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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1084010 times)
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« Reply #12375 on: Mar 11, 2014, 06:01 AM »

Kim Jong-un's 100% re-election reveals favoured names

Appearance of Choe Ryong-hae, the political chief of the military, ends speculation of his demise in North Korea

Reuters in Seoul, Tuesday 11 March 2014 10.01 GMT   

North Korea has announced the winners of an election to its supreme people's assembly, including a senior army official whose re-election will dispel talk that he had been purged by leader Kim Jong-un.

Since Kim executed his powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek in December for treason, speculation has been rife that the young leader was running a ruthless campaign to purge the country's old elite.

Sunday vote was no contest, with one state-approved candidate for each of the 687 seats in an assembly that only sits a couple of times a year to rubberstamp decisions taken by the leadership.

The list of winners, however, did offer a glimpse of who was in favour, and who has lost out since the 31-year-old Kim succeeded his late father, Kim Jong-il in late 2011.

The re-election of Choe Ryong-hae, the political chief of the North's military, and the man generally considered only second in rank to Kim, laid to rest talk that he may have run foul of the young leader.

Kim's aunt, Kyong-hui, widow to the executed Jang and daughter of state founder Kim Il-sung, was also re-elected despite having been absent from public view since her husband's execution.

Her disappearance had sparked speculation that she may have been removed from the powerful ruling Workers' party politburo and stripped of other official posts following her husband's downfall.

For all the talk of a shakeup in the old guard and competing factions around Kim becoming destablising forces, the assembly election result appeared to herald little in the way of policy change.

A handful of officials who have appeared close to Kim, based on the North's official media coverage, were elected to the assembly for the first time, reflecting their rising stock.

Ma Won-chun, a vice-director of the secretive finance and accounting department in the ruling party (who according to South Korean experts, has long managed the North's money) was elected for the first time.

Jang Jong-nam, the armed forces minister and one of Kim's close aides, was also elected, along with Hwang Pyong-so, a deputy director of the party's powerful 'organisational guidance department'.

The North's official KCNA news agency reported an almost 100% turnout and said the chosen candidates received 100% support from voters.

"This is an expression of the absolute support and trust of all voters in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] government, the genuine people's power which serves the people and relies on them," KCNA said on Tuesday.

Kim's own election to the assembly was announced on Monday. The assembly convenes twice a year to formally approve the national budget and appointments of key personnel.

The South Korean government did not detect any great shifts, despite the prospect of some reshuffle in the North's bureaucracy following the assembly results.

"There are signs of some uncertainty in the longer term," Ryoo Kihl-jae, the South's top policymaker on ties with the North, told a forum on Tuesday. "But it's the [South Korean] government's view that there is no immediate sign of change."

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« Reply #12376 on: Mar 11, 2014, 06:03 AM »

New Zealand’s PM promises referendum on changing country’s flag if he is re-elected

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 10, 2014 22:53 EDT

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on Tuesday pledged to hold a referendum on changing the national flag if he wins a third term in office in September.

Key had been tipped to hold the referendum alongside September 20 elections but said he did not want the campaign dominated by debate on whether or not the country needs a new flag.

The conservative leader reiterated his support for ditching the existing banner, which features the Union Jack — symbol of former colonial power Britain — in one corner, with the rest consisting of four stars representing the Southern Cross constellation.

Key said he was open to ideas but personally favoured a silver fern on a black background, the national emblem already used by New Zealand sporting teams such as rugby union’s All Blacks.

“The design of the New Zealand flag symbolises a colonial and post-colonial era whose time has passed,” he told a function at Wellington’s Victoria University.

“The flag remains dominated by the Union Jack in a way that we ourselves are no longer dominated by the United Kingdom.”

If he wins the election, Key said he would convene a cross-party committee to help oversee debate on the flag issue and arrange a referendum before the next poll is due in 2017.

While in favour of removing the Union Jack, Key said he remained opposed to cutting ties with the British monarchy.

“I get no sense of any groundswell of support to let that go,” he said. “Nor could we or would we dispose of the cultural legacy which gave us a proud democracy, a strong legal system and a rich artistic heritage.”

The existing flag was first used in 1869 and formally adopted in 1902. Its supporters say that New Zealanders have fought and died under it for generations and a change would dishonour their memory.

Critics argue it is too easily confused with those of other former British colonies such as Australia, which has an almost identical design.

“We want a design that says ‘New Zealand’ in the same way that the maple leaf says ‘Canada’, or the Union Jack says ‘Britain’, without a word being spoken, or a bar of those countries’ anthems being heard,” Key said.

Key has previously suggested the New Zealand public is evenly spit on the flag issue, although an opinion poll last month put opposition to change at 72 percent and support at 28 percent.

Opposition Labour Party leader David Cunliffe said the flag debate was a diversion thrown up by Key to distract voters from the issues facing his government.

“I’m afraid it’s tokenism,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #12377 on: Mar 11, 2014, 06:14 AM »

Christian militias take bloody revenge on Muslims in Central African Republic

Children are reportedly targeted by Christian anti-balaka gangs set up in wake of attacks by Muslim Seleka rebels

David Smith in Bangui, Monday 10 March 2014 14.51 GMT      

They brought in the bodies one by one, laying them down on a white sheet concealed behind a flimsy black curtain. Among them was a man, probably in his 20s, his head twisted leftward, the skull dented on one side and cracked open on the other. The others also had fatal head injuries that stained the sheet crimson. The first flies began settling on the five corpses.

In the courtyard outside, voices were raised in anger and bewilderment. Mothers in pink and purple hijabs sobbed and wailed and a middle-aged man, possibly unused to naked shows of emotion, sat and gently wept. Finally the iron gate of the mosque was thrown open and the mourners surged forward to gaze at the dead. An imam, donning a plastic smock over his white robe, prepared to wash them while another man began cutting cotton shrouds for the day's burials.

The macabre scene in an area known as PK5 has become almost commonplace in Bangui, the humid and decaying capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), where Muslims are under siege. It has also been played out in towns and villages in the west of the country, redrawing the demographic map.

Muslims came here to trade in the early 19th century and made up 15% of the CAR's population a year ago, but since then untold thousands have been killed or displaced or have fled to neighbouring countries. The UN said last week that while 130,000 to 145,000 Muslims normally lived in the capital, Bangui, the population had been reduced to around 10,000 in December and now stood at just 900.

Amnesty International has called it "ethnic cleansing" and warned of a "Muslim exodus of historic proportions".

As Africa prepares to mark next month's 20th anniversaries of the Rwandan genocide and the end of South African apartheid, what is happening in this long-neglected state is a reminder that forgiveness and reconciliation are easy words but hewn from rock over generations. Christian militias freely admit that theirs is an exercise in vengeance, an eye for an eye, and they will not stop until they have "cleaned" the country of Muslims. On Monday, UN human rights investigators in CAR announced they would investigate reports of genocide.

The seeds were sown in March last year when the Seleka, a largely Muslim rebel group, seized Bangui in a coup, installed the country's first Muslim president, Michel Djotodia, and terrorised the majority Christian population, killing men, women and children. In response, predominantly Christian forces known as the anti-balaka (balaka means machete in Sango, the local language) launched counterattacks against the Seleka and perceived Muslim collaborators.

International pressure forced Djotodia to step down in January and soon the Seleka, who once strutted confidently about the capital, were retreating north where they continue to persecute Christians. But as the anti-balaka gained the advantage elsewhere, village after village lost its Muslim population, their homes looted and mosques razed to the ground. The turning of the tide has left many Muslims feeling bitter towards French peacekeepers and the new president, Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian.

Bangui neighbourhoods such as PK5, once thriving with Muslim businesses, now resemble ghost towns. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of market stalls and small shops were empty and deserted as a body lay in the road and gun-toting African peacekeepers patrolled in an armoured vehicle. Down side streets there were vehicles piled high with personal belongings. It is estimated that the Muslim population has dropped from around 7,000 to just 1,000 here.

At the mosque where the five bodies lay, there was rage, coupled with confusion over whether the anti-balaka or Burundian peacekeepers were responsible for the deaths. "It is happening every day," said Abdouraman Saudi, 45, who has lost numerous businesses. "If you're Muslim and you try to leave PK5, you're a dead man. It's a prison."

He vowed: "For me, it's finished. From today, we will not be the victims because we will attack the Christians. We are going to defend ourselves. From today with the international community, we don't care. We are not protected by them so we will attack them also."

In another largely Muslim neighbourhood, PK12, families camp out in grass and mud with buckets, carpets, mattresses, discarded rubbish, cooking pots over charcoal fires and a constant fear of lobbed grenades. Convoys that try to get out of here must run the gauntlet of taunting Christian mobs. In one incident, a Muslim who fell from a vehicle was summarily lynched. In another, five children suffocated in an overcrowded truck and were found dead when the convoy arrived at Bangui's military airport.

Ibrahim Alawad, 55, a lawyer, pointed to a trench and fresh burial mounds and said he had buried a 22-year-old student hours earlier. The area's population had shrunk from 25,000 people six months ago to 2,700 today, he said, while four mosques had been destroyed. "They're not killing the Muslims, they're sweeping them. Imagine someone wants to kill you, roast you on the fire and eat you. It's the hell of the hell. There are no living conditions here."

French peacekeepers stood by at a near checkpoint but there was growing Muslim hostility towards them too. "Our problem is the French," Alawad said. "They are the white anti-balaka. It's like Rwanda, they want to do it again, but we won't let them."

No amount of Muslim suffering appears to elicit mercy from the anti-balaka, who believe they are meeting a fitting punishment for the crimes of the Seleka. Dr Jean Chrysostome Gody, director of the country's sole paediatric hospital, which is supported by Unicef, recalled: "I saw mothers whose children had been killed or injured and they had hate in their heart."

As the anti-balaka responded, he added, children were no longer caught in the crossfire but deliberately targeted. "There were bullets in the heads and chests of children. It's not possible they were there by accident. It's as if people are trying to finish off another race. It's about extreme revenge and it's brutal."

One anti-balaka base is nicknamed "Boeing" because it is within close sight and sound of air traffic at Bangui airport. In a clearing shaded by trees amid modest mudbrick houses, six of the militia men sprawled on two squashy sofas. One wore a Barcelona football shirt with the name Messi on the back; another carried a bow and arrow; several had machetes. When a French patrol comes to disarm them every few days, they hide their weapons in the bush.

Forgiveness is not in the lexicon here. Sebastien Wenezoui, 32, a civil engineer, said he helped instigate the anti-balaka after his parents and brothers were killed by the Seleka and their house torched. "I was shocked. Today you can see my feelings in what I'm doing now. I had to express myself. If you were me, would you be comfortable with those things?"

Asked if he felt this justified the killing of innocent women and children, Wenezoui replied: "For me it's a response to what the Seleka have done. They started killing our children and wives and destroyed our homes. Revenge is good sometimes and bad sometimes. But we have to do it."

Wenezoui expressed no regrets about the Muslim exodus. "I'm not sad at all because when Seleka took power the Muslims, who were our best friends, were the ones destroying the houses and killing people. It's a kind of lesson. They acted like betrayers so they have to go and learn something and come back with respectful behaviour."

Yet sitting with Wenezoui and his colleagues was a Muslim: Ibrahim Amadou, 22, who said he joined the anti-balaka after his wife, three children, parents and seven siblings were shot dead by the Seleka. He still prays on Fridays but does so at home because fellow Muslims would recognise him at a mosque.

"I cannot give all the details of what I'm doing," said Amadou, wearing an array of animal skin and leather charms around his neck and shoulders that he believes make him invisible to enemies. "I'm working for the country. A soldier is a soldier: he cannot give his secrets."

Nearby, there is no sign of respite for tens of thousands of people squatting outside the international airport, fearful of going home in a city where the Red Cross said more than 10 people were killed in February, some found with their genitals stuffed in their mouths, and where grenades are said to be available at street markets for 250 CFA (31p) and Kalashnikov rifles for 10,000-15,000 CFA (£12-£18). There is a threat of the country splitting in two, and a fully fledged UN peacekeeping mission may be required to stop it.

In the town of Boali, 60 miles to the north, the Catholic priest Xavier-Arnauld Fagba went from house to house and into the bush to offer Muslims sanctuary in his church. "When the Muslims were attacked, the people didn't help them," said Fagba, 31, who became a priest four months ago. "That's when I decided to look for them and bring them here. I did it in the name of my faith. My faith asks me to transcend the most difficult obstacles."

Nearly 700 people took up his offer and moved into the church.

But most local Christians disagreed with Fagba's courageous stand and one day his car was surrounded by anti-balaka armed with knives and machetes. He got out to show that he did not fear them and, just then, their commander called off the assault.

In another incident last month, more than 300 anti-balaka surrounded the church and opened fire through its thinly protected walls. Fagba hurled himself to the ground and shouted at everyone else to do the same – and no one was killed or injured. He says some 30 bullet holes can still be seen in the church walls.

The Muslims held prayers every Friday in the grounds of the 54-year-old church, and cleaned it early on Sunday mornings for the Christian service, which some even attended.

But rebuilding bridges is a slow and painful process. Local officials tried to organise a peace march in which Muslims and Christians would walk together through the town, but when the Muslims arrived, the anti-balaka refused. "It's very sad because I thought it was the beginning of peace," Fagba said.

On 1 March a convoy of trucks protected by African peacekeepers evacuated the inhabitants of the church, and took them to safety in Cameroon, leaving Boali with no Muslim inhabitants.

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« Reply #12378 on: Mar 11, 2014, 06:15 AM »

Chad struggles to cope with refugees from conflict in Central African Republic

Neighbour state has accepted 70,000 who have escaped from Bangui and reprisal attacks against Muslims

Charlotte Bozonnet   
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 11 March 2014 09.59 GMT      

The search is thorough. A few weeks ago weapons and uniforms were found in a vehicle. Beside the road, suitcases are unloaded from trucks overloaded with jerry cans and mattresses. A pickup carrying Chadian forces roars by. A few hundred metres away about 50 French military vehicles and 200 men are waiting, headed for Bangui.

Sido, a village on the Chad side of the border, is caught up in the turmoil in the Central African Republic. Its twin, across the border, is still controlled by Muslim Seleka rebels. It is a key crossing point between the two countries. Since conflict started in December some 35,000 people – mostly Muslims fleeing the violent reprisals of anti-Balaka Christian militia – have arrived here, some on foot but mostly in convoys escorted by the Chadian army. More than half of them have carried on into Chad, but 14,000 have stayed put. They are destitute and live in makeshift shacks.

Eight Chadian army convoys have arrived here from Bangui since late December. "The soldiers went to fetch anyone who was in danger, not just Chadians," says the deputy prefect Bouba Lawane.

