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« Reply #12165 on: Feb 26, 2014, 07:32 AM »

Gunshots Rattle Thai Capital as PM Flies Out

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 February 2014, 09:02

Gunmen opened fire near several opposition protest sites in Bangkok Wednesday, stoking tensions in the capital as Thailand's embattled prime minister flew to her political stronghold in the north.

Street violence, often targeting protesters, has become a near-daily feature of the almost four-month-long crisis gripping Thailand, with the toll standing at 22 dead and hundreds wounded.

Police said unknown gunmen fired sporadically early Wednesday for around an hour in three areas of Bangkok where demonstrators are camped out alongside upscale shopping malls and luxury hotels. Nobody was wounded.

"We don't know which side fired the shots, but the aim of the gunmen is to intimidate," deputy national police spokesman Anucha Romyanan told Agence France Presse.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is under intense pressure to step down with the protesters calling for an unelected "people's council" to tackle corruption and a culture of money politics.

Her supporters say they will not accept the removal of an elected government by the protesters, military or the courts, raising fears of a protracted standoff.

Yingluck has been summoned by an anti-graft panel on Thursday to hear charges of neglect of duty in connection with a rice subsidy scheme that the opposition says is rife with corruption.

If found guilty she could be removed from office and face a five-year ban from politics.

Yingluck flew to the northern city of Chiang Rai on Wednesday to inspect government-backed projects, saying she might not attend the National Anti-Corruption Commission hearing.

"I have not yet made up my mind," Yingluck told reporters when asked if she would face the panel.

But a government official who did not want to be named said Yingluck was expected to stay in northern Thailand until Friday.

Officials denied the premier was on the run from protesters, who have vowed to pursue her wherever she goes and have besieged state buildings where she has held cabinet meetings since the occupation of her headquarters in December.

"She is not avoiding the political situation in Bangkok," said Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt.

- Children among victims -

More than 700 people have been wounded in street violence since demonstrators took to the streets in late October seeking to curb the political dominance of Yingluck's billionaire family.

The opposition blames Yingluck's followers for the violence, while government supporters accuse the demonstrators of trying to incite the military to step in.

Four children were among the victims of two separate grenade and gun attacks on opposition rallies in Bangkok and eastern Thailand over the weekend, drawing widespread condemnation.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the police headquarters in Bangkok on Wednesday demanding justice for the slain children.

Protesters have occupied several key intersections in the Thai capital with guards -- many wearing body armour -- searching cars and pedestrians at road blocks made from tyres and sandbags.

It is the country's deadliest political unrest since 2010, prompting warnings from the army chief that Thailand risks sinking into civil war unless the two sides pull back.

Thailand has been scored by deep divisions since a bloodless coup by the military in 2006 ousted Yingluck's elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, as prime minister.

The latest political violence is the worst since more than 90 people died during protests by pro-Thaksin "Red Shirts" in 2010 that sparked street clashes and a bloody military crackdown.

Yingluck swept to power in 2011 on a wave of support in the rural north and northeast, helped by the flagship rice policy paying farmers up to 50 percent above market rates for their crop.

But the scheme has left the kingdom with stockpiles of unsold rice after Thailand lost its rank as the world's top rice exporter.

The government, left with limited powers since the dissolution of parliament in December, owes farmers an estimated $3.5 billion but has struggled to raise funds to settle its bill, prompting hundreds of farmers to demonstrate for payment in Bangkok.

A general election held on February 2 failed to calm the crisis after protesters obstructed the vote in many opposition strongholds.

Election re-runs are due to be held on March 2 in five of the affected provinces but further disruption appears likely, particularly after a recent court decision restricted the use of force by the authorities to deal with the protests.


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« Reply #12166 on: Feb 26, 2014, 07:33 AM »

Amnesty: Sri Lanka Steps Up Repression Ahead of U.N. Meet

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 February 2014, 08:34

Sri Lanka has instilled a "climate of fear" as it intensifies its repression of critics in the build-up to Colombo's expected censure by the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

In a new report, the London-based advocacy group documented the cases of several human rights defenders who had been targeted for harassment and surveillance by the Sri Lankan regime, including death threats.

"The pattern of harassment, surveillance and attacks against those opposing the Sri Lankan authorities is deeply disturbing and shows no sign of letting up," said Polly Truscott, Amnesty deputy director for the Asia-Pacific region.

"Repression usually intensifies whenever Sri Lanka's human rights situation is in focus internationally, something we are already seeing ahead of the U.N. Human Rights Council next month."

In its 16-page report, Amnesty detailed the intimidation against the prominent rights activist Nimalka Fernando, including a state radio broadcast that called for her "elimination".

It added that Colombo had deported several foreign visitors for allegedly participating in human rights-related meetings.

The United States has said it will move a third censure motion in as many years against Sri Lanka at next month's UNHRC meeting

The U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay has already asked member states to order an international investigation into allegations that Sri Lankan forces killed up to 40,000 civilians in the final stages of their battle with Tamil separatist rebels in May 2009.

Sri Lanka has denounced Pillay for her "unwarranted interference" and denied its troops were responsible for any civilian deaths during the bloody finale to an ethnic war that lasted 37 years.

Amnesty said it continued to receive credible reports of activists facing surveillance and harassment.

"The climate of fear is very real in Sri Lanka. Many people are too afraid to speak out. But Sri Lanka also has some very brave activists, who continue to be vocal despite facing retaliation," Truscott said.

"Some even dare to attend international meetings that could actually lead to an improved human rights situation. The U.N. should make every effort to ensure that they are protected."


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« Reply #12167 on: Feb 26, 2014, 07:35 AM »

Report: Japan Moves to Relax Arms-Export Ban

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 February 2014, 08:38

Japan's ruling party wants to loosen self-imposed rules banning arms exports in a bid to boost the country's defense influence, a report said Wednesday, a move that would mark a major shift from its pacifism and could irritate China.

A draft document that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants approved by his cabinet next month would allow Tokyo to supply weaponry to nations that sit along important sea lanes to help them fight piracy, Kyodo News said, an important step for a country like Japan which depends so heavily on mineral imports.

This would mean nations such as Indonesia, but could also include others around the South China Sea -- through which fossil fuels pass -- such as the Philippines, for example, which has a territorial dispute with Beijing.

China and Japan are at loggerheads over the ownership of a string of islands in the East China Sea, while Beijing is also in dispute with several nations over territory in the South China Sea, which it claims almost entirely.

Beijing resists attempts to multi-lateralise its disputes, while Manila has sought to make common cause with other countries at odds with China.

Japan already supplies equipment to the Philippines' coast guard, an organisation that is increasingly on the front line in the row with Beijing.

Any move to bolster that support with more outright weapon supplies could irk China, which regularly accuses Abe of trying to re-militarize his country by the backdoor.

Under its 1967 ban, Japan does not sell arms to communist nations, countries where the United Nations bans weapons sales, and nations that might become involved in armed conflicts.

The rule has long enjoyed general public support as a symbol of the pacifism that many Japanese treasure.

But it has been widely seen as impractical among experts, because it stops Japan from joining international projects to jointly develop sophisticated military equipment, such as jets and missiles.

Japan works with its only official ally the United States on weapon projects.

But it does not fully participate in multi-nation programs aimed at sharing development cost and know-how, because of the current ban.

Hawkish premier Abe is capitalizing on unease in Japan about China's increasing assertiveness and pushing to bolster his nation's military, including to allow it the right to "collective self-defense" -- coming to the aid of an ally under attack.

The proposed policy change would still prohibit Japan from exports that would undermine global peace and security, Kyodo News said, citing a draft of the document it has obtained.

The government would inspect all arms sales and make sure exported weapons would not be transferred to another nation or used for purposes other than originally intended, Kyodo said.


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« Reply #12168 on: Feb 26, 2014, 07:38 AM »

Eleven small Indian political parties band together as ‘third front’ as elections approach

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 16:30 EST

Eleven Indian political parties vowed Tuesday to work together to defeat the country’s two main outfits at the upcoming general elections by forming a so-called third front.

The grouping of left-leaning and regional parties announced their plans to become a viable alternative to the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed by Narendra Modi.

Prakash Karat, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India, said the new front would “work for the defeat” of Congress and the BJP — the traditional parties that together hold over half the seats in India’s lower house of parliament.

“We need an alternative to both the Congress and BJP. That’s why we the leaders of the 11 parties resolved today to work together,” Karat said at a press conference in New Delhi.

Opinion polls show Modi on course to win the elections due by May ahead of Congress whose campaign is led by Rahul Gandhi, the son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers.

But whoever wins will almost certainly have to stitch together a coalition comprising smaller regional parties.

No single party has won a parliamentary majority since 1989, giving often populist regional leaders immense power at the national level.

The 11 parties include three which rule at the state level in the electorally crucial eastern Bihar, northern Uttar Pradesh and southern Tamil Nadu states.

Flanked by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Samajwadi party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav from Uttar Pradesh, Karat lashed out at Congress for spawning “massive corruption” and at the BJP for pursuing a “communal agenda”.

Karat said the parties had broadly agreed on a common policy framework and the front would give itself a name after more parties joined, while their prime ministerial candidate would be announced after the elections.

The Trinamool Congress, a regional outfit not part of the new alliance, dismissed the front as a “communist day dream”.

“The Third Front is a hobby horse of the communists, who want to use the power of regional parties to manipulate their way to influence without responsibility and to promote obsolete agendas,” leader Derek O’Brien tweeted.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #12169 on: Feb 26, 2014, 07:41 AM »

Former North Korean prison camp official: I saw guard dogs tear children apart

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 23:42 EST

Ahn Myong-Chol witnessed many horrors as a North Korean prison camp guard, but few haunt him like the image of guard dogs attacking school children and tearing them to pieces.

Ahn, who worked as a prison camp guard for eight years until he fled the country in 1994, recalls the day he saw three dogs get away from their handler and attack children coming back from the camp school.

“There were three dogs and they killed five children,” the 45-year-old told AFP through a translator.

“They killed three of the children right away. The two other children were barely breathing and the guards buried them alive,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of a Geneva conference for human rights activists.

The next day, instead of putting down the murderous dogs, the guards pet them and fed them special food “as some kind of award,” he added with disgust.

“People in the camps are not treated as human beings… They are like flies that can be crushed,” said Ahn, his sad eyes framed by steel-rimmed glasses.

The former guard is one of many defectors who provided harrowing testimony to a UN-mandated enquiry that last week issued a searing, 400-page indictment of gross human rights abuses in North Korea.

After fleeing the country two decades ago, Ahn worked for years at a bank in South Korea but gradually got involved in work denouncing the expansive prison camp system in the isolated nation.

Three years ago, he quit his bank job to dedicate all his time to his non-governmental organisation, Free NK Gulag.

“It’s my life’s mission to spread awareness about what is happening in the camps,” he said.

There are an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners in North Korea, a nation of 24 million people.

Ahn, who today is married with two daughters, knows all too well the brutal mentality of the camp guards.

When he, as the son of a high-ranking official, was ushered onto the prestigious path of becoming a guard in 1987, he says he was heavily brainwashed to see all prisoners as “evil”.

- ‘Horrors still happening’ –

At his first posting at camp 14, north of Pyongyang, he was encouraged to practice his Tae Kwon Do skills on prisoners.

And he recalls how guards were urged to shoot any prisoner who might try to escape.

“We were allowed to kill them, and if we brought back their body, they would award us by letting us go study at college,” he said.

Some guards would send prisoners outside the camp and kill them as escapees to gain access to a college education, he added.

Ahn said he had beaten many prisoners but said that, to his knowledge, he had never killed any of them.

Although he witnessed numerous executions, starving children, and the effects of extreme torture, it was not until he was promoted to be a driver, transporting soldiers back and forth between camps, that he began to question the system.

During his travels he sometimes struck up conversations with prisoners and was astonished to find that “more than 90 percent” of them said they had no idea why they were in the camp.

Ahn had stumbled across North Korea’s system of throwing generations of the same family into prison camps under guilt-by-association rules.

He got a taste of that rule himself. On leave in 1994, he returned home to find that his father had committed suicide after making some drunken, negative remarks about the country’s leadership.

Ahn’s mother, sister and brother were detained and likely sent into camps, although he is not sure what became of them.

Though Ahn returned to work, he feared he too would be dragged off. So he drove his truck to the shores of the Du Man River and swam across to China, having to dump the heavy weapons he was carrying to avoid drowning.

Once he got involved in the NGO work in South Korea, he was uneasy about meeting former prisoners who had also managed to defect, like Chol Hwan Kang.

Kang was sent to Camp 15 — where Ahn once served — with his whole family when he was nine and spent 10 years there to repent for the suspected disloyalties of his grandfather. Ahn remembered him from his time as a guard there.

But Kang, like most survivors, understood he had not chosen his job and had accepted his plea for forgiveness.

“He met me with a gentle handshake,” Ahn said.

Last week’s UN report was vital to spreading awareness about the reality of the camps, Ahn said, comparing what is happening there to the Soviet-era Gulags.

