TBR News NOvember 7, 2014

Nov 07 2014

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. November 8, 2014: “A constant subject for the high-level intelligence people inside the Beltway is the progress of what is called ‘The Plan.’

This is a long-term program, formulated and implemented, by the far-right element in the government and eagerly supported by the so-called neo-cons.

The purpose of this program is to destabilize Russia, force Putin and his supporters out of office and replace them, as was done during the reign of the CIA-friendly Yeltsin, with persons friendly to the United States aims and, specially, friendly to US business interests.

Russia is in possession of a very large reservoir of natural resources from oil to gold and American interests very nearly had their controlling hands on all of this during the Yeltsin years but lost it when Putin got in control.

They hate his intractable nationalism and have done, and are doing, everything they can to discredit, defeat and eventually oust him.

A major part of The Plan has been to get physical control of countries surrounding Russia from the Baltic states to the ‘Stans and to ring Russia with American-oriented and friendly countries.

Putin, aware of this because of the obviousness of the plottings and also because of very high-level information leaks from Washington, responded and with deadly effect. Georgia was run by a domestic politician who was eccentric, egotistical but in the pocket of Washington, and who allowed American troops and their military equipment to pour into the country.

But two Georgian provinces, inhabited mostly by Russians, objected to the blatantly pro-West government in Tiblisi and protested.

Georgia’s answer was to threaten force and, with full American support, to mass Georgian troops on the borders of these provinces.

Putin responded by sending a Russian military strike force into the area in support of the break-away areas and this caused a two-fold retreat on the part of American supporters. The military units rapidly evacuated west to the Black Sea and US Naval evacuation while an army of CIA personnel fled in terror to the airport at Tiblisi to avoid capture. This demarche disillusioned a number of eastern European countries who then toned down their anti-Russian rhetoric and made pacific moves towards the Kremlin.

A very high-level Polish government contingent flying into Smolensk to confer with the Russians were destroyed when their aircraft, responding to faked ground signals at the fog-shrouded Smolensk airport, slammed into the ground, wiping out the top level Poles. The Russians did not destroy the Poles but American intelligence operatives did.

This pointless slaughter was designed to teach wavering cantonists a lesson.

And the so-called “Orange Revolution” in the Ukraine was entirely a CIA operation.

The government in that country was replaced with a pro-Western one and the Ukraine was then viewed in Washington as another country to stock with threatening American missiles and troops.

When the Ukrainians tired of the corruption that inevitably is attendant upon a pro-West government and eventually elected a pro-Russian president, the CIA predictably responded by fomenting civil strife in Kiev and when that appeared to be waning, had their surrogates start shooting at random into the crowd to stir up public anger.

Putin’s response was to occupy the Russian-populated Crimea, hold an election that overwhelmingly supported union with Russia and gained the important naval base at Sebastopol that the Ukraine had promised to the US Navy and, more important, the Crimean off-shore oil fields and a coastline that permitted an easier installation of the South Stream oil transmission line from Russian oil fields to southern Europe.

The fury of the balked intelligence and governmental organs in Washington has been monumental and because a restive Europe is presenting a disunited front in the dictated attacks on Russia, more pressure is being planned to further threaten and pressure Putin.

The oil-rich Arctic is a prime future battlefield selected by Washington to engage the Russians, but the latter hold most of the geo-political cards.

And attempts to economically isolate Russia can easily backfire and create economic chaos with America’s economic powers.

The Russians hold 118 billion dollars worth of US Treasury certificate and their tenative allies, the Chinese, hold one trillion dollars of the same certificates. Should these countries, against whom the United States has been conducting clandestine political warfare, ever decide to jointly dump these financial instruments, the collapse of the dollar as the leading international currency would create an economic crisis that could easily prove fatal to Washington. 

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department usually uses water.”


FBI wants to hack computers globally, seeks search warrant expansion

November 6, 2014


The Justice Department is looking to remove restrictions on the FBI’s ability to hack into and monitor computer systems everywhere by easing the requirements necessary for it to obtain a search warrant.

Currently, law enforcement agencies can only receive warrants authorizing computer searches if the physical location of the computer in question falls within the corresponding jurisdiction of the judge they are appealing to. If the computer is outside of the judge’s jurisdiction, a warrant is not usually granted.

Now, however, the Justice Department wants to change this limitation, which is called Rule 41. It has asked a judicial advisory committee to allow judges to grant search warrants and permit electronic surveillance regardless of where a computer is located – within or outside of the United States,

Here’s why, according to the National Journal, which reported on the story:

“Law-enforcement investigators are seeking the additional powers to better track and investigate criminals who use technology to conceal their identity and location, a practice that has become more common and sophisticated in recent years. Intelligence analysts, when given a warrant, can infiltrate computer networks and covertly install malicious software, or malware, that gives them the ability to control the targeted device and download its contents.”

The proposal has unsurprisingly upset many civil liberties advocates, who claim changing Rule 41 in this manner would potentially violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizures by the government.

The panel, known as the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules, held a hearing on the issue on Wednesday, where opponents of the rule change expressed their views. Asked what other methods would be preferable for hunting down increasingly sophisticated cyber criminals, Amie Stepanovich of the digital freedom group Access said the Justice Department should go through Congress.

“I empathize that it is very hard to get a legislative change,” she said. “However, when you have us resorting to Congress to get increased privacy protections, we would also like to see the government turn to Congress to get increased surveillance authority.”

That sentiment was echoed by the American Civil Liberties Union the day before, and the group was also present at Wednesday’s hearing.

“If the proposed amendment is adopted, it will throw the doors wide open to an industry peddling tools to undermine computer security, and make the U.S. government an even bigger player in the surveillance software industry,” ACLU Staff Attorney Nathan Wessler wrote on Tuesday.

In its report, the ACLU noted that changing the rule could also promote the use of “zero-day” exploits, which are completely unknown to software manufacturers yet used by governments to get around security systems and enable surveillance.

