PLO to pursue membership in United Nations’ organizations
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 27, 2014 21:23 EDT
The PLO’s central council on Sunday adopted a plan to pursue attempts to join 60 United Nations bodies and international agreements, according to a statement from the governing body of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The council, under the auspices of president Mahmud Abbas, “affirms the need for the Palestinian leadership to continue membership of UN agencies and international conventions, under the Palestinian plan that was adopted”, the Palestine People’s Party secretary general Bassam al-Salhi said in a statement.
PLO’s Abbas: Holocaust ‘the most heinous crime’ against humanity in the modern era
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 27, 2014 21:26 EDT
The mass killing of Jews in the Holocaust was “the most heinous crime” against humanity in the modern era, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Sunday in his strongest remarks yet on the Nazi genocide.
The statement comes at a sensitive time for US-led peace efforts, with Israel having suspended faltering talks last week after Abbas reached an agreement with the Islamist Hamas movement to form a unity government.
In a statement in English and Arabic released just hours before Israel began marking Holocaust remembrance day, the Palestinian leader expressed sympathy with families of the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazi regime.
“What happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era,” Abbas said.
He also expressed his “sympathy with the families of the victims and many other innocent people who were killed by the Nazis”.
His remarks, made in response to a question during talks last week with an American rabbi promoting Jewish-Muslim understanding, came as Israel and the Palestinians traded blame over the collapse of the peace talks.
“On the incredibly sad commemoration of Holocaust Day, we call on the Israeli government to seize the current opportunity to conclude a just and comprehensive peace in the region, based on the two states vision, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security,” Abbas said.
Israel will at sundown begin marking Holocaust memorial day, holding special events and two minutes’ silence to remember the victims of the Nazi genocide.
Although the Palestinian leader has condemned the Holocaust in the past, his attitude has come in for heavy scrutiny since the early 1980s, when in his doctoral thesis he questioned the total number of Jews killed.
“No one can confirm or deny the figure peddled about by the rumour that six million Jews were among the victims,” he wrote, suggesting the number “may number six million or be far fewer, even fewer than one million”.
But he added: “The controversy over the figure cannot minimise in any way the atrocious crime committed against the Jews.”
In 2011, he reportedly said that he now accepts the figure of six million Jewish victims.
Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust said Abbas’s statement “might signal a change, and we expect it will be reflected in Palestinian Authority websites, curricula and discourse.”
- ‘Overture to public opinion’ -
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Abbas’s comments on the Holocaust and said he was “shocked” when the Palestinian leader announced the pact with Hamas, whose officials have either denied the Nazi genocide outright or cast doubt on its scope.
“I think it’s an overture to American public opinion, to world public opinion to try to placate and somehow smooth over the fact that he made a terrible step away from peace,” Netanyahu said in an interview on CBS “Face the Nation.”
“He made a giant leap backwards, away from peace, because he embraced Hamas that calls for the extermination of Jews worldwide,” he said.
Netanyahu said his government would not negotiate with a Palestinian unity government unless Hamas declared it recognised Israel.
“Either Hamas disavows the destruction of Israel and embraces peace and denounces terror or president Abbas renounces Hamas,” Netanyahu said, speaking on CNN’s State of the Union.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, told reporters it was crucial to wait and see what sort of government emerged from the unity deal.
“The reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, was quite a disappointment… but we decided to wait and see what happens on the Palestinian side when a new government is created,” she said.
Addressing PLO leaders on Saturday, Abbas said the new government, which will be made up of political independents, would recognise Israel, reject violence and abide by existing agreements.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton welcomed his comments and urged both Israel and the Palestinians not to squander the US-generated momentum for peace.
“The fact that President Abbas will remain fully in charge of the negotiation process and have a mandate to negotiate in the name of all Palestinians provides further assurance that the peace negotiations can and must proceed,” she said.
Qaddafi Son Appears on Screen at His Trial
By SULIMAN ALI ZWAY and KAREEM FAHIM
APRIL 27, 2014
TRIPOLI, Libya — Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, facing accusations that he aided his father, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, in the brutal suppression of Libya’s uprising three years ago, was not allowed to appear in court in person on Sunday to answer the charges.
A militia in the Libyan mountain town of Zintan has detained Mr. Qaddafi for almost two and a half years, refusing to surrender him to the government. So instead, Mr. Qaddafi’s face — looking sleepy at times, and supremely confident at others — was beamed to the courtroom from a secret location, through a video link. Eight other defendants also took part in the hearing by means of a video link.
Their absence in court underscored the persistent criticisms of the trial by human rights groups, who say the process so far has been marred by the kind of irregularities that have crippled Libya’s judiciary, and dimmed the possibility of a fair process.
On Sunday, another high-profile defendant in the case — Abdullah al-Senussi, Colonel Qaddafi’s feared former intelligence chief — said in court that he was meeting his lawyer for the first time. But the lawyer, Ali al-Dhaba Ali, said he was withdrawing from the case, citing health reasons, which left Mr. Senussi, for the moment, without legal representation.
The court session, the second in the trial of more than 30 former Qaddafi government officials, is being closely watched as a test for the weak central government, which remains in most ways subservient to militias and other regional power brokers.
The judiciary is just one of the institutions that has suffered from the absence of a strong central authority.
In the current case, at least one defendant has complained of being abused while in detention and others have been denied access to lawyers before the trial. The lawyers have complained of having only fleeting access to the evidence against their clients, including confessions and transcripts of interrogations.
Some of those complaints came up during the court session on Sunday, though it remained unclear how much authority the judges had to remedy them. Eight other defendants are being detained in the western port city of Misurata, whose leaders have also been reluctant to cede any authority to officials in the capital, Tripoli.
The judges did rule that lawyers could copy some of the evidence against the defendants, though it was unclear whether they were referring to all of the thousands of pages of documents submitted by prosecutors. Journalists were allowed to watch the trial from a room adjoining the courtroom in Tripoli’s Al-Hadba Correctional Facility.
The defendants face a broad array of charges related to the uprising, which ended when rebel soldiers captured and executed Colonel Qaddafi in October 2011, as he was fleeing from the town of Surt. Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi was captured a month later by militia fighters from Zintan.
Asked in court about whether he had a lawyer, Mr. Qaddafi replied, “I have God.”
Mr. Senussi, faced with the withdrawal of his lawyer, said he would like to appoint a non-Libyan to represent him, suggesting that he could not find anyone in the country to take the case. But even that would be difficult, said Hanan Salah, a Libya researcher for Human Rights Watch. Held in solitary confinement with little access to the outside world, Mr. Senussi and other defendants would have trouble contacting lawyers.
And foreign lawyers need to be accompanied by a Libyan lawyer in court, as well as being accredited by the Libyan Bar Association.
“I am not facing justice,” Mr. Senussi told the judge. “I am facing something else.”
Correction: April 28, 2014
An earlier version of this article misstated the amount of time Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi has been detained by a militia in the Libyan town of Zintan. He has been held for 29 months, or nearly two and a half years, not 17 months.
Peacekeepers: 22 Killed in Attack on C.Africa MSF Hospital
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 April 2014, 11:39
At least 22 people including three staff members of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres were killed during a weekend attack by gunmen on a Central African hospital, in the latest atrocity to hit the violence-plagued country.
The brutal attack in the northwest was blamed on the mostly Muslim rebels known as the Seleka, whose coup in March last year unleashed a vicious cycle of sectarian violence.
"Armed men from the ex-Seleka and of Fula ethnicity on Saturday afternoon attacked a hospital supported by MSF in the region of Nanga Boguila, killing at least 22 people, including three Central African employees of MSF and leaving a dozen wounded," an officer from the African-led MISCA peacekeeping force told AFP on Monday.
MSF confirmed the death of its three employees, without giving further details.
The gunmen had stormed into the building as local representatives and MSF employees held a meeting, the MISCA officer said.
"The assailants first opened fire at a group of people, gunning down four of them. Then they went to the hospital where they killed 15 other people and three members of MSF.
"They took computers and several other assets, breaking down doors probably in search for cash," added the officer.
"France strongly condemns the deadly attack perpetrated on April 27 against the medical center," said French foreign ministry spokesman Roman Nadal on Monday.
"The perpetrators of this intolerable attack must be brought to justice," he said, while adding his praise for MSF's work "in difficult conditions and under threat to their lives".
The Seleka rebels were ordered to disarm by their leader Michel Djotodia several months after they installed him in power in a coup. But some ignored orders and went on a killing, raping and pillaging rampage.
Mostly Christian communities then formed "anti-balaka" vigilante forces to wreak revenge against Muslims, usually targeting innocent people.
Djotodia resigned in January after failing to put down the violence that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced a quarter of the country's 4.6 million population. And today, extremists of the Seleka alliance actively encourage de facto partition.
African and French peacekeepers, backed up recently by an EU force, have been struggling to curb the fighting ripping the country apart.
"It is a region that is not completely secured, because our forces (are not large enough) to be deployed in other sites than the main cities like Bossangoa," said the MISCA officer, referring to a city about 100 kilometers from the scene of the MSF attack.
The weekend attack came as 1,300 Muslims left the capital Bangui on Sunday under heavy guard.
Tens of thousands have already fled northwards, almost emptying the south of the country of Muslims. They have traveled to predominantly Muslim areas in the north, while thousands of others have fled across borders into Chad and Cameroon.
The religious and ethnic faultlines that are driving the conflict are particularly disheartening in a country where these groups lived peacefully alongside each other for generations despite a succession of coups, misrule, army mutinies and strikes.
Earlier in April, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon made an impassioned plea on the warring parties to prevent a new genocide on the continent, 20 years after Rwanda.
A 12,000-strong U.N. force is scheduled to deploy in September in the former French colony, taking over from 2,000 French and 6,000 African Union soldiers already in place.
The World Cup and Olympics threaten to overwhelm Rio – yet there is time to create a sensation out of disaster
Rio de Janeiro is now desperately behind schedule for the 2016 Olympic Games. Sport's mega-events should not be allowed to traumatise this magnificent, complex city
Simon Jenkins in Rio de Janeiro
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 April 2014 17.33 BST
Has Rio de Janeiro the guts? The city is now desperately behind schedule for its 2016 Olympics – one insider put it at 10% ready, where London was 60% ready at the same stage. But a visit earlier this month left me with an intriguing question. Could Rio’s chaotic planners make virtue of necessity? Could they be the first city to haul the Olympics back from its fixation with money and buildings, and restore them to sport? Could Rio fashion a sensation from a disaster?
The main Olympic park at Barra da Tijuca was until recently strike-bound. The secondary one at Deodoro is a military base and not even started. This month, the International Olympic Committee in Turkey declared “a critical situation” and demanded the Brazilian government do something. It set up a committee. The IOC spokesman, Mark Adams, had to deny rumours of plan B, to move the games from Rio altogether, but significantly failed to rule this out, merely saying “at this stage that would be far too premature”.
No one visiting Rio at present can imagine cancellation as anything but devastating. In this fantasy world of prestige, multibillion dollar budgets and white elephants, even a shambles is thought better than cancellation. But the city could yet seize the initiative. With domestic elections in October and the games faced with plummeting domestic support, Brazil’s politicians could plead force majeur, call the IOC’s bluff and stage a slimmed down “austerity” games, as did Britain in 1948.
They could abandon the unbuilt cluster at Deodoro, intended for events such as rugby, kayaking and mountain biking. They could cancel some of the IOC’s “toff” sports such as tennis, golf, sailing and equestrianism, as well as the absurdity of staging a second soccer competition just two years after this year’s World Cup. They could slash arena and stadium capacity to what it can already offer, and tell thousands of gilded IOC officials, sponsors and VIPs there will be no luxury apartments, limousines and private traffic lanes, just camping on Copacabana beach.
The catalyst might well be this June’s Olympics-lite, otherwise known as the football World Cup. It is costing Brazil $4bn (£2.4bn) on stadiums alone for 64 football matches – a staggering $62m per match – plus some $7bn for associated infrastructure. Only generals at war and Swiss sports officials contemplate such obscene spending. When Fifa’s secretary-general, Jerome Valcke, came to inspect preparations last month, he professed himself appalled. Two years ago he had warned Brazil to give itself “a kick up the backside”. His boss Sepp Blatter said the place was “the most delayed World Cup since I have been at Fifa.” They treated Brazil as a badly behaved child.
In truth Fifa was a fool. It had staged the 2010 World Cup in South Africa by the skin of its teeth, the country recouping a mere 10% of its $3bn outlay. Studies of such mega-events, financed by their sponsors, invariably estimate huge profits, later declaring little more than “goodwill and reputational gain”. Brazil’s World Cup spending was wild from the start. Domestic politics made it increase Fifa’s requirement of eight venues to 12, including new stadiums in Manaus and Brasilia that are not needed locally and may never see more than four football matches.
