Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Putin Was a Mediocre KGB Agent, According to Former Boss

The all-powerful Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is a former KGB official who came to be during the perils and deceit of the Cold War.
That's what the western media always points out whenever it gets the chance - whether it's in a horrified manner, or a derogatory one - and Mr. Putin does little to cast himself in a different light.
"Let's be honest: it's a misleading depiction. Putin was always a mediocre agent", said one of his superiors, the retired general Nikolai Leonov, 88.
The general is experienced in the matter: he worked for the KGB between 1956 and 1991, and was second in command of the fearful agency while Putin served as an agent in East Germany, from 1985 to 1990.
"When we had a cadet who was fluent in German, which was Putin's case, if he was good he would go to West Germany or to Austria, to the front line", said Leonov.
"But he was sent to the Eastern side, which was communist. Well, if he was any good, he would have gone to Berlin, which was the bridge between the East and West, and he would have coordinated with the Stasi - the secret police in socialist East Germany.
Putin was stationed in the countryside of East Germany in Dresden. "There was nothing going on there, only second class agents went there. However, when they got back, if they were any good they would go to Moscow and prepare for their next post", he said.
The current Russian president returned to Leningrad, which is now St. Petersburg. "That's when it comes full circle. He was stationed in a local university to spy on foreign students, most of whom were actually loyal communists", the general said.
According to Leonov, who was head of the First Main Directorate of the KGB between 1983 and 1991, Putin can't claim he "was shaped" by the agency.
"There are even simple indicators of this. He's always late to his commitments. That's a quirk that's scandalous for an intelligence official. We made a point of being on time because those we commanded depended on it."
Leonov is cited as Putin's "friend and mentor" on certain sites on the internet, but he denies ever personally meeting the agent who was also his subordinate, and even calls his involvement in the institution insignificant - at one point the president became a Lieutenant Colonel.
To his advantage, it's important to note that Putin never flaunted that he was an important KGB member. In "First Person", the president's autobiography, which was published right after he took over the Kremlin in 2000, Putin had little to say about his recruitment after law school, in 1975, and his most significant memory from the Dresden era was putting on weight because of how good the local beer was.
He admits that he held "a minor position". Even so, the Western media insists on highlighting his past as evidence of how sinister Putin can be: just look at how he's portrayed in the liberal media in the USA, and especially in the United Kingdom.
Not that it doesn't work to his advantage. "The mystery strengthens the notion of an elusive, strong man who knows a lot of secrets. The West also deeply longs for the Cold War era", said Moscow-based political Scientist Konstantin Frolov.
Even the body language of the president, who typically walks with his right arm attached to his body, as if he were about to pull a gun, is seen as something he picked up from his KGB training.
Leonov highlights what he refers to as Putin's opportunism. "When he returned to Leningrad, he noticed that everything around him was crumbling and quickly befriended his adversaries", he said, referring to Anatoli Sobtchak, the liberal mayor who offered Putin a position in his cabinet in 1990, managing foreign investments, which got his political career underway.
Nikolai Leonov, who was a former congressman in a nationalist party, claims that Putin is not as powerful as he seems. "Russia's economic system, which is not even remotely capitalist, is dominated by private and state oligarchies. That's why they want everything to remain as is", he said.
In Leonov's view, the president is controlled by the oligarchies. "All the laws serve the interests of the grand bourgeoisie, gas is expensive even though international oil prices are low, but I think the people are starting to become aware of this", he said, citing recent anti-Putin demonstrations.
He is pessimistic about Russia's future. "We're a stationed ship. Many countries are passing us, like Brazil or Mexico, and we don't have a sense of direction. Where will we be in 5, 10, 15 years?", he said, rejecting a return to a communist regime nowadays, despite being clearly sympathetic toward the regime.
The debate surrounding Cuba's new constitution revolves around proposals that were put forward by dictator Raúl Castro in 2011: a five-year presidential term, the right to a second term, imposing an age limit of 60 for Central Committee positions, maintaining Cuba's single-party system as well as indirect elections - which will determine whether the regime's second in command shall become president.
That's the summary offered by Nikolai Leonov after spending six months in Havana. The message was relayed by Castro himself, who has been Leonov's friend since 1953, when the two met on board a ship en route to a communist youth convention in Romania.
Leonov was on the communist island in the Caribbean, working on the final adjustments to his friend's biography - and he fiercely defends the Cuban dictator.
"The transition is complete. The second in command is ready, it's Miguel Díaz-Canel, a person who had nothing to do with the revolution in its early days. But the Communist Party will remain in power", said the retired general.
Díaz-Canel, 57, was promoted to first vice-president of Cuba's state council, and will have to overcome the army's skepticism if he wants to take Raúl's place after the 86-year-old dictator's self-proclaimed mandate comes to an end next year.
Despite having recently suffered a stroke, which compromised his vision, Leonov explained in clean and lucid Spanish that the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US at the end of 2014, which began with US president Barack Obama, "represents a big win for the revolution".
He considered that the threats made by current US leader Donald Trump to cut ties with Cuba "are inane. You can't interrupt the process at this stage", pointing out that even though Trump spoke in a crass manner, he did not cut diplomatic ties with the island.
The russian general's career is intertwined with the history of the Cuban revolution, which took place in 1959.
Two years after meeting Raúl, he managed to track down Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, presenting the three of them to the Kremlin - which subjected the revolution to Moscow, despite American pressure and the fact that the revolution was not of communist origin.
Leonov served as translator of dictator Fidel Castro during his famous visit to Moscow in 1963 - one year after the Soviet Union's actions caused the Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost led the world to a nuclear war.
From 1956 until his retirement, in 1991, Leonov was the KGB's specialist in Latin American affairs and he made his way up to second in command of the agency - his trajectory was the subject of a Folha article almost 10 years ago.

