Russia Today Reporter Interviewed on CNN

Putin: Nothing should impede normalisation of Russia-West relations

From AFP:

Russian President Vladimir Putin (RIA Novosti / Alexey Druzhinin)President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said nothing should impede the normalisation of relations between Russia and the West, after ties hit a post-Cold War low due to the standoff over Ukraine.  His remark, which contrasted with weeks of hostile rhetoric on both sides, came after talks between Russia, Ukraine and the West on Thursday in which an agreement was forged on initial steps to ease the crisis. “It (normalising relations) does not depend on us. Or does not only depend on us. It depends on our partners,” Putin said in comments released by Russian news agencies from a state television interview to be broadcast later on Saturday. “I think that there is nothing that should stand in the way of a normalisation and normal cooperation,” he added.

Putin expressed hope that Russia would be able to establish good relations with the incoming NATO secretary general, former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, after testy exchanges with the outgoing chief of the alliance, ex-Danish premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen. “We have very good relations. And this includes personal relations. He (Stoltenberg) is a very serious, responsible person and let’s see how the relations work in his new function,” said Putin. The problems in Putin’s relations with Rasmussen were underlined on Thursday when the Russian president in a phone-in with the nation accused Rasmussen of secretly recording and leaking a private conversation they held while he was Danish prime minister. Putin also reaffirmed that Moscow was giving Kiev another month to clear its gas debts but insisted Russia was not intent on bringing down the Ukrainian economy.



Obama: Russians don’t want war, they know our military is ‘significantly superior’

Katie Zezima reports for The Washington Post:

Russia doesn’t want a military confrontation with the United States, President Obama said Wednesday. In an interview with Major Garrett of CBS News, Obama said Russia must recognize that Ukraine, part of which it annexed last month, is a sovereign nation that should be able to chart its own course.

“They’re not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us, understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians. We don’t need a war,” Obama said, according to a transcript of the interview. A Russian fighter jet made numerous passes close to a U.S. warship in the Black Sea this week, according to the U.S. military.


Facebank? Facebook targets financial services

Sally Davies, Duncan Robinson and Hannah Kuchler reports for the Financial Times:

Facebook headquartersNot content with being just a platform to host cat photos and status updates, Facebook is readying itself to provide financial services in the form of remittances and electronic money. The social network is only weeks away from obtaining regulatory approval in Ireland for a service that would allow its users to store money on Facebook and use it to pay and exchange money with others, according to several people involved in the process.

The authorisation from Ireland’s central bank to become an “e-money” institution would allow Facebook to issue units of stored monetary value that represent a claim against the company. This e-money would be valid throughout Europe via a process known as “passporting”. Facebook has also discussed potential partnerships with at least three London start-ups that offer international money transfer services online and via smartphones: TransferWise, Moni Technologies and Azimo, according to three people involved in the discussions.


World’s Largest Ghost City Lies 98% Abandoned After Failed Real Estate Investments

Ross Brooks writes for Inhabitat:

Darmon Richter, China's Ghost City, Ordos Ghost Town, China's real estate boom, The Land of Many Palaces, coal mining investment, abandoned city in China

When coal was discovered in the Northern Chinese city of Ordos 20 years ago, it underwent a massive boom that was expected to create a wealthy city of one million people, but now it’s home to a mere 20,000. Widely known as China’s Ghost City, it’s also a prime example of the real estate bubbles that threaten many parts of the country. There are entire streets of unfinished buildings, and even though the area’s GDP is higher than that of Beijing, many residents are trying desperately to escape.


Silvio Berlusconi sentenced to community service at old people’s home for tax fraud

Kashmira Gander writes for The Independent:

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to complete community service by helping senior citizens at an old people’s home for a year, after he was convicted of tax fraud. A Milan court ruled that the 77-year-old will spend four hours a week helping elderly people in the Lombard region where he lives.

While his conviction means he cannot run in the upcoming Italian elections, as head of the Forza Italia party he remains influential in the country’s politics. As the ruling permits him to travel to Rome each week from Tuesday to Thursday and come and go from his respective residences in Roma and Milan between 6am and 11pm, he is effectively free to participate in political campaigns.


Wall Street traders want 9/11 money

Susan Edelman reports for the New York Post:

Wall Street traders want 9/11 moneyA wave of Wall Street stock­brokers and traders are coming down with cancers blamed on the toxic dust and smoke of 9/11. They’re joining ill Ground Zero first-responders in seeking payments from the $2.7 billion federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Of 622 cancer claims approved so far, the fund has awarded $15.5 million to 39 victims, a spokeswoman told The Post.

