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7/25/14

Russia planning major missile shipment to Ukraine rebels - Insanity - Fiction or Intimidation?

Russia has been lobbing artillery shells into Ukraine and is planning to give the rebels missiles that are even deadlier than the one that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the US State Department said Thursday.

“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful, multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

The stunning allegations were “just some pieces of info I’ve been able to get from our intelligence friends,” said Harf, who declined to provide details. “I can’t get into the sources and methods behind it.”

Harf’s remarks came after a NATO military official told reporters that the continuing flow of weapons from Russia into Ukraine “is a cause for concern.”

The shipments have also increased “in the last several weeks,” the official added.

Read more: Russia planning major missile shipment to Ukraine rebels | New York Post

Russia: EU targets state-owned Russia banks in sanctions plan

The European Union would target state-owned Russian banks vital to financing Moscow's faltering economy in the most serious sanctions so far over the Ukraine crisis under proposals considered by EU governments on Thursday.

Ambassadors of the 28-nation bloc discussed options to curb Russian access to capital markets, arms and energy technology in response to the downing of a Malaysian airliner in an area of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists on July 17.

Talks on the options for stepped-up action drafted by the European Commission will continue on Friday morning, an EU official said, and diplomats said decisions on wider sanctions were likely at the earliest next week.

However, the ambassadors did agree to add more people and entities to the EU's asset freeze list, using expanded criteria including Russian companies that help to undermine Ukraine's sovereignty.

The names will not be published until late Friday but diplomats said it concerned 15 individuals and 18 entities, half of which were companies.

Ambassadors also agreed to further expand the scope of sanctions to include companies and people who support Russian decision-makers responsible for the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region or for destabilising eastern Ukraine.

Under one key proposal, European investors would be banned from buying new debt or shares of banks owned 50 percent or more by the state. These banks raised almost half their 15.8 billion euro ($21.29 billion) capital needs on EU markets last year.

"If implemented such sanctions would be a serious blow to the Russian economy, exacerbating an already very likely recession this year and sustaining an economic depression for longer," said analyst Michal Dybula of BNP Paribas.

The proposals included an arms embargo, although diplomats said it would apply to future deals and would not bar delivery of a French warship built for Russia under a 2011 contract.

The EU was also weighing restricting exports of technology for deep-sea drilling, shale and Arctic energy exploration and so-called civilian-military "dual use" items, diplomats said.

After months of hesitation, powerful EU states including Germany, Moscow's biggest trade partner, are pushing for quick action as they believe Russia has consistently failed to meet international demands to end violence in Ukraine.

Read more: EU targets state-owned Russia banks in sanctions plan | Economy | Worldbulletin News

7/24/14

Ukraine: Dutch sending unarmed police to Ukraine crash site - by Mike Corder

The Netherlands is sending 40 unarmed military police to eastern Ukraine as part of a ramped-up effort to find the last victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 still at the wreckage site, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced late Thursday.

He also is sending forensic investigators to the site to try to piece together exactly what happened when the plane was shot down a week ago, killing all 298 people on board.
U.S. officials say the Boeing 777 was probably shot down by a missile from territory held by pro-Russian rebels, likely by accident.

Rutte said the military police will help the investigators.

"They are really looking like the forensic experts," he said. "They will be extra hands and eyes to look for remaining remains and personal belongings."

His comments Thursday came hours after two military planes carrying 74 coffins landed at a military base in the Netherlands. A day earlier, the two military transport planes — one Dutch and one Australian — brought back the first 40 coffins and more flights were planned for Friday.

Thousands of people have turned out to watch the convoys of hearses drive from the Eindhoven Air Base to a military barracks in the central city of Hilversum, where the remains will be identified by an international team of experts.

The Netherlands has been given the lead in the investigation into what exactly happened to Flight 17 and is taking charge of efforts to identify the dead. This nation of 17 million was the hardest hit, with 194 of its citizens on board the plane.

