ÎÎÎ "ÃÐÅÔ" Èíôîðìàöèîííûé ñåðâèñ ÃÐÅÔ - Èíôîðìàöèîííûé ñåðâèñ (2013)

?Why Ukraine needs a new constitution fair to all

(08.04.2014 - 1:15:13)

We have to respect their right to self-determination, a right guaranteed by the UN Charter.

There is currently no fully legitimate executive authority in Ukraine. The acting government was formed by the parliament under intimidation – and even direct use of force – against MPs by extremists. Local governments all over Ukraine are taking the situation into their own hands. With a real risk of civil war and social disintegration, there is still a chance to save Ukraine from political, social, and not least economic collapse.

The agreement signed on February 21, 2014 by President Yanukovich and opposition leaders, and mediated by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland, provided for a constitutional reform in Ukraine. This idea remains fully relevant.

Any new constitution should recognize the legitimate aspirations of all Ukrainians and all of the nation’s regions to live safely in accordance with their traditions and customs. The principles of rule of law, protection of human rights - including the rights of all minorities - freedom of speech, and activities of political parties and mass media should be enshrined in it.

Ukraine’s political system should be based on the idea of a democratic federal state such as, for example, Germany, Russia, or the US. Its status of military-political neutrality should be enshrined in the constitution and guaranteed by the EU, Russia, the US, and a UN Security Council resolution. Along with Ukrainian, Russian should be given state-language status, with other languages granted a status in accordance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Regions should independently elect their legislative and executive bodies through a direct vote and have wide authority, reflecting the cultural and historic identity of each of them, with regard to economy and finance, language policy, and education. The rights of national minorities living in the federation’s constituent entities should be protected; interference in matters of religion and faith should be strictly prohibited. That is nothing extraordinary. Just on the contrary, very much in line with European values.

Following the adoption of a new constitution by a nationwide referendum, national elections should be held, together with elections of legislative and executive bodies, in each constituent entity. A broad and objective international observation will be crucial. These are the proposals that Russia has put forward to our Western partners. We believe we could unite our efforts in encouraging Ukrainians to find common ground on the principles outlined. This sequence is key to the right outcome, the one that will help put Ukraine on a sustainable footing.

The multi-ethnic Ukrainian people have the right to live in a democratic and civilized state with the future of Ukraine in their own hands. The February 21 agreement was based on this assumption. It is not yet too late to make good on those commitments, if the Ukrainian revolution is to be about democracy and human rights and not about an extremist minority imposing a national-radical narrative upon the rest of the society.

If the former is the case, then Russia is ready and willing to help.

Police clash with pro-independence protesters in Kharkov

(08.04.2014 - 0:30:37)

A group of protesters tried to storm the Kharkov administration building on Monday evening but were pushed back by law enforcement officers who barricaded themselves inside the building. Police were reportedly using fire-hoses and stun grenades to push the crowd back.

Protesters reportedly started several fires near the building and were also reportedly throwing Molotov cocktails in order to smoke police out from the building. According to activists at the scene, police who barricaded themselves inside the building were deployed from western Ukraine.

Eventually, a group of local police outside the administration building moved in to push protesters back.

Speaking through a loudspeaker in the hall of the city’s regional administration building, an activist could be heard saying that the issue of Kharkov becoming a sovereign state independent from Ukraine will be decided by a regional referendum. A crowd of demonstrators responded to the statement with cheers.

Earlier on Monday, Kharkov protesters erected barricades around administrative buildings and the regional headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine. Brief clashes between supporters of the federalization of Ukraine and pro-EU demonstrators were reported in downtown Kharkov. Protesters on both sides reportedly used firecrackers and stun grenades.

Anti-coup protesters in Donetsk proclaimed on Monday the creation of a People’s Republic of Donetsk after seizing the local administration building on Sunday night.

The situation remains tense in the port city of Mariupol in the Donetsk region, where pro-Russian activists on Saturday stormed the Prosecutor’s Office building, demanding the release of detained “people’s mayor” Dmitry Kuzmenko.

A demonstration against political repression in Ukraine is also being held in the southern regional center of Odessa.

In a rare incident, Dnepropetrovsk city authorities moved to negotiate with the anti-government activists. According to the region’s vice governor, Boris Filatov, both the “left-wing” and the pro-Russian protesters agreed to refrain from “calls for separatist actions.” In return, the authorities said they will let the activists use some cabinets in the administrative buildings for their “meetings and work,” as well as provide them with “free access” to local printed media.

Ohio newspaper suing federal government after two journalists were detained by the military

(08.04.2014 - 0:25:23)

Attorneys for the paper filed their lawsuit on Friday, April 4, one week after Blade reporter Tyrel Linkhorn and photographer Jetta Fraser were detained for around an hour-and-a-half after they were approached while taking pictures of the plant from public property outside the premises.

The journalists were reportedly taking photographs of scenes visible from the street when they were accosted by military security. According to Ms. Fraser, an officer told her that taking pictures of the facility’s power supply, even from outside the property, raised the “suspicion of terrorism.”

Linkhorn and Fraser were held for around 90 minutes, according to the lawsuit, before being released without charge. It took several hours for their camera to be returned, however, and when it was — only upon intervention from a United States senator — they discovered that their images from outside of the plant were deleted. Additionally, attorneys for the Blade say Ms. Fraser was restrained with handcuffs throughout the ordeal and threatened by military personnel and, on her part, she said she was treated in a “disrespectful and discourteous way” by security.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the Blade reported, called General Dynamics on the afternoon of the incident and convinced officials to return the journalists’ camera after they reviewed the images.

According to the suit, the entire incident violated the journalists’ First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights as protected by the United States Constitution. The paper is now suing three members of the military police, as well as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and two others, because they say the Blade staffers were unlawfully detained, that Ms. Fraser was unlawfully restrained and received unlawful threats of bodily harm, that their cameras were unlawfully confiscated and pictures unlawfully destroyed and that the journalists’ constitutional rights were unlawfully prevented from being exercised.

It is hard for me to believe that anyone in a public position is not aware that the Constitution admits anyone, including the media, to take photographs of buildings, scenes or situations that are readily observable from public spots,” Fritz Byers, a lawyer for The Blade, told the New York Times.

In an editorial published on Sunday this week, the Blade said that "Pentagon officials, from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to the Army commandant at the plant to the rawest recruit, need to understand and acknowledge that such conduct was intolerable and can’t be allowed to recur, anywhere."

"This is not special pleading on behalf of The Blade or news media in general; no American citizens deserve to be mistreated as our colleagues Jetta Fraser and Tyrel Linkhorn were,” the op-ed continued.

I’m personally shocked by this incident,” added Blade editor-in-chief John Robinson Block. “I believe our people were totally in the right.”

Dave Murray, managing editor of the Blade, said, “The Army does not have the right in this country to detain journalists, handcuff them, seize their cameras and destroy our work product on the whim of an overzealous military police officer.”

According to the account profiled by Times reporter Ravi Somaiya on Sunday this week, Linkhorn and Fraser were apprehended while on an entry road to Lima, OH General Dynamics plant, where no signs suggested the area was subject to restricted access. A guard’s station was around 30 feet further up the road, according to the complaint seen by the Times.

The photos Ms. Fraser took were taken outside the secure perimeter of the tank plant and were photos that anyone with a cell phone could take as they drive by,” managing editor Murray said.

Both Blade journalists say they believe they acted on the right side of the law throughout the ordeal.

I really don’t understand what I was not allowed to photograph,” Fraser told reporters at her paper. "If I can see it from the road, it’s available to the public eye.”

“I don’t want this to be about me or The Blade necessarily,” opined Linkhorn. “I just want to make sure that laws are followed properly and that people have the freedom that they should have.”

“My biggest concern is that we were doing something that I believe we were within our rights to be doing,” Linkhorn added, “not because we were journalists, but because we are US citizens and we were simply taking photos from public property.”

In the op-ed published by the Blade, the paper said that the military personnel went over the line when they detained the journalists, who earlier during the altercation provided press credentials to security.

"The initial effort by the police officers to determine what the journalists were doing may have been proper,” the op-ed read in part. “But everything they did afterwards was not. They, and their employers, must be held accountable for their illegal actions.”

China tells US not to meddle in Hong Kong's internal affairs

(07.04.2014 - 23:47:08)

Biden met with Anson Chan, former chief secretary and founder of pro-democracy group Hong Kong 2020, and Martin Lee – founder of Hong Kong's opposition Democratic Party – at the White House on Friday.

During the meeting, the activists spoke out against whey they described as Beijing’s increasing control over Hong Kong. They also said they fear that only candidates picked by the central government will be allowed to take part in the 2017 chief executive vote. Lee and Chan also voiced concerns over press freedom in Hong Kong - referring to violent assaults on journalists and alleging that Beijing is pressuring advertisers to shun critical media, AFP reported.

Vice President Biden underscored Washington’s “long-standing support for democracy in Hong Kong and for the city’s high degree of autonomy under the 'one country, two systems' framework,” the White House said in a statement.

In response, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it “firmly opposes any countries meddling in the city's internal affairs in any way,” South China Morning Post quoted.

Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs,” said a spokesperson for the Office of the Commissioner of the Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong.

The official added that Hong Kong is currently going through a sensitive political reform period.

[We] would hope the US would be cautious of their words and actions regarding Hong Kong affairs and not let Hong Kong issues impede Sino-American relations,” he noted.

Commenting on the activists’ concerns over press freedom and other core values in Hong Kong, the spokesperson said that “Over the past 17 years since Hong Kong's return, the region has seen the successful implementation of the 'one country, two systems' framework, which contributed to Hong Kong's great socioeconomic and democratic development.”

As a result, the people in Hong Kong are enjoying unprecedented democratic rights and freedom, which has won international acclaim," the official added, as quoted by Xinhua news agency.

During their trip to America, Lee and Chan also met with Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House of Representatives, and members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

The future of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong is under serious threat,” Senator Sherrod Brown, head of the commission, said in a statement, as quoted by Reuters. “China is already placing 'pre-conditions' on who can run, raising serious doubts about whether the elections will be free and fair,” he added.

Hong Kong has continued to enjoy considerable autonomy and broad liberties as a financial hub since Britain returned its former colony to China in 1997. Currently, the region’s head is elected by a 1,200-member committee – the majority of whom are supportive of the Chinese government. However, Beijing has agreed to let Hong Kong elect its next leader in 2017.

Several key issues are still to be determined though, including whether public nominations of candidates will be allowed. And as the election nears, tensions are growing, with many pro-democracy advocates worrying that the government will control the choice of candidates. The government will find a way to control the election, to only allow a choice between “Puppet A or Puppet B,” Lee told The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt.

We are not asking for a lot,” Lee said. “We are not asking you to send armies. Just say, ‘Please, you promised to give Hong Kong democracy, please keep your promise.’ This is make or break for us.

Beijing earlier described 75-year-old Lee, a former Legislative Council member, as a “running dog of the colonialists,” adding that Hong Kong did not elect its leaders while under British rule.

‘Active phase’ of Syrian conflict will be over in 2014 – Assad to Russian ex-official

(07.04.2014 - 23:46:58)

Stepashin, who briefly served as Russia’s prime minister in 1999 and is now the chair of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society charity organization, visited Syria last week with a humanitarian mission. According to Stepashin, he was able to meet President Assad in the center of the Syrian capital.

When I asked about the military issues, this is what Assad said: ‘This year the active phase of military action in Syria will be ended. After that we will have to shift to what we have been doing all the time – fighting terrorists,'” Stepashin said, as quoted by Itar-Tass.

Assad praised the work of the Stepashin-headed charity, which over the last year is said to have delivered at least eight shipments of medicine, medical equipment, food, and clothing donated by Russians for Syrians in need.

The Syrian president noted that the charity’s work “very successfully demonstrated that the [Syrian] war was not between Muslims and Orthodox Christians, but between gunmen and people of different nationalities and faith.”

‘I am not Yanukovich, I am not going anywhere'

Although Stepashin was not on an official government visit, Assad still asked him to pass a short message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tell Vladimir [Putin] that I am not [ousted Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovich, I am not going anywhere,” Stepashin quoted Assad as saying.

The Russian ex-official went on to stress the differences between Assad and the ousted Ukrainian President, who fled to Russia in February amid the violent coup in Kiev, headed by the political opposition and radical groups.

Assad’s strength now lies in the fact that, unlike Yanukovich, he has practically no internal enemies. He has a consolidated, cleansed team. Moreover, his relatives are not bargaining and stealing from the cash register but are fighting, including his brother [Maher Assad] who commands an armored division and risks his life,” Stepashin stressed.

He reminded that Bashar Assad’s cousin, Hilal Assad, was recently killed while fighting insurgents near the Turkish border, saying that “it is very telling, all the Syrians know this.”

Assad told Stepashin that in most regions of Syria, the government “managed to set up an active cooperation and dialogue with the constructive opposition.” There was, however, nothing to negotiate with the gunmen, Stepashin said.

In January, Russia and the US organized the Geneva 2 peace talks between Assad’s government and the Syrian opposition. However, after two rounds of negotiations, no agreement was reached. No date has so far been set for the planned third round of talks, during which the Syrian government and the opposition-in-exile have agreed to discuss putting an end to violence, fighting terrorism, and the formation of a transitional government body.

The Syrian conflict, which has been dubbed the worst humanitarian crisis in decades, entered its fourth year last month. The number of those killed surpassed the 100,000 mark in January, when the UN stopped counting. Activists in Syria say as many as 146,000 people may have been killed in the unrest thus far.

