Monday, April 30, 2012

U.S. ignores Pakistani demands and resumes drone attacks

The Pakistani parliament has passed at least three motions demanding the cessation of drone attacks. The most recent motion makes cessation of the attacks one of the conditions for normalizing relations with the U.S. and reopening transit routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan.

In every case the U.S. has simply ignored the motions. However this time there may be serious repercussions. The supply routes may remain closed causing huge extra costs to ship materials through alternate routes.

Reports claim that the recent drone strike killed four al-Qaeda linked fighters in a former girls' school in the North Waziristan tribal area. Of course this account is from security officials. Confirmation of what happened is often not possible or conflicting accounts emerge.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the attacks. However such statements ring hollow after being constantly repeated but no attempts made to stop the attacks. The U.S. has failed to meet the demand that drone attacks stop or the demand that there be an unconditional apology for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops. The U.S. has said it regrets the incident but claims both sides were to blame.

A recent meeting between U.S.special envoy Marc Grossman and Pakistani officials was not able to work out some of the main stumbling blocks in relations. Nevertheless officials from both governments say they are committed to continue the talks. The Pentagon team has ten negotiators.

Pakistan's problem is that it is dependent upon U.S. aid to such an extent that it is difficult to deny the U.S. what it wants. The U.S. has already held back more than a billion dollar in coalition support funds. These funds are to reimburse Pakistan for costs incurred in fighting militants.The U.S. has made no payments since 2010. The Pakistanis claim also that the U.S. owes more than 3 billion. If the Pakistanis ever want to see their money they must play nice with the U.S. However, if they play nice with the U.S. and their demands are ignored the Pakistani people may rise up against the government or defeat them at the polls. For more see this article.

Patrons of Sharia militants release 73 captured Yemeni soldiers

A provincial official said:"Al-Qaeda has released 73 soldiers they seized in the south in early March," The official was speaking in the city of Jaar which is held by the militant group Ansar Al-Sharia (Partisans of Sharia). The group is often said to be Al Qaeda linked or by this official simply Al Qaeda. This blurring of distinctions between groups is probably a deliberate tactic of Yemeni officials since the U.S. is bound to help them as long as they are fighting Al Qaeda.

The official claimed that two busloads of soldiers were driven from Jaar to Aden the main port city in the south. The official said that religious and tribal mediators had secured their release. There were rumors that they were to be executed. There is no account of what the militants were given in exchange. Perhaps there are promises that local tribes will not take part in government attempts to drive out the militants from areas they occupy.On March 4 the militants had successfully attacked an army base near Zinjibar killing 185 soldiers and capturing the 73 who are now released.

The president of Yemen Hadi recently held talks with the FBI director Robert Mueller. No doubt there will be renewed attempts to dislodge militants from areas they occupy. This will stir up more unrest in the south that already has a separatist movement as well as militant groups. For more see this article.

America's Third War of Covert Operations

"America's Third War" is the title of an article by Micah Zenko that can be found here. Zenko notes that democratic governments have a responsibility to keep citizens informed about their activities although he admits that some secrets that would compromise national security should remain secret. However in practice governments keep secret whatever they think might be politically damaging even though revealing what they are doing would not harm national security. Often "national security" is used as a cover to keep activities secret that ought to be known by citizens.

As well as employing targeted killings in Afghanistan and Libya where the U.S. has been involved in combat the U.S. has also attempted to kill targets in at least four other countries. Approximately 300 attacks have been made in Pakistan, 20 in Somalia, 30 in Yemen and apparently one in Syria. While most of these attacks are by drones, they have also used cruise missiles launched by ships and aircraft. Others are conducted by AC-130 gunships and special operations forces.

Estimates vary but around three thousand people have been killed in these attacks including Al Qaeda suspects and local militants plus an unknown number of civilians. These activities are what Zenko calls America's Third War. Unlike the Iraq and Afghanistan wars there has been little oversight or debate in congress about this war. There are no time lines ever discussed as to when it might end, no coherent strategy and no transparency.

Although claims are made that drone attacks are made only under very strict conditions there is no transparency that would allow this to be verified. In fact attempts to gain information are blocked on grounds of national security. Even the very existence of the Pakistan attacks are still not admitted even though everyone knows who is responsible.

The continuing policy of keeping citizens in the dark about the Third War is indefensible and contrary to the need for the U.S. government to be accountable. While keeping what is happening secret the administration nevertheless crows about its success as happened when Obama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan or Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. For more see the full article. That the Third War may be counter productive and produce virulent anti-Americanism and more militants never seems to be seriously considered.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Last Ladas a Soviet Icon roll off the assembly line

The original Ladas were based upon the Italian Fiat 124. They were cheap, utilitarian, autos. Many were exported and earned the Soviet Union hard currency.
The Ladas were the butt of many jokes about their reliability. However, many owners liked them. A Russian immigrant I knew who always had one claimed they were easy to fix for most problems. There were not that many sold in Canada and the dealer network was weak. I see one quite rarely in my area now. The 4x4 Niva was more popular than the car in these parts.
The car was very much out of style for years. However, now that they are going out of production they will probably become collector items. I enclose a short video. For more see this article. The company that produced the Lada Avtovaz will still produce other models.

Top ten richest counties in the U.S.

This site lists the ten richest counties in the U.S. together with statistics and photos. I found the list surprising.

Of the ten richest counties four are in Virginia alone. In fact the top two richest counties are in Virginia. There are three of the top ten in New Jersey. There are two in Maryland.

All but one of the richest counties are on the east coast of the U.S. The only other county in the top ten is in Colorado. I thought that there would be some top counties in California, Texas, or Florida.

Loudon County Virginia is the richest county in the U.S.with a population of 277,433 in 2010. The median family income was $110, 643 in the same year. The residents are well educated with 58 per cent of those over 25 having a bachelors degree or higher. For much more see the full article.

Paul Krugman condemns austerity policies

Krugman uses the title "Death of a Fairy Tale" in his NY Times blog article. Krugman calls the austerity policy employed in many European countries a destructive economic doctrine.

Krugman claims that economic textbooks suggest that in severely depressed economies governments should spend more to take the place of falling demand rather than cutting spending to try and balance budgets. No doubt Keynesian liberal oriented textbooks suggest this but not all economists would go along.

The "austerians" as Krugman calls them argue that austerity measures restore confidence to investors and hence the economy will grow rather than continue in recession. As Krugman puts it the confidence fairy will come and reward policy makers for their virtue.

The results of austerity policies throughout the European countries where it has been employed are evident. Even more contraction of GDP, increasing unemployment, social unrest, and little or no sign of recovery. Krugman seems genuinely puzzled by the continuation of austerity policies in the face of empirical evidence that they do not work. Krugman suggests that perhaps the cause is an irrational fear of increased debt levels. But there are good reasons for austerity policies from a capitalist viewpoint that Krugman's analysis ignores.

Austerity policies have the effect of lowering wage demands and weakening unions. This means that labor costs will go down and this is a positive for capital and investors in the longer run. Austerity policies shrink the social safety net and pension payments and this can lead to lower taxation rates since the government requires less revenue. Finally as part of austerity measures state assets and services are sold off providing investment opportunities as the assets often are sold at fire sale prices. The money is used to pay off debt.

While in the short run the austerity policies may reduce growth, policy makers are beginning to recognize this as a problem. The response will no doubt be to provide even more incentives for business to begin investing in countries where austerity policies reign but to keep most of the austerity policies in place. In the long run they are good for investor confidence since they lead to lower labor costs, provide investment opportunities, and reduce government services that do not directly help business. A temporary decrease in GDP may be a small price to pay for policies that do help capital in the longer term. For more see this article.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spain: Economic troubles continue but no bailout requested

In spite of the fact that Standard and Poor had just downgraded Spain's credit rating the Minister of the Economy Luis de Guindo in an interview said that Spain was not seeking a bailout. He said:“Nobody has asked Spain, either officially or unofficially” to seek a bailout.

However the Spanish economic situation seems to be going from bad to worse. The unemployment rate is already the highest in Europe but reached a new high of 24.4 just short of the all time record of 24.55 set in 1994. The increase in joblessness for the first quarter will decrease tax revenues by about 1.3 billion dollars exacerbating the debt crisis.

