Saturday, December 31, 2011

Google Facebook and Twitter oppose Online Piracy Act

   A New York Times op-ed has called SOPA the Great Firewall of America and noted that the bill is quite broad, too broad for critics. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is supported by Hollywood corporations.'
    Google, Facebook, and Twitter see the legislation as threatening them. The co-founder of claimed that the act would rank the U.S. with the most oppressive nations in the world. Perhaps the U.S. is trying to catch up and surpass China in Internet control. Of course the Chinese are not noted for their enforcing laws against piracy!
     Co-founders of  Twitter also lashed out at the legislation claiming that the act gave federal regulators too much power to censor the web. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and others are threatening to turn their pages black and with Internet censorship warnings that will ask users to contact politicians about voting on the bill.
  There is a Senate debate scheduled for January 24 on the bill. Perhaps the bill will have been changed by then. If it isn't there could be big news before the debate even starts if  the Big Guns on the Internet take on the Hollywood Internet Copyright Protection Gang.  For more see this article and here as well.
 
.

Ron Paul speaks out against Obama's drone attacks

   Paul has been consistent in his attack on counter-terror methods which violate basic human rights. He has also taken a strong anti-war stance in the face of the fact that many Republicans are hawks.
    In a campaign speech in Iowa Paul noted that even Nazis after World War II got trials. Now even a U.S. citizen such as Anwar al-Awlaki can be assassinated  without any trial, or even being charged. Both Awlaki and also his son a 16 year old were both killed in Obama ordered drone strikes.
   Of course, the Obama defenders will simply say that there is a state of hostilities between Al Qaeda and related groups and the U.S. and just as in warfare one can target and kill the enemy without trial. At the same time the Obama administration does not even regard the term "war on terror" as politically correct while employing the notion of  hostilities as a means to place any suspected terrorist beyond the reach of any basic legal rights.
    Some in the crowd booed Paul as he brought up the drone issue without prompting. However, Paul's position on this matter has been consistent. Many in the American populace are fed up with politicians who pander to them and then go their own merry way after they are elected. Even if people do not like many of Paul's policies they realize that he is different and respect him for that. I have included  a You Tube video with Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks which shows even some liberals give him respect. For more this article..

Israeli Intelligence Chief says Nuclear Iran not an existential threat to Israel

In Israel it seems that the intelligence services still feel able to tell it like it is. I am not sure the same can be said for the U.S. and no doubt other countries as well. The chief of Mossad, Tamir Pardo told a meeting of Israeli ambassadors that Iran's having nuclear weapons would not be an existential threat to Israel.
Whatever the irrationalities of Iranian foreign policy Iran's government is rational enough to know that any use of atomic weapons against Israel would result in being wiped out by the response from both Israel and other countries such as the U.S. Even the Revolutionary Guard would not want to play suicide jihadists. They are too busy amassing wealth from ownership of business enterprises.
  Pardo said that talk of an existential threat is being used too loosely. The phrase is used by many hawks both in Israel and the U.S. often to promote an attack on Iran. Pardo is just the latest intelligence official to warn against a pro-war stance against Iran. Meir Dagan Pardo's predecessor cautioned the Israeli government against attacking Iran. Dagan claimed that any attack on Iran could spark a dangerous regional war.
  Dagan said that Hezbollah and Hamas could respond with massive rocket attacks on Israel. His comments infuriated many Israeli politicians. For more see this article and also here. Iran has all along claimed that it is simply developing nuclear power facilities not a nuclear bomb.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Canada: TSX stock market loses 11 per cent for 2011


    The Toronto Stock Exchange lost almost 1500 points during 2011 a drop of 11 per cent from the beginning of the year. The exchange finished the year on a positive note closing up 113.9 points Friday.
    U.S. market fell on Friday but the Dow Jones index was up 640 points or 5.5 per cent for the year. The S and P index was almost flat. The NASDAQ ended down two per cent for the year.
     Gold and metals sub-indexes on the Toronto exchange also posted significant drops. Even though the price of oil rose over the year the energy index also declined. The loonie has risen slightly in relation to the U.S. dollar.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

U.S. to push 11 billion arms deal with Iraq despite instability


   In spite of the violence and political unrest in Iraq the U.S. is pushing ahead with a deal that is worth nearly 11 billion and includes  fighter jets and tanks. No doubt the military-industrial complex will be pleased.
   In Iraq the coalition government has broken down as a major coalition partner has left the government. One Sunni province has declared itself a federal area against the wishes of the central government. See the appended video.
   Sectarian strife appears to be growing after the Sunni vice-president Tariq al-Hashemi was accused of being involved in terror attacks and a plot against president Maliki. Opponents of Maliki claim that the charges are politically motivated and that Maliki is attempting to consolidate power.
   An analyst and editor of the Swiss  Military Review said: "The types of weapons which have been sold, F16s, M1 Abrams tanks, these vehicles, these aircraft, have been designed 20 or 30 years ago," "It is all extremely relative when you consider this arms deal sale worth about $11bn and you compare this to the $60bn deals with much more advanced aircraft sold to Saudi Arabia recently." The analyst points out that if the U.S. did not provide this equipment other countries would. Spare parts of course will need to come from the U.S. This gives the U.S. leverage in Iraq and at the same time helps out the U.S. based arms production industries involved.

South Korean industrial production declines




Demand in the construction and service sector led to output shrinking .4 per cent from October. The results were worse than many analysts had predicted.


THe biggest declines were spending on equipment in construction but also in the service industry. Demand may be slowing because of high household debt in South Korea. However, the general global slowdown also is having an impact as the South Korean economy is export oriented.


The Bank of Korea reports that the manufacturing sentiment index has fallen to a record low level. Manufacturers are worried about the global economic slowdown. The index fell from 83 to 79 from last month. This is the worst outlook since 2009.


The figures look less gloomy when compared on a yearly basis. For example, industrial output in November this year was up 5.6 per cent over last November. For more see this article.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gaza: Produce exports limited by Israeli blockade

  The blockade of Gaza by Israel since 2007 means that most produce of Gazan farmers cannot be exported. Although farmers in Gaza grow strawberries, peppers, flowers, and tomatoes they have little access to external markets.
   The few trucks shown in the appended video are loaded with fresh strawberries destined for the Netherlands. Even of the exports agreed to with the Israelis only two per cent have actually been completed.
   According to an agreement with the Palestinian authority about 400 truck loads of  produce can be exported each day. There is only one crossing out of Gaza even operating. Far fewer than the agreed upon number make it through with produce each day. '
   If Gazans were allowed to export freely they could generate income that would make the less of a welfare state dependent upon foreign aid. However Israel no doubt is quite happy to keep Gazans in a state of dependency.



