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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Syriza's shame: Greece backs extension of Russian sanctions

© Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko

A man walks past a shop which was recently damaged by shelling, at a local market in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, January 29, 2015.

European Union foreign ministers extended existing sanctions against Russia on Thursday, holding off on tighter economic measures for now but winning the support of the new left-leaning government of Greece, whose position had been in doubt.

The ministers agreed to extend until September travel bans and asset freezes imposed last year that had been due to expire. They also agreed to list the names of additional people who could be targeted with sanctions when they meet again on Feb. 9.

They dropped language, however, about drawing up "further restrictive measures" that had appeared in a pre-meeting draft. The bloc's foreign policy chief said a decision on such measures would be left to EU leaders meeting next month.

Germany said that decision would depend on the situation on the ground, with any major new rebel advance demanding tougher sanctions.

Thursday's emergency meeting had been called after rebels launched an advance last week, disavowing a five-month-old ceasefire. On Saturday, suspected rebel forces shelled the major port city of Mariupol, killing 30 people. Since then, there has been intense fighting along the frontline, although the rebels appear to have held back from an all-out assault on Mariupol.

Washington, which has coordinated sanctions moves with Brussels in the past year, said it was not planning an immediate new announcement itself.

"Certainly, we welcome it; it's a positive step," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular news briefing.

"This is just a further sign that the actions of the last several days and weeks are absolutely unacceptable and that there will be new consequences put in place," she said.

Psaki noted that the EU and the U.S. sanctions lists had not targeted exactly the same people, firms, or sectors, and added: "We'll continue to consider others that we could add, but ... I don't think there's anything to expect today."

The run-up to the Brussels talks was dominated by Greece, whose new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, took power on Monday and complained that his government had not been consulted before tighter sanctions were threatened.

But at the meeting, colleagues said new foreign minister Nikos Kotzias had swiftly dispelled suggestions that Greece would automatically torpedo any sanctions effort.

According to Italy's foreign minister, Kotzias announced to the meeting: "I am not a Russian puppet."

He signed up to a sharply worded statement that declared Moscow responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine and demanded it halt its backing for the separatists.

Calls for Delay

While the Greeks did call for the decision on tighter sanctions to be delayed, they were not alone: other countries such as Italy and Austria also favored a delay, diplomats said, while Britain and the Baltic states wanted a clearer commitment to imposing new sanctions quickly.

"We are not against every sanction," Kotzias said later. "We are in the mainstream, we are not the bad boys."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed frustration with the ambiguity of the Greek position before the talks: "It is no secret that the new stance of the Greek government has not made today's debate any easier," he said. After he met Kotzias in private, German officials said he was less concerned.

Britain said it had scrambled fighters after Russia flew long-range bombers near its air space, disrupting civilian aviation. It summoned the Russian ambassador for an explanation.

The incident extended a pattern that began late last year of Moscow flying warplanes close to the territory of NATO states.

A British government source said this was "a significant escalation" since Russian aircraft had previously largely stayed much further north, off Scotland.

"It was very dangerous. Civil aircraft flying to the UK had to be rerouted," the source said. "The Russians were flying with their transponders turned off so could only be seen on military radar. They haven't flown this far south before."

On the ground in eastern Ukraine, there was fighting around Debaltseve, a town of about 26,000 people on a road and rail route linking the two main rebel strongholds. It is held by government troops but surrounded on three sides by rebels. Power and water were cut off and civilians were trapped in cellars.

Living in Cellars

"People are living full-time in shelters without fresh air," said Natalia Voronkova, a volunteer helping residents escape. "Children are getting sick and there is a great need for medicine."

The rebels say they had no choice but to repudiate the ceasefire and advance, effectively restarting a war that has killed 5,000 people, because government artillery in range of their cities had been shelling civilians.

Kiev says the advance is an attempt, backed by as many as 9,000 Russian soldiers on the ground, to capture more territory. Its biggest fear now is an all-out assault on Mariupol, a government-held port of 500,000 people.

Thursday's meeting was the first big test this year of the hard-won unanimity that European officials, led by Germany, had achieved to punish their biggest energy supplier over its actions in Ukraine, which aspires to join the EU.

EU officials have told Reuters new measures could make it harder for Russian companies to refinance themselves and possibly affect Russian sovereign bonds.

The talks were also Europe's first major contact with Greece's new government, elected on a vow to repudiate the austerity economics championed by Berlin and imposed by Brussels as a condition of a bailout.

Tsipras has not made his position on Ukraine clear in public. His Syriza party has its roots in leftist movements, some of which were sympathetic to Moscow during the Cold War, and Russia's ambassador was the first foreign official Tsipras met after taking office on Monday.

But Greece has also long treasured its membership of the Western NATO alliance. It shares Orthodox Christianity with both Russia and Ukraine, and many Greeks sympathize with both countries.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Loophole USA: The vortex hole in global financial transparency

bengal in boat

© www.tovima.gr

Reciprocity adrift in upcoming storm, an offshore problem!

If people stash their wealth or earn income overseas, that is fine with us - just as long as their tax authorities get the information they need to tax that wealth or income according to the law, and as long as money laundering and financial crimes can be effectively tracked, and so on. Where there are cross-border barriers to the instruments of democratic societies, then there is an offshore problem.

The only credible way to provide the necessary information is through so-called automatic information exchange (AIE), where governments make sure the necessary information is available across borders, as a matter of routine.

For years we at the Tax Justice Network were ridiculed for advocating AIE: pie in the sky, many people said. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the club of rich countries that dominates international rule-making on tax and tax-related information sharing, was for years pushing its so-called Internationally Accepted Standard which was, well, the internationally accepted standard for cross-border information exchange, . The message was that we should just accept this, and move on.

How the world has turned since a couple of years ago. The OECD is now in the middle of putting in place a system - known as the Common Reporting Standards (CRS) - to implement automatic information exchange (AIE). The CRS is the first ever potentially global system of AIE, and although it has major shortcomings and loopholes, it's potentially a giant step forwards from a largely transparency-free past.

Meanwhile the European Union had been moving ahead with plans to beef up its own, older plans for AIE, notably through amendments to tighten up its loophole-ridden Savings Tax Directive and other initiatives. The United States, for its part, has been rumbling forwards with its Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which is, at least technically speaking from a self-interested U.S. perspective, fairly strong. In fact, the OECD's CRS is modeled on FATCA.

But - and here comes a big 'but' - how do these different initiatives mesh together? Might anything fall between the cracks?

The European Union, for its part, seems to be working hard and in fairly straightforward fashion to get its ducks in line with the CRS, the OECD's emerging global standard. It will be incorporating a lot of the OECD technical standards into EU law, in cut-and-paste fashion, and will add categories to include in the mix: such as covering the all-important insurance sector more comprehensively than the CRS does, and covering other categories of income and capital including income from employment, directors' fees, pensions, and ownership of and income from immovable property.

But the United States' position on meshing FATCA with the global standards? Well, now there's a story.

That building in the Cayman Islands is still there!

tax cartoon

© othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com

Obama's rules...

President Obama recently gave his State of the Union address, with an eye to his legacy. He's taken an interest in tax haven issues in the past, declaring in 2009 that Ugland House, a building in the Cayman Islands that then housed some 19,000 companies, was either "the largest building in the world or the largest tax scam in the world. . . it's the kind of tax scam that we need to end."

So he managed to get himself some serious anti-tax haven credentials, at least from a public relations perspective. But how has the Obama administration shaped up on tax havens since then?

