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« Reply #12945 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:08 AM »

Taiwan Protesters End Parliament Occupation

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 14:17

Taiwanese protesters ended their occupation of parliament Thursday, three weeks after taking over the main chamber to protest a contentious trade pact with China.

"We came here with ideals, now we leave with more burden," student leader Lin Fei-fan said at a press briefing shortly before dozens of demonstrators clad in black t-shirts walked out of the building at around 1000 GMT.

Holding sunflowers, the symbol of the movement, the protesters -- mostly young students -- were surrounded and warmly greeted by thousands of supporters as they moved out of the building.

"The departure does not mean we are giving up," Lin said, while pledging to press on with the protest against the controversial trade pact.

The demonstrators occupied the main chamber of parliament on March 18 in the island's first-ever such protest.

The sit-in came to an end after parliament's Speaker Wang Jin-pyng pledged not to preside over further debate on the trade pact until a law has been introduced to monitor such agreements with China -- a key demand of the protesters.

But they have vowed to push on with their campaign to force the ruling Kuomintang party to retract the trade deal, a demand which President Ma Ying-jeou has flatly rejected.

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« Reply #12946 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:10 AM »

Japan Pushes Plan to Stockpile Plutonium, Despite Proliferation Risks

APRIL 9, 2014

TOKYO — Just weeks after Japan agreed to give up a cache of weapons-grade plutonium, the country is set to push ahead with a program that would produce new stockpiles of the material, creating a proliferation risk for decades to come.

Though that additional plutonium would not be the grade that is most desirable for bombs, and is therefore less of a threat, it could — in knowledgeable hands and with some work and time — be used to make a weapon. The newly created stockpiles would add to tons of other plutonium already being stored in Japan.

“The government made a big deal out of returning several hundred kilograms of plutonium, but it brushes over the fact that Japan has so much more,” said Sumio Mabuchi, an opposition lawmaker who served as adviser to the government in the early days of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. “It’s hypocritical.”

Plutonium staying in Japan would be used for a nuclear recycling program that has become one of the most contentious parts of the nation’s first comprehensive energy plan since the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The plan is expected to be approved by the cabinet as early as Friday.

The recycling program, which seeks to separate plutonium from used nuclear fuel so it can be reused to power reactors, is seen by supporters as a way of ensuring resource-poor Japan more energy independence.

The program has helped delay the energy plan’s approval, with even some members of the governing party worried by its cost and by criticism from proliferation experts at home and abroad.

Those experts fear the plutonium produced by recycling would create an inviting target for terrorists to steal or attack, and American officials have been quietly pressing Japan not to build up larger stocks of the material. The plutonium is far easier to use in weapons than the uranium that has been used to power most of Japan’s nuclear reactors.

For the many Japanese frightened of atomic power after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, the government’s continued push for recycling after years of missteps is a worrisome sign that the government plans a robust nuclear energy program in the future despite promises to eventually reduce the nation’s use of atomic power. (The country’s functioning nuclear reactors have been idled while they undergo more stringent safety checks introduced after the accident.)

The plans also mean Japan is committed to using a mixed plutonium-uranium fuel for reactors that is considered somewhat more dangerous than uranium fuel if there is an accident. The mixture, called mixed oxide fuel, is necessary because plutonium produced by recycling cannot be used alone in the reactors.

Japan’s intent to grow its plutonium inventory is also becoming a new irritant in Tokyo’s relations with its Asian neighbors, threatening to further destabilize a region already mired in disputes over territory and wartime history. This month, China accused Japan of stockpiling plutonium and uranium “far exceeding its normal needs.” The implication is that Japan wants to retain the plutonium in case it decided to pursue its own nuclear weapons program.

For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other proponents of recycling, the risks are outweighed by the benefit of more energy independence — a goal of Japanese leaders for decades. While uranium remains widely available, and cheap, the Abe administration says Japan’s nuclear program should not be vulnerable to disruptions of supply or a possible rise in costs.

“Japan must continue with the nuclear fuel cycle,” said Kazuo Ishikawa, a former Trade Ministry official who worked on energy policy. “Japan’s energy security depends on it.”

Anxiety over Japan’s planned recycling program stretches back decades. As some countries, including Britain and Russia, have opted to reprocess plutonium for nuclear fuel, the United States under Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter turned away from the idea in good part because it was considered a possible new path to a bomb. The fear was that other countries would be more inclined to start the programs if the United States did so, creating stocks of plutonium around the world.

The stockpiles in Japan have been especially worrisome to American officials because they are lightly protected.

Until recently, the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, where much of the plutonium is stored and where new plutonium will be extracted from spent fuel, was protected by unarmed guards since civilians cannot carry firearms under Japanese law. Armed policemen are now stationed at the plant for backup, but foreign nuclear proliferation experts worry the lightly armed guards would not be a match for terrorists.

People working at the plant, meanwhile, do not undergo criminal or terrorist background checks, according to officials at the plant, though there are plans to begin doing some vetting of employees’ backgrounds. The plant has not yet begun extracting new plutonium while it awaits final regulatory approval, but the energy plan is expected to create more pressure for a swift start. (The plutonium already there was reprocessed abroad.)

Still, Japanese officials are unlikely to give up on their recycling dreams. In the 1950s, when Japan first drew up its nuclear energy goals, officials assured a still war-weary nation that atomic power, together with recycling, would finally relieve Japan’s almost complete dependence on imported gas, oil and coal.

Tokyo had the blessing of its new ally, the United States, which was eager to sell its nuclear generation technology abroad and which planned a similar recycling plan at home. The United States helped supply uranium to Japan for its early reactors, and also shipped about 300 kilograms, or about 660 pounds, of weapons-grade plutonium to Japan to aid in its nuclear power research. The plutonium from that program is the cache Japan recently agreed to return.

The plutonium that will remain is dedicated to the recycling project, which is decades behind schedule because of technical problems and opposition to recycling. “It is absurd that Japan is still seeing plutonium recycling as a ticket to energy security,” said Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Besides a drive for energy independence, critics say the Japanese government is continuing to push recycling because the nuclear establishment remains powerful and because of the tremendous investment the government and utilities have made. The Rokkasho facility alone has taken $22 billion and more than 20 years to build.

“You make decisions, you make careers, you sink lots of investment, and it’s very difficult to look at the world going forward,” Robert Einhorn, who was an adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said during a recent panel discussion on Japan’s stores of plutonium.

Japanese proponents of recycling say it would decrease the amount of long-lived radioactive material to be disposed. When a previous government led by the Democratic Party suggested it would wind down the fuel cycle program, the government of the village of Rokkasho angrily proposed returning all of the spent fuel it stores from nuclear power plants around Japan. Most of those plants are running out of storage space because of the long delays with nuclear recycling.

“That is our trickiest dilemma,” said Tatsujiro Suzuki, the vice chairman of Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission.

And at least some Japanese are happy to maintain the plutonium stockpiles for national security. Nervous about recent tensions with China and North Korea, which recently launched missiles into waters off Japan, they say keeping plutonium that could be used to make weapons is not a bad deterrent to have around.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Mr. Ishikawa said, “that others think we could build one.”

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« Reply #12947 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:12 AM »

Israel Says It Is ‘Deeply Disappointed’ by Kerry’s Remarks on Peace Talks

APRIL 9, 2014

JERUSALEM — In an unusually pointed rebuke of an ally, Israel said on Wednesday that it was “deeply disappointed” by Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks a day earlier that appeared to lay primary blame on Israel for the crisis in the American-brokered Middle East peace talks.

The Israeli-Palestinian dispute that has brought the talks to the brink of collapse appeared to be developing into an open quarrel between Israel and the United States, even as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were said to be planning a third meeting here this week with American mediators to try to resolve the crisis.

In a sign that the sides were still far from reconciled, Israel on Wednesday directed its government ministers and senior ministry officials to refrain from meeting with their Palestinian counterparts, a move that officials said could delay bilateral projects.

The ban on contacts does not apply to the negotiators, and Israeli officials signaled that coordination between the two sides on security issues would continue. But it was intended to send a message that there would be no business as usual.

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Mr. Kerry said that both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, but that the precipitating event of the impasse was Israel’s announcement of 700 new housing units for Jewish settlement in an area of Jerusalem across the 1967 lines, in territory the Palestinians claim for a future state.

“Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Mr. Kerry said. “We find ourselves where we are.”

In what is being referred to here as the “poof speech,” Mr. Kerry laid out the chain of events that led to the verge of a breakdown.

Clearly stung by Mr. Kerry’s portrayal and his focus on the settlement issue, Israel countered on Wednesday that it was the Palestinians who had “violated their fundamental commitments” by applying last week to join 15 international conventions and treaties.

Mr. Kerry’s remarks “will both hurt the negotiations and harden Palestinian positions,” said an official in the office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

In Washington, Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said at a briefing that Mr. Kerry was not blaming one side more than the other, “because they’ve both taken unhelpful steps.”

The Palestinian action on the international bodies came after Israel failed to release a promised fourth group of prisoners by a late March deadline. Hours before the Palestinians decided on that course, Israel’s housing minister published construction bids for the contentious new housing.

Mr. Kerry, the official in Mr. Netanyahu’s office said, “knows that it was the Palestinians who said no to continued direct talks with Israel in November; who said no to his proposed framework for final status talks; who said no to even discussing recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; who said no to a meeting with Kerry himself; and who said no to an extension of the talks.”

That wording appeared intended to cast the Palestinians in the role of peace rejectionists, echoing the Khartoum Resolution of 1967. That year, after the Arab-Israeli War, Arab heads of state laid out the main principles of their approach to Israel, which became known as “the three nos” — no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with it.

The Israeli official added: “In the understandings reached prior to the talks, Israel did not commit to any limitation on construction. Therefore, the Palestinian claim that building in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, was a violation of the understandings is contrary to the facts. Both the American negotiating team and the Palestinians know full well that Israel made no such commitment.”

Xavier Abu Eid of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiations unit said in response that Israel was “undermining the American role in the peace process.” The Palestinian side, he said, “never raised any issue that is not already an Israeli obligation.”

Israel is obliged to stop settlement activity, Mr. Abu Eid said, because it is considered illegal under international law. The Obama administration has described the settlements as illegitimate.

Israel’s failure to release the fourth group of prisoners, he added, violated an American-brokered agreement. As for extending the talks, he said, Israel has so far shown no interest in trying to reach an agreement establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

While the details of the negotiations have been kept secret at Mr. Kerry’s insistence, little progress appeared to have been made, with the sides stuck over fundamental issues like borders, security, the future of Jerusalem, the fate of the Palestinian refugees and Israel’s demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Under an American-brokered deal to resume negotiations last July, Israel had pledged to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners in four groups, and the Palestinians pledged not to turn to international bodies for the nine months allotted for the talks.

Israel said the Palestinians unilaterally applied to join the treaties last week as the Israeli government was preparing to approve a broader deal, including the prisoner release, on the condition that the Palestinians agreed to an extension of the negotiations beyond their April 29 expiration date.

But numerous senior Palestinian officials have said the prisoner release was part of a separate deal and not contingent on an extension of negotiations. They said they waited days after the March 29 deadline for the release and kept hearing from American officials that the Israeli government was about to approve the release, but nothing happened.

“Israel wants to see the negotiations continue and will persist in its efforts to resolve the current crisis,” the official from the Israeli prime minister’s office said. But he warned that “in response to unilateral Palestinian steps, Israel will take unilateral steps of its own.”

The Israeli ban on high-level contacts was the latest in a series of tit-for-tat measures.

Israel has already frozen plans for a Palestinian cellphone company to enter Gaza and for allowing 3G service in the West Bank. In addition, Israeli officials said plans to advance Palestinian housing and agricultural projects in parts of the West Bank where Israel maintains full control had also been delayed.

Ehab Bseiso, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, told Reuters that the Israeli decision to ban high-level contacts undermined international efforts “to revive the negotiations, to proceed with a constructive solution to the challenges facing the peace process.”

Some Israeli ministries have no contact with their Palestinian counterparts in any case, and most civilian issues are coordinated through the Israeli military administration in the West Bank. But staff members of the Israeli and Palestinian Finance Ministries routinely meet to coordinate the transfer of tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, and there are frequent contacts on issues like the environment, tourism and communications.

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« Reply #12948 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:17 AM »

WHO unveils emergency moves against Ebola onslaught in Guinea

By Jonathan Fowler

Geneva (AFP) - The World Health Organization launched a raft of emergency measures in the Guinean capital Conakry Thursday to control an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus that has so far killed a hundred people across the country.

The Geneva-based UN health agency announced emergency training for 70 people who would fan out across the community to track people who have had close contact with Ebola patients.

The agency is also setting up a special alert and response operation centre within the Guinean ministry of health in order to handle all matters relating to the Ebola scare.

The WHO also said that it was training staff at Guinea's Donka national teaching hospital and would be expanding that programme to other health facilities in the coming days.

The WHO this week described west Africa's first-ever Ebola outbreak among humans as one of the most challenging since the virus emerged in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to the latest WHO figures, 157 people have been infected with Ebola in Guinea, 101 of whom have died.

The outbreak began in the forests of southern Guinea, but has spread to Conkary, a sprawling port city on the Atlantic coast and home to between 1.5 million and two million people.

In neighbouring Liberia, there have been 21 cases, including 10 fatalities.

While the WHO has not recommended any trade or travel restrictions, the region is braced against the epidemic, with Senegal closing its border with Guinea.

In Dakar, UNICEF said it was working with WHO and other agencies to spread awareness by sending text messages and links of radio and television shows automatically to mobile phones across west Africa.

