Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Marwan Bishara of Al Jazeera on the Arab Spring

Video is HERE.

Marwan Bishara is senior political analyst for Al Jazeera (English). He also hosts a program called "Empire" that examines the agendas of great powers. He talks of his book "The Invisible Arab" in the video. His talk is half an hour of the video.
 The video has no imbed feature so here is the link. Bishara taught international relations at the American University of Paris. He has written extensively on politics particularly U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East. In the video he discusses his new book "The Invisible Arab".

Bishara has published in The New York TImes, The Guardian, Le Monde, and many other well known newspapers. "The Invisible Arab" has received considerable praise. For example Publisher's Weekly says: "Bishara…provides a compelling and spirited history of the modern Arab nation, from colonial liberation to the recent revolutions….Fast-paced, impassioned, and eloquent."

 Bishara uses a clever analogy that derives from his experience in filling out an airline assessment on his flight from Doha in Qatar to Washington D.C. He thinks that some journalistic assessments of the Arab Spring follow the same type of formula. There is the initial starting point then the progress with stopovers etc. and then the arrival at the destination. In the Arab Spring assessment the destination would be something akin to western liberal democracies. Many accounts of the Arab Spring Bishara thinks are overly simplistic in part because what is going on in the Middle East is often not even noticed in the west. This brings us to the topic of the Invisible Arab.

The Arab is invisible in that what is happening and growing in the Middle East is not noticed because only certain events attract media attention. Events relating to energy may merit an article. Terrorist attacks or threats will also generate attention. Finally events related to Israel and its security will also stand out. However the conditions within Middle East countries that were developing the preconditions for the Arab Spring went unobserved for the most part. As well as this external invisibility there was an internal invisibility.

Even the people within countries subject to the Arab Spring often did not observe what was happening. The main causes of this were censorship of any news of opposition and control of the media by the Middle Eastern regimes involved. One of the key features in developing a common Arab consciousness as Bishara sees it was satellite TV. This medium provided a means through Arabic broadcasting independent of the existing regimes to express the common consciousness that was developing.

While many in the west saw the Arab Spring primarily as a youth movement dedicated to promoting liberal democracies Bishara points out that the situation is much more complicated. Islamists for example are a powerful and important part of what is developing. Indeed in countries such as Egypt the youthful protesters who wish something akin to western liberal democracy in Egypt are obviously a minority.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Nearly 34,000 refugees flood Lebanon from Syria

As fighting in Syria between rebels and government forces increases many Syrians are fleeing to Lebanon. The United Nations Commission for Refugees(UNCHR) estimates there are nearly 34,000 refugees in Lebanon. The Lebanese refugees receive aid from the Lebanese government, the UN and also non-governmental agencies.

So far a total of 31,596 people are already registered with UNHCR. Thousands surged through the border after the July 18-19 clashes in Damascus. Now there are fierce battles taking place in Aleppo as well.

   However, some Syrians are returning. Many Syrians only remain until their home areas are more secure. UNHCR claims that preliminary estimates indicate that only a relatively few refugees require humanitarian assistance. Other reports indicate that profiteers are exploiting the new arrivals who seek shelter, food, and often medical assistance
Many of the refugees are families but often lack young adult males. Some seek refuge in the homes of relatives. Those who can afford it seek apartments or rooms to rent. The influx has caused prices to soar but some property owners are also using the shortage to exploit the refugees.

 While the busy Masnaa crossing is crowded with international media according to this site there is no official Lebanese presence to provide aid. Apparently some people already in Lebanon pretend they have fled from Syria in order to receive aid. No doubt as the security situation in Syrian deteriorates further Lebanon will find it more and more difficult to deal with the influx of refugees. For more see this article.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Karzai wants NATO bases transferred to Afghans not demolished

  . Karzai said the facilities scheduled for demolition could be used for schools, government offices, and health clinics. As NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan, they are demolishing some bases that they believe the Afghans do not have the capacity to operate or are no longer operationally significant for NATO. Dozens of facilities from small checkpoint buildings to larger bases could be demolished before the end of 2014 when security is to be handed over to the Afghans.

 Karzai has often criticized the NATO countries that in effect put him in power. Karzai has asked his defense minister Abdul Wardak to “take all necessary measures to stop the demolition of bases by NATO and make their handover possible,”.. Afghan officials complain that they have been left out of the process. Karzai  claims  that some of the most modern and best-defended facilities in Afghanistan are being demolished for no discernible reason. Perhaps this is the NATO version of capitalism's creative destruction. New facilities will be built by the Afghans using foreign aid funds and foreign contractors.. One Afghan parliamentarian said: ""They have spent lots of money for constructing the bases, and now they are spending more money for their destruction....We can use these bases for clinics, schools and for other administrative purposes.”

For their part,  NATO officials say that the Afghans can claim bases before demolition.  Lt. Colonel Sarah Goodson said that NATO and the U.S contact “directly and regularly with the Afghan Ministry of Finance-led Base Closure Commission, who ultimately determines the disposition of bases.. On those occasions where the Afghan government does not desire a base which ISAF [the International Security Assistance Force] is leaving, the base is demilitarized and the ground is returned to its original state and appearance.”

Serco based in the UK had already been awarded a 57 million U.S. contract for the planning and documentation of the dismantling and demolition of bases in Afghanistan. Serco  also operates prisons among other jobs also had the contract for dismantling Iraqi bases. Wikipedia notes:
  The Guardian has called Serco "probably the biggest company you've never heard of"

The U.K. has been a reliable U.S. ally in both Iraq and Afghanistan. One wonders how much control the Afghans really have over the base closure commission. . U.S. officials claim that the Afghan army does not have the logistical capacity to use the hundreds of bases spread throughout Afghanistan. Many are in isolated mountain ranges. This may be true but it does nothing to argue against the view that the bases could serve in non-military uses. In isolated areas where there are few buildings and facilities does it make sense to destroy relatively new and modern buildings? Perhaps the real reason for demolition is the fear that these areas will be taken over by the Taliban and the facilities used by them.

It is the U.S. and NATO rather than Afghans that are doing most of the planning. The plan is to concentrate the Afghan forces in a few larger bases. Even some large bases are being down-sized. No doubt the U.S. will continue to depend upon drones and raids along with Afghan support to try to control more remote areas. Possible civilian uses for military installations does not seem to have been part of the planning.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Will Greece receive more funds from the Troika?

        Troika inspectors from the IMF, European Commission, and European Central Bank  are back in Greece meeting with Greek officials. The Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said that he would push ahead with the implementing deep cuts demanded by the Troika. At the same time Samaras lashed out at foreign officials whom he did not name for trying to sabotage Greece's efforts to find a solution to its problems
     Samaras complained about foreign officials who openly said that Greece could not make its commitments. Samaras said:
   The Troika will decide whether to continue providing more scheduled payments of  bailout money to Greece. If they decide not to extend more aid Greece could default on payments and perhaps be forced to leave the Euro zone.  "I say it openly and publicly, they undermine our national effort. We do all we can to bring the country back on its feet and they do all they can so we can fail," 
    Over last weekend on Sunday the German economic minister said he did not expect Greece could fulfill its  obligations under the bailout conditions. As a result, there would be no more money for Greece. Samaras wants to negotiate along with his coalition partners changes to the bailout terms. Samaras faces strong opposition within Greece to the harsh austerity measures imposed by the Troika as a condition for receiving bailout funds.
      The Greek economy has been declining at a rate of around 7 per cent this year after years of recession. Further austerity will likely decrease output further. Unemployment is close to 24 per cent..
   Troika officials claim that the Greek government is not implementing pro-growth measures such as privatizations, tax reform, and opening closed markets and professions. A source from the Troika told Reuters:"The programme has not produced the desired results because it was not implemented. We must first see the government fulfill its commitments and then decide if it works or if it needs to be adjusted." The Troika may be asking for what is not politically possible in the present context. For more see this article.

