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Showing posts from August, 2012

Kuwait Petroleum seeks $4 billion joint venture with Athabaska Oil

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Kuwait's state owned oil fund is seeking a joint venture with Athabasca oil in the oil sands. The deal will be for about $4 billion and is expected to be finalized by October Kuwait Petroleum Corp. the state-owned oil company has signed a memorandum of understanding that would see the company invest around $4 billion in a joint venture with Athabasca Oil Corp. The venture would develop some of Athabasca's properties in the northern Alberta oil sands. The agreement was confirmed by the Kuwaiti ambassador to Canada Ali al-Sammak. The final agreement is expected by October. Al-Sammak said in a telephone interview.".. “It’s a plus-or-minus $4-billion deal and in October they’ll be coming back to follow up what has been signed....So we’re doing very good – this proves that we’re good close friends.” Sammak said Kuwait Petroleum wants to diversity its operations beyond the Middle East and also gain access to oil sand extraction technology as Kuwait too has heavy oil fields. Ma…

Class warfare and the presidential election

An article in Fortune by Joel Kotkin claims that there is an unseen class war that could decide the presidential eletion. Unfortunately Kotkin does not define "class". The hidden conflict he ultimately describes is not between classes but at most two strata of the middle class using "class" simply to refer to income levels. Historically the two main theoretical views of class are those of Karl Marx and Max Weber. Put very simply the Marxist theory of class is as follows: In Marxist theory, the class structure of the capitalist mode of production is characterized by the conflict between two main classes: the bourgeoisie, the capitalists who own the means of production, and the much larger proletariat (or 'working class') who must sell their own labour power Note that this is a theoretical concept and is used to explain the basics of how capitalism operates.Class is not determined by income as in the common usage of the term in much discourse now. Max Weber …

New book by Navy SEAL contradicts official version of Bin Laden killing

According to an account of Bin Laden's death in a new book by a Navy SEAL involved in the raid, Bin Laden was shot as he poked his head out a bedroom door. This contradicts the official version which claims he was shot afterwards. The official U.S. administration version of the raid on Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad Pakistan is that the Navy SEALs shot bin Laden only after he had ducked back into the bedroom. The SEALS assumed that he might be reaching for a weapon and so shot him on opening the door. The White House response to the apparent contradiction does not answer it at all but is simply a repetition of Obama's praise for the Seals. White House spokesperson Tommy Vietor said:: "As President Obama said on the night that justice was brought to Osama bin Laden, 'We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country."' This is typical of…

Blasphemy laws with draconian punishment exist in many countries

While media attention recently has focused on Pakistan and its blasphemy laws, many countries have such laws including Saudi Arabia and Iran. In western countries blasphemy laws have been replaced by hate speech laws that also punish some types of speech. The arrest of a young Christian girl for allegedly burning pages of a beginner's guide for reciting the Quran has focused media attention on Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Those laws are draconian but they derive more generally from Sharia law and its prohibitions. There is a certain irony in the strong association of draconian blasphemy laws with Islam. According to Wikipedia neither the Quran nor hadith (sayings) make reference to a crime of blasphemy. It is later jurists who incorporated laws against blasphemy into Sharia law. A lawyer, activist and critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, Ayesha Haq says: "I think it's a bad law to start off with – it's a man-made law and it has nothing to do with religion. If y…

Afghan soldiers kills two U.S. troops

In another "green on blue" attack an Afghan National Army soldier shot dead two U.S. troops in Laghman province. U.S. troops returned fire killing the Afghan. Afghan officials said that the incident was an accident. They claim the soldier had tripped over his weapon which discharged killing the two U.S. soldiers. However, U.S. officials claimed that it was not an accident but the result of a dispute. This is the 33rd "green on blue" attack in 2012. Altogether 42 NATO troops have been killed in the incidents. The Pentagon is trying to put a new spin on the attacks by rebranding them as "insider attacks" suggesting they might be Taliban infiltrators or Taliban using Afghan uniforms. While no doubt those sorts of cases do exist in this instance there is no evidence that the Afghan was an infiltrator.The shooting was apparently the result of some dispute the nature of which has yet to be clarified. Insider attacks have nearly doubled in 2012 from 2011. Alread…

"The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks,"

