Rogue anti-jihadist general Khalifa Haftar escapes Benghazi suicide bombing
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 8:42 EDT
A rogue general, whose repeated deadly assaults on jihadists in Libya’s second city Benghazi have earned him threats of reprisal, escaped a suicide bombing Wednesday, one of his commanders said.
But three loyalists of former general and longtime US exile Khalifa Haftar were killed in the attack on a villa outside the eastern city, the commander told AFP.
Benghazi was the cradle of the NATO-backed revolt that toppled longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011 but has become a bastion of jihadists accused by Washington of involvement in a deadly assault on the US consulate in 2012.
“A suicide bomber in a vehicle packed with explosives attacked a villa where we had gathered,” said General Sagr al-Jerushi, who heads the air wing Haftar has deployed in his attacks on the jihadists.
“Three of our soldiers were killed,” Jerushi said, adding he himself had been “lightly wounded”.
It is the first attack against Haftar since he launched his offensive, dubbed “Operation Dignity,” aimed at eradicating “terrorists” in Benghazi on May 16.
Ansar al-Sharia, a radical Islamist group blacklisted by Washington as a “terrorist organisation” for its alleged role in the 2012 attack on the consulate, has borne the brunt of the offensive and had threatened reprisals.
It warned Haftar he could suffer the same fate as Kadhafi, who was killed by rebels in October 2011.
Al-Qaeda too has threatened the former general. Its North Africa affiliate — Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — labelled him an “enemy of Islam” on Sunday and urged Libyans to fight him.
Haftar spokesman Mohamed Hejazi was in no doubt who was behind Wednesday’s bombing.
“We hold the terrorists responsible for this attack — this sort of suicide bombing is, of course, the work of terrorists and extremists.”
- Saviour or outlaw? -
Haftar claims his forces represent the legitimate Libyan army and has won the support of regular army units inside Benghazi, including the special forces, for his offensive against the jihadists.
Their latest assault on Monday left at least 21 people dead and 112 wounded.
But even though Haftar denies any political ambitions, the outgoing Islamist-led parliament in Tripoli accuses him of plotting a coup and has branded him an outlaw.
Since the 2011 uprising, Libya has been awash with heavy weapons and former rebel militias control swathes of territory across the country.
Haftar’s campaign against the Islamists has struck a chord among the many Libyans angry at the militias, and there have been repeated street demonstrations in his support in both Benghazi and Tripoli.
But he remains a figure of suspicion for many veterans of the 2011 uprising.
His two decades in exile in United States gave rise to accusations he was linked to the CIA first from the Kadhafi regime, and then from rival rebels.
Washington has denied any role in Haftar’s offensive in Benghazi, although its ambassador to Libya has said she would not condemn his efforts to oust Ansar al-Sharia.
“We have not had contact with him recently. We do not condone or support the actions on the ground, and nor have we assisted with these actions,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on May 20.
During a visit to Washington two days later, US ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones said she “personally… would not come out and condemn” his efforts in going after groups blacklisted by the US.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the 2012 attack on the consulate, which has prompted persistent criticism of the US administration from its Republican opponents in Congress.
The World Cup Is Bad for Brazil, Many Brazilians Say
By MARJORIE CONNELLY
JUNE 5, 2014
The World Cup, the championship tournament of the world’s most popular sport, gets underway on June 12 in São Paulo, Brazil. In advance of the tournament, few Brazilians see hosting the event as advantageous for their country, a new survey shows.
In the survey by the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of respondents said holding the competition in Brazil was bad for the country because it took resources from schools, health care and other public services. Just 34 percent said the World Cup, whose events will be held in 12 cities, would create jobs and help the economy.
Inflation and joblessness are considered very big problems in the country, and two-thirds describe the economic situation as bad.
Continue reading the main story
President Dilma Rousseff during an interview in Brasília. While she is still seen as a favorite in October elections, her rivals have climbed in opinion polls.
Brazilian President Rejects Criticism Over World CupJUNE 3, 2014
While 51 percent of those polled said they had an overall favorable opinion of President Dilma Rousseff, Brazilians’ assessment of her handling of specific concerns was far more negative. There is widespread disapproval of how Ms. Rousseff has been dealing with many of Brazilians’ top concerns, including corruption, crime, health care and education. Two-thirds said they disapproved of how she had been preparing for the World Cup, and nearly as many were unhappy with her stewardship of the economy.
The public is divided about the repercussions of the large street protests in Brazilian cities a year ago. Nearly half of the survey respondents, 47 percent, said the demonstrations benefited Brazil by bringing attention to important issues, while 48 percent said the country’s image was damaged internationally.
Brazilians are also split over how the World Cup will affect the country’s image around the world: 35 percent said it would enhance Brazil’s position, 39 percent said it would hurt Brazil, and 23 percent said it would have no effect. Three-quarters of Brazilians think the country deserves more respect internationally than it currently receives.
At the same time, Brazilians are feeling less confident about their country’s place in the world. Four years ago, during a previous national Pew survey of Brazil, 24 percent of respondents said it was already one of the most powerful nations, and 53 percent said it would eventually be. In the latest poll, 20 percent see Brazil as one of the most powerful countries and 39 percent are optimistic that it will be.
The face-to-face survey was conducted April 10 to 30 throughout Brazil with 1,003 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Gravitational wave triumph turns to dust after flawed analysis revealed
By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 14:14 EDT
It was hailed as one the most important scientific discoveries of the century, the birth of a new era in physics and a shoe-in for a Nobel prize.
The claim from Harvard University that it had discovered gravitational waves – and thereby evidence for the theory of cosmic inflation and the existence of a multiverse – caused a worldwide sensation in March. But the celebrations are now looking decidedly premature. Rather than securing a trip to Stockholm to receive a Nobel medal, the Harvard team may have detected nothing more than space dust.
Writing in the journal Nature on Wednesday, Paul Steinhardt, director of the Centre for Theoretical Physics at Princeton University, argues that the Harvard team made an unfortunate blunder in its calculations. “Serious flaws in the analysis have been revealed that transform the sure detection into no detection,” he writes.
Cosmologists working on Harvard’s Bicep2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) telescope at the south pole unveiled their surprise discovery at a press conference at Harvard, before they had published their results in a peer-reviewed journal. The purpose of independent vetting by peer reviewers is to catch flawed studies before they become part of the scientific literature.
Led by cosmologist John Kovac, the Harvard researchers said they had spotted a twist in the ancient light that lingers in the universe from the time of the big bang. This polarisation, they said, was evidence of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein’s 1916 general theory of relativity.
According to the Harvard group there was a one in two million chance of the result being a statistical fluke. But within hours of making the announcement, scientists began to raise concerns. The criticisms have been building up steadily on physics blogs ever since.
Steinhardt now claims that a new and independent analysis casts serious doubts on the Harvard results. The study, led by David Spergel, also at Princeton, found that the same patterns of light seen by the BICEP2 telescope could be the work of ubiquitous space dust.
Ultrafine grains of dust in space absorb visible starlight, an effect that gives the stars a slightly red tinge. But the grains quickly re-emit the light, as infrared radiation or at wavelengths more similar to radio waves. The uneven shape of the dust grains means they polarise light, twisting the direction in which the light waves oscillate.
“What they have seen is what you would get from dust alone,” Spergel told the Guardian from an astronomy meeting in Boston. “Dust could explain their results entirely.” That demolishes the Harvard team’s claims of a discovery, he believes. “They can no longer make the claim that they have made a definitive measurement of gravitational waves. I think they should withdraw the claim of detection.” The Guardian was unable to reach Kovac for comment.
According to Spergel, the Harvard researchers erred when they digitised a Powerpoint slide shown at a conference by a rival team searching for gravitational waves. The slide showed preliminary data from the European Space Agency’s Planck space telescope on how dust polarises light in space. What the Harvard scientists missed was that the slide averaged the effects of dust in the Milky Way and dust far beyond our own galaxy. That led them to underestimate how much space dust naturally twists light.
Spergel, who said Harvard was “aggressive” in publicising the discovery, said it will take more data from Bicep2 and other experiments, such as Planck, to be sure whether the Harvard team has seen the first signs of gravitational waves, or was fooled by the effects of space dust.
Despite the grave doubts cast over the results, Pedro Ferreira, a cosmologist at Oxford University, said he was still hopeful the Harvard team was right. “There’s a strand of us that choose to be optimists, that they have a real signal,” he told the Guardian. “There is a worry that we’re looking at dust, and not at gravitational waves, but I’ll really only be convinced with new data. From the first moment we were all worried about dust. It’s not rocket science,” he said.
Writing in Nature, Steinhardt argues that if and when cosmologists find more convincing evidence for gravitational waves, they should publish their findings before making a formal announcement. “If there must be a press conference, hopefully the scientific community and the media will demand that it is accompanied by a complete set of documents, including details of the systematic analysis and sufficient data to enable objective verification,” he writes.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Behind P.O.W.’s Release: Urgency and Opportunity
By MARK MAZZETTI, ERIC SCHMITT, DAVID E. SANGER and HELENE COOPER
JUNE 4, 2014
WASHINGTON — Weeks before a Black Hawk helicopter lifted off in the dying light of eastern Afghanistan, carrying with it an American soldier who had spent five years in the hands of the Taliban, American officials grew increasingly worried that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s life might be in jeopardy.
A video produced by his captors months earlier had shown him weak and dazed, and there was a growing fear that the Taliban — frustrated by the glacial pace of hostage negotiations — were beginning to rethink the value of continuing to hold an American prisoner.
Officials from Qatar, who had long been the middlemen in the deliberations for a deal that would free Sergeant Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners, were issuing warnings that the American prisoner’s days could be numbered, setting in motion a flurry of secret discussions on two continents about how to choreograph a battlefield exchange of prisoners.
Issues that had bitterly divided the Obama administration — about the wisdom of the prisoner swap and the risks of releasing a group of aging Taliban commanders from Guantánamo Bay — were swept aside in the rush to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release. At the same time, much of the fate of the administration’s strategy was now in the hands of Qatar, the tiny wealthy emirate that in recent years has used its riches to amass great influence in the Middle East and Central Asia. President Obama spoke by telephone with the emir of Qatar to finalize the terms of the deal, and delegates from Qatar were quietly sent to Guantánamo Bay in late May — their presence a surprise to those who saw them in the dining facility at the island military prison.
But the endgame, described in interviews with more than a dozen American and foreign officials, has also come under fierce attack from members of Congress, angry they were not consulted about the prisoner swap and critical of the decision to trade five Taliban commanders for an American soldier they have labeled a deserter.
In the few days since Mr. Obama made an emotional announcement with Sergeant Bergdahl’s parents in the White House Rose Garden, the White House has repeatedly had to defend the deal it cut to bring home the longest held American captive of America’s longest war.
On Wednesday evening, as they emerged from a briefing with administration officials in a secure basement room in the Capitol, both Republican and Democratic senators said that they were not convinced that Sergeant Bergdahl’s life was in immediate danger.
And angry lawmakers insisted that the exchange of the Taliban prisoners for Mr. Bergdahl puts American lives at risk.
