Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Drones Bugsplat and Squirters

      Jennifer Robinson a human rights lawyer based in London has an article in Al Jazeera dealing with drones that she calls ""'Bugsplat""": The Ugly U.S. Drone War in Pakistan."" The term "bugsplat" according to Robinson is now the official term used to describe the killing of people  by drone missiles. Squirters are those seen fleeing the attacks.
    The term sees to have been first used to describe the shock and awe attack on Baghdad during the  Iraq invasion. See this article. in Ron Paul forums. Ironically there is a computer game of the same name.
    The term has the effect not only of dehumanizing the targets but even compares the attacks to squishing insects. Robinson recently attended a jirga in Pakistan where elders and villagers from the tribal areas being attacked discussed the effects of the drone attacks on their communities.
   Sitting behind her was a sixteen year old boy Tariq Aziz. Three days later she heard that he along with his 12 year old cousin were themselves killed as a car they were in was hit by a Hellfire missile. The official story is that the missiles are very precise so that there were will be few even no civilian casualties.
      In fact  John O Brennan who is Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser claimed last June :"there hasn't been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision or the capabilities we've been able to develop". Other sources however such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism claim that at least 225 of those killed may be civilians
    In the case of the killing of Tariq and his cousin they were the sole victims according to Robinson's sources but the official report on the incident claims  only four militants were killed.  Of course given that reporters are not allowed in the area independent verification of events by third parties is virtually impossible. Tariq had volunteered to work with Reprieve a British charity using lawyers and villagers to try and document results of these attacks. For more see this article.

UK: Public Sector Workers Protest Pension Changes

 The striking public sector workers are particularly concerned about their pensions. Workers will be required to work longer and pay more into their pensions.The strike closed many schools and at hospitals many operations are cancelled. Over half of UK schools are closed.
  Air trafffic at Heathrow however seems to be operating close to normal with only a few flights cancelled. The situation varies in different areas. In Northern Ireland bus and train services are shut down. The strikes are being held in numerous centers around the UK not only in London the capital. Demonstrations are being held in Birmingham, Leeds, Exeter and Aberdeen in Scotland.
Public sector workers on strike in Newcastle
   While unions claim that up to two million public sector unions will take part in the strike the government says that less than a third of civil servants are taking part. As well as requiring workers to pay more into their pensions and work longer to earn them, the government plans to base pensions on career average earnings rather than the final years as many pensions are calculated now. This will reduce pension amounts considerably. The government claims funding present pensions cannot be sustained as workers are living longer. Obviously the solution is to make conditions so bad that workers will die earlier. The money saved can be used to sustain the one per cent in the style to which they are accustomed. For much more see this article.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yemen: Musical chairs not transition to democracy

Yemen's interim prime minister Mohamed Basidowa announced that the vice-president Mansour Hadi will run for president of Yemen uncontested. President Saleh who ruled for 33 years is stepping down after signing a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council.
 Apparently Basindowa has the agreement of the ruling party and the largest opposition party. Basindowa himself was appointed to his position by Hadi. Now Basindowa is returning the favor. The Yemeni citizens get to sit and watch and then to ratify what has been done.
 The young protesters who started demonstrations back in the spring are angered by what is happening. But they don't count. Saleh has been given immunity from prosecution, along with his family, and his aides. Relatives still have important positions in the armed forces. He even retains his title of president for now though he transferred power.
 The UN position on the transfer is typical nonsense with soothing rhetoric but actually contradictory. The UN supports the transition but adds: "'..the members of the Security Council reiterated that all those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable." But then the agreement and the transition ensures that Saleh, his familly, and cronies have immunity from prosecution. He and his cronies were responsible for much of the violence and human rights violations.
 What you will have in Yemen is a status quo candidate for the presidency. This is what the U.S. GCC and others will call an orderly transition of power. Saleh cooperated with the U.S. in the war on terror the new old guard will do so also. When it comes to actually promoting democracy or ensuring a reliable client to work with the west even though there is no real change the U.S. and others always choose the latter. Whether this move is able to calm the civil unrest is very much in doubt. For more see this article.

Monday, November 28, 2011

U.S. Feds committed over 7.7 trillion to rescue financial system

According to a Bloomberg article here, by March 2009 the Feds had committed a mind boggling 7.77 trillion dollars to rescue the embattled financial system. This is a must read article based upon material that Bloomberg obtained.

The Feds and the banks fought tooth and nail to prevent the release of the information. After reading the article one can understand why. The article is quite long and detailed and an eye opener.

Among other revelations the documents show that secret loans helped banks to a net profit of 13 billion on the transactions. The loans were below market rates. The documents also show that while some banks were assuring investors that their investments were secure they were at the same time receiving emergency loans to keep themselves afloat.

Iraq: Even after withdrawal U.S. to spend over 6 billion next year

   Although the U.S. forces are slated to withdraw from Iraq by the end of this year, the U.S. ambassador announced that the U.S. would spend over 6 billion dollars in the country in 2012. The U.S embassy in Iraq is the largest in the world. The full U.S. mission according to the ambassador, James Jeffrey, will consist of up to 16,000 people including many security contractors.
    About 8 billion of the expenditures will be for military sales. The U.S. is doing much of the training and equipping of the Iraq armed forces. Altogether the Iraq war cost  the U.S. hundred of billions of dollars and thousands of  U.S. and other soldiers dead.
    Violence continues in Iraq as insurgents still are able to mount terrorist attacks and Al Qaeda groups although weakened still operate within Iraq. Even though the U.S. expenditures are much reduced they still seem to be wasteful at a time when the U.S. is facing a huge debt problem. For more see this article.
 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A derivatives expert on U.S.debt issues

