It seems Hillary Clinton has already annoyed Obama By Colin Campbell6 hours ago(AP/Charles Dharapak) Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent statements on trade policy have apparently ruffled feathers in the administration she used to serve. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Clinton, a leading candidate for president in 2016, upset senior White House aides by not backing the Pacific trade deal she used to champion as secretary of state. The Times’ Michael Shear and Amy Chozick wrote that some of President Barack Obama’s staffers were „irked,” „frustrated,” and not always found in their „calmer moments” after Clinton offered vague criticism of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. Obama has made the 12-nation deal a signature issue for his presidency, but congressional Democrats and unions have stalled the president’s legislation so far.”The fact is, she was there when this thing was launched and she was extolling it when she left,” David Axelrod, one of Obama’s closest former advisers, told The Times. „She’s in an obvious vise, between the work that she endorsed and was part of and the exigencies of a campaign. Obviously, her comments plainly weren’t helpful to moving this forward.”Axelrod was referring to Clinton’s comments on the trade deal last weekend. According to The Washington Post, Clinton urged Obama to listen to trade critics’ „legitimate concerns” about the free trade bill.”I will judge what’s in the final agreement, but I hope that it can be made better,” she said while campaigning in New Hampshire on Sunday. The Times story described her comments as particularly unhelpful to the president. „If there was one moment recently in which President Obama could have used Hillary Rodham Clinton’s help, it was on Sunday, as the president scrambled to salvage his trade deal,” Shear and Chozick wrote. „Instead, Mrs. Clinton, now running to replace Mr. Obama, all but wagged a finger at her former boss.”This did not go over well with the White House.”The aides knew the day would come when Mrs. Clinton would have to irritate Mr. Obama in order to appease Democratic voters,” the reporters wrote. „They just did not think it would come quite so soon.”
Suspended Williams won’t return as ‘NBC Nightly News’ anchor: CNN 2 hours agoTelevision personality Brian Williams arrives at the Time 100 Gala in New York, April 24, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas …WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Television newsman Brian Williams, suspended by NBC in February for fabricating a story that he had come under fire on a helicopter during the Iraq war, will not return as anchor of the network’s „Nightly News” program, CNN reported on Wednesday.CNN, citing unnamed sources, reported that NBC and Williams had reached a tentative agreement to keep him at the network after his six-month suspension ends in August, but he would assume a different role.Williams will not return as anchor of NBC’s evening newscast under the arrangement, CNN reported. NBC, owned by Comcast Corp, could make an announcement about his future on Thursday, CNN reported.Williams, who began anchoring „NBC Nightly News” in 2004, came under scrutiny in January after telling different versions of a story about being aboard a U.S. military helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during the first days of the Iraq war in 2003.He was suspended without pay for six months after he voluntarily took himself off the air in February and NBC News launched an inquiry into his account of the event.NBC representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.(Reporting by Will Dunham)
Russia, Germany trade Cold War accusations By Gabriela Baczynska13 hours agoRussian servicemen watch Mi-28 military helicopters of the Berkuti (Golden Eagles) aerobatic team fly …By Gabriela Baczynska Related Stories
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia accused NATO on Wednesday of reviving the ghost of the Cold War by encroaching close to its borders and seeking to change the strategic balance of power, as Germany denounced Moscow’s nuclear weapons build-up as a Soviet-style reflex.Ties between Russia and the West have hit new lows over Ukraine and the latest accusations come after Moscow said it would enhance its nuclear arsenal in response to Washington’s plans to station heavy military equipment in eastern Europe.”It’s not Russia that’s approaching someone’s borders. It’s NATO’s military infrastructure that is approaching the borders of Russia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.”All this … forces Russia to take measures to safeguard its own interests, its own security.”Peskov said the West had increasingly resorted to „unconstructive and confrontational” Cold War-style rhetoric.Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) listens to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as they arrive for th …NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg accused President Vladimir Putin of „saber rattling” on Tuesday after the Russian leader said Moscow would add more than 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year.On Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier accused Putin of acting on Cold War reflexes.Russia and the West accuse one another of endangering global security and the latest spat adds to tensions over Ukraine where Russia-backed separatist rebels seized land in the east after Moscow annexed Crimea from Kiev in early 2014.Foreign Ministers from Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine will meet in Paris on June 23 to discuss the conflict in east Ukraine where a four-month-old ceasefire stemmed large-scale fighting but deadly skirmishes occur almost daily.Putin’s top foreign policy adviser said on Wednesday that Russia would not be dragged into an arms race with the West as this would hurt the economy.”Russia is not entering an arms race. Russia is trying to react in some ways to certain threats but nothing more than that. We are not entering any arms race because that would hurt our capabilities in the economic sphere,” Yuri Ushakov said.(Additional reporting by Denis Dyomkin and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Caroline Copley in Berlin, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Robin Pomeroy)
