Sunday, April 29, 2012

Keep guessing: US deploying fighter jets to the Gulf?

F-22 Raptor fighter jet (Lockheed Martin via Getty Images / AFP)

Source: Russia Today

The US says it has deployed a number of its most modern jet fighters to an air base in Southwest Asia. The announcement alarmed many, who suspect the base is actually in the United Arab Emirates just 200 hundred miles from Iran.

The Air Force did not specify the exact number or location of the recently-deployed F-22 Raptors, but confirmed that they had been sent to a base in Southwest Asia, a region that includes the UAE.

“Such deployments strengthen military-to-military relationships, promote sovereign and regional security, improve combined tactical air operations and enhance interoperability of forces, equipment and procedures,” said Air Force spokesman Capt. Phil Ventura.

Numerous reports assert that the planes have been deployed in the United Arab Emirates, just 200 miles from Iran's mainland.

The move is viewed by many as a precautionary measure ahead of crucial nuclear talks with Iran.

Washington, however, says it is a scheduled deployment and not a threat to Tehran.

Iran agreed earlier this month to discuss its nuclear program without preconditions, but refused to have private bilateral talks with a US delegation. The next round of talks is scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad.

The F-22 Raptor is considered to be the world's most sophisticated fighter. Though the F-22 has been deployed before, it has never been combat-tested since being declared operational in 2005.

Jason Ditz, a news editor at, believes the deployment will not bring about a higher level of security.

“If anything, it’s going to increase tensions in the region, convince the Iranian government that next month’s talks in Baghdad are not serious, and that the US is simply negotiating in bad faith once again,” Ditz told RT.

He noted that while the US and Israel were unlikely to launch an attack on Iran in the coming months, the move was nonetheless meant to be a provocation.

“The fact that they’re rumored to be organizing a simulated attack on Iran, with the cooperation of Israel, would certainly be a strong symbolic move – particularly since it’s supposed to come just two months ahead of the Baghdad talks,” Ditz added.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Police vs Protester: Feds sending armed agents to Chicago three weeks before NATO Summit

AFP Photo / Lee Celano

Source: Russia Today

May's NATO summit in Chicago is still weeks away, but residents of the Windy City can expect to see armed federal agents patrolling the streets in preparation much sooner than that.

Three weeks before international heads of state will converge in Chicago, Illinois for the annual NATO conference, the US Federal Protective Service will send armed officers into the city’s downtown district to prepare for the swarm of protesters expected to arrive in time for the event, slated for May 20 and 21.

Both the NATO and G-8 summits were initially scheduled to occur back-to-back in the major Midwest city, but the meeting between the world’s eight leading economies has since been relocated to Camp David, the fortified presidential retreat in Maryland used as a getaway destination for many of America’s past commanders-in-chief. As of now, however, the NATO summit will take place in Chicago and, citing concerns over how demonstrators may respond, law enforcement is being called in early to size up the city.

Beginning May 1, the Federal Protective Service agents will be in Chicago for “Operation Red Zone.” Although the officers will not necessarily be restricting residents from accessing any public spaces that they are normally permitted to enter, the agents will be patrolling — in complete battle gear.

“Will you see a highly visible police force? Yes,” the FPS’ Cleophas Bradley told federal employees, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. “But we will not be preventing anyone from entering the red zone.”

Bradley adds that the officers on patrol will be outfitted with weapons that can fire off “non-lethal” projectiles, much like the firearm that cracked the skull of war veteran Scott Olsen during an Occupy Wall Street protest in Oakland, California last year.

The Sun-Times explains that the move is meant to ensure that a large section of the metropolis will be safe from unruly mobs during next month’s conference, but not even the city’s own elected officials and leaders were made aware of the agency’s plans to put fully equipped federal cops into town in advance.

“A lot of us were surprised to read that. Obviously, the federal government doesn’t consult with the city when they do this. Everybody was unaware of this,” NATO Host Committee Executive Director Lori Healey tells the Sun-Times.

Even at the top of the city’s political structure, Mayor Rahm Emanuel — a close, personal pal of US President Barack Obama and former White House chief of staff — was allegedly unaware of the government’s game plan.

“This was a security decision and we were not involved,” the mayor’s communications director, Sarah Hamilton, explains to the Sun-Times.

Failure by the Federal department to inform the host city of the security initiative is believed to be a pretty good indicator of what to expect. Although federal agents were assumed to be dispatched to Chicago for the conference, sending armed officers to patrol the city unbeknownst to the town’s own management sends a message that the government is not willing to give local law enforcement a chance to let any incidents upset the NATO Summit.

When the first agents roll into town next week, the Sun-Times say they will begin patrolling a perimeter in Chicago’s downtown “Loop” district that includes the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, the Kluczynski Building, the RH Metcalfe Building and the Metropolitan Correctional Center, as well as a handful of federally owned buildings located on what is called the “State Street cluster.”

The Sun-Times has also published an information sheet that outlines the agenda of “Operation Red Zone,” which includes preserving the peace, minimizing disruption, and protecting government property from damage and destruction. Also included on the list is the item “Ensure protection of individual rights to peacefully assemble and express opinions,” although some who plan on protesting the summit have expressed concern over how their First Amendment rights will be protected. In the state of Illinois, it is illegal to make any audio recording of a law enforcement officer without permission, essentially stripping away the right to film during the event.

Additionally, the recent passage of H.R. 347, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 dubbed the “Trespass Bill” by some pundits, will make it a crime to engage “in disorderly or disruptive conduct” or “impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” during the summit — even if one isn’t aware that they are doing so.Under H.R. 347, any event that the United States Secret Service is assigned to monitor is placed in a category where protesters arrested by the armed security unit could be lobbed with hefty criminal charges.

The Sun-Times adds that, in the event of “civil disobedience,” federal agents will shut down access to the “Red Zone” by putting the Loop in lock-down as authorities attempt to restore order.

“The reality is that FPS deals with protecting federal buildings, so they do have their work cut out for them,” Jeff Cramer of consulting firm Kroll Inc. adds to the paper. “There are a fair amount of federal targets for protesters to make a point with if they wanted.”

Earlier this year, the city issued property owners detailed instructions on how to handle mobs and riots expected for the event.

NATO ENCIRCLEMENT OF RUSSIA. The Strategic Role of the "Visegrad Four": Poland, Hungary Czech Republic, Slovakia

Source: Global Research
by Vladislav Gulevich

In May 2012, Chicago is to host the NATO summit. The alliance is facing the task of improving the relations within the bloc and restructuring its strategy taking into account the current crisis tendencies, which have gripped the Western world and the global challenges the West is facing. With mass media focusing on the events on the Middle East and North Africa, a threat of war against Iran and Afghanistan, Libya’s post war instability, the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian crisis, Brussels has a lot to consider. In its turn, Poland is also preparing to submit its ideas and proposals at the coming summit in Chicago.

In particular, in its foreign policy for 2012-2016 Poland pays a special attention to the Visegrad Group or the Visegrad Four (V4) (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia), a military and political bloc, which was established in 1991. When V4 signed its joint declaration on striving for their European integration, they clearly defined the political and ideological border-line where they planned to “hold back” Russia. In May 2011, the group announced plans to set up a new combat unit under the command of Poland, which was to grow into a full-fledged military and political mechanism by 2016. Formally this mechanism is expected to have the authorities which are separate from NATO.

Already in 2013, the Visegrad Group plans to take part in the NATO Response Force military exercises. It is very important for Poland to unite the countries of the Four around itself, considering that in the second half of 2012 Poland will chair this organization. Warsaw wants to continue acting as the regional pole of power, consolidating the countries of the Eastern Europe and the Baltic region. Poland and the Baltic states have tight allied relations but Warsaw looks into the future and does not rule out that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will join the Visegrad Group (В 4+ format).

