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 91 
 on: Aug 26, 2014, 05:52 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Europe’s Farmers Feel the Weight of Russian Ban

By CELESTINE BOHLEN
AUG. 25, 2014
IHT

ANNECY, France — On Aug. 7, trucks carrying French cheese were turned away at the Russian border and forced to make a 1,240-mile return trip with fast-ripening cargoes of Brie, Camembert, Roquefort and other delicacies.

“The peculiarity of this decision was that it was put in place right away, from one day to the next,” lamented Johann Hugon, export manager for Fromi Rungis, a French cheese exporter that had to scramble to unload 10 tons of cheese. “We feel powerless.”

The French cheese business is just one sliver of the European agricultural market feeling the pain of a Russian ban on selected food products from the European Union, as well as the United States, Australia, Norway and Canada. The penalties were imposed as part of the struggle over the future of Ukraine.

In 2013, France exported 109 million euros, or $144 million, worth of dairy products — mostly cheese — to Russia, about 5 percent of all dairy exports. For Fromi Rungis, Russia accounted for 10 percent of its foreign sales.

Jean-Charles Arnaud, proprietor of Fromagerie Arnaud in Poligny, northeast of Lyon, is counting his losses. They include not only a truckload of 18 tons of cheese turned back at the Russian border but also years of work educating Russian consumers to appreciate Comté, Morbier, Mont d’Or and other specialties from the Jura Mountains.

“We must have spent thousands of days doing presentations in Russian stores explaining how we make our cheese,” Mr. Arnaud said. “Our cheese is not just protein and fat. It is a culture, a tradition, produced under strict conditions.”

“For instance, we require 10 square meters of pasture per cow,” he continued. “That way, we can be sure that our cows are happy, that they have enough feed, enough diversity. The particular taste of each cheese comes from the flowers on our mountains.”

Over the past 20 years, this kind of sales talk has persuaded Russian consumers to reach for more sophisticated, more expensive varieties. That effort has now come to halt. Getting into the Russian market in the first place is not easy, several exporters said.

“You need energy, patience and persistence,” Mr. Hugon said.

Russian sanitary inspectors — who test for radioactivity, for instance — are meticulous, capricious and at times, outright political (four Moscow branches of McDonald’s, widely seen as a symbol of the West, have been temporarily shut down for violations of the “sanitary code”).

“Nowhere is simple,” Mr. Arnaud said, “but Russia has particular demands.”

Tell that to European pig farmers, whose exports to Russia were halted last February, after wild boars infected with an African swine disease were spotted in Poland and the Baltic states. All 28 countries of the European Union — many of them far away from the infected boars — were affected.

The French hog industry anticipates losses of €400 million this year because of the Russian embargoes, plus €200 million in losses for slaughterhouses and related businesses.

Now, hopes for lifting the pork embargo have collapsed under the new yearlong sanctions, threatening further losses for farmers and slaughterhouses.

“We’re not happy, not happy at all,” said Paul Auffray, president of the national pig farmers’ association and a Brittany pig farmer. “We are hostages of a situation that is out of our control.”

Not all French farmers are suffering. Cheese makers near the southeastern French town of Annecy are less affected because their main product, Reblochon, is too fragile for export to Russia. Wines and spirits were exempted from the sanctions, good news for French vintners, who in 2013 claimed 21.7 percent of the Russian market.

The European Union has pledged €125 million to buy fruit and vegetable surpluses created by the Russian sanctions. But the fear is that a once-promising market will soon fill up with competing produce from countries — like Switzerland — not on the banned list. “A year is a long time,” Mr. Arnaud said.

French farmers are famous for grumbling, but this time, they are bitter.

“Notice that this is not hurting oil or gas, weapons, finance, wine or luxury goods,” Mr. Auffray said. “It’s just us, country people, who are caught up in the middle of this imbroglio.”

 92 
 on: Aug 26, 2014, 05:49 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
France Awaits New Government after Shock Resignation

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 August 2014, 09:59

France's prime minister was set to appoint a new cabinet Tuesday, after his government's shock resignation in a row over economic policy plunged the country into a fresh political crisis.

As desperately unpopular President Francois Hollande battles to overcome splits in his ruling Socialists and revive the stagnant French economy, Manuel Valls was expected to announce the make-up of his new team in the afternoon.

The surprise resignation on Monday was seen as a bid to restore order after a weekend of sniping from economy minister Arnaud Montebourg who attacked France's economic direction and the country's main European ally Germany.

Montebourg, a left-wing firebrand who is no stranger to controversy, made it clear he would not be part of the new team and launched a hefty broadside at the policies of austerity he said had catapulted France and Europe into the worst economic crisis since the 1929 Depression.

Education minister Benoit Hamon and culture minister Aurelie Filippetti later said they would join him in self-imposed exile from the next government.

Top French daily Le Monde described the reshuffle as "the last chance for the president to save his five-year term" as Hollande faces record-low unpopularity at 17 percent and record-high unemployment.

The reshuffle was also a desperate bid to quell unseemly infighting in his ruling Socialists between left-leaning members like Montebourg and those, like Valls, who tend more to the centre.

The French press reveled in the crisis, the latest in a long line for Hollande, with Le Parisien daily carrying the headline "what a spectacle" and several papers splashing the image of a bedraggled and drenched president as he gave a speech in torrential rain on Monday.

The departing Montebourg lashed out at the austerity policies implemented by the Valls government, saying they were only prolonging and worsening a "serious, destructive and long" crisis in Europe.

"For two years, I fought tirelessly to convince, I wrote notes and letters to the head of the executive and made private and public declarations to attempt to convince and implore the president to refuse excessive measures for our country that risked damaging and sinking our economy," he said.

Acknowledging that he had failed to convince Hollande or the prime minister, he said: "I believed it necessary to take back my freedom in the same way he (Valls) accepted to give it to me."

Montebourg, 51, is well known for loose cannon comments, having made headlines in the past for his outspoken criticism of Germany, which he has blamed for factory closures in France.

He was promoted to his current position in April in a government shake-up after the Socialist party suffered a drubbing at local elections, and has had to cosy up to Finance Minister Michel Sapin who supports the very austerity measures that he disagrees with.

As industrial renewal minister before his promotion, he had also raised eyebrows by dubbing the head of tire giant Titan an "extremist" after the CEO criticized the French workforce as lazy.

He also became embroiled in a very public fight with steelmaker ArcelorMittal over the closure of a plant.

But he maintained he was leaving "on amicable terms" with the government.

Opposition figures reacted with shock to the unfolding events, pointing to a major crisis of confidence at the heart of the executive, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen even calling for the lower house National Assembly to be dissolved.

The crisis comes at a time when France is mired in stubbornly slow economic recovery, with high unemployment.

The French economy has been stagnant for the past six months and the government has been forced to halve its growth forecast to 0.5 percent for this year.

Both Hollande and Valls say the answer to the economic crisis is their so-called Responsibility Pact that offers businesses tax breaks of some 40 billion euros ($55 billion) in exchange for a pledge by companies to create 500,000 jobs over three years.

Hollande plans to finance this with 50 billion euros in spending cuts, and the plan has angered those on the left of the party -- including Montebourg.

The prime minister himself is also deeply unpopular with some Socialists.

Two Green ministers left the government when Valls was appointed in March after the Socialists' humiliation at the polls.

But Frederic Dabi, deputy head of polling firm IFOP, warned against overestimating the impact of the latest crisis on public opinion.

"We have a government and president that are historically unpopular, and what will make them popular or more unpopular isn't what happens in the government in terms of people but policies being implemented and a lack of results."

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

An austerity revolt has broken the French government. Will the EU follow?

While the chaos in France will be swiftly resolved, time is running out to save the eurozone and EU from their economic fault lines

John Palmer   
theguardian.com, Monday 25 August 2014 16.42 BST      

If there were any lingering doubts about the seriousness of the crisis hanging over the future of the euro – and potentially of the European Union itself – the shock announcement of the dissolution of the French government should remove them.

The tensions within the French socialist government have been building up for months as the economy has threatened to “double dip”. But it has been public criticism by the French economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg, of Paris’s compliance with eurozone austerity which has led President Hollande to call for the formation of a new government.

The irony is that some of the fears expressed by Montebourg about the French economy drifting into deflation have also been expressed by the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi, in an important but little-noticed speech in the United States on Friday evening. Draghi did not disguise his growing concern at the stagnation of the eurozone economy and the failure to stimulate demand by countries in a position to do so. This is fairly obvious code for Germany.

It must be assumed that – under President Hollande’s instructions – the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, will duly produce a new administration without any troubling dissenters. But it would be very surprising if the same debate triggered by Montebourg does not return to haunt French policymakers before too long. What is new and potentially very alarming, however, is the prospect of time rapidly running out for the French government – and, indeed, the eurozone as a whole – to avert disaster.

Draghi and the ECB clearly want to take rapid action to further ease monetary policy, possibly including large-scale purchases of public and private debt. But the timetable for delivering this is not entirely in the ECB’s hands, and it is still possible that the Berlin government – under pressure from the Bundesbank – will drag its feet. Nor is there much enthusiasm in Berlin to take fiscal measures to stimulate demand across the eurozone.

The danger is that if the eurozone slides further into outright deflation it will become even more difficult to reverse the economic tide. Beneath the surface, however, realisation may be dawning about the scale of action which must now be taken, lest the choice become one of saving the euro or saving the EU itself. Within the Merkel coalition, pressure is building up for a change of economic direction to avert not just an economic but a political catastrophe for European integration.

This putative “new direction” should not only include emergency monetary easing by the ECB but also demand stimulus by governments, if necessary accompanied by the temporary part-suspension of some of the eurozone rules on inflation and government deficits. But the maximum deployment of the collective EU capacity to fund a kind of New Deal, spearheaded by a massive increase in investment in economic, energy, transport, environment and social infrastructure, is also essential.

