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Saturday, February 27, 2016

West is already intervening militarily in Libya

Many nations have indicated that they are wanting to intervene militarily in Libya to fight against the Islamic State. However, most are waiting for the formation of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord(GNA) to be up and running first.

Before the term of the GNA starts it must first receive a vote of confidence from the internationally-recognized House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk. However so far there has been no vote. The last meeting on Tuesday the 23rd did not hold a vote although afterward 100 members of the HoR issued a statement supporting the GNA. A meeting is supposed to be held next week perhaps in the desert city of Al-Jufra. Even if the GNA does finally get a vote of confidence in the HoR, there is no guarantee that it can move to Tripoli where the LPA and Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, say should be its location. The rival government the General National Congress(GNA) and its associated militia both oppose the GNA. As a result, there are signs that more military action is taking place without any request from the GNA or any other government to legitimize the military action. The US, the UK, and France are among the nations that are already militarily involved in Libya.
The UK's Royal Air Force (RAF) has already for some time been flying surveillance sorties over Libya. There are some reports of UK Special Forces being in LIbya as well. UK foreign office minister, Tobias Ellwood, refused to comment on British special forces operations but did admit that air surveillance missions were taking place,
The US has announced that it plans a third front against the Islamic State in Libya but is awaiting an invitation to intervene once the GNA is up and running. Meanwhile, however, there are US Special Forces in Libya looking for potential allies. The US has already carried out a devastating attack on an Islamic State site in the western city of Sabratha, killing more than 40. Two Serb diplomats were also killed but the US claims that they were not killed as a result of the US bombing. Italy has announced that it will allow US armed drones to take off from a US base in Italy.
One anonymous western diplomat told the Daily Mail:"We have always made clear the intention of providing assistance in fighting Daesh. We need to take action where we can, that requires forces on the ground that we can help and train. Patience is very short with the House of Representatives."
There are reports that French Special Forces as well as intelligence commandos are engaged in covert operations along with special forces from both the UK and the US.
French special forces and commandos are also said to be involved in supporting the commander in chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Khalifa Haftar, in his attempts to regain control of all of Benghazi. However, some sources have denied that this is happening. However, no doubt whatever is happening in terms of foreign military intervention is mostly classified and meant to be secret in the first place. What seems to be evident is that Haftar has in fact approved foreign special forces presence, which appears to be mostly if not entirely in the eastern part of the country under the control of the HoR government and the LNA. Haftar is ensuring he has good relations with foreign militaries. This will help ensure that he keeps his job in spite of the fact that once the GNA gets a vote of confidence, the Presidency Council of the GNA is to take over the role of commander in chief of the LNA according to the terms of the Libya Political Agreement (LPA).


HoR may meet in desert Libyan town of Al-Jufra to vote on GNA

The internationally recognized House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk was supposed to have voted confidence in the UN-brokered Government of National Accord on Tuesday February 23 but the vote did not place.

