Meet the ‘dropleton’: Scientists discover new, strange quasiparticle
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 16:46 EST
Scientists said Wednesday they had discovered a new type of microscopic particle cluster that is found in solid materials but strangely behaves like a liquid.
They called it the “dropleton”.
The new entity, infinitely small and with a blink-and-you-miss-it lifespan, is a quasiparticle — a combination of other, fundamental particles with unusual properties that exist in solids.
“The dropleton is a new element — a stable building block to build more complicated many-particle constructions in solids,” study co-author Mackillo Kira of the Philipps-University Marburg in Germany told AFP of the discovery.
“Our discovery adds a new element to the ‘periodic table’ of existing quasiparticles in solids.”
Each dropleton or “quantum droplet” is thought to comprise about five electrons and five quantum “holes” — spaces in solid matter where an electron once was, according to a paper published in the journal Nature.
Stimulated by light, this combination of smaller particles briefly condense into a “droplet” with characteristics of liquid water, which includes that it can have ripples.
The dropleton exists for a mere 25 picoseconds (trillionths of a second).
Though fleeting, this is long enough for researchers to study how light interacts with specialised forms of matter, according to a statement from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which took part in the study.
The dropleton was discovered when researchers bombarded a semiconductor made of gallium arsenide with lasers at a rate of 100 million pulses per second in search of new quasiparticles.
The main use of the discovery is to understand more about how photons, or particles of light, can react with matter.
But the dropleton’s high sensitivity to light could also give it an application in light-detecting electronic devices.
Another example of a quasiparticle is the exciton, which is comprised of one electron and one “hole”, attracted to one another by electrostatic forces.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
In the USA...United Surveillance America..
Arizona governor vetoes anti-gay bill passed by right-wing legislature
Jan Brewer says giving businesses the right to refuse service on religious grounds would create ‘more problems’
theguardian.com, Thursday 27 February 2014 01.17 GMT
Arizona governor Jan Brewer has struck down a controversial law that opponents said would have allowed businesses in the state to discriminate against gay and lesbian people for religious reasons.
Senate bill 1062 was passed by the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature last week but vetoed by Brewer on Wednesday.
It would have given business owners with “sincerely held” religious beliefs the legal right to refuse service to anyone if it would conflict with those beliefs.
Critics said the measure was anti-gay and would prompt boycotts that could be bad for business. Those in favour of the bill claimed that it was intended to safeguard religious freedom and was simply a reinforcement of existing state law.
Brewer told a news conference in Phoenix that she vetoed the bill because it “could result in unintended and negative consequences” and that it “does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated”.
“I call them like I see them despite the cheers or the boos from the crowd. I took the necessary time to make the right decision, I met or spoke with my attorneys, lawmakers and citizens supporting and opposing this legislation.
“To the supporters of this legislation, I want you to know I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However I sincerely believe that Senate bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve.”
The Obama administration had earlier weighed into the controversy when secretary of state John Kerry told MSNBC that he was “counting on the governor. I cannot imagine how that law would withstand the scrutiny of the supreme court of the United States, so I would hope that she’ll make the right decision.”
Large companies were opposed to the bill and warned that it could damage the state’s economy, among them Apple, American Airlines, Marriott and Delta Airlines. Sports Illustrated reported that the NFL had started to investigate the possibility of moving next season’s Super Bowl away from Arizona. Major League Baseball issued a statement condemning the legislation.
Prominent Republicans also argued for a veto, including Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Brewer had not offered any prior hints regarding her decision, but pressure to reject the legislation had mounted this week and it was clear that Arizona’s image was in danger of being severely tarnished if the law passed. The Hispanic National Bar Association said earlier on Wednesday that it had scrapped plans to hold its annual convention in Arizona next year, calling the bill an “injustice”.
“We strongly support the right of every person to exercise their religious beliefs, but religious freedom doesn’t give any of us the right to harm others,” Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “The massive public opposition to this, as well as several other failed bills across the country, shows that Americans of all political persuasions and religions feel the same way.”
Amid the intense national focus on Arizona, a similar bill was withdrawn by politicians in Ohio on Wednesday. They conceded there was a risk that what they had envisaged as a law to protect religious freedom might encourage discrimination.
The news came a couple of hours after a legal ruling in Texas that appears to be a significant boost to proponents of marriage equality. A federal judge voided the state’s ban on gay marriage, saying it did not comply with the US constitution and demeaned the dignity of gay people.
However, the decision remains on hold pending an appeals court ruling expected later this year, and Republican politicians pledged to fight the judgment. The issue is ultimately expected to head to the Supreme Court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Texas Is Latest Red State To See Same-Sex Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional
By: Justin Baragona
Wednesday, February, 26th, 2014, 4:31 pm
On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that Texas’ amendment banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. While Judge Orlando Garcia stated that same-sex marriage should be legal in the state, he allowed his ruling to be stayed until an appeals court has a chance to review it. Therefore, at this moment, gay and lesbian couples cannot get married in the state of Texas.
This is just the latest step in what will surely be the complete toppling of same-sex marriage bans across the country. Currently, gay marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. At the same time, there are currently lawsuits filed in 20 other states challenging the marriage laws. We’ve already seen federal judges rule the same-sex marriage bans in Utah, Virginia and Oklahoma unconstitutional in recent months. Those rulings are currently facing appeal, as will this Texas ruling.
However, it seems highly, highly unlikely that the appeal courts will overturn the judges’ rulings in these cases. The fact of the matter is that gay marriage is here to stay in America. If it isn’t legal in your state yet, it will be in short order. On top of that, if there are some states that hold out or don’t have lawsuits filed within, it is inevitable that the federal law will eventually reflect what is happening in these court. Marriage equality will be the law of the land.
Perhaps this inevitability is the reason gay discrimination bills have popped up in the state legislatures of certain red states recently. The fear of having to accept gay marriage and seeing gay and lesbian couples ‘flaunting’ their relationships was too much to take for the religious right. Knowing that they couldn’t stop the tide of marriage equality, they decided to take a presumably quieter approach by trying to get ‘religious freedom’ bills passed in states with Republican dominated governments.
The only thing is that it didn’t work. A large spotlight was cast on Kansas and Arizona regarding the bills that were passed. The business community freaked, as did more pragmatic Republicans, realizing the long-lasting and negative effects that passing these laws would have on the GOP. At some point, the Republican Party doesn’t want to be labeled as hateful, intolerant and bigoted anymore. Passing these laws would be the death knell for the GOP as a national political party.
The ruling in Texas on Wednesday is just another step towards eliminating the discrimination the LGBT community faces in this nation. Judge Garcia rejected the notion that each state in this country should be allowed to determine what the definition of marriage is. The reason he rejected it shows exactly why same-sex marriage bans in other states will quickly fall.
“Today’s Court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution.”
Essentially, if a state can’t find a legitimate purpose for outlawing same-sex marriage, then a law should not be on the books. A law can’t be made to purposely discriminate against a certain segment of the population just because it makes another segment of the population feel better. At that point, you are sanctioning inequality. That is how more and more federal judges are reading the law in terms of same-sex marriage. Gay marriage is here to stay.
Mitch McConnell Plans a Big Tax Cut for the Rich if Republicans Win The Senate
Wednesday, February, 26th, 2014, 10:43 am
Albert Einstein was a brilliant theoretical physicist, and although he was by no means a noted psychologist, he did accurately define insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By Einstein’s definition, Republicans are truly insane, and yesterday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed that Republicans plan to both do nothing throughout 2014 and wait until next year to enact an even more disastrous tax scheme than during the Bush administration to devastate the economy again and destroy the government according to Grover Norquist’s plan. However, Republicans do not labor under any delusion that their plan for “tax reform” will produce different results than during the Bush years because the scheme Republicans are proposing will deliver the government to Norquist to “drown in a bathtub” and produce a population paying the rich and corporations for the privilege of living in “their America.”
Yesterday McConnell said he did not see a path forward for tax reform this year, and it is likely because in Republican parlance “tax reform” entails giving major tax cuts to the richest 2% of income earners and their highly profitable corporations. McConnell said, “If we had a new Republican Senate next year, coupled with a Republican House, I think we could have at least a congressional agreement that this is about getting rates down and making America more competitive, not about giving the government even more revenue.” Forget that tax rates are at their lowest levels in 60 years, or that the rich and corporations already pay a low rate compared to 27 other wealthy nations, it is never low enough for Republicans so they have a plan to give the rich and corporations a nearly tax-free existence.
The Republican “tax reform” plan is Paul Ryan and Willard Romney’s proposal to cut the tax rate for the richest Americans and their corporations to 25%, but their effective tax rate means they will likely pay hardly any taxes. Although the corporate tax rate stands at 35% currently, the effective corporate tax rate is only 10% in 2013 according to the Government Accounting Office. If the corporate rate is cut by 10%, corporations will pay an effective tax rate of 0.6% at most, and for the largest corporations that already paying nothing in taxes and get refunds from the hardworking taxpayers, the Republican plan will mean taxpayers will be paying corporations directly for being American corporations. It is likely why Republicans intend on raising taxes on the poor and middle class to fund taxpayer subsidies for the rich and their corporations.
Reducing the tax rate for the richest Americans to 25% also brings their effective rate to next to nothing compared with middle class taxpayers. As it stands now, Americans earning over one-million dollars annually pay an effective rate of 23% instead of 39% due to generous tax loopholes and the ability to hide their money in offshore tax haven accounts. The Republican plan to reduce the wealthy’s rate to 25% means at most the richest 2% will pay less than 8.5% while the poor and middle class who lack offshore accounts and loopholes will pay 25% to help the rich and corporations as McConnell says,
“be more competitive.” This is the grand tax plan Romney and Ryan campaigned, and lost, on in 2012 and yet Republicans intend on enacting their hideous plan to increase taxpayer gifts to the rich and corporations.
Although the Republicans’ tax plan is a giant gift to the rich, McConnell exposed the GOP’s intent to starve the government of revenue to eliminate its ability to function by not “giving the government even more revenue.” The Republican plan does increase revenue to partially cover tax breaks for the rich and corporations, but it will not be enough to pay them for the privilege of living in a country where the bottom 98% of the population sends tax dollars directly to corporations and the rich.
McConnell and Republican ideology is in line with fascist Grover Norquist who wants to destroy the U.S. government by starving it of revenue and getting it down to a size he can “drag into a bathtub and drown.” In order to starve the government of any revenue, Republicans plan to enact their idea of tax reform to increase the income inequality that is slowly destroying the economy and the middle class. Americans have to face the sad fact that Republicans will effectively slash tax rates for the rich and corporations to the point they will eventually pay nothing in taxes; that is McConnell’s idea of making American more competitive. But while Republicans intend on eliminating taxes for the rich and corporations, 98% of Americans will see a substantial tax hike that inordinately targets the poor and middle class.
According to McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, it appears Republicans intend on doing nothing throughout 2014 and still draw their inflated salaries and taxpayer-funded healthcare benefits. To date, Republicans have revealed they will not raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment benefits, pass comprehensive immigration reform, fund infrastructure improvements, or anything the American public supports. But they will attempt to reverse the President’s executive orders and investigate Benghazi and the IRS to death, and attempt to pass religious liberty laws to give evangelical Christians the right to dominate the rest of the population; but they will do absolutely nothing for the American people.
Republicans will likely fine-tune their so-called “tax reform” scheme to raise taxes on the poor and middle class to fund tax cuts for the rich and corporations, and slash domestic programs to fund what tax hikes on the poor and middle class fail to cover. The result will be a teabagger-libertarian dream where the great majority of Americans toil to fund the military, religious and oil industry subsidies, and of course the wealthy and corporation’s tax cuts. All the while, Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers will wait in the wings until they can finally achieve their vision of an America without a government.
House Republican unveils sweeping tax reform with focus on Wall Street
Plan introduces tough Wall Street levies and aims to simplify personal income tax code in overhaul that could divide parties
Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 26 February 2014 21.24 GMT
A Republican tax reformer in Congress has proposed sweeping new levies on Wall Street as part of an unexpectedly radical plan for overhauling the US tax code that could divide both parties.
Under draft legislation unveiled on Tuesday by Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House ways and means committee, larger banks would have to pay a penalty for receiving government bailouts, and would face a new tax on their worldwide assets.
Wall Street’s private equity barons would also be hit hard by a proposal to end the controversial ‘carried interest’ rule which lets them avoid income tax by paying themselves through profits treated as capital gains and taxed under lower rates than those to which income is typically subject.
Together with new taxes on insurers, Camp said the increased revenue from Wall Street would help pay for a cut in US corporate tax rates, from 35% to 25%, and would ensure that the overall package of personal and business taxes he announced was revenue neutral.
His explicit attack on bailed-out banks has more in common with recent criticism of the Dodd-Frank bank reforms levelled by left-wing Democrats such as senator Elizabeth Warren than traditional thinking by either Republican or Democratic leadership, which have both shied away from confronting Wall Street in such ways.
“By declaring Systemically Important Financial Institutions to be ‘too big to fail’, Dodd-Frank allows these big banks and financial institutions to pay lower borrowing costs, with the difference left to be made up by the American taxpayer,” said an explanatory report by Camp’s committee staff.
“While tax reform cannot undo Dodd-Frank, it can and should ensure that Wall Street reimburses the American taxpayer for a portion of the subsidy it receives.”
The proposal has alarmed Washington business lobbyists, which may complicate the already difficult task of moving the legislation through Congress.
House speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, both Republicans, have indicated that their party may wish to wait until after November’s mid-term elections before attempting tax reform, while many Democrats are big recipients of campaign contributions from Wall Street. Camp’s aides pointed out, however, that the White House has in the past supported the idea of reforming corporate taxes.
If passed, Camp’s package of proposals would be the first major simplification of the tax code since 1986.
Under Camp’s plan, the number of personal income tax brackets would be slashed from the current seven to just two, 10% and 25%, though there would also be a 10% surtax on most people with incomes over about $450,000. Two-hundred and twenty-eight tax breaks would also be repealed.
Camp said the changes would not change the overall distribution of personal tax burdens, and claimed that the overall boost to the economy from the simplification measures would eventually total $3.4tn and create 2 million new jobs over the next decade.
Despite the lack of high-profile Democratic support following the departure of Camp’s Senate partner Max Baucus, who left office to become ambassador to China, Camp insisted in a press conference that his plan retained bipartisan backing.
“This legislation does not reflect ideas solely advanced by Democrats or by Republicans, nor is it limited to the halls of Congress,” he said.
“Instead this is a comprehensive plan that reflects input and ideas championed by Congress, the administration and most importantly the American people.”
Privately, Republican opponents of the bill said it stood little chance of making progress through the House given that many of its measures would give Democrats a chance to make political attacks on the GOP.
“Why would we give Democrats a list of pay-fors to use against us over the next 10 months?” asked one House staffer.
Republicans Busted for Trying to Use Fake IRS Scandal To Protect the Koch Brothers
By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, February, 26th, 2014, 5:40 pm
Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) busted Republicans on Wednesday for trying to delay implementing new regulations concerning 501(c)(4) organizations.
Pointing out that the (c)(4) designation protects secrecy, Levin said, “That is exactly the secrecy that the Republicans are trying to preserve. Why? Because the three largest spenders representing fully 51% of the total are a who’s who list of Republican political operatives. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS spent $71 million. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers, spent $36 million. The American Future Fund, also the Koch brothers, spent $25 million.”
Naturally Republicans, who wasted 14 million dollars and counting on ginning up this fake IRS scandal, want to make sure that actual political activities are not taken into account when determining if a group can qualify for tax exemption.
Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sandy Levin exploded on the floor as Republicans tried to delay implementing the regulations that were recommended after they brought attention to the IRS for alleged (and fictional) targeting of conservatives.
First he called out the fact that there is absolutely no evidence of Republican claims that the White House had created an enemies list and was corrupt.
Levin tartly brought up the $14 million in taxpayer funds that Republicans had already thrown away trying to create a fake scandal for political reasons, and pointed out that after all of that money, we learned that absolutely nothing sinister was going on.
But Republicans were so concerned! SO CONCERNED that they spent $14 million dollars to investigate the IRS and yet they don’t want to implement the changes suggested to the IRS. Changes that Levin pointed out were designed to “bring certainty in determining whether an organization’s primary activities are political.”
Ah, yes. Now we are the heart of it. Levin recounted the way Republicans stomped their feet and insisted – while cameras were rolling – that these regulations be acted upon.
Then Levin got all truth buster on the GOP and brought up the explosion of dark money groups after the Citizens United ruling, “Why is this important? Because applications for 501(c)(4) status have nearly doubled between 2010 and 2012 to 3,357, and 501(c)(4) spending has skyrocketed. In 2006 $1 million was spent by 501(c)(4) organizations. In 2010, $92 million was spent. And in 2012, $256 million was spent by 501(c)(4) organizations.”
Levin pointed out that this designation allows the organizations to keep their donors secret. And that this secrecy is actually what Republicans are trying to protect, “That is exactly the secrecy that the Republicans are trying to preserve. Why? Because the three largest spenders representing fully 51% of the total are a who’s who list of Republican political operatives. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS spent $71 million. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers, spent $36 million. The American Future Fund, also the Koch brothers, spent $25 million.”
Levin didn’t shy away from the truth, “If you live in a targeted state and you turn on your television, you have probably seen these groups that work at distorting the Affordable Care Act. That is why we are here today purely and simply. Not because Republicans want to stand up for the rights of social welfare organizations, and they often talk about small ones, but to preserve the secrecy around the Republicans’ big campaign efforts.”
And now, after all of the public drama, we get to the entire point of the Republican fable about the IRS, which we explained to you as it was going on. Yes, this is all about protecting dark money. It always has been. Levin demanded, “Why are we standing here and saying to the IRS don’t look at 501(c)(4)s. Don’t look at the possible massive abuse. Don’t look at what has happened in the last few years where political operatives, under the guise of 501(c)(4), have moved from $1 million in many cases to $256 million as reported to the FEC.”
Why are Republicans trying to force the IRS to look the other way? Because Republicans can’t win elections without dark money spreading lies about Democrats. Republicans can’t afford to run on issues. They have to run on smears, since their policies are determined by the Koch Brothers et al, and thus benefit the top 1% instead of the people.
The Republican intention was to manipulate the IRS with a fake story that got a lot of press and thus would be the narrative that stuck in the public’s mind. The press has moved on and barely managed, if at all, to clarify that there was no scandal other than the fact that Republicans lied and schemed to manufacture this fake scandal for the cameras. The Republicans were pulling a classic Karl Rove — attack and put the IRS on the defense, along with the Obama administration as a whole. This way no one would feel free to actually investigate Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers, etc, because it would look bad.
But it backfired. Sure, the public has been duped, but the Democrats did not bow down per usual. The Democrats are on the war path, and they aren’t going down without a fight.