Over 2.5 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries, while 6.5 million have been displaced within the country. Seventy-five percent of refugees are said to be women and children.

More than $100k raised for driver beaten by mob in Detroit

(07.04.2014 - 23:43:59)

Steve Utash, 54, was first hospitalized last week when he accidentally struck a 10-year-old boy named David Harris, who had seemingly taken a step off a nearby curb. Utash stopped his car and got out to check on the child, but as he did this a crowd of up to 12 people began beating him, causing serious head injuries that ultimately placed the man in critical condition.

Harris is expected to recover from his injuries – which include a broken leg – but Utash is still in critical condition, and it’s unclear if his health has improved at all since Detroit police Sgt. Michael Woody remarked he was “really not looking all that good.”

Since Utash does not have health insurance, his family began an online fundraiser to help cover the cost of his medical bills. Although the target was set at $50,000, the fundraiser has blown well past that level, currently sitting at nearly $120,000 as of Monday afternoon. Donations have ranged from $10 to more than $100.

"When I first made my donation you guys had $5,700 raised, to look now and see close to $100,000 from complete strangers like myself, makes you realize there still is some good in this world!" commenter Jason Hayes wrote on the fundraising page, according to MLive.

Meanwhile, a separate MLive report states that police have arrested two people on Saturday in connection with the beating – a 17- and 16-year-old – though Woody cautioned there was still more work to be done.

“Remember there are still eight or 10 people we’re looking for,” Woody told the news outlet. “We’re not celebrating by any means.”

As RT reported previously, a preliminary investigation found Utash did not break any traffic laws, while police suspect and surveillance footage seems to show that Harris walked off the curb on his own before being hit by Utash’s truck.

Also on Saturday, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones released the following statement on the matter:

"This senseless vigilante style attack is not the essence of who we are as Detroiters and will not be tolerated.”

"We are asking all Metro Detroiters to demonstrate our true character by exercising calm and patience during this emotionally charged time. Most important, we must all keep Mr. Utash, David Harris and their families in our prayers. We also are calling on members of our community who know the individuals involved in this brutal attack to step forward so that justice can be served and healing can begin."

Speaking with local news station WXYZ last week, Harris’ godfather said the family did not know the individuals who participated in Utash’s beating, nor does it support the behavior.

“We don’t condone that at all,” he said. “I told his mom and she just was like, no, we wouldn’t want that to happen. I did see it happening. But my main concern honestly was on David. But then I thought they had stopped. But I don’t know. My concern was on my godson at the time.”

New York City police and firefighters engage in massive fistfight (VIDEO)

(07.04.2014 - 23:27:00)

Sunday’s annual exhibition game was reportedly tied 3-3 during the second quarter when a fight erupted among a small group of players. Referees attempted to intervene, but within minutes the incident escalated quickly and practically every amateur athlete on hand took to the ice to get in on the action.

On the website for the New York City Fire Department Hockey Team, the event was billed as a charity match between the “bravest and finest.” Proceeds from the game were advertised as going towards the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, among other charities.

According to a local Fox News affiliate, the game was delayed for around 25 minutes as the refs made sense of the scuffle and attempted to clear the ice of the dozens of gloves and other equipment that were disregarded during the brawl. Several players were ejected, the station reported, but the game soon after resumed and eventually ended with the boys in blue beating the New York Fire Department by a score of 8-5.

Cell phone footage captured from several audience members in attendance quickly went viral and caused the incident to attract the attention of media outlets in and out of the Big Apple, but representatives for both the NYFD and the New York Police Department declined to immediately respond to post-game questions from the press. By Monday afternoon, YouTube videos of the fight had been viewed online tens of thousands of times.

Sunday’s game at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY was the forty-first annual match-up between the two teams, and marked the first victory for the NYPD over their rivals in six years.

No matter the patch, we are all family,” the police department’s hockey team wrote on Facebook early Monday alongside a post-game picture of team members from both sides shaking hands.

Oklahoma breaks record with hundreds of earthquakes after fracking intensifies

(07.04.2014 - 23:03:48)

According to Reuters, six earthquakes struck central Oklahoma between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, including a 3.8 magnitude tremor that was recorded around 7:42 a.m. Prior to this quake, three others hit the area and “rocked houses” in multiple communities: one at a magnitude of 2.9, and two others at 2.6 and 2.6 magnitude.

The day before on Friday, March 4, meanwhile, a 3.4 magnitude quake in the same area was followed up by a 3.0 magnitude event in the evening.

Speaking with Reuters, seismologist Austin Holland of the Oklahoma Geological Survey said that not even four months into 2014, the state has already experienced more earthquakes (252) than it did the entirety of 2013 – itself a record-breaking year with 222 quakes recorded.

"We have already crushed last year's record for number of earthquakes," he said.

Additionally, Holland added, "We have had almost as many magnitude 3 and greater already in 2014 than we did for all of 2013.”

The spike in seismic activity has scientists concerned that the sharp rise in earthquakes is related to controversial oil drilling procedures such as fracking. This process – which consists of blasting highly pressurized water, sand, and other chemicals into layers of rock in an attempt to free oil and gas – has been connected to earthquake activity since wastewater is then pumped into underground wells that can cause friction near fault lines.

As noted in a recent report by the US Geological Survey, the number of earthquakes occurring in Oklahoma has risen to about 40 a year from 2009 - 2013, compared to three or fewer from 1975 - 2008. This data came alongside numbers for the rest of the United States as well, which saw a six-fold increase in earthquakes in 2011 when compared to 2000.

As RT reported in late March, state officials from Ohio, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas have initiated coordinated efforts to discuss strengthening regulations and standards regarding fracking operations, including possibly requiring oil companies to record the pressure in waste disposal wells every day instead of every month.

Navy to fly drone helicopters from tablet app

(07.04.2014 - 22:06:10)

When all is said and done, the program is expected to give United States troops another advantage in the battlefield by allowing them the ability to fly in choppers hauling valuable cargo without risking the lives of American pilots.

According to Pentagon officials, the military is already making immense progress with the Autonomous Aerial Cargo and Utility System, or AACUS program, and Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder — the US Navy’s chief of research — told the Wall Street Journal that recent advances are an example of “truly leap-ahead technology.” Officials told Reuters that the system has been tested on three different types of helicopters already.

In a video uploaded to YouTube by the Navy this week, the Naval Research Laboratory demonstrated how the addition of a 100-pound sensor and software package to different types of rotary wing aircraft, both manned and unmanned, can transform those vehicles into cargo-carrying drones that can then be controlled remotely using an iPad-like tablet computer.

This technology, the Navy said on their YouTube page, “will provide the US Marine Corps with the ability to rapidly support forces on the front lines, as an alternative to convoys, manned aircraft or air drops in all weather and possibly hostile conditions, with minimal training required by the requester.”

"What we're talking about doing with full size helicopters — and we've done it — we're talking about delivering 5,000 pounds of cargo," Klunder told the Journal.

Indeed, Klunder recently told attendees at a Pentagon conference that troops have “with one touch of a mini-tablet in their hand . . . been able to autonomously land a full-sized helicopter onto an unprepared landing site,” according to the US Defense Department’s science blog.

Klunder says this system is one that could be put on an unmanned drone, or it could be put on a manned helicopter; it doesn’t matter. It’s easily installed, easily used and easily learned. Which is pretty incredible,” continued a post published Monday this week on the Pentagon’s “Armed With Science” blog. “I have Ikea furniture that’s more complicated than that,” added the author of the post.

As far as innovative projects go, I can’t think of one that’s more important to the Marine Corps right now—or one that shows as much promise,” Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, commander of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, told the Journal. "It's taking unmanned aerial systems to the next level by introducing autonomy, and autonomy that works," he said in a separate statement offered to reporters this week.

According to Reuters journalist David Alexander, aircraft equipped with the new high-tech detection sensors programmed to guide AACUS-enabled choppers can guide themselves through the sky and pick their own landing spots, but anyone with access to the tablet that controls the craft can easily be trained in a few minutes in order to send alternate instructions when an extra layer of human oversight is needed.

Pentagon officials hope that the self-reliant choppers will provide troops in need with a new option when it comes to ordering supplies and assistance while on the battlefield. Reuters cited an Army study that determined that one person was either killed or wounded for every two-dozen fuel resupply convoy in Afghanistan, and one was killed or wounded for every 29 water supply convoys.

Those statistics will likely change once troops will be able to order fresh shipments by using an easy-to-understand tablet program that tells a sensor and software-equipped helicopter to navigate safely into the field and drop off supplies.

According to Reuters, Klunder said the entire program could be ready to be rolled out within the next two years.

"If that need was there and required," he said, "the technology is what's important and we've proved that it works."

The Navy is expected to reveal further details about the AACUS at the Sea-Air-Space Conference in Washington, DC scheduled for this Tuesday.

Lavrov: US and EU line on Ukraine ‘unproductive and dangerous’

(07.04.2014 - 21:30:58)

Writing in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the Russian official said that Western powers “have been trying to compel Ukraine to make a painful choice between east and west, further aggravating internal differences,” referring to the EU-Ukraine cooperation agreement that sparked the stand-off that led to the ousting of Viktor Yanukovich.

The political part of the agreement has now been signed by the interim government.

Contrastingly Lavrov said that "Russia has done more than any other country to support the independent Ukrainian state, including for many years subsidizing its economy through low energy prices."

Instead of closer cooperation with the EU, Lavrov said Ukraine should implement “real constitutional reform, which would ensure the legitimate rights of all Ukrainian regions and respond to demands from its south-eastern region to make Russian the state's second official language; firm guarantees on Ukraine's non-aligned status to be enshrined in its laws, thus ensuring its role as a connecting link in an indivisible European security architecture; and urgent measures to halt activity by illegal armed formations of the Right Sector and other ultra-nationalist groups.”

In recent days, Russia has been advocating federalization, which would give greater autonomy to the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country. Politicians in Kiev have rejected the move, saying that it would open a backdoor path for those territories to secede from the country, and possibly join Russia.

These calls have become particularly resonant after anti-Kiev demonstrators occupied various key government buildings in major eastern urban centers of the country over the past two days. In Donetsk, activists declared the region “an independent republic” and asked Russia to send in “a peacekeeping corps.

Acting President Aleksandr Turchinov accused Moscow of staging a “special operation” to splinter Ukraine. He also threatened to increase penalties for separatism and said that protesters bearing arms will be treated as terrorists.

Moscow has rejected accusations of meddling.

Stop blaming Russia’s for all of Ukraine’s problems. Ukrainian people want to hear meaningful answers from official Kiev,” said a statement on the foreign ministry’s website, which warned that Ukraine would “face new crises and difficulties” unless its “irresponsible" politicians make the necessary reforms to pacify its eastern regions.

Moreover, Russia’s upper legislative assembly, the Federation Council, said that Moscow has no plans to send troops to Ukraine without a go-ahead from the UN Security Council, but noted that it has internally sanctioned Vladimir Putin’s use of force on Ukrainian territory.

Merkel ally blasts US assurances on spying as ‘insufficient’

(07.04.2014 - 21:12:03)

When reports emerged last October that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had monitored Chancellor Merkel’s mobile phone there was outrage in Germany, which still remembers abuses in state surveillance under the Nazis and the East German Stasi.

Berlin immediately demanded a “no-spy” deal with Washington, but it has become apparent in recent months that such a deal is unlikely.

Merkel is due to fly to Washington for talks with President Obama in May, but Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he was not confident of any results as far as the surveillance deal was concerned.

“The information we have so far is insufficient. My expectations of what further talks will yield are low,” said de Maiziere in an interview with the weekly magazine Der Spiegel.

The revelations about the NSA’s spying programs were first published in the Guardian and Washington Post in June, after leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden.As well as the NSA’s ability to monitor networks such as Google and Yahoo, Snowden also revealed that European leaders including Merkel, supposedly staunch US allies, had also been spied on.

De Maiziere added that US surveillance activities were unjustifiable regardless of their security concerns.

“US intelligence methods may be justified to a large extent by security needs, but the tactics are excessive and over-the-top,” he said.

“If two thirds of what Edward Snowden maintains is true, or what has been put forward pertaining to him as a source, then the US action is beyond all measure,” he added.

In January, Obama said that eavesdropping on the leaders of close allies would be banned, as would the vast collection of phone data on Americans, but he also said that US spy agencies would carry on gathering information on the intentions of other governments.

US has reportedly started supplying Syrian rebels with anti-tank weapons

(07.04.2014 - 20:50:46)

Images of rebels equipped with heavy arms have begun to circulate in recent days, and at least one news site has claimed that the source responsible is the US government.

On Monday, Israel’s Debkafile website reported that two moderate Syrian rebel militias — the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Revolutionary Front — have been supplied with advanced US weapons, including armor-piercing, optically-guided BGM-71 TOW missiles, thanks to the Pentagon.

According to Debkafile’s report, US Gen. Martin Dempsey — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs — asked officials in Israel last week to help get Saudi Arabian fighter jets stationed at the kingdom’s Faisal Air Base at Tabuk near Jordan positioned in a manner that would provide air cover as American forces moved the weapons into southern Syria. Debkafile attributed the claims to unnamed military sources.

Late last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that US President Barack Obama and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah “appeared to narrow their disagreement on assisting Syrian rebels” amidst a meeting between the two. According to the Journal’s report, Obama administration officials said the meeting ended with the White House agreeing to increase its level of assistance to Syrian rebels.

Senior US officials said their goal is to provide assistance to moderate Syrian rebels not just as a ‘counterweight’ to the Assad regime, but also to extremist elements of the opposition,” Carol Lee and Ellen Knickmeyer wrote for the paper.

