Sunday, February 8, 2015

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Video Report - Yazidis receive military training from Kurdish peshmerga

Video - Hundreds form human chain to protest worsening Bangladesh violence

Tens of thousands march in Turkey for secular public education

On Feb. 8, tens of thousands in İstanbul, Turkey, rallied and marched to demand a secular public education and denounce the reactionary, anti-secular policies of the ruling AKP government.
Led by the Federation of Alevi organizations and the United June Movement, participants included members of the Alevi community from all over Turkey, most of the left parties including the Communist Party, Turkey, unions and their members.
The United June Movement is inspired by the June uprising of 2013 and founded on the principles of equality, freedom, democracy, solidarity and socialism.  The CP, Turkey is a founding organization of this movement, which aims to unify the struggle against reaction, fascism, imperialism, the pro-market policies of exploitation and its representative: the AKP regime.
Marching to the rally location led by the Federation of Alevi organizations and the United June Movement, thousands chanted, “We are rising up for secular education!” and “Thief and murderer AKP!”
Before the event on Feb. 8, the Communist Party, Turkey released a short statement calling the people to action, which partially read as follows: “Against the mandatory religious classes and the religionization of all aspects of our lives, against the attempts to shape politics and the social life by religious rules, we will be defending the bright future of science and civilization. We are rising up, not because we follow this or that religious sect, we are rising up as we see that the Sunni Islamic policies of AKP will bring nothing but darkness, the elimination of all our freedoms and the establishment of an oppressive dictatorship, even monarchy. We are rising up in defense of secular, scientific education and against mandatory religion classes.”
Speaking to thousands at the event, Baki Düzgün, deputy president of Alevi Bektasi Confederation,  said: “Secular public education is a system that should guarantee the equal treatment of all citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs or ethnic identity. … A secular public education is of course not sufficient on its own. The Turco-Islamic policies that have been in effect for years have been against the equal treatment of all citizens by the state. Our political history is full of massacres, unsolved murders and oppression by these ethnic, sectarian policies[...] Today, AKP’s policies of religionization continue to be instruments of injustice, persecution and tyranny.”
Düzgün ended his speech by saying:” We, the Alevis, demand an end to discrimination. We believe in the equality of all humanity, irrespective of their religion, skin-color and the language they speak. We demand equal citizenship for everyone in this country.”
Alevis in Turkey
Alevis in Turkey represent a distinct sect of Islam only practiced in Turkey and make up about 20 percent of the overall population. Alevis were subjected to persecution and discrimination for centuries at the hands of the Sunni rulers of Ottoman Empire.
The 12-year-long rule of the Justice and Development Party, AKP, which has been marked by aggressive Sunni-sectarian policies, has been aiming to destroy the secular nature of the Republic of Turkey through reactionary legislative changes in the constitution, judiciary and public education and a systematic ideological drive to push Sunni Islam in all aspects of social life.
The public education system has been one of the main targets of AKP in the attack against secularism. AKP has pushed for mandatory religion classes on Sunni Islam in primary education, while thousands of new religious vocational schools have been funded to replace the secular high schools for secondary education. There has been a marked revival in discrimination in the recent years against Alevis, who are militant supporters of secularism and perceived by the ruling AKP as a threat.
The event concluded with a call for a mass boycott of all classes in all public schools on Feb. 13 in defense of secular education.

