Monday, December 31, 2012

Stock market has its ups and downs and now ups as fiscal cliff deadline nears

While US stocks declined last Friday, futures were up this morning. However at the open this morning the market seems uncertain which way to go with indices mixed.
Bloomberg reported that Standard and Poor's 500 futures were up 0.8% and the Dow Jones Futures were also up 82 points from the close on Friday. This was at 9 a.m. in New York. As I write this a half hour after the markets opened, the Dow was down 10 points but the S&P and NASDAQ were up slightly. The market seems to be expressing the uncertainty that clouds the whole process at the present time. Last Friday the indices fell on pessimism about the prospects for a deal. Personally I think that a deal will get done although it might be after the fiscal cliff kicks in for a day or so.
Senator Bob Corker on CNBC said that there will probably be a deal today and Democrat Christopher Van Hollen on Bloomberg Television said that progress was being made in talks to avoid the automatic tax increases and spending cuts associated with the fiscal cliff.
The Senate is to convene at 11 a.m. this morning. Talks between the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Mitch McConnell the Republican minority leader had stalled over income tax rates, the estate tax, and other issues as well. McConnell asked for the help of vice president Joe Biden to break the impasse.
Obama wants taxes to go up on those making over $250,000 a year. He will probably have to raise this to at least $400,000 or more to get a deal in order that the Republicans can save face by saying that they did not agree to the lower cutoff that Obama wanted. But even then there may be problems passing any tax increase for anyone through the house. The House, after all, rejected a bill by John Boehner that would have only raised taxes on those earning a million a year.
The White House wants the estate tax to go up, while Republicans want it to remain where it is at present. There is no agreement about what to do about the automatic spending cuts that will come into effect on January 1, 2013. The costs of not reaching a deal may involve an unemployment rate of over 9% another millions jobs lost and an economy back in recession. Those costs are so high that I find it difficult to imagine that a deal will not be reached.
A spokesperson for McConnell said that talks with Joe Biden had gone well. Latest reports indicate that some issues may be agreed upon but others remain. The White House apparently has agreed to raise the level at which the Bush tax cuts would not be extended to $450,00 for couples as compared to the $250,000 lower cutoff that Obama had long been demanding.
Any deal will also probably include a provision that would prevent an immediate sharp increase in milk prices and that would prevent doctors treating Medicare treatments from facing a 27% cut in their fees. Unemployment benefits due to expire will also be extended.
The Republicans agreed to drop a demand that the formula for calculating Social Security benefits be changed to slow the growth of payments. No doubt the issue will come up again in later negotiations, since Obama signalled he might be willing to agree to this for a significant quid pro quo but not as part of this short-term deal.
There still remain disagreements about increasing the estate tax. The Democrats want the tax to increase to 45% from 35% and the exclusion level of $5.1 million decreased. The Republicans want the tax to remain as it is. There is still disagreement about dealing with the effects of the alternative minimum tax as well.
Republicans also want Democrats to agree to budget cuts for some of their plans. The Democrats propose to erase scheduled defense and domestic cuts that would be more than $200 billion over the next two years and also to extend unemployment benefits. Republicans also would like to make cuts from Obamacare to help cover the costs of reimbursing doctors who treat Medicare patients. While there are still stumbling blocks, I expect that some stop-gap deal will be reached at the last minute or at worst a few days after January 1..

UPDATE: This afternoon President Obama announced a deal was near but not yet completed with some outstanding issues still to be worked out. There is not much time left! The stock market is up now somewhat.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Record number of journalists jailed in 2012

