Monday, January 30, 2017

NATO general agrees in part with Trump criticism of NATO

While North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) supporters predictably panned Trump's recent criticism of NATO as obsolete, some agreed with Trump including a top NATO general and the leader of the German opposition,

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Trump's criticism of NATO is not new nor is the support for his position. Criticism he made earlier last year got positive reviews from some experts who agreed with some of the points he made. This time around NATO General Denis Mercier said that some structures of the military alliance are obsolete and need to be brought up to date and there was also a need for adaptation.
Mercier felt that NATO was too much focused on sending troops abroad or expeditionary warfare. He singled out in particular the operation in Afghanistan. Mercier says that NATO's approach to fighting terrorism should be changed. In part, he said, the change should involve aiding countries under threat to develop their own long-term plans to fight terrorism. Gen. Mercier is France’s Air Force Chief of Staff as well as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.
The Supreme Allied Command Transformation (ACT) has as its function to focus on future threats. Its purpose is to modernize parts of NATO that are approaching obsolescence. It is not really all that surprising that Mercier would see significant parts of NATO that are obsolete and express some degree of agreement with Trump. However, his public agreement with Trump reveals a break with the leadership of NATO which wants to show that NATO is relevant and irreplaceable.
Sarah Wagenknecht of Die Linke the largest German opposition party urged the dissolution of NATO. Wagenknecht said to the media: "NATO must be dissolved and replaced by a collective security system including Russia." She claimed that Trump's comments "mercilessly reveal the mistakes and failures of the German federal government"
Trump says NATO is obsolete because it was designed many years ago. He also said that it had not defended against terrorist attacks. However, Trump also claimed that NATO was still very important to him. Trump complained that many NATO members were not paying their fair share for US protection: “A lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States. With that being said, NATO is very important to me. There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much." There are 28 member states across Europe and North America.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Just a few days before Trump was inaugurated GM sends some sunshine

(January 17) General Motors announced Tuesday just a few days before Trump's inauguration that it would invest an additional $1 billion in U.S. factories and would move some production from Mexico to the U.S.

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GM pointed out that the new investment is in addition to the $2.9 billion the company had announced it would invest last year. The timing and optics make it appear that GM is acting in response to president-elect Donald Trump's criticism of GM and other car makers for producing cars in Mexico and then importing them into the U.S. He threatened to impose a large border tax on GM cars such as the Cruze imported from Mexico. Howeve, the appended video mentions that the increased investment had actually been in the works for some time. However, it might have been in anticipation of what Trump might do.
Whatever the reason for the action it provided an opportunity for a triumphant tweet by Trump:
Follow Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump With all of the jobs I am bringing back into the U.S. (even before taking office), with all of the new auto plants coming back into our.....8:30 AM - 17 Jan 2017 3,354 3,354 Retweets 14,214 14,214 likes.
USA Today announced in happy headlines that GM plans to bring thousands of information technology jobs back to the USA and will create a sum total of 7,000 new U.S. jobs when these are combined with new manufacturing jobs. The article says that the move was not in response to any pressure from Trump but also said that they thought it was "good timing" to make the announcement now. It surely will put GM in the good graces of Trump.
GM spokesperson Pat Morrisey said:“All of the decisions behind today’s announcement are good business decisions and they have been in the works for some time. There’s no question there is an emphasis on job creation in the U.S. right now. This was good timing for us to share what we are doing, including our ongoing commitment and track record for U.S. investment over the last several years.”
GM did not identify the individual plants that would gain investment saying that the details would be announced during the year. Mary Barra, GM CEO, said:“As the U.S. manufacturing base increases its competitiveness, we are able to further increase our investment, resulting in more jobs for America and better results for our owners. The U.S. is our home market and we are committed to growth that is good for our employees, dealers, and suppliers and supports our continued effort to drive shareholder value.”
GM employ 56,000 hourly workers now in the U.S. this is up from the 51,000 it employed after emerging from bankruptcy in 2009. In 2015, GM announced plans to invest $8.3 billion over four years in the U.S. This will add 3,300 new jobs. At the same time, GM has also aggressively invested in Mexico. As car sales slumped it has had to lay off some employees in the US. Much Mexican production is shipped to other countries in Europe and Latin America.
Although Trump is claiming credit for the GM investments it is not clear that Trump is actually having much if any effect on investment as the GM plan was apparently long in the works. Fiat Chrysler said on January 8 that it would invest $1 billion in the U.S. to make the Jeep Wagoneer, and other Jeep products in the US. CEO, Sergio Marhionne had made reference to doing this almost a year ago.
Ford on January 3rd 2017 canceled its plans to build a new $1.6 billion plant in Mexico and at the same time said that it would invest $700 million in a plant at Flat Rock Michigan creating 700 jobs. Nevertheless it is still planning to move production of the Ford Focus from a plant in Wayne to a plant in Mexico.
Many automakers are uncertain about what Trump will do. Some of his action may result in a trade war but other policies look positive: "On the other hand, auto executives expect Trump will cut corporate taxes and could pull back on greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards that could save the automakers money. " GM may have a bit of an edge in dealing with Trump as GM CEO, Mary Barra agreed to join a panel of CEOs that will advise Trump on economic policy. Jeffrey Conrad, Honda general manager said: “The reality is, we have a president that hasn’t gone through an inauguration yet. Everything truly is speculation. We are going to look, wait and see, and we will react accordingly.”

