In the USA....United Surveillance America
No Protection For International Communications: Russ Feingold Warned Us
By emptywheel May 16, 2014 9:00 am
As I’ve learned to never doubt Ron Wyden’s claims about surveillance, I long ago learned never to doubt Feingold’s.
Both the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer and EFF have reviews of the government’s latest claims about Section 702. In response to challenges by two defendants, Mohamed Osman Mohamud and Jamshid Muhtorov, to the use of 702-collected information, the government claims our international communications have no Fourth Amendment protection.
Here’s how Jaffer summarizes it:
It’s hardly surprising that the government believes the 2008 law is constitutional – government officials advocated for its passage six years ago, and they have been vigorously defending the law ever since. Documents made public over the last eleven-and-a-half months by the Guardian and others show that the NSA has been using the law aggressively.What’s surprising – even remarkable – is what the government says on the way to its conclusion. It says, in essence, that the Constitution is utterly indifferent to the NSA’s large-scale surveillance of Americans’ international telephone calls and emails:
The privacy rights of US persons in international communications are significantly diminished, if not completely eliminated, when those communications have been transmitted to or obtained from non-US persons located outside the United States.
That phrase – “if not completely eliminated” – is unusually revealing. Think of it as the Justice Department’s twin to the NSA’s “collect it all”.[snip]In support of the law, the government contends that Americans who make phone calls or sends emails to people abroad have a diminished expectation of privacy because the people with whom they are communicating – non-Americans abroad, that is – are not protected by the Constitution.
The government also argues that Americans’ privacy rights are further diminished in this context because the NSA has a “paramount” interest in examining information that crosses international borders.And, apparently contemplating a kind of race to the bottom in global privacy rights, the government even argues that Americans can’t reasonably expect that their international communications will be private from the NSA when the intelligence services of so many other countries – the government doesn’t name them – might be monitoring those communications, too.
The government’s argument is not simply that the NSA has broad authority to monitor Americans’ international communications. The US government is arguing that the NSA’s authority is unlimited in this respect. If the government is right, nothing in the Constitution bars the NSA from monitoring a phone call between a journalist in New York City and his source in London. For that matter, nothing bars the NSA from monitoring every call and email between Americans in the United States and their non-American friends, relatives, and colleagues overseas.
I tracked Feingold’s warnings about Section 702 closely in 2008. That’s where I first figured out the risk of what we now call back door searches, for example. But I thought his comment here was a bit alarmist.As I’ve learned to never doubt Ron Wyden’s claims about surveillance, I long ago learned never to doubt Feingold’s.
Obama Chafes at Checks on his Power
by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 May 2014, 09:29
The most powerful man in the world is getting frustrated he can't get big things done.
President Barack Obama is speaking with introspection about constraints on his power at home and abroad, as mid-term election inertia stifles Washington and his hopes of major legislative wins this year.
Early skirmishes of the 2016 presidential campaign –- and the unquenchable media obsession with all things Clinton -- are already forcing Obama to share the political stage.
When power ebbs at home, second term presidents often flex muscle abroad.
But no overseas playground awaits Obama: in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, U.S. dominance is under siege, fueling a Republican narrative that the president fires blanks and lacks a coherent foreign policy doctrine.
In friendly company, Obama's frustration is beginning to show.
"I've got a drawer full of things that we know would create jobs, help our middle class, boost incomes, make us more competitive," Obama told wealthy New York Democrats.
"But we have a party on the other side that has been captured by an ideology that says no to anything."
The president's gloom is partly self-inflicted.
Obama botched the roll-out of his health care law and saw his approval ratings -- and consequent power to persuade in mid-term polls erode.
His administration is now struggling to contain a scandal after 40 military veterans died while waiting for treatment at a Phoenix medical facility.
The White House meanwhile blasts endless Republican probes into the death of four Americans in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012 as blatant partisan hackery.
"What a year, huh?" Obama quipped at the White House Correspondent's gala this month, in a speech packed with the usual zingers but delivered in an unmistakably joyless tone.
Top Obama aides say the president should not be judged on what he gets through a hostile Congress. That's just as well because he has so far no major legacy-enhancing legislation in his second term.
With two-and-a-half-years to go, the president's sense of his ebbing term is acute.
He warned this week that only a two- or three-month window remained to pass comprehensive immigration reform before November's congressional polls. Given Capitol Hill's record of achievement, that timetable seemed wildly optimistic.
Dreading lame duck status, Obama declared 2014 a "year of action" and is using executive power to fight climate change, boost the middle class and repair U.S. infrastructure.
While presidential orders can be effective, they pale in comparison to what a like-minded Congress could do.
With Republicans tipped to add Senate control to their grip on the House of Representatives though, Obama is unlikely to ever again find compliance on Capitol Hill.
But hope still lingers for a bipartisan transportation bill and for legislation re-framing National Security Agency surveillance in the post-Edward Snowden era this year.
A Republican Congress could also prove amenable to endorsing the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal that is the centerpiece of Obama's foreign policy pivot to Asia.
And if latest data showing nearly 300,000 jobs were created in April is a harbinger, Obama's administration could yet enjoy an economic Indian summer.
Obama also has it tough overseas.
Often, his efforts to cool national security crises have revealed limits of his influence rather than his power to shape events.
Warnings to President Bashar Assad went unheard across Syria's killing grounds and Secretary of State John Kerry's personal Middle East peace push foundered.
And Obama's rallying call to Europe to isolate Moscow over its annexation of Crimea is at best a work in progress, while prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran -- a potential big win -- remain deeply uncertain.
Still, Obama's chief foreign policy legacy may rest in fulfilling a mandate voters gave him in 2008 -- getting American troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
And he still has time to cement the re-balance to Asia, following a successful regional tour in April.
Increasingly, Obama seems to see the contradiction of his position.
"I have this remarkable title right now -- president of the United States -- and yet every day when I wake up and I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria... there are times I want to reach out and save those kids," he said recently in California.
"I think 'drop by drop' that we can erode and wear down those forces that are so destructive."
That may be a doctrine of U.S. power forged by frustrating experience.
But it's minimalist compared to Obama's 2008 vision as an untested candidate in Berlin that "improbable hope" could "remake the world once again."
The narrowed sights have not gone unnoticed.
"Instead of shaping world events, he has often simply reacted to them," said Republican Senator Marco Rubio -- a possible 2016 candidate.
But Obama now sells incrementalism abroad -- defined by avoiding military quagmires -- as a virtue.
"That may not always be sexy. but it avoids errors," he said in Manila last month, using the "disastrous" war in Iraq as a case study.
Media Laughably Calls Sarah Palin’s Thinly Veiled Obama Hate Foreign Policy Criticism
By: Sarah Jones
Friday, May, 16th, 2014, 4:14 pm
Sarah Palin, the reality TV “star” who years ago ran to her Facebook bunker to hide from the mainstream media’s mean, gotcha questions about what she reads, mocked the wife of the man who beat her and her running mate 6 years ago for using social media to try to raise awareness of a cause.
Politico reported on Palin’s mocking “the Obama administration for using “hashtagging tweets” as foreign policy, a likely jab at First Lady Michelle Obama’s photo lamenting the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolchildren.” FLOTUS tweeted the pic out with the hashtag “#BringBackOurGirls”. But Mrs. Obama also gave a moving weekly address about this issue on Mother’s Day weekend, which is more than Sarah Palin did.
Palin’s Facebook screed reads in part as follows (mind the spittle):
OBAMA TWITTERING TEETERS TOWARDS CHAOS
This photo says it all about the Obama administration’s reliance on junior high-like tweets and tickles in place of a foreign policy rooted in peace through strength. Diplomacy via Twitter is the lazy, ineffectual, naïve, and insulting way for America’s leaders to deal with major national and international issues. It’s embarrassing. Under Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton’s State Department repeatedly refused to recognize Boko Haram as terrorists despite their conventional, predictable Islamic terrorist rants, training, and mission. Now, in a life or death situation, nearly 300 kidnapped Nigerian girls are in the hands of these terrorists awaiting rescue.
And what is the Obama administration’s weapon of choice in this battle for these young girls’ lives? Hashtagging tweets on social media! I kinda-sorta doubt a tweet will intimidate the kidnappers much. So, if you’re going to jump in and do something about these Islamic terrorists at all, then do it right, do it firmly, and kick their ass.
Don’t tell Ms Palin, but the Obama administration got bin Laden, so they know how to “kick their ass.” This is apparently how Right wing Christians demonstrate their Christ-ness, by using curse words to hungrily urge on war, death and destruction while showing their failure to love their country unless they are in charge. Role models!
And don’t tell Sarah Palin, but Boko Haram was named to the terror watch list in November 2013. So sad, but she can’t blame Hillary Clinton for this one. This will go way over the heads of the folks who think their opinions are equal to the expertise of scientists and doctors, but there are reasons why we didn’t designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. One such reason was explained by Howard LaFranchi at the Christian Science Monitor:
In a letter to Clinton, the 24 specialists – including a former US ambassador to Nigeria – argued that designating Boko Haram might encourage the group to redirect its focus and start targeting US and Western interests. Listing Boko Haram also entailed risks for the US, the scholars argued, because it would have the effect of associating the US more closely with the counterterrorism campaign of the Nigerian government, which international human rights groups had faulted for being carried out with summary executions and little regard for civilian rights.
Of course, as Republicans know all too well, placing someone on the terror watch and getting them are two different things. See their failed attempt to get bin Laden for the entirety of Bush’s two terms.
Politico noted, “The Facebook post is accompanied by a photo of an unidentified man, whom Palin calls a “patriot,” pictured holding up a sign of various derisive Twitter hashtags such as “#HashtagsWillNotBringYourGirlsBack” and “#StopLazyInternetActivism.”
