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Saturday, 15 November 2014

Mexico protesters torch state congress over kidnapped students (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Members of the media record and take pictures of a fire set alight at the principal hall of the City Congress by members of CETEG (State Coordinator of Teachers of Guerrero teacher's union), in Chilpancingo, November 12, 2014.(Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez)

Members of the media record and take pictures of a fire set alight at the principal hall of the City Congress by members of CETEG (State Coordinator of Teachers of Guerrero teacher's union), in Chilpancingo, November 12, 2014.(Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez)A crowd of about 500 protesters set ablaze the state congress building in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero in a violent rally over the alleged massacre of 43 college students.

Students and teachers stormed the Guerrero state legislature in the city of Chilpancingo on Wednesday and set fire to the library and chamber. Both areas were empty during the break-in.

In another part of the city, the protesters set fire to the education department's audit office.

Furniture is set alight by members of CETEG (State Coordinator of Teachers of Guerrero teacher's union) outside the comptroller's office of the Secretary of the Department of Education in Guerrero, in Chilpancingo, November 12, 2014. (Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez)

Furniture is set alight by members of CETEG (State Coordinator of Teachers of Guerrero teacher's union) outside the comptroller's office of the Secretary of the Department of Education in Guerrero, in Chilpancingo, November 12, 2014. (Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez)

Mexico has been facing violent rallies since local authorities revealed that the 43 students were handed over by corrupt police to the Guerros Unidos gang, members of which confessed to murdering them and reducing their bodies to ashes.

On Tuesday, protesters torched the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) regional headquarters, which is located in the same city.

In another incident, protesters blockaded the airport in Acapulco for three hours as they clashed with police on Monday.

Masked members of CETEG (State Coordinator of Teachers of Guerrero teacher's union), with the Mexican national flag, gather outside the comptroller's office of the Secretary of the Department of Education in Guerrero, in Chilpancingo, November 12, 2014.(Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez)

Masked members of CETEG (State Coordinator of Teachers of Guerrero teacher's union), with the Mexican national flag, gather outside the comptroller's office of the Secretary of the Department of Education in Guerrero, in Chilpancingo, November 12, 2014.(Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez)

The students went missing on September 26 in the southwestern town of Iguala. They were detained following a protest in which a group of students clashed with police. They have not been seen since.

Their disappearance has posed the biggest challenge so far to President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration, with many questioning the government’s progress in fighting against drug violence.

A man tries to extinguish a fire set alight at the principal hall of the City Congress by members of CETEG (State Coordinator of Teachers of Guerrero teacher's union), in Chilpancingo, November 12, 2014. (Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez)

A man tries to extinguish a fire set alight at the principal hall of the City Congress by members of CETEG (State Coordinator of Teachers of Guerrero teacher's union), in Chilpancingo, November 12, 2014. (Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez)

A news photographer take pictures of cars set alight by CETEG (State Coordinator of Teachers of Guerrero teacher's union) members at a City Congress parking lot in Chilpancingo, November 12, 2014.(Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez)

A news photographer take pictures of cars set alight by CETEG (State Coordinator of Teachers of Guerrero teacher's union) members at a City Congress parking lot in Chilpancingo, November 12, 2014.(Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez)

Record-breaking arctic cold temperatures, subzero expected in Northern Rockies, High Plains

© Weather.com

Arctic air is now firmly entrenched over much of the nation's mid-section, Northwest and, finally Northeast, sending temperatures crashing to values you might expect in mid-winter in some areas.

Here are some cold notables so far:

- Burlington, Colorado, on the eastern Plains near the Kansas border, dipped to -10 Thursday, setting a new record low for the month of November.

- Casper, Wyoming, dipped to -27 at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday night, shattering their all-time November record low of -21 on Nov. 23, 1985 (records date to 1939). The temperature stayed at -27 at midnight Thursday, making it the new record low for Nov. 13 as well. Previously, the soonest Casper plunged to -27 was on Dec. 5, 1972. Casper's high of 6 on Nov. 11 was the record earliest single-digit or colder high temperature there. (On Nov. 15, 1955, the high was only -3 degrees). Wednesday, Casper only managed a high of 3 degrees!

- Denver's high of 6 on Nov. 12 was the coldest daily high so early in the season. Only three other November days had daily high temperatures colder in Denver, dating to 1872. Early Thursday morning, Denver chalked up a bone-chilling -14 degrees, easily the coldest temperature so early in the season. (Nov. 17, 1880 was the previous earliest such cold reading in Denver.)

- Livingston, Montana, dipped to -21 Wednesday, their coldest so early in the season. That said, they once dipped to -31 degrees just one day later in the calendar, on November 13, 1959.

- Riverton, Wyoming had a daytime of 0 degrees Thursday.

- In the Southern Plains, Amarillo (21), Lubbock (27), Childress (29) and Goodland (14) all set their coldest daily high temperatures on record for so early in the season on Wednesday.

Next, we'll hit some cold highlights in both forecast highs and lows, then ask how long this will last.

Highs through early next week should hold in the teens or 20s in the northern Rockies, northern Plains and Upper Midwest. Some areas of the northern Rockies and High Plains may struggle to rise out of the single digits at times.

Daytime highs in the 30s and 40s will be the rule in parts of the Ohio Valley, northern Tennessee Valley, southern Appalachians and Northeast. The exception appears to be Tuesday and Wednesday, where 30s and even some 20s are possible for highs. This second shot could keep highs -- yes, highs -- below freezing as far south as Tennessee on Tuesday.

Only a brief relaxation of the cold in the southern Plains and Southeast is expected this weekend before reinforcing arctic cold plunges south again.

Some of these daily high temperatures will be more on par with average January highs, rather than November.

© Weather.com

Forecast Low-lights

Subzero cold is expected to be most widespread in the fresh, snow-covered areas of the northern Rockies and High Plains. A few areas that received heavy snow from Winter Storm Astro in the northern Plains and Upper Midwest may also dip below zero, as well.

Overall, single-digits and teens are possible into the central High Plains of eastern Colorado, western Kansas and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, as well as other parts of the Upper Midwest. Those very cold readings will become more widespread in the central Plains and Mississippi Valley Monday and Tuesday morning.

Lows in the 20s will plunge deep into the southern Plains, Deep South and spread into the Ohio Valley and Tennessee Valley. The 20s will also spread into parts of the East as far south as the coastal plain of the Carolinas this weekend, then again Tuesday through Thursday.

How Long Will This Last?

European (ECMWF) model forecasted coldest air a few thousand feet above the surface (850 millibars) from Nov. 14-21, 2014.

Above is a European model forecast loop through late next week depicting where the coldest air will be.

With blocking high pressure aloft over eastern Alaska and northwest Canada, a direct pipeline of cold air will come from Siberia to near the North Pole, then southward into Canada and the U.S., particularly the Plains and Midwest. While not nearly as cold in magnitude, the arctic surges will also sweep into parts of the East.

This is a classic Arctic outbreak pattern that will remain largely locked in over these areas into next week.

Here is the general forecast timing of each arctic cold surge, and when the coldest air may ease:

- Current arctic surge: Spreads into the East through Saturday

- Second arctic surge: Plunges down the High Plains and Rockies through the weekend.

- Third arctic surge: Arrives in Northern Plains, Upper Midwest Sunday, then sweeps into the Ohio Valley, Deep South and East next Tuesday and Wednesday. For parts of the mid-Mississippi Valley, Ohio Valley, Tennessee Valley and the Middle Atlantic States, this could be the coldest of the surges with numerous daily record lows threatened.

- Cold relief: Possible later next week at least for the Rockies, central/southern Plains and South. Another cold surge may plunge into the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast late next week.

Forecast highs in the Twin Cities will be stuck in the 20s, at best, through much of week. This will rival the longest November subfreezing streaks on record there (see graphic at right). Some of those days will see daytime highs colder than their climatologically coldest average highs in January (23 degrees).

© Weather.com

According to the National Weather Service, Chicago has only seen six other stretches below 40 degrees so early in the season, last occurring from Nov. 11-17, 1997. The Windy City may not see 40 degrees until next weekend.

After highs topped out near 80 degrees in Dallas Monday, highs into at least the middle of next week will do no better than the 50s. In fact, a few days may not see highs get out of the 40s, there. For reference, average highs in Dallas during the coldest time of year (late December into early January) are in the mid-50s.

Oklahoma City may not see the 50-degree mark until sometime later next week, after soaring to 80 degrees Monday. Their average high in early January is 49 degrees.

Given this cold air in place, we will keep a close eye on any jet stream disturbance rippling through. Each has the potential to produce snow, sleet or freezing rain.