Saudi King's shady past

The newest king in the world, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, was the man the House of Saud had put in charge of raising money for the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. According to Bruce Reidel, an analyst writing in The Daily Beast, then Prince Salman, was at one point instrumental in funneling almost 25 million dollars a month to the Afghan Mujahideen.
According to a former CIA officer quoted in the Foreign Policy magazine, who was stationed in Pakistan at that time, Prince Salman was responsible for a similar amount coming into that country for purposes of recruitment for jihad.
Prince Salman, labeled the “family sheriff” by Bruce Reidel, was responsible for keeping order in the House of Saud, owing to the close ties between him and the clerical establishment of the Kingdom.
More recently, as Rachel Bronson says in her book, Thicker Than Oil: America’s Uneasy Partnership With Saudi Arabia, Salman also helped recruit fighters for Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, an Afghan fighter who served as a mentor to both Osama bin Laden and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
This then is the story of the new king.
Even while America continues to fight its perpetual war on terror, a man with a history as the one above has been feted as a “reformer” well prepared for the task at hand. There are few details as to what the Americans imagine that task to be, but then superpowers can afford such deceptions and digressions.
On the side of penury, where Pakistan is located, it is useful to note that many of the seeds of extremism bearing such plentiful fruit in the country today, germinated and took root during the same era as the charitable King Salman was funneling money to defeat the Soviets.
At the helm of this endeavor, our own Prime Minister has long been a beneficiary of King Salman’s largesse and benevolence.
With superpowers like the United States and foot-soldier producers like Pakistan, both in Saudi Arabia’s figurative pocket, the new Saudi king is set not simply to rule his kingdom, but likely much of the world.
How can the major producer and funder of the extremist ideology that everyone from Pakistanis mourning Peshawar, to even Americans mourning 9/11, profess to detest with such passion, be anointed to such a position of power in the world?
Herein lies the circularity of the mess that is the war against terror; in it lies the answer of why no effort to “clean-up” extremism, to drone it and bomb it and defuse it will ever be successful in accomplishing the eradication that it aims for.
With one hand clasped closely with the United States and the other throwing pennies at Pakistan; Saudi Arabia represents this obscured circle of inanity, the chain of hypocrisy that soaks up the blood of terror’s innocent victims like it was never shed at all.

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EU and US play down differences over response to Ukraine crisis