The Committee to Protect Journalists survey for 2012 shows that the number of imprisoned journalists worldwide reached a record high. The CPJ has identified 232 journalists imprisoned in 2012. This is 53 more than in 2011.
CPJ began surveys of journalists in jail around the world in 1990. Governments often use charges of terrorism or other offenses against the state to silence any voices critical of the government.
Turkey is at the top of the CPJ list for jailing journalists There are at least 49 journalists in jail in Turkey. Along with Iran and China, the second and third worst jailers of journalists, Turkey makes use of vague anti-state laws to silence dissenting voices. Both in China and in Turkey, as well as Iran, the laws are used against dissenting minorities.
Anti-state charges such as terrorism, treason, and subversion were the most common charges against journalists. In 2012 at least 132 journalists are being held around the world on these types of charges.
After China, the fourth and fifth worst countries for jailing the press were Eritrea, the small African country, and Syria. Many journalists have been jailed without either charges being brought or any due process. A number are detained in secret prisons. During the period of U.S. renditions, Syria was often used as a place where terror suspects were interrogated and tortured There are 63 journalists being held throughout the world with no charges publicly disclosed against them.
The final five nations in the top ten nations jailing journalists are, in order: Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia. In the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, authorities often use charges such as hooliganism and drug possession unrelated to journalism to jail those critical of the regime. In many cases, CJP found these charges to be fabricated.
In Turkey many of the journalists held are Kurdish reporters and editors often charged with terrorism or anti-government plots. CJP found that Turkish statutes are broadly worded so that reporters covering banned groups or investigating sensitive topics can themselves face charges. Mehmet Birand of Kanal D TV in Istanbul said that the statutes make no distinction between journalists who are simply expressing their views and those who aid terrorism. Among those imprisoned in Turkey is Tayip Temel who edited the sole Kurdish language daily who is charged with belonging to a banned organization.
China, too, uses anti-state charges to jail those expressing dissident views or even providing coverage of protests by ethnic minorities. 32 of the journalists held in China are either Tibetans or Uighurs jailed for covering the ethnic tensions that escalated in 2008. Included is Dhondup Wangchen , a documentary film producer. Wangchen filmed a documentary about Tibetans living under Chinese rule.
CPJ claims that Eritrea iis the worst at abusing due process. The country holds 28 journalists, the fourth largest number in the world, even though Eritrea is a small African nation. None of these journalists have even been charged with a crime. The President Isaias Afwerki refuses to reveal anything about the jailed journalists. As many as five are believed to have died in custody, but the government refuses to confirm anything.
The complete CPJ report has many more detailed descriptions of the situation of jailed journalists. Crushing dissent takes priority over press freedom in many areas of the world.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Over half of Russians still feel nostalgia for Soviet era

Although nostalgia for the old USSR and the Soviet era has declined about 10% in the last decade, 56% of Russians still regret the dissolution of the former Soviet Union.
December 30th marks the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the USSR. The USSR was dissolved on December 8, 1991 when presidents of the republics of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus met in secret and signed the Belavezha Accords dissolving the Soviet Union and replacing it with the loose voluntary union, the Commonwealth of Independent States. On December 25, 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down from office, declaring the USSR extinct.
The survey was done by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center. The decline in those feeling nostalgic about the era is not surprising since a lot of the older people who felt nostalgic about the era are now dead. Anyone under 21 was not even born when the USSR dissolved.
Most of those who felt nostalgic were more than 45 years of age, less educated, did not use the Internet, and resided in cities in the Russian regions. Young people, the better educated, and active Internet users prefer life in modern Russia.
While two thirds of respondents said that the Soviet Union furthered the cultural and economic development of those who lived in the republics, almost 20% thought that it did not.
Over half of those questioned thought that the collapse of the USSR could have been prevented but over a third thought the collapse was inevitable.
Many older people were left in dire straits with the collapse of the USSR. When price subsidies were removed pensioners were left without means to purchase food. There was an astonishing decline in life expectancy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.:
Age-adjusted mortality in Russia rose by almost 33% between 1990 and 1994. During that period, life expectancy for Russian men and women declined dramatically from 63.8 and 74.4 years to 57.7 and 71.2 years, respectively, while in the United States, life expectancy increased for both men and women from 71.8 and 78.8 years to 72.4 and 79.0 years,
The reasons for this decline are numerous but the US National Center for Biotechnology Information cites the following:
" Many factors appear to be operating simultaneously, including economic and social instability, high rates of tobacco and alcohol consumption, poor nutrition, depression, and deterioration of the health care system."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Defense industry becoming pessimistic about chance of avoiding fiscal cliff

