Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Los Angeles Times on Putin's Winter Games (and Russia): "Russia is not ready to claim it is a modern state"

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi have begun:

Journalists and travelers to the Games have been sending stories, photos and tweets about new hotels that are open for business only in the sense that they will take your money. Muddy construction sites surround the unfinished lodgings. Front desks are unmanned. Doorknobs are missing. Light bulbs are scarce. Water from faucets comes out brown and with warnings to avoid using it for drinking or washing. Toilets can’t flush away toilet paper. Furnishings are so spare and stark they make a Motel 6 look like the Ritz. 
Poverty cannot be an excuse for this. Russia has set a record for spending on an Olympics. The Vancouver games four years ago cost Canada $7.4 billion. By the time it is all over, the Sochi Games are expected to cost nearly 10 times that amount. Of course, the Canadians mounted their games in a big city with a well-established, world-class ski resort nearby. The modest Black Sea town of Sochi had to be transformed into a venue for winter sports, something few people would have dreamed of doing, given the area’s temperate climate and swaying palm trees along the beach.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin dreamed it and then willed it into being. Probably no leader since Adolf Hitler has invested so much of his own prestige in an Olympics. Putin has overseen every detail, down to attending the rehearsals for the opening night extravaganza. These Games are meant to be proof that Putin has restored the largest country in the world to equal status with other great powers.---

The huge price of the Sochi Olympics is clear evidence that, just as the hotels really are not ready for guests, Russia is not ready to claim it is a modern state. Like a Mafia don, Putin may long for respectability, but the truth is, he merely sits atop a cabal of racketeers who want nothing more than to get rich at the expense of Mother Russia.

Spot on description by the Los Angeles Times!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Nobody should be surprised if the NSA targeted Putin beneficiary Gerhard Schröder's mobile phone

Two close friends.

German media report that the NSA may have monitored former German socialist leader Gerhard Schröder, when he was chancellor:

On Tuesday night, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and NDR reported that Schröder had appeared on the so-called National Sigint Requirement List, a list of people and institutions named for targetting by the intelligence agency whose telephone communications should be monitored. Schröder was reportedly assigned the number "388" in 2002, if not sooner.

The reports cite unnamed US government and NSA insider sources claiming that Schröder was declared a target for monitoring because of his critical position on US preparations for a war in Iraq. A person with knowledge of the action is quoted as saying that the US had reason to believe that Schröder would not help lead the alliance toward success.

If we consider Schröder's close personal relationship with the probably most corrupt dictator of our time, Vladimir Putin, it would have been a serious dereliction of duty NOT to target Schröder's mobile phone.

China should free Christian lawyer, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Gao Zhisheng

China should free the Christian lawyer, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Gao Zhisheng, who was kidnapped and imprisoned five years ago:

As China celebrates its New Year, a Christian human rights lawyer who has been kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured faces the fifth anniversary of his disappearance on February 4, 2009.
On that day, Gao Zhisheng, twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for defending the persecuted, was snatched by a dozen police officers from his apartment. He has publicly accused the authorities of brutally torturing him behind bars.
Little more than a week ago, on January 26, China sentenced another prominent human rights lawyer, Xu Zhiyong, to four years in prison. Christian lawyers have also come under surveillance.
More than a year has passed since Gao Zhisheng’s family were allowed to contact him at the prison in Xinjiang, despite repeatedly begging for permission to see him. On his last visit, Gao’s elder brother was forbidden from asking about conditions at the prison. He said he was worried about Gao’s health and described him as emaciated, with a sore on his face.
‘Release partners are worried that Gao’s health will deteriorate if he remains in the custody of the Chinese Government,’ says Colin King, the UK director of Release International, which serves the persecuted church. ‘Release is urging China to set him free and allow him to return to his family.’
49-year-old Gao Zhisheng has vigorously defended the rights of persecuted Christians, religious minorities and the poor. The authorities shut down his Beijing law firm after he wrote three open letters to China’s leaders, calling for an end to the persecution of the Falun Gong.
The authorities revoked his licence and found Gao guilty of ‘inciting to subvert the state power’. The lawyer later described in detail how he had been tortured under interrogation.
On February 4, 2009, he was again arrested at his home in front of his family and taken away.
At the end of 2011 he was sent to Shaya Prison in Xinjiang to serve out an earlier three-year sentence. There has been no news of Gao Zhisheng for more than a year.


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

EU Home Affairs Commissioner: Corruption in the European Union "breathtaking"

The European Commission has for the first time published a report on corruption in the EU member countries. The result is not flattering. Corruption is estimated to cost the EU economy 120 billion euros ($162.19 billion) annually - the size of the EU's annual budget. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, who presented the report, said the extent of corruption in Europe is "breathtaking":

She said the true cost of corruption was "probably much higher" than 120bn.

Three-quarters of Europeans surveyed for the Commission study said that corruption was widespread, and more than half said the level had increased.

"The extent of the problem in Europe is breathtaking, although Sweden is among the countries with the least problems," Ms Malmstroem wrote in Sweden's Goeteborgs-Posten daily.

The cost to the EU economy is equivalent to the bloc's annual budget.

For the report the Commission studied corruption in all 28 EU member states. The Commission says it is the first time it has done such a survey.

What is interesting is that the report did not include a chapter assessing corruption within the EU Commission and other EU institutions. There were plans to include such a chapter, but - surprise, surprise - they were dropped!

No wonder then that European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly demanded in a statement, that the EU institutions should be included in the next corruption report. However, it is highly unlikely that the overpaid eurocrats in Brussels will agree.