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1/30/15

India, US Advance Strategic Relations - Success For President Obama

India and the US will initiate co-production of low-end weapons in India as the two countries renewed their 10-year Defense Framework Agreement during a visit here by US President Barack Obama Sunday through Tuesday.

The agreement, which defines steps to be taken in the next 10 years to bolster their bilateral defense partnership, incorporates for the first time a provision to co-produce weapons in India, along with transfer of technology through the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI).

Analysts and serving military officers, however, said it is too early to expect co-development and co-production of advanced weapons systems, and the two countries will need to begin with low-end projects to become familiar with how the DTTI will work as bureaucratic hurdles can impede execution of such projects.

At first, the two countries will co-produce such low-end weapons as the Raven UAV, and reconnaissance modules for the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft bought in 2008, said an Indian Defence Ministry source. More products under DTTI will be identified during next month's visit by Frank Kendall, US undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Obama was the first US president to be the guest at the Jan. 26 Republic Day parade. His visit received substantial attention by the media, with analysts describing it as a watershed event and the beginning of a new era in Indo-US strategic relations under the Narendra Modi government.

Read more: ndia, US Advance Strategic Relations 

Greece rejects austerity in tense meeting with eurozone’s bailout chief

The new leftwing Greek government and the man overseeing its bailout operation – the eurozone’s finance chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem – met for the first time in Athens on Friday, and it was a difficult encounter.
Having paid his respects to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Dijsselbloem entered the lion’s den – the Finance Ministry to confront his nemesis.

There, during a one hour meeting, the Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told the Eurogroup President in no uncertain terms the country is done cooperating with its bailout lenders, the so-called troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Afterwards at a tense news conference Dijsselbloem tried reasoning: He said: “It is of the utmost importance that Greece remains on a path of recovery. This requires commitments to reform process and to fiscal sustainability. Taking unilateral steps or ignoring previous arrangements is not the way forward.”

Varoufakis was having none of that. He accused the troika of trying “to implement an anti-European programme,” adding “We see no purpose in cooperating with this tripartite committee that the European Parliament has criticised as being built on a rotten structure.”

Varoufakis said he had assured Dijsselbloem that Athens planned to implement reforms to make the economy more competitive and have balanced budgets but that it would not accept a “self-fed crisis” of deflation and non-viable debt.

The news conference ended with an awkward handshake, after which Dijsselbloem headed back to Brussels, not looking at all happy and with apparently no idea what the Greeks will do next to find money to cover around 10 billion euros in debt repayments this summer.

In Athens euronews correspondent Symela Touchtidou concluded: “Since 2010 Greece has received dozens of visits from the troika, as the Greek bailout programme was implemented. Now the new finance minister has firmly declared that those visits belong to the past.”

Read more: Greece rejects austerity in tense meeting with eurozone’s bailout chief | euronews, economy

Religion: How Do Americans Feel About Women, Gays in the Pulpit?

Americans support women in the pulpit and in senior leadership positions within the church. But they are more hesitant when it comes to supporting openly gay and lesbian religious leaders.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 60% of American Adults favor women in the pulpit, while just 16% are opposed. Twenty-five percent (25%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Even more (74%) support women in leadership positions in their respective faiths. Just nine percent (9%) are opposed, with 17% undecided.

Just 43% of Americans favor openly gay and lesbian individuals in the pulpit. Thirty-eight percent (38%) are opposed. Nineteen percent (19%) are undecided.

Forty-six percent (46%) support open gays and lesbians holding senior leadership positions in their respective faiths. Thirty-four percent (34%) do not, while 19% are not sure.

The more one attends religious services, however, the less supportive he or she is of women, gays and lesbians in the pulpit.

Evangelical Christians are less supportive than those of other faiths when it comes to women in the pulpit but are equally strong supporters of women in leadership positions in their faith. Evangelicals are much less supportive than the others, though, when it comes to open gays and lesbians in the pulpit and in leadership roles.

Read more: How Do Americans Feel About Women, Gays in the Pulpit? - Rasmussen Reports™

1/29/15

Oil: US Senate OKs Keystone XL Pipeline, Setting Up Fight With Obama - by Krishnadev Calamur

Nine Democrats joined 53 Republicans to pass the measure, which now must be reconciled with a version passed last month by the House. The Senate vote is also not enough to override a presidential veto.

NPR's Ailsa Chang tells our Newscast unit the measure is the first passed by the Senate in the new Congress. She says the Senate worked through dozens of amendments over three weeks despite the veto threat.

The U.S. State Department, which has been reviewing the pipeline for more than six years, is now deciding whether the project to carry oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is in the national interest. Congressional Republicans want to short-circuit that years-long process and grant the Keystone XL pipeline a permit immediately.

As we have previously reported, the "pipeline is a hot-button political issue, with politicians from both parties, some unions and energy companies supporting its approval while environmental groups, some Nebraska landowners and some liberal Democrats oppose it."

