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John McCain Calls For A ‘Fundamental Reassessment’ Of U.S. Relations With Russia

John McCain Calls For A ‘Fundamental Reassessment’ Of U.S. Relations With Russia.

Posted: 03/16/2014 10:24 am EDT Updated: 03/16/2014 1:59 pm EDT


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) predicted that Russia would hold onto Crimea and called for a “fundamental reassessment” of America’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

McCain, who had recently returned from a trip to Ukraine, said Sunday’s referendum in Crimea on whether to split from Ukraine was “a bogus thing,” comparing it to the plebiscites held in the days of Hitler and Stalin. “It’s a done deal,” he said.

He supported economic sanctions as an important step in the U.S. response to Russia’s actions.

“Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country,” McCain told Candy Crowley on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It’s kleptocracy, it’s corruption, it’s a nation that’s really only dependent upon oil and gas for their economy.”

But he also said that wider action was necessary.

The U.S. has to “have a fundamental reassessment of our relationship with Vladimir Putin,” he said. “No more reset buttons, no more ‘Tell Vladimir I’ll be more flexible.’ Treat him for what he is. That does not mean the reignition of the Cold War. But it does mean treating him in the way that we understand an individual who believes in restoring the old Russian empire.”

John McCain Calls For A 'Fundamental Reassessment' Of U.S. Relations With Russia

John McCain Calls For A ‘Fundamental Reassessment’ Of U.S. Relations With Russia.

Posted: 03/16/2014 10:24 am EDT Updated: 03/16/2014 1:59 pm EDT


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) predicted that Russia would hold onto Crimea and called for a “fundamental reassessment” of America’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

McCain, who had recently returned from a trip to Ukraine, said Sunday’s referendum in Crimea on whether to split from Ukraine was “a bogus thing,” comparing it to the plebiscites held in the days of Hitler and Stalin. “It’s a done deal,” he said.

He supported economic sanctions as an important step in the U.S. response to Russia’s actions.

“Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country,” McCain told Candy Crowley on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It’s kleptocracy, it’s corruption, it’s a nation that’s really only dependent upon oil and gas for their economy.”

But he also said that wider action was necessary.

The U.S. has to “have a fundamental reassessment of our relationship with Vladimir Putin,” he said. “No more reset buttons, no more ‘Tell Vladimir I’ll be more flexible.’ Treat him for what he is. That does not mean the reignition of the Cold War. But it does mean treating him in the way that we understand an individual who believes in restoring the old Russian empire.”

Cuba prepares for Venezuela energy disruptions | StratRisks

Cuba prepares for Venezuela energy disruptions | StratRisks.

Source: Miami Herald
Cuba prepares for Venezuela disruptions

As political violence in Venezuela rolls on, Cubans say they are hearing reports that Havana is making energy or military preparations for a possible disruption of its tight alliance with the South American nation.

Cuba’s stagnant economy depends overwhelmingly on Venezuelan subsidies estimated at well over $6 billion a year — even more than the former Soviet Union once provided to the Caribbean island.

“If something ugly happens in Venezuela, we are fried like in the Special Period,” said Havana teacher Yadiel Ramirez.

The end of Soviet subsidies in 1991 plunged Cuba into a brutal crisis, shrinking the economy by 33 percent and sparking widespread hunger.

Former top Cuban government economist Jesús “Marzo” Fernandez said close Cuban friends working in Venezuela for that country’s state-owned PDVSA oil company have told him Havana has prepared for a sudden stop in Venezuelan oil imports.

The friends said all oil storage facilities on the island, including those set aside for military, government and strategic reserves, were full to the top as of March 4, Fernandez said. Caracas sends Cuba abour 115,000 barrels per day, two-thirds of its consumption.

“They are preparing? No. They are prepared,” added Fernandez, who now lives in Miami. “They won’t be surprised. The Cubans work with a long-distance view.”

Most analysts remain skeptical of claims by the Venezuelan opposition of Cuban troops arriving in the country in recent weeks to defend President Nicolas Maduro and quell the anti-government protests that have left 25 dead and more than 300 injured.

Opposition activists have published long-distance photos of unidentified soldiers landing in a military airport, and reports of people with Cuban accents beating up anti-Maduro protesters.

Read More @ Source

Cuba prepares for Venezuela energy disruptions | StratRisks

Cuba prepares for Venezuela energy disruptions | StratRisks.

Source: Miami Herald
Cuba prepares for Venezuela disruptions

As political violence in Venezuela rolls on, Cubans say they are hearing reports that Havana is making energy or military preparations for a possible disruption of its tight alliance with the South American nation.

