EU SETS UP NEW BANKING AUTHORITY

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Single European Mechanism (SRM) will be launched over the next three months

The Single European Mechanism (SRM) will be launched over the next three months, with the aim of rescuing or winding up stricken banks with minimal recourse to taxpayers’ money.

The SRM will consist of a board and a fund, and will cover banks overseen by the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) which became operational last month, and represents a concluding part of the new Banking Union.

The board will be the European resolution authority for the Banking Union and will work in close cooperation with national resolution authorities of participating member states.

For the first three months of next year it will operate as a transitional taskforce from the EU executive, after which it will take up its own premises in Brussels and become the only such self-financing agency based in the Belgian capital.

It will be run on operating contributions from the banking sector, with a budget estimated at €22 million for the first year.

The board will have broad powers to prepare for the resolution of stricken banks. Upon notification from the ECB that a bank is failing or likely to fail, the board will adopt a resolution scheme including relevant resolution tools and determine how much of the Single Resolution Fund should be used.

The board will monitor national resolution authorities’ decisions, but has the power to intervene if national resolution authorities do not comply with its decisions.

The total target size of the Fund will equal 1% of the covered deposits of all banks in member states participating in the Banking Union.

The fund should represent around €55 billion when fully operational according to EU officials.

The Board will start work on developing resolution plans for credit institutions from January 2015 with the aim of being fully operational from January 2016.

Around 20 staff will begin working from within the Commission from January as a ‘transitional taskforce’ which by March will fold into the new organisation in its new premises.

The intention is to have up to 100–120 by the end of 2015, with the total staffing needs of the board estimated to be between 220 and 250.

The chair, vice-chair and four other permanent members of the Board are set to be appointed this week following the approval of the European Parliament on Thursday and final agreement from the Council.

Subject to those approvals tomorrow (18 December) German Elke König is set to be chairman, with Finn Timo Löyttyniemi as her deputy.

UN urges EU to take refugees despite anti-migrant protests

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http://rt.com/news/214567-europe-refugees-migrants-protest/

Refugees arriving in Europe from war-torn Syria asking for asylum are putting an additional burden for the EU, whose economy is in crisis and where xenophobia is on the rise.

Over three million people, according to humanitarian organization Migrants’ Rights Network, have left Syria due to the war, and some of them headed to the EU asking for asylum. They travel to Europe “to have better life, to have good life, to have peace life,” one refugee told RT in Greece, which has seen a significant influx in recent years.

“We don’t see limits and we don’t want to see people sleeping in the streets,” says Angelos Syrigos, Greek Interior Minister. Although Greece is ready to receive refugees it cannot accept them all.

“But at the same time, their numbers are so vast,” adds Syrigos.

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In November up to 200 Syrians seeking asylum in the EU began a sit-in in Athens’ main square in a bid for asylum status, temporary working permits and medical care. The financially strapped Greek government says it doesn’t have the resources to deal with the growing refugee problem.

The bulk of the refugees hope to leave Greece for Northern Europe. Based on EU immigration policy, the migrants cannot move to other EU countries unless on a tourist visa, and can only stay a maximum of 90 days in any six months.

UN and other humanitarian organizations, including Migrants’ Rights Network, urge the EU to speed up the process of receiving the refugees. The MRN says the EU can and must receive at least 180,000 migrants. However some countries are not eager to accept them.

“We’re not ready to accept everyone, we shouldn’t accept everyone, we don’t need everyone,” says Kent Ekeroth from Sweden Democrats Party.

Another problem that the migrants face is growing level of racism and Islamophobia. Dresden in Germany has already seen 10,000 people rally against the Islamization of the country, and another one has taken place this Monday.

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Often migrants seeking a new life in Europe try to enter EU countries illegally.

In October migrants clashed with the police in Calais as some 2,500 people tried to reach Great Britain which is seen by many as a safe haven, with a stable economy and strong tradition of tolerance toward refugees from war. The Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart said in September that the UK benefit system is a “magnet” for illegal immigrants, who see Britain as a “soft touch.”

Illegal African migrants from Morocco have also found a way to seek a new life in Europe by jumping over the fence built around the Spanish enclaves in North Africa.

One of the biggest escapes in nearly a decade occurred in March, when 1,000 people jumped the existing triple-layer wire fence built by the Spanish, with about half of them successful. Another 500 people tried to leap to freedom in May, with about a quarter getting through into Spain.

Later Moroccan authorities revealed a plan to erect a five-meter high wall, topped with blades and barbed wire, on the border with the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla. The measure will target migrants trying to cross into Europe.

Over 3,400 migrants and refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year trying to reach the European coast. Italy has managed to rescue more than 150,000 people this year – a large number of whom have congregated around the island of Lampedusa near Sicily. The total number of people who have attempted the illegal crossing to Europe over the Mediterranean Sea this year is over 207,000.