Read more: Dutch sending unarmed police to Ukraine crash site - US News

EU must cut umbilical cord with the US - deal with Moscow without US handholding - by Mary Dejevsky

After a harrowing delay, the first bodies from MH17 arrived back at their point of departure on Wednesday.

The sendoff from Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, had been dignified, in contrast to most of their treatment over the previous six days. There were decent coffins, a short military ceremony and soberly dressed officials with heads bowed. A measure of order had been restored.

These arrangements, it appears, were the result of highly complicated negotiations between many parties.

There were representatives of Malaysia (because the plane was theirs); of the Netherlands (because this is where the plane had set off from, and the majority of the passengers were Dutch nationals); of the Ukrainian government (because the plane came down within its borders); of the anti-Kiev rebels (because they control the actual territory where the plane crashed); and of Russia (because it had some lines open to the rebels, if not as much real leverage as many still believe).

Add in international organisations, such as the OSCE, and the various official groups charged with investigating air disasters, plus officials from countries such as Britain that also lost nationals and which can offer particular expertise, and the picture becomes still more complex. When you consider this extensive list, however, what is striking is not just who is there, but who is not. Where, most conspicuously, is the US?

In the early days, some overheated rhetoric wafted across the Atlantic about blame for MH17, especially from Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, who loses no opportunity to rehearse her trademark denunciations of Russia. But President Obama was always more cautious, and now US intelligence officials have expressly excluded “direct” Russian involvement in what happened, while blaming Russia for “helping to create the conditions”.

For the most part, though, the US has remained on the sidelines. Where it has acted, for instance in sending aviation safety officials, it has done so without fanfare. Rather than rush to Kiev or Moscow or the Netherlands, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, has remained in the Middle East, applying his efforts to the ever more destructive conflict over Gaza.

Whether US intervention would have been welcome or not after MH17 is neither here nor there. The downing of the Malaysian plane soon turned into as much of a major international diplomatic crisis (with Russia in the dock) as it was a human tragedy many times over. Somehow, as seen from Europe, you would have expected the US to have been there.

Maybe, though, we Europeans are going to have to get used to the idea that in diplomatic and military – if not economic – terms, Europe has ceased to be special in Washington. There were already hints, during Obama’s first election campaign, that “Yes, we can!” might one day be completed with “do without Europe”.

Read more: Europe must learn to deal with Moscow without US backing | Mary Dejevsky | Comment is free | The Guardian

Corporeate Power in America: The SEC should shine a light on dark political donations from corporations - by Liz Kennedy and Sean McElwee

Nate ate Silver has already dubbed the 2014 election as "the least important in years." But this year's midterms are still breaking records for at least one thing: secret political spending.

A historically unprecedented amount of dark money has already been spent to influence the outcome of the elections. As of July 15, more than $34 million in dark money had been spent on the 2014 election cycle.

That is more than 15 times the $2+ million in dark money spent at this point in the 2010 midterms, and three times the $11 million in dark money spent at this point in the 2012 elections.

Dark money means political spending where the identity of the underlying source of the funds is not public.

The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010 allowed new political spending from corporations, and subsequent decisions removed limits on so-called "independent" spending. Now, sophisticated political players who want to exercise power without accountability are channeling their political spending through 501(c)(4) "social welfare" groups that aren't required to disclose their funders.

The price we pay for this failure of transparency is a loss of information for voters, and a lack of accountability for both the spenders and beneficiaries of dark money.

Since most outside spending comes in a flurry in the last month of the election, we can expect these numbers to keep on rising. In 2012, 60 percent of dark money was spent on or after October 1. If these trends hold, dark money totals this year will certainly break the 2010 midterm record and may even surpass the over $300 million in secret spending in the 2012 elections.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Rules and Administration Committee held a hearing to promote transparency in election spending. They're considering legislation that would require all outside political spending groups to disclose their significant donors (the DISCLOSE Act), and a bill that would require candidates, parties, and PACs that are already covered by federal disclosure laws to disclose their major donors more rapidly and electronically (the Real Time Transparency Act).