The defense industry may be becoming more pessimistic about a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff before the end of this year. They are also annoyed that they are sidelined during talks.
The industry feels that they will be able to demand a deal that will see military spending hiked back up some time in 2013. An anonymous source said:
“I think people resigned to the fact that this needs to be addressed in January,”
At the Pentagon, Obama administration officials have given those who crunch the numbers in the Defense Department permission to start the process of cutting $500 billion from their budget in January of 2013. Top defense industry lobbyists had been trying to convince both parties that going over the fiscal cliff would be a complete disaster. While John Boehner tried to implement a Plan B to deal with the fiscal cliff, he was unable to pass it through the Republican-controlled House since it involved tax hikes for the very rich.
It is still possible that there will be a last minute deal that will be a stop-gap measure. Obama has cut short his vacation to continue negotiations. One defense industry source said that its message of doom if the fiscal cliff were not avoided fell on deaf ears.
Top defense analyst, Loren Thompson said:
"I think there's a creeping sense of pessimism in the defense sector … I don’t think most people in the industry really understand why their pleas have [been ignored]."
Thompson said that among lawmakers many felt there was no urgency about avoiding cuts to the Pentagon budget since even with the cuts US defense spending will still be many times higher than its nearest competitor. Thompson went on:
"They don’t want sequestration but they’re capable of dealing with it."
Some analysts think that the problems created by jumping over the cliff will be addressed early in January. If the stock market begins to fall, there will be more pressure for a deal to be worked out. Even in the New Year, Thompson was pessimistic about any grand deal in the near future.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Obama to cut short Xmas vacation to deal with fiscal cliff negotiations

President Obama is planning to cut short his Xmas vacation and return to Washington. He will make a final attempt to reach a deal with the Republicans, even though a compromise looks to be quite difficult to achieve.
Even if Boehner were to compromise on the tax issue, the Republican-controlled House would not likely agree. The House already rejected Boehner's Plan B that would have raised taxes only on those earning a million or more a year.
Both chambers of the US Congress will return from holidays on Thursday and start work again. Hopes for any grand bargain have faded. President Obama is pressing for a plan that would be a stop-gap measure. Obama wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for all those earning less than $250,000 a year and extend unemployment benefits. He would also cancel the scheduled automatic spending cuts.
At the very least, Obama will need to raise the income level to which he wants to extend tax cuts. Boehner failed to pass a bill that extended the line to those earning a million a year. However, a New York Times article reports that there are growing signs that some members of both parties are prepared to accept a deal that raises taxes on people at the highest income levels. No evidence is given for this or that even if it is true, that there are enough votes to pass a deal through both houses.
The government has been seeking a resolution through discussion with Senate Democrats who control the house and also may have the support of some Republican senators. However, the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, has given no sign that he would not try to block any deal that has tax increases. The situation in the House is much worse.
The House is controlled by Republicans and has already blocked a Republican bill that tried to increase taxes on the very wealthy. Today could be the last day of Obama's holidays, as he may fly back to Washington as early as Wednesday. This would give him a bit more time for talks.
Lawmakers have expressed little but pessimism for the prospect of an agreement coming before Jan. 1. On Sunday, Sen. Kay Hutchison, a Republican from Texas, said if there is any deal it will be "a patch because in four days we can't solve everything."
Julia Coronado, an economist for BNP Paribas said that markets have up to now been remarkably complacent, thinking that a deal will definitely be reached. She predicted that if no deal is reached, markets will react with a steep downfall. This will no doubt put a great deal of pressure on politicians to reach a deal of some kind and fast.

Santa Claus arrested for public mischief for writing on sidewalk

Santa Claus, or at least a man dressed as Santa Claus, was arrested on the grounds of the State Capitol building in Austin Texas. Santa was charged with mischief after writing with chalk on the sidewalk.
Occupy Austin members quickly uploaded a video showing the incident. A video of the incident is appended. Lainie Duro a member of the Occupy group who witnessed the arrest said:
"Today I saw the jolly red elf at the Capitol, cheerfully requesting that children write their wishes for a better world in chalk on the sidewalk. Santa said his favorite word was 'Community.' Various children wrote words like 'Peace,' 'Friendship,' and 'Grace'."
The man has been identified by the American-Statesman as James Peterson. Although officers claim he was the only one writing on the sidewalk, bystanders said that other adults and children were doing so as well. This seems a case of discriminating against Santa Claus. Peterson has not only been charged with criminal mischief but also with evading arrest. Apparently he tried to escape down a chimney ;) after failing to locate his sleigh and reindeer. No doubt the children were not happy when Santa was put into the back of a police car.
A Texas State Preservation Board employee apparently asked Peterson to stop defacing the grounds but he refused. Apparently another person was also arrested for criminal mischief. No children were taken into custody I gather. Occupy Austin “believes that the use of washable sidewalk chalk is constitutionally protected free speech." Members of the group gathered at the Travis County Courthouse on Friday night to protest the arrests.
I just hope that Santa is let out on parole, after all this is Xmas Eve. Merry Xmas everyone! Occupy Austin members are tending to Santa's reindeer pending his release. Rudolph was so upset his red nose went completely dark

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How many overseas bases does the U.S. have and at what cost?

