Showing posts from July, 2012

Marwan Bishara of Al Jazeera on the Arab Spring

Video is HERE.

Marwan Bishara is senior political analyst for Al Jazeera (English). He also hosts a program called "Empire" that examines the agendas of great powers. He talks of his book "The Invisible Arab" in the video. His talk is half an hour of the video.
 The video has no imbed feature so here is the link. Bishara taught international relations at the American University of Paris. He has written extensively on politics particularly U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East. In the video he discusses his new book "The Invisible Arab".

Bishara has published in The New York TImes, The Guardian, Le Monde, and many other well known newspapers. "The Invisible Arab" has received considerable praise. For example Publisher's Weekly says: "Bishara…provides a compelling and spirited history of the modern Arab nation, from colonial liberation to the recent revolutions….Fast-paced, impassioned, and eloquent."

 Bishara uses a clever analogy…

Nearly 34,000 refugees flood Lebanon from Syria

As fighting in Syria between rebels and government forces increases many Syrians are fleeing to Lebanon. The United Nations Commission for Refugees(UNCHR) estimates there are nearly 34,000 refugees in Lebanon. The Lebanese refugees receive aid from the Lebanese government, the UN and also non-governmental agencies.

So far a total of 31,596 people are already registered with UNHCR. Thousands surged through the border after the July 18-19 clashes in Damascus. Now there are fierce battles taking place in Aleppo as well.

   However, some Syrians are returning. Many Syrians only remain until their home areas are more secure. UNHCR claims that preliminary estimates indicate that only a relatively few refugees require humanitarian assistance. Other reports indicate that profiteers are exploiting the new arrivals who seek shelter, food, and often medical assistance
Many of the refugees are families but often lack young adult males. Some seek refuge in the homes of relatives. Those who can a…

Karzai wants NATO bases transferred to Afghans not demolished

. Karzai said the facilities scheduled for demolition could be used for schools, government offices, and health clinics. As NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan, they are demolishing some bases that they believe the Afghans do not have the capacity to operate or are no longer operationally significant for NATO. Dozens of facilities from small checkpoint buildings to larger bases could be demolished before the end of 2014 when security is to be handed over to the Afghans.

 Karzai has often criticized the NATO countries that in effect put him in power. Karzai has asked his defense minister Abdul Wardak to “take all necessary measures to stop the demolition of bases by NATO and make their handover possible,”.. Afghan officials complain that they have been left out of the process. Karzai  claims  that some of the most modern and best-defended facilities in Afghanistan are being demolished for no discernible reason. Perhaps this is the NATO version of capitalism's creative destructi…

Will Greece receive more funds from the Troika?

Troika inspectors from the IMF, European Commission, and European Central Bank  are back in Greece meeting with Greek officials. The Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said that he would push ahead with the implementing deep cuts demanded by the Troika. At the same time Samaras lashed out at foreign officials whom he did not name for trying to sabotage Greece's efforts to find a solution to its problems
     Samaras complained about foreign officials who openly said that Greece could not make its commitments. Samaras said:
   The Troika will decide whether to continue providing more scheduled payments of  bailout money to Greece. If they decide not to extend more aid Greece could default on payments and perhaps be forced to leave the Euro zone.  "I say it openly and publicly, they undermine our national effort. We do all we can to bring the country back on its feet and they do all they can so we can fail," 
    Over last weekend on Sunday the German economic minister …

CNN continues ludicrous drone reporting style

CIA drone attacks continue in Pakistani tribal areas in spite of several resolutions in the Pakistani parliament demanding they stop. CNN reports on drones continue to call the attacks "suspected" drone attacks and use anonymous officials as sources.
 CNN, The Cable News Network, is a large U.S. based media outlet. CNN is in turn owned by giant Time Warner. "Time Warner is an American multinational media corporation headquartered in the Time Warner Center in New York City..As of mid-2010, it was the world's second largest media and entertainment conglomerate in terms of revenue (behind Disney), as well as the world's largest media conglomerate ."
Even with these impressive credentials CNN does not fear to sound ridiculous as it joins the media parade of drone drivel. Recently in a headline CNN reports:"Suspected drone attack kills 12 in Pakistan"
 Everyone knows that it was a drone attack and that it was directed by the CIA on behalf of the U.S. …

Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar lag in female employment

A report by Gallup shows that only 22 per cent of women work in Saudi Arabia the number of hours that they desire. The average for the entire Middle East is 40 per cent and for the world 43 per cent,  Kuwait contrast with its Arab neighbors in the region with 88 per cent of  women employed and 89 per cent of men.
   While in most countries of the world women are not employed for the number of hours they would wish compared to men this is not true in all countries. In Ireland women are 15 percentage more likely than men to work the number of hours that they want.
The top ten countries where women work the number of hours they want are a mixed bag. Along with Kuwait are Singapore and Belgium plus several Scandinavian countries including Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. Malta, Estonia, Israel, and Slovakia round out the ten.
   Gallup began polling on this issue in 2009. The 2011 poll interviewed adults in 144 countries. Self-employed females were not included. One wonders if in the Gu…