The meeting is discussed in a recent article in Digital Journal. Descriptions of what happened vary. At first the reason for not voting was said to be because there was lack of a quorum. However, later, 100 members of the HoR signed a document indicating they supported the GNA. Many reports then came out claiming that there was a quorum but about 10 spoilers described as Cyrenaican/Federalists disrupted the meeting and hence there was no vote.
The meeting was postponed until next week. There were also suggestions that the venue of the meeting be changed to avoid disruptions. Mohammed Al-Read, a member of the HoR, said on TV that a group of members of the HoR had gathered and proposed that the next meeting be held in the desert oasis town of Al-Jufra or Kufra. He claimed the members who endorsed the GNA are willing to hold a session in the town. Al-Jufra is an oasis town far in the south-east of Libya, probably best known as a stopping place for immigrants on route to the coast and then Europe. There is an airport at Al-Jufra so a plane could be chartered to fly the pro-GNA members there. It is not clear why the opponents could not do the same but perhaps there is some arrangement to prevent this. Who knows?
In a recent news release, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) Martin Kobler doesn't even explicitly mention a vote of confidence in the HoR — instead there is vague phraseology. After welcoming the statement of support for the GNA signed by 100 members Kobler says:Martin Kobler welcomes this development that demonstrates the strong determination of the people of Libya and the overwhelming support by the majority within the HoR for the proposed GNA. In view of this public statement by the majority of parliamentarians, Mr. Kobler calls on the leadership of the HoR to take immediate steps to formalise this endorsement.While to formalize the endorsement could mean having a vote of confidence, perhaps the way is left open to get around the vote and use some other means. He could just gather together all those who favor the GNA in Kufra, have them vote approval and call that the vote of confidence. He used a similar stratagem to pass the Libya Political Agreement (LPA) on December 17 in Skhirat. Neither parliament ever approved the LPA. Skhirat was a gathering convened by Kobler of members of the Political Dialogue who approved the LPA. Of course, the meeting in Kufra would not be organized directly by Kobler, but by the prime minister-designate of the GNA, Faiez Serraj, with members of the HoR.
Al-Reaid's explanation of the disruption attributes it solely to demands for a better share of ministerial jobs:“I feel so disappointed with the riot and chaos that took place on Tuesday as the President of the HoR, Aqilah Saleh, was prevented from chairing the session and kick-starting it due to some MPs’ demands of ministerial posts for their own.”Other reasons given for opposition are that the Presidency Council is two large at nine and should be reduced to the original three. Also, some of the particular choices for cabinet positions are objected to. The official stories are suspicious. The lack of a quorum story contradicts the now prominent story of the spoilers preventing a vote together with the appearance of the letter with 100 signatures supporting the GNA. The latter story claims there was a quorum.
The letter signed by 100 HoR members provides a convenient device to bring in the cheerleaders. The international choir intones amen to approval of the GNA: The ambassadors – from the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the US and the UK – called on HoR President Ageela Salah “to acknowledge the approval by a majority of MPs” of the GNA and its programme.
We seem to be evolving towards a similar situation that happened before the Skhirat signing.
Back in October 2015 the UN Special Envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon said in a press release:
As you know there has been a position announced by the Speaker of the House of Representatives followed by a statement signed by what seems to be a majority of the members insisting that there was no proper vote and that was no proper decision taken by the House of Representatives on the agreement. This has created some confusion and I am coming here today, first of all, to insist that the process goes on, that there is no chance for small groups or personalities to hijack this process, that a majority of the Libyans want a political solution, they don’t want any more confrontations. The Libyan people are the ones suffering the consequences of these confrontations and the responsibility of the Libyan actors involved in this process and the international community and the United Nations that are supporting them is mainly to respond to these Libyans that are suffering.A majority of the HoR were then also said to be in favor of the LPA but with the proviso that Haftar keep his job a requirement inconsistent with the GNA. The appended video is from Iranian Press TV at the time.
The HoR never did pass the GNA and Leon's term ended. Kobler carried on with the same Leon LPA draft allowing no changes. As mentioned, he did a run around the two parliaments, by having those favoring the LPA sign an agreement in Skihirat on December 17, but now is faced with the same problem as he needs the approval of the HoR before the GNA term can start. As with Leon, there is this narrative of the majority wanting the GNA as they did the LPA, but being stopped by some spoilers. This time though, the issue of the status of Haftar has been expunged from the story altogether. Perhaps the situation is evolving as Jason Pack describes recently :In an attempt to save the situation, UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler travelled hurriedly to Tubruq to meet with HoR President Ageela Salah as well as Fayez Serraj on 21 February, to push for a majority vote and immediate endorsement of both the LPA and the proposed GNA. Despite international pleas to save this process, PM-designate Serraj left Tubruq for Cairo, a day before the all crucial vote on the GNA Gov list. It is very evident from these developments that Haftar continues to enjoy widespread support in the East, especially now as the offensive to retake Benghazi has so far succeeded more than any other before it. The meaning of these developments is that a pro-Egypt or pro-UAE solution is materializing with International/Western plans for a GNA largely stymied. This solution could undo the gains of the UN negotiations making it easier for the Islamist-aligned groups (such as various militias in Misrata and Tripoli) to support ISIS and other jihadis against Haftar and the anti-Islamist forces. This reassertion of the binary blocs is a very dangerous place for Libya as the country teeters on the verge of an international intervention.
Pack ignores that other jihadist groups such as the Shura Council in Derna are having fierce fights with the Islamic State. The bombing by the Americans in Sabratha was applauded by the rival Tripoli-based General National Council(GNC) and condemned by the HoR. In Sabratha jihadists loyal to the GNC are fighting the Islamic State. The relation ot IS to the two competing governments in complex. The problem is that the Haftar does not distinguish between the Islamic State and other jihadist groups as his Operation Dignity intends to defeat them all. However, the GNC has links to many jihadist groups that Haftar is fighting.


Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/politics/op-ed-libyan-hor-may-meet-in-desert-town-of-al-jufra/article/458651#ixzz41QKieWaB

Egyptian President El-Sisi briefly on sale on eBay

After a speech by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was widely mocked by Egyptians on social media, a prankster put the president "up for sale" on eBay.

Even though el-Sisi was for sale only a few hours he still managed to attract bids over $100,000 before the page was taken down. Apparently, ads are not vetted that carefully on eBay. The immediate cause of the prankster's ad was a speech on state television in which el-Sisi said: "By almighty God, if I could sell myself [to benefit the nation], I would have done it." The president also asked citizens to donate to the state treasury to help out the economic situation.
The ad on eBay read: "For sale on eBay, Field Marshal, Doctor of Philosophy with a military background, decent condition, current bid $100,301." The prankster said el-Sisi had been "used by the previous owner(Gulf royal familes) and that he would be shipped free. According to the Independent part of the description read: "Hey world, we decided to sell the infamous Egyptian Field Marshal and military coup leader Mr Abdel Fatah el-Sisi on eBay to bail out the Egyptian economy so you don't have to."
As well as outlining an economic plan, el-Sisi lashed out at critics of his government claiming that such criticism helped those trying to oust him: "Please, do not listen to anyone but me. I am dead serious..Be careful, no one should abuse my patience and good manners to bring down the state," he said, adding that he would "remove from the face of the Earth" anyone plotting to bring down the government.
Sisi also said that within 20 to 25 years Egypt would be a democracy.
As head of the military, el-Sisi led a coup against elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The coup happened after many demonstrations against Morsi, who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Later, el-Sisi was easliy elected president. He cracked down violently on protests and his government has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, declaring it a terrorist organization. Some rights groups compare el-Sisi's rule to that of former president Hosni Mubarak. There have been several mass trials condemning hundreds to death at one time.
El-Sisi has often made grandiose statements about his mission to save Egypt. According to this news source:Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi has described himself as a doctor sent by God to diagnose and cure Egypt of its many ailments.El-Sisi also said: “Leaders around the world, intelligence agency experts, politicians, journalists and the greatest philosophers, have begun to understand that what we're saying is pure, honorable, trustworthy, sincere and aiming only for the best interests.”Too bad el-Sisi is not an American. He could run as presidential candidate for the Republicans and give Trump a real battle.


One hundred HoR members sign statement supporting GNA

The first official reports from yesterday's meetings claimed the meeting had to be adjourned because there was not a quorum to vote.