U.S. home prices in decline

  In 19 of 20 U.S. cities home prices declined during the month of October. The average price of a home in the cities monitored in the index was down 3.4 per cent from the same month last year. This was more than the 3.2 per cent that economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast.
   Atlanta Georgia had the biggest fall, off 11.7 per cent from last year. Only Phoenix Arizona bucked the trend. Perhaps Canadian snowbirds are snapping up bargains while they last driving up prices.
    Many analysts predict that there will be a further decline next year. Many foreclosures were put on hold earlier and now the foreclosures will resume. This will add to unsold housing stock and weaken prices. A regulator reported that in the third quarter foreclosures had jumped 21 per cent from the same quarter last year.
   Unless economic conditions improve for many households there could be even more foreclosures. Almost a quarter of U.S. homeowners owe more on their mortgages than the worth of their houses. For more see this article.


 

European, U.S. stocks fall as Italy bond yields rise

   Ten year Italian bonds rose above the 7 per cent danger level to 7.01. Also, the European Central Bank's balance  sheet soared to 3.55 trillion dollars a record as it loaned money to financial institutions to keep credit flowing.
   Oil prices also trended lower even though Iran was making noises about blocking oil shipments through the State of Hormuz.
   Earlier Italy's cost of borrowing had declined and this helped stock markets improve but the so-called Monti effect after the new technocratic Italian prime minister seems to have worn off. The chief portfolio strategist for Wells Fargo Advantage Funds said: "The banks are not borrowing from the ECB in order to spur lending. It’s to shore up their own balance sheets. That could lead to a credit contraction in the euro zone."  Unless the banks feel confident in lending they will simply hoard the money they are being loaned  and this in effect defeats the policy of the central bank which was attempting to ease credit. For much more see this article.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

China: Free speech is subversion and merits ten year sentence

 Chen Xi is a veteran dissident. He was first jailed after he participated in the 1989 pro-democracy protests. He received a sentence of three years. Later he received another ten year sentence for counter-revolutionary offenses.
   The Chinese authorities have no sense of irony. The Chinese government whose court passed the sentence has managed the transition of China from communism to capitalism but Chen Xi is supposed to be the counter-revolutionary. If Mao were in power the whole gang of them would probably be sent off for re-education at the very least.
   The court noted that Xi was a repeat offender and that the crime was serious. What was his crime? He wrote 36 essays critical of the regime and posted them on line. The court said the essays constituted incitement to subvert state power. No doubt Chen Xi is also being punished because he was active in a local human rights group that reported on violations of human rights by authorities.
    Only three days earlier another veteran dissident Chen Wei received a nine year sentence for the exact same offense. No doubt the Chinese government fears that the Arab spring uprising might inspire protests against the government in China. Repression is alive and well in China. For more see this article.
 


Monday, December 26, 2011

Italy: Prime Minister Mario Monti struggles to lower borrowing costs

          The new technocrat prime minister of Italy Mario Monti had his budget plan approved by parliament. At first his appointment soothed markets and lowered Italy's surging borrowing costs but the effect seems to be petering out already.
   Italy faces 69 billion in costs to repay debts early next year. Italian bond yields are again approaching the 7 per cent level. Even though Monti was able to push through a budget package, investors still drove the yield on ten year bonds to 6.91 per cent. At 7 per cent Greece, Ireland, and Portugal all were forced to seek bailout money.
   On Nov. 9 the yield on Italy's 10 year bonds reached a record 7.48 per cent. The appointment of Monti and his strenuous efforts to reduce Italian spending managed to get the rate down to 6.26 per cent on Dec. 6. Now the yields are tending up to the danger level again. Monti told the Senate members: “It is essential that Italians buy government bonds and treasury bills, whose yields are very high. We must trust ourselves.”
   The government is selling many securities before the end of the year including ten year bonds. These will show whether the situation is getting worse. Italy has a debt of 1.9 trillion Euros and a considerable amount must be paid during the first quarter next year.
   Analysts pointed out that the debt crisis is giving Monti the leverage he needs to force structural reforms upon the Italian economy. Monti said that he is focusing his attention on making the labor market less rigid and streamlining the welfare system. Translated this means weakening the power of labor and reducing the social safety net. Analysts also point out that the measures may push Italy into recession. For more see this article.

Afghanistan: Karzai wants night raids and house searches to stop

 After a report looking into civilian casualties caused by NATO air strikes and night raids Karzai has again asked for both to stop. He has been complaining about these raids and demanding they cease for ages now but without significant results. After all, Afghanistan is occupied and not a sovereign country.
    However, Karzai does have some leverage. He has said he will not sign an agreement allowing NATO forces to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 unless the raids stop. In 2014 troops are supposed to turn over security to Afghans but now it seems that NATO troops may stay for up to a decade later. No one asks the Afghans or Americans if this is what they want. This is all to be negotiated between NATO officials and their rather testy puppet Karzai.
     NATO has insisted that the raids will continue but that they will involve Afghan forces more. Most of these raids are by special forces usually U.S. special forces. NATO insists that there are few casualties and that usually there is not even a shot fired. However, the report of the Karzai government cited numerous examples of civilian casualties including the pregnant wife of a local anti-drugs chief. Even when no shots are fired locals are not happy about home invasions in the middle of the night!
    Of course the vast majority of civilian deaths are the result of insurgent activity. However, Karzai has little control over those killings. It seems he has little control over those caused by the forces that are supposed to be providing security for Afghans either. For more see this article.

Yemen: Protesters criticize U.S. Ambassador's statemement

     Attacks on protesters by Yemeni forces killed at least nine people on Saturday. The protesters marched from Taiz to the capital Sanaa. The protesters want Saleh and his cronies to be held accountable for their crackdown against protests that killed and wounded many. Instead Saleh, his family, and his cronies have been granted immunity from prosecution in a deal supported by Saudi Arabia and the U.S. The deal transferred power to Saleh's vice president Major General Hadi.
     The U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein told a press conference that the protest was “not peaceful,”  and was intended to “provoke a violent response.” Feierstein also said that “if 2,000 people decided to protest against the White House in the US, we do not consider it a peaceful act and will not allow this.”  The U.S. seems solidly behind the new regime that includes many of the old guard including members of Saleh's family.
   Saleh himself is said to be considering travel to the U.S. The U.S. has said he cannot come except for medical reasons. No doubt that will be the excuse anyway! The treatment of Saleh contrasts with the treatment of other dictators who have killed their own people such as Assad or Gadaffi. While Saleh's killings have not been as extensive they nevertheless have been real enough and yet the U.S. and the GCC have been anxious to ensure that he steps down with impunity and that the old guard guides any transition.
    Hadi is to run unopposed in the next presidential election. Much of the official opposition has been bought off by being granted a few places in the interim government. However, those who started the protests against Saleh are not fooled by what happened and are continuing their opposition in the streets. The U.S. has made it clear whose side they are on. For more see this article.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Pakistan: Army wants president Zardari ousted