Chinese giant CNOOC pays over 15 billion U.S. for Nexen

Calgary based oil producer Nexen approved a takeover bid of $15.1 billion U.S. by Chinese state-owned oil producer CNOOC Ltd. The price per share would be $27.50 a full two thirds higher than the average price over the last twenty days. Nexen is the 12th largest energy producer in Canada with an output of about 213,000 a barrel oil equivalent per day. Nevertheless the company has not been doing that well of late. 
The company has a global presence. North Sea production has just been hit by a new UK tax. Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was delayed by the huge BP oil leak. It was also forced to abandon a project in Yemen. Even in Canada at Long Lake planned output has not been reached. In the second quarter net income for Nexen fell to only $109 million, a decline larger than analysts predicted. The company earned just 20 cents a share in the second quarter down form a year earlier. Never mind the gloom, China needs oil and is willing to pay a premium price to guarantee a secure source o…

Report: Super-rich hiding between 21 and 32 trillion U.S. in tax havens

The hidden wealth is roughly equal to the annual GDP of the U.S. and Japan combined. The report was commissioned by the Tax Justice Network based in the UK. The report claims to be the most extensive ever on the "offshore economy".
 The report was researched and written by James Henry an expert on tax havens. The tax income lost is sufficient to make a significant difference in the finances of many countries. In fact Henry claims that if these offshore funds were repatriated some debtor countries would turn out to be wealthy!
 Henry notes that the hidden assets are not held by some obscure financial institutions in small island nations. The companies holding these assets are among the biggest names in finance: UBS, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs. These three handle the most assets offshore.
 The super-rich elite comprise 92,000 people or .001 per cent of the world's population are claimed to have 21 trillion in hidden assets. Henry collected data from the IMF, the W…

Journalist Alexander Cockburn dead at 71

Alexander Cockburn a leftist journalist died on Friday (July 21) in Bad Salzhauzen Germany at 71 of cancer. Cockburn kept his illness secret from most people.. He continued writing almost up to the time of  his death.      Cockburn's  journalistic skills were recognize not only by left publications such as the Nation but also by establishment outlets such as the Wall Street Journal. Cockburn wrote columns for both.    Born in Scotland, Cockburn grew up in Ireland. His father  covered the Spanish civil war for the communist Daily Worker and so Cockburn had an early introduction to left wing journalism.   In the UK Cockburn worked for the highly acclaimed Times Literary Supplement and the New Statesman. However he decided to move to the U.S. in 1973 where he worked as a columnist for the Nation.     Christopher Hitchens, another left intellectual and expatriate Briton who also died of cancer recently, was a long time target of Cockburn's savage criticism. Cockburn always stood …

Greece may not receive further bailout funds

The Troika, that is the European Commission, The European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund are set to meet with Greek officials on July 24. In preparation for the meeting the Greek government approved a further 11.5 billion euros in cuts to placate its creditors. However this may be too little too late. There is already a report in the German newspaper Der Spiegel indicating a decision has been made not to extend further credit.
   If true, this is somewhat surprising in that the newly former coalition was intent on solving the crisis and making sure it received the next tranche of  funds under the bailout plan. Bloomberg reports that Der Spiegel article claims that IMF officials are becoming impatient with Greece. According to a translation of  the report
. “High ranking officials at the Fund have informed the European Union that the IMF is no longer willing to provide Greece with more aid,”  
  The IMF wants Greece to reduce its GDP debt ratio to 120 per cent of GDP …

Huge new aquifer found in Namibia

Much of  Namibia is too dry for any agriculture. However a new aquifer named Ohangwena II has been discovered in northern Namibia. The aquifer is huge and straddles the border between Angola and Namibia. On the Namibian side alone the aquifer stretches over an area of over a thousand square miles.    Marting Quinger of the German Federal Institute for Geoscience and Natural Resources said: "The amount of stored water would equal the current supply of this area in northern Namibia for 400 years, which has about 40 percent of the population,"     An aquifer is a below ground area that is saturated with groundwater. Wells can access this groundwater however care must be taken not to demand too much water at one time. The aquifer is about 300 meters under the ground.and is estimated to contain about 5 billion cubic meters of water. The aquifer is slowly replenished by water from mountains in Angola to the north.      Research has recently uncovered a number of freshwater aquife…

Top economist criticizes IMF as he submits resignation

Peter Doyle a top economist who worked at the IMF (International Monetary Fund) for 20 years has resigned. His resignation letter is short and sour. He said that the leadership was "tainted" and that he was "ashamed" to have worked at the organization.
    Doyle speaks of  "incompetence", "failings" and "disastrous " appointments of directors stretching back over a decade. No one from the IMF has yet commented on Doyle's resignation or his criticism of the Fund.
   Doyle was adviser to the European Department. That department controls bailout programs for Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Doyle believes that the IMF failed to warn about the urgency of  Europe's financial problems and the global financial crisis.
   The IMF itself  had also made criticisms on this score but in much milder language! Doyle suggests that the warnings that were issued were not sustained and often suppressed.
    Doyle's view that the leadership…

