian-made.

"Self-dependence and doing everything on your own soil, that didn't work even in medieval times, and right now practically all Russian weapons systems use foreign components or materials," he said.

The restrictions placed by the EU on the oil industry are also likely to be painful but not crippling. BP, which owns nearly 20% of Russia's state-owned oil major Rosneft and has been cooperating with it to explore Arctic deposits, said further sanctions "could have a material adverse impact on our relationship with and investment in Rosneft, our business and strategic objectives in Russia, and our financial position and results of operations".

A drilling rig that ExxonMobil and Rosneft will operate as part of its exploration project in the Arctic Ocean left port in Norway two days after MH17 was downed. But further Arctic exploration projects will be put into doubt.

Ildar Davletshin, an oil analyst at Renaissance Capital, said western technologies to drill in the Arctic would not be needed until conventional reserves begin to dry up by 2020, he added.

In response to sanctions, Rosneft is will probably seek to divest from non-core assets and decrease its participation in projects in Venezuela and other countries, he said.

"It's a very connected industry, high-technology components could be produced in Russia or China but it will take time to re-orient," he said.

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MH17: Abbott says Australia is unlikely to follow tougher US and EU sanctions

Prime minister says his priority is recovering bodies from the crash site as the US and EU increase sanctions against Russia

Daniel Hurst in Canberra
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 03.44 BST   

Australia is unlikely to follow the US and European Union in pursuing new sanctions against Russia as its focus remains on recovering the bodies of victims of the downed flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine.

Tony Abbott played down the prospect of rapidly strengthening Australia’s existing sanctions. The prime minister emphasised his priority was the 38 Australian citizens and residents who were among 298 people on the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 brought down, apparently by a missile attack, on 17 July.

A multinational team, including Australian federal police (AFP), Dutch police and personnel from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, has been seeking to enter the site but the fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatist forces has made it too dangerous.

Abbott said the situation on the ground was “very fluid” and the team wanted to try again to access the site on Wednesday. The prime minister said authorities owed it to the victims and their loved ones “to make every reasonable effort”.

“If it doesn’t happen today, we’ll try again tomorrow,” he said on Wednesday. “If it doesn’t happen tomorrow, we’ll try again the next day. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”

On Tuesday, Barack Obama announced new US sanctions targeted at the Russian economy including weapons, energy and finance. The US president said the measures were in response to “Russia’s unwillingness to recognise that Ukraine can chart its own path.”

The EU also announced a series of measures against Moscow to restrict Russian state-owned banks from accessing European capital markets, arguing they were a signal that “illegal annexation of territory and deliberate destabilisation” of a neighbouring sovereign country could not be accepted in 21st-century Europe.

Abbott said he was aware of the new sanctions but they were “a matter for the Europeans and others”.

“We already have some sanctions on Russia,” he said. “I’m not saying that we might not at some point in the future move further, but at the moment our focus is not on sanctions; our focus is on bringing home our dead as quickly as we humanly can.”

Abbott’s comments were consistent with his recent remark that Australia was not interested in engaging in “the politics of eastern Europe”.

In the immediate aftermath of the plane coming down Abbott made forthright criticisms of Russia, but since the passage of a UN security council resolution he has sought to emphasise the humanitarian nature of the mission to recover the bodies and secure evidence.

“We are just focused on getting onto the site as quickly as we can,” Abbott said. “We want to get in, we want to get cracking and we want to get out.”

Foreign minister Julie Bishop said the multinational team was carefully considering the risks of any potential mission to the site of the downed aircraft.

“We are assessing the situation in terms of risks day by day, hour by hour, and we will not take any unacceptable risks given that we have unarmed police as part of our humanitarian mission,” Bishop said.

Abbott has previously said the inability to access the site was frustrating and called for all parties to “be as good as their word”.

In an interview with radio 2UE on Tuesday, Abbott said the separatists, the Ukrainian government and Russia had “all said they want the fighting to stop, at least insofar as is necessary for the site to be secured, the bodies to be recovered, the investigation to be assisted and justice to be done”.

The AFP deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin also warned that ongoing fighting in the area might jeopardise the collection of potential evidence. Colvin said on Monday that Australians must prepare for the possibility that not all remains would ultimately be recovered.

***************

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/30/2014 10:33 AM

Europe's Ground Zero: Fairy Tales and Fabrications in Eastern Ukraine

By Christian Neef in Grabovo, Ukraine

There's an eerie silence at the MH 17 crash site in eastern Ukraine, even as a civil war and propaganda battles rage around it. Few here seem concerned that the investigation into the tragedy could influence future ties with Europe.

Alexander Hug isn't really supposed to be here. He hasn't seen his wife and three children, aged four, three and nine months, for weeks and his family came to Kiev for a short visit. Instead of Kiev, though, Hug now finds himself on a road some 650 kilometers (400 miles) away from the capital -- in eastern Ukraine, among fields of wheat and sunflowers. The next village, about a kilometer away, is called Grabovo.

It's the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, fell out of the sky, likely after having been struck by an anti-aircraft missile.

"I experienced the Balkan wars and the Middle East, but what happened here was very extreme," the 42-year-old says, with typical Swiss understatement. But then he loses his composure after all. "This is an unbelievable tragedy of immense scope," he says. "An airplane crashes over a war zone, totally innocent vacationers fall from the sky, and then access to the disaster site is hindered."

Hug is the deputy head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine. He has been monitoring activities at Europe's easternmost edge for months now -- in the "People's Republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk that have been proclaimed by pro-Russian separatists. The expectation of the OSCE's 57 member states is that Hug will provide an objective look at what is happening in the region.

Hug first arrived at the scene of the crash 24 hours after the Boeing 777 went down at 4:20 p.m. on July 17. Since then, he has driven the 60 kilometer stretch between Donetsk and Grabovo on a daily basis. On this particular day, he is accompanying three Malaysia Airlines experts, the first who dared travel to the crisis area. They were only allowed access to the site with the permission of the rebels.

The visit took place last Tuesday, five days after the aircraft had been shot down. The rebels claimed that the remains of all 298 of the dead had been recovered, but the stench of death among the wreckage told a different story. Hug says he has seen "body parts all over the place."

Evidence for the depth of the tragedy that occurred here is everywhere. There is a Bali travel guide still lying there, as is the children's toy that was shown on television. There's also a folder with the floor plans for a new home -- a dream that had nearly been attained by a young Dutch family that perished in the crash.

Investigation Will Determine Future Relations

Grabovo is Europe's Ground Zero -- a crime that must be resolved, because the findings are likely to determine how Europe deals with a Russian that is supporting self-proclaimed separatists in eastern Ukraine, both paying and equipping them. Europe has already indicated that it is losing patience with Moscow, and on Tuesday imposed the toughest round of sanctions yet.

