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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1071534 times)
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« Reply #11430 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:14 AM »

Rouhani Says Iran Has No Plan for Nuclear Weapons

DAVOS, Switzerland — Describing himself as an advocate of “prudent moderation” as he pursued a diplomatic offensive to remold his country’s image on Thursday, President Hassan Rouhani said he sought “constructive engagement” with Iran’s neighbors and pledged that his country had no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons.

He was speaking in this Alpine village at the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum while, elsewhere in Switzerland, international negotiators sought to persuade Syrian government representatives and their exiled adversaries to sit down face-to-face at peace talks seeking an end to Syria’s nearly three-year civil war. Iran is a key player in the region’s diplomacy and the principal regional ally of President Bashar al-Assad.

In the speech, Mr. Rouhani referred to recent cooperation with the United States and other powers on his country’s nuclear program as a “major development” and urged American leaders to accept his country’s Islamic revolution as the culmination of a century of struggle for freedom.

“I strongly and clearly state that nuclear weapons have no place in our security strategy and Iran has no motivation to move in that direction,” he said, speaking to a packed auditorium that included some Israeli participants and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who helped negotiate the nuclear breakthrough.

He also expressed Iran’s commitment to a broader nuclear agreement but, in what was taken as a veiled reference to Israeli suspicions, he cautioned that “a possible impediment may be a lack of serious will by the other party or parties or they might be influenced by others.”

“We are ready,” he said. “Of course, this is a long and winding and difficult road. However, if we remain serious and keep the will, we can push through.”

The conciliatory tone of Mr. Rouhani’s speech seemed to be designed to pursue an effort to win broad international acceptance for a nation that under his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was viewed by Western powers as dangerous, unpredictable and disruptive.

John Chipman, head of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Mr. Rouhani’s speech was in essence “an application to rejoin the international community.”

“His buzz-terms were ‘prudent moderation’ and constructive engagement,'” said Mr. Chipman, who was in the audience. “He is saying: trust me as a leader.”

But Israeli leaders attending the same event in Davos took exception to Mr. Rouhani’s comments, saying they represented a missed opportunity and were designed to trick world opinion.

“Rouhani is continuing with the Iranian show of deception,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks relayed by his office in Jerusalem.

“At a time when Rouhani talks about peace with the countries of the Middle East, he refuses – even today – to recognize the existence of the State of Israel, and his regime daily calls for the destruction of the State of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

“At a time when Rouhani claims that Iran is not interested in a nuclear project for military purposes, Iran continues to strengthen its centrifuges and heavy water reactor, and to arm itself with intercontinental missiles, the sole purpose of which is for nuclear weapons,” he added.

At a news conference 45 minutes after Mr. Rouhani’s appearance, President Shimon Peres of Israel said Mr. Rouhani should have used his speech to endorse Middle East peace efforts and should have reinforced his words with pledges to halt missile development and arms supplies to Iran’s allies in the region.

“As far as Israel is concerned, we are ready to make peace with the Iranian people,” Mr. Peres said. “They have never been historically our enemies. We don’t look for any wars. We don’t look for any confrontation.Today was a great occasion but it was unfortunately missed.”

Mr. Rouhani was elected as Iran’s president last year, offering a friendlier and more pragmatic vision of his country’s relationship with the West. Since then, Iran has reached an interim agreement with world powers on suspending nuclear enrichment in return for an easing of sanctions — a deal that began to take effect on Monday.

On Sunday, in what appeared to be a diplomatic success for Tehran, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, invited Iran to attend the Syria talks but withdrew the offer a day later after Iranian officials denied that they had agreed to preconditions for their attendance.

Mr. Rouhani’s appearance at Davos was the first by an Iranian president since Mohammad Khatami spoke here in 2004.

Setting out what seemed to be ambitious goals for his country, whose economy has been battered by years of tightening international sanctions, Mr. Rouhani vowed to “overcome all economic and political impediments” to turning Iran into one of the top 10 economies in the world in the space of a decade.`

In response to questions put by Klaus Schwab, the head of the World Economic Forum, Mr. Rouhani said Iran sought improved relations with “all the world” and with its neighbors. But he would not be drawn on whether that would include Israel, long seen as an archfoe that has in the past threatened to take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Neither did he refer by name to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main rival for influence in the oil-rich Persian Gulf and the broader region.

While he denied that Iran sought a nuclear weapon, he again insisted on its right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful uses such as electricity generation and the manufacture of medical isotopes under supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog.

“The Iranian people are not willing to give up their peaceful technology,” he said.

On the Syrian crisis, Mr. Rouhani called the years of strife a “major catastrophe” in which “the people have borne the brunt. Millions of people have been killed or injured or made homeless.”

Echoing the language used by President Assad, he also referred to the insurgents seeking to overthrow the Syrian government as “terrorists” and “ruthless killers.”

“Iran believes that all of us should try to put a stop to the bloodshed,” he said. He was not asked to comment on assertions by the Syrian opposition that Tehran is playing a covert military role in support of Mr. Assad.

“All of us should work to push terrorists out of Syria,” he said, warning those who support such adversaries “that the next stop will be their country for terrorists.” The Syrian opposition is supported by a broad array of Arab and Western countries, although some of those backers have shown alarm at the growing influence among the insurgents of jihadists linked to Al Qaeda.

Mr. Rouhani urged “free and fair elections” and, again echoing Mr. Assad’s arguments, said “no outside power” should seek to determine Syria’s future.

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« Reply #11431 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:16 AM »

New proposal offers U.S. a choice: Keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, or none at all

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 16:11 EST

Military leaders have proposed keeping 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after NATO’s combat mission ends in December — or else pull out all American forces, a US official said Wednesday.

The commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, General Joseph Dunford, presented the option last week to the White House, which is weighing the proposal, the official said, confirming reports in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

“It’s fair to say that the intelligence community, the State Department, the Pentagon, all believe that if we’re going to have a footprint in Afghanistan after 2014, it should be about that number,” said the official, referring to the 10,000 troop level.

“If that can’t be, we also believe it would be most prudent to have nothing,” the official told AFP, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The option being debated by the White House also calls for a short stay for the proposed post-2014 force, which would be scaled back and withdrawn within two years, the official said.

Such a scenario would allow Obama to tout the end of the longest US war by the time he leaves office in January 2017. But the move could prompt accusations of an irresponsible retreat after repeated vows by Washington to maintain an enduring presence in Afghanistan.

Any future force after December still hinges on Afghan President Hamid Karzai signing a bilateral security agreement between the two countries, which lays out a legal framework for a US military presence beyond 2014. Karzai has so far refused to sign the deal.

The proposed security pact with Afghanistan would allow for US troops to stay through 2024.

Under the Pentagon proposal, US commanders hope the 10,000 US troops would be joined by 2,000-3,000 forces from other NATO countries, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Military commanders have reportedly told the White House that if Obama rejects the 10,000 troop option, then all American forces should be withdrawn as a smaller force would be unable to provide security for intelligence officers and diplomats.

Vice President Joe Biden, known for his long-running opposition to a large military presence in Afghanistan, is believed to favor a contingent of less than 10,000, comprised mainly of special operations forces.

But defense officials maintain that the elite special forces would be mostly ineffective without intelligence teams tracking militants to be targeted, according the Journal and the Times.

“To have an intelligence network, you have to have a footprint, and to have a footprint, you have to have force protection,” an unnamed US official was quoted as saying by the Journal.

The discussions echo a debate in 2009 on Afghanistan that pitted Biden and some White House officials against the Pentagon, which favored a surge of troops to break a stalemate with the Taliban insurgency.

The troop figures put forward by the Pentagon are in line with numbers previously cited by top commanders nearly a year ago, in which they estimated an international force of about 8,000 to 12,000 — most of them Americans — after the end of 2014.

About 37,500 US troops are currently on the ground in Afghanistan, along with 19,000 forces from other countries in the NATO-led coalition.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #11432 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:18 AM »

India reels from another horrific gang rape case in wave of sexual violence

Tribal elders ordered a 20-year-old woman to be raped in public by up to 12 men for an 'unauthorised' relationship, police say

Jason Burke in Delhi, Thursday 23 January 2014 07.14 GMT   

A 20-year-old woman has been raped in public by as many as 12 men on the orders of tribal elders in a village in eastern India, according to local police.

The attack, in Birbhum district about 120 miles from Kolkata, was a punishment for an “unauthorised” relationship with a man from another village and the woman's subsequent failure to pay a 50,000 rupee (£490) fine, local media reports said.

“According to the woman, the [village head] summoned her and her [lover] on Monday and detained them through the day and night. After her family said they could not pay the fine, the [head] allegedly ordered the mass rape on Tuesday,” police superintendant C Sudhakar told The Hindustan Times newspaper.

Eleven men have been arrested so far, including the village head. The victim remains in hospital. She has told local reporters she lost count of her attackers, who appear to have included several of her neighbours.

India has been hit by a wave of sexual violence – particularly gang rapes – in recent years. Last week a 51-year-old tourist in Delhi was raped by at least five men while walking back to her hotel. Several other similar attacks on foreigners had hit headlines over previous months.

The gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old in December 2012 prompted grief and outrage across the country, with thousands taking to the streets in protests demanding tougher laws, better policing and a shift in cultural attitudes. The United Nations asked India, the world's second most populous country, to ensure security for women. But although prison terms for rape have been stiffened, stalking made a criminal offence and gender sensitivity programmes introduced for some police officers, little appears to have changed on the ground.

The state of West Bengal, where this most recent attack took place, appears a particular black spot. Last month a worker at a gym was abducted and raped by five men in a truck.

In October, a woman was raped twice by the same group of men, once as she returned from a police station where she had recorded a statement about the first attack, and was then set on fire. She eventually died of her injuries.

West Bengal is governened by the Trinamool Congress party (TMC), which has been under fire for failing to halt the rising violence against women.

Derek O'Brien, a TMC parliamentarian, promised “swift action ... zero tolerance", in a message on Twitter on Thursday.

The causes of the wave of sexual violence – and its extent – are hotly debated.

Many commentators say it is a consequence of the efforts of a growing number of women, even in remote areas, to claim basic freedoms denied for centuries. Others point to India's acute gender imbalance, tenacious caste system and entrenched patriarchal culture. Conservatives have blamed "western influences", women's clothing and even fast food.

Informal village courts run by local male elders, such as that which ordered this most recent attack, are common across much of rural India and are frequently responsible for inflicting cruel, sometimes lethal, punishments for supposed social transgressions such as marrying without their prior consent. Such courts also frequently oblige relatives to take violent action to restore the “honour” of a community.

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« Reply #11433 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:19 AM »

Thai court defers decision on election postponement as protests continue

Constitutional court says it may hand down decision about delaying election, scheduled for 2 February, on Friday

Reuters in Bangkok, Thursday 23 January 2014 11.18 GMT   

Thailand's constitutional court has deferred a ruling on whether a general election scheduled for 2 February can be postponed as protesters keep up pressure on the government to step down.

The prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, declared a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas from Wednesday, hoping to prevent an escalation in the protests now in their third month.

The election commission says the country is too volatile to hold a general election now and that technicalities mean it is bound to result in a parliament with too few MPs to form a quorum.

The government says the decree to hold the election on that date has been signed by the king and cannot be changed.

"The constitutional court has accepted this case and we will look at the legal issues involved. If there is enough evidence, we may hand down a decision tomorrow," said court spokesman Pimol Thampithakpong.

The protests are the latest eruption in a political conflict that has gripped the country for eight years. The emergency decree failed to clear the demonstrators, though the capital has been relatively calm this week.

Broadly, the conflict pits the Bangkok middle class and royalist establishment against the mainly poorer supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006.

Nine people have been killed in outbursts of violence, including two grenade attacks in Bangkok last weekend.

A leading pro-government activist was shot and wounded on Wednesday in Thailand's north-east, a stronghold of the Shinawatra family, in what police said may have been a political attack, adding to fears the violence could spread.

A ruling in favour of the election commission would deepen Thailand's political quagmire.

The main opposition Democrat party says it will boycott the vote. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat minister, wants democracy suspended so that a "people's council" can push through electoral and political changes.

Thais living overseas have already voted and some advance voting takes place around the country on Sunday. The protesters have said they would try to disrupt the election.