Merkel, Obama ponder Ukraine and security in Washington

As Angela Merkel visits Barack Obama, the US sees Europe as a continent in crises. Two experts take on the roles of Germany and the US to tease out the countries' views on key international issues.
G20-Gipfel in Brisbane Barack Obama Angela Merkel 15.11.2014
Ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's talks with US President Barack Obama on Monday, Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, and Annette Heuser, executive director of the Washington, DC, office of the Bertelsmann Foundation, sat down with Deutsche Welle to discuss the issues that will be on the leaders' agenda.
Crisis 1: Ukraine and Europe's defense
Bruce StokesEconomic sanctions have not been sufficient to get the Russians to stop supporting the rebels in Ukraine. We need to consider doing more, and we look to Europe to do more, and Germany in particular to support that.
Annette Heuser:I can't take this any more, this constant demand that we Europeans have to do more. Let's face it, if there is a transatlantic success story, it's the sanctions. Both sides came together quite quickly to impose sanctions. And they already have a very dire effect on the Russian economy. Berlin is skeptical about providing military assistance to Ukraine because it believes there is only a diplomatic option here that can solve the conflict - and that military assistance will further escalate the conflict.
Stokes:There's certainly a perception among American officials that Chancellor Merkel is a bulwark in terms of German attitudes towards Putin and Russia. She's tough, she's fed up with Putin. But we also hear a great deal privately from our German friends in the business community that "you Americans don't understand Russia the way we do, we need some kind of accommodation, we need to live with the Russians." And frankly here in the US, many of us hear that as appeasement. Will Chancellor Merkel be able to maintain her tough line?
Heuser:There is no doubt that Merkel is under enormous pressure from the German corporate sector because they have enormous investments in Russia. But it would be the same if all of a sudden the US were confronted with a similar situation with a neighbor where you have to cut the economic ties.
Bruce Stokes, Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project
Bruce stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project
Stokes:There was an infamous poll done last summer where the Germans were asked, do you want to be closer to Russia, closer to the United States or some place in the middle? And basically the German public said, "We'd like to be some place in the middle." Frankly, many Americans heard that and said, "After all we did for Germany in the Cold War, after the support for unification, they want to be somewhere between us and Russian and not on our side?"
Heuser:Germany has a strong desire to have a peaceful place in Europe, and Russia is part of Europe. And therefore we still want to work things out with Russia. But I think you can't question that Merkel has the majority of Germans behind her regarding her tough course towards Russia.
Crisis 2: Terrorism and intelligence
Stokes:We are increasingly concerned about terrorism coming to our shores. You face an even greater problem, because you have more transit back and forth between Syria and Iraq and Europe. The Charlie Hebdo experience is just an example of what this can lead to. The reaction to the NSA scandal suggested that Europeans valued their privacy much more than they feared terrorism. But we think now that we were right and the Europeans were wrong.
Heuser:I would disagree. I think the good news is that Europe has renewed its commitment to robust surveillance on the terrorist threats. We have a lot of fighters going between Europe and Syria and Iraq, and Germany has decided that those who are a potential threat have no right to keep their passports any longer. That's a very concrete measure. When it comes to the NSA scandal, obviously this is still a kind of dark cloud over the transatlantic relationship and we have to work on overcoming it.
USA Fahne Brandenburger Tor Berlin
Allegations of spying of strained relations between Germany and the US
Stokes:But there was a sense here of the hypocrisy that the Germans were spying on their own people in a somewhat similar way to how we were spying on people. They were quite happy to receive the information from the US intelligence services when it was appropriate. But once it was exposed, then they were, in the famous words of the movie "Casablanca," shocked"
Heuser:I would say the Germans were rightly outraged when they found out that the NSA was tapping the phone of Chancellor Merkel. Because it translated into "we don't trust you guys in Berlin, we don't trust the Germans." But at the same time I think, the government fell short in communicating to German citizens that besides the scandal there is a reason why we have to keep close ties with the American intelligence services.
Stokes:And we're trying to rebuild that relationship. We have just announced that we will accord the same privacy rights to foreign nationals as we do to American nationals, in terms of what information can be kept, and what has to be discarded.
Griechenland PK Jeroen Dijsselbloem & Gianis Varoufakis 30.01.2015
The election of the leftist Syriza government in has called the future of Greece as a member of the euro zone into question
Crisis 3: Greece and the euro
Stokes:We think you are squeezing Greece too hard. We would be much better served by a stronger Europe, and a stronger Europe means more growth. Austerity is not going to get you there. Our perception is that Germans treat economics as a morality play, that economic success is a sign of virtue. We think it's a result of ups and downs of the economy, the yin and the yang of the economy. That people need to not only save but spend.
Heuser: It is very frustrating for the German government to be constantly lectured by their American counterparts. Think about Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at the height of the crisis. We have a similar situation right now where the Americans want to advise us how to deal with the Greek government and tell us that Berlin needs to spend more. I think it would be helpful to accept that we have a different system, a different outlook, a different history and mentality when it comes to dealing with our financial system.
Stokes:Our perception is that people are playing a game of chicken in Europe with Greece - that Germans are talking tough, "Well if you want to leave, we might not want to stand in your way." And it is probably true, that Europe is in a better position to sustain a Greece withdrawal than they were a few years ago. But we don't know what the knock-on consequences would be.
Annette Heuse, Bertelsmann Foundation Washington
Annette Heuser is executive director of the Washington, DC office of the Bertelsmann Foundation.
Heuser: We had numerous debates at the height of the crisis about Greece leaving the eurozone, the euro going down the drain. None of this has happened because what I think Americans need to understand is that while the euro is a currency, at the same time it is a political project.
Stokes:At the end of the day, we need you to grow, whether Greece is in or out.
Heuser:Germans are wondering whether the US is still committed to the transatlantic free trade agreement, TTIP.
Stokes:First we have to finish the free trade agreement with Asia. It is further along, and we need to get that done this year. And I would remind you that only 39 percent of Germans support TTIP, while polls in the US show that a larger majority of Americans support it. So the political problems it seems to me are in Germany. We fear that could sink what is arguably the single most important economic transaction between Europe and the United States since the Marshall Plan.
Heuser:We do have a challenge in Germany, where we have a quite negative debate around the agreement. But things are shifting.
Stokes:The problem in the US is that we run into problems with the political calendar. If the deal is not done by the end of this year, Congress can't vote on it until next year. Then we're right in the middle of the US presidential election. And the problem with that scenario: Trade deals begin to smell like a dead fish if they sit on the table too long.
Heuser:We have to keep the momentum.
The big picture
Stokes:President Obama came into office rejecting what he perceived to be the Bush approach to the world. Obama said we need partners to deal with the world's problems. But now there is a certain amount of frustration in the US, particularly because of the inability of Europe to reignite growth - this naval-gazing about Europe's problems rather than leading in the world. It raises real questions about whether Europe can be a partner of the United States.
Heuser:We have the same questions towards the US. Let's face it, a lot of Europeans and in particular Germans are frustrated with Obama. When he was elected, they thought that he would engage much more with us. So far we haven't seen much of that other than lecturing. Europe has matured, economically, financially, and in its foreign and security policy. And it's time for Washington to accept it.

