Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Indiana set to pass right to work law



The Republican Governor Mitch Daniels claims that he will sign the state right to work law as soon as it comes to him. A vote in the Indiana Senate could happen on Wednesday. On Monday a Senate committee voted 6 to 1 to approve the bill and send it to the Senate.

Although such legislation is always termed "right to work" legislation it really has nothing to do with a right to work. A better term would be a "free rider"bill since it allows employees to work without paying any union dues. The costs faced by a union in negotiating a contract and defending workers cannot be recouped by forcing employees covered by a contract to pay dues.

Democrats presented amendments but Republicans refused to let them even be debated. When the bill passes into law Indiana will become the 23rd state to have right to work legislation.

Democrats say that the governor wants the legislation passed before a Super Bowl game next weekend. At protests on Monday some protesters had chanted: "Super Bowl, Super Rally" However many labor leaders fear that a protest at the Super Bowl festivities would be counter productive. For more see this article.

Most businesses support right to work legislation as it makes union organising more difficult and lessens the power of workers. The U.S. is one of the least unionised of advanced capitalist countries.

Honduras: A Mess Made in the U.S.A.

   That is the title of  a New York Times opinion piece by Dana Frank a history professor at the University of California Santa Cruz campus. Ever since the coup of June 28 2009 Frank claims the country has become worse in terms of security and human rights abuses. While the U.S.made a number of moves to oppose the coup and tried to arrange through the OAS a solution to the crisis with the elected president Jose Zelaya to return until elections were held,. Zeleya never returned to power. The coup members were able to ride the storm of international protest and thumb their noses at the OAS and U.S.
   Current president Lobo was elected in November 2009 in an election run by the very figures prominent in the coup. Much of the opposition withdrew from the elections to protest.. International observers boycotted the election except for those intrepid U.S. sponsored National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute both financed by the U.S.
    UN statistics show that Honduras now has the world's highest murder rate. The second largest city San Pedro Sula a major drug center is said to be more dangerous than the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez. While many commentators blame the renewed violence solely on drug gang operations,  Frank claims it was the coup and aftermath that left the doors open for drug operations and also unleashed a wave of state repression as well.
      The Obama administration was under fire by some right wing groups in the U.S. for not throwing his weight behind the coup in the beginning. But Obama did quickly recognize Lobo's victory as the return of democracy to Honduras. It was the return to power of the Honduran elite who kindly allow the U.S. to base troops in Honduras among other favors. Obama recognized the Lobo presidency even when much of Latin America refused to do so.
   According to Cofadeh the human rights organisation 34 members of the opposition have disappeared or been killed. More than 300 people have been killed by state security forces since the coup. The Committee to Protect Journalists notes that 13 journalists have been killed since Lobo became president. For much more see this article.











 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Portugal debt status worsens

   Portugal's debt status worsened as underwriters raised the cost of insuring its bonds to new highs. Both business and consumer confidence hit new lows.
   Consumers in particular were hard hit by painful austerity measures. Banks offering insurance to holders of Portuguese debts have been demanding  very large payments when a contract is signed rather than spreading the cost over the period of the contract. Portugal is now second to Greece in the amount required to insure its debt.
   Standard and Poor's rates Portuguese bonds a "junk"status. The yield on Portuguese ten year bonds has risen to just under 16 per cent. This is over twice the rate that is considered sustainable. This is just another sign that Portugal will require another multi-billion dollar bailout from the EU and IMF. It already received 78 billion euros earlier. For more see this BNN article.

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Greece: Goodbye Democracy

 The European policymakers who are attempting to force Greece to develop a budget that will satisfy investors are now discussing ways to directly intervene in Greek budget decisions. This is just another step in recent decisions that ensure that democracy is subservient to financial interests.
   The former prime minister of Greece George Papandreou decided that Greek citizens should be given the opportunity to have their say on austerity measures being imposed by the Troika, of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He proposed a referendum on the measures. This irritated those who count in these matters no end. Papandreou was forced to cancel the referendum and resign. He was not a suitable servant of those who matter.
       Papandreou's government was replaced by one headed by an unelected technocrat Lucas Papademos.   Nine in ten Greeks are unhappy with this government. Elections may take place in April. Whatever happens in elections those that count want to make sure the right decisions are made.
    European officials want to have the power to implement austerity measures and also want veto powers over budget decisions. This transition from democracy to a type of dictatorial technocracy designed to protect investors has drawn little criticism from politicians outside Greece. The U.S. is not speaking out about the necessity that there be an orderly transition back to democracy. Democracy that is not in the interests of high finance is a luxury that even nominally democratic countries cannot afford. No doubt it is a reasonable aspect of the necessary austerity measures. For more see this article.
   


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pakistani Doctor acted for CIA to gather DNA evidence on Bin Laden family



Defense Secretary Leon Panetta admitted in CBS interview that a Pakistani doctor was recruited by the CIA to collect DNA evidence that established that Osama was in the compound subsequently attacked by Navy Seals who killed bin Laden.

The doctor Shakil Afridi is in jail on suspicion of treason. The doctor set up a fake hepatitis vaccination program whose actual purpose was to collect DNA samples from the occupants of the compound. A nurse was allowed into the compound.

Once the DNA material was verified Obama authorised the attack that killed Bin Laden. The whole episode was quite embarassing to Pakistan since it was not informed of the operation until it was well under way. Also, it seems that Pakistan should have known about Bin Laden being at the compound.

Since the doctor helped the U.S. fight against terrorism a cause that Pakistan too claims to support, it will be problematic to find him guilty of treason. Perhaps there will be some quiet diplomacy with the good doctor as with President Saleh of Yemen coming to the U.S. for medical reasons. His health may be in danger if he stays in Pakistan! For more see this article.

ACTA an international agreement that challenges internet freedom



While U.S. anti-piracy legislation such as SOPA has been blocked for now internationally the move to censor the internet and protect big media companies is thriving with the passage of ACTA.

ACTA stands for Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The agreement is being negotiated between the U.S. Canada, Japan, and South Korea among other countries. The bill would enforce copyright and outlaw counterfeit goods but critics say it would also censor the internet.

The agreement was all done in secret away from the public eye. One European Parliament official reportedly resigned because of the secrecy involved. The official said:"I condemn the whole process which led to the signature of this agreement: no consultation of the civil society, lack of transparency since the beginning of negotiations, repeated delays of the signature of the text without any explanation given, reject of Parliament's recommendations as given in several resolutions of our assembly."

There have been protests in Poland over ACTA. The entertainment industry is protecting their monopoly all in the name of Free Trade. The specific bills that we have already seen in the U.S. are carrying through on promises made in the ACTA treaty. SOPA will be back soon.

Does austerity promote economic growth?

    The IMF and others impose austerity measures on government to pay down their debt and to increase investor confidence in countries. The result over the longer term is supposed to be increased investor confidence, a more competitive economy for the country and hence economic growth. But is the empirical evidence or even theory supportive of this viewpoint?
   First in terms of what one would expect in theory. Austerity would be expected to decrease demand but if there is decreased demand then less production is needed to fill that demand. Therefore other things being equal austerity would tend to decrease production rather than increase it.
   Harvard economist Alberto Alesina shows that government debt reduction by expenditure cuts and tax increases does not always have negative effects. However an IMF study of 17 countries that implemented austerity plans in the last 30 years showed that debt reduction plans that were intended to reduce debt and lead to prosperity on the whole did not do so. Some of the positive results in the earlier study were cases where the aim of austerity was sometimes to cool down an overheated economy and this was often successful with growth continuing but at a less heated rate.
   The overall findings of the IMF study of austerity policies designed to reduce debt were that consumption expenditure declined and the economy was weaker. This is what one would expect. Greece is a good empirical example of where this is happening with the country actually going into a recession. Some critics question the results but nevertheless the empirical data give at least some support to critics of austerity programs who claim that stimulus rather than austerity is the more sensible policy over the short term to help an economy grow and produce more revenues to then pay down debt. For more see this article.
   Given that the IMF's own study shows that their  policies reduce economic growth why would they continue to recommend them. Because these policies do please investors. They weaken labor and lower labor costs. The point is not to grow the economy but to increase the power of capital over labor. The policies do that. Economic growth per se is not the aim but growth in profits. In the longer term after labor is crushed, pension benefits eroded, the safety net mostly gone, then as the theory has it the country will be more competitive, Perhaps investors may return. Of course many workers may have long ago migrated to areas with better prospects. Ireland apparently is already seeing renewed emigration as the boom there has given way to austerity.
   


