Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State of the Union Highlights 2014: US President Barack Obama on guns, Iran and Guantanamo Bay by ITN

State of the Union Highlights 2014: US President Barack Obama on guns, Iran and Guantanamo Bay 

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Subscribe to ITN News: Barack Obama has used his State of the Union speech to push for narrowing the gap between rich and poor. He pledg...
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Kenyan writer hopes to boost gay rights in Africa by coming out 

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Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina's public announcement earlier this month that he is gay is perhaps his strongest yet, sparking huge debate and posing an op...
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Ukraine considers amnesty for arrested protesters

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Parliament to vote on proposal, but it may include condition
that demonstrators must leave streets
Ukraine's parliament is considering measures to grant amnesty to those arrested during weeks of protests, but possibly with conditions attached that would be unacceptable to the opposition.
Two amnesty proposals are up for a parliamentary vote on Wednesday, one of which says amnesty would be granted only if demonstrators left the streets and vacated buildings that they occupy.
Over the course of two months, anti-government protesters have established a large tent camp in the main square of Kiev and seized three buildings that they use as operations centres and sleeping quarters. They have also put up barricades of ice, wood and other materials.
On Tuesday, in what appeared to be a significant concession to the opposition, Yanukovych accepted the resignation of his hardline prime minister, Mykola Azarov, and his government. It remains to be seen whether the pro-Russian president will seek to include opposition figures in a new government and whether the opposition would agree. The central demand from the protesters is Yanukovych's resignation and early presidential elections.
Yanukovych also caved in on Tuesday to pressure from the opposition, Europe and the US by promising to scrap repressive legislation passed a fortnight ago curbing freedom of speech andassembly. Critics suggested they in effect ushered in a dictatorship.
The moves came after four rounds of talks between the embattled president and three opposition leaders.
Ukraine's parliamentary vote comes after the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen,weighed into the tug-of-war for influence in the country on Wednesday morning, criticising Russia for pressuring Kiev not to sign a free trade pact with the EU.
"An association pact with Ukraine would have been a major boost to Euro-Atlantic security. I truly regret that it could not be done," Rasmussen told Le Figaro daily. "The reason is well-known: pressure that Russia exerts on Kiev."
Rasmussen also condemned police violence against the protesters and pressed Ukraine's leaders to assert their independence, urging closer ties with his North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the EU.
His comments came a day after the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, warned Europe to keep its hands off Ukraine, as Brussels sent its top foreign policy envoy, Catherine Ashton, to Kiev to try to mediate in the standoff.
Putin told a meeting of EU leaders: "The more intermediaries there are, the more problems there are. I am not sure Ukraine needs intermediaries." He pointedly noted that European leaders would have complained if Russia had sent envoys to mediate in the Greek crisis of the past four years.
"I can only imagine what the reaction would be if in the heat of the crisis in Greece or Cyprus, our foreign minister came to an anti-European rally and began urging people to do something. This would not be good," Putin said.
The street revolt against Yanukovych erupted in November after he reneged on free trade and political integration pacts with the EU, turning to Moscow, which offered him $15bn (£11bn) in loans and reduced energy prices. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Pakistani PM pushing for militant peace talks - Washington Post

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Pakistani PM pushing for militant peace talks
Washington Post 
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's prime minister says his government will pursue peace talks with militants despite a recent spate of attacks, naming a four-member committee to facilitate the talks.
 Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifalso called on the militants to observe a...
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PM to personally supervise committee to hold talks with terroristsAssociated Press of Pakistan
Four member committee formed for Taliban talksThe News International

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IOC policy puts athletes at the bottom of Vladimir Putin's Olympic pile | Marina Hyde 

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IOC sporting events have become one giant political demonstration in which the athletes are a mere plot device
To the confused climes of the International Olympics Committee's moral universe, which – for those never sure of the co-ordinates – lies firmly through the looking glass. "It is very clear," claimed the IOC president Thomas Bach this week, "the Games cannot be used as a stage for political demonstrations".
But is it clear? It does not seem to be entirely clear to Vladimir Putin, who is swanning about his $51bn ice-world like a homophobic Mr Freeze, just as it didn't seem to be entirely clear in 2008 to the Chinese government, whose Games were a sporting event in the same way the Death Star was moon-shaped. Which is to say it was, but that was hardly the salient point.
In fact, having examined the realities of the IOC's typically faultless logic on this one, it would seem helpful to delineate the actual rules on politicking at the Games, intuitive though they may feel to us all by now. And so … People who are permitted to use the Olympics as a vehicle for advancing their own messages and agendas: the president of the host nation, the organisers, the sponsors, the IOC, the sportswear manufacturers, and anyone who pays (except the lowly customers). People who aren't: the athletes.
Any attempt to send a message from the podium – via peaceful gestures, obviously – will be punished by the IOC, whose motto should really be Faster, Higher, Stronger, Silenter.
Consequently, just as it always does, this policy will serve to emphasise the IOC's serial willingness to appease powerful governments at the expense of the competitors. The more the IOC (and indeed its spiritual twin, Fifa) continues to gift its sporting events to authoritarian regimes, the more they become one giant political demonstration, in which the athletes are a mere plot device. Their role is to shut up and compete, providing charming and unquestioning window dressing for events that are about something else entirely.
It is often remarked that bunfights like the Olympics are just war by other means, and increasingly these global sporting events really do seem to find their closest analogy in the characteristics of international conflict. Both involve incontinent spending, the corrupt awarding of contracts, and a civilian populace required to pay for it all unquestioningly or be accused of being unpatriotic, while allegations of human rights and civil liberties abuses always ensue.
Or as the IOC president prefers it: "When the athletes will be in Sochi, it will become clearer and clearer that the Olympic Games are first of all about the athletes and about sport."
Bless him, but if he spends four seconds thinking about it, I don't think Mr Bach will find it's about the athletes and sport for the Russian president. If it were actually about the athletes, of course, those competitors would be extended the same rights of expression as whichever cocktail of corporations and Kremlinites has bought the event this time round.