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This statement would not doubt be unremarkable if it came from a supporter of Assad's view that his fight is not a civil war but against terrorists. However, the source is Ed Husain a Senior Fellow For Mideastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
    Husain claims that the main rebel force, the FSA (Free Syrian Army) battalions are divided, unorganized and often ineffective. Assad still has far superior armaments and dominance in the air and a professional army. Without outside intervention the rebels are not likely to progress very far unless the Assad regime self destructs from within. However, the Al Qaeda forces in Syria bring discipline and religious fervor to the battle. They are accustomed to fighting vastly superior forces and not at all discouraged by that. They are also often well-funded by wealthy Sunni benefactors from the Gulf oil states who want to see Sunnis regain control of Syria from the Shia Alawites. The Al Qaeda fighters in Syria who call themselve…

U.S. arms sales to developing countries hits record $66.3 billion last year

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From 2010 to 2011 U.S. weapons sales tripled to developing countries. U.S. sales constituted more than three quarters of the global market. Russia was the next largest supplier with $4.8 billion in sales.
Although the global economy may be in decline U.S. arms exports increased from $21.4 billion in 2010 to $66.3 billion last year. The next highest level of arms exports was in 2009 at almost $31 billion less than half the amount in 2011.
New York Times graph shows the percentage of arms transfers to developing countries by a group of countries. In 2010 the U.S. had a 44% share. Russia managed a 24% share and China just 5%. In 2011 the U.S. share surged to 79% while Russia plunged to 6% and China managed only 3%.
Even though times are tough in many places, Persian Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman have made huge purchases of U.S. weapons since they have plenty of oil revenues. They worry about what might happen if there were an attack on Iran. Rhetoric about attac…

Sufi sites destroyed by Islamic extremists in Libya

Sectarian tension is growing in Libya as two important Sufi religious sites have been attacked in the last two days by Salafist activists. The Sufis have traditionally been important in Libyan affairs. Sufis practice a form of mystical Islam that stresses individual purtiy of heart and contact with the divine. Wikipedia notes: Classical Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as "a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God".[4] Alternatively, in the words of the Darqawi Sufi teacher Ahmad ibn Ajiba, "a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one's inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits".[5 Salafists are more concerned with strict adherence to what they regard as correct doctrine. Many see the Sufi's as heretics and idolaters since they venerate their scholars and their graves. An armed group on Saturday bulldozed part of th…

PC sales slump as tablets and smart phones gain market share

Two of the big names in personal computers Hewlett-Packard and Dell report disappointing sales as new products compete with laptops and desktops. Not so long ago if you went on line it was through a laptop or desktop personal computer usually. Now people are going on line using smartphones, tablets, and other platforms. HP(Hewlett-Packard) in the most recent quarter had its worst result since the company was created 73 year ago. Dell also suffered a bad quarter as personal computer sales declined. No doubt the slowdown in the global economy accounts for some of the decline. Many people may be waiting for Windows 8 to be launched before they buy a new machine. But sales of personal computers have been declining for the past five years. More and more people are using their smartphones and tablets for on line work. However as Wired points out the situation may not be so much of a slump in performance but a wholesale change in the market with desktops and laptops never regaining their dom…

Canada allows use and sharing of information obtained by torture

After earlier allowing spy agencies to use and share information obtained by torture, the Canada government has now extended the same powers to the national police force(RCMP) and federal border agents. The Conservative government has been quietly without any notice to the public been changing the rules with respect to information that may have been tainted by torture. The Canadian Press managed to obtain documents from Sept. 9 2011 through the Access to Information Act. The documents are directives to the RCMP and the Border Services Agency. Up until now the documents have remained classified even though this is an important change in policy and one would think should have been discussed in parliament. CBC asked the officer of the Public Safety Minister's Office about the story from the Canadian Press. CBC asked if the government would use information obtained by torture. A spokesperson for Vic Toews the minister said:. "The minister's directive is clear, the primary res…

Apple and Samsung suits about restricting competition

The constant refrain from business is that competition is great and the lifeblood of capitalism. Yet the expensive court cases between Samsung and Apple show the opposite. Global capitalism is now to a considerable extent all about patents. Patents give corporations monopoly rights. These rights prevent competitors from producing products at a lower cost that contain patented features. Patents provide corporations with cash cows that enable them to milk consumers by charging prices that would not exist in a truly competitive market structure. Even free trade deals are not so much about competition as about restricting competition. Part and parcel of free trade deals are TRIPS(Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights). Part of the provisions on patents reads as follows: Patents must be granted for "inventions" in all "fields of technology" provided they meet all other patentability requirements (although exceptions for certain public interests are allo…

Brokerage firm ad uses Occupy Wall Street for its own ends!

