Romania will host NATO heavy arms if asked, as they support ‘every venture’ – bloc chief


“This decision will be announced very soon – how this all will be accomplished – and my expectation is that if Romania is asked to participate, they will do so as they have done in every NATO venture so far, and have been a great host and great allies,” NATO Commander, US European Command, General Breedlove said.

The commander did not elaborate on what kind of weapons NATO plans to deploy in Romania. Experts however believe that Romania will soon house a range of armored vehicles, anti-aircraft weapons systems, combat aircraft and artillery.

As far as stationing NATO’s heavy military equipment in Romania, a portion of political analysts agree that NATO is just securing the alliance’s geopolitical borders and preparing for a long confrontation with Russia. The president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, Dr. Konstantin Sivkov, told Sputnik that this is part of an overall strategy by NATO to secure its eastern borders gained after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.

NATO, Siskov believes, could use such fortifications to potentially conduct a military operation that might aim to “take Moscow” within a month, if not countered by adequate measures. Given Romania’s vicinity, the fly-in time of NATO jets to a number of Russian key hubs and airfields would be reduced to less than half an hour, Siskov warned, adding that extraordinary measures should be taken to avert potential threats posed by NATO.

Breedlove and Romanian officials discussed the missile defense bases planned in the Romanian town of Deveselu due to become operational this year, although he did not comment on those talks during the press conference.

He did however speak about the so-called “Dragoon Ride” military roadshow – a convoy of over a hundred US Stryker armored fighting vehicles – sent on a trip through Eastern Europe as “a message of reassurance.”

READ MORE: ‘Stop US Army’: Czech activists protest military convoy (VIDEO)

NATO is ready to defend against so-called Russian belligerence, Breedlove stated. The exercise tested many things that “hadn’t been done for a long time in NATO … like multiple border crossings and which bridges are capable of handling the vehicles,” Breedlove said.

And while Breedlove hailed the support of locals each time the convoy passed through another city, he failed to mention protests that accompanied NATO’s forces along the way, the latest one in Prague, Czech Republic.

The Dragoon Ride started last week from Estonia and passed through Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, before entering the Czech Republic on its return journey to a Germany in the city of Vilseck. Anti-war protesters along the way decried NATO drills that have intensified this year and the alliance’s reach in Eastern Europe.

Russia sees the recent actions as additional proof that NATO is an anti-Russian military bloc that has taken advantage of the Ukrainian conflict, using it as a pretext for a military build-up in Eastern Europe.

“NATO is developing its rapid response forces and is boosting its infrastructure near our borders, we are registering attempts to violate nuclear parity and the creation of the European and Asia-Pacific segments of the missile defense systems is being sped up,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week.

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Since the beginning of March, six NATO warships participated in naval drills in the Black Sea. The operation, headed by the US, included anti-air and anti-submarine exercises. The 3.5 month series of joint exercises commenced in Bulgaria. About 350 US army officers, as well as US tanks, helicopters and armored personnel carriers, came for the drills.

The US also delivered over 120 armored units, including tanks, to Latvia in March and has deployed twelve A-10 Thunderbolt II attack planes in Germany. Back in in January NATO stationed additional troops in the three Baltic states – Romania, Bulgaria and Poland – as part of its new strategy. At the same time NATO plans to install command-and-control centers in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria by the end of 2016.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich last week said that Russia has all the means to counteract missile shield in Europe. He said that “it’s high time the US renounced destructive unilateral moves in the sphere of missile defense, then there would be no need to worry about their consequences,” TASS reported.

Russia has repeatedly said it views the antimissile program as a threat, despite reassurances from Washington.

“Consistent US military build-up at the Russian borders in line with NATO’s plans to strengthen military presence and develop infrastructure at the so-called eastern flank…not only provokes tensions in the region, which has been considered one of the most buoyant in Europe, but also has long-term negative consequences,” Lukashevich added.


Monsanto pledges $4 million to help save monarch butterflies


The St. Louis-based company said Tuesday it would contribute $3.6 million over three years to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund. Another $400,000 will go to universities and conservations groups trying to rescue the species.

READ MORE: EPA sued over shrinking monarch butterfly population

Monsanto’s initial $1.2 million grant matches the contribution of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to the conservation fund, with the other $2.4 million earmarked to match commitments from the federal government over the next three years. The funding is intended to support “habitat restoration, education and outreach, and milkweed seed and plant production.”

Monsanto’s announcement claims the company will expand and improve “more than 10 million acres of quality, distributed habitat by 2025,” provide 100,000 milkweed plants for planting in “priority landscapes,” and reach 100,000 growers with guidance plans to create and protect monarch habitats, among other things.

