Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Greek unions protest austerity measures

The largest Greek unions are having protests and work stoppages today (Feb. 29) to protest the coalition government's plan to press ahead with more austerity measures and wage cuts.

A three-hour work stoppage will close tax offices and public agencies from noon to 3. At 6 PM protests are planned for central Athens. Groups in other parts of Europe are to join in solidarity.

The government already passed cuts to public pensions and government spending and cuts to the minimum wage yesterday. The measures are demanded by creditors to receive rescue loans.

Doctors in many hospitals are also on strike for a day to protest cuts in health care funding. Greece's largest union the GSEE said:"The workers in our country will continue step up their (protest) action and in Greece and in Europe so we can finally put a stop to this steamrolling of society," The protests have not stopped the government from forging ahead with austerity measures.

Since the start of the financial problems Greece's unemployment rate has almost doubled to a whopping 21 per cent. Yet the country is forced to make more cuts that will create further unemployment to receive a 174 billion rescue package to avoid default. Many analysts doubt the package will save Greece and that it will eventually default in any event. For more see this article.

February 29th: Time for women to propose

At least in countries as diverse as Finland, Scotland and Ireland that is the accepted tradition. In these countries it is the one time for those women who have been waiting for him to pop the question to force his hand by popping it first.

In Greece however it is bad luck to get married in a leap year. This leap year it is probably bad luck for many Greeks whether they get married or not!

In countries where women are to propose on this day the men usually suffer some fine if they turn down the proposal. Often the fine is enough to purchase a dress.

In Scotland Queen Margaret supposedly passed a law in 1288 that permitted women to propose on the 29th. The woman however had to wear a red petticoat under her skirt to warn her suitor what was to happen. Many scholars dispute this story as well as Irish traditional stories about the custom.

Supposedly an Irish fifth century nun asked St. Patrick for permission to allow women to propose on the 29th of February. The story goes that the nun St. Brigid then proposed to St. Patrick. This seems a bit contradictory to Roman Catholic rules about marriage to put it mildly! For more see this article. Some feminists have found the tradition demeaning to women but others have pointed out in historical context it actually gave women more power and enabled them to break with tradition.

California University Bonds rely on increasing tuition revenue

The California State Treasury office was able to successfully sell bonds to 70 large investors. The bonds have a whopping 100 year term and 860 million dollars worth were sold.

The funds will be used to finance various capital projects in the University System. The interest rate is about 4.9 per cent paid twice a year. The demand for the bonds was so strong that the offering was increased from 500 million to 860 million.

While state finances are in dire shape and funding is being cut for universities nevertheless investors show confidence in the university and are banking on the U. of Cal. system surviving for a century. Why?

The rating agency Moody's has the explanation. In spite of state budget cuts the U. of Cal. has the ability to raise revenue by increasing tuition fees. So there you have it. Students will pay more and more for their tuition to pay off bonds. Increased fees will make it more difficult for less well off students to attend university and those who do attend will have a larger debt to pay off when they graduate. For more see this article.

Michael Hudson: Planning for the One Per Cent

There is a lengthy interview on video plus a transcript with Michael Hudson at this site.Michael Hudson was formerly a Wall Street Financial analyst. At present he is a distinguished research professor in economics at the U. of Missouri in Kansas City.

Hudson discusses the role of large banks, financial power, and public policy. Hudson notes that concentration of ownership of corporations also concentrates political power. Lobbying and donations by corproations increases their political powr.

In particular Hudson argues that finance is becoming more and more important in determining policy. Planning and policy are less determined by government than by large financial institutions. This has been happening Hudson claims since the 1980's and is evident not just in Europe but in North America as well. The overhwelming influence of financial powers on the plans for bailouts in Europe seem to support Hudson's views on this.

Banks often plan for the short term wanting to increase their profit and little else. The reckless loaning of money and use of complex financial instruments whose risk was diffiult to determine helped create the recent recession. Many bank schemes have nothing to do with increasing production or innovation. For much more see the full interview and transcipt here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Paul Krugman on what ails Europe

An op-ed in the New York Times by the well-known liberal U.S. economist Paul Krugman is titled "What Ails Europe?" Krugman writes from Lisbon in Portugal.

In Portugal Krugman notes that unemployment stands at 13 per cent. While this is bad enough the situation is worse in Greece, Ireland and perhaps in Spain as well. Even the whole of Europe may be sliding back into a recession.

Krugman maintains that several of the stories explaining Europe's situation are simply not true. Both what he calls the Republican narrative and the German narrative are false.

According to the Republican narrative pushed by the likes of Mitt Romney Europe has spent too much on the poor and that too much welfare state spending has ruined the economy and plunged states into debt.

Krugman mentions that Sweden which still has an extensive welfare state is nevertheless doing well economically. NOTE; The welfare state in Sweden has been cut back however. Those countries in the most trouble Greece Ireland Portugal Spain are not in the top five of 15 European euro zone nations. Only Italy is in the top five and still has less of a welfare state than Germany which is one of the strongest economies. These facts surely show that the welfare state spending per se was not the trouble.

The German story is all about the fiscal irresponsibility of nations having debt problems. The story fits Greece to an extent but not the other countries having problems. Italy's deficits happened long ago and Spain and Ireland actually had surpluses. Countries such as the U.S. and Japan can run huge deficits without apparently facing any huge crisis. NOTE: Some analysts might claim that those countries just have not faced up to their crisis as yet!

In spite of their debts the U.S. and Japan as well are able to borrow at very low-interest rates. Krugman sees Europe's main problem as having a common currency without the institutions that are required for the common currency to work properly.

The common Euro led investors to invest huge amounts of capital into countries around the edges of Europe a flow that was unsustainable. These large flows caused both costs and prices to rise making some countries uncompetitive. This in turned resulted in large trade deficits.

The countries involved cannot devalue their currencies and restore competitiveness because they are tied to the Euro. The nations only have painful choices whether they stay with the Euro or leave the zone.

Krugman thinks that Germany could help by reversing its imposition of austerity policies but will not do so. Probably it is not politically doable in any event. What is important for Krugman is that people should realise that the conventional wisdom about the too expensive welfare state and fiscal irresponsibility lead to failed policies that often make the situation worse. For more see the article. Even though these policies make the situation worse over the short term they do weaken labor and do cut spending on social programs. This leaves more of the economic pie for the one per cent. The theory is that once labor costs are low enough and the countries implement more policies favorable to financial capital that investment will flow back into those countries

Some Greek politicians bailing out of Greek banks

Austerity it seems is for Greek workers not for some of the politicians that are supposed to be representing them. Some Greek parliamentarians are bailing out of Greek banks.

No doubt they are looking for somewhere safer to keep their cash. A watchdog agency reported that one member had already transferred a million euros out of the country. Interesting that a politician has a million euros to move while the government votes to cut the minimum wage by twenty per cent.

Even Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos reported in parliament that some parliamentarians had transferred sums in excess of 130,000 dollars out of the country. These actions will make the government and politicians subject to even more anger from the Greek populace.

Thomas Klau, from the European Council on Foreign relations said:"The political situation in Greece remains unstable with regard to the ability of this Greek government or future Greek governments to deliver on the assurances given the euro zone partners," Many analysts feel that Greece will default in spite of the bailouts it has received. The economy is set to continue contraction after austerity measures have been imposed. For more see this article.

Monday, February 27, 2012

New evidence shows convicted Lockerbie bomber probably innocent

I have always thought that Abdel al-Megrahi who was convicted of carrying out the Lockerbie bombing attack in 1988 was innocent. Even some family members of victims have felt the same. Nevertheless the mainstream press has always accepted his guilt as a fact and there was a huge howl when he was released to Libya for health reasons while Gadaffi was still in power.