On Wednesday, an unidentified gunman opened fire on Kwanchai Praipana, a leader of Thailand's pro-government "red shirt" movement and a popular radio DJ.

The attack in Udon Thani, about 450km (280 miles) north-east of Bangkok, was the most significant violence outside the capital and illustrates the risk that the turbulence could spread to other parts of Thailand.

Just a day before, Kwanchai had warned of a nationwide fight if the military launched a coup, as widely feared.

So far the military, which has been involved in 18 actual or attempted coups in the past 81 years, has kept out of the fray. Police are charged with enforcing the state of emergency and are under orders from Yingluck to show restraint.

"We announced a state of emergency to help police do their work," Yingluck told reporters on Thursday.

"But given what happened in 2010 I don't want police to use force outside of the legal framework," she added, referring to a military crackdown that year on pro-Thaksin protesters during which scores were killed.

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said this week his troops might have to play a bigger role if serious violence breaks out.

"If such violence erupted and no one is able to solve it, the troops would have to step in and tackle it. We would look after our nation using the right methods," he told reporters.

The emergency decree gives security agencies powers to detain suspects, impose a curfew and limit gatherings. Some analysts said it was in part designed to give Yingluck legal protection if police step in.

Several governments have warned their nationals to avoid protest areas in Bangkok, among the world's most visited cities. China called on Thailand to "restore stability and order as soon as possible" through talks.

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« Reply #11434 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:21 AM »

Japan tells China: cut military spending

Shinzo Abe hails new dawn for his country at Davos but compares rivalry with Beijing to situation before first world war

Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor in Davos
The Guardian, Wednesday 22 January 2014 23.28 GMT   

Japan's prime minister has called on China to scale back its military spending on a day when he compared the mounting tension between Asia's two biggest economies with the rivalry between Britain and Germany before the first world war.

Shinzo Abe used a keynote address to the World Economic Forum in Davos to hail a new dawn for his country and said the fruits of growth in Asia should be used for innovation and investment in human capital rather than weapons.

Earlier, Abe said the frayed relationship between Tokyo and Beijing was similar to the situation in Europe pre-1914. He said a conflict between the two countries would be disastrous, but refused to rule it out. "Trust, not tension, is crucial for peace and prosperity in Asia, and in the rest of the world," he said. "This can only be achieved through dialogue and the rule of law, and not through force or coercion.

"We must restrain military expansion in Asia, which could otherwise go unchecked. We should create a mechanism for crisis management as well as a communication channel between our armed forces."

Relations have soured between Japan and China since Abe became prime minister in 2012, with Beijing irked by what its leaders have seen as a more nationalistic approach to foreign and defence policy. But A flashpoint has been the disputed ownership of islands in the East China Sea but Abe insisted that Japan had no military ambitions. "Japan has sworn an oath never again to wage a war. We have never stopped and will continue to be wishing for the world to be at peace."

Abe's willingness to take a tougher line with China has accompanied signs that Japan is at last emerging from a 20-year period of sluggish growth. He insisted that a radical new approach to monetary and fiscal policy would be followed by supply-side reforms including a big increase in the number of women working. "Japan's economy is just about to break free from chronic deflation. This spring, wages will increase. Higher wages, long overdue, will lead to greater consumption.

"Pundits used to say Japan was at dusk, or the land of the setting sun. They said that for a country as mature as Japan, growth would be impossible. These arguments were made to sound almost legitimate.

"It is not twilight, but a new dawn that is breaking over Japan."

Abe's critics have said that he was quick to fire the first two "arrows" of Abenomics – a quantitative easing programme to raise inflation to 2% and increases in public spending to boost growth, followed by tax increases – but slow to let loose the third arrow of supply-side reform.

But Abe said he was taking measures to cut corporate taxes, attract inward investment and increase female participation. He pledged that by 2020 he would ensure that 30% of leading positions in business were occupied by women, a far higher percentage than in either Britain or the US.

"Japan is becoming a super-ageing society, even as the number of children is falling. You might find yourself asking, 'In such a country, where will you find those innovative and creative human resources?'" Noting that Japan's GDP could be boosted by 16% if women's participation in the labour market was raised to the level of men's, he added that it was time to break the male stranglehold.

"Japan's corporate culture is still one of pinstripes and button-downs. After all, the female labour force in Japan is the most underutilised resource. Japan must become a place where women shine."

He added that Japan would also import foreign workers to help with "housework, care for the elderly, and the like".

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« Reply #11435 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:26 AM »

Chinese oil giants make use of offshore shell companies in Caribbean

Secret financial records link scandal-hit oil companies to dozens of offshore entities, many of them undeclared

James Ball   
The Guardian, Wednesday 22 January 2014 21.00 GMT 

China’s scandal-mired oil giants and their senior executives have made extensive use of offshore shell companies in the Caribbean, secret financial records reveal.

The country’s biggest oil companies – Sinopec, PetroChina and the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) – are among the world’s largest businesses, but executives in the industry are embroiled in multiple corruption probes, many tied to networks of shell companies around the world.

Research by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) based on leaked financial records from the British Virgin Islands, reveal dozens of companies tied to the three oil giants, many of which are not disclosed on any publicly available filings by the businesses.

The ICIJ and Guardian, among other outlets, are blocked in China after reporting on Tuesday the offshore holdings of relatives of several current and former Chinese political leaders.

China’s senior oil executives are among the most powerful in the country, and often have extensive ties – some familial – with the country’s political elite.

The records show a long history of offshore use by the oil businesses and executives, with incorporations in the BVI, Cook Islands, and related jurisdictions dating between 1995 and 2008.

One executive, Zhang Bowen, is listed in the ICIJ data as the only director and shareholder of Adept Act Enterprises Limited, active from 2006 to 2008. Last month, Zhang took over as chairman of Kunlun Energy, a subsidiary of CNPC, the Hong Kong-listed parent company of PetroChina.

The chief executive of CNOOC, Yang Hua, was similarly listed as the only director and shareholder of a BVI entity called Garland International Trading Company Limited. His colleague, Fang Zhi, vice-president of CNOOC International, was the director and shareholder of Xin Yue Lianping Company Limited and Xin Yue (BVI) Company Limited.

None of the three companies, nor the executives, responded to repeated requests for comment from ICIJ reporters in China and overseas.

While some of the offshore entities were disclosed in annual reports, many have never been publicly listed. The companies also declined to reveal whether their full list of offshore entities had been reported privately to China’s government, as required under Chinese law.

It is also not clear whether offshore companies tied to oil executives were established as part of those individuals’ official roles, or whether they were founded for other purposes.

There is no evidence that the entities uncovered by the ICIJ were used by the oil companies or their executives to engage in illegal conduct, but the secrecy of the offshore world makes their actual purpose unclear.

China’s oil sector makes routine use of offshore jurisdictions, partly as a means to enable overseas investment, or to avoid often arduously bureaucratic restrictions in China or Hong Kong.

However, offshore shells have also been linked to long-running corruption scandals. One report prepared by the Chinese government and released by the Bank of China suggested more than $120bn had been taken away from China since the 1990s – and indicated a large portion of this had been funnelled through the BVI and other offshore jurisdictions.

The report, written in 2011, said corrupt executives had managed to move money into their offshore shell companies through a variety of increasingly sophisticated means, including fake invoices for goods and services.

It also noted that where once offshore work would be done in conjunction with foreigners, executives at China’s oil giants now had ready access to their own supply of shell companies.

“Previously, these type of offshore companies were generally set up by corporate management together with a foreign partner, but now many mainland enterprises or managers already have their own ‘handbag companies’, ” it noted.

Corruption probes have struck right to the top of the companies. In 2009, the former chairman of Sinopec – ranked by Fortune as one of the world’s five largest companies – was given a suspended death sentence for accepting bribes in excess of $28m.

Allies of a former politburo official who rose through the oil companies – Zhou Yongkang, sometimes referred to as the “Dick Cheney” of China – are also facing corruption investigations.

At least five executives from PetroChina, Zhou’s old firm, have lost their jobs, including former vice-president Li Hualin, who once served as Zhou’s private secretary. The company’s former chairman, Jiang Jiemin, who last year took a post overseeing the agency in charge of state assets, has also been removed from his government position.

As yet, the probes into PetroChina, which are ongoing, have not been publicly tied to offshore use, but more details are expected to merge as investigations continue.

Offshore companies are also at the centre of an ongoing US court case brought by a Chinese entrepreneur, Sun Tiangang, against Sinopec officials, who are alleged to have “devised a scheme to effectively crush Mr Sun’s business empire”.

Sun made extensive use of offshore companies in the BVI to enable a deal in which he took over a multibillion dollar oil pipeline in western China. He told the ICIJ such structures allowed him to avoid capital and regulatory controls that would have prevented his business growing.

His lawsuit, filed in US district court in Los Angeles, alleges that Chinese law enforcement officials and Sinopec colluded to detain him illegally in prison for five years from 2005, and while he was there, change the ownership of his offshore entities – which were held by a proxy – to take control of the pipeline.

The ICIJ’s records show conflicting appointment dates for Xing Xaiojing, currently listed as controlling the offshore company Sun says is rightfully his. One document suggests Xing’s involvement began 26 February 2001, another 31 August 2005.

Sinopec has filed a motion to dismiss Sun’s claim, challenging the US as the appropriate jurisdiction for the suit – it suggests China is the appropriate place for the hearing – adding that even if actions had transpired as Sun claimed, it would not amount to what he suggested.

Sinopec did not respond to repeated requests for comment from the ICIJ on the case.


Veteran Chinese dissident declares innocence amid flurry of political trials

Zhao Changqing is one of several members of the New Citizens' Movement to face trial in recent weeks and months

Reuters in Beijing, Thursday 23 January 2014 08.26 GMT   

A veteran Chinese dissident who agitated for officials to disclose their assets has argued his innocence in the second trial of its kind in two days, underscoring the government's resolve to crush any challenge to its rule.

The trial of Zhao Changqing was adjourned earlier on Thursday after he dismissed his two lawyers, a decision that would help him delay his case, one of his lawyers, Zhang Xuezhong, said.

China's government has waged a 10-month drive against the New Citizens' Movement, of which Zhao was a member. The movement advocates working within the system to press for change, including urging officials to disclose their assets.

The hearings against members of the movement are China's highest-profile political trials in years. Prominent rights advocate Xu Zhiyong went on trial on Wednesday but his lawyer said he refused to offer any defence and called the court unjust.

Zhao initiated dinner gatherings in Beijing, where citizens discussed the campaign to urge officials to disclose their assets. He is charged with "gathering a crowd to disturb public order", punishable by up to five years in prison.

Zhang said Zhao told a Beijing courtroom that he was not guilty of any crime.

"He said that all his actions, including promoting the asset disclosure of officials, promoting equal access to education in China and pursuing the realisation of constitutional democracy is completely legitimate and legal and in keeping with the basic principles of modern civilisation," Zhang said.

"He felt that the court was being totally unjust and that their allegations were unfair."

Zhao would be given 15 days to select two new lawyers. "Only by this way can he avoid a hasty court trial that would be wrapped up before the Chinese New Year," Zhang said. "If you delay the time a little, there's always the opportunity that there might be a change."

The campaign against the movement exposes the ambivalence in Beijing's bid to root out pervasive corruption, even as the president, Xi Jinping, leads a new campaign to tackle the problem.

China has detained at least 20 activists involved in pressing for asset disclosure, although not all are from the New Citizens' Movement.

Diplomats said they were shut out of Zhao's trial, which was held under heavy security. Police hauled a dozen petitioners away from the courthouse and barred foreign reporters from getting close.

"As you can see by our continued presence today, the United States remains deeply concerned that Chinese authorities are prosecuting individuals as retribution for their peaceful expression of views," said Daniel Delk, second secretary for the political section at the US embassy.

Delk urged Chinese authorities "to release all political prisoners involved in these cases immediately".

The Global Times, a popular tabloid owned by Chinese Communist party mouthpiece the People's Daily, said China should not be "overly sensitive" about the west giving special attention and support to China's dissidents.

"But the Chinese people will never allow the attitudes of external forces to guide the country's attitude in its internal affairs," it said.

Another activist, Hou Xin, will stand trial in a Beijing court later on Thursday. Hou unfurled a banner in Beijing last year urging officials to disclose their assets.