The Republican IRS Witch Hunt Cost Taxpayers $14 Million and Counting
By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, February, 26th, 2014, 11:12 am
According to an IRS letter just released, Representative Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) and the Republicans’ manufactured IRS investigation/campaign ad has cost the taxpayers $14 million dollars and counting.
$14 million wasted on a witch hunt, as they refuse to pass any real legislation and claim that we must make cuts to programs to help the vulnerable. And they’re not done yet. Republicans are holding two hearings this week in the Oversight Committee and one in the Appropriations Committee.
Given all of the secrecy and careful orchestration surrounding Issa’s witch hunts, how do we even know what the IRS witch hunt is costing? We only know because Representatives Sander Levin and Elijah Cummings, the Ranking Members of the House Ways and Means Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked the IRS on February 7 in a letter. Today they released a letter from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen regarding the money and resources spent on the Republican witch hunt.
The costs, which are explained as the “conservative approach”, detailed in Koskinen’s letter are $8 million in direct costs like salaries, benefits, and travel, plus an additional $6 million to $8 million to “add capacity to information technology systems to process materials to investigators.”
All of this was spent when Darrell Issa knew from the beginning that there was nothing to see. Documents were presented at his witch hunt that were deliberately redacted to tell a false story that Republicans wanted the public to hear.
Levin and Cummings are not impressed. The released a statement, “After one of the most far-reaching investigations in recent history—spanning multiple House and Senate Committees that obtained hundreds of thousands of documents and interviewed dozens of officials—there is absolutely zero evidence of political motivation or White House involvement. Despite this fact, Republicans remain fixated on falsely accusing the White House of targeting its political enemies, wasting millions of dollars in an attempt to reignite their partisan inquiry before the November elections.”
It is clear that Darrell Issa and the House GOP are actually the party guilty of using taxpayer funds to conduct a political witch hunt, while claiming that their party is being targeted by a taxpayer funded organization.
Issa and the GOP spent 14 million targeting Democrats so far, and they’ve come up with nothing.
NOTHING. Just more ways to waste government money, from the party of “fiscal conservatism” and “small government”. And it’s not just the actual money spent, but the idea of resources. The IRS was already underfunded.
Maybe Republicans need to pay-as-you-go for their witch hunts. If there isn’t a certain level of evidence to support their accusations, or if they are proven wrong, they must pay back a percentage of the costs. You know, like responsible grown ups would.
Bernie Sanders Blasts Republicans For Trying to Torpedo Veterans Bill With Iran Sanctions
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, February, 26th, 2014, 6:56 pm
Sen. Bernie Sanders blasted Senate Republicans today for trying to betray the nation’s veterans by attempting to kill the veterans bill with a demand for sanctions against Iran.
Sen. Sanders said, “I think there is widespread support across the country for this bill, and I frankly think there is a lot of support in the Senate for this bill. And what has happened for the same old stupid partisan reasons, Republican leadership says well, we want to attach to this bill Iran sanctions, and they know that this is something that the president doesn’t want. They know it’s something that the Secretary of State doesn’t want at this point. They know that the Democratic leadership doesn’t want it, and it’s a means to torpedo what is such an important piece of legislation for our veterans. I really get very upset.”
Sanders later said that the tactics that Republicans are using are part of what makes people so disgusted with Washington, “The average American says, you want to vote for the veterans bill? Vote for it. You want to vote against it? Vote against it. You have amendments improving the bill? Bring them to the floor. What does Iran sanctions have to do with the veterans bill? It has nothing at all to do with the veterans bill. That’s the simple truth.”
Sen. Sanders told those Republicans who claim that the country can’t afford the bill, “If you can’t afford to take care of your veterans, than don’t go war. These people are bearing the brunt of what war is about, We have a moral obligation to support them.”
Every American, no matter what their politics, should be outraged by this sneaky and underhanded attempt to kill a bill that would improve veterans’ benefits. The bill restores the COLA for military retirees, provide more access to healthcare, expands healthcare services for vets, and provides in state tuition assistance for post-9/11 veterans.
Senate Republicans don’t want to cast a vote against veterans, but they don’t want the vets to have better benefits, so they are trying to add the poison pill of sanctions for Iran to the bill. Iran has nothing to do with taking care of veterans. The Iran sanctions demand is being used to hide the real reason why Republicans are doing their best to kill this bill. The truth is that Senate Republicans don’t want to support veterans.
Republicans are threatening to kill the veterans bill with obstruction if Harry Reid does not allow a vote on sanctions for Iran. They know that President Obama will never sign a bill that would destroy the current negotiations with Iran so Mitch McConnell and company are trying to set up a situation where they force a presidential veto, then claim that the president is not supporting veterans.
Sen. Sanders was correct. This is more of the same old dumb partisan game playing by Senate Republicans. They should be ashamed of themselves for what they are threatening to do to the nation’s veterans, but many congressional Republicans have no shame.
Mitch McConnell and company also lack the integrity and patriotism that would compel them to do the right thing for those who risked their lives for their country.
These same Republicans voted to send our troops to war, and now they are refusing to do right by our veterans. It is an embarrassing disgrace, but a million demands for sanctions towards Iran can’t hide the yellow streak that is running down Mitch McConnell’s back.
Republicans’ Worst Nightmare Comes True: Support For Repealing Obamacare Hits All Time Low
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, February, 26th, 2014, 3:22 pm
A new Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll dealt a blow to Republicans by finding that support for repealing the ACA has hit an all time of low of 31%.
There is bad news all over the place for Republicans in the poll, “When it comes to next steps on the law, a majority say it should be kept in place, including 48 percent who want Congress to work to improve it and 8 percent who say it should be kept as is. Fewer say Congress should repeal the law and replace it with a Republican-sponsored alternative (12 percent) or repeal it and not replace it (19 percent).”
To put it another way, the only issue that the Republicans thought they had in their favor in 2014 has turned against them. The GOP has it all wrong. The majority doesn’t think that Obamacare is a job killing monstrosity that must be killed today. Most people want the law to stay in place, but they also want political leaders to improve it.
While 48% of respondents want the law to be worked on and improved, only 12% support the Republicans’ big idea that they can replace Obamacare with their own alternative. The American people have taken a contradictory view of the ACA. By a margin of 47% to 35%, the law itself remains unpopular, but a majority (56%) don’t want the law repealed or replaced.
It is very possible that a majority may never warmly embrace the ACA, but they also understand the need for healthcare reform, so they don’t want the law to go away either. It is a complicated position, and Republicans have set themselves up for total failure by embracing such a black and white approach to the ACA.
The good news for Democrats is that candidates who run on improving the ACA are likely to get a warm reception from voters. Since Republicans refuse to do anything that would keep the existing law in place, Democrats have an uncontested playing field when it comes to improving the law.
A majority wants this country to move forward on healthcare reform, but they understand that Obamacare is not the perfect finished policy product.
This adds up to a win for President Obama and the Democrats.
The Republican Party’s worst nightmare has always been that Obamacare would grow in popularity over time. The ACA isn’t getting more popular, but the actual healthcare reform law is growing in support. This is disastrous news for Republicans who have based the entire election strategy for 2014 and 2016 on getting rid of Obamacare.
The American people are speaking, and they want their affordable healthcare to be here to stay.
Yanukovych from Russia: I Was Not Overthrown but Compelled to Leave
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 15:34
Deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych on Friday insisted he "had not been overthrown" and would "continue to fight" for the future of Ukraine.
Yanukovych told reporters in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don in his first public appearance for almost a week that he had been "compelled to leave" Ukraine after he received threats to his security.
But he promised to return to Ukraine "once his personal security is assured."
He also denounced the new authorities in Ukraine as "young neo-fascists" and said "terror and chaos" were now prevailing in the country.
He blamed the "irresponsible policies" of the West for the crisis in the country and apologized "to the Ukrainian people" for not having had more strength to endure the situation.
Regarding the situation in Crimea, Yanukovych said the standoff was a "natural reaction" to the "bandit-like" takeover of power by the new authorities in Ukraine.
He assured he still saw himself as the Ukrainian president and as such believed that Crimea must remain part of Ukraine.
Conflict fears rise after pro-Russian gunmen seize Crimean parliament
Gunmen storm Crimea's regional administrative complex in Simferopol and hoist Russian flag above parliament building
Harriet Salem in Simferopol, Shaun Walker in Kiev, and Luke Harding
The Guardian, Friday 28 February 2014
Fears of a major regional conflict in Crimea pitting Russia against the west intensified on Thursday after pro-Russian gunmen seized the regional government and parliament building in a well co-ordinated military operation, while similar groups were on Friday morning controlling access to the airports of Simferopol and Sevastopol.
Early on Friday morning about 50 armed gunman reportedly marched into Simferopol's airport after arriving in Kamaz trucks. They first cordoned off the domestic terminal and then moving on to other areas. Russia Today described them as similarly dressed and equipped to the "local ethnic Russian 'self-defence squads'" that seized the parliament and government buildings.
Witnesses said the men at the airport were bearing Russian navy flags. The AFP news agency said the airport was operating as Friday dawned, with passengers checking in for flights. The Associated Press said dozens of the armed men continued to patrol the airport and they refused to speak to media. AFP said representatives from the new leadership in Kiev had been due to arrive at the airport on Friday.
In Sevastopol armed men were reported to have set up a perimeter around the city's combined military-civilian airport, known as Belbek, on Friday morning. The Interfax news agency described them as Russian servicemen who said they had gone to Belbek to stop "fighters" flying in.
On Thursday morning in Simferopol men dressed in fatigues stormed Crimea's administration, hoisting a Russian flag above the parliament building. About 120 men were holed up inside armed with heavy weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles, witnesses said.
With gunmen controlling the building, Crimea's parliament voted to hold a referendum on the region's status on 25 May, the same day Ukraine goes to the polls in presidential elections. It also voted to sack the region's cabinet. The move puts the predominantly ethnic-Russian region on a collision course with Kiev's interim government and will fuel concern Ukraine is sliding inexorably towards break-up.
It was unclear whether the gunmen were undercover Russian soldiers or members of a pro-Russian self-defence militia formed in response to Ukraine's revolution, which has included radical nationalist groups. The former head of the Crimean parliament, Serhiy Kunitsyn, described the men as professionally trained and armed with enough weaponry to defend the complex for a month.
Late on Thursday the US vice-president, Joe Biden, spoke with Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Biden promised Ukraine's new leadership the full support of the US, a White House statement said.
Russia's ousted ally Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukraine president, who fled Kiev last week after his troops shot dead more than 80 people, resurfaced on Thursday to insist he was still the country's legitimate leader – excoriating Ukraine's new leadership as he did so.
That government confirmed 39-year-old former opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk as acting prime minister, and gave two of the former regime's most prominent victims places in the new administration. Tetiana Chornovol, an investigative journalist beaten up by thugs, heads a new anti-corruption office. Activist Dmytro Bulatov, who was kidnapped and had part of his ear cut off, becomes Ukraine's youth minister.
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, who has been in the job since Yanukovych fled the country, warned Russia not to intervene in the crisis by moving troops. The Kremlin's Black Sea fleet is based near Simferopol in the port of Sevastopol. Turchynov said: "I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory [the base] will be seen by us as military aggression." Ukraine's foreign ministry also summoned Russia's acting envoy in Kiev for consultations.
The White House said it was closely watching Russian's military manoeuvres, ordered by Pig Putin next to Ukraine's border. Putin also put fighter jets on a state of high alert.
The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, called on the Kremlin to show restraint and reaffirmed Washington's commitment to Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
After meeting Angela Merkel, David Cameron said he and the German chancellor were particularly concerned. Nato's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, urged Russia not to do anything that would escalate tension or create misunderstanding.
Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, described the seizure of government buildings in the Crimea a "very dangerous game". He told a news conference: "This is a drastic step, and I'm warning those who did this and those who allowed them to do this, because this is how regional conflicts begin."
Hours after the parliament building was seized, Yanukovych revealed he was in Russia and had sought protection from Putin. He said he would hold a press conference on Friday in Rostov-on-Don, close to Ukraine's border and his home city of Donetsk.
His unusual choice of a provincial press conference venue suggests he still nurtures hopes of a return to power, possibly as the leader of a breakaway Russian-backed enclave encompassing Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Yanukovych appeared to give approval to secessionist pro-Russian forces in Crimea, and said an "orgy of extremism" had swept the country. "Now it is becoming clear that the people in south-eastern Ukraine and in Crimea do not accept the power vacuum and complete lawlessness in the country," he said.
In Kiev, members of Ukraine's new government hinted that the country would sign an association agreement with the EU next month. It was Yanukovych's decision in December to dump the agreement – and instead accept a bailout from Russia – that prompted the street demonstrations that eventually led to his overthrow. Ukrainian officials branded the referendum decision by Crimea's parliament as unconstitutional.
Earlier in Simferopol, the gunmen barricaded doors into the parliament building with wooden crates. Police sealed off the area on Thursday, as a crowd supportive of the seizure gathered outside. Two people died and 35 were injured during clashes outside the building on Wednesday between pro-Russian demonstrators and Muslim Tatars. About half of Crimea's 2 million population are ethnic Russians. The Tatars – the peninsula's original Turkic-speaking Muslim inhabitants – are 300,000 strong and support the authorities in Kiev.
Witnesses described the moment when the armed men turned up. "We were building barricades in the night to protect parliament. Then this young Russian guy came up with a pistol … we all lay down, some more ran up, there was some shooting and around 50 went in through the window," Leonid Khazanov, an ethnic Russian, told Reuters.
Khazanov added: "They're still there … Then the police came, they seemed scared. I asked them [the armed men] what they wanted, and they said: 'To make our own decisions, not to have Kiev telling us what to do'."
The former head of the central executive body of Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Jemilev, said the situation was extremely worrying. He suggested the gunmen had arrived from Sevastopol, where the Russian fleet is based. "The people in camouflage and without any distinctive signs came by buses from the Sevastopol side. There are reports of movement of armed vehicles of the Russian fleet in different directions. We also got signs that in many hotels there are Russian soldiers wearing civilian clothes. The Russian general consul office says they have nothing to do with these events. But they would hardly tell the truth."
Jemilev speculated that the gunmen could be Russian soldiers or members of Berkut, the now-disbanded riot police unit deployed against opposition protesters in Kiev. Lifenews.ru, a pro-Kremlin Russian website with links to Russia's spy agencies, however, said they were veterans from the army and police. According to US diplomatic cables leaked in 2010 by Wikileaks, Russia's military intelligence wing – the GRU – is highly active in Crimea.
About 100 police had gathered in front of the parliament building on Thursday. A similar number of people carrying Russian flags later marched up to the building chanting "Russia, Russia" and holding a sign calling for a Crimean referendum.
Many wore orange-and-black striped ribbons that symbolise support for Russia. One of them, Alexei, 30, said: "We have our own constitution, Crimea is autonomous. The government in Kiev are fascists, and what they're doing is illegal … We need to show our support for the guys inside [parliament]. Power should be ours."
"Yesterday Russian people were attacked and murdered by Tatar extremists. We will not allow this fascism from Kiev to happen here," said 43-year-old construction worker, Spartak. "Crimea wants independence and we want parliament to hold a referendum on this. We have been hijacked."
Policemen informed passersby that Karl Marx Street was closed due to the presence of snipers in the areas. Nearby shops and businesses have closed and pulled down their shutters.
The acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, who said the attackers had automatic weapons and machine guns, urged calm. He said on Facebook: "Provocateurs are on the march. It is the time for cool heads."
Turchynov, speaking to the parliament in Kiev, described the attackers as "criminals in military fatigues with automatic weapons".
He also called on Moscow not to violate the terms of an agreement that gives the Russian Black Sea fleet basing rights at Sevastopol until 2042.
US, NATO warn Russia to avoid ‘miscalculation’ in Ukraine
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 27, 2014 11:30 EST
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday joined NATO in warning Russia not to take any action that could lead to “miscalculation” amid rising tensions on Ukraine’s majority-Russian Crimea peninsula.
Speaking after pro-Kremlin gunmen seized regional administration buildings in Crimea and Moscow ordered snap combat readiness drills near the border, Hagel warned: “I am closely watching the Russian military exercise.
“I expect them to be transparent about these activities,” he told a press conference at the close of a two-day NATO defence ministers meeting.
“I urge them not to take steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to miscalculation.”
The crisis in Ukraine dominated the gathering, with an emergency meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission added to the agenda at the last moment.
Hagel said Washington was concerned about the latest developments, especially in Crimea, and was continuing “to talk to our Russian counterparts” about their intentions.
NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he had no indication that Russia planned military intervention in Ukraine, after he too had warned Moscow against fuelling tensions.
Asked about the military exercise, he said: “The Russians informed us about this and made clear that this exercise has nothing to do with ongoing events in Ukraine.”
But the military exercise “does not make things easier”, he added.
The NATO chief called on all parties to do their best to calm the situation.
“We need steps that can cool down the whole situation and that’s a responsibility for all parties involved,” he said.
NATO defence ministers on Wednesday agreed a statement which said a sovereign, independent and stable Ukraine was essential to security in Europe.
Rasmussen said after that statement that “Ukraine is the most important security issue in Europe today.”
The latest developments have stoked concern about Ukraine’s future and the possible wider fallout from the weekend ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych after three months of anti-government protests.
- Moscow ‘won’t break treaties’ -
Crimea is especially sensitive as the home base for Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and Ukraine’s new interim government warned the Russian navy to keep its troops in their bases.
“Any troop movements will be considered as military aggression,” acting pro-Western president Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament.
Moscow for its part said it would abide by the treaties governing the use of Crimea by its fleet.
“We declare that in the current difficult situation the Russian Black Sea fleet is strictly adhering to said agreements,” Russian agencies quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.
Ukraine’s ambassador to NATO, Igor Dolgov, said Kiev welcomed the alliance’s commitment to the country’s territorial integrity.
Asked about Russia’s military exercise and possible intervention, Dolgov said Ukraine expected “all countries to act in accord with the norms of international law.
“There is no need to expect us to ask for assistance from other countries,” he added.
In 1997, NATO set up a joint commission with Ukraine to oversee relations, and in 2008 agreed that Kiev could eventually be considered for membership of the Cold War-era alliance.
Joe Biden pledges support for new Ukrainian government
Thursday, February 27, 2014 23:04 EST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday welcomed the formation of a new government in Ukraine in a phone call with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk and pledged U.S. support for reforms, the White House said.
“The vice president reassured the prime minister that the United States will offer its full support as Ukraine undertakes the reforms necessary to return to economic health, pursue reconciliation, uphold its international obligations, and seek open and constructive relationships with all its neighbors,” the White House said.
(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Eric Walsh)
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Ukraine’s Yanukovych says he’s still president, takes refuge in Russia
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 27, 2014 7:06 EST
Deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday broke five days of silence to declare himself to still be Ukraine’s head of state, as sources strongly indicated that he had taken refuge in Russia.