It is a direction which President Hollande himself would be happy to support providing he can maintain a facade of unchallenged government authority and continuity of strategy in Paris. It will be a difficult trick for him to carry off. The Italian government led by Matteo Renzi is also aware that its own political honeymoon is drawing to a close, and it is conducting a barely disguised campaign for a change of eurozone strategy.

When push comes to shove inside the conclaves of eurozone ministerial meetings, there may well be a clear majority for new policies and urgent delivery of them. Even in Finland, traditionally a hardline austerity ally of Germany, new voices are being heard warning of the economic rocks looming ahead.

Will Merkel bow to this pressure for a new eurozone initiative? It would be surprising if she does not. More than any other EU government, Germany has an all-too-vivid sense of what could follow the disintegration of the euro. The very survival of European integration could be at stake. Events in Ukraine and elsewhere provide a sobering reminder of the price which a weakened and disunited Europe could pay for an economic miscalculation now.

 93 
 on: Aug 26, 2014, 05:47 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Slovenia's New PM Cerar Vows to Restore Shattered Confidence

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 August 2014, 20:35

Law professor Miro Cerar vowed bolster to Slovenia's shaky economy Monday as he was voted in as prime minister of the tiny Alpine country.

The political newcomer, 51, who won snap elections on July 13 despite having set up his center-left party just a month before, said he would push for jobs and growth.

He faces a tough task of putting the eurozone country's finances back in order after the past two governments fell after little more a year after being hit by corruption trials and political infighting.

But the leader of the main opposition Slovenian Democratic Party, former prime minister Janez Jansa, slammed Cerar's lack of clear policies.

"No candidate to head a government has ever presented a program without any figures or deadlines," said Jansa, who was allowed to attend Monday's session despite serving a two-year jail prison term for corruption.

A commission is currently probing whether he should remain an MP.

Cerar said the main priorities of his new government will be "economic growth, preserving existing jobs and creating new ones and increasing international competitiveness", along with the stabilizing the health system, he said Monday.

His SMC party has already agreed to a three-party center-left coalition with the pensioners' DESUS party and the Social Democrats (SD), which will give them 52 seats in the 90-seat parliament.

His coalition is set to continue with the former government's efforts to reduce the deficit and with the privatization of state-owned companies.

Under outgoing premier Alenka Bratusek, who resigned in May after losing the leadership of her center-left Positive Slovenia party, the country avoided a much-dreaded bailout and recapitalized its state-owned banks.

But it also saw a sharp increase in public debt and failed to stabilize public finances.

Cerar is expected to present his government line-up for parliamentary approval in 15 days.

 94 
 on: Aug 26, 2014, 05:46 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Hungary Seeks EU Alliance to Push Closer Ties with Russia

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 August 2014, 19:17

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday said he would seek to form a political alliance to stop the European Union pulling away from Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.

"The EU gets further away from Russia every day. That's not only bad for Hungary, but for the entire EU," Orban told Hungarian ambassadors in Budapest.

"We will have to seek the company of those EU member states who are interested in slowing and stopping this separation process," he added, without naming any specific countries.

Ties between the West and Russia have hit a post-Cold War low over the crisis in Ukraine, with the European Union and Washington slapping massive sanctions on Moscow over its perceived support for separatists.

Russia hit back with sanctions of its own, banning nearly all food imports from the EU and United States.

Orban, who has been criticized for steering Hungary away from Europe and towards Russia, insisted Monday that the country's Western alliances were "not in doubt".

But he again warned that isolating Russia could hurt Europe's competitiveness.

Germany, the eurozone's largest economy and the most reliant on ties with energy-rich Russia, "will be a big loser" if Brussels continues its economic ostracism of Moscow, Orban said.

Russia is former Communist Hungary's largest trading partner outside the EU. Earlier this month, Orban said the EU had "shot itself in the foot" with the sanctions.

 95 
 on: Aug 26, 2014, 05:40 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
As Peace Talks Approach, Rebels Humiliate Prisoners in Ukraine

By ANDREW E. KRAMER and ANDREW ROTH
AUG. 25, 2014
IHT

DONETSK, Ukraine — On the sidewalk of a busy street beside a checkpoint, a bearded gunman wrapped a woman in a Ukrainian flag and forced her to stand, sobbing in terror, holding a sign identifying her as a spotter for Ukrainian artillery. “She kills our children,” it read. Because the woman was a spy, said the gunman, a pro-Russian militant, everything that would happen to her would be well-deserved.

Passers-by stopped their cars to get out and spit, slap her face and throw tomatoes at her. Her knees buckled. She struggled to mumble in protest of her innocence and to shake her head in denial.

This theatrical scene of abuse unfolded a day after the rebel movement had paraded Ukrainian prisoners of war down a main thoroughfare here at bayonet point, then dramatically washed the pavement behind them.

The public humiliation of prisoners came as the presidents of Russia and Ukraine prepared to meet for peace talks in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Tuesday. The taunting and provocation appeared to be aimed at dissuading the Ukrainian government from accepting a settlement that might forestall a broader Russian intervention, a development that separatists here are banking on as their military fortunes wane.

Further muddying the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough, Ukraine accused Russia on Monday of opening a new front in the war by sending an armored column across the border from Russia south of the Ukrainian lines that surround the rebel capital, Donetsk.

The Russian government dismissed the accusation and the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Moscow, said that Western governments should not expect Russia to make all the concessions in a settlement and that Ukraine, too, would have to compromise.

The Ukrainian military said 10 tanks and two armored infantry vehicles manned by Russian soldiers disguised as separatist fighters had crossed the border near the town of Novoazovsk and engaged in combat with Ukrainian border guards. The claim could not be independently confirmed.

Also on Monday, Russia announced it would send a second convoy of humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine across a border area controlled by pro-Russian separatists; Ukrainian officials say the movement of goods is calculated to undermine the country’s sovereignty.

The drama that played out on the streets of Donetsk Monday seemed sure to ratchet up tensions. A military unit of Russian nationals from the region of North Ossetia, in southern Russia, held the woman at a checkpoint in a roundabout in Donetsk known as “the Motel,” for a nearby hotel. The men, smiling and gesturing toward the woman, waved over cars for drivers to observe or take part.

“We should hang you on the square,” one woman in the crowd yelled, then walked up and spat in the face of the victim, then kicked her in a thigh, causing the woman accused of spying to stagger back.

The gunmen looked on. At times, the pro-Russian soldiers posed beside the crying woman to take selfies on their smartphones, or playfully twirl her hair with their fingers.

At one point, a fighter walked a few paces back, crouched in the street and aimed a Kalashnikov rifle at the woman in a mock execution. The woman shut her eyes. “Open your eyes, stand up straight!” another of the gunmen yelled.

A call placed by The New York Times to an aide for a senior separatist commander informing him of the abuse resulted in the rebel soldiers at the checkpoint briefly detaining the journalists. The aide, who uses only the nickname The Georgian, sent a car with gunmen to extricate the suspected spy and journalists from the Motel.

The two groups of gunmen agreed to release the journalists, but were not able to agree on handing over the woman. After the discussion, the captors drove her away to an unknown location.

The man known as The Georgian, who is a member of the Vostok Battalion, which consists of mostly local Ukrainians, said the Ossetian volunteers at the Motel checkpoint do not report to Ukrainian commanders, so nothing further could be done. He said he condemned the abuse.

At the peace talks in Minsk, President malignant tumor Pig Putin of Russia and President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine will be joined by representatives of the European Union and the Russia-led Customs Union, including the presidents of Kazakhstan and Belarus. Although the talks offer some hope for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, both Mr. Putin and Mr. Poroshenko are under strong pressure from nationalists at home to press on militarily.

Oleh Voloshyn, a former Ukrainian diplomat, said in a telephone interview from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, that Mr. Poroshenko will use the summit meeting to ask malignant tumor Pig Putin to halt the flow of Russian volunteers and military hardware across the border and may offer, perhaps in private talks or via subordinates on the sidelines, autonomous status for portions of eastern Ukraine in exchange. The Ukrainian government, however, will not accept any legitimization of the main rebel group here, the Donetsk People’s Republic, Mr. Voloshyn said, particularly after the public abuse of prisoners.

“After yesterday’s parade of prisoners of war, the sympathy toward the people of the Donbass is low in other regions in Ukraine,” he said, making it politically difficult for Mr. Poroshenko to negotiate, something that factions in the separatist movement intent on drawing in Russian peacekeepers want, Mr. Voloshyn said. “Most Ukrainians want peace. But if it comes to a choice between total humiliation and war, they will choose war.”

In Moscow, Mr. Lavrov, the foreign minister, was questioned about the parade held Sunday in which prisoners of war from the Ukrainian Army were displayed. Researchers with Human Rights Watch said the parade violated Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment against prisoners of war.” Mr. Lavrov said the parade did not appear to meet that standard. “I saw a picture of this parade,” he said. “I did not see anything close to abuse.”

 96 
 on: Aug 26, 2014, 05:37 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Russia admits its soldiers have been caught in Ukraine

Defence ministry source claims captured soldiers seen on video were on a border patrol and had strayed into Ukraine by mistake

Shaun Walker in Kiev
theguardian.com, Tuesday 26 August 2014 10.44 BST   

Sources in Moscow have admitted that men captured inside Ukraine are indeed serving Russian soldiers, but said they crossed the border by mistake. The admission comes as President malignant tumor Pig Putin Putin is due to land in Minsk for talks with his Ukrainian counterpart on Tuesday afternoon.

Videos were released by Ukrainian authorities of interrogations of prisoners, who said they were serving Russian army officers. One said he had not been told exactly where they were going, but had an idea he was inside Ukraine. There was no immediate confirmation of the authenticity of the recordings, but the fact that Russian wire agencies ran a defence ministry admission that soldiers had indeed crossed into Ukraine suggested that the footage was genuine.