Crushing college debt: The unforgiven generation


Of the nearly 70 percent of U.S. graduates who are forced to take out a loan to pay for colllege, the burden continues to grow by leaps and bounds. When will students rise up?

When will students and recent college graduates shake off the burden of increasingly higher student debt and demand a system that serves them instead of making them servants?

The amount of personal debt being accrued by college students in the nation's private and public colleges continues to rise at shocking rates with current graduates of four-year schools exiting with a national average of nearly $30,000 in loans to repay, according to a new report released Thursday.

Using available data from private non-profit and public schools in all fifty states for the 2013 academic year, the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) found that the level of debt varies from state to state, but that of the nearly 70 percent of graduates who take out a loan to pay for college, the burden continues to grow. According to the report (pdf), the average bachelor-degree graduate - along with a diploma of increasingly questionable value - leaves school with and an average of $28,400 in personal debt. That number is a full 2 percent increase over 2012.

Notably, for-profit colleges - which have been widely criticized for burdening vulnerable students with out-sized private debt - were not included in the TICAS report because those schools nearly universally decline to share their student loan and debt figures with the public.

Among the schools that were covered, however, there was clear variation in the level of student debt depending on the college itself and its geographic location.

At nearly 20 percent of colleges, the report showed, average debt levels for students increased by 10 percent or more over the previous year. As in 2012, about 20 percent of all new graduates' debt was in private loans, which are typically more costly and provide far fewer consumer protections and repayment options than safer federal student loans. The rate of debt also varied between states. "At the state level," the report reads, "borrowers' average debt at graduation ranges from $18,656 to $32,795, with six states topping $30,000 and only one under $20,000. Nearly all the highest debt states are in the Northeast and Midwest, with the lowest debt states in the West and South."

In a separate but related study released on Wednesday, new research and polling that focused on the financial burdens of higher-education among recent college graduates - titled Millennials & College Planning - found that today's students are increasingly "having to let finances dictate their futures."

© glasbergen.com

The report, coordinated by Junior Achievement USA and PwC US and prepared by New York-based research firm YPulse, found several key trends among recent graduates (aged 18-29), including:

  • For 60 percent of Millennials, financial aid is a deciding factor in their school choice. Among those not attending their first choice school this year, 62 percent said it was because they couldn't afford it.

  • College tuition and loans top the list of money matters that are worrying Millennials ages 18-29, with one in five (21 percent) claiming it as their family's main financial problem.

  • One-third of those students with loans are shelling out over $300 per month and five percent are actually paying more than $1000 per month.

  • Nearly one-in-four Millennials (24 percent) believe their student loan debt will ultimately be forgiven.

Though told by society that the key to a bright and prosperous future is largely dependent on getting a degree, the new generation is becoming increasingly skeptical of that claim. According to the authors of this report:

"While high school graduates are hard-pressed to find gainful employment with just a diploma, we see a new Catch-22 emerging: As the number of people attending college increases, the value of its education decreases. Some Millennials say 'a four-year college degree isn't as valuable as it used to be,' but continue with their higher education in order to have a real chance in the job market."

And though the survey section of the report, as noted, asked graduates about the idea of loan or debt "forgiveness," the report itself does not delve into the issue with any detail.

Forgive all student debt? Why not, says contributor Robert Shetterly, who in an essay on the subject posted Thursday says it is time to break the chains that student loan debt has placed on a generation of young people. As the portrait artist and writer explains:

Thom Hartmann points out that the best thing this country could do is forgive all - all $1.18 trillion! - in student debt because it would repay the country many times over. The huge expense of the GI Bill after WW II was a great investment for the government; better educated vets got better jobs, were more entrepreneurial, and paid taxes worth significantly more than the cost of the program. Hartmann says we have created a "lost generation" of debt-saddled, young people lost not only to themselves but unable to help build a more vibrant country. He calls for a Jubilee of Debt Forgiveness that would trigger an American Renaissance of young people free to be creative, take risks, explore ideas and lives without owing a pound of flesh to the banks. So we write off $ 1 trillion? Why not? The Iraq War will cost several times that when it's finally tallied up. What benefits to society did it bring? Unless you have a lot of stock in Halliburton or Lockheed Martin, it would be hard to name a single plus.

One trillion given to students and the promise of free higher education would revitalize this country and be repaid many times over. Our country's greatest asset is the energy and creativity of our young people. Why allow that energy to be siphoned off to increase the wealth of a handful of millionaires? Isn't that a form of cultural suicide?

More importantly, forgiving this debt and creating a free educational system would signal a change in values. We've allowed this country to favor the market and the making of profit over every other value. We have been sacrificing the lives of our children and the benefits they can offer to the health of a democratic society by shackling them to debt, turning them into another natural resource to be mined for profit. Our survival as a nation and as a species depends not on profit but on creativity.

However, in a piece written for , also published this week, Raúl Carrillo, co-organizer for The Modern Money Network (MMN), offered a solution that goes beyond debt forgiveness by arguing that instead of private or publicly funded college loans, the federal government should simply pay the tuition for those seeking high-education.

"To put it bluntly," writes Carrillo, "there is no fiscal reason why the U.S. student debt crisis should exist."

"You may find this argument hard to believe," he continues, recognizing that "the way most politicians and journalists talk about the national debt and deficit spending makes free higher education sound impossible." Carillo says there's another way of looking at the crisis of student debt and funding of higher education - "a vision advocated by a growing movement of economists, lawyers, students, and financial practitioners who deal with the institutional nuts and bolts of the economy on a day-to-day basis."

In simplest terms, Carillo's argument rests on the idea that the U.S. federal government, capable of printing its own money, is simply "not broke" in the way that deficit hawks, who always find money for war and prisons and tax breaks for corporations, say it is. The demand should be that government print money into existence on behalf something good, a public investment, like education. He writes:

If money should be owed for higher education at all, perhaps the federal government should owe us After all, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution entrusts the federal government with a monopoly to create, spend, and regulate money for the "general welfare of the United States." And in the era of modern money, there's no good economic reason for students' pockets to be so shallow when the government's are so deep.

When the federal government lists a deficit, that indicates a surplus for American citizens, as well as foreign businesses that sell us goods. In other words, the government's red ink is the public's black ink. Despite what organizations with wholesome and appealing names like Fix the Debt, The Can Kicks Back, and Up To Us, might claim, the "national debt" is not a burden for young people. Indeed, advocating for smaller federal deficits hurts student debtors. Even in the future, it offers them no tangible benefits.

As the Nobel-winning economist Paul Samuelson once acknowledged, the "superstition" that the budget must be balanced at all times is part of an "old fashioned religion," meant to hush people who might otherwise demand the government create more money. Young people should beware of anyone who tells them that their chief worry for the future is the government's debt, rather than their own.

Los Angeles school district fires lawyer who successfully defends them by blaming 14-year old for sexual relationship with teacher

Imprisoned: The Los Angeles Unified School District claims that a 14-year-old girl who had a six-month sexual relationship with teacher Elkis Hermida (pictured), 28, was mature enough to consent to the romance. Attorney W. Keith Wyatt (right) was fired because of remarks he made during the case.

A California school district has fired an attorney who successfully defended it during a case claiming a 14-year-old girl was mature enough to consent to a romance with her 28-year-old teacher.

In civil court proceedings, the Los Angeles Unified School District argued that the unnamed student should bear some responsibility for her relationship with Elkis Hermida. The district's general counsel said Friday it is removing attorney W. Keith Wyatt from future legal matters because of inappropriate remarks he made about the case.

Lawyers and advocates for sexual abuse victims criticized Wyatt's strategy of blaming the schoolgirl for agreeing to the sexual relationship.

In July 2011, Hermida, who taught at Thomas Edison Middle School, was sentenced to three years in state prison after being convicted of lewd acts against a child. He has since been freed. However the school was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Speaking of the victim's 'responsibility' for the relationship, Keith Wyatt, LAUSD's attorney, told the public radio station KPCC: 'She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher.

'She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn't she be responsible for that?'

Recently, the girl filed a civil lawsuit against the school district, claiming the system was negligent and she had been emotionally traumatized by Hermida's actions. In its defense, LAUSD argued it had been unaware of the relationship between the student and her teacher, but cited a federal court decision saying a minor could consent to sex in some situations.

During the trial, Mr Wyatt also introduced the girl's sexual history and argued that she bore some of the responsibility for the half-year-long relationship, according to CBS Local.

At the end of the case, the judge ruled in favor of the district: LAUSD was cleared of wrongdoing by a civil jury, while the girl was not awarded any damages for the trauma she allegedly suffered.