A Beijing court said Wang Gongquan, a close friend of Xu's and a venture capitalist who was arrested last October, had confessed to "planning and inciting a mob to disturb public order" together with Xu, according to the microblog account of the Beijing No 1 intermediate court.

Zhang Qingfang, Xu's lawyer, disputed the posting, saying it was a "complete distortion of facts".

Five more activists will stand trial in Beijing and the southern city of Guangzhou on Friday and next Monday. Three went on trial in December and face more than 10 years in prison if convicted.

Zhao has been jailed three times for his pro-democracy activities, including a three-month sentence for his involvement in the 4 June 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square.

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« Reply #11436 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:27 AM »

‘Unprecedented treachery’: Australian minister lashes out at Edward Snowden

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 16:25 EST

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop lashed out Wednesday at Edward Snowden, accusing the US intelligence leaker of “unprecedented treachery” after he unveiled Canberra’s efforts to spy on Indonesia.

Bishop praised cooperation with Washington and reserved harsh words for Snowden, whose revelations led Indonesia to halt work with Australia to stem people smuggling, a key priority for new conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Shortly before a meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden in Washington, Bishop said Snowden “continues to shamefully betray his nation while skulking in Russia.

“This represents unprecedented treachery; he is no hero,” she added, in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Snowden claims his actions were driven by a desire for transparency, but in fact they strike at the heart of the collaboration between those nations in world affairs that stand at the forefront of protecting human freedom,” she said.

Reports based on Snowden’s leaks said that the close US ally tried to bug the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and members of his inner circle in 2009.

Indonesia protested by recalling its ambassador and suspending military and immigration cooperation.

More recently, Indonesia responded furiously as Australia entered Indonesian waters in search of would-be refugees, incursions that led to an apology from Canberra.

Snowden, a 30-year-old intelligence contractor, fled the United States in May last year after unveiling that his government was collecting telephone data from millions of US citizens, monitoring vast amounts of private Internet traffic and eavesdropping on the conversations of foreign friends and foes alike.

He fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia, which granted him asylum for a year.

Snowden has strongly denied allegations of betraying the United States, saying that he has not cooperated with foreign agencies and wanted to expose wrongdoing as he had no means to air concerns internally.

Snowden, described by his Russian lawyer as fearing for his life, has said that he is working with journalists who exercise discretion in deciding which revelations to publish.

He has come under heavy criticism from US officials but the public view is more nuanced.

A recent Pew Research Center/USA Today poll found that 45 percent of Americans believed his disclosures served the public interest.

Faced with an uproar, Obama curtailed the reach of the National Security Agency on Friday but has said that Snowden’s disclosures would hurt the United States for years.

‘Constant contact’ with Indonesia

Bishop welcomed Obama’s reforms but said that Australia already had a sufficient level of oversight over its own operations.

“Our intelligence activities are about our national security and national interest and protecting the safety and security of our citizens. It’s about saving lives,” Bishop told reporters before her speech.

Bishop said that she had been “in constant contact” with her Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa despite the recent tensions between the neighbors.

Since winning elections in September, Abbott’s government has launched an operation against people smugglers — who often work through of Indonesia — that includes turning back boats of asylum-seekers, who generally come from the Middle East or South Asia.

Human Rights Watch recently denounced the “draconian” policies and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the navy was accused of mistreating asylum-seekers, with 10 people requiring medical treatment in Indonesia for burns or other injuries.

Bishop said she “cannot imagine for a moment” that the allegations were true but that Australia was willing to work with Indonesia “to ensure that these allegations are scotched.”

“I reject utterly any notion that the Australian government in any way would condone that sort of behavior,” Bishop told reporters.

Abbott, speaking earlier in Davos, Switzerland, defended turning back asylum-seekers as “a matter of sovereignty.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #11437 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:31 AM »

Syria peace talks: war of words over Bashar al-Assad's future

Little sign of constructive action despite Ban Ki-moon's call to seize 'fragile chance'

Ian Black in Montreux
The Guardian, Wednesday 22 January 2014 19.57 GMT      

Syria's bloody crisis moved no nearer to resolution at the Geneva II peace conference on Wednesday as the Damascus government insisted that Bashar al-Assad would not step down and called western-backed rebels fighting to overthrow him "terrorists" and "traitors to their own people".

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, described an "all-encompassing disaster" in Syria but there was little sign in a long day of formal speeches of the constructive action he urged to find a way out of a conflict that has already cost an estimated 130,000 lives, made millions refugees and destabilised the Middle East.

"Our purpose was to send a message to the two Syrian delegations and to the Syrian people that the world wants an urgent end to the conflict," Ban said in a closing press conference at the talks in Montreux. "Enough is enough, the time has to come to negotiate," Ban said. "We must seize this fragile chance."

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, spoke of the "extraordinary suffering" in Syria and stated flatly that Assad would have to go: "There is no way the man who has led a brutal response to his own people can regain the legitimacy to govern," he said. "One man and his henchmen can no longer hold an entire nation hostage."

Kerry also called on Syria to explain the images of thousands of emaciated corpses with numbers scrawled on their chests, part of a report prepared by three senior international legal figures – reported by the Guardian and CNN this week – into suspected war crimes.

Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, called on "all external players to encourage Syrians to reach an accord", and warned that western interference in the Middle East would "turn back the clock".

But the most uncompromising speeches came from Syrian speakers. "No one can grant or withdraw the legitimacy of the president … other than the Syrians themselves," Walid Muallem, Assad's foreign minister, told 40 colleagues in a heavily-guarded hotel overlooking Lake Geneva. "This is their right and duty." The west, he added, "claims to fight terrorism, but it secretly feeds terrorism".

"In Syria, the wombs of pregnant women are cut open, the foetuses killed. Women are raped, dead or alive ... Men are slaughtered in front of their children in the name of the revolution." The US state department later condemned what it called Muallem's "inflammatory rhetoric".

Outside the media centre a few dozen Syrians demonstrated noisily in favour of Assad. "In spirit and fire, we well redeem you Bashar", went one slogan. Another was adapted from the early days of the Arab spring protests in Libya. "Allah, Bashar, Syria, and that's enough," they chanted.

Syrian flags flew alongside the yellow clenched fist and Kalashnikov banner of Hezbollah, whose forces are fighting with the Syrian army. Across the road, a handful of opposition supporters, sheltering behind Swiss gendarmes, hurled back abuse. Further along the lake shore, the campaign group Avaaz dramatised a call for a ceasefire with a macabre enactment. In it a man in an Assad mask stood gloating over a line of mock corpses, wrapped in bloody shrouds in the wreckage of a house hit by shell fire, domestic detritus scattered amid the charred ruins.

Inside the conference, Muallem argued with Ban when the UN chief requested he keep his speech within the prescribed time limit. "You live in New York. I live in Syria," Muallem retorted. "I have the right to give the Syrian version here in this forum." He also launched a furious attack on the opposition. "If you want to speak in the name of the Syrian people, you should not be traitors … or agents in the pay of enemies of the Syrian people," he said.

Ahmad Jarba, president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, condemned the violence Assad had unleashed from the moment protests began in March 2011 and accused him of employing "international mercenaries" such as Hezbollah as well as backing al-Qaida groups to divide and smear his enemies. "It is we who are engaged in a struggle against terrorism," Jarba said. "The revolution is facing Assad's terrorism and the terrorism he has brought into Syria."

Syrian state TV broadcast Jarba's speech on a split screen that showed the opposition leader on the right, under the heading "Montreux, Switzerland", and on the left footage of death and destruction under the heading "Terrorist crimes in Syria". It did not identify him.

The long-awaited Geneva II conference was intended to launch a "peace process" in which the Syrian government and opposition negotiate the creation of a transitional governing body "by mutual consent" – a formula first agreed at the Geneva I conference 18 months ago but never implemented.

Nothing suggested this will be possible. UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will meet separately with both Syrian sides on Thursday to see if they can even sit together in face-to-face talks due to begin on Friday at UN headquarters in Geneva. But diplomats say the best that can be hoped for is that direct talks will not collapse at once, and that they will be sustained by pressure from the respective backers of each Syrian side. It is still unclear, however, whether the protagonists will even be in the same room or hold "proximity talks" with the UN mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, shuttling between them.

Brahimi suggested that there has been some movement on humanitarian issues. "We have had some fairly clear indications that the parties are willing to discuss issues of access to needy people, the liberation of prisoners and local ceasefires," he said.

Speaking at the close of Wednesday's talks, Oxfam's Shaheen Chughtai said: "It took a monumental diplomatic effort to make today's conference happen. Grandstanding aside, the Montreux conference could mark the first step on a long, rocky road to the resolution of this devastating crisis."

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« Reply #11438 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:34 AM »

Protests in Israel staged by asylum seekers from Africa

Government says protesters are 'economic migrants' – they won't be deported, but may be sent to a desert detention centre

Matthew Kalman in Tel Aviv, Wednesday 22 January 2014 20.01 GMT   

Thousands of asylum-seekers who entered Israel illegally from Sudan and Eritrea have staged protests outside UN offices and foreign embassies in Tel Aviv, accusing Israel of neglecting its responsibilities under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. At the same time, supporters held parallel protests at Israeli embassies in 12 capitals, including London, Washington and Paris.

"We left our homeland and our beloved families because of intimidation, persecution and genocide," said Filmon Rezene, 26, who said he risked death if he returned to his native Eritrea. Rezene escaped in a jailbreak six years ago after he was imprisoned for questioning the military's role in his university studies. Three years ago, he was smuggled into Israel over the border with Egypt, across the Sinai desert after a long journey via Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya.

"We are demanding that the UN Human Rights Commission and the international community intervene to stop Israel arresting asylum seekers in the street and make sure there is transparent and fair processing of our requests for refugee status," he said.

More than 50,000 asylum seekers from Africa have arrived in Israel in the past decade, creating a political problem for the government and causing social tensions with local residents in south Tel Aviv where many of them live. Unable to obtain legal work permits, they eke out an existence in dead-end jobs and live in fear of arrest by Israeli immigration officials.

Populist Israeli politicians have seized on the issue, with one member of parliament branding the migrants a cancer and calling for their immediate deportation. After lengthy delays processing asylum applications – some 1,800 have been submitted and none have been approved – the migrants declared a strike two weeks ago and started demonstrating in an effort to pressure Israel into allowing them to stay.

In a rare public comment earlier this month, Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, dismissed their protests. "These are not refugees, but people who are breaking the law and whom we will deal with to the fullest extent of the law," Netanyahu told cabinet ministers.

The migrants said they had higher hopes of compassion from Israel, a country that has previously absorbed successive waves of refugees.

But the Israeli government says that while it will not force any of the migrants to return to Eritrea or Sudan against their will, it does not want them to stay either.

"Israel has never considered itself open to immigration on a broad scale [other than the special arrangements for Jewish immigrants]," said Daniel Solomon, legal adviser to Israel's population and immigration authority. "We see most of this group as illegal economic migrants."

Solomon said no one would be forced to leave, but long-term illegal immigrants could be required to live in a desert detention centre for up to a year under a new immigration law that came into force in January 2012. Since the law was passed and a fence was constructed, largely sealing Israel's border on the desert, the amount of migrants has dwindled from 2,000 a month to single figures.

Solomon said 2,500 migrants – including 2,000 Eritreans and Sudanese – had left Israel "of their own free will" during 2013 and a further 500 this month alone, spurred on by a $3,500 (£2,100) grant to each from the Israeli government. Solomon said Israel was close to implementing an arrangement with a third African country that had agreed to accept thousands of the migrants.

But a crowd of several hundred protesting outside the British embassy on the Tel Aviv seafront on Wednesday disagreed. Some had their mouths taped to symbolise the refusal of Israel to hear their arguments.

"85% of Eritreans and 75% of Sudanese are recognised as refugees by most western countries. Only in Israel are we branded economic migrants," said Rezene.

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« Reply #11439 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:36 AM »

Renowned Scholar in Egypt Charged With Espionage

JAN. 22, 2014
CAIRO — An internationally respected Egyptian political scientist said Wednesday that prosecutors had filed espionage charges against him, making him the second such scholar targeted this month in a widening crackdown on dissent against last summer’s military takeover.

Emad Shahin, a scholar of political Islam who has taught at Harvard, Notre Dame and the American University in Cairo and edited the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics, was charged along with several senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood with conspiring with foreign organizations to undermine Egypt’s national security. He is listed as Defendant 33 in a lengthy criminal complaint that also names former President Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in the takeover.

