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EU companies warn policymakers against Russian sanctions

RT -

Should diplomatic talks in Geneva fail to produce fruit, the US government could unveil new sanctions against Russia as early as Friday, the Financial Times (FT) reports.

German chemical group BASF has been among those worried the most. Italian energy company Eni says, as 30 percent of imported gas to Europe comes from Russia, it automatically makes energy sanctions imposed on Moscow senseless.

BP is concerned about Russia’s reaction, as it owns about 20 percent of Russia’s state owned Rosneft.

On April 16 BP CEO Bob Dudley reassured shareholders that the company would keep "business as usual" with Russia.

While the EU Commission says possible sanctions are “almost finished”, some of the member countries admit that cutting ties with Russia would be painful.

“Are the member states united on this [imposing sanctions]? No. Are they willing to die for Ukraine? I don’t think so,” the FT quotes a senior European official who added that no economic limitations should be imposed without the consent of all EU member states.

“We are not the US, we don’t have shale gas as they do, so any move to sanction them [Russia] would hurt our companies a lot,” said Antonio Tajani, the Industry Commissioner.

Most European countries remain fragile, as they “are getting back on its feet after the worst crisis in decades,” which means they should think twice before cutting off important investment and trade sources, he added.

Usmanov ranked Russia’s richest man for a third time

RT -

His income primarily comes from his main assets: Metalloinvest holding, Russian mobile network MegaFon, the Mail.ru Group and shares of Facebook.

The Forbes list estimates the assets of Russia’s richest people as of February 12, 2014, prior to the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

The second place went to the co-owner of Alfa Group Mikhail Fridman who has increased his fortune by $1.1 billion to $17.6 billion.

The $2.1 billion boost in the wealth of Victor Vekselberg the chairman of the Renova group pushed him onto third place with $17.2 billion, and decreased the gap behind Fridman to just $400 million.

Vladimir Lisin the owner of NLMK significantly improved his position with an extra $2.5 billion in the bank allowing him to jump 4 places into fourth spot. Forbes estimates Lisin’s fortune at $16.6 billion. In 2011 Lisin was considered the richest person in Russia, with a personal wealth of $24 billion.

Having fallen from third place in 2013 the co-owner of the second-largest Russian gas vendor – Novatek, Leonid Mikhelson closed the top five of the richest Russian businessmen with $15.6 billion, a $200 million gain over last year.

The remainder of the top 10 are Gennady Timchenko with $15.3 billion, a $1.2 billion increase, Vagit Alekperov with $13.6 billion. Vladimir Potanin with $12.6 billion, having lost $1.7 billion. Andrey Melnichenko demonstrated the biggest decline losing $3 billion to just $11.4 billion, and German Han closed the top 10 with $11.3 billion, an $800 million increase.

Despite the wealth boost for the leaders, the entrance barrier in the Top 200 richest Russians lowered to $450 million, from $500 million a year ago. The accumulative fortune of all 200 members decreased to $481.4 billion; in 2013 it was $488.3 billion, and in 2012 $446.3 billion.

Navy delays commissioning of new nuclear submarine, opens investigation

RT -

Additionally, the Navy stated that further design work would be necessary before the submarine could be commissioned. The Virginia-class North Dakota was scheduled to enter active service in May, but no new date has been set.

According to the Navy Times, the delay is a setback for the Virginia-class program, which has become known for its ability to deliver ships ahead of contracted estimates. Shipbuilders along with the Navy were hoping to get the North Dakota ready well before the original contracted date in August, and officials said they don’t expect the commissioning to slip past that point this year.

“This decision is based on the need for additional design and certification work required on the submarine's redesigned bow and material issues with vendor-assembled and delivered components,” the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) said in a statement on Wednesday.

Speaking with Reuters, Navy spokeswoman Colleen O’Rourke said there were “material issues” with specific parts associated with one of the vendors, though she declined to name the vendor or the parts in question.

"The Navy is committed to ensuring the safety of its crews and ships. High quality standards for submarine components are an important part of the overall effort to ensure safety," she said.

As noted by Reuters, when problems are found with one component, the vendor who supplied it is usually subjected to an investigation related to the other parts it provides. Each Virginia-class submarine is projected to cost about $2.7 billion, but the Navy said it would not know how much additional money would be necessary to build the North Dakota until the investigation is finished.

“There are 63 components the Navy is currently investigating aboard the North Dakota,” NAVSEA spokesman Lt. Kurt Larson said to the Navy Times. “These components include stern planes and rudder rams, retractable bow plane cylinders, hydraulic accumulators, high-pressure air-charging manifolds, torpedo tube interlocks and shaft/link assemblies, weapons, shipping and handling mechanisms, and other miscellaneous parts.”

The North Dakota is the 11th Virginia-class submarine to be built, but is the first to feature a 40 percent redesign compared to its predecessors. It will be capable of storing and launching a larger variety of weapons and will also contain a redesigned sonar sphere.