Hopes for Sergeant Bergdahl’s release were rekindled late last September, after two years of intermittent negotiations, when the Taliban used a Qatari intermediary to send a secret message to the United States indicating that a prisoner swap might be possible. Up to that point, the prisoner issue had been one part of a broader agenda aimed at bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, but this was a more narrow proposal.
“It was a far, far smaller deal — not Bergdahl in return for something bigger,” according to a former senior administration official, who like a dozen other officials spoke about the events surrounding Sergeant Bergdahl’s release only on the condition of anonymity.
Obama administration officials responded to the message weeks later, in early November, expressing interest in the idea but demanding that the Taliban provide proof that the captured American soldier was still alive. At the same time, discussions intensified between Washington and Doha about the conditions under which the five Taliban prisoners could be transferred and held in the peninsula nation.
Some senior American military commanders had long opposed using the Taliban prisoners as a bargaining chip to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release, but there was generally skepticism among American intelligence officials that releasing Taliban operatives who had been in captivity for more than a decade would have any appreciable impact on the Afghan battlefield.
In early December, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Qatar for what appeared to be a number of routine meetings with an ally and a chance to meet the country’s new emir. But a top priority for Mr. Hagel during his stop in Doha was putting a plan in place to free Sergeant Bergdahl. The secretary pressed his Qatari hosts: Is there a team in place to push ahead on the negotiations? Could Qatar give assurances that the Taliban prisoners would be closely monitored so they would not slip out of the country and return to Afghanistan?
The proof of Sergeant Bergdahl’s condition came soon after, when the Taliban produced a short video clip of the soldier. In the video, believed to be shot sometime in December, Sergeant Bergdahl made references to recent events — including the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela — but he appeared sick and weak.
“He looked shriveled,” said one senior American official who saw portions of the video. “There was a pallor about his skin that looked unhealthy. He didn’t seem alert; he seemed lethargic.”
Several teams of military medical specialists analyzed the video and wrote a report concluding that, among other things, the American prisoner was undernourished and was cradling one arm in another.
One Defense Department official said that the Taliban had also expressed concerns about Sergeant Bergdahl’s health, worried that his death would eliminate any leverage they had to secure the release of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.
The video reinforced growing fears within military circles that the chances of freeing the American prisoner would become more difficult at the end of 2014, when the number of United States troops was scheduled to shrink significantly. As American troops pulled out, so would specialists from the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies who were vital to helping find the soldier.
“For a while the Taliban went silent, and we thought the whole thing was another bust,” one American official said.
But by mid-May, the United States and Qatar had signed a secret memorandum, with Qatar agreeing to impose security provisions for the five Taliban detainees. The memorandum called for a minimum one-year travel ban on the Afghans. Other details have been kept secret.
Even after the agreement was in place, the Obama administration chose to keep Congress in the dark about the secret negotiations. In recent days, White House officials have said that any leak about a possible prisoner trade could have once again scared off the Taliban.
“We didn’t have 30 days,” Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, said Monday, stepping around the question of whether they could have notified some in Congress two or three weeks ago.
On May 23, amid the growing fears that Sergent Bergdahl’s life might be in jeopardy, a small team from the State Department, Pentagon and White House flew to Qatar. With Qatari officials passing messages back and forth between the Americans and Taliban negotiators, the broad terms of an agreement were reached: A Taliban delegation would bring Sergeant Bergdahl from Pakistan to just across the border into the eastern province of Khost, in Afghanistan, where he would be turned over to American Special Operations troops.
The final piece of the accord fell into place on May 27, when Mr. Obama spoke by phone to the emir of Qatar and received his personal assurances that the Taliban detainees would be closely watched when they arrived in Qatar. A Qatari delegation flew to Guantánamo on Thursday evening, where its members waited until it was time to escort the five Taliban detainees — all of them among the very first prisoners at the controversial military jail — back to Doha.
Thousands of miles away, Special Operations troops were figuring out the logistics of the battlefield handoff with the Taliban, again through a Qatari intermediary. One American demand was that Sergeant Bergdahl would be handed over during the day, but problems finding cellular phone signals on both sides of the Afghanistan border delayed the exchange for hours — pushing almost to sunset on Saturday.
At 7 p.m. local time, in a tense but peaceful exchange that lasted no more than a minute, Taliban fighters pulled Sergeant Bergdahl from the cab of a pickup truck and handed him over to the American commandos.
Seconds later, he was whisked away in the Black Hawk helicopter.
General McChrystal: 'We Don’t Leave Americans Behind. That’s Unequivocal’
By John Amato June 4, 2014 10:18 pm -
Retired General Stanley McChrystal, who commanded Sgt. Bergdahl when he was lost in Afghanistan told Yahoo News that the critics should all pipe down until we have the facts and that we never leave Americans behind.
Retired General Stanley McChrystal, who commanded Sgt Bergdahl when he was lost told Yahoo News that the critics should all pipe down until we have the facts and that we never leave anyone behind. That's a strong rebuke to Republicans from a well respected military man who lost his job for criticizing president Obama, the man they are out to de-legitimize.
Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Wednesday urged Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s critics not to “judge” him until all the facts are in and sharply defended the extensive and risky search efforts that claimed the lives of some of his fellow soldiers.
“We did a huge number of operations to try to stop the Taliban from being able to move him across the border into Pakistan,” McChrystal told Yahoo News in an exclusive interview. “And we made a great effort and put a lot of people at risk in doing that, but that’s what you should do. That’s what soldiers do for each other.”
McChrystal, who commanded the war effort in Afghanistan at the time of Bergdahl’s June 2009 vanishing, declined to shed any more light on the circumstances of his disappearance. “We’re going to have to wait and talk to Sgt. Bergdahl now and get his side of the story,” he said. “One of the great things about America is we should not judge until we know the facts. And after we know the facts, then we should make a mature judgment on how we should handle it.”
Asked whether he would have made the same prisoner swap, McChrystal replied: “We don’t leave Americans behind. That’s unequivocal.”
The military will conduct their own investigation and determine Bergdahl's fate and that's the way it should be, but Republicans have turned this situation into a toxic dump site like they've been doing with everything connected to Obama. I know the media needs content to fill their time slots, but when will they stop kowtowing to Republican propaganda?
Despicable Republicans Are Deleting Their Previous Praise of Bowe Bergdahl
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, June, 4th, 2014, 11:45 am
Republicans are proving that their desperation for an Obama scandal is limitless by frantically deleting their previous praise of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Internet.
Mashable documented that at least three Republicans praised Bergdahl after his release, then deleted their statements:
"A grateful nation welcomes the news of the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl,” Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) said in a statement that’s since been removed from his website.
“I have the pleasure of regularly speaking with our nation’s active duty military and veterans and I know that there is nothing more solemn than the pledge to never leave one of their own behind on the field of battle,” Terry said in the statement, before calling Bergdahl “a national hero.” …
Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) seemed excited when he heard the news, too. “Best news I’ve heard in a long time!” the Twitter account for the Republican congressman said, including the hashtag “#standwithbowe” and a link to a USA Today story about the soldier’s release.
Joni Ernst, the leading Republican candidate hoping to replace retiring Sen. Tom Harkin in Iowa, tweeted at 3:31 p.m. on May 31, “US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl freed after being reported missing 5 yrs in Afghanistan. Thoughts & prayers go out to Sgt. Bergdahl & his family.”
This confirms that Republicans really are trying to play this out as an Obama scandal on two fronts. First, the White House didn’t notify them, and secondly, they are going to swiftboat Bergdahl in order to harm Obama politically.
Republicans have as usual picked the two areas that are most likely to backfire on them. The Obama didn’t notify us tantrum sounds like the turf war between the executive and legislative branches that most Americans don’t care about, and the choice to swiftboat Bergdahl is illustrative of the fact that Republican strategy appears to be perpetually trapped in 2004.
The swiftboating operation is being run a former Bush administration official who has rounded up soldiers from Bergdahl’s unit and they are making the rounds on conservative media criticizing his service. This is strictly a partisan political operation that is straight out of what the Bush campaign did to John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election campaign.
Republican hypocrites quickly deleted their praise and replaced it with criticism, because they now view bringing an American citizen and soldier home after five years of captivity as something that should be up for debate. Republicans are oblivious to the fact that this line of attack makes it look like they are opposing the freeing of a U.S. citizen and soldier.
Just like their opposition to people having health insurance, this gambit is doomed to fail spectacularly.
The two-faced Republican three have offered up a valuable lesson. Nothing on the Internet is ever really gone. You can’t erase your words and pretend that they didn’t exist. Republicans still haven’t learned that deleting a tweet or message doesn’t mean that it is gone.
The “Bergdahl scandal” isn’t going to catch fire, because John Boehner and the Republicans had already admitted that they know about the swap for three years before it happened. This is another sleazy attempt to distract voters from focusing on the terrible job that congressional Republicans have done.
Instead of talking about their role in the VA scandal, their refusal to extend unemployment benefits, their wholly incorrect predictions on Obamacare, and refusal to create jobs, Republicans want to distract with things like Bergdahl.
Don’t be fooled by the hypocrisy driven shiny objects. Keep your eyes on the prize and do what Republicans fear most. Go to the polls, and vote this November.
Sen. Lindsey "I am not a spurned drag queen" Graham Threatens Obama With Impeachment For Trying To Close GITMO
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, June, 4th, 2014, 3:29 pm
President Obama has been trying to close GITMO for years, but Sen. Lindsey "I am not a spurned drag queen" Graham warned the president that Republicans will impeach him if he releases any more prisoners or tries to close the prison.
Sen. Lindsey "I am not a spurned drag queen" Graham (R-SC) warned President Obama that if he tries to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay. "I am not a spurned drag queen" Graham told reporters, “It’s going to be impossible for them to flow prisoners out of Gitmo now without a huge backlash. There will be people on our side calling for his impeachment if he did that.”
The real reason why Republicans are upset is beginning to make itself clear. Republicans are worried that Obama’s actions could be signaling the closure of GITMO. If the negotiated release works, the Republican rationale for keeping GITMO open will be completely destroyed. A poll last year revealed that a slim majority of Americans (54%) favor keeping GITMO open, but if Republicans want to see those numbers vanish, all they have to do is impeach President Obama.
By the way, the “backlash” has been limited to partisan Republicans who are trying to gin up a scandal over the negotiated release of Bowe Bergdahl. The rest of the country isn’t near as up in arms as Republicans and their media outlets are.
Lindsey "I am not a spurned drag queen" Graham has been acting like a tea party lunatic for the last several months because he still is not avoiding a runoff in the South Carolina Republican Senate primary. A new poll released today has "I am not a spurned drag queen" Graham at 49%, so consider his comments about impeaching Obama his big push to get over the 50% threshold and avoid a runoff.
It isn’t surprising that Republicans would use the Bergdahl release as their latest reason to threaten President Obama with impeachment. This is where Republicans want to go with it. They are dying to impeach the president.
"I am not a spurned drag queen" Graham was the prosecutor during the Clinton impeachment trial. He and his party learned nothing from the mistakes of the 1990s. It looks like they are steaming forward in an attempt to repeat history by making a second term president more popular.