Saturday, January 28, 2012

U.S commando mothership to be sent to Middle East

 The Ponce a U.S. amphibious assault ship is to be retrofitted so that it could carry smaller high speed craft and also helicopters. The boat could then serve as a mother ship for Navy Seals. Commando teams could be sent on missions as tensions rise between the U.S. and Iran, and perhaps missions would be made in Yemen, Somalia or against pirates.
   Use of this type of ship fits in with Obama's plan to downsize the armed forces and make greater use of special forces. A spokesperson for the Navy Fleet Forces Command would not elaborate on the purpose of the ship or where it would be deployed exactly.
   The navy is moving very quickly to have the retrofit done and the ship in the area by midsummer. It could very well be headed to the Persian Gulf. The navy already has a considerable presence in the area with the fifth fleet headquarters in Bahrain. The new ship would not add significant power but could be very useful in launching secret commando mission offshore. For much more see this article.
   

Iraq: U.S. helicopter makes emerency landing in metro Baghdad

   When a U.S. helicopter landed beside the Tigris River in metro Baghdad residents immediately thought that  a U.S. military operation was under way in spite of the facts that all troops are supposedly gone. One person was injured in the rough landing that was caused by technical problems.
   Although all troops are withdrawn some actually are still working for the U.S. embassy a virtual city in itself on the outskirts of Baghdad. There are also thousands of armed private contractors who work for the State Dept. still present in Iraq.
   Iraq is still plagued by insecurity with bombings and violence still common. The situation is aggravated by the policies of the Maliki government which is supported both by Iran and the U.S. Maliki seems engaged in a campaign to purge rivals particularly Sunnis. He has had many politicians arrested and charged his Sunni vice-president with supporting terrorism as well. The future looks dim unless Maliki makes deals with his opponents rather than trying to suppress them as he is doing now. For more see this article.

Philippines: U.S. to increase military presence

Almost two decades ago the Philippine government closed U.S. military bases in the country. However in 1999 an agreement allowed hundreds of U.S. troops to return to train Philippine soldiers to fight Islamic militants and Maoist insurgents.
  There are about 600 U.S. Special Forces in the Philippines mostly used to help target a militant Islamic group said to be linked to Al Qaeda. The former government of Gloria Arroyo was cited in leaked Wikileaks cables for extrajudicial killings and false arrests. The U.S. is to provide over 163 million in aid in 2012.
  The U.S. government is talking to the new Philippine government about establishing a larger military presence in the Philippines. These actions are all part of U.S. plans to extend its military power further into the area to counter Chinese influence. The U.S. is also expanding its military presence in Australia and Singapore with troops and bases. For more see this article. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Robert Reich on Sheldon Adelson and Newt Gingrich



Robert Reich is Professor of Public Poicy at the University of California Berkeley. He was secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton but served in three administrations. On his blog he has an entry titled: ""Who is Sheldon Adelson and What Has Newt Promised Him?""

Sheldon Adelson is a rabidly pro-Israeli casino owner. When Gingrich said that Palestinians were an invented people in an interview, the comment was almost universally condemned. However Adelson defended and approved the remark. See this article in the Huffington Post.

Actually the Huffington Post article has much more informatioon on Adelson and his Israeli connectionsl than does the Reich article. Reich does point out though that in defending Gingrich Adelson puts his wallet where his mouth is.

Adelson wrote a check for 5 million dollars to finance a pro-Gingrich Super Pac Winning Our Future. Reich sees this donation as part of what is wrong with U.S. campaigns. They are funded by the rich who no doubt expect to have influence on policies in return.

The decision of the Supreme Court that ruled that corporations are persons and have the right of free speech have opened the way for campaigns to be even more influenced by corporate donations.

The donation to Winning our Future was immediately used to produce an expensive anti big business ad against Mitt Romney. Billionaire Adelson helped fund the ad. A friend of Adelson noted in the Daily Beast:"Sheldon has always loved Newt," "He stuck with him when he stumbled. Newt, I think, is very reflective of Sheldon's mindset. Particularly with Israel." Gingrich obviously will have the support of some in the Israel lobby. For more see Reich's blog entry.

Yemen: 46 killed in conflict with northern rebels

    The northern area of Haijah was the scene of violent clashes between Houthi Shia insurgents and Sunni gunmen loyal to the central government. The Houthis are seizing more territory. A leader of the Sunni gunmen claimed that 40 of the dead were rebels.
   The Houthis claim that the Sunnis attacked them and that they were supported not only by the central government but by Saudi Arabia. The clashes are ongoing. The Sunni group supported President Saleh quite strongly.
    The Houthis have demanded more autonomy from the central government for years. The demand has often broken out into open conflict with the central government. The Sunni group complained that Houthis have killed 71 of their people during the last two months without even counting the recent clashes. For more see this article.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Oklahoma senator would outlaw fetal Soylent Green



Soylent Green was a popular 1973 science fiction movie. Soylent Green is food made from dead humans but was supposed to be made from plankton. The manufacturing of Soylent Green was kept top secret.

Now in 2012 an Oklahoma Republican Senator is introducing a bill to outlaw aborted human fetuses in food. Perhaps it should be called the Soylent Green Bill.

Senator Ralph Shortey said "there is a potential that there are companies that are using aborted human babies in their research and development of basically enhancing flavor for artificial flavors." Shortey admits that he has no evidence that this is actually occuring in Oklahoma or anywhere else. But then as the saying goes an ounce or prevention is worth a pound of cure. Better to make this illegal before any company starts to do it.

However, the bill seems to me far too narrow. Given the scenario in Soylent Green it would seem much more sensible to have the bill cover use of any dead humans for food purposes. For more see this article.

   We will need to watch developments as Shortey notes. Environmentalists might point out that it is wasteful of land to bury corpses. While cremation is a partial solution, recycling would be the ideal. Of course special interests such as funeral directors would support bills such as Shortey's but then brave new entrepreneurs might very well prevail at least to the extent that the dead homeless and those who have to be buried at public expense might be processed at profitable green rendering plants.

Gingrichonomics

   An editorial in Bloomberg calls Gringrich's ideas on economics "..  a mixture of the alarming, the implausible and the banal." On taxes the article notes how Gingrich panders to the well off and corporations.
   Gingrich says he would cut the corporate income tax rate to 12.5 per cent from 35 per cent. He also would make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Gingrich would go further and eliminate taxes on estates, dividends, interest income and capital gains. He would also have a flat tax of 15 per cent. If you did better on the old system you could opt for that.
   The Tax Policy Center has estimated that in 2015 Gingrich's tax reductions would reduce government revenue by 1.3 trillion compared to the present system. Gingrich  complains that the calculations do not adequately factor in the huge growth rate all his tax cuts will cause.
   How much the economy might grow is uncertain but what is certain is that Gingrichonomics is great for the rich. The plan is estimated to save the top .1 per cent of taxpayers an average of 2.3 million each. Mitt Romney pointed out that under Gingrich's plan he would have paid no taxes in the last two years. Perhaps the editorial is a Romney inspired creation! For much more see the Bloomberg editorial.


Iraqis angry at plea bargain of Marine charged in massacre of 24 Iraqis in 2005



The massacre happened back in 2005 in the city of Haditha. 24 Iraqi civilians were killed. Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich was the only remaining marine charged after charges were dropped against several other marines. Dropping charges against them brought anger from the Iraqis as well.'

Khalid Salman whose cousin was killed in Haditha said:"This is not new, and it's not new for the American courts that already did little about Abu Ghraib and other crimes in Iraq," Since U.S. troops are not subject to Iraqi law Iraqis must look to the U.S. legal system for any punishment of wrongs done by U.S. troops. In many cases the results have led to an increase in anti-Americanism.

The Obama administration far from wishing a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq tried its best to have a substantial number stay after the end of last year. However the Obama administration would not agree to let U.S. troops be subject to Iraqi law and that was not acceptable to the Iraqis. No agreement was reached.

Sgt. Wuterich pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty. He said he regretted telling his men to shoot first and ask questions later. The reduced charge has a maximum sentence of three months in jail. However as part of the plea bargain it was agreed he would not serve any jail time.'