CNN continues ludicrous drone reporting style

 CIA drone attacks continue in Pakistani tribal areas in spite of several resolutions in the Pakistani parliament demanding they stop. CNN reports on drones continue to call the attacks "suspected" drone attacks and use anonymous officials as sources.
 CNN, The Cable News Network, is a large U.S. based media outlet. CNN is in turn owned by giant Time Warner. "Time Warner is an American multinational media corporation headquartered in the Time Warner Center in New York City..As of mid-2010, it was the world's second largest media and entertainment conglomerate in terms of revenue (behind Disney), as well as the world's largest media conglomerate ."
Even with these impressive credentials CNN does not fear to sound ridiculous as it joins the media parade of drone drivel. Recently in a headline CNN reports:"Suspected drone attack kills 12 in Pakistan"
 Everyone knows that it was a drone attack and that it was directed by the CIA on behalf of the U.S. The CNN however feels duty bound to follow the position of the U.S. that to officially admit that this program exists or does not exist would endanger U.S. security. CNN is just carrying out its patriotic duty.
CNN is much more patriotic than President Obama or Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who have not only talked about the program but defended and boasted about it. The body of the CNN report notes that their information comes from two unidentified Pakistani intelligence officers. The officers cannot be identified since they were not authorized to talk to CNN.
"" A suspected U.S. drone strike killed 12 militants Monday evening in Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan, two Pakistani intelligence officials told CNN.""
 Note that CNN even when reporting what the two Pakistani intelligence officials told them put in the term "suspected" before "U.S. drone strike". Were the Pakistani intelligence officers really so cautious? The targets are now clearly identified as militants but only through the testimony of the anonymous Pakistani officials. There is no independent verification.
 Not all sources are as careful as CNN. Antiwar.com simply says straight out. "US Drone Strike Kills 13 in North Waziristan " The site does not go on to label those killed as suspected militants but instead remarks: "None of the people killed in the attack have been identified, but all were predictably labeled suspects by officials." Most reports list targets as militants or suspected militants. However there are reports of attacks that are different but they are rare.
 The Muslim News in the UK reports on a drone attack in Afghanistan: Afghanistan:"US drone attack kills young girl and 5 others " This headline contrasts with the constant refrain of militants or suspected militants being killed common in most mass media reports on the strikes. Of course this headline is propaganda too. Propaganda however can be true. It is the spin and the function that make the reports propaganda.
The Muslim News report actually says in the body of the report that four of those killed were Taliban commanders according to officials." Four Taliban commanders and two civilians were killed in a drone attack carried out by the international troops in eastern Nuristan province on Monday, officials said."
 Unlike the mass media professionals in the mainstream press this source actually names officials rather than citing anonymous official sources." The incident took place at around 12:30 pm in Want Waigal district, when the individuals were travelling on a passenger vehicle to the district centre, Governor Tamim Nuristani, told Pajhwok Afghan News." and" Police chief, Col. Ghulamullah Nuristani, identified the dead rebel commanders as Habibullah alias Dadullah, Mullah Yahiya Rakiti, Younus and Haroon"
 In contrast the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) media office confirmed the attack but provided no details. While the Muslim News does try to evoke sympathy for some victims in their headline compared to CNN their overall report is much more specific and better sourced. For more see here, and here

Monday, July 23, 2012

Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar lag in female employment

     A report by Gallup shows that only 22 per cent of women work in Saudi Arabia the number of hours that they desire. The average for the entire Middle East is 40 per cent and for the world 43 per cent,  Kuwait contrast with its Arab neighbors in the region with 88 per cent of  women employed and 89 per cent of men.
   While in most countries of the world women are not employed for the number of hours they would wish compared to men this is not true in all countries. In Ireland women are 15 percentage more likely than men to work the number of hours that they want.
   The top ten countries where women work the number of hours they want are a mixed bag. Along with Kuwait are Singapore and Belgium plus several Scandinavian countries including Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. Malta, Estonia, Israel, and Slovakia round out the ten.
   Gallup began polling on this issue in 2009. The 2011 poll interviewed adults in 144 countries. Self-employed females were not included. One wonders if in the Gulf States only citizens were surveyed. In many Gulf countries foreign female domestic workers are employed. The poll surveyed 187,000 adults.
     Saudi Arabia had the largest gap between men and women. Women in Saudi Arabia were 23 per cent less likely to be employed the number of hours they desired compared to men. In the U.S. by contrast the gap was 9 per cent. Other countries where the gap was greatest were Bolivia, Honduras, Bahrain, and Oman. For more see this article and also here

Chinese giant CNOOC pays over 15 billion U.S. for Nexen

Calgary based oil producer Nexen approved a takeover bid of $15.1 billion U.S. by Chinese state-owned oil producer CNOOC Ltd. The price per share would be $27.50 a full two thirds higher than the average price over the last twenty days. Nexen is the 12th largest energy producer in Canada with an output of about 213,000 a barrel oil equivalent per day. Nevertheless the company has not been doing that well of late. 

The company has a global presence. North Sea production has just been hit by a new UK tax. Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was delayed by the huge BP oil leak. It was also forced to abandon a project in Yemen. Even in Canada at Long Lake planned output has not been reached. In the second quarter net income for Nexen fell to only $109 million, a decline larger than analysts predicted. The company earned just 20 cents a share in the second quarter down form a year earlier. Never mind the gloom, China needs oil and is willing to pay a premium price to guarantee a secure source of supplies.

 The troubled Long Lake project provided China the first stage of the later bid. Back in November of last year CNOOC bought OPTI Canada Inc. a company that held a 35 per cent stake in the Long Lake project. CNOOC has already spent 2.8 billion in Canada. China has been moving cautiously with takeovers after a failed takeover bid for UNOCAL corporation in 2005. No doubt there will be considerable debate about the Nexen takeover. The deal will have to pass through a process of evaluation under Canadian foreign ownership rules

  CNOOC said it would retain the existing staff and management and also make Calgary the headquarters for North and Central American operations. The company also promised it would list shares on the TSX and fund oll sands research at Canadian universities. All of these moves may help the company gain approval for the takeover. Already a number of Asian companies have invested in Canadian energy projects. Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. earlier this year sold a 40 per cent interest in two projects to PetroChina Co. Last fall Sinopec bought Daylight Energy Ltd. for a price tag of $2.2 billion U.S. The giant Malaysian firm Petronas bought Progress Energy Resources for $5.5 billion in June of this year.

The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is very much pro-business. Harper has often been a critic of China but of late he seems to be interested in tapping into Asian markets and pools of Asian capital to help develop Canadian resources. Canada has traditionally been a supplier first and foremost for the U.S. market. NAFTA cemented this relationship. However Harper seems to have realized that diversifying markets and sources of investment would be beneficial for Canada. The Nexen deal will be a test of these policies. 

The Nexen takeover must be approved by two thirds of shareholders. It is subject to an almost half a million dollar break fee. Not all foreign takeovers are approved. When BHP Billiton of Australia tried a hostile takeover of Saskatchewan-based Potash Corp the deal was eventually blocked by considerable resistance from Potash management and the Saskatchewan premier. Some corporations are supposedly strategic assets for Canada. Perhaps Nexen will be another strategic asset although the government has not yet defined what the term means.

 Harper is likely to receive the most pressure to block the bid from the U.S. The U.S. will not look kindly on its Asian competitor securing supplies of scarce resources from its northern neighbor. The question is whether business prevails over politics or perhaps whose business interests prevail. For more see this article..

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Report: Super-rich hiding between 21 and 32 trillion U.S. in tax havens

The hidden wealth is roughly equal to the annual GDP of the U.S. and Japan combined. The report was commissioned by the Tax Justice Network based in the UK. The report claims to be the most extensive ever on the "offshore economy".
 The report was researched and written by James Henry an expert on tax havens. The tax income lost is sufficient to make a significant difference in the finances of many countries. In fact Henry claims that if these offshore funds were repatriated some debtor countries would turn out to be wealthy!
 Henry notes that the hidden assets are not held by some obscure financial institutions in small island nations. The companies holding these assets are among the biggest names in finance: UBS, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs. These three handle the most assets offshore.
 The super-rich elite comprise 92,000 people or .001 per cent of the world's population are claimed to have 21 trillion in hidden assets. Henry collected data from the IMF, the World Bank, and the bank of International Settlements. Even these figures do not take into account other wealth embedded in property such as yachts and other assets. The full report can be seen here.
    Another tax expert John Whiting a UK government adviser doubted that the amount hidden was so large. Whiting who is director of the Office of  Tax Simplification said:: "There clearly are some significant amounts hidden away, but if it really is that size what is being done with it all?""  For more on the report see this article and also here