The official story is represented by an AFP report:
 Libya's internationally recognised parliament was unable to hold a vote of confidence in the UN-backed unity government Tuesday because it lacked a quorum, amid concerns over increasing jihadist expansion.
Later, we have a good guys, bad guys narrative in which ten Cyrenaicans/ Federalists, the bad guys, stopped the good guys, who approved the GNA from voting. This view is pushed in the Libya Herald by Sam Zaptia, citing several members of the HoR. According to this view, there was a quorum but the bad guys prevented a vote. Apparently, the HoR has no security able to prevent the mighty 10 bad guys from doing their dastardly deeds and blocking the powerless good majority from voting. One hundred members are said to favor the GNA but are completely overpowered by the mighty 10 spoilers who want to stop them. Such is the power of evil.
However, the good guys are fighting back, as Sam Zaptia reports in the Libya Herald that the member from Misrata, Mohameed Raied said of the bad guys:‘This group continued in its insistence on preventing the session taking place by force forcing about a hundred member into expressing their views through the signing of a list (attached) granting confidence in the (GNA) government’’.
This narrative is picked up by other media such as the Middle East Eye which notes that 100 of the HoR 176 members signed a petition saying that they were "forcibly prevented" from voting after receiving threats. The Middle East Eye continues to repeat the earlier narrative about their being no quorum: The parliament, located in the eastern town of Tobruk, was unable to hold the vote on Tuesday for the new government line-up because it lacked a quorum.The 100 lawmakers want to find an appropriate place for a new parliament session because it has become impossible to hold one in Tobruk.
The HoR will be the legislature of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA), according to the terms of the LPA. Security cannot be provided for an HoR session in Tobruk where the Libyan National Army holds sway. Once the GNA has a vote of approval, Martin Kobler and the prime minister-designate, Faiez Serraj, insist that the GNA move to Tripoli that is controlled by the rival General National Congress (GNC) government and its associated militia the Libya Dawn, both of which oppose the GNA. How do they expect to hold sessions there when they cannot even hold sessions in their home territory?
Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) who seems to suffer from a severe case of moral diarrhea in his rhetoric, issued his standard plea to help him get the GNA up and running. He also gives his usual moral lecture:"I am concerned about many reports of intimidation and threats against HoR members. This is unacceptable. Parliamentarians have to decide freely. The HoR leadership has the responsibility to ensure that the parliamentary process is unhindered and conducted in an environment free from threats or intimidation, according to democratic principles," said the UN Envoy for Libya.No mention in his press release of Khalifa Haftar nor of Section 8 of the LPA. Someone should ask him whatever happened to the EU sanctions that were supposed to be imposed upon Khaifa Haftar by the EU or why French Commandos now appear to be working with Haftar forces in Benghazi. Although Kobler and Faiez Serraj have met with Haftar, Kobler usually does not mention his name even though he is the key in much that is going on at present.
In his press release, Kobler "Calls on the leadership of the House of Representatives to formalize the declaration of the majority of its members approving the Government of National Accord." This is simply weird. What is it supposed to mean? Why does he not tell the HoR to do as the LPA demands move a vote of confidence in the HoR? At the end of his paean of praise for those who signed the document he says that the leadership of the HoR should take steps to formalize this endorsement. Is this just some roundabout way of demanding a vote or is it actually intended to describe some other process of formalization? Maybe Kobler can do as he did earlier when he bypassed the LPA being approved by either parliament. He just gathered together all those who favored the GNA and had them sign the LPA at Skhirat on December 17th last year. Perhaps now he will simply gather together all those who want to approve the GNA and have them formally sign something. He can designate someone from the HoR to be the chief signer for the HoR even though the person has no authorization from the HoR. There is always a way around these difficulties faced by the GNA because international cheerleaders will immediately applaud and the UN can pass a resolution of praise and support even though the process of getting the GNA approved might violate the LPA. However, maybe Kobler will develop some other plan. So far it seems he lacks a plan.


Phone use often cause of auto crashes new study finds

Use of mobile phones while driving may be the single most important factor causing car crashes in recent years according to a new study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