Well, in the details of the emerging global architecture on tax and financial transparency lies something - we'd go so far as to describe it as an international outrage - that is likely to seriously tarnish his legacy. A failure to take this seriously will make wealthy people wealthier and poorer people poorer, and will undermine crime-fighting, in the U.S. and around the world.

USA: 'we'll pretend to join in'

red octopus

© www.economist.com

FATCA tentacles of taxation.

The U.S. position has basically been to say 'we are doing our home-grown FATCA project, and it's technically similar to the OECD's CRS, so we don't need to join the CRS.' Which, at first glance, looks like a position that could be defensible, depending on the detail.

A crucial part of the detail, however - and this is where the vortex starts to come in - hangs on the all-important question of reciprocity. The United States is extremely keen for other countries to pony up information about U.S. taxpayers hiding their cash offshore and overseas - as it should. But when it comes to reciprocity, or providing information in the other direction, things change.

The U.S. (again, on the surface) has said that is committed to sharing FATCA-related information under so-called Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs) which are bilateral deals that stipulate how and in what circumstances the relevant information may be handed over to foreign governments.

In May last year the Center for Global Development's Alex Cobham (now TJN's Director of Research) wrote a useful blog entitled , welcoming the U.S. commitment to reciprocal information exchange, as far as the announcement went. By November, though, as the details came through, he began to raise the alarm. In a post entitled , he wrote:

"A full commitment to reciprocal and automatic, multilateral information exchange, backed by legislation to ensure beneficial ownership information is available, has been replaced by an indication that the United States will seek to provide information in the few bilateral Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) agreements that require it, for which the United States accordingly commits to 'advocate' for domestic legal changes that would create the necessary beneficial ownership transparency.

"After the midterm elections, the success of such advocacy seems unlikely. But it would be a sad irony if the legacy of an administration that began with such strong rhetoric on shutting down tax havens was to leave
the United States as the biggest remaining centre of anonymous company ownership."

Drill down to look at the precise details of what the U.S. is offering, and it the substance seems paper-thin.

The gory details

The United States is already a tax haven for foreigners. To achieve effective reciprocity with other countries it would need to tighten up its rules considerably, and in various ways. The U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN) seems to be taking a lead on some of the internal stuff to prepare the ground for international co-operation, with new rules entitled "Customer Due Diligence Requirements for Financial Institutions." [---]

If Fincen to close all the loopholes and obtain all this customer information, it doesn't seem clear to us that it would be authorised to pass it on to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which would be the body that would be mandated to hand over the necessary information to foreign governments that need it to tax or police their wealthy citizens and criminals.

A Europe-based expert we spoke to went as far as to call the U.S.' adherence to the emerging global transparency standards, just based on what this Fincen document says, 'farting in the wind.' This document shows that

So much for the requirements for financial institutions in the U.S. to fish the information out of its customers. Now look at how the (non-) information they do obtain are to be shared out with the U.S.' foreign partners. Article 6 from one of the U.S. Model IGAs (Intergovernmental Agreements) says:

"Reciprocity. The Government of the United States acknowledges the need to achieve equivalent levels of reciprocal automatic information exchange with [FATCA Partner]." The U.S. government acknowledges the need to be reciprocal. That's nice. But will it be?

[G]et a picture of what the U.S. may obtain from other countries, versus what other countries may obtain from the U.S. Here's a summary of some of the differences, from TJN's Andres Knobel. Just look at how thin the US banks' reporting obligations are about Germans, compared to German banks' reporting obligations about US persons.

German banks' reporting obligations (to IRS):

All financial accounts

Identify controlling person of passive NFE and Non-US entities

All types of information

U.S. banks' reporting obligations (to Germany):

All financial accounts, but depositary accounts only if held by individuals

No reference to German controlling persons (neither passive NFEs nor of Non-German entities)

"All" types of information except for account balance, gross proceeds from sale or redemption of property and controlling persons' identity, moreover, "interest' paid (not if credited) only to depositary accounts.

You get the picture. Reciprocity, anyone?

Oh, and then there is the problem that only some countries, but not others, have signed or committed to sign these IGAs.

And then there's the problem that the U.S. legislation required to tackle this stuff is all over the place, in different legislative nooks and crannies. Jack Blum, a Tax Justice Network Senior Adviser, gave a good overview of an earlier version of this mess to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee in 2008 [...]:"after the current round of IRS budget cuts there is no way the United States could implement Information Exchange. Without the people nothing the law says really matters. Things here are in a real mess."

Loophole USA: the big one. Will the OECD and its member states - not to mention developing countries - wake up to these issues? And will the United States itself realize that if it doesn't play ball, others won't want to play either? If not, the world's wealth will flood more upwards and out of sight rather more rapidly than it would have done. That'll be quite a legacy.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Hackers claim to reveal true number of Ukrainian army casualties, official censorship

ukrainian troops

© Sputnik/Andrei Stenin

Ukraine's subversive hacker group CyberBerkut has published documents allegedly exposing dreadful situation with the Kiev's troops attacking separatist forces in the East: war crimes, tremendous loss of lives and wholesale desertion of entrapped troops.

The anti-government activists claim they have hacked personal computer of Ukraine's Judge Advocate General and copied a number of classified documents. These documents are allegedly exposing some dark secrets of Kiev's authorities regarding the real state of things in the zone of the so-called 'anti-terrorist operation' in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions of the country.

The price of the warfare resumed by President Petro Poroshhenko in the east is terrifying. The hacked documents claim at least 1,100 servicemen of the Ukrainian army have lost their lives over the period of the last two weeks. Many dozens Ukrainian soldiers gave up to separatist forces. Ukrainian army has lost over 100 tanks and the armored vehicles.

This information comes into collision with the latest reports by Kiev generals about "no losses", "defeated enemy" and "thousands of eliminated terrorists".

The explanation to this is simple: according to the documents allegedly hacked, Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) has officially forbidden the Defense Ministry to reveal true casualties among servicemen.

leaked document

© www.cyber-berkut.org


Order by the first deputy head of the Anti-Terrorist center of the Ukraine's Security Service (SBU)

on anti-terrorist operation

Relating to orders by Defense Ministry, General Staff of Ukrainian Defense Forces and Head of anti-terrorist center of the Ukrainian Security Service to restrict from 26 Jan 2015 the presentation of data on real losses in the area of anti-terrorist operation.


1. Commanders of the military units shall present reports only to the anti-terrorist center

2. Deputy head of the Anti-Terrorist HQ shall instruct via Military Medical Department of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry head of the Dnepropetrovsk Military Hospital, Southern Military Medical Center (Odessa) and Northern Military Medical Center (Kharkov) to stop until further notice make reports through official channels on real losses in the area of anti-terrorist operation.

The documents the hacktivists claim they have obtained paint a grim picture of the Ukrainian warfare: discipline of the troops is undermined, troops are running out of reserves, mobilization is stalled as army draftees are escaping the country, mostly running to Russia and other neighboring states.

With the lack of the hardened troops, Ukrainian military leaders order recruits into meaningless attacks on multi-layered defenses of the separatists, which results in havoc and vast casualties.

[embedded content]

The Ukrainian military have even employed barrier troops who fired at their fellow servicemen in order to prevent their retreat, as could be learnt from the documents.

CyberBerkut has accused Ukrainian commanders of defecting, leaving their subordinates on the battlefield. The zone along the frontline is full of prowling deserters and blood-thirsty psychopaths dressed up in Ukrainian uniforms, claims the group.