  Since independence in 1947 Pakistan has had three coups by the armed forces. The present head of the military General Parvez Kayani is very much opposed to a coup a position certainly not shared by some of his predecessors.
  Many think that President Zardari was behind the so-called coup memo. This memo was a letter to the U.S. military commander Admiral Mullen that sought his support in ousting key members of  the military leadership. In the memo as well the military were accused of planning a coup after the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden without informing Pakistan until it was already in process.
    An anonymous military source claimed that the opposition and most Pakistanis were fed up with Zardari not just the army. The U.S. had dismissed the allegations about a military coup in the memo they received as simply not credible. The Pakistan Supreme Court is considering a petition that requests an inquiry into the memo affair.
 The ruling party worries not just about the military but about the courts whom they fear may be out to get Zardari. Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani said: "Let me make clear to you today that there are intrigues, conspiracies afoot to pack up the elected government," As usual there is political strife brewing in Pakistan. For more see this article and also here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Iraq: All U.S. troops have left. Or have they?


  Some will remain in fact up to 2,700 if Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is to be believed. Seven hundred troops will remain in Iraq as trainers. Earlier reports said that the U.S. would not agree with Maliki's terms for troops to remain as trainers. Maliki insisted that the troops be subject to Iraqi law. It is highly unlikely that the U.S. agreed to that. Maliki made no mention of that issue in his statement.
     As well as the trainers there will be up to 2,000 troops used to provide security for the U.S. embassy. The embassy will also have 1500 diplomats with diplomatic immunity as well as 15,000 other employees at the Embassy.
     No doubt many of these other employees will be private security contractors to provide security for diplomatic staff as well.  The cost of the U.S. continuing  presence in Iraq will still be large and a burden on the U.S. taxpayer. For more see this article.
   Maliki is in great difficulty politically in Iraq. Already his coalition government is falling into pieces. The opposition will no doubt protest  if it turns out that U.S. troops stay in Iraq with continued immunity from the application of Iraqi law.


Iraq: Isolation of Sunni politicians may result in renewed insurgency

The Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki seems determined to provoke Sunni politicians. His move to arrest his own vice-president Tareq Hashemi has led one of his main coalition partners the Iraqiya bloc to leave the government. Al-Maliki has rejected the idea of reconciling with them.

The Kurdish bloc has also withdrawn from parliament in protest against the arrest warrant issued for the vice-president. The Kurdish area has the only significant armed forces not within the control of Al-Maliki. The leader of Iraqiya Ayad Allawi has compared Maliki's actions to those of Saddam Hussein who often arrested people on claims they were terrorists. Maliki says that Hashemi's bodyguards have confessed to being involved in terrorist acts and Maliki also claims that Hashemi was plotting to kill him. Hashemi has taken refuge in Kurdistan in the north of Iraq and has said that he will only agree to being tried there not in the capital Baghdad.

Since Maliki has lost his majority he should be only interim prime minister at most until another coalition majority is formed. If a coalition with a majority could not be formed then new elections should be called. However, Maliki has given no indication he will relinquish power. Maliki apparently controls the army and national police.

Iraqiya in co-operation with the Kurds may try to form a majority coalition but even if it does, getting rid of Maliki might be difficult. The level of violence is increasing with 60 people killed in a recent explosion. Isolating the Sunnis may drive them underground and create a renewed insurgency and the conflict with Kurdistan may lead it to declare complete independence if issues cannot be worked out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Iraq: Tension rises between Prime Minister Maliki and Sunni politicians

The prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused his own Sunni vice-president Tareq al-Hashemi of plotting to assassinate him. He claims that al-Hashemi paid his own bodyguards to commit terrorist attacks and that they have confessed to these acts. An order has been made for al-Hashemi's arrest.

 Al-Hashemi has taken refuge in Kurdistan in northern Iraq. He says that he will only stand trial there not in Baghdad. Al-Maliki has been harassing other Sunni politicians as well. Al-Hashemi claims the charges against him are politically motivated. Massoud Barzani the president of the Kurdistan regional government has called on Iraqi politicians to hold a summit meeting to discuss al-Maliki''s recent moves against Sunni politicians.

The arrest warrant is viewed with great suspicion by many politicians including Barzani who has for years often disagreed with al-Maliki. Even the Iraqi president Talabani was critical of the warrant together with the speaker of parliament. Violence is increasing as the sectarian tensions rise as well.

The U.S. is watching events with concern as all U.S. troops are now out of the country. Some Republicans have been critical of Obama for withdrawing all U.S. troops. However, the agreement for keeping forces in Iraq expires the end of this year and the Iraqi government refused to allow any troops to stay at least without being subject to Iraqi law. Apparently, the Republicans must think that the U.S. could just stay anyway! For more see this article and also here.

Poland loses five soldiers in Afghanistan

    Poland joined the U.S. led mission in Afghanistan in 2002. As with other countries it has suffered a number of casualties as a result.
    Poland's contingent in the Afghan mission at present numbers around 2,500 in all. There have been 36 killed including these five recently killed.
    Reports from Ghazni southwest of Baghdad report they were killed by an exploding mine. The Taliban claim responsibility for the attack.
     Prime Minister of Poland Donald Tusk called the loss one of the most tragic events of the entire Polish mission. This is the largest attack on the Polish contingent so far. Many countries such as Canada have withdrawn troops or are withdrawing them. Security is supposed to be handed over to the Afghans in 2014 but there may be an agreement to allow troops to stay much longer.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

UK hires firm involved in arranging rendition flights for CIA

 Lawyers at Charity Reprieve are asking why Computer Sciences Corporation has been hired for public contracts that run to hundreds of millions of pounds. The company worked for the CIA arranging secret rendition flights to Guantanamo Bay and black sites that the CIA used for interrogation and torture.
   Now the CSC is working for the UK Home Office to strengthen border controls. In 2007 the firm was hired to produce a UK visa that uses advanced biometrics technology a contract that runs until 2014.
   The firm seems to be a favorite with the UK. The company has had contracts with the Royal Mail, the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and the Civil  Nuclear Police Authority. They are also under contract with the National Health Service a contract that also has come under fire.
    A spokesperson for Reprieve said:: "People will be appalled to hear that their government has been handing out hundreds of millions of pounds to a company which helped organised the CIA's illegal renditions programme. "We need to know whether ministers at the time were aware of CSC's activities. If so, did they really think that a firm involved in some of the worst excesses of the 'war on terror' was an appropriate recipient of major public sector contracts?"  However a spokesperson for CSC had this to say: "We recognise that being a decent, responsible business is critical to our success. By implementing sustainable practices, we seek to ensure the vitality of the communities in which we live and do business, the morale and effectiveness of our global team, the health of our environment and the productivity and collaborative strength of our client relationships." Who could argue with that!  What's good for the CIA must be good for the UK public sector. For more see this article.
  For more about CSC see this Wikipedia article. The article makes no mention of its involvement with the CIA. It is quite successful and has contracts with large corporations and governments globally involving IT applications. Perhaps it still has good connections with the CIA. The company is headquartered in the U.S. at Falls Church Virginia.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