OPERATION AURORAGOLD: HOW THE NSA HACKS CELLPHONE NETWORKS WORLDWIDE

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NSA has spied on hundreds of companies and organizations internationally

BY RYAN GALLAGHER TODAY AT 6:06 AM

In March 2011, two weeks before the Western intervention in Libya, a secret message was delivered to the National Security Agency. An intelligence unit within the U.S. military’s Africa Command needed help to hack into Libya’s cellphone networks and monitor text messages.

For the NSA, the task was easy. The agency had already obtained technical information about the cellphone carriers’ internal systems by spying on documents sent among company employees, and these details would provide the perfect blueprint to help the military break into the networks.

The NSA’s assistance in the Libya operation, however, was not an isolated case. It was part of a much larger surveillance program—global in its scope and ramifications—targeted not just at hostile countries.

According to documents contained in the archive of material provided to The Intercept by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA has spied on hundreds of companies and organizations internationally, including in countries closely allied to the United States, in an effort to find security weaknesses in cellphone technology that it can exploit for surveillance.

The documents also reveal how the NSA plans to secretly introduce new flaws into communication systems so that they can be tapped into—a controversial tactic that security experts say could be exposing the general population to criminal hackers.

Codenamed AURORAGOLD, the covert operation has monitored the content of messages sent and received by more than 1,200 email accounts associated with major cellphone network operators, intercepting confidential company planning papers that help the NSA hack into phone networks.

One high-profile surveillance target is the GSM Association, an influential U.K.-headquartered trade group that works closely with large U.S.-based firms including Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T, and Cisco, and is currently being funded by the U.S. government to develop privacy-enhancing technologies.

Karsten Nohl, a leading cellphone security expert and cryptographer who was consulted by The Intercept about details contained in the AURORAGOLD documents, said that the broad scope of information swept up in the operation appears aimed at ensuring virtually every cellphone network in the world is NSA accessible.

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“Collecting an inventory [like this] on world networks has big ramifications,” Nohl said, because it allows the NSA to track and circumvent upgrades in encryption technology used by cellphone companies to shield calls and texts from eavesdropping. Evidence that the agency has deliberately plotted to weaken the security of communication infrastructure, he added, was particularly alarming.

“Even if you love the NSA and you say you have nothing to hide, you should be against a policy that introduces security vulnerabilities,” Nohl said, “because once NSA introduces a weakness, a vulnerability, it’s not only the NSA that can exploit it.”

NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines told The Intercept in a statement that the agency “works to identify and report on the communications of valid foreign targets” to anticipate threats to the United States and its allies.

Vines said: “NSA collects only those communications that it is authorized by law to collect in response to valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence requirements—regardless of the technical means used by foreign targets, or the means by which those targets attempt to hide their communications.”

Network coverage

The AURORAGOLD operation is carried out by specialist NSA surveillance units whose existence has not been publicly disclosed: the Wireless Portfolio Management Office, which defines and carries out the NSA’s strategy for exploiting wireless communications, and the Target Technology Trends Center, which monitors the development of new communication technology to ensure that the NSA isn’t blindsided by innovations that could evade its surveillance reach. The center’s logo is a picture of the Earth overshadowed by a large telescope; its motto is “Predict – Plan – Prevent.”

The NSA documents reveal that, as of May 2012, the agency had collected technical information on about 70 percent of cellphone networks worldwide—701 of an estimated 985—and was maintaining a list of 1,201 email “selectors” used to intercept internal company details from employees. (“Selector” is an agency term for a unique identifier like an email address or phone number.) From November 2011 to April 2012, between 363 and 1,354 selectors were “tasked” by the NSA for surveillance each month as part of AURORAGOLD, according to the documents. The secret operation appears to have been active since at least 2010.
The information collected from the companies is passed onto NSA “signals development” teams that focus on infiltrating communication networks. It is also shared with other U.S. Intelligence Community agencies and with the NSA’s counterparts in countries that are part of the so-called “Five Eyes” surveillance alliance—the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Aside from mentions of a handful of operators in Libya, China, and Iran, names of the targeted companies are not disclosed in the NSA’s documents. However, a top-secret world map featured in a June 2012 presentation on AURORAGOLD suggests that the NSA has some degree of “network coverage” in almost all countries on every continent, including in the United States and in closely allied countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and France.

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One of the prime targets monitored under the AURORAGOLD program is the London-headquartered trade group, the GSM Association, or the GSMA, which represents the interests of more than 800 major cellphone, software, and internet companies from 220 countries.

The GSMA’s members include U.S.-based companies such as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, Cisco, and Oracle, as well as large international firms including Sony, Nokia, Samsung, Ericsson, and Vodafone.