New NATO force trains in Poland to assure eastern flank By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA6 hours ago WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Warships. Tanks. Helicopters. Rapid reaction forces.Thousands of NATO troops are on the move this month in Poland and the Baltic states, practicing sea landings, air lifts and assaults. The massive maneuvers on NATO’s eastern flank that began in early June include the first-ever training by the new, rapid reaction „spearhead” force, and are NATO’s biggest defense boost since the Cold War.Polish and Baltic state leaders have made it clear that they want to host large numbers of U.S. and NATO forces as a deterrent in the face of a resurgent Russia, and are welcoming the thousands of allied troops to their land and sea test ranges. Polish and Romanian leaders are even seeking more of a permanent allied military presence ahead of next year’s NATO summit in Warsaw.”We must know how to defend ourselves. It is our goal to assure a stable order,” Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said.”In the face of new, real threats, the biggest enhancement since the Cold War of the alliance’s collective defense is taking place,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the Polish PAP news agency.He added that the spearhead exercise means to show that NATO is „ready and capable of facing every challenge and every threat.”Soldiers sit atop of amphibious vehicles as NATO troops participate in the NATO sea exercises BALTOP …East European countries that took pains to shed Moscow’s dominance almost three decades ago have been jittery ever since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula last year and began backing separatists in the deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine. They have urged NATO to show force as a deterrent.In response, all kinds of NATO troops are testing their readiness this month to react and cooperate in the face of a potential crisis in the Allied Shield exercise in Poland, the Baltic states and in Romania. Those nations had significantly downscaled their armies and defense spending since the Cold War, but now they want to be sure that NATO will defend them in time of need — especially Poland, with its memories of failed defense alliances at the start of World War II.Over 2,000 of the troops taking part in the Noble Jump maneuvers in southwestern Poland are from the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force that President Barack Obama and NATO leaders agreed upon at a NATO summit last fall.Multi-national drills are also being held at Poland’s northwestern range in Drawsko Pomorskie, along with greatly scaled-up annual BALTOPS exercises on the Baltic Sea.BALTOPS this year includes a spectacular amphibious landing of 700 allied troops on a beach in Ustka in northern Poland. Its maneuvers involve some 60 ships from 17 NATO and partner nations and about 5,000 troops. But for the first time they are taking place without Russia, whose Kaliningrad military port is on the Baltic.War planes fly over a ship as NATO troops participate in the NATO sea exercises BALTOPS 2015 that ar …On Wednesday at BALTOPS, a Polish army amphibian sank while returning to its ship following the drill. Both crew members were rescued unscathed.A multi-nation corps in Poland’s Baltic port of Szczecin was doubling its staff to 400 this year to host the spearhead’s command.Underscoring the maneuvers’ significance, the Noble Jump exercises are being visited Wednesday and Thursday by Stoltenberg and NATO’s commander for Europe, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, as well as Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak and defense ministers from some other NATO nations.Russian President Vladimir Putin is not taking all this military activity lying down. On Tuesday, he announced a substantial re-armament program for Russia that, among other things, will add to its nuclear arsenal this year „over 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of penetrating even the most technologically advanced missile defense systems.”Stoltenberg reacted by saying that Russia is „undermining the treaties we have had jointly in place for several years, which are important for arms control.”An air-cushion vehicle goes toward the beach as NATO troops participate in the NATO sea exercises BA …Speaking ahead of the spearhead exercises in Zagan, in the southeast, he said that NATO members „don’t seek confrontation. We seek and strive for a more cooperative relationship but the precondition for that is that Russia is respecting the borders of its neighbors.”Russia’s long-standing nuclear rhetoric, investment in nuclear forces and in military exercises „requires that NATO is responding,” Stoltenberg said.Poland and Romania have been in talks to have U.S. army heavy equipment permanently stationed on their territory to speed up deployment in an emergency — since it’s faster to ferry