While the Occupy Wall Street movement has almost disappeared from the media scene one enterprising brokerage company has kept memories of the movement alive by an ad that encourages clients to join the one per cent. It will soon be a year since the Occupy Wall Street movement on September 17, 2011 occupied Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district of New York. The original source of the movement can be traced to the Canadian activist group Adbusters. The movement soon spread globally to numerous cities both in the U.S. and elsewhere. President Obama voiced support for the movement in a press conference on October 6, 2011: "I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel, that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country ... and yet you're still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on the abusive practices that got us into this i…

Libyan Government seize 100 tanks from pro-Gaddafi militia

Libyan government officials claim that over 100 tanks and heavy weapons were seized from a militia group, the Katibat al-Awfiya, said to be loyal to former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. A spokesperson for the interior ministry's High Security Committee claimed that as well as the tanks, 26 missile launchers were seized from a barracks in a town 60 kilometers (35 miles) southeast of Tripoli. Authorities said that the militia posed as revolutionaries. A hundred tanks being left to the control of a militia group of any stripe shows how precarious the security situation is in Libya. The central government still does not control many armed groups. One wonders if the group was really pro-Gaddafi or simply in conflict with the central government. In the raid on the barracks one person was killed and eight wounded. The leader of the militia was arrested. Thirteen others were arrested but three escaped. The same militia had stormed the Tripoli airport early in June to protest what they c…

Canadians have record consumer debt levels

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Officials have been warning Canadians to cut back on borrowing as consumer debt levels rose but a report issued by TransUnion today (August 23) shows debt is at record levels. The report shows average non-mortgage debt of Canadians is $26,221 in the second quarter of 2012. This is an increase of 192 dollars from the first quarter. The Credit Bureau began tracking average consumer debt levels only in 2004. The present level is the highest yet. This is the second consecutive quarter of growth in the average. The growth in debt is happening across Canada except for a slight dip this quarter in Saskatchewan and Alberta has a decreased annual growth. Mark Carney has consistently warned that the increasing consumer debt levels are a threat to the economy and that levels are too high. However, in the short term this spending will keep the economy afloat. Thomas Higgins of Transunion said: “When I look at the recent comments from the Bank of Canada, that they don’t foresee there will be a ch…

Egypt seeks IMF loan

In 2011 Egypt rejected a loan from the IMF. The government is now asking for more than $3 billion U.S. from the International Monetary Fund. Egypt asked for a loan earlier this year but the deal fell through. On Wednesday August 22nd Christine Lagarde, IMF head, met Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandi and President Mohammed Mursi. Lagarde stressed the need for a reform program to solve the economic crisis in the country. Egypt is seeking a loan now from the IMF after claiming in June 2011 that it did not need one. The prime minister Qandi said: “The loan in general terms is worth 3.2 billion U.S. dollars. We talked about increasing it up to probably 4.8 and maybe more.”Lagarde said the amount of the loan had not been settled. Qandi said that Egypt hoped to sign a deal by the end of 2012. The interest rate would be 1.1% and would be payable over five years with a 39 month grace period. Qandi continued: “This high level visit by the IMF which comes very quickly after new government fo…

Michael Moore and Oliver Stone on Wikileaks and Free Speech

Washington - Award-winning documentary maker Michael Moore and film maker Oliver Stone write in the New York Times on WikiLeaks and free speech. Michael Moore is a well known left-leaning documentary producer and film maker. Many of his documentaries are critical of U.S. policies. "Sicko" berates the United States health care system. Oliver Stone is also a well known film maker with several films on the Vietnam war. In a recent article in the New York Times the two discuss Wikileaks and free speech. The two praise Wikileaks for having publicly revealed many of the uglier aspects of U.S. government actions. They also praise Ecauador's decision to grant asylum to Julian Assange long associated with Wikileaks. The article points out that the Wikileaks releases included footage such as the Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad in which a number of civilians seemed to be killed without good reason. Releases also showed some of the details of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that bo…