The risk has increased for Spanish debt as bond yields rose above six per cent. This has fueled speculation that Spain may seek rescue. One minister called for the European Central Bank to buy Spanish bonds. However de Guindos stood firm:“This is not the real cure for the problems and the volatility of the market,”“I don’t think that we need any further liquidity injections after the two LTROs that the ECB has implemented over the last three or four months.”
No sooner had de Guindos expressed his views then Standard and Poor cut Spain's credit rating two levels to BBB+ reasoning that Spain will need to provide more money for its banks. This is the second downgrade by S and P this year.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that budget deficits will remain in Spain until at least 2017. A 1.8 per cent contraction of GDP is forecast for this year and growth of only .1 per cent next year. For more see this article.

Friday, April 27, 2012

J.P. Morgan CEO letter to shareholders has negative remarks about Arab Spring

The annual report of J.P. Morgan to shareholders can be found here. It is written by Jamie Dimon the chief executive officer (CEO).

Dimon notes the economic uncertainty clouding the economic future. He also notes events that have impeded economic recovery such as the tsunami and earthquake in Japan and the European debt crisis.

However, he also mentions revolutions in the Middle East, the Arab Spring. He speaks of all of these as tragic events and unfortunate setbacks.

Even if one construes Dimon as referring to the Arab Spring events as tragic setbacks this seems unduly negative. While it is true that in purely economic terms such as growth in GDP these did involve lesser growth than might have happened under the regime of Mubarak or in Tunisia, surely the overall political effects were positive enough to outweigh the economic consequences.

Perhaps the Arab Spring caused an unfortunate rise in oil prices as well but this also is hardly reason to describe the changes brought about as unfortunate. Perhaps if democratic change hurts capital then it is a tragic setback. For more see this article.

Obama gives green light for expansion of Yemeni drone attacks

The U.S. is becoming more involved in Yemen. Drone strikes have been increasing this year and there are also special forces troops on the ground. Of course the movements of the latter are not reported except when there are reports of their being attacked as happened a while ago. Now Obama is giving the green light for broadening targets of drone strikes.

Militants of various stripes have occupied considerable swaths of southern Yemen. The media no doubt encouraged by U.S. officials tend to describe all the militants as either Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda linked. As good example of this are the group Ansar al Sharia who are now sometimes not even identified as a group separate from Al Qaeda. The main Al Qaeda group is AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula)

Senior officials claim that now fighters may be targeted whose names are not known but supposedly are deemed high value terrorism targets. This is just a repeat of official spin. Elsewhere the description has been that activity at known militant compounds such as loading weapons or unloading ammunition could be targeted. In fact they will target whatever they think might be useful in their fight against the militants. From the very start the drone attacks have been far from directed at limited targets based on hard intelligence. See for example the first attack under Obama. Another attack killed an important provincial official. This article claims that critics suggest the administration is being too cautious and should do even more to help the Yemeni government fight militants. The article fails to note that the Yemeni government is fighting not only militants but also at least two separatist movements and also on occasion tribes opposed to the regime.

Intelligence reports show that AQAP has grown stronger since the U.S. born Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a drone attack. This is not surprising as many critics have pointed out tribal societies have a culture that demands vengeance against those who kill one of their members. Hence the drone attacks create a recruiting opportunity for Al Qaeda.

However, that these attacks are counter-productive in stopping Al Qaeda does not mean that they are counter-productive in terms of domestic U.S. politics. Quite the opposite. There are continual reports of high value targets and leaders being killed and this can bring increased voter support in the U.S. For more see this article. Yemeni intelligence officers say that the attacks occur with the consent of the Yemeni government but that the government has the power to roll back the drone program. One wonders if this is actually the case!

New bill threatening U.S. privacy rights passes U.S. House

While the first attempt to violate privacy rights of Americans called SOPA was withdrawn, it has now come back as CISPA( Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act). Opponents have already called it SOPA2. The new act was supposed to address concerns expressed by critics of the first bill.

Not only does the new bill not solve those concerns an amendment actually makes the new bill broader in its application. A large number of organizations and individuals oppose the bill. See this site and also here.

The bill passed in the house by a vote of 248 to 168, not even close. The bill will now go to the senate. There needs to be a lot more opposition before the bill will be withdrawn again. Although the bill strengthens information sharing it also encourages the intelligence community to collect more information on U.S. citizens whenever they think this could possibly enhance national security.Critics expected this new bill to reduce the authority to snoop and to make companies liable for illegally providing the government with information. An amendment did not do this but actually broadened grounds that government could use to collect information.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) condemned passage of the bill and expects that by the time the bill reaches the Senate there will be more popular opposition. Although there is no date for the bill to be debated in Senate, some fear that the bill might be quickly introduced and debated to avoid scrutiny. For more see this article

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Social Security in U.S. is sustainable if projected cuts to military spending are made

To understand the projected shortfall in U.S. Social Security over the next 75 years it is best to understand the trillions of dollars involved by comparison with other tax policies and priorities. This is what Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities does as described by Robert Naiman here.

If the tax cuts made under the Bush presidency were extended for the nextl 75 years the revenue loss would be approximately twice the shortfall in Social Security over the same period. If the tax cuts are affordable covering the projected shortfall of social security is more than affordable.

Naiman next goes on to show that the cuts projected to the military under the Budget Control Act that are now sequestered would also cover short fall to Social Security over 75 years. So Social Security's shortfall could be solved just by going through with the projected cuts to the military. It is just a question of which choices the government makes not a question of Social Security being unsustainable. Why is it not the present level of military spending that is unsustainable. For the entire argument see the full article.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

U.S. envoy in talks to mend relations with Pakistan

U.S. Ambassador Marc Grossman will meet with key Pakistani officials. There will be two days of meetings to try and work out disputes between the two countries.

There will also be meetings with a core group of both Pakistani and Afghan officials to try and restart peace talks with the Taliban. The meetings take place after the Pakistani parliament made a series of demands including the cessation of drone attacks and an apology for an attack that killed 24 Pakistani troops.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Dept. said:"We've begun our process of re-engaging with the Pakistani government to work through the issues that have come up during the review, so this will be an effort to really take up those issues one at a time and see how we work through them," Grossman is special envoy for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has been on a tour of Europe, Turkey and the Gulf nations mainly talking about Afghanistan after 2014. No doubt it is partly a fund raising tour to help pay for Afghan security.

The State Dept. spokesperson said:."We want to hear the Pakistani government's presentation of where it thinks the bilateral relationship needs to go, and then we will present our views and work through issues as partners do," The spokesperson had no comment on whether Grossman was prepared to discuss drone attacks. The U.S. has said a number of times that it is not prepared to stop the attacks. The attacks have continued even after the Pakistani parliaments has passed several motions demanding that they cease. For more see this article.

FBI director Mueller visits Yemen

In a sign that the U.S. is becoming more deeply involved in the Yemen civil strife FBI director Robert Mueller visited the capital yesterday. The government took the opportunity to announce that an air strike had killed an important Al Qaeda leader who was involved in an attack on a French oil tanker. No doubt this was a U.S. drone strike but as usual Yemen does not admit such strikes. However U.S. sources say that the strike was carried out by a CIA operated drone.

During a meeting with the new president who was elected recently in a one person race Mueller pledged support for Yemen "with full force" . The original protesters for democracy have been unable to hold the former president Saleh or anyone else responsible for the deaths during the democracy protests. All were given immunity under the GCC brokered deal for the former president to step down.

A Yemen embassy spokesman in Washington said. "President Hadi emphasized that he is strongly committed to combating extremism and working with the U.S. to counter the mutual threat of terrorism." For more see this article.. The Yemeni armed forces along with some local tribes people opposed to a Qaeda or perhaps funded by the government have been trying to take back territory occupied by militants. The U.S. could very well be used by the Yemeni regime to fight forces opposed to the regime who are separatists rather than militants. Branding any group as militants is a sure fire way to gain U.S. support for eliminating them.

Libyan interim government bans political parties base on religion

The first general elections are to be held in Libya in two months. The 200 members elected will draft a new constitution and form a government.

The law banning religious parties was immediately denounced by Islamic oriented parties that intend to compete in the June elections. A government spokesperson said that the move was meant to preserve national unity. If the ruling makes the main Islamist parties ineligible to run this will hardly preserve national unity.

