Politics and Legislation
Boehner rakes in $8.5M second quarter, has raised $80M as Speaker
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) raked in nearly $8.5 million in the second quarter of fundraising this year to protect his hard-fought GOP majority in the House.
According to a memo released by his political office on Sunday afternoon, the highest-ranking House Republican has raised close to $80 million dollars for GOP candidates – through his political committees, appearances at member events and contributions solicited from Boehner-signed National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) fundraising letters – since taking the gavel in 2011.
Cory Fritz , spokesman for Boehner’s leadership political action committee, The Freedom Project, attributed the hearty fundraising for House GOP races during a presidential election year, to the current policies of President Obama.
“Millions of Americans continue to struggle in the Obama economy, and they are looking to Speaker Boehner and House Republicans to keep fighting to create a better environment for jobs by preventing tax hikes, repealing ObamaCare, cutting spending and eliminating excessive federal red tape,” Fritz said in a statement accompanying the latest figures. “Speaker Boehner appreciates the support he’s received from across the country, and he’ll continue working tirelessly to return the conservative House majority that’s focused on jobs and the economy.”
FOIA docs reveal Treasury officials cited for soliciting prostitutes, accepting gifts
Treasury Department officials have been cited for soliciting prostitutes, breaking conflict-of-interest rules and accepting gifts from corporate executives, according to the findings of official government investigations.
The revelations of unethical behavior at Treasury are detailed in little-noticed documents posted this month on governmentattic.org, which publishes agency responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
While it is not uncommon for departments within the executive branch to have personnel issues, it is unusual for these types of documents to become public. They provide a rare glimpse of internal probes within the Treasury Department, exposing different episodes of misconduct.
Investigators at the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which responds to tips and official referrals from within the department, found that employees had engaged in unethical, and perhaps criminal, conduct.
The emergence of the OIG probe findings come in the wake of embarrassing scandals for the Obama administration at the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Secret Service. Even though the wrongdoing at Treasury is not as far-reaching or as embarrassing as those controversies, it could put the administration on the defensive with less than four months to go before the election.
Some of the OIG’s work focused on the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), an agency housed within Treasury that was created by Congress to oversee banking institutions. It also homes in on the now-defunct Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), which recently became part of the OCC as a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.
Postal Service rescue bill stalls in Congress as cash woes mount
The House’s delay in considering a postal reform bill is sparking concerns that the rescue of the U.S. Postal Service could be delayed until after the November elections — or even until the next Congress.
Republicans signaled last week that the House would likely not vote before the August recess on a postal bill from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the Oversight Committee chairman, and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.).
Senators and outside industry observers decried that holdup, saying that any delay reduces the chances of lawmakers coming together on a broad postal reform package. The Senate passed its own postal reform bill in April, and key senators are waiting to negotiate a compromise bill with the House.
“The longer the House delays reforming the Postal Service, the more likely it is that nothing happens,” said Art Sackler of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, a group that represents the private-sector mailing industry.
The postponement of work on the postal bill also comes as House GOP leaders have shown little to no interest in advancing the chamber’s farm bill, another piece of legislation that could be a tough vote for some in the Republican rank-and-file.
At the same time, with the November elections less than four months away, GOP leaders in the House have scheduled a series of messaging votes meant to highlight the differences between the parties on issues like healthcare repeal and extending current tax rates.
That has left some observers concerned that, even if the House can pass its bill after it returns in September, final negotiations on a postal revamp could spill over into the lame-duck session after the election.
With work in the lame duck expected to center on the so-called “fiscal cliff,” postal reform could be tacked on to a massive, must-pass bill at the end of the year. Otherwise, the next Congress might have to start from scratch come January.
Meanwhile, the Postal Service is on pace to lose billions of dollars this fiscal year, and owes $11 billion, in two separate installments, over the next two and a half months in prepayments for retiree health care.
A House GOP leadership aide said this week that Republicans were onboard with the bill from Issa and Ross, and “cognizant” of the deadlines USPS faces and its financial situation.
“We remain committed to postal reform, but a decision hasn’t been made about when the House bill will be considered,” the aide said.
Ross told The Hill this week that he wanted to move forward with the postal bill during the current work period, and that he believed he and Issa had the votes to get the bill through the House.
But the Republican freshman acknowledged that the final decision rested with leadership.
“I think it’s something that we can’t afford to not do,” said Ross, the chairman of a House Oversight subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service. “It’s something that can’t be postponed. Eventually it’s going to have to be addressed. I’m ready, willing and able to do it right now, and I’ve let my leadership know that.”
Democrats and Republicans on the Oversight panel are also meeting to see if they can find more common ground on a postal bill, according to the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.).
“There are just certain things that the Democrats are very concerned about,” Cummings said. “And hopefully we’ll be able to resolve them.”
Democrats, as well as postal unions, have sharply criticized the House GOP bill for creating a control board charged with overseeing spending, and a BRAC-style panel to recommend a plan for consolidating post offices.
