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 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:36 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Taliban Making Military Gains in Afghanistan

JULY 26, 2014

MAHMUD RAQI, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders.

The Taliban have found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar.

Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year.

At a time when an election crisis is threatening the stability of the government, the Taliban’s increasingly aggressive campaign is threatening another crucial facet of the American withdrawal plan, full security by Afghan forces this year.

“They are running a series of tests right now at the military level, seeing how people respond,” one Western official said, describing a Taliban effort to gauge how quickly they could advance. “They are trying to figure out: Can they do it now, or will it have to wait” until after the American withdrawal, the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the coalition has officially ceded security control.

Interviews with local officials and residents in several strategic areas around the country suggest that, given the success of their attacks, the Taliban are growing bolder just two months into the fighting season, at great cost to Afghan military and police forces.

In Kapisa, a verdant province just north of Kabul that includes a vital highway to northern Afghanistan, insurgents are openly challenging and even driving away the security forces in several districts. Security forces in Tagab District take fire daily from the Taliban, who control everything but the district center. Insurgents in Alasay District, northeast of Kabul, recently laid siege to an entire valley for more than a week, forcing hundreds of residents and 45 police officers to flee. At least some of the local police in a neighboring district have cut deals with the Taliban to save themselves.

In the past month, a once-safe district beside the major city of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, has fallen under Taliban control, and a district along a crucial highway nearby is under constant threat from the Taliban. South of Kabul, police forces in significant parts of Logar and Wardak provinces have been under frequent attack, to deadly effect.

But there are only anecdotal reports to help gauge just how deadly the offensive has been. The Afghan defense and interior ministries stopped releasing casualty data after a shocking surge of military and police deaths in 2013 began raising questions about the country’s ability to sustain the losses. By September, with more than 100 soldiers and police officers dying every week, even the commander of the International Security Assistance Force suggested the losses could not be sustained.

Asked for figures on the latest security force casualties this year, both ministries refused to provide data or confirm accounts from local officials. But there are signs that the casualty rate is already likely to be at least as bad as it was last year.

In one important indicator, the United Nations reported a 24 percent rise in civilian casualties for the first half of this year compared with a similar period from 2013, hitting a new peak since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began tracking the data in 2009. More significantly, for the first time, the highest number of those casualties came from ground fighting between the Afghan forces and insurgents rather than from roadside bombs.

The United Nations found that more fighting was taking place near populous areas, closer to the district centers that serve as the government seats. Ground violence also seemed to increase in areas where coalition bases had been closed, as the Taliban felt more emboldened to launch attacks without fear of reprisal.

One important effect of those gains, particularly where police forces are being driven away, is that the Taliban are establishing larger sections of lawless territory where they can intimidate local populations. They become safe havens, and staging grounds for more ambitious attacks against Kabul and other major cities, like the militant assault on Kabul’s airport on July 17.

In the immediate vicinity of the country’s main cities, the Afghan military was still holding up well, according to American and Afghan commanders. But as more marginal districts have come under unexpectedly heavy attack, the military planners’ expectations have been tested.

One widely accepted prediction was that soon after 2014, the Taliban would gain in rural areas and traditional strongholds, as the government made tough decisions about what to fight for and what to let go. Places of no strategic value in remote areas of the south and east, some officials said, could afford to be forgotten.

But heavy attacks, and some territorial losses, are already happening in those places, earlier than predicted.

On July 9, the Taliban overran a district center in Ghor Province, a rugged and violent area close to the center of the country, which left Afghan forces scrambling to reclaim it and smarting from the embarrassment. On Saturday, militants stormed Registan District in Kandahar, killing five police officers, including the district police chief, in a battle that continued into the evening.

The heavy fighting earlier this summer in northern Helmand Province, long a Taliban stronghold and a center of opium poppy production, was mostly expected. But the breadth of the Taliban assault, which is now said by locals to extend to four districts, has surprised many, and foreshadowed a more ambitious reach for the insurgents.

The efforts of this fighting season have not been solely in the countryside, or traditional strongholds like those in Helmand. The Taliban have made strides in Nangarhar Province, home to one of the most economically vibrant cities in the country and a strategically important region. Surkh Rod, a district that borders the provincial capital Jalalabad and was safe to visit just three months ago, has become dangerous to enter.

“The difference is that five months ago there were more government forces here; now it is the Taliban,” said Nawab, a resident of Shamshapor village.

Bati Kot District, too, has become more dangerous. Outside the district center, residents say, the Taliban dominate a crucial swath of territory that straddles the main highway leading from Kabul to the eastern border with Pakistan. Villagers living in the district say the Taliban force them to feed and house insurgents, and threaten to kill them if they refuse.

Much like Nangarhar, Kapisa is connected directly to Kabul, presenting a troubling threat for the government as it struggles to safeguard the security corridor around the capital. Trouble in three districts has been the focus of a concerted American Special Forces campaign to ferret out the insurgents, who many say appear more trained and disciplined than the average Taliban.

“The command and control is incredible,” said one American Special Forces officer who has fought with his men in insurgent-controlled valleys in Kapisa. “They have found an awesome safe haven.”

The biggest fear for the province stems from Tagab and Alasay districts. Though there is an entire battalion of Afghan soldiers in the area, the vast majority of the fighting and dying are done by the police forces.

Two weeks ago, in the Askin Valley area of Alasay, insurgents surrounded a village where the local and national police had only recently taken root. Tribal and interpersonal rivalries fueled the animosity toward the police, but the consequence was clear: The government was not welcome.

An estimated 60 insurgents surrounded Askin Valley and engaged in a gunfight with about 35 local and 10 national police officers in the area, according to police officials. The two sides fought for more than a week, with coalition aircraft entering the area to offer support for the beleaguered security forces. Eventually, the police were forced to retreat, along with hundreds of villagers.

Two police officials in the area, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, relayed the account. One, a local police officer, said the Taliban’s reach permeated the entire district, and the security forces were consigned to their bases, trying to stay alive.

“The Afghan security forces are controlling the bazaar for one in every 24 hours,” the commander said. “From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., the police, army and local police come out of their outposts and buy what they need, then they go back to their bases.”

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:32 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
With Taliban’s Revival, Dread Returns to Swat Valley

JULY 26, 2014

SWAT VALLEY, Pakistan — As battle rages in North Waziristan, where the Pakistani military says it has killed more than 500 militants, unfinished business from the army’s first major assault on the Taliban lingers painfully in the Swat Valley, at the other end of Pakistan’s Pashtun belt.

Five years ago, Pakistani soldiers flooded into Swat as part of an operation to banish the Taliban from the valley. The offensive became a cherished victory for Pakistani generals, who presented it as evidence of their counterinsurgency prowess.

But a steady drumbeat of killings, by both militants and soldiers, has whipped up fear in Swat in recent years and blighted hopes for a return to normality in a place known for its beauty and tourist industry. Taliban fighters have slowly crept back to attack and kill pro-government community leaders. The army faces accusations of gross human rights abuses, including the execution of at least dozens of detainees whose bodies have recently been returned to their families.

And Maulana Fazlullah, the ruthless cleric and militant commander who led the original Swat uprising in 2007, has evaded capture and risen to greater heights as the supreme leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

“For a long time there was a narrative of the Swat operation as a total success,” said Rahimullah Yousafzai, a veteran journalist based in Peshawar. “Now that success is being questioned.”

Few doubt that conditions in Swat have improved dramatically. Bloodied bodies no longer hang from traffic lights in the town square where the Taliban once executed their enemies. Markets are bustling, and more girls are attending school.

But the campaign of Taliban violence, though sporadic, has rattled public confidence. “This is a controlled peace,” said Akbar Khan, a 38-year-old bookseller. And it offers a sobering check on the limits of military engagement at a time when the army is engaged in a fresh anti-Taliban drive in the tribal district of North Waziristan.

There, more than one million people have fled their homes since the operation started on June 15. The military, which tightly controls media access, has portrayed it as an unalloyed success, drip-feeding reports of battlefield victories to the Pakistani media. On Saturday, a spokesman said its forces had killed 531 militants and lost just 34 men.

Similarly triumphant claims followed the 2009 Swat offensive, but some successes proved to be temporary. Although hundreds of Taliban fighters were captured, many more slipped across the porous border into the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, where they have successfully regrouped.

In the last two years, small pockets of fighters have infiltrated back into Swat, moving along remote mountain trails on horseback and on foot, according to villagers.

One of their most infamous attacks was on Malala Yousafzai, the teenage schoolgirl who was shot in the head in October 2012 but survived her injuries and became a global icon.

But for the most part, the Taliban gunmen have targeted the Village Defense Committees — local militias, mounted by the army to keep the Taliban at bay — which lost nine leaders to Taliban attacks in 2013, and eight so far this year. In the most recent shooting, on Tuesday, gunmen opened fire on Umar Hayat Khan, the committee leader in Takhta Band village, as he said his prayers in a local mosque.