The Pentagon estimates that each year it spends $22.1 billion to maintain its bases and troops around the world. However, the actual costs even on conservative estimates is about $170 billion annually.
The totals could be even higher. Estimates of maintaining U.S. bases abroad since the start of the war on terror in 2001 range from $1.8 trillion to $2.1 trillion.
] The Pentagon must each year produce an "Overseas Cost Summary" that calculates the total price on overseas military activities. This includes costs of construction, repairs and maintenance. There are about one million U.S. military and Defence Department personnel and families abroad. This calculation for the 2012 fiscal year ending September 30 documented $22.1 billion in spending.
 But that is only part of the story. Congress conveniently ordered the Pentagon not to include the more than $118 billion spent in 2012 on wars in Afghanistan and other places throughout the globe. Even if you added this amount in, it does not come close to economist's Anita Danc's estimate of about $250 billion. Even without including war spending, Danc's estimate comes to about $ 140 billion, not even close to the Pentagon figures. 
David Vine who teaches at American University in Washington D.C. who has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian, attempted to find out himself the cost of the more than 1,000 U.S. military bases outside of the United States and is currently completing a book on the subject.
 Vine talked to budget experts, and both current and former Pentagon officials, among many others in his attempt to gather relevant data. Many interviewed said that Vine's task was hopeless because of the huge number of bases involved, the secrecy of Pentagon budgets and the often fictional nature of Pentagon figures. The Department of Defence Vine notes is the only federal budget yet to pass a financial audit. Vine points out myriad missing parts of the puzzle in the Pentagon Overseas Cost Summary but I will just give a sample to keep this article of manageable length. I recommend the entire article at Al Jazeera.
Vine found that at least 18 countries and foreign territories on the Pentagon's own list of overseas basses somehow are not named in the OCS report. For example Kosovo and Bosnia. Another Pentagon report lists costs of $313.8 million there in 2012. That other Pentagon report also shows that the OCS report underestimated costs for bases in Honduras and Guanatanamo Bay by about a third. But there are even more omissions.
 The U.S. has a number of overseas territories that are often host to U.S military bases including Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, etc. While these bases are domestic in that they are within the U.S. at the same time they are overseas. There are many bases on these territories, estimated to cost about $3 billion a year. A partial list of U.S. bases both in the U.S. and globally can be found here. The number of bases is difficult to determine exactly and depends on what is defined as a base but the total of of foreign bases likely is in excess of one thousand. The issue is discussed on some of the appended videos. The U.S. has by far the largest military expenditures of any country on the globe. Some of the details of the military budget can be found here.:
"The 2009 U.S. military budget accounts for approximately 40% of global arms spending. The 2012 budget is 6-7 times larger than the $106 billion of the military budget of China, and is more than the next twenty largest military spenders combined"