They endured terrible trials to reach here. "Our convoy was attacked three times by Christian militia," says Kaltouma Bello, sitting under a tree with 20 other refugees. They had arrived a couple of days earlier with 3,000 others. This young mother left her home in Yaloke, and hid for three weeks in the bush after her village was attacked by Christian militia. French soldiers rescued her and she made it to Bangui. "When the trucks leave, you clamber on as best you can," she adds. She has no idea what happened to her husband and son. Ramatou Moussa has been here for a month. The Christian militia attacked her home in Bangui and butchered her husband and mother with machetes. She escaped with her five children.

Though they are safe in Chad, these women must now find food. They collect firewood and sell it in the market for a few cents. "How are we going to feed the kids?", one of them asks.

After weeks on the road the refugees are exhausted. In a medical centre set up by Médécins Sans Frontières (MSF) a woman, 26, is stretched out. After three days of diarrhoea and vomiting she is very weak. The doctors put up a drip to rehydrate her, but it is too late.

Fewer than 300 tents have been distributed to house the refugees in Sido. There are 20 latrines for 14,000 people, four taps and not one shower. Food is short. The World Food Programme has only organised two handouts. Hamid, the local representative of the Chadian welfare ministry, is clearly worried. He has 100 sacks of rice to distribute. He needs 20 times more. "A minimum service was provided to begin with, but there hasn't been enough food since 20 January," says Sarah Château, head of the MSF mission in Chad.

Sido is one just town in Chad. In the past two months the country has accepted 70,000 refugees.

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

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« Reply #12379 on: Mar 11, 2014, 06:21 AM »

South Sudan Leaders' Treason Trial Opens

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 March 2014, 14:15

The trial opened Tuesday of four top South Sudanese leaders accused of treason for allegedly attempting to topple President Salva Kiir after fighting broke out in December.

The four are Pagan Amum, former secretary general of the ruling party, ex-national security minister Oyai Deng Ajak, former ambassador to the U.S. Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, and ex-deputy defense minister Majak D'Agoot.

The four, who spoke in the Juba court only to confirm their names but who have in the past denied all charges, were dressed in suits and appeared to be in good health.

The four were read 11 charges, including the main charge of treason, defense lawyer Ajo Noel said.

"It is too early for us to tell what the case will be," Noel told AFP.

"We want to go through all that the judges will say, and we will see what comes out of it."

The courtroom, which was crowded with spectators including foreign diplomats, was surrounded by armed security officers.

South Sudan's government has been at war with rebel groups since December 15, when a clash between troops loyal to Kiir and those loyal to sacked Vice President Riek Machar snowballed into full-scale fighting across the world's newest nation.

Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict.

Eleven ex-officials were arrested, while Machar -- who denied any coup plot -- fled.

However, seven of those initially arrested were released without charge in Kenya in January.

The release of all the prisoners has been a key demand of the rebels.

The two sides signed a ceasefire agreement on January 23, but heavy fighting has continued.

Stalled peace talks in neighboring Ethiopia, which have made little progress, are due to resume on March 20.

Over 930,000 civilians have fled their homes since fighting began, including over quarter of million leaving for neighboring nations as refugees, according to the United Nations.

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« Reply #12380 on: Mar 11, 2014, 06:27 AM »

Edward Snowden discusses NSA leaks at SXSW: 'I would do it again'

• Whistleblower patches in to Texas conference from Russia
• Snowden insists leaks have strengthened national security

Jon Swaine in New York and Jemima Kiss in Austin
The Guardian, Monday 10 March 2014 19.22 GMT   

Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower whose unprecedented leak of top-secret documents led to a worldwide debate about the nature of surveillance, insisted on Monday that his actions had improved the national security of the United States rather than undermined it, and declared that he would do it all again despite the personal sacrifices he had endured.

In remarks to the SXSW culture and technology conference in Texas, delivered by video link from his exile in Russia, Snowden took issue with claims by senior officials that he had placed the US in danger. He also rejected as demonstrably false the suggestions by some members of Congress that his files had found their way into the hands of the intelligence agencies of China or Russia.

Snowden spoke against the backdrop of an image of the US constitution, which he said he had taken an oath to protect but had seen “violated on a mass scale” while working for the US government. He accepted praise from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, accorded the first question via Twitter, who described him as “acting profoundly in the public interest”.

The session provided a rare and extensive glimpse into the thoughts of Snowden, granted temporary asylum by Russia after the US revoked his passport. He struck back strongly against claims made again last week by the NSA director, General Keith Alexander, that his release of secret documents to the Guardian and other outlets last year had weakened American cyber-defences.

“These things are improving national security, these are improving the communications not just of Americans, but everyone in the world,” Snowden said. “Because we rely on the same standard, we rely on the ability to trust our communications, and without that, we don’t have anything.”

He added later that thanks to the more secure communication activity that had been encouraged by his disclosures, “the public has benefited, the government has benefited, and every society in the world has benefited”.

Snowden rejected claims that potential adversaries of the US, such as Russia and China, had obtained the files he had been carrying. “That has never happened, and it is never going to happen. If suddenly the Chinese government knew everything the NSA was doing, we would notice the difference,” said Snowden, noting that US infiltration of Russia and China was extensive.

He sharply criticised Alexander and Michael Hayden, his predecessor as NSA director, as the two officials to have most “harmed our internet security and actually our national security” in the era since the September 11 terrorist attacks by “elevating offensive operations” over cyber-defence.

“When you are the one country in the world that has a vault that is more full than everyone else’s, it doesn’t make any sense to be attacking all day and never defending your vault,” he said.

“And it makes even less sense when you let the standards for vaults worldwide have a big back door that anyone can walk in.”

The 30-year-old also claimed that by spending so much effort on harvesting communications data en masse, US security agencies were failing to pick up would-be terrorists such as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the brothers alleged to have bombed last year’s Boston Marathon, who had been previously flagged to the US as a cause for concern by Russian authorities. “We are monitoring everyone’s communications rather than suspects’ communications,” he said. “If we hadn’t spent so much on mass surveillance, if we had followed traditional patterns, we might have caught him.”

Snowden also pointed to the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber” who attempted to blow up a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. The US failed to intercept him despite several opportunities, including a warning from his father to US officials in Nigeria.

An audience of 3,500 packed into an auditorium in Austin applauded several of Snowden’s answers to questions from a pair of onstage moderators and others submitted through Twitter. Despite a glitchy and intermittent video link that he said was running through seven proxies, Snowden looked relaxed and confident.

He said that while the US has “an oversight model that could work” to guard against excess by intelligence agencies, in reality it had proved ineffectual. “The problem is when your overseers are not interested in oversight,” he said, and “champion the NSA instead of holding them to account”.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has admitted to not telling the truth when he told a congressional hearing last year that the government was not “collecting data on millions of Americans”. Snowden said Clapper had shown officials “can lie to the country, lie to the Congress, and face not even a criticism”.

He claimed that the behaviour of the US in online surveillance policy would only encourage the rest of the world to do the same, endangering the privacy of all citizens. “If we don’t resolve these issues, if we allow the NSA to continue unrestrained, every other government will accept that as a green light to continue, and that is not what we want,” he said.

Snowden stressed that his message to technology firms such as Facebook and Google was “not that you can’t collect any data” but rather “that you should only collect the data, and hold it as long is necessary, for the operation of your business”.

He recently became the victim of a hacking when a scan of his US passport was released online, having been taken from the files of a professional organisation that gives certification to “ethical” hackers. “I submitted those forms back in 2010,” said Snowden. “Why was that still on a web-facing terminal?”

He encouraged ordinary internet users to protect themselves against surveillance by encrypting both their hard drives and their online activity, describing encryption as “the defence against the dark arts in the digital realm”. He also advised people to browse the web anonymously using the Tor system.

He urged software developers to create more user-friendly secure communications tools that could “pass the Glenn Greenwald test”, referring to Greenwald’s inability to communicate securely using PGP encryption when he first approached the journalist, then working for the Guardian. However, he warned: “If you are a target of the NSA, it is game over no matter what unless you are taking really technical steps to protect yourself.”

Despite now being unable to return to the US, where he faces a criminal indictment, a defiant Snowden said he did not regret his decision to orchestrate the biggest leak in the history of US intelligence. “Would I do this again? The answer is absolutely yes,” he said. “Regardless of what happens to me, this is something we had a right to know.”

By the end end of his interview, the audience was on its feet to deliver a standing ovation. Snowden smiled and looked slightly embarrassed, before being abruptly cut off by the end of the video call, when the screen fell blank.


Snowden has shown the 'huge disparity of surveillance and power', says Gellman

Government needs reminding that they work for us, says Pulitzer-winning reporter Barton Gellman, who describes Edward Snowden as ending an era of indifference to surveillance

Jemima Kiss, Monday 10 March 2014 16.45 GMT      

Encryptions tools must be simplified and made accessible for the mainstream, Pulitzer-winning journalist Barton Gellman said on Monday, calling on the tech industry to have the courage and ingenuity to help address the disparity of power between the people and their government.

Addressing the SXSW festival shortly before Edward Snowden’s live speech by video, Gellman said we are a long way off simple, transparent encryption tools. He cited Pew research which found that 88% of Americans say they have taken steps to protect their privacy in some form.

“With all the user interface brains out there we could get easier tools,” he said. “But it’s not just the ability to encrypt, it’s a frame of mind, a workflow and a discipline that is alien to most people, and that is the opposite to the open nature of the consumer internet. You could use Tor to access a site a hundred times, but the 101st time you forget, you may as well not have used Tor.”

“There are people at this conference who have taken very considerable risk to protect the privacy of their customers and have put themselves at the edge of the door to jail and it will take courage as well as ingenuity to change the way things work.”

Metadata is more powerful than phone tapping

Gellman, who interviewed Snowden in Russia in 2013, said Snowden has highlighted the peak indifference to security. Metadata is incredibly potent as a method of surveillance, yet most internet users fail to understand how powerful it can be in aggregate.

“One of the great gifts of Snowden is that he has shown what surveillance can do,” he said. Gellman told of a colleague who said he wasn’t concerned about metadata and his privacy, a colleague who used Twitter heavily and with location stamps.

So Gellman downloaded three months worth of Twitter location stamps and plotted them on a Google map, plotting the times, frequency and significance of each location. His horrified colleague consequently changed much of his behaviour online.

“I would rather someone listened in to all my phone calls than accessed my metadata - you can learn much more about me from that metadata.”
Whistleblowers - traitors or lantern bearers?

Gellman doesn’t like the word ‘whistleblower’. On one side are many in government who say he signed an agreement not to disclose information, and that disclosing specific unlawful behaviour, or waste, should be dealt with by internal channels. Snowden himself did speak to around ten supervisors and to colleagues informally with some questions about their work, and at one point asked if what they were doing would pass ‘the front page test’.

“That’s a pretty bold thing to do when you’re gathering documents and speaking to three reporters,” he said. “But the illegality test is too narrow.

“If the idea is genuine that the government works for us, and information is power, we are living inside a one-way mirror because they know more and more about us and we know less and less about them. There’s a huge disparity of power.”

“Do we think it’s a good idea to listen to every call, to bust encryption standards… if it’s a big policy question, and stuff is being done behind our backs that might shock us if we knew about it, there’s pretty good reason to put it out there. Forget whistleblower - it should be lantern holder.”
How has the NSA surveillance story stayed live?

“Snowden paid very careful attention to what had happened to other whistleblowers that hadn’t had a long-term impact, and was careful to produce the documents… If Snowden had asked me 6-8 months later [if this story and still been live] but he has got to have exceed every plausible estimation about impact. It’s because he didn’t realise the documents all at once.”

That pace was less about Snowden releasing the documents slowly but about the work journalists need to do to verify and interrogate before they publish.

Doctorow said he was most concerned by the programmes known as Bullrun in the US and Edgehill in the UK, which saw the NSA spend $250,000 a year spend trying to sabotage security standards and have backdoors built into security products.

“In the second world war, countries had their own encryption tools but now we share networks and tools, and if you can undermine the random number generator - if you can make it less random - and that’s what the NSA was doing by trying to trick, buy or persuade companies to make their encryption more breakable,” said Gellman. “They would create an encryption standard that only they would break - that would let them be both information assurance and signal intelligence.”

Was Prism effectively a front for the more substantial fibre optic and undersea cable tapping? Interviewing Gellman, Cory Doctorow said: “The reason for Prism was to give them a plausible reason to know about the things they knew from the fibre taps and not alerting the companies.” When Prism started Twitter barely existed, Facebook was limited to college campuses and Google was tiny.
How did Snowden get the documents out?

Asked whether he has been harassed when writing about Snowden, Gellman said no.

“I have not been harassed. I’ve had some interesting exchanges with government reps of various temperatures. But I speak to them before every story. If they want to demonstrate falsity I want to hear it, and if they want to tell me about specific damage I would be doing then it want to hear that too. I get warnings about the espionage act and I assume that I’m more interesting than I used to be. And Google has warned me that they believe a state-sponsored hacker is attempting to compromise my computer… I assume that is more likely to be a foreign agency.”

“Do I worry about doing harm and putting lives at risk? Of course I do. There are things in the documents I don’t think should be published and there are things Snowden doesn’t think should be published…

“He’s a very smart guy on a lot of levels, and a very nimble mind. There lots of boundaries he draws with me, and as a reporter I look for side-channel attacks… Genghis Khan didn’t try to known down the Great Wall of China - he bribed the guards and put up ladders. But he Snowden won’t tell me how he got the documents out, for example.”


The NSA won’t shut up about Snowden, but what about the spy who stole more?

Why the incoming NSA chief needs to crack down on international espionage, not worthy whistleblowing

Mike German, Tuesday 11 March 2014 11.45 GMT      

Why does the US intelligence establishment vilify Edward Snowden but not Jeffrey Delisle? The government’s focus on whistleblowers and press leakers instead of real spies – as evidenced by former National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander’s renewed push for legislation to shut down “media leaks”, which Snowden called out Monday at SXSW – warps the security policy debate by treating public scrutiny of intelligence activities as a threat to our democracy, rather than its necessary foundation.

President Obama has grudgingly acknowledged that Snowden’s disclosures of NSA surveillance programs sparked an overdue public debate about the appropriate limits to government spying. And a federal judge already validated Snowden’s “urgent concerns” about one of the programs, finding it likely unconstitutional.

Yet top intelligence officials and their purported overseers in Congress nonetheless spew invectives at Snowden and call reporters at this publication and elsewhere “accomplices”. Attorney General Eric Holder called Snowden “a defendant” and vowed to hold him accountable, rejecting the possibility of amnesty floated by officials assessing the alleged damage. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asserted Snowden’s actions aided terrorists, though of course top terrorists already knew the NSA spied on electronic communications. House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers claimed Snowden was a Russian spy from the very beginning, and House Homeland Security Chair Mike McCaul reinforced the smear, stating his belief that Snowden was “cultivated by a foreign power”. Neither offered any evidence. Rogers’ Senate counterpart, Diane Feinstein, initially appeared to support his claims, but a week later admitted she had “never seen anything to that effect”.