“Governments pay big bucks – reportedly into the hundreds of thousands of dollars – to acquire [zero-day exploits], resulting in a largely unregulated market for these tools,” Wessler wrote. “Since the use of a given zero-day exploit depends on the continued existence of the vulnerability it’s exploiting, governments withhold their existence from the manufacturer.”

This isn’t the first time law enforcement has expressed a desire to retain its surveillance capabilities. Following decisions by Apple and Google to enable data encryption on their new devices, FBI Director James Comey criticized the moves, saying they will ultimately impede police ability to track and capture criminals.

“There will come a day — well it comes every day in this business — when it will matter a great, great deal to the lives of people of all kinds that we be able to with judicial authorization gain access to a kidnapper’s or a terrorist or a criminal’s device,” Comey said in September. “I just want to make sure we have a good conversation in this country before that day comes.”


German Intelligence Says Islamic State’s Oil Power Overestimated: Reports

November 7, 2014

RIA Novosti


MOSCOW, – German intelligence estimates show that the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group’s oil production capacity has sharply declined since August, leaving the group with much less economic power than previously assessed, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported.

According to data from German intelligence agency BND cited by the newspaper on Thursday, oil production in IS-controlled areas has shrunk six times over the past three months.

In August, IS-run oilfields produced 172,000 barrels per day. October’s daily capacity plummeted to 28,000 barrels, of which only 10,000 were actually sold, the newspaper reported, citing BND.

The intelligence agency explained the dramatic decline with the success of the US-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, claiming that airstrikes in recent weeks destroyed half of the IS’ oil production facilities.

According to US Treasury data, oil production brings the group about $1 million a day. However, BND argued that the real figure stands at less than $100 million per year.

The Islamic State insurgent group has proclaimed a caliphate over the vast areas it seized across Iraq and Syria. The United States and a number of its allies are currently carrying out airstrikes against IS targets in both countries.

Apart from smuggling oil, sources of IS funding include extortion from businesses operating in its controlled areas and from ransoms paid for hostages. In addition, when the group took over Iraq’s major city of Mosul in June, it reportedly looted some $400 million from the local central bank.


Every political landslide carries the seeds of its own destruction

November 7, 2014

by Bill Schneider  


You can’t govern the United States from Capitol Hill. Republicans learned that after they took over Congress in 1994. House Speaker Newt Gingrich claimed a mandate to enforce his “Contract with America.”  What he had was a mandate to make deals with President Bill Clinton.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the likely new majority leader, understands that. “The American people have spoken,” McConnell said on Wednesday.  “They’ve given us divided government.  The question for the president and my members is what are we going to do with it? I want to look first for areas we can agree on.”

Before he can do that, however, McConnell has to worry about finding an approach his own party can agree on.

McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are already talking about passing measures President Barack Obama can sign. They want to make deals with the president on relatively small-bore things, like the Keystone XL pipeline, trade and the Affordable Care Act’s tax on medical devices.

But the newly elected Republicans, in both chambers, include a lot of Tea Party conservatives.  They believe their mandate is to oppose and obstruct Obama on everything.  They don’t trust establishment figures like Boehner and McConnell.  After all, Republicans won with a negative campaign.  The party’s final get-out-the-vote message on Election Day said, “If you’re not a voter, you can’t stop Obama.”

Tea Party Republicans in Congress have their own leader: Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Cruz is the new Gingrich.

Cruz has not even pledged to support McConnell as Republican leader. Instead, Cruz is claiming a mandate “to do everything possible to repeal Obamacare . . . to stand up to the president and say, ‘No more amnesty’ ” for illegal immigrants.

Those are not small-bore policies.

“Republicans must govern as they campaigned,” a spokesman for Heritage Action for America told Politico. Conservative activist Brent Bozell warned, “The GOP owes its victory to its base, and breaking any promises now will put their majority and any chance for the presidency in 2016 in jeopardy.”

This looming split in the Republican Party is likely to be the big political story going into 2016. The party establishment sees 2014 as its victory. The establishment used its influence, and especially its money, to keep many radical-right candidates from winning Republican nominations. But the Tea Party also sees 2014 as its victory. They supplied the troops and the message of defiance.

The showdown will come in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. The field of potential contenders was already unwieldy. Now it’s even bigger, with a lot of new faces in key battleground states: Senators Joni Ernst of Iowa and Cory Gardner of Colorado, Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio.

What does 2014 mean for 2016? The same thing the 1994 midterm meant for 1996: nothing.  After 1994, it looked like Clinton was finished. He had to plead at a press conference, “I am relevant.  The Constitution gives me relevance.” In 1996, Clinton was easily reelected.

The three factors that drove this week’s big Republican victory will not loom as large in 2016. One was territory. The Senate seats that were up this year were in states that Obama called “probably theworst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower.” Democratic Senate seats were up in seven states carried by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.  In 2016, the tables will turn.  Two years from now, Republican Senate seats will be up in seven Obama states.

The second factor was timing. The Senate seats that were up this year were last on the ballot in 2008 — when Democrats did extremely well. Every landslide carries with it the seeds of its own destruction.  This year, Democrats had to defend gains from 2008 in places like Alaska, South Dakota and North Carolina.  In 2016, Republicans will have to defend gains from 2010 in places like Pennsylvania, Illinois and Wisconsin.

The third factor is the temper of the times: widespread exasperation with Obama’s leadership. Obama will still be president in 2016. But he will not be the central figure in the campaign.

Nonetheless, Democrats have reason to worry. They don’t have the House of Representatives. They just lost the Senate. If they lose the White House in 2016, Republicans will control everything. If Republicans take over, the first thing they will do is obliterate all traces of the legacies of Obama and Clinton.

No one has a greater stake in preserving both of those legacies than Hillary Clinton. She’s probably the only Democrat with a good chance to win in 2016. If Clinton doesn’t run, the party will likely nominate Vice President Joe Biden. To vote for Biden would be to vote for a third term for Obama. That’s why Democrats are desperate for Hillary to declare herself a candidate.