Here, though, nobody seems overly concerned about the implications of the crime, with the exception of Hug, a tall man of 6'4" wearing a blue-checkered shirt, a bullet-proof vest and a white OSCE armband as he directs the gaggle of journalists who have descended on the site. The other exceptions are the trio of Malaysian experts who can be seen roaming the fields with backpacks and cameras.

As had been the case for days, apart from Hug and the Malaysians, the crash site was devoid of any guards or teams of investigators and was open to anyone, including plunderers. The rebels have even taken away aircraft parts and presented them like trophies at checkpoints located kilometers away.

The world outside of eastern Ukraine may be shaken by this disaster -- indeed, the UN Security Council showed rare unanimity when it demanded that an international investigation be conducted. But none of that is tangible on the ground here. So far, little has been done to clarify what happened. Instead there has been a lot of finger-pointing. What is clear is that the death of 298 people has opened a new round in the battle over Ukraine, with each side now feeling its position has been validated.

One gets a sense for this about 10 kilometers away from Grabovo, where parts of the fuselage and luggage bins lie. Village residents have placed signs along the road reading, "Stop the genocide in Donbass," or "Rescue our children from the Ukrainian army!"

Rhetorical Polemics

You can also get a sense for it on a road near Grabovo, where a woman wearing a summer dress and high heels suddenly appears holding shell fragments in her hand. Speaking to the gathered journalists, who represent publications from all over the world, she says she comes from Shakhtarsk and claims her hometown had just been shelled with such projectiles by the Ukrainian army. That, she says, should be investigated, adding that it was much more important. How she managed to get to us from Shakhtarsk, located over 20 kilometers away, and why she appeared just at that moment remains unexplained.

Then a rebel "press officer" wearing an exotic uniform comes down the street and talks about the West's crimes. "The usual rhetorical polemics," Hug notes.

On the same day, the Security Council of Russia held a meeting in Moscow to address the crash of Flight MH 17. Yet again,  malignant tumor Pig Putin repeated his allegation that "neo-fascist, fundamentalist forces had used arms to seize power in Kiev." He went on to describe the separatists as a "part of the population" that disagrees with the developments in Ukraine.

Russians Call the Shots

The disgruntled segment of the Ukrainian population that  malignant tumor Pig Putin refers to is represented near Grabovo by the woman in the summer dress and the 10 heavily armed men of the "People's Republic," who, while claiming to be protecting OSCE staff, are more likely present to keep watch over them. The armed men are wearing brand new camouflage uniforms with patches that read "Sevastopol, City of Heroes," and "The Crimean Spring." One, a young man with a headband and long hair holding a Kalashnikov in his hands and carrying a pistol in his waist belt, tells a Russian television team that he's also from Moscow. When asked where, he says he's from the city's Cheryomushki district. When asked what he does there, he responds by saying he sings in the church choir -- and he has the voice and looks to back it up. He means it seriously. But then he adds, "I'm here voluntarily."

He's just as Ukrainian as Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the "People's Republic of Donetsk" who also hails from Moscow. When Borodai handed MH 17's flight recorder over to the Malaysia Airlines experts, they referred to him as "your excellency," just to play it safe. For some time now, it has been leaders from Moscow and not local forces who have been calling the shots in the separatist republic. It's a subject that neither Putin nor the Russian media have shown much interest in addressing. Instead, the public defamation of Ukraine by Russia has reached new heights in the wake of the MH 17 crash.

That too is palpable in Grabovo. A correspondent for Russia's Channel One does a stand-up report from the edge of the wreckage area for the evening news. In it, he claims that the government in Kiev has done everything it could to prevent international experts from getting to the crash scene. Then a Russian news agency issues a report claiming that the Malaysian aviation experts and their OSCE escorts came under fire by Ukrainian fighter jets on their way to the crash site.

Disinformation

The reports are just as untrue as the majority of what Russian television stations broadcast from the separatist republics each day. There is, for example, the report that air traffic controllers, located 270 kilometers away in Dnipropetrovsk, a city under the control of a governor friendly to Kiev, instructed Flight MH 17 to change its path in order to make it easier for Ukrainian fighter jets to shoot it down. European air traffic safety regulators have long since refuted reports of a course change and have stated that the aircraft followed its originally planned route. Few residing between Moscow and Donetsk are interested in hearing that, however. People even believe the most absurd reporting on the disaster, like stories claiming that MH 17 had been carrying corpses when it took off from Amsterdam. It's a fairy tale that is repeated incessantly on countless Russian news broadcasts.

The separatists and Moscow alike have indignantly denied that a Buk surface-to-air missile shot MH 17 down. They have also vehemently denied that rebels could even have been in possession of the air defense system. They claim that evidence in the form of photos and recordings of conversations have been fabricated by the Ukrainians and the Americans.

But on Wednesday, Alexander Khodakovsky, a rebel leader in Donetsk and commander of the notorious Vostok battalion, told Reuters that rebels did in fact possess the Buk missile system and that it could have come from Russia. Khodakovsky later retracted his statements, but the recording of the interview shows that it is in fact precisely what he said.

OSCE official Hug has almost daily dealings with the rebels. Twice since April, he has had to intervene to secure the freedom of Western hostages held by them.

He says he only continues to speak with Borodai or his deputy, adding that they generally do what they say, "at least to a certain degree." He notes that "we've known for some time now that there is quarreling among the rebels and that there are differences between the political level and their armed forces." He describes it as a "thicket of alliances," with many acting on their own.

War Continues Unabated

In exactly this moment, heavy shelling begins around 20 kilometers away from Grabovo in Snizhne, the town from which it is believed the rebels fired the missile that brought down Flight MH 17. The impact of the rockets in Snizhne is visible from as far away as the crash site. Despite the tragedy, the war continues unabated here.

Just a few days later, rebels in the area again shoot down two planes, Ukrainian Air Force SU-25 fighter jets. In recent weeks, they have shot down 14 aircraft. Evidence is overwhelming that the Malaysian Airlines Boeing was among them.

The developments have led to political radicalization in Ukraine as well. Last week, President Petro Poroshenko ordered a partial mobilization for the third time, saying he needed 60,000 soldiers for deployment in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, he also got the opportunity for new elections after the parties backing him quit the government coalition. It is now likely that the final remaining members of parliament from the party of Poroshenko's deposed predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, will be voted out of office. In addition, the Communist Party, which remains strong in the separatist areas, is expected to be banned.

A 'Russian Lockerbie'

Behind the scenes in the Kremlin, away from the official television propaganda, uncertainty is beginning to spread.  malignant tumor Pig Putin himself has seemed agitated and nervous in his latest television appearances.

