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Ukrainian pilot Savchenko?s ambitions could spark political turmoil

Savchenko photo Volodymyr Pertrov

Just two days after being released from a Russian prison, pilot Nadiya Savchenko is capitalizing on her symbolic importance to Ukrainians, saying Friday that she would run for president ?if Ukrainians want me to.?

Savchenko, Ukraine?s first female pilot, was elected to the country?s parliament and appointed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe during her nearly two years in captivity, fueling speculation that she might have political ambitions.

?I don?t think Savchenko would use her immense credibility to fight over party leadership,? said Balazs Jarabik, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, in e-mailed replies to VOA.  ?Based on her press conference, she would target the country leadership instead.?

Yet the main question involves Savchenko?s relations with Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine?s former prime minister and leader of the Fatherland party.

Tymoshenko was a strong advocate for Savchenko?s release, knowing that her return to Ukraine would strengthen Fatherland?s position. However, there are reasons to believe this political marriage will not last.

Both Tymoshenko and Savchenko are known for their strong personalities. Both are outspoken and popular with the public. Tymoshenko was a symbol of political persecution under former President Viktor Yanukovych, while Savchenko is a symbol of Ukrainian resistance against the Kremlin.

The first sign of tensions emerged Wednesday when Savchenko arrived at the airport in Ukraine after her release: The military heroine declined to accept a bouquet of flowers from Tymoshenko.

?It was a completely pragmatic alliance without mutual love,? said Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Threat to Poroshenko

Savchenko received a hero?s welcome when she returned to Ukraine on Wednesday, which was also the second anniversary of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko?s first-round presidential election victory.

Savchenko?s return could translate into a victory for the embattled president, who pledged to secure the return Crimea and eastern Ukraine ?just as we brought back Nadiya.?

But, since he was elected after a 2014 popular uprising that ousted Moscow-backed Yanukovych, little progress has been made in the two-year struggle to end a Russia-backed insurgency in the east.

Analysts see Savchenko as an idealist, which they say could stymie her success in making the kind of hard compromises demanded by politics. But, it could also make her a threat to those in power, including Poroshenko.

Poroshenko has been named in the so-called Panama Papers, which include documents suggesting he set up an offshore firm to avoid paying taxes in August 2014, during a peak in fighting in eastern Ukraine.

?I think that at some point, she will see any compromise, any deal, as a national treachery,? said Baunov. ?And Poroshenko is a real, acting president, not just a possible future one. So, of course, he has to make some concessions and some compromises. So, probably, I predict she will criticize him very soon.?

Politics of hope

Still, even as she enters the political arena as a public-supported heavyweight, it is too early to tell what impact Savchenko will have on Ukrainian politics, said Jarabik.

?Ukraine has co-opted into politics some of the Maidan [protest] heroes, including fighters, and none of them proved to be solid public politicians,? he said. ? ?Here I am, ready to die for Ukraine? does not equal a viable political program.?

Savchenko, whose first name Nadiya means ?hope? in Ukrainian, said Friday that she had no idea what her next step might be. She said she could possibly help out with the peace negotiations in Minsk, Belarus, although she has no experience in such matters and is not known for being diplomatic.

At one point during her trial, Savchenko flipped her middle finger and shouted profanities at the procedures, which were widely condemned as a Kremlin-orchestrated political show.

But in the often shady world of Ukrainian politics, the heroes and villains are not as easy to distinguish.

?So, it?s very difficult to keep the reputation of a hero, of a person around which we have a kind of national consensus, when practicing real Ukrainian politics,? Baunov said.

Source: VOANews.com

(Photo:  Volodymyr Pertrov, via The Kyiv Post)

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Bulgarian parliamentary committees approve jet fighter, patrol ship projects

gripen ng21

The Bulgarian Parliament?s committees on defence and on budget and finance have approved projects worth well more than a billion euro to acquire new jet fighters and two new naval patrol vessels.

The Cabinet approved the military shopping list, also including armoured vehicles, at the end of March. By Bulgarian law, the large sums of money involved are above the threshold requiring parliamentary approval.

Following the May 26 approval at a joint sitting of the two committees, the proposals will be tabled at a plenary sitting of the National Assembly.

The acquisition of new jet fighters, to meet the standards of Nato of which Bulgaria has been a member since 2004, has been on the agenda of a succession of Bulgarian governments. The country currently has a contract with Poland to keep its ageing Russian-made MiG-29 fighters flying pending the acquisition of aircraft that are up to Nato standards.