In June last year, the unheard-of occurred, with urban riots nationwide against even hosting the cup. Public support fell from 80% when the cup was “awarded” to Brazil in 2007 to under 50% now. At the last count, 55% of Brazilians think the cup will harm their economy rather than benefit it. While urban bus fares were being raised, millions of dollars were vanishing into corrupt building contracts. Demonstrators shouting “There will be no World Cup” fought police. The protests continued sporadically and last month the army had to invade some of Rio’s favelas to restore some semblance of control ahead of the June deadline.
More worrying for Rio is the political backwash from the World Cup on to the Olympics. At present the talk is that if Brazil wins the cup (it is sixth in the Fifa rankings), the public may just tolerate the Olympics, but if not, “the games are dead”. As the city’s famously short-fused mayor Eduardo Paes recently told the press: “Don’t ever in your life do a World Cup and an Olympic Games at the same time … I am not cut out to be a masochist.”
These mega-events traumatise a complex modern city. They upset the rhythms of its politics and infrastructure investment. They clear thousands from their homes and virtually close down whole cities for a month. IOC plutocrats arrive like visiting princelings long accustomed to living at the expense of others. In London they demanded and got exclusive limousine lanes (including outside Harrods) and traffic lights switched to green as they drove to their venues. They block-booked luxury hotels and dumped unwanted rooms onto the market when it was too late for re-letting. Their sponsors demanded the removal of rival advertisements anywhere near the venues (even on toilet equipment). They expected some 40,000 security staff to be on hand, or four times the number of athletes, to protect “the Olympic family”.
Even after shaking off past corruption scandals, the IOC is addicted to extravagance. The games nowadays float on national hyperbole and civic rivalry, festivals not of sport but of competitive mega-structures. The IOC requires each venue to meet meticulous specifications at whatever cost. The number of sports increases each time (currently 26 covering some 400 events), all craving their hour in the television spotlight.
Some 95% of the budget of a modern Olympics goes not on sport but on steel, concrete, bricks and mortar, even in cities such as London with perfectly adequate facilities already. “Starchitects” propose ever wilder arenas that everyone knows will come in at double or treble their estimates. They absorb labour, energy, materials, land and effort which are then not available for urban investment elsewhere. The global scale of such evanescent spending over the decades must be staggering.
Under the IOC’s new president, Thomas Bach, there have been some signs of concern, if not of remorse, at this extravagance. Bach has declared his commitment to “sustainable development”, whatever that means. This has mostly taken the form of preferring rich hosts and stable governments able to deliver soaring budgets without significant protest from local people, such as Beijing and Sochi (and indeed London).
In these terms Brazil was always a gamble. Earlier this month one of London’s Olympic organisers, Lord Dyson, visited Rio to brief its team on “lessons from London”. He brought two messages, the need for “total engagement” in the games of the whole host nation and the need for a palpable legacy. It was good advice. Rio’s vanity is much resented elsewhere in Brazil, and a host city in crisis will need its nation on board. Rio has taken one bit of advice from London and hired the American project contractor, Aecom, to “deliver” the games.
Meanwhile legacy has become a ruling obsession of Olympics public relations. As one Rio official put it: “Without legacy, there is no way so much money can justifiably be spent on a fortnight of sport.” But what is legacy? All that is certain is that the sums spent on construction are gargantuan. The Brazil World Cup was originally bid at a cost of $1bn for new stadiums and upgrades. This swiftly rose with associated infrastructure to over $8bn, with only the vaguest concept of audit.
When Rio won the games in 2009, to ecstatic scenes on Copacabana beach, the talk was of holding down costs by re-using facilities built for the Pan-American games of 2007. The latest official count has this cost at $15bn, more than London. But estimates of committed “Olympics-related legacy” stretch as high as $90bn over the current decade. This must imply a severe distortion of Brazil’s normal infrastructure planning.
On the Games themselves, 52 projects were to be located in four hubs. “Nomadic architecture” would be employed, whereby stadiums could be dismantled and rebuilt as schools. In addition there was a new “Transcarioca” urban highway with rapid transit bus track, two other lines, 57 new hotels and the renewal of the semi-derelict port area of the city. The city’s Guanabara Bay would be relieved of its flotsam and of the pollution pouring into it from surrounding favelas – essential for the sailing events.
Most exciting of all was the first coherent plan for investment in favela “urbanisation”, the so-called Morar Carioca. Fashioned in partnership with the Institute of Brazilian Architects, it committed $4.5bn to “infrastructure, landscaping, leisure and living … generating comfort and dignity for more than 200,000 people”. This was to run in parallel with the favela “pacification” programme instituted by the state governor, Sergio Cabral, and security secretary, José Beltrame. Begun in 2008, this determined to liberate the fifth of the city’s inhabitants living in mostly hillside districts outside the rule of law, rife with anarchy, drug-dealing, violence and few utilities of public services. The plan would be true legacy, one of the most imaginative urban renewal projects I have seen anywhere.
The legacy of the legacy has been bitter disappointment. The cross-town highway has been built and the port area is being revived. But the bay remains polluted. There have been battles over favela clearances to make way for games sites, notably at Vila Autodromo next to the main Olympic park. Activists from the “Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics” claim more than 170,000 people are being driven from their homes for games-related purposes. Rio may not match Beijing’s record for Olympic eviction, when a reported 1.5 million people were cleared for 2008, but it is rising fast.
Even in the favelas, Brazilians supposedly enjoy a right to consultation before compulsory removal and to being rehoused near their existing homes – chief reason for the rarity of slum clearance. But the popular committee’s Renato Consentino says: “When your home is impeding the Olympics, everything is short-circuited.” Some eviction notices even carry the Olympic logo, hardly enhancing the games’ popularity. After such elevated expectations, to be hit by two mega-events in succession, says Consentino, “has emptied out any time for democracy”.
Brazilians are habitual sceptics of what their rulers say to them. Theirs is not the instinctive deference to government of Russians, Chinese or even Britons. The promises of power mean little since they are so rarely kept. In Rio, the tide of opinion appears at last to be turning. For Fifa’s World Cup, celebrity “ambassadors” were chosen from the nation’s soccer stars, such as Pele and Ronaldo. Both have been ridiculed by street protesters as “enemies of the people”. Meanwhile their former colleague, Romario, footballer turned politician, has taken to the airwaves and is running for the senate, hurling abuse at Fifa’s extravagance and deriding Blatter and Valcke as “thieves and sons of bitches” (and worse). He asks how they can demand that Brazil pay for “first-world stadiums when we cannot afford first-world hospitals and schools”.
Saddest of all has been the virtual abandonment of Morar Carioca. While the pacification programme has been moderately successful, with roughly half the favelas “retaken” by the police from gangsters, there has been little or no follow-up with sewers, water supply, streets and social infrastructure. By the end of last year, the Catalytic Communities website recorded that of the 219 favelas initially designated, “upgrades have begun in none”.
At the Institute of Brazilian Architects, its president Sergio Magalhaes shuffles gloomily over the plans and drawings of what had been proposed for his city and is now in abeyance. He sees the backtracking as “recklessly adding to a general sense of dissatisfaction” with mega-events as a whole. Infrastructure projects such as the urban highway merely “link rich area to rich area”. An interview with him in the Brazilian magazine Veja is headlined simply, “The architects are furious.”
Any visitor to Rio is left puzzled at the naivety with which it ever believed the IOC’s hyperbole. There is no Midas touch to grand sporting occasions, just cost. An extravagant opening and closing ceremony, some gold medals for the hosts and good public relations can generate a passing feel-good effect, as they did in Barcelona and London. Even when the cost is crippling, as with Athens, the IOC’s salesmen declared a “return in glory, reputation and future tourism”.
Serious economists despair of these events. The founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, saw them as forging peace between peoples. With the Berlin Games of 1936 they became more a festival of chauvinism, a beauty contest between nations and ideologies, reaching a sort of nadir at the Sochi Winter Olympics. A report by Bloomberg suggests the chief gain is not in peace but in construction company share prices. A study by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski predicts that this year’s World Cup will see “a transfer of wealth from Brazil as a whole to various interest groups”, mostly soccer clubs and private corporations. It will “not be an economic bonanza”.
The much-vaunted extra tourism is an Olympic chimera. Sydney in 2000 was told it would see a boom in visits and when this failed it ran angry advertisements with the slogan, “So where the bloody hell are you?” Athens and Beijing were half-deserted for the Olympics, and South Africa’s World Cup saw barely two-thirds of the predicted visitors. British tourism was blitzed by the 2012 Olympics and is still 3% down on 2011.
The nearest parallel to the Olympics nowadays is probably a war, an outburst of patriotic fervour, fathered by mild mendacity out of public expenditure. Criticism is suppressed. Medals tables are listed like battle honours. Home contestants are “heroes”. Winners are showered with state baubles and losers stripped of grants.
Some of Rio’s more cynical citizens even give this parallel a sort of welcome. They hope the Olympics might discipline a lethargic city bureaucracy, defeating the nay-sayers as deadlines fall due and yielding at least some projects of lasting usefulness. They are pleased that Rio is now the focus of world attention, with resulting self-criticism. The favelas are crawling with academics and camera crews as never before, as if waiting for them to explode for the World Cup and the Games.
This could suggest a new phenomenon, the mega-event as the critical mover in cities where the politics of urban renewal has seized up. Whether such a trauma is the best way of ordering any society is another matter. Any city that can blow billions of dollars on a fortnight’s party and not repair public services such as Rio’s has its governance seriously awry.
Even before the party has begun, much of Rio seems to be suffering from a hangover. The mayor is talking masochism and there are plenty of others, including within the IOC, wondering if it is too late to stop. The planning professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Orlando dos Santos Junior, sees dire conflict ahead in the clash between spending on white elephants and crying needs elsewhere in the city – producing what he calls “an agony of disappointed loyalties”.
I believe Rio still has time to show the courage London lacked in 2005. London boasted it would stage “a People’s Games”, a low-cost festival of urban fun. But it capitulated to the IOC’s grandiosity, building a new stadium rather than using Wembley and raising a $4bn budget to $13bn.
Rio could do the precise opposite. It could welcome the world to whatever stadiums and arenas are left from the 2007 Pan-American games, and rely on television to reach audiences. It could tailor the Olympics to Rio rather than Rio to the Olympics. The city of carnival would offer a carnival of sport, proving that poor cities as well as rich ones can sometimes stage these mega-events. Do that and instead of being abused for delay and incompetence, this magnificent city would have the world cheering its daring and its guts. Go for it, Rio.
• Medellín: from murder capital to model city?
• This article was amended on Thursday 24 April 2014 to correct the name of state security secretary José Beltrame
Rio Police Snare Most-Wanted over Policemen's Deaths
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 April 2014, 07:09
Brazilian police arrested Sunday a fugitive who was on the run for his alleged part in the separate killings of two policemen in the Rio slums.
Ramires Roberto da Silva, 20, was wanted in connection with the shooting deaths of the policemen in February and March and authorities had offered 3,000 reais ($1,300) for information leading to his arrest.
He had allegedly offered police 100,000 reais (about $45,000) in bribe money to avoid arrest, CBN radio said.
Rio police are cracking down on gangs in the leadup to the football World Cup, which kicks off on June 12. Rio hosts seven games, including the final.
Da Silva was the subject of several arrest warrants, including for armed robbery and murder.
Violence flared in Rio's Copacabana Beach tourist area on Tuesday after a dancer was found shot dead in a nearby slum, or favela, heightening fears about World Cup security.
Hoop dreams of Mexico's indigenous youth provide hope in 'forgotten' region
Basketball has given the impoverished Triqui people a renewed sense of purpose after community club wins national plaudits
Jo Tuckman in El Rastrojo
The Guardian, Sunday 27 April 2014 14.01 BST
Froylán Martínez's bare feet pounded the concrete court without a sound as he steamed past his opponents, but the spectacular show of speed ended with a disappointing shot at the hoop high above his head. Undeterred, the diminutive 10-year-old – a rising star of Mexican indigenous basketball spun to pursue the ball, and keep chasing his dream.
"I want to play in the NBA," Froylán said after the game, which launched trials for an internationally successful team drawn from the isolated Triqui indigenous people in southern Mexico. "I'm fast but I need to work on my shots."
When a former professional basketball player set out to find fresh talent here four years ago, the Triqui region was primarily known for its inter-clan feuds, political violence and underage brides. Now the Mexican Academy of Indigenous Basketball, and its remarkable team, have become a symbol of hope forged in adversity.
"This is about noticing the talent of indigenous people who have been forgotten by their own country," said Sergio Zúñiga, who now hopes to replicate the experiment in indigenous communities across the country. "If we could build all this out of nothing, the future of Mexico can change too."
Zúñiga first presented his plan to the leaders of the fiercely independent Triqui people, one of Mexico's smaller indigenous groups with a population of around 24,000, concentrated in Oaxaca state. In this harsh region, basketball has long been the only sport practiced with any regularity, because there is not enough flat land to play football.
But Zúñiga's proposal was initially met with suspicion. It didn't help that the coach made his pitch a week after two human rights activists were killed while investigating the earlier deaths of two community radio announcers.
"They thought I was a spy, they thought I wanted to steal the kids and sell them," Zúñiga said. "It was very complicated at first, but little by little the impact became clear."