The trade organization brings together its members for regular meetings at which new technologies and policies are discussed among various “working groups.” The Snowden files reveal that the NSA specifically targeted the GSMA’s working groups for surveillance.

Claire Cranton, a spokeswoman for the GSMA, said that the group would not respond to details uncovered by The Intercept until its lawyers had studied the documents related to the spying.

“If there is something there that is illegal then they will take it up with the police,” Cranton said.

By covertly monitoring GSMA working groups in a bid to identify and exploit security vulnerabilities, the NSA has placed itself into direct conflict with the mission of the National Institute for Standards and Technology, or NIST, the U.S. government agency responsible for recommending cybersecurity standards in the United States. NIST recently handed out a grant of more than $800,000 to GSMA so that the organization could research ways to address “security and privacy challenges” faced by users of mobile devices.

The revelation that the trade group has been targeted for surveillance may reignite deep-seated tensions between NIST and NSA that came to the fore following earlier Snowden disclosures. Last year, NIST was forced to urge people not to use an encryption standard it had previously approved after it emerged NSA had apparently covertly worked to deliberately weaken it.

Jennifer Huergo, a NIST spokewoman, told The Intercept that the agency was “not aware of any activities by NSA related to the GSMA.” Huergo said that NIST would continue to work towards “bringing industry together with privacy and consumer advocates to jointly create a robust marketplace of more secure, easy-to-use, privacy-enhancing solutions.”

Encryption attack

The NSA focuses on intercepting obscure but important technical documents circulated among the GSMA’s members known as “IR.21s.”

Most cellphone network operators share IR.21 documents among each other as part of agreements that allow their customers to connect to foreign networks when they are “roaming” overseas on a vacation or a business trip. An IR.21, according to the NSA documents, contains information “necessary for targeting and exploitation.”

The details in the IR.21s serve as a “warning mechanism” that flag new technology used by network operators, the NSA’s documents state. This allows the agency to identify security vulnerabilities in the latest communication systems that can be exploited, and helps efforts to introduce new vulnerabilities “where they do not yet exist.”

The IR.21s also contain details about the encryption used by cellphone companies to protect the privacy of their customers’ communications as they are transmitted across networks. These details are highly sought after by the NSA, as they can aid its efforts to crack the encryption and eavesdrop on conversations.

Last year, the Washington Post reported that the NSA had already managed to break the most commonly used cellphone encryption algorithm in the world, known as A5/1. But the information collected under AURORAGOLD allows the agency to focus on circumventing newer and stronger versions of A5 cellphone encryption, such as A5/3.

The documents note that the agency intercepts information from cellphone operators about “the type of A5 cipher algorithm version” they use, and monitors the development of new algorithms in order to find ways to bypass the encryption.

In 2009, the British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters conducted a similar effort to subvert phone encryption under a project called OPULANT PUP, using powerful computers to perform a “crypt attack” to penetrate the A5/3 algorithm, secret memos reveal. By 2011, GCHQ was collaborating with the NSA on another operation, called WOLFRAMITE, to attack A5/3 encryption. (GCHQ declined to comment for this story, other than to say that it operates within legal parameters.)

The extensive attempts to attack cellphone encryption have been replicated across the Five Eyes surveillance alliance. Australia’s top spy agency, for instance, infiltrated an Indonesian cellphone company and stole nearly 1.8 million encryption keys used to protect communications, the New York Times reported in February.

The NSA’s documents show that it focuses on collecting details about virtually all technical standards used by cellphone operators, and the agency’s efforts to stay ahead of the technology curve occasionally yield significant results. In early 2010, for instance, its operatives had already found ways to penetrate a variant of the newest “fourth generation” smartphone-era technology for surveillance, years before it became widely adopted by millions of people in dozens of countries.

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The NSA says that its efforts are targeted at terrorists, weapons proliferators, and other foreign targets, not “ordinary people.” But the methods used by the agency and its partners to gain access to cellphone communications risk significant blowback.

According to Mikko Hypponen, a security expert at Finland-based F-Secure, criminal hackers and foreign government adversaries could be among the inadvertent beneficiaries of any security vulnerabilities or encryption weaknesses inserted by the NSA into communication systems using data collected by the AURORAGOLD project.

“If there are vulnerabilities on those systems known to the NSA that are not being patched on purpose, it’s quite likely they are being misused by completely other kinds of attackers,” said Hypponen. “When they start to introduce new vulnerabilities, it affects everybody who uses that technology; it makes all of us less secure.”