Ukraine crisis: Putin, Poroshenko, Hollande, Merkel voice plans for Minsk meeting

A 'Normandy Four' meeting may be held in the Belarus capital as early as Wednesday, the German government said, following a phone call between Vladimir Putin, Petro Poroshenko, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande.
The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany held a joint telephone call this morning, the German government says.
"In [the call] they worked further on a package of measures in the context of their efforts on a comprehensive settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine," Steffen Seibert, Germany’s government spokesperson, said in a statement.
"This work will be continued tomorrow in Berlin with the goal of holding a 'Normandy Format' summit on Wednesday in Minsk," he added.
Signatories of last year's Minsk deal, including representatives of the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine and rebel forces would join the meeting in Minsk.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin said the meeting will take place "if by then we manage to agree our positions, which we have been discussing very intensively in recent days." According to diplomatic sources, Moscow may be represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin.
The plan was also confirmed by President Petro Poroshenko's press service who said the leaders hope the talks will lead to "a swift and unconditional” ceasefire on both sides.
The phone call follows Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande’s visit to Moscow, where they attempted to hammer out a peace plan with Vladimir Putin.
Their surprise visits to the capitals of Ukraine and Russia, with new peace proposals, were announced while US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Kiev, speaking of possible weapons supplies to Ukrainian government troops.

Political analysts believe the dispute inside the US on whether to arm Ukraine could actually trigger the Franco-German peace initiative, because Europe is reluctant to have a full-blown war on its doorstep.

The details of the Franco-German peace initiative have not been disclosed, though Francois Hollande said on Saturday the Franco-German peace initiative would feature a 50- to 70-kilometer demilitarized zone on each side of the current line dividing militia-held and Kiev-controlled territories.
Calling on Kiev to grant east Ukraine more powers, Hollande said the plan could be “one of the last chances” for peace in Ukraine.
Angela Merkel also ruled out the option of arming Ukrainian army as a possible solution to the crisis. "I understand the debate [on weapons supplies] but I believe that more weapons will not lead to the progress Ukraine needs. I really doubt that," she said.
The spokesman for the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, would only describe the deal as “constructive.”

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Economic Plan Is a Quandary for Hillary Clinton’s Campaign


