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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Will blame game keep West and Russia apart at Ukraine talks? (+video)

Will  blame game keep West and Russia apart at Ukraine talks? (+video)

Talks on Ukraine start tomorrow in Geneva. The US and EU have cited Russian agitation as the source of the unrest, but Moscow says the West has misjudged matters from the start.

Temp Headline Image
Ukrainian servicemen look at a Ukrainian military jet fly above them while they sit on top of armored personnel carriers in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on Wednesday. Ukrainian government forces and separatist pro-Russian militia staged rival shows of force in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday amid escalating rhetoric on the eve of crucial four-power talks in Geneva on the former Soviet country's future.
(Maks Levin/Reuters)

By Correspondent / April 16, 2014 at 5:11 pm EDT


When Russia's foreign minister meets tomorrow in Geneva with his counterparts from the European Union, Ukraine, and the United States, he can expect a long critique of how the Kremlin is to blame for the crisis in Ukraine's restive east.

From the West's point of view, Russia, having exploited disorder in Kiev to annex Crimea in a lightning military-backed operation, is now promoting unrest around eastern Ukraine with the possible intent of annexing those territories as well. US officials claim Russian instigation is the major factor behind the recent seizures of administrative and police buildings across the Donbass region. Both Kiev and Washington have claimed that Russian special forces are probably spearheading the occupations, just as they did last month in Crimea.

But the West has also played a role in inflaming unrest by consistently erring in its understanding of and response to events in Ukraine, Kremlin-connected experts say. They add, however, that a peaceful solution may still be possible – and any annexation ruled out – through reforms in Ukraine that devolve powers to the eastern regions and enshrine a permanent non-aligned status in the Constitution.

The view from the East

According to the Russian narrative, Washington and Brussels first went wrong by greatly overestimating the popular support and democratic credentials of the "Maidan" opposition forces that took power in Kiev in a street-backed revolt in February. And Western leaders doubled down on that mistake by rushing to support the legally dubious interim government, even though it virtually lacked representation from the country's east.

Next, Russian analysts say, the West underestimated the depth of alienation in the east once Ukraine's unelected government started making controversial decisions. Kiev's signature on an EU association agreement – which the legal government of Viktor Yanukovych had backed away from – and its acceptance of tough financial terms from the International Monetary Fund have sweeping economic and political implications for the entire country, but the east's concerns were ignored.

Moscow' also says that the US in particular erred by giving its backing to Kiev's efforts to subdue resistance in eastern Ukraine with military force – even though Western leaders had strongly warned Mr. Yanokovych's regime not to use police force against the Maidan protesters earlier in the crisis.

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"The West insists on blaming Russia for all of this, yet they might have taken a more sensible position at any time and reined in those Ukrainian authorities," says Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected analyst who's spent much of the past two months advising pro-Russia forces in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. "Things could have taken a very different path if the West had just seen the situation with clear eyes."

Agents on the ground?

Of key concern for the West is Russia's alleged direct involvement in Ukraine's east, both in the form of agents on the ground and the 40,000-plus Russian troops that NATO has repeatedly saidare poised near Ukraine's borders. The US, EU, and Ukraine seem almost certain to come to Geneva arguing that Moscow needs to defuse the situation by pulling out its forces, both overt and covert.

Some leading Russian experts are surprisingly candid about the likely involvement of Russian secret services in Ukraine, given that the Kremlinstaunchly denies it. But, most add, Crimea was a special case, and Moscow's goals in eastern Ukraine are to ensure rights and local self-government for the Russian-speaking population there, not to incorporate those lands into Russia.

"As to Russian special services involvement [in eastern Ukraine], it would be silly to deny it. What did you expect? This is Russia's backyard, and these are our people. Do you think they would be left without support?" says Viktor Baranets, a former Defense Ministry spokesman and military expert with the Moscow daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Mr. Baranets claims Russia has evidence that US contract soldiers have been advising Ukraine's government forces, using the cover of a private company, Greystone,according to Russian media reports. He adds that CIA director John Brennan's weekend visit to Kiev, which he unsuccessfully tried to keep secret, was part of a wider US effort to aid Kiev in putting out the fires of rebellion in the east.