The original charges of manslaughter and assault carried a maximum sentence of 152 years. Wuterich ends up with no jail term although his rank was reduced to that of private. Iraqis have been angered as well by events at the Abu Ghraib prison and the killing of Iraqis by Blackwater contractors. So far no one has been punished in the Blackwater incident and the person convicted in the Abu Ghraib case was let out of jail long before finishing his ten year sentence. For more detail see this article.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Japan has 32 billion U.S. deficit, first in decades



In a sign of a slowing global economy and reduced export power, Japan posted a 32 billion dollar trade deficit. This is Japan's first trade deficit since 1981.

Increased fuel exports are one factor causing the deficit as Japan lost nuclear power after the disastrous tsunami. Only four of fifty four nuclear power plants are in operation. Japan's exports fell by 2.7 per cent to 843 billion in 2011.

A senior economist analyst commented on the situation:"[The deficit] reflects fundamental changes in Japan's economy, particularly among manufacturers, Japan is losing its competitiveness." The strength of the Yen also impacts negatively on exports as Japanese products become relatively more expensive relative to those of competing countries such as China.

Japan is actually facing difficulties well known in the U.S. Japanese based manufacturers are outsourcing production to countries such as China to take advantage of lower labor and other costs. An analyst noted:"It's gotten difficult for manufacturers to export, so they've moved production abroad so that products sold outside the country are made outside the country," For more see this article.

UN Human Right's Chief criticizes Obama

   Navi Pillay is the chief of Human Rights for the UN. She criticized Obama for not following through on his promise to close Guantanamo three years ago.
    In a statement Pillay said:  “It is ten years since the US Government opened the prison at Guantanamo, and now three years since 22 January 2009, when the President ordered its closure within twelve months,”“Yet the facility continues to exist and individuals remain arbitrarily detained – indefinitely – in clear breach of international law.”  The U.S. considers that the detainees are unprivileged combatants in hostilities between the U.S. and Islamic terrorists and it is legal to hold them indefinitely. However many legal analysts would side with the UN position that holding people indefinitely with no charges is against international law.
   Certainly the practice entails that anyone suspected of terrorism has no right of habeas corpus and can be detained indefinitely without charge. A considerable number of detainees have been released. However in many cases the U.S. cannot find countries willing to receive those who are released. Only six trials have been held so far. Obama has said that some of those detained will probably spend the rest of their lives in custody without trial.
    Eight people detained died in custody. Six of those committed suicide. Advisers to Obama claim he is still committed to closing Guantanamo. I doubt it will be a prominent issue in the upcoming election campaign as the Republicans for the most part are quite happy that the facility remains open. For more see this article.




U.S. to extend Israel loan guarantees of 3.8 billion for 3 years

   The Obama administration has told Israel that it will recommend the U.S. Congress approve 3.8 billion in Israeli loan guarantees be extended for three more years. The Deputy U.S. Secretary of State and Deputy U.S. treasury secretary announced the U.S. decision in a meeting with the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister.
  Some in Israel had worried the Israeli request for the extension might be denied. The U.S. usually does not turn down what Israel requests. In particular the Obama administration is not likely to alienate the Israel lobby during an election year!
     The two U.S. officials told the Israeli official that the extension of the loan guarantees until 2015 would receive wide support in both parties. The Deputy Foreign Minister said:The U.S. is a true friend and ally of Israel,". "The partnership between the two countries is a natural one. Extending the loan guarantees strengthens the international position of the Israeli economy and will allow the government to continue to raise funds at lower costs."  While this is true one would think that European countries in crisis such as Greece are much more in need of loan guarantees and lower costs for borrowing than Israel! For more see this article.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

U.S. stocks decline as Greek debt deal remains uncertain



In spite of recent announcements that a deal was near, U.S. stocks declined this morning (Jan. 23) as there still seems a stalemate. European finance ministers are pushing bondholders to provide greater relief for Greece.

The bondholders have been pressing for a four per cent interest rate at the least on new bonds that would be issued to replace the Greek bonds already held. The new bonds will have only 50 per cent of the value of the old bonds. This will help relieve Greek debt.

If a deal is not made then Greece will not receive bailout money that will enable it to pay debt coming due in March. If Greece defaults this could cause serious turmoil in financial markets to say the least. For much more detail on the situation and explanation of what is at issue see this CBC article or this BNN article.

Libyan town seized by Gadaffi loyalists



The town of Bani Walid is 110 miles southeast of Tripoli and was a Gadaffi stronghold. Reports from the town indicate that for now it has been seized by Gadaffi loyalists

Reports also indicate that at least four were killed and many wounded. The green flag of the Gadaffi era flies from many buildings. Bani Walid was one of the last holdouts during the overthrow of the old regime.

The fighters may be members of the old Libyan military. Those representing the new government in the town have warned for some time that there could be trouble.

When the NTC forces asked for reinforcements none came so they withdrew from the town when they ran low on ammunition. The defense minister Osama Jweli said that he would wait to determine whether the attackers were a rival militia or Gadaffi loyalists before attacking the town.

Militia from Misrata have been sent to block off access to the town. This militia is itself known for being belligerent and aggressive. Perhaps there will be a bloody retaking of the town or if cooler heads prevail there may be negotiations to allow the NTC to regain control of the city. For more see this article.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pakistan: Army report rejects U.S. account of deadly air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops


 A report by the Pakistani army rejects a U.S. account of the air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops last November. The U.S. report expressed condolences to the families of those killed but claimed that the strikes were justified in self-defense as they believed they were being attacked by Taliban forces.
  The U.S. forces called in air strikes in support of their troops but these strikes hit two posts manned by Pakistanis and on the Pakistan side of the border. The strikes caused Pakistan to close border crossings through which goods were transported to Afghanistan through Pakistan. They also began a review of relations with the U.S. Several other incidents including the killing of Bin Laden have increased tension between Pakistan and the U.S.
   The U.S. report said that there was a break down of co-ordination between NATO forces and the Pakistanis and also an incorrect map was used. Because of this the U.S. was not immediately aware that the posts attacked belonged to the Pakistani military. But the Pakistanis claim that the U.S. in fact violated all the agreed upon procedures for border operations.
    In spite of the disagreements and tensions between Pakistan and the U.S. drone attacks have been resumed and apparently Pakistan is co-operating with the U.S. and providing intelligence for the U.S. strikes. For more see this article.
 
 


Philippines: Maoist rebels killed about 100 troops last year

  The figure includes not only troops but police as well. The insurgency by the New People's Army has been ongoing for 43 years now. According to the military report there were 447 attacks by the group in 2011.
    The NPA often taxes businesses in areas where it operates. Since these are not government taxes the military report simply classifies them as extortion. When businesses do not pay or fail to meet other demands they are often attacked. There were 31 attacks on mining enterprises, and other businesses last year.
    According to the report not only attacks have declined over the last year but so also have the number of fighters. The report says attacks were eleven per cent less than in 2010 and the number of fighters declined 7.8 per cent to 4,043. That the military could present such exact figures is amazing. Do the rebel fighters register each year so they can be counted by the military?
    The military spokesperson Col. Burgos said that the insurgency was losing support among the people because of the popularity of the new president Benigno Aquino III. However the former president was herself first brought into power by people power but over time became corrupt and disliked. Aquino is part of the Philippine ruling elite and it remains to be seen how his presidency develops over time.
    The president has been having peace talks with the rebels but they have not been successful so far. As well as the NPA insurgency the Philippines faces insurgency from a number of Muslim separatist groups in the south of the country. The NPA also has a number of related legal political groups associated with it. The number of attacks may be decreasing as a result of a shift towards political action. After 43 years one suspects that in some areas the NPA and the Philippine military have come to a kind of live and let live understanding in some areas. For more see this article.
   NOTE: The NPA is the armed wing of the Philippine Communist Party which is banned in the Philippines. The NPA and the party are listed by the US as a terrorist organization. This causes problems for peace negotiations. The leader of the party lives in Holland. For more about the NPA see this article.  For more about the Communist Party of the Philippines see here.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Senior Pakistani Official: Military trainers and special forces but no drones in Pakistan

In an interview with Fox News a senior Pakistani official claimed that U.S. military trainers will be allowed back into Pakistan as early as April but drones will not be allowed back into the country. In Pakistan the parliament is reviewing relations with the U.S. and will issue a list of conditions for resuming cooperation with the U.S.
   The remark about drones appears to mean that no drones will be based in Pakistan not that there will be no drone attacks in the tribal areas. Those attacks resumed a few days ago already.
  The list of conditions included no covert CIA or military operations in Pakistan on the ground. Pakistan will not allow unauthorized incursions into its airspace either. If this is for real then any drone attacks would need to be officially rather than unofficially acknowledged. The Pakistani parliament passed a motion some time ago demanding that the drone strikes cease. However, they have resumed after a pause of a couple of months.
  Rather than ceasing altogether it would seem that Pakistan is actually even now providing intelligence so that the CIA drones can hit selected people targeted. See this article.   Pakistani operatives in the tribal areas are already cooperating with British and U.S. intelligence according to sources quoted in that article.
   If the U.S. agrees to Pakistani conditions not only would U.S. military trainers be allowed to continue their work but also special forces. Close cooperation in targeting militants in border areas would also resume. This could very well involve providing intelligence for drone operations as already seems to be happening. Border crossings would also be opened for supplies to cross into Afghanistan.
    If Pakistan does officially allow CIA drone attacks this seems to contradict the parliamentary motion for them to cease. Any official approval of the attacks could bring even more protests and turmoil within the parliament. For more see this article at Fox News.

