3-12-2009 News Radar

by JASON | 7:08 AM in |

Last year's stock market collapse left the nation's largest private pension plans with a deficit of more than $200 billion, a study released Wednesday said, which could force companies to invest more money in their plans when they can least afford it.

The nation's 100 largest corporate pension plans were underfunded by $217 billion at the end of 2008, holding only 79% of the assets needed to cover estimated long-term liabilities. That compares with an $86 billion surplus — 109% of estimated liabilities — at the end of 2007, according to Watson Wyatt, a human resources consulting firm.

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- China’s industrial-production growth slowed in the first two months of the year as exports slid at a record pace. Bank lending jumped as the nation’s 4 trillion ($585 billion) stimulus began to take effect.

“The export engine has died: China is in a ‘help themselves’ mode, pump-priming like crazy to increase fixed- asset investment and keep retail spending going,” said Joseph Tan, chief Asian economist at Credit Suisse Private Bank in Singapore. “I think they’re going to pull it off.”

WASHINGTON (AP) — Four states — California, South Carolina, Michigan and Rhode Island — registered unemployment rates above 10 percent in January, and the national rate is expected to hit double digits by year-end.

In December, only Michigan had a double-digit jobless rate. One month later, four states did and that did not count Puerto Rico, where the unemployment rate actually dipped to 13 percent in January, from 13.5 percent in December.

California’s unemployment rate jumped to 10.1 percent in January, from 8.7 percent in December, as jobs have disappeared in the construction, finance and retail industries.

Michigan’s jobless rate jumped to 11.6 percent in January, the highest in the country. The second-highest jobless rate was South Carolina at 10.4 percent. Rhode Island was next at 10.3 percent, which was a record high for the state in federal records dating to 1976. California rounded out the top four.

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia registered unemployment rate increases. Louisiana was the only state to record a monthly drop. The state unemployment report also showed that North Carolina and Oregon — along with South Carolina — notched the biggest monthly gains of 1.6 percentage points each.

North Carolina’s rate soared to 9.7 percent in January, from 8.1 percent in December, while Oregon jumped to 9.9 percent, from 8.3 percent.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s jobless rate climbed to 8.6 percent in January, a record high on federal records.

Wyoming continued to register the lowest unemployment rate — 3.7 percent.

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- Foreclosure filings in the U.S. climbed 30 percent in February from a year earlier as the worsening economy thwarted efforts by the government and lenders to prevent homeowners from losing property, RealtyTrac Inc. said.

"It doesn't bode well," for the embattled U.S. housing market, said Rick Sharga, vice president for marketing at RealtyTrac, a foreclosure listing firm. "At least for the foreseeable future, it's going to continue to be pretty ugly."

The rise in foreclosure filings came despite temporary halts to foreclosures by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and major banks JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and Bank of America. Those companies pledged to do so in advance of President Barack Obama's plan to stem the foreclosure crisis, which was launched last week.

Two states that contributing to the increase were Florida and New York, where temporary bans on foreclosures ended.

But other states are moving to enact similar measures. On Wednesday the Michigan House approved legislation that would give homeowners facing foreclosure a 90-day reprieve. The legislation now goes to Michigan's Republican-led Senate, where its future is unclear.

While the number of foreclosures continue to soar nationwide, banks have held off listing properties for sale, Sharga said. There were around 700,000 such properties nationwide at the end of last year, making up a "shadow inventory" of unsold homes that could drag the housing crisis out even longer.

Like trying to stop the Mississippi!

WASHINGTON: Trying to smooth out disagreements between American and European policy makers about how to address the economic crisis, President Barack Obama is calling on foreign governments to increase their domestic spending to stimulate their economies and is asking for greater coordination of regulatory oversight.

Obama and his Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, told reporters Wednesday that both fiscal policy and tighter regulation remained high international priorities, although administration officials had been vague about regulatory changes.

Meeting later in the day with reporters, Geithner repeated the message, saying that leaders faced a "global crisis which calls for a global response." But he appeared to be calling for some foreign governments to be more aggressive in adopting stimulus programs.

In Europe, meanwhile, the British chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, pledged Wednesday to try to smooth out any disagreements between American and European policy makers about how to deal with the economic crisis.