"The soldiers really did participate in a patrol of a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border, crossed it by accident on an unmarked section, and as far as we understand showed no resistance to the armed forces of Ukraine when they were detained," a source in Russia's defence ministry told the RIA Novosti agency.

Ukraine said it had captured 10 Russian soldiers, though it did not state how they were caught. Weapons and fighters are able to cross the porous border freely, but until now there has never been confirmation that serving Russian soldiers are active inside Ukraine, despite repeated claims from Kiev and some circumstantial evidence.

This makes the videos released on Tuesday all the more significant, if authenticated.

Two weeks ago, the Guardian saw a convoy of armoured personnel carriers and support trucks with Russian military plates cross an unmarked section of the border near the town of Donetsk.

Russia furiously denied that any incursion had taken place, and said the column was on a "border patrol" mission that stayed strictly on the Russian side.

The incursions by Russian soldiers are likely to be discussed at the meeting between malignant tumor Pig Putin and the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, on Tuesday.

Poroshenko has already landed in Minsk and malignant tumor Pig Putin is due to arrive in the early afternoon. The official reason for the summit is a meeting of the nations of the Customs Union, which includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. But EU officials and Poroshenko are also invited, and all eyes will be on the expected meeting between malignant tumor Pig Putin and Poroshenko.

Russia has called for an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, but Kiev wants to finish its "anti-terrorist operation" to win back control of the whole country. Both leaders are under pressure from domestic audiences not to make concessions, and there is little hope of a major breakthrough.

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

Ukraine president calls snap election as he prepares for malignant tumor Pig Putin meeting

Petro Poroshenko dissolves parliament amid accusations of border intrusions before talks

Shaun Walker in Kiev and agencies
theguardian.com, Tuesday 26 August 2014 01.29 BST   

Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, has dissolved parliament and called for early elections in October as his country continues to battle a pro-Russia insurgency in its eastern regions, and Kiev again accused Russia of sending soldiers into its territory.

In a statement, Poroshenko said snap elections would be held on 26 October, and that the dissolution, signalled by the breakup of the majority coalition last month, was in line with "the expectations of the vast majority of the citizens of Ukraine" and called it a move toward "cleansing" the parliament.

In advance of a meeting between Poroshenko and malignant tumor Pig Putin, Kiev said Moscow was trying to alter the reality on the ground ahead of the talks, sending in a column of Russian armoured vehicles disguised as local separatists. Russia denied any such moves, though foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Moscow plans to send another humanitarian convoy into Ukraine, with or without Kiev's agreement.

Ukraine's security service said soldiers from the 98th airborne division based in central Russia had been captured near the Ukrainian village of Dzerkalne, about 50km (30 miles) south-east of Donetsk. "Investigators opened a criminal probe into illegal border crossing by Russian armed citizens," it added.

Ukraine's defence minister, Valeriy Geletey, said on his Facebook page: "Today Ukrainian armed forces captured many Russian soldiers. Officially, they are at exercises in various corners of Russia. In reality, they are participating in military aggression against Ukraine." He added that their families knew nothing about their true fate, he said.

Malignant tumor Pig Putin and Poroshenko will meet on the sidelines of a summit in Minsk on Tuesday afternoon, but hopes that the dialogue will bring about any major improvement are slim. On Monday Poroshenko expressed "extraordinary concern" over the alleged military moves and the second convoy in a telephone call with Herman van Rompuy, president of the European Council.

In recent weeks the separatists have been pushed into areas outside their strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, but they could yet make life harder for the Ukrainian forces by opening a second front from the south.

The Minsk summit is a meeting between the EU and the heads of state of Putin's Customs Union, which includes Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. Russia has long wanted Ukraine to join the Customs Union, and it was former president Viktor Yanukovych's U-turn over signing an EU integration pact in favour of further consultations on the Customs Union that sparked the protests last December that brought about his downfall.

Ukrainian officials did not hold out much hope for a breakthrough at the talks.

"The malignant tumor has been the dictator of Russia for 14 years and is used to dealing in blackmail, threats and provocations," said Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, in an interview with Ukrainian television. "He will do everything to make Ukrainian citizens feel nervous and threatened."

Malignant tumor Pig Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said that the meeting between the malignant tumor and Poroshenko would probably touch on "the internal Ukrainian crisis", as well as issues of Russian humanitarian aid, "to avoid unnecessary delays" in its delivery.

Last week a convoy of over 200 repainted military trucks entered east Ukraine from Russia, carrying aid for the beleaguered residents of Donetsk. Ukraine said Russia sent in the convoy without proper permission, in what amounted to an "invasion", while Russia accused Ukraine of manufacturing delays to keep the trucks out.

Some have suggested that the parade was a breach of the Geneva conventions. Lavrov said lawyers should examine the footage, but personally he found nothing humiliating about it.

The prisoner parade was held as a response to a large military parade in Kiev to mark Ukraine's Independence Day, which included 1,500 soldiers and 90 units of military vehicles and heavy weaponry, including the Grad rockets that have caused many civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine.

European politicians have come down harshly on Russia for its actions in eastern Ukraine, with several rounds of sanctions imposed by the EU and US. However, there has also been pressure on Ukraine to make concessions, with Angela Merkel telling Poroshenko during a visit to Kiev on Saturday that Kiev should increase autonomy for the eastern regions.

After leaving Kiev, Merkel said in an interview with German television that "decentralisation" of power in Ukraine was important, and hoped that a breakthrough could be made in Minsk.

"I want to find a way, as many others do, which does not damage Russia. We want to have good trade relations with Russia as well. We want reasonable relations with Russia. We are depending on one another and there are so many other conflicts in the world where we should work together, so I hope we can make progress," said Merkel.

With pressure from nationalists in both countries, it is unclear whether either side could make enough concessions to satisfy the other. Ukraine has said that signing a new version of the EU integration agreement is non-negotiable. Kiev is also against introducing Russian as a second-state language and federalising the political system, both things that Russia is demanding. Kiev wants Russia to stop organising and funding the insurgency, something that Russia denies it is doing at all.

Lavrov again insisted on Monday that there are no illegal incursions over the border, claiming Russia was "fully responsible" for its side of the border and noting that an OSCE observer mission had not fixed any illegal crossings of weaponry. However, the OSCE are only mandated to monitor the official checkpoints, and are not allowed to observe the long, unguarded stretches where dirt tracks criss-cross the border and where unmarked military vehicles can frequently be seen coming and going.

It was on one of these tracks, close to the Russian border town of Donetsk, that the Guardian saw a Russian military column make an incursion over the border into Ukraine earlier this month. Ukrainian officials said they had later destroyed it, but did not provide any evidence. Russia denied the column ever crossed the border, claiming it was a border patrol mission that operated strictly on the Russian side.

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

As Peace Talks Approach, Rebels Humiliate Prisoners in Ukraine

By ANDREW E. KRAMER and ANDREW ROTH
AUG. 25, 2014
IHT

DONETSK, Ukraine — On the sidewalk of a busy street beside a checkpoint, a bearded gunman wrapped a woman in a Ukrainian flag and forced her to stand, sobbing in terror, holding a sign identifying her as a spotter for Ukrainian artillery. “She kills our children,” it read. Because the woman was a spy, said the gunman, a pro-Russian militant, everything that would happen to her would be well-deserved.

Passers-by stopped their cars to get out and spit, slap her face and throw tomatoes at her. Her knees buckled. She struggled to mumble in protest of her innocence and to shake her head in denial.

This theatrical scene of abuse unfolded a day after the rebel movement had paraded Ukrainian prisoners of war down a main thoroughfare here at bayonet point, then dramatically washed the pavement behind them.

The public humiliation of prisoners came as the presidents of Russia and Ukraine prepared to meet for peace talks in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Tuesday. The taunting and provocation appeared to be aimed at dissuading the Ukrainian government from accepting a settlement that might forestall a broader Russian intervention, a development that separatists here are banking on as their military fortunes wane.

Further muddying the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough, Ukraine accused Russia on Monday of opening a new front in the war by sending an armored column across the border from Russia south of the Ukrainian lines that surround the rebel capital, Donetsk.

The Russian government dismissed the accusation and the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Moscow, said that Western governments should not expect Russia to make all the concessions in a settlement and that Ukraine, too, would have to compromise.

The Ukrainian military said 10 tanks and two armored infantry vehicles manned by Russian soldiers disguised as separatist fighters had crossed the border near the town of Novoazovsk and engaged in combat with Ukrainian border guards. The claim could not be independently confirmed.

Also on Monday, Russia announced it would send a second convoy of humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine across a border area controlled by pro-Russian separatists; Ukrainian officials say the movement of goods is calculated to undermine the country’s sovereignty.

The drama that played out on the streets of Donetsk Monday seemed sure to ratchet up tensions. A military unit of Russian nationals from the region of North Ossetia, in southern Russia, held the woman at a checkpoint in a roundabout in Donetsk known as “the Motel,” for a nearby hotel. The men, smiling and gesturing toward the woman, waved over cars for drivers to observe or take part.

“We should hang you on the square,” one woman in the crowd yelled, then walked up and spat in the face of the victim, then kicked her in a thigh, causing the woman accused of spying to stagger back.

The gunmen looked on. At times, the pro-Russian soldiers posed beside the crying woman to take selfies on their smartphones, or playfully twirl her hair with their fingers.

At one point, a fighter walked a few paces back, crouched in the street and aimed a Kalashnikov rifle at the woman in a mock execution. The woman shut her eyes. “Open your eyes, stand up straight!” another of the gunmen yelled.

A call placed by The New York Times to an aide for a senior separatist commander informing him of the abuse resulted in the rebel soldiers at the checkpoint briefly detaining the journalists. The aide, who uses only the nickname The Georgian, sent a car with gunmen to extricate the suspected spy and journalists from the Motel.

The two groups of gunmen agreed to release the journalists, but were not able to agree on handing over the woman. After the discussion, the captors drove her away to an unknown location.

