Pentagon deploys another warship to Black Sea

Pentagon deploys another warship to Black Sea

The United States military confirmed on Tuesday that a guided missile cruiser is en route to the Black Sea as worries persist about the ongoing crisis between Ukraine and Russia.

“I can confirm the Vella Gulf, a Navy cruiser, will be going in to the Black Sea probably later this week,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told the press on Tuesday, AFP reported.

Earlier this week, RT reported that a military source had told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency that the US Department of Defense was expected to deploy a ship towards the Black Sea this week as part of what Moscow is considering a wide build-up of NATO forces in the region. Now the Pentagon has confirmed that the Vella Guld will replace the USS Taylor, a frigate that was stationed in the Black Sea until May 12 and preceded by the presence of the USS Donald Cook.

The guided-missile frigate USS Taylor (Reuters/US NAVY)The guided-missile frigate USS Taylor (Reuters/US NAVY)

An US-authorized treaty, the Montreux Conventions of 1936, bars outside countries from keeping warships in the body of war for more than 21 days. Instead of retiring America’s naval presence from the region altogether, though, the DOD is again exchanging one ship for another in the midst of the growing tensions between Ukraine’s interim government and those wanting a stronger alliance with neighboring Russia.

The USS Donald Cook (AFP Photo)The USS Donald Cook (AFP Photo)

As RT reported previously, the Vella Gulf is 172 meters long, 16 meters wide and can carry two multipurpose helicopters. It is also equipped with an Aegis air and ballistic missile defensive system, Tomahawk cruise missiles, antisubmarine missiles and surface-to-air missiles.

Ahead of this week’s deployment, the Vella Gulf was expected to participate in a semi-annual, UK-led training exercise in the Mediterranean Sea “designed to provide NATO and allied forces a unique multi-warfare environment in which to prepare for global operations,” according to the ship’s newsletter.

Tomahawk cruise missile (Reuters/U.S. Navy photo)Tomahawk cruise missile (Reuters/U.S. Navy photo)

According to AFP, the Pentagon plans to maintain a military presence in Eastern Europe through the end of the years as the standoff between Moscow and Kiev continues.

Nigeria govt knew about Boko Haram school raid in advance and did nothing – Amnesty Intl

Nigeria govt knew about Boko Haram school raid in advance and did nothing – Amnesty Intl
May 9, 2014

Nigeria’s armed forces had more than four hours warning of the attack on the school by hardline Islamist group Boko Haram in which 270 girls were kidnapped, but failed to take any action, says Amnesty International.

The rights group Amnesty International has said that it has been told by several credible sources that the Nigerian military was given more than four hours warning of the raid by Boko Haram on the school but failed to do anything about it.

Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group, has said that it captured the girls in the April 14 raid because they should be married and not in school. In a video released earlier this week Abubakar Sekau, Boko Haram’s leader, threatened to sell the students.

Fifty three of the girls managed to escape just after they were captured.

According to a number of sources interviewed by Amnesty local civilian patrols in Gagilam, a village neighboring Chibok where the girls were abducted, were the first to alert the authorities.The patrols are known as vigilantes and were set up by military and local authorities to counter Boko Haram.

A vigilante patrol in Gaiglam raised the alarm when a group of armed men entered the village on motorbikes and said they were on their way to Chibok. Locals immediately phoned a number of officials to warn them including the Borno State Governor and senior military commanders based in the regional capital Maiduguri.

“At around 10:00 PM on the 14 April, I called several security officers to inform them about earlier information I had received from the vigilantes in Gagilam village. They had told us that strange people had arrived in their village on motorbikes and they said they were heading to Chibok. I made several other calls including to Maiduguri. I was promised by the security people that reinforcements were on their way,” one local official told Amnesty.

Another official said he was phoned up by herdsmen who said armed men had asked him where the Government Girls Secondary School was in Chibok.

At about 11:45 the convoy of Boko Harem fighters which by this time consisted of about 200 men on motorbikes and in trucks entered Chibok and a gunfight broke out with the small garrison of 17 police and soldiers who were based in the town.

Outnumbered and outgunned the small security force eventually fled the town in the small hours leaving the Boko Haram fighters free to proceed to the girl’s secondary school where they abducted 270 school girls.

Two senior officers in the Nigerian military confirmed to Amnesty that they were aware of the attack even before the phone calls from local officials but were unable to mobilize reinforcements.