Kosovo police prevent provocative Serb propaganda train from entering Kosovo

Police in Kosovo prevented a train from Serbia painted with the colours of the Serbian flag and "Kosovo is Serbia" printed down the side from entering the country.

President of Kosovo Hashin Thaci said he had ordered police special units to the border to stop the "provocative train' which he claimed had not been cleared for entry by the authorities in the capital Prystina. The train was described in detail in a recent Digital Journal article before it was stopped from entering Kosovo. Thaci told the Gazeta Express: "I have asked them (police and interior minister) to stop imminently the train entering Kosovo at any price, Enough is enough,” Thaci said, adding that he was forced to take action after he saw the government was neglecting the issue.
Serbia does not recognize the self-declared independence of Kosovo which was a former province of Serbia. Many countries recognize the independence of Kosovo:As of 1 December 2016, 110 UN states recognise the independence of Kosovo and it has become a member country of the IMF and World Bank as the Republic of Kosovo.[139][140] The ICJ concluded unanimously in 2010 that Kosovo's declaration of independence of 17 February 2008 did not violate general international law.[141]
Ironically, the decision by the International Court of Justice that Kosovo's declaration of indpendence does not violate international law has been used by Russia, which does not accept Kosovo's independence, to support its own recognition of the declarations of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and also used it to argue for recognizing Crimea.
The Serbian government has accepted the legitimacy of Kosovo institutions following the Brussels agreement of 2013. Serbia retains effective control of a northern part of Kosovo containing about 40,000 to 50,000 Serbs who do not really recognize Kosovo and its capital Pristina. Over 90 percent of those in Kosovo are of Albanian descent. Both Serbia and Kosovo must reconcile as a condition for both joining the EU.
Serbian president Tomislave Nikolic reacted harshly to Kosovo stopping the train. He accused Kosovo of seeking to start a war and claimed: "Kosovo is Serbia". The train was to be the first link between the Serbian capital Belgrade and Mitrovica in northern Kosovo since 2008. Many of the Serbs living in Kosovo are located in the area of Mitrovica. Prime Minister of Kosovo Isa Mustafa said Kosovo would not allow in "machines that will provoke with a message of occupation". The Serbian president was forced to order a halt to the service. He claimed that Kosovan forces were planning to blow up the tracks. Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo protested when the train was stopped. In 1999 NATO bombed Serbian targets but there was later a peace agreement and Serbian forces withdrew.

Obama creates difficulties for Trump as he leaves office

As Obama ends his term he has been busy trying to make relations with Russia worse and create other problems for Trump. His most recent move is to try to impose UN sanctions on Syria through the UN Security Council.
Earlier, Obama expelled five diplomats and before that expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two compounds in response to alleged hacking by the Russians. The Russians have not responded with similar actions, perhaps to set the stage for better relations with Trump. Trump praised Putin for not responding. Obama has also sent U.S. troops and tanks to eastern Europe including Poland.
The U.S. wants to impose sanctions on Syria due to alleged chemical weapons use by the regime early in the civil war. Both Britain and France have been working to delay the vote until Obama is out of office. As a result, the issue is almost dead for now. Nevertheless, Obama has carried on with unilateral sanctions in effect a recognition that no UN sanctions are going to be voted at this time.
There are two main reasons for resistance to the vote now. First, U.S. allies do not want to start off with the new Trump administration with arguments over the fresh sanctions. Secondly, the action against Syria might make the Syrian peace talks later this month more complicated. Even President Obama had previously delayed the resolution when he was trying to get the talks going. Since the Obama administration will not be part of the peace process, he seems to now think it is fine to sabotage the process for Trump. An announcement of the sanctions can be found here. A video is also appended on the sanctions.
Russia has already invited the U.S. under Trump to the Syrian peace talks which will also include Turkey and Iran. If the U.S. participates it will be the first sign of increased U.S.-Russia cooperation. If an agreement is actually reached it would be a feather in Trump's hat. Assad claims that he has placed no conditions on the talks which are to take place in Astana, Kazakhstan on January 23rd. Obama seems determined to do everything he can to do the opposite of what Trump claims he wants, create better relationships with Russia.

World Economic Forum sees five main risks for global economy in 2017

The World Economic Forum (WEF) claims that rising inequality and polarisation within societies could result in the reversal of globalization without urgent action taken to address problems.