The Dismal State of SATCOM Security

Slashdot -

An anonymous reader writes "Satellite Communications (SATCOM) play a vital role in the global telecommunications system, but the security of the devices used leaves much to be desired. The list of security weaknesses IOActive foundwhile analyzing and reverse-engineering firmware used on the most widely deployed Inmarsat and Iridium SATCOM terminals does not include only design flaws but also features in the devices themselves that could be of use to attackers. The uncovered vulnerabilities include multiple backdoors, hardcoded credentials, undocumented and/or insecure protocols, and weak encryption algorithms. These vulnerabilities allow remote, unauthenticated attackers to compromise the affected products. In certain cases no user interaction is required to exploit the vulnerability; just sending a simple SMS or specially crafted message from one ship to another ship would be successful for some of the SATCOM systems."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.








Asus FonePad K012 could be an even cheaper tablet-sized phone

Liliputing -

The Asus FonePad line of devices are basically 7 inch smartphones (or tablets which you can use to make phone calls). While big-screen phones are nothing new, they’re usually high-priced devices with premium specs. But the Asus FonePad line of devices have always been pretty cheap, with prices running around $249 and up unlocked Fonepad. Now […]

Asus FonePad K012 could be an even cheaper tablet-sized phone is a post from: Liliputing

NYU president turned faculty apartments into a duplex for his son

RT -

According to the New York Post, that cautionary understatement on the official NYU site hardly applied to Jed Sexton — a Harvard-educated aspiring actor who in 2002 miraculously happened upon a newly renovated duplex embedded right between NYU’s facilities in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

Sexton had no affiliation with the school, however, sans the sole fact that his father happened to be NYU’s incoming president.

James Covert for the Post reported on Wednesday this week that property records seen by the newspaper and corroborated by statements from people briefed on the matter made it clear that Jed Sexton “for years enjoyed a spacious faculty apartment” at 240 Mercer St in the Village.

The actor and his wife moved into a newly created duplex at the NYU-owned building, Covert reported, soon after the school offered them the residence in the spring of 2002.

Only weeks earlier, however, a transition team working under incoming NYU President John Sexton told the school that there was a “severe housing shortage” on campus.

“The housing system,” the March 8, 2002 report read, “is also deficient because it has adverse effects on both the pace of retirements and, because of inadequate budget and planning integration, the hiring of new faculty.”

Nevertheless, for five years his son and daughter-in-law rented a completely renovated, two-story duplex in building that is normally reserved for law school faculty.

According to the Post, NYU spokesman John Beckman declined to comment on whether either resident paid market price for the apartment during the half-a-decade they lived there.

“We don’t discuss the specifics of residents’ rent, though I can absolutely say [Jed Sexton] was charged rent,” Beckman told the Post.

Currently, one-bedroom apartments at the Mercer Street Residence run roughly $3,000, with two-story spaces undoubtedly costing much more.

Jed Sexton and his wife, Danielle Decrette, left in 2007, according to the Post, to move into a $1 million house in Connecticut. NYU’s Beckman told the paper that the school no role in the financing of that home.

John Sexton is expected to retire from his role as president of NYU in 2016, but may indeed close the chapter on that part of his life only after adding a new page or two courtesy of the latest scandal to surface. Previously, Sexton has come under fire for allowing tuition to increase by 68 percent in the decade after he first took helm of the school, and last year it was revealed that NYU students have more debt that those who attended any other university in the country.

Meanwhile, Sexton’s annual salary last year was $1.5 million, according to the New York Times, and he’s been guaranteed retirement benefits of $800,000 a year once he officially retires.

More international involvement in CAR won’t stop bloodshed

RT -

On April 14, the Council of the European Union issued a statement outlining the main conclusions on the situation in the Central African Republic, as well as on the aims and objectives of the EU mission in CAR (EUFOR RCA).

The decision to launch “the EU military operation to a secure environment in the Central African Republic” was taken on April 1 after authorization from the UN Security Council. Initially the mission was approved in January, with troops supposed to start deploying by the end of February. However, the EU mission has been held up a little bit by the failure of European governments to provide soldiers and equipment.

The purpose of the EUFOR RCA is “to provide temporary support in achieving a safe and secure environment in the Bangui area, with a view to handing over to a UN peacekeeping operation or to African partners.”

"The launch of this operation demonstrates the EU's determination to take full part in international efforts to restore stability and security in Bangui and right across the Central African Republic," said Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, on April 1.

"It is vital that there is a return to public order as soon as possible, so that the political transition process can be put back on track," she added.

According to the official statement of the Council of the EU, the force will comprise up to 1,000 troops led by Major-General Philippe Pontiès (France) as EU Operation Commander. The EU soldiers will join 6,000 African and 2,000 French troops that have failed to stop a conflict that erupted after the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in March 2013 and seized power in the predominantly Christian state. The operation’s headquarters are to be located in Larissa, Greece, while the force HQ and the troops in CAR will be based in the capital, Bangui, and at the Bangui airport. The costs of the operation are estimated at 25.9 million euro for the preparatory phase, with a mandate of up to six months starting from the point of reaching full operational capability.