In my view he was a convenient pawn in Gadaffi's successful attempts to improve relations with the west. Gadaffi no doubt knew as well that he was innocent but was quite willing to go along with the charade. Megrahi's return back to Libya was probably in part due to commercial interests. Now there is a documentary to be shown on Al Jazeera "Lockerbie: Case Closed"" on Feb 27 (today) at 20:00 GMT on the English Channel that reveals new evidence that Megrahi was innocent.

The SCCRC (Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission) has found that the testimony of an important witness is suspect and likely tainted. Key testimony against Megrahi came from Tony Gauci a Maltese shop owner. Gauci identified Megrahi as the man who brought clothing and an umbrella from him on Dec. 7,, 1988. Remnants of the clothing were found in the wreckage.

The investigating commission found that Gauci had earlier seen a photo of Megrahi in an article before he identified him in a lineup. The investigator's also discovered the Scottish police knew that Gauci was interested in financial reward for his testimony although this is against Scottish law. The police lied about this.

Reportedly Gauci actually collected a 2 million dollar U.S. government reward for his role in the case. Megrahi has always protested his innocence and says he never visited Gauci's shop. For more see this article.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Less natural gas rigs drilling as prices remain weak

While oil prices are rising on worries about supply, natural gas prices are depressed as supplies are plentiful. For seven straight weeks now fewer rigs are drilling for natural gas.

Last week six more rigs stopped drilling. The 710 rigs that are still drilling is the lowest number since September of 2009. There are record supplies of natural gas. The situation is made worse by a mild winter that has weakened demand as well.

The nation's second largest producer Chesapeake Energy is curtailing production by 1 billion cubic feet per day. Canada's largest producer Encana announced that it too will shut in 250 milliion cubic feet of gas output.

The number of oil rigs hit a near 25 year high a week ago but dropped slightly this last. The count is still 62 per cent above last year. For more see this article.

Europe faces new worries with rise in oil prices

Just as debt anxiety in Europe may be easing slightly the sharp rise in the price of oil creates new worries. If the prices rise too high they could very well impede any recovery in the EU economy.

Brent oil has risen a full 20 per cent since the middle of last December. Much of the rise is due to worry about supplies particularly since Iranian oil will no longer be imported. The Brent price set an all time high this week.

Although there has been a sharp rise in prices economists say that it is still not so high as to curb any recovery. Price now is about 123 dollars a barrel. This is below the cost last April of 127 dollars and far below the record high of 147 dollars a barrel in 2008.

Still the upward trend worries many. Julian Callow an economist said:"This comes at a difficult time for the euro area economy, which I would still characterize as being in a state of mild recession despite one or two more promising signs," "If we were to see a rapid, sudden escalation in the oil price, then for sure it would be a factor that would lead us to be revising down our projections for euro area growth and, if sustained, could make a mild recession turn into something more serious,"

He said that prices were already approaching the danger zone. Another analyst Andrew Milligan said that another 10 to 15 dollars rise a barrel was not too worrisome but if the price approaches 140 dollars a barrel and stays there this would threaten economic growth and profits for many firms. For much more see the full BNN article.

Austerity Protests spread to Valencia Spain

Spaniards by the thousands are in the streets of Valencia as well as other Spanish cities. They are protesting both education cuts and labor reforms that are part of the Spanish government's austerity measures.

Valencia already has one of the highest rates of unemployment in Spain. Demonstrators have clashed with the police especially in Valencia on the coast. Protesters have complained that the police have used violent tactics charging the demonstrators and beating them with batons. They then dragged them off the streets. Several protesters have been wounded by rubber bullets.

More than 40 people have been arrested so far several minors. The demonstrators claim that reforms instituted by the government last month will destroy jobs by making it easier to fire staff and adjust schedules. The government claims the changes actually help labour. For more see this article.

Iran elections: Middle class westernized Iranians may not vote

Most U.S. media is focused on the upcoming U.S. elections. However there are elections upcoming in Iran for the parliament. The Washington Post has an article on those elections.

The article has a particular focus. When it comes to Iranian election the U.S. is concerned about the more liberal westernized groups who had their moment in the press spotlight when they protested after the last elections. Unfortunately the article tells us nothing about what is happening within the ruling groups. Ahmadinejad is unpopular not just with liberals but also with many of the conservative clerics who disdain his lack of religious credentials.

Some analysts claim that the middle class opponents of Ahmadinejad will likely not demonstrate but they will probably not vote either. Candidates for office are vetted by authorities and many would be liberal candidates would probably be disqualified.

The article claims that the March 2 elections will show a disconnect between the leaders and the electorate--at least the electorate the west seems concerned about! The regime is hoping for a large turnout seeing this as a vindication of 33 years of Islamic rule.

The groups the Washington Post writes about are often university educated and into Facebook, and satellite television, all illegal in Iran. These citizens live in a separate reality in which state ideology and elections as well are irrelevant.

A watch seller noted:"In my world, the currency has lost its value, our oil is under sanctions, we are weak, and I feel humiliated," But in their world, the country is strong, the economy is booming, and our future is glorious. We are on different planets." He said that voting will not change the basic realities in Iran.

State television continually gives positive news. For example Iran is supposed to have the fastest rate of growth because of its Iranian Islamic model of development. In truth people are being hurt by sanctions. According to state news national self-confidence is high. In reality many Iranians fear they will be attacked by Israel or the U.S.

Contrary to the official view many Iranians are depressed and worried about the future. According to the article a Health Ministry official facetiously advocated that antidepressants might be added to the water supply.

Of course as in other countries there are alternatives to antidepressants. A Tehran secretary said she preferred watching soap operas on satellite TV to political activism:"They bring me to a different world," "I'm happy there." For more see the full article.

Anti-Putin Protests in Moscow

Russians by the thousand joined hands to form a ring in the centre of Moscow. They were protesting Putin's probable return as president after next week's election.

Protesters wore white ribbons that symbolize opposition to Putin. These are the largest demonstrations since Putin's rise to power over a decade ago.

The protesters demand greater democracy and openness in the Russian system. They want corruption cleared up as well and the end of one man rule.

Nikolai Chekalin a scientist said:"I don't know that there will be any result (from the protest) but I've come to show the government that there are many of us and that there are many people together,"I would like transparency, an honest court and conditions for business to develop."

Protesters shouted "Russia without Putin"and many cars honked their horns in support. Protests began after allegations of fraud in the December elections. Putin is depending more on rural and working class support as his popularity with the young and upper middle class declines. However it seems that he still has enough support to win the presidency again. For more see this article.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

U.S. farmers angry that Iraq no longer buys U.S. rice

U.S. rice farmers in many areas have suffered from drought and in other cases too much heat. Added to their problems are dropping prices and now the loss of an export market.

A U.S. rice farmer said:"That's just not right, "If we've got some rice to sell, they ought to pay a premium for it just because this is the country that freed them.""The farmer fails to notice that the Iraqis did not ask to be liberated, they were occupied. Along with other importers the Iraqis are buying based upon price.

However, Iraqi officials also point out the Iraqis prefer basmati type rice imported from India and at present it is available at a good price. In the past however 10 to 15 per cent of Iraqi rice came from the U.S. But since 2010 Iraq has bought none.

A U.S. official noted:"Iraq seems to be buying on price, and the lowest offered price is coming now from India," An Iraqi Trade Ministry official added:"We have no problem with the U.S. rice specifically, which was widely acceptable by Iraqis, but we are seeing a demand for the Indian rice rather than others, which is also bought in good prices,

The U.S. rice grower's problems are made worse by the fact that other countries such as Haiti are also seeking cheaper sources of rice as are a number of Central American buyers who are usually in the market for U.S. rice.

As often happens with farmers production costs are rising as the price of rice is falling leading to loss of profits or even losses. For more see this article.

India pressured by U.S. to stop buying Iranian oil

India purchases around 12 per cent of its oil yearly from Iran. This is worth about 12 billion dollars each year. The U.S. would like to see that amount go down to zero.