The WEF said before its meeting in Davos that the gap between rich and poor had been a priime causeof the recent U.K. Brexit vote and Donald Trump's election victory in the U.S. The group warned that there would be new threats to social cohesion from a revolution in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). The group, with reports from 700 experts, even suggests that a fundamental reform of capitalism may be needed to address the problems that are arising.
There is a definite irony in the topics discussed at Davos in that the gathering is in a luxurious resort and comprises important people from many countries who in fact support the very policies that have brought about the global situation that they now decry and want to reform. A Guardian article notes:It’s that time of the year when the world’s financial and business “elite” gather in an expensive Swiss ski resort to drink champagne and declare that they are terribly worried about global inequality. This parody-defying event is the World Economic Forum in Davos and, to create the correct veneer of earnest contemplation, the organisers publish an assessment of the risks they think the world faces.
In the past, economic growth has often been the solution to discontent with capitalism but the group claim there is a "growing mood of anti-establishment populism" that may not be assuaged just by economic growth but may require a reform of market capitalism. This reform comes down to a series of objectives such as: "Fostering greater solidarity and long term thinking in market capitalism". No clear recipe is provided as to how this might be achieved and capitalism hardly develops through solidarity but often involves dividing groups. For example immigrants are exploited because they will work for low wages and if they are illegal they are unable to complain about their position. They can be seen by other working people as taking jobs away from them and as lowering wages and allowing poor working conditions.
Many of those who attend, claim to have been stimulated by discussions at the event which is financed by 120 different sponsors — mostly multinational corporation. The main feature of the meetings the Guardian article declares: "The only lasting impression is of how unfractured is the society of millionaire bosses enjoying each other’s company at shareholders’ expense. Please, one of you, use next week’s forum to point out the absurdity of Davos."
However, some descriptions of the developing situation were interesting. Dani Rodrik, a U.S. economist. talks about what he calls "the globalisation trilemma". He claims that countries are unable to have democracy, sovereignty and globalisation all at the same time but only two of them at once. At present, there is a reaction against globalization and more stress on national sovereignty and democracy as illustrated by events in Europe. However, globalisation is in the interest of global capital and there is likely to be strong resistance to this trend that may produce even more social unrest. What can happen as well is that blocs of capital will use conflict such as that between Russia or China and many western countries as a way of deflecting anger upon other countries rather than being directed against the system. Populist demagogues such as Trump appear to have the ability to fight against such moves and direct anger back at the system. Some capitalists may see a benefit in better relations with Russia. Trump however seems to be playing an opposite strategy with respect to relations with China, perhaps attempting to have Russia and China at odds with one another. Having sovereignty will simply mean that national corporations will have a privileged place within a country. Large corporations will still have the biggest say in policy even if there is a formal democracy.
While President-elect Donald Trump is not attending the meeting in Davos, vice-president Joe Biden is. Xi Jinping is the first Chinese president to attend. Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz sounded an optimistic note saying: “Urgent action is needed … to overcome political or ideological differences and work together to solve critical challenges. The momentum of 2016 towards addressing climate change shows this is possible and offers hope that collective action at the international level aimed at resetting other risks could also be achieved.”
The top risk to the economy for 2017 was the rising income and wealth disparity. However, the actual data show that countries are not all experiencing increased inequality: "Since the 1980s, the share of income going to the top 1 percent wealthiest citizens has increased in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Ireland and Australia – though not Germany, France, Japan or Sweden – says the WEF."
Still important for the WEF is climate change, the second biggest risk for the economy in 2017. The end of the El Nino cycle may mean 2017 is not likely to register record heat. It is not expected that there will be major new accords such as the Paris Climate Agreement. However, governments must get on with the carbon cuts promised in Paris. The election of Donald Trump in the U.S. is likely to result in less action there.
The third risk for the WEF concerns problems facing democracy in that those setting policy and managing institutions have become divorced from the electorate both in pay, benefits, and culture. This gap may also be seen between those at Davos and average citizens. Austerity programs cut welfare provisions for those most vulnerable. Multiculturalism is also under stress as nationalism increases. The report claims: “This could be a pivotal moment in political history, and it requires courageous new thinking about how best to manage the relationship between citizens and their elected representatives.”
The fourth of five risks to the economy in 2017 is rising cyber dependency. As the economy depends more on the Internet the system becomes more open to disruption through hacking. This is indirectly connected to terrorism — a feature of the global situation which one might think is a considerable risk to the economy. Huge amounts of resources are devoted to dealing with terrorism both internally and in outright warfare that could have been used to deal with some of the other problems the WEF has listed. It is estimated that 10 percent of U.K. GDP comes from the "Internet economy"
The final issue facing the 2017 economy is the ageing population. Japan is a prime example of a country with a growing number of older citizens. The number of those over 65 in Japan is already 25 percent and is expected to reach 40 percent. In 2060 the number of citizens below 19 is expected to be just 13 percent. The situation is trending in the same direction in many parts of the developed world. The increased cost of welfare programs can drive a country into debt as in Japan which has a debt to GDP ratio of 240 percent. While this trend may lead to a labor shortage the introduction of new technology may offset this. Often the resulting increase in productivity goes to capital rather than labour. More of it should be used for the needs of the aged. China may also be facing the same sort of problem soon.
Rather surprisingly, terrorism was not picked out as one of the fives specific problem areas, nor were the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East nor the increasing conflicts between Russia and the west. The elaborate preparations for Davos are described in this article.