Although the girl's lawyer is now appealing the case, the verdict has raised concerns about a conflict between California criminal and civil law when it comes to sexual consent.

'It doesn't make sense,' said Jennifer Drobac, an Indiana University law professor who has studied consent laws nationwide, including California's age of consent (18) in criminal cases.

'The same parties, same behavior, same everything, consent is no defense in a criminal trial. But the same set of facts in a civil prosecution, consent is a complete defense. How is that possible? It's not logical.'

She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn't she be responsible for that? Keith Wyatt, LAUSD's attorney

Meanwhile, lawyers and advocates for sexual abuse victims have described LAUSD's legal tactics as appalling.

'The belief that middle school children can consent to sexual activity is something one would expect to hear from pedophile advocates, not the second-largest school district in the U.S.,' attorney John Manly told the .

The girl's attorney, Fran Perez, also said he was shocked by the judge's verdict.

'I have never seen a verdict form where the child has been listed as partially responsible for his or her own molestation,' said Mr Perez.

In defending his tactics, Mr Wyatt further came under fire for saying that it takes maturity to decide to cross the street and that is more dangerous than deciding to have sex with a teacher.

Since speaking to KPCC, Mr Wyatt has apologized for his 'insensitive' comments.

'My statements were ill thought out and poorly articulated and by no means reflect the opinions of the school district or its leadership,' the attorney said in a written apology on Thursday.

The district said it would continue using Mr Wyatt's firm.

See video coverage here courtesy of CBS.

Backfired sanctions: EU allies alarmed at Hungary's Kremlin drift

Several European governments believe Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is flouting EU values by drifting into the Kremlin's orbit but are unsure how to respond.

At a time when most EU states are isolating Moscow and turning their thoughts to stiffer sanctions as Ukraine's ceasefire crumbles, Orban has alarmed many of his peers by establishing closer ties with Russia.

Orban, 51, has said the EU "shot itself in the foot" by imposing sanctions on Russia; he signed a deal with Moscow to build a nuclear power plant; he stopped shipping gas to Ukraine and he wants to accelerate work on the Russian-backed South Stream pipeline that Brussels opposes.

"We do not want the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU to be undermined," Gunther Krichbaum, Christian Democrat President of the European Affairs Committee of the German lower house of parliament, told Reuters.

"This ambivalence is not without risks," he said. "The Russians are trying to break the unity of EU members, especially in countries more dependent on Russian energy exports."

While criticism is mounting, EU diplomats who spoke to Reuters said there was no consensus on how to respond in a way that would persuade Orban - a leader who has repeatedly scorned EU norms - to alter course.

"I think Orban cares little about his image," among EU peers, one diplomat said. "He will press on with this policy until Europe finally responds in earnest."

Several European diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, knocked Orban's conduct. They include officials from neighboring states who generally do not speak out against him.

"The war is unfolding almost next door. The Ukrainians are trying to come up with something with their last strength ... and meanwhile, the Hungarians are arranging a friendly soccer match with the Russians," one EU diplomat said.

Orban will attend a soccer match in Budapest on Tuesday between Russia and Hungary. Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the event had nothing to do with politics.

Orban is also on Washington's radar.

Last month it blacklisted six people with ties to the Hungarian government from entering the United States, accusing them of involvement in corruption.

The Budapest government published on Thursday a document which it said it had received from the U.S. Embassy outlining a series of concerns raised in the last year. The embassy was not immediately available to verify the document.

Orban dismissed it.

"We have indeed received a paper, which is ... a collection of the allegations that we could hear from opposition parties in the past four years," he told public radio. "This is a flimsy piece of paper. If it had not been written in English, I would think it had been written by an opposition party."

Under Article 7 of the EU Treaty, the bloc can apply penalties on a member state if there is a serious breach of EU values. That mechanism has never been used.

There are other levers of influence. Hungary depends heavily on the billions of euros it receives in EU development funds and the European Commission can under certain circumstances suspend payments.

But one diplomat said any measure to tame Budapest could actually bolster Orban's image with his eurosceptic supporters as someone who stands up to Brussels. "It is the same strategy that Britain is using," the diplomat said.

(Additional reporting by Jan Strupczewski in BRUSSELS. Editing by Christian Lowe/Mike Peacock)

Colorado judge presiding over James Holmes' trial refuses to recuse himself

© AP

James Holmes, left; Judge Carlos Armando Samour, Jr., right.

A judge overseeing the Colorado theater massacre case on Friday rejected a bid by lawyers defending accused gunman James Holmes to remove himself from presiding over the forthcoming murder trial, court documents show.

Public defenders filed a motion this week asking Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour to recuse himself for what they called his "hostile and demeaning" tone toward the defense.

Samour denied the motion, and while acknowledging that he has been blunt and at times employed "flowery language" in his rulings, he dismissed claims that he had been unfair. He said it was important for him to stay on the case to avoid further delays in the proceedings.

Holmes, 26, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to opening fire inside a suburban Denver movie theater during a screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."

Twelve moviegoers were killed and dozens wounded in the July 2012 shooting rampage.

Prosecutors have charged Holmes with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder, and said they will seek the death penalty for the former neuroscience graduate student if he is convicted.

Although they have conceded that Holmes was the lone shooter, defense lawyers have challenged nearly every piece of evidence amassed against their client, and Samour has ruled against them in most instances.

While noting that it is not unusual for a judge to deny motions in any case, defense lawyers in their pleading accused Samour of unleashing "a barrage of insults" at them.

Samour at various times has referred to defense positions as frivolous, lackluster, anemic and halfhearted, the defense motion said.

The judge said he holds Holmes' attorneys "in high regard" and has used colorful language and metaphors in addressing pleadings from both side as well as from other parties who have weighed in on the case.

"It is critical, especially in a death penalty case, that the rulings issued by the Court are free of ambiguity," Samour wrote.

Jury selection is set to begin in January, and Samour said 9,000 jury summonses will be sent to county residents. He has told both sides to be ready to present their opening statements on June 3.

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

Wasn't this [Australian] government all about boats?


© Presidential Press Service, Alexei Panov

How exciting was it last night when the news came through that Russian warships were steaming towards Australia!

Clearly our Prime Minister's hardline approach to making hollow threats had awoken a sleeping giant, right? What hell hath this shirtfronting wrought!

Social media exploded with Red Scare terrors worthy of the Cold War, and as recently as this afternoon a certain other news outlet was still declaring that "A convoy of heavily armed Russian war ships, including at least one high powered missile cruiser, are cruising international waters to Australia's north, Defence has confirmed."

But before you start rushing for the fallout shelters ahead of Red Dawn Down Under, it's worth pointing out a couple of teensy-tiny things.

One is that the "convoy of heavily armed Russian war ships" is actually a destroyer, a cruiser, a supply ship and a tug: armed, yes, but not exactly an invasion fleet.

Secondly, the reason they're going past is twofold: the cruiser and destroyer are doing live-fire drills in the South China Sea, and the other two ships were berthed in Jakarta as part of the Indonesian Defence Expo. Indonesia, you might recall, is to our north.

Thirdly, they're transiting through international waters and Australia's defence forces were alerted of their passage and have been monitoring 'em. It's not like they've just appeared over the horizon.

Now, the fact that they're coming this way is, without a doubt, a bit of a muscle-flex ahead of the G20. If you want to remind Australia, China, Japan and India that Russia can send warships all over the planet, then the South China Sea is a pretty solid place to conduct your drills.

Of course, maybe this is just a feint so we don't notice those Russian submarines slipping unseen into Sydney Harbour even as you read this. Anyone got Alec Baldwin's number? We may need his advice...

More than 800 roadkill salvage permits issued in Montana in first year

© Larry Mayer/Gazette Staff


Nearly a year after Montana initiated a method to legalize collection of roadkill, more than 800 permits have been issued.

"I'm elated," said Rep. Steve Lavin, R-Kalispell, who carried the bill in the last Legislature.

Lavin said his purpose behind supporting the bill was to get meat into the freezers of people who could use it, so animals killed in collisions with vehicles wouldn't go to waste.

"I've heard a lot of positive comments about it," said Lavin, who is also a captain in the Montana Highway Patrol. He also endured a lot of jokes about the issue.

Painless permits

Under the new law, free permits can be downloaded from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' website. They can also be issued by officers, such as the Montana Highway Patrol, who respond to wildlife-vehicle collisions.

"We've made it pretty painless for folks to get online and do this," said Jim Kropp, FWP's chief of law enforcement.

Although the agency had initially opposed the measure, Kropp said the program seems to be reasonably problem-free.

