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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1072112 times)
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« Reply #12930 on: Apr 09, 2014, 06:00 AM »

John Kerry tells Senate committee: U.S. air strikes on Syria would not have been ‘devastating’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 21:25 EDT

Threatened military strikes against Syria would not have affected the course of the country’s civil war, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said U.S. military action — ultimately abandoned by President Barack Obama at the 11th hour last year — would not have had a “devastating impact” on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Obama scrapped plans to launch strikes against Syria after Syria’s key ally Russia helped broker a deal to dismantle Damascus’s chemical weapons arsenal.

At the time, Kerry had argued for military strikes over a limited period against Syria.

Kerry told the Senate on Tuesday that such a military action would only had had a limited effect.

“It would not have a devastating impact by which he (Assad) had to recalculate, because it wasn’t going to last that long,” Kerry said.

“It took 30,000 sorties and 30 days in Bosnia to have an impact. Here we were going to have one or two days to degrade and send a message.”

Under the international agreement brokered instead of military strikes, 54 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal had now been removed, Kerry said.

Kerry’s comments came after Obama last month defended the decision not to launch military strikes, stating that it would not have prevented the “hardship” seen in Syria.

Obama also said the United States had “limits” after struggling through more than a decade of military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“What the president said, it would not have had the effect of changing the calculation or the course of the war,” Kerry said.

“It would have had an effect on precisely what he was asking for it for, which was to send a message to to Assad about the use of chemical weapons.
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« Reply #12931 on: Apr 09, 2014, 06:04 AM »

Sudan Expels U.N. Agency Chief Accused of 'Interfering'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 April 2014, 12:58

Sudan has expelled the head of a United Nations agency in the country and accused her of interfering in domestic affairs, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

Pamela DeLargy, an American who headed the U.N.'s Population Fund office in Sudan (UNFPA), "was asked to leave", ministry spokesman Abubakr al-Siddiq told AFP.

"Because she was not abiding by the country's laws, and also because she was interfering in the country's domestic affairs in a manner that is inconsistent with her status as a U.N. official," he said.

"I would also like to confirm that this move has nothing to do with the UNFPA whose missions and programs are very much appreciated by my government."

U.N. officials in Sudan declined to comment.

The incident is the latest involving foreign aid workers in the country.

Khartoum suspended activities of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sudan from February 1, accusing it of violating guidelines for working in the war-torn country.

Aid workers have also expressed concern about access to the 6.1 million people, more than half of them in the country's Darfur region, who need humanitarian assistance.

Since late February about 280,000 people in Darfur have been displaced or otherwise affected by fighting in Darfur.

Although access for humanitarian assistance has improved in recent days, during the early stages of this crisis aid agencies were unable to reach many of the affected areas because of violence and insecurity as well as denials of access by the authorities, the U.N. said.

In Darfur, UNFPA supports reproductive health care services such as emergency obstetrics, and assistance for fistula survivors, the agency says on its website.

Among its other projects, UNFPA has helped train hundreds of village midwives, to aid the country's severely underfunded health sector.

Siddiq said Sudan "will be more than happy" to receive a replacement for DeLargy, "and will extend to him or her all the necessary assistance and cooperation within the framework of our national laws and agreements that govern relations between the Sudan and U.N. agencies."

In 2009 Sudan expelled several international aid groups from Darfur after the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir.

He is wanted for alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in the western region.

DeLargy was one of a very few Americans working for the U.N. in Sudan.

Washington has had a trade embargo against Khartoum since 1997 over accusations that included human rights violations.

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« Reply #12932 on: Apr 09, 2014, 06:05 AM »

Maduro to Meet Venezuela Opposition in Bid to End Crisis

by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 April 2014, 06:51

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and members of the opposition were to meet later Tuesday to lay the groundwork for talks to end more than two months of demonstrations that have killed dozens.

It follows mediation efforts by a delegation of South American ministers, all members of the regional Unasur group, who have been in Caracas since Sunday to promote political dialogue in their crisis-hit neighbor.

"We accept the proposition of the Unasur foreign ministers for a preparatory meeting to set the conditions for a public dialogue," Ramon Aveledo, executive secretary of the Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition (MUD), told reporters.

He spoke after meeting Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, who earlier had announced a preparatory meeting for later Tuesday between the government and MUD to define the "agenda and methodology" of future talks.

Since early February, 39 people have died in clashes between security forces and protesters angered by soaring crime, high inflation and shortages they blame on the Socialist government led by Maduro. More than 600 people have been hurt in the unrest.

On Monday, the Unasur ministers had convinced Maduro to sit down with the opposition.

The opposition had however initially refused to commit, setting as preconditions that both parties be seen as equals, the existence of a clear agenda, the broadcasting of debates on radio and television and the participation of a "good faith" third party.

Maduro, the elected heir to long-term leader Hugo Chavez, who died in March 2013, has lashed out at the protests, branding them a "fascist" U.S.-backed plot to overthrow his government.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed support for the attempts at dialogue, calling the moment "delicate."

"Right now we are very supportive of third party mediation efforts that are aimed to try to end the violence and see if we can get an honest dialogue to address the legitimate grievances of people in Venezuela," he told a congressional committee.

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« Reply #12933 on: Apr 09, 2014, 06:07 AM »

Sapling with ties to Anne Frank’s diary to be planted on Capitol lawn

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 18:50 EDT

A sapling grown from the tree that Holocaust victim Anne Frank wrote about while in hiding will be planted this month on the U.S. Capitol grounds, congressional leaders announced Tuesday.

“The Anne Frank memorial tree is an offspring of the horse chestnut tree that was featured in Anne’s diary writings,” House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote in a letter to members of Congress.

The tree “grew outside of the Amsterdam building where she and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II,” they explained.

The planting on the Capitol’s west front lawn will occur during a ceremony April 30.

The young tree is among several saplings created from the original tree, which collapsed outside the Amsterdam annex in 2010.

Frank wrote her observations from June 1942 to Aug. 1944, while the Jewish girl and her family remained in hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands.

She was captured Aug. 4, 1944, and she died seven months later at age 15 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Her diary was rescued by a family friend, and through the help of Anne’s father Otto Frank was published and eventually translated into more than 60 languages, including in English as The Diary of a Young Girl.

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« Reply #12934 on: Apr 09, 2014, 06:10 AM »

Researchers remove gamma ray images pixel by pixel for first-ever peek at dark matter

By Travis Gettys
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 10:54 EDT

Scientists created what they say is the first image of dark matter by removing all explainable galactic phenomena from a photo recorded by a NASA telescope.

The mysterious material makes up about 27 percent of the universe, but researchers understand more about what it’s not than what it actually is.

A team from Harvard, the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying gamma rays captured by the U.S. space agency’s Fermi telescope picked up a signal that couldn’t be explained by other alternatives.

So the researchers cleared away all the other gamma rays in the publicly available image, pixel by pixel, until they were left with an image they believe could be the elusive material.

“Our case is very much a process-of-elimination argument. We made a list, scratched off things that didn’t work, and ended up with dark matter,” said researcher Douglas Finkbeiner, of Harvard.

The signal is the most compelling ever found for dark matter particles, said another researcher.

“At this point, there are no known or proposed astrophysical mechanisms or sources that can account for this emission,” said Dan Hooper, of the Fermi National Laboratory. “That doesn’t rule out things that no one’s thought of yet, but we’ve tried pretty hard to think of something without success.”

One theory suggests dark matter is made up of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles – or WIMPs – that either destroy one another on contact or produce a new particle that quickly decays.

Either event produces gamma rays, which can also originate from interactions between binary systems, isolated pulsars, and supernova remnants.

“This is a very exciting signal, and while the case is not yet closed, in the future we might well look back and say this was where we saw dark matter annihilation for the first time,” said Tracy Slatyer, of MIT.

Click to watch:

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« Reply #12935 on: Apr 09, 2014, 06:34 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Navy thinks new ‘Star Wars’ gun so cheap, fast, powerful that enemies will just give up

By Reuters
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 9:56 EDT

The U.S. Navy is planning sea trials for a weapon that can fire a low-cost, 23-pound projectile at seven times the speed of sound using electromagnetic energy, a “Star Wars” technology that will make enemies think twice, the Navy’s research chief said.

Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, the chief of Naval Research, told a round table group recently the futuristic electromagnetic rail gun had already undergone extensive testing on land and would be mounted on the USNS Millinocket, a high-speed vessel, for sea trials beginning in 2016.

“It’s now reality and it’s not science fiction. It’s actually real. You can look at it. It’s firing,” said Klunder, who planned to discuss progress on the system later on Monday with military and industry leaders at a major maritime event – the Sea-Air-Space Exposition – near Washington.

“It will help us in air defense, it will help us in cruise missile defense, it will help us in ballistic missile defense,” he said. “We’re also talking about a gun that’s going to shoot a projectile that’s about one one-hundredth of the cost of an existing missile system today.”

The Navy research chief said that cost differential – $25,000 for a railgun projectile versus $500,000 to $1.5 million for a missile – will make potential enemies think twice about the economic viability of engaging U.S. forces.

“That … will give our adversaries a huge moment of pause to go: ‘Do I even want to go engage a naval ship?’” Klunder told reporters. “You could throw anything at us, frankly, and the fact that we now can shoot a number of these rounds at a very affordable cost, it’s my opinion that they don’t win.”

U.S. officials have voiced concerns that tight defense budgets could cause the Pentagon to lose its technological edge over China, Russia and other rivals, who have been developing antiship ballistic missile systems and integrated air defenses capable of challenging U.S. air and naval dominance.

Weapons like the electromagnetic rail gun could help U.S. forces retain their edge and give them an asymmetric advantage over rivals, making it too expensive to use missiles to attack U.S. warships because of the cheap way to defeat them.

Railguns use electromagnetic energy known as the Lorenz Force to launch a projectile between two conductive rails. The high-power electric pulse generates a magnetic field to fire the projectile with very little recoil, officials said.

The U.S. Navy has funded two single-shot railgun prototypes, one by privately held General Atomics and the other by BAE Systems. Klunder said he had selected BAE for the second phase of the project, which will look at developing a system capable of firing multiple shots in succession.

Current projectiles leaving a railgun have a muzzle energy of about 32 megajoules of force, said Rear Admiral Bryant Fuller, the Navy’s chief engineer. He said one megajoule would move a one-ton object at about 100 mph.

“We’re talking about a projectile that we’re going to send well over 100 miles, we’re talking about a projectile that can go over Mach 7, we’re talking about a projectile that can go well into the atmosphere,” Klunder said.

Ships can carry dozens of missiles, but they could be loaded with hundreds of railgun projectiles, he said.

“Your magazine never runs out, you just keep shooting, and that’s compelling,” Klunder said.

The 2016 sea trials will be conducted aboard the joint forces high-speed cargo ship because it has the space to carry the system on its deck and in its cargo bay. Officials said they would begin looking at integrating the system into warships after 2018.

Click to watch:


Federal Reserve orders U.S. big banks to raise more capital to avoid another crash

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 18:48 EDT

U.S. banking regulators on Tuesday ordered the eight largest “too big to fail” banks to raise capital levels in a bid to address weaknesses seen in the 2008 financial crisis.

The Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency adopted a final rule requiring the systemically important banks to hold significantly increased levels of high-quality capital in relation to their risk exposure, their so-called supplementary leverage ratio.

The banks affected by the rule are Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, State Street and Wells Fargo.

The Fed’s aim is “to reduce the effect of a firm’s failure or material weakness on the financial system and the broader economy.”

Under the action taken Tuesday, the banks will have to meet an additional 2.0 percent of capital on top of the 3.0 percent level required under the Basel III regulatory reforms, which US regulators have criticized as too lax.

By meeting the 5.0 percent ratio, the banks will avoid Fed limitations on dividends and discretionary bonus payments.

The eight banks’ subsidiaries will be required to have loss-absorbing capital worth more than 6.0 percent of their assets, double the Basel III level.

The supplemental level, like the 3.0 percent Basel level, will take effect in 2018.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said the robust capital standards were “essential to reduce systemic risk and mitigate the distortions imposed by institutions deemed too big to fail.”

Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said the bigger capital cushion would serve as a “critical backstop” to the banking system.