With a seriousness and persistence rarely seen in Mexican sporting projects, Zúñiga slowly put together the team. Initially they played without shoes, because their parents could not afford them. But what they lacked in footwear and stature, they made up for in speed, resilience and determination, and soon their performances in Mexican tournaments were grabbing the attention of the basketball cognoscente.
This brought in a trickle of donations, which last year allowed Zúñiga to move the 25-member A-team seven hours drive away to a communal house just outside the state capital, so they train after school and at the weekend.
Then, in October, the team won a tournament in Argentina – just after Mexico's footballing elite had become a national embarrassment as it struggled to secure a place in the World Cup.
Largely unknown before they left the country, the Triquis returned home to find they had been catapulted into celebrity. Now they play on a shiny new court built with money from the office of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who jumped at the chance of association with an inspirational good news story far from the drug war violence that tends to dominate news from Mexico.
However, despite its focus on sport the project offers an implicit criticism of Mexico's abandonment of its indigenous population: according to the latest official figures (from 2012), around 80% of indigenous Mexicans live in poverty, compared to a national figure of 46%, and 27% are illiterate– a proportion five times greater than for the general population.
In this part of the state of Oaxaca most families live in one room adobe houses, signs of malnutrition are obvious, and mobile phone reception is a rarity,
Children who join the Triqui team are offered educational opportunities they would otherwise never have, and are encouraged to contribute to the development of their communities if they make it through university. "The basketball is the bait," Zúñiga said.
Team members must keep up their grades, speak Triqui at home, and follow strict discipline that includes penalties of 300 push-ups for displays of aggression on or off the court.
Meanwhile, the stories they tell of visits to Disney World and travelling on planes can seem even more effective propaganda for the project than the trophies they have brought home to a region with an established tradition of migration to the US.
"Maybe one day my son will go to the United States with a passport," mused Alejandro de Jesus, who has made the dangerous journey across the border several times, guided by people smugglers. His nine-year old son now plays for the team. "I want him to have a different life from me."
Local coaches trained by Zúñiga are also pushing to increase their recruitment of girls who, among the Triqui, are regularly forced into marriage, motherhood and domestic servitude from the age of 13.
At the Olympic-style parade of local communities before the recent trials, a group of girls marched behind the banner of El Rastrojo. Aged between 10 and 13, the girls said their mothers had reluctantly given their blessing – along with warnings that too much physical exertion would leave them barren. The warnings only fuelled their enthusiasm.
"We don't want children, they get in the way and you have to look after them," Esperanza said to the general agreement from her friends. As she waited to show off her skills on the mountain-edge court that doubles up as the primary school playground, the 10-year-old said: "I want to travel too. I want to see other places."
After three days of trials, 100 children were selected; later they will be whittled down to 25 reinforcements for the A-team in the city. Now the team is nationally known, the pressure is on to maintain their winning streak.
Meanwhile, a handful of existing members are already being groomed for scholarships abroad. These include Quirino Merino, who played the exhibition game in El Rastrojo in trainers – a sign that the process of "profesionalisation" has already begun.
"I like playing without shoes better," the 10-year-old said. "Shoes feel heavy, they slow you down and they give you blisters, but I'm getting used to them now."
• This article was amended on 28 April 2014. It originally stated that most adult women still wear the traditional long, red embroidered smocks in a particular part of Oaxaco. The statement, while correct, implied this was a negative thing in the context of the paragraph. This was not the intention and it has been removed for clarity.
“Revolutionary” Advanced Battery Leaps Theoretical Maximum Boundary
Just when you thought you knew everything about the theoretical maximum capacity of batteries, along comes the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to throw you for a loop. A team of researchers at ORNL has developed a pathway for “unprecedented energy density” in a battery that has already demonstrated a 26 percent increase over its theoretical maximum.
The ORNL team tested its concept on a lithium-carbon fluoride battery, which is considered “one of the best” batteries in the single-use (non-rechargeable) class for its high energy density.
advanced battery concept
Next generation battery concept courtesy of ORNL.
Hold Your Breath On That Next-Gen EV Battery
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s pause and underscore that the finding involves single use batteries, so the implications for rechargeable EV batteries are remote at best.
However, according to ORNL the discovery could stretch single use battery life by “years or even decades.” That has significant implications for medical devices, remote sensors and keyless systems, and other applications where recharging is not an ideal solution.
In terms of our clean tech focus here at CleanTechnica, the improvement in lifecycle translates into significant resource conservation opportunities, including the potential for eliminating battery replacement surgery for medical devices.
Now think about how the medical device field is set to explode and you can see how a longer-lived battery comes into play.
For the record, ORNL isn’t the only federal agency interested in extending the life of lithium-carbon fluoride batteries. Army researchers are also on the case, pursuing a cathode-based track.
Secret Sauce for Next Generation Batteries
The beauty of the ONRL advanced battery discovery is that it involves a total rethinking of the role that each battery component plays.
For those of us who already forgot all the chemistry we learned in high school, here’s a quick review. Batteries consist of a cathode (positive charge), anode (negative charge), and an electrolyte, which conducts the ions (the charged particles).
Conventional battery engineering relies on the principle that each of the three components functions independently. In this system, the electrolyte is inactive in terms of maximizing battery capacity.
The ORNL team discovered that they could get the electrolyte and the cathode to interact in such a way that the electrolyte gains a capacity function to supplement the cathode.
They did that by incorporating a solid lithium thiophosphate (thiophosphate is a compound of phosphorus) electrolyte, which ORNL’s Chengdu Liang describes thusly:
As the battery discharges, it generates a lithium fluoride salt that further catalyzes the electrochemical activity of the electrolyte. This relationship converts the electrolyte — conventionally an inactive component in capacity — to an active one.
What’s All This About Lithium Thiophosphate?
If lithium thiophosphate doesn’t ring a bell, you’ll probably hear more about it soon. ORNL announced the development of a solid lithium thiophosphate electrolyte last year, the point being to replace the potentially flammable electrolyte in conventional lithium-ion batteries with a more stable electrolyte.
As for EV batteries, ORNL is running down a number of promising leads for next-generation technology including lithium-sulfur, possibly with the help of a new cathode developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (the University of Arizona is also hot on the sulfur trail).
Sulfur is considered a good bet for its killer light weight – high density – low cost combo.
In the USA...United Surveillance America
John Boehner Humiliates Himself In Factory With Claim Repealing Obamacare Creates Jobs
By: Jason Easley
Saturday, April, 26th, 2014, 3:10 pm
John Boehner humiliated himself again today by standing in a factory and claiming that repealing Obamacare will create jobs.
Boehner said, “What I heard here – and what I hear everywhere I go – is that we need to get the federal government out of the way. Having run a small business myself, I see where these folks are coming from. I know why Americans are still asking the question ‘where are the jobs?’ For the last five years, we’ve had an administration in Washington that acts as if everything can be done from the top down. From the ‘stimulus’ to ObamaCare, it’s a record littered with promises that never panned out. And pain for people trying to get by and meet a payroll. Republicans, we’ve kept our pledge, we’ve offered a new way forward. Our majority in the House has made your priorities our priorities. And every week, we’re focused on passing initiatives that would make it easier to find jobs and create jobs at places just like this. We’re ready to improve job training programs so workers can acquire the right skills; expand production of American-made energy to lower costs; open new markets for small manufacturers; and repeal and replace ObamaCare.”
This is getting embarrassing. Republicans have less than nothing. Boehner and the GOP are now trying to appeal to the middle class by taking their message of tax cuts for the rich and repealing Obamacare and putting it in a factory. Newsflash for Boehner, standing in front of a factory while promoting an anti-worker agenda is not going to convince anyone that Republicans care about everyone who isn’t rich.
The “jobs bills” that House Republicans have passed aren’t jobs bills at all. The bills are tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and repeals of health and safety regulations. Republicans have not passed any legislation that would create a single job.
As President Obama said last year, “But gutting protections for our air and water isn’t a jobs plan. Gutting investments in things like education and energy isn’t a jobs plan. Putting all your eggs in the basket of an oil pipeline that may only create about 50 permanent jobs, and wasting the country’s time by taking something like 40 meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare isn’t a jobs plan.”
Boehner can put on his red sweatshirt and stand in as many factories as he wants, but the truth is that Republicans have no jobs plan. Republicans also have no economic plan, and no healthcare plan. The GOP’s only plan is to hang on to their seats in Congress.
The humiliation only grows for John Boehner as he continues to sell something that no one is buying.
Dancin' Dave "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory Continues Beating The War Drums With Putin On Meet The Press
By Heather April 27, 2014 8:33 am
This makes two weeks in a row for David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory. Last week on Meet the Press, he was helping Sen. Bob Corker with the tough talk on Russia and asking if he's learning the "right lessons" by our lack of military aggression towards him. This Sunday the viewers were treated to him badgering Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken about whether there's going to be a "military cost" for Russia following their invasion of Ukraine.
"I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY: Is there a military cost if Putin moves forward? Is there any military cost extracted by the United States or by NATO?
BLINKEN: Look, what we're tying to do is deescalate this crisis, not escalate it. We don't see a military confrontation coming of this, but what we do see is increasing support for Ukraine. We have a program now with the international community that will get $37 or 38 billion to Ukraine over two years. We have worked to isolate Russia and we're reassuring our partners in NATO.
Elizabeth Warren Smacks Down ABC’s Attempt To Split The Democratic Party
By: Jason Easley
Sunday, April, 27th, 2014, 11:54 am
Instead of talking about how the big banks and Wall St. blew up the economy, the middle class, or income inequality, ABC’s This Week tried to use Elizabeth Warren to divide the Democratic Party, but Sen. Warren wouldn’t play along.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve been pretty clear, and we showed it in Jeff Zeleny’s piece, that you say you’re not running for president in 2016. It seems like you’ve just affirmed it again. You also signed a letter — several senators signed a letter earlier this year encouraging Hillary Clinton to run.
So is she your candidate in 2016?
WARREN: You know, all of the women — Democratic women, I should say, of the Senate urged Hillary Clinton to run. And I hope she does.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You hope she does. And if she does, she is your candidate, you’re going to endorse her?
WARREN: If Hillary — Hillary is terrific.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you’ve said she is terrific very many times. You say that again in this book, “A Fighting Chance.” But this book leaves out something of a pointed criticism from your earlier book, “The Two Income Trap.”
There you praised first lady Hillary Clinton for her opposition to this bankruptcy bill pushed by the big banks, but go on to talk about how she, as New York senator, seemed she could not afford that principled position.
Senator Clinton received 140,000 in campaign contributions from banking industry executives in a single year. Big banks were now part of Senator Clinton’s constituency. She wanted their support, and they wanted hers, including a vote in favor of that awful bill.
So do you think that — are you worried that somehow she will bow to big business, those were your words in that book, if she becomes president?
WARREN: Look, I’ve made it clear all the way through this book and really what I’ve been working on for the last 25 years, that I’m worried a lot about power in the financial services industry.
And I’m worried about the fact that basically starting in the ’80s, you know, the cops were taken off the beat in financial services, these guys were allowed to just paint a bull’s eye on the backsides of American families.
They loaded up on risk. They crashed the economy. They got bailed out. And what bothers me now is they still strut around Washington. They block regulations that they don’t want. They roll over agencies whenever they can. And they break…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did they rollover Hillary Clinton?
WARREN: Well, that’s — they break the law, and still don’t end up being held accountable for it, and going to jail.
One of the things that I focus on really hard throughout this book is that that is one of the prime examples of how the playing field is tilted and how we’ve got to push back against it.
It’s a central issue for me. It’s something I’m going to keep talking about. And I’m going to keep talking about it with everyone.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. But — I understand. Do you think Hillary Clinton will push back on that as well?
WARREN: Well, I’m going to keep talking about this issue. And I’m going to keep pushing on this issue.
Sen. Warren kept trying to steer the discussion towards the middle class and fighting the big banks, but mostly George Stephanopoulos wanted to talk about the 2016 horse race and stir up disagreement between Warren and Hillary Clinton. ABC had a chance to discuss income inequality, the big banks, and the decline of the middle class with one of the nation’s top experts, but all they wanted to do was try to create some controversy ahead of 2016.
The media desperately wants to divide the Democratic Party. They want big ratings, and the ratings come when there is a contest that captures the imagination of the nation. Hillary Clinton running away with the 2016 Democratic nomination is boring TV. The Republican field will likely be as weak and unpopular as ever. The mainstream media is begging for a storyline for 2016. If the storyline helps to destroy Democratic Party unity, all the better.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren made it clear that she isn’t going to give the media what they want.
If Hillary Clinton doesn’t run, Sen. Warren might run, but that wasn’t supposed to be the point of this interview. When a journalist has the opportunity to sit down with Elizabeth Warren, who before doing media for her book tour gave very few national interviews, she shouldn’t be treated like another ambitious political hack with her eyes on the White House.
What this interview demonstrated was that the corporately owned media doesn’t care about income inequality or the middle class. The issues that Sen. Warren discusses have an impact on the lives of a majority of Americans every single day, but the media would rather amuse themselves with speculation about the next presidential race.