Cuba’s stagnant economy depends overwhelmingly on Venezuelan subsidies estimated at well over $6 billion a year — even more than the former Soviet Union once provided to the Caribbean island.

“If something ugly happens in Venezuela, we are fried like in the Special Period,” said Havana teacher Yadiel Ramirez.

The end of Soviet subsidies in 1991 plunged Cuba into a brutal crisis, shrinking the economy by 33 percent and sparking widespread hunger.

Former top Cuban government economist Jesús “Marzo” Fernandez said close Cuban friends working in Venezuela for that country’s state-owned PDVSA oil company have told him Havana has prepared for a sudden stop in Venezuelan oil imports.

The friends said all oil storage facilities on the island, including those set aside for military, government and strategic reserves, were full to the top as of March 4, Fernandez said. Caracas sends Cuba abour 115,000 barrels per day, two-thirds of its consumption.

“They are preparing? No. They are prepared,” added Fernandez, who now lives in Miami. “They won’t be surprised. The Cubans work with a long-distance view.”

Most analysts remain skeptical of claims by the Venezuelan opposition of Cuban troops arriving in the country in recent weeks to defend President Nicolas Maduro and quell the anti-government protests that have left 25 dead and more than 300 injured.

Opposition activists have published long-distance photos of unidentified soldiers landing in a military airport, and reports of people with Cuban accents beating up anti-Maduro protesters.

Read More @ Source

Obama To Putin: Russia Action Violates Ukraine’s Sovereignty

Obama To Putin: Russia Action Violates Ukraine’s Sovereignty.

Posted: 03/06/2014 6:39 pm EST Updated: 03/07/2014 11:18 am EST


MORE:

BY BRADLEY KLAPPER & LARA JAKES, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama ordered the West’s first sanctions in response to Russia’s military takeover of Crimea on Thursday, declaring his determination not to let the Kremlin carve up Ukraine. He asserted that a hastily scheduled referendum on Crimea seceding and becoming part of Russia would violate international law.

European leaders announced their own measures but split over how forcefully to follow America’s lead. Obama threatened further steps if Russia persists.

After announcing his sanctions at midday, Obama emphasized his resolve in a personal telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin later Thursday, the White House said. In a one-hour discussion, Obama affirmed his contention that Russia’s actions violate Ukraine’s sovereignty.

The U.S. president told Putin there was still a way to resolve the dispute diplomatically, the White House said — with Russian forces moving back to their base in Crimea, the governments of Ukraine and Russia holding direct talks and international monitors arriving.

The U.S. is also calling on Russia to recognize the legitimacy of Ukrainian plans for elections in May, not the Crimean referendum a week from Sunday.

In all, signs still pointed to a continuing diplomatic battle over Ukraine and what could prove a broader fault line in Europe’s post-Cold War order.

While East and West no longer threaten nuclear war and have vastly expanded commercial ties, Russia is determined to dominate the future of the former Soviet republics along its borders. Washington, its NATO partners and others across the continent are striving to pull these nations out of Moscow’s orbit.

Underscoring his position, Obama issued an executive action slapping new visa restrictions on Russian and other opponents of Ukraine’s government in Kiev and authorizing wider financial penalties against those involved in the military intervention or in stealing state assets. None of the measures appeared aimed at the Russian president personally.

“Today the world can see that the United States is united with our allies and partners in upholding international law and pursuing a just outcome that advances global security and the future that the Ukrainian people deserve,” Obama said at the White House. “That’s what we’re going to continue to do in the days to come until we have seen a resolution to this crisis.”

Obama hailed U.S. cooperation with the European Union, which imposed its own sanctions on Russia on Thursday. In an emergency meeting in Brussels, EU leaders decided to suspend talks with Putin’s government on a wide-ranging economic agreement and on granting Russian citizens visa-free travel within the 28-nation bloc — a long-standing Russian objective. Yet at the same time, Europe’s presidents and prime ministers were divided on more drastic steps such as freezing assets and issuing travel bans on Russian officials.

European hesitancy reflected the reality that targeting influential Russian businessmen or major Russian companies would also harm Europe’s economic interests. Russian investors hold assets worth billions in European banks, particularly in Britain and Cyprus, and major exporters such as Germany and the Netherlands have far more at stake than the United States in Russia’s consumer economy. Many other European countries depend on Russia for oil and gas supplies.

