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Russia fast-tracks law limiting foreign media ownership to 20%

By RT

“The freedom of the press is guaranteed by our Constitution, and won’t be affected,” said Mikhail Margelov, one of the 423 deputies who unanimously voted to support the law. “The law is designed to protect our national interests, to safeguard the sovereignty of our media, and our country.”

“The information war against Russia has its own laws, and has forced our hand,” said Vadim Dengin, one of the authors of the new legislation, which was proposed by the three minority parties in the Russian parliament.

If, as expected, the law ratified by the upper chamber of the Russian parliament and Vladimir Putin, it will come into force in January 2016, though existing foreign-owned companies will have until 2017 to re-organize their ownership structure. Media that violate the law can be shut down, although not without a court order.

While all terrestrial TV channels in the country are owned either by the state or large Russian media holding companies, numerous cable channels and more than 60 percent of the print media have significant foreign shareholders. Many others are held by Russian businessmen, who hold dual citizenship, which will also make the ineligible to continue as owners.

The legislation will affect leading political talk radio Ekho Moskvy, business daily Vedomosti, which is jointly owned by Finnish magazine publisher Sanoma, The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine, published by German media giant Axel Springer, and the vast majority of franchised Russian-language version of glossy magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, National Geographic and GQ.

Several deputies also noted that foreign companies including the US publisher Hearst, have recently bought up more than 50 regional Russian publishers, including local news websites, which have often been influential in regional politics.

Communist MP Oleg Smolin tried to introduce an amendment that would exclude lifestyle and other non-political publications from the restrictions, but the Duma committee responsible for the draft law rebuffed the proposal.

“We are establishing fundamental relations between citizens and non-residents in the media sphere, and here no compromises are acceptable,”
said Roman Chuychenko, from the ruling United Russia Party.

“Any loophole would open the door to machinations.”

The only exceptions have been made for media that have resulted from state-level international treaties, which are currently encompassed by the joint Russia-Belarus Mir television. One of the sponsors of the law, Leonid Levin, said that cooperation with China – which incidentally forbids all foreign media ownership – could spawn Chinese-owned media in Russia.

Previous legislation only forbade foreign companies from holding a majority stake in TV and radio outlets.

In the West, France has similar restrictions on print news media ownership, while the US considers foreign bids for majority stakes in TV and radio stations on a case-by-case basis.

Via:: RT.com

The airwaves are still heaving with spin two days after US airstrikes against Syria

By RT

The irony, of course, is that they are doing so at the UN – the global political body that pledges to uphold international law, peace and stability, and the sanctity of the nation-state unit.

The goal this week will be to keep the ‘momentum’ on a ‘narrative’ until it sinks in.

On day one, heads of state from Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, the UK and France were paraded onto the podium to drum in the urgency of American strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Jabhat al-Nusra and other militant groups inside Syria.

Every American official – past and present – in the White House rolodex was hooked up to a microphone to deliver canned sound bites and drive home those ‘messages.’ In between, video-game-quality footage of US strikes hitting their targets was aired on the hour; clips of sleek fighter jets refueling midair and the lone Arab female fighter pilot were dropped calculatingly into social media networks.

The global crew of journalists that descends annually on the UN for this star-studded political event, enthused over US President Barak Obama’s ability to forge a coalition that included five Arab Sunni states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain and the UAE.

Few mentioned that these partners are a mere fig leaf for Obama, providing his Syria campaign with Arab and Muslim legitimacy where he otherwise would have none. Not that any of these five monarchies enjoy ‘legitimacy’ in their own kingdoms – kings and emirs aren’t elected after all – and two of these Wahhabi states are directly responsible for the growth and proliferation of the Wahhabi-style extremism targeted by US missiles.

Even fewer spent time dissecting the legality of US attacks on Syria or on details of the US ‘mission’ – as in, “what next?”

But with a mission this crippled at the outset, it didn’t take long for an alternative view to peek through the thick media fog.

On the ground in Syria, dead civilians – some of them children killed by US bombs – muddied the perfect script. Confused Syrian rebels – many who had called for foreign intervention to help crush the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – demanded to know how these airstrikes were meant to help them.

Sunni Arabs would be radicalized by these strikes, they warned, as ideologically sympathetic citizens of the Arab coalition states took to their information channels and swore revenge for airstrikes against ISIL and al-Nusra.

