Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

Blood in the Hills: Leonard Peltier and the Pine Ridge Reservation Shoot Out, Forty Years Later

1297286273027_ORIGINAL

By Mark Trecka | The End Of Being | June 26, 2015

In the late morning of June 26th, 1975, two young FBI agents named Jack Coler and Robert Williams entered the property of Lakota Sioux elders Harry and Cecelia Jumping Bull while ostensibly investigating the theft of a pair of cowboy boots, and engaged in a firefight with several native activists who were camped there. Those two FBI agents and a young Indian named Joe Stuntz would be dead by mid-afternoon, slain in the South Dakota sun. Leonard Peltier, one of the activists camped at Jumping Bull that day, is currently serving back-to-back life sentences for the deaths of Coler and Williams. No investigation into the death of Stuntz was ever undertaken.

     Reports of military style bunkers and strongholds and large stockpiles of weapons on the Jumping Bull property were disseminated to the American public within the days following this incident, but such reports were promptly found to be fabricated. In an enforced absence of the media during the first days after the event, the deaths of the agents were told to be execution-style murders, the work of hateful, vengeful native militants. This, too, proved to be false. The agents, it seems, did not announce themselves that day and so appeared simply as two armed white men on reservation land. A compelling case has been made that Coler and Williams drove onto that land that day and fired shots for no reason but to set into motion the chain of events which followed.

     Violence against Indians on the greater Pine Ridge Reservation was entirely common at that time, and although at least some of that violence was funded and enabled by the FBI, the agency usually maintained a slightly more removed role than it did on this day. Dick Wilson, chairman of the Oglala Lakota Sioux was a militant assimilationist who had made it his mission throughout the early 1970s to suppress and punish expressions of native identity. He and his heavily armed, often drunk and extremely violent private squad of henchmen began terrorizing the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1972. Throughout his reign, uninvestigated violent deaths would befall more than one hundred residents of the reservation, and a climate of fear was pervasive. The Pine Ridge reservation, under Wilson’s rule, achieved the highest per-capita murder rate in the country and the dark clouds of alcoholism and poverty hung over everyday life there. Wilson received funds, arms, and reportedly alcohol from the federal government to operate and fuel his militia. The native activists camped on the Jumping Bull property on June 26th, 1975 were largely present as a response to these conditions, offering support and security to the residents of Pine Ridge in the face of Wilson’s thuggery.

     Relations between such Native American traditionalist activists, loosely organized under the banner of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and various government agencies had become explosive through the early 1970s. AIM was inspired in part by the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers but uniquely mobilized around pan-native spiritual practices, identity, and a vision that sought not necessarily advancement within the broader society, but the right to exist unmolested and to live a form of traditional native life without the violence and manipulation and strategic neglect so commonly experienced at the hands of the US government.

     Two-and-a-half years before the Pine Ridge shootout, supporters of AIM had assembled in the town of Custer, South Dakota to respond to the sentencing of Darold Schmitz for the murder of an Indian named Wesley Bad Heart Bull. While the two men had essentially engaged in a drunken tussle which resulted in Bad Heart Bull’s death, several witnesses testified to hearing Schmitz earlier in the evening state that “he was going to kill him an Indian.” After word got out of an involuntary manslaughter verdict and low bail, AIM leaders mobilized and dozens of supporters flooded the little town of Custer. While AIM leaders Russell Means, Dennis Banks, Leonard Crow Dog and Dave Hill were in talks with local officials, the victim’s grieving mother, Sarah Bad Heart Bull was beaten by police while attempting to enter the courthouse. The ensuing conflict between Indians and police turned into a riot in which several buildings were burned. (Sarah Bad Heart Bull was subsequently sentenced to one to five years in prison while Schmitz never served one day.)

     This incident is commonly considered the impetus for the 1973 occupation of the Wounded Knee memorial site by AIM activists and the subsequent 71-day standoff between two hundred AIM supporters and an army of federal agents, U.S. marshals, Dick Wilson’s thugs, and local ranchers. Russell Means and Dennis Banks were tried in 1974 as leaders of AIM and the primary organizers of that occupation. Means and Banks were acquitted after a disastrous and circus-like trial. The presiding judge, Fred Joseph Nichol, was so astonished by the questionable prosecutorial feats that he was, as quoted in Peter Matthiessen’s In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, moved to words of derision for the FBI.

It’s hard for me to believe that the FBI, which I have revered for so long, has stooped so low. I am forced to conclude that the prosecution acted in bad faith at various times throughout the course of the trial and was seeking convictions at the expense of justice. [ … ] The waters of justice have been polluted, and dismissal, I believe, is the appropriate cure for the pollution in this case.”

     By June of 1975, the FBI was apparently frustrated beyond clear-headedness. Matthiessen’s exhaustive account elucidates the details of the incident at Jumping Bull which would eventually result in Leonard Peltier’s conviction. Among the most striking is the fact that while agents Coler and Williams were ostensibly investigating the theft of a pair of cowboy boots, a myriad of law enforcement and paramilitary forces totaling at least 250 men were assembling within a few miles of the Jumping Bull property, which was soon surrounded.

     Throughout the exchange of fire, all of the Indians involved were able to escape into the hills, except for the fallen Joe Stuntz. Leonard Peltier, who was certainly among those who fled, eventually escaped to Canada, from where he was extradited back to the U.S. and tried for the murders of agents Coler and Williams.

     Peltier’s extradition and trial proved to be even more fraught with fraud than the Means-Banks trial. The prosecution depended largely on the testimony of a mentally unstable woman named Myrtle Poor Bear who later admitted that she had been threatened and coerced by the FBI. Although she was groomed to damn Peltier, she later admitted that she had never met him.

     Despite this and several other witnesses’ claims of coercion at the hands of the FBI, ballistics evidence which concluded in favor of Peltier’s innocence, and a general lack of evidence, Leonard Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two back-to-back life sentences.

     He remains in prison today, at the United States Penitentiary in Coleman, Florida, where he was moved after being severely beaten by inmates at a facility in Canaan, Pennsylvania in 2009. He is today 70-years-old. Several presidents, including Barack Obama, have flirted with the idea of granting Peltier clemency amidst enormous pressure from the international human rights community, intellectuals, celebrities, and spiritual leaders, though none has yet followed through. Recent reports highlight Peltier’s failing health and lack of proper medical treatment.

     Peltier is considered by many of his supporters to have been arbitrarily chosen for conviction after earlier attempts to convict AIM leaders failed. Although obviously a controversial and contentious subject, enough evidence has emerged in defense of Peltier over the years that he counts among his supporters the Dalai Lama, the late Nelson Mandela, the late Mother Theresa, the European Parliament, the National Lawyers Guild, Angela Davis, Amnesty International, The Human Rights Alliance, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and many others who believe that he is held as a political prisoner.

     With the 1983 publication of In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Peter Matthiessen was sued for libel by the FBI and related parties. As Martin Garbus explains in the afterword for the second edition of the book, the very existence of that edition is significant in the face of these legal battles.