China pledges loans worth $20 billion U.S. to African countries

In a bid to boost economic ties with Africa the Chinese government has pledged 20 billion in loans over the next three years. Back in 2009 China loaned ten million to African countries.
    The loans will be used to build infrastructure, agriculture, and the development of small business. Chinese president Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jibao held talks with African officials during the fifth meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.
     Some European leaders are critical of what they call the Chinese cheque book approach to Africa. They say that China wants to gain access to Africa's rich resources and will support undemocratic leaders to do so.
    Many African leaders applaud the Chinese loans including the president of South Africa Jacob Zuma. Zuma said;. "Africa's past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other countries,"  "We are particularly pleased that in our relationship with China…

Media ignore presidential third party nominees

Most newspapers report only on candidates for the Republican and Democratic parties and ignore a number of nominees for third parties There are a number of libertarians within the Republican Party perhaps one of the best known being Ron Paul. However there is also a Libertarian Party with its own candidate for the presidency Gary Johnson. Johnson is a prominent U.S. politician having been governor of New Mexico from 1993 to 2003. More about the Libertarian Party can be found here.       The Libertarian party favors a smaller government and free markets with minimal regulations. Although sometimes regarded as conservative, on many social issues the party is closer to liberals, espousing strong civil liberties, drug liberalization, and LGBT rights. On foreign policy the party is for less intervention and favors diplomacy rather than military might to settle disputes with other countries.           The U.S. Green Party has nominated Jill Stein as their candidate after a convention in Bal…

Dutch royalty collection agency pirates song from Dutch composer

In 2006 the Dutch organization BREIN that protects the rights of artists asked Melchior Rietveldt to compose a song to be used in anti-piracy ads. Rietveldt wrote the song but specifically gave permission to use it only at one film festival.
   In 2007 Rietveldt was surprised when he bought a Harry Potter DVD and discovered his song was used in the ad that warns people against copying the movie. He discovered that the song had been pirated and used on at least 70 movies. He next went to the firm Buma/Stemra which is one of the groups in BREIN but whose function is to collect royalties for Dutch artists.
        Eventually after Buma/Stemra failed to pay him all the royalties Rietveldt felt he had coming he sued. Recently an Amsterdam court found in favor of Rietveldt and order Buma/Stemra to pay a fine of 20,000 euros (U.S. $24,474) and the sum of 164,974 musician euros (U.S. $201,878) that was owed. For more see this article.

U.S. building an anti-missile radar facility in Qatar

The Wall Street journal reports that the base will be built in a secret location in Qatar. The facility will be just one part of a system meant to defend U.S. facilities and also its Gulf area allies against Iranian rockets according to anonymous U.S. officials.
      This site plus two other sites in Turkey and the Negev Desert form an arc. The three sites together can detect any missiles launched deep inside Iran from northern, southern or western Iran. The radar stations also link to interceptor batteries throughout the region and to U.S. ships that have high altitude interceptor rockets.
     Qatar is home to the largest U.S. military base in the region, All Udeid Air Base. Together with another base a total of 8,000 U.S. troops are in Qatar. In response to an Al Jazeera reporter's question about the site, the Pentagon replied."We have a number of allies and partners in the region with whom we seek to build greater cooperation, and our goal is to address a wide range of …

Kofi Annan of the UN and Russia's Vladimir Putin make no progress on Syria

Although the Russian President claimed that he would do everything he could to support Anna's six point peace plan meant to end the violence in Syria neither side seems to be willing to make the plan work or  follow its directives. Violence has been constantly increasing. There is now an obvious civil war in Syria.
    This is Annan's first meeting with the Russian president since Putin won a third term. Annan hopes to avoid a Russian veto of a new resolution that threatens Syria with new sanctions. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov insisted he could "see no reason why we cannot also agree at the UN Security Council. We are ready for this". However, so far there is no sign Moscow is willing to take a harder line against the Syrian president or his regime.
   Putin maintained: "From the very start, from the first steps, we supported and continue to support your efforts aimed at restoring civil peace,"  However, Annan's efforts have so far come to naugh…

Survey: 76 per cent of Americans support defense spending cuts

The Air Force Times reports on a survey of 665 Americans on defense spending. The survey was conducted by the Program for Public Consultation, the Stimson Center, and the Center for Public Integrity.
   While a majority do not support cutting pay raises, they do want to raise some health cost related fees and even cut military retirement benefits. While Republican politicians often oppose defense spending cuts their base may not actually share that view.
   Democrats are more in favor of cuts than Republicans but more than two thirds of those in Republican congressional districts supported cuts. Those in Republican districts supported a cut of 15 per cent on average while Democratic districts supported on average a much larger 28 per cent cut.
   Americans both in Republican and Democratic districts believe that there is waste in the defense budget. Eighty per cent polled in Republican districts and eighty six per cent in Democrat districts held this view. On this issue there is obv…

Yemen faces malnutrition crisis

The conflict in Yemen along with other factors has created chronic malnutrition. Only Afghanistan another country wracked by conflict has a higher level. The United Nation's Children's fund claims that hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children face starvation. A total of one million suffer from severe malnutrition.
   UNICEF representative Gert Kapelari said:"About 250,000 children today in Yemen are at risk of dying or having lifelong consequences if we don't act immediately," he said. Aid agencies claim that Yemen is facing a humanitarian disaster with chronic levels of poverty. An Oxfam representative said that 44 per cent of the people, a total of about ten million, do not have enough to eat.
      Although food is available prices have risen while incomes are low. High unemployment makes the situation worse. Up to 90 per cent of food in Yemen is imported. The conflict between rebels and the government has displaced many people making them dependent upon …