Sen. Warren wouldn’t play the media’s game, and the result was that real issues that impact millions of lives got a rare mention on the Republican dominated Sunday morning shows.
Sarah Palin tells NRA attendees: ‘Waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists’
By Tom Boggioni
Sunday, April 27, 2014 15:16 EDT
Speaking at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Indianapolis former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin told a packed house, “Waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”
According to The Hill, the former half-term governor prefaced her comments about waterboarding with “if I were in charge.”
“They obviously have information on plots to carry out jihad,” Palin said. “Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”
Palin’s comments stand in stark contrast with the opinions of the man who selected her as his running mate, Sen. John McCain, who was tortured for years while held in a Vietnamese prison camp.
“In my personal experience, the abuse of prisoners sometimes produces good intelligence, but often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear –- whether it is true or false –- if he believes it will relieve his suffering,” McCain once said.
Addressing the main topic of conversation at the NRA convention, Palin linked common sense gun control legislation to a complete loss of freedom and possessions in America.
“Do you know why those clownish little Kumbaya-humming fairytale-inhaling liberals want to be tough all of a sudden and control your guns?” she said. “It’s ‘cuz guys like [Sen.] Al Franken (D-MN) and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid (D-NV), they’re not satisfied with just taking your money and your job, your truck and your property and your rights, your healthcare – they didn’t want to just stop at that.”
Referring to Attorney General Eric Holder’s suggestion that technology advances, like a bracelet that interacts with a weapon, might help stem the flood of shootings, Palin referenced the many bracelets she wears that commemorate fallen soldiers and various other American causes.
“You can have these bracelets when you pry them past my cold, dead hands,” she said, echoing a popular NRA bumper sticker from the 70′s.
Christians have grabbed ‘theocratic control over public schools’ in Louisiana, critic says
By Scott Kaufman
Friday, April 25, 2014 9:57 EDT
Yesterday, the Louisiana Senate Education Committee upheld a controversial law that allows science teachers to bring “supplemental science education materials” into the classroom.
The Committee voted 3-1 to uphold the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) — which critics contend allows teachers to introduce creationist literature into science classrooms — on the grounds that no proof that teachers were importing religious-oriented material into the public school could be found.
The LSEA, which was passed in 2008 with the support of Governor Bobby Jindal and prominent state conservatives, allows teachers to use “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials” so long as they “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.” Gene Mills, president of the Christian Louisiana Family Forum, called it “a reasonable academic freedom policy, one that has become a model for others.”
Critics of the law, including Dr. Jim Dugan, claimed at the hearing that LSEA is a ruse designed to allow for the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public schools under the aegis of “critical thinking.”
“I think it’s obvious to any thoughtful person that the poorly written and deceptively named ‘Louisiana Science Education Act’ is a crude attempt to provide legal cover for the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public schools,” he said.
“The bill exclusive targets — and I’m quoting from the bill here — ‘evolution,’ ‘the origins of life,’ ‘global warming,’ and ‘human cloning.’ These are not topics,” he continued, “thought to be problematic by scientists, or science educators, but [are] wedge issues frequently used by Christian fundamentalists to attempt theocratic control over public school curriculum.”
Raw Story spoke to Dr. Dugan this morning, and his reaction to the Committee’s decision was that he “was disappointed, but not surprised.”
“It’s a testimony to the influence of Mills and the Christian Louisiana Family Forum,” he said. “Because there’s no purpose [to the LSEA] other than sneaking in creationsim.”
Raw Story asked Dr. Dugan whether Mills or any other proponent of the LSEA had offered an alternative curriculum that didn’t involve creationism, and he said that they hadn’t, adding that “if it isn’t about creationism, it isn’t about anything.” The only possible purpose behind the LSEA is to create “legal cover” for teaching non-scientific theories in science classrooms, so that judges couldn’t overrule local school districts as Elizabeth Foote recently did in Sabine Parish.
Creationist Battle With Neil deGrasse Tyson of Cosmos Is Humiliating For America
Sunday, April, 27th, 2014, 10:42 am
Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a premise to be true. Belief is closely related to faith that is confidence in a person, deity, or religious dogmata absent of facts. Faith is often a synonym for hope, and hope is relevant to any discussion of religion because without a shred of proof a religion’s dogma is true, its adherents can only hope they are not being deceived by teachings with no basis in fact. Young children believe a kindly senior citizen from the North Pole who makes an overnight visit to every child on Earth, and even as they start suspecting Santa Claus is a myth they still hold out hope he is real. Obviously hope, belief, and faith are no substitutes for facts, and yet there is a large segment of Americans that contend without reservation their religious beliefs are immutable and unquestionable truths uttered from their deity’s lips.
The ongoing, and one-sided, battle between creationist Ken Ham of “Answers in Genesis” notoriety and highly-regarded astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson of Fox’s Cosmos is humiliating for America because Ham typifies the right wing evangelical Christian ignorance founded on ancient mythology. Dr. Tyson is not involved in Ham’s battle because one thing he likely learned early in life is that it is futile for a scientist to dialogue with religious fanatics who base their arguments on factless faith. Each episode of the scientific series brings a new charge from Ken Ham, and it is apparent that his primary target is not Neil deGrasse Tyson or Cosmos, but science itself.
Each week without any “answers in Genesis” to support his claim that Cosmos and Tyson are wrong about the Universe, age of the Earth, or why evolutionary theory is fact, Ham resorts to Republicans’ Koch brother tactic of questioning the veracity of scientists. If Ham could find the “answers in Genesis” he claims repudiate science or Neil deGrasse Tyson’s empirical data to back up facts supported by peer-reviewed scientific research, he certainly would have presented them by now. Despite offering no facts to support his creationist sophistry except “bible,” it has not stopped Ham from weekly assertions that science is fraudulent because, like every good scientist, Tyson readily admits science, by nature, is an evolving process and does not have all the answers. That is the primary difference between science and devotees of the creation myth; creationists claim to have all the answers because god.
After the first Cosmos episode, creationists led by Ham demanded the program give equal time to young Earth creationists who were livid that Tyson dared assert the Universe and life on earth started without god. Of course, giving the ignoramus sect parity with a leading scientist to promote their absurd contention that all Americans need to know about the cosmos is that in less than a literal week Christianity’s deity created the Universe, Earth, as well as life. Maybe the program’s creators should have given Ham a very, very short segment to expound how the Universe came into being in six days if for no other reason than exposing the bible creation story for what it really is; an inconsistent child’s fantasy.
Generally, an answer is a reply to a question that is relevant to the said question, and since Ken Ham represents about half the American population clinging to the Genesis creation myth, it is worth summarizing the creation story to expose its inconsistency with itself. Ham and about 150-million Christian Americans take it on faith the answer to how the Universe and life on Earth came into being is in Genesis, but it is likely they never read farther than “In the beginning, god created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). If they read all 21 verses in Genesis chapter one, they would comprehend why they are the subject of ridicule for claiming science is an abomination and the creation myth is an immutable truth.
According to answers in Genesis, on day one god created heavens and Earth and said, “Let there be light” and divided light from darkness and called the light day, and the darkness he called night. On day two, god made the firmament in the midst of the waters and divided the waters under the firmament and above the firmament, and god called the firmament heaven in spite of already creating heaven on day one. On day three, god said “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” He called dry land Earth and the waters seas, and while he was at it he created vegetation.
On day four there are more recreation events where god said, “Let there be lights to divide the day from the night; God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day (Sun) and the lesser light to rule the night (Moon).” He made stars as well that, like the day and night on day one, were already created as part of “the heavens and Earth” and divided the light from the darkness he called day and night. On day five, god said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”
On day six, it appears god recreated day five’s “every living creature” and “created man in the image of god he created him; male and female.” According to “answers in Genesis,” god rested on the seventh day, but he should have kept working because in Genesis 2 it says, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And god blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because in it he rested from all his work which god had created and made.” But in verse seven, god recreated “man of the dust of the ground, breathed into him the breath of life that made him a living being.” Later in verse 21, god remade the woman from one of the man’s ribs and it begs a question the “answers in Genesis” never answers; why did god create man and woman, day and night, heaven and Earth twice?
The truth is that it does not matter one iota what the bible creation myth says, or that 46% of Americans believe it is factual. However, it does matter that men like Ham, the Koch brothers, and Republicans use the ancient bible mythology to deny science that is having a deleterious effect on the whole of humanity. There is no difference between Ham challenging Neil deGrasse Tyson by sowing doubt about science with no “answers in Genesis,” and the Koch Republicans who spending millions in advertising questioning the validity of the overwhelming majority of scientists’ assertions that global climate change is real and poses an existential threat to mankind. Neither the Kochs nor religious fanatics like Ham ever present valid arguments to prove their positions because they do not exist, and they clearly understand that a tragically large segment of the population will reject science for irrational belief because god and bible.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is doing America a great service by attempting to educate the population about science and how it has taken humanity from believing religion has the only answers to dispelling every religious preconception men in positions of power still use to control superstitious people into supporting them as they rape and pillage the Earth. It is likely that creationists, and 46% of the population that clings to Genesis for answers, are incapable of comprehending even a fraction of the science Neil deGrasse Tyson is exposing to the masses every week because their cognitive abilities have been permanently retarded by childish dependence on archaic bible mythology.
Britain, France Deploy Fighter Jets for NATO Baltic Patrols
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 April 2014, 16:02
Britain and France deployed eight fighter jets on Monday to reinforce NATO air patrols over the Baltics as tensions rise with Russia over Ukraine, officials said.
Four British Typhoon jets arrived in Lithuania to start their mission while four French Rafale jets touched down in Malbork, northeast Poland, their defense ministries said.
British defense minister Philip Hammond said the move would "provide reassurance to our NATO allies in eastern Europe and the Baltic states."
"In the wake of recent events in Ukraine, it is right that NATO takes steps to reaffirm very publicly its commitment to the collective security of its members," Hammond said.
Around 70 French military personnel have been deployed to Malbork in support of the new planes, French military spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said.
Britain and France have each also deployed AWACS early-warning aircraft to patrol Polish and Romanian airspace in recent weeks.
The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, joined NATO in 2004 but lack sufficient aircraft to police their own skies, so larger NATO members take turns patrolling their airspace.
NATO announced in April that it would step up its defenses in eastern Europe due to the growing crisis in Ukraine and Russia's absorption of Crimea.
It has increased fighter jet patrols and also deployed ships in the Baltic Sea and eastern Mediterranean.
The United States announced last week it was deploying 600 airborne troops for exercises in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in a show of solidarity with NATO members bordering Russia.
EU Targets Russia Army, Intelligence Chief on New List
by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 April 2014, 11:50
Russia's armed forces chief of staff and its military intelligence chief were among 15 people listed Tuesday as targeted by the European Union's latest sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.
General Valery Gerasimov, army chief and the country's deputy defence minister, was named in the EU's official journal along with Lieutenant-General Igor Sergun, director of Russia's GRU, or main intelligence directorate.
He was targeted "for the activity of GRU officers in eastern Ukraine" while Gerasimov was listed as "responsible for the massive deployment of Russian troops" along the Ukraine border and "lack of de-escalation of the situation".
Another GRU officer, Igor Strelkov, was also placed on the list for "incidents in Slavyansk".
Several officials involved in the March annexation of Crimea by Russia were also listed along with Ukrainians held responsible for trouble in the country's east, including "Donetsk Republic" leaders Denis Pushilin and Andriy Purgin.
The latest list brings to 48 the number of people to be hit by an EU asset freeze and travel over the annexation of Crimea and unrest in eastern Ukraine.
Another 22, all Ukrainians, also have had their assets frozen in the 28-nation bloc because they are being investigated for fraud and embezzlement by the interim Ukraine authorities.
Among those placed on the EU blacklist over the annexation of Crimea are two deputy state Duma chairpeople, Sergei Neverov and Ludmila Shvetsova, as well as the acting governor of annexed Sevastopol, Sergei Menyailo and deputy premier Dmitry Kozak, who oversaw Crimea's integration into the Russian federation.
Others listed over Crimea are Oleg Belaventsev, Oleg Savelyev and Olga Kovatidi.
Ukrainians targeted for separatist activities include German Prokopiv and Valeriy Bolotov, both allegedly involved in the seizure of official buildings in Lugansk.
One of the leaders of the separatist People's Militia of Donbass, Sergiy Tsyplakov, was also named.
US sanctions announced on Putin's inner circle over Ukraine
• Seven officials and 17 companies targeted
• Statement: involvement in Ukraine violence 'indisputable'
Spencer Ackerman in New York, Julian Borger and Jennifer Rankin in London
The Guardian, Tuesday 29 April 2014
The US and the European Union stepped up their sanctions on President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle on Monday, accusing Russia of stoking violence and political tension in eastern Ukraine.
The White House announced it was adding seven prominent Russians to a blacklist subject to visa bans and asset freezes, including two officials particularly close to the Russian leader: Igor Sechin, the head of Russia’s largest oil company Rosneft, and Vyacheslav Volodin, first deputy chief of staff in the presidency, widely believed to run its internal political strategy.