Two weeks earlier, gunmen killed Khan Saib, a landowner who had just returned from self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia. A relative said that Mr. Saib had fled Swat after the Taliban demolished his house in 2009, and had been attacked twice before his death.

The shootings have scared Swat residents because their targets are prominent community leaders — often landowners or members of the Awami National Party, a secular party that has borne the brunt of Taliban violence across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province.

The army itself has been another cause of concern in Swat as it has cast a wide net for militants.

Human-rights groups say that hundreds of suspected militants have died in military custody since 2009. In 2010, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, then the army chief, announced an investigation into a video that appeared to show soldiers executing six detainees. The result of the investigation was never made public; some activists questioned whether it ever took place.

Since April 2013, some Swat detainees have turned up dead, their bodies quietly returned to their families for burial. Many have reportedly been held in an army-run internment center in Kohat, 30 miles south of Peshawar. Relatives say the army often attributes the deaths to heart attacks — an explanation that human-rights activists say is consistent with similar violations elsewhere in northwestern Pakistan.

“Most of these detainees are in their 20s or early 30s. It’s unusual for men of that age to die from a heart attack,” said Mustafa Qadri of Amnesty International. In Swat, the wives and children of detained men hold regular protests against the military. The most recent took place on July 20 in the village of Kanju, where women waved photos and held placards calling for judicial intervention. “Let the courts decide if they are guilty,” read one.

While mistreatment of detainees offends rights groups, many Swat residents have a more ambivalent attitude, said Mr. Yousafzai, the journalist. “The community is very polarized,” he said. “Many people don’t want to hear about the suffering of militants or their families.”

Public opinion had been further divided by plans for three permanent military bases in Swat. Some citizens want the army to leave; others fear a return to civilian rule would lead to a Taliban resurgence. “People remember that the last time, the civilians ran away,” Mr. Yousafzai said.

The tensions and violence have stymied efforts to revive the local economy, despite some progress. The valley’s ski resort at Malam Jabba, which had been destroyed by the Taliban, hosted a five-day “snow festival” in March; a summer festival is scheduled for early August. The valley’s musicians and dancers have returned from the cities where they fled in 2009.

But caution is widespread. Kiran, a dancer who would give only her first name, said she refused to work outside the main town, Mingora. Some business owners have left the valley over security fears. And tourism numbers are way down, said Zahid Khan, head of the Swat hotel owners’ association.

Meanwhile, Mr. Fazlullah, the Taliban leader, is using his Afghan sanctuary to step up the pressure. His fighters killed a two-star general, Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Khan Niazi, in a roadside bombing in neighboring Dir district in September 2013. His fighters have infiltrated Karachi, the port city where they run a campaign of extortion and assassination targeting Pashtun political and business leaders.

More recently, Mr. Fazlullah has increased violence inside Swat in a bid to shore up his authority inside the Taliban, following a split in the militant ranks last May. In a rare video message released on May 19, he directed suicide bombers to attack “the forces of evil.” The military, for its part, is focused on the campaign in North Waziristan. But that has also touched Swat, in the form of refugees who have made an arduous journey across northwestern Pakistan to the verdant valley in search of shelter.

The authorities in Swat have registered almost 600 refugees from Waziristan, many of whom are living in cramped rented accommodations.

Speaking at a religious charity’s food distribution event, Hajji Nooruddin, a 50-year-old truck driver from Miram Shah, said he was sharing a house with 25 other people.

Asif Nawaz, 21, said he was stuck in a traffic jam for two days as he fled North Waziristan. During that time, he saw two mothers take the bodies of their dead infants to the soldiers, shouting that they had died from hunger, he said with tears in his eyes.

However, many of the refugees said they were glad to have reached Swat — a place of relative safety, compared with North Waziristan.

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:30 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Bound by Bridge, 2 Baghdad Enclaves Drift Far Apart

JULY 26, 2014

BAGHDAD — Al Imams Bridge spans the Tigris River between two of the oldest communities in Baghdad — one Sunni, the other Shiite — and on Ramadan evenings it can seem as if the mosques near either bank are calling to each other as their muezzins sing prayers.

But the two neighborhoods, the Sunni Adhamiya and the Shiite Kadhimiya, once inextricably joined in the imagination of Baghdad residents, are drifting further and further apart.

To walk through each as they break the daily fast during Ramadan is to glimpse the diverging realities of Baghdad: a vibrant and expanding Shiite way of life, and a subdued and dwindling Sunni one.

“Now we have two Ramadans,” said Yassin Daoud, 35, a Sunni boat operator who works at an amusement park in Adhamiya on the banks of the river. He made his living taking pleasure cruisers to Al Imams Bridge and back, but no one has asked for a ride yet this year.

The two neighborhoods are each anchored by a renowned mosque and shrine nearly as old as Islam itself: Abu Hanifa on the Sunni side, which began to be built in the late 700s, and Imam Kadhim on the Shiite side. Both areas still share some of the character of old Baghdad: the crafts shops, leather workmen and cobblers, halal butchers and gold workers.

Although the ebb and flow between the two was once as natural as the Tigris’s tides, the past 11 years have taken a deep toll, eroding both the routes that people walked from one community to the other and the trust they once had.

Ali al-Nashmi, a professor of history at Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, who grew up in Adhamiya, dates the period of sectarian division to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by the American-led coalition in 2003, with the most recent chapter coming after the fall of Mosul to Sunni militants in June.

“The Shia people used to walk through Adhamiya to Imam Kadhim,” said Mr. Nashmi, thinking back to his youth. “But then the sectarian troubles started after 2003 and they were attacked in Adhamiya and they stopped coming that way.”

As the Shiites vanished from Adhamiya’s streets, some young Sunnis there, and elsewhere, angered by the sudden loss of Sunni hegemony with Hussein’s exit, joined the insurgency and either were killed or imprisoned or fled. And there were fewer and smaller families to take Mr. Daoud’s boat or lay out their evening meals on the carefully tended grass of the amusement park where his small craft were tethered on the banks of the Tigris.

Now almost every table is empty at the Adhamiya park, where hundreds of families every year for more than three decades had spread out their iftar dinners to break the Ramadan fast. Not a single child is on the swan ride; the Ferris wheel seats are empty; the bumper cars clatter round, but no children are in them.

Mustapha al-Qaisi, a Sunni taxi driver, brought his family with trepidation to the park, and only because it was a tradition they could not quite bear to give up.

“The difference between now and 2006 was that before, we were targeted by militias, but now we are targeted by militias backed by the government,” he said.

“I am afraid all the time now that I will be targeted because of my identity,” he said, meaning that a militia checkpoint would recognize that his tribal name was Sunni and abduct or even kill him.

If he has a problem with his taxi or an altercation with a customer, he no longer dares to go to the police station to complain, because with his Sunni name, he is fearful the police might detain him.

When he saw a foreigner at the park, the first thing he thought was that they might be with a refugee agency.

“Are you with the International Organization for Migration?” he asked. “Is it possible to help us get out of Iraq?”

Across the river lies a different world. In Kadhimiya, where nearly everyone is Shiite, Ramadan feels like a monthlong street party. Even during the hours of fasting in the heat of the day, when temperatures often reach 115 degrees, people are hard at work preparing for the meal that breaks the fast. They stir vast vats of rice in communal kitchens, shred lamb into small pieces to mix with it, chop tomatoes and cucumbers for salad and slice wheelbarrows of watermelon.

At dusk on Kadhimiya’s outskirts, the main entrance is closed for safety because the neighborhood has been attacked so many times. (Just last Tuesday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-packed car near the gate, killing 33 people and wounding more than 60.)

Accordingly, the road follows a back route. It winds through urban palm groves and crosses an irrigation canal where boys are swimming, whooping as they plunge into the water and splash each other.

When visitors reach the long pedestrian street that leads to the shrine, paces quicken with eagerness to get through the line of friskers who check for bombs and weapons and stroll on to the long esplanade ahead. This shimmering, glimmering main street leads to the Imam Kadhim shrine, its gates outlined in gaudy, jubilant green and white neon.

“It’s very good this year,” said Shahad Hamed Harbi al Khafaji, 70, smiling broadly and showing a mostly toothless mouth as he sat on the edge of one of the many long carpets that serve as picnic mats for the iftar meal.

“There are very many people; it’s very beautiful here. We are just asking the American people to come and kill ISIS, take them away from us,” he said, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Sunni militant group that has taken over large areas of northern and western Iraq.

Now Shiite militias help protect the road from his family’s village in Diyala Province to the highway, and the family came to the shrine to celebrate Ramadan.

“We all feel safe to come,” he said, nodding at his five daughters and their children.