The charges against Mr. Shahin were filed more than two weeks ago, but they have come to light just as prosecutors have also charged Amr Hamzawy, a liberal political scientist and former lawmaker, with the crime of insulting the judiciary because he questioned a ruling against a group of Western nonprofit organizations.

Both men were among the few public critics of the bloody crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters after the military takeover. Both were also fiercely critical of Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood while they were in power, although previously Mr. Shahin had been relatively more sympathetic to the idea that the Brotherhood might play a constructive role in a new democracy.

Mr. Shahin learned of the complaint, left Egypt before his arrest and on Wednesday he was in Washington for a conference at Georgetown University.

In an emailed statement on Wednesday, he called the charges “baseless,” “politically motivated” and “beyond preposterous,” noting that he had never been a member or supporter of the Brotherhood.

Colleagues who have known him for decades called the charges absurd. “Laughable,” said Nathan J. Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University. “I would sooner believe that Vice President Biden is a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army than I would give credence to the charges against Emad.”
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« Reply #11440 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:39 AM »

Venezuela gives ‘high priority’ importers preferential access to overseas bills

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 17:49 EST

Venezuela said Wednesday it would allow only importers of high priority goods like food to buy dollars at the official rate, forcing others to pay nearly twice that.

Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela’s vice president for economic affairs, insisted the move was not a devaluation of the bolivar currency, even though it would have that effect for those who need US dollars but are not on the priority list.

“This is not a devaluation. This is a different exchange system,” Ramirez said in announcing the sweeping move. “Really, we are building a system of multiple exchange rates.”

Critics, however, noted that the change is a de facto devaluation — which the government needs to help control skyrocketing inflation — with a label on it that sounds appealing to government supporters.

“What they have announced is in no way a system, with multiple exchange rates. This is a system with (imposed) multiple exchange rates. When there are two exchange rates, you are talking about a camouflaged devaluation,” ex-central bank chief Jose Guerra said on Twitter.

Ramirez shot back to reporters: “I won’t be debating whether there was a devaluation.

“We will not give in to the enemy’s blackmailing of our country,” Ramirez said, raising the government’s claim that local “bourgeois” business interests are trying to take advantage of the poor, most of whom support the populist-socialist government.

Under the new regime, Venezuela will only provide dollars at the official rate of 6.3 bolivars to $1 to importers of designated priority goods like food and medical supplies.

Others who need dollars to pay overseas bills will have to buy them at government-run auctions, where $1 costs an average of 1.3 bolivars.

Venezuelans seeking dollars for travel, remittances abroad or non-priority imports will have to buy them at auction market, Ramirez said.

“Here, the big issue is, do we give dollars to travelers or to bring in food? Do we give dollars to speculators or do we bring in goods that are essential to our industry?” he asked.

He did not say how many dollars travelers, who can cash in on the difference between official and black market rates, would be allowed to have. Until now it has been $3,000 a year on credit cards and $500 in cash.

Multiple exchange rate stability?

“This new system of multiple rates is going to be a great stabilizing factor,” Ramirez argued.

Venezuela has been plagued with widespread shortages of staples and other goods under its system of strict currency controls.

That in turn has helped fuel inflation, which is running at 56 percent a year, the worst in Latin America.

Critics say corruption has flourished under the system, as those with access to dollars at the official rate sell them in the black market, where the rate now hovers at 60 bolivars to the dollar.

President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to keep the official rate in place despite pressure for devaluation.

Ramirez, who is also president of the state-oil company that generates 96 percent of Venezuela’s foreign revenues, said that the government plans to exchange $42 billion worth of bolivars this year, $11.4 billion of it through the government-run secondary market.

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« Reply #11441 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:41 AM »

Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system, lets off steam

Twin jets on asteroid Ceres, which has a surface area roughly the same as India, release 21 tonnes of water vapour every hour

Ian Sample, science correspondent, Thursday 23 January 2014 09.38 GMT    

Astronomers have spotted jets of steam coming from opposite sides of the largest asteroid in the solar system. The twin plumes of water vapour erupting from the space rock were noticed during a series of observations with the Herschel Space Telescope between October 2012 and March last year.

Researchers said the steam was produced either by the warmth of the sun vaporising ice beneath the surface, or a form of volcanic activity that is forcing water out of the asteroid's warm interior.

The scientists' calculations show that Ceres, technically a dwarf planet, releases around 21 tonnes of water vapour every hour from two dark patches on the surface. The amount is small for a ball of rock that measures 950km across and has roughly the same surface area as India.

"Asteroids have been suggested, along with comets, as a possible source of the water on Earth," said Michael Küppers, a planetary scientist at the European Space Astronomy Centre in Villanueva de la Cañada in Spain. "Our detection of water on Ceres makes it more plausible that Earth's water could have come from impacts from these bodies."

The Italian monk Giuseppe Piazzi discovered Ceres by accident on New Year's Day in 1801 while he was cataloguing stars in the constellation of Taurus. Piazzi named the rock – the first object discovered in the asteroid belt – after the Roman goddess of corn and harvests.

For the latest observations, reported in Nature, Küppers and his colleagues peered at Ceres through the European Space Agency's Herschel infra-red space telescope. They watched the comet for 2.5 hours on each of two days in October 2011, and for 10 hours in March 2013.

The telescope measured heat coming from the asteroid's surface and found that it lessened when the body was obscured by eruptions of water vapour. On the third day of observations, the astronomers took measurements as the asteroid completed a full revolution. From this, they concluded that water vapour was coming from two dark patches of ground on the asteroid's surface.

The asteroid was 300 million kilometres away when the astronomers made the observations. It was spinning about an axis perpendicular to the line of sight from the telescope, and made one full revolution every nine hours.

To work out how much water the asteroid was releasing, the scientists looked at how much infra-red radiation from the rock was absorbed by the vapour plumes. They calculated that the asteroid lost at least one hundred million billion billion molecules of water a second. Or 6kg.

Küppers said that most of the water vapour released by the asteroid was lost in space, with perhaps 20% falling back on to the surface of the rock. "I would not expect much of an atmosphere to form around Ceres," he said.

The dark patches of ground on Ceres might be craters that reach down to an icy layer that is not exposed on the rest of the asteroid. Or they may simply be made from darker material that absorbs more heat from the sun, causing surface ice to vaporise more readily.

"It's quite fascinating what's happening on Ceres," said Fred Taylor, Halley professor of physics at Oxford University. "Either water is escaping from inside, which can happen if you have heat in the interior, or it is coming from icy deposits on or near the surface."

"It's a tribute to the observers that they can see these tiny amounts of water," Taylor added. "Ceres is a major member of the solar system and learning about it is intriguing. You never go wrong with new knowledge."

The direct detection of water on Ceres adds weight to an idea of how objects have moved around in the solar system. The asteroid belt where Ceres orbits marks an effective "snow line" in the solar system. Objects that formed inside the snowline tend to be rocky and dry, while those that formed outside are icy. The discovery of water on Ceres suggests that some icy bodies that form beyond the snow line might gradually make their way into the asteroid belt.

Writing in an accompanying article in the journal, Humberto Campins and Christine Comfort at the University of Central Florida say that the movement of giant planets in the early solar system might have disturbed the orbits of asteroids and comets, which then crashed into the Earth and moon.

"These small bodies delivered organic molecules and water to Earth. Hence, early impacts by asteroids and comets might have played a considerable part in the origin and evolution of life on our planet."

• This article was amended on 22 January 2014. The original stated that the asteroid was three million kilometres away. This has been corrected. 

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« Reply #11442 on: Jan 23, 2014, 07:42 AM »

Physicist says he’s solved the big mystery — how life came from matter — and he may be right

By Travis Gettys
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 15:17 EST

The origin of life is basically inevitable from a mathematical standpoint, according to one physicist, and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

Jeremy England, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he’s developed a mathematical formula to explain his theory that matter necessarily acquires the key attributes for life if placed under certain conditions.

The 31-year-old England theorized that a group of atoms driven by an external energy source, such as the sun, and placed in a heat bath, such as the ocean or atmosphere, will eventually restructure itself to disperse heat – a defining characteristic of life.

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England told Quanta Magazine.

Many scientists believe a primordial soup, lightning and extraordinary luck sparked the formation of life and its subsequent evolution, but England says his theory follows the fundamental laws of nature and complements Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

“I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he said. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”

But if England’s idea can be demonstrated, it would allow biologists to stop seeking a Darwinian explanation for every adaptation and view organisms more generally as energy dissipators.

Although his idea is controversial among other physicists, England’s theoretical results are generally considered to be valid – even if his formula remains unproven.

Researchers are eager to test whether his formula, based on the second law of thermodynamics that helps explain the transfer of heat from a source, might represent the driving force that created life.

“We can show very simply from the formula that the more likely evolutionary outcomes are going to be the ones that absorbed and dissipated more energy from the environment’s external drives on the way to getting there,” England said.

For example, a plant absorbs sunlight energy, uses it to create sugars and disperses infrared light, another form of energy.

Biological reproduction is a logical process for dispersing more and more energy over time, he theorized, adding that the theoretical minimum amount of dissipation that occurs during the replication of RNA molecules and bacterial cells is very close to the actual amount measured during that process.

“A great way of dissipating more is to make more copies of yourself,” England said.

Scientists have already observed self-replication in nonliving systems, such as vortices in turbulent fluids that replicate by drawing energy from surrounding liquid, and England said snowflakes and sand dunes also demonstrate an internal order using condensation and wind.

“He is making me think that the distinction between living and nonliving matter is not sharp,” said Carl Franck, a biological physicist at Cornell University.

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« Reply #11443 on: Jan 23, 2014, 08:18 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Watchdog Report Says N.S.A. Program Is Illegal and Should End

JAN. 23, 2014

WASHINGTON — An independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the National Security Agency’s program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down.

The findings are laid out in a 238-page report, scheduled for release by Thursday and obtained by The New York Times, that represent the first major public statement by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress made an independent agency in 2007 and only recently became fully operational.

The report is likely to inject a significant new voice into the debate over surveillance, underscoring that the issue was not settled by a high-profile speech President Obama gave last week. Mr. Obama consulted with the board, along with a separate review group that last month delivered its own report about surveillance policies. But while he said in his speech that he was tightening access to the data and declared his intention to find a way to end government collection of the bulk records, he said the program’s capabilities should be preserved.

The Obama administration has portrayed the bulk collection program as useful and lawful while at the same time acknowledging concerns about privacy and potential abuse. But in its report, the board lays out what may be the most detailed critique of the government’s once-secret legal theory behind the program: that a law known as Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the F.B.I. to obtain business records deemed “relevant” to an investigation, can be legitimately interpreted as authorizing the N.S.A. to collect all calling records in the country.

The program “lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value,” the report said. “As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.”

While a majority of the five-member board embraced that conclusion, two members dissented from the view that the program was illegal. But the panel was united in 10 other recommendations, including deleting raw phone records after three years instead of five and tightening access to search results.

The report also sheds light on the history of the once-secret bulk collection program. It contains the first official acknowledgment that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court produced no judicial opinion detailing its legal rationale for the program until last August, even though it had been issuing orders to phone companies for the records and to the N.S.A. for how it could handle them since May 2006.

The privacy board’s legal critique of the program was approved by David Medine, the board’s chairman and a former Federal Trade Commission official in the Clinton administration; Patricia M. Wald, a retired federal appeals court judge named to the bench by President Jimmy Carter; and James X. Dempsey, a civil liberties advocate who specializes in technology issues.

But the other two members — Rachel L. Brand and Elisebeth Collins Cook, both of whom were Justice Department lawyers in the George W. Bush administration — rejected the finding that the program was illegal.

They wrote in separate dissents that the board should have focused exclusively on policy and left legal analysis to the courts. Last month, two Federal District Court judges reached opposite legal conclusions in separate lawsuits challenging the program.

Ms. Brand wrote that while the legal question was “difficult,” the government’s legal theory was “at least a reasonable reading, made in good faith by numerous officials in two administrations of different parties.” She also worried that declaring that counterterrorism officials “have been operating this program unlawfully for years” could damage morale and make agencies overly cautious in taking steps to protect the country.

But the privacy board was unanimous in recommending a series of immediate changes to the program. The three in the majority wanted those changes as part of a brief wind-down period, while the two in dissent wanted them to be structural for a program that would continue.