“Putin’s decision to move into Crimea is believed to have been based on consultations with his closest advisers, including Volodin,” a US Treasury statement said.
Accusing Russia of continuing to “fund, co-ordinate, and fuel a heavily armed separatist movement” in eastern Ukraine, the US also imposed asset freezes on 17 Russian companies, which will also be denied trading licences.
After a meeting of European ambassadors in Brussels, the EU declared it was increasing its own list of targeted sanctions from 33 to 48 top Russians. The 15 new names added to the list are not due to be published until Tuesday.
Both the US and UK warned that broader sanctions against whole sectors of the Russian economy would be forthcoming in the event of more overt Russian miltary intervention in eastern Ukraine, despite concerns that such measures would pose a risk to the global economy, and have limited support inside the EU.
Speaking in Manila, Obama said the goal of the new round of sanctions was to change the Russian calculation in its alleged sponsorship of separatists in Ukraine. “The goal is not to go after Mr Putin personally. The goal is to change his calculus with respect to how the current actions that he's engaging in Ukraine could have an adverse impact on the Russian economy over the long haul,” Obama said.
The administration said that further sanctions could include targeting sectors of the Russian economy such as financial services and energy, the impact of which would be “far more powerful” than those announced on Monday, officials said.
The tier of sanctions announced on Monday had been prepared some weeks ago but had been held back after an 17 April accord in Geneva signed by the US, Russia, EU and Ukraine, intended to defuse the crisis. US officials said Russia had done nothing to implement the measures agreed to, but had instead fuelled the separatist takeover of eastern Ukrainian cities.
Anger in Washington and Brussels was exacerbated by the continued detention of seven European military monitors by pro-Russian separatists in the town of Slavyansk. A senior US official said that the seven, including four Germans, a Pole, a Dane and a Czech officer, in Ukraine under the mandate of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), had been “subjected to abuse in capitivity” but that claim could not be confirmed.
At an emergency meeting of OSCE member states in Vienna, the US delegate, Gary Robbins, said the organisation faced “a hostage crisis”. Robbins said: “We remain disappointed that senior officials in Moscow have not condemned the abduction – nor have they demanded the team’s immediate release.”
He added: “While the government of Ukraine is working in good faith to fulfill the aspirations of the Geneva joint statement, Russia continues to deceive and destabilise its neighbour. Despite its propaganda attempting to hide the truth, Russia continues to fund, coordinate, and fuel a heavily armed separatist movement in Donetsk.”
The OSCE reported that other members of its special monitoring team had been temporarily detained by separatists in two locations near Donetsk on Sunday. Monitors were held in a heavily-barricaded police builidng in the town of Horlivka and were accused of espionage before being allowed to leave.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, the British foreign secretary, William Hague said: “Russia is already paying a serious price for its actions and the longer it breaches the independent sovereignty of Ukraine the heavier the price it will pay."
“Russia’s actions betray their fear of democracy and the rule of law taking root in their neighbourhood,” the foreign secretary added.
The principal target of Monday's sanctions was Rosneft. Not only was its president, Igor Sechin, singled out in the US blacklist, but also Sergei Chemezov, a member of the board who also directs a state-owned holding company.
Like other Russian energy firms, Rosneft has deep ties with American-based counterparts, particularly ExxonMobil, with whom it has a $500m joint venture for exploration of Arctic oil. The British oil giant, BP, also owns a nearly 20% stake in Rosneft, but said on Monday it intends to remain a long-term investor in Russia, despite the new sanctions.
Russian officials vowed to take reprisal measures for the American sanctions package. “We are certain that this response will have a painful effect on Washington,” deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency.
The Obama administration indicated it believes it is more likely to influence Russian behaviour through economic pressure than providing additional and potentially lethal military aid to Ukraine, citing the massive discrepancy in Ukrainian and Russian military capabilities.
Last week, a contingent of US soldiers from the 173rd infantry combat team arrived in a Polish air base, part of a commitment of 600 troops the administration will send to Poland and the Baltic states on a so-called training mission that the White House hopes will have a deterrent value.
Fraud investigators in Britain also froze $23m of suspected dirty money held in the UK, as they opened an investigation into possible money laundering from Ukraine, mostly by members of the ousted regime of Viktor Yanukovych.
The announcement of a criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office comes on the eve of an international conference in London aimed at helping Ukraine’s new government recover stolen assets. The two-day Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery, organised by the Foreign Office and the US attorney general, brings together investigating organisations to work on recovering millions in stolen assets.
Robert Barrington, executive director of Transparency International in the UK, said the $23m of suspected stolen money the SFO was looking at could be a tiny proportion of the total money embezzled by corrupt officials in Ukraine. “One would hope this would be the first announcement on a very long journey.”
Governments were working much faster to recover stolen assets than after the Arab Spring, he said. But questions persist about the UK’s legal framework for checking on stolen money. “Why was the money here in the first place? If if was corrupt it should never have been here.”
Last month the EU froze assets of former president Yanukovych, and 21 other people held responsible for embezzling state funds.
Who are the Russians on US sanctions list?
White House implements visa ban, asset freezes and export licence denials on panoply of Russian officials close to Pig Putin
theguardian.com, Monday 28 April 2014 16.59 BST
Rosneft executive chairman
The most notable name on the list is Igor Sechin, the head of Russia's largest oil company and an ally of Putin's since the early 1990s, when both worked in the St Petersburg mayoral administration. Sechin previously worked as Putin's deputy chief of staff and deputy prime minister and is considered to be a leader of the conservative bloc within the Kremlin.
Since taking over Rosneft, he has cultivated contacts with western investors, and the news of his sanction could raise questions about a joint venture between Exxon Mobil and Rosneft to develop Arctic oil fields. BP holds a 19.75% stake in Rosneft. A spokesman said the company was "committed to our investment in Rosneft".
First deputy chief of staff of the presidential administration
Wdely believed to be in charge of the regime's internal political strategy, Volodin, a career bureaucrat, was an MP and high-ranking member of the ruling United Russia party. According to the US Treasury Department statement accompanying the sanctions, "Putin's decision to move into Crimea is believed to have been based on consultations with his closest advisors, including Volodin".
Russian Technologies (Rostec) CEO
As the US treasury department statement noted, Chemezov and Putin first became friends when they lived in the same apartment complex in East Germany in the 1980s. Chemezov previously worked in the presidential administration and now heads of the tech industry state corporation Rostec, which was was created in 2007 to consolidate the management of Russian industry and now controls or has stakes in hundreds of companies.
Deputy prime minister
A Kremlin loyalist who has worked with Putin since the beginning of the Russian leader's political ascent, Kozak is a lawyer by training who, like Putin, worked in Soviet intelligence and then the St Petersburg mayoral administration. He is known as a specialist in handling sensitive Kremlin projects: the deputy prime minister served as Putin's point man on the Sochi Olympics and was put in charge of Crimea's development after Russia annexed the peninsula last month.
Putin's envoy to Crimea
A former vice admiral in the Russian navy who was deported from the UK in 1985 on suspicion of spying, Belavantsev was recently named presidential envoy to Crimea and appointed to Russia's security council.
Director of Russia's Federal Protective Service
An army general and veteran of state intelligence agencies since 1971. As head of the federal protection service, he oversees the security of the country's leadership.
United Russia MP
Chair of the international affairs committee in the Russian Duma, or lower house of parliament, representing the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and a leading voice on Russia's foreign policy. His statements at international meetings and on Twitter frequently attack what he calls the hypocritical policies of Europe and the United States. Commenting on the protesters and militia who have seized buildings in eastern Ukraine, Pushkov recently said Russia "supports them politically but is not interfering" in the situation.
The US treasury department also announced asset freezes on 17 companies that are owned or controlled by the officials, businessmen and companies it sanctioned last month. In particular, this order affected companies controlled by Gennady Timchenko, Yury Kovalchuk and Arkady and Boris Rotenberg.
Among them was Volga Group, the holding company of wealthy oil trader Timchenko, who has close ties to Putin. Sanctions were also applied to numerous Timchenko companies, including engineering company Stroytransgaz and other firms working in the oil and gas industry.
Like Timchenko, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg are judo buddies of Putin's and won billions in construction contracts for the Sochi Olympics. Two banks they control, InvestCapitalBank and SMP Bank, were placed on the sanctions list. Other Rotenberg assets affected included the gas pipeline construction company Stroygazmontazh (SGM Group).
Finally, two companies and a bank controlled by Bank Rossiya were singled out for asset freezes. Bank Rossiya was previously sanctioned because it is owned by Yury Kovalchuk, who is reputed to be Putin's personal banker. After the previous round of sanctions, Putin said he didn't have an account in Bank Rossiya but promised to open one.
US sanctions related to the Ukraine crisis are now in effect on 45 individuals and 19 firms. Besides an asset freeze on these people and businesses, transactions between them and US citizens or taking place within the United States are "generally prohibited."
Divisions in Europe on sanctions mean Russia need not change Ukraine aims
Unless Vladimir Putin miscalculates with a dramatic escalation he has little cause to fear tougher economic measures
theguardian.com, Monday 28 April 2014 21.20 BST
Capital flight from Russia escalates, the rouble continues a downward spiral, Russian capitalism – witness the Moscow stock exchange – faces hard times. Because of Ukraine. Because the US and Europe are freezing the assets and spoiling the holiday plans of a growing number of wealthy, powerful Russians and Ukrainians identified as cronies of Vladimir Putin or complicit in aggression against Ukraine.
The hope in Washington and European capitals is that Russia's nouveaux riches, seeing part of their fortunes melt away, will turn on the Kremlin and temper Putin's new nationalism. The sanctions are having an effect, the west insists. Putin will be forced to think again.
But Putin put Russia's richest oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in jail, and confiscated the assets of Boris Berezovsky and sent him fleeing to London. Loyal oligarchs are rewarded, the disloyal are punished and their wealth expropriated.
It's an old tune in Russia – sacrifice in the name of the national interest – and Putin knows how to whistle. There is little to suggest the two stages of western sanctions against Russia already being implemented will change Putin's ways.
Tier Three sanctions are a different story. For more than a month, the US and Europe have been threatening sectoral sanctions on trade, energy, finance, and military equipment.
William Hague, the foreign secretary, said on Monday that such embargoes remained in "preparation". At the weekend, the leaders of the G7 major economies – the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada – and the presidents of the European council and European commission said that "we continue to prepare to move to broader, co-ordinated sanctions, including sectoral measures should circumstances warrant".
The formula is evasive. The threats are empty. There is no stomach for such moves in Europe because the result would be a devastating trade war that would damage a weak European economy that is only in the early stages of recovery from recession and years of currency and debt crisis.
"It's a little bit like nuclear deterrence," said a senior EU official. "Economic sanctions are best when they are not used."
So the Europeans have come up with a policy of inaction designed to look like action – lots of activity and no decisions. The sanctions are always being "prepared".
The British authorities well know the impact of serious financial sanctions on the City of London, just as Paris is aware of the effect on defence contracts and the Germans are acutely conscious of the costs to their car exporters and energy giants. But they ask the European commission to study the sanctions fallout, to report to the "sherpas" serving prime ministers, presidents, and chancellors, who then come back to the commission with further recommendations aimed at delaying rather than expediting action and decisions.
The Russians know this. Besides, Putin is a risk-taker. Obama, Merkel and Hollande are risk-averse leaders. The Europeans, with 12 times more trade and investment at stake than the Americans and, unlike the US, quite dependent on Siberian energy supplies, resent the pressure from Washington to get tougher.
They are deeply divided, between eastern and western Europe but also within those two camps. The Poles and the three Baltic states are the hawks, while Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria are "more understanding" of the Russian position.
In western Europe, Britain tends to the side with the east European hawks, while Berlin is determined not to close off dialogue with the Kremlin. Italy, Spain, Greece and Greek Cyprus are against punishing Russia.
If the sectoral sanctions were imposed, there would be bloodletting within Europe about who was and who was not bearing the burden.
The Russians are skilled at dividing the Europeans. But in this case, they don't need to try very hard.
At Nato headquarters in Brussels, the secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, sounds as though he wants Russia rebranded as an adversary of the west. But across town in the councils of the EU, that view runs into stiff resistance.
Unless Putin blows it with a dramatic escalation in Ukraine, there will be no quantum leap in the sanctions regime.
If the Kremlin's current aim is to wreck Ukraine's elections in four weeks, restrict the writ of the Kiev government and keep the country weak and unstable while ensuring that the west pours billions into Ukraine, he can comfortably ride out the sanctions as foreseen now.
Ukrainian journalists face threats as separatists make demands of media
Pro-Russian activists trying to impose censorship and control or scare away independent news outlets
Luke Harding in Donetsk
theguardian.com, Monday 28 April 2014 18.27 BST
Roman Lazorenko was sitting in his office writing an article on the shadowy rebellion that is engulfing eastern Ukraine when, as if on cue, eight men wearing balaclavas and military fatigues burst in. Two of them carried baseball bats.
