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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 495963 times)
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« Reply #15270 on: Aug 30, 2014, 06:26 AM »

SETI Institute expert explains why humans will some day find intelligent extra-terrestrial life

By The Conversation
Friday, August 29, 2014 13:06 EDT

By Seth Shostak, SETI Institute

The Conversation organised a public question-and-answer session on Reddit in which Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, explained why searching for intelligent life is so important and why we may soon find it.

Why are we continuing the search? For instance, isn’t it true that radio waves become almost indistinguishable from background noise just a few light years from their origin?

We can detect radio waves from billions of light-years away, and without a whole lot of trouble, either. The idea that they become indistinguishable from noise at some small distance is incorrect. With a big enough antenna, you can always find the signal.

But the broader point is that we now know two things that we didn’t know 20 years ago. First that planets, including ones that might be like Earth, are incredibly plentiful in the visible universe. There could be a billion trillion cousins of our world. Second, life got started on Earth very early.

If intelligent life is not out there, then we have done far better than merely win the lottery. And if you think we are that special … well, consider that you might just be wrong. And that possibility makes it worthwhile to try to answer the question with experiment, rather than saying “I know the answer already”.

When you do eventually find intelligent life beyond the Earth, who would govern the announcement? Is there a protocol you need to follow before it becomes public?

There is a document. Briefly, it says, check the signal to make sure it is truly extraterrestrial. Then announce it to the world, and consult internationally before transmitting a reply.

But, in reality, it will be a mad media scramble, and the scientists will be trying their best to learn as much as they could about the signal.

How would such contact proceed? As Stephen Hawking believes that based on how we as humans treat many forms of less intelligent life on earth, do you believe that it is likely that higher forms of life would not have our best intentions in mind at the point of contact?

We will probably develop strong artificial intelligence (AI) in this century. That suggests that any signal we might pick up will be coming from AI on their end. To impute the kinds of motives described in many of the postings here to such “intelligence” seems largely ungrounded. We have no idea what would interest them, but destroying us seems a bit too self-centred.

Can you tell us about the WOW signal and its importance?

It was nothing more than a drift plot on a computer’s line printer that showed up once. Not a second time, even though it was looked for only a minute later. There were lots of such “one-offs” in the old days of SETI, and there is no good evidence that any of them were extraterrestrial signals.

How often does something happen that makes you say to yourself ‘This could be it?’

Thanks to filtering out of interference by our computer programs, a “this could be it” moment only occurs very infrequently. The last good one was in 1997.

What do you think about the Fermi Paradox which states that perhaps life is not so abundant, because if it were it would have contacted us already?

The Fermi Paradox is a big extrapolation from a very local observation. We don’t see any obvious evidence of galactic colonisation around here. So they couldn’t be out there. Really? I don’t see any evidence of mega fauna in my back yard, so maybe there aren’t any …

You can find many ideas about why galactic colonisation isn’t much of a desideratum for advanced intelligence, and the fact that people can cook up plausible reasons should cause you to consider the Paradox as an interesting idea, but not a very meaningful observation.

What are your thoughts on panspermia – the idea that life exists throughout the universe in microbial form distributed by celestial bodies like asteroids?

Panspermia might be occurring, although most of the astrobiologists I have talked to about this opine that, while bacterial spores could survive a trip within a solar system, they wouldn’t make it between solar systems.

Why do scientists keep looking for water and oxygen when looking for intelligent life?

Chemistry suggests that carbon-based molecules are probably the best bet for biology. But SETI doesn’t make any assumptions about this.

How many in your field worry about Bill Watterson’s quote that “The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us”?

To begin with, the assumption (it has never tried to contact us) is a statement without any proof at all. The self-effacing part of this quote … that we are not worthy of being contacted … is more about Watterson then about humanity.


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« Reply #15271 on: Aug 30, 2014, 06:45 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance and Swat Team of America

Obama Again Tips the Scales Toward Caution on Syria

By MARK LANDLER
AUG. 29, 2014
NYT

WASHINGTON — When President Obama said on Thursday that he had no strategy yet for dealing with lethal Sunni militants in Syria, he seemed out of sync with his top military advisers and aides, who only days earlier had taken a more aggressive tone about military action.

That should not come as a surprise: Mr. Obama did the same thing a year ago this weekend. On the Friday before Labor Day, after Secretary of State John Kerry had condemned chemical weapons attacks by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on his own people as a “moral obscenity” and warned of a harsh response, and after he himself had laid out a forceful case for military action, Mr. Obama stunned his staff by saying he was calling off a missile strike.

Now, as then, the president harbors profound doubts that American military action in Syria will do more good than harm. At every moment when it has appeared that he might be willing to shrug off his reluctance to act militarily in Syria, he has drawn back.

That reality is more important than whether Mr. Obama committed a gaffe at his news conference by saying that “we don’t have a strategy yet” in Syria. Despite White House attempts to clarify the statement after the fact, the criticism showed no signs of abating on Friday. Lawmakers and television commentators expressed bewilderment and alarm that Mr. Obama had no plan for dealing with a militant group in a war-torn country where the death toll is nearing 200,000.

As Washington debated military action against Syria in 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry’s statements were notably hawkish. Five days later, President Obama shocked his aides by voicing caution.
Video Credit By AP on Publish Date August 29, 2014. Image CreditAlex Wong/Getty Images

But it is unlikely that a merciless drubbing from the news media and other critics is going to sway Mr. Obama. His decision to seek the approval of Congress for a strike on Syria, after saying that it had crossed his “red line” on the use of chemical weapons, also drew withering criticism — setting in place a narrative of feckless leadership that has dogged him for the last year.

Less noticed is that this decision led to one of his few foreign policy successes: Mr. Assad’s voluntary surrender of his chemical weapons stockpile — the result of a diplomatic proposal from Russia that Mr. Obama grabbed as an alternative to firing Tomahawk missiles when it became clear that Congress would never give its blessing for strikes.

Although Mr. Obama has gotten virtually no credit for that achievement, the lesson of the episode is hardly lost on him. On Thursday, asked about military action in Syria, he dwelled on the role of diplomacy in an effective strategy against the group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“The issue with respect to Syria is not simply a military issue, it’s also a political issue,” Mr. Obama said at the White House. “It’s also an issue that involves all the Sunni states in the region and Sunni leadership recognizing that this cancer that has developed is one that they have to be just as invested in defeating as we are.”

Some longtime critics of the president said they were encouraged by his restraint. His comments, they said, recognized that airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to defeat ISIS in Syria. It will require a ground component, which can succeed only if the United States and its allies strengthen the moderate opposition in Syria.

That, in turn, will require persuading Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and others to coordinate their support for the rebels. For now, the outside support goes to several groups, including radical ones, like the Nusra Front, which the State Department classifies as a terrorist organization.

Mr. Obama’s comments do not mean that he would refrain from striking ISIS leaders in Syria if the United States got intelligence on their whereabouts. He could give that order, administration officials said, even as his advisers draw up a broader strategy for dealing with Syria.

“When he says he doesn’t have a strategy yet, I take it at face value,” said Frederic C. Hof, a former State Department official who has criticized Mr. Obama’s strategy. “I’m actually a bit relieved that the president is looking at this to be addressed by means of an objectives-based strategy rather than as a strategic communications issue.”

But as a communications issue, Mr. Obama’s comments on Thursday show that at the very least, the administration’s message is not consistent. A week ago, the president’s deputy national security adviser, Benjamin J. Rhodes, told reporters on Martha’s Vineyard, “If you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you, wherever you are,” adding, “We’re not going to be restricted by borders.”

On Thursday, when Mr. Obama was speaking, Mr. Rhodes was out of town on vacation — the first time this summer he has not been at his boss’s right hand as he reacted to one in a cascade of foreign crises.

Mr. Hof said he was cautiously optimistic that Mr. Obama’s comments on Thursday suggested that the president was taking a “strong second look” at strengthening aid for the moderate opposition.

But the administration has sent these signals before. Last year, for example, it promised to bolster aid for the moderate opposition and began covertly supplying rebels with small arms and ammunition.

Since then, however, the flow of aid has been so tightly controlled that some rebel leaders have said it seemed intended less to turn the tide of the war than to keep them alive and lend the impression that the United States was helping.

***************

GOP Rep. Cole Admires Obama's Caution On Military Action In Syria

By John Amato August 29, 2014 12:24 pm
CrooksAndLiars

Rep. Tom Cole praised Obama for being "commendably cautious" about getting involved in the Syrian war.

As Republicans howl at president Obama for not having an attack plan in Syria and iraq to combat ISIS, Rep. Tom Cole took a different path when he praised Obama for being "commendably cautious" about getting involved in a military operation in the middle of the Syrian war.

    Todd: What is the American responsibility in Syrai after we're bombing parts of ISIS?

    Cole: I think our main goal is ISIL. I don't know that we have a, quote, 'responsibility' in Syria after that. And I think the president is being commendably cautious about being involved in the middle of a Syrian civil war.

Wow, imagine a republican praising Obama for showing restraint. It's hard to believe. Most GOPers and even the media are siding with the hyperbolic Mike Rogers:

    House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers did not mince words Thursday, slamming President Barack Obama for an “odd” news conference during which the president said, “We do not have a strategy” to deter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
    “It was an odd press conference at the very best, but to have a press conference to say we don’t have a strategy was really shocking given the severity of the threat. That’s what’s so concerning to me,” Rogers (R-Mich.) told Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

Obama could have been more tactful in his response, but the idea that he's taking his time and trying to make an informed decision is commendable in the face of the screaming hyenas of US foregin policy.

As Digby sez:

    Right. What you want is a president pounding on the podium insisting "I'm the decider! I'll decide because I've decided!" Or something like that.

    It is a good thing for a president to be thoughtful and to show the world that he's being thoughtful. The US is a massive, military superpower and that can be threatening. Much better to have leadership that doesn't sound as if it's eager to drop bombs or invade at a moments notice and that it's taking all sides into account.  

    President Obama is a lot of things but he isn't stupid. I find it hard to believe that he didn't say they were working out a strategy as part of a diplomatic move as they're working with allies in the region. I know it's hard for hawks to understand this because they spend their entire lives trying to prove their manhood, but sometimes it's better not to rush in and take charge of every situation. Sometimes it makes more sense to give others the chance to step up. It tends to give them a different stake in the outcome and possibly allows them to not feel as if they are a vassal of the United States. (Which is undoubtedly why Mike Rogers doesn't like it.)

***************

At heart of Syria fears, extremists returning home

The case of Mehdi Nemmouche haunts U.S. intelligence officials.

By KEN DILANIAN and BRADLEY KLAPPER
Associated Press

WASHINGTON —

The case of Mehdi Nemmouche haunts U.S. intelligence officials.

Nemmouche is a Frenchman who authorities say spent 11 months fighting with the Islamic State group in Syria before returning to Europe to act out his rage. On May 24, prosecutors say, he methodically shot four people at the Jewish Museum in central Brussels. Three died instantly, one afterward. Nemmouche was arrested later, apparently by chance.

For U.S. and European counterterrorism officials, that 90-second spasm of violence is the kind of attack they fear from thousands of Europeans and up to 100 Americans who have gone to fight for extremist armies in Syria and now Iraq.

The Obama administration has offered a wide range of assessments of the threat to U.S. national security posed by the extremists who say they've established a caliphate, or Islamic state, in an area straddling eastern Syrian and northern and western Iraq, and whose actions include last week's beheading of American journalist James Foley. Some officials say the group is more dangerous than al-Qaida. Yet intelligence assessments say it currently couldn't pull off a complex, 9-11-style attack on the U.S. or Europe.

However, there is broad agreement across intelligence and law enforcement agencies of the immediate threat from radicalized Europeans and Americans who could come home to conduct lone-wolf operations. Such plots are difficult to detect because they don't require large conspiracies of people whose emails or phone calls can be intercepted.

The 2013 Boston Marathon bombings were like that, carried out by radicalized American brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev acting on their own. So was the 2010 attempt to bomb New York's Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, who received training and direction in Pakistan but operated alone in the United States.

On Friday, Britain raised its terror threat from "substantial" to "severe," its second highest level, citing a foreign fighter danger that made a terrorist attack "highly likely." The U.S. didn't elevate its national terrorist threat level, though White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was closely monitoring the situation. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Friday that U.S. authorities aren't aware of any "specific, credible" threats to the U.S. homeland from the group.

So far, Nemmouche is the only foreign fighter affiliated with the Islamic State group who authorities say returned from the battlefield to carry out violence, and some scholars argue the danger is overstated. But nearly every senior national security official in the U.S. government -- including the attorney general, FBI director, homeland security secretary and leaders of key intelligence and military agencies -- has called foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq their top terrorism worry.

"While we have worked hard over the last year and a half to detect Westerners who have gone to Syria, no one knows for sure whether there are those who have gone there undetected," said John Cohen, a Rutgers University professor who stepped down in July as the Homeland Security Department's counterterrorism coordinator.

"And that's why those of us who look at this every day are so concerned that somebody is going to slip through the cracks," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the House Intelligence Committee chairman, said Thursday on CNN. "They're either going to get into Europe or they're going to get into the United States."

Unlike al-Qaida militants in Pakistan and Yemen, American and European passport holders who have secretly gone to fight in Syria can travel freely if they have not been identified as terrorists. U.S. authorities are sifting through travel records and trying to identify the foreign fighters, but they won't see all of them.

An American from San Diego, Douglas McAuthur McCain, was killed this week in Syria, where, officials say, he was fighting with the Islamic State. The U.S. is investigating whether a second American also was killed.

McCain is one of several Western Muslims over the last two years who proved themselves willing to kill or die for extremist groups or help them win new recruits. The names of many more remain secret in the files of U.S. intelligence agencies, but here are others that are public:

--Moner Mohammad Abusalha, an American who grew up a basketball fan in Vero Beach, Florida, killed 16 people and himself in a suicide bombing attack against Syrian government forces in May. U.S. officials say he was on their radar screen but acknowledge he traveled from Syria to the United States before the attack without detection. Had he attacked in the U.S. instead of Syria, it's unclear whether he would have been stopped.

--Two brothers from East London, Hamza Nawaz, 23, and Mohommod Nawaz, 30, pleaded guilty in May to attending a terrorist training camp in Syria. They were caught on the return trip home with ammunition. In an unrelated case, Mashudur Choudhury, 31, was also convicted in London of traveling to a terrorist camp in Syria.

--Three Norwegian residents were arrested in May and accused of having fought with the Islamic State group.

--Eight men, including a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, were arrested in June by Spanish authorities and charged with recruiting for the Islamic State group.

Of the thousands of foreign fighters who've flocked to Syria, many have fought with the al Nusra front, an al-Qaida affiliate and rival to the Islamic State. The group poses its own threat, American officials say, but poses less of a threat than does the Islamic State, whose battlefield successes have made it a stronger draw for foreign fighters than any Jihadist group in recent history. It has seized advanced military equipment and has millions of dollars in cash.