   Satyajit Das is an expert on derivatives. He has had 25 years experience working with companies such as Citicorp Investment Bank and Merril Lynch. He now is a consultant and also gives presentations worldwide. A long article on the U.S. debt crisis is available here. Das writes very clearly and often with some humor and notable quotes.
   Here is a sample:"" China, the major investor in US government bond investors, finds itself in the position that John Maynard Keynes identified: “Owe your banker £1000 and you are at his mercy; owe him £1 million and the position is reversed.""    Here is one more: "" China financed customers creating demand for exports and America received the money to buy cheap Chinese goods. Asked whether America hanged itself with an Asian rope, a Chinese official told a reporter: “No. It drowned itself in Asian liquidity.
   In the last section of his article, Das talks about the devious ways in which the U.S. debt problem is likely to be managed. He suggests that there will be "fudging", "monetization" and "devaluation". As an example of fudging Das notes the manner in which states and cities have tried to engage in what he calls fiscal magic tricks to stave off facing the crisis. Unable to raise taxes for political reasons and facing increasing deficits states borrow money to close budget gaps. As an example he points to Illinois which borrowed 10 billion in 2003. The money was used to invest in its pension funds. But this was not enough and it had to borrow another 3.5 billion and now is planning another 3.5 billion. Illinois had not been making the required annual payments required for its pension funds for years. The unfunded liabilities of U.S. state and local governments is huge. Das puts it at nearly 3.5 trillion dollars. Other ways of fudging the issue include selling off assets to temporarily help reduce the amount of unfunded liabilities.  
   Debt monetization is also a way of dealing with debt. Quantitative easing increases the money supply and eases liquidity problems. In the longer term it debases the currency and may cause inflation according to Das. Monetization is linked to devaluation the final means of dealing with debt. 
   The dollar has been deliberately weakened by government fiscal policy according to Das. In 2007 he notes that the dollar weakened by about 8 per cent. Since 2009 Das maintains the U.S. dollar lost 18 per cent against major currencies including a 25 per cent decline against the Canadia dollar. This decline not only makes U.S. exports more competitive. It also encourages foreign investors to buy more U.S. dollars to lower their average cost. Das notes that the role of the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency allows the country what he calls an extortionate privilege. 
   In conclusion Das thinks that by using fudging, monetization, and  devaluation the U.S. "" will usher in a prolonged period of stagnation for the US economy reducing global economy growth. At worst, continuation of a strategy of FMD(fudging, monetization, devaluation) and maintaining the balance of financial terror will create a volatile and dystopian economic environment.""  For much more see the entire article.

UAE: Five bloggers get up to three years for criticizing rulers

    Five United Arab Emirates activists have been given sentences of two to three years for messages critical of the leaders of the UAE.  See this link for information about the UAE. The group also called for a boycott of the Federal National Council elections in September. They also called for anti-government demonstrations.
     Ahmed Mansoor received the longest sentence since he is charged with providing a platform for other to  make their criticisms. A coalition of sever human rights groups that includes Amnesty International has charged that the files were unfair. The groups maintain also that the activists should never have been charged in the first place.
   While the UAE has not seen large scale protests such as other Arab countries have had, activists have been campaigning for a more democratic system. The Federal National Council has no legislative power. The FNC is simply an advisory board to the Supreme Council consisting of the emirates rulers. But just to make sure that the FNC does not conflict with the Supreme Council half of the 40 seats are appointed by the emirate's rulers not elected.
    The UAE imports most of its labor and only 20 per cent of  residents are citizens! Many critics complain that  immigrants workers are not well treated. However, many are attracted by wages much higher than in their home countries. For more see this article. A video on the issue can be found here but I have also appended it.


Gaza: Israel threatens to cut off water and power supplies if unity government formed

 Israel prefers to have Palestinians warring with each other in separate factions. As long as Hamas and Fatah could not co-operate Israel was able to try to work out a deal with Abbas and the Fatah faction who were relatively weak because of the split. Hamas was simply ignored.
    Hamas was left to rule over Gaza a virtual prison complete with a naval blockade and regulations that only allowed into Gaza those items that Israel wanted. At the same time few exports have been allowed making the strip a welfare client of Israel and the international community. Even so Israel feels so threatened by any unity among the Palestinians that it is willing to cut off power and water to the Gaza strip.
   Israel  also collects taxes for the Palestinian authority. It already froze tens of millions of those funds as a punishment for Palestine's becoming a full member of UNESCO. A senior Israeli official said that if a partnership were agreed to by Hamas and Fatah the transfer of those funds would become impossible.
   No doubt little if nothing will be said about this and the press and media coverage will be light. The defense of these measures will be easy: Here is the line from the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister. A unity government "would transform the Palestinian Authority into a terrorist authority and would put an end to any hope for a peace agreement"  Of course Israel itself used terrorist tactics in gaining its independence.  While Hamas has itself used terrorist tactics at present it tries to keep more radical elements in Gaza from firing rockets into Israel. For more see this article.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

NATO Official: Attack that killed up to 28 Afghan troops was self defense

       Official reactions to events such as these often amaze me. Yesterday one official said that the incident was being investigated and that it had not yet been determined if anyone had been killed or wounded. This was at the same time as another official was expressing condolences to families whose members had been killed or wounded. Now all of a sudden we have this suggestion that the attack was self defense.
     A Kabul-based official says that a joint US-Afghan force was attacked in the early hours of Saturday. This forced them to return fire. But the Pakistani soldiers who died were at a checkpoint that is supposed to be over one and a half miles from the border and clearly marked. If anyone attacked the joint force it was no doubt insurgents and probably some distance away unless the troop had crossed the border. To be fair there is often doubt about where the border is.
     The Pakistani military say that their forty troops or so at the checkpoint were asleep at the time and that the attack was unprovoked. The US Afghan force called in close air support. Both helicopters and jets strafed Pakistani positions. One would think that there would be some checking of targets before unleashing such an attack. Once they were under attack the Pakistanis responded by firing back. This no doubt was a sign for even further strafing.
     As has happened after past incidents Pakistan stops some supplies from passing through Pakistan to Afghanistan. Pakistan has also demanded that an air base be closed. In the past drones had been based there. However, I believe that drones now come mainly from bases in Afghanistan. NATO has opened alternative supply routes through central Asia. Although some time ago the Pakistani government passed a motion that drone attacks be stopped nothing has happened on that score so far.
    I