The man known as The Georgian, who is a member of the Vostok Battalion, which consists of mostly local Ukrainians, said the Ossetian volunteers at the Motel checkpoint do not report to Ukrainian commanders, so nothing further could be done. He said he condemned the abuse.

At the peace talks in Minsk, President malignant tumor Pig Putin of Russia and President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine will be joined by representatives of the European Union and the Russia-led Customs Union, including the presidents of Kazakhstan and Belarus. Although the talks offer some hope for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, both Mr. Putin and Mr. Poroshenko are under strong pressure from nationalists at home to press on militarily.

Oleh Voloshyn, a former Ukrainian diplomat, said in a telephone interview from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, that Mr. Poroshenko will use the summit meeting to ask malignant tumor Pig Putin to halt the flow of Russian volunteers and military hardware across the border and may offer, perhaps in private talks or via subordinates on the sidelines, autonomous status for portions of eastern Ukraine in exchange. The Ukrainian government, however, will not accept any legitimization of the main rebel group here, the Donetsk People’s Republic, Mr. Voloshyn said, particularly after the public abuse of prisoners.

“After yesterday’s parade of prisoners of war, the sympathy toward the people of the Donbass is low in other regions in Ukraine,” he said, making it politically difficult for Mr. Poroshenko to negotiate, something that factions in the separatist movement intent on drawing in Russian peacekeepers want, Mr. Voloshyn said. “Most Ukrainians want peace. But if it comes to a choice between total humiliation and war, they will choose war.”

In Moscow, Mr. Lavrov, the foreign minister, was questioned about the parade held Sunday in which prisoners of war from the Ukrainian Army were displayed. Researchers with Human Rights Watch said the parade violated Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment against prisoners of war.” Mr. Lavrov said the parade did not appear to meet that standard. “I saw a picture of this parade,” he said. “I did not see anything close to abuse.”

 97 
 on: Aug 26, 2014, 05:19 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Russia admits its soldiers have been caught in Ukraine

Defence ministry source claims captured soldiers seen on video were on a border patrol and had strayed into Ukraine by mistake

Shaun Walker in Kiev
theguardian.com, Tuesday 26 August 2014 10.44 BST   

Sources in Moscow have admitted that men captured inside Ukraine are indeed serving Russian soldiers, but said they crossed the border by mistake. The admission comes as President malignant tumor Pig Putin Putin is due to land in Minsk for talks with his Ukrainian counterpart on Tuesday afternoon.

Videos were released by Ukrainian authorities of interrogations of prisoners, who said they were serving Russian army officers. One said he had not been told exactly where they were going, but had an idea he was inside Ukraine. There was no immediate confirmation of the authenticity of the recordings, but the fact that Russian wire agencies ran a defence ministry admission that soldiers had indeed crossed into Ukraine suggested that the footage was genuine.

"The soldiers really did participate in a patrol of a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border, crossed it by accident on an unmarked section, and as far as we understand showed no resistance to the armed forces of Ukraine when they were detained," a source in Russia's defence ministry told the RIA Novosti agency.

Ukraine said it had captured 10 Russian soldiers, though it did not state how they were caught. Weapons and fighters are able to cross the porous border freely, but until now there has never been confirmation that serving Russian soldiers are active inside Ukraine, despite repeated claims from Kiev and some circumstantial evidence.

This makes the videos released on Tuesday all the more significant, if authenticated.

Two weeks ago, the Guardian saw a convoy of armoured personnel carriers and support trucks with Russian military plates cross an unmarked section of the border near the town of Donetsk.

Russia furiously denied that any incursion had taken place, and said the column was on a "border patrol" mission that stayed strictly on the Russian side.

The incursions by Russian soldiers are likely to be discussed at the meeting between malignant tumor Pig Putin and the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, on Tuesday.

Poroshenko has already landed in Minsk and malignant tumor Pig Putin is due to arrive in the early afternoon. The official reason for the summit is a meeting of the nations of the Customs Union, which includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. But EU officials and Poroshenko are also invited, and all eyes will be on the expected meeting between malignant tumor Pig Putin and Poroshenko.

Russia has called for an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, but Kiev wants to finish its "anti-terrorist operation" to win back control of the whole country. Both leaders are under pressure from domestic audiences not to make concessions, and there is little hope of a major breakthrough.

 98 
 on: Aug 25, 2014, 07:45 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Ukraine: Russian tank column enters southeast

A column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles has crossed into southeastern Ukraine, away from where most of the intense fighting has been taking place, a top Ukrainian official said Monday.

By JIM HEINTZ
Associated Press
08/25/2014

KIEV, Ukraine —

A column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles has crossed into southeastern Ukraine, away from where most of the intense fighting has been taking place, a top Ukrainian official said Monday.

Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council, told reporters that the column of 10 tanks, two armored vehicles and two trucks crossed the border near Shcherbak and that the nearby city of Novoazovsk was shelled during the night from Russia. He said they were Russian military vehicles bearing the flags of the separatist Donetsk rebels.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday he had no information about the column.

The reported incursion and shelling could indicate an attempt to move on Mariupol, a major port on the Azov Sea, an arm of the Black Sea. Mariupol lies on the main road between Russia and Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed in March. Capturing Mariupol could be the first step in building a slice of territory that links Russia with Crimea.

Although Mariupol is in Ukraine's separatist Donetsk region, most of the fighting between separatist rebels and Ukrainian troops has been well to the north, including around the city of Donetsk, the rebels' largest stronghold. A full offensive in the south could draw Ukrainian forces away from the fight for Donetsk.

Lysenko said Mariupol has enough defenders "to repel any attack of uninvited guests."

Ukraine and the West say that Russia is supporting and supplying the rebels and that since mid-August, Russia has fired into Ukraine from across the border and from within Ukrainian territory. Moscow denies those allegations.

Fighting continued elsewhere in the east, notably around the town of Olenivka, 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of Donetsk. Lysenko said Monday about250 separatists had been killed in that fighting, but did not specify in what time period. On Sunday, rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said two-thirds of Olenivka had been wrested away from Ukrainian control.

Ukrainian forces had made significant inroads against the separatists in recent weeks, but the rebels have vowed to retake lost territory.

Russia announced plans, meanwhile, to send a second aid convoy into rebel-held eastern Ukraine, where months of fighting have left many residential buildings in ruins.

Russia's unilateral dispatch of over 200 trucks into Ukraine on Friday was denounced by the Ukrainian government as an invasion and condemned by the United States, the European Union and NATO. Even though the tractor-trailers returned to Russia without incident on Saturday, the announcement of another convoy was likely to raise new suspicions.

Lavrov said Monday that Russia had notified the Ukrainian government it was preparing to send a second convoy along the same route in the coming days, but Lysenko said he had no information on that plan.

Lavrov also said the food, water and other goods delivered to the hard-hit rebel city of Luhansk was being distributed Monday and that Red Cross workers were at talks on how best to distribute it. There was no immediate confirmation on that from the Red Cross.

In sending in the first convoy, Russia said it had lost patience with what it called Ukraine's stalling tactics. It claimed that soon "there will no longer be anyone left to help" in Luhansk, where weeks of heavy shelling have cut off power, water and phone service and made food scarce.

The Ukrainian government had said the aid convoy was a ploy by Russia to get supplies to the rebels and slow down government military advances.

On Sunday, as Ukraine celebrated the anniversary of its 1991 independence from Moscow, President Peter Poroshenko announced that the government would be increasing its military spending in a bid to defeat the rebels.

In rebel-held Donetsk, captured Ukrainian soldiers were paraded Sunday through the streets, jeered by the crowd and pelted with eggs and tomatoes.

___

Peter Leonard in Donetsk, Ukraine, and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report

 99 
 on: Aug 25, 2014, 07:00 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
In the USA....United Surveillance and Swat Teams of America

US journalist Peter Theo Curtis released from captivity in Syria

Martin Pengelly in New York and agencies
theguardian.com, Monday 25 August 2014 13.01 BST       

Secretary of state John Kerry on Sunday confirmed the release in Syria of Peter Theo Curtis, an American journalist who had been held for two years by the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, an affiliate of al-Qaida.

Kerry, speaking as debate continued in the US over the proper response to the killing of another journalist, James Foley, by Islamic State (Isis) militants, said Curtis’s time in captivity had been “a horrific period”.

Curtis’s family released a statement in which his mother, Nancy Curtis, said: “The Curtis family is deeply grateful to the governments of the United States and Qatar and to the many individuals, private and public, who helped negotiate the release of our son, brother and cousin.”

The statement added: “While the family is not privy to the exact terms that were negotiated, we were repeatedly told by representatives of the Qatari government that they were mediating for Theo’s release on a humanitarian basis without the payment of money.”

An unnamed Qatari source told Reuters: “Qatari intelligence agencies were behind the release of the American journalist in Syria.”

The Qatari-owned television station al-Jazeera first reported Curtis’s release, saying he had been handed over to a representative of the United Nations. Reuters’ Qatari source did not have details on what Qatar had done to free Curtis, saying only that it had been a matter of “communication with the right people in Syria”.

The Obama administration, which has been subjected to criticism since the death of Foley, for its policy of refusing to pay ransoms to terrorist groups, is reported to be considering air strikes agains Isis leaders in Syria, a move senior Republicans demanded on Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon, US central command said more airstrikes had been carried out against Isis around the Mosul dam in northern Iraq and the Kurdish capital of Irbil.

A statement said: “One strike destroyed an [Isis] Humvee near the Mosul dam and the other strike destroyed an … armed vehicle near Irbil. All aircraft exited the strike area safely.” The statement said 96 air strikes had now been made across Iraq since the start of the US air campaign on 8 August.

Also on Sunday, the British ambassador to the US, Sir Peter Westmacott, said UK secret services were close to identifying Foley’s killer, who is believed to be British.