Intelligence officials estimate that about a dozen Americans are fighting with the Islamic State group.

Nemmouche, who has a long criminal record, allegedly killed two Israeli tourists outside the Brussels museum entrance with a .357 Magnum revolver. Then he walked inside, removed an assault rifle from a gym bag and shot two museum employees in the face and throat, prosecutors say.

He was caught six days later during a random customs inspection of a bus from Amsterdam. With him were the murder weapons, authorities say, and a sheet scrawled with the name of the Islamic State. He had intended to film the attack with a wearable video camera, authorities say, though it wasn't working that day.

Abusalha, the 22-year-old Vero Beach suicide bomber, was recorded in a series of videos before his attack. In one of them, he addresses the U.S. public in American-accented English.

"You think you are safe? You are not safe," he said. "We are coming for you, mark my words."

*****************

Minnesota man will file civil rights suit against cops who Tased him for not identifying himself

By Arturo Garcia
RawStory
Friday, August 29, 2014 21:43 EDT

A 28-year-old man who filmed his arrest and Tasing at the hand of two police officers in St. Paul, Minnesota earlier this year will file a federal civil rights lawsuit as the incident continues to gain attention, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported on Friday.

The footage of Chris Lollie’s arrest this past January has been viewed more than 280,000 times as of Friday since being posted earlier this week.

“The video speaks for itself,” Lollie’s attorney, Andrew Irlbeck, was quoted as saying. “He was there to pick up his children and bring them to daycare and when I do it as a white man, that’s what it gets called. When a black man does it, it’s loitering and trespassing, and he gets arrested and force used against him by police.”

The footage was uploaded only recently because police confiscated his phone, which he used to document the arrest. Lollie was charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing legal process and trespassing at the time, but the charges were dropped on July 31.

Minneapolis City Pages reported that the encounter began when a security guard approached Lollie, who was sitting on a chair in the skyway at the First National Bank building, and said he was in a private area. Lollie responded that there were no signs designated his location as being a private area.

The video begins with a female officer, identified as Lori Hayne, asking Lollie for his name, which Lollie points out he is not required to do. He also repeats his point that there were no signs marking the area where he was sitting as private, adding that he was on his way to pick his children up at their school nearby.

Minnesota does not have a “stop and identify” statue in place, meaning officers do not have the right to arrest someone solely for not identifying themselves. According to the Pioneer-Press, Hayne retired this past June after 14 years on the force without any disciplinary measures on her record.

The other officers identified in connection with the incident are Michael Johnson and Bruce Schmidt. WBBM-TV reported that none of the officers involved have been disciplined.

The video shows one of the other officers approaching Lollie, threatening to arrest him and grabbing him within seconds. The footage goes black after Lollie loses control of his phone, but the Taser can still be heard as it is used on Lollie. When Lollie asks why he is being taken to jail, no charges are mentioned, though one officer can be heard telling him charges will be “explained” to him.

“It’s like being powerless, just being powerless,” Lollie told WBBM this week. “That’s how I felt.”

On Friday, Mayor Chris Coleman ordered that the arrest be reviewed by the local Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission, a group comprised of two officers and five members of the community. The commission’s findings are typically passed on to Police Chief Tom Smith, who has the final say on whether to discipline officers accused of excessive force.

“In the last several days, a video of an arrest of an African-American man has led some to question the tactics and reputation of the St. Paul Police Department,” Coleman said in a statement. “While the incident occurred over eight months ago, the video raises a great deal of concern, especially given this summer’s shooting death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo.”

Coleman’s order came a day after Smith’s department defended Lollie’s arrest in a statement posted on Facebook, saying they were concerned Lollie might try to flee the scene or fight them.

“The guards reported that the man had on repeated occasions refused to leave a private “employees only” area in the First National Bank Building,” the department’s statement read. “With no information on who the man was, what he might be doing or why he refused to leave the area, responding Saint Paul police officers tried to talk to him, asking him who he was. He refused to tell them or cooperate.”

The mayor was also criticized by Dave Titus, president of the local police federation.

“We do not choose what calls we respond to, and we do not have the luxury of all of the information prior to arrival,” Titus told the Pioneer Press. “The outcome of this arrest was determined by Mr. Lollie. He refused numerous lawful orders for an extended period of time. The only person who brought race into this situation was Mr. Lollie.”

Lollie rejected the police’s argument as “false,” telling City Pages that the charges against him were dropped because one of his daughter’s teachers supported his account of the arrest, while a woman who works near the site of his arrest told authorities she often ate lunch there without any recrimination from security guards or officers.

The case has also drawn the attention of several civil advocacy organizations. Not only are police officials reportedly scheduled to meet with members of the local Black Ministerial Alliance, African American Leadership Council and NAACP early next week, but the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for a federal investigation into Lollie’s arrest, calling it racial profiling.

“We believe this disturbing incident would not have unfolded as it did had the individual in question been white,” CAIR spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper said in a statement. “The Department of Justice should investigate this case just as it is investigating the shooting of Michael Brown in Missouri and other cases of allegedly racially motivated police brutality.”

****************

Mitch McConnell's Campaign Manager Resigns Amid Bribery Scandal

CrooksAndLiars
By karoli August 29, 2014 8:44 pm

Jesse Benton has resigned effective August 30th, but this is not the end of things.

This is how the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper. - TS Eliot

With a pathetic and weak resignation letter, Mitch McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton whimpered his way out of McConnell's 2014 campaign and not a moment too soon.

Benton has a long, storied history of lies, half-truths, thuggery, and misbehavior. He was the guy who swept the conduct of one of Rand Paul's thugs supporters under the rug after said supporter stomped on the head of a MoveOn activist at a campaign event. In one of his more laughable moments (video above), Benton told Tea Party pals he was "holding his nose" to work on McConnell's campaign because it would help Rand Paul in 2016.

Just in case there is a fleeting thought that Benton might be wrongly accused of bribing people for their endorsements, you should also pay attention to what he says on this video:

That's Jesse Benton being questioned about his role in bribing Kent Sorenson to pull his endorsement from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul.

Benton isn't just some dude who does political consulting. He's married to Ron Paul's granddaughter, was the spokesman for Rand Paul's 2010 Senate campaign, and was National Director of Ron Paul 2012. He should be regarded as the cultural ambassador of the Paul family.

Mitch McConnell knew these bribery allegations were out there a year ago. He chose to overlook them, and now he must be held to account for choosing to allow a man who is directly linked to felony conduct to manage his campaign for re-election. It is time for an audit of McConnell's campaign finances and conduct.

Or as Alison Lundergan Grimes says, "What did Mitch know and when did he know it?"

****************

Texas GOP candidate Greg Abbott backs out of only televised debate against Wendy Davis

By Reuters
Friday, August 29, 2014 19:15 EDT

AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) – The frontrunner for the Texas race for governor, Republican Greg Abbott, has pulled out of the sole statewide televised debate, the debate’s broadcaster, WFAA-TV, said on Friday.

“Due to our inability to agree on specific details of the format, Attorney General Greg Abbott will regretfully not be participating in the WFAA debate,” Robert Black, a senior campaign adviser, was quoted as saying by WFAA on Friday.

The move comes as Abbott, the current attorney general, has seen once double-digit lead over his Democratic challenger, state Senator Wendy Davis, turn to single digits in polls among potential voters in the November election.

Republicans have won every statewide election in Texas since 1994, helping turn the state with a $1.4 trillion annual economy into an incubator for conservative policies that are often copied by other states.

But demographics have been shifting. Hispanics, who tend to vote for Democrats, are poised to be the majority group in the state by 2030 under current trends.

****************

Court Humiliates Greg Abbott (Again) And Crushes his Unconstitutional Attack on Public Education

By: Adalia Woodbury
PoliticusUSA
Friday, August, 29th, 2014, 3:55 pm

Greg Abbott had another bad day in court on Thursday.  He has a lot of those.  In June, a Federal Court knocked him down to size in a dispute about attorney fees and courts costs in Abbott’s failed attempt to salvage gerrymandering and vote suppression.

This time, an Austin judge dealt a devastating blow to Greg Abbott’s campaign against public education.  In District court Judge John Dietz’s 404 page ruling, he concludes that the Lone Star state’s school financing system is unconstitutional, unfair and insufficient. The Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition et al challenged a state policy that “improperly controls local property taxation”  Moreover, “the evidence clearly establishes that local districts do not have meaningful discretion in the levy, assessment and disbursement of property taxes; therefore the Texas school financing system imposes an unconstitutional state property tax.”

Oh my goodness! This ruling blew the lid off the Republican Party’s general claim that it believes in local power. In reality, the ruling says that the state legislature’s method of financing education was the sort of top down scheme that Republicans say they oppose. It was unconstitutional because it was a state level property tax. The court also recognized the scheme is unfair and it doesn’t provide the funds needed to finance education.

This case started because the state legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education in 2011. The result was overcrowded classrooms, closed schools and unemployed teachers.

This unconstitutional system with all its warts is the one that Greg Abbott believes in.  He was willing to go to war with 600 school districts and spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars to defend it. He is expected to spend even more tax dollars to defend it on appeal.

The fact is Greg Abbot loves this system because he can use it to starve public education out of existence.

He tried to force Judge Dietz off the case, perhaps because Dietz understood that access to education is important to reducing crime and dependence on public assistance because it means the population has the skills needed to earn a decent living.

    We realize that others provided for us when we were children. We realize that children are without means to secure their education. Just as others provided for us when we were in school, now is the time when we provide for others.

While delighted that the ruling recognizes the short changing of education dollars in districts, advocates for the private, religion based charter schools are disappointed the judge the rejected their argument in the quest for more public dollars. Judge Dietz suggested the best place for Charter Schools to seek more money is in the legislature.

    The evidence was plain during trial: charter school students receive $1,000 less than district students on average each year. This disparity creates constitutional harm that Judge Dietz failed to recognize despite the use of the state’s own data to prove this point.

So says David Dunn, the executive director of the charter school organization. However, Dunn did praise the judge for finding that school districts were underfunded.

Greg Abbot loves this system because Republicans in the state legislature can get away with draconian cuts to education without paying the political consequences.  That honor goes to the local school boards who have to decide if they should close schools or fire teachers because of the way the unconstitutional law is structured.

The economic reality of Texas’ education system was summarized in Lone Star Project Director, Matt Angle’s reaction to the ruling:

    The term “deadbeat” is used to describe adults who don’t fulfill their obligation to kids. Greg Abbott’s failure to fulfill his responsibility to help provide a good public education to Texas kids makes him the state’s biggest deadbeat.

    It’s been clear for a long time that real insight into Greg Abbott’s views and principles is gained only at the courthouse. Today’s decision that the Texas school financing system is unconstitutional is a clear judgment on the false priorities and values of Greg Abbott and throws a harsh light on his contempt for our public schools.

This ruling gives Texans a chance to wake up from the slumber to support Wendy Davis who, like the judge in this case, recognizes the value and need for a public and accessible education system.

***************

Federal Court Slams Texas TRAP Law Back To the Stone-Age

By: Adalia Woodbury
PoliticusUSA
Friday, August, 29th, 2014, 7:55 pm

In a much needed victory for women in Texas, a Federal Court struck down the Lone Star State’s version of a TRAP law. Finally, a court gets that laws designed to close all but a few abortion clinics in the entire state is a constitutional barrier to women’s ability to exercise their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled based on the fact that HB2

    burdens Texas women in a way incompatible with the principles of personal freedom and privacy protected by the United States Constitution for the 40 years since Roe v. Wade.

Judge Yeakel rejected the debunked Republican talking point that this law is about protecting women.

HB 2 is the most restrictive TRAP law in the country. Red states across the country have tried versions of this law to shut that whole women’s reproductive choices thing down.  In the Texas version, all abortion facilities would have to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.  The purpose of laws like this is to set up standards that are impossible or financially impossible for reproductive care facilities to meet.  That would force them to shut down without the legislature specifically ordering them shut down.

The reality is TRAP laws amount to sending us back to the coat hanger. Nothing about that suggests Republican lawmakers care about women’s health and safety. It comes as no surprise that Greg Abbott is expected to appeal this ruling.

This is the law that gave Wendy Davis, now the Democratic Candidate for Governor, national prominence as a strong fighter for women’s rights.  Davis filibustered this blatant attack on women’s right to reproductive healthcare the old-fashioned way.  She showed up, she spoke passionately in defense of women’s constitutionally protected right to have reproductive health care.  None of this Republican style phoning in a filibuster from a Koch brother retreat.  Despite Davis’ valiant efforts, the predominantly male Republican legislature passed this pathetic excuse for a law.

This is the second time Davis ultimately prevailed on a major legal matter over Greg Abbott.  The first time Davis kicked Abbott’s posterior in the courtroom was in his attempt to gerrymander her district, and those of other Democrats, away

This is also the second ruling in as many days that a court smacked Abbott down on an unconstitutional law.  Granted, yesterday’s ruling involved the Republicans’ education funding schem which violated the State constitution. This ruling smacks down Greg Abbott and his Republican buddies for violating the U.S. constitution.  This ruling is the latest reminder by the courts that Texans can choose a candidate who understands that people, including women, have rights under the constitution or they can elect someone who sees constitutional law as an obstacle to fulfilling the ideology the Koch Brothers pay him to impose on the people.

This is the latest of several rulings that pushes back against the Republicans who admit they want a nation-wide ban on abortion while trying to sell laws to that end as an effort to protect women’s health.

Similar laws in Mississippi and Alabama were shut down by the courts earlier this month on similar grounds.

Bear in mind that Republicans oppose abortion in all circumstances – including cases in which the women’s life and health are at risk, rape and incest.  While they claim this is based on their closely held “religious” beliefs, the argument falls apart. For one thing, if abortion is not mandatory.  Women who don’t want them be it based on religious, moral or other reasons don’t have to have them.  Those who insist that this about religion are, as they always do trying to impose their religious views on all women in America.  Republicans also oppose birth control, which is the most effective practical way of reducing abortions because according to them women (but not men) must not be allowed to have “consequence free” sex.

Courts are sending a strong message to Republicans and their faux “pro-life” brigade that they cannot pass consequence free unconstitutional laws.
Friday, August, 29th, 2014, 7:55 pm   

In a much needed victory for women in Texas, a Federal Court struck down the Lone Star State’s version of a TRAP law. Finally, a court gets that laws designed to close all but a few abortion clinics in the entire state is a constitutional barrier to women’s ability to exercise their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled based on the fact that HB2

    burdens Texas women in a way incompatible with the principles of personal freedom and privacy protected by the United States Constitution for the 40 years since Roe v. Wade.

Judge Yeakel rejected the debunked Republican talking point that this law is about protecting women.

HB 2 is the most restrictive TRAP law in the country. Red states across the country have tried versions of this law to shut that whole women’s reproductive choices thing down.  In the Texas version, all abortion facilities would have to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.  The purpose of laws like this is to set up standards that are impossible or financially impossible for reproductive care facilities to meet.  That would force them to shut down without the legislature specifically ordering them shut down.