With advice from more than 200 policy experts,Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to answer what has emerged as a central question of her early presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy.
Mrs. Clinton has not had to wade into domestic policy since before she became secretary of state in 2009, and she has spent the past few months engaged in policy discussions with economists on the left and closer to the Democratic Party’s center who are grappling with the discontent set off by the gap between rich and poor. Sorting through the often divergent advice to develop an economic plan could affect the timing and planning of the official announcement of her campaign.
Although people close to Mrs. Clinton say she has not yet settled on a specific platform, she is expected to embrace several principles. They include standard Democratic initiatives like raising the minimum wage, investing in infrastructure, closing corporate tax loopholes and cutting taxes for the middle class. Other ideas are newer, such as providing incentives to corporations to increase profit-sharing with employees and changing labor laws to give workers more collective bargaining power.
Behind many of these proposals is a philosophy, endorsed by Mrs. Clinton’s closest economic advisers and often referred to as inclusive capitalism, that contends that a majority of Americans do not want to punish the rich; they just want to feel that they, too, have a chance to succeed. It also calls for corporations to put less emphasis on short-term profits that increase shareholder value and to invest more in employees, the environment and communities.
Whether Mrs. Clinton’s approach will be enough to satisfy the unease over growing economic disparity is unclear. In a Gallup poll conducted last month, 67 percent of Americans said they were dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are distributed in the United States. In the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Mrs. Clinton’s economic message — summed up by a frequent refrain, “If you work hard, you play by the rules, you ought to be able to get ahead” — resonated with white, working-class voters, who overwhelmingly supported her over Barack Obama.
But in the years since, Mrs. Clinton has come under criticism for delivering speeches to Wall Street banks at more than $200,000 each, roughly four times the median annual household income in the United States, and for comments she made about her family’s financial situation, including a lament about being “dead broke” after leaving the White House. And she must convince a middle class that feels frustrated and left behind that she understands its struggles, even as she relies heavily on the financial industry and corporate interests to fund her candidacy.
Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, said she had “a record of bringing people together to solve big problems, while also putting a real premium on accountability.”
Asked whether creating an economic message could affect the timeline for her presidential campaign, Mr. Merrill said, “There’s no red X on a calendar somewhere, but make no mistake: If she runs, she will present solutions to our toughest challenges.”
Mrs. Clinton’s economic plan would be more populist and reliant on the government than the centrist approach of trade agreements, welfare reform and deficit reduction associated with her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
“It’s not enough to address upward mobility without addressing inequality,” said Lawrence H. Summers, a Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration who is among those talking with Mrs. Clinton. “The challenge, though, is to address inequality without embracing a politics of envy.”
The debate is extending beyond the Democratic Party as Republicans wade into the issues. “If Americans are working harder than ever, earning less than they once did, our government and our leaders should step up, offer a plan, fix what’s wrong,” former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said in a speech in Detroit last week as he laid the groundwork for his potential 2016 candidacy.
Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state when some major economic debates took hold on Capitol Hill, and as a result, her economic views are still not broadly known. Her approach to poverty was forged in the 1970s, when she went door to door while working for the Children’s Defense Fund, leaving her a committed advocate for early childhood education, equal pay for women and paid leave.
But later experiences complicated her worldview. Many of the advocates who knew Mrs. Clinton as a champion for the poor and working-class women felt betrayed in 1996 when, as first lady, she supported Mr. Clinton’s overhaul of the welfare system, which gave states more power to remove people from welfare rolls and pledged to cut federal spending on assistance for the poor by nearly $55 billion over six years. She was more skeptical about the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Mr. Clinton signed into law in 1993 and which has also been accused of hurting American workers.
After being elected in New York to the United States Senate in 2000, Mrs. Clinton had another constituency to represent: Wall Street. In 2001, she supported bankruptcy legislation that some Democrats — most notably Elizabeth Warren, now senator from Massachusetts — argued hurt working families and single mothers, and they accused her of doing the bidding of the financial industry. Mrs. Clinton has said she worked to improve the bill.
As a presidential candidate in 2008, Mrs. Clinton angered some of her Wall Street donors when she came out early in support of the regulation of derivatives and other complicated financial products and called for eliminating the “carried interest” loophole that allowed some financiers to avoid paying millions in income taxes. She also said that as president, she would create a cabinet-level position to fight poverty.
When the housing market collapsed, Mrs. Clinton, who had returned to the Senate full time after Mr. Obama defeated her, proposed legislation similar to a New Deal-era program that would allow the government to help homeowners refinance their mortgages. She voted in favor of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which led to the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the multibillion-dollar bailout for automakers.
Last month, Mrs. Clinton reiterated her support for the 2010 Dodd-Frankfinancial regulation law. “Attacking financial reform is risky and wrong,” shewrote on Twitter.
As she dives back into domestic policy, Mrs. Clinton faces an economy in which, even amid steady job growth, weekly earnings for low- and middle-income workers have remained virtually unchanged for 15 years.
“Where has the money gone?” asked Robert B. Reich, a secretary of labor during the Clinton administration. “That is the topic that is embarrassing for people to talk about, particularly in Washington, because even mentioning it creates the potential charge of class warfare.”
Mr. Reich, who recently sent Mrs. Clinton a five-page memo laying out his ideas, said candidates in both parties needed to abandon the politically safe discussion of upward mobility for the poor and middle class that dominated the 1990s, and instead take on the stickier issue of income distribution.
“Upward mobility, equal opportunity — those are safe phrases and safe aspirations,” he said in an interview. “I don’t want to minimize their importance, but they obscure the real issue.”
Mr. Reich is one of some 200 economists and academics who have offered Mrs. Clinton ideas and guidance as she settles on an economic doctrine. Several of Mr. Clinton’s former advisers, including Alan S. Blinder, Robert E. Rubin and Mr. Summers, maintain influence. But Mrs. Clinton has cast a wide net that also includes Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics who has written extensively about inequality; Alan B. Krueger, a professor at Princeton and co-author of “Inequality in America”; and Peter R. Orszag, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama. Teresa Ghilarducci, a labor economist who focuses on retirement issues, is also playing a prominent role.
Last month in Washington, a 17-person commission convened by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to Mrs. Clinton, presented a 166-page report on “inclusive prosperity,” which is among the numerous economic blueprints Mrs. Clinton has reviewed. For some, the solutions proposed by the committee, of which Mr. Summers was co-chairman, did not go far enough.
Dean Baker, an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has pushed the idea of a government fee on the sale or purchase of certain financial assets, which he believes could hold Wall Street accountable while funding social services. “Clinton people didn’t want to go near it,” Mr. Baker said.
Mrs. Clinton has not commented on the financial transaction tax or on profit-sharing.
She has expressed support for many of the proposals Mr. Obama laid out inhis State of the Union address last month, signaling that they could help shape her agenda. In a post on Twitter, she said the speech had “pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class.”
Mrs. Clinton frequently talks about the economic success of the Clinton administration, under which median family income, adjusted for inflation, increased to $56,080 in 1999 from $48,884 in 1993, compared with a decline to $51,017 in 2012 from $55,987 in 2000, according to census data. But she has acknowledged that a globalized economy calls for new ideas, and many are urging her to go beyond her comfort zone and address the deeper frustrations of those who have not shared in that economy’s benefits.
“Long-term answers about education and skills that help change mobility don’t get at the current frustrations and aggravations,” said Austan D. Goolsbee, an economic adviser to Mr. Obama and a professor at the University of Chicago.
“People want to answer the question, ‘Are we going to be O.K.?’ ” Mr. Goolsbee said. “And then the natural question is, ‘Whose fault was that, and let’s go find those people.’ ”