However, India is not likely to follow the U.S. advice unless it can get oil cheaper from other sources. The U.S. is apparently trying to broker deals with other outside suppliers. Sources told Bloomberg News that Saudi Arabia is willing to step up and provide oil in replacement for the Iranian oil.

Iran apparently is willing to cut the price of the oil it sells to India. This is creating a win situation for India as it can play off Iran against other suppliers.

India had actually been purchasing more oil from Iran. In January there was an increase of 40 per cent from a month earlier.

Pressure on Iran and rumours of war have the potential for a negative impact on the global economy as the price of oil rises. Goldman Sachs has predicted crude could rise to $123.50 a barrel this year. This could very well slow global economic growth. For more see this article.

Yemen: Obama praises presidential election with single candidate

Wonder of wonders the sole candidate for president of Yemen Major General Mansour Hadi won the election. Hadi served as vice-president under Saleh and is strongly backed by the U.S. Saudi Arabia and other members of the GCC.

The GCC brokered a deal for former president Saleh to step down. Saleh and all his cronies and family were given amnesty for any crimes they may have committed such as killing their own people. The legislators decided they would extend the amnesty to themselves.

President Obama cheered on the election process and even suggested it could be a model for other Middle East elections. Huh! Single candidate elections with the candidate a military person anointed as successor by the former dictator! Perhaps Obama would like to import the model for the next U.S. election and not bother to have a Republican opponent!

Many groups have boycotted the elections. Just hours after Hadi was sworn in as president a suicide attack in the south on a presidential palace killed at least 25 people. Another 30 were wounded in Mukalla the provincial capital of Hadramaut. Most of the dead were members of the elite Republican Guard.

While AL Qaeda claims responsibility for the attack, southern separatists also operate in the area. They boycotted the elections along with rebels in the North as well. Those who protested for democracy in Yemen are also unhappy with the deal that gave Saleh and others amnesty and replaced one set of old guard leaders by another group of the same type. For more see this article. Former president Saleh who had been receiving medical treatment in the U.S. returned to Yemen to witness the swearing in of Hadi. Salehs relative remain prominent in the new government especially in the security forces.

Afghanistan: Two U.S. military officers killed at Interior Ministry

Details about the event are still forthcoming and unclear at present. The two killed were said to be a major and a colonel in the U.S. military.

 The two were killed by gunshot wounds to the head in a room reserved for ISAF advisers. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident and also said that the perpetrator and an accomplice were still on the loose and resisting. However neither NATO nor Afghan officials confirmed the Taliban account.

The Taliban also said that the killing was in response to burning of  copies of the Koran at Bagram Air Force. There have been demonstrations against the burning for days. A number of Afghans have been killed. Four were killed recently when they tried to storm a U.S. compound in the north.

   The center where the killings took place has been closed by ISAF. According to an Al Jazeera reporter Afghan have no part in investigating the deaths. A U.S. Dept. of Defense spokesperson said that they did not know who killed the two ISAF members or why. No doubt the truth or parts of it will come out in time. For more see this article.

UPDATE: ISAF is withdrawing hundreds of advisers from the Kabul area. For more see this article.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Oil prices rise for seven days straight on supply worries and Iran

Oil prices have risen for an entire week now. This is the longest rally since January 2010. Sanctions against Iran are also now threatening global oil supplies as well.

Oil futures rose to the highest level in nine months. Some favorable economic news in the U.S. and improvement in consumer confidence in the U.S. France and South Korea could mean higher consumer demand.

Gene McGillian a U.S. based analyst and broker said:"The bulls have the oil market by the throat," "There's an undercurrent of fear about the Iranian nuclear situation and what that will mean for global supplies as people scramble to replace Iranian barrels." Crude for delivery in April rose 31 cents to 108.14 a barrel. Contracts reached the highest level since last May 5.

April Brent oil added 9 cents to $123.71 a barrel on the London-based exchange. While downside risks from economic slowdown are receding somewhat at the same time worries about disruption of oil supplies is increasing driving prices up. For more see this Bloomberg article.

Noam Chomsky: Decline of U.S. empire in perspective

Noam Chomsky writes in Al Jazeera of the decline of U.S. imperial power. Chomsky notes that the U.S. decline is relative rather than absolute. Certainly the U.S. still is by the far the greatest military power in the World and still the most powerful economy as well.

However, as Chomsky sees it power is becoming more widely distributed than it was. Chomsky notes for example how South American countries have in many instances esablished a certain independence from the U.S. Many have no U.S. military bases and have also escaped dependence on IMF loans. A new organisation has been formed CELAC that includes all Northern and Southern America countries except the U.S. and Canada.

The U.S. is having trouble controlling MENA (Middle East/ North Africa) countries as well. The Arab Spring threatened long time allies in countries such as Egyp. However the situation for the U.S. is not that dire. Saudi Arabia and the UAE members including Bahrain remain allies. In Libya western powers again have considerable influence having helped rebels oust Gadaffi. However Chomsky argues that the U.S. fears authentic democracy in Arab countries because public opinion is opposed to U.S. positions especially with respect to Israel. Chomsky notes that PalestinePalestine is an excellent example of U.S. fear of democracy.

In January 2006 an election in Palestine that was regarded as free and fair by western monitors resulted in the wrong result as Hamas won. The Palestinians faced harsh penalties for voting the wrong way.
The U.S. supports democracy but only if the democratic results fit in with the aims and objectives of the U.S. This Chomsky notes was the conclusion of the Reaganite scholar Thomas Carothers after studying U.S. democracy promotion. NOTE: Sometimes however the result is not under the complete control of the U.S. as for example in Iraq where the Shia majority were able to gain power due to changes in the Iraq voting system.

Chomsky spends a considerable time discussing the Israel Palestine situation. I am not sure how all of this relates to the decline of the U.S. empire although Chomsky shows how ludicrous it is to think that the U.S. could be an honest broker in negotiations betwee Israel and Palestine. For much more see the full article. Chomsky notes of course that other centers of power are developing in China and India. The U.S. is orienting policy in part to try and contain China's developing clout in Southe-East Asia.

Euro currency zone economy to shrink in 2012

The EU executive warned that the EU zone economy will decline for the second time in three years. The executive warned that the euro currency area has yet to break the debt cycle in some countries.

Oli Rehn the EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commission said however:"Recent developments in survey data suggest that the expected slowdown will be rather mild and temporary," "But the turnaround of the trend still needs to be confirmed in the coming months and it essentially depends on the policy decisions to be taken,"

The Commission report predicted that output in the 17 countries sharing the euro currency is likely to contract .3 per cent in 2012. Earlier growth was predicted of .5 per cent. Economic growth in the larger 27 member EU is expected to be flat this year.

The Euro zone's last recession was much more severe with the economy contracting by 4.3 per cent in 2009. High debts, reduced investor confidence and a rise in unemployment have killed off the recovery. Many economists predict growth only in 2013.

The IMF view is slightly more pessimistic than the Commission report. The IMF predicts production will decline by .5 per cent this year with a modest recovery in the last few months of 2012. If debt issues are not resolved the situation could be even worse. For more see this BNN article.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Alain Badiou on the Greek Crisis

Alain Badiou is a French Philosopher and activist. For more on Badiou see this article. The full article titled "Save the Greeks from their Saviors". The article is translated from French into English. There seem to be a few glitches but it is still quite readable on the whole.

Badiou starts by noting the high unemployment in Greece and other features caused by the austerity measures. There are 25,000 homeless in Athens alone. A full thirty per cent of Greeks now live below the poverty line. Under these conditions the saviors of Greece claim that the Greeks are not trying hard enough.

The solution is to increase the dose of austerity. The right to work is abolished through eliminating jobs. The plan makes the poor even poorer and eliminates much of the middle class.

Badiou sees Greece as a model but its not about saving Greece. It is about allowing time to save creditors. NOTE: The creditors however get only a fraction of their investment back! The model is of bleeding public services so that public social services, schools, etc. fall into ruin. Only the rich will be able to access health care and workers will face worse working conditions and ever more precarious job security.