Yemen: Protesters reject deal with President Saleh

 Although Saleh has accepted the GCC brokered deal to step down within 30 days and transfer power to his vice-president, protesters have rejected the deal. The protesters object to Saleh being given immunity from prosecution for his killing of protesters and other crimes.
    There are also still divisions within the armed forces and there have been clashes between loyalist forces under Saleh's  nephew and those of a general who defected back in March. On Thursday gunmen with no uniforms, probably Saleh loyalists, killed five protesters in the capital Sanaa. Apparently some of the politicians who signed on to the original deal are having doubts and perhaps may join the protesters.
  The government has announced that presidential elections will held next February 21st. This will be a year ahead of schedule and complies with there terms of GCC deal that Saleh signed. However it looks as if the deal has not stop protests. The government also faces separatist movements in the north and south as well as Islamic extremists who have taken over considerable territory. For more see this article and here as well.

U.S. fails in attempt to water down cluster bomb ban

   The Obama administration has never signed on to the international ban on cluster bombs. The U.S. attempted to water down the ban by suggested that manufacture of the bombs should be regulated rather than banned. The U.S. was supported by Russia, China, and Israel all of whom have cluster bombs and have failed to sign on to the ban.
     Even the UK which usually supports U.S. policies filed objections to the U.S. proposal. Unlike the U.S. the U.K. has already signed on to the ban. The U.S. said it was deeply disappointed by their failure. The regulations it claimed would have prohibited many cluster munitions and restricted and regulated the remaining munitions. The U.S. noted that there would be a beneficial humanitarian result on the ground. If the nations suggesting these changes had signed on to the ban there would have been any even more dramatic humanitarian impact on the ground!
     The U.S. proposals claimed that cluster munitions are a military necessity. This seems to be the case only for the nations that did not sign the ban. The over 50 nations that objected to the U.S. proposals including the UK are able to function without them. Opponents of their use claim that the weapons are not only indiscriminate but often do not explode only to explode later when disturbed. For more see this article.
   

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NATO helicopter attacks kills up to 28 Pakistani troops at check point


A NATO air attack on a Pakistani check point at the Afghan border killed up to 28 Pakistani troops. In retaliation Pakistan has shut down the transport of some supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan. The exact number killed is still not confirmed. A number of troops were wounded as well.
Pakistani officials told reporters that NATO helicopters "carried out unprovoked and indiscriminate firing." The Pakistani Prime Minister Raza Gilani condemned the attack. He said that the matter was being taken up with NATO and the U.S.
General John Allen the leader of NATO forces in Afghanistan expressed condolences to the families of any troops who may have been killed or injured. However, another spokesperson said that there was an ongoing investigation of the incident and it was not clear yet that there had been any deaths or injuries. Statements such as that are probably counter productive. They suggest that Pakistani on the scene reports cannot be trusted. While the exact number of those killed may be in doubt, surely there is little doubt there were deaths. If there were no deaths or injuries why would John Allen express his condolences?
Colonel Gary Kolb another NATO spokesperson said that the helicopters were responding to small arms fire. However the attack took place over a mile and a half into Pakistan at a clearly marked checkpoint. Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan are already strained after the U.S. carried out an attack that killed Bin Laden without notifying Pakistan beforehand. The Pakistani government also passed a resolution demanding that drone attacks stop but the U.S. simply paid no attention. For more seethis article.
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Friday, November 25, 2011

Italy's borrowing costs soar.

   Italy had to pay approximately 6.5 per cent to auction off 10.6 billion six month bills. Just a month ago the rate for the same bills was 3.535 per cent. Investors are concerned that Italy will simply not be able to finance its debt. If the interest rate continues climbing in this manner that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy!
   Two year bonds yielded even a higher rate at 7.83 per cent. In reaction to these signs of increased investor concerns the Euro currency also declined in terms of the U.S. dollar.
   Stocks in Italy's FTSEMIB index also fell, particularly banks. The Italian prime minister Mario Monti plans additional austerity measures to cut the Italian debt. Next week Italy will be testing the market again in an attempt to raise 8.8 billion Euros and will include four different bond issues. Rather than Italy testing the market it would be better to say that the market will be testing Italy! For much more see this Bloomberg article.

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Disabled, hearing impaired senior dies after being tasered in North Carolina


Roger Antony died after being tasered in a town in North Carolina. Antony 61 disabled and with a hearing impairment was riding down the street on his bicycle. Antony is a well known character in the locality having been given the nickname Rabbit because he had large ears.
The constable who tasered Antony had received a call that a man had injured himself in a parking lot after falling off his bicycle. The officer went to the scene but Antony had already resumed riding his bicycle down the street. The constable followed him in his vehicle with his siren on. Antony was ordered to pull over.
Antony failed to respond. The constable then got out of the car and yelled at him to stop. When he again did not respond, the officer tasered him. Antony was then taken to a hospital. He was declare brain dead but put on life support. Life support was later removed. For more see this Gawker article.
Taser International has always maintained that tasers are safe if used properly. When deaths have happened they explain that the tasers themselves are not responsible for the deaths. Critics point out that much of the research on the safety of tasers has been done by researchers partly funded by or having connections with the company. See this entry in Wikipedia for more on safety of tasers. The issue of taser safety has been investigated several times in Canada. See this article.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Portugal: Strikers protest planned austerity measures


In Lisbon air traffic controllers and workers on the metro system went on a 24 hour strike. Public transportation halted and flights from the Lisbon International Airport had to be cancelled.
The protests are against the austerity measures proposed by the government to meet the demands for debt reduction to receive further loan instalments. Among the many austerity measures are included cuts in public spending and even expenditures on the armed forces. As well, with Xmas coming the government is playing Scrooge and will end all Xmas and holiday bonuses.
The BBC has a good article full of quotations from citizens about the strike and the situation in Portugal. Many fear that Portugal will become very much like Greece.
Added to Portugal's woes, the rating company Fitch has downgraded the quality of Portugals' bonds to junk. The company cited Portugal's debt and poor economic outlook as reasons for the downgrade. I include a video of the strike.

