Category - Global Politics and Culture

Thousands march in evening protest in downtown Montreal

Police quickly declared the demonstration illegal, arrests made

CBC, March 24

Thousands of protesters hit the streets of downtown Montreal Tuesday night as part of student protests against the province’s austerity measures.

Crowds gathered at Parc Émilie-Gamelin at 9 p.m. before marching along the downtown streets.

Police quickly declared the protest illegal, saying an itinerary of the route was not provided, and began making arrests.

CTV News: Montreal students protest for second night, police disperse crowds

U.S. optimistic global trade deal will come into force this year

Reuters, By Krista Hughes, March 4

Washington – The United States expects a global deal to cut customs red tape and streamline import procedures to come into force this year, a senior trade official said on Wednesday.

Mark Linscott, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for World Trade Organization and Multilateral Affairs, said Washington was “pretty confident” the deal agreed in Bali in 2013 would be up and running by year-end.

“It’s quite realistic to expect that the trade facilitation agreement [wikipedia: The “Bali Package”, WTO: Trade Facilitation] can come into force by the end of the year,” he told a Washington International Trade Association event.

[…]

Virginia Brown, director of trade and regulatory reforms at USAID, said the aid agency was ready to work with countries on implementation steps, which in many cases require lawmakers’ approval. “Our bread and butter is drafting that legislation and getting it through the legislative process,” she said.

New York City to add Muslim holidays to school calendar

France24, March 4

New York City public schools will start observing two of Islam’s most important holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, The New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing an announcement to be delivered by the city’s Mayor Bill de Blasio.

According to the newspaper, the changes to the school calendar are in line with de Blasio’s election pledge to better integrate and represent the city’s increasing Muslim population, which is estimated at between 600,000 and 1 million. New York City public schools already recognise several Jewish and Christian holidays.

In a post on Twitter prior to the announcement, de Blasio said the new policy will represent “a change that respects the diversity of our city.”

A 2008 study carried out by Columbia University showed that around 10 percent of New York City public-school children were Muslim, and that about 95 percent of Muslim children in the city attend public schools.

Many heads will, no doubt, explode.

Obama Vetoes Keystone XL Bill

The Canadian Press, By Alexander Panetta, February 24

Washington – U.S. President Barack Obama made good Tuesday on a threat to veto a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, bringing the two sides in the long-running controversy to a rare point of agreement: their battle is far from over.

”The president’s veto of the Keystone jobs bill is a national embarrassment,” said the top Republican in the House of Representatives, John Boehner.

”We are not going to give up in our efforts to get this pipeline built — not even close.”

[…]

Even the White House concurred that the issue is far from settled. It pointed out that Tuesday’s announcement was a step in a long, winding process — not a final destination.

The president cast the veto as a matter of procedural principle. In his letter to Congress, Obama said the bill he was scrapping had improperly tried to usurp presidential authority.
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UN climate head Rajendra Pachauri resigns

BBC, February 24

The head of the United Nations climate change panel (IPCC), Rajendra Pachauri, has stepped down amid sexual harassment allegations.

A spokesman for Mr Pachauri told the IPCC that he had resigned from his position with immediate effect.

Indian police are investigating a complaint from a 29-year-old woman working in Mr Pachauri’s office in Delhi.

Mr Pachauri has denied the allegations.

Ukraine: UK and EU’s ‘catastrophic misreading’ of Russia

BBC – The UK and the EU have been accused of a “catastrophic misreading” of the mood in the Kremlin in the run-up to the crisis in Ukraine.

The House of Lords EU committee claimed Europe “sleepwalked” into the crisis. The EU had not realised the depth of Russian hostility to its plans for closer relations with Ukraine, it said… The committee’s report said Britain had not been “active or visible enough” in dealing with the situation in Ukraine. It blamed Foreign Office cuts, which it said led to fewer Russian experts working there, and less emphasis on analysis. A similar decline in EU foreign ministries had left them ill-equipped to formulate an “authoritative response” to the crisis, it said.