In order for the neo-liberal offensive to carry out this model democracy must be jettisoned. Technocratic government is installed without regard for popular sovereignty. When the former Prime Minister Papandreou dared to suggest there should be a referendum on austerity measures he was forced to resign. He is now replaced by an unelected technocrat. But even that is not enough as Badiou points out.

Badiou sees the Greek situation as one where politicians give a blank check to financial experts and bankers. They give up any power to decide on their own.

The deal negotiated with the Troika will involve an EU account that will be paid directly to Greece but only for servicing debt. Greek revenue will be mandated as having as the first priority payment of the debt. In fact Greek accounts will in effect be managed to make debt payment by law the main priority. As Badiou notes the privatization requirements will be a great boon for buyers.

Badiou notes that with the help of the rescuers the debt has gone into free fall now reaching 170 per cent of GDP. In 2009 it was 120 per cent. This further weakening has created a situation where Greece cannot resist its creditors and feels forced to yield to what he calls the blackmail of austerity.

Badiou portrays the situation in Greece as a war being conducted by finance, politics and law. This is a war in which the financial class takes from the enemy the social benefits and democratic rights of society. A new social model is being developed in which the needs of finance capital triumph over all else

The model will be replicated throughout Europe with austerity measures being seen as painful but necessary and ultimately healthy as restoring countries to being competitive.

In the face of what is happening people must speak up in defense of basic democratic rights and social solidarity. The neo-liberal climate of fear must be countered. While Badiou does not suggest positive solutions to the Greek crisis he notes that the first order of business should be to show solidarity with the Greek people in resisting what is being imposed upon them.

Clive Crook: Greek deal leads Europe down road to disaster

Clive Crook is an editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and writes for the Financial Times as well as Bloomberg among other publications. This material is summarised from a Bloomberg article.

Crook thinks that the Greek bailout deal is simply a holding action one that does not deal with the larger confidence issues facing Europe. The losses to private lenders will be about 75 per cent of the value of their holdings as the face value of Greek bonds is cut by about half and a low interest rate will be paid.

Providing enough private lenders go along with the deal new official loans will be provided that will service the Greek deficit and upcoming payments due. The loans involve various subsidies and a low interest rate. The IMF is supposed to take part as well but it is not clear how.

Clive notes that if too many private lenders reject the plan the deal must be changed. He notes too that the Greek government may have problems passing the required legislation. This includes drastic cuts to the minimum wage, make debt-service payments into an account that will be monitored externally. Also the Constitution has to be amended to make debt repayment the first priority. Finally the government must accept that a team of EU officials monitor public accounts. The end of democracy in Greece and rule by financial capital--my words not Crook''s!

Clive suggests that if Greece postpones changes such as lowering wages and delays privatisation then dependence on official loans will grow. I thought that if Greece were to do this it would not even get the loans in the first place.

The EU has chosen to keep muddling through without ever doing enough to resolve the problem. Clive admits that so far unilateral default has been avoided. Clive thinks that perhaps the rational principle behind the EU approach is this: "Let's build this manageable problem up into a crisis capable of vast destruction that we might be unable to control. That will create the fear needed to force some real improvements in economic policy."

According to Crook creating this panic turns a liquidity problem (difficulty in borrowing) into a solvency crisis, as government debt balloons. The EU policy seems to be to maximize panic. Even many EU officials believe the bailout plan will not work and that Greece may default maximizing panic.

However Crook thinks that the EU has no plans to deal with this contingency of the deal not working even though it could bring disaster. Clive thinks that the Greek economy is small enough that the rot could be stopped. Greek debt should simply be written off. Until Greece can start growing again and get a surplus that would allow it to borrow on the private market Europe should provide financing. Greece should continue using the Euro rather than reverting to the drachma.

European banks need to be recapitalised and the EFSF increased. It may even be necessary to do in Ireland and Portugal something similar to what he recommends in Greece. I find it doubtful that European Finance capital is willing to take a haircut of the proportions Crook suggests. No doubt there will be arguments that the Crook policies involve a moral hazard by encouraging reckless debt with no appropriate punishment. To avoid such a moral hazard one should cut wages, pensions ,, health care, education and sell off state assets at fire sale prices. For more see the full article.

Eventually the working class will be suitably weakened so that Greece will be competitive in providing telemarketers with Greek accents to service global corporations.

U.S. resumed drone strikes despite Pakistani objections

In spite of Pakistani criticism and a motion in the Pakistani parliament that drone strikes cease, the U.S. simply informed Pakistan that it was resuming the attacks without any agreement. '

Last month on Jan. 10th the attacks resumed after a pause of two months after relations were strained with Pakistan. A U.S. attack on the border of Pakistan killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Sources say that both vice-president Biden and Secty of State Clinton spoke with Pakistani officials. Rumours were that there were negotiations to limit attacks and co-ordinate with the Pakistanis but apparently this was not to be.

In public Pakistani politicians have always objected to the drone strikes as violations of sovereignty. However, there have never been any attempts to shoot the drones down although on occasion this has been threatened. Many analysts believe that privately there is tacit agreement to the attacks.

The Pakistani intelligence service even helps in targeting. U.S. officials say they are not likely to give Pakistan advance notice of attacks as they fear that militants might be given the information.

The drone attacks have fueled already strong anti-US sentiment in Pakistan. The Pakistani foreign minister Hina Khar is on a visit to the UK and is trying to convince the British to use their influence with the U.S. to stop the drone attacks. See this article. For more on the drone strikes see this article.

Obama has made expansion of drone and special forces attacks a center piece of his war policy making much more use of drones than his predecessor Bush. U.S. liberals on the whole remain silent about them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Former Philippine President pleads not guilty to electoral fraud

The president of the Philippines from 2001 to 2010 Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pleaded not guilty to electoral fraud in 2007 senate elections. She was escorted into the courtroom under heavy security.' Arroyo is accused of rigging the elections in favor of her candidates.

Arroyo is being held in a military hospital where she is being treated for a spinal condition. She appeared in court for only about ten minutes to enter her not guilty plea. She was then escorted back to the hospital.

The new president Benigno Aquino III has pledged that he will root out corruption and bring even high officials such as Arroyo to justice. Whether he is successful remains to be seen. Another former president notably ERAP Joseph Estrada has also been convicted of corruption but the tradition continues! Estrada was pardoned by Arroyo!

This electoral charge is just one of several cases against Arroyo. Another involves her support for the Ampatuan family who were in involved in a massacre in Mindanao in November of 2009. See the appended video. For more see this article.

Greece debt downgraded by Fitch by two notches

As if not facing enough trouble Fitch rating agency has downgraded Greek sovereign debt from CCC to C just one notch above default. At the same time unions are mounting new protests against austerity measures.

Greek unions have staged fresh protests as the country's parliament debates emergency legislation to carry out a euro zone bailout deal and Fitch ratings says the country is close to default. The new bailout deal is worth 310 billion.

The rating agency claimed that a Greek default was highly likely and in the near term in spite of the bailout package. Greece has already been in recession for five years and unemployment is running at 20 per cent. The cuts to the public sector will drive unemployment even higher.

Along with more austerity measures a draft law forecasts the 2012 deficit to be 6.7 per cent of GDP up from an earlier forecast of 6.4 per cent. Nearly 5,700 demonstrators marched in new protests in Athens. Another 2,000 demonstrated in Thessaloniki.

Elections are scheduled for April. Parties both on the left, right and in the middle who support the austerity measures will probably suffer at the polls. The present governmet is a coalition of right, center, and left (socialist) parties. So-callled reforms being debated include cuts to the health care system of 1.3 billion further reducing services as the need for them is increasing.