Republicans Shouting Impeachment Have Reached Critical State Of Obama Derangement Syndrome
By: Justin Baragona
Wednesday, June, 4th, 2014, 9:00 am
OK. Seriously, this has now gone far enough. A few days after the President of the United States announced that our last prisoner of war, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, had been rescued from his five years of captivity by the Taliban, Republicans are now seriously calling for the President to be impeached for his actions in securing Bergdahl’s release. Instead of congratulating the President for doing whatever was necessary to make sure an American soldier was no longer a prisoner in a strange land and making sure we ‘left no soldier behind,’ conservatives have grown louder in their calls that President Obama broke the law by releasing five detainees from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl.
However, do you want to know the real reason why they are upset? Obama Derangement Syndrome, pure and simple. The President is in his sixth year occupying the White House, and ODS has now reached critical state. They weren’t able to make him a one-term President, despite Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s promises. Even though they threw every possible obstacle they could at it, Obamacare ended up becoming a raging success, as millions of Americans utilized the marketplaces to get health coverage. Somehow, Obama is still POTUS in the face of multiple Republican made ‘scandals’ hyped up by a compliant media, all for the sake of creating public backlash against Obama and find some inroad towards impeachment.
Therefore, Republicans, completely infected with ODS, have been, per the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, “quick to jump on the train to crazytown” when it comes to this particular situation. Which is why we have not only conservative pundits calling for Obama to be impeached, but Republican lawmakers in Washington claiming the President broke the law by authorizing the prisoner exchange that freed Bergdahl. Obviously, when you have GOPers in D.C. yelling that Obama “broke the law,” it will eventually lead to them whispering, then shouting, impeachment.
Now, per Republicans, their main beef with this is that the Obama Administration did not consult with Congress prior to the prisoner exchange, and that Congress was not given the necessary 30 day notice. The administration has stated that Bergdahl’s health was a major concern and that it was deemed necessary to get him as soon as possible. Also, the White House had regularly consulted with members of Congress on the possibility of exchanging Gitmo detainees for Sgt. Bergdahl since 2011. On top of that, Republican Senators and Representatives had recently called on the President to do whatever possible to bring Bergdahl back home. Of course, these same Congressional Republicans changed their tune the moment Obama took action and secured Bergdahl’s release.
Per the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel, Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Rich Nugent (R-FL) have all been extremely critical of the President since the Bergdahl announcement was made. However, each of them made statements earlier this year calling for the administration to do all it can to free Bergdahl. McCain, while on a Sunday show (natch), even spoke approvingly of exchanging prisoners to bring Bergdahl home. Also, in April, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, pushed forth a resolution declaring that no soldier shall be left behind.
Yet, now that the President has kept the promise that America makes to all of its soldiers, ALL OF ITS SOLDIERS, Republicans have decided that this is their moment to strike and finally nail Obama. Former one-term Republican Congressman, and current conservative talking head, Allen West took to his blog on Tuesday to make the case for President Obama’s impeachment. On Fox News, Andrew Napolitano, a former judge, claimed that the President not only violated the law by not adhering to the 30 day notice, but that he provided material assistance to a terrorist organization, thus violating a federal statute and opening himself up for impeachment. Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy stated that by returning enemy combatants to the field, Obama has created a high crime that could lead to him being removed from office.
All of this discussion surrounding the release of Gitmo detainees is just one angle of attack to make this rescue of an American POW appear criminal and unseemly. A former operative for Mitt Romney’s 2012 Presidential campaign, Richard Grennell, has been organizing interviews between soldiers critical of Bergdahl’s military service and major media outlets. Essentially, Grennell, who also worked for President George W. Bush, is running a campaign to ensure that Bergdahl is held up to as much scrutiny as possible in order to sully his reputation and make the rescue operation dirty in the eyes of the public. At the same end, Bergdahl’s father has been slandered by the right-wing media regarding his appearance (he has a long beard which he started growing to commemorate when his son was captured) and some comments he’s made.
All of this is a concerted effort in order to create a scandal that might finally get the President out of office and cure the Republicans’ deadly strain of ODS. Even though Obama can’t be re-elected in 2016, it is still way too long to make Republicans wait for him to finally leave the White House. Therefore, they will do anything to get out of the ICU that Obama Derangement Syndrome has placed them in. That means telling America that only good soldiers that everyone liked deserve to come home if they are captured. And the President shouldn’t use detainees in Gitmo to secure a captured soldier’s release, even though international law states all of those prisoners there will need to be released very soon anyway.
When you have a bad case of ODS, you don’t have time to think. You only have time to act.
As Democrats Pummel Them Republicans Beg Eric Cantor For an Obamacare Alternative
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, June, 4th, 2014, 1:21 pm
Things have gotten so bad for Republicans on Obamacare that Eric Cantor appears to have abandoned his ACA alternative, while Republicans are begging him for a bill because Democrats are pummeling them.
The AP details a recent closed door House meeting where Republicans demanded their own alternative to Obamacare:
At a recent closed-door House Republican caucus meeting, several conservatives pressed GOP leaders over the pledge Majority Leader Eric Cantor made in January that House Republicans would rally around an alternative to “Obamacare” and pass it this year.
“We said at the retreat in January we were going to do this. Well it’s June and we still haven’t done it,” Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said he told Cantor during the meeting last week. “It’s moving at a snail’s pace. … We want to be for something.”
Roe said he got little reply beyond polite attention. Cantor’s spokesman, Doug Heye, said, “Majority Leader Cantor continues to work towards bold legislative solutions to replace ‘Obamacare.’”
Behind the scenes, lawmakers and aides say, powerful committee chairmen with jurisdiction over the issue have been unable to agree over how to proceed. Some have even begun to suggest publicly that this year is not the time to vote on an alternative that likely would die in the Democratic-controlled Senate or face a veto threat from Obama.
It can safely be stated that Eric Cantor is in the process of abandoning his fellow House Republicans, and is about to let them get pummeled by Democrats on Obamacare this fall. In February, Rep. Cantor told CBS’ Face The Nation that he would have a Republican healthcare bill ready to be voted on by this fall, “Well, I believe we will have it this year. We will have it this year. And you know what the reason is, Major, is Obamacare, I believe, is on borrowed time.”
Since Cantor made this statement, the Republican predictions about the ACA have been proven wrong and the law has been a tremendous success. Republicans painted themselves into a corner with their repeal or bust position. They have no way out, and Eric Cantor will not throw them a lifeline.
Cantor’s reluctance to put forward a bill is a sign that Republicans don’t want to discuss the issue at all. The official Republican position is that they want to take health insurance away from nearly 18 million people. This is definitely not something that Republicans want to talk about before voters head to the polls.
Republicans thought that repealing Obamacare was their big strength heading into 2014, but their refusal champion anything but repeal may end up keeping the Senate under Democratic control. Republicans wanted to make 2014 all about the ACA, and they may get their wish as Democrats are going to pound on the GOP from now until November.
Walmart Moms Go On Strike In More Than 20 Cities To Protest Illegal Silencing of Workers
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, June, 4th, 2014, 6:10 pm
Female Walmart workers are walking off the job in cities around the country to protest the illegal silencing of Walmart workers who have spoken out about wages and working conditions.
According to workers’ rights group, OUR Walmart, “Walmart moms walked off the job this morning in Orlando (see photo), joining moms who have already walked off the job in Dallas, Pittsburgh, Southern California and the Bay area. More are expected to strike outside their stores in 20 cities today, including Tampa, Miami, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and the Bay area. The National Labor Relations Board’s historic trial prosecuting Walmart – which includes the illegal firing of moms like Barbara Collins – is currently underway.”
A new report from Demos found that giant retailers like Walmart are keeping millions of women and their families in poverty by paying low wages. “Walmart has a unique opportunity to help lift working moms and the families who rely on their income out of poverty,” said Amy Traub, Demos Senior Policy Analyst and author of the report Retail’s Choice. “Our research shows that nearly one in every three women working part-time in retail wants full-time employment, and the rise in erratic scheduling has made it impossible for women in this industry to consistently budget effectively and manage their childcare needs. Walmart could make a tremendous difference for the more than 800,000 women they employ and set a new standard for the industry.”
The odds of Walmart making the choice to lift hundreds of thousands of women out of poverty by paying a better wage are zero. This is why Walmart has to be pushed into doing the right thing. The Walton family is exploiting taxpayers by forcing them to foot the bill through assistance programs because they refuse to pay their workers any more than starvation wages.
These Walmart workers are taking a brave stand, and they deserve your support. This strike is a good reminder that anyone who shops at Walmart is helping to perpetuate a system that is keeping millions of adults and children in poverty.
Those “always low prices” are possible because of Walmart is intentionally underpaying their workers.
The Plutocracy that is called America
A Rising Tide Lifts All Yachts
6/4/2014 1:58:14 PM
This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.
Last year eight Americans — the four Waltons of Wal-Mart fame, the two Koch brothers, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — made more money than 3.6 million American minimum-wage workers combined. The median pay for CEOs at America’s large corporations rose to $10 million per year, while a typical chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker’s salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009. Overall, 1 percent of Americans own more than a third of the country’s wealth.
As the United States slips from its status as the globe’s number one economic power, small numbers of Americans continue to amass staggering amounts of wealth, while simultaneously inequality trends toward historic levels. At what appears to be a critical juncture in our history and the history of inequality in this country, here are nine questions we need to ask about who we are and what will become of us. Let’s start with a French economist who has emerged as an important voice on what’s happening in America today.
1. What does Thomas Piketty have to do with the 99 percent?
French economist Thomas Piketty’s surprise bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is an unlikely beach read, though it’s selling like one. A careful parsing of massive amounts of data distilled into “only” 700 pages, it outlines the economic basis for the 1 percent-99 percent divide in the United States. (Conservative critics, of course, disagree.)
Just in case you aren’t yet rock-bottom certain about the reality of that divide, here are some stats: the top 1 percent of Americans hold 35 percent of the nation’s net worth; the bottom 80 percent, only 11 percent percent. The United States has such an unequal distribution of wealth that, in global rankings, it falls among the planet’s kleptocracies, not the developed nations that were once its peers. The mathematical measure of wealth-inequality is called “Gini,” and the higher it is, the more extreme a nation’s wealth-inequality. The Gini for the US is 85; for Germany, 77; Canada, 72 and Bangladesh, 64. Nations more unequal than the US include Kazakhstan at 86 and the Ukraine at 90. The African continent tips in at just under 85. Odd company for the self-proclaimed “indispensable nation.”
Piketty shows that such inequality is driven by two complementary forces. By owning more of everything (capital), rich people have a mechanism for getting ever richer than the rest of us, because the rate of return on investment is higher than the rate of economic growth. In other words, money made from investments grows faster than money made from wages. Piketty claims the wealth of the wealthiest Americans is rising at 6 percent-7 percent a year, more than three times as fast as the economy the rest of us live in.
At the same time, wages for middle and lower income Americans are sinking, driven by factors also largely under the control of the wealthy. These include the application of new technology to eliminate human jobs, the crushing of unions and a decline in the inflation-adjusted minimum wage that more and more Americans depend on for survival.
The short version: A rising tide lifts all yachts.