Russian troops have seized control of much of Crimea, where ethnic Russians are the majority. Moscow doesn’t recognize the Ukrainian government that came to power after protesters ousted the country’s pro-Russian president last month. Putin and other officials have cited strategic interests as well as the protection of ethnic Russians in making the case for intervention. Russia leases a major navy base there.

The Western debate over how strongly to penalize Russia is important given that neither the U.S. nor Europe is advocating the use of force. The U.S. military has stepped up joint aviation training with Polish forces and American participation in NATO’s air-policing mission in its Baltic countries. But the Pentagon, like its NATO partners, has strictly ruled out military options.

In the latest threatening move Thursday, Crimean lawmakers voted 78-0 to schedule a referendum on March 16 on whether the region should secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

Obama said such a vote would “violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law.” Because Ukraine is a member of the United Nations, any action that is unconstitutional in Ukraine would be considered illegitimate in international law.

But the West supported Kosovo’s independence six years ago, which included no consent by Serbia’s government and occurred despite Russian objections, Obama might have been trying to differentiate Ukraine’s situation by arguing that borders shouldn’t be “redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.”

The U.S. sanctions push has prompted a rare case of broad agreement among the Obama administration and most Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

The House of Representatives voted 385-23 on Thursday in favor of the first U.S. aid bill for Ukraine’s fledgling government, following on an Obama administration promise of $1 billion in loan guarantees. The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved a separate resolution condemning Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea and urging visa, financial and trade sanctions. Senators are at work on a larger bill putting together all elements of a U.S. response and hope to introduce the legislation next week.

The EU offered $15 billion in aid to help Ukraine’s cash-depleted economy on Wednesday, still far short of the $35 billion that Ukraine’s government says it needs in bailout loans through next year. The U.S., EU and others are trying to work out a package with the International Monetary Fund.

Showing greater caution than Obama on sanctions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said European penalties against Russia depend “on how the diplomatic process progresses.” EU President Herman Van Rompuy said travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of an EU-Russia summit could still come. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk acknowledged “no enthusiasm” in Europe for economic sanctions.

Western leaders fear Russia is becoming entrenched in Crimea and could turn its focus to Ukraine’s industrial heart in the east, where Russian speakers similarly are a majority. Central and Eastern European countries that lived for decades under the Soviet Union’s domination are especially sensitive to the threat. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite warned, “After Ukraine will be Moldova, and after Moldova will be different countries.”

For the U.S. and its allies, the specter of Georgia’s 2008 schism looms large. After a nine-day war between Russia and Georgia’s then pro-Western government, the Kremlin supported two regions in breaking away from Georgia. Most of the world doesn’t recognize their independence, but Russia protects their autonomy. Then, as now, the U.S. and EU reaction was limited in scope and included no military moves. In the United States, Obama initiated a “reset” of ties with Russia less than a year later.

With Ukraine at risk of a similar fate, the U.S. has suspended talks on an investment treaty with Russia. NATO has halted military cooperation with Russia and has decided to review all aspects of the relationship with Moscow. The U.S. and European countries have halted preparations for a planned June summit in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi.

But so far Putin hasn’t budged. His government claims that Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted president, remains the leader of Ukraine. The pro-Russian Yanukovych fled to a location near Moscow for protection.

Also Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry met again with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Kerry stressed a need for a direct Russian-Ukrainian dialogue and the importance of allowing international monitors into Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Diplomatic progress appeared elusive.

___

Lara Jakes reported from Rome. AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace and AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington and AP writers Juergen Baetz and Mike Corder in Brussels and Yuras Karmanau in Simferopol, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

Obama To Putin: Russia Action Violates Ukraine's Sovereignty

Obama To Putin: Russia Action Violates Ukraine’s Sovereignty.

Posted: 03/06/2014 6:39 pm EST Updated: 03/07/2014 11:18 am EST


MORE:

BY BRADLEY KLAPPER & LARA JAKES, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama ordered the West’s first sanctions in response to Russia’s military takeover of Crimea on Thursday, declaring his determination not to let the Kremlin carve up Ukraine. He asserted that a hastily scheduled referendum on Crimea seceding and becoming part of Russia would violate international law.

European leaders announced their own measures but split over how forcefully to follow America’s lead. Obama threatened further steps if Russia persists.

After announcing his sanctions at midday, Obama emphasized his resolve in a personal telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin later Thursday, the White House said. In a one-hour discussion, Obama affirmed his contention that Russia’s actions violate Ukraine’s sovereignty.