Are you sick of this familiar line of public attack yet? Because it’s the same kind of derision that targeted whistleblowers like Thomas Drake and Chelsea Manning. So how come most people have never heard of Jeff Delisle? He is, after all, an admitted Russian spy who compromised US signals intelligence for almost five years before his arrest in 2012 and whose dismissal from the Canadian military was revealed in court last week.

Don’t blame Canada; American officials have been strangely silent on the matter. As part of his duties as an analyst assigned to an “intelligence fusion centre”, Delisle had access to a top-secret US Defense Intelligence Agency database – part of the intelligence-sharing arrangement among the so-called “Five Eyes”, the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. He volunteered his services to Russian intelligence as an embassy walk-in, then used thumb drives to steal classified material that he disseminated to his spymasters through a shared email account. He was prosecuted in Canada, and sentenced to 20 years in prison – 15 fewer than Manning received.

Delisle isn’t the only spy you never heard of. Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Montes spied for Cuba for 17 years before her 2001 arrest. Former US Marine Leandro Aragoncillo spied on behalf of the Philippines for five years while serving as an aide to Vice President Cheney and then an FBI analyst, before his 2005 arrest.

Real spies don’t blow whistles or publish the materials they steal. This makes their actions more damaging, since it’s more difficult for victim intelligence agencies to discover the breach, assess the resulting damage, and correct it. Were Snowden really a spy, his Russian handlers would have been as angry about the documents’ publication as Clapper is, as it diminished their intelligence value.

If the US government’s crusade against Snowden reflected a genuine concern about leaks that do serious harm to the our nation’s security – rather than a public relations response to disclosures about controversial surveillance activities – one would expect to hear the names Delisle, Montes and Aragoncillo brought into the discussion as well. And often.

When spies reveal information to foreign powers, however, there are no angry tirades in Congress – no vote-grabbing tactics – that might draw public attention to this counter-intelligence failure. The silence helps them avoid uncomfortable questions about whether such broad information-sharing was really in our national security interests, or whether our intelligence agencies were negligent.

Almost 5 million intelligence community employees and contractors hold security clearances, and that doesn’t include the intelligence services of our allies who have access to our data. It is inevitable that some of them will choose to abuse this trust, for profit or ideology, and it is essential that the intelligence agencies take appropriate precautions against spies who intend to harm our country or assist a hostile nation.

But treating those who disclose information that is in the public interest as enemies of the state is misguided. Instead of vilifying whistleblowers as traitors, Congress should finally establish safe and effective channels for intelligence community employees and contractors to report government waste, fraud, illegality and abuse, including to the public when necessary. Such an approach would free up executive officials to focus on real threats, and members of Congress to better discharge their oversight responsibilities so that whistleblowers are not obliged to leak to the press. The incoming NSA Director, Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, has yet to weigh in publicly on Snowden. At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, he’ll have an opportunity to change the conversation.

It’s time to have a balanced and intelligent debate about protecting whistleblowers – and stopping real spies – instead of pretending they’re the same.

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« Reply #12381 on: Mar 11, 2014, 06:28 AM »

Not just the father of psychoanalysis: Sigmund Freud was also a pioneering neuroscientist

By The Guardian
Monday, March 10, 2014 14:39 EDT

Penis envy. Repression. Libido. Ego. Few have left a legacy as enduring and pervasive as Sigmund Freud. Despite being dismissed long ago as pseudoscientific, Freudian concepts such as these not only permeate many aspects of popular culture, but also had an overarching influence on, and played an important role in the development of, modern psychology, leading TIME Magazine to name him as one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century.

Before his rise to fame as the founding father of psychoanalysis, however, Freud trained and worked as a neurologist. He carried out pioneering neurobiological research, which was cited by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience, and helped to establish neuroscience as a discipline.

The eldest of eight children, Freud was born on 6th May, 1856, in the Moravian town of Příbor, in what is now the Czech Republic. Four years later, Freud’s father Jakob, a wool merchant, moved the family to Austria in search of new business opportunities. Freud subsequently entered the university there, aged just 17, to study medicine and, in the second year of his degree, became preoccupied with scientific research. His early work was a harbinger of things to come – it focused on the sexual organs of the eel. The work was, by all accounts, satisfactory, but Freud was disappointed with his results and, perhaps dismayed by the prospect of dissecting more eels, moved to Ernst Brücke’s laboratory in 1877. There, he switched to studying the biology of nervous tissue, an endeavour that would last for 10 years.

Brücke was a pioneering physiologist interested, among other things, in the effects of electricity on the nerves and muscles. Together with contemporaries such as Hermann von Helmholtz and Emil du-Bois Reymond, he played a key role in overturning Vitalism, the notion that living things differ from inanimate objects because they possess some kind of non-physical entity, often called a “vital spark,” or merely “energy,” that was likened by some to the soul. (Brücke was also of the opinion that all living things are dynamic and subject to the laws of chemistry and physics, an idea later misappropriated by Freud in his psychodynamic theory.)

Freud spent six years in Brücke’s lab, during which time he was tasked with comparing the brains of humans and other vertebrates with those of invertebrates, to determine whether there were any essential differences between them. This involved examining the brains of frogs, crayfish and lampreys under the microscope, and led to a number of important discoveries. He demonstrated, for example, that nerve fibres emerge from grey matter within a web-like substance, and that the lamprey spinal cord contains undifferentiated cells that later become the origin of the sensory nerve roots – a discovery that helped establish the evolutionary continuity between all organisms. He was also the first to describe the structure and function of a part of the brainstem called the medulla oblongata, and the white matter tracts connecting the spinal cord and cerebellum.

At the time, the structure of the nervous system was the subject of an on-going debate. In the 1830s, Theodor Schwann and Matthias Schleiden had proposed, on the basis of what they had seen under the microscope, that all living things consisted of fundamental units called cells. But the microscopes available at the time were not powerful enough to resolve synapses, the miniscule gaps between nerve cells, and histologists were divided into two camps – the neuronists, who argued that the nervous system must consist of cells like all other living things, and the reticularists, who believed that it was composed instead of a continuous network of tissue.

Freud made a significant contribution to this long-lasting debate. In the late 1870s and early 1880s, he observed the relationship between the grey matter and the nerve fibres that emerge from it, and described it accurately and consistently. The diagram above, from a paper that he published in 1877, shows the spinal cord of the lamprey, and includes what appear to be nerve cell bodies within the grey matter.

Freud also developed a new method for staining nervous tissue. “In the course of my studies of the structure and development of the medulla oblongate,” he wrote in an 1884 paper entitled ‘A new histological method for the study of nerve-tracts in the brain and spinal chord,’ published in the prestigious journal Brain, “I succeeded in working out the following method… Pieces of the organ are hardened in bichromate of potash, or in Erlicki’s fluid (2 1/2 parts of bichromate of potash and 1/2 of sulphate of copper to 100 parts of water) and the process of hardening is finished by placing the specimen in alcohol; thin sections are cut by means of a microtome and washed in distilled water. The washed sections are brought into an aqueous solution of chloride of gold (1 to 100) to which is added half or an equal volume of strong alcohol.”

Freud described his observations in a lecture in 1884: “If we assume that the fibrils of the nerve fibre have the significance of isolated paths of conduction, then we would have to say that the pathways in which the nerve fibres are separate are confluent in the nerve cell: then the nerve cell becomes the ‘beginning’ of all those nerve fibres anatomically connected with it… I do not know if the existing material suffices to decide this important problem. If this assumption could be established it would take us a good step further in the physiology of the nerve elements: we could imagine that a stimulus of a certain strength might break down the isolated fibres, so that the nerve as a unit conducts the excitation, and so on.”

Thus, Freud very nearly discovered the neuron, but the way in which presented his findings was somewhat reserved and vague. The Neuron Doctrine – which states that nerve cells are the fundamental structural and functional element of the nervous system – finally gained wide acceptance in the early 1890s, a full seven years after Freud’s lecture. This was, in large part, because of Cajal, who used staining methods similar to that developed by Freud to visualize and compare nervous tissue from various animals. Today, the Neuron Doctrine is the cornerstone of modern neuroscience. But although Freud’s early observations were cited in Histology of the Nervous System of Man and Vertebrates, Cajal’s magnum opus, as evidence of the existence of neurons, his contribution to the development of this crucial idea are all but forgotten, and were eventually overshadowed by his work in psychoanalysis.

References: Triarhou, L. C. (2009). Exploring the mind with a microscope: Freud’s beginnings in neurobiology. Hellenic J. Psychol. 6: 1-13 [PDF]

Kandel, E. (2012). The Age of Insight. Random House, New York. © Guardian News and Media 2014

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« Reply #12382 on: Mar 11, 2014, 06:46 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Thank God for the Kochs Because Disney is Turning Our Kids Gay

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Tuesday, March, 11th, 2014, 6:48 am      

We have seen repeatedly how obsessed the Religious Right is with ideas of demons and Satan. Satan especially is a handy crutch for them: if you don’t like something, just say Satan is behind it. I well remember born-again Christians, whom I otherwise liked very much as people, telling me that Satan was behind my own religion. When I would tell them Satan was their problem, that Pagans did not believe in Satan, they would answer that by denying Satan I was doing his work.

I will return to this point about being a Heathen and dealing with the problem of aberrant Christianity. For now let me remark that this is coming from people who, like Michele Bachmann, while pretending to follow the anti-rich teachings of Jesus, are probably now thanking God for the ultra-rich people Koch brothers for funding their “moral” crusade against poor people and the other social misfits Jesus liked to pal around with and minister to.

Speaking of doing Satan’s work, what was that Michele Bachmann was saying at CPAC?

    I just thank God that there’s a billionaire or two on our side. All the billionaires seem to be on the radical left, so I’m glad that we have a couple on ours. I hope we get a few more that are willing that come out but realize also this is an intimidation movement, I’m sure that the donors on our side don’t like to have their names vilified and that’s what this is about, intimidating people from giving money to our cause, that’s it. There’s something called the RICO statute, the racketeering law, that should be applied against them for doing this.

One or two? Okay, I won’t even go there today.

Instead, let me point out: You can’t escape Satan, apparently, not any more than you can escape the Kochs, not while the American Taliban is so obsessed with the guy. Whoever would have thought a fringe character in the Old Testament, a lieutenant of God himself, would become the ultimate architect of evil in the world’s largest religion?

Let’s face it: even many mainstream Christians believe in Satan and because Jesus did, you can’t really blame them: it’s a package deal. But even though Jesus said rich people aren’t getting into the Kingdom of God, fundamentalists are more than willing to let the ultra-rich Kochs fund their hatred of humanity in Jesus’ name. Why are they willing to trust Jesus on Satan but not his warnings about rich people being in league with Satan? Jesus knew perfectly well you didn’t get ahead in this world without making dark deals with the powers that ruled it.

Gallup told us in 2003 that fully 68 percent “said in a May 2001* poll that they believe in the devil, 20% said they don’t, and 12% said they aren’t sure. Majorities of Americans of every political inclination, region, educational level, and age group said they believe in the devil.” The Satan obsession is even worse among conservatives, with the same report revealing that,

    Eighty-three percent of self-described members of the religious right believe in the devil, as do 64% who don’t consider themselves members of the religious right. Seventy-nine percent of Protestants and 70% of Catholics believe in the devil.

A 2007 Gallup poll revealed no improvement: “7 in 10 profess belief in the Devil and in hell.”

Enlightenment is a long time coming, apparently, The thing is, though Christianity pretends to be part of some “Judeo-Christian” symbiosis, Judaism does not “believe in” Satan, let alone obsess over him. Scientific American wrote about the psychological power of Satan last year, showing how a belief in “pure evil” shapes people’s thinking.

If the Religious Right has weaponized Jesus, they have an endless supply of Satanized ammunition, the sort which Kevin Swanson hurled at Disney’s film “Frozen” last Wednesday. My third-grader’s school is having a showing of Frozen in the school gym. My only problem with that is that I don’t think my poor abused back would survive the experience. But Swanson and his co-host Steve Vaughn have a different sort of problem with the film: it will turn your kids gay.

Do you want to know why? Of course you want to know why:

    Swanson: Man, how many children are taken into these things and how many Christians are taking their kids off to see the movie Frozen, produced by an organization that is probably one of the most pro-homosexual organizations in the country? You wonder sometimes, I’m not a tinfoil hat conspiratorialist, but you wonder sometimes if maybe there’s something very evil happening here. If I was the Devil, what would I do to really foul up an entire social system and do something really, really, really evil to 5- and 6- and 7-year-olds in Christian families around America?

    Vaughn: I would make a movie.

    Swanson: I would buy Disney. If I was the Devil, I would buy Disney in 1984, that’s what I would have done.

    Vaughn: Then you would start making all these nice little movies that throw little things in there that make sin look enticing, in fact some of the worst of sins, make it look enticing or at least to start to indoctrinate slowly, turn the heat up on the frog in the pan.

    Swanson: Friends, this is evil, just evil. I wonder if people are thinking: “You know I think this cute little movie is going to indoctrinate my 5-year-old to be a lesbian or treat homosexuality or bestiality in a light sort of way.” I wonder if the average parent going to see Frozen is thinking that way. I wonder if they are just walking in and saying, “Yeah, let’s get my five-year-old and seven-year-old indoctrinated early.” You know they’re not, I think for the most part they’re oblivious. Maybe they do pick up on pieces of it but they just don’t get up and walk out.

Seriously, if you’re reading the Gospels you have to figure that if anything, Satan’s plan would have included, at the very least, getting rich, because fundamentalists LOVE rich people. Theologically speaking, the Kochs are more likely to be agents of Satan than Disney, or at least as likely.

All this may seem silly to liberals and progressives, but people on the Religious Right are in deadly earnest when it comes to this stuff. Look, if your nice aunt and uncle, your grandma and grandpa, believe in Satan, how much worse must the obsession be for religious extremists? Don’t let the fact that you know Satan doesn’t exist blind you to the fact that they know he does.

Until we on he left get it through our thick heads that those on the right are fighting a different type of war than we are, we won’t win. For us, the war against Saddam Hussein was a war against a thuggish dictator, but for people like Gen. Jerry Boykin, it was a war against Satan himself. We are fighting an intellectual war; they are fighting a spiritual war. We’re not even on the same wave-length.