Facts about mass murders and guns in the United States

Ezra Klein notes a number of facts about guns and mass shootings in the U.S. in his Washington Post blog. The number of those favoring stricter gun control laws has gone from 78% in 1990 to 44% in 2010.
Klein starts out by noting that much of his data was first collected after the Aurora Colorado shootings in July of this year. He remarks that there multiple calls to avoid politicizing the tragedy. Klein takes that as code for “don’t talk about reforming our gun control laws.” The demand not to politicize the tragedy in itself politicizes the issue for Klein but in favor of those who want to retain the status quo. While Klein certainly has a point, it does seem appropriate to allow a period of grieving before discussing issues such as gun control. Klein notes that if there were roads collapsing all over killing drivers, Congress and politicians would immediately be discussing remedies. Certainly if terrorists were detonating bombs at different ports there would be instantly a demand for better security. However, the response to gun violence is to advise mourning and not talk of policy changes. The first fact that Klein notes is that shooting sprees are not all that rare in the U.S. Since 1982 there have been at least 61 mass murders covering 30 states in all. In most instances the weapons had been obtained legally. Another fact is that the U.S. has been the scene of eleven of the twenty worst mass shootings within the last half century. Of these eleven mass shootings, five have happened since 2007, and that does not include the Sandy Hook case. The United States is much more violent than most developed countries, although the U.S. is less violent now than it was in the past. Among regions of the U.S., the south is the most violent. A surprising fact is that gun ownership in the United States is decreasing rather than increasing. Political scientist Patrick Egan notes:
“For all the attention given to America’s culture of guns, ownership of firearms is at or near all-time lows.... long-term trends suggest that we are in fact currently experiencing a waning culture of guns and violence in the United States. “
Less surprising is the fact that more guns are associated with more murders whether one looks at statistics for different countries or different states within the U.S. In U.S. states those with stricter gun laws have lower rates of death from gun-related violence. The popularity of gun control has declined from over three quarters of the population in 1990 to much less than half (44%) in 2010. However, majorities are in favor of specific types of controls such as banning the possession of semi-automatic weapons. One surprising fact that Klein does not reveal is that after mass murders the tendency is for approval of stricter gun control to go down rather than up as one might think. An emotional President Obama said that ”We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” That may be difficult in the U.S. if not impossible as a recent article with accompanying graph shows:
"Public support for gun control doesn’t go up after mass shootings in the US. In fact, several recent shootings at schools were followed by sharp declines in support for gun control."
In spite of these trends, it would seem that particular suggestions for gun control might very well have popular support as Klein has shown.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Innocent German rendered to Afghanistan wins case in European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favor of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen who was an innocent victim of CIA rendition. The court ordered Macedonia to pay el-Masri $78,000 for arresting him and turning him over to the CIA.
El--Masri was originally arrested in Macedonia in 2003. He was held in isolation in a hotel in Skopje the Macedonian capital. On December 31, 2003, el-Masri was detained by Macedonian border officials. He was mistaken for Khalid al-Masri, a supposed mentor to a Hamburg Al-Qaeda cell. Officials also thought his German passport was a forgery.
On his release, on January 23, 2004 , el-Masri was seized by what has been called a "black snatch team" of American security officials. El-Masri alleges that he was beaten, stripped naked, drugged, dressed in a diaper and jumpsuit and flown first to Baghdad and then to a covert interrogation center in Afghanistan. El Masri spent five months in secret CIA jails because of his supposed links to terrorist groups. He was eventually flown to Albania and dumped by the side of a road, with no money, no apologies, no nothing, after the CIA finally made a few inquiries that included the discovery his passport was genuine. They had an innocent person. The CIA does not believe in compensation.
The CIA analyst who mistakenly recommended El-Masri's detention and rendition, has been identified as Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. She has since been promoted. She is now chief of the agency's Global Jihad unit, the unit in charge of hunting al-Qaeda operatives. She is part of the president's inner circle and is Director for Counter-terrorism. In the CIA no mistake goes unrewarded.
The European Court, based in Strasbourg, France, decided that El-Masri's account of what happened to him was "established beyond reasonable doubt" and that Macedonia "had been responsible for his torture and ill-treatment both in the country itself and after his transfer to the US authorities in the context of an extra-judicial rendition". Macedonia denies that they had any involvement in the kidnapping of el-Masri by the Americans.
An investigation by the Council of Europe found that 14 European governments had cooperated with the U.S. rendition program by permitting detention centers, or the carrying out of rendition flights during the period of 2002 to 2006. Amnesty International hailed the ruling as historic because:"for the first time it holds a European state accountable for its involvement in the secret US-led programmes and is a milestone in the fight against impunity. Macedonia is not alone."
El-Masri was unable to achieve any headway in attempts to achieve justice in the U.S. As with virtually all cases of this nature, U.S. courts side with the government which always argues that the cases cannot be pursued because it would involve classified material and would be against the security interests of the U.S.