The printing of this new edition is thus a joyful occasion for those of us who care about the dissemination of ideas, no matter how controversial, and worry about any erosion of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is a defeat for former South Dakota Governor William Janklow, for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and for FBI Special Agent David Price, all of whom tried to stop this book by filing suits in three stages, waging an eight-year litigation, and calling and threatening booksellers and book buyers. It is also a defeat for all those who wish to keep this country in the dark about abuses against its citizens in the past and present eras.”

     Matthiessen’s legal victories essentially validated all accounts in the book as sound.

     In addition to the 1991 edition of Matthiessen’s book, the 1992 documentary, Incident at Oglala, produced and narrated by Robert Redford, also helped to renew public interest in Peltier’s story. The Washington Post review of that film states: “Only the willfully partisan will disagree [Peltier’s] trial was anything but a government-cooked travesty.”

     Efforts are ongoing to convince President Obama to grant clemency to Peltier, as are efforts to prevent just such a thing from happening. His next parole hearing is scheduled for 2024.

 

August 30, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kiev Defies Minsk Accords, Resists Western Demands for Donbass Self-Rule

Sputnik – 30.08.2015

France and Germany are pressing Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to ensure partial self-rule for the country’s independence-minded east before the upcoming local election there, Ukrainian media reported on Saturday.

Poroshenko refuses to comply, citing legal, political and organizational hurdles preventing the implementation of the law, which would grant broader autonomy to the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, the Kiev-based Weekly Mirror newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources in the government.

In keeping with the provisions of the Minsk accords, reached in February 2015, President Poroshenko agreed to grant a special status to the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

Article 4 of the 13-point Minsk Protocol outlined the modalities of conducting local elections in particular districts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions and their future status.

Article 11 described decentralization of particular districts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions and their special status as the key elements of the proposed constitutional reform in Ukraine.

On August 24, President Poroshenko met in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

Briefing the media after the talks, Angela Merkel said that the three leaders had gathered in Berlin to endorse the Misk-2 accords, which she described as pivotal to a peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian conflict.

Addressing members of his Solidarity bloc shortly before the August 24 trip to Berlin, Petro Poroshenko said that the proposed constitutional reforms ruled out any federalization or other special statuses for any part of Ukraine.

August 30, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , | Leave a comment

Israeli forces evacuate Palestinian families for military drill

Ma’an – August 30, 2015

TUBAS – Israeli troops on Sunday morning evacuated 14 Palestinian families from their houses in the al-Ras al-Ahmar area of Khirbet Atuf village east of Tubas in the northern Jordan Valley area of the West Bank, local sources said.

Local sources reported that the “Israeli occupation” told the 14 families that Israeli forces will be carrying out military drills in the area for five days.

During the five days of military exercises, Palestinian residents in the area will be evacuated for six hours every day, local sources told Ma’an.

The evacuation was done under the argument that evacuating protects residents.

Earlier this year military drills in Tubas resulted in a fire that swept across some 3,000 to 4,000 dunams (750 to 1,000 acres) of Jordan Valley farmland.

The majority of the Jordan Valley is under full Israeli military control, despite being within the West Bank.The district of Tubas is one of the occupied West Bank’s most important agricultural centers.

According to the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, more than 15,000 dunams (3,700 acres) of land in the Tubas district have been confiscated by Israel for military bases with a further 8,000 dunams (2,000 acres) seized for illegal Israeli settlements.

August 30, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Militarism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Continual harrassment, threatening and intimidation of Palestinian family by settlers in Hebron

IMG_1886-600x450

Settler women with their children blocking the stairs to the Abu Rajab house
International Solidarity Movement | August 30, 2015

Occupied Palestine – The Palestinian Abu Rajab family in the occupied West Bank city of al-Khalil (Hebron) is facing continual intimidation by groups of settlers and Israeli forces protecting these settlers in their attempts to take over the Abu Rajab family home.

In the last few weeks, settlers from the nearby illegal Israeli settlements on various occasions have camped outside the home under the protection of the Israeli forces, leaving the family confined to the house not able to leave fearing attacks by settlers as well as settlers taking over the rest of the house.

In March 2012, a group of settlers from illegal settlements within the city broke the gate of the house and occupied the two upper floors of the house at night-time during Passover. Afterwards the settlers claimed to have legally bought the house, a claim that until now could not be proven legit by an Israeli court. Until the final decision of the court, the Abu Rajab extended family is not permitted to use that part of their home. The same year, one of the sons, in his early twenties, was arrested and put in administrative detention (detention without charges or trial) for a year.

When in September 2013 an Israeli soldier was shot in the neighbourhood of the Abu Rajab house, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanjahu promised the settler movement that they would be allowed to move back into the house.

Since the beginning of this year, the threats and attacks by settlers on the family have increased. A month ago, during Passover, settlers again tried to move into the house. Instead of protecting the family from these repeated and unlawful attacks, they threatened the family to leave the house. Since then, settlers again and again camp or even sleep outside the families’ home. On Monday and Tuesday, small groups of settler women with their children have been blocking the stairs to the house’s door all afternoon. The children, all under eight years old, were instrumentalised by their mothers as they are too young to understand what was going on. Palestinian children playing nearby the house were forced by soldiers to leave the area.

August 30, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | 1 Comment

US passports scoffed at by Israel; US stands by

By James Zogby | The Hill | August 24, 2015

Last year, some members of Congress attempted to pass legislation that would admit Israel into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. The State Department pushed back, noting that because of Israel’s long history of discrimination against Americans of Arab descent, they do not meet the program’s key requirement of reciprocity.

Congress relented and instead passed a Sense of Congress that stipulated that should Israel meet this requirement, they could be included in the Visa Waiver Program. In a sense, they were put on probation.

In the past year Israel has continued to demonstrate that it has no intention of ending their practice of discriminating against persons of Arab descent. My office has received new reports of shameful treatment meted out to Arab Americans on their arrival in Israel. Two cases, in particular, deserve to be noted.

After landing at Ben Gurion International airport, George Khoury, 70, and Habib Joudeh, 62, were detained for long hours, subjected to abusive interrogations, insulted by Israeli security personnel, and finally denied entry and forced to purchase, at their own expense, return tickets to the United States.

George is a professor and a deacon of his church from San Francisco. Habib is a pharmacist and respected community leader from Brooklyn. Both are American citizens of Palestinian descent. George was traveling to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage. Habib was on his way to attend a family wedding in the West Bank. Neither had been back to Israel/Palestine in more than 20 years. And neither was able to complete their journey.

While no American should be subjected to such treatment, the most disturbing element of these cases is the reason they were denied entry and deported. Because both men were of Palestinian descent, Israel would not honor their U.S. passports or recognize the men as American citizens. Both were told they had to acquire Palestinian IDs and then, as Palestinians, enter the West Bank through Jordan.