The youths – from the separatist "Donetsk People's Republic" – said they wanted a chat. They told Lazorenko they didn't like the editorial line of his website, 62.ua, and they had a series of demands.
They said the word "separatism" was now forbidden. Journalists had to describe armed gunmen who had taken over a string of government buildings in the east of the country as "supporters of federalisation". Anything written about this "young state" had to be cleared in advance. The news website had to publish details of a bank account for donations to the cause.
"We recommend you agree to our demands," said the group's leader, who identified himself as Dmitry Silakov.
Lazorenko politely inquired: what would happen if he didn't? "We strongly recommend you do," Silakov said, in unfriendly tones.
Their appearance had a terrifying effect on Lazorenko's small team of four journalists and 10 sales executives, most women, one of whom was pregnant. "We have always tried to do objective journalism," Lazorenko said. "We wrote about what was happening in Crimea. When armed men started taking over town halls in the east, demanding union with Russia, we reported that too. We called them separatists because that's what they are."
Ukrainian journalists are used to working under tough conditions. Following Viktor Yanukovych's election victory in 2010, the president squeezed independent media and snuffed out dissenting voices from public television.
Despite this clampdown, however, Ukrainian reporters enjoyed more freedom than did their colleagues in next-door Russia, where TV and most newspapers are under the Kremlin's thumb. But in the last two months, media freedom in Ukraine has rapidly nosedived.
In Kiev, a deputy from the rightwing Svoboda party beat up the Yanukovych-era chief of the national broadcasting company, accusing him of siding with a murderous regime. (Instead of apologising, the deputy posted the clip online.) The pro-western government in Kiev, infuriated by what it regards as relentless Moscow propaganda, has chucked out several Russian correspondents. One was from the favoured Kremlin outlet Lifenews.ru.
But the worst abuses have taken place in regions seized by Russian troops and local proxies on the ground. In Crimea, anonymous gunmen harassed dozens of journalists, Ukrainian and foreign. According to Human Rights Watch, some have seized laptops and cameras. Ukraine's Russian-language newspaper Vesti has been forced to shut its bureaus in Simferopol, Crimea's administrative capital, and Sevastopol.
In the rebel eastern stronghold of Slavyansk, meanwhile, pro-Russian militia have kidnapped around 40 people. Their hostages include a large number of Ukrainian journalists who had come to the town in an attempt to report the news. Also held are seven European military observers. (An eighth was released on Sunday. The US correspondent Simon Ostrovsky, also taken, was freed last Thursday.) The prospects for the Ukrainians are grim. A masked gunman paraded one of them, Irma Krat, blindfolded, in front of the city hall. She and the others are still in prison.
Venturing into Slavyansk these days is a perilous business. There are rumours that the rebels have drawn up a list of "hostile" correspondents. Russian media representatives, by contrast, are free to report.
Dmytro Tkachenko, a Donetsk-based human rights activist, said he was working as a fixer for two Swedish journalists 10 days ago when gunmen grabbed him. "They took me to the police station. They searched my stuff. They examined my finger and said maybe I was a sniper." Tkachenko was lucky: after an hour he was released. When the BBC's Natalia Antelava attempted to report from Slavyansk, armed men held a gun to her head and told her to leave town.
Late on Sunday afternoon, pro-Russian activists seized the regional TV station in Donetsk, in what appears to be part of an unfolding plan to shut out news sources critical of Moscow. The activists ran up their People's Republic flag and began switching off Ukrainian TV channels. They replaced them with Rossiya 24, a Russian state propaganda outlet. "Ukrainian TV tells lies. So we're turning it off," said one activist, Vyaschelav, wearing a bulletproof vest and clutching a baseball bat. Asked whether he believed in free speech, Vyacheslav looked bemused.
Lazorenko said the situation for reporters in Ukraine was now worse than during the Yanukovych period. "Back then you could go the police if someone threatened you. Now the police don't do anything," he said. He estimated that only a minority in the region – perhaps 18-20% – supported the Donetsk People's Republic. "The irony is that people who say they are fighting fascism are behaving like fascists," he said.
The activists control some of the Donbass region – a patchwork of town halls in depressed small towns – but not all of it. They have demanded a referendum on the region's future status on 11 May. In the meantime they have transmitted their demands to around 20 Donetsk media organisations.
Even before this ultimatum, many local journalists were on the receiving end of menacing threats. One is now in hiding in Kiev with his family. Another, Olexiy Matsuka, said he was staying put, even though two weeks ago someone set fire to his car. His news portal, novosti.dn.ua, is an obvious target because of its pro-Ukraine approach. Matsuka said unknown people had tried to storm his office, and his team had installed security cameras, a panic button and burglar alarm. "We live with constant threats," he said.
Sergey Garmash, editor of the online news site ostrov.org, was amusingly scathing about the separatists' demands, which arrived at his office typed up and stamped with a seal. "I can write a hundred such edicts myself," he said. "The best thing to do with them is to use them as toilet paper."
Lazorenko, a historian by training and the son of a Soviet journalist, launched his news portal five years ago. At first its readership was modest – 1,000 people a day. Now it gets 40,000 hits, and sometimes more. But its future is in doubt. On Monday Lavorenko decided not to open up his central office, which overlooks Donetsk's Donbass Arena football stadium. A tipoff said activists were visiting news organisations to check that their demands had been fulfilled. Lazorenko said he and his three fellow journalists could work from home, but the ad staff could not, and revenues were suffering.
"We know their demands. They want us to remove the inverted commas from 'Donetsk People's Republic'," he said. "There's a clear attempt to impose censorship and to destroy or scare away independent journalists."
What would happen if the pro-Russian militia took power? "It will be murder," he predicted. Lazorenko said he used to get calls from journalists across the border in Russia who said they envied Ukraine's record on freedom of speech. "They don't say that any more," he said.
04/29/2014 11:52 AM
Bad Taste: Ex-Chancellor Parties with Putin
A Commentary By Roland Nelles
The conflict in eastern Ukraine threatens to escalate, but that didn't stop former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder from celebrating his 70th birthday with Vladimir Putin on Monday. By doing so, he is making a mockery of Berlin's foreign policy.
There's nothing you can do about your relatives, but you certainly have a choice when it comes to picking your friends. This sage wisdom also applies to Gerhard Schröder, the former German leader and confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He himself can decide whom to embrace and with whom to celebrate his 70th birthday -- after all, true friends stick together, even in the toughest of times. Normally, one would call this strength of character.
But when it comes to Schröder and Putin in the context of the Ukraine crisis, things are a little more complicated. Gerhard Schröder ought to know better. If the former German chancellor believes he can continue his friendship as if nothing has happened, it's a mistake. Schröder's own center-left Social Democratic Party is currently the junior coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, which is frantically trying to prevent his friend Vladimir from carrying out the policies of a power-drunk hegemon in Eastern Europe. In difficult times like these, a former German leader should, at least publicly, keep a safe distance from Putin.
Dialogue, including with Putin, must continue, and the West must take Moscow's interests into account. It is also perfectly fine for Gerhard Schröder to be friends with Putin -- that's his business. But hugging and chumming it up at a party in St. Petersburg against the backdrop of current events is simply tasteless. The event, held in honor of Schröder's 70th birthday on Monday night, was hosted by Nord Stream AG, a subsidiary of Russian gas monopolist Gazprom. The former chancellor is the chairman of the shareholders' committee of the company, which operates a gas pipeline that directly links Russia and Germany.
Former Chancellors Should Support German Foreign Policy
Putin violated international law by annexing Crimea. People have died in the occupied cities of eastern Ukraine and representatives of international organizations have been detained. Fears of war are growing and Schröder's friend Putin seems to be pleased by much of what is happening. Germany and the West have reacted by applying mild sanctions to Putin's entourage.
No one is Berlin is interested in a serious conflict with Putin. The hope is that Moscow will finally come round and pursue politics of de-escalation and true dialogue, instead of engaging in a power play reminiscent of the darkest hours of the Cold War. That would be a reasonable, defensive line, that should be used to prevent hardliners both in the East and the West from further exacerbating the situation.
In times like this, a former chancellor should support his country's foreign policy and not demonstratively seek to thwart it, or make a mockery of it, as Schröder has done.
Of course, Putin loves all this, and will believe that his nationalist, hardliner old KGB-style stance has been vindicated. Schröder's behavior, on the other hand, is making the former chancellor seem awfully puny. He's acting without instinct and appears to have forgotten that, as Germany's former leader, he is still obliged to maintain a statesman-like responsibility for his country.
If the former chancellor were to exercise his influence more productively, by trying to get some sense across to his friend Putin, it would be helpful. He may be doing this behind the scenes, but there is no sign whatsoever of this. That's a shame.
German government distances itself from Schröder after Putin meeting
Philip Oltermann in Berlin
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 April 2014 11.10 BST
In the game of poker over the future of the Ukraine, the German government is doing its best to act tough and keep its cards close to its chest.
But behind Angela Merkel's back, her predecessor is practising a more informal kind of diplomacy: ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder was photographed hugging the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, outside Saint Petersburg's Yusupov Palace, where a pipeline company had thrown a party to celebrate the former German leader's 70th birthday.
The German government was forced to distance itself on Tuesday morning from the Social Democrat who led the country between 1998 and 2005. "He does not represent the German government‚" a senior government official said when asked about the Schröder pictures. "It should be clear to everyone that Mr Schröder left active politics some time ago."
Four German military observers are being held captive by pro-Russian separatist in the eastern Ukraine, a move that has been strongly condemned by the German president, Joachim Gauck, and the foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who held the same post under Schröder.
Schröder is said to have established a close personal friendship with Putin during his leadership, and shortly after leaving office became board chairman of Nord Stream AG, a Russian-German joint-venture constructing an underwater pipeline between Vyborg in Russia and Greifswald in Germany.
At the start of the Ukraine crisis, the Left Pparty politician Gregor Gysi had suggested Schröder as an intermediary between Russia and western allies, a role that the ex-chancellor rejected soon after.
Lavrov to Visit Cuba as Tensions with West over Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 April 2014, 20:04
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was expected in the Cuban capital Monday for a two-day visit, the foreign ministry said, amid high tensions with the West over Ukraine.
Havana has sided with Russia in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, but has yet to address the issue directly.
Lavrov will meet with his local counterpart Bruno Rodriguez Tuesday morning, the Cuban foreign ministry said in a notice to the media.
He is also likely to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro.
Moscow and Havana were close allies for 30 years during the Cold War, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. After a rift under former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, the two resumed political and economic ties, as well as military cooperation.
From Havana, Lavrov was expected to head to the Peruvian capital Lima on Wednesday.
The Peruvian foreign ministry said the top Russian diplomat would be received by President Ollanta Humala and hold talks with his counterpart Eda Rivas.
The upcoming visit marks Lavrov's second in less than three years and is expected to focus on military cooperation and on a Peruvian proposal for a free trade agreement, the foreign ministry said.
Moscow and Lima have had strong ties since 1969. Peru announced in December that its armed forces planned to acquire 24 Russian-made helicopters and open up a regional service center for this type of aircraft.
Word of Lavrov's Latin America tour comes as the United States and the European Union slapped another round of sanctions on Moscow for failing to stop tensions soaring in eastern Ukraine.
The punitive measures are a response to Russia's perceived lack of action in implementing an April 17 deal struck in Geneva to defuse the crisis in the former Soviet republic.
Britain Freezes Ukraine Assets, Begins Money-Laundering Probe
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 April 2014, 22:50
British authorities on Monday launched a money- laundering investigation linked to possible corruption in Ukraine and froze $23 million (17 million euros) in assets.
The announcement came a day before international talks in London aimed at recovering assets which may have been looted under the regime of deposed pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.
Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said it had "opened a criminal investigation into possible money laundering arising from suspicions of corruption in Ukraine."
"The SFO has obtained a restraint order freezing approximately $23 million of assets in the UK in connection with this case."
It said it could not provide more details for reasons of confidentiality.
The two-day asset recovery talks starting on Tuesday will be hosted by British interior minister Theresa May, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
Senior government officials, prosecutors and representatives from financial centers and international organizations will also attend, Britain's Home Office said.
Several countries are helping Ukrainian-led investigations into alleged corruption and money laundering by members of Yanukovych's government.
Swiss authorities have ordered a freeze on the assets of both Yanukovych and his multi-millionaire son Oleksandr, as well as 18 other former ministers and officials.
Yanukovych was ousted in February following a series of massive protests after he decided to scrap an agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
He fled Ukraine for Russia.
Sanctions Over Ukraine Cause Headaches in the Energy Sector
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
APRIL 28, 2014
MOSCOW — Once a year, the chief executives of the world’s largest oil companies fly to St. Petersburg, Russia’s second city, for an economic forum and a rare chance to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin and his lieutenant in the energy business, Igor I. Sechin.
At one panel discussion last year, leaders of major oil companies like BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil sat in an auditorium as Mr. Sechin trumpeted the future of the industry in Russia, namely opportunities in Arctic offshore drilling and shale oil development in Siberia. Mr. Sechin sat beside Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, a major supplier to the energy industry.