U.S: Mayors worried about increased numbers of homeless and need for more food assistance


   Of 29 cities surveyed 25 said that requests for food assistance had increased over the last year. The average increase was 15.5 per cent. In addition a quarter of residents requesting food aid could not get it for lack of supplies.
  The poverty rate in the U.S. has also increased from 14.3 per cent last year to 15.1 per cent this year according to the U.S. government. This increase is happening as cities have fewer resources to meet the needs of the poor as they often face large budget deficits.
 Kansas City Missouri food aid went up this year by 40 per cent. This was the highest in the survey but both Boston Mass. and Salt Lake City were not far behind at a 35 per cent increase. The vast majority of cities , 27 of 29, expect the emergency food requests would increase next year. At the same time 75 per cent of them predicted a decrease in their food aid budgets.
  The number of homeless also increased. On average the increase was 6 per cent. Charleston in North Carolina had the largest increase at a third increase. Cleveland Ohio and Detroit Michigan also had large increases. On average 18 per cent of homeless people who sought assistance were refused because of lack of space in shelters. As well as having a financial deficit the U.S. suffers a deficit in services for the homeless and hungry. For more see this article from which the data was abstracted.


Iraq: Troops withdraw but U.S. drones remain

   Although U.S. troops are withdrawing from Iraq as required by the SOFA agreement with Iraq many Americans will remain. About 10,000 Americans will remain to staff the humongous U.S. embassy in Iraq as well as other consular offices. Included will be many security contractors to ensure the safety of personnel. Private contractors will also be involved in training Iraqi forces. However there will be another U.S. presence as well.
    Unarmed U.S. spy drones will be allowed to patrol in norther Iraq. These Predator drones will operate out of a Turkish air base in Turkey. The planes will be used to spy on rebels of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) who use camps in northern Iraq to launch attacks into Turkey. The information provided by the drones has been used by Turkey to launch air strikes. Turkey has on occasion even sent troops into the area causing Iraq to complain.
     This type of military assistance has helped improve relations between Turkey and the U.S. That the Iraqi government has agreed to allow the drones to continue their surveillance is rather surprising since the Iraqi government has protested against Turkish incursions and air attacks on Iraq. Perhaps the central government is less concerned about these incursions than the regional Kurd government in northern Iraq. For more see this article

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fitch ratings: France still triple A but outlook negative

    Several other European countries were also downgraded by placing them on a rating watch negative review. The agency expects to complete the review for Spain, Italy, Belgium, Slovenia, Ireland and Cyprus by the end of January.
    The move by the rating agency will put more pressure on Eurozone leaders to do more to solve the two year debt crisis in Europe. Although European leaders have agreed to form a tighter fiscal union but the debt crisis for several countries has not been resolved.
   There has been resistance to using the European Central Bank as a backup. The ECB has not as yet made a commitment to buy bonds of the countries needing debt financing. Fitch claims that the meeting of European leaders did not produce definitive policy solutions to the crisis. For more see this article.


.

New U.S. defense bill legalizes indefinite detention for terror suspects

 The new 2012 defense bill was passed by the House of Representatives by a 283 to 136 vote and now the Senate has passed the bill by a vote of 86 to 12. Among the provisions the bill allows for indefinite detention of terrorism suspects.
     The U.S. has been in practice doing this for some time but this bill now makes clear that it is lawful at least according to U.S. law. Now persons accused of the crime of being a terrorist does not require any charges every be brought against them and yet they can be held indefinitely. The historic right of habeas corpus is simply gone.
     One would think that Obama might veto the bill. He did actually threaten to veto the bill but not because it violated any one's rights but because it limited his own power. Obama wants to do as he sees fit with terror suspects who are US citizens. He did not even mention that the bill does away with any right to due process for suspects.
    The Senate dutifully revised the bill so that now the president will have the right to waive the requirement mandating military custody of  U.S. citizens accused of terrorism. The Obama administration even asked the principle sponsors of the bill John McCain and Carl Levin to include language that ensured the indefinite detention provisions would apply to U.S. citizens.
    The ACLU said that if Obama signs this bill into law ”it will damage both his legacy and America’s reputation for upholding the rule of law. The last time Congress passed indefinite detention legislation was during the McCarthy era and President Truman had the courage to veto that bill. We hope that the president will consider the long view of history before codifying indefinite detention without charge or trial.” The president is considering not the long view of history but the upcoming presidential elections. If Obama is seen as tough on terrorists then this will probably help him get elected. For more see this article.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

David Harvey on the end of capitalism


   David Harvey is at present a professor of Geography and Anthropology at CUNY (City University of New York). However he has taught at a number of universities including Johns Hopkins and also in the U.K. his original home.
   Although first and foremost a geographer Harvey is very much influenced by Marx. He has given a course on the reading of Marx's Capital for 40 years! There is a series of over a dozen videos of those lectures here.  Amazing that something such as these is available for free on the Internet.
   Harvey has written many books including ""Ä Brief History of Neoliberalism " (2005) This book traces the history of neoliberalism since the nineteen seventies. An even more recent book "The Enigma of Capital'" (1910) shows how capitalism has expanded globally and dominates the world. In that book he also explains how the system has generated the present global crisis.
  The appended video "The End of Capitalism" presents some of these arguments. Harvey argues that it is finance capital that is now in control. This has resulted in a huge expansion of the gap between the rich and the poor and in effect the dispossession of the working class of all that they gained in earlier periods of capitalist development.
  In the developed countries finance capital insists on austerity programs, ripping away at the social safety net, reducing pensions, welfare benefits, etc.etc. But there is a contradiction in these policies since by reducing demand they result in no or slow growth that makes the situation worse. 
  However in countries such as China  their capitalist economy (or as the Chinese without any sense of the humor involved call socialism with Chinese characteristics) is rapidly expanding as  are those of other developing capitalist countries such as Brazil and India. As Harvey puts it capitalist development at present has parts of the world with developing economies in high growth mode but developed countries are now growing slowly or in recession.
   Harvey does not see either mode of capitalism as sustainable over the longer run. Capitalism by its very nature needs to grow to thrive as a system. But there are limits to growth as environmentalists point out. Although Harvey does not give any detailed formula for a vastly different economy he does talk about the economy being run by associated producers but not as wage laborers who create surplus value for capitalists. 
  The lecture is about an hour long. Harvey is relatively easy to follow as a lecturer. He does not talk down to his audience. He tries to be clear and never attempts to show off as do others in the Marxist tradition such as Slavoj Zizek who seems constantly excited and loves rhetorical flourishes. There is about a half hour question and answer period after the lecture.




Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Photo of aftermath of drone attacks in Pakistan




The photos at this site were taken by Noor Behram who himself lives in the area. The region where the CIA drone attacks take place is virtually off limits to any outsiders or reporters. Reports of casualties are either through official sources or locals neither of which are independently verifiable.

Around 70 attacks have been launched in 2011 so far. Noor Behram the photographer lives in North Waziristan one of the areas targeted. He works in cooperation with a Pakistani lawyer and the UK activist Clive Smith. They are helping Noor get these photos to the outside world. Behram also has provided cameras to locals to take photos of the aftermath of the attacks.

Of course the Taliban no doubt approve of Behram's activity and he himself is out to discredit the drone attacks by taking these photos. Behram says:"I want to show taxpayers in the Western world what their tax money is doing to people in another part of the world: killing civilians, innocent victims"" Some photos could even be staged but nevertheless most are probably genuine. The site that publsihed these Danger Room went through them to pick out those that seemed most authentic. U.S. experts verified that the fragments purporting to be parts of Hellfire missiles were genuine.

Each photo has attached a description of the event, where it was and when. At some of the attack sites the locals were hostile to Behram. Many refused to be photographed and allowed him only to photograph ruined buildings. Behram sometimes gained their confidence by helping them clear out the rubble.

The Pakistani parliament has passed a motion some time ago demanding that the attacks stop but this has been ignored by the U.S. and the Pakistani goverment has done nothing to stop the attacks. However, the government did demand a base in Pakistan from which they sometimes operated be handed over to Pakistan. This action by the government was not in response to drone attacks but the killing of 24 Pakistani troops at a border checkpoint by NATO forces. The drones can still operate from bases in Afghanistan. The government is being sued for not taking action and the CIA is also being sued for damaages.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Libya: Misrata militia take revenge on town of 30,000 mostly black pro-Gadaffi Libyans




The people in the town of Tawergha suffered from vengeful actions for their role in the siege of Misrata. A woman from Misrata said:""No, they can never come back... They have done us too much harm, terrible things. We cannot forgive them." Those in Misrata claim the residents of the town murdered, raped and tortured in Misrata.


Misrata forces captured and killed Gadaffi and also were part of the liberation of Tripoli but in mid-August they drove everyone out of Tawergha. Human rights organisations have termed the action collective punishment and perhaps a crime against humanity.


There is a racial element in this. Tawerghans are for the most part descendants of black Libyans who were slaves and quite poor. Gadaffi supported them and in turn they supported his regime on the whole. Many joined Gadaffi's armed forces.


The name of the town has even been erased from the road sign. Buildings are burned and looted with people's possessions scattered about. The only people in the town are a few Misratan militia who prevent any inhabitants from returning. For more see this article.

Monday, December 12, 2011

U.S.: Inequality in New York extremely high


An article by Doug Henwood here details just how unequal income is in the city whose mayor Michael Bloomberg a billionaire no doubt represents the top 5 per cent in the city! The analysis that Henwood uses is from the New York City Independent budget office.
The material was released after a request from James Oddo a New York City councilor. Here are a few details.
The poorest tenth in the city have an average income of only 988 dollars representing just .1 per cent of the total income of the city. This does not include the amount of any social benefits. Still it is astonishingly low. Even the bottom 50 per cent of income earners have only 9 per cent of the total income. This compares to 19 per cent for the bottom half of earners throughout the U.S.
The richest 5 per cent receive 49 per cent almost half of all the income in the city. This compares with the national average at 32 per cent. The iconic 1 per cent of top earners in New York City have over a third of the total income at 34 per cent. This is much higher than the overall U.S. in which the top one per cent have 19 per cent of income. As Henwood remarks the inequality in New York City is greater than that of Brazil noted for the huge gap between rich and poor. Apparently electing a billionaire as mayor does not mean that much wealth trickles down, rather it means a lot trickles up.

U.S. economy exceeds expectations but stocks slump on Europe worries


While some economic data released recently about the U.S. economy exceeded expectations U.S. stock indices went down today. Both Fitch Ratings and Moody's Investors Service said that the recent agreement at the summit of European leaders has not done much to relieve pressures on those European governments that are struggling with huge debts and high borrowing costs.
The warnings were enough to reverse a rally that has been going on in U.S. for a couple of weeks in spite of the fact U.S. indicators show the economy is outperforming expectations the most in nine months. An Economic Surprise Index went to 85.7. This is the highest since March 9.
November unemployment although still very high, hit the lowest level in two years. Manufacturing is also growing quickest in five months. Nevertheless Ben Bernanke head of the Federal Reserve said that there were significant downside risks facing the U.S. economy. For much more see this article.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jeffrey Sachs: Banks do not want to operate in free market only to play games

  Jeffrey Sachs the well known Columbia University economist is quite critical of the banks in an interview on Al Jazeera. Sachs is well known for his advocacy of  shock therapy during the transition of  the former Soviet Union to capitalism. Part of the shock was to privatize state resources often to the oligarchs who now control much of the Russian economy. Sachs however has been quite critical of the U.S. banks during the recent financial troubles in the U.S.
   Sachs notes that the banks had pushed for deregulation  and sang the praises of the free market. Once the government got out of the way everything would be hunky dory. However, the banks then used their freedom to make very risky and even illegal moves that helped bring on the financial crisis.
    Then when they are in big trouble they call on the big government to bail them out. All of a sudden the government becomes their savior rather than the enemy of progress.
    Soon they were back paying huge bonuses after just being bailed out. Again too they cry out against regulation. Sachs  puts it quite succinctly::  "That's not a free market, that's a game"  For the interview see this site.