"We will make progress," Darling said at a news conference in London. "It's time for countries to come together and bury their differences."

Darling played down any differences and said he believed "the political will is there" to agree on a coordinated plan to end the crisis. "What we're hoping for is a multilateral agreement to be signed at the end," he said.

KAZAKH President Nursultan Nazarbayev has won backing for his plan for a single world currency from an intellectual architect of the euro currency, Nobel-prize winner Professor Robert Mundell.

Nazarbayev, speaking at an economic forum in the glitzy new capital he has built on the Kazakh steppe, defended his proposal for the "acmetal'' world currency saying it might "look kind of funny'' but was not.

And he received intellectual support from the Canadian economist Prof Mundell, who helped lay the intellectual groundwork for Europe's single currency.

"I must say that I agree with President Nazarbayev on his statement and many of the things he said in his plan, the project he made for the world currency, and I believe I'm right on track with what he's saying,'' Prof Mundell said, adding the idea held "great promise''.

Mr Nazarbayev and Prof Mundell urged the Group of 20 leading developed and developing economies to form a working group on the proposal at their summit on the global economic crisis in London on April 2.

Mr Nazarbayev's coining of "acmetal'' combines the Greek word "acme,'' meaning peak or best, and "capital.''

WASHINGTON: The United States is seeking new supply routes for the war in Afghanistan that would bypass Russia and has even had logistics experts review overland roads through Iran that might be used by NATO allies, according to military planners and Pentagon officials.

The effort is aimed at developing reliable alternatives to routes through the Khyber Pass in Pakistan, where convoys have come under increasing attack by the Taliban, and to prepare for the possible loss of an important air base in Kyrgyzstan.

The planning also reflects growing concern that Russia could use its clout to restrict U.S. and allied shipments that would be passing in greater amounts through its territory on the way to staging areas in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan en route to Afghanistan.

Pentagon and military officials cautioned that the United States was not in any way considering the use of overland routes through Iran for U.S. supplies, a politically implausible proposition given the near frozen state of relations between the United States and Iran.

But Pentagon and NATO planners, as part of an effort to consider every contingency, have studied Iranian routes from the port of Chabahar, on the Arabian Sea, that link with a new road recently completed by India in western Afghanistan. The route is considered shorter and safer than going through Pakistan.

"In the course of prudent planning, our military planners have looked at virtually every conceivable avenue of supplying our forces in Afghanistan," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.

"However, as you would expect, they have done so with an eye on logistical feasibility rather than political reality."

The route through Iran nonetheless might be the focus of bilateral supply talks conducted by individual NATO allies that have relations with Iran, as NATO's supreme allied commander, General John Craddock, an American, suggested last month.

Moreover, the Shiite government in Iran has long had testy relations with the Sunni Taliban, improving the odds that it could offer transit of supplies to NATO nations.

This is an odd duck. First of all they can't keep up with drug demand and the major hurdle is transportation...not production...hence all the focus on routing. Just a hint too....its not the Taliban doing the producing (how would drug production go up 600% since US invasion - pushing the Taliban into the hills and mountain caves - if it was the Taliban???). Also what they don't mention is Iran has a well documented anti-drug enforcement history. What appears to me is that they are laying out the benefits of an attack on Iran. They get Iran's oil and the route into Afghanistan for lucrative opium and heroin trade.

Political turmoil continues in Pakistan. President Zardari has imposed Section 144 of the Pakistani Law, which means that no public procession can be held, no public gathering can take place. No public rallies, no protest rallies, since last night police have been busy arresting opposition leaders, and lawyers from all across the country. It is likely that most of the prominent leaders of the opposition parties will be arrested. The government is doing this to make sure that the long march on March 16th 2009 is unsuccessful. Police have virtually sealed off entry points into the capital Islamabad. Islamabad is not divided into Baghdad style green zones and Red zones. No one can enter into red zone unauthorized.

Such is the fear in Presidents’ mind for his security. Zardari hardly leaves the President house, if he does it’s only to travel. Earlier this week Interior Advisor, Rehman Malik, told newsmen in his press conference that treason charges can be bought forward upon Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz for their severe criticism of government and call to people from civil disobedience. Government like all previous governments in Pakistan will soon turn its stick upon the media, and it is being feared that certain news channels and news anchors will get the axe in coming few days.