The U.S. president told Putin there was still a way to resolve the dispute diplomatically, the White House said — with Russian forces moving back to their base in Crimea, the governments of Ukraine and Russia holding direct talks and international monitors arriving.

The U.S. is also calling on Russia to recognize the legitimacy of Ukrainian plans for elections in May, not the Crimean referendum a week from Sunday.

In all, signs still pointed to a continuing diplomatic battle over Ukraine and what could prove a broader fault line in Europe’s post-Cold War order.

While East and West no longer threaten nuclear war and have vastly expanded commercial ties, Russia is determined to dominate the future of the former Soviet republics along its borders. Washington, its NATO partners and others across the continent are striving to pull these nations out of Moscow’s orbit.

Underscoring his position, Obama issued an executive action slapping new visa restrictions on Russian and other opponents of Ukraine’s government in Kiev and authorizing wider financial penalties against those involved in the military intervention or in stealing state assets. None of the measures appeared aimed at the Russian president personally.

“Today the world can see that the United States is united with our allies and partners in upholding international law and pursuing a just outcome that advances global security and the future that the Ukrainian people deserve,” Obama said at the White House. “That’s what we’re going to continue to do in the days to come until we have seen a resolution to this crisis.”

Obama hailed U.S. cooperation with the European Union, which imposed its own sanctions on Russia on Thursday. In an emergency meeting in Brussels, EU leaders decided to suspend talks with Putin’s government on a wide-ranging economic agreement and on granting Russian citizens visa-free travel within the 28-nation bloc — a long-standing Russian objective. Yet at the same time, Europe’s presidents and prime ministers were divided on more drastic steps such as freezing assets and issuing travel bans on Russian officials.

European hesitancy reflected the reality that targeting influential Russian businessmen or major Russian companies would also harm Europe’s economic interests. Russian investors hold assets worth billions in European banks, particularly in Britain and Cyprus, and major exporters such as Germany and the Netherlands have far more at stake than the United States in Russia’s consumer economy. Many other European countries depend on Russia for oil and gas supplies.

Russian troops have seized control of much of Crimea, where ethnic Russians are the majority. Moscow doesn’t recognize the Ukrainian government that came to power after protesters ousted the country’s pro-Russian president last month. Putin and other officials have cited strategic interests as well as the protection of ethnic Russians in making the case for intervention. Russia leases a major navy base there.

The Western debate over how strongly to penalize Russia is important given that neither the U.S. nor Europe is advocating the use of force. The U.S. military has stepped up joint aviation training with Polish forces and American participation in NATO’s air-policing mission in its Baltic countries. But the Pentagon, like its NATO partners, has strictly ruled out military options.

In the latest threatening move Thursday, Crimean lawmakers voted 78-0 to schedule a referendum on March 16 on whether the region should secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

Obama said such a vote would “violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law.” Because Ukraine is a member of the United Nations, any action that is unconstitutional in Ukraine would be considered illegitimate in international law.

But the West supported Kosovo’s independence six years ago, which included no consent by Serbia’s government and occurred despite Russian objections, Obama might have been trying to differentiate Ukraine’s situation by arguing that borders shouldn’t be “redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.”

The U.S. sanctions push has prompted a rare case of broad agreement among the Obama administration and most Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

The House of Representatives voted 385-23 on Thursday in favor of the first U.S. aid bill for Ukraine’s fledgling government, following on an Obama administration promise of $1 billion in loan guarantees. The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved a separate resolution condemning Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea and urging visa, financial and trade sanctions. Senators are at work on a larger bill putting together all elements of a U.S. response and hope to introduce the legislation next week.

The EU offered $15 billion in aid to help Ukraine’s cash-depleted economy on Wednesday, still far short of the $35 billion that Ukraine’s government says it needs in bailout loans through next year. The U.S., EU and others are trying to work out a package with the International Monetary Fund.

Showing greater caution than Obama on sanctions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said European penalties against Russia depend “on how the diplomatic process progresses.” EU President Herman Van Rompuy said travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of an EU-Russia summit could still come. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk acknowledged “no enthusiasm” in Europe for economic sanctions.

Western leaders fear Russia is becoming entrenched in Crimea and could turn its focus to Ukraine’s industrial heart in the east, where Russian speakers similarly are a majority. Central and Eastern European countries that lived for decades under the Soviet Union’s domination are especially sensitive to the threat. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite warned, “After Ukraine will be Moldova, and after Moldova will be different countries.”