A House GOP aide said that Republicans were happy to talk with Democrats, but would demand that mandatory spending restraint be part of any postal bill.
The Postal Service has said that, unless Congress acts, it will default on the separate prepayments for retiree healthcare, which are due in August and September. But even if that should happen, USPS would still be able to pay its employees and deliver the mail, the agency says.
Germany’s Leading Role in Weakening the Euro
By Christian Reiermann and Klaus Wiegrefe
In moments of triumph, modesty is the largest casualty. It was March 21, 2005, a day that German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), felt was “a good day for Germany, a good day for Europe and a good day for economic development.”
After a more than two-year struggle with an intransigent European Commission, reluctant partner countries and a rebellious finance minister, Schröder finally got what he wanted: the Stability and Growth Pact, intended as the guarantor of a stable euro, had been weakened. Finance Minister Hans Eichel (SPD), ultimately deciding not to take a back seat to Schröder in his moment of hyperbole, interjected that the pact had become “more credible and reasonable.”
Seven years later, that which triggered the celebratory mood at the time is now seen as a lapse that made possible the current crisis faced by the European common currency. It permanently undermined confidence in a set of regulations that was intended to force countries to pursue responsible fiscal policy. Afterwards, several countries felt sufficiently emboldened to abandon their efforts to limit spending.
The pact originally obliged member states to maintain budget deficits at or below 3 percent of gross domestic product and a total sovereign load worth no more than 60 percent of GDP. Violators received a preliminary warning from the European Commission. If new borrowing remained excessive, financial penalties could result.
It is widely accepted that this corset was loosened at the insistence of Germany and France. In truth, however, the weakening of the Stability and Growth Pact was primarily the work of one man: Gerhard Schröder. He received support from his chief of staff, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and from Reinhard Silberberg, head of the European division in the Foreign Ministry. Documents from the Chancellery, released in response to a SPIEGEL request, show that Schröder and his government were the driving force behind the effort. They also show that attempts by Eichel and his ministry to resist were ultimately in vain as he was forced to give in to pressure from Schröder. What’s more, Schröder picked Eichel to convince the remaining holdouts among Germany’s euro-zone allies.
The undertaking began in secret in the summer of 2003. The German economy had been stuck in a chronic slump since the beginning of the new century with growth stagnating near zero. Unemployment was on the rise and the budget deficit was consistently growing.
The previous year, Eichel had only narrowly managed to avoid a deficit warning from the European Commission. But it soon became apparent that the situation was not going to improve in the near future. Because Schröder and Eichel shied away from cleaning up the budget by way of austerity, further warnings from Brussels, or even monetary penalties, seemed merely a matter of time.
Schröder, though, found a solution. If it wasn’t possible to adjust the government’s finances to the Stability Pact, then the Stability Pact would simply have to be adjusted to the state of German finances.
Schröder tried to secure the support of French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. “The initiative will gain clout if the United Kingdom is also on board,” reads an internal Chancellery memo. “Therefore, please maintain absolute confidentiality until a final agreement is reached.”
The memo describes what Schröder had in mind: “Germany and France must be able to create necessary growth incentives, even when the 3 percent deficit threshold is exceeded.” For the sake of the economy, in other words, no country should be forced to save unless it absolutely wanted to.
In the ensuing months, the subject moved to the top of the European agenda. But not in the form that Schröder wished. Instead of weakening the pact, the European Commission was interested in strengthening it. In a June 23, 2004 memo to Chancellery Chief of Staff Steinmeier, an official warned that Commission proposals amounted to a “more restrictive application” of the rules. The changes envisioned more frequent warnings in addition to a requirement that countries with a sovereign debt level exceeding 60 percent of GDP be required to achieve budget surpluses.
Efforts to Water Down the Pact
“This would immensely increase the consolidation pressure on Germany,” the official warned. “We can only emerge from the defensive position if we submit our own concept by the end of the summer recess.”
But one person wasn’t playing along: the finance minister. Another memo from the end of August 2004 found fault with Eichel for being “critical of increasing the flexibility” of the pact. Eichel, the memo indicated, wanted to preserve the pact “as a disciplinary tool against individual ministries” — the idea being that he could force budgetary responsibility by claiming that his hands were tied by Brussels. Still, despite opposition from the Finance Ministry, the Chancellery decided “that we must actively expedite the debate over the reform.”
The timing of the debate seemed particularly promising because the Dutch — who were opposed to any efforts to water down the pact — held the rotating European Council presidency at the time. As such, Schröder administration officials noted with satisfaction, they were “neutralized by their role as a broker.”
On Oct. 25, Schröder took his stubborn finance minister to task. Eichel was behaving “even more restrictively than the Commission,” European division director Silberberg complained in a preparatory memo for Schröder and Steinmeier, and noted that Eichel was “not prepared to take any further steps at the moment.” In the memo, Silberberg urged the chancellor to “come to an understanding with Minister Eichel, that Germany backs a Stability Pact reform that truly benefits us.”