Yeah, stop that “lazy” Internet activism and do something real like Palin does — like demanding money for a PAC that you spend mostly on yourself. Now that’s how the “unlazy” accomplish things. Wake up, Mr. President! The world of Facebook and reality TV awaits you.
The media needs to catch on that Palin isn’t even interesting in her bitterness anymore. She is way behind the ball on this one, as conservatives have been hee-hawing it up over the kidnapped girls for days now, even though they were kidnapped on April 16th, in Nigeria, by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. They use the kidnapped girls to “prove” that Obama is a racist, they use the kidnapped girls to “prove” that Obama sucks at foreign policy, they use the kidnapped girls to make themselves feel better about being losers.
Naturally, the Biggest Loser of All, Sarah Palin, whose own state hates her, jumped on this Fail Train to Nowhere too late to be of any use to the hate mongers.
Palin, who weighed in on Syria with this “”LET ALLAH SORT IT OUT ‘So we’re bombing Syria because Syria is bombing Syria? And I’m the idiot?’”, didn’t know the difference between North and South Korea as she was running for VP. She didn’t know why we were in Iraq. She thought Africa was a country.
GET OVER IT, media. This wasn’t foreign policy criticism. The GOP’s pit bull was never and never will be a political voice. She was at best the voice of GOP populism, and at worst, the voice that brought us her delusional blood libel whine.
Republican Heads Explode as Michelle Obama Tells Kansas Grads To Fight Racism and Bigotry
By: Jason Easley
Friday, May, 16th, 2014, 11:22 pm
Republican heads will certainly explode after First Lady Michelle Obama told high school grads to stand up against the same bigotry and discrimination that is the bread and butter of the Republican Party.
First Lady Obama said:
And that’s really my challenge to all of you today – when you encounter folks who still hold the old prejudices because they’ve only been around folks like themselves, when you meet folks who think they know all the answers because they’ve never heard any other viewpoints, it is up to you to help them see things differently.
And the good news is that you probably won’t have to bring a lawsuit or go all the way to the Supreme Court.
You all can make a difference every day in your own lives simply by teaching others the lessons you’ve learned here in Topeka.
Maybe that starts in your own family, when grandpa tells that awkward joke at Thanksgiving or your aunt says something about “those people,” and you politely inform them that they’re talking about your friends.
Or maybe it’s when you go off to college and you decide to join a sorority or fraternity, and you ask “How can we get more diversity in our next pledge class?”
Or maybe it’s years from now, when you’re at work, and you’re the one who asks, “Do we really have all the voices and viewpoints we need at this table?”
Or maybe it’s when you have kids of your own one day, and you go to your school board meeting and insist on integrating your schools and giving them the resources they need.
No matter what you do, the point is to never be afraid to talk about these issues, particularly the issue of race, because even today, we still struggle to do that. This issue is so sensitive, so complicated, so bound up with a painful history.
And we need your generation to help us break through – we need all of you to ask the hard questions and have the honest conversations because that is the only way we will heal the wounds of the past and move forward to a better future.
It’s easy to see why Republicans were so up in arms about the First Lady speaking to high school grads in Kansas. Standing up to racism? Telling bigots that homophobia is not cool? What’s a racist and bigoted Republican to do?
That awkward aunt around the Thanksgiving table was certainly getting her info about “those people” from Fox News. Mrs. Obama’s message of tolerance and acceptance went against everything that the Republican Party stands for.
Republicans were outraged because they didn’t want the First Lady to fill the minds of the sacred youth with words like diversity and equality.
Michelle Obama delivered an uplifting message to grads about the future and their role in it, and that is the last thing that the aged, dead, and dying Republican Party wanted the red state youths to hear.
Americans Prefer Democrats as The GOP Is On Pace For Lowest Election Year Approval Ever
By: Jason Easley
Friday, May, 16th, 2014, 10:20 am
A new survey from Gallup found that Democrats are slightly underwater with their party approval rating, but the Republican Party is on pace for the lowest election year approval rating ever.
According to Gallup, the Democratic Party’s favorable rating is at 44%. The party’s unfavorable rating is 50%, which equals a net (-6) approval rating. The Democratic situation is relatively rosy compared to what Republicans are facing. The Republicans have a 34% favorable rating, and a 59% unfavorable rating. This equals a net (-25) favorable ratings. The Republican Party has been on a nine year losing streak that has seen it post higher negatives than positives since the first year of George W. Bush’s second term in office.
A few things jump out from these numbers. The media narrative that Obama’s approval ratings are dragging down the Democratic Party continues to be vastly exaggerated. In the latest poll, the president’s approval rating split matches up with his party (44%-49%). Obama’s numbers are likely the factor that is keeping the Democrats out of positive territory, but approval ratings are relative, and the president and his party are in much better shape than their opponents.
The reason why 2014 is so close is that both parties are in the negative. This suggests that potential voters are fed up with both parties. A fed up electorate will do one of two things. They will either be completely turned off and not show up to vote, or they will vote out incumbents in both parties. The anti-incumbent wave does not appear to be developing, so it looks like there is serious potential for voters in both parties to stay home on Election Day.
If voters stay home this bad news for Democrats, as the Republican base is old white men, and these voters show up for midterms. Victory or defeat for Democrats will depend on whether they get their supporters to vote. Since midterm election turnouts are tiny, a modest improvement of one or two points for Democrats could tilt the elections in their direction.
Democrats have an opening. The Republican Party remains at historically high levels of unpopularity. All Democratic supporters need to do is get over their apathy towards midterms and vote.
In Taking Crimea, Putin Gains a Sea of Fuel Reserves
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
MAY 17, 2014
When Russia seized Crimea in March, it acquired not just the Crimean landmass but also a maritime zone more than three times its size with the rights to underwater resources potentially worth trillions of dollars.
Russia portrayed the takeover as reclamation of its rightful territory, drawing no attention to the oil and gas rush that had recently been heating up in the Black Sea. But the move also extended Russia’s maritime boundaries, quietly giving Russia dominion over vast oil and gas reserves while dealing a crippling blow to Ukraine’s hopes for energy independence.
Russia did so under an international accord that gives nations sovereignty over areas up to 230 miles from their shorelines. It had tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access to energy resources in the same territory in a pact with Ukraine less than two years earlier.
“It’s a big deal,” said Carol R. Saivetz, a Eurasian expert in the Security Studies Program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It deprives Ukraine of the possibility of developing these resources and gives them to Russia. It makes Ukraine more vulnerable to Russian pressure.”
Gilles Lericolais, the director of European and international affairs at France’s state oceanographic group, called Russia’s annexation of Crimea “so obvious” as a play for offshore riches.
In Moscow, a spokesman for President Pig V. Putin snorted there was “no connection” between the annexation and energy resources, adding that Russia did not even care about the oil and gas. “Compared to all the potential Russia has got, there was no interest there,” the spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Saturday.
Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and other major oil companies have already explored the Black Sea, and some petroleum analysts say its potential may rival that of the North Sea. That rush, which began in the 1970s, lifted the economies of Britain, Norway and other European countries.
William B. F. Ryan, a marine geologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, said Russia’s Black Sea acquisition gave it what are potentially “the best” of that body’s deep oil reserves.
Oil analysts said that mounting economic sanctions could slow Russia’s exploitation of its Black and Azov Sea annexations by reducing access to Western financing and technology. But they noted that Russia had already taken over the Crimean arm of Ukraine’s national gas company, instantly giving Russia exploratory gear on the Black Sea.
“Russia’s in a mood to behave aggressively,” said Vladimir Socor, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a research group in Washington that follows Eurasian affairs. “It’s already seized two drilling rigs.”
The global hunt for fossil fuels has increasingly gone offshore, to places like the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico and the South China Sea. Hundreds of oil rigs dot the Caspian, a few hundred miles east of the Black Sea.
Nations divide up the world’s potentially lucrative waters according to guidelines set forth by the 1982 Law of the Sea Treaty. The agreement lets coastal nations claim what are known as exclusive economic zones that can extend up to 200 nautical miles (or 230 statute miles) from their shores. Inside these zones, countries can explore, exploit, conserve and manage deep natural resources, living and nonliving.
The countries with shores along the Black Sea have long seen its floor as a potential energy source, mainly because of modest oil successes in shallow waters.
Just over two years ago, the prospects for huge payoffs soared when a giant ship drilling through deep bedrock off Romania found a large gas field in waters more than half a mile deep.
Russia moved fast.
In April 2012, Mr. Putin, then Russia’s prime minister, presided over the signing of an accord with Eni, the Italian energy giant, to explore Russia’s economic zone in the northeastern Black Sea. Dr. Ryan of Columbia estimated that the size of the zone before the Crimean annexation was roughly 26,000 square miles, about the size of Lithuania.
“I want to assure you that the Russian government will do everything to support projects of this kind,” Mr. Putin said at the signing, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.
A month later, oil exploration specialists at a European petroleum conference made a lengthy presentation, the title of which asked: “Is the Black Sea the Next North Sea?” The paper cited geological studies that judged the waters off Ukraine as having “tremendous exploration potential” but saw the Russian zone as less attractive.
In August 2012, Ukraine announced an accord with an Exxon-led group to extract oil and gas from the depths of Ukraine’s Black Sea waters. The Exxon team had outbid Lukoil, a Russian company. Ukraine’s state geology bureau said development of the field would cost up to $12 billion.
“The Black Sea Hots Up,” read a 2013 headline in GEO ExPro, an industry magazine published in Britain. “Elevated levels of activity have become apparent throughout the Black Sea region,” the article said, “particularly in deepwater.”
When Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine on March 18, it issued a treaty of annexation between the newly declared Republic of Crimea and the Russian Federation. Buried in the document — in Article 4, Section 3 — a single bland sentence said international law would govern the drawing of boundaries through the adjacent Black and Azov Seas.