For the U.S. and its allies, the specter of Georgia’s 2008 schism looms large. After a nine-day war between Russia and Georgia’s then pro-Western government, the Kremlin supported two regions in breaking away from Georgia. Most of the world doesn’t recognize their independence, but Russia protects their autonomy. Then, as now, the U.S. and EU reaction was limited in scope and included no military moves. In the United States, Obama initiated a “reset” of ties with Russia less than a year later.

With Ukraine at risk of a similar fate, the U.S. has suspended talks on an investment treaty with Russia. NATO has halted military cooperation with Russia and has decided to review all aspects of the relationship with Moscow. The U.S. and European countries have halted preparations for a planned June summit in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi.

But so far Putin hasn’t budged. His government claims that Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted president, remains the leader of Ukraine. The pro-Russian Yanukovych fled to a location near Moscow for protection.

Also Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry met again with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Kerry stressed a need for a direct Russian-Ukrainian dialogue and the importance of allowing international monitors into Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Diplomatic progress appeared elusive.

___

Lara Jakes reported from Rome. AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace and AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington and AP writers Juergen Baetz and Mike Corder in Brussels and Yuras Karmanau in Simferopol, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

Ukraine Crisis Has Been Hiding In Plain Sight

Ukraine Crisis Has Been Hiding In Plain Sight.

Oddly enough, I know Ukraine. Or as much as one can know the country from spending time traveling there, long ago as a post-graduate student and in recent years as a tourist and writer. Part of my family was from a Ukrainian town, which I have visited.

Amid the standoff in Crimea, observations from this time lend some insight into the tangled roots of the crisis.

  • Vladimir Putin has been hiding his intentions in plain sight. In an infamous 2005 speech, he declared that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the “major geopolitical disaster of the century.” But more to the point, he lamented the fact that “tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory.” This was dog-whistle politics in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and elsewhere. People were listening. Were we or the Europeans?
  • Ukrainian culture is deep and distinctive. When I first traveled to Kiev and Odessa by way of Lvov as a student in the early 1970s, I got lecture after lecture about the universal genius of Taras Shevchenko, the Pushkin/Shakespeare of the country.
  • Even so, independent Ukrainian nationhood has been more of a romantic dream than a political reality. Lithuanians, Poles and Russians have run the country for most of the last millennium. The main avenue of Kiev is lined with Soviet architecture. The Russians designed Ukraine’s most beautiful city, Odessa, as the St. Petersburg of the South. And it is.
  • The crowd on the Maidan, according to an eye witness, was a brave, spontaneous and democratic one. It wasn’t manufactured by higher powers. “They just kept marching forward knowing they would get shot,” said the observer, an American who was in the city on business.
  • But the new ruling group, empowered by the street protesters, won’t necessarily be a total contrast to the rapacious Yanukovych bunch. “Ukraine is basically tribes of billionaires fighting with each other over resources,” said a former U.S. government official who has worked for more than one tribe there as a political and security adviser.
  • Historically and culturally, Crimea isn’t Ukraine. Sevastopol and Yalta, famous spots on the peninsula, feel Russian when you visit. Sevastapol is home to monuments –- literally and operationally –- to Russian military power: the old Russian fleet submarine bays; the dolphin training center (like a shabby Sea World); the stone markers representing Soviet battles in World War II. Yalta, an almost mystical name to the old Russian leisure class, is home to the dachas of famous Russian artists and the World War II meeting of Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. When you visit the Czarist summer home that played host to that meeting, there is nothing Ukrainian about the place in any sense.
  • Ironically, and confusingly, old Kiev was the birthplace of Eastern Slavic culture and faith, the place where Vladimir I in 980 decided to adopt Christianity. Evidence of this history is on display to this day, in sacred catacombs that contain rows of skulls of monks from many centuries ago. Russia and Ukraine are yoked together: uncomfortably, sometimes violently, but inevitably.
  • The definition of what is Ukraine has always been elastic around the edges. The first Ukrainian city I visited as a student in a Volkswagen bus in 1970 was Lvov, in what was then called “Western Ukraine.” It had the feel of an Austrian or Polish town, a Middle European city, and for good reason: at one time or another, it had belonged to both. (Under the Austrians it was known as Lemberg.)
  • There is not the same tradition of American-style ideas of freedom — sometimes glorified in the abstract, and paid lip service to by Putin –- in Russia or Ukraine.When I was traveling on a post-graduate fellowship from the Watson Foundation, my carefully limited visa allowed me to drive to Kiev and Odessa, but not to deviate from that route in any way, for any length of time. Well, I wanted to visit Bila Treskva, an hour south of Kiev, where my mother’s ancestors were from. So I drove there without permission. It took the authorities only a few hours to find me, take me into custody and question me for a couple of hours. Before they let me go they made me sign a document admitting my malfeasance. It was in Russian.