“IT AFFECTS EVERYBODY WHO USES THAT TECHNOLOGY; IT MAKES ALL OF US LESS SECURE.”
In December, a surveillance review panel convened by President Obama concluded that the NSA should not “in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable generally available commercial software.” The panel also recommended that the NSA should notify companies if it discovers previously unknown security vulnerabilities in their software or systems—known as “zero days” because developers have been given zero days to fix them—except in rare cases involving “high priority intelligence collection.”

In April, White House officials confirmed that Obama had ordered NSA to disclose vulnerabilities it finds, though qualified that with a loophole allowing the flaws to be secretly exploited so long as there is deemed to be “a clear national security or law enforcement” use.

Vines, the NSA spokeswoman, told The Intercept that the agency was committed to ensuring an “open, interoperable, and secure global internet.”

“NSA deeply values these principles and takes great care to honor them in the performance of its lawful foreign-intelligence mission,” Vines said.

She declined to discuss the tactics used as part of AURORAGOLD, or comment on whether the operation remains active.

THE BIGGEST SCANDAL IN AMERICA IS ITS CONTROLLED PRESS

Capture

Something’s wrong — and it’s not people such as Edward Snowden.

How many Americans know that the current regime in Ukraine was installed in a very bloody February 2014 coup d’etat, that was planned in the U.S. White House, and overseen by an Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, and run by the CIA, and carried out for the White House by one of Ukraine’s two racist-fascist, or nazi, political parties, whose founder and leader still controls Ukraine though not officially, even these many months after his coup, and which nazi party has been up to their elbows since then in a genocidal policy to exterminate the people in the region of Ukraine that had voted approximately 90% for the man whom Obama and those nazis overthrew in February? (Click onto that link, and to the more-detailed evidence that’s linked to there, in order to see the ultimate documentations of this entire horrific history, because it is history now, even though the American public were never informed about it while it was news — while and when it was happening, which it still is.)

And how many Americans know that one of the two main suspects in the bringing-down of the Malaysian MH17 airliner over Ukraine on July 17th has been given veto-power over the report that is to be issued from the official ‘investigation’ of the black boxes and other evidence in the case?

The ongoing hiding of all of this from the American public is perhaps even more stunning to the present writer than is the bloody American policy (including Obama’s personal role in it) itself.

Virtually all of the ‘news’ editors and producers — the ‘news’ executives, in America’s press — know, and have known all along, that these things are the case, because they’ve been receiving many news-submissions on them, with full and entirely credible documentation each time, ever since February, and have not made any of these facts public; they’ve not published this reality, when it was news, though they are supposed to be news-organizations.

I know this because I am one of the many independent investigative journalists who has been reporting in detail on these matters, throughout this time-period, and whose reports have been submitted to virtually all U.S. ‘news’ media — mainstream and alternative news, liberal and conservative news, Republican and Democratic news. And, with the exception of only about a half-dozen obscure but admirably authentic news-sites on the Internet (which is just a small fraction of the “alternative news” sites), all of this solidly documented information (just click on the links and you’ll see it documented there) has been intentionally withheld, from the American public, by virtually the entirety of the U.S. ‘news’ media.

Was the rigid control over a nation’s press more rigid and more universal in the Soviet Union, or in Nazi Germany, than is the case in today’s United States? One should not simply assume that it was, or that it wasn’t, but instead recognize how extremely far from being a democracy today’s United States has, in fact, become. This is the most shocking realization of all, because it’s the most suppressed news of all — news about the news-suppression by the ‘news’-media.

Regarding that charge of news-suppression in America: among the ‘news’ media to which these news-reports have been regularly submitted and yet never published, have also been specialized ones, such as fair.org, mediamatters.org, and Foreign Policy magazine; and yet even they refuse to report these realities about U.S. foreign policy and its cover-ups, and about the controlled U.S. ‘news’ media — in neither specialized field (neither press-reviews, nor international policy) is it being reported. And, of course, it’s not broadcast in any U.S. national media. That’s how dire the condition of what used to be American democracy has now become.

The biggest news-story of all is thus the one that is, and that will inevitably be, the most suppressed news-story of all: the news-suppression itself. It extends from the major ‘news’-media to the alternative and even to the specialized ‘news’-media.

Edward Snowden, the former CIA and NSA employee and then contractor who went public about the U.S. Government’s violating the 4th Amendment and other U.S. Constitutional provisions regarding Americans’ right to privacy and so forth, addressed on October 20th, a class at Harvard Law School, and he spoke about the impossibility of democracy to exist if there is not informed consent from the public of what the Government is doing, and of what the authentic aims of the Government are in what it is doing and intends to do. He necessarily had to speak from an undisclosed location, because the U.S. Government wants to imprison him (if not worse). He raised the extremely serious question as to whether, and the extent to which, a government can lie to its public and still be a democracy.

That’s the question. How can the public have a government representing informed consent, if the ‘news’ media are constantly, and systematically, lying about the most important things, and covering up that government’s worst, most heinous, crimes? Yet, this is what Americans have today.