Eric Prince founder of Blackwater probably behind mysterious Libya bombings

An article by Arnaud Delalande in War Is Boring reports that Intelligence Online (IOL), which covers most world intelligence services, claims that pilots flying from Al-Khadim air base in Libya work for Erik Prince former head of Blackwater.

Blackwater provided security services for US troops in Iraq and was founded by Prince. He was CEO until 2009 and later chairman until the firm was sold in 2010. He now heads the private equity firm Frontier Resource Group but is also chair of the Hong Kong-listed Frontier Resource Group. He lives both in Abu Dhabi, UAE and In Middleburg Virginia.
In Iraq Blackwater became embroiled in controversy after what is called the Nissour Square Massacre:On September 16, 2007, employees of Blackwater Security Consulting, a private military company, shot at Iraqi civilians killing 17 and injuring 20 in Nisour Square, Baghdad while escorting a US embassy convoy.[1][2][3] The killings outraged Iraqis and strained relations between Iraq and the United States.[4] In 2014, four Blackwater employees were tried[5] and convicted in U.S. federal court; one of murder, and the other three of manslaughter and firearms charges.[6]
The pilots are flying converted Air Tractor attack planes IOXMAX AT-802 from the UAE. The mercenary pilots are said not to be Arab and most are American according to IOL. Prince has denied involvement in the UAE operations.
Erik Prince  founder of Blackwater USA
Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater USA
Wikimedia Commons
The UAE along with Egypt and now Russia are strong supporters of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar commander of the Libyan National Army associated with the government of the House of Representative. The first AT-802 was spotted at an airbase in Libya in June 2015 but with its national marking obliterated. In June of 2016 the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC) released photos showing an AT-802 in the sky in Benghazi over the Garfouda area that they controlled.
Eric Prince has close ties to the UAE as he moved to Abu Dhabi in 2010 in the same year he sold his stake in Blackwater. He founded Reflex Responses Company or R2 then. In January of 2011 he was hired by several Arab countries to train a private army of 2,000 Somalians. In May of the same year, the New York Times reported that the UAE had signed a contract with Reflex Responses worth $529 million. The contract was to recruit and train a "Security Support Group" of 800 members for counterrorism and internal security purposes. Prince's Frontier Resources Group a logistic and transport company is investing in Africa with cash collected from Asian investors.
Haftar's rival Libyan Dawn Air Force also hired foreign companies Glissada, Amber TIger and Caravana Middle East to recruit pilots for its small fleet of aircraft and helicopters in 2015. One pilot may have died when he crashed in June 2016 over Sirte, perhaps brought down by enemy fire. The House of Representatives (HoR) government has also recruited pilots under contract with various foreign countries including Moldova-based Sky Prim Air. Given the recent meetings between Haftar and Russian officials perhaps there will soon be Russian pilots competing with those of Eric Prince. As the appended video shows, Prince is suspected of other shady activities in Libya.

New Canadian International Trade Minister banned from Russia

In a surprise move, Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister, replaced prominent Liberal Stephan Dion by Chrystia Freeland who had been serving as international trade minister.