Some of those recommendations dovetailed with the steps Mr. Obama announced last week, including limiting analysts’ access to the call records of people no further than two links removed from a suspect, instead of three, and creating a panel of outside lawyers to serve as public advocates in major cases involving secret surveillance programs.

The fact that "that Congress acquiesced to that secret interpretation of the law" is hardly a valid argument for its legality.  

Other recommendations — like deleting data faster — were not mentioned in the president’s speech. And all members of the board expressed privacy concerns about requiring phone companies to retain call records longer than they normally would, which might be necessary to meet Mr. Obama’s stated goal of finding a way to preserve the program’s ability without having the government collect the bulk data.

The program began in late 2001 based on wartime authority claimed by President Bush. In 2006, the Bush administration persuaded the surveillance court to begin authorizing the program based on the Patriot Act under a theory the Obama administration would later embrace.

But the privacy board’s report criticized that, saying that the legal theory was a “subversion” of the law’s intent, and that the program also violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

“It may have been a laudable goal for the executive branch to bring this program under the supervision” of the court, the report says. “Ultimately, however, that effort represents an unsustainable attempt to shoehorn a pre-existing surveillance program into the text of a statute with which it is not compatible.”

Defenders of the program have argued that Congress acquiesced to that secret interpretation of the law by twice extending its expiration without changes. But the report rejects that idea as “both unsupported by legal precedent and unacceptable as a matter of democratic accountability.”

The report also scrutinizes in detail a handful of investigations in which the program was used, finding “no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”

Still, in her dissent, Ms. Cook criticized judging the program’s worth based only on whether it had stopped an attack to date. It also has value as a tool that can allow investigators to “triage” threats and provide “peace of mind” if it uncovers no domestic links to a newly discovered terrorism suspect, she wrote.


We’ve Got Your Number

JAN. 22, 2014
Linda Greenhouse  

A generation ago, the Supreme Court was faced with deciding whether the police needed a warrant before installing a newfangled device at a telephone company switching office that could record the numbers dialed from a particular telephone. The answer the court gave was no.

After all, Justice Harry A. Blackmun explained in his majority opinion, people know that the telephone company keeps track of the numbers they call -- they see their long-distance calls listed on their monthly bill. “It is too much to believe,” he wrote, “that telephone subscribers, under these circumstances, harbor any general expectation that the numbers they dial will remain secret.” The absence of a “legitimate expectation of privacy” in information voluntarily conveyed to the phone company, the court concluded, meant that the use of the device, a “pen register,” was not even a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches. Hence, no warrant was required.

This case, Smith v. Maryland, was no big deal in its day. (And the defendant in the garden-variety case that led to the decision was no criminal mastermind -- he was making harassing calls from his home phone.) The majority opinion was only 11 pages long. There were three dissenting votes, but the dissenting opinions lacked passion. After Justice Blackmun circulated his final draft in June 1979, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger responded by agreeing that “the urge for privacy does not rise to the level of a constitutionally protected right.” The chief justice added that “Congress could require a warrant but the Constitution does not.”

He ended his note with a lighthearted P.S.: “I’m going to use a public phone for my calls to my bookie.”

Thirty-five years later, telephones and their users’ privacy concerns are obviously no joking matter. They are the question of the hour. Constitutional challenges to the National Security Agency’s bulk telephone data collection produced opposing Federal District Court rulings last month, and the issue appears destined for the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the justices last week accepted two cases with less obvious national security implications but much greater relevance to many Americans: whether the police need a warrant in order to search the contents of a cellphone of a person they have just arrested. These cases, United States v. Wurie and Riley v. California, will probably be argued in April and decided in June.

All the cases will be dissected in minute detail in the coming months, but that’s not my goal here. I’m interested in the ultimate answers, of course, but what I find most intriguing at the moment is watching how judges respond to the challenge of figuring out how old precedents fit with new realities.

The fit is awkward at best; the Supreme Court’s description of a pen register -- “a mechanical device that records” on a paper tape “the numbers dialed on a telephone by monitoring the electrical impulses caused when the dial on the telephone is released” -- reads like something from Alexander Graham Bell’s laboratory. Differing conclusions about whether the old cases are even relevant, let alone controlling, have divided the lower courts, state as well as federal. For anyone interested in how the law develops in a system ostensibly governed by precedent, the progress of these cases promises to be the best show in town.

Take the N.S.A. cases. The government’s constitutional defense relies heavily on the pen-register decision for the argument that anyone who voluntarily uses a phone yields up any reasonable privacy interest in the “bulk telephony metadata,” consisting of the numbers from which calls were made and received.

Judge Richard J. Leon of the Federal District Court in Washington was having none of it. In the Smith case, he said, the Supreme Court “considered a one-time, targeted request for data regarding an individual suspect in a criminal investigation.” He suggested that the court that issued that decision would agree that it was of “little value” in assessing the N.S.A. program: “The notion that the government could collect similar data on hundreds of millions of people and retain that data for a five-year period, updating it with new data every day in perpetuity, was at best, in 1979, the stuff of science fiction.” Judge Leon ordered the government to stop collecting telephone data on the two plaintiffs in the case, Klayman v. Obama. He then granted a stay to permit the government to appeal.

But barely a week later, another federal district judge, William H. Pauley III of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, gave a very different reading to Smith v. Maryland. He suggested that the pen register, aimed at a known individual, entailed a more direct invasion of personal privacy than does the N.S.A.'s collection of anonymous data: “Smith involved the investigation of a single crime and the collection of telephone call detail records collected by the telephone company at its central office, examined by the police, and related to the target of their investigation, a person identified previously by law enforcement.” If that wasn’t a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, Judge Pauley concluded, then neither was the N.S.A.'s program. “Clear precedent applies because Smith held that a subscriber has no legitimate expectation of privacy in telephony metadata created by third parties.”

In his opinion in A.C.L.U. v. Clapper, Judge Pauley took note of the Supreme Court’s own worries about adapting old cases to new technologies. Two years ago this week, in United States v. Jones, the court ruled 9 to 0 that the placement by the police of a GPS device on a suspect’s car in order to monitor his whereabouts over a period of weeks was a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion decided the case the old-fashioned way: that by attaching the device to the suspect’s car, the police had committed a physical trespass. But five justices, in concurring opinions, warned that the deeper doctrinal implications of the case couldn’t be so easily avoided. For one thing, many cars come already equipped with GPS systems, Justice Samuel A. Alito observed.

And Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in perhaps the best-known opinion of her tenure so far, wrote that “it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties.” Citing Maryland v. Smith, she added, “This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”

Still, as Judge Pauley noted in his opinion in the New York case, “The Supreme Court did not overrule Smith.”

The cellphone cases the court accepted last week challenge the applicability of another Fourth Amendment precedent from the 1970s. United States v. Robinson applied a doctrine known as “search incident to arrest” to uphold the warrantless search of a cigarette pack in the coat pocket of a man they had just arrested for driving without a license. Inside the pack were 14 capsules filled with heroin. Writing for the court, then-Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist said that as long as there was probable cause to make an arrest in the first place, “a full search of the person is not only an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment, but is also a ‘reasonable’ search under that Amendment.”

But a cellphone is much more revealing than a pack of cigarettes, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston, said last May in one of the cases the Supreme Court has agreed to review. By a vote of 2 to 1, the appeals court suppressed the evidence -- drugs, a gun and ammunition -- the police found when they tracked the address of “my house” from the call log of a cellphone belonging to a man they had just arrested after witnessing his involvement in an apparent drug sale.

Writing for the appeals court, Judge Norman H. Stahl criticized the government for having “hewed to a formalistic interpretation of the case law,” namely the “search incident to arrest” doctrine of the Robinson case. “The court, more than 35 years ago,” Judge Stahl wrote, “could not have envisioned a world in which the vast majority of arrestees would be carrying on their person an item containing not physical evidence but a vast store of intangible data -- data that is not immediately destructible and poses no threat to the arresting officers.”

On the other hand, the California Supreme Court in 2011 adopted the Robinson decision as part of its own interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, meaning that the police in California can routinely search the cellphones of the people they arrest. The California case the justices accepted is an appeal by a man who was arrested for having loaded weapons in his car and whose cellphone contained text and photographs suggesting involvement in a gang shooting.

Three years ago, the California Legislature passed a bill to require the police to obtain a warrant before searching a cellphone. But Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, saying that “courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case-specific issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizure protections.”

It’s not every day that an elected official invites judges to legislate from the bench. I don’t know what the Supreme Court will do. But the justices surely know that they can’t put the future on hold. It’s here.


Tech leaders at Davos: Mass Internet surveillance is bad for business

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 13:42 EST

Hi-tech bosses on Wednesday demanded that authorities change their murky ways in the wake of revelations of vast snooping by the United States and other governments that have raised concerns over privacy.

Just days after President Barack Obama unveiled measures to fight back against accusations of government overreach, executives at the swanky World Economic Forum in Davos said security demands by state authorities posed a business risk.

“We need to be able to rebuild trust with our users,” said Marissa Mayer, chief executive of Internet portal Yahoo!

“It’s been the wild, wild West around the world,” said John T. Chambers, chief executive of data systems company Cisco on a panel discussing the state of the digital world.

The warning shots came after a widespread furore over claims by Edward Snowden, the fugitive US contractor now exiled in Russia, that US spies were accessing the data of Internet users around the world, bypassing privacy laws and national safeguards.

“Trust has suffered not only in the US but also internationally in countries that really have concerns about what the NSA is looking at,” Mayer said.

Snowden’s revelations have raised fears of a user backlash against US Internet giants such as Yahoo! and Google, seen as too compliant with Washington’s demands for information on web surfers.

Mayer said Internet users needed reassurances, including “the ability to understand what type of data we’re being asked (to provide) and how that data is going to be used,” she said.

Her concerns came just days after Obama trimmed the powers of the secretive US eavesdropping agency by calling for new privacy safeguards, but allowed bulk phone data sweeps to continue as an anti-terror tool.

‘Too murky’

While privacy watchers called Obama’s measures insufficient, the executives in Davos said the dialogue had just begun.

“It’s too murky at the moment,” said Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT Group, the British telecom group. “The legislation and the regulation has to catch up,” he said.

Randall Stephenson, boss of US telecom giant AT&T, said the debate really began after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, when security worries became paramount.

But now the pendulum is swinging back and an equilibrium needs to be found, he said: “There’s a balance to be had here.

“And I think the customer really has to have a lot of say on where that pendulum sits.”

Obama’s proposals were interpreted as a way to strike a balance between the demands of civil liberties advocates and the security concerns of the US intelligence community.

But a survey published Tuesday in the United States found that Obama had failed to reassure most Americans, with three-quarters saying their privacy would not be better protected under the changes.

BT’s Patterson said he did not believe 100 percent privacy was possible because of security concerns.

Most of the Davos participants cited transparency as a key concern.

Mayer said local authorities in the United States had already provided her company with some information about why the data were being requested.

She said this policy should be expanded to the powerful NSA.

Cisco’s Chambers called for “rules of the road that everyone can live with, especially among countries that are very closely allied,” in a veiled reference to allegations that the United States also closely spies on its friends.

Speakers in a later panel on “The Big Brother Problem” were more emphatic.

“You cannot have mass surveillance, it is simply a violation of international law,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, who dismissed the choice between privacy and security as “a false debate”.

“This question of the right to privacy has to be one of the defining issues of our times,” he said.

US Senator Patrick J. Leahy, who works on security and privacy issues, said the United States was “collecting far too much information, and it’s not making us safer.”

“My concern is the extent a government can snoop on you and alter your ability to act as a free individual,” he said.

He feared a world where an individual’s personal history on the Internet, stored away forever, could far too easily be turned against the innocent user.


McDonnell case should spark debate over corporate influence, say experts

Ex-Virginia governor blasts prosecutors after being accused of accepting gifts from local businessman in return for favours    

    Dan Roberts in Washington, Wednesday 22 January 2014 20.01 GMT   

Bob McDonnell and Maureen McDonnell Republican Bob McDonnell alongside his wife, Maureen during a news conference in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday. Photograph: Steve Helber/AP

Federal corruption charges against former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell should spur a wider debate about how business executives are able to legally buy political influence, even if they don’t excuse his alleged private enrichment, independent legal experts say.