NATO tankers attacked and burned by Taliban in Afghanistan

Since the NATO transit routes through Pakistan have reopened supplies are coming into Afghanistan through the east of the country. The Taliban operate in many parts of  Afghanistan near the eastern border. Now that NATO tankers traverse the area they will be prime targets for the insurgents.
   Press TV reports that 12 NATO tankers that were carrying fuel for U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan have been attacked. The report claims that one driver was killed and four security guards injured. The tankers were set on fire. Afghan officials have blamed the Taliban for the attacks and in turn the Taliban have claimed responsibility.
    A Taliban spokesperson claimed that 25 tankers were attacked, and several drivers and security guards were killed. NATO has yet to report on the incident. No doubt attacks will continue perhaps within Pakistan as well. For more see this article.

Egypt: Generals issue warning to Muslim Brotherhood

The leader of the  SCAF(Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) the real rulers of  Egypt issued a thinly veiled warning to the Muslim Brotherhood. Field Marshal Tantawi head of the council said that the council will not allow a certain group to dominate the country. There is little chance of that since in effect the council already has staged a coup that gives most powers to itself.
    President Morsi elected recently is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although many suspect there are deals behind the scenes between the Brotherhood and the generals, in public there is often conflict. For example President Morsi convened parliament even after the Constitutional Court ruled that some aspects of the recent parliamentary elections were not legal and SCAF had dissolved the parliament. However the government did not prevent the parliament from meeting.
   Tantawi said:“Egypt will never fall. It belongs to all Egyptians and not to a certain group — the armed forces will not allow it,”  …

African Union wants new government formed in Mali

The  Peace and Security Council of  the African Union is critical of the transitional government set up in Mali after the coup leader Captain Sanogo handed over power to a transitional civilian government. Sanogo and his comrades retained considerable influence and Sanogo was given the title of former head of state together with a salary.
    The Peace and Security Council(PSC) called on the ex-junta members to stop interfering in the government. In fact the group went further and called for the "effective dissolution" of the former junta group and an end to its "unacceptable interference" in the government's transition process.
      The situation is dire in northern Mali as the entire territory is now occupied by the Ansar Dine group who are radical Islamists.  The original coup in March that overthrew a democratically elected president was justified by that government's inability to put down rebels in the north. After the coup the north was occupied fi…

Russia: New law requires foreign funded NGO's to register as foreign agents

Human Rights groups in Russia are quite critical of what they call the "foreign agents" bill. The head of  Russia's oldest non-governmental organization The Moscow Helsinki group said that as soon as the bill is passed her organization will not accept foreign grants.
    Lyudmila Alekseeva head of the group said that they would be forced to reduce staff and the number of their projects. She said that with the new law some NGO's will be doomed as Russian donations will not be sufficient to support them. The Moscow-Helsinki group survived even through Soviet repression.
   Memorial another NGO said that the aim of the legislation was to label government opponents "as enemy hirelings". Another NGO the Committee Against Torture vowed not to register as a foreign agent unless forced to do so by a court.
  The bill has caused consternation abroad. A group of  UN experts called on the Russian parliament not to pass the "foreign agents bill". For more …

Pakistan and U.S. nowhere near a deal on drone attacks

The Pakistani parliament has several times passed motions demanding that U.S. drone attacks cease. Cessation of drone strikes was also made a condition of reopening NATO transit routes  through Pakistan to Afghanistan. However after Hillary Clinton apologized for a border incident in which 24 Pakistani troops were killed Pakistan reopened thee routes. The drone attacks did not cease. A drone attack was launched shortly after the reopening.
      Since the attacks continued after the NATO routes were reopened it appeared that perhaps Pakistan had tacitly agreed to the attacks. Sherry Rehman the Pakistani ambassador has vehemently denied this and reaffirmed Pakistan's opposition drone attacks as a violation of its sovereignty.
    Negotiations between the U.S. and Pakistan on some type of compromise deal on drones have been ongoing. However a senior official said::. “Cessation of drones is still a high priority for us in the dialogue with the US, but I’m afraid we are nowhere ne…

JP Morgan's "hidden" losses now $5.8 billion

When the original losses were revealed back in May the losses were estimated at 2 billion. Now after an internal review the losses are estimated at 5.8 billion. However, the company also said that it is possible that there could be up to 1.7 billion more in the worst case scenario.
    As a result of this review there may be criminal charges against some traders. Traders deliberately placed incorrect values on trades CEO of  JP Morgan Jamie Dimon said:. "This has shaken our company to the core,"  Managers in the London office who made the trades have all been fired. The London office made huge bets on corporate debt using derivatives now called "the London Whale trades"  They resulted in a whale of a loss!
  In spite of the announcement of these huge losses the stock was actually up. This may seem counter intuitive but the company made nearly 5 billion last quarter and no doubt this outweighed worries about the loss. In his report Dimon also claimed that the sit…