The data comes from a $70 million study by the Institute funded by the U.S. Transportation Research Board. Use of phones while driving was repeatedly caught on video during the study. The research collected a huge amount of data. The study observed driving during 55 million kilometers from autos with video cameras and other sensors. More than 3,500 drivers were involved. Distracted driving was found to double the crash risk, and occurred in more than half of all crashes.
Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, said: “The overall level of distraction suprized us quite a bit. Over half the time, the drivers are doing something other than driving, such as messing with the radio, messing with their cell phones, looking around at something not related to driving, or interacting with passengers.”Dingus and his colleagues analyzed crash risk factors from a huge study that was collected between 2011 and 2013 the second Strategic Highway Research Program Naturalistic Driving Study (SHRP 2 NDS).
Dingus and his group were able to calculate what the driving risks were for "model driving" behavior, that is when drivers were sober, alert and paying attention to the road. Using this as a baseline, the group were then able to calculate the increased risks of a crash for distracted driving and other factors such as alcohol or drug use.
Such a huge collection of driving data has, for the first time, allowed Dingus and his colleagues to calculate the crash risks for “model driving” behaviors: when drivers were sober, alert, and paying attention to the road. The model driving scenario became the baseline for calculating the increased crash risks related to distracted driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and other factors. Dingus was lead author on the resulting research detailed in the most recent issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
An article here gives a summary of the increase in risks for a crash for various factors. Cellphone handheld use increased the likelihood of a crash by 3.6 times and occurred 6.4 percent of the time. Fatigue and drowsiness was another important factory but happened less often at just 1.57 percent of the time. Emotions caused an even larger increase in risk at 9.8 times but happened only ,22 percent of the time. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol increased the risk of a crash by a large almost 36 times but was rare in the study happening on only .08 percent of the driving time. No doubt the fact that the cars were fitted with sensors and cameras were a factor in the low percentage of time driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
The Virginia Tech study improves upon older techniques that relied on crash investigations. The method often involved reliance upon memories of individuals involved in crashes which were sometimes incomplete or even faulty. Another method involved volunteers and driving simulation but often did not replicate well the actual responses of drivers during regular driving.
The U.S. fatal crash rate has been actually falling for some time. This no doubt reflects better road conditions and better safety factors built into new cars. Driver behavior, however, may not have improved in some respects. Newer technological devices such as mobile phones have increased the likelihood of risky behaviors by drivers.
The data led the researchers to quantify the risks of driver errors such as going the wrong way on a one-way street. Doing so increased the risk of a crash by a whopping 936 times but occurred only .01 percent of the time. Failing to stop at a stop sign increased crash risk by 5.3 times and happened more often at 1.04 percent of the time.
Eventually self-driving cars may get around the issue of driver errors altogether but that may be far in the future as yet and the cars have their own problems. Mark Rosekind, administratory of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claims that driverless cars could lead to a 94 percent decrease in the number of fatal crashes caused by human error. At present, there are various features of automated car systems that can help reduce accidents.
One new feature that will help reduce accidents is automatic emergency braking. Ten automakers, Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo have all committed to working with the National Highway Traffic Safety to install such systems in their new vehicles. However, some safety advocates suggest that this move is actually intended to forestall mandatory measures and regulations that would be passed by the U.S. government.


High-paying doctor's position in New Zealand has no takers

Dr. Alan Kenny co-owns a medical practice in Tokoroa New Zealand. He has been searching for a General Practiioner for two years even though he is offering an income of $400,000 or 190,000 pounds annually.

Kenny, originally from the UK, told reporters from the New Zeland Herald that his practice has "exploded" and that he is overworked. He has had to cancel holidays several times as he has been unable to find anyone to fill in for him. Kenny said:
 “I can offer them a really, really amazing income; it’s incredible. My practice has exploded in the last year and the more patients you list, the more money you get. But it just gets too much at the end of the day.”Two years ago his daughter, Sarah, came to work as a GP, learn from her father, and help relieve some of the pressure. She is the only New Zealand doctor working at the practice.
There is even more than the hefty salary offered by Kenny. He also offers the right applicant three months annual leave, no night or weekend work, and a half share of the practice. There are 6,000 patients associated with the practice. Kenny has not even had a single applicant the last four months. Kenny said:“I love my work and I would like to stay but I hit my head against a brick wall trying to attract doctors. If it’s hard enough to get doctors to work alongside me, it’s going to be a devil of a job to get doctors to replace me.”
Linda Reynolds, the New Zealand General Practice Network's deputy chief executive, said that the majority of rural GP vacancies were filled by international medical graduates(IMGs). The typical salary for a rural GP was between NZ $150,000 to $280,000. Vacancies took between two to three years to fill. Most of the IMg'S just come on a short term basis. Reynolds said that contributing factors to the shortage of rural GPs were isolation, lack of social activities, and poor access to broadband networks. Four medical recruitment teams have been unable to find Kenny a suitable candidate over the last two years.
Tokoroa is a town of over 13,000 people in the north-central part of the northern island of New Zealand. Dr. Kenny noted that the medical school in Auckland was the largest in New Zealand. The students often came from wealthy families in the Auckland area who did not want to practice in rural areas. He said if more students were recruited from rural areas more might be available.
While owning a practice can increase a doctor's income, many doctors prefer not to own a practice because of the extra work it involves. Dr. Kenny noted that just the other day he saw 43 patients while the limit recommended by the Royal College of GP's is just 25. Doctors in Tokoroa are high earners considering the median income is just $17,000 annually for those 15 and over. Tokoroa has some of New Zealand's cheapest housing. Many doctors, however, commute from larger centers such as Cambridge where there are better opportunities for schooling for older children. Tokoroa is a relatively economically depressed area with unemployment being at a high 22 percent.
Rural areas are not alone in facing a doctor shortage in New Zealand. A survey by the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners in 2015 found 37 per cent of rural practices had a vacancy in 2014 compared with 42 per cent of urban practices. The vacancies in rural practices took longer to fill. Those attracted to Tokoroa are likely to be male, older, work long hours and are trained in South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The same shortage of qualified doctors for rural areas is found in the Canadian prairies. The closest hospital from where I live in Manitoba has only two doctors and both are leaving. As in New Zealand, many rural doctors are trained overseas, Our two local doctors come from South Africa. For some time the hospital has been trying to recruit new doctors but so far with no luck at all. One doctor has agreed to stay on for another six months. The town has less than a thousand people whereas most immigrant doctors want to practice in a large city such as Winnipeg.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

International Energy Agency predicts oil prices to continue low in 2016

Experts at the International Energy Agency (IEA) said a continuing glut of oil will keep prices low and prevent them from rebounding until next year.

