Russian Premier Vladimir Putin offered an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday. About Syria.
RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.
Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.
The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.
No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy inSyria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.
Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.
From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.
No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”
But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.
No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.
The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.
We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.
A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.
I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.
If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
One problem with conspiracy theories is that when there really is a conspiracy the people who are conspiring don't want the general public to know. And if it's an organization that has its tendrils into the media, it will do its best to discourage pursuit of the truth, sometimes by floating other conspiracy theories.
The whole idea of our government doing something as dreadful as somehow being behind the Boston Marathon massacre is pretty hard to swallow. I realize that when politics is involved people on different sides of the fences are willing to believe the worst about the characters on the other side. And that's encouraged by the principals.
As long as people spend their days hating on Obama, or (as I have) the Bushes, you never see the big picture, and the big picture is much different than what people generally see.
So let's scroll back to right back after the brothers were identified. There was the mother who doesn't believe her sons would do such a thing, although it turns out that she's got an indictment for shoplifting hanging over her head. Then there's the uncle who seems to be the only sane one in the family.
I mention this because sometimes the most obvious stories that float around immediately after a crime like this bombing is that the story that we got may just be what we were intended to get. After 9/11 there were all sorts of conspiracy theories. There was one that suggested that the Israelis did it, which is very believable for anti-Semites. There was also plenty of evidence pointing to Saudi Arabia.
What "the tell" about 9/11 was for me was Huffman Aviation. While Mohammed Atta and a friend there were matriculating in how to fly airliners into buildings one of Huffman's jets, the size a businessman would fly, was busted in Orlando with 43 pounds of heroin. But no one was prosecuted. Not the pilot, not the owner. No one.
Who can get caught moving 43 pounds of heroin into the US and not even get a lousy indictment over it? Well, if you've lived in the US through the last half century and you can't point your finger towards Langley, Virginia, then you aren't trying. So if the drug smugglers have friends in high places, what were the two terrorists doing there?
The tell for the Boston Marathon bombing is Uncle Ruslan, you know, the only good one in that Chechen family. Ruslan, who so vehemently called his nephews losers, I think the term was, is apparently a winner in this game.
Police in northeast India say they believe workers on a tea plantation who bludgeoned their boss and his wife to death last month also ate parts of their bodies.
A crowd of 1000 workers at the privately-owned M.K.B. Tea Estate in the state of Assam surrounded the plantation owner’s bungalow last week. A mob then set it on fire in violence blamed on festering labour unrest in the region.
“Our investigations say that at least five plantation workers ate the flesh of the tea planter and his wife after they were brutally killed,” Numol Mahatao, deputy police chief of Tinsukia district, told journalists.
“We suspect that about 15 people were actually involved in the crime although there were some 1000 present there at the spot,” the police official said. “We have identified all the masterminds and nine are in our custody so far.”
Mr Mahatao said the reports of cannibalism were based on a confession from one of the workers present during the attack.
Tea workers are notoriously badly paid and often housed in poor accommodation in remote areas. They have few protections from police and cannot take advantage of laws designed to guarantee them health care and fair working conditions, rights groups say.
The Indian Express newspaper said the violence was sparked by orders from the boss for 10 estate workers to vacate their quarters and by the detention of three employees by police over unspecified disputes.
“We are investigating the reasons that led to the attack. But whatever may be the reason, such acts of barbarism are unacceptable in this modern world,” Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.
Assam produces around 55 per cent of India’s annual tea production, which stood at 988.32 million kilograms last year, and the state is home to more than 800 tea estates.
Following the news coming out of Syria in the Western media (and I say Western because I also listen to the BBC, the Australians and the Kiwis) can be numbing in its sameness. We are told over and over how corrupt, evil, etc., the current Assad regime in Syria is, but, really, what do we know about the different groups fighting against the sitting government?
Well, it's very complicated, a lot more complicated than you get in five minutes at the top of the hour. Assad's regime is brutal, but a lot of our allies in the Mideast are at least as brutal. Saudi Arabia, for example. It's just that Syria is in the middle of a civil war. There are reports of torture camps run by the regime, but less than a decade back the CIA was depositing Iraqi and Afghani prisoners in torture prisons to include reports of putting people in Syrian prisons. So Syrians were helping us torture people ten years ago and now they're bad because they're torturing people who are trying to overthrow the government.