As Senator Angus King (I-Maine) explained in the hearing, just knowing that "Americans for Greener Grass" paid for an ad isn't really disclosure, because it doesn't tell you anything about the agenda of whoever is providing the financial support for the group.

 
 
The Supreme Court was wrong when it assumed that the new corporate political spending the justices allowed in Citizens United would be disclosed to the public and to a corporate donor's shareholders, since there are no legal requirements that corporations disclose all of their political spending.

Congress attempted to respond to the Citizens United decision and create a comprehensive disclosure system in 2010, when the DISCLOSE Act was approved by majorities in both chambers of Congress, but then failed by one vote to overcome a party-line filibuster in the Senate. Some critics argued at the time that the bill unfairly regulated corporations while requiring less disclosure from unions. As we explain in our new Demos paper, this is far from the truth. Corporations and unions face very different rules and requirements for their political spending. Labor unions must publicly disclose all of their political spending to the Department of Labor. But in the wake of Citizens United, there are many avenues through which corporations can spend money in politics while hiding their financial support for particular candidates or causes.

Both unions and corporations must disclose to the FEC any direct political spending made to finance independent expenditures and electioneering communications, but the similarities end there. Unions are required to report the money they spend not just in federal elections, but also for state and local office. Corporations are not subject to these same requirements, except in a few states that have strengthened their disclosure laws.

Unions are required to report get-out-the-vote campaigns, voter education campaigns, fundraising, and any politically related litigation expenses. Corporations are not. Unions are required to disclose all donations to 501(c)(4) groups on their Schedule 17 form. Corporations are not.

Why does this matter? Corporate donors spend big: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $69,506,784 on elections in 2010 and 2012, without identifying the source of those funds, and was the biggest outside spender in the 2010 elections. And according to the research of Martin Gilens, the Chamber of Commerce and other corporate donors lobby against the expressed preferences of most Americans.

Read more: The SEC should shine a light on dark political donations from corporations - The Week

US Power Shift Benefits Corporate America: the Hobby Lobby Ruling impact on US and EU US trade negotiations

Last month, as you’ve probably heard, a closely divided Supreme Court ruled that corporations with religious owners cannot be required to pay for insurance coverage of contraception. The so-called Hobby Lobby decision, named for the chain of craft stores that brought the case, has been both praised and condemned for expanding religious rights and constraining Obamacare. 

But beneath the political implications, the ruling has significant economic undertones. It expands the right of corporations to be treated like people, part of a trend that may be contributing to the rise of economic inequality.

The notion that corporations are people is ridiculous on its face, but often true. Although Mitt Romney was mocked for saying it on the campaign trail a few summers ago, the U.S. Code, our national rule book, defines corporations as people in its very first sentence. 

And since the 19th century, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are entitled to a wide range of constitutional protections. This was a business decision, and it was a good one. Incorporation encourages risk-taking: Investors are far more likely to put money into a business that can outlast its creators; managers, for their part, are more likely to take risks themselves because they owe nothing to the investors if they fail.

The rise of corporations, which developed more fully in the United States than in other industrializing nations, helped to make it the richest nation on earth. And economic historians have found that states where businesses could incorporate more easily tended to grow more quickly, aiding New York’s rise as a banking center and helping Pennsylvania’s coal industry to outstrip Virginia’s. 

The notion of corporate personhood still sounds weird, but we rely upon it constantly in our everyday lives. The corporation that published this column, for instance, is exercising its constitutional right to speak freely and to make contracts, taking money from some of you and giving a little to me.

Note EU-Digest: the above should be a clear warning to the EU not to sign any major trade agreement with the US wich has laws in place which gives profit based and not democratically run corporations the same legal rights and status as human beings.