At the same time, however, the Journal reporters said that the White House made it clear to the Saudis — who reportedly asked for America’s assistance — that Washington was not comfortable supplying certain weapons, including hand-held anti-aircraft missile launchers known as manpads, due to the “proliferation risk” involved with introducing those types of arms into the heart of Syria. The South China Morning Post also cited US officials as saying the Obama administration was considering supplying weapons and has recently “been able to develop deeper relations with the opposition.”

Then over the weekend, a blog that specializes in covering the Syrian conflict published screenshots from just-uploaded YouTube videos alleged to show rebels using the US-made tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided anti-tank missiles.

Until more photos or videos of the missile and possible other locations pop up, it's hard to tell who might have been the supplier. But most likely, the TOWs were indeed foreign-supplied to the rebels,” one blogger wrote. “Since the TOW missiles are made in the US such a transfer likely needs permission from the Obama administration.”

Iran’s Fars News agency also reported on Monday that their sources said the US has supplied the anti-tank missiles to the militants fighting against Assad.

According to Debkafile, the report — if true — marks “the first advanced US weapon to be deployed in more than three years of civil war.”

Our military sources report that Syrian tank armor is not thick enough to withstand the BGM-71 TOW rockets. To save his tanks, Assad has shifted the brunt of his anti-rebel operation to heavy air force bombardments, which claim a heavy toll among civilians,” Debkafile continued. “Washington is therefore confronted with its next decision about whether to give the rebels sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons as well.”

On Monday afternoon, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “We are going to continue to press in every way we can to assist the Syrian people.”

We are constantly doing is reviewing and assessing what else we can do,” Carney said. “These kinds of discussions, when bad things continued o happen in a place like Syria, always can be reduced to the question of: is the US going to use its military forces to try and do something?”

Carney said the administration will assess all options before making a decision based on what the White House believes is the right course of action to take in support of the Syrian people and in support of the United States’ own national security interests.

Google appeals ongoing YouTube blockade in Turkey

(07.04.2014 - 20:34:51)

Google on Monday said it has filed three appeals to Turkish courts in relation to the ongoing blackout of YouTube. Three petitions have been filed to Turkish criminal, administrative and constitutional courts by Google’s lawyers, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

According to the Hurriyet Daily News, YouTube’s Turkish lawyer, Gonenc Gurkaynak, has filed a complaint to the Turkish Constitutional Court and a lawsuit demanding “a stay of execution and cancelation of the decision on the ban” to the 4th Administrative Court of Ankara. Gurkaynak also appealed the ruling of the Golbasi Criminal Court that annulled its own decision on lifting the ban on April 5.

Turkey’s Telecommunications Authority (TIB) blocked YouTube on March 27 after allegedly leaked audiotapes of senior Turkish officials discussing a false flag operation against Syria emerged there days before local elections. While the government advocated the ban citing national security concerns, TIB cited a decision by Golbasi Criminal Court.

Curiously, the same Ankara-based court on Saturday changed its own decision by ordering only 15 YouTube videos to be banned instead of the entire service. The latest ruling followed a Constitutional Court order to unblock Twitter, which the court blasted as a violation of freedom of speech. Today’s Zaman claimed that the lower court then issued a “self-critical” statement, also calling its earlier ruling a “major intervention into freedom of speech, a fundamental value of a democratic society.”

However, the local prosecutor’s office challenged the April-5 decision and it was promptly overturned by the higher Golbasi Criminal Court of First Instance, which stated the blocking of YouTube must continue until the “criminal content” is removed from the site.

A Google spokesman told the WSJ via email that “it is obviously very disappointing to people and businesses in Turkey that YouTube is still blocked, and we are actively challenging the ban in the courts.” The outlet said Google’s defense argued in the petitions that the nationwide blocking of YouTube is “overbroad” under Turkish law and then required a constitutional challenge “based on freedom of speech.”

Google recently claimed that its services are being effectively blocked by Turkish internet providers, who reportedly are using all means to prevent the users from circumventing the ban. Turkish providers are also believed to be still blocking Twitter despite the Constitutional Court’s ruling, which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he has to obey but “do[es] not respect.”

The recent scandals involving Erdogan’s government and the social media ban that followed them caused outrage in Turkish society, with opposition-minded activists condemning the ban as an act of “censorship” and “dictatorship.” However, Erdogan’s AKP party’s candidates managed to win at the March-30 local elections in 49 of the 81 Turkish regions, highlighting the Turkish leader’s popularity despite all the controversy.

In Ankara, where the AKP and main opposition party, CHP, ran an extremely tight race, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets last week demanding that the Supreme Electoral Council recount the local election results. AKP was declared the winner in the Turkish capital with a slender one percent of margin. CHP filed an official recount request, while the protesters were pushed off Ankara’s streets with police water cannon and tear gas.

Brain ‘15-second delay’ shields us from hallucinogenic experience – research

(07.04.2014 - 20:34:46)

Eyes tend to receive an enormous information load from dusk till dawn, and as one opens his or her eyes in the morning, the brain starts its intensive work, processing incoming pictures from the surroundings, including imagery from TV screens and computer monitors.

A team of vision scientists at the University of California, Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) revealed this secret of the human brain: To save us from insanity induced by a constantly changing torrent of pictures, shapes and colors – both virtual and real world – the brain filters out information, failing in most cases to notice small changes in a 15-second period of time.

It actually means that what we do see is, in fact, a mixture of past and present. According to the research, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, stability is attained at the expense of accuracy.

"What you are seeing at the present moment is not a fresh snapshot of the world but rather an average of what you've seen in the past 10 to 15 seconds," said study author Jason Fischer, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at MIT.

The discovery, called a continuity field, at first seems to be yet another optical illusion, good to explain why we miss errors in film editing.

“The continuity field smoothes what would otherwise be a jittery perception of object features over time,” said David Whitney, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and senior author of the study. “Essentially, it pulls together physically but not radically different objects to appear more similar to each other. This is surprising because it means the visual system sacrifices accuracy for the sake of the continuous, stable perception of objects.”

However, according to the scientists, a continuity field is an advantageous mechanism, as it excludes visual ‘noise’. "The changes that continuity fields cause us to miss are most often unimportant," Fischer said.

What is more, without such brain development humans would find the world an unsteady and frightening place to be. It might be similar to a person on hallucinogenic drugs experiencing sudden changes of color, a play of shadows and splashes of light. It would be just too overwhelming to live like this on a daily basis – a severe ordeal for the psyche.

"This is the brain's way of reducing the number of things we have to deal with in the visual environment," said psychologist Aaron Johnson of Concordia University in Montreal; he was not involved in the study, but was interested in its results. "If we were sensitive to every little change, our brains probably couldn't cope."

To establish the existence of a continuity field, the researchers conducted several experiments.

In one of them, participants were asked to look at a series of black-and-white bars, or gratings, that appeared at random angles on a computer screen every five seconds. Then they had to adjust the angle of a white bar so that it matched the angle of each grating they had just viewed. After hundreds of such attention exercises, the researchers learned that the angle of the three most recently viewed gratings influenced the picture greatly.

“Even though the sequence of images was random, the participants’ perception of any given image was biased strongly toward the past several images that came before it,” said Fischer, who calls this phenomenon “perceptual serial dependence.”

In a controlled experiment researchers dispersed the gratings on the computer screen. Now that the gratings were far apart from each other, the participants didn’t merge the angles together. This leads to the conclusion that the continuity field effect starts to work only when objects are close to each other.

Fischer and Whitney also underline that “the strength of this [brain] bias was modulated by attention.” Quite obviously, the influence of the gratings lessened as more time passed.

It turns out lots of familiar objects and faces may not be as real as we are used to thinking. The human brain conceals lots of mysteries. Although it has a 15-second delay in perception, the brain can also work incredibly fast. Neuroscientists from MIT recently found that even if the eye sees an image for as little as 13 milliseconds, the brain can still successfully process it.

?Poppy revolution in Afghanistan to follow the elections?

(07.04.2014 - 20:33:20)

The American guardian angels are ready to depart by the end of December, after only 13 years of bloody and apparently useless war (trying to leave behind a fistful of bases, anyway).

While this may be bad news for the recently elected president, the Taliban are already hailing the return of the country into the folds of their Sharia world, which springs directly from the fundamentalism and radical preaching of Deobandi. And the only ones who are really enjoying themselves are the opium farmers who are witnessing their sales go through the roof.

Opium production in Afghanistan has risen by nearly 50 percent in the last year, according to a recent United Nations report. Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia’s anti-drug service, described it as a “dragon” that is “ravaging our youth.”

At the beginning of January, Jean-Luc Lemahieu, outgoing head of the UN office on drugs and crime in Afghanistan, said: “If no appropriate action is taken, then Afghanistan runs the risk of becoming a fragmented criminal state, ruled by an illicit economy."

In 2013, the Afghan opium business amassed 68 billion US dollars globally, although less than 10 percent of that remains in the country. Opium has no rivals in the country; Afghanistan’s second cash crop is nuts, accounting for 7.4 percent of the country’s total official exports of 376 million US dollars.

What else has paid for the recent presidential election campaign if not the dope-coins, much more reliable than the politically harassed bitcoins? And the party is not over yet: next year there will be parliamentary elections.

What is impressive is that currently opium production in Afghanistan is outstripping international demand: they are filling the storehouses for bad times, so as not to send the prices down; the money that usually comes from the myopic Western approach of assistance, consisting of rebuilding while simultaneously destroying , is drying up.

After 2001, the West spent more or less 100 billion dollars on social services in the country, failing to build even the ghost of an Afghan economy. During the 1970s, Afghan people used to grow all their own food. Now the government has to import huge quantities of food to feed its 32 million people. So, as the Anglo-Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid puts it: “This year more Afghans are dependent on income from heroin rather than wheat.”

Although not all Taliban are drug dealers, many “theology students” (as the Pashtun word goes, for the religious and political movement established in 1994 with the help of the Pakistani secret service and money from Saudi Arabia), are increasingly interested in the opium trade as a powerful form of financing. Wars and turmoil in the Middle East, after the so-called Arab Springs, made some rich Taliban sponsors shift their attention and their money from Asia to the Mediterranean shores. Less petro-coins, more a case of dope-coins being the solution! To be sure, in the beginning the “students” were openly against drug cultivation.

During their five years in power, 1996-2001, when the main part of Afghanistan was an Islamic Emirate, drug production was practically eliminated as a tribute to Sharia. But they soon discovered the pragmatic side of the world.

The Americans don’t seem really interested in eradicating the plague of opium, even though since 2001 Washington has spent more than 6 billion dollars to curb opium production, including crop eradication programs and subsidies for alternative crops. The words of Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate caucus on international narcotics control, with their apparently inner contradiction (unless you really believe that the Taliban may become an “international” threat) reveals the US attitude well: “Very little product from the Afghan drug trade, namely heroin, is actually consumed in the United States. The majority of heroin consumed here originates in Mexico and Colombia. So why does the cultivation of poppy in a faraway land matter? Simply put, the illicit drug trade in Afghanistan finances the terrorist activities of the Taliban. The war against the Taliban is far from over, and a positive outcome for our 12-year investment in blood and treasure will increasingly depend on these critical counter-narcotics efforts.”

Well now, with “our” soldiers about to exit Afghanistan, what really matters when you look at the fact that Afghan heroin is mainly spreading in Russia, Europe and Canada, and not in America?

The real answer is on the ground where, in the words of Jean-Luc Lemahieu: "The security agenda and short-term ideas of success didn't go well with the ideas of counter-narcotics work".

Indeed NATO soldiers prefer not to eradicate opium cultivations. There are good tactical reasons: the destruction of the precious crops may push the farmers into the Taliban’s arms. The result is that in 2013 the area targeted for poppy eradication fell by a quarter, while the land under poppy cultivation rose by 36 percent. The United Nations say that a 10 percent tax is normally imposed by the Taliban on opium crops. According to the US Department of Defense, today an estimated one quarter of their 400 million dollars annual budget comes from the crops. Islamist fighters and some government officials, apparently fierce enemies during the day, are happy meeting to share heroin’s profits by night. Recently the police chief of Nimroz province was arrested on suspicion of ties to the drug trade.

Despite US efforts, overall insurgent funding from drugs trafficking remains mainly unchanged. John Sopko of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said that the Taliban now shows a “greater propensity to protect the poppy harvest and regulate narcotics trafficking and production.” The American posture is very far from the one suggested by Viktor Ivanov: “We know every farmer, every lab – just give us international laws, and we will destroy their stocks. We must kill the dragon in his cave.”

But Washington is not eager to collaborate. Even worse, the US had the stroke of genius to put Ivanov on the list of Russian personalities affected by US sanctions for Crimea, and ceased every kind of cooperation with Russia on anti-drug programs.

“It is unbelievable, completely irrational, not even George W. Bush Administration was so rough,” said Pino Arlacchi, European MP for the Italian Democratic Party and former UN Executive Director of the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. “The situation is desperate because here in the West no one seems to care. Europe has given Afghanistan 1 billion euros every year in civilian help since 2009. One small part of this money is enough to solve the problem of opium cultivation and trade in the country. Five years ago, as a member of the European Parliament, I made (together with Ivanov) a detailed plan that was never implemented. Europe discussed the plan with Russia (Moscow was ready to pay half the expenses) but the project remained on the table. The truth is that the West is completely indifferent to the problem.”

Now that Afghanistan is on the verge of taking upon itself the task of maintaining its own security, the situation in the field is going to get worse. After 13 year of war, the Taliban are probably going to settle accounts with the current Najibullah and start a green revolution: more poppies, less nuts.