One more takeaway from the 2014 campaign: Local issues got swept aside. Every campaign was about Obama. How else could unpopular Republican governors like Paul LePage in Maine and Sam Brownback in Kansas get reelected? How else could Republican governors win in deep-blue states like Massachusetts and Maryland? How else could Republican David Perdue — a businessman who acknowledged outsourcing jobs — beat Michelle Nunn, a Democrat with a famous name in Georgia?

The 2014 election has firmly established a new rule: All politics is national.


The Vicissitudes of Post-Gorbachev Russia: Why Russia is Getting Tough

November 5, 2014

by Jonathon Power



President Vladimir Putin is often painted as an ogre in the world’s media. The seemingly eternal president of Russia has an iron grip on his nation and a foreign policy to match.

Yet a large majority of Russians give him their support.

Is it his early economic success? Or is it because of a new stability? Or the nation’s growing self-respect after the ignominious years that followed the demise of the Soviet Union? Or is it a sense of besieged defensiveness because of the advantage the West undoubtedly took of Russia after that demise.

The answer is a bit of all these.

Few in the outside world seem to talk much about what happened after President Boris Yeltsin pushed aside Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union.

Few recall the political and economic upheavals of that time and why the stability of Putin’s governance is welcomed by people at large.

Perhaps it is because this was a quarter of a century ago and people now ruling the West, and the journalists who report on them, were only teenagers or in their twenties at the time – and suffer from that common Western political disease of lack of perspective and little knowledge of history.

Immediately after Gorbachev’s fall two things happened.

Under the influence of misguided, radical, Western free-market economist advisors price controls were lifted and the price of food rose by 500%, and later inflation soared.

Second, the US sent a Treasury team to Moscow to check on whether the new Russia would pay back the Soviet debt without a word on economic aid. (Compare this with the enormous economic help offered defeated Germany and Japan at the end of the Second World War.)

In March, 1993, Yeltsin went on TV to announce he was suspending the unhelpful and recalcitrant parliament and called for new elections.

The vice president, Alexander Rutskoy, and parliamentary members attempted to impeach Yeltsin. Yeltsin retaliated with a referendum when he won a slim vote of approval but in a low turn out. Moreover, the ballot papers were quickly incinerated. Yeltsin’s opponents, crying foul, saw no reason to back down.

In September, the US-supported Yeltsin dissolved the Duma (parliament). In response 200 deputies occupied the building, voted to strip Yeltsin of the presidency, swore in Rutskoy as president and armed themselves.

Yeltsin ordered a shelling assault on the parliament building. Yeltsin, the “democrat” was photographed wielding a machine gun. The rebellion was put down. Yeltsin called elections. With the aid of drugs to keep him going he won.

Yeltsin then backpedaled on economic reforms and his government became more nationalistic. It warned against the expansion of Nato and argued with Ukraine over Crimea.

Meanwhile, corruption soared. Rich businessmen, each struggling to be top dog, blew each other up with car bombs.

In December of that year the long war in Chechnya began.

The war dragged on, the economy was in dire straits and in the parliamentary elections a year later the Communist party looked set for a major rebound. Yeltsin’s party managed a narrow victory.

In the 1990s Yeltsin changed his prime ministers frequently, (one was only 35) searching elusively for competence and stability.

The national debt rose, pensioners were not being paid and workers were owed 9 billion US dollars in unpaid wages. In August 1998 the ruble crashed. Many banks and businesses went into liquidation.

The State Prosecutor was said to be on the trail of prosecuting Yeltsin’s family for corruption.

It was then- in August 1999- that Yeltsin appointed yet another prime minister – Vladimir Putin.

On December 31st Yeltsin resigned, having struck a deal with Putin that his family would be protected from prosecution if he made him president. It was the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power in Russian history.

Putin’s greatest achievement was to revive the economy. Inflation came down, pensions were paid and incomes increased by an average 250%.

But on his watch Chechen gunmen took 800 hostages and 130 of them died when Special Forces made a mess of a relief operation. Later two passenger jets were downed and terrorists seized a school and hundreds of children, parents and teachers died in another botched rescue operation. The economy is no longer doing well.

Nevertheless, after the vicissitudes of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin years, on the main issues that preoccupy most people, Putin seems to be a steady leader who gets on top of problems.

State controlled TV stations (as in France) help ensure popular support.

For now Putin’s support has put down deep roots. The West must understand why. It is far more than the popular take over of Crimea or the meddling in Ukraine.

If only the West had given Gorbachev and Yeltsin a sound economic hand all this turbulent history might never have happened.

Now Russia, not just Putin, is in a very assertive mood.



‘Toxic brand’: Britons say religion does more bad than good, atheists ‘more moral’ than believers

November 6, 2014



Nearly two-thirds of British people stated that religion causes more harm than it brings benefits, according to a new poll, which shows Muslim beliefs at odds with those of the rest of society.

The poll of 2,004 people conducted by Survation exclusively for Huffington Post UK revealed that nearly two in five Britons have no religious allegiance, with just 56 percent describing themselves as Christians.

The figures for active worship are even more stark, with 60 percent of the population surveyed claiming they are “not religious at all” with only 8 percent saying they are “very religious.”

“Religion has become a ‘toxic brand’ in the UK,” Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University, told HuffPost UK.

“What we are seeing is not a complete rejection of faith, belief in the divine, or spirituality, though there is some of that, but of institutional religion in the historic forms which are familiar to people.”

Young people tended to be less skeptical. Roughly 30 per cent of 18-24 year olds believe that religion does more good than harm, while only 19 per cent of 55-64 year-olds agree.

70 percent of Jews, who constituted about 1 percent of those surveyed, claimed that religion was a force for the negative, more than any other group.

The participants also showed that they did not believe that belief was an indicator of being a good person, with 55 percent saying that atheists are just as likely to be moral as believers. In fact, more (8 percent) thought the irreligious were more likely to be good people than the theists, than vice versa (6 percent).

“This survey just confirms what we know is the common sense of people in Britain today – that whether you are religious or not has very little to do with your morality,” said Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association.

“Most people understand that morality and good personal and social values are not tied to religious belief systems, but are the result of our common heritage and experience as human beings: social animals that care for each other and are kind to others because we understand that they are human too.”