Just a year ago the IEA, the Paris-based group of 29 major oil importing nations, had projected a relatively fast recovery. Instead, prices have continued falling even below $30 a barrel, the lowest level since 2003. Today the price is up somewhat but still just about $33 a barrel, with Canadian oil being even lower.
The head of the IEA, Faith Birol, said "extraordinary volatility" in oil markets make forecasting what will happen quite difficult. Legendary predictor Jim Gray predicted last December that oil would fall below $30 a barrel and stay there. He was right that it fell below $30, but for now it is above that level. However, Birol said, in the IEA report released Monday: "Our analysis of the oil market fundamentals at the start of 2016 is clear that in the short term there is unlikely to be a significant increase in prices."
Birol expects Canadian output to be more than 5 million barrels a day, as projects approved years ago still continue to come online. Even though some companies are operating at a loss on each barrel produced, no major shut-downs or closures have been announced yet. However, expansion is quite another matter. In the oil sands in particular, companies are in no mood to expand given the low prices of oil. The IEA expects crude output to slow considerably once approved expansions are complete.
Given the increasing production, oil supplies have grown over the last three years. Oil prices have dropped by 70 percent since 2014. As a result, gasoline prices have also declined. In the U.S., the U.S. Energy Information Center forecasts an average price of just $1.98 a gallon on average for the year. This is the lowest average price since 2004.
The IEA reported capital expenditures on exploration and production declined by 24 percent last year and was expected to drop another 17 percent this year. This will be the first decline of two years in a row since 1986. Alberta has been worst hit by the decline in oil prices.
Last year alone, Alberta lost 19,600 jobs, the most since 1982. Cold Lake is a prominent oil sands hub, where as much as 500,000 barrels a day is produced. Oil majors such as Cenovus, Imperial Oil, Husky Energy, and Canadian Natural Resources have operations in the area, which also features a Canadian Air Force base. The town has been hard hit by the postponement of many oil sands projects.
The mayor of Cold Lake, Craig Copeland, estimates 1,000 out of 5,000 working directly in the oil fields are out of work in the Lakeland area of 40,000 people. Copeland noted that there was a time from 2012-2014, when you were unable to get a room in Cold Lake, but now parking lots are empty. The decline hurts local business serving the oil industry. Construction workers from across Canada are sent home. Restaurants and hotels lose more and more business. Statscan reports that the unemployment rate in the Wood Buffalo/ Cold Lake are went from a high 8.6 percent in December to 9 percent in January this year. Even a year ago the rate was 5.4 percent. Copeland worries that because of the decline in oil prices, lack of pipeline capacity and climate-change policy, that the oil sands production will no longer grow. He is concerned that oil sands production could freeze at present levels causing the Cold Lake area to decline further.
A Petroleum Labour Market Information labour demand report for the area projects a 92 percent lower demand for onsite construction workers by 2018, or 20,000 fewer jobs compared to 2014. Operations jobs will improve modestly but still far below 2014 levels. While the decline in oil prices has hurt Alberta the most, Saskatchewan too has been hard hit as described in this article about Estevan billed as the Energy Capital of Saskatchewan, south of the actual capital Regina,

Robot lawyer writes letters to challenge parking tickets

Trying to get out of paying a traffic ticket is a headache. Using a lawyer can end up costing more than the ticket itself. The cost of using a lawyer to fight a ticket can be from $400 to $900 depending on the case,.

This is where Joshua Browder, a 19-year-old student, enters the scene. Browder created a robot lawyer in the UK that has already since being launched in 2015 appealed $3 million in parking tickets. The programmer's robot costs nothing to use. It answers questions about parking-ticket appeals in the UK.
The robot is user friendly. When you sign in, a chat screen appears. The robot then asks questions about your case such as who was driving and whether the parking signs were easy to read. When it is finished with the questions it automatically creates an appeal letter. If the answers to the questions are confusing to the robot it will ask the person to contact Browder directly and gives directions how to do so. The site is still being developed but by this Spring a full version is expected to be ready. Browder is a freshman at Stanford University in California.
Laws are publicly available, so that robots are able to automate some simple tasks that human lawyers, or their assistants, have been doing for decades. Browder's robot lawyer is not the first. Acadmx has a bot that creates legal briefs that are perfectly formatted. Lex Machina can do data mining of judge's records and make predictions on what a given judge will do.Browder claims that his type of robot could also deal with delayed or canceled flights or payment-protection insurance claims.
The robot's programming is based upon a conversation algorithm, using keywords, pronouns, and word order to understand that user's issue. The robot has the ability to learn from its interaction with users. The bot is programmed according to UK law but Browder feels that program could be adapted so that it can be used eventually to make compensation claims for delayed flights to the US from the UK such as from London to New York.
The robot lawyers are not likely to replace human lawyers but in the matter of issues such as simple appeals they may soon replace them and save people a great deal of money. Lawyers will lose some money but they will also be spared some rather routine and uninteresting work.
Browder left London last September to begin working on an Economics and Computer Science degree at Stanford. Originally he created a website called "DoNotPay" designed to help people appeal unfair parking tickets. Browder began to get many emails from those using the site. The result was that eventually Browder was receiving thousands of emails each month that he simply did not have the time to answer. His robot lawyer was the solution to the problem. The bot does assume that you do have some legal grounds for your case. If you have no good grounds for appeal, the bot wont help.
It would be illegal for the robot to give subjective advice related to the law but as it is configured, it just answers questions in order to come up with a coherent appeal based on the law that you mail to the court. In the UK the robot has been used by 151,000 people and its success rate has been 47 percent. This is a better rate than many lawyers who specialize in appealing tickets. Browder expects to use the bot in New York in the coming spring to deal with delayed and canceled flights.


Bernie Sanders' campaign gains ground among younger women

As if to prove Sanders is right and Wall Street and other money interests control U.S. elections, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) overturned a ban on federal lobbyists, introduced by Obama in 2008, restricting donations from super-PACs.