Read more: What the Hobby Lobby Ruling Means for America - NYTimes.com

City of London to bear the brunt of EU sanctions on Russia - by Bruno Waterfield

New EU sanctions to block Russia's "access to capital markets", dominated by Britain's banking sector, will target business worth up £6billion a year in bonds issued by Russian state-owned banks and financial institutions in European markets

 "Restricting access to capital markets for Russian state-owned financial institutions would increase their cost of raising funds and constrain their ability to finance the Russian economy, unless the Russian public authorities provide them with substitute financing," said a proposal seen by the Telegraph. "It would also foster a climate of market uncertainty that is likely to affect the business environment in Russia and accelerate capital outflows."

The EU has threatened Russia with new sanctions unless it ensures a full international investigation of the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines flight last week and stops an "increasing flow of weapons, equipment and militants across the border" into Eastern Ukraine, arms that include SA-11 missiles that downed MH17 with the loss of 298 lives.

The EU proposals also include an arms sales or export embargo despite a similar measure being blocked by France on Tuesday because of a euro 1.4 billion French contract, signed in 2011, to supply two warships to Russia.

Read more: City of London to bear the brunt of EU sanctions on Russia - Telegraph

7/23/14

Netherlands mourns as bodies of MH17 plane crash victims are flown home - by Philip Oltermann

Ij the Netherlands a day of national mourning
As the first coffin was lowered from the planes on the runway, silence fell over Eindhoven military airport. The only sound came from a row of flags whipping in the wind at half mast.

Almost a week after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot from the skies above Ukraine, 40 bodies arrived on Wednesday in the Netherlands, the country that bore the heaviest toll in the crash.

King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima and the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, joined about 1,000 relatives and friends of the victims, who gathered at the airport for a ceremony receiving the two military transport planes.

A lone trumpeter played the Last Post as troops in dress uniform saluted then carried the wooden caskets to a row of hearses. They drove from the airport under military police escort to an army barracks in the central city of Hilversum where forensic experts were waiting to begin the painstaking task of identifying the remains.
Crowds gathered on bridges along the 65-mile route to throw flowers on to the convoy of 40 hearses.

The Dutch government had declared a day of national mourning – the first since the death of Queen Wilhelmina in 1962 – and at 4.07pm a minute's silence was requested across the country.

Two-hundred and ninety-eight passengers and crew were killed when the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpar was shot down last Thursday a week today. The Dutch victims numbered 193. In a nation of just 16 million, few have been unaffected by the disaster.

Read more: Netherlands mourns as bodies of MH17 plane crash victims are flown home | World news | The Guardian

Ukraine: No quick decision seen on tougher EU sanctions on Russia

European Union ambassadors will debate proposals on Thursday on restricting Russian access to Europe's capital markets and defense and energy technology but are not expected to make a quick decision.

Ambassadors from the 28 EU nations are expected to agree on Thursday to add the names of some Russian companies that are helping to undermine Ukraine's sovereignty to the bloc's sanctions list, using new expanded criteria.

But they will probably need more time to agree to go beyond the asset freezes so far imposed by the EU and restrict Russia's access to Europe's financial markets and technology.

Despite threatening tough action since Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March, the EU has been divided over imposing economic sanctions on its main gas supplier.

But the downing last week of a Malaysia Airlines plane over eastern Ukraine, killing 298 people, jolted the EU into action.

Foreign ministers for the first time this week singled out sectors of the Russian economy that the EU might target with sanctions in protest at Moscow's actions in eastern Ukraine.

The ministers said on Tuesday they could restrict Russia's access to capital markets, defense and sensitive technologies "including in the energy sector" unless Russia halts the flow of weapons across the Ukraine border.

Read more: No quick decision seen on tougher EU sanctions on Russia - Yahoo News

Britain: Corporate Bribery Probe: Glaxo link to probe

Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline publishes second quarter results on Wednesday as a tangled web of allegations linked to a bribery probe by Chinese authorities continues to hang over the UK-based company.

It comes shortly after a British investigator and his American wife who were hired by the company learned they were to face trial in the country charged with illegally obtaining and selling private information.

The arrest of Peter Humphrey and Yingzeng Yu last year coincided with a Chinese probe into allegations that Glaxo staff had funnelled hundreds of millions of pounds through travel agencies to bribe doctors and health officials.