“The difference is that in North Korea we are still talking in the present tense. These horrors are still happening,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #12170 on: Feb 26, 2014, 07:47 AM »

Nigeria Seeks Help from French West Africa to Fight Islamists

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 February 2014, 06:42

Nigeria on Tuesday issued an appeal to France and Abuja's Francophone neighbors, especially Cameroon, to help it in the battle against Islamists, two days before a planned visit from French President Francois Hollande.

On the day suspected Boko Haram Islamists slaughtered 43 students as they slept, Nigeria's information minister warned the attacks could harm French and other Western interests in West Africa if left unchecked.

"I think what we need is international cooperation from the French, from the French-speaking west African countries to work together to deal with this problem before it becomes a major problem for France, for western interests operating in west Africa," Labaran Maku said.

"It will devastate French interests if we allow this terror to go on," the minister told AIT television.

The comments came ahead of a planned visit by Hollande on Thursday and Friday to attend an international conference on security, peace and development in Africa and to celebrate the centenary of Nigerian unification.

Maku said much of the problem stemmed from its border with Cameroon and called for "increased partnership" with its northern neighbor.

Cameroon's participation in the international (military) joint task force policing the borders "has been a bit weak", charged Maku.

This has made the northern part of the border a safe haven for the insurgents.

The force, comprising troops from Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, was put in place to check criminals along the borders of the participating countries.

The weak link in the chain is being exploited by Boko Haram to unleash their havoc in Nigeria, he said.

"They strike. When we pursue them, they retreat into Cameroon," complained the minister.

Nigeria last week sealed a portion of its northeastern border with Cameroon to block the movement of insurgents and other criminal groups.

The closure has been imposed in Adamawa state, one of three states in the northeast placed under emergency rule in May following waves of attacks by Boko Haram Islamists.

The military has launched a major offensive in the area aimed at crushing the Islamist uprising, which has killed thousands since 2009.

Nigeria has alleged that the Islamists have set up bases in sparsely populated areas of its northeastern neighbors, including Cameroon, Chad and Niger, and flee across the border after staging attacks to avoid military pursuit.


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« Reply #12171 on: Feb 26, 2014, 07:49 AM »

French Lawmakers Approve Extension of CAR Military Operation

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 February 2014, 20:24

French lawmakers on Tuesday approved an extension of the country's military operation in the Central African Republic as the U.N. warned of a potential new bloodbath in the troubled African state.

Despite misgivings among some that French troops have been put into an uncontrollable situation in the former colony, deputies in the National Assembly voted 428-14 (with 21 abstentions) in favor of authorizing the mission, which was launched in early December, to continue beyond April.

The approval had been anticipated with deputies almost unanimously agreeing that, whatever their reservations, pulling out the 2,000 French troops now in the CAR was not a viable option.

It came as the U.N.'s refugee body said more than 15,000 people were surrounded and under threat of armed attack in locations in the northwest and southwest of the country.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva that the vulnerable -- mainly members of the minority Muslim community -- were "at very high risk of attack" and urgently needed better security in the form of more international peacekeepers.

Although the situation in CAR remains extremely volatile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday it would have been a lot worse if France had not intervened.

"If the Sangaris Operation had not been launched, the CAR would today be in a genocide situation," Fabius said on France 2 television ahead of the vote in the National Assembly. "The French were right to intervene."

French troops are supported by a 6,000-strong African Union force known as MISCA and France is pushing hard for the international forces to be transformed into an official U.N. peacekeeping force.

Paris is also lobbying its European partners to provide more financial and logistical help, with limited results so far.

The European Union has pledged to deploy up to 1,000 troops but negotiations on which countries will provide them are dragging on in Brussels and it remained unclear Tuesday when any of them would arrive in the CAR.

The UNHCR's Edwards said a much bigger force was needed to halt the cycle of violence.

"Their numbers are far too low considering the size of the country and the scope of the crisis," he said.

CAR descended into chaos last March after mostly Muslim rebels overthrew the government, initiating a spiral of sectarian bloodletting.

That has yet to be stemmed but opinions differ over whether the situation is improving or deteriorating.

The head of Sangaris, General Francisco Soriano, said on Monday that the French intervention had resulted in a huge reduction in violence and denied allegations that ethnic cleansing was taking place.

He however admitted that some Muslims "are scared and some have been displaced".

A poll published Tuesday showed that 58 percent of French voters disapprove of the military action and opposition lawmakers have become increasingly vocal in their criticism of the country's intervention.

"Nothing has been resolved, the country is still on fire," said Eric Woerth, a former minister from the center-right UMP party of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

"We have avoided a bloodbath, a massacre," Woerth said. "But there is no state, no judiciary, no police, no schools -- there's nothing left."

Another former UMP minister Pierre Lellouche said he had been tempted to vote against the extension because of the government's lack of a clear exit strategy.

"We have underestimated the degree of violence," he said. "There are arms everywhere in Bangui and Chinese-made grenades are being sold at 35 centimes (50 cents) in the markets," he said.

"Our soldiers are in an impossible situation."

CAR's interim president, Catherine Samba Panza, has called for international troops to remain in the country until elections due by March 2015.

The Muslim minority has been blamed by many Christians for the violence that followed the March 2013 coup which saw Michel Djotodia become the country's first Muslim leader.

His regional peers forced him to step down in January and sent in peacekeepers to support the French effort but Christian-dominated vigilantes known as anti-balaka are proving difficult to rein in. "Atrocities have become frequent," the UNHCR's Edwards said Tuesday.

Relief organisations have warned that the flight of Muslims, who controlled a large share of trade and farming, could exacerbate a major food crisis in one of the world's poorest countries.


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« Reply #12172 on: Feb 26, 2014, 07:51 AM »

S.Sudan Fighters Destroy Hospitals, Murder Patients

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 February 2014, 11:58

Warring fighters in South Sudan have looted hospitals and murdered patients in their beds, cutting life-saving healthcare to hundreds of thousands of people, Doctors Without Borders said Wednesday.

Warning of an "alarming pattern of looting and attacks on patients" and health facilities, Doctors without Borders (MSF, Medecins sans Frontieres) said their crucial work was being strangled by a "climate of utter disrespect and fear."

Thousands have been killed and almost 900,000 forced from their homes by over two months of battles between rebel and government forces, backed by troops from neighbouring Uganda.

Medical care has "come under fire, with patients shot in their beds, wards burned to the ground, medical equipment looted, and, in one case, an entire hospital destroyed," MSF said in a statement.

"Assaults on medical facilities and patients are part of a broader backdrop of brutal attacks on towns, markets and public facilities," said Raphael Gorgeu, MSF head of mission in the war-torn nation.

"These attacks show a complete lack of respect for medical care and deprive the most vulnerable of life-saving assistance just when they need it most."

Atrocities have been committed by both sides, whether in the initial clashes that marked the start of the conflict in the capital Juba on December 15, or during repeated battles for strategic towns across the impoverished but oil-rich nation.

Tens of thousands are still crammed into UN bases in fear of revenge attacks by either President Salva Kiir's Dinka people or the Nuer tribe of his former vice-president turned arch-rival Riek Machar.

Recent heavy battles between rebels and government troops have been over the key northern oil hub of Malakal, which has exchanged hands several times between rebels and government.

"Malakal is deserted, with houses burned throughout and countless dead bodies strewn in the streets... I can find no words to describe the brutality," said Carlos Francisco, MSF's emergency coordinator in the town.

- Diplomatic push for peace -

In the flashpoint region of Leer in the south of the key oil producing Unity state, hometown of rebel chief Machar, MSF's hospital was razed to the ground.

MSF's 240 South Sudanese staff fled into the surrounding bush a month ago when the hospital was ransacked, carrying several dozen of the most sick patients with them.

"They are struggling to treat them with dwindling supplies," MSF project coordinator Sarah Maynard said, describing how they are now fearing they will have to carry out amputations because of infected wounds, with staff forced to reuse dressings.

"People are becoming ill from drinking dirty river water and from eating water lilies for lack of food," she added.

Fighters even torched and looted the section of the hospital used to feed severely malnourished children.

"The destruction from fire was unbelievable... the fridges where we used to keep the vaccines cold were just melted white blobs," Maynard said, after briefly returning to Leer to assess the damage.

"Now nearly 300,000 people have no access to a hospital, nor any general healthcare... there's nothing left in the hospital that is useable."

Kenya's top security body warned on Tuesday that violence in South Sudan is worsening, condemning "escalating military activities... in total disregard and violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement" that Nairobi helped broker last month.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Juba Wednesday in the latest effort by neighbouring nations to try to implement the ceasefire and bring the two sides back to negotiations.

It follows a visit Tuesday by Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom to Juba to push for talks to resume in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

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

Sudan Paper Seized Despite Bashir 'Freedom' Call

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 February 2014, 11:23

Sudanese security agents on Wednesday confiscated the weekly press run of an economic newspaper edited by a prominent government critic, the editor told Agence France Presse.

Khalid Tigani, chief editor of Elaff weekly, said the move follows recent seizures of other publications despite President Omar al-Bashir's January appeal for a political and economic "renaissance" in the country ravaged by armed insurrection, poverty and political turmoil.

"I think this is very strange," Tigani said after the National Intelligence and Security Service took all 15,000 copies of his newspaper.

They gave no reason for the seizure, and Tigani said it does not appear to be linked to any particular articles.

"They just want to say that 'We are here'," he said.

The intelligence service is "a political body" and the newspaper seizures raise questions about the government's commitment to a national dialogue which Bashir announced in late January, Tigani said.

Bashir did not reveal detailed initiatives but said the renaissance must address four areas: peace, political freedom, poverty reduction and national identity in the ethnically diverse nation.

"The freedom of people has to be respected," Bashir said.

Negotiations later began with one of the country's rebel groups and the government has also held talks with some opposition parties.

"In the meantime they are not ready to give the people a chance to say their views about the issues and problems," Tigani said.

Sudan ranks near the bottom of international indexes of corruption, human development and press freedom.


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« Reply #12173 on: Feb 26, 2014, 07:54 AM »

Hezbollah vows response to Israeli attack ‘at the appropriate time’

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 6:43 EST

Hezbollah on Wednesday confirmed an Israeli air raid two days earlier on one of its positions in Lebanon and vowed to respond “at the appropriate time” to the “blatant aggression”.

“On Monday night… the Israeli enemy’s warplanes bombarded a Hezbollah position on the Lebanese-Syrian border, near the area of Janta in the Bekaa Valley” in eastern Lebanon, said Hezbollah.

The Shiite movement’s statement was the group’s first admission it had been targeted in the raid, although Lebanese sources had previously reported the attack.

“This new attack amounts to blatant aggression against Lebanon, its sovereignty and territory,” the armed movement said, adding that “it will not stand without a response from the Resistance, which will choose the appropriate time, place and means”.

On Tuesday, Israeli officials refrained from commenting specifically on Monday night’s raid, although they confirmed a policy of interdiction of suspected arms deliveries from Syria to Hezbollah, the Jewish state’s nemesis.

Hezbollah said in its statement: “This aggression did not, thank God, cause any deaths or injuries. There was only some material damage.”

It also said it was untrue that the target had been “artillery positions or missiles”.

On Monday night, a Lebanese security source told AFP two raids had hit a Hezbollah target at the Lebanese-Syrian border.

“This new attack is a flagrant aggression against Lebanon, its sovereignty and its territory,” said Hezbollah.

The strike “will not remain unanswered by the Resistance, which will choose the right moment, the right way and the adequate means to respond.”

Monday’s was the first Israeli attack against Hezbollah in Lebanon since the 2006 war that killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and some 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

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

Israeli PM Netanyahu’s party: Christian Arabs are ‘our natural allies’ against Muslims

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 16:25 EST

A new Israeli law giving Muslim and Christian Arab citizens separate representation on a national employment commission drew fire from the Palestinians on Tuesday.

“This law aims to create a new reality among our people based on religion and not national identity,” Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement.

Israel’s parliament on Monday passed into law a bill expanding the equal opportunities commission from five to 10 members, and giving separate seats for the first time to representatives of Christian and Muslim Arab workers’ groups.

“We and the Christians have a lot in common. They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within,” Haaretz daily quoted the bill’s sponsor, Yariv Levin, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, as saying.

It also sets aside seats for Druze, ultra-Orthodox Jews and families of Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia, all groups which have higher than average unemployment.

The bill was passed three months ahead of the first trip to the Holy Land by Pope Francis, who is to visit Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem from May 24 to 26.

The Israeli Arab community has its roots in the 160,000 Palestinians who remained inside Israel following its creation in 1948. Today they and their descendants number around 1.3 million out of a total Israeli population of 7.9 million.

Israeli Arabs enjoy full citizenship and are allowed to vote but have long complained of official discrimination.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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« Reply #12174 on: Feb 26, 2014, 07:58 AM »


February 25, 2014, 3:16 pm

Day After Uganda’s Antigay Law Is Signed, a Tabloid Publishes Names

By CHRISTINE HAUSER
IHT   

In October 2010, a tabloid newspaper in Uganda called Rolling Stone published a front-page headline: “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak. Hang Them.”