“Not only that, people understand that religious beliefs themselves can be harmful to morality: encouraging intolerance, inflexibility and the doing of harm in the name of a greater good. We only need to look around us to perceive that fact.”

The results show a continuation of existing trends, with church attendances halving to only 800,000 a week over the past half-century, and the number of Christians falling from 72 to 59 percent in just a decade between the 2001 and 2011 surveys, with a corresponding increase in those openly irreligious.

Indeed, the only religion to exhibit growth in the period was Islam, from 3 to 5 percent.

While only 2.5 percent of those surveyed were Muslims, those who were displayed a greater commitment to their faith. One in five UK Muslims describes themselves as “very religious,” and only 7 percent say they are not religious at all.


California Voters Pass ‘Historic’ Mass Incarceration Reform

‘This historic vote demonstrates support to advance a public safety strategy beyond incarceration to include treatment and prevention.’

November 5, 2014

by Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Common Dreams


A California public safety measure to reclassify low-level crimes, including drug possession, won a clear victory on Tuesday, as voters paved the way for thousands of non-violent offenders to be resentenced and potentially released from the state’s notoriously overcrowded prison system.

Voting 58.5 to 41.5 percent to pass Proposition 47, California residents “spoke clearly” on the issue of mass incarceration, according to Brian Elderbroom and Ryan King with the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center. They wrote, “The current sentencing and correctional system in California is costly and inefficient and voters would prefer their tax dollars to be spent on education and health care rather than incarceration.”

Under Proposition 47, low-level property and drug offenses including shoplifting, theft, and check fraud under $950, as well as personal illicit drug use will be reclassified from felonies to misdemeanors. Because the law will apply retroactively, as many as 10,000 people convicted of these offenses may now be eligible to petition for early release and, by some estimates, state courts will hand out roughly 40,000 fewer felony convictions each year. As stipulated by the law, the estimated $150 million in state savings will be used to support school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health and drug abuse treatment, and other programs designed to expand alternatives to incarceration.

“This historic vote demonstrates support to advance a public safety strategy beyond incarceration to include treatment and prevention,” said Marc Mauer of criminal justice reform advocacy group, The Sentencing Project.

Reform advocates say that the passage of Proposition 47 will now institute a measure of justice for those communities disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs and tough-on-crime policies, such as California’s infamous three strikes law.

Karen Lang, an organizer for the Community Coalition of Los Angeles, recently told the Los Angeles Times, that prison reform is seen as a “social justice” issue. “We have been punishing crimes of poverty.”

Proposition 47 is one of handful of legislative efforts to reform the state’s prison system, which a 2011 Supreme Court decision said was one of the most crowded and costly in the country. According to The Sentencing Project, the decision in “Brown v. Plata found the provision of health care in the California prison system to be constitutionally inadequate due to the severe overcrowding in the system; the state was required to reduce this figure to 137.5% of design capacity within two years.”

While heralding the passage of Proposition 47, reform advocates note that by tackling low-level sentences the state is only addressing a small percentage of their prison population. According to the Department of Corrections, as of 2013, 70 percent of the California prison population was serving a sentence for a violent offense.

“If Californians want to reduce the prison population to address chronic overcrowding, it is going to take more ambitious policies that reduce time served for serious and violent offenses,” write Elderbroom and King.

According to The Sentencing Project, research has shown that inmates serving life sentences who are released have low rates of recidivism. “Long-term sentencing reform will also need to focus on enacting policies and practices to provide opportunities to distinguish among individual offense circumstances, accomplishments in prison, and degree of risk to public safety,” it reports.

The Sentencing Project concludes: “Coming after a nearly four-decade rise in imprisonment, the substantial reductions in Californian due to changes like Proposition 47 demonstrate the possibility of achieving pragmatic reforms to address mass incarceration.”


Finland warns of new cold war over failure to grasp situation in Russia

Finnish PM Alexander Stubb set to meet David Cameron and other northern European leaders at conference in Helsinki

November 5, 2014

by Simon Tisdall in Helsinki

The Guardian

             Western countries are at the gates of a new cold war with Russia, sparked by the Ukraine crisis and a continuing failure to grasp the depth and seriousness of Vladimir Putin’s grievances with the US and EU, the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, has warned.

             Speaking to the Guardian at his official residence before Thursday’s conference in Helsinki attended by the UK prime minister, David Cameron, and Nordic and Baltic state leaders, Niinistö said Finland had a long tradition of trying to maintain friendly relations with Russia. But it would not be pushed around.

            “The Finnish way of dealing with Russia, whatever the situation, is that we will be very decisive to show what we don’t like, where the red line is. And that is what we are prepared to do,” Niinistö said, referring to recent violations of Finnish airspace by Russian military aircraft.

            “We put the Hornets [US-made Finnish air force F-18 fighter aircraft] up there and the Hornets were flying alongside the Russian planes … The Russians turned back. If they had not, what would we have done? I would not speculate.”

             Cameron will join eight Nordic and Baltic leaders at the one-day Northern Future Forum hosted by Alexander Stubb, Finland’s prime minister. Sources said they will discuss a response to Moscow’s official recognition of “illegitimate” weekend elections at the weekend that were won by pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, at a private dinner at Stubb’s residence at Kesäranta.

Cameron will be told Britain is seen as an essential player in formulating Europe’s policy towards Russia and that the Ukraine crisis shows how the EU is much stronger when its members work together.

Finland, formerly a grand duchy of the Russian empire, declared independence in 1917 after the Russian revolution. It survived two separate conflicts with the Soviet Union during the second world war. During the cold war, Finland followed a policy of “active neutrality” to keep Moscow at bay. The two countries share an 830-mile (1,300km) land border.

Many Finns worry that the insecurity and uncertainties of the cold war years are returning as the standoff with Russia over its annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of eastern Ukraine continues.

“We are in the position in the west of asking what is Putin up to,” Niinistö said. “Putin keeps saying the west and Nato are hostile. [He says] they have deceived Russia with Nato enlargement and they are undermining and humiliating Russia. “So this is a situation that is not promising. I have said we are almost at the gates of a new kind of cold war that could suck in all of Europe.’