A few yards away, the Sadr Foundation, founded by the family of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, offered an iftar meal, and some 150 men were digging in. Nearby were families bringing their own simple picnics of homemade yogurt that they ladled into glasses to eat with a basket of dates. Groups of children ran back and forth, tugging at their mothers to buy the balloons and tufts of cotton candy that hawkers sell. Those same mothers threw on the special black abbayas used for prayers in Shiite shrines, handed their cellphones to their eldest sons, and slipped away for a few minutes at the Imam Kadhim shrine.

Ruminating on all this, Mr. Nashmi sees a deepening divide that will not easily be halted, much less reversed. “It will get worse: the Sunnis will leave Baghdad and the Shias will leave the north, the Christians are almost gone and we will face really a separated country,” he said.

“We cannot find any solution now, and I am very sad.”

He continued: “The world lost Iraq, but we must fight, you and me and all the friends, to do something, something mysterious and very far off. We must teach history in the primary school and show our kids Iraq’s great civilization.”

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:23 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Dijon adapts its urban thinking to the needs of an ageing population

The French city is at the forefront of an urban network aiming to actively improve the lives of its older residents

Gaëlle Dupont   
Guardian Weekly, Saturday 26 July 2014 10.00 BST      

When you reach a certain age, the difference between a friendly place and a hostile one may depend on apparently insignificant details. Like benches, essential if you need a rest, or steps that can delay you or trip you up, and of course shops and public transport. As studies have shown, movement is a key factor in ageing well and isolation should be avoided at all costs. "A little activity does a huge amount to slow ageing," says Christiane Gindre, a pensioner and member of the Age Observatory in Dijon. This city in eastern France is working to ensure that planners and other public services make full allowance for such factors.

In 2010 the capital of Burgundy became the lead partner in a network of towns, Villes Amies des Aînés, in four French-speaking countries – France, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada (Quebec). On 30 June it held its second annual forum in Paris. The network, which is chaired by François Rebsamen, the former Socialist mayor of Dijon and current minister of labour, now comprises about 30 French municipalities, including Bordeaux, Toulon, Nice and Toulouse. The World Health Organisation coordinates the corresponding global network, Age-friendly Cities, with about 1,000 members worldwide. City councillors from Shanghai visited Dijon recently to view its achievements.

As in many other places, Dijon's population is ageing. "The authorities' usual response is to lay on services: clubs, meals, home-helps and specialist amenities for looking after those in need of care," says Pierre-Olivier Lefebvre, tasked with senior policies at the city council and delegate-general for the French-speaking network. "But recent retirees will no longer accept that. They want services but also to use public transport and go on shopping at the market. They want to carry on operating as conventional residents."

In practical terms this means, for instance, that eight fold-down seats have been fitted in the covered market, so shoppers can catch their breath without upsetting the stall-holders who sometimes need the space. There is also an experimental scheme to take people to the market and deliver their purchases.

Many towns are scrapping benches, where groups tend to congregate, triggering resident complaints. But in the centre of Dijon there are still quite a few – though some say not enough – and even public armchairs. After a trial period, a poll was organised to choose the design. Voters preferred seats with armrests because it was easier to get up from them. Groups of residents went on exploratory walks to find the most suitable spots to site them.

In the town centre, much of the road surface is even. Work in preparation for the new tram lines, launched in 2012, provided an opportunity to remove a lot of steps. Stops have raised platforms for level access to trams, making it easier for disabled people and those with pushchairs to use them. Another important feature is public toilet provision in the city. Lastly, a free mini-bus service criss-crosses the city centre.

On the edge of the city a new development, comprising 24 homes, is experimenting in designs that accommodate the needs of an ageing population. Each home has 50 square metres of floor space, all on one floor. There are no fences between the gardens. Resident Annie Royant, 70, is pleased with her home. "It's like in a village," she says. "There are rose bushes but me and my neighbour have added other plants." Shops and a pharmacy are located nearby, as well as a bus stop.

"Studies for which seniors were fitted with GPS tracking devices show that they operate within a radius of between 300 and 500 metres, at the most," says Pierre-Marie Chapon, a researcher and WHO adviser. "If amenities are located in their vicinity, they'll go out every day, but much less if there are no shops." The experimental housing scheme, which is reserved for people who work or have worked locally, includes a refectory serving meals for residents. A "housekeeper" organises group activities and keeps an eye on tenants.

Cultural activities are in high demand among the aged, so a lift has been installed in the local theatre and access to the city museum has been redesigned. Some shows start in the morning. Libraries stock large-print books and magnifying aids.

Through the Dijon Senior Citizens Association, the council offers subsidised activities such as cooking, driving and swimming, mainly attended by women. "We would like to attract more men," says Alain Pelletier, another member of the Age Observatory. "When they stop work, they don't see themselves doing anything else." A Seniors' House has opened in the same building as the observatory. Inquiries range from finding a home help to how to use a tablet computer, through to what's on at the theatre.

Policies are decided in consultation with members of neighbourhood groups and the Age Observatory. "It's important to make allowance for such factors at all times," Lefebvre explains. "It's difficult to begin with. Ageing has a negative image. But if people can gain several years' autonomy, over and above the happiness of individual residents, it also benefits the community as a whole."

The bill on adapting society to accommodate ageing, approved by the French cabinet on 3 June, places no mandatory requirements on local authorities. What progress is made will depend exclusively on their individual commitment.

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:21 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Italian cinema boom brings la dolce vita back to the big screen

As the Venice film festival approaches, Italy's own movie industry appears in fine fettle – but not everyone is cheering
John Hooper   
The Observer, Saturday 26 July 2014 14.16 BST   
The organisers of the Venice film festival unveiled the latest lineup of entries last week as the Italian movie business prepared to host its annual jamboree.

The host nation will enter the competition from a position of strength, as winners of this year's Oscar for best foreign-language film. Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) not only captivated the judges in Hollywood, but enchanted (and, in some cases no doubt, perplexed) art-house moviegoers the world over. It has already taken almost $2.9m (£1.7m) at the US box office. By comparison, the latest offering from the better-known Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, I'm So Excited! (Los Amantes Pasajeros), released five months earlier, has yet to gross even half that amount.

"Italian cinema in Italy is doing fine," wrote the critic Gabriele Niola in the Italian version of Wired. Whereas in Spain, Germany and the UK the proportion of domestically produced movies varies between 10% and 20%, in Italy last year it was 31%.

Figures released by Italy's society of authors and editors show that the film industry's total earnings rose by 5.6%. In any year, that would be encouraging, but for the Italy of 2013 it was astonishing, since the country was immersed – and remains immersed – in its longest recession since unification more than 150 years ago. Alberto Barbera, artistic director of the Venice festival, said that he and his staff had sifted through 177 Italian feature films submitted for entry this year, "an enormous, daunting number that is even a bit inexplicable".

No field of culture resonates with modern Italians more than cinema. The heyday of directors such as Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and of actors like Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, coincided with a golden age of Italian economic growth and prosperity in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The echoes of Fellini's La Dolce Vita in The Great Beauty highlighted the contrast between the Italy of half a century ago and that depicted by Sorrentino: the Rome of Fellini's day may have been decadent, but it was also vibrant, audacious and dynamic. The Rome of today teeters on the edge of financial bankruptcy and – Sorrentino appears to suggest – of moral bankruptcy, too.

A closer look at the movie industry shows the picture to be a lot more uneven than the headline statistics indicate. The rise in the number of films produced is largely attributable to the spread of digital technology, which has enabled growing numbers of young cinema buffs to realise their ideas at much lower cost than in the past. Investment in the film industry last year fell off a cliff. Government statistics put it 27% lower than in 2012. "Italian cinema is like the country – on its knees," said Isabella Ferrari, one of the stars of The Great Beauty, last week. The increase in ticket sales last year was largely down to just one movie. Sole a Catinelle, starring a southern comic, Luca Pasquale Medici (aka "Checco Zalone"), earned €52m (£41m) in Italy – more than any Hollywood blockbuster has ever done. It may not have been to the taste of some critics – La Stampa called Zalone "the champion of trash humour" – but in February Sole a Catinelle won international recognition when it was awarded the top prize at the Monte Carlo film comedy festival.

The film tells the story of a penniless vacuum cleaner salesman who, through sheer good fortune, gets treated to the holiday of a lifetime and a glimpse into the world of the rich. Pietro Valsecchi, the film's producer, said it "also described a bit what has been happening in Italy: the Berlusconi-ite Italy in which people were told that they could all become wealthy".

The buffoonish hero of Sole a Catinelle is also convinced – wrongly – that he can do anything. "He is a product of the last 20 years," said Valsecchi. "The film speaks a language that young people can understand."

The same, though in a quite different sense, cannot be said about perhaps the most unusual and keenly awaited of the three Italian entries for the Venice festival. Francesco Munzi's Anime Nere tells the story of a feud between two families of the Calabrian mafia, the 'Ndrangheta. It was shot entirely in Calabrian dialect and, said Barbera, would be shown in Venice with Italian subtitles.