The report claimed that for too long the EU’s relationship with Moscow had been based on the “optimistic premise” that Russia was on a trajectory to becoming a democratic country. The result, it said, was a failure to appreciate the depth of Russian hostility when the EU opened talks aimed at establishing an “association agreement” with Ukraine in 2013.

Mr Cameron rejected claims Britain “sleepwalked” into the crisis in Ukraine.

UN: Growing number of attacks against schoolgirls worldwide

UN report finds girls face difficulty getting an education in more than 70 countries.

AP, February 9

Girls in at least 70 countries have faced threats, violent attacks and other abuse for trying to go to school over the past five years, the U.N. human rights office said Monday.

A report by the Geneva-based body noted that, despite some progress, girls still face difficulty getting an education in many countries around the world.

“Attacks against girls accessing education persist and, alarmingly, appear in some countries to be occurring with increasing regularity,” the authors found.
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A Blackwater World Order

The privatization of America’s wars swells the ranks of armies for hire across the globe.

The American Conservative, By Kelley Vlahos, February 6

After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s most profound legacy could be that it set the world order back to the Middle Ages.

While this is a slight exaggeration, a recent examination by Sean McFate, a former Army paratrooper who later served in Africa working for Dyncorp International and is now an associate professor at the National Defense University, suggests that the Pentagon’s dependence on contractors to help wage its wars has unleashed a new era of warfare in which a multitude of freshly founded private military companies are meeting the demand of an exploding global market for conflict.

“Now that the United States has opened the Pandora’s Box of mercenarianism,” McFate writes in The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What they Mean for World Order, “private warriors of all stripes are coming out of the shadows to engage in for-profit warfare.”
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A kick in the teeth from the ECB

Ekathimerini, By Mark Weisbrot, February 6

On Wednesday the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that it would no longer accept Greek government bonds and government-guaranteed debt as collateral. Although Greece would still be eligible for other, emergency lending from the Central Bank, the immediate effect of the announcement was to raise Greek borrowing costs and squeeze its banks, and to increase financial market instability within Greece.

We should be clear about what this means. The ECB’s move was completely unnecessary, and it was done some weeks before any decision had to be made. It looks very much like a deliberate attempt to undermine the new government. They are trying to force the government to abandon its promises to the Greek electorate, and to follow the IMF program that its predecessors signed on to.
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Global debts rise $57tn since crash

BBC, By Robert Peston, February 4

After the explosion of borrowing in the boom years that led to the great crash and recession of 2007-08, most governments – especially those of rich developed countries – said they would embark on policies that would lead to greater saving, debt reduction and what’s known as deleveraging.

They implied they would encourage prudence, so that the sum of household, business and government debt would fall.

So what has actually happened to global debt?

According to a new study by the influential consultancy McKinsey Global Institute, global debt has grown by $57tn or 17 percentage points of GDP or worldwide income since 2007, to stand at $199tn, equivalent to 286% of GDP.

And the single biggest contributor to the rise and rise of global indebtedness is that government debts have increased by $25tn over these seven years.

Huge Madrid march in support of anti-austerity party

Tens of thousands fill Spanish capital in support of Podemos, as anti-austerity message surges in polls.

Al Jazeera, January 31

Tens of thousands of people have marched in Madrid on Saturday in support of the anti-austerity party Podemos, whose surging popularity and policies have drawn comparisons with Syriza, Greece’s new leaders.

Protesters chanted “Yes we can!” as they made their way from Madrid city hall to the central Puerta del Sol square. Podemos and its anti-austerity message have been surging in polls ahead of local, regional and national elections this year. Podemos (“We Can”) was formed just a year ago but gained international attention after winning five seats in elections for the European Parliament last May.

Antonia Fernandez, a 69-year-old pensioner from Madrid, came to the demonstration with her family. Fernandez, who lives with her husband on a combined pension worth about $790 a month, said she used to vote for Spain’s Socialist party but had lost faith in it because of its handling of the economic crisis and its austerity policies. “People are fed up with the political class,” Fernandez said. “If we want to have a future, we need jobs,” she said.