About three months later, Uganda’s most outspoken gay rights activist, David Kato, whose name was published, was beaten to death in his neighborhood, as my colleague Jeffrey Gettlemen reported at the time.

Now, gay activists, rights groups and others are once again remembering Mr. Kato as they fear the response to a new report, this time by a Ugandan tabloid called Red Pepper, published Tuesday, just a day after President Yoweri Museveni signed a sweeping antigay bill into law.

“Exposed!” the headline said. “Uganda’s 200 Top Homos Named.”

Jacqueline Kasha, a Ugandan activist, and others shared an image of the Red Pepper front page on Twitter, with a warning.

    #AHBUganda: The media witch hunt is back. 200 Top Homos exposed in redpepper http://t.co/sbofQxvSyM

    — Kasha Jacqueline (@KashaJacqueline) 25 Feb 14

    Remember David Kato, killed 3 years ago after a Ugandan paper outed him, he sued them and won, but was still murdered http://t.co/UOuhwIJhE5

    — Kerry McCarthy MP (@KerryMP) 25 Feb 14

At the time Mr. Kato was killed, Parliament was considering the death penalty as punishment for gay sex in some cases. Under the bill Mr. Museveni signed,life in prison is the maximum penalty.

Reaction to the law has included a renewed focus on the work of American evangelicals in Uganda in support of the legislation, mostly that of Scott Lively, who visited in 2009 to speak to Parliament.

Mr. Lively said in a statement published Tuesday on his website that, in terms of “simple homosexuality,” “the focus of a government seeking to protect its people from the homosexual agenda should be on rehabilitation and prevention, not punishment.”

He is being sued in federal court in Massachusetts by a Uganda gay rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda, which accuses him of violating international law by inciting the persecution of gay men and lesbians in Uganda.

On Tuesday, the rights group posted on its Twitter account news of a fatal attack on a gay couple that it placed in context of the new law.

    SADNews:After #AHB signage suspected gay couple has been attacked & one of them is dead.
    @frankmugisha @DenisNzioka @Opimva @richardlusimbo

    — Sexual Minorities Ug (@SMUG2004) 25 Feb 14

Pepe Onziema, a prominent gay rights activist in Uganda, said efforts were being made to confirm the reports.

    Very heartbreaking news from Kiwanataka of 2 young men suspected to be a gay couple. Police is hesitant to comment, as we gather more info.

    — IAMGoingNowhere (@Opimva) 25 Feb 14

On its Facebook page, Red Pepper, described as a private, independent tabloid daily that started publishing in 2001, links to news articles about events in South Africa, South Sudan and Nigeria. The page’s “Topic of the Day” on Tuesday focused on a man complaining that his girlfriend wore skimpy clothes.

On Tuesday, another Facebook page popped up to urge a boycott of the newspaper after it published its list, and called on people to post examples of its journalism inciting hatred.

Mark Schenkel, a journalist who covers East Africa, said the newspaper had listed fewer than 200 people, and he provided a quotation from the article, which did not appear to have been posted immediately online.

    Today’s newspapers in Uganda. Red Pepper lists 61 (supposedly) gay people, not 200 as it says on the front page. http://t.co/COmL32njt7

    — Mark Schenkel (@schenkel_mark) 25 Feb 14

    Uganda’s red pepper tabloid: ‘In salutation to the new anti-gay law, we unleash Uganda’s top homos and their sympathisers’.

    — Mark Schenkel (@schenkel_mark) 25 Feb 14

    @ClaretJono I estimate that 1/4 were already known. local lgbti-activists.

    — Mark Schenkel (@schenkel_mark) 25 Feb 14

Frank Mugisha, a gay rights activist in Uganda, said on his Twitter account:

    I wish each Ugandan could take time & think properly all these things about the anti gay bill & see who it affects ,us or the govt .

    — Dr. Frank Mugisha (@frankmugisha) 25 Feb 14

    Receiving texts,friends asking if I have seen today’s red pepper, I heard about the “outings” but personally I never read the red pepper .

    — Dr. Frank Mugisha (@frankmugisha) 25 Feb 14

The Associated Press reported from Kampala that the news editor of Red Pepper, Ben Byarabaha, said the paper had published the full names of only well-known activists and had tried to use nicknames for those who had not made their sexual orientation public.

The A.P. reported that the list included prominent Ugandan gay activists such as Mr. Onziema, who has repeatedly warned that the new law could set off violence against gay and lesbian Ugandans; a Ugandan hip-hop star; and a Catholic priest.

Others, including a retired Anglican cleric who supports gay rights, are listed as sympathizers, the news agency said.

RFI recorded an interview with Mr. Byarabaha, who said he did not say they were “gay,” but “I say they are sympathizers.”

Asked whether he thought something would happen to those on the list, he said, “Nothing, nothing.” Asked if readers might take the law into their own hands, he responded, “No no no no.”

The interviewer, Daniel Finnan, also asked whether Mr. Kato “was not killed” after the publishing of the list in Rolling Stone, which is no longer exists and has no relation to the American magazine.

Mr. Byarabaha replied: “No, that is not true. He had a misunderstanding with someone.”
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« Reply #12175 on: Feb 26, 2014, 08:00 AM »


Egypt names Ibrahim Mahlab as new prime minister

Former housing minister and Mubarak party member pledges to 'crush terrorism' and crack down on rise in violence

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
theguardian.com, Tuesday 25 February 2014 17.22 GMT   


A former member of Hosni Mubarak's political party has been appointed as Egypt's new prime minister, a day after the cabinet announced its shock resignation, vowing to crack down on the militant violence that has blighted Egypt since the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Ibrahim Mahlab spoke after his appointment by Adly Mansour – the army-appointed president who has been in office since Morsi's removal in July – and said he hoped to form his government within three or four days.

"We will work together to restore security and safety to Egypt and crush terrorism in all corners of the country," he said. "Security and stability in the entire country and crushing terrorism will pave the way for investment."

Mahlab, who was housing minister in the previous administration, will head Egypt's sixth government since the 2011 uprising that toppled the autocratic Mubarak, beginning yet another chapter in the chaotic post-Mubarak era.

Mahlab once belonged to Mubarak's National Democratic party, and is the former CEO of Arab Contractors, one of the region's largest construction firms.

He is expected to lead an interim government at least until the election of a new president – likely to be army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi – and perhaps even until the installation of a new parliament.

Egypt's media and political class are largely supportive of Mahlab, who is seen as a man of action compared with his predecessor, 77-year-old Hazem al-Beblawy.

Both men are white-haired, but on Tuesday pro-regime newspaper al-Watan printed a caricature of a brown-haired Mahlab standing next to a white-haired Beblawy to emphasise the former's comparative youthfulness.

"He gets things done," Samir Radwan, Egypt's former finance minister, told the Guardian on Monday. "He is a doer, a man of action. I've never seen him in an office. I've only ever seen him on a building site."

Opponents of the government criticised Mahlab's appointment because of his connection to the Mubarak era, and to business elites. Under his watch as housing minister last week, 1,200 families were forcibly evicted from their Cairo homes, and their houses demolished, Amnesty International reported.

Beblawy was blamed for failing to dealing with a rise in the number of workers' strikes, electricity shortages and a spiralling economy – problems that have blighted Egypt for years and which the new government is unlikely to solve. It is unclear how much say he or his ministers had in their departure from government, and how many of them will be reappointed. At least two ministers had no prior knowledge of their 'resignation'.


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« Reply #12176 on: Feb 26, 2014, 08:04 AM »

Crude Weapons Help Fuel Unrest in Bastion of Venezuelan Opposition

By WILLIAM NEUMAN
FEB. 25, 2014
IHT

SAN CRISTÓBAL, Venezuela — No one here is hiding the heavy artillery, such as it is. Students camping out on an intersection of this city, which has become a battleground between the authorities and antigovernment protesters, have a variety of homemade weapons — mortars to lob small, noisy explosives, miniature firebombs, slingshots, clubs and nasty-looking things called Miguelitos made from hoses festooned with nails.

“We’re not peaceful here,” said Andryth Niño, 19, toying with a two-and-a-half-foot-long Miguelito one night this week as she sat with companions on the curb near the students’ ragtag camp, which had been rebuilt after being flattened a few nights earlier by National Guard troops. “You can’t be peaceful when they’re always attacking you.”

Opposition political leaders and protest organizers in Caracas, the capital, have been urging demonstrators to use nonviolent means to confront the government, and most of the large marches and rallies around the country, including here, have been carried out peacefully.

Yet the appeal to nonviolence had little echo among some of the most determined protesters in this western city, where the rallies started this month and where confrontations with government troops have been most intense.

About a dozen people have died around the country in violence associated with the protests. Several were fatally shot, and many more have been wounded. Security forces have been implicated in some of the deaths.

Last week, President Nicolás Maduro sent extra troops to contain the unrest in this bastion of the political opposition, and in recent days National Guard soldiers have swept through residential neighborhoods, firing tear gas and plastic buckshot at residents, menacing or detaining protesters and destroying motorcycles and other property.

Pointing to the casualties around the country and the aggressive tactics, many protesters said they saw no choice but to do what was needed to act in self-defense.

“We don’t attack; we defend ourselves,” said Daniel Tinoco, 23, a student leader at the encampment, who wears gloves during confrontations with troops to protect his hands while throwing rocks and hurling back tear gas canisters.

The protests started with students but have spread to other sectors of society. Last weekend, in middle-class neighborhoods around this city, residents threw rocks at National Guard troops whom they saw as invaders and prepared firebombs as they guarded barricades made of heaps of junk, tree limbs and other materials.

On Sunday, a 34-year-old protester was killed when he fell from a rooftop where he had been hiding from troops who were firing tear gas in the neighborhood.

At a memorial service that night for the protester, Jimmy Vargas, friends said his death would make them more aggressive in their fight with government forces. Someone hung a sign on a fence near the spot where Mr. Vargas fell, his blood still staining the ground.

“Jimmy, you didn’t go away,” the sign said. “You are here in every rock that is thrown in your name.”

The protests have fed tensions with the United States, which expelled three midlevel Venezuelan diplomats on Tuesday. The move was in retaliation for the expulsion last week by Mr. Maduro of three American consular officials who the Venezuelan government claimed had been fomenting violent student protests, a charge Washington denied.

Even though Venezuela is a major oil supplier to the United States, the two countries have long been at odds politically and have not had ambassadors in each other’s capitals since 2010. On Tuesday, however, the foreign minister, Elías Jaua, said Venezuela would nominate a new ambassador to Washington, after Mr. Maduro said he wanted someone to explain to Americans what was going on in his country.

The protests have given voice to a host of complaints, transforming into a prolonged howl of frustrated rage by opponents of the country’s socialist-inspired government. Demonstrators denounce soaring crime, high inflation and long lines to buy food and other basic goods that are in chronically short supply. Now the demands also include the release of jailed protesters and a halt to the tactics used against demonstrators.

Violent protests, especially among students, have a lengthy history in Venezuela, to the point where the more radical student demonstrators have long been referred to as “rock throwers” — a term that applied to no small number of officials in the current government in their university days.

As the current round of protests has spread, young demonstrators in Caracas have frequently engaged in battles with the police that have often seemed choreographed — generally, a brief thrust and counterthrust that ends with the rock throwers fleeing tear gas and plastic buckshot, only to regroup later.

The subject of violence is a delicate one, and most demonstrations in recent weeks have been peaceful.

Nonetheless, Mr. Maduro has focused attention on acts of violence and vandalism. He has repeatedly labeled the protesters as fascists who are part of a wider plot to topple him. And as for the demonstrators in Táchira, the border state of which San Cristóbal is the capital, Mr. Maduro claims their ranks have been infiltrated by right-wing Colombian paramilitary fighters sent by his enemies.

He has jailed a prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo López, accusing him on television of seeking to cause a coup by training youths to spread violence at demonstrations. Mr. López, the former mayor of a wealthy part of Caracas, denies the charge and has repeatedly called for demonstrators to act peacefully.

Many protesters here and elsewhere say that they have been inspired by recent events in Ukraine, where months of civic unrest culminated in violent street battles that forced President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power.

“We’ve been watching what’s happening in Ukraine,” said Luigi Pallottini, 19, a student at the encampment. “We’ve been in contact with them through social media.”

Protesters said that they had studied videos of the Ukrainian revolt and recent uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere, and that they had learned tactics from them, like how to organize at barricades to watch for the arrival of security forces, how to make smoke bombs and how to block the view of the drivers of tanks or armored riot vehicles by heaving glass bottles filled with paint at the vehicles’ windows.

The students and other protesters generally say that they want Mr. Maduro to leave office, but in an orderly manner, such as by resignation or a recall election.

Still, at times the whole business has the naïve feel of a boy’s adventure tale.

One recent night, a pair of students covered their faces with hoods and slunk off under the glare of streetlights with a brace of small firebombs for what they said was a strike against a National Guard post.

A short time later they returned, elated, announcing that their mission had been a success. A counterattack was anticipated. The camp sprang into action with an improvised arsenal. That included homemade mortars made from steel tubes. A small bag of explosive powder is put inside the tube and a fuse is lit. When it goes off it makes a loud bang and launches a firework-like projectile about half a block.