By the end of February Greece must approve more than 3.9 billion in added cuts to those already agreed to..Even the constitution is to be amended so that debt repayments take precedence over any other government commitments. Health, education, security, pensions, all are subservient to finance capital. Democracy is dead in Greece and the markets cheer. Although the cheering is dying down as many realize default is on the horizon in spite of all this drastic action. For more see this article.

China plans to slow growth tackle inequality and pollution

The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has set a target of less than 8 per cent growth for China. Compared to many advanced western countries struggling to rise out of a recession this is quite high growth but lower than in earlier years.

The Premier will give his report on March 5 to the National People's Congress in Beijing. The report is more or less like the U.S. State of the Union Address. The median estimate for economic growth was 7.5 per cent compared with an 8 per cent rate maintained from 2005 to 2011.

China is attempting to move its economy from one driven mostly by exports and investment. The goal is to encourage domestic consumption and make sure that more Chinese share in the benefits of economic growth.

As well as devoting more resources to tackling inequality China wants to address pollution as well. China is now the world's largest energy consumer as well as the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.

The older leadership is preparing to hand the reins of the Communist Party to a younger generation and wants to tackle issues such as home costs, land seizures, and growing inequality. Even the premier complains that the Chinese growth model is unstable, unbalanced, uncoördinated and unsustainable. This is a remarkable bit of self-criticism. Only foreign investors seem most anxious for there to be continuous high growth as it increases their profits!

Even the Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily joined in the chorus of criticism. After a high-speed crash that killed forty last July the daily called for economic development that is not stained with blood.

Compared to the Maoist period inequality has risen dramatically in China. In the last 25 years it has gone from .3 to .5. At a level of .4 many analysts predict social unrest. For much more see the full article.

Israel: Palestinian home demolished in spite of High Court Order not to.

On a dark stormy night in the village of Thalah the Israeli civil administration ordered a local shepherd and his family to vacate his hut. The family was given just a minute to leave.

However the family had documentation from the Israeli Hight Court of Justice with an iterim order to halt demolition. The Civil Administration representative simply tore the order up. The house was demolished and even the sheep pen with several sheep killed.

This example is just one of several from complaints filed by Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) against the Israeli Civil Administration. The RHR was able to prevent the rest of the village from being bulldozed.

The RHR also warns that the Civil Administration is next going to move against several energy projects including several windmills and solar panels. These provide energy for about 1500 Palestinians in the area.

The project is promoted by Community Energy and Technology in the Middle East. The windmills have been financed by the German government which has been attempting without success so far to have Israel reverse its decision to stop the projects. For more see this article.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Djibouti crash kills 4 U.S. special operations soldiers

Last weekend four U.S. special operations soldier died when their plane crashed in Djibouti. The plane was apparently returning from a mission in Afghanistan.

The plane that crashed was a U-28 single prop plane often used by U.S. special forces. The crash was near Camp Lemonnier a U.S. military base in Djibouti in the horn of Africa.

The cause of the crash is still being investigated although there were no signs the plane was under attack. A statement from the U.S. Africa Command said the flight was routine. Those killed came from Colorado Springs Colorado, Newman Georgia, Bend Oregon, and Upper Marlboro Maryland. The pilot Ryan Hall was quite experienced having logged 1300 combat flight hours. For more see this article.

Obama claims right to attack anyone, anywhere, any time

So claims Gary Kamiya who writes for Salon. Kamiya contends that if in 2000 the U.S. president had said the government would be using drones to track and kill people all over the world the uproar would have been enormous.

Kamiya does not give any grounds for saying that there would be an uproar. Perhaps there would, the first uproar against George W Bush who was elected in November of 2000. But reaction to what Obama does even when his use of drones goes much beyond that of Bush is different.

According to an article in the Washington Post fully 77 per cent of Liberal Democrats support Obama's use of drones. 53 per cent of Liberal Democrats also support keeping Guantanamo Bay open even though it was a key plank in Obama's election platform to close it down. Outrage about these matters is abandoned by liberals and left to libertarian Tea Party conservatives such as Ron Paul!

Kamiya thinks that the drone use started in Afghanistan and the border areas of Pakistan but then once that precedent was established drone use spread far afield to Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, and Libya. Kamiya thinks the Afghan war was justified. I think he is dead wrong on that but will let it pass. He argues the fanciful case that removing the Taliban was a clear case of self-defense. However he also holds that the war turned out not to be wise because the costs particularly for Americans outweigh the benefits.

America he thinks is ready to abandon Afghanistan because of the cost of the war but at the same time America is continuing a costly and fruitless war on terror inclduding a rapid expansion of drone attacks.

Kamiya realizes that arguing against the drone war is difficult because the war is relatively cheap and virtually costless in terms of American lives lost. The war also enables Obama to claim that he is not soft on terrorism a charge that he would face if he cut back on the war on terror.

Kamiya thinks that the drone attacks have been tactically effective as well in that they have killed many militant leaders and disrupted their command and control systems. Special forces operations have a long track record of success he claims. Dirty war tactics worked well in World War II.

But Kamiya argues the dirty war does not make America safer. Kamiya argues that America's opponents in the war on terror represent a minor threat but that the resources spent on attacking them continually are very large and could be better spent on other purposes such as improving the life of people who live in areas the militants operate.

Kamiya fears that there will be blowback from the process of fighting a dirty war. This is evident in Pakistan and Afghanistan where anti-U.S. and anti-NATO sentiments are extremely strong. The blowback in Pakistan could very well result in the government falling. Kamiya notes that the tactic being used in the war against terror by special forces and drones are often difficult to distinguish from those used by opponents.

As has been pointed out by many critics the use of drones and special forces attacks may actually create new opponents especially in the context of tribal societies. For much more see the whole article.


U.S.: Extension of payroll tax holiday may threaten Social Security Funding

In the LATimes Michael Hiltzick writes that extension of the payroll tax cut will undermine Social Security. Most commentators are quite happy with the extension of the Social Security Tax payroll holiday as well as unemployment insurance plus maintenance of reimbursement levels for Medicare doctors.

Hiltzick worries that each extension makes it less likely that politicians will have the courage to reinstate the statutory 6.2 per cent. This will threaten funding for Social Security.

Hitzick admits that so far the tax holiday has not hurt Social Security's financial resources. One hundred per cent of the cut must be covered by transfers from general revenue. Since 2010 that comes to 130 billion dollars. This new extension will cost about 94 billion.

Hiltzick believes that Social Security is now on the table for cuts and the revenue stream from the payroll tax is in jeopardy. Andrew Biggs a former Social Security official but now at the conservative American Enterprise Institute told the author:"Who is ever going to say, 'Now the economy's so strong that it's the right time to raise taxes'?" Other analysts think that it will be possible for the old rates to return. Given the opposition that Republicans might make against such a tax hike this seems unlikely. For much more see the full article.

Private prison companies seeking to expand

Losing money on your prisons? Don't worry Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is looking to invest. The Corrections Investment Initiative is out to help state's balance their budget by buying up state prisons.

Of course the CCA makes certain demands on their partners such as:""An assurance by the agency partner [the state] that the agency has sufficient inmate population to maintain a minimum 90 percent occupancy rate over the term of the contract." However, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world and many prisons are so crowded that prsioners need to be released as in California. Incarceration is a growth industry.

There are more under correctional supervision in the U.S. than were imprisoned during the Stalin Gulag era in the Soviet Union. There are more than six million Americans under correctional supervision.

Over the last ten years the two biggest players in the private prison area CCA and the GEO group have doubled their annual revenue. CCA noted:"The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws," "For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them." So lets keep up the war on drugs and harsh penalties for criminal activities. It is good for our profits.

For much much more see the whole article here. Canada is trying to catch up with the U.S. in becoming harsher on crime and incaracerating more but so far we have yet to introduce private prisons. As the expenses mount nodoubt our Conservative government will no doubt try to sell Canadians on the virtues of privatization.