'The only way out is through negotiations'

Most experts say that Moscow's endgame is probably to force a solution on Ukraine that will involve permanent non-aligned status, Russian as the second official language, and an as-yet unclear process of decentralizing power to weaken Kiev's authority.

Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a leading Moscow think tank, says Russian agitators by themselves couldn't possibly have brought large numbers of eastern Ukrainians into the streets, or prompted Ukrainian troops to defect from their units.

"The main problem is that the new authorities in Kiev imagined that they could unilaterally reshape economic realities in eastern Ukraine without taking into account the interests of powerful groups there, especially in Donetsk," he says.

Former President Yanukovych hails from Donetsk, which has about 10 percent of Ukraine's population and a larger percentage of its raw materials and heavy industry. Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man and a long-time associate of Yanukovych who owns a good deal of eastern Ukraine's industry, has been positioning himself as a "mediator" between the protesters and Kiev, but experts say he is surely fighting hard behind the scenes to save his business empire.

"Russia understands Ukraine. Russian intelligence knows the situation on the ground in Donetsk and these other regions, and it knows how to step in and work with the people there," Mr. Lukyanov adds. "Not only the West, but these authorities in Kiev do not possess such deep knowledge."

But Moscow also knows there is no majority support in these regions for joining Russia.

"There are some who support breaking away from Ukraine, but even among the activists they are a minority," says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Kremlin-funded Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow.

"Many support the idea of federalization, they want more autonomy, and they display Russian flags as symbols of protest against Kiev. This is well understood in Moscow, and there are no plans" to repeat the Crimea scenario, he says. "The only way out of this is through negotiations, and the Russian side fully expects that there can be compromises reached in Geneva tomorrow that will lead to real relaxation of the tensions in Ukraine."

Ukraine deserves support

Ukraine deserves support

A woman, wearing a traditional Ukrainian wreath of flowers on her head, holds up a sign with President Vladimir Putin’s picture and the words: “Stop lying!” during a rally against pro-Putin media in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, April 13, 2014. More than 10,000 people have turned out in Moscow for an anti-Kremlin rally to denounce Russian state television’s news coverage, particularly of the crisis in neighboring Ukraine. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Olexander Motsyk is Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States.

After the anschluss of Crimea, the Kremlin proceeded to the second stage of its war on Ukraine by starting a covertoperation in our eastern regions.

Russia is sticking to the same routine as in Crimea. First,deploying professional militaryand mercenaries on Ukrainian territory. Second, paying local radicals and criminals to pose as “pro-Russian forces.” Third, trying to make the turmoil its forces are fomenting look organic. But recent events don’t look natural at all. Unlike the Euromaidan protests that started in Kiev last fall, this is not a domestic uprising but full-blown foreign aggression against Ukraine.

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Special operations forces are being deployed in Ukraine. These people are not Ukrainians. These are professional Russian mercenaries waging a war on Ukrainian territory. Some of their faces have been recognized from Crimea. Some are familiar from Georgia, when that country was invaded in 2008. Saboteurs with Russian citizenship are being apprehended throughout Ukraine. Along with intercepted radio traffic and other information, these developments confirm that these are foreigners, invaders.

Ukraine is fighting back. It cannot allow the Russian-equipped, Russian-paid and Russian-deployed special-ops units to spread fear among Ukrainians. The population in eastern Ukraine is scared of strangers in green uniforms ruining their daily lives. Stopping those forces and protecting our own people is the direct obligation of Ukraine’s government. And in doing so, we are entitled to count on global support.

Russia thinks it has found a foolproof way to conduct a war: not calling actions by their name and flatly denying the truth. But a lie is a lie and aggression is aggression — no matter what Russia calls it or how much smoke is blown by the Russian propaganda machine. The world must see the truth. The evidence is all over the place.

On Sunday, Russia called a U.N. Security Council meetingto “express concern” about the situation created by the Russians themselves. Remarkably, Russia didn’t call any Security Council meetings when thousands were killed in Chechnya. But this time around, it claims to be “concerned.” Well, if that’s true, three simple steps would solve the problem: One, Russia should stop fomenting unrest and all of the other activity it has been waging in Ukraine the past two months. Two, immediately start a settlement process. Three, return to the boundaries of international law.