And who are those people? Well, al Qaeda, for one group. Remember them?
But the most interesting thing is who is actually winning in Syria: the Kurds. Turkey has been a strong ally for the U.S. in supporting insurgents (either freedom-fighters or terrorists, depending on where you sit) that are destabilizing Syria. But Syria has decided to give its Kurdish region some autonomy. With the Kurdish area of Iraq adjoining them, suddenly Turkey's own restive Kurdish population is again in play.
Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani told al-Jazeera  that yes - they are training Syrian Kurds who defected from the Syrian Army to defend their de facto enclave. It was Barzani who supervised the key deal sealed in Irbil on July 11 that led to Assad forces retreating from Syrian Kurdistan.
What is being described as "liberated cities"  is now being "jointly ruled" by the PYD and the KNC. They have formed what is known as a Supreme Kurdish Body.
One can never underestimate the Kurdish capacity to shoot themselves in the foot (and elsewhere). Yet one can also imagine all this cross-country Kurdish frenzy terrifying quite a few souls in Istanbul and Ankara. This  columnist for the daily newspaper Hurriyet got it right; "Arabs are fighting, Kurds are winning." The Kurdish Spring is at hand. And it is already hitting Turkey's borders.
Davutoglu must have seen it coming; when a formerly "zero problem" foreign policy evolves into housing the weaponized opposition to a neighboring government, you're bound to be in trouble.
Especially when you start itching to kill "terrorists" living in your neighbor's territory - even though your Western allies may view them as "freedom fighters". Meanwhile you actively support Salafi-jihadis - "insurgents" formerly known as terrorists - back and forth across your borders.
An increasingly erratic Erdogan has invoked a "natural right"  to fight "terrorists". But first they must produce an ID; if they are Sunni Arab, they get away with it. If they are Kurdish, they eat lead.
So now Merkollande has to show results. There's not much they're bound to agree on - apart from the possibility of a financial transaction tax (FTT) which could yield up to 57 billion euros (US$72.5 billion) a year to battered trans-European economies, according to the European Commission (EC).
Berlin is not exactly against it. But Britain, for obvious reasons, is - seeing it as curbing the City of London. The EC, applying some fancy models, has already concluded that a FTT would not be a burden on economic growth; that would represent only 0.2% in total by 2050.
Two members of the troika - the EC and the International Monetary Fund (but not yet the European Central Bank) - along most governments in the EU, now at least admit that some countries, such as Spain, will need more time to reduce their deficits. An FTT in this case would come out handy.
At home, "Onshela" is secure her austerity mantra is popular (61%, according to the latest polls). Yet she lost another regional election last weekend, in heavily urbanized Nordrheim-Westfalen, the fourth largest urban concentration in Europe after London, Paris and Moscow - now suffering from deindustrialization and high unemployment. And this after losing in rural Schlewig-Holstein, near the Danish border.
What's fascinating is that all this had nothing to do with Europe - and the messy fate of the eurozone with the strong possibility of Greece leaving the euro. German voters couldn't give a damn. They are first and foremost worried about their own eroding purchasing power.
So for the first time the Supreme Taliban of austerity, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, has admitted in public that a general wage freeze - one of the pillars of the new, neo-liberal "German miracle" - should be revised. Even the Financial Times has admitted that consumption in Germany is "anemic". Schauble now says that wage increases might help.
The heart of the matter is that whatever "German miracle" is good for Germany's robust banking and financial system, is not good for a vast majority of its workers. Plus this neo-liberal miracle simply can't be sold anywhere else in the world.
German weekly Der Spiegel did its best to show why .
The heart of the "miracle" is - predictably - the deregulation of the jobs market, always against the interests of workers. That implies a tsunami of part time jobs, "non traditional contracts" and sub-contracting. This means masses of workers not eligible for bonuses or participation in profits - coupled with a reduction in retirement payments and pensions. The graphic consequence has been Germany as the current European champion of rising inequality.