"Most of the people in this part of the world had never heard of Ebola before," Guido Borghese, the organisation's principal adviser on child survival and development for the region, said in a statement.

"In this environment, unfounded fears and rumours spread quickly and widely. More than ever, it is crucial that families have both the means and the right information to protect themselves and prevent dangerous misunderstandings."

Meanwhile the French Red Cross said in Paris it was deploying its first emergency response team to the epicentre of the outbreak in southeastern Guinea.

The team -- made up of volunteers and a specialist in infectious diseases -- will supervise and train 150 local Red Cross volunteers in disinfection and techniques to track down people who may have had contact with the infected.

The most severe strains of Ebola have had a 90 percent fatality rate, and there is no vaccine, cure or specific treatment.

Ebola leads to haemorrhagic fever, causing muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in severe cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.

The chances of survival increase if patients are kept hydrated and treated for secondary infections.

The virus can be transmitted to humans who handle sick or dead wild animals -- believed to be its original source -- and between humans through direct contact with another's blood, faeces or sweat.

It can be stemmed by identifying the sick and tracing those with whom they have had contact -- more than 600 people in Guinea, according to the WHO -- and applying infection-control measures in homes and clinics.

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« Reply #12949 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:19 AM »

'Insecurity' Prevents U.N., EU Mission to Darfur Camp

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 14:42

Instability in Sudan's Darfur region has prevented top U.N. officers and European ambassadors from visiting a camp where thousands have fled the worst fighting in a decade, officials said Thursday.

The delegation led by European Union ambassador Tomas Ulicny and Ali Al-Za'tari, the chief United Nations official in Sudan, traveled to North Darfur on Wednesday to assess the situation on the ground and meet local authorities.

They had hoped to visit Zam Zam camp, where more than 8,000 people have sought refuge from violence which has surged across the region since late February.

"The state authorities strongly advised not to visit Zam Zam camp" because of security reasons, Ulicny told AFP.

Damian Rance, of the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the delegation was told "for security reasons they couldn't go to Zam Zam".

Sudanese authorities have regularly cited security factors in denying aid workers access to parts of Darfur and other conflict zones in the country.

Authorities say access restrictions are necessary to ensure the safety of the humanitarians.

Zam Zam camp, about 12 kilometers (seven miles) southwest of El Fasher, is Darfur's largest. Even before the latest influx, it already hosted more than 100,000 of the two million people uprooted by 11 years of war in Darfur.

An AFP reporter who visited Zam Zam last weekend found the new arrivals sheltering from the desert sun under trees, in the remains of abandoned houses, or under simple huts from bits of cloth and wood.

They said they were calling for food, shelter and other aid after fleeing attacks on their villages.

The African Union-U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said Thursday it had received reports of a fresh attack this week, west of El Fasher.

Local sources told peacekeepers that on Monday armed men burned 72 homes and four water pumps at Kobe Assara village.

This caused civilians to flee towards El Fasher and elsewhere, the sources told UNAMID.

It was unclear in this case who carried out the attack.

But UNAMID chief Mohamed Ibn Chambas told the U.N. Security Council last week that activities of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) counter-insurgency unit were of "particular concern".

"They have perpetrated attacks on communities," he said.

Ulicny told AFP that "we should be concerned" about the role of the RSF.

During the delegation's visit, the RSF "was broadly discussed with the government, who believe that they are part of the regular Sudanese army and are not behind the attacks against the population," he told AFP.

On Monday UNAMID said more than 2,000 civilians had reached a peacekeeping base at Mellit, north of El Fasher, saying their villages had been attacked by suspected RSF and militias.

"They reported that the attackers killed an unspecified number of people, stole livestock and burnt their homes," said UNAMID.

"The displaced people also reported that on their way to Mellit, they saw other villages, including Hadi, Sani Haya and Wadibour, already burnt."

Rebel offensives, criminal activity and inter-communal fighting over access to resources have also contributed to this year's "alarming escalation of violence" in Darfur, Chambas told the Security Council.

Since late February more than 270,000 people in Darfur have been displaced, says OCHA.

Despite significant access constraints earlier, aid groups have now been able to provide some form of help to more than 200,000 of those affected, it says.

Europe will continue calling for stability and for "unhindered" humanitarian assistance to the people in need, Ulicny said.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and Defense Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein are wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

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« Reply #12950 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:23 AM »

Venezuela Asks Vatican Official to Witness Crisis Talks

by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 April 2014, 22:08

Venezuela said Wednesday it had formally invited the Vatican's secretary of state to be a "good faith witness" to talks on ending two months of deadly anti-government protests.

President Nicolas Maduro and opposition coalition representatives had agreed the night before to the talks, which are tentatively set to begin Thursday under the oversight of UNASUR, a regional South American grouping, and the Vatican.

"We want to convey the invitation of President Nicolas Maduro to His Holiness, Pope Francis," for the Vatican official, Pietro Parolin, to act "as a good faith witness," said a letter sent by Venezuela's foreign minister.

Among the conditions set by the two sides for the talks was the presence of witnesses, including Parolin, who until about six months ago was the Vatican's envoy to Venezuela.

Since early February, 39 people have died and 600 people have been wounded in clashes between security forces and protesters angered by soaring crime, high inflation and shortages of basics such as toilet paper, which they blame on Maduro's socialist government.

At least three opposition leaders have been jailed in recent weeks over the protests.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the presidency to Maduro last year, confirmed he would attend the talks.

"I say to our people: I will go tomorrow to defend the truth," said Capriles, who is the governor of the state of Miranda.

"We will tell the government the truth so the country opens its eyes, so that we understand that all this has to change."

On Tuesday, Maduro had held preliminary talks with the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD by its initials in Spanish.

The agreed to dialogue would be unprecedented under Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez last year following the longtime leader's death from cancer.


Venezuela Prepares for Talks Aimed at Ending Crisis

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 06:32

President Nicolas Maduro and Venezuela's opposition leaders are to meet Thursday for talks aimed at ending two months of deadly anti-government protests.

The agreed to dialogue would be unprecedented under Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez last year following the long-standing leader's death from cancer.

Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the presidency to Maduro last year, has also confirmed he would attend the talks.

"I say to our people: I will go tomorrow to defend the truth," said Capriles, who is the governor of the state of Miranda and a member of the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition or MUD.

"We will tell the government the truth so the country opens its eyes, so that we understand that all this has to change," he said.

Since early February, 39 people have died and 600 have been wounded in clashes between security forces and protesters angered by soaring crime, high inflation and a shortages of basic goods such as toilet paper, which they blame on Maduro's socialist government.

At least three opposition leaders have been jailed in recent weeks over the protests.

After preliminary negotiations on Tuesday, the two sides had agreed to the talks under the oversight of UNASUR, a regional South American grouping, and the Vatican.

Among the conditions set by the two sides for the talks was the presence of witnesses, including the Vatican's secretary of state, Pietro Parolin, the Holy See's former envoy to Venezuela.

"We want to convey the invitation of President Nicolas Maduro to His Holiness, Pope Francis," for Parolin to act "as a good faith witness," Venezuela's foreign minister said in a letter sent Wednesday.

- Tough negotiations ahead -

The Vatican has yet to publicly respond to the request, though it has previously indicated it was willing to mediate in the crisis.

However, it remains to be seen whether the government and the opposition will be able to negotiate their way to a solution.

For the MUD coalition, key issues on the talks' agenda include amnesty for more than 100 people arrested during the protests, and a truth commission to probe the violence that marred them.

MUD is also demanding the dissolution of armed civilian groups known as "colectivos" which it says are close to the government.

But on Tuesday, Maduro insisted that he is not willing to consider either move.

"There will be justice here, there will be no impunity," he said, referring to the request for amnesty.

And he stridently defended the civilian groups, denying they are armed and alleging a smear campaign against them.

For his part, Maduro said he wants to crack down on street crime and push investment and economic development in the country, which has the world's largest proven oil reserves but also myriad economic woes.

One wing of MUD, known as Popular Will, says it will not take part in the talks because the government has not released one of its detained leaders, Leopoldo Lopez.

It said talks with Maduro would be just for show.

Maduro has lashed out at the protests, branding them a "fascist" U.S.-backed plot to overthrow his government.

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« Reply #12951 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:29 AM »

NASA says weird lights photographed on Mars are not a sign of life

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 16:14 EDT

A NASA robot has snapped pictures showing glints of light on the Martian horizon, which some UFO enthusiasts have seized on as a sign of alien life on the Red Planet.

Not so, said the US space agency.

More likely, the images of bright spots taken on April 2 and April 3 are a product of the sun’s glare or cosmic rays, NASA said in a statement.

In fact, similar glints of light are seen all the time in images taken by the Curiosity rover, a multibillion dollar unmanned vehicle equipped with cameras and drilling instruments that is exploring Mars.

“In the thousands of images we’ve received from Curiosity, we see ones with bright spots nearly every week,” said Justin Maki of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“These can be caused by cosmic-ray hits or sunlight glinting from rock surfaces, as the most likely explanations.”

Furthermore, the “bright spots appear in images from the right-eye camera of the stereo Navcam, but not in images taken within one second of those by the left-eye camera,” the space agency said in a statement.

NASA’s explanation may not dampen enthusiasm among believers in alien life on Mars, such as the website operated by UFO Sightings Daily which said the lights could offer proof of exterrestrial beings.

“This could indicate there there is intelligent life below the ground and uses light as we do,” the site proclaimed.

NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on the dry, dusty planet in 2012 on a mission to search for signs that life may have once been able to thrive there.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #12952 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:54 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Obama, deporter-in-chief: the shame of immigration policy, one family at a time

More than 2m immigrants kicked out. The vast majority of cases from minor crimes. All this for parents who want to see their American kids grow up?

Sadhbh Walshe, Wednesday 9 April 2014 17.33 BST          

Francisco Vega was just 15 years old when he got convicted for possession of a controlled substance, a minor crime – and one that has haunted this Mexican-born immigrant's life ever since. The juvenile drug conviction was subsequently vacated, but not before costing Francisco the chance to become a permanent, legal American resident through marriage. This all-too-common incident ultimately led to his being deported in 2008. He made it back to the US, only to face deportation again five years later. Now he's languishing in a cell in a privately run immigrant detention center in Tacoma, Washington, where his wife tells me he is not faring well: "We are not allowed contact visits, but I can see through the glass window that he is wasting away."

If the Vegas lose their second battle and Francisco is permanently removed from this country – if they lose a husband and a father of four American-born children, one of whom served in the US Air Force – it will be just another casualty of the backward immigration enforcement policies pursued by the Obama administration that are ripping families apart.

Indeed, Francisco Vega and many other locked-up or deported would-be Americans like him are just the sort of immigrants President Obama claims he wants to protect. And as the Guardian notes today, in the first of a three-part reported series, "the journey from south to north, a migration which changed the face of the US, is being reversed".

American immigrant deportations have now crossed the 2m mark since Obama took office in 2008, the year Francisco was arrested and kicked out of his home. That's more deportations than under any other administration in this country's history, and we're not even half way into the president's second term. Obama has been mostly unapologetic about the massive increase in deportations on his watch – blaming an intransigent congress and Bush-era policies, but after orchestrated nationwide protests, he finally softened his stance a few weeks ago. But he softened it softly, asking his new Homeland Security secretary in a closed-door meeting "to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely".

Now comes the real pressure on a president who has complained about Congress failing to move on immigration reform but has overseen a mass exodus fuelling a billion-dollar, for-profit detention industry – and destroying millions of lives. Now it's looking like all those arrests were for next-to-nothing. Once again, Obama can't force Congress to act, but it is very much within his power to undo some of the policies adopted and exacerbated by his administration.

Earlier this week, a New York Times investigation revealed that over two-thirds of the deportation cases under Obama involved people who, like Francisco Vega, had committed a minor crime – or no crime at all. As the Times hammered home, and as the White House tried to defend, these statistics seriously undermine Obama's assertion during an election debate in October 2012 that the government should be focusing its deportation efforts on "criminals" or "gang bangers" – not going "after folks who are here just because they're trying to figure out how to feed their families".

To know why so many immigrants – the immigrants who are not gang bangers – get caught up in deportation proceedings more than ever, you need to know five letters: S-Comm. The so-called Secure Communities Program began under the Bush administration – a month before Obama's election – as a pilot program in just 14 jurisdictions, with the stated purpose of finding and deporting violent criminals, by giving US police and sheriff's departments the authority to enforce immigration law.

By 2011, the Obama administration had expanded S-Comm to 1,595 jurisdictions nationwide. Enter mass deportation. Out went thousands of immigrants – most of whom, we now know, did not exactly fall into the "hardened criminal" category.

An analysis of the S-Comm program by the Warren Institute at UC Berkeley (pdf) also found – surprise, surprise – disturbing evidence of racial profiling and routine violations of immigrant due process rights.

Even before S-Comm became America's deportation machine, due process was something of a luxury for immigrants. The Vega family learned this the hardest way. The family had just started their own business, buying and selling cattle at their home in Oregon, when a local sheriff came by their house one day. He checked on some bovine paperwork, all of which turned out to be in order. But when the sheriff checked Vega's ID against the federal government's immigration database and found a deportation order, he told the Vegas he would have to put Francisco under arrest. This is how his wife, Berenice, described to me what happened next:

    I got down on my hands and knees and cried and begged the sheriff not to take him but he said he had no choice. He allowed my husband to get out of the car and I was able to give him a kiss and a hug before he was taken to the jail. I got to see him just once more in the jail. Three days later, he was gone.