Germany, Italy, France, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom will take part in the EU military operation, along with Georgia, which is not an EU-member. Estonia, France, Georgia, Poland and Spain are expected to send their soldiers, while Germany is promising air transport and Britain - engineering and logistical help.

In an April-14 statement, the Council of the EU supported the EUFOR RCA military mission and calls on the international community to mobilize its forces in order to improve the situation on the ground in CAR. The EU mission is working hand in hand with Sangaris, the French mission, and a mission bythe African Union, MISCA.

The EU is considering providing MISCA with an additional 75 million euro for facilitation of the peace process in CAR. It is also demanding that the transitional government of CAR, with Catherine Samba-Panza as its head, should do its best to guarantee political dialogue and reconciliation till elections that are held in February 2015.

One of the few achievements of the international involvement in Central African affairs relates to the signing of the final communiqué of the Interfaith Conference on Peace and Reconciliation on April 8, which is a small development on the way to a resolution of the crisis. However, this is really just a drop in the ocean.

The existing tensions in CAR have resulted not only in unprecedented violence but also in a mass exodus of people to neighboring states like Chad, Congo and Cameroon. In fact, all of those countries cannot be called a “safe place” themselves because of institutional mismanagement, weak governments and high security threats. Amnesty International, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) have sounded the alarm due to the numerous cases of executions, torture, looting and other atrocities that are perpetrated against civilians on a daily basis. Moreover, all the signs of ethnic cleansing are in place, which is a grim reminder of the Rwanda genocide.
“The Central African Republic is gripped by a human rights and humanitarian crisis of historic proportions. By failing to respond more robustly and urgently, the international community has shown a callous disregard for the country’s embattled civilians, abandoning them in their moment of need,” said Christian Mukosa, Central Africa researcher at Amnesty International.

On April 10, a couple of days after the first 55 EU soldiers arrived in the country, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to send 12,000 UN peacekeepers to CAR. The UN peacekeeping mission is scheduled to take over on September 15, replacing the EUFOR RCA forces.

Unfortunately, more international forces on the ground won’t do the CAR people any good. The very fact that different peacekeeping missions are operating on the ground is already a challenge itself. France, once a great power still suffering from a “grandeur” complex is meddling in the affairs of all its former colonies, with Mali and CAR being chief examples. Chad has ties with the Seleka group that overthrew the CAR government. With self-interests above all, any actions taken by those parties are doomed. Logically, a neutral actor in the region is needed to resolve the conflict, which simply doesn’t exist.

There are also lots of incidents of alleged atrocities committed by peacekeeping soldiers on civilians. For example, on March 29 Chadian soldiers from MISCA troops opened fire on civilians which resulted in the death of dozens of people. Amnesty International called on the African Union to launch an investigation into any allegations MISCA troops were involved in human rights violations, which happen quite often.

Indeed, another cause for concern is connected to the real purposes of the EU that belie the pleasant sounding words of EU officials. Europe has always called the African continent the zone of its “privileged interests,” which is in fact about African resources and geostrategic importance and not people. The EU currently allows African countries free access to European markets without demanding anything in return. However, the African nations will lose that free access in October 2014 if they don’t sign a deal with the EU giving Europe a certain amount of free access to African markets, which would hinder the national economies of African states. As for CAR, it is extremely rich in resources, especially in gold, diamonds, oil and timber. Quite an attractive offer for sure.

Besides, if we turn to history, it’s clear that deep religious and ethnic conflicts are rarely resolved by military means, unless one side is completely exterminated through state cleavage, deportation or cleansing. Therefore, either the African Union, France, the EU and the UN will try to separate CAR between Muslims and Christians, which basically means the creation of two states instead of one, or they’ll have to eliminate the militia who are fueling the bloodshed, which is problematic since both sides are guilty of that. In other words, the international community can’t simply kill everyone in CAR who has a gun in their hands. Deportation seems also impossible – is there any place to deport those people anyway?

Finally, actions both taken and planned are too late and too limited. Remember Rwanda, where the international forces were too scarce, and, prior to the 1994 genocide, the United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) commander General Romeo Dallaire pleaded to the UN Security Council for reinforcements and logistical support but his plea was rejected.

Nowadays, in CAR, the escalation of the internal conflict has already reached its limits, while increasing the number of foreign soldiers doesn’t guarantee efficiency of operation and even carries additional threats. For sure, without any interference at all, the situation in CAR could have been even worse: the very existence of CAR as a state could have been under question, which would have led to further destabilization of the region (it would become a safe haven for militia from Chad, Sudan, Congo and Uganda in the heart of the African continent). The most rational solution could be increasing the involvement of the African Union backed by the UN with no French or EU missions on the ground playing their geopolitical chess game. But in reality the game continues while, sadly, political stalemate and violence are likely to accompany its progress.

Irina Sukhoparova, RT

Resources for libraries exploring the open source option

LXer -

Libraries of all types have the same questions about open source software that are asked by technologists in other fields. Does open source make sense for me? What open source packages mesh well with the skills already in my organization? Where can I go to get training, documentation, hosting, and/or contract software development for a specific open source package?With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we set out to build tools that help libraries answer these questions. These questions and answers may be useful to others as well.

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