Freeland is banned from Russia as part of Russian counter-sanctions. In 2014 after the referendum and Crimea's joining Russia, the Harper Conservative Government imposed sanctions on some Russian officials. Russia responded by sanctioning 13 Canadians. Freeland responded in a tweet in March 2014: "Love Russ lang/culture, loved my yrs in Moscow; but it's an honour to be on Putin's sanction list, esp in company of friends Cotler & Grod." Freeland is a proponent of personal asset seizures and travel bans a part of an economic sanctions program against Russia. She visited Ukraine on behalf of the Liberal Party. She met with MP Petro Poroshenko who was subsequently elected president of the Ukraine. She owns an apartment with her sister in Kiev overlooking Maidan square.
Freeland is known for her support for the Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU that she helped negotiate. Wikipedia notes that many oppose the treaty:Critics oppose the treaty on the grounds that it will weaken European consumer rights, including those concerning food safety, and that tariffs are already very low.[8] It has also been criticized as a boon only for big business and multinational corporations, while risking net-losses, unemployment, and environmental damage impacting individual citizens.[9][10] [11]The deal also includes a controversial investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. The agreement has prompted protests in Europe and Canada.[12]
Michael Carley, head of the history department at the University of Montreal, and specialist in relationships between the West and Russia said that the decision to appoint Freeland may be related to Trump's stated desire to renegotiate the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which Trump has called the worst trade deal in history. Her experience in negotiating CETA may be helpful. However, Carley also said:"This appointment is a catastrophe for Canadian-Russian relations, I cannot understand why the government would have selected her to be minister for external affairs with her stated position with respect to Russia, Crimea, and Ukraine. She's a Russophobe, a hater of Putin, of Russian politics. To me this looks like the Prime Minister Trudeau is just abandoning any thought of better relations with Russia, for me it's an incomprehensible appointment."
Carley notes that Stephane Dion had made it quite clear that he wanted to improve relations with Russia. Apparently, Dion did not have much support for that policy. Radio Canada International reported: "Dion had sought to reverse the policy of the previous Conservative government of Prime Minister Harper who cut almost all political contacts with Moscow."
An article by Craig Scott a professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School and former NDP MP for Toronto-Danforth is also critical of Trudeau's appointment. The article sarcastically claims that the presence of Dion in the cabinet served as a constant reminder to Trudeau of progressive positions he would rather forget on climate change, electoral reform, and handing over detainees --in Afghanistan--to be tortured. There is no mention of Dion's desire for better relations with Russia. Dion is a strong supporter of electoral reform and favors a system of proportional representation. Scott suggests that Trudeau appointed Dion as foreign minister to keep him away from the issue of climate change and electoral reform. Dion stressed environmental issues in the Green Shift while he lead the Liberal Party from 2006 to 2008. Trudeau also removed Dion from the cabinet environmental committee because he was allegedly stepping on toes in an attempt to make Liberal policies more progressive.
Scott also notes that he would be put in a position where he would immediately face problems such as the sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia and apparently officials did not provide him with important information about the sale. The time to "kill" Dion came early with the election of Trump. Freeland could be given Dion's cabinet position as having expertise on negotiating trade agreements and could deal with Trump who wants NAFTA renegotiated. Nowhere does Scott mention that Freeland is banned from Russia and is strongly against improving Canadian relations with Russia. Trump on the other hand is friendly towards Putin and wants to improve relations with Russia. Freeland is unlikely to hit it off with Trump.
An article in the Globe and Mail relates some of the problems Dion had with the Saudi contract and other issues. The Globe reports a "long-time Liberal who worked with Dion" who worked with DIon saying he has an insufficint ability to read people which he claimed would be a challenge dealing with Donald Trump who is quick to take offence. Apparently Feeland, banned from Russia and who approves sanctions would be a much better fit for negotiating NATO deal with Trump, who is friendly to Putin and wants better relations. The anonymous Liberal said: “The No. 1 job of a diplomat, especially the top diplomat, is relationships. It’s all about relationships. [Mr. Dion] has got a bunch of strengths, but that is one area in which he was the wrong fit.” Fen Hampson, distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation said: “Trump is the great communicator and I think [the Prime Minister’s Office has] come to the conclusion that they need a foreign minister who is also going to be an effective communicator at a time when there is a risk we could get sideswiped on a whole bunch of issues from auto trade to softwood lumber." There is no mention in the article of Freeland being sanctioned by Russia. This seems to have escaped the notice of at least two significant Canadian media outlets. We need to turn to a Russian propaganda outlet and alleged fake news producer Sputnik for such trivial information.
UPDATE: A friend sent me the following link which shows that Russia offered to withdraw the sanction but Freeland rejected the offer. He also included a link that argues the annexation of Crimea was in accordance with international law:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Marijuana report shows some positive effects of marijuana use but more research needed

A United States report on marijuana, by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, concludes marijuana use can ease chronic pain and help some sleep but it also could raise the risk of becoming schizophrenic.

