Putin Stakes No Claim to Superpower Status

Compliments of UPI 

As the national economy declines under pressure from sanctions and low oil prices, Russia’s president said there are no claims to a role as a superpower for Russia.

Lower crude oil prices are hurting the economies of nations like Russia that depend on energy for revenue. The situation for Russia is compounded by economic sanctions imposed in response to the Kremlin’s policies in Ukraine, sanctions that limit access to Western markets.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with German newspaper Bild that Russia’s economy is, at best, fifth in the world in terms of volume.

“We do not claim the role of a superpower,” he said. “This role is very costly and it is meaningless.”

In the first phase of his interview, Putin said the economy was weakened to the point that revenue outside the energy sector was now feeling pressured. The worst threat, however, was the harm caused by falling oil prices.

In November, the International Monetary Fund said there were “tentative” signs of recovery in Russia. The economy for 2016 is expected to contract by 0.6 percent, compared with a 3.8 percent decline in 2015.

The Kremlin expects GDP growth of around 0.7 percent for 2016. From September to October, GDP grew by about 0.3 percent, compared with about 0.1 percent from the previous one-month period.

“[The economy] may have moved down to a lower place at present taking into account the economic difficulties,” Putin said. “But we are confident that we have very good development prospects and potential.”

Inflation is running in the double digits, but the IMF said that, absent a dramatic decline in crude oil prices, the pressure from rising costs should decline during 2016.

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US Thanks Iran For Swift Release of 10 Navy Sailors

Compliments of BBC 

The US has thanked Iran for the swift release of 10 US sailors held for entering its territorial waters.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the resolution of the matter was “testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe”.

Republican presidential hopefuls had criticised the administration over its handling of the incident.

A deal on Iran’s nuclear activities – which they also disparage – is said to be days away from implementation.

The sailors were detained on Tuesday when one of their two vessels broke down while training in the Gulf.

The incursion was “unintentional”, a statement from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards quoted by state media said.

Iranian state media said the sailors were released into international waters after they apologised. But Vice-President Joe Biden denied this, saying the boat had had simply a problem and there was “nothing to apologise for”.

The US is investigating how the sailors entered Iranian waters.

Thanking Iranian authorities for their “co-operation and quick response”, Mr Kerry said: “These are always situations which have an ability if not properly guided to get out of control…

“This kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and officially resolved, and that is testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong,” he added.

Iranian state broadcaster Irib News has published pictures of the sailorsapparently being detained.

Iran-US relations pass a test: Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent

The tentative and still largely potential softening of relations between Washington and Tehran in the wake of the nuclear deal seems to have passed a delicate initial test.

The Tehran authorities have quickly accepted that the US patrol boats strayed into their waters by accident.

The process to begin lifting the sanctions imposed on Iran due to its nuclear activities is expected to get under way at the end of this week.

There are many conservatives and hardliners in both countries who would dearly love to sabotage the deal. Consequently both governments may well have been eager to get this episode resolved as quickly as possible.

Clearly the economic benefits of lifting the sanctions may have been too great an inducement for the agreement to be derailed now.

Mr Kerry called Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shortly after the incident. The pair developed a personal rapport during the nuclear talks.

Those detained – nine men and one woman – were taken to Farsi Island, in the middle of the Gulf, where Iran has a naval base.

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French Jews Asked to Hide Their Identity ‘Until Better Days’

Compliments of Digital Journal 

The head of Marseille’s Israelite Consistory is urging Jewish men to forego wearing skullcaps (kippot) after a particularly vicious anti-Semitic attack on a school teacher, saying the measure was needed to protect Jewish lives.