I know you say, “Well, thank God for that!” and in this regard, the Religious Right, including Kevin Swanson and Steve Vaughn, has never moved out of the 13th century. Their grasp of the scientific underpinnings of our universe is tenuous at best, arguably no more advanced or enlightened than that of the inquisitors who “examined” Galileo in the sixteenth. But they like it there. They like the 13th century. Ignorance is their friend. The last thing they want you to do is open a book.

But don’t think you can appeal to the Bible if you are accused; they have only a passing familiarity with their own holy scriptures as well. That ramshackle abortion they call Christianity is a monstrosity cobbled together out of personal prejudices, ignorance, superstition, and fear, and is as ugly a thing as the human race has ever produced.

Real Christians, its time you take your religion back. The lunatics have had it long enough. Nobody can do it for you. Certainly not this surly old son of Odin. All I can do is point you in the right direction, and say, “please.”


Democratic Senator Hammers The Lying Koch Brothers With Hard-Hitting Ad

By: Justin Baragona
Monday, March, 10th, 2014, 5:21 pm   

Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) has been in the crosshairs of the Koch brothers and their SuperPAC, Americans for Prosperity, for the past few months. Obviously, the Kochs feel that Begich is vulnerable in this election cycle as he represents a state that went for Mitt Romney by a fairly sizable margin in the 2012 Presidential election. Of the $30 million that AFP has spent on ads so far this election cycle, nearly a million dollars has gone towards attack ads against Begich.

Click to watch:

One ad that AFP ran came under fire not just for twisting the truth (a Koch specialty) but by using a paid actress from Maryland and portraying her as a legitimate Alaskan resident and voter. After AFP ran another attack ad, this time falsely claiming that Begich supported a carbon tax, Begich had enough with the Koch brothers’ interference in his reelection campaign and decided to fight fire with fire. On Monday, a new ad was released by Begich hitting the Kochs for lying to the Alaskan people, killing jobs in Alaska and interfering with the state’s political process.

It is about time that Democrats stood up to these shadowy billionaires who are trying to pervert the democratic process of this country. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has already made his feelings known about the Kochs, recently taking to the Senate floor and calling them out for spending millions of dollars to spread lies. With this ad, Begich is stating that he isn’t scared of a couple of men who don’t have the guts to speak publicly on their views, instead using their billions to cynically influence elections and funnel money to the candidates who will do their bidding.

Hopefully, more Dems will follow Reid and Begich and speak out against these secretive lie-peddlers who want nothing more than to have a rubber-stamp Congress at their disposal. All the Kochs want are paid-for Republicans in office that will push through laws that will kill any and all regulations, allowing more money to inevitably find its way into the Kochs’ pockets. That’s all they care about. They don’t care about this country or democracy.


Bernie Sanders Destroys The Koch Fueled Republican Plot To Buy Your Government

By: Jason Easley
Monday, March, 10th, 2014, 3:44 pm   

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) obliterated the Koch plot to buy your government through unlimited campaign contributions on MSNBC today.

Ronan Farrow asked Sen. Sanders (I-VT) about the upcoming McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission
Supreme Court ruling, and got a sixty second explanation of why the Koch Brothers and right wing billionaires must be stopped.

Sanders said, “At the end of the day, you do not want a political system which is heavily dominated by wealthy individuals. That’s not what American society is supposed to be about. And Ronan, I think people have no idea, no idea, about the amount of time that members of congress in both parties, that candidates spend, all they do is raise money. They spend half their lives raising money. And you gotta go where the money is, and the money is with wealthy people. So if you are going to the wealthy to ask for campaign contributions, your political views are going to be shaped by that reality. You’re not worried about the high unemployment in this country. You’re not worried about the need to create millions of jobs. You’re not worried about the fact that we have more people living in poverty than at any time in our history. What you’re worried about are the needs of the wealthy and the powerful, so I believe very strongly that we need to junk this campaign finance situation that we’re in right now, and move to public funding of elections.”

It took Bernie Sanders exactly sixty seconds to explain why the Koch brothers must be stopped. Most Americans are upset because Republicans have used obstructionist tactics to ignore their concerns. The reason why Republicans aren’t concerned about the needs and difficulties of regular people is because they are busy catering to the interests of those who are paying for their campaigns.

The Koch plan to purchase control of the government is centered around the idea that their billions will make them more of a priority than the other 99% of the country. As long as they and other billionaires are free to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on elections, representative government will continue to be under attack.

What Sen. Sanders explained is common sense. Republicans view their job security as hinging on pleasing the Kochs and other right wing donors. The way to get a government that responds to the needs of average Americans is to get rid of the billionaires’ ability to influence elections. Take away their ability to fund campaigns, and you take away their influence.

Anyone who doesn’t understand why campaign finance matters needs to watch this interview with Sen. Sanders. The best way to make sure that the candidates voters elect put their priorities first is to take the price tag off, and make sure that their representation is not for sale.


On Issue After Issue Republicans Are Determined to Be Wrong

By: Becky Sarwate
Monday, March, 10th, 2014, 3:23 pm   

There are so many elements to unpack with regard to the very recent, quick changing and still unfolding events in the Ukraine. I think many of us are in agreement that we expected something to go down during the expense-laden bombast fest that was the Sochi Olympics. Could Vladmir Putin risk parading his own controlled version of Russian exceptionalism on the world stage, without asking for some sort of karmic exposure? The terrorist attacks and bombings that preceded the Games seemed to bode ill for security issues in a region that was volatile before Olympic planning ever commenced. Along with most of the rest of the civilized world, I crossed my fingers, turned on the TV and hoped for the best.

As we know now, the Games, for the most part, played out without any large-scale incidents (What’s a little baton beating of protestors? In Russia, Putin calls that “Tuesday”). And though the media and well-informed observers knew a situation was brewing between Russia and Ukraine, its neighbor to the Southwest, I don’t anyone could have anticipated the escalation and series of events that followed.

As of early this week, Russian troops have tightened their grip on the Crimean peninsula, and the region is imminently prepared to vote upon a secession referendum. This even as Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, is reportedly seeking elevated diplomatic assistance from the United States and the United Nations to help restore order and beat back this act of Russian aggression.

The world is watching, cautiously, and with much trepidation as President Obama and his team decide America’s next move. Any illusions of Putin as a rational custodian and partner in enforcing international norms have been shattered, probably for good. It’s not just the situation in the Ukraine that we must ponder. For months and years, President Obama has tried to establish Putin’s cooperation with regard to other unstable nations and threats, including but not limited to: Syria, Iran North Korea, China.

President Obama’s cautiousness in deploying U.S. troops is in keeping with the nation’s evolving attitude toward long, expensive, overseas conflicts without directly achievable objectives. In late January of this year, results from a USA TODAY/Pew Research Center poll indicated that more than 50 percent of respondents (across party lines) believed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan waged across most of the 21st Century to date, failed to achieve anything of consequence. At least not anything to warrant the costs, both economic and in human terms.

Moreover, Christopher Gelpi, an Ohio State University political scientist, is quoted in the piece as saying,  ”What is especially interesting about these responses is that the public has continued to update its views on Iraq and Afghanistan despite the fact that these wars have received virtually no attention at all from our politicians over the past couple of years…This shows that the public is more attentive to costly wars than we might expect, even when politicians try to ignore the conflicts.”

President Obama may now fully understand that placing his faith in Putin to be a good steward for democracy and the world’s collective interests was a mulligan. But I for one am grateful that the cerebral POTUS hasn’t proposed a reactionary return to the failed Cowboy Diplomacy of George W. Bush (“Bring ‘em on!”). There are similarities of course between this situation and international land grabs of the past, but this is 2014, not 1941, and the solutions aren’t as black and white as the attitudes of certain Obama critics might suggest. Case in point: Contributor Michael Peck of Forbes (no one’s idea of a liberal rag) wrote last week, “America is the mightiest military power in the world. And that fact means absolutely nothing for the Ukraine crisis. Regardless of whether Russia continues to occupy the Crimea region of Ukraine, or decides to occupy all of Ukraine, the U.S. is not going to get into a shooting war with Russia. This has nothing to do with whether Obama is strong or weak. Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan would face the same constraints.”

So now we get to the real crux of my column. I am 35 years old. Over the course of a relatively short life, I have watched as the nation came together in times of conflict: Operation Desert Storm of the 1990s, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, various skirmishes on the continent of Africa, the Balkans, etc. I did not mention the names of Presidents in charge of operations during these battles. You know why? Because it didn’t matter. A sitting President could expect all sorts of partisan bickering and legislative headaches in times of relative calm, but he could also count upon united support when lives and U.S. international interests were at stake.

Republicans have slowly and systematically set about destroying paradigms of the normal order since President Obama first took the oath in January 2009. But once again, they have failed to understand that their short-term goals (undermining every single thing that the President endeavors to achieve) stand in relief against what is best for the country. Their strategies aren’t even healthy for the struggling party’s long-term branding.

Lindsay Graham, John McCain, and others, I am looking at you. Your rhetoric (“feckless,” “dangerous,” “weak”) is actually what makes the country appear limp and disorganized, rather than Obama’s thoughtful cautiousness. Publicly impugning your President in 145 characters and trying to create a pathetic political link between the Ukraine and Benghazi, really Graham?

If there’s something that’s not in the national interest, it is this bizarre Putin hero-worship on the part of much of the Republican establishment, and the method by which these right wing lemmings have succumbed to the Russian President’s divide and conquer strategy.


President Obama Makes a Fool of Rupert Murdoch by Being a Real Leader

By: Sarah Jones
Monday, March, 10th, 2014, 12:23 pm   

Rupert Murdoch is so used to running the White House during the good old days under the Bush administration, when a Bush administration fax would be read verbatim on his airwaves without acknowledging that it came from the White House, that he can’t help but try to order President Obama around.

So it was that Sunday morning, Rupert Murdoch tried to dictate foreign policy to President Obama. Naturally, because he’s a conservative, this involved jumping the gun on the missing Malaysian airliner and claiming that for sure terrorists did it, and then merging that event together with Russia’s actions in a general jihad against terrorism (sound familiar?). “777crash confirms jihadists turning to make trouble for China. Chance for US to make common cause, befriend China while Russia bullies.”

His alleged goal? To get the US and China to come together against Russia. (In actuality, his goal was clearly to reignite the “war on terrorism” or else why would he have brought up the plane crash and terrorism at all.)

So, yeah, the President could have followed Rupert’s advice, picked up the phone to China in order to denounce the terrorists who took down the plane (except no one knows yet what happened to the plane) and then fear-mongered China to point out that they are now being targeted so it’s best that we band together against terrorism (always a winning strategy to wage war on an idea).

Or, Obama could do what a real leader does.

Guess which one your President chose? Yes, that’s right. He did the sane, reality based thing. The President spoke to the Chinese President Sunday evening regarding the situation in Ukraine, according to the Office of the Press Secretary. And without any made up stories or fear mongering, they agreed to focus on common interests and cooperation. HUH.

“The President spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping on the evening of March 9 regarding the situation in Ukraine. The two leaders agreed on the fundamental importance of focusing on common interests and deepening practical cooperation to address regional and global challenges for the development of bilateral relations. In that context, they affirmed their shared interest in reducing tensions and identifying a peaceful resolution to the dispute between Russia and Ukraine.”

No mention of terrorism and a plane so far…. Yet, the leaders understand the importance of finding a PEACEFUL RESOLUTION to the dispute between Russia and the Ukraine. Which is like the exact opposite of Rupert’s wisdom and the Republicans’ goals. They’ve been beating the war drums so hard that Sarah Palin tripped over them and called for nuking now at CPAC.

Furthermore, the world is complicated. So instead of claiming they are going to get the “bad guys with the nukes” (per Sarah Palin) and then just invading/nuking the nearest targets, the two Presidents agreed on the importance of upholding the sovereignty of Ukraine but also as a broader concept (please note the huge dig this is at Bush and the GOP, who invaded a sovereign nation on a lie), “The two leaders agreed on the importance of upholding principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, both in the context of Ukraine and also for the broader functioning of the international system.”

The dig at neocon stupidity and greed continues, “The President noted his overriding objective of restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and ensuring the Ukrainian people are able to determine their own future without foreign interference. The two leaders committed to stay in touch as events unfold.”

So there. That’s a NO THANKS to Rupert Murdoch and his “advice” to use a missing plane to reignite a war on terror and fear monger China, claiming that the missing plane “confirms” that the “jihadsts are turning to make trouble for China.” This man owns a “news network” but his bias has created an impediment that prohibits him from discerning the difference between what has actually happened and been confirmed and what is in his head. It’s best if the fantasy driven folks stay in the backseat during turbulent times and as cooler heads prevail.

The President simply had a reality based discussion with the Chinese President, and found common principles upon which they could both get behind.


Sorry GOP, Americans Support President Obama’s Calm Response to Ukraine Crisis

By: Keith Brekhus
Monday, March, 10th, 2014, 2:01 pm

Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and the talking heads over at FOX News may think the president is weak, but the American people disagree. GOP politicians have been sabre-rattling and accusing the president of presiding over a feckless foreign policy. However, if they were hoping to score political points with the American public, they are failing miserably in their efforts. A newly released CNN/ORC International survey finds a 48-43 percent plurality of Americans in favor of Barack Obama’s handling of the Ukraine crisis. While the president’s overall approval numbers are still underwater, the American people are supportive of his measured approach to dealing with the situation in Ukraine.

While Lindsey Graham and John McCain would like to see a more aggressive U.S. response, the American people are much more sober in their thoughts. Graham and McCain have never met a war they did not like. However, despite all the chest thumping and beating of the war drums, they have not made their case to the American people. The U.S. public is not receptive to the idea of an American military response in Ukraine. Only 12 percent of Americans polled favor sending U.S. ground troops to the conflict. Just 17 percent would support American air strikes. Even military aid to Ukraine was unpopular, mustering support from a mere 23 percent of those surveyed.

Republicans attempting to make a political issue of the Ukraine crisis should realize that their pleas for aggression are falling on deaf ears. The American people are war weary. Having been hoodwinked into waging a war in Iraq, the public is not particularly interested in engaging in another overseas conflict. Americans prefer diplomacy and economic sanctions to launching a military attack. While many Republican politicians and pundits are trying to paint Barack Obama as a weak political leader in the face of an international crisis, the American people know better. The weak leadership is within the Republican Party where creative responses to international events are all but impossible.

The party that brought us George W. Bush and Dick Cheney still believes the proper way to handle a foreign crisis is to send troops and drop bombs. The American people disagree. They support diplomacy. So does the president. Since President Obama has kept a cool head under pressure, he has the support of the American people.