In April 2012, the Polish authorities organized a meeting with the Baltic allies in order to discuss this idea and to work out a common view of the strategic situation in the region. While Tallinn and Riga are willing to participate Vilnius with its attempts of “lithuanization” of Lithuanian Poles is spoiling the party. Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaitė ignored the meeting of her Baltic counterparts with the Polish president. Reportedly, Poland hinted to Lithuania quite directly that if the Lithuanian authorities did not reconsider their policy with regard to the Polish minority in Lithuania, Warsaw would revise its position regarding the support of NATO’s mission on protection of the Baltic States’ air space.

Meanwhile the Baltic States are eying Scandinavia to build a North-South geopolitical axis instead of an East-West axis. Polish experts regularly recommend the government not to forget about Scandinavia and to strive for the creation of a “geopolitical bridge” between Poland and Sweden. Poland is the regional leader in Eastern Europe. Sweden is the leading Scandinavian power. The Baltic States, sandwiched between Swedes and Poles, were destined to rely on Warsaw. But Lithuania wants to depend on Poland less than on anyone else. Vilnius and Warsaw look at the history of the Polish-Lithuanian relations from different positions. Poles regard the period of the unification of Lithuania and Poland as the peak of the geopolitical power of the Polish State, while Lithuanians consider that epoch to be the time of total Polish domination in everything from the language to the legislation.

For Poland Lithuania is the most important of all the Baltic States. In the 1920-s, the supporters of the Polish statesman Jozef Pilsudski tried to get control over Lithuania and to create a puppet state - the Republic of Central Lithuania (the rebellion of General Zeligowski). The Republic of Central Lithuania included also a part of Belarus and was to form a strong buffer state between Poland and the USSR. But today there is coolness between Lithuanians and Poles. Lithuanians are trying to make Lithuanian Poles forget their “Imperial ambitions”. In their turn, Lithuanian Poles consider Poland to be a stronger state than Lithuania and don’t want to give up their Polish ways. As a result the idea of “В 4+” is still only an idea.

As for V4, these countries do not have any serious contradictions. This is proved by a recent declaration (“Responsibility for a strong NATO”), in which members of the Vysegrad group pledged to contribute to the strengthening of NATO’s defense capacity. The four states have declared they would not withdraw their troops from Afghanistan earlier than the term which was officially set, sticking to the principle “together-in - together-out”. The group has also supported the plans of the US administration on deployment of the components of the anti-missile system and spoken for the expansion of the North-Atlantic alliance by admitting the states, which membership will contribute to a stronger defense capacity of the bloc.

It is not difficult to guess what those states are. First of all it is Ukraine. It is not a coincidence that the Visegrad group issued its joint declaration on the eve of the Chicago summit. Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich has already been invited to attend this event and Poland is acting as the main supporter of Ukraine in the EU and NATO. Warsaw does not mind Georgia’s entry to NATO either, but the problem of the republic’s “territorial integrity’ is a serious obstacle on the way to its dream of European integration. Moldova’s prospects are also vague due to the same reason.

In the declaration the Visegrad Group pledges to stick to NATO’s strategy adopted in Lisbon in 2010. According to V4, during the Chicago summit it is desirable to adopt a “defense package”. In particular, the Four urges the intensification of cooperation within NATO in the field of joint military exercises in particular on the territory of the V4 countries.

According to NATO’s plans, which are to be discussed at the summit in Chicago in May, the countries of the former USSR, which surround Russia, must play the role of an “anaconda ring” pressing Russia and pushing it farther from its navigation routes: the Baltic States would block the access to the Baltic Sea, the scale of Russia’s presence on the Black Sea depends on Ukraine and Georgia; on land the Western direction would be blocked by Moldova and Ukraine and by Muscovites’ eternal opponent, which is Poland.

The essence of the North-Atlantic alliance as a military and political bloc has not changed since its establishment in 1949. NATO has not changed its goals regarding historical Russia which were set back in the beginning of the Cold War. These are only means of achieving these goals which are changing.

Friday, April 27, 2012

CISPA passes House in unexpected last-minute vote

AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards

Source: Russia Today

The House of Representatives has approved Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act with a vote count of 248-168. The bill is now headed for the Senate. President Barack Obama will be able to sign or cancel it pending Senate approval.

Initially slated to vote on the bill Friday, the House of Representatives decided to pass Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) Thursday after approving a number of amendments.

Apart from cyber and national security purposes, the bill would now allow the government to use private information obtained through CISPA for the investigation and prosecution of “cybersecurity crime,” protection of individuals and the protection of children. The new clauses define “cybersecurity crime” as any crime involving network disruption or hacking.

“Basically this means CISPA can no longer be called a cyber security bill at all. The government would be able to search information it collects under CISPA for the purposes of investigating American citizens with complete immunity from all privacy protections as long as they can claim someone committed a 'cybersecurity crime.' Basically it says the Fourth Amendment does not apply online, at all,” Techdirt's Leigh Beadon said.

Declan McCullagh, correspondent from CNET News, says CISPA will cause more trouble than is immediately apparent.

“The most controversial section of CISPA is the language – that notwithstanding any other portion the of law, companies can share what they want as long as it’s for what they call a ‘cyber security purpose,'" he told RT.

The CISPA battleground in numbers

CISPA was introduced in the House last November. Critics chided the bill, saying its broad wording could allow the government to spy on individual Internet users and block websites that publish vaguely defined ‘sensitive’ data.

"[CISPA] doesn’t really have any protections against cyber threats, all it does is make people share their information. But that’s not going to solve the problem. What’s going to solve the problem is actual security measures, protecting the service in the first place, not spying on people after the fact," Internet activist Aaron Swartz told RT.

The White House issued a statement Wednesday saying President Barack Obama would be advised to veto the bill if he receives it. The Obama administration denounces the proposed law for potentially giving the government cyber-sleuthing powers that would allow both federal authorities and private businesses to sneak into inboxes and online activities in the name of combating Internet terrorism tactics.

We asked our Twitter followers what they think of CISPA's possible adoption into law – and they don't seem happy.

Earlier, the House of Representatives and Senate also considered adopting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). These bills sought to entitle the US government to curb access to “rogue websites” that illegally hosted intellectual property. The bills could effectively force search engines to remove these websites from search results, an action many private companies considered intrusive.

PIPA and SOPA were opposed by many Internet giants including Google, Mozilla, Facebook, Yahoo!, Wikipedia and Reddit. Google organized a petition against the legislation, while Wikipedia held a 24-hour blackout to protest the bill in January. As a result, SOPA was recalled while PIPA was postponed indefinitely.

However, CISPA was actually backed by Facebook, despite its opposition to SOPA and PIPA. In a blog post on April 13, Joel Kaplan, Vice President of US Public Policy at Facebook, argued that if enacted into law, the bill would “give companies like ours the tools we need to protect our systems and the security of our users’ information, while also providing those users confidence that adequate privacy safeguards are in place.”

A number of big companies, including AT&T, Microsoft, Boeing, Verizon and Oracle have also supported CISPA

CISPA: Patriot Act for the web’ – Internet activist

AFP Photo / David Gannon

Source: Russia Today

With the House of Representatives' approval of the controversial CISPA bill, Internet users are worried about possible consequences. RT spoke to Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who said CISPA could be used to spy on people.

RT: Can you explain the difference between this legislation and the previous controversial bills aimed at combating piracy?

Aaron Swartz: The previous bills were about giving the government the power to censor the Internet. And this is more like a Patriot Act for the Internet. It sort of lets the government run roughshod over privacy protections and share personal data about you, take it from Facebook and Internet providers and use it without the normal privacy protections that are in the law.

RT: So as far as individuals are concerned, is it worse than the previous ones?

AS: Yes, it’s worse because it does allow the government to shut down websites for ‘national security' reasons. It does have all the censorship problems the previous bill did. But it also goes much further and allows them to spy on people using the Internet, to get their personal data and e-mails. It’s an incredibly broad and dangerous bill.

RT: It’s not popular amongst Internet users, but it is popular with big companies like Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft – they’re backing CISPA. How can protesters compete with major corporations and companies like that?