A political action committee (PAC) is an organization that collects contributions from members and uses those funds to campaign for or against candidates for election or legislation. Only Hillary Clinton will benefit from the move, since she is the only candidate who takes such donations. Sanders refuses to take any funds from super-PACS. The move may help Sanders though, as it shows Hillary is dependent upon lobbyists for support.
According to the New York Times, Clinton received a total of $47.9 million from super-PACs in 2015 at the same time as she advocated campaign finance reform. The chair of the DNC, Debbie Schultz, also accepts money from super-PACs and corporate interests. As more and more Americans are asking their politicians to break off monetary dependence on wealthy individuals and corporations, the DNC is moving to gain increased funding from those sources to defeat Sanders who is attempting to reform the system. Shultz's seeming favoritism towards Clinton has led to calls for her resignation in some quarters.
A joint fund-raising group between the DNC and the Clinton campaign, named the Hillary Victory Fund, rose $26.9 million as of the the end of 2015. Thirty-three state Democratic parties signed pacts with Hillary's campaign. The Clinton campaign is said to control the funds and decide which states receive the funds. According to Bloomberg, New Hampshire received $124,000. Another factor that worked against Sanders in New Hampshire are that six super-delegates voted for Hillary even though Sanders received 60 percent of the vote in the primary election. Super-delegates are automatically seated and are free to vote for whomever they want.
The super-delegate system was started in the 1980s as a way of giving the party establishment more influence on determining who was the presidential nominee. Sanders will have an uphill battle to win. The Democratic establishment together with wealthy individual and corporate interests that bankroll the party are doing their best to defeat him.
The Sanders campaign and his policies have even caused splits among renowned elite economists. Gerald Friedman, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, provided data to explain the costs and benefits of Sanders economic agenda. These include his Medicare-for-all health plan, $15 an hour wage plan, equal gender pay program, and other programs. Four economists, Alan Krueger, Christina Romer, Austan Goolsbee, and Laura Tyson wrote an open letter to Friedman accusing him of "extreme claims" and claimed he undermined the whole progressive economic agenda. The Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman then set out in several blogs to criticize Friedman and Sanders. Citing the letter against Friedman, Krugman said Sanders was engaging in "fantasy" and "voodoo."
The attacks caused former Joint Economic Committee Executive Director, James Galbraith to defend Friedman. Galbraith, who teaches at the University of Texas, said none of Friedman's critics had actually crunched the numbers to show where Friedman was wrong. He directly accused all five prominent economists of dishonestly smearing Friedman to gain political points for Hillary Clinton. Galbraith said of the letter from the four economists:"You write that you have applied rigor to your analyses of economic proposals by Democrats and Republicans .On reading this sentence I looked to the bottom of the page, to find a reference or link to your rigorous review of Professor Friedman's study. I found nothing there."The criticism of Friedman is rather ironic since he himself supports Clinton, not Sanders. Galbraith concluded there were quite significant results from Sanders program because of their scale and that they were not fantasy. Galbraith concludes: "What the Friedman paper shows, is that under conventional assumptions, the projected impact of Senator Sanders' proposals stems from their scale and ambition. When you dare to do big things, big results should be expected. The Sanders program is big, and when you run it through a standard model, you get a big result. It is not fair or honest to claim that Professor Friedman's methods are extreme. Nor is it fair or honest to imply that you have given Professor Friedman's paper a rigorous review. You have not."
Galbraith is particularly angry that Paul Krugman has used his "high perch to airily dismiss the Friedman paper as 'nonsense.'" Many people rely on Krugman to make careful assessments, Galbraith claims, but in this case he has made no such assessment. Friedman's work in this case is far more careful than Krugman's casual dismissal of his work itself, based upon an analysis by the four economists that did not carefully analyze Friedman's work.
Along with the division about Sanders and his programs among economists, the polls vary as well. However, Sanders definitely appears to be gaining in popularity while Hillary's popularity is sliding. Ironically, Hillary is failing to gain the support of many women, especially younger women. Policies are trumping gender. The result has been some very flawed attempts to help Hillary by prominent feminists such as Gloria Steinem.
A recent poll by Fox News shows Sanders with 47 percent support to Clinton's 44 percent. This is a 10 percent gain over the same poll taken in January. While this is the first poll showing Clinton as trailing, in the last two Quinniplac University tracking polls Clinton led Sanders by only two per cent. The Hill blog notes:It's unclear whether the numbers are outliers or indicative of a dramatic change in the race. Outside of the Quinnipiac poll, Clinton posted double-digit leads in all three national polls conducted in February, with the largest lead coming in at 21 percentage points.
The Democratic establishment is getting more and more worried. Sanders was supposed to be the sheepherder who would help bring leftists back into the Democratic fold. The only problem is that he brought in too many sheep and it now looks as if they could take over the party and Clinton could lose the nomination.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Egypt closes only center for treatment and documentation of torture

Egyptian officials ordered the El Nadeem center closed for breaching unspecified health ministry regulations. El Nadeem is the last center remaining in Egypt that documents and treats alleged torture victims.

