Breaking bad in southern NATOstan

Breaking bad in southern NATOstan

By Pepe Escobar
THE ROVING EYE
Asia Times
April 15, 2014

ON THE ROAD IN PROVENCE – To quote Lenin, what is to be done? Back to Brussels and Berlin? A close encounter with dreary Northern NATOstan, consumed by its paranoid anti-Russia obsession and enslaved by the infinitely expandable Pentagon euro-scam? Perhaps a jaunt to Syria war junkie Erdogastan?

Talk about a no contest. Joie de vivre settled it; thus The Roving Eye hooked up with Nick, The Roving Son, in Catalonia, and armed with La Piccolina – Nick’s vintage, go-go ’80s Peugeot caravan powered by a Citroen engine – we hit the road in Provence, prime southern NATOstan real estate. Instead of breaking crystal meth, non-stop breaking of fine infidel liquids and choice Provencal gastronomy.

Call it a subterranean, non-homesick, non-bluesy investigation into the economic malaise of Club Med nations; the pauperization of the European middle class; the advance of the extreme right; and the looming prospect of an economic NATO. All within the framework of exceedingly cool family quality time. And subversively enough, with both laptop and mobile turned off.

Does God drink Bandol?
We were fortunate enough to catch the inaugural week of the Van Gogh Foundation in Arles – with its remarkable entrance portal inscribed with Van Gogh’s enlarged signature; its suspended garden of colored mirrors; and a crack exhibition on the master’s chromatic evolution up to the frenetic 15 months he lived in Arles. A few minutes contemplating La Maison Jaune (1888) is an intimation of immortality, revealing what exceptionalism is really all about.

Aesthetic illuminations were a given – from Baux castle at sunset to sipping a Perrier mint on a terrace overlooking the countryside around hilltop Gordes; from a starry night in the open at the Colorado Provencal (intriguingly trespassed by a military helicopter flying low, Baghdad surge-style) to debating the merits of each variation of chevre de Banon – that Epicurean “cheese of exception” wrapped up in chestnut leaves.

And then the crossing to the Grand Canyon of Verdon – the most American of European canyons, attacked on different angles from both the north and south rim, including a trek along the old Roman trail and a close encounter with the jagged, chaotic, ghostly rock silhouettes of Les Cadieres (chairs, in Provencal) – the Verdon’s answer to the Twin Towers. Call it a quirky Provencal take on Osama and al-Zawahiri trekking the Hindu Kush.

As we descended from the Col de Leques, the owner of a mountainside cafe told us he had just opened for the whole season, lasting until mid-September. But here, in early April, the Verdon was bathed in silent glory, except for the occasional badass biker.

Then – as in Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou – a dash towards La Mediterrane. First stop in Front National-controlled Toulon – so proper, so regimented, so fearful even of non-immigrant skateboarders, yet displaying a monster NATO cargo ship in full regalia.

It’s impossible to have a plateau de moules in mid-afternoon at the port, but at the Ah-Ha Chinese restaurant there are Verdon canyons of food are available around the clock, which once again goes to show how Asia’s entrepreneurial drive has left Europe in the dust.

Cue to a Platonic banquet at the venerable Auberge Du Port in Bandol – orgiastic bouillabaisse paired with the best local wine, which would be a close match between Bastide de la Ciselette and Domaine de Terrebrune. None of these infidel liquid marvels, by the way, have been touched by globalization.

There’s hardly a single millimeter of free land space in the coast around Marseille – that’s part of a well-known dossier, the environmental destruction of southern NATOstan. Still we managed to find a relatively secluded grove for the appropriate Rimbaud mood (la mer, la mer, toujours recommence).

Then the dreaded moment reared its ugly head – at Sanary-sur-Mer, where Huxley wrote Brave New World at his Villa Huley and Thomas Mann held court in the Chemin de la Colline. Brecht in fact might have sung anti-Hitler songs out of a table at Le Nautique; so after debating with Nick the comparative merits of Beneteau sailing boats, I finally decided to stop with all that Brechtian distancing and walked to the nearby kiosk to buy the papers, order a cafe au lait, and turn on the mobile.

Not impressed is an understatement. One week off the grid, and the same sarabande of paranoia, frenetic pivoting and monochromatic exceptionalism. Yet, there it was, like a pearl at the bottom of the turquoise Mediterranean, buried in the info-avalanche: the definitive news of the week, perhaps the year, perhaps the decade.

Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller had met with China National Petroleum Corporation chairman Zhou Jiping in Beijing on Wednesday. They were on their way to sign the 30-year, mega-contract deal to supply China with Siberian natural gas “as soon as possible”. Probably on May 20, when Putin goes to Beijing.

Now this is the genuine article. Pipelineistan meets the strategic partnership Russia-China, as solidified in the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with the tantalizing prospect of pricing/payment bypassing the petrodollar, otherwise known as the “thermonuclear option”. Ukraine, compared to this, is a mere sideshow.