Despite Obama’s promise, more deportations follow minor crimes

(07.04.2014 - 20:13:41)

In a new report, the Times found that of the nearly two million deportations carried out by the Obama administration, roughly 66 percent involve those who’ve committed “minor infractions” such as traffic violations. Meanwhile, about 20 percent were convicted of various crimes, including drug-related offenses.

Government records also revealed that some individuals did not have a criminal record leading up to their deportation, and that many have been officially charged for entering or re-entering the United States illegally – something rarely done under previous administrations, and which prohibits immigrants from coming back to the US for five years. Additionally, more people than before are being removed from the country without hearings or chances for appeal.

The situation has triggered a deteriorating relationship between the White House and immigration reform advocates, who claim the administration is not fulfilling the promises it pledged to early in Obama’s presidency.

“For years, the Obama administration’s spin has been that they are simply deporting so-called ‘criminal aliens,’ but the numbers speak for themselves,” Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said to the Times.

“In truth, this administration — more than any other — has devastated immigrant communities across the country, tearing families away from loved ones, simply because they drove without a license, or re-entered the country desperately trying to be reunited with their family members.”

According to the Times, cases in which undocumented immigrants have been deported for violating traffic laws (including driving under the influence) have surged in the five years Obama has been in office. During George W. Bush’s last five years in office, there were 43,000 such deportations. Under Obama, that number has jumped to 193,000.

For its part, the White House said the numbers are the result of tougher laws and enforcement measures passed by Congress, as well as lawmakers’ unwillingness to offer a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals already living in the US.

“The president is concerned about the human cost of separating families,” White House domestic policy advisor Cecilia Munoz said to the Times. “But it’s also true that you can’t just flip a switch and make it stop.”

The latest numbers come almost a month after Obama announced a review of US deportation practices. As RT reported in March, the president ordered staff to look into whether or not deportations could be handled “more humanely within the confines of the law.” This followed the administration’s previous step in 2012 of allowing those who arrived in the US illegally as children to avoid deportation.

While advocates have welcomed these steps, they also argue Obama should go further and alter policy unilaterally – something he has said he cannot do.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress continue to claim Obama has not done enough to increase enforcement at the borders, meaning any decision to slow down deportations could have the added effect of making comprehensive reform less likely. Although the Senate passed an immigration bill last year, the House of Representatives did not take it up, and Republicans have stated they would rather pass their own bill than take up the Senate version.

But while Obama has told supporters there are currently not enough votes for a bill, frustration continues to grow as families are split up.

“We assumed that a Democratic president who wanted to move immigration reform would not pursue a strategy of deporting the people who he was intent on legalizing,” said Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change to the New York Times. “That was a totally wrong assumption. And there is a lot of anger about that.”

Forbes, Ruptly journalists banned entry to Ukraine

(07.04.2014 - 19:41:57)

Andrey Ivanov – Ruptly’s journalist and cameraman – was stopped and questioned at the airport in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on Monday morning.

Border guards barred the journalist from entering Ukraine, saying that he did not have enough money to stay in the county. At the same time, Ivanov’s proposal to show them a bank statement was ignored.

According to the journalist, officials took his passport away - promising to give it back only when he returned to Russia – and put him on a plane to Moscow.

Within the past few months, Ivanov has repeatedly traveled to Ukraine as part of the Ruptly crew. Until today, he had no problems crossing the country’s border.

Later on Monday, two journalists for the Russian version of Forbes magazine, holders of Russian passports, were also banned from crossing the Ukrainian border.

The reporters, Pavel Sedakov and Atryom Goloshchapov, were traveling on a train from Moscow to Dnepropetrovsk, in southeast Ukraine. However, at Kazachya Lopan – the station where passport and customs control takes place – the journalists were told to get off and then put on the first train going back to Russia, Forbes.ru writes.

The official explanation of the decision, as in the case with the Ruptly reporter, was that the two did not have enough money for the trip. Also, the goal of the journey was unconfirmed. According to the magazine, border guards also told the reporters that if they attempt to cross the border again, they would be denied entry for three years.

On April 7, new limitations on the period of stay for Russian citizens came into effect in Ukraine. According to the rules introduced by Ukraine’s State Border Service and the Foreign Ministry, Russian Federation citizens are allowed to stay on Ukrainian territory for up to 90 days in a 180-day period, since the date of the first entry.

Before, Russians were also allowed to stay in the country for up to three months. However, upon the expiry of the period, they could leave and re-enter the country immediately.

School for spies: UK creates 'university degrees' in cyber security

(07.04.2014 - 19:41:52)

GCHQ, the UK government surveillance agency, is to give its stamp of approval to postgraduate courses in cyber security, essentially certified degrees for spies.

The 39-page document from GCHQ, seen by the Independent, says that the increasing number of courses in security related subjects at institutions across the UK means that it is becoming more and more difficult to “assess the quality of the degrees on offer.”

In order to gain certification a master’s degree must offer a “general, broad foundation in cyber security” and must also include a detailed knowledge of threats to online activity including “common attacks”, “malicious code” and “adversarial thinking.”

The new GCHQ certificates will be valid for five years before having to be renewed, and it is hoped the new system will create more clarity in what’s on offer.

The Cheltenham based surveillance agency has sent out a brief to all universities in the UK offering an MSc in cyber security to apply for certification before June 20.

A spokesperson for GCHQ told the Independent that as well as appealing to the public in general, the agency planned to send their own employees on the certified courses.

“Whilst we will be offering opportunities for GCHQ staff to up-skill through Master’s courses that are successfully certified, we also believe they will have a much wider applicability across the public and private sector and encourage other organizations to look for the certification as a mark of quality,” they said.

The spokesperson added that their aim was to increase the future pool of cyber-security professionals in the UK, and while GCHQ is always looking for suitable recruits, they do not have any intention of monitoring the courses.

GCHQ has already certified two institutions for PhD’s in cyber security, the University of Oxford and Royal Holloway, part of the University of London. Students on the Oxford course began their studies in October 2013, but are not due to complete the course until 2017.

Royal Holloway began offering the first cyber-security master’s degrees in the UK in 1992. Called the Information Security Group, Fred Piper, its founding director, has been helping GCHQ to develop the criteria for the new certification.

He explained to the Independent that the main reason for the new certificates was so that the spy agency would know the best place to send its own people.

However, the Information Security Group webpage on the Royal Holloway’s site makes no mention of GQHQ and instead says that it has always fostered strong links with industry and government and gives its motto as "Academia and Industry in Harmony."

Chris Ensor, the deputy director for the National Technical Authority for Information Assurance, which acts as the information-security arm of GCHQ, said that while they had sent some employees into schools to encourage pupils to be interested in maths, they could do more to recruit the right people.

“We’re a highly technical organization with a highly technical workforce, so we depend on the young talent coming through all the way from schools to apprenticeships and degrees,” he said.

The GCHQ certificates are part of the UK government’s broader cyber-security strategy, which aims “for the UK in 2015 to derive huge economic and social value from a vibrant, resilient and secure cyberspace.”

Supreme Court refuses to make early ruling in NSA case

(07.04.2014 - 19:16:44)

Instead, the country’s high court said that plaintiff Larry Klayman will have to wait to have his case heard there pending the results of a lower court’s eventual ruling.

Klayman — a conservative lawyer and former Justice Department attorney — sued the NSA over the once-secret surveillance program last June shortly after leaked documents disclosed by intelligence contractor Edward Snowden showed that the US government has been routinely compelling telecommunication companies for the phone records of millions of Americans on a regular basis.

Judge Richard Leon of the US District Court for the District of Columbia said in December that the NSA program “implicated the Fourth Amendment” and was “almost Orwellian” in nature. He issued a stay with his ruling, however, due to what he called “the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues.”

Leon said then that he expected the appellate process to last at least six months, prompting Klayman to file a petition with the Supreme Court that insisted his case be heard there ahead of any activity on the appellate level — a request that is rarely granted by SCOTUS.

Nevertheless, Klayman wrote in his petition for a writ of certiorari last year that “This case is of such imperative public importance that it justifies deviation from normal appellate practice and requires immediate consideration and determination in the Supreme Court.”

On Monday, the high court said simply that Klayman’s request had been denied, putting the fate of the matter back for now in the hands of the federal appellate courts.

According to Ars Technica journalist Dave Kravets, legal scholars had predicted that Klayman's petition would be rejected by the Supreme Court.

Still, there was a glimmer of a chance that the justices would have accepted Klayman's case and decided the outcome of what is likely the biggest constitutional crisis the Supreme Court has been presented with in the digital age,” he wrote.

The high court's inaction Monday means the future of the phone surveillance program will most likely play itself out in the political theater before the judicial arena. Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the stated provision allowing the bulk collection, expires June 1, 2015,” Kravets added.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama said last month that Congress should draft legislation that would mandate that the NSA no longer hold onto those call records and would instead have to turn to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to approve requests to telecommunication companies on an individual basis.

A separate case filed against the NSA program by the American Civil Liberties Union last June in a different district court was initially shot-down by a federal judge. The ACLU has since appealed.

Mr. Klayman did not immediately respond to RT’s request for comment Monday morning.

Yo-price: Russian tycoon sells hybrid car project to govt for ˆ1

(07.04.2014 - 18:58:57)

The hybrid vehicle project was announced by Mikhail Prokhorov in 2010 and has more than 200,000 advance orders, it has now been put on hold.

Since 2010 "parameters of the project have changed, its cost could reach up to 450 million euro", “while some hundred million euro had been already spent on research ", the Director of Investments at ONEXIM Valery Senko explained to Kommersant.

ONEXIM claims in a press release the company has one of the world's best electric transmissions, and implemented the latest development in super condensers, and created an original construction of the body with the use of modern materials.

"All technological decisions which our team managed to develop and which were confirmed in the final prototype presented last summer were highly appreciated by industry experts. We had a number of offers from foreign companies to buy the project and its separate development,” the chief executive of Yo-mobil Andrey Ginzburg said.

But today taking into account the new economic realities, the platform of the Yo-mobil can and shall be used in another direction. We’ve been working with NAMI for a long time and we understand that our development can receive broader applications in further development for both domestic automobile, and cargo and public transport," Ginzburg added.

According to the chief executive of ONEXIM Dmitry Razumov, the sharp weakening of the auto market has made it impossible to go ahead with the project, and make a profit. "Primarily it was caused by growth of capital and operating expenses following the strengthening of the euro which as a result led to the inevitable increase in the finite price of the car.

"In conditions of sharply falling demand in the market we also don't see the opportunity to sell the number of cars needed to make the project profitable", remarked Razumov.

The “environmentally-friendly” hybrid car was planned to be fuelled by either gasoline or gas, and have both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.

The manufacturers expected to launch the car with initial price of around $10,000, which was expected to be coupled with low fuel consumption. The Yo-mobil was designed to have a range of 400 kilometers with a maximum speed of 130 kilometers per hour.

Prokhorov funded three Yo-mobil prototypes; hatchback, van and cross-coupe. Production was first planned to start in 2012, and then put off till 2015. In February it was postponed to and unspecified later date.

'Bumpy start': World Bank trims China growth forecast to 7.6%

(07.04.2014 - 18:30:30)

The World Bank’s April Asia report confirms the world’s second largest economy is slowing down.

China’s $9 trillion economy, roughly half of America’s total GDP, has steadily contracted for the past 12 quarters, partly because of an initiative by the government to shift the focus from exports to domestic growth. The China’s National’s People’s Congress has set a 7.5 percent GDP target for 2014.

A slowdown in the Chinese economy will have an effect worldwide, as China is the world’s most highly integrated trade hub.

“As in the case of spillover from the advanced economies, a slower-than-expected growth in China will hurt the region mainly through the trade channel,” the report said. Commodity markets will be hit especially hard, as China is the world’s largest importer of raw materials.

Financial bubbles have formed in China, especially in the real estate and asset purchase sectors. In tandem with the US Federal Reserve tapering its stimulus spending, there is concern some of these bubbles may burst and create a negative economic ripple worldwide.

Less than robust economic indicators reflect this trend. Exports in February contracted 18.1 percent year on year, in part because of the move away from exports, also in part due to weak demand from Europe and the US, and adverse weather conditions in the first quarter of 2014.

The period coincides with the Chinese New Year, which started on January 31and followed by several banking holidays, and relative non-active economic activity.

The country’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), fell to 49.5 in January and fell further to 48.5 in February, both below a "healthy" index reading of 50 and above.

The World Bank report concludes that despite the superficial weaknesses, China’s economy is still set to reach “sustainable and inclusive” growth in the long-term.

Reform Roadmap

The Chinese government set out an ambitious and comprehensive reform agenda in November 2013 to completely overhaul its economy over the next ten years.

In a section called “China’s reform roadmap”, the World Bank looks at the tasks ahead for a country that juggles state controls with exposure to the free market.

Reducing state interventions is important for sustained growth, but a difficult task for an economy that is fueled by hundreds of gargantuan state-owned enterprises.

“An important step to deepen economic reforms will be redefining the relationship between the government and the market,” the report says.

"Some reforms, including efforts to reduce regulatory and administrative burdens, reform taxation, and make more land available for commercial activities, are also likely to support growth in the short term," the report said.

‘Not bug splats’: Artists use poster-child in Pakistan drone protest

(07.04.2014 - 17:29:19)

More than 200 children are believed to have died in the heavily-bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa according to the website notabugsplat.com. ‘Bug splat’ is the name given by the military to a person who has been killed by a drone. Viewing the body through a grainy computer image gives the impression that an insect has been crushed.