It is expected that Bulgaria?s acquisition of new multi-role military jet fighters will happen through negotiations towards an inter-state agreement rather than through a tender process. In July 2015, Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said that the Cabinet had given him a mandate to negotiate the acquisition of new combat jets.

The Ministry of Defence has been examining three options for the acquisition of a new type of fighter: new Swedish Gripens, the Eurofighter and second-hand US-made F-16s from Portugal.

Defence Ministry officials however are said to believe that the Eurofighter would prove significantly too expensive for Bulgaria.

A Eurofighter in service with the German Luftwaffe.

A Eurofighter in service with the German Luftwaffe.

The choice effectively comes down to Gripens or the used F-16s from Portugal. Sweden and Gripen have underlined willingness to negotiate a package to suit Bulgaria?s pocket, with a deferred payment plan, and point to the record of Gripen acquisitions successfully elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, for example by the Czech Republic.

A Lockheed F16, Portuguese Air Force.

A Lockheed F16, Portuguese Air Force.

Advocates of the acquisition of out-of-the-box jet fighters also underline that getting fighters second-hand means that the aircraft would have a shorter life expectancy and doom the Bulgarian taxpayer to facing the big-ticket question all over again in some years? time.

Unofficial information is that the Bulgarian Air Force would favour getting newly-manufactured jet fighters, but the decision is likely to be a political one.

SA Air Force Gripen

Gripens, in service with the South African Air Force.

gripen ng

Air Force chief General Roumen Radev said that any delay in the project to acquire new fighters could be fatal.

The idea is to first get eight new fighters, and further on, another eight. The first half of the jet fighter acquisition would be the more expensive because it would also include various items such as training and simulators.

Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov said that the total cost of the two projects ? the fighters and the patrol vessels ? as envisaged in the medium-term forecast to 2019, is 2.32 billion leva (about 1.16 billion euro). The contracts will be paid in installments over several years.

The draft envisages 10 million leva for the new aircraft project in 2016 and 114 million leva for the patrol vessels.

For 2017, the funds respectively are 200 million leva and 171 million leva. The sums are the same for 2018. For 2019, the sums are 200 million leva for the jet fighters and 97 million leva for the naval vessels.

According to Goranov?s calculations, in 2020 the budget would have to provide 440 million leva for the aircraft and 147 million leva for the vessels, in 2021 totals of 450 million leva and 90 million leva respectively and in 2022, a sum of 30 million leva for the patrol ships.

For the jet fighter acquisition, it is possible that other potential suppliers could be invited to negotiations, but with the changed international situation, there are indications that countries have become inclined to hang on to their older jet fighters.

In debate on the patrol vessel project, the nationalist Patriotic Front, the influential minority partner in Bulgaria?s coalition government agreement, expressed reservations, with PF co-leader Krassimir Karakachanov alleging that the process of awarding the business was being slanted in favour of a particular Bulgarian firm.

In recent months, senior figures including Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov have spoken of having the ships built at Bulgarian yards.

Karakachanov said that he could write the name of the company that would get the business on a piece of paper and seal it in an envelope that would be opened after the deal was announced, and said he would be proven correct.

Naval commander Rear Admiral Mitko Petev told MPs that if the acquisition of the two new vessels did not happen in the next three years, a crisis would result.

Bulgaria has six warships ? three former Belgian frigates and three Russian vessels. The Russian vessels have a further life of no more than three to four years before they would have to be decommissioned.

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Poland given more time to solve constitutional crisis

Poland constitutional tribunal photo Lukas Plewnia link to polen heute de

Poland?s government has a few more days to strike a compromise with the European Commission over the solution of the Constitutional Tribunal (TK) crisis and the issue of the rule of law. The Commission will return to the issue on June 1, commissioner Andrus Ansip told reporters.

The Commission expects the Polish government to make fast moves aimed at resolving Tribunal crisis, deputy European Commission president Frans Timmermans said. If solutions are presented promptly, the commission will not adopt an opinion on the rule of law in Poland, he added.

At issue are the amendments to the Constitutional Tribunal law passed in December by the Polish parliament dominated by Law and Justice (PiS), which have sparked lots of controversy, seen as limiting the court?s powers.

For the full story, please visit The Warsaw Voice.