Niinisto discussed the Ukraine situation with Putin in person in August and said he remained in touch with the Russian leader. He said the US and EU were partly to blame for not paying enough attention to Putin’s assertions that the west was weak, hedonistic and hostile to Russia’s values, including religious values. The EU had failed to appreciate its plans for closer ties with Ukraine posed a “huge problem” for Putin.

Putin, under pressure from Russian conservatives and ultra-nationalists, may have been emboldened by last year’s last-minute US decision not to launch bombing and missile attacks in Syria. Russia believed its diplomatic intervention at that time had been a great success, Niinisto said.

For Russia, Syria was only the latest example of perceived western weakness, an influential government insider in Helsinki said.

“A bigger factor is the consistent softness shown by the EU and the US when it comes to Russian actions. They [the Russians] have got away with murder since the first Chechen war and especially since [the Russian military intervention in] Georgia [in 2008],” the insider saidi.

Despite the rise in international tensions with Russia, a clear majority of Finns continues to oppose joining Nato, in part out of concern about Moscow’s possible reaction. Russian officials have repeatedly warned Finland, which is 100% dependent on Russian gas supplies, against taking up Nato membership.

But sentiment may be shifting ahead of Finnish general elections due next April, when relations with Russia and Nato will be a central issue along with the economy.

Niinistö said Finland was supportive of Nato and a contributor to Nato operations in Afghanistan. It also maintained large land forces, unlike some other EU countries. He rejected accusations that Finland was taking a free ride behind Nato’s protective shield.

“We are not passengers,” he said.

“We have a long tradition of keeping out of conflict with Russia … though we did not succeed in the second world war. We can’t change geography. We have a 1,300km border. That is more than all other EU countries together. The Nato-Russia border would be doubled [if Finland joined]. We have to consider that too.

            “My main worry is the larger picture of getting close to a cold war. That would be a very uncertain situation and that worries us. But if you are asking are we afraid, directly or indirectly, of Russia, I would say no.”


US supreme court justices mock fraud charges against man who threw fish overboard

Sceptical justices make jokes about Florida’s white-collar prosecution of fisherman whose catch of groupers proved smaller than regulations permitted

November 5, 2014

Reuters in Washington


            US supreme court justices expressed a desire on Wednesday to reel in the federal government for prosecuting a Florida fisherman under a white-collar crime law for disposing of undersized red grouper fish while he was under investigation.

During a one-hour oral argument in the case, a majority of the court seemed inclined to rule in favor of fisherman John Yates. But it remained unclear how the justices would write such a ruling, with some not appearing to take his arguments hook, line and sinker.

Yates could have faced a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted under a records-keeping provision of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed by Congress to guard against corporate fraud of the sort committed by companies including Enron Corp and WorldCom Inc.

He was ultimately sentenced to 30 days in prison.

Several justices appeared concerned that the US justice department interpreted the law too broadly. It penalizes the destruction, concealment or covering up of “any record, document or tangible object”.

Justice Anthony Kennedy joked that if Congress had wanted the law to cover more than just white-collar fraud, it could have been called the “Sarbanes-Oxley-Grouper Act”.

The case began in August 2007 when officials measured fish on Yates’s boat and found that 72 were smaller than permitted, violating federal fishing regulations.

A crew member testified at trial that Yates ordered him to throw the undersized fish overboard and replace them with larger ones. Yates later told officials they were the same fish that had been inspected earlier.

The justices were critical of the Justice Department’s decision to prosecute Yates. Justice Antonin Scalia wondered “what kind of mad prosecutor would try to send this guy up for 20 years?”

Justice Samuel Alito also took the bait, saying the law gives the government license to prosecute over seemingly “trivial matters”.

Along similar lines, Chief Justice John Roberts said the prosecution made it appear the government viewed Yates as “a mob boss or something”.

Justice Elena Kagan indicated she might be satisfied that the law was intended to cover a wide range of conduct, saying its broad language “shows that it’s not just about corporate fraud”.

The court could tackle the problem by ruling the law applies only to record-keeping in the corporate context, meaning Yates would be off the hook. Such a decision could mirror a case from June in which the court ruled that a Pennsylvania woman could not be convicted under a chemical weapons law for trying to poison her husband’s pregnant lover.

Yates, who lives in Holmes Beach, south of Tampa, was convicted in 2011 on two of three charges, including one under the record-keeping provision. Even if Yates wins before the supreme court, his conviction on the other count of preventing the government from taking custody of the fish would remain intact.

In August 2013, the 11th US circuit court of appeals upheld his conviction. A decision is due by the end of June.

The case is United States v Yates, US supreme court, No13-7451.


A Hungarian Democracy Activist’s Rise to Authoritarian Leader

Viktor Orban Steers Hungary Toward Russia 25 Years After Fall of the Berlin Wall

November. 7, 2014

by Rick Lyman and Alison Smale

New York Times


BUDAPEST — A quarter-century ago, as Hungary helped ignite the events that would lead to the collapse of communism, the ferment produced a new political star.

Viktor Orban was 26 then and a longhaired law graduate. In June 1989, five months before the Berlin Wall came down, he lit up a commemoration of the failed 1956 revolt against Moscow with a bold call for free elections and a demand that 80,000 Soviet troops go home.

Now, as the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is commemorated Sunday, Hungary is a member of NATO and the European Union and Mr. Orban is in his third term as prime minister. But what was once a journey that might have embodied the triumph of democratic capitalism has evolved into a much more complex tale of a country and a leader who in the time since have come to question Western values, foment nationalism and look more openly at Russia as a model.

 After leading his right-wing party to a series of national and local election victories, Mr. Orban is rapidly centralizing power, raising a crop of crony oligarchs, cracking down on dissent, expanding ties with Moscow, and generally drawing uneasy comparisons from Western leaders and internal opponents to President Vladimir V. Putin.

“He is the only Putinist governing in the European Union,” said Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister.

Some other Eastern European countries, especially Poland, have remained oriented toward the West and still harbor deep suspicions of Russia long after the Cold War ended.

