Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chile: Students protest against education costs

On Thursday the protesters marched past the presidential palace in the rain. The protests organized by the Confederation of Chilean Students (Confech) were against increasing education costs and profiteering in education. Compared to last year the student movement had been relatively quiet.

Spokesperson for Confech Gabriel Boric said:“The government is right to be worried because we are dealing with a minister who bows to business,” “We want to say that while this happens, we will not be quiet. We went from a military dictatorship to a market dictatorship.”

Education in Chile is paid for primarily by citizens. The protesters are demanding reforms that would have the government shoulder more of the costs and replace private for profit schools. In Chile seven different universities are under investigation as directors and executives are accused of putting fees into their own pockets! The protesters are demanding free quality education.

As in other places a smaller group broke off and engaged in vandalism. Although the main march was peaceful police nevertheless called it the most violent of three this year. They said 250 protesters were detained and 20 officers injured. Other cities in Chile also saw demonstrations. For more see this article.

Yemen; Army represses separatists in Aden

In the news emphasis is upon the retaking of territory especially in Abyan province from Islamic militants. However, another military operation is going on against separatists in Aden.
Aden was at one time the capital of a separate secular state supported by the former Soviet Union. Many southerners feel that the central government does little for them and want to be independent again.
After a public protest calling for succession the area of Mansoura has been continually harassed by the military. In mid June protests were crushed now people are so afraid of being shot if they go out on the streets that they stay in their homes for the most part.
Though secessionists have held mostly peaceful protests they are attacked by authorities almost as vigorously and violently as Islamic militants. Yemen also faces northern Shiite separatists the Houti in the far north. For more see this article.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mali: Islamic rebels driving out Tuareg in north

An alliance between Tuaraeg rebels who set up the state of Azawad in northern Mali and Ansar Dine an Islamic rebel group has broken down with the Ansar Dine taking over Timbuktu and apparently some other towns in the north.

Ansar Dine is said to be linked to Al Qaeda. In the town of Gao there was also a fight between Tuareg and Ansar Dine with 20 being killed and Ansar Dine taking over the town. These developments will make it virtually certain that there will be military intervention and further bloodshed in the north as Malian troops bolstered by other African troops from ECOWAS will try to retake the territory.

No officials from Ansar Dine or the Tuareg could be reached to confirm these actions. UNESCO is worried about World Hertiage sites in Timbuktu since the Ansar Dine may very well vandaliz them . From the video at this site it would seem this has already happened to some extent. The Ansar Dine impose Sharia law wherever they go.

Key cities in northern Mali were seized by the Tuareg earlier in March but then Islamist fighters appeared from the mountains. The Tuareg was a secular state while the Islamist want an Islamist state with Islamic law. Some Tuareg came from Libya where they had fought for Gadaffi and were well armed. It is not clear where the Islamists manage to get all their firepower and who finances them. For more see this article.

Average number of Britons killed in a year by terrorists same as that from bee and wasp stings 5

David Anderson is the U.K. Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. He claims that U.K. anti-terror laws could be relaxed as no one has been either killed or injured in a terrorist attack in the last two years.

Anderson wrote:"Whatever its cause, the reduction of risk in relation to al-Qaeda terrorism in the United Kingdom is real and has been sustained for several years now," Average deaths per year over the period studied by Anderson in England and Wales was 17,201 killed in traffic accidents, 29 people drowned in bathtubs.

The number killed by terrorists was five the same number killed by bee and wasp stings. However an average of 102 British personnel were killed in Afghanistan as well. No doubt critics of Andersen would say that the stringent laws and sacrifices in Afghanistan are responsible for the very few deaths by terrorist activity.

Anderson was critical of new anti-terror laws passed almost incessantly since 9/11. The director general of M15 countered Anderson by claiming that at 200 Britons were known to be currently receiving training at terrorist camps in the Middle East. Perhaps M15 should tell president Obama so he can send in some drones to help get him reelected in November. For more see this article.

U.S. Army Universal Camouflage Pattern a 5 billion dollar flop

A revolutionary new pixelated camouflage uniform has failed. Perhaps you can buy one soon in a surplus store! See this article.

Researchers at the Natick Soldier Center said that the uniform that debuted in 2004 turns out to be visible in most every environment rather than hiding soldiers. The researchers claim Army officials interfered in the contract process and chose on the basis of looks and politics rather than evidence that the pattern was better than others.

The pattern called the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) is being replaced by a new pattern called MultiCam.

An Army Specialist noted:“Essentially, the Army designed a universal uniform that universally failed in every environment,” “The only time I have ever seen it work well was in a gravel pit.” He noted that he could see his own troops across considerable distances in most environments.

One wonders how such a pattern was adopted without extensive testing beforehand to see if it actually worked. For more see this article No doubt by now the Army will have gone through a lot of uniforms and whoever produced them created jobs while no doubt making a good profit courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brokerage Ad : Join the One Per Cent

 Often commercial groups co-opt radical movement media coverage and turn it to their own ends. Although Occupy Wall Street has faded from the media scene for some time a clever ad for a brokerage firm trades on the former visibility of the movement.
  The ad turns the radical anti-Wall street movement protests to its own ends by suggesting that the firm too wants revolutionary change on Wall street. However, the aim is to allow you to join the one per cent. If you can't  beat them at least join them with cheap entry fees.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

U.S.economy , profit rates, investment and internal funds

In a recent post Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer provides an interesting analysis of the relationship between profit and investment. Henwood includes onegraph that shows profit rates from the nineteen fifties until now and another that shows the relationship between internal funds and capital investments over the same time period. Both graphs are for non-financial institutions.

Until 2011 the rate of profits have been rising during the recovery. But they perhaps have peaked now. Economic recovery seems to be slow in the U.S. Henwood notes that neo liberal policies were successful in restoring profit rates close to what they had been earlier.

One of Henwood's graphs is interesting because it shows that even though there is plenty of cash to invest with strong corporate cash flows, companies are investing at a rate that one would expect during low profit levels periods even though levels are still high.

In my view, one of the main reasons for the lack of investment is the considerable uncertainty about the economic future. In this situation companies simply will not take the risk of investing. They will wait until the future is more certain and promising. Even though actual profit rates are high and many companies are doing quite well even during this period of low growth, the future is just too uncertain and so investment lags even though the present rate of return on capital is high.

Pakistan shelling border area of Afghan Kunar province

Afghans flee shelling from Pakistan on borders of Kunan province. In a somewhat ironic mirroring of U.S. policy Pakistan is shelling supposed Taliban havens in Kunar province in Afghanistan. Recent attacks by Pakistani Taliban from Afghanistan killed 17 Pakistani soldiers.

Pakistan complained that Afghan and NATO authorities are not protecting Pakistan from these Taliban. Taking a page from the U.S. and NATO playbook for justifiying drone strikes the Pakistani's can claim that given the U.S. and NATO cannot or will not deal with the Taliban then Pakistan will by artillery attacks over the border.

As with drone attacks many innocents and civilians caught in the attacks are the ones to suffer. Thousands of Afghan villagers are fleeing their homes in the area to avoid the artillery barrage. A local Kunar official said:"More than 500 families have been displaced in two districts of Dangam and Nari due to continued Pakistani rocket shelling in the past two weeks. For more see this article.

Kuwaitis protest dissolution of parliament

The Constitutional Court declared February elections in Kuwait illegal. The opposition won 34 of 50 seats in those elections. The court re-instated the previous pro-government parliament. The newly elected parliament dominated by oppoition members had been a pain in the royal posterior.
The demonstrators swarmed into Kuwait City Erada square chanting"we will not surrender" Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah ordered the parliament's dissolution and early elections. There are claims of corruption within the government including bribes paid to pro-government MPs.
Compared to some other Gulf sheikhdoms the Kuwaiti parliament has considerable powers and members often criticize the ruling family. However, the Sabahs still control key government posts. Even though the opposition won over half the seats in parliament they were not given an equal number of posts in the cabinet.
Parlaiament kept calling government ministers for questioning. The emir suspended parliament for a month to avoid a political crisis. Now the constitutional court had solved his immediate problem but the crisis remains. For more see this article.

Cyprus bailout costs may reach over half of economy

European officials claim that a Cyprus bailout may reach 10 billion Euros which is over half the size of its annual GDP. Cyprus has officially requested aid from the EU.