Republicans Have Found Their Dream Leader and His Name Is Pig V. Putin

By: Rmuse
Monday, March, 10th, 2014, 10:28 am   

Every movement, especially political movements, seeks a leader that champions its cause as a prototype that all members of the movement can point to as the ideal on which they are based and is regarded as the model or perfect first form. Because Republicans, as a political party, are fractured into different groups with relatively disparate goals, they have had a high degree of difficulty finding an archetype to represent both theocrats seeking to install the Christian bible as law of the land and neo-cons driven to dominate the world through military conquest. One might mistakenly assume that Republicans yearn for another Ronald Reagan as their archetype, but his record of cowardice in the face of terrorism, belief in the separation of church and state, and taxing and spending like a madman, his liberal record disqualifies any reiteration of him as the prototypical Republican champion. In fact, over the past twenty years, although Republicans cite Reagan as their idealized leader, they have never found a candidate in his image because even their man-god Reagan was not a prototypical conservative.

Now it is becoming clear that Republicans are on the verge of finally, at long last, finding an archetype of everything disparate 21st Century conservatives stand for who is part George W. Bush, part evangelical freak Mike Huckabee, and part neo-con Dick Cheney rejecting the rule of law. There is some division among Republicans who cannot quite decide if they want to fight the Pig or fornicate with the Russian, but one thing is clear; conservatives think he is a “real leader” and lust for a Republican president like Pig Putin.

Republicans, conservative pundits, and evangelical fanatics have lined up behind their prototypical conservative Pig Putin, and contrary to what some may think, it is not solely because they hate President Obama they have spent no small amount of time comparing to the Russian president. This past week Fox News strategic analyst Ralph Peters was effusive in praising Russia he asserted “has a real leader, while our President is incapable and unwilling to lead.” Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani could barely contain his enthusiasm for Putin and said “Putin decides what he wants to do and does it in half a day. He makes a decision and executes it quickly and everybody reacts. That’s what you call a real leader.”

Another conservative pundit praised the Pig because “he likes to hang out with his shirt off and tells the West if you mess with me I’ll kill you all.” Even half-term, half-wit Sarah Palin compared the conservative’s hero with President Obama and said,  ”people look at the Pig as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil, and our President wears mom jeans and equivocates.” Another Fox analyst said, “In Pig Putin, you’ve got a big strong guy, muscular and shirtless on a horse who wrestles tigers, while the President wears mom jeans.” It is unclear why conservatives are obsessed with mom jeans, whatever they are, but it is likely to compare President Obama’s diplomacy first foreign policy with a big shirtless leader who subscribes to the George W. Bush foreign policy of pre-emptively invading sovereign nations; the conservative’s idea of a “real leader.”

However, as much as Republicans are enamored with Pig Putin’s rapid decision to invade Ukraine without going to the United Nations or a reason other than he wanted to, it is the religious right that would install Putin as America’s theocratic dictator tomorrow if they could convince Americans to amend the Constitution to allow a Christian foreigner to rule America. The religious right regards Putin as their archetypical leader because he made it Russian policy to do what Christian fanatics yearn for in America; crackdown on gays and make Christianity the state religion. In fact, Christians anointed Putin the “defender of the Christian civilization” or as Christian zealot Bryan Fischer asserted, the Pig is “the lion of Christianity, the defender of Christian values, the president that’s calling his nation back to embracing its identity as a nation founded on Christian values. To ever think we would get to the day that Russia would be more advanced spiritually than the United States. I mean, it’s just staggering to see what is happening to this country.”

Fischer, like nearly all evangelical Christians heaped praise on Putin for signing a ban on gay propaganda and gushed that “this is public policy that we’ve been advocating and here is a nation in the world that is actually putting it into practice.” It was reported here yesterday that the World Congress of Families (WFC) summit meeting (Pro-Life Olympics) is still being held in Moscow despite Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. As noted in the article, the communications director of the WCF “justified, exonerated, and extolled Putin’s behavior because Putin is behaving a lot like George W Bush” by pre-emptively invading a sovereign nation. Although Bush never claimed he was defending Christian civilization by hunting down gays, banning abortion advertising, and likely ban abortion, there is little doubt he would have if he had the authority. As an aside, abortion is the top birth control method in Russia because contraception is prohibitively expensive; something Christians yearn for in America as evidence by their rabid opposition to contraception coverage in healthcare prescription plans.

Americans should not be deluded that if they had the opportunity, Republicans would install a Putin-like character as president in a heartbeat. Their praise of the Pig decisive leadership in invading a sovereign nation like George W. Bush, and staunch support for a state-mandated Christian religion authorizing the hunting down and brutalizing of gays signals their intent for America if they were left unchecked. The argument that conservatives and Republicans love Putin because he is the polar opposite of President Obama has some merit but misses the bigger point entirely. It is true that Republicans hate that President Obama defends and supports the Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights for all Americans, and they cannot tolerate the President’s “diplomacy first” foreign policy, but what they want in a president is a Christian dictator who, like Putin and George W. Bush, invades sovereign nations on a whim, and forces Christianity down the throats of every American under threat of death. It is true that Republicans have found their archetype to rule over America, but since Pig Putin cannot run for the presidency, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Paul Ryan, and Rick Santorum all have presidential aspirations and a prototype in Russian president Pig Putin to model themselves when the 2016 Republican primaries begin.

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« Reply #12383 on: Mar 11, 2014, 08:32 AM »

Company withholds experimental drug from dying 7-year-old boy to preserve profits

By Travis Gettys
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 9:27 EDT

A drug company refuses to give a dying 7-year-old boy experimental medication because doing so would cut into its profits.

Cancer survivor Josh Hardy is fighting a viral infection he developed after a recent bone-marrow transplant, and his family has turned to social media to pressure pharmaceutical maker Chimerix into providing the antiviral drug brincidofovir.

The North Carolina-based company has already turned down multiple requests by Josh’s doctors for the unapproved drug, and it has so far remained unmoved by thousands of requests made by friends, family members, and other supporters.

“Our son will die without this drug,” said the boy’s father, Todd Hardy. “We’re begging them to give it to us.”

But the company’s CEO, Kenneth Moch, said Chimerix cannot agree to provide the drug for compassionate use because it would then be obligated to share the drug with other patients – and he said that would be too costly.

“If this were just one patient wanting this drug, then this would be a very different question,” Moch said. “But it’s yes to all or no to all.”

Chimerix hopes to begin marketing brincidofovir by the end of 2016, and Moch said the 54-person company cannot afford to spend $50,000 on each compassionate-use patient or divert workers to handle the requests, patient records, and follow-up required by law.

The Food and Drug Administration permits drug manufacturers to share experimental drugs still awaiting approval with patients who have serious or life-threatening illness and unsuccessfully tried other treatment options.

The FDA approved 974 compassionate use arrangements in the last fiscal year, but pharmaceutical companies often turn down those requests.

Chimerix has already shared brincidofovir with more than 430 compassionate-use patients and is still accepting newborn patients with the herpes simplex virus who have used the drug in a previous trial, and the company would also share the antibiotic in the event of a smallpox bioterror attack.

But Moch said the company has no current studies under way for other children.

“We have great compassion for this family, but this is not just about a single boy,” said Moch, who admits he would feel “horrible” if Josh dies.

A medical ethicist said he understands both viewpoints.

“I have huge sympathy for the family,” said Arthur Caplan, of the New York University Langone Medical Center. “I think they are right to try and see what they can get for their child.”

But he said Chimerix, like many other small pharmaceutical companies, has limited resources and a responsibility to its investors.

“We can’t ask the company to turn into a philanthropy or their investors will back out,” Caplan said.

There’s no guarantee the drug will work, he added.

“It’s always a long shot that it will help and not make things worse,” Caplan said.

But Josh’s parents are willing to take that risk in hopes of saving their son’s life.

“He holds our son’s life in his hands,” Todd Hardy said. “This is just beyond belief to me.”

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« Reply #12384 on: Mar 12, 2014, 05:51 AM »

Crimea to Take Ownership of Ukrainian State Companies on Its Territory

MARCH 12, 2014, 7:38 A.M. E.D.T.
MOSCOW — Crimea will soon take ownership of Ukrainian state companies on its territory, its first deputy prime minister said on Wednesday, pushing forward with steps to cement the region's independence before a referendum on joining Russia.

Crimea, a southern Ukrainian region which is home to the Russian Black Sea fleet, will vote on Sunday on whether to join Russia. Since pro-Russian separatists took control of the regional parliament almost two weeks ago, it has declared Crimea part of the Russian Federation.

At a news conference broadcast on Russian television, Rustam Temirgaliev said: "In the coming days the transfer is being prepared ... for a series of assets, belonging to the Ukrainian state, which are located on the territory of Crimea."

He said energy company Chornomornaftohaz and the state railway company would be included, along with several resorts owned by ministries in Kiev.

"The property of private companies and private individuals remain the property of these entities," he said, adding that owners should re-register their property under Russian law.

(reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, writing by Elizabeth Piper, editing by Steve Gutterman)


EU tells Russia: start Ukraine talks or face sanctions

Sanctions, including asset freeze and travel ban on military and officials, could be imposed day after Crimea referendum

Nicholas Watt and agencies, Tuesday 11 March 2014 20.40 GMT   
The European Union is on course to impose travel bans and to freeze the assets of Russian officials and military officers involved in the occupation of Crimea by next Monday if Moscow declines to accept the formation of a "contact group" to establish a dialogue with Ukraine.

A meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday is being seen as an unofficial deadline for the introduction of the sanctions, which would exempt the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, as the EU tries to keep open lines of communication.

The sanctions could be imposed a day after Sunday's referendum in Crimea to allow the Black Sea peninsula to join the Russian Federation.

Ukraine's parliament warned the regional assembly in Crimea on Tuesday that it faces dissolution unless it cancels the referendum, which has been condemned by the EU and the US as illegal. But the Russian foreign ministry said it would respect the result of the vote.

Officials from the EU, US, Japan and Turkey met in London on Tuesday to draw up a list of Russians who could be subject to the sanctions, as Kiev called on London and Washington to live up to their commitments to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Britain, the US and Russia were signatories to the Budapest memorandum in 1994 in which they agreed to uphold the newly independent Ukraine's borders in exchange for the surrender of the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the interim Ukrainian prime minister, said: "If you do not uphold these guarantees which you signed up to in the Budapest memorandum, then explain how you will convince Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear status."

In his second press conference since he fled to Russia, Ukraine's former president, Viktor Yanukovych, decried the actions of the new Kiev government and its western allies but shied away from discussing the de facto Russian occupation of Crimea.

The sanctions will be introduced under what EU leaders describe as phase II of a three-stage plan agreed at their summit last week. The final stage would involve curbs on energy, trade and financial relations if Russian forces move beyond Crimea to the main part of eastern Ukraine.

The number of Russians named in the EU's official journal is expected to be in double rather than triple figures.

David Cameron's spokesman said: "The prime minister is very much linking phase II to the need for dialogue to start in the new few days. We are asking [the officials] to do preparatory work and we still believe there is an opportunity for the dialogue to start and we very much encourage the Russian authorities to start that. The focus [of the sanctions will] be on officials who are closely linked to infringements on Ukrainian sovereignty."

Russians based in London – or oligarchs in Moscow who base their assets in London – will be exempt from sanctions because they are not linked to the "infringements". This approach was criticised by John McCain, the former Republican US presidential candidate, who raised concerns about a secret UK government document which said that "London's financial centre" should not be closed to Russians. The Arizona senator, who described the photographed document as "very unfortunate", told the FT: "Many of the Russian oligarchs would be affected by the sanctions that I advocate. These billionaires with ill-gotten gains from their relationship with Vladimir Putin – it is a bit unsettling that the [UK] government would not want in some way to restrict their lifestyle."

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, told France-Inter radio that the sanctions could be introduced by the end of this week: "There is a set of sanctions that will take effect as of this week and that will consist of freezing the personal assets of Russians and Ukrainians and visa restrictions."

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, said a decision would be made by Monday. Berlin, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas, remains cautious.

Meanwhile, the Chatham House thinktank said the referendum on Sunday would give voters no opportunity to break free from Russia. The first question, according to Reuters, will ask voters if they are in favour of the "reunification of Crimea with Russia as a part of the Russian Federation". The second question asks if they are in favour of "restoring the 1992 constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine". But the constitution was later abolished.

In an article reported by Reuters, Keir Giles, of Chatham House, wrote: "Even if it [the referendum] were legitimate, the two choices presented to Crimean voters offer them no option for leaving Russian control. The restoration of this [1992] constitution would be a step towards notional independence under Russian control … Those citizens who were content with Crimea remaining part of Ukraine on the same basis as it has been for the last 20 years do not have a voice in this referendum. There is no third option available."


Obama Team Debates How to Punish Russia

MARCH 11, 2014

WASHINGTON — As President Obama searches for a way to contain and ultimately reverse Russia’s invasion of southern Ukraine without using force, his team finds itself torn over just how far to go using the economic weapons in America’s arsenal.

Administration officials have concluded that they have the means through sanctions to badly damage the Russian economy, and some officials think they should use that power sooner rather than later if President Vladimir V. Putin refuses to surrender control of Crimea and proceeds to annex it.

But others in the administration, particularly economic officials, are wary of especially ruinous options that they argue could alienate allies as well as provoke a dangerous cycle of retaliation. The White House is under intense pressure from major American companies that do not want to lose business to competitors because of unilateral sanctions or to risk retribution from the Kremlin.

Mr. Obama, who will host Ukraine’s new prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, at the White House on Wednesday in a show of solidarity, has so far held off imposing measures with any financial bite, in part to give diplomacy a chance. While he has canceled trade talks and military cooperation, his only move on sanctions has been to ban visas for fewer than a dozen Russian and Ukrainian figures deemed responsible for undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty.

By all accounts, Mr. Obama has the power to go much further even without new legislation from Congress, which nonetheless is advancing competing bills to punish Russia. He signed an executive order last week authorizing not just additional visa bans but also asset freezes and other financial moves. But he did not actually invoke it against any targets, preserving what he called “the flexibility to adjust our response going forward based on Russia’s actions.”

Administration officials said the internal debate was not whether to penalize Russia for its actions — there is broad consensus for that, one that hardens with each passing day — but when, and how hard. Beyond freezing assets of individuals, the administration could sanction banks and potentially cut the country off from the dollar economy.

“There are people who are cautious about going too far too quickly, and there are those who want the president to show resolve,” said a former administration official in touch with the White House.

According to current and former officials, those most supportive of strong action include officials closest to the situation in Ukraine: Victoria J. Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for the region, and Geoffrey R. Pyatt, the ambassador to the country, as well as Daniel Fried, the State Department coordinator of sanctions. Those more wary about crippling the Russian economy include Jack Lew, the Treasury secretary; Michael Froman, the president’s trade representative; and Caroline Atkinson, the president’s international economics adviser.