George’s case is especially instructive. When the Israeli border control agent told him that he could not enter Israel, George attempted to engage the agent saying, “I’m coming as an American citizen.” To which the agent replied “No, no, you belong with the Palestinian people. This is our Israel, this is for the Jews. No Palestinian should come to Israel. You should have gone through the Allenby Bridge.”

When George explained that “I am coming with an American passport and you should honor it,” the agent replied, “How do you want me to honor your American passport? Do you want me to kiss it, to hug it, or to worship it?”

What happened to Habib and George were not the actions of a few rogue agents. For more than three decades, the Arab American Institute has submitted to the State Department hundreds of instances where Arab Americans have been subjected to such treatment at Israel’s borders.

By so flagrantly disregarding the citizenship rights of Americans of Arab descent, Israel is in violation of its treaty obligations found in the “1951 US-Israel Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation.” In the language of the treaty, Israel pledges to permit U.S. citizens the right to “travel freely, to reside at places of their choice, to enjoy liberty of conscience” and to guarantee them “the most constant protection and security.”

Not only has Israel consistently violated its treaty obligation, but our government has failed to live up to its commitment to protect the rights of its own citizens. The opening page of the U.S. passport states that “The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.”

The Department of State says that it does not condone Israel’s treatment of Arab Americans. In reality, despite denying Israel’s admission into the Visa Waiver Program, the State Department appears to acquiesce to Israel’s behavior.

When George Khoury’s daughter wrote a letter of complaint to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, she received a response saying “Unfortunately, the US government cannot assist US citizens in gaining entry into Israel… Should your father wish to travel again in the future, we advise him to contact the nearest Israeli Embassy or Consulate for guidance.”

The U.S. official then directed her to the Department of State “Travel Advisory” which states that “regardless of whether they hold US citizenship, Israeli authorities consider anyone who has parents or grandparents who were born or lived in the West Bank or Gaza to have a claim to a PA ID.” They will, therefore, be treated as Palestinians and not as Americans.

It is upsetting that both the Department of State “Travel Advisory” and the Consul’s letter acknowledge Israel’s disregard for our citizenship rights and claim to be powerless to hold them accountable for their actions. This acquiescence allows Israel to act with impunity. It also makes our government appear to be complicit in Israel’s behavior.

More must be done. Israel cannot be allowed to disregard the citizenship rights of Americans or to unilaterally define persons of Arab descent as second-class American citizens. The Department of State and our elected representatives should demand that the Israeli government fully live up to its treaty obligations to treat all Americans equally without regard to their religion or national origin.

This is not merely a matter of denying Israel Visa Waiver privileges, it is a question of whether or not our government will guarantee Arab Americans the equal protection to which they are entitled and which they deserve.

Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute.


August 30, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Video | , , , | 1 Comment

Why We Should Be Concerned About Christian Zionism

Christian’s United For Peace:

This is a letter from a Palestinian Christian to the news director and lead anchor of EWTN News, the news division of the Eternal Word Television Network, a Catholic broadcast network with Zionist leanings.

Dear Raymond Arroyo,

I was watching your world over segment last night on EWTN and I had some concerns. My name is Mary. I’m a conservative Catholic from Bethlehem, Palestine.

I know you didn’t think we existed – don’t worry, you’re not the only one.

Besides, Israel propaganda does a great job making sure people think Palestinians only consist of mean crazy Muslims fighting the innocent virtuous God chosen people.

I couldn’t help but notice you were one of them, which struck me as very odd considering you work for a religious channel not political, and even if you yourself had your biases it should not be portrayed on your show.

Let me clarify some things if I may, sir. I have three cousins that are priests an uncle who is a Bishop look them up Bishop William Shomali, Fr. Ibrahim Shomali and Fr. Issa Shomali.

My mother lived in Rome for ten years, she almost got ordained to become a nun.

Yes we are pretty conservative and we are proud of our faith. Growing up in occupied Palestine just made our faith even stronger.

Watching on a daily basis Israeli jeeps with huge rifles sticking out from the back of the jeep threatening to shoot us at any moment just because we happened to live on the wrong side of town.

On the way to my St Joseph all-girls Catholic school I saw them making dirty comments, staring me in the face, mocking me.

I saw them shoot little children because they threw rocks at them, and sometimes for absolutely no reason.

In my peaceful town of Beit Sahour, mostly Christians, the first boy to get killed by Israelis was 16 years old.

11866210_10153062623158671_7338599799141080429_n

He was walking home from the store when Israeli soldiers dropped a huge rock on his head from the top of a building and watched him crawl home bleeding until he died at the front steps of his home. He was Christian, he did nothing to them.

Yet you don’t feel any sympathy for him. The second boy was at home in the kitchen watching his mom making fries.

An Israeli settler — you know, those guys who built a home illegally on Palestinian land and are armed — shot him through the window and killed him in front of his mom.

His name was Salam, it means peace. He was a Christian, not involved in anything. Yet you wouldn’t feel any sympathy for him because he’s not Jewish.

I can go on and on and on about how Israel was created, the wars literally kicking people out of their homes and moving in them, the massacres.

The times when they would put the whole town on house arrest, which means we can’t leave the home or look out the window. It would take weeks sometimes.

We are Christians and yet you wouldn’t feel any sympathy for us. When they would set us free they would shout in the microphone in their jeeps “home arrest is off you dogs and cows and donkeys”. And yet it’s all justified.

One time a Christian nurse from my home town took home a young boy who was wounded by Israeli soldiers. He was involved in a protest against occupation and must have thrown a rock at one of the jeeps (oh the horror!)

The soldiers went to her home, and arrested and imprisoned her for years for treating a wounded boy; how dare she!!

And when the town had many protests to free her they released her to Jordan and she was never allowed back to her home. And yet we are the terrorists and you have no sympathy for us.

My ancestors come from that land back in the days when people lived in caves even.

What if we are the original Christians that followed Jesus 2000 years ago — wouldn’t we have the same right to live there in dignity and yet we have none.

And you don’t care. We will continue to carry the cross proudly on our shoulder and suffer, we will continue to pray for our enemy and for peace.

We will not hate, we will only tell the truth. This is what our Bible teaches; you should try doing the same. Peace be with you my friend.

Love, Mary Alshomaly from the Holy Land of Jesus

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 5 Comments

German Media On The Prophets Of NASA: “Prophesizing Gigantic Floods” – 200 Years In The Future!

Pre-Paris hype

By P Gosselin | No Tricks Zone | August 28, 2015

The German media have been buzzing some with the recent NASA publication warning of rising sea levels for the future, and that we need to be very worried.

Maybe I’m reading more into the lines than I should, but I get the feeling that the increasingly dubious NASA climate science organization is no longer being taken 100% seriously by some major German outlets, who have started to label NASA scenarios and projections as “prophecies”.

For example Germany’s normally politically correct, devout green NTV here has the article bearing the title: “NASA prophesizes gigantic floods.”

Prophecies are more the sort of things one typically expects to hear from prophets. The trouble today is that anyone who claims to be a prophet or to possess prophet-like powers almost always gets equated to being a kook, quack, or charlatan. Moreover being labeled a prophet doesn’t get you much respect either. So you have to wonder about the NTV’s choice of words for the title of its story.