The reality is TRAP laws amount to sending us back to the coat hanger. Nothing about that suggests Republican lawmakers care about women’s health and safety. It comes as no surprise that Greg Abbott is expected to appeal this ruling.

This is the law that gave Wendy Davis, now the Democratic Candidate for Governor, national prominence as a strong fighter for women’s rights.  Davis filibustered this blatant attack on women’s right to reproductive healthcare the old-fashioned way.  She showed up, she spoke passionately in defense of women’s constitutionally protected right to have reproductive health care.  None of this Republican style phoning in a filibuster from a Koch brother retreat.  Despite Davis’ valiant efforts, the predominantly male Republican legislature passed this pathetic excuse for a law.

This is the second time Davis ultimately prevailed on a major legal matter over Greg Abbott.  The first time Davis kicked Abbott’s posterior in the courtroom was in his attempt to gerrymander her district, and those of other Democrats, away

This is also the second ruling in as many days that a court smacked Abbott down on an unconstitutional law.  Granted, yesterday’s ruling involved the Republicans’ education funding schem which violated the State constitution. This ruling smacks down Greg Abbott and his Republican buddies for violating the U.S. constitution.  This ruling is the latest reminder by the courts that Texans can choose a candidate who understands that people, including women, have rights under the constitution or they can elect someone who sees constitutional law as an obstacle to fulfilling the ideology the Koch Brothers pay him to impose on the people.

This is the latest of several rulings that pushes back against the Republicans who admit they want a nation-wide ban on abortion while trying to sell laws to that end as an effort to protect women’s health.

Similar laws in Mississippi and Alabama were shut down by the courts earlier this month on similar grounds.

Bear in mind that Republicans oppose abortion in all circumstances – including cases in which the women’s life and health are at risk, rape and incest.  While they claim this is based on their closely held “religious” beliefs, the argument falls apart. For one thing, if abortion is not mandatory.  Women who don’t want them be it based on religious, moral or other reasons don’t have to have them.  Those who insist that this about religion are, as they always do trying to impose their religious views on all women in America.  Republicans also oppose birth control, which is the most effective practical way of reducing abortions because according to them women (but not men) must not be allowed to have “consequence free” sex.

Courts are sending a strong message to Republicans and their faux “pro-life” brigade that they cannot pass consequence free unconstitutional laws.


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« Last Edit: Aug 30, 2014, 09:07 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #15272 on: Aug 30, 2014, 06:48 AM »

EU's Barroso Warns Ukraine Crisis near 'Point of No Return'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 August 2014, 14:18

EU Commission head Jose Manual Barroso warned on Saturday that the crisis in Ukraine was reaching the point of no return, after reports Russian troops were fighting in the east of the country.

"We are in a very serious, I would say, dramatic situation... where we can reach the point of no return," Barroso said after talks in Brussels with Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko.

"If the escalation of the conflict continues, this point can come," he told reporters, describing reports of Russian troops in Ukraine as a representing "a new trangression".

At the same time, Barroso said it was both imperative and not too late to find a political solution to the conflict which has cost more than 2,500 lives since April.

EU leaders meet later Saturday when they are expected to agree on tougher sanctions against Russia after NATO charged that Moscow now had 1,000 troops fighting in support of rebel forces in southeastern Ukraine and had shipped in large amounts of heavy weaponry.

Poroshenko said his meetings in Brussels were an important demonstration of Europe's solidarity with his country, which was now "the subject for foreign military aggression and terror... (with) thousands of foreign troops and tanks now on Ukraine territory".

The crisis posed a "very high risk" to Ukraine and European stability, he told reporters, but said there could be no military solution to the conflict.

"The most important thing now is peace," he said, adding that he was hopeful that there could still be progress with Russian President the malignant tumor called Pig Putin, whom he met in Minsk on Tuesday.

The stakes, however, were very high, he said.

"Today we are talking about the fate of Ukraine, tomorrow it could be for all Europe."
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« Reply #15273 on: Aug 30, 2014, 09:03 AM »

EU Set to Slap Russia with New Sanctions over Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 August 2014, 14:18

The European Union readied a fresh wave of sanctions against Russia on Saturday, with warnings that the escalating conflict in Ukraine was putting all of Europe at risk.

Fears of an wider confrontation spiraled after NATO said Russia sent troops and weapons across the border to help pro-Kremlin rebels in a new counter-offensive that has seen key towns in the southeast wrested from Kiev's control.

The European Union's 28 leaders were to meet later Saturday to discuss the worsening situation, with French President Francois Hollande already indicating that leaders would "no doubt increase" their sanctions on Russia.

EU Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso warned that the crisis was near a "point of no return" and said tougher measures against the Kremlin were ready.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, in Brussels to drum up support from the EU for a firm riposte to Russia, was expected to plea his case directly to the leaders at the summit.

"Ukraine is now the subject of foreign military aggression and terror," he said after meetings with top EU officials.

"Today we are talking about the fate of Ukraine, tomorrow it could be for all Europe."

The EU and U.S. have already slapped the toughest sanctions on Russia since the Cold War over the crisis, sparked last November when Ukraine's then president Viktor Yanukovych abandoned a deal on trade ties with Brussels.

The scope of any new measures was not immediately clear but the EU could widen the range of Russian banks and companies denied access to Western financial markets, as well as tightening up further on hi-tech exports that are vital to Russia's key energy industry.

NATO said Thursday that Russia had sent at least 1,000 troops to fight alongside the insurgents, along with air defense systems, artillery, tanks and armored vehicles, and had massed 20,000 troops near the border.

The fresh rebel offensive has raised fears the Kremlin could be seeking to create a corridor between Russia and the strategic Black Sea peninsula of Crimea which Moscow annexed in March.

Moscow has denied any troop presence in its western neighbor, despite the capture of paratroopers by Kiev and reports of secret military funerals being held in Russia.

Ukraine has openly asked the EU for military help, and on Friday it announced that it will also seek membership in the NATO alliance, a move set to further enrage the Kremlin.

Poroshenko will travel to the NATO summit in Wales next week to meet US President Barack Obama and seek practical help from the Western alliance.

The Russian shit stain, President malignant tumor Pig Putin, snorted what appeared to be a thinly veiled warning to NATO on Friday, saying: "Our partners should understand they better not mess with us."

The sudden surge in tensions came only days after Putin and Poroshenko held talks which failed to achieve any breakthrough after almost five months of fighting in eastern Ukraine that has killed almost 2,600 people.

On the ground there seemed to be little let up for Ukrainian government forces who have been fighting the separatists in the industrial east since April and had recently been boasting of major advances.

Kiev said Saturday that another airforce plane has been shot down in the east, blaming it on a "Russian anti-aircraft system".

Faced with the reinvigorated rebel push that has dramatically turned the tide of the conflict, Ukrainian forces have been trapped in a string of town in the southeast.

Kiev's contingents began a withdrawal from besieged positions near the transport hub of Ilovaysk which lies east of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk after holding ground without reinforcements for 10 days.

An undefined number of troops from Kiev's volunteer battalions and other forces have been trapped in the area in what one commander said was a blockade substantially reinforced by Russia's airborne troops.

Ukraine's interior ministry said Saturday that the first 100 soldiers were able emerge from the surrounded area overnight, but it was not immediately clear whether they fought their way through or were allowed out by the rebels.

Pro-Russian militants in the Donetsk region boasted on Friday that the insurgency now has full control of the border with Russia.

In the Azov Sea port city of Mariupol to the south of Donetsk, citizens geared up to defend the city from a feared offensive from the east.

The nearby town of Novoazovsk was captured Wednesday by rebels, who Kiev says were substantially helped by Russian troops.

Mariupol's massive industries have promised to start forging fortifications, with residents called on to defend the city.

"We are Ukrainians, we are not slaves," Mariupol resident Alexander, a shoe salesman, told Agence France Presse. "Help us! Give us weapons and we will do the rest," he said.

*************

Russia 'Practically in War with Europe,' Says Lithuanian President

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 August 2014, 17:21

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite on Saturday warned Russia was practically at war with Europe and urged tougher sanctions against Moscow.

"Russia is at war against Ukraine and that is against a country which wants to be part of Europe. Russia is practically in war against Europe," said Grybauskaite, one of Moscow's harshest critics, as she arrived for an EU summit.

Sanctions so far "were too general, not targeted enough...This was a big mistake," she said.

Finnish Prime minister Alexander Stubb later urged fellow European Union leaders "to be very firm" in their response to reports of Russian troops fighting inside Ukraine.

"We'll probably discuss further sanctions," Stubb said, adding these could target financial services, armaments, dual-use products and energy.

"What Russia is doing in Ukraine is wrong. We need to find a ceasefire, we need to find a peace plan," he said.
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« Reply #15274 on: Aug 31, 2014, 06:41 AM »

The malignant tumor, the evil shit stain called Pig V. Putin Calls for Talks on 'Statehood' for Eastern Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 August 2014, 13:55

Malignant tumor, the evil shit stain called Pig V. Putin snorted on Sunday for immediate talks on the future of war-torn east Ukraine, saying for the first time that "statehood" should be considered for the region.

"We need to immediately begin substantive talks ... on questions of the political organization of society and statehood in southeastern Ukraine with the goal of protecting the lawful interests of the people who live there," malignant tumor, the evil shit stain called Pig V. Putin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies on a TV show broadcast in the far east of the country.

Russia has previously only called for greater rights under a decentralized federal system to be accorded to the eastern regions of Ukraine, where predominantly Russian-speakers live.

In the program, taped on Friday, malignant tumor, the evil shit stain called Pig V. Putin did not directly address additional Western sanctions on Russia.

But he blamed the crisis in Ukraine on the West, accusing it of supporting a "coup" against pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych in February.

"They should have known that Russia cannot stand aside when people are being shot almost at point-blank range," said malignant tumor, the evil shit stain called Pig V. Putin, adding that he did not have in mind "the Russian state but the Russian people."

Malignant tumor, the evil shit stain called Pig V. Putin Putin has denied that Moscow has sent regular troops to fight in Ukraine, but pro-Russian rebels have said that many Russian soldiers have volunteered while "on vacation".

The West accused Moscow this week of having its troops spearhead a lightning counter-offensive that has put Ukrainian government forces on the back foot in the nearly five-month conflict.

NATO said on Thursday that Moscow had well over 1,000 troops on the ground in Ukraine and 20,000 massed by the border.

Analysts, including Russian experts, see malignant tumor, the evil shit stain called Pig V. Putin  out to create a statelet in eastern Ukraine, much as Moscow has helped carve out de facto separatist states in Moldova and Georgia.

Malignant tumor, the evil shit stain called Pig V. Putin Putin on Friday called the fighters in eastern Ukraine defenders of "Novorossiya", or New Russia, a loaded Tsarist-era name for what is now southern and eastern Ukraine.

He first used the term in April, after annexing Crimea from Ukraine, sparking outrage in Kiev and the West.

Despite saying that Russia supports a negotiated political solution to the crisis, malignant tumor, the evil shit stain called Pig V. Putin Putin has used fiery, uncompromising rhetoric in recent days.

In a talk with youth activists on Friday he compared the shelling of the rebel-held cities of Lugansk and Donetsk to the Nazi siege of Leningrad.

Aid groups have condemned indiscriminate shelling by both sides in the conflict which has claimed almost 2,600 lives.

Malignant tumor, the evil shit stain called Pig V. Putin Putin put the blame for fighting in eastern Ukraine squarely on Kiev.

"What is now happening, it seems to me, to be an absolutely natural reaction by people who live there and who are defending themselves -- they weren't the first to take up arms."

While people in eastern Ukraine had been concerned about attempts to downgrade the status of the Russian language, there had been no serious incidents of violence in the region until pro-Russian rebels took control of several cities in April.

***************

Ukraine President Says Europe’s Security Depends on Stopping Russia

By ANDREW HIGGINS and NEIL MacFARQUHAR
AUG. 30, 2014
IHT

BRUSSELS — Accusing Russia of waging a campaign of “military aggression and terror” against his country, President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine told European leaders here on Saturday that their own countries’ security depended on stopping Russian troops from stoking a conflict in eastern Ukraine that he said could escalate into a wider war.

His warnings won no pledges of military assistance from the European Union, but helped set the stage for a new round of sanctions against Russia. Leaders ducked an immediate decision on what new measures to take, despite agreeing that Moscow had escalated the conflict sharply in recent days. They instead asked the European Commission, the union’s executive arm, to prepare proposals for expanding existing sanctions, and said these must be ready “for consideration within a week,” according to a statement issued early Sunday.

Saying that Russia was pushing the conflict in Ukraine toward “the point of no return,” the president of commission, José Manuel Barroso, said European leaders who gathered Saturday in Brussels would endorse new, tougher measures in an effort to make Moscow “come to reason.”

The latest updates to the current visual survey of the continuing dispute, with maps and satellite imagery showing rebel and military movement.

Some European leaders, particularly those from former Communist nations in Eastern Europe, called for direct military assistance to Ukraine’s badly stretched armed forces, which are battling pro-Russian rebels on three fronts in eastern Ukraine. But officials said a decision on military aid would be left to individual countries.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, speaking early Sunday after the meeting broke up, said that Germany “will certainly not deliver weapons, as this would give the impression that this is a conflict that can be solved militarily.” But she said further sanctions were needed, as “the situation has deteriorated considerably in the last few days,” and would be imposed “if this situation continues.”

She said it was unclear whether Russia’s actions in Ukraine constituted an invasion under international law, but added that “the sum of all the evidence we have seen so far is that Russian arms and Russian forces are operating on Ukrainian territory.” Despite her numerous phone conversations with President malignant tumor, the evil shit stain called Pig V. Putin of Russia, she said she could not make “a final judgment” on his intentions and whether he might still try to take “further parts of the country under his control.”

Ukraine’s military said on Saturday that Russian tanks had entered and flattened a small town between the rebel-held city of Luhansk and the Russian border.

Mr. Poroshenko, alongside Mr. Barroso in Brussels, said that Ukraine still hoped for a political settlement with the rebels, but that a flow of Russian troops and armored vehicles into Ukraine in recent days to support them were setting off a broader conflict.

“We are too close to a border where there will be no return to the peace plan,” Mr. Poroshenko said, asserting that since Wednesday, “thousands of foreign troops and hundreds of foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine, with a very high risk not only for the peace and stability of Ukraine but for the peace and stability of the whole of Europe.”

He added that this made Europe’s solidarity with Ukraine “crucially important for all of us.”

Russia has dismayed European leaders by repeatedly denying that it has sent troops or military hardware into Ukraine. After the Ukrainian authorities released videos on Tuesday of captured Russian troops, Moscow conceded that some of its soldiers had crossed into Ukraine but said they had done so “by accident.”

Rebel leaders say Russian servicemen are fighting in Ukraine during their holiday leave. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, a separatist leader in Donetsk, said earlier this week that these soldiers “would rather take their vacation not on a beach but with us, among brothers, who are fighting for their freedom.”