"We're CyberBerkut. We don't forget, we don't forgive," announced the hacktivists, promising to follow up on "other criminal organizations" that started "civil war in Ukraine."

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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White House official says Afghan Taliban not a terrorist group but an 'armed insurgency'

© Reuters

Taliban fighters

A White House spokesperson preferred to talk of the Taliban as "an armed insurgency" rather than a terrorist organization during a press briefing, when a reporter pressed him about Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release.

Responding to a question posed by chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, deputy press secretary Eric Schultz argued the US can swap prisoners with the Taliban because the group is not a terrorist organization but "an armed insurgency."

During the Wednesday briefing, Karl asked how the US decision to swap Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay differs from the Jordanian government's trade of a convicted terrorist for the release of an Air Force pilot held by the Islamic State.

"As you know this was highly discussed at the time and prisoner swaps are a traditional end-of-conflict interaction that happens. As the war in Afghanistan wound down, we felt like it was the appropriate thing to do," Schultz replied.

Bergdahl was captured in 2009 and held for five years by the Haqqani network, a militant faction closely aligned with the Afghan Taliban. Last summer, Bergdahl was exchanged for five high-ranking Taliban operatives, including one Haqqani associate, in a controversial deal brokered by the Qatar government between the US and the Haqqani network.

Schultz added: "I'd also point out that the Taliban is an armed insurgency. ISIL is a terrorist group. So we don't make concessions to terrorist groups."

Karl pressed: "You don't think the Taliban is a terrorist group?"

"I don't think that the Taliban...the Taliban is an armed insurgency," Schultz said after a pause. "This was the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, and that's why this arrangement was dealt."

[embedded content]

The divisive deal raised questions from the administration's critics across the aisle.

"This is a complete change of our national security strategy of not negotiating with terrorists," Republican Representative Mike Rogers told at the time of Bergdahl's release. "I think it sends a terrible national security message - not just to Afghanistan, but to the rest of the world."

Senator Ted Cruz also worried about the precedent the swap might set.

"What does this tell terrorists? First, that if you capture a US soldier you can trade that soldier for five terrorist prisoners? That's a very dangerous precedent," Cruz told .

Also at the time, the Obama administration attempted to characterize Bergdahl as a prisoner of war rather than a hostage. Obama said: "This is what happens at the end of wars."

© Reuters/U.S. Army

US Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal.

The US government maintains two separate lists of terrorist organizations. One is maintained by the State Department while the Treasury Department has its own list, created by a Bush-era executive order, which is responsible for economic sanctions on entities and individuals with alleged ties to terrorism.

The State Department added the Haqqani network to its Foreign Terrorist Organization list in 2012 and the Taliban in Pakistan was added in 2010. The Afghan faction of the Taliban, however, is not on the FTO list.

The Haqqani network is also listed on the Treasury's Designated Global Terrorist list, which also includes the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, when asked if the White House considered the Taliban terrorists, Press Secretary Jay Carney dodged the question.

"We don't get to choose our enemies when we go to war," Carney told reporters. "We regard the Taliban as an enemy combatant in a conflict that has been going on, in which the United States has been involved for more than a decade. In this case - as you know we dealt with the Qataris in order to secure [Bergdahl's] release - it was absolutely the right thing to do."

Speaker of the House John Boehner decried the deal, saying: "One of their greatest protections - knowing that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists - has been compromised."

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Swedish office puts chips under staff's skin

[embedded content]

Want to gain entry to your office, get on a bus, or perhaps buy a sandwich? We're all getting used to swiping a card to do all these things. But at Epicenter, a new hi-tech office block in Sweden, they are trying a different approach - a chip under the skin.

Felicio de Costa, whose company is one of the tenants, arrives at the front door and holds his hand against it to gain entry. Inside he does the same thing to get into the office space he rents, and he can also wave his hand to operate the photocopier.

That's all because he has a tiny RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip, about the size of a grain of rice, implanted in his hand. Soon, others among the 700 people expected to occupy the complex will also be offered the chance to be chipped. Along with access to doors and photocopiers, they're promised further services in the longer run, including the ability to pay in the cafe with a touch of a hand.

On the day of the building's official opening, the developer's chief executive was, himself, chipped live on stage. And I decided that if was to get to grips with this technology, I had to bite the bullet - and get chipped too.


© Wikimedia Commons

The whole process is being organised by a Swedish bio-hacking group which was profiled by my colleague Jane Wakefield recently. One of its members, a rather fearsome looking tattooist, inserted my chip.

First, he massaged the skin between my thumb and index finger and rubbed in some disinfectant. The he told me to take a deep breath while he inserted the chip. There was a moment of pain - not much worse than any injection - and then he stuck a plaster over my hand.

Before trying my chip out, I wanted to know more about the thinking behind it. Hannes Sjoblad, whose electronic business card is on his own chip and can be accessed with a swipe of a smartphone, has the title chief disruption officer at the development. I asked him whether people really wanted to get this intimate with technology.

"We already interact with technology all the time," he told me. "Today it's a bit messy - we need pin codes and passwords. Wouldn't it be easy to just touch with your hand? That's really intuitive."

When I tested my chip, I found that it was not all that intuitive - I had to twist my hand into an unnatural position to make the photocopier work. And while some of the people around the building were looking forward to being chipped, others were distinctly dubious. "Absolutely not," said one young man when I asked him if he'd sign up. An older woman was more positive about the potential of the technology but saw little point in being chipped just to get through a door.

But Hannes Sjoblad says he and the Swedish Biohacking Group have another objective - preparing us all for the day when others want to chip us. "We want to be able to understand this technology before big corporates and big government come to us and say everyone should get chipped - the tax authority chip, the Google or Facebook chip." Then, he says, we'll all be able to question the way the technology is implemented from a position of much greater knowledge.

I've returned to Britain with a slightly sore hand - and a chip still under my skin which has my contact details on it. Not that useful, but no doubt more sophisticated chips will soon replace wearable technology like fitness bands or payment devices, and we will get used to being augmented. All sorts of things are possible - whether it becomes culturally acceptable to insert technology beneath our skin is another matter.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Skin patches to turn people into batteries


© National University of Singapore

In the sci-fi classic one of the film's most bananas moments reveals that futuristic machines are using cocooned human bodies as a kind of bioelectric power source. Those rascally science fiction writers - always with the crazy concepts.

Well, it turns out the people-as-batteries scenario is actually well on its way. A new device unveiled last week at a European research conference is designed to do just that - tapping the energy of human body to generate power for wearable computers and devices.

The postage-stamp sized generator, developed by researchers at the National University of Singapore, actuall y leverages the power of static electricity. When certain kinds of dissimilar surfaces are put in close contact, an electrical charge builds that can be harvested when the surfaces are flexed or pulled apart.

The phenomenon is called the triboelectric effect, and the new device radically miniaturizes the approach by using nanoscale elements - plus the wearer's skin itself as one of the opposing surfaces. The research was presented at this year's IEEE MEMS 2015 conference in Portugal.

"Skin, the most abundant surface on a human body, is a natural choice for one of the triboelectric layers," says researcher Lokesh Dhakar in the IEEE Spectrum report. For the opposing surface, the research team developed a thin silicone layer covered with thousands of flexible pillar-like structures. A nanoscale layer of gold film acts as the device's electrode.

The researchers tested the device by attaching it to subjects' forearms and throats. Muscle movements triggered by everyday activities like speaking or grasping objects generated enough friction to power up to 12 commercial LEDs.