Real relief was “only possible by removing certain types of spending from the equation,” Silberberg wrote, suggesting that the German deficit could be artificially understated. He foresaw Berlin’s contribution to the EU budget being withheld from the books as well as economic stimulus expenditures. To prevent the Finance Ministry from thwarting the administration’s efforts in the future, Silberberg recommended that the Chancellery and the Finance Ministry collaborate more closely in the future.
Spain Awaits Cash Injection As Reforms Fall Short
Spain is tinkering with a comprehensive reform package to help the deeply indebted country get itself out of a severe financial crisis. But its new belt-tightening measures will apparently only go so far — bringing in almost €9 billion ($11 billion) less than what had been announced.
The program presented last week envisions savings of €56.4 billion over the next two and a half years, according to a report published Saturday on the website of Spain’s leading daily, El Pais. Citing government sources, the paper said that roughly €29 billion of this would come from tax increases and some €27 billion from spending cutbacks.But on Wednesday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had held out the prospect that tax increases and cuts in spending could inject €65 billion into empty state coffers. The El Pais report states that the €8.6-billion difference in these figures could come from other savings measures, such as the new energy-sector taxes announced this month.
Spain’s Ministry of Finance initially declined to comment on the report. As of Friday, it still wasn’t willing to release a more detailed breakdown of the reform measures.
Spain must reduce its budget deficit by €65 billion if it hopes to get it under the European Union’s upper limit of 2.8 percent by the end of 2014. The country is already grappling with its ailing banks, unemployment of nearly 25 percent and the consequences of a real-estate bubble collapse. But now it must also struggle to push through these reforms and regain the confidence of the EU and the financial markets.
Four Cash Injections and a ‘Bad Bank’
Spain’s belt-tightening measures will soon be supplemented by money from EU coffers, though. On June 9, the finance ministers of the 17 euro-zone countries agreed to lend the Spanish government €100 billion to help its troubled banks. According to a confidential proposal of the leaders of the temporary euro rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), obtained by SPIEGEL, the funds will come from the temporary euro rescue fund in four tranches. Plans call for the first of these, worth €30 billion, to be in Spain already by the end of July.
Two-thirds of the funds in this initial tranche will be made available to ailing credit institutions than might need short-term capital injections. The remaining €10 billion will serve as what the document describes as a longer-term safety buffer. The document states that plans call for the three other tranches, each worth €15 billion, to come in mid-November and late December 2012, as well as at the end of June 2013.
The document adds that plans also call for a “bad bank” to be set up in late November to handle problematic assets. Up to €25 billion will reportedly be made available to the new institution.
The aid program for Spain will reportedly run until 2028, at the latest. The EFSF document states that, in order to ensure that Spain continues to have access to the financial markets, the rescue funds will not be calculated as part of the country’s overall debt burden.
Illicit Tax-Cheat CDs May Endanger Swiss-German Treaty
By Martin Hesse and Barbara Schmid
Shortly before going on vacation, Norbert Walter-Borjans once again took care of a matter concerning no small sum of money — in this case, an additional €1 billion ($1.2 billion) for the cash-strapped bank WestLB, which is partly owned by the western German state of North-Rhine Westphalia. The money boosts the state’s total budget to €58.8 billion.
Though large, such sums are all in a day’s work for the finance minister of Germany’s most populous state. In comparison, a payment authorization recently submitted for his signature seems quite modest. In this case, the payment in question was €3.5 million in exchange for what the source promised would be something the minister had gladly purchased a number of times in the past: a CD containing data on German tax evaders.The minister signed the form. It wasn’t his first purchase of such a CD, nor is it likely to be the last, as state investigators are currently weighing whether to buy two more such data packets, both containing information on Swiss bank accounts. Indeed, when he returns from vacation, Walter-Borjans may well be signing his name on another payment authorization worth several million euros.
‘Loopholes as Big as a Barn Door’
A number of private individuals and politicians may find this prospect alarming, especially since the minister’s latest purchase has already caused them no small amount of trouble: Approximately 1,000 German clients of a small, high-end bank in Zurich may face prosecution for tax evasion. At the same time, the zealous minister’s fellow politicians worry that his actions might torpedo a planned tax agreement between Germany and Switzerland.
That treaty, scheduled to come into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, would require Swiss banks to automatically deduct taxes from the accounts of German clients. It would also provide those clients with an amnesty for their past tax evasion in return for a single lump-sum payment, thereby rendering CDs of customer data largely worthless. German Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and his Swiss counterpart, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, signed the treaty in September 2011.
The only thing still required to ratify the treaty is the approval of Germany’s 16 federal states. Those states whose governments are led by the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) or Green Party, the two largest opposition parties, continue to put up stiff resistance. Walter-Borjans, an SPD member himself, stands at the forefront of this movement. He calls the German-Swiss tax treaty scandalous and unfair “because it includes loopholes as big as a barn door for tax evaders.”