One Euro zone official told Reuters news agency:“The exact number has not been decided yet. It was to be 6 billion for the state financing and 2 billion for the banks but that is optimistic – it is more likely to be seven and three – up to 10 billion euros in total," one euro zone official told Reuters.

To add to Cypriot woes the rating of Cyprus sovereign debt has been downgraded to junk status. The agencies said that the country will need up to 4 billion Euros to recapitalize its banks.

So far the Cypriot government itself has not said how much it will ask of the EU. This Thursday the EU leaders will discuss the issue at a meeting in Brussels. Spain has also asked for 100 billion Euros to support its banks.

Russia has already loaned Cyprus 2.5 billion Euros. For more see this article. For more than a year Cyprus has withdrawn from international capital markets. Interest on its ten year bonds are over 16 per cent!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Spanish banks will be forced to sell off equity holdings

The Spanish bank bailouts do not come without conditions, some of which provide great opportunities for investors to buy equities held by the banks at fire sale bargain prices. While this will end a cozy relationship between the banks and some top companies it will also mean that equities will be sold at very low prices with the banks losing money on their investments in many cases.
The cost of Spain's banks being recapitalized by the European Union include a requirement that they sell off their equity assets. These assets include large holdings of telecom leader Telefonica, Repsol the giant oil company and power company Iberdola,.

An estimated 28 billion U.S. will be up for sale. The total is as much as 9 per cent of the capital of Spain's blue-chip index. Flemming Barton an analysts said::"They're going to have to sell. And with no light at the end of the tunnel as far as the macro, political dance, the chances of holding out for a better price increasingly look like wishful thinking," said Flemming Barton, analyst at CM Capital Markets

A number of so-called vulture funds are eying these sales of equities hoping to profit from the misfortunes of the banks. For much more see this article. Today the situation appeared to be worsening as costs for floating new bonds increased.

After cross border attack from Afghanistan Pakistan complains to NATO

From NATO and the U.S. there is a constant string of complaints about terrorists attacking their troops in Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan. Now the tables are turned. Pakistan is complaining to NATO after an attack across the border from Afghanistan killed 13 Pakistani soldiers.

Pakistan complains that militants have a safe haven in Kunar province of Afghanistan. Taliban militants crossed the border and killed 13 Pakistani soldiers who were on patrol. Several soldiers were actually beheaded.

The attack was carried out by the Pakistani Tehreek-e Taliban Malakand Faction. Over 100 militants crossed over from Kunar province in Afghanistan. The group claimed credit for the attack and also said they killed 17 people. This could very well be accurate since Pakistani authorities reported 4 soldiers missing as well as the 13 killed. The militant group says that attacks will continue until Sharia law is established in Pakistan. For more see this article.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Crackdown on media continues in Iraq

According to an article here Iraqi police are being ordered to shut down both foreign and local media throughout Iraq. Among the targets are such prominent outlets as Voice of America and the BBC television channels.

The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory claims to have an official document that orders the closing of 44 different outlets in all. The document is said to be issued by the Communications and Media Commission (CMC).The document calls on the Department of Relations and Media “to stop media cooperation with these agencies and to notify the police to ban these channels along with the necessity of informing the channels to contact the CMC.” However the validity of the document still needs to be verified according to Russia Today. But there are other reports of the crackdown such as this which came out later. These moves are just the latest moves in attempts to muzzle the press in Iraq.

Al Sadr followers protested in Baghdad's central square against the crackdown on press freedom. They also demanded a no confidence vote in the Al Maliki government. Al Maliki is at present the head of the CMC..For more see this article.

Chinese spacecraft successfully completes manual docking

The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft yesterday ( June 24) successfully linked with the Tiangong-1 module. The Chinese hope to build a space station by 2020. The first female astronaut was part of this mission.

Chinese mission control announced:“The first manual docking has been completed normally,” A joystick type device was used to dock the space ship. The alignment was actually said to be better than the automatic docking that happened last time.

The manual docking was one of the main tasks of the mission. The space mission is seen by China as a symbol of the country's growing global stature and technological expertise. For much more see this article.

Qatar to put 5 billion U.S. in Chinese Investment Fund

Qatar wants to invest 5 billion in China's Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) scheme. This is the main mode by which foreign investment flows into the Chinese stock and bond market.
No doubt Qatar has plenty of petro dollars seeking somewhere to gain a good return for the country. However Qatar's energy and industry minister said that the income invested will come from sellling liquefied gas to China among other sources.
At present there is a cap of one billion for each investor in the Chinese fund. However, China hopes to raise the cap. There are a total of 37 qualified foreign investors hoping to increase investment by a total of 12.54 billion dollars.
The QFII program was launched in 2003. China has been trying to increase foreign capital inflows into the country. The fund is considering raising the stake that foreign capital can have in a company held in the fund from 20 per cent to 30 per cent. For much more see this article.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kuwait invests 500 million U.S. in Russian Direct Investment Fund

The co-investment deal will see Kuwait invest 500 million U.S. along with the RDIF (Russian Direct Investment Fund). The CEO of the Kuwaiti investment group Bader Al_Saad announced the investment during a meeting with Russian President Vladamir Putin.

Al-Saad note:“Russia's economy will continue to grow faster than those of developed countries. Co-investing with the RDIF offers us a good opportunity to invest in the real economy and gain diversification across all sectors,”. “This is not a short-term investment in the stock market prone to volatility; it is an excellent and fair partnership with the RDIF and there is Russian government support for this partnership”. The RDIF matches foreign investment with its own funds. It is managed by Vnesheconombank. The CEO of the Russian fund said: "Automatic co-investment by the Kuwait Investment Authority, one of the largest and most respected investors globally, significantly increases the funds the RDIF can invest in the Russian economy. We are delighted to be announcing a major co-investment with a leading fund from the Middle East, the second for the RDIF, as historically that region of the world has not been well represented among foreign investors in Russia." For more see the full article

Iraq: Opposition plans no confidence vote against Prime Minister al-Maliki

Opposition is increasing against the attempts by Prime Minister Maliki to concentrate power and prevent any Sunni opposition. His most dramatic step has been to order the arrest of Vice President al Hashemi a Sunni on charges of supervising a death squad. Opponents say that the move is political and that Maliki is trying to monopolize power.

Dia al-Asadi who leads the al Sadr Ahrar bloc in parliament claims that his bloc is leading the fight for a no confidence vote against al-Maliki even though the bloc is part of a coalition with Maliki.

Al-Asadi said:"Our main concern is that Maliki doesn't have a plan to administer the country. And if he has, then we want to know about it "If he hasn't, then there's a big problem because we are living in a country that needs comprehensive, fast and integrated development."

The Al Sadr bloc was aligned with the government as a way of ensuring the U.S. withdrew from Iraq. Although Al Sadr's group is Shia and has close relations with Iran he often takes a nationalist stance and has reached out to Sunnis to form a unified Iraq. Al Maliki on the other hand seems to be creating a situation with more sectarian violence. For more see this article.

Chinese produce human breast milk from genetically modified cows.

The Chinese hope to be selling the milk in super markets within three years. The milk is identical to human milk and has the same immune enhancing and antibacterial features as breast milk according to scientists at the Agricultural University in Beijing.

There is already a transgenic herd of 300. It was bred by inserting human genes into cloned bovine embryos. These were then implanted in cows. The milk is still undergoing safety tests for now.

Workers at the plant say the milk tastes stronger and sweeter than ordinary dairy milk. The milk will be marketed as a more nutritious drink than dairy milk. I am not sure what the advantages really would be as after a certain age humans are not natural imbibers of breast milk. However, the same could be said about dairy milk from the very start ! The milk could be quite useful as a replacement for baby formula I should think and probably better for babies.

Unlike Europe China has embraced genetically modified foods. Animals have been produced to be resistant to mad cow disease and have been modified to produce more nutritious meat. China has genetically modified cooking oil, papayas, tomatoes and also potatoes which are all widely available. Most recently insect-resistant rice and corn that allows hogs to absorb more nutrients when they eat it has also been approved. In the west many environmentalists oppose genetic modification of foods. For more see this article.

I am thankful enough to use insulin produced by genetically modifying e coli bacteria. For some reason I do not hear the usual ethical and safety howls about this from some of my leftist friends.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

U.S. to provide 52 million more in aid to Yemen

The aid is for areas that have been badly affected by Yemen's war on al-Qaida. That war is supported by the U.S. with even U.S. special forces on the ground helping to direct activity.