Observers prone to paranoia about these things may note that, in this instance, the machines are literally going for our throats. Anyway, I'm sure it will all work out fine.

[embedded content]

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Siberia town frozen over as water mains break in -40C weather

Dudinka, Siberia

© National Post

It's very cold for residents in Dudinka, Siberia.

This may come as a surprise but it gets very, very cold in Siberia during the winter. A state of emergency was declared in Dudinka, Siberia earlier this month after a major storm knocked out power amid -40C weather.

A water main later broke, causing several streets to flood and then freeze over. Social media has shown images of cars stuck in ice almost up to their windows.

Dudinka is home to about 22,000 residents and is within the Arctic Circle. It's supposed to be nice in the summers, though.

[embedded content]


Жители города Дудинка в РФ живут без отопления при 40-градусном морозе http://bit.ly/1CEVJ8J -

Министерство Хунты❄️ (@christineparis9) January 20, 2015

Оросын Сибирьт Дудинка хотод -40 градус хүйтэн бхад дулааны шугам хагарсан нь хотыг бараг л мөсний орон болгож #гэнээ http://bit.ly/1CEVJ8M -

(@ZoyaMon) January 29, 2015

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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Afghan children bear brunt of NATO's unexploded bombs

© Reuters / Omar Sobhani

International troops pulling out of Afghanistan have left behind a lethal legacy of unexploded bombs and shells that are killing and maiming people at a rate of more than one a day. The vast majority are children.

Bombs dropped from the air coupled with munitions left behind in makeshift firing ranges in rural Afghanistan have made parts of the countryside perilous for locals who are used to working the land for subsistence and raw materials.

Since 2001, the coalition has dropped about 20,000 tonnes of ammunition over Afghanistan. Experts say about 10% of munitions do not detonate: some malfunction, others land on sandy ground. Foreign soldiers have also used valleys, fields and dry riverbeds as firing ranges and left them peppered with undetonated ammunition.

© Ahmad Masood / Reuters

A worker from the Organisation for Mine Clarence and Afghan Rehabilitation teaches mine and unexploded ordnance awareness to a class of children on the outskirts of Kabul.

Statistics from the UN-backed Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan (Macca) show there were 369 casualties in the past year, including 89 deaths. The rate rose significantly in October and November when 93 people were injured, 84 of them children. Twenty died.

Two of those were 10-year-old Mohammad Yunus and his eight-year-old sister, Sahar Bibi. The grenades that killed Mohammad and Sahar, as they were combing through dry branches to collect firewood for their family, should have detonated long before they were picked up. Instead, the shells exploded in the children's hands and ripped through their bodies, killing them instantly. The blasts also injured their two brothers, aged five and 12.

The four siblings were gathering wood about a kilometre from Camp Clark, a US military base in the eastern province of Khost, in an area used by US soldiers for battlefield training. But the grounds were unmarked, said the children's father, Sheren Totakhail, who didn't realise the danger.

© Reuters / Omar Sobhani

In rural areas, children often bring in vital income to households, but collecting scrap metal or herding animals can be fraught with unpredictable risks. Of all Afghans killed and maimed by unexploded ordnance, 75% are children, according to Macca.

"I wish I hadn't had to ask my children to work, but we are a poor family," said Totakhail. "Now, I don't even allow my other children to go to the bazaar for shopping."

Despite the removal of 16.5m items since mine-clearing programmes were established in 1989 after the Soviet withdrawal, Macca and its predecessors have recorded 22,000 casualties in the same period. Unexploded ordnance still kills and injures about 40 people each month. Since 2010, MACCA has recorded 36 deaths from unexploded ammunition on Nato firing ranges alone. The true number is thought to be much higher.

The withdrawal of western troops presents an opportunity to clean the mess up. At the end of the year, Nato's International Security Assistance Force mission was replaced with a training and assistance under the name Resolute Support, which will see much fewer foreign troops on the battlefields.

Though first steps have been taken to tackle unexploded ordnance (UXO), agencies complain the US-led forces are withholding information about where they may have dropped explosives.

"We ask for information about battlefields that may have UXO, but we have received coordinates for only 300 locations. It's not enough," said Mohammad Sediq Rashid, director of Macca.

Colonel Calvin Hudson, Nato's Combined Joint Task Force chief engineer in Kabul, says Nato gives as much information to mine-clearing agencies as possible without compromising operational security - coordinates for areas where Afghan forces continue their operations are withheld.

Much of the fighting in Afghanistan has taken place in and around residential areas, increasing the risk of civilian casualties in the aftermath of the war. UK and US diplomats emphasise that international law does not give their countries a responsibility to clear battlefields. But that does not absolve Nato countries of their duty to clean up after themselves, said Rashid.

"It is a moral responsibility," he said, adding that scattering unstable explosives around the country defeats the initial purpose of the war. "Military intervention is the last resort, and it's intended to protect people and stabilise the country," he said.

According to officials in Afghanistan, western governments became more aware of the risks of unexploded ammunition after a spate of accidents, and subsequent critical media reports, in 2013.

The UK and US governments have since planned a survey with UN agencies to detect and clear explosive remnants of war in Helmand. The US has also allocated $500,000 (£330,000) to survey 19 districts around the country that have seen high military activity over the past 13 years. According to a US embassy spokesperson, there are 185 districts with more than 50 "kinetic engagements".

International forces have been more forthcoming when it comes to cleaning up firing ranges. A diplomat at the British embassy in Kabul says the UK and US are planning to share the cost of clearing six abandoned firing ranges outside Camp Bastion in Helmand.

Of the 240 firing ranges around the country used by Nato, 140 are now controlled by Afghan security forces, and will not be cleared yet, including the range outside Camp Clark. The rest have been slated for clearance.

According to Hudson, cooperation between international forces, UN agencies and local organisations has improved. He said the relationship used to be dysfunctional and lack transparency, but now partners meet regularly and are "committed to getting the job done".

Hudson said Nato's firing ranges are due to be cleared by the end of 2015. But because many contaminated areas are still besieged by conflict, the work could be delayed. In December, insurgents in Helmand killed 12 Afghan deminers, reminding international donors that clearing explosives is fraught with danger in more ways than one.

However, despite "the tragic attack on contractor personnel undertaking the task," the British embassy official said, "our commitment to clearing our ranges remains."

While those efforts get under way, the hazards of UXO persist, even in Afghanistan's safest areas. Last February, in the peaceful highlands of Bamiyan, Sajad Ali, 18, and his brother Abdul Khaleq, 16, walked to a dry riverbed to collect firewood. They were unaware New Zealand's provincial reconstruction team had previously used this area for target practice.

While the boys rummaged through a thicket of branches, their donkey ran around on the hillside above. As it went, it kicked a stone down the slope towards the boys, which hit and detonated an unexploded shell, spraying them with shrapnel.

Sajad Ali still has pieces of the shell lodged in his leg and arm, and a long operation scar down his stomach. His brother also survived, albeit with a serious injury in his back. A scrawny boy with jet-black hair, Sajad Ali has lost half the strength in his arm, he said in an interview in the autumn. Now 19, he has developed a stutter from the shock of the explosion, and is afraid to leave the house.

Rashid said the sooner the international community expands its clearance efforts beyond firing ranges and a few other areas, the better. "We think every battlefield needs to be checked," he said. "Every village and every valley can be contaminated."