Aida Seif Al-Dawia, the director of the Cairo-based center claimed the closure order was politically motivated. Rights groups have been critical of Egypt's crackdown on dissent. Recently, there has been a surge of allegations of torture by officials. The El Nadeem center has been operating since 1993. It provides support and counseling for victims of torture.
The group has been given until Monday to close. The director has vowed to defy the order and said the center will continue its work unless the staff were arrested. Amnesty International said the closing of the center was "an extension of the ongoing crackdown on human rights activists in Egypt." The group noted the center was a lifeline for hundreds of torture victims and for families of people subject to enforced disappearances. Said Boumedouha, deputy director of Amnesty for the Middle East and North Africa said: “This looks to us like a barefaced attempt to shut down an organization which has been a bastion for human rights and a thorn in the side of the authorities for more than 20 years.”
Oria Guerin of the BBC said the closure comes when enforced disappearances are rising, as are allegations of torture by police and intelligence officers. Two weeks ago, the mutilated corpse of an Italian student, Guilio Regini, was found by a roadside following allegations he had been kidnapped by security services. The security services have denied the allegations. Ever since the overthrow of the elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi in 2013, there have been numerous human rights violations by the new Egyptian President Abduul al-Sisi. Sisi was army chief when he led a coup against Morsi after large demonstrations against him. The Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organization by the military-backed government. Since then, there have been several mass trials with hundreds sentenced to death and demonstrations were broken up with hundreds of protesters being killed. Western countries continue to support Egypt and provide military assistance, especially the United States. Al-Sisi is a strong supporter of Khalifa Haftar, the commander in chief of the Libyan National Army(LNA) in neighboring Libya. The UN envoy in Libya, Martin Kobler, the head of the Presidency Council of the GNA, Faiez Serraj, and Haftar himself have met with al-Sisi, showing that he is a key played in events in Libya.
Director, al-Dawia said two policemen came to the center on Wednesday with an order from the Health Ministry to close the center. She said: “The decision did not give any reasons. We managed to persuade them to postpone the closure until we went to the Health Ministry next Monday to understand the reasons, Unless they arrest us all, we will continue in our work as long as we remain out of prison. It would be stupid if they shut down the center because we provide a service that no one else provides to the underprivileged.”
spokesperson from the Ministry of Health claimed that the center engaged in "activities other than the activity allowed in its permit" but did not say what they were.The UN Human Rights Council has many times expressed concern of the methods used by Egyptian security forces and their killing of anti-government protesters.
Egypt has been closing down more and more NGO organizations and their facilities. Critics say the moves have rolled back the freedoms won after the government of Hosni Mubarak was overthrown during the Arab Spring in 2011. In spite of evidence to the contrary Egyptian authorities simply deny that they round up people and detain them in secret detention centers where they are subject to torture. The closure of the Nadeem center is just another move to prevent any evidence against the government and opposition to their methods.


Pressure grows for foreign military intervention in Libya

Before the term of the UN-brokered Libya Government of National Accord begins its term, it must first receive a vote of confidence from the internationally-recognized House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk.

The HoR met some time ago and rejected the GNA presented as too large. The GNA Presidency Council with prime minister designate Faiez Serraj as head presented a new GNA cabinet list that was reduced from the original 32 ministers to just 13 ministers and 5 ministers of state. However two of those named as ministers refused to serve. A new list has to be presented again to the HoR and will be voted on next Tuesday February 23.
Even if the GNA is passed on February 23, it faces a security issue if it tries to locate in Tripoli an area controlled by the rival General National Congress(GNC) government. The head of the United Nations Security MIssion in Libya (UNSMIL), Martin Kobler, insists the GNA be located in Libya since the headquarters of the National Oil Co. and the Libyan National Bank are there. The LPA also says the capital of the GNA will be in Tripoli. The GNC has not approved the GNA nor authorized those who signed from the GNC to do so. The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, a group of militia who support the GNC, has announced it will not recognize the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) nor the GNA signed in Skhirat on December 17 without the approval or authorization of either the HoR or the GNC. The Operations Room group said:“We won’t acknowledge the Skhirat agreement even if it is approved by Tobruk parliament because we are still committed to the rejection of any agreement that does not criminalize the ex-regime, sever all ties with its followers and stop reproducing it anew. We give our support to the Libyan-Libyan solution as it will guarantee the freedom of the political entities and the sublimity of Islam as well as the welfare of the people in the country. We are looking for a government that does not follow foreign dictations and does not want to go back to the bygone eras of colonization.”The members of the GNA "trusteeship government." as the Operations Room group call it. are play directors, headed by "agent" Faiez Serraj. They will all be legitimate targets should they set foot in Tripoli or other areas under the control of the GNC. The group supports the so-called Libya-Libya dialogue that consists only of Libyans associated with the rival groups, without the UN or foreign interference. The group's task is to come to a Libya-based political agreement between rival parties.
As the likelihood increases of the GNA coming into being only after some time, the pressure is building for foreign military intervention in Libya even before the GNA is up and running. Those ready to intervene were hoping to have the GNA ask them in and thus justify their intervention. However, with the delay in the formation of the GNA and the difficulties of its moving to Tripoli, pressure is increasing to intervene soon and without the blessing of the new GNA. There are already special operations forces from several countries in Libya, and UK planes are already flying sorties.
A recent article in Foreign Policy outlines some of the difficulties posed by foreign military intervention. The article gives a good summary of the extent of holdings that the Islamic has in Libya. Estimates of he number of fighters present varies enormously from source to source from 2,000 to 3,000, up to 10,000. The higher figures seem designed to show that rapid intervention is necessary to block any further growth. The article notes that those those who expected the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat on December 17 to lead rapidly to a new Government of National Accord (GNA) — that could then justify their intervention by asking them to help fight the Islamic State — were misguided:Those who were hoping that the December agreement would allow for the rapid formation of an internationally recognized unity government are misguided. The temptation to simply recognize a government — even if it cannot set foot in Libya, and especially the capital — and get it to make an official request for foreign assistance is foolish. It would be instantly discredited among many Libyans, probably causing more new problems than it would resolve.Those who insist the Islamic State threat is severe and immediate apparently are arguing that some type of intervention should be attempted without any sort of justification provided by the GNA. So far, Obama in the U.S., has resisted some in the military who want quicker action.


American head of Libyan Constitutional Drafting Assembly dismissed

Libya's troubles aren't not only with the formation of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which now faces a vote of confidence next Tuesday in the internationally recognized House of Representatives (HoR).