In his statement on the release of Curtis, a freelancer who writes under the name Theo Padnos, Kerry said: “Particularly after a week marked by unspeakable tragedy, we are all relieved and grateful knowing that Theo Curtis is coming home.”

Isis has issued threats regarding the safety of another US journalist, Steven Sotloff. Kerry said the US would “continue to use every diplomatic, intelligence, and military tool at our disposal to find them and bring our fellow citizens home”.

Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, also released a statement, in which she said: “Theo is now safe outside of Syria, and we expect he will be reunited with his family shortly.

“Just as we celebrate Theo’s freedom, we hold in our thoughts and prayers the Americans who remain in captivity in Syria.”

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that about 20 journalists are missing in Syria. Many of them are believed to be held by Isis.

In a video statement released by Curtis’s kidnappers at some point during his captivity, Curtis said he “had everything” he needed and “everything has been perfect, food, clothing, even friends now”.

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

'We need to communicate. That's key. But we need justice for Michael Brown'

Showdowns between police and protesters give way to efforts to change life in Ferguson, but locals fear more unrest if the officer who shot Michael Brown is not indicted. Chris McGreal reports

Chris McGreal in Ferguson
theguardian.com, Sunday 24 August 2014 17.47 BST   
        
Ardester Williams is writing to Barack Obama the old-fashioned way, with paper and a postage stamp, to tell the president about the day in June when he shot a man.

“He was swinging at me, and he was much bigger than I was,” said the 73-year-old security guard at a Ferguson clothing store. “I had to draw my gun and shoot him. But I shot him in the foot. I’m writing to the president to tell him that the whole concept of police training is backwards. They should train them to shoot people dead as a last resort, not the first.”

A little further down West Florissant Avenue, Shiron Hagens is staffing a tent on a part of the street that just a few nights ago was clouded by tear gas and smoke from a burning convenience store, as protesters and the police clashed over the killing of Michael Brown. She is registering local residents to vote, in part to raise support for a petition to recall Ferguson mayor James Knowles, a white Republican, after he said that the upheaval of the past two weeks was not about race.

“There’s a mistrust right now,” she said. “The way to overcome mistrust is to talk. But there’s no way to have a conversation when you have a mayor who says there’s no race issue here. Michael Brown died because he was black.”

Across the road, Ken Goins, a St Louis attorney for 23 years, is advising people on their rights to protest peacefully.

Nightly showdowns between protesters and police along a short section of West Florissant avenue have given way to a flood of initiatives – some individual, some collective – which seek to use Brown’s death to change the police, politics and life of Ferguson. The anger is not diminished, but directed differently.

It has spurred a campaign to get Ferguson residents to vote in order to shift the balance of power in a city with a black majority but a white mayor and council. Other groups are pressing for the police to be required to wear body cameras, and for the local force to be demilitarised after it responded to the protests with armoured vehicles and snipers.

There is a new initiative to recruit more black policemen.

But for all of this, there is also a sense of limbo as Ferguson residents await what they regard as the crucial test – will the police officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, be indicted by a St Louis grand jury for unlawfully killing the unarmed 18-year-old?

Williams doesn’t have much confidence.

“Look at the make-up of the grand jury – nine whites and three blacks,” he said. “They don’t intend to do anything about Michael Brown’s death. That’s what’s so poor. That cop, he’ll be back on the streets as a cop again in 60 to 90 days.”

It has been said that a decent prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, because the procedure is so weighted in favour of the state. So the assumption among many in Ferguson is that if Wilson is not charged it will be because the city’s prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, has not made it happen.

“I know that cop is innocent until proven guilty, but if Bob McCullough is not seen to be trying to get an indictment it is going to cause a very serious situation here,” said Laverne Mitchom, a retiree wearing a Michael Brown T-shirt. “I don’t have confidence in the grand jury because I don’t have confidence in Bob McCullough. He is very supportive of the police. He has a history of that.”

The lack of confidence in a prosecutor who has close ties to the police – his parents, brother and other relatives worked for the St Louis force, and his father was shot dead in the line of duty by an African American man – runs so deep that several groups have pressed the state’s governor to take him off the case.

“We want him removed,” said Andreal Hoosman, a member of the board of the St Louis National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). “We requested that the governor remove him. The governor said that is for McCulloch to decide. We don’t have confidence in him.”

Missouri’s governor, Jay Nixon, has declined to back McCulloch but refused to appoint a special prosecutor in his place, as many in Ferguson want to see. That has drawn accusations of weakness against Nixon from McCulloch and his critics.

Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Missouri state senator who has been active in Ferguson over Brown’s killing and the subsequent protests, accused Nixon of being missing in action because he has refused to take decisive action.

Goins, who along with other lawyers was offering free advice to people on West Florissant avenue on their rights in dealing with the police – he reckoned many of the recent arrests at the protests over Brown’s death were unlawful – said he had little confidence in the investigation of the shooting.

“There’s been a lack of transparency through the whole investigation,” he said. “When someone shoots that raises questions and the public has the right to ask them. The police department has a duty to answer them, and so far it hasn’t.”

On Canfield Drive, where Brown was shot six times including in the head, the police handed out food parcels to residents at the weekend in a gesture of goodwill. Some appreciated it, some did not.

“I wonder what those cops are really thinking,” said Robert Kean, 29, next to the memorial to Brown where scores of red roses have been laid in a line down the middle of the street. “They’re here because they were told to come and make things look better. They didn’t suddenly start to love us. I bet it really screws them up inside to do this. But we’ll know if things have changed when we can walk down the street after dark without being stopped.”

Ron McBride, 48, was more forgiving.

“They’re trying, which is something. We need to communicate. That’s the key. But we need justice for Michael Brown, and handing out food doesn’t bring that,” he said.

There’s particular disillusionment over the manner in which a part of St Louis’s white population has rallied to support Wilson, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the police officer.

“It’s like hitting the lottery,” said a man who gave his name as Walter G. “You kill a black and make $200,000. If he had gone to Montana and shot an elk he would have had to pay for it. Here he can paid to shoot a black.”

Mitchom, too, was disappointed that some white people have sided with Wilson, saying it was a way of denying there is an issue with how the police deal with black people.

“We’re not surprised at that, but America has got to stop pretending that these things aren’t happening. My nephew is a policeman in St Louis. I know all policeman aren’t bad. There’s good and bad. But when there is bad he needs to be held accountable,” she said.

Mitchom said in some ways she felt the US hasn’t really changed at all.

“When Martin Luther King was assassinated, they sent state troopers to my high school in east St Louis. We didn’t do anything, but they assumed we would because we were African American. Then our teacher, a white woman, told us that we have to remember one thing: ‘The white people have the guns.’

“To see snipers on top of iron vehicles pointing guns at us in our own community was like going back to that. They were ready to do harm to unarmed citizens. That was devastating to me. I have six grandchildren. I’m worried that we’re seeing the clock turned back.”

Mitchom said she was worried that the efforts at peaceful change, including the efforts at cooperation between the police and Ferguson residents, would give way to yet more confrontation if the grand jury does not indict Wilson. She is not alone.

“There’s a lot of emotion in this community,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “They feel if they don’t get justice, everything will just erupt. Do they want it? Absolutely not. But they fear that if people don’t get justice that it will.”

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

‘I don’t see a racial divide’: Ferguson’s mostly white historic district untouched by unrest

By Reuters
Monday, August 25, 2014 6:35 EDT

Images of rioting and demonstrations after the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, have provoked outrage across the world.

Yet just a 10-minute drive from where Michael Brown was killed on Aug. 9, signs of the unrest that has beset the poorer neighborhoods of this St. Louis suburb are strikingly absent.

The sometimes violent protests have had little visible impact on the quiet tree-lined streets of Ferguson’s historic district, where some of the city’s grandest houses are located and many of its white residents live.

It is in stark contrast to the daily disruptions to everyday life felt in poorer, mostly black areas just a few blocks away.

“We have seen no difference. We are far away enough from the isolated parts of Ferguson and are virtually unaffected,” said Ruth Brown (pictured, with her husband, Gunnar Brown), a 72-year-old white woman, sitting on a white couch in the spacious living room of her 130-year-old home.

Even so, “we are heartbroken, because we fear that the town will not recover this time,” said Brown, whose grandparents came to Ferguson in 1885.

Michael Brown’s death and the sometimes violent protests that followed have exposed racial tensions in the city and across the United States, and have prompted international condemnation of the clashes between police and demonstrators. About 67 percent of Ferguson’s residents are black, according the latest U.S. Census data.

While the protests have remained calm in the brutal August heat of recent days, Michael Brown’s funeral on Monday is expected to draw huge crowds, leaving many concerned about further violence. Hundreds of people gathered in a St Louis park on Sunday afternoon at a rally where the father of Michael Brown was joined by the parents of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen shot two years ago in another racially tinged case.

But in historic Ferguson, the streets were deserted, showing the divided fortunes of the town of 21,000.

Huge elm and oak trees tower above the free-standing houses. Sprinklers keep the broad front lawns lush and green. Apart from the signs that read “I love Ferguson” that have cropped up outside houses across the city since the demonstrations began, there is no sign of the disruptions occurring across town.

On Saturday a farmers’ market attracted locals seeking fresh produce, and at night locals sat at the bar at the Brewhouse where craft beers were sold. Vitriol towards the police was muted and no one interviewed had been to the protests.

“I hope that the law enforcement department reviews what they are doing now, but it is not black versus white or us versus the police,” said Sheryl Gibbs, standing on the porch of her brick house with green wooden shutters and large back yard.

“The City of Ferguson has made a lot of progress. I don’t see a racial divide,” said the 48-year-old white woman, who owns a small business in the Dogtown area of St Louis.

While some expressed concern about the impact of the protests on business and investment, others remained positive.

The shooting of Michael Brown could help generate awareness of the town’s problems, said Carol Stevenson, 76, who has lived in her bungalow in Ferguson for 50 years.