Could NTV journalists really be so dim and naïve as to actually believe in climate prophets?

NTV writes of an organization that seems to fancy itself as having visionary power to see the end of the world. NTV tells us:

An unavoidable sea level rise of at least one meter in the coming 100 to 200 years is the result of the latest research data.”

The NTV report then cites NASA prophet Tom Wagner:

NASA scientist Tom Wagner says that when the ice sheets break down on each other, even the risk of a sea level rise of three meters over the coming 100 to 200 years is thinkable.”

Okay, these visions may be still a bit fuzzy, but the NASA scientists prophets know almost for sure they are out there. And again the prophecy of doom gets repeated at the end of the article by prophet Steve Nerem:

‘Things will probably get worse in the future,’ prophesizes Nerem as a result of global warming.”

Again this is the NTV using the word “prophesizes”.

Of course there are only a few teensy-weensy problems with NASA’s prophecies of doom:

1) The hundreds of coastal tide gauges show no acceleration in sea level rise and they show a rise that is much less than what has been measured by the seemingly poorly calibrated satellites,

2) polar sea ice has recovered over the past years,

3) polar temperatures have flattened, or are even declining,

4) global temperatures have flattened, and 5) there’s a growing number of scientists who are now telling us that we should be expecting global cooling over the coming decades.

Moreover, new Greenland data show growing ice (more on this tomorrow).

I’ll let the readers judge for themselves on whether NASA scientists are true prophets, or if they are behaving more like snake oil peddling charlatans.

Myself I’ve lost all respect for the space organization. It’s become a grossly distorted caricature of what scientific research is about.

200 years in the future… yeah, right!

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science | , | 1 Comment

Long term exposure to tiny amounts of Monsanto’s Roundup may damage liver, kidneys – study

RT | August 29, 2015

Long-term intake of the Monsanto’s most popular Roundup herbicide, even in very small amounts lower than permissible in US water, may lead to kidney and liver damage, a new study claims.

The research, conducted by an international group of scientists from the UK, Italy and France, studied the effects of prolonged exposure to small amounts of the Roundup herbicide and one of its main components – glyphosate.

In their study, published in Environmental Health on August 25, the scientists particularly focused on the influence of Monsanto’s Roundup on gene expression in the kidneys and liver.

In the new two-year study, which extended the findings from one conducted in 2012, the team added tiny amounts of Roundup to water that was given to rats in doses much smaller than allowed in US drinking water.

Scientists say that some of the rats experienced “25 percent body weight loss, presence of tumors over 25 percent bodyweight, hemorrhagic bleeding, or prostration.”

The study’s conclusions indicate that there is an association between wide-scale alterations in liver and kidney gene expression and the consumption of small quantities of Roundup, even at admissible glyphosate-equivalent concentrations. As the dose used is “environmentally relevant in terms of human, domesticated animals and wildlife levels of exposure,” the results potentially have significant health implications for animal and human populations, the study warned.

“There were more than 4,000 genes in the liver and kidneys [of the rats that were fed Roundup] whose levels of expression had changed,” the study’s leading scientist, Michael Antoniou, head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King’s College London, said, as quoted by the Environmental Health News.

“Given even very low levels of exposure, Roundup can potentially result in organ damage when it comes to liver and kidney function,” he added. “The severity we don’t know, but our data say there will be harm given enough time.”

The results of the study have received mixed reviews in the scientific community, although many scientists have expressed their concern about possible negative health effects from Roundup use.

Taking into account that the team “used very low dose levels in drinking water … this study should have some kind of public health influence,” said Nichelle Harriott, the science and regulatory director at Beyond Pesticides, a Washington, DC based nonprofit organization, as quoted by the Environmental Health News.

“We don’t know what to make of such changes, they may be meaningful and may not,” said Bruce Blumberg, a professor from the University of California, who did not take part in the study.

“They can’t say which caused what, but what you have is an association – the group treated with a little Roundup had a lot of organ damage and the gene expression findings supported that,” he added.

Meanwhile, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, the use of glyphosate in herbicides has increased by more than 250 times in the United States in the last 40 years.

Research conducted in 2014 and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health linked the use of Monsanto’s Roundup to widespread chronic kidney disease that took the form of an epidemic in Sri Lanka. Another study showed that Monsanto agrochemicals may have caused cellular and genetic diseases in Brazilian soybean workers.

Additionally, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has recently determined that Roundup’s glyphosate is ‘number one’ among carcinogens, “possibly” causing cancer.

However, Monsanto has continuously and consistently insisted that its products are safe, citing other research supporting their claims. The latest such study was conducted by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessments (BfR) and deemed that Monsanto’s Roundup was safe.

So far, Monsanto has made no comment concerning the research conducted by the group led by Michael Antoniou.

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Environmentalism, Science and Pseudo-Science | , , | 1 Comment

Tower block in Ukraine goes up in flames

RT | August 29, 2015

Two firemen have suffered injuries after a fire engulfed a luxury high-rise in Odessa, Ukraine. The fire was able to spread due to flammable materials being used for insulation.

The 22-storey Gagarin Plaza is still under construction, and was empty, save for builders, when the fire started at about noon Saturday.

Eyewitnesses told the local 112 Ukraine TV channel that the fire began at the top floor of the building, and rapidly spread downward to the ground floor.

Emergency services dispatched 13 vehicles to the site, with over 40 firemen deploying six hoses. But they were unable to access the top floors of the building.

“Our ladders only reach the 9th floor,” complained Nikolay Chechetkin, the head of the country’s emergency services, to NewsOne channel. “To put out a fire this high up, you need water pressure, which can only be provided by electric-powered pumps. But the building has not been connected to the mains.”

The fire department of the coastal city said the most they could do now was to contain the blaze. One of their personnel suffered airways burns, due to inhaling smoke; the injuries of another have not been specified.

Chechetkin blamed synthetic insulation materials chosen by the architects for the ease with which the flames were able to spread.

In May, 17 people died in Baku, Azerbaijan, when unsafe Chinese-made plastic paneling – also used for insulation – caught fire in another high-rise.

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Video | Leave a comment

Gospel science: We found only one-third of published psychology research is reliable – now what?

What does it mean if the majority of what’s published in journals can’t be reproduced?

By Maggie Villiger | The Conversation | August 27, 2015

The ability to repeat a study and find the same results twice is a prerequisite for building scientific knowledge. Replication allows us to ensure empirical findings are reliable and refines our understanding of when a finding occurs. It may surprise you to learn, then, that scientists do not often conduct – much less publish – attempted replications of existing studies.

Journals prefer to publish novel, cutting-edge research. And professional advancement is determined by making new discoveries, not painstakingly confirming claims that are already on the books. As one of our colleagues recently put it, “Running replications is fine for other people, but I have better ways to spend my precious time.”