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:18 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

From Boeing to banking: how Russian sanctions will hit western business

Sweeping post-MH17 bans will affect companies all over the west – and some of the biggest are the most vulnerable

Jennifer Rankin   
The Observer, Sunday 27 July 2014          

The downing of flight MH17 could become a turning point in the west's economic relations with Russia. Since the Ukraine crisis flared up last year, sanctions have mostly been targeted at individuals and companies associated with Russia's annexation of Crimea or those stirring up unrest in eastern Ukraine. The European Union extended these sanctions on Friday, adding 15 names and 18 organisations (mostly companies) to the list.

As it stands, the list includes Kremlin officials, separatists and state companies. But the game could change this week, when the EU is expected to unveil more sweeping "tier three" economic sanctions aimed at entire sections of the economy. This weekend, diplomats have been examining proposals to restrict Russian state-owned companies from accessing capital markets, impose an arms embargo, and issue an export ban on specialist energy technology and "dual use" equipment, such as computers and machinery, that can be put to both civilian and military uses.

The draft proposal notes pointedly that European leaders should decide whether the arms embargo should be retrospective, thus annulling France's €1.2bn contract to deliver Mistral assault ships to Russia.

Tightening the economic screws will hurt Russia's economy, but the consequences will also be felt by western companies – and not just the usual suspects of energy and arms companies that have made high-profile deals with the Kremlin. Germany, for example, has 6,000 companies doing business in Russia, mostly small and medium-sized enterprises. But large conglomerates will be the bellwethers, showing how serious the consequences will be.


While Russia faced anger over its annexation of Crimea earlier this year, BP insisted it was business as usual in its dealings with Moscow. BP has a 20% stake in the Russian state energy giant Rosneft – an alliance that was called into question when Igor Sechin, Rosneft's chairman and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, was put on western sanctions lists earlier this year.

An export ban on European energy technology would almost certainly halt BP's plans to drill for oil in the Arctic, and scupper Russia's hopes of a fracking revolution. However, gas technology is unlikely to feature in the EU sanctions plan, due to Europe's dependence on Russian gas.

Exxon Mobil is helping Rosneft drill for oil in Siberia, while Shell is working with state-controlled Gazprom on oil and gas projects in the Far East. So far these companies have brushed off the threat of any seizures by Moscow, but with Russian politicians discussing tit-for-tat asset freezes, it is a risk they cannot ignore.


An easy way for Russia to retaliate against western sanctions would be to block the sale of metals that are widely used by car and aerospace companies. Few companies would be harder hit than US aerospace giant Boeing, which gets over a third of its titanium from Russia, and being forced to find another supplier at short notice could send costs up or slow down production of its planes.

If the Russian economy collapses, Boeing also stands to lose out on a share of building the next generation of Russia's airline fleet – a market the company estimates to be worth £80bn-plus over the next 20 years.


The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods multinational Unilever admitted last week that business in Russia had been difficult. "You can imagine why", was how its chief financial officer summed up the problem.

Unilever, which makes Dove soap, PG Tips and Liptons tea, and Knorr stock cubes, gets more than half its income from emerging markets, including Russia, and in recent years the fast-growing, tea-loving Russian market has been a star performer in Europe, as sales have slowed elsewhere on the continent.

In company documents, Unilever has described Russia as crucial to its long-term plan to double its earnings. The effect of sanctions would be indirect, with a slowdown in the Russian economy and a likely freeze on new ventures.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Russia is officially in recession. In June, Unilever chief executive Paul Polman admitted that revenue growth in Russia had dropped to high single digits from double digits, although the company continued to gain market share. Other consumer companies in a fragile position include Carlsberg, which sells around a third of its drinks in Russia, largely as a result of its ownership of Russia's Baltika brewery.


A McDonald's cheeseburger could be exhibit A in a Russian court this autumn, after Russian consumer protection officials declared this week that its sale was illegal because of "inappropriate physical-chemical parameters".

The case, brought by a branch of the consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor, is a shot across the bows of the fast food chain, in a country where consumer protection often turns political. In recent years, Russia's food safety agency has banned Georgian wine and water, Polish meat and European vegetables, usually at moments of political tension.

In April, McDonald's, which opened its first branch in Moscow to huge queues in 1990, announced the "temporary closure" of all three of its branches in Crimea, an act that prompted Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a nationalist politician, to call for it to shut all its Russian restaurants. An anti-American backlash is a risk for McDonald's, which counts Russia among its top seven global markets. McDonald's has not returned to Crimea, clearing the way for local chain Rusburger and its Czar cheeseburgers.


The City of London is often seen as the main loser from any attempt to freeze Russia out of the financial system. But the bank most exposed to political turbulence in Russia is probably Austria's Raiffeisen Bank, with France's Société Générale in second place.

Little known in the UK, Raiffeisen is one of the biggest foreign banks in Russia. Its yellow-and-black crossed horse-heads logo has been a familiar sight in Russian cities since it started retail banking in 1996, cracking a notoriously difficult market that rivals HSBC and Barclays abandoned.

Raiffeisen earned three-quarters of its 2013 pre-tax profits from Russia and has €13bn in outstanding loans to Russia on its books.

The combination of the falling value of the rouble, a rise in loan defaults and the drying up of Russian bond markets would take its toll on the bank.

But many European financial institutions would feel the consequences of shutting Russia out of the capital markets. European banks accounted for three-quarters of all lending to Russia – around $155bn at the end of March, according to the most recent figures available from the Bank for International Settlements.

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:12 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Nick Clegg says Russia should not host World Cup 2018

Fifa has ruled out calls for boycott after the shooting down of MH17, insisting the tournament could be 'a force for good'

Press Association, Sunday 27 July 2014 02.02 BST   

Nick Clegg has joined calls for Russia to face the axe as hosts of the 2018 World Cup as part of tougher sanctions over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.

The deputy prime minister said it was "unthinkable" at present that the tournament could go ahead in the country blamed by the west for supplying arms to the separatist rebels accused of causing the deaths of all 298 on board.

Football's world governing body Fifa this week ruled out calls from some German politicians for Russia to be boycotted, insisting the tournament could be "a force for good".

But Clegg told the Sunday Times that allowing it to go ahead without a change of course by the malignant tumor called Pig Putin would make the world look "so weak and so insincere" in its condemnation of Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for the rebels.

The EU has added another 15 individuals and 18 entities to the list of those subject to asset freezes and ambassadors in Brussels are expected to extend the punitive actions to state-owned banks' access to capital markets and to the arms and energy sectors.

Clegg said however that sporting events should also be part of the package of measures – including the cancellation of Russia's first F1 Grand Prix, which is due to take place in Sochi in October.

"The malignant tumor himself has to understand that he can't have his cake and eat it," he said.

"He can't constantly, you know, push the patience of the international community beyond breaking point, destabilise a neighbouring country, protect these armed separatists in the east of Ukraine and still have the privilege and honour of receiving all the accolades in 2018 for being the host nation of the World Cup.

"That's why I've come to the view that if he doesn't change course it's just not on, the idea that Russia will host the World Cup in 2018.

"You can't have this – the beautiful game marred by the ugly aggression of Russia on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

"Not only would the malignant tumor exploit it, I think it would make the rest of the world look so weak and so insincere about our protestations about the Pig's behaviour if we're not prepared to pull the plug.

He said that despite F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's insistence that there was no case for abandoning the Grand Prix, "the question marks I'm raising will only increase over the next coming weeks and months, over the summer and up to the Grand Prix, about Russia's entitlement to host these major events.

"The malignant tumor called Pig Putin is a past master at attending these sporting events and, sort of, pretending almost as if everything's utterly normal and nothing untoward is happening around him.

"And if anyone needed any reminding of how dangerous this conflict is in the heart of Europe, just ask any of the family and relatives of those loved ones they lost in that plane incident last week."

Clegg said the threat of withdrawing the World Cup would be "a very potent political and symbolic sanction".

"If there's one thing that the malignant tumor cares about, as far as I can see, it's his sense of status.

"Maybe reminding him that you can't retain the same status in the world if you ignore the rest of the world, maybe that will have some effect on his thinking."

He did not rule out the UK as an alternative host given its recent history of putting on successful global sporting events.

"We've got the stadiums, we've got the infrastructure, and we've got the public backing and enthusiasm to host it," he said.

"That's a decision for other people. But I'm not saying this just as a, sort of, British land grab to snatch the World Cup from under the malignant tumor's nose."

He backed joined David Cameron's criticism of a French deal to supply warships to Russia, saying it would be "wholly inappropriate" for it to proceed in the present circumstances.

"Whilst I can entirely understand that the French may have entered into that contract with the Russians in entirely different circumstances, it is wholly inappropriate to go ahead with that now," he said.

"And as you know, the Prime Minister has reviewed the outstanding licenses that we have got to make sure that we deliver what we unilaterally announced back in March, which was that there would be no exports from Britain of arms products which could in any way fuel or fan the flames of the conflict in Ukraine."