Francisco got sent back to Mexico, but like many immigrants whose children are American citizens, he soon made his way back to the US to see his kids – even though "illegal reentry" is a federal offense that carries an average sentence of 14 months in prison. According to data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, prosecutions for this offense have increased by 76% since Obama took office.

The Obama solution for taking it easy on "folks who are here just because they're trying to figure out how to feed their families", apparently, has become a combination of deportation proceedings without due process – followed by harsh punishment for trying to watch your kids grow up.
vega family immigrant air force Berenice and Francisco Vega with their US Air Force veteran daughter
Francisco was never prosecuted for illegal reentry because, his immigration attorney told me, there were "some real due process concerns with his underlying deportation order". Since his return, the Vegas have been trying to resolve the family trauma, but his case got complicated again last year when he was arrested for attending a rooster fight.

Eight months later, Francisco remains in detention. His lawyer says he's confident the Vegas won't face another deportation. But after two decades of struggle, a father's fight to get legalized is very real: Berenice tells me their youngest son's high-school grades have dropped dramatically since his father was detained again. She is exhausted from the burden of having to take over as sole breadwinner, and she says her husband is becoming increasingly withdrawn as he awaits his fate in a lonely prison cell.

The Vegas are not alone. According to that report at Berkeley, more than 88,000 families have been impacted by S-Comm. The Obama administration's ramped-up enforcement efforts have led to more than 5,000 American-born children of deported immigrant parents being placed in foster care.

The emotional and financial drain on these families is huge, of course, but the American taxpayer is paying the price, too, in a very literal way. In 2006, Congress mandated that a minimum of 34,000 federal detention beds must be occupied each day. The House of Representatives, usually loathe to spend a penny on any services that would assist the poor or needy, allocated over $2bn to the Department of Homeland Security in 2014 (slightly more than DHS requested) to cover the rising cost of detention.

The lion's share of these taxpayer dollars will end up, of course, in the hands of private prison companies like the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America, which operate more than half of all immigrant detention centers – and continue to profit handsomely from all this unnecessary suffering.

Unless the president and his administration officials are serial liars, they cannot possibly be satisfied with the impact of their enforcement policies on the immigrant communities they profess to admire. It's disgraceful that it has taken over five years for Obama to even acknowledge that some softening of these policies might be in order. But now that he has, there are concrete steps the White House can take to stop any further damage.

Obama could begin by dismantling S-Comm – or at least revising the program to ensure that it achieves its original goal of finding and deporting hardened criminals, not just anyone who gets caught with a broken tail light.

He could remove the profit motive from our detention policies.

He could defer all deportations of non-criminal aliens, just as he did for the so called "Dreamer" population, until immigration reform actually passes and they have their chance to become legal.

Or Barack Obama can do absolutely nothing and run the risk of being remembered in history as the "Deporter-in-Chief" – the president who failed the Latino community that supported both his election efforts, while leaving our broken immigration system in worse shape than he found it.


White House defends soaring number of deportations for minor crimes

Immigration rights activists say administration has stepped up deportations to appease Republican opponents of reform

Dan Roberts in Washington, Monday 7 April 2014 21.23 BST    

The White House has defended a four-fold increase in the deportation of undocumented immigrants for minor crimes such as driving offences, insisting it is simply complying with “administration priorities” by removing foreign law-breakers from the country.

Campaigners leaped on the new data, obtained under Freedom of Information Act requests by the New York Times, as evidence the Obama administration has stepped up deportations to convince Republicans it can be trusted to enact wider immigration reform.

But with congressional reform efforts stalled, activists are now planning to target their protests against the administration instead, saying it has made matters worse by trying to appease Republican opponents.

“The irony is that this was tactic that Obama and his administration used to show they were tough on immigration and enforcement but somewhere along the line they seem to have lost track of the very reason why they moved so aggressively,” Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights at the Center for Community Change, told the Guardian.

“They focused only on enforcement and did not devote anywhere near the same amount of energy to advancing comprehensive immigration reform legislation as they did to, say, healthcare reform.”

The New York Times investigation found two-thirds of the nearly two million deportation cases it studied involved people who had committed minor infractions or had no criminal record.

The number of cases relating to people whose most serious offence was a traffic violation has quadrupled, rising from 43,000 over the last five years of George W Bush's presidency to 193,000 since Obama took office.

The White House insisted on Monday that its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division was mostly complying with guidelines requiring laws to be broken before undocumented immigrants are deported.

“Ninety-eight percent of ICE's total removals last year met one more of the agency's civil immigration enforcement priorities,” said spokesman Jay Carney. “Other than convicted criminals, priorities include those apprehended while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States, illegal re-entry, and fugitives from immigration court.

He said 82% of those removed from the interior of the US were previously convicted of a criminal offence and 72% were convicted of more serious crimes involving violence or property theft.

However Carney acknowledged that the one of the challenges of such guidelines is that anyone caught attempting to re-enter after being removed is automatically guilty of a felony, a more serious class of crime.

Ninety-three percent of all ICE's non-criminal removals were recent border crossers, repeated immigration violators or fugitives from immigration court, he said.

Campaigners argue that such rules rip hundreds of thousands of American families apart, since many undocumented immigrants have been settled in the US for decades and have family dependents who are left devastated by something as minor as running a red light.

“They are trying to find a way to mitigate the horror of what Obama has done over the last eight years,” said Matos, who accused the White House of “playing a public relations game”.

“You can bet your bottom dollar that we are well on the way to escalating [our protest campaign],” she added. “Last year we included civil disobedience. The biggest difference this year is that our protests are targeted more and more at the Obama administration.”

Two weeks ago, the White House announced a review of deportation practices by Homeland Security director Jeh Johnson and has asked campaigners to hold off from public criticism and give it 90 more days to try to convince Republicans in the House of Representatives of the need for wider immigration reform.


'It was like a horror movie' – the undocumented Latinos living in fear

About 2m undocumented migrants have been deported under Obama – and a backward trek has begun. In the first of a three-part series, Rory Carroll reports from Forks, Washington

Rory Carroll in Forks, Washington, Wednesday 9 April 2014 17.13 BST   

The rainforests around Forks, a small town in Washington state, have long attracted hunters and fishermen, but beginning in 2008, this lush, remote landscape acquired a new breed of pursuer and prey.

That year, Border Patrol agents started targeting undocumented Latinos who lived in the town and worked in the woods, collecting mushrooms and salal, a shrub used by florists.

The agents set up roadblocks, tailed vehicles and trekked through the forests, sometimes disguising themselves as hunters, in a tense – and, eventually, lethal – game of cat-and-mouse.

Not all the Latinos living in Forks at the time were undocumented, but dread still gripped much of the community, which represented about a third of Forks' population of 3,500. To avoid “la migra”, they kept watch for patrols, shopped at night and minimised contact with schools, police or anything official.

On May 14 2011, a Forest Service officer stopped Benjamin Roldan Salinas and his partner, Crisanta Ramos, in their truck after a day collecting salal. They showed their permit. But minutes later, to their horror, a Border Patrol vehicle arrived. Ostensibly the agents had come to help translate, but according to activists, it was a familiar case of the Border Patrol using local enforcement agencies as extra sets of eyes and ears.

The couple bolted into the woods. One agent ran down Ramos and handcuffed her. Salinas vanished into the Sol Duc river. Every day for three weeks, neighbours and friends searched for him. On June 5, they found his body, snagged on an object in the river.

“He died in the water. My husband died in the water,” said Ramos last week, cradling the youngest of her three children and sobbing as she recalled the day. “He ran because he knew what would happen.”

If he’d been caught, Roldan Salinas would have been detained with hundreds of other undocumented Latinos, before being sent to Mexico to become one of the estimated 2m people deported under Barack Obama.

That 2m milestone, which activist groups say was hit in recent weeks, is a figure that far outstrips what was done under previous administrations, and it has stoked anger in the Latino community and earned Obama the sobriquet “deporter-in-chief”. Last year alone, 369,000 undocumented migrants were deported, a ninefold increase from 20 years ago.

The president, who's been hurt by criticism he's received on the issue, has ordered deportation to be “more humanely” enforced. But without executive action or legislative immigration reform, mass banishments will continue.

This article is the first in a three-part series showing how the journey from south to north, a migration which changed the face of the US, is being reversed. A trajectory, which once seemed as inexorable as gravity, is now moving in the opposite direction, from north to south. The backward trek begins in the rainy mists of Washington state, passes through detention centres and deportation transports, and ends in the baked concrete of Tijuana.

The flow does not discriminate between people who crossed the border only recently and those who came over decades ago, raised families here and consider themselves American.

Forks, a depressed logging town near the tip of the Olympic peninsula, is an unlikely magnet for Hispanics. A four-hour car and ferry ride from Seattle, bounded on the west by the Pacific, it tends to be cold and wet. Logging's decline made property cheap, however, and in the 1990s, Mexicans and Guatemalans began moving here to work in the woods. A skilled salal picker can earn about $90 daily.
detention Forks, Washington, has a population of about 3,500. Photograph: Felix Clay

“They're good workers. Do the work white people aren't willing to do anymore,” said Hop Dhooghe, 75, who sells salal and other forest products. “If you didn't have Latinos here your grocery store wouldn't have an apple in it.” He has joined an organization called the Forks Human Rights Group to oppose deportations.

Estanislao Matias, a 24-year-old from Guatemala, paid smugglers $3,500 that he’d borrowed – an enormous sum for him – to join siblings here in 2009. “In our imagination we think of the marvels awaiting us,” he said. “That's why we risk everything to come. Then I saw how hard it was, that I'd be working in rain and hail.”

Worse, he encountered a sense of siege. “It was like a horror movie. People peeking out of windows, afraid to go out.”

Matias was 3,000 miles from Guatemala and 1,300 miles from the Mexican border, his desert crossing already a memory, but he was 60 miles from a border crossing from Canada, putting him within the Border Patrol's 100-mile jurisdiction into the US interior – and an unprecedented crackdown.

Back in 1994, the nationwide force had 4,000 agents. To deter the influx from Mexico it increased to 8,500 by 2001. After 9/11 it was folded into US Customs and Border Protection, a part of the Department of Homeland Security. The number of agents in green, who have distinct uniforms and roles from other CBP colleagues, expanded to 23,000, one of the biggest federal forces.

A Senate bill last year proposed expanding it further, to 40,000.

With this surge, huge resources were directed to the sleepy northern border, and the Border Patrol’s green uniformed agents were sent into rural communities across Montana, Minnesota, North Dakota and New York, where they had seldom been seen before. A guard post with four agents in Port Angeles, which covers Washington state’s Olympic peninsula, morphed into a new, 19,000 sq ft facility with more than 40 agents.

Apart from the cost, there was just one problem with the addition of all these new agents: they had, according to one of them, “nothing to do.”

"During our work shifts, other agents and I always talked about how coming to work was like the black hole, swallowing us up slowly with no purpose, no mission," Christian Sanchez, a Border Patrol officer who was stationed at Port Angeles from 2009 to 2012, told a forum in Washington, DC.

Agents spent so much time driving around the peninsula that they nicknamed it the “Baja 500”, after the car race, he said.

Bored and frustrated, and under pressure to meet job performance metrics measured in numbers of arrests, they targeted undocumented Latinos in Forks, stopping them on the highway, following them home, following them in forests, grocery stores, the town hall.

“There were Border Patrol vehicles everywhere, following each other around like little herds,” said the mayor, Bryon Monohon. “They had no clear idea what they were supposed to do and were just pulling people off the street. It was creepy.”

A study by the Forks Human Rights Group – which is comprised of local Latinos, activists and social service providers – and students at the Ronald Peterson Law Clinic at Seattle University School of Law documented intimidation and harassment in hundreds of encounters.

“These include maintaining a threatening presence in the community, conspicuously following and watching people, bullying, damaging personal property, driving aggressively, harassing, and retaliating against advocates and family members,” the report said.

Almost every Latino left in Forks has a story. “When you see them coming up behind you it's like the devil is following you,” said Matias, the Guatemalan. One pre-dawn morning, he recalled, two Border Patrol vehicles suddenly appeared and sandwiched him and others as they drove to work. He fled on foot. “It was so dark and icy I couldn't see anything, I was running into trees. I got away but afterwards I was trembling and crying.”

Roldan Salinas, who drowned, left Ramos, now 30, to bring up three young children alone. “I feel so alone. Benjamin was a good man and a good father.”

The children are US citizens, and after the tragedy Ramos was granted provisional permission to stay. But she feels haunted. Six days a week she is out working from 7am to 7pm, without her partner to help carry backbreaking loads. “I tell the children to study hard so they won't suffer like I have suffered.”

The outcry over Roldan Salinas's death – it made news in Mexico - appeared to chasten the Border Patrol. Intimidation and arrests have dwindled over the past year, said activists. The agency settled a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project by agreeing, among other things, to enhance training in fourth amendment protections and to stop doubling up as translators for Forest Service stops.

It was a victory, said Doug Honig, spokesman for the ACLU's Seattle office, but a local one, and Border Patrol overreach stretched around the US. “Most Americans are shocked when they learn that Border Patrol assertion of authority extends to 100 miles from the border.”

Customs and Border Protection’s main office in Washington DC did not respond to requests for comment.

Forks is not celebrating. “The mood remains edgy,” said Lesley Hoare, an activist with the Forks Human Rights Group. About half of the Latino community has fled south, beyond the Border Patrol’s reach, draining money and vibrancy from agriculture, trailer parks, schools and stores.

“It's hurt my business. Most of my workers are gone,” lamented Dhooghe, who now fills just 100 boxes of salal daily, down from 500.

Apart from Ramos, a widow, the biggest losers are the dozens of families who had members – typically male, adult breadwinners – deported, often with no notification to family, said Monohon, the mayor, who also teaches at the local high school. “We had kids in school saying: ‘Daddy didn't come home last night.’”