2. So why don’t the unemployed/underemployed simply find better jobs?
Another way of phrasing this question is: Why don’t we just blame the poor for their plight? Mention unemployment or underemployment and someone will inevitably invoke the old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” line. If workers don’t like retail or minimum-wage jobs, or if they can’t find good paying jobs in their area, why don’t they just move? Quit retail or quit Pittsburgh (Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis) and…
Move to where to do what? Our country lost one-third of all decent factory jobs — almost six million of them — between 2000 and 2009, and wherever “there” is supposed to be, piles of people are already in line. In addition, many who lost their jobs don’t have the means to move or a friend with a couch to sleep on when they get to Colorado. Some have lived for generations in the places where the jobs have disappeared. As for the jobs that are left, what do they pay? One out of four working Americans earn less than $10 per hour. At 25 percent, the US has the highest percentage of low-wage workers in the developed world. (Canada and Great Britain have 20 percent, Japan under 15 percent and France 11 percent.)
One in six men, 10.4 million Americans aged 25 to 64, the prime working years, don’t have jobs at all, a portion of the male population that has almost tripled in the past four decades. They are neither all lazy nor all unskilled, and at present they await news of the uncharted places in the US where those 10 million unfilled jobs are hidden.
Moving “there” to find better work isn’t an option.
3. But aren’t there small-scale versions of economic “rebirths” occurring all over America?
Travel through some of the old Rust Belt towns of this country and you’ll quickly notice that “economic rebirth” seems to mean repurposing buildings that once housed factories and shipping depots as bars and boutiques. Abandoned warehouses are now trendy restaurants; a former radiator factory is an artisanal coffee shop. In other words, in a place where a manufacturing plant once employed hundreds of skilled workers at union wages, a handful of part-timers are now serving tapas at minimum wage plus tips.
In Maryland, an ice cream plant that once employed 400 people with benefits and salaries pegged at around $40,000 a year closed its doors in 2012. Under a “rebirth” program, a smaller ice cream packer reopened the place with only 16 jobs at low wages and without benefits. The new operation had 1,600 applicants for those 16 jobs. The area around the ice cream plant once produced airplanes, pipe organs and leather car seats. No more. There were roughly 14,000 factory jobs in the area in 2000; today, there are 8,000.
General Electric’s Appliance Park, in Louisville, Kentucky, employed 23,000 union workers at its peak in 1973. By 2011, the sputtering plant held onto only about 1,800 workers. What was left of the union there agreed to a two-tier wage scale, and today 70 percent of the jobs are on the lower tier — at $13.50 an hour, almost $8 less than what the starting wage used to be. A full-time worker makes about $28,000 a year before taxes and deductions. The poverty line for a family of four in Kentucky is $23,000. Food stamp benefits are available to people who earn up to 130 percent of the poverty line, so a full-timer in Kentucky with a family still qualifies. Even if a worker moved to Kentucky and lucked out by landing a job at the plant, standing on your tiptoes with your lips just above sea level is not much of a step up.
Low paying jobs are not a rebirth.
4. Can’t people just get off their couches and get back to work?
There are 3.8 million Americans who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. These are the country’s long-term unemployed, as defined by the Department of Labor. Statistically, the longer you are unemployed, the less likely it is that you’ll ever find work again. Between 2008 and 2012, only 11 percent of those unemployed 15 months or more found a full-time job, and research shows that those who do find a job are less likely to retain it. Think of it as a snowball effect: more unemployment creates more unemployable people.
And how hard is it to land even a minimum-wage job? This year, the Ivy League college admissions acceptance rate was 8.9 percent. Last year, when Wal-Mart opened its first store in Washington, DC, there were more than 23,000 applications for 600 jobs, which resulted in an acceptance rate of 2.6 percent, making the big box store about twice as selective as Harvard and five times as choosy as Cornell.
Telling unemployed people to get off their couches (or out of the cars they live in or the shelters where they sleep) and get a job makes as much sense as telling them to go study at Harvard.
5. Why can’t former factory workers retrain into new jobs?
Janesville, Wisconsin, had the oldest General Motors car factory in America, one that candidate Obama visited in 2007 and insisted would be there for another 100 years. Two days before Christmas that year and just before Obama’s inauguration, the plant closed forever, throwing 5,000 people out of work. This devastated the town, because you either worked in the plant or in a business that depended on people working in the plant. The new president and Congress quickly paid for a two-million-dollar Janesville retraining program, using state community colleges the way the government once used trade schools built to teach new immigrants the skills needed by that Janesville factory a century ago.
This time around, however, those who finished their retraining programs simply became trained unemployables rather than untrained ones. It turned out that having a certificate in “heating and ventilation” did not automatically lead to a job in the field. There were already plenty of people out there with such certificates, never mind actual college degrees. And those who did find work in some field saw their take-home pay drop by 36 percent. This, it seems, is increasingly typical in 21st century America (though retraining programs have been little studied in recent years).
Manufacturing is dead and the future lies in a high-tech, information-based economy, some say. So why can’t former factory workers be trained to do that? Maybe some percentage could, but the US graduated over 1.6 million students with bachelor’s degrees in 2014, many of whom already have such skills.
Bottom Line: Jobs create the need for training. Training does not create jobs.
6. Shouldn’t we cut public assistance and force people into the job market?
At some point in any discussion of jobs, someone will drop the nuclear option: cut federal and state benefits and do away with most public assistance. That’ll motivate people to find jobs — or starve. Unemployment money and food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) encourage people to be lazy. Why should tax dollars be used to give food to people who won’t work for it? “If you’re able-bodied, you should be willing to work,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said discussing food stamp cuts.
The problem with such statements is 73 percent of those enrolled in the country’s major public benefits programs are, in fact, from working families — just in jobs whose paychecks don’t cover life’s basic necessities. McDonald’s workers alone receive $1.2 billion in federal assistance per year.
Why do so many of the employed need food stamps? It’s not complicated. Workers in the minimum-wage economy often need them simply to survive. All in all, 47 million people get SNAP nationwide because without it they would go hungry.
In Ohio, where I did some of the research for my book Ghosts of Tom Joad, the state pays out benefits on the first of each month. Pay Day, Food Day, Mother’s Day, people call it. SNAP is distributed in the form of an Electronic Bank Transfer card, or EBT, which, recipients will tell you, stands for “Eat Better Tonight.” EBT-friendly stores open early and stay open late on the first of the month because most people are pretty hungry come the Day.
A single person with nothing to her name in the lower 48 states would qualify for no more than $189 a month in SNAP. If she works, her net monthly income is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment. Less than fifty bucks a week for food isn’t exactly luxury fare. Sure, she can skip a meal if she needs to, and she likely does. However, she may have kids; almost two-thirds of SNAP children live in single-parent households. Twenty percent or more of the child population in 37 states lived in “food insecure households” in 2011, with New Mexico (30.6 percent) and the District of Columbia (30 percent) topping the list. And it’s not just kids. Households with disabled people account for 16 percent of SNAP benefits, while 9 percent go to households with senior citizens.
Almost 22 percent of American children under age 18 lived in poverty in 2012; for those under age five, it’s more than 25 percent. Almost 1 in 10 live in extreme poverty.
Our system is trending toward asking kids (and the disabled, and the elderly) to go to hell if they’re hungry. Many are already there.
7. Why are Wal-Mart and other businesses opposed to SNAP cuts?
Public benefits are now a huge part of the profits of certain major corporations. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Wal-Mart was oddly blunt about what SNAP cuts could do to its bottom line:
“Our business operations are subject to numerous risks, factors and uncertainties, domestically and internationally, which are outside our control. These factors include… changes in the amount of payments made under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan and other public assistance plans, [and] changes in the eligibility requirements of public assistance plans.”
How much profit do such businesses make from public assistance? Short answer: big bucks. In one year, nine Wal-Mart Supercenters in Massachusetts received more than $33 million in SNAP dollars — more than four times the SNAP money spent at farmers’ markets nationwide. In two years, Wal-Mart received about half of the one billion dollars in SNAP expenditures in Oklahoma. Overall, 18 percent of all food benefits money is spent at Wal-Mart.
Pepsi, Coke and the grocery chain Kroger lobbied for food stamps, an indication of how much they rely on the money. The CEO of Kraft admitted that the mac n’ cheese maker opposed food stamp cuts because users were “a big part of our audience.” One-sixth of Kraft’s revenues come from food stamp purchases. Yum Brands, the operator of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, tried to convince lawmakers in several states to allow its restaurants to accept food stamps. Products eligible for SNAP purchases are supposed to be limited to “healthy foods.” Yet lobbying by the soda industry keeps sugary drinks on the approved list, while companies like Coke and Pepsi pull in four billion dollars a year in revenues from SNAP money.
Poverty is big business.
8. Should we raise the minimum wage?
One important reason to raise the minimum wage to a living one is that people who can afford to feed themselves will not need food stamps paid for by taxpayers. Companies who profit off their workers’ labor will be forced to pay a fair price for it, and not get by on taxpayer-subsidized low wages. Just as important, people who can afford to feed themselves earn not just money, but self-respect. The connection between working and taking care of yourself and your family has increasingly gone missing in America, creating a society that no longer believes in itself. Rock bottom is a poor foundation for building anything human.
But won’t higher wages cause higher prices? The way taxpayers functionally subsidize companies paying low-wages to workers — essentially ponying up the difference between what McDonald’s and its ilk pay and what those workers need to live via SNAP and other benefits — is a hidden cost squirreled away in plain sight. You’re already paying higher prices via higher taxes; you just may not know it.
Even if taxes go down, won’t companies pass on their costs? Maybe, but they are unlikely to be significant. For example, if McDonald’s doubled the salaries of its employees to a semi-livable $14.50 an hour, not only would most of them go off public benefits, but so would the company — and yet a Big Mac would cost just 68 cents more. In general, only about 20 percent of the money you pay for a Big Mac goes to labor costs. At Wal-Mart, increasing wages to $12 per hour would cost the company only about one percent of its annual sales.
Despite labor costs not being the most significant factor in the way low-wage businesses set their prices, one of the more common objections to raising the minimum wage is that companies, facing higher labor costs, will cut back on jobs. Don’t believe it.
The Los Angeles Economic Round Table concluded that raising the hourly minimum to $15 in that city would generate an additional $9.2 billion in annual sales and create more than 50,000 jobs. A Paychex/IHS survey, which looks at employment in small businesses, found that the state with the highest percentage of annual job growth was Washington, which also has the highest statewide minimum wage in the nation. The area with the highest percentage of annual job growth was San Francisco, the city with the highest minimum wage in the nation. Higher wages do not automatically lead to fewer jobs. Many large grocery chains, including Safeway and Kroger, are unionized and pay well-above-minimum wage. They compete as equals against their non-union rivals, despite the higher wages.
Will employers leave a state if it raises its minimum wage independent of a nationwide hike? Unlikely. Most minimum-wage employers are service businesses that are tied to where their customers are. People are not likely to drive across state lines for a burger. A report on businesses on the Washington-Idaho border at a time when Washington’s minimum wage was nearly three bucks higher than Idaho’s found that the ones in Washington were flourishing.
