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Showing posts from 2012

Stock market has its ups and downs and now ups as fiscal cliff deadline nears

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While US stocks declined last Friday, futures were up this morning. However at the open this morning the market seems uncertain which way to go with indices mixed. Bloomberg reported that Standard and Poor's 500 futures were up 0.8% and the Dow Jones Futures were also up 82 points from the close on Friday. This was at 9 a.m. in New York. As I write this a half hour after the markets opened, the Dow was down 10 points but the S&P and NASDAQ were up slightly. The market seems to be expressing the uncertainty that clouds the whole process at the present time. Last Friday the indices fell on pessimism about the prospects for a deal. Personally I think that a deal will get done although it might be after the fiscal cliff kicks in for a day or so. Senator Bob Corker on CNBC said that there will probably be a deal today and Democrat Christopher Van Hollen on Bloomberg Television said that progress was being made in talks to avoid the automatic tax increases and spending cuts associat…

Record number of journalists jailed in 2012

The Committee to Protect Journalists survey for 2012 shows that the number of imprisoned journalists worldwide reached a record high. The CPJ has identified 232 journalists imprisoned in 2012. This is 53 more than in 2011.
CPJ began surveys of journalists in jail around the world in 1990. Governments often use charges of terrorism or other offenses against the state to silence any voices critical of the government.
Turkey is at the top of the CPJ list for jailing journalists There are at least 49 journalists in jail in Turkey. Along with Iran and China, the second and third worst jailers of journalists, Turkey makes use of vague anti-state laws to silence dissenting voices. Both in China and in Turkey, as well as Iran, the laws are used against dissenting minorities.
Anti-state charges such as terrorism, treason, and subversion were the most common charges against journalists. In 2012 at least 132 journalists are being held around the world on these types of charges.
After China, the f…

Over half of Russians still feel nostalgia for Soviet era

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Although nostalgia for the old USSR and the Soviet era has declined about 10% in the last decade, 56% of Russians still regret the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. December 30th marks the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the USSR. The USSR was dissolved on December 8, 1991 when presidents of the republics of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus met in secret and signed the Belavezha Accords dissolving the Soviet Union and replacing it with the loose voluntary union, the Commonwealth of Independent States. On December 25, 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down from office, declaring the USSR extinct. The survey was done by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center. The decline in those feeling nostalgic about the era is not surprising since a lot of the older people who felt nostalgic about the era are now dead. Anyone under 21 was not even born when the USSR dissolved. Most of those who felt nostalgic were more than 45 years of age, less educated, did not u…

Defense industry becoming pessimistic about chance of avoiding fiscal cliff

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The defense industry may be becoming more pessimistic about a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff before the end of this year. They are also annoyed that they are sidelined during talks. The industry feels that they will be able to demand a deal that will see military spending hiked back up some time in 2013. An anonymous source said: “I think people resigned to the fact that this needs to be addressed in January,” At the Pentagon, Obama administration officials have given those who crunch the numbers in the Defense Department permission to start the process of cutting $500 billion from their budget in January of 2013. Top defense industry lobbyists had been trying to convince both parties that going over the fiscal cliff would be a complete disaster. While John Boehner tried to implement a Plan B to deal with the fiscal cliff, he was unable to pass it through the Republican-controlled House since it involved tax hikes for the very rich. It is still possible that there will be a last minut…

Obama to cut short Xmas vacation to deal with fiscal cliff negotiations

President Obama is planning to cut short his Xmas vacation and return to Washington. He will make a final attempt to reach a deal with the Republicans, even though a compromise looks to be quite difficult to achieve. Even if Boehner were to compromise on the tax issue, the Republican-controlled House would not likely agree. The House already rejected Boehner's Plan B that would have raised taxes only on those earning a million or more a year. Both chambers of the US Congress will return from holidays on Thursday and start work again. Hopes for any grand bargain have faded. President Obama is pressing for a plan that would be a stop-gap measure. Obama wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for all those earning less than $250,000 a year and extend unemployment benefits. He would also cancel the scheduled automatic spending cuts. At the very least, Obama will need to raise the income level to which he wants to extend tax cuts. Boehner failed to pass a bill that extended the line to thos…

Santa Claus arrested for public mischief for writing on sidewalk

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Santa Claus, or at least a man dressed as Santa Claus, was arrested on the grounds of the State Capitol building in Austin Texas. Santa was charged with mischief after writing with chalk on the sidewalk. Occupy Austin members quickly uploaded a video showing the incident. A video of the incident is appended. Lainie Duro a member of the Occupy group who witnessed the arrest said: "Today I saw the jolly red elf at the Capitol, cheerfully requesting that children write their wishes for a better world in chalk on the sidewalk. Santa said his favorite word was 'Community.' Various children wrote words like 'Peace,' 'Friendship,' and 'Grace'." The man has been identified by the American-Statesman as James Peterson. Although officers claim he was the only one writing on the sidewalk, bystanders said that other adults and children were doing so as well. This seems a case of discriminating against Santa Claus. Peterson has not only been charged with cr…

How many overseas bases does the U.S. have and at what cost?