One officer told the rights group that his soldiers were fearful of engaging the militants who were often better equipped.

“There’s a lot of frustration, exhaustion and fatigue among officers and [troops] based in the hotspots. Many soldiers are afraid to go to the battle fronts,” he said.

Amnesty’s requests for a reaction from military headquarters in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, have not been answered.

“The fact that Nigerian security forces knew about Boko Haram’s impending raid, but failed to take the immediate action needed to stop it, will only amplify the national and international outcry at this horrific crime,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa director.

Amnesty was also critical of efforts to try and secure the girls’ release, which have been hampered by an atmosphere of confusion and suspicion.

“The climate of suspicion and lack of transparency about the rescue effort has been unhelpful – all authorities must work together to ensure the girls are brought home safely and more must be done to protect civilians in the future,” said Belay.

Boko Haram, which in the Hausa Language means ‘western education is forbidden’, began their insurgency in Borno state in north east Nigeria in 2009. At least 1,200 people are estimated to have been killed in the violence so-far this year.

This article was posted: Friday, May 9, 2014 at 1:15 pm

German parliament defies Merkel, will hear testimony from Snowden

The USA Freedom Act, which is designed to reform the National Security Agency, will proceed out of committee and be debated by the full House of Representatives. Drafted by the House Judiciary Committee, the bill won unanimous approval by the committee’s members, beating out a less stringent bill from the House Intelligence Committee. This news comes on the heels of an announcement that the German parliament will hear testimony directly from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to stop the move, opposition parties have pushed-back forcefully in their effort to hear from Snowden. RT’s Lindsay France has more details on these NSA related developments.

‘We are to see severe destruction of Western economic system’

‘We are to see severe destruction of Western economic system’

With $1.7 quadrillion debt and the present bailout policy that will inflate prices, we’ll see the West collapsing while China and Russia will not be responsible for it or able to help, Lawrence Freeman from Executive Intelligence Review Magazine told RT.

RT: The EU and the US are once again considering sanctions against Russia over mass protests in eastern Ukraine. Can Europe and the States actually afford to lose billions of dollars worth of contracts with Russia?

Lawrence Freeman: No, in fact the real victim is going to be the American and the European people because the Western financial system based in the city of London and Wall Street is going through a bailing, collapse, bankruptcy, and therefore the conditions in the West are horrible and will get far worse as a result of these kinds of economic policies imposed on Russia.

RT: If Europe and America freeze trade with Russia, Moscow will likely just turn to its biggest trading partner, China. Who’s going to win in such a scenario?

LF: I think I would look at it a bit more strategically. There is actually an alliance – very deep alliance – between Russia and China, together with India, South Korea to actually go forward with economic development and especially space exploration, nuclear energy and high-speed rail infrastructure. This alliance, which Russia and China are the leaders of, is what is terrifying the Western countries, which is driving this confrontation, which could go all the way to the thermo-nuclear war because the Western system is collapsing and accelerate rate in Russia-China alliance with others is moving forward in a completely different direction.

So really Russia and China will form greater ties and cooperation. You’ll see this with a visit of Lavrov to Beijing on Wednesday and President Putin next month.

RT: How much will China benefit from this, considering that all the sides will be forced to step up their co-operation Beijing?

LF: I don’t look at this in that way. If you look at the remarks that President Obama has made concerning China and the recent visit of Secretary of Defense Hagel through the China Pivot policy, they are beginning to make the same threats against China that they are making against Russia and in fact the State Department for Asia, a fellow by the name of Daniel Russel, threatens China to not try a Crimea by allegedly taking over territory in the China Sea.

China is under the gun and under attack as well because the Western economies are going to collapse. China is not, Russia is not. The amount of debt $1,7 quadrillion in derivative gambling debt cannot be sustained in the present bailing policy, it is going to inflame prices massively, we are going to see a very severe destruction of the Western system. China and Russia are not going to be responsible for that, nor can they save the West from that.

RT: Experts predict China will become the world’s biggest economy in just over a decade. Do you think what’s happening in Ukraine and similar situations will bring it about?

LF: Well, certainly. If fact you have these comments from the official Dmitry Rogozin who said, “Look, the 21st century is going to revolve round Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and India. This is going to be the pivot for the future of the 21st century.” And that is going to take place. But the problem is that the Western financial system, the British financial empire, doesn’t want to give up its power, it doesn’t want to allow this other political bloc control the planet. That is why they are committed to go to war to prevent Russia and China and others from moving for real economic development and prosperity on the planet, but their system is in a state of collapse.