"There was a lot of concern at first about how we were going to get our arms around this," Kropp said. "We canvassed a lot of other states who had similar programs. No new programs are ever without problems, but we're happy with where we're at now."

Top diners

In terms of the number of permits issued, Flathead County leads the state for the most roadkill permits at 135, followed by Lincoln with 92 and Missoula with 83. Gallatin County tallied 76, Ravalli had 72 and Lewis and Clark had 46. Yellowstone, the largest county by population in the state, saw 29 permits issued, Cascade had 24 and Carbon County recorded 11.

Kropp said it only makes sense that more of the collisions and collections take place in Western Montana where the majority of the state's people live - thus more traffic - and wildlife is plentiful in low-lying areas close to highways.

"There are a lot of animals that probably still aren't salvageable, but people are trying," Kropp said. "The damage may be more significant when people open them up."

Broken down by whether the animal was hit by the person who requested the permit or found the animal along the roadside, the numbers show about twice as many picked up from the road - accounting for more than half the permits - compared to those who were involved in a vehicle-wildlife collision.

Reflecting Montana's wildlife population, the majority of the roadkill retrieved were whitetail deer - more than 550; followed by mule deer - nearly 150; elk - 120; and 33 moose.

Collision numbers

Montana ranks third in the nation for wildlife-vehicle collisions, according to State Farm insurance. Drivers here have a one in 75 chance of hitting an animal. The top two states are out east: West Virginia leads with a one in 39 chance, followed by No. 2 Pennsylvania with a one in 71 chance.

State Farm calculated the average cost of a vehicle repair involved in a wildlife collision at more than $3,800. Montana and surrounding states are in one of the peak months for wildlife collisions because it is the deer breeding season. The rut drives deer, especially bucks, to move around more than usual, often at night.

Wyoming had considered a roadkill salvage bill during its last legislative session, but the measure didn't pass.

"I would be surprised if it doesn't come up again," said Brian Nesvik, chief game warden for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

One of the main reasons it was shot down is out of concern that poachers would purposely run over healthy animals just to claim them. That apprehension came up in Montana, as well.

"The potential for abuse is not unique to this program; it happens with wildlife in general," Kropp said.

"Austerity kills': Five thousand people take to Paris streets in protest against President Hollande

© Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

People shout slogans as they attend a demonstration against the government's austerity reforms, in Paris November 15, 2014.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Paris on Saturday to protest against austerity and condemn French President Francois Hollande for betraying his voters.

The demonstration gathered around 5,000 people, RT's Ilya Petrenko reported from the French capital.

A variety of left-wing political forces occupied an entire street in downtown Paris for the rally.

15/11/2014 France - Protest in Paris against austerity. #15nov#manifencourshttp://ift.tt/1q4PzM8

- Global March (@global_march) November 15, 2014

The majority of those who came voted for socialist Francois Hollande two years ago and now say they were betrayed by the president they put in power.

Anti-#austerity march reaches the Seine. http://ift.tt/1q4PyrA

- Ilya Petrenko (@ilpetrenko_rt) November 15, 2014

They gathered to say 'no' to austerity and budget cuts, as well as Hollande's policies which have been dictated by EU authorities in Brussels.

The protesters carried banners and signs saying "Austerity kills" and "They betrayed Jean Jaures (the leader of French socialists in the early 1900s)."

"These austerity policies consist of massive cuts in social spending and huge tax breaks for big corporations. That's precisely what Hollande promised not to do," a demonstrator told RT.

During Hollande's presidency, the country's tax burden has increased by 40 billion euros, unemployment has risen to 3.3 million, and government spending has reached 57 percent of GDP.

© Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

Photographers take pictures of a man wearing a "Guy Fawkes" mask and holding placards that read, "Hollande and Valls, you are social breakers" (L) and "Emergency eco sociale", during a demonstration against the government's austerity reforms, in Paris November 15, 2014.

A recent survey by YouGov revealed that the president's approval rating has fallen to a record low of 12 percent.

France has seen a wave of rallies in recent weeks, with people also protesting against police brutality and sanctions against Russia that left the products of local farmers rotting.

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"Austerity kills': Five thousand people take to Paris streets to protest against President Hollande

© Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

People shout slogans as they attend a demonstration against the government's austerity reforms, in Paris November 15, 2014.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Paris on Saturday to protest against austerity and condemn French President Francois Hollande for betraying his voters.

The demonstration gathered around 5,000 people, RT's Ilya Petrenko reported from the French capital.

A variety of left-wing political forces occupied an entire street in downtown Paris for the rally.

15/11/2014 France - Protest in Paris against austerity. #15nov#manifencourshttp://ift.tt/1q4PzM8

- Global March (@global_march) November 15, 2014

The majority of those who came voted for socialist Francois Hollande two years ago and now say they were betrayed by the president they put in power.

Anti-#austerity march reaches the Seine. http://ift.tt/1q4PyrA

- Ilya Petrenko (@ilpetrenko_rt) November 15, 2014

They gathered to say 'no' to austerity and budget cuts, as well as Hollande's policies which have been dictated by EU authorities in Brussels.

The protesters carried banners and signs saying "Austerity kills" and "They betrayed Jean Jaures (the leader of French socialists in the early 1900s)."

"These austerity policies consist of massive cuts in social spending and huge tax breaks for big corporations. That's precisely what Hollande promised not to do," a demonstrator told RT.

During Hollande's presidency, the country's tax burden has increased by 40 billion euros, unemployment has risen to 3.3 million, and government spending has reached 57 percent of GDP.

© Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

Photographers take pictures of a man wearing a "Guy Fawkes" mask and holding placards that read, "Hollande and Valls, you are social breakers" (L) and "Emergency eco sociale", during a demonstration against the government's austerity reforms, in Paris November 15, 2014.

A recent survey by YouGov revealed that the president's approval rating has fallen to a record low of 12 percent.

France has seen a wave of rallies in recent weeks, with people also protesting against police brutality and sanctions against Russia that left the products of local farmers rotting.

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Iran launches Middle East's 'biggest' gold plant, plans to double production

© Reuters / Shannon Stapleton

Iran has opened a new gold processing plant, reportedly the biggest in the Middle East, hoping to double its production of precious metals. Using a unique technology, Tehran says it will now mine up to three tons of gold per year.

Iranian TV reported that the opening ceremony was attended by First Vice President Ishaq Jahangiri.

The new facility is located near one of the country's richest mines, Zareh Shuran. It is located 35 kilometers from the city of Takaab in northwest Iran, in an area where gold, silver, and mercury are extracted.

The gold ore reserves of the Zareh Shuran mine are estimated at 20 million tons.

According to authorities, the plant's production can reach three tons of gold per year and thus can double the total of Iran's gold production.

Worth over $31 million, according to IRNA, the plant will use a new technology which was created in Iran.

It is expected that the plant's gold production capacity will soon reach six tons per year. Silver and mercury productions are expected to hit 2.5 and 1.5 tons, respectively.

This implementation is part of the so-called "economy of resistance," which Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, introduced in February.

The policy includes domestic economy building with maximum utilization of the country's resources, as well as the promotion of a knowledge-based economy and innovation. The ultimate goal is to become the No. 1 knowledge-based economy of the region.

Iran is still under tough sanctions that were imposed in 2012 over its nuclear program, which the West claims is aimed at developing atomic weapons. However, Iran says the program is for peaceful, civilian purposes.

World powers are demanding that Iran restrict its nuclear program so that it cannot be used to build atomic weapons.

Iran is currently facing a November 24 deadline to reach an agreement on its program, within the framework of year-long diplomatic talks.

Tony Abbott trades 'shirtfronting' Putin for joint cuddly koala pic

© AFP Photo / Andrew Taylo

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they meet Koalas before the start of the first G20 meeting in Brisbane.

Twitter users have had a field day with Australian PM Tony Abbott's claim that he would "shirtfront" Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit over the MH17 crash - because the leaders' face-to-face encounter actually resulted in a...koala cuddle.

Yes, that's right. Social media is abuzz with photos of Abbott and Putin snuggling up to the world's cutest marsupial, even though previous statements had almost guaranteed that a scuffle was in the works.

When the soft, furry critter sunk its claws into Putin's suit, the Australian PM seemed to feel quite soft and fuzzy inside himself; a smack down shoulder charge appeared to be the last thing on his mind.

Abbott's remark came back in October, after he told journalists that he would "shirtfront" the Russian president on the sidelines of the G20 summit over the MH17 tragedy.

"I am going to shirtfront Mr. Putin - you bet I am - I am going to be saying to Mr. Putin [that] Australians were murdered, they were murdered by Russian-backed rebels," Abbott said.

Twitter users wondered why the promised "shirtfront" was no where to be found.