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The Pentagon estimates that each year it spends $22.1 billion to maintain its bases and troops around the world. However, the actual costs even on conservative estimates is about $170 billion annually.
The totals could be even higher. Estimates of maintaining U.S. bases abroad since the start of the war on terror in 2001 range from $1.8 trillion to $2.1 trillion.
] The Pentagon must each year produce an "Overseas Cost Summary" that calculates the total price on overseas military activities. This includes costs of construction, repairs and maintenance. There are about one million U.S. military and Defence Department personnel and families abroad. This calculation for the 2012 fiscal year ending September 30 documented $22.1 billion in spending.
 But that is only part of the story. Congress conveniently ordered the Pentagon not to include the more than $118 billion spent in 2012 on wars in Afghanistan and other places throughout the globe. Even if you added …

Facts about mass murders and guns in the United States

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Ezra Klein notes a number of facts about guns and mass shootings in the U.S. in his Washington Post blog. The number of those favoring stricter gun control laws has gone from 78% in 1990 to 44% in 2010.
Klein starts out by noting that much of his data was first collected after the Aurora Colorado shootings in July of this year. He remarks that there multiple calls to avoid politicizing the tragedy. Klein takes that as code for “don’t talk about reforming our gun control laws.” The demand not to politicize the tragedy in itself politicizes the issue for Klein but in favor of those who want to retain the status quo. While Klein certainly has a point, it does seem appropriate to allow a period of grieving before discussing issues such as gun control. Klein notes that if there were roads collapsing all over killing drivers, Congress and politicians would immediately be discussing remedies. Certainly if terrorists were detonating bombs at different ports there would …

Innocent German rendered to Afghanistan wins case in European Court of Human Rights

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The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favor of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen who was an innocent victim of CIA rendition. The court ordered Macedonia to pay el-Masri $78,000 for arresting him and turning him over to the CIA. El--Masri was originally arrested in Macedonia in 2003. He was held in isolation in a hotel in Skopje the Macedonian capital. On December 31, 2003, el-Masri was detained by Macedonian border officials. He was mistaken for Khalid al-Masri, a supposed mentor to a Hamburg Al-Qaeda cell. Officials also thought his German passport was a forgery. On his release, on January 23, 2004 , el-Masri was seized by what has been called a "black snatch team" of American security officials. El-Masri alleges that he was beaten, stripped naked, drugged, dressed in a diaper and jumpsuit and flown first to Baghdad and then to a covert interrogation center in Afghanistan. El Masri spent five months in secret CIA jails because of his supposed links to terrorist g…

NATO troops attack Afghan health clinic

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan claims that NATO and Afghan troops stormed their clinic in Wardak province, damaged doors, windows, and medical equipment. They then used the center as a jail and military command center.
The Swedish Committee said that the troops were dropped off by helicopters and headed straight to the clinic which is only a few dozen miles south-west of Kabul. Not only did the troops knock down a wall to enter the building and damage doors, examination beds and other equipment, they detained clinical staff and civilians inside. During the next few days they brought several hundred prisoners through the clinic, using it as a jail, a logistics hub, and for mortar fire. All these actions are in contravention of the Geneva conventions that protect medical facilities. Erica Gaston, a human rights lawyer, said :"The protection of medical persons and facilities, and respect for their neutrality was one of the founding principles of interna…

Wealthy Russians hunting for Tigr's the Russian Hummers

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Dmitry Rogozin is trading in his BMW for a Tigr troop carries known as the "Russian Hummer". The defense chief is purchasing an unarmored version of the GAZ-2330 TIgr according to the newspaper Izvestia.
Rogozin tweeted:
“I’ve been telling that [the] Russian defense industry can do quality non-military products." The various versions of the Tigr are similar in size to the U.S. Humvee. The Tigr is able to carry more armor and a larger payload, and has a bit further range and maximum speed compared to the Humvee. Up until now, the Tigrs were used only by the military and police. As with the U.S Humvee and Americans, they have become popular among Russians. Wealthy Russians have bought them as surplus military hardware. The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party bought a Tigr back in 2006. Until recently, the Tigrs used diesel engines from the U.S. Civilian buyers can still order the Tigrs with these engines but new models have a Russian built diesel engin…

Obama would drive over fiscal cliff is no tax hike on wealthy: Republicans blink?