AS: Well, it’s true. Big corporations are supporting the bill, especially big corporations that make money off of violating people's privacy. So it’s not a big surprise they’re in favor. But we’re seeing that the same way grassroots efforts were able to stop SOPA – despite millions of dollars of Hollywood lobbyists behind it – are now also being able to stop this bill. I mean everyone said, this is just a consensus in Washington, you couldn’t do anything. And now, even the White House is coming out against this bill with strong language, much stronger than they used against SOPA.

RT: The Obama administration is planning to veto the bill despite the fact that over two hundred in Congress are supporting it. Is this more about political point-scoring or preserving online privacy?

AS: I think the White House is obviously interested in repairing its reputation. But I think there are some people in the White House who really do care about privacy. The fact is, when they looked at this bill and investigated it, they saw how incredibly bad it was and that forced them to speak out.

RT: This bill, though, at the end of the day is meant to enforce cyber security and prevent threats. If these are real threats, then surely the US does need something to safeguard against them. What’s your alternative?

AS: Well the thing about this bill is it doesn’t really have any protections against cyber threats, all it does is make people share their information. But that’s not going to solve the problem. What’s going to solve the problem is actual security measures, protecting the service in the first place, not spying on people after the fact. So what I’d like to see is what a bunch of security experts have proposed – a bill that really does secure computer systems, makes them harder to attack, rather than one that involves more spying and watching people.

RT: Across Europe, we’ve seen thousands come out to protest the planned global Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA. But depending on Friday’s vote in Congress, do you expect the same kind of response in the US over CISPA?

AS: We’ve already seen quite an outcry. I don’t think it’s going to be on the level we’ve seen in other countries. Almost a million people have signed a petition on the Internet. Many representatives have spoken out against it. This is a tougher fight, no question, because it’s harder to go up against this notion of cyber terrorism that they’re using. But I think we’re making a lot of progress and I think we’ll see the bill eventually defeated.

CISPA was introduced in the House of Representatives last November by Mike Rogers (R-MI) and has since been amended on a number of occasions. Numerous critics, including World Wide Web founder Tim Bernars-Lee and Representative Ron Paul, continue to criticize its overly broad wording, which would permit private companies to submit personal user data to the government.

Congress had previously failed to approve SOPA and PIPA, which sought to bar access to websites containing illegally published copyrighted information. The bills were shelved in January, after a day of protests by major Internet companies, during which Wikipedia and Reddit among others remained inaccessible for 24 hours.

An international equivalent of SOPA and PIPA, ACTA was signed by eight countries plus the EU and all of its members. However, the agreement was met with a bevy of protests throughout Europe and has so far not been ratified by any country

Thousands of Canadian students protest fee hike: 85 arrested (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Source: Russia Today

Week-long demonstrations over a proposed rise in university tuition fees have erupted into violence in Quebec. Police in Montreal clashed with thousands of students who accuse the government of sabotaging negotiations for a settlement.

Riot police have so far arrested 85 people after a government exclusion of a student group from talks triggered activist ire.

Students have flooded Montreal’s streets over the past few days, up in arms over tuition fee hikes that would see costs rise by 75 percent over the next five years.

Thursday’s riots were declared illegal after demonstrators reportedly pelted police officers with projectiles and threw garbage into the streets.

Demonstrations on Wednesday quickly descended into violence with reports of student activists smashing windows and vandalizing property. Police used tear gas to bring them under control, with three officers injured in the fighting.

A police crackdown on student demonstrations on Saturday 21 also led to the arrest of at least 50 people.

The Quebec government has dismissed a student syndicate from the negotiating table following the violent riots.

Education Minister Line Beauchamp blocked a proposal to resume talks with student syndicate CLASSE on Thursday, accusing the group of promoting violence.

"We can’t ask the government to negotiate with those who use violence as a form of blackmail," Beauchamp said.

Talks are due to resume with two other groups representing university and college students on Friday.

The city’s mayor Gerald Tremblay has appealed for student activists and the local government to make peace before the situation escalates further. He cited reports of demonstrators tossing bricks into the city's subway and dropping rocks off a downtown overpass.

"Montrealers … are fed up. They don't want to go through this. This stuff always happens in Montreal. It's the same thing for the businesses affected… It's the same thing for Montreal's reputation on the world stage," he said about Wednesday night’s riots.

Student protest groups have accused the government of using a “divide and conquer strategy”, sabotaging talks. They say that a settlement was never on the cards, claiming authorities seek to divert attention from the disputed tuition fee increase with the pretext of social unrest.

Journalist Bernard Desgagne told RT that the incidents were “relatively minor,” but police were using them as an excuse “to conduct massive repression.”

“This has profound ramifications, people are very unhappy about the way their political elite are behaving and they feel that the government is not serving the people at all, it’s only serving big financial interests,” he said.

Desgagne added that people were “infuriated” by police brutality towards peaceful protesters, stressing that it would only “fuel public miscontent” and support for the student movement.

The Quebec government has proposed a rise in fees of $325 annually for the next five years, which would still make Montreal one of the cheapest cities to study in the country.

Riot police confront students during a protest April 26, 2012 in Montreal, Canada, over Quebec's plans to raise tuition (AFP Photo/Rogerio Barbosa)

Spain's unemployment rate hits record high at 24.44 percent

Unemployed people in Spain. (file photo)

Source: Press TV

Newly released figures show Spain’s unemployment rate hit a new record high at the end of March, reaching 24.44 percent.

With the highest rate since 1996, the data released by Spain's National Statistics Institute indicate that some 5.6 million people are now jobless, AFP reported.

This comes hours after the New York-based Standard & Poor’s ratings agency downgraded Madrid’s long-term sovereign credit rating from A to BBB+, giving it a negative outlook.

Earlier this month, Spain’s Labor Ministry had announced a rise in the country’s jobless rate for March, saying an estimated 4.75 million people were unemployed.

In the first quarter of the year, some 37,000 jobs were lost in Spain.

The eurozone’s fourth largest economy has announced spending cuts of more than 11-billion dollars as well as tax increases to reduce the country's deficit to avoid seeking a financial bailout like Greece, Ireland, and Portugal.

Battered by the global financial downturn, the Spanish economy collapsed into recession in the second half of 2008, destroying millions of jobs.

A number of analysts have on several occasions said that Spain's economy is expected to be hit by a new recession in the first two quarters of 2012.

Obama Administration approves broader Yemen drone strikes

The file photo of a US assassination drone

Source: Press TV

US President Barack Obama has approved a new policy which allows the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen.

According to US officials, Obama has approved the use of "signature strikes", which will allow the CIA to launch strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed.

The move comes as the number of US assassination drone strikes in Yemen has already hit a record.

Critics of drone campaign believe that more innocent people will be killed if US strikes are expanded in Yemen.

US assassination drone strikes killed at least 64 people, mainly civilians, in southern Yemen over a period of only three days in March.

The CIA has been flying drones in Yemen since 2011 from a secret base in the country.

Last year, two American citizens, Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son, were also killed in US drone attacks in Yemen. Their deaths sparked strong criticism against Obama administration’s targeted killings of civilians across the world, including American citizens without any judicial procedures.

Leading academic Professor Noam Chomsky has also condemned US policy of targeting terror suspects in foreign countries using unmanned aerial vehicles, saying the tactic amounts to ''state terror''.

The US military uses assassination drones in several Muslim countries, including Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan.

Washington claims the airstrikes target militants, but the attacks have mostly led to civilian casualties.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Iran has not, will not build nuclear weapon – Israeli military chief

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends an unveiling ceremony of new nuclear projects in Tehran February 15, 2012. (REUTERS/

Source: Russia Today

Iran has not decided to build a nuclear bomb, says IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. Nor does he think Tehran will go “the extra mile" to do so. The military chief’s words cut a sharp contrast with the bellicose rhetoric of PM Netanyahu.

Israeli Defense Forces Lieutenant General Gantz told Ha'aretz daily that Iran was moving “step by step” to a point where the production of a nuclear weapon would be feasible. However, he says Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hasn't yet decided “to go the extra mile" to build a nuclear bomb.