Now a giant portrait of a young child has been produced to try and raise awareness of civilian casualties in the region. The hope is now the drone operator will see a child’s face on his or her computer screen, rather than just a small white dot and may think twice before attacking indiscriminately.

The child featured in the poster is nameless, but according to the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, who helped to launch the project in collaboration with a number of artists, both parents were lost to a drone attack.

Drone raids in Pakistan started in 2004 under George W. Bush’s administration as part of the US War on Terror. The vast majority of strikes have focused on the Federally Administered Tribal Area’s and the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa area due to their proximity to Afghanistan, which the country invaded following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The United States says drones, which have been continued under Barak Obama’s presidency are more accurate than any other weapon and a vital tool for killing Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. But Pakistani deaths from drone strikes are estimated at between 2,537 and 3,646 over the period from 2004 to 2013, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism says, drawing on media reports.

Civilian deaths have long strained relations between the United States and Pakistan. The issue of drone strikes, while remaining largely out of US headlines, has become one of the most polarizing in Pakistan. While previous reports have made it clear that Pakistani leaders have authorized at least some drone strikes, they publicly maintain that that American unmanned aerial vehicles constantly buzzing in the skies undermine Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Islamabad has tried to convince the United Nations Human Rights Council to pass a resolution that would force US drone strikes to adhere to international law. However, America has not been forthcoming and boycotted recent talks in Geneva.

The number of drone strikes in Pakistan has at least fallen over the last month as the Pakistani government asked the US to limit the number of attacks as they entered peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.

Dutch priest assassinated in Syria by gunman

(07.04.2014 - 17:29:07)

72-year-old Dutch Jesuit priest, Frans van der Lugt, had won renown for staying on to continue his mission in the embattled city of Homs despite everyday shelling and growing violence. The UK-based NGO, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, announced on Twitter that Lugt had been killed.

The news was later confirmed by a fellow member of the Dutch Jesuit order to AFP and by the SANA news agency. Lugt was reportedly cornered in his home by a gunman who beat him before shooting him twice. Jan Stuyt, secretary of the Dutch Jesuit Order, said that he knew of no reason why Lugt would be targeted in such an attack.

After spending nearly five decades in Syria, Lugt had come to call the country his home and will be buried there according to his wishes. Even when the city of Homs was besieged by rebel forces prompting the evacuation of some 1,400 people, Lugt refused to leave a monastery in the city’s Bustan al-Diwan region.

“The Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties,” he told AFP last year.

The siege of the city severely reduced its Christian population, bringing a total of tens and thousands to a meager 66, according to the Dutch priest. Lugt lived with 24 other Christians in the monastery and refused to leave until all Christians were evacuated, AP reported.

Rebels in Homs also include hard-line Sunni Muslim groups; their ideologies are often intolerant of minorities. Still a Homs activist said rebels were shocked by the killing.

“The man was living with us, eating with us, sleeping with us. He didn't leave, even when the blockade was eased,” Beibars Tilawi told AP.

SANA blamed “terrorists” for Lugt’s death, but provided no further details.

During the conflict that has raged in Syria over the past three years, attacks on religious minorities by extremists have become more and more frequent. Over 450,000 Christians have fled Syria since the civil war erupted two years ago, and between 1,000 and 1,200 have been killed, according to data from the Syrian Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic church, Gregory Laham.

He also said that at least 57 Christian sites had been damaged and destroyed since the beginning of hostilities.
Last week the Russian government urged the UN Security Council to investigate the situation in Syria’s Christian majority town of Kessab after reports of Al-Qaeda-linked militants attacking the town.

Jihadists reportedly stormed Kessab on March 21, seizing control of the town which is home to 2,000 ethnic Armenians.

“The UN Security Council should discuss the situation in Kessab and give it a principled evaluation,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement. “We condemn extremists’ actions in Syria. We believe that the Syrian government and the opposition should join efforts to eradicate terrorism in Syria.”

‘Ukraine needs economic freedom, not foreign aid’ – Ron Paul to RT

(07.04.2014 - 17:04:33)

“If you just bail them out, like we just bailed out all our rich people during 2008-09, the system continues, but the poor get poorer and the middle class keeps shrinking,” he said on RT’s SophieCo show.

Ron Paul believes that the Ukrainian people need “freedom, and the concept of property rights,” - they also need to work hard, have an incentive system and get rid of central economic planning, and “they would recover.”

“I don’t think a penny is going to go to the people; they’re going to get a freeze in their wages, and they are going to have higher prices for their fuel and their taxes are going to go up. So there is no benefit,” Paul added.

He claims that the foreign aid packages never go to the people as that money is actually taken from them, which makes them even poorer.

“It’s taken from the poor and it’s given to the rich in another country, because there is always the rich in the different countries and that of course is what we have to change,” he said.

As regards various NGOs, “they get government money, and they are always in the business of influencing governments and different things around the world, radio broadcasting and different things.”

However Ron Paul doesn't believe that such a strategy has any use, it is much more important to influence other people by setting good examples.

“I have an ideal for a society which is free markets and personal liberty and limited government, and I think we should do it and set an example, and then others might want to say, ‘Hey, why is America doing so well,’ so I want to influence them, but not with force, not by invasions and guns and propaganda,” he told RT.

‘Sanctions are wrong in principle’

Talking about the Western sanctions against Russia and NATO’s ambition to include Ukraine, the ex-US Congressman highlights that it is damaging not only for the counties’ relations, but the ordinary people in the first place.

“It’s hard to say what’s going to happen, but any type of sanctions or retaliation is detrimental to both sides, and I often thought that if people understood what was going on, they would express objections to this kind of bickering back and forth…so I think, the people in the middle, if we’re talking about the average person, people who have jobs, they suffer the consequences – I think that’s very bad,” he said.

“The sanctions against Iran have been on air for a long time, and on Cuba – but the leaders never suffer. The people suffer, in both countries, so this is the reason I think that sanctions in principle are wrong,” Ron Paul added.

Paul believes that NATO expansion is a waste of money and it’s not “the rich that pay these bills.” What NATO is intending to do in regards to Ukraine is to make prices on energy and taxes go up, to freeze wages. It is promising 18 billion dollars to Ukraine while the US economy, the main contributor to the NATO and IMF budgets, is in a bad shape.

You can watch the full interview with Ron Paul on Monday’s edition of SophieCo.

EU should recognize Crimea as part of Russia – Czech president

(07.04.2014 - 16:47:17)

Zeman described Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s decision to give Crimea to the Ukraine in 1954 as “stupid” in a radio interview.

He also blasted the law of the Ukraine’s state language which deprives the Russian-speaking population of the right to use its language at the state level. He called this situation “idiotic.”

However, the Czech leader suggested NATO should send its troops if Russia attempts to “annex the eastern part of the country,” as cited by Reuters.

"The moment Russia decides to widen its territorial expansion to the eastern part of Ukraine, that is where the fun ends," Zeman said in a broadcast on Czech public radio.

"There I would plead not only for the strictest EU sanctions, but even for military readiness of the North Atlantic Alliance, like for example NATO forces entering Ukrainian territory," the Czech leader added.

It follows a weekend of pro-Russian protests that are still engulfing eastern Ukraine.

On Monday, protesters in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk have seized the regional department building of Ukraine’s Security Service, local media reported, as cited by ITAR-TASS.

A day earlier, thousands of people waving Russian flags flooded the streets of eastern Ukraine on Sunday. Demonstrators in the cities of Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kharkov seized state offices, while in Donetsk they also demanded an independence referendum.

Since the Crimean referendum and the territory’s accession to the Russian Federation, Western leaders have been expressing their outrage over what they called “annexation” of Crimea.

However, other world powers supported Russia, with Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner saying in March that the West’s reaction is about double standards, recalling that “the UN Charter stipulates the right of people to self-determination, which means that this rule should be applied to all countries without any exception.”

She compared the situation in Crimea with that of the Falkland Islands, where a referendum was also held a year ago. The UN did not question the legality of the vote at that time, Kirchner reminded. The conflict over the territory in 1982 led to a war between the UK and Argentina. Buenos Aires lost that conflict; diplomatic relations between the two were restored only seven years later in 1989.

Underpaid & under fire: British frontline troops earn less than minimum wage

(07.04.2014 - 16:46:01)

A report by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) has revealed that military personnel serving in conflict zones abroad could be being paid less than 6.31 pounds ($10.46) an hour. Soldiers serving abroad are exempt from rules governing the minimum wage, which means they can be left out of pocket if they work overtime, the report notes.

“It is possible for those on the lowest pay level to be earning below NMW levels if they work over 55 hours per week, for those aged 21 or over, or more than 68 hours per week if they are aged between 18 and 20,” states the report. Researchers calculated that troops receiving the starting salary of 17,767 pounds ($29,454) a year would receive less than the civilian minimum wage if they worked more than 54 hours a week.

Furthermore, the report said that the troops most likely to work overtime were those stationed in Afghanistan.

“As the average number of hours worked is much higher for those personnel on overseas operations or at sea, the more time someone spends in these locations the greater the chance they have over a 12-month period of working sufficient hours to breach the minimum wage thresholds,” the report said.

The AFPRB recommends a number of measures to improve troop conditions abroad, including a one percent increase in base pay and an increase in certain monetary allowances.

The MoD has defended its policy and said that although the troops are not affected by minimum wage regulations, the ministry tries to reflect the “spirit” of those rules. In addition, a spokesperson told British publication the Telegraph that any shortfalls in pay are made up by the benefits that UK soldiers receive.

“We have worked hard to ensure that the sacrifices and dedication of our personnel is recognized, which is why they have continued to receive pay rises and also qualify for other benefits, including subsidized accommodation, generous non-contributory pensions and substantial periods of paid leave,” said a Ministry of Defence spokesperson in a statement released to the Telegraph. The spokesperson also slammed the report as “misleading” because it does not take into account these factors.

The UK government has taken measures to downsize the nation’s military in line with budget cuts to help pull Britain out of financial recession. The current Army 2020 restructuring program will see troop numbers reduced from just over 100,000 in 2010 to 82,000 in 2018. The cuts to the British military have proved controversial, with many MPs criticizing the policy of having a detrimental effect on the UK’s ability to protect itself from “emerging threats.”

The government, however, argues that the cuts are merely streamlining the country’s armed forces and preparing them for the “threats of tomorrow.”

FSB foils activities of 304 foreign spies in 2013 - Putin

(07.04.2014 - 16:42:25)

The situation remains complicated, the terrorist underground, despite suffering serious casualties retains the capability of launching terrorist attacks against the civilian population,” the Interfax news agency quoted Putin as saying on Monday.

Extremist radical groups are trying to boost their activities not only in the North Caucasus but also to transfer them into different regions of our country, to the Volga Region and Central Russia, they seek to instigate ethnic and religious conflicts,” the president said.

Putin added that extremists were especially active in recruiting the younger generation and used the most modern means and technology for the purpose, including social networks and other Internet services. “We should launch preventive measures, pay special attention to exposing and severing all channels of financial and material support to the underground mobs, uncover their ties with foreign terrorist groups and sponsors,” the Russian President told the top security officers.

Speaking of current successes, the Russian leader pointed out that the FSB together with other state agencies managed to find and bar over 400 terrorist inclined web-sites.

Putin also said that in 2013 Russian special services managed to stop the activities of 46 foreign intelligence members and 258 agents. He added that counter-intelligence was traditionally of primary importance and urged the FSB commanders to significantly increase the quality of analytical and operative work.

Another serious challenge was the participation of some Russian citizens (as well as some citizens of the CIS states) in combat on the terrorist side. This happens, for example in Afghanistan and Syria and Russians undergo both terrorist and ideological training for it, Putin noted. “There are all grounds to suggest that these people could be used against Russia and our commonwealth neighbors. We must be ready for this and have the whole arsenal of preventive measures,” he said.

The President then urged the FSB elite to step up cooperation with their partners from the various Russia-led political and military blocs, such as the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the ShanghaiCooperation and others. “The role of the National Anti-terror Committee should be increased and this means the timely exchange of operative information,” Putin explained.

‘Turkey follows consistent policy to undermine Syrian sovereignty’

(07.04.2014 - 15:58:38)

RT: The Armenian foreign minister said that extremists who attacked the village arrived from Turkey. Could Ankara be aware of such groups operating on the country's territory?

Abayomi Azikiwe: Well, I’m absolutely sure that the Turkish government is aware of these organizations that are operating on its border, and I think that this is representative of the role of Turkey with regard to the Syrian conflict of the last three years. They have not been helpful with regard to assisting the Syrian government and their attempts to eliminate these rebel groups from the border. And of course it is also representative of the ethnic cleansing that has been going on inside of Syria over the last three years. Syria is a multinational state comprised of many different peoples, various religious groups and sex, and I think this has been a target of these rebel organizations that are supported by the US and NATO, to break up the multinational character of the Syrian state.

RT: Why would extremists target a small ethnic group of Armenians and that particular town?

AA: The Christian population inside of Syria has been quite consistent and loyal to the government of President Bashar Assad. The Pashtuns historically inside of Syria haven’t been prosecuted because of their religion. There is a strong orthodox community in Syria, there are many different ethnic and religious groups – we have the Allawite, who are there, there are people from other religious Muslim orientations in Syria, and by and large Syria is a secular state and people there have the freedom of religion. Most of the groups who have been doing the bulk of the fighting against the Syrian government have been religious extremists, those who have attempted to enhance the sectarian religious as well as ethnic violence in the Pashtun population. [They have been] targeted by these rebels inside Syria over the last three years and many of them have been forced to flee the country. Many of their religious sites and communities have been attacked and also dispersed by the rebels. And of course the forces that are supporting the rebels are well aware of what they are doing inside Syria.