Zardari, for the time being has turned this country into a police state. Unauthorized arrests are going on and this is likely to inflame the political chaos prevailing Pakistan. U.S and British Ambassadors have met both government leadership and Nawaz Sharif but so far it seems that both sides are unwilling to back down from their stance. Political analysts are worried that coming days can see violence, strikes, and government paralysis. Gen. Kayani, the Pakistani Army Chief has met Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Gillani and has advised both of them to try to settle the inflamed situation peacefully. At the same time he must have advised both the leaders that time is of essence. The current state of chaos is unlikely to last for long time. President Zardari is currently away on a tour of Iran, (which is unique in itself), since the country is engulfed in a political mess, and the President is visiting Iran.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In December 2008, China deployed three of its most sophisticated ships to the Gulf of Aden to escort its merchant ships and support international global security in stopping the piracy in those waters. China’s navy has been coordinating with the navies of the other countries fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa, including the U.S. Navy. The meaning of this deployment and the general direction of China’s military activities abroad was the topic of discussion at a Congressional hearing held on Capitol Hill March 4.

“China’s naval deployment to the North Arabian Sea marks a milestone in the exercise of that country’s maritime power and is the first foreign employment of naval forces since the early 15th century. The presence of Chinese combatants patrolling the waters of distant seas is evidence of the navy’s maturing capabilities and competence,” testified Dr. Bernard Cole, Professor at the National War College and an Officer in the Navy for 30 years.

China’s participation in UN peacekeeping activities abroad—over past 20 years, more than 11,000 Chinese have been deployed to 18 UN operations—provide military experience and lessons, according to a 2008 Chinese Defense White Paper, cited by Chin-Hao Huang, from the China and Global Security Program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The repeated deployments of engineering battalions and police units “have helped improve their responsiveness, riot-control capabilities, coordination of military emergency command systems and ability to conduct MOOTW at home”

Most of the persons who testified at this hearing referred to a speech that Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, gave in October 2004, when he called for the PLA to perform four “new historic missions.” This speech provided a rationale for non-traditional military missions like the current anti-pirate deployment.

The aim of the new missions is to defend China’s sovereignty and expanding national interests, such as trade routes and sea lanes. The first objective, however, is to “ensure military support for continued Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule in Beijing,” said Hartnett, who quoted from Hu’s speech.

“So long as our Party controls the military, there will be no disturbances in China, and we will be able to face with confidence any dangers that might arise,” said Hu Jintao.

The dangers that worry Hu Jintao are pressures to democratize, depoliticize the military, and the fear that some within the PLA will be won over to these tendencies and overthrow the CCP, according to Hartnett.

“By ensuring the military’s unwavering support, the CCP hopes to avoid the … fate of East European Communist Parties, which relinquished control over their militaries at the end of the 1980s,” said Hartnett.

The large-scale domestic violence that the retired admiral dismisses is a burgeoning reality for Wei Jingsheng, who was not invited to testify, but as China’s leading dissident, may have a better sense of the pulse of the nation than those who did testify. The regime is facing an economic crisis unlike anything it experienced before and if it doesn’t begin to take “a New Deal approach, it risks the Chinese people revolting and overthrowing those in power,” he writes Jan. 14 for The Times (see: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article5512157.ece)

Wei sees across the country, mounting evidence of a tidal wave of discontent turning to violence. In 2006, there were more than 80,000 “sudden incidents,” according to the regime’s own statistics, which are really riots. Wei’s sources are telling him that the figure rose to 100,000 riots last year.

“Military suppression cannot work. Soldiers are the relatives of the peasant workers who have lost their jobs; the families of the military officers will also suffer through the economic crisis,” says Wei. In a democracy, the government may be replaced, and that is normal business, Wei says, but a crisis in the dictatorship of China becomes a matter of life and death for the CCP.