The United States is thus no longer a model for any country except for a dictatorship. How likely is it that America’s press will let the American public know this now-established fact?

Something’s wrong — and it’s not people such as Edward Snowden.

For yet another of the many examples of U.S. news-suppression, click here. This interview, 13 years after the news-event, was relegated to C-Span, not aired on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, or cable-news channels.

​EU is in serious trouble and it’s not Russia’s fault

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Angela Merkel has criticized Vladimir Putin’s, apparent, strategy to spread Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. The Chancellor doesn’t acknowledge that Germany’s domination of Europe has been disastrous for some states.

Europe’s neo-liberal media are having a collective hernia at the thought that some former Warsaw Pact countries are cozying up to Moscow. Especially in Germany. On top of that Merkel’s recent speech in Australia was full of tough criticism of Russia. However, on closer inspection, what they are accusing the Kremlin of doing is exactly what the EU has been at for the past 20 years.

Do a random street poll in any eastern European capital. Prague or Bratislava, where I have been this week, for example. Ask whether life is better now, under the thumb of the EU, compared to how it was in 1989, under the Soviet jackboot. The responses I have gotten are 50-50. If you’d tried the same query a decade ago, it’d have been fairly unanimous that 2004 would have trumped ’89.

The EU is in serious trouble. Living standards are falling all over the union and political instability is fomenting from Dublin to Athens and Madrid to Zagreb. Iceland recently u-turned on a plan to join the grouping and, previously, resolute aspirants like Serbia and Montenegro are cooling their ardor for membership.

Angela Merkel thinks this is Russia’s fault. That’s akin to blaming Brazil’s strikers for their 7-1 World Cup capitulation to Germany. Pure hokum. If Merkel wants to find the real culprit, she need only look in the mirror. The Berlin government, which she has led for 9 years is sucking the continent dry. While peripheral states flounder and pivotal countries stagnate, Germany is doing just fine. This is because the entire EU system – especially the Euro currency – is propping up its largest member while choking the rest.

Thatcher’s wisdom
Of course, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and France’s Francois Mitterrand warned of this a quarter century ago, and they were both spot on. In January 1990, Mitterrand confided to his UK counterpart: “reunification will result in Germany gaining more European influence than Hitler ever had.”

It’s worth mentioning, in fairness, that the ugly Euro currency monster was Mitterrand’s, naive, attempt to curtail this eventuality. The Germans were quite content with the solid Deutschmark but Paris believed that a currency union would keep their neighbors in check and made it the price of agreeing to a united Germany.

Thatcher foresaw this and informed Mitterrand that Bonn (the then capital) wouldn’t be tamed by strengthening EC (later EU) institutions. “Germany’s ambitions would then become the dominant and active factor,” she counseled. She added: “We beat the Germans twice (in war), and now they’re back.”

Following reunification, a previously 4-pronged European elite (France. Britain, West Germany and Italy) became greatly diluted. Restored to its former capital of Berlin, the, now much larger, state began to dominate. In the early 00’s, the EU expanded massively to the east, growing by 10 members in 1 day in 2004, with a further 3 following later. What happened in all these newbies, from Estonia in the north to southern Cyprus was that German commerce rapidly swarmed their economies. If you think that’s fanciful, I’d urge you to visit a shopping center in Krakow or Brno and tell me how it, greatly, differs from one in Dresden? To my eyes, not by much.

Existing members, such as Ireland and Spain were flooded with cheap German credit. This was basically a form of captive loan-sharking. German banks handing out easy money to facilitate the purchase of German-made goods, from cars to electronics. When the scheme went wallop in 2008, the German creditors didn’t accept a haircut. Instead, the penalties were passed on to Irish and Spanish taxpayers, further enslaving them to Berlin.

Germany the winner
Meanwhile, Germany’s trade surplus continued to expand and they were happy to leave the rest of Europe to rot. Instead of showing empathy, the Hamburg and Berlin media were full of features mocking the economically wrecked nations. Ireland, apparently, had an epidemic of wild, abandoned, horses and the Spanish were delighted at the extra time for Siestas. Oh, what fun the yellow-press had in those halcyon days – and what harm they did to perceptions of Germany.

Now, Merkel seems to believe that Russia is coercing some European states into doing business. Complete nonsense. It’s rather more believable that financially stressed governments have begun to see through Berlin’s practices and are hedging their bets. After all, it’s the duty of a sovereign to look after its own citizens, not the pampered bankers of Frankfurt or industrialists of Munich. Germany’s arrogant mistreatment of the rest of Europe is coming home to roost.