“If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken… I don't think he will want to go the extra mile.”

Gantz said that Khamenei’s decision to build a nuclear weapon could only be based on the belief that Iran is invulnerable to a response, an unlikely scenario given that the country’s nuclear facilities “are not bomb proof,” making their operations “too vulnerable” to retaliation.

And the Iranian leadership is “composed of very rational people,” Gantz said.

In sharp contrast to the increasingly bellicose rhetoric of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gantz maintains “the international pressure on Iran, in the form of diplomatic and economic sanctions, is beginning to bear fruit.”

Although he said 2012 is a “critical year," it is “not necessarily 'go, no-go’” when it comes to conducting a war.

Netanyahu cut a very different figure during an interview with CNN, demanding that Iran give up all uranium enrichment, even at the levels necessary for peaceful atomic energy – nowhere near those needed for creating a nuclear weapon.

"After you stop all enrichment… you will get these (fuel) rods from another country that can allow you to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," he said.

Netanyahu continued that while the sanctions "are certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy… they haven't rolled back the Iranian program or even stopped it by one iota," he said.

“Nuclear centrifuges are spinning as we speak,” he continued. “So if the sanctions are going to work, they better work soon."

When asked if his comments were making an Israeli military strike inevitable, Netanyahu replied: "I'm not worried what we look like. I'm worried about stopping this."

This past March, Netanyahu had said a strike on Iran was possible within a matter of months.

And while Western diplomats lauded the talks held between world powers and Iran in Istanbul this month over Tehran's nuclear program, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak denounced the diplomatic efforts as a waste of “precious time.”

Netanyahu also derided the talks, claiming the international community had given Tehran a “freebie” by not demanding the Islamic Republic suspend its uranium enrichment program.

For his part, Gantz said that as "a military man", “the military option is the last chronologically but the first in terms of its credibility. If it's not credible, it has no meaning.”

He said that while Israel did face “the potential for an existential threat,” any decisions “must be made carefully, out of historic responsibility but without hysteria."

Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program is purely for power generation and medical application. On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he was hopeful that the upcoming nuclear talks in Baghdad would put them on track for a long-term settlement.

"I see that we are at the beginning of the end of what I call the 'manufactured Iran file'," Salehi said


Argentine senate approves bill to nationalize Spanish firm

View of the Senate Plenary Session, while voting on a presidential decree to allow the expropriation of YPF, in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, April 26, 2012

Source: Press TV

Argentina's senate has endorsed a presidential decree to nationalize Spain-owned oil company YPF amid widespread domestic support for the plan.

At the Wednesday session of the senate, legislators from both the ruling party and the opposition voted in favor of the decree issued by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner last week, AFP reported.

The proposal, which enjoys nationwide popularity, will be sent to the lower house of the parliament for final approval.

Fernandez said on Monday that Argentina had to take back the oil firm, formerly a state-owned Argentine oil company for over 70 years, as it is the only nation in Latin America "that does not manage its natural resources."

YPF was privatized in the early 1990s and the Spanish energy giant, Repsol, acquired a majority of the company’s stake in 1999.

With a market value of USD 10.6 billion, YPF accounts for about 25 percent of Repsol’s profits and 60 percent of its production.

Repsol President Antonio Brufau said on Tuesday that the company would take legal action against Argentina, seeking a compensation of about USD 10 billion.

Argentina’s move has infuriated Madrid and drew sharp criticism from the US and the EU, prompting Brussels to warn of retaliatory measures against Buenos Aires.

The South American state accuses Repsol of draining the oil company as well as underinvesting in its oil and gas fields since it took control. Repsol, on the other hand, blames Argentina’s ever-changing mix of subsidies and price caps for depressing production.

Pakistan's Supreme Court convicts Gilani of contempt

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (C) waves upon his arrival at the Supreme Court in Islamabad on February 13, 2012.

Source: Press TV

Pakistani Prime Minster Yousuf Raza Gilani has been convicted of contempt of court for refusing to reopen old corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

After a three-month trial, the country’s Supreme Court on Thursday found the premier guilty for failing to follow its order to write to the authorities in Switzerland and ask them to reopen graft cases against Zardari, AFP reported.

Gilani denies that he was in contempt for failing to reopen the cases due to the fact that Zardari, who also rejects the corruption charges, enjoys immunity as the country's president.

The Supreme Court, however, spared Gilani a prison term in a case that has sparked political tensions in the country.

His lawyer says the premier would appeal the verdict, which means a further delay for any action that could see Gilani lose his job.

The Pakistani prime minister arrived at the court in the capital, Islamabad, along with members of his cabinet earlier in the day.

The embattled premier left the court while smiling and waving to his supporters.

The government alleges that the judges are attempting to bring down the president and the prime minster.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Egypt terminates 2005 gas deal with Israel

A pipeline delivering gas from Egypt to Israel near the city of al-Arish in northeastern Egypt burns following an attack on March 5, 2012.

Source: Press TV

Egypt has repealed a 2005 gas export accord with Israel, which used to rely heavily on Egyptian natural gas to generate electricity.

The deal was "annulled on Thursday with the East Mediterranean Gas Co (EMG), which exports gas to Israel, because the company failed to respect conditions stipulated in the contract," Mohamed Shoeib, the chairman of state-owned Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company, told AFP on Sunday.

The provision of gas to Israel has constantly formed a contentious topic among the Egyptian public, which views Tel Aviv as an enemy and opposes engaging in any form of business with it.

The deal would oblige Egypt to supply gas to Israel as one of the main economic conditions of a US-sponsored 1979 peace treaty between the two sides.

In line with the USD-2.5-billion export deal, Israel would receive around 40 percent of its gas supply from Egypt at an extremely low price.

According to the results of an opinion poll, conducted for Press TV and published on October 3, 2011, 73 percent of the Egyptian respondents opposed the terms of the agreement.

The country used to be Tel Aviv’s strongest Arab ally during the roughly-30-year-long rule of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in a popular revolution in February 2011.

Iran starts cloning of American spy drone

Captured US RQ-170 drone (AFP Photo / Atta Kenare)

Source: Russia Today

Iran has completed reverse-engineering of the captured US spy drone and has started building its own copy, Iranian media reports.

The Revolutionary Guard is yet to decode parts of the software the Sentinel aircraft uses, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who heads the force’s aerospace division, said on Sunday.

"The Americans should be aware to what extent we have infiltrated the plane," Iranian Fars news agency quoted the general as saying. "Our experts have a full understanding of its components and programs."

The Pentagon stated that the drone’s security will prevent Iranian engineers from cracking its technology.

Tehran has already copied the Sentinel – as a toy, and sent one to the US as a mocking response to America’s request to hand over the aircraft.

Iran announced capturing RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance UAV in December 2011. The US believed that the aircraft crashed in Iran’s desolate mountainous area, but apparently Iranian military managed to hack into the drone’s control system and bring it down.

Earlier this week Tehran said a number of nations approached Iran over possible sharing of military technology it may have developed through studying its drone prize. China and Russia reportedly showed the most interest.

Russia, China to trade naval know-how in drills (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

Russia, China to trade naval know-how in drills

Source: Russia Today

Four Russian warships have docked at a Chinese naval base near Qingdao, a port in the south of the country. They are taking a break from guarding vessels in pirate-infested waters near Somalia for joint military drills.

The Russian-Chinese maneuvers dubbed Naval Cooperation-2012 began in the Yellow Sea this Sunday. The exercises are designed to build on what both forces have been doing in the past couple of years in the Gulf of Aden to counter piracy.

Both Chinese and Russian warships have escorted civilian convoys off the coast of Somalia. One of the Russian destroyers, Marshal Shaposhnikov, was instrumental in saving the oil-tanker Moscow University a year ago, when it was captured by pirates who held 23 Russian sailors hostage.

Russian destroyers are used to guarding convoys of between five and 14 merchant ships as they travel in the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden. The seamen will now learn to make it a joint effort with their Chinese colleagues.