#butterfly#science Monsanto giving $$ for the Monarch?…

— Butterfly Society VA (@Butterfly_VA) March 31, 2015

According to a study by the Center for Food Safety, close to 99 percent of milkweed in the Midwest’s corn and soybean fields has been destroyed by pesticides such as Monsanto’s Roundup, the most common herbicide in American agriculture today, used in tandem with the company’s genetically-engineered Roundup Ready crops. Milkweed plants are the only spots where monarch butterflies lay eggs and the only food source for their larvae.

Since Roundup’s introduction, the number of monarch butterflies has drastically dropped, from one billion in 1997 to 56.5 million this past winter, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The finding was cited in a February lawsuit filed by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over the agency’s approval of Roundup for use.

READ MORE: Monsanto monarch massacre: 970 million butterflies killed since 1990

“Glyphosate has wiped out the milkweed they need to survive,” Sylvia Fallon, a senior scientist at NRDC, said at the time. “EPA completely ignored the impact on monarchs when it granted this new approval, and seriously underestimated the toxicity for people.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation have petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the subspecies of monarch (Danaus plexippus plexippus) as endangered.

The orange-and-black spotted monarchs are renowned for migrating several thousand miles across the US, Canada and Mexico. In addition to their natural beauty, monarch butterflies play an important role in ecology. They carry pollen from plant to plant, helping fruits and flowers to produce new seeds. In their caterpillar stage, they are a food source for birds, mammals and other insects.

“While weed management has been a factor in the decline of milkweed habitat, the agricultural sector can absolutely be part of the solution in restoring it,” said Monstanto President and Chief Operating Officer Brett Begemann in a statement Tuesday.

U of #Guelph to get portion of Monsanto’s $4 million to help stem decline of monarch butterflies via @guelphmercury

— Guelph Mercury (@guelphmercury) March 31, 2015

Among the recipients of Monsanto’s grant money is the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, which is tasked with identifying priority areas for milkweed restoration. Monarch Watch, a research group at the University of Kansas, would produce and distribute milkweed on public lands along the butterflies’ migratory path. The University of Illinois at Chicago has a program to identify and prioritize available public and private lands for seeding with milkweed, while the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium is supposed to work with farmers.


Indiana gov. backtracks, seeks to clarify anti-gay law amid national backlash


The White House spokesman told reporters Tuesday that the administration doesn’t agree with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence that the new religious freedom law is just like the federal law enacted more than 20 years ago by President Bill Clinton. The 1993 federal law was aimed at protecting the freedom of religious minorities from federal intrusion and was mostly concerned with the religious rights of Native Americans, with protections for tribal land and religious sites.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the Indiana law, dubbed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is much broader because it applies to corporations, not just people and religious groups. Indiana’s law allows the owners of for-profit businesses to invoke religious rights, which many fear will be used to deny service to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.

Three big myths about Indiana’s religious freedom law, debunked: (Chute/Reuters)

— msnbc (@msnbc) April 1, 2015

“The law in Indiana applies to private transactions as well and that’s why we’ve seen such a bipartisan political outcry against the law,” Earnest told reporters. “[It] flies in the face of the kind of values that people across the country strongly support.

Earnest said that Pence had agreed to fix the law to clarify that it doesn’t discriminate against gays and lesbians, and Pence announced publicly that he had asked state lawmakers to make the changes by the end of the week.

READ MORE: Intense backlash hits Indiana after religious freedom law passes

“I don’t believe for a minute that it was the intention of the General Assembly to create a license to discriminate, or a right to deny services to gays, lesbians or anyone else in this state. And it certainly wasn’t my intent,” Pence said. “But I can appreciate that that’s become the impression — not just here in Indiana, but all across this country. And we need to confront that.”

Critics of the law say it does “create a license to discriminate,” because it would protect businesses which do not want to serve gays and lesbians – such as florists or caterers who might be hired for a same-sex wedding.

Hey #Indiana — #religiousliberty laws should never be used as a sword, only a shield.

— Congressman Nadler (@RepJerryNadler) March 31, 2015

Also critical of the law are the governors of Connecticut and New York. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy banned all state-sponsored travel to Indiana in an executive order Monday afternoon and announced the move via Twitter.

When new laws turn back the clock on progress, we can’t sit idly by,” he tweeted. “We are sending a message that discrimination won’t be tolerated.”