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“Frau Nein”, as she was once known, is especially upset about Russian influence in Hungary and Serbia. Apologies if I’ve missed something but I haven’t noticed the reports of Berlin heaping goodies on them. Does Merkel seriously expect their rulers to reject advantageous deals with Moscow to keep her happy? If she does, she’s lost touch with reality.

“This is not just about Ukraine. It’s about Moldova. It’s about Georgia. If things carry on like this…. we will need to raise the issue of Serbia, of the states in the western Balkans. How can something like this happen in the middle of Europe? Old thinking about spheres of influence… must not succeed,” the Chancellor emoted last weekend.

Doing what’s right
What Merkel is trying to say, with breathtaking arrogance is “how dare Russia nose in on our patch” – as if Germany had a divine right to control these independent nations. Spheres of influence aren’t an issue once they are tilted towards Berlin or Brussels, which the former increasingly controls. Lost in all of this is the economic fact that Germany and Russia are now neck and neck economically, with Moscow poised to overtake its historic rival in the next few years. Russia has also succeeded in creating an alliance with China, Germany’s biggest export rival. This has forced Berlin into solidifying its previously waning alliance with the USA, something which isn’t uniformly popular in Germany.

However, in Budapest and Bratislava, premiers Viktor Orban and Robert Fico are doing what’s right by their electorate and striking the optimum deals for their countries. Merkel is deeply offended by such a practice as it reduces Germany’s omnipotent strangle-hold on their commerce. Orban is also committed to pushing ahead with the Southstream pipeline, in partnership with Moscow. Why? Not to undermine Berlin, but to guarantee its energy supply because Ukraine is unreliable as a transit territory. This is entirely understandable – it’s Orban’s job to look after Hungary, not to bow down before Germany.

The pro-NATO, neoliberal, media in Western Europe are presenting Russia’s trade deals with struggling eastern states as some kind of dastardly plan to undermine the EU. Such suggestions are hyperbolic nonsense. The leaders of Hungary, Slovakia and Serbia would, gladly, bite the hand off Merkel if she was willing to throw some German cash around. However, she’s not and Putin is. Consequently, these countries are doing what’s best for their current circumstances. There is nothing sinister about it.

THE COMING CLIMATE ONSLAUGHT

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President Obama readies a sweeping list of executive actions

By ANDREW RESTUCCIA and ERICA MARTINSON 11/11/14 8:38 PM EST Updated 11/12/14 7:33 AM EST

The Obama administration is set to roll out a series of climate and pollution measures that rivals any president’s environmental actions of the past quarter-century — a reality check for Republicans who think last week’s election gave them a mandate to end what they call the White House’s “War on Coal.”

Tied to court-ordered deadlines, legal mandates and international climate talks, the efforts scheduled for the next two months show that President Barack Obama is prepared to spend the remainder of his term unleashing sweeping executive actions to combat global warming. And incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have few options for stopping the onslaught, though Republicans may be able to slow pieces of it.

The coming rollout includes a Dec. 1 proposal by EPA to tighten limits on smog-causing ozone, which business groups say could be the costliest federal regulation of all time; a final rule Dec. 19 for clamping down on disposal of power plants’ toxic coal ash; the Jan. 1 start date for a long-debated rule prohibiting states from polluting the air of their downwind neighbors; and a Jan. 8 deadline for issuing a final rule restricting greenhouse gas emissions from future power plants. That last rule is a centerpiece of Obama’s most ambitious environmental effort, the big plan for combating climate change that he announced at Georgetown University in June 2013.

Obama announced yet another initiative Wednesday in Beijing, where he and Chinese President Xi Jinping jointly committed to targets for the two nations to curb their carbon emissions during the next two decades. And on top of all that, the administration is expected in the coming weeks to pledge millions of dollars — and possibly billions — to help poor countries deal with the effects of climate change.

The pending EPA actions alone could amount to the most ambitious burst of environmental regulatory activity from Washington since President George H.W. Bush approved a crucial set of amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 — although Obama’s administration has already taken several big strides of its own, including limits on mercury pollution from power plants.

The administration was committed to its upcoming deadlines many months ago, in some cases under court order, after postponing a number of the actions until after the 2012 or 2014 elections. Now that Obama is almost out of time, they’re coming all at once.

On deck are even more climate actions that will stretch well into 2015. In June, EPA is due to put out a final version of its rule for cutting greenhouse gases from the nation’s existing power plants — the linchpin of Obama’s entire climate effort.

“In a world that was turned upside down on Election Day, two things are certain,” said Heather Zichal, who served as Obama’s top climate change adviser until 2013. “One: Corporate polluters and their allies in Congress will continue to fight against progress on the broader climate agenda. Two: The president is and will remain 100 percent committed to his climate action plan and he’ll fight to protect it.”