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New dashcam video shows white Seattle cop arresting 70yo black veteran for walking with golf club

© Reuters/Elaine Thompson

The Seattle Police Department is reviewing the conduct of an officer after she arrested an elderly black man who was using a golf club as a cane. Posting online, the officer also characterized civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo., as "chronic black racism."

Seattle police released dashcam footage of the July encounter on Wednesday.

"You swung that golf club at me when I turned the corner at 11th and Pike," Officer Cynthia Whitlatch said to 70-year-old William Wingate before arresting him.

The alleged club-swinging is not shown in the 20-minute video which starts out with Whitlatch -- who is white -- repeatedly yelling at Wingate to drop the golf club, calling it a "weapon" at one point. Wingate protests that he has been "walking with this golf club for 20 years."

The video was obtained by through a public records request.

[embedded content]

"You just swung that golf club at me!" Whitlatch said in the video.

"No, I did not!" Wingate replied.

Wingate, an Air Force veteran who has no criminal history, was eventually arrested and booked into jail, according to .

"I was scared," Wingate said, reported. "I didn't know what was going to happen to me. I knew one thing - I was being framed."

Wingate, a retired bus driver who served in the military for 20 years, said he doesn't know if he was racially profiled.

"I know one thing," he said. "I'm a black man walking down the street doing nothing and I got stopped and went to jail by a white police officer."

He has filed a claim with the City of Seattle, asking for damages of more than $750,000.

"Mr. Wingate's physicians and family members and friend will attest to the emotional distress caused by the racial profiling, arrest, and incarceration of this man, whose only crime was "walking in Seattle while black,'" the claim says in part.

Seattle police have apologized to Wingate and dropped the original misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of a weapon.

"The Mayor believes that these incidents are unfortunate and disappointing," said Viet Shelton, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's communications director, according to .

"He supports [Police] Chief [Kathleen] O'Toole's decision to call for a comprehensive review of the overall conduct and performance of the officer involved."

O'Toole announced the review of Whitlatch on Wednesday.

Whitlatch is one of the Seattle Police Department officers who filed a federal lawsuit against the city's use of force policies, reported.

Seattle police said a complaint over the arrest was filed with the Office of Professional Accountability.

"The officer who made the arrest received counseling from her supervisor, a course of action that the department believes to be an appropriate resolution," the Seattle Police Department said in a statement.

Whitlatch has not been disciplined for behavior in the past, Seattle police said, adding that there was no racial bias involved in Wingate's arrest.

"He should feel confident walking with a golf club in hand anywhere near the East Precinct," spokesperson Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said. "He should absolutely not be concerned."

Commenting on Facebook, Whitlatch called civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting on an unarmed black teenager "chronic black racism," as pointed out by .

"I am tired of black peoples [sic] paranoia that white people are out to get them," she wrote. "I am tired of hearing a black racist tell me the only reason they are being contacted is because they are black solely because I am NOT black."

After Facebook user Brian Davis responded, Whitlatch called him "another black racist."

The Seattle Police Department is also battling criticism over the seemingly wanton use of pepper spray on a crowd marching through the city on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as has reported.

[embedded content]

A high school history teacher, Jesse Hagopian, was directly in front of the spraying officer. He filed a claim against the city on Wednesday, nine days after the incident occurred during an anti-police brutality protest on the holiday named for the slain civil rights leader.

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Missouri police-public meeting turns into brawl over Ferguson tensions

© Reuters/Jim Young

A meeting aimed at healing mistrust between the black community and police in St Louis descended into a brawl Wednesday evening, underlining the tension that is still simmering in the area since the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in August.

Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson shot dead 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, sparking months of protests.

Protesters say that the incident is one of many across the state and the country, which show that blacks and other minorities are mistreated by the police.

[embedded content]

The meeting Wednesday at St Louis City Hall was meant to provide public comment for how and why a civilian review board should provide police oversight.

But the meeting broke up early when people started shouting and pushing each other.

Many in the crowd got angry with comments made by police officers opposed to the review board, while one police union official was seen wearing a wristband supporting Officer Wilson, according to people who were there.

"It seemed like he was intentionally trying to provoke people," Rasheen Aldridge, a member of a citizen's commission to examine racial tensions in Fergusson, and who was at the meeting, told Reuters.

"The tension is going to continue until we are going to get some change. People want to believe that things have settled down but with all these people still in positions of power we can't move forward with the healing process. The knife is still in our back," said Jerryl Christmas, a defense attorney who has been representing some people protesting Brown's shooting but was not at the meeting, told Reuters.

Since the shooting and despite widespread and persistent public protest, the St Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch refused to file charges against Wilson and a grand jury also declined to indict him, leading many in the community to conclude that there are double standards for those in positions of power.

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Stand back! Hysterical Seattle police pepper-sprays black teacher in face for walking too closely after leaving MLK rally

© Youtube

A high school teacher and activist sued the city of Seattle after a police officer sprayed chemical irritant directly into his face as he left a peaceful rally on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Jesse Hagopian, who spoke at the event about how black lives matter, was making arrangements by cell phone with his mother to attend his son's second birthday party when he passed a Seattle police officer screaming at passersby.

Video of the Jan. 19 incident shows the officer and some others standing at a police barricade as she orders a small, peaceful crowd - most of whom were walking past the police - to disperse.

Hagopian said officers set up a barricade with their bicycles to prevent protesters from marching, and he said some participants walked through the line - but he did not.

"Stand back, stand back," the officer screams as she holds a canister of pepper spray.

Suddenly, as Hagopian walks past talking on his cell phone, the officer blasts pepper spray - which the video shows hits him and an unidentified woman directly in the face.

Hagopian and the woman immediately duck for cover and the crowd scatters.

"I felt the piercing pain shoot through my eye, my ear drum and my nostril, all over my cheek and face," said Hagopian, whose eye was swollen shut afterward. "I yelled out. My mom was in distress as she heard me yell."

The officer continues to spray the chemical irritant in a sweeping motion toward the crowd, and she again orders the crowd to stand back when some witnesses ask what happened.

Video of the incident was uploaded to YouTube on Wednesday, the same day Hagopian's attorney filed a lawsuit against the city.

A spokesman for the police department said he had not seen the video and was unable to comment.

Watch video of the incident posted online by james bible:

[embedded content]

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Foreign troops in Ukraine? Of course! But they're not Russian


US-backed president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, was among the elites gathering in Davos, Switzerland this week to attend the 2015 World Economic Forum. During his speech he made the remarkable claim that 9,000 Russian troops were currently fighting in Ukraine on behalf of the independence-seeking areas of the country. These 9,000 troops have brought with them tanks, heavy artillery, and armored vehicles, he claimed. "Is this not aggression?" he asked the gathered elites.

The US was quick to amplify Poroshenko's claims, with US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power Tweeting today:

State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked whether the US might at least admit that the missiles fired by the Kiev authorities into residential areas in eastern Ukraine this week were a violation of the September ceasefire agreed upon in Minsk, Belarus. She refused to admit as much, and in fact she refused to even admit that the shells killing scores of civilians this past week were fired by the US-backed regime in Kiev. "Russia is not complying" with the agreement was all she would say.

NATO agreed with the US government assessment, adding that the movement of heavy equipment from Russia into Ukraine had increased in pace recently.

There appears to be a problem, however. The 9,000 troops and heavy weapons and equipment that purportedly accompanies them have been seen by no one. There are no satellite photos of what would certainly be a plainly visible incursion. We know from incredibly detailed satellite photos of Boko Haram's recent massacre in Nigeria that producing evidence of such large scale movement is entirely within the realm of US and NATO technological capabilities. Still there remains a lack of evidence.