(Photo: Lukas Plewnia)

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Bulgaria does not expect refugee problem from Turkey ? Interior Minister

Roumyana Buchvarova

Bulgaria does not expect a refugee problem from Turkey, even if Ankara withdraws from the agreement with the European Union on regulating the entry of migrants, Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Roumyana Buchvarova said on May 25.

An agreement between Bulgaria and Turkey on the readmission of refugees is a document outside the terms of the joint declaration between the EU and Turkey, Buchvarova said in an interview with public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio.

Buchvarova said that she had carefully studied the statement by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on May 24 that Ankara would scrap a migrant readmission deal with the EU unless the 28-member bloc authorises visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

She said that Turkey had set the condition that if its requirement for visa liberalisation is not accepted, ?there will be a suspension of documents, European, but without specifying whether this is also a matter of bilateral agreements. Judging by the very constructive dialogue that we have had recently with the Turkish side, I hope this does not happen?.

For the full story, please click here.

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DN was a great success!

DN is on indefinite hiatus. Thanks so much for your support!

We still receive thousands of hits a day on archive stories, some of which are cited in publications and books, so we feel this project was a great success. The 7,745 existing posts are not only a record of several years of media weirdness that morphed into a clickbait monster, but testimony to the fact that people really DO believe this stuff. Nonsense is dangerous.

We sure learned a lot along the way! A book of Doubtful News will be along eventually, we hope.

Sharon is available to answer questions about paranormal topics, anomalies and fake news ? contact [email protected]

Visit the Doubtful News Facebook page for new stories and discussion.

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Hadet bra, farvel and stay skeptical!

~Sharon and Torkel

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How a Corrupt GOP Is Running Alabama Into the Ground

This is the second in a series of articles on the trial of Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard. Read the first installment here.

To get a sense of how Mike Hubbard has affected the lives of everyday Alabamians, type #IamMedicaid into Facebook or Twitter. Up pops a seemingly endless series of photos of children: a pigtailed toddler with a cleft lip and palette; a boy with two missing front teeth who fell into a fire and spent three weeks in a burn unit; a girl with a congenital heart defect; a boy in a wheelchair with a half-shaven head who suffers from Hirschsprung?s Syndrome, and is recovering from brain surgery to cure an infection in his central nervous system.

They?re all smiling and holding placards that bear the ?I am Medicaid? slogan, a social campaign that is tied to one of the 23 felony counts the speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives faces in a trial that begins this week?the one charge that might well be the most difficult for Hubbard to beat. In 2013, Hubbard voted 12 times for a bill that would give a monopoly over Alabama?s Medicaid prescription drug program, worth some $40 million a year, to American Pharmacy Cooperative, Inc. (APCI), with which he had a $5,000-a-month contract. Hubbard has claimed that his work for APCI concerned only out-of-state business, and that he wasn?t aware that the bill would benefit the company. But one of his former colleagues, Greg Wren, who pleaded guilty during the grand jury phase of the case, is expected to testify that Hubbard directed him to insert 23 words into the bill that would give APCI its monopoly.

But Hubbard?s alleged crime is just the most flagrant example of how Alabama lawmakers abuse Medicaid. The Alabama legislature, in which the House speaker enjoys almost supreme power, has repeatedly underfunded the state?s Medicaid program, to the point that it now runs the risk of losing its federal matching funds, which would leave millions of Alabama residents without even minimal health care and imperil the state?s entire medical system. The #IamMedicaid campaign is a response to that perilous shortfall. But Hubbard?s track record suggests that as long as he?s the most powerful man in Alabama, his constituents will only be heard if they speak with dollar signs.


In 2010, Hubbard orchestrated the GOP?s takeover of the legislature, which had been under Democratic control for 136 years, since Reconstruction. Fighting corruption was a central plank of the Republican campaign, along with a promise to root out wasteful spending in Montgomery. ?There was an air of optimism when they took control,? says Bob Davis, editor of the Anniston Star. It was an optimism that seemed justified when Hubbard led a special session a month after Election Day, ramming through a slate of tough ethics laws.

?The driving force in Alabama politics is making sure your constituent can see that he?s at a better station than someone else.?

?But it didn?t take long to go off the rails,? Davis says.

For Davis, an early sign of trouble came when the leaders on Goat Hill, as Alabama?s capitol is known, took a hard turn toward demagoguery instead of dealing with Alabama?s perennial budget problems and finding ways to stimulate job growth. First there was the passage in 2011 of what Davis calls an ?anti-immigrant? law, which called for the arrest of citizens who so much as gave food to illegal immigrants. It became national news when executives at the state?s Honda and Mercedes plants were arrested. Amid the outcry, Hubbard became the law?s number-one defender, explaining to reporters from around the country that he was merely upholding federal law and even penning an op-ed in support of the measure in USA Today. Federal courts eventually gutted its major provisions.