Three Russian destroyers – Marshal Shaposhnikov, Admiral Vinogradov and Admiral Tributs – are taking part in the drills, along with the missile cruiser Varyag and several support ships. They will be joined by 16 Chinese surface ships.

At the port of Qingdao they are accompanied by the flagship of China's Northern Fleet – the Luhu-class guided missile destroyer Harbin

Photos taken onboard the Admiral Vinogradov destroyer

Like other Chinese ships in the harbor it looks brand new. The Russian crews were invited on board on Sunday to inspect the vessel for themselves. Chinese sailors visited the destroyer Admiral Vinogradov. The sailors tried immediately to make friends, exchanging “hellos” and “how are yous” in the language of their future mission mates.

Over the next few days, the groundwork will be laid for a joint exercise at sea. Those in command are in the process of painstakingly placing the future locations of the ships on the map.

Photos taken onboard the Admiral Vinogradov destroyer

"The exercises will involve several simulated missions, including the rescue of a hijacked ship, the escort of a commercial vessel, and the defense of a convoy from air and sea attacks," a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said.

Other missions on the agenda are protection of marine lines of communication, and joint supply operations.

Russia has long been a major naval power, while the Chinese navy has been expanding dramatically recently, a strategy to include operations away from its own waters rather than just defensive procedures nearer home

Photos taken onboard the Admiral Vinogradov destroyer

Both sides stress the war games are not directed against any particular country or military bloc. However, there is increasing concern in both Moscow and Beijing about the US naval build-up in the Asia Pacific. Not to mention the Japanese and South Korean naval forces too – close allies with the US.

Signs of Japanese and South Korean activity were noticeable when the Russian convoy, traveling from Vladivostok, was frequently followed by NATO reconnaissance planes, destroyers and submarines

Photos taken onboard the Admiral Vinogradov destroyer

After final preparations by commanding officers, the whole fleet will leave Qingdao, to start the naval part of the War Games. They will commence on April 25 and continue for just two days.

A parade of the ships is expected to take place on April 27, followed by the departure of the Russian naval convoy.

While the ships are being prepared for the exercise the crews have some free time, visiting the city (Qingdao is currently one of the fastest-growing ports on the Chinese Yellow Sea coast). The sailors will also compete in sports such as volleyball, basketball and soccer.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pentagon has ‘successful plan’ with hundreds of Tomahawks deployed near Iran

An operational tomahawk missile launch (Reuters / Handout)

Source: Russia Today

America’s plan B for Iran “will be successful,” promises US defense secretary, Leon Panetta. Reports suggest this is no sable rattling, as the US strike groups deployed to the Persian Gulf may be carrying some 430 Tomahawk missiles.

Washington has not yet dropped its “all options” stance towards Iran, who, they fear, may be building nuclear weapons. The confirmation was obtained by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer from Panetta on Thursday.

“We are prepared with all options on the table if we have to respond,” Panetta said, adding that “there are plans” to deal with Iran if the country does not give up its nuclear ambitions.

“I don’t think there is any question that if we have to implement that plan, it will be successful,” he added.

This practical approach sees two American aircraft carriers, their battle groups, several submarines and additional Marines deployed to the Gulf waters. Both the US Navy and the Pentagon say the commissions are “routine.”

Nevertheless, assessments made by Interfax news agency say that the group headed by the USS Enterprise alone has taken at least 130 Tomahawk missiles to the Persian Gulf.

The other group, which has the USS Abraham Lincoln as its flagship, has as many long-range cruise missiles of the same class. This group was last reported to be patrolling the Arabian Sea, where the US Navy says it is providing air support to NATO troops in Afghanistan.

The submarine USS Georgia, which is also navigating the waters, is estimated to be carrying 154 Tomahawks. Another submarine, assigned to an amphibious assault group, is reported to have 12 cruise missiles at its disposal.

All this gives a total figure of at least 430 Tomahawks with a range of 1,700 km on a routine voyage around the waters of the Persian Gulf. The missiles would be able to take out Iran’s air-defense system in its entirety and turn its military airfields into rubble, experts tell Interfax.

With all the military build-up in the area, Washington says the first round of nuclear talks with Tehran gave them “positive” feelings. However, no alleviating of sanctions against Iran’s economy has so far been debated in the White House, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared on Monday.

The USA seems to be between a rock and the hard place regarding the issue of Iran. On the one hand, Washington says they want Iran to drop nukes, but diplomacy comes first. On the other hand, the US has to restrain Israel as its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has branded the first round of talks with Iran an international “freebie” for the country. He also makes it a point of mentioning at least once a month that Tehran is “an existential threat” to Israel.

Iran denies it is trying to build nuclear weapons, saying also it is their right to produce nuclear energy and radioactive treatment for cancer patients.

Riot erupts in Montreal between police and protesters

A protestor is arrested by police after a student demonstration against tuition hikes in Montreal on April 20, 2012(Reuters / Christinne Muschi)

Source: Russia Today

Law enforcement officers in Montreal, Quebec, Canada fired grenades and tear gas into crowds of protesters on Friday as students demonstrated against tuition hikes in a rally that turned violent.

A clash between college students protesting the continuously increasing cost of education in Canada and police erupted on the streets of the city center. Hundreds of demonstrators are reported to have rallied in downtown Montreal against tuition hikes, only to be confronted with police in riot gear during the early afternoon.

By mid-day, at least ten protesters were arrested by authorities and both demonstrators and law enforcement alike have reported to have incurred serious injuries after the students’ rally became marred by fighting on both sides.

"I wasn't doing anything violent," Nicolas Moran, 21, tells a CTV affiliate in Montreal. "A police officer hit me over the head… But I doubt the education minister will denounce violence from police," continued Moran.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says police used batons, chemical irritants, tear gas and concussion grenades on the protesters. The demonstrators are reported to have met that firestorm with rocks and other projectiles. CTV reports that cars and media trucks have been damaged in the rally.

Moran is a law student at the Université du Québec à Montréal and was one of many protesters that entered the city’s

Palais des congrès on Friday where Premier Jean Charest was scheduled to deliver a speech. Moran suffered a head injury; at least one officer experienced the same.

Premier Charest was expected to lecture on his Plan Nord, a massive development program expected to cost billions of dollars over the next two decades. CTV says Charest claims the initiative will create half a million jobs, but opponents such as Moran and other students say it doesn’t represent what Quebecers really want.

Michel Chossudovsky, the head of the Center for Research on Globalization, says that the reason for the anger is not just the tuition hike but the fact that the government puts the bill for their austerity measures on young people while spending billions in favor of corporations.

“I think that the demonstrations were held at the moment the prime minister decided to launch his Plan Nord, which has advantage of 1.6 billion [Canadian] dollars, is illustrative of the fact that this handout to corporations in millions and millions of dollars is financed at the expense of the livelihood of the young people of Quebec,” Chossudovsky told RT.

Increased tuition imposed on students there have only worsened sentiments between grievous Canadians and the country’s government.

“It’s not just the tuition increase,” 18-year-old Alexis Remartini adds to The Canadian Press. “The movement has grown to include other things we don’t agree with.”

Eight students were arrested as they entered the Palais and delayed Premier Charest’s speech by 45 minutes. The Canadian Press says Charest joked after the protesters were removed from the building that they were probably just trying to get one of the jobs he claims the investment will bring.

Stateside, arrests were reported in Lower Manhattan in New York City at the same time Friday during a separate rally waged by members of America’s Occupy Wall Street movement.

Ron Paul still in the race with millions in funding and zero debt

Republican Presidential hopeful U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (AFP Photo / T.J. Kirkpatrick)

Source: Russia Today

First Rick Santorum slipped out of the race for the GOP nomination, and next Newt Gingrich said he would support Romney but would still run. But what about Ron Paul’s quest for the White House?

According to the latest bulletin from the campaign headquarters of the Texas congressman, Ron Paul is still in the race and rolling in the bucks.