Moreover, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is on the ground monitoring the border crossings between Ukraine and Russia, reported just this week that, "At the two BCPs (border crossing points) the OM (observer mission) did not observe military movement, apart from vehicles of the Russian Federation border guard service." If there has been an increase of Russian heavy weapons into Ukraine, why are the satellites in the skies and the eyes on the ground blind to them?

Poroshenko, who last week vowed to re-take eastern Ukraine by force, this week offered a different solution to the ongoing conflict:

The solution is very simple -- stop supplying weapons ... withdraw the troops and close the border. If you want to discuss something different, it means you are not for peace, you are for war.

That is probably good advice, but how ironic that it comes the very same week the Pentagon announced that US soldiers would be deployed to Ukraine this spring to begin training that country's national guard. US military on the ground in Ukraine is a significant escalation, far beyond the previous deployment of additional US and NATO troops in neighboring Poland and the Baltics.

Additionally, the US announced it was transferring heavy military equipment to the Ukrainian armed forces, including the Kozak mine-resistant personnel carrier and some 35 other armored trucks.

The US government has reportedly set aside several million dollars to help train the Ukrainian national guard. Considering the fact that the national guard was only re-formed after last year's US-backed coup and is made up in large part of neo-Nazis from the extremist Right Sector, one would hope some of the money is spent dissuading members from such an odious ideology.

So there may well be Russian troops and equipment on the ground in Ukraine -- though so far no proof exists and the Russians deny it. But we know very well that there are US troops and heavy military equipment on the ground in Ukraine because the US openly admits it! So Russia has no business claiming interest in unrest on its doorstep, but the US has every right to become militarily involved in a conflict which has nothing to do with us nearly 5,000 miles away? Interventionist illogic.

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SOTT FOCUS: Holocaust 2.0: Welcome to the jungle

Fritz Gerlich was a German journalist during Hitler's rise to power. He was well known for his biting criticism of der Führer. One of his most controversial moments was turning Hitler's image into a composite where his facial features were exaggerated and he was arm in arm with a black woman.

In the article, Fritz suggested that readers apply Hitler's own science of physiognomy to Hitler himself, and when applied, it's clear Hitler isn't even Aryan, but of a Mongolian subtype. This insult was the final nail in the coffin for Fritz, who had consistently used the power of the pen to combat Hitler each step of the way. He was arrested and dragged off to Dachau while working on yet another Hitler exposé, and killed a little over a year later.

Gerlich serves as but one example of many journalists who were threatened, beaten and murdered for revealing the truth. Only in the dark can evil things hide. I draw this piece of history to your attention, dear reader, because I want to talk about some other modern-day journalists who were killed under questionable circumstances. It seems we have yet to learn the lessons we said we'd never forget.

Shortly after New Year's, Iraq War vet David Crowley, his wife, and their five-year old daughter were found dead in their home in Minnesota. David was working on a documentary, Gray State, calling out the police state here in the US. His friends and family saw no signs of distress, their finances were fine, and there was no obvious explanation for this tragedy, which has led some to theorize that the family was 'suicided' by the powers that be. Granted, these days, any real whistle-blowing is unlikely due to the nature and depth of the surveillance state, but that won't stop folks from trying.

© Sott.net

David Crowley (Left), and Fritz Gerlich

You may also remember Michael Hastings. He was a journalist for Rolling Stone who was killed in a car 'accident' back in 2013. Hastings was working on a story about the CIA. Just a few hours before his death, he had contacted a lawyer connected with the Wikileaks crew because he discovered he was under investigation by the FBI. Assassination is an all-too-common tactic of alphabet agencies, and for decades they have been able to murder someone and set up the circumstances to make it appear as a suicide, car accident, or a heart attack. It's a bit more subtle than jack-boots and concentration camps, but it does the same job.

Speaking of people closely resembling jackbooted thugs, I have several extreme examples, which occurred just this week, of cops behaving like total Nazi thugs and getting away with it. A 17-year-old girl was killed by police in Colorado for driving a 'stolen' car. According to eyewitnesses, the police approached the car, opened fire on Jessica, who was driving, and she lost control, crashing into one of the officers. The officers claim that she 'assaulted' them with the vehicle first, forcing them to open fire.

© Unknown

Michael Hastings, left, and the scene of his fiery demise

Massive discrepancies between witness and cop testimonies is becoming the norm. Jessica was not some violent criminal; she was a teenager, and by all accounts tried to improve the lives of the people around her. There's been no clarification on who owned the vehicle, or if it was in fact stolen. (Remember, just because the cops quickly 'inform' the press that the suspect they just killed was in the process of committing crime, doesn't mean they actually were.)

Here we have a Missouri officer who reportedly drugged, beat and raped his victims. He was fired from his department after a decade of complaints and abuses came to light, but guess what - he retained his license as a cop, which means he can be hired by another department and continue his reign of terror. No charges were filed against him.

© Facebook

Jessica Hernandez, age 17, was killed by Police this past Monday, eyewitnesses contest police version of events

Cops in the UK are no different. Officer Warren Luke was just cleared of any wrong-doing in the brutal beating and assault of a mother who refused to leave her daughter, sick with cerebral palsy, alone in the hospital when asked to do so by staff.

Violence wasn't required, but since the officer instigated it 'in the line of the duty', he gets a pat on the back instead of criminal charges and jail-time. He punched, kicked, and tackled this woman when she refused to follow his orders. She suffered 40 different injuries, requiring plastic surgery and is unable to return to work. One of the other officers present testified against Luke, calling his attack on the woman 'just horrific'.

Officers in Wisconsin were tasked with rounding up random citizens for jury duty. These citizens were effectively kidnapped off the street and brought to the court house. Unsurprisingly, the judge then determined that this press-ganged jury was "unfit" and dismissed them all. No one even suggested that what had taken place was wrong.

Moving to France for a moment, insanity appears to have gripped some elements of the state's bureaucracy with 8 year old children getting arrested for 'advocating terrorism'. Of course, terrorism is atrocious and should not be advocated. But are all these children really guilty of the crimes of which they are accused? One14-year-old who was asked to debate the Paris terror attack with the rest of his class had the gall to suggest "They [the gunmen, presumably] were right." He was arrested and charged a few days later, despite showing remorse for saying those three words. Another 8 year old was arrested for acting as an "apologist for a terrorist act".

Meanwhile, according to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Israel tortures children regularly, keeping them locked up in cages, and Lord knows what else. The UN recently hosted its first meeting ever on the rise of anti-semitism. By Semites, the UN is referring to Jews, but technically, many Jews in Israel and around the world aren't Semites at all - they have European genes. After the Paris attacks, Islamophobia, or racism against Muslims is on the rise in Europe, and a majority of European Muslims are Semites, having ancestry that traces back to the Middle East.

© Stefan Huijboom

No, they aren't on their way to play paintball. These kids are being shipped to the eastern front in Ukraine to kill and be killed.

We also had the release of American Sniper recently, a film that thoroughly fans the flames of Islamophobia in the USA, reigniting popular suspicion and fear of Muslims. In this article, a former Marine breaks the film down and explains why it's a terrible piece of cinema. Interestingly, a lot of the same propaganda techniques used against Jews in Nazi-era Germany appear to be being used against Muslims today: they 'refuse to integrate', they're intolerant of other groups and religions, and they don't tolerate being insulted under the guise of free speech. These are ostensibly the reasons for labeling an entire religion as 'dangerous'.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, we have actual Nazis calling for the extermination of 'sub-races', those who practice 'perverse sexuality', or who have separatist tendencies. These same Nazis are shipping 16-year-olds to the front in Eastern Ukraine to serve as cannon fodder.