He said he had been assured by business secretary Vince Cable that "great care" was taken to check the remaining licences.

Clegg predicted that any adverse effects on EU member states of tougher economic sanctions against Russia would be "probably not very significant" and urged all countries to consider the wider benefit.

"We are now moving, I think, towards a situation – and both the prime minister and I would be united in this – in saying to other European Union leaders, look, even if this incurs short-term political damage to this economy or that economy, this sector or that sector, there is something bigger at stake here and it is the stability of the European continent."

Clegg said the furore over the £160,000 paid in a Tory fundraising auction by the wife of a Russian oligarch who was a minister in the malignant tumor's first government for a game of tennis with Cameron and Boris Johnson mostly demonstrated the need for reform of political party funding.

"They need to make their own judgments," he said, when asked if his coalition partners should meet Labour demands to repay the money.

"But all parties ... continue to be damaged because of the haphazard way which we have to go around fund raising," he added – calling on both main parties to stop blocking reform.

 on: Jul 27, 2014, 05:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
MH17: Dutch and Australian experts forced to delay mission due to fighting

Dutch-led group of 49 investigators that will attempt to recover bodies and examine site in eastern Ukraine delayed

Paul Farrell in Canberra and agencies, Sunday 27 July 2014 11.43 BST   

International experts postponed their plans on Sunday to go to the site where a Malaysian airliner crashed because of fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops in the area.

Alexander Hug, deputy head for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's monitoring mission in Ukraine, told reporters: "We heard indications there's fighting going on."

Flanked by Dutch and Australian experts, he added: "The situation on the ground appears to be unsafe ... We therefore decided to deploy tomorrow morning.

"Fighting in the area will most likely affect crash site."

Australian PM Tony Abbott had earlier announced Dutch and Australian investigators would get greater access to the site of the MH17 crash in eastern Ukraine under the terms of a new deal.

The unarmed Dutch-led group would have 49 personnel on site on Sunday, 11 of which would be Australian, Tony Abbott said. The team would be allowed to enter the site during the day to recover remains and examine the site, but would not be permitted to stay overnight. Abbott anticipated the numbers would grow substantially in the coming days.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra on Sunday, Abbott said the agreement followed discussions in Donetsk overnight led by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Abbott said: "Today I announce that the Australian federal police will be deployed to the site as part of an unarmed, Dutch-led international humanitarian mission.

"Our objective is principally to recover the bodies. That is what the Australian people expect of us, that is what grieving families around the world deserve. Our intention, under the auspices of local people, is to take over the site to ensure that the recovery of remains can go ahead as swiftly and effectively as possible."

The decision to send in only unarmed officers has removed a substantial hurdle for Dutch and Australian authorities, as it will no longer need ratification from the Ukrainian parliament, according to Abbott.

The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, had earlier negotiated with the Ukrainian government to allow unarmed Australian officers to access the site. But the proposal for them to be accompanied by armed officers threatened to keep them off the site for days while they waited for Ukrainian parliamentary approval.

Abbott said the objective of the mission was "to get in, to get cracking, to get out", and stressed it was a humanitarian, police-led operation. Some Australian defence force personnel have also been sent to Europe to back up the police, but would not be sent to the site.

"This is a risky mission … but all the professional advice that I have is that the safest way to conduct it is unarmed, as part of a police-led humanitarian mission," he said.

"What needs to happen on the site is plainly that a professional team needs to be deployed to recover remains, assisting where possible with investigation and as far as possible to remove wreckage."

There are 170 Australian police officers standing by in Ukraine, with 20 more in the Netherlands.

The Australian federal police commissioner, Tony Negus, said the mission would allow Dutch and Australian forces to undertake forensic tests at the site.

"The first priority is to locate the remains of any victims still on the site. We will also conduct a forensic examination of the site, and as you well know and as has been well publicised, the site has been contaminated and raked over many times – so we are realistic about what the forensic utility of actually doing that would be," he said.

Australian and Dutch officials have been negotiating for days to allow officers from both countries to gain access to the site of the crash in Ukraine.


Pentagon Plan Would Help Ukraine Target Rebel Missiles

JULY 26, 2014

The Pentagon and American intelligence agencies are developing plans that would enable the Obama administration to provide specific locations of surface-to-air missiles controlled by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine so the Ukrainian government could target them for destruction, American officials said.

But the proposal has not yet been debated in the White House, a senior administration official said. It is unclear whether President Obama, who has already approved limited intelligence sharing with Ukraine, will agree to give more precise information about potential military targets, a step that would involve the United States more deeply in the conflict.

Already, the question of what kind of intelligence support to give the Ukrainian government has become part of a larger debate within the administration about how directly to confront the malignant tumor called Pig V. Putin of Russia and how big a role Washington should take in trying to stop Russia’s rapid delivery of powerful weapons to eastern Ukraine.

At the core of the debate, said several officials — who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policy deliberations are still in progress — is whether the American goal should be simply to shore up a Ukrainian government reeling from the separatist attacks, or to send a stern message to the malignant tumor Pig Putin by aggressively helping Ukraine target the missiles Russia has provided. Those missiles have taken down at least five aircraft in the past 10 days, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Since the downing of Flight 17, a civilian jet, the flow of heavy arms into eastern Ukraine has drastically increased, the Pentagon and the State Department said on Friday, citing American intelligence reports. The Obama administration is already sharing with the Ukrainians satellite photographs and other evidence of the movement of troops and equipment along the Ukrainian-Russian border. But a senior administration official acknowledged late Friday that the data were “historical in nature,” hours or even days old, and not timely enough to use in carrying out airstrikes or other direct attacks.

“We’ve been cautious to date about things that could directly hit Russia — principally its territory,” but also its equipment, the official said. A proposal to give the Ukrainians real-time information “hasn’t gotten to the president yet,” the official said, in part because the White House has been focused on rallying support among European allies for more stringent economic sanctions against Moscow, and on gaining access for investigators to the Malaysia Airlines crash site.

But the official added that the decision on whether to provide targeting information would soon become “part of the intel mix.”

The debate over providing information about potential military targets gives the first insight into the Obama administration’s thinking on long-term strategies to bolster Ukraine, counter Russia and reassure nervous Eastern European nations, some of which have joined NATO in recent years.

Plans to share more precise targeting information with Ukraine have the strong backing of senior Pentagon officials and would fit broadly into Mr. Obama’s emerging national security doctrine of supporting allied and partner nations in defending their territory without direct American military involvement.

Several senior American military and intelligence officials are arguing that if the malignant tumor Pig Putin  does not encounter significant resistance to Russia’s moves in Ukraine, he may be emboldened to go further. And a senior State Department official said Saturday that Secretary of State John Kerry supported sharing intelligence on the locations of surface-to-air missiles that Russia has supplied the separatists.

Providing the location of weaponry and military equipment for possible destruction — something the United States does for Iraq in its battle against Islamic extremists, for example — would not be technologically difficult. “We think we could do it easily and be very effective,” a senior military official involved in the discussions said. “But there are issues of escalation with the Russians, and the decision about whether it’s wise to do it” is complex.

Another senior official said there were questions of whether the Ukrainian military, even if given targeting coordinates, had the reach and the precision to strike Russian-supplied antiaircraft batteries. The trucks transporting the missiles move frequently, often back and forth across the border. And if any strikes missed their targets, they could cause civilian casualties or land in Russia, giving the malignant tumor Pig Putin an excuse to enlarge the conflict.

“Although providing the Ukrainian forces with target location data may seem like a panacea, the actual destruction of these mobile launchers by Ukrainian forces may prove quite a bit more difficult,” said Reed Foster, an analyst at IHS Jane’s.

Mr. Foster said that Ukrainian forces had not trained extensively on using intelligence from other countries, and that any Ukrainian warplanes trying to strike missile sites would be vulnerable to ground fire. Some officials say they are worried that the Ukrainian military has been infiltrated by Russian sympathizers and agents, meaning that if the United States gave locations for targeting, the separatists could have warning of attacks.

Still, the issue has become increasingly urgent. The Pentagon said on Friday that it had seen evidence that Russia was planning a major influx of new weaponry across the border, and that it believed multiple-rocket launchers would soon be delivered from Russia.

American officials also said they had evidence that Russia was firing artillery from within its borders to attack Ukrainian military positions.

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s top commander, has drawn attention to a video that appears to show the Russian military firing short-range Grad rockets into Ukraine.

Ukraine is seeking all the Western help it can get as Russia increases aid to the separatists. Last week, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, emphasized the role of unmanned Russian surveillance drones that he said had been used for precision targeting of Ukrainian positions. But Ukraine is not a NATO ally, complicating the question of how to support its government.

“The debate is over how much to help Ukraine without provoking Russia,” said a senior official participating in the American discussions.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Thursday, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seemed to allude to the internal arguments when he said: “We have a very active, ongoing process to think through what support we may provide to Ukraine. That debate is ongoing.”