 

South Carolina: And the Winners Are? Cain and Colbert!

     Herman Cain the former front-runner in the Republican race for president but long out of the running teamed up with comedian Steve Colbert to stage a mock rally in Charleston South Carolina. The event drew larger crowds than rallies for the serious candidates.
     Colbert however interjected some serious thoughts into his satire. In particular he lashed out against the influence of money in politics after the Supreme Court ruled that corporations were persons and had the right of free speech. He also noted the influence of well funded PAC (Political Action Committees) that campaign for well-heeled special interests.
     Colbert and Cain sang together. Since Colbert is not on the ballot in South Carolina but Cain still is, Colbert urged the crowd to vote for Cain. In spite of a string of sexual misconduct accusations that doomed his own campaign for president, Cain was well received at the event except when he tried to promote the Tea Party or his website. Apparently he did not promote his former pizza enterprise Godfather's Pizza.
    About 3,300, many students, attended the event at the College of Charleston. Cain agreed with Colbert on the need to change campaign finance laws. I have  appended a short video on the event. For more see this article

 

Libyan protesters storm government headquarters in Benghazi



Hundreds of angry Libyan protesters stormed into the NTC (National Transitional Council) headquarters in the city of Benghazi this Saturday (Jan 21) The interim leader Mustafa Abdu-Jalil was trapped inside the building.

The crowd broke through the gates throwing hand grenades and rushing through the grounds to the main building where they hammered on doors. The crowd wanted to address government officials.'

However, when Abdu-Jalil did address the crowd in an attempt to calm them down some in the crowd pelted him with bottles. Some in the group also burned his Land Cruiser. Some as well took the opportunity to cart off furniture and computers.

Protests in Benghazi the city where the rebellion began have been on the rise as new election laws are being announced by the NTC but apparently without any substantial input from citizens. A lawyer among the protesters said:"The election laws have not been approved by thousands of Libyans and do not honor those who died for our freedom,""We don't want to replace one tyrant with another."

The country is not yet unified and there are a number of independent militia throughout the country who control their own groups and are often in conflict with the central government. The groups are jockeying for control in their areas and for power in the central government. One protester complained that the NTC officials are ignoring those who were most active in overthrowing Gadaffi. For more see this article and also this Yahoo article.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Britain Revokes License of Iranian TV Station

The decision to pull the license of the station, Press TV, was made by Ed Richards who was formerly a policy adviser to Tony Blair. He is now Controller of Corporate Strategy at the BBC. He is head of OFCOM(Office of Communications) the body that made the decision that the licence should be denied.
  The official reason for the denial is that the editorial team is based in Tehran and not the UK. For their license to be renewed the entire editorial team must be moved to the UK. Critics of the move have pointed out that CNN, Bloomberg and Al Jazeera all have editorial bosses in other countries, namely the U.S. and Qatar but they are allowed to broadcast in the U.K.
   For some time the U.K. wanted to shut down Press T.V. A UK State Department memo complained: “UK law sets a very high standard for denying licenses to broadcasters.” Given their ability to deprive Press TV for a licence for the reasons given that statement does not seem particularly apt. In fact the U.S. would probably have more trouble than the UK in lifting the license.
   Press TV is funded by the Iranian government and is also monitored by the government. It is not however an official news outlet. The programs in English are very much reflective of a pro-Iranian viewpoint there is no doubt about that. I monitor it quite regularly and it often has interesting material that is not widely covered elsewhere. Press TV will still be available on the Internet so that Britons can view it there as can anyone else. For more see this article and for more about Press TV see here.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Libya: Rights groups claims NATO committed human rights violations in attacks

  Three Middle Eastern human rights groups have published a report claiming that all three groups in the Libyan conflict NATO, rebels, and Gadaffi loyalist committed human rights violations. The Independent Civil Society Mission to Libya interviewed eye-witness and victims of attacks in areas targeted by NATO air attacks.
   The report  notes that some civilian sites were classified as military targets. The group noted attacks on Sirte in particular. Sirte was one of the last strongholds of Gadaffi loyalists. According to reports 47 civilians were killed in NATO attacks.
  The International Criminal Court said last November it would investigate the actions of NATO forces. Anders Fogh Rasmussen said:"We have carried out this operation very carefully, without confirmed civilian casualties." This type of statement mirrors that of  U.S. authorities about drone strikes.
    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined in the chorus of praise: "Security Council resolution 1973, I believe, was strictly enforced within the limit, within the mandate," What was abundantly clear is that the attacks were designed to help the rebels not protect civilians. When rebels attacked a city there were no attempts to destroy weapons being used to attack. Politicians openly talked of regime change being the aim and obviously arms flowed in from other countries to the rebels and there were even special forces from NATO nations on the ground. For more see this article.

U.S. and New Zealand authorities arrest owners of file-sharing website



As if to show that the U.S. acting for lobbyists of the recording industry can shut websites without any new laws, authorities shut down MegaUpload a very popular file sharing site. Authorities claim the site violates existing piracy laws.

Police in New Zealand working with U.S. authorities arrested the two co-founders of the website and two other staff members. A New Zealand detective inspector said about 70 police were involved and raided 10 properties.

Prosecutors call the group a Mega Conspiracy insisting that the scheme costs copyright holders more than half a billion dollars and is earning 175 million in subscriptions and advertising. If convicted the group could face long prison sentences on several charges.

MegaUpload has itself been in a court battle with the Universal Music Group. That group forced You Tube to take down an ad for MegaUpload because they claimed that it violated copyright. But the ad was made for MegaUpload by artists who also were under contract with the UMG group. MegaUpload was taking UMG to court claiming that it wrongfully forced You Tube to remove their ad.

The timing of the U.S. action is suspicious since it comes just after an entire day of protests by many groups against the SOPA anti-piracy act. Groups such as Anonymous were quick to react.

The U.S. justice department website was attacked by hackers as well as sites belonging to the recording industry trade groups and Universal Music Group. Government action in shutting down sites is not going to be costless. While the MegaUpload group may be getting rich off their racket the other side get even richer by legally gaining monopoly rights to artistic works.

Many artists actually favor the file sharing sites since they make their work much more widely available. Some public celebrities have voiced support for MegaUpload without being paid to do so. Shutting down sites such as MegaUpload many regard as simply attempts to censor the internet. For more see this Al Jazeera article and also here.

For defenders of free markets copyright and patents have always been theoretically problematic. Copyright and patents both restrict production and trade and the free flow of knowledge in the interests of returning profits to the monopoly patent or copyright holder. The result is that black and grey markets develop as the market system works to destroy the monopoly powers. Hence the state must intervene to protect the monopoly. You then get the ludicrous situation where Free Trade agreements have at their core monopoly Intellectual Property Rights. Such Rights are key to the expansion of global capital and even without world government means will be found to enforce such rights as the coöperation between New Zealand and U.S. authorities shows.