No parties were allowed under the Gadaffi regime among the reasons being the one used by the transitional council to ban religious parties that parties divide the people and are against national unity. The government spokesperson said:."Parties shouldn't be based on ethnic or religious ideologies," "We don't want the government to be divided by these ideological differences." He was silent on what the new law meant for the Freedom and Development party founded by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood sponsored party is expected to do well in elections as Islam oriented parties have done in Egypt and Tunisia. A spokesperson for the Freedom and Development party said:"This is not democracy," "We don't understand this law ... It could mean nothing, or it could mean that none of us can participate in the election,'"We are a nationalist party and Islam is our religion. This law is unacceptable and only suits liberals."

Libya is made up mostly of Sunni Muslims. The new law seems out of step with the government announce that the government would be run in accordance with Sharia law although the exact role of the law would wait upon drafting of the constitution. There are enough problems and divisions in Libya already without the government itself introducing conflict as this law has. For more see this article.

United Kingdom slides back into recession

While attention falls upon Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland as the problem nations in Europe, the UK is not faring very well either. Recent austerity measures introduced in Britain no doubt were in part responsible for the fact that output fell for the second quarter in a row.

The Office for National Statistics reports that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) fell 0.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2012. In the last quarter of 2011 it had fallen by 0.3 per cent. In contrast many economists had been predicting slight growth of .1 per cent.

There were significant declines in many sectors especially construction and there was also a fall in industrial output. The government's goal of reducing the deficit will recede further into the future as revenues decline.

The Bank of England claims there is a risk of further decline in the second quarter of 2012 as well. However, commentators claim the bank is unlikely to apply further stimulus measures such as quantitative easing because of worries about inflation. For more see this article.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ron Paul on CISPA bill

Earlier attempts to pass two bills SOPA and PIPA that would have enabled the U.S. Justice Dept. to shut down websites and/or search engines were shelved after public protests. The sites could have been shut down if they did not cooperate sufficiently with the war on terror or were accused of copyright infringements.

However, the U.S. government has not given up trying to control the Internet. The government wants government controls and filters on the flow of information. While Paul is correct, corporations also want to control communication and data flow as well under the rubric of intellectual property rights. In fact the government bills serve corporations and their profits as much as the government itself.

A new bill has the acronym CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act). According to Paul it would allow both the government and private corporations to view supposedly private on line communications with no judicial oversight. Of course it must all be done for reasons of cybersecurity. The bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security access to an individuals' on line communications..The wording si so broad it could be used for purposes extending much beyond cyberterrorism.

As Paul points out the bill involves close collaboration between large corporations such as Google and Facebook and the government. The corporations will hand over information about you with no warrant or judicial review. Since the corporations may be breaking laws such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act they are conveniently given immunity from lawsuits when they hand over the information. Obviously your rights can be violated by Google or Facebook but you have no recourse. It is just part of the price you pay for fighting terrorism or perhaps for living in a developing police state. For more see this article.

Netherlands: Coalition government falls apart after failed austerity talks

The prime minister Mark Rutte along with his cabinet have tendered their resignations to the Queen. The Queen accepted of course!

The populist Freedom Party did not agree to austerity measures proposed by Rutte. The party is on the right and critical of Islam.

Elections were not due until 2015. Even now the earliest that elections can take place is in September. Until then Rutte will have to work with opposition parties as a caretaker government. Any austerity government will have to be negotiated with opposition parties to get majority support.

The Freedom Party leader Wilders walked out of austerity meetings saying:"We don't want our pensioners to suffer for the sake of the dictators in Brussels" The talks were designed to cut 21 billion dollars from the budget. The problems in the Netherlands plus the fact that a socialist led in the French presidential voting helped drive stock markets down yesterday. For more see this article.

Pentagon wants to expand spying on foreign military contractors

The U.S. is expanding covert operations both in the military and in spying Obama moves to project U,S.power through methods that are hidden from view and from accountability. The Dept. of Defense has asked that spies be allowed to infiltrate foreign military contractors' businesses.

These would be companies that are manufacturing weapons for competing nations. Some U.S. business people would actually be spies gathering intelligence.

The Dept. of Defense also said: “The conflict with al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and other developments, have required the regular conduct of small-scale clandestine military operations to prepare the battlefield for military operations against terrorists and their sponsors,” The Department wants to be able to use more clandestine spying operations. Not only would the department keep the operations secret but could ignore or deny the operations entirely. So much for open and accountable government.

There are dangers to the program as a correspondent with Wired Danger Room points out:“Once civilian commercial activities become a front for US military spying, then foreign governments will likely view normal businessmen as targets for their own counter-spying, or even detention,” No doubt foreign operatives will also engage in such activities in U.S. businesses. For more see this article.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Democracy Now interview with former NSA whistle blower William Binney

The war on terror has given the U.S. government and agencies such as the National Security Agency vastly increased powers. Anyone who questions or reveals corruption or violation of rights by the government can expect to be harassed and intimidated.

This is what happened to the three people interviewed on "Democracy Now". Jacob Applebaum is an internet security expert who works with Wikileaks and Laura Poitras is an Oscar nominated documentary film maker. However, the video portion I have included is an interview with William Binney.

Binney was a top NSA official. He worked at NSA for 40 years. He resigned because he found that the agency was collecting information about Americans with no judicial oversight. He considered those actions unconstitutional. Notice that he does not seem to worry that the same data collection violated non-Americans privacy rights!

When Binney went to the Senate Intelligence Committee and reported this illegal spying by NSA there was immediate retaliation. FBI agents raids his home--while he was in the shower--They pointed guns at him and warned him he would not do well in prison. Poitras has been searched and interrogated every time she enters the U.S. and had her laptop seized. Applebaum too is stopped and interrogated. None of course have been charged with a crime. They are not even on the no fly list. For more see the full video or here.

Afghanistan after 2014: We know who calls the tune but who pays the piper?

The U.S. for the most part is calling the tune in Afghanistan after 2014 although Karzai will have a say. But who pays for it all?

Half at least will be paid by the U.S. taxpayer. NATO members are doing their best to keep their share as small as possible. However any payments at all are politically risky in countries where the war is very unpopular. However in the U.S. there seems to be bipartisan support for continued involvement in Afghanistan after 2014 even though it is costly and the majority of Americans oppose the war.. Some special forces and trainers will also remain and no doubt so will continued night raids although most of them will be Afghan led.

Support for Afghanistan and a continued presence is planned for at least another ten years. This has been evident for some time but in the U.S. the issue seems to be virtually ignored.The hype is all about withdrawal!

. Estimated costs to support Afghan security forces is about 4.1 billion U.S. per year. The U.S. is prepared to assume half of the costs. The Afghan government can afford only about half a billion. This leaves 1.8 billion for other NATO partners.

Most countries have made vague commitments with only tiny Luxembourg committing to its fair share. However Britain offered a firm 110 million an amount that one might expect from Scrooge! Many think that successful financing commitments may be a precondition of a final signing off on any agreement on the future by Karzai. For more see this article.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

France: Far right candidate polls 20 per cent in presidential race

Although the Socialist candidate Hollande led Sarkozy by 29 to 26 per cent the runoff result is far from certain. The runoff between Hollande and Sarkozy will take place May 6.

The big surprise was the strong showing of Marine Le Pen who broke her father's record in 2002. The leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon finished far behind in fourth at 11 per cent. Bayrou a centrist candidate managed less than ten per cent at fifth.

Le Pen's policy of reserving jobs for French nationals resonated with many as jobless claims are at a 12 year record high. She also wants to jettison the Euro. Right and left populist parties are surging throughout Europe as austerity programs hurt the people.

Unfortunately for Hollande polls show about half of Le Pen's supporters will vote for Sarkozy and only one fifth for Hollande. Hollande wants to focus on growth rather than austerity measures. However who knows what he will do if elected. The Greek socialist Papandreou implemented austerity measures albeit not well enough to avoid being replaced by a technocrat.

Hollande also promises to raise taxes on the wealthy if elected. For more see this article.

U.S. and Karzai work out strategic agreement for U.S. presence after 2014

The U.S. and Karzai have worked out what they call a strategic partnership for U.S. presence after 2014 when most combat troops will be removed. The two sides have been negotiating behind the scenes for almost a year now. There is to be one final consultation but for now they say the text of the agreement is closed.

The document leaves unresolved issues that plagued negotiations from the beginning. However the issue of night raids was resolved by having Afghans lead the raids and they will also be subject to judicial review. Some think that this is mostly symbolic a room is left for other raids that are by the U.S. and also the judicial permission can be after the fact! There was also a separate agreement on the handover of jails to Afghan authorities. A compromise was reached.