Who's in charge here? It's wishful thinking to imagine some German politician seeing the light, Blues Brothers-style, and suddenly preaching a true European political integration. German regional politics is directly linked to the banking industry - the same banks which had a ball speculating on securities all across Europe, especially in the Club Med countries.
Blaming the eurozone abyss on the irresponsible acts of selected European nations, on their mounting public debt, and even their pensioners, is perverse. The real cause is the ferocious deregulation of the financial system and the worshipping of the God of monetarism. The absolute majority of European political leaders do not have a clue about basic economics. They have been at the mercy of technocrats who could not give a damn about the social and political consequences of their actions.
But now the technocrats are finally freaking out because if Greece, for instance, nationalizes its banks, the Spanish and French financial systems will go bust, and Germany's will be in deep trouble. Once more this is a graphic illustration of how countries across Europe are - in the public as well as the private sector - totally dependent on the financial system of other countries.
The Masters of the Universe in Europe are actually the Institute of International Finance (IIF)  a lobby representing the 450 largest world banks. They get a privileged seat on every significant euro-summit. The proverbial EU and IMF "officials" actually ask the Masters how much a country - as in Greece - should pay to get itself out of trouble. Europe's commissioner for economic affairs, Olli Rehn, is a certified servant of the Masters. Obviously the EU leadership will never admit it is in fact controlled by a cartel of bankers.
One currency, 17 debts It's hard to believe Merkollande can find a way out of this financial labyrinth. We are facing the uber-surrealist situation of a single currency with 17 different public debts - over which the frenzied "markets" can merrily speculate while individual states cannot fight back, for instance by devaluing their currency. It's this set up that has plunged Greece into the abyss - and may do the same with the euro.
Thomas Piketty, a professor of the Paris School of Economics, dreams that Hollande might become the European Roosevelt. That may be as unlikely as Prometheus getting rid of his burden. But at least Piketty identifies the problem; imagine if the Fed everyday had to choose between Texas debt or Wyoming debt - it would never be able to conduct a sound monetary policy (not that it actually does…)
That explains why the European Central Bank cannot possibly be a factor of financial stability. Meanwhile, Europe is left wallowing in the mire of loaning buckets of euros to banks, hoping they will loan them back to individual states; or loaning the money to the IMF, hoping they will do the same.
Into this quagmire comes Hollande with an economic Hellfire missile; he says that instead of loaning at 1% so the banks make a killing loaning to individual states at a much higher rate, the ECB should deal directly with European nations. He wants the FTT - now. And the wants the European Investment Bank to extend credit to companies. And he wants euro-bonuses to finance infrastructure works.
Gangs of beautiful women are reportedly patrolling the highways of Zimbabwe, picking up male travellers to have sex with in order to harvest their sperm.
According to local media reports, hitchhikers have reported being drugged, threatened with knives and even live snakes before they are forced into sex and then dumped by the roadside.
The sperm is apparently then used in good luck "ju-ju" rituals.
In November, three sisters and one of their boyfriends were charged with attacking male hitchhikers and harvesting their sperm for rituals, Today Online reported.
The Nhokwara sisters were caught when they had a car accident and police found 30 used condoms in their car boot. They face 17 counts of aggravated indecent assault in a country where a woman raping a man is not considered a criminal offence.
The trio told a Harare court they are merely hard-working prostitutes.
One woman told AFP how she had recently pulled over to pick up a group of male hitchhikers who refused to get into her car for fear of being raped.
Canada’s Liberal Party overwhelmingly passed a motion Sunday proposing the legalization of marijuana on the last day of its national convention, at which Michael Crawley was chosen as its new leader.
The motion says that, if elected, a Liberal government “will legalize marijuana and ensure the regulation and taxation of its production, distribution and use, while enacting strict penalties for illegal trafficking, illegal importation and exportation, and impaired driving.”
Under the motion, the Liberals also promised an amnesty for all Canadians previously found guilty of simple or minimal possession of marijuana and to clear the offenses from their criminal records.
The motion passed with 77 percent of the vote.
The convention also decisively rejected a motion that called for studying the election of Canada’s head of state, thereby severing all official links with the British crown. Queen Elizabeth II is currently the country’s head of state.
So the Queen can still visit. Light 'em if you got'em.