Kosovo: 21 NATO soldiers wounded in clash with Serbs

 The clash happened overnight in a Serbian enclave in Northern Kosovo. Serbs clashed with KFOR --NATO Kosovo Force--as they tried to remove barricades set up by the Serbs. The standoff has been ongoing since Kosovo tried to send border police to the north last July.
     The Serbian government is under pressure from the European Union to remove the barricades or risk the failure of its candidacy for future membership in the Union. Given the state of the European Union that might not be a huge loss for Serbia.
    A more pressing issue for the Serbian government is that the opposition supports the Serbs in the enclave very strongly. The government may lose votes if it gives in to EU pressure. Even though the government is pro-Western it may be hesitant to do anything that could rouse Serb nationalists against them.
    Serbia lost control of Kosovo  in 1999. Formerly Kosovo was part of Serbia and before that Yugoslavia. NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days after an attempt by then leader Milosevic to expel Albanians from Kosovo.  After the Albanian separatist insurgency won there was in effect a cleansing of Serbs and other non-Albanians from Kosovo except that in the north a Serbian majority enclave remains.
   Kosovo declared independence unilaterally and was recognized by more than 80 countries even though the terms of independence were supposed to be negotiated with Serbia. For more see this article.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Germany: Investors on strike as many German bonds receive no bids at auction.

  35 per cent of German 10 year bonds up for auction today failed to get bids. A securities analyst called the results nothing short of a disaster.The same analyst noted that if Germany, the strongest of  European countries in financial terms, has problems marketing its bonds the situation will be much worse for weaker nations.
   The results have been a factor in raising the cost of borrowing in Europe and causing the Euro to decline.
Yields climbed on bond yields for many countries including Greece, Belgium, and France. The German auction had the highest proportion of unsold ten year bonds since 1995.
     Neil Jones head of a European hedge fund said:“If investors do not wish to buy bunds (German bonds), they do not wish to buy Europe,”  Belgium is due to auction 10 year debt on Nov. 28. France and Italy are also due to sell bonds next week. The debt crisis in Europe seems to be continuing in spite of new governments in Spain, Italy, and Greece. For much more detail see this Bloomberg article.

Yemen: Deal sells out protesters

The deal was brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council with the support of Saudi Arabia and the United States. The deal will grant immunity from prosecution for president Saleh, his family, and aides in return for his relinquishing power.
  Within 30 days Saleh pledges to leave power which will then be granted to his vice president Abdrabuh Hadi. Important positions in the government no doubt will still be held by members of his family. Presidential elections are scheduled to take place within 90 days.
   In a speech at the transfer Saleh called the protests a coup and did not mention their demands that he be held responsible for his crimes against the protesters. Saleh spoke of the opposition groups that welcomed the deal as his brothers. They are his brothers in selling out the protesters agenda to the status quo. The Saudi King said that the signing represents a new page in the history of Yemen.
  Now Saleh 69 is free to go to New York where he seeks medical treatment. Soon after the announcement of the deal protests have broken out in the capital Sanaa. The protesters reject the deal. They want Saleh and his family to be held responsible for the deaths of many protesters during protests that began last spring. Yemen still faces separatist uprisings in both the south and north as well as challenges from militant Islamist groups who have taken over considerable territory. For more see this article.

Asian stocks slump as China growth shows signs of slowing

 One factor in the decline is that Chinese manufacturing sector may actually be in decline. Exports to the U.S. will probably drop as U.S. growth slowed more than expected.
   Samsung Electronics lost 2.9 per cent on the Seoul exchange amid speculation that its exports will shrink. In Australia the world's larges mining company BHP Billiton lost over three percent as the Australian government has passed a mining tax.
   The MSCI Asia Pacific index(Hong Kong) fell  2.6 per cent to reach its lowest level since back on October 6th. Even in Asia there are worries that the European debt crisis is spreading to major economies and will curtail growth in European markets for Asian products. For much more detail see this Bloomberg article.
 



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Detroit Police Chief Praises Occupy Detroit


   In many cities police have raided and evicted Occupy groups from their encampments. City councils have also often complained about the protests and want them to go away. Detroit is an exception. Occupy Detroit has had good relations with both the city and the police.
    Detroit police chief Ralph Godbee said: "Many thanks to #OccupyDetroit for working with DPD to truly maintain peace and exercise free speech in a manner we all should be proud of!" In many cities police have arrested protesters, used pepper spray and batons and often used tactics that some would regard as using too much force.
    Detroit police have not arrested anyone. The Occupy Group stayed for more than five weeks in a Detroit Park. The city even granted the group a permit to camp in the park. The permit has just expired and the group is moving voluntarily to a building where they plan to continue their work including community organizing.
   The city council praised the group even comparing them to the civil rights movement. The protests went on without police action even though at one stage the group marched through streets without any permit and even blocked traffic at a bridge to Canada. Unfortunately most cities have not used Detroit as a model. Since there has been no trouble at Detroit the protests have mostly been ignored by the media. For more see this article.

Saudi Arabia: Demonstrators wounded in Eastern Province

  Police apparently used live fire in dispersing the demonstration in the Eastern Province. The demonstration was in response to the death of a 19 year old who was wounded on Sunday near a check point. The circumstances of the shooting have not been made clear although the police claim he was shot in crossfire as the checkpoint was under fire from gun men. Local witness say that it was a policeman at the check point shot the youth.
   Eastern Province is home to many Shia who feel isolated within Saudi Arabia. The province is close to Bahrain where Shia are the majority. The Saudis sent troops to help repress the protests in that country.
   This is second death in the last few days in the area said to be caused by security forces. Residents of  the town of Al Qatif where the demonstrations took place claim that another person was shot and killed by security forces in the Awamiya another Shia town. While Saudi Arabia has been for the most part free from many demonstrations associated with the Arab Spring the Eastern Province is an exception. For more see this article.
 