Afghanistan: Angry Crowds protest burning of Koran

Angry crowds are gathering at Bagram Air Force after reports that U.S, troops burned copies of the Koran. Thousands of protesters have been attempting to storm the base. Bagram is the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan.

General John Allen the senior U.S. officer in Afghanistan immediately offered an apology in effect confirming the incident took place. Allen also promised an immediate investigation. Other reliigious materials were also burned.

Allen stated:"When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them," "We are taking steps to ensure this does not ever happen again. I assure you ... I promise you ... this was NOT intentional in any way." One wonders why the items were burned and why they would not check with Afghan workers to find out what was being burned. Obviously some of the workers knew what was being burned. That is how the news came out.

Gen. Ahmad Naseeb of the Afghan defense ministry said he received reports "that the international troops have burned and thrown copies of Koran into the dust bins." Protesters have even closed some roads in the area of the base.

Islam experts say that if copies of the Koran are to be disposed of they are to be buried or released into flowing waters. However the locals do not dispose of the texts at all. Last April there were violent protests in Afghanistan after reports of a Koran burning in the U.S.

The road leading to Bagram has been blocked. Western security forces man the front gate to prevent protesters from entering. Apparently some charred remains of the Koran were smuggled out of the base and used as proof that the event happened. However authorities too obviously have admitted to the event. For more see this article.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Greece in Chaos due to effects of austerity measures

An audio interview with Burgi is available here. Burgi claims that both individually and collectively Greeks are unable to cope with what is happening in the country due to austerity measures. The welfare state is quickly being dismantled with nothing to replace it. Right across Greece Burgi claims people say:"Who knows what tomorrow will bring?". A small business owner laments: "There have always been difficult times, and we always made it through. But now, all hope has been taken from us,.""

The Greek bureaucracy is burdened with new regulations and is unable to cope. One hapless citizen had to pay 200 Euros and present 13 papers and proof of his identity just to renew his driver's licence ! There has been a large increase in theft and even murders with the police often refusing to respond to calls.

While some salaries are falling by 35 to 40 per cent new taxes are being imposed. Net incomes have often fallen by 50 per cent or even more.

Since the beginning of November both pensioners and public and private employees often cannot anticipate what their monthly earnings will be . Many even go without pay. Between now and 2015, 120,00 public employees over age 53 are slated for semi=retirement. They will receive only 60 per cent of their base pay.

With lost income bills are not paid and consumption is down. Stores are closing throughout the country and unemploymennt is rising. Last May the rate was 16.6 per cent and among the young 40 per cent.

The national health-care system is in crisis as hospital and public health care centre budgets have been cut by 40 per cent. According to unofficial figures the suicide rate has risen 25 per cent from 2009 to 2010 and a further 40 per cent during 2011. The medical journal The Lancet reports increases in prostitution and rates of infection of sexually transmitted diseases. There are now unprecedented numbers of homeless. Sotris Lainas a psychologist at Aristotle University in Salonika said that existing safety nets are tearing and"Everything is falling apart," For much more detail about the horrendous effects of the austerity measures on Greeks see the full article.

Noëlle Burgi, a specialist in French and European social and employment policy, is a senior researcher in sociology and political science at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), a member of the Sorbonne's Centre for Political Research, and a consultant. She has worked in the UK with the London School of Economics and the University of Essex, as well as in the US with Harvard's Center for European Studies.

U.S. activist describes her arrest and deportation from Bahrain

K. Flo Razowsky is a U.S. activist. Razowsky claims that she was arrested and deported from Bahrain for the crime of witnessing how the Bahraini regime reacted repressively against people protesting.

Razowsky was never told why she was being arrested or deported. She was not questioned while in custody. There were earlier reports in Bahrain media that the government intended to arrest U.S. activisits. Five others were arrested at the same time as Razowsky.

The reports were intended to discredit protesters and the foreign activists witnessing the protests. According to the reports some of the foreigners were lesbians and married to Israeli zionists. The latter claims Razowski is completely false. Razowski is herself of Jewish background.

Demonstrations were in memory of the beginning of Bahraini protests on February 14, 2011. The protests were put down with the help of troops from neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The activists felt that their presence as witnesses at rallies would prevent more severe repression by the regime. The regime obviously felt threatened. Not only were a number of foreign activists arrested, accredited reporters were stopped from entering Bahrain at the airport. For a much more thorough description of what Razowski witnessed see the full article here. Razowski is associated with Witness Bahrain.

Robert Reich: Manufacturing Illusions

Although there has been some improvement in the U.S. manufacturing sector lately Reich points out that for the most part workers are not sharing in those gains.

Republican presidential candidates have been pushing their recipes for advancing U.S. manufacturing. Obama too pushes a manufacturing agenda.

Obama has moved to remove tax incentives for companies to move overseas and create incentives to keep jobs in the U.S. Obama said:"Our goal,, is to create opportunities for hard-working Americans to start making stuff again".

U.S. consumers pent-up demand for goods has created a mini boom in manufacturing. Since January 2010, 404,000 manufacturing jobs have been added. Even with this addition there are 5.5 million less factory jobs now than in July of 2000 and a whopping 12 million less than in 1990. Even if production creeps up there are fewer and fewer factory jobs.

The new assembly line has robots where before there were well paid workers. Jobs for Americans who lack college degrees are less and less available and when they are they are usually non-union and poorly paid.

Even the strongest unions are negotiating contracts for new workers at about half of what workers received just a decade ago. The UAW has agreed to starting pay of 14 dollars per hour for new hires.

The Employee Free Choice Act would make it easier for workers to organize. Obama supported it in his first election campaign but did not move to make it law. This time he has not even promised to promote the bill if elected. Of course the unions have nowhere to go but Obama.

Obama has not spoken out vigorously against the anti-union and right to work campaigns in Wisconsin and Indiana. Corporations are doing well in manufacturing and services. Third quarter profits were 2 trillion a full 19 per cent higher than five years ago in the pre-recession peaks.

Wages however are declining in inflation adjusted terms. Wages as a share of income are at the smallest share since records have been kept in 1949, just 44 cents on every dollar of income.

As Reich sees it the problem in the U.S. is not just the recovery of manufacturing but the declining power of workers to share in economic growth. For capital this is not a problem but an ideal situation in which capital receives a larger slice of the economic pie. For more see this article.

Yemen: Orderly transition to old guard rule. U.S. approved

The reason the Yemen presidential election is held up as a model is that it involves a transition that the U.S. and neighbouring Arab states regard as in their interests. The fact that this is a deal imposed from the outside by the GCC with the approval of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is neither here nor there.

The fact that former president Saleh gets to go scot free of any liability for his killing of protesters is not to be mentioned. That his vice president is sole candidate for president does not matter. Nor does it matter that Saleh's relatives still have important roles in the government. In fact some of his relatives run the security forces.

As many protesters thought from the beginning those from the military who joined them were fair weather friends. Now they can participate with the old guard in sharing power they are joining in supporting the vice-president.

The U.S. backs the Saleh approved sole candidate Mansour Hadi a major general. Basically the entire Saleh regime remains in place. Meanwhile Saleh is in the U.S. for medical treatment. Don''t expect the U.S. to hold him responsible for his crimes. Saleh was a good guy helping out in the war on terror as will Hadi.

No doubt many protesters will boycott the elections as wiill Houthi rebels in the north and separatists in the south. One can expect continuing repression of anyone who disagrees with this new model transition to rule by the old guard in Yemen. For more see this article.

Koreas: DMZ zone refuge for endangered species

An entirely unexpected collateral good that arises from the DMZ zone between North and South Korea is a refugee zone for endangered species. It is as an article in Al Jazeera puts it a green ribbon of hope.

The DMZ is home to many species that are either entirely extinct or endangered in the rest of the peninsula. The zone has become the center of attention for those on both sides of the DMZ and even overseas who are intent on preserving the Korean natural heritage.