According to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner Obama is definitely prepared to let the economy go over the fiscal cliff unless he achieves a budget deal that has higher rates for top income earners.
In an interview with CNBC on Wednesday December 5th, Geithner said: "There's no prospect in an agreement that doesn't involve those rates going up on the top two per cent of the wealthiest Americans." Republican Orrin Hatch responded angrily: "This is one of the most stunning and irresponsible statements I've heard in some time. Going over the fiscal cliff will put our economy, jobs, people's paychecks and retirement at risk, but that is what the White House wants, according to Secretary Geithner, if they don't get their way." Going over the fiscal cliff would ensure very large spending cuts, something that the Republicans strongly favor. Taxes would simply revert to what they were before Bush cut them and this would increase revenu…

Almost half of Republican voters think ACORN stole the election for Obama

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Public Policy Polling found that 49% of GOP voters nationally thought that ACORN stole the election for Obama. This is down from 52% who thought the same way after the 2008 election. ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) was an NGO that helped low income groups get housing, register to vote, receive health care, etc. Conservatives working undercover made videos that exposed wrongdoing by some ACORN staff that created headlines for a time. ACORN filed for chapter 7 liquidation in November of 2010, and therefore did not exist at the time of the 2012 November elections. The PPP poll also showed that one quarter of Republicans want their state to secede from the union. However, over half (56%) want to stay, while 19% are not sure. Before the election polling found 39% of voters claimed to be Democrats with 37% Republicans. However, since the election, 44% consider themselves Democrats and only 32% Republicans. Grover Norquist the anti-tax crusader turns out not to …

Russian minimum wage leaves over a million working Russians below the poverty line

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More than a million Russians receive a monthly wage equivalent to $148 U.S. which is well below the poverty line in Russia of $220. Most of these workers are in the public sector. According to the Public Health and Social Development Ministry 650,000 of the 1.3 million Russians who receive the minimum wage work in the public sector. Next year the minimum wage which employers must pay workers is to be increased by 13%. This will bring the wage up to $170 a month, still well below the poverty line of $220 a month. The Russian minimum wage is far below that in many developed countries. Luxembourg, Netherlands and Belgium top minimum wage lists at minimums of over $1500 a month. However, Kygryzstan is far below Russia at $24 a month. In 2011 the number in poverty in Russia increased by 2.3 million over 2010 and in total were 22.9 million according to the Russian Federal Statistics Agency. Many critics claim that the official statistics understate the real poverty levels in Russia. Offici…

Federal inspectors told to ignore contamination except in Japan-bound meat

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According to documents obtained by CTV News, Canadian meat inspectors were told to "ignore" contamination on carcasses for domestic consumption but to inspect meat bound for Japan extra carefully. According to memos sent to inspectors at XL Foods, the plant subject recently to Canada's largest ever beef recall, federal meat inspectors were told to give extra scrutiny for visible and intestinal contamination of the carcasses if the meat was bound for Japan but the contamination could be ignored for meat bound for Canadian consumers. A memo issued on Sept. 12, 2008 reads: “Our number 1 priority is to ensure this standard is met with Japan eligible carcasses.When stationed at this position, ensure that non Japan eligible carcasses are not inspected for spinal cord/dura-mater, OCD [other carcass defects] and minor ingesta (Ignore them).” The memo was sent again to inspectors in 20010 and 2011. The memo said that contaminants would be detected later in the process. However, th…

U.S. negotiating to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014

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Reports in U.S media indicate that Obama intends to keep around 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the supposed withdrawal date at the end of 2014. A report in the Wall Street Journal cites anonymous U.S. officials who claim that the U.S. is negotiating with the Afghan government to keep about 10,000 troops in the country even after the scheduled withdrawal date of 2014. This was widely expected, as the general principle was embodied in the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed on May 2, 2012 between the U.S. and Afghanistan. The officials said that the numbers were in accord with recommendations of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan General John Allen. Obama's choice as successor to Allen, General Joe Dunford, has strongly supported keeping the occupation going after 2014: “To accomplish this objective. ..the primary missions of the US military in Afghanistan should be to (1) train, advise, and assist the ANSF; (2) provide support to civilian agencies, and (3) conduct co…