Monday, November 21, 2011

Egyptian protests continue as cabinet tenders resignation


Within a week parliamentary election campaigns are slated to begin. However, after violent clashes between security forces and protesters in and around Tahrir Square the situation is quite fluid.
The government has offered to resign which would leave the Supreme Military Council to govern solely on its own. Generals on the Supreme Council have started talks with civilian leaders to try to calm the crisis.
As with the original revolution the protesters are very broadly based and include leftists, Islamists, and liberal reformers. A coalition of 37 groups issued a statement which said:"We confirm our readiness to face all the forces that aim to abort the revolution, reproduce the old regime, or drag the country into chaos and turn the revolution into a military coup,"
The protesters have demanded that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces set a date for giving up power and that the army withdraw to its barracks. In a report Amnesty International has accused SCAF( the military council) of adopting the same oppressive means as that of Mubarak. The group has banned media, jailed critical bloggers, and even tortured protesters. It might be added that the regime has used military tribunals even more often than Mubarak and is still using emergency powers.
A last straw for many protesters is that the armed forces has attempted to revise the law so that it will not be subject to civilian oversight. An appended video puts the number killed in demonstrations at 20 but I have heard reports that put the total higher than that. Wounded numbers are estimated at over 1700. For more see this article. Egyptians are trying to save their revolution from the army takeover.

Spain: Socialists trounced by center-right Popular Party

  In Sunday elections the Popular Party won an absolute majority in the lower house. The Party won 186 seats of 350. On the other hand the Socialists went from 169 seats to just 111. This is the lowest number the socialists have ever won.
   The socialists are being punished for their inability to tackle high unemployment or solve the financial crisis. The Popular Party leader Rajoy promised to fight against the deficit and unemployment. However that may be a difficult promise to keep. Stock markets were not convinced the change in government will solve debt problems as stocks declined today. Spain's cost of borrowing rose.
   In May of this year there was a nationwide protest movement against the high jobless rate. Rajoy promises to impose many cuts--except for pensions. New austerity measures will be necessary to curry favor with European investors. This may cause even more unrest. There may be no honeymoon period for the new government. The earlier socialist government had cut public sector wages by 5 per cent, frozen pensions, and raised the retirement age by two years. No doubt Rajoy will need to make even deeper cuts and this is bound to bring a reaction in the street. For more see this article.
 
 
   

U.S. Stocks Decline (Nov 21, 2011)

  The failure of the Super Committee to come up with budget cuts and the continuing problems with European debt spurred a sharp decline in stock markets as of this posting in the middle of the session. The S and P 500 index dropped sharply. There is concern about triggering the automatic cuts should the Super Committee fail to make a deal, a prospect that appears quite likely. The S and P has lost a total of 5.5 per cent in just four days.
   The Dow Jones Index also declined to 11,507 or 2.5 per cent. In Canada stocks were down as well. See this article. The same worries as in the U.S. are factors in the decline. Stocks in Europe are also declining  Rising costs of financing debts in France concern investors. Germany has reported that it is expanding at a lower rate. The rising costs of borrowing for many countries is leading to investors selling off more and more risky assets.
  In the U.S. financial stocks are being hit very hard by worries that financial problems in Europe are going to impact U.S. banks as well. Some analysts claim that chances of a U.S. recession are increasing and others are predicting a bullish market. For much more detail see this Bloomberg article.

Yemen: Hundreds of Republican Guards defect to opposition

While attention is focused on Syria and Egypt, conflict continues in Yemen where protesters have been trying to oust president Saleh since spring. Reports indicate up to 400 troops most members of the elite Republican Guards have defected to the opposition and rather than attacking are supporting protesters. The troops said that they will no longer attack unarmed protesters but will defend them as they marched through what is called Change Square.
 The committee organising the protest said that dozens of protestes had been killed over the last month and that from the beginning of the protests almost a thousand had died. Gen. Mohsen Ahmar defected from Saleh's forces back in March. The newly defected troops were welcomed at his compound. There have been periodic battles between his forces and those of the government. The Republican Guards are headed by president Saleh's eldest son and his nephew.
  With the support of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia the GCC brokered a deal for Saleh to step down but at the last minute he has always refused to sign. The deal would give Saleh, his family and cronies amnesty from any prosecution. This is not acceptable to the protesters. For more see this article.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Egypt: Ongoing protests in Tahrir Square

 Clashes during the day have left at three dead and scores wounded. A standoff seems in progress as of this posting. Protesters have regained control of the square. Police and security forces had retreated from the area into side streets.
     As many as 3000 protesters have returned after being chased out earlier in violent clashes. During the earlier revolution the army often seemed to side with the protesters. However the ruling military council is filled with officers with ties to the Mubarak government.
     Since the revolution military tribunals have been used to try people even more often than they were during Mubarak's regime. Bloggers who have criticized the ruling military council have been jailed. Now protesters are being treated just as they were during the old regime.
      The government has praised the restraint used by the security forces echoing the same type of propaganda that was common during the Mubarak rule. Protesters are particularly incensed that the army is trying to pass measures that would ensure that the army would not come under civilian control. In Egypt the army is closely connected to many commercial enterprises and the business elite is in part composed of army officers.  Many protesters want the army council to hand over power to a civilian government as soon as possible. For more see this article.



U.S. Challenging China


       Obama just recently completed a deal with Australia that will see up to 2,500 U.S. marines at a base in Darwin Australia a move that makes China uneasy. The U.S. already has bases in Okinawa and Guam a U.S. possession. The U.S. also has close military ties with South Korea. The U.S. now sees an opening in Myanmar (Burma) as the military regime eases repression and wants to offset Chinese influence by courting other powers. Vietnam too has friendlier relations with the U.S. again to offset Chinese power.
   At the recent APEC meeting in Hawaii Obama announced a Trans-Pacific Partnership  accord between the U.S. and eight other nations but China was not included. The U.S. said other countries were welcome to join but must meet U.S. terms re currency and protection of intellectual property. China will no doubt remain outside the agreement.
   The U.S. is in a somewhat contradictory role in its relationship with China. China holds more U.S. treasury debt than any other country. Also many U.S. based companies are global and are investing heavily in China and also welcome it as an expanding market at a time when western markets are growing very slowly if at all.
   Nevertheless helping out U.S. corporations is still a factor. Both the Philippines and Vietnam have awarded oil exploration contracts for companies such as Exxon Mobil and others for areas of the South China sea claimed by China. The U.S. can protect the interests of Exxon and also develop more military ties with the Philippines and better relations with Vietnam.
  These activities may cause China to further build up its armed forces to counter the growing military presence of the U.S. in its backyard. For much more see this article.
 