Then came a law requiring Alabamians to show state identification in order to vote, paired with the prompt shuttering of driver?s license offices in the state?s poorest counties, with the state claiming it lacked the money to keep them open. But to all who knew Alabama?s racist history, it was a bald-faced move to weaken the African-American vote.

And year after year, even as legislators repeatedly had to be called back for costly special sessions to fulfill their most basic duty?passage of a budget?Hubbard held up Barack Obama as Alabama?s public enemy number one. After Governor Robert Bentley laid out a slate of policies and priorities in his State of the State speech in 2013, for instance, Hubbard tweeted: ?We must also start a separate track that defends our state from @BarackObama and the expanding federal gov?t.?

These moves were classic Alabama politics, Davis says. Quoting Harvey Jackson III, professor emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University and author of Inside Alabama, he explains: ?The driving force in Alabama politics is making sure your constituent can see that he?s at a better station than someone else.?


Meantime, Hubbard set about building his fiefdom on Goat Hill. Despite campaign promises of fiscal conservatism, his office?s budget ballooned. His predecessor, a Democrat, spent a little less than half a million a year. Under Hubbard, spending doubled, rising to almost $900,000, the independent news site Alabama Political Reporter revealed in 2013. Of this, $96,000 went to pay David Azbell for co-writing Hubbard?s book, Storming the Statehouse: The Campaign that Liberated Alabama from 136 Years of Democrat Rule. And Hubbard spent tens of thousands of dollars to furnish a cloakroom in the statehouse and to decorate his suite of offices, covering the walls with giant flat-screen TVs, including one that ran a continuous loop of photos of Hubbard with George W. Bush and other Republican heavy hitters.

The state?s finances didn?t fare much better. Alabama?s budget has carried a structural deficit for generations, due mainly to the state?s tax structure, which is skewed in favor of wealthy landowners. ?Our state constitution was explicitly written to establish white supremacy,? Davis explains. ?And while all of the racist language in it has been rendered a dead letter by the federal courts, the part that established power in Alabama remains.? As a result, Alabamians ?have the lowest property tax in America. And if we doubled it, it would still be the lowest.?

?Instead of tax-and-spend Democrats, we?ve had borrow-and-spend Republicans.?

But with the exception of a 25-cent cigarette tax, Hubbard and his fellow Republicans have refused to generate new revenue, so state programs have limped along with meager funding and the state has repeatedly raided its rainy day coffers just to cover its obligations. ?Instead of tax-and-spend Democrats, we?ve had borrow-and-spend Republicans,? says Claire Austin, a Montgomery lobbyist and longtime Republican.

?There is nothing good that has come from the Republicans being in power in Alabama, and I?m a Republican,? says Arthur Payne, a former state representative from Birmingham. ?Since the Republicans have taken over, we have borrowed more money than we ever have in the history of the state, and our budget is in worse shape than it?s ever been.?

That?s saying a lot for a state that for decades has ranked near the bottom of just about every socioeconomic measure. Nearly 660,000 Alabamians go without health insurance. The state has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation, and ranks in the top ten in heart disease, cancer, stroke, influenza, pneumonia, and kidney disease. It has the seventh-lowest percentage of residents with college degrees, the fifth-lowest with high school diplomas, and the sixth-highest unemployment rate. The median income is $42,278, third-lowest in the country, a mere 3 percent increase over what it was in 2010, when Hubbard and the Republicans took control. Over the same period, the nation?s median income has increased 8 percent.

But it?s been boom time for Hubbard and his friends. In addition to the fancy furnishings and high salaries for his staff and personal book writer, Hubbard pulled in nearly $420,000 a year in contracts with companies that employ lobbyists in Montgomery. He also directed his fellow legislators?many of whom he personally recruited, raised funds for, and helped campaign?to support legislation backed by, and in many cases written by, a handful of lobbying firms with which he had a personal connection. Most notable of these was Bob Riley and Associates, which former Governor Bob Riley?Hubbard?s political mentor, after whom he named his son?opened within months of stepping down from political office in 2011.