But Hungary is one of several countries in the former Soviet sphere that is now torn between the Western ways that appeared ascendant immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union and the resilient clout of today’s Russia. Money, culture and energy resources still bind most regional countries to Russia as tightly as to Europe. Vladimir V. Putin’s combative nationalism is more popular here than what many see as Western democratic sclerosis.

Mr. Orban has laid out a philosophical vision and justification for his authoritarian-leaning approach that suggests a long-term commitment to turning Hungary into something quite different from what the West anticipated when the Iron Curtain collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down.

            In a speech this summer, Mr. Orban declared liberal democracy to be in decline and praised authoritarian “illiberal democracies” in Turkey, China, Singapore and Russia.

He traced his views to what he portrayed as the failures of Western governments to anticipate and deal adequately with the financial crisis that started in 2008 and the ensuing deep recession. He called that period the fourth great shock of the past century — the others being World War I, World War II and the end of the Cold War — and the impetus for what he called today’s key struggle: “a race to invent a state that is most capable of making a nation successful.”

Western democracies, he said, “will probably be incapable of maintaining their global competitiveness in the upcoming decades and will instead be scaled down unless they are capable of changing themselves significantly,” Mr. Orban said in the speech, according to an English translation on the government’s website.

Hungary, he said, will be “breaking with the dogmas and ideologies that have been adopted by the West” and will instead build a “new Hungarian state” that will be “competitive in the great global race for decades to come.”

Achieving that vision will require tougher stances toward outside forces, including nongovernmental organizations, the European Union and foreign lenders and investors, he said.

As recently as 2008, Mr. Orban was a fierce critic of Mr. Putin. But the tone has changed, and the two have grown friendly, with Russia investing heavily in Hungary.

“Orban is a populist who acts, doesn’t just talk,” said Peter Kreko, director of the Political Capital Institute in Budapest, an independent research organization. As a result, he added, Hungary “can serve as a role model in Eastern Europe,” enticing countries like Romania and Bulgaria to follow an authoritarian path.

The only difference between Mr. Orban and authoritarians in other countries, Mr. Kreko said, is that “when they turn to the West, they try to smile, and Orban doesn’t even try.”

Mr. Orban’s subordinates in the ruling party, Fidesz, which he firmly controls, say that he is unchanged from the anti-Communist rabble-rouser of the past and that charges of incipient dictatorship are left-wing fantasies.

“He is the same guy he used to be 25 years ago,” said Zoltan Kovacs, the prime minister’s international spokesman. “He wants to get rid of the attitudes, the remnants of the former system — get rid of the attitude that people live on social aid rather than work.”

Even his harshest critics concede that Mr. Orban has gone to nowhere near the lengths of Mr. Putin in silencing opponents. No one has been tossed in prison for criticizing the government. There has been no overt censorship. Recent mass protests against a proposed Internet tax were allowed to proceed and ended up forcing a retreat by Mr. Orban.

Nonetheless, foreign criticism is mounting. When President Obama recently listed states that are silencing civil society groups, Hungary was the only European country named. Washington has barred six unidentified public officials, deeming them too corrupt to enter the United States.

After the first free elections in 1990, Mr. Orban was one of several figures who had helped topple Communism to jostle for power and influence. Most Hungarians, like others in Central and Eastern Europe, had unrealistic expectations of a quick, good life under democracy and capitalism.

They embraced NATO membership, which in 1999 came with the immediate duty to oppose Russia and fight in the war over Kosovo. They chafed at long negotiations, but like seven other former Soviet bloc nations welcomed European Union membership in 2004.

Hungarians perhaps felt the hardship of transition more bitterly than most, because they had lived better than many others in the Soviet bloc under Communism.

Hungary had “goulash communism,” said Balint Ablonczy, domestic political editor of the pro-government journal Heti Valasz. Liberal democracy brought freedom of speech, but also the loss of jobs and of a sense of security, he said.

In 1998, voters threw out the Socialist government and handed power to Mr. Orban and his party.

But as prime minister in that first term, “he overdid the nationalist ideology,” said Julia Lakatos, an analyst at the Center for Fair Political Analysis, a research group in Budapest. In 2002, the Socialists won back power.

In 2010, though, voters turned back to Mr. Orban, who appeared to have learned from his previous mistakes.

Critics contend that the government uses its purse strings to control the arts and make the media compliant. Dissent is attacked in the official press and sometimes investigated by the government.

Even some conservative supporters are slightly wary of the extent to which Mr. Orban has systematically assembled power: packing courts and the chief prosecutor’s office with loyalists, altering the Constitution and laws so his party dominates.

“He ran as someone who would bring the two sides together in Hungarian politics, but when he got in he said, no, it is the time of the right, the time for revenge on the left,” said Mr. Ablonczy, the editor. “For him, politics is fighting. I am a man of the right, but my deepest disappointment with this government is this logic of always fighting.”

Fidesz won a second consecutive four-year term in April, its coalition again eking out a two-thirds majority in Parliament that essentially allows it to pass whatever laws it pleases. The party also won the European Parliament elections in May and local elections Oct. 12, a rare triple in fractious Europe these days.

Signs abound of the distance Hungary has traveled since Communism’s fall.

Laszlo Magas helped organize a Pan-European picnic in Sopron on the Austrian border that, in 1989, provided a first death knell for the Berlin Wall. Hundreds of East Germans used the occasion to pour across the once-sealed frontier.

Now a Fidesz member of the Sopron City Council, Mr. Magas refused to discuss politics at all, he says, because foreigners do not understand the country. Western media, he says, seek out only opponents of Mr. Orban, who are a tiny minority in today’s Hungary.


            Palko Karasz contributed reporting.


The bullying of Hungary – the country that dared to disobey the US and EU

November 07, 2014

by Neil Clark



          25 years ago, Hungary was being toasted in the West for opening its border with Austria to East Germans, in a move which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now the Western elites are not happy with Budapest which they consider far too independent.

The refusal of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party to join the new US and EU Cold War against Russia, which has seen the Hungarian parliament approving a law to build the South Stream gas pipeline without the approval of the European Union, in addition to the populist economic policies Fidesz has adopted against the largely foreign owned banks and energy companies, has been met with an angry response from Washington and Brussels.