Saturday, November 19, 2011

Australia, the U.S. and cluster bombs


      Australia is a signatory to the convention against cluster bombs. The Australian government under prime minister Gillard was a strong supporter of the ban on the bombs. The bombs release often hundreds of small bomblets that can spread over a large area. Up to 30 per cent fail and are a long term hazard.
      The United States along with several other great powers as well as Israel have not signed on to the ban. The U.S. now will have use of a base in  north-west Australia in Darwin. Many in Australia are concerned that the U.S. will stockpile cluster bombs among other weapons at the base. The ban itself prohibits not only the use of the cluster bombs but their stockpiling and transfer. The bombs should thus not be stockpiled on Australian territory nor even transferred through the territory.
     The Australian government has so far made no statement about the matter. The International Committee of the Red Cross  has said that the Australian draft legislation would permit the transit of cluster munitions and the retention of  cluster munitions in bases on Australian territory. In the interests of the United States it would seem that Australia may be willing to go against the provision of the cluster bomb ban that not long ago it wholeheartedly approved. Even close allies of the U.S. such as the U.K. have been unwilling to do this. For more see this article.


Friday, November 18, 2011

A fox can be a chicken

  Our village has a number of stray cats. Some residents resent their presence but others such as myself feel pity and admiration for these survivor felines who often make it through temperatures reaching minus forty C (or F) in the winter. We put out food and water to help them survive.
   Where the cats come from is a mystery. Some of them may have been here for generations since females regularly have kittens. A few are obviously lost or abandoned. Local rumor is that some folks drop unwanted cats off in the town hoping that they will survive. One can tell the abandoned or lost cats by the fact that they want to make friends with you and come in the porch once the door is opened. The feral cats run off at the sight of a human.
   I feed these cats on our back deck having both a feed bowl and a liquid bowl. On occasion at night I will open the door to put out feed and find the wrong sort of cat, one with a white stripe down its back--a skunk. The cats make way for the skunk, but they move only a short distance off not bothering even to retreat from the deck. Oh sorry! This story is supposed  to be about the fox.
   The other day I looked out our front window and saw a fox on the path shoveled through the snow from the garage. It advanced a little towards the deck. I thought that it would go and explore the food dish. I saw it there once before. But no, he stopped. He then started yelping as if he was frustrated.
  I went in the other room and peaked out on an angle where I could see the deck. There were three stray cats. They were all holding their ground. I have seen a stray dog chase the cats away several times. I have even heard stories of foxes killing cats. But for whatever reason this fox was not about to challenge 12 paws with claws plus 3 sets of sharp teeth. A fox can be chicken. I went out on the deck and shooed him away and off he went just like a chicken.

Pakistan: Recall of U.S. envoy linked to possible plot against military

 The Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani has been recalled to Pakistan for questioning. Pakistan President Asif Zardari is alleged to have asked for U.S. help in controlling the Pakistan military in a memo allegedly sent to Admiral Mike Mullen. At the time, Mullen was U.S. top military officer. The Pakistani military had just been humiliated by the U.S. attack that killed Bin Laden.
   A U.S. Pakistan business man who claims to have been involved in the affair reported the plot. According to the plan Zardari would have dramatically weakened Pakistan military intelligence in return for U.S. support in moving against the  armed forces. Zardari has denied any involvement in any plot.
  At first the Pentagon also denied there was any letter but later admitted that there was indeed and the business man was correct about that.The revelation is liable to weaken the Zardari government even further. Haqqani has offered to resign. For more see this article.

 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

United States: Corporate Taxes Trending Down

   This Salon article has graphs showing the steady decline in percentage of profits paid as taxes by U.S. corporations. Indeed some large companies pay no taxes.
   In 2010 the Verizon company posted a profit of 12 billion. According to the income tax rates of 35 per cent Verizon should have a tax bill of about 4.2 billion. But actually according to figures of the Center for Tax justice the company had a negative tax liability of 703 million. See this article.
  The decline in corporate tax started in the 1950's and has been in a downward trend ever since except that it has rebounded a little since the last recession. The nineteen fifties were a period when a great many entered the middle class. Now with taxes much lower on corporations the middle class is fast disappearing. Instead of the tax savings trickling down no doubt they are trickling up to the one per cent!
 


California: Protesters disrupt meeting of California State University Trustees

      Police  used pepper spray as well as batons to disband protesters who were disrupting a meeting of the trustees being held in Long Beach California. Trustees continued their meeting in another room after the protesters had been cleared out. Four students were arrested and damage estimates were $30,000.
     The board in a 9 to 6 vote raised tuition fees by 500 dollars for the fall of 2012. This will bring the annual charges for undergrads to $5,970 but there are further fees that average over another thousand dollars.
    Students, faculty and labor groups have been putting pressure on university officials to stop further fee hikes and cuts to education funding. More protests by students and others are expected at individual campuses throughout this week. For more see this article.
 

UK: Work without pay or lose benefits

   In the U.K. those seeking jobs while receiving unemployment benefits could have those benefits cut off if they quit unpaid volunteer labor. The volunteer labor is part of a work experience program offered by the Department of Work and Pensions.
   If a job seeker expresses an interest in the work experience program they have one week to quit without penalty. After that, if they quit then they could lose their benefits.
   The program sends those  seeking jobs to work for a period of up to two months at supermarkets and other stores many of them big name outlets. Those in the program can work up to 30 hours a week with no pay. There is no guarantee of a job after the program is over either.
   Some participants claim they were not made aware of the provision to quit within the first week. In effect the work experience program is a giant scheme to provide some companies with unpaid labor. For much  more see this Guardian article.  Unemployment is high in the U.K. particularly among young people.