One of the most striking examples of Hubbard?s cronyism was an education reform bill that came up in 2013. It started as an eight-page measure that would allow families to move their children from ?failing? schools to better-performing ones. But after the measure passed the House and Senate with slight differences, Hubbard sent it to a subcommittee that met with almost no notice in a room that was different from where it normally met. Only the Republican members showed up, but they comprised a quorum that unanimously approved a 27-page replacement bill that was rushed onto the House floor and quickly passed. The new bill established a scholarship program that now helps middle class and wealthy families send their kids to private schools, creating a multi-million-dollar program that Riley now runs.

?Hubbard is a guy who wants to control everything and everybody, and that?s his biggest problem,? Payne says. ?His problems permeated the whole legislature, because he determines what bills flow through. In some cases, he supported bills to help his own [criminal] case.? For example, he pushed a bill that would?ve created a House committee with line-item control of state departments? budgets, including the attorney general?s. In theory, the Hubbard-controlled House could?ve forced the attorney general?s office to eliminate its white-collar crime division.

That bill failed, but several Republican legislators paid the price for opposing it. Hubbard yanked Phil Williams from the Technology Committee, even though Williams represents a district near Huntsville where aerospace engineering is one of the leading industries. ?I spoke out and was ostracized,? he says. And Hubbard ran things this way from the start. Payne, who had served in the Republican minority for years, was stripped of a seat he?d long held on the powerful Rules Committee simply because he didn?t vote for Hubbard to be Speaker when the GOP took the majority, Payne says.

Hubbard?s speakership has been ?very much like a dictatorship controlling all branches of government with an iron fist,? Austin says. ?He?s very vindictive, with a long-term memory. It?s like nothing I?ve ever seen in my 20 years here.?

Amid this environment, the children of the #IamMedicaid campaign have had little hope. Alabama offers the absolute minimum in Medicaid services necessary to qualify for federal matching funds?coverage for children, people with disabilities, and low-income elderly. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the state could?ve expanded Medicaid to provide health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Alabama residents with the help of hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government.

So why didn?t the state take the money? ?It?s branded with the name of a president they despise,? Jim Carnes, policy director for the Arise Citizens? Policy Project, says of the ACA. ?It?s an Obama program, and they?ve dug in to resist everything he supports.?

Hubbard?s speakership has been ?very much like a dictatorship controlling all branches of government with an iron fist.?

In the most recent legislative session, Alabama faced another budget shortfall, and instead of raising taxes or finding places to cut state programs, legislators took it all out of Medicaid?s budget. As it stands, health-care providers under the system are looking at their already meager Medicaid reimbursements being cut by nearly a fourth. This will assuredly lead to staff cuts, reductions in patient rolls, and early retirements. Worse, Alabama will face a very real risk of losing federal funding entirely, and that threatens the state?s entire health system. Medicaid funds comprise a huge percentage of the revenue stream at the state?s hospitals, especially ones in rural areas, says Danne Howard, executive vice president and chief policy officer for the Alabama Hospital Association. ?Medicaid is part of the fabric of our entire health care system,? she says.

Hubbard and other Republican leaders have insisted their resistance to Medicaid expansion is not a purely political opposition to the nation?s first black president, claiming that the state simply can?t afford to spend the additional funds expansion would require. But budget analyses by Howard?s group and other health advocates have shown that the state could shift funds it is already spending on mental health and health care for prisoners to more than cover the bill?an assertion that was backed up recently by a Medicaid task force appointed by Governor Bentley, which recommended Alabama embrace Obamacare. Moreover, the federal match would pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the state?s lagging economy, and polls show that the majority of Alabamians support the expansion of the program, even as they continue to oppose the president.

The governor is expected to call a special session to address the Medicaid shortfall. But it?s unclear how much clout the governor wields, since he is caught in a sex scandal that comes on top of the dark money scandal that has shaken Goat Hill. Backers of #IamMedicaid hope that expansion is still in the cards, especially now that fellow red state holdout Oklahoma has reversed course. But it?s more likely that the legislature will go for a one-time fix, this time using money from a settlement with BP over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that ravaged the coast in 2010. For that money, the #IamMedicaid kids will be competing with a plan for a beachfront conference center to be designed and built by unnamed, no-bid architects and developers, then handed over to a private corporation to run.

What?s more, the special session will also grapple with another Hubbard priority that legislators were unable to nail down during the recent regular session?a plan for unnamed, no-bid contractors to design and build four new prisons with an $800 million bond issue. Many in Alabama see the initiative as an indication of the kind of future Hubbard and his fellow Republicans have in mind for the #IamMedicaid kids.