The fact that Walter-Borjans recently purchased another CD of bank-customer data and is looking into buying other ones sends a clear signal. Either the minister has just made the highly unlikely move of wasting €3.5 million on a CD that will shortly be rendered practically worthless, or his signature on that payment authorization is meant to signal his determination to not let Schäuble change his mind — and that he plans to see the tax treaty fail.
Indeed, Germany’s Federal Finance Ministry appears to be preparing for the possibility that the treaty might not be ratified this November. To do so, it needs to secure a majority of support in the Bundesrat, Germany’s upper legislative chamber, which represents the interests of the federal states. The Finance Ministry is considering engaging the Mediation Committee, a body that acts as an intermediary between the Bundesrat and the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, and whose 16 members are appointed according to the relative strength of the parties’ parliamentary groups. But Schäuble won’t be able to secure a majority on the committee, either, as long as the SPD and Green Party maintain a unified stance on the issue.
Germany to Relax Rules on Arms Exports
The German government plans to simplify approval procedures for the export of weapons and defense equipment, according to plans drafted by the Economics Ministry, SPIEGEL has learned.
The aim is to “lift special rules that put German exporters at a disadvantage against their European competitors,” according to the ministry plans. The new rules will focus on strictly regulating arms sales to countries outside the EU while approval procedues for exports within the EU are to be relaxed.
The changes will put German export law in line with less restrictive EU rules and will make it easier for German firms to export defense goods around the world.
The Economics Ministry, headed by Philipp Rösler, the head of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), has invited German export industry representatives to the ministry for talks on the matter on Wednesday.
Middle Class? Here’s What’s Destroying Your Future
According to the conventional account, the Great American Middle Class has been eroded by rising energy costs, globalization, and the declining purchasing power of the U.S. dollar in the four decades since 1973. While these trends have certainly undermined middle-class wealth and income, there are five other less politically acceptable dynamics at work:
- The divergence of State/private vested interests and the interests of the middle class
- The emergence of financialization as the key driver of profits and political power
- The neofeudal “colonization” of the “home market” by ascendant financial Elites
- The increasing burden of indirect “taxes” as productive enterprises and people involuntarily subsidize unproductive, parasitic, corrupt, but politically dominant vested interests
- The emergence of crony capitalism as the lowest-risk, highest-profit business model in the U.S. economy
Higher Energy Costs = Lower GDP, Lower Incomes
Let’s start with the conventional forces of higher energy costs. The abundance or scarcity of energy is only one factor in its price. As the cost of extraction, transport, refining, and taxes rise, so does the final price. EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) helps illuminate this point. In the good old days, one barrel of oil invested might yield 100 barrels of oil extracted and refined for delivery. Now it takes one barrel of oil to extract and refine 5 barrels of oil, or perhaps as little as 3 barrels of unconventional oil.
It doesn’t matter how abundant oil might be; it’s the cost that impacts GDP and income. Here we see that GDP in relation to the price of gasoline hit bottom in the wake of the 1979 oil shock. GDP soared in the late 1990s when oil plummeted to $15/barrel. It spiked lower when oil hit $140/barrel in 2008, and popped back up when oil dropped (briefly) to $40/barrel. (FRED charts courtesy of B.C.)
Here we see the cost of oil’s impact on wages:
As oil costs rise, wages and GDP decline. If we read between the lines, this chart reflects an economy that has become less dependent on oil for its GDP growth than it was in the 1970s, but oil’s influence on growth and income is clearly still fundamental.
This fifty-year history of oil, GDP, wages, and household debt reveals that GDP and wages only rose smartly in brief eras of depressed oil prices. Households compensated for the stagnation of their wages by borrowing.
The Middle-Class Work-Around: Substituting Debt for Income
The key idea here is that real income can only rise if the productivity of labor and capital investment increases. If productivity of labor and capital is flat, any increase in income is a mirage; i.e., a rise in nominal income that is not an actual increase in purchasing power.
Here we see that labor productivity has risen steadily, more than doubling since 1970.
Wages also rose—but household debt rose at a much higher rate than wages.
I have been asked by readers to use only “adjusted” or “real” measures of GDP, wages, etc., but sources rarely compare apples to apples, and the high probability that “official” inflation has been understated leaves even “adjusted” data suspect.
In nominal terms, the ratio of these two lines is what’s important. From the point in time when they began diverging (1983), wages tripled but household debt rose sevenfold. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) inflation calculator, $1 in 1983 is equal to $2.31 in 2012 dollars.)
If we dead-reckon that “real” inflation is probably more like $1 in 1983 = $3 in 2012, this still suggests that wages doubled in the past 30 years.
The increase (however you calculate it) flowed entirely to the top 10% of households.