A senior Pentagon official said later that General Dempsey had been referring to all types of aid to Ukraine, including military assistance and intelligence sharing.

The Obama administration is giving Ukraine about $33 million in nonlethal support such as bomb-disposal equipment, radios and engineering equipment, and it plans to provide night-vision goggles. But there are bipartisan calls in Congress to supply weapons, ammunition, military vehicles and training as well.

“How can you possibly sit by and not give them military assistance with all the Russian arms flowing in?” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said in a telephone interview on Saturday.

The shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines plane, on top of Russia’s earlier shipments of heavy weaponry, were a perilous escalation of the crisis that threatened to menace all of Europe and the United States, General Dempsey said.

“You’ve got a Russian government that has made a conscious decision to use its military force inside another sovereign nation to achieve its objectives,” he said. “They clearly are on a path to assert themselves differently not just in Eastern Europe, but Europe in the main, and towards the United States.”


EU sends advisers to help Ukraine bring law and order to rebel areas

Kremlin accuses Brussels of believing in 'fairytales' as more Russians face travel ban and asset freeze

Daniel Boffey, and Alec Luhn in Moscow
The Observer, Saturday 26 July 2014 19.44 BST   
The EU has parachuted a team of security advisers into Kiev to assist the Ukrainian government in imposing the rule of law in rebel districts, in a provocative move likely to further inflame relations with Moscow.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, agreed last week to requests from the Ukrainian authorities for urgent help in bolstering the country's security services.

An initial £2m is being provided by the EU to fund the unarmed advisers, but further money is expected to be committed as the conflict between the government and pro-Russian dissidents continues after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

The decision is likely to provoke an uncompromising response from the Kremlin, which on Saturday accused the EU of aiding terrorists through its most recent extension of sanctions.

A Russian foreign ministry statement condemned sanctions imposed on Friday against 15 named people, including a former Russian prime minister, a former speaker of the Duma (parliament), senior intelligence officials, and leaders of the pro-Russia revolt in eastern Ukraine. It accused the EU of taking "a complete turn away from joint work with Russia on international and regional security, including the fight against the spread of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism [and] organised crime".

The statement went on: "We are sure the decisions will be greeted enthusiastically by international terrorists. What it wasn't able to do over decades – drive a wedge into the international community – they've done with ease in Brussels.

"At the same time, the European Union has once and for all joined the side of Washington and Kiev's fairytales regarding ongoing events in Ukraine, depriving itself of an alternative and objective source of information. Do they understand in the capitals of the EU countries what these irresponsible steps could lead to, either in the political or economic spheres?"

Among new subjects of an EU-wide asset freeze and travel ban are Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Russian Federal Security Service, and Sergei Beseda, head of the FSB department that oversees international operations and intelligence activity.

Four members of Russia's security council and 18 organisations or businesses, including rebel formations in Ukraine's east, were added to the trade bloc's sanctions list at the same time.

The action brought to 87 the total number of people under EU sanctions since Russia's annexation of Crimea and the revolt in eastern Ukraine. Two Crimean energy businesses had already had their EU holdings frozen.

Earlier on Friday, EU ambassadors reached a preliminary deal on further sanctions against Russia, targeting its access to European capital markets and trade in the defence sector, dual-use goods and sensitive technologies. It is likely that these proposals will be agreed by EU member states this week.

The EU's decision to help Ukraine in restoring law and order in its regions will inevitably fuel Moscow's anger at what is perceived as meddling by the west in the affairs of eastern Ukraine.

In a statement quietly released by Brussels, Ashton said the EU security advisers were non-military and unarmed. "The Ukrainian authorities have embarked on the critical path of civilian security sector reform and have requested the support of the European Union," she said. "The EU is deploying this mission to assist Ukraine in this reform, including police and the rule of law."

Robert Shlegel, an MP of the ruling United Russia party who used to be federal commissar of the now-defunct pro-Pig Putin youth movement Nashi, said Ukraine needed a government independent of the EU to promote economic growth. He told the Observer: "It won't change anything even if there will be European police in Kiev. What will happen next? Will apartments be built? Will the investment climate get better? Will the war end?"

On Saturday, Ukrainian forces were advancing to the outskirts of a key town in pursuit of pro-Russia separatists in one of their main strongholds near to where flight MH17 crashed.

National security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Ukrainian forces were outside Horlikva, north of Donetsk.

Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak will travel to the Netherlands on Wednesday to discuss the downing of the Malaysia Airlines jet with his Dutch counterpart. Najib said in a statement that he and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte will discuss securing full access to the crash site and whether Malaysian pathologists can help in "expediting the process of identifying the human remains".

There were 193 Dutch and 43 Malaysian people on MH17 when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine on 17 July en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.

 on: Jul 26, 2014, 09:58 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

What happened? The day Flight 17 was downed

It was lunchtime when a tracked launcher with four SA-11 surface-to-air missiles rolled into town and parked on Karapetyan Street. Fifteen hundred miles (2,400 kilometers) to the west, passengers were checking in for Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Associated Press

People inspect the crash site of a passenger plane on July 17 near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine. All 298 people aboard the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed.

SNIZHNE, Ukraine —

It was lunchtime when a tracked launcher with four SA-11 surface-to-air missiles rolled into town and parked on Karapetyan Street. Fifteen hundred miles (2,400 kilometers) to the west, passengers were checking in for Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

It had been a noisy day in this eastern Ukrainian town, residents recounted. Plenty of military equipment was moving through. But still it was hard to miss the bulky missile system, also known as a Buk M-1. It left deep tread marks in the asphalt as it rumbled by in a small convoy.

The vehicles stopped in front of journalists from The Associated Press. A man wearing unfamiliar fatigues, speaking with a distinctive Russian accent, checked to make sure they weren't filming. The convoy then moved on, destination unknown in the heart of eastern Ukraine's pro-Russia rebellion.

Three hours later, people six miles (10 kilometers) west of Snizhne heard loud noises.

And then they saw pieces of twisted metal -- and bodies-- fall from the sky.

The rebel leadership in Donetsk has repeatedly and publicly denied any responsibility for the downing of Flight 17.

Sergei Kavtaradze, a spokesman for rebel leader Alexander Borodai, repeated to the AP on Friday that no rebel units had weapons capable of shooting that high, and said any suggestions to the contrary are part of an information war aimed at undermining the insurgents' cause.

Nevertheless, the denials are increasingly challenged by accounts of residents, the observations of journalists on the ground, and the statements of one rebel official. The Ukrainian government has also provided purported communications intercepts that it says show rebel involvement in the shoot-down.

A highly placed rebel, speaking to the AP this week, admitted that rebels were responsible. He said a unit based in the hometown of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, made up of both Russians and Ukrainians, was involved in the firing of an SA-11 from near Snizhne. The rebel, who has direct access to the inner circle of the insurgent leadership in Donetsk, said that he could not be named because he was contradicting the rebels' official line.

The rebels believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane, this person said. Instead, they hit the passenger jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people aboard were killed.

Intercepted phone conversations released by the Ukrainian government appear to back up the contention they were unaware the aircraft was a passenger jet.

In those tapes, the first rebels to reach the scene can be heard swearing when they see the number of bodies and the insignia of Malaysia Airlines.

Ukraine immediately blamed the rebels for the shooting. In an interview in Kiev this week, the Ukrainian counterterrorism chief, Vitaly Nayda, gave the AP the government's version of the events of July 17. He said the account was based on information from intercepts, spies and resident tips.

Nayda laid the blame fully on Russia: He said the missile launcher came from Russia and was operated by Russians. The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday declined to comment on either charge. Moscow has continually denied involvement in the downing of the plane.

The rebel official who spoke to AP did not address the question of any Russian government involvement in the attack. U.S. officials have blamed Russia for creating the "conditions" for the downing of the plane, but have offered no evidence that the missile came from Russia or that Russia directly was involved.

According to Nayda, at 1 a.m. on July 17 the launcher rolled into Ukraine across the Russian border aboard a flatbed truck. He cited communications intercepts that he would not share with the AP. By 9 a.m., he said, the launcher had reached Donetsk, the main rebel stronghold 125 miles (200 kilometers) from the border. In Donetsk it is presumed to have been off-loaded from the flatbed and started to move in a convoy on its own.

Nayda said the Buk turned back east toward Snizhne. Townspeople who spoke to the AP said it rolled into Snizhne around lunchtime.

"On that day there was a lot of military equipment moving about in town," recalled Tatyana Germash, a 55-year-old accountant, interviewed Monday, four days after the attack.

Valery Sakharov, a 64-year-old retired miner, pointed out the spot where he saw the missile launcher.

"The Buk was parked on Karapetyan Street at midday, but later it left; I don't know where," he said. "Look -- it even left marks on the asphalt."

Even before the plane was downed, the AP had reported on the presence of the missile launcher in the town July 17.