Once a paper appears in a peer-reviewed journal, it acquires a kind of magical, unassailable authority. News outlets, and sometimes even scientists themselves, will cite these findings without a trace of skepticism. Such unquestioning confidence in new studies is likely undeserved, or at least premature.

A small but vocal contingent of researchers – addressing fields ranging from physics to medicine to economics – has maintained that many, perhaps most, published studies are wrong. But how bad is this problem, exactly? And what features make a study more or less likely to turn out to be true?

We are two of the 270 researchers who together have just published in the journal Science the first-ever large-scale effort trying to answer these questions by attempting to reproduce 100 previously published psychological science findings.

Attempting to re-find psychology findings

Publishing together as the Open Science Collaboration and coordinated by social psychologist Brian Nosek from the Center for Open Science, research teams from around the world each ran a replication of a study published in three top psychology journals – Psychological Science ; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology ; and Journal of Experimental Psychology : Learning, Memory, and Cognition. To ensure the replication was as exact as possible, research teams obtained study materials from the original authors, and worked closely with these authors whenever they could.

Almost all of the original published studies (97%) had statistically significant results. This is as you’d expect – while many experiments fail to uncover meaningful results, scientists tend only to publish the ones that do.

What we found is that when these 100 studies were run by other researchers, however, only 36% reached statistical significance. This number is alarmingly low. Put another way, only around one-third of the rerun studies came out with the same results that were found the first time around. That rate is especially low when you consider that, once published, findings tend to be held as gospel.

The bad news doesn’t end there. Even when the new study found evidence for the existence of the original finding, the magnitude of the effect was much smaller — half the size of the original, on average.

One caveat: just because something fails to replicate doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Some of these failures could be due to luck, or poor execution, or an incomplete understanding of the circumstances needed to show the effect (scientists call these “moderators” or “boundary conditions”). For example, having someone practice a task repeatedly might improve their memory, but only if they didn’t know the task well to begin with. In a way, what these replications (and failed replications) serve to do is highlight the inherent uncertainty of any single study – original or new.

More robust findings more replicable

Given how low these numbers are, is there anything we can do to predict the studies that will replicate and those that won’t? The results from this Reproducibility Project offer some clues.

There are two major ways that researchers quantify the nature of their results. The first is a p-value, which estimates the probability that the result was arrived at purely by chance and is a false positive. (Technically, the p-value is the chance that the result, or a stronger result, would have occurred even when there was no real effect.) Generally, if a statistical test shows that the p-value is lower than 5%, the study’s results are considered “significant” – most likely due to actual effects.

Another way to quantify a result is with an effect size – not how reliable the difference is, but how big it is. Let’s say you find that people spend more money in a sad mood. Well, how much more money do they spend? This is the effect size.

We found that the smaller the original study’s p-value and the larger its effect size, the more likely it was to replicate. Strong initial statistical evidence was a good marker of whether a finding was reproducible.

Studies that were rated as more challenging to conduct were less likely to replicate, as were findings that were considered surprising. For instance, if a study shows that reading lowers IQs, or if it uses a very obscure and unfamiliar methodology, we would do well to be skeptical of such data. Scientists are often rewarded for delivering results that dazzle and defy expectation, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Although our replication effort is novel in its scope and level of transparency – the methods and data for all replicated studies are available online – they are consistent with previous work from other fields. Cancer biologists, for instance, have reported replication rates as low as 11%25%.

We have a problem. What’s the solution?

Some conclusions seem warranted here.

We must stop treating single studies as unassailable authorities of the truth. Until a discovery has been thoroughly vetted and repeatedly observed, we should treat it with the measure of skepticism that scientific thinking requires. After all, the truly scientific mindset is critical, not credulous. There is a place for breakthrough findings and cutting-edge theories, but there is also merit in the slow, systematic checking and refining of those findings and theories.

Of course, adopting a skeptical attitude will take us only so far. We also need to provide incentives for reproducible science by rewarding those who conduct replications and who conduct replicable work. For instance, at least one top journal has begun to give special “badges” to articles that make their data and materials available, and the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences has established a prize for practicing more transparent social science.

Better research practices are also likely to ensure higher replication rates. There is already evidence that taking certain concrete steps – such as making hypotheses clear prior to data analysis, openly sharing materials and data, and following transparent reporting standards – decreases false positive rates in published studies. Some funding organizations are already demanding hypothesis registration and data sharing.

Although perfect replicability in published papers is an unrealistic goal, current replication rates are unacceptably low. The first step, as they say, is admitting you have a problem. What scientists and the public now choose to do with this information remains to be seen, but our collective response will guide the course of future scientific progress.

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science | , | Leave a comment

Decentralization Reform in Ukraine

By Halyna Mokrushyna | CounterPunch | August 28, 2015

One of the sources of the ongoing, and deepening, political and economic crisis in Ukraine is the excessive concentration of power in Kyiv’s hands. It is a key issue underlying the civil war in the east of the country.

Kyiv has always maintained a policy of ‘one nation, one language’ for Ukraine. Even two Russian-speaking presidents of Ukraine from the Russian-speaking southeast of the country–Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yanukovych–remained loyal to that mantra, betraying electoral promises they had made to grant the Russian language a status as a second, official language of Ukraine.

In the realm of the economy, Kyiv has always kept the lion’s share of taxation revenues, denying a fare share to the regions. According to Tatiana Muntian, a lawyer and activist defending the interests of ordinary Ukrainians, under Yanukovych, this share constituted 80 per cent of revenue, with only 20 per cent remaining in the regions. The new, “democratic” regime in Kyiv is today taking 82%.

The delegation of powers to different levels of government is a feature of Western democracies, more pronounced in some than in others. Local autonomy is particularly important in countries composed of diverse regions with different histories, languages and cultures. It provides regions with the opportunity to manage their own finances and define their own social, educational, economic, and health policies and preserve distinctive cultural or regional identities.

One of the main reasons for the current civil war in Ukraine is the refusal of Kyiv to grant such autonomy to the regions of the country. The people of the Donbas region (Donetsk and Lugansk) rebelled because they did not approve of the extreme-nationalist ideology and interpretation of history being imposed on the whole country by the pro-Western regime which came to power in Kyiv as a result of the coup d’état of February 2014 (or call it the “Revolution of Dignity”, if you will). If Donbas and other regions of Ukraine had more autonomy in deciding how to spend the money they raise through taxation and which languages receive official status, the present war would not have happened. Kyiv refused to grant the autonomy, so Donbas had no choice but to fight for it.

Russia, in turn, provided political support to Donbas’ grievances by repeatedly requesting of the Kyiv government that it respect Donetsk and Lugansk and negotiates with them as equals and by getting involved in working on a peaceful solution of the conflict through Minsk agreements. Russia also supports the rebel region by sending its own humanitarian aid convoys, facilitating others, and declining to follow Western diktats that it block the movement and activities of Russian volunteers supporting the insurgency.