Read More: Senate OKs Keystone XL Pipeline, Setting Up Fight With Obama : The Two-Way : NPR

Greece Steps Back Into Line With European Union Policy on Russia Sanctions - by ndrew Higgens

Gathering in Brussels, European foreign ministers scrambled on Thursday to hold a united front against Russia over Ukraine, calming worries that the election of a far-left government in Greece hostile to sanctions could upend Europe’s policy toward Moscow.

This week’s victory of the anti-establishment Syriza party in Greece had been widely seen as enhancing dogged but previously unsuccessful efforts by Russia to divide members of the European Union and undermine the bloc’s sanctions policy.

In the end, however, Greece backed away from strong statements denouncing sanctions and joined other countries in the 28-member bloc in a unanimous vote in favor of expanding a list of sanctioned individuals, mostly Russians, and of work to prepare “any further action” to pressure combatants to respect a stillborn truce agreement from last year.

Greece also joined other countries in endorsing a six-month extension of sanctions imposed last March that would otherwise have soon expired.

The acquiescence of Greece’s new leftist government was greeted optimistically as a sign that, despite the tough words issued from Greek officials in recent days, Athens would continue to work with its European Union partners, including, perhaps, on its debt obligations.

Read more:  Greece Steps Back Into Line With European Union Policy on Russia Sanctions - NYTimes.com

Saudi Arabia:West has doubts on repressive Saudi Arabia's king - by Olivia Ward

Recent events are reminders that Saudi Arabia — arguably the West’s mainstay in a rocky region — is universally condemned for its religious extremism by countries that diplomatically and economically embrace it.

Meanwhile, in Jeddah, imprisoned blogger and activist Raif Badawi has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes, administered over 20 weeks, as well as 10 years in jail. 

On Thursday his wife, Ensaf Haidar, a refugee in Sherbrooke, Que., joined an all-party coalition and human rights advocates on Parliament Hill, calling for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s personal intervention.

The events are reminders that one of the West’s main Middle Eastern allies — arguably its mainstay in a rocky region — is universally condemned for its religious extremism by countries that diplomatically and economically embrace it.

Read more: West has doubts on repressive Saudi Arabia's king | Toronto Star

Russia: Putin Family Values - Leonid Bershidsky

Russian President Vladimir Putin has always been extremely secretive about his two daughters, so much so that it's all but impossible to find their recent photos on the Internet. Now, however, the Kremlin seems to be doing little to stop a fast-spreading story that Putin's younger daughter Ekaterina lives in Moscow and heads a company that's involved in developing a $1.7 billion innovation center.

The Dutch press has long reported that Maria Putina lived with her Dutch boyfriend in a posh apartment building in Voorschoten, Netherlands. When a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine, apparently by pro-Russian rebels, the mayor of the city of Hilversum angrily demanded that Maria be deported: Two-thirds of the passengers were Dutch citizens. He later apologized, but tabloids were already reporting she had fled her Dutch home.

As for Katerina, she was linked -- originally by the Korean press -- to the son of a retired South Korean admiral who once worked at the country's Moscow embassy. The admiral denied the rumors.

Read more: Putin Family Values - Bloomberg View

France - Poll says 80% of French want a return to national service

Some 80 percent of the French population want a return to compulsory national service in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, and see it as a useful tool for giving alienated youngsters “Republican values”.

An IFOP poll for regional daily Ouest France on Sunday showed that 81 percent of men and 79 percent of women supported some kind of service, be it civilian or military, for young men and women.

Read more: France - Poll says 80% of French want a return to national service - France 24

1/28/15

Thank You Greece! - by Maria Helena dos Santos André

In a time when in Paris Marine Le Pen is “Ante Portas”, when xenophobic populists are marching through the streets of Dresden, when in London the UKIP sets the tone for an ever more anti-European hysteria, and when in Helsinki the Finnish government becomes the most ardent proponent of more austerity for Greece, for no other reason but the fear of a success of the “Real Finns” at the next ballot box, the Greek people have given a clear signal, voting against more austerity and for the European values of democracy, the welfare state, tolerance and inclusive societies.

They have rejected the ruling by European and international technocrats. They have said no to their national oligarchic establishment that has led the country into the current situation. But they also resisted the siren calls of Golden Dawn. They have given their confidence to an untested party, with no experience in government, a party that has presented an electoral programme proposing better governance, more democracy, greater social justice and an end of austerity policies that have destroyed the economy and created unprecedented hardship while the public (and private) debt continued to increase. The Greek voters have sent a clear message to the rest of Europe: they want to be part of Europe, they can’t bear more austerity; they need a sustainable solution to their debt problem; they want to be a respected partner in the European Union and play an active role in the common search for a Greek and European recovery.