The Syrian government, for the most part, remained mute – whether to save face or because they could ‘smell’ the gains coming. Contrary to Washington’s prevailing narrative, privately the story was that the US had informed the Assad government of both the timing and targets of the attacks in advance.

Sources say that the US even provided ‘guarantees’ that no Syrian military or government interests would be targeted. A Reuters exclusive claiming that the US went so far as to provide assurances to Iran, suggests this version is closer to the truth. When US airstrikes against Syria were on the table a year ago, the various parties went through a similar game of footsies.Last September, the Americans backed off – allegedly because of communications from their adversaries that even a single US missile would trigger a warfront against Israel. This time, Washington needed to know that scenario was not going to be activated, and this week they offered the necessary guarantees to ensure it.

Although the Russians and Iranians have publicly lashed out at the illegality of US strikes, they do not seem too worried. Both know – like the Syrian government – that these air attacks could be a net gain for their ‘Axis.’

Firstly, the United States is now doing some useful heavy-lifting for Assad, at no real cost to him. The Syrian armed forces have spent little time on the ISIL threat because their focus has traditionally been on protecting their interests in Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Hama – and the countryside in these areas – as well as towns and cities around the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. That changed when ISIL staged successful attacks on Mosul and created new geopolitical urgency for Assad’s allies – which triggered some major Syrian strikes against ISIL targets.

But to continue along this path, the Syrians would have to divert energy and resources from key battles, and so the American strikes have provided a convenient solution for the time being.

Secondly, the Syrians have spent three years unsuccessfully pushing their narrative that the terrorism threat they face internally is going to become a regional and global problem. The US campaign is a Godsend in this respect – Obama has managed to get the whole world singing from the same hymn sheet in just two months, including, and this is important, the three states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – most instrumental in financing, weaponizing and assisting ISIL and other extremist militias inside Syria.

Syria, Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and a host of like-minded emerging powers are pleased about this new laser focus on jihadi terror and for the accompanying resource shift to address the problem.

Thirdly, the US has now been placed in the hot seat and will be expected to match words with action. For three years, Washington has overlooked and even encouraged illegal and dangerous behaviors from its regional Sunni allies – all in service of defeating Assad. With all eyes on America and expectations that Obama will fail in his War on Terror just like his predecessors, the US is going to have to pull some impressive tricks from its sleeves.

Ideally, these would include the shutting down of key border crossings (Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon); punishing financiers of terror and inhibiting the flow of funds and assistance from Washington’s regional allies; cutting off key revenue streams; tightening immigration policies to stem the flow of foreign fighters; disrupting communications networks of targeted terrorist groups; broader intelligence sharing with all regional players; and empowering existing armies and allied militias inside the ‘chaos zone’ to lead and execute ground operations.

Thus far, there are signs that some of these things are already happening, with possibly more to come.

Now for the fun part. The Syrians, Iranians and Russians do not fundamentally trust Washington or its intentions. The suspicion is that the US is on another one of its regime-change missions, displaying its usual rogue-state behavior by violating the territorial integrity of a sovereign state under false pretenses, and that it will shortly revert to targeting the Syrian government.

While they can see clear gains from the current level of US intervention – as distasteful as they find it – they are watching carefully as events unfold.

If there is the slightest deviation from the ‘guarantees’ provided by the US, this trio has plenty of room to maneuver. Iran, for one, has dallied with the Americans in both Iraq and Afghanistan and they know how to cause some pain where it counts. The Russians, for that matter, have many playgrounds in which to thwart US ambitions – most urgently in Ukraine and in Afghanistan, from which the US hopes to withdraw billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment by the end of 2014.

All understand that Washington has just assumed a risky public posture and that many, many things can go wrong. The Sunni Arab fig leaf can disappear in a nano-second if domestic pressures mount or revenge attacks take place internally. Information could leak about continued assistance to terrorist militias from one or more of its coalition partners – a huge embarrassment for Washington and its wobbly Coalition. ISIL will almost certainly act against coalition partner soft-targets, like carrying out further kidnappings and executions. Continued airstrikes will almost definitely result in a growing civilian casualty count, turning those ‘hearts and minds’ to stone. Syrian rebels could swiftly turn against the US intervention and radicalize further. Massive displacement caused by airstrikes could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.And as in all other past US military War-on-Terror adventures, terrorism could thrive and proliferate in quantum leaps.