Hungarian officials have been banned from entering the US, while the European Commission has demanded that the Hungarians explain their decision to go ahead with South Stream. That’s on top of the European Commission launching legal action against the Hungarian government for its law restricting the rights of foreigners to buy agricultural land.

The bullying of Hungary hasn’t made many headlines because it’s so-called “democrats” from the West who have been doing the bullying.

Viktor Orban is not a communist, he is a nationally-minded conservative who was an anti-communist activist in the late 1980s, but the attacks on him and his government demonstrate that it doesn’t matter what label you go under – if you don’t do exactly what Uncle Sam and the Euro-elite tell you to do – your country will come under great pressure to conform. And all of course in the name of “freedom” and “democracy.”

Fidesz has been upsetting some powerful people in the West ever since returning to power in 2010. The previous “Socialist”-led administration was hugely popular in the West because it did everything Washington and Brussels and the international banking set wanted. It imposed austerity on ordinary people, it privatized large sections of the economy, and it took out an unnecessary IMF loan. Ironically, the conservative-minded Fidesz party has proved to be much better socialists in power than the big-business and banker friendly “Socialists” they replaced.

One of the first things that Fidesz and its coalition allies, the Christian Democratic People’s Party, (KDNP) did was to introduce an $855m bank tax – the highest such tax in Europe – a measure which had the financial elite foaming at the mouth.

Orban clashed with the IMF too, with his government rejecting new loan terms in 2012, and paying off early a loan taken out by the previous government, to reduce interest payments.

In 2013, Orban took on the foreign-owned energy giants with his government imposing cuts of over 20% on bills. Neoliberals expressed their outrage at such “interventionist” policies, but under Orban, the economy has improved. Although it’s true that many still look back nostalgically to the days of “goulash communism” in the 1970s and 80s when there were jobs for all and food on the table for everyone. Unemployment fell to 7.4 percent in the third-quarter of this year; it was around 11 percent when Fidesz took power, while real wages rose by 2.9 percent in the year up to July.

The man his enemies called the “Viktator,” has shown that he will pursue whatever economic policies he believes are in his country’s national interest, regardless of the opinions of the western elite who want the Hungarian economy to be geared to their needs.

His refusal to scrap his country’s bank tax is one example; the closer commercial links with Russia are another. Russia is Hungary’s third biggest trading partner and ties between the two countries have strengthened in the last couple of years, to the consternation of western Russophobes. In April, a deal was struck for Moscow to loan Hungary €10 billion to help upgrade its nuclear plant at Paks.

Orban’s policy of improving trade and business links with Russia, while staying a member of the EU and NATO, has however been put under increasing strain by the new hostile policy towards Moscow from Washington and Brussels.

Orban again, has annoyed the West by sticking up for Hungary’s own interests. In May he faced attack when he had the temerity to speak up for the rights of the 200,000 strong Hungarian community living in Ukraine.”Ukraine can neither be stable, nor democratic, if it does not give its minorities, including Hungarians, their due. That is dual citizenship, collective rights and autonomy.” Hungary’s Ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Kiev. Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland, the US’s most obedient lapdog in Eastern Europe, called Orban’s comments “unfortunate and disturbing” as if it was anything to do with him or his country.

In August, Orban accurately described the sanctions policy of the West towards Russia as like “shooting oneself in the foot.”“The EU should not only compensate producers somehow, be they Polish, Slovak, Hungarian or Greek, who now have to suffer losses, but the entire sanctions policy should be reconsidered,” Orban said.

In October, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto also questioned the sanctions on Russia, revealing that his country is losing 50 million forints a day due to the policy.

Hungary has made its position clear, but for daring to question EU and US policy, and for its rapprochement with Moscow, the country has been punished.

It’s democratically elected civilian government which enjoys high levels of public support, has ludicrously – and obscenely – been likened to military governments which have massacred their opponents. “From Hungary to Egypt, endless regulations and overt intimidation increasingly target civil society,” declared US President Barack Obama in September.

Last month there was another salvo fired at Hungary – it was announced that the US had banned six unnamed Hungarian government officials from entering America, citing concerns over corruption- without the US providing any proof of the corruption.

“At a certain point, the situation, if it continues this way, will deteriorate to the extent where it is impossible to work together as an ally,” warned the Charge D’Affaires of the US Embassy in Budapest, Andre Goodfriend. The decision and the failure to provide any evidence, understandably caused outrage in Hungary. “The government of Hungary is somewhat baffled at the events that have unfolded because this is not the way friends deal with issues,” said Janos Lazar, Orban‘s chief of staff.

The timing of the ban has to be noted, coming after the Hungarian government had criticized the sanctions on Russia and just before the national Parliament was due to vote on the South Stream pipeline. The pipeline, which would allow gas to be transported from Russia via the Black Sea and the Balkans to south and central Europe without passing through Ukraine, is a project which Russophobes in the West want cancelled.

“I am inclined to think that it is a punishment for the fact that we talk to Russia,” said Gabor Stier, the head foreign policy editor of the leading Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet.

“America thinks that we are corrupt, but we are a sovereign state, and it is our business. Many people in the United States do not like that Viktor Orban is very independent…..Corruption is just an excuse.”

It’s hard to disagree with Stier’s conclusions. Of course, there is corruption in Hungary, as there is in every country, but it pales in comparison with some countries who are faithful US allies and who Washington never criticizes. The 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International, reveals that Latvia, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina are all below Hungary, as indeed is Italy. Yet it’s Hungarian officials that the US is banning.

True to form, the attacks on Orban and his government in the Western media have chimed with the political attacks. ‘Is Hungary, the EU’s only dictatorship?’ asked Bloomberg View in April. The BBC ran a hostile piece on Orban and Fidesz in October entitled Cracks Emerge in leading party, and which referred to “government corruption” and “the playboy lifestyle of numerous party officials.”

The piece looked forward to the end of Fidesz rule.