The immediate question is whether to take action before Sunday’s referendum in Crimea in hopes of forestalling it or instead to wait and see what Moscow does after it is over. The issue is further complicated by the fact that financial sanctions take time to prepare. While the United States has broad latitude to bar foreigners from traveling here, the government needs to build an evidentiary case that could withstand possible court challenge when it freezes assets.

The administration’s handling of the issue has been improvisational. Its decision to impose the visa bans last Thursday came as a surprise to some European diplomats in Washington who interpreted it as an attempt to stiffen the resolve of their governments during a meeting that day in Brussels. European officials met again in London on Tuesday to talk about possible sanctions.

In Washington, European officials emphasized privately that there was no daylight between them and the United States; German officials argued that economics were not driving their approach because even though Germany relies on Russia for a third of its natural gas, its storage tanks are full.

In rallying support, Mr. Obama in recent days has made calls to beyond the usual big allies, speaking with the leaders of Spain and Kazakhstan. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called the leader of Cyprus, where a lot of Russian tycoons and companies keep their money.

American officials said there would be more unanimity if Russia escalated the crisis by following through with annexation or moving further into Ukraine. Officials are increasingly worried because the Crimean Peninsula, with no land connection to Russia, depends on Ukraine for water, electricity and other energy, which means Moscow might decide to seize more Ukrainian territory to supply the enclave.

“If they actually annex, if a Russian tricolor goes up, this is a whole new ballgame,” said Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and a former deputy secretary of state who has written several books on Russia. “Putin is the game changer, and he’s got to be tagged out in some fashion. Cautious baby steps, they just won’t work.”

But American businesses are warning against overreaction. Representatives of groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the United States-Russia Business Council have been holding meetings at the White House or in Congress to share their views.

They are urging policy makers to be sure that any sanctions would actually have an impact on Russian behavior, that the costs not outweigh the benefits and that they be multilateral. “We are working closely with policy makers on both sides of the aisle to safeguard manufacturing employees and manufacturers’ investments around the world,” said Jay Timmons, president of the manufacturers association.

Although the United States does only $40 billion in trade with Russia each year, American businesses argue that the amount understates the real economic ties. Ford, for instance, has two assembly plants in Russia that make cars with material that comes from Europe, so that would not be reflected in import-export figures.

Boeing has sold or leased hundreds of planes in Russia and projects that the republics of the former Soviet Union will need an additional 1,170 planes worth nearly $140 billion over the next 20 years. Moreover, the company has a design center in Moscow, has just announced new manufacturing and training facilities in Russia and depends on Russia for 35 percent of its titanium.

“There’s no doubt that key economic groups, especially energy, don’t want us to act,” said James B. Steinberg, a former deputy secretary of state under Mr. Obama and now dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

Mr. Steinberg, who also served in President Bill Clinton’s White House in the 1990s, recalled that as the administration pressured Iran over its nuclear program, it cut off a major American firm, Conoco, from business there despite the cost to the company. “For that very reason, it was critical to our credibility to act, even unilaterally if necessary, to the disadvantage of our companies,” he said.

The challenge for the administration is trying to anticipate Mr. Putin’s next move. John O. Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said Mr. Putin was laying the groundwork for possible action in eastern Ukraine by citing concerns for the safety of Russian speakers there.

“Has he made a decision?” Mr. Brennan said Tuesday to the Council on Foreign Relations. “Well, I guess only Putin knows if he has made that final decision. But what we’ve tried to do is identify what would be the reasons and how he might make those moves; what are the factors that he will take into account, and what are the costs that he is willing to incur if he decides to move across the border.”


Kiev will not use army to stop Crimea seceding, says Ukraine president

Oleksandr Turchynov says intervention would leave Ukraine exposed in the east, where Russia has 'significant tank units'

Nicholas Watt and agencies, Wednesday
12 March 2014 08.29 GMT

Ukraine's acting president has said the country will not use its army to stop Crimea from seceding, in the latest indication that a Russian annexation of the peninsula may be imminent.

The interim leader said intervening on the south-eastern Black Sea peninsula, where Kremlin-backed forces have seized control, would leave Ukraine exposed on its eastern border, where he said Russia has massed "significant tank units".

"We cannot launch a military operation in Crimea, as we would expose the eastern border and Ukraine would not be protected," Oleksandr Turchynov told Agence France-Presse.

"They're provoking us to have a pretext to intervene on the Ukrainian mainland … [but] we cannot follow the scenario written by the Kremlin."

Crimea is due to hold a referendum on joining Russia this Sunday, organised by the peninsula's self-appointed leaders.

Turchynov described the secession referendum as a sham whose outcome would be decided "in the offices of the Kremlin".

The European Union is poised to impose travel bans and to freeze the assets of Russian officials and military officers involved in the occupation of Crimea by next Monday if Moscow declines to accept the formation of a "contact group" to establish a dialogue with Ukraine.

But Russian leaders are currently refusing to communicate with Ukraine and refuse to accept Turchynov's legitimacy.

"Unfortunately, for now Russia is rejecting a diplomatic solution to the conflict," he said.

A meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday is being seen as an unofficial deadline for the introduction of the sanctions, which would exempt the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, as the EU tries to keep open lines of communication.

Ukraine's parliament warned the regional assembly in Crimea on Tuesday that it faces dissolution unless it cancels the referendum, which has been condemned by the EU and the US as illegal. But the Russian foreign ministry said it would respect the result of the vote.

On Wednesday, a Russian court issued an arrest warrant for Ukrainian far-right leader Dmytro Yarosh in absentia on charges of inciting terrorism – a symbolic move in support of Moscow's argument that "extremists" stole power in neighbouring Ukraine.

Russian news agencies said Moscow's Basmanny district court ruled that Yarosh – one of the most influential leaders of the protest movement which ousted former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich – should be arrested for making "public calls for terrorist and extremist activities via the media".

Ukraine's new justice authorities have issued warrants for the arrest of pro-Russia leaders in the Crimea region.

EU sanctions against Moscow are what leaders describe as phase II of a three-stage plan that would involve curbs on energy, trade and financial relations if Russian forces move beyond Crimea to the main part of eastern Ukraine.

David Cameron's spokesman said: "The prime minister is very much linking phase II to the need for dialogue to start in the next few days. We are asking [the officials] to do preparatory work and we still believe there is an opportunity for the dialogue to start and we very much encourage the Russian authorities to start that.

"The focus [of the sanctions will] be on officials who are closely linked to infringements on Ukrainian sovereignty."


Air Links Are Severed as Russia Tightens Its Grip on Crimean Peninsula

MARCH 11, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — The airport in the regional capital of Simferopol was closed on Tuesday to all flights except those heading to and from Moscow, in the boldest display yet of Russia’s tightening control over Crimea.

The announcement that air links had been severed between Crimea and the Ukrainian capital of Kiev raised the possibility that the peninsula might be closed off indefinitely from the rest of Ukraine, and it immediately prompted a sellout of tickets for connecting flights on Aeroflot, the Russian national carrier.

Even as Russia consolidated its grip on the embattled peninsula, diplomatic efforts between the Obama administration and the Kremlin appeared stalled, with the two sides continuing to engage in menacing military exercises and trade threats of economic retaliation.
Russian forces have been stationed at Crimea’s main airports since late last week, when the military occupation began, and Russian soldiers have recently seized outposts of the border police, effectively taking control of who enters or exits the region.

The move to block most flights came as the ousted Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, who is now living in self-imposed exile in Russia, appealed to the country’s military units to refuse to follow the orders of the new interim authorities, declaring that he remained commander in chief and would return to Ukraine as soon as conditions permitted.

In Kiev, the new government announced that it would seek to create a National Guard, composed of perhaps 20,000 military veterans, in an effort to bolster Ukraine’s threadbare military. The plan was announced by the acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, during a session of Parliament and was discussed in a meeting between the first deputy prime minister, Vitaly Yarema, and the British ambassador to Ukraine, Simon Smith.

As the flight ban took effect on Tuesday morning, a Ukrainian International Airlines flight was denied permission to land in Simferopol and ultimately returned to Kiev after being rerouted briefly toward the port city of Odessa.

In Simferopol, the regional Parliament took yet another step toward seceding from Ukraine by adopting a resolution laying out the steps it would take toward becoming part of Russia if a public referendum on the matter on Sunday is approved.

In the resolution, the Parliament declared that if the outcome of the referendum ratifies its decision last week to become part of Russia, Crimea would immediately become a sovereign, independent nation and would then formally request to be absorbed into the Russian Federation.

The Ukrainian government in Kiev has said that the Crimean Parliament’s actions are illegal and that it should be disbanded.

Crimea, which has enjoyed substantial autonomy since shortly after Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, also has its own Constitution, which declares Crimea to be an integral part of Ukraine. Amendments to the Crimean Constitution require approval not only of the Crimean Parliament but also the national Parliament.

The resolution adopted in Simferopol on Tuesday, however, made no reference to the Crimean Constitution and instead cited the United Nations Charter, as well as “many other international instruments recognizing the right of peoples to self-determination.” It also cited a ruling by the International Court of Justice in July 2010 that supported Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.

That decision was expected to have far-reaching consequences by potentially granting legal support for secessionist movements in places as diverse as northern Cyprus, Somaliland and Transnistria in Moldova.

In the Kosovo case, the positions of Russia and the United States were reversed, with the United States supporting Kosovo’s push for self-determination and declaration of independence from Serbia and Russia insisting that the declaration was a violation of Serbia’s sovereignty. Kosovo was about 90 percent Albanian at the time, while Crimea’s ethnic Russian population, at about 60 percent, is far smaller.

On Wednesday, President Obama is scheduled to meet at the White House with the acting prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, strongly emphasizing American support for the provisional government in Kiev, which the Kremlin has declared to be illegitimate.

In an address in the national Parliament on Tuesday before leaving for the United States, Mr. Yatsenyuk said the new Ukrainian government was open to negotiations with Russia.

“On behalf of the Ukrainian government, I declare that Ukraine is ready for transparent negotiations between Russia and Ukraine and to rebuild a new type of relationship between Ukraine and Russia,” he said.

At the same time, he demanded that Russia withdraw its forces, and he mocked Kremlin officials who have repeatedly referred to Russia and Ukraine as fraternal nations. “Now it’s clear what a fraternal relationship means,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said. “It means to come with full ammunition in tanks and A.P.C.s into the territory of a sovereign state,” he added, referring to armored personnel carriers. “We do not need such a brotherhood.”

After Washington, Mr. Yatsenyuk is scheduled to visit the United Nations on Thursday.

European leaders also focused on the crisis on Tuesday. In Warsaw, Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland said the European Union would impose sanctions on Russia in response to the occupation of Crimea beginning Monday, Reuters reported. And Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was due to visit Poland on Wednesday to discuss Ukraine.

Crimea, whose population includes sizable minority populations of ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, poses a more complicated scenario than the secessionist movements in more monolithic regions like Kosovo or Catalonia in Spain.

On Tuesday, the main Crimean Tatar organization, which has expressed opposition to breaking away from Ukraine, issued a statement urging a peaceful resolution to the crisis. “We appeal to all the inhabitants of the Crimea — in this difficult time maintain restraint and calm, keep mutual respect and good neighborly feelings, don’t fall for provocations and prevent xenophobia and religious discord,” the group said.

At a news conference in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Mr. Yanukovych also criticized Western governments for promising financial aid to Ukraine’s provisional government: “You don’t have any legal grounds to provide financial assistance to these bandits.”

Mr. Yanukovych’s remarks were largely greeted with derision in Kiev, where even former political allies turned against him once he fled the country. The authorities have declared him a fugitive who is wanted on charges of mass murder in connection with the deaths of more than 80 demonstrators last month.

“It was clear his statement was written in the Kremlin,” Valeriy Chaly, deputy director of the Razumkov Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies and a former deputy foreign minister, said of Mr. Yanukovych’s remarks. “People watching were laughing at Yanukovych. When he said he would return, self-defense forces said, ‘We are waiting for you.’ ”

In Washington on Tuesday, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John O. Brennan, said that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in citing concerns for the safety of Russian-speaking Ukrainians, is laying the groundwork for possible action in eastern Ukraine.

“He’s laid a sort of a public predicate for possible moves,” Mr. Brennan said at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Has he made a decision?” Mr. Brennan asked. “Well, I guess only Putin knows if he has made that final decision. But what we’ve tried to do is to identify what would be the reasons and how he might, you know, make those moves. What are the factors that he will take into account, and what are the costs that he is willing to incur if he decides to move across the border?”

Steven Erlanger reported from Kiev, and David M. Herszenhorn from Moscow. Reporting was contributed by Steven Lee Myers from Moscow; C. J. Chivers, Patrick Reevell and Noah Sneider from Simferopol, Ukraine; and Eric Schmitt from Washington.


Ukraine’s Interim Leader Seeks Aid in Washington

MARCH 12, 2014

WASHINGTON — The interim prime minister of beleaguered Ukraine was to make the rounds here on Wednesday as he seeks help bolstering his fragile government and even more fragile economy while somehow reversing Russia’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula.

Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader named interim prime minister after the fall of the pro-Russia government in Kiev last month, was to meet with President Obama at the White House as well as Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department and congressional leaders on Capitol Hill. He then was to head to New York, where he is scheduled to address the United Nations on Thursday.
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Mr. Yatsenyuk’s visit comes at a critical moment for his country. Crimea, where Russian troops have been solidifying their positions, is scheduled to hold a referendum Sunday on whether to remain in Ukraine or rejoin Russia. Mr. Yatsenyuk and the governments of the United States, Germany, Britain and other European powers have called that vote illegitimate and illegal, but they have been unable to stop it from proceeding.

Just as significant on Mr. Yatsenyuk’s agenda for Washington will be seeking a booster shot for Ukraine’s flailing economy. Mr. Kerry has committed $1 billion in loan guarantees, and Congress is working on legislation to make that happen, but that is just a small fraction of what Ukraine is reported to need to prevent a more dire financial and economic slide.

For Mr. Obama, the visit is a chance to show that he is standing by the new pro-Western Ukrainian government that came to power after street protests in Kiev toppled the Russia-aligned government of President Viktor F. Yanukovych. Mr. Obama will be joined at the 2:45 p.m. meeting in the Oval Office by Mr. Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is rushing back from a trip to Chile.

“The president and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk will discuss how to find a peaceful resolution to Russia’s ongoing military intervention in Crimea that would respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said in a statement. “They will also discuss support the international community can provide to help Ukraine confront its economic challenges, and the importance of uniting Ukraine and working to fulfill the aspirations of the Ukrainian people as they prepare for May presidential elections.”

In a speech at the State Department on Tuesday, Susan E. Rice, the president’s national security adviser, restated the administration’s support for Ukraine in its confrontation with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. “We are working in close coordination with our European partners, offering assistance to the new government in Kiev and making it clear to President Putin that his flagrant violation of international law comes at a real cost,” she said.