As Moscow-based political analyst Vladimir Frolov noted to the Washington Post: “The United States has underestimated the complexity of the situation before, so let’s just wait until they run into problems.”

The idea that US military engagement could continue for the long-term is unlikely given the myriad things that can go wrong fast. Obama is going to be reluctant to have his last two years in office defined by the hazardous Syrian conflict – after all, he was to be the president who extracted America from unessential wars.

But the most compelling reason that this Coalition will not pass the first hurdle is that its key members have entirely different ambitions and strategic targets.

Over a decade ago, these US-engineered coalitions were wealthier, less-burdened and shared common goals. Today, many of the coalition members face domestic economic and political uncertainties – and several states are directly responsible for giving rise to ISIL. How can the Coalition fight ISIL and support it, all at once?

What’s missing is a formula, a strategy, a unified worldview that can be equally as determined as the ideological adversary it faces.

Down the road, we will discover that the only coalition able and willing to fight extremism does indeed come from inside the region, but importantly, from within the conflict zone itself: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran. For starters, they are utterly vested in the outcome of their efforts – and would lead with political solutions alongside military ones. Those elusive boots-on-the-ground that everyone is seeking? They live it. Pit that group against Obama’s Coalition-of-the-Clueless any day and you know which side would win handily.

The question is, can this Coalition stomach a solution it is working so hard to avoid? Will it partner with vital regional players that were foes only a few months ago? It is doubtful. That would require a worldview shift that Washington is still too irrational to embrace.

Sharmine Narwani for RT

Follow @snarwani on Twitter

Via:: RT.com

Worse than Heartbleed: ‘Shellshock’ Bash bug threatens millions of computer systems worldwide

By RT

Researchers revealed on Wednesday this week that a bug has been spotted in Bash — a command-line shell developed in the 1980s and common to Linux and Unix systems — the likes of which may allow attackers to target computers and, if successful, run malicious codes that could let them take control of entire servers pertaining to potentially millions of machines.

But while the so-called Heartbleed bug found in April allowed hackers to spy on vulnerable systems due to a previously undiscovered flaw in the open-source encryption software called OpenSSL, security experts say already that the Bash exploit — being referred to as “Shellshock”— is more severe because exploiting it could allow attackers to seize systems that are vulnerable by running unauthorized code that, in a worst case scenario, gives them full privileges on the plundered machine.

The method of exploiting this issue is also far simpler,” Dan Guido, the chief executive of a cybersecurity firm Trail of Bits, told Reuters on Wednesday this week of the differences. “You can just cut and paste a line of code and get good results.”

After discovery of Shellshock was identified by researcher Stephane Schazelas on Wednesday, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, or US-CERT, acknowledged the severity of the issue by releasing a statement warning that “exploitation of this vulnerability may allow a remote attacker to execute arbitrary code on an affected system.”

In other words, it allows the user to type commands into a simple text-based window, which the operating system will then run,” security company Symantec said in a warning on Thursday.

Using this vulnerability, attackers can potentially take over the operating system, access confidential information, make changes, et cetera,” Tod Beardsley, anengineeringmanager at cybersecurity firm Rapid7, added to Reuters. “Anybody with systems using Bash needs to deploy the patch immediately.”

On the government’s official CERT website, a statement tells visitors to read a Wednesday blog post on the website of security company Red Hat where researchers said patching the exploit was a “critical priority” and, given the “pervasive use of the Bash shell,” should be acknowledged by everyone as a serious vulnerability. Separately, the National Vulnerability Database — a group sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security, CERT and the National Institute of Standards and Technology — gave the bug a rating of “10” in terms of severity, its highest.

Among those who say Shellshock poses a bigger risk than Heartbleed is Robert Graham, a computer expert at co-founder of Errata Security, who tweeted this week that “enough systems are vulnerable for this to be a real concern.”

Luckily, since bash is open-source, this bug was quickly found before it became widely deployed.

— Robert Graham (@ErrataRob) September 24, 2014

This ‘bash’ bug is probably a bigger deal than Heartbleed, btw.