Officials would not give a breakdown of cancer victims, but 10,800 downtown workers make up the second-largest group of registered claimants after 39,500 Ground Zero responders. There are another 16,600 in smaller categories such as residents, students, child-care and health-care workers. Finance workers engulfed in dust and debris from the Twin Towers’ collapse say the attacks — and returning to Wall Street a week later, when officials insisted it was safe — triggered their diseases.


#TrackoftheDay ~ Holy Thursday by David Axelrod (1968)

Bangladesh factory collapse survivors turn to theatre to deal with trauma

‘Survivors of the 2013 factory collapse in Bangladesh are turning to theatre to deal with the trauma of the tragedy. More than 1100 people died when then Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed outside the country’s capital Dhaka. Many survivors say that they are scarred by the memories of what happened and suffer nightmares, as they try to live with the memory of what happened. They say theatre has helped them think positively.’ (Al Jazeera)

Islam fastest growing religion in UK as churches decline

Why Everything You Think You Know about Jesus is Wrong: Interview with Author Reza Aslan

Abby Martin interviews Reza Aslan, historian and author of the best-selling book ‘Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth‘, discussing how he arrived at the conclusion that Jesus was a revolutionary political leader rather than the peaceful prophet characterized by mainstream culture.’ (Breaking the Set)

Hundredth Anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre: Interview with Jonathan Rees and Jeff Biggers

Fans of Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev sing ‘Путин хуйло’ (Putin is a dickhead) in a rare display of unity

Hat tip to Reddit user doeboy73

Inmates to strike in Alabama, declare prison is “running a slave empire”

Josh Eidelson writes for Salon:

Credit: Free Alabama MovementInmates at an Alabama prison plan to stage a work stoppage this weekend and hope to spur an escalating strike wave, a leader of the effort told Salon in a Thursday phone call from his jail cell.

“We decided that the only weapon or strategy … that we have is our labor, because that’s the only reason that we’re here,” said Melvin Ray, an inmate at the St. Clair correctional facility and founder of the prison-based group Free Alabama Movement. “They’re incarcerating people for the free labor.” Spokespeople for Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and his Department of Corrections did not respond to midday inquiries Thursday. Jobs done by inmates include kitchen and laundry work, chemical and license plate production, and furniture-making. In 2011, Alabama’s Department of Agriculture reportedly discussed using inmates to replace immigrants for agricultural work; in 2012, the state Senate passed a bill to let private businesses employ prison labor.


Hillary Clinton and the Future Failure of Progressive Hope and Change

John Atcheson writes for Common Dreams:

Photo: James Martin/CNETRecently, Hillary Clinton allowed as how she’s been “thinking” about running for President in 2016. “Thinking” about it?  Even a six year old didn’t buy that. When a politician says she (or he) is thinking about running, for an office, it’s like an addict saying they are “thinking,” about taking their next fix.  They want it with a lust that is all-consuming.

The crowd cheered when she said it; the party seems to be teeing up issues like gender equality to facilitate it; and with the McCutcheon decision, the way seems paved for a DLC Democrat like Hillary to waltz into the nomination. And yes, gender equality is a critical issue, but don’t hold your breath looking for progress from Hillary.  She’s likely to do as much for women, as Barack Obama has done for African Americans – which is to say damn little, other than a better brand of rhetoric.

So before we proceed with her coronation, maybe it’s time to think back to the 2004 campaign, and the early days of Barack Obama’s candidacy and Presidency. Remember “hope and change?”  At the time, few thought to ask what exactly we were hopingfor and what exactly we were changing to.  And of course, what we got was a great slogan, better speeches, very little change and even less hope.


Algeria’s Bouteflika wins re-election with 81.5%, opponents cry fraud

Patrick Markey and Lamine Chikhi report for Reuters:

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the aging independence veteran already in power for 15 years, won re-election on Friday after a vote opponents dismissed as a stage-managed fraud to keep the ailing leader in power. Sitting in a wheelchair, Bouteflika had cast his vote on Thursday in a rare public appearance since suffering a stroke last year that raised doubts about whether he is fit enough to govern the North African oil-exporting state. Preliminary official results showed Bouteflika had won with 81.53 percent of the vote, Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz told a news conference. His nearest rival, Ali Benflis, won 12.18 percent, and national turnout was 51.7 percent. Bouteflika, 77, was already widely expected to win with the backing of the powerful ruling Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) party, which has dominated the political system since independence from France in 1962.