Welcome to the Brussels rat-o-drome
It was on the road from the Mediterranean back to Arles via Aix-en-Provence that it hit me like an Obama drone. This whole trip was after all about the sublime chevre wrapped up in chestnut leaves in Banon, those “rose petal” bottles of wine; in Bandol, artisan producers and season mountain folks spelling out their fears in village markets and unpretentious chateaux. This was all about economic NATO.

The Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement is a top priority of the Obama administration. Tariffs are already almost negligible across most products between the US and the European Union. So a deal is essentially about a power grab over continental markets by Big American Agro-Business (as in an invasion of genetically modified products), as well as American media giants. Call it a nice add-on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – which in a nutshell means an American takeover of the heavily protected Japanese economy.

Southern NATOstan does offer glimpses of a European post-historical paradise – a Kantian rose garden protected from a nasty Hobbesian world by the “benign” Empire (the new denomination of choice, coined by – who else – neo-cons of the Robert Kagan variety). Yet the main emotion enveloping southern NATOstan, as I witnessed since the start of 2014 successively in Italy, Spain and France, is fear. Fear of The Other – as in the poor interloper, black or brown; fear of perennial unemployment; fear for the end of middle-class privileges until recently taken for granted; and fear of economic NATO – as virtually no average European trusts those hordes of Brussels bureaucrats.

For nine months now, the European Commission has been negotiating a so-called Trade and Investment Partnership. The “transparency” surrounding what will be the largest free-trade agreement ever, encompassing more than 800 million consumers, would put North Korea’s King Jong-eun to shame.

The whole secret blah blah blah revolves around the euphemistic “non-tariff obstacles” – as in a web of ethical, environmental, juridical and sanitary norms that protect consumers, not giant multinationals. What the behemoths aim for, on the other hand, is a very profitable free-for-all – implying, just as an example, the indiscriminate use of ractopamine, an energy-booster for pork that is even outlawed in Russia and China.

So why is the Obama administration suddenly so enamored of a free-trade agreement with Europe? Because US Big Business has finally found out that the Holy Grail of an economic pivoting to China won’t be so holy after all; the whole thing will be conducted under Chinese terms, as in major Chinese brands progressively upgrading to control most of the Chinese market.

Thus Plan B as a transatlantic market submitting 40% of international trade to the same big business-friendly norms. Obama has been heavily spinning the agreement will create “millions of well-paid American jobs”. That’s highly debatable, to say the least. But make no mistake about the American drive; Obama himself is personally implicated.

As for the Europeans, it’s more like rats scurrying in a secret casino. As much as the National Security Agency monitors every phone call in Brussels, average Europeans remain clueless about what they will be slapped with. Public debate over the agreement is for all practical purposes verboten for European civil society.

European Commission negotiators meet only with lobbyists and multinational CEOs. In case of “price volatility” down the road, European farmers will be the big losers, not Americans, now protected by a new Farm Bill. No wonder the direct and indirect message I received from virtually everyone in the Provencal countryside is that “Brussels is selling us out”; in the end, what will disappear, in a death by a thousand cuts manner, is top-quality agriculture, scores of artisan producers with a savoir-faire accumulated over centuries.

So long live hormones, antibiotics, chlorine and GMOs. And off with their heads in the terroir! NATO issuing threats to Russia is such a lame, convenient diversionary tactic. As La Piccolina left Provence carrying its share of sublime artisan goods, I could not but understand why the locals see an economic NATO future with such Van Goghian apprehension.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-03-150414.html

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New China-India era no shoo-in under Modi

New China-India era no shoo-in under Modi

By Santosh Pai
SPEAKING FREELY
Asia Times
April 15, 2014

Hopes are rising that by the time results are finally announced on May 16, India’s gargantuan six-week election process will have set the stage for a new era in its ties with China. Despite being touted as this century’s most crucial bilateral relationship, the India-China dynamic has underwhelmed so far.

Most of the potential for transformation lies in the realm of trade and investment, with companies on each side eyeing the large market on the other side of the Himalayas.

Indian imports from China have grown faster than Indian exports to China, resulting in a embarrassing trade imbalance which New Delhi finds difficult to control. Chinese manufacturers also have gained significant a market share in India’s power and telecom sectors.

At the same time, Chinese investment in India remains far lower than in many other Asian countries. Most Chinese companies consider the Indian regulatory regime opaque at best – and hostile at worst – despite the Indian government’s welcoming noises.

During his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat since October 2001, Narendra Modi has already played a key role in the bilateral relationship between India and China. As one of the few state-level politicians in India to have been hosted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, he has nurtured a mutually beneficial relationship at the highest levels.

The US government’s refusal to grant a visa to Modi over the last few years has also played the role of an invisible hand propelling Modi firmly in China’s direction.