Ethiopian blogger given 18 years for criticizing arrests of journalists

Eskinder Nega is a prominent Ethiopian blogger. He won the coveted Pen America's Freedom to Write for his work. However Nega and 23 others were accused of having links to an opposition group called the Ginbot Seven. Ethiopia considers the group a terrorist organization. The 23 were found guilty of having links to this organization.  Nega was originally arrested last September after he had published a piece that questioned the government's  arrest of some journalists.
  While Nega was sentenced to 18 years another opposition activists Andualem Arage was given a life sentence. Human right group have criticized Ethiopia's anti-terrorism laws as being much too broad. This is not the first time that Nega has been arrested. Since starting his first newspaper in 1993 he has been arrested at least seven times!
   Amnesty International said. "The imprisonment… is emblematic of the Ethiopian government's determination to gag any dissenting voice in the country," F…

U.S. trained Mahmoud Jibril's coalition leads in Libyan election

The National Forces Alliance, a coalition of sixty parties headed by Mahmoud Jibril leads by a wide margin so far as Libya's recent election. Jibril is winning both in the capital Tripoli and the east city of Benghazii indicating his support is not localized.
   The Muslim brotherhood and another group are far behind the National Forces Alliance. The result is somewhat surprising as the Muslim Brotherhood was expected to do better.
   Jibril was an important figure in the Gadaffi regime from 2007 to 2011. He head up both the National Development Board and the National Planning council. He promoted policies of privatization and liberalization.
    Jibril's economic views no doubt helped him gain support for the rebels while he was interim prime minister. Now that his coalition is poised to win the elections no doubt western investors are cheering from the sidelines.For more see this article.

Korean central bank reduces interest rate

The Korean central bank, Bank of Korea, cut the benchmark interest rate down to 3 per cent yesterday (July 12). Most experts had predicted no change. There are conflicting factors in the economy a combination of slowing economic growth but also higher inflation expectations.
    No doubt the recent lowering of rates in China and Europe had some influence on the  decision. Korean Treasury Bond yields fell below 3.25 per cent. This is a record low since the beginning of the financial crisis.
   Tim Condon an analyst from Singapore said:"The BOK's move is not an issue because I figure the neutral level of the policy rate is 2.75 percent. Another 25-bps rate cut will come in August or September. Inflation is no longer a problem. Possibly rate cuts by central banks in Europe and China affected the BOK's rate decision,"  The Korean Finance ministry has revised the forecast for growth in 2012 from 3.7 per cent to 3.3 per cent. 
    External conditions are the main reason…

Wikileaks wins legal case against credit card company in Iceland

In Reykjavik the capital of  Iceland, the district court ruled that Valitor, formerly VISA Iceland, violated contract law. The company blocked credit card donations to Wikileaks. The news is reported via Wikileaks Twitter account.
   The court ruled as well that the donation gateway must be again opened within a period of fourteen days. If Valitor fails to comply it will face a fine of $6,200 daily.
    Julian Assange remarked: "This is a significant victory against Washington's attempt to silence WikiLeaks. We will not be silenced. Economic censorship is censorship. It is wrong. When it's done outside of the rule of law its doubly wrong. One by one those involved in the attempted censorship of WikiLeaks will find themselves on the wrong side of history." Iceland generally has supported Wikileaks. The article does not mention legal cases being pursued in other countries but perhaps there are.
   When donors were prevented from making donations through credit cards d…

U.S. corn production predicted to decline due to drought

Severe drought conditions in the U.S. Midwest will result in much reduced yields. The U.S. Department of Agriculture now predicts that the crop will average only 146 bushels per acre. This is 20 bushels per acre lower than the June estimate.
   Corn contracts on the Chicago Board of  Trade saw and upward trend. December contracts rose by 23 cents to $7.40 a bushel. The drought has also lowered expectations for wheat and soybean yields.
   Earlier a mild and early planting of corn led to hopes of  a record corn crop. The drought changed the prospects dramatically. The USDA has also cut its forecast for the wheat crop in Russia by 4 million tonnes and in Kazakhstan by 2 million tons due to hot weather and drought in growing areas in those countries. For more see this article.


Reports on drone strikes often misleading

News sources differ in the precise wording they choose to use in reports. This article illustrates these differences in reports on drone strikes in Pakistan.

 For several years the CIA has been launching drone attacks on targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Almost everyone knows this. However the official position of the CIA is that to even assert or deny the existence of these attacks could endanger the security of the U.S. Important officials including President Obama and the U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have acknowledged the attacks and even boasted about them. Nevertheless the official position is "" The Central Intelligence Agency continues to refuse to confirm or deny the covert military use of drones to kill suspected terrorists overseas, despite President Barack Obama’s and even a former CIA director’s admission of the agency’s targeted killing program. ""

While this position appears ludicrous it has a rational function and that is to block the …

Pakistan: Ambassador to U.S. denies Pakistan endorses drone attacks

One of the conditions for reopening the NATO transit routes through Pakistan was the cessation of drone attacks. However Pakistan reopened the routes after an apology by Hillary Clinton for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops last November in a border incident.
    Ambassador Sherry Rehman said: “The concerns over drones can’t just be brushed aside."  Those concerns have been brushed aside. The U.S. has said all along that they will not be stopped. The Pakistani parliament has passed several resolutions demanding the attacks stop but to no avail. The U.S. and drone strikes are very unpopular in Pakistan. As a result Pakistani politicians typically engage in anti-US rhetoric. Even opposition leaders however are anxious to receive U.S. aid and maintain good relations with the U.S. See this article
    The reopening of the border has been met with protests in Pakistan. Hardline Islamists organized a march from Lahore to Islamabad. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa party led by Saeed is at the for…