Sofia Garcia Morelos, 33, is among those left to raise a child alone. The Border Patrol nabbed her partner while they picked mushrooms in 2011. “I cried and cried when they took him.” The blow was emotional and financial. His income gone, she parsed her own meagre takings to help him in a detention centre in Tacoma, south of Seattle, and then in Tijuana, Mexico, where he ended up marooned. They have since quarelled over the phone. Neither she nor their son have documents to visit him. They don't expect to see him again. “He can't get back.”


Jim DeMint Puts on a Clinic in GOP Stupidity With Claim the Constitution Freed Slaves

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, April, 9th, 2014, 2:24 pm      

Heritage Foundation leader Jim DeMint put on a clinic in Republican stupidity by getting the Constitution and Declaration of Independence confused, and offering a warped theory of how the slaves were freed.


DeMint: This progressive, the whole idea of being progressive is to progress away from those ideas that made this country great. What we’re trying to conserve as conservative are those things that work. They work today, they work for young people, they work for minorities and we can change this country and change its course very quickly if we just remember what works.

Newcombe: What if somebody, let’s say you’re talking with a liberal person and they were to turn around and say, ‘that Founding Fathers thing worked out really well, look at that Civil War we had eighty years later.’

DeMint: Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately, there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.

There were a lot of inaccuracies in Jim DeMint’s remarks. First, he confused the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Constitution doesn’t use the phrase all men are created equal. The Constitution did not free the slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive action that was taken by President Lincoln. The 13th Amendment was initiated at the federal level and fourthly, as Right Wing Watch pointed out, William Wilberforce died three decades before the Civil War.

With the level of ignorance that he demonstrated, it is hard to believe that Jim DeMint was once a United States Senator. It is no surprise that Republicans are as uninformed as they are with people like Jim DeMint leading conservative “think tanks.”

DeMint’s whole argument against the federal government and liberalism was undercut by his own mind numbing stupidity. This was more Glenn Beck style rewriting of history to fit the right wing view of what America ought to be.

Jim DeMint’s comments are proof that some Republicans have no idea what they are talking about, and should never be allowed anywhere near a position of power within the government.


Republican Economic Policies Lead America Into to A State of Disrepair

By: Rmuse
Wednesday, April, 9th, 2014, 9:19 am   

Every citizen in every country on Earth likes to believe their nation is the best on the planet, and Americans too ignorant to comprehend they live in a veritable fascist banana republic are no different. It is likely that in no region of the country is belief that America is exceptional more prevalent than in the Southern region of the United States, but as study after report after reams of data continue demonstrating, the South is the most third world-like poverty-ridden area of the nation due to Republican leadership championing low wages, lack of access to healthcare, poor educational opportunities, and dependence on god and guns to pacify third world Southerners. However, the rest of the country can hardly be congratulating themselves for living in a “different” America, because the nation as a whole is rapidly sinking into disrepair and second-rate status. That is the conclusion of new findings by the Global Competitiveness Report with the release of their Social Progress Index (SPI) that shows not only is America not number one, it is lagging behind fourteen other developed nations due to fascist Republican economic policies favoring the rich and corporations.

To be fair to ignorant Americans whose egos are offended by another report showing their beloved ‘real America’ is real pathetic, the nation does hold the top spot in several categories near and dear to religious conservatives’ fascist hearts. America is number one for spending more on its military, has the most citizens incarcerated, and has the highest rate of gun related deaths among developed countries because it also has the highest rate of gun ownership and law enforcement officers. America is also at the top of the list of countries with the highest number of citizens believing in demons, angels, and creation, and leads every developed country in despising science, facts, education, and intelligence. In fact America, as a religiously fanatic nation, is approaching parity with the Islamic Republic of Iran and the religious right is working diligently with Republicans to transform America into an oppressive fascist theocracy to rival the Supreme Council in Iran, but that kind of talk will soon get one in serious trouble as forbidden speech in Christian America. As of last year, as the richest nation in the history of the world America vied for the top spot in child poverty trailing Romania for the number one distinction by a mere percentage point, but as Republicans continue cutting safety nets and child assistance programs they will soon be capable of officially celebrating America being number one in hungry children.

Some Americans do not need to be reminded that America is at the tail end of a three decade slide into a second-rate country and it is likely they also know the past thirty years of Republican economic policies are responsible for this country being rated as number 16 among the world’s developed countries. They are also aware that Republicans have made sure that 95% of all economic gains have been funneled directly to the richest 1% percent over the course of the last decade taking the nation back nearly one-hundred years in terms of wealth inequality, and created a tax code to starve the government of revenues to invest in public infrastructure.  In fact, author Chris Hedges accurately explained in “World As It Is” that “Our anemic democracy will be replaced with a robust national police state. The elite will withdraw into heavily guarded gated communities where they will have access to security, goods, and services that cannot be afforded by the rest of us. Tens of millions of people, brutally controlled, will live in perpetual poverty.” Republicans are driving the nation to that certain eventuality and “real Americans” are cheering them on and keeping them in office because nothing says real America in 2014 like perpetual poverty.

Instead of rating a nation according to its GDP (America is number 2), the SPI measures data such as suicides, ecosystem sustainability, property rights, access to healthcare and education, gender equality, attitudes toward immigrants and minorities, nutrition, infrastructure and more measures related to social decency. The Harvard professor who developed the Global Competitiveness Report and the SPI, Michael E. Porter, examined social and environmental indicators that “matter to real people” to measure “the livability of each country.” He said, “We all need clean water. We all want to feel safe and live without fear. People everywhere want to get an education and improve their lives,” but it is those things Republicans’ thirty year economic policies have made more difficult, if not impossible, to realize with their devotion to the rich and corporations and blatant hostility to 99% of the population.

Some of the unsurprising rankings proving America has been in a downward spiral as a nation anyone other than racist, religious, and poverty-loving Southern conservatives believe is “exceptional” are; 70th in health, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation, and 31st in personal safety. Even in the ranking of happiness, America is a pathetic number 17 behind Mexico that is nowhere near America as far as wealth, but then again all the wealth in America is highly concentrated in the top 0.1% and only getting worse. Even though America is the technological leader in the world, the executive director of the SPI remarked, “It’s astonishing that for a country that has Silicon Valley, lack of access to information is a red flag” in referring to America’s 23rd ranking in Internet access that is only one of the SPI areas of shame President Obama has addressed only to be rebuffed by Republicans more concerned with procuring wealth for the rich and corporations.

In fact, every area that second-rate America lags behind the rest of the developed world President Obama has fought ferociously to improve whether it is healthcare, better wages, education funding, personal safety, and a cleaner environment. And the President has not fought for those areas to raise America’s ranking as a nation in some report, but to better the lives of all Americans; something that is anathema to Republicans more concerned with dragging the entire nation down to third world status they successfully imposed on the Southern United States to enrich their funding mechanism. It is noteworthy that the top nations in the world rankings all have universal healthcare, spend much, much more on education, have universal union representation, better working conditions, mandatory 4-week paid vacations, the highest quality roads and infrastructure, much higher minimum wages, longer life spans, much lower infant mortality rates, fewer incarcerations, fewer guns, and much less religious oppression than America and the people are happier by leaps and bounds regardless of higher tax rates.

America was a world leader until the 1980s when Republicans and their man-god Reagan convinced a monumentally ignorant population that government was Satan’s tool and handing the nation’s wealth to the uber-rich was the path to prosperity and the golden key to heaven’s gates. Despite a rapid thirty year descent into second rate status due to GOP economic policies, Republicans are still selling government as an affront to real Americans’ god almighty, and resistance to handing everything to the rich and corporations as greedy, ungodly, and biblically un-American. One wonders what it will take for Americans to come to the realization that the entire nation under thirty years of Republican economics is soon going to join the South and become the world’s richest third world nation. Shame has not worked; because after learning America’s infrastructure is worse (25th) than every developed and many developing nations, child poverty is second in the world, America is cruel and inhumane to its poor, and wealth inequality is at 1920s levels, one more report showing America is second rate will not move Americans to action. It can really only mean the residents of the richest nation in the world are second rate if this country’s pathetic conditions are acceptable and what conservative ‘real Americans’ love to call exceptional because their Republican champions created this pathetic and rapidly declining fascist banana republic.


Mitch McConnell Accuses Obama of Pushing Women Into Poverty While Blocking Paycheck Fairness

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, April, 9th, 2014, 1:14 pm

On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tried to justify blocking paycheck fairness women by accusing President Obama of pushing millions of women into poverty.

Before every single Republican along with Independent Angus King voted to to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, McConnell said:

    The Obama Economy has had a devastating impact on the people we represent. It’s hurt millions in the Middle Class, and people from every region of the country and almost every walk of life. And when you consider this week’s debate in the Senate, a few statistics jump out in particular.

    Under this President’s watch, more than 3.7 million American women have fallen into poverty. The average American woman now makes about $730 less than when the President took office. And if she’s a college graduate, she’s actually seen her income shrink by about double that amount.

    In other words, when it comes to American women overall, what we’ve seen over the past five and half years is less income and more poverty. That’s the story Senate Democrats don’t want to talk about.

McConnell suggested that women don’t deserve equal pay for equal work because…..Obama. His argument makes no sense. The rest of his remarks on the Senate floor were dedicated to lying about the ACA.

Lead Democratic sponsor of the bill Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) vowed that Democrats will continue this fight, “I want everyone to know, everyone in the Senate and everyone in the United States of America, although we lost the vote. We’re going to continue the battle.”

The two political parties are each defining themselves with this issue. Democrats are projecting the image of a party that will fight for equality and fairness for all. Republicans, whether they like it or not, are defining themselves as the party of wealthy, men, and inequitable status quo.

The Obama administration has been fighting against pay discrimination from the moment that this president took office. The president has taken numerous steps to encourage equality in healthcare and in the workplace.

Everything that Obama has tried to do has been met with Republican opposition. It is ridiculous for Mitch McConnell to try to sell himself as a champion of equal pay and economic opportunity when he has spent decades denying women equality.

Mitch McConnell is facing the potential end of his Senate career at the hands of Democratic challenger Alison Lundgren Grimes, and his strategy for political survival is to try convince women that President Obama is their real enemy.

At the end of the day, McConnell’s anti-Obama rhetoric can’t hide the fact that Republicans don’t want women to be given the equal pay that they earn.

The Republican Titanic is sinking, and it looks like Captain Mitch is going down with the ship.


Evil Issa Holding Lois Lerner Contempt Vote Thursday

By karoli April 9, 2014 4:00 am

Because there's never a bad time to stoke the fires of resentment and anger, Darrell Issa is holding a vote to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress.

Evil Issa Holding Lois Lerner Contempt Vote Thursday

Late last week, House Republicans pulled a Chris Christie and released their own report on the so-called "IRS scandal." Among their predictable conclusions: Of course the IRS picked on conservatives over liberals because the IRS is a liberal tool.

Issa is staging this for the benefit of the base, because he knows the one thing he does not want is for Lois Lerner to testify. Having boxed her in a corner, he's now using her choice to exercise her constitutional rights as reason to hold a kangaroo court vote. If she were to testify, she'd blow his entire case out of the water, so it's far better to render her silent and slapped.

The last person to do something like this was McCarthy, during the HUAC hearings. Huffington Post:

    But there seems to a serious hitch in the drive to punish Lerner. According the records retrieved by the Congressional Research Service, no American has been successfully prosecuted for invoking their Fifth Amendment rights before Congress.

    Congress brought contempt cases 11 times from 1951 to 1968, according the the CRS. Only two of those cases that involved documents -- not personal testimony -- were upheld by the courts.

    Most of the cases involved the House Un-American Activities Committee and its communist witch-hunts in the 1950s. But one that is particularly instructive involves a Buffalo, N.Y., woman named Diantha Hoag, who was fired from her factory job after Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.) and his Senate Committee on Government Operations accused her of being a communist and she pleaded the Fifth.

That won't stop Issa. We live in times where precedent means nothing, where the end is far more desirable than the means, and where holding a government official in contempt for refusing to incriminate herself is just another day at the office.

Dave Johnson:

    This all feeds into the Republican/Fox News/Wall Street Journal/talk radio/blog “scandal machine.” For example, the Wall Street Journal today has this “story” today, “GOP Report on IRS: Only Tea Party Groups Received ‘Systematic Scrutiny’.” The party issues a “report” and the conservative media machine blasts the “findings” around the wingnutosphere, and the “outrage” ensues.

Well, yes. They even have groups coordinating those messages. They know they can't win on ideas, so they're busy grinding the outrage machine for November. This is just one cog in the larger machine.


Adviser to Texas GOP’s Greg Abbott: No ‘evidence’ that women are ‘significant thinkers’

By David Edwards
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 15:34 EDT

An adviser to Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Texas governor, said this week that he had found no “evidence” to prove that any woman had been a “significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions.”

In audio obtained by the Burnt Orange Report, American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray can be heard explaining to an audience at the University of Texas that his views on women had not changed since a 2005 paper, in which he asserted that one or “maybe” two women had played significant roles in the field of philosophy.

When a woman at the event on Tuesday asked Murray if he still believed what he wrote, Murray quipped, “Who do you have in mind?”

Murray argued that in “certain traditions” like literature, women had been at the “peak of accomplishment.” But he said that he could only recall one important female philosopher, “and she was not a significant thinker in the estimation of historians of philosophy.”

“So, yeah, I still stick with that,” he insisted. “Until somebody gives me evidence to the contrary, I’ll stick with that statement.”