Yemen is suffering a humanitarian disaster with people fleeing many areas of conflict and the economy in ruins. There is no guarantee that all the aid will filter through to those who most need it as the government is of the old guard many of whom are corrupt. The president Hadi for example was vice-president under Saleh and some of Saleh's relatives are still in positions of power. But the Saleh clan no doubt are not the only corrupt politicians in Yemen.

The new aid is to be directed at the provinces of Lahj, Aden and Abyan. This new aid bring total aid to Yemen to 170 million this year. For more see this article.

CIA helping transfer arms through Turkey to Syrian rebels

The New York Times reports:“The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar,” Turkey denies the claims in response.

According to the Times CIA operatives have been in Turkey for several weeks now. Their aim is to aid the flow of weapons but also to see that they do not end up in the hands of Al Qaeda operatives and other terrorist groups. There were reports back in May that the U.S. was planning such an operation.

In May the Washington Post said that rebel fighters“have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States.” The exile group the Syrian National Council has claimed that the Turkish army has provided them with anti-tank weapons. They also claim that the U.S. was consulted about these transfers. What in effect is happening is that the U.S. is fighting a proxy war against Assad.

Given that Russia and Iran and perhaps China will arm Assad there will be all out civil war. Perhaps it will spread to Lebanon and now that Syria shot down a Turkish jet more conflict in the area is likely. For more see this article.. As long as the rebels think that the west will provide them with material aid there is no reason for them to give up on their plan for regime change. Western countries too support regime change. Any peace plan seems doomed in that situation.

Joshua Lanids from the University of Oklahoma an expert on Syria wrote:: “Let’s be clear: Washington is pursuing regime change by civil war in Syria. The United States, Europe, and the Gulf states want regime change, so they are starving the regime in Damascus and feeding the opposition.” Another expert Marc Lynch from George Washington University argues that "arming the Syrian opposition, would likely spread the violence and increase the numbers of Syrian dead without increasing the likelihood of regime collapse.” and notes also “fighting groups will rise in political power, while those who have advocated nonviolence or who advance political strategies will be marginalized.”

The best the UN can hope for is to be allowed to provide some humanitarian aid. Given the constellation of forces peace seems off the radar for now. For more see this article.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Yemen: Two separatist protesters killed by security forces in Aden

The two who were killed were taking part in a separatist protest in the southern port city of Aden. The south of Yemen was a separate country until 1990 and Aden has long been a center of separatist activists.

An activist from the Southern Movement separatist group said:"Security forces fired live rounds on protesters, killing two and wounding five," An official at an Aden hospital confirmed the toll.

Protesters were demanding that a week long crackdown by security forces on a protest camp be ended. Nine people had already been killed during that operation according to an activist.

The government reported that seven security personnel have been injured in clashes with protesters. For more see this article.

National Security Agency: More Nonsense on Stilts

Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall asked the NSA how many Americans they had spied on using the provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This act allows government to monitor correspondence and other communications they think is to be sent overseas.

According to the NSA to inform Americans about such spying that they may have been subjected to would damage their privacy. It would be an invasion of privacy to tell someone that you invaded their privacy! There is no end to the nonsense that a government will go to to justify acts they probably should not be engaged in.

Senator Wyden responded that:“All that Senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is disappointing that the Inspectors General cannot provide it,” The ACLU objects to the legislation.

The Obama administration says that the ACLU cannot file a case until they can prove they have been spied on. Given that the NSA will not even give an estimate of the number spied on for privacy reasons it seems that they would not provide evidence that a particular person or persons would be spied upon. The nonsense of NSA makes sense since it prevents a legal case against it going ahead. It will be interesting what the court says about the ACLU case. For more see this article.

Drone Strikes: Government lawyers hold that even existence or non-existence of strikes should not be revealed

The U.S.government which itself has now admitted, defended, and praised the drone program has asked a federal court to reject ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) demands that the government release information on drone attacks. U.S. government lawyers filed a brief that says in part:“Whether or not the CIA has the authority to be, or is in fact, directly involved in targeted lethal operations remains classified"

Logically it would seem that to refuse either to affirm or deny the existence of the program is ludicrous given that there is a constant flow of information about the attacks. The situation is so ludicrous that even the ludicrous main stream press has on the whole given up on reporting suspected U.S. drone strikes by simply describing them as U.S. or CIA drone strikes. But being illogical has a rational purpose and that is to keep information about the drone strikes from the populace while leaking out any information that might be found politically positive. Much of the leaked information may be misinformation as well since the populace cannot gain access to genuine information since it is classified.

The ACLU together with the New York Times has requested documents that explain the legal basis for the raids and killing of U.S. citizens. The U.S. government wants a summary judgment to dismiss the lawsuits. The government brief warns:“Even to describe the numbers and details of most of these documents would reveal information that could damage the government’s counter terrorism efforts,” The ACLU's Jamee Jafeer countered:“Senior officials have discussed it, both on the record and off. They have taken credit for its putative successes, professed it to be legal and dismissed concerns about civilian casualties,”

While the government brief said that it realized that there was public concern about the details it had to take into consideration the need to keep information classified. If there is so much concern about releasing classified information about the program why are top officials such as Obama, Brennan, and Panetta constantly releasing information?

The UN has also been asking the same sorts of questions as the ACLU and has even suggested that some attacks may involve war crimes. However, the Obama administration has been accountable in the only way it knows how by selectively setting out purported data about the strikes that is meant to serve their own interest. For more see this article.

Arrest order outstanding for new Pakistani Prime Minister

The government of Pakistan and its Supreme Court just do not get along. The other day the Supreme Court was finally able to remove Prime Minister Yousef Gilani from office for his failure to implement a Supreme Court ruling.

In repsonse to this action, the Pakistani government appointed a new prime minister the former Health and Finance Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin. However, this appointment is itself problematic.

The ANF Pakistan's anti-drug task force announced that the Supreme Court had approved the arrest of Shahabuddin some while ago earlier this month. Somehow the order to arrest did not get carried out.

. The former health minister is part of a scandal involving the projected export of ephedrine to Iraq. The export orders were fake. Somehow the ephedrine ended up being used for production of illegal drugs in Pakistan. A number of officials have already been arrested but Shahabuddin was the big fish. Perhaps the new prime minister will immediately go on an extended world tour. For more see this article.

UPDATE: The article I used was from Other sources list a different prime minister. For example here.

""Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, a longtime ally of President Asif Ali Zardari, who faces corruption allegations, was chosen by parliament Friday as Pakistan's prime minister, taking over a government locked in a bitter war with a hostile judiciary and struggling with a tide of daunting economic and security challenges.""

Whichever story is correct both face corruption allegations! I found the Ashraf name at several sources so probably the article made a mistake although no doubt the person discussed faces arrest.

Qatar's cover up campaign

Activists in Qatar are actually promoting a cover up campaign. It is called the "One of Us" campaign. The campaign is to encourage foreigners living in the country to respect the Qatari culture and dress modestly rather than in styles that reveal considerable flesh as is common in many countries.

Najila Al Mahmoud who leads the campaign wants to educate expatriates about the norms of modesty in Qatar. Both men and women should cover up between shoulders and knees. She claims that during the summer "the scene of exposed flesh increases", She says that Qataris or at least many of them are offended by this and thinks that if people realize this is so they will dress more appropriately.

Most local women wear an abaya, a black garment covering most of the body. The men also wear a garment the kandura that is often ankle length and made of white shades.

Foreign women are divided on the issue some siding with the cover up campaign but others suggesting the women could find better issues to promote. Many people point out that merchants in Qatari malls especially in high end stores do not even stock local clothes or indeed many clothes that would be considered acceptable according to the cover up criteria. In the Dubai Mall there are see through blouses, plunging necklines, and slit skirts that are nearly waist high. Fancy lingerie is quite popular.

Some people have called the cover up campaign hypocritical because Muslims have opposed veil bans in France and Belgium. I do not find that hypocritical. It is not as if they opposed all bans on the manner of dress. What may be hypocritical is that they support covering up but sell and perhaps buy clothes that reveal flesh. The Qataris point out as well that the dress code is not interfering with religious as is the banning of the veil.

So far Qatar has not made it a crime to violate the dress code as is the case in Belgium and France. In that sense Qatar is more liberal than France or Belgium. Of course one may be banned from entering a restaurant if you are not properly dressed but that is common in many countries. For more see this article.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our new feline family

 Who said I couldn't climb out of the box
 Whatcha looking at?
  What did you say?