Journalist Alexander Cockburn dead at 71

 Alexander Cockburn a leftist journalist died on Friday (July 21) in Bad Salzhauzen Germany at 71 of cancer. Cockburn kept his illness secret from most people.. He continued writing almost up to the time of  his death.  
   Cockburn's  journalistic skills were recognize not only by left publications such as the Nation but also by establishment outlets such as the Wall Street Journal. Cockburn wrote columns for both.
   Born in Scotland, Cockburn grew up in Ireland. His father  covered the Spanish civil war for the communist Daily Worker and so Cockburn had an early introduction to left wing journalism.
  In the UK Cockburn worked for the highly acclaimed Times Literary Supplement and the New Statesman. However he decided to move to the U.S. in 1973 where he worked as a columnist for the Nation.
    Christopher Hitchens, another left intellectual and expatriate Briton who also died of cancer recently, was a long time target of Cockburn's savage criticism. Cockburn always stood firmly for whatever he believed whether his beliefs fit in with those of his leftist friends or not.
    Cockburn's position on global warming fits in better with some right wing views. He holds that it has not been proved that global warming is caused by man. He thinks that it may be caused by natural processes. Cockburn has authored a number of books including the recent "A Short History of Fear" (2009).
 Throughout his long career Cockburn has been a consistent critic of most U.S,. foreign policy starting in Central America in 1980's to the war in Kosovo and finally the invasion and occupation of Iraq. 
      Cockburn also had a jaundiced view of the Democratic Party. He supported the presidency of Ralph Nader in 2000 and 2004. In Cockburn's opinion the Democratic Party has failed to provide a progressive alternative to the Republican Party. The liberal establishment including President Obama have felt the sting of his pen. Cockburn was at his best when he was criticizing hypocrisy whether on the left or right.

Greece may not receive further bailout funds

The Troika, that is the European Commission, The European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund are set to meet with Greek officials on July 24. In preparation for the meeting the Greek government approved a further 11.5 billion euros in cuts to placate its creditors. However this may be too little too late. There is already a report in the German newspaper Der Spiegel indicating a decision has been made not to extend further credit.
   If true, this is somewhat surprising in that the newly former coalition was intent on solving the crisis and making sure it received the next tranche of  funds under the bailout plan. Bloomberg reports that Der Spiegel article claims that IMF officials are becoming impatient with Greece. According to a translation of  the report
. “High ranking officials at the Fund have informed the European Union that the IMF is no longer willing to provide Greece with more aid,”  
  The IMF wants Greece to reduce its GDP debt ratio to 120 per cent of GDP in order for it to be sustainable in the longer term. However the officials are pessimistic about the ability of Greece to do so. This pessimism is warranted. Given the austerity policies involving severe cutbacks to spending, demand will fall. Already unemployment is soaring over twenty per cent and production is dropping not growing. The report noted “Giving the country more time to meet its targets would, according to troika estimates, mean an extra 10 to 50 billion euros in relief aid,”  The political situation in Europe is such that many governments are simply not willing to extend that much more aid.
  Greece already has a  3.2 billion euro bond due on August 20 but no more money is due to Greece until after the report of the Troika is analyzed in September! It is not clear how Greece will pay for the bond. Perhaps the European Central bank will provide aid or the Greek government will issue short term T Bills.
   The Greek crisis is obviously far from over. As many analysts have predicted Greece may yet leave the euro zone. Stock markets next week may reflect this new uncertainty. For more see this article.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Huge new aquifer found in Namibia

   Much of  Namibia is too dry for any agriculture. However a new aquifer named Ohangwena II has been discovered in northern Namibia. The aquifer is huge and straddles the border between Angola and Namibia. On the Namibian side alone the aquifer stretches over an area of over a thousand square miles.
   Marting Quinger of the German Federal Institute for Geoscience and Natural Resources said: "The amount of stored water would equal the current supply of this area in northern Namibia for 400 years, which has about 40 percent of the population,"
    An aquifer is a below ground area that is saturated with groundwater. Wells can access this groundwater however care must be taken not to demand too much water at one time. The aquifer is about 300 meters under the ground.and is estimated to contain about 5 billion cubic meters of water. The aquifer is slowly replenished by water from mountains in Angola to the north.
     Research has recently uncovered a number of freshwater aquifers across Africa. Since many areas including Namibia face severe drought conditions this is heartening news. In Namibia the government had just approved 4 million U.S. in drought aid to one region. Namibia is larger in area than France but the city of Chicago has more people. Half of Namibians live below the poverty line.
    The aquifer will be a boon to Namibia. However Quinger warned that on top of the freshwater aquifer there is a smaller salt water aquifer. Drillers must be careful not to accidentally allow the salt water to mix with the fresh water aquifer. No doubt global corporate water suppliers would like to obtain rights to the water. If  Namibia is wise it will develop the resources itself to benefit their own people. For more see this article and also here

Friday, July 20, 2012

Top economist criticizes IMF as he submits resignation

     Peter Doyle a top economist who worked at the IMF (International Monetary Fund) for 20 years has resigned. His resignation letter is short and sour. He said that the leadership was "tainted" and that he was "ashamed" to have worked at the organization.
    Doyle speaks of  "incompetence", "failings" and "disastrous " appointments of directors stretching back over a decade. No one from the IMF has yet commented on Doyle's resignation or his criticism of the Fund.
   Doyle was adviser to the European Department. That department controls bailout programs for Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Doyle believes that the IMF failed to warn about the urgency of  Europe's financial problems and the global financial crisis.
   The IMF itself  had also made criticisms on this score but in much milder language! Doyle suggests that the warnings that were issued were not sustained and often suppressed.
    Doyle's view that the leadership was tainted is not a personal attack on any specific director but an attack on the agreement between Europe and the U.S. that the head of the IMF will be a European and of the World Bank an American.  There is really no open process in the selection of the leader. For a top employee of  the IMF Doyle's language is surprising.
   Doyle says:"Even the current incumbent [Christine Lagarde] is tainted, as neither her gender, integrity, or elan can make up for the fundamental illegitimacy of the selection process.": "There are good salty people here. But this one is moving on. You might want to take care not to lose the others." Although the IMF could not be reached for comment by the BBC, CNN in the U.S. reports that a spokesperson for the IMF claims that there is nothing to substantiate Doyle's allegations.
   The spokesperson mentioned that the IMF itself  had its own investigations into its work on the financial crisis. Of course Doyle noted this but claimed that the warnings were not sustained and often even suppressed. Doyle's criticism of the selection process can hardly be said to be baseless. The criticism is quite correct. Indeed in the latest selection of the World Bank president the process was opened somewhat due to the type of criticism Doyle made. However, the result was the same in that an American ended up as head of the Bank. For more see this article.  More on the IMF can be found here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

China pledges loans worth $20 billion U.S. to African countries

  In a bid to boost economic ties with Africa the Chinese government has pledged 20 billion in loans over the next three years. Back in 2009 China loaned ten million to African countries.
    The loans will be used to build infrastructure, agriculture, and the development of small business. Chinese president Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jibao held talks with African officials during the fifth meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.
     Some European leaders are critical of what they call the Chinese cheque book approach to Africa. They say that China wants to gain access to Africa's rich resources and will support undemocratic leaders to do so.
    Many African leaders applaud the Chinese loans including the president of South Africa Jacob Zuma. Zuma said;. "Africa's past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other countries,"  "We are particularly pleased that in our relationship with China we are equals and that agreements entered into are for mutual gain."  For more see this article.

Media ignore presidential third party nominees

 Most newspapers report only on candidates for the Republican and Democratic parties and ignore a number of nominees for third parties There are a number of libertarians within the Republican Party perhaps one of the best known being Ron Paul. However there is also a Libertarian Party with its own candidate for the presidency Gary Johnson. Johnson is a prominent U.S. politician having been governor of New Mexico from 1993 to 2003. More about the Libertarian Party can be found here.
      The Libertarian party favors a smaller government and free markets with minimal regulations. Although sometimes regarded as conservative, on many social issues the party is closer to liberals, espousing strong civil liberties, drug liberalization, and LGBT rights. On foreign policy the party is for less intervention and favors diplomacy rather than military might to settle disputes with other countries. 
          The U.S. Green Party has nominated Jill Stein as their candidate after a convention in Baltimore on July 12th this year. The Green Party stresses environmentalism. However the party also promotes participatory democracy, social justice, respect for diversity, peace and non-violence. Their ten key values can are outlined here
      The Socialist Party USA is a third alternative party. This is a democratic socialist party opposed to communism and bureaucratic types of top-down socialism. Stewart Alexander became the nominee for the party back in October of 2011 at a convention in Los Angeles. The party advocates bringing big business under public ownership and democratic worker management. The website of the party can be found here. 