Not surprisingly, Gujarat and Modi’s key constituents have benefited enormously from Chinese investment and loans. Chinese companies big and small have come to view Gujarat as India’s answer to Guangdong province, from where a cluster of boom towns catalyzed economic prosperity in the Middle Kingdom couple of decades ago.

In January 2010, when Gujarati diamond traders were arrested in China, the Indian government’s efforts at freeing them failed to bear fruit for almost two years. It was only after Modi’s visit to China that they were freed in December 2011.

The Indian establishment has been crying hoarse for Chinese investment in infrastructure for several years now, but there has been barely a trickle in response. China’s lukewarm response can perhaps be attributed to India’s labyrinth of labor and land acquisition laws.

Despite this, after Modi emerged as a prime ministerial candidate in September 2013, the Chinese government immediately upped the ante by offering to meet 30% of the total demand for investment in India’s investment sector until 2017. It is difficult to avoid reading between the lines and seeing this as an endorsement of China’s faith in Modi to walk the talk should he take the helm after the general elections.

The inherent strength of the Modi-China relationship is underscored by Chinese media’s response to Modi. The prime ministerial candidate made an election speech in Arunachal Pradesh in February asking China to back-off from its claim over the province, which it claims as South Tibet, yet Chinese official media quickly downplayed Modi’s words as an necessary electioneering tactic.

Such bonhomie can be a crucial ingredient in the concrete that cements India-China ties over the next five years. India could very easily change the trajectory of its economic growth for the better by tapping China’s experience in economic development. The opportunity can also be just as easily squandered if Modi chooses to wear a saffron hat and treat China just as another enemy of India like Pakistan, China’s best friend in South Asia.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online’s regular contributors.

Santosh Pai is an Indian lawyer based in Beijing. He is the founder and head of the India-China practice group at an Indian law firm. The views expressed are his own.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/SOU-01-150414.html

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Assad’s staying power on show

Assad’s staying power on show

By Nicola Nasser
SPEAKING FREELY
Asia Times
April 11, 2014

Long gone are the days when the so-called “Friends of Syria” could plausibly claim that two thirds of Syria was controlled by rebel forces, that Damascus was under siege and that the days of President Bashar al-Assad were numbered.

The war has taken a U-turn during the past year and Assad firmly holds the military initiative. The long-awaited foreign military intervention did not take off, and both Syrian and non-Syrian insurgents are on the run.

The official Syrian Arab Army (SAA), which was strategically organized and stationed to fight a regular war in defense against the Israeli occupying power in the western south of the country, was initially taken by surprise following the 2011 uprising by attacks on its civilian backyard.

Within a relatively short period of time, however, the SAA succeeded in containing the initial attack, in adapting trained units to unconventional guerrilla war in cities and in winning over the support of the civilian population, without acceding any ground of its defense against Israel. Ever since, the SAA has been gaining more ground, liberating more civilian centers from insurgent terrorists and closing more border crossing points used for infiltration of foreign fighters into the country.

Damascus, more than 95% of the common borders with Lebanon and the central heart of Syria around Homs are now secured. Except for the northern city of Raqqa, there is no place in Syria where the insurgents can claim exclusive control.

The declared goal of the United States’, Saudi, Qatari and Turkish financial, military and logistical support for the insurgents was always “regime change”. To achieve this, they had claimed to be extending support to what they described as “moderate” insurgents. However, “moderate” rebels are a rare species in the Syrian insurgency. The lines are now strictly drawn between homeland defense and foreign intervention. On one side are national forces and on the other international terrorists.

There is a choice between an existing secular and civil state, and a future state perceived to be governed by an extremist or at best moderate version of Islamist ideology. The latter would also be supported by backward, tribal and undemocratic regional states with similar sectarian ideologies.

During his testimony at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 3, 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry denied that the “moderate” Syrian rebels had been infiltrated by al-Qaeda terrorists.

“[The] opposition has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership, and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority protecting constitution, which will be broad-based and secular with respect to the future of Syria,” Kerry testified.

However, hard facts on the ground in Syria as well as statements by other US high ranking officials suggest Kerry’s testimony was politically motivated, and far from the truth.

Last March, General David Rodriguez, head of the US Africa Command, testified before the House Armed Services Committee that “Syria has become a significant location for al-Qaeda-aligned groups to recruit, train, and equip extremists.”

The previous month, James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, called Syria a “huge magnet” for Islamic extremists in testimony prepared for the Senate intelligence committee.

Last January, Clapper also told a Senate intelligence hearing that “training complexes” for foreign fighters were spotted in Syria and chair of the Senate intelligence committee Dianne Feinstein described Syria as “the most notable new security threat in the year” since the committee’s last meeting.

Matthew Olsen, director of the US government’s National Counterterrorism Center, was on record to say that “Syria has become the predominant jihadist battlefield in the world.”

It seems the Americans and their Saudi and Turkish allies are left with the only option of artificially creating artificial “moderates”, whom they unrealistically and wishfully dream of turning into a credible force on the ground.