In all this the consumer has no power. The consumer to purchase legally must pay the price set by the monopoly copyright holder. But the grey and black markets offer cheaper prices often for the same quality product. It is hardly surprising that there is often much popular support for sites such as MegaUpload.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Decline and Fall of Ireland the Celtic TIger

 Ireland is a continuing casualty of the world financial crisis that began during 2008 and is still impacting many parts of the world. In Ireland the government underwrote the six major banks to prevent their collapse. As a result just 4.5 million people were saddled with a debt of 5.5 billion U.S.
     Bank liabilities were 309 per cent of GDP making it necessary for the EU and IMF to provide a rescue package of 109 billion. Only a couple of years before, Ireland was touted as an economic miracle, the Celtic Tiger. With low interest rates, rising property values, and lots of credit Ireland was supposed to show how unregulated markets led to wondrous results.
   But it was all a magic bubble that eventually burst. The liabilities of banks were so huge their failure would bring down the economy according to most analysts. The government stepped in to prop them up. Now the debt is being paid for not by the banks whose reckless behavior caused the situation but the Irish people. The are paying in higher taxes, smaller pensions, and reduced spending for social security, education, and health.
 The EU and IMF loans are offered only on condition that austerity measures are introduced including severe cuts to public spending.
     In 2011 the ruling party was crushed due to the sour public mood. Once again the Irish are emigrating to other countries in search of work and a decent living. There is no end in sight as yet as the austerity measures impact negatively on the economy and unemployment increases. For more see this article. I have also appended a half hour documentary video on the Irish economy..



UK police investigating role of UK intelligence in rendition of Libyan rebel leader to Gadaffi regime

Abdel Hakim Belhadj is one of the foremost rebel military leaders and commander of the Tripoli Military Council.In earlier days Belhadj had fought with other jihadists  against the Soviet sponsored regime in Afghanistan. When the Soviets were defeated Belhadj returned to Libya. Belhadj fought with other Islamists in a rebellion based in eastern Libya but the group was crushed in 1998. He then went to Afghanistan where he joined the Taliban. After 9/11 Libyan authorities issued a warrant for his arrest.
   Belhadj claims that informants in the UK informed M16 that he and his pregnant wife were traveling through  Malaysia. Both were arrested in Malaysia and transferred to Bangkok where he was placed in custody of the CIA and retained at a secret prison. Belhaj says that his arrest and consequent transport back to Libya was the result of a join M16 CIA operation designed to help Gadaffi round up his enemies.
  Belhadj was held in prison in Libya for 7 years in terrible conditions as well as being tortured. However Saif al-Islam one of Gadaffi's sons had him released along with many other Islamists after a "de-radicalisation" project. Saif said that the men were no longer a danger to Libya. He was wrong about that as far as the Gadaffi regime was concerned! Belhadj ended up being one of the prime commanders in the successful overthrow of the Gadaffi government.
   A team of rebels and Human Rights Watch found documents related to Belhadj in Tripoli originating from both the CIA and the UK M16. The former Libyan foreign minister noted that M16 had been operating in Tripoli right up until the revolution last February. The British government set up an inquiry into these and other events but it was so flawed that no one shed many tears when the government decided to simply close it down. The UK Metropolitan Police are carrying out investigations. When these are finished the UK government has promised a judge led investigation based on the findings. For more see this article.  Of course no similar investigation is being carried out in the U.S. about the role of the CIA in these events.
   
   
 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA not dead or shelved but surging back

 Some news reports sound as if the SOPA, legislation designed to stop on-line piracy, was in effect killed by the House of  Representatives in the U.S. However, the act is simply delayed.
   Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas and author of the bill said “To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America’s intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and Members to find ways to combat online piracy. “Due to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks, markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February. “I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property.”
  In other words the bill is simply delayed. As soon as a consensus is reached it  will return. No doubt the hope is that the huge surge in opposition will subside and the legislators can quietly pass the bill without much fuss. Of course it will be a new and improved version!'
   Wikipedia and other sites are going dark for a whole day today and Google has announced that it will insert a link to a page that details their opposition to the bill.


IMF looking for a half trillion

As the demands on the IMF may increase because of the Euro zone debt crisis, the fund is looking for funds to increase its ability to loan stressed countries more money. The amount being bandied about is 500 billion U.S. 

  The IMF claims a potential need of one trillion in the future. The fund at present has about 385 billion available. European region nations have pledged to contribute 192 billion. The U.S. has said that it has no plans to increase its loans to the IMF. The group of 20 nations is split on the issue.
 The BRIC nations are being targeted by the IMF but it remains to be seen how anxious they will be to contribute. Contributions to the IMF are no doubt a hard sell in many countries.
 However, countries such as China might be willing to contribute if they are given more influence at the IMF. Investor sentiment may be improved by the IMF push for more money but the World Bank cut its global growth forecast to 2.5 per cent next year and predicted that the euro zone might actually contract by .3 per cent. For more see this article at Bloomberg. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Yemen: Al Qaeda group seizes town with no sign of resistance from government forces

  Although President Saleh is supposed to have turned power over to his vice-president and to be only a titular president for a short while longer opposition groups see him as allowing the takeover of the town of Radaa. The opposition thinks that he is attempting to convince the western powers that he is indispensable in the fight against Al Qaeda.
     Saleh signed a deal with the GCC that he would give up power and then step down entirely in return for immunity for him, his relatives, and his cronies. The Yemen parliament went even further and granted immunity to all politicians involved in repression or corruption under his government. However, Saleh is nothing but stubborn and resourceful and the Radaa event may be part of a plot to manufacture a demand that he return to save Yemen from the militants! However, it is more likely that the militant action was made possible simply by the weakness of the forces of the central government many of whom are needed to control events in Sanaa and other main cities.
  According to reports 250 militants stormed the town. They broke into the jail and freed the prisoners including several who are thought to be Al Qaeda members. Militant groups already control several areas further south but this town is only 160 kilometers south of Sanaa the capital. The seizure makes civil war more likely. Yemen is not only threatened by Al Qaeda groups but also by strong separatist movements in the north and in the south as well. '
    The continued presence of Saleh in the country and the fact that many of his relatives and cronies are in the transitional government just makes the likelihood of civil war even greater. Protesters are still demanding that Saleh face justice rather than be given immunity from his corruption and crimes. For more see this article.



Greek crisis still unsolved

     Late last year Greek bondholders agreed to take a haircut. Also the unreliable elected Prime Minister George Papandreou resigned. He was replaced by the unelected EU approved Lucas Papademos.
    But the Greece situation is still not sorted out even as press attention focuses on Italy and even France. The creditors banks and hedge funds are locked in battle with the Troika--the EU, IMF and European Central Bank and in negotiations with the Greek government.
   Some of the bondholders are reluctant to accept the 50 per cent haircut. There is a conflict of interest in that some debt holders who hold insurance in the form of credit default swaps can actually make money if Greece defaults! However Angela Merkel has urged that Greece be given a chance and that IMF austerity may work as it has elsewhere she claims. But Greece is already in recession and it is not clear how austerity measures will increase production. Quite the opposite by reducing demand it will probably lead to a further decline in GDP making the debt load worse. For more see this article.
    A more detailed account of the crisis can be found here.  The Troika is seeking a deal that would see Greek's debt fall from 180 per cent of GDP to 120 per cent. The talks broke up last Friday without a deal . If a deal is not reached Greece will not get the next installment of its bailout money. Within a couple of months Greece will be unable to pay its bills if this happens.
   The IMF warns that if creditors make the terms even harsher they could win only to see Greece default a situation much worse. Many analysts such as London based Professor Costas Lapavistas are concerned about the situation. Lapavistas says: "There is rising despair in Athens," "There is sullen anger and a lot of fear. The mix is combustible."
  Even if an agreement is reached it will do little but buy time for what looks to be an eventual default. Unemployment in Greece is a horrendous 18 per cent. Investment is collapsing both public and private.The  Greek economy has already shrunk by more than 15 per cent. With the economy shrinking further there is little hope that the debt burden will decrease.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Pakistan: Military and Government mum on renewed drone attacks



After a two month or so pause there were two drone attacks in North Waziristan in the Pakistan tribal areas. The attacks reportedly killed nine people. Official reports almost always classify those killed as militants or suspected militants.

The drones involved now come from Afghanistan as their base in Pakistan has been closed down. The airfield is at Khost in Afghanistan.

Although the government has constantly condemned drone attacks and the parliament passed a motion demanding they stop, there has been no government response as yet to the attacks. Many analysts believe that the drone campaign is sanctioned by unwritten agreements between the CIA, the Pakistani government and the security establishment in Pakistan.