The director of the FDIC, Jeremiah Norton, noted that the new rule would help offset weaknesses in the Basel III reforms, which failed to address key industry problems highlighted in the financial crisis, like the appropriate risk-weighting for mortgages and foreign sovereign debt.

“These and other deficiencies underscore the need for the US banking system to have a meaningful leverage ratio requirement and for policy makers to continue to improve the capital framework going forward,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


ALEC and Paul Ryan Team Up to Convert Pensions Into Tax Cuts for Millionaires

By: Rmuse
Tuesday, April, 8th, 2014, 10:24 am

It may be difficult for those on the wrong end of economic inequality to understand, but there are some conservative economists who claim inequality promotes investment, but the overriding opinion is that too much inequality is destructive and can hinder a nation’s long term growth. In 2011, researchers from the International Monetary Fund published work indicating that income equality increased the duration of countries’ economic growth spells more than free trade, foreign investment, or low foreign debt. Obviously, economic inequality in America is well beyond a social and economic problem, and two noted economists have released preliminary research that revealed Americans have not witnessed economic inequality favoring the richest 1% since the 1920s and it is about to get worse; much, much worse if the Koch brothers’ American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), State Policy Network, and their Republican facilitator Paul Ryan have their way.

It is a fact of life that income inequality has grown steadily since the 1980s with the richest 1% taking an inordinate amount of wealth from the labor of higher productivity coupled with stagnant wages, but there is also a great gap regarding wealth. Wealth is a household’s total assets including savings, equity in a home, pensions, and cash on hand minus what that household owes, and according to Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the gap between wealth held by the richest 1% and the rest of the population is at levels not seen since the 1920s “explosive inequality dynamics.” The economists note that wealth is always “very concentrated” at the top, but although the top 10% made gains over the past three decades, the highest concentration since the 1980s has been in the top 0.1% who hold more than $20 million in assets, and for those in the top 0.01% with over $100 million in assets their wealth exploded.

There has been virtually no increase in wealth for everyone below the top 0.1% of Americans. After the Great Depression, progressive capital taxes and the New Deal prevented wealth inequality from growing inordinately until about 1986 when the bottom 90% began being barely able to save anything that the Republican Great Recession made incredibly worse. Today, hardly any Americans are able to save or even count home equity as an asset, and coupled with stagnant or poverty-level wages enriching corporations and the rich, the top 1% will continue accumulating all the wealth in America. For many Americans, the only “wealth” they count is their pension to stave off starvation and homelessness in old age that Republicans, Koch brothers, Wall Street, ALEC, and the State Policy Network are crusading to rob to enrich corporations, Wall Street, and the richest 1%.

Toward the end of 2013, ALEC joined its Koch-funded sister organization, the State Policy Network, in a campaign to dismantle public pension systems completely as one of its top 2014 legislative priorities that the National Public Pension Coalition (NPPC) representing public sector employees said is a major threat to the financial security of millions of state and local public employees. That wealth public employees depend on in their retirement is just too much for the rich, Republicans, Koch brothers, and Wall Street to pass up and they are actively working to steal it for themselves under the guise of “helping” states and the federal government rein in spending. However, as is always the case with Republicans and their funding mechanism, any “pension” savings is relegated to tax cuts for the rich to increase their wealth. Veterans got a small taste of Paul Ryan’s greed for their pensions in the 2013 budget agreement, and his latest budget proposal expands the great pension robbery even more to partially fund the monumental tax cuts for the rich and corporations.

The Republican campaign against public pensions was featured in the Institute for America’s Future Report, “The Plot Against Pensions” that focused on the work of a former Enron executive, John Arnold, to promote the false notion that there is a public-pension “crisis” that is solved by replacing pension programs with scams that shift all the risks to workers, eliminates benefits, and create incredible new profits for Wall Street. ALEC decided pension wealth for retirees was better spent on tax cuts for the rich and Wall Street and is working to convince states to convert public pensions to 401(k) plans or other “defined contribution” plans that took a righteous beating in the 2008 market crash. In a report by an associate of John Arnold, it said states could address the “pension shortfall” if “legislators moved from defined-benefit systems to properly designed alternatives, such as defined-contribution, cash-balance, or hybrid plans.” According to the report, defined-contribution plans are not necessarily more expensive for workers and taxpayers than a defined-benefit pension plan, but like everything Republicans propose, it is so much bovine excrement masquerading as a scam to enrich the wealthy and Wall Street and rape more wealth from the population.

According to the NPPC, “When states have adopted pension overhaul legislation, they have found that it came at a significant cost. Alaska and Michigan went down that road and saw their pension debts increase. West Virginia adopted a 401(k)-like plan for public employees in 1991, but reversed course in 2006 after it found that public employees had such low incomes in retirement that they were eligible for means-tested public assistance programs, driving up costs to the state.” The Plot Against Pensions also reported that in a state ALEC holds up as a shining example of “pension reform,” Rhode Island, fees to Wall Street money managers drove up costs so much that a great friend of business, Forbes magazine, called it “just blatant Wall Street gorging.” What ALEC, SPN, and Republican Paul Ryan never address is the devastating cost to retirees who lose what little wealth a lifetime of work built and the life of poverty they get to look forward to while Wall Street and the rich increase their wealth.

The concept of stealing Americans’ pensions that Ryan, Wall Street, and the Kochs’ ALEC and SPN are promoting is precisely what George W. Bush proposed, and Paul Ryan adamantly supported, in 2005 with the Social Security privatization scam. Like all pension stealing scams, besides enriching the wealthy, privatizing Social Security is as much about creating poverty in the elderly as diverting their wealth to Wall Street and tax cuts for the rich. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) rightly concluded that Social Security is the most effective anti-poverty program in America, but like all other anti-poverty programs, Ryan and Republicans are on a crusade to end them to enrich the wealthy.

Republicans could not care less about a decent retirement for any worker regardless that their contributions often fund public projects and are a better use of a state or federal government dollars than handing them directly to the rich and  Wall Street. ALEC claims it is not fair that many private companies shifted from pensions to 401(k) plans and cry foul that public employees did not lose 25% or more of their pensions when Republicans and Wall Street crashed the economy in the 2008 recession and was bailed out by the taxpayers. Republicans will not rest until they have secured all the wealth in America for Wall Street, the rich, and the Koch brothers and with nothing left to steal from Americans except their retirement, Americans can look for ALEC and SPN legislation in their states to pillage pension accounts from public sector workers with the same tenacity that Paul Ryan is going after Veterans and federal employees’ pensions and all for the Kochs and Wall Street. It is but another indication that Charles Koch was lying through his teeth when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he is a “champion of greater well-being and opportunity for all Americans.”


Kochs Took Big ACA Subsidies

By karoli April 8, 2014 3:35 pm

Koch Industries and its owners are fine with taking big subsidies allowed under the ACA, even while they spend millions trying to kill it.
Kochs Took Big ACA Subsidies

Charles and David Koch are indirect beneficiaries of subsidies allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

Let that sink in for a moment. They've spent millions to kill it, while reaping the benefits for Koch Industries employees. When they take subsidies from the federal government, that impacts Koch Industries' bottom line. When that bottom line is impacted, their income goes up, because they own Koch Industries via a holding company that passes through the profits as personal income to shareholders.

How and why did it come to pass that they were able to take ACA subsidies?

Associated Press:

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., renewed his criticisms of the Kochs this week. In a Senate chamber speech, Reid noted that Koch Industries benefited from a temporary provision of the health care law.

    The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program, Reid said, "helped the company pay health insurance costs for its retirees who are not covered by Medicare." Reid asked sarcastically: "So it's OK for Koch Industries to save money through Obamacare" even as Koch-related groups seek the law's repeal.

    When Congress enacted the health care law in 2010, it appropriated $5 billion for the temporary reinsurance program. The goal was to subsidize employers' costs for workers who retire before they become eligible for Medicare. Hundreds of employers applied - many were corporations, cities and public universities - and virtually all the money was soon distributed.

    "If the Affordable Care Act is so awful," Reid asked, "why did Koch Industries use it to their advantage?"

    Federal records show that Koch Industries received $1.4 million in early retiree subsidies. That's considerably less than the sums many other employers received. A Koch Industries spokesman said he had no comment on Reid's latest criticisms.

Hey, $1.4 million is still $1.4 million than the rest of us have. And they're all out there calling US moochers? In my lifetime, I couldn't accumulate that much money in tax subsidies, much less in one year.

It wasn't only Koch Industries, for sure. AT&T was a big beneficiary, as was UPS and Altria Industries. But it is the cynicism that allows them to clutch $1.4 million of taxpayers' money while telling the rest of us to go to hell that's so stunning.

Who's the moocher now, Charles Koch?


Obama Calls Out Fox News For Spreading Lies About Equal Pay

By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, April, 8th, 2014, 1:04 pm   

At an event announcing executive action on equal pay today, President Obama called out Fox News for spreading lies about the pay gap.

The president said:

    Everybody who cares about this should pay attention to how the Senate votes tomorrow on this Paycheck Fairness Act, because the majority of senators supports this bill, but two years ago a minority of Senate Republicans blocked this from getting a vote.

    Even worse, some commentators are out there saying the pay gap doesn’t even exist. They say it’s a myth, but it’s not a myth. It’s math. You can look at the paychecks, look at the stubs. I mean, Lilly Ledbetter didn’t just make this up. The court when it looked at the documents said, yep, yep, you’ve been getting paid less for doing the same job. Just the court then said, as Lilly said, it’s been happening so long you couldn’t do anything about it anymore, which made no sense, and that’s why we had to sign another bill.

    It’s basic math that adds up to real money. It makes a real difference for a lot of Americans that are working hard to support their families, and of course, the fact that we got some resistance on this from folks up on Capitol Hill just fits with the larger problem. This vision that congressional Republicans seem to be continually embracing. This notion that you know, what you’re just on your own no matter how unfair things are.

When President Obama referred to commentators who are claiming that the pay gap doesn’t exist, he was talking about Fox News.

Here is a collection of clips of Fox News claiming that the pay gap isn’t real, and women get paid more than men:

The president took two steps today. He signed an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation. The order doesn’t force anyone to discuss equal pay or make pay rates public, but it does not all employers to forbid employees from discussing compensation with each other.

President Obama also signed a Presidential Memorandum instructing the Secretary of Labor to establish new regulations that require federal contractors to submit to the Department of Labor summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data by sex and race. The Department of Labor will use the data to make sure that federal contractors are in compliance with equal pay laws.

Republicans are claiming that it is condescending to fight for equal pay for women. They are also labeling the Paycheck Fairness Act a desperate political ploy. What they won’t explain is why they are opposed to women getting paid the same amount as men for doing the same work at the same job. They don’t want to talk about that.

President Obama was right to call out Fox News, without mentioning their name, for spreading falsehoods about the pay gap. For millions of Americans, equal pay is a critical economic. Republicans who claim that this is a political ploy don’t understand what it is like to work hard and still be struggling to make ends meet.

Equal pay isn’t a “women’s issue.” It’s an American issue. This discrimination hurts the economy. Republicans are living in an alternate reality where the pay gap doesn’t really exist, but they are going to get a jolt back into the real world this November when women and men who care about this issue go to the polls on Election Day.


The GOP – Stealing, Murdering, and Raping Like the Barbarians of Old

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson

Sack_of_RomeRepublicans are always complaining about class warfare but since 2001 they have been on what can only be described as an extended plundering expedition on behalf of the rich. Their most recent activities since the Gilded Age may have begun in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they have hardly let up since George W. Bush left office. The only difference now is that while before it was foreign nationals and American taxpayers shared the dangers, today American citizens are their victims, and the annual Ryan Budget has become the crown jewel of this scheme.

The ancient and medieval worlds were plagued by attacks from outside what were considered “civilized” areas, by what were deemed “barbarians.” My ancestors were members of one of these groups, the Norse. The Norse had a concept of what they termed, in Old Norse, the innangarðr (the community) and utangarðr (the lawless wilds). The innangarðr was sacred and enjoyed frith, or peace. Those who violated this peace were outlawed and forced into the utangarðs (where life, in Hobbesian terms, was nasty, brutish, and short) for their sins. In a historical side note, Leif Eriksson was one such outlaw.