Republican Party presidential hopeful Ron Paul is still polling strong among many demographics and shows no sign of slowing down. At least if his bank records have anything to do with it. The candidate’s camp announced on Friday that so far in 2012 his campaign has managed to bring in almost $10.4 million in contributions from donors determined to keep the congressman in the GOP race.

Those funds won’t be funneled to pay off earlier spending, either. His officials say that in addition to the big bucks that came in for the first quarter, the Ron Paul campaign has zero debt at this point in the race. Compare that to Republican Party rival and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who was reportedly in the hole to the tune of $4.5 million last week, according to an article published by Slate.

As Ron Paul and Gingrich are now left as the only viable Republican alternative to Mitt Romney, Gingrich’s chances might soon run dry as his pocketbook does the same. Will Paul have a chance to pull through against the frontrunner, though?

"Total contributions of $10.4 million in Q1, including details such as $1.8 million cash on hand and more money bomb cash in the pipeline, amounts to excellent news as these resources fuel our effective delegate-attainment strategy,” campaign chairman Jesse Benton tells supporters in a press release published Friday.

Benton adds that he doesn’t expect to see a slump anytime soon, either. Next month Ron Paul will be put to the test in Texas, where he has served several terms as a state congressman. On May 29, residents will vote in the state’s primary.

"These ample funds also will help us compete even harder in Texas, where Ron Paul is the only Texan, veteran, and authentic conservative running," Benton says Friday of the candidate’s continuing success.

Aside from a fat wallet, Ron Paul’s team says that the departure of Santorum from the race opens up new opportunities for their candidate to collect delegates, a maneuver that has been an unusual yet well orchestrated move so far in the campaign.

"We are fighting really hard in many states on our convention strategy," Benton tells US News & World Report. "The exit of Santorum has opened up any more delegate opportunities for us."

"I am not going to try to deceive you, and say that Romney doesn't have some advantages," Benton says. "But until he has 1,144 delegates, we are going to press on with our campaign."

Speaker Newt Gingrich is also still campaigning, but last week his campaign bounced a check for $500, reported CNN. Since then he has been resorted to renting out his campaign’s donor list in order to dig himself out of the hole.

Pentagon wants spies sneaking through offices around the globe

Pentagon building in Washington, DC (AFP Photo)

Source: Russia Today

The Pentagon is pushing for more power when it comes to international spying. The US military is now making a case to open up an undercover operation aimed at the overseas civilian sector.

The US Department of Defense has asked Congress to approve a change in intelligence outlines which would permit America’s undercover units to send spies into the offices of foreign military contractors. It would involve infiltrating factories and businesses building warheads for competing nations, essentially establishing the businessman as America’s next mold for a spy rather than the more-recognized James Bond-type. Critics say that doing so might be big for America’s intel gathering operations, but it could also signal the start of a slippery slope with potentially catastrophic consequences.

The Inside Defense website first reported the story on Friday, publishing an article acknowledging that the Pentagon pushed a package of legislative proposals to the US Congress a week earlier. Those requests largely expand the Defense Department’s existing authority in spy operations, the website reports, including such calls to let the DoD increase its authority with intelligence gathering so the Pentagon can “conduct revenue-generating commercial activities to protect such operations and would provide an important safeguard for US military forces conducting hazardous operations abroad.”

“The conflict with al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and other developments, have required the regular conduct of small-scale clandestine military operations to prepare the battlefield for military operations against terrorists and their sponsors,” insists the DoD as they introduce that proposal.

The Defense Department wants to get extra spies infiltrating overseas, but the missions they would be engaged in would be different from just standard covert quests. Instead the DoD wants to be able to use clandestine operations, which means that the Department would not only be allowed to keep the country’s sponsorship of the program a secret, but they could be permitted to ignore the existence of the mission entirely.

Putting spies into business operations that shake hands with foreign militaries might be a good idea in terms of infiltrating domestic drone shops and other classified campaigns, but it could be more dangerous than the DoD might realize, some fear. In a write-up by Wired, the website acknowledges that sending spies into the civilian sector would not just open up a new foreign front for US operations, but would expose innocent workers to the dangerous world of international warfare.

“Once civilian commercial activities become a front for US military spying, then foreign governments will likely view normal businessmen as targets for their own counterspying, or even detention,” speculates Spencer Ackerman, a correspondent with Wired’s Danger Room.

It could also, of course, give foreign operatives a reason to do the same back in the US.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Coupe Snoop: Congress wants all cars to be equipped with recording devices

Reuters / Allison Joyce

Source: Russia Today

The federal government is about to become the country’s worst backseat driver. Congress wants to put tracking devices in the car of every American, and that’s not even the scariest provision in a new bill being passed around Washington.

The US Senate has already signed off on a new legislation that, if cleared by the rest of Congress, will see to it that the government gets its eyes and ears inside every automobile in the country. Senate Bill 1813 calls for the installation of mandatory recorders and communication devices in Americans’ cars that could connect the whereabouts and actions of the country’s drivers with whomever the government wants to grant access to. It doesn’t stop there, though — another provision in the proposed bill will give the government the power to revoke passports from Americans behind on their taxes, essentially making it impossible for the indebted to escape the country.

It’s being touted around the capital as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, and Congress is considering it under the explanation that the bill will “reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs.” In the abstract drafted on Capitol Hill, however, the act is described as having provisions necessary “for other purposes.” And while no lawmakers explicitly explain the benefits of some questionable content within MAP-21, what the government could get away with if the bill is passed is something eerily Orwellian.

If you’re not scared yet, then here is another eye opener: the US Senate has already approved the bill by an overwhelming vote of 74-22, leaving only the House of Representatives to vote in favor before government-sanctioned blackboxes become as common as carburetors and calibrated friction brakes. At this rate, it won’t be long before every Beetle and Buick in the country is being tracked by Big Brother.

Section 53006 of MAP-21 calls for a “vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications systems” deployed in the country’s cars in the near future. A copy of the bill is available online, but it isn’t until the bottom of the text that things start to get creepy. That section calls on several congressional committees — including the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives — to hear in three years’ time arguments in favor of the deployment of the communications system in question. At that point, a designated person will be asked to recommend an “implementation path for dedicated short-range communications technology and applications,” which includes “guidance on the relationship of the proposed deployment of dedicated short-range communications to the National ITS Architecture and ITS Standards.”

Sending short-wave signals to other automobiles and data hubs is one thing, but the act is also asking for mandatory event data recorders in every car. That’s the actual name, in fact, of what Congress says they want every car to have in the very near future.

“Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall revise part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, to require, beginning with model year 2015, that new passenger motor vehicles sold in the United States be equipped with an event data recorder that meets the requirements under that part,” explains the act.

The section goes on to establish that the ownership of data collected by those devices will be the sole property of the owner of the automobile, but other provisions clearly authorize a challenge to this. A court may be granted access to that information “in furtherance of a legal proceeding,” and elsewhere in the bill it says that “the information is retrieved pursuant to an investigation or inspection authorized under section 1131(a) or 30166 of title 49, United States Code.”

Two years after those devices are made mandatory, Congress will also hear a report that will explain “the recommendations on what, if any, additional data the event data recorder should be modified to record.”

Those without drivers licenses won’t be spared from civil liberty infringement if MAP-21 makes it out of the White House with Obama’s approval— another section says that Congress can confiscate the passports of Americans delinquent in paying their taxes. Although the US was built from the ground up by refugees escaping persecution, persons plagued by hardships in the near future won’t be afforded that same ability to escape Uncle Sam’s strengthening stranglehold.

Under Section 40304, the US State Department is allowed the powers to revoke passports from anyone determined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of having “a delinquent tax debt in an amount in excess of $50,000.” Fifty-grand might seem like a big number for 99-percenters, but it isn’t all that outrageous or uncommon. After all, the Washington Post reported in 2010 that out of the 18,000 employees on Capitol Hill, 638 of them were behind on their taxes. What’s more, though, is that of those working within the House of Representatives, the average delinquent was indebted to the country to the tune of $15,498.