That the bottom 90% of wage earners lost ground has been well established. This summary from the New York Times encapsulates the stagnation:
Keiser Report: Cotton Candy Fraud (E315)
Published on Jul 17, 2012 by RussiaToday
In this episode, Max Keiser and co-host, Stacy Herbert, discuss how market participants are never more than a few milliseconds away from the next act of fraud and how a teaspoon of collateral leads to economic martial law. They also discuss German economists proposing that the wealthy be forced to buy bonds while in Spain the government and EU force bank losses on cooks and pensioners. In the second half of the show, oil analyst, Chris Cook, about how, despite sanctions, oil will always find a home; the Enron technique of pre-pay now being used by Enron’s former counterparties; and how stability is the death for the oil market middlemen.
Follow Max Keiser on Twitter: http://twitter.com/maxkeiser
Wars and Rumors of War
‘The Islamists are Seizing Power for Themselves’
Suicide bombers, artillery strikes and massacres: The situation in Syria is getting worse every day. Dozens were killed on Thursday in an attack on the village of Tremseh. The Syrian opposition and the United Nations have blamed the assault on the regime of President Bashar Assad, but Damascus continues to deny involvement.
Although early reports said the attack had mainly targeted civilians, UN observers who visited the village on Saturday said the assault was apparently directed at specific homes of army defectors and opposition figures, according to the Associated Press.A political solution to the conflict in Syria is not likely to come anytime soon. While Assad continues to cling to power in any way he can, the opposition — though armed and mobilized — is deeply divided.
Randa Kassis, president of a secular opposition group, paints a gloomy picture of Syria’s future an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. Although resistance to the regime is mounting, Assad has shown that he is willing to crush dissent through any means necessary. Meanwhile, Kassis claims, Islamist rebels supported by the Gulf states are driving a wedge in the opposition by labeling secular adversaries of Assad enemies.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Who is responsible for the massacre in Tremseh last Thursday, in which, according to the latest reports, more than 200 people were killed?
Kassis: Government troops and their backers are responsible. Whole city neighborhoods and villages are being targeted. Bashar Assad wants to intimidate each and every Syrians, without exception. He wants to force all of us to our knees and gag us. Literally every Syrian is supposed to experience first-hand what it means to put up resistance. There will be more massacres.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is the relative strength of the regime vis-à-vis the rebels?
Kassis: In contrast to the situation at the beginning of the revolution, today more than 80 percent of Syrians oppose the Assad clique. Over time, the opposition has also become well-armed thanks to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. But the army and other state security forces command the most sophisticated weaponry. If they use them with impunity, there will be no quick end to the atrocities in sight.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are arms supplied by Russia and Iran to the Assad regime prolonging the conflict?
Kassis: This is, of course, an important factor, but the regime already had enough firepower in any case. The reason the opposition has not been able to achieve a military breakthrough is also partially due to the insurmountable differences arising between the Islamist jihadi fighters and the majority of the population. The Islamist groups, which are superbly financed and equipped by the Gulf states, are ruthlessly seizing decision-making power for themselves. Syrians who are taking up arms against the dictator but not putting themselves under the jihadists’ command are being branded as unpatriotic and as heretics. This is also affecting the many soldiers and officers who have defected to the opposition but who aren’t willing to replace the corrupt terrorism of the Assad regime with a religious tyranny.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But aren’t the majority of Syrians pious Muslims?
Kassis: Yet at least half of Syrians are in favor of retaining a separation of church and state — and I don’t see any contradiction there. The conflict between the power-hungry, appallingly intolerant Islamists and the opposition fighters who are not motivated by religion — and who don’t have anyone lending them a hand — makes a rapid end to the war unlikely. And that’s not to mention the scorched earth that government troops are leaving behind them all over the country.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is there no way to stop the bloodbath?
Kassis: The Assad regime has to stop the murder and voluntarily step down from power. And the Islamist fighters among the opposition need to accept the non-religious opposition groups as partners with equal rights and no longer treat them like political adversaries. Then the members of the Baath party who haven’t done anything wrong but have opposed Assad and gone underground in Iraq will also report back.
Execution Reveals Weakness of Afghan Authorities
If Abdul Bashir Salangi had known the reaction it would trigger, he might well have kept the file with the macabre title “Gallows” locked safely away on his computer. It’s early morning last Thursday, and the shrill ringtones of Salangi’s mobile phones are irritating the governor of Afghanistan’s Parwan Province.
He answers the phone with an edge to his voice and replies, “No, we can’t do anything. Even if we had a hundred men looking for the perpetrators, the Taliban is stronger there than we are.” He goes on to complain briefly about the weakness of his own forces before bringing the conversation to a close.The calls are from the capital Kabul, which is about an hour’s drive from Salangi’s office, and the capital wants results. The president’s office, the Ministry of the Interior — everyone is up in arms because the whole world is talking about this particular file, or more accurately, about the video it contains, which Salangi shared with a reporter a week before. Within hours, the video from Parwan had spread to the furthest corners of the globe via Youtube. And everywhere it went, it caused shock — and feelings of helplessness.