Like Syriza, Podemos has found popular support by targeting corruption and rejecting a European austerity program aimed at lifting struggling economies out of a deep crisis. After his Syriza party swept to victory in a snap election on Jan. 25, Alexis Tsipras promised that five years of austerity, “humiliation and suffering” imposed on Greece by international creditors were over.

Editor of major newspaper says he planted stories for CIA

Digital Journal, By Ralph Lopez, January 26

Becoming the first credentialed, well-known media insider to step forward and state publicly that he was secretly a “propagandist,” an editor of a major German daily has said that he personally planted stories for the CIA.

Saying he believes a medical condition gives him only a few years to live, and that he is filled with remorse, Dr. Udo Ulfkotte, the editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany’s largest newspapers, said in an interview that he accepted news stories written and given to him by the CIA and published them under his own name. Ulfkotte said the aim of much of the deception was to drive nations toward war.

Dr. Ulfkotte says the corruption of journalists and major news outlets by the CIA is routine, accepted, and widespread in the western media, and that journalists who do not comply either cannot get jobs at any news organization, or find their careers cut short.

Sao Paulo warns of severe water rationing

AFP, January 28

Authorities in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s richest state and economic hub, have warned they are considering severe water rationing if the country’s worst drought in 80 years continues.

Officials outlined draconian plans for alternating cuts that would leave areas without water for five days at a time.

“If the rain persists in not falling into the Cantareira reservoir system, the solution would be for very heavy rationing,” said Paulo Massato, director of the state water company Sabesp.

Sabesp runs the Cantareira system, which supplies nearly half of the Sao Paulo metropolitan area, South America’s largest city with some 20 million people.

“The rationing would see two days with water and then five without,” he said late Tuesday.

[…]

Unless it rains soon, supplies could run out altogether by March.


Brazil Drought: Worst Water Crisis In 80 Years Affecting Four Million People In Country’s South East

IBT Times, January 25

Water cuts and blackouts have spread across large areas of south-east Brazil as a result of the worst drought in the country since 1930. The drought has hit Brazil’s three most populous states: São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais.

More than four million people have been affected by water rationing and power cuts. In the Madureira district of Rio residents have mounted demonstrations, beating empty buckets and cans to express their frustration. The district has been without tap water since before Christmas. Other cities have seen similar demonstrations.

The drought first hit in São Paulo, where hundreds of thousands of residents have had water supplies cut. The region should normally be experiencing its rainy season.

São Paulo state suffered similar serious drought problems last year. At an emergency meeting of five government ministers in the country’s capital, Brasilia, Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira says that the three states must save water.

“Since records for Brazil’s south-eastern region began 84 years ago we have never seen such a delicate and worrying situation,” said Teixeira.

SF Gate: First-ever rainless January in S.F. history

Charles Townes, Who Won Nobel for Lasers, Dies at 99


Charles Townes with wife, Frances after his sculpture was unveiled in his hometown, Greenville, SC
(The Greenville News/Heidi Heilbrunn, via AP)

NYT – Charles H. Townes, a visionary physicist whose research led to the development of the laser, making it possible to play CDs, scan prices at the supermarket, measure time precisely, survey planets and galaxies, and even witness the birth of stars, died on Tuesday in Oakland, Calif. He was 99.

In 1964, Dr. Townes and two Russians shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on microwave-emitting devices, called masers, and their light-emitting successors, lasers, which have transformed modern communications, medicine, astronomy, weapons systems and daily life in homes and workplaces.
more at the link

7 Keys to Understanding the Greek Elections

originally posted Jan 23

Huffington Post, By Pavlos Tsimas, January 22

On Sunday at 7:00 p.m. in Greece when the ballots are closing and the first exit polls are released in Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, London, Frankfurt and New York, all the political and financial decision-makers — and people who assist in making such decisions — will be staring at their computer screens, ready to read and interpret those numbers.

The upcoming elections in Greece are undeniably a global event, whose importance transcends Greece’s borders. The importance lies in the fact that these elections are part of a series of critical elections in Europe, from the British elections in May to Spain’s elections in November.
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