Western governments have been allied with Bouteflika in their campaign against Islamist militants in the Maghreb and are keen to secure Algerian gas shipments to Europe especially with Ukraine’s crisis threatening Russian supplies. Bouteflika did not campaign himself, but loyalists praise him for guiding Algeria out of a 1990s war with Islamists that killed 200,000 people. The conflict left many Algerians wary of the turmoil that has swept neighboring Tunisia, Egypt and Libya since their “Arab Spring” revolts in 2011. Six opposition parties boycotted Thursday’s vote, saying it would not reform a system mostly closed to change since the FLN’s one-party rule in the early post-independence years. Bouteflika won 90 percent of the vote in 2009 and 85 percent in 2004, when his main rival then, Benflis, alleged fraud on an “industrial” scale.


North Korea Criticizes ‘Human Rights Racket’ of US

From AP:

A North Korean spokesman is blaming the United States and its allies for a “human rights racket” a day after the U.N. Security Council met to discuss a new report that accuses the reclusive communist regime of crimes against humanity. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Friday quoted a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry and accused the U.S. and allies of reaching an “extremely reckless phase” with Thursday’s informal council meeting.

It was the first time the Security Council had met on the unprecedented U.N. commission of inquiry report, which recommends that the council refer its findings to the International Criminal Court. The commission chair says most council members expressly said the matter should be referred. All members but Russia and top Pyongyang ally China attended.

Senator Harry Reid: Bundy backers are ‘domestic terrorists’

Timothy Cama reports for The Hill:

Harry Reid defends ‘domestic terrorists’ commentsSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) intensified his criticism of armed militia members supporting rancher Cliven Bundy, calling them “domestic terrorists.” “They’re nothing more than domestic terrorists,” Reid said Thursday at an event hosted by the Las Vegas Review-Journalaccording to the newspaper. “I repeat: what happened there was domestic terrorism.”

Reid specifically criticized Bundy supporters for bringing guns and their children to the ranch to defend him against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). BLM officials and contractors started rounding up Bundy’s cattle last week because of his refusal to pay $1 million in grazing fees, but they backed down Saturday due to safety concerns.


Edward Snowden: Vladimir Putin must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama

Edward Snowden writes for The Guardian:

Vladimir Putin during the nationwide phone-in in Moscow.On Thursday, I questioned Russia’s involvement in mass surveillance on live television. I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program: “Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals’ communications?” I went on to challenge whether, even if such a mass surveillance program were effective and technically legal, it could ever be morally justified.

The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion. (See a side-by-side comparison of Wyden’s question and mine here.) Clapper’s lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability.

In his response, Putin denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter. There are serious inconsistencies in his denial – and we’ll get to them soon – but it was not the president’s suspiciously narrow answer that was criticised by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.


Nomi Prins On The History of the Global Banking Elite

#TrackoftheDay ~ The Mexican by Babe Ruth (1972)

World Bank wants water privatized, despite risks

 writes for Al Jazeera:

Humans can survive weeks without food, but only days without water — in some conditions, only hours. It may sound clichéd, but it’s no hyperbole: Water is life. So what happens when private companies control the spigot? Evidence from water privatization projects around the world paints a pretty clear picture — public health is at stake.

In the run-up to its annual spring meeting this month, the World Bank Group, which offers loans, advice and other resources to developing countries, held four days of dialogues in Washington, D.C. Civil society groups from around the world and World Bank Group staff convened to discuss many topics. Water was high on the list.


Pyongyang slams South Korean president’s reunification speech

From AFP:

North Korea yesterday blasted South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s proposal on laying the groundwork for reunification through economic exchanges and humanitarian aid as the “daydream of a psychopath”. The attack from the North’s powerful National Defence Commission (NDC) was the first official reaction from Pyongyang to a proposal Park made in a speech last month in Dresden in the former East Germany.

She urged the North to expand reunions of families and increase cross-border economic and cultural exchanges, starting with the South bolstering humanitarian aid. “Germany’s unity is for us an example and model for a peaceful reunification,” she had said. An NDC spokesman noted that German reunification came about with the West absorbing the East and accused Park of begging foreign countries to help a reunification in which South Korea absorbed the North.


Five Russian MPs demand Gorbachev trial over collapse of Soviet Union

From BBC News:

Mikhail GorbachevFive members of Russia’s parliament have called for the former president, Mikhail Gorbachev, to be prosecuted over the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr Gorbachev said the “absurd” demand was driven by a hunger for publicity. The deputies – including two from President Vladimir Putin’s party – say they were motivated by recent events, particularly the crisis in Ukraine. Ukraine was one of 14 countries that gained independence from Moscow when the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991.

Mr Gorbachev was the architect of policies, known as perestroika and glasnost, that sought to reform the communist system in the years preceding its collapse. The deputies who have demanded Mr Gorbachev’s prosecution say he defied the wishes of the people by allowing the dissolution of the Soviet Union. They argue that Soviet citizens had voted in a referendum to preserve the union.