Net Delusion: New book questions role of internet in promoting democracy

 A new book by Evgeny Morozov called "The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of the Internet" shows how authoritarian regimes such as Iran and Belarus can use the Internet to further their own aims and increase repression.
   In one of his interviews at this site, Morozov notes how there was a great deal of enthusiastic response to protesters in Iran using the Internet to report on what was going on and to promote demonstrations after elections there. However the media gave little coverage to the consequent use of the same Internet communications to seek out and often arrest those who had been promoting the protests.
   Morozov examines the use of the Internet in countries such as Russia, Belarus, China, and Iran and finds that governments can use Internet information to threaten dissidents. In some cases he suggests that there are government sponsored cyber-attacks on dissident websites. As well, governments use the Internet to promote their own agendas. While censorship is one means of controlling Internet content Morozov thinks that it is a mistake to think that this is the only means that governments can use to control the Internet.
 There is also an interview with Morozov here and also here. All three videos can be found at this site.Morozov is a visiting fellow at Stanford University in California.

Greece: Police and protesters clash in Athens

The demonstrations in Athens are against the austerity measures imposed by the government but also celebrate the uprising that in 1973 helped overthrow the ruling military junta. Some firebombs were thrown at police as the protesters marched to the U.S. embassy. Although there have been reportedly no arrests or casualties as yet, the presence of a large number of protesters together with a huge police presence could lead to violence and arrests.
  The police used tear gas and stun grenades to stop the progress of the march temporarily. The U.S. had supported the former military government and saw it as a defense against communism.
  The new government of Prime Minister Papademos just recently won a confidence vote in parliament by an overwhelming 255 votes to 38. However Greeks are still taking to the streets to protest the austerity measures.
       Papademos is a former banker and unelected. Papademos must ratify the bailout terms agreed to by the EU in October. In return Greece will receive 177 billion to keep it from going bankrupt. Signs are that Papademos may be able to push the package through parliament. The main opposition will be outside the government and in the streets. For more see this article together with a video.


Kuwait: Protesters storm parliament and demand prime minister resign

  The storming of the parliament was in response to the actions of police and elite forces who allegedly beat up protesters who were marching on the Prime Minister's house asking for his resignation. Several protesters were injured in the earlier march.
  Although some activists have been holding protests since March this is the first violence since last December when elite forces also are charged with beating up protesters. The prime minister as well as many MP's have been accused of corruption.
   Attempts to have corruption investigated and stopped have been thwarted. The premier Sabah has been a constant target of criticism. The foreign minister resigned a month ago. He had been involved in a plot to put money into foreign accounts. Sabah is an important member of the royal family and many believed he was also involved in the plot. For more see this article.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

China: Sixty per cent of rich Chinese want to leave China

  Two decades ago Chinese authorities propagated their new slogan "to get rich is glorious" but the new slogan of the rich twenty years later is "get rich and then get out". A whopping 60 per cent of rich Chinese intend to leave China according to a new report.
   The U.S. is the most favored destination for rich Chinese. For 40 per cent of rich Chinese intending to emigrate the United States is their first choice. After the United States, Canada, and then Singapore are most favored. Among the reasons for leaving China is concern about stability and changes in policies that might impact negatively on their wealth. Wealth is very unevenly distributed now in China.
  The United States has an Immigrant Investor Program that requires $500,000 dollars as a minimum. There is no cap. Canada also has an immigrant investment program. In 2009 over 2,000 Chinese obtained permanent residency through the program. For much more see this article.
 

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Oil over $100 dollars a barrel on New York exchange

    A Bloomberg article suggests that the rise is caused by plans by Enbridge to reverse the direction of the Seaway oil pipeline. However uncertainty about Nigerian production and other factors may also contribute to the rise.
    Enbridge has bought Conoco-Philipps share of a pipe line that runs from Cushing Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast. Reversal of the flow will allow oil from central U.S. states and Canada to flow to the Gulf Coast. Cushing Oklahoma had become a bottleneck in the system with large amounts of oil in storage. This lowered the price of oil. Now the backlog is being cleared the price of oil has increased. The decision may to some degree mitigate the effects of the delay in approval of the planned Keystone XL pipeline.
    TransCanada Corp. CEO Russ Girling said that the Keystone XL pipelines may now be able to gain State Dept. approval with six to nine months. It is now negotiating a changed route with the state of Nebraska that will not pass over the Ogalala aquifer.See this article.. However the U.S. State Dept. has claimed that studying the new routes would cause a longer delay of 12 to 18 months. The longer delay would postpone any decision until after the U.S. elections next year.
   

   



Italy: New Government formed to help solve debt crisis

     A new technocratic government has been formed by former European Commissioner Mario Monti. Monti is himself an economist and technocrat. The government will attempt to bring back Italy from the brink of economic disaster because of its debt. Monti also hopes that the formation of the new government will help calm financial markets.
   The government contains no politicians at all! So much for democracy. This is government of the people by the technocrats for the banks. Corrado Passero who is the CEO of Italy's biggest bank will head the industry and agriculture portfolio.
    An austerity program is to be presented before the Senate later this week. There will probably then be a confidence vote in both houses. The government is expected to have wide support among many parties.
   Recently Italian 10 year bonds have seen interest rates soar to over 7 per cent. This is the level at which Greece and Ireland were forced to seek bailouts.
   Monti wants his government to last until the next scheduled elections in 2013. However, the politicians may not allow him that much time. For more see this article.

Shell and Mitsubishi win large Iraq gas projects

 The total value of the project will be 17 billion dollars. Iraq burns off more gas in percentage terms from its oil fields than any other country. Estimates put the economic loss to Iraq at about 5 million dollars a day. The two companies will capture this natural gas in three different oil fields.
   Iraq holds the fifth largest gas reserves in the Middle East. The gas that is captured will be used at present for domestic needs. However later as more gas is made available some will probably be exported.
   Iraq will have a 51 per cent ownership stake in the venture to be called South Gas Co. Shell will own 44 per cent and Mitsubishi the rest. The Iraq government plans a fourth licencing round for oil and gas exploration rights next March. For more see this article.