The article says that the agreement will go to both houses of congress in the U.S. and the president. In Afghanistan the wording is that Karzai will consult with national leaders and both houses of parliament. It is not clear by the wording that the Afghan parliament will vote on the agreement.

. The issue of long term access to military and the status of the forces that stay is unresolved. The U.S. refuses to allow its military to be subject to Afghan law.

A conference in Chicago in May is expected to iron out details of long term financing for the Afghan military and training. The World Bank predicts Afghanistan will face a 7 billion dollar deficit each year after 2014.

The international community has pledged about 4 billion annually to prop up the army and police. Most will come from the U.S. The Afghans will commit about a half billion annually. Karzai had demanded a firm commitment in the agreement to a specific amount of funding but he did not get it. For more see this article. For long after 2014 the U.S taxpayer will be paying for the Afghan adventure. No doubt special forces and troops as trainers will also stay. Expect a huge embassy staff as well. The Taliban are not likely to agree to peace terms as long as there is still a NATO or U.S. presence of this size.

U.S. bill would provide 680 million more for Israeli defense

The extra money would be for financing the Iron Dome missile defense system against rocket attacks on Israel The U.S. has already spent 205 million for the system. Now the Republicans are pressing to pass a bill that would add another 680 million.

This year alone the Obama budget pledges 3.1 billion in funds towards Israeli security. This is part of a 30 billion ten year U.S. pledge The Iron Dome funding is on top of this!

Israel itself had decided to defund the Iron Dome system. The missiles used to knock down the incoming missiles are far more expensive than the incoming missiles and the system is not cost-effective it was decided. However, now the U.S. is footing the bill Israel is pressing to expand the system. The system is not designed as protection against long range missiles such as Iran might use.

The Pentagon is a cheer leader for the system praising its effectiveness during recent attacks..Yet some Israeli officials were critical of the performance which is why they claim much more is needed. Although quite cheap most of the rockets coming from Gaza are practically useless but once in a while they do cause some damage or deaths.

Obviously the deficit is not a big issue for the Republicans when it comes to funding Israeli military projects. We will see what the Democratic response will be in this election year. For more see this article.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Politically correct names: Intercourse Alabama OK: F---ing Austria No Way

The town of F---ing Austria probably honours a sixth century nobleman name Focko. No matter it is just too embarrassing and the town is the butt of jokes. Nevertheless one would think the Chamber of Commerce would object to the change since it puts the town on the map so to speak.. A local town council in Canada was infuriated when the Canadian post office rejected a slogan cancel that would indicate that the town was the rape (canola) capital of the world. The grain rape was changed to canola some time ago but many old timers were outraged by the change.

The F---ing youngsters of today have voted against retaining the name. They want to change to the sound the same but acceptable Fugging Austria. But a Fugging Austria already exists so it may not be possible. You see the F---ing Austria people waited more than a century too long. There were once two F----ing Austrias but in 1836 one changed to Fugging. No f---ing way you say! For more f---ing information see this article.

CIA asks to expand targets in Yemen drone strikes

According to an article here, the CIA is requesting authority to expand its covert drone mission n Yemen. The CIA wants to launch attacks even though it does not know who the targets are.

These "signature strikes" would target people solely on intelligence that indicates patterns of suspicious behavior..For example images of militants gathering at known al-Qaida compounds or performing certain actions such as unloading explosives. This extension will no doubt lead to many more mistakes and civilian deaths.

Even the existing strikes often cause collateral damage. Sometimes the targets and those killed are not militants at all but at the most the families of suspected militants. The first horrendous attack of the Obama regime on a remote village killed mostly women and children. See this article.

These signature strikes have been used in Pakistan for some time. Director David Petraeus now wants to use this type of strike in Yemen.

Obama is already increasing the rate of strikes in Yemen. There have been at least 8 strikes this year already. Often the Yemen government denies U.S. involvement in strikes. There are also U.S. Special Forces operating in Yemen but nothing is said about them unless they happen to come under attack as has happened. Obama ruled out signature attacks more than a year ago. However, it would seem that the CIA has on occasion not followed the more restrictive rules in any case.

The U.S. is in danger of being to drawn in to a conflict that is often simply directed at the government so that hostilities may be as much a civil war as Al Qaeda gaining influence. The U.S. and the Yemeni government routinely identify any significant Islamic militant group as Al Qaeda related or even a branch of Al Qaeda. For more see this article.

Satire on Colombian prostitute scandal and U.S. secret service

Warning: Satire!

The Colombian branch of the International Alliance of Professional Escorts has downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to B. The group claims that U.S. secret service personnel short changed some of their members.

In a shocking incident the group claims that a U.S. agent paid only 30 dollars for a service that normally costs 800 dollars. A statement from the group said: “members should be aware that doing business with the government of the United States carries with it a significant risk.”“We are urging our members to avoid conducting transactions with the United States and to focus on more reliable customers, like the International Monetary Fund,”

There is a sunny side to the incident. Enlistment offices of the U.S. Secret Service report that applications for employment are up 5000 per cent this week. Rumour is that Newt Gingrich who dropped out of the presidential race is one of the applicants. For more see this site for the Borowitz Report.

India: Good missile tests and good nuclear bombs

Iran does not even have nuclear weapons but if it tests long range missiles that is bad it might be a threat to Israel. Of course it is OK for Israel to threaten to attack Iran and it has nuclear weapons already although it is usually not polite to point out that fact.

North Korea has nuclear weapons but a test of a long range missile was a great provocation even though the test failed. But now India which has nuclear weapons also tests a long range missile that can carry such weapons and target Chinese cities. The test is a success and certainly in the U.S. there is no outcry at the spread of nuclear weapons or the means of their delivery. This is because to the U.S. these weapons are benign at least for the present while India is an ally.

The U.S. was not always so tolerant of India. In 1974 when India first tested a nuclear weapon the US. imposed sanctions for a full 25 years. But now the U.S. sees India as a check against Chinese influence in Southeast Asia so now the test of a missile that could carry nuclear weapons is a plus. The U.S. and others have traded nuclear materials with India since 2008 in violation of the NPT (Non-proliferation treaty). For more see this article.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Russia's Richest Two Hundred

Alisher Usmanov is Russias richest person. He is invested in metals but also made a great deal of money through investing in Facebook. Usmanov has personal wealth of 18.5 billion U.S..

­ Usmanov overtook Vladimir Lising who owns a large steel company. His wealth is estimated at 15.9 billion. The only woman in the Forbes list is Elena Baturina whose wealth is estimated at a mere 1.1 billion. The youngest of the 200 is Deny Bazhaev just 16 founder of an investment group with wealth around 750 million.

The total wealth of the 200 is 446.3 billion. 145 of the group live in Moscow. For more see this article.. Capitalism is obviously kind to the Russian one per cent.

Montreal protests against tuition hikes turn violent

Hundreds of students protested outside the Palais des Congres. The Quebec Liberal premier Jean Charest was speaking at a symposium on northern development.

Charest's keynote address was delayed when protesters accessed the building and confronted police guarding the meeting. There were injuries to two protesters and two officers and 10 arrests.

Protests have been ongoing for some time sometimes accompanied by violence. Ministers in the government have been threatened. Police used batons, chemical irritants to push students back but eventually resorted to tear gas and concussion grenades.

Demonstrations have been ongoing almost daily. Students have been boycotting classes for almost two months now. Over the next five years the government intends to raise fees by 1625 dollars. Fees in Quebec are at present the lowest in Canada. However, compared to some European countries such as Finland where university education is free they are still high. For more see this article.

Muslim countries big markets for lingerie

Some Muslims are quick to take offense even if the offensive items depict reality. Of course the Pentagon takes similar offense. Recent photos of troops posing with parts of bodies or urinating on corpses should not be published according to many officials.

However the recent outcry about the photo by an art student in Canada who wears a Muslim headdress seems relatively innocuous but is apparently something that should be hidden. So what was the subject of the photo?

The photo in black and white shows a woman in the full Islamic scarf and cloak holding a flower embossed bra while she is folding her laundry. The photo was removed from public display. An education center funded by Saudi Arabia has also gone on record as opposed to the photo. So do Muslim women shy away from buying sexy and attractive lingerie. Not at all.

Banker Reem Assad in Jeddah Saudi Arabia says the market for lingerie in Saudi Arabia was one billion U.S. in 2010. In fact the lingerie industry is thriving more in the Middle East than in North America.