RT: Armenia also called on Turkey to prevent any such crossings in the future. Do you think the government will cooperate there, or Ankara will continue turning a blind eye on that issue?

AA: I think they are doing more than turning a blind eye. This is a conscious and consistent policy to undermine the sovereignty, unity and stability of the Syrian state. Turkey, being a NATO member, is well aware of what is going on there and is part and parcel involved in this whole war over the last three years to destabilize Syria, and indeed to bring down the government of President Bashar Assad. I think it’s the strategy that has been carried out by NATO which is largely coordinated by the Obama Administration in the US.

RT: A recent YouTube leak suggested Turkey's officials were ready to launch a false flag attack in Syria. Why would Ankara be interested in launching a full-blown intervention in to the country?

AA: I believe this has been the overall strategy of the Western powers that are allied or part of NATO. I don’t think that it’s an accident that these revelations have come forward, the Turkish government has moved missiles to the border with Syria; they have also played a key role in mobilizing and dispatching these rebels into Syrian territory. This was exposed just prior to the recent elections inside Turkey, and this is why the Turkish state retaliated to this criticism by banning Twitter, as well as YouTube, and targeting them as mechanisms of communication rather than looking at its own role within the Syrian conflict. There is a considerable amount of anti-war sentiment inside Turkey and I think that sentiment will grow as the political and economic crisis inside Turkey worsens.

RT: The attack took place exactly one century after the Armenian genocide. Do you think the timing is a coincidence?

AA: I don’t know if this is a coincidence or not, it definitely speaks of the history of the Armenian people and of course of the role of Turkey during the early years of the WWI in the extermination and force removal of the Armenian population.

I believe that the Turkish government, who has refused to recognize the Armenian genocide, are of course utilizing the perhaps ongoing animosity towards the Armenian community as another mechanism for the destabilization of the multinational character of the Syrian state. I think that Syria has of course made a tremendous amount of progress in regard to eliminating these rebel bases around the border with Turkey, as well along the border with Lebanon, and they are highly concentrated in that particular area right now of the country. In fact, the US is quite concerned that this rebel insurgency that they have been financing and coordinating, sometimes overtly over the last three years, will be trapped and eventually eliminated. So they have to come up with some pretext, or some rationale for a ground invasion if not directly by the US forces.

If Turkey sends troops or special forces into Syria, this could also provide an excuse for the US or other NATO countries to carry out massive air bombardment of Syrian territory. They wanted to do this last year, but because of the international outcry, (and of course the word of Russia and China in the UN Security Council), an effort to block any type of resolution that would provide an illegal basis for the bombing of Syria was defeated at least on a temporary basis, and, at the same time, there was growing antiwar sentiment here in the US against a potential airstrike against Syria.

RT: The attack has led to international calls for help. Why haven’t we seen any outside response?

AA: As I mentioned before they are aware that these developments are taking place, they are a well-armed military force, they are part of NATO, they have access to the intelligence that is gathered by other NATO countries, so it is quite obvious that they are aware, if they want to move to prevent these activities from taking place on their borders, there are measures that the Turkish government and military can take but apparently they have not done so. So we can only interpret this as another means for the destabilization and possible overthrow of the Bashar Assad government in Syria.

US Defense Secretary seeks to convince Chinese of American integrity in cyber-space

(07.04.2014 - 15:34:05)

According to The New York Times, ahead of Chuck Hagel’s Beijing visit, the Obama administration quietly held an “extraordinary briefing” for the Chinese military leadership regarding America’s cyber warfare doctrine.

Chuck Hagel is expected to alleviate Chinese worries in his address to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) National Defense University on Thursday.

The US Defense Secretary has already voiced America’s position on national cyber defense ahead of the China visit, but US cyber security plans have raised serious concerns in the international community.

On one hand, speaking at the retirement ceremony for CUBERCOM’s former head, General Keith Alexander, on March 28, Chuck Hagel made a remarkable statement: “The United States does not seek to militarize cyberspace.”

“The Department of Defense will maintain an approach of restraint to any cyber operations outside the US Government networks,” Hagel said, urging other nations “to do the same.”

On the other hand, in the very same speech, Chuck Hagel announced that the US is going to triple the number of its cyber force within the nearest two years. The US will have as many as 6,000 cyber security personnel by 2016 to bolster US national security.

“Cyber force will remain one of DoD's top priorities,” Hagel said.

Ambiguous US Defense Department statements rendered Beijing dubious and cautious in its remarks.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said China shares the opinion that the internet should be used for promoting prosperity, so Beijing is closely following Hagel's statements.

“Maintaining peace on the internet and avoiding cyber-wars accords with the interests of both China and the United States," Hong said at a daily news briefing on March 31.

The spokesman also called on Washington to set an example in deescalating the tensions in cyber space.

“We hope that the United States can earnestly turn its comments into policy and action and work with China to create a peaceful, open, safe and cooperative space online,” Hong said.

Admiral Mike Rogers, who succeeded General Keith Alexander as the head of America’s cyber command, got to work on April 2 and worded the new hawkish layout for CYBERCOM.

During recent Senate hearings, Admiral Rogers urged “proactive” cyber operations, so that cyber units could “leverage the newest technology to identify our attackers before and during an attack – not just after.”

This statement fits perfectly with Chuck Hagel’s belief that the US must “shape a modern, cutting edge military that outmatches the most advanced adversaries” to stay ahead and to protect “our country, our economy, our interests.”

The US Defense Secretary started his Asian tour from Japan, where the day before arriving in China he talked about China being a “great power” that should be aware that “with this power comes new and wider responsibilities as to how you use that power.”

“Coercion and intimidation is a deadly thing,” Hagel told the Japanese Defense Ministry in regard to Chinese territorial claims towards its neighbors, including Japan.

“You cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations by force, coercion or intimidation, whether it’s small islands in the Pacific or large nations in Europe,” Hagel added, obviously bringing into spotlight the territorial dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/ Senkaku islands and the recent reunion of Crimea with Russia.

Having clearly outlined Washington’s tough position towards global cyber intelligence and Beijing’s territorial claims, the US Defense Secretary is on a three-day trip to China, where he will visit several People’s Liberation Army units, including China’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, built in the 1980s for the Soviet navy and refurbished by Chinese engineers over the last years.

Cyber scandal that rocked US-China relations

The new portion of revelations from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, published by Der Spiegel and The New York Times, has exposed the US secret service’s great interest in obtaining data from China).

It has been revealed that America’s NSA has multiple targets in the world’s second largest economy, among them the Chinese Trade Ministry, national banks, leading telecommunications companies and the country’s top officials, like former Chinese President Hu Jintao, but in particular the NSA spied on China’s telecom giant Huawei.

The revelations had the US scrambling for excuses.

The NSA only engages “valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” maintained the agency’s spokeswoman, Vanee Vines, who also added on behalf of the NSA that “we do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of, or give intelligence we collect to US companies to enhance their international competitiveness, or increase their bottom line,” Vines said in a statement emailed to the AP.

Another NSA spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, commented on the issue: “Our intelligence activities are focused on the national security needs of our country.”

US First Lady Michelle Obama, who was visiting China when the scandal emerged, said that open access to online information is a “universal right.”

Snowden, Poitras honored with Ridenhour truth-telling award

(07.04.2014 - 14:59:14)

The annual accolade honors acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society. This is the 10th year the prize has been presented. It was established by the Nation Institute and the Fertel Foundation in honor of the investigative journalist Ronald L. Ridenhour, who helped expose the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.

Since leaking scores of sensitive documents in Hong Kong in May 2013, Snowden - a former Central Intelligence Agency employee and National Security Agency contractor - has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. If the 30-year-old returns to the USA, he will face prosecution, including two espionage acts and is likely to spend decades behind bars.

Poitras was the first to establish encrypted contact with Snowden and helped to initiate safe lines of communications with other journalists. This would eventually lead to the exposure of the National Security Agency's vast surveillance operation.

The investigative journalist had been detained at US borders since 2004, following her work in Iraq. Poitras began work on a documentary about surveillance in 2011, focusing on NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Thomas Drake. Her experience in this field meant she was the perfect ally that Snowden needed to try and expose illegal US surveillance programs.

The awards will be presented on April 30 at the Washington Press Club. Efforts are being made to have both Snowden and Poitras, who is based in Berlin, appear via a video link.

?India refuses to rock Sri Lanka’s boat on human rights issues, but for how long?

(07.04.2014 - 14:30:55)

As the closest neighbor, with thousands of years of relations with Sri Lanka, India cannot remain untouched by developments in that country.

India abstained from voting at the United Nation’s Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) on March 27 on a resolution to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. The resolution essentially sought to put Sri Lanka under a highly intrusive external investigative mechanism, with an open-ended mandate to monitor national processes for protection of human rights in the country.

The top UN rights body eventually passed the resolution with 23 countries voting in favor, 12 against and 12 abstentions. They approved an international war crimes inquiry into alleged crimes committed by both sides during Sri Lanka's civil war that ended in May 2009 and cost about 100,000 lives.

The resolution, co-sponsored by 41 countries, allows the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) to monitor progress and launch a comprehensive investigation into atrocities committed in the months before the end of the civil war. Expectedly, the Sri Lankan government sitting in Colombo has rejected the allegations of gross and widespread human rights violations, not to mention the probe itself.

Bad or worse

The UNHCR resolution put India between a rock and a hard place. If India were to vote for it then it would have gladdened the hearts of politicians in Tamil Nadu, but at a huge diplomatic and strategic cost. A “yes” vote would have estranged Colombo from New Delhi and would have given yet another reason for Sri Lanka to get closer to China and Pakistan. Colombo is doing so, anyway, albeit in a temperate way, but India siding with the West at UNHCR would have made the Sri Lankans do it much more brazenly.

A “no” vote from India would have angered the Indian political parties in Tamil Nadu as well as the West. The UPA government in New Delhi could not afford it without huge political costs as India is in the middle of general elections and the support of the DMK, a major political party in Tamil Nadu, would be crucial for the Congress-led UPA in the post-poll scenario, just about 45 days from now.

Although diplomacy is a continual process, the UPA government must have been aware that this was not the time for taking an all-white or an all-black decision. Therefore, it was best to take a grey approach and leave the next government to decide how it wants to navigate its bilateral diplomacy with Sri Lanka. That’s why India adopted a middle-of-the-road approach and abstained from the voting.

But unlike India’s abstention on the Ukraine resolution in the UN General Assembly in New York the same day, India’s abstention on the Sri Lanka resolution was not a silent one. India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Offices in Geneva, Dilip Sinha, gave exhaustive reasons in his “explanation of the vote” speech as to why India was abstaining.

Sinha conveyed India’s concerns that the UNHCR resolution would do more harm than good to Sri Lanka and would hinder Colombo’s efforts rather than contribute constructively to its efforts, and hence inadvertently complicate the situation. He elaborated: “Moreover, any external investigative mechanism with an open-ended mandate to monitor national processes for protection of human rights in a country is not reflective of the constructive approach of dialogue and cooperation envisaged by UN General Assembly resolution 60/251 that created the HRC in 2006 as well as the UNGA resolution 65/281 that reviewed the HRC in 2011.”

Dilip Sinha pointed to the elections to Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council in September 2013 and underlined that though it was “a significant step forward” much more needed to be done by Mahinda Rajapakse’s government towards a meaningful devolution of powers.

Long road to reconciliation

India has periodically urged Colombo to continue to take specific measures toward broad-based, inclusive, meaningful and genuine reconciliation with the minority Tamil community. India has called on Colombo to make purposeful efforts to fulfill its commitments, including on the devolution of political authority through the full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of Sri Lanka and build upon it.

“In asking the OHCHR to investigate, assess and monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, the resolution ignores the progress already made by the country in this field and places in jeopardy the cooperation currently taking place between the government of Sri Lanka and the OHCHR and the Council's Special Procedures,” Sinha explained. “Besides, the resolution is inconsistent and impractical in asking both the government of Sri Lanka and the OHCHR to simultaneously conduct investigations.”

Sinha also acknowledged and appreciated the steps taken by Sri Lanka to implement some of the important recommendations of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), such as Trilingual Policy, promoting the official use of the Tamil language and the upgrading of schools in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The UNHCR itself has lauded Sri Lanka on these points as is evident by the High Commissioner's report mandated by UNHCR’s resolution of 2013 on Sri Lanka, which acknowledges the progress made in reconstruction, resettlement and implementation of some of the recommendations made by the LLRC. On the flip side, the report also notes that the Sri Lankan government has failed to ensure independent and credible investigations into past violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. India is in complete agreement with the UNHCR on this point.

India has consistently taken the stand that every country should have the means of addressing human rights violations through robust national mechanisms. India wanted the UNHCR to make efforts in a direction to enable Sri Lanka to investigate all allegations of human rights violations through comprehensive, independent and credible national investigative mechanisms. No foreign assistance should be thrust on a country unless it is specifically asked for by that country. Adopting an intrusive approach that undermines national sovereignty and institutions is fraught with dangerous consequences, contrary to UNHCR’s stated objectives.

The end of the conflict in Sri Lanka has provided a whale of an opportunity for the Rajapakse government to pursue a lasting political settlement, acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka, including the Tamils. However, the Rajapakse government has not moved as rapidly as the international community, including India, desired.

Colombo must not forget that it won’t be let off by the international community till it implements the LLRC recommendations in full; these findings and recommendations lie at the core of reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.