Europe hints that it understands the situation. European Union leaders encourage Ukraine’s leadership, which aspires so desperately to join Europe, to decentralize power. Ukraine is required under the terms of the Minsk-2 ceasefire agreement of February 12, 2015 to write and approve a much-talked about legislation on decentralization. This is not only crystal clear in the agreement, but it is also very much needed for a variety of compelling reasons internal to the country. Clause number 11 of Minsk-2 stipulates that Ukraine must adopt and apply by the end of 2015 a new constitution that has as a key element a decentralization which takes into consideration the “particularities” of “certain districts” of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts, agreed upon with the representatives of these districts.

Ukraine has pledged to adopt by the end of 2015 permanent legislation on the special status of “certain districts” of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts. Note 1 of the agreement spells out detailed measures that must be included in the legislation. (The Russian original of Minsk-2 can be found on the website of the OSCE; the English version can be found on UNIAN news agency).

The evasive formula of “certain districts of Donetsk and Lugansk” is a compromise between Russia and Europe, the latter as represented by France and Germany. The presidents of these countries plus Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko and Russian president Vladimir Putin negotiated these agreements during unprecedented several-hours talks in Minsk in February of this year. It is clear from this phrasing, and confirmed by Russia’s own declarations, that Russia had no intention of recognizing the rebellious Donbas regions as independent political entities or accepting them into membership of the Russian Federation. Otherwise, the “certain districts” would be called by their self-identification names – Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR). For its part, the leaders of Europe, who refused to see DNR and LPR as legitimate formations, recognized in Minsk the distinctive character of this region of Ukraine.

Footnote 1 of the Minsk agreements is a clear and simple roadmap for the creation of an autonomous entity of Donbas as part of the Ukrainian state: in addition to guaranteeing the exemption from punishment, persecution and discrimination of individuals “involved in the events that took place in certain districts of Donetsk and Lugansk Regions”, Ukraine pledged to assure that:

– these regions would have linguistic self-determination;

– local government would participate in the appointment of the heads of the Prosecutor’s office and courts;

– local executive power organs would be able to sign agreements with the central organs of the executive power (the Cabinet of Ministers) regarding the economic, social, and cultural development of “certain districts”;

– the Ukrainian state would support the socio-economic development of the districts; central executive bodies would assist the districts in their cross-border cooperation with regions of the Russian Federation;

– local councils would have the authority to create people’s militia units in order to maintain public order;

– the powers of local council deputies and officials, elected in early elections, called by the Verkhovna Rada according to this law, could not be prematurely terminated.

All of these provisions are already written and adopted as a law of Ukraine “On a special local government order in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, which came into effect on September 16, 2014. However, this “special order”, according to the law, will be temporary – only for three years. Ukraine avoided granting autonomy to Donbas on a permanent basis.

The bill on decentralization, which was proposed to the Verkhovna Rada by President Poroshenko on July 1, 2015, had the same flaw – it stipulated only in the “transitional provisions” in its concluding section that the local self government in certain regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regions are determined in a separate law. This has provoked criticism by representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics that the provision for their autonomy is not included in the main body of the Constitution of Ukraine. The representative of the DPR Denis Pushilin, stated also that Ukraine did not send its proposed amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine to the Lugansk and Donetsk working groups of Minsk-2 which are supposed to work on implementing the agreement. This failure by Ukraine is in violation of clause 11, according to which constitutional reform should be “agreed with representatives of these “districts of Donetsk and Lugansk”.

The official proposals of Donetsk and Lugansk on decentralization, sent in May of 2015, were completely ignored by Kyiv, stated Pushilin. He said that the republics will insist on a detailed formulation of their special status in the main body of the Constitution of Ukraine, not just an interim passim in the “transitional provisions”. The Kremlin, through the words of Dmitri Peskov, the press-secretary of President Putin, reiterated the criticism formulated by the DPR and LPR. Volodymyr Hroysman, the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, stated in May 2015 that the constitutional commission of Ukraine did not receive any “official” proposal on behalf of the DPR and LPR. So, Kyiv still refuses to treat DPR and LPR representatives as partners in negotiations, ignoring their legitimate requests, based on Minsk-2 agreements.

Criticism by Donetsk, Lugansk and Russia of the Ukraine’s bill was duly noted by the West. Leaders in Europe and the United States covertly put pressure on Kyiv to amend the bill. The vice-speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Oksana Syroid, stated recently that on July 14, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande telephoned the speaker of the Rada, Volodymyr Hroysman, urging him to ensure that the bill is voted for .

On July 15, one day before the bill was scheduled for a vote in the Rada, Victoria -“f*** the EU”- Nuland flew to Kyiv to assist her disciples in the science of democracy and vote correctly. On the same day, Poroshenko tabled a new, revised draft of the bill, in which the provision that the local governments in certain regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regions are determined in a separate law was moved from “transitional provisions” to chapter XV “Transitional provisions” of the main body of the Constitution. No elaborate formulation of this “local government”, no permanent status, neither. On the day of the vote on July 16, three high officials from the West were present in the Rada to make sure that their Ukrainian disciples do the right thing and vote for the bill. These officials were the Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, the US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Payette, and the Head of the EU delegation to Ukraine Jan Tombinski.

Having voted for the revised bill, the Rada sent it to the Constitutional Court, which verified the bill for the validity of statute and on July 30 delivered the verdict that the bill conforms to the Constitution of Ukraine. Now the bill is to be voted for the second time in the current session, which will expire on August 31. It will be voted for the third time in a new session due to open on September 1. At the second and third reading, the bill must receive the support of 300 deputies. It received 288 votes at the first reading. Two factions in the Rada, the Radical Party of Oleh Liashko and Samopomich (Self-reliance), voted against.

The bill has been criticized in several points by the Radicals and Samopovich. Liashko, who is known for highly emotional speeches in the Rada and for reciting poems and singing of the national anthem, stated that his party will never vote for a constitution which contains a clause providing special status of Donbas. “Our volunteers did not fight for the country so that Motorola, Givi [military leaders of the Donbas rebellion] and other terrorists obtain a special status”, stated Liashko, although Poroshenko himself acknowledged from the podium of the Rada, that the proposed changes to the Constitution “only admit the possibility of a specific order of the realization of the local (stress by Poroshenko) government in certain administrative and territorial units of Lugansk and Donetsk regions, which is determined by a separate law”. So here we go: no special status, no autonomy, only a “temporary”, special local government.

The bill on decentralization has been criticized by the Radical Party and by many others, including the former leader of the Socialist Party, Olexandr Moroz, and the Samopomich party, for centralizing power instead of delegating it to the regions. The bill provides for the introduction of the institution of prefects, which will replace current heads of regional state administrations. Prefects would exercise executive power on a local level and would be appointed directly by the President of Ukraine on the proposal of the Cabinet of Ministers, being accountable before both. They would supervise local governments to ensure the compliance of their actions with the constitution and laws of Ukraine, as well as the compliance of the “territorial organs of the central organs of the executive power”. (This latter formula is vague and hard to understand, as are many passages of the bill on decentralization).