White House Hit With Several Shocking Reports In Less Than A Day

Trump’s relationships with Jeff Sessions, Hope Hicks and Jared Kushner have all come under fire.

An already complicated day for President Donald Trump’s administration was capped with several shocking reports Wednesday night.
The barrage of stories shed new light on the extent of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and raised questions about several officials in the president’s inner circle, including communications director Hope Hicks and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that Mueller has questioned several witnesses about the president’s behavior toward Attorney General Jeff Sessions to determine whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice in the ongoing inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Unnamed sources familiar with the special counsel’s probe told the Post that Mueller had questioned people about Trump’s statements on Sessions last July and August.
The president sent out several tweets during that time roundly criticizing the attorney general as “beleaguered” and questioned the Justice Department for taking a “very weak position” on his former opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Trump also told The New York Times in July that Sessions shouldn’t have recused himself from the Russia investigation and that, if he’d known that would happen, he “would have picked somebody else” as attorney general. The Times reported last month that Mueller was looking into Trump’s efforts to fire Sessions last spring, but Wednesday’s report reflected a broader scope of the inquiry. 
HuffPost has reached out to the White House for comment.
The Post’s article notes that Sessions has told his associates he has no plans to resign, despite the ongoing pressure from the White House. 
The report was just one of several damaging stories coming from the White House on Wednesday night.
CNN’s Jim Acosta reported that Mueller has also been asking about comments made by Hope Hicks in 2016, just two days after Trump was elected. Hicks announced her resignation earlier Wednesday, according to several news outlets.
n unnamed former Trump campaign aide said Mueller questioned them about a particular statement Hicks gave to The New York Times two days after the 2016 election, when she said: “We are not aware of any campaign representatives that were in touch with any foreign entities before yesterday, when Mr. Trump spoke with many world leaders.”
Mueller’s investigators have, according to the former aide, been looking into whether Hicks’ statement was inaccurate in the wake of media reports that several members of the Trump campaign were, in fact, in contact with Russian officials, including Don Trump Jr. and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Kushner was also the subject of several damning reports Wednesday, including news that New York’s state banking regulators had asked several lenders about information on their financial relationships with the White House senior adviser. The New York Times later reported on several massive loans Kushner’s business received after meetings he held in the White House.
In one instance, Kushner Companies received a $325 million loan from Citigroup after Kushner met with the bank’s chief executive. A $184 million loan came from Apollo Global Management after Kushner met with the private equity firm’s founder in the White House several times.
Kushner resigned from his role at Kushner Companies when he joined the Trump administration last January, but he retains significant financial interests in the business.
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that several White House officials worried Kushner’s inexperience in politics and his complicated business holdings would make him subject to manipulation from foreign governments. Officials from at least four countries have reportedly discussed ways to influence him, although it’s unclear if they’ve acted on such plans.
Kushner also had his top-secret security clearance downgraded on Friday.

Animals at risk of extinction die of hunger in zoo of Venezuela

Some species are being slaughtered to feed others and some animals have eaten their cage mates to survive

Two cougars with skin attached to the bones gave a face to the drama of a zoo in western Venezuela , where several animals are dying for lack of food and others suffer from severe malnutrition. Ducks, pigs and goats had to be euthanized to feed other species at the Zulia metropolitan zoo , which had been closed to visitors since mid-February after the release of images of hungry beasts.
An African lion, a bengal tiger, a jaguar, several ocelots and birds of prey, all carnivores, thicken the list of malnourished, AFP news agency recently told the park workers, located in the municipality of San Francisco. But the Pumas, who were rescued from the trafficking of wild animals, have the most serious picture. His photos broadcast by the local newspaper Panorama caused alarm. "Both were confined as pets and became malnourished, recovered, but with this crisis, they receded as if they had shrunk," the sources added.
The country faces a serious shortage of food and medicines, as well as a hyperinflation that in 2018 could reach 13,000%, according to the IMF . "Zoos do not escape the crisis," said one official, who said he had "no authority to declare to the press." A male and female condors from the Andes born in captivity and transported to the park for a reproductive plan that seeks to save the species from extinction also spent weeks without eating properly.
This is the largest and heaviest flying bird in the world and is in "critical danger" for hunting and "the extended use of agrochemicals," according to the Red Book of Venezuelan fauna. Few specimens remain in the wild.