— Robert Graham (@ErrataRob) September 24, 2014

Reporters ask: Them: What can users do about this bug? Me: Run in circles screaming and waving their hands None have quoted me so far

— Robert Graham (@ErrataRob) September 25, 2014

“Luckily, since bash is open-source, this bug was quickly found before it became widely deployed,” Graham tweeted, but with the caveat: “This ‘bash’ bug is probably a bigger deal than Heartbleed.”

Indeed, a preliminary scan conducted by Graham this week discovered no fewer than 3,000 vulnerable systems. “Consequently,” he wrote, “…this thing is clearly wormable, and can easily worm past firewalls and infect lots of systems. One key question is whether Mac OS X and iPhone DHCP service is vulnerable — once the worm gets behind a firewall and runs a hostile DHCP server, that would ‘game over’ for large networks.”

Patches have since been released that are intended to prevent attacks from exploiting the Bash bug, but the Red Hat security blog said on Thursday that attempts to fix the glitch have so far been incomplete.

Via:: RT.com

Iraqi PM unveils ‘ISIS plots’ to attack Paris and American subways, US says no clear evidence

By RT

Follow RT’s updates on anti-ISIS coalition bombing terrorist positions in Syria

Abadi made the remarks at a meeting with reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday.

Today, while I am here, I am receiving accurate reports from Baghdad where there was the arrest of a few elements and there are networks planning from inside Iraq to have attacks,” he said.

They plan to have attacks in the metros of Paris and the US,” he added. “From the details I have received, yes, it looks credible.”

Abadi added that it is not clear whether the attack was imminent, adding that the intelligence was gleaned from arrests of IS militants in Iraq.

An Iraqi official at the UN also told the BBC that several IS fighters had been captured and told Iraqi intelligence that French and American recruits had “an imminent plot” to hit the metro in Paris, and then hit the US, though not saying where in the US.

Following the Iraqi PM’s remarks US law enforcement and security officials initially said they would investigate the claims of a terror plot. However, shortly after, various officials reported that they have no evidence of a current threat in the US or France.

The White House’s National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said that the US government has no information regarding the Iraqi claim.

We have not confirmed such a plot, and would have to review any information from our Iraqi partners before making further determinations. We take any threat seriously and always work to corroborate information we receive from our partners,” she said.

New York City administration and the NYPD said they were “aware” of the warning and were assessing the threat.

“We are in close contact with the FBI and other federal partners as we assess this particular threat stream,” said John Miller, deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism at the NYPD. “New York City normally operates at a heightened level of security and we adjust that posture daily based on our evaluation of information as we receive it.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo added that security forces had already begun to beef up precautions at New York City mass transit sites.

There is no specific or credible threat against Washington’s area rail or bus systems, a spokesman for the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority Dan Stessel said in a statement.

In the wake of the rise of the Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Wednesday condemning extremism and sectarian violence. Under the resolution all member states are obliged to make it a serious criminal offense for their citizens to travel abroad to fight with extremists or support them.

READ MORE: UNSC demands tough global laws to stop foreign extremist fighters

In the fight against the extremists, the US and its allies have formed an anti-IS coalition, launching aerial attacks on Syria on Tuesday. Earlier this year, Washington launched a military campaign against the jihadists in Iraq which was later on supported by Paris.

READ MORE: ISIS-related arrests in US, Europe, Australia as intel warns of ‘gruesome’ attacks

Via:: RT.com

‘Don’t send jobless trekking around EU looking for work – fight back against austerity!’

By RT

As mass unemployment bites ever deeper across the EU, Valter Piscedda, the center-left mayor of Elmas, a small city in Sardinia, suggested paying locals to leave, according to The Guardian. Elmas’s council has allocated a total of €12,000 to pay for English lessons, accommodation and cheap flights for 10 unemployed locals to look for jobs in other parts of Europe.

RT: There has been a high level of unemployment for the past few years in Europe. Where are EU citizens looking for a job now? Which region is more attractive for them?

Glyn Ford: At one level, I can understand that you are trying to find jobs, it is rather reminiscent of the former Tory cabinet minister Norman Tebbit who, when the people in the North of England complained there were no jobs, suggested they got on their bikes and cycled to London to find jobs in London. Of course governments have the responsibility to try and to get economic activity across the whole of their country, the whole of their nation, and the whole of the European Union.