An ad for Motexha which is the largest trade event for garments, textiles, etc. claims that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia account for 77 per cent of Europe's total lingerie exports.

According to the article here the lingerie portrayed in the photo is quite tame compared to what is worn under the niqab in some parts of the Muslim world. In Syria for example there are Tweety Birds on the crotch that light up, feathers, and buttons to press to hear music. No doubt Syrians have other issues at present that overshadow such frivolities. For more see this article.

Greek coalition partners poised to win May election according to polls

In spite of huge demonstrations against austerity measures and widespread anger at the government the two main parties in the governing coalition may very well have enough seats to renew their partnership.

The PASOK socialist party and the New Democracy conservatives have regained support. One polll shows New Democracy at 21.9 per cent with 108 seats a gain of 4 per cent since February. PASOK the socialist party was up even more at 17.8 per cent and 47 seats versus 9.8 per cent in February.

In total the two would have 155 seats in the 300 seat assembly. That is just over half however and there are two weeks left in campaigning. The final poll could end up with a situation where other parties would need to join the coalition for a majority.

Even with these increases in support the parties are at almost historic lows in popularity. Eight other parties will probably win seats. An extreme right party Golden Dawn could win 14 seats, Fringe parties opposed to the bailout are gaining support.

Polls show that most Greeks favor a coalition of leftist parties but that is certainly unlikely to happen. While many Greeks are wholly opposed to the austerity measures a full 77 per cent want Greece to remain in the Euro zone and do what it takes to achieve this. If that is so then opposition to austerity measures is likely to be without any effect. For more see this article. The Greeks can look forward to a longer recession, cuts in salaries and pensions, and the sell off of their state assets.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

ACLU seeks information on horrendous U.S. missile attack in Yemen in 2009

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) together with the Center for Constitutional Rights have filed a request for information about a U.S. missile attack that killed dozens of civilians in the remote village of al-Majalah in the province of Abyan. The request is under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The attack happened back on Dec. 17th 2009 the first known missile strike in Yemen carried out by the Obama administration. There were one or more cruise missiles that were launched from a U.S. warship or submarine. There were reports that cluster bombs were used as well..

Forty one people were killed in the remote mountain village in Abyan province. The targets were purportedly militants according to the government which also claimed full responsibility for the attack. However among the dead were 21 children and 14 women.

I have included a tape of almost half an hour on the U.S involvement in Yemen. There is an interview with people from the village attack beginning around 10 minutes into the video. For more see this article.

It is highly unlikely that any information will be released or that the U.S. will even admit to the attack. The Saleh government often claimed that they mounted attacks that were in effect by the U.S. Indeed Saleh authorities joke about this in memos released by Wikileaks as the video appended points out. The release of this information will be said to be against national security interests..

South Carolina judge rules that LRB cannot order employers to post notices about the right to unionize.

Judge David Norton of the U.S. District Court in Charleston S.C. ruled that the LRC(Labor Relations Board) had no authority to require most private employers to post notices informing workers that they had a right to form a union.

The judge reacted the argument that the posting was necessary for the board to carry out its mission. He also rejected the argument that Congress had given authority to the board to order that such notices be posted. The notices explain the right to collective bargaining, to distribute union literature, etc.

This decision clashes with that of a Washington D.C. judge who last month ruled that the board did have such authority. The Chamber of Commerce was pleased with the South Carolina decision. For much more see the full article.

Mali: Deposed ex president in Senegalese embassy in Mali capital

The new president of Senegal announced that the ex president of Mali Amadou Toure is in the Senegal embassy in the Mali capital Bamako. Toure was deposed in an army coup by U.S. trained Captain Sanogo in March..

Toure resigned on April 8th as part of a deal to restore civilian rule. Senegal's new president Macky Sall said:"President Amadou Toumani Toure [is] at this moment on the territory of the residence of the embassy of Senegal in Bamako," Since the coup last month his whereabouts had not been known although military sources insisted he was safe. Ethnic Tuareg along with Islamic militants have taken control of the north of Mali and the Tuareg have declared it is an independent country of Azawad.

The new president and prime minister will need to organize elections but also do something about the northern secession. The coup leader said that the former government was not devoting sufficient resources to tackling the northern rebellion. No doubt there will be renewed conflict soon. See this article.

Economists: Legalizing marijuana would save U.S,. 13.7 billion a year

You would think that any proposal that would save 13.7 billion a year would be immediately accepted by both parties given the humongous debt of the U.S. However, when the proposal involves legalizing marijuana there is bipartisan rejection of the proposal.

The war on drugs has been a failure most agree. Even the right wing government of Guatemala has promoted legalizing drugs as did the host government Colombia at the recent Summit of the Americas. However, Canada and the U.S. were the two countries opposed to the idea.

The signers of a petition that calls attention to a recent paper by economist Jeffrey Miron of Harvard, includes three Nobel winners. The legalization would save 7.7. billion annually through not having to enforce existing bans. If government taxed sales of marijuana at a similar rate similar to tobacco and tobacco another 6 billion in revenue would flow into government coffers. The petition itself does not specifically advocate legalization but demands a debate about the issue given the savings involved. For much more see this article.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Three of a dozen dogs aboard the Titanic survived

 Dogs on Titanic deck

There were a dozen dogs on board the Titanic when it sank. Three of them lived through the ordeal. The three survivors all hailed from New York.

No dogs in the ship's on board kennel managed to survive. The three who lived were all in their owner's cabins.

A Pomeranian puppy called Lady was saved by her owner. Margaret Hays wrapped the puppy in a blanket when she boarded a life boat. Probably others thought she had a baby.

Another Pomeranian belonging to Elizabeth Rothschild also survived and a Pekingese owned by the Harpers of Harper and Row publishing.

. The Astors lost two Airedales. The worst disaster happened when Ann Isham left her lifeboat to try and rescue her Great Dane but was lost only to be found dead floating in the water several days later with her arms wrapped around her dog. For more see this article.

Russia may buy Greek railway system

Greece has long lost sovereignty to its creditors. In return for loans it has been forced to sell off state assets. No doubt they will go at fire sale prices.

The Russian railway monopoly Russsian Railways is in talks with Greek authorities. The head of Russian Railways said: "We're keeping in contact with the Greeks … They haven't decided on the model yet, so it's too early to talk about our participation."

Romania's largest private railway is interested in the cargo part of the Greek business. Russia has been interested in investing in Greek railways for some time.Proposals made last year were reportedly rejected by Greece. The situation may be different now.

However there are reports that Greece wants a French company to run the railways to service foreign debts. However the French company involved SNCF said through a spokesperson that the operator "is not in the running for the purchase of Trainose, nor is it in the running for the purchase of a railway company or a railway line in Greece".

An EU timetable has tenders for Trainose (the Greek railway system) to be opened in the last quarter of this year. All the assets of the company will be transferred to a privatization fund. The proceeds will go to pay off Greek debt.

More U.S. drone attacks in Yemen and Somalia

The new emphasis on drone attacks in areas where the U.S.engages only in covert operations has been evident in the last few days. This article at longwarjournal covers attacks in Yemen and this article in Press TV covers attacks in Somalia.

According to the first article U.S. drone attacks killed five AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula). A vehicle with the fighters in it was traveling near the town of Karma near the city of Assan in Shabwa province. The city of Azzan has been under AQAP control since June last year. The city of Zinjibar in Abyan province was also seized by Ansar Al Sharia.

The U.S. has stepped up strikes in Yemen carrying out four already this month. In March there were at least six strikes. Obviously the tempo of strikes is increasing. There are also Special Forces units on the ground but nothing has been said recently about them.

According to Press TV at least 31 people were killed in recent attacks near the town of Afmadow. A Somali military official confirmed the attack. The UN has condemned the drone attacks saying the are a threat to international law. The Obama administration is stepping up covert operations as it winds down conventional military operations in Afghanistan. The U.S. is resorting more and more to what Juan Cole calls shadow power.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Age of U.S. Shadow Power: Juan Cole

In an article published recently in the NATION and also available here. Juan Cole a prof. at the U. of Michigan and well know commentator on Middle East politics writes of what he calls "The Age of American Shadow Power".

Cole notes that covert actions have long been part and parcel of U.S. policies to project power world-wide. However within the last decade he argues that these actions are becoming a more important part of U.S. power supplementing or even replacing conventional military action in many cases.