Voices claiming that Russia's intervention in eastern Ukraine has turned into a disaster are growing louder, as are those who consider the shooting down of MH 17 to be a turning point. Moscow-based journalist and columnist Yulia Latynina described the events as a "Russian Lockerbie." And the editor-in-chief of the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta is even predicting  malignant tumor Pig Putin's descent to the status of political "pariah" because he armed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

A program on radio broadcaster Echo of Moscow, which is at least half-way independent, came to the conclusion last week that the situation had blindsided Putin. Political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky said in the program that the president had come across as being quite optimistic prior to the shooting down of MH 17. The separatists had encircled the Ukrainian army south of Donetsk and  malignant tumor Pig Putin believed he was on the verge of being able to force the West to negotiate over Ukraine's fate. That, Belkovski believes, was the goal of  malignant tumor Pig Putin's interference in Ukraine all along. But the shooting down of the aircraft has altered the situation and Moscow's support for the rebels wound up costing the lives of 298 innocent people. "This has made clear once and for all that  malignant tumor Pig Putin can no longer disentangle himself from the separatists."

Alexander Hug is still at the site of the downed plane, with the wreckage in sight. He says he doesn't want to comment on any of this. "The OSCE has no political agenda," he says, "and that's what makes it possible for us to be in the combat area of the rebels." He says his most important mission is making sure that the world finally has access to the crash site in Grabovo.

In the meantime, supporters of the separatists continue living in their own world. On the way back to Donetsk, which was being shelled by the Ukrainian army at the time, a young man could hardly hide his excitement. He was very certain, he said, that malignant tumor Pig Putin's troops, "would invade" this week. "Finally."

***************

Belarus to host Ukraine crisis talks

President Petro Poroshenko wants discussions with Russia and OSCE to focus on securing access to MH17 crash site

Reuters
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 10.46 BST   

Belarus is to host talks between Ukraine, Russia and OSCE representatives on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, President Alexander Lukashenko's office has said.

It did not say when the meetings would take place but the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, asked Lukashenko to host the talks on Thursday, and to focus on securing access to the site where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was brought down in east Ukraine this month.

Fierce fighting has prevented officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reaching the crash site for several days.

There was no indication pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukraine's army would attend the talks, although Lukashenko's office said "all interested sides" were invited.

The talks were expected to involve Russia's ambassador to Kiev, Mikhail Zurabov, and former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, who have met several times since the crisis began but have failed to secure a breakthrough.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine prevented OSCE representatives from reaching the crash site on Tuesday for the third successive day.

"Decisions are being made on a political level on ensuring safety on the site," Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE in Ukraine said on Wednesday. "Today, as far as we know, we won't be going there."

An OSCE convoy had earlier on Wednesday been stopped by rebels about six miles outside the city of Donetsk because of fighting further along the route, but OSCE officials later denied the team had been trying to reach the crash site.

Poroshenko wants the talks in Minsk to also discuss the release of hostages Kiev claims are being held by the rebels in east Ukraine, the Ukrainian president said in a statement on Facebook.

He appears to have turned to Belarus for help because the former Soviet republic is a Moscow ally but also has a solid relationship with Ukraine.

The regional authorities in Donetsk, one of the regions worst hit by the fighting, said on Wednesday morning that 19 people had been killed in the past 24 hours.

Kiev's military offensive has forced the rebels out of some areas they held, apart from their strongholds in and around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, and fighting has intensified since the airliner was brought down on 17 July killing all 298 people on board.

The west believes the separatists probably shot the plane down by mistake and has accused Russia of arming them. Moscow denies this.

 24 
 on: Jul 29, 2014, 10:12 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Senior US military officers weigh risks of aiding Ukraine in fight against pro-Russian forces

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:52 EDT

Senior American military officers are discussing the possibility of providing Ukraine with more precise intelligence that would allow it to target missiles held by pro-Russian forces, US officials said Monday.

But no decision is imminent and some officials are concerned such a move could backfire by escalating the conflict between Ukraine and the rebels backed by Moscow.

“That’s part of the discussions,” said one defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, referring to the possible enhanced intelligence sharing.

“It’s all part of looking at how we can help the Ukrainians,” the official told AFP. But he added there were risks in providing Ukrainian forces with information that could help them strike at pro-Russian fighters in the country’s east.

The New York Times first reported that the Pentagon and spy agencies were looking at sharing more precise, real-time intelligence with Kiev to enable its military to go after surface-to-air missiles blamed for taking out several of its aircraft.

The White House has yet to hold a debate on the issue among high-level officials, the paper reported over the weekend.

A second Pentagon official downplayed the likelihood of the move and underlined the dangers involved.

“There’s not enough military equipment that Washington could provide to counter Russian influence,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“There’s a risk that the more weapons we provide to the Ukrainians, the more Russians escalate and step up their role,” the official said.

For the moment, President Barack Obama’s administration has provided only limited intelligence to Ukraine and has avoiding supplying weapons to Kiev.

Instead, Washington has favored diplomacy, urging European allies to impose tougher sanctions on Moscow in hopes of forcing President Vladimir Putin to back off of his assertive stance on Ukraine.

Washington has accused Russia of expanding its military support for the separatists in recent weeks with deliveries of heavy weapons and last week alleged Russian units were firing artillery across the border at Ukrainian forces.

The Pentagon said Monday there has been no let-up in Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine, including arms deliveries and training of separatists at a major staging area outside of Rostov.

“I can tell you that last week we saw a column of over 100 Russian vehicles moving into Ukraine,” spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters.

The column was unusually large and reinforced US concerns about Russia’s actions in and around Ukraine, he said.

Pro-Russian separatists are suspected by the West of using SA-11 missiles to shoot down a Malaysian airliner on July 17, in an allegedly inadvertent strike by rebels who have targeted Ukrainian military aircraft.

 25 
 on: Jul 29, 2014, 07:09 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
In the USA...United Surveillance America

Potential whistleblowers less willing to contact the press thanks to NSA spying: report

By Reuters
Monday, July 28, 2014 10:46 EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. surveillance programs are making it more difficult for government officials to speak to the press anonymously, two rights groups said on Monday.

Large-scale surveillance, on top of the Obama administration’s crackdown on national security leaks, threatens the freedom of the press and the right to legal counsel, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a joint report.

The National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, which include the collection of telephone “metadata,” have heightened government officials’ concerns about dealing with the media, as “any interaction – any email, any phone call – risks leaving a digital trace that could subsequently be used against them,” the report said.

The groups interviewed more than 90 journalists, lawyers, and current or former senior U.S. government officials for the report.

“Journalists told us that officials are substantially less willing to be in contact with the press, even with regard to unclassified matters or personal opinions, than they were even a few years ago,” the report said.

The Obama administration has been more aggressive than recent predecessors about silencing leakers, and has charged eight people under the Espionage Act on suspicion of leaking information. In the wake of disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the administration has stepped up efforts to detect “insider threats” from government employees who might want to leak information.

Many current U.S. surveillance programs go well beyond what is necessary to ensure national security, the report said.

“The U.S. holds itself out as a model of freedom and democracy, but its own surveillance programs are threatening the values it claims to represent,” report author Alex Sinha said in a statement.