That’s the friction that is leading to this confrontation in Ukraine. It is not Ukraine, that is not even Russia, it’s breaking the back of this commitment by Russia and China for economic development while the West is collapsing.

‘Try not paying your gas bill for just 3 months, see what happens’

'Try not paying your gas bill for just 3 months, see what happens'

Russia has to stop gas subsidies to Ukraine as it cannot keep supporting the bankrupt anti-Russian regime in Kiev, energy asset manager Eric Kraus told RT, adding that it will be the EU’s problem if Ukraine eventually starts stealing their transit gas.

RT: Ukraine says it wants heavily discounted gas from Russia. Does it have grounds to ask for that?

Eric Kraus: I think it is fairly absurd considering that you have a strongly anti-Russian regime which has been brought into place by the Europeans and by the Americans in Kiev. You can’t really ask the Russians to fund this regime, can you?

RT: On the other hand, Russia has doubled prices in the span of just a few months, perhaps some calling that too harsh?

EK: It is harsh, but basically what they did is not double prices. What they did is they removed subsidies.

Russia has been very heavily subsidizing Ukraine, since Ukraine became independent, because they needed a friendly, at least a neutral state at their border. Now if Ukraine wants to align itself with NATO and basically anti-Russian countries, then they are going to have to pay their own way.

RT: The US says Russia’s blackmailing Ukraine and Europe and says Moscow should not use gas as a political weapon. And president Putin reacted to the statements joking, it is bad to read other people’s correspondence. What is your reaction?

EK: First of all for the Americans to accuse anyone of using economic blackmail is a major case of the pot calling the kettle black. They have been threatening illegal sanctions against Russia for weeks. So, who is using the blackmail here? And secondly, yes, the letter was not addressed to the American president.

RT: Ukraine hasn’t paid for gas in three months. What are Russia’s options now?

EK: Try not paying your gas bill for three months and then see what happens. Basically at some point Russia says it sells gas for money and at some point if the client does not pay, they have to close it off.

The problem is then, the danger is that Ukraine will start siphoning off the Russian gas which is being provided to Europe. And the Europeans brought this upon themselves. It is a European problem. They’re going to have to solve it. They can simply pay for Ukraine’s gas if they wish.

RT: There have been reports that several petroleum companies have allegedly discovered a mother lode of shale gas in Western Ukraine, near the European border. What kind of implications could that bring to the table?

EK: We have been hearing about the Ukrainian shale gas for a long time. All of the attempts to produce thus far have been failures, as has been the case for Polish shale gas. The geology is somewhat different. I don’t know if this time it is for real, but it will have major implications for the European, at least for Ukrainian gas supply. But I would be very skeptical until we see this confirmed.

RT: Who do you think is to blame at the end of the day for the crisis in Ukraine?

EK: I think it has started as a democratic movement against particularly corrupt and incompetent president who was never Mr. Putin’s choice by the way. Mr. Putin never liked Yanukovich.

Unfortunately as the revolutionary movement progressed, it was replaced by a vanguard of neo-fascists of far right wing parties which then took power by violence ,and are now complaining of eastern Ukrainians seeking to take power by that same violence.

The problem has been that the Europeans and the Americans have been attempting to use this. They are not concerned with the interests of the Ukrainian people. There is a game of power politics here and they are trying to push Russia into a corner and Ukraine provides convenient means of doing so.

Supporters gather to defend Bundy ranch in Nevada, FAA enacts no-fly zone

Supporters gather to defend Bundy ranch in Nevada, FAA enacts no-fly zone

Posted on April 12, 2014 by

An intense showdown in the state of Nevada between a family of ranchers and federal agents continues to escalate after a longstanding land dispute two decades in the making came to a head earlier this month.

As RT reported earlier this week, hundreds of armed agents with the United States Bureau of Land Management and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have descended on the Clark County, Nevada ranch of 67-year-old Cliven Bundy to execute the court-ordered confiscation of nearly 1,000 cattle, according to his family, which the US government says have trespassed on federal property.

The Washington Free Beacon newspaper reported on Monday this week that 234 of the 908 cattle had been wrangled up by government agents and their contractors, and news of the dispute has since further propelled the story into the national spotlight.