While some businesses could indeed decide to close or cut back if the minimum wage rose, the net macro gains would be significant. Even a small hike to $10.10 an hour would put some $24 billion a year into workers’ hands to spend and lift 900,000 Americans above the poverty line. Consumer spending drives 70 percent of our economy. More money in the hands of consumers would likely increase the demand for goods and services, creating jobs.
Yes, raise the minimum wage. Double it or more. We can’t afford not to.
9. Okay, after the minimum wage is raised, what else can we do?
To end such an article, it’s traditional to suggest reforms, changes, solutions. It is, in fact, especially American to assume that every problem has a “solution.” So my instant suggestion: raise the minimum wage. Tomorrow. In a big way. And maybe appoint Thomas Piketty to the board of directors of Wal-Mart.
But while higher wages are good, they are likely only to soften the blows still to come. What if the hyper-rich like being ever more hyper-rich and, with so many new ways to influence and control our political system and the economy, never plan to give up any of their advantages? What if they don’t want to share, not even a little more, not when it comes to the minimum wage or anything else?
The striking trend lines of social and economic disparity that have developed over the last 50 years are clearly no accident; nor have disemboweled unions, a deindustrialized America, wages heading for the basement (with profits still on the rise), and the widest gap between rich and poor since the slavery era been the work of the invisible hand. It seems far more likely that a remarkably small but powerful crew wanted it that way, knowing that a nation of fast food workers isn’t heading for the barricades any time soon. Think of it all as a kind of “Game of Thrones” played out over many years. A super-wealthy few have succeeded in defeating all of their rivals — unions, regulators, the media, honest politicians, environmentalists — and now are free to do as they wish.
What most likely lies ahead is not a series of satisfying American-style solutions to the economic problems of the 99 percent, but a boiling frog’s journey into a form of 21st century feudalism in which a wealthy and powerful few live well off the labors of a vast mass of the working poor. Once upon a time, the original 99 percent percent, the serfs, worked for whatever their feudal lords allowed them to have. Now, Wal-Mart “associates” do the same. Then, a few artisans lived slightly better, an economic step or two up the feudal ladder. Now, a technocratic class of programmers, teachers and engineers with shrinking possibilities for upward mobility function similarly amid the declining middle class. Absent a change in America beyond my ability to imagine, that’s likely to be my future — and yours.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A Tom Dispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His new book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now.
Ukraine Closes Border Posts after Night Assault
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 June 2014, 16:39
Ukrainian authorities said Thursday they had closed three checkpoints on the border with Russia after nightly assaults by separatists.
The move came as the government vowed to beef up its security presence to counter pro-Russian rebels, amid reports of continued fighting in the country's east.
The three checkpoints, all in the volatile Lugansk region, were targeted in attacks by pro-Russian rebels overnight Wednesday to Thursday, the border guards said in a statement.
"After an exchange of fire, the threat to the lives of people crossing the border prompted the evacuation of civilians and border guards at the checkpoints," the border guards said in a statement.
The statement added that the three checkpoints -- at Chervonopartyzansk, Dolzhansky and Chervona Mogyla -- had been temporarily closed, and that the Russian side had been notified.
Ukraine's border guards have been especially targeted in recent rebel attacks, and had to abandon their regional headquarters in the city of Lugansk after an insurgent onslaught on Monday.
Insurgents fighting for an independent "People's Republic" remain in control of large parts of eastern Ukraine, and officials reported continued sporadic small arms fire on Thursday.
"The night passed relatively quietly. According to residents in the village of Shyroke, gunshots could be heard," the government of Donetsk, the region's main city, said in a statement.
Donetsk, home to about one million people, has been reduced to a state of near-anarchy following heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels around its international airport.
The fighting has left about 40 dead, mainly separatists, according to reports, and the airport will remain closed at least until the end of the month, as the security of flights cannot be guaranteed.
The streets of Donetsk are nearly deserted and under the control of insurgents, who man numerous checkpoints in the area.
Ukrainian forces, who launched an "anti-terrorist operation" nearly two months ago, intensified their activities on Tuesday, concentrating their efforts on the rebel stronghold of Slavyansk, more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Donetsk.
Two Ukrainian soldiers have lost their lives in this week's fighting, while numerous insurgents have been killed, according to Kiev.
The fighting has also damaged the water supply to five cities in the combat zone, including Slavyansk.
On Wednesday night, Ukrainian forces said they had destroyed a rebel ammunition depot in the area.
The interior ministry said on Thursday it would send a third National Guard battalion to the east.
The National Guardsmen, volunteers supporting the regular army, are expected to arrive within 10 days.
In a separate report, Ukraine's defense ministry said T-64 tanks had been deployed near Slavyansk to guard the positions of forces engaged in military operations there.
"Terrorists have been damaging the tanks in every possible way," the ministry said. "They are repaired on the spot, and put right back into action."
Later on Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that thousands of Ukrainians are flooding across the border into Russia to escape the armed conflict.
Speaking a day after Ukraine denied a mass exodus, Medvedev said several thousand Ukrainians had applied for refugee status -- even though Ukrainian nationals have the automatic right to stay three months in Russia.
"A stream of people is heading into the (southern Russian) Rostov region and partly into other regions. It's mainly children and the people accompanying them. Their numbers are in the thousands," Medvedev said at a televised government meeting.
"Before it was only a handful (asking for refugee status), now the number applying has grown to 4,000 people, that's an unprecedented situation," he said.
"People are very scared and frightened."
Ukraine said in a statement on Wednesday that just over 11,400 people crossed into Russia from Ukraine on June 3, a couple of hundred more than on the previous day, and that almost the same numbers came across from Russia.
"On the state border with Russia, not one Ukrainian citizen has expressed a desire to receive refugee status in Russia," the migration service said.
The Rostov region's governor Vasily Golubev declared a state of emergency in 15 cities close to the Ukrainian border on Wednesday, citing an influx of Ukrainians from the conflict zone.
"The emergency regime will allow us to more efficiently organize additional temporary accommodation for refugees from southeastern Ukraine," Golubev wrote on Twitter.
Russian children's rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov wrote on Instagram on Thursday that more than 8,300 Ukrainians had entered the Rostov region in the past 24 hours.
Hagel Tours Warship in Black Sea Port, Reassures Allies
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 June 2014, 17:03
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel toured a warship stationed at a Romanian Black Sea port Thursday, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the security of allies worried over Russia's intervention in Ukraine.
"The presence of the USS Vella Gulf is a clear expression of this commitment" to the collective security of NATO allies, Hagel told journalists at the port of Constanta.
USS Vella Gulf, a guided missile cruiser, is the fourth warship deployed by the U.S. in the Black Sea since the Ukrainian crisis erupted in March.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled a $1 billion U.S. security plan for eastern Europe aimed at allaying fears over a resurgent Kremlin and the pro-Russian uprising in ex-Soviet Ukraine.
The plan will include more U.S. troop rotations for exercises and training, and a stronger presence of U.S. ships in the Black Sea, Hagel stressed.
"We will sustain this tempo going forward," the U.S. defense secretary said.
"We are also stepping up our cooperation with other partners and allies surrounding the Black Sea -- including Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, and Ukraine."
Hagel reiterated his call to NATO members to boost their defense spending.
"This week in Brussels, I emphasized that, as the U.S. increases its commitments to European security, we are looking for our European allies to do the same," he said.
Defense budgets have fallen in Europe in recent years, but several east European countries including Poland, Romania, the Baltic states and the Czech Republic have announced plans to reverse the trend.
Vodafone exposes secret worldwide network of government wiretaps
By Juliette Garside, The Guardian
Thursday, June 5, 2014 21:16 EDT
Wires allow agencies to listen to or record live conversations, in what privacy campaigners are calling a ‘nightmare scenario’
Vodafone, one of the world’s largest mobile phone groups, has revealed the existence of secret wires that allow government agencies to listen to all conversations on its networks, saying they are widely used in some of the 29 countries in which it operates in Europe and beyond.
The company has broken its silence on government surveillance in order to push back against the increasingly widespread use of phone and broadband networks to spy on citizens, and will publish its first Law Enforcement Disclosure Report on Friday. At 40,000 words, it is the most comprehensive survey yet of how governments monitor the conversations and whereabouts of their people.
The company said wires had been connected directly to its network and those of other telecoms groups, allowing agencies to listen to or record live conversations and, in certain cases, track the whereabouts of a customer. Privacy campaigners said the revelations were a “nightmare scenario” that confirmed their worst fears on the extent of snooping.
In Albania, Egypt, Hungary, India, Malta, Qatar, Romania, South Africa and Turkey, it is unlawful to disclose any information related to wiretapping or interception of the content of phone calls and messages including whether such capabilities exist.
“For governments to access phone calls at the flick of a switch is unprecedented and terrifying,” said the Liberty director, Shami Chakrabarti. “Edward Snowden revealed the internet was already treated as fair game. Bluster that all is well is wearing pretty thin – our analogue laws need a digital overhaul.”
In about six of the countries in which Vodafone operates, the law either obliges telecoms operators to install direct access pipes, or allows governments to do so. The company, which owns mobile and fixed broadband networks, including the former Cable & Wireless business, has not named the countries involved because certain regimes could retaliate by imprisoning its staff.
Direct-access systems do not require warrants, and companies have no information about the identity or the number of customers targeted. Mass surveillance can happen on any telecoms network without agencies having to justify their intrusion to the companies involved.
Industry sources say that in some cases, the direct-access wire, or pipe, is essentially equipment in a locked room in a network’s central data centre or in one of its local exchanges or “switches”.
The staff working in that room can be employed by the telecoms firm, but have state security clearance and are usually unable to discuss any aspect of their work with the rest of the company. Vodafone says it requires all employees to follow its code of conduct, but secrecy means that it cannot always verify that they do so.
Government agencies can also intercept traffic on its way into a data centre, combing through conversations before routing them on to the operator.
“These are the nightmare scenarios that we were imagining,” said Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, which has brought legal action against the British government over mass surveillance.
“I never thought the telcos [telecommunications companies] would be so complicit. It’s a brave step by Vodafone and hopefully the other telcos will become more brave with disclosure, but what we need is for them to be braver about fighting back against the illegal requests and the laws themselves.”
Vodafone’s group privacy officer, Stephen Deadman, said: “These pipes exist, the direct access model exists.
“We are making a call to end direct access as a means of government agencies obtaining people’s communication data. Without an official warrant, there is no external visibility. If we receive a demand we can push back against the agency. The fact that a government has to issue a piece of paper is an important constraint on how powers are used.”
Vodafone is calling for all direct-access pipes to be disconnected, and for the laws that make them legal to be amended. It says governments should “discourage agencies and authorities from seeking direct access to an operator’s communications infrastructure without a lawful mandate”.
All states should publish annual data on the number of warrants issued, the company argues. There are two types – those for the content of calls and messages, and those for the metadata, which can cover the location of a target’s device, the times and dates of communications, and the people with whom they communicated.
For brevity, the Guardian has also used the term metadata to cover warrants for customer information such as name and address. The information published in our table covers 2013 or the most recent year available. A single warrant can target hundreds of individuals and devices, and several warrants can target just one individual. Governments count warrants in different ways and New Zealand, for example, excludes those concerning national security. While software companies like Apple and Microsoft have jumped to publish the number of warrants they receive since the activities of America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ came to light, telecoms companies, which need government licences to operate, have been slower to respond.