A secret document of the US Army National Ground Intelligence Center, recently declassified in part, through the application of the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), confirms that the Pentagon's most powerful team for psychological operations is employing its forces against Venezuela.1 The document, dating from the year 2006, analyses the border situation between Colombia and Venezuela. It was drafted by the US Army's 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) (4th PSYOP Group (A) or 4th POG) and the US Army National Ground Intelligence Center, a fact that thus reaffirms that the same psychological warfare team operates in the region against Venezuela.

The small part of the text of the secret document which was left uncensored explains how the Plan Patriot (previously known as Plan Colombia) has successfully pushed the activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ((FARC), Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) into Venezuelan territory. It is explicitly being emphasized in the secret document that

“…the offensive operations of Plan Patriot and its counterparts of the Colombian military have had an important impact on the activities of the Eastern Bloc [of the FARC]…due to the success achieved against some fronts of the Eastern Bloc in Colombia, several fronts of the Eastern Bloc are conducting more combat and regenerated their activities at the Colombian-Venezuelan border. The Mini-Blocs in the Llanos and the eastern zone… have assumed distinct strategic roles in response to the Plan Patriot 2B…”

The arrival of the US Army's 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) in Colombia in the year 2006 and the strategy of pushing the FARC and the Colombian civil conflict into Venezuelan territory cannot be taken as a coincidence; for it is exactly the moment when the US State Department and the Pentagon also started to publicly accuse Venezuela of collaborating with terrorism, specifically by referring to alleged dealings with the FARC.

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh dropped a bombshell on Tuesday when he told an audience at the University of Minnesota that the military was running an "executive assassination ring" throughout the Bush years which reported directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The remark came out seemingly inadvertently when Hersh was asked by the moderator of a public discussion of "America's Constitutional Crisis" whether abuses of executive power, like those which occurred under Richard Nixon, continue to this day.

Hersh replied, "After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet."

Hersh then went on to describe a second area of extra-legal operations: the Joint Special Operations Command. "It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently," he explained. "They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. ... Congress has no oversight of it."

"It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on," Hersh stated. "Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us."

On February 27, 2009, President Barack Obama announced a plan to withdraw U.S. troops occupying Iraq by September of 2010. However, Obama’s withdrawal is nothing short of a colonial Occupation of Iraq, and a betrayal of Mr. Obama’s promise to end the U.S. war on the Iraqi people.

During the election campaign, Obama promised that if he is elected president of the United States, he would make changes to American foreign policies by “ending the war” on Iraq and “bring U.S. troops home”. Today, many people start to feel disappointed over Obama's failure to match his words with deeds. It seems that Obama will continue the same criminal (religio-fascist) policies that characterised Bush’s administration. In short, violence and murderous occupation will continue in pursuit of U.S. imperialist domination.

Obama’s troop withdrawal is clouded by a plan that would leave more than 50,000 occupying troops in place until the end of 2011, and possibly beyond. That is more than half of the foreign troops occupying Afghanistan. These troops will be classified as “non-combat” troops or a “transitional force”, but they’ll be free to conduct raids, kill Iraqis, and attack Iraqi properties as they see fit. In other words, their old role doesn’t change and is not going to deceive the Iraqi people. Like changing the name of Abu Ghraib prison to ‘Baghdad Central Prison’ doesn’t change what is happening inside the U.S.-controlled “House of Horror”, and doesn’t erase people’s memory. Obama also said that ending the Occupation depends on the “conditions on the ground”, which are controlled by U.S. occupying forces and changing according to U.S. imperialist interest.

In the last weeks, the ANSWER Coalition has been hit with nearly $7,000 in fines for posters announcing the March 21 National March on the Pentagon that have been put up in Washington D.C. Just today, we received another $1,850 in fines for 12 posters.

The government is trying to effectively eliminate ANSWER’s and any group’s ability to engage in postering for Free Speech protected activities or dissemination of posters and flyers. The message is this: If you are an anti-war group or a progressive grassroots organization and you hand out or put up a poster, as you may have always done in the past, you can now expect heavy fines and long court battles that are designed to divert money and resources -- or shut you down completely.

The posters for which we were fined are lawfully posted. The District is also issuing fines against ANSWER regardless of who put up the poster -- they are just sanctioning us for being organizers and supporters of the political anti-war demonstration being publicized.