Shirtfront' is a football term for a front-on chest bump or rough handling aimed at knocking a rival backwards to the ground. It is a according to the Australian Football Rules website.

Abbott has faced his fair share of criticism both online and in the media lately. Most recently, he came under fire for stating that before colonization in 1788, the country was "nothing except bushes" - apparently forgetting about the country's indigenous peoples.

Western media is closely following every step of the Russian president at the G20 summit.

After his meetings with British PM David Cameron and France's President Francois Hollande, during which the Ukraine crisis was discussed, Reuters cited "an unnamed source in the Russian delegation" claiming that Putin planned to leave the summit early after Western leaders' pressure over the Ukraine crisis.

Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied those reports, saying they were simply wrong.

"The G20 summit ends tomorrow [on Sunday] and Vladimir Putin will surely leave it - when all the work is finished," he told radio.

People camping out for Black Friday deals already!

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Beaumont, California -- Black Friday is still about three weeks away, but two friends in Beaumont are already camping out, ready to cash in on holiday deals.

Vicky Torres and her friend Juanita Alva picked out their spots in front of the Best Buy in Beaumont last Wednesday.

They're ready for the long haul, stocked with mittens, snacks and hot coffee.

"We're good to go," Torres said.

Alva and Torres switch off sleeping at the store overnight, saving each other's spot. Alva's husband takes part if for some reason, they both need to leave.

"The point is to get the sales, because everybody is on a fixed income and we don't have that kind of money to splurge," Alva's husband said.

When stores open for Black Friday, Alva and Torres are hoping to get a 50-inch, high-definition TV for $199.

They say they get to talk to a lot of people while waiting out here. People say a lot of different things.

"They say you're dedicated. That's cool. Some say you're stupid," Torres said.

"They say they're crazy, but then they come and ask us can you save a spot in line, or can you do this for us? We're not here for that. We're just here to get our stuff and that's it," Alva's husband said.

.ABC7 video here.

Italian banker: 'All Italian businessmen know the sanctions against Russia are suicide for EU'

© RT.com

Antonio Fallico

The trade war between the EU and Russia is hurting business all over Europe. And while political gains from the standoff are debatable, business losses are as real as it gets. As the sanctions escalate tensions, bringing about the smell of war, entrepreneurs are piling pressure on their governments to stop the stand-off before it's too late. Antonio Fallico, an Italian banker with extensive experience of doing business in Russia, shares the white-collar view on the economic conflict.

SS: Mr. Fallico, thank you for coming to our program, we're very glad to have you here today. You said that the sanctions imposed on Russia could start WWIII. But sanctions are a temporary measure, can they really destabilize the situation so much?

AF: It's an undesirable prospect, but we can't rule it out. It's unclear why the United States, knowing that Russia isn't some unimportant country, would resort to this sort of provocation. So Ukraine is undoubtedly just a pretext, it can't be the real reason. Does the US believe that Ukraine means less to Russia than the Falkland Islands to Argentina? It's really unclear, because either the US acts very irresponsibly, or it is fully aware of what it's doing and willing to have a full-scale confrontation. Let's not forget how WWI started: no one was expecting it, but it happened. So when I say we need to spare no effort in order to prevent WWIII, I mean it and I'm ready to work on it.

SS: Russian Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev says foreign investors are apologizing to their Russian partners for the behavior of their politicians. Is it true? If so, what can be done about it? Can the business community influence the political elite?

AF: It's true. He's right, and I can confirm that most of the Italian entrepreneurs and also European and even American businessmen object to the sanctions policy. In short, we don't deserve the political leaders who are reluctant to work for the benefit of their people unless the situation reaches a boiling point.

SS: Again, you say "we have to stop the sanctions," and by "we" you mean Italian business people. Is this a widely supported opinion? Is anyone listening to what you're saying?

AF: I assure you, all Italian businessmen share this opinion, and the measures taken by our government and the EU authorities drive them to despair. I should point out that the Italian government has its own stance. Our Prime Minister stated on several occasions that he was against sanctions, especially regarding the second round of sanctions.

SS: Yes, we'll get to your Prime Minister in a minute. Since 60 percent of transactions between Russia and Italy go through your bank, you can really monitor all the developments in bilateral trade. So, which sectors of the economy, would you say, were hit hardest?

AF: Right now it's high tech, that is, the civilian high tech. There was also a joint military project between Rostec and Italy's Finmeccanica, but , of course, it is now out of the question. Actually, put together, all the high tech projects were worth ten times more than the losses suffered by agricultural and food industries that everyone talks about.

SS: When you said that the Italian government has its own stance on sanctions, I recalled that there are other countries like that too. For example, the Hungarian Prime Minister said that sanctions were like shooting yourself in the foot. So it seems that there's no consensus on Russia among the European countries. Did I get that right?

AF: That's right. There's no consensus. Moreover, take Turkey, for example. Turkey refused to impose sanctions. Italy could have done the same thing.

SS: I was talking mainly about the EU. Is it possible for the EU to have an efficient policy if there's no consensus?

AF: As long as Germany's stance - which has changed dramatically after Chancellor Merkel's last visit to President Obama - remains so anti-Russian, it will use its economic leverage to make Italy and France toe the line.

SS: If you think about it, the US economy isn't really affected by these sanctions, but for the EU it's a hefty sum. We're talking about 40 bln euros. Germany is also part of the EU, so I'm just trying to understand why the EU would opt for something like that.

AF: I think the actual sum is much higher than 40 bln, since the EU-Russia trade amounted to 326 bln euros. In 2013 there was a 5% decrease in trade as compared to 2012, and the estimations show a 15% decrease for 2014. EU sanctions against Russia - it's not a reasonable decision, it's just suicide. This stance does not take into consideration economic conditions and ramifications. It's based solely on geopolitical considerations which are, in fact, no longer relevant.

SS: You said that to resume political dialogue we should start with the economy, but how is that possible in the current situation?

AF: That's right, the process aimed at lifting sanctions should originate at the grassroots and work its way up. It should start with economic actors, that is, businessmen. The problem is many businessmen are scared to go to the frontlines, so to speak.

SS: What is it they should do, exactly? Revolt against the government?

AF: You know perfectly well what the connection between the economy and politics is: politics is the façade of economic lobbies and their interests. That's how it works both in the US and in the EU. Such politicians should be removed from office - through purely peaceful means, of course - and new ones should be elected in their place to work with the interests of the economy and their people in mind.

SS:To continue with this subject, I'd like to discuss South Stream. It would seem that implementing this project would ensure uninterrupted gas supply from Russia to Europe bypassing Ukraine. But the EU is blocking this project. Why? Do you believe the reason is economic or political?

AF: It's 110% political.

SS: So it's like unofficial sanctions against Russia?

AF: No doubt about it. Of course, if you ask this question directly you'll hear calculations that prove this project is not cost-efficient anymore.

SS: Do you think it is?

AF: Yes, it's a very cost-efficient project, because the energy demand will continue to grow. If we stop being near-sighted and stop considering only the near future, it's clear that this project would prove very beneficial in the long term.

SS: Again, there's no consensus on South Stream, either. For example, the Italian Prime Minister is in favor of it and he even managed to come to an agreement with Austria, if I'm not mistaken. However, Brussels is blocking the project. That means that Brussels is ignoring the interests of other countries.

AF: Let's just say that Oettinger has always been against this pipeline and now he's trying to persuade other EU members to side with him. Our government has in no way opposed this project.

SS: Quite the contrary, I think.

AF: However, Eni, the company responsible for 15% of the South Stream construction, is now putting the brakes on it. It's fairly obvious that the reasons for that are not economic, but purely political.

SS: You said that in the long term the project would prove very cost-efficient, though assessments vary. Political squabbles will eventually die down, but are there any guarantees that the project will be implemented after that?

AF: The project is unquestionably cost-efficient, and the new European Commission will undoubtedly approach it with more objectivity. Even though changing the route means increasing the initial cost, surprisingly enough it actually makes South Stream more cost-efficient. And just like with Nord Stream, we are willing to finance this project.

SS: But, as far as I understand, Europe is still looking to diversify its energy sources....

AF: This is a fairy tale for children. At the moment shale oil production cost, even if we exclude logistics costs, is $65 a barrel. In order for the US shale oil to be competitive at the European market, they have to sell it at $110-115 a barrel. Today oil costs $85 a barrel. We have to thank the US and Saudi Arabia for this.

SS: So you are ruling out the prospects of shale gas and oil production in Europe as well as the prospects of the US supplying its energy resources to Europe, am I right?

AF: If you are a reasonable person, you cannot think differently.