Report: FBI Visiting Gun Shops to Investigate “People Talking About Big Government”

Report: FBI Visiting Gun Shops to Investigate “People Talking About Big Government”

“If you see some Middle Eastern guy come in, you don’t have to be so worried about that”

Paul Joseph Watson
April 16, 2014

Image: FBI Flyer.

FBI counterterrorism agents are visiting gun shops in South Carolina to investigate “suspicious purchases” made by people who talk about “big government,” according to a new report.

Author Brandon Turbeville says he was approached by an individual who works in a Columbia, South Carolina gun shop to relate the story of how an FBI agent entered the store on Monday, showed his credentials, before proceeding to ask a series of stunning questions.

Telling the gun store worker he was tasked with visiting all the firearms outlets in the local area to check on “suspicious purchases” for counterterrorism purposes, the agent then began discussing what in actual fact were “completely normal transactions,” such as, “paying with cash, purchasing long guns, and other similarly innocuous behavior.”

The FBI agent then reportedly made a shocking remark that almost seems too chilling to believe.

“If you see some Middle Eastern guy come in, you don’t have to be so worried about that. What we’re really looking for are people talking about being sovereign such as sovereign citizens or people talking about big government,” the agent reportedly stated.

Before the agent left the store, he handed the employee a flyer which lists paying with cash, buying in bulk, along with other seemingly innocuous behavior as suspicious activity.

While there’s little chance of verifying the story since the FBI would almost certainly deny the claim, the notion of FBI agents charactering innocuous activity as a potential indication of terrorism is firmly established in the federal agency’s own literature and training procedures.

The FBI has also repeatedly labeled those who identify as “sovereign citizens” to be domestic terrorists.

In 2012, we reported on how the FBI’s Communities Against Terrorism (CAT) program was instructing businesses that banal activities conducted by millions of Americans on a daily basis were potential indications of terrorist activity.

Flyers for the program being handed out to businesses such as Internet cafes even listed paying for a cup of coffee with cash as a suspicious activity.

A flyer aimed at Military Surplus stores also encourages owners to report people who “make bulk purchases of items to include….meals ready to eat”.

In total, there are 25 different CAT flyers aimed at businesses from across the spectrum – everything from hobby shops to tattoo parlors.

The flyer pictured above which was reportedly handed to the gun store worker by the FBI agent contains very similar language to that used in flyers produced for the FBI’s Communities Against Terrorism program.

Krauthammer Offers Obama Free Advice - Fox Nation

Krauthammer Offers Obama Free Advice - Fox Nation

Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer offered practical steps the United States could take to address the Ukrainian crisis Tuesday on Fox News.
Host Bret Baier asked Krauthammer what he would do if he were president.
“The answer is what is so obvious,” he said.
“You immediately fly in major supplies of light weaponry and defensive weaponry, anti-tank, anti-aircraft, so you begin to arm the Ukrainians, so when Putin makes a calculation, he understands there will never be any NATO troops in Ukraine to oppose him but now he has to think that if there is this unrest and there is some resistance in the east, it will be armed resistance. That is so obvious it’s almost unspeakably obvious. The second is to reassure the neighbors, and you don’t do it with a trip here and there by a Biden or a Secretary of Defense. What you do is you forward deploy NATO troops into places like the Baltics or into Poland. We had an understanding at the end of the Cold War we wouldn’t do that because that would provoke the Russians. The response is to say you broke the understanding of the end of the Cold War, and now we’re going to have NATO troops on your frontier. That’s a way to send a message that means something and is not just hot air.”