Among the new shadow power tools are drone strikes, electronic spying, secret operations by military units such as the Joint Special Operations Command. The government also now uses many more corporate contractors and mercenaries for security and even some terrorist groups.

As Cole points out these new tools can lead to operations that may put the U.S. in peril and create blow back. They also make the U.S. very unpopular in areas where they are unemployed. Drone attacks, and CIA operatives in Pakistan are a good example as well as the antics of private security contractors,. This is just a short introduction to the article for much more detail see the full article. Cole claims that if the use of shadow power is not rolled back it could hurt U.S. diplomacy and the blow back from the practices could make the U.S. actually less secure.

Yemen: Drones, deaths and violence in clashes with militants

Among the victims of the latest violence were three children killed by an IED. The Yemen defence ministry said that three local Al-Qaeda militants were killed in the province of Bayda.

The ministry said that the three were killed in a Yemeni air strike. However a security official told AFP that the strike was by a U.S. drone. This fits the pattern of the Yemeni government always taking responsibility for attacks that are carried out by U.S. drones. Usually the U.S. does not acknowledge the attacks unless they hit a high profile target such as Anwar al-Awlaki.

Security officials also said a man was killed and five injured in another militant attack on the town of Loder. The man killed belonged to a local group formed to fight off militants along with the Yemeni security forces. On the same day three more of the same force were killed as militants wage a fierce battle for control of the town. In five days of fighting authorities report that 222 people have been killed including 183 militants as they try to seize the town.

. Since last May Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Sharia) have taken control of areas of several provinces including Zinjibar the capital of Abyan province. There are reports of several drone attacks and shelling from U.S. ships off shore. No doubt the violence will continue as Yemen faces internal divisions, two separatist rebellions, and a surge in militant attacks and takeover of territory. For more see this article.

So far there is little sign of any democratic reforms. The transitional government is made up of Saleh supporters and official opposition members who gave themselves immunity from prosecution for any past misdeeds along with former president Saleh and his relatives. The new president ran unopposed and was former vice-president under Saleh. This is all fine as far as the U.S. and the GCC are concerned.

Argentine president moves to nationalize Spanish oil company YPF (Repsol)

Argentina again challenges global capital as the president Cristina Fernandez pushed a bill that will renationalize the country's largest oil company YPF owned by Repsol in Spain. Of course the act immediately set up an international howl of complaints including from the U.S.

Fernandez says that the move will enable Argentina to recover sovereignty over its oil resources. Many countries are content to sell their resources to the highest bidder among the internatioanal oil giants, a practice that has landed Argentina in its present difficulties. YPF does very well in Argentina and its operations there represent about a third of its profits. Given the present economic mess in Spain losing YPF will be a huge blow.

YPF has recently found large reserves of oil and natural gas. The Argentine government has complained for years about the low level of output of the company. Argentina has been forced to import over 10 billion U.S. in natural and liquid gas to address an energy shortage while it exports oil.

Fernandez said:"We are the only country in Latin America, and I would say in practically the entire world, that doesn't manage its own natural resources," . The European Commission warned Fernandez that nationalizing the company would hurt the investment climate in Argentina and that it supports Spain's position.

But Fernandez said:"This president is not going to answer any threat, is not going to respond to any sharp remark.," She was applauded by business and union leaders. Fernandez has also renationalized the main airline and a state pension fund. For much more see this article.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Russia reaches record wheat exports for last season

Between July the first 2011 and April 15 this year Russia has exported 18.5 million tonnes of wheat, a record amount. This broke the previous record of 18.275 million tonnes during the 2009-10 season. The figures come from the Russian Institute for Agricultural Market Studies.

By June 30, 2012, the end of the agricultural year, Russia is expected to export over 20 million tonnes of wheat. Major importers of Russian wheat are Turkey and countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

Total grain exports are expected to reach 25 million tonnes if not more. 25 million tonnes would also be an export record. Russia is now the second largest grain exporter in the world. The largest is the U.S. In Chicago and New York Black Sea grain futures will be launched and this may promote more exports. For more see this article.

SIxty per cent of Americans favor increased tax on very rich

The plan is nicknamed the Buffet rule after billionaire Warren Buffet. Buffet noted he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary. The Obama plan would raise the tax rate on those earning more than a million a year.

Obama claims the tax would reduce the inequality between the top one per cent and the other 99 per cent of Americans. His proposal will no doubt be defeated in the senate probably today (Monday 16th of April). However this is fine with Obama since he can then campaign on the theme that the Republicans support and represent the rich one per cent of Americans. 37 per cent oppose the Obama tax.

Independents actually support the tax by over 60 per cent, a good sign for the Democrats. Only the Republicans have a majority opposing the plan at 54 per cent while even among them 43 per cent approve.

A Republican spokesperson said:"Democrats can talk about this tax hike until they're blue in the face, but Americans are looking for solutions on jobs, gas prices and the deficit, and this gimmick doesn't offer a solution to any of them." Polls show that the Republicans may have a point. Only one per cent of Americans found the gap between rich and poor was the U.S. number one issue. Most found the economy, jobs, and problems with government more important. For more see this article.

Philippines: Youth groups protest joint U.S. Philippine military exercises

Members of several student groups including the League of Filipino Students and the National Union of Students of the Philippines staged a rally before 6 AM Monday at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. They caught security guards by surprise.

The guards simply looked on as they were outnumbered by the approximately fifty youth involved. The group was protesting the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) joint military exercises between Philippine and U.S. troops. The exercises were set to begin just hours after the demonstration.

The group claimed the exercises were simply a front for the establishment of new U.S. bases in the Philippines. At present there are no bases but there are U.S. troops who help train Philippine soldiers especially in anti-terrorism methods. Some claim that they are indirectly involved at the least in actual operations against some militant groups.

By the time police arrived on the scene the students had already splashed blue and red paint on the seal of the embassy on the main gate. They burned a U.S. flag and wrote: "U.S. troops out now" on the walls,

No arrests were made as the police were very much outnumbered and the protesters simply walked away. Thousands of U.S. and Filipino troops take part in the exercises.

The Philippine government seems anxious to cooperate with the U.S.extension of its military presence in the country in order to counter Chinese influence in South East Asia. Both China and the Philippines claim ownership of the Spratly Islands an area with oil resources under the sea. For more see this article.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Coup leaders in Guinea-Bissau seek political solution

Soldiers arrested the prime minister several days ago. Now as in Mali the coup leaders are attempting to find a political solution to legitimize their actions.

Guinea-Bissau has been known for coups ever since independence. The country is widely known as a transit point for shipping cocaine to Europe.

The Prime Minister was the front-runner in a presidential election scheduled for April 29th. Prime minister Gomes was attempting to reform the army and also crack down on cocaine trafficking. Obviously this was just too much for the army. Many top brass in the military and also politicians are believed to profit from the trade.

The coup junta also arrested the interim president Raimundo Pereira and the head of the army. The junta claims they are all safe. One report denies the head of the army was detained. In the 40 years since independence no elected leader has managed to finish out a complete term in office!

The Economic Community of West African States is to send a military contingent to the country to provide security. The coup leaders want a deal before they arrive. ECOWAS which condemned the coup also sent a mediator. The EU and U.S. also condemned the coup. For more see this article.

U.S. and Canada only countries in favor of excluding Cuba from Summit of Americas

Canada and the U.S. stand alone on the issue of excluding Cuba from the Summit of the Americas and the two united also against decriminalizing drugs. The host country and a U.S. ally Colombia spoke out against excluding Cuba. President Juan Santos said that holding another meeting while excluding Cuba would be unacceptable.

Canada and its faithful ally Canada were the only two countries not to lobby for including Cuba. Interesting that a die hard conservative Stephen Harper and liberal Barack Obama see eye to eye on the matter. At one time Canada developed relations with Cuba in spite of U.S. objections. Even now we do not have travel or trade restrictions as does the U.S. Sherrit Gordon mines has extensive investments in Cuba.

Santos said: "The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, the looking the other way don't work," . "It's an anachronism that keeps us anchored in a Cold War era that was overcome decades ago." No doubt the U.S. position has to do with internal politics and expatriate Cuban voters.Canada's position is probably a function of Harper's wanting to curry favor with the U.S.

President Santos also wanted to have a debate on decriminalizing drugs. Stephen Harper said that he would not entertain any policy changes that would decriminalize drugs. In Canada Harper has consistently opposed even harm reduction strategies such as safe injection sites. Obama also claimed that legalization was not the answer. This liberal president again follows the same policies as our reactionary Canadian prime minister.