McDonnell, a Republican who left office due to term limits just 10 days before he was indicted, lashed out at prosecutors in a press conference on Tuesday after he and his wife were each charged with 13 counts of fraud and conspiracy for accepting scores of personal gifts and loans in exchange for lending support to a local businessman.

“The federal government's case rests entirely on a misguided legal theory, that facilitating an introduction or a meeting, appearing at a reception or expressing support for a Virginia business is a serious federal crime if it involves a political donor or someone who gave an official a gift,” said McDonnell.

“The United States supreme court has already rejected this radical idea, and for good reason, because if it were applied as the law of the land then nearly every elected official from President Obama on down would have to be charged for providing tangible benefits to donors.”

McDonnell's defence was dismissed on Wednesday by various experts on campaign finance regulations, who say the law still makes a clear distinction between the lavish private gifts of the type he admits accepting, and donations that are used to fund political campaigns, which are kept to certain financial limits under the law and are not supposed to be diverted for personal use.

“There is absolutely a difference between personal and private, even if it can sometimes be difficult to define in every instance,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“The magic words are: is it used for a 'political, legislative or governmental purpose', and a Rolex is not, a dress is not. You don't get to use campaign funds as a personal piggybank.”

But Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, believes the supreme court ruling that McDonnell cited does leave a grey area over what businesses can expect in return for payments to politicians, especially after Congress failed to tighten the law in the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.

“The [McDonnell] case adds weight to the argument that the system is corrupting,” said McGehee. “In the public's eyes, they don't differentiate. It is only campaign finance lawyers in Washington who draw these fine distinctions. For the public, all they see is a guy on the take,”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the supreme court’s landmark Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission case in 2010, argued that political spending by businesses was protected under the first amendment and does not undermine faith in politicians.

A ruling in a case that could lead to the supreme court lifting caps on individual donations to campaigns on similar free speech grounds is expected in the next few weeks.

Though neither case would allow private use of funds in the way allegedly seen in McDonnell’s case,, the scandal does support fears raised by former justice John Stevens, who dissented in the Citizens judgement, arguing that “corruption operates along a spectrum”.

While she rejected the claims McDonnell made in his own defence on Tuesday, McGehee believes the case will add pressure to calls to tighten, rather than relax, federal rules on what donors are allowed to seek in return for their money.

“It is a good development in the sense that it shows how dangerous the current system is,” she said. “And it's bad because it destroys public confidence and fosters cynicism in the democratic process.”

McDonnell's claim that all politicians offer benefits to their donors in some way may also resonate with the public, especially since the favours he allegedly provided his benefactor appear to have come mainly in the form of providing endorsement and access, rather than changing the law or granting public contracts.

Few politicians in Washington could argue they never gave preferential personal access to donors. Barack Obama, for example, was instructed by Hollywood donor Jeffrey Katzenberg to make sure he personally spent time at each table of paying guests during a recent campaign fundraiser, according to claims recounted in a New Yorker profile of Obama published this week.

“What President Obama does is not illegal, but unquestionably those who can give large sums obtain different types of access and a different type of relationship from those who don't: that's our current legal framework,” said Levinson. “The difference here is that McDonnell kicked it over on to the illegal side, but in terms of what he provided? A lot of people do that.”

Most observers scoff at the idea that McDonnell didn't know where the boundary lay.

Kathy Kiely, a seasoned campaign finance expert at the Sunlight Foundation, said a politician letting a businessman buy them a Rolex could never been seen as a simple conflict of interest.

“From my years of covering politics, I think the big problem is guys and gals who start rubbing shoulders with rich folk and then feel a need to emulate them,” she said.

This view certainly seems supported by emails disclosed by prosecutors showing McDonnell's wife demanding that the donor buy her a designer dress to wear to the gubernatorial inauguration.

But politicians are often allowed to transfer funds from campaign coffers to fund other aspects of their inauguration, such as events.

“The accusations are absolutely qualitatively different from what happens elsewhere and I'm not forgiving anything,” said Levinson. “But there is an argument that if you say, 'Buy me a $50,000 watch and I'll do x for you', it's better than what happens now, which is a tacit version of that. It's at least out in the open.”


Special Election Victory By Democrat Jennifer Wexton Completes GOP Collapse in Virginia

By: Keith Brekhus
Wednesday, January, 22nd, 2014, 8:53 pm

A year ago the Virginia Republican Party held the Governor’s office, the Lieutenant Governor’s office and the Attorney General’s office. In 2012, Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell was considered as a strong potential running mate for Mitt Romney. He was also billed as a possible presidential candidate for 2016. At the 2013 state GOP convention, delegates selected a slate of conservative candidates to run in the fall election that included Ken Cuccinelli for Governor, E.W. Jackson for Lt. Governor and Mark Obenshain for Attorney General. All three of them lost and their offices switched from red to blue.

However, last night the GOP had a chance for a small measure of redemption. In a special election to fill newly elected Attorney General Mark Herring’s old seat, and party control of the State Senate at stake, the Republicans at least had an opportunity to halt the bleeding. Although Virginia’s 33rd Senate District leans Democratic, Republicans were hopeful that a low turnout special election in the midst of a winter snowstorm, would give them a chance to win the race and secure a Republican majority in the State Senate.

Voters decided otherwise. Democrat Jennifer Wexton coasted to a resounding 53-37 victory over Republican John Whitbeck.  Joe T. May, a former Republican, running as an Independent garnered the remaining ten percent.  The Republicans still hold a majority in the state’s lower house (the House of Delegates), but Wexton’s victory gives Democrats control of the upper chamber, although the 6th District race won by Democrat Lynwood Lewis is still undergoing a recount.

With last night’s demoralizing defeat, the collapse of the Virginia Republican Party is nearly complete. Republicans won Virginia in ten state Presidential elections from 1968 to 2004. Barack Obama swung the commonwealth into the blue column in 2008, but the GOP regained their footing in 2009, sweeping the statewide races of Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General.  The revival proved short lived however. Now Bob McDonnell is more likely to find himself living in a prison cell than in the White House. Democrats not only control the state offices of Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, but they also hold both US Senate seats. A recent poll shows Incumbent Senator Mark Warner (D) leading GOP challenger Ed Gillespie by a daunting 29 points, 50-21.

Yesterday’s special election merely underscored what has already become obvious to many political observers. The Republican message is falling flat on its face in Virginia. The state is turning blue and there is no evidence that it has any intentions of turning back.


Mitch McConnell Embarrasses Himself and Insults Kentucky Voters With First Ad of 2014

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, January, 22nd, 2014, 11:48 am   

In an embarrassing display of laziness, Mitch McConnell’s first campaign ad of 2014 is actually a lie filled recycled ad from 2008 that is an insult to Kentucky voters.

Here is the original ad:

Here is the 2014 version of the same ad:

The ad uses the same message, tells the same story, and even the same throat cancer surviving energy worker Robert Pierce. The ad isn’t even true. Instead of delivering for the workers who were exposed to dangerous chemicals in Paducah, McConnell didn’t take action for 14 years.

According to a HuffPost story, McConnell ignored the pleas of people who lived near the plant, and had been exposed to toxins, “In the late ’80s, wells near the plant were showing signs of possible contamination. Ronald Lamb helped run a mechanic shop on his family’s old farmland a few miles from the plant. He and his father and mother all drank from the same well and started getting sick. ‘We thought we were dying,’ Lamb told HuffPost. ‘I lost the hair on my arms. It looked like I had chemo.’ On Aug. 12, 1988, government officials contacted 10 households with an ominous directive: Stop drinking and bathing in the water from their wells. The Department of Energy began sealing off wells near the plant and re-routing the water supply for roughly 100 residences. Lamb says he repeatedly wrote letters to his local elected officials, including McConnell, but didn’t get much more than a form letter in response. ‘They felt your pain but felt like you were being taken care of,’ Lamb recalls… Ruby English, a West Paducah resident whose well was shut off, says her husband Ray had also written to McConnell without success. English had thyroid and colon cancer. Ray worked in the nearby wildlife refuge bordering the plant, she says, and he’d come home with stories about seeing the creek water turn purple and yellow. He’d drink from the well and wash in the creek. He died a few years ago, his immune system a wreck. ‘The damage is done. I feel sorry for the workers the most,’ English says. ‘They’re right in the middle of it. … It’s pathetic, it really is.’

By using a recycled ad as his first ad of 2014, Mitch McConnell is sending several unintended messages to Kentucky voters. The first message is that he and his campaign are lazy. There is nothing new in the 2014 version of this ad. This kind of behavior is the mark of a lazy and arrogant campaign who believe that they already have the election won. Reviving an old ad also reveals a candidate that has nothing new to say. McConnell is telling voters that he intends on doing nothing for the future. He has no future vision or direction. McConnell displays this same mentality as a Senate Minority Leader whose only purpose is to obstruct everything. McConnell is telegraphing that he can’t run on his record, so the campaign is going to be about distractions, recycled ads, and personal attacks on his opponent.

This ad was an embarrassment. The Beltway media (MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and The Washington Post among others) are playing along with McConnell and selling this ad as new. If McConnell had a conscience he would be ashamed of this ad. It is an embarrassing insult to the voters to recycle an ad that isn’t even true.

If Mitch McConnell isn’t even going to try, why should Kentucky voters bother voting for him? McConnell looks ready for retirement, and voters can help send him there this November.


Game On: Alison Grimes Launches a Jobs Missile at Mitch McConnell

by: Sarah Jones
Thursday, January, 23rd, 2014, 8:00 am   

Kentucky Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes has launched a where are the jobs missile at struggling Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with a new ad, in which a constituent says, “Mitch McConnell has been in there for 30 years, and I have yet to see his jobs plan.” Ouch.

Alison for Kentucky released “Our Strength Is Our People: David’s Story,” featuring Harlan County’s David Kennedy. Watch here:

Mr. Kennedy laid out how Mitch McConnell abandoned the county, “Mitch McConnell has been in there for 30 years, and I have yet to see his jobs plan.” He continued, “About five or six years ago, Mitch McConnell came into Harlan County, talked for a few minutes and then he got on his bus and he went on his way and we haven’t seen him since.”

Mr. Kennedy sees Alison Grimes as someone who will get things done. There can be no bigger dig at a Republican – party of the Government Shutdown – than this. And Mitch McConnell clearly couldn’t control the junior senator from Texas who shut the country down and cost us all millions of dollars doing it.

Kennedy said, “The first time I met Alison Grimes, she was running for Secretary of State. When the lady got up and spoke, I immediately turned my head and I said, ‘Wow. She’s sharp, she’s smart, she knows what she’s talking about. She’s quick on her feet. She would be one of the greatest things we could do for Kentucky, to send her on to Washington.’ We’ve heard a lot of politicians talk in the past, and I have confidence that Alison Grimes is not just a talker, but a doer.”


Doing something.

Republicans have made easy targets of themselves by making history doing nothing. Mitch McConnell can’t be held personally responsible for the Republican-led House of Representatives, but Mitch McConnell can be held personally responsible for turning his back on the middle class in his home state.

It’s awkward because Alison Grimes is not in office as Senator to her state, and yet she has a real jobs plan. She is the only Kentucky Senatorial candidate to have a real jobs plan. McConnell has been trying to tie Grimes to Obama on any issue he can since he can’t very well be honest about his own policies and get re-elected. McConnell has tried hard to tie Grimes to Obama on coal because it’s a such a sensitive issue in the state, and yet this is one of the few issues the Republican and Democrat agree upon (the regulations issue re coal is off the table, now what, McConnell?).

While Grimes and McConnell both take pot shots at coal regulations as a job deterrent, analysts say that “federal regulations are only one factor in the regional downturn.” Thus, it’s rather important to have a jobs plan that focuses on something other than coal — in addition to promising to deregulate coal, if you will.

The point really is that McConnell has been blaming regulations for the lack of jobs, but what has he done about bringing in new jobs? Is he going to whinge on about regulations forever and act like he’s impotent to do anything else for another 30 years? Republicans sure had no problem shutting down the government over their angst at millions getting access to affordable healthcare, so if they wanted to make a stink about actual jobs for the middle class, they could and they would.

Kentucky.Com laid out her jobs plan, which you can also read in detail here.

    Grimes’ plan addressed a wide range of issues, calling for more affordable child care; improved education in science, math and computers; more support for entrepreneurs and workforce training; expanded early-childhood education; and improved high-speed Internet access in rural areas.