WSWS - The FBI's Terrorist Screening Center acknowledged this week that there are more than 1 million names on its official terrorist watch list, a number that suggests the vast scale of the police-state measures undertaken by the US government on the pretext of waging a "war on terror."

It would be preposterous to suggest that these 1 million people are actually terrorists—in that event, Al Qaeda would have more troops than the US Army. Moreover, since an estimated 50,000 of those named are US residents, most of them citizens, this would mean hundreds of potential car bombers or airplane hijackers live in every major American city.

There is no legal restriction on who can be placed on the watch list, nor is there presently any legal right to have your name removed from the list once it appears. According to a 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office, an individual may be nominated to the list if they are subject to an ongoing counterterrorism investigation, or if the individual is the subject of a preliminary investigation "to determine if they have links to terrorism." The second category potentially includes the entire population of world.

The result has been daily acts of harassment and injustice, as individuals whose names supposedly match those who are alleged terror suspects suffer dire consequences: they can be stopped from boarding an airplane, denied entry into the US at a border, or denied a visa or other government permit.

The list includes at least one US senator, Edward Kennedy, and three members of Congress, John Lewis, Loretta Sanchez and Don Young, as well as a former US Attorney and an army sergeant flying home from deployment in Iraq. Particularly sinister are cases like those of James Moore, author of a critical biography of Karl Rove, entitled Bush's Brain, and CNN reporter Drew Griffin, placed on the list in May 2008, shortly after he did a series of investigative reports critical of the Transportation Security Administration.

The year-by-year increase has been staggering: 158,374 in June 2004, 288,000 in May 2005, 754,960 in May 2007 and an admitted 1,000,000 in March 2009, if not earlier. As an ACLU statement observed sarcastically, "Clearly, terrorists stand poised to replace suckers in P.T. Barnum's old adage, ‘there's one born every minute.' "

Moreover, as the ACLU pointed out last year, the names of actual terrorists are frequently withheld from the list provided to frontline screeners for the TSA. "That is because the government is afraid of revealing that those terrorists are even on the list," the organization wrote. "It has long been known that the government was withholding certain names from the airlines, but the Justice Department's inspector general seems to indicate that such withholding has also taken place with respect to other screeners, such as customs officials, State Department consular officers, local police, and others."

The House of Representatives passed a bill last March requiring the Department of Homeland Security to create an Office of Appeals and Redress, giving individuals whose names appear on the watch list a formal procedure for getting off it, but it is not certain that even this minimal gesture will ultimately pass the Senate and become law.

Instead, the executive branch is moving ahead with even more draconian information-gathering on travelers, under the new Secure Flight program, devised under Bush but being implemented under Obama. Under Secure Flight, the TSA, not the airlines, will check passenger names against watch lists, and only passengers cleared by the TSA will be given boarding passes.

Passengers will be required to supply considerably more personal data, including their birth date and sex, at the time they book their seats, and this data must exactly match their personal ID presented at the time they check in. That requirement takes effect soon on domestic flights and by late 2009 on international ones. The TSA will thus gain access to the personal information on all airline passengers, some 2 million people each day. Officially, this information can be retained for no more than seven days, but there is no way to enforce that provision.

Federal authorities now claim that more information must be collected to avoid the repetition of "mistakes" like the identification of well-known public figures like Senator Kennedy and Congressman Lewis as potential terrorist threats. In other words, they are using the absurdities of the previous "anti-terror" efforts to justify even more reactionary and anti-democratic measures.

Our political representatives and our system...

Inverness Police say former Cook County Republican Chairman Gary Skoien admitted having two prostitutes in his children’s playroom when his wife walked in on him early Sunday morning.

The allegation is in a domestic battery report from Skoien, 55, against his 36-year-old, 5-foot-4-inch, 110-pound wife. He said she beat him with her fists and an electric guitar.

The police report said Skoien “told [the responding officer] he did in fact have prostitutes with him in the playroom when his wife caught him.” The playroom looked like “a struggle of some kind took place there...There were items turned and tossed around the room,” the report said.

Skoien obtained an order of protection that prohibits his wife from having any contact with him or their three children, ages 5, 7 and 8, he said.