Pakistan: U.S. ambassador claims opposition wants pro-U.S. government

In an interview on BBC the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter claims that he had spoken to two leaders of  Pakistani opposition parties and they had both promised that they would create pro-U.S. governments if elected.
     The two leaders were Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. Munter announced in May that he was quitting his post this summer. According to an article here the two leaders also said that they would cooperate unconditionally with the U.S. in the war on terrorism. Surely this would mean that the two would support drone attacks in the tribal regions since this has been a key part of the U.S. war on terror. Perhaps Munter does not fear to report events such as this since he is leaving. Munter's statements will be used by more radical Islamic parties to claim that they alone are the true opposition.
   Khan the head of the popular PTI has long criticized the ruling Pakistani People's Party as simply being a client of the U.S. Both have condemned the drone attac…

Oman sentences four to jail for defaming Sultan Qaboos

Included in the four sentenced to up to a year in jail were an Omani writer and poet. The four were freed pending an appeal and a bail hearing. More than 30 people have been detained during the last few weeks.
    The detentions arose from protests and strikes at petroleum facilities. The issues were pay and pension payments. The author was accused of holding up a sign with disrespectful text and the poet penning a poem with text that was disrespectful of Qaboos.
   After protests in which some activists derided decisions on joblessness and corruption, the public prosecutor warned he would act against anyone who made statements considered defamatory. Sultan Qaboos is now the longest serving Arab head of state since Gaddafi was overthrown last year. He has been in power for 42 years. For more see this article. Qaboos promise thousands of new jobs and unemployment benefits following protests last year. Many claim those jobs and benefits have never come to be. Most revenue in Iran come…

Wheel-chair bound man refused service because of his service dog

Montreal - Michel Larochelle filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal after a waiter told him his service dog must leave the restaurant. The dog helps Larochelle to push his wheelchair up ramps and hills.
 In August 2009 Michelle Larochette went with a friend and Larochette's service dog Cici to the Caverne Grecque restaurant in Montreal. The waiter said that Cici could not enter the restaurant but must stay on the sidewalk. Cici helps Larochette negotiate hills and ramps as he has a manual wheel chair. Larochelle has been using the services of dogs from the MIRA foundation in Montreal since 1992.
 According to Larochelle the waiter argued that Cici would disturb other clients even though Cici was lying under the table where they were sitting and there were few clients on the terrace. Larochelle threatened to file a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission but the waiter still would not serve them while Cici was under the table.
 The Quebec Human Rights Com…

U.S. aluminium producer Alcoa sees earnings drop 81 per cent

Weak global demand for aluminium has caused earnings to drop over 80 per cent for Alcoa a large U.S. producer. The drop is over the first half of 2012.
    In spite of the large drop results were still better than many analysts predicted. Profit in the first half of this year were 8 cents a share. Revenues were down 5 per cent compared to the same period in 2011. The second quarter of this year included losses of 2 million due to costs of fixing environment damage, costs of fire damage, and restructuring costs.
   There is growing demand from auto and aerospace industries for aluminium. The CEO Klaus Kleinfeld expects global demand to rise a total of 7 per cent for the year an upgrade from a 3 per cent forecast earlier in the year. Over the past year aluminium prices have dropped 18 per cent. In response major producers have been reducing output. For more see this article.


Is the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt dead?

The armed forces council (SCAF) is in control in Egypt. The president is a Muslim Brotherhood member. The secular and liberal protesters who led the revolution are sidelined. Egyptians seek order and security rather than revolution and democracy.
    The newly elected president Mohamed Morsi challenged the ruling military council (SCAF) by issuing a decree that annuls the decision by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to dissolve parliament. SCAF dissolved the parliament after the Constitutional Court ruled that there were irregularities in the election that violated the constitution. President Morsi also ordered that the parliament reconvene on Tuesday (July 10) The military council did not prevent the parliament from convening. Surely this is a sign that there are behind the scenes negotiations on what is to be allowed.      The substance of the meeting is also of interest. Parliament Speaker Saad el-Katatni told lawmakers that the legislature met to find ways to implement the…

Borrowing costs for Spain and Italy rise

Amid fears that euro are finance ministers meeting in Brussels will be unable to agree to measures that would calm fears about the debt crisis bond yields increased both in Italy and Spain. Spanish ten year bonds were yielding more than 7 per cent making borrowing costs prohibitive for the country.
   Italy too saw its bond prices drop bringing the ten year yield to the highest level in a weak. In contrast German two year notes were yielding less than zero at .0344 per cent! Even France was able to auction similar debt at a negative rate.
  An analyst at Lloyds Banking Group said: “The market doesn’t have great expectations of the summit,”  Spanish 10 year bond rates are approaching a record.  Italian 10 year bonds yielded 6.11 per cent. For more see this Bloomberg article.