Zvi Ammar, the head of Marseille’s Israelite Consistory, told the AFP, “Life is more sacred than anything else. We are now forced to hide a little bit.”Ammar added that even contemplating the move made him “sick to his stomach.” The request to refrain from wearing skullcaps comes one day aftera 15-year-old Kurdish teen wielding a machete attacked a 35-year-old Marseille teacher,Benjamin Amsellem luckily ended up with only an injured shoulder and hand. Amsellem was wearing a skullcap. The would-be assassin claimed he was acting in the name of ISIS.”Unfortunately for us, we are targeted. As soon as we are identified as Jewish we can be assaulted and even risk death,” Ammar told the AFP. He said he felt sad that in 2016, Jews were finding themselves in such a horrible position in such a great democracy such as France.”But faced with an exceptional situation, we have to take exceptional measures. It causes me such pain to come to this conclusion but I do not want anyone to die in Marseille because they had a kippah on their head.”The attack was the third on Jews in Marseille in recent months. The French city has the second largest Jewish population in France, behind Paris. In October, three Jewish people were assaulted, one with a knife by an apparently drunken assailant, reports Arutz Sheva.Then in November, another school teacher was assaulted and stabbed by a group of terrorist youths who were shouting anti-Semitic obscenities, and expressing their allegiance to ISIS.It may seem like such a small request; asking Jewish men to not wear their skullcaps when outdoors, but to some people, that request could be likened to asking Muslim women to not cover their faces when in public. What’s the difference?Mr. Ammar said he knew his comments would not sit well with many in the Jewish community and would anger many, telling the media he was asking Jews to go without the skullcaps “until better days.” One man who was not pleased with Ammar’s comments was France’s chief rabbi.Chief Rabbi, Haim Korsia, rejected the idea, telling the AFP, “We should not give an inch. We should continue wearing the kippa.” He pointed out that Jews and the skullcap were not responsible for the violence.
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Berkeley Files Suit Over PCB Contamination

Compliments of San Jose Mercury 

Cleaning up long-term PCB contamination to San Francisco Bay is the focus of a lawsuit filed by the city against manufacturer Monsanto Co.

The City Council voted 6-0 in closed session Jan. 5, with members Jesse Arreguin, Max Anderson, and Linda Maio absent, to file the complaint in San Jose’s Northern District Court alleging the company and its descendant firms are responsible for the contamination.

PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies as “probable human carcinogens,” are man-made chemical compounds produced in the United States uniquely by Monsanto between 1935 and 1977. Congress outlawed PCBs in 1979.

They were used in the manufacture of paint, caulking, transformers, hydraulic fluids, inks, lubricants, lighting ballasts and other products.

PCBs get into the Bay via water entering storm-drain systems and degrade very slowly. “All segments of the Bay have been identified as impaired due to elevated levels of PCBs in sport fish,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint condemns the company’s behavior, arguing that “Monsanto’s conduct was malicious, oppressive, wanton, willful, intentional, and shocks the conscience, warranting punitive and exemplary damages, because Monsanto callously decided to increase sales and develop new ways to promote PCBs, knowing PCBs are toxic, cannot be contained, and last for centuries.”

Councilman Kriss Worthington, who was among those bringing the issue to the City Council, called Monsanto’s behavior “a classic example of a corporation externalizing costs and the public getting stuck with paying the bill.”

Oakland, San Jose, San Diego and Spokane, Washington have filed similar lawsuits. Berkeley’s complaint was filed by City Attorney Zach Cowan and lawyers involved in the other four lawsuits from Gomez Trial Attorneys, San Diego and Baron & Budd, P.C., Dallas, Texas.

The cities suing Monsanto want reimbursement for funds spent cleaning up the toxins in accordance with increasingly stringent government mandates.

Neither city spokesman Matthai Chakko nor Public Works Director Phil Harrington were able to comment on Berkeley’s efforts to reduce the levels of PCBs entering the Bay.

According to the lawsuit, the original Monsanto Company was spun off into three separate corporations in 1997 — Monsanto, Solutia and Pharmacia. Solutia and Pharmacia LLC are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord explained the company’s position in a Jan. 11 email to this newspaper. “The former Monsanto was involved in a wide variety of businesses including the manufacture of PCBs,” Lord wrote. “PCBs were industrial chemicals, which were sold to sophisticated companies who incorporated them as safety fluids into … thousands of useful construction and building material products.”

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Pfizer Hikes U.S. Prices For Over 100 Drugs On January 1

Compliments of Reuters 

Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), which plans a $160-billion merger with Ireland-based Allergan Plc (AGN.N) to slash its U.S. tax bill, on Jan. 1 raised U.S. prices for more than 100 of its drugs, some by as much as 20 percent, according to statistics compiled by global information services company Wolters Kluwer.