?We expect prisons to be the future of Alabama,? Darrio Melton, chair of the Democratic Caucus in the Alabama House, wrote in a recent column for Alabama Political Reporter, adding that state leaders have ?given up on fixing mental health programs, creating expansive educational opportunities, rebuilding our communities, and rehabilitating our people.?

A lot will depend on how Hubbard?s corruption trial in Lee County turns out. What we know for sure is that much more than Hubbard?s personal fate is at stake.

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Greek MPs pass new spending cuts, tax hikes

Photo: Hellenic Parliament/ Aliki Eleftheriou

Greek lawmakers on Sunday approved fresh spending cuts and tax hikes demanded by European creditors in exchange for a new installment of desperately needed bailout funds.

The legislation, which also provides a mechanism to slash spending in case of future budget overruns, comes two days ahead of a key meeting of eurozone finance ministers set to assess Athens? compliance with bailout terms reached last year.

A positive assessment is key to European creditors easing the servicing terms for $225 billion in bailout loans given the country since 2010.

As parliament moved Sunday to adopt the new measures, thousands of protesters demonstrated in central Athens against the legislation.

The labor-backed protests have become a regular occurrence, with protesters insisting the reforms are unfairly penalizing workers, as ruling leftists work to satisfy EU reform demands and stave off what most analysts say would be a catastrophic financial collapse.

Last week, lawmakers approved a controversial package of pensions and tax reforms also demanded by creditors.  Those measures, also opposed by organized labor, reduce Greece?s highest pension payouts, while increasing contributions from those in medium and high income brackets.

In July 2015, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reluctantly accepted lender terms for a third European bailout package worth nearly $100 billion.

At that time, he told the Greek public the deal with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund was the only way to prevent the total collapse of the Greek economy and the country?s exit from the eurozone ? the 19-nation grouping that uses the euro currency.

Source: VOANews.com

(Photo: Hellenic Parliament/ Aliki Eleftheriou)

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Is Commercial Aviation as Safe as We?re Told?

On Thursday, May 19, EgyptAir flight MS804, traveling from Paris to Cairo, crashed into the Mediterranean Sea. All 66 passengers and crew members aboard were killed. Terrorism is suspected.

This is the fifth major airline crash since the beginning of this year, a fact that may cause some people to wonder if flying is as safe as we?ve been taught to believe.

As a criminologist who studies security and safety leadership, I have reviewed how the airline industry measures its safety record and examined four different kinds of threats?airport security, flight safety, regulations violations, and cybersecurity?in order to depict a more accurate picture of the risks that face travelers.

How safety is measured

The level of security and safety in the commercial airline industry is mainly judged by examining specific types of fatal incidents and compliance with existing regulations.

A recent report published by the airline safety and product rating review website Airline Ratings identifies the top 20 safest commercial airliners using criteria such as safety and security certifications, being blacklisted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or other foreign transportation agencies, and the number (or absence) of fatal accidents in the past ten years.

It?s important to note, however, that according to the International Air Transport Association, only six percent of airline accidents in 2015 included fatalities. This fact seriously skews the measurement of risks. Risk measurement should also, in my view, take into account close calls and incidents in which passengers are hurt, even if they aren?t killed.

Now let?s look at the four different categories of risks.

1. Airport security risks

Risk starts with several security gaps at the airport.

One of the first concerns is airport employee screening. In 2015, a report published by the inspector general stated:

TSA [Transportation Security Administration] lacked effective controls to ensure that aviation workers did not have disqualifying criminal histories and that they possessed lawful status and the authorization to work in the United States.

The problem of employee screening is even more critical in countries like Egypt where screening practices are weak and have been associated with previous fatal incidents.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported that security checkpoints operated by TSA failed 67 out of 70 tests operated by a DHS red team. A red team is a covert government agent group that challenges organization performance and effectiveness. These failures occurred in several large cities across the country.

The red team?s tests resulted in a failure rate of 95 percent. What is more, agents failed to intercept individual dangerous items in baggage, including a fake bomb at Newark Liberty Airport.

Other covert operations have also shown that airport secure areas were breached by a red team. The results of those operations are classified, but speaking before a house committee, DHS Inspector General John Roth indicated they were disappointing.

2. Flight safety risks

According to data collected by the Aviation Safety Reporting System (FAA), the commercial aviation industry experiences nonfatal incidents on a regular basis.