Someone else had jammed a piece of brick on the end of a broken golf club and had another weapon, too — a slingshot, with marbles for ammunition. Others picked up metal rods, rocks, Miguelitos or more firebombs, which here are generally made from pony-size beer bottles with a few ounces of gasoline.

Scruffy and unwashed from several days at the camp, the students donned an array of protective gear, including motorcycle helmets, construction dust masks and gloves. One had made a shield from a round piece of metal. Two protesters came down a rope from the terrace of what appeared to be an abandoned house on the corner, while another remained behind, perhaps ready to toss projectiles from above.

“This,” he said, “is the fort.”

Yet the counterattack never arrived, and most of them eventually wandered off to get some sleep.

**************   

Former boxing champion Antonio Cermeno found dead

Body of 44-year-old Venezuelan sportsman nicknamed El Coloso found abandoned following kidnap of he and his family

Jonathan Watts and agencies
theguardian.com, Wednesday 26 February 2014 01.50 GMT   

Venezuela's reputation as one of the most murderous nations on earth was further underscored on Tuesday when former boxing world champion Antonio Cermeno was found dead on a roadside.

The body of Cermeno - nicknamed El Coloso (The Colossus) during his career - was discarded on the Caucagua-Higuerote highway in Miranda a day after he and his family had been kidnapped. His relatives had escaped when their abductors stopped at a garage to refuel the car.

The 44-year-old was a popular figure in Venezuela and the boxing world. He held the WBA super bantamweight title from 1995 until 1997, and then won the featherweight title in 1998. After his retirement in 2006, he worked on social projects and helped to develop the Street Boxing program for disadvantaged youths.

His killing is the latest high-profile blow to a nation that is struggling to grapple with an explosion of violent crime.

Last month, a former Miss Venezuela and telenovela actress was found murdered in a car along with her British ex-husband Thomas Henry Berry.

In the wake of that killing, President Nicolás Maduro promised to tackle crime, particularly abductions and homicides. According to a 2010 UN report, Venezuela is among the four most murderous nations on earth. However, unlike the others - Honduras, El Salvador and Jamaica - it suffers far less from poverty and inequality, which has raised the question why it is to vulnerable to violence.

Concerns about crime are high among the priorities of the tens of thousands who have taken to the streets in recent week, resulting in more killings.


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« Reply #12177 on: Feb 26, 2014, 08:27 AM »

In the USA....United Surveillance America

Apple releases fix for suspicious security ‘flaw’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 18:46 EST

Apple released a series of software patches for its Mac computers to fix what was described as a serious security flaw in the operating system.

The updates for Mac OS follow Friday’s release of a security update for the iOS 7 mobile operating system used on the iPhone and iPad.

Apple’s comments on the security flaws were limited, but cryptographer Matthew Green said before the updates that the flaw was “seriously exploitable,” meaning that it could allow hackers to gain access to user accounts.

An Apple spokesman said of the latest patch: “Today’s update does address the same issue that was fixed in iOS 7.”

The Apple support website said the update “improves the stability, compatibility, and security of your Mac.”

The website said the update fixes a series of problems and also allows the computers to make and receive voice calls using Apple’s FaceTime program.

Security researcher Ashkan Soltani said in a tweet that it “still surprises me that Apple waited 3 extra days to fix (the problem) with a version update rather than just do a timely Security Update.”

The first news of the flaw came from the security firm Crowdstrike in a blog post Friday, which said hackers could intercept communications over Wi-Fi networks from users of Apple devices.

The updates cover the Mac OS X Mavericks operating system as well as the older Mountain Lion system.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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

The GOP Can’t Decide if the Majority Matters

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
PoliticusUSA
Wednesday, February, 26th, 2014, 8:33 am      

ReligiousOppressioninAmericaThe American Family Association (AFA) posted a despairing yet jubilant note on their FB page yesterday, meant, I suppose, to rally the troops, who, while being a majority of Americans, are also somehow, paradoxically, a persecuted minority:

    READ & SHARE: Thank you for your vigilance in standing with AFA for Truth. Here is an important reminder today from Joe McKeever, “We may want to prepare our children for the changes coming to this society whether we like them or not: The marginalization of biblical Christianity, the erosion of hard-won liberties, the acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle in every area of our culture, gay marriage accepted everywhere, and certain cults (we will leave them unnamed here) to be seen as part of Orthodox Christianity. One scripture, however, becomes more and more important to God’s people: “Their unbelief does not nullify the faithfulness of God…. Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Romans 3:3-4). God’s word was not given to us “on approval,” friend. It stands!”

So let’s get this straight:

    biblical Christianity (as opposed to, I suppose, non-biblical Christianity), is being marginalized;
    Unspecified but hard-won liberties are being eroded;
    The homosexual lifestyle is being accepted in every area of our culture;
    Gay marriage is being accepted everywhere;
    Certain cults (look out, Mitt Romney!) want to be seen as part of Orthodox Christianity.

The problem seems here, at least, to be the will of the people. All these people the AFA is complaining about, want what the Bible allegedly says they cannot have. The will of the people is being heeded, and that’s a problem, says the AFA, because it’s contrary to the Bible.

If you find this mish-mash of ideas to be, well, a mish-mash of ideas, think about mish-mashed Iowa Republican Bob Vander Plaats. Vander Plaats is the head of The Family Leader (surely you remember the infamous Family Leader pledge that said blacks were better off as slaves?).

Vander Plaats is upset that the U.S. Constitution trumps state constitutions, and he is doubly upset with Rand Paul for doing nothing as a response to a judge striking down Kentucky’s marriage ban, despite the fact that really, there is nothing Paul can do.

    Well, I think one thing is that he needs to step up to the microphone. This is his state, this is Kentucky. This is something that runs totally against who he is. I mean, he’s about liberty. And if it’s about liberty, and if you have a judge usurping the will of the people of Kentucky, that runs contrary to liberty. If you believe marriage is a state rights issue and the state of Kentucky says, ‘This is what marriage is to us, one man and one woman, clearly defined,’ then you better stand up to that state rights issue. If you believe what you say you believe, that marriage is foundational and it’s between a man and a woman, which is what he says he believes, then you got to stand up for that, because that’s the law of nature, that’s the law of nature’s God, that’s the Declaration of Independence, which this whole country was founded on.

The problem here (other than the problematic nature of “traditional marriage” itself) also centers around the will of the people; specifically, that the will of the people is being ignored. The lesson to be drawn here seems to be that,

    If the majority want something the Bible says they cannot have, the majority is wrong and must be denied; and,
    If the majority want what the Bible says they must have, then the majority must be heeded; therefore,
    Only what the Bible says matters (Oh, and as a logical consequence, the Constitution doesn’t – not at all).

The Declaration of Independence Vander Plaats says, somehow managing not to mention the U.S. Constitution – you know, the one Tom DeLay says Americans have forgotten was written by God. You know, the Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion by banning the sort of state sponsored religion the AFA and Vander Plaats want to impose on America?

Just as a side note to Tom DeLay: you don’t see God’s name on the United States Constitution, and you won’t anywhere within it find any biblical principles. Saying that the Constitution is identical with the Bible is just a means by which the Constitution can be swept aside and ignored, because, after all, it just says what the Bible says.

I suppose one method of turning back the “marginalization of biblical Christianity” is to adopt Bryan Fischer’s scheme to allow into this country only Christians immigrants fleeing from Muslim persecution, because, you know, that’s what it says on the Statue of Liberty: “Christians only.”

Oh wait, it doesn’t say that at all, does it? No more than the Constitution says the First Amendment applies only to Christians. The Statue of Liberty says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – without exception, while the Old Testament Republicans are so fond of quoting says its teachings are for the Chosen People of Israel – without exception, something to which Jesus himself agreed when he told his followers not to give to dogs what is holy or to throw pearls before swine.

The Old Testament was never meant to apply to us gentiles, yet here we have it being forced down our throats despite God’s expressed will in the Old Testament and the will of our Founding Fathers as expressed in the United States Constitution.

The Religious Right wants to harness the tyranny of the majority if they can get it, and ignore the majority if they can’t, all the while ignoring the Constitution that, rather than the Bible or the majority in individual states, cities or towns, is the law of the land.

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

New Republican Plot to Kill Obamacare Would Cost 1 Million Workers Their Health Insurance

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, February, 25th, 2014, 5:23 pm      

According to the CBO, the latest Republican attempt to kill Obamacare through adding 10 more hours to the work week would cost 1 million workers their employer provided healthcare.

The CBO report on the House bill that would increase the work week in the ACA from 30 hours to 40 hours found that the bill would increase the deficit, and take away health insurance from 1 million workers.

The CBO laid out the consequences of this Republican plan to American workers:

The CBO’s findings are more proof that repealing, or limiting the ACA will harm the country. The Republican plan would force half of the 1 million workers who will lose their health insurance to get on Medicare or Medicaid. Republicans would be shooting themselves in the feet because they would be adding people to the same programs that they are trying to kill.

All of the Republican efforts to kill the ACA are based around the same idea of taking access to healthcare away from the American people. To call this latest House Republican scheme harebrained would be an understatement. The Republican plan to “fix” Obamacare is to take away healthcare from millions of people. As a bonus, the party of fiscal conservative also wants to increase the deficit while they increase the ranks of the uninsured by 500,000 hard working Americans.

House Republicans are so determined to injure the ACA that they are willing to increase the culture of “government dependency” that they rail against every single day. Small government Republicans are going to meddle in the affairs of private businesses for the sole purpose of scoring a political victory against President Obama.

The CBO’s report demonstrated once again that every single Republican Obamacare talking point is a lie. The ACA is lowering deficit, providing millions with access to affordable health insurance, and not killing jobs.

Republicans aren’t harming President Obama with their plots to kill the ACA. They are harming millions of Americans, and without even realizing it, they are also harming themselves.

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

Republicans Proven Wrong as Obamacare Enrollment Surges Past 4 Million

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, February, 25th, 2014, 7:56 pm   

As Republicans continue to sputter and fight among themselves, the ACA continues to surge ahead as Obamacare enrollment has passed 4 million.

HHS posted the news on their blog:

    As we head into the last five weeks of this historic open enrollment period, millions of Americans are taking advantage of the new choices they now have to access affordable, quality health care thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The most recent data indicate that approximately 4 million people have now signed up for a private health insurance plan through the Federal and State-based Marketplaces since October 1. A full enrollment report for February will be released in mid-March.

The Obama administration is on pace to either hit, or come close to their goal of 7 million enrollees

Over in Republican land, Speaker of the House John Boehner tried to argue that premiums are rising, and he described the ACA as a sucker punch to the economy. Boehner said, “Another sucker punch to our economy. Another broken promise to hardworking Americans. And the only reason we even know about it is that the House demanded this transparency from the administration.”

At the same time, Majority Leader Eric Cantor is having trouble with getting Republicans to agree on their Obamacare alternative. The plan that Cantor is proposing would raise taxes on 150 million workers who get their health insurance from their employer.

Republicans are in big trouble here. The ACA is surging ahead while the GOP can’t agree on what their alternative should be. The only idea that they have would raise taxes on nearly half of the population.

By limiting their entire position to repealing Obamacare, Republicans painted themselves into a corner.

They have no alternative to offer the tens of millions of people who will have access to health insurance via the ACA. The GOP plan looks to be going nowhere fast as each day proves President Obama right. Americans do want access to affordable healthcare.

All Republicans can do is watch their hopes for 2014 and 2016 melt away as the people all across the country continue to flock to Obamacare.

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

President Obama Rips Fox News Misleading People About Obamacare

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, February, 25th, 2014, 10:55 pm   

President Obama got in a strong jab at Fox News tonight for their constant misleading of people about the ACA.

Transcript:

    THE PRESIDENT: So everybody here has got a story. A lot of you, you got involved in the first place because of this health care issue, a lot of you — because I know I met you on the campaign trail in some cases, and you came up and told me about a story of how painful and difficult an illness in the family had been, and not knowing how you were going to pay for coverage, how you were going to pay for the care for a loved one.

    So you all know this, and you can tell these stories in ways that are outside of politics. Politicians, if they’re talking here in Washington, people discount them. I’ll just be honest with you. People, they just assume, you know what, everybody is just yacking and trying to win an election. And so that’s why misinformation can thrive.

    But when they hear from their friends and their neighbors and their coworkers like you, and you’re able to say, hey, here check it out, take a look on the website — if you reach out to your Republican friend who can’t stand Obama, but is basically a nice person and they just– but they watch the wrong newscast or — you all know those folks. Some uncle or cousin, you love them to death, but they come in with all this information that’s just wrong, and you’re shaking your head, but you decide you don’t want to get in an argument with them because you haven’t seen them in a while and you miss them. Right? Everybody has got those folks. You know them.

    So if you’re able to reach out to them, and you just say, take a look, here, here, let’s get on the website. There’s the price. There’s the plan. Here’s the tax credit. Here’s what it will cost for you. Come on, Uncle Joe, I know you don’t have health insurance. You may not like the President, but this really is a good deal. They’ll listen to you, right?