“I remember when the schools were segregated,” she said, pointing to an elementary school across her street. “This is a good thing — let’s get these problems sorted out.

“Am I worried about it? No, we will win.”

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

Lack Of Diversity In St. Louis Area Police Departments Is Just Flat-Out Embarrassing

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, August, 24th, 2014, 2:46 pm   

In the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting death at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, a light was shone on the unbelievable lack of racial diversity within the Ferguson police department. It was revealed that while Ferguson’s population is 67% African-American, only three of the town’s 53 full-time police officers are black. The complete disconnect between the racial makeup of the community and the demographics of law enforcement patrolling Ferguson’s streets has been cited as a prime example of the simmering racial tensions in the town that boiled over in the aftermath of Brown’s killing.

However, Ferguson is not an isolated case in the St. Louis area. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story Sunday detailing the lack of diversity that exists in other St. Louis County police departments. The paper requested the racial makeup of 36 police departments in the county. Of the 31 departments that responded to the Post-Dispatch, 30 of them had a lower percentage of black officers when compared to the proportion of black residents in those communities. While 25% of St. Louis County’s residents are African-American, only 10% of the police officers in the county are black.

Of course, the main excuse given by police departments with nearly all-white forces in communities with a large percentage of black residents is that they just aren’t getting many black applicants. Basically, they are saying they’d love to hire more African-American cops. However, the more qualified minority applicants are generally going for jobs with St. Louis City’s police department, or other, larger metro units. They also said that the relatively lower pay that smaller police departments are forced to pay is possibly a deterrent to qualified black applicants.

Whether or not these are legitimate reasons, the fact remains that St. Louis County is utilizing a predominately white police force to police areas with heavy African-American populations. Research shows that 90% of the county’s black population resides in what is known locally as North County. Meanwhile, as we’ve seen with Ferguson, the police departments in that portion of the county, for the most part, are largely white. These departments don’t require the officers to live within the community, so most of the officers live in other towns and cities. Some commute as much as an hour or more each day to the job.

This huge racial disparity in the police departments in the St. Louis area speaks to the impact white flight has had on the region. As more blacks have moved into certain communities, much of the white population has moved further out into other suburban communities, basically creating ‘whitopias.’ At the same time, cops may stay with the same police department, but move away to one of these other communities. This helps widen the divide between local law enforcement and the neighborhoods they patrol. When the majority of a department’s force does not reside in the town, then the sense of community is broken.

Wesley Bell, a professor of criminal justice and a Ferguson resident, brought this up to the Post-Dispatch.

    “Policing is going to be more effective when personal relationships are made and (police) have an investment in the community…If the police department in Ferguson was more reflective of the community, people would be more apt to give them the benefit of the doubt that the officer was using his discretion, and race was not an issue.”

This is a very important point. While quite a bit of focus has been centered on the militarized nature of the police and a rush to the use of deadly force to quell potentially dangerous suspects these past few days, one of the biggest underlying issues that has come to the surface in Ferguson and the St. Louis area is the feeling that local law enforcement is not part of the community. There are no real personal relationships between officers and residents. This builds distrust until it reaches a total tipping point, like what we’ve seen in Ferguson over the past two weeks.

It is my belief that what is going on in St. Louis is merely a microcosm of what is happening in this nation. Hopefully, the lid has been blown off, and solutions will be worked on to make law enforcement more about protecting and serving and less about harassing and intimidating. Trust needs to be regained in communities far and wide. Obviously, law enforcement is a difficult and many times thankless job. However, that job can be a lot easier and fulfilling if the local residents aren’t suspicious and fearful of you.

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

LAPD cops ignored asthmatic suspect’s pleas before death: ‘You can talk, so you can breathe’

By Travis Gettys
RawStory
Monday, August 25, 2014 7:36 EDT

Police ignored a handcuffed suspect’s pleas for help breathing before he died while in custody, according to an investigation.

Jorge Azucena died during an arrest in September 2013 after he ran a red light and briefly fled from officers.

After he was handcuffed, the 26-year-old Azucena told officers he had asthma and could not breathe.

Two reports issued last week – one by the civilian Police Commission that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department and another by Police Chief Charlie Beck — indicated police did not take Azucena’s claims seriously.

According to a Los Angeles Times report, one of the arresting officers said: “You can talk, so you can breathe.”

A wobbly Azucena had to be assisted to a patrol car, police said, and he begged onlookers for assistance.

“Help me, help me, help me,” he said, according to investigators. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Help me, please.”

Police carried Azucena into a cell at a South Los Angeles booking station, where they laid him face down on the floor. He was found unconscious a short time later and died before paramedics arrived.

A member of the Police Commission said officers violated their policies and procedures during the arrest.

“There should not be any question that when somebody in custody is heard to say ‘I cannot breathe,’ the officers should promptly call for an ambulance,” said commission member Robert Saltzman.

Nine officers and two sergeants remain under internal investigation, and county prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine whether their actions were criminal.

Another sergeant involved in the case recently retired.

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

Walking While Black: Beverly Hills PD Arrests Innocent Black Man

By karoli August 24, 2014 10:41 pm
CrooksAndLiars

Charles Belk's story shouldn't shock you, but it will anyway. Walking While Black: Beverly Hills PD Arrests Innocent Black Man

There isn't much more I can say about this than Charles Belk didn't already say in his Facebook post. Here it is for everyone to see. He spent 6 hours at the station before they got a clue about who he was -- and who he wasn't.

Belk is involved with the NAACP, filmmaking and is a businessman in the Los Angeles area who was in Beverly Hills for pre-Emmy awards activities when a couple of Beverly Hills cops decided he was the guy who robbed a bank nearby. Here is his story.

    WHEN YOU "FIT THE DESCRIPTION"!

    It’s one of those things that you hear about, but never think it would happen to you.

    On Friday afternoon, August 22nd around 5:20pm, while innocently walking by myself from a restaurant on Wilshire Blvd, to my car up LaCienega Blvd my freedom was taken from me by the Beverly Hills Police Department.

    Within seconds, I was detained and told to sit on the curb of the very busy street, during rush hour traffic.

    Within minutes, I was surrounded by 6 police cars, handcuffed very tightly, fully searched for weapons, and placed back on the curb.

    Within an hour, I was transported to the Beverly Hills Police Headquarters, photographed, finger printed and put under a $100,000 bail and accused of armed bank robbery and accessory to robbery of a Citibank.

    Within an evening, I was wrongly arrested, locked up, denied a phone call, denied explanation of charges against me, denied ever being read my rights, denied being able to speak to my lawyer for a lengthy time, and denied being told that my car had been impounded…..All because I was mis-indentified as the wrong “tall, bald head, black male,” ... "fitting the description."

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know at the time that I was a law abiding citizen of the community and that in my 51 years of existence, had never been handcuffed or arrested for any reason. All they saw, was someone fitting the description. Doesn't matter if he's a "Taye Diggs BLACK", a "LL Cool J BLACK", or "a Drake BLACK"  

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that I was an award nominated and awarding winning business professional, most recently being recognized by the Los Angeles Business Journal at their Nonprofit & Corporate Citizenship Awards. They didn't need to because, they saw someone fitting the description.

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that I was a well educated American citizen that had received a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, an MBA from Indiana University (including a full Consortium Fellowship to business school) and an Executive Leadership Certificate from Harvard Business School. Hey, I was "tall", "bald", a "male" and "black", so I fit the description.

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that I was a Consultant for the NAACP, a film and tv producer, a previous VP of Marketing for a wireless application company, VP of Integrated Promotions for a marketing agency, ran Community Affairs for the Atlanta Hawks, was the Deputy Director of Olympic Village Operations for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, was a Test/Quality/Mfg Engineering Manager for IBM and was a Bond Trader on Wall street. Surely, folks that fit the description wouldn't qualify as any of those.

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that throughout my entire life I have been very active in serving the communities that I have lived in, including Chapter President and National PR Chair for NSBE, a USC Student Senator, a USC Trojan Knight, a USC Engineering Student Council Member, a USC Black Students Council Member, and a Resident Assistant; as well as a founding board member of the RTP NBMBAA, a member of Durham County Transportation Advisory Board, Durham City / County Planning Commission, Atlanta House of Love for the Homeless Board, Cobb County Transportation Advisory Board, Georgia CASA Board, United Way of Greater Atlanta VIP Selection Committee, Jomandi Theater Board, Silver Lake Film Festival Board, Downtown LA Film Festival Board, Chaka Khan Foundation Fundraising Dinner Committee, and the USC Black Alumni Association Board. Nawl, not a "black male", especially a "tall, bald" one.

    I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that just hours earlier, I was at one of the finest hotels in their city, handling celebrity talent at a Emmy Awards Gifting Suite, as part of business as usual, and, invited to attend a VIP Emmy pre-party that very night in their city. The guy doing that, just DON"T fit the description.

    What I don’t get………WHAT I DON”T GET, is, why, during the 45 minutes that they had me on the curb, handcuffed in the sun, before they locked me up and took away my civil rights, that they could not simply review the ATM and bank’s HD video footage to clearly see that the “tall, bald headed, black male”… did not fit MY description.

    Why, at 11:59pm (approximately 6 hours later), was the video footage reviewed only after my request to the Lead Detective for the Beverly Hills Police Department and an FBI Agent to do so, and, after being directly accused by another FBI Special Agent of “…going in and out of the bank several times complaining about the ATM Machine to cause a distraction…” thereby aiding in the armed robbery attempt of a bank that I never heard of, or ever been to; and within 10 minutes……10 MINUTES, my lawyer was told that I was being release because it was clear that it was not me.

    The sad thing is, prior to my freedom being taken from me for an easily proven crime I did not commit, I was walking back to my car, by myself, because I needed to check my parking meter, so that I wouldn’t get a ticket and break the law. In fact, if it wasn’t for a text message that I was responding to, I would have actually been running up LaCienega Blvd when the first Beverly Hills Police Officer approached me. Running!