Murray, who Abbott cited in his education plan, argued that equal pay laws would actually hurt women by discouraging companies from hiring them, and that pay discrimination was a “myth” in the first place.

The AEI scholar declared that the gender wage gap cited by liberals “all but disappears” when “education, marital status and occupations are considered.”

According to Murray, the statistics were flawed because “many women prefer to stay home with their children,” or choose jobs “such as sociology, liberal arts or psychology, that pay less in the labor market.”


Mike Huckabee: Men Like to Hunt Together While Women Like To Go To the Restroom Together

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, April, 9th, 2014, 9:47 am

Republicans just can’t help themselves from revealing their true beliefs and thus making fools of themselves in public. So it was that last night Republican Governor Mike Huckabee spoke at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition fundraiser in Waukee and announced that while men like to fish and hunt together, women like to use the restroom together.

This quote came courtesy of Kathie Obradovich, a political columnist at The Des Moines Register, covering Iowa state politics and the Iowa caucuses:

    .@GovMikeHuckabee says men like to go hunt/fish with other men. “Women like to go to the restroom with other women.” #iapolitics #iacaucus

    — Kathie Obradovich (@KObradovich) April 9, 2014

We also got the IRS is a criminal enterprise as honey for the paranoid:

    .@GovMikeHuckabee refers to the IRS as a “criminal enterprise.” #iapolitics #iacaucus

    — Kathie Obradovich (@KObradovich) April 9, 2014

And just as a reminder, Huckabee can’t win a national election because when he isn’t putting women in the restroom together while the men do real things like hunting and fishing, he’s hung up on misreading the Bible and pretending it’s not homophobic to steal rights from certain citizens based on their private lives:

    .@GovMikeHuckabee says he’s not homophobic but one-man/one-woman marriage is being “on the right side of the Bible.” #iapolitics #iacaucus

    — Kathie Obradovich (@KObradovich) April 9, 2014

Rumor has it that men also use the restroom, and still manage to do other things, but apparently the same can’t be said of women. Women do not enjoy hunting or fishing, quilting or crafting, writing or painting, or going to political rallies to stand up for their rights so that men like Huckabee don’t get to decide what they can do with their lives…

Huckabee might make noise again but he will never win a national election like this. For that matter, no Republican candidate will with talk like this.

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« Reply #12953 on: Apr 10, 2014, 10:51 AM »

Romania Presses for NATO Redeployment over Ukraine Crisis

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 16:39

NATO should redeploy its forces in eastern Europe and make the Black Sea region a priority after Russia's annexation of Crimea, Romania's foreign minister urged in an interview Thursday with Agence France Presse.

"Romania has concrete expectations of a redeployment and an eastward repositioning of NATO's naval, air and ground forces," Titus Corlatean said.

"The Black Sea region must be a top priority for NATO and the EU," he stressed.

Bucharest "is extremely concerned over developments in Ukraine which have a serious impact on international security," Corlatean said.

Romania, a member of both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, shares a border with Ukraine which lies to the north of it.

To reassure eastern 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 U.S. guided missile destroyer is due in the Black Sea in the coming days.


Russian Lawmakers Stripped of Voting Rights at Council of Europe

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 15:55

Russian lawmakers at the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly were stripped of their voting rights until the end of 2014 on Thursday over Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

The assembly at the Council, a body that has no legislative powers but promotes cooperation on human rights and democracy between European countries, gathers lawmakers from the parliaments of 47 member states, including 18 Russians and 12 Ukrainians.

Out of those lawmakers present Thursday in the French city of Strasbourg, where the council is based, 145 voted for the resolution stripping the Russians of voting rights, 21 against and 22 abstained.

The Russian lawmakers boycotted the debate over the resolution, describing it as a "farce."

"Suspending voting rights is a clear warning to (President Vladimir) Putin and his regime," said Michael Aastrup Jensen, a Danish lawmaker.

The decision comes as pro-Russian militants have occupied government buildings in the east of Ukraine, in an echo of what happened in Crimea before the peninsula was annexed by Moscow last month.


The Pig Warns EU Leaders on Gas Supplies, Ukraine Economy

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 15:58

The Pig on Thursday sent a letter to leaders of 18 European countries, warning them Russia could cut gas supplies to Ukraine, but suggesting that Moscow and Brussels work together to help restore the ex-Soviet country's battered economy.

If Ukraine does not settle its 1.6 billion euro ($2.2 billion) energy bill, natural gas giant Gazprom would be "compelled to switch over to advance payment for gas deliveries, and in the event of further violation of the conditions of payment, will completely or partially cease gas deliveries," Pig wrote in the letter.

But in what might be an overture to de-escalate the crisis, Pig also said that "Russia is prepared to participate in the effort to stabilize and restore Ukraine's economy" -- but only on "equal terms" with the EU.

Any such approach would have to take into account Russia's investment in Ukraine over past years, he stressed.

The missive, whose contents were released by the Kremlin, was sent to the heads of 18 European countries that receive Russian gas and may be affected by a cut in Russian supplies via Ukraine.

The letter was sent to the leaders of France, Germany, Poland, Greece, Serbia, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Italy.

Also on the list of the recipients were Moldova, Romania, Turkey, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, Macedonia, the Czech Republic and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"These are the countries that receive Russian gas," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Agence France Presse.

"The letter proposes the establishment of a dialogue mechanism. Let us hope that it will be formed and start working," he said.

Pig said any cut in gas supplies would be an "extreme measure," urging the EU countries to immediately hold talks at the level of ministers of economics, finances and energy.

"We must lose no time in beginning to coordinate concrete steps," he said.

In his letter, Pig  delivered a rebuke to the European Union, saying Brussels used Ukraine only as a source of mineral resources and has not helped the struggling ex-Soviet country financially.

In contrast, he said, Russia has over the past four years has been subsidizing Ukraine's economy by discounting natural gas prices to the tune of more than 25 billion euros ($35 billion).

"What about the European partners?" he said. "Instead of offering Ukraine real support, there is talk about a declaration of intent. There are only promises that are not backed up by any real actions."

The appeal comes after Pig during a government meeting on Wednesday warned that Russia may begin requiring advance payment for natural gas from Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Gazprom announced it was raising the price of gas exports to Ukraine by more than a third, scrapping a previous discount amid soaring political tensions between the two ex-Soviet countries.

Ukraine now has to pay $485 dollars (350 euros) per 1,000 cubic metres of gas, the highest price of any of Gazprom's clients in Europe.

End-of-year haggling over energy prices has become a familiar problem in ties between Russia and Ukraine, with Moscow cutting natural gas to Ukraine and disrupting transit supplies to Europe in the past.

Ukraine maintains that Russia is punishing it for its Western ambitions and has threatened to take Moscow to court.


EU Mulls Civilian Law and Order Mission for Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 16:32

The European Union is considering the speedy dispatch of a civilian expert mission to Ukraine to assist with judicial and policing matters, EU diplomats said on Thursday.

The idea was put to ambassadors from the 28-nation bloc jointly by Britain, Poland and Sweden on Wednesday "and was quite well-received," said a diplomat who asked not to be identified.

It will be discussed by foreign ministers at talks in Luxembourg on Monday, the source added.

The size of the mission is expected to "run into three figures" and be launched in June.

"It would comprise policing experts, judges, prosecutors," said a second EU diplomat.

It has been likened to a smaller version of the EU rule of law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, a 2,000-strong unit that has investigated corruption and advised on judicial and policing matters in that country since 2009.

A written proposal circulated by the three countries and seen by Agence France Presse said the plan is "in response to repeated calls from Kiev" with the aim of "re-establishing confidence in the rule of law in Ukraine."

The mission, whose task would be "monitoring, mentoring and advising", would primarily focus on Kiev but should also have a remit to work in the regions.

"This would provide a clearer idea of the pressures and challenges in the regions, and give a greater understanding of what is happening on the ground," the document states.


Russian MPs Want Gorbachev Probed for Treason over USSR Breakup

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 16:26

A group of Russian lawmakers have formally requested prosecutors to probe former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for treason over the breakup of the Soviet Union, one lawmaker said Thursday.

Ivan Nikitchuk, a lawmaker with the Communist party, said that recent events and the crisis in Ukraine in particular have led several MPs, including some from the ruling party, to ask Prosecutor General Yury Chaika to probe Gorbachev, 83.

"We asked to prosecute him and those who helped him destroy the Soviet Union for treason of national interests," Nikitchuk told Agence France Presse, adding that Soviet citizens in 1991 were against the country's breakup.

Seeking to create a more open and prosperous Soviet Union through glasnost and perestroika, Gorbachev ended up inadvertently unleashing forces that swept the country he had sought to preserve from the map and himself from power.

"The consequences of that destruction can be felt today in the conflicts that we have seen" in former Soviet countries over the past two decades "and today, in Ukraine," Nikitchuk said.

In February, a popular pro-Western uprising in Ukraine ousted pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych, who has since taken refuge in Russia.

The Kremlin responded by sending troops to Ukraine's Russian-speaking peninsula of Crimea and annexing it last month.

"What is happening in Ukraine can happen in Russia, too," said Nikitchuk. "This pushed us to write to the Prosecutor General, so that professional lawyers rather than historians investigate the events of 1991."

There have been previous attempts by the Communist party to have Gorbachev prosecuted but they have led nowhere.

Nikitchuk said he hoped that the current political climate makes for a more favorable moment and that prosecutors would launch the investigation this time.

Unlike the previous cases, the current request is backed by two lawmakers from Russian President Vladimir Putin's ruling party United Russia.

A spokeswoman at the prosecutor's office declined to comment.

The Soviet Union officially ceased to exist in December 1991 after Russia, Belarus and Ukraine signed the Belavezha accords dissolving the USSR.

Gorbachev resigned two weeks later.
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« Reply #12954 on: Apr 11, 2014, 05:30 AM »

Ukraine PM: Regions Should Have More Powers

APRIL 11, 2014, 7:45 A.M. E.D.T.   

DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukraine's prime minister on Friday told leaders in the country's restive east that he is committed to allowing regions to have more powers, but left it unclear how his ideas differed from the demands of protesters now occupying government buildings or Russia's advocacy of federalization.

The officials whom Arseniy Yatsenyuk met in Donetsk did not include representatives of the protesters. The officials asked Yatsenyuk to allow referenda on autonomy for their regions, not on secession.

"There are no separatists among us," said Gennady Kernes, mayor of the Kharkiv region where protesters had occupied a government building earlier in the week.

Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland was the support base for Kremlin-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in February after months of protests. Last month, the Crimea region voted to secede and was annexed by Russia.

Russia ratcheted up the pressure on Ukraine on Thursday when President Vladimir Putin warned European leaders of a risk to the gas supplies going through Ukraine. He has threatened that Russia could shut off shipments to Ukraine if it fails to pay its mammoth debts.

Protesters in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk are occupying government buildings and calling for referenda on regional autonomy that could prefigure seeking annexation by Russia.

Before leaving Donetsk for another eastern city Yatsenyuk told reporters that he favors a peaceful solution to the stand-off. However, he left the door open for storming the buildings occupied by armed men, though a two-day deadline announced earlier this week has passed.

Yatsenyuk said grievances of eastern Ukraine would be appeased by the upcoming constitutional reform that will "satisfy people who want to see more powers given to regions." He mentioned abolishing Kiev-controlled local administration as one of the steps to decentralize the country.

The protesters in Donetsk, who have held the regional administration building since Sunday, initially called for a referendum on secession but later reduced the demand to one on autonomy, with the possibility of holding another later on whether the region would remain part of Ukraine or seek to become an autonomous region within Russia.

The eastern parts of Ukraine have a high proportion of Russian-speakers and many of them fear that the acting government that took over when Yanukovych fled will repress them. Kiev and Western officials in turn claim that Russia is whipping up tensions in the east, with the aim of establishing a pretext for sending in troops.

Russia is calling on Ukraine to change its constitution to become a federalized state in which regions would have more control of their own affairs. Ukraine's government has resisted federalization, saying that would lay the groundwork for the country's breakup.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen who was visiting Bulgaria on Friday again urged Russia to pull back its troops from Ukraine's borders, and added that NATO is taking legitimate steps to deal with the instability created by Russia's "illegitimate" actions.

Speaking in Prague, Czech President Milos Zeman called on NATO and the European Union to take robust pre-emptive actions to deter Russia from invading other parts of Ukraine after its takeover of Crimea. He stopped short of giving details.

In northwest Romania, some 450 U.S. and Romanian troops were conducting joint military exercises, flying U.S. F-16 fighter jets alongside Romanian ones. Romania, Russia and Ukraine all border the Black Sea.

In a bid to apply pressure on Russia, the European Union has warned Moscow of further sanctions for ratcheting up tensions in Ukraine.

A senior European Union official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the 28-nation bloc's foreign ministers would consider broadening the list of people sanctioned to deter Russia from further destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine.

The person, who was briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said ministers at Monday's meeting in Luxembourg aren't expected to decide new sanctions but could agree on ordering the preparation of a new list of targets.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday blamed the crisis on the West and its support for Ukraine's fledging government which he described as illegitimate. Lavrov said the solution to the crisis would be a "deep" constitutional reform in Ukraine that would guarantee Ukraine's "nonaligned status," meaning a guarantee that it would not join NATO.


Satellite images reveal Russian military buildup on Ukraine's border

Nato images show fighter planes, helicopters and troops which officials say could be ready to move in 12 hours

Leo Cendrowicz in Brussels, Luke Harding and Alec Luhn   
The Guardian, Thursday 10 April 2014 15.58 BST   
Nato has released satellite images of the Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s eastern border: a powerful concentration of fighter planes, helicopters, artillery, infantry and special forces which officials say could be ready to move with just 12 hours notice.