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Afghanistan: New U.S. withdrawal date 2024?

 Afghan president Karzai is seeking support for continuing the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan a decade longer than is now scheduled. In 2014 Afghanistan is supposed to take over its own security but Karzai is trying to extend the NATO occupation until 2024.
    Instead of trying to get approval from parliament Karzai is planning a tribal jirga. 2,030 delegates have been invited to this meeting that is to last four or five days. The opening is set for this Wednesday (Nov. 16). The Taliban will probably try to attack the meeting.
    Any move to keep U.S. or other NATO troops in Afghanistan  for such an extended period is bound to derail any peace talks with the Taliban. However, the issue of peace talks it to be on the agenda even though this makes little sense. Some analysts think that Karzai is aiming to gain more control during the extended occupation. He may want all detention operations turned over to the Afghans, and night raids only be carried out by Afghan forces. However the specific agenda seems to be still secret.
   That Karzai is seeking this support is a clear indication that the U.S. intends to keep forces in Afghanistan long after the 2014 deadline for transfer of security to the Afghans. There seems to be almost no debate about this issue in the U.S. For more see this article, and also here.

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Somalia: Civilians fleeing town after missile attacks


 In the southern Somali town of Afgoye citizens are fleeing after missile strikes. The target of the strikes were apparently buildings thought to be used by the militant al-Shabaab group who control much of the area. A warship off the coast fired the missiles. Kenya has invaded the area near Afgoye but the ships probably belong to either France or the U.S.
  Both countries have backed the Kenyan invasion. Kenya invaded southern Somalia back in October. A Kenyan military spokesperson said that possibly the U.S. or France were behind recent airstrikes. The spokesperson also said that the French navy had shelled rebel positions.
   The U.S. previously conducted what it calls surgical strikes against al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia. In 2006 and 2007 the U.S. co-operated with Ethiopian forces who fought with al-Shabaab as well. Rather than intervene with boots on the ground the U.S. prefers to use proxy forces to battle al-Shabaab rebels who are considered by the U.S. to be terrorists linked to Al Qaeda. For more see this article, also here.



Police block and harass media covering OWS eviction

 In the early hours this morning November 15, New York police evicted OWS protesters from their Zucotti Park encampment. Journalists who tried to cover the eviction were often barred from getting close to the action. Some reporters complained they were harassed by or treated violently by police. At this site, there is a list of 14 tweets from reporters on their treatment.

 As one would expect the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had a positive spin on events. According to him police barred the journalists from reporting the raid for their own safety. Later a judge ordered a temporary restraining order against the city.

   Bloomberg said that the protesters could return to the park after it had been cleaned up. However, they would not be allowed to bring back tents, or sleeping bags. The restraining order rejected those terms because they were made after the occupation had already begun not beforehand. Protesters were apparently briefly allowed back into the park after 8 AM but then were evicted again while the city studies the order.

   The New York raid follows others in Portland Oregon, Oakland California, Albany N.Y. and Denver Colorado. For more see this article and also this.     A live stream of  events can be found here.  A video with Michael Moore commenting on events can be found here.

Rival militias battle in Libya

  While Gadaffi forces were battling the rebels the various militias and factions within the rebel ranks were united against a common enemy. Now that those forces have been defeated differences have strained relations among  rebel militias.
   Clashes between two militias have been ongoing for four days now near and in the capital Tripoli. Yesterday, November 14 reports indicate the death toll is 15. The militias are from Zawiya and from the Warshefana tribes.
   The Zawiya group says they were attacked by people who were formerly Gadaffi supporters. In response the Zawiya militia set up checkpoints around their area. Although the National Transitional Council claims the two groups have an agreement to end fighting, the fighting has not stopped.
    The National Transitional Government has tried to disarm militias or at least bring them under control of the central government. The different militias however have resisted this move. No doubt the militias believe that being armed provides them political leverage to ensure that some of their political demands will be granted. For more on the conflict see this article and also this one.



Monday, November 14, 2011

Trans Canada and Nebraska agree to change pipeline route

The U.S. state of Nebraska and Trans-Canada Corporation have agreed to change the route of the Keystone XL pipeline. The existing plan would take the pipeline over the Ogalala aquifer. The aquifer provides water for millions in the area and there are concerns that a leak could cause environmental disaster.
 
 The pipeline would deliver up to 700,000 barrels per day to refineries in Texas. Many support the pipeline project because of the jobs that would be created including a number of unions. However environmentalists are concerned not just about the environmental dangers of the route but many also are concerned that production from the Tar Sands is dirty oil in the sense that the production processes adds considerable greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Aboriginal groups in the areas of production also have environmental concerns.
 
  Just last week, the U.S. State Department decided to delay the decision on the Keystone XL project until early in 2013. The final decision will come after the 2012 elections. Environmentalists still expect that there will be a complete  environmental assessment of any new route. The Canadian Federal Government and the Alberta provincial government were both disappointed at the delay. The Alberta premier has gone to Washington to lobby for the project.

    The Canadian Federal Government is already making moves to search out other markets for oil, especially in China. The delay will no doubt increase attempts to obtain approval for a pipeline from Alberta to a port in British Columbia where oil would be shipped by freighter to Asian markets. For more see this article.

 


Occupy Oakland raided by police before dawn

The raid closed the Frank Ogawa Plaza. The police dismantled tents and arrested about 20 people according to reports. Eviction warnings had been issued earlier.

On Sunday evening a raid was also made by police on Occupy Portland. Up to 50 people were reported arrested there. In Canada as well some occupations have been shut down and others are threatened.

There appears to be a general crackdown on occupy protests in the U.S. Protesters were evicted in Denver Colorado and Salt Lake City Utah on Saturday November 12th. There were seventeen arrested in Denver police report. For more see this article.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-15725819