A quarter of UK teachers bring food into school to help hungry pupils

Richard Garner reports for The Independent:

Teachers are having to bring in food to give their pupils breakfast every day because they are too hungry and exhausted to learn as a result of increased poverty, according to a report out today. A survey of 4,000 teachers concluded that the educational opportunities for thousands of children were being blighted by the impact of the Government’s social and economic policies.

The survey, by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said 80 per cent of teachers observed pupils lacking in energy and concentration as a result of eating poorly. Many were also unable to participate in activities like school trips because their parents could not afford to pay for them. In addition, 27 per cent said they brought in food for pupils themselves because they knew they were too hungry to learn, while 55 per cent said pupils were missing out on important education activities because they had no money to pay for them.


White House counterterrorism and Homeland Security adviser says parents need to watch for ‘sudden personality changes in their children’

From CNS News:

Lisa MonacoIn a speech delivered at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government on Tuesday evening, White House Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco said it could help prevent terrorism if parents watched for “sudden personality changes in their children at home.”

“President Obama has been laser-focused on making sure we use all the elements of our national power to protect Americans, including developing the first government-wide strategy to prevent violent extremism in the United States,” said Monaco, in a transcription posted by the White House.


Stephen Cohen: “We Are Not Beginning a New Cold War, We Are Well Into It”

‘As negotiations over the crisis in Ukraine begin in Geneva, tension is rising in the Ukrainian east after security forces killed three pro-Russian protesters, wounded 13 and took 63 captive in the city of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials said the pro-Russian separatists had attempted to storm a military base. The killings came just after the unraveling of a Ukrainian operation to retake government buildings from pro-Russian separatists. Earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the authorities in Kiev of plunging the country into an “abyss” and refused to rule out sending forces into Ukraine. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has announced a series of steps to reinforce its presence in eastern Europe. “We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land,” Rasmussen said. We are joined by Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University. “We are not at the beginning of a new Cold War, we are well into it,” Cohen says, “which alerts us to the fact ‘hot war’ is imaginable now. It’s unlikely, but it’s conceivable — and if it’s conceivable, something has to be done about it.”‘ (Democracy Now!)

5 Journalists Labeled ‘Traitors’ for Doing Their Job

‘Abby Martin goes over 5 instances of Pulitzer prize winning journalists who have been labeled ‘Traitors’ for their coverage of groundbreaking stories, highlighting journalists such as Neil Sheehan of the New York times for publishing the Pentagon Papers, and most recently Glenn Greenwald and his coverage of the ongoing NSA’s dragnet spying.’ (Breaking the Set)

Saudi conservatives protest against Westernization

From Reuters:

Saudi Arabian conservatives have staged a rare protest outside the Royal Court in Riyadh against “Westernizing” reforms including moves to allow physical education for schoolgirls, local media reported on Thursday. Photographs in the Saudi edition of pan-Arab daily al-Hayat showed dozens of men in traditional garb walking towards the court, the seat of government, and sitting on the grass outside as they demonstrated against social change.

Last week the consultative Shoura Council decided to urge the government to look into allowing sports classes for girls in state schools, something that many conservatives have long opposed. Most private schools for girls already offer physical education. Some powerful clerics, conservatives and their supporters fear the kingdom is losing its Islamic values in favor of Western ideas.

In Saudi Arabia, women are banned from driving and must gain the approval of a male “guardian” to work, open a bank account, travel abroad or even to undergo some forms of voluntary surgery. The newspaper quoted one of the men as saying they had come to the Royal Court to meet officials and discuss decisions that they regarded as a step towards Westernization, particularly the move towards allowing girls’ sports classes.


Egypt’s military economy: Money is power, power is money

Joseph Hammond and James Wan write for Think Africa Press:

In this photo released by the office of the Egyptian presidency, Egyptian troops demonstrate their skills at a graduation ceremony in Cairo in July 2012.  (Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency) Momentum is continuing to build towards Egypt’s 26 May elections, which are widely expected to see Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi stroll into the presidential office. After a long period of speculation, the recently promoted Field Marshall finally announced last month that he would be taking off his military slacks and stepping into civilian shoes to run for top office.

In a poll in March, 39% of Egyptians said they were planning to vote for him, while fewer than 1% of respondents said they were planning to vote for any of the other candidates. Anything but an Al-Sisi victory seems highly unlikely, and come May, the military’s hold on power will have become even further entrenched. It was only in January 2011 that Hosni Mubarak − a military man too, like all his predecessors since 1952 − was overthrown, but now it seems the Egyptian military is not only back in the seat of power, but perhaps stronger than ever. A look behind the political curtains at the backstage that is the Egyptian economy seems to bear this out.