    I want to thank GOD, Robin Lola Harrison of the NAACP Hollywood Bureau, Robert Dowdy and Attorney Jaaye Person-Lynn , without whom, I am certain that I would still be locked up in the custody of the Beverly Hills Police Department. Based on comments made by a Beverly Hills Police Officer during my booking, and an FBI Special Agent, it appeared that they had tried and convicted me.

    To everyone, especial black males (regardless of height, hair style or particular shade of "black") - Hari Williams, Michael Marcel, Reginald L Shaw, Shawn Carter Peterson, Devon Libran, Aaron D Spears, Cedric Sanders, Cornelius Smith Jr, Catfish Jean, Ashford Thomas, Drew McCaskill, Carlton Jordan, Jawn Murray, AS Lee, Bertrand L Roberson Sr, Deron Benjamin, Hawk Oau, James Alan Belk, Juhahn Jones, Darryl Dunning II, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Stephen Bishop, Logan Alexander, Michael Moore, Brandon Dmico Anderson, Jon Covington, Lamar Stewart, David Mitchell, Gerald Andre Radford, Gerald Edwin Rush II, Gerald Yates, etal, - I have always stayed as far away from being on the wrong side of the law as much as possible; so please, be careful. If something like this can happen to ME, it can certainly happen to ANYONE!

    Time has come for a change in the way OUR law enforcement officers "serve and protect" us.

    We all do not, FIT THE DESCRIPTION.

And (some) white people wonder why there's so much anger and frustration?

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Sunday Shows Feature Same Old Republicans Spouting Off The Same Old Tired Talking Points

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, August, 24th, 2014, 6:09 pm   

If it’s Sunday, that means it is time for the same old GOP fame whores to show up on our television sets and push their particular talking point while simultaneously blaming President Obama for anything and everything. That was particularly the case this Sunday as all of the Sunday show regulars showed up. They were chomping at the bit to push the case for full-scale war in the Middle East. The ongoing situation with ISIS was used by the warmongering GOP lawmakers to ostensibly make the case that a long-term military mission needs to be put in place.

It was a full-on assault by the most notoriously camera addicted figures from the Republican Party. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) made an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. Rogers was the most frequent Sunday show guest in 2013 and looks well on his way to repeating in 2014. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) showed up on Fox News Sunday. McCain finished second to Rogers in 2013 and is doing his best to retake the crown in 2014. McCain good buddy Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was on CNN’s State of the Union. Graham was tied for 5th in 2013 but seems to be making a push for a top 3 showing this year.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who typically parrots Graham and McCain, appeared on Face the Nation on CBS. Ayotte made 10 Sunday show appearances in 2013 and has been seen numerous times so far this year. Another frequent guest, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), who made 13 appearances in 2013, turned up at ABC’s This Week. All of these guests pretty much said the same things. Essentially, the all made sure to toe the line when it came to pushing the neo-con narrative that further military action needs to be take against ISIS and a war with American boots on the ground is an inevitability.

On This Week, McCaul used the well-worn neo-con line that we need to fight them over there, so we don’t have to fight them here.

    STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Congressman, if — if you get the kind of expansion you and General Allen then are talking about, won’t that require a new authorization from Congress?

    The 2001 authorization targeted al Qaeda, not ISIS. It would be a real stretch to put this under the Iraq authorization of 2002.

    So won’t Congress have to act here?

    MCCAUL: We believe that the administration should be in consultation with Congress. So far, they have, under The War Powers Act. But once that period of time expires, we believe it’s necessary to come back to the Congress to get additional authorities and to update, if you will, the authored use of military force.

    With respect to General Allen’s comments on regional strategy, I — I whole-heartedly agree. I believe that America, the United States shouldn’t bear this burden alone. We have regional allies, both Muslim allies and European allies, that can bring a lot of pressure on ISIS. And I don’t think you’re going to — you’re going to win this with a containment policy alone. This administration thus far has only dealt with containment. We need to expand these air strikes so that we can ultimately defeat and eliminate ISIS, because I would far prefer to eliminate them over here than have to deal with them…

    STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that…

    MCCAUL: — in the United States.

As Jason Easley pointed out, McCain told Fox News Sunday show host Chris Wallace that he wants President Obama to do “stupid stuff” in the Middle East and essentially place troops on the ground there. As one would figure from Fox News, there was no real sort of pushback from Wallace. Meanwhile, on Meet the Press, Rogers actually did get resistance and tough questions from the moderator, because Chris Jansing was filling in for outgoing host David Gregory. If this were Chuck Todd, as it will be in a month, Rogers would have been able to safely recite his talking points without worrying about follow-up questions.

State of the Union host Candy Crowley essentially let Graham spout off his talking points without any challenge whatsoever. Graham was on at the same time as Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), and they were both asked questions regarding their assessments of the threat if ISIS. Graham claimed that ISIS was an immediate threat to the homeland. Instead of following up with Graham regarding that claim, Crowley just moved on to her next set of questions.

    CROWLEY: Senator Graham, I am trying to kind of — kind of home in on, what is the immediate threat to the homeland? Because there are a number of people saying, it’s not — really not an immediate threat, has to be dealt with. It’s a threat to the region, but it’s not an immediate threat to the U.S.

    GRAHAM: Well, I would argue that the intel that we have been provided in Congress is that there are hundreds of American citizens holding U.S. passports. There are European citizens going to the fight that can penetrate America by having European-U.S. passports.

    A lot of jihadists have flocked to area. They have expressed the will to hit the homeland. That’s part of their agenda is to drive us out of the Mideast. Do they have the capability to hit the homeland — homeland? I would say yes.

    It’s about time now to assume the worst about these guys, rather than to underestimating them. They’re not the J.V. team anymore. They’re the most prominent terrorist organization in the world, but they’re not the only one. They’re in competition with the other jihadist groups.

    And the gold medal will be awarded to the group that can hit America. They’re fighting for status with al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra. All of these guys are bidding for future recruits and status, and the gold medal goes to the one that can hit us here at home. To those who underestimate this threat, you do so at America’s peril.

Ayotte essentially repeated the same strategy to Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. When Schieffer asked her what we should do against ISIS and in the Middle East, Ayotte responded with the following.

    And what I think is that a containment strategy is not going to cut it. We need a strategy to defeat ISIS. As the secretary of defense has described, it is an imminent threat to us. It’s like nothing we have ever seen in terms of the sophistication of this group, the funding, the territory that they control.

    And we need a strategy that is going to expand the airstrikes, going to support the Kurds further and the Iraqi forces, but in particular the Kurds, get them the military equipment that they are requesting, and also look at supporting more and more support and enhancement for the moderate opposition in Syria to deal with the sanctuaries in Syria.

    We have to do that if we want to defeat ISIS, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said this week. And then I would say also the political solution is important. We need an Iraqi government that is inclusive.

It would at least be a change of pace if we could see some slightly different faces saying these things. But we aren’t so lucky. Nope, instead we just get the same tired actors repeating the same bad lines, time and time again.

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

John McCain Loses His Mind By Calling On Obama To Do “Stupid Stuff” In The Middle East

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, August, 24th, 2014, 12:26 pm      

On Fox News Sunday, Sen. John McCain criticized President Obama for refusing to do stupid stuff in the Middle East. McCain said, “No more don’t do stupid stuff.” In other words, McCain claimed that the US can defeat ISIS by doing stupid things.

Sen. McCain said,

    The president has got to come forward with a cohesive, comprehensive strategy, not only in Iraq, but also in Ukraine also in other parts of the world. This is an administration which the kindest word I can use is feckless where they have not outlined a role that the United States of America has to play, and that’s a leadership role.

    No more leading from behind. No more don’t do stupid stuff. No more tell Vladmir that I’m going to be more flexible if I’m reelected , when I’m reelected. The United States, the president has to understand that America must lead, and when America hasn’t a lot of bad things happen in the world. This is not like the earthquake in San Francisco. All of this could have been avoided like leaving a residual force in Iraq, and obviously the challenges now are much greater than it would have been when the president made the decision not to leave a residual force in Iraq among other things.

What McCain was directly advocating was for President Obama to do stupid stuff in the Middle East. Specifically, he wants to see troops on the ground in Iraq. Sen. McCain retold the same lie from two weeks ago when he blamed Obama for Bush’s decision not to leave troops in Iraq. George W. Bush signed the Status Of Forces agreement that paved the way for combat troops leaving Iraq. A residual force was not left behind because the Iraqi government refused to give US troops immunity from local prosecution.

The Iraqi government and the Iraqi people wanted the Americans out, so they demanded a deal breaker condition in the SOF agreement. Without local immunity, US troops could be legally arrested and imprisoned in Iraq. Any president would have to be insane, or John McCain, to agree to those conditions.

Sen. McCain was claiming that the way to defeat terrorists is to do stupid things, like sending American troops into a ground war that ISIS is trying to bait the US into. McCain rejected Obama’s direct targeting of terrorists. Instead he want to provide the terrorists with American targets on the ground by sending troops back to Iraq.

McCain’s comments on Fox News Sunday were an example of the mainstream media’s “foreign policy expert” in action. John McCain is trying to rattle the country into another Middle East war, and the media are going along with him because they think that he is good television. John McCain is reckless warmonger who won’t be satisfied until American troops are back to bleeding and dying on Iraqi soil.

John McCain is the mainstream foreign policy voice of the Republican Party, which why it is ridiculous to think that these people will ever nominate someone like Rand Paul in 2016. If Rand Paul wants the nomination, he is going to have become a lot more like John McCain, because do stupid stuff is foreign policy platform of the Republican Party.

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

Without David Gregory or Chuck Todd GOP Talking Points Get Challenged On Meet The Press

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, August, 24th, 2014, 1:46 pm   

Chris Jansing was the fill in moderator on Meet The Press, and without David Gregory or Chuck Todd, Republican talking points about the threat of ISIS to America were strongly challenged.