The report called on President Barack Obama and Congress to reform U.S. surveillance policies, as well as reduce secrecy and provide greater protection for whistleblowers.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in May to end the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone data. It is now under consideration in the Senate.

****************

Kansas Is Going Bankrupt And Republicans Are Lying About the Tax Cutting Reason Why

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Monday, July, 28th, 2014, 10:50 am      

In the field of psychiatry, pathological lying, compulsive lying, or pseudologia fantastica is a behavior of habitual lying that is defined as “falsification entirely disproportionate to any discernible end in view, may be extensive and very complicated, and may manifest over a period of years or even a lifetime.” In some cases the individual may be be unaware that they are relating fantasies, but when they repeat the same lie as fact for thirty years despite empirical data disproving their assertion, it is safe to say they know they are lying.

Republicans and conservative economists continue claiming cutting taxes for the rich is key to full employment, wealth for the masses, government flush with money, and a robust economy. In fact, Kansas Republican Governor Sam Brownback and the Republican legislature were so confident that slashing safety nets, cutting education, and spending a budget surplus on tax cuts for the rich would produce an economic bonanza, they gave the wealthy well over a billion dollars in unfunded tax cuts that has the state’s economy starved of revenue. However, despite Republican warnings the state will be bankrupt in two years, more than 100 Kansas Republicans swearing to help replace Brownback with a Democrat for governor, and a credit agency downgrading Kansas credit, a noted conservative economist lied to support Brownback’s tax cuts as a job creating bonanza. Kansas is lagging behind the rest of the nation in creating jobs besides facing a revenue shortfall of massive proportions.

The Heritage Foundation’s senior economist, Stephen Moore, wrote a pro-Brownback op-ed attacking Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman because like every economist not in the employ of the Heritage Foundation and Fox News, Krugman does not support Republicans’ failed trickle-down scam. Moore was caught red-handed deliberately using incorrect statistics to convince readers that Brownback’s tax cuts create jobs. Moore lied and claimed states that do not give huge tax cuts to the rich are “getting clobbered by tax-cutting states” in the number of jobs created. The editorial board of The Kansas City Star caught Moore’s lies and published annotated corrections to his false assertions specifically stating that “the author misstated job growth rates for four states and the time covered.” In other words; Moore was lying to convince Kansas residents that Brownback’s “ruinous” and “dramatic tax-cutting failure” warrants giving him another four years to completely eviscerate the Kansas economy.

In another instance of conservatives projecting their malfeasance on Democrats, Moore accused “liberals” like Krugman of “cherry-picking a few events” to argue that major tax cuts like Brownback’s are failing miserably. Not only did Moore deliberately “cherry pick bad data to support his claims,” he cherry-picked a time frame when the entire nation was suffering from the Great Recession due, in part, to Bush-Republicans’ major tax cuts for the rich. One might think Moore is unaware he was lying about the benefits of continuing to give tax cuts to the rich, but after thirty years of trickle-down’s abject failure, he knew he was lying like he has done for years.

For example, Moore has consistently criticized the idea of raising the minimum wage he claims will result in a “big increase in unemployment.” Obviously Moore, a “noted conservative economist,” saw the recent statistics that the states he claimed lag “major tax-cutting Republican states” that raised their minimum wage, and taxes, are leading the nation in job creation as well a overall economic growth. One of the states Moore specifically cited, California, is experiencing the nation’s best job creation increase according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in spite of increasing the minimum wage and taxes on the rich. Moore also spent years claiming the Affordable Care Act would kill millions of American jobs, and yet the unemployment rate is falling and there has been 52 straight months of private sector job growth while millions of Americans have healthcare for the first time in their lives.

Stephen Moore, like the Heritage Foundation he represents, is not just a pathological liar, he is guilty of pseudologia fantastica. It is unlikely Kansas residents believe such fantastic lies about the raging success of Brownback’s tax cutting-spree because they see the devastation of the trickle down scam first hand. Certainly, a group of one-hundred-and-four current and former Kansas legislators understand that Brownback’s billion-plus dollar tax cuts for the rich are decimating Kansas.

The group, Republicans for Kansas Values, endorsed Brownback’s Democratic challenger and released a statement saying, “All of us standing here today know Kansas can do better. We can have better schools and a stronger economy. The values that unite us as Kansans are much bigger than the partisanship and experiment of Sam Brownback. Through hard work and cooperation, we can restore Kansas together.” The 104 Republicans cited Brownback’s failed trickle down tax plan, severe cuts to schools, and fiscally irresponsible budgeting as reasons for their historic decision and praised Paul Davis (D) for being a moderate with common sense leadership and “focus on proven solutions” such as “reinstating taxes and spending at their previous levels;” precisely what Stephen Moore lied and said is a recipe for disaster.

Obviously, there is no lie too fantastic, including citing false statistics, Republicans and their Heritage Foundation economists are willing to parrot ad nausem to perpetuate their thirty year failed economic theory that giving more tax cuts to the rich is the key to economic wonderland. Moore has always been a condescending liar and for the second time he has been caught lying. In February, CNN’s Carol Costello destroyed Moore’s conservative economic lies disparaging any consideration of raising the minimum wage, and correctly noted “that raising it would increase incomes and decrease poverty.”

One would think that of all the states Moore would choose to unleash a rash of lies about the benefits of giving major tax cuts to the rich, he would have picked anyplace except Kansas. But Republicans, and so-called “noted” conservative economists, are such pathological liars that they likely actually believe Kansas residents are unaware their state is drowning in debt, suffered a credit downgrade, lags the entire nation in job creation, and cannot afford $100,000 to keep a children’s homeless shelter open; all due to what Stephen Moore says is the reason Kansas is “clobbering states” that are succeeding because they did not give tax cuts to the rich.

**************

USA Today Publishes John Boehner Editorial Then Trashes His Lawsuit Against Obama

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Monday, July, 28th, 2014, 1:40 pm   

USA Today published an editorial by House Speaker John Boehner defending his lawsuit against President Obama, while at the same time their own editorial board published an editorial blasting the lawsuit.

Boehner wrote, “Congress makes the laws; the president executes them. That is the system the Founders gave us. This is not about executive orders. Every president issues executive orders. Most of them, though, do so within the law. This is also not about me vs. President Obama. This is about future Congresses and future presidents. There is a conflict between the executive branch and the legislative branch of our government. It is the judiciary branch’s role to help resolve it. I believe this path is the right one to defend our institution and preserve the Constitution, while continuing to focus on the American people’s top priority — helping our private sector create more American jobs.”

The editorial board at USA Today put out a nearly simultaneous editorial that took Boehner to task for the lawsuit.

The editorial board wrote:

    It’s possible to view this as a high-minded dispute over where the Constitution draws the lines of authority between Congress and the president. Republicans cite scores of examples of what they say is executive overreach, such as Obama’s decision not to deport children brought here illegally by their parents.