Dutch royalty collection agency pirates song from Dutch composer

In 2006 the Dutch organization BREIN that protects the rights of artists asked Melchior Rietveldt to compose a song to be used in anti-piracy ads. Rietveldt wrote the song but specifically gave permission to use it only at one film festival.
   In 2007 Rietveldt was surprised when he bought a Harry Potter DVD and discovered his song was used in the ad that warns people against copying the movie. He discovered that the song had been pirated and used on at least 70 movies. He next went to the firm Buma/Stemra which is one of the groups in BREIN but whose function is to collect royalties for Dutch artists.
        Eventually after Buma/Stemra failed to pay him all the royalties Rietveldt felt he had coming he sued. Recently an Amsterdam court found in favor of Rietveldt and order Buma/Stemra to pay a fine of 20,000 euros (U.S. $24,474) and the sum of 164,974 musician euros (U.S. $201,878) that was owed. For more see this article.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

U.S. building an anti-missile radar facility in Qatar

 The Wall Street journal reports that the base will be built in a secret location in Qatar. The facility will be just one part of a system meant to defend U.S. facilities and also its Gulf area allies against Iranian rockets according to anonymous U.S. officials.
      This site plus two other sites in Turkey and the Negev Desert form an arc. The three sites together can detect any missiles launched deep inside Iran from northern, southern or western Iran. The radar stations also link to interceptor batteries throughout the region and to U.S. ships that have high altitude interceptor rockets.
     Qatar is home to the largest U.S. military base in the region, All Udeid Air Base. Together with another base a total of 8,000 U.S. troops are in Qatar. In response to an Al Jazeera reporter's question about the site, the Pentagon replied."We have a number of allies and partners in the region with whom we seek to build greater cooperation, and our goal is to address a wide range of US security interests there."   U.S. officials claim the U.S. Central Command intends to deploy a THADD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system within the next few months. For more see this article.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Kofi Annan of the UN and Russia's Vladimir Putin make no progress on Syria

     Although the Russian President claimed that he would do everything he could to support Anna's six point peace plan meant to end the violence in Syria neither side seems to be willing to make the plan work or  follow its directives. Violence has been constantly increasing. There is now an obvious civil war in Syria.
    This is Annan's first meeting with the Russian president since Putin won a third term. Annan hopes to avoid a Russian veto of a new resolution that threatens Syria with new sanctions. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov insisted he could "see no reason why we cannot also agree at the UN Security Council. We are ready for this". However, so far there is no sign Moscow is willing to take a harder line against the Syrian president or his regime.
   Putin maintained: "From the very start, from the first steps, we supported and continue to support your efforts aimed at restoring civil peace,"  However, Annan's efforts have so far come to naught as the fighting continues to increase rather than decrease. There is a Friday deadline for the monitors mission to end or receive an extension.
     A western backed resolution is being presented on Wednesday that threatens Syrian authorities with sanctions if they use heavy weapons in towns. Russia promises to block this move. The west insists that Assad step down as a condition of any resolution of the conflict. However Assad shows no sign of willingness to do so even though some officials who were part of his inner circle have now defected. For more see this article.

Survey: 76 per cent of Americans support defense spending cuts

 The Air Force Times reports on a survey of 665 Americans on defense spending. The survey was conducted by the Program for Public Consultation, the Stimson Center, and the Center for Public Integrity.
   While a majority do not support cutting pay raises, they do want to raise some health cost related fees and even cut military retirement benefits. While Republican politicians often oppose defense spending cuts their base may not actually share that view.
   Democrats are more in favor of cuts than Republicans but more than two thirds of those in Republican congressional districts supported cuts. Those in Republican districts supported a cut of 15 per cent on average while Democratic districts supported on average a much larger 28 per cent cut.
   Americans both in Republican and Democratic districts believe that there is waste in the defense budget. Eighty per cent polled in Republican districts and eighty six per cent in Democrat districts held this view. On this issue there is obviously bipartisan support among Americans if not politicians. Only 15 per cent in Republican districts want the defense budget increased and a mere 4 per cent in Democratic districts. For much more see this article.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Yemen faces malnutrition crisis

The conflict in Yemen along with other factors has created chronic malnutrition. Only Afghanistan another country wracked by conflict has a higher level. The United Nation's Children's fund claims that hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children face starvation. A total of one million suffer from severe malnutrition.
   UNICEF representative Gert Kapelari said:"About 250,000 children today in Yemen are at risk of dying or having lifelong consequences if we don't act immediately," he said. Aid agencies claim that Yemen is facing a humanitarian disaster with chronic levels of poverty. An Oxfam representative said that 44 per cent of the people, a total of about ten million, do not have enough to eat.
      Although food is available prices have risen while incomes are low. High unemployment makes the situation worse. Up to 90 per cent of food in Yemen is imported. The conflict between rebels and the government has displaced many people making them dependent upon food aid. The World Food Program(WFP) estimates that 670,000 internally displaced person depend upon food aid. For more see this article.

NATO tankers attacked and burned by Taliban in Afghanistan

     Since the NATO transit routes through Pakistan have reopened supplies are coming into Afghanistan through the east of the country. The Taliban operate in many parts of  Afghanistan near the eastern border. Now that NATO tankers traverse the area they will be prime targets for the insurgents.
   Press TV reports that 12 NATO tankers that were carrying fuel for U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan have been attacked. The report claims that one driver was killed and four security guards injured. The tankers were set on fire. Afghan officials have blamed the Taliban for the attacks and in turn the Taliban have claimed responsibility.
    A Taliban spokesperson claimed that 25 tankers were attacked, and several drivers and security guards were killed. NATO has yet to report on the incident. No doubt attacks will continue perhaps within Pakistan as well. For more see this article.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Egypt: Generals issue warning to Muslim Brotherhood

   The leader of the  SCAF(Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) the real rulers of  Egypt issued a thinly veiled warning to the Muslim Brotherhood. Field Marshal Tantawi head of the council said that the council will not allow a certain group to dominate the country. There is little chance of that since in effect the council already has staged a coup that gives most powers to itself.
    President Morsi elected recently is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although many suspect there are deals behind the scenes between the Brotherhood and the generals, in public there is often conflict. For example President Morsi convened parliament even after the Constitutional Court ruled that some aspects of the recent parliamentary elections were not legal and SCAF had dissolved the parliament. However the government did not prevent the parliament from meeting.
   Tantawi said:“Egypt will never fall. It belongs to all Egyptians and not to a certain group — the armed forces will not allow it,”  “The armed forces will not allow anyone, especially those pushed from outside, to distract it from its role as the protector of Egypt,” . “The army will never commit treason and will continue to perform its duties until Egypt reaches the shores of safety.” Of course Tantawi served in the administration of  Hosni Mubarak. The army constantly projects itself as the protector of the Egyptian people. The bad guys were the security forces. However, it was  military tribunals run by the armed forces who put protesters in jail. For more see this article.

African Union wants new government formed in Mali

 The  Peace and Security Council of  the African Union is critical of the transitional government set up in Mali after the coup leader Captain Sanogo handed over power to a transitional civilian government. Sanogo and his comrades retained considerable influence and Sanogo was given the title of former head of state together with a salary.
    The Peace and Security Council(PSC) called on the ex-junta members to stop interfering in the government. In fact the group went further and called for the "effective dissolution" of the former junta group and an end to its "unacceptable interference" in the government's transition process.
      The situation is dire in northern Mali as the entire territory is now occupied by the Ansar Dine group who are radical Islamists.  The original coup in March that overthrew a democratically elected president was justified by that government's inability to put down rebels in the north. After the coup the north was occupied first by the Tuareg who now have been driven out by radical Islamists said to be associated with Al Qaeda.. The Islamists have vandalized historical sites in Timbuktu. Until there is a more stable government in the south there is not likely to be any drive to recover the north of the country. For more see this article..

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Russia: New law requires foreign funded NGO's to register as foreign agents

  Human Rights groups in Russia are quite critical of what they call the "foreign agents" bill. The head of  Russia's oldest non-governmental organization The Moscow Helsinki group said that as soon as the bill is passed her organization will not accept foreign grants.
    Lyudmila Alekseeva head of the group said that they would be forced to reduce staff and the number of their projects. She said that with the new law some NGO's will be doomed as Russian donations will not be sufficient to support them. The Moscow-Helsinki group survived even through Soviet repression.
   Memorial another NGO said that the aim of the legislation was to label government opponents "as enemy hirelings". Another NGO the Committee Against Torture vowed not to register as a foreign agent unless forced to do so by a court.
  The bill has caused consternation abroad. A group of  UN experts called on the Russian parliament not to pass the "foreign agents bill". For more see this article.