I regularly feed stray cats. One of them was a pregnant female and she decided she was going to have kittens at our place. I tried to introduce her to our several sheds and the garage but she ended up having them right beside the house in the flower garden on May 20th.
There were seven in all. My wife found them and said that the mother had tossed out two of the litter. I checked and found that one was still alive and the other stillborn. I put the live one back with the others and it survived to this day.
There are three black with some white and three orange with white. The mother is orange black and white. A couple of weeks back the mother disappeared. We rushed to the vet and bought some kitten milk replacement powder and also a bottle and two syringes. My wife served as mama cat for two feedings.
We put the box with the kittens out on our deck with a partial cover to keep the sun out. I was sitting out in the afternoon enjoying a cup of coffee and took off the top. There was the delinquent mama with the kittens.
The kittens are now in their fifth week. They are exploring and can easily get out of the cardboard box which was their home earlier. I have included some photos. At this stage they are already prancing about.
The mother seems very laid back. Not all momma cats are properly programmed to instinctively do the right thing. In fact some are so stressed out by the birth process that they just take off and leave the litter to die. However at least this momma has stayed long enough that the kittens are now starting to eat solids already. I have appended a number of photos.

Japan and China able to work around sanctions on Iran and buy Iranian oil

EU sanctions on shipment of Iranian oil have not prevented China and Japan from receiving shipments. Japan says it will provide coverage for Iranian tankers as they cannot get commercial insurance. China has offered Iran its own tankers to move crude oil.

Japan has approved government insurance of up to 7.6 billion for each tanker. Next month China and Japan combined will load about 620,000 barrels a day next month..

The EU ban includes not just a ban on member countries importing Iranian oil but also EU insurance firms from covering Iran's exports. The ban comes in force July 1st.

The measure will effect not just China and Japan but also South Korea and India. Both the EU and U.S. have imposed sanctions which are supposed to force Iran to give up its nuclear program.

India won an exemption from U.S. sanctions this week. India also may give insurance guarantees to avoid the EU ban on insurance. On the other hand South Korea has failed to get an exemption from U.S. sanctions. South Korea intends to simply not import crude from Iran. For more see this article.

Yemen: Red Cross worker killed in air strike

The International Red Cross reports that a worker was killed in an air strike yesterday (June 20) while on a humanitarian mission in southern Yemen. The Yemeni national Hussein Saleh was traveling with three other workers in the north of Abyan province.

Unfortunately the group were in an unmarked vehicle. Government forces are battling Al Qaeda militants in the area.

According to military officials three militants were killed and 4 injured  in an air strike against two cars in the same general area. It is not clear if this is part of the same incident in which the Red Cross worker was killed. Air strikes that are often claimed to be by Yemeni forces can be US. drone or other strikes. U.S. Special Forces are involved in directing some operations.

In Geneva a Red Cross spokesperson said:“The circumstances are still unclear,” Saleh was married with four children and his wife was pregnant. The spokesman said:“He was a very motivated and devoted staff member. He played a tremendously crucial role within his team helping hundreds of thousands of people in the south, and lost his life while performing humanitarian work.” For more see this article.

Michigan Muskegon Heights School District Privatizes all its schools

The Muskegon Heights Public Schools district is run by an emergency manager because of its debt. As a solution to the debt crisis the manager Don Weatherspoon is asking for bids from charter management companies. In effect this is a wholesale privatization of the entire public system in the area.

Davide Martell who is executive director of the Michigan School Business Officials put a positive spin on this disaster. He said: "It's a novel way to think about it. And it may be the answer for those districts that are so far severely in deficit it may be the light at the end of the tunnel," However even Martell had nagging questions: "There's a lot of questions here for me, and I don't think (the answers) have seen the light of day yet."

The 1400 students in the district would be educated by a charter management company which would receive so much per pupil to pay their expenses presumably pocketing a profit at the same time. The district would still oversee the charter operator and be responsible for taxation to pay off the 12 million dollar deficit. The details have not been worked out yet.

A big problem is that only two charter operators have so far shown interest in taking over the operation. Among the two operators only one school is even ranked above the 50 per cent level in the Michigan ranking system. On the other hand nineteen schools are below the 30th percentile, and 14 below the 20th per centile. It seems that the students in the district are assured of a below par education. For more see this article. Rather than quality education this privatization is focused on profit and debt reduction. This is a win win situation for everyone but the students.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why the U.S. will not follow Finland's successful education reform model

            Chinese model. How to increase test scores and suicides.

 Finland is well known for the success of its students in many areas as measured by international surveys. The PISA survey takes places every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey looks at the performance of 15 year-olds in reading,, math, and science. In every survey since 2000 Finland has ranked at or near the top.The U.S. has not come near the top group. However the U.S. is adopting Chinese or East Asian models of standardized tests and the goals of measurement and striving for better and better results.  Finland starts out with an entirely different goal equity.
    Many of the key methods that the U.S. has adopted are rejected in Finland. The Finnish reforms did not even strive for excellence but for equality so that all students would have the same chances. This is assured by having an excellent education system with all the schools available to all students with no fees even through the complete post-secondary system. The idea of a tuition free university system is a reality in Finland. It is not even a Utopian fantasy in the U.S. A small country without any special resources nevertheless is able to provide free education at all levels for everyone. The U.S. the greatest economic power in the world has huge tuition fees and students are often saddled with huge debts when they graduate.
   Another difference between the U.S. and Finland is that Finland has no private schools. Except for some state funded church run schools everyone attends public schools. Finnish teachers are well paid  and well qualified for their jobs. They are regarded as professionals and are given responsibility for making up their own tests rather than having standardized tests for everyone. There is no merit pay. Teachers are regarded as professionals.
    In the U.S. schools compete with each other to see who can do best in evaluations based on standard tests. Finnish schools do not compete they cooperate with another. For much more see this Atlantic article.

UN asks U.S. to provide justification for increased drone attacks

Christof Heyns a UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Execution issued a report that has called on the justify its increasing use of drones in attacks. Heyns claims that the attacks take some innocent lives and may violate international law.

Both the U.S. military and the CIA have used drones in a number of countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Heyns says that the U.S. should clarify the legal basis for these attacks. The U.S. has so far refused to do so. In fact the practice has been to simply leak information that the government thinks will be politically positive but when the ACLU tried to get information through the Freedom of Information Act the courts have said that even admitting or denying the existence of the programs would be against national security interests. The legal nonsense continues because it is in the interest of the U.S. government.

Heyns particularly wanted to know the legal basis for killing suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders rather than attempting to capture them. The UN Human Rights Council will be debating the issue in Geneva.

Heyns report notes:"The government should clarify the procedures in place to ensure that any targeted killing complies with international humanitarian law and human rights and indicate the measures or strategies applied to prevent casualties, as well as the measures in place to provide prompt, thorough, effective and independent public investigation of alleged violations," Some of this information was also requested by the ACLU so far without any success.

Heyns noted that all studies indicate that the use of drones has dramatically escalated. The escalation has happened since Obama took office. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission claims that 957 people were killed by drones in Pakistan in 2010 alone.About 20 per cent of those killed in drone attacks are estimated to be civilians. U.S. figures are almost invariably much lower. Similar questions were raised in as 2009 report by Philip Alston to which Washington failed to respond.

Pakistan''s Ambassador to the UN Zamir Akram spoke at the opening session of the UN human rights group. He said that the Pakistani government considers the use of drones by the U.S. in the Tribal Areas is illegal, counter productive and a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty. So why does Pakistan not shoot them down? The U.S. has ignored the Pakistani parliament's demand the attacks stop. I expect that Pakistani politicians as in other countries have lots of hot air for domestic consumption. For more see this article.

Pakistan Supreme Court turfs out Prime Minister Gilani

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has been carrying on a multi-year battle with the ruling Pakistani People's Party,. The feud started when the Supreme Court ruled that party members did not have legal immunity from crimes committed in the past. The People's Party has continually challenged that ruling.

The Prime Minister Yousef Gilani has simply refused to implement the court ruling! In particular Gilani has refused to cooperate in a corruption case against Pakistani president Asif Zardari. Even after being presented with several ultimatums Gilani simply ignored the requests. Gilani insists that as head of state Zardari is above the law!