Dr. Ryan estimates that the newly claimed maritime zone around Crimea added about 36,000 square miles to Russia’s existing holdings. The addition is more than three times the size of the Crimean landmass, and about the size of Maine.
At the time, few observers noted Russia’s annexation of Crimea in those terms. An exception was Romania, whose Black Sea zone had been adjacent to Ukraine’s before Russia stepped in.
“Romania and Russia will be neighbors,” Romania Libera, a newspaper in Bucharest, observed on March 24. The article’s headline said the new maritime border could become a “potential source of conflict.”
Many nations have challenged Russia’s seizing of Crimea and thus the legality of its Black and Azov Sea claims. But the Romanian newspaper quoted analysts as judging that the other countries bordering the Black Sea — Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania — would tacitly recognize the annexation “in order to avoid an open conflict.”
Most immediately, analysts say, Russia’s seizing may alter the route along which the South Stream pipeline would be built, saving Russia money, time and engineering challenges. The planned pipeline, meant to run through the deepest parts of the Black Sea, is to pump Russian gas to Europe.
Originally, to avoid Ukraine’s maritime zone, Russia drew the route for the costly pipeline in a circuitous jog southward through Turkey’s waters. But now it can take a far more direct path through its newly acquired Black Sea territory, if the project moves forward. The Ukraine crisis has thrown its future into doubt.
As for oil extraction in the newly claimed maritime zones, companies say their old deals with Ukraine are in limbo, and analysts say new contracts are unlikely to be signed anytime soon, given the continuing turmoil in the region and the United States’ efforts to ratchet up pressure on Russia.
“There are huge issues at stake,” noted Dr. Saivetz of M.I.T. “I can’t see them jumping into new deals right now.”
The United States is using its wherewithal to block Russian moves in the maritime zones. Last month, it imposed trade restrictions on Chernomorneftegaz, the breakaway Crimean arm of Ukraine’s national gas company.
Eric L. Hirschhorn, the United States under secretary of commerce for industry and security, said sanctions against the Crimean business would send “a strong message” of condemnation for Russia’s “incursion into Ukraine and expropriation of Ukrainian assets.”
Talks in East Aim to Ease Tensions in Ukraine
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
MAY 17, 2014
KIEV, Ukraine — Senior Ukrainian officials on Saturday held a second session of national “round-table” talks aimed at ending the country’s political crisis, this time in the eastern city of Kharkiv, in the region that has been besieged by pro-Russian separatist violence.
The meeting brought together a broader cross-section of leaders from eastern Ukraine than the first set of talks, in an attempt to show the government’s commitment to dialogue. But representatives of the region said it would be difficult to resolve the crisis until the government ended military operations aimed at suppressing the separatists.
“This is the only option in my opinion that can save Ukraine from division,” said Valeriy N. Holenko, chairman of Luhansk Regional Council.
Leaders in Kiev are pushing to tighten Ukraine’s ties with Europe, while many in the east prefer closer ties with Russia.
At times, the officials from the east disagreed strenuously with representatives of the provisional government from Kiev, highlighting still formidable differences. But Western observers said it was important that the two sides finally seemed engaged, rather than talking past each other.
The talks are largely aimed at reaching an accord on restructuring the government to increase local authority, ahead of a presidential election scheduled for May 25. Kiev supports a “decentralization” plan to give more budget authority to local governments, while the pro-Russia side from the east favors a federalization model that would give more overall power to governors.
The acting prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, said officials in Kiev were pushing ahead with the decentralization plan, but that the federalization proposal by Russia and its supporters seemed aimed at dividing the country by empowering regional governors who might be loyal to Moscow. “There was one Yanukovych,” he said sharply on Saturday, referring to the ousted, pro-Russian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. “Now they want to have 27 Yanukovychs.”
There were repeated calls on each side for restoring order and security in eastern Ukraine, with local and regional officials saying Kiev should first withdraw its security forces, and Kiev officials saying that separatist militias should lay down their weapons.
Even so, there were reports of continued scattered violence in the eastern region on Saturday, including an exchange of gunfire near the Russian border after the governor of the self-declared separatist Luhansk People’s Republic was briefly detained by Ukrainian border guards early Saturday morning. Local news services reported that the governor, Valery Bolotov, was freed after the shootout and had returned to a local government building, with no casualties reported during the gunfight.
Mr. Bolotov was returning to Ukraine after seeking medical treatment in Russia for injuries from what an official in the Luhansk People’s Republic said was an assassination attempt.
The round-table session began with a plea for comity by former President Leonid M. Kravchuk, who urged participants to respect the rules and focus on the Kiev government’s plan for decentralization.
The talks, however, quickly became contentious, with Inna Bohoslovskaya, a member of Parliament, demanding that leaders from eastern Ukraine explain who was financing the separatists. The eastern leaders, in response, demanded to know who backed the civil uprising in Kiev that led to the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych, whose base of political support was in the east.
Some participants representing eastern Ukraine insisted that Mr. Yanukovych had been removed illegally because Parliament did not formally impeach him after he fled to Russia. Lawmakers had voted overwhelmingly to strip Mr. Yanukovych of power, but Ukraine’s Constitution has no provision for such a step.
In the end, despite much debate, there was no resolution, and it was unclear when or where the talks might continue.
Wolfgang Ischinger, who was designated to represent the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe at the talks, urged officials to reach a peaceful settlement. “Ukrainians,” he said toward the start of the talks, “please use words, not swords.”
Correction: May 17, 2014
An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed a quotation to Sergei S. Kravchenko, the mayor of Luhansk. It was Valeriy N. Holenko, the chairman of Luhansk Regional Council, who said, “This is the only option in my opinion that can save Ukraine from division.”
The Pig Heads to China as Ukraine Sinks Ties with West
by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 May 2014, 07:06
Russian President Pig Putin heads to China on Tuesday to shore up eastern ties as relations with the West plunge to new lows over the Ukraine crisis.
During a two-day visit to Shanghai, Pig and Chinese host Xi Jinping will seek to clinch a raft of agreements including a landmark gas deal crucial for Moscow as Europe seeks to cut reliance on Russian oil and gas.
The two leaders will also take part in a regional security forum and oversee the start of joint naval exercises off Shanghai in the East China Sea.
Moscow's relations with the United States and European Union have dived to a post-Cold War low in recent months over Russia's seizure of Crimea and Western accusations the Kremlin is fomenting unrest in the east of Ukraine.
The West has slapped sanctions on some of Pig's closest allies and threatened broader punitive measures if Moscow disrupts presidential polls in Ukraine on May 25.
Amid the showdown the China trip -- previously billed as a visit with a heavy focus on energy ties -- has acquired new symbolism, analysts said.
"In the face of sanctions, Russia needs to demonstrate that it is not isolated," said Pyotr Topychkanov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Centre. "This will be the goal of Putin's visit. He wants to show that Russia has allies."
Pig will be joined by a delegation including dozens of business tycoons and regional leaders and will oversee the signing of some 30 agreements, his top foreign adviser Yury Ushakov said.
In recent years Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, have sought to strengthen ties and often worked in lockstep to contain Washington.
Xi made Russia his first foreign destination after taking office last year and attended the Sochi Olympics in March.
The crisis in Ukraine has thrown up a hurdle however, with Beijing struggling to support Moscow while maintaining its stance on "non-interference" in other countries' domestic affairs.
- Decade of gas talks -
In the run-up to the visit, officials have sought to wrap up a decade of talks on a huge deal that could eventually see almost 70 billion cubic metres of Russian gas sent to China annually for the next 30 years.
Less than a week before the visit officials said differences over pricing remained.
Analysts said China may be using Russia's growing isolation from Western markets as a bargaining chip to negotiate a lower price.
Beijing has denied that but the Kremlin's Ushakov conceded the crisis in ties with the West was affecting the talks to "some extent".
Russian natural gas giant Gazprom said on Thursday the negotiations were "in the final stages," lifting hopes that Pig and Xi will oversee the signing of the mega-deal.
Analysts say the world's second-largest economy has a variety of potential suppliers to choose from but its leverage is limited by China's growing need for additional gas.
"Boosting gas exports to Asia will make Gazprom less reliant on revenues from exports to Europe, potentially making Russia's foreign policy more intransigent on Ukraine or other matters," the IHS consultancy said in a comment.
Ahead of the visit, Russian state oil firm Rosneft also held talks with Chinese oil refiner Sinopec with a view to signing a contract.
In 2013, the two firms signed a preliminary agreement that could see Russia send up to 100 million tonnes of oil to China over 10 years.
Among other key deals, the two countries will agree to develop oil and coal deposits, the Kremlin said.
China could agree to buy some 100 Sukhoi-Superjet planes, said Sergei Luzyanin, deputy director of the Far Eastern Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Russia could also sign a preliminary agreement enabling it to use China's payment card network UnionPay, Luzyanin said.
In March, Putin said Russia would create the country's own credit card system after several local banks saw their customers barred from using Visa and MasterCard cards as a result of U.S. sanctions.
On Wednesday, Pig will take part in a regional security summit, dubbed the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.
Rachida Dati warns French to stop far right by turning out in European polls
MEP and former Sarkozy protege fears apathy about EU will open door to extremists
Kim Willsher in Paris
The Observer, Sunday 18 May 2014
Rachida Dati, a French centre-right MEP and former justice minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy, who now represents French people living in Britain, has appealed to voters to turn out in this week's elections to the European parliament to combat the threat of "ultra-violent, ultra-racist and populist" parties.
Opinion polls in France suggest the far-right Front National (FN) could win up to a quarter of votes and a record number of seats in the European parliament, with the opposition UMP in second place and the ruling Socialists trailing in third.