Salangi plays the video on his iPad. The camera work is shaky, but a woman in a gray burqa can clearly be seen crouching on a gravel-strewn slope. In just a few sentences, a bearded man pronounces her death sentence on grounds of alleged adultery. From that point on, everything happens very quickly. A man in a white robe steps forward and fires nine shots, killing the woman. Once she’s lying lifeless on the ground, he steps even closer, kneels down, and fires another four shots.
Behind the camera, voices begin to cheer. The cameraman pans around, revealing perhaps 150 men squatting in front of their houses, which are clustered at the foot of a mountain. The residents of the village Qol-i-Heer, in the district of Shinwari, watched the execution, and it seems they liked what they saw. “God is great!” they cry. The few Taliban members in the foreground, slim men with black beards and ammunition belts strapped around their chests, smile briefly for the camera. Then the video breaks off.
Protest in Kabul
What the video doesn’t show, and what eyewitnesses later reported, is that the young woman did not actually receive a trial. The execution is better described simply as murder, performed to cover up the fact that Taliban members themselves are guilty of the same crime of which they accused their victim.
Salangi has watched this video many times, but with each repeat he still shakes his head to think “that things like this are still happening in Afghanistan.” And yet his words fail to convey any real sympathy. The way he says it, it sounds more as if the Taliban’s shooting of the 22-year-old woman, Najiba, were perhaps a traffic violation.
The reaction this video garnered abroad was quite different. Most shocking was the realization it brought, that 10 years after the war in Afghanistan began and with a year to go until the end of the NATO mission there, there are still regions of the country where the Taliban exerts its authority brutally and without fear of retribution. But viewers abroad are not the only ones protesting; women in Kabul have also protested this barbarism.
Even very recently, an increasing number of reports out of Afghanistan presented fairly convincing evidence that the Taliban was considerably worn down after 10 years of war. Some members of the organization even expressed a willingness to negotiate, admitting that they were losing the war and that the United States had succeeded in demoralizing their once-powerful forces. But then this video emerged with drastic proof of the Taliban’s unbroken dominance here, less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the capital.
This video from the mountains of Parwan couldn’t have come at a less convenient time for President Hamid Karzai’s government. Karzai had to appear at the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan the very day after the first reports of the execution emerged. There he met with representatives of the international community, who pledged $16 billion (€13 billion) in additional reconstruction aid, to ensure that the withdrawal of international troops in 2014 doesn’t pave the way for a return to Taliban rule.
Wounded Syrians flee to Jordan for treatment
Published on Jul 17, 2012 by AlJazeeraEnglish
The people in Syria’s Homs have fled to neighbouring Jordan to escape months of shelling by government forces.
But many of them, including children, have borne the brunt of violence.
The members of the Jasem Qaddour family suffered severe burns when their house was shelled.
They are now receiving medical attention in the neighbouring country.
Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El Shamayleh reports from the capital Amman.
‘US targets Assad for anti-Israel stance’
Published on Jul 17, 2012 by PressTVGlobalNews
The international dispute on how to end the Syrian unrest hits a new level as Moscow says it’s being blackmailed to accept military intervention.
On this edition of News Analysis asks we are asking whether a Western-backed UN Security Council draft resolution is a prelude to war.
Trouble brewing in the South China Sea – Decoder
Published on Jul 17, 2012 by ReutersTV
A turf war brewing in Asia’s South China Sea risks creating a geopolitical flashpoint as the U.S. and smaller countries seek to check China’s rising influence. (July 17, 2012)
Articles of Interest
Are You Prepared For The Coming Economic Collapse And The Next Great Depression?
Do you want to see where this country is headed? If so, don’t focus on the few areas that are still very prosperous. New York City has Wall Street, Washington D.C. has the federal government and Silicon Valley has Google and Facebook. Those are the exceptions. The reality is that most of the country has been experiencing a slow decline for a very long time and once thriving cities such as Gary, Indiana and Flint, Michigan have become absolute hellholes. They are examples of what the rest of America will look like soon. 60 years ago, most Americans were decent, hard working people and there were always good jobs available for anyone that was willing to roll up his or her sleeves and put in an honest day of work. But now all of that has changed. Over the past decade, tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities have shut down and millions of jobs have left the country. Cities such as Cleveland, Baltimore and Detroit were once shining examples of everything that was right about America, but now they stand out like festering sores. The “blue collar cities” have been hit the hardest by the gutting of our economic infrastructure. There are many communities in America today where it seems like all of the hope and all of the life have been sucked right out of them. You can see it in the eyes of the people. The good times are gone permanently and they know it. Unfortunately, the remainder of the country will soon be experiencing the despair that those communities are feeling.
The following are 12 hellholes that are examples of what the rest of America will look like soon….