The kicker for Republicans eager to stomp all over the president’s agenda: Congress has little immediate recourse, despite McConnell’s pledges to use “the spending process” to rein in EPA. With so much action rolling through the pipeline, Republicans will have to choose their battles carefully if they want to make headway while proving they can govern.

In an interview after Election Day, McConnell acknowledged that stopping Obama will be difficult, given the president’s veto power. McConnell has also promised a return to regular order, and Republicans probably won’t want to repeat last year’s government shutdown in hopes of forcing the president’s hand.

“I think that actually preventing EPA from moving forward on the climate change regs will be a challenge,” said industry attorney Jeff Holmstead, who headed the agency’s air office during the George W. Bush administration.

If Congress tries to defang “high profile” regulations like those on carbon emissions, “we would expect the president to veto,” said Cal Dooley, a former Democratic member of Congress who heads the chemical industry’s trade association. “And I don’t expect that you’ll have a two-thirds vote in the Senate to override.”

Greens are counting on Obama to hold the line, especially on climate change.

“We are very confident that he will continue to take the common sense steps necessary to make this strong plan a reality,” League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said in an email. “That may not please the climate change deniers, but it is the right thing to do for our health, our economy, and our security.”P

On the other hand, a GOP-led Congress could pass agency-specific spending bills with riders that undercut rules that seem less important to Obama. Some Republicans think he might swallow an attack on the ozone rule, for example.

Christine Todd Whitman, who served as George W. Bush’s first EPA administrator, said the Republicans’ new Senate leaders will at least try to hobble the agency.

“It’s going to get harder for EPA,” she said. “With Jim Inhofe as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I think what they’re going to do is starve the agency.”

EPA is not the only agency pushing new rules, however. The Interior Department is also expected to release a long-delayed draft regulation in the spring that tightens limits on mountaintop-removal coal mining.

And Obama’s negotiators are working on plans for an international global warming agreement, set to be signed in Paris at the end of 2015, that would require the U.S. and other nations to slash greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come.

The U.S. is also expected to announce in the coming weeks how much money it will contribute to an international fund for helping poor countries deal with the effects of global warming. Developed countries have pledged to raise $100 billion a year from government and private sources for that cause by 2020, with some of the money going to the fund. But the prospect of handing billions of dollars in climate aid to the developing world is not going to win much applause from Republicans, who could block the money through the appropriations process.

The U.S. will probably announce its pledge before or during a Nov. 20 meeting in Berlin.

“I think this will be one of the more challenging outcomes of the elections in terms of implementing the administration’s climate plan,” said Heather Coleman, climate change policy manager at Oxfam America.

The administration had previously postponed many of the upcoming regulatory actions, most notoriously with the surprise September 2011 decision to squelch EPA’s proposal to lower its smog limits. That decision blindsided both EPA leaders and environmentalists, and was widely regarded as an effort to defuse a major regulatory controversy before Obama had to run for reelection.

Similarly, EPA issued a proposed rule on coal ash in 2010, but sat on it for nearly four years until a federal court imposed a deadline for this December.

Greens are counting on Obama to hold the line, especially on climate change. | M. Scott Mahaskey
All the glare focusing on Obama’s big climate rules means that other items on his environmental agenda are getting less public attention than they once did. That could aid Republicans’ push to weaken some of regulations through negotiations with the White House and EPA, perhaps with deals to delay rules rather than repeal them outright. But that would depend on McConnell keeping the House from insisting on hardcore anti-EPA bills that would be surefire veto bait.

The word from the Hill “is that McConnell really is interested in trying to show that Republicans can get things done, so I think they’re going to try to come up with some narrow bills where the President could sign,” Holmstead said.

Among other possibilities, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) hopes to bring up legislation that would shift authority away from EPA on regulating coal ash ponds. Given the agency’s previous reluctance to deal with coal ash at all, the White House might not fight him too hard.

Efforts to tighten ozone regulations are clearly not a top White House priority either, given Obama’s efforts to punt the rule in 2011. But defying the court deadline to finish the rule — “that’s where it’s going to take congressional action,” Dooley said. The manufacturing industry broadly opposes tightening the ozone standards, which it says could make permits more difficult and expensive to obtain.

Former Sen. Tim Wirth, a Democrat who served as the Clinton administration’s top international climate negotiator, thinks Obama will push through his main agenda regardless of what Republicans come up with.

“He’ll just do what he’s going to do anyway,” Wirth said.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/11/climate-rules-obama-112792.html#ixzz3IsA2fX00

State Department plans to bring foreign Ebola patients to U.S.

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By Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times – Updated: 8:13 p.m. on Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The State Department has quietly made plans to bring Ebola-infected doctors and medical aides to the U.S. for treatment, according to an internal department document that argued the only way to get other countries to send medical teams to West Africa is to promise the U.S. will be the world’s medical backstop.