    Grimes also advocated raising the minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 to $10.10, arguing it would raise the standard of living for many families. She elicited a standing ovation by saying that a minimum wage increase is long past due.

McConnell has voted against raising the minimum wage and for some reason is against pay equity for women, calling equal pay for equal work just another “special interest vote”. Do tell, Senator.


The Grimes campaign explained in a statement, “Unlike Mitch McConnell, Alison understands that unemployment and under-employment are more than a set of numbers; they are the stories of real people.”

Just how long can Mitch McConnell and the GOP get away with not having a real jobs plan and just pointing their fingers and whining?

Jobs. Doing something. It’s what the people really want.

It’s only a matter of time until Democrats started attacking Republicans over their historical laziness and refusal to govern.

While Republicans did their victory dance over glitches in the Obamacare website, and foolishly banked on running against glitches and evil healthcare for the people, Democratic candidates were just waiting in the wings to hit Republicans over the head with their refusal to do anything about jobs.


Wendy Davis’ Ex-Husband Admirably Refuses To Play GOP’s Gotcha Game

By: Justin Baragona
Wednesday, January, 22nd, 2014, 3:18 pm   

On Tuesday, Jeff Davis declined CNN’s request to appear in an on-camera interview regarding Wendy Davis’ personal life story. Instead, he gave them an email response stating that he feels that Wendy Davis “would make a very capable governor.” This was not only an instance of Mr. Davis showing the utmost respect for his ex-wife and her current situation, but also his refusal to play the media ‘gotcha’ game that the GOP was hoping for. He is not allowing himself to get caught up in a non-story that is only out there in an attempt to bring down a person that scares the crap out of the Republican Party and Texas conservatives.

This all stems from supposed ‘discrepancies’ in Wendy Davis’ past comments about her life. Basically, Republicans are trying to discredit her story that she went from being a young, single mother who lived in a trailer and that she was able to work her way up through Harvard Law School and is now on the verge up being Governor of Texas. Since conservatives in Texas see her as a huge threat to the political status quo there, recently they’ve decided to play semantics with the details and question her honesty.

Due to an article that was published on Sunday in the Dallas Morning News, Republicans, and especially her gubernatorial opponent Greg Abbott’s campaign, have grabbed hold of the narrative that Davis did not have it nearly as hard as she’s stated and that she is a liar. And since she is a liar and a fake, she cannot be trusted. Essentially, they are making it seem like she had an easy road to get where she is now and that things were never tough for her. That she made it all up. In fact, conservatives made #MoreFakeThanWendyDavis trend on Twitter earlier this week.

Davis herself decided to address this ‘controversy’ head on, and released a bullet-point, detailed history of her adult life. While she didn’t technically get divorced until she was 21, she was separated from her first husband when she was 19 and lived in a trailer at that point with her daughter. Therefore, her saying she was a single mother living in a trailer when she was 19 may not be ‘technically’ correct, but only an obtuse a-hole would make an issue of it.

Apparently, another issue for the Republicans is that Wendy Davis hasn’t given enough credit to her second husband regarding the assistance he gave towards her getting her law degree at Harvard. While this is completely false, as she has on many times in interviews stated that Jeff Davis was pivotal in helping her achieve her current position, it shouldn’t be surprising that a husband assists his wife financially and vice versa. That is what marriage is. The family finances go towards all of the family members. Why was it necessary for Wendy Davis to have to explain that they used money form her husband’s 401(k) loan to help pay for tuition?

Thankfully, Jeff Davis isn’t playing along with the narrative that the media and Republicans want to play out. In his email to CNN, he even stated that while the 401(k) loan was used partially to help pay for Wendy’s tuition, he did it for other reasons. Because, you know, those are decisions that families have to make when it comes to finances. It almost seems like there was a hope by Republicans and their willing media lackeys that Jeff Davis was going to joyfully roll over on his ex-wife and give them a juicy story that they could use to shred her. Instead, he basically told them all to shove off.

The fear that Texas, and national, Republicans feel of Wendy Davis is palpable. With the Texas gubernatorial election fast approaching, Abbott and his cohorts can sense that Davis is just going to keep building on her growing popularity and possibly turn Texas blue. They will do anything they can to tear her down, make her seem disingenuous and fake. However, the more they go after her with sexist and specious attacks like this, the more it will backfire on them. The fact is, Wendy Davis isn’t going away anytime soon, and that scares the hell out of them.


Evidence Is Building to Support Hoboken Mayor’s Christie Sandy Aid Allegations

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, January, 22nd, 2014, 1:55 pm   

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, and this picture is one that Republican Governor Chris Christie (N.J.) probably wishes had not been unearthed today. The Newark Star-Ledger newspaper was first in line to republish the photo (courtesy of Daytop NJ) of a September 26, 2013 meeting between the Governor, his wife, and Leslie Smith.

Smith is the executive vice president of the Rockefeller Group. The same Leslie Smith who has donated to Christie’s campaign and the same Rockefeller Group that is at the center of the allegations made by Mayor Dawn Zimmer, of Hoboken New Jersey.

But associations don’t translate to guilt. We leave that to the “pallin’ around with terrorists” types. The goal here should be the facts. To that end, Christopher Baxter of the Star Ledger reports, “The Rockefeller Group at the time was represented by Wolff & Samson, the law firm of David Samson, a former state attorney general and close Christie ally who also serves as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.”

Samson, a huge behind the scenes power broker, is a Christie appointee, in fact. Smith has donated to two of Christie’s campaigns and to his 2010 inaugural committee. Smith also leads the Rockefeller Group’s developments in New Jersey.

Why does this matter? Because last weekend, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer made stunning allegations on MSNBC that the Christie administration had threatened to make her town’s Sandy Aid contingent upon allowing the Rockefeller Group to develop a specific area that the residents had been objecting to.

Zimmer met with U.S. Attorney’s office last Sunday, at their request, just a day after her allegations. She provided them with documents to back up her claims, including her diary.

I noted at the time that if indeed Hoboken, one of the areas that got hit the hardest, had not gotten that aid, the Christie administration would have some explaining to do. It turns out that the not only did they not get the aid they should have, but Brian Murphy, a TPM reporter from New Jersey, explained that tremendous pressure was brought to down upon Hoboken to move forward with the Rockefeller Group’s development. He opined, “And the Hoboken story clearly demonstrates the Christie administration took steps to aid the material interest of a client of the chairman of that agency.”

Murphy did the math, “Hoboken received only 1% of the aid they had requested for Hurricane Sandy relief and planning funds even though it was one of the hardest-hit communities in the state during the storm. At one point, 80% of the 50,000 person city was flooded…. 50,000 people. 80% flooded. $6 a head.”

Those are horrific numbers. 1% of the aid requested for a city that was 80% flooded?

Murphy’s insight into the politics of the area, specifically the long charge the Rockefeller Group has been waging against the wishes of some of the town’s citizens, merits a close read. He also revealed that there may be more than a diary to back up Zimmer’s claims, as she says that another Christie appointee made the offer that Sandy Aid money would flow if she would move forward with the Rockefeller project while miked, with audio technicians able to hear. She recorded their conversation in her diary:

    In a diary entry made the next day, May 17, Zimmer wrote that Constable (Richard Constable, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who worked in Chris Christie’s office when Christie was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, and who was subsequently named commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs) said, “I hear you are against the Rockefeller project.” The mayor said she was not. “Oh really?” Constable asked in reply. “Everyone in the State House believes you are against it – the buzz is that you are against it.”
    According to Zimmer, he added: “If you move that forward, the money would start flowing to you.”

If you’re counting, that’s two people from the Christie administration who dangled the Sandy Aid as a reward for going along with the Rockerfeller development plans, according to the Hoboken Mayor.

So with all of that history, you can imagine that the Christie administration doesn’t want Chris Christie associated in any way with the Rockefeller Group. This picture is not in and of itself damning, but it’s a bad visual for the embattled Governor, especially because it’s not just a picture. There’s history there. And Hoboken didn’t get its money. And the Mayor of Hoboken used to be a big Christie fan, so this isn’t easily dismissed as a political agenda.

The pieces of the puzzle are in the early stages of coming together, and it doesn’t look good for Chris Christie. Republicans want to paint this as a case of she said/he said, but the she in this case has a growing amount of evidence of wrongdoing by the Christie administration on her side.

The thing that might save Chris Christie is his willingness to throw everyone who worked for him under the bus. This character trait isn’t nearly as attractive to voters as it is to conservatives, however.

It’s hard to run for President as the guy who sold out all of his underlings, because eventually someone will ask him if he really knew nothing, what kind of leader is he?


In New Jersey, Claims Elevate Mayor’s Profile

JAN. 22, 2014

Friends call Dawn Zimmer the “accidental politician.”

If there is a starting point for her unplanned drift into politics in Hoboken, N.J., it might be the day eight years ago when she found a note on her door from an advocacy group craving more park space and urging attendance at a City Council meeting. Well, Ms. Zimmer wanted more park space and so she went.

This was when she was at home raising two sons and earning some money as a photographer. Her husband ran a diamond business.

Soon she belonged to a parks committee. Then she was running for a Council seat. She unexpectedly became Hoboken’s mayor when the F.B.I., in a familiar New Jersey ritual, hauled away the sitting officeholder.

Ms. Zimmer vaulted to national attention last week when she accused Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno of threatening to withhold federal funds to help Hoboken recover from Hurricane Sandy unless the mayor, a Democrat, backed a real-estate project Ms. Guadagno said was important to Gov. Chris Christie, a fellow Republican.

Aides to Ms. Zimmer told the F.B.I. she had mentioned the threat to them.

And thus she has quickly been woven into the traffic retribution scandal engulfing the governor’s administration.

State officials have aggressively denied that the threat took place. Political operatives and onlookers are vigorously debating where the truth lies. Was there an unmistakable ultimatum made to an unbendable person? Or was this a misconstrued try at political horse-trading, the commingling of politics and policy?

From the beginning of her involvement in politics, Ms. Zimmer found it much more vicious than she imagined. “I joke that if I had had a crystal ball, I’m not sure if I would have done it,” she said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “But when you’re in, you’re in.”

After giving numerous interviews on her allegations, Ms. Zimmer, who had previously been complimentary of Mr. Christie, said that federal authorities looking into the episode asked if she would stop talking about it to avoid complicating their inquiry, and she has agreed, and would not discuss the topic during the interview on Wednesday.

People who deal with her in Hoboken, a thickly populated waterfront city across the Hudson River from Manhattan, depict her variously as strait-laced, aggressive, serious, unassuming and not always the easiest person to bond with. Few, though, outright question her honesty.

Someone versed in politics who knows her fairly well, but did not want to be attached to the controversy, said: “She’s very intense. She’s not big on glad-handing and that sort of stuff. You wouldn’t pick her out of a crowd as someone who’s a politician.”

Hoboken and Hudson County politics are unapologetically brass-knuckled and frequently involve an expansive view of the law. Two of Ms. Zimmer’s immediate predecessors as mayor went to prison.

Viewpoints on her tend to arrive from opposite corners. Rantings pro and con flood blogs obsessed with Hoboken goings-on.

She experienced the disputatious nature of politics in her initial Council race, when she won by six votes and the outcome was challenged. “I joke with people, I grew a thicker skin,” she said. “It grew thicker by the day. My approach was let things roll off my shoulders.”

Ruben Ramos, a teacher who ran against her in the last election, said he felt she had shortcomings as a leader that have meant “we have government by hysteria; everything that comes up, it’s a crisis.”

Beth Mason, a Democratic council member who often clashes with her, said, “I find her personally as someone who has very strong opinions but finds it difficult to compromise.”

Many others feel quite the opposite.

Tony Soares, a real estate broker and former leader of the local zoning board, said: “She’s just what the city needed. She’s a citizen activist who became a mayor. She’s not a professional politician. I know I’m never going to see her on a black-and-white video and see her taken away in shackles.”

In real estate circles, Ms. Zimmer, 45, tends to be portrayed as cool to development, a contentious issue in Hoboken, a city of 50,000 that is a mesh of old guard Italian and Irish Americans and a newer wave of transplanted professionals. Ms. Zimmer said she views herself as working for “balanced development, because we’re the fourth-densest city in the country.”  