#1 Gary, Indiana
Gary, Indiana was once a great industrial city.
Today, it is one of the ten most dangerous cities in America, and the population has fallen by about 50 percent.
The following is from a recent Daily Mail article….
Frequently rated one of the ten most dangerous cities in the United States, Gary once boomed with jobs and opportunities but now faces the acute difficulties of America’s growing rust belt, with 22 percent of families in the once-great city now lying below the poverty line.
This modern American ghost town began life as home for workers at the United States Steel Corporation plant until economic competition from abroad forced a 90 percent job cut.
It is hard to describe what is happening to Gary without using the word “depressing”. You can watch a great video that shows what Gary, Indiana looks like these days right here.
This is what happens when industry leaves and there are no jobs. Gary has become a wasteland and there is essentially no hope for a turnaround.
The following is how James Kunstler described what he experienced when he traveled through Gary, Indiana recently….
Between the ghostly remnants of factories stood a score of small cities and neighborhoods where the immigrants settled five generations ago. A lot of it was foreclosed and shuttered. They were places of such stunning, relentless dreariness that you felt depressed just imagining how depressed the remaining denizens of these endless blocks of run-down shoebox houses must feel. Judging from the frequency of taquerias in the 1950s-vintage strip-malls, one inferred that the old Eastern European population had been lately supplanted by a new wave of Mexicans. They had inherited an infrastructure for daily life that was utterly devoid of conscious artistry when it was new, and now had the special patina of supernatural rot over it that only comes from materials not found in nature disintegrating in surprising and unexpected ways, sometimes even sublimely, like the sheen of an oil slick on water at a certain angle to the sun. There was a Chernobyl-like grandeur to it, as of the longed-for end of something enormous that hadn’t worked out well.
Sadly, Gary is far from alone. There are a whole host of other formerly great U.S. cities that are degenerating into hellholes as well.
#2 Chicago, Illinois
There is something truly special about Chicago. Most of America loved the Bears of the Walter Payton era, the Bulls of the Michael Jordan era and the Cubs of the Ernie Banks era. Chicago is also known for great architecture and great pizza.
But these days “the windy city” is becoming known for other things.
The murder rate in Chicago is up 38 percent so far this year, and the recent spike in violence in the city has made national headlines.
That means that those officers are outnumbered 500 to 1, and more gang members pour into the city every single day.
The escalating violence in Chicago was detailed in a recent article in the Telegraph….
“This is a block-to-block war here, a different dynasty on every street,” said a dreadlocked young man heavily inked in gang tattoos who calls himself “Killer”.
“All the black brothers just want to get rich, but we got no jobs and no hope. We want the violence to stop but you ain’t safe if you ain’t got your pistol with you. Too many friends, too many men are being killed. We don’t even cry at funerals no -more. Nobody expects to live past 21 here.”
The victims and killers are mainly black males aged between 15 and 35, often with gang affiliations – but not exclusively. A seven-year-old girl, Heaven Sutton, was buried this month after being gunned down at her mother’s street sweet store. And last week, two girls aged 12 and 13 were shot and badly-wounded as they walked home from a newly-opened community centre.
If you are thinking of moving to Chicago, you might want to think again.
#3 Detroit, Michigan
I have written repeatedly about Detroit because it is a perfect example of what the rest of America is going to look like soon.
Once upon a time it was regarded as one of the top manufacturing cities the world had ever seen, but today it has become a total hellhole.
There are very few decent jobs available, poverty has exploded and crime is everywhere.
And as I wrote about recently, justifiable homicide in Detroit increased by a whopping 79 percent during 2011, and the rate of self-defense killings in Detroit is now approximately 2200% above the national average.
Is it any wonder that you can still buy a house for $100 in some areas of Detroit?
The truth is that many areas of Detroit now resemble a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Perhaps that is why one team of investors actually wants to turn some of the worst areas of Detroit into a zombie theme park….
Derelict areas of Detroit face being taken over by hordes of ‘flesh and brain-eating zombies’ if an ambitious business plan takes off.
Entrepreneur Mark Siwak wants to create live-action terror theme park ‘Z World’ on Motor City’s run-down and abandoned streets.
Customers would pay to be chased by professional actors and try to seek shelter in ghostly homes, factories and businesses.
You can see some great video of the “ruins of Detroit” right here.
#4 Stockton, California
Stockton is one of the ten most dangerous cities in America and it recently made national headlines when it declared bankruptcy.
Unfortunately, as spending on law enforcement has declined it has given the criminals a lot more room to operate in Stockton. The following is from a recent Business Insider article….
The city has cut more than $90 million in spending over the past few years, specifically in its police department. The city has cut over one quarter of its police jobs, which has led to a “surge in murders,” and has created an “emboldened criminal element” in the city. According to police spokesman Joe Silva, the city has had 87 murders since the start of 2011, 29 of which have already occurred this year. In contrast, there were 35 murders in 2009 and 48 in 2010. With six months left in the year, there have already been more murders in the city since the start of 2011 than the two-year stretch of 2009-2010.