There are also issues with the Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA). The CDA is charged with presenting a new Libyan constitution, which will form the basis for new elections and then an elected government to replace the Government of National Accord. The Al-Bayda Appeals Court, the administrative judiciary department, just delivered a verdict on Monday that will dismiss the chair of the CDA, Ali Al-Tarhouni.
The decision was stated as follows:First: It is urgent that the High National Election Commission (HNEC) decision (No. 29), which approves Ali Al-Tarhouni a member in the Constitution Drafting Assembly, is partially annulled.
Second: It is urgent that the Constitution Drafting Assembly's decision that approved Ali Al-Tarhouni as the head of the CDA is overruled.
The problem is that Al-Tarhouni is a dual Libyan and American citizen. Two members of the CDA, Daw Aun, and Hamdi Yacoub, filed a lawsuit to dismiss Al-Tarhouni because he has dual citizenship. According to Libyan law, a citizen who takes another citizenship invalidates his or her Libyan citizenship. As a result, Al-Tarhouni is not qualified to serve as head of the CDA.
At the end of January, 11 members of the CDA boycotted assembly sessions as a protest and said they would not recognize its outcomes. The members complained of attempts to impose regionalism as a basis for the constitution. Some members even insisted that there be three regions and three capitals within Libya, as there had been formerly. The members were scathing in their criticism of Al-Tarhouni. One of the boycotters, Daou Al-Mansouri, said Al-Tarhouni addressed international organizations without the knowledge or permission of the group. The group accused him of obstructing the work of the CDA. The two members who filed suit against Al-Tarhouni were among the boycotters.
The CDA results so far have been rejected by outsiders as well. There was a recent protest by some Libyan judiciary. The group complained that the CDA paid no attention to their suggestions for the constitution and the necessity for an independent judiciary. The members said: “We suspend our communication with the Constitution Drafting Assembly after they violated the independency of the Libyan judiciary in the forthcoming constitution, not to mention that they also ignored all the recommendations in favor of the greater good of the country.”
They also said they would make a constitutional appeal against the CDA results in the Supreme Constitutional Court since the CDA had ignored their demands.
Finally, a number of municipalities in the west of Libya, rejected the outcomes of the CDA and demanded that the CDA stress the unity of Libya and renounce division and separation. The municipalities issued a statement which said that they all support the members who boycotted sessions at the end of January. The CDA's work committee put out a draft that referred to Libya as the Libyan Republic with three capitals. Tripoli would be the political capital, Benghazi the economic capital, and Sabha in the south, the touristic and cultural capital. The group rejected the regionalism implicit in the draft. Libya has no new government yet and even if it does finally get one, there will be no new elections until a new constitution is agreed upon.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

New GNA not to be voted upon until Tuesday February 23rd

Even though the new Libyan Government of National Accord was announced on Sunday and the internationally-recognized House of Representatives met at least briefly on Tuesday, the vote of confidence is postponed for a week.

The new GNA with 13 ministries plus five state ministers was announced late on Sunday. The list did not reach the HoR in time to vote Monday but it appears they met on Tuesday. However a recent report from the Libya Herald claims the vote is now postponed for a week. It appears the result would not be what the UN and the international community want. The postponement is explained by the Herald as follows:
The House of Representatives has agreed to a request by prime minister-designate Faiez Serraj to delay discussing his new list of ministers for another week. He asked for the delay after two of the ministers who had been chosen withdrew their nominations.Imagine, people were named ministers without getting their approval first. This is par for the course in a process full of irregularities missed deadlines and deliberately ignoring terms of the Libyan Political Agreement(LPA). The new deadline for approval of the GNA has now passed but of course no one cares. What is important is that the new GNA somehow gets up and running so it can legitimize foreign military intervention in Libya. Yet there is another week's delay at least before this can even begin.
The week's extension had conditions including that Serraj turn up next Saturday in Tobruk with an amended list together with CVs of the ministers and his agenda for the government so that the GNA can be voted on next Tuesday. Does this mean that the list came with no CV's before and with no government agenda? The latter is a requirement of the LPA. The HoR also said that if the deadline were not met that the HoR would reject the GNA and the Presidency Council.
Some sources in the HoR also said that the group has reservations about some of the ministers, especially Mohamed Siaia who was chosen as foreign minister. Critics claim he continued to support the Gadaffi regime long after the start of the revolution. The members of the GNA from the General National Congress (GNC) government should have been even more reluctant to accept Siaia but apparently agreed to him being chosen. Some are suggesting that when the list comes to a vote, the HoR is demanding that there be a separate vote on each minister rather than voting them all in as a group, as no doubt the UN and GNA would want.
Serraj is said to be in Cairo having talks with Egyptian officials. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Martin Kobler, is also said to be in Cairo to have talks with Egyptian officials. Kobler was all praise for the work of the GNA Presidency Council and congratulated them on the new list which he considered a major breakthrough and promised what he called a new beginning for Libya. He then called on the HoR to give a vote of confidence in the GNA. Kobler even said of the HoR that "it's now their responsibility to save their country from the scourge of further conflict and destruction. This is an historic opportunity for peace that should not be missed". This is typical of the vapid, optimistic, moralizing rhetoric completely divorced from reality that is characteristic not only of Kobler but of his predecessor Leon. Behind the scenes Kobler and Faiez are no doubt busy trying to buy off dissent and push through the GNA. Apparently Egypt and their president Sisi is key to developing events. Sisi is a strong supporter of Khalifa Haftar. Somehow the whole issue of Section 8 of the LPA which takes away Haftar's job from him has left the radar of the news media and everyone else who counts even though it is a crucial ingredient in this stew.
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