China Investment Corp. has 60 per cent U.S. assets


    CIC or China Investment Corp. is China's sovereign investment fund. The fund holds almost 60 per cent U.S. based assets in its portfolio. The chairman Jin Liqun praises the U.S. legal system and also claims there are many good opportunities for investment in the U.S.  The corporation also has investments in Canada as well as Europe and other Asian countries.
   The CIC managed almost 410 billion dollars in 2010. The return on investment that year was 12 per cent far above the average of 9.6 per cent. A Chinese financial analyst claimed that the European debt crisis could not be solved in the near terms. As a result he said that this was not the right time to invest in Europe. However, the corporation is spinning off another investment vehicle that will concentrate upon seeking higher returns in Europe and the U.S.
  Jin said that China was still a developing nation and that it was not the task of either the fund or private Chinese companies to rescue European countries in distress. However Jin said that China would invest in any convincing program such as infrastructure developments. China seems willing to help if it can see a good return on its investment! China sounds exactly like a sensible capitalist country even though it is run by a communist party! For much more see this article.
 
 


Friday, December 9, 2011

Panama: Former ruler Manuel Noriega to return to Panama

   More about General Noriega can be found here. Noriega was trained in the U.S. at the School of the Americas and also in psyops at another base. He worked for the CIA from the fifties right up to the eighties even though he was known to be involved in the drug trade committed various crimes.
   However in the late eighties the U.S. decided he was not obedient enough and was a liability. When Noriega ran a flawed election in which his opponent  probably won the U.S. intervened and invaded in late December 1989. They arrested him in January 1990 and sent him to the U.S. to face trial on various charges. The UN condemned the invasion as a violation of international law but of course only Noriega got to be punished!
   Now Noriega has spent more than 20 years in U.S. and French jails he is going back home to Panama where he was convicted in absentia on further charges. Panama allows those over seventy to serve sentences at home. Noriega is already 77 so he may be able to spend his final years in better conditions. For more see this article.
 
 .

New European Union plans soothe markets for now


    New plans call for a closer fiscal union that will ensure  any countries which violate debt guidelines will be punished. However the target for setting the new rules is next March. The leaders also agreed to add 267 billion to funds meant to ease the lending crisis.
    Stock markets have reacted favorably so far although Italian and Spanish bond prices fell in spite of the fact that the European Central Bank is supposed to be buying them. Bond holders want the Bank to intervene even more to ensure that countries in trouble with debt can pay their bills. A demand that bondholders should share in any losses was diluted in the new plan.
   The UK will be excluded from the planned new fiscal union. The UK had demanded a veto over any new financial regulations it disapproved. Not surprisingly other leaders did not agree to this condition.
   While the new agreement was regarded as positive for banks, investors still wonder how some nations will be able to finance their burgeoning debts. In 2012 Euro Zone countries must repay over 1.1 trillion Euros in debt. Banks too will need to refinance very large amounts.
   A Citigroup economist predicted“deep euro-area recession and strained financial markets” next year with the economy actually shrinking throughout the year. The IMF is expected to play an expanded role in lending in the zone with funds being sought from outside Europe to help out. However as the IMF will no doubt impose reforms involving cutbacks and austerity as the price for loans it is not clear how economies with these loans can be expected to grow. For more see this article.



Thursday, December 8, 2011

China: GM sales rose 20 per cent in November




Auto sales are slowing in China. Smaller automakers are struggling for survival and analysts expect that there will be many mergers. Large foreign automakers such as GM and Toyota hope that some customers of these failing companies will switch to their brands.


GM has already established itself as the largest foreign automaker in China. GM sales in November rose 20 per cent on lower prices. In contrast the Chinese company Chery saw a sales drop of a whopping 30 per cent.


The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers records sales for an astonishing 70 different automakers. As sales decline some of these companies are bound to fail or be merged with larger firms.


Fifteen of the largest firms account for almost 90 per cent of the total production. Ten companies recorded zero sales for the entire year! The Chinese market may expand only 3 per cent this year as compared to 32 per cent last year.


For its part the government is encouraging smaller companies to merge with larger ones. However local governments where small companies are located resist the trend since it means jobs may be lost in their areas.


The auto industry in China has room to grow. The auto ownership rate in China is only 60 per thousand people less than half the global average. Many foreign countries intend to expand production including Volkswagen. But GM is leader of the foreign pack so far. For more see this article.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Public misled about drone downed in Iran


Early reports by NATO said that they were missing a drone. At the same time officials claimed that there was no evidence that Iran shot the drone down as they had claimed. ISAF(International Security Assistance Force) officials joined in the game of misleading the public.
The drone ISAF said was a U.S. unarmed reconnaisance aircraft on a mission over Afghanistan. So the mystery is explained. The U.S. launches many drone missions over Afghanistan and this drone just wandered off course.
Not mentioned is that this was a special drone. Not mentioned is that this was operated by the CIA. Not mentioned is that there has been secret spying missions over Iran for some time now. See this article.
The drone is not a garden variety reconassaince drone but a special secret stealth drone the RQ-170. The same drone was used to spy on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan before it was raided by U.S. special forces.
Apparently the U.S. has an air base at Shindad in Afghanistan from which it can launch surveillance missions and even special operations into Iran should the U.S. decide to do so. Sources say that they have contingency plans to mount secret operations into Iran should the need arise.
According to the Belfast Telegraph the U.S. is running covert operations in Iran already. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has called not only for covert operations but also attacks on Iranian oil refinieries. With talk like that surely Iran has good grounds for attacking the U.S in self defense. Of course it will not. Only the stronger party can actually engage in that sort of action and then claim self defense. For more see this article

Citigroup to slash 4,500 jobs


The CEO Vikram Pandit said the cuts were in response to declining revenues and market conditions. The measure is expected to reduce costs although there will also be some costs such as severance pay associated with the cuts.
Worldwide Citigroup employs about 267,000 people. The cuts are just a small percentage of their total work force. New regulations requiring larger minimum capital levels and cutting off revenues from trading and investment banking will cut into bank revenues.
Some analysts feel that even more jobs will be cut. Data collected by Bloomberg shows that financial firms have slashed over 200,000 jobs this year. This contrasts with only 58,000 cuts last year.
Citigroup is investing in countries such as Brazil, China and India. In fact emerging markets now make up half Citigroup's profits. These economies are expanding about three times the rate of developing countries. For more see this article.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


The Pentagon admits that the special unmanned spy plane the RQ 170 Sentinel went missing while on a joint mission of the military together with the CIA. The Pentagon says it is lost in Iran somewhere although they question the Iranian claim that they shot it down.
Dennis Kucinich a US. congressman says that he is worried by the fact the CIA is involved in the operation. "We have to be very careful that we don't stumble into a wider war here. If we are in Iran's airspace with anything that belongs to the US, that's a provocation,"
There is evidence that a covert war against Iran has been going on for some time. Software that runs centrifuges that are part of Iran's nuclear program were infected with a damaging virus. An Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated . In another case a mysterious explosion at a secret base killed another important scientist. The latter was possibly an accident however.
As of this posting Iran has not released any photos of the drone which they say was not damaged that much. The drone has a great deal of surveillance electronics equipment that is secret. If the Iranians really have it then it could provide them with a great deal of useful information. For more see this article.