But while bands of Norsemen would raid those in the utangarðr, for example, Ireland, France, England, etc., and Norsemen from one locale would raid Norsemen from other locales, they did not plunder their own communities. And don’t get the idea that the so-called civilized lands of Medieval Europe were superior, except in their own minds.

But my point here is, if my ancestors qualify in most history books as barbarians, what does this make the Republicans, who don’t spare a second thought for their own community, who look upon their own people with a rapaciousness once reserved for the utangarðr?

Tacitus wrote admiringly of the Germans in 98 CE that, “This is what they consider the strongest of bonds, the sacredness of the home, the gods of wedded life” (Germania). What is sacred to the heathen mind is the community. The community, the inangarðr is the home of luck. In it, people dwell “in luck, in frith, in honour.” while the wilds, the utangarðr “is waste, the home of evil and unluck.” (Grönbech, 111). The wild is a joyless place, lacking not only the comforts of home, but the necessities of life.

And it has never been more clear that the Republicans want to deprive those of us in their own community of the comforts of home and the necessities of life, right down to the food we eat and the water we drink, and even their air we breathe. Depriving us of medical care seems to be just a bonus for them, a few more profits to squeeze out of the victims of their plundering before consigning them to their deaths. Gated communities will form the new inangarðr in the plutocratic Utopia. The rest of us will slave in a dystopian, distinctly Hobbesian, utangarðr to sustain their shameless lifestyles.

Where is morality? As James C. Russell defines it, “the standards of ethical conduct among the Germanic peoples appear to have been ultimately derived from a sociobiological drive for group survival through in-group altruism. Ethical misconduct thus consisted primarily in violating the code of honor of one’s kindred or one’s comitatus.” (Russell, 204). But there is no place for altruism in the Republican worldview unless it is that of one rich person for another.

Grönbech illustrates the depth of these differences:

    Family tradition constitutes the entire ethical standard. A fixed line of demarcation, separating evil from good, was not known. There was, of course, a broad average, as among all peoples. The Germanic people knew that certain acts, stealing first and foremost, murder, and some few others, brought dishonor upon a man, whoever the culprit might be (Grönbech, 74).

The Republican Party, on the other hand, has come to embrace stealing, and in its worship of the gun culture and stand your ground laws, murder. Where is the morality, you ask? There isn’t any. The Republican Party has done away with the inconvenience of morality. It is not congenial to their profit margins. Their view of economic and social justice is as warped as their view of religion.

It is easy to see why they would oppose the idea of liberal governance. Government, we are taught, is of the People, by the People, for the People, and as such, it is an unhappy barrier between the 1 percent’s desires and its victims. Government restrains. What the Republican Party wants is a government that, rather than regulating corporations, facilities their plundering of the taxpayer. Corporate welfare, obscenity that it is, is only the tip of the iceberg.

If, as studies show, America is fast becoming a second-rate nation, there is a very good reason for that, and one need look no farther than the Republican Party and its rich patrons, who have become the new barbarians at the gate.

The U.S. Constitution is the tenuous barrier between us and them, and it is wearing thin as Republican lawmakers do their utmost to outlaw the Constitution wherever and whenever the opportunity arises. And we have a Supreme Court that, rather than closing the gates, has opened them, letting these new barbarians run rampant through our streets, stealing, raping, and murdering like the raiders of old.

The question is, what can Americans do about these barbarians and what are we willing to do? It was Justice Roberts himself who told Americans that they had two choices: accept plutocracy or revolt. The poor, historically, have a very poor record against the wealthy, with a few exceptions, and our pitchforks are more metaphorical than real these days, but we are not without power even so. The question is, what will we do with it, and will we do it before it’s too late?


Wilhelm Grönbech, The Culture of the Teutons, I: 74, public domain edition found at

James C. Russell, The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity (NY: Oxford University Press, 1994)


New Study Shows That Fox News Lied About Climate Science 72% Of The Time In 2013

By: Justin Baragona
Tuesday, April, 8th, 2014, 3:34 pm   

A study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists revealed some surprising details regarding the three major cable news networks’ coverage on the subject of climate science. The study looked at all segments that discussed climate science throughout 2013 on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. To the surprise of nobody, Fox News misled or straight up lied the most often when it came to covering climate science. The network discussed the subject 50 times during 2013. The UCS’s study shows that Fox provided misleading coverage on 72% of those segments.

One interesting part of the report reveals that over half of that misleading coverage came from one show in particular, The Five. That show, which features four ultra-conservative pundits (Eric Bolling, Greg Gutfeld, Dana Perino and Andrea Tantaros) along with one supposed liberal (Bob Beckel), focuses on debate between the panelists. The UCS study provided examples of The Five’s panelists presenting false and misleading information. Below is one such example:

    On September 30, The Five’s Greg Gutfeld accused scientists involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of obfuscation when he said that, “Experts pondered hiding the news that the earth hadn’t . . . warmed in 15 years, despite an increase in emissions. They concluded that the missing heat was trapped in the ocean. It’s like blaming gas on the dog if the ocean was your dog.” This was not the case, as scientists were publicly discussing questions about the relationship between surface temperature trends, heat trapped in the deep ocean, and the flow of heat throughout the planet as the climate warms.

The scientists’ study also found that Fox News was far more likely to understate the effects of climate change, disparage climate science in general or mislead during a debate on climate change that the other two networks. The report stated that MSNBC prioritized coverage of climate change during 2013, discussing it 132 times. Only 8% of the time they allowed guests, contributors or news hosts to present misleading or nonfactual information. In fact, the only misinformation presented on MSNBC about climate science in 2013 revolved around overstatements on the impact of climate change.

Meanwhile, over at CNN, the network only covered climate science 40 times in 2013. However, they presented factual information most of the time, as 70% of segments did not mislead or provide inaccurate information. That still means that 30% of the time, the network allowed lies or misinformation to get through. The study did find that most of the misleading information about climate science on CNN was in the form of debates where contributors or guests presented misinformation. One examples was from January 2013 on Out Front with Erin Burnett:

    Also on January 23, Out Front with Erin Burnett hosted a debate that featured Erick Erikson, then a CNN contributor and columnist for RedState, who stated that extreme weather was worse in the 1950s than it is today. Erikson argued that, “It doesn’t help that scientists have to keep changing the language from global warming to climate change to now extreme weather.” Scientists have, in fact, tracked an increase in many kinds of extreme weather since the middle of the twentieth century, including coastal flooding, heat waves, and changes in precipitation patterns, and they have used the terms “global warming” and “climate change” interchangeably for decades.

It should be pointed out that this was one of Erickson’s last appearances on CNN as a contributor. A few days later, he left for, you guessed it, Fox News.

Overall, the scientists who compiled this report stated that MSNBC did an exemplary job of covering climate science in 2013. Their only recommendation was that the network do a slightly better job of steering guests and contributors away from overstating the impact or effects of climate change. Basically, don’t say that we are on the verge of the apocalypse.

As for CNN, the report suggested that the network should try to stay away from discussing climate science in a debate format. Most of the misleading statements from the network on climate science came from segments centering around debate of two or more participants. Basically, the UCS recommends that if CNN is going to continue to allow climate science to be debated upon its network, then the network needs to do a better job at picking knowledgeable guests who are learned on the subject. Also, they recommended fact-checking guests who make factually inaccurate statements on the air.

As for Fox News, the report basically concluded that the network just needs to scrap what it is doing. It did acknowledge that 2013 represented an improvement for the network. In 2012, the network only aired accurate climate science pieces 7% of the time. So, there IS improvement, though the coverage is still awful and extremely misleading. The report states that Fox News is dismissive of climate change as a whole and tends to focus on ‘politicized rejections of climate science.’ Also, much of the accurate information on the network regarding climate science came from hosts correcting overstatements made by guests. Therefore, it still shows the general dismissive nature that even those hosts may have towards climate science.


Wendy Davis’ Opponent Hides From The Press After Controversy Over His White Nationalist Pal

By: Sarah Jones
Tuesday, April, 8th, 2014, 2:28 pm   

Texas Republican AG and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott is hiding from the press again.

This time, it’s not Abbott’s comments on how we don’t need fair pay laws because they already exist — but oopsie, women in his Attorney General’s office make less for the same job! — that stalked him into a humiliating defeat, but his choice to cite the work of Charles Murray, a white nationalist who hates women as inspiration for his pre-k plan.

So the press arrived to an empty room in Dallas yesterday for a scheduled press conference with the Republican gubernatorial candidate, only to discover that Greg Abbott had suddenly canceled it, according to the Davis campaign.

The Wendy Davis (D-TX) campaign caught it all on tape:

Had Mr. Abbott shown his face, he would have had to answer why he thought a guy who believes “mens brains are larger than women’s” was a good choice as inspiration for an education program.

Abbott would have had to explain why he thinks pre-K should only be for a select few. In case you missed that dog whistle, page 2 of his pre-K plan explains that destiny is predetermined by background (so American!): “Family background has the most decisive effect on student achievement, contributing to a large performance gap between children from economically disadvantaged families and those from middle-class homes.”

Yeah. Southern Poverty Law Center is not impressed, they say that Murray uses “racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.” In case it’s not clear yet where this is going, DOG WHISTLE WELFARE STATE, “Murray advocates the total elimination of the welfare state, affirmative action and the Department of Education, arguing that public policy cannot overcome the innate deficiencies that cause unequal social and educational outcomes.”

Adalia Woodbury broke this down for PoliticusUSA, explaining:

    Indeed, Abbott’s policy is based on a compilation of right wing assumptions about gender, race and class with intellect based in part on the mythical musings of Charles Murray, the co-author of “The Bell Curve.”

No doubt Greg Abbott doesn’t want to explain to the moms and dads of Texas why he thought it would be a super good idea to have this Murray guy inspiring pre-K policy, when he is sure “no woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions.”

Also, women suck because they can’t forget about their children, whereas men can (not sure this reads the way Murray intends it to), “To put it in a way that most readers with children will recognize, a father can go to work and forget about his children for the whole day. Hardly any mother can do this, no matter how good her day-care arrangement or full-time nanny may be.”

Sigh. Along with Texas Republicans’/Abbott’s belief that women suffer inequity in pay because they are bad negotiators, Murray sees women as less competitive and aggressive, so more sucky, “I have omitted perhaps the most obvious reason why men and women differ at the highest levels of accomplishment: Men take more risks, are more competitive and are more aggressive than women.”

But perhaps his most foolish argument is this one: Women are clearly inferior because women have only received “2% of the Nobel Prizes in the sciences — a proportion constant for both halves of the century — and 10% of the prizes in literature. The Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics, has been given to 44 people since it originated in 1936. All have been men.” Oh, SOLD!

Men are superior because the systemic patriarchy that favors them favors them. Genius trolling by Mr. Murray and his buddy Mr. Abbott.

And yet, with all of these smarts and superiority behind them, Mr. Abbott can’t even face the press. He’s too afraid to explain his own ideas, which makes him — say it with me — a bad negotiator. Someone better cut his pay, pronto.

Sure, Republicans will cry foul — they are not racists and they don’t hate women just because their policies treat both like an underclass of citizens. And the only reason Abbott ran away from the press is because the liberal media is so mean that they refuse to give him a pass for the things he does and says he wants to promote as Governor.

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« Last Edit: Apr 09, 2014, 06:47 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #12936 on: Apr 09, 2014, 12:32 PM »

Four-Way Ukraine Talks Expected April 17 in Vienna

by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 April 2014, 17:55

Four-way talks between U.S. and EU diplomats, Russia and Ukraine to defuse Europe's worst security crisis in decades look set to be held Thursday next week in Vienna, an EU diplomat said.

"Intense talks are taking place ahead of the four-way negotiations April 17 in Vienna," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"But a week is a long time," the diplomat added.

The meeting would be the first direct talks with Moscow and Kiev to resolve the East-West standoff.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's office on Tuesday confirmed she would meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Deshchytsya in a European capital.

Political turmoil in Ukraine is threatening to break up the vast nation on the European Union's eastern frontier and plunge Moscow's relations with the West to a low that may take decades to repair.


Polish PM Says Ukraine Alone Should Shape its Constitution

by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 April 2014, 19:40

Third countries should stay out of the debate over Ukraine's future constitution, Poland's prime minister said Wednesday, amid Russia's insistence on solving the crisis through federalization.