The images appear to undermine official suggestions from Moscow that there is nothing unusual about the troop movements, nor any reason to be alarmed.

The pictures show rows of hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles apparently waiting for orders in fields and other temporary locations around 30 miles (50km) from the frontier. The images, taken in the past two weeks, show some of what Nato said was around 100 staging areas that were almost entirely unoccupied in February.

One of the images showed the previously empty Buturlinovka airbase 90 miles from the border now hosting dozens of fast jets, even though there are no hangars or other infrastructure normally associated with such activity. Another, of Belgorod, 25 miles from the border, showed about 21 helicopters on a greenfield site – again with no hangers or infrastructure – which officials said could be part of a forward operating base.

“This is a capable force, ready to go,” said Brigadier Gary Deakin, who runs Nato’s crisis operations and management centre at the alliance’s military headquarters near Mons, Belgium. “It has the resources to move quickly into Ukraine if it was ordered to do so. It is poised at the moment, and it could move very fast.”

Deakin said between 35,000 and 40,000 Russian troops were “at a state of advanced readiness”, and could deploy “within 12 hours from a decision taken at the highest level”. With many of the troops and tanks currently based within about 30 miles from the border, that could mean crossing into Ukrainian territory within an hour of moving.

According to Nato the images reveal telltale signs of an invading force, and not merely troops on “exercise” as Moscow has claimed. The images apparently show that in Kuzminka, where tanks and infantry fighting vehicles have gathered, there are no proper barracks, significant buildings or even parking. “We just don’t see much infrastructure. There is more here than it was built for,” said Deakin.

Deakin warned that a potential strike force could go further than Ukraine’s eastern regions where pro-Russian elements are currently demanding secession. “Undoubtedly it could strike into eastern Ukraine, but it could also do a land bridge to Crimea, and potentially even down the Black Sea coast to Odessa. The capability is there, but we don’t know the intent,” Deakin said. “That is grounds for concern.” With a total armed personnel of just 130,000, Ukraine would be unlikely to provide much resistance to the invading Russians, officials added.

The images were released as separatist protests in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine entered their fifth day, with pro-Moscow supporters still out in a standoff in two cities. Kiev has said protesters who seized public buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv are copying events in Crimea, annexed by Russia last month.

Moscow has denied it is preparing an invading force. The Russian foreign ministry insisted on Wednesday that troops near Ukraine’s border posed no threat and the movements were nothing more than the “everyday activity of Russian troops on its territory”. But the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, dismissed these claims. “As I speak, some 40,000 Russian troops are massed along Ukraine’s borders,” Rasmussen said in Prague on Thursday. “Not training, but ready for combat. We have seen the satellite images, day after day.”

Russian officials have also accused Washington and Nato of fuelling tension in the region, with the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, claiming in a Guardian article that it the US and EU that are destabilising Ukraine.

Senior Nato officials have warned that the buildup is already having a psychological, destabilising effect, helping stoke up the turmoil in eastern Ukraine. “These masked guys would not be taking over government buildings if there were not 40,000 soldiers just across the border,” said one official.

The revelations come before next week’s meeting of top diplomats from the EU, Russia, Ukraine and the United States to discuss the crisis. The meeting’s venue has still to be decided, but it will gather Lavrov, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Ukraine’s foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsia.

At the same time, Nato is drawing up measures to bolster its defences in central and eastern Europe, and is likely to include a tripling of air patrols in the Baltics. Nato’s top military commander, the US air force general Philip Breedlove, will present proposals for air, land and sea reinforcements to Nato ambassadors next week. Britain is among the Nato members offering support, including four Typhoons, while Denmark has offered four F-16s and France has put forward another four, either Rafales or Mirages.


Kiev Says Russia Laying Landmines in Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 22:45

Kiev on Thursday charged that Russian troops were laying anti-personnel mines in Ukraine and had grabbed a Ukrainian stockpile of landmines used for training.

Ukraine "is strongly concerned about the use of anti-personnel mines by the Russian Armed Forces in several parts of the Ukrainian territory," a Ukrainian delegation said at a meeting on landmines in Geneva.

The delegation accused Russian troops of creating minefields "at the entry points between the continental part of Ukraine and Crimean peninsula," which was annexed by Moscow last month.

Amid an intensifying standoff over the splintered ex-Soviet state, Kiev said mines had been laid both in Crimea, which it insisted "remains an integral part of Ukraine," and in the neighboring Ukrainian region of Kherson.

"The mine-fields are fenced with barbed wire and marked with warning signs 'Mines'," it said, according to a draft of the statement presented to the meeting on compliance with the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, also known as the Ottawa Treaty.

Ukraine, which had not been scheduled to speak at Thursday's meeting, stressed its eagerness to "destroy anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction."

This could however only be done, it said, once Kiev regained "control of the territory currently occupied by the aggressor," Russia.

The Ukrainian delegation, whose comments came as Moscow stepped up the tensions Thursday with threats of cutting off its supply of natural gas to the country, also accused Russian troops of seizing a stockpile of mines from a Ukrainian military depot in Crimea.

The OZM-4 cast iron fragmenting mines, which do not have self-destruct mechanisms, had been stored by the Ukrainian military for training in mine detection and clearance, the delegation said.

The mines now "appeared to be out of the legal framework of the Ottawa Treaty," it said.

Ukraine is also scheduled to address the meeting on Friday to explain why it has missed its deadline to destroy its stockpiles of anti-personnel mines.


Military assaults against pro-Russian occupiers rumoured in eastern Ukraine

Buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk remain occupied despite an offer of amnesty for those who leave peacefully

Alec Luhn, Thursday 10 April 2014 17.58 BST     

Rumours of imminent military assaults on the government buildings seized by pro-Russian protestors kept tensions simmering in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, despite an offer of amnesty for those who leave the buildings peacefully.

After pro-Russian protesters demanding referenda on greater autonomy from Kiev stormed government buildings in the eastern regional capitals of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk over the weekend, rumours of a military response by the Ukrainian authorities have run rampant. While negotiations have been held in recent days, reports on Thursday suggested government forces were poised for a possible attack. A masked guard told those entering the occupied Donetsk building on Thursday afternoon: "You've been warned – you may not come out!"

Although police managed to quickly evict protestors from the Kharkiv administration building and a security service building in Donetsk, the Donetsk administration building and the security service headquarters in Luhansk remain in protesters' hands. But interior minister Arsen Avakov said on Wednesday morning that "a solution to this crisis will be found within 48 hours", noting that an "anti-terrorist operation" was ready to spring into action at any moment. Avakov's suggested deadline will run out on Friday morning.

A Donetsk news publication tweeted a photo on Thursday of a long line of transport trucks and artillery it said was a Ukrainian military deployment on the outskirts of the city. Television news reports later said locals armed with clubs had blocked an artillery brigade moving toward Donetsk and forced it to turn around.

The situation was also fraught in Luhansk, where combat veterans calling themselves the Army of the Southeast have kept a tight hold on the security service building and reportedly seized a cache of machine guns. Protesters outside the building continued to stockpile Molotov cocktails and laid down spike strips to puncture tyres on nearby roads, Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported. On Thursday morning, police cleared 10 vehicles that had blocked off a military base in Luhansk late the night before, according to local media.

MP Andriy Senchenko, the acting deputy head of the presidential administration, said security council secretary Andriy Parubiy and security service head Valentyn Nalivaichenko were located in Luhansk and would decide on further actions there. This news would appear to bring old enemies face to face once again: Parubiy came to prominence as the head of the self-defence forces at the Euromaidan demonstrations in Kiev, while members of the Luhansk occupation told the Guardian on Wednesday that they had fought protestors in Kiev as officers of the now-disbanded elite Berkut riot police.

Ongoing negotiations have yet to produce results. Acting president Oleskandr Turchynov said on Thursday he had offered several compromises during a telephone conversation with the protesters holding the building in Luhansk, including possibly expanding the powers of local governing bodies. He added that he was ready to offer similar compromises to Donetsk protestors, who declared a "people's republic" in the region on Monday.

Donetsk leaders told journalists on Thursday negotiations had made no progress since meetings with local authorities earlier this week, which included the participation of local coalmining baron Rinat Akhmetov and the governor recently appointed by Kiev, billionaire Serhiy Taruta.

Protesters in the two coal-mining and metalworking regions seek a referendum on sovereignty, which they say would not necessarily mean becoming a part of Russia but would allow closer economic ties with Ukraine's traditional export partner. But they have also called on Russia to help them hold such a referendum. The Donetsk "people's republic" announced on Thursday it had formed a committee on international relations that would open a dialogue with Russia's Customs Union, a body Vladimir Putin has promoted as an alternative to the European Union.

In a play to defuse the situation, Turchynov also offered to issue a decree to amnesty those who laid down their weapons and left the occupied buildings voluntarily. But Senchenko later added a caveat, saying that "people who have committed grievous crimes" would not be amnestied.

Inside the occupied Donetsk administration building, the offer of amnesty was met with derision.

"We don't recognise this regime, how can we recognise their laws?" Denis Pushilin, head of the republic's self-declared temporary government, told journalists. He accused the regime of holding double standards, arguing that it had not yet disarmed nationalist militias who supported the ouster of former president Viktor Yanukovich.

A Cossack from the nearby city of Mariupol guarding the entrance downstairs called the amnesty offer "funny" and said protestors would "stand until the end".

"Amnesty is given only when a person committed a crime and has been sentenced. What am I guilty of? This nonexistent regime wants to judge me?" said the Cossack, who would identify himself only as "Mortal," a nickname he said he received fighting in the Russian army during the first Chechen war.

The unrest in Donetsk and Luhansk could threaten the 25 May presidential elections that Kiev authorities have said are to fully legitimise the new government. The protesters refuse to recognise the Kiev government or the planned elections, which don't include a pro-Russian candidate among the frontrunners, and promise to hold a referendum on the sovereignty of Donetsk and Luhansk by 11 May.

Billionaire MP Sergei Tigipko, who previously held high government positions and has recently curried favour with the pro-Russian protestors in the east, said in Odessa that "presidential elections might not happen" depending on "how the situation in southeast Ukraine develops". Pro-Kiev activists later pelted the former banking tycoon with eggs, calling him "Putin's whore".

But pro-European presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko, known as the "chocolate king," who currently leads in the polls, said on Thursday that any delay of the elections would be "treason" and would not happen no matter the circumstances.

A survey published on Thursday by the Donetsk-based Institute of Social Research and Political Analysis found mixed opinions on the region's future: 18.6% of Donetsk residents oppose changes to Ukraine's government structure, 31.6% support greater regional control over the economy and taxation, and 15.5% support the federalisation of the country. Almost 27% supported the unification of either Donetsk or all Ukraine with Russia.


Yes, Pig Putin's Russia are merely the victims ...

Lavrov: Rising Anti-Russia Sentiment Threatens Europe Stability

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 April 2014, 11:43

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday warned that European stability was being threatened by rising anti-Russian sentiment over the Ukraine crisis.

"The current inflaming of anti-Russian sentiments takes place against the background of a spike of racism and xenophobia in many European countries, an increase in the number of ultra-radical groups and turning a blind eye to neo-Nazi phenomena, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere," he said.

Russia's top diplomat, quoted by the state RIA Novosti news agency, added that this "carries an obvious threat to European stability."

Lavrov spoke after U.S. President Barack Obama threatened a third round of sanctions against Moscow if it escalates tensions over Ukraine, whose government it does not recognize.

Washington has already imposed targeted sanctions on some of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest allies over Moscow's takeover of Ukraine's Russian-speaking peninsula of Crimea last month.

Speaking at a meeting with Russian non-governmental organisations, Lavrov said attempts to "legitimize the Maidan government at any cost" should be stopped in order to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine.

A pro-Western popular uprising often called the Maidan after the name of Kiev's central square in February ousted Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych, who has since taken refuge in Russia.

Moscow does not recognize the new authorities in Kiev, accusing them of supporting neo-Nazis and pursuing anti-Russian policies.

Late Thursday, the Russian foreign ministry formally warned Russians against travelling to countries which have an extradition treaty with the United States.

The ministry said that the introduction of U.S. sanctions meant that there was now a higher risk that Russians who face legal claims in the United States could be detained or arrested in other foreign countries.


Obama Threatens Fresh Sanctions against Russia

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 April 2014, 06:48

U.S. President Barack Obama told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday that the United States and its allies should prepare new sanctions against Russia if it escalates the crisis over Ukraine.

"The president underscored the need for the United States, European Union and other global partners to be prepared to meet further Russian escalation with additional sanctions," the White House said in a statement about the phone call.

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, "apparently with support from Moscow, continue an orchestrated campaign of incitement and sabotage to undermine and destabilize the Ukrainian state," it added.

"The leaders again called for Russia to move its troops back from the border region."

Earlier in the day at World Bank/IMF meetings in Washington, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew delivered the same warning to his Russian counterpart Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, ramping up the pressure on Moscow.

Ukraine is facing a new secession crisis following its loss of Crimea to Russia, and relations between Moscow and the West have hit new post-Cold War lows.

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« Last Edit: Apr 11, 2014, 05:55 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #12955 on: Apr 11, 2014, 05:36 AM »

04/10/2014 05:32 PM

A Sober Look: It's Time To Stop Romanticizing Russia

A Commentary by Christian Neef

The view Germans have of Russia is skewed by romanticism and historical baggage. Without taking a sober look at Moscow, we will never find an adequate strategy for dealing with Vladimir Putin's conservative, anti-Western approach to power.