© Matt Molinari

Matt Molinari (left) and Eric Schnepf, seniors at Bridgewater-Raritan High, went door-to-door in Bound Brook on Monday evening passing out fliers offering to shovel snow from driveways.

In Mississippi, legislators are proposing a bill that would make it legal for the police to enter your home, without a warrant, if there is a pit-bull on the property. Not only that, they can shoot and kill your dog if it's "not under proper restraint when on the premises of its owner" or "attempts to peacefully capture the dog have been made and proven unsuccessful." It's a clear violation of your fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, as well as a ridiculous power grab by local authorities. It's also what the cops have been doing routinely since 9/11 anyway.

Speaking of the ridiculous, here's a story from New Jersey. Two local Bridgewater boys were seized by the entrepreneurial - American - spirit and decided to turn a quick buck during the recent snow storm by shoveling people's driveways. Guess what, guys - not without paying 'The Man' $450 for your 180-day solicitation permit. You read that right, it's illegal to go door to door, offering shoveling services for your neighbors, unless you pay the fee for the permit. Unfortunately, this is only one example of kids getting shut down in their first attempts at capitalism. It follows a pattern against girl scout cookies and lemonade stands that's been sweeping across the US.

It's getting crazy out there. From random shootings which seem to be occurring on a daily basis, to exaggerated threats - whether from the weather or 'Muslim extremists' - we have a planet where chaos is bubbling just beneath the surface.

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Video Surveillance shows cops assault and kill young woman who was seeking help

© Courtesy of Heather Robertson

Kristina Coignard

A 17-year-old girl walked into the Longview, Texas police station. Then, only minutes later, police say they were "forced" to shoot and kill her, Thursday night. Now, the police have released surveillance footage that captured the final moments of Kristiana Coignard's life. Cognard walked into the empty lobby and approached the after-hours assistance phone.

"We don't know how she got here," Longview police officer Kristie Brian said. Coignard was connected to dispatch, via the after-hours phone. Dispatch then sent officers out to confront her. But no one knows exactly what was said then. Police, however, say that she "pulled a weapon" and "threatened" them.

We asked what weapon she brandished.

"I don't know what kind it was, yes she did brandish a weapon," Officer Brian said on Friday.

The teenage girl was pronounced dead by a justice of the peace after being taken to a local hospital. Coignard had struggled with mental illness since her mother died when she was only four years old. She had been hospitalized for bipolar syndrome twice in recent years. Her aunt, Heather Robertson, said that she had been on medication and seeing a counselor since she moved in with her family in December.

The video raises questions to many about whether police needed to shoot, and if they perhaps antagonized the situation, refusing to deescalate when the opportunities to do so presented themselves. One officer seems to have had her immobilized and under control. Still, she was shot and killed. Three officers were placed on administrative leave shortly after this incident.

Watch the surviellence footage below...

[embedded content]

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Mummified remains of '200 year old man in lotus position' found in Mongolia

Forensic examination to be made on well preserved remains of possible Lama teacher.

This extraordinary picture shows the mummifed male body which is believed to be several centuries old. It was found at 6.30 pm 27 January 2015 in Songinokhairkhan province, reported Mongolia's .

© 'Өглөөний сонин'

A 'meditating mummy' found on 27th of January in Mongolia.

'The mummified body sits in a lotus position, as if still meditating.

'Experts that only had time to carry basic visual test say they believe the body can be about 200 years old'.

The report added: 'So far there is no information as to where the body was found. The only details we learned was that it was covered with a cattle skin'.

It was not clear if it was the skin of a cow, horse, or camel, said the report. The mummy was delivered to Ulaanbataar National Centre of Forensic Expertise'.

Initial speculation is that the mummy could be a teacher of famous Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov.

Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, born in 1852, was a Buryat Buddhist Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, best known for the lifelike state of his body.

His remains were reported not to be subject to macroscopic decay.

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GMO agri-businesses invade Ukraine's bread basket

gmo corn

© unknown

At the same time as the United States, Canada and the European Union announced a set of new sanctions against Russia in mid-December last year, Ukraine received US$350 million in US military aid, coming on top of a $1 billion aid package approved by the US Congress in March 2014.

Western governments' further involvement in the Ukraine conflict signals their confidence in the cabinet appointed by the new government earlier in December 2014. This new government is unique given that three of its most important ministries were granted to foreign-born individuals who received Ukrainian citizenship just hours before their appointment.

The Ministry of Finance went to Natalie Jaresko, a US-born and educated businesswoman who has been working in Ukraine since the mid-1990s, overseeing a private equity fund established by the US government to invest in the country. Jaresko is also the CEO of Horizon Capital, an investment firm that administers various Western investments in the country.

As unusual as it may seem, this appointment is consistent with what looks more like a takeover of the Ukrainian economy by Western interests. In two reports - "The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture" and "Walking on the West Side: The World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict" - the Oakland Institute has documented this takeover, particularly in the agricultural sector.

A major factor in the crisis that led to deadly protests and eventually to president Viktor Yanukovych's removal from office in February 2014 was his rejection of a European Union Association agreement aimed at expanding trade and integrating Ukraine with the EU - an agreement that was tied to a US$17 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

After the president's departure and the installation of a pro-Western government, the IMF initiated a reform program that was a condition of its loan with the goal of increasing private investment in the country.

The package of measures includes reforming the public provision of water and energy, and, more important, attempts to address what the World Bank identified as the "structural roots" of the current economic crisis in Ukraine, notably the high cost of doing business in the country.

The Ukrainian agricultural sector has been a prime target for foreign private investment and is logically seen by the IMF and World Bank as a priority sector for reform. Both institutions praise the new government's readiness to follow their advice.

For example, the foreign-driven agricultural reform roadmap provided to Ukraine includes facilitating the acquisition of agricultural land, cutting food and plant regulations and controls, and reducing corporate taxes and custom duties.

The stakes around Ukraine's vast agricultural sector - the world's third-largest exporter of corn and fifth-largest exporter of wheat - could not be higher. Ukraine is known for its ample fields of rich black soil, and the country boasts more than 32 million hectares of fertile, arable land - the equivalent of one-third of the entire arable land in the European Union.

The maneuvering for control over the country's agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

The presence of foreign corporations in Ukrainian agriculture is growing quickly, with more than 1.6 million hectares signed over to foreign companies for agricultural purposes in recent years. While Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont have been in Ukraine for quite some time, their investments in the country have grown significantly over the past few years.

Cargill is involved in the sale of pesticides, seeds and fertilizers and has recently expanded its agricultural investments to include grain storage, animal nutrition and a stake in UkrLandFarming, the largest agribusiness in the country.

Similarly, Monsanto has been in Ukraine for years but has doubled the size of its team over the last three years. In March 2014, just weeks after Yanukovych was deposed, the company invested $140 million in building a new seed plant in Ukraine.

DuPont has also expanded its investments and announced in June 2013 that it too would be investing in a new seed plant in the country.

Western corporations have not just taken control of certain profitable agribusinesses and agricultural activities, they have now initiated a vertical integration of the agricultural sector and extended their grip on infrastructure and shipping.

For instance, Cargill now owns at least four grain elevators and two sunflower seed processing plants used for the production of sunflower oil. In December 2013, the company bought a "25% +1 share" in a grain terminal at the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk with a capacity of 3.5 million tonnes of grain per year.