    And then there are some folks actually who do like me, but they just don’t know. Because they’re not paying attention. Because they’re on one of the other channels that has “Real Housewives” or something. They really don’t know that there’s this health care plan out there.

Like all of the best presidential take downs, this one was delivered in the form of a joke. It was clear whom the president was talking about. Republicans who get bad information from watching the wrong newscast. Obama was clearing describing Fox News, and that tiny segment of America known as Fox News viewers.

The president’s description was deadly accurate. Fox News viewers are certain that they are right about the ACA, when it is clear that they have been blatantly misled, and possess very few facts about the healthcare law. It is nearly impossible to reason with one of these individuals because they have been subjected to endless hours of propaganda that has been disguised as news.

Considering what the ACA has been up against, it is amazing that the White House is on target to meet their enrollment goals. The Koch brothers have been spending millions of dollars the Republican Party has been on the attack non-stop for years, and the top cable news network in the country pounds out a daily endless drumbeat of anti-ACA propaganda.

Even in the face of all of these obstacles, the Affordable Care Act is poised for success. The law and this president have overcome these challenges because people really do want access to affordable health insurance.

Obama got in a nice shot on Fox News tonight, but his biggest victory will be in the form of tens of millions of Americans gaining access to affordable health care.

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

Un-American Senate Republicans Threaten to Filibuster Veterans Benefits

By: Sarah Jones
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, February, 25th, 2014, 2:45 pm      

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced a bill with the most “the most comprehensive legislation for veterans to come before the Senate in decades,” per a one pager of the bill. It’s up for a vote Monday, around 3PM. This bill is chock full of very important benefits that our veterans are entitled to and should already have. It’s a bipartisan effort.

This legislation is the result of meetings with veterans’ groups and communities. It’s supported by “virtually every veterans organization in the country including The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).” (Read theSummary.)

So naturally, Republicans are threatening to filibuster it, ostensibly because they want a better way to pay for it. They don’t like the war savings pay-for.

Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur tweeted:

    On Senate veterans bill: Rs open to allowing cloture to get on it, but they oppose war savings pay-for. So may filibuster before final vote.

    — Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) February 25, 2014

And Manu Raju, Senior Congressional Reporter for POLITICO, tweeted:

    Lindsey Graham says he will vote to proceed to the vets bill but won't vote to end debate unless there's a better way to pay for it

    — Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 25, 2014

To explain, the CBO is required to assume that war spending will grow each and every year based on the rate of inflation, but since we are in the drawdown phase of both wars, we won’t be spending as much money on war. The supporters of the veterans bill are saying that this money will pay for the benefits, which seems kind of fitting.

But Republicans don’t like the idea. Maybe they don’t like anything with the phrase “drawdown” or “paid for” in it, it’s hard to say (given their unfunded tax cuts under Bush, unfunded Medicare Part D, and unfunded wars).

But no matter how committed Republicans are to pretending to be fiscal conservatives when someone else is in charge, when we make promises to our veterans, we need to honor them.

Here’s what Sanders bill would mean, as laid out by a statement of support by DAV:

“This massive omnibus bill, unprecedented in our modern experience, would create, expand, advance, and extend a number of VA benefits, services and programs that are important to DAV and to our members. For example, responding to a call from DAV as a leading veterans organization, it would create a comprehensive family caregiver support program for all generations of severely wounded, injured and ill veterans. Also, the bill would authorize advance appropriations for VA’s mandatory funding accounts to ensure that in any government shutdown environment in the future, veterans benefits payments would not be delayed or put in jeopardy. This measure also would provide additional financial support to survivors of service members who die in the line of duty, as well as expanded access for them to GI Bill educational benefits. A two-plus year stalemate in VA’s authority to lease facilities for health care treatment and other purposes would be solved by this bill.”

And yet, John McCain claimed that Sanders doesn’t know what vets want. Burgess Everett, a POLITICO congressional reporter tweeted:

    Key @SenJohnMcCain quote this a.m.: Vet Committee Chair @SenSanders "doesn’t really understand what the priorities of the veterans are."

    — Burgess Everett (@burgessev) February 25, 2014

Apparently Senator McCain believes that he speaks for all veterans and apparently all veterans would rather not have these benefits (partial list):

    Restoration of Full COLA for Military Retirees: This legislation would restore full cost-of-living adjustments for all military retirees.

    • Authorization of Major Medical Facility Leases: This legislation would authorize VA to enter into 27 major medical facility leases in 18 states and Puerto Rico.

    • VA Health Care and Dental Care Expansion: This legislation includes provisions that would expand access to VA health care – including complementary and alternative medicine – and dental care, in a cost-effective and equitable way.

    • Advance Appropriations for VA: This legislation would ensure veterans receive consistent access to the benefits they have earned by establishing advance appropriations for the mandatory accounts at VA.

    • Ending the benefits backlog: Members from both sides of the aisle have presented legislative solutions (incorporated in this bill) that would support VA’s ongoing efforts and would make needed improvements to the claims system.

    • In-State Tuition Assistance for Post-9/11 Veterans: This legislation would give our transitioning servicemembers a fair shot at attaining their educational goals without incurring an additional financial burden.

McCain says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” on behalf of veterans and their families.

When it comes to insisting on paying for things a certain way, Republicans are hardly experts. This is the party that smirked “deficits don’t matter” as they racked up the charges on Obama’s credit card. Now they want Obama to pay off the entire credit card including the interest from their sprees, but without any revenue. And if he dares to try to uphold previous commitments to veterans, Republicans tell him he must pay for it their way first.

Sure, war savings are a bit of a gimmick, but then again, they’re not. Democrats prefer to spend that money on things like education and a social safety net, while Republicans are very hawkish and enjoy running about the globe invading a sovereign nation on a misguided and inaccurate whim. When the money is being spent on their invasions, Republicans don’t even bother putting the war on the budget. But when that same money is moved over into the veterans’ column, suddenly they call it a gimmick.


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A Fed Up Top Democrat Calls Out Darrell Issa and His Many Lies

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, February, 25th, 2014, 10:01 am   

In political circles there is an unwritten rule that members of Congress observe “comity” in dealing with each other that, in general terms, means exercising courteous and considerate behavior towards each other. Comity is why Americans will hardly ever hear one member of Congress call another a filthy liar when both the liar and other members of Congress know without a doubt the liar is lying. Over the weekend, one member of Congress came as close to calling Darrell Issa a blatant liar as Americans will ever hear, and for congressional observers sick to death of Issa’s persistent lies regarding anything remotely related to the Obama Administration, it was long overdue.

Despite Defense and State Department records detailing the events that lead to the deaths of diplomat Chris Stevens and three Americans serving in a hostile environment in Libya, Darrell Issa continues spreading blatant lies to defame former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Last week Issa addressed campaign donors in New Hampshire during a trip he described as “a campaign to shape the debate for 2016,” and categorically accused the former Secretary of State of ordering the Department of Defense to stand down and allow the diplomatic outpost fall to attackers. Issa answered his own hypothetical question while pandering for campaign donations and said, “After asking why there was not one order given to turn on one Department of Defense asset,” Issa said “Secretary Clinton told (former Secretary of Defense Leon) Panetta to stand down.”

Issa’s false accusation was too much for the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee and it drove Representative Elijah Cummings to pen a letter to Issa and demand that he “publicly apologize for your statements and withdraw them immediately.” If Issa’s criminal character is any indication, Representative Cummings is going to wait an eternity because if there is one thing Issa can be counted on doing, it is to keep lying because there is no law against being a pathological liar; even for a United States House member. However, Cummings’ letter to Issa did not stop at calling for a public apology and retraction. He wrote “I was personally stunned by the reckless, baseless, and utterly offensive accusations you launched against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” Cummings should be used to being stunned at Issa’s lies to drum up opposition to anyone connected to the Obama Administration, but he took the time to outline, in great detail, the severity of Issa’s filthy lies including testimony and documents refuting Issa’s contention about Clinton gathered during the House Oversight Committee investigation into the phony scandal surrounding the attack on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.

Cummings letter to Issa could not be more pointed or accusatory, and he denounced the liar Issa for accusing Clinton of committing treason. Cummings wrote “The definition of treason is the betrayal of allegiance owed to one’s country, and you suggest that Secretary Clinton directed the Secretary of Defense of the United States to intentionally withhold military assistance that may have saved the lives of one of her own ambassadors and three other brave Americans serving their country.  Your accusations are beyond the pale, and you should immediately retract them and issue a public apology.” Clearly, Cummings is weary of Issa’s lies as well as spending taxpayer time and money chasing phony scandals of Issa’s making. It is the second time that Issa is officially being called out by Democrats who have had enough of his phony witch hunts and manufactured scandals targeting the Obama Administration.

It has been two weeks since Democrats linked Issa with clearly devious and deceitful unethical behavior in another Issa-created scandal for meeting secretly with a Treasury Department inspector general without notifying or including Democrats on the Oversight Committee. In fact, Issa specifically “forbade the inspector general from including any Democratic Committee members” in a meeting regarding Oversight Committee investigations into the Affordable Care Act and the IRS doing its job scrutinizing applications for 501 (C) social welfare groups concealing dark money. Democrats only became aware of each of two separate meetings between the inspector general and Issa that occurred ten months apart.  Two Democrats filed a formal 22-page complaint targeting Issa’s co-conspirator J. Russell George, but Issa still has not faced an ethics investigation and it is why he continues his unethical shenanigans with apparent impunity.

It is curious why only Elijah Cummings and two other Democrats are challenging Issa’s propensity for unethical conduct and arguably criminal conspiracy. It is clear to anyone familiar with the testimony and documents surrounding the perpetual and phony Benghazi scandal that Issa is lying for political gain. Although Cummings did not come out and call Issa the liar that he is, he did the next best thing and his letter cannot be misconstrued as anything but calling Issa a liar. In his letter, Cummings wrote Issa’s comments assailing Clinton were “reckless, baseless, and utterly offensive,” “not the first time you have publicly—and falsely—accused former Secretary Clinton,” and “the Washington Post Fact Checker gave your claim Four Pinocchios, finding that Issa has no basis or evidence, and concluded that your ‘inflammatory and reckless language’ qualifies as a ‘whopper’.” Apparently under so-called congressional “comity” agreements, Cummings assertions are about as close as he will come to stating the obvious; Darrell Issa is a filthy two-bit pathological liar.

Issa needs to be thoroughly investigated for ethics violations and thrown out of Congress, but the Republican-controlled House will never investigate their paid witch hunter, so it is incumbent on all House Democrats to either demand, en masse, an in-depth ethics investigation, or appeal directly to the Justice Department to launch an investigation into the man who brought deep-seated criminal tendencies to his job as Oversight Committee Chairman. Despite irrefutable evidence there are no scandals or cover-ups involving the White House or Hillary Clinton regarding the Benghazi attack, Issa is profiting from spreading outright lies for political and monetary gain and wasting valuable taxpayer time and money with his criminal activity and manufactured phony scandals.

Representative Cummings is a patient man, so for him to reach his breaking point and call Issa a liar, in so many words, must mean he has had enough of Issa’s blatant lying. The letter Cummings sent Issa is replete with references to testimony Issa heard to prove to Issa he knew he was lying about former Secretary Clinton when he asserted she ordered the Defense Department to stand down and ignore the attack on Benghazi. For any American familiar with Issa, the fact he lies as a matter of course is not breaking news, but it is news that Elijah Cummings is the only Democrat in the House to publicly accuse him of what he has done since chairing the Oversight Committee; manufacture phony scandals and lying through his teeth for political expediency. The only scandal in Washington is still Darrell Issa, and the breadth, scope, and frequency of his lies likely does not even convince wealthy donors and racist teabaggers that former Secretary Clinton is dishonest, because if there was even one iota of truth to Issa’s assertions, the indictments would have been handed down over a year ago. It is time for indictments and charges, but they will be emblazoned with the real criminal, Darrell Issa’s name on the complaints and they cannot come soon enough if only he faces investigations.

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The Republican Idiocy Behind Laws Banning LGBTQs Will Inevitably Backfire

By: Tim From LA
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, February, 25th, 2014, 6:39 pm   

What is it with Republicans in Arizona and their racist and now homophobic laws? Arizona Senate Bill 1062 would allow:

    “Exercise of religion” means the practice or observance of religion, including the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.

So if someone is an LGBTQ, a corporation based upon their “religious belief” can legally discriminate against serving or hiring anyone who happens to be born a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Question…Why? Because, under federal law, LGBTQs are not a protected class, therefore under the 10th Amendment, Arizona has the right to pass discrimination laws.

In California, it is a state offense to discriminate against people who are LGBTQs and doing so, would mean the corporation can get sued and possibly lose its charter to do business in this state. Currently there are 17 states and D.C. that ban discrimination against LGBTQs:

    California
    Colorado
    Connecticut
    Delaware
    District of Columbia
    Hawaii
    Illinois
    Iowa
    Massachusetts
    Maine
    Minnesota
    New Jersey
    New Mexico
    Nevada
    Oregon
    Rhode Island
    Vermont
    Washington

Thankfully, there are Arizona Republicans who are against SB1062 and are urging Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill. One such Arizonan Republican is Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain said that he hopes Brewer vetoes the bill. Why are the so-called God-fearing Republicans in a huff? Because one of their largest political contributors are against the bill…the Log Cabin Republicans.