A while back in Stockton a billboard was put up with the following message: “Welcome to the 2nd most dangerous city in California. Stop laying off cops.”
#5 Flint, Michigan
Flint, Michigan is a city that Michael Moore has made famous. Flint once supported hordes of middle class workers thanks to a thriving auto industry, but today it is a just a rotting shell. It looks like a war went through it and nobody bothered to clean up the mess.
At this point, the murder rate in Flint, Michigan is worse than the murder rate in Baghdad. That is how nightmarish things have become in Flint.
The following is from an article in the New York Times….
It’s not that the cops here are scared; it’s just that they’re outmanned, outgunned and flat broke.
Flint is the birthplace of General Motors and the home of the U.A.W.’s first big strike. In case you didn’t know this, the words “Vehicle City” are spelled out on the archway spanning the Flint River.
But the name is a lie. Flint isn’t Vehicle City anymore. The Buick City complex is gone. The spark-plug plant is gone. Fisher Body is gone.
What Flint is now is one of America’s murder capitals. Last year in Flint, population 102,000, there were 66 documented murders. The murder rate here is worse than those in Newark and St. Louis and New Orleans. It’s even worse than Baghdad’s.
Politicians love to go to Flint and make speeches, but things never get any better. The following are comments that Joe Biden made about Flint, Michigan during a recent speech he gave to promote a jobs bill….
“In 2008, when Flint had 265 sworn officers on their police force, there were 35 murders and 91 rapes in this city. In 2010, when Flint had only 144 police officers, the murder rate climbed to 65 and rapes–just to pick two categories–climbed to 229. In 2011, you now only have 125 shields. God only knows what the numbers will be this year for Flint if we don’t rectify it.”
But don’t look down on Flint – these kinds of conditions are coming to where you live soon enough.
#6 West Philly
Did you know that 36.4% of all children that live in Philadelphia are living in poverty?
There are some sections of Philadelphia that are actually very nice, but there are others that look like society has forgotten about them for decades.
A recent article by Jim Quinn entitled “More Than 30 Blocks Of Grey And Decay” described the depressing conditions in West Philadelphia. Quinn refers to his drive through this area as “the 30 Blocks of Squalor”….
The real unemployment rate exceeds 50%, murder is the number one industry, with drugs a close second.
But it was not always this way. Once upon a time, West Philly was actually a thriving area and was full of middle class families.
So what happened?
That is a very good question.
According to Quinn, the physical decay in West Philly is matched by the social decay….
The once proud homes are in shambles. Bags of garbage dot the landscape. Most of the people who live here are parasites on society. Personal responsibility, work ethic, education and marriage are unknown concepts in this community. Even though more than 50% of the students in West Philly drop out of high school and the SAT scores of West Philly High students are lower than whale ****, the bankrupt school district spent $70 million to build a new high school/prison to babysit derelicts and future prison inmates. The windows do not have steel bars yet, as the architect was smart to put all windows at least eight feet above street level.
These days there is a lot of despair in “the city of brotherly love”. It is so sad to see what is happening to what once was such a proud city.
Raytheon STM small UAV weapon flight tests
Uploaded by theworacle on Aug 18, 2011
Raytheon video of flight tests of a prototype of its Small Tactical Munition (STM), a 25-lb. laser/GPS-guided unpowered weapon designed to arm small unmanned aircraft, principally the AAI RQ-7 Shadow tactical UAV. For the tests, the STM was dropped from Raytheon’s Cobra testbed UAV. The company vying for the contract to arm US Marine Corps Shadows, whcih are planned to be fielded with weapons within two years.
They’re called ‘Small Tactical Munitions’ and they are tiny laser
guided bombs that can be deployed by much smaller drones (or unmanned
Raytheon has been experimenting with bombs less than two feet long
and barely 1/10th the weight of the Hellfire missiles that the
Predator and Reaper drones use.
The tiny drones used as ‘eyes in the sky’ were too small and
lightweight to be armed with bombs – until now.
‘Obama promised to be whistleblowers’ best friend, became enemy no.1′
Published on Jul 17, 2012 by RussiaToday
Pre-trial hearings are underway for Bradley Manning – the jailed US soldier accused of releasing information to Wikileaks. His lawyer claims Manning was tortured and treated worse than a terrorist during nearly two years in solitary confinement. He faces 22 charges including ‘aiding the enemy’ – which carries a death sentence.
Chase Mader who wrote the book, “The Passion of Bradley Manning”, says Washington’s stance is hypocritical.
RT LIVE http://rt.com/on-air
India Demands U.S. Answers in Fisherman Killing
Published on Jul 17, 2012 by NewsyWorld
India demands answers for the death of a fisherman who was caught in the crossfire between Iran and the US
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