Russia’s evasions and denials in response to mounting evidence of its direct involvement in supporting pro-Russian separatists has left even Europe’s more cautious leaders, notably Ms. Merkel, ready to endorse further sanctions. Ms. Merkel, the dominant figure in European policy-making, said early Sunday that Germany still favored a negotiated settlement and that Europe needed to keep the pressure on Russia with additional sanctions. “We need to do something to clearly demonstrate what are the values we defend,” she said.

She said that Russia’s opaque political system made it difficult to assess whether sanctions already in place were affecting Russian decision-making but added: “I would say they are.”

Ms. Merkel has spoken regularly with the malignant tumor, by telephone during the crisis but has had no success in curbing Russia’s support for the rebels, who had been losing ground in the face of a Ukrainian offensive. Now, reinvigorated by new arms and fighters from Russia, the rebels are expanding territory under their control.

Mr. Barroso said that he, too, had spoken by phone with Mr. Putin and “urged him to change course” during a “long and frank” conversation on Friday.

While not directly accusing Russia of sending soldiers into Ukraine, as Mr. Poroshenko and NATO have done, Mr. Barroso said Russian moves to feed fighting in eastern Ukraine were “simply not the way responsible, proud nations should behave in the 21st century.” Further sanctions, Mr. Barroso said, would “show to Russia’s leadership that the current situation is not acceptable and we urge them to come to reason.”

European leaders, he added, had long stated that any further escalation of the conflict would set off additional sanctions, and they would “be ready to take some more measures” at the meeting in Brussels.

President François Hollande of France also backed new measures against Russia, telling journalists in Brussels that “what is happening in Ukraine is so serious” that European leaders were obliged to increase sanctions.

But France is expected to block calls by some leaders to extend an existing ban on future military sales to Russia to include already signed contracts. France has resisted pressure from Washington and some European capitals to cancel a contract for the sale of two naval assault ships to Russia, a deal worth 1.2 billion euros, or about $1.6 billion.

Arriving Saturday for the summit, Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, demanded that existing and future military contracts with Russia be prohibited. Europe, she said, could not “listen to the lies that we are receiving from the malignant tumor, shit stain Pig Putin” and should offer military support to Ukraine. Russia, she added, was “in a state of war against Ukraine and that means that it is in a state of war against countries that want to be closer to the European Union and that means practically that Russia is in a state of war against Europe. That means we have to help Ukraine battle back, to defend its territory and its people, to help militarily.”

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has been going on for months, mostly around rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk. But the conflict expanded last week after the rebels — backed by Russian forces, according to NATO — opened a front along a coastal road leading to the industrial port city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian military units and the civilian population were preparing on Saturday to defend the city against any assault by the Russian-backed militias, Ukraine’s military spokesman, Col. Andriy Lysenko, said in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

“We are very grateful to the Mariupol residents, who have also helped in the fortification of the city against the armored vehicles of the enemy,” Colonel Lysenko said. The city fell briefly under the control of pro-Russian fighters earlier this year, but after they were driven out it had been firmly in the hands of Ukraine. The governor of the Donetsk region, forced from his headquarters in the city of Donetsk, decamped there to maintain a formal, if largely impotent, government presence.

Colonel Lysenko said that local residents were volunteering to join the armed forces, but that the military had enough men there “to repel the Russian military and its mercenaries.”

He repeated accusations that the Russians were sending arms and men across the border to support rebel fighters, who have declared independent states in Donetsk and Luhansk. He asserted that Russian tanks had entered Novosvitlivka, a small town on the road from the Russian border to Luhansk, and flattened “virtually every house.” He did not give details on when the reported attack took place.

Ukraine also accused Russia on Saturday of helping to shoot down one of its combat aircraft in eastern Ukraine.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, speaking early Sunday in Brussels, described the situation in Ukraine as “deeply serious” and said, “We have to show real resolve, real resilience in demonstrating to Russia that if she carries on in this way the relationship between Europe and Russia, Britain and Russia, America and Russia will be radically different in future.”

*************

EU leaders deliver sanctions ultimatum to Russia over Ukraine

Brussels agrees to take 'further significant steps' and impose fresh sanctions if Moscow does not back down in conflict

Agence France-Presse in Brussels
theguardian.com, Sunday 31 August 2014 10.43 BST   

European council president Herman Van Rompuy
Herman Van Rompuy said European commission has been ordered to produce options for fresh sanctions within a week. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

European Union leaders have given Russia a week to reverse course in Ukraine or face a new round of sanctions as Kiev warned it was on the brink of full-scale war with Moscow.

Fears are growing that the confrontation on the EU's eastern borders could engulf the whole continent after Russia sent troops to back a new offensive by pro-Kremlin rebels in south-east Ukraine.

The EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, said the 28 leaders meeting in Brussels had agreed to take "further significant steps" if Moscow did not back down.

He said the European commission had been ordered to produce options for fresh sanctions within a week. "Everybody is fully aware that we have to act quickly given the evolution on the ground and the tragic loss of life of the last days," Van Rompuy told a news conference.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said the new sanctions would build on existing measures against Russia, which mainly cover financial services, armaments and energy.

David Cameron said it was "totally unacceptable that there are Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil". Talking of a "deeply serious situation", the prime minister said: "If [Russia] carries on in this way, the relationship between Europe and Russia, Britain and Russia, America and Russia will be radically different in the future".

The sanctions plan came after the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, visited Brussels to urge the EU to take tougher steps against Russia, which he accused of "military aggression and terror".

"We are very close to the point of no return, the point of no return is full-scale war, which is already happening in the territories controlled by the separatists," he told a news conference. "Today we are talking about the fate of Ukraine, tomorrow it could be for all Europe."

Lithuania's president, Dalia Grybauskaite, whose country is wary of a resurgent Russia on its own borders, gave a similar warning as she urged the EU to send military equipment to Kiev. "Russia is practically in a state of war against Europe," she said.

The EU delivered a further riposte to Russia on Saturday when it appointed the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, a vocal Kremlin critic, to replace Van Rompuy as its next president. The EU and the US have already slapped tough sanctions on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis, including Moscow's annexation of Crimea in March.

Moscow has denied any troop presence in its western neighbour, despite the capture of paratroopers by Kiev and reports of secret military funerals being held in Russia. But Nato claimed on Thursday that Russia had sent at least 1,000 troops to fight alongside the insurgents, as well as air defence systems, artillery, tanks and armoured vehicles, and had massed 20,000 troops near the border.

The fresh rebel offensive has raised fears that the Kremlin could be seeking to create a corridor between Russia and the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

Ukraine has openly asked the EU for military help, and on Friday Kiev announced that it would also seek membership of Nato, a move sure to further enrage the Kremlin.

Poroshenko will travel to the Nato summit in Wales this week to meet the US president, Barack Obama, and seek practical help from the western alliance.

Poroshenko said on Saturday that fresh peace talks grouping representatives of Kiev, Moscow and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would take place in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Monday.

In Ukraine, there was no sign of a let up in the fighting, as the rebels vowed to launch a new military push. Alexander Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, told Russian media on Saturday that rebels were "preparing a second large-scale offensive".

Kiev said on Saturday that another air force plane had been shot down in the east, blaming it on a "Russian anti-aircraft system".

Faced with the reinvigorated insurgent push that has dramatically turned the tide of the conflict, Ukrainian forces have been trapped in a string of towns in the south-east.

Kiev's troops began a withdrawal from besieged positions near the transport hub of Ilovaysk, which lies east of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk, after holding ground without reinforcements for 10 days.

In the Azov Sea port city of Mariupol to the south of Donetsk, citizens dug trenches as they prepared to defend the city from a possible rebel offensive from the east.

*************

Ukraine Rebels Pledge New Offensive

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 August 2014, 20:30

Pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine warned on Saturday that they will launch a fresh offensive against government troops, days after seizing swathes of territory.

Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of sending regular army soldiers across the border to spearhead the lightning counter-attack that saw the tide turn after months of Ukrainian advances.

"We are preparing a second large-scale offensive," Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the rebel's self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic told Russian media.

"The Ukrainian army left us a lot of equipment, munitions and trophies. In the past day we have captured 40 military vehicles," he said.

Pro-Kiev forces said Saturday that they had begun withdrawing from a string positions around the transport hub of Ilovaysk to the southeast of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk after being trapped there by the surprise advance.

Zakharchenko said that rebel forces would now push on with a "mopping-up" operation in the area and try to break through government forces cutting off Donetsk from the second-largest insurgent-controlled city of Lugansk.

Ukraine's military said that it lost nine soldiers over the past 24 hours.

In Mariupol, a key port town some 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Donetsk, preparations were being made to defend the city.

Zakharchenko warned however that rebel forces would enter the city in "the near future."

The government-held coastal city is some 30 kilometers (20 miles) west of a the seaside town of Novoazovsk that was captured on Wednesday by fighters flooding across the nearby Russian border.

At the eastern entrance of Mariupol an Agence France Presse journalist saw earthmoving equipment digging trenches in front of a crowd of hundreds of local residents singing the national anthem.

Municipal services were working as usual and streets were busy in the centre of the city that once had a population of 500,000, despite some residents fleeing over the past few days.

**************

Port City Waits as Kiev Loyalists Prepare for Battle

by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 August 2014, 09:00

With pro-Russian rebels threatening at the gates, fighters loyal to Kiev in Mariupol are having to face a hard truth: they will be unable to save this vital port city alone.

"We're the only ones here," sighs “Botsman”, the leader of one unit in the Azov volunteer battalion trying to hold out as pro-Russian rebel forces sweep west.

From a promontory above the Azov Sea, in the "no man's land" between the two lines, he can see Novoazovsk, a seaside town just across the bay captured by the rebels on Wednesday after days of fierce fighting.

Since it fell, this south-eastern port city has felt like a place awaiting its fate.

"The Ukrainian army has pulled back," says “Panther”, a fellow loyalist fighter covered in tattoos who identifies himself as a "Ukrainian nationalist".

The situation, says Botsman, is getting bad.

Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the separatist's self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, has recently laid his cards on the table about Mariupol.

"We don't plan on storming the city tomorrow, or even the next day, but we will be going in in the near future," he has said.

While Mariupol waits, there is an uneasy calm. Just behind the last roadblock held by the army, hundreds of people have gathered, many dressed in the sunflower yellow and sky blue of Ukraine's national flag.

In the fields beside them, a series of trenches are being dug to try to halt any future advance into the city from the east, while soldiers sing "Ukraine is not dead".

The other slogans tell of a population still proudly loyal to Kiev, even as the tide in the east seems to be turning against them.

"Glory to Ukraine," and " malignant tumor, the evil shit stain, Pig Putin.
out", shout some of the fighters. "Agents of the Kremlin: know that Mariupol is Ukrainian", echo the crowd.

The mood among fighters is equally defiant, but matched with an awareness that as things stand, it would not take long for them to be outgunned.

Botsman, a Russian by blood and a veteran of the war in Chechnya, says he is here to fight Russian President malignant tumor, the evil shit stain, Pig Putin.

He starts to go through the list of what the pro-Kiev fighters need: tanks, drones, heavy artillery, up-to-date-maps, a less-chaotic form of leadership.

"As you can see, what we have here is hardly the top-grade material" on show at the Kiev military parade, he says, sardonically.

The Azov battalion is said to be one of the most radical nationalist groups fighting in the area. They won Mariupol back from the separatists in June.

If the town falls again, it will be the second notch for the separatists along this southern coast. Another few hundred kilometers, and the path reaches Crimea, the region annexed by Russia in March.

As well as its strategic importance, the loss of the town would be a symbolic blow for Kiev, whose army has been pushed back over the last week from the south-eastern front.

"It is the last big town in the region under Ukrainian control, home to half a million people," the commander of the Azov battalion, Andrey Biletsky, tells AFP.

He admits that there are few official troops and tanks now here, but insists that the situation is not yet "critical", and says he is confident "the army will send reinforcements".

Panther is convinced that they are up not just against pro-Russian rebels but regular Russian troops as well. Asked how he rates their chances, his assessment is glum.

"We can hold them off, but for how long? We don't have the strength to beat them."

Another difficulty is that even in this pro-Kiev bastion, not everyone is with them. Their flags are sometimes painted red by pro-Moscow locals among the population.

Biletsky says it is clear "that part of the population here no longer supports Ukraine, but we cannot abandon those who are depending on us."

On Saturday, things were calm between the lines of Mariupol, the loyalists of Novoazovsk, and the separatists fighting to defeat them.

Botsman thinks their enemies are afraid of the mines, or are considering, instead, an attack on Olenivka to the north.

"If they take Olenivka, the northern road to Mariupol will also be open," he says. "And if they take Mariupol, they will not stop."

On the other side of the front, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) away, a fighter called "Svat" guards the pro-Russian position. "We wait," he says, although he doesn't add what for.


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« Reply #15275 on: Aug 31, 2014, 06:42 AM »


Russia and economic warfare: RIP the free market new world order

Russia faces damaging economic sanctions, but this also brings down the final curtain on capitalism's apparent victory in 1989

Larry Elliott   
theguardian.com, Sunday 31 August 2014 12.00 BST          

It is a quarter of a century since the Berlin Wall came down. The cold war was eventually won by superior western economic power and a new era began once the communist regime collapsed in the Soviet Union and the two halves of Germany were reunited.

For the first time in 25 years, the west is seriously worried about Russia. Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, said at the weekend his country was "close to a point of no return – full-scale war". Russia faces the threat of tougher economic sanctions from the US and the European Union unless it withdraws its troops from eastern Ukraine.

Economic warfare has the potential to damage Russia just as it did in the 1980s. Indeed, sanctions are already hurting the economy, making it more expensive to refinance loans and almost impossible to attract the foreign capital needed to modernise Russia's energy sector. Growth has slowed to a standstill and the country will soon be in what could be a deep and prolonged recession.

If this of concern to Vladimir Putin, he has yet to show it. With the eurozone itself teetering on the brink of a fresh downturn, the Russian leader believes that in a war of sanctions between a west that is barely out of recession and a Russia accustomed to belt-tightening, it will be the west that blinks first. Whether he is right or not, one thing is clear: the era that began with the opening of the iron curtain is now over.

Consider what happened when the Soviet Union collapsed. Instead of two great powers, there was now just one: the US. Instead of two competing ideologies, there was now just one: capitalism. "We know what works", said the then US president, George Bush, "the free market works".

The next decade was the heyday for Bush's vision. Capitalism spread to parts of the world where it had previously been partially or totally off limits: China, India, and Russia. The dollar entrenched its position as the global currency. The Federal Reserve in Washington became the world's central bank. The completion of the seven-year Uruguay Round of trade talks saw tariffs reduced and markets opened up. A supra-national body, the World Trade Organisation, was set up in Geneva to act as the global trade policeman and to facilitate further liberalisation.