In America, Verizon and AT&T have published data, but only on their domestic operations. Deutsche Telekom in Germany and Telstra in Australia have also broken ground at home. Vodafone is the first to produce a global survey.
It shows that Malta is one of the most spied on nations in Europe. The former British protectorate has a tiny population of 420,000, but last year Vodafone alone processed 3,773 requests for metadata.
In Italy, where the mafia’s presence requires a high level of police intrusion, Vodafone received 606,000 metadata requests, more than any other country in which it runs networks. The number of warrants across all operators is potentially many times that number, but the government does not publish a national figure for metadata.
Italy’s parliament does disclose content warrants, however, and it issued 141,000 in 2012, compared with just 2,760 in the United Kingdom. In contrast to the UK, terrorism concerns mean Ireland does not allow any information on the number of content warrants to be made public.
Spain, which has suffered terrorist strikes from Islamists and Basque separatists, allowed Vodafone to disclose that it had received over 24,000 content warrants. Agencies in the Czech Republic made nearly 8,000 content requests from the network. After Italy, the Czech Republic is the biggest user of metadata, issuing 196,000 warrants nationally in the most recent year for which information has been published. Tanzania, one of several African countries in which Vodafone operates, made 99,000 metadata requests from the company.
Peter Micek, policy counsel at the campaign group Access, said: “In a sector that has historically been quiet about how it facilitates government access to user data, Vodafone has for the first time shone a bright light on the challenges of a global telecom giant, giving users a greater understanding of the demands governments make of telcos. Vodafone’s report also highlights how few governments issue any transparency reports, with little to no information about the number of wiretaps, cell site tower dumps, and other invasive surveillance practices.”
On the question of whether the UK uses direct-access pipes, Vodafone’s Deadman said such a system would be illegal because Britain did not permit agencies to obtain information without a warrant. The law does, however, allow indiscriminate collection of information on an unidentified number of targets. “We need to debate how we are balancing the needs of law enforcement with the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens. The ideal is we get a much more informed debate going, and we do all of that without putting our colleagues in danger.”
Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower, joined Google, Reddit, Mozilla and other tech firms and privacy groups on Thursday to call for a strengthening of privacy rights online in a “Reset the net” campaign.
Twelve months after revelations about the scale of the US government’s surveillance programs were first published in the Guardian and the Washington Post, Snowden said: “One year ago, we learned that the internet is under surveillance, and our activities are being monitored to create permanent records of our private lives – no matter how innocent or ordinary those lives might be. Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the U.S. Congress fails to do the same.”
© Guardian News and Media 2014
Vodafone feels Edward Snowden effect with surveillance revelations
Documents released by Vodafone show the level of collaboration between telecom companies and the surveillance agencies
Vodafone reveals existence of secret wires that allow state surveillance
The Guardian, Friday 6 June 2014
What has been achieved since the first of the Edward Snowden revelations appeared in the Guardian a year ago? Quite a lot. Proposed legislative changes in the US, judicial challenges worldwide and increased public awareness of the scope of surveillance.
One of the biggest changes has come from the corporate world. The initial response of the internet and telecom companies last summer was to deny, play down or claim ignorance of their role in co-operating with the US and British surveillance agencies, the NSA and GCHQ.
Since then, faced with a worldwide consumer backlash that analysts predict could cost them tens of billions of pounds, those companies have become more outspoken, distancing themselves from government and calling for more transparency and reform.
Vodafone has joined the throng with the publication of a "Law Enforcement Disclosure Report", an attempt to collate the number of warrant applications to intercept communications in the 29 countries where it operates. The company insists it is not doing so because of a consumer backlash and that it is not suffering commercially, even in Germany, where feelings run highest in Europe. It points out its discussions with the lobbying group Privacy International about transparency predate the spy disclosures in the Guardian.
But the Snowden disclosures have accelerated that process. Vodafone began work on its report last autumn, well aware that it could be punished commercially if it loses customer trust. Whatever its motives, Vodafone's survey and outspoken comments about the balance between surveillance and privacy are to be welcomed. In its introduction to its report, Vodafone draws attention to the fact that most of the legislation on privacy and surveillance predates the internet and needs to be updated.
Vodafone's survey also shows just how meaningless is much of the data on warrants provided by many governments. Different countries have different methods of collating figures, making comparisons impossible. Some totals include repeat warrants or the same warrant issued to a dozen different companies. Some countries shamefully refused to allow Vodafone to publish any data at all.
The hope is that publication may prompt debate in those countries that will shame the governments into disclosure and might lead to a common method of collating figures.
Much of the focus of the Snowden revelations has been on the internet giants because Google, Facebook, Apple and others were named in the Prism slides, published by the Guardian on 6 June last year. The documents show the level of collaboration between the telecom companies and the surveillance agencies. The telecom companies only received less media attention because they were hidden for the most part behind hard-to-discover code-names, one indication of how pivotal they are to the spy agencies.
Transparency on the part of Vodafone only goes so far. It has not yet clarified or even confirmed its participation in Tempora, GCHQ's tapping of the network of cables which carry the world's phone calls and internet traffic.
Vodafone's position is that only a handful of its employees would know about the programme and even if they did, they would not legally be allowed to talk about it. Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, describes Vodafone's survey as "commendable" but says that "the UK continues to be a black mark on the global map of mass surveillance with GCHQ's tapping directly into Vodafone's cables that carry our communications across the world".
Snowden is stuck in Moscow, on the run from the US. But at least he has the satisfaction of having started the worldwide debate he wanted on surveillance. Without him, it is hard to believe that one of the world's biggest telecom companies would be publishing details about warrant requests, calling for increased transparency and urging legislative reform to bring surveillance into line with the internet age.
German lawmakers vote to attempt to question Edward Snowden
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, June 5, 2014 20:36 EDT
German deputies probing U.S. spying said Thursday they would seek to question fugitive U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden in Moscow within the next four weeks.
The parliamentary committee aims to assess the extent of surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency and its partners on German citizens and politicians, and whether German intelligence aided its activities.
Deputies from the panel voted to try to speak with Snowden before their next session on July 2, with a preliminary “informal” meeting in Moscow aimed at assessing how to proceed.
They said they would speak with Snowden’s lawyer in the coming days to determine whether the American is willing to talk to them.
The vote came a day after Germany’s federal prosecutors said they had opened a criminal investigation into alleged illegal U.S. snooping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, in a move that could further strain ties with Washington.
Snowden, regarded as a traitor by US President Barack Obama’s administration and the subject of an arrest warrant, has spoken via video link to other bodies including the Council of Europe from Russia, where he has received temporary asylum.
The eight-member German panel voted unanimously last month to call Snowden as a witness.
But while the left-leaning opposition had called for Snowden to be invited to Germany to testify, Merkel’s conservative party voiced concern that such a move could damage U.S. ties.
Snowden has indicated in interviews that he would prefer to speak to the committee in Germany and said he has more to disclose about NSA activities than has already appeared in the media over the last year.
A deputy from the opposition Linke, Martina Renner, said MPs from her party and the Greens would not make the trip to Moscow as they had no interest in “political tourist excursions”, and renewed their call for Snowden to be brought to Germany.
Germans were outraged by revelations last year that the NSA eavesdropped on Merkel’s conversations, as well as about wider US surveillance programmes of Internet and phone communications.
Merkel is due to meet Obama on Friday at commemorations in France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
German intelligence agency confesses to spy stations
Federal Intelligence Service attaches its logo to sites after amateur investigators post locations online
Associated Press, Berlin
theguardian.com, Friday 6 June 2014 11.36 BST
Germany's foreign intelligence agency is officially lifting the lid on some of its worst-kept secrets by acknowledging that half a dozen facilities are in fact spy stations.
The Federal Intelligence Service for decades maintained the facade that it had nothing to do with sites bearing cryptic names such as Ionosphere Institute.
But amateur sleuths long suspected their true identities and posted them online.
Agency head Gerhard Schindler invited reporters to attend a ceremony Friday in the Bavarian town of Bad Aibling at which the agency's logo will be officially attached to the entrance of a site previously called the Telecommunications Traffic Office of the German Armed Force. It features several giant golf ball-shaped radomes commonly used for eavesdropping on radio, data and phone traffic.
With Group of 7 Backing, Obama Gives Russia One-Month Ukraine Deadline
By PETER BAKER
JUNE 5, 2014
BRUSSELS — With the backing of other world leaders, President Obama effectively set a one-month deadline for Moscow to reverse its intervention in Ukraine and help quash a pro-Russian separatist uprising or else he said it would face international sanctions far more severe than anything it had endured so far.
Mr. Obama and other leaders of seven major democracies meeting here demanded that President Pig V. Putin of Russia recognize and negotiate directly with the newly elected leader of Ukraine, stop the flow of fighters and arms across the border and press separatists to disarm, relinquish seized public buildings and join talks with the central authorities in Kiev.
“Russia continues to have a responsibility to convince them to end their violence, lay down their weapons and enter into a dialogue with the Ukrainian government,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference alongside Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain after a meeting of leaders of the Group of 7 industrial powers. “On the other hand, if Russia’s provocations continue, it’s clear from our discussions here that the G-7 nations are ready to impose additional costs on Russia.”
For the first time, Mr. Obama laid out a time frame, saying that the process could not drag out.
“We will have a chance to see what the Pig does over the next two, three, four weeks,” Mr. Obama said, “and if he remains on the current course, then we’ve already indicated what kinds of actions that we’re prepared to take.”
So far, the United States and European allies have imposed only limited sanctions, aimed at individual Russians and a handful of their companies, in retaliation for the Russian annexation of Crimea and the violence in eastern Ukraine. The next stage would be broader, cutting off dealings with sectors of the economy like finance and energy.
European leaders have resisted such an escalation at least in part because their countries have much deeper economic ties to Russia than the United States does. Germany receives about one-third of its natural gas from Russia. Britain has extensive banking ties. France does a thriving arms business with Moscow.
Mr. Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had threatened to impose sectoral sanctions if Russia disrupted the May 25 election in Ukraine that produced Petro O. Poroshenko as the new president. Pro-Russian separatists worked to stop the voting in the east, but the United States and European leaders chose not to see the problems as grave enough to merit following through on the threat.
American and European officials are hoping that the Pig's decision to pull some troops back from the border signals that he wants to defuse the confrontation, either because of the damage done so far to his own economy or because he did not find as much popular support for joining Russia in eastern Ukraine as he did in Crimea.
In a small sign of a thaw, Moscow announced on Thursday that its ambassador to Kiev, Mikhail Zurabov, would return to Ukraine in time to attend Saturday’s inauguration of Mr. Poroshenko. Mr. Zurabov was withdrawn in February when Russia objected to the overthrow of President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
It remained unclear what the West would do if Russia largely left matters as they were, neither escalating the situation nor reining in the separatists. France has said that as things stood, it intended to go ahead with a $1.6 billion sale of warships to Russia; Mr. Obama took issue with that decision again on Thursday before leaving Brussels for Paris to dine with President François Hollande of France.