Man and wife banned from boarding plane because of T-shirt satirizing TSA

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A man and his wife were not allowed to board a Delta Airlines flight from Buffalo-Niagara airport because their satirical T-shirts supposedly made crew and passengers very uncomfortable.
Arijit Guha 31 is a doctoral student at Arizona State University. He has advanced colon cancer and has undergone extensive surgery and chemotherapy which ended up costing $118,000 more than the $300,000 cap on his student health plan, expenses that his insurer Aetna would not cover.
Guha managed to draw the CEO of Aetna Mark T. Bertolini into a heated exchange on Twitter and as the video appended shows Guha won out in the end and even won a victory for the student health plan. The usually caustic and sarcastic Guha in the end had nothing but praise for Mr. Bertolini. Guha is no stranger to controversy and he seems to enjoy being provocative. He has no praise for the TSA(Transportation Security Agency)
Guha and his wife were about to board a plane at the Buffalo-Niagara airport. They passed through sec…

Novel face-kinis grace Chinese beaches

While many in the west take sun tans as a sign of health and beauty in Asia many consider the tan a sign of being lower class or a laborer. The face-kini shields the face from being tanned. As an added bonus it keeps off insects and even jelly fish! In Qingdao in Northeast China the beaches are famous and it is now the height of the tourist season. Many in Asia do not like to tan and associate lighter skin color with beauty. My wife is from the Philippines. When I lived in the Philippines for a year I was surprised that at the beach many avoided the sun as much as they could rather than using sunblock and soaking up the sun. In the stores there were many different soaps that promised to lighten the color of your skin. Back in Canada tanning salons entice white-skinned northerners with no time or opportunity to tan on beaches to pay to artificially create the appearance of having been on a Caribbean holiday. The face-kini looks very much like a ski mask or balaclava. One might think t…

Myth about rape and pregnancy has a long history

Todd Akin the Republican Senate nominee for Missouri has created a storm of controvery with his remarks on rape and pregancy. Atkin claimed that pregnancies from rape are quite rare since :“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” His choice of the word "legitimate" is itself controversial. Perhhaps he meant to distinguish between an actual rape and a false claim of being raped. Akin claimed the sources of his information were doctors but he did not identify them.

The Center for Disease Control cites a study that estimates 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year. This is a rather strange estimate. An estimate should surely be a more rounded number such as 32,000! Anyway if the estimate is in the ball park aboutk 5 per cent of raped women become pregnant. This is not exactly rare I should think and the absolute number is rather large. In any event for the individual involved the numbers who face the same situation is less…

People with lower incomes give more of their income to charity in percentage terms than the rich

Several studies show that those with very high incomes give a smaller percentage of their income to charity than those with lower incomes. No doubt some of the wealthy give a hefty percentage of their wealth to charity. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and 38 others among the very rich formed a pact to donate at least half of their wealth to charity. However, statistics show that on average the wealthy do not donate as high a percentage of their income to charity as the less well off. Judith Warner in the New York Times reports that Americans who earn less than $25,000 a year donate 4.2% of their income on charity on average. On the other hand those who earn more than $75,000 give only 2.7%. Households that earn between $50,000 U.S. and $75,000 a year, on average, give 7.6% of there post-tax and post-living expenses income to charities. Households earning $200,000 a year or more donate only 4%. However, people with high incomes who live close to people with low incomes give more than those…

Some banks claim LIBOR cheating caused by free bank accounts!

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Several banks including Barclays of the UK and Santander of Spain are expected to press for fees for banking accounts at a meeting of the UK Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Barclay was recently found guilty of involvement in LIBOR fixing.
The LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) is an average interest rate estimated by leading banks that would be charged for inter-bank loans The rate is used as a bench mark for short term interest rates around the world.
The LIBOR scandal arose when it was discovered that banks had been reporting higher rates than they actually had been charging as a means for increasing the interest rate. The Financial Times published an article reporting that manipulation of the LIBOR had been ongoing since at least 1991. This implies that many people have been paying far more in interest than they should have. About 20 banks have been named in investigations so far.
Barclay's, a large UK bank, admitted that it elevated its rate. The bank paid a…