Pfizer confirmed a 9.4 percent increase for heavily advertised pain drug Lyrica, which generated $2.3 billion in 2014 U.S. sales; a 12.9 percent increase for erectile dysfunction drug Viagra, which had 2014 U.S. sales of $1.1 billion; and a 5 percent increase for Ibrance, a novel breast cancer drug launched last year at a list price of $9,850 per month, or $118,200 per year.

Company spokesman Steven Danehy could not immediately confirm the remaining price increases, which were compiled by a unit of Wolters Kluwer Health and published in a research note by UBS Securities.

U.S. lawmakers, and presidential candidates, have in recent months stepped up criticism of U.S. drug prices trends, driven in part by eye-popping price hikes from companies with recently acquired generic drugs.

“Medicines are among the most effective and efficient use of private and public health care dollars,” Pfizer said in an emailed statement.

“It is important to note that the list price does not reflect the considerable discounts offered to the government, managed care organizations, and commercial health plans and certain programs that restrict any increases above the inflation rate.”

UBS said Pfizer increased prices by 20 percent for anticonvulsant Dilantin, hormone therapy Menest, angina drug Nitrostat, Tykosyn for irregular heartbeat, and antibiotic Tygacil.

The analyst report said U.S. prices were raised on a total of 105 Pfizer drugs. No price reductions were reported.

Pfizer is by no means the only drugmaker to raise prices. Research firm Truveris found that U.S. prescription drug prices rose 10.9 percent in 2014, including a 15 percent increase for brand-name products.

The planned Pfizer/Allergan deal, which would create the world’s largest drugmaker and shift Pfizer’s headquarters to Ireland, would also be the biggest-ever instance of a U.S. company re-incorporating overseas to lower its taxes. U.S. President Barack Obama has called such inversion deals unpatriotic and has tried to crack down on the practice.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton pledged to propose measures to prevent such deals. The merger was also slammed by her rival Senator Bernie Sanders as well as by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Pfizer, which will report its 2015 earnings February 2, posted biopharmaceutical revenue of $45.7 billion in 2014, including U.S. sales of $17.2 billion.

Also in 2014 the company, currently headquartered in New York, spent $8.4 billion on research and development, $14.1 billion on sales, informational and administrative costs, including advertising, and nearly $12 billion to buy back its shares and pay dividends to shareholders.

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Isis Claims It Carried Out Baghdad Mall Attack That Leaves 18 Dead

 Compliments of The Guardian

Gunmen stormed into a Baghdad mall on Monday after setting off a car bomb and launching a suicide attack at its entrance, killing at least 18 people and wounding 50 in the city’s mainly Shia east, Iraqi officials said. Islamic State claimed responsibility.

The officials initially described the attack as a hostage situation, estimating that 50 people were trapped inside the complex. But Iraqi forces soon surrounded the building and landed troops on the roof. They clashed with the attackers inside, killing two of them, arresting another four and declaring the standoff over.

At least four police were among those killed in the assault, which lasted around an hour and a half, according to the police and medical officials.

Following the attack, authorities shut down the city’s highly fortified Green Zone, home to a number of foreign embassies and most of the country’s political elite. A number of major roads, shopping malls and bridges around the Iraqi capital were also closed for fear of follow-up attacks.

Also on Monday evening, a car bomb in south-east Baghdad in a crowded market area killed five and wounded 12, according to hospital and police officials.

Islamic State often targets the country’s Shia majority with bombs in crowded marketplaces that are designed to kill large numbers of civilians.

Isis controls much of northern and western Iraq, but suffered a major defeat last month when Iraqi forces drove the extremists out of the western city of Ramadi, capital of the sprawling Anbar province.

The extremists’ rampage across Iraq in the summer of 2014 was halted several miles away from Baghdad, but the group has claimed a number of attacks in the heavily guarded capital since then.


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Mexico Begins Extradition Process to Send Captured Drug Lord ‘El Chapo’ to U.S.

Compliments of USA Today

The Mexican government said Saturday it had started the process to extradite captured cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera to the United States, where he would face organized crime, drug and money laundering charges – and presumably find it harder to escape from prison for a third time.