“The participants of this meeting are a big and powerful group which controls capital of two and a half trillion dollars,” Mr. Sechin said. “It is of course an honor for me to speak to such a high-level group.”
Now such relationships — between Russian state-owned businesses and large multinational companies — look increasingly complicated.
In Manila, President Obama said new sanctions against Russian individuals and companies were “the next stage in a calibrated effort” to change President Vladimir V. Putin’s behavior in Ukraine.
Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
As part of the latest round of sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, the Obama administration on Monday took aim at Mr. Sechin, the president and chairman of the management board for Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil giant. He is the most prominent businessman targeted to date.
The administration’s measures, and similar ones in Europe, have focused on companies, officials and wealthy businessmen with deep ties to the Russian government and Mr. Putin. The energy sector has been a particular priority: The latest American sanctions cover 17 companies largely clustered in oil and gas construction and financing, as well as Mr. Sechin and six other people.
While the financial implications for large multinationals have so far not been significant, the list is creating headaches for compliance departments of Western companies. For example, American investors will most likely be able to continue to own shares in a company with a chief executive who is subject to sanctions, according to one investment banker who was not authorized to speak publicly. But it is unclear whether portfolio managers can take part in a quarterly conference call or other meetings with a person on the list, lest it be seen as a form of commercial interaction.
The United States did not place sanctions on Rosneft, and Mr. Sechin does not own a majority of the company, so American companies can still work with Rosneft. “U.S. persons are not prohibited from dealing with Rosneft, including participating in meetings of the company board,” on which Mr. Sechin sits, a Treasury Department official said.
Although the targets have been limited so far, the sanctions have had reach.
Visa will be required to suspend credit card services to a handful of Russian banks on the sanctions list: SMP Bank, Bank Rossiya, InvestCapitalBank and Sobinbank. MasterCard said it would stop servicing cards issued by those banks, though cardholders would be able to withdraw cash.
Tien-Tsin Huang, a J. P. Morgan analyst, estimated that Russia accounted for just 1 percent of revenue at Visa and that the impact of the sanctions this year would be “pennies.” Credit card executives have expressed concerns that Russia might retaliate with its own restrictions on American companies.
Another businessman hit with sanctions, Sergei V. Chemezov — the director general of Rostec, a quasi-governmental organization that oversees high-technology industries, and a longtime member of Mr. Putin’s inner circle — has had extensive dealings with Boeing. A joint venture partly owned by Rostec manufactures about half of the titanium parts used in Boeing aircraft. A regional airline affiliated with Rostec has contracts to buy Boeing jets.
“We are aware of the new sanctions announced on Monday and are reviewing the matter to understand what impact, if any, there may be to our ongoing business and partnerships in the region,” a Boeing spokesman said in a statement.
But the energy business faces a particularly delicate dance.
Since late 1999, when Mr. Putin began his first term as president, Russia has sought to consolidate its commodity and energy companies under loyal oligarchs or state control. Mr. Sechin, a former officer in the Soviet main military intelligence directorate, or G.R.U., has been a pivotal player.
Players like BP, Exxon Mobil and Shell have spent years building relationships in Russia, promising to transfer technology and capital. Western companies, wanting access to oil deposits, have been eager to make such trades.
BP owns nearly 20 percent of Rosneft’s stock. Shell is a partner in a large liquefied natural gas facility on Sakhalin Island in eastern Russia. Exxon Mobil has an Arctic exploration joint venture with Rosneft. Russia produces some 10 million of the about 90 million barrels of oil pumped daily around the world.
Mr. Sechin, who has been an aide to Mr. Putin since 1993, has been called the Scariest Man on Earth because of his espionage background. And he was a military intelligence agent who served in the Angolan civil war.
He represents a faction of what Kremlinologists say are former K.G.B. and military officials known as the “siloviki,” or men of power, who moved into business under Mr. Putin and became necessary interlocutors for Western executives. Since BP and its Russian partners sold their joint venture to Rosneft, Mr. Sechin has been the British oil giant’s go-to man in Russia.
“I have got a lot of respect for him,” Bob Dudley of BP said in January of Mr. Sechin, with whom he is on close enough terms to send text messages. Mr. Dudley sits on Rosneft’s board with Mr. Sechin.
The Rosneft relationship is a major source of profit for BP. Russia accounts for about a third of BP’s total oil and gas output globally, more than the company pumps in the United States.
Toby Odone, a spokesman for BP, said in a statement that the company was “committed to our investment in Rosneft, and we intend to remain a successful long-term investor in Russia.” He added that the company is studying the sanctions announcement for “what this may mean for BP.” In a statement released by Rosneft, Mr. Sechin said the sanctions would not affect the company’s operations.
Other companies targeted include several banks, including SMP, that have financed oil field and pipeline construction, and Stroytransgaz and related companies, which form the pipeline construction arm of Gazprom, a state-controlled energy company. For years, financial analysts have questioned whether Stroytransgaz and related entities were have been used to siphon money from Gazprom to company and government insiders.
By targeting individuals and companies in oil field services, the sanctions could slow capital investments in Russia’s oil sector and affect future output. Gazprom’s capital expenditures totaled about $24.4 billion in 2013, according to a company statement. A slowdown could pinch American companies such as equipment suppliers.
The list reflects the delicacy that the Obama administration faces as it imposes sanctions. The United States still depends deeply on imported energy in spite of rising domestic output. If oil and natural gas are considered together, Russia is the world’s largest energy-exporting country, surpassing Saudi Arabia.
Padma Desai, an expert in Russian politics and economics at Columbia University, said the direct fallout from the sanctions remained limited. Still, she said, Russia was hurting because of damage to its investment climate, and American companies could also see business disrupted, as joint oil and gas projects are delayed and Russian partner banks are put on blacklists.
“Everyone wants the environment to settle down,” said Ms. Desai. “Both sides are watching the other.”
Ashton Says EU to Back Serbia's Difficult Reforms
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 April 2014, 19:32
The European Union will help Serbia's new EU-hopeful government implement ambitious economic reforms, the bloc's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Monday.
"The EU is determined to help and support Serbia in its efforts to ensure a strong economic path for its people," Ashton told reporters after meeting new Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who was sworn in Sunday at the head of a center-right government after a snap election on March 16.
Vucic, a former ultra-nationalist turned pro-European, sought EU assistance for the new government.
"We have asked for EU support for difficult economic reforms and the courageous measures that we will implement," he said.
He said Serbia expected to conclude a new deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) "in July at the latest."
Serbia hopes to get approval for a new loan to replace a previous billion-euro ($1.4-billion) credit that was frozen in 2012 because the government failed to meet IMF criteria.
Vucic said his government's goal was to conclude EU accession talks by the end of his four-year mandate and bring the Balkan nation into the bloc in 2020.
Serbia -- the largest country to emerge from the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with a population of 7.2 million people -- has to reform antiquated labor and other economic laws and cut down on bureaucracy.
More than 20 percent of the workforce is unemployed, and those with jobs struggle to survive on an average monthly salary of 350 euros ($480).
Serbia opened EU membership talks in January.
OSCE Observers Say 'Shortcomings' in Macedonia Polls
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 April 2014, 19:19
International observers monitoring Macedonia's snap polls this weekend said Monday that "fundamental freedoms" were respected but reported some "shortcomings."
"Yesterday’s elections were effectively administered and election day went smoothly, but there were real problems before and, unfortunately, after the vote," said Christine Muttonen, who led the short-term OSCE observer mission.
Macedonia's ruling conservatives scored a double victory in snap legislative and presidential polls Sunday, officials said, but the opposition cried foul, alleging vote fraud.
The ruling VMRO-DPMNE party won 42.18 percent of the vote in the parliamentary ballot, according to official results.
Its main rival, the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM) garnered 24.9 percent, preliminary results showed.
According to unofficial estimates, VMRO-DPMNE would have 61 deputies in the 123-seat parliament while the opposition could count on 34.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)observers warned of a "blurring of state and party activities and biased and unbalanced media coverage in favor of the ruling party" before and during the polls.
Shortly after the vote, SDSM leader Zoran Zaev said: "Citizens were duped and the elections have been stolen."
Zaev called for a rerun, accusing the ruling party of "massive" vote-buying and voter intimidation.
He did not substantiate his claims however and the electoral commission said it had not yet received any complaints on alleged irregularities, with the deadline expiring on Tuesday.
The ruling party's Gjorge Ivanov was also reelected to the largely ceremonial post of president.
The polls were called a year ahead of schedule after the VMRO-DPMNE failed to agree with its ethnic Albanian coalition partner, the DUI, on a joint presidential candidate.
Scottish Leader Says Euro-skeptic UK May Force Scotland Out of EU
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 April 2014, 17:14
First Minister Alex Salmond warned on Monday that Scotland could be "dragged out of the European Union" against its will unless it votes for independence from Britain.
Speaking in Belgium, Salmond said Scotland's close ties with the bloc could be severed by the "in-out" referendum on the UK's membership of the EU which British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised for 2017.
"The real risk to Scotland's place in the EU is not the independence referendum in September. It's the in-out referendum of 2017," Salmond told an audience at the College of Europe in Bruges.
Salmond's Scottish National Party (SNP), which leads the devolved government in Edinburgh, wants Scotland to break the 300-year-old political union with Britain so as to gain its own voice on the world stage.
Salmond said Cameron's proposal to hold a referendum on EU membership is "a position which no politician in Scotland would ever have considered reasonable" and the move had "virtually no support" in the Scottish Parliament.
Salmond also played down the likelihood of an independent Scotland being kicked out of the EU, saying its ongoing membership in the bloc would offer a "no detriment" guarantee to EU commercial interests -- including fishing fleets operating in Scottish waters.
"We propose a practical, common sense approach to membership, which means that there is no detriment -- none whatsoever -- to any other member of the European Union as a result of Scotland's continuing membership," he said.
Acknowledging that an independent Scotland's continued membership of the EU would require detailed negotiations, Salmond cited legal opinions suggesting that process could be completed "within 18 months."
"So there need be no reopening of the EU budget agreed to last year to 2020," Salmond said, saying Scotland would continue to take responsibility for its share of the UK's budget and other commitments.
Arguing that Scots were more pro-European than their southern neighbors, Salmond said an independent Scotland would be "an enthusiastic, engaged and committed contributor to European progress" and that the independence movement itself reflected European values.
"Ours is a peaceful, inclusive, civic -- and above all a democratic and constitutional independence movement," he said, in sharp contrast with the "profoundly anti-democratic processes we too often see elsewhere."
Salmond also took aim at outgoing European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso for having suggested Scotland's sovereignty aspirations were comparable to those of Kosovo.
"He erroneously confused our consented constitutional process with what was a contested unilateral declaration of independence," Salmond said.
The three main parties in the British parliament -- Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats and the opposition Labor party -- are all opposed to the independence of Scotland, which accounts for eight percent of Britain's population.
They argue that Scotland is better off as part of Britain and that independence will be a costly mistake, harmful to all sides.
HRW Criticizes Bulgaria over Treatment of Refugees
by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 April 2014, 06:58
Bulgaria must stop the forceful expulsion of Syrian and other refugees and end alleged abuses against asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Tuesday.
"Bulgarian border police have been summarily and forcibly expelling third country nationals to Turkey without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum," the organization said.
It urged the government in Sofia to "end summary expulsions" and "stop beatings, use of electric shocks, and other abuses against migrants at the border with Turkey."
The European Union's poorest country, Bulgaria was overwhelmed last year by the arrival of over 11,000 asylum seekers -- mostly Syrians fleeing civil war at home -- through its porous southeastern border with Turkey.
The numbers surpassed tenfold the annual toll of refugees arriving in the country before the Syrian crisis.
In an attempt to contain the influx, the government deployed 1,300 police officers to the border last November and started building a 35 kilometer (21-mile) fence in the most difficult area.
It also set up makeshift shelters in former schools and army barracks in an attempt to deal with the new arrivals.
But HRW said it had recorded a number of incidents of alleged excessive force by border guards after interviewing 177 refugees in several shelters in both Bulgaria and Turkey.
The cases included verbal threats but also beatings and instances when dogs were set on irregular border crossers to make them turn back.
"Bulgaria of course, is faced with a humanitarian challenge and its capacity to meet that challenge is limited," Bill Frelick, the organization’s refugee rights program director says in the report.
"Even with limited capacity, however, shoving people back over the border is no way to respect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants," he added.
Asylum seekers who managed to cross into Bulgaria complained about the use of batons and electric tasers in preliminary detention centers at the border, where they were given scant food and forced to sleep on the ground even in the middle of winter.
Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev ruled out abuses at the border, saying that representatives of the European border management agency Frontex have been overseeing the actions of the Bulgarian police.
Bulgaria's refugee agency chief Nikolay Chirpanliev also said he was "extremely indignant" at the findings of the report.
HRW did point to some positive developments, such as improving conditions in the shelters and faster decisions in what used to be a "chronically slow asylum process."