The executive order directs all state departments and agencies to immediately review all plans for state-paid trips to places “that create the grounds for such discrimination and to bar any such publicly funded travel unless necessary for the enforcement of state law, to meet contractual obligations, or for the protection of public health, welfare and safety.

As the executive order applies to the University of Connecticut, an immediate question is whether anyone from UConn’s men’s basketball team will attend the NCAA Final Four activities during the weekend in Indianapolis.

UConn coach won’t go to Final Four because of Indiana “religious freedom” law

— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) April 1, 2015

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also issued a similar ban on travel on Tuesday.

New York State has been, and will continue to be, a leader in ensuring that all LGBT persons enjoy full and equal civil rights. With this action, we stand by our LGBT family members, friends and colleagues to ensure that their rights are respected,” said Cuomo in a statement.

Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an executive order banning city-funded travel until Indiana repeals or amends its law.

READ MORE: ‘Enshrining discrimination’: Apple CEO hits out at US wave of religious legislation

Businesses are also speaking out, with NASCAR becoming the latest critic issuing statement.

NASCAR is disappointed by the recent legislation passed in Indiana. We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance. We are committed to diversity and inclusion within our sport and therefore will continue to welcome all competitors and fans at our events in the state of Indiana and anywhere else we race,” said NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes.

In a related story, the Arkansas state legislature passed its version of a religious freedom law on uesday. It is now heading to the state’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, for a signature. There were several attempts to add a clause to the bill that would explicitly bar the discrimination of gays and lesbians, but they failed.


US re-approves oil exploration in Arctic as Shell prepares to resume drilling


On Tuesday, the Obama administration affirmed the opening of about 30 million acres of US Arctic waters to oil exploration after a thorough environmental analysis and substantial opportunity for public input, the Interior Department said in a statement.

READ MORE: Obama admin. approves regulations for oil drilling off Alaska

“The Arctic is an important component of the Administration’s national energy strategy, and we remain committed to taking a thoughtful and balanced approach to oil and gas leasing and exploration offshore Alaska,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “This unique, sensitive and often challenging environment requires effective oversight to ensure all activities are conducted safely and responsibly.”

The next step is for the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to consider Shell’s exploration plan and perform an environmental assessment on it, which could take at least 30 days.

Shell had already begun moving drilling equipment into the area in anticipation of the Obama administration’s decision.

“Clearly Shell and others will resume drilling and exploration up off the North Slope of Alaska,” Admiral Robert Papp, the special US envoy to the Arctic, told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Canada on Monday. “I think Shell is putting significant resources into this to make sure they have enough people, equipment, resources, redundancy. They should be OK.”

In 2008, the US government sold license blocks of the Chukchi off the Alaskan coast. The bid for the anticipated sale jumped to a record $2.66 billion in bids, $2.1 billion of which Shell paid.

The Interior Department initially granted Shell permission to begin tentative drilling in the Chukchi Sea in August 2012, a step forward in the company’s efforts to develop lucrative Arctic reserves.

However, Shell was only allowed to begin preparatory work and could not drill in the oil fields until the government verified its spill containment system, the US Interior Department said.

But after two serious drilling rig accidents slowed the company’s operations in the area, Shell announced in February 2013 that it would temporarily abandon efforts in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

In one of those incidents, Shell decided to drag its top rig, the Kulluk, around 1,700 miles through frigid Arctic waters despite warnings from the tow ship’s captain, all in a rush to avoid an upcoming tax liability about to go into effect after 2012.

The Kulluk, reportedly carrying 150,000 gallons of fuel, eventually broke free from the towing ship, floating off into an ecologically-sensitive area. The rig and its crew had to be rescued by the US Coast Guard, which later released a report on the incident that slammed Shell for “inadequate assessment and management of risks.”

In January 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that opening up US Arctic waters to oil exploration in 2008 was illegal because the environmental risks of drilling had not been correctly assessed.

Because of that decision, Shell decided to extend its self-imposed moratorium on drilling in the Alaskan Arctic, saying that the ruling eroded the project’s viability.

In February, the Obama administration issued new rules as part of the first step in supporting oil and gas production off of Alaska. Among the rules handed down by the Department of the Interior was the requirement that companies drill a relief well to contain an uncontrolled spill before ice sets in in the Arctic.

Environmentalists fear that the remoteness of the Chukchi Sea and the near-total lack of infrastructure mean the consequences of a drilling accident could be disastrous. A study published in May found there is a lack of both scientific data and preparedness on the part of private and public entities to properly address an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean.

Oil industry interests say the Arctic will be important to the country’s energy security in coming decades when output from shale formations wanes.