This bill, as written, leaves the door wide open for discrimination. For example, a Jewish or Muslim store owner can refuse service to a Christian, because it is in conflict with their belief. If a person with a cross walks into their place of business, the Muslim or Jew can say no Christians are allowed.

An atheist can do the same. Though they may not be a part of a religious institution they can also legally discriminate against cross-wearing customers because of the Constitution:

    14th Amendment
    Amendment XIV
    Section 1.

    All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Just because people like me don’t believe in a god, the Constitution states AZ cannot deprive [me] of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws if I were a resident and business owner in Arizona.

These laws apparently are written based upon some phobia or a lust for the religious folks and their desire to remain in office. These Republicans write laws without really thinking about the consequences: legal and/or political, so that they can cater to a society, though a minority, that is extremely vocal. One such bill-turned-law was SB 1070.

The evidence that the Arizona legislature’s bill that was crafted and now law proved that the legislature did not think the bill thoroughly, which was later signed by Brewer. The evidence are Sections 26 to 30. It is a felony at the state level to hire undocumented workers. After the passage of the bill, I’m sure the lawmakers are hoping that the residents of Arizona are asleep. Why?

According to Phoenix New Times reporter Stephen Lemons, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is still arresting undocumented workers, but apparently not arresting CEOs or managers who hire them. This disregard of their own law is in violation of 18 U.S. Code § 4 – Misprision of felony and Arpaio can be arrested.

How? §13-3884 which reads:

13-3884. Arrest by private person

    A private person may make an arrest:

    1. When the person to be arrested has in his presence committed a misdemeanor amounting to a breach of the peace, or a felony.

    2. When a felony has been in fact committed and he has reasonable ground to believe that the person to be arrested has committed it.

So an Arizonan can legally arrest Joe Arpaio for violating SB 1070 sections 26 to 30 for not enforcing Section 31 subsection a&b. Actually, the undocumented worker can have Joe Arpaio arrested, too. Oh, and full disclosure, I am NOT a lawyer nor am I offering anyone legal services, but being a reporter, searching for and reporting on a law like this is perfectly within my Constitutional rights. But I do suggest you see a lawyer.

The backlash to the elected officials in Arizona can bite them in the behind and destroy the very fabric that makes Arizona the great state that it is. When the conservative values, racism, homophobia and right winged Christianity, are foisted upon their people, expect the infrastructure to collapse from their insolence.

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Rand Paul Hits Rock Bottom By Accusing Bill Clinton Of Sexual Violence Towards Women

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, February, 25th, 2014, 3:36 pm   

On Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton joined Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes at a campaign event and spoke on her behalf. This was a pretty big deal, as it showed that Grimes is truly a credible threat to toppling Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) this November. Having the popular ex-President campaigning on your behalf can only boost your chances come election time.

Well, the Junior Senator from Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul, had to get his two cents in before the event. In a clip that aired Tuesday morning on MSNBC, Paul made the following statement:

    You know, it concerns me. The thing is, I think workplace violence is a serious thing. If the president of your network had relations with a 20 year-old girl who was there from college, I think the president of your network would be fired. If that’s what Bill Clinton did multiple times, really they ought to be concerned about being associated with him.

Did you catch that? In pretty clear terms, Rand Paul not only called Bill Clinton a sexual predator, he stated that Clinton committed violence against women in the workplace. He is stating that Monica Lewinsky was assaulted by the President between 1995 and 1997, when their sexual encounters took place. Paul is also making the point that anyone else that did what Clinton did would have been fired from their job and ostracized.

Rand Paul has been beating this drum for a while now. Mostly, it has been seen as a way to try to discredit Hillary Clinton prior to the 2016 election, especially since Paul sees himself as a potential candidate. Now, with Bill Clinton going out on the mid-term campaign trail in areas where President Obama isn’t overly popular, Paul appears to be doing it as a way to directly attack the former President.

His previous claims and attacks were already over the line. Plus, they just came across as desperate, seeing as the nation already came to terms with the Lewinsky scandal over 15 years ago. Now, he has decided to take it up a notch to the point where he not only should be forced to apologize, but perhaps the US Senate should think about censuring him for these abhorrent comments about a former Commander-In-Chief.

Absolutely everything he said on Tuesday morning was an out and out lie and completely inappropriate. First off, how was there any ‘workplace violence’, as Paul directly stated? Is Paul stating that Bill Clinton punched or physically hurt Lewinsky in some way? Because Lewinsky has always stated that the sexual encounters between the two were consensual.

Also, he has constantly referred to Lewinsky as a ’20-year old’ college girl. The fact is, Lewinsky was 22 at the time of her first encounter with Bill Clinton and she’d already graduated from college. She had also already carried on another affair with an older, married man prior to getting involved with the President. She wasn’t a young, naive, little girl barely out of high school. She was an experienced, adult woman who had already finished her college degree. It is extremely dishonest for Paul to keep saying that Lewinsky was younger than she was.

Why does Paul need to completely embellish the actual facts of this affair? If the Lewinsky scandal was as horrible as he keeps making it out to be, nearly 20 years later, why can’t he just discuss it honestly? Why does he have to make up so much stuff? The reason is because Rand Paul is a pathological liar. Once he tells something dishonest, he has to keep building on it and adding to it. The lie has to keep getting bigger and bigger. That is all he knows. He can’t help himself.

And to think…this man wants to be President!

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Bill Clinton and Alison Grimes Level Mitch McConnell With a Devastating One-Two Punch

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, February, 25th, 2014, 2:19 pm   

Former President Bill Clinton stormed into Louisville today, and combined with Democratic challenger Alison Lundargen Grimes to hammer Mitch McConnell.

Alison Lundargen Grimes told the sold out crowd that Kentucky is Clinton country. She said, “We will send the message with this campaign that Mitch McConnell is out of touch out of ideas, and come November with your help and support, he will be out of time.”

Grimes told the story of she and her sisters welcoming President Clinton to Washington with flowers in 1992 when she was 14 years old. Later, she said today Washington looks just like what President Clinton found when he arrived in 1992. She said Washington is broken because hyperpartisan people like Mitch McConnell are calling the shots. She said her Senate campaign is about restoring faith in our future in Kentucky.

Grimes called on increasing the minimum wage. She hit McConnell for increasing his pay every year while voting against raising the minimum wage 15 times. Grimes gave a very pro-middle class and pro-worker speech. She said that she believes Kentuckians don’t see this race as a toss-up, but they are ready to toss out Mitch McConnell.

Former President Clinton took the stage, and after the standard political thank you, he praised Gov. Brashear for his handling of the ACA.

Clinton said that he has reached the age where he can tell people exactly what he thinks. He talked about the things that really matter in elections. Former President Clinton hit McConnell for being anti-middle class. Clinton never mentioned McConnell by name, but accused him of pouting because Republicans aren’t in the White House, stopping anything good from happening.

Clinton told the crowd that he wanted them to go out on Election Day, and say give us back our country. The former president said, “You have a Senate candidate who says I believe in you. I trust in you, and I want this job so that I can do something for you.”

President Clinton called out the Koch brothers and the dark money ads, and said that those ads have worked for thirty years because they discourage Democrats who then stay home on Election Day.

McConnell’s amount of spending and the dark money ads were mentioned because this was a fundraiser for Grimes. Frankly, the Democrat is going to need all the money that she can raise, and then some. McConnell is trying to save his seat with millions of dollars in ads. He, and people like the Koch brothers are going to be relentlessly attacking the Grimes campaign from now until November.

Both Grimes and Clinton did an excellent job laying out the two paths for the future. The McConnell path is more of what we have already seen, obstruction, gridlock, and little concern given to the people of Kentucky. Grimes is offering to be a senator that will get things done for the people of the state. She sees a bright future for Kentucky, and her message translates well with voters who are tired of McConnell and his obstructionist games.

President Clinton was in fine form, and the role of being the 2014 Democratic turnout booster is perfect for him.

In a statement the McConnell campaign portrayed Clinton’s visit as an act of desperation by Grimes,”I guess Alison Lundergan Grimes will take any help she can get.” If Team Mitch really believes that’s true, McConnell’s campaign is completely out of touch with reality.

McConnell is running scared as President Clinton gave Kentucky voters plenty of hope that they can finally ditch the unpopular Mitch this November.

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Democrats in Unique Position of United Comfort as Republicans Grapple with 2016 Dread

By: Becky Sarwate
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, February, 25th, 2014, 11:12 am   

Before I launch into the meat of my argument, I must take a moment to preface with a drop of journalistic reality. The 2016 Presidential elections are a LONG haul. Political fortunes will be won, lost, regained and quite possibly, lost again before the first voter casts a ballot 21 months from now. The presumed front runners of late 2013 (Democrats: Hillary Clinton, Republicans: Chris Christie) have experienced a seismic shift on the right side of the political spectrum with an alacrity that caught even the most overstimulated among us by surprise. Truly at this point, anything is possible.

That said, it’s kind of fun to be a loyal Democrat right now. There was a really dispiriting moment in late 2004, after the super dull but well-meaning John Kerry lost to a resurgent George W. Bush, when it seemed that the White House might never welcome a Blue occupant again. Because if the unraveling scandal of fictional WMD intelligence and the mismanagement of the war in Iraq wasn’t enough to get Dubya tossed; if the expensive, seemingly objectiveless Afghanistan quagmire couldn’t produce regime change; and if the unpaid for tax cuts for the wealthy and a tired attempt to leverage gay marriage as a base-appealing wedge issue couldn’t galvanize a solid liberal opposition – well then it seemed nothing could upend the prospect of a permanent conservative majority.

It was with this sense of defeated resignation that many idealists observed the commencement of the 2008 Presidential races. The only upside appeared to be the lack of a Cheney candidacy. The New York Times Jonathan Martin alludes to that period and other recent transitions before it, this week in a piece entitled, Stability and Chaos, Hallmarks of Presidential Races, Swap Parties. Martin opens the article by observing, “Republican primaries usually amount to coronations, in which they nominate a candidate who has run before or is otherwise deemed next in line, while the Democratic contests are often messier affairs, prone to insurgencies and featuring uncertain favorites.”

This was true in 2008, when it seemed that Arizona Senator and erstwhile maverick John McCain might be rewarded for his patience and perseverance with the Presidential oath of office. This appeared even more likely when the “inevitable” campaign of former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Clinton foundered under a challenge from young Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Really, were it not for the timeliness of a late-2008 economic collapse that can only be tied to eight years of Bush leadership, and the Hail Mary nomination of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate, we might be playing “Hail to the Chief” today for another in a long string of old, white men.

But it turned out that Yes, We Can sometimes ask the voting public to make a statement for change. And though the last six years of Obama leadership has been marked by dogged opposition from the GOP, the public has yet to shift its allegiance, in large part because “Just Say No,” makes a better drug abuse prevention slogan than a party platform.

Though the shenanigans related to Congressional redistricting (aka gerrymandering) has awarded the Republicans a virtual stranglehold on the House, the right has utterly failed to offer plausible alternatives to the initiatives put force by the President’s team. October’s disastrous government shutdown finally disabused Team Right Wing of the notion that obstructionism alone represents a path to Washington. Turns out that voters prefer imperfect government to no government at all.

The following quote from Martin exemplifies why Democrats are, for the moment at least, relishing the prospect of another long campaign season, “the Republicans are acting like the Democrats of yore, anticipating a free-for-all primary that highlights the competing and at times fractious constituencies in their coalition.”

Ah yes. Who can forget the freak show that was the 2012 Republican primary series of candidate debates? Good times that almost succeeded in making Rick Santorum look like a palatable, centrist alternative to the other crazies. And folks, we’re just gearing up for the fun of 2016. I’m literally performing an impatient two-step, desperately awaiting the first time (because you know it’s coming) a flustered member of the establishment upbraids Ted Cruz in front of a live audience.

Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Bush (Jeb), Walker, Christie, Jindal – this is a just a smattering of the unelectable names being thrown about in Republican circles. Possibly the least offensive member of this group, Jeb Bush, can’t even secure the endorsement of his own mother.

For the moment, the grass is looking a lot greener on the Democratic side of the fence. Martin quotes Bill Clinton’s former chief strategist, James Carville, as saying, “My party is in a little bit of a just-don’t-blow-this-thing mode…The idea that we’re now consistently winning presidential elections isn’t lost on us.”

As I noted in the first paragraph, there’s miles to go before Decision 2016 sleeps. But for the first time since 1996 really, that encroaching feeling of dread is at bay.

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Dick Cheney: Obama Would Rather Pay For Food Stamps Than Support The Troops

By Susie Madrak February 25, 2014 8:37 am
CrooksAndLiars

What a venal, nasty little waste of a heart transplant.