Dati, who is standing for re-election, told the Observer: "It's the level of abstention that worries me. Non-participation will be the key. If people don't go out and vote there's the risk that Europe speaks for no one, which raises questions about its legitimacy and that boosts extremes."
She added: "What we are seeing with the extremes across Europe is that they are not a homogenous group. They are very different and they don't agree among themselves. Britain has its parties as does France and other countries. But if people don't vote, we risk having a bloc of extreme parties, some of whom are ultra-violent, ultra-racist and populist."
She said: "People are exasperated and disgusted with Europe, not by conviction but because of its caprices. They hear European officials saying 'well yes, we know you are suffering but you have to accept it's going to take another 10 years to get out of this' and they ask themselves what these people know about suffering.
"The politicians are seen as remote… they don't very often come into contact with voters. Even in France we have MEPs who are standing for the fifth time and French people haven't a clue who they are. These are people who consider they don't have to give an account of themselves to the electorate and so they don't. So we should not really be surprised if voters aren't interested in Europe or vote for extremes."
France's UMP party, which won a majority of seats in the 2009 European elections, is campaigning on a broadly conservative manifesto that calls for reform of the Schengen travel area (it opposes Romania and Bulgaria being part of it), tighter European borders to keep out EU and other immigrants and no further enlargement in general (or admission for Turkey in particular).
Sitting in her office in the wealthy 7th arrondissement of Paris, Dati said: "Campaigning is complicated. France is going through an extremely hard crisis, unemployment is rising daily. What advances can we offer the public?"
Dati's one-time cabinet colleague, the former prime minister François Fillon, warned that voting FN would bring France country nothing but "a detestable image". "Whether it's a national or an European election, if an extreme party wins, then it gives a detestable image of that country's political class."
Dati spoke as polls showed that a majority – 62% – of French people were "interested" in the elections, but that 75% thought they would "change nothing" in their country. She would like to see a complete overhaul of European institutions. "Brussels and its technocrats have been rejected by the French," she said recently.
She told the Observer: "We cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. I'm a committed European and believe Europe is necessary for France and other nations in order to remain at the world table. "France is still the motor of Europe, as it should be given that the idea of Europe was French. But I consider the future of France's influence [in the world] depends on its presence in the European Union."
Swiss vote on world's highest minimum wage offering every worker at least $25 an hour
By AFP |
18 May, 2014, 02.15PM IST
Swiss voters are to decide in a referendum today whether to bring in the world's highest minimum wage, offering each and every worker at least USD 25 an hour.Swiss voters are to decide in a referendum today whether to bring in the world's highest minimum wage, offering each and every worker at least USD 25 an hour.
Supporters say the move is justified by sky-high living costs in the Alpine nation, but surveys suggest Switzerland will say "No thanks" to a minimum wage so high it could pass for a mid-management salary elsewhere.
The Swiss will also be voting on a multi-billion-dollar deal to buy fighter jets from Sweden, and are almost certain to back measures to ban paedophiles from working with children.
Most voting stations open at 10:00 am (0800 GMT) and are set to close at noon, with an early estimate of the results expected soon afterwards.
Few Swiss however turn out to cast their ballots in person, with most choosing to vote by post or Internet in the referenda held every three months as part of the country's direct democracy system.
Much of the national debate ahead of today's vote has focused on the pros and cons of introducing a minimum wage.
The unions behind the "Decent Salary" initiative insist at least 22 Swiss francs ($25, 18 euros) an hour, or 4,000 francs ($4,515, 3,280 euros) a month, is needed to survive in Switzerland, one of the world's most expensive countries.
If the voters agree, the small nation nestled in the heart of Europe, would go from having no minimum wage to boasting the world's highest, far above the $7.25 in the United States, 9.43 euros in France, 5.05 euros in Spain and the recently agreed 8.00 euros in Germany, set to take effect next year.
But the initiative, which has drawn envious and incredulous attention from abroad, is not expected to pass, with recent surveys hinting two thirds of Swiss voters oppose it.
Opponents have warned a minimum wage, and especially such a high one, would deal a death blow to many businesses and would weaken Switzerland's healthy economy.
Supporters counter that higher basic wages would boost the purchasing power of some 330,000 people, or one in 10 employees in the country.
People working in sales, services and farming, or as hairdressers and flight attendants, for instance, generally earn far less than the proposed minimum wage.
Iran's Zarif Says Nuclear Deal is 'Possible'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 May 2014, 12:07
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Sunday that clinching a final nuclear deal with world powers is still "possible" despite a tough round of talks this week.
"Agreement is possible. But illusions need to go. Opportunity shouldn't be missed again like in 2005," Zarif said on Twitter, referring to Iran's long-stalled dispute with world powers over its suspect nuclear programme.
Iran and six world powers ended a fourth round of nuclear talks in Vienna on Friday with "no tangible progress".
Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- known as the P5+1 group -- want Iran to radically scale back its nuclear activities, making any dash for an atomic bomb virtually impossible and easily detectable.
The parties want to clinch a deal by July 20, when a November interim deal expires, under which Iran froze certain activities in return for some relief from crippling Western sanctions.
In return for further concessions, the Islamic republic, which denies seeking an atomic weapon, wants the lifting of all U.N. and Western sanctions, which have caused major damage to its economy.
Election-winner Narendra Modi: 21st century belongs to India
Hindu nationalist arrives to take the reins in Delhi to jubilant crowds, but fears remain about divisive sectarian policies
Jason Burke in Delhi
The Observer, Saturday 17 May 2014 19.28 BST
Narendra Modi, the controversial Hindu nationalist who won a landslide victory in India's general election on Friday, made a triumphant entry to the capital, Delhi, on Saturday.
Tens of thousands of supporters welcomed the new prime minister, who until a few years ago was the little-known chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, but whose blending of nationalism with the promise of economic and cultural revival struck a chord with voters.
India is still reeling from the scale of Modi's win. Few predicted his conservative, pro-business Bharatiya Janata party, in opposition since 2004, would win 282 of the 543 directly elected seats in India's lower house. With existing allies, the total number of parliamentarians in the current BJP-led coalition rises to more than 340. No party has won by such a margin since 1984.
"The results were historic ... It is evident that the Indian voter has delivered an epochal verdict," wrote Anil Padmanabhan in Mint, a local business newspaper.
The centre-left Congress, which has governed India for all but 18 of the past 67 years, won only 44 seats, considerably lower than the most pessimistic of its own internal predictions and its worst performance. Rahul Gandhi, 43, scion of India's most famous political dynasty and the face of the party's campaign, accepted responsibility for the defeat at a press conference on Friday night.
Modi's plane arrived from Gujarat, where he was born and which he has run since 2001, at 11am and a motorcade of a dozen vehicles cruised along streets cleared by police from the airport to the BJP headquarters in the centre of the city. Roads for half a mile around the building had been closed and large numbers of security personnel deployed.
"Now we are in an absolute majority we are capable of doing anything," said Bala Das Sharma, 42, a homeopathic doctor from the nearby town of Ghaziabad, who had travelled to "salute the new prime minister".
Nikas Kumar, a bank employee in the booming satellite town of Gurgaon, and his wife Gitika, a human resources executive, had brought their daughter. "I wanted to feel a part of it, to be proud of it, to know that our vote counted," said Kumar, 39.
Modi, 63, a former tea seller whose background sets him apart from the established political and cultural elite of Delhi and was a major factor in his success, spoke briefly to party workers. "This victory belongs to you," he told them, before leaving for the holy city of Varanasi, one of the two seats from which he was elected, where he will offer prayers on the banks of the Ganges at sunset.
The huge win has raised concerns in some quarters in India and overseas. Most analysts had predicted the BJP would form a government with coalition partners from among India's powerful regional parties. These would have acted as a brake on any hardline agenda.
The new prime minister is a deeply polarising figure whom many Muslims in India – around 14% of the population – fear. Modi, the former organiser in the country's biggest Hindu revivalist organisation, has been accused of failing to stop, or even encouraging, sectarian riots in which 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in Gujarat shortly after he took power there. The violence followed an arson attack on a train full of Hindu pilgrims in which 59 died. Modi has always denied wrongdoing and a supreme court investigation found insufficient evidence to support the charges against him.
Modi, who has never held office at national level, pledged in his first speech after learning of the scale of his victory to fulfil the dreams of all of India's 1.25 billion people. "I want to take all of you with me to take this country forward ... it is my responsibility to take all of you with me to run this country," he said. He promised "to make the 21st century India's century".
International investors and local businessmen have welcomed the huge mandate for the BJP, which has promised to implement wide-ranging economic reforms. Though economic growth was strong through much of the decade of rule by Congress, it has faltered in recent years.
Modi made good governance and development the main focus of his campaign, deriding Gandhi as a "princeling" who had little concept of the aspirations of the 551 million people who voted in the bitter and protracted six-week contest.
Gandhi, whose mother, Sonia, led Congress to victory in 2004, fought a lacklustre campaign. Party officials sought to insulate the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty from criticism on Saturday. "It is not about the responsibility of one particular person or another," one said.
It is possible, though far from probable, that the crushing defeat will force the Congress into a radical restructuring to make the party more transparent, representative and responsive to voters.
For his part, Modi is likely to use his personal victory to lever out many old-guard figures within his own party who opposed his rise. Ravi Shankar Prasad, a senior BJP leader, said that the mood among officials was "as sober and sombre in victory as [it would have been] in defeat."
The BJP won more than 30% of votes cast, with Congress on 19%. Due to India's Westminster-style first past the post electoral system, some smaller parties did extremely well with tiny overall vote shares. About one voter in 100 used the None of the Above option, introduced for the first time in this poll.