troops than tanks and howitzers. Romanian Defense Minister Mircea Dusa said two other East European countries were also in these negotiations but did not name them.The U.S. decision on placing heavy equipment is expected within weeks, Poland’s Siemoniak said.Poland’s President-elect Andrzej Duda, who takes office in August, says security guarantees for Europe are not sufficient enough. He plans to further encourage NATO and U.S. military commitment to the region on Moscow’s doorstep.NATO troops make a massive amphibious landing during NATO sea exercises BALTOPS 2015 that are to rea …”A realistic thinking does not base itself on wishful thinking that peace will come on its own, but it is secured by mutual, hard security guarantees,” said Duda’s foreign policy adviser, Krzysztof Szczerski.The Polish public is divided about the NATO maneuvers.”I feel safer that they are training here, that they are ready to defend us,” said Agnieszka Sokol, a 31-year-old housewife from Warsaw. „I don’t think that that will anger Russia. But even if (it does), NATO is much larger, much better armed compared to Russia. So I don’t think we have anything to fear.”Not everyone is that confident.”I don’t feel safe at all. I’m worried, seeing what Putin does. One move from him and we can have a war. It is really hard to say whether NATO would help in times of need,” said Grazyna Sokolowska, a 57-year-old shop assistant in Warsaw._Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report._This story has been corrected to show warships participated in the exercises, not battleships.
NATO says implementing ‘biggest’ defence boost since Cold War 5 hours agoZagan (Poland) (AFP) – NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday the alliance was implementing its biggest defence reinforcement since the Cold War, as the region grapples with terrorism and an increasingly assertive Russia.He spoke a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would add more than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year.”NATO is facing a new security environment, both caused by violence, turmoil, instability in the south — ISIL in Iraq, Syria, North Africa — but also caused by the behaviour of a more assertive Russia, which has used force to change borders, to annex Crimea and to destabilise eastern Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told reporters, using another acronym to refer to the jihadist Islamic State group.”And therefore NATO has to respond. We are responding, and we are doing so by implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defences since the end of the Cold War and the Spearhead force is a key element of this reinforcement, and it’s great to see that it’s functional, and that it’s exercising here in Poland,” he said.He spoke in Zagan in western Poland while attending the first full exercise of NATO’s new rapid reaction force, created to deter Russia from any action against nervous east European allies that were once ruled from Moscow.Around 2,100 soldiers from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and the United States have been taking part in the NATO exercise since last week.The drill is designed to test NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), established in the wake of the alliance’s September 2014 summit in Wales, which focussed on reinforcing the alliance’s eastern flank amid jitters over Russia.Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its meddling in eastern Ukraine have triggered concern in ex-communist eastern and central European states that joined NATO after the Cold War.Tension is particularly high in the Baltic states, which emerged from nearly five decades of Soviet occupation in the early 1990.
SOROS: The US needs to befriend China or all hell is going to break loose By Elena Holodny11 hours ago(Reuters) The US needs to befriend China or else all hell is going to break loose, argues George Soros in a new article for The New York Review of Books.”Both the US and China have a vital interest in reaching an understanding because the alternative is so unpalatable. The benefits of an eventual agreement between China and the US could be equally far-reaching,” he writes.”The US government has little to gain and much to lose by treating the relationship with China as a zero-sum game. In other words, it has little bargaining power,” he continues. „It could, of course, obstruct China’s progress, but that would be very dangerous.”Soros writes that if Xi Jinping’s market-oriented reforms fail, „he may foster some external conflicts to keep the country united and maintain himself in power” — which could lead to a Sino-Russo military and political alliance (whereas right now they’re mostly just cooperating financially).”In that case, should the external conflict escalate into a military confrontation with an ally of the United States such as Japan, it is not an exaggeration to say that we would be on the threshold of a third world war,” writes Soros.Soros adds, however, that he believes it would take at least a decade for a Sino-Russo military alliance that’s ready to take on the US to come together.”Rivalry between the US and China is inevitable but it needs to be kept within bounds that would preclude the use of military force,” he writes.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) Soros acknowledges that a strategic partnership between China and the US won’t be easy and details various differences between the two countries, including:The two powers have „fundamentally different” political systems. The US is founded on the principle of individual freedom, while China has a more hierarchical structure.