The visit comes a day after the House passed a nonbinding resolution expressing support for Ukraine and for sanctions against Russia; the House has already passed legislation authorizing the loan guarantees. “Vladimir Putin has proved himself a menace and a threat to stability in the region and he must be held accountable,” Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said in a statement.

Mr. Yatsenyuk was to be hosted on Wednesday evening at the Capitol by Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and the rest of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is working on its own legislation providing aid to Kiev and punishment for Russia.

“Putin has miscalculated by starting a game of Russian roulette with the international community,” Mr. Menendez wrote in The Washington Post on Wednesday, “but we refuse to blink, and we will never accept this violation of international law.”

Legislation championed by Mr. Menendez would provide the loan guarantees for Ukraine as well as $50 million to help encourage democracy in Ukraine and an additional $100 million for enhanced security cooperation with Ukraine and other East European states. It would also authorize sanctions in addition to those contemplated by Mr. Obama.

Mr. Yatsenyuk has become the face of the new Ukrainian government after leading months of street protests against Mr. Yanukovych. Thin, balding and bespectacled, Mr. Yatsenyuk, 39, brings a long résumé to the post, having served as economics minister, foreign minister and speaker of Parliament. With his roots in the opposition party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, he ran for president in 2010 but won just 7 percent of the vote in the first round.

Nonetheless, he has been seen as a favorite of Washington, especially compared with some of his allies in the opposition movement. “I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience,” Victoria J. Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for the region, told a colleague in a January telephone call that was mysteriously tapped and later posted on the Internet.

In a speech to Parliament before leaving Kiev for Washington, Mr. Yatsenyuk noted that the United States along with Russia and Britain had signed a treaty in 1994 with Ukraine pledging to uphold its security in exchange for giving up the nuclear weapons it still held at the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“We are not asking for anything from anyone,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said, according to news agencies. “We are asking for just one thing — military aggression has been used against our country. Those who guaranteed that this aggression will not take place must from the one side pull out troops and from the other side must defend our independent, sovereign state.”


03/11/2014 02:40 PM

Klitschko Interview: 'I'd Also Shake Hands with Devil To Save Lives'

Interview Conducted By Marc Hujer and Christian Neef

Vitali Klitschko was one of the leading figures in Ukraine's fight against former President Yanukovych. SPIEGEL speaks to the former boxer about the conflict with Russia, the future of Ukraine and whether war really is imminent.

SPIEGEL: Vitali Volodymyrovych, a proposed law has just been introduced to parliament seeking Ukraine's entry into NATO. Why, when Russian President Vladimir Putin is waiting for just this kind of provocation?

Klitschko: It's right that we need to do everything we can to avoid provoking a splitting of the country. But I still think it's the right move to hold negotiations about entering into NATO. Ukraine has and will continue to be militarily threatened by Russia, so the people of our country want a partner who can guarantee their safety. But that doesn't mean we'll have to automatically enter into NATO.

SPIEGEL: What can the new Ukrainian leadership offer to the inhabitants of Crimea?

Klitschko: The people in the Crimea, in Donetsk or Kharkiv, are only superficially concerned about language, history and national identity. They want a job, a proper income, a better life. That's where we need to try to offer them better solutions.

SPIEGEL: You called for a general mobilization on March 1, as if it were August 1914. What was that about?

Klitschko: The term "general mobilization" was completely misunderstood. For me, it was about the unity of Ukrainians in this difficult situation. My statement had no military implications whatsoever. I've advocated for a peaceful resolution to the conflict ever since Russia invaded Crimea, because I don't want Ukrainian and Russian soldiers to have to shoot at each other.

SPIEGEL: In doing so, you've intensified the conflict.

Klitschko: Since the beginning of the conflict I've repeated, every day, that both sides need to negotiate. I've never called for violence.

SPIEGEL: Why didn't you and your Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) party enter into the government, in order to shape policy? It seems a bit cowardly.

Klitschko: Our demand was for an independent government with as many independent politicians as possible, a so-called technocratic government. Our ideals and our agenda cannot be found in the current government, and on many issues we have completely different positions. We have a completely different plan for reform and for the future, which, for the good of the Ukrainian people, we will hopefully have the opportunity to enact after our success in the presidential election.

SPIEGEL: But now Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party has taken up all of the important posts.

Klitschko: We said from the start that, in this situation, we don't think it's smart for one party to take over all of the posts. But under the current conditions cited, we didn't have any option except to stay out of the government.

SPIEGEL: Why? You could have much more influence from within the government.

Klitschko: I'm not going to say here who broke the agreement. I don't want to weaken the democratic forces. Because then we would be repeating the mistake of 2004 -- when, after the Orange Revolution, everybody started pursuing their own interests.

SPIEGEL: There might be another reason why you're not taking part in this government -- because it would hurt your chances in the presidential election. This cabinet will have to undertake some unpopular measures.

Klitschko: From the start, it wasn't about whether or not I was going to be part of the government. If we had become part of the government, the people joining it would have been other cabinet members. And anyways I can't be both a member of the government and a candidate for president.

SPIEGEL: Do you think Yulia Tymoshenko's return to politics is wise? Many people on Independence Square (Maidan) reject her.

Klitschko: I won't comment on that.

SPIEGEL: Many people in the new leadership have served in previous governments. But the people want new faces.

Klitschko: There are also members of the opposition. And new faces were brought into the provincial administrations. And many oligarchs have adapted to the new balance of power and are supporting the new government, because for them, the opening to the West is inevitable for economic reasons. Moreover, they are creating jobs and are effective managers.

SPIEGEL: Your UDAR party and Tymoshenko's party are working together with the militant Right Sector and the right-wing nationalist Svoboda Party. That plays into Putin's hands. Now he can talk about a "fascist movement."

Klitschko: We are not working together. We joined forces in our fight against the regime, nothing more. We have different political agendas, different ideologies, different supporters.

SPIEGEL: Could strict sanctions by the West against Russia help the situation?

Klitschko: We need to use all means of pressure at our disposal to get this conflict resolved at the negotiating table. It's unimaginable that Ukrainians and Russians would kill one another. My mother is Russian, my father Ukrainian. Mixed families are very common in both countries.

SPIEGEL: Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that the way Putin is talking about protecting Crimea is similar to the way Hitler spoke about the ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia and in Romania in the 1930s.

Klitschko: Putin already tried that in Abkhazia, under the banner of protecting Russian citizens in Georgia. In doing so he split that country. I just got an email from a member of Russia's German ethnic minority. It's a fictional letter to Mr. Putin: "Dear Mr. Putin, there are 5 million Russian speakers in Germany. We are being bullied: People are forcing us to work. And the biggest problem is that we're being forced to speak German -- in government offices, businesses, schools and even at work. On top of that, the kids have to speak German in the kindergartens. Please save us: Send your army to Germany."

SPIEGEL: Putin considers the current government to be illegitimate, and won't accept the results of the presidential election either. He's calling for a return to the agreement that you and other opposition leaders signed on Feb. 21 after negotiations with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Is that conceivable?

Klitschko: It's (former Ukrainian president) Yanukovych who broke his word: He disappeared immediately after we signed the agreement. Because it came too late. It would have been accepted if it had come one week earlier, before there were any deaths. But Yanokovych always negotiated too late.

SPIEGEL: It was also clear that this agreement -- for a new presidential election in December -- wouldn't be accepted by the Maidan activists.

Klitschko: I told Yanukovych that the only path that Maidan would accept following the bloodshed was his immediate resignation. But in order to avoid escalation, we worked towards a compromise. To have called off the talks would have caused fighting in the streets.

SPIEGEL: It wasn't only Yanukovych -- the opposition always came too late as well. When the people went into the streets in Kiev in November, you and other opposition members didn't believe that a protest movement could emerge from it. You also were chasing after the events.

Klitschko: You are right. I had hoped for a long time that we could apply peaceful pressure to the government. But again and again, different political forces emerged, with requests for the resignation of the government, for the resignation of the president, for an immediate system change. And the Maidan movement supported them in this. These people were in the mood to attack.

SPIEGEL: And that's why you ended up deposing Yanukovych, even though it wasn't constitutional and you didn't have enough votes for it.

Klitschko: Yanukovych had disappeared. We needed to act. A constitutional majority of over 300 votes approved the election of a new parliamentary leader -- as well as the return to the constitution from 2004. Now instead of a presidential republic, we have a parliamentary-presidential republic with equal powers between the cabinet, parliament and president.

SPIEGEL: What did you learn from the Maidan during these last three months?

Klitschko: I can't say quite yet, for a number of reasons. I'm still processing it all, so much happened in that time. At some point I'll write a book about it.

SPIEGEL: Do you regret shaking hands with Yanukovych on Feb. 21? That image will haunt you.

Klitschko: That was the worst moment on Independence Square -- when after the talks with the president I stood on the stage and people were no longer listening to me. After that I spent three hours on the square and everyone asked me: How could you shake his bloodied hand? I told them: I'd also shake hands with the devil in order to save lives.


Front and Center in Ukraine Race, a Leader of the Far Right

MARCH 11, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — During the Independence Square protests, Dmytro Yarosh made a name for himself as an expert with firebombs. Now, just weeks later, Mr. Yarosh, leader of the right-wing coalition known as Right Sector, says he is running for president.

When Russia’s politicized state media talk about the “neo-fascists” and “anti-Semites” who pulled off what the Kremlin calls a coup in Kiev and are now supposedly threatening Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, they have men like Mr. Yarosh in mind.

But who these men really are and what they stand for, outside the caricatures in the Russian media’s fun-house mirror, are not always clear.

Other than his unstinting nationalism, penchant for secrecy and leadership role in the street fighting, little is publicly known of Mr. Yarosh, beyond that he is 42, a graduate of a teachers college and a man who has been active in Ukraine’s once-fringe right-wing politics for most of his life.

In one of his first public appearances over the weekend, Mr. Yarosh, who has the buzz cut and tightly coiled mannerisms of a military man, arrived at a hotel conference room in a scrum of bodyguards with pistols, all dressed in black. Newly appointed to the position of deputy director of Ukraine’s security council, he is clearly riding the popularity of the street fighters to stake a claim to a role in the political future of Ukraine.

Mr. Yarosh has hinted at a role for his group in balancing the influence of a longtime player in Ukrainian politics, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who emerged from prison after the fall of the old government with members of her political party, Fatherland, already holding the positions of acting president and prime minister.

Before the protests, the nationalist party Svoboda had occupied the nationalist niche to the right of Ms. Tymoshenko. But Svoboda and Fatherland are now allied. Mr. Yarosh’s ambitions, observers of Ukrainian politics say, fall well short of winning a national election but do include supplanting Svoboda as the leading right-wing party.

Mr. Yarosh’s bid for office, political commentators here say, is best understood as the latest maneuver in the ceaseless churn and infighting among the leadership of western Ukrainian nationalist groups — White Hammer, Patriots of Ukraine and the Trident of Stepan Bandera, the organization Mr. Yarosh helped found in the early 1990s. Setting this contest, between Svoboda and Right Sector, apart are the extraordinarily high geopolitical stakes today in a crisis the British foreign minister called the worst in Europe of the 21st century.

“A lot of people fear that Maidan brought to power the old establishment,” said Vadim Karasev, director of the Institute of Global Strategy, a policy research organization in Kiev, referring to the protest site. In that atmosphere, he added, Mr. Yarosh has a distinct advantage: “He popped out of the square like a jack-in-the-box.”

In outlining his platform on Saturday, Mr. Yarosh made a conciliatory opening statement in Russian and then described a political agenda that includes reimposing Ukrainian as the country’s official language, signing a trade agreement with the European Union but not seeking full membership, and instituting a top-to-bottom reform of the Interior Ministry. Mr. Yarosh called for a European embargo on Russian oil and gas purchases.

In contrast, the interim government led by the acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov of the Fatherland party, has vetoed a law that would have eliminated Russian as a second official language and is striving to work with the existing police force, domestic intelligence agency personnel and army rather than immediately instituting sweeping changes.

For the interim government, Right Sector has been invaluable in securing power, and potentially acting as a deterrent against any Russian intervention in the rest of Ukraine. On the other hand, the group has been named by the Kremlin as a justification for its military intervention.

Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said on Saturday that the interim government, “to our huge regret, is dependent on the radical nationalists who seized power in an armed attack.”

Mr. Lavrov said, “Effectively, there is no state control whatsoever over public order, and the music is dictated by the so-called Right Sector, which operates by the methods of terror and intimidation.”

As Right Sector has made the transition into politics, its leadership has moved from an occupied post office into rooms at a hotel near Independence Square. The group still keeps stocks of beer bottles filled with gasoline on the sidewalk outside, even though there are no longer any riot police officers to fight.

“They are very theatrical,” Per Anders Rudling, an expert on Ukrainian extremist ideologies at Lund University in Sweden, said of the western Ukrainian nationalists. “They have a lot of flags and parades.” Hard-line imagery plays well in the west of the country, he said. “They don’t have political correctness.”

The Svoboda party, meanwhile, has moderated, and did not openly endorse the tactic of throwing firebombs when street fighting began in January. Svoboda was founded in 1991 under the name the Socialist-Nationalist Party of Ukraine, with a symbol that resembled a swastika. Its leader, Oleg Tyagnibok, met Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday and in December appeared onstage with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. Svoboda holds 37 seats in Parliament.

Even with the widespread admiration for its role in toppling the loathed former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, Right Sector is not likely to win more than about 5 percent in any national election, political experts say.

Recent polls show that Petro Poroshenko, an oligarch and owner of the Roshen confectionary company, leading in the presidential race, with the election scheduled for May 25. He is followed by the former champion boxer Vitali Klitschko, Ms. Tymoshenko and Serhei Tihipko, a former chairman of the national bank.

At his news conference, Mr. Yarosh took pains to reach out to Russian speakers and to convey a message of moderation. He said that Right Sector was “against xenophobia and against anti-Semitism,” and that about 40 percent of its members are native speakers of Russian, and many of those from eastern Ukraine, just as he is.

On Independence Square, which remains symbolically important for the new government, Right Sector is raising its profile, changing the character of the plaza. Black-clad men walk about with pistols. On Tuesday, several dozen such activists pushed into a City Council meeting in small city near Kiev, Borodyanka, to support, they said, their candidate for mayor in a vote.

Right Sector, Mr. Yarosh said, “was set up as a platform for revolutionary young people,” and is only now evolving into a political organization. One of its constituent groups, the Ukrainian Nationalist Assembly, is already a political party and could form the kernel of a future party, though its platform would be rewritten, he said.

Mr. Yarosh said Right Sector was not about to disband its paramilitary units. He said they were needed to maintain a deterrent against Russia, while Moscow says they are used to maintain control over the interim government by using street muscle to intimidate lawmakers.