Norway to restage 1914 'human zoo' that exhibited Africans as inmates
Artists claim recreating exhibition will help country confront its colonial past. Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire is not convinced
Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire for This is Africa, part of the Guardian Africa network
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 April 2014 10.03 BST
As part of mammoth celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Norway’s constitution, the government is funding two artists to re-enact a "human zoo", which will open to the public on 15 May.
Oslo’s original human zoo or Kongolandsbyen was central to Norway’s world fair in 1914. The artists claim that the new project, which they named European Attraction Limited, is meant to provoke a discussion on colonialism and racism in a post-modern world, engaging with Norway’s racist past in the process.
Some anti-racism organisations and commentators have labelled the project offensive and racist. Is there any artistic value in the re-enactment of such a dehumanising spectacle, especially in a world not yet fully healed of racism? Is this an abuse of art? Or will the re-enactment reverse the modest gains of the equality struggles, especially when the world engages with the subject of race so superficially?
Norway’s 1914 human zoo is not the most widely known historical fact in the country, or elsewhere. But, for five months, 80 people of African origin (Senegalese) lived in "the Congo village" in Oslo, surrounded by "indigenous African artefacts".
More than half of the Norwegian population at the time paid to visit the exhibition and gawp at the "traditionally dressed Africans", living in palm-roof cabins and going about their daily routine of cooking, eating and making handicrafts. The king of Norway officiated at the opening of the exhibition.
There were several human zoos or "colonial exhibitions" in Belgium, Germany, France, the US and other western countries at the time, exhibiting Africans and other non-western peoples. These helped to convince the European public opinion of the necessity of colonisation. Exhibiting Africans as animals, uncivilised, primitive and animistic made it seem justifiable to colonise them.
It was also a source of entertainment for the European of the time to see how "backward" Africans were. Indeed after the Norwegian show, one Norwegian magazine, Urd, concluded: “It’s wonderful that we are white”.
In Belgium, 267 Congolese died during the show and were unceremoniously buried in an anonymous common grave. The whole spectacle denied Africans their dignity. They were treated as animals. The zoos reinforced the self-congratulatory mood prevalent in Europe at the time, considering itself the most advanced society in the world and "othering" the rest.
Artists Mohamed Ali Fadlabi and Lars Cuzner say that the ignorance around Norway’s racist past inspired them to re-create the human zoo for the 200th anniversary in May. They are said to have secured almost a million Norwegian kroner (£99,000) to implement the project. Volunteers are invited from around the world to come and populate the human zoo, but are warned that they will have to defend their participation against a hostile response.
The artists argue that the project is part of an honest conversation about race and Norway’s unpleasant past. They held a conference in February, in which they featured talks about systematic racism entitled The Terrible Beauty of Hindsight and The Origins of the Regime of Goodness. They legitimately ask: “How do we confront a neglected aspect of the past that still contributes to our present?”
Muauke B Munfocol, who lives in Norway and is originally from DRC, thinks that the project does not recognise the “racial order and systems of privilege in the country”. She says: “One might wonder why at such a time, rather than putting its efforts to acknowledge the existence of racism, paying reparations, and changing the historical-political and cultural relationship to other non-white countries, the Norwegian government chooses to finance a project that reaffirms their part in a global white domination system where black people are dehumanised spiritually, economically, socially and culturally.”
Muauke’s argument is that the re-enactment of the human zoo as exactly as how it was presented in 1914 means “a re-enactment of the fantasies about exoticism and bestiality that have been historically linked to the black body in the colonial mind”. The re-enactment will be a living reality for her, as an African living in Norway.
“Once again, the black body will be prepped, scripted and presented to a white gaze. Africans will once again be subjected to a humiliating and dehumanising racialised public spectacle. Slavery and colonialism was and still is a show,” she says.
Muauke is not alone in her indignation. Rune Berglund, head of Norway’s Anti-Racism Centre says: “The only people who will like this are those with racist views. This is something children with African ancestry will hear about and will find degrading. I find it difficult to see how this project could be done in a dignified manner.”
Africans are still dealing with attitudes that suggest an inability to solve their problems. Political crises in Africa, for example, are treated by western media, civil society and governments as evidence of a primitive nature and the need for western intervention (read: civilisation).
The racial superiority complex of the European mind is not a thing of the past. It is a present thing. The Norwegian human zoo is thus not necessarily a mere re-enactment of the past. It is real at many levels.
Fadlabi’s and Cuzner’s goals may be noble but will their project lead to the type of conversations they claim they want it to be part of? Or is it contributing towards the maintenance and resurgence of racist ideologies in the world? Theirs is not the first “artistic product” in the last three years to present Africans on the same footing as animals. Just a few weeks ago, a Belgian newspaper printed a ‘satirical’ article and photos that compared the US president, Barrack Obama, to an ape. The editors claimed that it was mere satire.
In 2012, a Swedish artist made a cake installation of a black woman being cut into, allegedly to provoke discussions around female genital mutilation. A high-ranking politician indeed cut into the black cake, with a human black-painted screaming face. There was laughter and cheers. The discussion on female genital mutilation did not happen. If it did, it was too low-key. The discussion turned onto the representation of black in a world claiming to be liberal.
Art is not innocent. As W E B Du Bois wrote, all art is propaganda. In the cake and human zoo re-enactment incidents, the artists do not deny that their art is not pure. They all lay claim to "noble" causes. They want to create and participate in discussions; discussions of race, oppression, colonialism and the ills of yesterday and today as systematic gender and/or racial oppression. Should artists think more about the impact of their work, especially as regards the possible interpretations of the same work? Should governments funding such projects think deeper about all the possible interpretations?
We are not in a post-racial world. Fadlabi and Cuzner can’t exonerate themselves because they mean well. Indeed, if they are serious about creating discussions of racism they ought to think deeper about the likelihood that their project may entrench the same prejudices they claim to fight.
France must dig deep for a solution to the problem of buried toxic material
A long-term waste repository licensed to hold 44,000 tonnes must close. But cleaning up the Alsace site could be dangerous
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 29 April 2014 10.00 BST
In just 90 seconds, the pit lift-car drops 550 metres, to the sound of screeching metal and creaking timber. Wearing helmets and head-lamps, an oxygen emergency kit slung across their shoulders, the miners advance along the galleries of what was once the Joseph-Else potash mine at Wittelsheim in eastern France. But there are no plans to cut salt today. We are heading for the areas where mercury, arsenic, cyanide and asbestos are stored. This is Stocamine, the only long-term facility in France licensed to hold 44,000 tonnes of toxic waste.
It is a major environmental headache. After lying inactive for 11 years, the site is now to be finally closed. From 1 April, some waste began being taken back to the surface; the rest will be sealed. So there is plenty to do. A huge machine scrapes the floor of the gallery, raising a cloud of salty dust. Meanwhile a tractor-loader is moving ore and spoil. "We must enlarge the galleries, flatten out the floor, consolidate the structural elements, install lights and emergency telephones. Then we can start removing the waste," says Stocamine chief executive Alain Rollet. "All these operations are hazardous, combining mining risks with those associated with toxic substances. Added to which the mine is occasionally prone to wildfire."
Time is of the essence. Some of the galleries – 100km long in all – are subsiding under the pressure caused by neighbouring mine works. Ceilings have caved in, making it almost impossible to reach the containers, some of which may have ruptured. Others are corroding due to the heat.
"The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to recover the containers," says Yann Flory, the spokesperson for the Déstocamine collective, representing various NGOs and unions campaigning for the mine to be completely emptied. "Time is short."
But despite the urgency underground, many on the surface have no idea what to do with the waste next. Local residents see Stocamine as an environmental time bomb. In December 2012 Delphine Batho, the then French environment minister, ordered one-tenth of the waste to be removed, including over half the total mercury. The rest of the site was to be closed up. But under local pressure, a public inquiry was launched six months later.
Local residents had until 15 February to express their views. On the table were five options, ranging from removal of 11% of the waste – under the existing plan – to removal of almost the entire inventory. Depending on the scenario, the cost of the operation varies between €84m and €150m ($113m-$202m) over a seven- to 11-year timescale. "A substantial majority of residents asked for all the waste to be removed," says Henri Watissée, who oversaw the inquiry. Between now and the end of the year, when the full inquiry process ends, the two ministers in charge of the case – environment and industrial renewal – will have to take a joint decision.
In the late-1980s, when the idea of an underground waste repository was raised, few people opposed the project. At the time potash mining, once a pillar of the local economy, was declining. Employment in the mines had fallen from 12,000 at its peak in the 1960s to only 2,000.
"The project was an opportunity for workers to retrain and prevented them all ending up unemployed," says Etienne Chamik, a former miner and union representative. He lists the promises made by Stocamine at the time: 250 new jobs, renovation of the village hall and even the launch of an environmental research centre. "The repository was set up without any difficulties," he adds. "People felt grateful towards the mine."
The example of their German neighbours, just across the border, seemed reassuring too. They had started storing long-term waste in their potash mines 20 years earlier. Furthermore, these mines seem particularly well suited to the purpose: over time cavities in the salty rock tend to close up, naturally encapsulating any toxic waste they contain. To win over public support, the government order issued in 1997 authorised storage for 30 years maximum and introduced the concept of reversibility. If standards were not met or a serious incident occurred, the waste must be removed.
Stocamine opened in 1999, as a subsidiary of the publicly owned Mines de Potasse de l'Alsace. Over the following three years, 19,500 tonnes of class 0 waste (the most hazardous) were deposited in the mine, contained in 250kg steel drums and one-tonne "big bags". To prevent any uncontrolled chemical reactions, another 24,500 tonnes of class 1 waste (asbestos and incineration residue) were also carted down to the bottom of the mine.
But the dream of a "clean" repository was soon shattered. In September 2002 a fire broke out in section 15. "About 470 big bags containing highly inflammable fertiliser and sulphur waste had been left there without permission," Flory recalls. It took three days to bring the fire under control and another three months to extract all the fumes. Although 74 miners were exposed to toxic emissions, the then CEO received a four-month suspended sentence. Stocamine was fined €50,000. It signalled the end for the enterprise. The facility, which had never shown a profit, closed in 2003, bringing down the mine company. It had created just 24 jobs.
This was a serious blow to the confidence of the local community too. "We no longer believe what they say," says Raoul Schmitt, a car mechanic who has lived most of his life on a housing estate next to the old mine. Almost everyone there has at least one former miner in the family. The accident came as a physical shock to residents. "I had been getting recurrent headaches, then suddenly I saw a plume of green and blue smoke wafting out of the pit. When I asked what was going on, I was told it wasn't dangerous; they were just burning pallets," Schmitt adds. "My brother-in-law was working underground at the time." Since the accident he has joined many of his neighbours campaigning to get all the waste removed.
"I'd feel much safer if they took out all the waste and cleaned up the site," says François Elsaesser, one of the estate's oldest residents, pointing to the pithead machinery visible from his window. Looking at his youngest child, aged four, who is playing in the sitting room, he explains that he is concerned about "toxic emissions", but above all the "risk of groundwater pollution".
In 2010, after several years' inertia, the environment ministry suddenly reopened the case, commissioning studies on closure of the facility. It also set up a steering committee of 13 expert scientists who highlighted the hazards of prolonged storage. "Measurements showed that every year 100,000 cubic metres of water seep through the outside walls into the 15 pits," says Jean-Claude Pinte, head of the Stocamine project at the National Institute for the Industrial Environment and Risks (Ineris). "Over the next 300 years the water will flood the mine then reach the aquifer, loaded with toxic substances." At the same time, the walls, ceiling and floor of the galleries are closing in at the rate of 2cm a year. Despite these findings, the experts cannot agree on how to go about closure. Ineris favours permanent internment of the waste. Pierre Toulhoat, the scientific head of the institute, explains: "By positioning bentonite [a mixture of sand and clay] plugs at the entrance to each pit, we can delay the release of contaminated salty water for 700 years. The most dangerous substances, in particular mercury, will only enter the aquifer very slowly, at concentrations lower than the limit set by the regulations."
According to Ineris, the risks involved in completely emptying the repository are much higher: intoxication of workers, atmospheric contamination, accidents during transport and pollution around the German repository. Waste from Stocamine would be taken to eastern Germany.
"It's quite possible to clean up a site without putting workers at risk," says Marcos Buser, a Swiss geologist and a specialist on toxic and nuclear waste. A dissident voice on the steering committee, he claims to have done just that at Saint Ursanne, in the Swiss Jura, adding that he is the only expert working on Stocamine to have such experience. "On the other hand," he adds, "you can't produce credible models for the scale of long-term pollution of the aquifer. There is no guarantee of safety for future generations."
His views, which have strong support from local communities, NGOs and policymakers, are not shared by the other experts. "The waste [at Saint Ursanne] was less hazardous and it was limestone, not a salt mine. It's quite different," says an engineer. "It's dangerous, foolhardy and above all expensive to want to remove everything," says Rollet. "I'm proposing the cheapest scenario to the authorities. After all, it's you, the taxpayers, who'll be footing the bill."
This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde