Politics and Legislation
Inside Story: The widening rift in Israeli politics
Published on Apr 30, 2012 by AlJazeeraEnglish
Is there a rift between the Prime Minster and the security establishment, and how might it affect his chances of re-election?
Inside Story discusses with guests: Naftali Bennett, Daniel Ben Simon and Rami Khouri.
Tarp Overseer Debunks Bailout Myths: Big Companies HAVEN’T Repaid Tarp Funds … And Funds to Help Homeowners HAVEN’T Been Paid
Source: Washington’s Blog
Apologists for government bailouts push two main myths:
- That all of the bailout funds have been repaid
- That the bailouts helped the average American
But the official government overseer of the Tarp bailout program – the special inspector general for TARP, Christy L. Romero – has debunked both myths.
Today, Romero wrote the following to Congress:
After 3½ years, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (“TARP”) continues to be an active and significant part of the Government’s response to the financial crisis. It is a widely held misconception that TARP will make a profit. The most recent cost estimate for TARP is a loss of $60 billion. Taxpayers are still owed $118.5 billion (including $14 billion written off or otherwise lost).
And earlier this month, Romero stated that the portion of the Tarp funds which were supposed to help homeowners haven’t been disbursed:
A fund to support homeowners in the communities hit hardest by the collapse of the housing bubble has disbursed just 3 percent of its budget and aided only 30,640 homeowners in the two years since its creation, according to a report released on Thursday by a federal watchdog office.
The Hardest Hit Fund, which was created in the spring of 2010, grants money to state housing finance agencies for efforts to help families that are facing foreclosure. It has “experienced significant delay” because of “a lack of comprehensive planning” by the Treasury Department and limited participation by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the large mortgage servicers, said the report by the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
“Look at the TARP money that goes out to the banks,” said Special Inspector General Christy Romero in an interview with The Huffington Post. “That goes out in a matter of days. This has been two years and only 3 percent of these funds have trickled out to homeowners.”
Indeed, bailing out the big banks hurts – rather than helps – the American economy. See this, this and this. (And it doesn’t take a PhD economist to guess that using bailout funds to buy gold toilet seats and prostitutes is probably not the best way to stimulate the economy as a whole).
Home foreclosure and housing market
by Staff Writers
Dongbei, China (UPI)
disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
China’s stunning economic growth will continue to be energy-intensive and highly polluting for the foreseeable future, a study says.
An analysis of the balance between economic growth, energy consumption and pollution gives a positive outlook for average gross domestic product but presents a bleak view regarding a lack of sustainability and failure to meet environmental targets, the study published in the International Journal of Global Energy Issues reported.
Economist Yanqing Xia of Dongbei University of Finance and Economics examined almost a decade’s worth of data from 30 Chinese provinces to model trends in pollution, energy consumption and economic growth.
A rapid increase in energy consumption has come from the development of manufacturing and heavy industries, which in turn cause a rise in pollution and carbon emissions that are adding to environmental harm on a global scale, with significant impacts on ecological systems, the economist said.
“China’s economic growth is still powered by physical capital expansion and substantial energy consumption,” she said. “Energy consumption and pollution still increase with China’s economic growth.”
Economic growth and environmental protection must now be bound together, she said.
“Economic growth may continue unhindered for many years in China but the environmental payback may stymie opportunities to reap the rewards of that growth because of the harm that ignoring environmental urgency may cause.”
Our Polluted World and Cleaning It Up
The truth about the EU court’s €70,000 wine cellar
by Justin Stares
It adds: “This wine is purchased in accordance with the EU’s financial regulations and the principal reason for the court having a wine cellar built up over the years is to allow the court to save money, as you can imagine buying the wine as and when needed from a supplier would cost considerably more.” There is evidently no court sommelier, merely staff well versed in wine.
After two months of gentle and then less gentle prompting, the court agrees to release further details. There are 3,729 bottles currently in the cellar, of which 2,920 are red and 809 are white. The average red was purchased at a price of €21.82, while the average white was worth almost €12. The entire collection, therefore, has a price tag of around €70,000, though some of the bottles are sure to have increased in value over time. Purchases are made via tender once a year. On one recent occasion, only white wine was required as the cellar was considered too heavy in reds. The court spends, on average, around €15,000 a year on wine.
Tens Of Thousands Protest Austerity In Spain
Demonstrators hold signs that read “No to cuts” during a protest in downtown Madrid April 29, 2012. Thousands of people protested across Spain on Sunday against government cuts aimed at tackling a debt crisis that has pushed the country back into recession and sent unemployment close to 25 percent. (REUTERS/Susana Vera)
MADRID – Thousands of people protested across Spain on Sunday against government cuts aimed at tackling a debt crisis that has pushed the country back into recession and sent unemployment close to 25 percent.
Protesters closed central parts of the capital Madrid on a wet Sunday to protest against cuts to education and health services the government says must be made to help slash the public deficit.
“It’s getting worse for us all. People are starting to protest more because it’s affecting every sector. It’s affecting everyone”The protests, which were peaceful, were mirrored in over 50 cities across the country as Spaniards grow weary of austerity measures and years of hardship triggered by a real estate crash in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008.
“It’s getting worse for us all. People are starting to protest more because it’s affecting every sector. It’s affecting everyone,” said Charo, a middle-aged woman with her children in Madrid.
Labour unions called for large-scale protests to continue in coming months to persuade leaders they should not rely solely on cuts to deal with the deficit and should aim to stimulate growth.
Some protesters were disappointed by the numbers turning out in support, which they said was down to the rain, and fatigue at the length of a crisis.
“People are not protesting in huge numbers; I don’t know what it’s going to take for the people to really stand up. The disenchantment is so brutal that people will not stand up and protest,” said Julian, a pensioner.
Many people waved labor union flags and held banners against the cuts to the country’s prized healthcare system that will add to medicine costs, and to its education budget, which will increase the hours worked by teachers and the number of pupils per classroom.
More protests are expected this week in the country’s second largest city Barcelona before the European Central bank holds its rate-setting meeting there on Thursday.
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Wars and Rumors of War
Lebanon seizes 150 tons of Libyan arms en route to Syrian rebels
Published on Apr 29, 2012 by RussiaToday
As the violence in Syria continues unabated, neighbouring Lebanon has seized a shipment of smuggled weapons, destined for Syrian rebels. The sea-bound cache apparently came from Libya, which is backing the opponents of President Assad.
Franklin Lamb, director of the NGO, Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace talks to RT. He thinks the latest arms smuggling effort was an attempt at regime change.
The Egyptian Revolution and Neo-Liberal Economics
Workers protest as European Bank seeks to ratify $1.5 bn in loans to Egypt
DANYA NADAR: WORSENING ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CONDITIONS FOR THE POOR AND MIDDLE CLASS WERE MAJOR FACTORS BEHIND LAST YEAR’S TAHRIR UPRISING. THESE WORKERS SAY LIFE HAS ONLY GOTTEN HARDER UNDER THE MILITARY JUNTA THAT REPLACED FORMER PRESIDENT HOSNI MUBARAK.
From transport workers:o “Cooking gas is LE 25 ($5), a kilo of vegetables is LE 7 ($1.5), a kilo of meat is LE 70 ($10.50), a kilo of fish is LE 20 ($4)”NATSOT: Wide shot x2Bread, freedom, social justiceNATSOT- “There is no social justice at all. There is no indication that there ever will be any.”- Light Rail Supervisor: o “As long as there are unmet demands among workers and poor Egyptians, it means that the revolutionary demands have not yet been met. The revolution was sparked for “freedom, social justice, and human dignity”. The administration is still trying to seek its best interests” VO— Since early 2012, international financial institutions have been negotiating loans for what they say will help rebuild Egypt’s ailing economy. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, [also called the EBRD], is awaiting approval from its shareholders to provide $1.5bn in annual loans to Egypt. This will be the first time since its establishment that the EBRD has lent to the Middle East. On February 2012, the EBRD published its technical assessment of the country, recommending the continuation of more than 20 years of privatization policies.SOT—FATMA RAMADAN, Vice President, Egyptian Independent Workers’ Union“Workers have expressed their opinion with regards to privatization by staging walk-outs, strikes, and sit-ins in front of the parliament over the last few years. We used to find five or six companies simultaneously protesting in front of parliament. On Labor Day, 2010 we saw another sit-in in front of parliament, workers from across industries: telecommunications’, or [Amoncito], or [Tanta le Ketan], or Ghazly Shebeen, and a slew of privatized companies simply to say: ‘privatization ruined our livelihoods’, privatization destroyed the company, privatization kicked us out of work, etc… All of their chants were against privatization and the reinstatement of the institution into public hands.”
Report: Bahraini police beat, torture detainees
(CNN) — Police in Bahrain regularly resort to beating anti-government protesters, despite officials’ pledges to stop such practices, a human rights group said Sunday.
A Bahraini government spokesman denied that allegation and others made in the Human Rights Watch report.
“The allegations are absurd, and unfortunately, we ask for human rights organizations not to rely on unreliable sources,” said government spokesman Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa.
Human Rights Watch said interviews revealed at least five instances in the past month in which police severely beat detainees — some of whom were minors, according to a report issued after representatives from the group finished a five-day visit to the island nation.
Treatment of prisoners inside police stations and formal detention facilities has improved, Human Rights Watch said, and Bahrain appears to have made “rapid progress” in eliminating torture inside police stations after a committee last year recommended installing video cameras there.
But now, according to Human Rights Watch, beating and torture of prisoners is continuing at informal facilities and in secluded outdoor areas, where detainees have been taken for up to two hours before they’re transferred to police stations.
“Bahrain’s leaders need to make clear that they will investigate and punish those responsible for abuses when the cameras are off,” Human Rights Watch said.
The Bahraini government spokesman said Human Rights Watch’s relationship with political activists “is such that they don’t check the legitimacy or facts behind the allegations.”
Allies to form nuclear attack contingency plan
|This April 18, 2012 satellite image provided by GeoEye appears to show a train of mining carts, at the lower center of the frame, and other preparations underway at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, but no indication of when a detonation might take place, according to analysis by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. (AP-Yonhap News)|
The South Korean and U.S. militaries will develop operational scenarios for possible nuclear attacks by North Korea as part of their efforts to improve the ability to respond to weapons of mass destruction, the Ministry of National Defense said Friday.
The scenarios will be discussed at a bilateral table-top exercise later this year aimed at political and military preparations for the North’s nuclear attacks.
The two sides also agreed to cooperate in conducting research and to hold seminars for high-level decision makers in relation to the issue at the first Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue meeting that was concluded on Friday in Washington. The establishment of the Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue, or KIDD, was agreed to last year as a high-level communications channel for overseeing the Security Policy Initiative, or SPI, and Strategic Alliance 2015 Working Group, or SA2015WG. The KIDD also encompasses the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee, or EDPC
American Forces Press Service
By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, April 29, 2012 – Core al-Qaida – the group led by Osama bin Laden – has been surpassed by its affiliates as the biggest terrorist threat to the United States, a senior intelligence official said.
“With bin Laden’s death, the global jihadist movement lost its most iconic, most effective and most inspirational leader,” Robert T. Cardillo, deputy director for intelligence integration with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told reporters in an April 27 conference call.
Bin Laden’s death allowed al-Qaida second-in-command Ayman al Zawahiri to move up, but he has not changed the group’s strategic direction and does not have the charisma to appeal to new recruits, Cardillo said.
Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in Pakistan during an intelligence-driven operation on May 2, 2011.
The al-Qaida offshoots – al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabob in Somalia, al-Qaida in the Mahgreb – “will surpass the core al-Qaida remaining in Pakistan,” Cardillo said. “Each group will seek opportunities to strike Western interests in its operating area, but each group will have different intent and opportunity to execute those plans.”
The “Arab Spring” uprisings that began last year have influenced the jihadist movement, the deputy director said. “The unrest and reduced security provides terrorists inspired by that movement more operating space as security services focus more on internal security and regime stability,” he said.
As new Middle East leaders address public demands for their participation in government, “we assess that core al-Qaida and the jihadist movement will suffer a strategic setback in that the Arab Spring strikes at the very core of their jihadist narrative,” he said.
Al-Qaida believes in progress by violence, but the elections in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and the up-coming election in Libya rebuke that assertion, Cardillo said.
“However, prolonged instability or unmet promises by these new governments … would give al-Qaida, its affiliates and its allies more time to establish networks, gain support and potentially engage in operations,” he said.
Robert T. Cardillo
Gaza armed groups urged to abduct Israelis to free Palestinian prisoners
By Al Arabiya with Agencies
Islamic leaders in the Gaza Strip called on Friday for armed groups to kidnap Israelis and use them as bargaining chips to secure the freedom of thousands of Palestinians prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Human rights groups say up to 2,000 prisoners have joined an open-ended hunger strike to protest against jail conditions and thousands of Palestinians staged a rally in the Gaza Strip to support their cause.
“We should work hard to get (Israeli) prisoners in our hands in order to secure the freedom of our prisoners,” Khaled al-Batsh, a senior member of the Islamic Jihad, told the crowd.
“I say to all armed factions, the way to free the prisoners is through swaps … An arrest for an arrest, and freedom for freedom. This is the way,” he said, according to Reuters.
Israel last year freed some 1,000 Palestinians in return for the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier seized in 2006 and held by the Islamist group Hamas in secret captivity for five years.
Human Rights groups say at least 4,700 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails, many of them convicted for violent crimes. Palestinian leaders say they should be treated as prisoners of war, something Israel rejects.
Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, said Palestinian armed factions would “never abandon” the prisoners.
“The swap deal was a message to the (Israeli) occupation that the resistance and the Palestinian people will pursue every difficult avenue to break the chains of these heroes,” he said.
Articles of Interest
Senators terrified with abuse of Patriot Act’s secret laws
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (AFP Photo / Chip Somodevilla)
Horrified with the way the US government uses the Patriot Act against its own people, two senators have been trying to make these practices public for years. Tired of being ignored, they’re now taking their fight against secret programs to public.
Two US senators wrote the attorney general of the United States this week, urging the federal government to give the American public evidence explaining how the Patriot Act has been interpreted since signed into law in 2001.
In a joint letter to Attorney General Eric Holder sent Thursday, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado) plead with the government to provide the American people with the facts behind what the Patriot Act can let America’s top investigators do. The lawmakers, who have rallied for disclosure of these details for more than two years, say citizens would be “stunned” to learn what the government believes it can get away with under the law.
The controversial USA Patriot Act was hastily signed into legislation after the September 11 al-Qaeda attacks under the guise of a being a necessity for preventing future terrorist efforts, but for over a decade since the law has become notorious for its ability to stick federal eyes into seemingly every aspect of the American public in the name of counterterrorism. Although the government has gone on the record to downplay the constitutionally-damning powers they are granted under the law, Senators Wyden and Udall say it is time that the feds fulfill the demands of millions of concerned Americans and discuss in detail what they can do under the act — and what they’ve already done.
Wydell and Udall are specifically calling on Holder to provide information about how the government has interpreted Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which grants government officials with certain clearance to obtain “tangible things” deemed “relevant” to issues of terrorism. While that much is clear, write the senators, how the government goes about abiding by it “has been the subject of secret legal interpretations,” which they add “are contained in classified opinions” that are not made available to much of Congress, let alone members of the general public.
“We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted Section 215,” add the senators. “As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when they public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.”
The Justice Department has in their own defense said that disclosing details on certain interpretations could be detrimental to national security, an issue to which the senators acknowledge. “We believe that is entirely legitimate for government agencies to keep certain information secret,” write the lawmakers.The argument being made by Wyden and Udall, however, is that the government is letting itself perceive the law in a way which not only are Americans completely oblivious to, but Americans are also under the false impression that matters are marvelously different.
“In a democratic society — in which the government derives its powers from the consent of the people — citizens rightly expect that their government will not arbitrarily keep information from them,” reads the letter to Holder. “Americans expect their government to operate within the boundaries of publically-understood law, and as voters they have a need and a right to know how the law is being interpreted, so that they can ratify or reject decisions made on their behalf.”
Assange Episode 3: Torture & double standards of the West
Published: 30 April, 2012, 20:03
The world’s most famous secret-spiller Julian Assange is on RT again, speaking with Tunisia’s first post-revolution leader about the West’s double standards in protecting human rights.
Tunisia was the cradle of the Arab Spring and was the impetus for people in other countries in the region to struggle for freedom, democracy, and their rights. Some say, the final straw that triggered the revolution was WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables describing the President and his family as a mafia turning the country into a police state.
The current Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki is a former human rights activist. During the reign of the previous President he was imprisoned and kept in solitary confinement, which he considers to be torture.
British food retailer boycotts products from Israel’s ‘illegal’ settlements
By Al Arabiya
UK’s fifth largest food retailer has become the first major European supermarket to halt trade with companies that export crops from illegal Israeli settlements, a newspaper reported on Sunday.
The Co-operative Group is “no longer engaging with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements,” reported the Guardian.
The retail group’s measure is an extension of its existing policy which said it would not source produce from illegal settlements seized from the Palestinian territories in the West Bank.
The boycott will hit four companies the group has been dealing with and $569,363 worth of contracts. The four produce suppliers are Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin, Israel’s largest agricultural export company.
A campaigner group, Boycott Israel Network (BIN), who hailed the group’s boycott, said on their website that Mehadrin is also complicit with Israel’s discriminatory water policies as it provides water to settlement farms and is associated with Israel’s state water company, Mekorot.
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