The Rajapakse government needs to move toward implementation of these recommendations in double quick time, particularly those pertaining to missing persons, detainees, reduction of 'high security zones,' return of private lands by the military, and withdrawal of security forces from the civilian domain in the Northern Province.

Rajeev Sharma for RT

Rajeev Sharma is a New Delhi-based journalist and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.

Gas wars: Ukraine due on $2.2 bn debt to Gazprom

(07.04.2014 - 14:29:28)

“There has been no progress,” Financial Times quotes Gazprom's spokesman, Sergey Kupriyanov, speaking in Kiev. "They are not paying anything, zero.”

“We cannot deliver gas for free, so they need to pay off the debt,” said Aleksey Miller, Gazprom chief executive has said.

“They also need to pay for 100 per cent of current supplies,” Miller said, adding that the situation “cannot continue indefinitely”.
Gazprom and Kiev’s Naftogaz have a rocky payment and pricing history, and past tiffs have resulted in Moscow turning off the pipes, cutting off supplies to Europe.

However, a Gazprom spokesman said Monday that Russian gas exports to Europe through Ukraine remain stable despite a standoff between Moscow and Kiev, Reuters reports.

“Our Russian neighbors have applied another type of aggression - gas,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk said after Gazprom hiked prices last Thursday to $485 per thousand cubic meters starting from April, a higher price than most European customers pay.

The next step

“We realize that the next step for Russia will be to limit the supply of natural gas,” Ukraine’s current Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in a televised speech on Saturday.

“Russia has failed to conquer Ukraine through military force, so now they are pursuing economic aggression,” said Yatsenyuk.

Ukraine says they will only pay the “acceptable market price of $268 per 1,000 cubic meters. Gazprom, in the past, has awarded Ukraine huge discounts on gas – more than $11 billion – vis-a-vis the Kharkov Agreement of 2010, but was forced to cancel this $100 per 1,000 cubic meters discount when Moscow voided the pact.

“We are shifting into higher gear towards another gas war,” Valentine Zemlyansky, a Ukrainian energy analyst, told the Financial Times.

Russia is one of Europe’s top gas suppliers and for some countries, the main source. Eastern Europe has asked the US and EU to help the region become more energy independent, and Ukraine specifically has pitched the idea of reversible gas flows into the country, which according to Gazprom, are illegal.

Gazprom has a multi-tier pricing system for its clients- offering generous subsidies to domestic buyers, cheaper gas to former Soviet states, and the most expensive prices to European customers.

Gazprom, which supplies about one third of European deliveries through Ukraine, wants to avoid turning off the pipes, as it chips away at the company’s credibility as a reliable source to Europe.

In the wake of increased prices, Yatsenyuk promised the government would continue to subsidize prices and sell gas at a quarter of the price it buys from Russia. However, selling gas at a fraction of a price to customers continues to pinch state-owned Naftogaz, which is nearly bankrupt because of this practice.

A Naftogaz delegation traveled to Moscow last week, but were unable to negotiate any more time to pay off its massive debt, or continue buying gas at a discounted price.

Tensions flared on Sunday when pro-Russia protestors seized government buildings in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kharkov, and in Donetsk , the largest city in Ukraine demonstrators demanded a Crimea-style referendum to join the Russian Federation.

Communist candidate tops mayoral poll in Siberia’s biggest city

(07.04.2014 - 14:14:35)

Anatoly Lokot has won with about 43.75 percent of votes, the Novosibirsk regional elections commission reported on Monday morning. This is not the official result yet, but the preliminary figure was received after counting over 99 percent of ballots and any drastic deviations are unlikely.

Lokot’s result was about 4 percent higher than the one of Vladimir Znatkov - interim mayor representing parliamentary majority party United Russia. The support of the rest of 11 candidates was negligible – none of them managed to get 4 percent of the vote.

The mayoral poll was closely watched by the mass media because Novosibirsk is Russia’s third-largest city, the administrative and industrial center of Siberia, as well as a major science and technology hub.

The result was largely unexpected, as until recently United Russia party had dominated the political scene, capitalizing on the centrist conservative course which appeals to ordinary Russians, and taking credit for strong social programs and independent foreign policy that are both trademarks of President Vladimir Putin’s course.

United Russia candidate Vladimir Znatkov had the additional advantages of being acting mayor since January this year and before that heading the economic bloc in the city administration for several years. At the same time he faced serious problems during the race – in March a city court ordered he be removed from the ballot over abuse of power. Competitors had complained that Znatkov used every appearance on TV as propaganda and as the city head he spent more time on screen than the rest of the contenders. Very soon this decision was overturned by the regional court, but the damage to Znatkov’s reputation remained.

However, the main reason behind the interim mayor’s defeat is the coordinated efforts of opposition forces – a relatively rare occasion in modern Russia. The initial number of registered candidates in the Novosibirsk poll was 17. In the middle of the race, five people, including leftist lower house MP Ilya Ponomaryov and former senator Ivan Starikov, made a pact and withdrew their candidacies in favor of just one representative of the opposition - member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and former State Duma MP Anatoly Lokot.

One more candidate quit without supporting anyone, bringing the number of candidates to 11.

On Monday morning Lokot gave a press conference as mayor-elect and thanked all Novosibirsk residents for their “credit of trust,” adding that he did not intend to waste it. The first initiative of the Communist politician was to hold a major ‘Subbotnik’ – a day of voluntary community service that was first introduced in the early days of the Soviet Union.

The mayor-elect also dismissed media allegations of the looming “red terror” – major purges in the administration stating that he planned to use civil servants’ professionalism as the only criteria in forming the new team. Lokot promised to use his old connections in the federal power bodies to get more federal funds for development of the Novosibirsk communal sector and transport, including the Metro.

The newly-minted mayor also unveiled a plan to boost the cooperation between the administration and the society by adding openness to the various state bodies. The first step in this will be free entrance to City Hall for everyone.

“We should remove all curbs. What is there to be afraid of? Protest actions? Hard work will do away with such fears,” Lokot was quoted as saying by Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily.

Donetsk activists proclaim region's independence from Ukraine

(07.04.2014 - 14:07:29)

Mass demonstrations against the country's new leadership started peacefully on Sunday, but the situation quickly escalated.

Pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk have seized the local power building, including the headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine and proclaimed the creation of a People’s Republic of Donetsk.

Ukraine’s police and security services have not interfered, although officials in Kiev are threatening punishment for the rioters.

Protesters have erected barricades around the Council building.

Today at 12:20 local time, a session of the people's Council of Donbass (Donetsk region) took place in the main hall of the Regional Council and unanimously voted on a declaration to form a new independent state: the People’s Republic of Donetsk.

The Council proclaimed itself the only legitimate body in the region until the regions in southeast Ukraine conduct a general referendum, set to take place no later than May 11.

“The Donetsk Republic is to be created within the administrative borders of the Donetsk region. This decision will come into effect after the referendum,” the statement said.

The Council in Donetsk issued an address to Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking for deployment of a temporary peacekeeping force to the region.

“Without support it will be hard for us to stand against the junta in Kiev,” said the address.

“We are addressing Russian President Putin because we can only entrust our security to Russia,” the statement said.

Rallies in support of the federalization of Ukraine continue in a number of cities in southeast Ukraine. Thousands of citizens have joined the protests, demanding the earliest possible federalization of the country.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior said that last night unknown persons stormed the Security Service of Ukraine building in the city of Lugansk and seized a weapons warehouse there. During the night’s clashes, nine people were reportedly injured.

In the city of Kharkov protesters erected barricades around the buildings of the city and the regional administrations and the regional headquarters of Security Service of Ukraine.

There were brief clashes between supporters of the federalization of Ukraine and pro-EU demonstrators in downtown Kharkov. Protesters on both sides used fire crackers and stun grenades.

A demonstration against political repression in Ukraine has also being held in the southern regional center of Odessa.

The chiefs of security agencies of Ukraine are reportedly heading to the cities engulfed in protests.

The interim secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Andrey Parubiy, together with acting head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Valentin Nalivaichenko, are set to visit Lugansk. Interim Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema will visit Donetsk and acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has reportedly already arrived in Kharkov.

The coup-appointed acting president, Aleksandr Turchinov, has threatened that counter-terrorist measures could be taken against those who take up arms against the Kiev authorities, RIA news agency reported. On Thursday, the Ukrainian parliament will tighten laws regarding separatism and could possibly ban certain parties and organizations , Turchinov warned.

“What happened yesterday is the second stage of the special operation of the Russian Federation against Ukraine,” announced Turchinov in an address televised on Monday, sharing that an “anti-crisis command was set up last night” to deal with the crisis, Interfax-Ukraine reported.

Ukraine’s interim Foreign Minister Andrey Deschitsa announced on Monday that if the situation in the eastern regions escalates, the coup-appointed government in Kiev will take “much harsher” measures than those on the reunion of the Crimea with Russia. Deschitsa gave an assurance that members of the government are already working with local authorities.

?Gazprom Neft CEO says ditch dollar, look east if sanctions escalate

(07.04.2014 - 14:01:35)

A study reveals the task in changing currencies is achievable assured Aleksander Dyukov, the Gazprom Neft chief executive.

"This shows that in principle there is nothing impossible - you can switch from dollar to euro and from euro, in principle, to rubles," as Vedomosti quotes Mr Dyukov.

The Gazprom Neft CEO said it’s important to also study the efficiency of the plan, its probability, and additional losses.

The CEO considers there is a low probability Western banks will reduce cooperation. No one wants geopolitical tension to affect their partnerships. However Gazprom Neft is ready to look to Asian lenders, and raise money in Russia.

"We think Western banks are unlikely to stop cooperating with us, but in any case we have paved a way to Asian lenders as well... plus there is a domestic market," Dyukov added.

There is an opinion that any restrictions by the US directed at halting dollar operations, in the long-term, may lead the United States to a default, Dyukov says.

"The US currency is already loosing positions…The usage of the dollar as an instrument of punishment may decrease its weight as the reserve currency…Taking into account its huge national debt, at some instant there will be a problem with its refinancing as dollar assets will become interesting to nobody," the top manager said.

In comments on other possible action by the West, Dyukov said that the US oil sale test on March 14 of 5 million barrels from its own strategic inventories could not shake the world oil market from equilibrium.

"Frankly speaking, I don't know, what they were guided by. But that was made, in my opinion, as shot by shot to the elephant. The oil market, certainly, can be altered, but for that to happen it needs bigger volumes," said Dyukov.

According to his calculations the minimal amount of oil to be sold in order to affect the world market should be around 3 million barrels a day long-term.

The head of Gazprom Neft supposes that none of the global oil manufacturers is interested in lowering the price. In particular, in the US where the cost of production of hardly extractable oil is high and any reduction in cost of raw materials will cut a projects’ profitability.

The world oil price remains robust as the May 14 futures of the WTI crude stand at $100.60, while Brent is selling at $105.63

Havana reveals more US attempts to influence Cubans

(07.04.2014 - 13:57:30)

The US government had admitted setting up a ‘Cuban Twitter’, which was created as a text messaging service to avoid the island’s strict internet laws. ZunZuneo, which is Cuban slang for the tweet of a hummingbird, aimed to build-up followers by giving them access to soft news stories, such as baseball and music.

However, once a critical mass was reached then political stories would be introduced looking to tarnish the image of Cuba’s government. The project, which was financed by the US Agency for International Aid and Development (USAID) hoped, would lead to demonstrations and eventually a ‘Cuban Spring’.

Havana has hit out at the United States, with the Union of Young Communists’ newspaper Juventud Rebelde saying it is “scarcely the tip of the iceberg of a gigantic subversive campaign against Cuba.”

ZunZuneo had around 40,000 followers at the height of its popularity, but disappeared in 2012 when funding dried up. However, another program, Martinoticas (Martinews) has been spamming cellphone users since 2011 the newspaper added.

Martinoticas is an online project created by the US government’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) and was named after the Cuban independence hero Jose Marti.

“We don’t have anything to hide. We are just trying to create the free flow of information on the island,” OCB Director Carlos Garcia-Perez mentioned. “We’re not trying to create another revolution,” he added.

The Juventud Rebelde newspaper also uncovered a number of other US operations in Cuba. They referred to an initiative called Priamideo, which was set up in 2013, while they also mentioned Commotion, which was funded by USAID and aimed to give young Cubans access to films and online games with the aim of trying to overthrown Cuba’s communist government.

?Meet 'lowflation': Deflation's scary pal

(07.04.2014 - 13:32:24)

Whereas economists up until the 1960's or 1970's mostly defined inflation as an expansion of the money supply, the vast majority now see it as simply rising prices. Since then the "experts" have gone further and devised variations on the word "inflation" (such as "deflation," "disinflation," and "stagflation"). And while past central banking policy usually focused on "inflation fighting," now bankers talk about "inflation ceilings" and more recently "inflation targets". The latest front in this campaign came this week when Bloomberg News unveiled a brand new word: "lowflation" which it defines as a situation where prices are rising, but not fast enough to offer the economic benefits that are apparently delivered by higher inflation. Although the article was printed on April Fool's Day, sadly I do not believe it was meant as a joke.

Up until now, the inflation advocates have focused their arguments almost exclusively on the apparent dangers of "deflation," which they define as falling prices. Despite reams of evidence that show how an economy can thrive when prices fall, there is now a nearly universal belief that deflation is an economic poison that works its mischief by convincing consumers to delay purchases. For example, in a scenario of 1% deflation, a consumer who wants a $1,000 refrigerator will postpone her purchase if she expects it will cost only $990 in a year. Presumably she will just make do with her old fridge, or simply refrain from buying perishable items for a year to lock in that $10 savings. If she expects the cost of the refrigerator to decline another 1% in the following year, the purchase will be again put off. If deflation persists indefinitely they argue that she will put off the purchase indefinitely, perhaps living exclusively on dried foods while waiting for refrigerator prices to hit zero.