Some countries “are implicitly or explicitly waiting for medevac assurances” before they will agree to send their own medical teams to join U.S. and U.N. aid workers on the ground, the State Department argues in the undated four-page memo, which was reviewed by The Washington Times.

More than 10,000 people have become infected with Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and the U.S. has taken a lead role in arguing the pandemic must be stopped over there. President Obama has committed thousands of U.S. troops and has deployed American medical personnel, but other countries have been slow to follow.

In the memo, officials say they would prefer patients go to Europe, but there are some cases where the U.S. is “the logical treatment destination for non-citizens.”

The document has been shared with Congress, where lawmakers were already nervous over the administration’s handling of the Ebola outbreak. The memo even details expected price per patient, saying transport costs come to $200,000 and treatment is estimated at $300,000 per case.

A State Department official denied there are plans to bring non-citizen patients to the U.S., saying instead that officials are considering using American aircraft equipped to handle Ebola cases to transport non-citizens to other countries, but “there are absolutely no plans to medevac non-Americans” to the U.S.

“We have discussed allowing other countries to use our medevac capabilities to evacuate their own citizens to their home countries or third-countries, subject to reimbursement and availability,” the department official said in a statement. “But we are not contemplating bringing them back to the U.S. for treatment. Allegations to the contrary are completely false.”

The internal State Department memo is described as “sensitive but unclassified.” A tracking sheet attached to it says it was “cleared” by offices of the deputy secretary, the deputy secretary for management, the office of Central African affairs and the medical services office.

A call to the number listed for Mr. Sorenson wasn’t returned Tuesday.

Mr. Obama has been clear in his desire to recruit medical and aide workers to fight the disease in Africa.

“We know that the best way to protect Americans ultimately is going to stop this outbreak at the source,” the president said at the White House on Tuesday, praising U.S. aide workers who are already involved in the effort. “No other nation is doing as much to make sure that we contain and ultimately eliminate this outbreak than America.”

More than 10,000 people have contracted Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, with about half of those cases proving fatal.

Four cases have been diagnosed in the U.S. — and three of those were health workers who were trying to aid infected patients. Two of those, both nurses at a Dallas hospital, have been cured.

In addition, the U.S. has treated several American aide workers who contracted the disease overseas but who were flown here for treatment.

The U.N. and World Health Organization are also heavily involved in deploying to the affected region, but other countries have been slower to pony up their own resources to fight Ebola in West Africa or to agree to treat workers who contract the disease.

The State Department memo says only Germany has agreed to take non-German citizens who contract the disease.

Officials would prefer European nations step up because it is closer to West Africa, making transport easier, the State Department memo said. But officials said there are some cases where the U.S. is the right choice — notably where non-Americans are contracted to work in West Africa for U.S.-based charities, the Centers for Disease Control or the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“So far all of the Ebola medevacs brought back to U.S. hospitals have been U.S. citizens. But there are many non-citizens working for U.S. government agencies and organizations in the Ebola-affected countries of West Africa,” the memo says. “Many of them are citizens of countries lacking adequate medical care, and if they contracted Ebola in the court of their work they would need to be evacuated to medical facilities in the United States or Europe.”

The memo says the State Department already has a contract in place with Phoenix Aviation, which maintains an airplane capable of transporting an Ebola patient. The U.S. can transport non-citizens and have other countries or organizations pay for the cost.

The U.S. has already helped three health workers be sent to Germany and one to France.

In the U.S., the department memo lists three hospitals — the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Emory University Hospital in Atlanta — that are willing to take patients.

According to the memo, Homeland Security officials would be required to waive restrictions in U.S. law to speed the patients into the U.S.

“A pre-established framework would be essential to guarantee that only authorized individuals would be considered for travel authorization and that all necessary vetting would occur,” the memo reads.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman didn’t return emails seeking comment.

Judicial Watch, a conservative-leaning public-interest watchdog, revealed the existence of a State Department plan earlier in October. When The Times described the document to Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch’s president, he said it is evidence of why the administration balked at adopting a travel ban on those from the affected countries.

“Under this theory, there could be people moving here now, transporting people here now, and it could be done with no warning,” Mr. Fitton said. “If our borders mean anything, it is the ability to make sure that dire threats to the public health are kept out.”

After those initial reports surfaced, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte had sent a letter asking for answers. On Tuesday he said the document The Times obtained “raises more concerns and questions than answers.”

“President Obama should be forthcoming with the American people about the scope of his plan to bring non-U.S. citizens infected with Ebola to the United States for treatment,” Mr. Goodlatte said in a statement.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/28/state-department-plans-to-bring-foreign-ebola-pati/?page=2#ixzz3HUY9ixir
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