A prefect will have the power to decree acts which will be mandatory for the respective territory (article 110) and to block the acts of local governments if a prefect deems them anti-constitutional (article 144). In cases where a local government or its head adopts an “act” which does not respect the Constitution of Ukraine or threatens state sovereignty, territorial integrity or the national security of Ukraine, the president of the country is empowered to veto this act, suspend the offending local government (councils) and appoint an interim “state representative” who will “direct and organize” the work of the local executive organs of power. The president would concomitantly send a request to the Constitutional Court to examine the act in question and determine whether it violates the constitution. In cases where the Constitutional Court decides that a local act does violate the constitution, the Rada, upon the proposal of the president, would terminate the powers of the head of the local government or of the entire local council and call early elections (article 144).

The current regional and district administrations do not have the power to dismiss local councils and cannot stop or suspend the decision of local governments, as Liashko rightly remarks. Moreover, local councils can dismiss the head of the state administration if two thirds of the deputies of local councils express non confidence. In such a case, the President of Ukraine is required to decree the dismissal of the head of the local administration (http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=55812 ).

The head of the parliamentarian fraction of Samopomich party, Oleh Bereziuk, criticizes the institution of prefects because it introduces a dual executive power on the local level – both prefects and regional or city councils will have it. However, the prefects also have control and coordination functions, which imply a possibility of punishment – prefects can intimidate local councils by threatening to dissolve them, since the president has the power to dissolve the council upon prefect’s suggestion.

The member of the Opposition Bloc fraction in the Rada, Mikhail Papiev, also voiced cautions of his party regarding the decentralization bill. He believes that prefects should only effectuate a state supervision, not to be the head of the executive power; the executive local organs should have the full executive power. Papiev also cautioned that imprecise wording of the clause would allow, or open the door to, the president to suspend (or, in the literal translation from Ukrainian, temporarily halt) activities of a local council. The Constitutional Court would then examine immediately whether the decisions of the council are anti-constitutional, threatening a situation where in territories out of favor with the central power, there would be no councils and state commissioners would perpetually rule the region. Papiev also reminded that the proposed bill was not discussed and agreed upon with the representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk and that the special statute of Donbas is not written explicitly as an article in the Constitution. A special law, which is mentioned instead in the proposed bill, could be declared as anti-constitutional and revoked.

The representative of the Batkivshchyna [Fatherland] Party, Ihor Lutsenko, noted that there is no provision for the revocation of the right of a prefect to suspend legal acts adopted by a local government. Nobody can hold him accountable on the local level. Under such circumstances, a prefect can become a sole source of power in the region, an autocrat who watches over the local government. It can be interpreted as the interference of the state power into the local governance. The right of the president to suspend local governments and to appoint an interim state commissioner means that the Rada could allow the president in peacetime to halt the functioning of local authorities on some far-fetched pretext and introduce direct rule. For instance, under the current legislation, even corruption is considered a threat to national security of Ukraine. Lutsenko qualified this provision as a “legal perversion”.

The former head of the Socialist Party of Ukraine, Olexandr Moroz, stressed that the prefect will be the “the man in charge” in the region, which goes against the affirmation that the power in the region is controlled by the population. It is not clear, according to the proposed changes to the Constitution, what exact powers a prefect will have, what his status will be or what he/she will do, outlined Moroz.

I have already mentioned that the bill on decentralization suffers from many vague formulations. For instance, in the chapter on the prefect’s powers, it is stipulated that he/she “coordinates the activities of the territorial organs of the central organs of the executive power”. What are these territorial organs? The central organs of executive power in Ukraine are the Cabinet of Ministers and various ministries, state agencies and services. There is no such thing as “territorial organs” in the current political-administrative system of Ukraine. Probably, they will be created as part of the planned reform in Ukraine.

According to the proposed article 133, the new administrative-territorial division (ATD) of Ukraine will consist of communities (hromady), districts (rayony), and regions. The community is the primary, the smallest unit. It is called “a territorial community”. Communities form a district, and several districts form a region. In the current administrative-territorial system in Ukraine, a village is the smallest unit. A district is a formation of many villages and towns, with a city as an administrative centre of a district. An oblast is a regional formation, regrouping several districts. The planned reform of the ATD in Ukraine was outlined, prior to the proposed bill on decentralization, in the law of Ukraine “On the voluntary merging of territorial communities”, adopted by the Rada on February 5, 2015. The goal of this law was to solve a chronic problem of the Ukrainian state: shortages of funds for the financing of schools, hospitals or first-aid centres, other elements of social infrastructure, and the bureaucratic apparatus of village and city councils. The goal was to reduce the number of villages and districts, thus reducing the costs of administration and of services.

The voluntary merging, according to the law, is initiated by the head of a village or a city, deputies of the village or city council (at least one third of them), or members of a “self-organization” of the population (again, they have to represent the interests of at least one third of the members of the local community). The question has to be publicly debated, and after that the local council adopts a decision on the voluntary merger. The decision is then directed to the regional state administration which approves it.

The territorial communities of neighboring villages, towns, and cities are the subjects of the voluntary merging. An administrative centre of a newly formed territorial community should be a locality that has a developed infrastructure and is situated close to the geographical centre of the community. The name of that locality becomes the name of the territorial community.

Territorial communities will form districts (raions), which will be much bigger than the existing ones. Currently there are dozens of raions within an oblast. In the new system, these dozens will be amalgamated into 4-7 larger raions, with the population of each to be between 150,000 to 400,000 residents. In total, around 120-130 enlarged raions will be created in Ukraine. The geographical borders of oblasts will remain the same, but instead of oblasts they will be called rehiony (regions).

In regions and raions both, there will be local governments as well as organs of state power, similar to current state administrations. The central power will be represented by prefects. The executive power will be given to the executive committees of raion and region councils.

At the lowest level of governance,–a territorial community–there will be no representative of the central power. A community will take over the major part of services to the population, which currently are provided by raion centers. A universal centre of administrative services will be created in each community (ibid).

The bill stipulates that heads of communities, as well as deputies of the councils of communities, raions, and oblasts, are elected in a free election, by exercising a general, equal and direct right to vote through a secret ballot. What “oblast councils”, if no such administrative unit will exist anymore?

In general, the terminology of the administrative division of Ukraine is a weird patchwork of various historical terms. To start with, hromada is an old Ukrainian word which denotes more than a type of settlement—it denotes a collectivity of people, united by common life, interests and a territory. Therefore, to use it in the sense of an administrative unit is not appropriate. Raion comes from the former Soviet administrative system, while the word “region” has been employed in Ukrainian in the sense of a geographical entity which is larger than an oblast and has its own cultural, historical, and natural particularities, such as the Donbas region, Carpathian region, Southern Ukraine region etc. The new proposed terminology is awkward and confusing.