Since the start of the Crimea crisis, we've constantly heard that Germans somehow understand Russians. Indeed, hardly any other view has been repeated as often. But nothing could possibly be more misleading. The Germans don't understand Russians: They understand less about the Russians than they do about the British, Spanish or French.

It's true that Germany had a special relationship with the Russian Empire long ago. Germans served as czars and czarinas, once as the Russian prime minister, and they were officers, doctors and teachers in the royal court in St. Petersburg. German engineers operated ore mines in the Ural Mountains, German farmers plowed land along the Volga and Dnieper rivers. In turn, they were introduced to Russian writers. Pushkin introduced Germans to the strange but likable Russian soul. And cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg wouldn't be what they are today without Germans. That's the romanticized side of German-Russian relations.

Then came the wars of the past century and the devastation the Germans unleashed on the Soviet Union. Since then, the image Germans have of Russia is inaccurate.

The postwar generation grew up with a latent fear of the Russians. In the east of Germany, people saw them as an occupying force, while in the west many believed that an invasion was imminent. Then came Gorbachev. The Germans celebrated him because he gave them the gift of reunification. In one blow, the aversion of the 1960s and 1970s to everything that came out of the Kremlin seemed to be forgotten. It was a time of enthusiasm and relief, especially in the West. Gorbachev became a much-admired figure for Germans. They projected their fantasies for a new relationship between Germans and Russians on him and the new Russia. The Germans believed the Russians might somehow become just like them.

But Russia isn't Europe, and it never will be. Russia never went through any period of enlightenment after the destruction wrought by Stalin on the country's soul. Germans never seriously considered that fact, because it would have interfered with their image of Russia.

They should have been warned. Not only because Mikhail Gorbachev in no way represented the kind of hard-nosed leaders the Russians had become accustomed to over hundreds of years. Nor did they listen to what Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had to say about perestroika's inventor. He said Gorbachev's leadership style wasn't governance, but rather "a thoughtless renunciation of power." Gorbachev ultimately became the most unpopular Kremlin leader in recent history.

The Soviet Union's implosion, which they blame on Gorbachev, didn't just rob them of their homeland. It also plunged them headfirst into a kind of capitalism that was even more reckless than Manchester capitalism. In no time at all, a handful of oligarchs appropriated the country's most precious assets and a majority of the Russian people fell into poverty.

Why Russians Can't Be Compared to the West

The Germans witnessed this drama as it happened, but they didn't understand what was going through the minds of Russians.

In her book "Second-Hand Time," Russian novelist Svetlana Alexievich seeks to explain why a citizen of the former Soviet Union cannot be compared with one from the West. "All of us, the people who came from socialism, are different from other people," she writes. "We have our own ideas about good and evil, about heroes and victims. We are full of hate and prejudice. We all come from the place that was once the home of gulags and of collectivization, or Dekulakization, the forced resettlement of entire populations. It was socialism, but it was also our lives." She then goes on to explain what happened after 1991. "Many conceived the truth (about our Soviet past) to be the enemy. The same applied to freedom. Russia changed, but also hated itself for this change."

The Germans believed that the Russians would be excited about glasnost and the new era. They hoped all Russians would be of the type that would be fans of groups like Pussy Riot. Even politicians who regularly traveled to Moscow spent most of their time speaking to members of the pro-Western minority who aren't really representative of Russia. This also happened for practical reasons: They were often the ones who could speak English.

Vladimir Putin sussed out very precisely the mindset of his compatriots. He himself comes from a very simple background, having grown up in modest accomodations in St. Petersburg. When he became president, he pacified Chechnya, deprived the oligarchs of their power and also created a bit of prosperity for the average Russian. Putin knew that the majority of Russians still longed for a strong leader and that they detested anything that even had a whiff of liberalism. He knew that this majority supports a firmer position against foreigners and anything "Un-Russian" as well as the reintroduction of the death penalty.

Pig Putin's Conservative, Anti-Western Ideology

The Pig pushed for greater power and applied a conservative, anti-Western ideology to justify it. "We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization," Putin said in a speech given in September. "They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual." In a speech given in December, Putin cited 20th century Russian religious and political philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, stating that "the point of conservatism is not that it prevents movement forward and upward, but that it prevents movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state." He believes Russia must lead the way. That sentiment strikes a deep chord in a people who fear further change after 80 years of experimentation that resulted in considerable bloodshed.

Those Germans who have friends in Moscow who occasionally come to see them also register that their acquaintances' previous enthusiasm for the West has been supplanted by a more critical view. Suddenly the German supermarkets have become too small for them -- much smaller than the ones in Moscow, and the selection is too limited, the people on the street are too reserved and the women dressed too shabbily. In contrast to the past, the Russian friends are keen to go back home these days -- they may speak negatively about their cities, but they are also proud of them. And of the greatness of their country. They are also pleased that Crimea once again belongs to Russia. Not even the most reflective of my acquaintances in Moscow try to conceal their belief that the return of Crimea is a completely natural course of events. In recent years, Putin has taken this kind of sentiment and applied it directly to his politics. This was evident even five or six years ago. We could have gotten used to it. Instead, it has come as a terrible surprise.

A Gulf of Opinions

How should we respond to the annexation of Crimea? The range of opinions is wide. Elderly statesman Helmut Schmidt represents one school of thought; Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble the other. Schmidt considers Putin's actions in the Crimea to be "understandable" and thinks the West is getting too worked up about it. He argues we must keep the peace. The former chancellor is a representative of the war generation. He served in the military under Hitler and one can certainly sympathize with his fears of renewed tensions in Europe. What is not acceptable is the attitude with which he tries to lecture fellow Germans that his view is the only one imaginable. Fellow Social Democrat Egon Bahr, who drafted former German Chancellor Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik of détente with the Soviet Union, goes even further by questioning the "legal basis of the current government in Kiev." But he ignores the fact that a majority of the opposition parties as well as the old block aligned with Viktor Yanukovych had accepted the correlating constitutional changes before the government changed.

Schmidt and Bahr both have an outmoded image of Russia that is based on 40-year-old thinking from the 1970s. Much has happened in Russia since then, but that was apparently lost on these two.

The fact that Schmidt's statement found such great resonance just goes to show that our image of the Russians is still shaped by old feelings of guilt and by our desire to clear ourselves of it. It also reveals our preference to try to find fault in ourselves instead. This distorts the image we have of Russia even further.

Russophiles are fond of saying that the West badly slighted Russia during the 1990s and that Moscow is now taking justified revenge for its defeat in the Cold War. But those who say this are overlooking the fact that it was Western Europe that pushed the hardest at the time for the IMF and the World Bank to provide $40 billion in loans to Moscow. At the time, the oil price had fallen to $17 and Russia otherwise would have slipped into an economic catastrophe.

They also like to claim that NATO continued its expanse into the East despite its own pledges to the contrary, thus constricting Russia. However, the promise not to station any additional foreign troops or nuclear weapons only applied to the former East Germany. Of the 275,000 US soldiers that used to be stationed in Germany, only around 43,000 remain today. Moscow cannot truly perceive NATO as a military threat.

Indifferent Leadership

Finally, they argue that we must understand the urge of Russians in Crimea for the right to self-determination and the protection of a minority (in Ukraine). But the experience of the Chechen war showed us that Russian leaders were indiferent when it came to these lofty principles. The Chechens were denied their right to self-determination and the rebellious republic was bombed. When I sat in the bomb shelters of Grozny to cover the war, there weren't just Chechens there, but also Russians -- and the Kremlin didn't care about their fate. Many Russians were killed, by Russian bombs.

There's little in the current debate in Germany over Russia's Ukraine policies to suggest much in the way of expertise. People claim the new government in Kiev is fascist and has fallen into the hands of right-wing extremists and anti-Semitic forces. The far-left Left Party's claims are sheer nonsense. When were the party's intellectual leaders -- Gregor Gysi and Sahra Wagenknecht -- last in Kiev? If we're going to discuss developments in Ukraine, then we should also talk about right-wing extremists in Russia and the anti-Semitism that is tolerated there.

It's also nonsense to claim that Crimea is "ancestral Russian territory". As of 1441, Crimea belonged to the realm of the Tatary, a state that at one point stretched from today's Romania across the Caspian Sea to an area a short distance from Moscow. It wasn't until the 1700s that Potemkin used cunning and force to conquer the Tatars for Catherine the Great.

Force Remains a Proven Means in Russia

The Germans' romantic image of the Russians is to be blamed for Berlin's misguided policies toward the country and for the fact that the Kremlin is no longer inclined to take us seriously. The oft cited line is that we should be more inclusive of Russia rather than keep it at arm's length. That's what happened in 1996 when, in the midst of a war in Chechnya that had been launched by Moscow, Russia applied for membership in the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog. The appeasers prevailed with the argument that it was a way of preventing Moscow from entering into further acts of military force. The second Chechen war began three years later.

Force has remained a tried and true element of Russian policy since 1991. The kind of political compromise that is standard in the West is seen as a sign of weakness. And that thinking isn't just isolated to the Kremlin -- it's the mentality shared by most of Russian society. That's why you don't even find dissent against Crimea's annexation among Putin's opponents. This is fueled by a major Russian superiority complex. First the Russians spoke disparagingly of people in the Caucasus, calling them "our blacks." Despite the fact that they are in great demand in the labor market, the Tajiks and Uzbeks have never been much liked either. The Jews are the constant subject of discussion in Russia. Now the Russians are going on about the Ukrainians -- about their "Khokhol," a play on the hairstyles of Dnieper Cossacks during the medieval period, but also used today as a pejorative term in Russia for ethnic Ukrainians. The idea being that the Ukrainians are somehow a backward people.

And that takes us back to Wolfgang Schäuble. Many found the comparison he made last week of the occupation of Crimea with the Nazi occupation of the ethnic German Sudetenland in the former Czechoslovakia offensive. Of course it is absurd to compare Putin with Hitler. But astoundingly similar arguments were made in both the speech given by Hitler on Sept. 26, 1938 in Berlin and in Putin's appearance at the Kremlin on March 18 -- at least in the vocabulary about providing protection to compatriots located outside the country. Why should we keep quiet about that? And why should we keep quiet about the fact that the coverage on Russian television leading up to the annexation of Crimea, with all its lies and agitation, was reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels?

Germany is currently scratching its head over the best way to deal with Russia in the future. If we don't finally take a sober look at Russia, one that is erased of all romanticizing and historical baggage that distorts our view of Putin's world, then we will never succeed in finding a reasonable strategy.

Christian Neef is an editor at DER SPIEGEL's foreign desk and the magazine's former longtime Moscow correspondent. Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey.

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« Reply #12956 on: Apr 11, 2014, 05:41 AM »

Angela Merkel denied access to her NSA file

Frustration with US government rises over failure to clear up questions about surveillance of German chancellor's phone

Paul Lewis in Washington and Philip Oltermann in Berlin, Thursday 10 April 2014 18.31 BST    

The US government is refusing to grant Angela Merkel access to her NSA file or answer formal questions from Germany about its surveillance activities, raising the stakes before a crucial visit by the German chancellor to Washington.

Merkel will meet Barack Obama in three weeks, on her first visit to the US capital since documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had been monitoring her phone.

The face-to-face meeting between the two world leaders had been intended as an effort to publicly heal wounds after the controversy, but Germany remains frustrated by the White House's refusal to come clean about its surveillance activities in the country.

In October, Obama personally assured Merkel that the US is no longer monitoring her calls, and promised it will not do so in the future. However, Washington has not answered a list of questions submitted by Berlin immediately after Snowden's first tranche of revelations appeared in the Guardian and Washington Post in June last year, months before the revelations over Merkel's phone.

The Obama's administration has also refused to enter into a mutual "no-spy" agreement with Germany, in part because Berlin is unwilling or unable to share the kinds of surveillance material the Americans say would be required for such a deal.

Merkel is intensely aware of the importance of the surveillance controversy for her domestic audience, and is planning to voice Germany's concerns privately with White House officials and leading senators. She will also be "forthright" in confronting the issue if she is asked by reporters during a press conference with Obama, according to a well-placed source with knowledge of the trip.

A senior US administration official denied the surveillance controversy would overshadow Merkel's visit.

"Given that we already have a dialogue on these issues in intelligence and diplomatic channels, and given the other critical issues the two leaders will need to discuss, including T-TIP [trade negotiations] and Ukraine, I would not expect NSA issues to be a big part of the discussions between Chancellor Merkel and President Obama," the official said.

Details of Merkel's visit have not been publicly announced, but the Guardian understands she will arrive in Washington on 1 May, for a two-day trip, giving a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce and meeting with the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde.

However, the main purpose of the trip will be Merkel's meeting with Obama at the White House on 2 May, an encounter immediately followed by a joint press conference with the two world leaders.

The latest information about the US refusal to divulge surveillance information about Merkel was revealed by in response to a parliamentary query by Green MP Omid Nouripour, who asked if the German chancellor had requested the release of paperwork relating to US intelligence agents' surveillance of her phone calls.

In its response, which is believed to have been released some weeks ago, but which only recently surfaced in public, a spokesperson for the German interior ministry confirmed that Merkel's government had submitted an official request on 24 October, but that the US government "had not supplied information in this regard".

Two weeks ago, the German magazine Der Spiegel said the NSA kept more than 300 reports on Merkel in a special databank concerning heads of state.

The report, published in partnership with The Intercept, a website set up by the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was based on documents provided by Snowden. Previously, Der Speigel revealed the NSA had monitored Merkel's mobile phone for as long as 10 years.

Nouripour, who is the Green party's spokesperson on foreign affairs, said he intended to make further inquiries with the government and would seek to clarify if Merkel had asked for her NSA file to be destroyed.