Washington Week: Focus on Ukraine Crisis

The coming week will see continued focus on the crisis in Ukraine, beginning with President Barack Obama hosting German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House later Monday. It remains to be seen whether a renewed international push for peace in Ukraine will bear fruit, and whether the United States will send lethal military assistance to Kyiv.
As Ukrainian forces battle pro-Russian rebels, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany spoke by telephone to discuss a Franco-German plan to revive a shattered peace effort. The leaders are expected to meet in Minsk, Belarus Wednesday in hopes of restoring last year’s cease-fire that never fully took hold and broke down entirely in recent weeks.
At a security conference in Munich, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States and its allies are united in backing Ukraine.
“We will stand together in support of Ukraine and in defense of the common understanding that international borders must not, cannot, be changed by force in Europe or anywhere else,” said Kerry.
Other officials stressed the need for dialogue. Germany’s foreign minister said, “permanent security in Europe can only come with Russia, not against Russia,” while France’s foreign minister said, “nobody wants to get trapped in a raging war that is in no one’s interest.”
Kerry denied any split between the United States and its major allies on Ukraine.
“I keep hearing people trying to create one (a division)," he said. "We are united, we are working closely together. We all agree the challenge will not end through military force. We are united in diplomacy. But the longer it takes, the more the off-ramps (solutions) are avoided, the more we will be forced to raise the costs on Russia and its proxies.”
The time has come to back up such words with concrete actions, according to Republican U.S. Senator John McCain, who says Russian President Vladimir Putin “wants to dominate Ukraine.”
“Some say that Ukraine cannot defeat Russia militarily," said McCain. "That is the wrong question. The right question is, if we help Ukrainians increase the military cost to the Russian forces that have invaded their country - how long can Putin sustain a war that he tells his people is not happening? That is why we must provide defensive arms to Ukraine.”
So far, the Obama administration has neither committed to nor ruled out lethal military assistance to Ukraine, an option that to date has public backing only in Washington and Kyiv.

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Afghanistan's opium addiction hits new high