"If you're on the federal payroll and you're not paying your taxes, you should be fired," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) exclaimed at the time. Two years down the road, though, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is requesting that a citizen’s ability to travel abroad be brought to an end for being behind on their taxes. Reid was the author of Section 40304 and is presumably outside of the 4 percent of congressional staffers that owed the feds in 2010, but opponents of the act are saying that stripping passports from poor Americans isn’t a provision that is necessary for MAP-21.

“It takes away your right to enter or exit the country based upon a non-judicial IRS determination that you owe taxes,” constitutional attorney Angel Reyes tells Fox Business. “It’s a scary thought that our congressional representatives want to give the IRS the power to detain US citizens over taxes, which could very well be in dispute.”

“There are so many people that fall into that situation, and I think that’s too invasive. Especially coming out of a bad economy there are a lot of people behind on a lot of things,” adds financial adviser Clark Hodges to Fox.

There are other damning provisions in MAP-21, including a “Stop Taxhaven Abuse” section that says the government can kick any foreign jurisdiction out of the US financial system if it wants to. For American residents up to date on their income taxes and not invested abroad, however, the real dangers lie within the very real possibility that the government will soon be able to track every single automobile on the nation’s roads. Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement requires a warrant if they want to install GPS tracking devices on the cars of suspected criminals, but with that decision quickly collecting opposition, a loophole might have just been brought to light by forcing consumers to purchase cars with tracking systems already installed.

Before the Supreme Court shot down the feds’ plea to allow unwarranted monitoring of automobiles in January, Justice Stephen Breyer said that a decision to not do so would be dangerous for everyone in the country. "If you win this case then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States. … So if you win, you suddenly produce what sounds like '1984',"explained Breyer.

EU gives US go ahead for 'Big Brother' snooping

Reuters / Arnd Wiegmann

Source: Russia Today

A controversial bill that will give the United States access to personal information about airline passengers has been approved by the European Parliament.

The deal, which was held up for two years over privacy concerns, was agreed by MEPs in a vote of 409 to 226 on Thursday. It sets out the legal parameters governing the transfer of passengers’ personal data to the US Department of Homeland Security.

Passenger Name Record (PNR) data is provided by travellers and collected by airline staff during reservation and check-in procedures.

The deal covers issues such as storage periods, purpose of the data use, data protection safeguards, administrative and judicial redress.

It also includes information such as names, addresses, credit card and phone numbers, travel agency data, baggage information (such as the number of bags), seat number as well as "sensitive" data such as ethnic origin, a religious meal choice or request for special assistance due to a medical condition.

The agreement applies to airlines that operate flights between EU countries and the US.

The list of airlines covered by the new legislation extends beyond European carriers to include any carriers that are "incorporated or storing data" in the EU and operating flights to or from the US.

The deal has proved a divisive issue among MEPs.

Those who support the bill say it is a crucial step in helping to fight against international terrorism; it would allow the use of PNR data to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute terrorism, as well as transnational crimes. It will also serve "to identify persons who would be subject to closer questioning or examination".

However, others say the deal is incompatible with the fundamental right of data protection. They are concerned about the duration and conditions of the storage of data.

Under the terms of the agreement, data will be stored in an active data base for up to five years, though after the first six months all information which could be used to identify a passenger would be "depersonalized" meaning that data such as the passenger's name or contact details would be masked out.

It then remains in a "dormant" database for an extra 15 years, with stricter access requirements for US officials. Thereafter, the agreement says, data would be fully "anonymized" by deleting all information which could identify the passenger. Data related to any specific case will be retained in an active PNR database until an investigation is completed.

Some MEPs believe this is too long. They are also concerned that the system lacks independent oversight, and that the PNR database could be used to investigate minor immigration and customs offences without any link to terrorism.

This new deal is intended to replace another accord applied provisionally since 2007. The European Parliament refused to vote for the old deal, believing that the 2007 agreement offered too little protection of privacy and personal data, forcing Washington and the European Commission to negotiate a new PNR agreement in May 2010.

The EU agreed a PNR deal with Australia in October last year that will allow Australian authorities to store passenger data for five and half years. Another deal is currently being negotiated with Canada.

Justice and Home Affairs Ministers will formally approve the agreement on 26 April. It will then apply for the next seven years.

CIA wants more drone strikes in Yemen

An unarmed U.S. "Shadow" drone is launched in this undated photograph (Reuters/AAI Corporation/Handout)

Source: Russia Today

After the United States defended last year’s assassination of American citizens abroad with “signature strikes” carried out by its controversial drone program, the CIA is now asking Washington to expand its power to conduct those kills in Yemen.

If allowed, it could be a major blow to al-Qaeda operatives working in the state of Yemen. It could also, however, serve as a catalyst for distrust of the United States.

Anti-American sentiments have only increased since the US expanded its overseas drone program. While these signature strikes have indeed been successful to a degree in bringing alleged terrorists to their death, opponents of the program have been put off by how the kills are carried out. In the Washington Post’s report on the plea from the Central Intelligence Agency, they acknowledge that leading US officials are aware that the program relies on limited intelligence to conduct the strikes — and carries out the kills “even when [they] do not know the identities of who could be killed.”

“[T]here is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States,” a senior Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, tells the Post.

By using the “signature strikes” carried out by America’s arsenal of unmanned, robotic drone aircraft, the United States’ military and intelligence community has executed persons alleged to have ties with al-Qaeda, an organization considered a terrorist group by the US and others. A massive backlash against similar strikes in Pakistan have all but forced America’s fair-weather ally to condemn the country’s drone attacks there, but now the CIA is asking for the ability to continue those kills in neighboring Yemen with fewer loopholes and less restrictions on the controversial strikes.

According to a report published this week by the Washington Post, top-officials within the CIA have gone on the record to say that the agency is asking for authority to expand the campaign in Yemen, where the US believes yet more al-Qaeda members are operating from. Last year the US conducted a strike in Yemen, executing American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in the process.

How they US determined the validity and severity of those threats are largely up for debate. It took six months for US Attorney General Eric Holder to offer an explanation for the execution of al-Awlaki, and further facts about the top-secret strikes are not expected to be released anytime soon. Nonetheless, the country’s top spy agency is asking for the ability to carry out those kills more often than already allowed.

When Holder finally did offer the administration’s reasoning for the assassination of al-Awlaki, the attorney general said America is faced with “a nimble and determined enemy that cannot be underestimated” and that the continuation of the drone program was necessary.

“Our legal authority is not limited to the battlefields in Afghanistan,” explained Holder. He added, however, that “it is entirely lawful” to target leaders of terrorist groups.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that the Due Process Clause does not impose one-size-fits-all requirements, but instead mandates procedural safeguards that depend on specific circumstances. In cases arising under the Due Process Clause – including in a case involving a U.S. citizen captured in the conflict against al Qaeda – the Court has applied a balancing approach, weighing the private interest that will be affected against the interest the government is trying to protect, and the burdens the government would face in providing additional process. Where national security operations are at stake, due process takes into account the realities of combat,” said Holder.

Earlier in the year, President Obama defended the killings as well, saying, "For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we're already engaging in.”

The president added that it’s "important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash,” although the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism argues that since America began drone strikes, at least 385 civilians have been executed in US-led attacks

French correction: EU wary of Sunday vote

France's Socialist Party (PS) candidate for the 2012 French presidential election Francois Hollande gestures as he delivers a speech during a campaign meeting in the French southwestern city of Bordeaux on April 19, 2012 (AFP Photo / Patrick Kovarik)

Source: Russia Today

Campaigning is winding up for the French presidential hopefuls before voters hit the polls on Sunday. The results could have grave consequences for the EU’s flagging economy, as the socialist frontrunner threatens to veto the Fiscal Compact treaty.

Socialist candidate Francois Hollande is expected to pip current president Sarkozy to the post in the first round of voting on Sunday. According to a survey by French newspaper Le Monde, Hollande is predicted to take 29 per cent of the vote, with Sarkozy close behind on 25.5 per cent.