US President Barack Obama seems to have pursued recently a two-pronged diplomatic and military policy as part of his efforts to mend fences with Saudi Arabia, a persistent advocate of war and militarization in Syria.

Diplomatically, he closed the Syrian embassy and consulates in the United States and restricted the movement of the Syrian envoy to the United Nations as a confidence-building measure ahead of his visit to the kingdom on March 28.

Militarily, he promised more arms to Syrian “moderate” rebels during his visit. After the visit he was reportedly considering arming those rebels with more advanced weaponry, including anti-aircraft missiles.

Israel’s Debkafile website on this April 7 reported that two moderate Syrian rebel militias – the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Revolutionary Front – have been supplied with advanced US weapons, including armor-piercing, optically guided BGM-71 TOW missiles.

Images of rebels equipped with these arms have begun to circulate in recent days. Both militias are coordinating and cooperating with the al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, both listed as terrorist groups by the US, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq.

Time for the US to reconsider
Within this context, existing Central Intelligence Agency-led programs in Jordan for training pre-approved “moderates” will likely be expanded.

However, Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Center in Qatar, on April 3 wrote that “it would take close to two years to produce a force” that could numerically rival the extremist “Ahrar al-Sham” group and “it would take seven years” to create a force that could rival the extremist “Islamic Front”.

This suggests that it is about time US policy makers reconsidered their approach to Syria and started dealing with the facts on the ground – instead of yielding to the bullying of their regional allies who continue to beat the drums of war to survive a tidal wave of change.

This is why Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are sponsoring an Islamist counterrevolution. The Muslim Brotherhood International (MBI) was a version of this alternative. Unfortunately the US got along with it. The MBI plan in Egypt has proved counterproductive. Its failure in Egypt pre-empted for good any hope for its success in Syria. The ensuing rift among the anti-Syria allies doomed the plan regionally.

President Assad’s statement on this April 7 that the “project of political Islam” has failed was not overoptimistic or premature. Neither was the statement of his ally, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbullah, Hassan Nasrallah, on the same day that “the phase of bringing down the regime or bringing down the (Syrian) state is over… They cannot overthrow the regime, but they can wage a war of attrition.”

The US campaign for “regime change” in Syria has created only a magnet for international terrorism, and a black hole for Saudi, Qatari and Turkish military, financial and logistical support.

Peaceful protesters were quickly sidelined to oblivion in the Syrian uprising. More than three years of bloodshed left no room for moderates. US and Western calls for Syrian President al-Assad to step down is now a faint cry that can hardly be heard.

All global and regional indicators underline how Assad is there to stay. Change will come only under his leadership or his guidance. The sooner the United States realizes this the better for all concerned parties.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online’s regular contributors.

Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com (Copyright 2014 Nicola Nasser)

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-03-110414.html

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Developing Nations Seek U.N. Retaliation on Bank Cancellations

Developing Nations Seek U.N. Retaliation on Bank Cancellations

By Thalif Deen
IPS – Inter Press Service News Agency
April 10, 2014

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2014 (IPS) - The 132-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing nations, has urged Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, “as soon as possible…alternative options for banking services” in New York City following the mass cancellation of bank accounts of U.N. missions and foreign diplomats.

The closure of accounts was triggered by a request from the U.S. treasury, which wanted all banks to meticulously report every single transaction of some 70 “blacklisted” U.N. diplomatic missions, and individual diplomats – perhaps as part of a monitoring system to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing.

But the banks have said such an elaborate exercise is administratively expensive and cumbersome.

And as a convenient alternative, they have closed down, or are in the process of closing down, all accounts, shutting off banks from the diplomatic community in New York.

The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by IPS, is an “agreed text” which has the blessings of all 132 countries, plus China.

Responding to a demand by member states for reciprocal retaliation, the G77 requests the secretary-general to review the “U.N. Secretariat’s financial relations with the JP Morgan Chase Bank and consider alternatives to such financial institutions and to report thereon, along with the information requested.”

Currently, the bank handles billions of dollars in the accounts maintained by the United Nations and its agencies in New York City.

The Group expresses “deep concern” over the decisions made by several banking institutions, including JP Morgan Chase, in closing bank accounts of mostly developing countries, and diplomats accredited to the United Nations and their relatives.

The resolution, which is subject to amendments, cites the 1947 U.S.- U.N. headquarters agreement that “guarantees the rights, obligations and the fulfillment of responsibilities by member states towards the United Nations, under the United Nations Charter and international law.”

Additionally, it cites the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as a regulatory framework for states and international organisations, in particular the working relationship between the United Nations and the City of New York.

Citing the two agreements, the G77 is calling for all “necessary measures to ensure permanent missions accredited to the United Nations and their staff are granted equal, fair and non-discriminatory treatment by the banking system.”

Asked for an official response, U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told IPS: “We would not comment on a draft resolution.”