Russia was subjected to shock treatment that saw its economy shrink by 40% by the end of the 1990s. Male life expectancy plummeted. Privatisation saw what had been seen state assets fall into the hands of oligarchs who got enormously rich. The poverty rate soared.

In the west, the demise of the Soviet Union was felt in two ways. The obvious impact was that the end of the cold war delivered a hefty peace dividend. It was no longer necessary to spend as much money on defence, and governments were able to recycle part of the budget spent on combatting the perceived threat of the red army on tax cuts or other domestic spending priorities. The UK today spends 2.3% of national output on defence: at the end of the 1980s it was 4%.

Over time, though, it also became apparent that the existence of rival ideology had knocked some of the rough edges from capitalism. Once the Soviet Union was no more, capitalism could show itself in its true colours, red in tooth and claw. For a few years, this was not immediately apparent as the flood of cheap goods from the new emerging markets meant low inflation and allowed western central banks to keep interest rates at levels low enough to generate booms in house prices.

But once a model based around cheap credit and excessive borrowing hit the rocks, it also became clear that the new unencumbered variant of capitalism also meant outsourced jobs, falling living standards and welfare cuts. None of this has been popular, which is why so many governments have been kicked out since the financial crisis began.

Politicians have got the message. They have come to the conclusion that in a tougher climate it is really a case of looking after your own interests no matter what the costs for everybody else. So, to take one example, for the unipolar world to work properly the Fed has to take seriously its responsibility as the global central bank. That means taking care that policies such as quantitative easing and the eventual normalisation of US monetary policy is conducted in a way that is sensitive to other countries. Yet Fed policy is being conducted solely with American interests in mind. If quantitative easing leads to a surge of hot money into emerging market economies and the end of QE leads to it surging out again, then that's too bad.

QE has also been used as a way of trying to secure a competitive advantage. Central banks achieve this by electronically printing more money. One of the basic laws of economics is that the price of something goes down if the supply goes up. Increasing the money supply leads to a fall in the value of a currency, making a country's exports cheaper. So, when the Japanese, for example, announced that they were adopting policies designed to drive down the value of the yen, this was the equivalent of announcing that it was slapping a tariff on foreign goods. This is the equivalent of the competitive devaluations seen in the 1930s, only in a more subtle form.

Free trade has also been a casualty. After 12 years of negotiations, the WTO finally thought it had clinched a modest deal in Bali in late 2013. This involved cutting trade red tape, making customs procedures more efficient and rooting out some of the more egregious examples of corruption. It was, in truth, the least the WTO could deliver while retaining its credibility. In late July, the deal was scuppered by India. Unless New Delhi has a change of heart, the Bali deal is dead, leaving the WTO a broken-backed organisation. This is a world in retreat from multilateralism.

Although Putin has no alternative ideology to offer, times have changed. This is now a messier, less clearly defined, multipolar world. It is not just that the pre-eminence of the dollar has been challenged by Russia's announcement that roubles and yuan will be used in the oil deal it has brokered with China. It is not just that we are back to spheres of influence. It is not even that governments have become more interventionist and protectionist. It is that after the convulsions of the past seven years, it is hard to imagine a US president or indeed any western leader saying: "We know what works, the free market works."

So RIP new world order. Born Berlin 1989. Died with Lehman Brothers September 2008. Laid to rest eastern Ukraine August 2014.


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« Reply #15276 on: Aug 31, 2014, 06:45 AM »


France's economics ills worsen but all remedies appear unpalatable

Beset from right and left, president François Hollande could do with some good economic news. But he is at the mercy of Germany's eurozone austerity drive – and Merkel is unlikely to cut him much slack

Larry Elliott and Anne Penketh   
The Observer, Sunday 31 August 2014   
   
Emmanuel Macron had been in his new job less than 48 hours when he dropped his bombshell. Picked by François Hollande to be economy minister after a row over austerity prompted a reshuffle, the young investment banker suggested that France could consider an end to its hallowed 35-hour week.

Was this Hollande's "Clause IV moment", analysts wondered? Was the French president about to show his commitment to economic reform by abandoning a totemic policy, as Tony Blair did on becoming Labour leader in 1994?

Not really, it emerged.

Laurent Berger, head of France's largest trade union, the CFDT, made it clear that organised labour would not tolerate the scrapping of the 35-hour week. Macron, he said, had "made a mistake" and, as far as the unions were concerned, "the subject is closed".

That seemed to go for the government too, which quickly rowed back from Macron's suggestion. A spokesman for the prime minister, Manuel Valls, said: "The government has no intention of going back on the legal length of the working week."

Another view was that France is having its "sick man of Europe" moment. In a crowded field, the eurozone's second-biggest economy has beaten off the challengers for the crown of the most problematic country on the continent.

Spain and Greece have held this dubious honour – as did Britain, of course, in the 1970s. Italy has held it off and on for decades; there was even a brief period when the mantle fell on Germany. Now it is France's turn under the spotlight.

The symptoms are clear enough. Unemployment is more than 10%; the country has not managed two successive quarters of economic growth since Hollande arrived at the Elysée Palace more than two years ago. Weak growth is putting a strain on the public finances. Its industry is less competitive than that of neighbouring Germany, which has led to job losses and factory closures.

Last week, as the new French government was being sworn in following the sacking of the anti-austerity economic minister Arnaud Montebourg and two colleagues, Michel Charroin was helping to plant 54 crosses on a grassy verge outside the factory where he works in Saint-Etienne, an industrial town south-west of Lyon.

"Management told us at the end of June that they're closing the plant, and there's nothing to be done. It's the death of 54 jobs," he said. All that his CGT union can hope for is to negotiate the best possible terms for its members. The skilled workers, who make nuts and bolts at the GFD factory, will probably be able to find other jobs. But Charroin, a 52-year-old office worker, with two children and a wife who works part-time, has no clue what he will do after 25 years with the same employer. The Italian-owned plant has lost €6m (£4.76m)in two years and will close in October or November.

"The crisis is our daily life," said Charroin. "There's no work to be had in the Saint-Etienne basin. In the past 20 years, 50,000 jobs have gone."

Few would disagree with Charroin's view that the French economy is deeply troubled. But opinion is divided on the cause of the malaise, and the remedy for it. One view is that France is hidebound by rules and regulations that are strangling the private sector, with the 35-hour week a symbol of a country that needs to wake up and face the harsh reality of life in the modern global economy.

Jennifer McKeown, European economist at Capital Economics, says: "Reform is certainly what France needs in the long term. We have argued that the weakness of the labour market relating to structural rigidities has been a key factor behind France's underperformance compared with Germany."

The US economist Paul Krugman, a strong opponent of the austerity policies pursued across Europe since the debt crisis began in 2010, disagrees. He says employment among prime-age (25-54) workers in France is higher than in the US, that the notion of French uncompetitiveness sits oddly with a small current account deficit, and that until the crisis French unit labour costs rose in line with the eurozone average.

The problem, Krugman says, is not structural rigidity but blanket austerity and Germany's unwillingness to reflate. "The question I would ask is: what do Hollande and his inner circle think will make the situation turn around? Europe's austerity drive has now gone on for four years; over the course of those four years the euro area has seen economic recovery shrivel, a much-touted comeback also stumble, and now a slide towards deflation. French economic performance tends to track the eurozone average; why should anyone expect France to come roaring back?"

That was broadly the argument made by Montebourg last week when he went public with his criticism of the austerity programme and blamed Germany.

"I agree with Montebourg," says Youri Tabet, a 23-year-old studying for an MA in public affairs. "He's a bit of an opportunist but he was right to bang his fist on the table."

He is critical of Hollande's failure to follow through on his election promises to restore growth. "Hollande should have been firmer with [Angela] Merkel. He gave in too quickly," says Tabet, who was a card-carrying member of the Socialist party until the 2012 election but has since stopped going to meetings .

He lives with his parents in southern Paris out of necessity, and they are footing the bill for his studies. He says the signs of economic stagnation are all around: "Our teachers tell us how hard it will be to get a job. And I can see that my parents' friends are in difficulties too."

David Rouault, 25, is training to be a lawyer and shares a flat with three other people in Paris's south-western 15th arrondissement. The flatmates each pay €459 a month in rent. David earns €1,000 euros a month gross on an internship with a Paris law firm, but things are tight even though his firm gives him lunch vouchers.

Reflecting the majority view in opinion polls since the reshuffle, Rouault – who describes himself as a centrist unattached to a political party – says the prime minister was right. "What is outrageous is some ministers' lack of a sense of responsibility – in particular Montebourg – and their desire to stir things up after the holidays." But Rouault does not believe the reshuffle will bring change.

"I don't think the government is as responsible for the mess as the media would have us believe. France's problems date from before the left came to power, and things won't go any better with this new government," he says. "Things will improve when the crisis is finally over on an international scale, stimulated by other countries."

Hollande has adopted a two-pronged strategy. He has a pact with business, under which modest cuts in public spending will be used to cut corporate taxes, provided firms take on more workers. And he hopes that if he shows a commitment to reform, the German government will ease up on its austerity demands and allow France to run budget deficits in excess of the 3% target stipulated by the European Union.

Stephen Lewis of stockbroker ADM is not convinced: "Hollande probably takes the view that he is likely to depend on Germany's goodwill if his government is to avoid imposing draconian measures on the French economy. The financial markets are taking a positive view of the new French government, though its centrepiece proposal of tax concessions to companies in return for commitments to raise employment seems unlikely to strengthen the economy structurally. After all, there is no guarantee that the jobs companies create to gain their tax concessions will be very productive."

Hollande, whose approval ratings stand at just 17%, needs results, and fast. But the chances of him achieving them look slim. It is not just that the latest business surveys make grim reading – though the economy does appears to be going backwards in the third quarter. It is not just that the amount of slack Merkel will cut him is likely to be limited. And it is not just that the European Central Bank has been painfully slow in waking up to the threat of deflation.

Rather it is that for all its many problems, France remains a prosperous and – for those in work – comfortable country. There is just no appetite for any of the more radical proposals, be they structural reforms, abandoning austerity or leaving the euro.

David Marsh of monetary thinktank Omfif says: "The political and economic position in France is parlous. Hollande will now be under attack from two sides: from the right wing, both his traditional conservative rivals and the revitalised Front National, and from his own socialist party, where Montebourg and his allies, unencumbered by government office, will be quick to regroup."

The risk for Hollande is clear. He is neither Margaret Thatcher in 1979 nor Blair in 1994. He has levers but seems unwilling to pull them. Clause IV moment? No chance. Lame duck moment? Much more likely.


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« Reply #15277 on: Aug 31, 2014, 06:49 AM »


David Cameron is caught between the virtues and vices of Europe

In Brussels this weekend the PM will plead for a European response to the crises in Ukraine and Iraq. But at home he has to appear stridently anti-EU to placate the right of his party

Toby Helm   
The Observer, Saturday 30 August 2014 23.50 BST   
       
David Cameron has become accustomed to going to EU summits to fight battles over the budget, veto treaties, or try to block appointments of federalists.

In December 2011 he famously stood in the way of an EU-wide treaty on fiscal and economic union, delighting Eurosceptics at home but taking his relations with other continental leaders to a historic low. In June this year he was less successful in trying to stop the appointment of the federalist Jean-Claude Juncker as European commission president. After that embarrassing failure, he made clear his dislike of European meetings, sarcastically referring to his next visit to Brussels as "another day in paradise" that he would rather scrub from his diary.

But this weekend is different, and Cameron made clear as much as he arrived in Brussels on Saturday. International crises in Ukraine, and in Syria and Iraq, demand united international responses. They crowd in on every European government, the leaders of which know joint action and solidarity – not grandstanding for domestic audiences – is what is urgently needed.

"We have to address the completely unacceptable situation of having Russian troops on Ukraine soil," said Cameron on arrival in Brussels. "Consequences must follow if that situation continues and we will be discussing that as well today."

The urgency of concerted and coordinated action by EU countries will be further underlined this week when, after Brussels, Cameron will chair a Nato meeting in Newport, south Wales. Barack Obama will want to see the EU acting as one, both in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine and against the threat of Islamist extremism on Europe's borders.

Cameron himself has stressed the need for working together. As the UK government lifted the threat level of a terrorist attack on UK soil to "severe" on Friday, he described the threat of Islamic State (Isis) as greater than that posed by al-Qaida: "We could be facing a terrorist threat on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a Nato member." At Saturday's summit he was pressing for the EU to tighten sanctions on Russia and to better coordinate action in hunting jihadis by reviving pan-European plans to allow governments to share their passenger records.

But what is a prime minister to do, if such exhortations to collective endeavour are undermined on the home front by a Eurosceptic insurgency bent on pulling Britain out of the EU?

In a week that saw the Conservative MP for Clacton-on-Sea, Douglas Carswell, defect to Ukip, whose raison d'être is to leave the EU, the prime minister is being tugged in two directions. While the terror threat in the UK has been lifted to "severe", the domestic political threat to Tory unity from Nigel Farage's rampant party warrants a similar rating. For Cameron, navigating between the demands of Brussels and the demands of a disillusioned English coastal town may prove a nigh-on impossible task.

Former Liberal Democrat leader and member of the Commons intelligence and security committee Sir Menzies Campbell said on Saturday that Cameron now had a hugely difficult balance to strike between party and country. "You can only deal effectively with these threats if you do so both with your friends and allies in the European Union and in Nato." Campbell added that, with the terror threat sure to last for years, "another burst of Euroscepticism, while it may encourage some Eurosceptic backbenchers, is not going to help the prime minister as he seeks that necessary cooperation".

As Cameron sat down for talks in Brussels with, among others, his former nemesis Juncker, Nigel Farage was spending the day in Clacton, the seat Carswell held for the Tories but will now fight as Ukip's candidate in a byelection in the autumn. That contest will haunt the Tory party in the runup to and beyond the party conference season – the last before the general election.

On Friday, Farage visited Clacton for the first time, triumphantly showing off his beaming new recruit to voters before retiring for a few pints. "Sorry I didn't hear the phone at first. Too noisy in the pub," Farage told the Observer before cackling with laughter. He described himself as "ebullient". His timing in unveiling Carswell and his jocularity have infuriated Tories, including some hardline Eurosceptics such as Bernard Jenkin, who deplore his action at a time of international crisis. "I think it shows just how irresponsible Ukip is," said Jenkin. Complain as they may, it will be hard to tear the Ukip leader away from the Essex town in the next few weeks. Victory against the Conservatives in the byelection will, he says, "change everything" and be the moment when more Tories and a few from Labour could follow Carswell into Ukip's arms.

"It is very, very important that we win Clacton. We are throwing everything at it," Farage said. The party's youth wing also poured into the town on Saturday armed with fistfuls of leaflets. Jack Duffin, chairman of Young Independence, said: "The response has been fantastic. People are beeping their horns when they pass us. It is brilliant." Farage himself won the Ukip selection for the parliamentary seat of Thanet South last Monday. To him the challenge is clear and simple – to win Westminster seats before and at the next general election. He is confident that, now Carswell is on board, he is on his way.