According to a notice posted by the Federal Aviation Administration a no-fly zone was enacted for a 3-square-mile area around the site of the Bundy’s ranch. That advisory would remain in effect from April 11 until May 11.

Local cowboys have retrieved some of the confiscated cattle according to several reports, and supporters of the Bundy ranch from around the region have flocked to Nevada to stand by their side.

Since the Beacon first reported on the standoff earlier this week, tensions have only worsened in Clark County. Video emerged online on Wednesday of the rancher’s son, Ammon Bundy, bloodied after being shocked by an electric Taser used by authorities, and Desert News reported that, according to Cliven Bundy, his own sister was knocked to the ground by officials moments before cameras began to roll.

One witness, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, told reporters that “Serious bloodshed was narrowly avoided” as a pregnant woman was also roughed up during the ordeal.

“We never did have any hand-to-hand combat this morning or up to this time,” Mr. Bundy told the newspaper on Thursday afternoon. “But there’s like 200 armed military people on my ranch. That’s pretty bad to have that much armed force against American people.”

Signs sit at the entrance of a ranch protesting against the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to temporarily close access to thousands of acres of BLM land to round up illegal cattle that are grazing, south of Mesquite, Nevada, April 7, 2014. (Reuters / George Frey)

Signs sit at the entrance of a ranch protesting against the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to temporarily close access to thousands of acres of BLM land to round up illegal cattle that are grazing, south of Mesquite, Nevada, April 7, 2014. (Reuters / George Frey)

Countering those personnel are supporters of the Bundy ranch who say the family must be protected from a tyrannical government.

“We need to be the barrier between the oppressed and the tyrants,” Ryan Payne told the Review-Journal. “Expect to see a band of soldiers.”

Payne and other supporters drove from as far away as 12 hours outside of Clark County to come stand by the ranchers’ side, the paper reported, and have received the blessing of well-organized militias from within the region. Payne, a member of the West Mountain Rangers, is also the coordinator of what he described to the paper as being a national association composed of state militias.

Several US senators and the state of Nevada this week also criticized what has been called the result of an “overreaching” agency acting overzealously, but federal officials say the rancher’s cattle are simply not allowed to roam on the disputed land, which the government insists is federal property. According to the BLM, Bundy owes around $1 million in fees that he’s incurred since 1993 when he lost his grazing permit for the chunk of land that had been in his family since the 1870s.

“I would pay my grazing fees to the proper government, which I would say is Clark County, Nevada,” he added to the Desert News on Thursday.

“I don’t believe I owe one penny to the United States government,” Bundy said. “I don’t have a contract with the United States government.”

That same day, Bundy’s son Ammon told reporter David Knight that a group of around 20 cowboys had entered the disputed land and quickly retrieved roughly 30 cattle before the federal officials could respond.

“We gathered about 30 head,” he said. “We did have a small confrontation with them, but they didn’t have the forces to do a whole lot. They couldn’t mobilize fast enough and we were able to gather those cattle and get them to the ranch.”

Amy Leuders, the director of the BLM’s Nevada office, told reporters on Thursday that authorities have been moving in only as a “last resort” resulting from 20 years of Bundy’s noncompliance with regards to paying grazing fees.

According to Leuders, cattle caught trespassing on the federal land will be sold at auction.

Obama administration wins Jefferson Muzzle award for restricting free press

Obama administration wins Jefferson Muzzle award for restricting free press

The United States Department of Justice and the White House Press Office are this year’s top winners of a dubious award extended to those considered to be “responsible for some of the more egregious or ridiculous affronts to First Amendment principles.”

On Wednesday this week, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression announced that the US Justice Dept. had topped this year’s list of “Jefferson Muzzle” recipients, an award handed out every April since 1992 “as a means to draw national attention to abridgments of free speech and press and, at the same time, foster an appreciation for those tenets of the First Amendment.”

The White House Press Office was listed in the second slot among this year’s “winners,” trailed immediately by a third-place tie between the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

It isn’t unusual for the free-speech loving organization named in honor of the third president of the US to condemn federal agencies for infringing on the constitutional rights of American citizens, but the Obama administration swept this year’s honors, undoubtedly lending further credence to allegations that the White House has ravaged First Amendment-protected freedoms by interfering and attempting to influence even the most venerable mainstream press outlets in the country.