There have been reports that Pakistan was prepared to shoot down any unauthorized flights over its air space. However the renewed drone strikes cast credibility on that claim or else the drone flights must be authorized. In fact the resumption of the attacks and the silence of the military, government, and intelligence community indicate that the same old game has resumed. There is a secret agreement with the CIA that is disavowed by everyone. The same tired old meaningless rhetoric opposing the strikes will continue indefinitely unless the government finally admits what seems obvious. Unless the government acts to stop the strikes it will lose even more credibility with the Pakistani populace. For more see this article.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wall Street still supports Obama


 An article in the Daily Beast is titled "Why Wall Street Is Grudgingly Supporting Obama." Many rich bankers and financiers do not at all like the rhetoric coming from Obama but by the same token many are still writing checks for his re-election campaign.
   The Democratic campaign is raking in more dough than ever 42 million in the fourth quarter of last year. Nevertheless many bankers and investors who helped bankroll Obama's resounding victory are unhappy campers. Obama has been pushing for higher taxes on the rich in contrast to the Republicans. However leftists will point out that Obama bailed out banks that were called too big to fail and did not attempt to break them up.
    On the other hand many on Wall Street are far from supporting fervent evangelical Christians who might turn the Republican Party in a very right wing social conservative direction. The religion of Wall Street is profits. But many on Wall Street dislike Obama rhetoric about income inequality. The last thing the capitalist establishment wants is a campaign based upon some concept of class war.
  Last campaign employees of Goldman Sachs donated more to the Obama campaign than any other company. During the spring and summer of 2007 Obama raised 7.7 from the financial sector while Romney took in only 5.1 million. This time Romney is registering a nearly 8 million dollar take while Obama is reduced to 4.2 million. But as the example shows both parties are funded by big finance. Obama's stock has just plunged because of his nasty rhetoric.



U.S. surge of troops and warships in Middle East

  General James Mattis who heads up the U.S. Central Command has the approval of the Obama administration to build up troop numbers and warships especially in the Persian Gulf area. The general believes there are increasing threats in the area in particular from Iran.
    The U.S. was unable to convince Iraq to allow troops to stay there and so troops are being deployed to other countries such as Kuwait. There are approximately 15,000 troops already stationed there and their status is also under negotiation. The Kuwaiti defense minister said that the number was likely to decrease. This is highly unlikely as the U.S. is trying to negotiate stationing enough troops in Kuwait to counter any potential regional war.
  The U.S. has also sent a second aircraft carrier strike group into the Persian Gulf. This is in response to threats from Iran to close the Straits of  Hormuz. Iran in turn is reacting to the buildup of U.S. military might in the Gulf as well as crippling sanctions in what amounts to a covert war against Iran. Iran also suffers from internal terrorist activity.
   Surges such as this show that the U.S. intends to continue to protect what it regards as its interests no matter how far from the U.S. However, the interests of Big Oil demand a global cop. For more see this article.


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Saturday, January 14, 2012

New book by Rolling Stone reporter who got McChrystal fired

 Michael Hastings is no doubt most famous for his Rolling Stone article on General Stanley McChrystal who was at the time commander in Afghanistan. The article contained caustic criticism by McChrystal of the Obama team and no doubt lost him his job.
   What Hastings most wanted to do was to criticize the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan rather than concentrating on General McChrystal. Hastings new book The Operators carries out that task at length.
  There is a long article here much of it consisting of an interview with Hastings. The interviewer often takes issue with Hastings positions but Hastings fights back. For example the author takes Hasting to task for criticizing McChrystal so harshly when McChrystal tried to restrict air strikes and was conscious of the need not to take actions that alienated the Afghan populace.
  Hastings does admit that McChrystal was a complicated figure but his character was flawed. He mentions the Tilman affair in which McChrystal obviously covered up the truth that Tilman was killed by friendly fire not heroically in battle. The interviewer notes though that McChrystal advocated policies of restraint, policies that many troops disliked intensely.
    Hastings takes the position that being in Afghanistan and the entire policy was wrong. McChrystal he pointed out wanted 100,000 troops, hardly restraint. More Americans and more Afghans died when he was in  command claims Hastings. For much more see the entire article.

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U.S. depends on dolphins to keep Strait of Hormuz open

  Much Middle Eastern oil travels to world markets through the Straits of Hormuz. Iran has threatened to close the straits in retaliation for sanctions imposed upon the regime.
  Iran could very well mine the straits as a means of stopping traffic. However, the U.S. Navy has trained dolphins to detect mines.
  The dolphins themselves would not explode the mines but would leave transponders in the area of the mines which having been marked could be destroyed. In an interview with National Public Radio retired Admiral Tim Keating spoke in an interview about the use of the dolphins for military purposes.
  The Navy is not too keen about advertising the use of the animals. However, newspaper reports claim that there are 80 bottleneck dolphins being trained in San Diego Bay alone.
  Dolphins are large enough to set off a mine. One wonders how many dolphins might be destroyed in training. One wonders too if the dolphins need to be transported from San Diego to the Straits of Hormuz. Perhaps they have secret training locations  in Bahrain or other allied countries in the area.
  Many animal rights activists will no doubt object to the military use of the animals. An enemy might very well decide to indiscriminately kill dolphins in an area where they plant mines in order to frustrate plans to use them as minesweepers. For more see this article.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

U.S. marines operate across African Sahel region



The Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force are deployed across the Trans-Sahel region of Africa. Al-Qaeda linked groups operate in the area. The area stretches across the north of the continent along the Sahara.
The 180 members of the group operate in teams of 15 to 20 each. Their main function is not to engage in battle but to train local militaries. The exact locations of the missions is not usually revealed because many countries are sensitive about such relations.
However the group does operate in Djibouti where the group helped the country's armed forces prepare Humvees to deploy to Somalia to fight Al-Shabaab. The U.S. is obviously training proxies to do their fighting for them.
Another SPMAGTF group operates in Eastern Europe in countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and Georgia. For more see this article.

Pakistan: 2nd drone strike in two days kills five

   Of course the five killed are described as militants. At least that is Yahoo's compliant version of events. Sometimes the claims are more moderately describes as suspected militants. Of course reporters are not allowed in to the areas to verify any official or unofficial reports.
  The Pakistan parliament long ago passed a motion that the drone attacks stop. They did for almost two months. There are reports that there has been negotiating with the Pakistani government and new rules have been agreed to. However, the Pakistani government has always denied there is any agreement on the attacks.    The U.S. for its part does not even officially admit they exist. The lame-stream media as in this Yahoo report
go along with the official idiotic verbiage:"" The suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles at two cars in the Dogga area of North Waziristan tribal region, killing five""" Ho hum. A SUSPECTED U.S. drone.
   Usually the government protests the strikes. There have even been threats to shoot down the drones. Of course the threat is never carried out.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pakistan: Supreme Court threatens to oust President Zardari

   The Pakistani judiciary had a long struggle to restore the chief justice. Now conflict between the government and the Supreme Court has again broken out in public. Back in 2009 the court ruled that the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was unconstitutional.
   This bill would have granted politicians an amnesty to all politicians for crimes committed in office. It should have been called the Get Out of Jail Free bill. The court ruling was certainly one that would force accountability on politicians and serve the interests of justice.
    Most of the present cabinet members faced charges for corruption and other offences. The government chose simply to ignore the Supreme Court ruling. As a result several years later the Supreme Court has spoken out again and threatened to disqualify both the Prime Minister and the President of Pakistan because they have simply refused to follow through on the Supreme Court's decision. This move will no doubt further add to the political instability in Pakistan. For more see this article.
   



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

China trade surplus declining sharply over past years

According to some theorists China exported its excess savings from its trade surplus and this drove down interest rates in the West. This also fueled over-consumption especially in the U.S.
  But the situation is changing. In 2010 the Chinese trade surplus was 183 billion (U.S. dollars) whereas this year it shrunk to 155 billion. While this is still a considerable amount. This surplus was just 2.1 per cent of Chinese GDP compared with the surplus in 2007 that set a record 7.3 per cent of GDP.
   An analyst in Beijing predicts a further drop to 1.2 per cent of GDP this year. A Hong Kong analyst claims that the surplus this year could be as low as 41 billion.
   China seems to be re-orienting investment to meet domestic needs and domestic demand. Much is being spent on infrastructure and building a service economy. This is investment that will be good for Chinese consumers. However, the debt crisis in Europe with its accompanying austerity measures will ensure that many European economies will grow little or even slip into recession. The United States as well faces cutbacks that may slow its growth even more. For much more analysis see this article.