The Group of 7’s summit meeting was the first in two decades to exclude Russia, which began attending as a guest in 1993 and joined as a full-fledged member in 1998 but was suspended after annexing Crimea. Even so, Mr. Hollande, Mr. Cameron and Ms. Merkel all scheduled individual meetings with the Pig for Thursday or Friday; Mr. Hollande, in fact, hosted him for a light supper just after dining with Mr. Obama.
The issue of meeting with the Pig generated a “very detailed discussion” during the leaders’ private session, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, who, like Mr. Obama, opposed doing so. “We’re all agreed on what the next steps would be should we not see appropriate change in the Pig's behavior,” Mr. Harper said afterward.
Mr. Cameron defended meeting separately with the Pig. “It’s right to have this dialogue, particularly if you have a clear message and a clear point to make,” he said. “I think there’s a world of difference between having a dialogue with President Putin and excluding someone” from the summit meeting.
Mr. Hollande likewise brushed off the dispute. “The important thing is, we have the same language, the same arguments on Ukraine all together,” he told reporters. “We are seven.”
But his dinner with Mr. Obama was already fraught with another fresh source of tension, an American investigation that may result in a multibillion-dollar fine to be paid by the giant French bank BNP Paribas for helping countries like Sudan evade sanctions.
“It has an impact on the French economy; it has an impact on the European economy,” Mr. Hollande said. But Mr. Obama said he had no control over the inquiry. “Those are decisions that are made by an independent Department of Justice,” he said.
The careful choreography of diplomatic dinners extended to Berlin, where Ms. Merkel returned after Thursday’s meetings to host Mr. Poroshenko for the second time in less than a month. Ms. Merkel was unusually effusive, stressing that “Germany would like to be very helpful” as he tackles the huge tasks of maintaining national unity, sovereignty and stability in a shaky economy.
“Your help is needed as never before,” Mr. Poroshenko replied. “Ukraine is paying a heavy price” for its turn toward Europe.
In Brussels, Mr. Obama skated lightly over the disparate positions regarding the Pig. “Do I expect unanimity among the 28 E.U. members?” he said. “I’ve now been president five and a half years, and I’ve learned a thing or two about the European Union.” There will be disagreements among members, he said, and “we take that for granted.”
Mr. Obama used the occasion to pledge again to help the European Union combat attempts by Russia to use energy resources as a weapon. But he emphasized the need to bear some losses to defend shared values.
“Europeans have to stand up for those ideals and principles even if it creates some economic inconvenience,” he said, adding that “if we have sectoral sanctions, I think it will inevitably hit Russia a lot worse than it hits Europe, which have much more diversified and resilient economies.”
World Leaders Mark D-Day in Shadow of Ukraine Crisis
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 June 2014, 12:10
World leaders gathered Friday to mark 70 years since the historic D-Day invasion of France that hastened the end of World War II and this year is taking place against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis.
At ceremonies on the beaches of northern France, where the biggest amphibious assault in history was launched in 1944, heads of state, royalty and prime ministers rubbed shoulders with hundreds of veterans, now in their 90s, who risked their lives to liberate Europe from Nazism.
"This day, which began in chaos and fire, would end in blood and tears, tears and pain, tears and joy at the end of 24 hours that changed the world and forever marked Normandy," French President Francois Hollande said as he opened the ceremonies.
Dignitaries -- including Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who at the age of 88 is making a now rare foreign trip, and sparring world leaders U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Pig Putin -- will have lunch together at a grand chateau before heading to the beaches for a solemn international ceremony.
Around 1,800 veterans from Britain, the United States, France, Canada but also Russia and Poland, will honor the sacrifice of thousands of their comrades who fell on D-Day, many of them marking the occasion for the last time given their advanced age.
The D-Day ceremonies will give world leaders feuding over the Ukraine crisis a rare common purpose but the diplomatic wrangling over the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War started in earnest on Thursday and was set to continue throughout the anniversary.
The Pig has been in the diplomatic deep-freeze since Russia's annexation of Crimea in March and held his first meeting with Western leaders since then -- a bilateral with Britain's David Cameron and a late-night meal with French President Francois Hollande.
Paris was the center of a frenzied bout of meal-time diplomacy late on Thursday, as Hollande gobbled down a rushed dinner with Obama before hosting the Russian leader for 'supper' at the Elysee Palace.
Cameron said he had left the Pig in no doubt as to the West's demands over Ukraine in what he described as "a meeting with a very clear and firm set of messages."
"Russia needs to properly recognize and work with this new president. We need de-escalation. We need to stop arms and people crossing the border," Cameron said.
"The status quo, the situation today, is not acceptable and it needs to change."
- 'Additional costs' -
Obama was not scheduled to meet the Pig officially but told reporters after a meeting of the group of seven rich countries in Brussels that he had "no doubt that I'll see the Pig."
"Should we have the opportunity to talk, I'll deliver the same message as I have throughout this crisis.
"If Russia's provocations continue, it's clear from our discussions here the G7 nations are ready to impose additional costs."
The G7 meeting was to have been an expanded G8 hosted by the Pig in his flagship Black Sea resort of Sochi but Russia was expelled from the club as punishment for the annexation of Crimea and perceived meddling in Ukraine.
For his part, the Pig has stressed that he does not wish to avoid anyone and may hold talks with Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko.
However, the Kremlin strongman has issued a defiant and robust riposte to the West's accusations, rejecting claims of military intervention in Ukraine and accusing Washington of aggressively seeking to isolate Moscow on the world stage.
The diplomatic back-and-forth came as the situation in Eastern Ukraine threatened to deteriorate further, with Kiev admitting it had lost control of three key checkpoints on its border with Russia following insurgent attacks.
Poroshenko, who will be officially inaugurated on Saturday after romping to victory in presidential polls on March 25, is poised to unveil a peace plan for his war-torn country that he will discuss with world leaders in northern France.
- 'Where's my Calvados?' -
Away from the wining and dining world leaders, the majority of the D-Day veterans marked the occasion in a quiet and unassuming fashion, resplendent in their military uniforms and medals.
At the tender age of 89, one former Scottish paratrooper commemorated the anniversary in rather more energetic fashion, parachuting to the same place he landed 70 years ago, this time strapped to the back of a Red Devil expert for safety.
Dressed from head to toe in a bright red jumpsuit, Jock Hutton sprang eagerly from his Cessna Caravan from 5,000 feet -- 10 times the height from which he jumped on that historic night in 1944 -- touched down on the grass near Britain's Prince Charles and made jokes to the waiting media.
"At my age, life tends to get a wee bit boring. So you've got to grab at any chance at excitement!"
"I was hoping there'd be some Calvados."
Cameron Tells the Pig to Work with New Ukrainian President
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 June 2014, 06:41
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday told his Russian counterpart Pig Putin that Moscow must recognize the authority of the new president-elect in Ukraine.
Delivering what he said was a "very clear and firm" message from the West, Cameron said: "Russia needs to properly recognize and work with this new president," in comments to the BBC.
Poroshenko Says D-Day Ceremony to Show Europe's Unity behind Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 June 2014, 22:40
Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko said Friday's D-Day commemorations would serve as a show of European unity and support for Kiev in its current crisis.
On a visit to Berlin for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday before heading to France to mark the Allied landing in June 1944, Poroshenko said he was grateful for Western backing.
"Tomorrow we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy," he told reporters.
"Europe will demonstrate its unity and support for Ukraine, just as it did in Warsaw, where all of Europe, the whole world showed its solidarity with Ukraine."
U.S. President Barack Obama on a visit to the Polish capital Wednesday condemned the "dark tactics" and "aggression" of Russia against Ukraine after meeting Poroshenko and promised him years of U.S. support.
Poroshenko said he was hopeful that after his swearing-in on Saturday there would be "new possibilities for a program to pacify eastern Ukraine" which is wracked by deadly clashes between pro-Russian rebels and government troops.
"The position of the Russian Federation is clearly damaging, for both sides -- that seems to be clear also to Russia by now," he said.
Merkel, who is also due to attend the D-Day commemoration, said Ukraine was "still in a difficult situation" but pledged Germany would continue to support Kiev "in word and deed if Ukraine asks us for it."
But she stressed that G7 leaders meeting in Brussels this week had agreed that Ukraine's "territorial integrity" and economic well-being also "required the support of Russia."
"So of course we will discuss what can be expected of Russia to be successful in these areas," she said.
Merkel is due to hold talks with Russian President Pig Putin in Normandy Friday.
Western Leaders, Putin in Paris as Talks over Ukraine Kick Off
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 June 2014, 22:07
British Prime Minister David Cameron told the Pig to end Moscow's military meddling in Ukraine as he became the first western leader to meet the Russian president since Moscow's annexation of Crimea.
The Pig, who has been cold-shouldered by the United States and its allies since the March seizure of the peninsula, met Cameron in Paris on Thursday ahead of talks later with French President Francois Hollande.
The Russian leader's return to the international center stage, ahead of Friday's D-Day anniversary ceremony in Normandy, came on a day when Ukraine's government admitted it had lost control of part of its eastern border to pro-Russian separatists that the West suspects are being actively backed by Moscow.
Cameron arrived for his meeting with the Pig directly from a Brussels meeting of G7 leaders which issued a warning that Russia faced further sanctions if it does not stop what they see as efforts to destabilize its southern neighbor.
"This was a meeting with a very clear and firm set of messages, which is that there is an opportunity for a successful, peaceful and stable Ukraine especially now there's been a presidential election," Cameron told the BBC.
"But the status quo, the situation today, is not acceptable and it needs to change."
"Russia needs to properly recognize and work with this new president. We need de-escalation. We need to stop arms and people crossing the border. We need action on these fronts but if that happens there is a diplomatic path that is open to have proper relations between Ukraine and Russia and a successful future for the people of Ukraine, which is what they deserve."
The Pig will also meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday before the D-Day ceremony. No formal meeting is scheduled with Barack Obama but the U.S. president signaled in Brussels that he was likely to have some kind of exchange with his Russian counterpart.
"I have no doubt that I'll see the Pig," Obama said. "Should we have the opportunity to talk, I'll deliver the same message as I have throughout this crisis.
"If Russia's provocations continue, it's clear from our discussions here the G7 nations are ready to impose additional costs."
The G7 leaders said they were united behind a common position on the crisis but there have been clear differences of emphasis all week over the balance between pursuing dialogue with the Pig and signaling to him, and the Russian people, that they are isolated.
There is concern among some western officials that the Pig's trip to France could be seen by his domestic audience as him returning to the international top table.
Obama, who had a rushed dinner with Hollande in a Paris restaurant before the French leader's late-night “supper” with the Pig, called on Russia to take concrete steps to demonstrate it was willing to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The U.S. leader said Russia had to recognize Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko, withdraw troops from the Ukrainian border and stop backing pro-Moscow rebels who are destabilizing eastern Ukraine.
"We will have a chance to see what the Pig does over the next two, three, four weeks. If he remains on the current course we've already indicated the actions we are prepared to take."
The diplomatic shuttling in France came as the Ukrainian authorities admitted they had been forced to abandon three checkpoints on the border with Russia after nightly assaults by pro-Russian separatists.