“We are against witch hunts,” Mr. Yarosh said. “Right Sector has not beaten up any members of Parliament.”

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« Reply #12385 on: Mar 12, 2014, 06:01 AM »

Hollande 'Vigilant' after Islamist Death Threats

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 March 2014, 14:10

President Francois Hollande Tuesday said France was on guard after a militant Islamist website called for his assassination in revenge for intervening militarily in Mali and the Central African Republic.

"This is not the first time that there have been threats," Hollande said. "We are extremely vigilant."

French prosecutors meanwhile opened a probe following the threats of revenge attacks by the al Minbar Jihadi Network, which is close to al-Qaida, in a series of messages online.

"To our lone wolves in France, assassinate the president of disbelief and criminality, terrify his cursed government, and bomb them and scare them as a support to the vulnerable in the Central African Republic," a message said.

"Neither Hollande, nor his soldiers will know peace in France as long as the Muslims of Mali and the Central African Republic cannot live properly in their country," it said.

A source in the French president's office said that although the government was alert, threats of this nature were not new.

"This is not the first time there have been threats," the source said. "There were others during the Mali intervention and even before, so we took precautionary measures."

"Just because they (threats) are being publicized does not mean that they are new... Sometimes they are more dangerous when they are not publicized."

France sent in troops to Mali in January last year to drive out Islamist militants and Tuareg rebels who had taken control of the sprawling desert north.

Although their onslaught on the south, where the capital Bamako is located, was halted, fighters loyal to Islamist groups still operate there and stage periodic attacks.

France has also sent around 2,000 troops to the Central African Republic in support of a 6,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission following a wave of Muslim-Christian bloodletting in the aftermath of a coup.


Nicolas Sarkozy loses diaries appeal in Bettencourt investigation

Seizure of French former president's diaries by police investigating campaign donations was not illegal, cour de cassation rules

Kim Willsher in Paris, Tuesday 11 March 2014 16.35 GMT   

The French former president Nicolas Sarkozy has lost his appeal to have the seizure of his diaries in police raids declared illegal.

The decision on Tuesday by the cour de cassation, the highest appeal court in the country, paves the way for the documents to be used in investigations into the former leader.

It comes as a blow to Sarkozy, who has been dropping increasingly heavy hints that he will stand again for election in 2017. He lost the 2012 president election after just one term in office, to Socialist rival François Hollande.

The diaries, covering 2007-11, were originally removed by investigators looking into whether Sarkozy and his centre-right UMP party received illegal campaign donations from France's richest woman and one of L'Oréal's principal shareholders, Liliane Bettencourt. Judges decided in October that Sarkozy had no case to answer in what had become known as the Bettencourt affair.

Sarkozy's lawyer had argued that the seizure of the diaries was against the French constitution, which protects French president's from prosecution during their time in office.

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« Reply #12386 on: Mar 12, 2014, 06:07 AM »

Pig Putin's Approval Rating Climbs amid Crimea Crisis

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 March 2014, 17:31

The Pig President called Putin has seen his approval rating climb in Russia due to his strong stance on military intervention in Ukraine, several opinion polls show.

More than two out of three Russians (69 percent of those interviewed), say they back the Pig's actions, a poll by the independent Levada agency found in late February after interviewing 1,603 people in 45 regions.

The Pig's approval ratings were almost as high as after his inauguration in 2012, Levada said.

Just 30 percent of Russians say they disapprove of the Pig's actions, down from 34 percent last year, the Levada centre found.

The VTsIOM state polling agency, seen as close to the Kremlin, put Pig Putin's approval rating at 68 percent, with 53 percent of its respondents in early March saying the situation in Ukraine was the most important news event.

The Pig's rating was at a two-year high since his May 2012 inauguration, VTsIOM said.

Both polls were carried out before the ruble fell to record levels against the dollar and euro on "Black Monday" of March 3, however.

"The Pig's level of popularity which is approaching that of May 2012, the date of his re-election for a third presidential term, could soar further since the Kremlin's offensive is continuing," said Alexei Levinson, a senior researcher at Levada.

"The Pig successfully exploits the habits of paternalism. Russians have confidence in his interpretation of events in Russia and abroad," Levinson told AFP.

The images of violence and chaos in Ukraine featured on Russian state media "make people value Pig Putin's stability," political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko told Vedomosti business daily.

The Pig, now 61, has almost never had an approval rating of less than 60 percent since he became president for the first time in 2000.

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« Reply #12387 on: Mar 12, 2014, 06:10 AM »

Tens of Thousands Mourn Turkey Protest Teen's Death

by Naharnet Newsdesk
12 March 2014, 10:43

Tens of thousands of people turned out Wednesday for the funeral of a teenage boy whose death from injuries suffered during last year's anti-government protests sparked violent countrywide demonstrations.

Police were bracing for further clashes after they fired tear gas and water cannon at stone-hurling protesters in several cities on Tuesday following the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan after 269 days in a coma.

Elvan was hit on the head by a tear gas canister while he was going to buy bread during the demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that gripped Turkey in June.

"Berkin's murderers are the AKP police," protesters shouted in Istanbul on Wednesday, referring to Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

More demonstrations have been called for Wednesday, likely to add to pressure on Erdogan, whose government has been rocked by an escalating corruption scandal ahead of elections that could decide his fate.

"How many young people have to die for Erdogan to resign? My only wish is this fascism to end without spilling more blood," said retired worker Atilla izmirlioglu.

Erdogan has vowed to step down if the AKP, in power since 2002, loses local elections on March 30 that are seen as a key test of his popularity after last year's unrest and the graft probe.

Elvan's story became a symbol of the heavy-handed police tactics against demonstrators in June, the biggest of Erdogan's 11-year-rule.

His death prompted protests reminiscent of last year's unrest, with thousands of people clashing with police on Tuesday in at least 32 cities including Istanbul and Ankara, where the most violent clashes took place.

According to local media, some 20 demonstrators were injured and 150 arrests made.

Angry protesters shouted "Erdogan, killer" and "All against Fascism".

In the Okmeydani neighbourhood where the boy lived, shopkeepers had shut their stores in a show of solidarity.

President Abdullah Gul had expressed his sadness at the boy's death and appealed for calm, urging everyone "to do everything to prevent this from happening again".

The June protests started as a relatively small environmentalist movement to save Istanbul's central Gezi Park but evolved into a nationwide wave of protests against Erdogan, who is seen as increasingly authoritarian.

An estimated 2.5 million people took to the streets across Turkey over three weeks in June to demand Erdogan's resignation. More than 8,000 people were injured, according to medics.

Elvan's death brought the toll from the unrest to at least eight, including one policeman.

- 'Enough is enough' -

The boy's mother Gulsum Elvan had challenged Erdogan, who praised police "heroism" during the protests.

"It's not God who took my son away but prime minister Erdogan," the tearful mother told reporters on Tuesday.

One student who gave her name as Ayse also blamed the embattled prime minister for the boy's death.

"Erdogan's police killed this guy. He should be ashamed but he didn't even send his condolences to the family.

"Enough is enough, we are fed up with this government of murderers," she told AFP.

Several political parties and trade unions have called for a mass demonstration on Wednesday after Elvan's funeral.

"Their children steal millions and our children are killed when they go to buy bread," said the Disk union.

The union was referring to a corruption scandal that broke in December, implicating Erdogan's inner circle and their families.

Since then, sporadic protests have continued against controversial measures taken by Erdogan in response to the scandal including laws tightening state control over the Internet and the judiciary.

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« Reply #12388 on: Mar 12, 2014, 06:11 AM »

Iran: Russia Agrees to Build at Least 2 More Nuclear Plants

by Naharnet Newsdesk 12 March 2014, 11:22

Russia has signed a preliminary agreement to build at least two more nuclear power plants in the Iranian port city of Bushehr, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported on Wednesday.

The deal was reached during a visit to Tehran on Tuesday by a senior official of Russia's state atomic energy agency Rosatom, IRNA said.

"Iran and Russia reached a preliminary agreement to build at least two new nuclear power plants," Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told the news agency.

The two new 1,000 megawatt plants will be constructed alongside the existing power station in Bushehr, which was also built by Russia, Kamalvandi said.

Further talks will be held on technical and financial aspects of the project, but a final agreement is expected to be signed "very soon", he added.

In January, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that establishing long-term relations between the two countries "can serve the stability and security of the region".

Iranian media last month speculated that Rouhani could travel to Russia for a regional conference of Caspian Sea states that Tehran's envoy to Moscow has said will be in late September.

Construction of the new Bushehr nuclear plants is likely to spark concerns among Gulf Arab states, which have often raised concerns about the reliability of the existing Bushehr facility and the risk of radioactive leaks in case of a major earthquake.

Iran sits astride several major fault lines and is prone to frequent quakes. On April 9, a 6.1-magnitude quake rocked the south, with an epicenter just 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Bushehr.

Both Iran and Russia have dismissed the claim, saying the Bushehr facility is subject to inspection by and the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. watchdog.

- 'Reducing reliance on oil' -

Western powers and Israel suspect the Islamic republic's nuclear programme masks a covert weapons drive. Tehran denies the charge, saying that by diversifying its energy resources it wants to reduces its reliance on oil revenues.

Iran, which still faces tight Western sanctions on its oil and banking sectors despite a landmark agreement reached with major powers in November on its nuclear program, is expected to fund the new Bushehr project on a barter basis.

Tehran's ambassador to Russia, Mehdi Sanaei, said last month that the close trading partners have been negotiating the delivery by Iran of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day (bpd) in return for Russian goods and services, including the planned new nuclear plants.

Russian officials have neither confirmed nor denied the discussions, while stressing that they would not break U.N. sanctions.

But the White House has raised "serious concern" about the potential of the mooted deal to undermine EU and U.S. sanctions which it credits with bringing Iran to the nuclear negotiating table.

One Russian report said the barter agreement could see as much as 500,000 bpd of Iranian crude exchanged for Russian goods, which Sanaei said could also include heavy trucks and railway equipment.

That would represent a boost of more than 50 percent to Iran's crude exports, undermining the crippling sanctions that Western governments credit with securing its signature to the long-sought interim nuclear deal agreed in November.

Iran and world powers are still negotiating a long-term agreement to allay Western concerns about its nuclear ambitions.

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« Reply #12389 on: Mar 12, 2014, 06:18 AM »

Pakistan to pay parents in new polio vaccination drive

Parents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to get 1,000 rupees for each child who completes vaccinations after Peshawar declared largest reservoir of endemic polio

Jon Boone in Peshawar, Monday 10 March 2014 12.45 GMT      

Parents in one of Pakistan's most troubled provinces are to be paid to vaccinate their children against polio, the crippling disease the world is tantalisingly close to eradicating.

It is hoped some 2 million children from some of the most disadvantaged areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the north-western province wracked by Taliban violence, will benefit from the scheme.

Parents will be entitled to claim 1,000 rupees (almost £6) for each newborn child who completes a 15-month programme of vaccinations that will protect them against a number of diseases including measles, hepatitis and polio.

It is the first time the country has resorted to monetary incentives, which are rarely used around the world.

Public health officials battling childhood diseases face immense challenges in KP, where militant attacks are a daily routine, poverty is entrenched and many people are deeply suspicious of programmes enthusiastically backed by western powers.

"It has to be a good amount of money to be attractive, even in the very poorest districts of the province," said Janbaz Afridi, deputy director of the province's expanded programme on immunisation. "If it is a success we will extend it to every child in the province."

KP's government, backed by UN agencies, is currently on a war footing against polio in particular because Peshawar, the province's teeming capital, has become a global health problem.

The historic frontier city is one of the last remaining redoubts of polio, the virus that cripples and kills children and which has been eradicated in every country except Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Cases from around the world, including China and Syria, have been genetically matched to the Peshawar strain.

Last month the World Health Organisation declared the city the "largest reservoir of endemic poliovirus in the world", a problem caused in part by the city's open sewage channels and broken water pipes. Polio is spread through contact with human faeces.

Within the neighbouring tribal areas, Peshawar acts as a central exchange and an "amplifier" for a disease carried in and out of the city by the tens of thousands of people who pass through every day, including a huge population of refugees who fled Afghanistan in the 1980s.

"The problem with Peshawar is that we always have cases there," said Bilal Ahmed, a senior Unicef official in the city. "In other districts the virus comes and goes, but it never leaves Peshawar, which tells us it's the source."

The WHO says more than 90% of cases around the country and in neighbouring Afghanistan are genetically linked to the city.

Of the world's three polio-endemic countries, Pakistan is the only one where the situation is getting worse and cases are increasing.

India, which this year gained its hard-earned status as polio-free, now turns away travellers from Pakistan unless they have a certificate proving they have been vaccinated. Other countries could follow suit.

The latest push in Peshawar is an attempt to give polio vaccine drops to almost every child under the age of five every weekend for three months.

It requires 8,000 health workers to hit the streets with the aim of vaccinating nearly 800,000 children in a single day.

Four thousand police officers will escort them to protect them against the gunmen who have killed scores of polio vaccinators around the country in recent years.

During vaccination sessions, entire neighbourhoods are put into lockdown, with motorbikes banned from the streets.

One threat is from the Taliban, who have used the global campaign to eradicate polio as a chip in their fight against the US.

In 2012 insurgent commanders in the restive tribal areas of North and South Waziristan banned polio teams from their territories in what they said was retaliation for US drone strikes. Some religious clerics argue the drops are part of a foreign plot against the Islamic world to make Muslim children infertile – a perception arguably made worse by international interest in the issue.

It's a major problem for a campaign officials say needs to reach 97% of children to stand a chance of eradicating the disease in the city.

Polio teams carry booklets of "fatwas", or religious decrees, by famous scholars who argue there is nothing wrong with the drops.

The government has also called on high-profile clerics to support the programme.

"In public the mullahs are all on the same page now," said one health official. "Many still don't like it but they don't preach openly against vaccination anymore."

Some vaccinators say that while fewer parents are refusing the drops for their children, many hide them indoors on vaccination days.

Public antipathy is still easy to find. Amir Zaada, a father visiting the city with his three children from a distant part of the province, said the vaccination programme was "just a game".

"There are other fatal diseases, so why is the government only talking about this," he asked, also raising the case of Shakil Afridi, a doctor who ran a hepatitis vaccination campaign in the town of Abbottabad.

The programme's motivation was not public health but an elaborate scheme by the CIA to discover whether Osama bin Laden was hiding in the town. His unmasking confirmed the worst suspicions of those inclined to see vaccinators as a western conspiracy.

Zaada said he had no regrets not vaccinating his children.

He said: "Look at them. They are fine and in good health. Only God keeps them safe and healthy."

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