SS: You are absolutely right when you say that European countries and Italy in particular are dependent on Russian natural gas very much. President Putin assured everyone that there won't be any problem as far as Russia is concerned. Does Europe believe him?

AF: If we talk about European businessmen and ordinary people, they not only believe Putin, but truly appreciate what he has been doing since the crisis in Syria until now.

SS: Well, I believe the gas issue is more pressing right now. Ukraine claims that it cannot guarantee uninterrupted gas supply to Europe and asks the EU to sign a new transit agreement. Will the EU agree to do so?

AF: It seems that some people in Europe think Russia wants Europe to pay for the gas it supplies to Ukraine. Europeans say, we are poor, we cannot afford it. The US say: this is not our problem. So now Russia has to supply gas to Ukraine at its own expense despite the fact that Ukraine already owes Russia $4 billion.The agreements reached in Milan at the ASEM summit look like a joke to me. They say: we have agreed on the $385 gas price. Very good! Then they say: we are going to ratify the agreement within a few days. But we haven't agreed on who is going to pay for it. The IMF says: this is not our responsibility. Europeans say they have no money.

SS: Actually, Putin offered the EU to pay for Ukraine.

AF: This is a reasonable offer.

SS: Is Europe ready to pay for Ukraine? Is Italy, for example, ready to pay for Ukraine?

AF: Not only Italy is not ready to pay for Ukrainian gas - Italy cannot even pay for its own gas. Just think about it: we have signed a long-term agreement which will be valid until 2026, and now Eni is planning to go to court over take-or-pay pricing. They are arguing that Russian gas is more expensive than the Algerian gas and demand a reduced price. This is not a reasonable demand because we have a long-term agreement until 2026, so the prices are all set until the agreements expire in 2026. And actually this agreement is beneficial to Italy.

SS: Let's talk about the outcomes of the crisis. What will happen if Russia won't be able to supply gas to Europe through Ukraine this winter? The EU claims it's able to meet its own energy needs. But others say that countries like Serbia, Poland and Greece will get up to 60 percent less gas than they need. What will happen to those countries if worst comes to worst?

AF: I'm absolutely sure that Gazprom is going to meet its obligations on gas deliveries to Europe. Russia has always done so, even during the Cold War. The only reason the above-mentioned countries may be undersupplied is that Ukraine may siphon off some of the gas intended for Europe. In that case it will be Ukraine's fault, not Russia's.

SS: I'm not asking whose fault it is; I'm just asking what will happen to those countries if they don't receive Russian gas for whatever reason, possibly for the reason you've just mentioned.

AF: Of course, their economies will suffer, and people who live in northern countries will suffer. They will be freezing.

SS: I heard that EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger encourages countries to share their energy resources in case of a crisis. Do you think this is realistic? Do you think EU countries will agree to do so?

AF: This is another fairy tale for children.

SS: I have also heard that Brussels suggested a European company to become a mediator, that is to buy gas from Russia and then to sell this gas to Ukraine. How will the EU benefit from this?

AF: First, you have to find a company which will agree to become such a good Samaritan. Probably, it's just that the outgoing Energy Commissioner wants to leave with his head held high.

SS: Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin has suggested moving away from the dollar in oil transactions. How will this influence the market?

AF: The idea is not new. Igor Sechin mentioned this several years ago. This may actually be a good option for Russia because it will benefit from transactions in national currencies. Also, Russia has to reconsider its exchange rate policy. I personally cannot understand why the Russian currency basket is 55 percent US dollar and 45 percent euro.

SS: How will this affect the industry in general?

AF: Do you mean the Russian industry or the global industry?

SS: I mean the global oil industry.

AF: Naturally, global currency trends won't change overnight. Of course, it will take a lot of effort to put an end to dollar's supremacy. This is similar to moving away from the unipolar world order.

SS: I would like to ask you another question concerning sanctions, particularly the sanctions targeting Putin's close associates. I know that Italy has always been supporting Russian investments in Italy, including wealthy Russians who invest in real estate and Italian businesses. Suddenly all those people became Europe's enemies. How come before they were welcome to invest, and now their bank accounts are frozen and their property is seized. Let's take Mr. Rotenberg for example.

AF: If you want to create a scandal, it's always more effective to target your enemy's close associates. Even though the man you mentioned had only small stakes in two Italian hotels, this was enough to arrest those hotels and to freeze the accounts of certain companies, not individuals, mind you, just because the authorities suspect that this person may control those companies. Well-informed sources think this is abuse of authority and will discourage Russians from investing in Europe.

SS: Now I would like us to talk about the EU's internal issues. Italy and France recently approved their budgets, which contradict the austerity policy pursued by Berlin and Brussels. Does this mean that austerity is over?

AF: You are talking about the Stability Law. Our government wants to exceed the budget by 3,5%. A preliminary agreement has been achieved regarding 3%. So the 0,5% budget deficit is the reason why Brussels did not approve Italy's Stability Law, which proves once again that the EU is ruled by Germany, not by the European Commission.

SS: I understand that, but how can the EU overcome the crisis if it does not agree on a common economic policy?

AF: We have been asking the same question. The thing is that the EU not only has no economic policy, it has no industrial policy, no development strategy. The fact that the EU countries have a common currency doesn't mean there's financial unity. It simply means that we have a common currency.

SS: Do you expect this currency to survive in a situation where, as you just said, there's no financial, political or strategic unity?

AF: I regret to say the answer is yes, because unfortunately there is no way out of this situation, there is no going back on euro. What we need urgently is a common fiscal policy and a common industrial policy. And I would also say that we need a common Constitution. To this day, Europe does not have a constitution.

SS: It's been my recent observation that a lot of Chinese capital has come to Italy - in investment banks, in large business projects. Does that mean that Italy and Europe possibly see Beijing as their rescue?

AF: I wouldn't call these investments particularly large. Indeed, there are some investments, but they are not that significant.

SS: Is it a backup plan? Have you turned to China because you're going down without Russia? Or is there another reason?

AF: Frankly, Italy is not in love with China at all. Italy is in love with the Arab world - but that's so only because Italy was told so by the United States.

SS: Would you rather be in love with China?

AF: My personal choice would be for Italy to go along with Russia. I don't have anything against China. It would be only fair to keep the Chinese presence that is already there. But Europe and Russia go back together for centuries, back to the times of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. So I would be happier if it were Russia.

SS: And the last question. Given the situation, do you plan to participate in the next Economic Forum in St. Petersburg or rather not?

AF: I certainly do hope and plan to attend - especially since we have recently signed a cooperation agreement between the St. Petersburg Economic Forum and our modest International Forum in Verona.

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The ugly face of American consumerism: Buffalo mall threatens stores with fines if they don't open on Thanksgiving

galleria mall

© AP

Shoppers walk the concourse on Black Friday at the Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga, N.Y.

An upstate New York shopping mall is threatening to fine retailers about $200 an hour if they fail to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Walden Galleria, a suburban Buffalo retail complex with more than 200 stores, told store managers in a meeting last week that they must open their doors when the shopping center opens on the holiday, or pay penalties specified in leases, 10 managers told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. Waiting until midnight to open may cost stores $1,200 or more.

Struggling to compete with big-box stores and online retailers, shopping malls around the country plan to kick off Black Friday early by opening on Thanksgiving. The malls are trying to keep up with stores like Kmart, Target and Walmart, which have all pushed holiday shopping's start date to turkey day.

It's not uncommon for mall property managers to penalize stores for time spent closed when the rest of the mall is open. Though the practice still can ignite controversy. In Albany, New York this year when a shopping mall refused to close despite a snowstorm, stores stayed open to avoid fines and many workers complained.

Malls are keenly interested in keeping its shops open. Part of the rent the mall collects from each store is based on its sales. If a store is closed during mall hours -- particularly busy holiday shopping hours -- it theoretically would make less money and would pay less rent, said Steven Gursky, an attorney who handles retail leasing for the New York-based law firm Olshan Frome Wolosky.

This year is the first that Walden Galleria -- along with many other malls -- is inviting customers to shop doorbuster sales in the middle of Thanksgiving. Rival malls that open on the holiday said they will not punish stores that refuse to participate in the early Black Friday shopping bonanza.

"The store must be open," said Chuck Sinclair, manager of the sporting goods store Sports Obsession in the Walden Galleria. Reluctant to work on the holiday, he added with a laugh: "But that doesn't mean I'm going to let shoppers in."

The fines vary by lease, according to the store managers. And some service-based outlets in the mall, such as hair salons and certain boutiques, can get exemptions, they said.