Vietnam: Thousands killed by abandoned munitions from Vietnam Warfrom Vietnam war

  Although the Vietnam war ended almost 40 years ago, left over munitions still cause casualties almost daily in Vietnam. Prime Minister Dung told a UN conference that 42,132 have been killed and 62,163 injured since the end of the war in 1975.
    The U.S. used almost 16 million tons of bombs and munitions during the course of the war. The U.S. has helped Vietnam deal with the huge problem of clearing areas of dangerous unexploded munition by providing 62 million to Vietnam.
  Munitions remain on a huge area about one fifth of the whole country. Only 5 per cent of contaminated areas have been cleared up to now. The government recently approved plans to clear an additional 1.2 million acres at a cost of 595 million dollars over five years. However, that will still leave 14.8 million acres still to be cleared. For more see this article.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Rating agency S and P puts 15 European countries on credit watch


Rating agency Standard and Poor has put 15 Euro zone countries on review for a possible downgrade of their credit ratings. Even Germany and France could lose their triple A ratings. The move sent Asian stocks into a decline. See this article.
The agency said that there was the risk of a deepening crisis in the region. The agency also cited disagreements among officials and policy makers about how to solve the crisis increases the risks.
Four months earlier S and P cut the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+ because of the failure of political discussions on how to tackle the U.S. deficit. Some analysts and bondholders were irritated at the timing of the S and P announcement as European Union leaders have a meeting in Brussels Dec 8th and 9th to deal with the crisis. For much more see this Bloomberg article.

German paper: Israel releases Palestine funds to seal submarine purchase


The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the World on Sunday (Welt am Sonntag) claims that Israel freed funds collected for Palestine as a concession to complete the purchase of a German submarine.
The newspaper report claims that aides of the chancellor informed opposition leaders in confidence that Israel had made the concession. The submarine sale was approved last Wednesday. On the same day the Israeli prime minister announced that 100 million dollars in revenues collected for the Palestinians had been released to the Palestinian Authority.
Israel punished Palestine for joining UNESCO by freezing the funds. The submarine sale has been held up for a year as Germany tried to extract political concessions from Israel.Chancellor Merkel has tried to get Netanyahu to restart the Palestinian peace process. Obviously she was unable to do that! For more see this article

N.Y. Times editorial: Britain continues with failed economic policies


An editorial in the recent Sunday Review of the New York Times criticizes the UK Cameron government's plans to slash deficits and promote economic growth. The editorial claims that Cameron's policies failed when he began them a year and a half ago. Now he is continuing on with the same failed policies.
Cameron attempted to stimulate growth through radical austerity programs. Recent figures show that British growth is flat while unemployment is still going up and not down. The ratio of debt to GDP is climbing faster than the government had predicted. The governing Liberal-Conservative coalition solution to the problem is more of the same.
The austerity policies have reduced consumer demand slowing growth. Since the economy is not growing revenues to pay off the deficit have fallen so that the government has now been forced to change it deficit targets into the future.
The government now plans on further cuts to spending and will extend the austerity measures until 2017. This will mean more years of underfunded public services and lagging growth.
Projections are for output to actually shrink slightly by 0.1 per cent this quarter and grow only by the same amount in the first quarter next year.

The UK has 2.6 million unemployed the highest in 17 years. Unemployment is particularly severe among the young.
The editorial recommends the same type of strategy as economists such as Paul Krugman. In the short-term more money should be spent and not less to increase production. This should be combined with long-term debt reduction policies.
In my opinion the editorial misses the point of the austerity exercises. These policies are not just meant to be debt reduction policies, they are meant to force cuts to the social safety net and public services. More money will be available for profit. The working class is being put in its place and told that decent pensions and other benefits that have helped wed workers to the system are no longer sustainable. The policies the editorial discusses are not just British policies they can be found in Greece formerly under a Socialist government and in many countries regardless of whether governments are nominally left or right. For more see this article.
.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Italy: Cabinet imposes 32 billion more in cuts

 The cabinet of new Italian prime minister Mario Monti has approved new tax hikes and pension reforms that add up to 32 billion. The measures are designed to restore investor confidence in Italy. Italy's cost of borrowing has skyrocketed of late.
   The cabinet was originally scheduled to meet on Monday but it was moved up to Sunday so that the passage of the measures might have positive effects on markets. The measures still remain to be approved by parliament. Of course the Italian people will have no say on the matter.
   The Northern League the one major party to oppose the new government wants to hold a referendum on pension reform. Interesting that reform now means cutting benefits so that pensioners receive less and must wait longer to receive them.
    Sussana Camusso who heads Italy's biggest union lambasted the new austerity measures claiming that they are  "making money on the backs of poor people in our country". "There is no equity" in the changes.
   Both the IMF and the EU are watching Italy closely and have a team of auditors who are to police implementation of the long promised reforms. No doubt there will be more opposition in the street as the measures come before parliament. For more see this article.

Center-left coalition wins Croatian elections

  Exit polls in Croatia show that the opposition Kukuriku bloc has won the election with 83 seats against just 40 for the ruling HDZ conservatives. The leader of the opposition Zoran Milanovic will face a tough task to overhaul the economy.
     Slovakia is scheduled to join the European Union in 2013. Given the troubles in that group at present one wonders why Slovakia wants to join. The ruling HDZ has dominated Slovak politics since independence in 1991. Only in 2001-2003 did a center left coalition take over power.
    Recently the HDZ has been involved in corruption scandals but also unemployment has risen. Growth in Croatia was good until the financial crisis in 2009. Since that time the country has had difficulty in coming back from the recession.
    In order to join the EU the new leader Milanovic will be required to cut state spending and implement other so-called reforms so that it does not receive a downgrade to its credit rating. For more see this article.