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However, the report warns that the current lack of information about marijuana "poses a public health risk". The experts who wrote the report said that there needed to be a national effort to learn more about marijuana and cannabinoids, similarly acting drugs. The report recommends that legal marijuana sales require that users be 18 or over. The U.S. federal government still classifies marijuana use as illegal and this imposes restrictions on research into its health benefits. The government also restricted the range of products that could be studied.
While more study may be needed, this may be as much due to the differing and contradictory conclusions of studies rather than the lack of studies. The group did a review of all the scientific research on the health impacts of marijuana and substances with cannabis-derived contents since 1999, over 10,000 studies in all. They came to 100 different conclusions. The report can be found The National Academies Press Website.
Among the negative effects the report concludes that there is strong evidence marijuana use increases the risk of traffic accidents. However, a new study from Columbia University found that traffic fatalities have fallen in seven states where medicinal marijuana is legal. If found as well that overall states where medical marijuana is legal have lower traffic fatality rates than states where medical marijuana is legal. Of course these correlations may have nothing to with marijuana being made legal and may not indicate that marijuana use reduces likelihood of having an accident. However, it illustrates a problem with there being so many studies. People for or against marijuana use have numerous studies from which they can cherry pick, citing only those that favor their point of view.
The report concluded that there was ample evidence that marijuana can treat chronic pain and that cannabis-derived compounds can ease the nausea associated with chemotherapy. With respect to treating muscle stiffness and spasms in multiple sclerosis the evidence was mixed. There was some limited evidence that marijuana and related substances could boost appetite in people suffering from HIV or AIDS. The situation is similar with respect to treating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD). At present there is a study ongoing in Colorado to determine the effectiveness of marijuana in treating PTSD.
With respect to the benefits of marijuana in treating cancers, epilepsy, symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease, and some other conditions there was just not sufficient research done to conclude one way or the other. The report claims strong evidence links increased marijuana use to an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. Reports suggest that there is a small risk of increased risk of developing depressive disorders. However, there is no evidence that marijuana use increases the risk of suffering PTSD or affects the symptoms of PTSD.
The report claims strong evidence from the studies that marijuana use increases the risk of traffic accidents. However, it found no clear evidence that it promoted workplace accidents or injuries or caused death through overdosing. The evidence that it hurt performance in school, raised risk of unemployment, or harmed social functioning was weak.
There is strong evidence that pregnant women who smoke pot are likely to have babies with reduced birthweight but only weak evidence that it causes any complications for the mother or the babies' need for intensive care. There is not enough evidence to show what effect it has if any on the child later. Some evidence shows no link between smoking marijuana and lung cancer, but it is linked to worse respiratory symptoms and an increase in chronic bronchitis. There is weak evidence that marijuana use can trigger a heart attack for people at high risk of an attack. As to whether chronic use increases the risk of heart attack the evidence does not show this. There is some evidence that there is a link between using pot and becoming dependent on alcohol, drugs or even tobacco.
In Canada a task force on legalization of marijuana recommended that sales should be restricted to those who are 18 or older. A personal possession limit would be placed at 30 grams. The Canadian Medical Association had recommended selling only to those 21 and over with strict limits on potency and quantity until 25. The task force said raising the age limit would drive younger users to the black market. However, the task force recommended that provinces should be allowed to set their own age restrictions. Nine U.S. jurisdictions have legalized marijuana sales to those 21 and older. Trudeau campaigned last year on a promise to legalize marijuana.

Obama repeals policy favoring Cuban refugees

(January 13) Obama repealed a long-standing U.S. policy that allows any Cuban who makes it to U.S. soil to be able to stay in the U.S. and become a legal resident, according to a senior U.S. administration official.

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The "wet foot, dry foot policy" has long been in force. It is described by Wikipedia as follows:
The wet foot, dry foot policy is the name given to a consequence of the 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 that essentially says that anyone who fled Cuba and entered the United States would be allowed to pursue residency a year later. After talks with the Cuban government, the Clinton administration came to an agreement with Cuba that it would stop admitting people intercepted in U.S. waters. Since then, in what has become known as the "Wet foot, Dry foot" policy, a Cuban caught on the waters between the two nations (with "wet feet") would summarily be sent home or to a third country. One who makes it to shore ("dry feet") gets a chance to remain in the United States, and later would qualify for expedited "legal permanent resident" status and eventually U.S. citizenship.
The anonymous senior administration official said that the repeal was effective immediately. The repeal follows months of negotiations that in part focused on Cuba agreeing to take back Cubans arriving in the U.S. While the official said that Cuba would give no assurances as to how it would treat returned Cubans, he noted that those concerned with persecution at home could still request asylum in the U.S.
Today, Obama made an official announcement saying:"Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities. By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea."
The move a week before Obama leaves office is a continuation of Obama's attempt to normalize relations with Cuba after he made a historic visit to the island last year. He was the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. The wet foot dry foot policy was meant in part to stem mass migration of Cubans to the U.S. but it still gave Cubans favorable special status compared to other immigrants to the U.S. James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a group working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba said: "This is a logical, responsible, and important step towards further normalizing relations with Cuba. The 'wet foot, dry foot' policy has been an enduring problem that decades of hostility and isolation failed to solve. This change, which has long had strong bipartisan support, would not have been possible without the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba." However, Senator, Bob Menendez a Democrat from New Jersey and himself a Cuban-American claimed:"Today's announcement will only tighten the noose the Castro regime continues to have around the neck of its own people." The Obama administration is also ending a 2006 policy that allowed Cuban medical personnel required to study or work in a third country to, in effect, defect to the U.S. Obama said the program contradicted US-Cuba efforts to fight diseases.
Donald Trump could attempt to change back to the old policy in order to keep the support of many older Cuban Americans who favor policies opposed to Cuba. Trump has criticized Obama's attempt to improve relations with Cuba. At the same time, Trump has supported tougher immigration policies. We will have to wait and see which of two contradictory policies he decides to follow. The "wet foot, dry foot" policy was actually put in place by Democratic president Bill Clinton in 1995.
While relations with Cuba have improved under Obama, a decades-old embargo still remains. The Cuban Adjustment Act also is still in force that allows Cubans to become permanent residents a year after they arrive legally in the United States. Since October 2012 more than 118,000 Cubans had presented themselves at ports of entry.
The preferential treatment for migrating Cubans was encouraged by anti-Castro Cubans who had migrated to the US and had become a potent political power. Younger Cuban-Americans appear less likely to identify their politics in terms of US policy toward Cuba. However, Trump won Cuban-American voters but by a much narrower margin than many other Republican presidential contenders had done. Obama's move may be another attempt to box Trump in by policies that conflict with those of Trump. Obama also recently expelled a number of Russian diplomats, and sanctioned five others. These moves may make it difficult for Trump to improve relationships with Russia as he claims to want.