"Ukraine's future constitution should, in our opinion, be adopted by Ukrainians alone. And the shape of Ukraine's constitution should not be a topic of discussion for third countries," Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters.

"We're convinced it's in Russia's interest to not only ease tension through peaceful means but also to bring about a resolution that will respect Ukraine's integrity and absolute autonomy and the sovereignty of its authorities, including in work on the constitution," he said during a press conference with his visiting Latvian counterpart.

Russia has argued that the only way to calm tensions would be for Kiev authorities to conduct constitutional reforms to give the country's Russian-speaking regions more independence through federalization.

The European Union, Russia, Ukraine and Washington are due to hold four-way talks next week on the crisis.

Ukraine will hold snap presidential elections on May 25 to vote on a successor to Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in February after months of protests ended in bloodshed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin then sent troops to Ukraine's Russian-speaking peninsula of Crimea and made it part of Russian territory after a referendum last month.


Armed Russian Female 'Spy' Arrested in Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 April 2014, 20:14

Ukraine on Wednesday detained a young Russian activist on suspicion of organizing sabotage during pro-Kremlin protests in which she claims to have shot and wounded several people.

Ukraine's SBU security service said that 22-year-old Maria Koleda had been arrested in southern Ukraine "while carrying out a mission from the (Russian) secret services to destabilize the situation".

When arrested, Koleda was carrying written instructions on how to train sabotage groups, as well as a non-lethal pistol that had been adapted to fire live ammunition, the SBU said.

Local media reported that several people were shot during clashes on Monday outside government offices in the southern city of Mykolayiv between pro-Russians and supporters of the new authorities in Kiev.

During the incident, Koleda "used firearms and in her own words wounded three," the security service said.

It said Koleda had told her Russian "spymaster" that her fighters had an "unlimited supply" of home-made explosives.

It said Koleda was sending a 13-person "sabotage group" to the eastern city of Donetsk, where pro-Kremlin protesters took over government offices at the weekend and declared independence.

Russian media reported that she had switched sides from a radical opposition group to supporting Kremlin policies.

Koleda can be seen posing in khaki clothes with an army-issue sniper's rifle on her VKontakte social networking page, her red hair in a pony tail.

The wife of radical opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov, Anastasia Udaltsova, questioned Koleda's mental health, writing on Twitter that she "has been crazy in the head since she was about 15."

The news website said Koleda had been a member of radical groups Other Russia and the Avant Garde of Red Youth before switching to a pro-Kremlin group, Young Russia.

In 2008, Koleda took part in a raid by Other Russia activists on the Russian foreign ministry.

Other Russia activist Andrei Pesotsky told website: "Koleda got involved in politics at 13 and frequently changed her views."

He described her as "inclined to militarism".

Koleda writes on her social networking page that she graduated from a Moscow university last year after studying gender politics and juvenile law.

In her last post on VKontakte, written in the early hours of Wednesday, Koleda wrote a message to pro-Russian protesters: "Don't despair... everything is ahead."

The post included photographs from Kiev and Mykolayiv this month.


NATO 'Totally' Denies Deploying Troops near Russia Border

by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 April 2014, 20:08

NATO denied Russian claims Wednesday that it was planning to deploy massive numbers of troops near the country's border.

"I totally dismiss claim by dep defense minister Antonov that NATO plans to deploy large military contingents close to Russia's borders," said NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexandre Vershbow on twitter.

His tweet was in response to comments by Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov at a news conference earlier in Moscow.

"Russia has taken note of the plans by certain members of the alliance to deploy large military contingents on their territories close to our borders," Antonov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

Vershbow said that "NATO's core task is collective defense. We're taking legitimate steps to deal with instability created by Russia's illegal actions".

To reassure East European members of the alliance, in particular the Baltic states, Poland and Romania, NATO in early March decided to temporarily deploy AWACS reconnaissance aircraft.

The AWACS -- Airborne Warning and Control System -- will overfly Poland and Romania as part of alliance efforts to monitor the crisis in Ukraine, NATO said.

The United States has also sent six F-15 fighter-bombers, a dozen F-16 fighter jets and three transport aircraft to Poland. A guided missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is due in the Black Sea in the coming days.

Other European nations, including Britain and France, have offered to send aircraft to the area if requested by NATO.

NATO's chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday warned Russia against intervening further in Ukraine, urging Moscow to "step back" after pro-Kremlin militants seized government buildings in several cities in the east.

"Russia's illegal aggression against Ukraine is the greatest challenge to Europe's security in a generation," Rasmussen said.

NATO has suspended much of its cooperation with Russia, with Russian officials no longer welcome since this week at its Brussels headquarters, the exception being the Russian ambassador, his deputy and two members of his team.
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« Reply #12937 on: Apr 10, 2014, 05:39 AM »

Ukraine Leader Offers Amnesty to pro-Russian Militants

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 11:51

Ukraine's embattled acting president promised Thursday not to prosecute pro-Russian militants occupying government buildings if they lay down their arms and end the four-day siege.

The olive branch offer came as the clock ticked down to a Friday morning deadline for the separatists to walk out of the state security building in the eastern city of Lugansk and the seat of government in nearby Donetsk or face the possible use of force.

The armed assailants want the heavily Russified east of the culturally splintered ex-Soviet nation to hold referendums on joining Russia, similar to the one that led to Moscow's annexation of Crimea last month.

Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov -- in power since the February 22 ouster of a pro-Russian leader and still proclaimed illegitimate by the Kremlin -- told lawmakers that Ukraine's latest secessionist crisis could be resolved peacefully.

Parliament's minority pro-Russian factions have been pushing a bill to amnesty the separatists that the Western-leaning majority has refused to support.

But Turchynov announced that he preferred a peaceful end to the standoff and was willing to guarantee the militants' safety if they walked out of the buildings quickly.

"If people lay down their arms and free the administration buildings, we do not need to adopt any amnesty laws," said Turchynov.

"We guarantee that we will not launch any criminal proceedings against them. I am ready to formalise this in a presidential decree," he promised.

"We can solve this problem today."

The Donetsk separatists had earlier proclaimed the creation of their own "people's republic" and called on President Vladimir Putin to push the tens of thousands of troops now massed along Ukraine's border into its eastern industrial heartland.

Many in Ukraine's southeast -- a region with a much longer history of Russian control that stretches back to tsarist times -- are wary of the more nationalist leaders who rose to power in Kiev and have been looking to Putin for help.

But the two building occupations have drawn only small rallies of supporters and some polls show that the region's majority would actually prefer avoiding joining the Russian Federation.

The negotiations in Donetsk -- a blue-collar coal mining region where ousted president Viktor Yanukovych made his political career -- have involved some of Ukraine's most powerful security officials as well as its richest tycoon.

Officials said businessman Rinat Akhmetov and the region's governor have both joined Kiev's efforts to tone down the militants' demands.

"They are working on a peaceful solution, and this fills us with optimism," said First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema.

Akhmetov -- his wealth estimated by Forbes magazine at $11.4 billion (8.2 billion euros) -- was a key financial backer of Yanukovych who is thought to wield tremendous influence throughout Donetsk.

But he is believed to be trying to establish closer relations with the new pro-Western leaders who are likely to prevail in snap May 25 presidential polls.

- Ukraine peace talks -

Both Washington and EU nations have accused the Kremlin of orchestrating the unrest in the east in order to have an excuse to invade the region -- a charge stiffly denied by Moscow.

But a seeming breakthrough in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War era emerged Tuesday when U.S. and EU diplomats managed to convince both Moscow and Kiev to come together for four-way negotiations that one source in Brussels said should be held in Vienna on April 17.

At stake are not only the vast ex-Soviet state's territorial integrity and political future but also the fate of the West's relations with Moscow and all the repercussions this carries for global security in the coming years.

Putin signalled on Wednesday that he expected the talks to follow his idea of turning Ukraine into a loose federation whose eastern regions could establish their own diplomatic and trade relations with Russia -- a proposal rejected by Kiev outright.

"I hope that the initiative of Russian foreign ministry on adjusting the situation and changing it for the better will have consequences, and that the outcome will be positive," Putin told a televised government meeting.

"At the very least, I hope that the acting (leaders) will not do anything that cannot be fixed later," Putin added without specifying what kind of mistakes he had in mind.

But a top U.S. official said Washington was not setting the bar too high for the negotiations even if it did welcome the opportunity to have direct talks.

"I have to say that we don't have high expectations for these talks but we do believe it is very important to keep that diplomatic door open and will see what they bring," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said in Washington.


Pig Putin professes high hopes for Ukraine summit

But diplomats predict little chance of breakthrough as four powers meet for first time since President Yanukovych fled

Shaun Walker in Moscow and agencies
The Guardian, Wednesday 9 April 2014 22.00 BST   

Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he hoped talks between Russia, Ukraine, the EU and US due next week would have a "positive" outcome, but warned that Ukraine's interim government should not do anything that could not "be fixed later".

The four-way talks, the first since the crisis, were announced on Tuesday night.

"I hope that the initiative of Russian foreign ministry on adjusting the situation and changing it for the better will have consequences, and that the outcome will be positive," the Russian president told a televised government meeting. "At the very least, I hope that the acting [leaders] will not do anything that cannot be fixed later."

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, discussed the meeting on the phone on Wednesday, according to the Russian foreign ministry. It said the two men had urged all sides to refrain from violence in eastern and southern Ukraine.

But diplomats said it was unlikely the talks would produce any major breakthroughs, given Russia and the west viewed the situation in Ukraine so differently, with both sides accusing the other of stoking tension.

"We don't have high expectations for these talks, but we do believe it is very important to keep that diplomatic door open," said Victoria Nuland, the US assistant secretary of state.

The situation in the east of Ukraine is tense, with Ukrainian authorities promising on Wednesday morning to end the occupation of administrative buildings by pro-Russian separatists within 48 hours, either by negotiations or force.

"A resolution to this crisis will be found within the next 48 hours," said Arsen Avakov, interior minister, in Kiev, referring to the eastern cities of Luhansk and Donetsk where protesters remain in control of government buildings.

"For those who want dialogue, we propose talks and a political solution. For the minority who want conflict, they will get a forceful answer from the Ukrainian authorities," he said.

A group of pro-Russian protesters calling themselves the Army of the Southeast were occupying the security service headquarters in Luhansk. Members of the building's defence who identified themselves as former Berkut (special police) officers from other regions, said they would not fire first but if attacked would fight back until Russian forces arrived.

The Kremlin has said it is prepared to intervene as in Crimea to protect ethnic Russians in other parts of Ukraine, amid reports of a Russian troop buildup along the border.

The masked commander said the security service building's defence included him and 42 other former members of the elite Alpha division of the now-disbanded Berkut, who were known as former president Viktor Yanukovich's shock troops during the Euromaidan protests in Kiev. He said the former president, who fled to Russia in February, had betrayed them.

A few hundred demonstrators stood in the square in front of the building, protesting against the new regime in Kiev, which many said had been installed by the US government.

Tatiana Pogukai, a spokesperson of the Luhansk division of the interior ministry, told the Guardian that a group of security service and law enforcement officials and politicians continued to negotiate with the occupiers, who are demanding a referendum on "the region's economic independence from Kiev".

Kiev has claimed the protesters are directed by Russian security services, and, on Tuesday, Kerry accused Moscow of stirring up unrest, possibly as a pretext for Crimea-style military intervention.

There are concerns about the new government in Kiev, but support for actually joining Russia is not widespread among the population, unlike in Crimea.

In Moscow, Putin met the cabinet on Wednesday and discussed possible economic responses to Ukraine. Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, says it has not received any money for March gas deliveries to Ukraine and still has a $2.2bn (£1.6bn) debt outstanding. Kiev has said it will pay the debt but has protested at an 80% increase in gas prices announced last week.

Putin said it was possible that Russia could make Ukraine pay up front for deliveries of gas, but he instructed the government to wait until "further consultations" with Kiev before introducing the measure.

The gas dispute is another way for Moscow to put pressure on Kiev, and is likely to be another issue at the talks next week, which will be the first four-way meeting since Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine and the new government was formed.

Since then, Russia has annexed Crimea, and Kiev and Moscow have been engaged in a bitter war of words, with both sides accusing the other of sponsoring terrorism.