But of course there is nothing that the local mayor can do about that. I think he’d be better off spending this 12,000 euros actually trying to campaign to end austerity in Europe. We want a different Europe, and we can have a different Europe where people can stay at home and work as they used to be able in the past rather than trek around the EU looking for a shrinking a number of jobs that are disappearing everywhere. I am not sure where these people are going to go. I wish them luck. And certainly having English-language training won’t hurt. But there is still a shortage of jobs in the UK. We have high unemployment rates as well. There in nowhere to go where jobs are easily found.

RT: The UK has also faced high levels of unemployment. Is there the possibility of training British citizens in other EU languages and sending them to other EU countries? Do you have any other possible solutions?

GF: I guess we could have somebody in the North-East of England or the North-West of England: some local mayor finding 10,000 pounds – roughly the equivalent of 12,000 euros – to train people in Italian and send them to Italy. This is not a solution.

The solution is to do something at the European level. I wish the mayor well, but I think what he would most usefully spend this time doing is campaigning for his government – he said he’s center-left – under the prime minister, [Matteo] Renzi, to actually unite with socialist ministers across the European Union to change the direction of Europe. And I`m hoping the new European Commission that will take office on November 1st – subject to the European Parliament’s approval – will actually end austerity in Europe and get the EU back to work with high-skilled, high-tech jobs, rather than the zero-hours contracts that are so common these days.

RT: Which language is in demand among employers today in Europe?

GF: Frankly, if you are looking for the best language to have to find a job in Europe at the moment, you’re probably better off with German. English comes second and Spanish is definitely third with their massive unemployment levels. There are more people learning English in China than living in the UK. So there is going to be a lot of competition.

Via:: RT.com

Sanctions & weaker oil prices could cost Russia 4% of GDP – official

By RT

Russia’s Urals crude oil experienced a significant drop from its June price of above $110 per barrel to its current price of $93 per barrel, a reduction that Oreshkin believes, coupled with Ukraine-related economic problems, could sink Russia’s balance of payments by a total of 4 percent.

Oreshkin explained that lower Urals crude prices reduce exports by $55 billion per year, the official said at the Fitch ratings agency conference on Thursday.

The World Bank recently lowered their GDP growth estimate for Russia in 2014 to 0.5 percent, effectively equivalent to stagnation. In 2013, the economy expanded 1.1 percent to $2.1 trillion.

The sudden drop is structural, whereas in the past it was cyclical Oreshkin said. Now it has to do with a decline in demand and increase in oil production, in addition to Libya returning to the oil market.

“It is unlikely that we will see a sharp drop in prices, but we are unlikely to see a sharp rise. Most likely, we will see stabilization in the area of $90 per barrel,” he said.

The Finance Ministry has projected a baseline Urals crude price of $104 in 2014, and $100 in 2015-17, but as noted by Economic Development Minister Aleksey Ulyukaev, there is a risk of price change, in the case of turmoil in the Middle East as well as a global economic turndown, which will lower consumer demand.

Oreshkin said that Russia could be being too soft on monetary policy. The government has planned on $80 per barrel prices as a cut-off when drafting the budget.

According to Oreshkin, the economy “didn’t even notice any shocks.”

“When the Economic Development Ministry released a forecast of $100 per barrel, we said then that we see the risks that oil will cost $ 90-95. It fell in this range, however. When it comes to conservative projections, the use of the lower level of this range would be a conservative approach,” Oreshkin said.

Russia, the world’s largest energy exporter, relies on oil and gas exports for 50 percent of its federal budget, as well as 70 percent of the country’s total exports.

Urals crude, Russia’s key export blend, hails from the Ural mountain and Volga regions, and is usually priced slightly below Brent.

Sanctions also threaten Russia’s oil future.

The CEO of Russia’s second-largest oil company, Lukoil, said that he expects sanctions to affect 20 percent of Russia’s total oil output – or about 100 million tons, The Moscow Times reported.

Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has warned that sanctions will cost Russia 1 percent of total GDP, which could send the economy into a recession, and lead to a 3-4 percent economic drop.

In the worst scenario, if Russia is cut off from the SWIFT international banking payment system, Kudrin predicts a 5 percent drop in GDP.

Via:: RT.com