All aspects of Ukraine's agricultural supply chain - from the production of seeds and other agricultural inputs to the actual shipment of commodities out of the country - are thus increasingly controlled by Western firms.

European institutions and the US government have actively promoted this expansion. It started with the push for a change of government at a time when president Yanukovych was seen as pro-Russian interests. This was further pushed, starting in February 2014, through the promotion of a "pro-business" reform agenda, as described by the US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker when she met with Prime Minister Arsenly Yatsenyuk in October 2014.

The European Union and the United States are working hand in hand in the takeover of Ukrainian agriculture. Although Ukraine does not allow the production of genetically modified (GM) crops, the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, which ignited the conflict that ousted Yanukovych, includes a clause (Article 404) that commits both parties to cooperate to "extend the use of biotechnologies" within the country.

This clause is surprising given that most European consumers reject GM crops. However, it creates an opening to bring GM products into Europe, an opportunity sought after by large agro-seed companies such as Monsanto.

Opening up Ukraine to the cultivation of GM crops would go against the will of European citizens, and it is unclear how the change would benefit Ukrainians.

It is similarly unclear how Ukrainians will benefit from this wave of foreign investment in their agriculture, and what impact these investments will have on the seven million local farmers.

Once they eventually look away from the conflict in the Eastern "pro-Russian" part of the country, Ukrainians may wonder what remains of their country's ability to control its food supply and manage the economy to their own benefit.

As for US and European citizens, will they eventually awaken from the headlines and grand rhetoric about Russian aggression and human rights abuses and question their governments' involvement in the Ukraine conflict?

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The forgotten 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris who demonstrated against a discriminatory curfew imposed only on Muslims

1961 Paris massacre

A colleague of mine in Cairo told me a story a few years ago about a massacre in the streets of Paris. He was a news service reporter at the time of the violence in the French capital - Oct. 17, 1961 - and saw tens of bodies of dead Algerians piled like cordwood in the center of the city in the wake of what would now be called a police riot.

But his superiors at the news agency stopped him from telling the full story then, and most of the world paid little attention to the thin news coverage that the massacre did receive. Even now, the events of that time are not widely known and many people, like myself, had never heard of them at all.

This year is an apt time to recall what happened, and not only because this is the 35th anniversary year of Algerian independence. The continuing civil war in Algeria and the growing violence and racism in France, as well as the appalling slaughters taking place elsewhere in the world, give it a disturbing currency.

Here's what happened:

1961 march

Unarmed Algerian Muslims demonstrating in central Paris against a discriminatory curfew were beaten, shot, garotted and even drowned by police and special troops. Thousands were rounded up and taken to detention centers around the city and the prefecture of police, where there were more beatings and killings.

How many died? No one seems to know for sure, even now. Probably around 200.

It seems astonishing today, from this perspective, that such a thing could happen in the middle of a major Western capital closely covered by the international media. This was not Kabul, Beijing, Hebron or some Bosnian backwater, after all, but the City of Light - Paris.

But the Fifth Republic under President Charles de Gaulle was in trouble in October 1961. De Gaulle, who was primarily interested in establishing France's pre-eminent position in Western Europe and the world, found himself presiding over domestic chaos. France was constantly disrupted by strikes and protests by farmers and workers, as well as by terrorism from opposing organizations: the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), representing the Algerian nationalist independence movement, and the Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS), a group of disaffected soldiers, politicians and others committed to keeping Algeria French. The OAS rightly perceived that de Gaulle was bound to free France from the burden of its last major colonial holding, so he could get on with the business of making France the economic and political power of his lofty ambition.

Eyewitness reports recounted stranglings by police.

1961 detention of Algerians

But the vicious war in Algeria, marked by bloody atrocities committed on all sides, had been grinding on for nearly seven years. Terrorist attacks in Paris and other French cities had claimed dozens of lives of police, provoking what Interior Minister Roger Frey called la juste colère - the just anger - of the police. They vented that anger on the evening of Oct. 17. About 30,000 Muslims - from among some 200,000 Algerians, ostensibly French citizens, living in and around Paris - descended upon the boulevards of central Paris from three different directions. The demonstration of men, women and children was called by the FLN to protest an 8:30 p.m. curfew imposed only on Muslims.

The demonstrators were met by about 7,000 police and members of special Republican Security companies, armed with heavy truncheons or guns. They let loose on the demonstrators in, among other places, Saint Germain-des-Prés, the Opéra, the Place de la Concorde, the Champs Elysée, around the Place de l'Étoile and, on the edges of the city, at the Rond Point de la Defense beyond Neuilly.

My news agency friend counted at least 30 corpses of demonstrators in several piles outside his office near the city center, into which he had pulled some Algerians to get them away from rampaging police. Another correspondent reported seeing police backing unarmed Algerians into corners on sidestreets and clubbing them at will. Later eyewitness reports recounted stranglings by police and the drowning of Algerians in the Seine, from which bodies would be recovered downstream for weeks to come.

Maurice Papon in the 1940s

Maurice Papon, the Prefect of the Paris police, was the only Vichy France official to be convicted for his role in the deportation of Jews during WW II. But Papon was never prosecuted for the deaths of Algerians caused by police under his orders in 1961. These were not the last deaths caused by police under Papon's responsibility. Four months later, in February 1962, Papon went too far even for the French President Charles De Gaulle, when French police killed nine white people at a Communist-led demonstration against the war in Algeria. 700,000 people marched at the funeral of the five protesters while a general strike shut down Paris.

Thousands of Algerians were rounded up and brought to detention centers, where the violence against them continued. "Drowning by Bullets," a British TV documentary aired about four years ago, alleges that scores of Algerians were murdered in full view of police brass in the courtyard of the central police headquarters. The prefect of police was Maurice Papon, who recently was still denying charges that he was responsible for deporting French Jews to Auschwitz during World War II while he was part of the Vichy government.

The official version

The full horror of this inglorious 1961 episode in French history was largely covered up at the time. Though harrowing personal accounts did eventually percolate to the surface in the French press, the newspapers - enfeebled by years of government censorship and control - for the most part stuck with official figures that only two and, later, five people had died in the demonstration. Government-owned French TV showed Algerians being shipped out of France after the demonstration, but showed none of the police violence.

Journalists had been warned away from coverage of the demonstration and were not allowed near the detention centers.

With few exceptions, the British and American press stuck to the official story, including suggestions that the Algerians had opened fire first. Even the newsman who saw the piles of Algerian corpses was not allowed to report the story; his bosses ordered that the bureau reports stick to the official figures.

Both French and foreign journalists in Paris seemed tacitly to agree that nothing should be done to further destabilize the French government or endanger de Gaulle, who was widely seen as the last, best hope for navigating France out of its troubles.

The story quickly died, drowned out by fresher alarums and excursions in Europe and elsewhere.

And, of course, in the next year, Algeria would have its independence.

Jacques Vergès, the controversial French lawyer who represented the FLN during the war in Algeria, told me in an interview last summer that the police violence and government and press cover-up in 1961 were not surprising. The political circumstances were right for it, and the news media usually do what they're told. Just look at how easy it was to round up and intern American citizens of Japanese descent after Pearl Harbor, he observed. If he's right, then the problem for politicians is to make sure that the conditions for injustice and atrocity do not conjoin, that there is no probability created for massacres like the one in Paris in October 1961. And if the politicians fail, then the problem for journalists and others is how to resist becoming their accomplices.

Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.

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