China to continue oil imports from Iran despite U.S. pressure

   U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is visiting China this week. While he is expected to pressure the Chinese to reduce imports of Iranian oil, he is unlikely to have much effect.
   The Chinese vice-foreign minister said that although China supported non-proliferation of nuclear weapons that this was a separate issue from trade. He said:“The normal trade relations and energy cooperation between China and Iran have nothing to do with the nuclear issue,”
  China imports up to 11 per cent of its oil from Iran, and Iran depends upon China for about a third of its oil exports. However, of late imports have slowed because of disputes about credit and price. No doubt given the lack of markets for Iranian oil because of sanctions China hopes the price will go down. For more see this article.

Israeli cabinet pushes bill to ban term "Nazi" in protests

Somewhat ironically this response is not the result of protests by leftists or Palestinians but by Ultra Orthodox Jews. However, the bill could be used against any protesters on any topic.
The suggested penalties are draconian. Anyone convicted of the crime could face a six month prison term and $26,000 in fines. The bill would also prohibit Nazi symbols such as the swastika.
 Ultra Orthodox Jews have criticized those objecting to their views on gender segregation by suggesting that Hitler would be proud of the critics. They have also accused secular Israelis of mounting a "spiritual Holocaust"
 Supporters of the bill said that the term "Nazi" and "Holocaust" are special and are not covered by freedom of expression.
  However, the Association for Civil Right in Israel summed up the objections to the bill very well:"Precisely because of the importance and centrality of the Holocaust, the attempt to dictate when and in what context it can be referenced is very problematic," The group went on to say:"This bill seeks in effect to control the public debate, its content and tone, with force, using criminal prohibitions and the threat of prison. Freedom of expression is the right to say harsh, critical and even hurtful things. It is the right to give crude and extreme expression to opinions, emotions and thoughts and it also includes the right to make rhetorical use of difficult and provocative images"
 If the bill does pass it could be used against Palestinians and/or Israeli leftists just as well as Ultra Orthodox Jews. No doubt the latter see the bill as confirmation of their view that the Israeli government persecutes genuine Jews just as did the Nazis. See Haaretz and here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

French and German leaders support financial transactions tax

For some time French president Sarkozy has supported a financial transactions tax. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has now also expressed her support for such a tax.
 Great Britain however is against such a tax unless it is global in scope. This is not likely as the U.S. opposes the tax.
 Merkel said:“Personally, I’m in favor of thinking about such a tax in the euro zone,” Merkel said. “Germany and France both equally view the financial transaction tax as a correct response.” Last September the European Commission suggested the tax rate be .1 per cent on all bond and equity trades and .o1 per on derivative trades. The Commission calculated the tax would raise 71 billion dollars a year.
 Sarkozy has even suggested that he might be willing to go it alone and impose the tax on France even if others do not join. The French financial establishment is opposed to the tax claiming that it would make France less competitive. For more see this article.

U.S. to sell arms to South Sudan

  President Obama has decided to sell arms to South Sudan. The paramilitary Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) is excited at the prospect. This will probably encourage war with the north. Although the south has achieved independence there is still disagreement as to where the border is. Also, there are constant internal conflicts.
    Obama claims that the sales will promote world peace. Given that logic I suppose Iran could claim that developing nuclear weapons would promote world peace. South Sudan is desperately poor and yet it seems that the government will concentrate on equipping itself with high tech expensive weaponry. The country has rich oil reserves so no doubt it will be able to pay for its weaponry through deals with foreign oil companies.
   Meanwhile the president Omar al-Bashir the president in the north of Sudan who is wanted for war crimes at the Hague has visited Libya. Bashir helped arm the rebels who overthrew Gadaffi. Of course those enforcing the UN prohibition of the import of weapons did not stop these weapons. Bashir hated Gadaffi because he supported the South Sudan rebels. Now the U.S. is carrying on with Gadaffi's mission and at the same time helping out the bottom line of the military industrial complex. For more see this article.




Sunday, January 8, 2012

UN: Amnesty Deal with Saleh violates International Law

    A deal worked out by the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) would give President Saleh of Yemen amnesty from prosecution for any crimes both to himself, his family, and his aides. The deal was supported by the United States.
 After stalling for a lengthy period, Saleh finally signed the deal. Power was to be transferred to his vice-president although Saleh would retain the title of president for some time. Many opposition policies also supported the deal and were given in return some positions in the transitional government. However, many in Saleh's family still serve in important positions as well.
    The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay noted: “I have been closely following the events in Yemen, particularly the very contentious debate about an amnesty law to be presented to Parliament shortly,” “International law and the UN policy are clear on the matter: amnesties are not permissible if they prevent the prosecution of individuals who may be criminally responsible for international crimes including war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and gross violations of human rights.”
   Protesters in Yemen take the same position as the UN commissioner. However with the U.S. and important regional powers supporting the amnesty it is unlikely that Saleh and his family will ever face justice or be held accountable for their actions including responsibility for ordering crackdowns that killed many protesters.

Japan's supposed lost decade!

    A New York Times opinion piece by Eamonn Fingleton points out that Japan is often used by western analysts as a cautionary tale to show what can happen if a country adopts the wrong economic policies. Analysts often even talk of a lost decade.
    Fingleton points to many facts that contradict this image. There is surely more to life than just economic growth. Between 1989 and 2009 life expectancy in Japan went from 78.8 years in itself quite good to 83 years. This is a full 4.2 years increase over that time period. The average Japanese can expect to live 4.8 years longer than the average American.
   Even in some aspects of the economy the Japanese are far better off than Americans. For example, unemployment in Japan is 4.2 per cent.  U.S. unemployment is about twice that rate. Japan has a current account surplus of 196 billion a more than threefold increase since 1989. Meanwhile the US during the same period went from a current account deficit of 99 billion in 1989 to a humongous 471 billion deficit at present. Fingleton gives many other comparisons and shows that to a considerable extent Japan's supposed economic failure is a myth. The full article is here.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Libya: Militias need to be disarmed before they start a civil war

  In a speech in Benghazi the chair of the Libyan National Transitional Council Mustafa Jalil said that there was a pressing need to disarm rebel militias that helped defeat Gadaffi. If the militias were not disarmed civil war or partition of Libya would develop.
    The chief of the Libyan military General Mangoush claims that the military is rebuilding bases and also acquiring newer weapons. He said that the military is determined to disarm the rebel militias.
   However, militia groups retain control of a number of regions and are loathe to give up their arms. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun in many cases. Some major cities such as Misrata are under the control of militias. There has even been conflict between rival militias within neighborhoods in Tripoli. Now that Gadaffi is gone regional and tribal differences are surfacing within Libya making it difficult for the transitional government to unify the country. For more see this article.

Kodak focusing on filing for bankruptcy

  According  to reports for Kodak the picture is gloomy as the company prepares to file for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. While the bankruptcy could allow the company to restructure many think that it will be the end of the iconic firm.
   The company is based in Rochester N.Y. In 2010 the company revenue was 7.18 billion less than half the 15.97 revenue it had back in 1996. In 2006-7 share prices were in the 30 to 35 dollar range but now they are less than 50 cents each.
   The company was slow in recognizing the significance of digital photography and the competition within that field. Although Kodak itself jumped in to the digital market it lost out to competitors and failed to make money. I myself have a cheap Kodak digital camera. It has worked perfectly from the first and still works fine. For much more see this article.



Revamped U.S. military budget cuts troops and benefits







The pensions and health plans will be reduced under Obama's new budget proposals for a revamped military. Withdrawal of troops from Iraq and many from Afghanistan means that fewer troops will be needed in future.


This does not mean that the U.S. will abandon its bases around the world but just that it will depend more on high-tech weapons and special forces. Having many boots on the ground trying to occupy a country is expensive both in dollars and politically.


Drones will no doubt be used even more both for attacks and surveillance. Drones are almost costless politically since they do not result in loss of U.S. lives except the odd U.S. citizen turned suspected terrorist.