The Kiev government claimed it had evidence that Russian security services were behind the violence that left more than 100 dead in Kiev in February, while Russian security services say they have arrested a number of Ukrainians acting on official orders and planning terror attacks inside Russia.


Russia Plotting for Ukrainian Influence, Not Invasion, Analysts Say

APRIL 9, 2014

MOSCOW — The separatist demonstrations again churning through eastern Ukraine have raised fears of a Crimean-style invasion by the 40,000 Russian troops coiled just over the Russian border. But Moscow’s goals are more subtle than that, focused on a long-range strategy of preventing Ukraine from escaping Russia’s economic and military orbit, according to political analysts, Kremlin allies and diplomats interviewed this week.

Toward that end, the Kremlin has made one central demand, which does not at first glance seem terribly unreasonable. It wants Kiev to adopt a federal system of government giving far more power to the governors across Ukraine.

“A federal structure will ensure that Ukraine will not be anti-Russian,” said Sergei A. Markov, a Russian political strategist who supports the Kremlin.

Russian officials have said they envision a system in which regions elect their own leaders and protect their own economic, cultural and religious traditions, including the forging of independent economic ties with Russia.

But many experts sharply dismiss the Russian plan as a stalking horse intended to undercut Ukrainian independence. “It is another way to dismantle and subjugate Ukraine,” said Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “It means Moscow could grab and peel off any part of Ukraine at any time.”

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “wants Ukraine to be, one, absolutely neutral and, two, dependent on Moscow,” said Vladimir A. Ryzhkov, an opposition politician. “If you have a weak central government and strong governors, you can play directly with the governors over the head of Kiev.”

The United States, while supporting decentralization, has opposed giving too much power to the regions.

Many analysts said the question looming over Ukraine was not simply East versus West. The reality of Russian power is such that Ukrainians must perform a delicate balancing act, giving Mr. Putin enough influence to satisfy his demands while preserving their independence. This will center on the constitutional question of federalism, and will bear close watching, analysts said.

(Russia’s only other oft-stated demand, a simpler one, is preserving Russian as an official language — as it is now in regions where it is widely spoken.)

Russian officials are clear about their goals. “A centralized state will only be good for radicals,” said Sergei A. Zheleznyak, a deputy speaker of Russia’s Parliament targeted for United States sanctions in March after pushing for the annexation of Crimea, using the shorthand favored by Russian officials to write off much of the Kiev government.

If Mr. Putin believes he is not getting his way on the Constitution, he can be expected to take action before the Ukrainian presidential election scheduled for May 25, when a new government and a new constitution will be cemented, according to a broad range of analysts.

Some analysts are pointing to events surrounding the May 9 anniversary of the defeat of Germany in World War II, when huge, emotional crowds fill the streets, as a possible catalyst for Russia to push the solution it wants.

While what the Kremlin will choose to do in the weeks ahead is impossible to predict, analysts cited three potential outcomes.

In the first, Russia either manages to sway the presidential election with a candidate it favors, or it succeeds in putting in place the federal constitution it seeks in order to hold veto power over foreign economic and military policy.

So far, no candidate is allied with Moscow outright. But the two main possibilities are Mikhail Dobkin, the candidate of the Party of Regions, the party long a Moscow favorite, and Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who forged a close working relationship with Mr. Putin when she was prime minister. Ultimately, no Ukrainian leader is likely to risk openly hostile relations with Mr. Putin, given that roughly one-third of the country’s exports go to Russia.

The Kremlin wants to see a proposed constitution that cedes a great deal more power to the governors than the current one does. Analysts suggested that the best compromise would be something along the lines of what many call the “federalization and the Finlandization” of Ukraine. After World War II, Finland adopted a practical approach to its giant yet skittish neighbor — not joining NATO to this day, and avoiding European Union membership until well after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The second outcome is a kind of Crimea Annexation Part II, with residents of the east and south voting in a referendum on whether to join Russia. Protesters in Donetsk last weekend already announced that they would hold such a referendum on May 11, though Moscow did not immediately endorse the proposal.

What worries Ukrainian officials is that the Kremlin could change course and demand a referendum if it deems any new constitution insufficient. That, in turn, could lead to a military incursion. This second outcome would undoubtedly destabilize Ukraine and thwart a full Western embrace, but it holds significant risks for Moscow.

First, there is no guarantee that Russia could take over large portions of eastern Ukraine without a fight, as it did in Crimea. In addition, an incursion would almost certainly prompt much more severe American and European sanctions, badly damaging an already stagnating Russian economy. The United States said Monday that Russian interference in Ukraine would be considered a “serious escalation” that could prompt more sanctions.

Trying to bite off a chunk of Ukraine itself could also prove unpopular among Russians, and western Ukraine could emerge as a solid, anti-Russian ally of the West not terribly far from Russia’s borders.

There is also strong reason to believe that in a fair vote, the referendum would result in defeat. There has been no significant groundswell for joining Russia, as there was in Crimea, which was part of Russia until 1954 and is home to a significant population of Russian military veterans.

Perhaps most important, the oligarchs in eastern Ukraine, several of whom now govern the region, remain mostly opposed to becoming part of Russia.

The third and least likely outcome is a full-scale invasion. Domestic support for Mr. Putin soared after the annexation of Crimea and the Sochi Olympics. But the financial cost of an invasion, and the potential for Russians coming home in body bags, could quickly reverse his roughly 70 percent approval rating.

Nevertheless, analysts said, an invasion cannot be ruled out. If Mr. Putin is driven solely by the emotional desire to recreate the Russian empire, or if Russian speakers are killed in significant numbers, he may feel he has no choice but to respond with force.

The Kremlin’s propaganda machine has certainly been laying the groundwork for this possibility, with its constant stream of reports that Nazism is rising from the dustbins of history in Ukraine and is prepared to join forces with NATO. “Putin believes that if he allows this ultranationalist junta to consolidate power, it will be war eventually anyway, but with a much stronger U.S.-controlled army,” Mr. Markov said. “Better to resolve the problem when the situation is soft.”

Russia deploys a well-worn playbook to destabilize former Soviet republics that lean too far westward or risk becoming too independent. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova have all been subjected to Moscow’s strategy of taking chunks of territory, staying involved in their affairs and rendering them unpalatable to the West.

Ukraine is even more problematic because of its strategic position between Russia and Europe and its historical, cultural and religious ties to the Russian empire. Mr. Putin had envisioned Ukraine as the cornerstone of a budding Eurasian customs unit that would recreate the Russian empire in breadth and strength, acting as an anti-Western alternative to the European Union.

Still, most doubt the crisis will come to a military solution.

Sergei Karaganov, dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs here and an occasional Kremlin consultant, said Russia had all manner of economic and other leverage, starting with gas supplies, that it could use before resorting to force. Mr. Karaganov is often credited with initiating the doctrine that Moscow should champion the interests of millions of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers left outside the borders when the Soviet Union collapsed.

“There are people who want to reunite with Ukraine,” he said, “but I don’t think that is the majority, even in the Kremlin.”


The Pig Warns of Restricting Natural Gas Supply to Ukraine

APRIL 9, 2014

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin and other senior Russian officials threatened on Wednesday to restrict supplies of natural gas to Ukraine, and they reiterated the Kremlin’s contention that Ukraine owes Russia more than $16 billion in unpaid gas bills and other debts.

The declarations, at a government meeting just outside Moscow, were the latest pointed reminders to the West that Russia holds substantial sway over Ukraine’s financial future — even without a military incursion into eastern Ukraine. The declarations also seemed intended to increase the Kremlin’s leverage in talks with the United States over resolving the political crisis.

“If this critical situation really continues like this, I believe there is every reason to apply the transition to a prepayment system for gas supply,” Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev said, according to a Kremlin transcript of the meeting. Mr. Putin said he agreed, but urged Mr. Medvedev and other officials, as well as Gazprom, the state-controlled energy company, to delay such a move “given the difficult situation in Ukraine.”

A visual survey of the continuing dispute, including satellite images of Russian naval positions and maps showing political, cultural and economic factors in the crisis.

Russia has made clear that it will use every bit of leverage it can muster to prevent Ukraine from drifting further into the West’s sphere of influence.

In addition to seeking advance payment from Ukraine, at a time when the country is suffering severe financial problems, Russia could cause havoc by simply cutting off the supply of natural gas to Ukraine — a step it took during previous disputes. Russia’s control over Ukraine’s energy supply has long given the Kremlin extraordinary coercive power over its neighbor, which could be left freezing in winter. The Kremlin has followed its invasion and annexation of Crimea last month in southern Ukraine with warnings that it could intervene militarily to protect ethnic Russian people living in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has also exerted economic pressure, essentially pointing out that it could claim to be owed debts from Ukraine nearly equaling the $18 billion financial assistance package that the International Monetary Fund recently agreed to provide to the government in Kiev.

The provisional authorities in Kiev have scheduled a presidential election for May 25 to replace Viktor F. Yanukovych, who fled in late February and was stripped of power by the Parliament in a move that Russia says amounted to an illegal coup.

So far, there is no pro-Russian candidate with any chance of winning. In what appears to be an acknowledgment of that reality, the Kremlin has been calling for structural political changes in Ukraine that would substantially weaken the central government in Kiev.


Pro-Russian occupiers of Ukrainian security service building voice defiance

Army of the Southeast members say they are former members of Ukraine's Berkut special police force

Alec Luhn in Luhansk, Thursday 10 April 2014 00.32 BST   

"You want to know our demands, talk to the people," said a masked commander of the pro-Russian protesters occupying the security service headquarters in Luhansk.

The commander declined to provide his name but said he had fought protesters during deadly clashes in Kiev as a member of the infamous Berkut riot police, lifting his shirt to show a long scar.

"I'll tell you this much: We will fight these faggots," he said, referring to the new government in Kiev.

As negotiations continued on Wednesday with government representatives, the apparently well-organised group of pro-Russian protesters who call themselves the Army of the Southeast struck a defiant stance after seizing the security service building on Sunday.

Members of the building's defence who identified themselves as former Berkut (special police) officers from other regions said they would not to fire first but that if attacked they would fight back until Russian forces arrived.

The Kremlin has said it is prepared to intervene as in Crimea to protect ethnic Russians in other parts of Ukraine, and western generals have reported a Russian troop buildup along the border.

The masked commander said the security service building's defence included him and 42 other former members of the elite Alpha division of the now-disbanded Berkut, who were known as former president Viktor Yanukovich's shock troops during the Euromaidan protests in Kiev. He said the former president, who fled to Russia in February, had betrayed them.

A few hundred demonstrators stood in the square in front of the building, protesting against the new regime in Kiev, which many said had been installed by the US government.

Tatiana Pogukai, a spokesperson of the Luhansk division of the interior ministry, told the Guardian that a group of security service and law enforcement officials and politicians continued to negotiate with the occupiers, who are demanding a referendum on "the region's economic independence from Kiev".

Interior minister Arsen Avakov told journalists in Kiev on Wednesday morning that "a solution to this crisis will be found within 48 hours", referring to seizures of government buildings over the weekend in the eastern regions of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, where pro-Russian protesters are seeking referendums on greater independence from Kiev. Avakov said an "anti-terrorist operation in all three regions" could spring into action "at any moment." Ukrainian television showed images of armoured troop carriers said to be driving in the direction of Luhansk.

Eastern Ukraine's heavy industries export goods to Russia, and large numbers of Russian speakers live there. The interior ministry troops removed the protesters from the Kharkiv building and a security service building in Donetsk, but protesters in the Donetsk regional administration building have declared an independent republic and begun organising a referendum on its status.

A flier from the Army of the Southeast handed out by protesters in Luhansk called for a referendum "for our future together with Russia and the future of our Slavic Orthodox people, which is on the edge of destruction because of politicians who have been bought".

Officials in Kiev and Washington have said Russia organised the protests in eastern Ukraine, but the masked commander said all those inside the building were Ukrainian citizens, as several middle-aged onlookers brandished their Ukrainian passports.

He denied Ukrainian media reports that the protesters had obtained more than 1,000 firearms after seizing the building. But in a video by occupiers posted on Tuesday, the speaker is flanked by three men with machine guns.