- „In recent years the US has led the world in the innovative development of social media, while China has led the world in finding means to control it,” he writes.
- China, like Russia, considers itself a victim of America’s aspirations to world domination.
- Conflicts with the US — and others — in the South China Sea, as well as issues over cyberwarfare and human rights.
- „The US would like China to adopt its values but the Chinese leadership considers them subversive.”
„Fully recognizing these difficulties, the US government should nevertheless make a bona fide attempt at forging a strategic partnership with China,” Soros writes.”This would involve identifying areas of common interest as well as areas of rivalry. The former would invite cooperation, the latter tit-for-tat bargaining. The US needs to develop a two-pronged strategy that offers incentives for cooperation and deterrents that render tit-for-tat bargaining less attractive.”As an note near the end, Soros adds that the US would only be justified in building a strong partnership with China’s neighbors that the growing Sino-Russo alliance „would not dare to challenge by military force,” if and only if a „bona fide” attempt at working with China fails.”A partnership with China’s neighbors would return us to a cold war, but that would still be preferable to a third world war.”Read George Soros’ full article over at The New York Review of Books here.NOW WATCH: 11 facts that show how different China is from the rest of the world
Patience runs low as crisis bites in Russia’s Astrakhan By Elizabeth Piper16 hours agoAn aerial view of the southern city of Astrakhan, Russia, in this August 28, 2013 file photo. To match …By Elizabeth Piper ASTRAKHAN, Russia (Reuters) – With oil and gas, fish in the nearby Caspian Sea and a warm climate, Astrakhan should be one of Russia’s richest provinces.It isn’t, and for years many people in this southern region of more than 1 million have accepted their position near the bottom of Russia’s leader board. But patience is wearing thin.The strictures of Russia’s economic crisis are making it increasingly difficult for many people to turn a blind eye to the corruption and waste that have hindered the region’s growth since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.While President Vladimir Putin may not be taking the blame, the spending promises which helped him weather protests and win election in 2012 are depriving Astrakhan and other regions of badly needed funds, forcing cuts in once secure jobs that strike at the core of his support base.Complaints range from street vendors being moved from their trading spots by overzealous police and building companies being denied access to government tenders, to disappearing benefits for dangerous work and lives spent in dilapidated housing.”In Astrakhan, people live badly,” said Olga Yaskina, a pensioner who with 34 others sells clothes and bric-a-brac at a local market stall in the region’s administrative capital, which is also called Astrakhan.”We sit there every morning and have done for years, but they still want us gone, probably to get a more profitable trader. They sell off everything to the highest bidder now. Times have changed.”In recent years, some modern offices and red brick elite apartments have sprung up in the city, which sits on the banks of the River Volga and has just over half a million inhabitants.But elsewhere crumbling wooden huts open into courtyards with rusting cars and abandoned toys. Cracked paving and pot-holed roads lead up from the newly paved embankment overlooking the wide expanse of river where people take shade in cafes.The city feels unloved, down on its luck.A general view of the Krasnye Barrikady (Red Barricades) shipyard in the southern city of Astrakhan, …Higher prices and spending cuts in Russia’s financial downturn, exacerbated by low oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow’s role in the conflict in Ukraine, have added to the gloom and brought the local economy close to a standstill.A recent survey by Russia’s Civil Society Development Foundation, headed by a former aide to Putin, put Astrakhan’s governor, Alexander Zhilkin, among the least effective governors in Russia out of the 81 ranked.OPPOSITION FOCUS Zhilkin, who stood for governor as a candidate for the United Russia party loyal to Putin, did not respond to requests for an interview, with aides citing his full schedule.At a meeting with Putin in February, Zhilkin was upbeat, saying his region would this year become home to a special economic zone, offering lower taxes and less bureaucracy. He said the Astrakhan economy grew 2.5 percent last year, compared with 0.6 across Russia, but the figure has yet to be finalised.Astrakhan was briefly a focus for national protests against Putin in 2012 when local politician Oleg Shein staged a hunger strike, saying he had been cheated out of victory in a mayoral election. The result was not overturned.There are no signs of renewed demonstrations for now, and no obvious dissent against the all-powerful Russian president, but there is discontent and