Here is what that dispatch said: "An Associated Press reporter on Thursday saw seven rebel-owned tanks parked at a gas station outside the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne. In the town, he also observed a Buk missile system, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet)."

AP journalists saw the Buk moving through town at 1:05 p.m. The vehicle, which carried four 18-foot (5.5-meter) missiles, was in a convoy with two civilian cars.

The convoy stopped. A man in sand-colored camouflage without identifying insignia -- different from the green camouflage the rebels normally wear -- approached the journalists. The man wanted to make sure they had not recorded any images of the missile launcher. Satisfied that they hadn't, the convoy moved on.

About three hours later, at 4:18 p.m., according to a recording from an intercepted phone call that has been released by Ukraine's government, the Buk's crew snapped to attention when a spotter called in a report of an incoming airplane.

"A bird is flying to you," the spotter tells the rebel, identified by the Ukrainians as Igor Bezler, an insurgent commander who the Ukrainian government asserts is also a Russian intelligence officer.

The man identified as Bezler responds: "Reconnaissance plane or a big one?"

"I can't see behind the clouds. Too high," the spotter replies.

The rebel official who spoke to the AP about the incident said that Bezler commanded another fighter, code-named Sapper, who was the ranking rebel officer with the missile launcher at the time.

According to the rebel official, Sapper led a rebel unit, about half of which was made up of men from far eastern Russia, many from the island of Sakhalin off Russia's Pacific coast.

Sapper is from the nearby town of Yenakiieve, he said. The town also happens to be the home of the former president, Yanukovych.

Sapper could not be reached for comment; his real identity is not known. Bezler, contacted on Friday by the AP, denied any connection to the attack on the plane. "I did not shoot down the Malaysia Airlines plane. I did not have the physical capabilities to do so," he declared.

According to the account of the rebel official, however, Sapper had been sent that day to inspect three checkpoints -- in the towns of Debaltsevo, Chernukhino and Snizhne, all of which are within a 20-mile (30-kilometer) radius of where the plane went down. At some point in these travels, he joined up with the convoy accompanying the missile launch system.

At about 4:20 p.m., in the town of Torez, six miles (10 kilometers) west of Snizhne, residents heard loud noises. Some reported hearing two blasts, while others recall only one.

"I heard two powerful blasts in a row. First there was one, but then after a minute, a minute and a half, there was another discharge," said Rostislav Grishin, a 21-year-old prison guard. "I raised my head and within a minute I could see a plane falling through the clouds."

At 4:40 p.m., in another intercepted call released by Ukraine, the man identified as Bezler tells his own superior that the unit had shot down a plane.

"Just shot down a plane. It was Sapper's group. It went down beyond Yenakiieve," the man says.

While the authenticity of the intercept cannot be verified independently, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev said specialists in the intelligence community have deemed it authentic.

As for the Buk, Nayda said, intelligence suggests it went back on the move shortly after the attack.

That very night, he said, it crossed the border, back into Russia.


Leonard reported from Kiev. Other AP correspondents in eastern Ukraine assisted in this report.

 on: Jul 26, 2014, 07:37 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
In the USA...United Surveillance America

Republicans Block Attempts To Get Corporations To Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes

By: Rmuse

Patriotism is love of country, devotion to the welfare of one’s fellow citizens, and the virtuous passion which inspires one to serve one’s country. Economics is the science that studies the processes governing the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services in an exchange economy. The idea of economic patriotism, although a curious concept, is a principle President Obama hopes will encourage Republicans to stop “hollowing out a tax base” meant to starve government and show patriotism to America instead of the group they love, are profoundly devoted to, and are passionate to serve above all others

It is no secret Republicans and their corporate masters detest paying taxes, and to eliminate any possibility of ever paying taxes on their record profits, many corporations are moving their corporate addresses foreign countries. The tactic is called “inversion” and Republicans support the corporate maneuver to, as Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said, “avoid paying their fair share of taxes” that is costing America billions upon billions of dollars. Secretary Lew sent a letter to Congress urging them to stop the “hollowing out of the U.S.’s corporate income tax base,” and said Republicans “should not be providing support for corporations seeking to shift their profit overseas to avoid paying taxes.”

Republicans naturally demurred to the corporate position that unless America changes its tax policy and stops taxing income earned abroad, or “reforms” the tax code to eliminate the government’s ability to tax corporate income earned at home, they will block any attempt to stop inversions. The bottom line is Republicans, like their corporate funding mechanism, do not believe and will not support any legislation that taxes corporate profits; either abroad or at home.

Republicans and corporations falsely claim America’s corporate tax rate is the highest in the world at 35%. But that, like everything Republicans say, is a bald-faced lie. It is true the “official” corporate tax rate is 35%, but according to the Government Accountability Office, the effective, or real, rate corporations pay is 12.6%; clearly one of the lowest in the world. The 12.6% figure does not take into account corporations that claim no income or profit, or the inordinately large number of the richest corporations that pay nothing in taxes and get a refund from other taxpayers; 12.6% is the effective rate for corporations that do pay taxes. Republicans want to “reform” the tax code to guarantee that all American corporations pay nothing in taxes and get refunds (direct payment) from American taxpayers.

According to Citizens For Tax Justice, 26 of America’s wealthiest Fortune 500 corporations pay absolutely zero in taxes on huge profits. This is in addition to corporations that profited, and took outrageous tax write-offs, for closing and moving their operations, and American jobs, out of country to avoid paying taxes and take advantage of slave-wages in poor countries. Driven by their devotion to unlimited corporate profits, Republicans have even blocked attempts to pass legislation giving corporations tax breaks to bring operations and Americans’ jobs back home because their patriotism is to corporations; not America, its economic health, or American workers.

In 2012, President Obama began pressing Congress to pass the “Bring American Jobs Home Act” that eliminates corporations’ ability to deduct the cost of moving American jobs overseas from their taxes, and instead gives them an equivalent tax write-off for “re-shoring jobs from abroad to America.” Because it is an election year, Senate Republicans will finally allow limited debate on the bill (S. 2569), but they will not allow it to come up for a vote; doing so is committing treason against corporations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed Republicans will filibuster, and block, a vote on the bill complaining that “It’s a bill that’s designed for campaign rhetoric and failure, not to create jobs here in the U.S., everyone knows that the Democrats aren’t being serious here.” Of course, McConnell is a liar; Democrats did attempt to pass the same bill in 2012, but Republicans obstructed their efforts because they “chose job-exporting corporations over American workers.” Their successful obstruction inspired Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich) to say, “It’s outrageous that workers are paying to ship their own jobs overseas through the tax code. We should be rewarding companies that are bringing jobs home. This is about jobs. I hope that all of our colleagues, regardless of party, will join our fight to give every American worker a fair shot to get ahead.” Republicans will never join a fight to give American workers any shot, even if the workers pay corporations to move jobs back to America because the only thing Republicans hate more than American workers is the idea of corporations paying taxes here at home.

On Tuesday Stabenow rhetorically asked why Republicans are against eliminating subsidies to corporations sending Americans jobs overseas and wondered aloud; “Why would someone vote against this? You really think that American workers should pay the cost of the move when their jobs are being shipped overseas? Really?” Yes really. In fact, Republicans think that Americans should pay corporations directly for being American corporations, and it is why if corporations do not get the tax reform (zero tax rate) that allows them to operate tax-free in America, Republicans will block legislation stopping them from incorporating in foreign countries to avoid paying taxes.

The President calling on Republicans to demonstrate economic patriotism is as futile as expecting them to demonstrate patriotism to their country or the welfare of their fellow citizens. Their patriotism is to corporations, and in their minds asking them to pay their fair share in taxes is tantamount to treason. There is also the motivation to starve the government of revenue to fulfill Grover Norquist’s goal of “shrinking the government to a size they can drown in a bathtub.” Republicans cannot tolerate the idea of government having enough revenue to rebuild roads, bridges, hospitals, and schools, but they do support taxing other Americans and using the revenue to enrich corporations with more tax breaks and subsidies to move American jobs offshore. It is their idea of tax reform.

Republicans can no longer claim giving tax cuts to corporations is to inspire them to be the storied “job creators” they have claimed for the past thirty years, because part and parcel of those cuts are specifically to send American jobs overseas and reduce rates so low they will effectively be zero. Congressional Republicans claim they are open to stopping corporate inversions, but only after Democrats agree to cut corporate tax rates to get them closer to zero. If the official rate is 35% and corporations are only paying 12.6%, the 15% reduction Republicans demand will bring the effective rate to zero. Republicans also oppose incentivizing corporations to “re-source” American jobs because they enjoy killing jobs; not creating them. After four years of imposing cuts that kill jobs, obstructing job programs, even for returning war Veterans, they are not about to start helping America workers now because their loyalties, like their patriotism, is with corporations, not Americans.