Monday, January 23, 2017

ILO sees problems ahead in 2017

The International Labour Organization(ILO) warns that as inequality widens in many countries more social unrest is likely. The number of protest activities had increased last year.

For 2017 there is a background of economic and political uncertainty. The ILO report is downbeat about the prospects for the labour market. The report also predicted that migration could increase over the next decade as job-seekers left their home countries seeking better jobs.
According to the report in the World Employment and Social Outlook, the social unrest index jumped from 2015 to 2016. The index was above its long-term average for the past four decades. The ILO report comes on the heels of a World Economic Forum Report which claimed that inequality and polarization within societies was creating a risk for the global economy in 2017. The WEF report said that growing inequality was behind the recent Brexit vote in the U.K. and the election of Donald Trump in the United States.
The ILO notes that there were anti-austerity protests in Brazil, industrial action in the UK, and demonstrations against Donald Trump's election in the U.S. ILO tracking showed that social unrest and discontent had risen in almost all regions.
Steve Tobin, senior economist for the ILO said:“There is growing uncertainty everywhere it would seem, whether it’s economic or political. This is something we seem to be living with and they are reinforcing one another. The ability to protest is a good thing... we should take some solace in the fact that people are able to demonstrate but it speaks to the notion that something is broken. It speaks to discontent with the socioeconomic situation, with finding a quality job and being able to share in the gains of whatever limited prosperity there is.”
Economic growth will continue to disappoint and this will be accompanied by more unemployment. Global unemployment is expected to rise by 3.4 million people this year raising the global unemployment rate to 5.8 compared to 5.7 in 2016. In northern Africa women were twice as likely as men to be unemployed in 2017.
The report noted that the percentage of working-age people willing to migrate to other countries increased in most regions of the world excluding South Asia, South-east Asia and the Pacific. The report predicted that the percentage would continue to increase. The report suggested that countries needed to provide a coordinated fiscal stimulus by increasing public investment. However, problems such as income inequality had also to be confronted. The report notes that technological advances will also continue and countries need to be prepared to meet the inevitable problems technological advances create.

"Branch" of eastern House of Representatives set up in western Libya Tripoli

(January 12) Another weird development is taking place on the Libyan political scene. Members of the House of Representatives (HoR) who support the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) and Libya Political Agreement (LPA) set up a branch in Tripoli.

The GNA is situated in Tripoli in western Libya whereas the HoR government is situated in Tobruk in the east. Apparently the group has been trying to organize a meeting with a quorum to vote approval of the GNA for a year now. The HoR met in Tobruk, its headquarters on August 22, and voted not to approve the GNA.
News of the new branch first broke this morning when employees of the Minister of Tourism noticed a long banner in Arabic and English announcing that it was a branch of the HoR. The building is near the main entrance to Tripoli port.
Whoever put up the banner did not bother to notify the Tourism Ministry and put it up during the night. In the morning a small protest opposing the banner took place in front of the banner. at what protesters called the takeover of their building. Apparently an entire floor of the building is to be taken over by HoR members. Later on the Ministry took photos of the banner but it was folded with its message not visible.
The Libya Herald contacted a member of the HoR who confirmed there had not been official support for the move from the HoR in Tobruk. However, the move was apparently sanctioned by Deputy Presidency Council member Ahmed Maeteg from Misrata. The member contacted by the Herald condemned the move. It is not clear that a majority of the HoR would ever support the GNA or the LPA unless the GNA allows Marshall Haftar to remain commander of the Libyan National Army. As the LPA is now the Presidency Council serves as commander in chief.
Mohamed Raied a boycotting member of the HoR from Mistrata said that steps were "underway to hold a full session of the HoR with a full quorum in Tripoli within two weeks". This may be wishful thinking. Although the HoR does accept the LPA in principle it is only with amendments that leave eastern strong man Haftar as commander in chief and change the makeup of the GNA. Even if the meeting somehow manages to take place, there will be objections to the Tripoli meeting if it is not sanctioned by the leadership of the HoR.
The Libya Observer also reports on the move to takeover the Tourism building. The paper also notes that the move sparked anger among employees when they discovered the banner on coming to work this morning. The English portion said: ""The HQ of House of Representatives". The Herald claims the staff decided to go on strike to protest the seizure without any prior notice.
Other GNA ministries had their problems as well, as Khalifa Gwell the prime minister of the Salvation Government claimed that it has taken over the buidings of the Minister of Defense, Martyr's, and Labor. Gwell executed a partial coup some time ago taking over the Rixos hotel complex which had been the headquarters of the High Council of State of the Government of National Accord. However, the complex had been seized by the GNA while it was the headquarters of the Salvation Government. The situation in Libya is becoming immensely complicated but it seems that the GNA is being exhibited more and more as ineffectual and unable to deal with its many problems. However, Italy has decided to reopen its embassy as shown in the appended video.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Eastern commander Haftar welcomed aboard Russian aircraft carrier