These self-reported incidents include critical altitude deviation, fuel management issues, smoke and fire in the cabin, in-flight weather encounters, mechanical issues due to unreliable maintenance, crew fatigue, medical fitness of pilots, near midair collisions with another plane, and near midair collisions with unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. Despite the fact that all these incidents reported to the ASRS were not associated with any direct loss of life, many of them pose severe risk to passenger security.

For instance, FAA statistics suggest that there were more than 700 near midair collisions between airplanes and drones in 2015.

For the same year, FAA has reported 28 critical near midair collisions between planes in United States.

Also last year, some 1,546 personnel charged with airline safety, including 38 pilots, tested positive for one or more of five illegal drugs.

In nonfatal accidents, turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants, causing at least 430 injuries between 2002 and 2013.

What?s important to note here is that what causes nonfatal incidents can also cause fatal accidents. This is why, to my mind, we should also look at the incidence of non fatal accidents when assessing safety and security risks in aviation.

3. Regulation violations

Recently the FAA cracked down on several airline companies for failure to comply with regulations.

For instance, in 2015, FAA fined Southwest for safety violations related to one aircraft that was flown on 120 flights before it was checked for damage from a depressurization incident. The year before, Southwest was facing fines of up to $12 million for failing to follow procedures in repairs on Boeing 737 jetliners.

SkyWest in 2015 was fined $1.23 million for failing to do regular inspection of landing gear as required after every 6,700 flights. SkyWest also didn?t conduct inspection on cracked cargo doors of two passenger planes.

In 2015, United Airlines was facing $1.3 million in fines for 120 violations of regulations involving hazardous material cargo on passenger flights. The hazardous material included lithium metal batteries, dry ice, corrosive liquids, detonating fuses, phosphoric acid and ethanol solutions.

Finally, in 2009, the FAA alleged that US Airways and United Airlines had flown planes multiple times?in one case eight planes on a total of 1,647 flights?despite the fact that the planes were in an unsafe condition.

These cases are not outliers. Each year, the FAA releases a quarterly report on regulation violations made by airlines. These reports show that negligence in following maintenance procedures and laxity in implementing the response to a given incident required by protocol are more frequent that we think.

In the first three quarters of 2015, for example, FAA fined more than 100 airlines as well as maintenance servicing companies for regulation violations.

Most of these violations were not associated with flight incidents, but they do tell a story about safety and security culture in the aviation industry.

4. Emerging risk: cybersecurity

The aviation industry increasingly operates high-technology planes that require sophisticated systems and programs. These, in turn, are vulnerable to hacking.

For instance, most planes use Automatic Dependent Surveillance?Broadcast, which sends unencrypted data on a plane?s position. This data could be tampered with by an ill-intentioned person who could alter the real positioning of an aircraft.

In 2015, the hacker Chris Roberts claimed that he was able to access critical plane functions, including the engine, via the entertainment system of the plane.

The Government Accounting Office has also identified several vulnerabilities related to the information systems used by air traffic control.

My point is that information systems and computer programs used by the aviation industry were developed to respond to performance challenges rather than security issues. Therefore, the design of aviation information systems presents vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers and jeopardize safety of aircraft and air traffic control.

Not quite as safe as we assume

The problem is that by limiting our measurement of security to fatal incidents, we narrow our appraisal of risk. Aviation from this perspective appears to be very secure. Crashes, after all, are rare events.

However, I would argue that if you take into account all the nonfatal incidents, which most people are not aware of, then the actual risk of accident in the airline industry is higher.

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Bulgarian former intelligence chief 10-year sentence upheld on appeal

Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu

Bulgaria?s military appeals court ruled on May 20 to uphold the guilty verdict against the former head of the National Intelligence Service, General Kircho Kirov, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail for embezzling 4.7 million leva (about 2.4 million euro) over a period of five years.

Details about the lawsuit were limited, as the case was heard behind closed doors given the confidential nature of the information discussed. Prosecutors charged Kirov with falsifying documents ? more than 1000 of them ? to justify expenses for operations that never took place.

The court also ordered seizing Kirov?s assets to pay off the separate 4.7 million leva civil lawsuit lodged by the National Intelligence Service, and Kirov was also banned from holding any official position involving the handling of finances for a period of 15 years.

The appellate court ruled to acquit Kirov on charges of document fraud and reduced his ban on holding office to 13 years, specialist judiciary news website Legalworld.bg reported.