The Korean natural heritage has been destroyed by over a century of occupation, conflict, and economic development. The Japanese occupation between 1905 and 1945 led to massive deforestation, pollution and a general environmental decline. THe 1950-53 Korean war added to the environmental mess. However, rapid economic development since has also degraded the environment.

Created in 1953 the DMZ has provided sanctuary for many species for half a century now. Almost 100 species of fish, 45 types of amphibians and reptiles and more than 1000 insect species are thought to inhabit the zone. There are constant reports of rare species being spotted in the zone.

Many worry about the future of the zone should the Koreas reunify. Moves are being made to ensure that the zone remains a nature preserve.

Already a crane preservation area is being developed along the Han River estuary. The South Korean government has designated an area a national monument in 1976. A second conservation area has been the result of international cooperation by scientists in Japan, North Korea, and elsewhere and has been approved by the North Korean government.

Many groups are trying to have the DMZ recognised as a permanent reserve and cultural site. Scientists from North and South Korea, Japan and the U.S. have all worked together to help preserve the DMZ so that many animal species can live safely in the area. Surely it should be possible to humans to live in the areain safety as well. For much more detail see the entire article here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

More protests against Greek austerity measures

Austerity measures in Greece include a 22 per cent cut to the minimum wage. This is just one of many cuts demanded by Greek creditors and the Troika imposing austerity upon Greece.

Deep budget cuts are a pre-condition of a scheduled 171 billion bailout payment to keep the country from going bankrupt as early as March. Protests turned violent the other day as a number of buildings were torched. An article in the Guardian by John Holloway praises the citizen's resistance to the measures although deploring the senseless destruction.

European finance ministers are scheduled to approve the bailout package on Monday. According to Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter final details were still being worked out. Fekter said:"I don't think there is a majority to go a different way because a different way is enormously arduous and costs lots and lots of money,"

Greek unions both in the private and public sector reject the deal calling the Troika's austerity demands unacceptable. The measures set by the EU and IMF violate workes'rights and collective agreement they complain.

Few commentators note the undemocratic nature of the imposition of the austerity measures. The elected prime minister was replaced by an unelected technocrat but even his government is at the mercy of the Troika representing creditor interests. The power of finance capital over people has never been more stark but there rarely is much commentary on the issue. It is as if this were just part of nature that workers must adjust to.

Supposedly the latest austerity measures are meant to revive the Greek economy and make it more competitive. But the result has been prolonged depression and lack of growth which makes the debt more burdensome than ever.

Apparently the key issue still to be worked out is as to who exactly will hold the whip over the Greek government to make sure it complies with the new austerity measures. At present the Troika has that task: the European Commission, European Central Bank, and IMF. Perhaps the group wants to simplify the oversight. Some analysts believe the rescue passage will just stave off Greek bankruptcy for a period of time but that eventually banrkuptcy is most likely. For more see this article.

Ron Paul:U.S. "slipping into a fascist system"

No doubt the term "fascist" is used loosely but what Paul means is that the system is dominated by government and business at the expense of the liberties of citizens. Paul gave a fiery speech at Kansas City Union Station. A short distance away a Republican banquet was taking place.

Paul attracted several thousand cheering supporters while the party establishment supporters dined nearby at the Missouri GOP annual conference. Paul said:"We've slipped away from a true Republic,""Now we're slipping into a fascist system where it's a combination of government and big business and authoritarian rule and the suppression of the individual rights of each and every American citizen."

Although his aides were aware that Paul was in competition with a speech by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnel who was speaking at the conference Paul himself said he was unaaware of the conflict. Some actually left the banquet to attend the Paul rally.

Among those leaving the banquet for the rally was Ralph Munyan who said he agreed with Paul's warnings. He also supported Paul's vow to end U.S. involvement in wars overseas and also opposed the war against drugs. For more see this article. There is little mainstream coverage of Paul's campaign. His anti-war message is anathema to establishment Republican hawks.

U.S. and Al Qaeda partners in Syria?

Back in the bad old days when the Evil Empire tried to protect its compliant regime in Afghanistan the west and CIA linked up with jihadists to defeat the Afghan Soviet backed regime. History may be repeating itself if this article is correct.

According to Camille Otrakji who edits the online journal Syria Comment the U.S. and AL Qaeda are using each other. Both support the overthrow of the Assad regime in Syria.

Al Qaeda is working alongside the armed opposition and no doubt is responsible for some of the terrorist attacks the regime has suffered. Otrakuji says;"".., the Islamists and Al-Qaeda think, 'We can have an alliance with the Americans or with any secular opposition forces, but later we will be in power,' and the Americans think they can use Al-Qaeda temporarily, if they have to, to get rid of the Syrian regime, and they will somehow manage to get rid of them. So, unfortunately they are apparently working together."

If this scenario is correct one can expect more conflict after Assad is overthrown as secular pro-democracy groups struggle for power with Al Qaeda no doubt allied with other radical Sunni Islamists. Otrakji thinks that some in Washington just want to punish Assad whereas others in Washington are optimistic that in a post Assad regime democratic and secular forces will prevail. In Libya as well Al Qaeda supported the rebels against Gadaffi.

Don Debar a U.S. peace activist said:"First of all, the US is bedfellows with Al-Qaeda in Libya already. Secondly, if you look at the history of al-Qaeda, actually they are a successive group to the allies the US had in Afghanistan when it was fighting the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and early 1980s.""So it's not whether it will happen or not - it's really been happening," One can expect that once Assad is gone Islamic jihadists can turn the focus of their jihad back on the west and the U.S. For more see this article.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pakistan angry at U.S. bill that would support independence for Balochistan

Pakistan has had problems with separatists in Balochistan and Iran has suffered from attacks by terrorists that originate in the Balochistan area in western Pakistan bordering Iran. A spokesperson for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said that the proposed bill was self-serving and based upon both arrogance and ignorance while showing disrespect for international norms.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Dana Rohrabacker and two fellow Republican representatives and was presented on Friday. The three stated that the people of Balochistan had the right of self-determination.

Pakistani officials as well as condemning the motion also accused the U.S. of interfering in Pakistan's internal affairs. The Pakistanis should realize this is not an official Washington position unless the motion were to pass which I expect is unlikely. But who knows!

Rohrabacher also tried to cut off aid to Pakistan and has long been a critic of the Pakistani government. The motion will be successful only in providing one more irritant in the already rocky relationship betwee Pakistan and the U.S. For more see this article.

Iowa family hosts Chinese vice-pressident

The present vice-president and probably future leader of China Xi Jingping visited a town in Iowa visiting a home where he had stayed when visiting the U.S. years ago.

Muscatine is a small town of 2300 people on the banks of the Mississippi. Xi Jingping had visited the town a full 27 years ago to pick up agricultural tips to take back home. His recent visit brought out demonstrators both for and against his visit. There was no violence as police kept the two sides separated on each side of the road.

His host for the short visit Sarah Lande noted of his first visit:"We just treated him like everybody else," "So, I think that was something special to him. He slept in the kid's room, ate around the table."The local area has economic interests in good relations with China.

Down the Mississippi manufacturers ship tractors to China and send seed for planting. Not far from the house where Xi Jingping stayed is Musco lighting. The company provides lighting for the Yankee Stadium and Daytona Speedway but also for the International Sports Centre in Shanghai. So the company is anxious to expand into the Chinese market. For much more see this article.

Despite U.S. objections Pakistan vows to continue Iran Pakistan pipeline deal

Asif Zardari the Pakistani president promises to continue a proposed pipe line project with Iran. Americans have threatened sanctions if the deal goes through.

Zardari said that international pressure would not be allowed to undermine its relations with Iran. Zardari wias with president Ahmidinejad when he made the statement.

Pakistan is very short on energy supplies. Shortages create anger among the populace and make production difficult for industries. The importation of natural gas from Iran would certainly help relieve the situation.