Matthew Bader, the galleria's general manager, did not respond to repeated requests by phone and email for comment. A spokeswoman at Pyramid Management Group, the Syracuse-based developer and property manager that operates Walden Galleria, directed questions to Bader.

The mall joins major retailers that have come under fire this year for kicking off holiday shopping on Thanksgiving.

"It's a family day, it's a holiday and frankly it's really getting out of hand with how stores are opening so early," said Brian McKnight, manager of Walden Galleria's Art of Shaving boutique, which will absorb the store's $250-an-hour fines and remain closed until 5 a.m. on Black Friday. "It's about having that comfortable work-life balance and respecting my employees' holiday time with their families."

Not every store has such generous corporate offices. At Pacific Sunwear, the California surf fashion chain, manager Melanie Garrido told HuffPost her outlet's parent company wouldn't pay fines to remain closed, so she had to schedule workers on Thanksgiving evening.

A spokeswoman for PacSun said the company's policy is simply: "When the mall is open, our PacSun store is open."

The push to open earlier than ever underscores the difficulties faced by malls as shoppers, made cost-conscious by the Great Recession, have migrated to discount retailers and e-commerce sites. Luxury malls -- ones anchored by such ritzy department stores as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks -- have rebounded as wealthier clientele quickly regained disposable income in recent years. But malls anchored by mid-market department stores, such as Macy's, J.C. Penney and Sears, continue to struggle.

"Mr. and Mrs. Average America are squeezed and retailers are trying to respond to that in any way they can to drive footsteps into their stores," Howard Davidowitz, a retail analyst and consultant, told HuffPost. "And the mall is not known for the greatest deals."

Davidowitz said malls command higher rents than the spaces outside malls occupied by such stores as Target, T.J. Maxx or Family Dollar, making it difficult for mall-based retailers to offer better deals. And, of course, many online stores don't pay anything for retail space.

"Unfortunately it's come to this," Hitha Prabhakar Herzog, a retail analyst and chief research officer at AitchPe Retail Advisory, said of the earlier Black Friday hours. "Malls are losing money by the minute."

McKnight, the Art of Shaving manager, said Walden Galleria's management pushed for earlier hours after Macy's, one of the mall's big anchor stores, announced it would begin Black Friday sales at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. For the last two years, the mall has opened at midnight, McKnight said. He complained that the mall's management waited until Halloween to tell tenants, and "it put a lot of managers in a scramble to get staffing."

Still, some of the mall's store managers welcomed the holiday hours.

Alyssa Newell, who manages the family fashion retailer Buckle, said she opted to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving because she expects to make a lot of sales.

"We just had the availability," she said of her employees, some of whom work as personal shoppers for the store's customers. "For us, it just made sense."

Russia now using language U.S. can understand

© REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Has Russia reached the limit of its diplomatic tolerance of the US and its NATO allies? The announcement this week that Moscow is to begin deploying long-range bombers in the Gulf of Mexico - America's own backyard - suggests so.

The move may seem like a reckless ratcheting up of tensions between the old Cold War rivals. The Tupolev Russian strategic bombers in question are nuclear-capable, and as expected the decision to patrol the Caribbean seas sparked a stern response from Washington, warning Moscow of risks.

But the first point to note is that Russia is not doing anything illegal. It has a legal right to fly its warplanes in any international airspace it chooses, as do all nations, to perform training maneuvers.

Even Washington officials have begrudgingly acknowledged Russia's legal right to do so. quoted Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren as saying, "Russia has a right to fly in international airspace".

However, we can be sure that the hawks in Washington will be fuming at what they see as Vladimir Putin's "audacity" to order warplanes within striking distance of the US. For the de facto American War Party of Republicans and Democrats, the latest Russian move confirms their accusations that President Putin is trying to flex "Soviet-era muscles". Or, as American NATO commander General Philip Breedlove put it, Russia "is messaging us that they are a great power".

That's typical arrogant mis-reading by Washington of the situation. This is not Putin trying to be provocative or flaunting expansionist ambitions. It is simply Russia giving a taste of American medicine back and in language that the arrogant warmongers in Washington will understand.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US-led NATO military alliance has embarked on a relentless campaign of encircling Russia. In complete defiance of binding agreements, such as the 1997 Founding Act between NATO and Russia, the American military alliance has encroached on Russian borders with warplanes, warships, missiles and troops. It is Washington that is on an expansionist threatening drive, not Russia.

The destabilization earlier this year of former Soviet republic Ukraine to install an illegal, anti-Russian regime that is massacring the ethnic Russian population in the east of that country - in spite of a putative ceasefire - is seen by Moscow as a red line.

Washington has sent military aid to the regime in Kiev and is to step up its training of neo-Nazi brigades that have been involved in crimes against humanity on the people of Donetsk and Luhansk; simply because these people refuse to recognize the illegal regime-change operation in their country.

Latest reports this week say that the Kiev regime is preparing to escalate its military assault on the eastern regions in violation of a ceasefire it signed up to on September 5. Last week, its forces deliberately shelled a school in Donetsk city killing two teenage students. This was just the latest in a long list of such crimes committed by the Western-backed regime since it launched its offensive back in April.

That offensive followed days after CIA director John Brennan secretly visited Kiev and had behind-closed-door meetings with the regime's leadership, including the so-called Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Yatsenyuk has referred to the Russian-speaking population in the eastern regions as "sub-humans" who need to be "cleansed". After nearly seven months of Western-backed state terrorism by Kiev forces, more than 4,000 people have been killed and up to one million turned into refugees.

Yet in the face of this aggression, Washington and its NATO allies in Europe continually turn reality on its head and accuse Russia of fuelling the conflict, slapping on punitive trade sanctions to boot.

With the servile help of the Western corporate news media, Washington, its European lackeys and their stooge regime in Kiev shamelessly invent stories of Russian military forces invading Ukraine. Images of army convoys are played over and over again without verifiable dates or locations. Based on NATO say-so and outrageous double think, Russia has allegedly violated Ukrainian sovereignty.

This week, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich again reiterated Moscow's denial that it has sent troops or military equipment into eastern Ukraine. He said of the latest NATO claims: "Instead of giving the facts, all they have to present is unfounded accusations. It would be far better to ask the [Western] officials who make such statements in order to fan tensions and justify their actions."

Russian ministry of defence spokesman Igor Konashenkov was even more blunt. He said: "We have already stopped paying attention to unfounded statements by NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe General Philip Breedlove about his 'seeing' Russian military columns that are allegedly invading Ukraine."

It seems as if Moscow has finally got tired of dealing with idiotic Americans and their European puppets through normal diplomatic discourse. Putin may have met Obama briefly at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last week and during the G20 gathering this weekend in Australia, but it has been reported that the Russian leader no longer takes phone calls from his counterpart in the White House - much to Obama's chagrin.

When up against an irrational, arrogant bully, the only language he understands is in-your-face force.

Russia is right to put warplanes on patrol near US airspace. After all, American warplanes have been doing just the same towards Russia or years. Only the arrogant, exceptional nation thinks it has the right to do so without consequences. And no amount of diplomatic reasoning will ever prevail on such an arrogant monster.

Put it another way, to keep pandering with futile diplomacy and to not reciprocate the show of force with Washington and its minions would be the really reckless option. You don't encourage a bully. Instead, you have to square up and push back.


Sick bag: Child pornography case, couple sent to prison for 2,340 years collectively.

File photo of Patricia and Matthew Ayers

In an aftermath of what can be termed as the most disturbing and horrific example of sexual exploitation of a young child, the cruel couple Patricia and Matthew Ayers have been given an extraordinary punishment of 2,340 years behind bars collectively. Man received 750 years while woman received 1,590 years in jail.

The couple pleaded guilty to the charge of exploiting a child in their care. The Federal Judge while giving out the sentences addressed the defendants and said that "I have been on the bench since 1998 and this is the worst case I have personally dealt with. ... You robbed this child of her childhood and her soul, and a maximum sentence is the only sentence appropriate."

The case came into limelight during December 2012 in Alabama after a friend of the couple informed local law enforcement authorities about the ongoing exploitation after seeing digital pornographic photographs of the female child given by Patricia Ayers.

Immediately, the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office acquired a search warrant to survey the couple's home in Florence and all their digital devices including cameras, cellphones, electronic storage media devices and computers were confiscated. Patricia Ayers was arrested after she admitted that she had taken the pictures of the child. However, she initially claimed that the pictures were just taken for documenting a rash and not for pornography's sake.

An examination of the seized devices and digital media revealed thousands of pornographic pictures involving the young victim and Matthew Ayers. The images showed Mr. Ayers engaged in sexual acts with the child and therefore, he also was arrested by the authorities.