“With the capture of Guzmán Loera it should start the respective extradition proceedings, which, according to the Extradition Law, has several steps,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

The office gave no timetable for the process, though Guzmán, upon being notified, had three days to contest the extradition and 20 days to present evidence in his defense. Guzmán also had the right to seek injunctions against his extradition, but the attorney general’s office says he had unsuccessfully sought similar actions while on the lam for the past six months.

U.S. officials twice requested Guzmán’s extradition in July and August of 2015 after he had slipped out of a maximum-security prison through an almost mile-long tunnel. Federal judges accepted the requests and issued arrest warrants for the purpose of extradition.

The extradition issue has been a thorny one for Mexico, which preferred to imprison Guzmán near Mexico City instead of sending him to the United States – in spite of fears he might escape.

Extradition requests made after his February 2014 arrest, but prior to his escape, were denied. The then-attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam infamously said Guzmán would go to the United States after serving his sentence in Mexico, “(In) about 300, 400 years.”

Extraditions of cartel bosses have been carried out since Guzmán’s most recent escape. Texas-born enforcer Edgar Valdéz Villarreal, better known as “La Barbie,” plead guilty to drug charges in an Atlanta court last week.

Some in Mexico expressed opposition to the extradition of high-profile criminals, however.

“I don’t see it as correct that to pay for the sins of Mexican authorities, their responsibilities should be discharged in another country,” said Francisco Martínez Neri, leader of the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party in the lower house of Congress.

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Pretend to be Christians: ISIS Urges UK jihadis to Cut Beards, Shun Mosques & Wear Crosses

Compliments of Express 

The booklet, called Safety and Security Guidelines for Lone Wolf Mujahideen, offers a chilling insight into the levels of preparation expected of those wishing to cause carnage in Europe.

The 58-page terror manual, which has burning western-style buildings on the front cover, gushes about the importance of surprise when launching an attack to cause maximum impact.

It urges home-grown terrorists to carry out attacks as they are less likely to be noticed.

It also explains how nightclubs, full of loud music and drunk people, are the perfect place to discuss terror plans without being recorded or snooped on.

The main thrust of the instruction booklet is the necessity to blend in with the western way of life and to avoid ‘looking like a Muslim’ so as to stay below the radar of the security services.

It has even been translated into English for those in the West who don’t speak Arabic.

The introduction says: “No doubt that today, at the era of the lone wolves, brothers in the Westneed to know some important things about safety in order to ensure success in their operations.

“We thought a lot of non-Arabic speaking brothers would find it interesting and may apply it in their blessed operations.”

Readers are urged to wear a Christian cross, splash on the aftershave, cut off beards and even shun prayer meetings and mosques to avoid detection.

There is even advice about what jewellery to wear and on which hand to wear a watch.

Potential terrorists are told: “If you can avoid having a beard, wearing qamis, using miswak and having a booklet of dhikr with you, it’s better.

“It is permissible for you to wear a necklace showing a Christian cross.

“As you know, Christians – or even atheist Westerners with Christian background – wear crosses on their necklaces.

“But don’t wear a cross necklace if you have a Muslim name on your passport, as that may look strange.

“If you want to use perfume, don’t use the oily, non-alcoholic perfume that Muslims use, instead use generic alcoholic perfume as everyone does, and if you are a man, use perfume for men.

“If you are wearing a watch, don’t wear it on your right hand, as this is a sign that you are religious.

“If you have an engagement ring or something like that, it’s better to wear one in gold or better yet, don’t wear any ring at all.

“A silver ring could tell you are religious, as Islam forbids wearing gold rings for men. “

It also offers advice on grooming habits.

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Legendary Artist David Bowie Dies at 69

Compliments of Yahoo News

David Bowie has died after a battle with cancer, his representative confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.

“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief,” read a statement posted on the artist’s official social media accounts.

The influential singer-songwriter and producer dabbled in glam rock, art rock, soul, hard rock, dance pop, punk and electronica during his eclectic 40-plus-year career.

Bowie’s artistic breakthrough came with 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, an album that fostered the notion of rock star as space alien. Fusing British mod with Japanese kabuki styles and rock with theater, Bowie created the flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust.