Even after the Supreme Court made the ruling aides to Gilani claimed it was meaningless. However the Electoral Commission agreed with the Supreme Court and so Gilani will definitely go. Whoever replaces him will face the same demand that the government cooperate with the corruption investigation into the president. For more see this article.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Yemen: After being driven out of occupied territories Al Qaeda vows to return to mountains and caves

An article by a Yemen-based journalist relays reports from an Al Qaeda leader in Abyan province who claims Al Qaeda has decided that it is too costly in terms of money spent on providing services to occupy cities and large swathes of territory. However, this expenditure no doubt helped them win over the populace in cities they controlled. Providing services was something the central government did not do well.

The leader said that the group used to spend in the city of Jaar 300,000 U.S. each month and in the whole of Abyan province 2 million U.S. dollars per month. One wonders where they were able to get the money. In any event it seems clear that the militants were simply unable to defend themselves against the Yemen armed forces combined with U.S. drones and supervision. They were bound to eventually lose the territory they had occupied.

The militants say that all their funds now can be directed to guerrilla war and terrorist attacks. Several cities were held by the militants for a year and a half..One wonders if the militants will not also mingle in with the general population in cities and plan terrorist attacks against Yemeni security forces and any American Special Forces they discover. For more see the full article.

Venezuela makes its own drones

Many countries make or have  unmanned aerial vehicles but recently President Hugo Chavez showed off the first model made in Venezuela. The drone is not armed but will have military and civilian uses for surveillance.

The drone was made with help from Russia, Iran, and China. During a news meeting with his defense chiefs Chavez said that it is“one of three aircraft that we have made here, and we will continue to manufacture them,”

The drone has a range of 60 miles and can fly up to 10,000 feet. Flight time is only up to 90 minutes. It measures 3 by 4 meters. The drone will be used to monitor pipelines, dams, and other infrastructure in rural areas.

The state company that manufactured the drone is also planning to manufacture rifles, grenades and ammunition. It already manufactures AK 103 assault rifles in a factory developed with Russina aid. For more see this article. Venezuela obviously has a very long way to go to match the drones made in the U.S. or even Israel.

U.S. foreign military sales at record levels

Recovery may be slow in the U.S and many areas are facing cutbacks in the public sector such as education. However foreign military sales are heading for a record year. Among the larger sales is of Boeing made F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia at a cost of 29.4 billion dollars.

To date in 2012 the U.S.. has sold 50 billion in military items. There are more than three months left in the fiscal year. In 2011 the total was much lower at 30 billion for the whole year.

Sales were also boosted by the sale of a jet fighter to Japan. The Saudi Arabia sale includes not only 84 new planes but upgrading of older planes , missiles, and spare parts as well as training. Israel will receive even newer fighter aircraft than Saudi Arabia to offset fears about the Saudi sale. For more see this article.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Top commander in South Yemen assassinated by suicide bomber

On his way to work on Monday (July 18) Maj. Gen. Sali Ali Qatn was killed when a suicide bomber detonated himself in front of his vehicle. As well as the general his driver and a passenger were also killed.

Both Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) and Ansar al-Sharia another militant group are active in southern Yemen and until a recent offensive by the Yemen military with the guidance of U.S special forces had occupied and run several cities.

While there have been reports of clashes and territory has certainly been retaken details of the campaign remain unclear. In some cases locals report that militants just left without a fight. There are reports too that in some areas locals were recruited to help oust the radicals.

General Qatn was one of new president Hadi's first key military appointments. Qatn led the offensive against militants to regain territory. However, there were heavy casualties in some clashes including a raid on a military post east of Aden that killed about 100 soldiers. The central government still has a tenuous hold over the south of the country which at one time was independent. In Aden there are areas where soldiers or police dare not enter for fear of being attacked. In the area where the general was killed there are reports of the black flag of Al Qaeda being flown. For more see this article.

An assessment of Greek election results by a Greek economist

Yanis Varoufakis is an economist at the University of Athens. For more about Varoufakis see this site.. Varoufakis points out that in spite of the New Democracy party coming first more Greeks, 55 per cent in fact, actually voted for parties that were against the bailout terms and conditions.

The unusual Greek electoral system gives the first place party 50 extra seats in the 300 seat assembly. Varoufakis thinks that many voted for New Democracy just to keep Syriza from winning and bringing down the wrath of EU institutions and Germany upon the hapless Greeks.

First off PASOK the Socialist party that has lost much of its support will need to invent some narrative to explain why it is willing to join with New Democracy. Next there will be a meeting of the EU Council that will draft a Greek bailout. Mk3. The last bailout Mk2 will not work in spite of what Germany may think. The EU will be forced to change the bailout terms because the earlier terms would make the Greek economy even worse. There will be some relaxation of the terms as an incentive for New Democracy to agree to the new bailout.

Varoufakis thinks that Greece will be given 3 to 5 years to bring its deficit to the 3 per cent mark. Under Mk2 the new government would have to cut 11.5 billion more from public spending. The new Mk3 provisions will cut less perhaps 5 billion. Some funding of projects may also be announced. Varoufakis thinks that this new bailout will nevertheless be a disaster both for Greece and Europe.

According to Varoufakis the credit circuits in the Greek financial system are broken. Even efficient and profitable Greek companies are not able to access capital markets. The new arrangements do nothing to heal this broken credit system. Also even reduced spending cuts will have the effect of ensuring the recession continues with revenues declining. At most he thinks the new terms simply prolong Greeks agony while testing the patience of taxpayers in Germany, Finland and other European countries. For Varoufakis the bailout throws good money again after the bad.

Varoufakis recommends three steps be taken. First Greek banks should be recapitalized through the EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility) Secondly, a shift of Greek (and other peripheral countries debt) to the European Central Bank. This would be financed by the issuance of Euro bonds. Thirdly a recovery program to be financed by the European Investment Bank and European Central Bank. For more details see the full article. Of course as of this writing Greece does not even have a coalition government. The steps that Varoufakis suggests will probably not be approved by key countries such as Germany.

India keeps interest rate at 8 per cent

India is struggling with trade and budget deficits and a slowing economy coupled with high inflation. Many analysts expected that India would cut its interest rate to stimulate the economy but the bank left the rate at 8 per cent to tame inflation.

The vast majority of economists predicted that the rates would be cut. After the decision Fitch Rating industry cut the sovereign debt rating of India to negative. A falling rupee is contributing to the high inflation as imports become more expensive. The inflation rate is above 7 per cent a contrast with the situation in many developed countries where inflation is low.

In the first quarter of this year Indian GDP rose 5.3 per cent. The goal was for 9 per cent growth. Growth last quarter was lowest since 2003. The inflation rate at 7.55 is highest in the BRIC group of countries. For more see this article.

John McCain criticizes Supreme Court decision to grant corporations rights to free speech

While prominent Democrats and their defenders regularly lambaste the Supreme Court decision that corporations are people in the Citizens United case, it is rather surprising to find a prominent Republican also taking a very jaundiced view of the decision.

  However the former Republican presidential nominee John McCain claims to be very worried by the decision. McCain noted that billionaire Sheldon Adelson may contribute up to 100 million to support the campaign of Mitt Romney through a Super Pac. While it is unusual for Republicans to worry about donations to their own party, McCain is also worried that the decision will allow unions to finance the Democrats. However the unions do not have the deep pocket of large U.S. corporations.

McCain said:“I’m not only worried about him, I’m worried about may others,”“I’ve always been concerned about the labor unions who take money from their union members and without their permission, contribute to causes that they may not support. So am I concerned about the incredible amount of money that’s washing around? Yeah.”

McCain continued in criticism of the Supreme Court decision:: “I think there will scandals as associated with the worst decision of the United States Supreme Court in the 21st century,” Since Adelson earns some of his billions from a foreign casino McCain even suggested that his donations involved foreign money entering the campaign.

McCain's musings may not sit well with Romney and his supporters. Romney himself has said that corporations are people. McCain's gloss on his statement is that Romney was saying simply that they are made up of people. For more see this article.

Spain's borrowing costs soar even after Greek election results

Even though a pro-bailout party came first in the Greek elections pressure on Spain and Italy increased. Borrowing costs soared in both countries widening even further the cost of financing in those countries versus Germany.

In Spain the yield of ten years bonds rose above 7 per cent. Yields at this level are regarded as unsustainable and drive the country into more debt. While Italy was just above 6 per cent that is still very high.