Yanukovych issued a defiant statement through Russia’s three main news agencies, saying he had asked Russia to ensure his personal security. His comments gave no further clue about his whereabouts.
But minutes later, a high-ranking source again quoted by all the news agencies gave the strongest indication yet that he had fled Ukraine and taken refuge in Russia.
“After president Yanukovych appealed to the authorities of the Russian Federation to ensure his personal security, we can say that this request was satisfied on Russian territory,” said the source, who was not named.
In the strongly-worded statement, Yanukovych said he did not consider his ousting last weekend to be legal and believed he was still Ukrainian president.
“I, Viktor Fyodorovich Yanukovych, address the people of Ukraine. I still consider myself to be the legal head of the Ukrainian state,” said Yanukovych in a statement to Russian news agencies.
“There have been threats of reprisals towards me and my allies. I am compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure my personal security from the actions of extremists,” he said.
He added that the latest decisions by the Ukrainian parliament, who have appointed an acting president in his place, “do not have legitimate character.”
However Yanukovych added that he was not ordering the army to intervene.
“As the president, I did not let the armed forces of Ukraine to interfere in internal political events. I order this now as well.”
“In this situation I formally announce my decision to fight to the end for the implementation of important compromise agreements to take Ukraine out of deep political crisis.”
He applauded the pro-Russia Black Sea peninsula of Crimea for showing opposition to the new authorities.
“I call on the immediate return of the situation in our country to the framework of the constitution.
“Right now it is becoming evident that the people in southwestern Ukraine and the Crimea are not accepting the anarchy and de-facto lawlessness in the country, when ministers are chosen by a crowd on a square.”
- ‘At Moscow health farm’ -
Yanukovych’s whereabouts have been shrouded in mystery for the last days. Ukraine’s new pro-EU authorities have issued an arrest warrant from him but said Wednesday they believed he was still in Ukraine.
Russian news website RBK said Wednesday evening that Yanukovych is in the Moscow region, quoting a Russian official.
Yanukovych arrived on Monday evening and stayed briefly in the Hotel Ukraina in Moscow before going outside Moscow to Barvikha health resort, which belongs to the Kremlin, RBK said citing its sources.
In response to the report late Wednesday, Pig Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Interfax news agency: “I do not have any such information.”
Yanukovych fled Kiev late Friday after signing a tentative deal with the opposition to end the crisis, however protesters in Kiev denounced the agreement and demanded he resign. He was last seen reading a statement on a private television channel on Saturday afternoon.
Another media, Ukrainian website Glavkom.ua, reported Wednesday that Yanukovych and his younger son Viktor Jr had travelled to Russia by sea from Crimea.
The eldest son, Olexander, drove from Donetsk to Russia by road, it added.
Analysts: Russia Obliged to Offer Unloved Yanukovych Sanctuary
by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 February 2014, 19:43
Russia had little option other than to offer sanctuary to deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, even if there is little love lost between him and President Pig Putin, analysts said Thursday.
Yanukovych is now widely believed to be in Russia after he released a statement saying he had asked Moscow to ensure his security and sources in the country said his wish had been satisfied on "Russian territory."
Here are the fundamental questions about why and how he has come to Russia:
--Why has Russia offered sanctuary to Yanukovych?
The deposed president was long seen as the representative of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. Now he has been defeated by pro-EU and anti-Kremlin forces who have formed a new government, Russia feels itself obliged to help him, whether it admires Yanukovych or not.
"Where else could he go?" said Alexander Konovalov, president of the Moscow Institute of Strategic Assessments. "As they say, he is 'a son of a bitch but our son of a bitch'," he said, referring to a famous remark attributed to U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt about a Latin American dictator.
--Does Russia have good relations with Yanukovych?
Despite his pro-Russian inclinations, Yanukovych by no means had smooth relations with the Kremlin and the Pig. Reports have said that the Russian strongman regarded him as an unreliable partner and personal relations were also said to be dire. When Yanukovych came to Russia for the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, he was granted only the briefest of meetings with Putin.
"Yanukovych completely failed to justify Pig Putin's hopes," said Konovalov. Pro-Kremlin analyst Dmitry Orlov said that Yanukovych was notorious for sudden changes of mind. "He does not respect the accords that he signs."
Whether Yanukovych's presence in Russia can be politically useful to Russia remains to be seen and he may prove a burden who needlessly adds another issue to relations with the West.
"Yanukovych, like any cowardly dictator who has fled, has no interest for Russia. But Russia clearly believes it impossible to deny him asylum," said Boris Makarenko, head of the Center for Political Technologies.
--How did Yanukovych get to Russia?
It is still far from clear. Ukraine issued an arrest warrant for him and border guards were instructed to stop him leaving. Most likely he was evacuated out of Kiev by helicopter at the weekend and taken to pro-Russia Crimea, where Russia has its Black Sea naval base in the city of Sevastopol. He could then have inconspicuously traveled by boat onto Russian territory proper.
"I think he came from Sevastopol on a vessel," said Konovalov.
From Russia's Black Sea coast he could have moved on anywhere in the country. Unconfirmed reports had sighted him at a Moscow hotel or an out-of-town health spa.
However Russian news agencies said late Thursday he will give a news conference Friday in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don which lies close to the Black Sea, making it unlikely that he has been to Moscow.
--What next for Yanukovych?
Despite his claim he is still Ukrainian president, Yanukovych appears to be already political toast in his own country after fleeing. "The situation shows that in Ukraine there are no forces that support him," said Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Center.
He could quietly live out his life in Russia, which is accustomed to offering sanctuary to the likes of deposed Kyrgyz ex-president Askar Akayev or members of the family of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
Or he may be able to further Russian interests in Crimea, the one Ukrainian region which appears outright hostile to the new authorities and has long shown separatist tendencies.
"The appearance of Yanukovych shows that Russia is beginning the game for Crimea," said Yury Korgunyuk of the Indem think tank. "Yanukovych is the puppet who can be used to take control of Crimea."
Source: Agence France Presse
Pig Putin Pledges Aid to Ukraine but Leaves Steps Unclear
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
FEB. 28, 2014
MOSCOW — President Pig V. Putin of Russia broke his silence on the crisis in Ukraine on Friday morning with a statement instructing his government to “continue contacts with partners in Kiev” and to work with international bodies to provide financial assistance for the country.
In the statement, Pig Putin also said that authorities in the restive Crimean region of Ukraine had appealed for humanitarian aid and that he had directed the Russian government to consider the request, “including possibilities for the Russian regions to provide assistance.'’
The three-paragraph directive made no mention of former President Viktor F. Yanukovych of Ukraine, who fled the country Saturday and is now apparently in Russia. Mr. Yanukovych issued a statement on Thursday claiming that he was still the legitimate leader of Ukraine and saying he intended to hold a press conference later Friday.
Nor did the Pig make any reference to the tense security situation in Crimea, where pro-Russian demonstrators have seized regional government buildings and officials are threatening to break away from the central government in Kiev.
But Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said on Friday that Russian forces had seized two airports in Crimea. In a statement on his Facebook page, Mr. Avakov said he considered the actions “armed invasion and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norms.”
He said there had been no resistance to the takeovers by the armed men, who he said were Russian naval forces from the port of Sevastopol, the major base of the Russian Black Sea fleet. He said a separate group of armed men had taken over Simferopol international airport without bloodshed.
Until Friday, Mr. Pig Putin had made no public remarks on the turmoil in Ukraine, fostering confusion and unease over Russia’s policy, even as the crisis in Ukraine has moved closer to Russia’s own border and raised concerns about Ukraine’s geopolitical and economic impact on its neighbor. Russia could stand to lose what it considers a place that is not only within its sphere of influence but part of its political, social and historical identity.
For now, the Pig's strategy for retaining Russia’s influence in a country where the Kremlin has profound interests, from its largest foreign military base to gas pipelines that fuel its economy, remains unknown and full of risks. Even so, events are subtly forcing Moscow’s hand.
Mr. Yanukovych’s appeal for Russia “to secure my personal safety,” and reports that he will hold a news conference in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Friday, have made it clear that the Kremlin has quietly provided at least tacit assistance to a humiliated leader who has been abandoned even by his own political supporters.
The seizure of the regional Parliament building in Crimea by masked gunmen vowing loyalty to Russia, and not Ukraine, has renewed fears that Pig could be provoked into a military intervention like the one in 2008, when Russian troops poured into Georgia to defend a breakaway region, South Ossetia, that it now recognizes as an independent country.
Russian officials have dismissed such fears as absurd, but at the same time, Mr. Pig Putin ordered a surprise military exercise involving 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s doorstep that was clearly intended as a palpable warning about Russia’s preparedness. It prompted warnings in return from NATO and the United States that Russia should do nothing provocative and respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The Pig has a number of options to influence affairs in Ukraine short of an armed intervention. Ukraine’s economy is entwined with that of Russia, which is by far its greatest trading partner, and Ukraine’s heavy industry is hugely dependent on Russian gas. And the Kremlin can inflame separatist tensions almost at will, if it so desires, destabilizing the country. Perhaps the Pig most effective weapon, though, is time, sitting back and watching as the West takes ownership of an economy on the brink of collapse.
Outwardly, Russia continues to insist that the turmoil in Ukraine is an internal affair and that neither it nor the United States and Europe should meddle. Events, however, are quickly overtaking that position.
Mr. Yanukovych’s flight — apparently to Russia, though his location remained unknown Thursday — has made it more difficult for the Kremlin to sustain a detached response, despite deep reservations among Russian officials over Mr. Yanukovych’s handling of the crisis and the collapse of his authority last weekend.
That ambivalence was clear on Thursday when Mr. Pig Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, declined to confirm or deny that Russia had extended protection to Mr. Yanukovych and refused to discuss the matter of his whereabouts at all, even when pressed in a telephone interview.
“I think the Pig hates Yanukovych,” said Sergei A. Markov, a political strategist who advises the Kremlin, “but what should he do for a legally elected president who asks to come to Russia?”
With Mr. Yanukovych declaring that he is still the lawfully elected leader of Ukraine and with Parliament approving a new interim government, Russia now faces the prospect of being the host of a president in exile. Mr. Markov said that Mr. Yanukovych’s presence in Russia, which is still unverified, would amount to “asylum by fact,” adding that he thought Mr. Yanukovych should have stayed in Ukraine and called on the military and security forces to rally behind him in defiance of the new leaders in Kiev.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry released a statement on Thursday complaining that an agreement brokered by three European foreign ministers only a week ago was not being honored. It insisted that the accord, which would leave Mr. Yanukovych in the presidency until new elections in December, serve as the basis of a negotiated agreement, even as the Europeans and the United States moved to recognize the legitimacy of the new interim government that was formed after Mr. Yanukovych’s escape from Kiev.
“We are convinced that only such a constitutional framework can ensure the interests of all political forces and all regions of Ukraine,” the ministry’s statement said.
In essence, the statement suggested that Russia still recognized Mr. Yanukovych as the country’s leader, though no officials have explicitly said so, even though they have denounced the new interim leaders as radicals riding to power in an armed fascist coup.
In the absence of a clear statement of Russia’s intent, the perception of its strategy has been shaped by rumors, by strident coverage on state news media and by statements of Russian lawmakers vowing solidarity with Ukraine’s ethnic Russians and questioning whether Crimea, which the Soviet Union ceded to Ukraine in 1954, should rightfully be Russia’s.
Three high-profile members of Russia’s lower house of Parliament arrived in Crimea on Thursday, visiting the city that is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. “I arrived in Sevastopol to support residents of Crimea,” Nikolai Valuev, a former boxing champion who was elected to the Parliament in 2011, wrote on Twitter. “Friends, Russia is with you.”
He was joined by the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, and a former Olympic figure skater, Irina Rodnina, who carried the Olympic torch on its final leg at the opening ceremony of the Winter Games in Sochi (and was mired in a controversy over her recent posting of a doctored and racist photograph of President Obama and his wife, Michelle), RIA Novosti reported.
Mr. Valuev, an unmistakable presence at 7-foot-1 described the visit as a fact-finding mission “to personally interact with the residents to know the situation from the inside.” Like many officials in Russia, he said the crisis in Ukraine, or at least the foreign news media reporting on it, was clouded by Western propaganda. “There is an information war,” he wrote on Twitter.
The military exercise that began in earnest on Thursday added an ominous element of volatility. Aleksandr Golts, an independent military analyst in Moscow, said that the exercise could theoretically disguise a more general mobilization of Russia’s military in case a conflict erupted over Ukraine.
“In my view it’s very bad, even if there are no plans to use the military, that maneuvers are being held with the goal of testing the nerves of others,” he said.
To critics, especially in Ukraine, the Kremlin’s hand is seen in many of the most disturbing turns in the unfolding situation, including the visits by Russian lawmakers; reports of handing out Russian passports to Crimea’s citizens, as happened in Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia; and the mysterious seizure of the Parliament building in Crimea. They see the downward spiraling of events as evidence that Mr. Putin intends to splinter the country and retake Crimea as Russian territory.
“We’re not interfering,” Mr. Peskov, the president’s spokesman, said on Thursday. “We’re standing on this position.”
Crimea’s Bloody Past Is a Key to Its Present
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
FEB. 27, 2014
KIEV, Ukraine — On Thursday, masked gunmen vowing loyalty to Russia seized the Parliament building in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea.
The simple explanation was that pro-Russian demonstrators in Crimea, a peninsula of Ukraine that juts into the Black Sea, were unhappy with the political developments here in Kiev, where three months of civic unrest led to the ouster on Saturday of President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
In a historic sense, however, Thursday’s events were as much about Russia’s relationship with Ukraine as they were about Crimea’s relationship with Ukraine. Crimea, a multiethnic region populated by Russians, Ukrainians and Tatars, has been the focus of territorial disputes for centuries, and in recent decades it has frequently been a source of tension between Ukraine and Russia.
Before this week, the most recent of these disputes occurred in May 1992, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Crimean Parliament declared independence from Ukraine. And there has always been an expectation that when things become tense between Russia and Ukraine, that tension is likely to be felt must acutely in Crimea.
“The Crimean peninsula has become an arena for the duel between Kiev and Moscow on political, economic, military and territorial disputes,” Victor Zaborsky, an expert on the region, wrote in a 1995 paper for the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.
The 1992 dispute was resolved with an agreement known as the Act on Division of Power Between Authorities of Ukraine and Republic of Crimea, which granted Crimea autonomous status within Ukraine.
In that sense, it is similar to the status of Chechnya within Russia. Chechnya’s autonomy nods to that region’s distinct Chechen language and Muslim religion, while in Crimea, such autonomy acknowledges that the political and cultural identity is often more Russian than Ukrainian.
Historically, Crimea has been a crossroads for stampeding empires, and it has been occupied or overrun by Greeks, Huns, Russians, Byzantines, Ottoman Turks, Golden Horde Tatars, Mongols and others. It became part of Ukraine in 1954, when the Soviet ruler Nikita S. Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine, then a Soviet republic, as a gift to mark the fraternal bond between Ukraine and Russia.
As part of the 1992 dispute, Russia’s Parliament voted symbolically to rescind the gift.
Crimea is home to the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet, and also beach resorts that have long been favored by Russian and Ukrainian rulers. Russia now leases the naval installations, under a controversial deal that Mr. Yanukovych agreed in 2010 to extend by 25 ears, until 2042, in an arrangement that includes discounts for Ukraine on Russian natural gas.
The worst of the conflicts over Crimea was the Crimean War of 1853-56. At least 750,000 people were killed.
Nominally a war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire over a territorial dispute, it also ensnared France, Britain and the Italian kingdom of Sardinia, and the battlefield stretched from the White Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.
Crimeans supporting Russia marched into a square in front of the barricaded regional parliament building, waving flags and chanting, “Rossiya, Rossiya.”
According to the most recent Ukrainian census, Crimea is home to about two million people, with nearly 60 percent identifying as Russian, nearly 25 percent as Ukrainian, and about 12 percent as Crimean Tatar, which gives the peninsula a sizable Muslim population.
The Tatars, who in 1944 were deported en masse by Stalin to Central Asia and have since returned to their homeland, have little affection for Moscow.
This week some members of the Muslim population in Simferopol demonstrated against the pro-Russia activists who, in denouncing the political developments in Kiev, have raised Russian flags and in some cases called for seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia.
Russia’s deep historical ties to Crimea and especially its military interests in the naval bases help explain why President Pig V. Putin and the Kremlin were so adamantly opposed to efforts by Europe to tighten ties with Ukraine. The unrest in Kiev began last November when Mr. Yanukovych, under pressure from Russia, backed away from political and free trade agreements with the European Union that he had previously said he would sign.
While Russia has major economic interests in eastern Ukraine, its military-strategic interest is greatest in Crimea.
Naming of Officials in Ukraine Reflects Homage to Power of the Street
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
FEB. 27, 2014
KIEV, Ukraine — Oleh Musiy, a prominent doctor who last week coordinated the improvised field hospitals that treated wounded and dying protesters during clashes with the police, is now the health minister of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million people.
Dmytro Bulatov, the leader of a group that organized caravans of cars to carry out protests outside government buildings and the homes of some senior officials, is now minister of youth and sports. Yevhen Nyschuk, an actor who became more famous as the M.C. on stage in Independence Square, a sort of Ryan Seacrest of the Ukrainian civic uprising, is culture minister.
And Tetyana Chornovol, a journalist, activist and crusader against public graft, who first won renown in 2012 when she scaled the walls of President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s residential compound and spent several hours peeking at the trappings of luxury before being arrested, will be the head of a new federal anticorruption bureau, which does not even exist yet.
As the Ukrainian Parliament approved an interim government on Thursday, the inclusion of these popular figures from the protest movement reflected a concerted effort to pay tribute to the role of the street in dislodging Mr. Yanukovych from power and to bolster the legitimacy of more established officials in the cabinet who are the object of deep public suspicion and mistrust.
More seasoned public officials acknowledged that some of the choices were unorthodox, but said that the protest leaders had earned the right to a strong voice in the new government.
“First of all, we should give the benefit of the doubt,” said Hryhoriy Nemyria, a Parliament member and former deputy prime minister. “Also, we’re in extraordinary circumstances,” he said. “Business as usual is not something we can expect.”
For many participants in the three-month uprising, however, the provisional leadership in Parliament and the interim government named on Thursday include far too much business as usual: veteran politicians like the acting prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, who have served in government for many years.
A crowd of several hundred demonstrators gathered outside Parliament on Thursday to make that point, many carrying flags of the nationalist party Svoboda. Someone even parked an armored car on the plaza, where it remained for much of the day.
While an early presidential election has been set for May 25, the demonstrators said they also wanted early parliamentary elections, giving them an opportunity to sweep the legislative branch clean as well.
In a gesture of deference and respect to the street protesters, officials announced the choices for the new cabinet on stage in Independence Square on Wednesday night before a crowd of tens of thousands. The reaction was mixed, with cheers for the people most closely associated with the protest movement, and jeers for others.