Factories forced to close as Vietnamese rage mounts over China oil rig
Hanoi's tolerance of protests against the regime in Beijing has set alarm bells ringing
Kate Hodal in Ho Chi Minh City
The Observer, Sunday 18 May 2014
Outside Ho Chi Minh City's popular brick-and-wood Chieu Café, a hastily fashioned, bright yellow placard warns away potential patrons. "Customers from mainland China will be refused service," it reads, "until the Chinese government removes its oil rig."
The café's owner, Nguyen Chieu, 37, an outspoken poet, shrugs off any indication that such sentiments could help stoke further animosity between two communist neighbours that have enjoyed relative peace and prosperity for three decades. But all that changed last week, when violent protests saw at least 21 people killed and 100 injured as mobs set fire to and looted businesses and factories, hunted down Chinese workers and attacked police.
The provocation came from China's move to station an oil rig in a maritime boundary area 150 miles from Vietnam's shoreline. "Look: we're always worried about the north," says Nguyen, referring to China. "They conquered us for 4,000 long years, so every move that China makes can spark fear within us. This isn't a new feeling ignited by the sudden appearance of the oil rig; it's been in my blood for a long time. Personally, I worry that if we didn't have the support of the west, we would definitely be at war with China, and we would lose."
Nguyen's distrust of China may be personal – her brother fought in the fierce 1979 China-Vietnam border war – but her fear over Vietnam's future is a common one.
China is Vietnam's largest trading partner, and business between the two nations has been booming in recent years. But the attacks at industrial parks and steel mills from the south to the centre of the nation targeted, perhaps unwittingly, not just Chinese businesses, but Taiwanese and South Korean factories too.
"Any factory that had a Chinese-sounding name, or Chinese characters on its gates, got destroyed," says Truong Han, a security officer at a burnt-out Taiwanese factory in Binh Duong industrial park. Four days after the rampage by an angry mob numbering in the thousands, factories have hung large banners outside proclaiming allegiance to Vietnam. "We support Vietnam," reads one white cloth stretched delicately across a Singaporean-owned factory. "This is not a Chinese company – we oppose China's placement of the oil rig," says another banner at a still-smouldering Taiwanese shoe factory.
These vast industrial zones generate a third of Vietnam's total export revenue, with factories manufacturing shoes, clothes and electronics for international companies such as Apple, Adidas, Nike and Walmart. The forced closures of such factories means a significant drop in profits, as well as loss of investor confidence. "Vietnam's failure to rein in deadly mob attacks against foreign nationals and investment … tarnishes Vietnam's international image and undermines the government's credibility," cautioned a recent Xinhua editorial in China.
Vietnam's prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, issued a message on Thursday urging Vietnamese authorities to protect foreign investors, and businesses are expected to receive payouts for incurred damages.
But is such urging genuine? While China and Vietnam have fought battles in the past – the most recent in 1979 – what is unusual about these recent disputes is Hanoi's tolerance, or even support, for the local protests directed against Beijing, says Lingling Mao, senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Nottingham Trent University. "Vietnam and China's relationship has gone from comrades to foes over the last 45 years" he said, adding that these kinds of industrial protests in the countries were the result of clashes over national interests as well as environmental and ideological disagreements.
The US expressed "serious concern" over China's aggression last week, just as leading Beijing newspapers warned Vietnam that Hanoi must "shoulder full responsibility for whatever serious consequences the [recent] crimes have on China-Vietnam ties".A leading Chinese general later countered that President Obama's Asian "pivot" was to blame. "Some neighbouring countries are using this opportunity of America's pivot to stir up [trouble]," Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, told a Pentagon press briefing. He added that China "cannot afford to lose an inch" of what he claims was "ancestral territory".
Vietnam's quest for sovereignty and self-rule from China has long been a thorn in its side, as has what Vietnam sees as China's endless provocation over maritime boundaries around the Paracel and Spratly island chains in the South China Sea – an area to which about 10 countries lay full, or partial, claim – because of its rich oil and gas reserves.
Spats over boundaries have flared for years. But this most recent standoff started on 1 May, when China sent an oil rig to the Paracel islands, 150 miles from Vietnam's coast, which it plans to operate until typhoon season starts in August.
Protests turned into riots, and both have done far more harm than good, said Nguyen Quoc Hong, a taxi driver who has lived in Binh Duong for the past decade. "The factories have closed down and now foreign investors are scared. This year it's already been hard for people to find work – but this will just make it harder."
The violence has sparked an exodus of foreigners from Vietnam, many of whom have been living here for decades. Six hundred Chinese nationals have fled to Cambodia, while an estimated 2,000 Taiwanese have gone. Those who have remained in Binh Duong have piled into its two main hotels, where they are waiting out the days with trepidation.
"Am I scared? Yes, I'm scared," says Derek Chang, a Taiwanese sales representative at a textile export factory. "It's a dangerous situation. I've been here five years and I've never seen this before."
With further Hanoi-sanctioned anti-China protests planned Sunday, he worries he may soon find himself with very few options. "If things get worse tomorrow, I'll definitely go back to Taiwan," he said.No less telling is café owner Nguyen's view of Vietnam's future – one in which Beijing controls Hanoi once again through a series of orchestrated zero-sum games, inducing economic subversion to its far mightier, and far larger, northern neighbour. "I won't be another one of China's puppets," she said resolutely. "If Vietnam won't stand up to China, then I, too, will leave."
Boko Haram: African leaders agree joint action in rare show of unity
Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin pledge to cooperate against militant group that has kidnapped 200 schoolgirls
Kim Willsher in Paris
theguardian.com, Saturday 17 May 2014 17.46 BST
African leaders at a summit in Paris have agreed on a regional plan of action to combat Boko Haram, the Islamist group that has abducted more than 200 girls and threatened to sell them into slavery.
In a rare show of unity, the leaders of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin pledged cooperation including joint border patrols and sharing intelligence to find the girls, snatched from Nigeria more than a month ago.
Nigeria has faced criticism for not having done enough to protect its people, particularly the girls, and for its slow response to the kidnappings.
The country's president, Goodluck Jonathan, described Boko Haram as a "terrorist organisation" and said it was part of an "al-Qaida operation".
The mini-summit, hosted by France, brought together presidents in the region to discuss how to come up with a united response to combat Boko Haram.
Earlier, the US department of defence suggested the Nigerian army was not capable of confronting Boko Haram alone.
"The division in the north that mainly is engaging with Boko Haram … has recently shown signs of real fear," said Alice Friend, the department's African affairs director. "They do not have the capabilities, the training or the equipment that Boko Haram does, and Boko Haram is exceptionally brutal and indiscriminate in their attacks."
Key to the success of the summit was the presence of Cameroon, Nigeria's neighbour, at the table. Relations between the two countries have been soured by a long-standing territorial dispute.
Representatives from the US, UK and EU were also present in Paris.
The UK foreign secretary, William Hague, said forging better relations between Nigeria and Cameroon was essential and neighbouring countries could provide practical help to search for the schoolgirls.
"This is a very important moment in the search for the schoolgirls that were abducted in Nigeria now nearly five weeks ago. To make sure we are doing everything we can in practical terms, working together," Hague said.
"We want to see the countries in the region work together more effectively – creating an intelligence fusion cell, conducting joint patrols and operations.
"The second focus is making sure there is a strategy to defeat Boko Haram more broadly. This is one sickening and terrible incident, but they continue almost every day to commit terrorist attacks and atrocities of other kinds. They have to be defeated in the region."
Boko Haram's ability to operate across vast areas of northern Nigeria is helped by the porous nature of the borders in the region.
There have been reports of the group carrying out attacks in Nigeria and escaping into Cameroon.
The French president, François Hollande, said: "Boko Haram has become a major threat for the whole of west Africa and now for central Africa."
He added that the organisation has been shown to have links with al-Qaida affiliates including al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) and other terrorist organisations.
"A global plan must be put into operation with the aim of exchanging informations and coordinating actions, controlling borders and acting in an appropriate way," Hollande said.
Nigeria and its neighbours pledged to reinforce security measures for those living in areas targeted by Boko Haram, carry out bilateral patrols and share operational intelligence to find the kidnapped girls and other snatched by the Islamist group.
A second summit at ministerial level will be held in London next month to report on what progress has been made.
As the summit took place, Boko Haram was reported to have killed one Chinese road worker and kidnapped 10 others between Friday night and Saturday morning in northern Cameroon.
South Sudan crisis: famine and genocide threaten to engulf nation
Aid agencies say South Sudan at 'tipping point' as ethnic violence puts millions of people at risk of starvation and disease
Robin Lustig in Melut
The Observer, Saturday 17 May 2014 19.43 BST
It is happening again. Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda, 30 years after the famine in Ethiopia, Africa's twin scourges are back. This time it is a single country facing a double disaster. South Sudan, the world's newest nation, not yet three years old, is on the brink of catastrophe.
Here in Melut, on the banks of the Nile, close to the oilfields and the border with Sudan, the signs of impending disaster are impossible to miss. This week the world's richest nations will have one last chance to make good their promises of help.
Nearly 20,000 people have fled to the refugee camps in Melut since fighting between rival government factions broke out last December. In total, more than a million people have fled from their homes and, with the rainy season starting, more than a third of the population – 3.7 million people – are already facing emergency and crisis levels of hunger.
"There is no food here," a man tells me as we sit in the dust beneath an acacia tree in one of Melut's makeshift camps. "No food. We eat leaves from the trees and the women go out to collect firewood. But when the rain comes, it will be still worse. We will starve – and then we will die."
Relief agencies are fighting a desperate battle to alert the outside world to the scale of the impending disaster. Last week Oxfam warned that the crisis has reached a "now or never moment" to avoid catastrophic levels of hunger and suffering. Chief executive Mark Goldring said: "The crisis is at a tipping point. We either act now or millions will pay the price. We need a massive and rapid global surge in aid … We cannot afford to wait, and we cannot afford to fail."