The Spanish Treasury Minister said:"The financial markets ... aren't relaxing their pressure on Spain. Doubts continue regarding the construction of Europe, about the present and the future of the euro," Markets barely reacted to the news that the pro-bailout New Democracy party had come first in Greece. No doubt investors realize that Greece's problems remain unsolved along with those of other countries such as Spain and Italy.

Many analysts point out that the short term band aids applied so far such as injecting money into Spanish banks do not solve the problem of very tight expensive financing in the middle of an economic decline. Economist Michala Marcussen notes:"While Greek euro exit fears have ... eased, this (election) outcome does little to alleviate the weak fundamentals that currently weigh on Spain and Italy," .For much more see this article.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pro bailout party New Democracy comes in first in Greek elections

The pro-bailout New Democracy party leads in the polls with about half the votes counted with just over 30 per cent. The leftist anti-bailout Syriza party is second with just over 26 per cent. The PASOK (socialist) party trails with under 13 per cent.

New Democracy will be faced with a tough task to form a coalition. The logical choice would be PASOK with which a coalition was formed before. However, PASOK has insisted it will only join a coalition if Syriza is included. There is little likelihood that Syriza would join a coalition since its position is so much different than that of New Democracy.

It may take several days for New Democracy to put together a coalition assuming it can.

Antonis Samaras, leader of New Democracy said:: "The Greek people have voted today for the European direction of the country and for us to remain in the euro, and it voted for those policies which will bring jobs... " For more see this article. While investors will be glad that Syriza did not win there still will be uncertainty until at least a new government is formed and the bailout deal approved.

Socialists win majority in French elections

The result will mean that the Socialist Party led by president Francois Hollande will be able to govern without depending upon Green or Communist parliamentary members. The Socialists reportedly won 320 seats far more than the 289 needed for a majority. Sarkozy's party won 221 and the right wing National Front only two seats.

Turnout for the second round of elections was 56 per cent. The Socialist Party now has control of the presidency, upper and lower houses, all but two regions and most large cities.

However Hollande now faces the task of raising revenues and no doubt taxes and cutting spending as well. For more see this Bloomberg article.

African states seek UN resolution authorizing military intervention in Mali

The northern part of Mali has been taken over by Tuareg rebels and Islamists. The Tuareg have declared the area the independent state of Azawad. However no country has recognized the state as yet.

ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) has requested a UN resolution that would legitimize military action against the northern rebels. A Security Council diplomat said:"It's going to take some time before the Security Council is in a position to approve outside intervention in Mali," "It's not that we're opposed, it's just that there are many questions about how it would be done that need to be answered first." The African Union has also requested a resolution that would sanction intervention.

The original coup that overthrew the democratic president of Mali was motivated partly by the fact that the Mali government had not put down the rebellion in the north. However the coup itself led by a U.S. trained captain created conditions which allowed the rebels to consolidate their hold on the entire northern part of the country. Now it appears that the transitional government is intent on getting outside help to drive out the rebels and retake the territory.. There seems to be no talk of negotiations. Expect a long and bloody war supported by the U.S. France and other western powers. For more see this article.

CIA and U.S. government still neither affirm or deny existence of drone program

Even though everyone knows that there are drone attacks by the CIA in Pakistan and Yemen among other locations targeting suspected terrorists the official position of the CIA is that they neither confirm or deny it. Obama has bragged about killing terrorist leaders in Pakistan and Yemen. Panetta has defended the program and called it successful. Yet the official CIA line does not even admit the program exists.

Given that everyone knows the program exists and the president and national defense chief have specifically talked about the program it seems a bit asinine to deny that it exists. However the CIA position has a purpose and that is to keep any details hidden from the public while U.S. officials reveal whatever aspects of the program they think will be politically advantageous to them.

The ACLU has been for some time trying to obtain information on the drone program through the Freedom of Information Act. There will be a hearing on the matter on Sept. 20. Twenty six members of the U.S. Congress have asked Obama to consider the consequences of the program and explain its necessity. However, the ACLU has been trying to get information from 2010. The ACLU asked to see the legal basis for the attacks, restrictions on those targeted, civilian casualties, geographic limits to attacks, and the number of attacks carried out and other features of the program.

A federal judge sided with the CIA ruling that to confirm or deny the existence of the program and records would expose national security secrets. So there you have it. Even to admit the existence of the program would expose national security secrets. However Obama can reveal anything about the program that he finds useful politically and Leon Panetta can do likewise. This is what is known as accountability. For more see this article.

Majorities in many countries disapprove of U.S drone strikes

The survey can be found here. Europeans and Japanese remain largely confident in Obama although this confidence has declined in most countries since 2009. Most Muslim countries remain critical of his leadership.

Some of the results show that many of those surveyed must not pay any heed to actual statistics. For example in Europe 62 per cent of Germans think that China not the U.S. is the top economic power. 58 per cent in Britain and 57 per cent in Spain think the same. However measured by GDP the U.S. is about twice as powerful as China. See this site. No doubt China is growing more quickly than the U.S but that is quite a different matter.

On U.S. use of drone strikes in the war on terror there is widespread disapproval except in the U.S. The U.S, is the only place where more approve then disapprove their use.

In the U.S. 62 per cent approve of the strikes. The percentage approval is greatest among Republicans (74 per cent), Independents (60 per cent) and there is even a majority among Democrats (58 per cent)

In the other 19 countries surveyed the best approval rate is the UK with 44 per cent approving but 47 per cent disapproval. After the UK majorities disapprove of the attacks. Germany is 59 per cent disapproval and 38 per cent approval. France has an even higher disapproval rate at 63 per cent with37 per cent approval.

In Asia China has a 55 per cent disapproval and 25 per cent approve. Next door to the U.S. Mexico has 73 per cent disapproval and 24 per cent approval.

In South America Brazil has 76 per cent disapproval and only 19 per cent approval. Russians disapprove by 68 per cent with only 17 per cent approving.

Arab countries such as Egypt have high disapproval rates. Egyptians disapprove by 89 per cent to only 6 approving. The highest disapproval rate is in Greece with 90 per cent disapproving and only 5 per cent approving. For more see the full poll results.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Austrian politician caught having sex in forest by wild life camera

The Carinthian Hunting Society places cameras in the forest to photograph wild life in their native habitat. One camera captured the wild sex life of an Austrian politician in the Carinthian forest.

The politician has not been named.He could get up to $25,000 in compensation if a court rules his privacy was violated. On the other hand he could be charged with trespassing as the area is clearly marked as no trespassing. However legal experts said the cameras themselves should be clearly marked.
 Austrian law restricts the use of surveillance cameras but then these cameras were not intended to photograph people. The incident is sparking a heated debate in Austria about data protection. For more see this article.

Bank in former East Germany issues Karl Marx credit cards

The Sparkasse bank in Chemnitz which was formerly part of East Germany issued credit cards with an image of Karl Marx on the front. Over a third of the bank customers chose a card with the image of the19th century German philosopher and revolutionary activist.

Poor Marx however is gazing toward the Mastercard Logo. Chemnitz was at one time Karl Marx Stadt so it is fitting that the card is issued there. At the time Karl Marx was depicted on the100 Mark banknotes.

Even though the city is now Chemnitz it still has a seven meter tall bust of Marx in the center of the city. Since the end of communism the city has been in the economic doldrums and lost twenty per cent of its population.

Indeed there is some nostalgia for former times when although political freedoms were absent and any opposition was severely repressed jobs were guaranteed and there were generous welfare programs.

In 2008 a survey showed over 50 per cent of eastern Germans thought the free market economy was not suitable. Forty three percent wanted socialism again. This is somewhat remarkable in that Germany is among the best off now of European economies. For more see this article in the Globe and Mail.

California: Sacramento teacher of the year laid off

Michelle Apperson who teaches the sixth grade in Sacramento was laid off in spite of being named Teacher of the year. In her bio she notes:"My favorite teachers growing up were the ones who challenged me to go out of my comfort level a little bit, strive for the stars, and work hard,"

Apperson was laid off as part of a massive budget cut. Many areas in the U.S. are facing similar cuts. Although Apperson said that the layoff hurt her on a personal level she realizes that given the budget situation she understands why it has happened.

Apperson received her pink slip just days after President Obama urged lawmakers to help out states that are facing a crisis in education funding. The Sacramento Unified School District has suffered about 143 million in budget cuts recently. State law mandates layoff based on seniority. For more see this article.