Oleh Matyushenko, 22, a medical student from western Ukraine, said he was disappointed that Mr. Yatsenyuk had not stayed to answer the crowd’s questions, but had vanished as the Ukrainian anthem was played. “You can’t make people shut up with an anthem,” Mr. Matyushenko said outside Parliament on Thursday.
“We have to teach politicians to work, to make sure they know that they are under surveillance of the people,” he said.
While Mr. Yatsenyuk is viewed warily by people on the street, especially because he is a top official in Fatherland, the party of a former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, his appointment has been greeted enthusiastically by Western officials, who regard him as experienced, technically competent and someone they can work with as a partner.
On Thursday, he received a call from Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who assured him “the United States will offer its full support” as Ukraine undertakes needed reforms, the White House said.
Mr. Yatsenyuk is a former foreign minister, economics minister and acting head of the central bank. In a speech to Parliament on Thursday just before he was officially appointed acting prime minister, he said he would revive the sweeping political and free-trade agreements with the European Union that Mr. Yanukovych scrapped in November, setting off the unrest.
With Ukraine facing an economic crisis, Mr. Yatsenyuk said the country should quickly take steps to meet the requirements of the International Monetary Fund for a large economic rescue package, which will include some painful austerity measures and other changes.
“The new government should immediately start negotiations with the I.M.F.,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said.
In working toward fixing the economy, Mr. Yatsenyuk will have the help of Stepan Kubiv, whom Parliament appointed this week as chairman of the Ukrainian National Bank.
Mr. Kubiv has some experience for the central banker post: he is a former chief executive of KredoBank, a Ukrainian retail bank. But he became far better known for his work during the protests as commandant of the occupied Trade Unions Building, which had served as an unofficial headquarters of the opposition right on Independence Square
The building operated around the clock, with a kitchen that helped feed protesters, as well as offices where politicians would meet opposition leaders, and even a makeshift press center. The building was set on fire and gutted last week during the worst clashes between demonstrators and the authorities.
Ms. Chornovol — the activist and journalist whose infiltration of Mr. Yanukovych’s residence two years ago gave Ukrainians a first peek at the compound that on Saturday was open to the public — has crusaded against corruption. In December, she made international headlines after she was beaten savagely by a group of men who ran her car off the road, apparently in reprisal for her efforts to expose the ill-gotten riches of officials.
In an interview in the Parliament building on Thursday, Ms. Chornovol acknowledged that she had no government experience and that she would face challenges in running an anticorruption bureau that must be developed from scratch.
Perhaps the most unorthodox figure in the new government, however, is Mr. Bulatov, who will be minister of youth and sports, but who rose to fame as the leader of AutoMaidan, a group that carried out protests using caravans of vehicles.
Mr. Bulatov, 35, who owns a garage in Kiev, was kidnapped last month, apparently by men connected to the authorities, and abused. He said that he was held in a dark room and beaten, and that his hands had been nailed to a door. An ear and a cheek were cut with a knife.
Speaking from the stage in Independence Square on Wednesday night, Mr. Nyshchuk, the actor chosen for culture minister, made a crowd-pleasing promise — not for some renewed national dedication to the arts or music, but simply no corruption. “No one will steal,” he said.
Kiev protests are sign Ukraine has turned to EU, says Georgia minister
Irakli Alasania says Ukraine's rejection of Russia will have great impact in region and describes move as 'failure for Pig Putin'
Ian Traynor in Brussels
theguardian.com, Thursday 27 February 2014 19.34 GMT
Ukraine's revolution marks a watershed moment in Vladimir Putin's 14-year domination of Russia and its neighbours, Georgia's defence minister said on Thursday.
In an interview with the Guardian, Irakli Alasania said that the drama in Kiev over the weekend meant that Ukraine had turned irreversibly towards the west and the EU, and that the impact would reverberate across the region.
"It's done. There's no way back for Ukraine. It's a first strategic failure for the Pig," he said. "This is a tectonic geopolitical shift in eastern Europe."
As a Black Sea littoral country invaded and partitioned by Russia in 2008, Georgia is closely following events in Crimea, Ukraine's Russian-majority region and base for the Kremlin's Mediterranean fleet.
Alasania, a key negotiator for the Georgians with the Russians over the 2008 war, was sanguine about the potential for trouble to escalate. "There's a lot of rhetoric and chest-thumping. It's not unusual. But Russia won't go into military confrontation. I don't think there's a military option on the table for Pig Putin."
The Ukrainian crisis erupted in November when toppled President Viktor Yanukovych ditched years of negotiations with Brussels on political and free-trade pacts and turned to Russia for a $15bn (£9bn) bailout and cheap gas supplies. The sudden U-turn stunned EU leaders, who saw their policies towards post-Soviet countries on their eastern borders shredded.
Georgia and Moldova are due to sign similar deals with the EU by August, Alasania said, meaning that much attention is being focused on how the Kremlin reacts. In recent months, Putin has managed to prevent Armenia and Ukraine from signing the agreements aimed at greater integration with the EU. There are pro-Russian stirrings in Moldova opposing the EU deal.
But Kiev has signalled that it will promptly reverse Yanukovych's pro-Russian policy and sign up to the EU pacts at a Brussels summit next month.
Kostiantyn Yeliseyev, the Ukrainian ambassador in Brussels, told senior EU officials on Thursday that the new administration in Kiev wanted to get the EU deal signed quickly. That would bolster Ukraine against pressure from Moscow, he told the EurActiv website in Brussels.
Such a move would also embolden other countries in the region and have a ripple effect, diminishing Putin's influence, Alasania said.
But the official media in Moscow predicted trouble ahead.
The official Voice of Russia said this week: "The European Union has been forcing its values upon Tbilisi within the framework of the so-called Eastern partnership programme, while offering nothing in return, no dividends, rights or privileges, in an apparent bid to destroy whatever ties may still exist between Georgia and Russia and expand the EU influence in the region. Naturally, Russia cannot remain unresponsive to these far-reaching plans. Western politicians are seeking to provoke Moscow into making some rash and ill-considered steps in Ukraine, which would hopefully discredit Russia in the eyes of the world.
"The political turmoil and uncertainty in Ukraine smooth the way for other geopolitical projects, Georgia being one of them. It's a fine moment to frighten Georgians with a Ukrainian scenario."
Alasania said he expected pressure from Moscow over the issue of association with the EU, but maintained that Russia had a lot less leverage over Georgia than over Ukraine because of Kiev's dependence on Moscow for energy supplies.
Georgia is to send 150 infantrymen to the Central African Republic next month as part of an EU deployment, the country's first direct participation in EU security policy-making.
Ukraine's new leaders begin search for missing billions
Leading protesters join interim government as fugitive president surfaces in Russia and Switzerland agrees to freeze accounts
Shaun Walker and Oksana Grytsenko Kiev
theguardian.com, Thursday 27 February 2014 20.28 GMT
Ukraine's interim authorities officially formed a new government on Thursday, with one eye on events in Crimea and another on trying to stabilise the country's disastrous economic situation.
As President Viktor Yanukovych apparently surfaced in Russia, claiming to still be the president and promising a press conference on Friday, Ukraine's parliament set about taking measures to recover some of the billions of dollars they say went missing under his kleptocratic regime.
The new government features some old faces but also has places for a number of people instrumental in the protest movement over the past three months. The new youth minister is Dmytro Bulatov, who was kidnapped and tortured last month by thugs apparently linked to the regime, while the anti-corruption committee will be headed by Tetiana Chornovol, an investigative journalist who was also beaten to within an inch of her life on the outskirts of Kiev in December.
The parliament approved Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a key member of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's party, as prime minister. Yatsenyuk, who was previously foreign minister, was one of the three main protest leaders of the past three months. He began his first speech in office by calling for a minute's silence for those who died in last week's violence.
Yatsenyuk stressed the enormity of the task facing the new government and said joining it could be akin to political suicide, given the tough economic times that are likely to be ahead."I told everyone who is coming into this new government that they are effectively ending their political career by doing so. But we need to think about how we can save the country," Yatsenyuk said.
Oleksandr Shlapak, the new finance minister, said he hoped an International Monetary Fund mission would visit Ukraine next week to hammer out the details of a $15bn package for the struggling economy. The hryvnia, Ukraine's currency, hit a new low on Thursday . It has now lost more than 20% of its value this year.
Speaking in parliament, Yatsenyuk said that the former government had left the country with $75bn of debts. "Over $20bn of gold reserve were embezzled. They took $37bn of loans that disappeared," Yatsenyuk said. "Around $70bn was moved to offshore accounts from Ukraine's financial system in the last three years," he claimed.
Rostyslav Pavlenko, an MP from the UDAR party of former boxer Vitali Klitschko, said that all cases of suspected money laundering and all offshore accounts of former government officials should be investigated, with the aim of repatriating the funds to Ukraine.
"The money in Yanukovych's personal accounts and in the accounts of his family would be enough to cover many current needs of Ukraine," he said. He added that, if the new government did sign the EU association agreement that Yanukovych faltered over, it would be easier to investigate offshore havens and return the stolen money.
Klitschko, who plans to stand in presidential elections on 25 May, called on US and European officials to freeze any accounts suspected of belonging to Yanukovych and his inner circle and return the money to Ukraine.
Switzerland said it was ready to freeze any funds that Yanukovych might be keeping in its banks. The Swiss foreign minister said financial institutions had been ordered to show increased vigilance when dealing with Ukrainian funds. Yanukovych's son Oleksandr, who has amassed a fortune measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the past three years, opened a branch of his company, MAKO, in Geneva in 2011.
Meanwhile, investigative journalists are sifting through a haul of documents retrieved by divers from the river near Yanukovych's lavish residential compound outside Kiev. The documents, which are being restored by specialists after being dried in one of Yanukovych's personal saunas, are gradually being posted online, and purport to show multimillion dollar corruption and financial mismanagement.
Yanukovych himself, who has been the invisible man since he fled the capital last Friday night, surfaced on Thursday yesterday with a statement claiming he was still president, and is apparently due to give a press conference in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Friday afternoon, Russian media reported.
"On the streets of many cities, there is an orgy of extremism," wrote the president in a statement addressed to the Ukrainian people. "I am certain that in these conditions all the decisions taken [by the parliament] will be ineffective and not carried out. In this situation, I officially declare that I am determined to fight to the end for the implementation of important compromise agreements that will bring Ukraine out of the deep political crisis."
However, even among the president's close allies, he has lost authority after his flight, with the mayors of towns in his eastern heartland describing him as "history", his closest aides fleeing or resigning and Rinat Akhmetov, the oligarch closest to him, saying he is ready to work with the new authorities. Even in Crimea, where the pro-Russian populace has shown little appetite for accepting the regime change in Kiev, there is little sympathy for Yanukovych personally.
There were rumours yesterday that Yanukovych was at a government-run sanatorium outside Moscow, however the location of his press conference, in Rostov, not far from the Ukrainian border, suggests he might have arrived there directly from Ukraine.
"Given that President Yanukovych appealed to Russian authorities with a request to guarantee his personal safety, that request has been granted on Russian territory," a government source told Interfax earlier on Thursday yesterday without specifying the ousted president's location.
The Ukrainian parliament has voted that Yanukovych should be sent to the international criminal court in The Hague, though legal experts have said the court would be unlikely to take on such a case.
At Abandoned Ukrainian Palace, an Anxious Look Toward the Future
By STEVEN ERLANGER
FEB. 27, 2014
NOVI PETRIVTSI, Ukraine — Arthur Pereverziev is just 24, but he has the calm air of command. Thrown early into politics by the tumultuous decade that began with the Orange Revolution in 2004, he was an instrumental member of the civilian group Vidsich, or Repulse, which opposed the presidency of Viktor F. Yanukovych.
Now, after three months at the barricades in Independence Square, Kiev’s central square that is also known as the Maidan, Mr. Pereverziev finds himself in charge of Mr. Yanukovych’s bizarre pleasure palace, here on the Dnieper River outside the capital.
As hundreds of Ukrainians wandered agog through the 350-acre grounds of the estate and banged on the windows and gaudy doors of the palace, hoping to be allowed inside, Mr. Pereverziev stood in one of the lavish marbled halls and marveled.
“It’s so expensive, and so cheesy,” he finally said. “It was almost too much to be amazed. When you suddenly see such beautiful things in a beautiful setting, that’s one thing. But when a man who has no taste throws everything together, the beautiful and the ridiculous, that’s something else.”
Mr. Yanukovych took what was once a simple state-owned guesthouse and transformed it into a gilded mishmash of bad mosaics, valuable icons, leather recliners, suits of armor, expensive chandeliers and toilets that look like golden thrones. Though Mr. Pereverziev expressed contempt for the trappings of such a lifestyle, he is anxious to guard and preserve it all now, because by order of the Ukrainian Parliament, it is once again the property of the state.
He was dismayed by the disappearance of some swords and pistols. The contents of the hilltop palace, known as the Mezhyhirya, were photographed and inventoried the first night the group occupied the building, but when he and his exhausted troops slept afterward, they awoke to find 12 items missing. Three of them, he said proudly, have since been found where they had been hidden away.
But what really upset him, Mr. Pereverziev said, was the danger that this revolution would be short-circuited the way the 2004 revolution was, by a failure to change the political system and bring in new, younger, cleaner, more cosmopolitan leaders who would be less beholden to Russia and the kleptocracy of the past.
“The new people in charge are already making some of the same mistakes, by giving posts to corrupted officials,” he said with some bitterness. “They’re corrupted morons, and everyone knows it.”
This time, he thinks, a new Ukrainian generation will not tolerate a repetition of the past with new faces. “We want to change the system, the way of doing politics, not just to end the corruption,” he said. “Ukrainians want to own their own lives, for themselves, and not for the oligarchs and the politicians. After 22 years of independence, we finally want to live like human beings.”
For the last two months, Mr. Pereverziev has been the commander of what he called the 16th regiment of the Maidan self-defense forces. He said there were about 40 such “regiments” — with about 100 troops, they are more like companies — created over the past three months, and their commanders are called Sotnyks, an old Cossack rank roughly equivalent to a captain in the Ukrainian army. His wife commands a smaller women’s division.
The palatial compound of Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine, was opened to the public over the weekend, offering a glimpse of his lavish lifestyle.
As for Russia, Mr. Pereverziev says he thinks that Moscow’s efforts to meddle in Ukraine “to escalate the situation” will fail, especially given that the Tatars, the ethnic minority indigenous to Crimea, support a united Ukraine. “Russia has nothing to offer us except fuel and energy,” he said. “And in the time of shale gas, soon we won’t need them.”
Russia’s political system was a model for Mr. Yanukovych, he said, and will probably share the fallen president’s fate.
“This will also finish Russia in the end,” Mr. Pereverziev said, “as an empire, as a kleptocratic state.” From Ukraine, “they stole our identity, our language, our land,” he added. “They called us ‘mali brati,’ ” — little brothers — “but we’re not brothers at all, that’s just propaganda.”
His concerns about the future are widely shared here.
Ulia Turko, 27, worked for legislators in the Ukrainian Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, until she had her daughter, Solomia, 10 months ago. “I saw them and heard them in the Verkhovna Rada,” she said, referring to the Parliament, as she wandered among the memorials to the dead in the Maidan on Wednesday. “They don’t care about anyone else.”
Ms. Turko also wants better, younger leaders, shaped less by traditional politics than by the experience of the fight for the Maidan and by a more open-minded life.
She said she wants Ukraine finally to stand up against the dictatorship of the past and against pressure by outsiders to shape its future. “Russia has no right to interfere here,” she said. “But that’s also true of the countries of the European Union. I think they both want to get their own benefits.”
Ms. Turko said the revolution was against the vivid, uncontrolled corruption of Mr. Yanukovych and his “family,” including his suddenly wealthy son, more than it was about any geopolitical question.
She watched a procession of mothers winding through the still-smoking barricades of the Maidan, carrying photographs of their dead, each photograph surrounded by a crown of thorns, mixing cries of “Glory to the heroes!” with patriotic songs.
“We would like Russia we would like everyone — to understand how we feel,” Ms. Turko said. “We want to be free.”
At the Yanukovych palace, Mr. Pereverziev said he was ready to fight again, if necessary, for lasting change. “We’ll fight the new power, too, in the future, if it’s anything like the previous one,” he said.
Switzerland Says Ready to Freeze Any Yanukovych Funds
by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 February 2014, 18:22
Switzerland said Thursday it was prepared to freeze any funds Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych might have in Swiss banks.
The Swiss government has decided "in principle to freeze any possible funds Mr Yanukovych may have in Switzerland", foreign ministry spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger told Agence France Presse in an email.
The full decision, which would be published Friday, obliged Swiss banks to show increased vigilance when it comes to Ukrainian funds, he added.
Asked whether Yanukovych or his entourage would be blocked from receiving visas to the country if they were to make such an application, the foreign ministry spokesman would only say that "Switzerland is following very closely the situation in Ukraine."
It is unclear whether Yanukovych himself has funds in the wealthy Alpine nation, but his son Alexander opened a branch of his Management Assets Company (MAKO) in Geneva in late 2011.
The 40-year-old dentist and businessman has amassed a personal fortune of around half a billion dollars (some 365 million euros) in the past three years alone, according to a report in the Swiss weekly L'Hebdo.
His Ukrainian conglomerate reportedly controls nearly half of that country's coal production, and around a third of its electricity production and distribution.
Alexei Navalny placed under house arrest in Russia
Court orders opposition leader's detention in embezzlement inquiry, and forbids him from using internet
Agence France-Press in Moscow
theguardian.com, Friday 28 February 2014 10.42 GMT
A court in Moscow has ordered the Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny to be placed under house arrest, after a request from investigators in an embezzlement case.
Navalny and his brother Oleg face charges of stealing and laundering a total of 51m rubles (£840,000) from the cosmetics company Yves Rocher and a Russian firm.
Investigators had already made Navalny sign a pledge not to leave Moscow but asked for his restrictions to be stepped up to house arrest, arguing that he had repeatedly violated the restrictions imposed on him.
As well as being unable to leave his home in the Moscow region, the new restrictions imposed by a district court mean Navalny will only be able to talk to relatives, investigators and his defence lawyers.
Crucially for a figure who has emerged as one of the main challengers to President Pig Putin through a widely followed blog, he will not be able to use the internet. He will also not be able to send or receive letters or talk to the press.
The term of the house arrest is until 28 April but it can then be extended. "He will only be allowed to leave his home with the permission of investigators," his spokeswoman Anna Veduta wrote on Twitter.
Navalny was given a suspended five-year sentence last year in a separate embezzlement case. He and his supporters argue that like his previous conviction, the current case is a ruse by the Kremlin aimed at eliminating one of the Pig's most dangerous opponents from politics.