In Melut the rains have just started. Two of the town's camps are on the banks of the Nile and few of the flimsy straw huts have plastic sheeting for their roofs. Soon the dust will turn to mud. Disease will spread. The old and the young, already weak from hunger, will start to die. "Please tell the world," says one of the camp's leaders. "We need food, shelter and mosquito nets. We cannot survive like this."
Last week, in an ominous development, the South Sudanese government officially declared a cholera outbreak in the capital, Juba. In a statement last Thursday, it said that 18 suspected cases and one death have already been reported in the city. The fear is that soon the outbreak will spread among the 1.3 million people who have been displaced by the past five months of violence.
The world cannot say it didn't know about this crisis. Last month the US's top aid official, Rajiv Shah, warned: "South Sudan is on the brink of famine." The EU said the world was witnessing a humanitarian disaster of appalling proportions, and the UN's humanitarian aid coordinator, Toby Lanzer, said that without immediate action the South Sudan crisis will be more serious than anything seen in Africa since the Ethiopian famine of 30 years ago.
On Tuesday the world's major donors will meet in Oslo to decide on a response to the crisis. The UN says current pledges amount to less than half of what is needed: it wants another $1.26bn (£750m) to pay for urgent assistance until the end of this year. Without it, four million people will be left at risk of avoidable diseases, hunger or death. Up to 50,000 children could die from malnutrition. Cholera could spread and tens of thousands of people could die from other diseases such as measles, pneumonia and malaria. If no seeds are planted during the rainy season, famine will follow within months.
I met Tyler Evans, a doctor from New York who is working with the relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières, in his makeshift clinic beneath a piece of plastic sheeting held up on wooden poles. We were in the UN compound in Melut, where nearly 1,000 people have sought refuge behind razor wire after being chased from their homes by armed gangs.
The biggest health issue Evans faces on his visits twice a week to the over-crowded and squalid camp is lack of hygiene.
"What's the use of me telling a woman she must wash her hands before she feeds her children if she has no soap and no access to clean water?" he asks. "We're already seeing malnourishment among children – up to 10% not far from here – and when the rains come, so will malaria."
The people in this camp are terrified and traumatised. They shelter beneath the protective guns of UN guards, knowing full well that last month in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state to the south of here, 200 armed men in civilian clothing stormed a UN base where more than 5,000 civilians had taken refuge. More than 50 people were reported to have been killed.
They, like the people in the UN compound in Melut, were Nuer, members of South Sudan's second-largest ethnic group to which the former vice-president, now turned rebel leader, Riek Machar, belongs. What began as a personal and political struggle between him and President Salva Kiir, who is a Dinka, the country's biggest ethnic group, has now turned into communal bloodletting of Rwanda-like brutality.
International diplomats do not use the word genocide lightly – but two weeks ago the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said that if South Sudan's violence continued along ethnic lines it "could really present a very serious challenge to the international community with respect to the question of genocide".
What that implies is that this is not the kind of conflict that can be stopped in its tracks by a ceasefire agreement – and early signs are that the agreement in Addis Ababa last weekend is shaky at best.
Unlike in Rwanda, the ethnic massacring is mutual in South Sudan. In one of the worst single incidents, at least 400 Dinka were slaughtered last month by Nuer attackers in Bentiu. Some were killed as they sought shelter in mosques and churches – and, in another terrible echo of Rwanda, local FM radio stations were used to incite local people to join the carnage. Nuer kill Dinka; Dinka kill Nuer.
"People came from a neighbouring village and told us you cannot live around here any more," says a Nuer man in the Melut UN compound. "They said that if we stayed we would be killed. A lot of people in my village were killed. God knows what will be the future for my children. Here, we are starving."
None of the men in the camp dares venture beyond the barbed wire fence. So it is the women who go out foraging for firewood. They know the risks. "Every day we walk for five hours looking for wood," says one woman. "It is very dangerous for us. Yesterday one woman did not return. Another one returned and cried for the whole day. Terrible things happen."
She refuses to say more. My translator explains that many women are raped when they leave the compound.
A UN human rights report published 10 days ago makes grim reading: "All parties to the conflict have committed acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women of different ethnic groups … There are reasonable grounds to believe that violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been committed by both parties."
After the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s, leaders of the world's richest nations said it must never happen again. They said the same after the Rwandan genocide of 1994. But in South Sudan, it is happening. Again.
Joseph Kony has named son as his deputy, says Ugandan army
Salim Saleh's new responsibilities in Lord's Resistance Army are sign Kony is weakening, according to general
Agence France-Presse in Kampala
theguardian.com, Sunday 18 May 2014 10.56 BST
Uganda's notorious rebel chief Joseph Kony has named his son as deputy leader of his Lord's Resistance Army, a guerrilla force infamous for its extreme violence, the country's army has said.
Salim Saleh, reported to be 22, is understood to have spent his entire life in the bush with his father's force, which continues to defy international efforts to hunt them down.
"Previously the son was in charge of the group providing security to the father, but now he has an added responsibility of field command," the top Ugandan general Sam Kavuma said.
Kavuma claimed it was a sign that Kony's control of the force had been weakened, with fighters now split into several autonomous gangs.
Long since forced from Uganda, the rebels roam remote forest regions of the Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"The role of the son is an indication Kony has lost contact with most of his commanders, some who have been killed by our forces and others are in disarray, with the rebels becoming weaker," Kavuma said.
However, the force has shown itself adept at avoiding capture and continues to launch attacks despite being hunted by Ugandan troops with the support of US special forces.
Kony, who launched a rebellion in Uganda more than two decades ago, is wanted by the international criminal court along with fellow top commanders on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, sexual slavery and using child soldiers.
"Intelligence information collated from [rebel] defectors indicate Kony's son is the most influential person after his father," said Kavuma, who heads the Ugandan mission searching for the rebel chief.
Salim Saleh is reportedly named after the younger brother of the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, a top military officer and influential politician.
Digging deep to find water on Earth’s moon
By The Conversation
Sunday, May 18, 2014 4:28 EDT
By Mahesh Anand, The Open University; James Mortimer, The Open University; Jessica Barnes, The Open University, and Romain Tartese, The Open University
One of the main aims of the Apollo missions of the 1960s was to determine whether the moon had any water on it. If man were to build a colony on the moon, having water present would make living there easier.
The discovery that Apollo found small quantities of water on the moon was met with great joy. But that didn’t last for long. Further analysis revealed that the isotopic composition of that water looked just like that on Earth, which was bad news.
Water is made up hydrogen and oxygen, which have different types of isotopes determined by the number of neutrons in each atom. The assumption was that water on different celestial bodies would have different isotopic signatures. But they weren’t different, which made scientists assume that, while analysing the samples on Earth, terrestrial water may have ended up in lunar samples. Hence they dubbed the moon to be “bone-dry”.
But then, in the 1990s, two independent missions Clementine and Lunar Prospector hinted that there might be water ice on the lunar surface, especially at lunar poles.
This polar water on the moon was confirmed by American space agency NASA’s LCROSS mission in 2010. Then, another exciting discovery came about through NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument onboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission which confirmed the presence of water not just on the poles, but everywhere.
Finding water and water-ice on the surface of the moon was like turning on a light bulb for lunar geochemists who began to realise that if there is water on the surface, there is a good chance it is also in the rocks. It took almost 40 years after Apollo missions, when in 2008 a team from Brown University led by Alberto Saal found water (still in relatively small quantities at levels of up to 46 parts per million) in lunar glass beads. These glass beads are formed when the magma melt cools suddenly, and they are found in the interior of the moon.
While the amount of water in the glass beads is small, it indicates that at the time the glass beads were formed the amount of water on the moon would have been comparable to those found in basalts on Earth (nearly 260 parts per million). This finding changed how lunar researchers thought about the moon. Some portions of the moon, it seemed, were as wet as some parts of the Earth’s interior.
Also, the volcanic glasses analysed by Saal and his team were from a lunar soil sample and, in general, volcanic glass makes up a small proportion of the returned sample set. Our research team followed up on this by looking at mineral apatite, which is known in terrestrial rocks to contain water and some other volatiles. (It is a calcium phosphate mineral and locks water into its crystal structure.)
And we, too, were successful in finding water in lunar apatites. This is an important finding since we now know that apatite is the only known water-containing mineral in lunar samples and is ubiquitous to almost all lunar rock types.
However, it is not just the amount of water that is important but also the isotopic composition of the hydrogen atoms that form this water. Recent findings show that isotopic composition of water recorded in some ancient lunar highlands rocks and basaltic glasses is almost identical to the range of isotopic composition proposed for Earth’s mantle. This matters because it would mean that the water delivered to both bodies came from the same source.
The jury is out at the moment about the source or sources of lunar water as scientists try to make new measurements. One thing is certain – our understanding of water in and on the moon is far from complete.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot could disappear in a generation
By The Conversation
Saturday, May 17, 2014 16:53 EDT
By Alan Duffy, Swinburne University of Technology
NASA revealed today that the iconic Great Red Spot on Jupiter has shrunk to its smallest size ever – and astronomers have no idea why.
The Great Red Spot is a giant anticyclone storm that has been raging for at least 400 years, when astronomers were first able to build a telescope large enough to notice it. How it formed and has even lasted this long is still a mystery.
The first observations in the 1800s measured the storm to be about 41,000km across – wide enough to comfortably fit three Earths (the Earth’s diameter is about 12,700km). But by 1979-80 when the Voyager spacecraft flew by for a closer look it had already shrunk to 23,335km.
Now with the incredible precision of the Hubble Space Telescope astronomers were able to accurately measure the extent of the Great Red Spot over the past 20 years and found that it’s been shrinking by about 1,000km per year.