According to the prosecutor?s office, Kirov diverted the funds from the National Intelligence Service during the 2007-2011 period. An appointee of former president Georgi Purvanov, Kirov was the head of the service between February 2003 and January 2012, after which he served briefly as an adviser on security issues to Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, during the latter?s first term as head of government.

Bulgarian media have described Kirov as a close ally of Purvanov?s ? whose socialist splinter ABC was a minority partners backing the coalition government led by Borissov until it pulled out last week ? and claimed that Kirov was one of the biggest opponents to releasing communist-era State Security archive files Bulgaria?s dossiers commission during his term as head of the intelligence service.

Kirov has denied the charges against him and has claimed that the trial was politically-motivated and carried out at the behest of current leadership of the intelligence agency and senior politicians in Borissov?s party, GERB.

(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)

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Why Animal GIFs Make Us Feel Better

You?ve had a long day. Your co-worker sniped at you in a meeting. Over lunch, you got into not one, but two arguments about the election on Facebook. And your favorite restaurant posted something online you found deeply offensive. If you?ve had a day like that, you probably only want one thing: to settle in with a glass of wine and watch some animal GIFs.

Cats amazed by toys; parrots tucking themselves in; a tiny dog in a watermelon?they?re equally potent. Pictures of animals are so pure that they?re oases?harbors from the storm of online life, where violence, prejudice, awful news, and heated disagreement are always around. So much so that it?s become common for people who are under stress (or are being harassed) to ask others to fill their feeds with cute pics?a testament to their therapeutic power. (And the universal feeling that life online is sometimes garbage.) On Reddit, a site home to cute pictures of puppies and videos of people dying in gruesome ways, there?s an entire subforum dedicated to cute images meant to restore people?s sanity. Its tagline: ?After a long day of seeing what internet anonymity can do to people, you?re bound to need some eyebleach.?

Why we use animal GIFs to make ourselves feel better is obvious: much of the internet is a cesspool, pictures of animals are cute, and cute things make us happy. There?s some science behind it, too. Cute pictures can improve focus, and unlike news headlines or opinions that put us in a defensive mindset, they can activate our empathy. But while that?s true, perhaps it?s another very obvious thing that makes such images so appealing: Collectively, we?ve decided that animals are pure in a way that people aren?t. Anthropomorphizing a confused puppy or happy monkey lets us get at those emotions in an uncomplicated way. These days, it feels like, you can post pictures of a baby on Facebook and get comments about how Obama is ruining America. It?s not that people are too sensitive; it?s just that politics are everywhere, and online, people often feel a need to tell you exactly why they think you?re wrong.

By way of contrast, consider this image of an orangutan laughing at a simple magic trick. It feels like joy, and it is delightful. An orangutan acting human makes it a kind of blank canvas for feeling: here is happiness in an uncorrupted form (as we perceive it). Being one step removed from humanity makes the GIF more universal?perhaps because, lacking the specificity of other images, there is room for projection.

It?s not that pictures of animals are entirely immune to criticism, of course. Seemingly cute cat GIFs can actually be a product of disease or pain; picture of cows or pigs can certainly generate angry comments about meat eating. And of course, even our orangutan might prompt reactions about keeping animals in captivity. People will let you know.

Despite that, the animal pic remains ubiquitous and mostly uncontroversial. They seem to be a lingua franca of relief, an agreed-upon way to diffuse tension. A kitten GIF is a reprieve from the pace of your feed, but mostly it?s a relief from the need to have an opinion. (And, consequently, relief from the need to defend that opinion.) ?Aww!? of course is an non-contentious reaction. Animal GIFs are the one thing we don?t fight about.

Perhaps it?s this need for an escape that allows these escapes to enter into the unironic. If you?re feeling low and post an inspirational quote?pretty script atop a picture of a beach?friends may raise an eyebrow at the unabashed genuineness. We may have left postmodernism behind, but we are still generally suspicious of sincerity: It seems to connote naiveté, or worse, credulousness?a belief in the fundamental simplicity of the world. And the language of the internet is cynicism. Animal GIFs are a proxy for feeling, an oblique way of pointing to our emotions without being too on the nose?they?re safe that way.

Maybe the nature of the web has changed what we need and how we relax. And if that means we might end a hard day by watching a baboon amazed by a magic trick or a cat ecstatic about being petted, then bring on the GIFs.

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