Navalny is serving a week-long administrative detention sentence handed out this week for disobeying police orders at a demonstration over the jailing of a group of activists opposed to Pig Putin. He is due to walk free from that term on 3 March but under the court ruling he will then immediately have to begin the period of house arrest.
Russian spy ship docks in Havana during surprise visit to Cuba
Arrival of Viktor Leonov SSV-175 warship follows announcement by Russia that it plans to increase military presence worldwide
Agencies in Havana
theguardian.com, Friday 28 February 2014 09.02 GMT
A Russian spy ship has slipped into Havana for an unannounced visit, a day after the country's defence minister announced plans to expand Russia's worldwide military presence.
The Viktor Leonov SSV-175, part of the Vishnya class of intelligence ships, quietly entered Cuban waters this week and docked at a cruise ship terminal on Thursday, its crew casually taking in the view of the old colonial section of the Cuban capital as passersby looked on in surprise.
Russian warships have come and gone in Cuba since the collapse of the Soviet Union, usually with much publicity and the opportunity for Cubans to visit the ship. This time there was no mention in the Cuban state-run media.
On Wednesday in Moscow, the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said Russia planned to increase its military projection abroad, including in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
The Russian navy intelligence vessel in Havana was commissioned by the Soviet Union in 1988 near the end of the cold war. It is outfitted with electronic surveillance equipment and missile defence systems and is a signals intelligence asset of the Russian navy, according to the Russian government.
The 94m(309ft) ship was receiving food, but no maintenance or fuel, port employees said.
A Russian embassy official described the visit as friendly, saying members of the crew joined Havana officials in laying a wreath at a monument to Soviet soldiers.
"It was scheduled to stay three or four days. It should leave tomorrow," said the embassy spokesman.
Cuban official media made no immediate mention of its port call.
Locals shrugged at the ship's appearance, as well as Moscow's announcement on Wednesday that it was seeking permission for naval vessels to use ports in Cuba and other countries in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere.
"I think every country has the right to live the way they want to live and defend themselves," said Armando Torres, a 54-year-old cook who passed by the ship on his way to work in the morning. "We are a country that has always been oppressed and blockaded for so many years."
The former Soviet Union and communist-run Cuba were close allies for decades, and the Soviets built a major intelligence base on the outskirts of Havana that was closed soon after the demise of European communism.
Optic Nerve: millions of Yahoo webcam images intercepted by GCHQ
• 1.8m users targeted by UK agency in six-month period alone
• Optic Nerve program collected Yahoo webcam images in bulk
• Yahoo: 'A whole new level of violation of our users' privacy'
• Material included large quantity of sexually explicit images
Spencer Ackerman and James Ball
The Guardian, Friday 28 February 2014
Britain's surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.
GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.
In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.
Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy".
GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans' images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant.
The documents also chronicle GCHQ's sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material in the first place.
Optic Nerve, the documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show, began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012, according to an internal GCHQ wiki page accessed that year.
The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell's 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ's existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs.
Rather than collecting webcam chats in their entirety, the program saved one image every five minutes from the users' feeds, partly to comply with human rights legislation, and also to avoid overloading GCHQ's servers. The documents describe these users as "unselected" – intelligence agency parlance for bulk rather than targeted collection.
One document even likened the program's "bulk access to Yahoo webcam images/events" to a massive digital police mugbook of previously arrested individuals.
"Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for 'mugshots' or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face," it reads. "The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright."
The agency did make efforts to limit analysts' ability to see webcam images, restricting bulk searches to metadata only.
However, analysts were shown the faces of people with similar usernames to surveillance targets, potentially dragging in large numbers of innocent people. One document tells agency staff they were allowed to display "webcam images associated with similar Yahoo identifiers to your known target".
Optic Nerve was based on collecting information from GCHQ's huge network of internet cable taps, which was then processed and fed into systems provided by the NSA. Webcam information was fed into NSA's XKeyscore search tool, and NSA research was used to build the tool which identified Yahoo's webcam traffic.
Bulk surveillance on Yahoo users was begun, the documents said, because "Yahoo webcam is known to be used by GCHQ targets".
Programs like Optic Nerve, which collect information in bulk from largely anonymous user IDs, are unable to filter out information from UK or US citizens. Unlike the NSA, GCHQ is not required by UK law to "minimize", or remove, domestic citizens' information from its databases. However, additional legal authorisations are required before analysts can search for the data of individuals likely to be in the British Isles at the time of the search.
There are no such legal safeguards for searches on people believed to be in the US or the other allied "Five Eyes" nations – Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
GCHQ insists all of its activities are necessary, proportionate, and in accordance with UK law.
The documents also show that GCHQ trialled automatic searches based on facial recognition technology, for people resembling existing GCHQ targets: "f you search for similar IDs to your target, you will be able to request automatic comparison of the face in the similar IDs to those in your target's ID".
The undated document, from GCHQ's internal wiki information site, noted this capability was "now closed … but shortly to return!"
The privacy risks of mass collection from video sources have long been known to the NSA and GCHQ, as a research document from the mid-2000s noted: "One of the greatest hindrances to exploiting video data is the fact that the vast majority of videos received have no intelligence value whatsoever, such as pornography, commercials, movie clips and family home movies."
Sexually explicit webcam material proved to be a particular problem for GCHQ, as one document delicately put it: "Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography."
The document estimates that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains "undesirable nudity". Discussing efforts to make the interface "safer to use", it noted that current "naïve" pornography detectors assessed the amount of flesh in any given shot, and so attracted lots of false positives by incorrectly tagging shots of people's faces as pornography.
GCHQ did not make any specific attempts to prevent the collection or storage of explicit images, the documents suggest, but did eventually compromise by excluding images in which software had not detected any faces from search results – a bid to prevent many of the lewd shots being seen by analysts.
The system was not perfect at stopping those images reaching the eyes of GCHQ staff, though. An internal guide cautioned prospective Optic Nerve users that "there is no perfect ability to censor material which may be offensive. Users who may feel uncomfortable about such material are advised not to open them".
It further notes that "under GCHQ's offensive material policy, the dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offence".
Once collected, the metadata associated with the videos can be as valuable to the intelligence agencies as the images themselves.
It is not fully clear from the documents how much access the NSA has to the Yahoo webcam trove itself, though all of the policy documents were available to NSA analysts through their routine information-sharing. A previously revealed NSA metadata repository, codenamed Marina, has what the documents describe as a protocol class for webcam information.
In its statement to the Guardian, Yahoo strongly condemned the Optic Nerve program, and said it had no awareness of or involvement with the GCHQ collection.
"We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity," said a spokeswoman. "This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December.
"We are committed to preserving our users' trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services."
Yahoo has been one of the most outspoken technology companies objecting to the NSA's bulk surveillance. It filed a transparency lawsuit with the secret US surveillance court to disclose a 2007 case in which it was compelled to provide customer data to the surveillance agency, and it railed against the NSA's reported interception of information in transit between its data centers.
The documents do not refer to any specific court orders permitting collection of Yahoo's webcam imagery, but GCHQ mass collection is governed by the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and requires certification by the foreign secretary, currently William Hague.
The Optic Nerve documentation shows legalities were being considered as new capabilities were being developed. Discussing adding automated facial matching, for example, analysts agreed to test a system before firming up its legal status for everyday use.
"It was agreed that the legalities of such a capability would be considered once it had been developed, but that the general principle applied would be that if the accuracy of the algorithm was such that it was useful to the analyst (ie, the number of spurious results was low, then it was likely to be proportionate)," the 2008 document reads.
The document continues: "This is allowed for research purposes but at the point where the results are shown to analysts for operational use, the proportionality and legality questions must be more carefully considered."
Optic Nerve was just one of a series of GCHQ efforts at biometric detection, whether for target recognition or general security.
While the documents do not detail efforts as widescale as those against Yahoo users, one presentation discusses with interest the potential and capabilities of the Xbox 360's Kinect camera, saying it generated "fairly normal webcam traffic" and was being evaluated as part of a wider program.
Documents previously revealed in the Guardian showed the NSA were exploring the video capabilities of game consoles for surveillance purposes.
Microsoft, the maker of Xbox, faced a privacy backlash last year when details emerged that the camera bundled with its new console, the Xbox One, would be always-on by default.
Beyond webcams and consoles, GCHQ and the NSA looked at building more detailed and accurate facial recognition tools, such as iris recognition cameras – "think Tom Cruise in Minority Report", one presentation noted.
The same presentation talks about the strange means the agencies used to try and test such systems, including whether they could be tricked. One way of testing this was to use contact lenses on detailed mannequins.
To this end, GCHQ has a dummy nicknamed "the Head", one document noted.
In a statement, a GCHQ spokesman said: "It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.
"Furthermore, all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.
"All our operational processes rigorously support this position."
The NSA declined to respond to specific queries about its access to the Optic Nerve system, the presence of US citizens' data in such systems, or whether the NSA has similar bulk-collection programs.
However, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the agency did not ask foreign partners such as GCHQ to collect intelligence the agency could not legally collect itself.
"As we've said before, the National Security Agency does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the US government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself," she said.
"The NSA works with a number of partners in meeting its foreign intelligence mission goals, and those operations comply with US law and with the applicable laws under which those partners operate.
"A key part of the protections that apply to both US persons and citizens of other countries is the mandate that information be in support of a valid foreign intelligence requirement, and comply with US Attorney General-approved procedures to protect privacy rights. Those procedures govern the acquisition, use, and retention of information about US persons."
02/27/2014 12:57 PM
GCHQ Revealed: Inside Her Majesty's Listening Service
By Christoph Scheuermann
The Snowden files have brought the shocking espionage activities of the UK's Government Communications Headquarters into the open. Former employees describe an agency with shifting goals, a strong honor code -- and an inferiority complex.
On a Monday in January of 2003, Katharine Gun received an email that worried her. Gun, a 28-year-old linguist and analyst with the British intelligence service, was a calm, thoughtful woman. The message, which was classified "top secret" and came from a department head of an American intelligence service, informed a British counterparts that, "as you all probably know by now," a joint eavesdropping operation was being planned against United Nations delegations. Gun couldn't believe her eyes.
At the time, the UN was in the midst of a debate about a possible invasion of Iraq. The fateful appearance of the US Secretary of State Colin Powell before the UN Security Council, in which Powell would attempt to secure allies for an attack on Baghdad, was to take place in five days. Gun, like many of her fellow Britons, was opposed to a war and considered what she should do about the email. By targeting UN diplomats with their espionage, weren't the United States and Great Britain trying to forcibly bring about a war? Were they trying to determine diplomats' feeling about a conflict? Was it legal?
After hesitating for two days, Gun forwarded the email to an acquaintance with contacts in the media. Four weeks later, the email was printed on the cover page of the Observer.
Gun may not have been able to prevent the war, but, in the ensuing scandal, she was able to, for a brief moment, shine on a spotlight on one of the United Kingdom's most secretive agency: GCHQ, or Government Communications Headquarters.
A Ballooning, Secretive Agency
GCHQ's spies, who see themselves as the country's eyes and ears, don't like being the center of attention. It was only through the actions of American whistleblower Edward Snowden that the worldlearned about many of their operations. The documents Snowden leaked, from the innermost circles of the US National Security Agency (NSA), revealed that the British agency has begun monitoring increasingly large portions of global data traffic in recent years -- infiltrating computer networks around the world, launching attacks and extracting information from mobile telephones.
In 2008, GCHQ agents began testing the "Tempora" program, which they hoped would allow them to tap into global data links, especially fiber optic cables. In the four years that followed, the agency's access to data grew by 7,000 percent, according to a PowerPoint presentation described in the British newspaper The Guardian. Today the agency -- which cites "mastering the Internet" as one of its objectives and boasts about extracting more data from the web than the NSA -- employs 6,100 women and men, almost as many as MI5 and MI6, Britain's domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, combined.
While GCHQ refuses to answer questions about its objectives, its former employees paint a picture of an agency that, in decades of existence, has become a modern surveillance monster.
The Paper-Age Spy
It takes a while for Mike Grindley to come to the door. Grindley will be turning 77 this year and is no longer as steady on his feet as he was when he began working at GCHQ. Night is falling outside, one of those wet, cold English evenings. He has had a fire going since noon in his house in Cheltenham, a small city on the edge of the Cotswolds, a two-hour drive northwest of London. The headquarters of GCHQ are a 10-minute drive from Grindley's house. Many of his former coworkers live in the area. GCHQ headquarters on the outskirts of town are like a giant magnet. It isn't easy for former employees to escape its pull.
Grindley's house is full of tall stacks of books, magazines, flyers, notes, letters and newspaper clippings. He doesn't write emails or own a mobile phone, and he can only be reached by calling his landline. Mike Grindley, clearly, is a spy from the paper age.
He joined the agency in August 1961, after serving in the Royal Air Force in Hong Kong and then studying Classical Chinese in Cambridge. A GCHQ headhunter recruited him on campus when he was 24. He was awestruck when he entered the headquarters building in Cheltenham for the first time, but he quickly felt at home in the agency's relaxed and jovial atmosphere. "We used each other's Christian names," says Grindley.
He witnessed the agency's rapid growth as it expanded its monitoring of international communication routes during the Cold War and GCHQ's antennas became the kingdom's ears on the world. In 1967, it was revealed that the agency was intercepting telexes and telegrams sent from the UK to Europe and other countries. As historian and intelligence researcher Richard Aldrich has written, these ended up in GCHQ hands with the help of Western Union, Cable & Wireless and other telephone service providers -- an early example of cooperation between communications companies and the government.
Grindley earned a starting salary of £768 (€935 or $1,280). He excelled at his job, which was to provide information about surveillance targets in China, and he rose through the ranks. When he left in 1988, his annual salary was £19,000. "All the awkward problems landed on my desk," he says. His coworkers called him "Mister China."
'Turing Was Our God'
In Grindley's early years, the agency was so secret that it wasn't even allowed to talk about its greatest triumph. During World War II, employees of the Government Code and Cypher School at the Bletchley Park estate, the precursor organization of GCHQ, intercepted radio messages from Hitler's Wehrmacht.
Hitler's troops used the Enigma coding machine to encrypt their messages, but the British agents at Bletchley Park eventually managed to crack the code using an electromagnetic computing machine, an early form of the computer. The mastermind behind this achievement was Alan Turing, a brilliant computer scientist who, together with his colleagues, worked feverishly in drafty barracks to defeat the Nazis. "Turing was our god," says Grindley. Turing taught the agency that any code could be cracked with the necessary intelligence and technology.
Grindley traveled to secret conferences in the United States and Canada, where he and his counterparts with the NSA and the Canadian intelligence service discussed the latest developments. The world was divided into blocs -- communism was pitted against capitalism, and China was an enemy -- and his work seemed logical and ordered. But then Margaret Thatcher became prime minister.
Like his father, Grindley was a member of the Labour Party and joined a trade union at an early age. Although he was relatively unenthusiastic about strikes, he felt that a union offered advantages when it came to negotiations with employers. Thatcher, however, prohibited GCHQ employees from unionizing. As a result, GCHQ employees publicly revolted against their government in a particularly bizarre episode in British intelligence history.
To the discomfort of Thatcher, the Conservatives and those in the agency who wanted to keep the intelligence service a secret, the employees marched through Cheltenham with signs and banners, cheered on by the town's residents. Grindley, determined not to be intimidated by the Iron Lady, marched at the head of the group.
GCHQ Turns Against Its Own
After refusing to leave the union, Grindley was suspended from GCHQ in 1984 and dismissed four years later. Senior members of the agency went with him, also in protest against Thatcher. "The organization lost some its greatest minds at that time," says Grindley. They included mathematicians, technicians, language experts and cryptologists.
By the time Grindley left GCHQ, the lines between enemies and friends had become blurred. The organization, which had functioned virtually in silence during the Cold War, had adapted itself to the needs of the Americans, with whom the British government had concluded an intelligence agreement. GCHQ was no longer the brilliant, innocent club of geniuses and code-breakers who had fought against the Nazis: It was now eavesdropping on satellite phones, enlarging its antenna installations and turning its attentions inward. Grindley says he was spied on and shadowed by members of his own agency during the protests.
A New Landscape
Despite the bad press, most Britons still trusted their three intelligence agencies: the eavesdroppers of GCHQ, the foreign agents at MI6 and the domestic agents at MI5. They were helped by two fictitious MI6 agents, James Bond and George Smiley, who continue to work as advertisements for the organizations to this day.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the agency's focus shifted. In the late 1980s, the listening stations GCHQ was operating in Germany and other parts of Europe were directed primarily at the Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia. In Cheltenham, analysts maintained databases of the tactical groupings of the Soviet armed forces, weapons stockpiles and radar frequencies. The reports were written primarily for the British Defense Ministry.
But when the Cold War ended, the focus shifted from Eastern Europe to targets as diverse as warlords in Somalia, arms dealers in the Balkans and drug gangs in Latin America. At the same time, mobile phone use was becoming more widespread and the Internet was growing, creating a glut of electronic information. GCHQ had to reinvent itself.
GCHQ Gets a Makeover
The man selected to lead this effort was David Omand, an ascetic careerist from London and a member of the London power circles who was treated with a mixture of disdain and fear by the spies in Cheltenham. Omand had joined GCHQ as an analyst in 1969. His duties included spying on the Soviet Union's air defenses, but he had soon moved to a higher-ranking position with the Defense Ministry, and later worked at NATO in Brussels.
When Omand assumed the office of GCHQ director in 1996, he encountered an agency that had been created for the 20th century, which was now coming to an end. Country experts, linguists, crypto-analysts and programmers were working in a labyrinth of buildings with names like C Block and M Block, reminiscent of the barracks from the Alan Turing era. Technicians and managers were housed at opposite ends of the city. GCHQ still had the feeling of a Cold War agency, and Omand felt that the best approach would be to tear everything down.
He describes his plan while in a hotel lobby in downtown London, pausing to take a sip from his cup of Earl Grey tea. Omand is 66, but he is a long way from retirement. He recently studied mathematics and theoretical physics, teaches at King's College London, gives lectures and writes books about the necessity of intelligence services. Omand, who says that surveillance is necessary, resembles the agency he once headed: a polite gentleman with a digital watch whom you would easily underestimate.
Breaking Into the Internet
He says that his agency came under growing pressure in the 1990s. The Foreign Office wanted to use its analytic powers, as did the police, the military and the prime minister. "All those customers had different needs, and their needs were much more time-sensitive." Keeping the names of Russian commanders on file in a database was no longer sufficient. His eavesdroppers had to be able to intercept signals racing through fiber optic cables across the ocean floor. It was important to understand the 21st century. "We had to revolutionize the architecture of signals intelligence."
Was there a deliberate decision to tap into the Internet at the time?