Three years later, Bowie achieved his first major American crossover success with the No. 1 single “Fame” off the top 10 album Young Americans, then followed with the 1976 avant-garde art rock LP Station to Station, which made it to No. 3 on the charts and featured top 10 hit “Golden Years.”

Other memorable songs included 1983’s “Let’s Dance” — his only other No. 1 U.S. hit — “Space Oddity,” “Heroes,” “Changes,” “Under Pressure,” “China Girl,” “Modern Love,” “Rebel, Rebel,” “All the Young Dudes,” “Panic in Detroit,” “Fashion,” “Life on Mars,” “Suffragette City” and a 1977 Christmas medley with Bing Crosby.

With his different-colored eyes (the result of a schoolyard fight) and needlelike frame, Bowie was a natural to segue from music into curious movie roles, and he starred as an alien seeking help for his dying planet in Nicolas Roeg’s surreal The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Critics later applauded his three-month Broadway stint as the misshapen lead in 1980’s The Elephant Man.

Bowie also starred in Marlene Dietrich’s last film, Just a Gigolo (1978), portrayed a World War II prisoner of war in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), and played Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). And in another groundbreaking move, Bowie, who always embraced technology, became the first rock star to morph into an Internet Service Provider with the launch in September 1998 of BowieNet.

Born David Jones in London on Jan. 8, 1947, Bowie changed his name in 1966 after The Monkees’ Davy Jones achieved stardom. He played saxophone and started a mime company, and after stints in several bands he signed with Mercury Records, which in 1969 released his album Man of Words, Man of Music, which featured “Space Oddity,” a poignant song about an astronaut, Major Tom, spiraling out of control.

In an attempt to stir interest in Ziggy Stardust, Bowie revealed in a January 1972 magazine interview that he was gay — though that might have been a publicity stunt — dyed his hair orange and began wearing women’s garb. The album became a sensation.

Wrote rock critic Robert Christgau: “This is audacious stuff right down to the stubborn wispiness of its sound, and Bowie’s actorly intonations add humor and shades of meaning to the words, which are often witty and rarely precious, offering an unusually candid and detailed vantage on the rock star’s world.”

Bowie changed gears in 1975. Becoming obsessed with the dance/funk sounds of Philadelphia, his self-proclaimed “plastic soul”-infused Young Americans peaked at No. 9 with the single “Fame,” which he co-wrote with John Lennon and guitarist Carlos Alomar.

After the soulful but colder Station to Station, Bowie again confounded expectations after settling in Germany by recording the atmospheric 1977 album Low, the first of his “Berlin Trilogy” collaborations with keyboardist Brian Eno.

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Hong Kong: Thousands Rally Over Missing Booksellers

Compliments of BBC 

All are suspected of being held in China, and the protesters fear the growing influence of Beijing.

Under the “one country, two systems” principle Hong Kong is supposed to enjoy high degrees of autonomy from China since it took over from Britain.

Hong Kong authorities said they were conducting a “thorough” investigation.

A government spokesman said they were awaiting a response from the mainland, but stressed the rule of law was the “cornerstone” of Hong Kong society.

Chanting “say no to political kidnapping”, the protesters marched to the offices of Beijing’s representative in Hong Kong.

A protester in Hong Kong demonstrates against the disappearance of five people working for a bookshopImage copyrightReuters
Image captionThis man wore a mask depicting Lee Bo, the latest to disappear
A man ties a yellow ribbon onto a barricade outside the residence of Beijing's representative in Hong KongImage copyrightAFP
Image captionThey marched to the residence of Beijing’s representative in Hong Kong

“For Hong Kong, this is the first time there has been such a clear violation of Hong Kong’s law, a clear violation of ‘one country, two systems’ principle, that has taken place in such an open manner,” Albert Chan, a politician with the pro-democracy People Power Party, told the BBC.

“This is why so many people have come out.”

Another pro-democracy politician, Lee Cheuk-yan, said the disappearances were a “milestone for suppression”.

The latest to vanish has been Lee Bo, who disappeared late last year and was last seen in Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy politicians and activists believe he was kidnapped and taken to the mainland.

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