Friday, December 7, 2012

NATO troops attack Afghan health clinic

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan claims that NATO and Afghan troops stormed their clinic in Wardak province, damaged doors, windows, and medical equipment. They then used the center as a jail and military command center.
The Swedish Committee said that the troops were dropped off by helicopters and headed straight to the clinic which is only a few dozen miles south-west of Kabul. Not only did the troops knock down a wall to enter the building and damage doors, examination beds and other equipment, they detained clinical staff and civilians inside. During the next few days they brought several hundred prisoners through the clinic, using it as a jail, a logistics hub, and for mortar fire. All these actions are in contravention of the Geneva conventions that protect medical facilities. Erica Gaston, a human rights lawyer, said
:"The protection of medical persons and facilities, and respect for their neutrality was one of the founding principles of international humanitarian law.This latest incident is a serious violation … if true, it's incredible to me that they not only raided this clinic but that [Nato] command allowed them to continue occupying it for days afterwards."
Andreas Stefansson, director of medical services for the Committee said that this was the worst assault on their facilities since the civil war more than a decade ago:
"I can't recall when we have had a clear-cut occupation of a clinic for several days. We'd have to go back to the 1990s where you'd have warring groups that would kick out the medical staff and take over the whole building."
Afghanistan suffers from a severe shortage of health care. It is just one of three countries where polio is still endemic. One in five children will not reach their fifth birthday. In the southern provinces malnutrition is rampant among infants. Stefansson complained that groups such as his found that their work was often undermined by abuse of their buildings and staff by Afghan forces and Nato-led ISAF forces as well. Stefansson said
:"Most NGOs who deliver health care in this country experience this almost on a monthly basis; that there are breaches in different provinces, where the Afghan National Army, or ISAF, or special forces basically don't show the level of respect they should for health facilities. We are getting quite fed up with it."
A common problem is troops barging into the hospital searching for wounded insurgents, demanding medical records and harassing doctors for treating suspected Taliban members. At times military and police set up headquarters in compounds housing clinics or hospitals. The medical facilities are caught in crossfire in insurgent attacks. The medical facilities are even used on occasion as cover. Insurgents often target health care facilities, including truck bombs, and even suicide bombers. The combination of NATO tactics and Taliban attacks makes Afghans fearful of seeking medical help even where it exists. Stefansson noted
:"It puts us in jeopardy because [local people] of course question the neutrality of the health care delivered, and it also puts us in problems with opposition groups who believe we have alternative agendas."
The Swedish Committee met with ISAF commanders about the takeover of their clinic. The commanders acknowledged that the action violated international laws but that it was a mistake and that they would take action to see that this did not happen again. ISAF confirmed that the meeting took place but claimed that the ISAF respected the Geneva conventions and that the occupation of the clinic was unintentional. ISAF did not respond to a request for further comment on the incident.

Wealthy Russians hunting for Tigr's the Russian Hummers

Dmitry Rogozin is trading in his BMW for a Tigr troop carries known as the "Russian Hummer". The defense chief is purchasing an unarmored version of the GAZ-2330 TIgr according to the newspaper Izvestia.
Rogozin tweeted:
“I’ve been telling that [the] Russian defense industry can do quality non-military products."
The various versions of the Tigr are similar in size to the U.S. Humvee. The Tigr is able to carry more armor and a larger payload, and has a bit further range and maximum speed compared to the Humvee. Up until now, the Tigrs were used only by the military and police. As with the U.S Humvee and Americans, they have become popular among Russians. Wealthy Russians have bought them as surplus military hardware. The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party bought a Tigr back in 2006. Until recently, the Tigrs used diesel engines from the U.S. Civilian buyers can still order the Tigrs with these engines but new models have a Russian built diesel engine. The Tigrs are not cheap. They have a starting price of around $100,000. Surprisingly in January of this year, the Russian Ministry of Defense, decided to use an Italian vehicle instead of the Tigr. As the appended video shows, the Tigr performed in the field in the snow far better than the Italian vehicle, that got stuck almost immediately. The IVECO LVM-M65 was said to have better armament than the Tigr and be much more maneuverable. However, the Ministry of Defense had only asked for Level 3 armament rather than Level 5 as the Italian vehicle has. The makers of the Tigr noted that they could upgrade to Level 5 quite quickly if that were required. Perhaps the choice of the Italian vehicle was the result of kickbacks. The Department of Defense is known for its corruption. Perhaps Rogozin is making the point that things are about to change at the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Obama would drive over fiscal cliff is no tax hike on wealthy: Republicans blink?