    But the lawsuit focuses solely on a small part of Obamacare, one that Republicans themselves would love to see delayed forever. A fair-minded look at the suit’s merits suggests it’s really more of a political grudge match, one in which the GOP is seeking an outcome it hasn’t been able to achieve at the polls or through the legislative process.

    For one thing, Obama’s temporary delay to part of the health law doesn’t seem much different from President George W. Bush’s action in 2006 to extend the deadline and waive penalties for certain seniors who hadn’t signed up in time for the new Medicare prescription drug program. Both presidents appeared to be making reasonable, short-term accommodations to reality, and courts have traditionally given the executive branch broad discretion in implementing complex new laws.

It’s not good when the editorial board of the newspaper that published Boehner’s defense of his lawsuit felt compelled to write their own editorial condemning his tactics. Outside of conservative circles, Boehner is not finding a warm reception anywhere for his lawsuit. The lawsuit isn’t fooling anybody. It has always been a path towards drumming up support for impeaching the president. Boehner’s frivolous abuse of the court system is also intended to make Obamacare the front and center issue during the midterm elections.

The lawsuit does look like an attempt by a sore loser at petty political retribution. Republicans lost at the ballot box. They’ve lost in court of public opinion, because people like what the ACA does. All that they have left is a desperate run to the courts in the hopes that partisan activist judges will bail them out.

As a political strategy, the lawsuit has backfired. Democrats are fired up over Boehner’s clumsy tactics. As a fundraising gambit, the lawsuit has been a disaster. Democrats continue to raise millions of dollars off of a tactic that was supposed to help Republicans gain seats in the fall.

Boehner has shot the Republican Party in both feet with his lawsuit, and it has gotten to the point where no credible publication wants to be tainted with the embarrassment surrounding his attempt to sue the president.

*************

Mitch McConnell’s Big Spending Isn’t Working As He Is Tied With Alison Lundergan Grimes

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Monday, July, 28th, 2014, 9:36 pm   

Mitch McConnell has already spent $30 million to try to keep his Senate seat, but a new Bluegrass Poll found that he remained tied with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The Bluegrass poll revealed that McConnell has a two point lead over Grimes 47%-45%, but that is well within the poll’s 4.1% margin of error. This means that the race remains tied. McConnell led with men 49%-43%, and Grimes led with women 47%-46%. McConnell had a five point advantage with younger voters 49%-44%. Grimes led with voters age 35-49 (44%-42%) and age 50-64 (50%-45%). As expected, Sen. McConnell led with voters age 65+ (54%-40). McConnell led with white voters 48%-44%, and Grimes led with African-American voters 64%-27%. Among voters who have made up their minds, McConnell led 51%-48%, and with those who might still change their minds McConnell had a 42%-37% advantage. Grimes had big leads with Democrats (74%-20%) and Independents (50%-33%), but McConnell gets almost all the Republican support 82%-13%.

The Grimes campaign expressed happiness with the poll results, “Our grassroots campaign remains in a strong position as yet another poll shows us tied or within the margin of error. Mitch McConnell and his Washington cronies have spent $30 million on a tie, and we remain well-positioned to use our multi-million dollar war chest to hold McConnell accountable for his 30-year Washington record through Election Day.”

The poll contains plenty of encouraging signs for Lundergan Grimes, but it also shows the built in difficulty of running against a 30 year Republican incumbent in a red state. McConnell has a lot of built in advantages, and his spending of tens of millions of dollars already is the likely reason why he is as close as he is. McConnell is going to keep spending from now until Election Day, so it is essential from Grimes to expand her campaign as much as possible to keep her supporters energized.

A potential problem for Grimes is that McConnell gets more Democratic support (20%) than she gets Republican support (13%), but those numbers may shift as the general election campaign heats up. Democrats are still in an excellent position to send Mitch McConnell into retirement, but with less than 100 days until Election Day, Alison Lundergan Grimes has a great chance to pick up a Senate seat for Democrats.

************

Satanist Temple Demands 'Hobby Lobby' Style Religious Exemptions From Restrictions To Abortions

By John Amato July 28, 2014 3:24 pm -
CrooksAndLiars

The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, that allows for-profit companies to claim a religious exemption to contraception mandate has now spurred on a Satanist organization to challenge the court's ruling based on their religious freedom.

Oh, this is rich. The Satanist Temple group is demanding that their religious rights be upheld just like the Hobby Lobby corporation's were in the Supreme Court decision that gave credence to the myth that the Plan B pill causes abortions and that corporations not only are people, but they also have religious beliefs that can make them exempt from federal laws.

Think Progress:

    The Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed some for-profit companies to claim a religious exemption to Obamacare’s contraception mandate, has sparked a heated debate over the definition of religious liberty and its role in modern society. At this point, even a Satantic cult has decided to weigh in.

    The Satanic Temple — a faith community that describes itself as facilitating “the communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty” — has launched a new campaign seeking a religious exemption to certain anti-abortion laws that attempt to dissuade women from ending a pregnancy. The group says they have deeply held beliefs about bodily autonomy and scientific accuracy, and those beliefs are violated by state-level “informed consent” laws that rely on misleading information about abortion risks.

    Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, the Satanists point out, it strengthens their own quest to opt out of laws related to women’s health care that go against their religious liberty. “Because of the respect the Court has given to religious beliefs, and the fact that our our beliefs are based on best available knowledge, we expect that our belief in the illegitimacy of state­ mandated ‘informational’ material is enough to exempt us, and those who hold our beliefs, from having to receive them,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a statement.

You would think that medical accuracy would matter to everybody when it concerns health care, but apparently it does not. It's time to go on the offensive from now on and if it be Satanists that lead that charge then so be it.

 26 
 on: Jul 29, 2014, 07:03 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Scientists warn of ‘time horizon’ when sea level rise overwhelms US infrastructure

By Reuters
Monday, July 28, 2014 12:38 EDT

By Ryan McNeill

(Reuters) – Flooding is increasing in frequency along much of the U.S. coast, and the rate of increase is accelerating along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts, a team of federal government scientists found in a study released Monday.

The study examined how often 45 tide gauges along the country’s shore exceeded National Weather Service flood thresholds across several decades. The researchers found that the frequency of flooding increased at 41 locations. Moreover, they found that the rate of increase was accelerating at 28 of those locations. The highest rates of increase were concentrated along the mid-Atlantic coast.

“We stress that in many areas, the frequency of nuisance flooding is already on an accelerating trajectory, and many other locations will soon follow” if trends in rising sea levels continue, the scientists wrote.

The thresholds are usually associated with minor flooding, also called nuisance flooding, which can overwhelm drainage systems, cause road closures and damage infrastructure not built to withstand frequent flooding or exposure to salt water. Such flooding is one of the more recognizable effects of rising seas, as opposed to less frequent but more damaging extreme storms, such as hurricanes, the scientists said.