Ms. Zimmer, who was recently elected to a second term as mayor, is married to Stan Grossbard, who runs a family diamond and jewelry business, and they have two sons, 12 and 13.

She traced a winding path to Hoboken and politics. She was born in Towson, Md., and grew up in Laconia, N.H. She received a history degree from the University of New Hampshire, where she rowed crew. For several years, she taught English at a private language school in a rural area of Japan. Subsequently, she worked in public relations, before quitting to raise her children.

She and her family moved to Hoboken from Manhattan in 2002. Her growing involvement in community affairs led to her being elected to the Council in 2007. Two years later, she ran for mayor. She said she was motivated while reading a passage in a book that mentioned how political activity at the local level could make a difference in addressing climate change. One of her goals is to “make Hoboken as green as possible.” All excited, she woke up her husband at 2 a.m. to tell him she had to run.

She lost by 161 votes in a runoff to Peter Cammarano III.

Less than a month after being sworn in, he resigned after he was caught accepting $25,000 in bribe money from an F.B.I. cooperating witness who posed as a developer, part of a broad corruption sting. Ms. Zimmer said her campaign was also approached in the sting but she would not agree to a meeting.

As Council president, Ms. Zimmer became interim mayor, then prevailed in a special election. “A big part of my job was to build back the public trust,” she said.

Soon after she took office, a collision between a tour helicopter and small plane off the Hoboken coast killed nine people. Other preoccupying issues included termites in the basement of City Hall and shipworms that were chewing up the wood supporting the pier containing Frank Sinatra Park.

Looking back, she said she was proudest of the lengthy and complicated effort to save the financially strained Hoboken University Medical Center, after steering it through bankruptcy and a sale.

She has had to grapple with a discrimination lawsuit brought by Angel Alicea, a former Hoboken public safety director. Ms. Zimmer asked for his resignation in 2011, because she said he had lied about being offered illegal contributions as part of the same F.B.I. sting operation, though he was never accused of a crime. A Hudson County jury recently found that Hoboken discriminated against him and awarded him over $1 million in back pay and damages. Ms. Zimmer said the verdict would be appealed.

She said that the recent intense swirl of attention was not inhibiting her work.

“I’m going to keep doing my job,” she said. “I do recognize there are going to be attacks on me and people looking to find whatever they can on me and try to smear my name. It is what it is.”


Ken Cuccinelli Calls Out Scandal-Ridden Christie And Asks Him To Resign As Head Of RGA

By: Justin Baragona
Wednesday, January, 22nd, 2014, 10:16 am      

On Tuesday night’s edition of CNN’s Crossfire, former Virginia Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, called for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to resign as head of the Republican Governors Association. Christie took on the position of chairman of the RGA towards the end of 2013. In that position, he gets to travel across the nation and help raise funds or campaign for various Republican governors and candidates. In the end, it is a spot that would help a potential Presidential candidate.

Cuccinelli picked his words very carefully, as he wanted to make sure to state that the allegations towards Christie regarding Bridgegate and misuse and abuse of Sandy relief funds have not been found true. Instead, he made the case that all of these things are a distraction and that it would be best for Christie to step aside as, overall, this appears to be hurting the party.

    “I think just from the perspective of setting aside this as an issue in other races, it makes sense for him to step aside in that role. He does not serve the goals of that organization by staying as chairman. And that doesn’t mean that any of the charges, political or otherwise are substantive or not. It doesn’t matter. Perception is reality.”

Now, it is also possible that Cuccinelli is holding a grudge towards Christie and the RGA due to his own election failure. In what turned out to be a tight race against eventual winner and current Governor Terry McAuliffe, the RGA provided quite a bit of money for Cuccinelli. However, while they sent $8 million over the course of the entire race, the spigot turned off weeks before Election Day, as Cuccinelli was far down in the polls and appeared to be a lost cause. In the end, Cuccinell lost by less than 3 points.

Regardless of Cuccinelli’s reasons behind his calls for Christie to step down, I highly doubt that he’ll be the last prominent Republican to call for Christie’s resignation from this prime post. With 36 gubernatorial races occurring this year, the last thing the GOP wants is a scandal-ridden national figure attempting to raise funds for their candidates. For his part, I doubt Christie will want to step down voluntarily, as being chairman of the RGA is a perfect vaulting point for anyone looking to make a Preisdential run.

So, in the end, what will it take for the GOP to convince Christie to step aside? Will they have to forcibly remove him? The scandals plaguing Christie are going to be swirling around him for months, if not longer. His candidacy for President in 2016 is looking less and less viable, and it is even possible that he won’t be able to hold on to his governorship when it is all said and done. How long can the GOP allow Christie to have a negative impact on other races before they have to step in and push him out?

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« Reply #11444 on: Jan 24, 2014, 06:44 AM »

Kiev protesters occupy government building amid uneasy truce

Opposition leaders in difficult position after Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, refuses to call snap elections

Shaun Walker in Kiev and agencies, Friday 24 January 2014 09.22 GMT   
About 1,000 protesters have moved from Kiev's Independence Square to occupy a government building in response to opposition calls to observe a truce with riot police after long talks with President Viktor Yanukovych ended without a major breakthrough.

Early on Friday, the protesters broke into the Ministry of Agricultural Policy building in central Kiev, meeting no resistance. The move followed the seizure of local governors' offices in several western regions on Thursday.

The government's failure to grant key concessions was met with anger by thousands of protesters manning the barricades in the capital on Thursday evening, while the anti-government protests that have rocked Ukraine spread to other parts of the country during the day.

On Wednesday, after three people had been killed in clashes with riot police, the opposition politician Vitali Klitschko had asked protesters in central Kiev to observe an eight-hour truce while talks went on. Klitschko had promised to "go on the attack" if Yanukovych did not launch snap elections within 24 hours, while Arseniy Yatsenyuk, of the Fatherland party, said he was ready to take a "bullet in the head".
Link to video: Ukraine: President Yanukovych under increasing pressure as truce is called with protesters

The protesters duly extinguished the flaming barricade of tyres that had been set up on the frontline, and the two sides stood facing each other down, the carcasses of burned out police buses between them. But when the trio of opposition leaders emerged after gruelling talks with the president that lasted more than four hours, they had changed their tune, asking for more time and a continuation of the ceasefire.

"The only thing we were able to achieve was not much," a grim Klitschko told the crowd. He was booed by some of those at the barricade as he asked for a truce.

On Independence Square, the nationalist leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, who was part of the negotiations, put the idea of continuing discussions with the president to a midnight vote among the crowd, and it was overwhelmingly rejected. There are now difficult decisions to make for the opposition leaders, who have been unable to achieve their key demand of snap elections from Yanukovych but are uneasy about being held responsible for any further violence.

There were dramatic developments in the west of the country on Thursday as hundreds of people forced their way into the office of the regional governor in the city of Lviv, and forced him to sign a resignation letter. Oleh Salo, a Yanukovych appointee in a city where support for the president is in the low single digits, later said he signed the letter under duress and was rescinding his resignation.
Ukrainian riot policemen stand in formation in central Kiev following clashes with pro-EU protesters. Ukrainian riot police stand in formation in central Kiev. Photograph: Volodymyr Shuvayev/AFP/Getty Images

France's foreign minister said on Friday that Ukraine's ambassador in Paris would be summoned over the violence in Kiev.

"I have given instructions to the foreign ministry to summon the Ukrainian ambassador in France today which is a gesture to show France's condemnation," Laurent Fabius said on i>TELE television.


Ukrainian far-right group claims to be co-ordinating violence in Kiev

Pravy Sektor rejects original protesters' goal of closer links to EU, demanding 'national revolution'

Shaun Walker in Kiev, Thursday 23 January 2014 19.24 GMT   

"We're peaceful men," said 46-year-old Mikhailo cheerfully, as he poured petrol into a row of glass bottles to create molotov cocktails. "We're just making them. Other people will throw them."

The intensity of the violence in Kiev, which began late on Sunday night and culminated on Wednesday morning with three deaths, has taken many people both inside the country and abroad by surprise. While during the two-month course of the protests there were two incidents when riot police attacked protesters brutally, there has not been a large-scale response from the protesters. Suddenly, this week, the police found themselves under a hail of molotov cocktails, their buses torched and several hundred people unwilling to give their ground and ready to engage them in violent clashes.

After two months of protest with little result, the mood is very different to that back in December. Then, when riot police attempted to remove the barricades surrounding Independence Square in a night-time charge, protesters handed back helmets and shields to officers who got stranded in the crush and sent them on their way. After the surge, groups of officers could stand unmolested at the side of the square. Now, feelings have intensified. When a molotov cocktail lobbed at police lines broke on the torso of an officer and turned him into a human candle, whoops of joy went up from the crowd.

But while some of the violent inclination appears to stem from the frustration of those who saw their peaceful stance ignored, there also appear to be more shadowy forces at work. Pravy Sektor, a murky grouping of nationalist and far-right groups, has said it is co-ordinating the violence, and the coalition represents very different ideals from the initial protest goal of closer links with the European Union.

Andriy Tarasenko, one of Pravy Sektor's co-ordinators, agreed to meet the Guardian in a cafe in central Kiev. Wearing a rollneck jumper and with a quiet voice, he seemed a far cry from the warriors on the street, but his message was clear.

"For us, Europe is not an issue, in fact joining with Europe would be the death of Ukraine. Europe means the death of the nation state and the death of Christianity. We want a Ukraine for Ukrainians, run by Ukrainians, and not serving the interests of others."

Tarasenko said the goal of the group was a "national revolution" that would result in a "national democracy" with none of the trappings of the "totalitarian liberalism" that the EU represents for him.

He also has little time for the trio of opposition politicians who have been the de facto protest leaders, including the former heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko. "The only negotiations with [President Viktor] Yanukovych should be about how he gives up power. If any of these leaders were capable of seizing power, they would have done it already."

The number of people taking goggle-eyed selfies in front of the burning barricades and looking on in disbelief suggests that those who feel they are peaceful protesters who have been driven to this by the uncompromising nature of the authorities are still in the majority.

Hardcore Ukrainian nationalism is not even the predominant feature of those involved in active clashes with police. Neither of the two people killed by bullets on Wednesday morning were ethnically Ukrainian. But it is clear that the popularity of Pravy Sektor is growing and that many of those lobbing molotov cocktails and preparing for all-out battle are influenced by their ideas.

Tarasenko said it was hard to say how many active members of Pravy Sektor there were, but noted that its page on the social network Vkontakte had more than 50,000 members. On the barricades, "hundreds are quickly turning into thousands", he claimed.

As the clashes have continued, the international community has continued to put strong pressure on Yanukovych to avoid violence, but in recent days there has also been an acknowledgement of the darker side of the protest movement. A US state department statement issued on Wednesday blamed Yanukovych for the violence but added: "The aggressive actions of members of extreme-right group Pravy Sektor are not acceptable and are inflaming conditions on the streets and undermining the efforts of peaceful protesters."

Even amid the violence, there is a certain orderliness and purpose of mind to the protests. While a small number of buildings have suffered from the flames of the burning barricades, there has been no wholesale looting or random violence. Despite the fact that for two months people have been out on Independence Square protesting against Ukraine's move towards Moscow, a branch of Sberbank – a Russian state-controlled bank – which is adjacent to one of the entrances to the square has remained completely untouched, its glass facade undamaged.

But the number of people wielding baseball bats, planks of wood, golf clubs or even hammers has dramatically increased. There have been other disturbing scenes, such as when protesters captured groups of paid-for government thugs earlier in the week, and forced them to speak Ukrainian or sing the national anthem under duress, making videos of them and issuing threats.

The majority of protesters are horrified at the bloodshed and would be satisfied with some kind of compromise agreement, or at least willing to accept it to rule out the chance of further violence.

But Pravy Sektor says that if Yanukovych does not resign, he should be forced out.

"We would give him and his family 24 hours to leave the country, or there would be a revolutionary tribunal," said Tarasenko. Asked what he thought the most likely medium-term outcome of the clashes would be, he said: "Prolonged guerrilla warfare."

• Additional reporting by Oksana Grytsenko


Ukraine: anti-government protester stripped naked and photographed by police - video

An anti-government protester is stripped naked by police in Ukraine. The timing and location of this video could not be immediately verified. The male detainee, who was named by protest organisers as Mikhailo Gavrilyak, is seen after being stripped naked and then made to stand in the cold while several riot police officers pose for photographs

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