Federal court upholds EPA rule retiring coal plants | The Daily Caller

Federal court upholds EPA rule retiring coal plants | The Daily Caller

A federal court has upheld an Environmental Protection Agency mercury emissions rule responsible for forcing hundreds of coal-fired power plants to retire across the country.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. upheld the EPA’s Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for coal and oil-fired power plants. The rule limits emissions of mercury and other air pollutants from such power plants, and the court victory has been hailed by environmentalists as a victory for public health.
“Today’s legal victory is another giant step forward on the road to cleaner, healthier air,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “The court recognized that mercury and other dangerous air toxins from coal-fired power plants are a threat to public health, and that we should all be protected from them.”
The EPA says MATS would prevent 11,000 early deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks annually. The agency says that the rule would cost $10.2 billion annually, making it one of the most expensive agency regulations to date.
“These practical and cost-effective standards will save thousands of lives each year, prevent heart and asthma attacks, while slashing emissions of the neurotoxin mercury, which can impair children’s ability to learn,” the EPA said in a statement on Tuesday.
But the coal industry argues that the rule is anything but cost-effective as MATS has played a role in shutting down about 300 coal plants across the country.
“We are disappointed that the D.C. Circuit Court reaffirmed EPA’s overreaching ways by upholding the MATS rule, which EPA estimated to be one of the most expensive regulations ever put forward,” said said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).
“Unfortunately tough news like today’s ruling is nothing new to our industry” Sheehan added. “If anything, the ruling bolsters our resolve to continue pushing back against EPA overreach and protecting American consumers, who are ultimately paying the price for this costly rule.”

Read more:

Today, Former HHS Secretary Sibelius was observed heading home to Kansas!

IRS considers taxing ‘work perks’

IRS considers taxing ‘work perks’

By John Haywardon Wed, 16 Apr 2014

I’m sure many Americans spent Tax Day thinking, “You know what?  We’re just not taxed enough, in enough different ways, and there isn’t nearly enough paperwork to fill out.  Isn’t there some way we could be required to fill out another dozen tax forms every year, providing countless new opportunities for us to make small mistakes that could get us in big trouble?”

Why, yes, there is!  According to Fox News, the IRS is thinking about taxing the perks many employees receive at work, treating them as a form of income.  (Yes, the IRS gets to decide what taxes Americans pay.  It’s in one of the penumbras of the Constitution, I think.)

In competitive job markets like Silicon Valley, companies are doing everything they can to entice the best and brightest — offering freebies that have become the stuff of legend.

Employee perks like free food at lavish cafeterias, laundry and even yoga are not unheard of.

But the taxman could soon crack down.

The IRS reportedly is looking at these perks and seeing if these companies need to start paying up for the free stuff they offer employees.

David Gamage, a tax expert and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said it would really boil down to who benefits from these perks.

“To what extent is this intended as a perk, a form of compensation, for the benefit of the employee, or to what extent is this just another way the employer gets the employee to work harder and longer and do things for the benefit of the employer?” he said.

If it’s the latter, then it’s harder for the IRS to tax it.

Sounds like the kind of endless argument that would consume millions of hours of our time, and I for one can think of no better use for the energies of American business than filling out stacks of paperwork to determine whether each gift of free bagels and coffee from the boss qualifies as taxable income, or non-taxable productivity fuel.  Also, I was just thinking that America doesn’t have nearly enough tax lawyers and compliance bureaucrats.  The Work Perk tax regime would fix that problem in a jiffy!

There are already some tax rules governing fringe benefits, so the new IRS initiative sounds more like a crackdown than a completely new set of rules.  Crackdowns require enforcers, and prosecutions.  Can’t wait for the first CEO to spend a month in court arguing that his Taco Tuesday program shouldn’t have been taxable, or that he just plain forgot to fill out the necessary forms.  Sounds like it could be an exciting new weapon for the Republic of Paperwork to deploy against the private sector it despises.  I’m sure it will all be administered impartially, without a smidgen of corruption.

“Even if the IRS does crack down on this perk, the high-tech lunch isn’t likely to completely disappear,” the Fox report concludes.  ”Legal experts suspect most companies will probably just report it as ‘taxable income’ to employees and then pay them more in salary to cover the cost.”

That’s an awfully rosy prediction.  It’s more likely that workplace perks will simply disappear, no matter the cost to productivity.  They could become services the employees have to pay for individually, and I wouldn’t bet on many businesses outside of the highly competitive tech sector paying them more to compensate for the loss of free fringe benefits.  The power to tax is the power to destroy.