Even with reductions the U.S. will spend far more than any other country. In fact the U.S. will continue to spend as much almost as the rest of the world altogether. As Obama put it:"Yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know that the United States will maintain its military superiority," The Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta also noted that certain areas of the defense budget will actually increase:"As we reduce the overall defense budget, we will protect and in some cases increase our investments in special operation forces in new technologies, like . . . unmanned systems, in space and in particular in cyberspace,"


Panetta also squelched the rumour that the U.S. will no longer be ready to fight more than one war at a time. Panetta claimed that the U.S. will still be able to fight multiple wars at one time and will be ready to deploy to any country at any time. He stressed that as the power constellation ranged against the U.S. changes so will military deployment. Panetta mentioned south-east Asia specifically. For more details see this article.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Iraq: U.S. ambassador supports Maliki's charges against his Sunni vice-president

  U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey said: “There is a serious effort by the Iraqi judiciary to have a free and fair and just investigation,” “It seems a lot of care is being taken at this point to maintain judicial independence and to have a very broad investigation.” These remarks give support to Maliki in his attempt to discredit Hashemi and portray him as a terrorist.
  Many analysts however think that the charges against Hashemi are politically motivated and designed to consolidate power in Maliki's own hands. The move by Maliki has increased ethnic tensions and led to the withdrawal of a main coalition partner from government. Hashemi is in the northern Kurdistan part of Iraq because he claims he could not receive a fair trial in Baghdad. For more see this article.
  On January 5th the Iraqi parliament held an emergency session to deal with the political crisis. No details of the session were made public. Imagine a meeting of  parliament but the public cannot know what exactly happened! There were talks between Prime Minister Maliki and factions which are boycotting the government.
  Maliki is trying to patch up relations with the regional president Barzani. Barzani is stressing the need for federalism and warned of a catastrophe if Maliki tried to consolidate power further. But Barzani tried to distance himself from the prosecution of Hashemi claiming it was a legal rather than a political matter. For more see this article. The session hardly seems to have solved the political crisis and violent actions in the streets continue as well.


Pakistani Taliban face deep divisions in leadership

 Some analysts think that open warfare may break out within the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) the umbrella group of militants formed in 2007 to unite radicals. One main split is said to be between Hakimullah Mehsud head of the group and his deputy Wali-ur-Rehman.
   Rehman is concerned that Mehsud is taking the group closer to Al Qaeda and its Arab fighters. Other commanders are trying to end the dispute between the two leaders. There are also disagreements between Mehsud and other leaders about the groups relation to the Pakistani armed forces. Some commanders have avoided conflict with the Pakistani military in order to concentrate on the war in Afghanistan while Mehsud regards the group as at war with the Pakistan armed forces as well.
   Although militant attacks were down considerably last year there is still constant conflict between the military and some factions. Recently the Pakistani Taliban killed 15 Pakistani soldiers they had captured and vowed further revenge. See this article.  A former TTP commander in one tribal region Fazad Haggani left the TTP last year. He is close to the militant Afghan Haqqani network. The militants have formed a five member commission to try to work out differences between the groups and unify them once again. Given the differences among the groups this may be a difficult if not impossible task. No doubt foreign operatives will be attempting to ensure that the divisions remain, For more see this article.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bahrain: Buying news in the U.S.


 In November the Washington Times posted an article favorable to the Bahraini regime. The article was written by a former U.S. 5th fleet commander who later became a Lockheed Martin executive.
  It turns out that the article was placed in the Times at the request of the Sanitas lobbying which works on behalf of the Bahrain government. The article urged the U.S. government to support the Bahraini government in cracking down on pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain. While deploring the violence the U.S. in effect did support the crackdown and said nothing against the sending of GCC troops into Bahrain to help quash the protests.
   The Washington Times did note that the commander Admiral Charles Moore worked for Lockheed Martin and that the company  sells  hundreds of millions in arms to the kingdom but they failed to mention that the article was placed at the request of  the lobbying firm Sanitas. Sanitas is paid 15,000 per month to lobby on behalf of the firm. Surely, the public should have been informed about that as well. This was not an opinion piece so much as an infomercial. For more see this article.

Private sector unions under attack in U.S. states

   As budgets become tighter U.S. states have been attacking the power of unions. Perhaps most in the news was Republican controlled Wisconsin legislature's measures that curbed the power of public sector unions. This legislation prompted huge demonstrations.  Several other states also passed legislation that was directed against the power of public sector unions. Now new attacks are being mounted against unions but this time in the private sector even though the U.S. has one of the lowest levels of unionization in developed countries.
   In Indiana the Republican dominated legislature is to push through a right-to-work-law. A right-to-work-law would prevent unions from having contracts that required employees to pay any dues or fees to unions. Naturally the title of the law evokes positive feelings. After all surely everyone should have the right to work.   Why it should apply to legislation that requires certain deductions from pay is a mystery. Perhaps all deductions required under contracts should be included in the legislation including those to the government, pension plans, health plans, etc. The legislation might more aptly be described as the free rider law. Employees can enjoy benefits negotiated by the union while not having to help pay for the union's costs.
    If the Indiana bill passes it will encourage other states contemplating similar laws including Maine, Michigan and Missouri. New Hampshire too might again try to pass such a law. Corporations naturally see states with right to work laws as being favorable to business because they make it more difficult for unions to operate and take away a source of financing for unions. Indiana is in the traditional manufacturing belt. If the legislation passes it will show that even in areas that have been in the past pro-union that worker power is being eroded. Indeed it is as capital has gone global and workers compete with each other on a global scale resulting in the erosion of benefits gained by unions in the developing countries over many decades. For more see this article.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

California: Higher Education Disaster

 An article by Kevin Carey at this site describes the deteriorating situation in higher education in California. Carey notes that there have been several articles that have focused on problems at the UC-Berkeley. Berkeley is at the top of a three layer system with the community colleges at the base the California State University and finally Berkeley at the top.
   Carey admits that there are problems at Berkeley. The state share of the budget has gone from 47 per cent to 11 per cent since 1991. Within six years tuition has doubled. Classes often are oversubscribed. But even greater problems exist within other tiers of the system according to Carey.
     About 30,000 students the top high school graduates go to the UC campus while about 50,000 enroll in the middle level California State University system. The rest, about 120,000, must go to community colleges. Most high school graduates are thus unable to directly enter a four year university program.
   To complete a four year degree students from the community colleges must be able to  transfer into the four year system usually California State. However Carey shows that the numbers transferring has been dropping over the last few years. Just 3 years ago California State took in 55,000 transfer students a year. Over two years this number dropped by 14,000. The cuts were not due to shrinking enrollments in the community colleges but because of shrinking budgets in the State system. Transfers have been made more difficult by raising GPA standards among other methods. While Obama makes higher education a priority budget cuts have made it impossible for about 12,000 students to even enter the four year system in California.
   Some students have transferred to out of state institutions such as the University of Phoenix. Transfers to that university from the California community colleges have risen 300 per cent over the last ten years. Carey says things in the community college system are worst of all the tiers in the system.
    While enrollment rose up until 2008-2009. after that there were severe budget cuts in the community college system. Enrollment plunged by 400,000 students just at a time when economic conditions made the system crucial for retraining and upgrading people. Carey claims that negative effects on California and the U.S. as a whole will be long lasting. For much more see the entire article.
 


Internet Explorer still number one but in decline

 Many analysts think that eventually Mozilla's Firefox browser might one day overtake the long time leader Internet Explorer. However according to data from Stats Counter Chrome is now in second place but another company's data still have Firefox in the second position. Both companies show Internet Explorer in decline. The article with graphs can be found here
    The Stats Counter figures show Internet Explorer (IE) declining from 46 % to begin 2011 to 38.65 per cent at the end. This is barely 11 per cent above Google Chrome. Chrome went from 15.68 per cent at the start of 2011 to 27.27 at the end. Firefox also declined from 30.68 per cent to 25.27 per cent.
    The numbers at NetMarketShare were rather different. According to their figures IE went from 56 per cent to 47.76 per cent. Firefox went from 22.75 per cent to 20.09 per cent. Chrome as in Stats Counter figures showed a sharp increase from 10.7 per cent to 17.58 per cent.
   Given the trends in both sets of figures it would seem that Chrome could threaten IE's long held first place position. We have three computers. On two we use Chrome and on one IE. I have tried to use Firefox on this Acer computer with Vista and it refused to install properly every time I downloaded it. People I know who use it say that it is an excellent browser. IE is on an old laptop computer with XP that I just bought and use  to play stuff on the TV from the Internet. It seems improved from earlier versions that led me to adopt  Chrome.
  Statistics are kept on my blogs about the browsers used by people who visit. IE is almost always at the top and Firefox next. Chrome is usually third but at times Opera takes third place. The Apple Safari system is usually behind Opera. Several people also use the museum piece Netscape which has long been abandoned by everyone else! Perhaps odd people read my blogs!
    In operating systems according to my blog statistics Microsoft Windows systems run at about 90 per cent with Linux next and then the Apple system. More mobile phone and tablet systems are appearing such as Android.