Shereena Qazi

Men, women and children sit listlessly on the unkempt lawn of a hospital for drug addicts in this northern Afghan city. Inside, the waiting area is packed with women clad in light blue burqas, each with three or four kids in tow.
Ana Gul, 35, an opium user for eight years, says she came here after failing to kick her habit because opium cures her head and body aches. "No other medicine works effectively on me now," she said. Her 3-year-old daughter is also addicted because Gul smoked opium while pregnant.
Gul and her daughter are among an alarming and rapidly growing number of opium addicts in a country that is the world's main supplier of heroin.
And the problem is only getting worse as American combat troops withdraw amid evidence that U.S. counter-narcotics programs here have failed despite $7 billion in taxpayer funds spent to tackle the source of the problem: poppy fields.
The U.S. government has paid the poppy farmers to switch to legitimate crops, such as wheat, yet poppy cultivation has proven too lucrative to slow.
In a report last year, the Pentagon said Taliban and other insurgent groups are expanding their use of illicit drug trade to fund their operations because the U.S. withdrawal has hurt Afghan government counter-narcotic activities, which had relied on U.S. air support and other assistance.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the export value of opium trade at about $4 billion, "with a quarter of that being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords and drug traffickers."
In 2014, opium cultivation rose to record levels: more than 553,000 acres, up 7% from the year before, according to the UNODC's recently released Afghanistan Opium Survey 2014. That is turned into some 380 tons of heroin and morphine annually, 85% of the global supply, according to U.N. figures.
The domestic toll is heavy. The number of Afghans addicted to opium and other drugs has soared 60% since 2009 to as many as 1.6 million, or 5% of the population, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reports.
Most Afghans view opium as a medicine that treats everything from a headache to cancer. Often, it's the only palliative available in the rugged country's remote regions.
"If pharmacists sell an expired Panadol (a painkiller) to a lady in exchange for money, it will not work for her," said Lutf Rah Man Lutfy, who oversees the U.N.'s drug programs in northern Afghanistan. "After getting tired of an ineffective medicine, she will opt for opium, which is very common and known to give temporary relief to pains."
A pale-skinned, underweight woman at the hospital named Aisha Jan from the Jowzjan province in the north said she and her family fell into the trap of using opium to treat cancer.
"My daughter had cancer, and we thought opium would cure her cancer," she said as her body shook from an opium craving that began before her daughter's illness. "She died a month after she was diagnosed."
Jan said she has been trying to remain in the hospital for as long as possible so she won't relapse into drug use. "If I go back home, I will be addicted to opium once again," she said.
Mohammed Dauod, public health provincial coordinator for the Afghan Ministry of Public Health in the Balkh district, said the central government in Kabul has been working hard to educate people on the dangers of opium. The ministry operates 95 addiction treatment centers and residential hospitals in the country, too few to meet the need.
"We are working on increasing the knowledge of our people about the harm of drug production and use," said Dauod. "People in Afghanistan have no knowledge about the dangers of drug addiction. We are trying our best to provide facilities to drug addicts for their treatment."
Opium addiction is woven into Afghan culture. It's especially common among women working in the carpet-weaving industry in the country's northern regions to ease their backaches after hours of work. Many also turn to opium to quiet their children, who accompany them to the workplace.
"The trend is to feed children with opium so they can sleep the entire day and not bother their mothers," Lufty said.
On the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif, Nooragha Khan, a 40-year-old father of four, lives in a mud house. He smokes opium regularly with his wife and children in a small room full of discarded syringes, cigarette buds and a single gas stove lamp.
"We know this is not good for our children but both of us are addicts, and because of us, our children are addicts now, too," said his wife, Hafiza, her eyes bloodshot. "If we don't give them opium, they start crying and complaining of body aches."

Afghanistan - Ghani says Global terrorism including ISIS still threatens Afghanistan

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has said that the global terrorism including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stills threatens Afghanistan.
Speaking during the Munic Security Conference in Germany President Ghani warned that there would be consequences if Afghanistan is ignored and the international community shifts focus.
Ghani hailed the NATO-led coalition for their sacrifices during the past 13 years but insisted that the al-Qaeda and ISIS group hve roots in Afghanistan which is still in the grip of an entrenched insurgency led by the Taliban.
“The Islamic State (Daesh) and the al-Qaida and other networks are aberrations and “We must have the courage to speak for the absolute majority.”
He said the ISIS (Daesh) group is quickly moving to a stage in Afghanistan where it is able to organize, orient, decide and take actions.
The remarks by President Ghani comes as the top security officials in Afghanistan have ruled out that the terrorist groups including ISIS (Daesh) poses any major threats to Afghanistan.
President Ghani on Friday left for Germany to attend the 51st round of Munich Conference which was attendded by some 400 politicians and experts who spent three days trying to find ways out of the current crises including violence in Ukraine and in the Middle East.

Pakistan - 'A nation ravaged' - #Houbarabustard Victim Of Saudi Bedouin

By Gul Bukhari
It would be ingenuous to take the repeating political and economic crises the current government lands itself in and conclude that it is unable to learn from past mistakes.
Indeed, where it intends to learn, it learns very well.
It appears to be only a matter of priorities.

The federal government was in hot water early last year, around April, when news broke of Saudi Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud having hunted 2,100 Houbara bustards within a 21 day period in Dalbandin in Balochistan during the hunting season.
The bird is considered an endangered species and is protected internationally and hunting it in Pakistan was also banned.