Richard Keys' absence not the only talking point in Andy Gray return

Terrible news planning by surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, whose Grammys collaboration ended up being only the weekend's second most poignantly incomplete comeback. Still, that's what happens if you clash with Andy Gray's return to British football punditry.
The erstwhile Sky Sports commentator was back in business thanks to BT Sport, with the outing only serving to throw the absence of Andy's banter buddy Richard Keys into even more bittersweet relief. Then again, I say "absence". And I say "comeback". But, of course, those who follow the mercilessly observed Keys parody account on Twitter – it is a parody, isn't it? – will know that "we've never been away. We're just working elsewhere".
Qatar, in fact, which Richard painted as a veritable paradise in an engrossing interview last year, where he lamented press manipulation in the UK. "It's a huge thing for me," he declared of his Qatar residency, "to live in a country where that sort of hypocrisy doesn't exist. It just doesn't exist."
What a mind he is. And as the Zen master of hanging-out-the-back-of-it explained to a Twitter user only this weekend: "I'm far richer emotionally and financially my friend. I'm a long way from bitter."
But is he a long way from rekindling his bromance with Andy – his brobantz, if you will – on British telly? Well, as far as what actually happened with The Unpleasantness at Sky is concerned, Richard seems to have drunk deeply from the well of conspiracy. To read his timeline is to see tantalising references to "the real story" and "the full facts" as to what befell him and Andy. Detractors are warned to "come back to me when the full story emerges". "We were set up as a distraction," he hints darkly. "We were bugged."
It would be helpful to think of the pair's quest for the truth as some kind of Jason Bourne-style thriller, where the stakes never stop getting higher, the danger is clear and present, the enemies go all the way to the top of the CIA, the World Bank and the Vatican, and which will soon require Andy to shake down some kind of hostile agent at dead of night in a Qatari storm drain while Richard demands: "Who is the keymaster? Who is the keymaster?"
Whether the denouement will come in time to make Richard and Andy the commonsense pick for Preston North End and Nottingham Forest's fourth round replay is unclear. But we can only wish our plucky enemies of the state all the best. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Missing US Soldier Bowe Bergdahl Seen Alive ... - The Patriot Factor 

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For the family of SgtBowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier held by the Taliban, it has been 4 years, 7 months and seventeen days since they learned their son went missing from his base in eastern Afghanistan. It has been nearly ...
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Argentina on the Brink -

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More than a decade after it defaulted on its foreign debts, Argentina is again facing a financial crisis caused largely by misguided government policies. The administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner recently devalued the peso and relaxed some capital controls in an effort to preserve the country’s dwindling foreign reserves. The government is hoping that these steps will ease some of the pressure on the currency, which does not float freely against the dollar. But Argentina needs to do a lot more to address inflation and other underlying economic problems that have led investors and ordinary citizens to bet against the peso.
In the years after its painful default in 2002, which wiped out the savings of millions of people, Argentina enjoyed a fast growing economy thanks in part to the booming world demand for soybeans and other commodities the country exports. But Mrs. Kirchner squandered the recovery in recent years by increasing spending on wasteful subsidies and financing the government partly by printing pesos. As a result, inflation has shot up; independent economists estimate that consumer prices jumped 28 percent last year.
Mrs. Kirchner has also hurt the economy by picking fights with private businesses and investors. In recent years, she nationalized an oil company, an airline and pension funds. In 2011, Argentina implemented controls on how many pesos its citizens could convert into dollars, which helped create a black market for currency transactions and undermined confidence in the government’s economic policies. A recent poll showed that three-quarters of the country said the economy was headed in the wrong direction.
Government officials have begun taking some steps to correct past mistakes. The economy minister, Axel Kicillof, has been negotiating compensation for the oil company, YPF, that the government seized in 2012. And Argentina will put out a new inflation index next month to convince the International Monetary Fund to accept its official data again. While those are good first steps, Mrs. Kirchner and her aides will have to take much bolder steps to repair the damage that they have done to the economy in recent years.

Afghanistan Exit Is Seen as Peril to C.I.A. Drone Mission

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WASHINGTON — The risk that President Obama may be forced to pull all American troops out ofAfghanistan by the end of the year has set off concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region.

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