Europe should not see the victory of Syriza as a threat. Instead, it should be seen as a clear signal from the people and as an opportunity for Europe as a whole to reconsider its crisis response, which has already lead the continent into what may become a decade of deflationary stagnation, even with the last intervention of the ECB. There is no easy solution to the deep crisis in Europe but one thing is certain:  continuing with policies that do not work, because they concentrate exclusively on fiscal prudence, is the opposite of what must be done. We must give priority to growth, investment, employment and redistributive policies.

Anyone guided by realism will recognize that Greece cannot, at the same time, serve its tremendous debt burden and recover economically and socially. Insisting on servicing the debt without a strong economic recovery might be popular in some European capitals but it will just not work. Debts that cannot be paid remain un-payable even if creditors continue to insist that it should be paid.

The debt crises in Germany in the last century offer great lessons in this respect. After World War I, the victorious powers insisted that Germany should pay reparations independently of its economic performance. The results are well known: hyperinflation in the twenties, brutal austerity in the early thirties resulting in the rise of Hitler who immediately stopped servicing any foreign debt when he came to power.

After World War II, the Allies recognized that Germany had to become prosperous first and should pay afterwards. That reasoning lies behind one of the most generous debt restructuring agreements in history in 1953, when more than 50% of the German debt was written off, repayment was stretched out over more than half a century and debt payments were made conditional on the existence of a trade surplus. The last payment of debt from World War I was actually made as late as in 2010 and payments at no time exceeded 5% of German export earnings.

Read more: Thank You Greece!

Turkey’s arms procurement raises questions

The Executive Committee (EC) of the Defense Industry, the highest decision-making body on arms procurement in Turkey, held its first meeting of 2015 last week under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Ambitious and costly projects approved were trumpeted as further steps toward “new Turkey.”

In the old days, news of EC meetings did not really interest the man in the street. But in recent years the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government's frequent references to defense industry projects in its political discourse and boasting of grand successes achieved worthy of a global power in the making have made them newsworthy. Inauguration ceremonies for new projects that are public relations spectacles that the Turkish people enjoy are now a reality of that “new Turkey.”

This also explains why Davutoglu reserved most of his Jan. 13 parliamentary speech to the EC meeting. This is how he explained the EC decisions: “The defense industry is henceforth national and will remain national. It will be the basis of our national destiny. In old times, never mind Turkey even dreaming of making its own tanks and its own planes; we used plead for donations to buy the weapons other countries discarded. For tank modernization we needed Israel. Now we have a Turkey that won’t bow to others with its own national defense industry. This is the new Turkey.”

Read more: Turkey’s arms procurement raises questions - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East

Greece: Yes, Europe will give in to Greece—but it won’t admit it

The coming face-off between Greece’s European creditors and the country’s new left-wing government is painted as an epic struggle between intractable foes, but it’s better to think of them as sharing a common goal: Reducing Greece’s daunting debt without admitting it to the rest of Europe.

Greece doesn’t want to be cut loose from the euro zone, but Germany and the rest of the EU will find it hard to keep it in without offering politically unpopular debt relief. As Greece’s new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis of the Syriza party, put it, “we must offer Mrs. Merkel a way of packaging the new deal that she can then sell to her parliamentarians.”

The key thing to realize is that Greece’s problems date back far before Syriza came to spook the markets. The IMF’s most recent projection for Greece’s debt path is that it will decline from a horrendous 174% of GDP in 2013 to a hideous 128% by the end of the decade—but even that’s only if the country generates consistently high economic growth and runs a huge government surplus of around 4% of GDP for several years. Neither seems particularly likely, as private sector economists will tell you and even government ministers concede in private.

Read more: Yes, Europe will give in to Greece—but it won’t admit it – Quartz

Swedish far-right leader says Islamism is a bigger threat than Nazism - by Adam Taylor

The Swedish Democrats (SD) won 13 percent of the vote in September’s general election, becoming the third-most-popular political party in the country. Their success took many by surprise, but in many ways it was the result of a shift seen in other European far-right parties: SD, which has roots in Swedish fascism and white supremacy, had tempered its more extremist policies, and instead focused on social conservatism, immigration and Islam.

On Tuesday, acting party leader Mattias Karlsson hammered that point home by telling public broadcaster SVT that "the threat of Islamism is perhaps greater than it is from Nazism." The comments, which came on the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, stoked controversy in a country grappling with a backlash against multiculturalism.

SVT had asked Karlsson, who has been leading the party for the past few months after Jimmie Åkesson was put on leave for exhaustion, about statements once made by new party Secretary Richard Jomshof. Jomshof, a former teacher and member of a synth-pop band, had been criticized for a blog post in 2012 titled "Muslims who want to take over Europe" in which he said that Islamism is now a bigger threat than National Socialism or Communism were.

"[Nazism] was quite a terrible threat, much worse in his time," Karlsson told SVT. "Today, I think that the threat of Islamism is perhaps greater than it is from Nazism. But one must of course take all ideologies seriously and fight them in every way."

Read more: Swedish far-right leader says Islamism is a bigger threat than Nazism - The Washington Post