Hidden Camera Investigation Uncovers ‘Atrocious’ Investment Advice

Hidden Camera Investigation Uncovers ‘Atrocious’ Investment Advice.

As RRSP season closes and many Canadians prepare for tax time, a CBC Marketplace investigation reveals that financial advisers at some of Canada’s top banks and firms are giving consumers inaccurate, misleading and inappropriate advice.

Meanwhile, consumers face a complicated patchwork of regulatory bodies if they want to complain about bad investment advice, as some investor rights groups call for more robust consumer protection rules.

Since a third of Canadians rely on advisers to help them make financial decisions, Marketplace sent a person wearing hidden cameras to visit the five big banks and five popular investment firms in Ontario. The full investigation, Show Me The Money, reveals how individual banks and firms performed. The show, including practical tips on how to hire a financial adviser, airs Friday at 8:00 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NL) on CBC Television.

“That’s one of the worst pieces of advice I’ve ever heard in my life,” financial analyst and former adviser Preet Banerjee told Marketplace co-host Erica Johnson when shown hidden camera footage of one of the tests. “That was atrocious. That’s the only word to describe that advice.”

Hidden camera investigation

The tests revealed a wide range in the quality of advisers. Some performed well, giving clear answers and asking appropriate questions about the tester’s financial situation and risk tolerance. Other interactions, however, Banerjee found troubling.

In some cases, information was incorrect or misleading – even in response to direct questions, such as how fees are calculated. Some gave unrealistic promises about returns, including one adviser who said that a $50,000 investment should increase by $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000 in one year.

Others failed to adequately assess the customer’s risk profile, which advisers are supposed to use to ascertain the suitability of investment products they recommend to a person.

In an unusual twist, one firm tried to recruit the Marketplace tester to become an adviser herself. While some designations and certifications do require training, and individuals have to be licensed to sell specific products, “financial adviser” is not a protected term. There are currently about 100,000 advisers in Canada.

Several advisers in the Marketplace test neglected to include any conversation of paying down debt in their financial advice, which Banerjee says reveals a conflict of interest that most consumers don’t consider as they’re weighing the recommendations of an adviser.

“If you invest there’s a commission involved with that, or a percentage of assets,” he said. “But if you pay down debt, there’s no financial incentive for the adviser to do that. So that’s one of those conflicts of interests that people should know about.”

As a result of the Marketplace investigation, one firm suspended the employee and reported the behaviour to the regulatory body, the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC).

Change coming slowly

The Marketplace test was similar to a broader mystery-shopper test in the UK by the Financial Services Authority. That test included 231 mystery shopping tests of investment advice at six major firms. The results of that test, made public last year, found that more than 25 per cent of investment advice was of poor quality because it was unsuitable or because the adviser did not collect enough information to be able to make the recommendations.

Ontario firms could face a test this year, as the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) conducts a mystery shop to determine the quality of investment advice. While the OSC declined to provide specific details about its test to Marketplace, the results are expected to become public later this year.

However, investor rights advocates are critical of slow-moving efforts to provide better consumer protection. In a letter to the OSC, the Investor Advisory Panel pressed for reform, including how fees are structured and how complaints are investigated. “We have debated, discussed and studied the issues and their solutions for many years. It is time for decisions that will lead to a more robust investor protection regime in Canada.”

Among the most pressing issues: Financial advisers are not in fact required to act in the client’s best interest.

“There’s a big debate raging about that very issue right now,” says Banerjee. “So, it seems in a couple of years they will be bound to do what’s in the client’s best interest. But right now that’s not actually regulation.”

That runs contrary to the very reason many Canadians turn to advisers in the first place.

“If you walk into a financial institution, I think the average person on the street assumes they’re going to have someone who’s going to take care of all their financial issues,” says Banerjee. “But on the other side of the desk, there’s a wide range of people that you could see. Some of them are just order-takers or salespeople and others are true financial planning professionals.”

Patchwork complaints process

For consumers struggling with the consequences of bad investment advice, a confusing patchwork of organizations oversee complaints, including IIROC, the Mutual Fund Dealers Association (MFDA) and provincial securities associations. Each body oversees different types of complaints, depending on the nature of the complaint or the type of product the adviser is licensed to sell.

The Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) also investigates complaints, but only for participating banks and firms. And OBSI has limited enforcement powers, offering only non-binding recommendations, so it’s entirely up to the bank or firm to decide whether or not to comply.

OBSI’s 2013 report, released this week, reveals a sharp increase in the number of banks and firms refusing to compensate investors for mistakes.

According to the report, banks and investment firms refused to pay back investors even when OBSI found wrongdoing in 10 cases last year. In total, investors were denied more than $1.3 million in restitution. The OBSI report called this trend “disappointing.”

Marketplace notified all of the banks and firms about the test and approached some for interviews, but all declined. Some viewed the test as an isolated incident; others vowed to investigate and take appropriate measures.

When Is RRSP Deadline? Contribution Cutoff Date For 2013 Almost Here

When Is RRSP Deadline? Contribution Cutoff Date For 2013 Almost Here.

The Huffington Post Canada  |  Posted: 02/26/2014 5:48 pm EST  |  Updated: 02/26/2014 5:59 pm EST

The deadline to contribute to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) is drawing near, and apparently quite a few Canadians are leaving their contributions to the last minute.

Thirty-one per cent of eligible Canadians still planned on making a contribution before this year’s cutoff date, according to a poll conducted by Harris/Decima for CIBC from Feb. 13-17.

This year’s RRSP deadline is March 3, now less than a week away.

Out of that 31 per cent who still wanted to contribute so close to the deadline, just under half hadn’t made any contributions for that tax year, while the remainder had, but planned to contribute more.

The poll showed those most likely to procrastinate on planned RRSP contributions were between the ages of 25 and 44. CIBC said previous research indicated younger Canadians often need to balance their savings with debt repayment, which can result in delaying contributions.

A previous poll conducted in November 2013 for RBC said only 23 per cent of Canadians planned to contribute the maximum amount allowed. Younger Canadians are less likely to have the cash to make the maximum contribution, CBC noted, but just 20 per cent of people between the ages of 35 and 54 and 25 per cent of people over age 55 said they’d contribute the full amount.

Senior Manager with RBC Financial Planning Richa Hingorani said putting money aside on a regular basis can help make the process more affordable.

“Maxing out your contribution at the start of the year is great if you can afford it,” she said in a press release, “but for most Canadians, regular contributions throughout the year is a more realistic and effective approach.”

Christina Kramer, CIBC’s Executive Vice President, Retail and Business Banking, also noted the benefit of saving throughout the year, rather than scrambling to find cash close to the cutoff.

“Some Canadians find it difficult to come up with a lump sum for their RRSP, underscoring the importance of creating a budget and a regular savings plan for the year ahead to avoid the last-minute crunch,” she said in a news release.

Ukraine: Armed Men In Russian Uniforms Reportedly Occupy Crimea Airport

Ukraine: Armed Men In Russian Uniforms Reportedly Occupy Crimea Airport.

AP  | by  DALTON BENNETT and MARIA DANILOVA
Posted: 02/27/2014 5:52 am EST Updated: 02/28/2014 3:59 am EST

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Dozens of armed men in Russian-marked military uniforms occupied an airport in the capital of Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region early Friday, a report said, but a later report cited an airport official as saying the men apologized and left after finding no Ukrainian troops had landed.

Witnesses told the Interfax news agency that the 50 or so men were wearing the same gear as the ones who seized government buildings in the city, Simferopol, on Thursday and raised the Russian flag. The report said the men with “Russian Navy ensigns” first surrounded the Simferopol Airport’s domestic flights terminal.

The report could not be immediately confirmed. A later Interfax report, datelined Moscow, quoted an airport representative as saying the men apologized and left and that the airport was operating normally.

A woman who answered the phone at the airport said “no comment,” and the airport’s website listed the morning’s first flight, to Moscow, as boarding on schedule.

The events in the Crimea region have heightened tensions with neighboring Russia, which scrambled fighter jets to patrol borders in the first stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship.

Russia also has granted shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, after recent deadly protests in Kiev swept in a new government.

While the government in Kiev, led by a pro-Western technocrat, pledged to prevent any national breakup, there were mixed signals in Moscow. Russia pledged to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Yanukovych was said to be holed up in a luxury government retreat, with a news conference scheduled Friday near the Ukrainian border. He has not been seen publicly since Saturday.

On Thursday, as masked gunmen wearing unmarked camouflage uniforms erected a sign reading “Crimea is Russia” in Simferopol, Ukraine’s interim prime minister declared the Black Sea territory “has been and will be a part of Ukraine.”