Greek election results Sunday are uncertain

A day before the election on Sunday June 17th many Greeks are angry now and anxious about the future. Stathis Psillos a philosophy prof. at the U. of Athens said:“People are in agony about their savings; their jobs, their safety, their future (and their children’s future),”

Polls have not been allowed for the last couple of weeks of the campaign but the two front runners New Democracy that is in favor of the bailout deal and Styriza that would rip it up and start over are very close to one another. Even New Democracy the center right party that came first last time wants to change some of the terms of the agreement although it voted in favor of the original deal.

The party that comes first gains an extra 50 seats in parliament under the Greek system so is the most likely to be able to form a coalition. However New Democracy was unable to cobble together a coalition last time around. If Styriza comes first there are several parties that it could probably bring into a coalition and form a government that would want to renegotiate the whole bailout deal. This result might result in markets falling throughout Europe and elsewhere. However as of the close Friday U.S. markets were still positive.

Many analysts are now predicting that Greece will eventually be forced into leaving the euro, that this is just a matter of time. For more see this article.

Saudi Arabian heir apparent Prince Nayef dies

The prince had just been named heir to the throne last October. He was 78. Prince Nayef served as interior minister in the government and was responsible for the crackdown on Al Qaeda.

The Prince died abroad where he had gone for medical treatment. There is a photo showing him greeting supporters three days ago (June 13) in Switzerland. No details were given about his illness or death.

The ruling monarch Abdullah is 88 and has now managed to outlive two who were designated to take his place! The favorite new heir is Prince Salman the current defense minister. For more see this article.

Friday, June 15, 2012

U.S. contracts out spying to private companies in Africa

A long article in the Washington Post details U.S use of private contractors to spy in Africa in particular Uganda. The contractors use Pilatus PC-12 aircraft the same planes as are favored by U.S. Special Forces stealth missions. They are completely non-descript in appearance and hide the high tech equipment on board.

To hide the fact that the operations are by the U.S. the contractors supply the planes, pilots, mechanics and other personnel. They process intelligence collected over Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic. Although last October Obama sent 100 elite U.S troops to find the Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony, U.S. contractors had been looking for him much earlier.

There is also a secret spy program keeping track of alleged Al Qaeda groups in North Africa. Since these operations are taking place outside of the traditional military channels there is virtually no oversight or accountability. No doubt this is what makes the programs attractive to the government.

When questioned the U.S. Africa command would not discuss specific missions or even why it was outsourcing the gathering of intelligence. Obviously this advances the symbiotic relationships in the military industrial complex.

Nokia cuts 20 per cent of work force as market share slumps

The global cellphone giant is losing market share to rivals Apple and Samsung and is burning through its cash reserves as well. The company announced that it would lose more than originally expected in its second quarter.

Nokia was once the dominant mobile phone producer but as with other companies such as the Canada based RIM it is losing market share to competitors. The company hopes that a new line of smartphones Lumia will turn its sagging fortunes around. However the software from Microsoft may not compete with its rivals.

A research analyst said:"The job cuts and profit warning underline the seriousness of the challenges Nokia is facing, particularly in light of the eye-watering competition from Apple and Samsung," Nokia based in Finland saw shares drop 10.5 per cent. As well as the only plant in Finland a plant in Canada will also be closed. For more see this article.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Alan Greenspan claims that Euro zone cannot survive in current form

Greenspan remarked::“What has been happening is not sustainable,” “We have to focus far more quickly on how to get the deficits down, because unless we do that, we cannot continually fund these things because it’s all being funded by printing money.” The band aid solutions used have failed and avoid structural issues such as uncompetitive labor markets and high deficits. Certainly the high deficits are a factor but the austerity measures are certainly reducing labor benefits and wages and selling off public assets at fire sale prices.

Greenspan said:.“Most of the ‘successes’ in this problem have been finding ways of funding the deficits, not reducing them. As long as there are deficits…you are creating ever more debt and that is not projectable indefinitely in the future,” While that is true enough perhaps the austerity measures designed to reduce deficits increase unemployment and spin the economy into decline reducing tax revenue and increasing deficits even more.

Spanish borrowing costs have risen to 7 per cent and at the same time Spanish credit has been downgraded by Moody's. Costs of Italian borrowing also increased to 5.3 per cent. For more see this article. at BNN. Markets are quite volatile as investors await the results of Greek elections on Sunday.

Egyptian parliament dissolved.

After a long electoral process the results have been summarily negated by the Egyptian high court. The court ruled that a third of the seats involved invalid results. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces then stepped in and announced that if one part of the parliamentary representatives are illegal then the whole parliament must be dissolved. So the military are back to ruling on their own. This is bound to provoked even more protest and divisions within Egypt.

The Egyptian constitutional court ruled against a law that would have barred the former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq from running in the presidential runoff. Shafiq said:"The message of this historic verdict is that the era of political score settling has ended," "The constitutional court has confirmed my right to participate in the election and reinforced the legitimacy of this election." Rather it seems the court is trying to facilitate the continuation of the old guard rule.

At the same time as these court rulings the justice ministry that gives the military police and intelligence officers power to arrest people suspected of crimes and restoring many of the powers given to police under the emergency laws that had only expired two weeks ago. The decree would apply to destruction of property obstructing traffic and resisting orders. The decree seems designed to crack down on protesters among other things. The decree is to remain in effect until a new constitution is drafted. For more see this article.

Russia accuses U.S. of arming Syrian rebels

At a new conference in Iran, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the U.S. of interfering in Syria and “providing arms to the Syrian opposition which are being used against the Syrian government.” Lavrov's volley could be in response to Hillary Clinton's remarks yesterday to the effect that Russia was supplying weapons and even attack helicopters to the Syrian government. Both parties are no doubt helping arm the side they support although in the U.S. it may be indirect through helping Qatar and Saudi Arabia deliver weapons through Turkey.

Lavrov insisted that the Russian weapon shipments were for air defense. The Russians will make it difficult and costly for any attempt to set up a no fly zone without the agreement of Syria. Lavrov argued that Russian shipments to prop up an existing government were in accordance with international law while providing arms to rebels was not.

The situation seems to get worse rather than better in Syria. Both sides appear to be involved in atrocities although with its superior fire power most of the killing of civilians is probably through continual Syrian attacks upon urban civilian within rebel controlled areas. There seems little hope left that the UN peace plan will work and both sides are routinely ignoring its terms. The situation is made even worse by the actions of Al Qaeda type terrorists. For more see this article.

Panetta claims route closures through Pakistan costs U.S. 100 million per month

While strictly speaking this may be true the U.S. has not paid Pakistan for cost associated with its own efforts in the tribal areas since 2010. The amount is estimated by Pakistan at over 3 billion U.S. and even by the U.S. as over a billion. The U.S. has also cut other aid. These sums owing are used as leverage to force Pakistan to reopen the routes.

Panetta was speaking before a Senate Appropriations panel. The panel was discussing whether to cut even more aid to Pakistan. While Panetta urged the group not to cut the aid fully he said that conditions should be put on the 3.5 billion aid that is supposed to go to Pakistan this year.

The Pakistan government has demanded an apology for an attack on the border that killed 24 Pakistani troops and the cessation of drone attacks as a condition for reopening borders. The U.S. has said it will do neither.

U.S. officials urge Pakistan to simply reopen the routes without conditions. However, at the very least the Pakistanis are demanding a considerable increase in fees and no doubt the release of aid money. However Pakistan in all probability will settle for money and forget about the drone attack and apology conditions. See for example this article. The Pakistani foreign minister Hina Khar rejected the complaint by the U.S about price gouging. However there was no mention of the specific conditions supposedly required for reopening the routes that is the apology and the cessation of drone attacks. For more see this article.

Senator Rand Paul introduces bill limiting warrantless drone surveillance

The bill is called "Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act" or in acronymese PFUSA. The bill would limit the ability of the government to use drones for surveillance without warrants.

However there are wide exceptions to the requirement.Warrants would not be required for border surveillance. That is understandable but the bill would also allow an exception in case of suspected terrorism. What the government considers terrorism as we know can cover a lot of ground. Finally the bill only applies to the use of drones in the U.S. so it would have absolutely no bearing on the expanding drone use globally by the U.S. It does not even deal with targeting U.S. citizens outside the U.S.

As this article points out Rand's effort may be too little too late. The military already has within the U.S. 64 drone bases. There are numerous other drones operated by state and local police. The bill probably has no chance of passing either. However at least Rand Paul is calling public attention to the issue.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Expensive U.S drone crashes and burns in Maryland Swamp

An RQ-4A Global Hawk drone swooped down-- no doubt pursing some smaller bird-- and ended up on fire in a Maryland swamp! The drone was on a routine training flight when it went off radar. It was later found burning in the swamp. Price tag for the drone is 176 million.