While earlier this week, the New York Times published an OpEd by Kati Marton, whose late husband Richard Holbrooke, was a leading US diplomat, entitled Hungary’s Authoritarian Descent. You’d never guess that the Hungarian government wasn’t the flavor of the month in the West would you?

The question which has to be asked is: will Hungary be the next country to be the target of a US/EU sponsored regime change?

We all know what happened to the last Viktor who refused to sever links with Russia. Will Orban suffer the same fate as Ukraine’s Yanukovich? There are good reasons for believing that he won’t.

Fidesz did make a mistake by announcing the introduction of a new internet tax last month, which brought thousands onto the streets to protest but they have since dropped the plans and the problem for the US and EU is that Orban and his government remain too popular. In October’s local elections Fidesz won 19 of Hungary’s 21 larger towns and cities, including the capital city Budapest, not bad for a party that‘s been in power since May 2010.

Orban’s brand of economic populism, combined with moderate nationalism, goes down well in a country where people remember just how awful things were when the neoliberal “Socialists” were in power. His style of leadership may be authoritarian, but Hungarians prefer having a leader who has cut fuel bills and reduced unemployment to one who mouths platitudes about “liberal democracy” but who imposed harsh austerity measures and leaves them unable to afford the daily essentials.

Moreover Hungary, is already a member of the EU and NATO unlike Ukraine under Yanukovich and isn’t about to leave either soon. On a recent visit to America Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told the US TODAY newspaper “US is our friend, US is our closest ally.” The US clearly wants more from Hungary than just words, but while both Washington and Brussels would like to see a more obedient government in Budapest, the “liberal” and faux-left parties they support simply don’t have enough popular support for the reasons outlined above. And things would be even worse for the West if the radical nationalist party Jobbik, the third largest party in Parliament, and which made gains in October’s local elections, came to power- or if there was a genuine socialist/communist revival in the country. The fact is that Orban is in a very strong position and he knows it. That’s why he feels able to face down the threats from abroad and maintain a level of independence even though total independence is impossible within the EU and NATO.

We can expect the attacks on Orban and his government to intensify but the more the West attacks, the more popular Orban, who is able to present himself as the defender of Hungary’s national interests, becomes.

Hungary gave the West everything it wanted in 1989, and, as I pointed out here, its “reform” communist leadership was richly rewarded. But in 2014 it’s a very different story. In the interests of democracy and small countries standing up to bullying by powerful elites, long may Hungary’s spirited defiance continue.


Palestinians clash with Israeli troops again over holy site

November 7, 2014

by Luke Baker and Nidal al-Mughrabi



             JERUSALEM/GAZA Palestinian protesters fought with Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank on Friday, the latest clashes in a fortnight of violence over access to Jerusalem’s holiest site.

At the Qalandia checkpoint separating Ramallah from Jerusalem, troops fired rubber bullets as several hundred protesters marched, some throwing rocks and petrol bombs.

In East Jerusalem, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters hurling firecrackers and burning tires that sent up huge clouds of black smoke in Shoafat refugee camp.

Palestinian and regional anger, still simmering over Israel’s war with Gaza’s Hamas movement in July and August, has focused in the last two weeks on Jerusalem’s holiest site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount.

For decades, Israel has maintained a ban on Jews praying at the site, which houses the Dome of the Rock and the 8th-century al-Aqsa mosque and was also the site of ancient Jewish temples.

But in recent weeks, protests have gathered momentum against a campaign by far-right Jewish nationalists to be allowed to pray there.

Israeli security forces have clashed at the compound with Muslim worshippers angry at what they see as an assault on the shrine, which is administered by Islamic authorities, and last week Israel shut down all access to the site for the first time in more than a decade, after a Palestinian gunman shot an Israeli ultranationalist. Palestinian drivers have rammed into Israeli pedestrians in the city, killing four people.


The EU’s new foreign affairs chief said the upsurge in violence made it all the more critical that Israel and the Palestinians resume peace negotiations.

“The risk of growing tensions here in Jerusalem … is that, if we do not move forward on the political track, we will go back, and back again to violence,” Federica Mogherini told reporters after meeting Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman during her first official visit to the region.

The last talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in April after months of largely fruitless negotiation, with the Palestinians angry at the continued building of Jewish settlements in occupied territory, and Israel furious at attempts to bring the Islamist group Hamas, which officially denies Israel’s right to exist, into the Palestinian government.

Mogherini said it was time for the EU to take a bigger role in brokering peace talks, a task until now shouldered by Washington.

After meeting her, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that the status quo governing Temple Mount would not change.

At the same time as calling for calm, Netanyahu has accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of instigating the violence, putting the prospect of any return to negotiations even further out of reach.


An official in Netanyahu’s office who declined to be named said the prime minister had sought judicial authorization to raze the homes of Palestinians involved in lethal attacks against Israelis.

Israel has often demolished Palestinian homes in the West Bank in retaliation for attacks, despite the protests of human rights groups who say it amounts to collective punishment, but it has rarely done so in Jerusalem.

The Palestinians, for their part, are far from presenting a united front.

Abbas’s Fatah movement and the Gaza-based Hamas, at daggers drawn since Hamas drove Fatah’s forces out of Gaza in 2007, agreed in June to form a “reconciliation” government, but have so far failed to put the unity cabinet to work.

On Friday, around 15 small explosions targeted the homes and vehicles of Fatah officials in Gaza, causing minor damage but no injuries, witnesses and members of Fatah said.

One of the targets hit was a stage where the 10th anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian president and Fatah leader, is to be commemorated on Nov. 11.

Fatah and Hamas blamed each other for the blasts.

“We will not allow the return of internal conflicts, chaos and anarchy to the Gaza Strip,” said Eyad Al-Bozom, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, run by officials loyal to Hamas.

“The security services will pursue anyone who had any connection to these criminal acts.”

The tension between Fatah and Hamas has hampered efforts to rebuild Gaza after the July-August war, in which more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, as well as more than 70 Israelis.

Mogherini was due to visit Gaza on Saturday for talks with Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

(Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem and Noah Browning in Ramallah; Editing by Kevin Liffey)


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