At a closed-door meeting of the G77 last month, speaker after speaker lambasted banks in the city for selectively cutting off the banking system from the diplomatic community, describing the action as “outrageous”.

Their anger was directed mostly at JP Morgan Chase (formerly Chemical bank) which was once considered part of the U.N. family – and a preferred bank by most diplomats – and at one time was housed in the secretariat building.

The G77 is expected to hold consultations with member states outside the Group, specifically Western nations, before tabling the resolution with the 193-member General Assembly later this month.

If any proposed amendments are aimed at weakening the resolution, the G77 will go for a vote in the Assembly with its agreed text, a G77 diplomat told IPS Thursday.

But with the Group having more than two-thirds majority in the Assembly, the resolution is expected to be adopted either with or without the support of Western nations.

If adopted by a majority vote, the secretary-general is expected to abide by the resolution and respond to its demands.

The draft resolution also requests the secretary-general to review and report to the General Assembly, within 120 days of its adoption, “of any obstacles or impediments observed in the accounts of permanent missions or their staff at the JP Morgan Chase Bank in the City of New York, and the impact these impediments have on the adequate functioning of their offices.”

And to this end, the G77 invites all members to provide the secretary-general with relevant information that will facilitate the elaboration of such report.

In an appeal to the United States, the G77 has also underscored the importance of the host country taking the necessary measures to ensure that personal data and information of persons affected by the closure of accounts is kept confidential by banking institutions, and requests the secretary-general to work with the host country in that regard and to report to the General Assembly within 90 days.

http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/developing-nations-seek-u-n-retaliation-bank-cancellations/

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When Medicines Don’t Work Anymore

When Medicines Don’t Work Anymore

By Martin Khor
IPS – Inter Press Service News Agency
April 10, 2014

GENEVA, Apr 10 2014 (IPS) - The growing crisis of antibiotic resistance is catching the attention of policy-makers, but not at a fast enough rate to tackle it. More diseases are affected by resistance, meaning the bacteria cannot be killed even if different drugs are used on some patients, who then succumb.

We are staring at a future in which antibiotics don’t work, and many of us or our children will not be saved from TB, cholera, deadly forms of dysentery, and germs contracted during surgery.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) will discuss, at its annual assembly of health ministers in May, a resolution on microbial resistance, including a global action plan. There have been such resolutions before but little action.

This year may be different, because powerful countries like the United Kingdom are now convinced that years of inaction have cause the problem to fester, until it has grown to mind-boggling proportions.

The UK-based Chatham House (together with the Geneva Graduate Institute) held two meetings on the issue, in October and last month, both presided over by the Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies.

This remarkable woman has taken on antibiotic resistance as a professional and personal campaign. In a recent book, “The Drugs Don’t Work”, she revealed that for her annual health report in 2012, she had decided to focus on infectious diseases.

“I am not easily rattled, but what I learnt scared me, not just as a doctor, but as a mother, a wife and a friend. Our findings were simple: We are losing the battle against infectious diseases. Bacteria are fighting back and are becoming resistant to modern medicine. In short, the drugs don’t work.”

Davies told the meetings that antibiotics add on average 20 years to our lives and that for over 70 years they have enabled us to survive life-threatening infections and operations.

“The truth is, we have been abusing them as patients, as doctors, as travellers, and in our food,” she says in her book.

“No new class of antibacterial has been discovered for 26 years and the bugs are fighting back. In a few decades, we may start dying from the most commonplace of operations and ailments that can today be treated easily.”

At the two Chatham House meetings, which I attended, different aspects of the crisis and possible actions were discussed. In one of the sessions, I made a summary of the actions needed, including:

- More scientific research on how resistance is caused and spread, including the emergence of antibiotic-resistance genes as in the NDM-1 enzyme, whose speciality is to accelerate and spread resistance within and among bacteria.

- Surveys in every country to determine the prevalence of resistance to antibiotics in bacteria causing various diseases.

- Health guidelines and regulations in every country to guide doctors on when (and when not) to prescribe antibiotics, and on instructing patients how to properly use them.

- Regulations for drug companies on ethical marketing of their medicines, and on avoiding sales promotion to doctors or the public, that leads to over-use.

- Educating the public on using antibiotics properly, including when they should not be used.

- A ban on the use of antibiotics in animals and animal feed for the purpose of inducing growth of the animals (for commercial profit), and restrictions on the use in animals to the treatment of ailments.

- Promoting the development of new antibiotics and in ways (including financing) that do not make the new drugs the exclusive property of drug companies.

- Ensuring that ordinary and poor people in developing countries also have access to the new medicines, which would otherwise be very expensive, and thus only the very rich can afford to use them.

On the first point, a new and alarming development has been the discovery of a gene, known as NDM-1, that has the ability to alter bacteria and make them highly resistant to all known drugs.

In 2010, only two types of bacteria were found to be hosting the NDM-1 gene – E Coli and Klebsiella pneumonia.