Pakistan and U.S. nowhere near a deal on drone attacks

    The Pakistani parliament has several times passed motions demanding that U.S. drone attacks cease. Cessation of drone strikes was also made a condition of reopening NATO transit routes  through Pakistan to Afghanistan. However after Hillary Clinton apologized for a border incident in which 24 Pakistani troops were killed Pakistan reopened thee routes. The drone attacks did not cease. A drone attack was launched shortly after the reopening.
      Since the attacks continued after the NATO routes were reopened it appeared that perhaps Pakistan had tacitly agreed to the attacks. Sherry Rehman the Pakistani ambassador has vehemently denied this and reaffirmed Pakistan's opposition drone attacks as a violation of its sovereignty.
    Negotiations between the U.S. and Pakistan on some type of compromise deal on drones have been ongoing. However a senior official said::. “Cessation of drones is still a high priority for us in the dialogue with the US, but I’m afraid we are nowhere near a deal on the issue,”  “But we’ll keep talking to them about it,” 
   The defense committed of the Pakistani cabinet said after a meeting on July 3 that Pakistan“will continue to engage the US on counter-terrorism co-operation and counter-terrorism tools that are in line with international law and practice”  There have been recent meetings between Pakistani foreign minister Hina Khar and U.S. Secretary of  State Hillary Clinton..
  Just days before the July 3rd deal to reopen transit routes Pakistan suggested that there were alternatives to using drone strikes in the tribal areas although officials did not disclose exactly what they were. Foreign Office spokesperson Mozzam Khan said:“Pakistan’s position on drone attacks is very clear, and very clearly stated. This is an issue and both countries want to resolve it in a mutually acceptable manner,”  The drone attacks are quite unpopular in Pakistan. In the past the government has criticized the attacks in public while tacitly agreeing to them behind the scenes.
     Since the U.S. is adamant that the attacks continue a deal seems unlikely. However it is possible that if Pakistan is given more control over targeting and attacks launched only with Pakistani agreement a deal could be reached. However the U.S. is not likely to be agreeable to cede that much power to Pakistan.

JP Morgan's "hidden" losses now $5.8 billion

   When the original losses were revealed back in May the losses were estimated at 2 billion. Now after an internal review the losses are estimated at 5.8 billion. However, the company also said that it is possible that there could be up to 1.7 billion more in the worst case scenario.
    As a result of this review there may be criminal charges against some traders. Traders deliberately placed incorrect values on trades CEO of  JP Morgan Jamie Dimon said:. "This has shaken our company to the core,"  Managers in the London office who made the trades have all been fired. The London office made huge bets on corporate debt using derivatives now called "the London Whale trades"  They resulted in a whale of a loss!
  In spite of the announcement of these huge losses the stock was actually up. This may seem counter intuitive but the company made nearly 5 billion last quarter and no doubt this outweighed worries about the loss. In his report Dimon also claimed that the situation was now under control. For more see this article.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ethiopian blogger given 18 years for criticizing arrests of journalists

    Eskinder Nega is a prominent Ethiopian blogger. He won the coveted Pen America's Freedom to Write for his work. However Nega and 23 others were accused of having links to an opposition group called the Ginbot Seven. Ethiopia considers the group a terrorist organization. The 23 were found guilty of having links to this organization.  Nega was originally arrested last September after he had published a piece that questioned the government's  arrest of some journalists.
  While Nega was sentenced to 18 years another opposition activists Andualem Arage was given a life sentence. Human right group have criticized Ethiopia's anti-terrorism laws as being much too broad. This is not the first time that Nega has been arrested. Since starting his first newspaper in 1993 he has been arrested at least seven times!
   Amnesty International said. "The imprisonment… is emblematic of the Ethiopian government's determination to gag any dissenting voice in the country," For more see this article.  

U.S. trained Mahmoud Jibril's coalition leads in Libyan election

 The National Forces Alliance, a coalition of sixty parties headed by Mahmoud Jibril leads by a wide margin so far as Libya's recent election. Jibril is winning both in the capital Tripoli and the east city of Benghazii indicating his support is not localized.
   The Muslim brotherhood and another group are far behind the National Forces Alliance. The result is somewhat surprising as the Muslim Brotherhood was expected to do better.
   Jibril was an important figure in the Gadaffi regime from 2007 to 2011. He head up both the National Development Board and the National Planning council. He promoted policies of privatization and liberalization.
    Jibril's economic views no doubt helped him gain support for the rebels while he was interim prime minister. Now that his coalition is poised to win the elections no doubt western investors are cheering from the sidelines.For more see this article.

Korean central bank reduces interest rate

   The Korean central bank, Bank of Korea, cut the benchmark interest rate down to 3 per cent yesterday (July 12). Most experts had predicted no change. There are conflicting factors in the economy a combination of slowing economic growth but also higher inflation expectations.
    No doubt the recent lowering of rates in China and Europe had some influence on the  decision. Korean Treasury Bond yields fell below 3.25 per cent. This is a record low since the beginning of the financial crisis.
   Tim Condon an analyst from Singapore said:"The BOK's move is not an issue because I figure the neutral level of the policy rate is 2.75 percent. Another 25-bps rate cut will come in August or September. Inflation is no longer a problem. Possibly rate cuts by central banks in Europe and China affected the BOK's rate decision,"  The Korean Finance ministry has revised the forecast for growth in 2012 from 3.7 per cent to 3.3 per cent. 
    External conditions are the main reason for adjusting the growth predictions. Europe is not yet recovering from its crisis and Chinese growth is slowing somewhat. The new forecast is in line with that of  the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) which in May forecast growth of 3.3 per cent in South Korea.
  The rate of inflation in South Korea slowed in June to 2.2 per cent, well within the target of  between 2 and 4 per cent. This may have also influenced the decision to lower the interest rate. For more see this article.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wikileaks wins legal case against credit card company in Iceland

  In Reykjavik the capital of  Iceland, the district court ruled that Valitor, formerly VISA Iceland, violated contract law. The company blocked credit card donations to Wikileaks. The news is reported via Wikileaks Twitter account.
   The court ruled as well that the donation gateway must be again opened within a period of fourteen days. If Valitor fails to comply it will face a fine of $6,200 daily.
    Julian Assange remarked: "This is a significant victory against Washington's attempt to silence WikiLeaks. We will not be silenced. Economic censorship is censorship. It is wrong. When it's done outside of the rule of law its doubly wrong. One by one those involved in the attempted censorship of WikiLeaks will find themselves on the wrong side of history." Iceland generally has supported Wikileaks. The article does not mention legal cases being pursued in other countries but perhaps there are.
   When donors were prevented from making donations through credit cards donations declined by over 95 per cent. In Iceland in June Datacell the Icelandic based company that processes donations for Wikileaks filed a case against Valitor for  "unlawfully suspending financial services".

   Olafur Sigurvinsson director of  Datacell said:. "I can support Al-Qaida, the Ku Klux Klan, buy weapons and drugs and all kinds of porn with my Visa card. There is nobody investigating this, but I cannot support a human rights organisation which is fighting for freedom of expression," One might be charged for some of those actions I expect but his point is no doubt correct. The U.S. government no doubt put considerable pressure on credit card companies not to process donations for Wikileaks.  For more see this article.

U.S. corn production predicted to decline due to drought

 Severe drought conditions in the U.S. Midwest will result in much reduced yields. The U.S. Department of Agriculture now predicts that the crop will average only 146 bushels per acre. This is 20 bushels per acre lower than the June estimate.
   Corn contracts on the Chicago Board of  Trade saw and upward trend. December contracts rose by 23 cents to $7.40 a bushel. The drought has also lowered expectations for wheat and soybean yields.
   Earlier a mild and early planting of corn led to hopes of  a record corn crop. The drought changed the prospects dramatically. The USDA has also cut its forecast for the wheat crop in Russia by 4 million tonnes and in Kazakhstan by 2 million tons due to hot weather and drought in growing areas in those countries. For more see this article.

Reports on drone strikes often misleading

 News sources differ in the precise wording they choose to use in reports. This article illustrates these differences in reports on drone strikes in Pakistan.