Libya: Rival militias contest territory

 Only 10 miles west of the capital Tripoli, rival militias have clashed. One local official was killed. The central government is still in the process of trying to gain control of the many militia groups who fought to overthrow Gadaffi.
   The official killed was deputy head of the local military council in Janzour. His vehicle stopped briefly at a local checkpoint manned by fighters from Zintan a town in the nearby mountains who were very active in the fight against Gadaffi. The official told those at the checkpoint who he was but the guards said they did not care. When the official simply ordered his driver to continue he was shot.
  Later Janzour residents took revenge by ransacking the headquarters of the Zintan militia in the town. They also destroyed vehicles inside the compound. The Zintan militia members apparently fled. The residents want the Zintan militia out of their town.
    The UN has noted that the militias are a challenge still facing the government the National Transitional Council. No doubt militias hope to gain influence for their areas in the new government. There have been several conflict among different militia groups in the two months since Gadaffi was killed. For more see this article.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Canada wins fossil of the day award at Durban conference


The Canadian Conservative government has been a staunch opponent of the Kyoto Accords. Although Canada is a signatory to the accords it has failed to meet the targets. The former Liberal government had a much more positive rhetoric on environmental issues than the Conservatives but did not manage to actually meet its goals.
The Green party has one representative in the Canadian parliament but one lone representative can do little to influence policy. At one time the Liberals campaigned on what was called the Green Shift but Stefan Dion the Liberal leader who led the campaign failed at the polls and the Liberals dropped the environmental rhetoric and Dion as well. Their next leader did not emphasize the environment but did even worse at the polls.
Both the Climate Action Network and Greenpeace have been critical of Canada at the Durban conference for doing little to protect the environment. The Alberta Oil Sands development is a particular target of many environmentalists. The processes of extracting the oil add considerably more greenhouse gases to the environment than conventional production.
Many critics think that Canada will pull out of the Kyoto protocols. Peter Kent the minister responsible for the environment has refused to confirm or deny that Canada intends to do. However he did characterize the protocols as being in the past. He said the former Liberal government made a blunder in even signing the pact. This stance earned Canada the fossil of the day award. For more see this article.

Yemen: In three days 17 killed in city of Taiz

 For the third day government troops have been shelling parts of the city of Taiz where there have been protests demanding that President Saleh be held accountable for his crimes rather than given immunity as part of the deal to transfer power that he recently signed. In the most recent attacks at least two were killed.. In the last three days a total of  17 have died.
    State media claim that a ceasefire has been negotiated.  Armed anti-Saleh groups control the center of Taiz. Government forces have positioned themselves in surrounding hills and in the outskirts but also within parts of the city itself.
   Opposition groups who signed on to the GCC-brokered deal want the government to form a military commission as required by the agreement but so far the government has stalled. The opposition refuses to nominate candidates for a national unity government until the government forms the commission.
   As well as the uprising in Taiz the government faced new protests in the capital Sana demanding that Saleh be put on trial rather than being granted immunity. For more see this article.



Automatic cuts to defense budget will castrate Uncle Sam


Brett Lambert is one of several officials who recently have warned about the dangers of cutting the defense budget any further. Lambert must be important given the length of his title. Lambert is deputy assistant defense seretary for manufacturing and industrial base policy!
The failure of the Super Committee to agree on spending cuts of 1.3 trillion by the deadline on Nov. 23 triggered automatic spending cuts(sequestration) across the board. This would include 600 billion to be cut from the defense budget over the next 10 years. These cuts would be added to the 489 billion already to be cut over the next decade.
Republicans hope to reverse the cuts even though they also constantly harp on the need to cut the deficit. Lambert talks about the matter using powerful sexual imagery. The deficit cutters are out to castrate Uncle Sam. Lambert says:"When I think about it from an industrial base point of view, I think about sequestration more as fiscal castration. It truly will emasculate the industrial base ... if we implemented it as it exists," For more see this article.  No doubt the planned budget cuts will castrate the health care system and other parts of the social safety net but that is much less important than the care and feeding of the military-industrial complex.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Missile shield dispute threatens NATO Afghan supplies

  NATO has continually ignored Russian objections to the U.S. led plans for a missile defense shield in Europe. Now the Russians have threatened that they may no longer allow NATO to use Russian territory to transport supplies to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
      Although the northern supply route is more expensive than through Pakistan  the route through Russia has been more secure. Pakistan has for now shut off transport routes in protest against NATO killing 24 of its troops. The Pakistan route is often attacked by militants even when it is functioning.
    NATO has dismissed the Russian complaints continually. Russia has now also said that it may set up its own ballistic missiles on the borders of the EU. Russia believes that the missile shield is deployed against Russia rather than Iran which according to NATO is the primary grounds for the shield. For more see this article.


Yemeni Nobel Laureate calls for former President to be tried for his crimes

   Yemeni Nobel laureate Tawakul Karman has asked that the International Criminal Court investigate the violence used during the reign of President Saleh. In the deal brokered by the GCC that Saleh signed he, his family and aides will be granted immunity for any actions during the crackdown on protests. Many protesters were killed and wounded in attacks by security forces.
   However even Karman noted that her request stood little chance of success since Yemen has not signed on to the founding treaty called the Rome statute. The U.S. has not signed the treaty either.
   Only if the UN requested the court prosecutor to launch an investigation could he do so. Karman says there should be an easier way to hold those killing their own people to account by bringing them to the court. She herself has given the court a file of alleged crimes committed by the Saleh government.
   A new prime  minister has been appointed by acting vice-president Mansour Hadi. He Mohammed Basindwa. The transition of power applauded by the U.S. and others has not stopped the violence.
   Protests continue as does the violence. Shia Muslim forces attacked Sunni Islamist fighters in the  north. In the northwestern city of Saada Shia Muslims protested the GCC deal and demanded that Saleh be tried for his crimes. Yemen is a long way from any peaceful transition. In fact the old guard remain in power but are still being challenged by a number of groups. For more see this article.
 



Tunisia: Thousands rally against Islamic extremists

  Although the party that swept the recent polls Ennahda is described as moderate more radical Islamists have become more assertive in Tunisia. The hard line Salafists disrupted classes at a university just outside Tunis. The group demanded that mixed sex classes cease and that female students wear the full face veil or niqab.
   Several thousand demonstrators protested outside the Bardo Palace. Inside lawmakers are working to draw up a new constitution. The former Ben Ali regime was secularist. In fact the full face veil was banned from the university under his rule.
   Not all the protesters were protesting the new assertiveness of the Salafists, many were protesting their economic situation. There was a contingent of miners who pitched tents in a sort of Occupy Tunis demonstration. Others complained about the lack of transparency about what the government was doing. Some think that the major party Ennahda is trying to concentrate power in the new prime minister Hamadi Jebali. For more see this article.
   



Thursday, December 1, 2011

US Senate rejects extension of payroll tax cut

    The tax cut saved working class households approximately one thousand dollars a year. The vote was 51 against and 49 for the extension.
    While Republicans typically are always for tax cuts but they are even more concerned about protecting the interests of the rich. The Democratic bill would have paid for the loss of revenue caused by extending the cut by a 3.25 per cent surtax on incomes of anyone earning over a million a year.
   Susan Collins a Republican from Maine broke ranks and voted for the bill but three Democrats joined the love the rich Republican crowd. President Obama naturally jumped at the chance to attack the Republicans saying: "Tonight, Senate Republicans chose to raise taxes on nearly 160 million hardworking Americans because they refused to ask a few hundred thousand millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.." For more see this article.