It was found that the gene can easily jump from one type of bacteria to another. In May 2011, scientists from Cardiff University who had first reported on NDM-1′s existence found that the NDM-1 gene has been jumping among various species of bacteria at a “superfast speed” and that it “has a special quality to jump between species without much of a problem”.

While the gene was found only in E Coli when it was initially detected in 2006, now the scientists had found NDM-1 in more than 20 different species of bacteria. NDM-1 can move at an unprecedented speed, making more and more species of bacteria drug-resistant.

Also in May 2011, there was an outbreak of a deadly disease caused by a new strain of the E Coli bacteria that killed more than 20 people and affected another 2,000 in Germany.

Although the “normal” E Coli usually produces mild sickness in the stomach, the new strain of E Coli 0104 causes bloody diarrhoea and severe stomach cramps, and in more serious cases damages blood cells and the kidneys. A major problem is that the bacterium is resistant to antibiotics.

Tuberculosis is a disease making a comeback. In 2011, the WHO found there were half a million new cases of TB in the world that were multi-drug resistant (known as MDR-TB), meaning that they could not be treated using most medicines.

And about nine percent of multi-drug resistant TB cases also have resistance to two other classes of drugs and are known as extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB). Patients having XDR-TB cannot be treated successfully.

Research has also found that in Southeast Asia, strains of malaria are also becoming resistant to treatment.

In 2012, WHO Director General Margaret Chan warned that every antibiotic ever developed was at risk of becoming useless.

“A post-antibiotic era means in effect an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

The World Health Assembly in May is an opportunity not to be missed, to finally launch a global action plan to address this crisis.

http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/medicines-dont-work-anymore/

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U.N. Security Council meets over Ukraine hours before deadline

U.N. Security Council meets over Ukraine hours before deadline

By Conor Humphries and Louis Charbonneau
Reuters
April 13, 2014

(Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on Sunday night to discuss the escalating crisis in Ukraine, just hours before a deadline by Kiev for pro-Russian separatists to disarm by Monday morning or face a “full-scale anti-terrorist operation” by its armed forces.

The Council began meeting at 8 p.m. at Russia’s request after Moscow called Kiev’s plans to mobilize the army to put down a rebellion by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine “criminal.”

Britain’s U.N. ambassador said Russia had massed tens of thousands of well-equipped troops near the Ukrainian border in addition to the 25,000 troops it recently moved into Crimea, which Moscow seized last month.

“Satellite images show that there are between 35,000 and 40,000 Russian troops in the vicinity of the border with Ukraine equipped with combat aircraft, tanks, artillery and logistical support units,” Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said.

“This is in addition to the 25,000 Russia troops based illegally in Crimea,” Lyall Grant added in his speech during the U.N. emergency meeting.

Angered by the death of a state security officer and the wounding of two comrades near the flashpoint eastern city of Slaviansk, Ukrainian acting president Oleksander Turchinov gave rebels occupying state buildings until 0600 GMT (2 a.m. EDT) to lay down their weapons.

“The National Security and Defense Council has decided to launch a full-scale anti-terrorist operation involving the armed forces of Ukraine,” Turchinov said in an address to the nation.

He blamed Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region when Moscow-backed former president Viktor Yanukovich fled after months of pro-Western protests, for being behind the rash of rebellions across Russian-speaking towns in eastern Ukraine.

“We will not allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in the eastern regions of Ukraine,” Turchinov said.

The deadline and the standoff with Russian troops at the border have raised fears of a military confrontation with Moscow.

The head of Ukraine’s state security service (SBU) said government forces would respond ruthlessly if pro-Russian separatists opened fire.

“If they open fire, we will annihilate them. There should be no doubt about this,” Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said in a televised interview.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the planned military operation a “criminal order” and said the West should bring its allies in Ukraine’s government under control.

“It is now the West’s responsibility to prevent civil war in Ukraine,” the ministry said in a statement.

The 15-nation council has held numerous emergency meetings on Ukraine but has been incapable of taking any concrete action because of Russia’s sharp disagreements with the United States and Europe.

Earlier, the American ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the United States was prepared to step up sanctions against Moscow if pro-Russian military actions in eastern Ukraine continued.

“The president has made clear that, depending on Russian behavior, sectoral sanctions in energy, banking, mining could be on the table, and there’s a lot in between,” she added.

Ukraine has repeatedly said the rebellions are inspired and directed by the Kremlin. But action to dislodge the armed militants risks tipping the stand-off into a new, dangerous phase as Moscow has warned it will protect the region’s Russian-speakers if they come under attack.

One Ukrainian state security officer was killed and five were wounded on the government side in Sunday’s operation in Slaviansk, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. “There were dead and wounded on both sides,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

WELL ORGANISED ATTACKERS

The separatists are holed up in the local headquarters of the police and of the state security service, while others have erected road blocks around Slaviansk, about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russian border.