But the federal government had issued ‘special permits’ to several members of the Gulf States’ royal families.
The scale of the infraction by Fahd was jaw dropping.
Each non-transferrable license issued by the government, to named individuals, granted a 10 day hunting allowance, with a maximum of 100 birds sanctioned to be killed per license.
The prince had not only doubled his hunting days, but killed over twenty times more birds in flagrant disregard of the laws, rules, and hospitality of his host country.
Indeed, he had even poached birds in off limits, unlicensed areas.

Jafar Baloch, an official of the Balochistan wildlife department wrote a detailed report on the prince’s movements, exact numbers of birds killed on specific dates in specific locations over the 21 days of January 2014.
For the stellar job he did, the gentleman was, of course transferred elsewhere.

Furor in the media had eventually led to the Baluchistan High Court ordering cancellation of all such licenses to the Middle Eastern royalty in Baluchistan.
Yet, I learnt late last month from sources that the royal parties were back in the hunting grounds of Pakistan.

However, the key issue is that having learnt from last year, the federal government is reported to have issued a number of open-ended licenses to these royals, such that they might plunder to their desires’ content.
These ‘benami’ licenses are not restricted to specific persons, nor limit the number of birds anyone can kill.
Furthermore, others like Tahnoon bin Mohamed Alnahyan, Deputy Chairman of Abudhabi’s Executive Council, and his extended hunting party that includes his sons, are being facilitated to hunt this year without a license at all.

Indeed, The Tribune reported only a couple of days ago that “Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz was received by federal and provincial ministers including Ahsan Iqbal” to hunt in the very Dalbandin, Baluchistan where he had massacred 2,100 birds last year and where issuing licenses stands in contravention of court orders.
Dawn reported that, “Provincial Minister Mir Mujeebur Rehman Muhammad Hassani, former provincial minister Amanullah Notezai and other high-ups received the Governor of Tabuk(Fahd) and his colleagues at Dalbandin Airport on Wednesday” and that “Frontier Corps, police and Levies personnel escorted the convoy of the prince.

This is not something new.
This phenomenon of hunting endangered species on Pakistani territory has been a long standing practice, that none in the ruling class seems to be interested in acting against, either from the current, previous, federal, provincial, civil or military governments.
The case of the Houbara bustard hunting though not an existential crisis, is indicative of the deep rooted sense of privilege amongst the ruling elite to break the law, to consider law as relevant or applicable for the common man only.

But here I wondered, how it felt for the guardians of our sovereignty to not only allow foreigners to break the law but to receive them, honour them and escort them around to break the law with servility.
Did they feel like the great ghairat-brigades they make themselves out to be in front of the public? Did they feel like they were getting their country raped?
Buy how they feel all depends on the psyche.
If I had national pride, felt myself to be the guardian of any semblance of sovereignty, I would (in the ruling elite’s position) indeed feel humiliated, having to escort and accompany and assist Arab royalty to break the law of my land.
But if my psyche were similar to the royalty I were assisting, I would be entirely unperturbed by my actions.
The Arab hunters are absolute monarchs – and the law, to the monarch’s mind, does not mean the foundational framework of an egalitarian society – to him, the law is essentially the tool that controls the pesky subjects, the ‘riaya’.
It is absolutely not meant to apply to the rulers.

So one wonders where our rulers are in their own minds? Raped? Or unperturbed?
But perhaps I have got it completely wrong.
It is not their own posteriors they are offering up to the Sheikhs, but the nation’s.
The ruling elite of Pakistan is happy to let the Sheikhs do as they please, whether they ruin the physical environment, poison the ideological compass with their petro-funded madrassahs, or accept Pakistani women and birds as gifts, as long as they help keep this ruling class consolidate its hold over the state and further perpetuate its rentier nature.
For decades Pakistani governments have remained happy telling themselves that the people of Baluchistan (and other backward areas) welcome the Sheikhs, who develop the localities with the odd school here or the water facility there; with the notion that they ought to be accommodated for the close to a million strong labour force they absorb from this country.
But the hard reality is that this same elite does not develop those lands, nor create job opportunities at home, nor invest in developing the human capital so it is competitive in the world and not given jobs in exchange for illegal hunting of endangered species on its soil (which is an imagined causality at best).
It does, however, travel to the Sheikhs’ lands frequently enough and return with bags of mysterious ‘loans’.

Repeatedly raped by whomever it’s rented out to, the Pakistani nation is like a blithering idiot now, on Al-Bakistan number plates.