Agence France Presse reporters in the area said at least one had been taken over by the rebels.
In a signal the situation in the country's east may be about to deteriorate sharply, the government vowed to beef up its security presence to counter the rebels amid reports of continued fighting.
The Pig squealed earlier this week that he could meet Poroshenko, the chocolate tycoon who is due to be inaugurated as president on Saturday, who will also be in Normandy, and insisted he was ready for talks with Obama.
"I don't plan to avoid anyone," the Pig snorted in an interview in which he rejected claims of military intervention in Ukraine and accused the United States of aggressively pursuing the isolation of Russia.
Obama this week condemned Russia's "dark tactics" in Ukraine in a hawkish speech in Poland reminiscent of the Cold War era.
Populist Party Fails to Capture Seat in British Parliament
By STEPHEN CASTLE
JUNE 6, 2014
LONDON — Despite momentum from a surprisingly strong showing in recent European elections, the populist right-wing U.K. Independence Party failed to win its first seat in the British Parliament when it finished second to the Conservative candidate in a special election, results announced Friday showed.
The Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, held the seat in Newark, in central England, but its majority was greatly reduced from the 2010 general election.
With another general election due next year, the contest had been watched closely following the Independence Party’s performance in elections last month for the European Parliament, in which it won more than 27 percent of the vote in Britain and secured 24 seats. The party campaigns to curb immigration and for Britain to quit the European Union.
The Conservative Party’s candidate in Newark, Robert Jenrick, won 17,431 votes in the election held on Thursday to fill a seat previously held by Patrick Mercer, who resigned after a lobbying scandal. The Independence Party candidate, Roger Helmer, finished second with 10,028 votes. Labour, Britain’s main opposition party, finished third with 6,842 votes, with the Liberal Democrats, the junior party in Mr. Cameron’s coalition government, in sixth place.
The Conservatives, who had a majority of more than 16,000 votes in Newark in the 2010 general election, poured resources into the contest and Mr. Cameron himself visited four times.
“This is a very good result for the Conservative party and for the government, " Mr. Cameron said Friday. “By-elections are notoriously tricky. The last time we won one in government was over 20 years ago, and it’s a good result because we worked hard, we had an excellent candidate and we had a very clear message about our long-term economic plan.”
In 2009, the Independence Party won more than 16 percent of the vote in European elections, but polled just 3.1 percent overall in the British general election in 2010. Analysts say voters are more likely to register a protest vote in European elections than in ballots to elect a national government.
In Brazen Strike, Sunni Militants Storm Central Iraqi City
By KAREEM FAHIM
JUNE 5, 2014\
BAGHDAD — Hundreds of Sunni militants stormed the central Iraqi city of Samarra early Thursday, taking control of neighborhoods and government buildings in a siege that provoked a panicked government counteroffensive to prevent the loss of the town.
The army rushed troops, backed by helicopters, to Samarra, and by Thursday evening, government officials claimed that the gunmen had largely been routed. Residents, though, said that at least two neighborhoods remained at least partly under control of the militants, who raised the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria over several government buildings.
At least 17 people were killed in the fighting. The brazen offensive provided the latest evidence of the militants’ strength in Iraq, six months after hard-line Islamist fighters seized the western city of Falluja, which militants continue to control. The attack also raised the specter of deadly sectarian incitement, as the heavily armed militants took up positions within a mile of a hallowed Shiite shrine in the city that has served as a focal point for strife in the past.
The bombing of the dome of the shrine in 2006 set off rounds of retaliatory violence against Sunni mosques and unleashed some of the bloodiest sectarian fighting of the Iraqi civil war. On Thursday, officials appeared determined to protect the site, saying that heavy security details had been sent there while insisting that it remained beyond the reach of the militants’ weapons.
The attack in Samarra started a few hours after midnight, according to security officials and witnesses, who said the roughly 500 militants flooded in from the east. They rode trucks outfitted with heavy machine guns and attacked checkpoints, using cranes to dismantle security barricades as they cleared a path into the city.
The offensive bore the hallmarks of earlier attacks by jihadists, who seized control of mosques on Thursday and declared their presence over loudspeakers, telling residents to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In parts of the city, people rushed to stock up on food, fearing a prolonged siege. Security officials said they had trouble immediately sending reinforcements, because the militants had laid roadside bombs around their positions.
Later on Thursday, the government sent army and special forces troops who recaptured several neighborhoods, security officials said. The remaining militants “are deployed among the people,” said Lt. Gen. Rashid Fleih, a senior army commander.
“They can be defeated, but the situation needs two to three days,” he said in an interview in the capital.
The loss of Samarra would have been a devastating blow to the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose security forces have failed for months to dislodge militants in Falluja or the neighboring city of Ramadi. The army, which has suffered heavy casualties in the fighting and a growing tide of desertions, has stepped up its shelling of Falluja, with indiscriminate strikes that have worsened a humanitarian crisis.
Aid agencies say that hundreds of thousands of people have already been displaced by the fighting. On Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross, which sent a delegation to Falluja this week, warned about the increasingly dire situation of civilians who remained there, including “a severe shortage of food, water and health care.
Afghan Election Front-Runner Abdullah Escapes Assassination Attempt
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 June 2014, 11:57
Afghan presidential election front-runner Abdullah Abdullah said he had escaped an assassination attempt Friday when an explosion hit his campaign motorcade in Kabul, just days ahead of a hotly-contested run-off election.
"A few minutes ago, when we left a campaign rally our convoy was hit by a mine," he told another election rally in quotes broadcast on Afghan television. He added that some of his guards were mildly wounded, while he was unhurt.
The attempt came ahead of the second-round presidential election on June 14, with Taliban insurgents threatening to disrupt the polls.
No one has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.
Abdullah fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed for an outright victory in the April first round and will face former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani in the run-off.
"We condemn the attack on respected presidential candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah," Ghani said on Twitter.
"This is the act of the enemies of Afghanistan to disrupt the democratic process in the country."
India Minister Says Rape 'Sometimes Right, Sometimes Wrong'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 June 2014, 18:15
An Indian minister from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party said Thursday that rape was "sometimes right, sometimes wrong", amid mounting public anger over sex attacks against women.
Babulal Gaur, the home minister of central Madhya Pradesh state who is responsible for law and order, said rapes could be investigated as crimes only if they were reported to the police.
The minister also defended the government of northern Uttar Pradesh state, which has been the target of global outrage since the gang-rape and murder of two girls in the village of Katra Shahadatganj last week.
"This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong," Gaur, of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told reporters.
"Nothing can be done until there is a complaint," he said.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav faced severe criticism for his perceived insensitivity over the attacks on the low-caste teenage girls, who were found hanging from a mango tree after being sexually assaulted multiple times.
When asked by reporters about a sharp rise in rape cases in the country's most populous state, he replied with the words: "It's not as if you faced any danger."
Yadav's father Mulayam Singh -- leader of the Samajwadi Party -- was also the target of public anger in April when he told an election rally that he opposed the recently introduced death penalty for gang-rapists, saying "boys make mistakes".
Gaur stood up for the Yadav father-son duo Thursday, saying that "there is no information on who will rape someone, they happen unpredictably".
"What can helpless Mulayam or Akhilesh do about it (rape)?" Gaur said.
Modi, who won a landslide election victory last month, has yet to comment on his colleague's controversial comments but the BJP has distanced itself from Gaur, saying his views are not those of the party.
According to Indian government statistics, a rape occurs in the country every 22 minutes.
Activists say the figure is conservative, however, as many rapes go unreported in the nation of 1.2 billion where victims of sexual crime are often publicly shamed.
India toughened sex assault laws following the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi in December 2012 which sparked nationwide protests, but the move has done little to stem the tide of sex attacks.
Just days after the Uttar Pradesh attacks, rebels shot dead a woman in northeast India on Wednesday after she resisted their attempt to gang-rape her.
Radical Myanmar Monks Urge Boycott of 'Muslim' Qatari Telecom Firm
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 June 2014, 20:50
Radical Buddhist monks in Myanmar are urging a boycott of telecoms firm Ooredoo because it hails from Muslim-majority Qatar, despite its promise to boost access to affordable mobile phones, a cleric said Thursday.
Ooredoo, along with Norway's Telenor, is set to begin selling cheap SIM cards this year in Myanmar, where the exorbitant cost of phones under the former junta left as many as nine out of ten people without access to them.
But it comes as the country grapples with a growing Buddhist nationalist movement spearheaded by extremist monks, who have urged boycotts of Muslim shops and proposed a raft of deeply controversial laws to restrict religious freedom.
"We want Buddhists to buy things only from shops owned by those of our religion and the profits should go to our religion," said monk Parmuakha, who is organizing a campaign against the firm beginning on Saturday.
The cleric, who goes by only one name, said his group "condemns" the Myanmar government for issuing the license to Ooredoo.
The telecoms firm plans to sell SIM cards for no more than 1,500 kyats ($1.50) -- around a thousandth of their junta-era peak cost.
Sales will begin in the major cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw from the third quarter of this year.
Ooredoo's spokeswoman Thiri Kyar Nyo said: "We believe that each and every person is born equal and deserves respect.
"I think any suspicion about our company will quickly dissipate once people start to see more of our brand and the positive effects that we will bring to the people of Myanmar."
Myanmar began to emerge from military dictatorship in 2011 under a quasi-civilian government whose economic and political reforms have led to the end of most Western embargoes.
The country's rich natural resources and potentially lucrative pool of customers among its approximately 60 million-strong population have generated excitement over its potential as Asia's next frontier market.
But actual investment has been cautious, tempered by lingering fears over corruption, transparency and the legal landscape.
The telecoms licenses, valid for 15 years, are the first to be awarded by Myanmar and will see the two foreign firms enter a market that was once monopolized by a pair of state companies.
Ooredoo, formerly known as Qatar Telecom, has previously said it would pump $15 billion into Myanmar.
Parmuakha shrugged off concerns that the boycott could dissuade foreign investors.
"It is more important to protect our national identity and religion," he said.
Myanmar authorities began selling cheap SIMs for less than $2 through a lottery system last year.
But the scheme is relatively small and ordinary SIM cards retail for $200.
"We poor people can only use cheap phones... we don't care where that company comes from," said 64-year-old Tin Shwe, who earns around $8 a day peddling a cycle-rickshaw -- not enough to buy a mobile.
"It would be good to have one so I could call my family," he added.
Religion has become a deeply sensitive issue in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where several outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence in the last two years have left around 250 people dead.
Other international firms have found themselves embroiled in the country's religious tensions.
This week, Unilever scrambled to take down billboards for its Knorr brand of stock in Sittwe, capital of the unrest-torn Rakhine state, after it discovered that shop-owners had printed the Buddhist nationalist "969" logo onto them.
"We are against any form of racial, ethnic, religious or gender discrimination," the Dutch giant said in a statement.
Two waves of deadly communal violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine in 2012 left around 140,000 people displaced, mainly Rohingya.
Sectarian bloodshed -- mostly targeting Muslims -- has since spread to other parts of the country, with monks even seen taking part in the violence.
Myanmar's parliament is set to consider several proposals for new religious laws, including bills restricting conversion and inter-marriage.