Kiev accuses the Kremlin of trying to undermine the legitimacy of presidential elections on May 25 that aim to set Ukraine back on a normal path after months of turmoil.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Kiev was “demonstrating its inability to take responsibility for the fate of the country” and warned that any use of force against Russian speakers “would undermine the potential for cooperation”, including talks due to be held on Thursday between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.

Relations between Russia and the West are at their worst since the Cold War, due to the crisis that began when Moscow-backed Yanukovich was pushed out by popular protests in February.

Moscow then annexed Crimea from Ukraine, saying the Russian population there was under threat. Some Western governments believe the Kremlin is preparing a similar scenario for eastern Ukraine, something Moscow has strenuously denied.

In Kramatorsk, about 15 km (9 miles) south of Slaviansk, gunmen seized the police headquarters after a shootout with police, a Reuters witness said.

The attackers were a well-organized unit of more than 20 men, wearing matching military fatigues and carrying automatic weapons, who had arrived by bus. Video footage showed the men taking orders from a commander. Their identity was unclear.

Their level of discipline and equipment was in contrast to the groups which have occupied buildings so far in Ukraine. They have been mostly civilians formed into informal militias with mismatched uniforms.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said pro-Russian militants seizing government buildings in six cities in eastern Ukraine on Saturday was an orchestrated operation reminiscent of those conducted in Crimea before it was annexed by Russia.

“Many of the militants were outfitted in bullet-proof vests and camouflage uniforms with insignia removed and carrying Russian-origin weapons,” it said in a note entitled “Evidence of Russian Support for Destabilization of Ukraine.”

“These operations bear many similarities to those that were carried out in Crimea in late February and culminated in Russia’s illegal military intervention and purported annexation of Crimea,” the State Department note said.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also expressed concern about similarities in the appearance of some rebels to that of the Russian troops who seized control in Crimea.

Calling on Russia to pull back its large number of troops, including special forces, from the area around Ukraine’s border, he said in a statement: “Any further Russian military interference, under any pretext, will only deepen Russia’s international isolation.”

NATO has effectively ruled out military action over Ukraine, which lies outside the Western alliance. However, Washington and NATO leaders have made clear they would defend all 28 member states, including former Soviet republics in the Baltic that are seen as the most vulnerable to Russian pressure.

NATO allies have beefed up their air and sea firepower in eastern Europe. The alliance has also cut off cooperation with Russia and stepped up work with Ukraine, including advising its military on reforms and promising to increase joint exercises.

With EU foreign ministers due to discuss the crisis in Luxembourg on Monday, Britain called on Moscow to disown the rebels.

The crisis over Ukraine could trigger a “gas war”, disrupting supplies of Russian natural gas to customers across Europe. Moscow has said it may be forced to sever deliveries to Ukraine – the transit route for much of Europe’s gas – unless Kiev settles its debts.

For now, though, the focus of the crisis is in eastern Ukraine, the country’s industrial heartland, where many people feel a close affinity with neighboring Russia.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Grove in Slaviansk, Ukraine, Natalia Zinets in Kiev, Alessandra Prentice in Moscow, William James in London, Adrian Croft in Brussels and Lour Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Christian Lowe, Richard Balmforth, David Stamp and Sandra Maler; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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NSA Said to Exploit Heartbleed Bug for Intelligence for Years

NSA Said to Exploit Heartbleed Bug for Intelligence for Years

By Michael Riley
Bloomberg
April 12, 2014

The U.S. National Security Agency knew for at least two years about a flaw in the way that many websites send sensitive information, now dubbed the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence, two people familiar with the matter said.

The agency’s reported decision to keep the bug secret in pursuit of national security interests threatens to renew the rancorous debate over the role of the government’s top computer experts. The NSA, after declining to comment on the report, subsequently denied that it was aware of Heartbleed until the vulnerability was made public by a private security report earlier this month.

“Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability before 2014 are wrong,” according to an e-mailed statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Heartbleed appears to be one of the biggest flaws in the Internet’s history, affecting the basic security of as many as two-thirds of the world’s websites. Its discovery and the creation of a fix by researchers five days ago prompted consumers to change their passwords, the Canadian government to suspend electronic tax filing and computer companies including Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) to Juniper Networks Inc. to provide patches for their systems.

Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers.

Controversial Practice

“It flies in the face of the agency’s comments that defense comes first,” said Jason Healey, director of the cyber statecraft initiative at the Atlantic Council and a former Air Force cyber officer. “They are going to be completely shredded by the computer security community for this.”

Experts say the search for flaws is central to NSA’s mission, though the practice is controversial. A presidential board reviewing the NSA’s activities after Edward Snowden’s leaks recommended the agency halt the stockpiling of software vulnerabilities.

When new vulnerabilities of the Heartbleed type are discovered, they are disclosed, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in response to the Bloomberg report. A clear process exists among agencies for deciding when to share vulnerabilities, the office said in a statement.