According to the Jefferson Center, first place honors this year were awarded to the Justice Dept. due to the Obama administration’s relentless aggressive pursuit of individuals alleged to have leaked government information, while the press office’s routine shunning of journalists from official functions in exchange for regularly relying on a private White House photographer earned that department second place standing. The NSA and DHS were selected not as a result of any new infringing policies put in place by those offices, however, but rather because they went after Americans who parodied the official government seals of either department.

Elsewhere on this year’s list of winners are the North Carolina General Assembly Police and the Kansas Board of Regents rounding out the top five, followed by Modesty Junior College, the Tennessee State Legislature and the principals of schools in Florida and New Jersey.

“From the White House to the statehouse, from universities to high schools, members of the press have had to defend against a variety of challenges, some never seen before,” Jefferson Center Director Josh Wheeler said in a statement this week.

Indeed, the Obama White House in particular has been accused in recent years of treating the press in a manner unheard of since the administration of Richard Nixon — an allegation that would seem overblown had it not been made by the likes of the internationally renowned Committee to Protect Journalists and some of the country’s most well respected reporters.

“I think we have a real problem,” New York Times national security reporter Shane Scott told the CPJ for their report on eroding press freedoms in the US last October. The administration’s prosecution and persecution of leakers was having a real “deterrent effect,” Shane acknowledged, adding, “If we consider aggressive press coverage of government activities being at the core of American democracy, this tips the balance heavily in favor of the government.”

Six months later, the Jefferson Center agrees and has put the White House’s war on leakers and the journalists accused of “aiding and abetting” them at the top of this year’s list.

“The government surely has a legitimate interest in identifying those disclosing such information,” the center said in an explanation included in this week’s report. “Yet if the press is to fulfill its role as a government watchdog and report what it sees to the public at large, it has to be able to assure its sources of confidentiality.”

Imperative as it may be, doing as much has been made harder than ever due largely to the administration’s targeting of leakers: WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning was sentenced last summer to 35-years in prison for disclosing state secrets, and Edward Snowden — the former intelligence contractor who last year began to supply journalists with classified documents pilfered from the NSA — is wanted for espionage in America and has spent nearly the last year in Russia as a result.

And though these instances are few and far between, the severity of these prosecutions and similar investigations into outlets like Fox News and the Associated Press waged by the Obama administration to narrow in on leakers has been credited with creating a chilling effect that is allowing for the government to essentially scare sources and reporters from covering certain topics, lest they wish to risk a federal prison sentence: former Central Intelligence Analyst John Kiriakou is currently serving time at a correctional facility in Pennsylvania for confirming the name of a colleague to an established reporter, and last month State Department advisor Stephen Kim was sent behind bars for having shared secrets with a Fox Reporter — which, in turn, led to the Justice Department seeking in secret that journalist’s private emails. In that instance, the Washington Post wrote recently, “court documents in the Kim case reveal how deeply investigators explored the private communications of a working journalist.”

But when the government hasn’t been hounding journalists for speaking to sources, it’s been influencing the way the world sees its news to a certain degree. The White House Press Office, the Jefferson Center wrote, was also awarded a Muzzle award this year because the administration has “dramatically limited” access to the president for photojournalists, instead compelling a government cameraman to create the images dispersed worldwide by the White House to narrate the administration’s otherwise-often-secret inner workings.

“The White House counters that it has released more images of the President at work than any previous administration. While that may be true, the journalistic value of such photographs is a product of their content, not quantity,” the center said. “For systematically rejecting independent journalistic access in favor of its own sanitized visual record, the White House Press Office has earned a 2014 Jefferson Muzzle.”

Tied at third-place, the NSA and DHS were both deemed Muzzle-worthy by the Jefferson Center for spending three ears pursuing an American citizen who designed parodies of those agencies logos, including one which touted the “US Department of Homeland Stupidity.”

The Obama administration was last awarded a Jefferson Muzzle in 2011 for what the center described then as restricting media access to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a year prior.

“Since 1992, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression has celebrated the birth and ideals of its namesake by calling attention to those who in the past year forgot or disregarded Mr. Jefferson’s admonition that freedom of speech ‘cannot be limited without being lost,’” the organization says on its website.

Previously, President George H.W. Bush, the administration of Pres. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and key members of his cabinet were awarded Muzzles.