The incredible shrinking Great Red Spot on Jupiter.
The Great Red Spot’s width is about 16,000km – still big enough for the Earth to fit within the eye of the storm – but at current rates of shrinking it could be gone by 2030, depriving the next generation of astronomers of one of the solar system’s most enigmatic objects.
While the shrinking has been hinted at before, the quality of the Hubble Space Telescope images have made it clearer than ever, as well as revealing a possible reason behind this amazing disappearing act.
Thanks to the superb resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope astronomers have seen the Great Red Spot swallow smaller “eddies” or whirlwinds which might be somehow cancelling out the giant storm.
Movements about the Great Red Spot hint at its formation.
To confirm this we need to measure the speed and direction of the winds in these eddies. This is a topic of intense research as there may only be a few years left to study the storm before it’s gone.
Earth storms made large
On Earth we get anticyclones (regions of highest pressure on a weather map) but they don’t last long as eventually they pass over land which drains the energy from the storm.
But Jupiter – the fifth planet from the sun – is a gas giant. It doesn’t have a land surface to slow down its storms so they can continue to build.
The problem for astronomers though is that current theories show the planet isn’t spinning fast enough to power up a storm this large. So how did the Great Red Spot get so big?
Jupiter’s Shrinking Great Red Spot
One way to form such a large storm was seen by astronomers in 2000 as they noticed the formation of a new storm on Jupiter, known as the Oval (or Little Red Spot), through the merger of three smaller systems.
This suggests that Great Red Spot might just be a particularly successful storm in capturing neighbours to power itself to this size.
The Great Red Spot isn’t the only large storm in the solar system. In particular there’s the Great Dark Spot on Neptune. This is nearly as big as the (shrunken) Great Red Spot but only seems to last a few years at a time before vanishing.
Mysteries of the Spot
One of the most striking features of the Great Red Spot is its colour. It can change hue from blood red to salmon pink to nearly indistinguishable from neighbouring clouds, all in the space of months.
The changing colours of the Great Red Spot, with moon Ganymede orbiting nearby. Image taken April 9, 2007.
Even though astronomers have studied this feature for hundreds of years this is still a mystery. The colour is believed to result from complex organic molecules or sulphur-based compounds, which can also change colour when exposed to sunlight at the top of the storm, but we don’t know for sure.
The Great Red Spot may be a fraction of its former size but the storm clouds still tower 8km above their neighbours, with winds at the edge of the storm racing around the eye at hundreds of kilometres per hour. The entire storm itself takes six days to make a lap of the gas giant (although thanks to the rapid spin of Jupiter we see it come in and out of view every 10 hours).
There is always the chance that it might yet rebuild itself by engulfing a neighbouring storm, surprising astronomers yet again.
Regardless of the fate of the storm, it’s captivated astronomers and the public imagination alike for hundreds of years and will live on in the gorgeous images that the Hubble Space Telescope have managed to capture.
In many of the school-talks I give the Great Red Spot is one of the favourite topics of the class. There’s something about a world-devouring storm that captures kids’ imaginations!
Thanks to this latest finding though the tempest is just a little less grand and for the next generation may have all but disappeared.
Alan Duffy is affiliated with the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO).
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VI3RoOtkPG8
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Goldman Sachs fears risks if rivals plead guilty
The head of US bank Goldman Sachs has warned that guilty pleas from rivals BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse, under legal proceedings in the United States, could hurt the financial system.
The two European banks, under probes for violating US sanctions and abetting tax evasion, are potentially facing very heavy fines that could reach billions of dollars.
US authorities are urging the banks to plead guilty and have threatened criminal prosecution, which could lead to the revocation of their licences — potentially forcing other banks to determine whether to continue doing business with them.
Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, asked about the issue on the sidelines of the bank’s annual shareholder meeting Friday in Texas, said it would be difficult to stop doing business with the two European banks.
Given the many ties between the world’s banks, the resolution of the case could affect internal credit relationships within the financial system, Blankfein said, according to comments reported by The Wall Street Journal.
“It becomes a very weighty decision to cut someone off, and we wouldn’t do it lightly.”
He said the impact “depends on what the consequences of the guilty pleas are.”
According to the Financial Times, Blankfein also warned that “for us to not deal with someone would be a further risk to the system.”
Accepting a guilty plea — which no bank has done in the United States in two decades — could have serious consequences for the operations of the two banks, exposing them to damages claims.
In similar cases, US banks have been fined heavily but not forced to plea guilty.
BNP Paribas is accused of having violated US sanctions against Cuba, Iran and Sudan between 2002 and 2009. The bank’s chief executive Jean-Laurent Bonnafe came to the US to make his bank’s case last week.
Credit Suisse is facing prosecution for its part in helping rich Americans hide their assets to avoid US taxes.
Republican leading Benghazi probe Trey Gowdy has a reputation for courtroom theatrics
Sunday, May 18, 2014 3:37 EDT
The Republican who will lead an investigation of the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic quarters in Benghazi was known for courtroom theatrics in his time as a prosecutor, portending dramatic hearings on an issue that already has strained partisan civility in Washington.
Republicans hope to gain political traction before congressional elections in November by accusing the White House of muddying the facts to protect President Barack Obama after the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed in the attacks by Islamic militants.
Democrats have not said whether they will take any seats on the Republican-majority special committee, saying the new probe – following several other congressional investigations on Benghazi – is also aimed at damaging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chances if she runs for president in 2016.
Representative Trey Gowdy, the 49-year-old from South Carolina chosen by House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to chair the panel, is a Christian conservative elected to Congress in 2010 on the wave of the Tea Party movement.
Gowdy came with a reputation for tenacity, and dug into various probes of the Obama administration. He is outspokenly critical of its handling of the Benghazi matter.
In a briefing last year, Washington reporters were given a flavor of what Gowdy’s leadership of the hearings might be like. He pointedly asked, “Can you tell me why Chris Stevens was in Benghazi the night that he was killed?” and “Does it bother you whether or not you know why Chris Stevens was in Benghazi?”
Gowdy’s office declined an interview request.
Those who knew Gowdy during his 16 years as a state and federal prosecutor in South Carolina say he also has a gift of the gab and a willingness to tug on jurors’ heartstrings.
“He certainly was not above putting on a good show,” said defense attorney Ricky Harris of Spartanburg in South Carolina’s northwestern “Upstate.” Gowdy was a federal prosecutor in the area from 1994 to 2000, when he was elected to become a state prosecutor. He now represents the region in Congress.
Harris, who ran and lost as a Democrat for statehouse in 1990, recalled that Gowdy once strolled into a Spartanburg courtroom wheeling a rolling bookcase at the start of a drug-trafficking trial. A King James version of the Bible was prominently displayed, along with some law books.
Harris suspected Gowdy of wanting to impress the jury and was concerned the Bible was intended to suggest the prosecution’s case had the backing of a higher authority. Harris asked the judge to order the removal of the Bible.
“That set off a firestorm,” Harris said. He said Gowdy “was highly offended that I would have any problem at all with him bringing the Bible into the courtroom.” But the judge agreed with Harris, and the Bible had to go.
Spartanburg attorney Rick Vieth, who has also run as a Democrat, joked that “I didn’t know what I was getting into” when Gowdy won a murder conviction against his client, Bob Harry Fowler, in 1997. Fowler was accused of killing a man to stop him testifying in a drug trial.
In closing arguments, Gowdy gave a powerful description of victim Ricky Samuel’s last moments as he was lured to a pond by the accused, who posed as a preacher to get Samuel’s confidence.
“Walking down to the water with a preacher … not to be baptized, but to meet Jesus because you had two bullets pumped in the back of your head,” Gowdy said, according to a 1997 media account published on GoUpstate.com.
Gowdy successfully prosecuted seven death penalty cases in state courts. In 2008 he won an award from the Association of Government Attorneys in Capital Litigation. Gowdy also was nominated for an award by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which called him an “agent’s prosecutor” who will “give it 120 percent all the time.”
Spartanburg attorney Michael Morin, who opposed Gowdy in a death penalty case and later worked for him in the prosecutor’s office, said Gowdy excelled at appealing to a jury’s emotions.
“He is always well prepared, he is going to know the facts. He is most effective when he taps into emotion,” Morin said.
Vieth expects Gowdy to go after what happened in Benghazi as relentlessly as he pursued cases in South Carolina courtrooms.
“He is going to be a great fact-finder, and let the chips fall where they may. If it’s favorable to Obama, fine; if not, fine,” Vieth said.
Senate Republicans Hit an All Time Low Blocking Bill They Unanimously Supported
Saturday, May, 17th, 2014, 10:01 am
Bipartisanship is a political situation in which opposing political parties find common ground through compromise to govern more efficiently, and prior to Americans electing an African American man as President, governing and passing legislation through compromise was not a unique situation. It is old news, now, that Republicans are unwilling and incapable of finding common ground with Democrats on any issue even if the public and Republican legislators support something the President and Democrats are promoting. In fact, Republicans will oppose, obstruct, and block by filibuster anything, and if this past week was any indication, Senate Republicans will even block legislation they helped write and supported in a rare display of bipartisanship.
This week there were two carefully negotiated bills that appeared to satisfy both Senate Democrats and Republicans alike because there was broad bipartisan support for each. One bill, a business-backed bill to revive and extend tax breaks for companies doing research and development was filibustered (blocked) by Republicans on Thursday even though they unanimously supported it. The second bill, dealing with energy efficiency, was blocked by Republicans on Monday despite careful negotiations and compromise from both sides of the aisle. It is obvious the obstruction had nothing to do with the content of the bills and everything to do with bringing governance to a halt unless Republicans got their way.