“This administration takes seriously its responsibility to help maintain an open, interoperable, secure and reliable Internet,” Shawn Turner, director of public affairs for the office, said in the statement. “Unless there is a clear national security or law enforcement need, this process is biased toward responsibly disclosing such vulnerabilities.”

Hunting Flaws

The NSA and other elite intelligence agencies devote millions of dollars to hunt for common software flaws that are critical to stealing data from secure computers. Open-source protocols like OpenSSL, where the flaw was found, are primary targets.

The Heartbleed flaw, introduced in early 2012 in a minor adjustment to the OpenSSL protocol, highlights one of the failings of open source software development.

While many Internet companies rely on the free code, its integrity depends on a small number of underfunded researchers who devote their energies to the projects.

In contrast, the NSA has more than 1,000 experts devoted to ferreting out such flaws using sophisticated analysis techniques, many of them classified. The agency found Heartbleed shortly after its introduction, according to one of the people familiar with the matter, and it became a basic part of the agency’s toolkit for stealing account passwords and other common tasks.

NSA Spying

The NSA has faced nine months of withering criticism for the breadth of its spying, documented in a rolling series of leaks from Snowden, who was a former agency contractor.

The revelations have created a clearer picture of the two roles, sometimes contradictory, played by the U.S.’s largest spy agency. The NSA protects the computers of the government and critical industry from cyber-attacks, while gathering troves of intelligence attacking the computers of others, including terrorist organizations, nuclear smugglers and other governments.

Ordinary Internet users are ill-served by the arrangement because serious flaws are not fixed, exposing their data to domestic and international spy organizations and criminals, said John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at the SANS Institute, a Bethesda, Maryland-based cyber-security training organization.

One Agency

“If you combine the two into one government agency, which mission wins?” asked Pescatore, who formerly worked in security for the NSA and the U.S. Secret Service. “Invariably when this has happened over time, the offensive mission wins.”

When researchers uncovered the Heartbleed bug hiding in plain sight and made it public on April 7, it underscored an uncomfortable truth: The public may be placing too much trust in software and hardware developers to insure the security of our most sensitive transactions.

“We’ve never seen any quite like this,” said Michael Sutton, vice president of security research at Zscaler, a San Jose, California-based security firm. “Not only is a huge portion of the Internet impacted, but the damage that can be done, and with relative ease, is immense.”

The potential stems from a flawed implementation of protocol used to encrypt communications between users and websites protected by OpenSSL, making those supposedly secure sites an open book. The damage could be done with relatively simple scans, so that millions of machines could be hit by a single attacker.

Exploiting Flaw

Questions remain about whether anyone other than the U.S. government might have exploited the flaw before the public disclosure. Sophisticated intelligence agencies in other countries are one possibility.

If criminals found the flaw before a fix was published this week, they could have scooped up troves of passwords for bank accounts, e-commerce sites and e-mail accounts worldwide.

Evidence of that is so far lacking, and it’s possible that cybercriminals missed the potential in the same way security professionals did, suggested Tal Klein, vice president of marketing at Adallom, in Menlo Park, California.

The fact that the vulnerability existed in the transmission of ordinary data — even if it’s the kind of data the vast majority of users are concerned about — may have been a factor in the decision by NSA officials to keep it a secret, said James Lewis, a cybersecurity senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Determining Risk

“They actually have a process when they find this stuff that goes all the way up to the director” of the agency, Lewis said. “They look at how likely it is that other guys have found it and might be using it, and they look at what’s the risk to the country.”

Lewis said the NSA has a range of options, including exploiting the vulnerability to gain intelligence for a short period of time and then discreetly contacting software makers or open source researchers to fix it.

The SSL protocol has a history of security problems, Lewis said, and is not the primary form of protection governments and others use to transmit highly sensitive information.

“I knew hackers who could break it nearly 15 years ago,” Lewis said of the SSL protocol.

That may not soothe the millions of users who were left vulnerable for so long.

Panel’s Recommendation

Following the leaks about NSA’s electronic spying, President Barack Obama convened a panel to review surveillance activities and suggest reforms. Among the dozens of changes put forward was a recommendation that the NSA quickly move to fix software flaws rather that exploit them, and that they be used only in “rare instances” and for short periods of time.

“If the NSA knows about a vulnerability, then often other nation states and even criminal organizations can exploit the same security vulnerability,” said Harley Geiger, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology in Washington. “What may be a good tool for the NSA may also turn out to be a tool for organizations that are less ethical or have no ethics at all.”

Currently, the NSA has a trove of thousands of such vulnerabilities that can be used to breach some of the world’s most sensitive computers, according to a person briefed on the matter. Intelligence chiefs have said the country’s ability to spot terrorist threats and understand the intent of hostile leaders would be vastly diminished if their use were prohibited.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Riley in Washington at michaelriley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sara Forden at sforden@bloomberg.net Winnie O’Kelley

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-11/nsa-said-to-have-used-heartbleed-bug-exposing-consumers.html

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