Far-right candidate Marine le Pen, who favors the reintroduction of the franc, will likely take around 16 per cent, with left-wing hopeful Jean-Luc Melenchon bringing up the rear on 14 per cent.

A campaign blackout comes into effect on Friday evening in preparation for Sunday’s polls, from which a record 32 per cent of French citizens are expected to abstain.

Economic policy has taken center stage in the battle for the French presidency with each candidate promising voters a way out of the spiraling economic crisis.

Current head of state Nicholas Sarkozy has favored austerity measures to drag the country out of the financial downturn. But his billion-dollar cuts to the French welfare sector, an increased retirement age and unemployment of over 10 per cent have seen his popularity plummet recently.

In the wake of the economic recession Sarkozy suffered an image crisis, being branded upon his accession to the presidency as “the president of the rich.”

Despite a recent toughening of his policies, pledging to freeze France's funding of the EU and bringing back border controls, he has been unable to shake the stigma.

“Criticizing Europe can be a convenient scapegoat because it appeals to people who do not like the functioning of Europe, and it can divert responsibility: if something goes wrong, it's not the fault of the government or Nicolas Sarkozy, it is the fault of Europe,” said Eric Bonnet from the BVA Polling Institute

However, Sarkozy has got behind the European Union’s Fiscal Compact treaty, which ensures fiscal discipline in the subscribing countries, helping him win the support of German President Merkel for his candidacy.

In contrast, his primary rival Francois Hollande takes an altogether different approach to economic policy, threatening to jump ship from the eurozone treaty if it does not guarantee French growth.

While he accepts the need for greater budget discipline, he called for the French government to shy away from “saving for saving’s sake.”

He believes that combined austerity cuts in Europe will only serve to aggravate the crisis, increase the ranks of Europe’s unemployed and make it harder for the debt-racked economies to revitalize their economies.

A Hollande victory could result in a significant rupture in German-French relations, upsetting a partnership that has dominated eurozone economic policy in recent years.

Campaign critics have said that Hollande’s popularity is not, in fact, due to his policies, rather his opposition to Sarkozy’s increasingly unpopular cuts and camaraderie with Germany.

Political analyst Joseph Janning told RT that the French population is “uneasy about the fact that they are contributing to the failed policies in other parts of the union.”

Whatever the results of the French elections, it appears that France’s “honeymoon” period with Brussels is at an end.

“The big question is now ‘Europe for what?’ and ‘Europe for whom?’ Is it Europe for the bankers, Europe for trade, Europe for business? Or is it a Europe of citizens, a Europe of social rights,” Bruno Cautres, a political analyst from Sciences Po university, told RT.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sudan oil-war spiral could split world powers

Source: Russia Today

Sudan's president has threatened to topple the government to his south to “liberate” the South Sudanese. As a bloody battle over a disputed oil field heads towards full-scale war, it threatens to provoke conflict between the US and Russia-China.

Wednesday, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir accused authorities in the Southern capital, Juba, of trying to topple his government and vowed to retaliate.

“This situation makes it imperative for Sudan to confront the challenge of the State of South Sudan to topple the government in Khartoum by working to liberate the Southern nationals,” al-Bashir said.

South Sudan broke away from its northern neighbor last July after decades of on-off civil war. But the two never agreed on how to share the oil wealth found in the region between the countries, and the border was never fully demarcated.

The fighting is taking place along the shared border around the oil town of Heglig, which South Sudanese troops captured last week.

The northern state’s parliament was quick to brand its southern neighbor an “enemy” and called for the swift recapture of the region.

The Heglig field is vital to Sudan’s economy as it accounted for half the 115,000 barrels per day output that remained in its control when South Sudan seceded in July and Khartoum lost 75 per cent of the country’s oil production.

In its turn, the landlocked South lost its 350,000 barrels per day output after failing to agree on how much it should pay to export via Sudan’s pipelines, a Red Sea port and other facilities.

Fighting over oil transit payments and disputed territory has already withered the combined crude output of both countries, which are highly dependent on oil. Any protracted fighting would severely damage their economies and may disrupt the surrounding region.

Fueling an arms race

The international community is calling to stop the bloodshed, but the two sides seem determined to resolve the issue by force.

Meanwhile, their “border war” threatens to provoke a conflict among the permanent members of UN Security Council. South Sudan is an ally of the US, while Khartoum has close ties with Russia and China.

“If the conflict escalates, we are likely to see a stalemate at the UNSC with China and Russia opposing any proposals that may be politically costly to Sudan,” political author and columnist Reason Wafawarova told RT. “The US, with its allies France and the UK, is likely to push for proposals politically favorable to South Sudan, while opposing any proposals they may see as benefiting Sudan.”

Wafawarova says Sudan is seen as militarily superior to its southern neighbor. The US is unlikely to allow Juba’s capitulation, increasing its military support.

Some reports allege that the West is already providing arms to South Sudan through its Middle Eastern partners. For instance, Sudan’s Al-Intibaha newspaper writes that Israel might be supplying weapons to Juba.

South talking tough too

Another indicator that Juba has some serious allies in the West is the tough stance of South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir.

When the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called him and asked to stop the attack on Heglig, he received a surprisingly defiant answer: “I am not a slave to fulfill your orders!”

Experts say the behavior of President Kiir may be explained by the fact that he was confident of the unshakable support of the United States. Previously the US helped the southerners in their fight against the “dictatorial regime in Khartoum.”

The reason, Wafawarova says, is that it is no secret the United States militarily supported South Sudan in its campaign for secession from the North.

The US reportedly provided $100 million-a-year in military assistance to the SPLA. The information about the nature of this assistance has been scarce, but in December 2009 WikiLeaks released a diplomatic cable that refers to a US “training program for the SPLA, including combat arms soldier training.”

On the other side are Russia and China, who have traditionally supported close ties with Khartoum, selling weapons to Sudan right up to the 2005 UN arms embargo on the Sudanese government because of the war in Darfur.

However, in 2008 a BBC news report claimed to have found evidence of China-Sudan trade in violation of the embargo.

Currently, China is Sudan’s largest trading partner, importing oil and exporting low-cost goods.

Wafawarova believes that the permanent USNC council members’ standoff in the region may lead to an arms race between the two Sudans. US will be “expanding the military strength of South Sudan, while China and Russia will keep arming Khartoum,” he said.

There are also persistent rumors that the US plans to set up a military base in South Sudan – the largest in Africa.

“The US has failed to set up its AFRICOM base in Ghana, Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya and other proposed countries in the past,” says Wafawarova. “It would not be surprising if the US is trying to capitalize on the vulnerability of South Sudan in its efforts to establish the AFRICOM base somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.”

However, Wafawarova stressed that any efforts to set up AFRICOM in South Sudan are likely to face stiff opposition from Russia and China, as well as from the African Union and most African countries at individual levels.

Shifting the blame

While all involved in the conflict are pursuing their own interests, there always has to be someone to blame. It seems that Russia and China might again become the punching bag of the West for this purpose.

One of the indicators that that this might be the case is Amnesty International’s shift of attitude towards the parties involved. In July 2011, the organization accused China, Russia, and the USA of fueling conflict in the region.

The organization condemned the countries “for providing weapons or military training to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the official army of South Sudan.”

However, in February 2012, only China and Russia were accused of supplying arms to the volatile region, with no traces of US involvement whatsoever.

“China, Russia, and Belarus continue to supply weapons and munitions to Sudan despite compelling evidence that the arms will be used against civilians in Darfur,” the new Amnesty International statement reads.

Tuesday, Security Council members promised to discuss the crisis urgently, including the possibility of sanctions.

“Calls from the UNSC for a ceasefire are hypocritical and of no strength for as long as China, the US and Russia are pursuing their own political and economic interests in Sudan,” believes Reason Wafawarova. “And the fact that Heglig is, in reality, a conflict over oil makes the prospect of an amicable solution bleak.”

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