The U.S. however wants the project stopped because it would help Iran escape isolation. The issue is just one more irritant between Washington and Pakistan. The project has been in the works since the nineteen nineties

However a deal was finally worked out in 2012. Iran will export 760 million cubic feet of gas per day into Pakistan. The gas will pass through a new pipe line and is scheduled to start in 2014.. Cost of the pipe line is estimated at 7 billion dollars. Zardari, Ahmadinejad and Karzai were at joint peace talks in Kabul when Zaraari made his statements. For more see this article.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Iran, Pakistan, Afghan meeting ends in acrimony

Leaders of the three neighbouring countries discussed a number of peace efforts. Afghanistan failed to get Pakistani support for an Afghan initiative to promote peace with the Taliban.

  Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Khar felt that Afghanistan had ridiculous expectations as to Pakistan's influence over the Taliban. For example, he said it was preposterous that Afghan authorities should think that Pakistan could force Mullah Omar head of the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.

  The harsh comments were rather unexpected as usually these disagreements are kept in the background. The U.S. is promoting the peace process. However the Taliban has always demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops as a condition of a settlement. But some troops are expected to stay in Afghanistan are 2014.

  A Taliban spokesperson said:"The Taliban did not talk with the Kabul government anywhere," An Afghan analyst based in Kabul noted that both Iran and Pakistan must agree to any peace deal for lasting peace in the area. For more see this article.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bahrain: New visa requirements strands people at airport

Robert Naiman in the Huffington Post writes about being stranded in the Bahrain International Airport. The Bahrain authorities refuse to let him into the country.

In the past Bahrain authorities had almost automatically given Americans visas at the airport. But not now. Naiman reports for the Huffington Post among other activities.

Some observers did get in and their reports of the celebrations of the first anniversary of earlier protests can be found at Witneess Bahrain. The site is blocked in Bahrain itself. The visa policy happened just after Americans had been arrested for taking part in protests.

Although Naiman was not able to report on the protests he was able to observe people in the airport many of whom were having the same problem as he was. Many were simply in Bahrain on business and were much irritated at a barrier that had never existed before.'

The visa policy is impacting a much broader group of people than just those wanting to cover protests. Business people and plain tourists were inconvenienced and angry.

Naiman noted a group of Brits who said they were invited by the Bahrain oil company to give a marketing presentation. They complained they were late for the presentation since authorities would not let them out of the airport. One of them shouted: Ï don't even want to be here!""

A group of Spaniards were coming to Bahrain for a conference. One of the group was even scheduled to give a presentation. Yet they were all stuck in the airport. Needlessly to say thay were angry.

Naiman is quite critical of U.S. policy in Bahrain. The U.S. refuses to raise the profile of the situation in Bahrain so that anything such as happened in Tunisia or Egypt could happen there.

The excuses people give Naiman finds unconvincing. THe U.S. needs Bahrain as a base for the fifth fleet. Bahrain is a defence against Iran. The U.S. cannot afford to offend Saudi Arabia. None of these are very cogent. Certainly Bahrain is not likely to kick the U.S. out of Bahrain because of U.S. criticism nor is Saudi Arabia likely to do anything if the U.S. criticises Bahrain except perhaps grumble. For much more see the full article.

Recently the Obama administration approved the sale of military equipment to Bahrain even after a report commissioned by the king himself had admitted that protesters had been tortured some even dying. Barely a whisper in the mainstream press about this.

Patrick Cockburn: Syria in 1st stage of sectarian civil war

   In an article in the Independent Cockburn argues that Syria has already descended into the first stage of a sectarian civil war. Much of the opposition after being bombarded for demonstrating has opted for arming their supporters to fight back. Added to this one has members of the Syrian armed forces who have deserted are also fighting back. This is all happy times for Al Qaeda linked groups who side with the Sunni opposition and add terrorist acts to the mix of violence.
     The Alawi the Shia sect of which Assad and much of the government are members are trying in vain to simply put down the majority Sunni opposition by force. The reaction of the opposition is to militarize the conflict which in Cockburn's eyes has the effect of increasing the bloodshed without defeating Assad. Cockburn points out that the rag tag group of militias and deserters is not up to stopping armored columns of the Syrian armed forces.
     The tactic of the opposition seems to be to promote international intervention on their side as happened in Libya. This Cockburn says could take the form of a safe haven protected by NATO in north west Syria.
    However, this time around Russia and China are not likely to give a pass to a UN resolution. Both countries feel that the no-fly resolution in Libya was used in a manner that went much beyond the UN mandate in Libya.
    Cockburn thinks that much of the international community had an entirely wrong idea about the ability of Assad to stay in power. Last December the U.S. State Dept. claimed that Assad was a dead man walking. As with Libya solving the conflict has become secondary to regime change. Given this international support there is no strong motive for the opposition to seek a compromise with Assad. To be fair Assad has so far never kept any agreements in any event. However, he may be at the stage where the pressure is great enough that he would keep agreements at least in part.
  Cockburn aptly describes the situation as having several aspects. At one level it is an uprising against Assad's corrupt, brutal police state with wide popular support. The brutality with which protests were met simply increased the level of protests.
  The second level of the struggle is between Sunni and Shia within Syria and this in turn links to a battle between Shia Iran and its enemies. Cockburn notes that the sectarian aspect of the conflict is mostly ignored in the media and emphasis is upon the first aspect of the struggle. Power in Syria is distributed around sectarian lines as it was in Iraq under Hussein with the minority Sunni being in power. In Syria the situation is reversed with the Shia being in power and the Sunni the majority. In Bahrain the Sunni rule too as a minority over a majority Shia population but there the Sunnis are the good guys in Western eyes.
   Cockburn notes that television reporting is very much skewed towards painting Assad as a government of almost pure evil fighting a heroic people. Assad is certainly brutal and criminally repressing his own people but as Cockburn notes this does not mean that one should ignore other forces at work. As Cockburn points out there have been brutal terrorist attacks by groups allied with the Sunni opposition that killed many innocent people. Some opposition spokespeople suggest that this is just part of the government operations to discredit the opposition. This strikes me as nonsense. Cockburn concludes that Syria is headed into a conflict that can only divide Sunni and Shia communities even further with little sign of any way of halting this slide into more conflict and bloodshed. For more see this article.

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U.S: Up to 30,000 drones to be allowed in U.S. airspace by 2010

 A bill passed the U.S. House and Senate recently allowing drones to operate in U.S. civilian airspace. The bill is name the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Reauthorization Act. It would relax former rules and allow drones to fly in the same airspace as private planes and commercial airliners including passenger planes.
  By 2020 up to 30,000 drones could be flying in civilian airspace. 63.5 billion dollars the FAA.
  Many civil libertarian groups worry about the bill's lack of any restriction on drone surveillance by police or government agencies.
   Other critics note that drones crash more often than other aircraft and the presence of many drones in civilian airspace could pose a safety hazard. The FAA is required to both speed up and simplify the process  that allows government agencies to operate drones. Within six months the agency must mount a pilot project that would establish six test zones in which the drone operations would be integrated into the national airspace system.
   The FAA is also required to generate a plan “to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.”   Civil drones are those operated by the private sector. Obviously plans are to open up the area for private entrepreneurs. The FAA has nine months to generate this plan. For much more see this article.

U.S.: Homeland security budgets to grow over next five years

   While other areas may see cut backs the Obama budget will see homeland security spending rise each year over the next five years. The budget estimates that in 2013 homeland security spending by all the different associated Federal agencies will amount to 68.7 billion dollars.
   Growth is expected to average 1.8 billion per year or 3 per cent in each of the next four years. By 2017 this will bring total annual spending to 76 billion.
   The top five agencies that are involved in homeland security related tasks are: 1) DHS (dept. of Homeland Security 2) DoD, 3) HHS, 4) Dept of Justice, 5) Dept. of State--order by expenditure rank. For much more see this article. After the fall election no doubt there will be further cuts elsewhere but for now at least Homeland Security seems to have a secure budget!


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