In the 1950s, nuisance flooding occurred once every one to five years, the study found. By 2012, the frequency had increased to about once every three months at most NOAA gauges.

These storms “are no longer really extreme,” said William Sweet, a NOAA oceanographer and lead author of the study. “It takes a lesser storm to inundate similar (elevations).”

The study is the latest to examine whether minor flooding is increasing as seas rise. Reuters published the results of its own independent analysis earlier this month that found that the number of days a year that tidal waters reached or exceeded flood thresholds more than tripled in many places.

Another study, by Old Dominion University researchers Tal Ezer and Larry Atkinson, found that the U.S. East Coast is “a hotspot of accelerated flooding.” They also found that flooding outside of storm events has increased in frequency and duration. The results of their study are expected to be published later this year.

Among the NOAA study’s findings:

*The northeast Atlantic coast experienced a “significant increase” in nuisance flooding, largely because of the combination of rising sea levels and subsidence, whereby land sinks due to geological forces and the extraction of groundwater.

*In the southeast Atlantic, five of eight gauges “are now on an accelerating nuisance flood frequency trajectory.”

*Four of the eight gauges on the Gulf coast showed accelerating increases in minor flooding.

Such flooding events “are only going to become more noticeable and much more severe in the coming decades” as the seas continue to rise, Sweet said.

The scientists warned in their report that coastal communities may face a “time horizon” when public and private infrastructure “will become increasingly compromised by tidal flooding.” That time is dependent on how fast seas rise — something scientists can’t predict.

“When that day comes, these impacts are going to be accelerated,” Sweet said, “and that’s going to spell all sorts of issues for communities when it comes to adaptation and resilience.”

 27 
 on: Jul 29, 2014, 06:58 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Can evolution explain why so many domesticated mammals have floppy ears?

By The Conversation
Monday, July 28, 2014 15:26 EDT

By Don Newgreen, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Jeffrey Craig, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

Take a look at several domesticated mammal species and you might spot a number of similarities between them, including those cute floppy ears.

The famous naturalist and evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin even observed in the first chapter of his On the Origin of Species that: Not a single domestic animal can be named which has not in some country drooping ears.

And it’s not just the ears. Domesticated animals share a fairly consistent set of differences from their wild ancestors such as smaller brains, smaller teeth, shorter curly tails and lighter and blotchy coats: a phenomenon called the “domestication syndrome”.

A paper published this week in the journal Genetics poses a new explanation as to why so many domesticated animals have such a similar set of traits.

Adam Wilkins, from South Africa’s Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study, and colleagues propose that human selection has, in domesticated species, altered the development of the neural crest, an organ system present during embryonic development.

The silver fox experiment

The dog has been befriended by humans for at least 11,000 years, longer than any other domesticated animal. They differ from their wild ancestor wolves in all the above listed features of domestication syndrome.

Dogs aren’t the only examples, of course. Humans have also domesticated cattle, horses, sheep, goats … the list goes on.

In the late 1950s, Russian fox-fur-farmer-turned-geneticist Dmitry Belyaev set up a long-term experiment to find out whether he could selectively breed the wildness out of the silver fox, which was hard to breed because of its aggressive nature.

In each generation of foxes, he bred from animals that showed the least aggression towards their captors.

It took him and his successor Lyudmilla Trut just 20 generations – only about 25 years – to create a line of silver foxes who from birth were tame enough to be kept as pets. For those who study evolution, this is an extraordinarily short time span.

But that wasn’t the most surprising result. Although selected only for their temperament, the later generations of silver foxes also had shorter faces, smaller teeth, soft and droopy ears, curly tails and altered colour.

Humans might selectively breed for less “flighty” and less “fighty” beasts, but why should domesticated animals also show characteristic changes in other body features?

The neural crest

In 1868, the same year that Darwin published an entire monograph on domestication, Swiss anatomist Wilhelm His Sr described what became known as the embryonic neural crest.

Vertebrate embryos at an early stage of development consist of three “germ layers”. He described a strip of cells in the outer layer (ectoderm), between the part that produces skin and the part that produces the central nervous system, and named this the Zwischenstrang (“between-strand”). It’s now called the neural crest.

These cells migrate into the middle layer (mesoderm), which produces skeletal, connective, muscular, glandular and reproductive tissues.

In a developing embryo, neural crest (NC) cells migrate in the direction indicated by the red arrows, from the outer germ layer (ectoderm) to the middle germ layer (mesoderm). Once there, they form a range of body structures.

Each germ layer was thought to produce mutually-exclusive tissues, but the bombshell came 20 years later when Russian biologist Nikolai Kastschenko proposed that archetypal middle layer tissues such as the craniofacial skeleton originated in the neural crest.

It took more than 30 years before Kastschenko’s heretical observations were accepted.

Explaining domestication syndrome

Wilkins and colleagues now propose a hypothesis that links the development of the neural crest with the body changes that accompany domestication.

The neural crest produces not only facial skeletal and connective tissues, teeth and external ears but also pigment cells, nerves and adrenal glands, which mediate the “fight or flight” response.

Neural crest cells are also important for stimulating the development of parts of the forebrain and for several hormonal glands.

The researchers argue that the domestication process selects for pre-existing variants in a number of genes that affect neural crest development. This causes a modest reduction in neural crest cell number or activity. This in turn affects the broad range of structures derived from the neural crest, giving rise to domestication syndrome.

Interestingly, deleterious alterations in genes controlling neural crest development cause wide-ranging syndromes called neurocristopathies in humans and in animals.

The researchers bolster their argument using several examples including Treacher Collins, Mowat-Wilson and Waardenburg syndromes. Indeed, they suggest that the domestication syndrome resembles a mild multi-gene neurocristopathy.

Surprisingly, they fail to include Williams Syndrome, which allies a mild variation in facial development with an unusually friendly disposition, as illustrated in the last year’s French-Canadian film Gabrielle.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4l4cV6KjlxU

The genetic region associated with Williams syndrome has been identified as one of the many regions in the canine genome that varies genetically between dogs and their wild ancestors, wolves.

This new hypothesis proposes one intriguing answer to the domestication question originally identified by Darwin and illustrated by Belyaev and Trut: why do all the traits of domestication co-exist in multiple species?

It may be that neural crest contributions are so diverse that it’s possible to cherry-pick points of congruence to support any hypothesis. Nevertheless, the researchers suggest several lines of molecular genetic and functional experiments that can further put their ideas to the test.

The Conversation

Don Newgreen receives funding from National Health & Medical Research Council, Stem Cells Australia and Financial Markets Foundation for Children.