Two killed during protest in Saudi Arabia

Protests after the arrest of  a prominent Shia activist and cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr resulted in two protesters being killed. The protests were in the town of Awamiya in eastern Saudi Arabia. There have been demonstrations in the city Qatif as well.
   The official Saudi press agency said that Nimr was arrested after he and supporters fought with security forces and crashed into a police car. Nimr was shot in the thigh. He will be charged with creating unrest in the area.
 Nimr was wanted by authorities. Back in 2009 he suggested that the area should separate from Saudi Arabia unless the government freed political prisoners, treated the Shia minority fairly, and fought corruption. Shia cannot obtain high ranks in the government or security forces. The minority numbers about 2 million. For more see this article.  The area where the protests are taking place is rich in oil facilities.

ECOWAS strips status from Mali Coup Leader Capt. Sanogo

The Economic Community of West African States has stripped Capt. Sanogo who led the recent coup in March of this year of  his status of  former head of state. Sanogo has handed power to an interim government but continues to have influence within it.
  As part of the deal to give up power U.S. trained Sanogo was named former head of state and provided a salary of close to 9,000 dollars a month. ECOWAS refused to recognize the coup and hence is being consistent in not recognizing Sanogo as former head of  State. It is unclear if the move by ECOWAS will have much effect. After all it is the Malian government that gave Sanogo the title and salary.
   ECOWAS is becoming impatient with the transitional government.  At a conference in Burkina Faso Saturday the group demanded that a unity government be formed by July 31 or the group would withdraw recognition from the government. ECOWAS has been asking for a UN mandate to send forces to retake territory in Northern Mali. For more see  this a…

U.S. Special Forces in Mali

An article in the Washington Post by Craig Whitlock  reveals some details about U.S. Special Forces operations in Mali. He has a fascinating story about the crash of a jeep back on April 20 in the capital Bamako. The jeep went through a guard rail on a bridge and crashed into a river killing three U.S. Army commandos and three women. The women were apparently known as prostitutes. The crash took place early in the morning just before dawn.
   This crash happened a month after the U.S. had supposedly suspended military operations in Mali after a coup by Captain Sanogo. The coup leader was himself  U.S. trained. Military officials have yet to fully explain what the commandos were doing.
   What is clear is that Special Forces are engaged in counter terrorism operations. Obama has spoken of his desire to rely on Special Operations forces rather than regular troops. Their ranks have been increasing. The group still remaining in Mali were said to be there to provide assistance to the U.S.…

Italian economy to shrink about 2 per cent in 2012

Ignazio Visco head of the Italian Central Bank predicted that the Italian economy will shrink by around 2 per cent this year. Earlier he had forecast a smaller decline of 1.5 per cent. Italy appears to be headed further into recession.
     However Visco noted:" If the borrowing rate risk declines, and a shared solution for the crisis is found at the European level, at the end of the year I think we could see light at the end of the tunnel." Italy has been in recession since about the middle of 2011.
    Italy's cost of borrowing is increasing again. Yields on ten year bonds rose to over 6 per cent. Increased costs of borrowing exacerbate the debt situation. The increase in borrowing costs may in part be due to increase complaints from some northern countries about the cost of bailing out countries such as Spain and Greece.
     Italian Prime Minister Monti remarked:"The increase in the spreads after the EU summit is also due to statements that I consider inappropr…

New Egyptian president annuls dissolution of parliament

In a challenge to the Constitutional Court and the ruling military regime(SCAF) newly elected president Morsi has issued a decree annulling the decision of June 15 to dissolve the People's Assembly. The official news agency reports: "President Morsi has issued a presidential decree annulling the decision taken on June 15, 2012 to dissolve the people's assembly, and invites the chamber to convene again and to exercise its prerogatives,"
  The Constitutional Court had ruled that certain article in the election laws were invalid and also the law that excluded senior members of the Mubarak regime from running. Parliamentary elections returned a large majority of Islamists. Almost half were won by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood but also about a quarter were won by the more radical Salafists.
   The reaction of the ruling military council to this decree should be interesting. The relationship of the Brotherhood to the Military Council sometimes seems to involve deals but a…

Tourism a casualty in southern Russia flooding

The flooding in southern Russia not only killed over 150 people but it has devastated tourism along the popular Black Sea coast in the Krasnodar region. Crews are trying their best to restore the travel networks in the region and to salvage at least some of the remaining holiday season.
    Many trains into the region have been cancelled. Many families going on holiday with their children have ended up stranded as the railway lines are cut near the port of  Novorossiysk. In some areas power is still out. Even mobile phone reception is out in some areas. Internet access too is either intermittent or does not even exist.
    There is a high concentration of children's camps in the region. Some had to be evacuated and others are struggling to deal with the floods. Sewage leaks have been a problem in both Novorossyisk and Gelendzhik..  Fresh water and even food is in short supply. Local businesses are doing their best to salvage some of their revenue and provide some semblance of a …