If there's one thing I am really, really sick of, it's greedy, amoral, inhuman politicians who worship and fetishize the military to the detriment of everyone else. And if I had to pick the worst example of that kind of politician, Dick Cheney would top my list:

    Former vice president Dick Cheney went on Fox's "Hannity" show last night to discuss the recent plans to reduce the Army to levels not seen since 1940 — through a reduction in personnel and removing a class of warplanes from the field — in an effort to cut budgets after a decade of war, calling the decision "over the top." He told host Sean Hannity that President Obama would "much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.”

    The military cuts proposed by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Monday were in part a reaction to the Congress' latest appropriations bill. The Pentagon is authorized to spend $1 trillion over the next two years — far more than the sequestration cuts allowed but $75 billion less than the Obama administration requested. The Pentagon's plan would call for a reduction in troops from their wartime peak of 570,000 to between 440,000 and 450,000 troops.

    The plan also proposes cutting pay and benefits for military employees. Hagel said Monday, “No realistic effort to find further significant savings can avoid dealing with military compensation."

    Earlier in the interview, Cheney said, "The fact of the matter is he’s having a huge impact on the ability of future presidents to deal with future crises that are bound to arise. ... I can guarantee you, there’s never going to be a call from the future secretary of defense to Barack Obama, to thank him for what he’s done to the military. This is just devastating.”

Hey shithead, let me point out the obvious for you: Lots of active duty military families use food stamps. A half-million veterans of your nasty little wars also use food stamps. You know, the men and women whose lives you destroyed in pursuit of your Middle Eastern wet dream?

Decent people should shun you. For all I know, they already do. But you'll always have Fox to act as your own person fluffer team. Fuck you, Dick.


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Ukraine Warns Russia after Gunmen Control Crimea Parliament, Govt HQ

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 February 2014, 09:15

Dozens of pro-Russian gunmen in combat fatigues seized parliament and government buildings on Ukraine's volatile Crimea peninsula Thursday as the country's ousted leader won assurances that Moscow would protect him.

The dawn raid in Crimea came a day after Russian President Pig V. Putin ordered snap combat readiness drills to be held near the Ukrainian border, raising fears the Kremlin might use force to sway the outcome of a three-month crisis that has pitted Moscow against the West in a Cold War-style confrontation.

Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov told a boisterous session of parliament that any movement of Russian troops out of their Black Sea bases in Crimea "will be considered as military aggression."

The same message was delivered when the Ukrainian foreign ministry called in Moscow's charge d'affaires for urgent consultations.

Ukraine's bloodiest crisis since independence in 1991 erupted in November when Viktor Yanukovych -- deposed as president last weekend -- made the shock decision to ditch an historic EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with old master Russia.

Yanuvkoych, in his first comments since fleeing Kiev, said in a surprise statement to Russian news agencies issued from an undisclosed location that he still considered himself to be president of Ukraine, a strategic nation of 46 million people.

News reports in Moscow said the fugitive leader's request for personal security had been "granted on Russian territory" but provided no other details.

Ukraine had appeared to take a decisive swing back towards the European Union by ousting Yanukovych's entire pro-Russian team and replacing it with a new brand of younger pro-Western politicians who will steer the nation -- torn between a Russified east and pro-European west -- until snap presidential polls are held on May 25.

A cabinet headed by 39-year-old caretaker prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk -- a close ally of the freed opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko -- was unveiled to an emotional crowd of 25,000 late Wednesday on the same barricade-riven Kiev square that had been the epicentre of the revolt against Yanukovych's rule.

Lawmakers in Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada parliament were due Thursday to overwhelmingly confirm the new cabinet after ousting Yanukovych on Saturday in a near-unanimous vote.

- Russian flag flies in Crimea -

The Russian flag flew Thursday over both the Crimean parliament and government buildings in the regional capital of Simferopol.

The Black Sea autonomous region's prime minister Anatoliy Mohilyov told AFP that up to 50 men with weapons seized the buildings and were preventing government workers from entering.

But his predecessor Serhiy Kunitsyn told lawmakers in Kiev that his contacts in Crimea said the raid involved "about 120 well-trained gunmen armed with sniper rifles... and carrying enough ammunition to last them a month".

Mohilyov said he tried to enter the Crimean government building to conduct negotiations but had been turned away.

Simferopol was rocked Wednesday by opposing rallies involving thousands of people that degenerated into fistfights. Local health authorities said two people died.

Ukraine's interim interior minister Arsen Avakov said interior ministry troops and the entire police force had been put on heightened alert following the Thursday raid.

The prosecutor general's office said it had launched a criminal probe into a suspected "act of terrorism" by the gunmen.

AFP correspondents in Simferopol said about 20 police officers were carefully moving a crowd of a few hundred mostly pro-Russian onlookers away from the direct vicinity of the seized buildings.

"We now hope that the (Ukrainian) nationalists in Kiev do not come here," said a Sergei Vladimirovich, a Russian-speaking pensioner.

"The situation in Kiev in unconstitutional. What is happening here is an adequate response to the coup that was staged there."

- Western rescue -

Ukraine's new leaders are increasingly facing the spectre of separatism from eastern and southern mostly-industrial regions of the country whose cultural and linguistic ties to Moscow trace back centuries and whose trade depends heavily on Russia.

But Ukraine is also suffering badly from Moscow's decision to freeze the $15-billion bailout package Putin promised to Yanukovych after delivering only a $3 billion tranche in December that had long been used up.

Kiev has requested as much as $35 billion in Western help and owes $13 billion in state debt payments this year -- a massive sum in a country where state reserves are less than $18 billion.

Concerns over what would be a catastrophic default by Ukraine saw the local currency plunge to a record low against the dollar on Wednesday.

But the leadership in Kiev won a rare a reprieve on Wednesday when US Secretary of State John Kerry promised quick delivery of $1 billion in loan guarantees "with some other pieces" to follow.

Kerry added the European Union was looking at loan guarantees worth some $1.5 billion.

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

Yanukovych Says Still President, his Security 'Ensured in Russia'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 February 2014, 12:37

Deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday broke five days of silence to declare himself to still be Ukraine's head of state, as sources strongly indicated that he had taken refuge in Russia.

Yanukovych issued a defiant statement through Russia's three main news agencies, saying he had asked Russia to ensure his personal security. His comments gave no further clue about his whereabouts.

But minutes later, a high-ranking source again quoted by all the news agencies gave the strongest indication yet that he had fled Ukraine and taken refuge in Russia.

"After president Yanukovych appealed to the authorities of the Russian Federation to ensure his personal security, we can say that this request was satisfied on Russian territory," said the source, who was not named.

In the strongly-worded statement, Yanukovych said he did not consider his ousting last weekend to be legal and believed he was still Ukrainian president.

"I, Viktor Fyodorovich Yanukovych, address the people of Ukraine. I still consider myself to be the legal head of the Ukrainian state," said Yanukovych in a statement to Russian news agencies.

"There have been threats of reprisals towards me and my allies. I am compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure my personal security from the actions of extremists," he said.

He added that the latest decisions by the Ukrainian parliament, who have appointed an acting president in his place, "do not have legitimate character."

However Yanukovych added that he was not ordering the army to intervene.

"As the president, I did not let the armed forces of Ukraine to interfere in internal political events. I order this now as well."

"In this situation I formally announce my decision to fight to the end for the implementation of important compromise agreements to take Ukraine out of deep political crisis."

He applauded the pro-Russia Black Sea peninsula of Crimea for showing opposition to the new authorities.

"I call on the immediate return of the situation in our country to the framework of the constitution.

"Right now it is becoming evident that the people in southwestern Ukraine and the Crimea are not accepting the anarchy and de-facto lawlessness in the country, when ministers are chosen by a crowd on a square."

- 'At Moscow health farm' -

Yanukovych's whereabouts have been shrouded in mystery for the last days. Ukraine's new pro-EU authorities have issued an arrest warrant from him but said Wednesday they believed he was still in Ukraine.

Russian news website RBK said Wednesday evening that Yanukovych is in the Moscow region, quoting a Russian official.

Yanukovych arrived on Monday evening and stayed briefly in the Hotel Ukraina in Moscow before going outside Moscow to Barvikha health resort, which belongs to the Kremlin, RBK said citing its sources.

In response to the report late Wednesday, President Pig V. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Interfax news agency: "I do not have any such information."

Yanukovych fled Kiev late Friday after signing a tentative deal with the opposition to end the crisis, however protesters in Kiev denounced the agreement and demanded he resign. He was last seen reading a statement on a private television channel on Saturday afternoon.

Another media, Ukrainian website Glavkom.ua, reported Wednesday that Yanukovych and his younger son Viktor Jr had travelled to Russia by sea from Crimea.

The eldest son, Olexander, drove from Donetsk to Russia by road, it added.

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

Kerry Urges Russia to Keep Pledge over Ukraine Unity

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 February 2014, 19:33

The United States Wednesday urged Russia to keep its word to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine and warned against provocative actions after Moscow said it was boosting security measures in southern Crimea.

"We are making it clear that every country should respect the territorial integrity here, the sovereignty of Ukraine. Russia said it will do that, and we think it is important Russia keeps its word," Kerry said.

He stressed that Washington was not looking for confrontation amid the political upheaval in the former Soviet satellite, denying that the U.S. was meddling in the country's internal politics.

"The key here is to give the people of Ukraine the full space within which to make their decisions about where they want to go. That's what we're trying to do," the top U.S. diplomat told MSNBC television in an interview.

"We're not putting pressure on them. We're not urging something that they haven't themselves expressed as a desire," Kerry said.

"We are trying to honor their intentions of putting together a democratic pluralistic government that breaks away from this kleptocracy that existed there."

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman meanwhile said that "outside actors" should "end provocative rhetoric and actions" in an apparent reference to Russia.

He also told reporters on Air Force One that all governments should keep commitments to transparency about military activities under the Vienna Document of 2011 covering Europe and Central Asia and other Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe obligations designed to ensure security and peace.

"It is important for all of the parties in the region, both the Ukrainian government as well as the Russians, (to) understand that it is important for them to live up to their obligations."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said earlier Wednesday that Moscow was taking measures to ensure the security of its Black Sea naval fleet based on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Sevastopol, which has hosted the Black Sea fleet since tsarist times, has witnessed several pro-Russian demonstrations in recent days with hundreds rallying outside city hall on Tuesday.

"Russia does not need or want a Ukraine that is unstable and more violent going forward, and economically a basket case," Kerry insisted.

"What we need now is not to get into an old Cold War confrontation. We need to work together in what does not have to be a zero sum game to provide the capacity of the people of Ukraine to choose their future. That's all that's at stake."

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

In Ukraine, Naming of Interim Government Gets Mixed Response

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
FEB. 26, 2014
IHT

KIEV, Ukraine — Standing before a crowd of tens of thousands in Independence Square, the center of the three-month civic uprising that ousted President Viktor F. Yanukovych, the lawmakers temporarily controlling Ukraine announced an interim government on Wednesday night to be led by Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, a veteran public official.

The public presentation of Mr. Yatsenyuk, who will serve as acting prime minister, and more than 20 other proposed cabinet members, was a frenetic effort by establishment politicians to win the backing of the street protesters, whose persistence in the face of the deaths of more than 80 people last week in clashes with the police ultimately forced Mr. Yanukovych from power.   

As the names of the proposed ministers were read from a stage — with flowers and candles blanketing the square in memory of the dead — it became clear just how completely the ordinary people on the street had seized control of the direction of Ukraine. Desperate for the crowd’s legitimacy, officials felt compelled to present the slate on stage in the square before putting it up for a vote by Parliament.

The reaction from the crowd was decidedly mixed.

Jeers and whistles greeted some established politicians, and cheers for some figures with no government experience chosen because of their role in the uprising. But with Ukraine hurtling toward an economic catastrophe, and no time for protracted negotiations, the gesture of deference to the crowd seemed sufficient to move the process forward.

“We need to change these faces,” said Alyona Murashko, a 28-year-old marketing specialist who was carrying groceries and had stopped in the square on her way home from work. Ms. Murashko said that she approved of the choice of Olga Bogomolets, a doctor, singer and activist, as deputy prime minister for humanitarian affairs, and of Tatyana Chornovil, an activist and journalist, to lead Ukraine’s anticorruption bureau.

Ms. Murashko, however, said she opposed Mr. Yatsenyuk and many of the other choices. “I wouldn’t like to see him even temporarily,” she said. “No one from current political parties.” Ms. Murashko said she was glad that presidential elections would be held in May but wanted parliamentary elections “as soon as possible.”

Among those eliciting loud boos was Oleksandr V. Turchynov, who was elected by colleagues on Saturday as the new speaker of Parliament and who has been authorized to carry out the duties of president, effectively putting him in charge of the country. Mr. Turchynov was not part of the slate announced Wednesday night and will continue in his position even after the interim government is approved.

On the whole, the makeup of the interim government suggested that Ukraine would now move more swiftly to improve ties with the West, potentially reviving the sweeping political and trade agreements with the European Union that Mr. Yanukovych scuttled in November, setting off protests in Kiev and other cities.