"It was more an evolution," says Omand. The British had tapping into data flows even before the rise of the Internet -- since the 1960s, the agency had used parabolic antennas in Cornwall to intercept satellite communications across the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. In 2001, a European Parliament investigation concluded that the United States and Great Britain, together with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, had established a global espionage system called Echelon "for the interception of private and commercial communications." GCHQ was accessing larger and larger segments of voice and data communications, but hardly anyone noticed. Not even the experts at the European Parliament had figured out the full scope of GCHQ activities.
The agency began implementing Omand's plans in the late 1990s. Omand himself had already been promoted to a position at the Home Office in 1998, but his revolution continued. The plans for the new headquarters were put into action. Instead of housing departments in separate buildings, all employees were to work in a ring-shaped main headquarters. Today, the building is nicknamed the "doughnut."
British spies are obsessed with being smarter than their counterparts at the NSA. To this day, they proudly point out that in the early 1970s, they were ahead of the Americans in developing the so-called public key method of asymmetric deciphering. At the same time, however, they are also dependent on their partners across the Atlantic. In his book, "The Snowden Files," Guardian journalist Luke Harding wrote that the United States paid the British £34.7 million for services in the 2011/2012 budget year alone. Part of GCHQ's job is to suck up to the Americans -- after all, that's what the US are paying for.
According to Omand, the agency was initially overwhelmed by mobile phones, fiber optic cables and the Internet. The technicians and analysts couldn't cope with the huge amount of data. "The volumes they carried were large, and the problem was getting rid of the stuff you didn't want," says Omand. It took them years to learn how to navigate this river of information.
Omand is the only ex-member of GCHQ who now defends his former employers in panel discussions and talk shows. His appearances are not coordinated with anyone, says Omand, "but secretly they probably approve."
There is an unwritten law at GCHQ: Never talk about your work, especially with strangers. "Everyone knows everyone else," says Grindley. "The staff GCHQ are very loyal, very patriotic," says Omand. In the history of the surveillance agency, few employees have become disloyal and gone public with their criticism or misgivings. Katharine Gun, the woman who tried to prevent the Iraq war, is one of those exceptions.
For the last year and a half, Gun has been living in a small city on the Turkish Mediterranean coast with her Kurdish husband Yasar and their five-year-old daughter Hana.
She had ended up at GCHQ after she responded to an ad for Chinese experts the agency had placed in The Guardian in 2000. In January 2001, after a yearlong selection process, she reported for duty in Department A25, which was responsible for spying on foreign sources. Her job was to listen in on the conversations of Chinese diplomats in the UK and assess whether the content was relevant for the agency. It was the sort of headphone job analysts had performed since the old days of GCHQ. "You end up knowing a lot about people's private lives," she says.
Gun grew up as the daughter of an English professor in Taiwan, where she learned Mandarin. At 16, she moved to England, where she studied Japanese and Chinese. She felt comfortable in Cheltenham. She liked her coworkers. At lunch, they talked about the weather or who was sleeping with whom. At the same time, Gun sensed that she had joined a community that considered itself to be special, a community that kept silent about its activities. "The people from GCHQ are a different species," she says.
Gun had been with the intelligence agency for two years and four weeks when she found the revealing email about the UN operation in her mailbox. The message was sent to about 100 recipients in Cheltenham and came from Frank Koza, the then head of the "Regional Targets" department at the NSA.
When Gun leaked the email and exposed Koza, the British agency's reaction was strangely reserved. Gun had decided to turn herself in. When she told her boss, her only reaction was to say, with a sigh, "Oh, Katharine." She spent a night in jail, and her apartment was searched. The charges were later dropped for "lack of evidence." Things became quiet once again. The circle of silence worked perfectly.
To her former colleagues, Gun was now a leper. She fell into a depressive slump, but continued to live in Cheltenham for several more years. When she ran into acquaintances from the agency, the encounters were unpleasant for both of them. No one mentioned the email she had leaked. "It was spooky, as if nothing had happened," she says.
It was business as usual at the agency. The debate over Gun's exposé fizzled and the new headquarters, with its enormous buildings filled with servers and high-performance computers, was ready in 2003.
Nevertheless, GCHQ has remained a quintessentially British intelligence service. There is a chess club and a jokey "ghost-hunting" group, and there are quiz nights at a local pub. To this day, the eavesdroppers of Cheltenham prefer to keep to themselves, which might explain why they continue to agonize over Snowden's revelations. Unlike the NSA, which recently began inviting journalists to its headquarters, the British spies merely seem to be holding their breath and praying that it will all be over soon.
There isn't much to see when you stroll around GCHQ headquarters on the outskirts of Cheltenham: A building with a curved roof in the distance, poplar trees, barbed-wire fences and signs indicating that photography is forbidden. Two men in dark suits sit on a bench in front of the entrance, staring silently at the ground.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
02/26/2014 05:01 PM
Child Pornography: Victims of Exploitation Struggle to Forget
By Maximilian Popp in Racsa, Romania
The roots of the scandal leading to the resignation of German parliamentarian Sebastian Edathy lie in Romania. In the village of Racsa, boys were filmed naked and the footage sold onward. The shame still haunts them.
Adrian P. was a child when Markus R. filmed him naked. "My friends and I saw it as a game. Markus promised us that he wouldn't show anyone the films, and he told us not tell anyone about them. Not even our parents," says Adrian P., who is now 19.
Back then, he was 14. Sitting next to him in the living room of his parents' home in Racsa, a village in northern Romania, is his father. His mother is chopping onions in the kitchen. "R. brought shame to my family and our village," says Gheorghe P. "If I ever see him again, I will kill him."
Markus R., from Germany, moved to Transylvania in 2001 to work for a German timber company, according to Romanian media reports. Back home, he had been charged with sexual abuse of children and served a prison sentence. But in Romania, he reinvented himself as a businessman eager to be involved with the community. He gave karate lessons and organized outings for local boys, buying them pizza and lemonade.
Legal Gray Areas
Northern Romania is a poor region. Many children here grow up with absent fathers, who've left to work in Germany or France. "R. was a substitute father," recalls a resident. But once he'd gained the trust of local boys, he began to film them -- playing naked in a wading pool in his home.
In 2007, he began selling his videos to the Canadian company Azov Films. The Romanian police investigation into R.'s activities supplied crucial information for Operation Spade, the international police investigation into child pornography begun in October 2010 in Toronto.
Among the information it turned up was Azov Films' customer base, which included one Sebastian Edathy from Germany -- a 44-year-old Social Democrat member of parliament who resigned in early February.
In Germany, the Edathy scandal has triggered a nationwide debate about child pornography laws. Although there is a consensus that state and society must condemn and punish the sexual abuse of children in all its guises, there is a gray area between what is morally reprehensible and what is criminal. Investigators make a distinction between child pornography and images of naked children in which their genitalia are not the explicit focus.
Edathy insists that the images he purchased from the Canadian website were legal. The Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), the Federal Criminal Police Office, has confirmed that his computer has not turned up any explicitly pornographic material thus far, but on the strength of the initial evidence, the Hanover public prosecution is nonetheless investigating Edathy for suspected possession of child pornography.
Furthermore, Justice Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) is now mulling a draft law outlawing the commercial trading of images of naked children.
'I Can't Get It Out of My Head'
In Transylvania, Adrian P. doesn't understand why the debate has become bogged down in legal details. "The footage of me is terrible," he says. "I can't get it out of my head." His father says Adrian is still traumatized to this day, and was so ashamed that he couldn't leave the house for months. "He was such a happy child," says he father. "Now he's very withdrawn."
It was a relative of the family who discovered by chance what was going on. Through a hole in a fence, he saw Markus R. filming children playing naked in a swimming pool in the fall of 2008. Upon being confronted, R. fled, only to resume his activities shortly thereafter in the nearby town of Zalau.
Even though the commercial sale of images of children is a global business, it is more often practiced by individuals than organized networks -- unlike the drug trade. The perpetrators tend to be relatives of the victims, or at least familiar, trusted figures.
Markus R.'s nemesis was Dan Puskas, a criminal police officer in Zalau. In 2010, he was informed of R.'s activities by the families of R.'s victims. He placed R. under observation for several weeks and questioned a number of witnesses. R. was eventually arrested by a special squad while attempting to flee to Germany with several children in tow. The squad seized toys, camera equipment and around 200 videos of naked boys play-fighting. "Anyone who films this sort of material is sick," says Puskas.
During the raid, the squad came across an address in Canada. Police headquarters in Bucharest informed their colleagues in Toronto, and Operation Spade was soon underway.
R. himself confessed and was sentenced to two years behind bars in Romania. He was released in the summer of 2012 and is thought to be living in Munich today.
Translated from the German from Jane Paulick
02/28/2014 12:43 PM
Heading for the Margins: Why Is Britain Running Away from Europe?
An Essay by Will Straw
Great Britain used to play a key role in leading Europe, and the benefits have been substantial. But now, the UK is turning its back on the EU and has chosen to focus on peripheral issues. It is the wrong move.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, Winston Churchill called for the creation of a "United States of Europe" to bind France and Germany together. In doing so, he made clear that Britain would be a supportive but independent partner of any such entity. He famously said: 'We are with Europe but not of it."
In the end, Britain did join the European Economic Community but only in 1973, 15 years after the Treaty of Rome was signed. We joined the Social Chapter in 1997, eight years after it was adopted by other member states. And we never signed up to Economic and Monetary Union or the Schengen Agreement on common borders.
In other words: Britain was always a bit late to the party. But once it found its way to Belgium, Britain had an uncanny knack of winning the big strategic battles. It is therefore a puzzle that the current British government has diverted its attention from winning the next round of key policy debates in Brussels and, instead, focused on a pointless exercise of seeking treaty change to repatriate powers. Britain should stop wasting its time with this futile endeavour and concentrate on aligning the EU's institutions with an agenda of growth and democracy.
While Britain's political leaders have been cautious and incremental in expanding the UK's involvement with Europe, they have been phenomenally successful in shaping its institutions to British strategic goals:
First, the UK succeeded in ensuring that "broadening" rather than "deepening" was the underlining objective of the EU over the last two decades. From 12 member states in 1973, the EU expanded to 15 in 1995, 25 in 2004 and has recently accepted its 28th member with the accession of Croatia. While Turkish membership may be a way off, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are all candidate countries.
Second, the different voting systems used by the EU's institutions tend to favour British interests. For example, the single market, which most Britain's are united in supporting, and the regulations that help create and preserve it have been advanced using Qualified Majority Voting. Meanwhile, issues where Britain exerts more caution -- such as tax harmonisation, redistribution, and defence -- have to be agreed on the basis of unanimity. These were all "red lines" during the negotiations last decade on a new European constitution.
A Constructive Role for Britain?
Third, despite successive attempts by federalists to see it expanded, the EU's budget has been kept below 1 percent of GDP across the continent and Britain has successfully defended its budget rebate which was secured by Margaret Thatcher to compensate for the high net cost to the UK of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Fourth, as outlined above, Britain has ensured that "variable geometry" has been possible on new areas of co-operation. As a result, other member states have gone faster on economic and monetary union, and on common borders. The current debate about justice and home affairs powers is another example where the British government, if it can reach its own consensus, is able to go at a different speed to the rest of Europe.
Fifth, Britain has dictated much of the EU's common foreign and security policy. The E3 negotiations between Britain, France, Germany and Iran were a London-led initiative. Meanwhile, Britain was instrumental in pushing for a European External Action Service. In difficult circumstances, Commission Vice-President Catherine Ashton helped to shape that institution.
Given these successes, Britain might have been expected to play a constructive role in helping the EU deal with the two most fundamental challenges of the current crisis: growth and democracy. The global financial crisis has put a huge strain on the Union and the euro-zone countries in particular. Those on the periphery of Europe, which developed current account deficits during the last decade, have been unable to devalue in order to enhance their competitiveness as would normally take place. Instead they have been forced to undertake painful cuts to public spending in combination with tax increases in an attempt to bring their deficits under control. As a result, the euro zone as a whole fell into a double dip recession last year and around half of EU member states contracted in the first quarter of 2013, though the situation now appears to be improving. Far from achieving fiscal consolidation, all but nine of the EU28 countries saw debt levels increase in the final quarter of 2012.
As a result of the economic malaise, but also due to a sense of detachment from EU decision-making, public support for the EU is on the wane across the continent. Britain's antipathy has long been a feature of public opinion research but other countries are now following suit. Research by Pew found that the number of Europeans who are favourable about the EU fell from 60 percent in 2012 to 45 percent in 2013. Among the eight countries surveyed, the biggest fall in support came in France (down 19 percentage points), Spain (down 14 percentage points) and Germany (down 8 percentage points). Support in Britain fell by a more modest 2 percentage points but from a low base of 45 percent.
A Degree of Instibility
The UK government could have been constructive in addressing these two challenges but instead it has created a degree of instability for the British business community by calling for a repatriation of powers and a referendum on the continued membership of the EU. The 2010 Tory party manifesto set out that a Conservative government would, "negotiate for three specific guarantees -- on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, on criminal justice, and on social and employment legislation -- with our European partners to return powers that we believe should reside with the UK, not the EU."
The Cabinet Office launched a "review of the balance of competences" with terms of reference to "look at where competence lies, how the EU's competences, whether exclusive, shared or supporting, are used and what that means for our national interest." This bureaucratic process covers 32 different reviews of policy areas including trade and investment, social and employment, and fundamental rights. It is expected to conclude in the autumn of 2014.
TheFresh Start group of over 100 euro-sceptic Conservative MPs has pre-empted the conclusions with their own set of recommendations, published in January 2013. One motivation for the group's work appears to be to hack away at workers' rights. In 2011, a report for the government by Adrian Beecroft concluded that "much of employment law and regulation impedes the search for efficiency and competitiveness … [and] simply exacerbates the national problem of high unemployment." Many of the recommendations were buried by the Conservative's coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, but the report remains a cause célèbre for Tory backbenchers.
Consistent with this, the Fresh Start report includes a call for EU treaty revisions to, among other ideas, "repatriate competence in the area of social and employment law to Member States." Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote a foreword. While he did not endorse all the ideas, he wrote that it was "doubly welcome" and "will be essential reading for all of us when we come to write the Conservative Party's next general election manifesto."
If these ideas became formal British government policy, there is very little to suggest that EU member states would be willing to negotiate with the UK on a new relationship. Commission President José Manuel Barroso has said that there are no supporters on the continent for a British repatriation of powers. One MEP told The Economist that, "goodwill towards the UK is rapidly running out in Europe."
Diminishing Leadership Role
Over the period that British energy in relation to the EU has focused on repatriating powers, the UK has seen its leadership role in Brussels diminish. Figures collected by the Vote Watch website indicate that Britain is losing more votes in the European Council than at any point in recent history. In 2009-10 and 2010-11, the UK lost just 2 percent of Council conclusions that went to a qualified majority vote. In 2011-12, the year in which David Cameron walked out of the Council meeting, the number of defeats rose to 5 percent. In 2013, it has increased to 7 percent. There is a widespread view in Brussels that there are many more instances which do not come to a formal vote when Britain is now on the losing side. This decline in power is mirrored within the Commission where the share of British staff has fallen by 24 percent to 4.6 percent over seven years.
Instead of losing votes in the Council, proposing unrealistic treaty changes, and creating bad will, Britain should be working at the heart of Europe to enhance prosperity and democracy.
In relation to growth, the British government should have played a greater role in helping resolve the euro-zone crisis. This should have involved a four-pronged programme.
First, the EU should have encouraged greater flexibility on fiscal targets so that countries suffering rapid increases in employment could ease off spending cuts (a policy belatedly adopted by the Commission).
Second, the EU should have called for more rapid action by the European Central Bank and the European Systemic Risk Board to create proper macro-prudential regulation to complement the existing proposals for a banking union.
Thirdly, the EU should have developed a more stringent and symmetrical monitoring of current account imbalances to prevent core countries like Germany building up massive surpluses at the expense of deficits on the periphery. If Britain had been at the forefront of efforts along these lines since 2011 it could have helped prevent the euro zone's double dip recession.
New Measures for Democracy
Fourthly and looking forward, the UK should encourage the appointment of a new growth commissioner within the next European Commission. He or she should ensure that the new budget for competitiveness in the multi-annual financial framework is focused in the right areas, including funds to help the crisis countries make structural reforms to their countries such as tax resilience, labour market reform, childcare expansion, skills enhancement and pension reform. In recognition that Europe's future prosperity depends on staying at the technological frontier, there should be increased resources for joint research and development projects, particularly focused on encouraging a transition to a low-carbon economy across the EU. Third, the commissioner should push for enhanced co-operation on services and a digital single market.
To reinforce democracy, new measures are necessary to enhance the legitimacy of the EU's institutions. The UK government should support the efforts to ensure that a single figure from the party grouping gaining most votes at the 2014 European election should become the next president of the Commission and Council -- a reform that does not require treaty change. This should go hand-in-hand with a rebalancing of the EU's institutions away from the Commission, with the power of initiation residing in the Council and Parliament. Meanwhile, individual commissioners should be accountable to their national parliaments for the work of the whole Commission.
Britain should encourage a renewed focus on improving the stock and flow of EU regulation with old regulations being scrapped on a simple majority Council vote. National parliaments should be given an enhanced role in blocking new legislation and identifying old legislation that could be amended or repealed. National consultations should take place to devise lists of EU legislation that citizens would most like to remove or significantly amend. Meanwhile, closer co-operation within the EU should only take place where public opinion supports it as it does in relation to non-military threats, including climate change, organised crime and terrorism, protectionism, the rise of Asia and irregular migration.
These reforms would go a long way to reviving growth and democratic legitimacy in Europe, but the British government has wasted time by focusing on the party interest of the Conservatives rather than on the broad national interest of the UK. This has been to the detriment of both Britain, which has been marginalised in Europe, and of Europe, which has benefited in the past from an engaged and pragmatic Britain. A new approach is desperately needed if Britain and Europe are to get out of their current predicament.
Parliament welcomes Angela Merkel like the Queen of Europe
The German chancellor aligns herself with the union flag – sartorially at least – as she dazzles a joint session of parliament
The Guardian, Thursday 27 February 2014 21.24 GMT
They weren't quite playing Zadok the Priest as Angela Merkel swept into the Royal Gallery at the Houses of Parliament, but that was probably only because someone had spotted that a blast of Handel, a German who naturalised as a Brit, might not make the most tactful welcome for the chancellor.
Otherwise, give or take the odd sceptre and whatnot, the German reporter who observed at a later press conference that Merkel had been received like "the Queen of Europe" was not so very far off.
When François Hollande visited Britain last month he got potted shrimps and an awkward pint at a rain-lashed pub in Oxfordshire. Merkel, by contrast, was honoured on Thursday with a rare address to both houses of parliament, meetings with the party leaders and tea with the Queen, her feet barely touching soil that had not first been furnished with a plush scarlet carpet. It was almost as if one of them was the centre-right European powerbroker who might, if so inclined, be able to help David Cameron out of his EU referendum hole, and the other was a socialist with a zipper problem.