 For several years the CIA has been launching drone attacks on targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Almost everyone knows this. However the official position of the CIA is that to even assert or deny the existence of these attacks could endanger the security of the U.S. Important officials including President Obama and the U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have acknowledged the attacks and even boasted about them. Nevertheless the official position is "" The Central Intelligence Agency continues to refuse to confirm or deny the covert military use of drones to kill suspected terrorists overseas, despite President Barack Obama’s and even a former CIA director’s admission of the agency’s targeted killing program. ""

While this position appears ludicrous it has a rational function and that is to block the release of any information about the program. At the same time any information that the administration wants released for propaganda purposes can be leaked or announced. The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times attempted to obtain information about the strikes through the Department of Justice with no success. They have now turned to the courts. The case is continuing but the Obama administration has tried to have the request for documents denied."" The Obama administration has sought to block the release of documents related to its use of robot drones to strike suspected terrorists overseas, claiming that it can still not admit that the secretive programme of targeted killing exists"".
The official policy is often quite visible in reports of drone attacks. The language used in reports often avoids mentioning that the attacks are by the U.S. Phrases used vary. Some sources speak of "suspected U.S. drone attacks". Other sources simply speak of "drone attacks" with no reference as to who might have launched them. Here for example is a headline from 2010 in CNN."Drone attack kills 20 in Pakistan" Even back in 2010 some sources must have thought it ridiculous to not attribute the attacks to the U.S. A Reuters report headline from 2010 is as follows."" U.S. drone strikes kill 18 militants in Pakistan"" However in the body of the report Reuters notes that the headline statement is according to Pakistan intelligence officials. Reuters itself is simply reporting what anonymous officials said and are not themselves affirming or denying that the U.S. launched the attacks.

 CNN is still in 2012 going along with the official story even while many outlets have moved on. CNN reports recently with a headline that speaks only of a drone attack:"" 20 dead in drone attack in Pakistan ""Even when reporting what a Pakistani intelligence official said the word "suspected" is inserted before "U.S. drone strike""" A suspected U.S. drone strike killed 20 people in North Waziristan, a region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a Pakistani intelligence official told CNN Friday""

. Usually those killed in the attacks are described as militants or suspected militants or not described at all. The CNN report cited above reports that an intelligence official claims that 20 people were killed but has no description of the victims. The Reuters report cited earlier has a headline reporting that 18 militants were killed. Only later does the report note that this is according to Pakistani intelligence officials. Pakistani intelligence officials are not likely to report civilian deaths or women and children as victims. Reports of drone strikes rarely report any civilian deaths. Even if there are such reports they will be from local people and will often conflict with official statements. Estimates of how many civilians are killed by drone strikes in Pakistan vary.. Officials often give very low estimates. However the Bureau of Investigative Journalism studied the issue at some length.""Based on extensive research, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that between 391 – 780 civilians were killed out of a total of between 1,658 and 2,597 and that 160 children are reported among the deaths. The Bureau also revealed that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners, tactics that have been condemned by legal experts.""

 Most reports on drone strikes provide no evidence of civilian deaths. Those killed are militants or suspected militants. Victims are identified only if they are believed to be significant militant leaders. Mainstream media reports on drone strikes seem designed to mislead the reader.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pakistan: Ambassador to U.S. denies Pakistan endorses drone attacks

  One of the conditions for reopening the NATO transit routes through Pakistan was the cessation of drone attacks. However Pakistan reopened the routes after an apology by Hillary Clinton for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops last November in a border incident.
    Ambassador Sherry Rehman said: “The concerns over drones can’t just be brushed aside."  Those concerns have been brushed aside. The U.S. has said all along that they will not be stopped. The Pakistani parliament has passed several resolutions demanding the attacks stop but to no avail. The U.S. and drone strikes are very unpopular in Pakistan. As a result Pakistani politicians typically engage in anti-US rhetoric. Even opposition leaders however are anxious to receive U.S. aid and maintain good relations with the U.S. See this article
    The reopening of the border has been met with protests in Pakistan. Hardline Islamists organized a march from Lahore to Islamabad. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa party led by Saeed is at the forefront of the march.  The U.S. has offered a 10 million dollar bounty for his arrest or conviction but he operates freely in Pakistan. For more see this article.


Pakistan: U.S. ambassador claims opposition wants pro-U.S. government

   In an interview on BBC the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter claims that he had spoken to two leaders of  Pakistani opposition parties and they had both promised that they would create pro-U.S. governments if elected.
     The two leaders were Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. Munter announced in May that he was quitting his post this summer. According to an article here the two leaders also said that they would cooperate unconditionally with the U.S. in the war on terrorism. Surely this would mean that the two would support drone attacks in the tribal regions since this has been a key part of the U.S. war on terror. Perhaps Munter does not fear to report events such as this since he is leaving. Munter's statements will be used by more radical Islamic parties to claim that they alone are the true opposition.
   Khan the head of the popular PTI has long criticized the ruling Pakistani People's Party as simply being a client of the U.S. Both have condemned the drone attacks. There has of now been several motions in parliament demanding the attacks must stop.
  Immediately after the reopening of the NATO supply routes the U.S. initiated more drone attacks. Pakistan has denied that they had agreed to the attacks and repeated its opposition. Khan has issued a reply to Munter's remarks here.
   Khan said the PTI is neither  “pro nor against the US, it takes a position based on its policies. Thus, the PTI has consistently opposed American war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s partnership in it. " Khan said that would try to build an enduring relationship with the U.S. based on common interests and mutual respect. However on issues such as supporting the U.S. in the Afghanistan war he was opposed to U.S. policies and this included that reopening of NATO supply routes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Oman sentences four to jail for defaming Sultan Qaboos

  Included in the four sentenced to up to a year in jail were an Omani writer and poet. The four were freed pending an appeal and a bail hearing. More than 30 people have been detained during the last few weeks.
    The detentions arose from protests and strikes at petroleum facilities. The issues were pay and pension payments. The author was accused of holding up a sign with disrespectful text and the poet penning a poem with text that was disrespectful of Qaboos.
   After protests in which some activists derided decisions on joblessness and corruption, the public prosecutor warned he would act against anyone who made statements considered defamatory. Sultan Qaboos is now the longest serving Arab head of state since Gaddafi was overthrown last year. He has been in power for 42 years. For more see this article. Qaboos promise thousands of new jobs and unemployment benefits following protests last year. Many claim those jobs and benefits have never come to be. Most revenue in Iran comes from oil.

Wheel-chair bound man refused service because of his service dog

Montreal - Michel Larochelle filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal after a waiter told him his service dog must leave the restaurant. The dog helps Larochelle to push his wheelchair up ramps and hills.
 In August 2009 Michelle Larochette went with a friend and Larochette's service dog Cici to the Caverne Grecque restaurant in Montreal. The waiter said that Cici could not enter the restaurant but must stay on the sidewalk. Cici helps Larochette negotiate hills and ramps as he has a manual wheel chair. Larochelle has been using the services of dogs from the MIRA foundation in Montreal since 1992.
 According to Larochelle the waiter argued that Cici would disturb other clients even though Cici was lying under the table where they were sitting and there were few clients on the terrace. Larochelle threatened to file a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission but the waiter still would not serve them while Cici was under the table.
 The Quebec Human Rights Commission came into being after amendments to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The Commission hears complaints on various issues."" As a specialized tribunal, the Human Rights Tribunal has jurisdiction to hear and rule on complaints concerning discrimination and harassment grounded on one of the motives prohibited under the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. It can also hear cases concerning the exploitation of elderly people and people with disabilities as well as matters concerning affirmative action programs""
. The decision of the Commission took some time but last week the Commission agreed with Larochelle's complaint and ordered that the waiter and restaurant pay him $6,000 in damages. Larochelle said that disabled people cannot be treated as second-class clientele. Larochelle won a similar complaint back in 2005 against another restaurant. Larochelle is surprised he had been forced to make two complaints over a period of ten years to enforce his rights. For more see this article.

U.S. aluminium producer Alcoa sees earnings drop 81 per cent

   Weak global demand for aluminium has caused earnings to drop over 80 per cent for Alcoa a large U.S. producer. The drop is over the first half of 2012.
    In spite of the large drop results were still better than many analysts predicted. Profit in the first half of this year were 8 cents a share. Revenues were down 5 per cent compared to the same period in 2011. The second quarter of this year included losses of 2 million due to costs of fixing environment damage, costs of fire damage, and restructuring costs.
   There is growing demand from auto and aerospace industries for aluminium. The CEO Klaus Kleinfeld expects global demand to rise a total of 7 per cent for the year an upgrade from a 3 per cent forecast earlier in the year. Over the past year aluminium prices have dropped 18 per cent. In response major producers have been reducing output. For more see this article.