Farage's joy is met with Conservative panic. The Tory whips have been in overdrive, desperately trying to gauge whether others might be flirting with Ukip. One regarded as a possible defector, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has firmly rejected the suggestion. "This is just silly, really. It's silly season," the 45-year-old North East Somerset MP told the Western Daily Press. "I was born a Tory and I will die a Tory."

He added: "For me, politics is about much more than just one issue or one policy. Ukip's light will wane as we approach the next election, at which the economy will be crucial and whether people feel the recovery has reached them. But no, I have not even thought about defecting to Ukip."

For now, the Tories are confident that there will be no more Carswells. The party high command insists he is a loner, an unguided free spirit with a passionate belief in localism, and that he has made a mistake because the Tories are the only ones who will guarantee a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU. But equally the whips know that there are plenty of Conservative MPs, peers and probably even more grassroots activists who agree with Carswell's views and who do not believe that Cameron can deliver real change in the EU. If, as the next election nears, backbenchers calculate that they stand a better chance with Ukip than Cameron's Tories, no one can rule out another defection.

Back in January last year, Cameron hoped he had defused his party's Europe problem by promising to hold an in/out referendum, having renegotiated new terms of UK membership. "It is time to settle this European question in British politics," he said then. "I say to the British people: this will be your decision." At first Carswell welcomed Cameron's move, but he became cynical over the next 18 months. As he announced his defection, he unburdened himself. "The problem is that many of those at the top of the Conservative party are simply not on our side. They aren't serious about the change that Britain so desperately needs … Of course they talk the talk before elections. They say what they feel they must say to get our support … but on so many issues – on modernising our politics, on the recall of MPs, on controlling our borders, on less government, on bank reform, on cutting public debt, on an EU referendum – they never actually make it happen."

This weekend – with Cameron in Brussels urging EU action to counter terror threats and the need to tighten sanction on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine – plenty of hardline Eurosceptics are criticising Carswell for defecting. But, despite the grave international context, most would agree with him in private that they now expect Cameron's attempt to renegotiate the UK's terms of membership to deliver very little. Large numbers of backbenchers say they intend to campaign for a no vote if the Tories win the election and a referendum is called. More and more want out of the EU as Labour and the Liberal Democrats argue the community's role in international affairs is increasingly crucial.

Some argue that Cameron underestimated how difficult his task of renegotiating UK membership would be. He hoped the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, would ride to his rescue, and she may still, but the signs are not encouraging. The prime minister has said that at the top of his shopping list will be a demand to extricate the UK from the EU principle of "ever closer union", something other European governments, including the German one, have made clear will not be on the table in any formal sense. Last week Germany announced measures to tackle welfare tourism within the EU, another of Cameron's key demands. But as it did so, Berlin made clear that "free movement of people is an indispensable element of European integration, which we back by all means" – hardly the language to encourage British sceptics.

Cameron finds himself playing EU statesman, in the name of security, while trying to bend the EU to British demands. At one summit, EU leaders are his allies; the next they are his foes. In Brussels on Saturday it escaped no one that Cameron was having to butter up none other than Jean-Claude Juncker, the man he denounced as wrong for the job of commission president, because Juncker will decide what portfolio the UK's Lord Hill and every other nominee will get in the new commission. One Whitehall source said: "The question is whether Juncker will say, 'All is forgiven, David' or whether he won't. I would not expect the UK to get a plumb job if I had to guess."

Cameron is part the committed participant, part the rebel. It is a difficult position to be in, allowing Ukip to deploy its simple mantra that we're better off out. In the latest Opinium/Observer poll, Ukip stands at 16%, with the Tories on 30% and Labour on 36%. Ominously for the Tories, Clacton will ensure Farage and Co are in the news throughout the autumn, while the Ukip leader's campaign in South Thanet will shine a light on him right through to the general election.

The Tory high command dismisses out of hand talk of any pact with Ukip. But the demands will not go away. Robert Oulds, director of the Bruges Group – set up in honour of Margaret Thatcher's 1988 speech in which she warned of an EU superstate – is this weekend calling for "a strategic arrangement between the Conservatives and Ukip whereby Tories will stand aside in a handful of seats in exchange for a free pass in key marginal seats". Oulds said: "The infighting between the two parties who share a similar agenda will only succeed in meaning that neither achieves their objectives. The mutually assured destruction should end."

Meanwhile, Cameron fights on, to limit the role of the EU in national life, on the one hand, while urging it to act more to guarantee international stability and the security of the British people, on the other.
THE QUESTION

How serious is Carswell's defection for the Tories and what should Cameron do?

FRASER NELSON Editor, the Spectator

David Cameron should send for Boris - who, in turn, will have a great opportunity to show that he is prepared to take a risk to come to the aid of the party and actually fight, rather than wait to be anointed king of a safe seat.

Yes, Cameron is now paying the price for treating so much of his core supporters with neglect, bordering on contempt. But Cameron will by now realise that the misnamed "modernising" project served to narrow, rather than broaden, his party's appeal. He needs to unite his tribe behind him (and, yes, against Ukip and Douglas Carswell), which ought to be easy given how close we now are to the election. And he needs to make some basic points more clearly.

There will be two outcomes after polling day: Cameron, and a referendum in 2017, or Ed Miliband, no referendum and five years of François Hollande-style calamity. The polls and bookmakers point to the second outcome, which ought to focus minds (and loyalties).

Three years ago, Cameron hung a Tracey Emin-designed neon sign outside the Terracotta Room of No 10: it says "More passion". The time for such passion has arrived.

PETER WILDING Director, British Influence

Douglas Carswell's defection could herald an SDP 1981 moment, but only if he wins. Clacton demographics have stiffened his byelection sinews.

His victory will put Europe centre stage as a Tory split story, not a Cameron statesman story. Europhobes will harass the prime minister to reveal his repatriation demands now to clarify his line and avoid further defections. Cameron will talk tough on Europe, but he won't fold.

What he should do is tell his party straight that his top reforms are now mainstream, having been agreed by all EU member states in June.

His government should now push to win this reform campaign. Otherwise the PM will continue to lose friends and alienate people.

ISABEL HARDMAN Daily Telegraph columnist

David Cameron might take some comfort from the way his party has turned on the once popular Douglas Carswell for defecting to Ukip. Any more defections won't come immediately.

But the prime minister cannot relax. Carswell's Eurosceptic colleagues are keen to use his departure to extract more details of Cameron's European reform plan.

He will also come under pressure to show that he is at least trying to reunite the right, something which this defection has just made immeasurably more difficult. Cameron had nourished a reasonable hope of a warm relationship with his party this autumn: Carswell has just poured an ice bucket over that.
CHRISTOPHER HOWARTH Senior political analyst, Open Europe

The stakes will have been raised. If Carswell wins, Ukip can then tell voters everywhere that voting Ukip means a genuine chance of electing an MP. This could be catastrophic for the Conservatives and may deprive them of a number of seats, to other parties mostly, but conceivably to Ukip as well.

If Carswell loses, the result will be equally disastrous for Ukip. The Tories can use it to show that, even in a constituency suited to Ukip, with one of their biggest names, they cannot win a seat. So why waste your vote in May 2015 will be their refrain.

For now the initiative is with Ukip, but Cameron can and will (rightly) point out that his party alone represents a real chance of delivering an EU referendum. Add in a reinvigorated EU reform agenda that addresses the concerns of disaffected voters and the Conservatives could start to turn the tables.
MELISSA KITE Spectator columnist

Whenever Ukip pull off a coup, David Cameron's response is always the same. He treated Douglas Carswell like a naughty schoolboy: "It's regrettable when people behave in this way."

Cameron loyalists also struck a condescending note. The consensus was that the Eurosceptic MP had "thrown his toys out of the pram". This suggests they still don't get it. The reason this defection represents such a real and present danger to Cameron is that Tory voters are throwing their toys out of the pram, in seats up and down the country - and I'm told Clacton is most definitely one of them. Carswell spoke for them when he condemned the Cameron "clique" and gave his reason for defecting: "Many of those at the top of the Conservative party are not on our side."

If Carswell has judged the mood right, and wins, it will surely be a game changer. More defectors would follow. Even a close contest will show that Ukip can hit Cameron where it really hurts, and bring the fight to Westminster.

Cameron's plan has always been to hope that troublesome Tory MPs, and voters, will dutifully fall into line on general election day, forgetting broken EU renegotiation pledges, broken pledges not to build on the green belt, and a high-speed rail link that goes through their back gardens. But it is becoming riskier to assume this. Rather than remind traditionalists archly of their duty to be on his side, the prime minister needs to re-engage with the people who put him where he is and show them that he is on their side.


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« Reply #15278 on: Aug 31, 2014, 06:50 AM »


A portrait of Federica Mogherini, the EU's next foreign policy chief

Critics claim she lacks high-level experience, but Italy's foreign minister is not lacking in knowledge and self-assurance

Lizzy Davies   
theguardian.com, Saturday 30 August 2014 19.46 BST

In late November 2012, while Matteo Renzi was making an ill-fated bid for leadership of the Italian centre-left, a young MP from his Democratic Party (PD) piped up on Twitter to remark: "OK, Renzi has quite a lot to learn about foreign policy … He won't make the pass mark, I fear #thirdgrade." When he won the PD primaries the following winter, Renzi – canny as ever – hired his sharp-tongued critic as the party's spokesperson on Europe and international affairs. Once prime minister, he ushered her into the top job at Italy's foreign office.

Now, the shoe is firmly on the other foot: it is Federica Mogherini – on her way to Brussels to become Cathy Ashton's successor in the EU – who, according to her critics, has a lot to learn. And the jury is out on whether the 41-year-old Roman- who has six months' experience in government as foreign minister, no more and no less – will make the grade. Le Monde, the French daily, last week said her appointment would be "a sad day for Europe".

To Brussels box-tickers, Mogherini, as a woman and a social democrat, meets two of the chief criteria for the job. But her critics believe she lacks the proper credentials for a role that has always struggled to be as grand in practice as it is on paper. More than a decade younger than Ashton was when she started in 2009, the Italian had her first taste of executive power in late February, when she replaced the highly experienced Emma Bonino, a former European commissioner, in the Farnesina.

In Rome, she was viewed as the archetypal Renzi government minister: fresh-faced, vigorous and, it was hoped, effective. In Brussels, when her name started circulating as a potential new high representative several months later, it was inextricably linked with the suddenly risen star of Italy and the PD, boosted on the international stage by a landslide European election victory in which Renzi emerged as a powerful new force on the centre-left.

Despite her charismatic champion, Mogherini, to many, still lacked clout. But others say that, while her relative youth and lack of high-level experience are undeniable, she has other strengths that could yet see her thrive. "I believe her strong points are not to be underestimated," said Ettore Greco, director of the Institute for International Affairs in Rome. "She knows how to work hard, how to work in a team; and she has always conducted herself with, I'd say, great composure … I can see her as a mediator. And then there's her experience, her contacts built up gradually during years of work at relatively high levels … Ever since the start of her political career, she has worked on foreign policy. She is not a political neophyte."

Born in the Italian capital in 1973, the daughter of a set designer who worked with some of the giants of Italian postwar cinema, Mogherini graduated with a degree in political science from La Sapienza university. Her thesis was on political Islam.

An active member of the Democrats of the Left (DS), a social democratic party containing many former Communists, she soon got noticed, and specialised in foreign affairs, working particularly on ties with the US Democrat party. In 2008, the year after the DS merged with others into the centre-left PD, she was elected as an MP for the first time. In February, aged 40, she became the youngest foreign minister in the history of the Italian republic.

Since her arrival on the national and international stage in February, Mogherini has quietly impressed many with her knowledge and self-assurance, demonstrating, too, that not all Italians' English is as comic as the premier's. (Hers is near perfect; she also has fluent French and, according to her online biography, a little Spanish.) She keeps an impressive pace of international visits, all of which she details on her website, BlogMog.it, in the manner, sniped the Berlusconi family newspaper, Il Giornale, of "a teenager confiding" in the pages of her journal.

But these haven't all gone smoothly. She raised eyebrows in a July dominated by concerns over Russia's stance on Ukraine, when she visited Kiev and Moscow and invited Vladimir Putin to an economics summit in Milan in October. Soon after, a group of eastern European countries united to try to block her candidacy for the high representative job, which they said was unacceptable due to Rome's approach to Moscow.

"But I think when she was doing that, she was probably just following her brief from the [Italian] machine," said a diplomatic source. "This is a question of differences over the tactical and possibly even strategic attitude towards Russia which is Italy's rather than hers." Greco said: "On the European stage, she will of course have to take into account a quite different mood and quite different climate where Moscow is concerned and she should not be – one would hope – conditioned by these Italian reflexes."

On the BlogMog, Mogherini, a married mother of two, says that, as well as reading crime novels and spending time with her family, her big passion is travel: "Anywhere, anytime, and anyhow." (The Farnesina said she flies economy class "whenever possible".) Even if question marks remain over her experience and diplomatic clout, on the globe-trotting front, at least, she should be on safe ground.


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« Reply #15279 on: Aug 31, 2014, 06:53 AM »


Why Italy’s stagnation could be the future for the entire eurozone

Monetary reform alone can’t kickstart the European economy. It needs something more radical

Riccardo Bellofiore   
theguardian.com, Saturday 30 August 2014 11.00 BST   
       
This summer Italy fell into a triple-dip recession. After the 2008/09 collapse, the economy stagnated, heading back into recession during 2011 and never really recovering. The philosophy of Giulio Tremonti, who was the economic minister at the time, was to wait and see, until speculation killed Berlusconi’s government. Prime ministers Mario Monti and Enrico Letta followed Brussels’ self-defeating diktat for fiscal rigour, but even with moderate deficits the public debt/GDP ratio soared.

The situation remained under control only thanks to the zero rate of interest and rhetoric by the European central bank president, Mario Draghi. Then came along Matteo Renzi, and Italian economic policy was all talk, talk, talk. While turning the screw of authoritarian parliamentary and electoral reforms, future lower taxes and liberalisations are promised to compensate for public cuts and to attract foreign investments. The €80 monthly tax break to lower-paid workers did not raise household consumption, and was instead spent on tariffs and local taxes.

Yet in the past few weeks the outlook has changed, with 2014 second-quarter data showing France flat and Germany experiencing negative growth. Greece, Spain and Portugal registered rosier figures only because they were recovering from severe austerity. The eurozone cannot but be driven by the three biggest economies alone. This is a continental crisis within an anaemic global economy. However, an old Gramscian truth about Italy must be remembered: the “backwardness” of its capitalism is paradigmatic. Europe’s exit from the crisis needs the same policies that Italy needs, and without them Italy’s stagnation is the future for the entire continent.