The escalating conflict sent Ukraine’s finances plummeting further, prompting Western leaders to prepare an emergency financial package.

Yanukovych, whose abandonment of closer ties to Europe in favor of a bailout loan from Russia set off three months of protests, finally fled by helicopter last week as his allies deserted him. The humiliating exit was a severe blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had been celebrating his signature Olympics even as Ukraine’s drama came to a crisis. The Russian leader has long dreamed of pulling Ukraine — a country of 46 million people considered the cradle of Russian civilization — closer into Moscow’s orbit.

For Ukraine’s neighbors, the specter of Ukraine breaking up evoked memories of centuries of bloody conflict.

“Regional conflicts begin this way,” said Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, calling the confrontation “a very dangerous game.”

Russia’s dispatch of fighter jets Thursday to patrol borders and drills by some 150,000 Russian troops — almost the entirety of its force in the western part of the country — signaled strong determination not to lose Ukraine to the West.

The dramatic developments posed an immediate challenge to Ukraine’s new authorities as they named an interim government for the country, whose population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West. Crimea, which was seized by Russian forces in the 18th century under Catherine the Great, was once the crown jewel in Russian and then Soviet empires.

It only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia — a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

In the capital, Kiev, the new prime minister said Ukraine’s future lies in the European Union, but with friendly relations with Russia.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, named Thursday in a boisterous parliamentary session, now faces the difficult task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S.

Shortly before the lawmakers chose him, Yatsenyuk insisted the country wouldn’t accept the secession of Crimea. The Black Sea territory, he declared, “has been and will be a part of Ukraine.”

In Simferopol, tensions soared Thursday when gunmen toting rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles raised the Russian flag over the local parliament building. They wore black and orange ribbons, a Russian symbol of victory in World War II.

A pro-Russian activist who gave only his first name, Maxim, said he and other activists were camped overnight outside the parliament when about 50 men wearing flak jackets and carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers and sniper rifles took over the building.

“They were asking who we were. When we said we stand for the Russian language and Russia, they said: ‘Don’t be afraid. We’re with you.’ Then they began to storm the building, bringing down the doors,” he said. “They didn’t look like volunteers or amateurs; they were professionals. This was clearly a well-organized operation.”

“Who are they?” he added. “Nobody knows.”

Oleksandr Turchynov, who stepped in as acting president after Yanukovych’s flight, condemned the assault as a “crime against the government of Ukraine.” He warned that any move by Russian troops off of their base in Crimea “will be considered a military aggression.”

“I have given orders to the military to use all methods necessary to protect the citizens, punish the criminals, and to free the buildings,” he said.

Experts described a delicate situation in which one sudden move could lead to wider conflict.

“The main concern at this point is that Kiev might decide to intervene by sending law enforcement people to restore constitutional order,” said Dmitry Trenin, head of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “That is something that would lead to confrontation and drag the Russians in.”

In a bid to shore up Ukraine’s fledgling administration, the International Monetary Fund said it was “ready to respond” to Ukraine’s bid for financial assistance. The European Union is also considering emergency loans for a country that is the chief conduit of Russian natural gas to western Europe.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said in the organization’s first official statement on Ukraine’s crisis that it was in talks with its partners on “how best to help Ukraine at this critical moment in its history.” Ukraine’s finance ministry has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to avoid default. Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, dropped to a new record low of 11.25 to the U.S. dollar, a sign of the country’s financial distress.

Western leaders lined up to support the new Ukrainian leadership, with the German and British leaders warning Russia not to interfere.

“Every country should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Ukraine,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in London.

NATO defense ministers met in Brussels, and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel emerged appealing for calm.

“These are difficult times,” he said, “but these are times for cool, wise leadership on Russia’s side and everyone’s side.”

Yet the prospect of the West luring Ukraine into NATO is the very nightmare that Russia is desperately trying to avoid. Trenin of the Carnegie Center said a Ukraine-NATO courtship “would really raise the alarm levels in Moscow.”

Yanukovych declared Thursday in a statement that he remains Ukraine’s legitimate president. He was reportedly to hold a news conference Friday in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, not far from the Ukrainian border.

“I have to ask Russia to ensure my personal safety from extremists,” Yanukovych’s statement read, according to Russian news agencies. Shortly after, an unnamed Russian official was quoted as saying that Yanukovych’s request had been granted.

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Associated Press writers Karl Ritter in Kiev, Nataliya Vasilyeva and Laura Mills in Moscow and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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