Transcript:

CHRIS JANSING: From your perspective, well, we’ve heard a ramping up of the rhetoric by the administration. How significant a threat is ISIS?

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI): Oh, it’s a very real threat. You saw the very barbaric behavior. And one of the problems is it’s gone unabated for nearly two years, and that draws people from Britain to across Europe, even the United States, to go and join the fight. They see that as a winning ideology, a winning strategy, and they want to be a part of it. And that’s what makes it so dangerous. They are one plane ticket away from U.S. shores. And that’s why we’re so concerned about it.

CHRIS JANSING: But we’ve heard the Pentagon say that, right now, they are not in a position to launch an attack on the United States. Is there any credible intelligence that ISIS is either planning that or has the capability to do it.

REP. MIKE ROGERS: Well, I’m going to dispute that. So we know that, and the number 2,000 of Westerners with Western passports is low. Intelligence has a very different number and it’s much higher than that. And the very fight between Al Qaeda that allowed ISIS to separate from Al Qaeda in Syria was the fact that they wanted to conduct Western-style operations….

CHRIS JANSING: But aren’t we, Congressman, significantly safer than we were on 9/11 in terms of being able to keep those kinds of threats out of the United States?

REP. MIKE ROGERS: Well, we have a better system of trying to do it, but we’re just not configured. We, the United States intelligence services and Department of Defense and administrative policy is not configured in a way to continue a tempo that allows disruption. The reason ISIS is so successful is there was nothing deterring them for years. So they recruited, they financed, they trained. All of that was happening.

And so, yes, we might be okay if we continue the posture that we’re in from a defensive posture. But remember, they get new recruits every single day. And what’s dangerous, think of this: If that’s a British citizen, we believe it was, you have somebody that was watching and participating in the whole exercise of making that video. That individual goes back home and, is again, buys one plane ticket, they’re in the United States. We may or may not know who that individual is. That’s what’s so dangerous about this, and why we can’t let them continue unabated.

CHRIS JANSING: So what do we do about it? We’ve seen what the U.K. has done, for example. They’ve been revoking passports of U.K. citizens who have gone over to Syria to fight so they can’t come back West. Obviously the president is considering a whole range of options. We already have air strikes in Iraq; questions about whether there should be air strikes in Syria. Should there, for example, be more small teams of special ops on the ground to gather more intelligence? What do we do now?

Jansing asked Rep. Rogers (R-MI) is there is any credible intelligence to back up his claim that ISIS is a plane ticket away from attacking the United States, and he never answered the question. Chris Jansing’s questioning of Rogers was very logical. She didn’t let him get away with repeating his talking points unchallenged. In a moment that has been virtually unseen since Tim Russert died, she made him defend his claims.

This is the kind of questioning that viewers want to see on Meet The Press. Jansing challenged her guest with facts. Meet The Press doesn’t need a liberal or a conservative moderator. It needs someone who is prepared and committed to not accepting talking points as answers.

Unfortunately, Chuck “challenging Republican lies isn’t my job” Todd will be taking over the program. Viewers can expect a return to the endless repetition of talking points next month. For one week, it was nice to see a journalist on a Sunday show ask questions that weren’t based on talking points and follow up the answers with deeper questions.

Real journalism made a brief return to Meet The Press. Enjoy it now, because Chuck Todd is coming in September.

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

In A Victory for Public Education Judge Says NC School Vouchers Are Unconstitutional

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, August, 24th, 2014, 10:42 am   

For the past decade, Republicans have been on a tear to blatantly transfer taxpayer money directly to private enterprises without regard for the needs of the people. Whether it is privatizing Medicare, Social Security, social services, or education, Republicans have devised various schemes to appropriate taxpayer money to profit their donors; including churches Hell-bent on inculcating Christianity in private religious schools at the expense of public education.

One of the most important clauses in the U.S. Constitution is the General Welfare clause in Article I – section 8 that reads, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” According to the Founding Fathers and first four Presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, taxes providing for the ‘general welfare’ were to provide housing, food, medical care, and education for the poor among other domestic programs. In fact, one of the authors of the Constitution, James Madison killed legislation giving taxpayer money to churches anxious to profit from pretending to provide for the people because the Founders believed the government should never, never ever, give money to churches for anything; including education.

Republicans believe America’s first four Presidents were completely wrong and in several states are regularly taking government money intended for public education and handing it directly to private Christian schools under the guise of vouchers for “charter schools,” a clear violation of the Constitution. In North Carolina last week, a judge finally struck down a Republican school voucher scam to transfer public school funding directly to private religious schools as patently unconstitutional, and elucidated why vouchers, charter schools, and private religious schools fail constitutional muster.

The judge, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood, identified the Republican legislation, “Opportunity Scholarship Program,” as a scam to “siphon money from the public schools in favor of private schools and allows funding of non-public schools that discriminate on account of religion.” The judge was not finished, and besides decrying the obscenity of school vouchers, he correctly identified the major flaw in charter schools; they have no obligation to teach anything. Hopefully, President Obama will pay attention and stop listening to charter advocates like education secretary Arne Duncan and an ever-growing cabal of school privatization advisors within his Administration.

Just a few of the reasons the judge gave for ruling school vouchers unconstitutional are: appropriates to private schools grades K-12, by use of funds which apparently have gone to the university system budget but which should be used exclusively for establishing and maintaining the uniform system of free public schools, appropriates education funds in a manner that does not accomplish a public purpose, appropriates educational funds outside the supervision and administration of the state board of education, and appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified.” In essence, the judge concluded that the North Carolina legislation “fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.”

Republicans had included a statement in their voucher legislation they assumed would protect their religious privatization scam by stipulating that “scholarship grant funds awarded to eligible students attending a non-public school shall not be considered funding from the state of North Carolina.” The Judge was not fooled and noted in his ruling that nowhere in the state’s General Statutes is there any provision for scholarship grants to come from any source other than taxpayer funds. He said, “If scholarship grants shall not be considered funding from the state of North Carolina, this court is at a complete loss to understand the source of those funds. Follow the money. The clear legislative intent is to utilize taxpayer money to fund private schools.”

Judge Hobgood recognized, and reminded Republicans, that the state had an obligation to provide a “sound basic education” to the children attending public schools in North Carolina as mandated by the Supreme Court in its Leandro decision . He said, “The General Assembly cannot constitutionally delegate this responsibility to unregulated private schools by use of taxpayer opportunity scholarships to parents who have self-assessed their children to be at risk.” The parents who demanded that taxpayers pay for their children’s private religious education were represented by a Koch brother-backed law firm, Institute for Justice, and contended they would be harmed if the court did not help implement the theft of public school money to profit private religious schools. Private schools that Judge Hobgood accurately noted received taxpayer dollars yet were “not subject to any requirements or standards regarding the curriculum that they teach, have no requirements for student achievement, are not obligated to demonstrate any growth in student performance, and are not even obligated to provide a minimum amount of instructional time.” Whether the Judge realized it or not, he defined, quite accurately, what charter schools entail and why school vouchers are a scam and outright theft of taxpayer money meant for public education.

There has been an ongoing Justice Department, and other plaintiffs’, lawsuit targeting Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s voucher privatization scam that records revealed multiple schools accepting school vouchers actually disclosed “discriminatory policies such as the legal right to expel gay and lesbian students as well as admitted to charging the state more in tuition for students who are not members of the private school’s sponsoring churches.” In fact, Jindal has thumbed his nose at the Constitution for years by continuing to steal taxpayer money intended for public schools to provide funding for private and charter religious schools. Of course, Jindal blames President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for the Department of Justice portion of the lawsuits by claiming “This is shameful. President Obama and Attorney General Holder are trying to keep kids trapped in failing public schools against the wishes of their parents.” These are parents that insist on taxpayers funding their children’s religious instruction, and if Jindal and the Republican legislature were not robbing public education funds, public schools would not be failing.

Republicans claim, ad nauseum, that they are the champions of the original intent of the Founding Fathers, and yet they have consistently opposed the concept that taxpayer dollars are meant to “provide for the general welfare of the people;” not churches, not private religious schools, and definitely not at the expense of public education. Although the Judge’s ruling was a defeat for school vouchers and Koch and Art Pope-backed privatization efforts, his portrayal of charter schools as “not subject to any requirements or standards regarding the curriculum that they teach, have no requirements for student achievement, are not obligated to demonstrate any growth in student performance, and are not even obligated to provide a minimum amount of instructional time” was priceless, and accurate.

This is not to say that there are no private religious, or charter schools, providing a decent education to their “customers,” there are. However, they are under no obligation to provide an education to prepare students to compete with public school students who are not indoctrinated with anti-science, bastardized history, and religious mythos. The Founding Fathers were specific that taxpayer money was to provide for, among other things, the general welfare of the people that included a sound public education; something Republicans have decided is the purview of private, for profit, enterprises that are more often than not religious schools stealing from taxpayers to inculcate students into the Christian religion.

 100 
 on: Aug 25, 2014, 06:36 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Four Killed, Two Inmates Beheaded in Brazil Prison Riot

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 August 2014, 06:58

Inmates rioting for better facilities in a Brazilian jail killed four fellow prisoners, decapitating two of them, and took two guards hostage, officials said Sunday.

The uprising took place in the Cascavel state correctional center in the southern city of Parana that currently holds 1,140 inmates, according to Elson Faxina, a state judicial spokesman.

"A group of prisoners took six inmates hostage; they killed four and have injured two. They also took hostage two guards," he said.

"Their demands are about facilities; it is an older building and they want food brought in."

Faxina said 60 percent of the jail had been taken over by rioting inmates and that negotiations had been broken off until Monday.

State prison officials told G1 news the prisoners launched a violent push for better food and cleaner facilities.

Brazil currently has more than half a million prisoners and faces severe overcrowding. It is short some 200,000 incarceration spots, according to the NGO Conectas that works on prisoners' rights.

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