An official federal level inquiry into the case started in early January 2013 and the FBI 's assistance was requested by the Lauderdale authorities and Florence Resident Agency. For locating the items seen in the pornographic images another search warrant was issued for surveying the Ayer's residence both current and previous one. It was assumed that the items will be found in their house and law enforcement agencies found the exact same match of the wallpaper in their home as was visible in some of the images

Patricia Ayers was connected to another child pornography case when a Dallas Field Office agent, working on one such case, got involved in this case. The subject of that other case received emails from Patricia Ayers containing child pornography images including the images of the same child who was the victim of this new case. The couple was accused on federal charges in May 2014.

FBI Computer Analysis and Response Team expert was also assisting the bureau agents on the Ayers case and all the digital evidence was reviewed and carefully scrutinized by him for clues about when and where the pictures were taken, who was being pictured and what was being shown.

At FBI Headquarters, Forensic child interviewers were also roped in for Victim Assistance. These are trained experts who can help young victims and witnesses to open-up and talk about their traumatizing experiences without getting more disturbed or frustrated. One such specialist, an FBI Birmingham's local

Victim Assistance expert, assisted the child victim of this case right from the very first day until the sentencing date and onwards. He offered the much-required help, support and comfort along with uninterrupted counseling sessions and community resource referrals to the child. The victim is believed to be no more than 6 years old when the sexual exploitation started.

The young victim is now being guarded and cared by family members. However, this and various such cases point finger on the role of law enforcement agencies in ensuring lawful access and sharing of digital media. Appropriate legislation and measures to counter such activities are very much needed and the concerned authorities must pay attention to this issue.

SOTT FOCUS: Putin at the G20: Sharing a stage with psychopathic a**holes makes you want to leave early

The Borg collective, with Vladimir Putin exiled to the far left.

Russian President Putin is reportedly planning on spurning the G20 leaders lunch on Sunday and leaving the farcical psychopathic love-in early. Who can blame him? From the moment Putin arrived in Australia, this collective of advocates of brutal Empire (China, India and Brazil excluded) have acted like the discourteous, arrogant, obnoxious brats they are. Putin really should have known better.

"But what'll we do about Putin!" - "We haven't tried calling him a poopy-head yet...might work..."

Right off the plane the childish 'snubbing' began with the Australian PM and the Queensland Premier failing to show up to greet Putin at the airport, the lowly Australian Deputy Sec. of Defense and Governor of Queensland greeting the 'strong man' instead. Less than five minutes after Putin's motorcade had left however, Australian Attorney-General and Queensland Deputy Premier, who were apparently waiting in the wings, showed up to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She's a lackey of empire and therefore deserves a higher class of sycophantic politician. Lucky her.

On Saturday, Canadian quisling Prime Minister Harper, who was recently inducted into the Western false flag terrorism hall of fame, is alleged to have greeted Putin with the words: '.' A reasonable response to such arrogance would have been "mind your own f**king business Harper" (along with a well-timed tweak of his nose), but Putin is a gentleman and, apparently, responded in a more diplomatic fashion. How he suffers such fools is anyone's guess, maybe it was part of his KGB training - ('Dealing with assholes while keeping your composure 101')

Next up was the pusillanimous British PM David Cameron who, at a press conference on Friday, channeled his inner hysterical Zionist and compared Russia to Nazi Germany:

"Russian action in Ukraine is unacceptable. We have to be clear about what we are dealing with. It is a large state bullying a smaller state in Europe. "We have seen the consequences of that in the past and we should learn the lessons of history and make sure we don't let it happen again,"

Dave really, really, really doesn't like Nazis

Dave's advisers apparently failed to brief him that there was no need to drag up the overused Nazi reference to make his point, there are many better and more recent examples of larger states bullying smaller states on which he could have drawn. The US and British invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 for example; or the NATO bombardment of Libya and assassination of its leader Muammar Gaddafi; or the US and British governments' use of proxy Muslim mercenaries in Syria in an effort to overthrow the democratically elected President Assad. Alternatively, Dave could have just admitted that the Ukraine conflict was sparked by a US State Dept. coup, designed to force the Ukrainian people to disassociate themselves from Russia. Another rather clear case of a a large state bullying a smaller one. But who's counting.

Dave was, however, in no mood for honesty, as was obvious from his subsequent comments in a speech to the Australian parliament where he again criticised the Russian nation for its adoption of an "authoritarian" model of capitalism and, in comparison, extolled the virtues of the British press and judicial system:

"Our free and fearless press shines a light wherever it is needed, without fear or favour. Of course that can make life difficult - but it helps drive out the corruption that destroys so many countries.

"Our governments lose cases in court, because we don't control the courts.

"It is no accident that the most successful countries in the world are those with the absence of conflict or corruption and the presence of strong property rights and institutions.

The operative words here are "", with the British government deciding which particular areas need a light shone on them and which should remain in the dark.

That the British press works entirely in 'favor' to the British government and its warmongering has repeatedly been made clear over the last 12 years each and every time the British government has come under scrutiny for criminal activity.

The British 'free and fearless press', perfuming up government lies since WW1

During the run up to the invasion of Iraq, the British press consistently ignored evidence that the rationale for the invasion was entirely fabricated by British government spin doctors. The British press incessantly spread government propaganda about Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons program; the British press 'catapulted' British government propaganda and lies about Gaddafi "bombing his own people"; the British press widely disseminated the lie that the Assad government had used chemical weapons on Syrian civilians when it was the US and British government-backed 'Syrian rebels' that carried out the attack.

As for the British courts; the same applies. In fact, when the British government is officially accused of criminal activity, British courts are side-stepped in favor of an 'inquiry', where the British government appoints a member of the British government to investigate the possible criminal activities of the British government. Can you guess the result? The Hutton inquiry into the murder (by the British government) of weapons inspector Dr. David Kelly, for example, was an obvious whitewash. The Chilcot inquiry, into the manufacturing, by the British government (in league with the US government), of false evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq and the murder of 1.5 million Iraqis was also a screamingly obvious whitewash. So please, Dave, spare us the BS.

To be honest, why anyone listens to anything this man has to say when he is an obvious apologist for pedophilia in high places is beyond me. Referring to renewed allegation of a "VIP paedophile ring", Cameron said that such allegations were conspiracy theories and that 'conspiracy theorists' would have to 'look elsewhere'.

The British government, very successful at covering up pedophilia in the British government

The fact that Cameron's own Home Secretary, Teresa May, has admitted that there very likely was a cover up of a British government paedophile ring by her department in the 1980s is irrelevant to Dave. Anyone who suggests that the UK is anything other than a shining example for the world to follow is a 'conspiracy theorist'.

As for Dave's claim that "the most successful countries in the world are those with the absence of conflict or corruption", I would simply say that the absence of evidence of conflict and corruption is not evidence of the absence of conflict and corruption. In the case of the British government, they simply cover up the evidence of corruption and export the conflict to other nations and then steal their resources.

Dave also took exception (or was he just scared?) to four Russian navy ships stationed off the coast of Australia to coincide with Putin's ill-advised attendance at the confederacy of dunces. In interviews hours before the meeting, Dave described the ships' presence as "international machismo". Dave is, of course, no macho man, preferring to feign freedom and democracy while carrying on British warmongering and destruction of civil societies around the world in a more covert, duplicitous and cowardly way.

Obama was next to weigh in on the bovine fecal matter fest and Putin bashing extravaganza. During a speech to University of Queensland students, Obama claimed that "Russian aggression in Ukraine" was a "threat to the world" (no less), primarily because of the shoot down of MH17 which, he reminded the students, "took so many innocent lives, among them your citizens". To bullshit your audience at an international gathering is one thing, to use that bullshit to incite emotionally-charged hatred towards a fellow guest at the gathering is quite another.

No wonder Putin is planning to leave early. As I said, he should have known better. Then again, maybe he does. In an interview with German TV channel ARD recorded a few days before the G20, Putin pointed out that, since Russian banks have extended $25-billion in loans to the Ukrainian economy:

"if our European and American partners want to help Ukraine, how can they undermine the financial base by limiting our financial institutions' access to world capital markets? Do they want to bankrupt our banks? In that case they will bankrupt Ukraine. Have they thought about what they are doing at all or not? Or has politics blinded them? As we know eyes constitute a peripheral part of brain. Was something switched off in their brains?"

Although he may not have been aware of it, with that last remark Putin was getting pretty close to the ultimate truth of the matter. When normal humans imagine others feeling pain, the empathy regions of their brains show typical patterns of activation. In the case of psychopaths however, these brain regions show no activation and are, effectively, switched off.