plenty of calls for change.Alexander Gerlakh, a 52-year-old food producer, is one of the few in Astrakhan who are gaining from the crisis, enjoying rapidly increasing demand for his dairy products after Russia banned Western food imports in response to financial sanctions.But he also does not want the crisis to last.”I see how people are living and how needy they are now. They’re losing their jobs, and many families are cutting back on spending to finance loans. People cannot pay,” said Gerlakh, a Volga German whose family was expelled to Kazakhstan during World War Two and who returned to Astrakhan in his teens.An aerial view shows the State Theatre of Opera and Ballet in the southern city of Astrakhan, Russia …”Jobs are being lost in all industries except food. Just next to our factory is a factory that produces parts for railway engines. The buyers have no money to pay and they cannot afford to buy the raw materials to fulfill their orders. It’s a chain … Whole sectors are moving into a period of stagnation.”Latest official statistics say 6,955 people were officially registered as unemployed in the Astrakhan region in April 2015, up 15 percent from the same month a year ago. However, the majority of locals operate in the shadow economy, and anecdotal evidence suggests the actual jobless total is much higher.Unlike in the early 1990s, when money was even tighter, people now cannot rely on supplementing their incomes by fishing for caviar-producing sturgeon in the nearby Caspian Sea – it is forbidden after overfishing decimated the sturgeon population.And while the economy stagnates, prices rise.For Tatyana Gassakhanova, part of the group which trades at the market, her monthly pension of 8,900 rubles ($163) now needs to cover a gas price hike which means her winter payments reach 3,000 rubles – a particular source of bitterness given that the gas is produced locally.The cost of electricity, medicine and communal charges have also risen, she said, with inflation in Russia running at 15.8 percent in May after peaking at 16.9 percent in March.Gerlakh said he had heard about government programs to help small businesses grow during the crisis, but dismisses this as just words. „I always say; just let them not bother us, don’t get in our way,” he said.DEBT WOES Fear of state intervention has ruled this region and much of Russia for years; increased attention can mean higher costs.But with the Russian government leading the way with budget cuts and state companies following suit, even people in the more protected sectors are feeling the pinch, fuelling anger over officials who, at local and federal levels, seem out of touch.Vladimir Milkin, a worker at Gazprom’s gas processing plant in Astrakhan, said his benefits paid for working in an environment classified as „dangerous” had seen repeated cuts.Gazprom Production Astrakhan did not respond to a request for comment.The region too is suffering.Local revenues are falling as the two areas it can tax – wages and land – are squeezed, and its debt burden is rising as it carries out spending pledges made by Putin in 2012 as part of what as known as his „May promises” to dampen mass protests.Ratings agency Standard & Poors ranked Astrakhan the ninth most indebted of 90 cities, regions and districts last year, with more than 70 percent of the debts held with banks, at shorter maturities, exposing the region to refinancing risks.S&P credit analyst, Karen Vartapetov, said regional defaults were not only likely, but, at least in one instance, have taken place according to the agency’s definition of default.The local politician Shein, who now works in the regional legislature, said that with growing demands on the national budget, the federal „center” may not be able to pay out forever.”There are sharp cuts in pay, especially those who work in the finance departments of local administration … and the reduction of salaries in Gazprom,” he said, adding that some firms were withholding wages as they ran low on cash.”In the 1990s when there were huge strikes, they normally started after the wage arrears reached six or seven months. We are not there yet.”($1 = 54.6025 rubles)(Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova, editing by Timothy Heritage and Crispian Balmer)
FAA investigating close call at Chicago’s Midway Airport Planes simultaneously taking off on intersecting runways halted at Chicago’s Midway Airport 5 hours ago WLS – Chicago Midway Airport runway close call under investigationNews Midway Airport runway close call under investigationCHICAGO (AP) — Two passenger jets began to take off at the same time on intersecting runways at Chicago’s Midway International Airport, prompting a controller to shout over the radio for one of the pilots to halt to avoid a collision, aviation officials said Wednesday.The Federal Aviation Administration was investigating Tuesday night’s near miss in which each plane stopped about 2,000 feet from the runway intersection.Southwest Airlines Flight 3828 to Tulsa, Oklahoma, had been cleared for takeoff and was speeding down the runway. At the same time, an air traffic controller saw Delta Air Lines Flight 1328 to Atlanta beginning to take off on the intersecting runway without proper clearance, the FAA said.”1328, stop, stop stop!” the controller shouted, according to audio posted on the website LiveATC.net.”1328 stopping,” the pilot answered in a calm voice, before the controller directed both planes to different taxiways.The Southwest plane also safely aborted its takeoff, said airline spokesman Brian Parrish. The aircraft later continued on to Tulsa.Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said the airline was cooperating with the investigation but that he could not provide any information on what might have led to the runway mix-up.In the air traffic audio, the controller tells the pilots that they keep answering for each other, suggesting confusion.The Southwest pilot later asked whether his aircraft was the one cleared for takeoff.”Yes sir, you were,” the controller responded. „You were the one. You were doing what you were supposed to be doing.”
This picture shows the pain of Greece falling apart reforming” them. That probably means it’d be willing to raise its pension age for future retirees, but not lower its pension payouts for current retirees. If Syriza can sell that to its harder-line members, Greece should be able to get the money it needs from Europe to pay its debts. But if it can’t, then Greece really could default, and from there, who knows. In theory, Greece could stay in the euro after a default—although they’d probably have to stop people from moving their money out of the country—as long as the European Central Bank kept giving its banks the emergency loans they need to stay afloat. If the ECB pulled the plug, though, the only way Greece could get the money it’d need to give its banks would be to print it. In other words, to leave the euro and bring back its old currency, the drachma.It’s a real enough risk that, for the first time in a long time, there’s a little contagion in Europe’s bond markets. Now, back in 2012, panic about Greece would inevitably turn into panic about other countries. If Greece could leave the euro, markets wondered, who was next? But then the ECB started buying country’s bonds and promised to do so in unlimited amounts if necessary—ending any self-fulfilling crises—and the result was that bad news about Greece stayed in Greece.Well, at least until now. Now, it’s nowhere near where it was before, but it’s still worth pointing out that Spain and Portugal’s borrowing costs have beguncreeping up at the same time that Germany’s are edging down. That’s because political contagion has replaced financial contagion. In other words, markets have stopped worrying about which countries have bad economics, and started worrying about which countries have bad economics and bad politics (at least from their point of view). The answer: Portugal and Spain, both of which have ascendant anti-austerity parties. So if Greece did default, it might not be the non-event that Europe thinks it would.And that’s enough to make all of us bury our heads in our hands.Matt O’Brien is a reporter for Wonkblog covering economic affairs. He was previously a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.Greek Finance Minister Yianis Varoufakis (L) listens to Prime Minister at the Greek Parliament in Athens on Tuesday. (.AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / Getty Images)This picture is worth approximately 317 billion words in Greek. That’s how many euros its government owes, and how many euros it’s going to start defaulting on if it doesn’t agree on a new bailout in the next few days.After all, you don’t have to be an expert in game theory, like Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is, to know it’s not good if he’s crouching with his head in his hands right before midnight strikes on his country’s solvency. But I think we can sympathize with how he feels. We do too. The years change, but the Greek crisis doesn’t. It owes more than it can pay, so it needs Europe to give it the money to pay, well, Europe back. The problem, though, is Europe doesn’t want to just hand over the money in such circular fashion without getting something else—pension and spending cuts—in return, and Greece doesn’t want so many painful strings attached after it’s already cut a lot and only seen its economy shrink by 25 percent.Now, both sides say they can’t meet the other’s demands, but that’s how negotiations work. You try to make yourself look as implacable as possible, and hope that will make the other side cave. Until now, though, neither has. Both insist that compromise is impossible, but then, at the last minute, agree to a fudge that isn’t quite a compromise but is enough of one to keep the game going. So what, if anything, has changed? Well, the politics. Greece’s new ruling party, Syriza, won power on its pledge to end the old bailout, and might not have the votes to agree to a new one that’s the same all but in name. They could, of course, just be saying that to try to get better terms, but it’s certainly plausible that they’re not.But even if it’s not a ploy, a deal still should be possible here. Greece says it won’t cut its pensions any more than it already has—around 40 percent in total—but that it would be open to „