Democrats Aggressively Gun to Clean House With ’1 Million Votes for 2014′ Campaign

By: Sarah Jones
Friday, July, 25th, 2014, 11:48 am   

It’s full throttle for House Democrats as they head into the 2014 midterm elections beyond frustrated with the deliberate obstruction of the Republicans, who swept into power in the 2010 midterms.

House Democrats are getting organized, rolling out a campaign to lock down commitments from 1 million supporters to vote in November, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), as first shared with Alexandra Jaffe in The Hill.

DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) told The Hill that this is the largest field program House Democrats have ever put on the ground for a midterm, “’1 Million Votes for 2014′ will be the centerpiece of the largest field program House Democrats have ever put on the ground for a midterm election. We’ve been outraising the Republicans and now we’re going to out-organize them as we build a campaign infrastructure to win this November.”

    According to details shared first with The Hill, the “1 Million Votes for 2014″ campaign calls for voters to sign a “Commitment Card,” on which they pledge to vote in November and offer a reason why: “Better paying jobs,” “equality for women,” “raising the minimum wage,” among others.

    The card will be sent back to them the week before the election. Studies have shown reminding voters of their written pledge to hit the polls just before Election Day is about as effective at boosting turnout as speaking directly to them at their door.

Jaffe points out that this strategy is something the Obama campaign (one of the most well run political campaigns in a long time) did to “great effect” in 2012.

While Democrats have been outraising Republicans in the House by $113 million to $91 million according to totals earlier this month (Republicans aren’t even paying their own dues and the big money is focused on taking the Senate from Democrats), the midterms favor the Republicans because the Republican voter shows up.

The pundits have been saying for years that 2014 would be a referendum on Obamacare (that turned out to be wrong, as we predicted at Politicus, because people like access to medical care no matter how glitchy it is getting there) — a certain routing for Democrats, with Republicans easily taking the Senate.

While it’s true that voters like a balanced government, and thus midterms will often go against the party of the President, right now that actually doesn’t look like a given. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is in deep trouble in Kentucky as his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes relentlessly guns for his seat as he trips over his entitlement, lack of policy, and bad campaign.

If even a small percentage of the Obama voters turn out due to anger over John Boehner’s lawsuit (another way Republicans are helping Democrats raise money) or to stand up for contraception as a medical right or to defend access to affordable health insurance or stand up for our veterans rights to have an adequately funded VA, or just to say ENOUGH!, the midterms could be a surprise.

The bad news for Democrats is many of the core Democratic base do not vote in midterms and some of them don’t even know that there are midterms. It’s easy for those of us who live and breathe politics to scoff at this, but the truth is that most Americans are buried with work and family responsibilities. Many of them are not paying attention to politics, and who can blame them.

The other day, I was talking about the midterms to a (very smart but very busy) friend of mine who did not know what or when the midterms are. My friend votes in Presidential elections and cares deeply about many of the issues. For these folks, midterms will be on Tuesday, November 4th and it’s when we vote for all 435 House seats (think John Boehner (R-OH) versus Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)) and 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate, plus 38 governorships will be elected in this midterm election, and then there is your state legislature. In other words, all of the power the President doesn’t have? You vote for that in midterms. You’re voting for all of your laws and you’re voting for the executive of your state often (states elect governors for four or two years). It’s a BFD with a lot at stake, but it doesn’t get the attention of the every four years presidential election.

If the Voter Card pledge campaign goes out to some of those busy voters and reminds them what is at stake, it could have a real impact. Democrats could make a decent dent in the crazy in 2014, and use 2016 to ride on a strong Democratic candidate’s back to the majority.

Organizing Democrats in a midterm? What a novel idea! If it works even a tiny bit, it spells trouble for Republicans, who can’t gerrymander themselves into complete immunity from their failures forever.


Darrell Issa’s Crushing Defeat: Investigators Find Obama Adviser Didn’t Violate Law

By: Jason Easley
Friday, July, 25th, 2014, 2:50 pm   

Rep. Darrell Issa suffered a crushing defeat in his crusade to bring down President Obama when investigators concluded that top Obama aide David Simas did not violate the law by using taxpayer dollars for political activities.

Bloomberg reported, “A special investigator’s office says it has found no evidence that David Simas, a top political aide to the president, violated a law that prohibits federal workers from engaging in partisan political activities. The White House Office of Political Outreach and Strategy “appears to be operating in a manner that is consistent with the Hatch Act,” said Carolyn Lerner, a lawyer at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, whose job is to enforce that law and protect whistle-blowers.”

A little thing like lack of evidence didn’t stop Issa and the Republicans on his committee who voted 19-14 to reject the White House claim of immunity for Simas.

The investigator’s findings are a death blow to Darrell Issa’s claim that two members of the president’s cabinet violated the Hatch Act by using taxpayer dollars for partisan political activities. Yesterday, Rep. Issa wrote a letter to the White House that claimed, “With the 2014 campaign season underway, there are already reports that raise questions as to whether, on Mr. Simas’s watch, the White House is using taxpayer dollars for political activities. For example, the President’s June 26-27 trip to Minnesota consisted of a previously scheduled Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser. Official activities were subsequently tacked onto the itinerary, ensuring that the President’s travel to the fundraiser was, at least partially, undertaken at taxpayer expense. Two weeks ago, the President traveled to Colorado on a fundraising trip in support of a Democratic Senator reportedly facing a close reelection race. The White House added an official event, and again, the taxpayers picked up part of the tab. Mr. Simas can answer, among other things, how OPSO ensures that events such as these and others are Hatch Act-compliant.”

The great irony is that Issa is accusing Obama of doing what George W. Bush did as president. In 2004, CNN reported, “On June 16, 2004, CNN reported, “President Bush is using Air Force One for re-election travel more heavily than any predecessor, wringing maximum political mileage from a perk of office paid for by taxpayers. While John Kerry digs into his campaign bank account to charter a plane to roam the country, Bush often travels at no cost to his campaign simply by declaring a trip ‘official’ travel rather than ‘political.’ Even when the White House deems a trip as political, the cost to Bush’s campaign is minimal. In such instances, the campaign must only pay the government the equivalent of a comparable first-class fare for passengers. It’s a minuscule sum, compared to the $56,800-per-hour it costs to run Air Force One.”

It was fine when George W. Bush used Air Force One to attend fundraisers in 2004. It was equally okay when Ronald Reagan did the same thing in 1984, but it was a crime when Democratic President Barack Obama did it in 2014. Issa’s accusations are typical of the Obama rules that Republicans have devised that only apply to this president.

The Obama administration refused to make Simas available to testify because Issa had no evidence of wrongdoing. The result of their refusal to take part in Issa latest show hearing was that the California Republican was left practically begging the White House to let Simas testify.

Now that an independent investigation has revealed that there is Simas did nothing wrong, Issa’s latest attempt to whip up a new Obama scandal has been crushed. This news couldn’t have come at a worst time for Rep. Issa as his star has sunk to a new low. Ever since Speaker Boehner took the Benghazi investigation away from him, Issa has been desperately trying to gin up a new scandal to get himself back in the spotlight.

Darrell Issa’s political fame is based on his abuse of his investigative powers as the chairman of the House Oversight Committee. Just like Sen. Joe McCarthy, Issa has gone too far and he is in the process of fading away.


America Refudiates Sarah Palin As 65% Reject Her Call For Obama Impeachment

By: Jason Easley
Friday, July, 25th, 2014, 5:34 pm      

Last weekend Sarah Palin claimed that God wants President Obama impeached, but according to a new CNN poll, 65% of the American people disagree with both Palin and her version of God.

According to a new CNN/ORC International poll impeaching President Obama is a very unpopular idea. Sixty-five percent of those surveyed said that Obama should not be impeached. The standard Republican 33% that hates everything President Obama does support impeachment. It is not surprising that impeachment is most popular with Republicans (57%) and conservatives (56%). Seventy-nine percent of respondents believed that impeachment should only be used for serious crimes, but 29% of Republicans and conservatives believed that it should be used to express dissatisfaction.

Sarah Palin recently claimed that it would be “an affront to God” to not impeach President Obama, but the idea of impeaching this president is an unpopular as when it was proposed for George W. Bush (69% opposed impeachment) and Bill Clinton (67% opposed impeachment).

Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer suggested today that Republicans might consider impeachment if the president takes action on immigration. Pfeiffer said, “Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some point in the future. I think that if the President enacted immigration reform that would certainly up the likelihood that they would contemplate impeachment.”

It is fairly obvious that Boehner’s lawsuit opens the door for impeachment. The problem for Republicans is that by pursuing impeachment they would be turning off at least 65% of the country. If the GOP wants to become the party of the 33%, the best way to get there is to try to impeach President Obama.

Speaker Boehner may claim that he doesn’t want to impeach the president, but he is definitely trying to infer to Republicans that impeachment is a possibility. Americans have been rejecting Sarah Palin for years, but to use her own made up term, the American people are refudiating her calls for the impeachment of Barack Obama.

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