Is the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt dead?

 The armed forces council (SCAF) is in control in Egypt. The president is a Muslim Brotherhood member. The secular and liberal protesters who led the revolution are sidelined. Egyptians seek order and security rather than revolution and democracy.
    The newly elected president Mohamed Morsi challenged the ruling military council (SCAF) by issuing a decree that annuls the decision by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to dissolve parliament. SCAF dissolved the parliament after the Constitutional Court ruled that there were irregularities in the election that violated the constitution. President Morsi also ordered that the parliament reconvene on Tuesday (July 10) The military council did not prevent the parliament from convening. Surely this is a sign that there are behind the scenes negotiations on what is to be allowed. 
    The substance of the meeting is also of interest. Parliament Speaker Saad el-Katatni told lawmakers that the legislature met to find ways to implement the court ruling rather than debate it out of respect for the principles of “the supremacy of the law and separation of authorities.” Clearly the parliament is not directly attacking the court ruling although the very fact that the parliament is meeting at all conflicts with the military order that dissolved parliament. Nevertheless the army is willing to allow this symbolic act as part of a delicate dance with the Muslim Brotherhood. For its part the SCAF has repeated its own position that the armed forces sided with the "constitution, legitimacy, and law". Both the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF are key players in the new Egypt. Neither will bring about any radical change and both are committed to neoliberal policies. 
    The Muslim Brotherhood is long established in Egypt although under Mubarak leaders were often jailed including now president Morsi. The Brotherhood's political clout is due to its integral connection to many in Egyptian society especially the less well off. ""The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has more than three hundred thousand members and runs numerous institutions, including hospitals, schools, banks, businesses, foundations, day care centers, thrift shops, social clubs, and facilities for the disabled.""
 The army is connected to the economy through ownership and management of economic enterprises. The exact degree of the armed forces involvement is unknown but certainly significant. ""The army is known to manufacture everything from olive oil and shoe polish to the voting booths used in Egypt’s 2011 parliamentary elections,.....News reports have cited “expert” estimates that are all over the map, from 5 percent to 40 percent or more. ...Not only are army holdings classified as state secrets -- reporting on them can land a journalist in jail -- but they are also too vast and dispersed to estimate with any confidence. The army some time ago seized power"". As this article in the Huffington Post notes: """SCAF boldly and unambiguously asserted sweeping political and military powers: complete control over its own affairs (including control and continued secrecy around the use of over $1 billion in annual military aid from the United States), complete control over its own affairs, including budgetary autonomy as well as the ability to wage war without presidential or parliamentary approval; extraordinary powers of arrest over civilians; immediate assumption of legislative authority; defining and limiting the executive authority of the president; and overseeing the writing of Egypt's new constitution""
  President Morsi was elected without a job description. He is now trying to wrest some power from the military so that he can have some influence in the new Egypt. Certainly it is preferable to being in jail. With the transition to the new Egypt being controlled by SCAF along with the Muslim Brotherhood it would seem that the revolution and any hope of a transition to a modern secular democracy is unlikely. However, not everyone is pessimistic. Mark LeVine a professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of California Irvine thinks that the situation in Egypt is actually positive for liberals, secularists, and the democratic revolution. LeVine argues that at least those fighting for a democratic and secular Egypt have not sold out and joined what is in effect the same state apparatus as under Mubarak. He also argues that the Brotherhood in league with the military will not be able to provide a positive future for Egypt. They will fail and the people will turn to the real opposition movement. Now he argues is the opportunity for activists to begin the arduous task of grass roots organizing.
    In the long run LeVine may be correct but for the immediate future we are witnessing the army trying to incorporate the Muslim Brotherhood into their power system without yielding much. The presidential election itself tells us that many Egyptians prefer the security of an armed forces based regime as they voted for a representative of the Mubarak in just slightly less numbers than for Morsi the Muslim Brotherhood representative. The revolution may not be dead but it urgently needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Borrowing costs for Spain and Italy rise

      Amid fears that euro are finance ministers meeting in Brussels will be unable to agree to measures that would calm fears about the debt crisis bond yields increased both in Italy and Spain. Spanish ten year bonds were yielding more than 7 per cent making borrowing costs prohibitive for the country.
   Italy too saw its bond prices drop bringing the ten year yield to the highest level in a weak. In contrast German two year notes were yielding less than zero at .0344 per cent! Even France was able to auction similar debt at a negative rate.
  An analyst at Lloyds Banking Group said: “The market doesn’t have great expectations of the summit,”  Spanish 10 year bond rates are approaching a record.  Italian 10 year bonds yielded 6.11 per cent. For more see this Bloomberg article.

Two killed during protest in Saudi Arabia

 Protests after the arrest of  a prominent Shia activist and cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr resulted in two protesters being killed. The protests were in the town of Awamiya in eastern Saudi Arabia. There have been demonstrations in the city Qatif as well.
   The official Saudi press agency said that Nimr was arrested after he and supporters fought with security forces and crashed into a police car. Nimr was shot in the thigh. He will be charged with creating unrest in the area.
 Nimr was wanted by authorities. Back in 2009 he suggested that the area should separate from Saudi Arabia unless the government freed political prisoners, treated the Shia minority fairly, and fought corruption. Shia cannot obtain high ranks in the government or security forces. The minority numbers about 2 million. For more see this article.  The area where the protests are taking place is rich in oil facilities.

ECOWAS strips status from Mali Coup Leader Capt. Sanogo

The Economic Community of West African States has stripped Capt. Sanogo who led the recent coup in March of this year of  his status of  former head of state. Sanogo has handed power to an interim government but continues to have influence within it.
  As part of the deal to give up power U.S. trained Sanogo was named former head of state and provided a salary of close to 9,000 dollars a month. ECOWAS refused to recognize the coup and hence is being consistent in not recognizing Sanogo as former head of  State. It is unclear if the move by ECOWAS will have much effect. After all it is the Malian government that gave Sanogo the title and salary.
   ECOWAS is becoming impatient with the transitional government.  At a conference in Burkina Faso Saturday the group demanded that a unity government be formed by July 31 or the group would withdraw recognition from the government. ECOWAS has been asking for a UN mandate to send forces to retake territory in Northern Mali. For more see  this article  and also here.

U.S. Special Forces in Mali

An article in the Washington Post by Craig Whitlock  reveals some details about U.S. Special Forces operations in Mali. He has a fascinating story about the crash of a jeep back on April 20 in the capital Bamako. The jeep went through a guard rail on a bridge and crashed into a river killing three U.S. Army commandos and three women. The women were apparently known as prostitutes. The crash took place early in the morning just before dawn.
   This crash happened a month after the U.S. had supposedly suspended military operations in Mali after a coup by Captain Sanogo. The coup leader was himself  U.S. trained. Military officials have yet to fully explain what the commandos were doing.
   What is clear is that Special Forces are engaged in counter terrorism operations. Obama has spoken of his desire to rely on Special Operations forces rather than regular troops. Their ranks have been increasing. The group still remaining in Mali were said to be there to provide assistance to the U.S. embassy in Mali and were winding down civil affairs but hoped to resume activity soon. Two of those killed were communications specialists.
    For about six years the U.S. has been increasing military and training programs in Mali. Rather than crushing Islamic radicalism the result has been increased activity and now the Islamists (Ansar Dine) have wrested control of the whole of  northern Mali from control of the Tuareg and the central government.
   Earlier the U.S. had carried out an extensive classified program called Creek Sand. There was even a plan to embed U.S. special forces commandos with Malian troops but this was rejected by the U.S. ambassador. No doubt the U.S. will again become involved once the post coup government is more stable. Of course the U.S. trained coup leader was never punished for overthrowing a democratically elected president. Instead Captain Sanogo was able to gain influence in the new government. For more see this article.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Italian economy to shrink about 2 per cent in 2012

  Ignazio Visco head of the Italian Central Bank predicted that the Italian economy will shrink by around 2 per cent this year. Earlier he had forecast a smaller decline of 1.5 per cent. Italy appears to be headed further into recession.
     However Visco noted:" If the borrowing rate risk declines, and a shared solution for the crisis is found at the European level, at the end of the year I think we could see light at the end of the tunnel." Italy has been in recession since about the middle of 2011.
    Italy's cost of borrowing is increasing again. Yields on ten year bonds rose to over 6 per cent. Increased costs of borrowing exacerbate the debt situation. The increase in borrowing costs may in part be due to increase complaints from some northern countries about the cost of bailing out countries such as Spain and Greece.
     Italian Prime Minister Monti remarked:"The increase in the spreads after the EU summit is also due to statements that I consider inappropriate by authorities of northern countries that had the effect of undermining the credibility of the decisions taken by the EU summit,"  The Finnish Finance Minister had remarked that Finland would prefer to leave the euro zone rather than to continue bailing out financially troubled members. For more see this article.