Harper waas mainly trying to sell Canada as a good source of natural resources for Latin America's growing economies. He stressed the fact that he has streamlined environmental regulations to make it easier and quicker for projects to be approved.

Of course Harper spins his "reforms" positively:"We cannot allow valid concerns about environmental protection to be used as an excuse to trap worthwhile projects in reviews without end," He also noted that Canadian banks were among the strongest in the world.

Meanwhile Latin American leaders have founded their own group that excludes Canada and the U.S. The group is called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states. No doubt this will be a competitor to the Summit of the Americas In fact a number of nations have said that they will not even come to the next meeting of the Summit of the Americas if Cuba is still excluded. For more see this article.

Free University Courses on the Internet

I just happened upon this list of free courses on the Daily Kos. There are plenty of courses covering many subjects at many top notch universities.


Yale University Prof. Tamar Gendler lectures on Aristotle: Virtue and Habit
Of course most of these courses do not lead to any certification but a few do offer a certificate indicting a course was completed. Just as a sample I have appended one of a series of lectures by the head of the Yale Philosophy Department Tamar Gendler. The students do not seem to appreciate the humor of the t-shirt text with which she starts her lecture.

Aside from Yale, MIT, U. of Michigan, Notre Dame, U. of California and many others offer free courses. Outside the U.S. there are many resources as well including the University of Capetown. If you are just interested in learning and not paper credentials the Internet is a treasure trove of free quality material. Again the link to the list is here.

Airliner makes emergency landing in Iran as American suffers heart attack

MSNBC is reporting that an American aboard an Emirates airliner is in hospital in Tehran after he suffered a heart attack while the plane was in Iranian air space. He was on a flight from Dubai to Seattle.

A spokesperson for Iran's Civil Aviation Organization said:“Yesterday (Friday), an airplane belonging to the Emirates airline, flying from Dubai to Seattle and while passing over Iran’s airspace, contacted the control tower and announced that one of this flight’s passengers had suffered a heart attack,” The man 52 was still in hospital yesterday.

Swiss diplomats in Iran handle U.S. interest. They declined any comment on the report. Iran may have problems collecting for any expenses since sanctions cut off any financial transactions through U.S and even international banking institutions!

When disasters of this sort strike nations of all stripes seem to be able to act. Perhaps this will improve the atmosphere at nuclear negotiations. For more see this article.

Welcome to Palestine activists stopped from flying to Israel

The Welcome to Palestine campaign is meant to bring to public attention Israel's coontrol of movement in Palestine.What it has done is show that Israel is able to control movement in many other countries as well. Literally hundreds of activists were prevented from boarding flights to Tel Aviv across Europe

Swiss police are preventing about a hundred activists from flying to Ben Gurion airport in Israel. A campaign spokesperson said:"Besides that there has been the confiscation of a passport of one of the activists." Both in the UK and Air France said that they were cancelling seats on flights to Tel Aviv.

Hundreds of officers are awaiting the activists at Israeli airports. They intend to detain activists who do manage to fly in. Four are already detained at the Tel Aviv air port.

The Immigration Authority had given airlines names of some 1200 activists who would be barred from entering Israel. Of course one of the points being made by activists that to enter Palestine they must go through Israel. They would be welcomed in Palestine!

At Brussels airport around 120 Palestinian activists protested because they were barred from flying to Israel. Three people were arrested. Despite holding airline tickets about 100 activists were unable to fly.For much more see this article.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla): 78 to 81 Democrats in congress are members of the Communist Party

I am sure that the CPUSA will be astonished to know this and will be checking their membership lists. Of course the claim is nonsense. However in U.S. politics that does not seem to matter.

A spokesperson for West defended his nonsense:"The Congressman was referring to the 76 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The Communist Party has publicly referred to the Progressive Caucus as its allies. The Progressive Caucus speaks for itself. These individuals certainly aren't proponents of free markets or individual economic freedom," Certainly the Caucus probably supports controls on markets and controls on individual freedom to rip people off but then they also support capitalism and business. No doubt the Communist Party see the Progressive Caucus as supporting the working class more than others. This does not make the caucus members of the Communist Party USA.

There is a photo of Mitt Romney signing the Romney care bill in Massachusetts. Behind him is the late Ted Kennedy who supported the bill. Romney even thanked him for his support. No doubt Ted Kennedy must have been a member of the Republican Party. Oh maybe I got that backward. Mitt Romney is a member of the Democratic Party. Republican conservatives would like that conclusion.

The Communist Manifesto calls for free education for all children in public schools. Omigosh Americans are already commies. See this libertarian analysis. See also the appended video of West speaking.

Philippines: San Miguel Corp. takes over control of Philippine Airlines

 PAL Airbus landing at Narita (Japan)

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that San Miguel Corp. a huge conglomerate best known perhaps for its beer will invest at least half a billion U.S. in the main Philippine airline PAL (Philippine Airlines) and the smaller Air Philippines.

San Miguel will have control of management at both air lines. PAL is also known among some critics as Plane Always Late. However, my own experience has been that it is not all that bad!

Plans for renewing the fleet could cost anywhere from half to one billion dollars U.S. No doubt they will need to now serve San Miguel beer and snack foods exclusively! For more see this article. For San Miguel Corp. see here.

Yemen: President faces internal division between pro and anti Saleh officials

Nasser Arrabyee is a Yemeni journalist based in Sanaa. He has a blog here and an article on the new president Abdu Mansour Hadi. He discusses some of the inner conflicts within the new administration.

Under a deal brokered by the GCC the former president yielded power to his vice president Hadi who eventually was elected president in a one horse race! This was applauded as a model transition to democracy by some in the West!

Opposition forces were given positions in the transitional government and just the other day Hadi relieved two Saleh relatives of their positions. Neither of the two have gone quietly.

One surrounded and closed down the airport at Sanaa for a day or so. Now it seems that an important opposition general is to be promoted according to Arrabyee. General Ali Muhsen who had earlier defected from the Saleh regime apparently will become deputy to the supreme commander of the armed forces.

The fired commander of the air force Mohammed Al Ahmar a half brother of Saleh set conditions for turning over the main base to the government. One of the conditions is that the former defected general Ali Muhsen be fired before him or simultaneously with his firing.

The general Ali Muhsen was the second most powerful person in Yemen before his defection according to Arrabyee. He and a tribal leader are doing their best to ease out their former close ally Saleh.

Arrabyee calls the tribal leader Hamid Al Ahmar a billionaire who orchestrated the anti-Saleh uprising. Surely part of that rising was a more pro-democracy movement that was part of the Arab Spring but was eventually sidelined by the sort of elite intrigues described by Arrabyee.

The Ahmar group is trying to have Hadi fire Ahmed Sali who is the son of Saleh and head of the elite Republican Guards. So far this has not happened. If it does there could be even more internal conflict.

Hadi is also being pressed to fire General Muhsen but as with Saleh's relatives he would not accept being fired unless Ahmed Sali head of the Republican guards is fired first. With all of this conflict perhaps some group will march on the presidential palace again as when Saleh was gravely wounded some time ago.

The U.S. and Saudi backed deal did not include firing Saleh relatives but General Muhsen and no doubt others want this along with his Islamist allies. The U.S. wants Muhsen fired for his links historically with militant Islamist groups. Many of his troops have Islamist leanings. This all sounds as if there is likely to be ongoing internal strife that could easily result in violence. For much more see this article.

Friday, April 13, 2012

U.S. Afghan war support lowest ever at 30 percent

The Afghan war began almost eleven years ago. A poll by ABC News and the Washington Post shows support for the post 9/11 invasion and occupation is the lowest on record.

Two thirds of Americans believe that war was not worth fighting and only 30 per cent now support the war. The lowest registered before this was 33 per cent.

No doubt the negative reaction may be partly due to recent events in Afghanistan including the Kandahar massacre, the burning of Korans, and troops urinating on dead bodies. The toll of Americans killed and wounded no doubt is another important factor. The tally of Americans killed is around 2,000. but then there are many wounded as well.

While Obama is withdrawing combat troops by the end of 2014 the U.S. is also negotiating a long term agreement for the U.S. to maintain a presence in Afghanistan for many years after that. No doubt Special Forces will stay in Afghanistan and many others to train Afghans. For more see this article.