The Global Hawk is quite advanced and also quite expensive too. Although the official price is supposed to be 100 million it has been rising and was 176 million in 2010. South Korea abandoned plans to buy the Hawk when the price doubled.

The drone are adapted so that they can deploy near aircraft carriers. They constantly survey the area around carriers. Northrop Grumman manufacturers them. The Navy has already signed a 1.16 billion deal with the company. No worry about budget cuts within the drone programs it seems. For more see this article.

Greece:New Democracy and Syriza parties neck in neck

The last polls before polls ceased showed that the left Syriza party and the right of center New Democracy party were quite close. The very last poll showed Syriza ahead but only slightly. The elections are on June 17.

Syriza rejects the austerity plan negotiated by New Democracy and PASOK the socialist party who before were a coalition. However Syriza wants Greece to stay with the Euro as do most Greeks even those who reject the austerity provisions. New Democracy is in favour of the bailout plan. Neither party will probably have a majority on their own. However whomever comes first gets 50 extra seats which will make it easier for them to form a coalition with another party. New Democracy may be able to make a deal with PASOK as before but this is not at all certain. Syriza may be able to enlist the help of the Democratic Left or perhaps the Communist Party. However last election the Communist Party showed no sign of wanting to joing a coalition. For more see this Al Jazeera article and the attached video

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

CIA given go ahead to increase drone attacks in Pakistan

In response to Pakistani demands that drone attacks cease and in spite of the fact that Pakistan has made stopping them a condition of reopening supply routes, Obama has obviously given the go ahead not just to resume attacks to increase their frequency.The move is just one aspect of what is becoming more and more open criticism and impatience with Pakistan. The U.S. has not made any attempt to meet another demand of Pakistan an apology for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops in an incident on the border with Afghanistan last November. This was the original event that caused Pakistan to close the transit routes.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke of the U.S. reaching the limits of its patience. Perhaps Pakistan is also already at the point where it has reached the limits of its patience and has no intention of reopening the supply routes. The Pakistanis have their own priorities and plans. No doubt some of the contingency plans involve insurgent linked groups. This is hardly a novel tactic. The U.S. used the same tactics in supporting Islamic radicals against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

But Pakistan is supposed to immediately act upon whatever the U.S. considers its own interests in spite of the fact that Pakistan has already suffered many losses through fighting terrorism and also subjected the tribal areas to terrible devastation and the displacement of thousands of people.

Panetta made it clear that drone strikes will continue. Panetta said:"It is difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there is safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan," If the drone strikes are so successful how can there be safe havens in Pakistan?

The pace of attacks in increasing. Since the Chicago conference alone on May 20 21 there have been eight attacks. In the 5 and a half months before the conference the CIA logged only 14 strikes in Pakistan.

Javed Qazi a retired Pakistani intelligence head said:"They are trying to send a message: 'If you don't come around, we will continue with our plan, the way we want to do it,'" He continued this is "superpower arrogance being shown to a smaller state.... But this will only increase the feeling among Pakistanis that the Americans are bent on having their way through force and not negotiation."

Panetta levelled charges against Pakistan while speaking in India. To do this shows absolute arrogance and is apt to make Pakistan even more paranoid about developing close U.S. India ties. That Pakistan now seeks closer ties with China and better relations even with Iran should hardly come as a surprise. Panetta confirmed that the U.S. is not just targeting the remnants of Al Qaeda but any group it thinks may be attacking the U.S. in Afghanistan.

The Zardari government will soon face elections. Apparently the U.S. does not care that the result may be the defeat of the Zardari government and the election of a far more anti-American government. For more see this article.

Raul Castro's daughter Mariela campaigns for LGBT rights in Cuba

Democracy Now has a rare interview with Mariela Castro the daughter of Raul Castro the Cuban president and Vilma Espin. As well as campaigning for the rights of gays, lesbians and transgendered people Mariela is director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana.

Mariela was recently granted a visa to make a trip to the U.S to attend two conferences and this provided the opportunity for the interview in the Cuban consulate in New York city. Mariela has been urging the U.S. to release five Cubans arrested for spying on violent anti-Cuban militants in return for releasing U.S. citizen Alan Gross who was convicted and sentenced to 15 years for subversion in 2009.

Amy Goodman asked Mariela why she was working for gay, lesbian and transgender rights when she herself is heterosexual, married with three children. Mariela sees herself as carrying on work begun by her mother. When she saw the problems encountered by LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) people she began to sympathize with their problems and became involved.

Mariela thought that Obama coming out in favor of same sex marriage was quite valuable since the U.S. was the most powerful country in the world and his endorsement would have a global impact.

In Cuba Mariela and CENESEX is promoting educational and legislative initiatives to promote LGBT rights. Although Mariela pushed for legalizing same sex marriage in Cuba she noted that there was a great deal of resistance. She is now promoting the legalization of same sex unions with the same rights as married couples. For much more see the full interview.

Next focus in Eurozone debt crisis may be Italy

Rumours of the Spain bank bailout sent stock markets up on Friday in many countries. When the 100 billion band aid was actually announced over the weekend the response was for U.S. markets to turn negative before closing Monday (June 11). Spanish bond interest rates rose to high levels. However now the band aid has been applied to Spain some analysts are concerned about Italy.

Italy's borrowing costs rose after the Spanish bank bailout. The yield on 10 year bonds crept up to 6.04 per cent in the biggest daily gain since back on Dec. 8, 2011. Shares of Italy's largest bank UCG declined sharply.

Analyst Nicola Marinelli said:.“The scrutiny of Italy is high and certainly will not dissipate after the deal with Spain,” . “This bailout does not mean that Italy will be under attack, but it means that investors will pay attention to every bit of information before deciding to buy or to sell Italian bonds.”

Italy has a 2 trillion euro debt. Only Greece and Japan of developed nations have larger debts as percentage of GDP. Italy has to market more than 35 billion of bonds etc. each month to finance its debt. If the cost of borrowing continues to increase Italy like Spain may need help. For much more see this article.

Monday, June 11, 2012

U.S. withdraw negotiating team working on deal to reopen NATO supply routes

Since a fatal border air attack by NATO last November which killed 24 Pakistani troops Pakistan has closed down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. As a condition of opening the routes again the Pakistanis have asked for an apology and cessation of drone attacks. The U.S. has responded by stepping up the number of drone attacks. They have not apologized.

The Pakistani government strongly objected to the drone attacks.The U.S. through defense minister Panetta said that the U.S. was losing patience with Pakistan for harboring terrorists. All of this no doubt has made it virtually impossible in political terms to reach a deal with the U.S. Apparently the U.S. does not care.

Pentagon spokesperson George Little said:"The decision was reached to bring the team home for a short period of time," The negotiating team had been in Pakistan for six weeks and thought that they were close to a deal. U.S. actions have no doubt sabotaged that for now. There has not even been a date set for resumption of negotiations.

  Althoughthere is an alternative land route through central Asian republics the cost is very much greater than the Pakistan route. For more see this article.

Tuareg rebels announce ruling council while differences still exist with Islamic radical alllies

During and after the recent military coup in Mali Tuareg rebels in the north drove out the central government forces joined by Islam rebels from mountain areas who are called Anser Dine. The Tuareg rebels are called the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.

Azawad is an area that covers parts of several countries but the Tuareg have declared an independent state in the Mali portion. They have now named a council which will be responsible for defense, security and education. They will also deal with foreign policy and land management. No country has recognized the area as independent. The Mali coup leaders overthrew the elected president on the ground that he had not worked hard enough to drive out the rebels. It is most likely that once politics is sorted out in the south that the army will again move north.

Since Anser Dine are radical Islamists who are claimed to have links to Al Qaeda the U.S which already has a few special forces in Mali will be anxious to help retake the north.

The Tuareg rebels in the NMLA want a secular state. Some come from Libya where they fought for Gadaffi. Of course Gadaffi suppressed Islamic militants. Although the two groups announced a merger the NMLA says the agreement is now under review. Anser Dine was the north to be an Islamic state under Sharia law. In spite of their radical differences the two groups will no doubt try their best to form a common front to resist any government attempts to retake territory. For much more see this article and even more depth here.

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