Jeffrey Craig receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Financial Markets Foundation For Children and the Jack Brockhoff Foundation

 28 
 on: Jul 29, 2014, 06:46 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Parisian public gardens next to Louvre overrun by 'really big' rats

Rubbish left by tourists in the Tuileries garden is blamed for the infestation, which has become a problem even in broad daylight

Anne Penketh in Paris   
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 16.55 BST

It is one of the most famous parks in the world and attracts visitors from far and wide. But now Paris's Tuileries garden, next to the Louvre museum, is attracting another kind of visitor in possibly even greater numbers.

"It's horrible, we're scared of being bitten," said Audrey Hacherez, a gardener who was weeding a flowerbed on Monday in the formal gardens, which stretch along the Seine. "They're really big. Sometimes they fight each other."

Tourists' litter is being blamed for an influx of rats that was brought to the attention of Parisians last week after a photographer, Xavier Francolon, took pictures of the rodents scampering in the gardens. He told Le Parisien that he had seen about 30 in the space of the two days, and had been surprised to see so many among picnickers on the grass in broad daylight.

"The tourists throw their scraps of pizza and sandwiches all over the place," said Hacherez.

Standing beside a lavender bed strewn with plastic bottles and discarded food wrappings, another gardener explained that they were using an "ecological" poison against the rats but that it was proving less effective than chemical varieties. The gardeners said they had approached the Louvre's technical experts about the problem and were waiting to hear back.

The Louvre, which along with the culture ministry is responsible for maintaining the Carrousel and Tuileries garden, said on Monday that pest control is carried out twice a month, and more frequently in the summer months. The museum, which coordinates with the city of Paris sanitation services, was aware that last week "there were more rats than usual" in the gardens. It noted that "like any space or urban building near a river, particularly in the centre of Paris, the public domain of the Louvre museum can be the victim of a large and harmful presence of rodents, particularly in the summer".

The rat problem in the Louvre gardens has been acute for the past couple of years, according to local residents.

 29 
 on: Jul 29, 2014, 06:44 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Libya's exodus of diplomats is a sign of how desperate things have become

Warring tribes have deadlocked parliament and closed Tripoli's international airport, raising fears it could become a failed state

Ian Black, Middle East editor
theguardian.com, Monday 28 July 2014 18.22 BST   

Evacuating diplomats is never a good sign of the health of a country; and so it is with Libya, where fierce fighting between rival miltias has closed the international airport, paralysed life in Benghazi and now triggered a foreign exodus. A massive fire raging at a fuel storage depot near Tripoli symbolises a situation that now looks dangerously out of control.

Nearly three years since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi by Nato-backed rebels, the North African country is at another low point. Shoring up the embattled central government to allow it to see off a multitude of competing independent armed groups remains a mammoth task. Parliament has been deadlocked by infighting since the elections in late June.

Thousands of former rebels who fought Gaddafi in 2011 are now employed by the state, but the national army remains weak and ineffective. "The problem is that there is no centralised security system as a consequence of the civil war," argues George Joffe, a consultant. "There seems to be no way in which the government can actually bring the various militias under its control and thereby establish effective security."

The fighting is part of a wider ideological and power struggle between Libyan Islamists and their opponents that is familiar from elsewhere in the Arab world – especially neighbouring Egypt – but it is also about local and regional interests.

In the current chaos the relative stability of the repressive Gaddafi era is certainly now missed by some Libyans, but many hold him responsible for the paralysing fragmentation of the country's political life in his 42 years in power.

Efforts to promote political dialogue by the US, UK and EU, which backed the 2011 uprising and Nato's intervention, and welcomed his demise in the name of democracy, have achieved precious little. Experts argue that there has been too much focus on counter-terrorism – the emphasis of the renegade "dignity" campaigner, General Khalifa Heftar – and not enough on political inclusivity, as the route to national reconciliation.

"Libya's political leadership have never resolved the differences that were there at the end of the revolution," said a diplomat who is still in Tripoli. "That's what has precipitated this polarisation. The people we talk to have no control over the kids on the frontline. There is a culture of impunity. There's no law and order."

It is hard to overstate the impact on foreign investors and general international confidence of the galling fact that the government does not even control the capital's airport, which has been left a partial ruin by the fighting of the last fortnight. The larger danger is that Libya will become a failed state, risking consequences - weapons proliferation, terrorism, refugee flows - that will directly affect its Arab and African neighbours as well as increasingly worried Europeans.

Foreigners care about Libya partly because of its oil, but given the competition between tribal, ethnic and militia groups, for that to flow smoothly the country's fundamental political issues have to be tackled. "It is nearly impossible to make concessions to one group without angering its competitors," the Stratfor consultancy noted recently, "and nearly all of the rival groups are able to control and take critical infrastructure – including airports, pumping stations, oil refineries and export terminals – offline."

Diplomats who are evacuated can be sent back, though the US is likely to be especially cautious about security given the location of its embassy on the dangerous Tripoli airport road and the killing of its ambassador, Chris Steven, in Benghazi in 2012. Britain's ambassador, Michael Aron, who stayed behind with a skeleton staff, sent pointed Eid greetings to all Muslims, but especially to all Libyans, "hoping that this will be a year of reconciliation".

 30 
 on: Jul 29, 2014, 06:40 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Qatar World Cup: migrants wait a year to be paid for building offices

Workers who fitted out lavish offices used by tournament organisers say they are trapped after collapse of contractor

Robert Booth, and Pete Pattisson in Doha
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 14.22 BST      

Exclusive Migrant workers who built luxury offices used by Qatar's 2022 football World Cup organisers have told the Guardian they have not been paid for more than a year and are now working illegally from cockroach-infested lodgings.

Officials in Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy have been using offices on the 38th and 39th floors of Doha's landmark al-Bidda skyscraper – known as the Tower of Football – which were fitted out by men from Nepal, Sri Lanka and India who say they have not been paid for up to 13 months' work.

The project, a Guardian investigation shows, was directly commissioned by the Qatar government and the workers' plight is set to raise fresh doubts over the autocratic emirate's commitment to labour rights as construction starts this year on five new stadiums for the World Cup.

The offices, which cost £2.5m to fit, feature expensive etched glass, handmade Italian furniture, and even a heated executive toilet, project sources said. Yet some of the workers have not been paid, despite complaining to the Qatari authorities months ago and being owed wages as modest as £6 a day.

By the end of this year, several hundred thousand extra migrant workers from some of the world's poorest countries are scheduled to have travelled to Qatar to build World Cup facilities and infrastructure. The acceleration in the building programme comes amid international concern over a rising death toll among migrant workers and the use of forced labour.

"We don't know how much they are spending on the World Cup, but we just need our salary," said one worker who had lost a year's pay on the project. "We were working, but not getting the salary. The government, the company: just provide the money."

The migrants are squeezed seven to a room, sleeping on thin, dirty mattresses on the floor and on bunk beds, in breach of Qatar's own labour standards. They live in constant fear of imprisonment because they have been left without paperwork after the contractor on the project, Lee Trading and Contracting, collapsed. They say they are now being exploited on wages as low as 50p an hour.