Kosovo ex-guerillas protest against war crimes court 9 hours agoPristina (AFP) – Some 1,000 Kosovo Albanians, mostly veterans of the 1990s war with Serbia, protested Wednesday against the creation of a special court that would handle war crimes allegedly committed by former ethnic Albanian guerrillas.”History shows that there are no crimes when a nation fights for freedom,” Xhavit Jashari, a veteran leader, told the protesters who gathered in front of the government and parliament buildings in the capital Pristina.”The deputies have the political and moral obligation to vote against this court,” he said.The crowd chanted „No to Injustice” and „UCK, UCK” — the Albanian acronym for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a pro-independence ethnic Albanian rebel movement that fought Serbian forces during the 1998-1999 war.The protesters also carried photos of two former high-ranking KLA officers — Sylejman Selimi and Sami Lushtaku.Both men were sentenced in Kosovo in May by a European Union-run court along with nine other former guerrillas to up to 12 years in jail for crimes during the war.Kosovo Albanians wave Kosovo Liberation Army flags during a protest in Pristina on June 17, 2015, ag …Kosovo’s lawmakers were to meet earlier this month to amend the constitution in order to pave the way for the implementation of the parliamentary decision on the court’s creation, adopted in April 2014, but the session was adjourned.Pristina had been under pressure from the European Union to create the special court ever since a 2011 Council of Europe report alleged crimes including abductions, summary executions and — most controversially — the trafficking of prisoners’ organs by KLA members during the war.The report by the Council’s special rapporteur Dick Marty said the KLA had abused, tortured and killed 500 prisoners, mostly ethnic Serbs and Roma.The new tribunal would be part of the Kosovo judicial system, but sensitive proceedings would be handled abroad, most likely in an EU member state.The KLA guerrillas are still considered heroes among Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanian population of almost two million.The 1998-1999 war ended with a NATO-led air campaign that forced Serbian forces to withdraw from the territory in June 1999.Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence in 2008, in a move that Serbia still refuses to recognise.
Europe’s New Dictator Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is making good on his promise to build an “illiberal state.” By COLIN WOODARD Europe’s New Dictator Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is making good on his promise to build an “illiberal state.” By COLIN WOODARD June 17, 2015Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/06/hello-dictator-hungary-orban-viktor-119125.html ixzz3dNloFCtH June 17, 2015 MOST POPULAR Top Stories, Videos & Photos
Last month at the European Union summit in Riga, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker dispensed with diplomatic protocol to greet Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán with a puckish, “Hello, dictator!”—an open handed salute, and a slap on the cheek.It was all in good fun for Juncker, the longtime prime minister of Luxembourg, who also teased Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for not wearing a tie and patted the ample belly of Karl-Heinz Lambertz, leader of Belgium’s German-speaking community. Orbán smiled broadly at Juncker’s greeting and reportedly called him “Grand Duke,” a reference to Luxembourg’s constitutional monarch.For many Hungarians however, Orbán’s dictatorial tendencies are no laughing matter, but rather the source of a deepening tragedy at the heart of Europe with lasting implications for the west. Many observers both here and abroad fear Hungary will become the first EU member state to abandon liberal democracy, and nobody really knows what to do about it.Orbán has declared that he is building a new state in Hungary, “an illiberal state” capable of guiding the Hungarian nation to victory “in the great global race for decades to come.” Inspired by the alleged successes of illiberal states like Russia, China, Turkey and Singapore, Orbán promises a new order that puts the collective goals of the Hungarian people—including the more than two million of them living in neighboring countries that were once part of the Hungarian Kingdom—ahead of the liberal goal of maximizing individual liberty. Throughout his tenure, Orbán has slapped down EU criticisms of his policies with nationalist rhetoric, saying Hungary “will not be a colony” and won’t “live according to the commands of foreign powers.”