The bill on decentralization states that the territorial community directly or through the community council will manage the communal property, form a budget and control its implementation, adopt programs of social-economic and cultural development and control its implementation; establish local taxes and fees and other local matters in its competencies (article 143). However, the proposed article 142 significantly reduces the competencies of the communities because it stipulates that the state “ensures the commensurability of financial resources and the scope of competencies of organs of local governance” and that “a change in the competency of the organ of local self-governance is made concomitantly with the respective changes in the repartition of financial resources”. What does that mean? According to the Ukrainian philosopher and blogger Serhiy Datsiuk, it means that the state determines the scope of formal competencies of the local governments by equating it with the finances available, and the state itself determines the scope of finances. That is, the state continues to distribute resources to regions “in a manual mode”, without strict rules and principles. Again, it means that the budgets will be formed not from the bottom up but from the top down, which goes against the logic of decentralization.

The bill also stipulates that the raion and oblast councils adopt raion and oblast budgets and “resolves other issues in its competency, determined by the law”. The oblast councils also adopt a regional program of the social-economic and cultural development of the oblast. So, again, what we are talking about here – a region or an oblast? And why is the raion council not involved in the adoption of these programs, only the community and oblast councils?

One paragraph later, the bill stipulates that the law (which law?) delimits powers of local governments on the three levels of self-governance “on the principle of subsidiarity” (art. 143), without explaining what exactly this principle means.

And speaking about elections on the local level, following the old schedule they will take place in October of this year. The elected officials will then carry out the major part of their administrative duties while the central power organs will carry out the reform. New local elections will then take place in October of 2017, and the new local governments, provided for in the bill, will start functioning fully. The question that I have, given the dire economic situation in the country is, why not start implementing the reform now, keeping the current local self-governance organs in place, and then, once the transitional period is over and a new power structure is in place, to call local elections then? I guess an answer to this question, at least partly, maybe that the power holders in Kyiv need to assure the presence of their fellow party members on the local level, especially in the “non-reliable” regions of Southern and Eastern Ukraine, where many of the former Party of Region members (the party, of sorts, of President Yanukovych) work in local councils.

My conclusions, after a long analysis of the proposed bill on decentralization, are that it is not really decentralization but, rather, a reinforcement of the presidential “vertical” power. It is a document written hastily and without clear formulations. It is a document that was pushed through the Verkhovna Rada by President Poroshenko and Prime-Minister Yatsenyuk in order to please their Western allies and to pretend that the current regime in Kyiv is fulfilling its obligations under the Minsk-2 agreement. This document has not been discussed with the representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk, which undermines negotiations which are already practically non-existent and it undermines a possible political solution between Kyiv and Donbas.

As to the roadmap of real decentralization, which Ukraine desperately needs, this bill will need to be significantly improved to remove vague formulations and make the clauses more precise and clear. As it is, the bill is but a variation of the existing administrative-territorial division of Ukraine and a reshuffling of the current legislation. The old adage “the more things change, the more they remain the same” holds true in Ukraine.

Halyna Mokrushyna is currently enrolled in the PhD program in Sociology at the University of Ottawa and a part-time professor. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and MA degree in communication. Her academic interests include: transitional justice; collective memory; ethnic studies; dissent movement in Ukraine; history of Ukraine; sociological thought.  Her doctoral project deals with the memory of Stalinist purges in Ukraine. In the summer of 2013 she travelled to Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk to conduct her field research. She is currently working on completing her thesis. She can be reached at halouwins@gmail.com.

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Timeless or most popular | | Leave a comment

$1.8 bln IMF Ukraine Bailout Funds Discovered in Kolomoyskyi’s Cyprus Kitty

Sputnik | August 29, 2015

A huge chunk of the $17 billion in bailout money the IMF granted to Ukraine in April 2014 has been discovered in a bank account in Cyprus controlled by exiled Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, the German newspaper Deutsche Wirtshafts Nachrichten (DWN) reported on Thursday.

In April last year $3.2 billion was immediately disbursed to Ukraine, and over the following five months, another $4.5 billion was disbursed to the Ukrainian Central Bank in order to stabilize the country’s financial system.

“The money should have been used to stabilize the country’s ailing banks, but $1.8 billion disappeared down murky channels,” writes DWN.

Ihor Kolomoyskyi, the former governor of Dnipropetrovsk, is one of Ukraine’s richest businessmen, with a business empire that includes holdings in the energy, media, aviation, chemical and metalwork industries. At the center of Kolomoyskyi’s wealth is PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest financial institution, which claimed the bulk – 40 percent – of the bailout money which had been earmarked for stabilizing the banking system.

“Theoretically, the IMF should retain direct control over the distribution of funds. In fact, it seems that the banks chose their own auditors.”

DWN notes that the IMF reported in January 2015 that the equity ratio of Ukraine’s banking system had dropped to 13.8 percent, from 15.9 percent in late June 2014. By February 2015 even PrivatBank had to be saved from bankruptcy, and was given a 62 million Euro two-year loan from the Central Bank.

“So where have the IMF’s billions gone?”

The racket executed by Kolomoyskyi’s PrivatBank was uncovered by the Ukrainian anti-corruption initiative ‘Nashi Groshi,’ meaning ‘our money’ in Ukrainian.

According to Nashi Groshi’s investigations, PrivatBank has connections to 42 Ukrainian companies, which are owned by another 54 offshore companies based in the Caribbean, USA and Cyprus. These companies took out loans from PrivatBank totaling $1.8 billion.

These Ukrainian companies ordered investment products from six foreign suppliers based in the UK, the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean, and then transferred money to a branch of PrivatBank in Cyprus, ostensibly to pay for the products.

The products were then used as collateral for the loans taken out from PrivatBank – however, the overseas suppliers never delivered the goods, and the 42 companies took legal action in court in Dnipropetrovsk, demanding reimbursement for payments made for the goods, and the termination of the loans from Privatbank.

The court’s ruling was the same for all 42 companies; the foreign suppliers should return the money, but the credit agreement with Privatbank remains in place.

“Basically, this was a transaction of $1.8 billion abroad, with the help of fake contracts, the siphoning off of assets and violation of existing laws,” explained journalist Lesya Ivanovna of Nashi Groshi.

In March Kolomoyskyi was dismissed from his position as governor of Dnipropetrovsk after a power struggle with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko; the fraud was carried out while he was governor of the region in East-Central Ukraine.

“The whole story with the court case was only necessary to make it look like the bank itself was not involved in the fraud scheme. Officially it now looks like as if the bank has the products, but in reality they were never delivered,” said Ivanovna.

Such business practices have earned Kolomoyskyi a fortune currently estimated by Forbes at $1.27 billion, and were known to investigators beyond Ukraine’s borders; Kolomoyskyi was once banned from entering the US due to suspicions of connections with international organized crime.

Despite these suspicions, it appears that Kolomoyskyi is unlikely to face justice, as he is currently living in exile in the US; he fled Ukraine earlier this year. Ukraine has been granted a further $3.6 billion in debt relief from creditors. Russia, despite its membership in development lending institutions, has refused to contribute funds to Ukraine due to concerns emanating from this and other instances of widespread graft.

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , , , | 1 Comment