Protests continue in Jordan

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Protests have been ongoing in Jordan over the past few days. The protests were about fuel price hikes but there are also demands for political reforms. This week protests in Jordan turned violent, killing one person and injuring 75, including over 50 police.The prime minister Abdullah Ensour claimed that the fragile state of government finances forced him to raise prices for heating and cooking gas by over 50% and also some oil derivatives by up to 28%. Ensour noted that on taking office last month, he discovered foreign currnecy reserves had shrunk by half to $10 billion. Poverty and unemployment were at alarming rates: "Economic indicators were alarming, the situation was dangerous and there were projections that it would impossible to navigate the ship in safe waters." The Jordanian deficit had reached a record high of $3 billion as debts grew by 20% during 2012. Ensour claimed that the removal of most state subsidies on fuel and gas products would prevent the government…

General Joe Dunford says U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan long after 2014

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Obama's choice for next commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Joe Dunford, told the Senate on Thursday (Nov. 15) that he sees U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan long after 2014 when all U.S. troops are supposedly to depart. Dunford told U.S. senators: “In my view our overall objective in Afghanistan after 2014 will be to sustain our hard-won security gains after 2014 so that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists. To accomplish this objective, the primary missions of the U.S. military in Afghanistan should be to (1) train, advise, and assist the ANSF; (2) provide support to civilian agencies, and (3) conduct counter-terrorism operations. This mission set will include force protection for our brave young men and women and, as available, the provision of in extremis support for our Afghan forces.” As the enclosed video from a year ago shows, it was clear even back then that the U.S was not going to withdraw all troops after 2014. On July the 4th this …

Republicans should flee the U.S. to Canada

Writing in Foreign Policy, Naheed Mustafa, invites disgruntled Republicans, Real Americans as he calls them, to come to Canada. Mustfa lists the reasons why Canada would be an appropriate refuge for those fleeing another Obama term in the U.S. Mustafa understands that losing one's traditional power is scary and losing to a "coalition of minorities" is scary, even though he personally sees the key difference between Democrats and Republicans as being public relations. As a Canadian, he feels it is his duty to help. Canadians are, Mustafa claims, just like that. His solution is for disgruntled, fearful Republicans to flee to the Great White North. As you can see from the enclosed video, the flight phenomenon also took place when Obama first won. Mustafa realized that Canada at first blush seems the last place to flee. Honduras with its right wing ruling class opposed to reforms would seem more natural and Real Americans would be protected by U.S. marines based near the cap…

Japanese protest deployment of Osprey aircraft in Okinawa

Thousands of protesters gathered yesterday (November 4) to protest deployment of U.S. Osprey military aircraft to Okinawa. The Ospreys were deployed to the island last month in spite of local opposition after 2 crashes elsewhere.
The Tokyo protests are happening as anti-American sentiment is running high in Japan after two recent incidents. A U.S. airman was arrested for an alleged assault on a teenage boy in Okinawa. A recent Digital Journal report describes the incident in which a drunk U.S. airman allegedly assaulted a 13 year old boy after breaking into his home. The boy was asleep at the time. This incident happened after a curfew was imposed on the 52,000 U.S. troops deployed on the island. The curfew was imposed because of the arrest of two airmen for the alleged rape of a local woman. The protesters chanted: "Ospreys out! Marine Corps out!"
The Japanese government agreed to the deployment of the Ospreys just at a time when relations with China too are strained over 

Stephen Harper in India with two of our own armoured vehicles

Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, shipped two armoured cars to India for the use of himself and his entourage, including an armoured Cadillac. While visiting the city of Agra, Harper was driven around in a black Sport Utility Vehicle with Ontario licence plates. No doubt this would be a novelty in India! When he arrived in New Delhi, he was transferred to a black armoured Cadillac sedan. When reporters asked about the reason for shipping these armoured vehicles to India for the visit, the Prime Minister's Office referred them to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Spokesperson, Cpl. Lucy Shorey responded with a statement: "The deployment of RCMP resources are dictated by operational requirements, including public and officer safety considerations, and a threat assessment of the events/environments.For security reasons, details on the security plans will not be discussed." The prime minister has also used his own vehicles in visits to Haiti and Afghanistan. How…