Mr. Yatsenyuk is an ally of Mr. Yanukovych’s archrival, the former prime minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko. Ms. Tymoshenko was released from a prison hospital and is expected to run for president in the May elections, although she has received only a lukewarm reception in recent days. Many Ukrainians say they view her as too closely connected to the country’s existing political system, which has been hobbled by corruption and mismanagement for years.

Mr. Yatsenyuk, by contrast, is largely viewed as an able technician with a firm grasp of economic policy and foreign affairs. He has served as speaker of Parliament, foreign minister, economics minister and acting head of the central bank. Ukraine’s economy is in tatters, and it is in desperate need of a rescue package from the International Monetary Fund, which has said it will demand painful austerity measures and long-delayed economic changes in return for any assistance.

A $15 billion bailout that Mr. Yanukovych had secured from Russia has been suspended as a result of the recent political upheaval, which the Kremlin views with alarm.

Mr. Yatsenyuk was one of three opposition leaders in Parliament who were among the chief organizers of the street demonstrations. Another, the former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who leads a party called the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, has already announced his candidacy for president. The third, Oleg Tyagnybok, is the leader of the nationalist Svoboda party, which is popular in Western Ukraine but has limited support elsewhere.

Officials in Parliament, led by Mr. Turchynov, had struggled to reach a deal on the interim government in part because of the demands by civic activists that it include a number of people who did not have previous experience in public life.

Among the choices in this regard were Dmitro Bulatov, the leader of a group called AutoMaidan, who was designated as minister of youth and sport; and Eugene Nyschuk, an actor who has served as M.C. from the stage in Independence Square throughout the protests and who was selected as culture minister.

The crowd, however, was divided even on these choices, underscoring the near-impossible challenge faced by officials hoping to win the approval of the street.

Volodymyr Hrysiv, 36, an unemployed martial arts instructor from Kiev, said he had been part of the protests from the very beginning and had booed Mr. Turchynov.

“I did not see him here last week when bullets were firing,” Mr. Hrysiv said. “I have not seen him earlier during fights on Hrushevskovo Street. Some people sacrifice their lives, while others are now dividing seats.”

Still, many people in the crowd acknowledged that there was no way to please everyone.

Officials said that Andriy Deshcytsia, a veteran Ukrainian diplomat, had been chosen as minister of foreign affairs.

Andrey Parubiy, a member of Parliament and leader of the protest movement, was chosen as the head of the national security council, while Arsen Avakov, who is already working as interior minister, was chosen to remain in that post.

Correction: February 27, 2014

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Ukraine’s acting minister of foreign affairs. It is Andriy Deshcytsia, not Andrey Dashchitsa.

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

Prize Catch for Ukrainians at Boat Harbor: A Soggy Trove of Government Secrets

By ANDREW E. KRAMER
FEB. 26, 2014
IHT   

KIEV, Ukraine — The papers were first spotted swirling in the eddies of a boat harbor on the sprawling compound of the former Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, on the outskirts of Kiev. Intrigued, the protesters-turned-security guards who had taken over the grounds found a raft and began fishing the documents out of the water. Later, they recruited a diver to retrieve sunken nylon bags of files from the riverbed.

What they found were the waterlogged secrets of a government that nobody was ever supposed to lay eyes on, dumped by the president and his associates in the panicked last hours of his tenure, before he fled in a helicopter to eastern Ukraine.

The documents, which are still being dried out, along with others from the lavish home of the prosecutor general, are being posted on the Internet in Cyrillic for all to see. Together, they provide an increasingly detailed portrait of the final desperate weeks, days and hours of members of a besieged inner circle trying desperately to maintain their grip on a government they had plundered to an extent that shocked even corruption-weary Ukrainians.

They reveal details both mundane and alarming, showing in one instance how the private zoo, golf course and other luxuries on the president’s estate were paid for, and detailing in another plans — never carried out — to mobilize the army to clear protesters from the capital. Some were merely curious: From the river emerged the soggy titles to two Mercedes cars in the name of the woman suspected of being the mistress of the president, Lyubov Polezhay, a sister of the presidential cook.

The papers, some charred from a hurried attempt to destroy them, depict back-room efforts to control the domestic news media and behind-the-scenes efforts of the government to find support both in Washington and Moscow. They seem to show that Mr. Yanukovych financed his opulent lifestyle by dipping into the profits of a coal trading enterprise.

In the final months, the documents show, Mr. Yanukovych’s government reached out to a former deputy director of Russia’s military intelligence service in planning the crackdown on protesters. Years earlier, they show, the government paid American legal advisers for opinions that would justify to the West the prosecution of Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and the president’s chief political opponent.

It had been known that the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom had compiled a largely sympathetic report in 2012 on the government’s prosecution of Ms. Tymoshenko, even though most impartial observers say it was politically motivated.

Over the weekend, however, street fighters found documents related to this prestigious American law firm’s work in an unexpected spot: on the tiled floor of the sauna in an opulent residence of the deposed prosecutor general, Viktor Pshonka.

For local journalists, who have been busy organizing the documents and posting them online, the troves have been an embarrassment of riches.

“What they didn’t manage to burn they threw in the water,” said Serhi Scherbyna, the editor of The Insider, an online investigative journalism website, who said he found irrefutable proof linking the coal trading enterprise that won about $1.5 billion in government contracts last year to the company that managed the presidential estate, its private golf course and zoo.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” he said. “I’ve lost so much of my health trying to prove this connection. As a journalist, I felt satisfied. I could finally prove the theories I had put forward. As a man, I felt I had been lied to. I was holding in my hand proof. It was the feeling of a scientist who has proven his theory with evidence.”

By Tuesday, journalists had photographed all of the approximately 20,000 soggy pages and posted them on a WikiLeaks-like website, Yanukovychleaks.org.

Elsewhere, the paper trail left by fleeing officials pointed to a role for a Russian military adviser, a former deputy head of the G.R.U. military intelligence service, in the plan to secure the government district of the capital and to clear Independence Square of the protesters who had built formidable barricades there during a three-month occupation. The security forces had two plans, called Operation Boomerang and Operation Wave, according to the papers, released to local news media by a member of Parliament.

Any role for even a former Russian security official in advising on the location of snipers, the arming of police with lethal ammunition and the issuing of rules of engagement to defend the government buildings is extraordinarily sensitive here after scores of street fighters armed mostly with clubs died in fighting with police officers last week.

Among the more curious documents to turn up here was a letter translated into Russian from Gregory B. Craig, President Obama’s former White House counsel and a lawyer at Skadden working on the report on the Tymoshenko case, to Paul J. Manafort, a Republican political operative who had advised Mr. Yanukovych going back to 2007. It was found in a box of papers in the sauna. In the letter dated Aug. 24, 2012, Mr. Craig was asking for Mr. Manafort’s assistance in obtaining from the Ukrainian government documents for the report Skadden was preparing on the prosecution of Ms. Tymoshenko. The report concluded that the prosecution was procedurally flawed but not politically motivated, as it is widely believed to have been.

Much work lies ahead in studying the papers, said the nongovernmental groups and reporters here who have set about doing so.

The papers in the sauna, for example, included an early draft of Skadden’s report that had been annotated by Ukrainian government officials, who appeared to be pushing the Americans for a more sympathetic interpretation of the case; careful study is needed to determine how much the law firm yielded to these demands in the final report, said Mustafa Nayiem, an investigative journalist with the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Skadden said that the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice had retained its lawyers and that “Skadden agreed to write this report on the express condition that the law firm would be totally independent.”

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

Policy Makers Devise Plans to Provide Money to Kiev

By ANNIE LOWREY and MICHAEL R. GORDON
FEB. 26, 2014
IHT

WASHINGTON — With a financial catastrophe unfurling alongside its political transition, Ukraine is in desperate need of billions of dollars — and quickly. Its economy is shrinking. Its government treasury is empty. Its foreign-exchange funds are low. And its banking system is fragile.

That has left policy makers in Brussels and Washington rushing to prepare a financial rescue package for the country, with the International Monetary Fund planning to take the lead on a package that will almost certainly include tens of billions of dollars of new loans.

But international lenders’ hands are tied until the country has a transitional government in place, officials said. Even once the money is flowing, a lending program is likely to be accompanied by demands for a necessary but bitter pill of government cutbacks, higher energy costs and structural changes that previous Ukrainian governments found impossible to swallow.

Western officials are well aware that a rescue package will be necessary to stave off an absolute financial collapse — and thus to help ensure the success of the political transition already underway. But they also worry that the standard prescriptions for economic overhaul risk sending Ukraine into even worse turmoil and that the nascent government might not be able to deliver.

“This is not simple arithmetic,” said Douglas A. Rediker, a former American official at the I.M.F.

American officials said it was important that the assistance be substantial. On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that Obama administration officials had been discussing a separate package of assistance that would complement the I.M.F.’s efforts.

“Personally, I don’t think it is enough for us to be heralding the advent of democracy and to applaud the courage and conviction of the people who brought about this transition and then just not do anything,” he said. “I think that is unconscionable.”

According to the plans, which have yet to be formally decided by the White House, the United States would provide $1 billion in loan guarantees. Mr. Kerry said that administration officials were also considering a direct cash infusion to Ukraine. He said that he had just talked to Senator John McCain, the leading Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, about a potential aid effort but that it was not clear how large a package of direct aid Congress would support.

“We are formulating initially a $1 billion loan guarantee,” Mr. Kerry said, “but we are also looking at the possibility of additional assistance.”

The pathway to a more substantial aid package is fraught with hurdles. It is unclear how bad Ukraine’s books have gotten. A government needs to be put in place that is prepared to request an I.M.F. package. And it will be asked to agree to tough economic conditions that are likely to prove deeply unpopular with Ukrainians already suffering from economic and political instability.

“We need to have somebody to talk to, O.K.?” said Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the I.M.F., answering questions about Ukraine from journalists last weekend in Sydney, Australia. “Any discussion takes two.”

Once that happens, any package needs to be “owned by the authorities, by the people, because at the end of the day it will be the future of the Ukrainian economy,” Ms. Lagarde said. “There are economic reforms that we all know need to be started.”

Policy makers are already hotly debating a rescue package for Ukraine, with conversations about the economy dominating discussions on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting of economic officials in Sydney.

The country’s finances are now “on the verge of collapse,” the Washington-based Institute of International Finance, which represents major banks around the world, warned in a report released this week.

“With the authorities mostly preoccupied with handling the political upheaval, economic policies have remained in limbo,” said Ondrej Schneider and Lubomir Mitov of the finance institute. “Risks of prolonged political uncertainty still remain substantial, however, raising odds of delays in implementing reforms with potentially disastrous consequences for financial stability and growth.”

A Treasury official — speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatically fragile matters — said that there was significant good will toward Ukraine among international officials and an acknowledgment that an emergency program needed to come quickly. But the official said that an I.M.F. program — including a careful assessment of the country’s financial state and a commitment by Ukraine to economic overhaul — must be the priority.

The fund, before lending, will take a thorough accounting of Ukraine’s finances, especially given concerns that previous governments have been less than honest about its books.

“Someone had to pay for those ostriches,” said Mr. Rediker, referring to the zoo found at the compound of Viktor F. Yanukovych, the ousted president.

Analysts said they expected Ukraine to require a package of about $10 billion to $20 billion in short-term lending, with the possibility of more next year. That lending would allow the new government to run a fiscal deficit without having to finance itself on the punishing international bond markets.

“We will be ready to engage, ready to help,” Ms. Lagarde said this weekend. “We, of course, try to go further and play the catalytic role that the I.M.F. typically plays in such situations.”

The I.M.F. is expected to insist that Ukraine raise domestic gas prices, cut government spending, tackle corruption and allow the country’s currency to float on the international markets.

Until a full package can be delivered, individual countries in the European Union, as well as the United States, might be able to provide temporary support. Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, has offered support without giving any specifics or numbers.

Opposition leaders have signaled their support for substantive changes.

“The popular demand is radical,” said Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “The public sector has been working for the enrichment of the elites, and the old tricks need to be done away with.”

The prime minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, who met with Mr. Kerry on Wednesday, also emphasized the need for the West to move quickly to support Ukraine’s transition.

“I think the European Union, together with I.M.F. and with other international institutions, should find a solution now to solve their problems,” he said in an interview. “I think they should be very flexible.”

In 2010, the I.M.F. had offered to lend to Ukraine, only to pull back when it found the government unable or unwilling to follow through on its commitments. That experience is likely to limit the fund’s flexibility, leading it to require shorter disbursements with more conditions attached, analysts said.

“There are those who say, ‘Throw money at them! They’re the good guys!’ ” said Mr. Rediker, now with the Peterson Institute. “But that’s not how the I.M.F. works.”


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Top EU, Russian Diplomats to Meet March 6 in Rome

by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 February 2014, 22:43

The European Union's foreign policy supremo said Wednesday she would hold talks with Russia's foreign minister next month in Rome, as Brussels and Moscow seek to defuse tensions over Ukraine.

Catherine Ashton announced she would meet Sergei Lavrov in Rome on March 6. "Issues on international agenda to be discussed," she added in a statement posted on Twitter.

The crisis in Ukraine, which is in danger of being pulled apart in a tug-of-war between Russia and Europe, was expected to feature highly in the discussions.


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