Economists extrapolate this to conclude that deflation will destroy aggregate demand and force the economy into recession. Despite the absurdity of this argument (people actually tend to buy more when prices fall), at least there is a phantom bogeyman for which to conjure phony terror. Low inflation (below 2%) is even harder to demonize. Few have argued that it has the same demand killing dynamics as deflation, but many say that it should be avoided simply because it is too close to deflation. Given their feeling that even a brief bout of minor deflation could lead to a catastrophic negative spiral, they argue for a prudent buffer of 2% inflation or more. But the writer of the Bloomberg piece, the London-based Simon Kennedy, quotes people in high positions in the financial establishment who offer new arguments as to why "lowflation" (as he calls it) is a "threat" in and of itself. And although the article was primarily concerned with Europe, you can be sure that these arguments will be applied soon to the situation in the United States.

The piece correctly notes that those struggling with high debt tend to welcome high rates of inflation. The math is simple. By diminishing the value of money, inflation benefits borrowers at the expense of lenders. By repaying with money of lesser value, the borrowers partially default, even when paying in full. The biggest borrowers in Europe (and the United States for that matter) are heavily indebted governments and the overly leveraged financial sector. Should it come as a surprise that they are the leading advocates for inflation? The writer admits that higher inflation will help these interests manage their debt burdens and in the case of the financial sector, profit from the increased lending that low interest rates and quantitative easing encourage.

On the other side of the ledger are the consumers, the savers, and the retirees. These groups want lower prices and higher rates of interest on their accumulated capital. Such a combination will lead to higher living standards for those who have worked and saved for many years in order to enjoy the fruits of their efforts. But these types of people are simply not on the "must call" list for our best and brightest economic journalists. As a result, we only get one side of the story.

The article also points out that higher inflation gives businesses more flexibility to retain workers in periods of weak growth. The argument is that if sales revenue falls, companies will not be able to lower wages, and will instead resort to layoffs to maintain their profitability. However, this is only true in cases involving labor union contracts or minimum wage workers. In all other cases, business could reduce wages in lieu of layoffs. Plus, if prices for consumer goods are also falling, real wages may not even decline as a result of the cuts.

In circumstances where wages cannot be legally reduced, as is the case for unionized or minimum wage workers, layoffs are often the employer's only option for keeping costs in line with revenue. However, inflation allows employers to do an end run around these obstacles. In an inflationary environment, rising prices compensate for falling sales. The added revenue allows employers to hold nominal wage costs steady, even when the raw amount of goods or services they sell declines. When inflation rages, higher skilled workers will often demand, and receive, pay raises. But low-skilled workers, who lack such leverage, are usually left holding the bag.

In other words, politicians can impose a high minimum wage to pander to voters, but then count on inflation to lower real labor costs, thereby limiting the unemployment that would otherwise result. So what the government openly gives with one hand, it secretly takes away with the other. Workers vote for politicians who promise higher wages, but those same politicians also create the inflation that negates the real value of the increase. But while government takes the credit for the former, it never assumes responsibility for the latter. The same analysis applies to labor unions. Based upon political protection offered by friendly officials, unions can secure unrealistic pay hikes for their members. But the same governments then work to reduce the real value of those increases to keep their employers in business.

Of course, what the Bloomberg writer was really arguing is that governments need inflation to bail themselves out of the policy mistakes they make to secure votes. But two wrongs never make a right. The correct policy would be to run balanced budgets rather than incur debts that can only be repaid with the help of inflation. On the labor front, the better policy would be to abolish the minimum wage and the special legal protections offered to labor unions, rather than papering over the adverse consequences of bad policies with inflation.

So be on the lookout for any more hand-wringing over the supposed dangers of lowflation. The noise will simply be an effort to convince you that what's bad for you is actually good. And although it's an audacious piece of propaganda to even attempt, the lack of critical awareness in the media gives it a fighting chance for success.

Peter Schiff is the CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, best-selling author and host of syndicated Peter Schiff Show.

Ukraine nationalists attempt storm on Kiev Supreme Court

(07.04.2014 - 12:42:07)

Around 100 activists prevented Supreme Court employees from entering the building through the back door.

Near the building, a stage has been set up with audio equipment. Car tires have been brought to the building, but haven’t yet been set on fire.

The activists disrupted the convention of judges that was scheduled for Monday.

A few judges, who were in the building before the attack, were led out by the activists shouting “Lustration!”

The protesters are demanding to adopt lustration legislation, which implies that people connected to a former regime may not get office with the new authorities. The far right activists are concerned about the fact that the judicial authorities may grant almost 150 ousted officials with powers, despite their relationship to the ousted president.

The 150 include Viktor Yanukovich, ex-head of presidential administration Andrey Klyuyev, ex-premiers Sergey Arbuzov and Nikolay Azarov, Interior Ministry and judicial officials – as well as their family members.


Right Sector is known for its violent behavior and radical nationalist views.

Just over a week ago, a downtown shootout instigated by one of its members injured three, including Deputy Mayor Bogdan Dubas. As a result, Ukraine’s coup-imposed interior minister demanded that the organization leaves its Kiev headquarters.

The Right Sector movement first appeared at the end of November 2013 supporting pro-EU protests on Kiev's Independence Square (Maidan).

The movement is headed by Dmitry Yarosh. In March, the ultra-nationalist movement decided to become a political party, nominating Yarosh for president.

Meanwhile, Russia put Yarosh on an international wanted list and charged him with inciting terrorism after he urged Chechen terrorist leader, Doku Umarov, to launch attacks on Russia over the Ukrainian conflict. The far-right leader has also threatened to destroy Russian pipelines on Ukrainian territory.

MH370 search: Aussie ocean shield detects possible black box ping

(07.04.2014 - 8:38:31)

Although investigators have stressed that further confirmation is needed, they said signals consistent with the craft’s flight recorders had been recorded in the Indian Ocean on Monday.

“The towed ‘pinger’ locator deployed from the Australian defense vessel Ocean Shield has detected signals consistent with those emitted from aircraft black boxes,’’ said Angus Houston, the former Australian defense chief who is leading the search coordination body, adding that this was the "most promising lead" so far in the search for flight MH370.

Search teams have been scouring the Indian Ocean for a sign of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 plane that disappeared from radars on March 8 with 239 people on board. Malaysian authorities believe the craft crashed into the Indian Ocean after diverting from its intended path of Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The Australian vessel Ocean Shield picked up the two signals using its towed pinger locator. Houston said that the signals were detected at a depth of 4,500 meters.

"On this occasion two distinct pinger returns were audible. Significantly this would be consistent with transmissions from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder," ACM Houston said at a press conference.

This latest signal comes after Chinese and Australian ships detected three different ‘pings’ over the weekend.

Houston said that an autonomous submarine will now be dispatched to comb the seabed for signs of any debris from the plane. However, the submersible has a limit of around 4,510 meters which could potentially complicate the operation.

“This is very deep water - we are right on the edge of capability,” said Houston, emphasizing that more evidence was needed.

Malaysian acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein stated at a press conference on Monday that the authorities were “cautiously hopeful” following the latest developments “that there would be some positive developments in the "next few days if not hours.”

The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the Malaysian Aircraft on March 8 have given rise to many theories, including a possible hijack. Investigators say the plane changed course before it disappeared and that the inflight communication system was “deliberately disabled” by someone onboard.

In addition, Malaysian authorities have already looked into the possibility that the plane could have slipped under Pakistani radars and landed at a Taliban base close to the border with Afghanistan.

Over two weeks after the Boeing 777 vanished from radar, Malaysian Airlines informed families of the passengers that “beyond any reasonable doubt” flight MH370 had been lost and none of the people on board had survived. The announcement sparked fury amongst aggrieved families in China who accused the Malaysian government of lying to them and purposely hiding the truth. Officials say there were 160 Chinese nationals on the flight.

‘US annexed the whole world through global spying' – Assange

(07.04.2014 - 6:33:47)

Speaking at the WHD.global conference on Wednesday, Assange – who has been living under asylum in Ecuador's embassy in London since 2012 – pointed out that there is a need for independent internet infrastructure for countries to maintain sovereignty to resist US control over the majority of communications. The annual conference is dedicated to global surveillance and privacy matters.

“To a degree this is a matter of national sovereignty. The news is all flush with talk about how Russia has annexed the Crimea, but the reality is, the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, principally the United States, have annexed the whole world as a result of annexing the computer systems and communications technology that is used to run the modern world,” Assange said.

So it’s a matter of national sovereignty. If there is not at least some national network that can be maintained in a moment of economic or political conflict with the United States, then there is simply too much leverage on nation states to be able to effectively defend the interests of their peoples.”

Assange noted that the revelations leaked by Edward Snowden on NSA and GCHQ spying have caused a new wave of resistance against US control, shifting the geopolitical forces in Europe.

These revelations about the United States and GCHQ annexing our new world of the internet has produced market forces to do something about it. But they’re also playing into, within Europe, a very interesting geopolitical phenomenon, which is Germany’s new leadership of Europe, and it demonstrating its new leadership of Europe.”

One of the ways to demonstrate its leadership is to demonstrate how someone else does not control you. Here we have an example of Angela Merkel and German society as a whole striving slowly to demonstrate some kind of independence in relation to the United States,” he said.

“And we should absolutely grasp that moment to try and get more independence for Europe from the dominant military-intelligence system in the world, the US-NATO alliance, which accounts for more than 75 percent of global military and intelligence expenditure.”

Assange emphasized the importance of encryption and mandating new legislature for countries that seek more security for their sensitive information. He said that using bulk encryption private channels through countries like the US is a way to secure the safety of information.

“We can do that by mandating laws about encryption standards, telecommunications links must be encrypted to a certain standard, the links must be tested, the equipment must be tested, just like we have with the physical safes, we have standards,” he said.

“Those standards need to be made proportional to the value of those telecommunications links or the amount of data being stored and the EU needs to push for that in relation to trade negotiations with other countries.”

The revelations of former NSA contractor and CIA employee Edward Snowden last year exposed the NSA’s practices of mass surveillance. The NSA and its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), has been tapping the internet networks, emails, and phone calls of millions of ordinary citizens and political leaders around the world.

In March, Assange warned that the NSA and GCHQ will soon have the ability to spy on the entire planet, as their capabilities double every 18 months. During his Skype appearance at the South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive technology festival in Austin, he criticized the shift of power from people “who are surveilled upon” to those who control the surveillance complex. He called the current system “totalitarian dystopia,” meaning that “surveillance is total, so that no one exists outside the state.”

Syrian govt no longer in danger of falling - Hezbollah leader

(07.04.2014 - 6:32:51)

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said that rebels taking over the country is no longer an option, according to Lebanese newspaper As-Safir. The full interview with the leader will be published on Monday.

Nasrallah argued that the rebels’ campaign was not fueled by ideas of democracy, freedom, or justice. Instead, the intention was to redirect some of Syria’s political stances, such as its support for the Palestinian resistance and Hezbollah.

“The Syrian battle’s aim is not making democracy or justice or fighting corruption, but changing the position of Syria and the offers President Bashar al-Assad received more than once prove this,” Hezbollah’s Al-Manar network quoted Nasrallah as saying in the As-Safir interview.

One of the key elements of Syria’s opposition is to disrupt ties with Hezbollah after a failed attempt in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, according to the leader.

Nasrallah confirmed that Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is supported by "our constituency.”

The Syrian crisis entered its fourth year in the middle of March. The country's civil war began with anti-government protests, but soon grew into what has been dubbed the worst humanitarian crisis in decades. The number of those killed surpassed the 100,000 mark when the UN stopped counting months ago. Activists in Syria say as many as 146,000 people may have been killed in the unrest.

More than 2.5 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries, while 6.5 million have been displaced within the country. Civilians have been hit the hardest; three-quarters of refugees are said to be women and children.

Metadata monitoring more intrusive than eavesdropping - Snowden and Greenwald

(07.04.2014 - 3:14:00)

Both Snowden and Greenwald stated that governmental collection of metadata – that is, monitoring timings of calls, to whom calls were made, and how long they lasted – is much more intrusive than listening in on calls directly.

Metadata is what allows an actual enumerated understanding, a precise record of all the private activities in all of our lives. It shows our associations, our political affiliations and our actual activities,” Snowden told the 1,000-strong crowd in Chicago.

Both Snowden and Greenwald received rounds of applause for their appearances, while Snowden’s ‘appearance’ prompted a standing ovation.

The meeting marked their first appearance ‘together’ since Snowden was granted asylum by Russia, despite speaking from opposite ends of the globe – Greenwald made his comments from Brazil. The journalist, who published Snowden’s revelations 10 months ago, vowed that there would be further releases of information to the public.

“My hope and my belief is that as we do more of that reporting and as people see the scope of the abuse as opposed to just the scope of the surveillance they will start to care more,” Greenwald said. “Mark my words. Put stars by it and in two months or so come back and tell me if I didn't make good on my word.”

Amnesty International is undertaking a campaign to bring an end to mass US spying and has demanded that Congress take further action to exercise control over widespread data hoarding.

Concern over the practice spiked after Snowden, a former NSA contractor, released documents to the public on the extent of the NSA's internet and phone surveillance last June. He now faces arrest if he steps on US soil.

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