According to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner Obama is definitely prepared to let the economy go over the fiscal cliff unless he achieves a budget deal that has higher rates for top income earners.
In an interview with CNBC on Wednesday December 5th, Geithner said:
"There's no prospect in an agreement that doesn't involve those rates going up on the top two per cent of the wealthiest Americans."
Republican Orrin Hatch responded angrily:
"This is one of the most stunning and irresponsible statements I've heard in some time. Going over the fiscal cliff will put our economy, jobs, people's paychecks and retirement at risk, but that is what the White House wants, according to Secretary Geithner, if they don't get their way."
Going over the fiscal cliff would ensure very large spending cuts, something that the Republicans strongly favor. Taxes would simply revert to what they were before Bush cut them and this would increase revenue. Both Republicans and Democrats worry that the cuts and tax increases would send the U.S. economy back into recession. A concern not mentioned is that there would be large cuts in the defense budget. Obama and Boehner talked by phone on Wednesday but there were no compromises offered in public. There was no talk of a meeting between the two either, a move requested by Republican House leader Eric Cantor. I find it surprising that the Republicans are still maintaining that they will not agree to tax hikes on the rich. Their stand is not politically popular and it should be clear that Obama will not deal unless they give in on the issue. Perhaps, they think, that because in the past Obama has caved that he will do so again. This time around, however, Obama has nothing to lose by sticking to his position. Not only is his position popular but if a deal is not reached and the U.S. goes over the fiscal cliff, most people will blame the Republicans. As it is, the Republicans can probably get quite significant cuts to entitlement programs if they agree to the tax rate hike for the rich. Obama told The Business Roundtable in Washington:
"If we can get the leadership on the Republican side to take that framework, to acknowledge that reality, then the numbers actually aren't that far apart.Another way of putting this is we can probably solve this in about a week. It's not that tough, but we need that conceptual breakthrough.".
If the tax rate hike was all that the Democrats were demanding, perhaps a deal might be made already but they are demanding also an increase in the borrowing limit. The Democrats want to avoid another confrontation on this issue early next year. Geithner said:
"We are not prepared to have the American economy held hostage to periodic threats that Republicans will force the country to default on our obligations.That would be a terrible thing for the financial security of the average American, for businesses, for confidence around the world and the United States."
In spite of the intransigence of both sides Geithner was still optimistic that a deal could be made and the outlines of a deal were becoming clearer. Geithner said that both sides were making progress in agreeing to a deal to avoid the cliff. The real issue, I expect, is how much the Republicans think that they can get in spending cuts, especially to entitlement programs, in return for finally giving in on the tax issue. The Democrats may need to leave the debt ceiling solution until later. UPDATE: A leading Republican hawk has caved on the tax rate hike. Boehner surely will now also:
Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, a leading deficit hawk, said Wednesday he would support higher tax rates on wealthier Americans as part of a broader deal with President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats to avoid the crisis.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Almost half of Republican voters think ACORN stole the election for Obama

Public Policy Polling found that 49% of GOP voters nationally thought that ACORN stole the election for Obama. This is down from 52% who thought the same way after the 2008 election.
ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) was an NGO that helped low income groups get housing, register to vote, receive health care, etc. Conservatives working undercover made videos that exposed wrongdoing by some ACORN staff that created headlines for a time. ACORN filed for chapter 7 liquidation in November of 2010, and therefore did not exist at the time of the 2012 November elections.
The PPP poll also showed that one quarter of Republicans want their state to secede from the union. However, over half (56%) want to stay, while 19% are not sure.
Before the election polling found 39% of voters claimed to be Democrats with 37% Republicans. However, since the election, 44% consider themselves Democrats and only 32% Republicans.
Grover Norquist the anti-tax crusader turns out not to be well known nationally. 15% have a favorable opinion of him and 37% an unfavorable one, of those who knew who he was. Of those who had an opinion, only 23% of voters thought it important that the no-tax pledge be kept. 39% considered it not important.
While Obama's approval has gone up since the election, it is not by much. The last pre-election poll put his rating at 48% approve and 49% disapprove, but the ratio now is 50% approve as opposed to 47% disapprove.
The Bowles-Simpson plan to cut the deficit does not seem to be that well known to the general public even though many pundits discuss it. Of those who had an opinion 23% support the plan, while 16% oppose it. 60% had no opinion one way or the other.
Just for test purposes PPP invented a mythical Panetta/Burns plan of Leon Panetta, the present Defense Secretary and Conrad Burns a former senator. In spite of the fact that no such plan existed, 8% of voters supported the plan, while 17% were opposed.

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second qu...