“The Hungarian nation is not simply a group of individuals but a community that must be organized, reinforced and in fact constructed,” he told ethnic Hungarians in Romania last year in a speech laying out his vision. Hungary, he said, is “breaking with the dogmas and ideologies that have been adopted by the West and keeping ourselves independent from them… to construct a new state built on illiberal and national foundations within the European Union.”And so he has. Orbán, a youthful anti-communist dissident when Hungarian communism fell in 1989, has spent the past two decades transforming a libertarian-minded youth group into an immensely powerful national conservative political machine. When he swept into power in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial meltdown (during which Hungary accepted a $26 billion rescue package to avoid bankruptcy), Orbán’s Alliance of Young Democrats (or Fidesz) and their loyal coalition partners used their two-thirds majority in parliament to rewrite the constitution and pass hundreds of new laws during their first year and a half in power.The combined effect: an erosion of the independence of the judiciary, the packing of courts with political loyalists, a wholesale political purge of the civil service and the chief prosecutor’s office, new election rules that advantage the governing coalition and the intimidation of the news organizations (who can be issued crippling fines for content deemed “not politically balanced” by a government-appointed panel.) When laws criminalizing homelessness, curtailing political advertizing, foreclosing the possibility of gay marriage and restricting judicial review were found unconstitutional, Orbán used his parliamentary supermajority to simply add the measures to the new constitution.If that weren’t enough, after passage of a new Law on Churches, hundreds of religious organizations lost government recognition and subsidies; they can only regain them by a two-thirds vote in the Fidesz-controlled parliament. The move, critics pointed out, restricts religious freedom and literally politicizes the decision of which denominations are considered legitimate.fitting the legacy and perspective of Hungary as a central European country.”After winning a renewed, if slimmer, two-thirds majority in an April 2014 election, Orbán has turned his attention to the allegedly corrosive influence of foreigners in Hungary. He’s overseen tax raids on a number of non-profit groups funded by the government of Norway—including the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the local chapter of the corruption watchdog Transparency International—and called members of such groups “paid political activists who are attempting to enforce foreign interests here.”Given how big of a problem corruption has become, it’s easy to see why Orbán would go after such groups. Transparency International reported in 2012 that the erosion of checks and balances and a “symbiotic relationship between the political and the business elite” had led to a situation where “the Hungarian state has been captured by powerful interest groups.”Eleni Kounalakis, US ambassador here for the first three years of Orbán’s regime, writes in a new memoir that her staff discovered these conclusions were “very well grounded in fact,” noting that a single company controlled by a close ally and former college roommate of Orbán’s, Közgép, had won $1.3 billion in government contracts in the first two years of his administration. “International companies located in Hungary that ordinarily would have bid for the projects told us it was no longer worth the time and money required to submit proposals, because Közgép was sure to win,” she recalled.Colin Woodard is a Polk Award winning journalist who covered Hungary in the early and mid-1990s for the Christian Science Monitor and theChronicle of Higher Education. He is the author of four books including American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/06/hello-dictator-hungary-orban-viktor-119125.html ixzz3dNla4WoO
Guatemala targets head of congressional probe of president 6 hours agoDemonstrators gather outside the National Palace demanding the resignation of Guatemala President Otto Perez Molina, in Guatemala City, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Guatemala’s Supreme Court has given the go-ahead for congress to decide whether to remove Perez Molina’s immunity from prosecution in a corruption scandal. (AP Photo/Luis Soto)GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Prosecutors in Guatemala are leveling corruption allegations at the head of a congressional probe of President Otto Perez Molina as a flurry of graft scandals swirls around his government.Guatemalan elected officials enjoy legal immunity as a privilege of office. Authorities are seeking to withdraw that for Congressman Baudilio Hichos, potentially opening him up to prosecution.The country’s top prosecutor and the head of a U.N. commission investigating criminal networks in Guatemala said Wednesday that Hichos is suspected of an inappropriate real estate rental contract involving the social security agency and a building he controls.Hichos said he intends to continue leading the congressional commission that is considering whether to lift Perez Molina’s immunity. The president also denies wrongdoing and has vowed to serve out the rest of his term.