Their case was raised with Qatar's prime minister by Amnesty International last November, but the workers have said 13 of them remain stranded in Qatar. Despite having done nothing wrong, five have even been arrested and imprisoned by Qatari police because they did not have ID papers. Legal claims lodged against the former employer at the labour court in November have proved fruitless. They are so poor they can no longer afford the taxi to court to pursue their cases, they say.

A 35-year-old Nepalese worker and father of three who ssaid he too had lost a year's pay: "If I had money to buy a ticket, I would go home."

Qatar's World Cup organising committee confirmed that it had been granted use of temporary offices on the floors fitted out by the unpaid workers. It said it was "heavily dismayed to learn of the behaviour of Lee Trading with regard to the timely payment of its workers". The committee stressed it did not commission the firm. "We strongly disapprove and will continue to press for a speedy and fair conclusion to all cases," it said.

Jim Murphy, the shadow international development secretary, said the revelation added to the pressure on the World Cup organising committeeafter . "They work out of this building, but so far they can't even deliver justice for the men who toiled at their own HQ," he said.

Sharan Burrow, secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation, said the workers' treatment was criminal. "It is an appalling abuse of fundamental rights, yet there is no concern from the Qatar government unless they are found out," she said. "In any other country you could prosecute this behaviour."

Contracts show the project was commissioned by Katara Projects, a Qatar government organisation under the auspices of the office of the then heir apparent, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who is now the emir. He also heads the supreme committee, the World Cup organising body. The committee is spending at least £4bn building new stadiums for the tournament, which has become mired in allegations of bribery, while there is disbelief at the prospect of playing the tournament in Qatar's 50C summer heat.

Katara said it terminated its agreement with Lee Trading when it discovered the mistreatment of workers and non-payment of wages, and made efforts to repatriate those affected or find them new jobs. It said several workers had been compensated after court settlements. "If there are employees who were not repatriated, did not find employment or did not receive compensation, we would be happy to engage in any effort with the ministry of labour and ministry of interior to rectify the situation," a spokesman said.

The problems at the Tower of Football workers are not isolated, despite Qatar's pledges to monitor salary payments and abolish the kafala sponsorship system, which stops migrant workers changing job or leaving Qatar without their employer's consent. In 2012 and 2013, 70 labourers from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka died from falls or strikes by objects, 144 died in traffic accidents and 56 killed themselves, the government's own figures show. Dozens more young migrant workers die mysteriously in their sleep from suspected heart attacks every summer.

The Guardian discovered more projects where salaries had not been paid. They included a desert camp of 65 workers who had not been paid for several months, were sleeping eight to a room, and were living with dirty drinking water, filthy, unplumbed toilets and no showers.

Another group said they were being paid only sporadically, that there was sometimes no water in their housing and no electricity to power air conditioning.

This month, the Qatar Foundation, a state body, published a report examining trafficking, debt bondage and forced labour among migrant workers. It identified practices that contravene International Labour Organisation conventions on forced labour and UN anti-trafficking protocols, "widespread" non-payment of wages and bribery and extortion among recruitment agents and employers.

From January to May this year 87 Nepalese workers died in Qatar, a death rate two-and-a-half times higher than that of British ex, pats, new figures from the Nepal government reveal.

"We know there is much more to do," said Abdullah al-Khulaifi, Qatar's minister of labour and social affairs in a statement detailing progress on labour law reforms. "But we are making definite progress and are determined to build momentum."

****************

Qatar World Cup: Fifa vice-president demands payment of migrant workers

UK representative 'very concerned' despite assurances from organising committee that workers' rights would be safeguarded

Robert Booth   
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 July 2014 11.31 BST   

A Fifa vice-president has demanded Qatar ensure immediate payment for a group of migrant workers who fitted out offices being used by its 2022 World Cup organising committee after the Guardian revealed some have gone unpaid for up to 13 months.

Jim Boyce, Britain's representative on Fifa's 24-person executive committee, said he was very concerned about the situation after repeated assurances from the Qatar organising committee that working conditions for World Cup workers would be safeguarded.

"If the supreme committee is now using offices built by these people they should immediately take steps with the Qatar government to make sure they are properly paid for the work they have done," said Boyce.

"If they are serious and accept there has been a problem and they are going to ensure that labour rights are maintained on any work done in conjunction with the World Cup, then the supreme committee has to ensure this is carried out."

The revelation that more than a dozen men who fitted out lavish offices in Qatar's football HQ have not been paid for up to 13 months came just days after Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, and its secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, met Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, to discuss World Cup preparations and "the ongoing reforms of labour rights to ensure the welfare of migrant workers".

The workers from Sri Lanka, India and Nepal worked on a £2.5m fit-out of the 38th and 39th floor of the Al Bidda tower in Doha, which houses Qatar's supreme committee for delivery and legacy for the 2022 World Cup. The contractor, Lee Trading, was commissioned directly by the Qatar government but failed to pay the workers, some of whom did not receive even modest salaries of £6 a day for more than a year. They are now working illegally from cockroach-infested lodgings while the World Cup organising committee occupies the offices.

The supreme committee confirmed it had been granted use of temporary offices on the floors fitted out by the unpaid workers, but categorically rejected any direct connection with the contracting firm Lee Trading. However, the contract documents seen by the Guardian show the Qatar state body that commissioned the works, Katara Projects, was linked to the office of al-Thani, then heir-apparent and now the emir of Qatar, who recently made himself chairman of the World Cup organising committee board.

"The supreme committee does take very seriously the matter of worker welfare in Qatar," it said in a statement. "We were heavily dismayed to learn of the behaviour of Lee Trading with regard to the timely payment of its workers. We will continue to press for a speedy and fair conclusion to all cases."

In April, Jim Murphy, the shadow secretary of state for international development, met Hassan al-Thawadi, the chief executive of Qatar's World Cup organising committee, to discuss the "kafala" labour sponsorship systems that prevent workers changing jobs or leaving the country without permission from their employer.

"When I travelled to Doha I met the Qatar 2022 organisers on the 37th floor of the Al Bidda tower," Murphy said. "They made promises about workers and the reform of the kafala system. The news that the Bidda tower workers themselves haven't been paid makes those promises sound pretty empty."

Amnesty International came across the workers last year, before the Guardian established they had worked on offices used by the World Cup organisers. Last November, the human rights campaign group raised their plight in person with Qatar's prime minister, interior minister and labour minister. It wrote to the ministry of labour asking for the men to be paid, allowed to leave the country or find new jobs.

Nicholas McGeehan, Human Rights Watch's Qatar researcher, said: "If Qatar had announced some meaningful reforms they would be able to defend themselves against these depressing revelations, because reforms need time to take effect in a sector beset by abuse and exploitation.

"Qatar's inertia on labour reform should concern Fifa and their sponsors just as much as allegations of corruption in the bidding process."

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