Merkel is a class act all the same. She had chosen to wear a bright blue jacket, she later revealed, because of how it would offset the red carpet in British colours. (If Cameron does not reciprocate by sporting yellow cross-gartered stockings, a red hunting jacket and a black topper on his next Berlin trip the Germans are encouraged to take all appropriate offence.) Her speech, too, had been carefully calculated to flatter, suggesting only in passing that what Cameron most wanted – her backing for a European overhaul significant enough to placate his backbenchers – he was probably not going to get.
She started in decent English but switched to German, smartly dividing the audience into those donning bulky headphones, and the German press/Nick Clegg. There was brief puzzlement that Cameron, in the front row, appeared to be following without translation, but it seemed aides had supplied a discreet earpiece. (Whatever else his skills, the prime minister is a master at avoiding the embarrassing photograph.)
If some of the noble lords in the audience, seated below Maclise's enormous paintings of British victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo, were doing their best to avoid adopting silly accents and mentioning the war, it was Merkel who brought it up, and then brought the other one up. Having spent the first 35 years of her life on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain, Merkel knows about liberation from tyranny. Referring to the period after 1945, she offered personal thanks to "those 1.7 million British servicemen and women … who served in Germany". She went on to quote Churchill. Get it Britain, this is me kissing your ass.
There was, of course, salt as well as sweet – although, appraising the overall flavour of the speech later, observers struggled to agree on the relative proportions of each.
A woman with a doctorate in the mechanisms of decay reactions and velocity constraints in quantum chemical methods is not one given to imprecision. But what did Merkel mean when she said she was not saying that the rest of Europe would not be prepared to pay almost any price to keep Britain in the European Union? It wasn't entirely clear. But it was a tiny sliver of wriggle-room, and that might just prove enough for Cameron to plot a way forward.
• This article was amended on 28 February 2014. The earlier version misinterpreted Angela Merkel's mention of 1.7 million British service personnel as being a reference to those who served in Germany during wartime.
Angela Merkel hints at EU treaty change but sends warning to Britain
Deal 'doable' but not a piece of cake, says German chancellor as Downing Street welcomes signals as 'helpful but realistic'
Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 27 February 2014 20.54 GMT
Angela Merkel has taken the first tentative steps towards outlining a modest framework for negotiations to persuade British voters to remain within the EU, in an in-out referendum which David Cameron will call by the end of 2017 if he wins next year's general election.
The German chancellor, who pleaded with Britain in a speech to a joint session of parliament on Thursday to remain a "strong voice" within the EU, declared in Downing Street that a deal was "doable" though she warned that the negotiations would not be a "piece of cake".
Merkel said that Britain would have to win the support of the 27 other leaders of the EU, and added: "I firmly believe that what we are discussing here is feasible, is doable … it is not a piece of cake. It is going to be a lot of work. But we have already worked quite hard on other issues. If one wants Britain to remain in the EU, which is what I want, if one at the same time wants a competitive union that generates growth, one can find common solutions."
But she moved to inject a dose of reality by saying that her main priority was to strengthen the euro – by ensuring monetary union was matched by an economic union among eurozone members – with "clear-cut and resilient architecture". The chancellor indicated that this would involve treaty change. But in a warning to Cameron, who would like to use such negotiations to table his demands, she said this would be limited and would leave little room for special treatment for one member state. Merkel said: "I believe we need to adapt the legal foundations of the monetary union in a limited, targeted and speedy way to stabilise the union for the long term."
MPs and peers laughed as Merkel, who recalled her first visit to London in the spring of 1990 shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, said those expecting a "fundamental reform of the European architecture" in Britain's direction would be disappointed. Opening her speech at the Palace of Westminster in English, Merkel said: "I have been told many times during the last few days that there are very special expectations of my speech here today. Supposedly, or so I have heard, some expect my speech to pave the way for a fundamental reform of the European architecture, which will satisfy all kinds of alleged or actual British wishes. I am afraid they are in for a disappointment.
"I have also heard that others are expecting the exact opposite and are hoping that I will deliver the clear and simple message here in London that the rest of Europe is not prepared to pay almost any price to keep Britain in the EU. I am afraid these hopes will be dashed too.
"If what I have been told is true then it will be obvious to everyone that I find myself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. That is not a pleasant position to be in, at least for a German head of government. Nevertheless, that cannot in any way spoil my pleasure in being here today."
Downing Street was delighted with the signals from Merkel, which it regarded as helpful but realistic. The prime minister said: "Angela and I both want to see change in Europe. We both believe change is possible. I believe that what I am setting out, the sort of changes Britain wants to see to build confidence in our membership of this organisation, are possible and deliverable and doable."
But Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, who met Merkel with Ed Miliband, said: "Chancellor Merkel's remarks have confirmed that David Cameron's approach to Europe just isn't working. He's lost control of his party and, as a result, he's losing influence with other European leaders. The gap between what Chancellor Merkel was offering, and what his[Cameron's] eurosceptic backbenchers are demanding remains as wide as ever."
The visit by Merkel was the most significant intervention by a German chancellor in London since Helmut Schmidt pleaded with the Labour party to embrace the European project in a speech at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, before the 1975 EEC referendum. Merkel kicked off her day with a speech to a joint session of parliament in the royal gallery, which is decorated with the Daniel Maclise portrait of the meeting of the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian field marshal Blücher before the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.
Merkel, whose warm welcome contrasted with the low-key reception for the French president, François Hollande, at last month's Anglo-French summit at RAF Brize Norton, headed after her speech to Downing Street for a brief meeting with Nick Clegg. The multilingual deputy prime minister spoke in German.
The prime minister then hosted a lunch for Merkel. The two leaders were served beetroot and goat's cheese salad with citrus dressing followed by a main course of Newlyn stone bass with potato, broccoli and green beans.
Merkel made clear at a joint press conference with Cameron that she was prepared to help Britain – while stressing that her patience was finite – as she outlined a framework for the negotiations. These will cover:
• A renewed focus on the claiming of benefits by migrants within the EU. Merkel made clear she would resist any attempt to restrict freedom of movement within the EU. But she added: "If we were to see that freedom of movement has, as a consequence, that everyone who is seeking a job in Europe has the possibility to come to Germany and will receive an equal amount of social benefits as someone who for a long time has been unemployed in Germany after 30, 40 years work – that would not be the interpretation of freedom of movement I would have. Is immigration into social security possible? No country in Europe would be able to withstand such an onslaught because we have very different social security systems. We can only have virtually the same level of social security if we try to generate growth and jobs – not by having immigration into social systems. That is just as much a headache for us in Germany as it is for the British people."
• Assurances, as a City of London Corporation and Policy Network think tank paper revealed, that EU members outside the eurozone would not be outmanoeuvred in the single market. "We are members of the euro area, Britain isn't and doesn't want to become a member of the euro area. If that is acceptable one can find solutions for the different requests … we have to look very carefully at those countries that don't have a say [in the eurozone] because they are not members [of the eurozone]. You must not have them at a systematic disadvantage."
Merkel made it clear she shared Cameron's objectives to ensure that EU regulation was simplified and that the principle of subsidiarity – that decisions should be made at the lowest possible level – should be re-emphasised.
Speaking in German, she said: "We need to cut unnecessary red tape at the European level that hampers our companies in Germany just as in the UK. We always have to measure up with the best of them in the world. Therefore European rules and regulations need to be subject to regular reviews just as national rules and regulations [do]. Should they prove to be superfluous they have to be scrapped...The principle of subsidiarity needs to be respected more in Europe."
The chancellor reinforced this message with a call for Britain and Germany to remain "united and determined" in reforming the EU and promoting competitiveness. "We, Germany and Britain, share the goal of seeing a strong competitive EU join forces," she said in her final words in German.
Turning to English, she added: "United and determined, we can defend our European economic and social model in the world. United and determined we can bring our values and interests to bear in the world. United and determined we can serve as a model for other regions of the world. This – and nothing less than this – should be our common goal. I regard it as the task for our generation."
02/27/2014 02:47 PM
Neo-Nazi Mole: Could the NSU Murders Have Been Prevented?
By Hubert Gude
For years, Michael von Dolsperg provided German intelligence with information from the neo-Nazi scene. But when the NSU terror trio came to light, his file was shredded. Why? Could details he provided have prevented the murder spree?
The sprawling wooden house, surrounded by a few out-buildings, stands out vividly against the snowy landscape. It is called "Snaret" -- in English: "Grove." Michael von Dolsperg moved to this remote corner of Sweden's Värmland County from Lower Saxony 12 years ago. The mailbox on the main road is three and half kilometers (2.2 miles) away and the nearest bakery is in Filipstad, 25 kilometers distant. At night, wolves sometimes prowl cross the yard. For someone looking to turn their back on the past, it is a perfect spot.
For many years, Snaret was Dolsperg's own patch of wilderness paradise. Young people from all over Europe came to camp on his property. But last October, he was rudely awoken from his dream of a quiet life in the country.
Now, he keeps a wooden club next to his bed. Not because of the wolves, but because of German neo-Nazis out for revenge. Before Michael von Dolsperg, 39, moved to the Swedish outback, he was an informant for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency. His alias was Tarif.
Blonde and bearded, Dolsperg stands next to his cast-iron stove and lights a cigarette. He gazes out through the kitchen window at the forest. One evening, his phone rang. "We're coming soon," breathed a voice down the line. Dolsperg immediately took down the signpost to his house on the main road, but the phone call left him shaken. "I know from the past that the neo-Nazi scene is well-networked in Sweden," he says. "They know exactly where I am."
The fact that Dolsperg's informant past has now been exposed is a disaster for German intelligence as well. Tarif wasn't just a run-of-the-mill mole in the neo-Nazi scene. His case raises a number of questions about the investigation into the NSU neo-Nazi terrorist group, which murdered 10 people between 2000 and 2006. One question stands out above all: Why did Tarif's file mysteriously disappear from the BfV archive?
At 3:14 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, a head of unit in the department dedicated to far-right extremism, logged into the BfV's computer system. The man code-named "Lothar Lingen" selected seven files from a total of 37 dossiers on "Research and Recruitment" and marked them for shredding.
Highly Fraught Cooperation
It was the same day, NSU member Beate Zschäpe turned herself into the police. Four days earlier, the other two members of the trio had committed suicide, with Uwe Mundlos shooting Uwe Böhnhardt before turning his Winchester on himself. It was the moment when Germans began to realize that a right-wing extremist group existed in their midst -- one that had, unnoticed by security officials, murdered nine people with immigrant backgrounds and a policewoman.
Seven months later, the shredding of this and other vitally important files came to the attention of the public. Heinz Fromm, the head of the BfV, was forced to resign. The shredded dossiers all involved informants in the neo-Nazi scene -- spies engaged in a highly fraught cooperation between domestic intelligence, the Military Counterintelligence Service and Thuringian state intelligence. This collaborative effort, geared toward collecting information about the cell and its associates, was named "Operation Rennsteig."
Even though Tarif (Dolsperg) was not part of Operation Rennsteig, his file was also destroyed by Lothar Lingen on that afternoon in November. It included reports on the informant's meetings with his handler at the BfV. Just how important a source Tarif was is illustrated by the fees he was paid for his services between late 1994 and 2001: 66,000 deutschmarks (approx. €34,000), a significant sum for informants.
It is standard practice at the BfV to get rid of files deemed "no longer relevant" after specific time periods. There is a five year term and a 10 year term. But exactly which files remain "relevant" and which do not is a discretionary matter. Neither Hans-Georg Engelke, the special investigator appointed by the Interior Ministry, nor the NSU parliamentary investigation committee, ever found out why the files were destroyed. Lothar Lingen from the department for far-right extremism invoked the right to remain silent. The shredding of the files is particularly baffling in the light of Heinz Fromm's appeal three days earlier that files be re-examined for references to the NSU.
With the Tarif file apparently lost for good, much of what Michael von Dolsperg has to say about his past as an informant is all the more extraordinary. If his account is to be believed, the BfV had good reason to destroy the paper trail.
When Dolsperg was recruited by the BfV, he was deeply involved in the militant, far-right scene. Born in Leinefelde in Thuringia to a mother who was a teacher and a father who was a telecommunications engineer, he had first joined the ranks of neo-Nazi groups as a young man in communist East Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he moved to Lower Saxony and hooked up with the Free German Workers' Party (FAP), which was banned in 1995. Pictures from this period show him sporting a brown shirt, red armband and short hair. He was even photographed in an SS uniform. He organized events with World War II veterans, preferably former SS and SA officers.
Violence and agitation against his political opponents was as much part of his life as bomber jackets and jackboots. In November 1991, he and two other assailants attacked a man and his son so brutally outside a discotheque in Nordhausen that both victims had to be admitted to hospital in life-threatening condition. He was sentenced to three and half years behind bars but was released early.
He was given a hero's welcome in jail, recalls Dolsperg, and met met many like-minded people inside. Seventeen at the time, he was looked after by nationalist prisoner aid organizations and became a member of the International Aid Committee for the Politically Persecuted (IHV).
The next phase of Dolsperg's radicalization took place in jail, and saw him become one of the strategic masterminds of the neo-Nazi scene -- and landed him on the radar of the BfV's "Research and Recruitment" department. Upon his release from prison, he organized Rudolf Hess marches and became the leader of the local chapter of "Aktion sauberes Deutschland" (the Clean Up Germany initiative) and of the IHV. Thorsten Heise, head of the FAP in Lower Saxony and a leading figure in the neo-Nazi scene, became one of his closest confidantes. Heise's hobby was to go hunting for treasure with a metal detector, and Dolsperg began accompanying him. "Once we found a headscarf decorated with swastikas and Nazi party symbols," he remembers. Slowly, Dolsperg gained entry into the inner circle of the German neo-Nazi scene, building up a network that extended far beyond the borders of Lower Saxony.
He says that he came to his senses in 1994, when he was detained by police so as to prevent his participation in a demonstration. "I wanted to get a job and get out," he recalls. In a letter to the Interior Ministry he asked for help in leaving the neo-Nazi scene and offered his services as an informant.
Shortly thereafter, Dolsperg met BfV officer "Alex," who later became his buddy and his handler. One evening in November 1994, he says, two men showed up in front of him outside a store in Heiligenstadt and invited him to dinner. Over a meal, they asked him if he could imagine working for the BfV. "They didn't want me to leave the scene, but to stay put," says Dolsperg. "At first, I couldn't believe what they were saying."
"What happens if my cover's blown?" he asked them.
"We protect our sources and we have a duty to look after them," replied Alex. "You would get a new name and a new identity." Alex also told him he should carry on publishing the Sonnenbanner Neo-Nazi pamphlet. It would help him maintain his cover, he said.
Other than Dolsperg's testimony, no evidence of this conversation exists. The BfV refused to comment on Dolsperg's version of events.
What is clear, however, is that the young man remained active in the neo-Nazi scene and published a further 19 editions of Sonnenbanner, most of which he insists appeared under the watchful eyes of the BfV. He ended up under investigation for circulating hate propaganda after the last edition, published in 2001.
"The BfV got to see every edition before it went to press," he says, and insists he was never asked to make any changes. Only once did Alex, whom he describes as a slim, reddish blonde type not much older than himself, express reservations about the cover of the double issue 14/15 in 1998 showing a man hanging at the gallows. "He had a sign hanging round his neck with the word 'pedophile' on it, and in front of him was a man with a red armband crossing a name off a list," says Dolsperg. Alex allegedly told him that he should change the cover to avoid trouble, and he took his advice. He says that he paid for the pamphlet with his earnings as an informant, which amounted to between 500 and 600 deutschmarks a month.
'Strategies for the Future'
For the BfV, Dolsperg's allegations are profound. Did the domestic intelligence office really help him publish a far-right propaganda pamphlet, and give it its blessing? Appearing three to four times a year at irregular intervals, the Sonnenbanner was a highly influential publication in the neo-Nazi milieu.
These days, the BfV would never stand by and allow one of its informants to feed the scene with propaganda material. After the NSU debacle, such a state of affairs would be "unthinkable," according to insider sources.
Its readership included Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos. In 1998, police seized a copy of issue #2 in the garage in Jena where the two terrorists had hidden their pipe bombs. The edition included an article on "Strategies for the Future." "It must be obvious to all of you that we are instantly identifiable if we go around in uniforms and skinhead cuts," wrote Dolsperg. "The logical consequence should be to keep the way we dress as neutral as possible." He also exhorted readers to refrain from making political statements in public on "topics the media can seize upon and distort" and advised them to "form cells by joining forces with small groups of others." In retrospect, the article reads like an instruction manual for the life in the underground that Mundlos, Böhnhardt and Zschäpe led for almost 14 years. They dressed inconspicuously, never expressed extremist views and formed a cell.
Michael von Dolsperg has spread out a series of photographs on his kitchen table. They were taken at "song evenings" he organized in 1996 and 1997. One of them was held at the "zum Grünen Wald" pub in Weilrode, with Oliver P. from the skinhead band "Hauptkampflinie" putting in a special appearance. Dolsperg is scouring the pictures for Böhnhardt and Mundlos, who were supposed to have visited the pub on at least one occasion. He fails to find them, but lingers over one photograph of André K., a close friend of his at the time. A chubby man, he was an activist with the Thuringian Homeland Protection (THS) and the organizer of the Nazi pow wow, the Festival of Nations.
"We talked on the phone a lot and spent time at each other's houses," remembers Dolsperg. "I would got to Thuringia for demonstrations and events and he would come to my song evenings with a few friends."
In 1998, just after Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe had gone underground, André K. allegedly asked Dolsperg if he would consider hiding the wanted neo-Nazis. "I told him I needed a bit of time to think about it and called my handler, says Dolsperg. Alex told him he would discuss the matter with his superiors.
If Dolsperg is telling the truth, the BfV could have made a decision that would have delayed, if not prevented, the NSU's murderous campaign.
It is a plausible account. As early as 1996, the state police in Thuringia described Uwe Mundlos and André K. in an internal memo as leading members of Jena's far-right scene. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office investigation, André K. later raised money for the fugitives and discussed their situation with Ralf Wohlleben, who would later become a NPD official and come under suspicion of having assisted the cell.
"Had I found the cell somewhere to stay and an arrest had ensued, may cover would have been blown," says Dolsperg today. "And domestic intelligence would have lost one of their sources." This appears to have been how the BfV saw it. Alex called Dolsperg and told him to say no to André K.'s request.
K. denies ever having asked Dolsperg for help hiding the members of the cell, maintaining that he had long since lost touch with him by then. The photograph of him at the "zum Grünen Wald" pub casts doubt on his testimony, however, since it was taken only a few months before the trio went underground.
The BfV says there is no evidence supporting Dolsperg's account. The intelligence office has reconstructed 280 pages of the shredded file on Tarif by drawing on summaries created by the analysis department. Members of the NSU investigative committee were allowed to see the material and found a note indicating that Tarif had been asked to keep an eye out for the cell members -- but nothing whatsoever that gives weight to Dolsperg's statement.