Many now think austerity has gone too far: upward elasticity on monetary or fiscal policy is essential. The suggestions go from quantitative easing (hopefully driving down the euro), and/or the ECB funding for lending, and/or a relieving of public finance constraints. Even Draghi’s speech at the US Federal Reserve conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, recognised this. This often goes together with a plea for supply-side structural reforms, such as labour flexibility and liberalisation. Others argue that trade imbalances are the main problem. Higher German internal demand, through fiscal stimulus and/or higher wages, would boost the GIIPS countries (Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain). A radical view is exiting the single currency to restore national economic sovereignty.

There is something sensible in all these propositions. Austerity is choking Europe. If the ECB buys assets it may improve state and firms’ balances. Higher liquidity could find its way to expenditure, and also revert the credit crunch plaguing small and medium firms. Trade imbalances, without counteracting policies, create regional disparities and social imbalances, leading to an explosive fragmentation. These policy outlooks, however, are wishful thinking, because in them the state is subsidiary to the private sector and the changes in the European landscape are ignored.

But monetary reform alone can’t kickstart the economy. Individual government deficits should be targeted by the ECB, providing the “big push” that private investment cannot give the biggest economies. Only in this atmosphere will the balance-sheet recession and the squeeze of private demand be overturned. If internal demand and production increase more than productivity, the consequent higher employment could ground consumption on income rather than on debt.

In the past 15-20 years, the European economy has gone through a deep financial and industrial transformation. Let us look at the financial side. Eurozone countries share the same payment system. There is nothing unusual per se in internal imbalances: they are absorbed by the banking system and do not lead to problems for the single currency. Balance sheets of banks and intermediaries are more integrated, and the public debt is managed on the bond market. On the industrial side, Germany spread its industrial and trade network so that increases in demand would be transmitted to a transnational value chain located in eastern and central Europe.

Demand reflation or wage increases do not guarantee enough exports for the periphery anymore, which may still need price-inelastic products from the centre. The exchange rate is a toothless weapon. From the financial side, exit countries need a stronger currency. A devaluation jeopardises the banking system and the management of public debt, and may not be so magical as hoped on the trade balance.

The European economy as a whole needs expansionary policies together with credit, industrial and regional policies. None of this is on the horizon. Changes must appear in continuity with the dominant consensus, as President François Hollande’s firing of the French economic minister this week shows all to well.

Draghi’s design to build Europe through a sort of “revolution from above” requires an ongoing crisis to weaken internal resistance within the capitalist class. An alternative social and democratic Europe “from below” meets the problem of the absence of a subject fighting for it. Though this is not good news, the euro may then actually end: not with a bang, but a whimper. But as the saying goes, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over”.


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« Reply #15280 on: Aug 31, 2014, 06:55 AM »

German Anti-Euro Party Set to Debut in State Parliament

by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 August 2014, 08:57

Germany's fledgling anti-euro party looks set to win its first seats in a state parliament on Sunday, gaining a political foothold in opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel's grip on power.

Voters in eastern Saxony state will be the first to vote in regional legislative elections since Merkel's triumphant return for a third stint at the helm of Europe's top economy in last September's general election.

Her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) have been in power in Saxony since Germany's 1990 reunification and are expected to remain dominant, but the party will likely need a new coalition partner.

The emergence of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has found a stronghold in Saxony since the euroskeptic party's formation in early 2013, could help muddy the alliance-building waters.

Buoyed by its leap into the European Parliament in May, the AfD has been polling at around seven percent in Saxony -- the state where it got its best result in the federal election but narrowly missed out on entering the German parliament.

The AfD, set up by economics professor Bernd Lucke, a former CDU member, wants the orderly dissolution of the euro, an end to EU bailouts and for Germany to return to its once beloved Deutschmark.

"Its challenge is to make this Europe and federal political approach somehow relevant at the state political level," said Werner Patzelt of the Dresden Institute for Political Science.

Merkel positioned herself as the single currency's champion during the eurozone debt crisis when Germany financed the lion's share of bailouts for stricken nations, demanding strict austerity measures in exchange.

The economy of Saxony, which borders both Poland and the Czech Republic, is one of the most dynamic of Germany's ex-communist states, hosting big car producers and earning the nickname "Silicon Saxony" as a microchip center.

As Germany approaches the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Saxony ballot is the first of three former eastern state votes in quick succession, followed by neighboring Thuringia and Brandenburg on September 14.

AfD lead candidate Frauke Petry, 39, a trained chemist and mother of four, has focused her campaign on family issues, calling for couples to have more children and for a tightening of the abortion laws, as Germany's population is rapidly aging.

The party has also called for a referendum on the building of mosques with minarets in Saxony.

Petry firmly rejects claims the AfD has flirted with the far-right, insisting in an interview with AFP at a Dresden rally last week that the party "simply addresses many taboo issues" from which other parties shy away.

"We have never been far-right," she said.

Saxony is one of two regional parliaments to include members of the far-right, anti-immigrant National Democratic Party of Germany, but polls suggest its re-entry after Sunday could be a close call.

While the CDU is set to win just over 40 percent of the vote, according to a Politbarometer poll for ZDF television Friday, its current allies, the pro-business Free Democrats, are not expected to win enough votes to stay in the state parliament.

Saxony's CDU state premier Stanislaw Tillich has so far kept all options open and avoided ruling out any possible tie-up with the AfD, but such an alliance seems unlikely as it would flout the party line.

Merkel twice in the past week said the AfD, as a coalition partner, was out of the question for her conservatives.

Closest to the CDU in the latest poll was the far-left Linke party, which has roots in East German communism, with 20 percent, followed by the center-left Social Democratic Party with whom Merkel governs nationally in a "grand coalition".

Henning Richter, 58, traditionally a CDU voter, who attended Petry's rally, seemed impressed with the AfD's support for Swiss-style referenda.

"You know, for years I've been wondering how is it possible that the money from our taxes goes abroad for bailouts, for banks, for I don't know what reason, for which nobody ever asked us our opinion," he said.


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« Reply #15281 on: Aug 31, 2014, 06:59 AM »

Poland's Tusk Named EU President, Italy's Mogherini to Head Diplomacy

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 August 2014, 21:02

European leaders on Saturday named Polish premier Donald Tusk as the next EU president and Italy's Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini to head the diplomatic service as the bloc faces challenges including the crisis in Ukraine.

The Polish premier, who speaks only a halting English and no French, is the first eastern European to hold such a senior role in the EU and is known as a critic of the Kremlin.

"The suspense is up, the new EU leadership team is complete," said current EU President Herman Van Rompuy moments after the announcement was made.

He said the new team faced three major challenges: the stagnating European economy, the crisis in Ukraine which was "the gravest threat to continental security since the Cold War," and Britain's place in the EU.

"I come to Brussels from a country that deeply believes in the significance of Europe," Tusk said at a news conference with Van Rompuy, at which the outgoing leader presented him with a bunch of flowers.

Tusk will take office on December 1 while Mogherini will start her new job on November 1.

Strongly backed by Germany's Angela Merkel, Tusk is a pro-European free marketeer with roots in Poland's Solidarity anti-Soviet trade union who has been prime minister since 2007.

He will also head up summits of the countries that use the euro, despite Poland not being a member of the single currency.

Mogherini, Italy's 41-year-old foreign minister, has been a long favorite to replace Catherine Ashton as head of the EU's foreign service, hailed by her supporters as a new, younger face for Europe.

With leaders unnerved by Russia's latest actions in Ukraine, the nomination of Tusk to replace Belgium's Van Rompuy could send a message of resolve to Moscow as EU leaders also mull fresh sanctions against Russia.

Mogherini's candidacy initially faced fierce resistance, with Eastern European countries -- and reportedly British officials -- criticising her as both inexperienced and too soft on Russia.

She was initially sidelined at a first summit in July. But six weeks later, and after Italy staunchly backed more sanctions against Russia, Mogherini overcame the opposition.

"I know the challenges are huge, especially in these times of crisis," Mogherini said at the same press conference.

"All around Europe we have crisis."

Hours before the summit, left-of-center EU leaders meeting in Paris formally backed her as the bloc's new foreign policy chief.

"I have high hopes that she will be chosen tonight," said French President Francois Hollande, eager to see a socialist and southern European in a top role.

**************

Tusk: Unflappable Leader Who Has Steered Poland through Crisis after Crisis

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 August 2014, 21:47

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk is a pro-European free marketeer who has earned the reputation of being an unflappable leader able to turn even the most difficult situations to his advantage.

With political roots in Poland's anti-communist Solidarity trade union, the football-mad historian named on Saturday as the EU's next president started out as an underground journalist.

Under Communism, he also put his liberal ideals to work running a modest industrial painting business. Private enterprise was rare then, but small ventures were tolerated by the ruling Communist Party.

After a bloodless end to communist rule was negotiated in Poland in 1989, Tusk and a group of friends in his Baltic Sea hometown of Gdansk founded the Liberal Democratic Congress, pushing for sweeping privatisation of the state-run economy.

It won 37 of the 460 seats in parliament in the 1991 general election, only to lose them two years later. It then merged with the larger centrist Freedom Union.

Tusk led a breakaway faction in 2001 and formed the Civic Platform (PO).

While his 2005 presidential bid failed, the PO took power after a 2007 snap election and Tusk was propelled to a second consecutive term as prime minister in the 2011 general election.

He has the distinction of steering Poland though the global financial crisis as the only EU state to maintain growth.

He also steadied the country when in April 2010 an air crash in Smolensk, Russia, wiped out a large chunk of the Polish establishment, killing Poland's then president Lech Kaczynski, the country's top military brass, central bank chief and scores of MPs and other senior state figures.

More recently, the 57-year-old Tusk used his political savvy to survive a high-profile eavesdropping scandal implicating his senior ministers.

But his popularity has waned since his landslide win in 2011 amid slow growth and persistent unemployment. Opinion polls released this month show his PO trailing behind arch-rivals, the right-wing Law and Justice party.

The next general election is due in October, 2015.

Tusk has taken a firm line on Poland's national interests, questioning eurozone bailouts and declining to set a deadline for adopting the euro currency until its problems are solved.

With over 38 million people, Poland is the largest newcomer to the EU and has been eager to punch above its weight, playing a significant role in Eastern European policy since joining in 2004 and again recently in crisis management of the situation in Ukraine.

In line with his free-market thinking, Tusk is an admirer of the late U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Britain's former premier Margaret Thatcher.

He has also been a faithful supporter of Polish freedom icon Lech Walesa, the former Gdansk shipyard electrician who led Solidarity and was elected president in 1990.

Tusk is a proud Kashubian -- a Slav minority from the Gdansk region -- and has been at the forefront of a revival of their culture that has reversed years of decline.

He only discovered his roots as an adult, prompting him to learn the language and later write the first textbook for would-be Kashubian-speakers.

He is married to historian Malgorzata Tusk and has two adult children, one of whom is a well-known fashion blogger.


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« Reply #15282 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:03 AM »

As Scots Weigh Independence, Wales Takes Note

By KATRIN BENNHOLD
AUG. 30, 2014
IHT

CAERNARFON, Wales — Twm Morys was boiling carrots for his children when he momentarily stopped to recite a 15th-century battle chant in Welsh. Beating out the guttural consonants with a stave on his kitchen floor until they rang in every last corner of his farmhouse, Mr. Morys, a well-known poet, said it was time to put “fire in the belly” of his people.

He is not the only one. In the ancient mountains towering above this coastal town in northern Wales, where eight in 10 people speak the native Celtic tongue, and many carry names their fellow Britons would not dare pronounce, Welsh nationalists have their eyes firmly set on independence — Scottish independence.

Less than a month before Scotland holds a referendum on whether to leave Britain, Wales is watching with a mix of envy, excitement and trepidation.

“If Scotland votes yes, the genie is out of the bottle,” said Leanne Wood, leader of Wales’s nationalist party Plaid Cymru. Only one in 10 Welsh voters supports independence, compared with about four in 10 in Scotland, but Ms. Wood thinks that could change. “The tectonic plates of the United Kingdom are shifting,” she said.

Tremors from the Scottish debate can already be felt across Britain. Whatever happens on Sept. 18, growing demands for more regional autonomy will reshape the country. In Northern Ireland, nationalists spy an opportunity to revive dreams of a united Ireland. Cornwall recently won minority status for its Celtic inhabitants. Even the long-neglected north of England has turned up the volume, questioning an ever greater concentration of wealth in London and the southeast.

But in Wales, perhaps more than anywhere else, nationalists have made the Scottish independence bid their own in the hope that it will stir passions at home — if not for full independence, at least for more self-government.

Ms. Wood, who was once expelled from a legislative debate for referring to Queen Elizabeth II as “Mrs. Windsor,” has been to Scotland twice in support of the Yes campaign and plans to go again. The Welsh Hollywood actor Rhys Ifans has joined the #goforitScotland campaign. And Adam Price, an entrepreneur and prominent pro-independence thinker, has been campaigning in Scotland from a caravan, Welsh-style. “Caravaning for independence,” he calls it.

Others, like Mr. Morys, will gather in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, the week before the referendum for a series of performances to “whip up some Welsh enthusiasm,” stave in hand.

Wales and Scotland have much in common — not least an unfailing loyalty to any sporting side that plays against England, their once mighty and still dominant neighbor.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher, the conservative prime minister, shut their heavy industries, Scottish and Welsh voters have cast their ballot to the left of the English. There is, said Peter Florence, director of Wales’s Hay literary festival, a shared sense of not being represented in Westminster.

But Wales is smaller and poorer than Scotland. It has no oil to make up for the subsidies from London currently sustaining its public services. “We’re a hundred years too late,” Mr. Florence lamented, referring to the Welsh coal riches that once fired Britain’s industrial revolution. If he were Scottish, he would vote for independence, he said. “But we simply cannot afford it.”

Gerald Holtham, one of Wales’s most prominent economists, has done the math: Total government spending for Wales is 30 billion pounds a year, or about $50 billion, and tax receipts come to 17 billion pounds. “We’re talking about a gap a quarter the size of the economy,” he said.

Nationalists retort that Wales can escape poverty only if it takes charge of its own destiny. “No nation has ever ruled another well,” said Mr. Price, a former lawmaker who set up a technology company in Wales. “We are poor because we are not independent, rather than the other way round.”

But even he conceded that the time for Welsh independence has not come. First, he said, “We have to learn to be a nation again.”

Unlike Scotland, whose Parliament voted to join England three centuries ago, Wales was conquered in 1282. The Scots kept their own legal system, schools, universities, church and, with it all, a strong civic identity distinct from England’s. Welsh institutions were swallowed whole; the Welsh dragon, which flutters proudly and ubiquitously on the high street in Caernarfon, is nowhere to be seen in the Union Jack.

“We were England’s first colony,” said Eirian James, owner of Palas Print, a local bookstore with mainly Welsh-language fare. Every time she visits relatives in southern Wales, she has to take a train through England. To this day, most transport links run from west to east, toward England, rather than along Wales’s north-south axis.

The Welsh tourism board proudly promotes the fact that there are more castles per square mile in Wales than anywhere else. For locals, those castles are another reminder of early occupation.