The couple's firm ChinaWhys had been asked to look into the origin of a sex tape involving Glaxo's China manager Mark Reilly, who has himself been accused by Chinese authorities in relation to the bribery case.

Glaxo has said it asked the investigators to look into a "serious breach of privacy and security" relating to Mr Reilly but that the firm was not hired "to investigate the substance of allegations of misconduct" made by a whistleblower.

In May, the pharmaceuticals firm disclosed that its commercial practices had come under "formal criminal investigation" by Britain's Serious Fraud Office.

Sheridan Adams, investment research manager at The Share Centre, said: "Although Chinese revenues only account for less than 5% of the global total, negative press coverage will not be welcomed and investors may want to hear from management on the matter."

Glaxo's second quarter update is the first since the takeover frenzy over US rival Pfizer's ultimately unsuccessful bid to swallow up Britain's AstraZeneca for £69 million amid a public outcry.

The merger spotlight in the sector has since fallen on Hampshire-based Shire and its American suitor AbbVie.
Glaxo has kept out of any speculation around such deals, after unveiling a complex three-part transaction with Novartis in May.

It will see the two firms create a £6.5 billion consumer healthcare powerhouse from its Aquafresh and Beechams together with antiseptic range Savlon and cough and cold brand Tixylix from Novartis.

The deal also saw Glaxo sell its oncology portfolio from Novartis and buy the Swiss firm's vaccines business.

Read more: Glaxo link to probe | Herald Scotland

GMO Dangers: Major Study: Monsanto GMO Corn Can Cause Damage to Liver and Kidneys, and Severe Hormonal Disruption

A highly controversial paper by Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues has been republished after a stringent peer review process.

The chronic toxicity study examines the health impacts on rats of eating  a commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize, Monsanto's NK603 glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup.

The original study, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) in September 2012, found severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances in rats fed the GM maize and low levels of Roundup that are below those permitted in drinking water in the EU.

However it was retracted by the editor-in-chief of the Journal in November 2013 after a sustained campaign of criticism and defamation by pro-GMO scientists.

Toxic effects were found from the GM maize tested alone, as well as from Roundup tested alone and together with the maize. Additional unexpected findings were higher rates of large tumours and mortality in most treatment groups.

Now the study has been republished by Environmental Sciences Europe. The republished version contains extra material addressing criticisms of the original publication.

The raw data underlying the study's findings are also published - unlike the raw data for the industry studies that underlie regulatory approvals of Roundup, which are kept secret. However, the new paper presents the same results as before and the conclusions are unchanged.

The republication restores the study to the peer-reviewed literature so that it can be consulted and built upon by other scientists.

The republished study is accompanied by a separate commentary by Prof Séralini's team (also published on The Ecologist) describing the lobbying efforts of GMO crop supporters to force the editor of FCT to retract the original publication.

The authors explain that the retraction was "a historic example of conflicts of interest in the scientific assessments of products commercialized worldwide."

"We also show that the decision to retract cannot be rationalized on any discernible scientific or ethical grounds. Censorship of research into health risks undermines the value and the credibility of science; thus, we republish our paper."

Read more: Major Study: Monsanto GMO Corn Can Cause Damage to Liver and Kidneys, and Severe Hormonal Disruption | Alternet

Industrial Espionage: German businesses face rising threat of industrial espionage

Every year, industrial espionage costs German businesses around 11.8 billion euros ($16 billion), according to a survey released Monday by the German security firm Corporate Trust.

Every second company in Germany has faced attacks - whether successful or not - with more than three-quarters of those surveyed registering financial losses as a result.

Corporate Trust said the survey reflected answers from 6,767 companies, some 40 percent of which estimated the damage from espionage had cost them anywhere from 10,000 euros to 100,000 euros.

Twelve percent said they lost more than 100,000 euros, and 4.5 percent said they lost more than 1 million euros.

Read more: German businesses face rising threat of industrial espionage | Business | DW.DE | 21.07.2014