Pakistani parliament unaminously demands end to drone strikes as condition of opening Afghan supply routes

The parliament also set other conditions for restoring relations with the U.S. and opening NATO supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan. Another significant condition was an unconditional apology for the air strike in November that killed two dozen Pakistani troops.

Chair of the committee that presented the 14 point recommendations Raza Rabbani said that all U.S. military incursions into Pakistan must cease including drone attacks. He said:“The U.S. footprint in Pakistan must be reviewed. This means, one, an immediate cessation of drone attacks inside the territory and borders of Pakistan," "Two, the cessation of infiltration into Pakistani territory on any pretext including hot pursuit. Three, Pakistani territory, including its airspace, shall not be used for transportation of arms and ammunition to Afghanistan.”

The recommendations go even further and demand an end to covert operations in Pakistan and demands that no private security contractors or intelligence operatives be allowed in the country. No doubt this is a reaction to the killing of an Afghan by a CIA operative.

While Pakistan may get an apology, it is highly unlikely that drone attacks will cease. In fact the U.S. has said they will not. The parliament has previously passed motions demanding drone attacks cease but they carry on anyway. In the past at least the attacks have been tacitly endorsed or allowed by government officials and targets have been set using Pakistani intelligence in all likelihood.

Prime Minister Raza Gilani said:“Madame Speaker, we are making history today. This parliament has proven time and time again that when it comes to matters of national interest we can and do come together,” The government has not delivered on such resolutions in the past and is unlikely to do in the future either. For more see this Voice of America article.

Meanwhile the Pakistani military continues trying to clear militants from border areas with Afghanistan causing a continuing humanitarian disaster as families flee the fighting to overcrowded refugee camps. An official from the UN refugee agency said that more than 200,000 people have fled the fighting in the Khyber district since January. See this article.

First Algerian president Ben Bella dies at 93

Ahmed Ben Bella was born on December 25 1918 and died on April 11 2012. He was decorated by De Gaulle for his service in the Second World War. However he afterwards joined the FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) and fought for Algerian independence against France. Several times there were attempts to assassinate him. He was taken into custody by the French. One general called this a mistake that the intention was to kill him. The conflict between the FLN and France was exceedingly violent.

Ben Bella became the first President of Algeria after independence in 1962. However, Algeria's economy did not do well during his time as president. Ben Bella wanted to turn Algeria into a secular non-aligned socialist country. Ben Bella was a founding member of the OAU (Organization of African Unity)

Ben Bella was overthrown by his ally Houari Boumedienne whose plots were an open secret. According to one story Ben Bella introduced Boumedienne as “the man who is plotting to overthrow me” at an official lunch. In June 1965 Boumedienne led a successful coup which landed Ben Bella under house arrest until 1980. He was then freed by the incoming president on condition he go into exile which he did.

He returned in 1990. Ben Bella supported Saddam Hussein. However Ben Bella did not triumph in the polls when he ran for president. During the violent bloodletting of the nineties Ben Bella was critical of both sides the Islamists and the government. He remained an outspoken firebrand until well into his eighties and led protests to stop the Iraq war. For much more see this article.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

  Pepper spray incident at U of Cal. David in November 2011.

The task force set up to probe the use of pepper spray on student protesters at the U. of California Davis released its report. The report concluded the campus police were at fault in the incident. I have appended a video which shows the casual use of pepper spray on students sitting down while protesting.

The incident occurred last November 18th. The report said the spraying of students who were engaged in a sit-down protest was objectively unreasonable and not in accordance with university policy.

Lt. John Pike pepper sprayed the non-violent protesters. When videos of the pepper spraying circulated on the Internet there were immediate campaigns to have Pike fired. There were calls for chancellor Linda Katehi to resign when she hesitated to take action.

The task force report concludes:"Our overriding conclusion can be stated briefly and explicitly. The pepper spraying incident that took place on Nov. 18, 2011, should and could have been prevented."

The retired justice Cruz Reynoso who chaired the task force said:"There was really no reason, we conclude, to have used the pepper spray," For much more see the full article here.

Mali: New Transitional President threatens total war in the north

Interview in Timbuktu

Mali is a mess. Over 200,000 people have fled the north to escape fighting, drought and food shortages. The Tuaraeg rebels have declared northern Mali as an independent republic of Azawad. But no countries have recognized Azawad.

Even within the area there are rival rebels. Timbuktu is held by a radical Islamist groups who came down from the mountains where they had fought for years. They are keeping Tuareg rebels out of the city while they impose their own rule. See the enclosed video.

The elected president of Mali was overthrown in a coup by U.S. trained Captain Sanogo. However a group of neighboring countries ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) placed sanctions on the country and no doubt with pressure from the U.S. as well Sanogo agreed to turn over power to a civilian government.

Elected president Amadou Toure was toppled by Sanogo's group on March 22. He formally resigned his position over the weekend, paving the way for the former speaker of the house Diaconda Traore to take over. No one seems to worry about the fact that the former president has no doubt been forced to resign since he was under "'protection"" of coup forces. There is almost no discussion of the fact that a democratically elected leader was overthrown and the perpetrators are not punished at all. In fact one suspects that they probably received promises of key positions during the transition government. That is not talked about much either.

Traore the new transitional president spoke of wanting peace and negotiations and then went on to promise total war if negotiations did not work out. He said:"I am president of a country that loves peace,"

After claiming he preferred the peace option he then made impossible demands upon the rebels:"We will not hesitate to wage a total and relentless war" He insists that this will happen unless the rebels leave the cities occupied. He says that he would negotiate with any group but Al Qaeda. However Al Qaeda is almost a term of convenience for any radical Islamists that authorities decide ought to be targets in the war on terror.

The transitional government is expected to consist of about 20 members including some from the Sanogo group. No doubt this was promised as a carrot to entice the group to surrender power at least nominally.

Traore has been tasked with organizing elections to return Mali fully to civilian rule. However the north is under the control of Tuareg and Islamist rebels so elections could only be held in the south. No doubt elections will be postponed indefinitely until such time as the northern territories are recaptured assuming they are.

As Traore places solving the situation in the north as a priority he will no doubt need the support of the military. The U.S. already has troops in the country on standby. Do not be surprised if drone attacks happen in the future. Everything however is now going as it should according to the power brokers. ECOWAS has dropped sanctions and the U.S. can support the regime since it is on its way to civilian rule. Everything is now legitimate and on the up and up. For more see this article.

Yemen: Government forces attack militants with U.S. help

Yemeni government forces are trying to wrest parts of southern Yemen from Al Qaeda and other Islamic militants who have occupied considerable swaths of territory while the country was in turmoil.

President Hadi the former protege and vice-president under Saleh has fired some Saleh loyalist from positions of power but a son of Saleh continues to run the elite Republican Guards.

Two who were fired refused to give up their positions and one general closed down the airport in the capital by surrounding it with loyal troops. The airport is open again now. See this article.

A mainly covert U.S. role in Yemen relies to a considerable extent on drones which are flown from a base in nearby Djibouti on the horn of Africa. There is also a secret base thought to be in Saudi Arabia.However, there are also special forces on the ground.

Yemeni officials also reported that the capital of Abyan province, Zinjibar was hit by missile fire from the Gulf of Aden. The Yemeni government does not have the capability to mount such an attack so no doubt it was mounted from U.S. warships. Zinjibar is occupied by the militant group Ansar al Sharia.

Hadi has so far thrown his lot in with the U.S. in making a priority attacks upon Al Qaeda and other militant groups such as Ansar al Sharia. Saleh alternated attacks with deals with the militants.

Since last May there have been 26 reported U.S,. drone strikes in Yemen. So far this year there have been a dozen already. However militants are stepping up attacks too often taking the battle to the military by attacking bases. The military has already suffered 250 killed this year and lost several bases to militants.

AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and Ansar al Sharia have bet wen them captured a number of towns in southern provinces. They have often repelled attempts by government forces to retake the towns.

Ansar al-Sharia has been especially active wiping out some 150 government troops in an attack west of Zinjibar. Often weapons caches have been captured as well. In the captured towns the group imposes its own strict Sharia law.

The south of Yemen was long a separate state. There is a strong separatist movement as well as Islamic radicals active in the south. Many inhabitants feel abandoned by the central government and believe they get little or nothing from the union. For more see this article.

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner investigating Twitter over data privacy concern.

Irish privacy regulators are launching an investigation into precisely how much data Twitter collects from, its URL-shortening system....