Afghanistan: Tax dollars at work on the road to nowhere

The national highway 1 is often touted as an example of how foreign aid has helped Afghanistan. The highway is fully 2,700 kilometers long and links major cities. It is largely bankrolled by Saudi and U.S. taxpayer money. However the UK Foreign Office (FCO) has questioned both the priority given to the project and the quality of construction..
  One problem is that the aid money is siphoned through officials and contractors and finally down to subcontractors. The pavement in many places is so thin that it is not expected to survive even one Afghan winter. The road is very expensive to maintain. Many complain that it is mostly used by foreign troops to get from one place to the next. The road is also a magnet for Taliban attacks
 The FCO report notes that the road is of no value to most Afghans. What would have impressed them would be upgrading of roads to the nearest towns upon which they  depend for supplies. The highway is just one of many white elephants resulting from foreign …

Yemen: Four separatist protesters in south shot dead

Yesterday (July 7) in the southern port city of Aden Yemeni security forces shot and killed 4 men participating in a separatist march. A total of 18 were wounded. The government claims that the protesters had attacked security forces.
  The protesters had been trying to gain access to a public square in Aden. The protest march was held to commemorate a day in 1994 when government forces from the north had invaded Aden at the end of a civil war. Aden was the capital of the independent country of South Yemen until 1990.
   There were protests in other southern cities as well and a leader of the Southern Movement Saleh Yahya was arrested. Even though the former president stepped down in February in a deal brokered by the GCC and supported by the U.S. divisions in the country remain. However, much of the territory seized by militants has now been retaken but at considerable cost to both sides and displacement of citizens. The U.S. was involved both in aerial attacks and special forces u…

Switzerland will buy Iranian oil in spite of EU sanctions

Switzerland will continue to buy Iranian oil even though there are European sanctions on such purchases that began on July 1. Despite pressure from both the EU and the US. the Swiss Federal Dept. of  Economic Affairs. Switzerland takes the view that any decision about the import, sale, or transport of Iranian crude oil should be solely by the trading partners themselves.
 A spokesperson for the Swiss Foreign Ministry said that Switzerland wishes to retain good relations with Iran. Switzerland also exempted the Iranian Central Bank from the asset freeze that is also part of the EU sanctions.
     The U.S. ambassador to Switzerland said he was disappointed by the Swiss refusal to abide by the EU sanctions that were supported by the U.S. Somewhat ironically the Swiss embassy in Tehran hosts the U.S. Interests Section in the country and has done so since 1979. For more see this article.

IMF to lower global growth forecast

Christine Lagarde the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director said that the IMF would be lowering its global growth projection of 3.5 per cent. Lagarde said: ­“The global growth outlook will be somewhat less than we anticipated just three months ago,”. “Many indicators of economic activity – investment, employment, and manufacturing – have deteriorated. And not just in Europe or the United States.” 
   Brazil, China, Russia, and India are also witnessing slower economic growth. The IMF will issue a revised outlook by July 16. In January the IMF revised the growth rate upwards from 3.3. per cent to 3.5 per cent and from 3.9 to 4.1 for 2013.
   Shortly before Lagarde's announcement the ECB and Chinese Central Bank lowered interest rates to stimulate the economy. Lagarde also said that there should be a fiscal union in Europe. She said. “.. they’re heading in a new direction together and that’s a clear sign that things are changing.”  The EU leaders agreed that there cou…

Solar powered plane flies back to Europe from Africa

The HB-SIA based in Switzerland took off from Rabat in Morocco at dawn and was expected to land in Madrid Spain around midnight. The plane has a single pilot and is powered by 12,000 solar cells. They supply power to four 10 horsepower engines and also charge lithium batteries that store energy during the day to be used to fly at night.
   The plane has the same wingspan as an Airbus 340! It has already traveled more than 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) without any fuel. It started out at a military field outside of  Berne Switzerland and flew over Gibraltar and even over the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and then up the Atlantic coast of Morocco.
   One of two pilots Andre Borschberg said: “With this flight to Morocco, we have validated the capacity of the airplane to fly through difficult regions,” Borschberg is cofounder of the 102 million dollar Solar Impulse project. It has been supported by a number of different companies. The Solar Impulse organizers hope to fly a new sun-powered …

The problem of Zombie drones

One problem with drones is that they are capable of being controlled by someone other than the legitimate drone operator. These are sometimes called zombie drones. The technical term for such takeovers is called repossession.
   Repossession is a real threat. College students in Texas were able to repossess a government surveillance drone using equipment that cost little more than a thousand dollars. The technique used is called GPS spoofing. Spoofing involves mimicking the signals of the drone's global positioning device and by using a signal that is stronger than the commands of the drone operator taking over control of the drone. A terrorist could theoretically repossess a drone.
   There are also GPS jammers that can interfere with the signals sent to operate the drone. Some think that this was the method used by Iran to bring down a U.S, drone over Iran in December. Although it has also been suggested that Iran used the same spoofing techniques as the students mentioned a…

European Central Bank reduces interest rate to record low

The European Central Bank has cut its interest rate to .75 per cent a record low. This was in line with expectations as the Bank tries to stimulate the economy by lowering rates. The rate paid on money other banks place in the central bank overnight has been reduced from .25 per cent to zero!
  The Bank of England approved an injection of 78.1 billion U.S. into the UK economy. The bank kept the interest rate at .5 per cent. Up to now the Bank has injected 325 billion pounds into the economy through quantitative easing.
   The UK treasury is also providing a support program designed to allow banks to provide cheaper loans. China also has been taking measures to stimulate its economy as growth slows there. For more see this article.