Nouripour criticised both the German and the US governments for their response to the NSA revelations. "Last year, their failure to answer questions could have been due to genuine ignorance – now it looks like deliberate obfuscation. The Germans aren't asking the tough questions so they can protect their notion of a transatlantic partnership, and the US is happy that the Germans aren't asking tough questions so they can avoid further diplomatic scandals."

The news comes amid growing German frustration with the US and UK governments' failure to yield basic information about their surveillance activities. Earlier this week, interior minister Thomas de Maizière told Der Spiegel that the US response to the affair remained "inadequate".

"If two-thirds of what Edward Snowden reports, or of what is reported with attribution to him, is correct, then I come to the conclusion: the USA is acting without any restraint," said de Maizière, who emphasised that he was still a "transatlanticist by conviction". "America should be interested in improving the current situation. And words alone won't achieve that."

The White House national security spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Merkel and Barack Obama "spoke on the phone in late October last year" about the NSA's monitoring of her calls.

Hayden reiterated that Obama assured Merkel that the US was no longer listening to her calls and had committed not to do so in the future. She added: "I'm not going to get into the detail of those discussions and exchanges, which are ongoing."

The US government's refusal to allow Merkel access to her own file contrasts with the relative ease with which German citizens are able to access files relating to the surveillance activities of the East German secret service, the Stasi.

In January 1992, after pressure from human rights activists, the German government took the unprecedented step of opening up the Stasi archive to the public – the federal agency in charge of the Stasi archives still receives around 5,000 applications a month.

In 1992, 13,088 pages worth of files relating to the NSA's surveillance of the West German government, sold to the Stasi by the US spy James W Hall, had been returned to the US, with permission of the German interior ministry.

Angela Merkel has defended the decision to keep access to the Stasi archive open to German citizens, and has reportedly used the opportunity to view her own Stasi file in person. "Many in former socialist countries envy us for this opportunity", she said in 2009.

In Germany, the aftermath of the Snowden revelations continues to be debated with vigour. On Wednesday, the head of a parliamentary inquiry into NSA surveillance resigned over a disagreement as to whether Snowden should be invited as a witness. Green and left politicians insist that the whistleblower should be invited to give testimony in person, but panel chairman Clemens Binninger, of Merkel's Christian Democrats, was more sceptical, arguing that most of the key information was already out in the public realm.

Academics at Rostock University, meanwhile, have voted to award Edward Snowden an honorary doctorate. Members of the philosophy faculty said they wanted to reward Snowden's "civil courage" and his "substantial contribution to a new global discourse about freedom, democracy, cosmopolitanism and the rights of the individual".

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« Reply #12957 on: Apr 11, 2014, 05:46 AM »

Bond markets cannot get enough of Greece, as debt auction proves

Greek €3bn bond sale exceeds expectations and is a vote of confidence, but investors are taking on a lot of risk

Larry Elliott   
Thursday 10 April 2014 18.37 BST The Guardian

Take a country where the economy has shrunk by a quarter over the past five years. Add an unemployment rate of 26.7%. Stir in a debt to GDP ratio of 175%. And what do you have? A country that the bond markets can't get enough of, if the debt auction in Greece is anything to go by.

Put simply, the sale of €3bn of Greek bonds smashed expectations. Not only was the offer eight times oversubscribed, the yield on the bonds was just under 5%, far lower than the authorities in Athens could have imagined. All a far cry from the days, not so long ago, when Greece was the pariah of the financial markets.

The Greek government, unsurprisingly, was cock-a-hoop. It saw demand for the bonds as a massive vote of confidence. Which, in a way, they are. Cutting wages and the generosity of the welfare state has made Greece more competitive through a brutal internal devaluation. The country's creditors have restructured loans to make servicing the national debt relatively cheap. Further debt relief is in the pipeline and there is always Mario Draghi's European Central Bank as a backstop should things get a bit choppy. The prospect of a Greek default has receded while a break-up of the euro is no longer considered a realistic threat.

But even allowing for all that, investors are taking on a lot of risk. One successful bond issue cannot disguise the fact that Greece is a deeply troubled country suffering from austerity fatigue and still only in the very early stages of recovery. Investors with longer memories recall that the love affair of investors for post-crisis Argentina a decade or so ago did not last. What's more, the wider eurozone is handicapped by weak growth, high unemployment and heavily indebted banks. The financial fragility of the European banking system was detailed fully by the International Monetary Fund earlier this week.

Bottom line: the yield on the Greek bonds should have been considerably higher – at least a full percentage point – in order to reflect the riskiness of the investment. Athens should consider getting away as much debt as it can while the going is good. Or, to put it another way, before the bubble bursts.

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« Reply #12958 on: Apr 11, 2014, 05:58 AM »

A Narendra Modi victory would bode ill for India, say Rushdie and Kapoor

Salman Rushdie and Anish Kapoor among artists and academics to sign letter to the Guardian to express 'acute worry' at Hindu nationalist's expected victory in general election

Jason Burke in Delhi
The Guardian, Thursday 10 April 2014 17.35 BST       

More than a dozen of India's most respected artists and academics - including the novelist Salman Rushdie and the sculptor Anish Kapoor - have written to the Guardian to express their "acute worry" at the prospect of Narendra Modi, the controversial Hindu nationalist politician, becoming the country's prime minister.

Modi, the candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is currently leading all opinion surveys and many analysts believe he is assured of victory when results of the six-week phased poll are announced next month.

Tens of millions of Indians voted on Thursday in Delhi, the capital, and in volatile areas in the centre and east of the country where Maoist insurgents are active. Turnout has so far been high in one of the most bitterly fought elections for many decades. The Congress party, in power since 2004, currently appears headed for a historic defeat.

The letter to the Guardian, also signed by British lawyers, activists and three members of parliament, says that Modi becoming prime minister would "bode ill for India's future as a country that cherishes the ideals of inclusion and protection for all its peoples and communities".

Modi's supporters, who include many within India's business community, see the 63-year-old politician as a decisive, honest and effective administrator who will reinvigorate India's faltering economic development. Critics say he is a religious hardliner with authoritarian instincts who has adopted a moderate image to win power.

"The underlying worry is that Modi will move to a more and more Hindu state and that is a worry many people share and is not particular to those who signed the letter," said Kapoor, who was born and brought up in India and now lives in London.

"The India I grew up in took a secular, pluralist view. The other [India] is partisan … Here is someone who knows how to galvanise the mythological part of our Indian psyche with potentially terrifying consequences," he said.

The letter highlights "the role played by the Modi government in the horrifying events that took place in [the western state of] Gujarat in 2002."

Modi was chief minister of Gujarat when a fire broke out on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, killing 59 people. The incident, blamed on local Muslims, sparked widespread rioting across the state in one of the worst outbreaks of sectarian violence in India for decades. Government ministers later told parliament around 1,000 people, largely Muslims, had been murdered by mobs. The dead included three British nationals.

Modi has been accused of failing to stop the violence and even encouraging rioters. He has denied the charges and a series of inquiries have found insufficient evidence to substantiate the accusations against him. One of Modi's close aides has however been convicted along with members of hardline Hindu nationalist groups.

The letter to the Guardian says Modi has repeatedly refused to "accept responsibility or render an apology."

"Such a failure of moral character and political ethics … is incompatible with India's secular constitution, which, …. is founded on pluralist principles," it reads.

Senior officials of the BJP reacted angrily to the letter, with one saying the signatories were "people of profoundly leftist inclination who have been critics of the BJP since day one".

"These comments are prejudiced, biased and some of these people have entertained a pathological hatred towards Mr Modi for years. The BJP has grown in spite of their opposition for so many years and the left has gone down in spite of their support because the people of India trust in Mr Modi and the BJP to save India from all ills that India is suffering," said Ravi Shankar Prasad, deputy leader of the party.

Prasad said that despite a history of sectarian conflicts there had been no riots in Gujarat since 2002 while Muslims in the state had "the highest rate of growth in the country."

"In a democracy, the people of India will decide. The motto of the BJP is "India First" and Mr Modi has said many times he represents all India's communities and people," Prasad said.

Other signatories of the letter include eminent Indian left-wing economist Prabhat Patnaik, artists Dayanita Singh and Vivan Sundaram, art historian Geeta Kapur and Canada-based film maker Deepa Mehta who recently collaborated with Rushdie on a film version of his novel Midnight's Children.

Rushdie was born in India's commercial capital Mumbai but now lives in the US. Sale of copies of his controversial 1988 book The Satanic Verses is still forbidden in India. In 2012, an appearance at the Jaipur literary festival was cancelled after protests from Indian Muslim groups. The incident provoked fears for free speech in India and some criticism of the government.

Some in India fear a new and tougher cultural climate should the BJP take power, though senior officials have told the Guardian that such claims are scaremongering. The BJP has its origins in a broad movement which includes groups with a past record of attacking some of the country's most eminent artists. Many were worried by the recent withdrawal by publishers Penguin of a book on Hinduism after legal challenges by rightwing organisations.

The British government ended a boycott of Modi by senior diplomats in 2012. The European Union and US have now ended their own boycotts, though a ban on entry to the US remains.

"I was very sad to see British parliamentarians extend an offer to Modi for him to talk [to parliament], and the Indian business community in the UK bend over backwards," said Kapoor, who has been knighted in the UK and been awarded the Padma Bushan, one of India's highest civilian honours.

Chetan Bhatt, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics and a signatory of the letter, told the Guardian: "Modi perfectly embodies a callous, dangerous and authoritarian ideology that stands opposed to genuine liberal, democratic and secular values that founded the modern state of India."

Others, such as the economist Patnaik, said they were worried by the support of major businesses for Modi. Jayati Ghosh, another respected leftwing economist and signatory to the letter said "corporate India has decided they want this man" to win a "watershed election".

But Modi does appear to have won the support of large numbers of Indian voters, particularly among young people facing tough battles for good jobs.

"He will get things moving again," said Rakesh Kumar, a 24-year-old taxi driver, shortly after voting in south Delhi on Thursday. "He can cut through all the problems like a knife. That is what we need here."


Indian party leader expresses sympathy for three men who gang-raped student to death

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 11, 2014 7:50 EDT

The mother of a student who was fatally gang-raped on a bus led the outrage Friday against an Indian political leader who described three convicted multiple rapists as “poor fellows” who had made “mistakes”.

During a rally in the state of Uttar Pradesh on Thursday, Mulayam Singh Yadav said his Samajwadi Party would try to change the law on punishments for rapists after India’s ongoing elections as he spoke out in defence of three men who have been sentenced to death for repeat sexual assaults.

“Three poor fellows have been sentenced to death. Should rape cases lead to hanging?” said the 74-year-old Yadav, whose party governs the electorally crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.

“They are boys, they make mistakes,” he added in reference to the three who were sentenced to death by a court in Mumbai last week after they were convicted of taking part in two gang-rapes at the same place.

They were the first death sentences to be handed down for multiple sex attacks since the law was toughened in the wake of the outrage over the December 2012 attack on the bus in New Delhi.

The mother of the 23-year-old victim, who died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital two weeks after the assault, called Yadav a “disgusting and shameless” politician and urged voters to reject leaders who “don’t understand the torture women go through”.

“His comments hurt us so much,” the mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told AFP.

“Every day women get raped and they are all mistakes? He talks about doing away with the death sentence for rapists but parents like us feel even death is not enough for rapists. They deserve worse.”

Yadav’s remarks sparked a backlash on social media where #backingrapists and ‘Mulayam Singh’ were top trending topics on Twitter.

That anger was fuelled by rambling comments from the party’s leader in the state of Maharashtra who appeared to call for rape victims to be hanged along with their attackers on the grounds that they had extra-marital sex.

Although the party’s power is largely limited to Uttar Pradesh, its strength in what is India’s most populous state could mean it has a kingmaking role in coalition negotiations after the general elections wrap up next month.

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« Reply #12959 on: Apr 11, 2014, 06:00 AM »

South Korea, U.S. Launch Largest-ever Air Drill

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 April 2014, 07:03

South Korea and the United States kicked off their largest-ever joint air drill on Friday at a time of elevated military tensions with North Korea.

The so-called "Max Thunder" exercise, which is held twice a year, will last until April 25 and involve 103 aircraft and 1,400 service personnel, a South Korean air force spokesman said.

"In numerical terms, it's the largest exercise of its kind that we've done," the spokesman told Agence France Presse.

The last Max Thunder drill held in October-November last year involved 97 aircraft and some 1,000 troops.

Seoul's F-15K jet fighters will take part along with US Air Force F-15 and F-16s and US Marines' FA-18 and EA-18 aircraft.

"The combined air forces will strengthen their battle readiness under the current situation when tension rises over the Korean peninsula," a South Korean air force statement said.

The exercise will focus on "practical scenarios" involving precision attacks on enemy positions and supply-drop missions for troops infiltrating enemy territory.

It comes as the allies are winding up separate annual military drills which began late February, and have been denounced by Pyongyang as rehearsals for invasion.

In a pointed protest at the exercises, Pyongyang carried out a series of rocket and missile launches, capped by its first mid-range missile test since 2009 on March 26.

The two Koreas also traded artillery fire across the tense Yellow Sea border on March 31, after the North dropped around 100 shells across the maritime boundary during a live-fire drill.

The exchange followed a North Korean warning that it might carry out a "new" form of nuclear test -- a possible reference to a uranium-based device or a miniaturized warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile.

The United States, South Korea and Japan, meeting in Washington on Monday, condemned the ballistic missile tests and urged the North "to refrain from further threatening actions".

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