(January 12) As pro-Putin President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take over as president of the United States, Russia has shown clear signs of support for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in eastern Libya.

Haftar is commander of the Libyan National Army, the armed forces of the House of Representatives (HoR), a rival to the UN-back Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). Neither Haftar nor the HoR recognize the GNA although the GNA is backed and recognized by the U.S. and many European countries as the sole legitimate government. Supporters of the HoR and Haftar such as Russia, UAE, Egypt and Jordan also give lip service to supporting the GNA. The HoR has yet to vote confidence in the GNA and critics argue that the GNA is illegal until supported by the HoR and the constitutional declaration amended. On August 22 last year, the HoR voted against approving the GNA.
The Russians flew Haftar by helicopter to Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Kuznetzov, for a meeting. There was considerable ritual as shown in photos with Russian sailors in white dress uniforms being inspected on the flight deck. Both Libyan and Russian national anthems were played. The whole episode is in conflict with a UN resolution that stresses countries should not deal with parallel institutions. Haftar's LNA is a parallel institution not part of the GNA forces such as they are. The GNA depends mostly on different militia groups to provide security. The Russians brought a consignment of medical supplies.
Haftar had a video conference with the Russian defence minister Sergey Shoygu. Although full details of the conference were not made public, one topic was cooperation on fighting terrorism. Haftar's Operation Dignity has been fighting terrorism since May of 2014. However, Haftar considers terrorists any Islamist group that opposes him, many of them militia loyal to the GNA. including many brigades that drove the Islamic State out of Sirte. He also is besieging Islamists of the Derna Shura Council who were instrumental in driving the Islamic State out of Derna. There was no invitation for anyone to attend from the rival UN-recognized GNA or its armed forces.
Italy, on the other hand, has just recently shown its support for the GNA by opening its Tripoli embassy, Italy also has troops guarding a field hospital at Misrata. Atlantic Council analyst Mohamed Eljarh tweeted: “Italy (to an extent EU) support one side of the war in Libya and Russia jumps in to support the other side."
Haftar travelled to Moscow as recently as last December. Russia has already called earlier this month for the UN arms embargo to be lifted. The GNA wants the embargo lifted only for groups it approves and this would not include Haftar's forces. The HoR refuses to agree to the LPA and GNA until Haftar is assured of remaining head of the LNA a position that many in the GNA will never accept. As it is now, the Presidency Council of the GNA serves as head of the armed forces. There did not appear to be any civilians in Haftar's party but the military included Major-Geneeral Abdull Al-Nazurhi of the army and air force head Major-General Saqr Geroushi. Both Geroushi and Haftar were at one time being considered for sanctions by the EU back in March 2016. The Information and Communication Administration of the Russian Defense Ministry referred to Haftar as "commander of the Libyan national army" when announcing the visit. Haftar forces are not recognized by the GNA as the Libyan national army.
Some media outlets had reported that the Kuznetsov had entered Libyan territorial waters as Haftar arrived in Tobruk. If the Kuznetzov had entered Libyan territorial waters, I wonder if it bothered to obtain permission to do so from the internationally-recognized GNA government or from the HoR government. The speaker of the HoR, Ageelah Saleh and a special envoy also visited Moscow earlier as well as Haftar. All three asked Russia to help out with airstrikes on Benghazi against their jihadist opponents. The Russians did not do so.
One photo shows Haftar signing an agreement with the Russians. A tweet suggests this was for more medical supplies:"‏@Eljarh @MaryFitzger they received a shipment of medical supplies and signing likely to do with further assistance (most likely medical) #Libya " Another tweet suggests that Kuznetzov is still in Libya: "Aircraft carrier 'Kuznetsov' (hosted LNA's Hafter for meetings Wednesday) is still in #Libya. Press conf. Friday by #Russia's FM in Moscow."
The conflict in Libya could be shaping up as between supporters of the GNA and supporters of the HoR government and Khalifa Haftar. Haftar can stress that he is fighting terrorism. He may gain the support of the United States with Trump as president and strengthen his position.

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

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