New Egyptian president annuls dissolution of parliament

In a challenge to the Constitutional Court and the ruling military regime(SCAF) newly elected president Morsi has issued a decree annulling the decision of June 15 to dissolve the People's Assembly. The official news agency reports: "President Morsi has issued a presidential decree annulling the decision taken on June 15, 2012 to dissolve the people's assembly, and invites the chamber to convene again and to exercise its prerogatives,"
  The Constitutional Court had ruled that certain article in the election laws were invalid and also the law that excluded senior members of the Mubarak regime from running. Parliamentary elections returned a large majority of Islamists. Almost half were won by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood but also about a quarter were won by the more radical Salafists.
   The reaction of the ruling military council to this decree should be interesting. The relationship of the Brotherhood to the Military Council sometimes seems to involve deals but at other times out and out conflict. For more see this article.

Tourism a casualty in southern Russia flooding

  The flooding in southern Russia not only killed over 150 people but it has devastated tourism along the popular Black Sea coast in the Krasnodar region. Crews are trying their best to restore the travel networks in the region and to salvage at least some of the remaining holiday season.
    Many trains into the region have been cancelled. Many families going on holiday with their children have ended up stranded as the railway lines are cut near the port of  Novorossiysk. In some areas power is still out. Even mobile phone reception is out in some areas. Internet access too is either intermittent or does not even exist.
    There is a high concentration of children's camps in the region. Some had to be evacuated and others are struggling to deal with the floods. Sewage leaks have been a problem in both Novorossyisk and Gelendzhik..  Fresh water and even food is in short supply. Local businesses are doing their best to salvage some of their revenue and provide some semblance of a holiday for tourists. For more see this article.

Afghanistan: Tax dollars at work on the road to nowhere

    The national highway 1 is often touted as an example of how foreign aid has helped Afghanistan. The highway is fully 2,700 kilometers long and links major cities. It is largely bankrolled by Saudi and U.S. taxpayer money. However the UK Foreign Office (FCO) has questioned both the priority given to the project and the quality of construction..
  One problem is that the aid money is siphoned through officials and contractors and finally down to subcontractors. The pavement in many places is so thin that it is not expected to survive even one Afghan winter. The road is very expensive to maintain. Many complain that it is mostly used by foreign troops to get from one place to the next. The road is also a magnet for Taliban attacks
 The FCO report notes that the road is of no value to most Afghans. What would have impressed them would be upgrading of roads to the nearest towns upon which they  depend for supplies. The highway is just one of many white elephants resulting from foreign aid. The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction claims that Washington has failed to account for billions spent on projects.
  Among the projects were six Afghan National Police buildings so poorly made they could not be used. A Kabul Power plant costing 300 million of U.S. taxpayer funds encountered years of delays and cost increases and now that it is built is used only as an expensive backup facility! Meanwhile donor nations are busy pledging billions more to keep the corrupt system and government from falling to the Taliban! For more see this article.

Yemen: Four separatist protesters in south shot dead

  Yesterday (July 7) in the southern port city of Aden Yemeni security forces shot and killed 4 men participating in a separatist march. A total of 18 were wounded. The government claims that the protesters had attacked security forces.
  The protesters had been trying to gain access to a public square in Aden. The protest march was held to commemorate a day in 1994 when government forces from the north had invaded Aden at the end of a civil war. Aden was the capital of the independent country of South Yemen until 1990.
   There were protests in other southern cities as well and a leader of the Southern Movement Saleh Yahya was arrested. Even though the former president stepped down in February in a deal brokered by the GCC and supported by the U.S. divisions in the country remain. However, much of the territory seized by militants has now been retaken but at considerable cost to both sides and displacement of citizens. The U.S. was involved both in aerial attacks and special forces used as advisers on the ground. For more see this article.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Switzerland will buy Iranian oil in spite of EU sanctions

Switzerland will continue to buy Iranian oil even though there are European sanctions on such purchases that began on July 1. Despite pressure from both the EU and the US. the Swiss Federal Dept. of  Economic Affairs. Switzerland takes the view that any decision about the import, sale, or transport of Iranian crude oil should be solely by the trading partners themselves.
 A spokesperson for the Swiss Foreign Ministry said that Switzerland wishes to retain good relations with Iran. Switzerland also exempted the Iranian Central Bank from the asset freeze that is also part of the EU sanctions.
     The U.S. ambassador to Switzerland said he was disappointed by the Swiss refusal to abide by the EU sanctions that were supported by the U.S. Somewhat ironically the Swiss embassy in Tehran hosts the U.S. Interests Section in the country and has done so since 1979. For more see this article.

IMF to lower global growth forecast

   Christine Lagarde the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director said that the IMF would be lowering its global growth projection of 3.5 per cent. Lagarde said: ­“The global growth outlook will be somewhat less than we anticipated just three months ago,”. “Many indicators of economic activity – investment, employment, and manufacturing – have deteriorated. And not just in Europe or the United States.” 
   Brazil, China, Russia, and India are also witnessing slower economic growth. The IMF will issue a revised outlook by July 16. In January the IMF revised the growth rate upwards from 3.3. per cent to 3.5 per cent and from 3.9 to 4.1 for 2013.
   Shortly before Lagarde's announcement the ECB and Chinese Central Bank lowered interest rates to stimulate the economy. Lagarde also said that there should be a fiscal union in Europe. She said. “.. they’re heading in a new direction together and that’s a clear sign that things are changing.”  The EU leaders agreed that there could be direct lending to banks rather than going through the governments of each country. For more see this article.

Solar powered plane flies back to Europe from Africa

 The HB-SIA based in Switzerland took off from Rabat in Morocco at dawn and was expected to land in Madrid Spain around midnight. The plane has a single pilot and is powered by 12,000 solar cells. They supply power to four 10 horsepower engines and also charge lithium batteries that store energy during the day to be used to fly at night.
   The plane has the same wingspan as an Airbus 340! It has already traveled more than 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) without any fuel. It started out at a military field outside of  Berne Switzerland and flew over Gibraltar and even over the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and then up the Atlantic coast of Morocco.
   One of two pilots Andre Borschberg said: “With this flight to Morocco, we have validated the capacity of the airplane to fly through difficult regions,” Borschberg is cofounder of the 102 million dollar Solar Impulse project. It has been supported by a number of different companies. The Solar Impulse organizers hope to fly a new sun-powered plane around the world in 2014. For more see this article.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The problem of Zombie drones

    One problem with drones is that they are capable of being controlled by someone other than the legitimate drone operator. These are sometimes called zombie drones. The technical term for such takeovers is called repossession.
   Repossession is a real threat. College students in Texas were able to repossess a government surveillance drone using equipment that cost little more than a thousand dollars. The technique used is called GPS spoofing. Spoofing involves mimicking the signals of the drone's global positioning device and by using a signal that is stronger than the commands of the drone operator taking over control of the drone. A terrorist could theoretically repossess a drone.
   There are also GPS jammers that can interfere with the signals sent to operate the drone. Some think that this was the method used by Iran to bring down a U.S, drone over Iran in December. Although it has also been suggested that Iran used the same spoofing techniques as the students mentioned above. Should terrorists gain control of drones sent to attack them they could end up attacking U.S. bases. For more see this article.


European Central Bank reduces interest rate to record low

  The European Central Bank has cut its interest rate to .75 per cent a record low. This was in line with expectations as the Bank tries to stimulate the economy by lowering rates. The rate paid on money other banks place in the central bank overnight has been reduced from .25 per cent to zero!
  The Bank of England approved an injection of 78.1 billion U.S. into the UK economy. The bank kept the interest rate at .5 per cent. Up to now the Bank has injected 325 billion pounds into the economy through quantitative easing.
   The UK treasury is also providing a support program designed to allow banks to provide cheaper loans. China also has been taking measures to stimulate its economy as growth slows there. 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 t.co, its URL-shortening system....