Spice Girls will sing at Prince Harry's wedding

Marriage with Meghan Markle to take place in May this year

The five members of the female pop group Spice Girls will perform at Prince Harry's wedding with the American actress Meghan Markle, set for May 19 this year.
Melanie Brown, in an interview with the American program "The Real" on Tuesday (27), said the singer gave a positive nod when asked if she they would sing at the party.
Even so, during the talk show, the singer declined to speak more details about the invitation to the royal wedding.
Kensington Palace has not yet spoken about a possible performance of the British "girl band" to date.
Ed Sheeran was also tipped to attend the event, but the singer had already scheduled a performance in Dublin the same day, so he will be out of the ceremony.
The announcement of the engagement between Harry and Meghan was held on November 27, 2017 after about a year and a half of dating.
The Royal Wedding Ceremony will take place at St. George's Chapel, at Windsor Castle, at noon (local time). All costs of the ceremony will be paid by the Royal Family, including the services of music, food and flowers.

Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia compares corruption to cancer

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman has compared corruption in his country to cancer that needs shock therapy, according to an interview published in The Washington Post.
"You have a body with a generalized cancer, the cancer of corruption. It needs chemo, the chemo shock, otherwise the cancer will destroy the whole body," said the Crown Prince, who is also Defense Minister.
"If we do not stop this looting of corruption, the kingdom will not be able to reach its he Crown Prince is Saudi Arabia's new strong man, and has conducted a purge against hundreds of personalities, including ministers, in late 2017 in an anti-corruption operation.
In a new measure, King Salman held on Monday a major shift ahead of the monarchy's army, dismissing the top military commanders, including the chief of staff.
The goal is to get people new and energetic budgetary objectives," he added.

Trump bid for Nobel Peace Prize would be fraudulent

The Nobel laureate announced on Wednesday that it had filed a complaint after receiving a "certainly fraudulent" statement from US President Donald Trump to the Nobel Peace Prize.
"We have good reason to believe that an application we received concerning Trump was falsified," Olav Njølstad, director of the Nobel Institute, told AFP.
He did not give more details, leaving the resolution of the case in the hands of the police.
As is the case every year, Nobel Peace Prize nominations should be deposited by 31 January. Only a few personalities are able to propose names, among them parliamentarians, ministers, ex-winners, some university professors, etc.).
Although the list of nominations has been kept secret for 50 years, the Oslo Peace Research Institute (PRIO) said in early February that the current White House guest is among the nominees.
Hailed for his "ideology of peace by force," Trump would have been - just as last year - proposed by an American who does not want to divulge his identity, according to the PRIO, an independent organization of the Nobel circle, in particular with regard to publicly announced indications.
It seems, however, that this statement was made by a person who has usurped an identity to give him an apparent legitimacy.
The Nobel Institute said it had received 329 valid Nobel Peace Prizes this year, including those advanced by the five members of the award committee. They are also allowed to propose names at their first annual meeting, which took place on Monday (26).

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Steve Jobs' 11 Best Phrases on Innovation and Success

Apple's creator would turn 63 today. Recall famous phrases from Jobs that can change the way they see professional achievement

 Born in 1955, killed in 2011, Steve Jobs would be turning 63 on February 24, 2018.
Recognized as one of the most creative and influential minds in the world of technology, the creator of Apple was also famous for his striking phrases  .
Most of his most-remembered quotes - such as the classic "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish" - come from a landmark speech to Stanford University trainees in 2005. Only on the institution's official YouTube channel , the video has been viewed more than 29 million times .
Innovation , happiness, money and success were some of the themes most often analyzed by the technology genius in interviews and public pronouncements. Learn more: How to find creativity and innovation for your business? Watch with ContaAzul! Sponsored 
Here's a selection of 11 phrases from the visionary Apple founder who can influence your thinking about the present - and the future - of your career: Remembering that you will die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose. You're already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Spech to Stanford University graduates in 2005   
Your time is limited, so do not waste it by living someone else's life.... Do not let the noise of the opinion of others drown out your own inner voice.
Speech to Stanford University graduates in 2005

Second Week of Congressional Hearings Increases Pressure on Trump US President Donald Trump faces the threat of further testimony that ...