Republicans made no bones about why they filibustered both bills and according to Utah Republican Senator Orin Hatch, “It had nothing to do with policy, it had to do with how we proceed. And frankly I think a message was sent today.” The message was perfectly clear that because Republicans were unable to add an amendment forcing President Obama to approve the KeystoneXL pipeline and abolish the wind energy tax credits, and another repealing part of the Affordable Care Act, the bills would never survive Republicans’ filibuster.
On Monday, Republicans filibustered the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill by a 55-36 vote because Democrats would not allow them to insert stealth amendment forcing the President to approve the Keystone pipeline and eliminate the wind energy tax credit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered to let Republicans have a vote on the KeystoneXL pipeline as a standalone bill, but it was not enough of a concession for Republicans so they refused Reid’s offer. Apparently there was nothing to prevent Republicans from making the Senate completely ungovernable. One can understand Republicans reneging on a bipartisan measure about energy efficiency, particularly because they could not satisfy the Koch’s coveted Canadian pipeline approval or eliminate tax credits for clean wind energy, but there is no accounting for any Republican blocking tax breaks for corporations.
On Thursday Republicans blocked a measure to revive expired tax breaks for corporations on research and development, among many other pro-business incentives; the measure failed by a vote of 53-40. Republicans liked the idea of more corporate tax breaks, but only if Democrats allowed them to insert a stealth amendment repealing the Affordable Care Act’s medical device tax, so they filibustered the legislation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stood on the floor of the Senate on Thursday and accused Democrats of “turning the Senate into a graveyard of good ideas and open democratic debate.” What McConnell failed to tell Americans was one of the “good ideas” was attempting to force the President to approve a foreign corporation’s pipeline that serves no American’s interest except the oil export industry, the Koch brothers, and Speaker of the House John Boehner’s portfolio. McConnell continued his rant in support of obstructing legislation for obstruction’s sake by blaming Democrats for eliminating the citizens of this country’s “say in what their government does.” He also claimed the Senate is “the citadel of our democracy — the place where we guarantee that no one in this country is cut out of the legislative process. Today, we have a Democratic majority that’s turned this body right on its head.” Apparently, the Democrats and Republicans who worked out two bipartisan deals only to have Republicans block their passage unless they got amendments that served special interests is not turning the Senate right on its head.
McConnell knows that there is no legislative process in the country with obstruction-minded Republicans involved, and citizens have not had a voice in what their government does because Republicans have obstructed myriad pieces of legislation the people, and Republicans, overwhelmingly supported. The “citizens” McConnell referred to have no interest, or benefit to gain, from Republicans eliminating wind energy tax credits, forcing the President to approve the Keystone pipeline, or repealing the ACA’s medical device tax that serve the GOP’s special interests. It bears repeating the Harry Reid offered Republicans an opportunity to have their vote to supersede President Obama’s constitutional authority over approving the Keystone pipeline, but they rejected his generous offer out-of-hand.
The Senate Republicans’ obstruction has reached a point that a professor at George Washington University and leading Senate expert, Sarah Binder, said, “This is what parliamentary warfare looks like. I think the filibuster of the tax extender and energy bills — both carefully negotiated by committee leaders in a bipartisan fashion — suggests yet another deterioration of the Senate’s legislative capacity. The combination of Senate rules and competitive, polarized parties makes the Senate near ungovernable.”One does not have to be a Senate expert to know Republicans have all but ground the upper chamber’s ability to govern to a screeching halt regardless what the issue is. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid certainly has had his fill of Republican obstruction, even obstructing bills they support and helped write. Reid said, “This useless, mind-boggling obstruction is what continually grinds the wheels of the Senate to a halt. So to my friends who want to know how we can make things better here in the Senate, I say: put an end to obstruction for obstruction’s sake.” Reid is correct that this GOP minority’s obstruction has escalated to unprecedented heights and there appears to be no end in sight.
A former spokesman for Reid, Jim Manley, said, “In all my years in the Senate I’ve never seen anything like this. All but the most routine bills are subject to filibusters.” Manley said one of the main reasons Reid opposes an open-amendment process after a bill has been written and ready for a vote is “because he has been blindsided in the past by completely off-the-wall Republican amendments relating to personhood or gun legislation, which aren’t always relevant to the underlying bill. Repealing any part of the ACA had nothing to do with giving corporations tax breaks for research and development any more than forcing the President to approve the Keystone pipeline or eliminating wind energy tax credits were related to energy efficiency. If nothing else, the Keystone approval and elimination of wind energy tax credits were contrary to the purpose of the energy efficiency legislation and that may have been the Republicans’ point in using those amendments as cover to obstruct legislation that would benefit the people.
It is likely that Orin Hatch really explained the mindset of obstructionist Republicans when he helped filibuster a bill he strongly supported. He said, “It had nothing to do with policy, it had to do with how we proceed. And frankly I think a message was sent today.” Hatch is wrong on one point; obstructing legislation that Republicans helped write and supported has everything to do with the Republican Party’s policy of bringing governance to an end because the American people elected an African American man as President, and it is also a message Republicans began sending in 2009 within days of President Obama’s inauguration. What Hatch meant to say is Republican obstruction had nothing to do with the content of the legislation, only that they were unable to attach amendments to benefit their campaign donors.
Republicans have nearly brought the ability to govern to a grinding halt that they wear as a badge of honor as if the American people enjoy paying Republicans’ bloated salaries for rendering Congress’ ability to function useless. If, as McConnell claims, democracy is being thwarted, it is because Republicans will not allow the democratic process to work even when they get bipartisan legislation they support. When Republicans obstructed tax breaks for corporations and rejected the opportunity to vote for KeystoneXL’s approval, they revealed their only purpose in going to Washington is to completely neuter the government; that is the message another round of obstruction sent the people who elected them.
Ukraine's Very Survival at Stake in Presidential Vote
by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 May 2014, 17:01
With a bloody insurgency raging in the east, the ominous presence of Russian troops across the border and an economy in deep recession, next Sunday's election will determine the very survival of Ukraine.
But it is unclear whether a large chunk of the population will want to -- or be able to -- turn out to choose a new president for a country many fear is on the brink of civil war.
The West views the May 25 vote as the only way to end a crisis that began with pro-EU protests in Kiev but spiraled into a wider confrontation after Russia seized Crimea and pro-Moscow rebels took up arms in the east.
"This is the most important election since independence," said analyst Volodymyr Fesenko at the Penta center for political studies in Kiev. "Ukraine's very statehood depends on it."
Dozens have been killed in just a few weeks as the Ukraine military battles against separatists who -- armed with everything from Kalashnikovs to baseball bats -- have grabbed over a dozen towns and declared sovereignty in the industrial hubs of Donetsk and Lugansk.
But world leaders say ballots not bullets must be used to defuse a crisis that has plunged relations between Moscow and the West to dangerous post-Cold War lows.
Senior U.N. rights official Ivan Simonovic grimly told the BBC he feared the country was approaching "a point of no return", with echoes of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
A Europe-sponsored peace roadmap has so far made zero progress, with Kiev's leaders pointedly refusing to invite the separatists they regard as "terrorists" to sit at the negotiating table.
Both Russia and the rebels reject the legitimacy of the government that took power after Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych was forced out in the bloody climax to months of protests against his rule.
Despite the turmoil, the presidential race has attracted almost 20 hopefuls -- but there are no fresh faces among the leading candidates and analysts say their manifestos all appear to be similarly populist.
The clear front-runner is Petro Poroshenko, a shrewd billionaire chocolate baron who was once a minister in the Yanukovych regime but became the chief financier of the so-called Maidan protests against his rule.
Opinion polls give him over 30 percent of the vote, far ahead of the deeply divisive former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, the one-time darling of the 2004 Orange Revolution who was released from jail in February.
Poroshenko has boldly proclaimed he is the man to save the day.
"If I'm elected I will fix the crisis with Russia in three months," the 48-year-old told students on a campaign visit to the eastern city of Kharkiv.
The United States and its allies -- furious over the Crimea annexation and fearful of the estimated 40,000 troops believed to be massed near the Ukraine border -- have threatened further sanctions if Russia disrupts the vote.
"Our message is really, quite simple: 'Let Ukraine vote. Let the Ukrainian people choose their future'," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week.
The Kremlin has accused the interim government of being run by "fascists" bent on trampling on the rights of Russian-speakers but rejects allegations it is pulling the strings in the uprising.
It has eased back on its once vehement criticism of the election but at the same time questioned how it can go ahead under the "thunder of guns."
The United Nations says the crisis has already cost over 120 lives and led to an "alarming deterioration" of human rights in the east.
And Ukraine's election commission said that a lack of security means it will be almost impossible to hold the vote in Donetsk and Lugansk, where about two million of the country's 36 million voters are registered.
The separatists proclaimed their own "sovereign" republics in the two industrial hubs after hastily arranged May 11 referendums, dismissed as illegitimate shams by Kiev and the West.
"I can tell you that the elections will not be held in Donetsk, not at all," said Aleksandr Borodai, a shadowy Russian named prime minister of the self-declared "Donetsk People's Republic."
"Ukraine as a state, in my view, essentially does not exist," he said. "There is now chaos and anarchy on the territory of Ukraine... Under these conditions what sort of election can we talk about."
Analysts say the victorious candidate will have to work quickly to foster national reconciliation while walking a tightrope between many Ukrainians' desire for closer cooperation with the EU and the country's now fraught relations with Russia.
The new president will also face the daunting task of introducing painful reforms required under a massive IMF package to prop up the teetering economy and grapple with a Russian threat to cut off gas supplies from early June.
But Oleksandr Vlasyuk, an author of children's books, voiced hope at a weekend rally in Kiev that all was not lost.
"Our blood is the same as that of the people in the east. We love them and we will not abandon them. We will live in a united Ukraine."