Another masked man manning a street barricade, who said he had served in Kiev as a Berkut officer but was from the nearby region of Zaporozhye, said the building's defenders had "enough weapons for the whole Bandera regime". Many protesters argue that the Kiev government is dominated by nationalists from western Ukraine, where dozens of monuments commemorate the nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, who fought for Ukrainian independence but also collaborated with Nazi invaders during the second world war.

"Fifty kilometres from here Russian troops are waiting for a shot to be fired by the other side," said the former Berkut officer, who also refused to provide his name. "We will try to solve this peacefully until the end, but if they attack we will fight back."

After conflicting reports that occupiers were holding hostages or using protesters as human shields, the security service said 56 people had been released from the building Wednesday after two rounds of negotiations. But Pogukai denied that hostages had been taken. The former Berkut on the barricades said no one had been released from the building at all, adding: "Russia won't help us if we take hostages."

In an appeal to the occupiers, the head of the Luhansk branch of the interior minister asked them to turn in their weapons and leave the building, promising that politicians and security officials had agreed to consider legislation to amnesty those who do so.

Asked about the possibility of leaving the building to accept amnesty, the masked commander held his bicep and showed his fist in a gesture equivalent to flashing the middle finger.

Police were keeping order in the city but gave the protesters a wide berth. Traffic police had formed a loose cordon on roads leading to the occupied building and were turning most cars away. Police in flak jackets had set up a checkpoint about 15km down the highway towards the nearby city of Donetsk but appeared to be checking only large vehicles.

Signs outside the security service building read "USA and EU are occupiers!" and, in English, "Europe and USA, go home!" Protesters said they supported federalisation to give their region more independence from Kiev, while others said they wanted to join Russia, like Crimea.

"We're calling on Russia to come and save us," said Anna Kostenko, who said that local industry had been growing under Yanukovich but the new regime had brought only harm.

"It's better to die standing than live on our knees," said a woman who identified herself only as Nadezhda. "The regime that was installed by the Americans, we hate them. We love Russia."

But not everyone is for independence from Kiev. An SUV drove by the barricades streaming a Ukrainian flag.

Yelena Khodus, a local journalist, said Russia was playing on local's frustrations with the government in Kiev and the men who made the video statement weren't local. Any new regime won't "make everything good tomorrow", she said, "but people here don't understand that."


04/09/2014 06:26 PM

How Western Is Germany?: Russia Crisis Spurs Identity Conflict

An Essay By Christiane Hoffmann

Many Germans feel a special bond to Russia. This makes the Ukraine crisis particularly dangerous for Berlin because it raises important questions about the very nature of German identity. Are we as deeply rooted in the West as most believe?

The only reason my German grandfather survived as a Russian prisoner of war was that he had a beautiful singing voice. He had been drafted into the Volkssturm militia in 1944, during the final phase of the war in which the Nazi party recruited most able-bodied males into the armed forces, regardless of their age. The Russians captured him during the Siege of Breslau and he was taken to a labor camp, where he was forced to work as a logger.

There was barely anything to eat and he said the men died like flies. Every now and then, the camp cook would serve my grandfather an extra portion of the water gruel or an additional bit of bread because he had such a nice voice. At night, when he would sing his songs by the fire, the Russians would sit there as well, passing round the vodka bottle, and his voice would literally bring tears to their eyes -- or at least that's the version of events passed down in the family.

Right up to this day, Germans and Russians maintain a special relationship. There is no other country and no other people with which Germans' relations are as emotional and as contradictory. The connection reaches deep into German family history, shaped by two world wars and the 40-year existence of East Germany. German families still share stories of cruel, but also kindhearted and soulful Russians. We disdain the Russians' primitiveness, while treasuring their culture and the Russian soul.

'Tug-of-War' of Emotions

Our relationship to the Russians is as ambivalent as our perception of their character. "When it comes to the relations between the Germans and Russians, there is a tug-of-war between profound affection and total aversion," says German novelist Ingo Schulze, author of the critically acclaimed "Simple Stories," a novel that deals with East German identity and German reunification. Russians are sometimes perceived as Ivan the Terrible, as foreign entities, as Asians. Russians scare us, but we also see them as hospitable people. They have an enormous territory, a deep soul and culture -- their country is the country of Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy.

It's thus no wonder that the debate about Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis is more polarizing than any other issue in current German politics. For Germany, the Ukraine crisis is not some distant problem like Syria or Iraq -- it goes right to the core of the question of German identity. Where do we stand when it comes to Russia? And, relatedly: Who are we as Germans? With the threat of a new East-West conflict, this question has regained prominence in Germany and may ultimately force us to reposition ourselves or, at the very least, reaffirm our position in the West.

In recent weeks, an intense and polemical debate has been waged between those tending to sympathize with Russia and those championing a harder line against Moscow. The positions have been extreme, with one controversy breaking out after the other. The louder the voices on the one side are in condemning Russia's actions in Ukraine, the louder those become in arguing for a deeper understanding of a humbled and embattled Russia; as the number of voices pillorying Russia for violating international law in Crimea grows, so do those of Germans raising allegations against the West.

One of the main charges is that the European Union and NATO snubbed Moscow with their recent eastward expansion. Everyone seems to be getting into the debate -- politicians, writers, former chancellors and scientists. Readers, listeners and viewers are sending letters to the editor, posting on Internet forums or calling in to radio or television shows with their opinions.

"Most Germans want to understand Russia's side of things," says Jörg Baberowski, a prominent professor of Eastern European history at Berlin's Humboldt University. Historian Stefan Plaggenborg of the Ruhr University in Bochum has described the sentimental relationship between Germans and Russians as "doting love." But how is it that this connection still exists after two world wars?

Perhaps a man who grew up in East Germany can explain what links Germans and Russians: Thomas Brussig, a novelist from the former East Berlin, says he first got to know Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union when he visited during a book tour. During his stay, he recalls being constantly asked which Russian writers influenced him. Brussig didn't give the obvious answers -- Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. He instead named a third-rate Soviet writer, Arkady Gaidar. "I did it to exact a bit of revenge and to remind them what imperialists they had been," he says.

Brussig says he has no special attachment to the Russians. He says the only Russian figure he actually views positively is Gorbachev. It was "his vision of a Common European Home that cleared the way for the demolition of the Soviet Union." It was a dream of a Europe without dividing lines. "We shouldn't act as though the border to Asia starts where Lithuania ends," says Brussig. "Europe reaches all the way into the Ural Mountains."

Romanticism and War

There are some obvious explanations for the bond between Germans and Russians: economic interests, a deeply rooted anti-Americanism in both countries on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. But those are only superficial answers -- dig a little deeper, and you'll find two other explanations: Romanticism and the war.

The war explanation is inextricably linked to German guilt. As a country that committed monstrous crimes against the Russians, we sometimes feel the need to be especially generous, even in dealing with Russia's human rights violations. As a result, many Germans feel that Berlin should temper its criticism of Russia and take a moderate position in the Ukraine crisis. It was Germany, after all, that invaded the Soviet Union, killing 25 million people with its racist war of extermination.

Hans-Henning Schröder, a Russia expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs describes this as Russophilia and says it is a way of compensating for Germany's Nazi past. Noted German historian Heinrich August Winkler fears Germans have adopted a "pathological learning process."

The question of guilt has created a link between Germans and Russians, but the issue evaporated fairly quickly for the Russians after the war. Unlike the French, Scandinavians and Dutch, the Russians don't tend to name and shame the Germans for crimes committed during the German occupation.

"Those who suffered the most had the least hate for the Germans," says Baberowski, as if the issue of German guilt evaporated in the first frenzy of revenge at the end of the war. He believes it dissipated, at the very latest, after the return of the last prisoners of war to Germany. "The Russians told stories that would make your blood freeze in your veins, but they were never accusatory towards us," says Schulze, who spent several months in St. Petersburg during the 1990s.

Despite the fact that German politicians exploited fears of Russia for many years in the postwar period, the war still connects Germans with Russians today. Our relationship is characterized by the "intimacy of a relationship that arose out of two wars," says Herfried Münkler, a professor of political theory at Humboldt University. He describes the war as an experience shared by both Germans and Russians. He argues that conflict creates a stronger community dynamic than peace -- and that, as a result of the war, Germans learned another thing: to never again attack Russia.

Then, of course, there are Germans' romantic ideas about Russia. The country has always been idealized by Germans. No other country was as thrilled as Germany when glasnost and perestroika ushered in the de-escalation of the East-West conflict. Finally, they felt, it was acceptable for them to love Russia again. In Gorbachev, the good Russian had returned and the Germans saw no reason to continue living in fear of Russia.

Documentary programs about the remote reaches of Siberia and the banks of the Volga River attracted large viewership numbers. In the preceding decades, works by German-language authors like Heinz Konsalik -- whose book "The Doctor of Stalingrad," dealt with German prisoners of war -- and Johannes Simmel -- whose novels delved into Cold War themes -- had been best-sellers.

"The east is a place of longing for the Germans," says Münkler. The expanse and seeming infinity of Russian space has always been the subject of a German obsession for a simpler life, closer to nature and liberated from the constraints of civilization. The millions of Germans that were expelled from Eastern Europe and forced to move to the West after 1945 fostered that feeling. To them, it represented unspoiled nature and their lost homeland.

A Tradition of Anti-Western Sentiment

The flipside to Germany's longing for Russia is its desire to differentiate itself from the West. Fundamental opposition to the West's putative superficiality is seen as being part of the Russian soul: The perceived busyness and money-grubbing ways of the Western man stand in contrast to the East's supposed depth of emotion and spirituality. "When something is romanticized, there is always an antidemocratic streak," says Baberowski. It privileges harmony over conflict, unity over confrontation.

This tradition of anti-Western thinking has a long tradition in Germany. In "Reflections of an Unpolitical Man," written during the First World War, Thomas Mann sought to strongly differentiate Germany from the West, even citing Dostoyevsky in the process. "Being German," Mann wrote, "means culture, soul, freedom, art and not civilization, society, the right to vote, literature." Mann later revised his views, but the essay remains a document for those seeking to locate Germany's position between East and West.

Winkler points to a battle between the era's German intellectuals, which pitted the "Ideas of 1914" -- propagated by Johann Plenge, and emphasizing the "German values" of duty, discipline, law and order, ideas that would later influence National Socialism -- against those of liberté, égalité, fraternité -- which were adopted in 1789 during the French Revolution.

When West Germany became politically part of the West after 1945, the Eastern way of thinking was pushed to the wayside. But Russia remained a country of longing for the East Germans. Münkler believes that the longing for Russia is also a symbol of "what we used to think but are no longer supposed to think."

A Special Role for Germany?

Henrich August Winkler argues that Germany has now arrived at the end of a "long journey to the West." But with the Ukraine crisis and the threat of a revival of the East-West conflict, that arrival now seems less final. Suddenly old questions about a special role for Germany have resurfaced. Of course, no one would throw our membership in the EU or NATO into question, but Germany's special ties to Russia -- which differentiate it from other Western European countries -- have a justifiable effect on our politics.

"The ideology of taking the position in the middle has exhausted itself," Winkler told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper in a 2011 interview. That was easy to say at a time when the East-West rivalry seemed to have disappeared. Nowadays, that's no longer the case.

If the EU manages to speak with a single voice, it remains possible that the West will be able to achieve something close to a consensus position. But if the conflict with Russia escalates and decisions have to be made about economic sanctions or the stationing of troops, the situation could get very tricky for Germany. It may also force Germans to confront the crucial question of where they stand in their relationship with Russia. It would be a tough question for Germans to dodge, given Germany's current -- voluntary or not -- de facto leadership role in Europe.

In the Ukraine crisis, the stakes for Germany are higher than for perhaps any other country in Europe. So far, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have managed, with difficulty, to maintain a unified position, but cracks are already showing. Leaders of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), which implemented Ostpolitik policies of detente with the East under Chancellor Willy Brandt, are far less inclined to assume the role of adversary to Russia than Merkel's conservatives. The Social Democrats have now adopted the same strategy with Putin's authoritarian regime as they did in the 1970s, when they sought a better understanding of the Communists. Their approach -- to seek a better understanding of Russia's positions -- has been a successful political model for the party.