Caernarfon Castle, up the street from Palas Print, was built by Edward I of England who killed Llewellyn, the last native prince of Wales, and declared his own firstborn son the Prince of Wales. That tradition still grates with some Welsh people. When Prince Charles was invested in Caernarfon Castle in 1969, militants tried to blow up his train. The local poet Gerallt Lloyd Owen recorded both events in popular poems. He died this summer, and donations made in his memory are going to Scotland’s Yes campaign.

Poetry may not be the political weapon of choice elsewhere, but in Wales, home to the Eisteddfod, a sort of cultural Olympiad whose history can be traced to 1176, national grievances often find their way into verse.

As Jerry Hunter, a professor at Bangor University, said, “Where else have you got thousands of people crowding into a pavilion watching the results of a poetry contest?”

When the Welsh-speaking village Capel Celyn was flooded in 1965 to create a water reservoir for Liverpool, England, despite unanimous opposition from Welsh lawmakers, it spawned songs and graffiti art and gave Plaid Cymru its first significant boost.

Stemming the decline in the Welsh language — just under one in five Welsh people speaks Cymraeg — is the greatest triumph of Welsh nationalism, but it is also a handicap: It has divided a country of three million between those, mainly in the rural north and west, who speak it, and those in the more urban south and east who don’t, reducing Plaid Cymru in the eyes of many to a mere language-lobbying group.

Many still grumble about a Welsh-speaking cabal — the Taffia, after the Welsh River Taff — holding the best jobs, the most influence and a greater claim to Welshness. But hostility toward the language has been fading, and the Welsh appetite for more self-government has grown — with a little help from Scotland.

In a 1979 referendum, eight in 10 Welsh voters opposed any kind of autonomy from London.

But in 1997, after Scotland voted to have its own Parliament, the tiniest majority of Welsh voters followed suit and approved the creation of a more modest Welsh assembly. By 2011, two in three of those voters wanted to extend the assembly’s lawmaking powers.

“That’s a bigger swing in public opinion over 30 years than in Scotland,” said Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University.

Some bank on a Scottish yes vote to accelerate that process. Others say a narrow no vote would be a better result for the Welsh: Once mocked in Whitehall circles as Scotland’s “smaller, uglier sister,” Wales may have more leverage with a Scottish ally inside the union.

But Mr. Jones says Wales will end up more autonomous irrespective of what happens in Scotland.

“Independence may look unlikely right now,” he said. “But who in 1979 would have dared imagine a devolved Wales looking on as Scotland prepares an independence referendum?”


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« Reply #15283 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:04 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
08/31/2014 12:00 PM

A Two-Faced Friendship: Turkey Is 'Partner and Target' for the NSA

By Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, Michael Sontheimer and Holger Stark

Documents from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal wide-scale spying against Turkey by America's NSA and Britain's GCHQ. They also show the US worked closely with Ankara to battle Kurdish separatists.

On a December night in 2011, a terrible thing happened on Mount Cudi, near the Turkish-Iraqi border. One side described it as a massacre; the other called it an accident.

Several Turkish F-16 fighter jets bombed a caravan of villagers that night, apparently under the belief that they were guerilla fighters with the separatist Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK). The group was returning from northern Iraq and their mules were loaded down with fuel canisters and other cargo. They turned out to be smugglers, not PKK fighters. Some 34 people died in the attack.

An American Predator drone flying overhead had detected the group, prompting US analysts to alert their Turkish partners.

The reconnaissance flight -- which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2012 -- and its tragic consequences provided an important insight into the very tight working relationship between American and Turkish intelligence services in the fight against Kurdish separatists. Although the PKK is still considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, its image has been improved radically by its recent success in fighting the Islamic State (IS) in northern Iraq and Syria. PKK fighters, backed by US airstrikes, are on the front lines against the jihadist movement there, and some in the West are now advocating arming the group and lifting its terrorist label.

Documents from the archive of US whistleblower Edward Snowden that SPIEGEL and The Intercept have seen show just how deeply involved America has become in Turkey's fight against the Kurds. For a time, the NSA even delivered its Turkish partners with the mobile phone location data of PKK leaders on an hourly basis. The US government also provided the Turks with information about PKK money flows and the whereabouts of some of its leaders living in exile abroad.

A Leading Target for Spying

At the same time, the Snowden documents also show that Turkey is one of the United States' leading targets for spying. Documents show that the political leadership in Washington, DC, has tasked the NSA with divining Turkey's "leadership intention," as well as monitoring its operations in 18 other key areas. This means that Germany's foreign intelligence service, which drew criticism in recent weeks after it was revealed it had been spying on Turkey, isn't the only secret service interested in keeping tabs on the government in Ankara.

Turkey's strategic location at the junction of Europe, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East made the NATO member state an important partner to Western intelligence agencies going back to the very beginning of the Cold War. The Snowden documents show that Turkey is the NSA's oldest partner in Asia. Even before the NSA's founding in 1952, the CIA had established a "Sigint," or signals intelligence, partnership with Turkey dating back to the 1940s.

During the Cold War, the US used bases in Turkey primarily to conduct surveillance against the "underbelly of the Soviet beast," as one NSA document puts it. Today, it targets Russia and Georgia from Turkish soil, collecting information in "near real time." Since the outbreak of its civil war, Turkey's neighbor Syria has become a central focus of NSA surveillance.

US secret agents have also provided support to the Turkish government in its battle against the Kurdish separatists with the PKK for years. One top-secret NSA document from January 2007, for example, states that the agency provided Turkey with geographic data and recordings of telephone conversations of PKK members that appear to have helped Turkish agents capture or kill the targets. "Geolocations data and voice cuts from Kurdistan Worker Party (PKK) communications which were passed to Turkey by NSA yielded actionable intelligence that led to the demise or capture of dozens of PKK members in the past year," the document says.

The NSA has also infiltrated the Internet communications of PKK leaders living in Europe. Turkish intelligence helped pave the way to the success by providing the email addresses used by the targets.

The exchange of data went so far that the NSA even gave Turkey the location of the mobile phones of certain PKK leaders inside Turkey, providing updated information every six hours. During one military operation in Turkey in October 2005, the NSA delivered the location data every hour.

In May 2007, the director of national intelligence at the time signed a "memorandum" pledging deeper intelligence support for Turkey. A report prepared on the occasion of an April 2013 visit by a Turkish delegation to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade indicates that cooperation in targeting the PKK "has increased across the board" since the signing of the memorandum. That partnership has focused overwhelmingly on the PKK -- NSA assets in Turkey collected more data on PKK last year than any other target except for Russia.

It resulted in the creation of a joint working group called the Combined Intelligence Fusion Cell, a team of American and Turkish specialists working together on projects that included finding targets for possible Turkish airstrikes against suspected PKK members. All the data for one entire wave of attacks carried out in December 2007 originated from this intelligence cell, a diplomatic cable from the WikiLeaks archive states.

Support Continues Under Obama

The deep working relationship has continued under Barack Obama's presidency. In January 2012, US officials proposed supporting Turkey in their fight against the PKK with diverse measures, including access to a state-of-the-art speech recognition system that enabled real-time analysis of intercepted conversations. The system can even search for keywords and identify the person speaking if a voice sample of that individual has been stored.

The NSA offered to install two such systems for Turkey's intelligence service. In exchange, the Turks would provide voice samples for a number of Kurdish activists. Given its close and enduring relationship with the NSA, agency authorities wrote that they saw little risk in providing the technology. The only thing NSA experts didn't feel comfortable entrusting to Turkey was the automatic keyword search function.

The partnership is managed through the NSA's Special Liaison Activity Turkey (SUSLAT) office, which is based in Ankara. In addition to data, the Americans provide their Turkish partners with complete interception systems, decryption assistance and training.

Using its internal "Follow the money" reconnaissance unit, the NSA also tracks PKK's cash flows in Europe. The Turks reciprocate by providing the US agents with written transcripts of telephone calls made by PKK leaders as well as intelligence insights about Russia and Ukraine.

At the same time, however, Turkey is itself the target of intense surveillance even as it cooperates closely with the US. One NSA document describes the country bluntly as both a "partner and target." The very politicians, military officials and intelligence agency officials with whom US officials work closely when conducting actions against the PKK are also considered legitimate spying targets by the NSA. To that end, in addition to the official SUSLAT liaison office and the intelligence workers it has cleared with the Turkish authorities, the US has two secret branch offices, operating Special Collection Service listening stations in both Istanbul and the capital city of Ankara.

The degree to which the NSA surveils its partner is made clear in the National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF), a document establishing US intelligence priorities. Updated and presented to the president every six months, the NIPF shows a country's "standing" from the perspective of the US. In the April 2013 edition, Turkey is listed as one of the countries most frequently targeted by Washington for surveillance, with US intelligence services tasked with collecting data in 19 different areas of interest.

Surveilling Turkish Political Leaders

The document places Turkey at the level of Venezuela -- and even ahead of Cuba -- in terms of US interest in intelligence collection. Information about the "leadership intention" of the Turkish government is given the second-highest priority rating, and information about the military and its infrastructure, foreign policy goals, and energy security are given the third-highest priority rating. The same framework also lists the PKK as an intelligence target, but it is given a much lower priority ranking.

Beginning in 2006, the NSA began a broad surveillance operation -- a joint effort by several NSA units -- aimed at infiltrating the computers of Turkey's top political leaders. Internally, officials called the effort the "Turkish Surge Project Plan." It took six months for the team to achieve its goal. One document celebrates the discovery of the "winning combination" and reports that collection had begun: "They achieved their first-ever computer network exploitation success against Turkish leadership!"

It goes without saying that the US intelligence services also had Turkish diplomats in their sights, particularly those stationed in the United States. A classified document from 2010 states that the NSA surveilled the Turkish Embassy in Washington under a program codenamed "Powder." A similar project for monitoring Turkey's representation to the United Nations carried the name "Blackhawk."

Analysts had access to the telephone system in the Turkish Embassy and could tap content directly from computers. In addition, they infected computer systems used by the diplomats with spyware. The NSA also installed Trojan software at Turkey's UN representation in New York. According to the NSA document, it even has the capability of copying entire hard drives at the UN mission.

The NSA shared many of its spies' insights with its "Five Eyes" partners -- the British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand intelligence services. Within that group, the British had already developed their own access to Turkey, with its GCHQ spy agency monitoring political targets in Turkey as well as elements in the energy sector.

Targeting Turkey's Energy Minister

One classified British document states that in October 2008, GCHQ tasked agents with improving access to the Turkish Energy Ministry (MENR) as well as enterprises including the Petroleum Pipeline Corporation (BOTAS), the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) and the energy company Calik Enerji. The assignment also included a list of the names of 13 targets, including then Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Güler.

In 2008, GCHQ analysts began reviewing satellite images of the rooftops of ministries and companies to assess what types of communications systems they were using and the possibilities for infiltrating them. The documents do not indicate whether those efforts bore fruit.

Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek is also explicitly named as a GCHQ "target," despite the fact that he is a dual Turkish-British citizen. Nevertheless, a surveillance order against him includes, among other things, two mobile phone numbers as well as his private Gmail address. When questioned by SPIEGEL reporters, GCHQ officials said they do not comment on the details of operations.

When The Guardian newspaper ran a short story last summer about a planned spying operation against the Turkish finance minister on the occasion of his visit to London in the run-up to the G-20 summit in 2009, officials in Ankara were so angered that the Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador and criticized the "scandalous" and "unacceptable" operation. Contacted for a response to the surveillance operations conducted by the NSA and GCHQ, a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry said "such things" would only be discussed at the diplomatic level.

Additional research conducted by Peter Maass.


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« Reply #15284 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:08 AM »

Dozens of Yazidi women ‘sold into marriage’ by ISIS: NGO

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 30, 2014 12:30 EDT

Several dozen Yazidi women kidnapped by Islamic State jihadists in Iraq have been taken to Syria, forced to convert and sold into marriage to militants, a monitoring group said Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO, said it had confirmed that at least 27 Yazidi women had been sold for around $1,000 each to IS fighters.

The group said it was aware that some 300 Yazidi women had been kidnapped and transported to Syria by the jihadists, but it had so far documented the sale into marriage of 27.

“In recent weeks, some 300 women and girls of the Yazidi faith who were abducted in Iraq have been distributed as spoils of war to fighters from the Islamic State,” a statement said.

The group said it had documented several cases in which the fighters then sold the women as brides for $1,000 each to other IS members after forcing them to convert to Islam.

“The Observatory documented at least 27 cases of those being sold into marriage by Islamic State members in the northeast of Aleppo province, and parts of Raqa and Hassakeh province,” the NGO said.

It added that some Syrian Arabs and Kurds had tried to buy some of the women in a bid to set them free, but they were only being sold to IS members.

The Observatory said it was unclear what had happened to the rest of the 300 women, and strongly denounced the “sale of these women who are being treated as though they are objects to buy and sell.”

Both UN officials and Yazidis fleeing IS advances in Iraq have said fighters kidnapped women to be sold into forced marriages.

UN religious right monitor Heiner Beilefeldt warned earlier this month of reports of women being executed and kidnapped by IS militants.

“We have reports of women being executed and unverified reports that strongly suggest that hundreds of women and children have been kidnapped ?- many of the teenagers have been sexually assaulted, and women have been assigned or sold to ‘IS’ fighters,” she said.

Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking minority who follow an ancient faith rooted in Zoroastrianism, are dubbed “devil worshippers” by IS militants because of their unorthodox blend of beliefs and practices.

The IS emerged from the one-time Iraqi affiliate of Al-Qaeda but has since broken with that group and espouses an interpretation of Islam that has been widely rejected.

It has pressed a campaign of terror in the areas under its control in Syria and Iraq, which it deems an Islamic “caliphate,” carrying out decapitations, crucifixions and public stonings.

In June, the group launched a lightning offensive in Iraq, overrunning parts of five provinces.

In August, it captured Yazidi villages in the area of Mount Sinjar, prompting an enormous outpouring of the minority amid reports of executions and the abduction of women.

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U.S. Strikes Militants Besieging Turkmen in Iraq

By HELENE COOPER
AUG. 30, 2014
IHT

WASHINGTON — American warplanes launched airstrikes on Sunni militants who have been besieging the town of Amerli in northern Iraq on Saturday, in a broadening of the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon announced the expanded strikes Saturday night. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said that American planes also airdropped food, water and humanitarian aid to the town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq’s Turkmen minority. The town of 12,000 has been under siege by the militants for more than two months.

Aircraft from Australia, France and the United Kingdom joined the United States in dropping the supplies, Admiral Kirby said in a statement.

Administration officials had characterized the dangers facing the Turkmen, who are Shiite Muslims considered infidels by ISIS, as similar to the threat faced by thousands of Yazidis, who were driven to Mount Sinjar in Iraq after attacks by the militants. The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said last week that the situation in Amerli demanded “immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens.”

Admiral Kirby said that the American military would “assess the effectiveness” of the airstrikes and airdrops and work with international organizations to provide humanitarian aid as needed.

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