Officially, the BfV refused to comment on its former informant's version of events and said it would only issue a rebuttal after SPIEGEL published it. On Sunday, after the magazine hit the newsstands, the BfV reitereated to Die Welt that "according to the files available," Tarif's version of events is unsubstantiated.
Ultimately, it is one man's claim against the BfV's quasi-denial. But Dolsperg's account raises more than one question.
When the Bundestag's investigative committee sought to clarify how Lothar Lingen came across the file on Tarif, it was told that he used search terms such as "Thuringia," "Thuringian Homeland Protection" and "THS" because this was the NSU cell's stomping ground. But when special investigator Engelke repeated the search, he found 33 search results, but the Tarif file was not among them. What prompted Lothar Lingen to destroy the file? Engelke believes that he must have had a vague recollection of Tarif.
Up for Sale
Michael von Dolsperg has sorted out his photographs from the 1990s. He says that he deeply regrets his past as a neo-Nazi, especially the life-threatening beating he gave the two men outside the club in Nordhausen. Today he rejects violence. His move to the Swedish outback 12 years ago was a way of distancing himself from the far-right scene. He says that he fed domestic intelligence information about demonstrations and events organized by "dangerous and aggressive" neo-Nazis for his country. The pathos in that statement is difficult to ignore.
So how credible is this former informant, whose statements add another layer of complexity to the NSU puzzle? He has reason enough to avenge himself against the BfV. When SPIEGEL called him at home in Sweden in September 2012 to talk to him about his days as an informant, he asked for a day to consider. He says that, after the call, he contacted with Alex for the first time in 10 years. Alex called back immediately and told him that he should on no account agree to the interview. Dolsperg followed his advice.
A few weeks later, the erstwhile mole traveled to Bavaria to meet Alex. The BfV had rented a conference room in a hotel and Alex was accompanied by two officers from the agency. They promised him that he wold put in a witness protection program were SPIEGEL to report on his story. Dolsperg also maintains that they discussed André K.'s request all those years ago that he hide the NSU cell members. He says that his impression was that all three of the men present were aware of it.
At the time, SPIEGEL chose not to run the story. A year later, public broadcaster ARD aired a report about Dolsperg. "It was a blow," he says. Again, he got in touch with the BfZ and met up with agency officers on the beach in the Baltic Sea resort of Warnemünde. On a ferry ride, they told him what would happen next: There would be more meetings, he would be issued with papers and he would have to break off all contact with his girlfriend and family. He would have to go temporarily abroad and would then be able to begin a new life in either Germany or Sweden. Dolsperg maintains he agreed to everything.
But in November, the intelligence agency made an abrupt about-face, apparently on orders from the very top.
These days, Dolsperg rarely stays the night at home in Snaret and when he does, he keeps his wooden club at arm's length. He's put his property up for sale.
Translated from the German by Jane Paulick
02/26/2014 02:29 PM
Kirch Settlement: Deutsche Bank's Ongoing Legal Woes
By Dinah Deckstein and Martin Hesse
A settlement has been reached in the 12-year legal battle between the heirs of the late media mogul Leo Kirch and Deutsche Bank. But Germany's largest lender hasn't seen the last of its legal headaches.
An opera premiere is always a social occasion, including in Munich. A new production of Mozart's "La clemenza di Tito" at the State Opera on February 10 was attended by a host of industry leaders, from Linde CEO Wolfgang Reitzle and his wife to Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler, co-owner of the Schaeffler Group, and her partner. Also present were two other top managers, who appeared less interested in what was happening onstage than in shop-talk: one was Paul Achleitner, head of Deutsche Bank's supervisory board, and the other was Peter Löscher, former CEO of Siemens.
They shared a secret -- they both likely already knew a bit of news that would only become public 10 days later: Deutsche Bank had unexpectedly reached an agreement with the Kirch Group, ending a legal battle that had lasted more than a decade. Achleitner was one of the main driving forces behind the deal, while Löscher sits on the supervisory board, which was informed last Wednesday of the €900 million ($1.2 billion) settlement.
The bank was brought to its knees by pressure from public prosecutors, who are also investigating co-CEO Jürgen Fitschen and four other former management board members for attempted fraud in connection with the Kirch case.
But no one is exactly relieved. The resolution of this landmark dispute is too ignominious an outcome for the mighty bank. It was humiliated by Kirch's lawyers and the court. The public will remember this settlement as an admission that Deutsche Bank and its then-head Rolf Breuer, who in early 2002 cast aspersions in a TV interview on Kirch's creditworthiness, did indeed have a hand in the collapse of the media concern.
Achleitner, Fitschen and his co-head Anshu Jain also know that the settlement does not mark the end of the drama. The supervisory board will have to take recourse against Breuer for damages. The board might do its best to reach an agreement quickly, but the outcome is by no means a given. Bank sources say that erstwhile associates of Breuer, including former SAP head Henning Kagermann, still stand by him.
Nor can Deutsche Bank's board take the support of its shareholders for granted. A few investor representatives are already grumbling that it hardly need have taken so long to reach such a costly settlement. Former CEO Josef Ackermann had negotiated a similar deal two years ago, but back then, the entire board voted against the deal, not least for fear of the response from shareholders.
So why exactly did the board vote unanimously in favor of this settlement, even though it will cost the bank well over €100 million more?
Public prosecutors have been accelerating the investigation since last autumn. First, it was revealed that the authorities were not only investigating former board members but also Fitschen. In late January, Christiane Serini, the prosecutor in charge, let the bankers know that the files showed very clearly that Deutsche Bank had most certainly been interested in doing business with Leo Kirch -- contrary to what former managers had told the court. As CEO, Fitschen had backed up their incorrect version of events. Now, based on the investigation files, Germany's Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) recently began looking into the possibility of stripping Fitschen of his license to head a credit institute.
Stephan Leithner, a close confidant of Jain's, might soon find himself in a similar predicament. For the time being he is not being investigated, but as general counsel, he has been in charge of managing the case since June 2012. According to malicious gossip, Jain and Achleitner slammed the brakes on the settlement to protect Fitschen and Leithner and prevent the company's leadership from coming undone.
In fact, there were many possible paths out of this self-inflicted mess. The Frankfurt bankers could have withdrawn their complaint from the German Federal Court (BGH). This would have meant that the decision of the Higher Regional Court (OLG) was final and an even more expensive settlement might have been due.
Even a win at the BGH would not have done Deutsche Bank much good. The damages claim would have been referred back to the OLG. Had Fitschen and his friends rejected the investigators' suspicions with brand new arguments, their flip-flopping would have done nothing for their credibility.
Everything therefore pointed towards the settlement -- which benefits Fitschen, first and foremost. Given that the bank is covering the Kirch heirs' legal costs as well as the interest on the delayed damages payment, the charges against Fitschen might end up being reduced to a mere administrative offense.
The four former members of Josef Ackermann's board, meanwhile, are all facing prosecution.
As far as the public is concerned, the settlement has one major drawback. Even though the case has dragged on for over 12 years, one of its key questions will never be clarified by a high court: Who actually was responsible for Leo Kirch's bankruptcy?
After 22 years of being bullied Bosnians are desperate, and must protest
Since the war we have been told to accept our status as victims. Now we are demanding change – and an end to corruption
theguardian.com, Friday 28 February 2014 11.00 GMT
This month's protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina have a clear message: the elites who carved up power among the different ethnic groups before lining their own pockets with the country's resources, wealth and capital, have had their day. The 85 wealthiest oligarchs in the state are collectively worth $9bn: this "wealth" was looted either via corrupt laws or by siphoning off money from the international community designed to prevent a return to conflict.
But now the citizens are waging a determined struggle – to keep open the space for direct democratic participation, to insist their voices are heard and that their actions count. Public gatherings or plenums have sprung up which are open to anyone, and where collective decisions and demands can be made and action taken. These are open, direct and an example of transparent democracy in practice.
But the plenum as a form of self-organisation in which citizens come together to articulate demands underpinned by protest marches, is now under attack. The pushback comes from all quarters: from corrupt and complacent elites who vilify the plenums' demands for openness, transparency and an end to corruption, to incredulous international figures, who have been stunned by the outstanding class solidarity shown during this crisis.
By maintaining a dysfunctional, nepotistic and parasitic bureaucratic power structure, local and international politicians have exhausted the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina for almost 22 years. Out of rage and despair, those who have been forced to rummage through dustbins to survive, and to give bribes for basic services, have finally stood up to demand change.
The plenums have given citizens a forum to vent their anger at the everyday terror they endure. That is, the worker who has not been paid for almost four years but is forced to go to work every day, with no health benefits, or has to watch his wife die in agony because he cannot afford healthcare. The student who was forced to give huge bribes or sell her body to pass an exam. The woman whose son was severely beaten by the police because he took part in a street protest, and who came to the plenum at Tuzla and asked her son to show his bruises to the gathering of more than 700 people.
For 22 years, the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who survived the war were told that they faced a shapeless future and the best they could hope for was to get by, to put up with it and be grateful if their children were offered work in American military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For 22 years, the "transition to democracy" has not prevented the raping and killing of mentally and physically abused women, men and children. Since the end of the war in 1995, instead of mourning their horrific losses, Bosnian citizens have been forced, by local and international figures alike, to accept that they can only speak and act if they embrace the status of victims, off the backs and bodies of whom the ethnically divided elites can get rich.
The recent protests have created, for the first time, an opportunity to move from melancholia to mourning, to face the losses and start counting the gains from the war. Ours is a life that has survived war and genocide, but has been brutalised by the corrupt privatisation of public companies; a life that now only dreams of fleeing the country to avoid dying in solitude and hunger. This is the life we have to reclaim. We have to create more humane ties, and a society that offers our young people a future. I am part of this life and every day I remind myself to get up and go to the streets to protest because this is our only hope.
Olof Palme murder inquiry takes another twist with revoked alibi
Swedish newspaper with access to author Stieg Larsson's files on former PM's murder tracks down former girlfriend of suspect
theguardian.com, Thursday 27 February 2014 12.39 GMT
Sweden's national obsession with the unsolved 1986 murder of its then-prime minister Olof Palme – renewed this week by a revelation that novelist Stieg Larsson helped police with the investigation – has taken yet another twist after it emerged that a key suspect no longer has an alibi for the night in question.
Palme, a populist, leftwing politician whose views made him numerous enemies at home and abroad, was shot in February 1986 as he walked home with his wife from a cinema in Stockholm. Almost 30 years of inquiries has seen the focus fall on everyone from South African agents – Palme was a vocal critic of apartheid – to rogue Swedish spies.
On Tuesday a Swedish newspaper revealed that Larsson – the late author of the hugely successful Millennium trio of crime thrillers, and an expert on far-right groups – left 15 boxes of files connected to his own probe into the case. Larsson passed police the name of Bertil Wedin, a Swede with links to South African security services, as the man who organised the killing. Wedin, now living in northern Cyprus, denies this and police say he is not a suspect.
However, the newspaper given access to Larsson's files, Svenska Dagbladet, reported on Thursday that its own investigations had brought a new lead about another right-wing activist who was an associate of Wedin. Alf Enerström, a doctor and implacable rightwing opponent of Palme who spent time in a psychiatric hospital after shooting a policewoman, was investigated closely by police but always maintained that at the time of the killing he was at home with his then-partner – an account she backed up.
However, when questioned by Svenska Dagbladet, Gio Petre, a former actor who separated from Enerström in the late 1990s, said this wasn't the case. On the night of the murder Enerström in fact left the flat saying he had to put money in a parking meter, Petre said. She told the paper: "I thought it was strange because it was free parking on a Friday night and over the weekend. He came back late."
Asked why she had not said this before, Petre said: "I did not dare. I was scared of Alf, he was violent. You are the first people to ask me about this in a long time."
Enerström was of interest to the police because he was known to be a gun lover and a vehement critic of Palme. According to Svenska Dagbladet he told police he saw Palme as a traitor, saying: "Whoever killed Palme wasn't just doing a service to God, they also did the country a favour."
Petre also told the newspaper she believed her former partner owned a Smith & Wesson revolver at the time, the type of gun police believe was used to shoot Palme.
Enerström, now 83 and no longer under psychiatric care, told the newspaper the allegations were nonsense: "What Gio says about me isn't true. She might well have withdrawn the alibi, but it's what she said before that was true. I never went out alone."
Kerstin Sharp, a Swedish prosecutor who has worked on the case since 1997, said earlier this week that Larsson's tip about Wedin was not part of the police investigation. She declined to comment on the specifics of the new allegations about Enerström but said such information could be useful. "In general terms I can say a changed alibi could be interesting, depending on other circumstances. It may also be that it has very little significance. With guns, we are always interested," she said.
Recipe for revolt: what do Ukraine, Turkey and Thailand have in common?
Each revolution is different, but in the modern interconnected world grassroots uprisings have similarities and cross-fertilise
theguardian.com, Thursday 27 February 2014 15.38 GMT
If one lesson can be drawn from the spate of street revolts rippling around the globe from south-east Asia to Europe to Latin America, it is that every revolution is different.
At the same time, it is plain that in the modern, interconnected world, grassroots uprisings cross-fertilise and often have similarities. Turkey, Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela and Bosnia-Herzegovina are all middle-income democracies with elected leaders besieged by people angry at misgovernment, corruption and economic sclerosis. These days it is no longer just dictators who have something to fear from the crowd.
The belief that violently propelled revolutionary change is transnational, even universal in nature, and uniform in origin and aspiration, is seductive, persistent and historically absurd. Its antecedents include the lost era of Marx and Lenin when the "workers of the world" espoused the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Wordsworth's joyful reaction to the French revolution – "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very Heaven!" – , which he fondly believed threatened the ancien regime across all Europe, shows how lasting, powerful – and illusory – is the idea of ubiquitous, socially-levelling, personally liberating rebellion.
Following this deceptive formula, the revolts that roiled the Arab world, starting in Tunisia in 2010, were initially lumped together under the optimistic tag of the Arab spring. This phrase is not often heard nowadays. The supposed pan-Arab battle for freedom and democracy, as it was wishfully interpreted in the west, mutated into a string of separately defined conflicts involving violent coup and counter-coup in Egypt, national fracturing in Libya, harsh repression in Bahrain and catastrophic civil war in Syria.
In democracies in revolt, the differences are similarly instructive. Ukraine's uprising is increasingly taking on an ethnic tinge. The nationalist west against the ethnically Russian east. In Thailand, the principal animus is old-fashioned class warfare, pitting relatively well-to-do middle-class city dwellers against the subsidised rural masses. In Turkey, the primary focus of the protesters' rage has been one man, the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
"While mayor of Istanbul, Erdoğan quipped that democracy was like a street car: 'You ride it as far as you need and then you get off.' He has proven himself a man of his word, as he has moved to consolidate power, eviscerate the judiciary, crush free speech, curb the media and imprison political opponents," said commentator Michael Rubin.
Seen this way, Erdoğan appeared not so much a lesser version of Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych - he has not, so far, resorted to shooting demonstrators - and more the Euro-Asian equivalent of Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro, who also stands accused of trampling civic freedoms. As in Thailand, Maduro's most vehement critics hail from the middle class who revile the so-called Bolivarian socialist revolution of his mentor, the late Hugo Chávez.
As in Cambodia and Bangladesh, two other restless nations, a rapidly deteriorating economy, food prices and high crime rates are also key elements in unrest in Venezuela, said analyst Juan Carlos Hidalgo. "Despite receiving over $1tn in oil revenues since 1999, the government has run out of cash and now relies heavily on printing money to finance itself. The result is the highest inflation rate in the world." Venezuela is, however, no Ukraine, other analysts say.
Another common denominator may be the peculiar position these countries occupy in the list of nations by wealth. Venezuela had a per capita GDP of $13,480 (£8,080) in 2012, placing it 73rd on the IMF's list. Turkey was 68th, with $14,812. Thailand was 92nd, Ukraine 106th. Although not exactly wealthy, groups who might be termed upwardly-mobile revolutionaries can afford the luxury of protest in a way previous generations in these countries could not.
A mismanaged economy, corrupt privatisations, high youth unemployment and croneyism among the ruling elites also lay behind the recent, sudden eruption of violent protest in Bosnia. In this case, there was evident crossover with Turkey, and as in Bangkok, many Sarajevo residents have clearly lost confidence in their complex postwar political system. Despite its recent history, however, Bosnia's current grievances are economic, not ethnic.
"When Bosnia abandoned communism about two decades ago, officials devised a plan to privatise state-owned companies in a way they hoped would avoid mass layoffs for state workers," wrote Aida Cerkez.
"More than 80% of privatisations have failed. Many well-connected tycoons have swept into these companies, stripping them of their assets, declaring bankruptcy and leaving thousands without jobs or with minimal pay." Hence the anger on the streets.
Ineffective, undeveloped or non-existent institutions, misgovernance, deteriorating economic performance, failing social cohesion, the alienation of younger generations, ethnic and nationalist tensions and a lack of faith in democratic processes – these are among the common factors sparking the rebellions of 2014.
No one country or revolution is typical, but given these criteria, it is not hard to predict where unrest may next break out. Argentina is a prime candidate for trouble under the divisive, leftist leadership of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Her increasingly anti-democratic stance, her government's corruption scandals and her efforts to deflect attention by picking fights with Britain over the Falkland s are ominous. Experience elsewhere suggests an economy in freefall and overseen by a nationalist demagogue is a recipe for revolt.
Turkey Frees Key Suspects in Corruption Probe
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 14:51
A Turkish court on Friday released five people, including the sons of two ministers, who were detained on corruption allegations in mid-December in a high-profile probe that has rocked the government, local media said.
The private NTV channel said that Baris Guler, the son of the former interior minister, as well as Kaan Caglayan, the son of the ex-economy minister, and Azerbaijani businessman Reza Zarrab, were among those freed.
NTV said the suspects were let go because the necessary evidence had been collected.
Guler and Caglayan had been charged with acting as intermediaries for giving and taking bribes, while Zarrab was suspected of forming a ring that bribed officials to disguise illegal gold sales to sanctions-hit Iran via state-owned Halkbank.
The men walked free two weeks after Suleyman Arslan, the former chief executive of Halkbank who was also caught up in the police raids, was released. He was accused of corruption, fraud and money laundering in connection with illegal gold sales to Iran.
The graft scandal has struck at the heart of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, posing the biggest challenge yet to his 11 years in power. The crisis has prompted a cabinet reshuffle and the two ministers whose sons were implicated in the scandal have resigned.
Erdogan has accused supporters of exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who wields considerable influence in the judiciary and police, of launching the probe as part of a plot against his government ahead of local polls in March.
Erdogan has retaliated by sacking or reassigning hundreds of police and prosecutors believed to have links to Gulen.