Germans Divided over Affiliation with West

Still, a divide is growing between the political elite and those in Germany who are sympathetic towards Russia. A recent survey conducted by pollster Infratest dimap showed that almost half of all Germans want the country to adopt the middle ground between Russia and the West. In the states that belonged to the former East Germany, twice as many people as in western German states believe that Germany should adopt a special role. But even in the western states, there is only a narrow majority which believes Germany should stand firmly on the side of NATO and the EU in the conflict with Russia. It's fair to say that when it comes to question of its affiliation with the West, Germany is a divided land.

Old anti-American sentiments, intensified by the NSA spying scandal, could very well be playing a role, along with fear of an escalation in the conflict with Russia. It's unlikely that the majority of Germans want to revive the former East-West order.

As a child in West Germany, I personally feared the Russians. I couldn't sleep at night because we had, technically at least, only reached a cease-fire agreement with the Soviet Union and it sounded like the shooting would resume again after a short pause. Fortunately, there was a lot of singing in my family. Perhaps it had to do my grandfather. Maybe they wanted to provide us with an important tool for survival later in life -- just in case the Russians came. In any case, my grandfather, who had sung for years for his very survival, never spared a nasty word about the Russians.

Translated from the German by Daryl Lindse

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« Reply #12938 on: Apr 10, 2014, 05:44 AM »

Kyrgyzstan Detains Scores as Opposition Rallies

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 10:38

Kyrgyzstan police detained scores of people in the capital Bishkek Thursday as the opposition gathered for a rally to demand reforms.

About a thousand people gathered in a Bishkek park for the protest organised by the National Opposition Movement, which formed out of several smaller parties earlier this year.

Police said they detained more than 150 of the protesters, while the opposition said some 500 people were detained.

A spokeswoman for Bishkek police, Anna Zhukova, said that more than 150 people who arrived for the demonstration in the capital Bishkek from elsewhere in the country have been detained and that police intended to release them following questioning and a check of their identities.

The opposition is demanding the cutting of presidential powers in the politically volatile Central Asian country, which saw two regimes overthrown in uprisings in 2005 and 2010, a year that also saw inter-ethnic bloodletting in the south that claimed hundreds of lives.

Last year bloody clashes concerning the fate of a Canadian gold mine in the country led to a brief state of emergency in parts of the mountainous state.

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« Reply #12939 on: Apr 10, 2014, 05:46 AM »

Disputed Hungary Holocaust Monument Sparks Fresh Protest

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 06:42

Several hundred protesters blocked work on a controversial monument in Budapest Tuesday which Jewish critics say glosses over Hungary's active role in the Holocaust.

Around 300 people angrily tore down a cordon erected by workers and occupied the site of the planned monument, which the Hungarian government says will mark all the victims of Hungary's occupation by Nazi Germany in 1944.

Critics say the monument -- which will depict Hungary as an angel being attacked by a German eagle -- absolves Hungarians of their active role after the occupation in sending some 450,000 Jews to their deaths.

One protester, Szabolcs Kerek-Barczy, also an opposition politician, told Agence France Presse that volunteers would mount a round-the-clock guard to prevent the restart of building works.

"It is an extremist memorial that covers up the past with a lie, and a gesture (by Prime Minister Viktor Orban) to the far-right," he told AFP.

"We won't let it be built!" he added, as police observed the protesters without intervening.

The monument was originally scheduled for unveiling on March 19 to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Jews after the Nazi occupation.

After protests in Hungary and abroad, and a boycott of official anniversary commemorations in 2014 by leading Jewish organisation Mazsihisz, the government postponed the construction until after the general election which took place on Sunday.

In the vote, Orban was re-elected to a second consecutive term in office with a landslide win, well ahead of an alliance of left-wing parties and a strengthening far-right Jobbik party.

Orban, whose party adopted some of Jobbik's nationalist tones in the past, has often sought to position himself as a bulwark of democracy against extremists.

After the election "we are close to a two-thirds majority in parliament. I think that's the best defense against the far-right," he said Monday.

A statement by the Government Information Center published on state newswire MTI Tuesday confirmed that construction of the monument had begun.

"The work is scheduled to be finished by May 31," it said.


Hungary's election offers some disturbing lessons for Europe

Re-elected prime minister Viktor Orbán seems to be aping the Putin leadership model and fuelling nationalism

Jan-Werner Mueller, Wednesday 9 April 2014 15.52 BST   
There were no huge surprises about Hungary's vote last Sunday. Prime minister Viktor Orbán coasted to re-election, despite having proposed no specific programme for the next four years other than "carry on". Depending on the final vote tally, he might retain his two-thirds parliamentary majority (large enough to change the constitution at any time) – a highly disproportional result, given that his Fidesz party gained only about 44.5% of the vote (down from about 53%). Yet these elections offer disturbing lessons about what a populist, Russia-leaning rightwing government can do inside the EU today: fundamentally reshape the polity in a partisan image and offer an all-out anti-liberal policy model that is inching ever closer to Putin's ideal of governance.

Above all, Hungary's vote shows that the extremist, outright racist right is not weakened, but in fact emboldened by such an approach. Especially in the run-up to the European elections in May, the rest of the continent should take note.

Orbán thrives on conflict. He has used the many attacks on him – not least from the European commission – to justify what critics correctly see as a comprehensive attempt to undermine checks and balances, and remake the entire country in the image of one political party. According to Orbán, only Fidesz truly represents the nation; to be against Fidesz is not to be properly Hungarian. Hence there was no problem with writing a new constitution in 2011 which was only approved by Fidesz, and there was no issue with changing the electoral rules in such a manner that Fidesz gained an "undue advantage" (according to the OSCE).

When Orbán then also enlarged the electorate to include ethnic Hungarians in countries such as Romania and Slovakia, Fidesz conveniently ended up confirming its core claim to legitimacy. It appears that these new voters overwhelmingly opted for the party that bestowed the vote on them, thus proving that they really are part of the proper nation. They might also be decisive in ensuring the party has its two-thirds majority.

Inside the country, Fidesz has favoured the middle class, and especially the upper middle class, thereby building a core clientele of politically active supporters – while slashing benefits for the neediest (about a third of Hungarians live in poverty – don't be fooled by the glittering, EU-funded projects in the centre of Budapest). Still, Orbán was in fact fairly unpopular for much of the past four years. What changed the fortunes of his government was the decision to cut utility prices and force companies to indicate clearly on the actual bills how much Fidesz had saved consumers. Nothing wrong with this initiative, of course (other than the question of who exactly will end up paying for it) – and a clear sign of the desperate state of the Hungarian liberal-left that they could not think of any alternative policy to address ordinary people's sense that European multinationals are making huge profits off them.

Orbán's long-term policy of nationalising energy, however, depends on a rather unsavoury partner: Budapest recently signed a loan agreement with Russia to upgrade a nuclear power plant. And, low and behold, Orbán – long an advocate of an opening to the east, including China – has made a point of not supporting western sanctions against Russia.

Orbán is not Putin, and Hungarian elections are not rigged in the way Russian ones are. But there is now a polity and policy model inside the EU that is closer to Putin's than to the western European mainstream – and whose success may well depend on further support from Russia. While Orbán has sometimes defended himself in the same way Putin has – he is the sole guarantor of order, without him everything would be even worse, fascists might take over – the elections show the real dynamic to be the other way around. Orbán has presented Fidesz as the last bulwark against Jobbik, the anti-Roma and anti-semitic party.

Yet Fidesz's nationalism – and its support for rewriting Hungarian history to whitewash its role in the Holocaust in particular – always ends up legitimising Jobbik's extremist rhetoric. Rather than crushing the party to his right, Orbán has helped it grow. Jobbik ran a relatively moderate campaign, attracting more centrist voters disgusted with the corruption in the Fidesz government, while retaining its racist core clientele (since there is no party to the right of Jobbik, they have nowhere else to go). Now, for the first time, Jobbik has made real inroads into the prosperous trans-Danubian regions, when the conventional wisdom held that the party would remain confined to eastern Hungary, the poorest part of the country. Fidesz might well tack further to the right in response, creating a vicious circle of ever more rabid nationalism.

In his victory speech on Sunday, Orbán made a point of saying that citizens had chosen the EU (which Jobbik wishes to leave). Two days later, construction began on the hugely controversial memorial to the German occupation in 1944, which is rejected by Jewish organisations as relativising Hungary's role in the Holocaust.

For how long can Orbán keep playing his double game with the EU and his western conservative and Christian Democratic friends in the European People's party (who just warmly congratulated him on his resounding victory)? How long before it is Jobbik – or, for that matter, Russia – who really reaps the benefits?

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« Reply #12940 on: Apr 10, 2014, 05:51 AM »

Greek return to financial markets attracts flock of investors

First sale of government bonds since eurozone crisis flared up brings than €11bn of bids despite first general strike of 2014

Graeme Wearden and Helena Smith in Athens, Wednesday 9 April 2014 17.59 BST      

Greece will make a successful return to the financial markets on Thursday after investors flocked to its first sale of government bonds since the eurozone crisis flared up four years ago.

There was strong demand for a new five-year bond, despite the country being gripped by its first anti-austerity general strike of 2014. By early evening Athens had received more than €11bn (£9bn) of bids, pushing down the interest rate it will pay on the debt at Thursday's sale towards just 5%.

The general strike disrupted transport services, schools and hospitals in Greece, with thousands of people marching past the parliament building. The private sector GSEE union urged Antonis Samaras's government to change its austerity programme, and ditch the "dead-end policies that have squeezed workers and made Greek people miserable".

Greece could raise as much as €2.5bn from the bond sale, those close to the deal say, a sign of confidence two years after Greece came close to crashing out of the euro. The country received bailouts totalling more than €200bn from the IMF and EU.

The strong demand sparked a rally in eurozone sovereign debt in the bond markets, driving up the price at which Greece's 10-year bonds were changing hands – and therefore driving down the yield.

Some fund managers warned, though, that Greece still faces serious challenges in the years ahead. Paul McNamara, investment director at fund manager GAM, cautioned that Greece will only be able to repay the bonds in 2019 if it sticks with the economic reform plans agreed with international lenders.

"For Greece to be paying in full and on time in five years is dependent on them staying on good terms with the Troika and sticking with the (IMF) programme. A yield of around 5% feels low for what, for us, seems like a speculative investment," said McNamara.

Jon Jonsson, a senior portfolio manager at Neuberger Berman, told the Wall Street Journal that he was "unlikely" to take part in the sale, as the low yields did not reflect the risk of buying Greek debt.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley have all been hired to handle the debt auction.

Danske Bank's dealer Owen Callan has predicted that a successful sale will help other eurozone countries, telling Reuters:

"Yields in Portugal, Italy, Spain and Ireland are no longer just compared to what is below them, but also now to what is above them. As Greek yields fall, that should help provide further momentum in these markets."

On Friday, German chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Athens in a show of solidarity with the country which has suffered the most since the eurozone debt crisis began.

Odysseus Trivalas, president of the public sector union Adedy, said civil servants will hold a protest rally to mark Merkel's visit.

"What everyone has to know is that unions in Greece are going to intensify protest action in the run-up to the European elections," Trivalas added.

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« Reply #12941 on: Apr 10, 2014, 05:59 AM »

India elections: millions turn out in first big day of voting

14 states and territories including Delhi and Uttar Pradesh go to the polls on third day of voting for Indian parliament

India elections 2014: interactive guide to the world's biggest vote

Anu Anand in Delhi, Thursday 10 April 2014 08.48 BST    

Millions of people have turned out to vote across Delhi and the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh amid tight security on the first big day of the Indian general election.

Outside a polling station in a middle-class neighbourhood in south Delhi, six policemen guarded the entrance and journalists were asked to keep their distance as a steady trickle of voters arrived.

"I feel there's much more choice in this election, stronger candidates," said Meenu Jha, who arrived with her elderly mother. "But also I'm really glad there's a 'none of the above' option. That's a good development for voters."

Police and paramilitaries were deployed across 14 states and territories as the world's biggest democracy conducted its third day of voting. India's capital city as well as parts of insurgency-wracked Jammu and Kashmir and Maoist-guerilla-infested areas in India's centre are voting.

The election began on 7 April and is staggered over nine days in April and May to elect 543 members of the lower house, the Lok Sabha, or people's assembly. Votes will be counted on 16 May.

Two paramilitary police were reported killed and three injured by a landmine blast in the town of Jamui, eastern Bihar, where Maoist rebels had called for a poll boycott.

In the town of Muzzafarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, where at least 65 people were killed and more than 50,000 displaced after clashes between Hindus and Muslims last August in the worst violence in the state in recent history, extra police and paramilitaries were deployed to allow those affected by the violence, including rape victims, to vote.

"This is an extremely important phase because most of north India is voting and we may see some trends in crucial constituencies," said Dr Mohammed Badrul Alam, head of the political science department at Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi.

"Uttar Pradesh is key because it sends 80 MPs to parliament and how different communities vote there, including Hindu Jats and Muslims after the riots, will tell us if they are more concerned about religious violence and identity or about everyday worries like jobs and local infrastructure."

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) has been accused of stoking religious sentiment in Muzzafarnagar and western Uttar Pradesh to gain the Hindu vote. Many observers expect the divisive strategy to pay off, handing the BJP an early boost in its quest to win enough seats to form the next government.

The BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, is also accused of allowing the killing of more than a thousand people, mainly Muslims, during his first term as leader of the state of Gujarat in 2002. He denies the accusation and has never been charged.

"For Muslims, communalism is the biggest issue, not prices or corruption," said senior journalist Neerja Chowdhury. "And Muslims make up 13% of India's population. But for the rest of India, the BJP is offering development, a strong leader after years of a vacuum and yes, Hindu nationalism, but that's only part of the cocktail."

Uttar Pradesh is also important because all of India's leading prime ministerial candidates are contesting from there.

The Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is standing from Amethi. In the ancient Hindu town of Varanasi, there is a David-and-Goliath contest between Narendra Modi of the BJP and Arvind Kejriwal, the upstart founder of the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) party (AAP), who won power briefly in local elections in New Delhi.

The AAP also faces a major test in Delhi where both the urban poor and liberal elite turned out in large numbers to vote the one-year-old party into power in local elections in December 2013.

However, after a tumultuous 49-day tenure, the party stepped down, disappointing many supporters.

The anti-corruption AAP is fielding 70 candidates in national elections and hopes to emerge as a viable third party, an alternative to the stagnating Congress party and resurgent BJP.

More than 814 million Indians are eligible to vote in an election that represents a political and economic watershed.

Growth has fallen from a high of nearly 9% a few years ago to just 4.5%, too low to absorb India's millions of young graduates seeking jobs.

This election also features a polarising choice in the BJP's Narendra Modi, who has led his home state of Gujarat with strong economic growth, but is also accused of allowing the slaughter of more than a thousand Muslims during communal riots in 2002.


Narendra Modi admits he is married as Indian election gets personal

Modi, the Hindu nationalist, made the declaration in election papers having long avoided questions on his estranged wife

Agencies in Ahmedabad, Thursday 10 April 2014 11.15 BST    

Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist who is front-runner to become India's next prime minister, has publicly stated for the first time that he is married.

He made the declaration in election papers filed this week, having long avoided questions on his personal life.

Modi has campaigned as the standard bearer of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which polls show will win the biggest chunk of parliamentary seats but fall short of a majority, in the five-week election that started on Monday.

The chief minister of the western state of Gujarat is a solitary figure who has little contact with his family and entered politics through a grassroots Hindu organisation that prizes celibacy. He rarely gives interviews and little is known about his private life.

India's ruling Congress party has repeatedly called for Modi to disclose his marital status, following local reports in recent years that he had an arranged marriage at the age of 17 to a woman he soon deserted but never officially divorced. Critics say the episode exposes his poor attitude to women.

In election papers filed on Wednesday to run for a seat in Gujarat's Vadodara constituency, Modi wrote the name "Jashodaben" in a mandatory column regarding his marital status. He had left the column blank on previous occasions, including in the last Gujarat state election in 2012.

In Gujarati, the formal term "ben" is often attached to the end of women's names and "bhai" is used for men.

Jashoda Chiman Modi, now a retired schoolteacher, lives frugally on a monthly pension of 14,000 rupees ($232), according to an interview she gave to the Indian Express newspaper in February. She said Modi left her after three years of marriage, during which time they spent some three months together, and they parted amicably.

Modi wrote "not known" in the affidavit as to further information on his wife, such as the details of her income and assets.

Modi has based his high-octane election campaign on vows to rescue India from its slowest economic growth in a decade and create jobs for its booming young population.

He told a biographer recently that he "actually enjoys loneliness" and has said that because he has no children he is more likely to be a clean politician.

"I've no familial ties. Who would I ever try to benefit through corruption?" he told a recent rally.

"Narendra was married to Jashodaben Chiman Modi at a very young age by our parents, but it was only a formal ritual as Narendra left the house in those days itself," Modi's older brother Som said in a statement issued by the party's Gujarat wing.

Women are an increasingly important voter block in India, making up 48% of the electorate this year, compared with 38% when such data was first collected in 1957. The poor treatment of women in India has become a political issue after the gang-rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi in 2012.

Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that leads Congress, has made vows to support India's minorities and its women as central tenets of his election campaign.

In a country that places huge social value on marriage, neither Gandhi nor Modi have wives with them on the campaign trail. Gandhi is a bachelor who has shown little interest in getting married.

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« Reply #12942 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:01 AM »

Sri Lanka accused of ill-treating women it suspects of Tamil Tiger links

Women's group says government detaining females in ex-war zone in inhuman conditions and denying them medical facilities

Associated Press in Colombo, Wednesday 9 April 2014 12.12 BST   
A Sri Lankan women's rights group has claimed the government is arresting innocent female relatives of men it suspects are trying to revive the Tamil Tiger rebel group and subjecting them to ill-treatment.

Women's Action Network described the cases of six women it says were arrested from the north and east, the former civil war zone, because authorities suspected their male associates or family members had rebel links.

The group's statement said the criminal investigation department had detained the women in inhuman conditions, adding that some were elderly or needed medical and psychiatric care but were being denied those facilities.

Sri Lanka's government claims that the defeated Tamil Tigers are trying to regroup and that it is taking preventive measures.

However, ethnic Tamil politicians deny this and say this is being used as an excuse to maintain a high military presence and keep the people in fear.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said the women were detained for offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, including harbouring terrorist suspects. He said he would investigate allegations of medical care being denied to the detainees.

Police and the military resumed cordon and search operations similar to those carried out during the civil war to catch a person they identified as "Gopi", said to be the new leader of the Tamil Tigers. The women's network said police arrested five women for alleged links to Gopi.

Sharmila Gajeepan, 26, was pregnant when authorities arrested her claiming she was the wife of Gopi, which she denies. She said she had a miscarriage while being questioned and was not only denied medical care but on the same night was transported by train to a detention centre nearly 60 miles away, the statement said.

Police are also holding her 63-year-old mother-in-law and an elderly woman who is her helper, the statement said.

Balendran Jeyakumari, a leading activist in the effort to find missing people from the civil war, has been detained on charges that she harboured Gopi at her home. Jeyakumari's 13-year-old daughter, who was arrested with her, is in the custody of childcare officials.

Human rights groups have called Jeyakumari's arrest an attempt to intimidate activists into silence. A government book published a photograph of Jeyakumari's 15-year-old son being held in military custody, but authorities have denied any knowledge of him.

One detainee is accused of being a lover of Gopi. Another is a 61-year-old woman whose sons work abroad and sent her substantial sums of money regularly, the group said. Sri Lanka's government says expatriate Tamils could be sending money for terrorist activities.

"It doesn't appear that the officers treat these women as human beings. Officials transporting by train a woman, who on the same day had suffered a miscarriage without any medical help, is distressing," the statement said.

"Post-war the government is boastful about its achievements on women's rights and celebrates the Women's Day with much fanfare. But such degrading treatment of women is unacceptable."

Sri Lanka's military crushed the Tamil rebels in May 2009, ending a 25-year separatist campaign. According to a United Nations report, 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of the fighting.

The UN human rights council last month authorised an investigation into crimes committed by both sides in the civil war.

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« Reply #12943 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:02 AM »

Hagel Pushes U.S. Military Ties with China's Neighbor Mongolia

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 08:27

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel Thursday endorsed stronger military ties with Mongolia as it seeks a U.S. partnership as a counterweight to its powerful neighbors Russia and China.

Hagel and his Mongolian counterpart Dashdemberel Bat-Erdene signed a "joint vision" statement in Ulan Bator calling for expanding military cooperation through joint training and assistance.

The document is mostly symbolic but is likely to irritate Beijing, which has accused Washington of trying to hold back its rise by cultivating military ties with smaller Asian neighbors.

"A strong U.S.-Mongolia defense relationship is important as part of the American rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region," Hagel told a joint press conference, referring to a strategic "pivot" that China has eyed with concern.

But Bat-Erdene ruled out the possibility of hosting U.S. bases, which currently exist in Japan and South Korea.

"We have a law not to establish foreign military bases or to station troops in our country," he said.

Hagel's visit -- his final stop on a 10-day Asia tour -- followed a three-day swing through China that was marked by public clashes over Beijing's territorial disputes with its neighbors and its relations with North Korea.

Earlier he attended a meeting of Southeast Asian defense ministers in Hawaii and spent two days in Japan.

Throughout his trip, Hagel appealed for a peaceful settlement of territorial disputes that Beijing has with Tokyo in the East China Sea and with the Philippines and other countries in the South China Sea.

In a thinly veiled warning to Beijing, which has taken an assertive stance in the disputes, Hagel repeatedly said no country should use "coercion" or "intimidation" to try to settle territorial claims.

He vowed that the United States would stand by its military alliance treaties with Japan and the Philippines.

- A horse named Shamrock -

Landlocked Mongolia, once a satellite of the Soviet Union, peacefully threw off 70 years of communist rule in 1990 and its small military has embraced peacekeeping missions in recent years.

Mongolian troops have been part of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Ulan Bator now has about 350 troops in its 10th deployment of the war.

The United States spends about $2 million a year on military vehicles and communication equipment for Mongolia along with $1 million on training of the country's 10,000-strong army.

Mining of Mongolia's vast coal, copper and gold reserves has helped transform an economy once dependent on nomadic lifestyles not far removed from its empire-building hero Genghis Khan 800 years ago.

However its horses -- physically small but renowned for their stamina -- remain a central part of Mongolian culture, and Hagel was presented with one so frisky it had to be restrained by a herdsman, provoking concern among both the Mongolian and U.S. security teams.

It will remain in Mongolia but the Pentagon chief named it Shamrock, after his high school sports team in Nebraska.

His predecessor Donald Rumsfeld, the last defense secretary to visit Ulan Bator nine years ago, was also presented with a horse and called it Montana, while U.S. Pacific Command chief Admiral Sam Locklear, who visited last year, called his Chesapeake.

"Now you be good while I'm gone," Hagel told the animal.

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« Reply #12944 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:04 AM »

Nepal Bill Offers Amnesty for War Crimes

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 11:56

Former Maoist rebels or security force members who committed crimes during Nepal's civil war could be granted an amnesty except in cases of rape under planned legislation, a senior lawmaker said Thursday.

The government late Wednesday introduced a bill in parliament to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Commission on the Disappeared, aimed at healing wounds from the decade-long conflict.

Those found guilty of serious crimes during hearings by the commissions could receive a pardon except for cases of rape, said Ramesh Lekhak, a member of the ruling Nepali Congress party who drafted the bill.

"No amnesty will be granted to those accused of rape," Lekhak said.

"The commissions will investigate (other) cases and recommend whether they qualify for amnesty," he told Agence France Presse, adding that any offer of amnesty would still need the victim's approval.

"Our focus is on reconciliation. But the victim's consent will be mandatory to pardon the accused," he added.

The conflict between Maoist guerrillas and the state ended in 2006, leaving more than 16,000 dead. Rebels, soldiers and police were accused of serious human rights violations including killings, rapes, torture and disappearances.

The Maoists and the government agreed to set up commissions focused on peace and reconciliation when they signed a peace deal.

The bill comes after intense lobbying by Maoist lawmakers to reject a recommendation from a government-appointed panel, that no amnesty be offered to anyone who committed serious abuses during the war.

Parliament is set to debate it next week.

An earlier Maoist-led government in 2013 passed legislation that sought to grant amnesty to those responsible for major human rights violations. But the Supreme Court rejected the provisions in a ruling last January.

Although the court has issued arrest warrants over several cases of rights abuses during the war, there have been no prosecutions so far.

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